A few weeks ago my dear friend Rebecca recommended the new album by Sandra McCracken, called God’s Highway. When I did a quick Google search to learn more about it, the first result I clicked on was this video where Sandra tells a story about the title track. Here is what I heard:
I wrote the title track for the album, God’s Highway, with a friend of mine, Thad Cockrell, and playing through this song it was actually a dark season for me. I was kind of in a fog. And as we were writing, I remember trying to write and express how I was feeling, and Thad, very pastorally said, “You know, the old spirituals would sing not about where we are in the moment, not ‘My feet are tired and I’m in a fog,’ but ‘My feet are strong, my eyes are clear.'” This way of singing ourselves forward, sometimes with tears, sometimes with defiance, sometimes with great celebration.
The album is beautiful. I highly recommend it.
I love this concept of singing ourselves forward. It’s nothing new, of course. We have always needed to remind ourselves (and re-remind ourselves and re-remind ourselves) of the truth. I think about Deuteronomy 6, which talks about our need to remember and communicate the reality of our world.
…Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise…
…When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers…
Sometimes I read blog posts written by other women in cancer treatment, and I think, “Wow! How they are so positive?” I feel ashamed I’m not quite so positive. But, I’m aware that as these dear women write, they’re trying to tap into what they know, not just what they feel.
No, we don’t feel optimistic and positive all the time–but we can claim what we believe is true.
Tonight I was rinsing the shampoo out of Lincoln’s hair, and he got some water in his eyes. He squealed dramatically and exclaimed, “I need a washcloth, I need a washcloth!” Of course I got him a washcloth, but I also told him, “Lincoln, you’re tough. I’ve seen you at the pool, and you like to put your face in the water. It’s no biggie if you get water in your eyes in the bathtub.”
It’s kind of like that. We need the encouragement to stay strong because God has brought us out of tough places.
Where we are in this treatment journey
It’s easier for me to be optimistic when my circumstances and results seem favorable. I was mostly cheerful during the first cycle of chemotherapy (Adriamycin + Cytoxan), because it went well–at least from a side effects perspective. As my doctors put it, “You sailed through.” My hair fell out, I lost color in my face, I fell asleep on the couch a lot, I was nauseous and unmotivated at times, and I had mood swings and ‘roid rage, but overall, it could have been a lot worse. My main focus was getting through the treatment, which we did.
This second cycle, Carboplatin + Taxol, has come with fewer side effects but, ironically, more fear and anxiety. Because I get weekly doses of Taxol (Carbo every three), I am taking steroids more often. Sometimes they keep me up at night. I feel better on this regimen, so my mind is more active. I read more. I Google medical studies. (I know! Stay off the Internet!!) I think about the future. Several people dear to me are going through very tough things, and I can’t help but grieve and ask hard questions.
We hit a bump in the road with low white blood cell counts, low red blood cell counts, and low platelet counts. Some other things were low too. So, I had to skip treatment for two weeks. Thankfully, I was able to do treatment this week! We’ve had to lower dosages, in hopes I can get chemotherapy weekly rather than stop/start again. I have five treatments left.
Last week my nurse practitioner and my doctor said the tumor is definitely getting smaller. They asked, “Can you tell?”
I said, “I don’t know. I’m in a bad place.”
Possibly for their own edification, possibly to raise my spirits, they scheduled an ultrasound with my surgeon for the next morning. When my surgeon looked at it, he said, “Oh, it’s definitely smaller. We’re in millimeters, not centimeters.”
Yesss! Very encouraging.
My surgeon also said two interesting things I have been thinking more about: “It’s your job to be negative. It’s our job to be positive,” and “The young women who come here are always waiting for the other shoe to drop.” Hmm. About that second statement:
- I want to walk around with more hope. I don’t want to walk around with a “waiting for the other shoe to drop” vibe. (The docs and Bryce see me at my worst.)
- At the same time, it’s like, “K. One minute I’m joining a running group and finally getting my mom life a little organized. Then I get this diagnosis, and all of a sudden I’m getting poisonous infusions that make me look like Tilda Swinton’s portrayal of The Ancient One in Doctor Strange. Soooo…yeah.”
We can laugh about this, right? And seriously, I will stay as bald as I need to for healing to happen…
Control vs. trust
John Piper’s short little book Don’t Waste Your Cancer says this: “We waste our cancer if we seek comfort from our odds rather than from God.” He quotes 2 Corinthians 1:9, “We felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”
During this cycle, particularly the last month or so, I’ve struggled with control and trust. I’m having to re-learn to rely on God, not myself. Scripture is rich on this topic.
Because I’ve had more energy, I’ve wanted to make some future plans. And by “plans” I mean “plans to prevent recurrence.” (As far as it depends on me–with the imperfect knowledge I have.) How can I exercise more in the future? Will I eat differently? How can I meditate on scripture more often? Should I start painting again?
In general, I think this is a good place to be. As a mom and a wife, and really just as a person who has been given the gift of life, I want to be a good steward of my body and my time.
I’ve been reading Anticancer by David Servan-Schreiber here and there. I’m learning a lot about health. It’s fascinating, but kind of scary. As I read it, I’m more prone to ask the question, “Did I do something to cause this?” I’m eager to learn, but I’m wary of my tendency to try to shame myself into behavior change. Any modifications I make–to diet, exercise, etc. need to come from a place of joy and thankfulness, or they won’t stick.
My doctor and I have talked a lot about balance. Like, no, I’m not into tofu skin, and that’s okay.
How the boys are doing
Thanks to lots of help and Bryce being an awesome dad, Lincoln and Hyatt seem to be doing well.
Lincoln (four) likes to help me make coffee in the morning. The other day, we turned the pot on, and then I went to my room to start getting ready for work. He played with some toys in the family room. I heard the timer go off, and a moment later, Lincoln brought the whole teeter-tottering pot of coffee into my room. “Mama, I brought you your coffee. Your coffee’s ready.” That cracked me up. He’s so sweet.
Hyatt (two) is having fun with language. He likes to make up his own words for things. And, sometimes he’s saying the real words, but we can’t tell. We finally realized Hyatt was saying “That was cooool!” after accomplishing a task. It sounds like, “Tha-wah-cooooo.” He’s a cuddlebug who loves his grandparents.
And really, Bryce is amazing. I wanted him to be Clark Kent for Halloween.
Halloween on a Monday
Speaking of Halloween, who made it on a Monday?! When I’m able to receive treatment, Mondays are my tired days. And yes–of course I dressed up at work. I put on fake lashes and a lot of makeup. By the end of the day, I was exhausted, and we still had trick-or-treating to do! Next year I’m dressing up as a computer hacker so I can wear a hoodie and glasses all day. Anyways, I was Rosie the Riveter. I posed all day with my hand in the wrong position!! So my co-worker Dan fixed that in post.
Lincoln was a Ghostbuster, and Hyatt was a firefighter. Hyatt was a little unsure of things at first, but pretty soon he was ALL ABOUT IT.
Visits from my sister and friends
A highlight from this past month has been visits from family and friends. One of my college roommates, Amanda, showed up at our house one Sunday evening with a meal–all the way from Northern Virginia.
Another college friend from Northern VA, Sarah, came with me to one of my chemo appointments three weeks ago. After waiting at the hospital for my labs to come in, we learned my counts were too low to actually receive chemo. Oh well. We got to have a luxurious kid-free long lunch al fresco in Carytown. It was one of those beautiful sunny fall days. While we were eating, Levar Stoney, who at one point was JMU’s Student Government Association President while we were there, came by campaigning. (He recently won the Richmond mayoral race.) We got to catch up with him for a few minutes. It made me proud to have a fellow (young!) Duke wanting to serve the city.
My beautiful sister visited from California! I love when she visits because she’s so great with the boys. Plus, she introduces me to California healthy living intel. Have you tried Golden Milk? It is very good for you, and delicious.
And finally, my Uncle Pat, Aunt Jessie, and cousin Kathleen met us for breakfast at Whole Foods last weekend. The boys hung in throughout the breakfast amazingly well (we aren’t people that take our kids out to eat much). It didn’t hurt that Uncle Pat walked them around the store and let them get a big bag of cookies. Sometimes, ya know, whatever it takes.
Thank you for praying for us!