Never Give Up. Remember Mark Twain’s Words, “Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.”

 

straight-road-trees
Survival can be summed up in three words – never give up. That’s the heart of it really. Just keep trying. -Bear Grylls

I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron – Isaiah 45:2

Cancer Statistics Don’t Mean What You Think They Mean

If you are on the journey of cancer yourself, or you love someone who is on the journey you are bound to catch yourself looking at “survival prognosis statistics,” and they will scare you to death.

In 1974 my mother was told that the survival prognosis for her breast cancer was 5 years post diagnosis.  She lived 4 years and 11 months.

Today they still define the life prognosis of cancer patients in terms of 5 year survival rates.  So when they say, “You have a 90% five-year-survival rate,” it appears to say that 90% of the people with your type of cancer only live 5 years.”

It appears to say 90% of the people diagnosed with that type of cancer this year will need to have their estate in order within 5 years from the date they were diagnosed.

It appears to say that more people are making it to 5 years, but we still can’t seem to get past 5 years for most of them.

If that was accurate, it would mean that despite 32 years of research, cancer treatment is not helping patients actually live any longer post diagnosis than it did 32 years ago.

If that was accurate, I wouldn’t bother with cancer treatment at all. If I only have 5 years, I’m not wasting 3 of them in a doctor’s waiting room.

Fortunately that isn’t accurate. The statistic is misleading, and the news is better than that!

The Five Year Survival Rates means  90% live “at least” 5 years post diagnosis. It does not mean “only” five years.

Even better news

The 10-year survival rate for all people diagnosed with breast cancer is only 6% lower than the 5 year survival rate for all people diagnosed with breast cancer.

Or in other words approximately 84% of all breast cancer patients will live at least 10 years post diagnosis.

The 15-year survival rate is only 5% lower than the 10-year rate.

At least 79% of all breast cancer patients will live at least 15 years post diagnosis.

79 out of every 100 breast cancer patients have made it at least 15 years.

I have friends who have made it a lot longer than that, they were diagnosed at stage 3. I plan to follow in their footsteps.

Other Things to Consider That May Ease Your Mind

The people who don’t make it often have other health issues that complicate the situation. Those who are elderly and/or already in fragile health in general always have a harder fight than the healthy. That is a very sad reality of the world.  Some are the people fall into those categories where it was already in an advanced stage and in distant parts of the body before it was discovered, some suspected or feared it was there and tried to ignore it and hoped it would go away, and by the time they officially diagnosed it, it was in major organs. So, don’t avoid it, meet it head on and deal with it .

Don’t Give Up –

Even if you are one of the people whose breast cancer was not discovered until it was at a highly advanced stage, and had already spread to other parts of your body and invaded major organs of your body, don’t give you.  Approximately 26% of people in that situation live “at least” five years. Not “only”.  That means over 1/4th of people diagnosed with the most depressing ratings in regards to cancer still beat it.   Never think of it as five year as  “only”.  Think of it as “at least.” If you can beat that 5 year mark, maybe you can beat that 10 year mark, and maybe that 15 year mark.

Every day, month, year you make it, is a day, month, year the research has improved.

Never Give Up!
Never Forget They Mean “at Least” not “Only”!

 

“The road goes ever on and on” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

winding-road

 

Good things are coming down the road. Just don’t stop walking.” –
Robert Warren Painter, Jr. 

Whoever said patience is a virtue never had cancer:

I am a person that likes to take life challenges head on with a plan in place.  I don’t do the unknown future thing very well. So one of the hardest parts of this journey for me has been not being able to see around the next bend in the road.

Deep down, I know that my doctors are doing the best thing by doing things one step at a time.  However, a huge part of me is screaming, “I’ve been to the doctor eight times, spent a lot of money in co-payments, have had mammograms, sonograms, MRI’s, and consultation after consultation, after consultation, and have known about this cancer for almost a whole month, andstill don’t know anything!

Paperwork!

So far I have seen my general practitioner (numerous times), a radiologist, a surgeon, an MRI specialist, and an oncologist.  Every single one of them has handed me a larger stack of paperwork to fill out than the one before.  They all start with the same questions about name, age, date of birth, address, contact numbers, contact emails, emergency contacts, have I been given the privacy notices, will I pay for what insurance doesn’t pay, what meds am I on, what am I allergic to, what surgeries have I had, who am I related to that has had cancer.

OVER and OVER and OVER.

I keep wondering why they don’t just share the information!


When I arrived at the Joe Arrington Cancer Center (JACC if you want to be cool), I got more paperwork to fill out than I’ve ever received before.  Page after page after page after page after page of paperwork.  I was still doing it when a nice woman in pink showed up and told me she was my “breast health navigator.”

The Breast Health Navigator

God has a sense of humor.   I chose to compare cancer to a road, and the first person they send me at the cancer center identifies herself as my navigator. It is a nice reminder that God is still with me in this journey.

My navigator’s name is Tiffany, (I admit, I got a giggle out of a pink clad Tiffany too), and she was my favorite person today, outside of my daughter who arranged a baby sitter and drove the hour from her home in a small town near me to stay with me through this.

Tiffany had looked at the reports from all the doctors, and came in to explain to me a lot of the details that she suspected doctors and nurses might not explain clearly when they spoke to me.  She did an amazing job of explaining things, and I learned the details of my diagnosis from her.  Though the doctor was amazing at explaining everything, Tiffany was equally as amazing.

My cancer is:

  • An Invasive Ductal Cancer (not great news)
  • It is Estrogen Receptor (ER) positive (actually good news)
  • It is Progesterone Receptor (PR) positive  (actually good news)
  • It is HER2 negative (really good news)

Keep in mind, what follows is my interpretation of what I’ve learned in this journey, and I’m not a doctor. I am an informed patient who knows medical terminology, and I read science journals for fun, and I drive my friends who are doctors and nurses and research scientists insane with questions, but I am not a doctor or a nurse.

This is my understanding of things, without all the scientific jargon.

Cancer cells are, in the words of Mel Brooke’s Igor, “Abby Normal,” cells.  Normal cells are like well behaved children.  They stay where they belong most of the time, they generally only grow and reproduce when the body needs them to do so, and they listen to the signals from the body, and when they grow up they have a specialization. Cancer cells are the brats of the cell world.  They have a will of their own.  They reproduce without any concern for others, and they push around the normal cells, and they ignore the orders to stop what they are doing.

Ductal means it started in the milk duct.  Apparently 80% of all breast cancer is ductal.

Invasive does not mean my cancer is running a blitzkrieg on my body. It means that some cancer cells made their way outside of the milk duct into  the normal breast tissue. I imagine an over-energetic toddler who climbed out of the playpen when you weren’t looking and woke up all the other kids.  They might not do any serious damage if you get to them quickly enough, but you better grab them fast, and get a better playpen.

Estrogen (or oestrogen for your Brits who read this) and Progesterone are common female hormones.  They send signals to certain normal cell protein receptors and basically turn the cells on and off like a chemical light switch.  They tend to be buddies who like to hang out together. In regards to cancer, ER and PR are buddies that keep each other out of trouble they would get into if they were alone.

ER Positive Facts

  • Approximately 2 out of every 3 breast cancers are ER positive.
  • ER Positive cancers respond well to hormone therapy. Tiffany described hormone therapy as starving the cancer cells.
  • ER positive cancers have a 10% higher survival rate than ER negative cancers.

How I think of Estrogen Receptors
They are brats that use estrogen to flip a computer switch they shouldn’t be messing with. This tells the cancer cells to come on, reproduce, divide, etc., and not to stop. I like think of it as telling a computer to find pi to the very last number. You don’t want to do that if you need the computer any time in the near future.

PR Positive Facts

  • 65% of ER positive cancers are also PR positive.
  • Approximately 2 out of every 3 breast cancers are PR positive.

ER Positive and PR Positive Facts (I am double positive)

  • These cancers usually grow more slowly than other breast cancers
  • They respond very well to hormone therapy
  • Per a British study, these people have the highest survival chances.

HER2 (I am negative and that is good)

  • This is the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 gene.
  • High levels of HER2 tend to appear with faster growing tumors
  • High levels of HER2 tend to appear with tumors that come back.
  • Being negative for HER2 is a good thing.

Then came the doctor and the reports

I do like the oncologist.

I like most things about the Joe Arrington Cancer Center.
They do some things very, very well, like Tiffany, and free valet parking for patients, and volunteers who walk you to the doctor’s office.

What I didn’t like about the medical part of this journey

Constantly Changing Opinions
Remember- I started out this whole journey with a mammogram that resulted in the official reports that it was a “2 cm tumor in the right breast, one lymph node affected, not in the left breast, not on the chest wall, stage 2.”I loved those results. I was very happy with those results.  I wanted to keep those results.

Then I was sent to a surgeon who said they didn’t test enough to know what the left is like, and they can’t guarantee it isn’t on the chest wall, it is not 2 cm it is 2 cm by 4 cm, but still probably still a stage 2, possibly a 3 though, we need more tests.” I wasn’t as crazy about that news, but it was still okay.  So off to the MRI I went.

Then I was told, “MRI says you have a busy left breast, we need another sonogram, and a biopsy.” I wasn’t happy to hear about a “busy left breast,” that needed more investigation.

Then I was told the MRI and second sonogram cleared the chest wall, cleared the left breast, looked like it was still just in the one lymph and right breast, but there was something that might be a benign cyst in the liver, they’d look at that later.  Later, to me, said, “don’t worry about it.”

Then the Biopsy was done. That was the least traumatic experience I’ve had so far.

Then I got the biopsy results via a phone call. Left is good. Wall is good. An aggressive malignant cancer, but still a stage 2 and it looks like it was caught early enough to be treatable. Off to the oncologist.  This was both bad and good news.  It was good in that I expected it to be worse news. It was bad in that it confirmed it definitely is a malignant cancer.

TODAY IT CHANGED AGAIN

Today Tiffany said “5 cm”, not 2, not 3, not 4.  She said 5. Five is that line they draw between “be optimistic with good reason,” and  “okay, this is very bad news, but don’t give up hope.”  If you cross that line to anything over 5 your doctors stop talking “when” you beat it to “if” we beat it.  They stop talking about “some people” making it past 5 years. 

Today the Oncologist said “2 cm by 3 cm by 4.5 or 5 cm”.  I liked 4, because 4 was 1 cm away from that nasty “do not cross” line down the middle of 5.

They are reading the same report all the others have read, and coming up with a larger tumor size.  By all the others, I mean the General Practitioner, the surgeon, and several pathologists who read such things as MRI’s and sonograms and biopsies. They didn’t get some “new test results”. They aren’t reading different results.  They are all just reading it differently. Frankly, this shakes my confidence in their reading comprehension skills. Maybe they are like those teachers we all have who have to change at least one thing on every paper they touch, just so they can say they changed one thing on every paper they touch.

Fortunately,  they gave me a copy of the final biopsy report. It says the left breast and wall really are clear.  It took a very round about way of saying it, but I used to work at the Health Science Center, and I know that doctors love that round about way of speaking so I stayed calm as I wandered through it all, and the bottom line is they said the left looks good and the wall looks good.

ALL of that is good news – but….. Ah yes, but … but I have a “hypointense lesion” on the liver and so they want to do a PET Scan.

IF.. they had asked, I could tell them that for awhile I was taking too much aspirin, because I didn’t know aspirin was dangerous like Tylenol is.

IF… they had asked, I could point out that I had Rheumatic fever in college.  A very serious case of it in fact.

Nothing on any of that huge stack of paperwork asked about things like that though!

They would still do a PET Scan, but I wouldn’t be scared to death by their attention to the liver.  Now, I get to spend something like 7 to 10 days wondering if this cancer has spread already. That is 7 to 10 days thinking, “They’ve had an ENTIRE month to look at it and STILL HAVEN’T started a treatment!” They have given cancer an extra month to plan its attack.  They are saying, “it probably hasn’t,” and “we expect to find nothing,” but “we really need to look at this.”

The Oncologist also marked the report as “at least a stage 2,” not “a stage 2,” but “at least” a stage 2.  The difference is percentages of 5 year survival rates. I want my stage 2 to be a firm stage 2.  Right now, statistics show that 93% of women with a stage 2 breast cancer live “at least” 5 years after the diagnosis.  Statistics show that 72% of women with a stage 3 breast cancer live “at least” 5 years after the diagnosis. I want my extra 21%. I want my low A, not a low C. FORTUNATELY, I know that the “5 year survival rate,” doesn’t mean “you are going to die in 5 years.” A lot of people do NOT know that.  A lot of people are walking out of doctors offices today and doing just like my grandfather did when he was told he had cancer. He went from the doctor to the funeral home and planned his own funeral because he thought he had 6 months to live.  See my next blog post about statistics.

BE CAREFUL WHO YOU TALK TO

I paid over $112 today to have a woman talk me into taking a test I didn’t want to take.
Note: that is not the price of the test. That is what they charged me to listen to someone talk me into taking a test I did not want to take. The actual test might run as high as $475 out of pocket.

The doctor suggested I consider genetic testing because it would help him know how aggressively he should approach my treatment.  I don’t like the idea of genetic testing. I am well aware of my family history, but if the doctor thought it would help I would consider it.  He told his nurse to page the genetic counselor.  I assumed to explain the process to us.

I had no idea that this was an official, billable consultation, until she walked me up to a desk afterwards and told them to bill me.  Until that moment I had no idea I owed her a dime.  As it turned out, I owed her $112 worth of dimes.

As I said earlier, the actual test could end up costing up to $475 out of my pocket.  I know this because during the consultation the woman told us that “if the company calls you and says you owe more than $475 after insurance, tell them not to do the test, and to call me, because I know I can get it for you for just $475.00.” You would think she might have mentioned, “Oh, and talking to me right now is costing you $112.”

She spent a great deal of time trying to talk me and my daughter into genetic testing.  I don’t like the idea at all. I am not trying to talk anyone out of it. I am only stating my own personal feelings in relation to myself.  I know all the things they say, I’ve heard them a thousand times, but the fact is, knowing I probably have some kind of genetic predisposition to cancer is not news to me. I figured that one out on my own long ago.

I always said until they can tell me how knowing that I have that gene improves my survival rate I’m not doing it.  She spent a long time trying to convince us it will improve survival rates (and by the way, never did convince me, but I do want my doctor to know whatever HE thinks he needs to know).

She told us that this will cause them to be more proactive in following me or my children if we do test positive for the gene.  Well, I heard that all of my life, and I followed that most of my life.  I have had a lot of false alarms, based, largely, on the fact that my mother had cancer.  Anything even remotely not like 99% of the people in the world that showed up on some medical exam instantly resulted in “you probably have cancer,” and “we need these very expensive tests,” and “we don’t want to scare you, but you need to be terrified,” conversations.

The bottom line of that is that the panic over my mother’s death by breast cancer that doctors had resulted in a negative affect behavior on my part. The medical overreaction started when I was in my 20’s, and I got sick enough of the overreaction that I started avoiding all medical testing. Period. I don’t recommend that. It was childish on my part, but I was so tired of being scared to death needlessly and it was affecting my ability to trust doctors.

I used to faithfully do mammograms, pap-smears, full blood workups, all the proper testing, every year, just like they wanted.  But time after time after time I had some doctor or pathologist go into a panic over something minor on some test, demand lots of other tests, and just generally stress me out after costing me and my insurance company thousands I didn’t have, and then going, “Oh, heh, heh, there was nothing wrong after all. Our mistake. Go home, be happy.” Eventually I decided the stress from the tests and from the cost of the tests had to be worse than cancer itself. I did my self-exams, but I was sick and tired of the panic because my mother had cancer.

Today, after the $112 consult just to tell me, “we like genetic testing” I’m less trustful of talking to anyone at the cancer center if I haven’t expected to be asked to talk to them.  advance.  I am actually wondering if I’ll get some kind of bill for my “navigator” now.  I may start greeting people with, “Hello, my name is Sharon, what is talking to you going to cost me? Do you bill by the hour or visit?

WHAT IS A LIFE REALLY WORTH?

The bill to see my oncologist was the mere $40 co-pay my insurance requests.  I find it ironic that I paid $40 to the man who will be responsible for saving my life, and $112 to the woman who talked me into a test I didn’t want.

THE VAMPIRES ARE BACK

Next on the agenda was the blood draw.  They are running the usual complete blood tests that you generally get at any annual physical exam, plus a blood test that tends to help detect liver cancer, and one that tends to help detect lung cancer, and the genetic test is a blood test. She said they can do a saliva test, but it is less accurate. The doctor was careful to tell me he doesn’t expect me to have either liver or lung cancer. He is just covering the bases.  All in all, they took 5 vials of blood today.

NO WONDER THEY GAVE ME AN ADMISSION TAG

When I first checked in at the desk today, they gave me an admission bracelet like hospitals do when you are an in-patient.  In fact, it says, “date admitted” on it. I wondered why they did that since as far as I knew, they hadn’t planned any procedures for the day.

I walked into the center at approximately 9:30 a.m.  My daughter and I walked out at approximately 2:45.  I understand the admission tag.

Total I paid in co-pay today: $152.00

Total information I learned today? It is invasive (knew that) ductal (didn’t know that) cancer (knew that) , and it is ER/PR positive, and HR2 negative (didn’t know that). They want to do a PET/Scan “sometime” (knew that).

Appointment scheduled for PET Scan – Not yet. They’ll call me.

Plan of action for treatment – They’ll let me know after the PET Scan.

Frustration level – High.

Level of gratitude that God, my family and my friends are still with me –  Higher than the highest mountain. 

Winding Roads

 

winding-roadThis is post 2 regarding my journey with breast cancer. I share it in hopes that others as new to this experience as I am now,  can read it and know they aren’t alone, and maybe realize what to expect if they are a little newer to this journey than I am.

The MRI was scheduled for Tuesday, October 18th The biopsy was scheduled for Friday, October 21st.

No one could tell me what to expect to be done on that Friday, financially speaking or medically speaking.

So I waited.  Cancer is a lot of hurry up to wait.

The MRI

I was sent to a wonderful center for women that was set up by a former breast cancer patient, who happens to also be a medical doctor.  The center founder went out of her way to make the experience as non-traumatic for patients as she could and I am grateful.  The technician was sweet and carefully explained the whole process, though it wasn’t my first MRI.

For those who may be reading this who have never had an MRI and are afraid of it. Please don’t be afraid.  There is nothing painful about it.

It involves the use of magnetic power, so remove anything metal, and if you have pacemakers or anything metal on or in your body be sure the MRI tech knows.  The machine I was placed on was built especially for breast exams.  You lay on your stomach, your breasts hang down into little cups built into a table, your legs are positioned slightly up behind you, you’re given ear plugs and ear phones (with music if you want), and told not to move.  It is open on both ends, to ease that closed in feeling. I am claustrophobic, but this didn’t bother me at all.   They didn’t strap me down.  I was only warned that moving would mean having to start over.

The machine makes a lot of funny noises, and they vary in volume and type. Some of it sounds like loud church bells, some of it sounds like a jack hammer, some of it just sounds like a motor running.  The music didn’t drown it out totally, but it did help a lot.

Some older places may still use the lay-on-your-back-and-get-moved-into-a-tube form of an MRI, but again, nothing painful to them at all.

MRI RESULTS – I have no clue what the MRI results are.

My MRI was late in the afternoon on a Tuesday. The MRI was meant to provide more info to my surgeon before my biopsy that was scheduled for the first thing Friday morning. However, I was told the MRI results would probably arrive on Thursday or Friday afternoon. I reminded them that the doctor wanted them before he did the biopsy, and they thanked me and said they’d get them to rush the reading.

Thursday I got a call that they had not received the official, full MRI results yet, but that from what they had seen my left breast looked “very busy,” and that they were concerned it looked “very busy,” and that they were going to need to do an ultrasound on the left side the same day as the biopsy. I asked, “Are you telling me the cancer is in the left?” They replied, “Well, we can’t say that of course, but it looks very busy, there is a lot of activity in there, it doesn’t look like what we would expect a normal breast to look like, so we want to do an ultrasound on the left breast on Friday, just to make sure.” Make sure of what?! I never got an answer to the what.

I was asked if I had taken any aspirin. I responded that I hadn’t. Remember that. It matters later.

Plan of Action for Friday  – Arrive at 8 AM, do a biopsy of the right breast, wait while they took in another patient, do a sonogram of the left breast.  At this point, I still didn’t know if they meant to do a biopsy and lumpectomy or just a needle biopsy or what.

Financial Plan for Friday
When I asked how much money I needed for Friday I heard, “We don’t know.”   That was the official answer, though a little more wordy.  “We don’t know what the biopsy will cost up front, but you’ll have to pay $100 + 20% for the sonogram.”  To which I replied, “Well, how much is that?” To which they replied, “We don’t know.”

My family had helped me with the first round of expenses on this journey, and my daughter set up a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for more of it. People were kind and generous, and amazing, and wonderful, but it takes days to transfer money around, and we didn’t know if it would make it into the accounts by Friday or not.  So, our family plan of action was, if they asked for more up front than we had Friday we would simply reply, “You should have told us what to plan for when we asked the first four times.”  I still like that plan actually.

Friday!

Son, daughter and son-in-law meet me in the lobby, and so does the technician who is going to do the ultrasound.  She says we have a new plan. We’ll do the left sonogram that very morning, and good news, the MRI is in, but no one has had time to read it yet.

She does the sonogram, marks a ‘cyst’ that concerns her in the left, and says it is “just a cyst,” though it looks suspicious.  I’m not sure how to take that, but decide the surgeon will know.

The Biopsy Itself

My surgeon is very professional, but also very charming, and he carefully explained every step of the process as he prepared for each step, from the first rubbing of alcohol on the area where the local anesthetic would be applied, to the last moment.

He asked me again if I had taken any aspirin, and I told him, “No,” because I hadn’t taken any for several days.

I was prepared for incredible pain from the insertion of the needle to administer the local anesthetic, and was joyfully surprised. I’ve had shots, cat scratches, iv’s, and blood draws that really sting. I cannot bear a pain killing shot at the dentist office, but this felt like a very light, pinch.  Nothing more.

He warned me there might be a feeling of pressure.  There was, but no pain. None.

An aspirin a day might not keep the doctor away.

I was not in pain, but I was bleeding a little more than my doctor expected so he asked me about aspirin again, and I told him that I hadn’t taken any since Monday. He chuckled and looked at his technician with a brow lifted and she said, “I asked if she had taken any. I didn’t ask if she had taken any this week.” I had no idea aspirin has a blood thinning capability for over a week. Now I know.

He made her redo the dressing on the biopsy sight, and asked for a pressure bandage, but she was out, so he told me to put pressure on it, watch it, not to do any reaching or lifting, or anything with that arm.

Then they sent me out to the lobby to sit and wait a bit, and as I was talking to my family my daughter noticed I had blood on my sweater. I thought she meant “a few dots of blood.” She meant, “a lot of blood.”

My daughter scooted me off to the lady’s room and we discovered I was trailing blood all over the lady’s room, and looked like I had bathed in cranberry juice.  I was perfectly dressed for a Halloween horror film.

There was no pain, but a lot of blood.

My daughter calmly called the nurses and they packed it off, and fetched the doctor again.  He pondered putting a stitch in, and they all decided that a better bandage, and more pressure probably would do the job. When they had it under control the doctor joked that the good new is everyone stops bleeding… eventually, and then he joked about leaving to go make a blood donation in my name. That reassured me and let me know that he wasn’t worried.  He did tell me to call if I got home and was concerned. The nurses fussed over me longer, taped me up like a mummy and waited to see if it seemed to have stopped.

Preliminary, unofficial MRI results
While everyone was watching my little “Jason” scene, they told me that they hadn’t officially read the MRI report yet, but they did “skim read,” the results of the MRI and Sonogram, and the preliminary results looked good in that department.

When they felt the bleeding was under control they sent me home.

Aspirin really is a great blood thinner. A really great one.

Apparently, handling my old truck was enough of the reaching to start it going again, but I didn’t notice that until I started to wash the sweater and realized I had already bled through the new dressing.  Looking down, I also saw that the top and side of my washing machine had blood all over it. It looked like someone had committed murder in my laundry room. The blood stains below are where I bled on the washer, while I was standing beside it.

 

 

101411cancer

 

I let the kids know the situation, just in case. If I bled to death that night I didn’t want anyone arrested because I took an aspirin 4 days ago.  I also called the doctor’s office and received instructions to lay down, apply pressure, monitor and if necessary go to an ER. It wasn’t necessary.

On a side note. I’ve sworn off aspirin for awhile.

If you are wondering, I haven’t felt a single bit of pain from the biopsy procedure. I kept expecting things to hurt after the local wore off. They never hurt.

Post Biopsy

More waiting.  The biopsy was Friday morning. They told me it would be “a couple of days.”  So I tried to mentally prepare for as late as Wednesday.  I knew weekends didn’t count.

Saturday – Fine
A little worried about what the results might show, and still wondering what “busy” meant.

Sunday –  Fine
My youngest grandson’s birthday party was at a local park on Sunday evening, and I had a wonderful time. I was relaxed. I was able to answer questions and talk about everything with full confidence it was all going to be fine.

Monday – Full Blown Panic Attack
I have no idea what triggered it, but suddenly, on Monday, I was terrified of the results, terrified of long term survival chances, terrified of finances all over again, and convinced they were going to tell me it was a stage 4 cancer.  I have no idea why this happened that day.  Maybe I was tired, maybe I let my spiritual guard down, maybe I’d just had one too many people remind me of the doctor they knew that had been wrong. (Some very well meaning people did that, with the best of intentions over the weekend, though must were equally on board with reasons to be optimistic).

Tuesday – The results Are In
I talked to my daughter on Tuesday, and confessed to the panic attack. She eased my mind. I spent some time talking to my best friend at work about the whole situation, and she also eased my mind. I was going nuts wondering what the results were, but telling myself I’d hear Wednesday, and not to give into the urge to call and nag the doctor’s office.

I’d made my favorite stew in a crock pot and realized I was out of cracker, so I decided to swing by the store during my lunch hour to grab lunch. The call came while I was standing in the middle of the cracker aisle at United Market Street at 19th and Quaker Ave.

My doctor was kind as he delivered the news, having no idea that I was not in the privacy of my office or home.  He told me he had the results, and that it wasn’t good news.  I braced myself, expecting the words that followed to be stage 4, spread everywhere kind of news.  He quietly explained that the pathology reports comes in 2 parts. The initial result and the detailed result.  The detailed report would come in a few days, but at this point they knew the following:

It is an aggressive, malignant cancer, that is probably estrogen based.
The lymph node is confirmed to be cancerous as well.

I asked, “Just that one, or more?”

He said, “Just one.”

I asked, “Is the left breast clear?”

He said, “Yes, it is.”

I asked, “Is it attached to the chest wall?”

He said, “No, it isn’t.”

I asked, “Do you think it has spread beyond that node and the breast itself?”

He said, “We did find a cyst in the liver, and may want to biopsy that some day to find out why it is there, but at this point, we do not believe it has spread beyond that lymph node.”

I said, “I know that you can’t really stage it until you get the full report, but based on what you know so far, from all the tests, am I looking at a stage 3 or a stage 4?”

He said, “Oh, you are definitely a stage 2.”

TWO! Not 4! Not even 3!

So, I asked him what he recommended for treatment, he told me that he wants me to see the radiologist/oncologist before I decide anything.  He feels I need input from the man who has to fight the battle against the cancer cells themselves, but he said generally it will probably come down to choices of doing something to shrink it first, then doing some form of surgery (lumpectomy or mastectomy) to cut out the cancer, or doing some surgery and then radiation and chemo. I asked him, “If I was in your family, what would you tell me?” He said, “Exactly what I just told you. If you were my wife, or my child, or my sibling, I would tell you that you have to decide what you can bear to live with. Some women choose to try to save as much of the breast tissue as they can, some want to get rid of it all so they can avoid radiation and chemo and never have to think about this again.”

I said, “But they’re wrong aren’t they? Medically? My mother had 2 radicals, and still died of breast cancer. You don’t get to just cut them off and forget them do you?”

He said, “No, you don’t. There will always need to be some treatment post surgery, and cutting them off won’t guarantee you’re free for the rest of your life. It doesn’t work that way.”

I said, “If I opt for a lumpectomy, can you get it all?”

He said, “I have to know the margins.”

I asked, “What do you mean?”

He explained that to me. I won’t explain it here, because I might explain it incorrectly, but what he said sounded totally logical to me, and the answer to the margin question will be in the final biopsy report.

The next part of the journey

I saw my general practitioner just an hour after the surgeon called.  This was due to an insurance requirement related to referrals.  They wouldn’t let the referral to the oncologist come from anyone other than the primary care physician, but he also wanted to make sure I understood things.

I appreciated that.  He is a wonderful Christian man, and he was very optimistic. He used the phrase that it was a good thing we caught it early. I told him I didn’t feel like we had, and that I felt like a fool for not having had a mammogram more recently than I had. He smiled and said, “It is stage 2.  I have lost patients in their 30’s because they found what you found, and chose to try to pretend it wasn’t there. By the time they admitted it might be cancer, it was too late to help them. You are a stage 2, and your oncologist and your surgeon are not just two of the best in the entire state, they work together as a team better than any team I’ve seen.  They care about their patients. They want them to survive. They invest in making them survive, and so do I.”

So, today. I’m at peace. Impatient, but at peace.

My next doctor visit is to meet this amazing oncologist. Our appointment is next Wednesday.

On a side note. I used to work at the Health Science Center, and I still work at the university. I know a lot of brilliant scientists and brilliant doctors, and brilliant researchers.  They all love my doctors’ plan. Those who know my doctors and the centers all say I’m in great hands.

One day at a time, the road winds, but that’s okay.  I’m still traveling. 

A Long Road Ahead

Hilly Road

In August 1979 I lost my mother to a highly aggressive breast cancer.  She had been diagnosed in July 1974, with many promises, over and over, that they had it all.  I’d also lost a grandparent to pancreatic cancer.  I saw what the disease and the treatment of the disease can do, so all of my life I’ve had a larger -than-the-average-person fear of cancer.

In October 2016, I discovered a very large lump in my right breast.  I know that the reality is that it was there and I didn’t notice, but I check often, and it certainly wasn’t noticeable just a week earlier.  I’d recently fallen while riding my bike, and the handle bar had caught me in the same general area, so I assumed I had some under-the-skin bruising and swelling going on.  When it didn’t go away, I decided to look into. On October 10, 2016, the doctor said he was concerned, and sent me for tests to be run the very next day.

It is never good to be told “it looks like you might have a cancer, but we won’t know until the biopsy”.  It is even worse to hear, at 4:15 PM, “Your radiologist is really worried, it looks like a large tumor, it is in a lymph node, and we need to get you scheduled for surgery now!Go back to the radiologist, get him to give you a disc of his results, and take it to this address, that’s the surgeon who will take it out Monday. He’ll meet with you Friday to discuss it.”

Conflicting Medical Reports and Plans:
I was told by my doctor that the plan was for the surgeon to remove the lump, biopsy the lump, and then decide if they needed to take the whole breast. This would all take place on Monday.

I was told that according to the mammogram and sonogram it was 2 cm.
I was told it wasn’t touching the chest wall.
I was told it wasn’t in the left breast.
I was told there was a swollen lymph, but only one node.

Plan 1
I let my family and my employer know what was going on so everyone could take off Monday.

I started some prayer chains.

Hope
My fear of cancer combines with my love of research.  If anything about a cancer diagnosis is good, this was all, actually, good news.  One lymph, 2 cm tumor, today is very, very beatable. It is low on the “cancer rating scales”.

I walked into the surgeon’s office confident it would all be fine.

Shattered Confidence
The surgeon  looked at their reports, and did his own exam.
It is not 2 cm.  It is 2 cm by 4 cm.
It might not be in the left, but they didn’t exam the left well enough to know if it is or isn’t.
It could be attached to the chest wall.
The lymph itself is 2 cm now.

The only thing they all agree on is, it looks like a cancer, and while no one can confirm cancer until they biopsy it, they can confirm it meets all the other criteria. Rough edges, mass not fluid, swollen lymph.

Given the new size report, and the possibility it had spread and they hadn’t picked that up, I was mildly worried. Okay, I was terrified.  So, I asked, “Are you thinking stage 4?” He said, “No, not 4. Possible 3. Definitely higher level 2 at least, but not 4. However, as certain as I am that it is cancer, until we get the biopsy, I cannot tell you if it really is cancer or not.  I can only say it looks enough like cancer that I expect the biopsy will confirm what I already know.”

Plan 2

The surgeon wanted an MRI to confirm it hadn’t moved to the left breast or lung.
Not exactly a calming suggestion, but he did tell me he didn’t expect to find that it had, he just didn’t want to miss something because it was not on the radar.

First Pot Hole in the Road

I learned from him that many insurance companies will not pay for diagnostic MRI’s related to cancer. They will only pay if a physician confirms the diagnosis officially, something they cannot confirm without a biopsy.

We also weren’t sure I could have one. I had shunts put into my eyes to release pressure as part of treatment for an eye disease a few years ago. It comes with, “if anyone starts talking MRI, hand them this card,” warning.

I was sent home with notes that I was definitely having a biopsy on Friday, but it was an Ultra/Sound Guided needle biopsy.  If we can do the MRI they would scheduled it before Friday.

Sink Hole in the Road – Paying for all of it

I have good insurance through my employer, but even good insurance has its pitfalls.  At this point in time, I’ve already spent $100 in co-payments.  They add up fast when you see your own doctor twice, a radiologist once and a surgeon once.

People hear that and think, “pfft, it is just $100.”  However, on my budget, $100 is a lot of money. I’m sure it is for many people.  I had a lot of surgery on my eyes the previous year and was still paying off those.

So I asked about what kind of money I was expected to have up front, and was told, “Oh, just the copay.”  Well, the copay for an MRi is $100, plus 20% of the cost of the MRI.  So when they called to say, yes, I could have the MRI with my eye shunts, I asked, “what is the cost?”

This seems like a simple question. I shop all the time and when I ask the price, I get a number. ONE number.  That is not how the medical profession works, apparently.

I was told, “If your insurance will cover it, you only need your copay, and we bill $3,300. If your insurance doesn’t cover it, we only charge $1,000, but you have to pay $500 up front.”

Five calls back and forth between them and my insurance company and I managed to come up with a figure of $279.00 due on Tuesday afternoon.

What about Friday?

Friday, I have  the biopsy.

I might have a lumpectomy on Friday or a radical on Friday as well. I don’t know.
I won’t even have a “probably” plan until the MRI on Tuesday.
But the procedure there is also $100 plus 20% of whatever.

I have no idea what that might add to up, and no way of finding out, so no way of planning for it.

The doctor has told me, flat out, I will do chemo.  Chemo medication averages anywhere from $1,000 to $6,500 a month.  So, more phone calls to the insurance company.  The news there, for me, is good. I’ve met most of my pharmaceutical deductible, so I’ll have to pay about $38 for the first month, then $10 a month until January. In January, the new insurance year starts, and I’ll be paying $50 a month.  I have a few months to plan for that though.

Conclusions at this point:
We need to advocate for simple, straight forward answers to simple straight forward questions.

And most of all, God’s got this.

Measuring up

BlueberriesIt was between 11 PM and midnight, and the store was almost empty.  Walking past the produce section we passed a small group of people, frowning, looking with disgust at a woman who was frantically gathering blueberries off the floor while trying to stop her daughter from throwing more on the ground.   The little girl appeared to be around the age of 7 or 8. She was well dressed, clean and smiling, but she was also not making eye contact with anyone, apparently oblivious to her mother’s frantic attempts to stop her from waving her hands wildly in the air, and gazing off in a way that I had seen often on children with special needs.

As I pondered whether it would be more or less embarrassing for the mother if I stopped to help her pick up the blueberries and offered to pay for them, the whispers of disgust from the women who were watching them grew louder, and they began to shake their heads in disapproval as they leaned in to talk to one another like football players in a huddle, their eyes cutting to the mother and daughter from time to time.

That was when Matthew 7:2 sprang into my mind:

For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

 I wondered if they were asked, would they want God to use the rotted, rusted cup of wrath they were using when He judged them?  Would they want him to see a child temporarily out of control and blueberries on the floor and blame them? Or would they want him to judge them with the shimmering crystal of a mother’s love. A mother whose love lead her to stay with her special child, despite the difficulties that come with special children?

I wondered, is she a single parent? Is she married, with a spouse who works round the clock to pay for medical bills and therapists so that her precious daughter can have better opportunities in life?  Is she shopping late at night because that is the only time she is free to shop, or because she knows it will be less crowded?  Did she want blueberries today? Or will she feel obligated to buy something she didn’t want to buy, because her daughter knocked it off the shelf.

I wondered what kind of parent I would be if I faced whatever struggles her daily life gave her.  Then I wondered about the women who were judging this poor woman.  People often respond to the suggestion that they be kinder to others with the statement, “everyone has problems,” and I suppose that is somewhat true, but some people definitely have bigger problems than others.  All parents occasionally deal with a child who is misbehaving, but not all parents deal with a child who is locked in their own universe, incapable of even knowing that what they are doing is annoying others.  All parents have to shop for food at some time or another, but not all of them are alone in the world, trying to carry the burden of day to day parenting responsibilities alone.

This was on my heart when a friend of mine posted a video on Facebook that showed a child who was clearly out of control on a bus.  I don’t know the age of the child in the video, but I’d guess between 3 and 5.  He was loud. He was rude. He was smart mouthing the woman he was with.  He was kicking and grabbing and hitting at her.  The thread exploded with comments about lack of discipline. I am not a big supporter of spanking, but even i thought that was what the boy needed.

The venom of those in the thread toward the woman shocked me though.  Everyone assumed she was responsible for the boy’s actions.  Everyone assumed she had not tried to teach him better.  I suggested that might not be the case.  Perhaps she was a foster parent, dealing with behavior taught to the child by someone else, and forbidden by law to spank a child. I pointed out that on that bus there were few ways the mother could discipline the child, short of a spanking.  There were no toys to take away, no room to send him to, no “time out corner.”

I have no idea if the child was out of control because that woman never taught him to respect elders or because she married a father whose first wife had not taught the child respect, or she was fostering a child removed from a neglectful or abusive situation. I don’t know if she was abused as a child, and therefore swore never to raise a hand against a child.  I don’t know.   I just know that judging her was not helping her.  Judging her was not going to teach the boy to behave. Judging her was not going to change her actions on the bus that day.  I also know that my savior said, “judge not.”  I don’t remember a clause that said, “Unless it really bothers you,” or “unless you or someone you know could do it better.”

Maybe this woman on the bus deserves a medal for loving a child who appears to be difficult to love.  Maybe this woman on the bus deserves a hug and a handshake for not losing control and reacting in rage.  Maybe this woman on the bus, who everyone assumes is a bad parent, is really a remarkable parent whose love is going to change a child’s life.

Maybe we should all stop pouring from the cup of wrath, and start using the crystal measures of love and mercy.  A prayer would have helped either of these women.   A hug or a kind word might have helped them.

Whispers and public condemnation will not help them.
Love can change the world.  Christ proved that.

Prayer Myths

This October will mark the 49th anniversary of when I became a Christian.  In the years that have passed since I accepted Christ’s offer of grace I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs, and I’ve prayed my way through all of them. Most of the time, God tells me yes.  Sometimes He tells me no.  Always, eventually, He has allowed me to understand and see why He told me no, but sometimes I have to wait a few years. Because I know prayer works, because I know God is a loving heavenly father, I pray for big things like a miraculous healing from cancer, and I pray for little things like lost car keys.

Myth 1 – God doesn’t hear prayers if there is sin in your life.

This is the biggest myth about prayer, and probably also the most repeated myth.  If you do a web search for “when God says no,” you will often find, “Sin in your life,” on that list of reasons why God said no.  The writer will then make some claim that God doesn’t hear the prayers of sinners.  It is not only wrong, it is totally, and completely wrong, and more importantly, it directly contradicts God’s word.

The bible very matter of factly  states, in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  If God did not hear the prayer of sinners, God would not hear the prayer we pray for forgiveness of sins. He would not hear the prayers we pray accepting the grace he offers. He would not hear the prayers of anyone, because all of us sin. In John 9:2-3, you find the story of the blind man who who prompted the disciples to ask “who sinned, this man or his parents,” and you read that Christ replied, “It was not that this man sinned; or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Most people stop there, but the real beauty of this chapter is further down. Look at verses 31-34.   In verse 31 the formerly blind man repeats the myth taught by ancient Jews, “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshipper of God and his will, God listens to him.”  In verses 32-33 the blind man responds with, “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind.  If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”  In verse 34 the Pharisees tell him, “You were born in utter sin, and you would teach us?”  They were right, the man was born in “utter sin”.  We all were.  Never in the story do you hear that the man did not sin. Never do you hear Christ tell him, “repent and I’ll cure you.”  Never do you hear or see anything other than the grace of God in action.  That is what prayer is, an extension of the grace of God.

One reason this myth is so often repeated is because of non-believers.  There is a bit of a catch-22 in there.  If you don’t believe that Christ is Christ, how will you be able to pray a mountain-moving prayer with the required faith.   Faith, lack of faith and sin are three different things.  Sin does not block prayer.  Lack of faith blocks prayer.

Myth 2:  Don’t pray for the impossible.

I think many people fall into the trap of myth 2 without even knowing they have fallen into a trap.  Either they simply don’t pray the prayer because they consider the thing impossible, or when they pray it, they pray it without the mountain-moving faith that is required for prayer.   They want to believe that “all things are possible for God,” but there is a that little nagging doubt.   As an example, consider the following scenario.  A friend asks you to pray for a healing from a deadly cancer.  You’ve known many people who prayed for cancer cures and received a no, but you don’t want to let your friend down, so you say ‘yes, I’ll pray,” but your prayer in your heart is more a, “Dear Jesus, I know you’re probably going to say no to this, but Jim really needs a healing miracle right now.  So could you please heal Jim, or help Jim accept that you won’t.”  You’ve already decided that healing Jim is impossible. You’re ripped the rug of faith out from under your own feet.

God still does the  impossible.   God has never made a huge show of doing miracles all the time, but God has done them since he created the heavens and the earth, and despite what people might like you to believe, he hasn’t totally stopped doing them.  So don’t stop asking for them.

I was a new bride when they told me that I had a terrible cancer that would eat away my face, and that was moving toward my eyes and brain.  They (several different doctors and surgeons) said there was no hope for a cure, but they could possibly give me 5 years if I let them do surgery to remove most of the tumor.  I wasn’t even going to seek treatment, but I prayed, and friends prayed, and my husband asked me to do the surgery, and his grandparents asked me to do the surgery, so I did the surgery.  At 7 am the surgeon ran some pre-surgical tests and confirmed there was a nasty tumor with tendrils that had eaten through bone in my face.  It was not a cyst. It had grown since the initial discovery.  Everything that had lead to the terrible prognosis by every doctor who had seen me confirmed the terrible prognosis.

When I woke up from what should have been a surgery that removed my jaw, part of my eye, my nose and part of my frontal lobe, I was whole, except for some holes in the bones of my face.  The surgeon asked me if I believed in God, and when I said i did, he said, “That’s good, because he apparently believes in you.”  The doctor said when they opened up my face, just 30 minutes after having looked at the tumor, it was gone, but the evidence of its existence earlier was still there.  He said it looked like another surgeon had beaten him to it.  There was a hole in my bone, there were tendrils in my bones, there was no tumor.  He, and the entire board of directors of the surgical unit of that hospital called it a miracle.  I do too.  Someone who prayed for me had prayed with mountain-moving faith.

So, why do so many cancer patients still get a no?  They can’t ALL have weak prayers.
I think there are many possible reasons, with the main one being God has better plans for us than we can imagine, and sometimes those plans are not on this earth.

When my mother had cancer, I prayed, firmly believing that she would be cured.  Then one day she came to me and said, “Please stop praying that. I am really tired of this world.  Not just the illness, but a world with bills, and troubles, and worries. I want to rest with my parents and brother. I want to go home.”  I think that God heard my prayers, and told me no because he loved my mother enough to tell me no.  Mother had earned a right to the rest in his arms that I couldn’t understand.

Also, there were things in my life that happened as a direct result of being orphaned just as I was setting out as a young adult, that would surely have been changed if I had stayed on the path of “a mother’s daughter.”  Things that blessed my life overall.  Things like meeting my husband.  He fathered my children, had I not met him, I would not have my children. I might have other children, but not the precious, wonderful two have.

God has far-sight.  We have almost no sight.God has also has a paternal wisdom that the children of god don’t have.  Just as your human child thinks the most terrible, cruel thing in the world that you can do is tell them no to that one thing they are pleading for, while you know it is, in fact, one of the greatest displays of love you’ve ever made, God knows we ask for things that are not best because we don’t know what is best.

Some of you are thinking, but we’re talking about DEATH!  How can a loving God ever say no to preventing death?  Death is a transition, and for a Christian, it is a transition forward.  Think of a fetus for a moment.  As a fetus, there is darkness, there are terrible limits, but the womb is all the fetus knows.  For a baby to be born, for a human to grow, the “fetus stage” has to end.  All that the fetus has known is left behind, but the world that they move into is a better place than that womb.  Death, on God’s timing, for a Christian is leaving behind the limits of this world to transition to a better existence.

You cannot “rush” a fetus’ through that transition.  You cannot rush a christian either.  Taking your own life is not the answer, and it is not wrong to do what you can do to continue to grow in this life.  See your doctors, take care of your health.  When the time comes though, and God says, “You have to move forward now, there is nothing left for you here,” it is not a terrible thing for the one who is moving on.  It is only a terrible thing for those of us who cannot move on with them, yet.  So if God says no to a prayer for a miracle healing, don’t think your prayer was unheard, or that God couldn’t do the impossible.  Know that God wanted better than a world of strive, bills and sickness for the person you love.  Know that he has given them more than you dreamed for them.

Myth 3: You shouldn’t pray for material things or small things.

Why not?

I once asked a friend to pray about a car that was giving me mechanical trouble when I needed the car and didn’t have money for major repairs.  The friend replied, “Oh, I would never pray for something like that!  I don’t bother god with trivial things.”

My first reaction was, honestly, anger.  It wasn’t a trivial thing to me.  My second reaction was, why wouldn’t you ask god for everything you want, large or small?   Human parents don’t tell their children, “Don’t ask me for anything unless it is a life or death situation.”  Why do you think God would be less loving, less spoiling, less indulging to his children?  He may say no, just a human parent might say no.  I suspect his reasons for a no will be similar to a human parent’s reasons for saying no.  If you pray for wealth and don’t get it maybe it is because God knows you will be happier and better off, if you develop a work ethic.  If you pray that a potential romantic connection will call, and they don’t, maybe God saw that the potential romantic partner was a total loser, and that you were just too infatuated with puppy-love to see the truth.  Or maybe, despite how you feel, someone else in the world need them more than you did.  That doesn’t mean you can’t ask.

One of the most spirit lifting healing moments of my life was when I asked God to help me find my car-keys.  Yes, my lost car keys. It had been a horrible, horrible year.  I was a single parent barely surviving from paycheck to paycheck with two children to care for, and the boss I’d worked well with for years had retired. His replacement was a woman who hated me, and who made no secret of the fact that she was looking for a reason to fire me, and I couldn’t find my car keys.  If I was late for work, she had her reason.  I was terrified, I was in tears. I was wondering all those things you wonder about in moments of darkness. Had I made God angry? Was all of this a punishment? A test? I tore the house apart, I dumped my purse, I cleared off the coffee table. No keys. Then I prayed, and I turned around and there they were. Right on the coffee table I’d just cleared off. Right where I’d looked at least a dozen times.  I just broke down and sobbed. Those car keys were proof he was still listening.  Those car keys were a “hug” from God. That little, simple answer to a “silly” prayer gave me the spiritual strength to get through all of it, and to keep going until I came out of that tunnel.  To me, that “miracle” discovery of the keys was bigger than the medical miracle I had received years before. Were the keys all along? I don’t know, I don’t care. I do know, and I do care that I didn’t find them until I begged God to tell me why he hated me, and he answered with, “I don’t hate you, here are your car keys.”

Myth 4:  If someone asks you to pray for something you don’t agree with you should tell them no.

God doesn’t need you to screen his calls.

When a person asks you to pray for them or with them, don’t play the role of God by refusing to talk to God about it.  Don’t lecture them on how wrong you think their prayer request is.  Don’t remind them of all the reasons God might say no.  Just love the person who made the request, take their hand and say, “You lead,”  because, usually, what they really need is someone who loves them enough to do that.

I have been told no to requests for prayer for a lot more things that God said yes to, than to things God said no to.  Each time someone refused to pray for something because they thought it was too big for God to handle, or to little for God to bother with, or just “not the right thing to ask for,” it was a slap in the face that left me feeling more alone than you can imagine, and it distanced me from them. There were a few who said, “I honestly think you are wrong to ask this, but we can ask God and let God,” and I loved them for that.  Ask with them, be there for them, and let God be God. He doesn’t need you to edit his correspondence for him.

Myth 5:  You didn’t have enough faith when you asked.

Sometimes that is true, but in your heart, you know that when it happens.

Sometimes it is not though.  A  lot of people with very real mountain moving faith are told no to requests they make to God, and being reminded of this myth leaves them feeling guilty, and a bit angry at God. It serves not purpose to tell them they didn’t have faith. Don’t do that to people.

If you go to someone you love, get on your knees, positive they’ll help you through anything, positive you know the right answer, positive they’ll agree with you, and you beg them to help you do it your way and they say no, you’re shocked. You’re a bit angry that they said no, and you’re really angry if someone says, “Oh, you just didn’t ask the right way,” or “you could have talked him into it if you had really tried.”So don’t do that to your fellow Christians.

A simple, honest, “I don’t understand why God said no, but I love you, and he loves you, and eventually we’ll understand why,” is so much nicer and more accurate than, “this is your fault, you didn’t have enough faith when you prayed.”

The bottom line is, ask God.  Try to accept his answer. If you have a lot of trouble accepting his answer, ask him to please help you understand why he gave the answer he gave.God loves you.  He will respond to you in love. Sometimes that is yes, sometimes that is no, sometimes that is, “You can’t possibly understand right now, but when you’re older, you will see I was right.’

Love Him. Trust Him. Love him enough to be unafraid of asking him.  Trust him enough to know that if he says know, he said no out of love.  Trust him enough to ask for miracles, because he can do them. Trust him enough to ask for silly things because he loves you.  Trust him enough to keep loving him, even if you don’t like the answer he gives.

Blessings That Keep On Giving – Happy Birthday Josiah – Surviving Hyperemesis Gravidarum with God’s Help

This busy little chef is my grandson. 
Today is his third birthday.
About 3 1/2 years ago I was afraid I would lose a daughter instead of gaining a grandson.
God is good.
Image

My daughter and my son-in-law had no reason in the world to think pregnancy would be difficult for Kathleen.  Neither of their families had a long history of difficult pregnancies.  When she thought she was pregnant she went in for a test and was told it might be positive, but the results weren’t really clear.  So they did a sonogram, at which point they told her she had a “blighted ovum”.  She called me in tears.  Her heart (God’s whisper) told her this was not a “blighted ovum,” and that it was a child. The nursing team tried to convince her to have a D&C.  She refused, and ended up scheduling another appointment.

The next visit they told her that they found a yoke sack but no fetal pole. Again, they pushed for a D&C. Again she said no.  She and I were both convinced she was just not as far along as they thought she was.  The third visit they still couldn’t see a fetal pole. Again, she refused a D&C.

About this time she began throwing up, but calling it morning sickness would be a tremendous understatement of fact.  There was no relief.  She and my wonderful son-in-law would call her (now former) OB/GYN’s office and the nurses would tell her that she was experiencing a psychosymatic pregnancy and that she was about to “miscarry” the “empty sack.”  They never saw her, never encouraged my son-in-law to bring her into the doctor.

My son-in-law had to attend a business trip in San Antonio, and often takes Kat with him, but this time it was not just wanting to be with her that caused her to join him.  She was so sick now that they were afraid to leave her home alone, but the nurses kept refusing to set up appointments for her, convinced she was not pregnant.

She was in San Antonio when she collapsed.  Travis got back from his conference meeting to find her blacked out in their hotel room, with blood around her, but the blood was near her mouth.  At the emergency room in San Antonio the doctors confirmed that she was indeed pregnant – 8 weeks along in fact.  They also told her that her ketone levels were extremely high. They told Travis that it was a good thing he got home when he did or Kathleen might have died.  She was dehydrated, she was starving to death from being unable to keep any food down, and she was suffering from a rare life threatening pregnancy related illness called “hyperemesis gravidarum” or HG.

The minute they got home they began trying to find another doctor.  They were told, by most, that they didn’t want to take on a pregnancy that was already determined to be high risk.  Some said they didn’t want to take business from other doctors.  My son-in-law’s mother was able to find an amazing doctor who was not only willing to take on the case, but seemed eager to make sure my daughter and my grandson survived.

This wonderful doctor, who I believe was sent by God, helped develop a diet for her, gave her medications that would help her keep fluid and food down, and monitored her carefully.  That didn’t end the throwing up, but it ended most of the “life-threatening” part of it.

At 19 weeks Kat and Travis went in to find out the gender of their baby, and what was meant to be a wonderful, happy doctor visit offered them more bad news.   The baby was SGA, or small for his gestational age.  They warned Kat and Travis that the baby was at higher risk for asphyxia, hypoglycemia, polycthemia and neurological issues.  Once more they were robbed of the opportunity to “enjoy” being perspective parents.

A specialist was called in and series of multiple doctor visits per week began.  A trip to the OB/GYN, a trip to the specialist, measuring the baby’s growth.  My son-in-law and I took turns carrying her to the appointments, his parents helped out with more than I can possibly describe here. Cooking, cleaning, packing and moving them to a new place when money issues rose up.

By week 25 they changed the diagnosis from SGA to intrauterine growth restriction or IUGR . Since poor nutrition and kidney disease are often considered factors in this issue, and since she doesn’t do the other things that sometimes lead to this (drink, do drugs, smoke), I have no doubt that the HG caused this.  She was warned this could lead to complications at birth.  We were told they might need to take the baby a little early to avoid it going through the stress of natural birth, and that there would probably be weeks in a neo-natal intensive care unit.

By now they’d gone from a plan of both of them working until the baby was born, with normal pregnancy expenses, to one working and massive medical bills that looked to become even more massive. God, however, was with them all of the way.  My coworkers knew what was going on, and tried to be as supportive as possible.  One day I walked into work and found an envelope with 177 dollars in it, addressed to me, but with no clue who gave it to me. (To this day they haven’t admitted it).  I swung by Kat’s house to tell her of my blessing and found her in tears.  She had gotten a bill she couldn’t possibly afford to pay, and they wanted money by the next day.  I asked her the amount.  It was exactly 174 dollars.  I handed her the $177 and said, “God meant this for you.  $174 for that bill, and $3 to remind us all He is with you.”

A little later, as I was trying to find the angel to say thank you, I asked a coworker who was less informed about the issues with Kat’s health if he knew who left the money, and he said no, but a few hours later showed up in my office wanting to know why people felt I needed help for medical bills. I explained what was going on. He returned and asked me what the hospital needed before delivery.  I told him it was too much for anyone to consider helping with, but he insisted on knowing the amount.  Later he showed up with a check for $6,000, telling me to tell the kids they didn’t have to worry about paying it back.  They used that to make the down payments, and when the insurance paid off, returning things they had “over paid”, they paid him back.

At last, on March 2, 2009, they scheduled a c-section.  There were still questions of whether the baby’s lungs were strong enough, but it looked like it had to be done.
A perfect, beautiful baby boy was born that day.  He spent no time in NICU. He was small. Very small, but healthy.

Image

And so was my daughter.

Kathleen and Josiah at the St. Anthony Hotel in San Antonio, Texas in 2012.

Image

Men of God who merged Christianity and politics the right way

Yesterday I attended the funeral service of a great man of God.  He was a Christian who was known for walking the walk, helping the helpless, loving God, loving his wife and his children, and doing his best to be the man that God would want a man to be.  It just so happens that he chose to become a police officer, then a prosecuting attorney for the District Attorney’s office, and then he became a judge of the county court.  What struck me though is that he was not remembered for his brilliant legal mind, even by other members of the judicidal system.  He was remembered for his love of Christ, and for his efforts to live a life of love.

The church was not just packed with people who wanted to say farewell to this wonderful man. It literally overflowed into a nearby chapel.  It wasn’t my church, but as I looked around the room I could pick out a lot of men and women that were known to be people who also walked the walk.  Many of them also members of the judicial or local political community.  What struck me was that these men and women who are loved by so many people are not famous for standing up and using the name of Christ to further their own political careers or their business ventures.  They were, rather, famous for using their business ventures and careers to do what they believed God would have wanted, one on one, person by person, case by case. 

This world needs many more like them.

 

Politics and Christianity

I have a shameful confession to make. I used to be very heavily involved in politics.  I mean “election judge, precinct chairman, delegate to state, member of the executive board, secretary of the county convention, paid campaign worker,” kind of involvement.  I mean the, “elected officials called me at work and at home for input,” kind of involvement.

I’ve learned better and repented.

I learned a lot about both politics and Christ in the process, most of all I learned that the two don’t mix. 

Never take someone else’s negative words at face value – go to the source:
When I first got active in politics in my city, there was man running for Congress who seemed like a great guy, but at a political meeting we  were all told by a woman that everyone trusted dearly that the man was ripping down his opponents signs, busting out windows and spreading lies about people.  Person after person told me similar stories, and I was dumb enough to assume that if everyone said it, it must be true.

Despite the gossip. The man won the party nomination, and after he won the party asked me to work his campaign against the other party.  I refused. He could have just ignored me.  I was only one person, and then just a new person.  Instead he came to me and asked me why I refused to support him.  He was humble and polite and seemed to sincerely want to know what he had done to make me dislike him.  I gave him an honest answer, and he looked absolutely shocked and said, “I had no idea that was going on.  I know you can’t believe that, but I swear, if I had known I would have fired whoever it was and paid for any damages.  Please find out where and when this happened so I can act on it.”

So I tried.  I really tried.  No one seemed to remember whose sign or whose house or what yard or what sign.  Everyone had heard it from someone “reliable” who had heard it from someone “reliable,” but none of the people spreading it had any idea where the original source of it was.

I agreed to work with the man.  After all, if a man is as big a jerk as the rumors said, he couldn’t hide it forever. 

He turned out to be one of the finest human beings and Congressmen I’ve ever known. 

Some  Christians think “thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” doesn’t apply to politics:
When the local head of the Christian Coalition demanded that a man sign off on a specific platform before the coalition would support the man, the candidate and the coalition official met in my office and discussed why the candidate was hesitant to sign it, but the man did sign it.  A few days later an ad ran for the man’s opponent, paid for by the supppoters of the Coalition, saying the man had not signed it. Rumors were all over the county convention floor that the man had refused to sign it.   They said that they heard this from the head of the Coalition.

So I went to the head of the Christian Coalition and said, “You know, the 10 commandments? That one about not bearing false witness doesn’t have an “except for politics,” clause in it.  The man said, “Well, he might have signed it, but he isn’t a strong supporter of, ” (and mentioned the plank the man was hesitant on).  I said, “A lie is a lie. He signed off on it, saying he didn’t is a lie. If you’re going to throw rocks, you should at least be less obvious about breaking the numbered commandments.”

He hung his head in shame. 

You don’t need to be Christian to be part of the Christian Coaliton
My city is very divided politically.  We have “liberal Democrats” and “moderate Democrats”.  We have “Conservative Republicans” and “moderate Republicans.” In my area, if you didn’t stand up for the conservative element of the Republican party you were labeled “non-Christian,” and if you were active in that branch of the political system you were automatically assumed to be “a good Christian.”

So imagine my surprise when the woman who was famous in town for being able to motivate the Christians into action told me that she didn’t think it mattered if a person prayed to Christ or to Buddah or to Allah. 

Don’t confuse faith in Christ with opinions on issues
Remember the guy above who signed off on the platform, and they said he didn’t? He is a lay minister who is very active in the Church of Christ. Ask him for his testimony and he’ll talk for hours and hours about how he came to Christ, why he loves Christ and how he wants to help others find Christ.  He does a lot of charity work in the name of Christ. His reason for not wanting to sign off on the platform was because he felt the issue in question was one that would only be answered individually, and that the churches, not politicians, should address it.  This is the man the Christian coalition didn’t like.

One of the people running against him had the full support of the local Christian Coalition element of the party, but said something that indicated to me he couldn’t be a Christian.  Namely holding a status of honor with a non-christian faith. So, after a meeting I asked them how that worked, and they responded that they were not Christian, and then told me that their personal believe didn’t matter as long as they were willing to support Christian issues. 

How can a non-Christian know what a Christian issue is? How can a person who doesn’t even pretend to pray, know what God would want or make godly decisions? Or guide a group (community) in a Christian manner?  Would I rather have a sinful, but prayerful David as my leader? Or a worshipper of Baal, who was a pretty nice guy and agreed with me that stealing a man’s wife is bad? I’ll take King David.

Just because a man proclaims a cause doesn’t mean he believes in the cause
A very influential party member at not just the local level, but also at the state level, was adored by the pro-life groups.  On a door to door walk one day the man’s daughter told me that she found politics hilarious because her Dad didn’t really believe abortion was wrong.  I asked her to explain. She said, “I had one, and I had it because my Dad insisted I have it.”  She then went on to explain that she’d gotten pregnant as a teenager, her father didn’t want his family name stained, and he’d insisted she get rid of the baby. She had wanted to have it and keep it.  I said he must have changed his mind after that. She laughed and said absolutely not.

So, I asked someone close to the man about it, and he said, “That’s right. He isn’t really pro-life, and he is an atheist.”

I was flabbergasted, and I said, “But the Christian coalition and the conservatives all support him!”

His friend said, “He’s a great politician, and the party matters to him more than the issues. He figures issues will come and go.  So he doesn’t pick candidates who support his issue. He finds out what the issues are, and tells his candidate how to win over the people.”

Which, needless to say, didn’t improve my trust in the candidates he supported.

Everytime we brag that we are a Christian, and we spread a false rumor or attack someone who doesn’t deserve it, we anger Christ.
So when you get that email that enrages you, don’t forward it! Assume it is wrong until verified, and fact check it. If you can’t find substantial proof that it is accurate, don’t share it!

You see, Christ cares about a person’s soul, and when you spread false rumors, while proclaiming Christ, you run the risk of causing a heart to harden.
So just stop it.

Valuable lessons I learned from it all
If you hear a rumor, demand specifics that can be fact checked, don’t share them or spread them.  Spreading a rumor you don’t know to be true is bearing false witness and it is a sin.

If you want to know what a person feels about Christ or an issue, ask them.

Make sure your leaders really believe what they claim to believe. 

The more negative the comment, the more likely it is a flat out lie.

A man who is afraid to pray, is a man who won’t be listening to God.

Doing the dos of Christ matters as much as not doing the don’ts, maybe more.

Doing the dos of Christ matters as much as not doing the don’ts.  Maybe more.” 

The first time I heard those words they were spoken by Dr. Ralph Smith, who at the time was pastor of Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin, Texas.  It was the mid 1970’s and Dr. Smith was teaching on the book of James.  Specifically the second chapter of James which says, in verses 8 through 10, the following.  “If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well.  But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.  For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of sin.”

Woah! That is HEAVY stuff.  Not loving your neighbor is as bad as adultry or murder or theft? That can’t be right!

Or can it?  Sin is disobedience to the known will of God, and no matter how hard we try to ignore it, forget it or twist it, Christ made God’s will on certain things very clear. He wants us to treat each other with love and with mercy, and He wants us to do it unconditionally. 

That means we can’t stop and say, “Well, they need to try to help theirself first,” or “they need to repent from sin first.”  Our most important job as a Christian is not to stop them from sinning.  It is to love  God, and then to love others like Christ loves us. Thankfully, for all of us, Christ loves us with mercy, forgiveness and understanding.  He died for us, when we were so mired in sin we didn’t even know it was sinful.  He forgives us, even though we keep making the same mistakes over and over.  THAT is how He wants us to treat each other and how He wants us to treat non-believers.

How important is it to Christ?  Well, when the disciples asked Christ, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus answered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”   (That’s where James got the idea). Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record this.  You find reference to it in other books of the New Testament, such as James.  The greatest two commandments, according to God Himself, are to love God and love others!

That isn’t the strongest or most clear statement from Christ on the matter though.  In Mattew 25 starting at verse  31 Christ tells us that when Christ returns in all his glory, with his angels, he will sit on his throne in glory with all the nations gathered around him, and he will separate his sheep from the goats, with the sheep on the right and the goats on the left.  
Matthew 25

34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.”
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Notice what is not in there? What is not in there is, “You protested against that funeral for that sinner!” What is not in there is, “You told that guy begging for help on the corner to get a job and you cut aide to single parents so they didn’t waste the money.”

I have to be honest now and admit that those verses weren’t the real attention grabber to me.   It was the next set of verses in the same sermon (taught by Christ Himself) that grabbed my attention. 

Vs 41
“Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”

Christ, who was so full of love and mercy that he died for us, sending people to eternal punishment is a real attention grabber for me.  What in the world could anger Christ so much that he would say it deserved the same punishment as Satan deserved?   Ignoring the second commandment, to love others.  Ignoring the dos of Christianity.

44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, “Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or a thirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minster unto thee?
45 Then shall he answer them, saying, “Verily I saw unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me”. 46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

We Christians don’t teach that much anymore.  We focus on trying to beat those splinters out of other people’s eyes.  We use the excuse that Christians are saved by faith, not works.  That is true.  The bible says it very plainly. “Ye are saved by faith, not of works, lest any man should boast.”  Sadly, we boast anyway. We boast that we aren’t guilty of the sin someone else is guilty of.  We boast we go to church on a regular basis. We boast we know the books of the bible in order. 

However, the fact that we are saved by faith does not mean we should ignore the dos of Christ.  Remember that verse back in James? The one that said if you break any of the law you’re just as guilty as someone who broke all of the law? The verse that reminds you that all the law hinges on love?

We can never be “good enough” to earn forgiveness for our sin, but that doesn’t mean good works don’t matter.  They matter a great deal to Christ.  In this human world if someone tells you that they love you and respect you, but they never consider your feelings, often hurt you, and never match their actions to their words, you begin to understand that their words are empty lies.  Christ is smart enough to know the difference between truly loving him, and in just saying you love him. He warned us to watch out for people who pretend to be followers of Christ, but in fact are there to destroy.

Matthew 7:15 .
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves
(Want to see a false prophet? Turn on the news to the man shouting messages of hate to a mother mourning her son’s death.  Open the paper to the guy who killed the staff of an abortion clinic and claimed he did it to serve God). 

Matthew 7:21
Not every one that saith unto me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my father which is in heaven.
(Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. Love thy neighbor as thyself. Judge not, lest ye be judged. Heal the sick. Visit the prisoners. Take in the strangers. Give drink to the thirsty. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone).

I love the story of the adulterous woman brought to Christ, especially when taken in context of James 2.  If all the law hinges on love, and all of us have failed to love, none of us are in a position to be tossing stones.  It behooves us to remember that.

Matthew 7:22-23
Many will say to me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works?” And then will I profess unto them, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity”.

It isn’t enough to do something in His name.  You have to know Him. You have to love Him, and if you love Him, you will keep his commandments.

John 14:15
If ye love me, keep my commandments.

John 14:21
He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved by my father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.

John 14:23
Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.

And if you love him – and keep his commandments – you will love others, not just with words, but with deeds. You’ll feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the lonely.  You’ll act with love, and not just talk about it.

John 16:27
For the Father himself loved me, so have I loved you, continue ye in my love.

Show a little love for Christ today by spreading a little unconditional love here on earth.  Or, as Colbert said, admit you “just don’t want to”.