Sunday, August 31, 2008

Throwing down the gauntlet . . .

That's it. I love a challenge. Never tell me there is something I cannot do. If I put my mind to it, I'll try to prove you wrong.

No, I haven't lost my mind and yes, I wrote my last post less than twelve hours ago. I have just read my daughter's page and unconsciously, she has put a challenge before me. They have been house hunting, looking for a place to live closer to her husband's job. One of their criteria has been a house with a bed and bath on the first floor so we won't have to climb stairs when we visit. Should she be optimistic and anticipate continued visits from us? Or should she be realistic and accept the fact that it's highly possible that our visits may not happen? She expressed the more realistic notion that another visit from us is highly unlikely.

Her words hit me. Since my last visit with the doctor and the commencement of treatment I have had this calm sense of urgency to get things done--put everything in order--say goodbye to my friends--quit procrastinating. I try to take every advantage of being with the grandchildren. I've never wanted my cancer to change the way our family celebrates holidays or the way we live day to day, for that matter so that means planning ahead a bit more carefully.

Honestly, I do wonder just how much more the body will take. I have finally come to grips with the "incurable" word spoken by my doctor almost two and a half years ago. However, that, by no means, indicates a lack of trust in God. I still believe in His faithfulness, probably now more than ever. Maybe it's an acceptance of the fact that I am not crucial to the continuation of the lives of those I love. God will provide for my precious Tom. My children will continue to be the outstanding adults that they are. My grandchildren will graduate, go to college, marry, raise their own families. Life does indeed go on!

It will go on after I'm gone and it will go on while I continue taking chemo. I will not settle into an attitude of what has been looking like complacency. I will believe that this drug might just be the one that sends the cancer packing. I will trust God for the miracle of healing--here or in the hereafter.

I will visit my daughter again!

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, August 30, 2008

We are almost on football overload. It started Thursday night with the on-slaught of televised college games. Thus far in three days we have seen four SEC teams play. Three out of four have been runaway victories for the SEC; the fourth, the team of our choice is once more embarassing itself by making mistake after mistake and we're headed for a loss. I know it's only a game, but I'm tired of "waiting until next year."

The best part of the week was a visit today from special friends from Mississippi. They drove up among all the folks from Louisianna who were evacuating. Our friends said that basic supplies were already sold out in Jackson and that they saw at least two service stations already out of gas. It would seem that people would rather be safe than sorry. But, I digress. We loved being with our friends, seeing pictures of their grandchildren and hearing about their family. Tommy and four of his children came down to say hello. It was a great afternoon.

Tom had his follow up appointment with the neurologist Thursday. Since he was seen the first of August he has had blood tests, an MRI and an x-ray of his skull and spine. The first two were fine, but the x-ray showed bone spurs in the neck area and a couple of bulging discs. The doctor thinks we have discovered the root of Tom's headaches and has ruled out a jaw problem. Now we know what we think might be at the root of his headaches, but no promise of solution. I did have a really thorough discussion with the doctor and believe he clarified some things. A slight change in medication will begin next week and we're hoping that might be helpful overall for the Parkinson's.

We continue to keep our eye on the storm headed toward the Gulf Coast and we continue to pray for all the many people in its path. How well we remember the storms in our lifetime! Before we lived in California we wondered how people could be content living with the threat of earthquakes. When we lived in California we learned that the people there wondered how we could live in tornado prone areas or in those places affected by hurricanes. I have compared illness to storms in other blogs I've written and once again, I think of the similarities. Before cancer I might see a person in treatment or struggling with it and say to myself: "I could never do what they are doing." Then, cancer knocked on my door. Whether there is a storm, an illness or some other unsettling situation, the only way to get through it is by trusting in the One who is more powerful than the storm, more present than the illness and more gracious than that which disturbs us. I am thankful that I know that One, but more importantly, I am thankful that He knows me and calls me by name.

Pastor Margaret

Monday, August 25, 2008

How soon one forgets!

Some of the wondering of last week has answers. I wondered how the treatment would affect me. Now I know. The sudden "sock it to me" fatigue didn't accompany this drug. It was rather slow in coming and it finally dawned on me why I am so tired and energyless--the red count must have dropped. How could I forget lowered blood counts? I also got a series of blister-like bumps on my feet and legs. I showed them to Liz and she asked if they were chiggers. So, we dubbed them "chemo chiggers." (If you're not familiar with redbug or chigger bites you won't know what I mean. Believe me. You're not missing anything.)

Hurricane Fay made it to West Tennessee today bringing soaking rain showers. More is expected, but not to the extent Florida and other states got it. Everything is clean and a beautiful shade of green. I love the way it smells and the way it looks after a good rain. My thoughts and prayers are with those who have had flooding rains--the smell is not so pleasant, it's not clean, nor beautiful.

Are you not tempted to ask why some are flooded and some are spared? The Bible says that it "rains on the just and the unjust." That's common grace. It's God's specific grace that gets my attention and it's that on which I rely. When I think about the diseases that plague Tom and me, I could ask, "Why us?" Spiritually and theologically I don't ask that question. I do wonder about both cancer and Parkinson's medically. Is there something we should have done differently? Is there something we need to know to tell our children? A few years ago I had gene testing to see if I have a defective gene that would have prompted both breast and ovarian cancer. I learned that I'm not defective, only unique. That was good news for my children and grandchildren as far as not inheriting the gene goes, but they could be as random as I. How can my experience help them? I do ask that question almost daily.

It is a fact: God is good all the time. All the time God is good.

Pastor Margaret

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

It's a day for fussing, a day for wondering. Little things irritate. It's the fourth day after treatment and I'm still wondering what will happen next.

I remember well the side effects of Doxil when I had it six years ago, but it was administered along with two other drugs. Did three together make a difference? Does the current condition of my body make a difference? One of the most annoying side effects was sores in my mouth and throat. The good thing was I got to sip on milk shakes--with no guilt. The bad thing was it was really difficult to talk--bad for me, maybe good for others. This morning I awoke with a sore throat and a bump on the end of my tongue. Immediately I wondered if this is the beginning of a side effect. It's not fun to wonder.

Our helper didn't show up and hasn't called. A family with whom she has a long history pressed her into service last week and I heard in a round about way yesterday that the family has had another crisis. That I understand. What I don't understand is what's so hard about picking up the phone and letting someone know? We really depended on her coming today and have been wondering if it's time to increase the time she spends with us.

Tom is out of one of his meds and has gone almost 48 hours without it. We've been having "discussions" with the supplier and the insurance company concerning the prescription as written versus a generic. It's not productive to wonder how the insurance company can make better decisions than the neurologist. Wondering causes my dander and my blood pressure to rise. I spoke with the nurse yesterday and wonder why she hasn't called back. How long can Tom go without it?

We had wanted to make a quick trip to Mississippi this week so I could attend a luncheon honoring a long time friend who has retired. In years past we would have just packed a bag, jumped in the car and taken off. The operative word here is "past." How did we get old so soon? I wonder . . .

There are other things that cause even more of wonder: our wonderful years together; an abundance of friends; a loving, caring family; beautiful grandchildren. Life itself is a wonder! Why waste time wondering about the irritants? Focusing on the wonders of God's blessings is the only way.

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Several of the past few days the verse, "This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it" kept running through my mind. As Friday and the return visit to the oncologist approached, I asked myself if I could stop the verse from "running through" and have it stay with me all day long. Thankfully, I can tell you now, in the early Saturday morning hours, that it was a good day: God's handiwork was present everywhere; we rejoiced in the report, the treatment, the clinic personnel who do indeed become your friends; the love and support of family, including grandchildren who don't understand exactly, but know enough to give support in their own ways; and we especially rejoiced in the end of the day birthday celebration for Tom.

The scans indicate disease that has progressed since the last ones were taken in April, but the good news is it has not spread to other sites. The radiologist who wrote the report seemed to write in more complete and understandable language than some of the others, a style a layperson like I appreciate. His words will help me not wonder everytime there is a new (and normal) feeling of passing discomfort. After all I have had major surgery in my abdomen, I'm not a spring chicken, I am overweight and have had just a bit of chemo in my lifetime. Normal wear and tear on the body takes its toll!

My oncologist is kind and gentle, a man of few words, but he reminds me of an old TV commercial for a brokerage firm. Do you know the one I mean? The setting was usually very noisy with many people engaged in conversation. Suddenly, one person would lean over to another and quietly say, "When E.F. Hutton speaks . . ." , the room would grow silent and everyone would stop to listen. When Dr. Reed speaks, I listen. I know he has researched my condition and has used his best knowledge and wisdom to prescribe what is best for me. The drug of choice, this the fourth time to be treated for ovarian, is Doxil, a drug I had the first time in the clinical trial at UC Davis. This time it is the only drug, whereas the first time it was an addition to the usually prescribed drugs for my particular cancer and stage. Though I was told today that it is less toxic than some, I blamed all the quirky side effects on it. We'll see how it affects me this time. I had the first treatement today, will have one in September and October and then re-evaluate. The questions remain: how long will chemo be able to control the cancer? How long will I be able to tolerate the drugs? Will I have to have some sort paper to certify me as a "toxic waste site?"

A part of my faith statment centers around question and answer number one in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: What is man's chief end? Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. So the greater question for me will always be: Today and in what way will I glorify God and enjoy Him? Cancer will one day destroy my body, but it will never destroy my relationship with God. He has all the answers.

Thank you for all your continued prayers.

Pastor Margaret

Monday, August 11, 2008

Our trip to Corinth to the oncologist last Friday didn't provide all the answers we were seeking. A scan was necessary for the doctor to make specific recommendations so I had that done today and we will return to the oncologist this coming Friday. Visiting with him last week sent me scurrying to the computer to see what I could learn on my own. I read and heard before so much of what I found. I know the original diagnosis; I know what I have now is called recurrent cancer; I know a little about the different drugs that are used for treatment. BUT, there are so many unknowns! I wrote someone that it's like adding two and two and getting five. There are many variables. We do know that some sort of treatment is coming again--just not what it will be or when it will begin. We covet your prayers--certainly for a miracle and especially for God's all sufficient grace.

The day began by our going to the neurology clinic for Tom to have an MRI. This was the last test in a series of three that were ordered before he returns the end of the month. Tonight we are tired of all that both his test and mine entailed.

After a late lunch we hurried to a postal place to get my retirement application in to the Board of Pensions. Since leaving Fair Oaks I have been on disability, but eligibility for that is expiring this month and it's time for me to officially retire. I'm not sure which words I find the most distasteful: disabled or retired. I never really thought of myself as not being able to work and retirement was always in my far distance future. That was my plan, not God's. This morning I read Proverbs 11 and this verse of promise struck me: A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. One large part of ministry is serving God by serving God's people. That service comes in different shapes and forms. It might be by teaching and/or preaching God's Word; maybe by discipling others; certainly by offering care and compassion. Pastoral care was a large part of my call at Fair Oaks and God equipped me. He provided the resources I needed to respond to the needs of others and by responding I was blessed. The verse in Proverbs, in my mind, is a part of the promise of abundant life. Here's another prayer request: please pray that even in retirement, God will give me the opportunity to bless others.

Tonight we are enjoying some leftover jambalya that Tommy cooked for a church dinner yesterday. I had a little taste when I went down to make the dessert for the dinner and it was really good. I'd love to be able to give you all a taste.

News of the grandchildren: Jacob, Sarah and Drew all like their new teachers. Jacob is looking forward to beginner band this year; Sarah is glad to be in the same class with her friends; Drew is in first grade and seems ready to take on whatever comes. Meredith is going to play school two mornings a week, rather than day care. She'll be in charge after the first month. Elisa is now doing more crawling than scooting. I have to hurry to keep up with her. Christopher has learned to growl, prefers vegetables and tolerates fruit--like his mother. Mallory is a good big sister to Christopher and since she's in a year round school, she's already started her "new year." Everyday brings something new from each one of them. Aren't grandchildren special?

Have a good week. We'll keep you posted on things at this end.

Pastor Margaret

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

God works in mysterious ways!

Last week while in my "storing up for winter mode" I pondered the content of the Sunday School class I was to lead on Sunday. My thoughts centered on the Luke passage I wrote on in my last blog: Gabriel's visit conversation with Mary. The theme that emerged was that of "servanthood" and included another Mary washing the feet of Jesus in John and the Matthew passage that tells of God's Chosen Servant, quoting Isaiah 42. I started by asking the class to identify the place in Scripture where the three statements, "The Lord is with you; Nothing wll be impossible with God: and Let it be to me according to your word;" occurred. Next, we talked about each statement in its context and then how each had been important in our lives and ways in the future, each would impact us. (The rest of the class discussion directed attention to what it means for us to be servants of the Lord and the distinction between being a servant and serving.)

Yesterday when I learned that the CA125 had risen seven more points I knew God had directed me to prepare that lesson for me, not for the twenty or so people who came to class. A mystery to be sure!

Some have asked for a copy of the sermon I preached on Elisa's baptism day. It centered on God's promises to His children and I spoke of three that have been particularly meaningful in our family: "I will never leave you nor forsake you" from Joshua 1; "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed. They are new every morning. Great is God's faithfulness," Lamentations 3; and Jesus speaking to Paul in II Corinthians, "My grace is sufficient for you." God's promises are the very fabric of life!

Who knew that those same three promises would invade my consciousness as I was trying to go to sleep last night? Weeks ago when preparing that sermon I acknowledged what they have meant to us, not realizing I would need to cling to them again soon. They are words that never leave me, but this morning they are bold and in all caps! God knew what was needed.

On a recent "Good Morning America" there was a feature on a baby's smile and how it affects others. Babies make us smile when they smile, with their actions and sometimes when they do nothing at all. The fact the feature was highlighting is that our brains actually do react by affecting dopamine production and release which is necessary and beneficial. You may or may not know that Parkinson's is the result of decreased dopamine in the brain and the most effective treatment, thus far, is to replace that dopamine with medication.

Yesterday we kept Elisa for a couple of hours while the children's babysitter took the other four children swimming. Just being with Elisa produces smiles! She had not been here since she started scooting and crawling and was in rare form. I was telling her daddy what she did when I set her on the floor with her toys and he said, "I bet she already had mapped out where she wanted to go." How right he was! She sat, jumped up and down on her fanny, looked to see if we were watching and with a determined grin on her face began exploring. I've said before that she is good medicine for us both. Now we know one reason why--it helps with the dopamine Tom continues to lose.

God works in mysterious ways. We are humbled and grateful to be a part of His work.

Pastor Margaret