Cancer and Survivor’s Guilt

Ten years. Cancer free. It almost seems unbelievable, how fast it’s all gone. I’ve been thinking about this anniversary, and as usual, I seem to be stuffing my inner most feelings. I’m afraid to go that deep. I should have some words of wisdom or some deep reflection about this anniversary, but my emotions seem to be all over the place, so I’m stuffing them.

I don’t talk about my cancer journey often, but when I do, it’s only with the hope of encouraging someone else. Everyone’s cancer journey is different, so I can’t presume to know what another is feeling. But as I reflect on my ten years of being a survivor (or 15, if you count the first time I had cancer), I’m feeling emotions that I haven’t seen much written or talked about.

I think I have survivor’s guilt.

Don’t get me wrong. Today needs to be a day of celebration and gratitude from the deepest parts of my soul. Gratitude to God for providing the right doctors at the right time. For our second opinion doctor about post-surgery treatment, for my husband, children and family  for their continuing love and support. I feel all of that.

But deep down, the emotions are startling to me. If I let reality in, the reality that I could’ve died, the reality that I survived when I know of so many others who have lost their cancer battles, then that will make me crumble.

I want to acknowledge this day, this moment, instead of crumbling. Life is good right now, there are so many blessings of family, friends and grandchildren!  But with all of that comes the question of how can I live up to being a cancer survivor?

I was spared when others weren’t.

This is why my emotions are all over the place. I never thought of survivor’s guilt with cancer. I think I’ve felt this way for a long time. Every time someone lost their cancer battle, I felt guilty for “winning” mine. I know God has a purpose for it all, but it doesn’t make it easy to understand.

So, how do I resolve this?

Instead of putting enormous pressure on myself to do something monumental, perhaps I need to just look at my purpose day-to-day. Maybe an act of kindness every day is monumental. Taking a friend to lunch. Heck, having a nice warm dinner ready for my husband after his long commute home from work on cold, wet roads. Is that enough? Being a good Grammy and loving on my precious grandchildren, is that monumental enough? Is it “fulfilling my purpose?” I say yes to all of the above. Perhaps my big purpose in life may be how well I live my life day-to-day.

For today, while inwardly, I may struggle with the emotions of being a survivor, outwardly, I celebrate. I thank God for giving me these ten years and I pray I’ll have many more. I pray I find a way to live up to being one of the survivors of this horrible disease.

And maybe it’s all that any of us can do. Most of us won’t influence the entire world, but we can influence those around us.

I may never be world-famous or change the world, but I can serve a purpose with the world around me.

 

Do You Have Four Minutes?

Right now seems to be a season of flux for me. It looks like some changes are coming. For one, I’m taking a break right now from working on any novels. I am still writing daily using a writing prompt, and I hope to work on this blog a little more. But I will need to make some decisions about what direction I want to go with my career soon.

As a Christian, I want to follow God’s path for my life. I want to  use the gifts He’s given me for His good, not mine. Most of the time, I feel like I just need to get out of the way and quit overthinking everything.  There are some very simple mantras that stick in my head, like “Do the Work.” Or “Take Action.” Both of those are great and exactly what I need to do. But when you’re lost on which direction to go, it’s easy to just stop. And that doesn’t feel right either.

hourglass-1703330_1280Sometimes, though, it’s okay to stop. Take a break. Just breathe for a moment. And that’s where the title of this blog comes in: Do you have four minutes?

Recently at church, one of our teaching pastors, Ryan Leak (@ryanleak), talked about our prayer life. In this fast-paced world, we’re not always stopping to pray, and most certainly aren’t taking time out for quiet time with the Lord. We all know the passage in Psalm 46 that says “Be Still and know that I am God.” Yet most of us aren’t still. So, Ryan suggested an experiment. For four minutes, you sit still. Set a timer (because yes, it feels strange at first). But quiet yourself. You can start out praying, but God knows our hearts. He hears from us enough, but do we take time to hear from Him? So be still, for four minutes. And absorb the silence.

Now, you may not hear the booming voice of God. You may not hear anything. The answers may not come, but for four minutes, you focus on God. You quiet your heart. Maybe you find peace.

As I’m struggling in this season where I’m purposely taking a break, I’m going to try to be still for four minutes a day. Will I find the answers I need? Will my path suddenly appear before me? I don’t know. But I do know that for four minutes a day, I will revel in the quiet. I will settle my racing thoughts. I will have a peaceful moment. Maybe the answers will come, maybe they won’t. But I do know they certainly won’t come unless I stop long enough to listen. I’m setting aside four minutes a day to listen.

What about you? Do you have four minutes?

Little Things

This summer seems to be filled with anger from an ugly political season and violence. Many people I know are also facing tough times, with health issues and tragic deaths in their families. For me, I’m just upset about computer problems. That may seem minor, but my entire job is on the computer and this time of year, having everything work is critical.

Ok, compared to what others are going through, I have no problems. However, all that to say is when you feel surrounded by sadness or anger, how do you battle through? How do you keep from being pulled into the pit of negativity? Life events may take us to negative places, but how do you not stay there?

For me, I find solace in little things. Admittedly, sometimes I have to look hard for the little things that are positive, but they’re there. The other night, in the midst of my computer frustration, a friend texted me. The conversation evolved from what I’m not doing to how to reach future goals. She lifted my spirits in unexpected ways.

Then the next day was just coffee and breakfast with a friend. Thinking that I really didn’t have time to be away from my desk, I felt rushed and hurried when I arrived to meet her. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to see my friend. But I was concerned about the timing of our visit. As always, God showed up then. That breakfast had good conversation, serious thoughts that moved to laughter, and a sweet morning of sharing. I’m so glad I took the time. It was the boost I needed to power through the rest of my work day.

None of this will solve the grief my friends are experiencing with tragic deaths of relatives, or help others with serious health issues. But friends, family, and little moments can help all of us get through one day to the next. Knowing friends are there for prayers and support are God’s way of saying “I still have this.”

So despite the turmoil surrounding us, we cling to our faith. God’s still got this. He has us! He’ll make a way for us to walk through these trying times.

I’m determined to cling to His promises and to look for the little things.

What I’ve Learned from “The Voice”

For the past couple of seasons, I’ve been a fan of “The Voice” on TV. And this season, it struck me what I’ve learned from watching the show.
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First, I believe we all like to watch these type of talent shows because it’s always a thrill to watch people go for their dreams. I appreciate “The Voice” in particular because it’s a positive show. The coaches can teach someone, share their knowledge and help that person improve without tearing them down and being so negative. You can learn from being positive and from being encouraging. There’s enough negativity and tearing down of people in this world that I really appreciate watching singers grow in their craft from working hard and receiving positive encouragement.

But something struck me recently that applies in my own life. One of the singers was afraid to call themselves an artist, to call themselves a professional. Immediately, Pharrell Williams said “You are an artist and you need to own that. Don’t think of yourself as anything less.” (I’m paraphrasing). You know what? Pharrell is absolutely right. These singers obviously have talent and they need to own that talent.

In hanging around with other writers, I see that we’re guilty of the same thing. I see so many, especially early-on in their writing journey, afraid to call themselves “writers”. I was guilty of that as well. But yes, I am a writer. Whether I’ve been published or not, whether I’m struggling, and whether or not I feel like I’ll ever be able to complete my novel – I’m still a writer.

Owning up to be an artist of any sort doesn’t mean you walk around strutting your stuff like you’re better than anyone else. It means you acknowledge your talent, and like the singers on “The Voice,” you work hard to improve, to learn and to grow in your craft.

God will take you where He wants you to go on this journey, but you have to work hard and never stop learning.

By owning up and saying “I’m a writer” (maybe again and again), it’s a way to encourage myself to keep going and keep striving to sit down in front of that computer to write the words.

Everyone is an artist of some sort. Whether you’re in the creative arts or not, you need to own what you’re talent is.

Next time you’re struggling tell yourself “I’m an artist.” Maybe it will inspire you to keep going during those tough days.

What tips do you have? Would a mantra like this work for you?

2015: The Year of the Unchosen Path

Our message last week at church was called “The Unchosen Path.” And wow, did that title resonate with me when I thought about 2015. It was definitely the year of walking a path I did not choose!
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I’ve called 2015 my year of change. Everything turned upside down. It was the year I finally felt my age, and felt “old.” I’m usually the one who still happily admits my true age and that I’m grateful to have made it this far. I didn’t have a fear of growing old. But some of that changed last year. I wouldn’t say 2015 was a bad year, it was just a hard year. And many times, I dwelled too much on the negative. It was so easy to do. However, my husband, God bless him, kept reminding me that there were still a lot of positives from 2015:

First and foremost, we learned we will be grandparents for the first time! Our daughter announced her pregnancy over Father’s Day weekend, and we’re anxiously awaiting the birth of our grandchild in a couple of weeks. It’s an exciting time as we watch our daughter embrace her pregnancy and impending motherhood.

Second, our son and his wife had their first home built and are settling in with their careers and life together. Life is good for our kids. Praise God.

Next, despite the serious health challenges that my mother faced in 2015, and the way both Mom and Dad’s world changed forever, there were good things that came from that as well. One is a stronger relationship with my father. I grew up as a daddy’s girl, and our relationship has always been good, but while Mom was in the hospital, Dad and I spent our evenings just talking and sharing, and found ways to laugh and cry together. An even deeper bond formed between us during dark and uncertain days.

There was also bonding with my brothers. One brother I was rather angry with, but we were able to have an adult conversation, and share our feelings openly and honestly about the situation. We ended with a mutual understanding of each other’s viewpoints and a deeper love and respect for each other. Amazing what happens when you can sit down and talk (not yell, not argue), and just try to understand what the other is feeling. Love that this happened.

Another brother had a complete life change in 2015, with a move to another state and more. Witnessing and sharing in this positive and happy change for him makes me smile.

And with all my trips back and forth to be with my parents (who live in a different state), I am grateful to have a renewed friendship with someone I hadn’t seen in several years. Those years melted away when we got back together. Oh, how I wish we lived in the same town, but I’m thankful to keep in touch with her and her husband and grateful to have a restored relationship now.

Also in 2015, my husband and I began leading a church life group. We didn’t feel qualified to do this, but we jumped in, even in the midst of everything that was swirling around us at the time. And guess what? We’re having a great time. Our life group members are blessing us more than they realize. So thankful we took the chance even when the timing wasn’t perfect. I guess there’s a lesson in there somewhere. 🙂

As usual, when you go through a difficult crisis, you find strength that you never knew you had. That’s God’s gift to us, because He is the one who strengthens us. He is always there, even on the dark days when you don’t feel His presence. He doesn’t waste the pain we go through at times.

While it was easy to focus on the negative of 2015, my husband taught me to focus on the positives that still occurred during a tough year. And lo and behold, there were many. 2015’s journey may have been a path I wouldn’t have chosen, but in the long run, it’s a path we conquered, and many of these good things that happened, wouldn’t have happened without the hard events first.

It’s amazing how our God works when we stop, reflect, and listen for His voice.

The Last Normal Day, Part 2

I had written a post back in 2013 called “The Last Normal Day.”  Recent events in my world having me pondering this again.  Everything changed for my family about 10 days ago. Changes that have us on quite the roller coaster ride. The good news is that we should have a positive outcome — but our world has changed. There is no doubt.

It’s time to revisit the post from 2013. The question at the bottom is an important one: What will you do with today? Here’s the original post:

What if today was the last “normal” day of your life? What if everything changed tomorrow?

It happened earlier this year with the devastating tornadoes in Moore and Shawnee, Oklahoma.

It could happen to me when it’s time for my annual cancer screening (MRI, Mammogram, Sonogram day). What if I don’t get the “all clear” words that I’m praying for? What if there’s a recurrence?

Any recurrence would be scarier than the one before. Because cancer comes back. It really needs to just leave me alone!

Back to today — how am I going to spend today?

It really is true that time, friends, family are all so precious. Even after having cancer twice, I still take so much for granted, although I try to hang on the special moments.

It’s too easy to get back into the groove and grind of daily life.

But we all need to take a moment and ask, “what if this is the last normal day? What if everything changes tomorrow?”

What will you do with today?

For a Limited Time

We’re surrounded on a daily basis with advertisements that say “Act Now,” only available “For a Limited Time.” The goal is to make the consumer believe they can’t live without the product or that your life will be enhanced if you have this product RIGHT NOW.
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All of that got to me thinking about our life here on earth. Most of the time we walk around with the attitude that we have plenty of time (at least I do). Even after two bouts with cancer, I still feel like I have a long life in front of me. And maybe I do. Only God knows how long I have here.

But most of us also know of someone we lost way too soon, whether it be to cancer, an accident or any other cause. Thinking about a life gone too soon makes all of us not want to take our own lives for granted or throw away the time we have to spend.

We are all on this earth “for a limited time.” So, what are you doing with your limited time?

There are days when I feel like I’m wasting time, throwing away those precious days. If we truly believe we are here for a limited time, then what’s stopping us from achieving our goals? Calling a friend? Telling a family member that you love them?

Our life is precious — let’s make it count, for our limited time.

A New Perspective on “One Word” for the Year

If you’re like me, you know several people who choose “one word” for the year and try to live by that word. I’ve done it myself. Many are talking about it now as we’re preparing to go into the new year.
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This has got me thinking (always a dangerous thing! :)) There’s a song out now that keeps echoing in my head:

“When you don’t know what to say, just say Jesus. There’s power in the name….”

Last year, my word was “shine.” I wanted to shine Christ through me and shine in all I did, I wanted to make sure my focus was on Him.

And every time I felt like I was failing, or when I was having a bad day, I would pray. And the first word out of my mouth was “Jesus.”

I had already picked out my word for 2015, which was “time.” You know, time for God, time for others, better time management at work. You get the idea. The thing is, none of that can be accomplished without Jesus first.

While it’s great to ponder whatever word is on your heart for the new year, or if you don’t utilize “one word”, let’s not forget to name the most important: Jesus. Nothing we want to accomplish in the new year can be done without Him.

So perhaps, every year, every month, every day, we already know what our “one word” should be: Jesus.

Wishing you many blessings for 2015.

Stay focused on the one who saved us.

Tripping Over Today

“We’re looking so forward to tomorrow that we’re tripping over today. God has placed you where you are, right now, totally on purpose.” 31 Days to Thrive, Day 24, from Casting Crowns.

Those words particularly struck me this morning. I was wide awake the night before last, tossing and turning at 3:30 in the morning, with my mind going 90 miles per hour over my to-do list for work.

I was angry at myself for thinking about all of these things, when I really couldn’t do anything about them at that moment.

Even through my frustration, I was praying for God to settle my mind… I knew He had things in hand, yet there I was, wrestling with my thoughts in the middle of the night. Did I really have faith?

Yes, I have faith, I just have weak moments.

So, this morning’s devotional about tripping over today hit home a little bit. All of my concerns were about an event that’s a month away. And while there is preparation and planning to be done, my focus needs to be on one item at a time. Plowing through my list and knowing God is in control. My panic about doing everything right, making sure everything is done, took over and God took the backseat.

Time to change that. Time to focus on today and the blessings and challenges and the plans God has for me TODAY.

I remember an old saying that stated: God is my co-pilot. Well, that needs to change.   God is my pilot and all I need to do is focus on today.

How about you? Are you tripping over today worrying about tomorrow? How do you focus on today?

Being There

As I write this, the world is talking about the shocking passing of Robin Williams. As the TV talking heads are going through his television and movie credits, I realize how many of his movies I’ve seen… and loved.  It is incredibly sad to lose such a great talent.

But through all of this discussion, this man who is being heralded as a comic legend, who entertained millions, has suddenly become very human.  Yes, we tend to put celebrities on a pedestal, forgetting that along with their immense talent, they are human beings, going through this life of ups and downs, marriage, children and everything else.

Obviously, Robin Williams was battling more.  He was always open about substance abuse, but did many of us realize he struggled with depression?  Severe depression.

It’s almost inconceivable that someone who was so loved and admired was in such a dark and lonely place where he was driven to take his own life.  He brought such laughter to everyone else, but couldn’t find the joy for himself. It’s tragic.

I’m almost embarrassed with my last post, when I talk about “wallowing” in my own sadness of recent events in my life.  Thankfully, I haven’t been to the darkest place where I’ve thought of a “permanent solution to a temporary problem.”  I always knew I’d pull out of this and things would get better.

But I didn’t share with many how sad I was feeling.  I don’t always share, because I don’t want to burden others, I don’t want to come across as a whiner, and I don’t want to be considered a negative person.

Was that mindset preventing me from getting the support and encouragement I needed at the time?  How do you balance reaching out without being a whiner?  How do you invite people in without pushing them away?

Hopefully, more discussion will come from this awful passing of Robin Williams about depression, about how to help others.  One thing I heard this morning was just be there. You may not be able to solve the problem, but you can come along beside someone and just remind them that they mean something to you, that their life has value.

Maybe this is a reminder to all of us to hug your family and friends and say “I love you.”  I hate that we have to be reminded, and that we’re usually reminded when someone else has died. We need make this part of our daily lives.

Life is short.  Reach out to someone.  Touch base.  Just be with someone today and hold their hand, give them a hug…. heck, just smile at someone and wish them a wonderful day.

What a difference we could make if we all did that every day.