Thursday, June 21, 2012

Prayer Request for Kendra!

Hey friends and family in blog land, I've got a favor to ask of you. Kendra is currently attending a speaking and writing conference. She's very excited and I am for her as well. I had hoped to go as well but I have MY LAST RADIATION TREATMENT TOMORROW so I had to miss it.

Here's the request, please pray that Kendra would really be able to soak in the wisdom and guidance at this gathering. We both are trying to become much better writers as we feel no matter how this journey ends God has writing as a part of our lives.

Also we currently have two book proposals that we are trying to see if God would have us to pursue anything further. Kendra will be able to meet with folks to help us continue to refine and prepare for the next step. Please pray for wisdom and discernment.

Thanks so much and I'm doing well. I'm ready to be done with treatment and looking forward to a couple weeks off, but this journey really has been pretty tolerable. Praising God for his simple blessings.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Fathers' Day message on obedience!

This past Sunday, I had the awesome privilege of preaching at Reed City Church of the Nazarene. What a wonderful community of believers who have blessed Kendra and I beyond words. It was an incredible experience to celebrate Fathers' Day with them.

Here is the video of my message. I pray you are encouraged as well.

Sermon 6-17-2012 - Special Guest Ryan Prudhomme from RCCNAZ on Vimeo.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

My "new normal" isn't very normal!

My whole life if I wanted to do something, I just went out and did it. I played four sports, broke horses, could work all day. When I was in high school during the summer, I would go play a basketball tournament and play three games in a day. We used to put up 12,000 bales of hay a summer so I'd spend all day out in the field throwing hay. I spent a summer in Wyoming where it wasn't uncommon to put 20-30 miles on in a day out riding horses. That means spending 10-14 hours a day in the saddle.

That was my normal.

Fast forward to today. After seven weeks of radiation and 14 months of chemo I am a different person. I get winded walking a block. I can't push a round bale over by myself. We had a flat tire on Friday coming home from Chicago and it took everything I had to change the tire. I was totally spent for the rest of the day.

When I come home for a weekend it's a constant battle between what I want to do and what I ought to do. I want to play golf, do work around the house, fix fences, go for walks, mow the lawn, ride horses and more! If I felt healthy it would be hard to fit all that in in a weekend. However feeling how I do now means I probably have to choose one of those for the weekend and even then I may spend the rest of the weekend prostrate on the couch.

Two weekends ago I chose to go horseback riding. A good friend of mine hosted a ranch roping day at his ranch and so I saddled up and went over last Saturday morning. It was a beautiful day, and as Ronald Reagan famously said, "There is nothing as good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse."

I felt great. Ranch roping is a combination of horsemanship and camaraderie. It was a great group of guys and I met some new friends and caught up with some old ones. I'm not a great roper and was doing a lot of learning as well as teaching my new horse how to be a rope horse. We started out well. I caught on my first time in the pen. I worked the cow with Legado (Spanish for legacy). He did great too!

As the morning went on, I started to feel less than 100%. My whole life when I've felt this way I just bear down, grit my teeth and fight through it. I had wanted to spend two to three hours riding. I'd only been there 45 minutes. I fought it trying to convince myself that it was just a blip and I would perk up soon. Instead I gradually slid further and further into exhaustion.

My performance showed. I started throwing horrible shots. I got frustrated with Legado because I thought he wasn't listening. In reality I started to ride worse and worse. I was sending mixed messages and he didn't know what to do. Instead of fighting through the fatigue, and improving, I made the situation worse. The end result is I never caught another cow, had to leave early, and spent the rest of the weekend wasted on the couch.

I often say we're not going to let this cancer rule our lives. I've still been able to work full time even through the radiation the last month and a half. I stayed fairly active going golfing, horse riding, and even playing basketball during last winter. As much as I can I have tried to live a "normal" life, but no matter how much I try to cowboy up, I still have cancer. I still am going through treatment, and I am still beat down physically.

My life isn't normal.

So how do I judge whether cancer is ruling my life?

Not by what I do, but by how I respond. I'm going to live in obedience, with joy and hope and thankfulness. That ought to be my normal no matter how I feel. So if I can't ride for three hours I should be thankful for forty five minutes. If I can't play basketball I should be thankful I can golf. If I can't put hay out, I should be thankful I have a wife and friends who can help me.

I can't control how I feel but I can control my attitude. There will be a day when I feel back to normal but until then I can still live my normal life in smaller doses.

p.s. thanks a lot Kirk Wolters and Way Out Here Photography for some great shots!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Week 7 appointment times, and a (mostly) positive update.

Hi everyone,

As I type this, Ryan is receiving his first treatment of Week 7.  He has started his more targeted therapy, which means lower doses of radiation.  Lower doses + less general radiation will hopefully = less fatigue.  We're looking forward to that.  Along with that good news, we are going to be able to see the Tigers play the Cubs a couple of times this week, and we are extremely excited to make memories as a family at historic Wrigley Field!

So without further ado, here are Ryan's Week 7 appointments, in Central time:

Monday: 2:15 pm
Tuesday: 8:40 am
Wednesday: 8:40 am
Thursday: 8:40 am
Friday: 7:30 am

So the rest of this post is going to be a bit of a mixed bag.  I'm having a very up and down day emotionally because of a lot of news that has hit me like a ton of bricks in the last 24 hours, yet I'm trying to remain thankful for all of the positives.

Number 1, please pray for me (Kendra) as I adjust to the idea that my horse (Riata) is likely going to have to be put down.  We are having a vet come and check her out, but she appears to have some sort of neurological disorder that is worsening.  She is obviously in pain and at times can hardly walk or move, and my husband and a couple of horse people that we are close to and trust very much all think that there is little that can be done for her.  I am heartbroken.  In the midst of everything else swirling around me, I am just simply distraught that my beautiful girl is likely not treatable.

Number 2, we had an appointment today that was informative and full of positive news, and yet delivered a couple of crushing blows to me and my spirit.  We met with our primary oncologist to determine the "next steps" after radiation.  Let me temper my sadness with the outstanding news that Ryan is doing amazingly well and our oncologist is extremely hopeful and optimistic that radiation has done its job.  Bloodwork = spectacular.  Pain = gone.  We are blessed.

The part that I'm having a hissy fit about is that Ryan is likely going to be going on some pretty intensive chemotherapy starting only two weeks after the end of radiation (so likely sometime around July 9).  For those of you familiar with chemotherapy, this is the FOLFOX combination (Folinic acid, 5FU, and Oxaliplatin).  Ryan has not been on any of these drugs before, but he has experienced Oxaliplatin's cousins - Cisplatin and Carboplatin.  I am not in any way, shape, or form excited about him going on these drugs, but I do know that it is necessary.  Anyway, so it appears that he will be receiving these drugs in combination with Erbitux, another drug that I'm not familiar with.  I do know that he had to be tested for his response to Erbitux, and it appears that he is a candidate for it.  Our doctor also mentioned that in the future, Ryan is a candidate for using Tarceva - another type of drug that is more of a "maintenance drug" - not a cure, but something that could potentially buy him years of life.  Is the word "years" not the most beautiful word you've ever heard?

So why am I upset?  Because my dream was to have Ryan take a month or so off of treatment.  Just a month of normalcy, that's all I really wanted.  I wanted a quiet July, complete with maybe a small family getaway, lots of bonding time, and Ryan feeling awesome.  It appears that I will not be getting that dream, but I am absolutely, 100% thankful that our doctor is pushing for him to do this - I know that it's what is for the best.  I am so grateful for Ryan's response to radiation and that he's doing excellently.  I am also grateful that he is the world's biggest fighter and that he's raring to go for another chemotherapy combination.   I think that if it were me facing FOLFOX, I would be stomping my feet and in total refusal, but he is completely positive and happy to go through hell again for the sake of staying around with us.

On that note, we should hopefully be finding out sometime late July/early August what the results are of the radiation treatment.  Ryan is going to be having a big round of scans sometime around then to find out what is going on.  As I said, our doctor is reasonably hopeful that the cancer is gone for now, or at least very, very small.  If there is still only a tiny bit left, a chemoembolization or radiation spheres may be on the horizon.  We will not know until then what the next step is.  Our oncologist was quite adamant, however, that even the most positive of results (a PET negative) would still mean an additional 3-6 months of chemotherapy in order to ensure that the cancer was completely eradicated.

So all in all, this has been a day of many ups and downs.  Overall, I count myself very blessed that this week I am with my son AND my husband, and that he is feeling well.  That is a "win", indeed.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

On horses and blind faith

Every once in a while, I become a horse racing enthusiast.

Since 2003, when a pretty gelding named Funny Cide captured the heart and imagination of America as he made a run for the Triple Crown, I have halfway followed the sport of horse racing.  Really, I only follow it for the major races: all of the jewels of the Triple Crown, the Santa Anita, the Breeders Cup races, and the Kentucky Oaks.  This year might prove to be the first time since 1978 that a horse will win the Triple Crown, as I'll Have Another has already captured the first two races (the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes).  [Edit: while this blog was in draft status, I'll Have Another scratched from the Belmont due to tendonitis, and then promptly retired from his race career.  Such a shame that an injury has made it impossible for him to be able to continue his career, but I am glad that the horse's health is of paramount importance.]

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

So this week, I'm going to be thinking a lot about horses.  Hopefully that will remind me to catch my own horse and grain him more often, but we will see how that goes. :)

Horses are a funny animal that I struggle to embrace with open arms, even though by marriage to my husband I find myself the owner of three equids.  I would probably feel more confident around horses if HORSES were more confident.  They are fidgety prey animals, prone to spooking at the slightest of provocations.  If they were the size of a domestic cat, this would not be a problem, but horses typically weigh over a thousand pounds.  Not our miniature horse, though.  He is only a couple hundred pounds.

This extreme anxiety in horses can render them useless or dangerous in some situations.

There is a scene in my favorite movie, "Gone with the Wind", where Scarlett and Rhett are attempting to flee Atlanta as the city burns.  Sherman's army is approaching, and the Confederate army is burning the depot and their military supplies so that the Union army does not benefit from the use of their items.  As Scarlett and Rhett try to maneuver their horse and cart past a burning three-story building, the horse balks at the fire in front of and around him.  Try as he might, Rhett cannot convince the horse to budge, so Scarlett tosses him a garment for Rhett to wrap around the horse's face.  Once the horse cannot see any danger around him, he moves forward and Rhett and Scarlett successfully escape the charred city.

For all of our talk about how living in high definition has been the ticket for us to walk this cancer journey well, it has recently struck me that living by blind faith has been just as equally important as we attempt to maneuver our way through a figurative fire.

You see, when Ryan was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer, I felt like I had been punched repeatedly in the gut, struggling for breath and composure.  Life was a pane of glass that had just been shattered into a million pieces, and I struggled for months trying to glue the little shards back together.  As I frantically tried to figure out what my husband's cancer diagnosis meant for my family and I, I came to a point where I realized that I could not move forward and be an effective vessel for the Lord, an effective caretaker for my husband, and be a good mama to my son unless I learned to place my trust in the Lord for what my future was going to hold.  In other words, until I decided to strap on blinders and trust my Jockey to steer me safely to the finish line, I was not going to finish this race well.  In case the word "blinders" is not in your vocabulary, it is a piece of tack that is often used in racing and driving disciplines because some trainers feel that it helps keep the horse focused on what is directly in front of him instead of the distractions around him.

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we don't see.

I do not understand fully why God has placed us on this journey.  At times I see glimpses of the purposes that He has for us in the midst of this, but I do not get the whole picture.  Thankfully, that's not my job.  I am only to concern myself with my faith in God.  Hebrews 11 lists a lot of things that the giants of the Bible did because of their faith.  Then it continues as such...

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

Read the rest of Hebrews 11.  We are talking about people that have literally wandered the desert for years upon years, people who have taken gutsy risks, people who have endured unimaginable hardships, and waited years upon years to see their heirs materialize.  Not by choice, we have been placed on a difficult journey with seemingly insurmountable odds against us.  Our walls of Jericho are seriously tall.  And we may both die without completely understanding why God has thrown us this curveball.  Maybe Ryan will be healed, maybe he won't.  But just as a horse could easily be distracted by the perils and problems around him, so could we also fall prey to the tempting idea of self-pity and fear.

There is another choice, though, one that I'm thankful we have both resolved to make.  To live by blind faith is both a difficult and yet a very simple choice.  It is difficult because it requires us to lay down our very lives before the Lord and say, "Do what you will."  That is far easier to type than it is to actually do.  But truthfully, the actual process is simple.  Trust.  Trust.  Trust even when it makes no sense.  Strap on a set of blinders and quit looking around you at all of the potential danger.  Trust God even when your life is threatened.  Trust God even when you're seething with anger against Him.  Trust Him even when life is easy and it's so easy to drift away from His control and you don't "need" Him.  As a horse has to trust his master that he means him no harm, so we must trust that our God's plans for our lives really are intended for our spiritual prosperity.  Trust, trust, trust.

Proverbs 3
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.
7 Do not be wise in your own eyes; 
    fear the Lord and shun evil. 
8 This will bring health to your body 
    and nourishment to your bones.

So how does a horse make the decision to trust when there is a fire raging around him, or twenty other horses are jockeying for position around him?  And how do we trust God when life circumstances seem so daunting?

First, the horse leans not on his own understanding.  In all his ways, he submits to his master.

Throw something over a horse's eyes and ironically, instead of being fearful of not being able to see, he relaxes.  Instead of relying on his own poor eyesight to guide his steps, he relies upon the skillful, watchful hand of his loving master.  So also should we submit to the will of God in our lives, as His ways are truly higher than ours, but also have the promise that He works all things out to the good of those that love Him.

And secondly, we have to retool our thinking.  I think that if I were a horse, I would be a bucking horse.  I'm the type of person that bucks when a difficult situation crops up.  That is because I often forget this concept:  Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1: 2-4)  A wise person does not see problems, but only opportunities.  Trials are opportunities for us to mature in our faith, to encourage people in similar situations, and to demonstrate the work that God has done for us thus far.  God has done so much in my own heart in the last fifteen months that I can hardly remain bitter for this fork in the road.

What is holding you back from trusting in God?  Are you too distracted by the problems you face?  I would encourage you to embrace both concepts of Living in High Definition (knowing what truly matters in life and living life to honor God) and Living by Blind Faith (trusting God no matter what the possible outcome).  You will find your life richer for having placed blinders over your eyes and your reins in His hands!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

My daily battle against my biggest nemesis...

Every weekday I make my way to the basement of the hospital. I smile at all my new nurse friends and wait to be called back for my treatment. Once called, I walk into a room with a table and a huge machine at the head of the table. There is a custom-made mold that I lay down into and then two techs carefully position my body so all the dots on my body line up with the lasers of the machine. We're talking sub-millimeter precision.

Then I sit perfectly still. My legs are strapped together, and there is no moving at all.

As I stare at the ceiling waiting for the machine to turn on, my mind may be wandering.

Then it hits!

It starts small, barely noticeable. Then it builds, like a cartoon snowball rolling into a house-sized boulder! Its insatiable appetite cannot be satisfied. It becomes excruciating, consuming every thought I have to try and control it, all to no avail.

What is this powerful force that puts me into such agony?

An itch. A stupid, tiny, insurmountable itch. Sometimes on my nose, or my cheek, maybe my stomach or even a toe, but always there taunting me.

It knows I can't move and it has no mercy on my soul!

This itch can be a lot like worry. It starts small, almost unnoticeable. Just like I can't move to scratch the itch, most often our worries are about things we cannot control. Before too long, it builds and the more I try not to think about it, the worse it becomes until it becomes all-consuming!

Just writing about this I am itching all over!

So what's a guy to do about itches and worries?

1. Don't not think about - No matter how hard you try to "not think about it", you can't. Just simply trying to block it out of your mind will cause it to fester into a full-fledged concentration monster. It will overtake you simply by existing.

2. Accept your reality - During radiation I can't move. That's non-negotiable. There are many things in our lives that are out of our control. We worry because it may affect us or some one we love. However, we can't be the hero that saves everyone from everything. Sometimes things are out of our control and nothing we do can change that. Scratching the itch is not an option and many times removing the source of worry is also not possible.

3. Think of something lovely -
Philippians 4:8
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Instead of just "not thinking about it", think about something else. In order to take thoughts captive I often have to redirect my thinking. As I lay on that table a similar memory comes into my mind as I do my desperate battle against the itch.

It's my grandmother singing the hymn, "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus"
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Whatever situation you're facing, whatever your worry is, it is nothing in comparison to the riches we have awaiting us. We can't control when an itch comes, or when a worrisome thought arises. We can control how we respond to it. Are we going to take that thought captive? Will we let it grow and transform into a giant monster? The choice and the power to choose are ours.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Week 6 appointment times

About two thirds of the way there!

Monday: 1:40 pm
Tuesday: 8:40 am
Wednesday: 8:40 am
Thursday: 9:50 am
Friday: 7:30 am

(Central time)

We are down to the last week of separation. Ryan flies back to Zion tomorrow, then back to Muskegon on Friday. Then I will be driving him back next week because school is almost over! Hooray!

Friday, June 1, 2012

I was destined to be "great".

I always knew I was going to do big things with my life. I didn't know how, or when, but I knew.

That's what my Grandpa did, that's what my parents do, so that's what I would do.  Naturally.

So I began planning and preparing. I tracked out my goals, my career path, and my mentors. I was always "preparing" for when something would break through and things would finally take off. I founded a ministry when I was 20 using horses to teach spiritual and relational principles. The plan was to advance in my horsemanship, speaking, and presentational skills so that I could travel around the country teaching and sharing with horses.  I wanted to be big.

Fast forward to cancer.

I've been given a terminal cancer diagnosis. I've lost a lot of my physical aptitude. I had to sell my best horse because I didn't have the physical or mental ability to train him any more. I put my plans for a Master's degree on the shelf.  I struggle to think and even communicate my thoughts some days. I'm so tired and
drained emotionally, spiritually, and physically. 

I just saw my friend who was diagnosed a few weeks before me, die this week from his own fight with cancer. 

I'm weak, so weak. 

But, can I boast a little bit?
  1. This blog just hit 100,000 pageviews!
  2. It has been visited by people in over 80 countries like Qatar, Slovakia, Macau, South Korea, and Vietnam.
  3. I've had the chance to speak all over the state to all kinds of events and to thousands of people in the last couple months.
  4. I am currently working with an agent to help get two books published.
Praise be to God, He is using me more than He ever has.

But, I'm weaker now than I've ever been before.

The two things go together.

As Paul experienced with his thorn in the side, we are at our most useful when we are most broken. 

2 Corinthians 12:7-10
7 ... Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 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. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

It's easy to say, "God is stronger when I am weaker". Being weak is never "fun". Paul calls his struggle, "a messenger of Satan". That's not a comfortable or easy state to live in. However Paul has seen the other side. He knows what the joy and the peace of living a life in weakness brings. He also now realizes how pathetic he is on his own. Without God, and his sufficient grace, Paul couldn't do anything. 

I'm fulfilling those dreams to have an impact that God gave me years and years ago, but I never imagined it would be like this. I feel like God is doing all of this in spite of me, not because of me. When I think about my ability to achieve these things in the last year it seems impossible to me. 

It doesn't make any sense for a person who has limited time left, to spend time trying to build a ministry that largely focuses around their story. What good does popularity, or acclaim, or attention do you once you're gone? 

God has eliminated the option for arrogance and conceit. Should I think I can do this on my own, he knocks me down physically or mentally. Should I think this is all about me, it could be over right now. 

Therefore all that I do is solely to point people to Christ for HIS praise. The best way I can do that is to show how awesome my God is that he can use a broken down, mentally challenged, terminal cancer patient and prop him up to a place where anybody wants to listen to him!

The weaker I become the more glory God receives, then I become strong!