Sunday, June 27, 2010

Week in Review

Last Monday we traveled the seventy five or so miles to the East Memphis office of West Clinic so I could have the requisite scans. It's not a bad trip, not a bad procedure. It's having no coffee until afterwards! I usually begin the process, not focused on labs, all that liquid I have to drink or how still I have to lie on the scanner table, but focusing on the coffee that awaits the completion of all the little details. Last week my focus was both on coffee and trying to be warm in an over cooled waiting room. Afterwards we wasted no time in stopping by the coffee cart and getting outside to the 95 degree weather to wait for Kia to get the car. While sitting on the bench I could not help but notice the colorful lantana planted in front and the butterflies having a wonderful time flitting from plant to plant. How appropriate the message!

Butterflies signify new life; they illustrate beauty that can appear from unattractiveness; they make me think of possibilities of newness. I have new life in Christ; in Him I am a new creature. He took the ugliness in my life and replaced it with the beauty of His life. Cancer is ugly; it can be life ending; it can destroy who we are if we let it. The West Clinic has wings as its logo and Wings is the name of their newsletter. As I sat there, just briefly, I reflected on the the imagery of wings, of butterflies, of freedom. Through the ugliness of treatment, cancer patients are often given new life, given the freedom to grow and to share with others. Maybe you had to have been there, but it was a special moment for me and I am grateful for it.

Tuesday morning I saw our primary care doctor who seemed to be far more concerned about my lowered blood counts than the TIA episodes. I entered his office huffing and puffing, out of breath from the short walk from waiting to examining rooms. He advised me to be sure the oncologist was aware of my counts and I assured him that I have labs every time I go and the counts dictate whether or not I am treated. He did straighten out the problem we were having with the insurance not wanting to allow a particular prescription.

During the week I had a couple more episodes of what I call "dead leg." My left leg gets numb and tingly and I have trouble moving it. Sometimes it is a passing symptom; other times it stays with me an hour or more. I had it all day yesterday, but determined that I was reacting to the treatment on Friday and/or the anti-nausea pills I had. Today, I'm tired, but no "dead leg."

I saw the oncologist Friday and thought the visit not as conclusive or informative as I would have liked. I like details. I want to know what to expect. I got no details and still don't know much. He did give us some information that I rather expected from what little I know about the Avastin I've been taking. (It is the non-chemo drug that has shown great promise in the treatment of several kinds of cancer.) Unfortunately, in some rare cases it can have some neurological side effects, so it's being withheld for the time being. My mind naturally goes into the "what if" mode. "What if" the Avastin really is working and what will happen if I can't take it? "What if" I continue with it and it causes a full blown stroke? One could go crazy with the "what ifs" in life!

Often the night before we see the doctor in Corinth, Tom and I both have restless nights. This past Thursday I tossed a bit before drifting off, thinking of some of those "what ifs" and how I would respond. Then this calmness came over me as I pictured 24/7 on the ceiling. I let God have those questions and I went to sleep picturing myself being carried in the arms of Jesus. He never looked so strong and I never relaxed so much!

So the journey continues . . .

Pastor Margaret

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

It's No Secret . . .

. . . that yesterday was the first day of summer. We were in Memphis for an appointment for scans at the cancer clinic. It was freezing inside the clinic, but oppressively hot outside. Of course I grew up mostly in the Memphis area and I remember well the hot, humid, high temperatures. The heat advisory continues and we continue to stay in unless it's necessary to go outside.

. . . that Southerners lie in wait for the first tomatoes of the season. Whether we grow them ourselves or rely on the Farmers' Market, we take turns checking to see if/when the "tomato lady" will have some to sell. Last Saturday Liz visited said "tomato lady" before I even opened my eyes and wasn't disappointed. This morning a friend called, said she had been to the market and wanted to bring a vegetable supper to us. It was so good! We had green beans cooked w/ new potatoes, squash and onions, corn on the cob and cornbread. What a way to end the day!
Earlier in the day a friend brought lunch along with cucumbers she had just picked in her garden. We had a little touch of heaven on earth. I wonder if vegetables can get any better.

. . . that we have health issues. I wonder sometimes how many hours of my life have been spent waiting for a doctor or for a procedure to be done. I had an appointment this morning with the primary care doctor and we thought it was a most satisfactory visit. He straigthened out a glitch we encountered trying to get a medicine the insurance wouldn't cover. His main concern seemed to be my low blood counts and believes when they rise, I'll feel better. Well, yes!!! Of course, as long as I have cancer, I'll have treatment; as long as there is treatment, there will be low blood counts. Just as cancer and treatment have become a way of life, so now will fatigue.

. . . God is faithful beyond what we could ask or think. In spite of the knowns and the unknowns, I am more at peace than I have been in a while. Once I remarked to my friend Susan, who also has ovarian cancer, that my trust in God is firm, but it seems I forget sometimes that He is in charge and is caring for me. She reminded me that I don't have to remember because God is on duty 24/7 and never forgets. Just what I needed to hear. As I face tomorrow I can be assured that I do not face it alone. As God said to Joshua: I will never leave you nor forsake you. Now, put a smile on your face, straighten up, be strong and courageous; be strong and very courageous (a few of my words added). You may have some concern in your life that would be helped by remembering "24/7."

Pastor Margaret

Friday, June 18, 2010

Breaking Silence . . .

Several of you have e-mailed or called because I've been away from the blog, Face Book, and e-mail communication for a while. Here is a whole bevy of reasons. Last week was extraordinarily busy: preparing for the last Sunday at Humboldt, going for a regular treatment on Friday and we were pleasantly surprised by a visit from Tom's brother. We had not seen him in about five years and had such a good time while he was here. He and his wife, Susan, are moving this weekend from Richmond to a little town below Denver . That's a long way from here!!

This week I adjusted to not having a deadline or sermon preparation--still feels funny. On Tuesday I had a delightful lunch with Humboldt's new pastor. Though there are challenges, as there are for any new person taking over a pastorate, I believe she will be excellent in her new call. I look forward to a growing friendship with her and watching as God works through her.

Wednesday, I dressed, went by the Farmers' Market and on to the grocery store. Then it started. I began feeling lightheaded and dizzy, with numbness and tingling in my hands and feet. It was not something I had felt before now, though I do have numbness and tingling in my hands and feet--a chemo side effect. I felt exremely weak and wondered if I would make it to buy groceries and drive home. Fortunately, I made it. After resting and drinking lots of water I felt almost back to normal. When I got up about 2 to go to sit with the little girls while Liz took Sarah to the orthodontist, I had another episode and realized I couldn't/shouldn't drive or be responsible for children. I called the cancer clinic and was told by the nurse that the symptoms described were those identified with heart attacks or strokes and that I should get to the ER right then. So, tonight after two nights in the hospital, too many tests to remember, I am home.
Tom's neurologist has now become mine and we couldn't be more pleased and our daily sitter, Kia, arrived here as usual at 9 a.m. Wednesday and never left us until we were home and settled at 4 this afternoon. Her care and loyalty is unbelievable!! For those two people we are very grateful!

The verdict: there is evidence of TIAs and narrowing of blood vessels in my skull. The two episodes I had were the TIAs. The heart was not involved. Now, we'll need to balance medication for this new issue with the cancer medications, I'll have to change some eating habits and certainly not ignore symptoms, blaming anything quirky on chemo. I can tell that my left leg and hand are weaker and not as easy to control which could have implications for driving right now. I don't have to tell you how to pray.

I do plan to be a better communicator. We love you and are so glad you are a part of our life!
We are safe in the arms of our mighty God.

Pastor Margaret

Monday, June 07, 2010

Yesterday was my next to the last Sunday to preach in my current capacity at Humboldt. These days are bittersweet! I am ready for a break, but so sad to be leaving a people whom we have come to love very much. They have encouraged me in ministry and supported me with love and advice when Tom was so sick. They only thought I was sent there for them! In reality God knew I would need what they had to offer and put me in their midst.

Yesterday was hard because of the winding down, but it was also hard because I had a hard time walking and standing, a result of the medicine I was taking, I believe. While I was preaching, I heard my voice, but it was completely lifeless--no enthusiasm. I hoped that no one would notice, but I know they did. I thought I had figured out the side effect schedule, but found out I was wrong. The bone pain in my back usually comes five to seven days after a treatment and it did. Only this time it was accompanied by waves of nausea. That meant taking pain meds and anti-nausea meds which I found don't mix well. Fortunately, I wasn't being judged on my preaching--I would have failed. I didn't do God's word justice.

In the days preceding my entering the hospital with pneumonia in 2006, I didn't leave our room except to go to the doctor. Tom would ask me if I'd like to come downstairs or if I felt like going down. I usually replied that I could go down; it was going back up that gave me problems. That's how I feel now. After so long and so much chemo, the body begins to resist and signal that it's time to stop. Is that what's happening or do I need to keep pushing? Tom's back went out on him in the night last Wednesday and he's spent a lot of time in the bed and on pain killers. The pain and the medication intefere with his congitive processes and I am reminded of how much he needs me. At times like this I get a little angry at illness. Our retirement was to have been picture perfect with lots of time for travel, grandchildren and just being together. Tonight I'm a bit angry at the whole situation; I hate seeing such a strong, intelligent, compassionate man being stripped of his most endearing attritbutes; I hate making plans and having to forego them because I don't have energy to perform. Then I ask:

Where would I be without the strong arm of God to support me? Where would I be without the trust I have in God's everlasting care? Where would I be if I had no faith and had to depend on myself? Please pray for strength of heart and energy for my body. You have been such a help and I'm grateful for each of you.

Pastor Margaret

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

It's Official

Memorial Day has come and gone and today is the first day of June. Though it's still spring on the calendar, it's summer in our thoughts and practices. We had a somewhat laid back weekend, beginning with a trip to Corinth on Friday. Every day--almost everything we did revolved around food.

We have a favorite place to eat in Corinth. It's a down home type restaurant with daily lunch specials, senior citizen portions and really good catfish. It's called the "Dinner Bell" and it has one out front that gets rung on occasion. We went there Friday to satisfy a taste our friend Marge had for chicken and dressing, the daily special. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, it was all gone. We try to arrange appointments so that we can get to the Dinner Bell before 2 p.m. when they quit serving the special or by 1 p.m. so they won't be sold out. So much of Southern culture revolves around food and the way it's served and daily specials at the Dinner Bell are a big part of that culture, one that's duplicated all around the South.

Over the weekend, we went from one meal to the next, laughing at ourselves for planning the next before we ate what was currently cooking. My children know me to be somewhat of a purist in the kitchen. I'm not opposed to shortcuts or tools that simplify a task, but packaged foods rarely find themselves onto my shelves. Why buy canned soup when what you make is better? Why buy frozen dinners when you can fill a plate with leftovers and freeze it yourself? Age and treatment have altered some of those attitudes! Now, we keep frozen dinners on hand for times like Friday night when I come home all washed out! Times have changed.

When I sit and let others cook it's a sure sign of fatigue. I belong in the kitchen! And, it's hard to sit back and let others do all the work. Tommy cooked burgers on the grill Saturday night, flank steak in his new stovetop smoker Sunday night and ribs at our house last night. I didn't contibute much--just a big potato casserole and cold slaw on Sunday and a place to eat last night. I miss cooking for my family, but feel pampered when they talk me down and do it all--and they pretty much did this weekend. It would have been perfect if Marty and her family had been here too!