Saturday, December 29, 2012

Follow up to the tree blog...

This is how I'm spending my fun Saturday!

Artificial tree next year, perhaps?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Dancing Queen (or, the day we got great news).

Dancing Queen.  That is me right now.

Those of you that know me (and/or love me) know that "Dancing Queen" is a celebratory song in my life.  Weddings, baby showers, karaoke nights, or even just a car trip to the grocery store are all events in my life worthy of ABBA and an air microphone.

Well, grab your hairbrush and sing along, friends - I have great news that is definitely worthy of dancing.

We got some good news today!

A couple of days ago, Ryan and I outlined to each other what our best hope would be: minimal to no growth, that his pain would not be attributed to tumor growth, and (I secretly hoped) for no more chemo - for now at least.  Here are some bullet points that illustrate the news we got today:
  • Minimal growth - some of which could actually be inflammation from radiation
  • Great bloodwork that showed his bilirubin continues to decline, everything is stable
  • His pain is likely irritation from the radiation still, five weeks later (his tumors are on the outside of his liver, so radiating that area would cause the lining of his liver to hurt and be irritated)
  • The radiation treatment appears to have been effective, so we're going to do another one on another nearby section of his liver sometime the week of January 7th
  • The next chemo that he will do is not going to cause him to lose his hair - yes, that is totally my issue, but I like looking at Ryan and not seeing cancer written all over him.  My issue, yes.  I own that.
  • CT showed his lymph nodes are stable and show no changes.  That radiation he did this summer must have really caused those things to shut it down!  Yes!
  • The itchiness he's been feeling lately is not likely caused by his cancer, according to his oncologist - due to normal bloodwork and the position of the tumors on his liver.  Ryan has always been sensitive to dry winter air, but lately the itchiness has been intense and he's been concerned.
Well!  I'd say that it's time to go out and celebrate and sing songs - praises to our God from whom ALL blessings flow, AND perhaps do a little ABBA impression as well! :)

Have a great night, everyone!


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Scans tomorrow - and Merry Christmas

From our house (or hotel, where we are currently), Merry Christmas! Ryan has scans tomorrow morning and we will find out the results in the afternoon. We are grateful for your bringing us before the throne. I would say that our state of mind is pretty peaceful right now. We are trying not to pin a lot of emotions on these results - after all, God is still in control no matter the outcome!

Monday, December 24, 2012

What do we have in common with this Christmas tree?

Look at our beautiful Christmas tree!

Forgive the bright light.  The sun is shining here!

This lovely, lovely tree came home to our house on Thanksgiving weekend.  My dad helped Ryan and I bring it home, get it set up in its water stand, and I enjoyed an afternoon of Michael Buble Christmas music and lovingly trimming its branches with every single ornament we have.  Normally I only put up the pretty (read: meaningless) ornaments, but this year every ornament on the tree is represented.

The little Santa bell from Playa del Carmen.

"Baby's First Christmas" ornament from 1984.

Detroit Tigers baseball (naturally)

Christmas really brings out the magnanimous nature in me - I even brought out the Western ornaments.

...including this kind of creepy little guy.

Handpainted treasures from our son. He was kind of going for a Claude Monet look.

A little latte ornament because one of my students from last year picked up on the fact that I'm in love with Starbucks.
There are many, many more crazy ornaments up here.  I love it.  I used to fight the kitschy ornaments but now I love them.  Each one of them has a story behind it.

Our tree is lit every night as we go about our business in the living room, which is the same room as the dining room and kitchen (little house).  Last week I noticed that a great deal of pine needles were carpeting the tree skirt and covering the actual living room carpet.  Ryan told me that the tree was starting to dry out, despite our desperate attempt to keep the tree watered and healthy.

The past week, the tree has shown more and more signs of decline.  The inner branches are starting to look brown.  Literally when you touch the tree, or sit down too forcefully on one of the nearby couches, you can hear pine needles hitting the presents below.  Last night as Ryan and I watched a movie, the tree spontaneously shed about a thousand needles all at once and we listened as the gifts below the tree were pelted for ten seconds straight.  At this rate, I don't know if this tree is going to make it to Christmas - tomorrow.

So from far away, our tree loooks lovely with its lights, baseball ornaments, tulle, and keepsakes.  But upon closer inspection, here is what you'll find:

Bare branches.  Note the plethora of pine needles below.
Despite outward appearances, our tree is dying right before our very eyes.

Now, lest you think that this is a cancer analogy, it's not.  I'm not writing this blog to talk about hidden diseases or medical issues or anything like that.

I'm telling you that a lot of us are like that tree, whether we are physically healthy or not.

"...but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." John 4:14

These words were spoken a couple of thousand years ago by the very man whose birth we are celebrating tomorrow.  He had encountered a Samaritan woman and he broke many cultural barriers by actually speaking to her.  He confronted her about her wayward life - her many broken relationships and her current adulterous one - and told her about what was the only thing in life that would fulfill her desperate need.

I have been that Samaritan woman at different points of my life, covering up a multitude of sins by trying to appear outwardly like I had things pulled together, all the while drowning in a sea of sin, self-pity, and selfishness.

I'm willing to bet that many of you that are reading this can identify with having a sore need for Christ's forgiveness and His living water.  Many of you are bone dry, tired, and losing your needles at an alarming rate - yet keeping up appearances.

Jesus came into this world to heal, forgive, redeem, and restore.  The same baby that lay in the manger is the man who was whipped, abused, nailed to a cross, and rose again to defeat sin that we may live abundantly.

It's too late for my Christmas tree.  On December 27th, it will be stripped of its ornaments, dragged out of my house while leaving behind an enormous amount of needles for me to vacuum up.  It will join its cousins in the forest behind our house and rot away.

But it's not too late for you to experience Christ's forgiveness and drink of His living water.

I pray that this Christmas season would be one of refreshment for you, whether you already know Christ or not.  Our family continues to live with the hope that He is a healer of every physical hurt, and every spiritual need.  He is our Savior - our everything.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

I'm at war with a nasty enemy!

"I'd rather be in pain than be nauseous."

That's a statement I've made many times.

Well here's a new one. I'd rather be in pain than itchy! For the last six weeks I've had persistent pain that has had varying degrees of severity. At times early on it was pretty intense. Now it seems to come and go and I mostly feel it when I take deep breaths or bend the wrong way. After tests and more tests we all feel that this pain is a rare side affect from the Therasphere radiation treatment.

I can handle pain for some reason. I've had horses flip upside down on me and kept working. I've been kicked, punched, clobbered and more through many years of sports. I've broken bones, twisted ankles, and torn ligaments. The worst pain I ever experienced by far was pancreatitis due to a reaction from yet another medical test. That's another story though.

Every year during the Spring, Fall, and periodically through the winter the itchiness sets in. I'm not talking about a fleeting itch that a simple scratch can absolve. I'm talking about deep, burning, persistent, nerve-wracking itchiness. Sometimes it's all over. My thighs, belly, arms, legs, scalp and everywhere in between. Lately it's been more concentrated in my lower legs and feet.

This is concerning for two reasons.

One, it could be a symptom from the cancer called pruritis. The bile building up in my body causes me to itch, become jaundiced and more. It could just be the regular battle I do with extreme dry skin exacerbated by all my treatments. Either way, it's impossible to tell and so you always wonder.

Two, it's driving me nuts. I hate being itchy. It keeps me up at nights, wakes me up in the morning, distracts me through out the day, and overall is a constant nemesis. It is a battle I have to fight against a faceless enemy to chicken to show its face. Instead it torments me from afar. The more I scratch and dig the worse it gets. No amount of medicated lotion cures the problem. Don't even get me started on how insecure I am about being a cowboy with softer skin and smoother hands than a Johnson baby soap model!

Kendra asks me all the time if I'm afraid of the potential future effects of this cancer. If I'm in pain now, am I afraid of more intense pain in the future? I'm really not. I have always been able to handle pain, and there are things to help with that.

You know what I'm afraid of? Non-stop, intense, make-you-want-to-burn-your-own-skin-off itchiness. There's two reasons why.

1. I hate being itchy!

2. It makes me so grumpy that I could give Walter Matthau a run for his money! It tends to drive me nuts. I'm edgy, irritable, short, and frustrated. If this is just the beginning, I'm afraid of the test of my character that it will be. Do I have the seasoning to face this foe with the grace and charity that my family deserves? I sure hope so. I know I won't be able to do it out of my own strength.

I've really been thinking through the words "Strong" and "Courageous". This was the theme of the Christian camping conference I just came home from and I can't get it out of my head.

I'm going to expand more in a different post but basically I keep coming back to the thought, strength comes through surrender, courage comes through faith! It doesn't matter what it applies to, facing cancer or wanting to scratch my eyeballs out.

So here I go God.

I surrender my physical comfort to you. Should you in your infinite and perfect wisdom allow or place me into a place of temporary or permanent displeasure I will trust that you are God and that is where I'm supposed to be. God if I really love you and trust you then even though I'm afraid of the future and what it might mean, please give me the faith to obey you with my heart and my spirit. Please give me the grace to face the future no matter what it is in a way that honors and blesses you. I pray that those around me would be encouraged by my heart condition and not provoked, discouraged, or pulled away from you. God transform my character during this process. Teach me to manage my emotions and to not let my physical conditions affect my spiritual and emotional state of being. I pray You would remove this from me, but more than that I pray Your will be done. Thank you for all the blessing I do have. Thank you that twenty months later I'm really only complaining about being itchy. I don't deserve any of it, and yet you are a giver of good gifts. In Your name, Amen.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I'm Ornery

This week has been a great week. I'm not sure why. Even though I've felt up and down physically, I've had a deep sense of joy, peace, and fulfillment for a little over two weeks. I keep walking around just feeling so blessed and overwhelmed by what God has provided for me. Whether I was at a conference in San Diego, or sitting with my family reading books or watching movies, or having a couple really great days at work; I've emotionally and spiritually been in a great place the last couple weeks.

It's been wonderful.

Now I'm ornery! Why? I just found out today that we're going to be getting scans on December 26th. We knew they were coming but hadn't been able to pinpoint the date. Now I know, I'll be driving to a hospital to get scans and go through my least favorite part of this journey... on Christmas Day.

I'm not usually one who gets too hung up on holidays having to be celebrated on a certain day. For some reason this just isn't sitting well with me. I've been having the best time with my family ever lately and I am so excited for a little more quality time over Christmas. The last thing of all time I want to do is drive to Chicago to go to a hospital.

I'm so mad that Colton is going to spend Christmas night in a hotel. This combined with insomnia lately and not feeling too great today physically, have all led to me being a grouch tonight.

Here's the worse part. I'm mad about losing quality time with my family, and my response was to be a grump to my family???!!!!

What's wrong with me?

Can you relate to this one at all? Why is it that we often take out our frustrations on the people we love the most who may have nothing to do with the circumstances?

There's a lot of things I hate about cancer. I hate how it steals things from my life. I hate how it makes me feel violated and robbed. It intrudes into areas that I've tried to protect and keep "normal". I can't hide anything from it. Two summers ago we were blessed to spend a week at an incredible Lodge that friends allowed us to vacation at. Instead of totally relaxing, I was puking my guts out and had my worst cycle yet. Again, all I wanted was family time, instead I got more cancer crap!

Cancer invades like a plague. It looms over every part of your life. Like a dense fog that overtakes everything in its path, sometimes you just can't avoid it.

Sometimes it just plain makes you ornery, and that's okay. To be ornery. Unless you're a stepford wife or a robot, you're going to have emotions. What do you do with them though?

Ephesians 4:26

26 “In your anger do not sin”...

I crossed the line when I took things out on my family. Emotions are powerful. The same high I've been riding the last couple weeks was just as emotionally driven as the low I experienced today. If we rely solely on our emotions we'll either think too highly of our selves or before too long we'll come crashing down to reality.

It's God's truth that we must cling to so that our emotions don't betray us.

One of my favorite ways to praise God is to remember the names of God. My grandmother taught me this.

ELOHIM......Genesis 1:1, Psalm 19:1 meaning "God", a reference to God's power and might.
ADONAI......Malachi 1:6 meaning "Lord", a reference to the Lordship of God.
JEHOVAH--YAHWEH.....Genesis 2:4 a reference to God's divine salvation.
JEHOVAH-MACCADDESHEM.......Exodus 31:13 meaning "The Lord thy sanctifier"
JEHOVAH-ROHI......Psalm 23:1 meaning "The Lord my shepherd"
JEHOVAH-SHAMMAH.......Ezekiel 48:35 meaning "The Lord who is present"
JEHOVAH-RAPHA.........Exodus 15:26 meaning "The Lord our healer"
JEHOVAH-TSIDKENU......Jeremiah 23:6 meaning "The Lord our righteousness"
JEHOVAH-JIREH.........Genesis 22:13-14 meaning "The Lord will provide"
JEHOVAH-NISSI.........Exodus 17:15 meaning "The Lord our banner"
JEHOVAH-SHALOM........Judges 6:24 meaning "The Lord is peace"
JEHOVAH-SABBAOTH......Isaiah 6:1-3 meaning "The Lord of Hosts"
JEHOVAH-GMOLAH........Jeremiah 51:6 meaning "The God of Recompense"
EL-ELYON..............Genesis 14:17-20,Isaiah 14:13-14 meaning "The most high God
EL-ROI................Genesis 16:13 meaning "The strong one who sees"
EL-SHADDAI............Genesis 17:1,Psalm 91:1 meaning "The God of the mountains or God Almighty"
EL-OLAM...............Isaiah 40:28-31 meaning "The everlasting God"

(taken from

Regardless of how I feel, when I remind myself of who the God I serve is, my faith is encouraged.

Regardless of where I will spend my evening Christmas night, or what tests, stress, and anxiety await me the next day, my God is still; the God of the mountains, the Lord my shepherd, and the everlasting God!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Trust, Obey, Be Joyful.

Another season has arrived since Ryan's diagnosis.

Green leaves, red leaves, no leaves, little leaves, green leaves, red leaves, and now no leaves again.

And here I am, still learning the same lessons over and over again.  I think that I am probably causing my Heavenly Father to facepalm several times a month - "Will this girl ever learn?"

And the answer is, no, probably not.  Even though we (Christians) continue to grow and stretch and become mature in our faith and more Christlike, I think we all have moments where we backslide or forget who is boss.  At least, I hope other people experience moments like that - anyone?  Anyone?

It seems like lately, the Lord has breathed three words into my ear.

"Kendra, my dear daughter...TRUST.  OBEY.  JOY."

And I'd like to tell you more about what I'm learning from Him.


Essentially, our relationship with our Lord boils down to a trust issue.  When we first become a Christian (side note: that was exactly 12 years ago today for me!  Happy anniversary, Jesus.  I love you), we trusted our hearts and our souls to Him.  And from that moment on, the trajectory of our relationship with God is directly proportional to our level of trust in Him.  After all, how can you have a relationship with someone that you cannot trust?

God's sovereign will is often in conflict with our human selfishness.  Anytime that He has other plans for us that would not be our choice, we are faced with the choice of whether to trust Him or to try to wrest back some semblance of control and live selfishly.  But until we take the plunge and simply make the choice (because that's all it is - a choice) to trust Him, our relationship will be stagnant and our attempts to mature in our faith will shortcircuit.  In no way can we be content in our circumstances until we simply trust.  And then choose to trust again.  And keep trusting.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3: 3-5


Out of the decision to trust, we are called to obey.  When I read the Bible, I don't see that the faith of the saints was one of passivity, but rather one where they almost constantly pursued advancing the kingdom of God.  I don't think that God intended for us to rest back on our laurels and enjoy the comforts of eternal security.  Personally, I think that comfort is a dangerous, dangerous place for us to be.  Comfort breeds complacency.  And complacency lets us believe the lie that we are only called to faith - but recall that faith without works is dead.

As Ryan and I have attempted to learn what it means to live in radical obedience, we've been pretty shocked at some of the stuff that He has suggested we do.  Sometimes it has been stuff that I haven't personally liked or agreed with or understood.  However, that is another exercise to trust.  Trust and obedience are intricately intertwined, and we cannot do one without the other.


Even though I don't like what God has placed in my life, even though He has asked me to do some tough stuff that I didn't want to do, I still have had to learn to live my life with joy in spite of that.  Consider that Paul tells us:

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. James 1: 2-4

I have learned that joy is not an emotion and not akin to happiness.  Joy is a lifestyle.  Joy is being thankful for what we have, and it is a submission to the Lord's will.  It is an acknowledgement that despite pain sometimes entering our lives, despite disagreeing with the nature of the task at hand, that God's plan for our lives is always good and always best.  When I choose to live my life with joy, my attitude is one of thankfulness and peace, not bitterness and discontent.

It is a far cry from being able to write a blog about the three themes in my life, and actually living them.  Every moment that I think I've arrived, the Holy Spirit seems to shine a giant spotlight on another area of my life that needs polishing and cleaning up.  I am a total work in progress, but grateful that the Lord considers me an object worthy of his cleaning rags.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The question I hate the most.

I'm so frustrated of being asked that question. Everywhere I go everywhere I turn around I get asked, "so how are you doing?". As soon as the words start coming out my anxiety rises and I start getting irritated.

Here's the catch though, it's not the people or the question that bothers me. I actually really feel cared for when people ask how I'm doing. Many people apologize before they ask and there is really no need. I don't mind you asking.

I'm also very comfortable talking about myself and my condition. I don't have a problem discussing my medical experiences, treatments, and options.

So what drives me nuts?

The answer, I can't answer this question. It's getting steadily harder and harder to try and share how Kendra and I are doing. Physically is a simple answer. It's emotionally and personally that is almost impossible to describe. So I get frustrated not at you or the question, but at me and the answer.

Here's why it's so hard. The answer is complete opposites most of the time. I'm doing great and terrible all at once. I'm healing and I'm dying all at once. We feel an indescribable sense of peace and God's grace and also cry into each others arms during moments of fear and terror.

For example, Kendra and I may drive down the road and see a house or a condominium and start having a very casual conversation about whether she would want to live in a condominium if I die. Five minutes later we might be talking about where to take our grandchildren on vacation.

I can go from feeling closer and more intimately connected with Kendra to irrational emotional outbursts and a hard heart from day to day.

The longer this battle wanes on the better and worse we are doing. The pressure is still very real, and for Kendra the grind of living life, working full time, being a mom, a caregiver and more are overwhelming at times. For me due to the side effects I continue to feel further removed from the person I always used to be.

So how do I answer the question? To answer "great" or "terrible" would only be giving half the answer. I can't figure out how to describe this duality of emotions though. So I'll probably continue telling folks that I'm doing well but it is a daily battle.

So please don't stop asking me (or others in my situation) how I'm doing.  I appreciate your concern.

But know that sometimes, it's the most difficult question of all.

And if the answer may not make sense to you, perhaps you'll know why.