Conversations with the Almighty

Prayer is simply talking to God.
Prayer can take many shapes. It is just a conversation with God.
No small task here you say…speaking with the Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth.
I know many people think, why would he want to talk with me? I’m a sinner, I have done so many things wrong.
But God is merciful and is like your parents…no matter what you do or say, their arms are always open.

I was once at a presentation and the speaker has a beautiful image of the Prodigal Son. It was the reading at church and after service the mother asked her daughter what do you think about the story of the son that ran away from home and the father that welcomed him back. She beautifully said “that father waited every day at the end of the driveway so of course he was happy when the day came that he saw his son.” We often look at the story from one of the brother’s perspective. But the parent was unfailing in love for his child. He never lost hope and he always stood patiently waiting.

God knows our hearts, he hears our prayers. Each and everyone of us are precious to him, just as each of our children are precious to us. God is our Father, the ultimate parent. He yearns for each of His children to come home to him in prayer. He waits.

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he taught them the Our Father. The structure of the prayer is adoration, forgiveness and humility to his will for us. We can use his words or our own, God does not care. He just wants to talk with us.

Find a quiet space, make a sacred ritual.

Each morning I drive to work and treasure the 50 minute drive (or longer in construction season). The time doesn’t bother me because it is sacred time. This is my sacred time. A time of reflection of the blessings in my life. I time to spontaneous talk with God and to pray my rosary and divine chaplet. My fingers naturally find their rhythm in a familiar pattern on a rosary my sister brought home from the Vatican in 1988. Those beads have heard alot of praise, sorrow and petitions. Prayers to the Holy Spirit for guidance and protection for my family and friends consume my thoughts. A few minutes is spent talking with my daughter as we both start our day with a commute. My time with God is sprinkled with reminders of who I am praying for…my daughter and son (and now my future daughter-in-law), the blessings of my life.

We can get easily distracted in the world around us, so turn off the radio, tv, music…wherever you are; start with silence. Developing a ritual prayer life takes patience and trust. God is with us, listening, watching and guiding, even when we don’t feel His presence.

Prayer is talking with God. It’s a conversation. prayer
Effective conversations are two ways.
Make sure your prayer time includs listening.
We need to be aware of His presence in our every day.
Listen, watch and you will see Him.
He is present in the pauses throughout the day.
Thank him for all the things that pass your way.
Say a prayer of thanksgiving for the close parking spot or for safe travel.
Say a prayer of gratitude for the ability to speak to loved ones and for the job you have (even if it’s not your dream job).
Say a prayer of petition and bring forth the needs for others and yourself.
God is omnipotent, He can take it all in. He love you so much and is waiting for your return to prayer.

And the answer is…

No tumor!

My bone scan was normal! No signs of arthritis either! No abnormalities! Great news!

My mind is at ease, but my aches are still there. As a cancer patient, every twinge and every ache become a question of where did that come from? Could it be a symptom of something worse?

I learned a valuable lesson this past month. I need to continue to listen to my body. When I have symptoms and aches, I need to address them.  This terrible disease can come back and I never want to let it grow in my because I choose to close my eyes to symptoms.

I have to be my own advocate when dealing with health care professions.
I had mentioned my back and rib pain to the chemo techs after Thanksgiving. They did not ask more questions. I’m sure they see every kind of symptom as patients go through treatment. So their non-concern gave me permission to not be concerned also. I also mentioned it to the dermatologist I saw earlier this month to remove a suspicious mole. Still no concern. Every health care professional that I have dealt with over the past ten months has been wonderful and caring. But they don’t know what is going on in my body. They can’t feel what I feel. I can try to describe it, but it’s not the same. They are focused on the reason I am seeing them. I need to be my own advocate with new symptoms.

Well I now have a rolodex of physicians. Breast surgeon, Medical Oncologist (two), Radiation Oncologist, Dermatologist, Hypertension Physician, Otolaryngologist, Urologoist, Gynecologist and Primary Care Physician, along with all their fellows, associates, nurses, techs, nutritionist, and medical assistants. I’ve got people to talk to! A few months ago, I was asked if I was going to a health screening my office was hosting. I thought maybe I should go, then paused and realized I have been scanned, x-rays, imaged and blood worked so much this year, there is nothing a health screening can discover! I hope!

I am so thankful for all the prayers, texts, emails, cards for my concerns. I am grateful to the Lord for sheltering me from the worse case scenario of this symptom. Finally, I have opened my eyes to the endless possibilities of what await me as I move forward as a breast cancer survivor.

I embrace grace through prayers. I pray for all the women fighting this disease, that you find strength in those around you that care for you. I pray for those that have fought this disease and are surviving and thriving each day, you are an inspiration to me. I pray for those who fought and lost their battle with cancer, look down on those here fighting and intercede for us.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Philippians 4:4

End of May

Well ending the month of May gives me much pause for reflection.

I began the month on May 1st with being Anointed by Fr. Dave before surgery on May 4th.  My daughter flew home to be with me for surgery.  I remember being in the pre-op area, putting on the gown and looking at my chest for the last time, waiting for the IV insertion that took two different people to get placed, and then the walk to the operating room.  As they directed me to sit on the table, I looked around and realized how large the room was and so sterile and white. It seemed cold too. This room would begin my journey as a different person, a breast cancer survivor, a woman with a mastectomy, a woman who will soon lose her hair with chemo. I had yet to meet my oncologist, so I forced myself to look only at this procedure and go day at a time.  As I followed their instructions to lay on the table, reach out my right arm on an extension of the table that had yellow bumpy foam covering it! They connected the IV to someone at the head of the table. Then they asked me to reach out my left arm onto a similar extension, as I looked passed my arm, I knew numbness,fatigue and pain would live in that arm for weeks and months to come. I said, to no one in particular and to anyone who could hear, that I was praying for them. And I began to silently pray to Jesus and all those loved ones that I felt were watching over me as I floated off to anesthesia land.

Then my sister and niece brought Gianna, pictured here, who brightened my first week of recovery! They stayed with me, helped in so many ways and made me laugh every day! It was just what I needed.

Family brought meals, friends stopped by, cards poured in. As I relax and recover, I look forward to the mail and the cards that arrive! My sister in law who is a great cook and loves to try new recipes is working her way through Betty Crockers Cancer Cookbook through chemo with me. A fantastic culinary weekly experience!

The month was filled with Doctors visit, echocardiogram, blood work, and calls from the U of C billing office to talk about payment plans already.  It’s gonna be a long year.

But then the wait began. Loneliness begins to creep in as the minutes turn to days which turn to weeks.  The waiting is filled with reading, personal scripture study, email, surfing the web, praying, waiting…the pain mess bring on a fuzzy mind, so I am trying hard to limit those.

The final drain is my biggest challenge right now.  I know there was a lot of work on my lymph nodes and they take a lot of time to heal (the numbness may be apart of my life forever), but my spirits are good, I feel strong and am wanting to return to work.  But again the doctor tells me to stay put, in bed, no activity until the drain comes out.

Now the kicker is…the drain comes out next Tuesday whether or not it’s still draining, we have to move on to chemo. We already postponed the May 31st chemo because of the drain, June 7 is chemo without the drain. If it is still draining and my body begins to collect the fluid, it can cause a seroma, meaning they will have to drain the fluid with a needle to avoid infection.  These are things I am strongly praying I do not have to deal with.

My focus is on chemo and fighting any cancer cells that haven taken up residency in my body. I am listening to the doctor and slinging my arm, so that the draining slows naturally and the good Lord blesses me with no seroma or infection.

As I typed the opening sentence of that last paragraph, I think about all my years as a property manager. The worse part of my job was evicting someone for non-payment of rent. I have had to go through that process with residential units and businesses. It’s horrible, I always tried to give them the benefit of the doubt and work with them, but it weighed heavy on me, even when I knew I did everything I could to help.  But this is different these cancer cells were never welcomed in, they are trying to claim squatters rights and I’m fighting with all my might! I’m evicting them from my body!

So to close out May, my oncologist, Phil Hoffman, MD, set the course for my next year. We three rounds of different chemo combinations and radiation, June begins the battle of my life.

Maybe that’s why they want you to rest so much, they know what’s ahead!

Grace embraced: all the calls, cards, texts, emails, gifts, meals and kindness that embraces me every day. 

Faith is not for overcoming obstacles; it is for experiencing them all the way through! Daily Contemplation May 19, 2012

Feeling good and praying for Yes’s

Tuesday May 23, 2012

Second post-op appointment and going with a positive feeling. I am strong and have been resting, so I am hopeful for three changes…

1. Removal of the final drain
2. Release to drive
3. Release to go to work

Dr. Jaskowiak did say the incisions are healing really well. The surgical strips are off for good and the beautiful scar that I never imagined would be across my chest stares back at me in the mirror. It is almost a perfect line of suntanned skin above of the scar and lighter unsunned skin below the scar, visually cutting the left side of my chest not only with a scar, but with the tone of my skin…it’s very odd to see…but’s its a Cancer-Free sight too and I am learning to love its look. Realistically I know there will be days that I cry in front of the mirror for what is gone, but those days are becoming infrequent. I also think the Vicodin I was taking added to a sadness, almost depressing attitude. So pain management with Advil or Tylenol as much as possible, so that I can think clearly and positively.

The output of the drain is still over 30 cc a day and that’s the magic number…below 30 cc a day for two days…so the hope of drain being removed is gone. The drain stays in for another week. Dr. J humorously stated that if I’m still draining that much next week, she’s putting my arm in a sling to restrict movement. Suddenly, I’m confused. She said after surgery, no lifting, but that I should move my left arm so it doesn’t get stiff. Even though, Kevin would disagree, I believe I have not been doing too much with my arm. So I need to find the balance between moving, stretching and gentle use of my arm while resting and not causing more fluid drain. New goal for the week…Get The Drain Out!

After being discouraged about the drain, I really, really nicely asked if I can drive. I made Dr. J laugh! Absolutely no way will she be responsible for me driving with a drain and limited arm movement. No matter how much I tried to explain how careful I’d be, she was just as adamant about not letting me drive. Two no’s right off the bat!

But I was still hopeful and holding on to the possibility of a positive affirmation for my last request.

Am I able to return to work? Dr. J kindly asked again what my job day entails. Mostly desk work, I answer. She feels that if there is something that really can’t wait and I have someone who can drive me, maybe for an hour or two, if necessary, but only if absolutely necessary and not more than two hours. More of a no than a yes. Since it’s a 40 minute drive to my office, I can’t ask someone to drive me for an hour and half so that I can work an hour or two. Guess it is remote working for another week.

Shot down on all three.

But I have to remember it has only been 18 days since surgery. I’m becoming restless in the house, yet I need to rest to get the drain out and begin to resume a normal life. Well normal for a while, until chemo begins.
Oh, the challenges of a mastectomy patient…or maybe just a challenge for me!

We talked about the discomfort in my underarm, it’s range of motion, goals for reaching above my head and finally getting approval to wash it with perfumed soap and apply deodorant! That is a great news! Because of where the incision under my arm is from the lymph node removal, they did not want anything but gentle soap and water there, being careful not to get the drains wet that are four inches below. Finally news I could embrace!

The underarm is slightly swollen and the scar tissue and muscle is very tender, but it’s getting a scrubbing with Bath & Body Works Sweet Pea body wash tonight!

Dr. J again reminded me to work on resting so that the drain can be removed after Memorial Day. Her nurse, Sheilah, came into the room to finish us some paperwork with my husband and I. She was surprised that the drain did not come out and we talked for a minute on how to accomplish that goal. Then…I can’t believe what happened…

Sheilah opened the exam room door as she said “Janet, listen to your husband”.
Kevin exclaimed “I love you” as the staff in the hallway began to laugh.
I said “You have no idea what you power you have given him” as I smiled and laughed knowing that Kevin now felt more control over my resting schedule.
Sheilah tried to add “only from 9:00 am to 10:00 am”, but it was too late, Kevin was glad for the assurance that he will be doing more for me and helping me rest more.

In a single comment, Sheilah opened up the power of an incredibly caring husband and reminded an impatient patient that healing takes rest and time.

It was a fantastic ending to an appointment that did not go the way I had hoped. Thanks Lord for the laugh, you knew I needed it!
I did go home and rest. Kevin is the perfect caregiver, maybe a little too cautious. (I can carry my own plate to the dinner table, honey) But I am grateful for his love and assistance, since I know many do go through challenges alone.

Grace embraced: Well, I’m feeling good, even though I received no’s for my three questions, I am graced with laughter and love.

Grace filled ER visit

Monday, May 14, 2012

Okay Lord, I’m learning!

I made plans and He had different plans.

Sunday I told my husband that I wanted to return to work Monday night for the closing mass of the year. It was only going to be for an hour or so and I was confident I was up for it.  Ten days after surgery and I was feeling strong and getting around pretty well so what could stop me?

He did! I woke up Monday morning in extreme back pain, I could not stand and was having a difficult time taking a deep breath and as I got more concerned, my breaths  became even shallower. Started to get a little tense…and that doesn’t help with the steady breathing.kelvin getting really worried, and the fear in his eyes doesn’t help either.

Meditate…breath slowly…Jesus I trust in you…

I practiced meditating for these moments…breath slowly…Jesus I trust in You…

I get my breath back but Kevin has already paged and talked to Dr. Jaskowiak and we are heading to U of C’s ER.

I’ve never been a patient in an ER, but I know I need to go, so I struggle to get dressed and wait as Kevin gets frantically dressed for his day and Zach gets abruptly waken to follow us down. It’s 6:00 am!

We arrive and there is no waiting – which never happens in an ER – thank you Lord! Dr. J had called down so I was moved into a ‘private room’ in the ER, which just means paper walls between patients instead of curtains, but I am grateful for a little privacy.  Heart rate low, bp low, EKG looks normal. They eliminate anything wrong with the heart. Good news.

But still in real pain here!  So transport picks me up to moves me to Radiology for a CT. The blood disorder I have always raises concerns about clotting, so we need to check the lungs and since I was having trouble breathing and the pain was in my left back side …lungs. I had not thought of that at home and memories of my brothers pain with his pulmonary embolism come flooding back and I begin to pray hard.  The dye they inject into the IV is not successful. My arm is burning and the tech is trying to get me to raise my left arm for the CT. Sorry ten days after a mastectomy and it does not raise up hardly at all. The tech has so much patience with me, thank you Lord. Finally after a new IV tube I can go back to my ‘private’ ER room.  Can it really be 10:30 am already?  Exhausted, I try to sleep between bells and pages, but still no pain meds…they are coming Dr. Moore says. Dr. Moore is the resident, I actually think I am old enough to be his mother, despite my sadness at that reality I like him. He is young, but kind and very thorough. The attending is Dr. House.  I know, I know he said Dr. House. Well it was not Hugh Laurie, which is good cuz there are no bedside manners with him.  Dr. House checks in to reassure me he is overseeing all his residents.  Please get me pain relief. (Later, when I get home I discover it is actually Dr. Howes)

Finally at 11:00 they fill my IV with Dilaudid, which works for about a half hour and they administer another dose. Temporary relief.

Noon comes around and they are releasing me. No embolisms -good news! So no immediate emergency. I page Kevin to help me get dressed. He was running in between meetings in Bernard Mitchell Hospital trying to get a day of work in at my urging. He is not happy, how can they release me with no explanation. But they do, Dr. J wants to examine me up in the Breast Center.

Before I leave the nurse ask how my pain is doing and I explain that the medicine has worn off, she asks if I want Vicodin, which I have never taken, but I want to see if it will take away the pain.  Before getting to the 2nd floor of the DCAM I am feeling much better.  Finally!

Good news…after my exam Dr. Jaskowiak feels its most likely was muscle trauma -something I may have done or just from all the muscle strain during surgery. Vicodin was the answer. Treat the pain so it can heal. And even more good news – one of the JP drain was coming out.  She checked how the mastectomy was healing and applied new surgical strips.

I asked if I could start walking around the block and doing some yoga moves to work on flexibility and range of motion. She smiled and said “walking yes, yoga thoughts yes…no yoga postures yet.”  And home we went…Zach and I pulled in at 4:45, Kevin went to finish his day after the exam and got home after 8…and almost directly to bed for us all. Exhausting day.

Grace embraced:  So many lessons learned:

A dear friend wanted to make sure I share if yoga thoughts are as effective as yoga postures! I’ll keep you updated.

Take the pain medicine, so your body can put its energy to healing you.

Know that sometimes digging my heels in is not an effective way to maneuver in Gods path, so the ploughing may be deep, but I was told by a relative that when I begin to let him steer flowers will bloom behind me.

Don’t schedule my healing, only the healer can do that and I trust him to do so.  I guess I was not meant to be at the closing mass.

Humility…He is always teaching me humility.  The one thing I think I coined as friends and family asked last month if they could tell others about my diagnosis is “I’m not hiding it, but I’m not posting it on Facebook”.  Again, lesson learned…the Spirit had me hit something mistakenly when I was on my graceembraced blog instead of my balancinglifeandfaith blog and POP! Two posting within hours posted on my Facebook page without intent.  And to force me to laugh about it, the posts were Pathology report and A Loss of a Breast…now those will get attention. Why couldn’t it have been Whos in the mirror … that would have not gotten much notice. But when the Lord teaches lessons He only has to do it once! I’m comfortable with people sharing my blogs with those that can enjoy them. I just have never been a self promoter of them. Humility, I get it 🙂

I learned! And I am forever grateful for every humbling, embarrassing and joyful lesson

M Day

Mastectomy Day is finally here.

Calmer than I thought I would be, but did not sleep well at all.  I don’t think I have gotten more than five hours of sleep any night the past month. I am hoping that changes next week, I have always enjoyed 8 hours of sleep and would like to resume that practice.

Why am I not more anxious or scared? I mean they are removing a breast, shouldn’t I be? I have never had surgery before so I figured I would be a mess. Even though I have been up since 3, I am surprisingly calm.

I feel so many prayers lifting me up.

I feel my Daddy’s presence with me.

I feel confident in Dr. Jaskowiak skill and experience.

I feel the weight of the tumor that I want out of me, more than I want to save my breast.

I feel the arms of my children and husband engulfing me with pure love.

I feel the arms of my Savior embracing me, calming me and comforting me.

No matter what happens today, I can handle it, embraced by grace.

Grace embraced: Love