November 14, 2014

Thankful To Be Cancer Free

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There are many things that we can find to be thankful about in our lives.  But I think this year the thing that has me most thankful for is my health.  In a post I wrote back in January I shared that I found a lump in one of my breasts.  And it began to grow.  At one point I could notice it just by looking in a mirror.  All very bad signs.  Previous to that discovery I had never experienced anything even remotely suspect.

Let me pause here and say that it is so, so very important to make a habit of breast self-exams.  I have been doing that since I was fifteen.  For women it is important to know what feels normal for your body and what does not.  And it was because I was so familiar with what is normal for me that I noticed a small lump.  

In the beginning it was maybe the size of a pea and as it grew over the course of a few weeks so did my pain and discomfort.  I began researching what could be happening.  Of course cancer was a possibility and with breast cancer it is SO important to catch it early.

Another issue was that there is cancer in my family.  Not too long ago an aunt of mine was diagnosed with colon cancer and needed surgery.  So I didn't think it was in the realm of impossibility for my mystery lump to be cancerous because many women (85% according to breastcancer.org) diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of that particular cancer at all.  But just thinking that I could have something malignant definitely got my heart rate going.

I don't have health insurance and that was adding to my stress levels significantly.  There would be fees for every examination and procedure.  Fees for the doctor, fees for the radiologists, fees for everything.  I needed help on all fronts and the first thing I did was pray and ask God for wisdom.  He gave me a peace and inner calmness that I needed in order to get my head straight and prioritize.

Just a month or so before my discovery of the lump I had felt it important to get my affairs in order and set up a will, a living will, and funeral details.  I had never sat down to do that before but whatever the reason I felt it was time. Looking back now I'm so thankful that I did all that preparation and thinking because it was one less thing I needed to consider during my planning and research.

I decided the first thing to do was to find realistic estimates of test and examination costs in my area.  
But since I never did that before I had to begin by first learning what types of examinations and procedures might be needed in my case.  I'll go more into that a bit later in this post.

After I had a ball park idea of how much things might cost me I went ahead and searched for financial assistance.  And I found great help through the Linda Creed Program.  The website is here: lindacreed.org.  

This website is wonderful and if you call their number they are quick to answer or get back to you.  They helped me get in touch with programs in my area that offer financial assistance ( in my area I found financial aid through the Healthy Women Program) and they are very knowledgeable about breast cancer.  If you have concerns or need a " shoulder to cry on" they are wonderful.  Through the help of these programs I was able to have every examination and procedure done for free.  It was a tremendous blessing.

I felt God's presence close to me every step of the way even though I would shed tears from time-to-time.  Everyone I interacted with had a wonderful attitude and treated me with respect.  And no question I asked was too naive or ridiculous.  

I learned a lot about breast health, as you can imagine.  For instance, the density of your breast tissue may make it difficult for a mammogram to get clear images.  If someone has very dense breast tissue then there is a higher possibility of false-positives in a mammogram.  It is recommended that in those cases ultrasound tests are performed along with an MRI.

In my case I underwent both mammogram and ultrasound examinations.  But I did had reservations about having a mammogram done not only because they are painful, especially when mystery lumps are involved, but they expose the body to higher levels of radiation than an X-Ray.  And if a woman is nursing or pregnant she would not be given a mammogram for this very reason.  

Returning to what I stated earlier about researching the various examinations and procedures, I learned about many examination options including what was possible in an out-patient scenario.  For instance, if a woman had a cyst she could get it aspirated (drained) at the doctor's office.  They would use a long needle in a procedure called Fine Needle Aspiration.  If there was a tumor or mass then depending on its size and location either a needle biopsy or a tiny incision or both would be performed.  And any biopsy done to breast tissue does tend to bruise and increases the risk of infections.

But finding suspicious lumps are not the only warning signs of breast cancer.  Which is why it is so important for all women, young and old, to do self examinations in front of a mirror.  And why its important that every woman do her own research before going to a doctor so that she is knowledgeable about her options and her rights.

I also learned that every woman has a right to own a copy of her official report and a copy of every image taken.  Its best not to assume you will be given these things.  Double check and ask at every location that these things are done for you.

Its amazing to me how the mind works because all throughout that experience I was constantly living in a state of flux.  I didn't know if the diagnosis would be negative or positive. Did I have cancer or not?  And if it was cancer how developed could it be?  Was I ready to go through chemo and surgery and possibly death?  When should I start asking everyone I know for prayer?  

2 Corinthians 12:9 says that God's grace is sufficient for all our needs.  And it is true.  He kept me sane while I waited for answers.  He gave me peace when I feared my health and body may have betrayed me.  He gave me hope that no matter the outcome I would be with Him.

When I learned that I was cancer free... I felt like I had been given a second chance at life.  The relief and joy I experienced was that powerful.  

So I am thankful for many things this year and I hope that this post might be helpful and encouraging to someone else. 
" 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power
may rest on me."

~ 2 Corinthians 12:9

What are you thankful for? 


October 20, 2014

The Humble Letter

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The other day I was reorganizing my room in preparation for the fall season and unearthed a hand-written letter from a friend.  I was so excited that I immediately sat down and read it.

Even though I knew the contents of the letter there was something so fun and special about holding a physical letter in my hands.  The texture of the paper, the grooves that the pen tip made, the way that light hit every fold, and the thought that my friend took time out of her busy day to write something just for me.

Letters are so beautiful.  In fact I would even say that they are precious.  It represents the care and thought someone took to put each word to pen.  There are feelings and emotions in every sentence.

I get the same great feeling when I read birthday cards my family gives me each year.  I know they love me and we still see each other just about every day but there is something wonderful about having love presented to me on ink and paper.  Its physical proof, evidence that they care.

After carefully tucking away the letter I thought about other letters that have influenced my mind and moods.  During the times of the Roman Empire the church was young and suffering tremendous persecution.  The New Testament speaks of their many sufferings and struggles. And God sent His church a man who had a talent for writing: Paul. 

Paul, known before his amazing conversion as Saul, was highly intellectual and religious.  Previous to becoming a Christian he firmly believed that his life was undeniably holy and pure.  He believed this even as he hunted down Christians, imprisoning them, torturing them, and ensuring their deaths (the most famous of these being Steven). In fact I sometimes wonder if Paul's "thorn in the flesh"(II Corinthians 12:7) might have been his memories of what he did and/or witnessed of the many innocents who died because of his actions.

But that's a thought for another post. Little did Paul know that God was hunting him. Ah!  His conversion and life is such a fantastic story! Anyhow, once Paul humbled himself and allowed God to use him it didn't take long before he started writing letters.  And he wrote beautiful, heart-felt letters to friends, colleagues, and churches.

His letters were personal in that even though anyone could read them it was evident that he took great pains to write them. He chose only to write what the Holy Spirit impressed upon him.  The themes were often a mix between encouragement and constructive criticism.  To me, many of his letters have the tone of someone much older and wiser. As they well should, right? When I was younger I often thought his letters sounded a bit like a favorite uncle or a loving grandparent. 

But it was his letters to Timothy where Paul revealed his heart as I imagine a father would to his son.  I can only imagine what Timothy felt reading those beautiful letters and keeping them safe for the times when he would want to "hear" the words even after Paul died.

The Bible is so amazing.  From front to back it is physical evidence of God's love and promise that my life, my story will have a happy ending. And so it will be for anyone who accepts Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  God tells us how far He is willing to go to rescue us and bring us safely home.

I love personal letters!  I especially love physical letters.  So I'm going to begin writing and sending personal, physical letters to friends.  Hand-written. Hm, I might have to clean up my handwriting a tiny bit.  Its been quite a while since I've written any physical letters "just because."  Maybe someone will need the physical affirmation that they are remembered and cherished.

How about you?  When was the last time you received a personal letter that warmed your heart? When was the last time you wrote and sent a letter?  

" Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways.
The Lord be with all of you. I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand.  
This is the mark in every letter of mine, it is the way I write.  
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all."
~ II Thessalonians 3: 16-17