Thursday, June 14, 2018

Strength to the Weary

The past few weeks have been a mad whirlwind of appointments, plans, phone calls, babysitters, updates, and the like, and I haven't had much time for my blog. 

Last week we discovered, for sure, that my husband's cancer has persisted.  Apparently the surgery with clean margins in January got the primary tumor, but there were more cells lurking that did not get removed, and they're now in his tongue and lymph nodes.

He's set up to begin chemotherapy on Monday and radiation quickly on the heels of that.  Life has changed rapidly for us.  I have a hazy memory of life when my biggest musings revolved around homeschooling and transplanting coral bells.....seems like a long time ago.

Today we are driving to a teaching hospital at a comprehensive care center three hours away to get a second opinion before treatments begin here.  This type of cancer is common and fairly straightforward in treatment (surgery, radiation, chemo) so we don't expect any surprises, but we both want to have another set of eyes looking at his case to determine whether we are continuing on the right track.

I suddenly know more than I ever wanted to know about cancer.

My husband is strong and healthy and a couple of days ago he did a hard mountain run to an overlook he loves, and it's incomprehensible to me that in just a few days he'll be a patient in the chemotherapy infusion room.  What?

In the midst of it we are blessed by many things.  Our family, friends, and church are wonderful.  His medical care so far has been top-notch, even in our small city (and I'm picky and demanding when it comes to medical care!).  I've been so impressed by his doctors and other medical professionals we've met. His medical expenses are basically all covered by insurance, since we easily hit our out-of-pocket maximum in January, and we paid all that soon after, so everything he's getting now is free.  He's probably going to qualify for an immunotherapy trial once it's all over, and if he does, that's free as well.......

And did I mention our friends and family?  We are so, so fortunate.

My emotional state ebbs and flows and I'm so blessed to have friends I can call or text anytime.  Thank you, Lord, for my friends.  Especially my dear Allison.

Thank you for praying for my husband.  Keep them coming. This summer will be very hard, but I am looking forward to beautiful words in November or December, when he has his first post-radiation PET scan: "complete remission."

May it be so.

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Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

-Isaiah 40:28-31

Monday, June 4, 2018

'Twas the Night Before Surgery.....

I'm not faithful on this blog right now as I'm a tad distracted by my real life but the essence of my news is that my husband's tongue biopsy came back negative yet again (!) and his lymph node biopsy indicated "suspicious" cells, so it's time for surgical biopsies. 

A patient who had cancer several months ago....a PET scan that lit up on the tongue and neck....a mysterious mass on his neck....this looks like a recurrence, right? Obviously, right?

But the doctor still hasn't found it, even after 3 different types of in-clinic biopsies, and the only way to know for sure is to have surgical biopsies.  In the morning the doctor will do a very deep tongue biopsy and cut along my husband's original neck incision to remove the mass and have it analyzed. 

Masses of people are lifting up prayers that there is no cancer.  I mean, PET scans can be wrong, or can light up for other reasons.  The mass could be scar tissue or an infection.  We just don't know.  And as long as we don't know, I'm holding out hope and prayers that my husband does not have cancer.  And this surgery, scheduled for 7:15 tomorrow morning, will be the definitive answer we've been trying to find for nearly four weeks.  

The past few weeks have given me countless stories of God's faithfulness and one day I'll share a few, but for now I'll just say that although the past month has been so challenging, I have learned to walk by faith like never before, and have been blown away by the love God has shown to us through situations and other human beings.  He's doing something here, although we don't know what yet.

If you have the time and desire, I welcome prayers for my husband tomorrow.  And I thank you for them!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Unfolding of Things

We escaped humidity for a long time, but this morning when I went downstairs to exercise, the windows were all fogged-up: summer is coming. It gets quite humid in our valley, in spite of the fact that we live in the mountains.  These are muggy mountains!

Would you believe this: we are still waiting on biopsy results?

"...the days through which we struggle, finding no way, but never losing the light, will be the most significant we are called to live." --Robert Collyer

The initial biopsy taken last week came back on Thursday as negative for cancer.  We were all so astonished! And I can't describe the hope that surged in my heart. However, the PET scan had clearly showed activity in the mouth and neck (and my husband has a lump on his neck), so we were back into the office first thing Friday for a deeper tongue biopsy and a lymph node biopsy as well.  Although our doctor expedited those results, we are still waiting for them...the holiday weekend slowed things down.

I literally have no idea if we are spending tonight in our own beds or in another state. Last week I called to get an appointment for my husband at a highly-ranked ENT oncology center for tomorrow.  But without positive biopsy results, we won't go.....

We had a beautiful weekend.  I indulged myself by planting a hedge of lavender around our new patio.  I bought 14 plants at the nursery, but need 5 more.....


...and I also arranged the patio furniture, cleaned the patio, installed two storage benches, and cleaned the front porch.  I love our new patio!  Once the rains stop it will be a lovely place to have supper or to sit and chat.

I found the most perfect yellow rose on our rosebush and placed it on my husband's nightstand.  Then I had to point it out to him because he hadn't noticed.  Ha! Men!


Finally, from a couple of weeks ago, here's the bouquet I took to Annie's ballet recital.  We had the option of purchasing bouquets from $10-$25, but I opted to use peonies, coral bells, blue false indigo, and sage from the yard for free.  


I have the strangest sensation that although we have no idea what we will learn and when, everything is unfolding as it should, in its own time. Like the flowers do.  And wow, let me just say that our doctor and his staff are doing all they can for us and we are so fortunate that they're concerned, proactive, involved.

If you would like to pray, please join us in praying for further negative biopsy results.

In the meantime, I'm taking loads of comfort in the Bible, my husband and children, and our flowers. In the face of the Great Unknown, these are all reliable blessings. 

Monday, May 21, 2018

Though the Fig Tree

After a tense weekend of waiting, we got the call at 8:30 this morning: the PET scan showed cancer. The doctor wanted us in his office for a biopsy at 3:00 (the biopsy confirms cancer, to be sure the PET scan didn't give a false positive). We talked for a long time, and then he performed the biopsy.

We'll get those results back sometime this week, and we go back to the doctor in a week for further discussion and probably for a needle lymph node biopsy because the PET scan lit up not just in my husband's mouth but also on his neck.  And we can, in fact, feel a mass on his neck.

This is such a surreal time.  In the elevator today I told my husband "I never thought I'd come here again."  When we left the surgeon's office in February I figured I was done with him; we all anticipated that. His surgeon is surprised.  We're all just stunned.  After a six-hour surgery with clean margins, a perfectly healthy 42 year old man with no risk factors comes back into the office 3 months later with cancer on his tongue again *and* in the lymph nodes?!  

Earlier this month I was looking at June, July, and August as an idyllic era of drifting between the garden and the swimming pool. Suddenly it is looking like radiation and chemotherapy.  This cancer appears more aggressive and tenacious than anticipated.  But I have news for it: my husband is the most tenacious human I know! He ran a 4:30 mile in high school, he ran Division 1 track and cross-country in college, he's no stranger to tackling challenges, and he's smart and determined.  

So today I was thinking about how we respond to disappointments, and the phrase "though the fig tree" kept surfacing in my mind.


"Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights."

--Habakkuk 3:17-19



I will be joyful in God my Savior. Yes. I will. 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Easy Hospitality Supper, Key Lime Pie Cheesecake Recipe & A Prayer Request

I'm just wrapping up "peak week" of May in our household.  This month is extremely busy, and this week saw the perfect storm of nearly everything: from the normal (piano, violin, co-op, art, ballet, Bible study) to the less common (haircut, ballet rehearsal, attending a play, houseguests).  

Annie's ballet recital is this afternoon and her costume is enchanting: ice blue over a pinkish-beige, with a pinkish-beige flower in her hair, and blue fairy wings.  She is nervous and excited.  Three-fourths of the grandparents will be in attendance, and I'm about to go pick flowers for her bouquet.  I could have ordered roses from the ballet school, but the coral bells and peonies and lilacs are peppering my flower beds right now! And they're free! 

Tonight we're hosting grandparents after the show, so here's my Easy Hospitality Menu:

*roasted Yukon gold potatoes
*steamed broccoli
*key lime pie cheesecake 

It's simple, healthy (I mean, minus the pie), and easy. This morning I'm prepping the chicken and bacon, cutting the broccoli, and making the pie.  So this evening all I'll need to do is cut and roast the potatoes (easy), steam the broccoli, and cook the chicken!

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The key lime pie cheesecake recipe is a standby here and one of my signature desserts, so I'd love to share it:

*Two-Layer Key Lime Pie Cheesecake*

Acquire or make a graham cracker crust. 

Set out an 8-oz package of cream cheese to soften. 

For the baked layer: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together a can of sweetened condensed milk, 1/2 cup key lime juice (I sometimes just use regular lime juice) and 3 large egg yolks. Pour into the crust and bake until set--about 8-9 minutes in my oven. Let cool.

Once the baked layer is cool, use an electric mixer to beat the cream cheese with 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk  (yes, more of that!), 1/4 cup of lime juice, and a little dash of vanilla. Beat until smooth, then pour over cooled baked layer, and smooth the top.  

Cover and chill until firm--at least four hours or so. If you want, pipe whipped cream around the edges before serving, but I never do it!

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And finally, if you feel led, please join me in praying for my husband.  His routine 3-month checkup with the surgeon on Wednesday revealed some anomaly that may be scar tissue from his surgery in January or it may be a recurrence of cancer. He will go in next Friday the 18th for a PET scan.  We always want to pray that God's will be done, but I'm also praying that God's will is that this is merely scar tissue.  I spent a little while in agony over the "what ifs", which are scary to consider, given this particular type of cancer, and now we're just waiting.  God very clearly gave me this Bible verse on Thursday morning: 

I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord. 
-Psalm 27:13-14

And so we do. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

My Daily Dozen: Prioritizing Ideas

I am continuing my blog posts on my "daily dozen": the twelve habits that I use as the scaffolding or my life during this season.

The first four habits I use as the scaffolding for my days in this season of life are physical: resteating wellexercise, and fresh air.  

Now I'm talking about prioritizing relationships. I wrote about Bible reading and prayer, spending time with my children, and prioritizing my marriage.  

The fourth relationship I prioritize is my relationship with ideas.

What?  Ideas? 

Now we're getting a little metaphysical!

Leave it to a student of philosophy to put ideas up there with a husband and children.  But our ideas matter.  What we read matters.  What we think matters.  The things upon which we reflect, the narratives we allow to play in our mind, the way we view our life and problems, and the worldview to which we subscribe all matter with (I believe) a life-or-death urgency.  So yes, prioritizing ideas is essential to me.

Ideas shape us.  Our ideas will ultimately lead to how to live our life.  So much depends on this: do we wallow in self-pity or do we get on with things?  Do we believe in positive change or get stuck in a destructive mindset?  Do we believe in forgiveness or do we entertain bitterness?  And so on.

Ideas matter, so I spend time each day on ideas.  However, I usually don't have hours to spend on ideas, because each day I stay busy with homeschooling, housekeeping, exercise, laundry, cooking, music practice, taking care of my children, et cetera.  So in this season of life I find pockets of time for engaging with ideas by:

Reading 

Of course I try to prioritize Bible reading time. I also love to read other books. Right now I primarily read non-fiction books, and I generally read after my children are in bed at night. In some seasons I read a lot more than others.  For instance, right now I'm barely reading much at all because our spring schedule is quite full and I am working so hard, but when summer comes and we start going to the pool, I'll read during daylight hours for at least an hour or so every day!

Books are a huge subject--sometime I will do a blog post on the books that have influenced me the most in recent years. There's no room here for that--but stay tuned.

Listening 

I like to listen to sermons online, or to interviews between interesting people on YouTube.  Sometimes I will watch/listen to a Youtube video while I fold laundry or cook dinner. Sometimes I'll find a podcast and listen to it via my laptop, because my low-budget phone doesn't handle things like that.  When I was painting the beadboard in our laundry room I remember listening to hours of sermons. I don't listen to anything regularly, but a few things I've enjoyed are:

*The Read-Aloud Revival Podcast (I've listened to a few of these, my favorite is probably Sarah Clarkson)
*The Daily Connoisseur on YouTube (I've been following Jennifer since before she became a bestselling author, and I feel we are kindred spirits, particularly in the realm of prioritizing home life)
*Any talk or interview with Rosaria Butterfield--she's so grounded and has a fascinating story (Google her or search on YouTube for more information)
*Revive our Hearts Radio (a handful of these each year, but I enjoy them)
*Bravewriter on YouTube (every so often, for homeschooling inspiration)
*NT Wright talks on YouTube (I heard him speak years and years ago in person and I really enjoy his lectures)
*Lydia Sherman on YouTube (I love her focus on domesticity--inspiring)
*Socrates in the City (fascinating talks and interviews)
*John Piper sermons and talks
*Tim Keller sermons and talks

It probably goes without saying, but I don't agree with every single thing every person says on these channels!  Engaging with ideas also means being smart enough to reject what you believe is untrue or off-base. :)  That's my disclaimer.

What do I avoid?  I will listen to people with whom I disagree, but I will not listen to anyone who uses foul language or is crude, insulting, or demoralizing.  (Remember Philippians 4:8!)

Occasionally Reviewing the News

I barely pay attention to the news.  In general I don't think dwelling on the news--which changes constantly, is often negative, frequently involves fear-mongering--is healthy. Some of the unhappiest and/or most anxious people I know are the ones who watch the news all day long. We are saturated with news right now in a way that is unprecedented in the history of humanity, and I don't think this is a good thing.

 In any case, I'll just say that it's not for me.  What I do is scan the national and local headlines a couple of times a week online, read our local weekly newspaper each week, and listen to NPR on occasion in the car. If an election is coming up I do pay closer attention to the news and my husband and I talk about the candidates because I think it's so important to vote intelligently. 

Intermittent Online Reading 

Last but not least, I do like to read some non-news sites, like blogs.  I tend to focus on sites that inspire me in the life I am leading right now: that is, a life of taking care of my family and my home. I don't have time to read blogs every day and sometimes I go weeks without reading them, but I do have a handful of favorites! I will try to do a separate blog post on those sometime in the coming weeks.

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These are the primary ways I prioritize engagement with ideas at this stage of my life: reading books, listening to inspiring talks and sermons, judicious engagement with the news, and some occasional online blog reading.  I love to learn and think, and although I could happily while my days away in a university library somewhere, that's not practical for me as a wife and mother, so I engage with ideas in little bits and pieces of time here and there throughout the day, and it works very well for me in this season of life. 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

My Daily Dozen: Prioritizing Marriage

The first four habits I use as the scaffolding for my days in this season of life are physical: rest, eating well, exercise, and fresh air.  

Now I'm talking about prioritizing relationships. I wrote about Bible reading and prayer, and last week I wrote about spending time with my children.  Today I want to write about spending time with my husband.


(If you have seen my Instagram you will know that this was Easter Sunday, and my husband apologized to me that day for not having time to shave [Easter is crazy for us with church services, family dinner, etc!].  So this is his mountain man look..but there was no need to apologize.  This guy had cancer earlier this year...do you really think I care if he shaves?!  Let's remember what Really Matters in life!)

As a married person I believe that prioritizing my husband is important.  After all, we were married for years before we had children (nearly eight, in our case!) and, God willing, will be married for years after our children leave the nest.  During this busy season of life it's not easy to make time for each other, but I try to keep this at the forefront of my mind and heart.  What it looks like differs from person to person and couple to couple, and I don't think there's a "right" way to do it. 

I've read that married couples must have weekly "date nights" in order to keep their relationship strong.  We have never managed this or even tried to do this, and it hasn't negatively impacted us at all. I think that's because we just invest in our marriage every day in tiny ways.  But every couple is different, and perhaps for some people a weekly date night is essential. 

Some couples also spend time together each evening after their children are in bed.  But we don't usually, at least not on weeknights!  Our children go to bed around 9-9:30, and I get up around 6:30, and my husband is often up by 4:30. By the time everyone is tucked in and the house is quiet, my husband is fast asleep (he's almost always asleep before the children) and I'm on my way to a hot bath and bed as well.  So we don't hang out after the children are in bed, watching TV, like so many of my friends and their husbands do. In fact, I can't remember the last time my husband and I sat and watched TV together.....

So, we don't really follow a lot of the common "rules" for maintaining a good marriage!  But we have a wonderful relationship that I thank God for nearly every day because it's the happy, solid cornerstone of our family life. My husband is my best friend and I admire him immensely.   

Here are a few things that I do to prioritize my marriage, especially during this busy season:

1. Touch base during the workday.  My husband doesn't use a cell phone and isn't interested in chit-chat.  (He's an engineer, and if you know an engineer, you'll know they tend to be efficient with communication!) But once a day or so I'll send a quick email to check in or ask a question and I always try to say something nice. I'm not artificial or mechanical about it--I just add whatever kind comment is on my heart, any encouraging word I think he might like to hear...that sort of thing.  I don't call him and try to talk unless I have a specific question, because we're too busy for phone conversations during the day.   But a quick email works perfectly. 

2.  We try to talk for a few minutes each day without children and without screens.  Sometimes this extends into a nice long talk while the children play outside or while we wash dishes together. Sometimes it just means touching base for a few quiet minutes.  But it's conversation without a cell phone, laptop, or TV screen distracting us.  

3. We laugh a lot.  We find the humor in life. Sometimes my husband will show me funny things he has seen on YouTube and we have a massive store of "inside jokes" that we've amassed over the last 18 years of marriage. After my husband's surgery we sat in his doctor's office at the follow-up appointment giggling about something and when his doctor walked in, he remarked that healing would probably happen quickly because we were laughing and happy...and it did! Laughter is one of those things we share every day. 

4.  On the weekends, we do spend more time together, but we're not rigid about what this looks like, and we don't keep a set schedule for our time together.  We just live life together and enjoy each other's company.  That sometimes means yard work, or a hike in the woods, or whatever, and nearly always our children are nearby, but it's still time together and we still appreciate it. 

5. We keep a shared vision of life and do not jockey for importance or power in our relationship.  I think intimacy is damaged by power struggles and we simply do not engage in that. I know couples who do, and I'm not trying to be prescriptive, necessarily, but simply to describe what I believe is healthy and good for us: remembering what's Really Important (so many things aren't!), respecting each other's interests and gifts, and not trying to control each other.  

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My marriage is one of the great, surprising joys of my life. My parents divorced when I was about six years old, and although they were friendly with each other, I did not have the experience of living in a home with married parents.  Growing up I always dreamed of marriage but never figured it would happen so soon to me or so successfully.  So I don't take it for granted that this man is devoted to me, and I try to prioritize our relationship on a daily basis!