January 2009


**This was first written as a note to Jeff when he was travelling in Zambia a few years ago, and then posted on the blog that we wrote at that time. I had been thinking of re-posting this entry and when I looked out at the sky this morning, I knew today was the day.**

Proverbs 4:18 The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. 

I read this verse one night last week before going to bed. I kept turning the words over in my mind as I fell in and out of sleep. 

The next morning I looked out the window and there through the clouds was the “first gleam of dawn” and it was brilliant and dazzling and beautiful and a powerful presence in the otherwise dark sky. We are like those bright rays of light. We are the “first gleam of dawn”. YOU are that “first gleam of dawn”. 

Even on the cloudiest of days, the sun shines behind the clouds. Even on those dark and gloomy days, the sun, hidden, gives light to all the world.

When we walk in righteousness, our lives have the same effect wherever we go. In the darkness of this world, we are the “first gleams of dawn”. Together with other Christ Followers around the world, we are a brilliant, dazzling, beautiful and powerful presence against the dark landscape of our culture. 

Think about it.

H.

I’ve mentioned before that one of my favourite ways to pass the time is to sit in the waiting room and listen to the “cancer journeys” of those around me and to share my own journey with others.  I’d like to introduce you to a few of the people I’ve met recently.  And while I don’t know their names, I’d like to share their stories with you.

Two Women, Two Stories:  Sitting across from me in the waiting room were two women, both in their 50’s.  I could tell by their actions and their conversations that one was the patient and the other was there for support, but listening as they talked back and forth I couldn’t tell who was supporting who.  We started talking and I was surprised by their story.  The first woman was the one with the diagnosis of CLL (my diagnosis).  The second woman was there for support, but also had a cancer diagnosis of her own and was followed at a different hospital.  We talked about our diagnosis, treatments and where we were in our own cancer journeys.  But then, the second woman, the one who was there for support began to talk of her husband.  He also had a diagnosis of CLL and had died two years earlier.  She began to share her husband’s story of CLL and how he had been involved in some clinical trials before he died.  While I was unaware of these drugs and trials, she was able to share that these trials are showing good results in CLL patients.  

It is rare that I get to meet the men and women who have gone before me and “try out” treatments that have made a difference and will make a difference to my own cancer journey.  I sat before this woman with tears in my eyes and said “thank you”.  She was encouraged by words but I was the one who walked away humbled by our conversation.

Grandfather: As I was in conversation with a few others around me, I turned to the well dressed man at the end of the row and asked about his diagnosis.  He said that he had been diagnosed before I was born.  He began his story with his diagnosis, 37 years ago.  On the day of his diagnosis, his doctor told him that he had 1-2 years to live.  He looked at his doctor and said “Get out of the room. That’s not true.” With tears in his eyes and the raw emotion as if he was reliving that day, he said that at the time, he had 5 children at home, the youngest just a year old.  Now, 37 years later his children are all grown and he has many grandchildren.

Just before hearing this man’s journey, Nathan had been up in the waiting room with us eating his lunch and providing much joy for those around him.  It was important for me to listen to this man’s story of determination and courage in light of where I am in my own journey and family life.  I cried as I said thank you.

These are just three people that I’ve met along the way.  I have shared their stories with as much accuracy as I can remember.  I have been touched by their stories and humbled our brief meetings.  I am learning again that cancer takes no exception of age, race, religion, status, money or lifestyle.  As we share our stories, I realize that we are more alike in the way that cancer impacts our lives and that we have a lot to learn from each other.  

As I share my story, here on this website, with you face to face and wherever I happen to be when I strike up a conversation, I know that my cancer journey is not “all about me”.  I have a lot to learn from listening to your stories too. And so, with that, I look forward to our next conversation.

H.

Here are some updates from Tuesday.  Jeff and Nathan dropped me off at the GO Station and I travelled down to PMH.  I arrived in time for my appointment and before I could take my coat off, I was called in for the Blood Transfusion.  I was paired up for the day with one of my favourite nurses (she’s never failed at getting the IV hooked up on the first try) and she didn’t fail me on Tuesday.  It’s such a small thing, but when you get poked with needles as often as I do, it’s nice to have a nurse who can set up an IV on the first try.  

While I was waiting for the bags of blood to arrive I visited with a couple who were finishing up their day at the hospital.  The man had received blood that day and the wife cared for him so tenderly.  After he left the room, I spoke with her about what it is like to be a caregiver and encouraged her in her role.  We both cried as she shared that her husband wanted to hold on for another 1 1/2 so they could celebrate 50 years of marriage together.  It was a touching moment.

After the transfusion (4:30) I walked across the street to Toronto General Hospital to meet my sister for Starbucks (she paid…).  My CT scan was scheduled for 9:00 p.m. but we figured that it wouldn’t hurt to see if there were any cancellations or even a chance that they could take me early.  I was told that I could wait in the waiting room, but that there would be no guarantee that I would be seen early.  We decided instead to brave the cold and walk to Eaton’s Centre for dinner.  We arrived back at 8:00 and waited.  At 8:30 the technician called my name and said “Hey, I was looking for you at 5:00!”  Grrrrrr.  That said, I wouldn’t have traded the visit with my sister.  Thanks Pammy.

CT scans are not my favourite thing in the world.  I mean, I know that there are much more invasive treatments, tests and scans but CT scans… I don’t know.  I was thankful that I didn’t have to drink that “juice” for this scan, but I was hooked up to an IV (1st try!)  I usually sing or recite Bible verses as I’m waiting for the scan to be finished, but since this was a scan of my neck, throat, nose… I needed to keep my mouth still.  I couldn’t even swallow at times.  I don’t know, I’m just glad that this one is behind me.

My next appointment with the doctor is February 2nd and that’s when I’ll have the results of the scan as well as the dates for my next chemo. I’ve been tired this week but not overwhelmingly so.  I’ve also taken a lot of time to rest and I think that has helped.

I should also mention that we are all sleeping better this past week.  I know that is a result of your prayers for us.  Even Nathan is sleeping better. For the most part, he is staying in his room until at least 6:30 a.m. which, while unpleasant, isn’t unreasonable.  There have even been a few times where he’s crawled up beside Jeff and fallen back to sleep.  We are thankful!  And less tired!

Also, the pain in my ears has been going away slowly.  It certainly isn’t as intense as it was 2 weeks ago.  Another answer to prayer.

I’ve been thinking about this blog and my expectations for writing each week.  I think that it is reasonable to say that my expectation for myself is to write 2-3 entries each week depending on how I’m feeling.  I have so many thoughts that I am eager to write and to share with you.  Cancer has changed my life and the way I look at the world around me and I look forward to sharing those thoughts and experiences with you.

H.

Well, we hopped into the car this morning at 8:50 to head downtown to PMH.  The plan was to drive downtown but the weather and stop-and-go traffic suggested that we turn around, park the car and take the GO Train.  We did.

Each visit is mostly the same with a few “Choose Your Own Adventure” turns to make it interesting.  For those who don’t know, here’s what our visits usually look like.

First stop, blood work.  Stand in line, show health and hospital card, get a number and wait. One of the slogans they have posted in the lab reads “Without us, your doctor is just guessing.”  And so while this is not my favourite stop along the way, I understand how important it is to my health story.

Choose Your Own Adventure: Depending on how long the wait is for that day we either 1)Drop Nathan off at the Magic Castle (more about this wonderful, free service in a separate post), 2) Get coffee at Tim Hortons, 3) Just wait.

After my blood work has been drawn, we head upstairs to the 2nd floor Hematology Unit, show health and hospital card and wait.

Choose Your Own Adventure: Jeff and I usually bring some kind of “distraction” with us, either a book or knitting but my favourite way to spend time in the waiting room is to talk with the other patients and share our cancer stories.  We’re all there for the same reason, and we’re all at various places in our journey.  I have been encouraged, humbled and touched deeply by some of the conversations that we have had in the waiting room.

Once a room is ready and the results of the blood work have arrived my name is called and we’re taken into an examination room to wait for the doctor.  Since PMH is a teaching hospital, I am usually examined first by a student/physician assistant (I’m probably insulting these people with this title, but I’m not sure what they are really called…Help?)  Then Dr. Crump comes in to examine me, assess my blood work and make changes, recommendations to my current treatment schedule.

Choose Your Own Adventure:  Today, based on my blood work, a Blood Transfusion has been scheduled for tomorrow afternoon at 1:00.  Also, the rash on my arms/legs is still of concern to the doctors (and us) and so a small biopsy was taken from one of the effected spots on my arm.  Also, a prescription was written for more Tylenol 3 to take care of the pain in my ears.

After seeing the doctor, we head back out to the waiting room to wait for my next appointment schedule.  

Choose Your Own Adventure: Jeff usually heads downstairs to pick up Nathan from the Magic Castle.  Today, Jeff and Nathan waited for my appointment schedule while I went downstairs for more blood work.  This blood work was to “blood type” me for tomorrow’s transfusion.

Homeward Bound.  These events usually take up most of the day.  We are often home again by 4:00 but since we took public transit, we were at the mercy of the GO Train Schedule and so today we were home again by 4:45.

One other thing to mention is that I have a CT scan scheduled for tomorrow night at 9:00 p.m. at Toronto General Hospital.  The scan will be of my ears/neck/throat to try and determine the cause of the pain.  My sister, Pam has agreed to come with me for the appointment and I always enjoy our child-free times together.  Of equal importance, Toronto General Hospital has a Starbucks downstairs in the lobby, and since Pam is a “partner” she gets a discount.  And, since I’m the one who’s sick, she’ll probably pay!

H.

Hebrews 12:2  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

I recently listened to a message titled A Long Look At Jesus.  In the introduction, the speaker used an illustration that captured my attention and gave me a good idea of what exactly it might mean to “fix my eyes on Jesus”.  The speaker, standing at the front of the auditorium pointed out that as the audience listened and kept their eyes at the front, that he was the primary focus of their vision. However, from the periphery of their vision, they could still see other things that were around them.

I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of things each day that can capture my attention and turn my eyes off of Jesus.  And by no means was this speaker suggesting that we should ignore or forget about the difficulties and responsibilities that require our attention. It’s just that as our eyes are focused on Jesus, these other things become part of our peripheral focus.  They are still there, but our eyes are glued to Jesus.  What a beautiful picture and goal for my life.

Now, that said, let me be clear that I have by no means figured out how to do this all the time, everyday.  I also want to say that fixing our eyes on Jesus is not always easy when there are so many other things that draw our focus away from Jesus.  All I know is that as I practice putting Jesus first, fixing my eyes on Him, that the cancer, the chemo, the 2 year old not sleeping through the night and the chores of the everyday, are easier to deal with, are less fearful and less distracting.

The speaker finishes off the message by saying that even in the worst of circumstances we can have the best of life.  And I believe that to be true.  In fact, it has been true for me in the past, and it is true for me today.

If you’re interested and have about 30 minutes, you can listen to the message here.  A Long Look at Jesus: Roy Matheson

**It should be said that as I have been writing this post about fixing my eyes on Jesus, I have been distracted and frustrated by Elmo, grocery lists, time outs… you get the picture.**

Before I sign off there are two notes points of Thanksgiving that I want to share.

I was able to talk with my doctor on Thursday regarding the extreme pain in my ears.  In no time I had a prescription ready for me that has literally taken away most of the pain.  I am so thankful.

Also, Thursday night Jeff was out for a much needed/deserved night out so it was my turn to put Nathan to bed.  I didn’t have it in me to go back and forth all night long so I decided to sit at Nathan’s side until he fell asleep.  I told Nathan that as long as he lay in bed quietly, I would sing until he fell asleep.  I started singing some lullabies but he knew all the words and sang along.  I knew this wouldn’t be helpful so I switched to singing some of the hymns that I remembered from childhood.  And so, as I sat at his side I had my own opportunity for worship as Nathan quietly (and quickly!) fell asleep.  A beautiful memory… (Luke 2:19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.)

Dear Friends,

I am posting a copy of my testimony that was written five years ago to share during an evening service at The Peoples Church.  It is as true today as it was then.  Enjoy.

Heather’s Testimony

June 22, 2003

 Most people can divide their lives into a series of “before and afters” indicating a radical change in the circumstances of their life.  For example, life before kids and life after kids.  Life before mom died and life after she died.  Life before marriage and life after marriage.  Many Christians divide their life like this, life before making a decision to follow Christ and life after becoming a follower of Jesus Christ.  This is the story of my life before and after. 

In 1998 I was 24 years old.  I had already graduated with my BA and was completing a diploma course in college.  I was actively involved in my Church.  I was living at home with my family and I had big dreams for the future.  That was before.

In June I was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia.  What does a young woman with hopes and dreams know about cancer?  I had never even thought about it.  It was never a part of my life plan and certainly not a part of dreams.

In my first journal entry after I was diagnosed I wrote about my dreams for the future.  “How do I live one day at a time and still dream for the future?  True, no one knows what tomorrow brings but grieving the loss of what might have been is all a part of the process.  I’m grieving the loss of a normal life.  My life is different now than it was before I was diagnosed.  I am the same person, but my thoughts and hopes and fears are different now.”

Since that time I have gone through many different rounds of chemotherapy treatments.  During this time I learned a lot about cancer, specifically leukemia.  Most importantly I learned about other people and about their understandings, misconceptions and fears around this mysterious disease.  I quickly learned that any mention of hospitals, chemotherapy or leukemia would stop any conversation dead in its tracks, leaving only an awkward silence.

Others were truly concerned about my health but they were unable to ask direct questions about my treatments.  Instead they would ask, “how are you doing?” with a light touch on my shoulder and a concerned tone of voice and hoped that I would tell them what they wanted to hear.  They would avoid saying the words CANCER or LEUKEMIA as though the mention of the words would cause themselves or others to get sick.

I spent a lot of time questioning the greater purpose of my life with cancer.  As I sat waiting at the hospital for my treatments I couldn’t help but look around and wonder about the lives of the others waiting for their treatments.  I was often the youngest in the room and I would look around and mumble to God “It’s not fair!  These men and women have had more opportunity to live out their dreams, they’ve had more time.  Why me?  It’s not fair!”

Then I made the most important decision regarding my life and my understanding of fairness.  In my journal I wrote, “Life isn’t about fairness.  And so I can choose anger or joy… tears or laughter…”.  Later I wrote “I trust in God’s plan for my life.  I don’t always understand it but it is my responsibility to continually live in obedience to Christ.  We don’t always choose our circumstances but we do have a choice when it comes to our attitude.  I’m choosing joy.”

When I look at my life I know that my “After” is inseparably connected with my “Before”.  Before I had cancer I knew with certainty three things about God.  I knew that God absolutely loved me.  “How great is the love the father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!”  1John 3:1

I knew that God had a plan for my life.  “For I know the plans I have for you” declares the LORD,  “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

And I knew that God is faithful to keep his promises.  “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Phillipians 1:6

When I was diagnosed with cancer, it was only the circumstances of my life that changed.  The foundation of my life had been built on God’s truth and these truths will by far out last the days of my life.

Every story of “before and after” hinges on the present, on today.  For me this includes the living of my dreams.  God has orchestrated a life for me far better than I could ever have imagined.  My body still has leukemia but my heart belongs to God.    I still dream.  And I still make plans, but I know that it is God who holds my life in his hands.  He is the Author of my life story, my “Before and Afters”. 

Heather

It’s been over two weeks since we first sent out our note to you and a lot has happened during that time. I wanted to take a minute to update you before I head off to rest.

We went back to PMH on January 5, 2009 to see Dr. Crump (who was back from sabbatical leave) and it was a long day.  Based on the appointment a week earlier, we were prepared for some difficult news but we hadn’t anticipated the long wait.  My appointment was scheduled for 11:45 but we weren’t even taken into the examination room until 3:30.

Once we saw Dr. Crump he suggested that we try a chemo treatment that I have had in the past, instead of starting right away on one of the treatments suggested a week earlier.  This news had huge implications for us as it meant that the chemo treatment would be taken by pill, at home.  I am still monitored at PMH for blood work but this treatment eliminated (for now) the need for IV meds, 1-3 trips downtown each week.  Rather than heading into the unknown, this treatment also held some familiarity for us as a family since I had taken it in the past with good results.  

As it stands today, I have finished my first treatment of Fludara and Cyclophosphamide and I will go see Dr. Crump again on Monday, January 19, 2009.  I must admit that it is strange to take chemotherapy pills in my own kitchen, but I am thankful for the science that allows it to happen. Mostly I am tired and I am working hard to find the balance of what I can and cannot do.  I am determined to do all that I can do and equally determined to recognize when I’m all spent up.

As you can imagine, cancer/chemo effects our whole family in a variety of ways and we are all still trying to figure it out.  

Quick Prayer:

-Nathan’ bedtime routine.  He’s two so I have to remind myself that some of these problems are age related, but he’s giving us a run for our money these days.  He’s often out of bed many times before he falls asleep.  Often it’s past 9:00 p.m. before he falls asleep and more often than not he’s in our bed before the crow “cock-a-doodle-doo’s” in the morning.  He’s exhausted and we’re exhausted.

-My ears are really sore and we’re unsure of the cause.  We (and the doctors) think that it may just be that the glands in my neck are too big and are pressing up against everything inside.  There is little relief and none of my homemade remedies work consistently (Tylenol, hot water bottle, ice pack, popsicles, ice cream…).

-Rest. Rest that restores and gives energy. Deep rest.

Next Page »