A Firm Foundation for My Mental Health

Much like two sides to a coin, there are two sides to one’s life, the physical and the spiritual. I’m a firm believer that the two are woven together and affect each other. But they are also separate aspects of a person. Different needs are required for both.

The physical nature of the cancer in my body has certainly had a profound effect on my spiritual health. So I understand the question that medical professionals ask as well as close friends. “How are you doing?” many times means more than if I am in physical pain. People want to know how I’m internally thinking and feeling about my life since my diagnosis.

My mental health is not a stagnant pond, but more like the shore of the sea. The waves ebb and flow. The tide comes in and goes out. No day is the same; yet, there are constants. I have a Rock that is always firm despite the size and intensity of the waves of the storm.

I use this analogy partly because of Jesus’s words from the Sermon on the Mount.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25).

This was also the picture I kept in my mind in the days and weeks immediately following the death of our infant son in 2013. It felt like a storm had beat on our house, and all we had was the Rock of our foundation left. While grieving our loss, my heart clung to the truth: “God is good.”

So when this breast cancer storm hit, I went back to this familiar passage for comfort once again. This second storm is greater and more intense. The winds and waves have beat on our house without end. But the Rock has not moved. And I cling to it harder than ever before.

Focusing on Things Above

I know that I did not create my faith. There is no room for me to boast about how great my faith is (Jeremiah 9:23-24; Hebrews 12:2; Ephesians 2:8-9).

Let me instead boast in God and how unchanging He is. His Word is completely true and trustworthy (1 Peter 1:24-25). The Bible comforts me by providing the framework to understand life. Yet the same way the tide rises and falls, so some days are harder than others to rest in what I know is true.

One morning only a few weeks after my diagnosis, I woke up and just lay in bed staring at the wall. The onslaught of all the new terms about breast cancer and medications made me feel so ignorant and out of control. Everything was new and unfamiliar. I was scared. But then in that moment, I realized that while I may not have a medical degree what I did have no one could take away. Who God is hadn’t changed. What I knew and had studied about Jesus was still the same. So, I determined then that I would lean hard into what I did know. I wasn’t going to go crazy researching every cancer article I could find online. I wasn’t going to buy all the books about coping with cancer or make radical life changes. Jesus was going to be my anchor.

And even though I have wonderful friends and family, it is Jesus who is always with me. When anxiety sneaks in suddenly, I cry out to the Shepherd of my soul for peace. The moments when the pain is too much to bear, I ask my Savior for mercy to endure. All alone in a waiting room or in a scan, He has not forsaken me. I never have to worry about Him not being available. There is no doubt about His love and care.

The Bible and Suffering

The Bible is full of examples of godly people experiencing suffering. Sometimes it is the result of evil forces gaining permission by God to attack the righteous (Job 1-2). Other times, it is God who lovingly decides to test the faith of His people (Hebrews 11-12).

Hebrews reminds us “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:5-6). Likewise, the Apostle Peter wrote to suffering Christians, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12) and “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

Suffering shouldn’t surprise me. God in His perfect power and wisdom is testing my faith so that it will lead to praise and glory and honor. It is for my good.

Making Sense of the Physical

While all I can see is this physical life, I know it is not all that exists. I very much live in the here and now, doing laundry, cooking meals and picking up children from school. But this will not last. I am being prepared for a more permanent life to come. And it is this spiritual understanding that guides my thoughts through days filled with sadness in this current life.

I believe God cares about how I physically feel. I know that He is the one who supplies all my needs, whether that is food, clothing or medical care (Matthew 6:25-34). That’s why I pray for God to sustain my life. I’m not afraid to ask Him for temporary things in this life, like raising my children and owning our own home. He wants me to go to Him about the things that are important to me (1 Peter 5:7).

My Biblical Framework

The Bible creates a framework for me to understand and process life. My theology (my beliefs about God and this world) were firmly in place before I was sick. I have not abandoned what I knew or added to it. But I do have a deeper, fuller grasp of the great truths I hold dear. God has proven Himself to be good and faithful to me through my affliction.

I understand that sin and suffering exist in this world and affect me and my family because of Adam’s first rebellious act against God (Genesis 3; Romans 5). While I don’t believe that my cancer is a result of a specific sin in my life, I do believe that sickness is a result of sin infecting the whole world. Brokenness marks all aspects of life. Jesus came as the Savior of the world to rescue sinners from the curse of sin and death. He offered His body as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins to God. And His resurrection from the dead proves it was accepted. Jesus has promised that all who believe in Him will have eternal life (John 3:16). He is going to resurrect all believers to a new life in a new and perfect Heaven and Earth (2 Peter 3).

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true” (Revelation 21:1-5).

The Bible tells me how things like cancer can exist. And why bad things can happen to good people. But it also provides hope for a future. And peace and grace for today. This is a strong and sturdy foundation to build a life upon. For those who put their trust in God will never be ashamed or disappointed.

The lyrics to the hymn “How Firm a Foundation” seem a fitting way to end this post. The firm foundation of God’s Word provides me with all the hope and stability I need to navigate the various paths of my heart and mind through life’s storms. My God truly supplies for my every need and that includes my mental health.

“How Firm a Foundation” (1787)
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word
What more can He say than to you He hath said
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled

Fear not, I am with thee; oh be not dismayed
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand

When through the deep waters I call thee to go
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie
My grace all sufficient shall be thy supply
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose
I will not, I will not desert to its foes
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake

April’s Cancer Update: November 2021

As some of you know, I (April) went through my usual rigmarole of scans last week.  Shots of dye, drinks of contrast, and CT machines provide my doctors with data about the current state of my breast cancer tumors. Peter and I went into these scans expecting some dramatic or at least definitive results. After having punched my tumors with the full power of my chemo drugs, we thought the scans would report that my tumors had shrunk. Sadly, that was not the case. But my scans weren’t without some good news either.  There does not appear to be any new growth in my tumors.  The cancer cells also seem more inactive. This is positive news for sure. 

What’s Next  

My chemotherapy (Abraxane) has done as much as it can do to fight back my tumors. Now, we move into a maintenance mode. The goal is to stay on my current treatment as long as possible. Until those nasty cancer cells start growing again, we will use the chemo to hold them back.  My doctors project the chemo will be effective for about three to six more months. When the cancer morphs and starts growing again, then we will discuss and decide on a new treatment plan.

For now, I will continue to use the Abraxane in a decreased dose.  Instead of three weeks on, one week off, I will transition to taking chemo every other week. This has the benefit of less time in the Infusion Center as well as less side effects per week/month.

Chemotherapy has proven to be brutal at times for me.  In addition to losing all my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes, there are the occasional fever and chills after the infusion, the constant stomach pains, the decreased appetite, the intense fatigue, and the neuropathy (losing feeling in my fingers and toes).  Some days these side effects are more than an annoyance and completely disruptive to my life. There is only so much that a person can push through. Over the last few weeks, I reach that point. Hopefully, a reduction in the Abraxane will increase my quality of life while still holding my cancer at bay.

How Are We Doing?

We walk a tightrope between the good and the bad. We remain hopeful in our God and continue to learn what it means to trust and rely on Him one day at a time. Yet we continue to grieve this incurable disease that has taken up residency in our lives. We can’t ignore the ways that it affects our day-to-day lives.

While we see the good news in these recent scans, we can’t help but still shed tears because the cancer is still in my body.  If we could will it away in our own strength, we certainly would have by now! Instead, I’m told my scans are increasingly difficult to read and interpret due to the scarring nature of the disease on my insides. 

So I try to focus on the positive aspects of less chemo in the coming days. Still, I know that I will dread Infusion Center building each time I pull into its parking lot.

The idea of better days ahead does not mean easy days. Forcing myself to eat my meals and struggling with the pain in my fingers while fixing my girls’ hair each morning may not go away. 

As thankful as I am for the makeup that enables me to draw on eyebrows, the flash lashes that replace my own and wigs that are stylish and complimentary, I miss my own hair and know I’m not getting it back anytime soon. I sometimes feel like cancer has taken away my youth and a sense of who I am, especially when I look in the mirror first thing in the morning.

On this tightrope that we find ourselves, I can confidently say that God has kept us from falling to the ground. We sway from side to side, but He is always there is steady us again. Our faith is not great and our emotions are tumultuous, but our God is good, powerful, and true. He loves me, Peter, Luke, Lily and Lacey. We are learning that His mercies really are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness!

How to Pray:

Please pray for God to heal me, to push back the cancer and to bless my treatments. Nothing is impossible with God.  

Pray that I will have the strength that I need each day to endure side effects and to accomplish the tasks that are before me, especially caring for the needs of my family.

Pray that we will experience the mercies of God afresh and that we will know the joy and peace of Christ even on the bad days.

Pray that God will increase our love for our three kiddos. Under the best of circumstances, parenting is no easy feat (much less in the midst of scans and trips to the infusion center).

Pray that God would redeem our three children. Of late some have expressed an increased interest in the gospel.

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The Face of Cancer


“You look good”

I appreciate the compliment; I’m glad that the signs my disease and of the emotional turmoil within do not reach the surface of my face.

Yet those who live in close proximity to me and those who have visited our home over the last few months have seen what the pictures on social media cannot convey. My church family has also been a constant source of comfort as they walk with our family through this trial week in and week out. They have watched me barely walk into church and have observed me leave worship early because of my pain. And, they have witnessed the good days in between, learning in many ways how to judge how I am feeling. Their sensitivity and love is such a blessing.

I can’t begin to show how grateful I am for those who are praying for me (literally all over the world!). Certainly an extension of the grace of God is the undeserved friendship and care of so many. How truly blessed I am that the Lord would put it on the heart of so many to pray for me, my family and my healing.

When I was first diagnosed, I entered into a type of shock. The diagnosis still is so much to process. It has felt like learning a new language, one that I really didn’t want to learn. I had no idea that there were different types of breast cancer and very little knowledge of current treatments. All the words sounded unfamiliar. My ignorance produced fear. But one morning I remember waking up and the Lord allowing me to realize that though I may know nothing about breast cancer, I hadn’t lost all I knew about Him. Now was the time to stand firm on all I did know. That has been an anchor in my rough seas.

IMG_1621I credit my husband for orchestrating the wonderful health care I am receiving. He immediately set to researching all he could about my disease and those working in the medical field to treat it. He learned to speak the language faster than I did and still knows it better than I do. When I could have just shut down, he worked to keep us moving. Because of him I am in a research study at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN and go out for scans and tests every few months. I am being observed and learning much more about my cancer because of participating in this study. I also receive great local care through the University of Virginia’s breast cancer specialists in Charlottesville. It was here that I had my recent surgery to remove my ovaries.

I have a notebook full of medical information that I have accumulated from all my doctor visits since May. Having a serious, incurable disease also requires a lot of organization. Test results, medications, appointments and the like force me to continue to engage my new way of life. I can’t ignore or escape it.

October is breast cancer awareness month. While I understand the intent, I have tried to avoid all displays of the pink ribbon and paraphernalia. My personal battle is still so raw and fresh that I don’t want to associate with yet another reminder. Perhaps I will feel differently next year.

Many people have asked about what our children know. They know Mommy has cancer which they understand as very bad germs inside of me. Each night at bedtime, we pray for God to take Mommy’s cancer away. Our 3-year-old has volunteered to people that “Mommy has cancer in her back!”

I can’t begin to list or describe all the ways big and small that cancer has affected our little family. This is the area that brings me most often to tears and my greatest source of anguish. I pray daily and fervently for my children’s salvation. My greatest desire is to live to see them firmly established in the truth. This trial isn’t just mine, it is our whole family’s. God allowed me to have cancer. God allowed my children’s mommy is have cancer. God allowed my husband’s wife to have cancer. It is hard, painful and scary. Yet our hope remains in God. That He will bring good out of this evil.

The opposite of fear is trust. I continue to fail to trust Him and let fear overwhelm me. I have many times fallen into despair. But God has not left me.

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”

Isaiah 26:3

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,”

Psalm 46:1-2

“But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”.. Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Matthew 14:27, 31

How many times does the Bible tell us to trust God and not be afraid? He has never failed us. He has and always will take care of His children.

I will have more scans in a few days. I am tempted to fear and doubt. But ultimately I know that my life is in God’s Hands. I should focus on my devotion to such a good and gracious Father. He deserves my undivided heart and adoration (Psalm 86:11-12).

Like so many others with similar and yet different stories, I am the face of cancer. But more than what my face looks like, it matters where my face is looking. I must now and always turn my face in the direction of Christ. I know that when I “look full in His wonderful face, the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.” I want to reflect back what I see in Him.

I don’t know what my scans will show next week. I hope for good news. Over the last two weeks, I have had more consecutive good days with minimal back pain than I have enjoyed since before my diagnosis six months ago. I am so thankful and pray that is a good sign of my treatment working. Yet I want my heart prepared to rest and trust in Jesus no matter what is reported.

Will you please continue to pray for me? Pray for my heart to remain steadfast while also petitioning the Great Healer for my health to be restored?