Category Archives: cancer

Kari’s Smile Lives On

This is the final post in tribute to my high school classmate and friend, Kari, who died of brain cancer in 2000.  It isn’t her complete life story, she was impacted by many friends and relatives she cherished. It’s a small view into her world through my experiences, which at times are fuzzy with time and grief.


To catch up first read:

And I Almost Killed Her Once
(a glance back to our high school life)

The Lord’s Plan Unfolds
(how our paths intersected years later
when she moved to my parents’ hometown)

The Beginning of the End
(Kari’s final year of treatment and life)

The Dreaded and Inevitable End
(goodbye to Kari was hello to grief)

 

Losing a friend at the young age of 36 was one of the hardest things I’ve lived through. For at least six months, I cried every day.  I’d never lost anybody close to me and I had no idea grief could become a part of your personality. I viewed life through grief-colored glasses.

During this time of emotional fog, a friend visited.  She sat on my couch with a cup of coffee, tucked her feet under her, and chatted to catch up.  I loved this friend, but she hadn’t read or answered my emails about Kari and was out of touch with my life.  I didn’t want to relive the pain to catch her up. Her words bounced around the room and for the first time in our relationship, I felt disconnected from her. My grief was a chasm between us.

After about 30 minutes, I excused myself, went into the back yard and called a close friend, Kirsti.  I sobbed about how hard it was to talk to people who didn’t know the story and didn’t understand how my life had stopped.

“I just can’t get over Kari,” I cried.

“Mindy, you don’t have to,”  she said.  She gave me permission to grieve and removed the burden that something was wrong with me. I also came away from that conversation understanding that if my visitor didn’t know or understand my grief, and that was OK, too. She was still a good friend.  I walked back into the living room and finished our visit.  The  coping skills I learned through that conversation with Kirsti have carried  me for 14 years, and I have shared her wisdom to others frozen with grief.

I actually remember the first day I didn’t cry for Kari.  It was at least six months after the funeral.  I was cleaning  the house and thoughts of her came, but not the tears. I cherished a few good memories, then continued cleaning.  Eventually, I went an entire week without crying, then a month.  I never stopped grieving,  I learned to live with my grief.

The year after Kari’s funeral, I tried to stay in touch with her kids through phone calls, email, and letters.  Then, they moved.  I had a baby. Email addresses changed. Two of her kids  graduated and moved out on their own.  I moved. Her family moved again.  My family of eight moved to Washington. I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.  Then I moved one final time. My cancer came back.  

When I joined Facebook and starting “finding” people, I was thrilled to touch base with Kari’s daughter, Holly.  I was even more thrilled to learn she was very happily married with adorable kids and lived in Washington – one hour away.

The first time we met up, our relationship took up where Kari’s and mine left off.  It was a natural friendship we both felt.  We caught up on the missing years.  Her love story was so much like her parents’, it astounded me.  Love at first sight and married within a few months. She had her mother’s exuberant personality and the ability to light up a room with her smile. Our relationship filled a gap we’d both felt for years.

We’ve shared tears and  laughs. She told stories I hadn’t heard or remembered and I shared stories of high school. Kari was as honest with her kids as she was with me, and often shared her mistakes and regrets.  She never tried to make herself look perfect in their eyes, she was real.

My conversations with Holly remind me of the afternoons Kari and I spent together, baring heart and soul.  One day, Holly and I  were reliving the final days of Kari’s life.

Holly sat in the antique rocking chair that has soothed generations in my family, and started crying.  She finally choked out she’d always worried and wondered about her mom going to Heaven, and if she was ready.  

It was time to tell her the story.

I  confessed I almost killed her Mom driving drunk in high school, then explained how I came to know Christ as my Savior in college and experienced a radical life change.  I relived  meeting Kari in the thrift store in Helena and our subsequent afternoon visits. But, when I repeated the verses Kari and I  discussed about salvation and Heaven, I saw visible relief in Holly.  The same marvel that Kari and I often shared, that the Lord spared me from causing  Kari’s death to be there when she was facing death, wrapped around Holly’s heart. More of God’s purposes had been revealed.

 

BB and Hatfields 358At the park that afternoon, a tears came when I was pushing this little tiger in the swing.  Kari’s grandson was laughing and giggling and probably wondering why the crazy ol’ lady was crying. Tears came because Kari never pushed him in a swing, then tears came because I could. I chose to rejoice for what I gained, not grieve for what I lost.

BB and Hatfields 344This little Princess looks like her mommy and her Gramma.

BB and Hatfields 364This little guy snuggles all worries out of your life.

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Holly and I cherishing a final moment together before she and her family moved out of state. Her friendship has been a comfort and a joy. 

This woman is LOVED!Kari would be so proud children and her grandkids.

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Goodbye, but not forever.

Kari’s smile lives on.

The Dreaded and Inevitable End

 

This is the fourth part of a tribute to my high school classmate and friend, Kari, who died of brain cancer in 2000.  It isn’t her complete life story, she was impacted by many friends and relatives she cherished. It’s a small view into her world through my experiences, which at times are fuzzy with time and grief.
To catch up first read:

And I Almost Killed Her Once
(a glance back to our high school life)

and

The Lord’s Plan Unfolds
(how our paths intersected years later
when she moved to my parents’ hometown)

The Beginning of the End
(Kari’s final year of treatment and life)

Still hoping for a miracle cure for brain cancer, Kari and Tony traveled to Seattle, Washington,  to try their final option available, the Gamma Knife. 

Hello from Washington Kari 003

They enjoyed  picking sand dollars at the Pacific Ocean and cruising in a boat through the Puget Sound. When Kari sent this picture through email,  I printed it on plain paper and tacked it up on my sewing cupboard door, where it’s been ever since. I love that smile.

October 6, 2000, she sent out this email to friends and family members.

Kari's letter

She began going downhill. During a phone call she was telling an animated story about one of her kids in a minor fender bender.  She just stopped talking. At first I thought she’d pulled the phone away from her ear and was talking to someone else in the room, ya’ know how kids always interrupt, but there was no other conversation or sound.

I called her name. Over and over, louder each time, until I was yelling. She finally put the phone to her ear again, and I could hear rustling sounds,  but her mind was blank. When she did speak, she was fuzzy and confused. She couldn’t finish her story and couldn’t answer my questions.  I tried several times, then kindly told her I had to go and told her to hang up the phone. I repeated my instructions until I heard a click on the other end.

Conversations and emails stopped after that. In November her husband called to say hospice was there and invited me out for a final visit. I drove 828 miles with five kids and deep sorrow.

The family was gracious enough to allow me into their personal space by visiting daily in the afternoons.

The hospital bed was in the living room, and Kari was there with a hospice nurse. The kids went to school, came in jumped on the bed for a hug, talked about school, ran off to basketball practice, school activities, and outings with friends. She would ask “How was school?”  or “How are you doing?”  Mostly, she just held tightly to the hand of who was nearest the bed, and said, “I love you.”

In my ignorance, I asked Kari’s husband why they weren’t all spending more time with her, why they were still going to activities when she could die any moment. He was so gracious to answer my question without offense. “Kari and I decided from the beginning that cancer wouldn’t rule our lives. We wanted the kids to live as normally as possible for as long as possible.” Routine was part of their coping. It was a great decision they’d made together ahead of time and made so much sense.  Kari didn’t want her kids to sit around and watch her die, she wanted them to live.

A fighter, Kari hung on for two weeks after I’d arrived. I  read to her from the Bible, often Romans 5,  or would sing a hymn.  I’d heard that even though people lose their ability to speak, they can still hear and understand.  I chatted randomly and  my voice filled up the empty spaces.

In the very end, we were just silent.  She couldn’t speak and I was speechless.  I would just climb into the bed next to her and we’d lay there.  She’d turn to look at me, staring into my heart, and she’d smile.

When we knew death was hours away, I panicked. I didn’t want to stay and actually see her die, but I didn’t want to leave. I knew I would be driving back for the funeral with a classmate, so made the agonizing decision to leave.

I had driven as far as Valley City, North Dakota, my birthplace, when I received a phone call from Tony. Kari had died.

  Kari's Funeral Brochure

A few days later I drove back to Montana with Janet, another high school classmate. 

Life and death are always circular. 

Kari's Address

The address she gave me when our paths first crossed?  It’s still her address.

 

Kari's grave

She’s buried right across the street in a large cemetery.

I had always thought that our meeting, that divine appointment in the thrift store,  was for Kari. The Lord wanted to bring me back into her life for her death. But, I’ve been a slow student. In her death, Kari taught me how to live. She taught me to forgive and to smile through my pain. She taught me how to fight my own ten year battle with thyroid cancer.

And that smile I love so much? 

It lives on.

To be continued…

The Beginning of the End

My blogging was interrupted by a death in the family and the holidays, so joy and sorrow continue to hold hands through my life.

This is the third part of a tribute to my high school classmate and friend, Kari, who died of brain cancer in 2000.  It isn’t her complete life story, she was impacted by many friends and relatives she cherished. It’s a small view into her world through my experiences, which at times are fuzzy with time and grief. To catch up first read:

And I Almost Killed Her Once
(a glance back to our high school life)

and

The Lord’s Plan Unfolds
(how our paths intersected years later
when she moved to my parents’ hometown)

 

Not only did Kari force me to go to my class reunion, she forced me to look at the way I viewed my life. My bad memories that were nothing compared to hers, but she always found something to smile about. We’d survived high school and became better people because of the adversity. In traveling back to the reunion,  we reconnected with some wonderful people.

The next year Kari fought cancer round-by-round, submitting to  traditional and experimental treatments and medications.  She talked like a doctor, educating and advocating her diagnosis and treatment. She vomited, lost her appetite, weight, and her hair. She shook, couldn’t sleep, and suffered mood swings. At times she was so weak she used a wheelchair. She tried anything and everything because she wanted to attend her children’s graduations, weddings, and meet her grandkids.

At some point, my husband coined the theme of our renewed friendship as “No regrets.” Kari was getting sicker and he knew I’d be devastated if she died. We talked on the phone several times each week, exchanged frequent emails, and I made several trips to Helena and stayed with my parents. I’d homeschool four kids and love on a toddler all morning, then spend the afternoons with Kari. I’m so thankful for the loving support of my family and parents during this time.

More than her cancer, Kari talked about her kids. Her kids were the smartest, most gifted, athletic, musical kids in the world. She loved her kids with a momma bear passion. She’d go through each of the  four and list their recent accomplishments. I heard play-by-play of basketball games, concerts, and Scout projects.   It wasn’t an innocent “my kids are so perfect” kinda’ blind love, but an honest love that could watch her kids grow, struggle, make mistakes.  She still proudly loved them and always believed they’d be successful and accomplished adults.The trials of her own upbringing became nothing compared to her joy of being the mother of the best kids in the world.

I especially remember a time when one of her kids was struggling in school. He was academically capable, but the school sent home disparaging reports. She clamped on her floppy hat and marched to the school. She drove in a car, but in my mind, she still marched. She got things done. She met with the teacher and listened to her complaints. Then Kari asked for the dates and time periods of the behavior issues. She shook her chemo schedule in the teacher’s face. (That’s how I picture it, anyway.) The dates matched. Perfectly. The teacher knew Kari had cancer, but she didn’t get it. Kari didn’t want her cancer to be the excuse her kids used to misbehave, but she did want it to be the reason the school was more compassionate and understanding.  She felt the pain of her cancer, along with the pain her cancer caused her children.

After her kids, we talked about mine. To Kari,  my kids were the smartest, most gifted, athletic, musical kids in the world. She praised them so much, sometimes I saw them differently through her eyes. She talked the same about her sister, nieces and nephews. She knew I took down prayer requests and freely gave me names and needs from their extended family. They had gone through many devastating events, and Kari was concerned about everyone.

When I visited Helena, the afternoons we had alone without our nine kids were made for talking. Not catching up, or bragging-about-our-kids talk, but serious heart and soul girlfriend secret-sharing conversations, of mistakes made and how we overcame those mistakes.

And, we spoke of death. It was the third wheel we couldn’t shake. I tentatively broached the subject and asked her if she minded us talking about everything, even her death. I told her I’d been looking up Bible verses about Heaven.

“Are you kidding? Yeah, I want to talk about it. Nobody wants to talk about death, it makes them uncomfortable.  But, I’m dying.” She said it so matter-of-factly, I stared at her. She was thankful for the many phone calls, cards, emails and the outpouring of support, but said if she tried to talk openly about dying, people often changed the subject. She knew her desire to beat cancer wasn’t enough to win the battle.  Sometimes,  cancer won.

At that point, nothing was off-limits in our conversations, and we fully understood why the Lord had kept me from causing her death years before.  Now, as a Christian who believed the Bible, I had found some answers we’d both been seeking. I’d still be a part of her death, but I wouldn’t be the cause of it. We often rejoiced that He cared enough about our personal lives to cross our paths at the thrift store at a time when we needed each other.

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This is a scene shot out the window on my way to Kari’s, with one of the verses we discussed many times. Salvation is a gift given by faith,  not something we earn or deserve.   It’s not a faith placed in our own spiritual thoughts and ideas, but a faith placed in Christ, the author of salvation. 

Kari told me once she wanted to die in peace, and had taken on the mental exercise of forgiving those who had wronged her, even if they hadn’t asked for it. Another next step in peace-making is making peace with God. With this in mind, Romans 5 became another passage we discussed.

Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Interwoven in all our conversations was the desire to make peace with our past, have peace in the present circumstances, and face the future (eternity)  with peace.

Kari made friends wherever she went. People noticed her when she walked into a room, not because she demanded attention, but because she gave attention. Even though they had just moved to Helena when she was stricken with cancer, she’d invested in her community and they invested in her. There were meals, and help with rides, and a fund raiser. Those of us watching from afar were thankful for this input.  Kari received cards and phone calls and was blessed by the outpouring of friends old and new.

The spring of 2000,  she invited me to her cancer support group. She explained the meeting structure and assured me I’d be welcome.

“Oh, it’s great because we talking about everything,” she said, “and sometimes we have Show and Tell.”

“Show and Tell?” I asked.

“Yea, someone might dig something out of her shirt, wave it around, and say ‘Hey, look at my new boob!’ Another person will unstrap their leg and throw it on the table. It’s pretty cool. We don’t have any secrets,” she explained.

Concerned I’d be out of place, I sat down with a quiet and polite greeting. Kari would have none of that. She introduced me and joked around until I felt connected. Then, they began their meeting. I was horrified by their experiences, but blessed by their camaraderie. At the end, I blurted out, “I wish I could be in a group like this.”

“No, you don’t,” answered one woman. I tried to clarify that I longed for intimate friendships, not cancer, but I gave up. My words were weak compared to truth of the situation. On the way home Kari explained that sometimes they don’t call themselves a Cancer Support Group but a Dying Club.

After that, we both watched the obituaries in the Helena Independent Record, and saw her support group, one by one,  lose their ability to support her.

image

We prayed for a miracle cure that would keep her signature from becoming an obituary headline.

 

to be continued…

The Lord’s Plan Unfolds

This is the second part of a tribute to my friend, Kari. It isn’t her complete life story, she was impacted by many friends and relatives she cherished.  It’s a small view into her world through my experiences, which at times are fuzzy with time and grief.  If you didn’t read part one, please go back and read:

And I almost killed her once.

Kari and I were thrilled to find each other again!  We later joked what others  thought to see two cars pull up to the thrift store, four people politely chatter as they merged toward the door, then two women suddenly bear hug.

Kari and Tony

She proved her hat wasn’t an adaptation to Montana fashion, where people aren’t  in style or out of style, you’re free to wear your own style. Standing on the sidewalk, she removed it and proudly showed me her scar where a brain tumor had been recently removed.

And she smiled while she told me about her cancer.

Her big “I can take on the whole world” smile. The “I have enough joy for the rest of you” smile.

We moved into the store, talking, laughing and sometimes shopping.   When it was time to part ways, we did what people did before cell phones. 

Kari's Address

I handed her the tiny black binder in my purse to write down her address.  I had no idea how precious this scrap of paper would become.

Our families spent a day at my parents’ cabin, swimming, snacking, climbing trees and enjoying Montana’s scenery. Kari and I talked non-stop.

We were in the same crowd in high school,  but each had our own closest friends. We filled in the gaps of the years. College years. Falling in love and staying in love. Becoming mothers; she had four kids, I had five at the time. I shared how I’d trusted Christ as my Savior. In all our conversations, intermingled our marvel at the Lord’s timing. The reason He’d spared our lives in high school was beginning to unfold.  It was for such a time as this.

Inevitably, we talked about high school. Regrets. Broken hearts. Tormenters. Friends.  Accomplishments.  She shared heartaches that made me admire her strength and joy anew. I regretted  not knowing or helping, worried she’d shouldered life alone. She assured me her best friends in high school had upheld her. The strength of their love and loyalty graced the rest of her life.

I shared my pain of moving from Helena and relived the stir I’d caused on the first day of 8th grade.  During registration, I’d walked across the gym, our entire class watching from the bleachers,  straight to the Industrial Arts table to sign up for shop. Since I already sewed my own clothes, did laundry, babysat and cooked meals for my family of eight, I didn’t need Home-Ec. I’d already had one year of woodworking at Helena Junior High, and was excited to move onto bigger projects. Following school policy, the teacher refused admission. When I was politely adamant and explained my reasons, he called in the principal and the superintendent for support. At that moment, I knew my career at that high school wasn’t going to be stellar.

“I remember what you were wearing,” said Kari. Her smile overcame the  chemo hair standing in tufts on her head.

“What?” I was consumed with my tale of discrimination and moving into the Dark Ages and she was consumed with my clothes.

She recounted my walk across the gym floor from her admiring point of view. “You were wearing gauchos and a yellow t-shirt with your name on. After that, I begged my Mom to drive me to Grand Forks to buy gauchos.”

When the summer of 1999 approached, Kari asked me to go to our 18th class reunion/ all school reunion with her. I said no. Actually I said, “NO WAY! WHY WOULD I DO THAT?”

High school wasn’t good to me.  For five years I was teased, my locker ransacked, books knocked out of my arms in the hallway. Lies were spread until I wondered who to trust. I got in trouble for things I deserved; I took the punishment for things I didn’t deserve.

Several teachers used me as their verbal punching bags, to a point where one student pulled me aside in the hallway and advised, “I think you should get a lawyer.” I thought movie caricatures of tormented high school kids could have been based on my life. Miserable, I tried to graduate early. The guidance counselor refused. I stuck out my entire senior year.

That same guidance counselor called me into his office that spring and asked me to give a graduation speech. I refused with the clichéd  laugh in his face. He was surprised because nobody had refused this “honor” before.

I had nothing to say and nothing to prove. I only wanted out.

He wanted to know why. “I don’t have anything to say to anybody,” was my answer based on my mom’s advice,  “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”  My friend Chris, who had always dreamed of giving a graduation speech, was elated to be given the honor.

Kari wouldn’t give up. She wanted to go, but didn’t want to go alone. My selfish hoarding of bad memories was only broken when she finally said, “Mindy, I won’t make it to our 20th.”

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(Kari is far left, middle row, in pink t-shirt)

Kari arranged for some of the class of ‘82  to meet at a home with spouses and kids. Later we joined the rest of the class downtown.

I was stunned when my greatest tormenter was the first to greet me with a hug. Three people said, “Oh, you graduated with us?” My impact on some of my classmates wasn’t as great as the impact they’d made on me.

With each conversation and renewed acquaintance, I replaced a bitter memory with a better memory.  I counted my tormenters to be fewer than my friends, they had only talked louder and made more of an impact. No, I had allowed them to make more of an impact. I also learned that those who inflicted the most pain probably hadn’t meant to. We all were suffering and surviving the halls of high school.

Over a pizza later, I admitted she was right to make me attend our class reunion. I thanked her for pushing me.

She smiled her Kari smile.  She knew all along she was right, and I was finally admitting it.

For me, the reunion was the beginning of a new beginning.  For Kari, it was the beginning of the end.

to be continued… 

 

 

Defying the Enemy Called Death

 

We have some interesting sayings in America when someone dies before they’re old.

He died too young.”

Only the good die young.”

She went before her time.”

We have this unspoken expectation that everyone should live a long, healthy life.  That’s the ideal we long for, but it doesn’t take long on earth to realize it doesn’t work that way.

Check tombstones.  Some live one year, some live a hundred years. Death is not a stranger to any soul.

All people live.

All people die.

Yet, no matter how much we know this, we’re never prepared.  We recover, but don’t stop grieving.  We never fully understand. Death is a shock, an enemy, a divider.

 

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This picture was taken May, 2011, when I visited the grave site of high school classmate and friend, Kari Onerheim Etherington. If you knew Kari you knew her smile.  What many of us didn’t know was the cost of that smile.  Without airing her family laundry, Kari had struggles at home that many of us didn’t know until she was an adult.

She walked around the halls of LHS as if she were the happiest teenager on earth, and she wasn’t faking it.  She CHOSE it.

 

Kari's High School Picture

She bore her struggles with quiet strength and a smile.  She was contagious.

And I almost killed her once.

I wasn’t a Christian in high school and was on a road trip in Canada with some friends, including Kari.  We had crossed from North Dakota into Canada where the drinking age was only 18 and had been in the pub for hours celebrating senioritis.  When we left, I was driving, but shouldn’t have been.

We missed one border crossing and were looking for another one that stayed open longer. We knew we had to just keep driving east, but nothing was familiar and we didn’t have a map.

I was jolted out of my stupor when the car bounced over rocks, obviously off-road.  I slammed on the breaks, the car lurched and tottered, but stayed put in park.  I got out of the car and looked down a very steep embankment.  In the darkness of the night and my alcohol-stunned mind I never  knew if it was a valley or a river below.  It was very steep, very deep, and very black.

A man was standing next to the car.  I assumed at the time he was an RCMP, Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer.  He was kind, kinder than I deserved.  He didn’t issue a ticket, only instructed how to get back to the road we needed to be on. I was stumbling, woozy and out of control.  He urged me to drive more carefully.

As I looked down that embankment, then back into his kind face, I was overcome with a Sense that wasn’t attributed to my drunkenness.

I knew at that moment that God had saved me for a purpose.  He had spared my life and the lives of my friends.  It was the first of many instances that year that proved to me the God of Heaven, the Creator of the Universe, was personally interested in my life and was concerned about my body and soul.

Somehow we made it home that night, and though we giggled as teenagers do over the evening, it was mostly to cover up the uneasiness I’d felt over the Presence and the near death experience.

That fall I was a freshman at the University of North Dakota and began reading the Bible.  I understood by faith that those things in my life were actually called sin by a Holy God who demanded perfection.  Since there wasn’t sinless perfection in my life, His Son had died in my place.  I accepted that by faith and experienced a serious life change.  I was born-again by faith.

During the early 80’s, few of us had computers, there were no cell phones and long-distance phone calls were expensive, unless you called after 11pm.  It was too easy to lose track of friends when you went to different colleges, got married, and had children. After I married, I moved to Kansas and was in touch with very few of my high school friends, but thought of them often and prayed for them. We eventually moved back to North Dakota, but I hadn’t reconnected with everybody yet.

In the summer of 1998  I was visiting my mom in Helena, MT, and we were in town shopping.  We pulled up in front of the Salvation Army at the same time another couple was parking and exiting the car.  We chatted politely as the woman wearing a floppy hat tried to tease me into buying a teddy bear in front of the store.

When we made eye-contact, we were both stunned. 

 

It was Kari and her husband, Tony. 

 

Kari and TonyThey’d been living in my parents’ hometown for several years. 

The reason the Lord had graciously spared our lives was about to unfold.

 

To be continued…

 

Bald Women are Beautiful

In the noisy  drink shop, I leaned towards the woman in front of me and said near her ear, “Bald is Beautiful!”

She was a little surprised and emotions swirled on her face as she registered my comment, then turned with a smile and said, “Thank you.”

She truly was beautiful. And she was very bald.  We were in a mall in an area of fashionable and opulent people, where women monthly spend more money to tan and tweeze, primp and pamper, trim and accessorize than I spent on my first car.  She had the guts to dress up, put on lipstick and brave her baldness.

“Wigs are so uncomfortable, scratchy and warm in the heat,” I said. “I like seeing you going for comfort.”

 

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(Photo used with kind permission from Bald is Beautiful website)

“Yea, my sons encouraged me to stop worrying about it and  just go natural.”

“Where are you at in your cancer treatment?” I asked. “I was just declared cancer free after ten years of thyroid cancer.”

With quivering lips and a catch in her voice she answered, “Stage IV metastatic breast cancer.  I’ve been fighting three and a half years.”

Her raw emotion illustrated the  truth my question made her face, again.  We both knew what she was really saying.  She has suffered for three and a half years through surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and medication. With Stage IV cancer, to suffer through treatment is to be alive. When the suffering is over, usually so is your life. I knew the statistics.

What do you say to the stranger who is standing in line who might die, knowing you’re going to live?

“What’s your name?  I’d like to pray for you,” I said.

“My name is Lynn,” she answered. She talked a little more about her cancer and ended with “and I just thank the Lord.”  Not many people talk about malignant cancer and thankfulness in the same sentence.

“Oh, are you a Christian?”

“Yes, I am,” my bald friend answered. “And I couldn’t have gotten through this if it weren’t for the Lord.”

“I agree,” I empathized.  “I’m a Christian, too, but I have the issue of Survivor’s Guilt.  I’m going to live and several of my friends have died.”

I almost couldn’t handle the words as I shared them with my beautiful new friend.

The lined moved forward and she placed her order. Then she turned back towards me, placed a hand on my arm and repeated, “I don’t know how people go through this without the Lord. It’s been so hard.”

“I know,” I agreed.  “I’ve learned so much about suffering and am thankful at the end of all of this all, we have eternal life. Life on earth is hard… and short…but then we get to go to Heaven.”

The teenage cashier joined in our conversation by asking Lynn, “Are you a Fighter or a Survivor?”  After Lynn answered, she explained, “My best friend has cancer, I take her to her chemo every Monday.” My heart ached for the young teen suffering through cancer, but felt thankful joy for the faithfulness of her loving friend.  Both would be forever changed by cancer.

The conversation continued as we moved through the line and when it naturally ended,  Lynn and I hugged in the line.  We knew we’d see each other again…in Heaven.

Since that day I’ve thought about this divine appointment many times, and when I think of Lynn I pray for her and her family. I pray she’ll be in that small percentage that survives this cancer.

Cancer changes everything.

It makes a 60+ year old woman baldly and boldly face  death sooner than she planned.

It makes a 49 year old  woman face life without the things ten years of cancer took from her.

It makes a teenager compassionate and engage in the conversation of a Fighter and a Survivor fellowshipping about cancer’s reality of life and death.

But going out in public bald is more than just a statement about defying social expectations of beauty.  Lynn probably had other conversations during the day that reminded her again and again –

She has Stage IV cancer,

          But, she has Jesus.

She may die from this cancer…

          But, she’s going to Heaven.

Lynn is facing malignant cancer with courage and faith.  She didn’t hesitate to share her joys and sorrows, and thanked and praised the Lord for His goodness to her.  In less than five minutes she made a profound impact on my life.

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She was bald.

And she was very, very beautiful.

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I received permission to use the above photo and logo from a website “Bald is Beautiful.” This is their mission statement:

Bald is Beautiful wants to help promote strength, empowerment, and beauty for people who are battling cancer.

​Bald truly is beautiful, and we are here to help spread the word. We are raising money that will not go into a “pot” but instead go to the people who are currently fighting this battle.

​We hope to bring joy, laughter, and hope that not all is lost, except maybe a little hair!

Click on the above image to find their site.  Click here to shop and here to read more true stories honoring very bald and very beautiful people.

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I Don’t Have Cancer?!?!

Every six months I have a blood draw to check the status of my  cancer.  Once or twice a year I have a  sonogram to measure the tiny papillary thyroid tumors.

My second surgery to remove thyroid tumors was April 2009.  Doc took out two, three grew back in their place. My doctors ruled out another surgery or radioactive iodine treatment and instead increased my thyroid hormone to suppress Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) in my body.  Any thyroid cell I have would be cancerous.  If the cells are stimulated by hormone, they grow.   I’ve been hyperthyroid for four years, hoping to starve the tumors to death.

My 6 month blood draws and sonograms  have shown progress.  I blogged about Teeny Weeny Tumors in December 2012.  The tumors were smaller and not giving off thyroid antibodies.

The reality is, there are no side effects from the cancer.  The tumors live quietly, minding their own business. The side effects from the hyperthyroidism are the challenge, and  greatly increased after recently being forced to switch thyroid hormone.

I’d been on Levoxyl  for 9 years, until it was  recently recalled and won’t be available again until late 2014. Doctors and pharmacists strongly warn anybody on artificial thyroid hormone to never, ever, ever, ever switch brands.

Now I know why.

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I switched to Synthroid.blog moments 017 (3)

This is the paperwork that came with the new med, listing all side effects, molecular structure and warnings. Look like something you wanna’ take? Me neither. Only I have this missing thyroid gland, so need artificial thyroid hormone in my body.

My symptoms increased greatly. Night sweats, sleeplessness. I can be tired all day, but wide awake during the night. I sleep about 5 hours, on a good night up to 7. Agitation.  Jumpy.  My kids have learned over the years to make a lot of noise when they walk up behind me.

At my recent endocrinologist’s visit to discuss the results of the recent blood work I described my adjustment issues with the new hormone. In conversation I used the phrase “my cancer.”

“You don’t have cancer.”

I looked at my doc in surprise.  After all, it’s been a ten year battle. She looked at me in surprise, as if I should have known.  I tried to remember what she said at our past visit.  Pretty sure I would have remembered being told I was cancer free.

“There are no thyroid antibodies and no thyroglobulin in the blood.  I’d say your cancer is gone.”

I should have been jumping.  I should have been overcome with joy. I was stunned. I was surprised she brought it up almost as if correcting me. To be cancer-free after ten years could have been announced with cake, ice-cream balloons and banners, not an afterthought conversation.

I almost doubted the news. Besides, my past two “cancer-free” times have only lasted a few months, so I was hesitant to get too excited.

 

It took me a few days to grasp in my medicated brain this is  GOOD NEWS! It took me even longer to fully grasp that the symptoms I’d been complaining about resulted in keeping the tumors from producing antibodies. It worked.

I look at those nasty pills a little differently. Would you rather have trouble sleeping or have cancer?  Yea, me too.

But, still, I argue with myself, it could come back.  It could come back in another form of cancer.  The artificial thyroid hormone could cause  bone problems as it depletes calcium from my body or cause heart issues.  If I look forward, I can cause myself undue worry and prove I don’t trust the Lord for His future plans.

If I look backwards at the ten year journey, I can remind myself of the hardships on my body and my family and prove I don’t trust the Lord for His past plans.

So, as many of us have learned through times of trials, we neither look ahead or back, we walk in the moment and look up. We may not understand His plans, but we are always in His presence.

Isaiah 4110

 

And today, as I walk with the One who is with me, strengthens me, helps me and upholds me, I don’t have cancer!!!

 

If you would like to read about the time I found the word CANCER in the Bible, read  Do YOU Have Cancer?

The Gifts of Cancer was written after being cared for by an encouraging, caring nurse named Judy.