An Intentional Life

My church has faithfully prayed for me ever since I was diagnosed with cancer 21 years ago.  Yes, my name has appeared on the prayer list almost weekly. “Most people on the church prayer list either get well…or die… yet I have not managed to do either!”  When I made that statement to the congregation at a Wednesday service, I was intentionally trying to be funny; and from their response, I was successful.  Everyone laughed.

I went on to share by way of an update to these dear ones who have prayed so faithfully that there is every indication there will not be another 21 years.  Laughter?  In the face of death? Absolutely!  To me, this is a great manifestation of the grace and mercy of God.  How wonderful that my loving heavenly father allows me to bring laughter even while coming to grips once again with my own mortality.  Just because I may be suffering does not mean that everyone around me has to suffer as well!

Thus has begun in my spirit a subtle but very real transition from this life to the next.  In what I believe was a providentially directed birthday gift from a friend, I have been reading Pursue the Intentional Life by Jean Fleming.  Her insightful writing held up to the test of Scripture is helping me determine how I want to live the rest of my life.  Jean wrote a prayer that my heart echoes:

“Father, dear Father, only You know how many days I have left on earth and what joys, opportunities, and challenges are ahead for me. I give myself to You again.  Lord God, I want Continue reading

In Quietness

It is the wee hours of the morning. I have just completed a list of things in preparation for what is now today. Stopping, I am taken with the quietness. There are no cars speeding past, no noises from the apartment above me, no emails flying in requiring a reply, no phones ringing. All is at rest seemingly.
What a perfect scenario for basking in the presence of God without distraction. When sitting down to read God’s Word, even soon after rising, I find myself so distracted with the cares and plans of the day. There is a constant re-focusing and a frustration that my concentration is not what I would like it to be. Thus, during this brief respite, I will rehearse the goodness of God and offer to him the praise and Thanksgiving due unto his name.

God and I have shared some sweet moments in recent days as I have once again been confronted with my own mortality. The latest CT scan shows that the cancerous tumors in my lungs continue their steady, albeit small, growth. The paralyzed vocal cord is directly related to one tumor specifically that is putting pressure on a nerve. While I do not sense that my demise is imminent, I do sense that my time is drawing nearer. We are still talking years, but not many years.

Thus we have diligently sought to know the mind of God: Do we continue pro-actively fighting this disease? In all the reading I have done on the particular ovarian cancer cell that is now in my lungs, I have learned that it is a rare form of ovarian cancer, that it seldom metastasizes. It is further characterized as slow growing but very tenacious. I have not read that this cancer is curable. The praise and thanksgiving to God is that I have survived over 20 years since the original diagnosis! They don’t track survival rates beyond 10 years because most women who have ovarian cancer do not live that long!

Recently the Lord spoke to me through Hosea 6:11, “Also, O Judah, he hath set an harvest for thee….” It was as if the Lord was saying, “You have something to look forward to but your work is not yet done. If you expect the harvest I have set for you, you must continue planting, watering, tilling – working!” So, with great quietness of spirit, peace of mind, and fervency of heart, the approach is to continue a protocol that we trust will give physical strength and stamina to “keep on keeping on” as Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., so often admonished his “boys and girls.” If any healing occurs, it will be because God ordains healing. We are not focused on healing. We are focused on doing the will of God from the heart as long as he gives strength and enablement.

In discussing various options with my family recently, one of my sons said, “Mom, nothing you do will alter the number of days God has ordained for you.” That helped to confirm in my heart that regardless of how many days are left, I want them lived well and “to the praise of the glory of his grace” (Ephesians 1:6).

“In quietness and confidence shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15). The Lord be praised!

“Occupied with Joy”

" There is night so we can appreciate day, sorrow so we can appreciate joy, evil so we can appreciate good, 'YOU' so I can appreciate 'LOVE' ! "Creative Commons License Parvin via Compfight
My pastor has been preaching through the book of Ecclesiastes on Sunday evenings. Recently he referred to Ecclesiastes 5:29, and I had one of those I’ve-never-seen-this-before moments. Here is the verse from the ESV: “For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.”

Who of us does not identify in some measure with Job and all of his sorrows? Life does not get much worse than what Job experienced: loss of children (the worst loss I can imagine), possessions, boils covering his body, and all were allowed by God to prove his servant. Reading through the book of Job, we see him acknowledging his grief and desperate state, but he fights to accept it all as from the Lord, and “in all this Job did not sin or charge God for wrong.” (Job 1:22)

Since there are now many days of my life, I find that I remember less and less of the bad days and more and more of the good days. For instance, like every mother, I remember the birth of my first child. My husband was there for the labor and present in the delivery room. Although the process was considered uneventful by medical standards, it had a profound effect on my husband who held my hand afterwards and stated, “I will never put you through this again!” How soon we forgot the pain and trauma of childbirth as we went on to birth three more! Yes, I remember the pain, the sleepless nights, colicky babies. I remember that those things happened, but I remember more the joy each of my children has brought, not only in their growing up years but also as they have matured into Godly people who desire to please the Lord. It is he who has so marvelously occupied us with joy; for if we remembered only the pain of our days, surely we would all be suicidal.

Lately doors have opened to share my struggle with cancer. In writing and speaking of all I have endured in these 20 years, there has been a recounting and a remembering of the woes of the disease. Yes, there was suffering, sickness and a dragging through life that was not fun. But what I most remember is the kindness of friends and family who helped with meals (even gift certificates for dinners out), their faithful prayers that continue to this day, and a loving heavenly father who truly occupied me with his joy! How amazing is that?! Pretty amazing! I have truly experienced God’s enduring grace and he has occupied my heart with his joy.

Getting through his testing was not easy for Job. Neither is it easy for us to get through the hard times of our lives. To come out on the other side of a trial with joy and rejoicing, there has to be the deliberate choice to see God in everything and to know any hard place is for our good and his glory. As I have read through Job, it seemed that Job suffered forever. I was surprised to learn that all of these griefs of his life covered a period of about one year. Job certainly had the correct perspective as he proclaims: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold….” (Job 19:25-27a) This is a powerful demonstration of what it means to be “occupied with joy.”

The Lord be praised!

My Gracious God

How graciously God deals with me.  He is not a God that superimposes himself in my life, but he is present to the extent I invite him to be.

 From my childhood, I remember a picture of Christ standing at the door knocking.  It hung on a wall in my grandmother’s home, and curiously enough, there was no door handle visible as Christ knocked.  Recently, I heard someone say that the handle to the door of your heart is on the inside.  Christ did not come into my heart except by invitation when I  opened the door from the inside.  Today, he resides in my heart as Savior, but he moves through the rooms of my life only to the extent I allow him the freedom to stir, renovate and change me.  He is such a gracious resident who waits patiently for me to give him free reign.

Most recently he was gracious to give me a good report from the CT scan I had earlier this month.  I was not expecting good news regarding the cancerous tumors in my lungs.  Living with a terminal illness like cancer forces you to take nothing for granted and to know that the worst is always a possibility.  Yet the report came back saying that since July 2012 the tumors had grown “only slightly!”  The oncologist wants to see me again in six months, but he said there would not be another CT scan until this time next year!  That will be the longest period I have ever gone between scans.

God’s graciousness continues in the way he uses that still small voice to keep me on track with even the most mundane things in my life.  You may find this amusing, but it is part of how I recognize God in every aspect of my life.  I juice fresh vegetables as part of my health regime.  To be sure, it is a messy project, so I juice a lot at one time and freeze it for future use. That still small voice reminds me when it is time to take more jars out of the freezer so they will be thawed when needed. Juicing is something I felt God wanted me to do, so he helps me be faithful to it. No, God is not my errand boy or my secretary. To me this speaks to the depth of his interest in every aspect of my life and how closely we are aligned and commune.

That still small voice in gracious tenderness smites me when I fail. God does not run roughshod over me in my failures. He deals with me gently and, if need be, firmly but always in love. He never leaves nor forsakes. There are things other people seem to get away with that God won’t let me off the hook about. I am not envious. I am constrained by a loving and gracious God who desires only his best for me. Over time, this resident has become the Lord and King of my life because I have surrendered to his gracious tenderness and allowed him free reign in all the rooms of my heart and life.

The Lord be praised for his gracious goodness!

The Cancer Story – Part IV

When we left off last time, we were preparing for my daughter’s wedding.  I had a second chemo treatment before the wedding and was experiencing weakness and lack of stamina.  With all of the last-minute details to be taken care of, the greatest in my mind was how to get the rented flowers and plants from the nursery to the church and back.  God sent a man in our church who borrowed a covered van from his company and took care of this for us.  I have thanked him more than once for coming to our aid.  Friday night of the rehearsal, God had more helpers to do the physical work of attractively arranging the foliage.  How blessed to have people with talent and a servant’s heart to assist.  I was instructed to just sit on a front pew and give directions.

Wedding days are long days, and there was some concern as to how I would hold up.  But, the Lord be praised, I was there for the pictures beforehand and the reception afterwards.  As my son escorted me down the aisle to my seat, I saw tears of rejoicing in the eyes of people who knew of my struggle.  I drew great strength from those demonstrations of love and care.  It was interesting as many came through the receiving line and commented, “It’s so nice that you did not lose your hair!”  I guess the wig looked truly natural.  Others were curious enough to ask, “Geneva, is that your hair?”  I replied, “Of course it’s my hair!  I have the receipt to prove it!”

With a beautiful wedding behind us and the happy couple off to start their lives together, life continued in a routine of work and chemo treatments.  We finally settled on a schedule whereby I would have a treatment on Thursday afternoon, go to work on Friday pumped up by steroids given to counter nausea, have an okay day on Saturday, end up on the couch Sunday too sick to attend church, get up on Monday morning, vomit, and go on to work! What a life!

As I stated earlier, I was so naive about how long I would need the chemo treatments.  As the weeks stretched into months and then into years, I was growing more uneasy about how long I might have to keep this up.  Regular CT scans showed that while the tumors were not growing, neither were they shrinking.  My treatments were handled at an ambulatory infusion center.  After several months of chemo, my veins began to collapse, so an access port was surgically implanted.  For some reason, my port was difficult for the nurses to access.  It was a very painful process as they pressed a curved needle into the narrow access point.  One nurse tried three times and finally admitted, “I have no idea what I am doing.”  After that, I insisted that the access be done only by a nurse who was familiar with my port. Because it was so painful, the goal was to get the needle in on the first try.  One sweet nurse confessed that she prayed before sticking me.  God was still sending his angels to minister to me.  How gracious was my God.

In July 2010, after four years of chemo and no real evidence that the tumors were being impacted, I told the oncologist that I wanted to stop.  I had sensed the Lord dealing with me for a number of months, so I finally summoned the courage to tell the doctor I’d had enough.  He was willing for me to take a break for four months and then do a CT scan in October to assess the situation.  Over the years I had continued to educate myself on the power of nutrition to heal, and one friend kept me flooded with good information.   Thus, concurrently with suspending treatment I began changing to a vegetarian diet and added juicing to my lifestyle.  Within three weeks after stopping treatment and changing my diet, I felt like a new person.  October came when the doctor wanted to do the CT scan.  Please remember that during all these years of chemo, I had absolutely zero insurance; but between the goodness of God and generosity of the Greenville Hospital System, the medical costs had been covered.  Since I would qualify for Medicare in January 2011, I asked the doctor if we could hold off until then to do the next CT scan.  He was agreeable.

What unfolds next is a testament to the power and grace of God.  Looks like we are headed to Part V only because I want these posts to not take too much of your time to read.  Also, there are some details that should not be skipped because they show the working of God in my life.  With more to come, may the Lord be praised!

The Cancer Story – Part III

With the type of cancer confirmed – granulosa cell carcinoma – I began regular consultations with the gynecological oncologist, a fine doctor who is a believer.  Since his mother died of breast cancer, he is even more passionate about his work with gynecological cancers.  Because the granulosa cell is fairly slow growing, it was almost a year before any significant growth or change in the tumors was detected.  The doctor was now recommending chemotherapy.

A couple of years before the cancer was found in my lungs, I had learned about some powerful glyconutritional supplements that started me on a journey of learning about the importance of nutrition in maintaining good health.  I began taking those supplements and recommending them to others. I had always told myself that if ever I had cancer, I would NOT take chemo.  It was an agonizing decision as I prayed and sought counsel on both sides of the question.  Do I continue with the nutritional approach or do I start chemo?  I was consulting with a medical doctor who had left conventional practice because of her belief that if you feed the body properly, the body can heal itself.  She had much first-hand proof that this was true, and her following was growing.  After exchanging several emails on the decision facing me, this courageous doctor finally said, “Geneva, if it were me, I would do both.  I would take the chemo and stay with the nutritional supplements.”  I was comfortable with that approach, and my family concurred.  We began talking with the oncologist about a date for the first treatment.

While trying to make the best decision about my health care, we were also in the throes of planning my only daughter’s wedding scheduled for the end of July 2006.  I was so excited!  After three trips down the aisle as mother of the groom, I was finally going to be mother of the bride.  I had even taken on the task of making the bridesmaids gowns.  The pattern and fabric were chosen, and I finally managed to cut out three simple dresses when God stepped in with a different agenda and I came down with another severe upper respiratory incident.  Knowing how these things go, I realized I would never finish those dresses in time for the wedding, so I called friends whose daughter was a professional seamstress and invited them to lunch after church on Sunday. Although I was getting worse and breathing was difficult, I managed to serve a meal and hand off the dress project before being instructed by the doctor to get to the emergency room that afternoon.

The ER doctors decided I had blood clots in my lungs, so I was admitted to the hospital on July 2, 2006.  After nine days in the hospital that included a wrong diagnosis and medications that caused my lungs to hemorrhage, it was decided that I would have my first chemo treatment before leaving the hospital.

I was so naive about this chemo thing and a little arrogant as well.  Somehow I had the idea that one or two treatments is all it would take to eradicate this cancer; and despite what the doctor said, I was just sure I would not lose my hair.  God knows me so well, but in his loving and gentle way, he shepherded me through the tears when my hair started first to thin, then to come out in clumps as I showered.  I was so weak from the chemo that my son had to accompany me for the final wedding shopping to push the wheeelchair.  We also shopped for a wig.  It was one week before my daughter’s wedding and all of my hair was gone.  I learned something about my own vanity through this experience and even more about the kindness and mercy of my God as the wedding neared.

At this juncture I am not sure how many more “Parts” it is going to take to finsh the story.  In truth, the story will not be finished until God writes the final chapter, but the goal is to bring you down the early roads I traveled so that you can appreciate the magnitude of God’s working in all of this.  I hope you see God in these details.  He is working all things for his glory and my good.  His strength is being made perfect in my weakness, and he is molding me for the future.  See you next week.

The Lord be praised!

The Cancer Story – Part II

Fast forward from 1994 to the Spring of 2005.  My husband was preparing to visit his father in Texas for a week.  I was eager for him to be on his way because I had a list a mile long of things I wanted to do in his absence.  In fact, I said “Lord,  I have so many worthwhile things to accomplish.  Please don’t get in my way!”  What a foolish thing to say!

My husband had not been gone 48 hours before I was flat on my back with the worst upper respiratory incident I had ever experienced.  I seemed to get these sinus/bronchial infections at least twice a year, but this one was worse than usual.  I had to sleep in a recliner so I could breathe.  None of those important projects such as visiting people, doing deeds of mercy, or housework had even been started.  What a graphic illustration of the saying “Man proposes; God disposes!”  It was clear I was not the one in control of my agenda.

By Friday of that week I was not getting any better and I was fighting for every breath.  With the weekend looming and fearing that pneumonia was setting in, I asked my daughter to take me to the emergency room.  The ER experience was typical….lots of waiting…..and waiting.  They did a chest x-ray and took their time getting back to me with the results.  I will never forget when the doctor walked into the room where my daughter and I were waiting and announced, “Well, Mrs. Anderson, you do not have pneumonia but you do have cancer!”  The date was April 1, but this was no joke.

There were many things in that moment that I had no answers for.  It had been 11 years since the doctor said, “We got it all,” when my worst fear that the cancer might return had been realized, and it had taken up residence in my lungs.  The x-ray showed two larger tumors and many peanut-sized tumors scattered throughout my lungs.  A CT scan followed that evening that confirmed the diagnosis.  This news was so overwhelming that trusting God was the only thing I could do.  Metastatic disease could not have come at a worse time as I was both unemployed and uninsured.  Yet the God with whom I had been so brazen lovingly flooded my heart with his peace.

My husband was still out of town but was due home in a couple of days.  I shared the information with my children but did not think it fair to deliver the news to him by phone.  I wanted to talk this over in person.  Upon his return, we gathered as a family to contemplate an uncertain future and to pray together for the Lord’s guidance.

I was referred to a thoracic surgeon who performed a bronchoscopy hoping to collect enough cells to determine the exact type of cancer that was in my lungs.
When that procedure did not yield enough material for testing, a lung biopsy was ordered.  The doctor made it sound like such a simple procedure that I made plans for the weekend following the surgery on Thursday!  Again, I was such a fool.  As it turned out, this was major surgery requiring the usual six-week recouperation period!   Tests  proved the cancer to be the exact same granulosa cell that had been in my ovary.  That being confirmed, I was then referred to a gynecological oncologist.  It is hard for people to understand that I do not have lung cancer.  I have ovarian cancer in my lungs!

I will pause the narrative here and take it up again next week.  Stay tuned.  God is at work.

The Lord be praised!

 

The Cancer Story – Part I

In the fall of 1993, I started with symptoms not uncommon for a 47-year-old female.  Thankfully I had kept up the annual internal exam so that when changes began manifesting themselves, the doctor noticed right away.  At first he thought it might be fibroid tumors; but as the symptoms continued, he recommended an ultrasound that revealed a mass on my right ovary.  I was referred to a gynecologist who conducted further tests. As I sat in his office in January, 1994, the diagnosis of ovarian cancer was pronounced and surgery was recommended.

As I tried to take in the information, I noted that the doctor was visibly moved.  I also remember intense peace flooding my being at that moment, so I reassured the doctor that everything was going to be okay.  I sensed the presence of the Lord there in the doctor’s office.  However, there was still something unreal about this whole experience.  Was it really possible that such an enemy as cancer could live in my body?  Nevertheless, the peace of God continued to reign in my heart.

Surgery was performed on February 3, 1994. The doctors were meticulous as they worked to remove the cancer, then carefully explored the abdominal cavity to be sure there was no sign of cancer anywhere else.  Before I ever left the operating room, the excised mass was tested.  I had Stage 1A granulosa cell carcinoma.  If you have cancer, this is the stage where you hope it is caught.  From that standpoint, I felt blessed.  My records were further reviewed by the tumor board.  It was then I heard those reassuring words, “We got it all!”

There was more good news….well, sort of.  The granulosa cell is a rare form of ovarian cancer.  The doctor pointed out that this cancer cell is very slow growing and rarely metastasizes, so his prognosis was very good that truly they had removed all of the cancer.

My recovery from surgery would be classed as routine; and after the perfunctory six weeks of recovery, I was released to return to work and to resume my normal activities.  I was feeling so good that I stripped and refinished the metal cabinets in my kitchen.

Many people encouraged me during this time.  A few days before surgery a sweet friend stopped by with a new pair of pajamas.  Another friend gifted me with a robe.  A nurse friend stayed a night while I was in the hospital.  There were so many expressions of love and care that I could not possibly name them all, but each reminded me of God’s love and care most of all.

The ensuing months were not all smooth sailing as the doctors worked to get my hormones leveled out, but life continued.  While my four children were still living at home, they were self sufficient and proved to be very helpful and loving.  My husband was constant in his love and support in every way.  God had been merciful and my heart was full of praise.

The years passed.  I kept having this recurring thought:  What if the cancer came back?  But the doctor said they had gotten it all.

The Lord be praised!

To Encourage a Friend

Many who know me are aware of my continuing battle with cancer. I am sure I will write more of that journey here, but one of the blessings of the journey is that of being an encouragement to others who are also enduring the cancer crucible.

The lady to whom the following message was sent was recently told that her cancer is progressing very rapidly through her body. Her time is growing short. Thankfully she is a believer; but until we are finally with the Lord, the sufferings of this present life can be pretty intense. Continue reading