Tuesday, 13 February 2018

What Makes Brave?

When I was little, one of our favorite things to do was watch movies. Old, new, it didn't matter - and my favorite, of course, were the heroes. The characters facing all manner of trials, who had to be brave and strong and who would inevitably overcome whatever it was they were facing - and emerge triumphant by the time the credits had a chance to roll. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what classified people as "brave," an individual who looked terror, anger, injustice in the face, and with a certainty felt to their core, were able to be triumphant. 

Bravery though, seems to be a little more elusive. I've often thought before that people going through difficult circumstances must also magically become brave, and maybe they do - but the reality is, I've found that I have not. It's more the case that given any other option than face it, the Lymphoma, the chemo, the sick days, and on and on, make no mistake - I likely would have chosen anything else. 

So, what is bravery? Is it acceptance? Perhaps. Day by day I accept a little more of where I am, and what I'm going through and it gives me hope that I will be able to see things through to a good place. 

Is it circumstantial? Definitely. Though when I think back on all the moments in my life that required bravery, all were situations that really had only one way out, and the type of bravery required was very situation specific. Under the knife in the delivery room, standing up for what I thought was right - and losing my job, being a Mama, and now cancer are only a few examples. But, in each one there isn't an "out", there isn't an easier path, the only way through it is to look it bang in the eye. 

Is it "living it" scared? That may well be. I can attest to the truth there. Lymphoma is known to have good outcomes...and I'm still afraid. In that fear I have no choice but to move forward. To trust that God holds my outcome, my life - beginning and end, no matter what the doctors say. That today, tomorrow, and the future don't belong to me - but to God's good purposes.     

Is it defined by the people around me? Yes. It's here I know for certain where bravery lives and breathes and is grown. It's in the hugs, and the shared tears, the text messages and cards, the phone calls and the emails. It's people reminding me, "you're strong", "you're brave", and "I'm praying for you" that really, truly tip the balance in the favor of brave. 

So, thank you. All of you.
You make me brave. 

Monday, 15 January 2018

Everyday Miracles

Miracles don't always look like we expect them to look. Of course, I'm not going to stand here and claim that God doesn't send instant, life changing miracles our way - because I would be flooded with examples otherwise, but I think more my argument is - that God is really working miracles all the time, well before we know that we need them - sending them in ways we don't expect.

For example - During chemo I am given a drug called Doxorubicin. Contained in this drug is organic material, a bacteria that is found predominately in soil and decaying vegetation and is delivered using plant virus nano particles. This creates a part of my chemotherapy regimen, is bright red, and is administered by a carefully trained nurse, by hand. The reason it is administered in this way is for my protection. The nurse was telling Brad and I on Friday that if this particular chemical in any way spilled onto my skin, or into surrounding tissues, not only would it immediately kill those tissues but, before it did, would transfer to other cells and kill those as well making it very difficult to stop. The nurse ensures that this drug is administered to my vein only - where it does not kill the vein cells but instead finds and kills the cancer cells.

As I was listening to my nurse describe this process, I was absolutely blown away. It is a MIRACLE. Somewhere along the line, whether this person recognized it or not, I believe that God gave them the idea, ability and smarts in order to not only understand how all of these complicated processes work, but also to get them to work not only on my behalf, but for any person who has lymphoma, effectively working to save lives. Yet, I think - me, and in particular people of faith - tend to get discouraged when we don't "get" a miracle that looks like we think it should look.

Have I prayed for God to heal this lymphoma immediately? Of course. So far though, it hasn't happened like that. In response God said - trust me. Follow me. Let me lead you step by step. It is that image of me taking his hand, and letting him lead me that has informed me in my decisions to work exclusively with the information and recommendations of my Oncologist. In essence God has put Dr. Chua and his team in my life to work as healers. To me this is no less miraculous than God working an immediate miracle in my body. In that, the journey becomes all the more precious. God is still, my strength, my comfort, my song, and my healer - but I get to walk with people, build relationships with people, and ultimately face some fears in my life.

I never took the time to imagine a cancer chemo infusion room. That was far too terrifying for me. But, what I have found is nothing short of the presence of a loving savior walking amongst the chairs and beds in that room. Each time, I see people in all stages of cancer, I was scared that the chemo room would be a place of desperation and sadness, and though it sometimes is - instead I have found a place of light, positivity and hope. A collective of people banded together to fight the same evil disease bravely, with laughter, joy, peace, questions and generosity. A deep concern not for strangers, but for fellow humanity walking the same steps, fighting the same fight. A place where love and life, fear and death all culminate, and as each cancer warrior faces it head on, a place where miracles happen each and every day, and the enduring hope that a miracle will happen for each person there.

For my scientific friends - please forgive my clunky explanation of Doxorubicin. For sources and more info: 

- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28952882
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streptomyces
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doxorubicin#Biosynthesis

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Someone To Blame...

Have you ever wanted to blame someone for something? To say - the reason I am going through all this pain and agony is because of YOU, or even ME. At least I can point the finger, narrow it down and say THIS, this is what caused all of this and now i'm going to avoid it. 

Just recently I have met a young lady who miraculously has gone through exactly what I am going through right now. It's a blessing for a few reasons, the first because 10 in 100,000 people in my age category are diagnosed with this disease every year. Second because she loves Jesus too, and not only does she get exactly what I'm going through, but she asks really good questions, and makes strong points. 

We were talking about the temptation to blame. The temptation to demand an answer to WHY? Especially why ME? When I'm sitting, and reflecting I can't help but thinking - ok, if there is this huge mass on my chest of cancer how did I not notice? The inevitable answer comes back with hindsight being 20/20. I hear something like you knew. You saw the strange signs, and symptoms. You were just scared to deal with it. Maybe that's true. Can I list my symptoms? Yes, but so can any website talking about Lymphoma. In all honesty - I was feeling off, I thought I had a cold which was affecting my ability to swallow, and something weird going on with the lymph nodes in my thigh - but my doctor assured me they were nothing to be concerned about. So, I can't really blame myself - can I blame someone else? 

I suppose I could blame my doctor, or even both doctors I saw before I was diagnosed who brushed off the symptoms as something less - but it's not really their fault either. I tend to be a hypochondriac, my doctor's first instinct with me is always "calm down Jana"  and she's usually right. 

I could look to blame something I ate, or something I didn't eat. I could blame not getting enough exercise, or maybe getting too much. I could blame my job for being stressful, for relationships that over the past year have fallen apart, failures I've had in dealing with my kids, my sometimes crushing awkwardness in social situations, my quick bite and lashing out in anger in the privacy of my van. Sure - I suppose it could be any of those things - or none of them.

I mean at least we can look at a heavy smoker with lung cancer and say really clever, helpful things like "Well what did you expect?" I mean, that always makes US feel better, or safe or something. 

If I can't find something to blame for this cancer - what am I going to point others toward blaming? 

So, when I'm out and I've forgotten that my hair is gone, and when someone stares at me with a mixture of horror and painful compassion I can almost hear what they are thinking...

"Dear God, what did she do to end up where she is??" I know - I'm not claiming I'm clairvoyant - it's what I was arrogant enough to think to myself. It's then I realize I'm not so different...

And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. Having said these things; he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed ht man’s eyes with mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” (Which means sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.”

John 9: 2 – 8

There it is. There's nothing to blame, no one to blame - not even me. There's no silver bullet, there's no quick cure. This is just the journey my feet are walking, and the very best part is, I'm not alone. I can walk, my hand in the very hand of God (though sometimes I feel like I'm just hanging on to his robes from behind) and trust him to lead me. Past, present and in to the future. To take off blame, and leave it where it is. There's no point taking it with me. 

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Fight Like a Premie

Just before my first round of chemo, we were driving through a parking lot and saw the bumper sticker that has become my mantra, fight like a premie. Being born at 32 weeks, it seemed like I knew something about fighting when one is literally helpless. That's how I feel most of the time - helpless. 

There is nothing that I can do on my own to fight this disease in my body, literally every step, every push back, every blast given to this disease is administered by another dear, specialized person, and when the chemo works in my body - that is the hand of God, healing me one cell at a time. (The cancer cells explode when the chemo hits them - it's the little things folks). 

To truly fight like a premie, there were things I needed to know - 
- Premies can't check statistics
- Premies can't google their symptoms 
- Premies don't know what their odds are
- Premies don't spend time worrying or stressing
- Premies sleep, rest, cuddle 
- Premies like me are BALD 
- Premies don't need to understand what life is all about, they just know it's worth it
- Premies trust. 

Another thing that Premies have, is perspective. They aren't overly puffed up about "who they are" or "what they deserve." Lately, perspective comes frequently, and usually in the form of another soul. A young man, far away from his family, his body not responding to chemo. A little girl, with big eyes in the wig shop, she's only 7 and she's going to lose her beautiful brown hair. A grandmother, no longer able to care for herself, cancer for the fifth time, hoping for the social worker to find her a new home. A father of a baby girl, worried about how to care for his family while he's fighting for his life. A young man, a big smile, announcing that he is going to ring that bell on Saturday morning - his fight coming to a close. My dear friends - perspective. From where I'm sitting, I don't have it that bad, and that is how I am determined to fight, a healthy mixture of trust and perspective. I need to lay in the hands of my Father, and fully trust that he is fighting on my behalf.

Here's to round 2!
Merry Christmas to all! 

Sunday, 3 December 2017

For the love of finding Me

Ok...so I can finally kind of say it - I have cancer. Actually, it's easier to say, I have Lymphoma because that's some how not as scary. But, a very clear distinction has developed for me - I am not cancer, nor am I defined by cancer. I am Jana. This is my current physical struggle, but it isn't who I am. Somewhere between staring at my steroid bloated face, imagining what I'm going to look like bald - trying on wig, after wig, after wig, being poked and prodded, and questioned and terrorized with IVs (all for my good of course), Jana is easy to lose sight of. But I've had this gnawing feeling that the me part of me wants to break out and run free.

I am family
I am faith
I walk with Jesus
I am laughter
I am strength
I am tears
I am compassion
I am smiles
I am good food
I am quality friendships
I am humor
I am quiet
I am patient
I am children
I am learning
I am growing
I am gifts
I am time
I am tea
I am talking
I am helping
I am healing
I am passion
I love to love and be loved
I am free

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths (make straight your paths)

Proverbs 3:5-6

Sunday, 19 November 2017

The Search for Light, on the Darkest Day of My Life

It's never easy to tell someone that they have cancer.

That's what the thoracic surgeon said.

I wanted to assure him in that moment, it wasn't easy to hear it, either.  The overnight thirteen hour episode that had led up to that point had been the strangest, most frightening, and surreal thing I had ever experienced. The hardest part though, was that he was talking about me, and not someone else who I didn't know real well. Some distant figure or face, that I could feel both sadness and fear for, but ultimately brush aside. 

It was me. 

And what he was telling me, that from this moment on, and for the foreseeable future, your life will be totally and completely on hold, stopped, upside down, something that you can't yet understand. He was right. It hasn't been the same since. 

It was like the darkness had found me. Swirling around and closing in over my head, too far to reach and if it was up to me, on my own I would have drowned, right then and there. But somewhere in the chaos of that moment, as quiet and steady as a deep, unknowable river I knew that Jesus was with me, and in fact he hadn't left me. 

He heard me cry, wail actually, and he was there.
He heard me deny, and get angry, and then cry again. He's heard me each time over the past week and a half, whenever fear, doubt, anxiety crept into my voice, or fell in tears down my cheeks. But I am with you. 
I have heard him speak,

I know he is.
I can see it over and over and over.

The lymph node in my thigh that went crazy, swelled up and got painful, which isn't typical - and is ultimately what sent us to emergency. 

My kind neighbor who came over in the middle of the night, the instant we called to be with the kids.

The very careful doctor who insisted on an x-ray, and the radiologist who pointed out the problem.

The fast acting system that had me in a CT scan that very morning. 

My sweet sisters who I woke at the very break of day, and who jumped into action, collecting our kids, taking them where they needed to go. Providing a home for them, a piece of normalcy that was a huge interruption to their day. Bringing me the things I needed, thinking through what I might need, and anticipating my needs perfectly. 

My parents who were on the road immediately, and on their way to help.

To each Doctor, Nurse, and care provider that I have encountered over the last week and a half. Their ability to give strength and encouragement, and even to help me to laugh. 

My husband who has been at my side for each and every minute, hour and attempt at putting an IV in my arm with his calm, warm and gentle way. 

In these instances and so many more, I see Jesus with me. This is something I am learning today, and will likely know more as the days carry on. God does not promise us a pain-free life, but what he does promise is that he will walk with us through every thing that we encounter good, bad or cancer. That I can tell you, is true. The Doctors believe that I have Lymphoma, and we continue to walk and wait to hear what the next steps will be, and whatever they are I know that they will be with Him. 

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Black Olives for Papa

I don't remember a time when John Ganzert wasn't a part of my life. As a child, learning and trying to pick up cues to understand and be a part of the adults in my world, he was always a constant, steady presence. I knew he loved me because though he maybe never said it, his actions never gave me any reason to think otherwise.

Recently the adult in me has been a bit frantic about the fact that perhaps I was losing sight of the Papa I remember as a child, but as I have been sitting and reflecting, I am finding that somewhere knit into the fabric of who I am there are things I know about my Papa.

Like, seven straight lines of Solitaire cards, a rescue from a bus ride gone long, iodine smiles on bleeding knees, and a hand to hold on walks to the park. Story books on his lap, Square dancing and waltzes with Nona, sometimes not even anywhere special, just at home. Polka music in a warm car, Stroke survivors and endless soup lunches, a hearty appetite, golf and curling - now there was something that appealed to me as a little girl, after all Papa and his friends getting together to curl hair seemed perfectly natural. Imagine my surprise when I learned that curling was a sport, and actually had very little to do with hair.

There was never a missed birthday or a missed hug, the big silver shovel Ali and I could sit in together, and walks to the post office. Afternoon naps, giving up control of the remote even during hockey and baseball seasons, and waking very early to turn on Saturday morning cartoons. Countless sleep overs and help scrubbing purple elephants off arms and legs. Cinnamon and sugar pie crust treats, Papa's walks up the mountain, the smell of earth and the summer garden. The way his steps sounded coming up the stairs and feigned surprise when he saw we were visiting coupled with his reliable greeting, “hello, hello!” no matter what he always seemed happy to see us.

We had strange kinship, both of us beating the odds of illness.  It was, in fact, during those difficult days at four years old, I put five black olives on my fingers and showed my parents, declaring “this will make Papa better!” I’m here to tell you that it worked, linked of course with the grace of a loving God, and though faith wasn't something I ever remember being discussed, it was embodied through a lap to sit on, a crossword puzzle to examine, a steady, unchanging, unalterable love expressed through kindness, generosity, stories and laughter.

Perhaps that's a childish view, to gloss over imperfections, but it seems to me that in the fabric that pulls together to make me, those are the strands that bind.

I don't know a world without my Papa, and though I'm not overly keen to, I know that he would take a strong, steady step forward and so shall I. Knowing that he has shaped me in a quiet, consistent way.

One last thing, when you're sad remember, Black Olives for Papa, that will make it better.

What Makes Brave?

When I was little, one of our favorite things to do was watch movies. Old, new, it didn't matter - and my favorite, of course, were the ...