Tag Archives: breast cancer

When Your Little Sister Turns Out To Be Your Hero

My youngest sister doesn’t look like a strong woman. A “do-rag” covers her shiny bald head and these days she’s tipping the scales at just over 100 pounds. She isn’t much of a threat to anyone or anything.

Or is she?

Just after my ninth birthday, around the time I was getting used to the idea of having a new step-mom, our family of three little girls expanded to include a fourth. As far as I was concerned, my blonde-haired, hazel-eyed step-sister was a special gift sent just for me. I happily assumed the role of “little mother.”

But, by the time I reached the hormonally challenging age of 13, I was wearing annoyance like a huge placard that read “Stay Away”. I was the oldest sister and I didn’t have time for playing with dolls or pushing my little sister in a swing. My world was “me” and to escape my younger siblings (which by now included a baby brother), I hid out in my room. A lot.

The summer my horse-loving little sister fell off her pony and suffered a severely broken elbow jolted me out of my self-absorption. A pin was inserted in her elbow and she was in the hospital for days. Who did she ask for? Me — the big sister who hadn’t given her so much as a glance for a couple of years. I was the person she most wanted at her bedside. At 16, I took my seven-year-old sister seriously and spent a couple of nights in a chair by her hospital bed. Seeing that skinny little blonde kid sleeping with her arm in traction, I realized she’d developed a case of hero worship. I didn’t feel worthy.

Once I knew what was at stake, I tried to pay more attention to my little sis, mostly at my convenience. I was amused by the fact she wanted to do whatever I was doing. Dress like I dressed, grow her hair long like mine — hers blonde, mine brunette.

The depth of my tomboy little sister’s devotion was on display when she let a hairdresser pile her hair in elaborate curls and donned a very girlie dress just so that she could be in my wedding. In photographs from the day, she looks a little uncomfortable, but she’s smiling at me like I’m a queen and she’s the princess.

We grew up, the two of us. Marriages, kids, careers. Slowly, the nine-year gap shrank. In time, we joined forces in the task of keeping our aging parents healthy and happy. Like bookends, we learned to hold it together and frame the sometimes challenging dynamics of a blended family.

We also became friends.

When we lost Mom last year, the friendship we’d cultivated was our strength. The two of us tag-teamed, covering the many decisions and responsibilities of arranging for Mom’s funeral and moving Dad to a nursing home. Our siblings helped, but most things passed through us. Our bond was strengthened.

Then one evening, I received another wake-up call from my sister. She’d found a lump in her breast. Cancer.

As a survivor of breast cancer myself, I was tempted to tease her about following in her big sister’s footsteps. Somehow, it wasn’t funny. She’d been there for me in my own collision with cancer; hers seemed more real. I wanted to protect her. She’s my little sister and my friend.

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother (sister) is born for a time of adversity.” Proverbs 17:17, NIV

What do you do when the playing field is leveled by cancer? You pull up a chair. Click To Tweet

So, I sit beside my sister while drugs drip into her body, attacking cancer cells and killing every other good thing that her body produces, and I’m amazed at how brave she is. With surgery and reconstruction part of the plan, it will be months before this journey ends.

The irony is, the year before her diagnosis my sister agreed to lead a Livestrong class at our local YMCA. The mission of Livestrong, founded by cyclist Lance Armstrong, is “to improve the lives of people affected by cancer.” Her class of cancer survivors has become her own support team. Fit and healthy in every way, my sister is tackling cancer head-on. She’s determined to beat it. I believe she will.

Funny thing about hero worship – it goes both ways. My baby sister is my hero. And she’s the strongest woman I know.

When Cancer Is Her Truth, She Needs You: Write for 31 Days

photo (24)

It was a beautiful Fall day, a good day for the three of us “sisters from another mister” to share some shopping, fellowship, sushi.

And, oh yes, a mammogram.

One of my friends had a scare in the past, so we went with her for this appointment. We prayed for her as she underwent this most dreaded of tests on the morning of our outing. (My other friend has had just one mammogram in her lifetime and says she doesn’t plan to have another any time soon.)

The day after our outing, my friend with the appointment received a dreaded call: “We need to see you again. We’ve found a shadow.” Her next appointment is Monday.

I know the fear that rests in her heart. Two years ago next month, I got the same call, had the same follow-up mammogram, followed by an ultrasound and a biopsy. Just a tiny speck, but it turned out to be an insidious growth — a fast-growing, estrogen-fed tumor.

Because the cancer was discovered early, my treatment was brief but intense. After surgery, I underwent five days of radiation treatments, twice a day. No chemotherapy was prescribed, but I was given an estrogen inhibitor that I am expected to take for the rest of my life.

I’ve had several friends before and after my brush with cancer who had a much greater trial. A dear 70-something woman in our church is currently sporting a lovely bald head (when she chooses not to wear her wig or a cap) and is as beautiful and perky as ever — except on the days when the chemo lays her low. And even then, she is beautiful.

Margaret Feinberg Photo Courtesy of Amazon

Margaret Feinberg
Photo Courtesy of Amazon

Because I’ve “been there, done that, got the T-shirt”, I kind of know what to say to these friends in their time of need, but maybe some of you don’t. If you love someone who is dealing with breast cancer and you want to know how you can help, I’d like to share a recent post by author and Bible teacher Margaret Feinberg. Margaret is also a survivor of breast cancer. Her recent blog post says just what I would say, only better.

Here is Margaret’s advice:

She needs YOU. Yes, YOU. You are God’s plan. You are the one to give the gift of presence.

I know it’s scary. I know it’s hard. I know it’s uncomfortable.

But YOU are the one who is meant to be there for the long haul. Everyone is going to disappear in a few weeks or months or once chemo is over…but the toll this will take on her will last long, long beyond that.

What to Say:

Remember the magic words: You’re in my thoughts, you’re in my prayers, and you are loved. Keep in touch. Set a reminder on your phone once a week. Text her and say, “In my thoughts and prayers today.” She doesn’t need you to fix anything or say any magical words. She just needs to know you are present and there. This will be particularly true in six months when she feels all alone, alone, alone.

What to Do:

Offer to do things beyond cook a meal (EVERYONE wants to do that). Instead, pick up the lawn mower. Hire a handyman for a few hours. Pick up gas gift cards (she’s going to drive a billion miles to the hospital). Don’t buy her anything pink. She’ll be sweet, but there will be a period of time (and it may last forever) that she’ll hate everything pink. Some women find their identities in cancer. Most of us don’t. We end up de-pinking everything in our lives.

What to Give:

Avoid giving to middle-men breast cancer organizations on her behalf. “Despite the fact that Komen trademarked the phrase ’for the cure,’ only 16 percent of the $472 million raised in 2011, the most recent year for which financial reports are available, went toward research,” according to The New York Times.

And .16 cents on every dollar going toward to research ain’t gonna buy anyone a cure. We need the whole dollar going to research.

If she wants you to give, give directly to researchers so the whole amount goes to beating this disease. Rather than do a walk on her behalf, get together with friends and put together cash. Ask her to hand over one of her medical bills up to a certain amount and pay it. She will probably pay maximum out of pocket for years to come and max out in certain areas of insurance coverage (don’t tell her yet—she has is a lot to take in).

If she has any type of treatment plan that extends beyond 12 weeks, know that this is going to take a heavy financial toll on her and her family. Some treatment plans, like mine, last more than a year. She or her spouse may be struggling to hold onto her job to support her family or keep her health insurance. If at all possible, do what you can to make sure her family has work, a job, and insurance.

It’s all big and scary. But remember, as followers of Jesus, we’re the people who run in when everyone else is running out.

You got this. You can do this. She needs you. Be there. Don’t leave. No matter what.

Margaret Feinberg

For more information and to meet Margaret, visit her blog at http://margaretfeinberg.com/breast-cancer-help/#more-28374


I’ve got a new entry in my calendar for November — my annual mammogram. I’m choosing to approach it as a fearless victor, because to keep the appointment with any other expectation would be self-defeating. And because I believe…..

God has already won this battle.

I think I’ll put THAT on a T-shirt!

http://write31days.com/Today’s “God-Spot” is a date circled on my calendar. For Day 24 of the quest to Write for 31 Days, I want to share an important message for people who love someone with breast cancer. They need you. To read more posts from my 31 days of blogging, click on the button.

It’s True: There’s No Time Like the Present

Hanging on the wall above my desk is a tiny German clock. One of my sons gave it to me for Christmas a year ago. Just like a grown-up cuckoo clock, this one must be wound daily.clock Though it is beautiful and I treasure it because it was a gift from the heart of someone I love deeply, I must admit I don’t always take the time to wind it. But when I do, its gentle tick-tock is a comfort and brings a rhythm to my thoughts while I write.

Reflecting on the events of this past year, I realize this little ticking clock represents more than minutes adding up to hours, days, weeks. It represents all that spills into those moments — the mundane, the profound, the lovely and the frightening.

When my son gave me the clock on Christmas, our family viewed the year ahead as a clean slate, a continuation of life as we knew it. None of us was aware that the landscape of that year would be altered by a new reality — cancer.

My breast cancer diagnosis had not been made at Christmas time, but because there had been tests and I was awaiting the results, I hid a nugget of fear buried deep during those holidays. Two weeks into the new year, my family and I faced this new reality head-on, as my husband and two youngest sons gathered around my hospital bed along with a dear friend while we awaited surgery, and while the two oldest sons waited in far-away cities for the prognosis.

It was good news. They got it all. Minimal radiation was prescribed and by the end of the month, I had packed up the word “cancer” and stepped back into the fullness of my life as wife, mother, daughter, business partner, writer, friend.

The same life……..but different.

How does one explain what happens when you’re lifted from that dark, lonely place where fears are nursed and allowed to dwell?

When standing at the edge of the ocean feels like a fresh beginning?


When cuddling a small child in a foreign country holds the weight of promise?holding baby

When walking down the lane on a snowy morning becomes a journey of praise and gratitude?snow

When the sight of an ugly scar turns into a celebration of triumph?

And when today matters so much more than yesterday…..or even tomorrow?cherish sepia

In the midst of this trial, even on the days when my body has ached because of chemicals prescribed to keep the cancer at bay, I have found the fullness of the present to be so much more satisfying than dwelling on the past and yearning for the future.

“…..do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

From His mountaintop, Jesus pulled those who were following Him out of their dark place of doom and gloom to stand beside Him.

“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?…….Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34

For someone whose middle name has been “Worry”, these are words to “Write….on the door frames of (my) house and on (my) gates.” (Deut 6:9)

I’ve prayed for many things over the past year — handed my fears over to God, laid those “what ifs” at His feet, circled the “what next” in daily petitions. And inch-by-inch, I’ve found myself stepping closer to My Creator, asking Him instead….

“What about today? Where will You lead me if I will just follow?”

And at the close of this year, God gave me a bonus. Those words……“add a single hour to your life”…….were on the lips of my doctor on the last day of the year as I met with him for a check-up. After months of aching bones and a foggy brain, this doctor, in his wisdom and in answer to prayer, tells me I can stop the drug and end the damage it is doing to my bones. “Because it will not add a single hour to your life.”

And with that decision, I realize that in addition to the gift of life, I’ve been given the gift of quality of life. At least for today. For now.

That’s all I ask for….a gift of the PRESENT. And there’s just no time like it.

When Cancer Enters Your Landscape

My friend sat at her daughter’s bedside, holding her hand, whispering prayers as the daughter lay in the Intensive Care Unit. This young, single mother had just barely survived an automobile crash.

The man she hoped to build a life with did not.

Healing — of heart and body — have taken many prayers. For my friend, for her daughter and for the family of that young man.

Ten months ago tomorrow, this same friend sat at my bedside, holding my hand, offering prayers as I awaited surgery to remove a cancerous lump from my breast. Physical healing began that day, as doctors used skill to carve out the fast-growing tumor, to dislodge a lymph node. With the news that the cancer had not spread, that nothing had been left behind, I whispered thanksgiving.

A plan was made for radiation, medication, therapy, lifestyle adjustments……and the healing continues.

I leaned heavily on my Lord and Savior in the days and weeks that followed — lean on Him still — asking Him to help me understand and accept this new reality that has entered my life’s landscape.


As I lay on the hospital gurney receiving radiation, I felt blessed, because in the midst of my treatment and healing, I attended the funeral of woman who began her journey through cancer three years ago. She fought strong and hard, and today, she is a Survivor in eternity.

breast cancer new

I cannot share my testimony of recovery and survival without thinking of all who bear wounds, who stand toe-to-toe with the trials of our earthly life and fight to survive, to recapture “normal”, or to accept that some things will never be the same.

Some of us receive a pink ribbon and a label — Survivor. And our bodies bear visible scars that mark the spot where healing began.

Others suffer with wounds that are deep, too deep for a surgeon’s scalpel. Healing may begin, only for the scabs to be ripped open by new hurts, new reasons to ask “Why?”

It has been that way for my friend. She has endured a husband’s betrayal, the loss of a ministry, the sudden death of a son-in-law, her own physical challenges, and now the trauma of her daughter’s injuries and dashed hopes.

And still my friend raises her hands in worship and I stand beside her, my own hands and heart lifted in praise to the Healer who walks with every wounded Survivor. We both bear scars, and we both smile through tears as we celebrate Our Father’s Goodness.

God does not promise a life free from pain, from loss. The truth is that nowhere in The Word does He say He “will not give us more than we can bear”. Often misquoted are these words from Paul:

“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”  I Corinthians 10:13

On some days, He DOES give us more than we can bear. Who can learn that they have cancer and not grieve? Who can hold the hand of a heartbroken, wounded daughter and not cry out? Who can cradle a child who will never walk, sit unassisted, play basketball, drive a car because a virus invaded his body, and not plead for mercy? And who can bury a 25-year-old son and not question the One who holds life in His hand?

He hears and He grieves. Most importantly,  He bears it with us and for us.

To you, Lord, I called;
to the Lord I cried for mercy:
“What is gained if I am silenced,
if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it proclaim your faithfulness?
Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me;
Lord, be my help.”

You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever
Psalm 30:8-12

(This post first appeared as a guest blog at Life Beyond the Picket Fence.)

Continue reading

Reflecting on Lessons Learned

Lying on a gurney in the radiation room at my Cancer Treatment Center, I count up to 16.

“You’re Number 16,” I say to the kind fellow prepping me for my morning CAT scan — Number 16 in a long line of strangers to examine, poke, bandage or photograph this rather personal area of my body.  He chuckles and pushes a button that slides me into the scanning tunnel.  All in a day’s work.

Some journeys we plan, others are mapped out for us, and still others we just stumble upon.  I certainly didn’t plan my journey through breast cancer, though I believe God knew all along that it would become part of His plan for me.  I stumbled upon it thrIngridough a routine mammogram.  And now, it seems a new course is mapped out for me.

The ten radiation treatments I received over the past week were not on my original calendar for January 2013, but the appointments scribbled in the pages of my Day-Timer and on the refrigerator calendar represent sign-posts on this journey.  And the diploma and mug I received from the hospital staff tell me I’ve turned a corner with some new life lessons under my belt.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far at this intersection with breast cancer:

  • Expect the unexpected. At nearly 60 (and as the mom of four sons) you’d think I’d have learned that one by now, but cynicism has never been part of my make-up. I tend to live on the sunny side of life, which means I occasionally get blind-sided by reality. In this reality, I’m finding unexpected blessings — God speaking to me in nature, friendships that grow deeper through this shared experience, the pleasure of a warm blanket wrapped around my shoulders by a stranger doing her job with kindness.
  • Lean on those who have traveled this path before you. I have never met author and pastor John Piper, but his thoughtful writings on the eve of his surgery for prostate cancer are like advice from a godly friend. In “Don’t Waste Your Cancer”, Piper reminds all of us walking through trial that illness or troubles of any kind are not a “curse”.  Our lives have been “transformed from a punitive pathway to hell into a purifying pathway to heaven. We are not cursed. As hard as it is to feel this, we believe God is not withholding good. He is doing good.”

The Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor.

No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. (Psalm 84:11)

  • It’s not enough to just have a “positive attitude”. We need to walk the talk.Ingrid hand In her book “There’s No Place Like Hope”, cancer survivor Vickie Girard said “You can’t just sit around and visualize your way to wellness with positive thoughts. I think it’s important that we connect our positive attitude to forward-moving action or activity.”  Like “The Little Engine That Could”, we can say “I think I can, I think I can”, but then we’ve got to build up the steam to make it up that hill. For me, that means learning all I can about this “chronic disease”, building good nutrients into my diet, taking the right medication and making myself exercise every day. That last one will be the toughest — unless I reward it with dark, dark chocolate.  (Yes, that’s in my new diet.)
  • It’s okay to put yourself first once in awhile.  I can be self-sacrificial to a fault.  I’m realizing the good feeling I get from putting others first is really self-serving if in doing that I risk becoming a burden myself.  We can not do for others if we do not do for ourselves.  Whatever it is that we need for rejuvenation should be built into our days.  And we shouldn’t ruin it by feeling guilty.  Taking time for “self” is one of the best things we can do for those who share our days.
  • Appreciate the world God has given to us. As I’ve been walking through Cancer the past several weeks, I have also been counting 21 days of “wonder” as I  #LIVEWONDERSTRUCK. Today is a time to appreciate the people, places and events that are woven into my life.
  • A sense of humor helps. (See the Number 16 observation above.)  I intend to laugh a lot more in the days ahead.

I’m sure there’s much more to be learned in this experience and in life.  These lessons are a good start — or maybe they should be called a “restart”,  because as long as we’re breathing, we should be learning.

No “Muskrat Love” in My World

Taking stock recently of my body’s collision with breast cancer, I’m intrigued by how God has tucked so many life lessons into this natural world, almost as if He’s devised a sort of “treasure hunt” for us.  It was with amusement that I stumbled upon a lesson in “Muskrat Love” buried for me in my own back yard.

One has taken up residence in our pond — a Muskrat, that is.  I first spied him just after Christmas, before the ice, and while winter delayed its coming.  Walking the pond’s sunlit edge, I heard a splash.  A long, flat tail slithered behind a lump of fur below the glassy surface.  I stood still, quiet, waiting, when a pointy nose pierced the surface, followed by beady eyes.  A rippled wake marked Muskrat’s progress across the spring-fed pond.  Just as suddenly, he was gone and the water calmed.

Since that first sighting, I’ve been able to watch him from my kitchen window or from a second-story bathmuskratroom.  Some days, I miss his travels across the pond.  The surface remains unbroken, no wake appears.  Others, I spy his slick head or catch sight of the ripples his journey creates.  I know from Husband who trapped as a boy that Muskrat is probably burrowing into the walls of the pond we dredged in the fall.  No doubt, he’s creating a home for the family he hopes to breed come spring.

On these deep winter days, as I walk the edge of this pool of uncertainty and concern,  I remind myself that I have owned the fact “cancer” is now part of my personal vocabulary, and there is acceptance of what must be done and what may come.  I trust God “has this” and I’m leaning into Him for comfort, and into the love of those who surround me. Most days, there is calm, peace.

But then there are days when a churning begins beneath the surface and I sense some burrowing deep in the strong wall of faith I’ve built.  A doubt, a tremble of fear, an essence of frustration — they break the surface and I dwell in them a bit.  It feels good to vent a little, to stir the waters and examine what lies beneath.  But before long, I see that they threaten to displace this peace I’ve worked to attain.  And as I watch the ripples wash over my family, spill into my daily duties, I realize that if I don’t grab these feelings by the tail, they will set up housekeeping in my world, ready to burrow in and build a room for breeding.

Husband says the Muskrat must go.  Where, I wonder?  How?  But, I know too well the plans he has for it, and I protest.  Muskrats need a place to live, too, I say.  Not here, he says.  Where there’s one, there will soon be others, and they’ll wreck the foundation we worked to create in the depths of this peaceful pond.

I have to agree.  There is no room for them…..for muskrats or doubts, frustrations or fears……not here, not in our world.