Sunday, January 16, 2022

Nearing the End of a Journey

My friend is dying from cancer. With her permission, I’d like to share a part of her journey.

I hadn’t realized, but she’d beat cancer previously, eight years ago. But back in July she was diagnosed with nerve cancer (a tumor intertwining nerves in her neck and shoulder). It was caused by the radiation treatment she’d received during her first go round. Tragic.

So she started and finished chemo last summer with some tentative success. Her goal was to SMITE the cancer – Shrink, Minimize, Invalidate, Take Down, and Eviscerate. I like that! The other prayer request was for God to protect her brain from the chemo’s toxicity. God had other plans.

All during this process, she’d update her friends with humorous and encouraging words, trusting the Lord but also sharing her ups and downs. She posted about wearing her wig backwards one day to work! She joked about taking some blue juice (Smurf meds, she called it) to help with protecting her brain – and changed her profile pic to Nordic Smurf, the Blue Fighter.

And then came some good news, the tumor had shrunk. 

The next step was to undergo radiation to get the tumor even smaller so that surgery could remove it, although there would be significant reconstruction of her upper chest area.

She wrote this mid-October: “I am learning ‘Be Still and Know that I am God’ as I wait for doctor appointments, insurance approval, treatment options, etc... I simply want to be healed through a miracle, through medicine or both. Waiting is so difficult. I am trying to do what I can, which seems too little and not very effective. I'm not good at enjoying the moments between life.”

The waiting was soon over. She was slated for 54 radiation treatments over 6 weeks (twice a day for 27 of those days). She was also to receive a more aggressive chemotherapy again, but her insurance initially denied her doctor’s choice of chemo.

Here’s what she wrote in early November: “I'm struggling today as insurance denied the doctor's chosen chemo. Frustration and disappointment are my emotions today... I have to say I am at peace with my life and mostly with a possible death, but I would like to live.

“Philippians 1:20-22 – ‘20 eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have complete boldness so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.’ ”

At this point, I noticed her posts started taking on a different tone. She became even more encouraging – to us! She wanted us, her friends and family, to rely on and trust in the Lord. And she led the way by being an example. Amazing.

She offered this quote and comment: “‘Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.’ Thanksgiving is the outward sharing of gratitude.”

Then, a few days later: “I am so thankful for the encouragement of family and friends. The blessings of God in my life are beyond description. As we near Thanksgiving, I smile at the many victories I have been given through this long treatment course.”

Of course, there were still ups and downs. Early December: “Today I'm feeling sorry for myself. I don't feel well, my nerves are swollen and my arm doesn't work. Then I'm reminded of the beautiful people in the world. An older man just said to a grandma ‘sit here it's softer’ another person said to a cafe customer ‘have the blueberry pancakes they're fantastic.’ It's hard to look outside myself today but it's beautiful to see the people God places before me.”

Then in mid-December: “Please pray for me. I lost all use my right hand and arm. The doctor expects the swelling to reside in the next week or so. I am very frustrated and concerned. Chemo has been moved out a couple of weeks to give my body a chance to heal from the extreme radiation damage. This is very rough and scary. I will praise God during my fear.”

Immediately followed the next day with this devastating news: “Crazy news! Unfortunately a couple cancer cells slipped into my brain over the last 4 or 5 months. I was having trouble walking and tests found brain cancer. The plan is a little bit of radiation so that I can walk. This will not cure the cancer as it appears to be terminal barring a miracle. Regardless I praise God for His work in and through my life.”

But note her attitude and witness. “It's beautiful to see the people God places before me.” “I will praise God during my fear.” “I praise God for His work in and through my life.”

Her next update, even clearer: “Radiation treatment from 8 years ago gave me a new cancer. (Use caution when agreeing to radiation of any kind) This man-made cancer is very difficult to treat. We gave it our best shot and hit it very hard, it was resistant. I will praise God. I will walk in Christ and I hope to encourage each of you over the next month or two. Don't be angry with God.”

Right before Christmas, she wrote: “I am so thankful for the support I have continually received over the last months. Your cards, your words of encouragement your notes, cookies, meals, your support have been a blessing. I have the best family and friends.

“The doctor has given me 4 to 6 weeks, maybe a little longer. Barring a miracle, brain metastasis is terminal. I have 7 days of radiation remaining to shrink the brain tumor enough to take care of some business. We don't know if it will work, if it does it'll buy me some time, if not so be it.

“God is good. Not all illnesses will be controlled or cured. I continue to praise God through this illness and your friendships. God has blessed me beyond belief with great friends, family. I will not die without hope rather I have the hope of Jesus Christ in eternal life.”

Then with her sly sense of humor, she adds: “BTW I have a long list of things to complete, therefore I need the radiation to work. I'm a list maker. I remind myself of my mother.”

Over the course of these past weeks, I’ve copied and pasted her FB posts to our former swim coach. (My friend and I were on the swim team together in college.) He passed some of them on to the current coach who shared them with the team, to great impact and encouragement.

Just last week she wrote this: “‘Be strong and courageous.’ This has different meanings to everybody, for me it means, whatever happens I will follow the Lord's leading. Whether I'm healed here or in eternity I will graciously accept.

“I'm declining slowly. The tumor did not shrink much from the radiation. My right hand does not work from the shoulder radiation, my right leg does not work from the brain tumor. I'm kind of a mess.

“I'm thankful to everybody in the family and friends for taking time out of their lives to invest in my life. You're beautiful people and I ask that you continue to invest in other people's lives because that's where we have the most impact, through love for each other.

“Joshua 1:9 – ‘The Lord your God is with you wherever you should go. Don't be afraid.’”

Now in these past few days, my fellow swim-mate knows she's finishing her race. She wrote: “I have begun in-home hospice. I'm wheelchair bound for the most part.

“This appears to be the final leg of my journey, I must say I'm blessed of all women. I have an amazing husband, great family and friends. Your outpouring of love and kindness continues to be amazing. My husband has been stellar throughout this journey.

“Why not me? I have seen many great opportunities, squandered few, and yet have led a very blessed life. I (we) have been assigned a number of days and celebrate my final time. My work appears to be drawing to a close. I consider all joy to finish strong.

“Forgive and forget is my last piece of advice. Anger hurts nobody but us, be at peace whenever possible. You are making my last weeks so special with your kind calls, prayers and thoughtful encouragement.”

She then quotes Psalm 23.

Yesterday she wrote this: “James 1:2-4 – ‘2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.’

“I'm losing my ability to speak from the brain metastasis. This means it's very difficult for me to answer the telephone; so far I can reply to messages. My health and wellbeing declines daily.

“I continue to smile and praise God for each day He gives me. I am blessed with your encouragement. My husband and I lack for nothing. Your encouragement is all we need. My days/time may be very short and yours might be very long, make the most of your life.”

Powerful words, don’t you agree? Pray for my friend, her husband, and her family. But maybe more significantly, praise God for my friend – for her life, her attitude, her joy, her testimony, her faith. She is an inspiration to us all.

I’ll keep you updated as I hear more.

My friend and me, Nov 2019.

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