Chance encounter or Divine Intervention

When something happens do you chalk it up to chance? We say “What are the chances of that happening to me?” or “I’ve got a pretty good chance of that  happening today.”

Chance, according to Google, is “the occurrence and development of events in the absence of any obvious design.”

Maybe it’s not our “obvious design” but every occurrence is an ultimate design.

I don’t believe in luck or chance. I believe in divine intervention. Through life’s experiences I have come to believe everything happens for a reason. Even terrible tragedies and loss happen so that we can learn and grow. We are all moving through this life to reach the next life with our Lord Jesus and each step we take is His divine plan.

I was once asked by a teen at a youth ministry meeting “how can it be God’s plan when we have free will”. I reflected for a moment and then attempted to explain it as if your parent was sitting on a roof top watching you drive up. That parent can see all the different paths you can choose to get home and they can see that some of them are not safe. They see the path you are on will be a collision with another car and although they are screaming at the top of their lung for you to turn at the next street you can’t hear or you are choosing not to hear. Then someone steps into the street to cross the road and you slow and avoid two accidents, hitting the walker and the collision that was ahead. God sees all the different paths in front of us, some of the paths lead to Him, some of them do not. As we choose a path, he shifts to other paths and again places paths that lead to Him and paths that don’t. He never tires of leading us on the right path. He is the father in the prodigal son story; waiting, watching and praying for our return through all the free will choices we make.

I know God is omnipotent and omnipresent. I know He places obstacles in my path for His purpose. I have learned to trust in His movements through my life.

His presence was glaringly visible yesterday.

As I sat through a workshop at the beautiful campus of St Mary of the Lake University in Mundelein I sat with and meet six amazing women ministering in the life of the church. Each one had a story to tell of their journey listening to God’s voice in their life. The voice that led them to bible studies, RCIA, serving the poor, sheltering the homeless and the voice that led them into a new family at their parishes. They were enlightening stories of challenges and hope…and of JOY! I love sharing faith with such inspiring, strong women. The six of them sitting with me was God’s divine plan. But that is not the end of the story.

During our last break of the day, one of these women asked me a simple question about my water bottle.

You see, I carry every day a 24 oz Tervis water bottle with a pink ribbon design on it. I have two of them that were given as gifts to me during treatment so that I would always remember to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. A habit I continue everyday. I’m a pretty routine person – each night I place the water bottle without the lid in the freezer half full. In the morning, I fill up the rest of the bottle with cold water…and it keeps cold until about 2:00 pm. (I prefer drinking cold water and ice cubes melt too quickly!) Yesterday was no different. I carried my water bottle into the workshop, little did I know it would spark a connection.

I have learned to not bring up the subject that I am thriving after breast cancer…I’ve seen too many people change their demeanor when they hear that, so I just allow it to come up organically if it is meant to. And yesterday it was meant to…God’s intervention.

This beautiful, kind, gentle woman asked ever so sweetly “pink ribbon…is that you?” I said yes and she said, I need to find one of those bottle for lymphoma, and I responded “you?” as she said “yes”.

My heart fluttered…I knew why I sat at that table, God needed us to meet…what a blessing it turned into.

After the workshop ended, we picked up our conversation. She had lymphoma years ago in her neck, arm pits, chest and abdomen (almost everywhere we have lymph nodes!)…and she bravely fought it into remission. Yet two months ago she explained that it had returned in her neck. She was beginning treatment on Monday. Monday is her mother’s birthday and she is an only child. Her eyes told of her fear of this vicious disease that lies within her. She asked if I would be back at a workshop in October and I said “no, but would see her in November”. Her eyes softened as she said “I’ll be in my month hospital stay in November.” Although the words did not come out of her mouth, I heard her crying for connection. I asked if I could stay in touch with her, which softened both of our faces…there was the connection she was searching for. Maybe it was a relief of someone who understands the fear of cancer or someone to cry with. I am blessed to do both or either.

She gave me her cell and email as we hugged goodbye. I don’t know what plans God has for this relationship, but I do know that He created a connection that I am called to nuture. My thoughts throughout today have been on prayers to releave her anxieties and put her complete trust in the Lord. I texted her today the words I remember a dear friend sent to me before my first treatment: “don’t tell your God how big your mountain is…tell you mountain how big your God is”

God’s Divine Intervention…watch for it…it presents itself in many places throughout your day…see them and embrace them

Divine Intervention

Thank you Lord the the grace of a new friendship during storms in her life. Help the sun and Son to break through her darkness. If I can be a small drop of grace in her life, I am honored to do so. Thank you for the grace of divine intervention in my life and the presence to see your hand within it.

Facing Challenges

Two years free of chemo and I still feel effects. I wonder if the aches pains, loss of strength, chemo brain will ever be gone. The shooting pains that feel as it I am being electrocuted from the inside out…in random places all over my body. Headaches that remain for days, when I never got headaches before. These are my reminders of a turbulent time, snapping my mind to never forget my struggles and achievements. As I reflect back on 18 months of illness, I am grateful for every moment…the hard and the easy, the good and the bad, the despair and the joy. Illness can damage so much of us, spiritually, emotionally, physically and financially. It hits every part of our lives and each of our family members differently.

I grew so much in faith and learned many lessons. Our health is a blessing when it’s good or a curse when not. Our outlook plays a big part of our we attack any disease.I found support in my family, friends and faith. I pray that others are spared from the pain and anxieties that I experienced, however if you find yourself down this road I hope my lessons can help you. It may not be cancer, it may be multiple sclerosis, diabetes, arthritis, or a number of other ailments that surround us these days. You may be walking with a friend through these times or maybe a loved one. These are the things that matter most.

  • Prayer. Begin and end each day with prayer. Prayer helps center us and calms our fears. Knowing that the Lord hears us and lifts us can change your attitude instantly. Prayers we learned as child or just talking to God and laying our burdens at his feet.
  • Be Thankful. When facing a life-threatening illness you quickly become mortal. You see the end that you don’t want to even come close to. You realize no one should take life for granted. Be thankful for every breath, every moment and every memory you make. They are what you are living for. Even the moments of hardship will bring the joy of life to the forefront. Every leaf that blows past my feet as I walk is a gift of God’s great creativeness. Every call from my children is a moment of heavenly music. Visits with my mother playing Phase Ten and talking is grace of presence.
  • Relax. Take time to be still, to clear your mind and rest your body. Give yourself a break and stop all the busyness around you. Close your eyes, meditate and relax. Your body needs to rejuvenate, you need to pause….there is a power in pausing. The worries of the day will take care of themselves in due time.

I just finished reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. A powerful story everyone should read. Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning: “in work (doing something significant) in love (caring for another person) and in courage during difficult times. Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it.” Frankl found meaning even in the most horrific situation of a concentration camp. My struggles pale in comparison to his daily norm while imprisoned. But my struggles are my struggles, how I react is my choice. He also states the “forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.”

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The decisions we make each day are influenced by the faith we have. A life of prayer, thankfulness and time alone gives us the strength to face what lies ahead. Scripture tells us in Matthew 6:25-27, 33a, 34a

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?  But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness.  Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.”

Matthew 6-34

Grace embraced through lifes struggles produces great joy if you choose to respond in joy and love! May your journey be embraced by grace.

A Year of Thriving

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My mom, brothers and sisters…Love you all!

August 8, 2013 – Last treatment
of the targeted chemotherapy, Herceptin.

August 8, 2014 – A year free of treatments- JOY. A year free of needle pokes and IV bags-PEACE. A year of hair growth and personal growth-LOVE. A year filled with love of family and friends-KINDNESS. A year filled with sunshine blinding my cloudy days because I wake up every morning-GOODNESS.

My daily prayers still include some personal intentions, but they are mostly prayers of thanksgiving. I have faced the evil that cancer is and am still thriving. A sweet cousin, who also overcame breast cancer, wisely told me as I began this journey in March of 2012, that she doesn’t consider herself a survivor, she is a thriver. I have come to realize that my life too is about thriving! My prayer is that I continue to thrive and bear the fruits of the Spirit to others.

I was blessed this past year of good health to spend beautiful moments with my sisters, Diane, Teri and Toni and my brothers, Don and John. I believe our relationships grew stronger and deeper. There were many moments that I treasure with friends too, but siblings share a special bond that runs long and deep. They have seen me at my worst and my best and they continue to stand by me. I pray I have shown them and will continue to show them the love, kindness and gentleness that they have shared with me. Some of the years highlights were…

Kevin and I were blessed to vacation just before my last Herceptin with Teri and Diane for Teri’s Hawaii wedding to a wonderful new brother-in-law, Nick. Teri’s children Mindy and Jack joined us for an incredible 5 sunny days.

Kevin and I were blessed to vacation with Don and Mindy in Cancun for a glorious week in January. Yes during Chicago’s below zero temperatures we were all glad to get away and relax at the beautiful gulf waters. Their friends Tony and Diane joined us for an amazing time filled with lots of laughs.

In March we stole a few days away for my nephew’s wedding in Arizona. Pete and Melissa filled the air with the love that radiated from them. And the time with the extended Caschetta family was so much fun…lots of little ones running around the reception and leading the moves on the dance floor.

The abundant blessings came about at the end of May when we could put off no longer the trip that we had been planning in our minds and hearts for 8 years. Fifteen days in Italy…Rome, Venice, Florence, Cinque Terra and Lucca. My heart felt at home in Lucca. Maybe it was because it is where my Nonno and Noni met, or maybe it was because I knew my father had walked those streets too. I don’t know what it was, but I felt a connection to a place I had only heard stories about.

There may have been hard moments, scary moments and moments of distress this past year. But I choose to remember the moments I spent with my husband, my daughter, my son, my mother, my siblings and my friends. Laughing, loving and living…no, laughing, loving and thriving!

Grace embraced through the love I have been blessed to share with others throughout the past year. May the Lord use me to help others bear their burdens, so that I may lighten their load in some small way.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness,
gentleness and self-control Galatians 5:22-23

 

The Almighty Physician

If you have ever faced an illness you understand when I talk about all the physicians necessary to care for you.almightydoctor

Over the past two years I have met with a gynecologist, breast surgeon, radiologists, cardiologist, oncologist, internal medicine, nuclear medicine, dermatologist, otolaryngologist, gastroenterologist, dentist, ophthalmologist, oncology radiologists, generalist, podiatrist, nephrologist and I’m sure I am forgetting someone (sorry). Each of these doctors were wonderful and a specialist in their field. I am so blessed to have the top-notch professional available at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Although they may have helped me along the way, the only true physician I needed was the Almighty Physician.

When I sat back and allowed The Physician to treat me, not only was I treated physically, but also emotionally and spiritually.

Now I see the scar that a surgeon left, but The Physician healed.
I have neuropathy in my feet left from treatment, but The Physician knows my pain.
He was there in the surgery, He was there for each appointment, walking right next to me.
He knows what I feel, what I need and what I can carry…and I will continue to trust Him with my life.
He is my constant, always faithful and always present.

Grace embraced through the moments I remember to pause and acknowledge the healing touch of our Lord Jesus.

“Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do” Luke 5:32

Prayer

prayer-on-my-kneesPope Francis this past week told the pilgrims at World Youth Day in Rio, “learn to pray everyday: this is the way to know Jesus and invite him into your lives“.

If you did not know how to pray before, everyone learns how to when the hear the words “You have cancer.”

No matter where you are or what you are doing, you lift up your prayers to the Lord.

Some may call God by other names, but just as I have many names (Janet, Mom, wife, sister, daughter, aunt, friend, coworker), God has many names. The incredible thing about God is He loves each one of us completely and hears each one of our cries with a merciful heart, through our calling out to him.

Prayer has been a foundation in my life since childhood. I always knew I had a guardian angel watching over me and felt the presence of God with me. I had a sister that passed away at the age of two, just 16 months before I was born and I always pictured she was my guardian angel. Jesus loves the little children, so having her at the feet of Jesus enabled me to focus on goodness and truth as I grew. I was just an ordinary child, the third of six children growing up. Of course we had our share of fights, but we stuck together. My three sisters and two brothers were more important to me than anyone. We were a big gang when we vacationed (usually camping) or spent the summers at the pool, but we were placed on this earth together…to take care and watch out for each other. And we did.

But it was not until I became a mother that my prayer life kicked into the forefront of everyday life. When I discovered I was expecting I began praying daily…and have not stopped every 26 years later. I learned that the Lord guides my marriage, my children and my life. I can communicate with him, I can disagree with him, I can praise him and I can rejoice with him…but I can not control the path he has in store for me. No matter how hard I have tried in the past – and I have tried!

I enjoy experiencing all types of prayers; alone and with others. Bible studies, meditation, spontaneous, retreats, songs, poems, prayers of the church, memorized, adoration, praying with my husband and so many other forms. This foundation that was built over my the course of my life was essential to living through the past year and a half. I prayed for the medical personnel and my family and friends. I prayed that I would be healed so that I am able to show the Lord’s power and glory. I prayed that I would be able to know the grandchildren that He has planned for me (then I switched to praying that my grandchildren will know me too!) I prayed for other cancer patients and those facing life changing illnesses and in a special way for those facing these challenges without the support of family and friends.

Prayer changes everything…because it first changes you.

May you find time today to pray and be changed.

Rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer. Romans 12:12

Grace embraced through the growth that I have experienced in times of tribulations and in times of prayer.

21 days of Freedom

I have gotten a taste of freedom!

Freedom from doctor’s appointment…
Freedom from physical therapy…
Freedom from blood pressure checks…
Freedom from the dreaded weight ins…
And even Freedom from wigs….I am going la natural!

The last 21 days, I have not had a medical appointment of any kind! Some people say survivors go through a depression when treatments end, they miss the attention, the check ups, the care…

But I enjoyed the freedom! The Lord has blessed me abundantly with so many people surrounding me that the care and prayers continue, so no depression here! Only JOY in the graces of Gods mercy and healing hands!

The first six months of 2013 has brought appointments with oncologists, breast surgeon, plastic surgeon, internal medicine, optometrist, gynecologist, physical therapists, radiologists, urologist, echocardiogram techs and infusion nurses. Surgeries for bladder and colonoscopy, and blood work galore! Every turn has been ALL CLEAR! Music to my ears and gratitude in my heart!

Today counts as my fourth to last chemo treatment, and as you can see I am gladly counting down. My daughter used post it notes to count down the last days of school for her students and so I adopted the ideas…my nurses are laughing at me, but think its great!

I look forward to more 21 days of freedom…then 6 months of freedom…the years of freedom! I love all the medical providers, but I love the freedom they give me when I hear them say “you’re doing great!” I give all the glory to my Lord, for he is the Comforter and Healer!

Grace embraced with the freedom God has bestowed in my life the past three weeks.
“Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.” Phil 1:7

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A scorch mark to heal

lotionHave you ever left an iron on a shirt for too long?

Was it scorched and left with the outward appearance of burnt ugliness?
Picture that spot, a big spot the shape of an iron and little dots where the steam comes from.

Yes, I may have ruined a shirt or skirt once or twice, but sometimes it was the materials fault…maybe? The fabric was too fragile or has too much silk content, or maybe the iron was just too hot for the fabric. It really does not matter the shirt is ruined beyond repair as you stand and look at the oblong pointed burn.

I decided that is what my left chest has doubled as for the last few weeks.
The redness reached its worst on New Year’s Eve. The deep reddish-brown color did not resemble my skin at all. I felt as if the medicine was not working. I was throwing a cup of water at a burning house. My attempts were pointless.

I was scorched, with an outward appearance of ugliness. I have been living in Kevin’s cotton undershirt. Everyone suggested it would be the softest against my skin and they were right. Loose enough to not interfere with the healing process but enough to keep me warm. Thank goodness Christmas break afforded me with days to hunker down at home and not have to worry about how I looked in public.

I began radiation with lathering on Radiaplex gel, trying to ward off the burning. Even though I was diligent, the radiation was stronger. Once I began to burn I switched to Silver Sulfadiazine Cream topped with a layer of Hydrogel. This worked well until the dryness came along. Once pocket areas started drying up and peeling it was on to Aquaphor. The over the counter healing ointment was so soothing, but still takes a long time to heal. Since the skin was not healing quickly, the radiation team suggested Aquaphor layered with Hydrogel on top. I added Benadryl gel to the areas that drove me crazy wanting to itch. What a cocktail without any of the joy of getting tipsy!

But it’s healing – a week and half from last radiation treatment has brought more normal looking skin. It is more centralized now in the “boost” area. The last five treatments were focused on the scar line. The scar line is where cancer cells more often reappear. So the rad tech laughed at me when I brought them all Boost to help boost their day, since they were boosting mine!

So the scar line is still open sores that had me returning to Silver Sulfadiazine Cream. But I can see the rest is moving to healing and this area will be a few weeks behind. I will be so grateful when this part is healed and free from burns.

Grace embraced through the healing power we are blessed with in medicines. God created amazing people to develop treatments that help others move into recovery and healing! Praise God!

Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Isaiah 58:8