Turn Frustration into Laughter

At one point during chemo, mouth sores were threatening.  My breast care coodinator warned me to be proactive, as she had seen people in the hospital on a morphine drip from the pain of mouth sores!  I called my doctor and discussed it, and we decided I didn’t have “sores” at that point, just “anomolies.”  My doctor encouraged me to get gentle mouthwash and rinse every hour.

Now, seriously, gargle every hour?  That night, I lay in bed thinking about what I was going to write in my blog.  I started praying, and God turned my self-pity into laughter.  He gave me a picture of the previous Friday, when I was so weak and a friend came over to help me.  My friend would come over and say “You need to drink something, Marla.”  Suddenly I had a picture of her as a cheerleader, cheering me on by saying “Sip, Marla, Sip.  Spit, Marla, Spit.”  I fell asleep laughing at the picture.

By the next morning, the laughter had nudged me over my frustration and I had a better attitude.  I accepted gargling as a task, and did my best.

At one point I was prescribed “magic mouthwash,” which contained a pain killer.  My mouth was so numb I bit my tongue.  I found out one of the ingredients was Mylanta, so I gargled with that.  There is a tiny line inside our mouths that normally feels smooth.  If that line ever felt rough, I would gargle every hour I was awake until the line was smooth again.

I’m grateful for helpful professionals and medicines.  I’m grateful I don’t have to gargle every hour any more!

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Sing About It

During the crazy rush of evaluation, testing and scheduling leading up to the start of my cancer treatments, I made up a little song.

I don’t know
I don’t know
There’s so very many things that
I don’t know

My job, as a Project Manager, is planning.  My 10-year-old suggested that not being able to plan was the worst.  It wasn’t quite the worst, but it certainly got my attention.  Singing about it made me laugh — and reminded me that while I did not know, God did!

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Family Funnies During Cancer, Part 3

We were explaining to the girls that I wouldn’t be having surgery.  Instead, I would be having some really strong medicine that would make me tired.  Daddy was going to need help from the girls.  My six year old piped up:  “We can help, Daddy.  We’ll wake up Mommy.”

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The Other Side of the Valley of Cancer

You might be surprised, disappointed or even angry to find so many issues in your life post treatment.  Recovery can be stunningly slower than your exptectations.  You may, or may not, look “fine” but you will be different in many ways.  Some will be temporary, some permanent.

I’ve developed four strategies to help me on the long climb out of the valley of cancer:  Maximize, Mitigate, Recouperate and  Trust, not necessarily in that order.

Maximize the skills, strength and abilities that have returned.  Praise God for the healing that has occurred, then ask Him to show you what you can do — with what you can do!

Mitigate your limitations.  Develop strategies to work around limitations that impact you routinely.  When I learned that other cancer survivors had difficulty writing an outline, I learned how to do a mind map.  My post-chemo brain seems to freeze up when I attempt to write an outline, but the mind map technique allows my thought processes to fly.  Once the mind map is complete, I’m able to easily convert it to an outline.  I’m faster with the two step process than I was writing an outline prior to chemo!

Recouperate.  Don’t “buck up” and pretend there are no more issues.  A life of praise and gratitude doesn’t mean you are sticking your head in the sand.  Praise and gratitude for the things you can do and the mitigation strategies you’ve identified so far free you to face your remaining limitations with God and seek all the ways in which He will lead you to recovery.  For me, this includes sleep, exercise, eating well, some key supplements and constantly consciously returning to praise, gratitude and laughter.

Trust in God’s Direction.  Where recovery seems uncertain — or impossible — return to praise for the things you can do and the mitigation strategies you’ve developed.  Remind yourself of the great God who is able to bring glory to His name through any circumstances.  Ponder the Red Sea.  You are called to be a willing participant in God’s plan for all mankind.  Sometimes the part in which we are cast gives us the honor of praying, like Christ, “Not my will, but thine be done.”  Are you willing to serve God with limitations?  We all have them, it’s just new ones that rub us so hard the wrong way.

I found it harder to trust God to help me after chemo than during it.  During chemo, my job was to keep a good attitude and “get through.”  It was tough, but all expectations on my performance were off.

Post chemo, however, expectations returned to their pre-cancer levels — but I did not.  I was no longer as smart or as energetic as I had been, and it has taken four years to get back to a place that seems similar to pre-cancer.  Even here, I have supplements that help me maintain mental clarity — that I dare not skip.  It has been a learning experience for me to trust God when I feel inadequate to do what is clearly my responsibility to accomplish.  God is not a genie:  not every answer is yes.  As I learned to trust Him with my life, live or die, I am learning to trust Him with my performance, succeed or fail.  I’m not done learning, I’m sure.

You are not alone.  Others are here with you.  Most importantly, God has allowed your path to lead to this place.  He has a gracious plan for your life.  I pray God’s blessings on you as you find it!

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When You Can’t Sleep, Pray

It was helpful to me to learn that other people going through cancer treatment had trouble sleeping.  My anti-nausea medication, Ativan, helped me when sleep was elusive, but you might need to ask the doctor for something specifically to help you with this. 

Years ago my sister Marnie (www.marnie.com) mentioned that when she wakes in the night she says “Who do you want me to pray for, God?”  I have had precious times praying through a list of friends as I lay awake in bed.  Sometimes I will feel an intense burden to pray for one friend, and when that burden lifts, I fall right back asleep.  Sweet!  It is comforting to rejoice in the uninterrupted time to pray for whoever God brings to mind.  It takes “I should be sleeping” and turns it into “what an amazing opportunity to be used by God to pray for others.” 

During treatment, as I lay awake praying, I would frequently become aware of physical discomfort that was keeping me awake.  I needed pain killer, or anti-nausea, or other medication that had been prescribed, but I hadn’t taken it when I should.  In that case, I’d get up, take the medicine, lie back down and keep praying until sleep arrived.  If you can’t think of who to pray for, then start thanking God for things.  That’s fun too! 

Good night.

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Family Funnies During Cancer, Part 2

My husband and I decided if we were not afraid, our 6 and 10 year old daughters wouldn’t be afraid either.  We were careful to package scary news to make it as easy to hear as possible.  For example, when I told them I’d be having surgery (in one week), I had already arranged a sleepover invitation for each of my girls with a good friend. 

My oldest watched us to see how upset we were about the surgery.  When we seemed okay, she relaxed and prepared to enjoy herself.  When the surgery was postponed, she was nonchalant.

Not so my little one.  The promised sleepover made my surgery an exciting event, and she couldn’t wait.  When surgery was postponed, she was crushed.  We decided to have the sleepover anyway, with the promise of a second sleepover for the actual surgery.  After each chemo (8 treatments over 4 months), my little one kept asking me “How long until surgery?”  I’m proud and grateful we were able to maintain a happy home during my valley of cancer, but I would sometimes wonder if we overdid it.

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Family Fun During Cancer

My girls were 6 and 10 when I was diagnosed with cancer.  I typically wore a bandana around the house.  On the few days I went to work, I wore my wig.  It was summer in Florida, and that wig got hot and itchy, especially in the afternoons on the drive home. 

One day when I complained, my girls urged me to take the wig off.  They promised me no one would notice.  Finally, I could resist the temptation no longer.  I didn’t want to cause an accident, so I made sure I performed the “unveiling” at a stop light. 

Unfortunately, I drive a Toyota Solara with a sun roof, and immediately to our right was a jacked up pickup truck with a perfect view of my head through that peep-hole in the roof of the car.  My daughters scanned the neighboring vehicles looking for a reaction – and got more than they bargained for.

“Mom, that guy in the truck next to us, his eyes are bugging right out of his head!” 

We laughed then, and we still laugh now.  So much for no one will notice.

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