The Disneyland of Cancer Treatment

Today is my last proton treatment & I am almost 2 weeks out from my last chemotherapy treatment, and I would love to tell you I’m doing great, but really, it depends on the moment.  Lucky for you, I’m typing in the morning. This morning I’m reflecting on my experience at MD Anderson. I was listening to Alyn and AJ‘s pod cast last week, and Alyn made a comment about when things are done really well, really intentionally, he feels cared about, or something to this effect.  I realized MD Anderson cares about caring excellently.  It is the culture of this place to care.  I have heard custodial staff being trained to make sure they greet and smile at the patients.

I have gone to a couple of dozen doctor visits, six chemotherapy visits, 33 proton therapy visits, fluid infusions, and had my vitals taken many many many times.  And the remarkable thing is, each time you are treated like you’re the only person they are taking care of that day.  I’m not, but people make eye contact and ask how you are doing. 

Several of my chemo nurses let me know they prayed for me, one special lady remembered that she had treated me the week before. They asked questions about my life, not just my medical information. And don’t get me started about my Proton Team.  They shared life with me, 5 days a week.  I got to hear about their kids,their houses, the fact that Jay is a cancer survivor and plans to go to medical school (he’s going to be an amazing doctor). I’ve gotten close enough that the thought of not seeing them again makes me cry. Because in the most abnormal season of my life, their excellence has allowed me to feel less like a patient and more like a friend.  It has been a huge blessing.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the excellent care taken by my husband the other 22 hours a day.  I guess I’m going to have to learn to share him with the rest of the world again.  So it is with great celebration and a little bit of sadness that I come to today, the formal end of my treatments, but not the end of my recovery.  

I come with this question: Where can I come with intentional excellence? Where can I treat people as the one, not as one of many? I have several answers, what about you?


The End is Near

For real!! My last proton treatment is in one week! That’s exciting! 

I start there because I’m struggling today. #notmybattle feels like a lie. Living Philippians 4 is a moment by moment choice, and I’ve failed. So I’m reminded of strategy that has worked before … Picture it line by line.

Rejoice in the Lord, always. I say it again, REJOICE! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Lord Jesus, you are here. I rejoice because I am not alone. So I close my eyes and ask you to show me where you are in the room. I sense you sitting by my knees on the bed. I wish I could see you.  How can I show gentleness in this hospital where I am getting fluids?  Please & thank you show gentleness. I do rejoice because I haven’t experienced any rage since being here. There have been seasons when rage and anxiety have led me into into places of deep misery and depression . But I am not depressed or even sad, so I celebrate your healing in my life by replacing those habits with your peace.  Thank you Lord for showing me the work you’ve done in my life.

The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything! But in every situation by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. I don’t worship a distant God, or a god without power.  I worship a loving God who is near, and who hears me, and who cares deeply about me. So Lord, here are the anxieties I have let play in my mind.  I am sorry for entertaining them instead of bringing them to you first. Please forgive me for that.  I’m worried that I cannot take in enough calories or fluids, and I won’t heal quickly. I’m concerned that my kids are going to expect me to be normal when I get home, and I cannot.  I cannot be the referee or even go to the grocery. I know Cary will do all he can, but they are still going to come to me with expectation. Yet, you have met every single need we have had on this journey so far, and you have carried us through so many other trials, so I delight in watching how you work this out!  It’s going to be fun to share! So thank you Lord for being near, and for going before me in these things, and making my road straight.  I pray for my medical team making decisions on my behalf, give them wisdom beyond that of man, not just on my behalf, but for all their patients.  Lord, I lift up Bridge to you as she finishes he treatments. I ask for complete healing for her, not just the cancer in her body, but from all the trauma associated with it.  She is such a beautiful soul, mother, wife, daughter.  Carry her too, in Jesus name.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Yes!  There is your peace and sound mind.  I trust you, Papa!  I love you!

There are a 1000 ways to say something

There are 1000 ways to say something.” This phrase has been in my head for several days.  I don’t know why, but it it is accompanied by this thought:

 I can say

Cancer sucks! I hate this! I’m tired! I want to go home!  Screw this, I’m done! My throat is starting to hurt, and I throw up several times a day at this point.  My platelets are low, heck my everything is low.  I have lost my sense of humor. I still haven’t heard if Aetna is going to uphold the denial. I miss my kids. I miss my life!

Or I can say

I miss my little house on the farm.  Won’t it be lovely to sit in my hammock chair (note to self, buy a new hammock chair- yours broke last year) in April with the first warm rays of spring sunlight beaming on your face and the soft tickle of the new green grass brushing against the bottoms of your feet? Bow tie, the Lion dog, will scratch his back brushing underneath the swing before settling to nap in the grass. Ty will pull in the driveway and give me his gentle smile & roll his eyes when I ask him to go pick up his sister, who will want to go do something as soon as she gets home.  Deacon will try to annoy me by spinning the swing or maybe he will just crawl in my lap as ask a question too philosophical for 8. And I will be home.

Both of these are true, and they both express my current situation, but at the end of the thought, one leaves me angry and frustrated, the other tearful and joyful and looking forward to good things.

I don’t want to write a preachy post, but Philippians 4:4-8 has transformed my life in the last few years, and since it is directly related to this thought… I would be remiss not to share.

How powerful our words and thoughts are!  Just thinking about my tree, and my swing, and the view from that spot lifts my heart.  So funny, I’ve spent years dreaming about moving from that very spot to a bigger city.  I was afraid I was missing something.  Here’s something I have learned during our time in Houston.  If I am with Cary Mathis, I am home.  There are good adventures and people everywhere. With him, I am with someone who is for me, and will fight for God’s best for me. If my kids are with me, even better (as long as they aren’t fighting or whining). If I feel good, great!

I’ve also learned that I live in a very white, and honestly segregated, world.  In fact, I have a friend from Atlanta who said “Muhlenberg County has the whitest black people I’ve ever seen.” I don’t know what that means exactly.  I would be a fool to weigh in on the statement.  But I do see a difference between the families here and at home, all races included.  I see a difference in the families.  In Houston, when I go out to eat, I see lots of families together. African American, Hispanic multigenerational families, Chinese and Japanese families, young whitish (let’s face it, nobody is one race at this point) families pushing strollers and lugging dogs.  The dads are plugged in.  They are not ornamental pieces in the group, but carrying kids, wiping noses, having conversation kind of dads.  It’s awesome.  I feel like that happens in Muhlenberg County, but it isn’t celebrated like it is in the city. The intimacy of father relationships give so much identity to children.  That identity is a hedge of protection around that child in a way we cannot understand for a lifetime.  Thing is, we need to be emotionally healthy parents, and that takes work.

I love to hear my chemo nurses.  They all speak English with me, but I hear them talking to colleagues in Aribic, Indian dialects, my favorite is the Spenglish conversations that happen as they pop between English and Spanish without missing a step.  It’s beautiful & necessary because the patients at MD Anderson are from all over this world.  They need providers who can communicate in their languages.  I do mourn that I am not fluent in more languages.  I could order food in Spain, get around in Monaco 🇲🇨, but I have never been able to be emerged in a language other than English, and I feel like I am missing something!

I want to readdress my first paragraph. But before I do, Lady GaGa rocked it out with amazing class! She surprised me! 

Cancer sucks! – it does.   I hate this sometimes.  Most of the time, I’m thankful that I am in a place with healers and knowledge.  I’m thankful for the two months alone with my man, and how good he is at taking care of me.  I’m tired sometimes! But, I walk when I can walk, and I take naps.  I want to go home– sometimes… it’s cold in Kentucky.  It’s 85 degrees next to this pool right now!  Screw this, I’m done! Sometimes I feel this way, but I curl up in a ball in the bed, and Cary curls up behind me, and tells me how close we are to the end, and says funny things that make my tears turn to laughter.  My throat is starting to hurt, and I throw up several times a day at this point. This is true, but I have strategies to combat the pain: nasal rinses & Tramadol.  My platelets are low, heck my everything is low. They are, but for the last three days, as I have been laying on the proton bed, strapped in with my lovely mask (Deacon says I look like a snake when I’m done) my favorite worship songs have come on Pandora to call my heart to worship from my broken place.  It has taken great self control not to raise my hands in praise in the machine, which I think would cause panic with my technicians.  And can we talk about my proton technicians? They have become my friends. Beautiful Russian Veda, with her naturally blond hair and quick smile finds me every day to walk me in to my treatment. She ask questions about my children, and I know about her daughter who ice skates, and her hopes to move.  She moved to the friend zone the day she let me talk about the woes of bikini and armpit hair. Jay is a cancer survivor.  He is especially attentive to tell me what is going on during my treatments.  It is very comforting. He is preparing to head off to med school to work in oncology.  He has such a sweet spirit, and I can’t wait to find out where God leads him in life. There are others who make me smile, laugh, who mother me as I gag and retry everyday to get my splint in my mouth. 

And my chemo nurses.  Every time it’s a different one, but every one is kind.  They are So attentive. They take the time to find a vein that won’t collapse, and apologize for the needle.  They explain how the drugs work and why they do things a certain way.  Their kindness is a gift to me.

Yesterday Deacon left which is good because I can’t take care of him right now, which is hard.  I am so thankful Mom was here to keep him entertained.  I had an audiology exam, and learned that I have normal hearing.  I haven’t had full hearing out of my left ear in three years! We are praising God for that! Last night, I ended up having to have fluids and Magnesium, which meant I was at the hospital until 10:00PM. This morning I started Chemo at 9:00. By the time I arrived, I was at the end of myself. When they called me back, I weighed and learned I lost another kilogram.  I looked at the nurse bracelet.  It said God is with you!  I teared up, and thanked her for wearing it. A friend called with good personal news in her life, I started writing this blog, which means processing my thoughts, and I have steroids in my system. So, I’m no longer at the end of myself, but full of the hope of Christ and his people.

You can say something 1000 different ways.  Choose wisely.

What are your labels? 

What are your labels? Here are mine, at least a start:  

God asked me this question this week: What are your labels? Then he told me to list them.  I have a lot of labels.  Here is what this is related to: Matthew 13:31-32 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

31 He presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; 32 and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”

One day, I read the parable of the mustard seed, and I got it!  It blew my mind.  I had read that parable 100 times and wondered, what in the heck does that mean!?!  But this time, I saw it instead of reading it.  I saw the seed, I saw it so small & that it’s identity was a seed.  It knew what it was, a seed.   Seeds are nutritious, mustard seeds can be used to make burgers and sandwiches and salads tasty. But, the seed did not see its potential.  It did not see that by dying, being put in dirt, drenched in water, it would transform.  The transformation process isn’t pretty.  When I taught 3rd grade, we did a project where we taped baggies filled with wet paper towels and seeds to the classroom windows to watch the plant growing process. For days I t looked like nothing was happening, but one day little roots were extending from the seed, the next day or two produced a stem with the seed casing stuck to the top.  It looked ugly & useless, no longer able to be eaten, not able to at least look pretty. But, a few days later, the seed hull would fall off and green leaves would appear.  The seed took on a plant like look, still not useful, but at least pleasant to look at, at least identifiable. 

At this point, the plants must have some type of nutrients or they won’t grow into their potential, but with nutrition and continued hydration, what once was a seed is now a plant. In this case, the small mustard seed is a large bush in a garden where birds can rest.  God saw the bush when he looked at the seed.  He sees what we are created to be when he looks at us.  It doesn’t bother him when we are in the weird phase and we appear useless, no longer what we were, but not yet useful to anyone because he sees the final product.  The process doesn’t intimidate or frustrate him.  Just like the kids in my classroom would bound in each day to check the progress of their seed and get excited over the smallest change, God gets excited over each step in our transformation, even the ones we think are ugly. (I wonder if God created vegetation just so Jesus could teach that parable, just so we could understand his ways.)

So how does this relate to labels? My list was very different 20, 15, 10, 2 years ago.  My list is evidence of transformation. 15 years ago hopeful would not have been on the list because I had not yet learned that I can trust God to work ALL THINGS (especially cancer) for my good.  Angry has been replaced with calm because God is just. Self righteous has been replaced with forgiving because I have failed people and needed forgiveness.  Nagging wife with Good mate.  Bad speller hasn’t been replaced, but the shame when people correct my spelling is gone. I’ve come to rejoice that there is no perfect & if I’m not the best at something, it gives someone else an opportunity to be. And God partnered me with a spouse that can spell anything, backwards (he’s great for Scategories and proofreading) and friends that can diagram sentences, so if I ever write a book, I’ve got resources…

Two years ago loveable would not have been on my list because I usuallly felt rejected and lonely,  and this was magnified by a relationship that was broken and a couple of friends moving away.  I had not yet learned to quit comparing myself to other people to find my identity.  I spent a great deal of time failing to be like my closest friends, and this left me feeling guilty most all the time that I wasn’t an organic farming gourmet cook.  (I have no interest in cooking or farming, much less time to do it, but I continually chastised myself for this lack of skill.) This season was a time of great loss.  In fact I was so broken that I had to keep apologizing to a new acquaintance because I would push away to protect myself from being vulnerable.  I knew this friend was safe, but my wounds in this ugly phase made me pretty useless in relationships.  Through this pain, I learned what a wonderful friend I have in my husband, as I began to talk to him about the things on my heart I reserved for my girlfriends.  I learned that Jesus is not just my Lord, but he is my friend.  And last night, when I couldn’t sleep and I was frustrated with the side effects of radiation and ready to pack my bags and come home & screw treatment, I could rest in the arms of my Jesus who reminded me that from the beginning he has been assuring me that this is a transformation process.  He is at work, and this time is a transition into a new phase of life.  I don’t know what that means exactly, but I trust him.  He’s got this.

There are still many parts of me that need to die, but that is His journey to orchestrate.  I’m sure I don’t even recognize the behaviors/patterns as evil that he wants to eliminate next, so I can’t “self help” my way out of them.  I can however bend to the process of transformation he is making in me.  I can get excited about the small changes and celebrate them instead of bemoaning the ugly phases. (Even the bald spots appearing on the top of my head, I will find a way to celebrate, because somehow they are evidence of victory.  Natalie Skaggs, if you are reading this, you have your work cut out for you when I get home 💇🏼✂️!)

I asked the Father for his list of labels for me.  I won’t share, because I’m writing this in the chemotherapy room and I don’t have them with me,  but I will treasure them.  His list is beautiful and refined and a promise of what will be.  He’s asked me to exchange my list for his.  What is your list? Will you give up your labels for his?  I’d love to see your list.  I feel like I should leave you with Isaiah 61, so we can celebrate the work of his love in each of our lives.