Saturday, November 30, 2013

Faith and Chemotherapy...

Funny things happen when you're diagnosed with cancer. 

First, people come from everywhere wanting to help.  I think it's because cancer makes people feel helpless.  A part of me thinks it also makes people feel vulnerable.  "If it can happen to _________ then it could happen to me…"  Suddenly, we stop for a moment and consider our own mortality.  I am loving connecting and re-connecting with people I haven't connected with for a long time!  I've missed you!  

Second, when you're diagnosed with cancer, people start sending you "home remedies."  Advice prolifically comes like, "cut out all sugars," and "drink peppermint tea."  I've received advice on what to pray, how to pray, when to pray.  I've received prayer cloths and directions for taking communion.  All of these bits of advice I take and hold very close to my heart because I know each one was sent in love, was given with hope and was meant for my good.  Consequently, my favorite advice to date was texted to me in great love.  She said, "Put a little windex on it!"  I laughed until I hurt!  If you've ever seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding…

I've done a lot of research into the vegan diet, the peppermint tea, the garlic and ginger… all of them have good research attached to them.  I must admit, the garlic and ginger tea has the most fascinating results…so if you run into me at Target, please forgive my aroma; I'm not trying to ward off vampires!

I must confess, many of the things I do, I do to make my friends and family feel helpful.  I put the prayer cloth in my purse because I believe in the healing power of prayer.  I drink the ginger/garlic concoction because I believe there are healing qualities to those products.  I exercise because I believe in the healing power of endorphins.  

Even farther still, I agreed to chemo because it is the best medicine available to me.  I trust my urologist and my oncologist; both of them are fine people, very well educated in their fields, and for some reason, they seem to love me.

I agreed to chemo because it gives other people hope.  

But please hear me when I say this:  
My hope is not in my diet.  
My hope is not in peppermint tea.  
My hope is not in garlic and ginger.  
My hope is not in exercise.  
My hope is not in vitamins or antioxidants. 
My hope is not in my doctors or the chemo drugs they administer.  
My hope is not in the declaration of my healing. 
My hope is not in my own prayers.  
My hope is not in my own strength.

My hope is in God alone.  The chemo drugs may fail.  The ginger and garlic may fail.  The vitamins and exercise may fail.  My strength may fail.  But my God will never fail!

I am humbled and thankful for every piece of advice given to me.  I am blessed by every single prayer prayed for me.  Please don't stop!  If you believe in prayer, please pray.  

But in the end, all of these things are secondary.  Beside a mighty God they are second best; they are a lesser hope.  They are a momentary distraction. They are an evaporating vapor of peace.

If it were solely my decision, I would probably forego the chemotherapy.  I believe so strongly that God is in complete control of this.  But I know that I also have to take the steps that are given me to take.  I have to walk the path that I've been given to walk.  Chemo is part of that path.  So I will walk it.  But I will not walk it alone.  

"But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations." Psalm 33: 11

"The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped." Ps 28:7

"Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God."  Ps. 42:11

Only By His Grace,


Thursday, November 28, 2013

A beautiful Thanksgiving...

What a beautiful, spectacular day!

We have so much to be thankful for.  

Today was a day with our kiddos.
The turkey was a little dry.
The pecan pie was a little moist.
The rolls were a little brown.

My belly is a little full.

In all things, give thanks.

My heart is so thankful.  It's amazing how a little thing like cancer can change your perspective.  Not that you're always thinking of your illness.  Not that you suddenly feel "sick."  Not that you "see things differently."

It's more like a feeling - or a state of mind.  

I cannot say that this has been a curse.  This has been such a huge blessing to me.  No, not everyone feels that way.  But there is such a peace that I cannot contain.  No, I don't know what my treatments will bring.  I don't know how differently my life will be after my surgery.  I don't know what the future holds.  I don't know what tomorrow will look like, or the day after that, or the day after that.

But I have been given fresh eyes with which to see.  I have been granted an amazing grace that I cannot explain.  

I trust my God in all things… He had never failed me before - never!  I have no reason to believe he will fail me now.  He's been faithful before and he will be faithful again.  

I am thankful for everything today, the food, my family, the crazy dog (who's in her own turkey coma).  I can say, I'm even thankful for my cancer.  God has granted me the opportunity to walk this path and to share his grace… and I am so grateful to be chosen as a walking vessel of His goodness.

Only By His Grace,


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

By design...

Today I wanted to share a bit of our story with you because I believe things don't "just happen."  I believe our lives are choreographed by design.

  When I was born I had a birth defect.  My kidneys didn't function correctly.  It was the early 70's and not a lot of research had been done on kidney / bladder function.  I had what is now know as renal reflux, where your bladder fills up, but back flows into your kidneys.  I was four before they found it.  After multiple surgeries, the problem was repaired, but my kidneys were damaged.  I had lost approximately 50% of my kidney function.

Present Day:
  Because of the dysfunction of my kidneys, I have had the same urologist since I was a child.  He is a precious man.  I love him dearly…he's like family to me!  

  When school started in August I found myself getting tireder and tireder.  I worked until 2:00, picked up the kids, ran home, ran back out to sports practice, ran a few errands, cleaned the house, washed the laundry, picked up from sports practice, helped with homework, took a shower and collapsed into bed.   This was a daily routine.  I was exhausted…and I just couldn't get my energy level up.  
   One evening, after dropping my son off at Karate, I went home and collapsed into my easy chair.  I had chills, aches and felt generally horrible… like I had the flu.  So I waited it out a couple of days, but didn't develop more flu symptoms.  The only other time I had felt this badly was when fighting an oncoming kidney infection.
   That Monday I went to the urologist for a routine check.  All labs came back normal.  By Friday night I had such terrible pain in my left kidney that I went to Immediate Care.  They took more labs, gave me Cipro and sent me home.  By Sunday I was feeling much better.  Sunday evening ICC called back and said my labs were fine and I should stop my antibiotics.
   Monday I went to see my Internist.  He said that judging from all my labs, he would have treated me the same way.  He sent me home, and told me to come back in one week for secondary labs.
   The following Monday I was scheduled to go back in to see the internist.  However, when I dropped my kids off at school, I came home and found I was passing large blood clots in my urine.
   I called the Urologist immediately.  He saw me that afternoon and ordered a CT scan.  The CT scan came back abnormal with what looked like a blockage of my left kidney into my bladder.  It could have been a kidney stone, scar tissue, inflammation  infection… we just didn't know.  
   So November 6 I went into the hospital for a cystoscopy.  He ran a scope into my bladder to find the blockage and to relieve the pressure in my left kidney, but found cancer instead.  It was already so large and thick that he couldn't clear the blockage.
   I went straight to radiology for a nephrostomy.  That is a catheter they port into your back, in through your kidney, and attach a catheter bag so your kidney can drain.  I will wear this until my bladder removal surgery in a couple of months.

   The evening of November 6, my urologist went to the grocery.  There, he ran into an oncologist friend that he has a personal history with.   She noticed he was not his usual cheery self and asked him what was wrong.  He told her that he had found cancer in one of his younger patients.  A woman who was healthy, didn't smoke, ate right, exercised, took her vitamins and did all the right things.  The urologist said that she wasn't taking new patients, but for him to call the next morning and tell her staff that she was taking me.  
   I don't call that coincidence.  I call that divine appointment!  Later, a friend of mine told me that her mother was a retired oncology nurse and she used to work in the very office with the very doctor I would be seeing!  So many little bits and pieces have just "fallen into place" that I cannot believe in coincidence.

  I am so very blessed by all of these events!  It reminds me daily that my God knows my need even before I do.  He knows exactly what is coming my way and will order my steps in the right direction.
  What I considered to be a curse my whole life, my kidney dysfunction, has turned out to be one of my biggest blessings!  Had I not been blessed with a birth defect I wouldn't have known my urologist, or had a urologist.  Had I not known him, he wouldn't have been able to point me to my oncologist.  I would have gone months trying to make appointments with urology clinics, once they found out what was wrong with me, it would have been more time trying to work me into a lesser oncology clinic…  
   My eyes have been opened to the blessings in life.  What appear to be trials and troubles have turned into life-changing, life-saving blessings for me!

Matthew 6 says this:
5. And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Only By His Grace,


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Home again, home again…jigity jig

Well, we are home.  I'm sitting beside the fireplace watching it snow :)  What a great way to recover!

So, today hasn't been as great as I'd expected.  

On the up side, port placement went well - took about 20 minutes.  Somehow, instead of 2 incisions, like they promised, I only got one.  Instead of 3 stitches, like they promised, I got steri-strips.  

Score two for the Rosses!  I only have a little boo-boo.  I haven't looked yet - because I'm sure it's grody!  An NO that's not self-tanner :)  If it were I'm sure they would have been kind enough to slather it evenly all over my entire body.  

One not-so-great part of the day is the pain meds.  Oh MY Gosh!  Make me hurl!  They give me a terrible headache and nausea like I haven't known since pregnancy.  So, I'll call and beg them for something else, something more illegal.  Something that makes me see little green dancing men.  Yep. That should do the trick!

I also got a big fat owie on my hand.  That had to be the IV for the Jolly Green Giant, folks… I mean, really?  Next time just use a straw :)

It's funny… Here I sit in a world a hurt, terrible headache, trying not to yack on my laptop but thinking of what a great blessing this whole situation is.

I finally understand what it means to "walk through the valley of the shadow of death… and [absolutely] fear no evil."

Only By His Grace,


Bright and early...

Here it is 4:45 a.m. and I've already been awake for an hour. Bright and early doesn't really mean the same thing when it's only early…and not bright at all!

I've always been an early riser, I guess…at least since adulthood. I love waking up before dawn, sitting with my coffee and reading or knitting or surfing gets me into all kinds of trouble, y'all!

Today is the day I get my chemo port. I have to leave for the hospital in about an hour…so I better get myself together. I can't leave the house in my jammies, now can I?

I will be starting chemo on Monday, December 3. I will be getting 2 chemo drugs, and because I'm so healthy, they're going to be pretty aggressive. I like aggressive. If you know me personally, you know I'm a big believer in the "go big or go home" theory. This applies to hair, shoes, purses, Christmas trees...

Just because this is chemo doesn't mean we can't "go big or go home!"

However, there have been times, recently, when I wonder…"will they give me too much?" "Will I spontaneously lose ALL my hair?" As in, like, sitting on the sofa and it all just fall off my head into a heap on the floor…However will I get my sunglasses to stay on top of my noggin? Will I finally lose those last 5 pounds only to find that suddenly…it's not as attractive as I thought it would be :)

But Isaiah 43:2 says this, "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze." NIV

I may not know what all chemo will do to me, or when it will do it. This stretches me because I'm a little bit type-A… I like to know all the answers before I know the questions :)
What I do know, is that this path has been given to me for a reason. I don't know the reason. I don't know the purpose. I don't know where this path leads. But I do know that I have but one choice.

I will choose to walk the path! I will give thanks to my God every single day because I am blessed to be on this journey! I will look for ways to bless others throughout my day, because we never know what someone else is going through!

I may not understand the path…but I will walk through it - if He wants me to!

Please click the link to watch the following video! This is the theme of my journey…

Only By His Grace,


Monday, November 25, 2013

Getting the Port!!

Tuesday is the day I get my chemo port!  Although I'm unsure what to expect, I rest peacefully tonight!

It has been a long day of doctor visits and educational training.  I trust my doctors...and I'll write more on that later, but I believe I have been divinely assigned to an excellent team!  However, in it all, I believe in the Great Physician!

"My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness!  I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus' name!

On Christ the solid rock I stand all other ground is sinking sand!  All other ground is sinking sand!"

Only by His Grace,


Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Lord Speaks...

When I was first diagnosed, obviously, my heart was heavy.  It was a weight like I'd never known before.  Questions filled my head like, "What did I do to cause this?," and "What could I have done to prevent this?,"  and "What did I do to deserve this?,"  but mostly, "Why does my husband and my sweet children have to suffer through this, too?."

I started thinking about Job and all he went through…and I think that's probably a normal response - to think about Job at a time like this…

Like Job I had friends telling me sweet things like, "You're strong! You'll get through this!"  They said, "You have done so much good, it's bound to come back to you now."  All of these comforting words and supportive feelings were very much appreciated.  But still, I thought, "How did Job respond to God that got God's attention in such a way that he was restored."

Please do not misunderstand: I wasn't so much interested in the restoration, as I was in Job's response to God.

After Job's friends were through "comforting" him - and encouraging him… Then, the Lord speaks.  

" Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm.  He said, "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?  Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.

Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?  Tell me if you understand.  Who marked off it's dimensions?  Surely you know!  Who stretched a measuring line across it?  Now hat were it's footing set or who laid it's cornerstone- while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?  Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garnet and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, "This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt?"

Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?  The earth takes shape like clay under a seal; its features stand out like those of a garment.  The wicked are denied their light, and their upraised arm is broken.

Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep?  Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death?  Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?  Tell me if you know all this.

What is the way to the abode of light?  And where does darkness reside?  Can you take them to their places?  Do you know the paths to their dwellings?  Surely you know, for you were already born!  You have lived so many years!

…What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?

…Do you know the laws of the heavens?  Can you set up God's dominion over the earth?

…Do you send the lighting bolts on their way?  Do they report to you, "here we are?"

Excerpts from Job 38, NIV

In all I was facing, with all the questions… my heart was immediately stilled -- and turned to repentance and to God's glory. 

If this is the path God has allowed me to take, who am I to question his sovereignty?  Now, if this is an attack from the enemy, you better believe I'm going to come out with both barrels blazing!  But, for a moment… in the stillness of the morning… my heart was turned to God's magnificent glory.  My questions were stilled.

Every time I begin to question the why's… I remember what God said to Job in chapters 38 - 41.

Job's response was this:  

"I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.  You asked, "who is this that obscures  my counsel without knowledge?  Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.  You said, "Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.  My ears had heard you but now my eyes have seen you.  Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."  Job 42:1-6

In all of this, every day, in every breath I take, I want my heart to be continually turned to repentance and to focus on God's glory.

When people look at me, I don't want them to see my cancer, I want them to see my Christ!

Only By His Grace,


Saturday, November 23, 2013

And so it begins...

Psalm 139:1-16 says the following:

"O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.  
You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.

You hem me in - behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofts for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if i settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will home me fast.

If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.  When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

My favorite verse has always been Psalm 139:16, "All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."  It reminds me that no matter what I face, no matter what comes my way, no matter what joy or pain I face, my life is ordained, my story is already written, my path already chosen.

We don't always see what lies ahead.  I'm convinced that's a good thing - otherwise, we would probably go kicking and screaming.  We don't like the rough road.  We don't like the steep climb.  We don't like the deep waters.  We like easy street.  We like the comfort zone.

Truth is, easy street and the comfort zone don't allow us to grow.  Easy street and the comfort zone don't stretch our faith.  They don't push our faith boundaries.

Our family has pretty much lived on Easy Street, in our nice little comfort zone for many, many years.  We trust God for our daily bread and He is faithful to provide it.  We trust Him for our safety, and He is faithful to supply.

Right now, we are so far outside our comfort zone we can't even see our comfort zone.  

In August of 2013 I began battling fatigue.  We were busy with the new school year, sports, karate, work, church… We were making dinner, finishing homework, practicing instruments, completing projects.  

After many doctor visits, a CT scan and a few shed tears, November 6th I was diagnosed with bladder cancer.  And so our journey begins.

What we know so far:

I have bladder cancer.  We don't know what stage.

My PET scan looks great!  There is only one lymph node that is slightly hot - and it could be inflammation.  They cannot biopsy it because it is behind my pelvic bone.  We will watch it after chemo  starts to see how it responds.  We are hoping for the best!

Next week is Thanksgiving - and boy are we thankful!  We have been so very blessed in this!  Friends have come from everywhere to offer support, and our prayer warriors have been storming the gates of Heaven on our behalf.  

Monday we have our consultation with a surgeon and chemo education.  Tuesday we have the chemo port implanted.  Wednesday, Thursday and Friday we are on Thanksgiving break and we intend to spend every moment with an attitude of gratitude.  We are getting our annual live Christmas tree,  we will decorate and share hot cocoa, cookies and sing along with Nat King Cole!

Monday, December 3 is my first chemo treatment.  It is seven hours long.  I am taking my knitting, my laptop, and the Christmas cards…because I have lots of Christmas cards to sign!  

From the very moment we were told I had cancer, my thought has been, "I do not understand this path.  I wouldn't have chosen it, but if God in His sovereignty has allowed me to walk this path, I will walk it with as much grace and I possibly can."  That is still the desire of my heart.  That is the grace part of this blog.

Some have told me they feel their faith is so small.  The blessing in that is that even those with "little faith" can pray great prayers.  
Jesus replied, "Because you have so little faith, I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you."  Matthew 18:20 NIV.  God does not answer our prayers according to the size of our faith.  Even if we only have a mustard-seed sized faith, He still answers our prayers! That is the mustard seed part of this blog.

We could have chosen CaringBridge or CarePages to share our story with you…but those are private pages.  Our hope in this blog is that somehow, somewhere, someone will search and find the great hope that we have… 

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As always, you're welcome to leave us a note of encouragement in the comment section below.  We may not always have time to respond individually, but we appreciate every one.

Only By His Grace,