God’s Grace in the Lab Course for my Faith

“But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

II Corinthians 12:9

 God continues to amaze me with His care and attention to my specific needs.  He is such a gentle and patient Father who loves to give good gifts to His children.  My cancer experiences always remind me of a kind of lab course for my faith in which I am given golden opportunities to see God demonstrate His power in my weakness and His sufficiency in my times of need.

Several people have commented on my strength and attitude, but I always assure them that I am just your basic chicken for whom many people are praying and to whom God has extended His grace.  Sometimes in God’s sovereignty He says “no”, but I have experienced a lot of “yeses”, through no merit of my own.  I am acutely aware of the fact that if I fail to recognize the source of my strength and peace my Father will definitely remind me.  My focus needs to be on my great “Instructor” who supplies a kind of spiritual backpack of all supplies necessary for experiencing “success” in this course called cancer.  I need to leave behind my broken pencils, dead calculator, and empty ballpoint pens and utilize the superior tools He supplies.  It would be foolish to ignore His patient instruction and His thorough and timely tutorials.  And the class parties are incomparable! He provides the refreshments and the enjoyment!

“Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, ‘The LORD has done great things for them.’”  Psalm 126:2

A great opportunity for refreshment and enjoyment came on the first weekend of May.  This was two weeks after my last chemo treatment. That Friday was our half-day jog-a-thon at school.  I felt very awkward asking, but I was given the immediate approval of my administrator to be absent that day.  This solved a bit of an issue for me.  Jog-a-thon day has traditionally become the day when I twirl my batons for my students.  Students began asking several months before if I would do so this year.  Although I have healed well, baton twirling seemed a bit of a stretch. (Pun intended!) I really believe that God made the decision for me.  Another opportunity of learning and blessing was provided.

God gave me the nerve and the ability to drive to Stowe, Vermont, after school on that Thursday for this year’s Stowe Weekend of Hope.  As a first-time attendee and cancer survivor I was housed for two nights free of charge at the Stowe Mountain Lodge right next to Mt. Mansfield. (I had not been to Mt. Mansfield since the summer of 1967!) My room had a huge balcony, a complete kitchen with a dishwasher (I don’t even have one of those at home!), and the most incredible bathroom I have ever seen!!  I was able to take my own food and cook my own meals.  I spent my days with fellow cancer sufferers and survivors attending sessions concerning cancer treatment, recovery, and prevention including massage, diet, telling your story, and even therapeutic harp music!  The registration required a fifty dollar refundable deposit, but when I saw everything that was provided for me I did not ask for a refund!  When I left on Sunday I even used my free pass for a tour of a Ben and Jerry’s factory, in spite of the fact that I never eat their ice cream because of my hypoglycemia!  I came home by way of Whitehall in order to do the memory trip of my life as a child between ages four and seven. I rejoiced to arrive safely at home after a beautiful, enjoyable, and enriching weekend.  I praise God for His enablement and provision!

God’s “choreography” in my treatment still continues to astound me.  I was able to secure Monday, May 20, for my outpatient surgery at MSK.  This “slid” right in there between the need to wait thirty days after my last chemo treatment and the last week of classes and review for my seniors. When I called MSK to schedule the surgery I was initially told that I could not have that Monday because my surgeon had a very extensive surgery scheduled on that date and that I would have to miss two weeks of school.  When I told them that this would not be possible and I would need to postpone the surgery until after June 12 they agreed that one week would probably be sufficient and that they would check on the doctor’s schedule for that Monday. The nurse called me the next day to say that I could have that date after all. God even provided a friend and colleague to drive me to MSK in NYC after classes one day for pre-op. Door-to-door service!

After school one day I drove to my chemo oncologist’s other office in Mt. Kisco for a follow-up.  All seemed to be well, but a couple of days later I got a phone call concerning my blood work that had been done for pre-op.  They were concerned because my liver-functioning test was not normal.  Surgery would still take place as scheduled, but the result was of concern.  That was especially discouraging for me! I must admit that I did think that maybe it was time to just “put the nails in my coffin”. (Does anyone hear some distant clucking?  Remember I am your basic chicken!) I was told to contact my chemo oncologist who just happened to have sent me across the road for blood work on the day I last met with him. Calling his office confirmed that the result was not normal, but had improved.  My brother-in-law, Paul, again provided reassurance that I shouldn’t pound those nails just yet.  He reminded me that the liver’s job is to remove the toxins from my system and I had just completed chemo a few weeks before!

My surgery required that I miss an entire week of school, but that Friday was a half-day for our field day.  God gave me the strength and wisdom to gain entrance to the classroom on two Saturdays prior to my surgery and I was able to once again record my lessons for each class on the SMART board.  Although I did not finish my final lesson until 1:00 AM on the Sunday morning before my surgery, I arrived safely at home and still made it to church on Sunday.  God is so gracious!

During the week when I was recovering from my surgery I was able to drive myself to meet with the radiation oncologist in Fishkill.   It was wonderful to avoid missing another day of school.  Who would have thought that I could recover AND visit a new doctor on the same day!

It was, however, necessary for me to miss one more day of school, but God’s expert choreography astounded me!  In one day I met with the radiation technician in Fishkill to complete all the preliminaries for my treatment.  From there I drove to MSK center in West Harrison in Westchester County to meet with my surgeon and my original oncologist, Dr. Dang, who had recommended the doctor with whom I had done chemo in Carmel.  The latter doctor had suggested in passing that I might want to see Dr. Dang for a second opinion.  My immediate response was that I totally trusted him, but I later decided to call to inquire if Dr. Dang had an appointment on the day I saw my surgeon.  She had a cancellation which made the two appointments back-to-back!  By the time I saw her I had decided to ask her to direct my follow-up treatment. She immediately agreed to do so.  In conversation she seemed to immediately get on the “same page” with me.  She suggested that I finish radiation and then take the month of August to regroup.  We will meet again the end of August.  My follow-up treatment will most likely involve the rest of my life.  We will also address my advanced osteoporosis. (My bones are kind of like Swiss cheese!) She was concerned with my future quality of life and even said I was here for a reason! Her treatment philosophy sounds so much better than making me a “walking pharmacy” with medications to manage side effects of other medications which also have side effects ….ad infinitum!   I really believe that this was God’s choreography!

It is important to praise God for His provision of insurance and proximity that allow me to go to some of the best doctors in the country.  Regardless of the ultimate outcome of my treatment I am so thankful for the privilege and blessing of the availability of the necessary resources.  My “horse” has the best possible preparation for the battle in which I find myself, although the victory is in God’s hands. (Proverbs 21:31)

My school year seemed to come to a very swift end.  Everything was accomplished and over by June 12.  I praise God for the success of my students and the accomplishment of the course objectives in spite of the interruptions my treatment required.  My students were incredible blessings.  They are missed, but I welcome the opportunity to focus on my treatment and to get some rest.

I began radiation treatments on June 15 in Fishkill.  It takes less than thirty minutes to reach the treatment center, but I generally allow at least forty-five minutes because of construction on the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge.  I generally go five days a week, but, because of the installation of new equipment, there were no treatments on Friday, June 19, nor on Monday, June 22.  Join me in my amazement at the incredible choreography demonstrated again!

My niece, Joanna, had planned to come that very Friday and to return to Virginia very early on the following Tuesday. This gave us the opportunity to spend the four-day weekend without any interruption for treatment. We had a wonderful time.  She had some shopping to do and I was equipped with the ability to chauffeur her, the proximity to great stores, and those precious coupons. She bought me pizza twice, we went to Chili’s, and I had someone for whom to cook a nice meal! She joined me in church and Bible study on Sunday. It was a blessing to have her visit!

I resumed my treatments on that Tuesday after Joanna left. Everyone at the radiation center is wonderful and I am impressed with their punctuality, professionalism, and good humor.  If all goes according to plan my last treatment should be on July 27.

I did get all of my plants into the ground and the flower beds weeded before my niece came.   It felt good to have the ability to use the electric hedge trimmer again. Since I haven’t been able to pull and snap to start the lawn mower I am thankful that God has provided a kind soul who appears on my lawn each week and leaves it trimmed and mowed. I haven’t tackled the large hedge in the backyard yet, but I know the day is coming! The thing is laughing at me, but I do believe that I will have the last laugh! I am just so glad to feel physically able to resume my normal activities.

Although things are going well I do believe that I am experiencing some fatigue.  I told the nurse this week that instead of being “Go, go, go” I am only “Go, go”. I have been doing a lot of reading, resting, and puzzles. It is important that I exercise. My doctor wants me to become a “gym rat”. Although there is a Gold’s Gym about a half-mile from home, the cost is high and I never feel comfortable there.  Aerobic exercise enhances the effectiveness of the treatments so I know that I need to follow through.  My Leslie Sansone DVDs appear to be the answer.  In the privacy of my own home, any time of day or night, I can complete a three to five mile walk with all kinds of added movement.  She even had me kick boxing the other night! The DVD’s appear to be the answer.  I am not experiencing as much fatigue. I have now completed half of my treatments. Does that make me “half-baked?”

Within the last week I have begun to use a blow dryer! Although my hair is not ready for general viewing, my head is covered! It is quite thick and somewhat wavy. I love shampooing it and running my fingers through it. (Does that sound weird?) My sister has seen it via Skype and my niece saw it when she was here.  Of course, at the treatment center we are all rather comfortable with our various stages of recovery, but I am not certain that the general public would appreciate it as much as I do! On July 8 I even called the office of Dr. Dang at MSK to inquire as to the time when my hair could be colored. I praise God for the blessing of it all!

On July 9 I followed through on the hair-coloring.  My doctor agreed that I could do so only if I used a gentle product at home. That did not work out very well.  After reading all the boxes I opted for a temporary, rather than permanent, product and understood that since my hair came in so light (and we are not talking blonde here!) that any color I used would be far lighter on me.  I selected a kind of medium auburn which made my hair look as if it had been colored with a yellow crayon! I returned to the store and chose a darker auburn.  The box pictured someone with darker skin and eyes than I, but looking at the result reminded me of my visit to Prince Edward Island.  You know… Anne of Green Gables … “Carrots”.  Of course I continue to wear my wig, but when I took it off at the radiation center for my treatment I realized that the florescent lights made my hair look rather pink.  Hey, now that I think of it some of my seniors and I had discussed that option in study hall one day, but I think they meant another fun wig, not my poor head of hair!

Later I called both chemo oncologists and they both said I could go back to my salon!  It appears that their only concern had been the possibility of the loss of the hair I have.  It seems quite secure!!  Remember I have that weird urge to keep running my finger through it?  It hasn’t once resulted in a hand full of hair.  Well, not since last January anyway!

On July 11 I have an appointment with my beloved Debonese!  Lord-willing she will be able to work her magic and make my hair a more natural color. It will be my first visit to a salon since last January.  I have been giving myself pedicures and manicures because of precautions I had to take during my treatment.  It is amazing what you can do when you have Q-tips and nail polish remover handy to correct your errors!

This week I have been noticing again just how poorly planned some of the “canned music” choices are.  While waiting for a test the other day Bob Dylan was singing, “Knock, knock, knocking on Heaven’s door.”  When I was being prepped for my radiation treatments I heard the Who’s “My Generation” with “Hope I die before I get old.” (This reminds me of being in a government office with members of the security force in Chile having my papers processed for my VISA and hearing in English either “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” or “Here Comes Santa Claus.” ) In my present state of health I did try to think of secular music choices which might promote more positive thinking.  Funny … the only thing that came to mind was the song from Flower Drum Song, “I Enjoy Being a Girl”!

On a more serious “note” the events of these recent months have allowed me to put my faith to the test.  In this lab course I have learned more of God’s character, power, grace, and love.  I have tasted His goodness and grace, felt His love and care, and heard His encouragement and direction.  Along with all His choreography He has provided songs of joyful celebration.  I get tired and He gives me a recess, but I can confidently re-enter the classroom called cancer.  The music calls to me as the Great Instructor patiently awaits my attention! Are we having a party today? I will trust His judgment!

“He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD” Psalm 40:3

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