Thursday, February 7, 2013

Battle Ready

But Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm. Exodus 14:13-14

Be strong and courageous! Don’t be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria or his mighty army, for there is a power far greater on our side! He may have a great army, but they are merely men. We have the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles for us! 2 Chron 32:7-8
I love these verses because they present a view of God we seldom consider. He is our rescuer and our knight in shining armor. He promises to fight for us in the battles we face. I’ve been asked, “What does that mean, He will fight for you? My friend has incurable cancer-will God heal him?” I believe that God is capable of resurrecting the dead, so healing from cancer is clearly within His purview. However, I think this expectation does not consider life from an eternal perspective. God is more concerned with our character than our comfort. He is more concerned about making our eternal life beautiful than making this short exile we have in this world easy.

God is indeed fighting for you. Our battle is not against physical opponents but against the evil authorities and powers of the unseen. Satan is our enemy and he prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. His goal is twofold: to prevent people from knowing Jesus and to render ineffective those who already know Him. Jesus has already defeated Satan by the power of the cross. But Satan is still able to deceive and to harass.

I think one of Satan’s favorite strategies is to steal our contentment. It seems like inconsequential, but it is not. When we are discontent, it dims our joy, our strength and our witness. The Bible has a lot to say on the subject. We are told to do everything without complaining and arguing so that no one can criticize us and so that we shine like a bright light in this dark world. (Phil 2:14-15) Paul says that he learned how to be content with whatever his condition. The word translated “content” in this verse means “self-sufficient” but I would translate it “God is sufficient.” (Phil 4:11-12) His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:3)

So we are engaged in a battle with Satan for contentment. Do not give up; do not give in. Sometimes it feels like we are all alone in our struggle and the odds are against us. This is where faith steps in. God has provided us with everything we need to wage this war. We will fill our minds with truth and reject Satan’s lies. We will put our trust in the effectiveness of Christ to make us righteous. As far as it depends on us, we will live in peace. We will have faith, even when we cannot see the outcome. And we will take up the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. (Eph 6:10-17) As if that was not enough, consider this description of spiritual warfare intermingling with physical.

When the servant of the man of God got up early the next morning and went outside, there were troops, horses, and chariots everywhere. “Oh, sir, what will we do now?” the young man cried to Elisha.
“Don’t be afraid!” Elisha told him. “For there are more on our side than on theirs!” Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.  2 Kings 6:15-17

Friday, January 11, 2013

Bleeding Heart

When Bruce came out of recovery he was wheeled to his room by a young and diminutive nurse's aide. As she was struggling to move him to his bed, he-ever the Southern gentleman-did most of the work. She told him if he noticed bleeding or felt moisture near the catheter site to tell the nurse. He said, "oh yes, I feel a lot of moisture." She said, "no, I mean a lot." (Didn't he just say that?)  At his insistence  she checked the area, exclaimed dramatically and went running out of the room.

A nurse quickly appeared, stripping off gloves as he ran in the door. He immediately put pressure on the site. There was quite a bit of blood already on the bed. He explained to us that from the femoral artery it is possible to bleed to death in a matter of minutes. Also, since it had happened this time, it was more likely to happen again. He told Bruce that he had to apply significant pressure while coughing, sneezing, laughing. (awkward!) If it happened again, no matter where he was Bruce was to apply pressure, drop to the ground and yell "Call 911!" (even more awkward!)

Of course, we had to see how that worked. Several nights after we returned home, Bruce was sitting in his chair with the laptop, catching up on work. He sneezed and could not get past the laptop in time to apply pressure to the procedure site. He knew immediately he had opened the artery. I had the phone to call 911 and Bruce said, "I can apply pressure! Just drive me to the walk in clinic."

We got there about 4 minutes before they closed. I ran in to warn them we were coming, ran out and grabbed Bruce. He was applying all the pressure he could as he walked in. They wordlessly pointed him back to the exam rooms. By the time they had him laying down, he could no longer apply pressure so I took over. I was scolded for not calling 911, but after 30 minutes they checked him and sent him home. You can imagine what pains we took in order to NOT repeat that experience.

Dr. M had put Bruce on strong antibiotics to fight the pericarditis. His weakness, pain and shortness of breath lasted for several weeks. When checked in February 2009 his ejection fraction had improved to 50%, close to the low end of normal. In March, he was still experiencing chest pain and shortness of breath so he was referred to a pulmonologist.

The pulmonologist was very thorough and patient at taking the history. He listened to both of us and offered a reasonable theory to explain Bruce's symptoms. He said Bruce has chronic pleurisy; the severity and duration of this most recent episode could possibly be linked to an acute allergic reaction to penicillin that Bruce experienced in August of 2008. The constant pleurisy pain over many months caused the Takotsubo. Once he recovered from both the heart even and the subsequent bleeding issues, we hoped that would be the end of our adventures in cardiology.

Scripture reference: Psalm 20:7Psalm 118:8Isaiah 26:4

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


I mentioned in a previous post that my husband has serious health issues. He has suffered from what has been diagnosed as pleurisy for 35 years. He gets it every few winters and it hangs on for a week or two. The pain can be intense; the first time he felt it he thought he was having a heart attack, but he got used to the pain and knew it was temporary. In October 2008, he experienced a particularly severe bout that never went away.

In January 2009 he woke up with a very different chest pain, very focused and in the center front of his chest. He finally decided around midnight that we needed to seek help. We are nearly equidistant from two hospitals and since I was driving and I knew exactly where one was, that is where we went. When we arrived we found an overflowing ER and no hospital staff. I went in search of help and grabbed the first white coat I found. I told her my 56 year old husband had severe chest pain and she looked him up and down. "He looks fine to me, go sit down in the waiting room." There was a lot of yelling, crashing and swearing going on back behind the swinging doors and she whirled around and was gone.

Obviously, it was a bad night at the ER. Bruce said,"Let's go." I was in total agreement; the other hospital had to be the better choice. Once we were in the car and headed north he said, "Let's go home. I feel better." You can imagine my response. My arguments were to no avail. Bruce promised that if he had any chest pain in the morning we'd go to the nearby walk in clinic. I did not sleep.

In the morning, Bruce's pain was worse, not better. At the walk in clinic the chest x-ray and EKG appeared normal. The severe chest pain responded to nitro. Part of the chest pain work up is to take blood and check certain enzymes that can indicate myocardial infarction-heart attack. One of them is troponin; normal is 0.1. Normal troponin cannot even be detected by most blood tests.  Bruce's troponin was 0.9 and the doctor called an ambulance to take him to Providence Hospital. We were told that he would need an angiogram the next day. By 9 pm the level was 14.09. Excellent nurses took responsiblity that night and monitored him closely. By 6 am his troponin was 27.70 and they took him to the cath lab.

That was a difficult hour for me. Of course, they make you sign alot of papers that say things like, "a rare complication of cardiac angiography is bleeding to death..." I sat in the waiting room and texted our daughters, my parents, our friends. There were a lot of people talking to God about our situation and I found peace knowing that. When the cardiologist came to give me the report, he said that he had found almost nothing. Bruce's arteries were clear. There was one tiny, non crucial artery with blockage-so insignificant that they do not stent it. Bruce's ejection fraction was 40%; below 40% may indicate heart failure.  Dr. M's diagnosis: Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy which he believed it was due to pericarditis masquerading as pleurisy. The good news about this is that if you survive, the heart typically returns to normal. The bad news didn't matter anymore.

Scripture reference:  Romans 15:13; Philippians 4:6-7

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Point of Pruning

About a week ago Bruce and I pruned our Japanese maple. It is a weeping variety; very beautiful but prone to dead wood in the interior of the canopy. Pruning can appear brutal to the inexperienced. Whacking limbs doesn't seem like it would help the plant. Yet in the hands of an experienced gardener, a Japanese maple will grow even more beautiful as careful pruning reveals the exquisite branch structure that was always there-hidden in the tangle of branches. Selective pruning of fruit trees or vines produces more and larger fruit-not less. How much more in the hands of the Master Gardener will we grow stronger, more beautiful and more productive for His Glory?

Through everything, we are carefully tended, pruned and nurtured. Jesus said "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”  Sometimes, we object to being pruned; sometimes, pruning can be painful. Yet our loving Father is the ultimate Master Gardener. He makes no cut that is not necessary. Everything God allows into our life, He uses for our good and His glory. Jesus says that we are ready to bear fruit because of the word He has spoken to us. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can we bear fruit unless we remain in Him. In order for the pruning to produce fruit, we must be in intimate fellowship with our Lord.

Someone once told me that the days are long but the years are short. It is easy to get so focused on today that we forget to think about forever. We never know when we will come to the end of our todays. When I found out that I have incurable cancer, it gave me a new perspective on life.  Since it is so slow moving, I have time to make adjustment-possibly quite a bit of time. But, it is serious enough that I recognize how fleeting time is and how important it is to make the most of every day, every conversation, and every choice. I am searching my life for deadwood; how do I spend my time? What do I read, what do I listen to? I’m looking for signs of fruit. Am I abiding in Jesus? What does that look like for me? Study His word; speak with Him about everything; seek His will; fellowship with believers.

If you think about it, we are all suffering from an incurable, terminal condition- it’s called Life.  But God offers each of us the only cure: eternal life through His gift of salvation which we receive by putting our faith in Christ. First, God asks us to confess to Him that we have done wrong and we have broken his laws. Next, we ask him to forgive the wrong we've done; the Bible says that God actually removes our sin when we ask him. Last, we need to acknowledge that Jesus Christ willingly chose to come to earth and live as a man, yet without sin; that He was willing to die as a substitute payment for my sins; and was the first to be raised from death to eternal life. He offers me this gift of eternal life if I just accept it.  Here is the mystery: that God so loved the world that, while we were still sinners, He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Pray Always

Prayer is not complicated, although we try to make it so. The most important thing about faith is the relationship with a risen, living Savior. I once thought it was all about religion and rules, but this is wrong. God says multiple times in His Word, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." God is looking for a heart that is devoted to Him. So, how do we cultivate a relationship with the Most High God? Is it even possible?

How do you cultivate any loving relationship-with family, with friends? It takes communication. God wants to have conversations with you, just like your husband, daughter, parent or friend. One way we communicate with God is through prayer. Prayer is conversing with your Father.

I have had some opportunity to practice this. Like most people, I am inconsistent with this practice. I am easily distracted. I have learned two things that help me to focus. One is the crucial importance of gratitude. The Psalms are full of thanksgiving. We are told that the peace of God will stand guard over us if we present our requests to Him along with our thanks. We are told, simply and straight out, that God's will for us is to seek joy, pray always and be thankful. When I take the time to review all of the things God has done for me, it brings my full attention to my conversation with Him. Some people keep a gratitude journal; this can bring God's gifts to you into sharp definition. Even if you are going through a time of desperation, you can still thank God that He hears you; that He understands and cares what you are going through and for His very great power to redeem.

The second thing that helps me is to pray Scripture. There are so many great prayers and promises in God's Word. You can use Scripture to pray for yourself, for others or to praise God. In John 14:13-14, Jesus says that if we ask in His Name, it will be done. What does that mean? It does NOT mean that every prayer must always end "in Jesus' name" or it will be ignored. It means that when we pray, we are to align ourselves with Jesus. We are His agents, His representatives. We do not pray for things that are contrary to what He has taught us. How can we be sure that we are praying in agreement with God? One way is to pray His Word. Some of the verses I use this way are: 1 Peter 5:6-10; Ephesians 3:16-19; Colossians 1:10-11; 2 Peter 1:5-8; Romans 15:13; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17; Philippians 1:9-11; any verses from Psalm 145. 

I have so very much to learn about God, His majesty and this powerful weapon of righteousness and reconciliation that He has offered to us: praying the Word of God. But, God is faithful to provide many opportunities to show us His grace and mercy.


Friday, September 28, 2012

Down but not Out

2010 was a rough year for me, medically speaking.  In January I had a mammogram that was concerning, so I had to go to Providence Hospital for a secondary mammogram. When they called to tell me the news, there was a sense of urgency to get in as quickly as possible. They scheduled a two hour appt for more X-rays and possible ultrasound. It seemed to me that the positioning for the X-rays was more intense and took longer than the first round. The tech was outstanding, but it was still more uncomfortable than usual. I then went into a waiting room, still in my gown, to wait for the next step: ultrasound or go home. When the tech came in to tell me the results, I was calm till she said it all looked good and then I cried. I guess I didn't realize how tense I was waiting to hear. 

Also in January, I began my journey with Waldenstrom's at the office of my PCP, resulting in a diagnosis on March 31. Thyroid cancer was diagnosed in October 2010 with surgery in December. In between those dates, I received a letter from my gynecologist that my PAP was abnormal and I needed a cervical biopsy. 

My lovely friend and neighbor drove me to the office for the biopsy. I'd had an endometrial biopsy years ago and I remembered that the doctor I had at the time had ordered something to relax me before hand and some pain medication for afterwards. I had taken something for the expected pain just before I went in, so my friend was there to drive. In the exam room they took my history and asked about my last period. I was in perimenopause and hadn't had a period in about 9 months-until I went in for my thyroidectomy

The nurse discussed that with the doctor and I was told were were adding an endometrial biopsy to the already scheduled cervical biopsy. I remembered how unpleasant the previous one had been-even though I was a bit sedated that time. I mentioned that to my doctor, a great lady about my age, and she was amazed. She said she had endometrial biopsies without anything and it was fine. I said, "you are tougher than I am. In fact, pretty much everyone is tougher than I am." She said I'd be fine. I hate to sound arrogant, but I was right and she was wrong.

I managed to get through without making a scene, mostly. It was about like I remembered and I was glad I had taken something for the pain before coming in. I made it out to the car, but I was surely grateful for the kindness of my friend driving me home. I went to bed, slept for two hours, got up and felt okay.

In 2010 I had a unique opportunity to see why they call what doctors do "practice" because I was starting to feel like a punching bag clown. It seemed like every time I bounced back, there was another biopsy to do. However much I complain, though, I am glad my doctors are thorough and I'd be in a mess if the cancers I have had not been found. 

Scripture reference: Corinthians 4:8-9

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

In Solitary

I didn't have any of the dreaded side effects from the RAI, except headaches which were not severe and they responded to Excedrin. The hardest part was the isolation. The body gives off radiation for some time after RAI therapy. Some patients are put in the hospital for a few days after treatment, staying in a special isolation room to prevent others from being exposed to radiation. Once you are allowed to go home after treatment, you must follow instructions on how to protect others from radiation exposure.

I was surprised at how difficult the isolation was. Bruce and I could only be in the same room for one hour a day and had to stay 6 feet apart. He was chasing me around trying to get a hug. And I wanted to be caught! I slept in the guest room, used a different bathroom, had to wash my eating utensils by hand. We could not be in a car together for more than an hour, not that there was anywhere I could go without threatening people with radiation.  I couldn't prepare food for him (or even touch his utensils), launder clothes or linens together. I had to flush the toilet three times whenever I used it.

As much as I hated being in solitary, I was actually pretty nervous about coming out of isolation and also allowing anyone to use the guest room or bathroom for many months afterwards.

Apparently, there is some consternation about allowing irradiated patients go home for isolation. A friend sent me an article from USA Today about an investigation that found one case where a patient going home on the bus in NYC set of the radiation detectors as the bus passed through the LIncoln Tunnel. About 7% of patients go to a hotel instead of going home. In one such incident, nuclear plant workers set off radiation alarms when they reported to work. It was later found that they had stayed in a hotel where linens from an RAI patient were washed together with other bedding and then put back into use. 

The International Atomic Energy Agency notes that when releasing patients treated with I-131, unanticipated alarms are possible, or even likely, by radiation-detection systems at international borders, airports, train stations, bridges, tunnels, and other areas.  Therefore, if travel is planned within four months of RAI therapy, you should carry a form from the doctor explaining your condition.

There is a great website for patients about RAI therapy: It has a tremendous amount of information including low iodine recipes and other tips. They also have a humor page which includes a song to the tune of "Leavin' on a Jet Plane..."

All my bags are packed
I'm ready to glow
I'm standing here
Outside the door
With "Danger: Radiation!" on the sign

But the floor is covered
and so's the phone
the doctors hover
they're ready to go
already I'm so scared 'bout R A I

So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you'll call for me
Close the door, let's start this nuking show
'Cuz I'm stayin' in i-so-la-tion
Don't know when I'll be home again
Oh babe, I hate to glow.

Scripture reference: Genesis 2:18