The Face of Cancer

breast-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?

A Time Travel Memory

april-and-aprilI’ve always liked the idea of time travel. It is evident by my taste in entertainment (books, movies, etc.) as well as a theme in my imagination.

I distinctly remember a moment in my life when I was about 8 years old. As I was lying on my bed looking out my bedroom door down the hall, I imagined that my future self came to visit me. I imagined that 30 year old April traveled back in time to visit 8 year old April. I realize that this in and of itself may cause you to never take me seriously again but alas this is a true story. I pictured what my older self would look like and say to me.
In my 90s influenced brain I thought I would be wearing a brightly colored pant suit with heels and sporting long hair (I was really into having long hair then). I’m fairly certain my younger self would be disappointed that she/I didn’t grow any taller than “we” are but maybe she wouldn’t have noticed with the heels. I do think I could pull off the sophisticated look my little self was hoping to achieve. Some things influence your style your whole life. My favorite color has been purple since I was 2 after all.

When I was eight, I imagined that my “grown-up” self would tell me hints about the way the rest of my life would go. Clues about who I would marry and how many children I would have. Of course my older self couldn’t tell me anything too specific because we can’t mess with the whole space-time continuum thing! That and an eight year old really can’t think of too many details for what grown up life would be like. So I gave my future imaginary self a break and let her be vague but say really cool things about how great I am.

It was a fun past time one afternoon in my childhood. And I honestly haven’t thought much about it since. But today as I was rehearsing in my mind all the struggles in my life right now, I remembered me as a little girl. I’m 33 years old now. I’m basically the age I expected a grown up to come talk to me.

So what would I say today to little April sitting on her bed with her eyes wide and ears attentive?

Ironically, probably what I thought I would say when I was eight! I wouldn’t tell her about the hard times. I wouldn’t tell her about the people she would lose, her aunt from cancer, her grandfather from Alzheimer’s or her baby boy hours after he is born. I wouldn’t worry her with all the years she would wait and wonder if she was ever going to get married. I wouldn’t burden her with the financial struggles. I also wouldn’t lament to her how hard raising a family and ministering to people can be. And I’m glad I didn’t tell her and that I didn’t know.
Today the Lord used this memory to remind me of His faithfulness. God has been good to me. He did provide a godly man to marry (finally at 29 years old!). He has given me two healthy children to raise. He has given me many ministry opportunities within the church. His has met my needs, comforted my heart and blessed me more than I deserve.

It is so easy to grumble and complain. My heart is so quickly discontented.
In James 5:7-11, the author addresses some poor Christians who are suffering unjustly both at the hand of the rich and for their faith. They are told to be patient in the trial and not to grumble about it. Because Jesus is coming back and will one day make all things right, we can be patient when things are hard. I need to be patient in my outlook. So many times I want do and change things and God has just called me to patiently endure. He says those who remain steadfast will be blessed. I don’t want want to forfeit my reward or my testimony by complaining.

Life is hard, but God is aware of my sufferings. He is also bigger than them. He is worthy of my praise and trust no matter the circumstance. And not once has He ever forsaken me. There is purpose in all that the Lord allows and He is compassionate and merciful to me, His child.

If I went back in time, I could tell little April all day long of the ways that God has proven Himself faithful. But today I pray that the Spirit does not let this grown up April forget this wonderful truth. I feel confident that 60-year-old April would tell me the same thing!
James 5:7-11

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

Hope For a Tired Mommy 

For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 2 Corinthians 1:8

kids-blogSometimes that’s what parenting feels like. The day in and day out can cause a mommy to despair of life itself. It is an ongoing struggle, a continuing trial. “The days are long but the years are short” the saying goes, but you know you are waking up to another long day tomorrow.

Just to be clear, I love being a mommy. I love my children. I wouldn’t trade this hard life for anything. But the reality is that I’m brought to tears more days than not.

I think this is some of what Paul talks about when he says, “the unmarried… woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things” (1 Corinthians 7:34). These “worldly things” include not just our husband, but our children, the grocery budget, the laundry, the calendar, all the things that we are responsible for doing to keep our home functioning.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

Lately I’ve found myself searching for something to make my life easier. I cried to God and my husband that I just need help! The truth is, I do have that help. If I was to have myself come to me for counsel (I counsel women and some of their circumstances aren’t too different from my own) what would I say?

I would pull out the Bible and point to Christ and the power of His gospel. Changing my circumstances isn’t the answer. Sure a few changes in our schedule and a play date here and there are good, but I can’t find my hope and salvation in an easier, more comfortable life. There will be many trials in life. Some of them I just have no power over at all. The Bible has a lot to say about trials.
God wonderfully uses trials to transform His children. What He teaches us is worth being joyful over. And at the end of life, after all these trials that God allows in my life, I will be complete in Him, not lacking anything.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence 2 Peter 1:3

God has a purpose and plan to use a disobedient two-year-old and a teething 8 month old to conform me more into His will. There is a reason why days are hard. God is offering me divine power to handle everything that life has to offer.

But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 2 Corinthians 1:9-10

Outside of Christ, I was in darkness and unable to manage in life, but Christ gave me a new life. He lived the perfect life of complete obedience on God that I never could. He has taken all my sin, all my despair, all my mommy failures, all my anger, all my worry, all my fear and nailed it to the cross. He has given me eternal life, how can I not trust Him to give me strength to potty train? How can I not trust Him to provide the energy I need to walk the floor with a crying baby?
God has delivered me and He will deliver me. He brings me to points where I despair because I can’t make it on my own anymore. Praise the Lord that He is teaching me to not rely on myself but on Him. He has the power to raise the dead to life, He has the power to help a tired mommy make it through the day.

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16

I can stand in confidence (even if my hair hasn’t been washed in 3 days) knowing that God’s grace is sufficient to help me in my time of need. God is my strength and my shield, a very present help in trouble.