The End of Summer and a New Beginning

This week marks the end of summer for our family. Monday beings the craziness of school, sports, and music lessons. While I’m sad to see lazy summer days go, I’m looking forward to getting back to a routine.

This summer was more laid back than usual for our family. Because Gabe needed to be close to the cancer center, and because the treatments were making him feel sick, any overnight trips were difficult to plan.

We did manage to get away for one night at Port Crescent State Park in Michigan! Their cabin that sleeps six had an opening at the last minute, and since Gabe had just finished his radiation treatments, we decided to go. It was wonderful! We had our own private beach right outside the cabin. I’m so thankful we were able to go!

Our beach scene from the front door of our cabin at Port Crescent State Park.

I also was able to make it to Lexington, Kentucky for a quick weekend to meet my brand new, great-niece! Kennedy Diane Calhoun is so precious, and I can’t wait to see her again soon!

Welcome to the world, Kennedy Diane!

Finally, I was able to take the kids to the Toledo Zoo. If you have never been there, you should go. The Toledo Zoo has been voted one of the top ten zoos in the United States. It had been a few years since we were there last , so it was fun to get to spend that time with the kids.

Six more weeks and Gabe’s treatments will be over! Gabe will get a final scan to confirm the cancer is gone, and then declared NED (no evidence detected). After five years of being NED, he will officially be in remission! 

As I look forward to life returning to normal for our family, I also feel a little timid in leaving this valley behind. You see, God has been here with us. 

We’ve seen Him work miracles. He has provided every single need, and blessed us above what we ever imagined He would! The close fellowship I have had with Him, and the peace that I have experienced while walking through this valley with Him, has been life-changing. I’m thankful for how He led me through the most difficult time of my life! 

For me, this is not just the end of another summer. It is a beginning of a new normal. I don’t know what our new normal will look like. I do know I don’t need to worry. If I can trust God to get us through a difficult year-and-a-half, I can most definitely trust Him with normal!

“Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.” – Psalms 34:19

Our Special Summer

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June, 2017 Brilliant sunset while sitting on my back porch.

Swaying with the swings smooth motion, I welcome the gentle breeze on my warm face. The setting sun spreads it’s glorious color across the sky, putting on a show of God’s amazing handiwork. My mind drifts to last summer and our family trip to Michigan’s thumb area.

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July, 2016 View of Lake Huron from our tent door.

How I longed to be on the beach at Port Crescent, chasing the waves with my bare feet. The sunsets at Port Crescent were amazing every night. The nightly bonfires represented family closeness and spiritual bonding. Sleeping in a tent meant scary stories and midnight bathroom trips. Coffee tasted best when slowly made over an open flame. I could hear my kids laughter as I invisioned them playing in the sand, and feel my husband’s embrace as we sat and watched the sunset together.

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July 2016, Port Crescent State Park, after a storm.

 

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July, 2016 Sunset over Lake Huron after a storm.

But no, we will not be visiting our favorite place this year. This summer has had fewer library trips and park visits. No lazy days spent picnicking at a local beach, or even day trips to the zoo. There will be no days set aside for America’s most loved roller coaster park, no out-of-state visits to see family, and no, there will be no camping.

This summer has been one of struggle in watching my husband suffer through radiation. It has been a summer of loneliness (your friends can’t walk each mile of your valley with you). It has been a summer of crazy schedules, a messy house, and many carry-out dinners and family movie nights.

As I sway in the cooling breeze, watching the last rays of sunlight dip below the horizon, I realize I no longer want to think back to last summer, or of this summers disappointments.

Instead, I begin to think of our church family’s generosity that has allowed us to get carry-out from restaurants we never would consider with four kids. The Clear Play DVD player a friend gave us has allowed family movie nights to include all the Avenger movies. Friends have helped pick up our kids from practices when we have schedule conflicts, and neighbors and family have come over to fix our falling-apart yard.

Lazy days at home have included slip-n-slide fun, gardening, trampoline wars, front-yard ninja battles, and Star Wars recipe cooking. Let’s not forget homemade popsicles, ice cream, smores, and popcorn balls. Reading aloud of adventures found in books written decades ago, have helped take us some place else, where we can explore caves or ride a rocket to Mars, right from our very own living room. Everyone has had a chance to improve in their guitar and ukulele playing skills. And endless rounds of Battleship and Zingo have kept all our competitive spirits alive.

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Playing a game of Battleship with my son, Bryce.

This summer has not been one we would have purposely planned, and it has for sure been filled with emotional struggle. However, it has also been a summer of opportunity as we grow closer as a family, and of continual thankfulness. Thankfulness that Gabe is alive, that there is hope for healing, and of God’s grace through this all.

As the stars (and mosquitos) begin to come out, lightening bugs begin to flicker above the grass. Bullfrogs begin their territorial calls while crickets start to chirp in unison, creating a chorus of nightly music. My heart joins in with their melody, praising God for giving our family this special summer.

“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Summer of 2015, watching the sunset with Gabe, before his stroke and before thyroid and colon cancer.

Abundant Little Blessings

Summer is here! And despite a few minor setbacks due to my reaction to stress (anyone else allergic to stress?) and Gabe’s port failing, our family has been able to enjoy the first official week of no school. This week marks the end of phase 1 in Gabe’s treatment. Radiation and chemo begins on Monday.

Although it was hard to deal with the setbacks, I am very grateful that we experienced them.

For it was through the difficult moments that God decided to show Himself to me in abundant little ways.

“Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think….” – Ephesians 3:20a

From gifts handed to us at church on Sunday, packages sent in the mail stuffed with gift cards on Tuesday, texts and email messages from friends near and far all week long, and the extraordinary kindness of neighbors, God was pretty busy this week.  Not to mention bumping into friends at parks, and hour-long phone conversations with family and friends offering hope and prayers. All of these little blessings added up to be one extraordinary message from God. He was thinking of us.

We kicked off the summer last night with the family getting ice cream after church. Since Gabe is not having any of the side effects of his chemo right now, he thought it would be a good idea to get a taste of ice cream before the chemo starts again. (I don’t know why he’s making this face, but he did it on all five pictures we took!)

Don’t underestimate God’s thoughts of you. When life gets stressful, He’s thinking of you, and He really wants you to know it!

“How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!  If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee.” – Psalms 139:17‭-‬18

3 Things Cancer Has Taught Me

Before you read this post, I have two disclaimers that I need to get out of the way. First of all, this is not about what my husband, the​ patient, has learned. This post is about what I, the caregiver, has learned. Secondly, we are only 1/3 of the way through our journey. I am certain I have a lot more to learn!

My husband did not volunteer to have cancer, and I did not volunteer to become a caregiver. Yet here we both are on this journey together. Along the way I have learned a few things that I thought I would share with you.

#1 – Everyone’s cancer story is different. I don’t need to do a Google search on every possible outcome for stage 3 colon cancer. If I do, I’m going to read hundreds of different stories, and for some reason, only the worst case scenarios are found on Google searches.

The acquaintance at church, the stranger in the grocery store, or your well-meaning second cousin whom you’ve never met, all have a story to share.

But those stories are not your story. This is your journey, not theirs. Don’t allow well-meaning voices to tell you how you are supposed to be feeling, or what tests or blood work you should ask for. That’s between you and your doctor. If you choose to get an opinion from someone else, that’s perfectly fine. It is also perfectly fine to let the story of your great Aunt Martha’s best friend’s husband’s terrible battle with cancer, roll right over your head!

#2 – Everyone means well when expressing their concern. In other words, some people are going to say stupid stuff, and rather than get offended, realize they only care about you and are doing the best they can to comfort and relate with you.

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear you have colon cancer. My dad died of that years ago. It was a terrible death!

Honestly, my husband and I often find ourselves in stitches over some of the “well-meaning” things we have heard!

 I have chosen however, to accept each comment that is sent my way, regardless of how it is presented, as a blessing.

Because at least people care enough to try and comfort us, and for that, I am truly humbled. Besides, I know I used to be one of the well-meaning Great Aunt Martha’s!

#3 – Looking for Comfort outside of God is always a bad idea. When I start feeling afraid, or sorrowful of the circumstances I am in, I tend to have some of the following thoughts:

I just need some of that Double Fudge Brownie dessert to take away my blues!

Or,

Just keep calm and call my sister! 

And,

I just need a break! One day of Netflix is all I need, and I’ll be back to my old self tomorrow!

Not true! While none of those things are wrong, if I had just gone to the right Source for comfort in the first place, I could have saved myself at least 5lbs!

 Besides, after I was done with each of those things, I still felt empty inside.

They only brought me temporary comfort. It’s not until I get on my knees and bring my fears before my Father that I find true peace.

“And the peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

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Have you learned something from your own journey through cancer? If you have, please leave a comment, I sure would like to read it! 

Stand Still

“And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord ,” – Exodus 14:13a

Sometimes I view my life as a swirling tornado. The wind is blowing everything around, sucking it up into it’s dark cloud. I am standing in the middle of it, my feet firmly planted to the ground, holding on to as much as I can, trying to keep everything from being swept away.

Lately I have felt a bit overwhelmed by our schedule. Nuerologist, cardiologist, PCP, oncologist, endocrinologist, chiropractor, orthodandist, dermatologist, dentist, chemotherapy, radiation – just to name a few things that have taken up my time in recent weeks. Let’s not forget laundry, house cleaning, library trips, grocery store trips, post office trips, trips to the school office, forgotten-lunch-runs, piano lessons, basketball, soccer, volleyball, school programs, baby showers, bridal showers, sports tryouts, field trips – please, someone stop me!

Those are the physical things that can tend to be overwhelming. Now let’s talk about the emotional stuff.

There is the fear that seems to rear it’s ugly head into my thoughts every so often. Fear that my husbands cancer will spread to stage 4, or show up in five years to surprise us again.

Another emotional drainer is the battle with being content. Remembering we are where God put us right now, and that He will continue to take care of us, is something I need to do daily.

I have two teenagers at home. That is also another emotional strain. They at times will bring me along for a drama-filled roller coaster ride! My two grade-school boys are still trying to understand “why can’t we go camping” and “why can’t daddy play basketball with us”?

I don’t believe any of these “objects” that I mentioned that are swirling around in my stormy life are much different from anyone elses.

Maybe your storm isn’t illness. Maybe it’s a struggling marriage or a wayward child. You may be struggling financially or have a big life-changing decision to make.

Sometimes when it all starts getting crazy, I find that I’m trying to hold on to as much as I can, hoping it doesn’t fly away into the storm. It is in some of those moments, when I feel that things are slipping from my grasp, that I  can’t help but ask, “is God really in my storm?” 

Yes, He’s here. In fact, He’s on top of the storm. He is in the whirlwind, directing it’s path.

“…the Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.” – Nahum 1:3

I have learned the hard way, that I can’t hold on to everything. I have to let some things get swept away into the storming clouds. I can’t keep my house as clean as I used to or have my perfect laundry schedule and get my husband to all his appointments. I mean, I could, and then I would go crazy! Sometimes, I have to tell my kids “sorry, but I just can’t take you to that thing you want to do”.  I mean, I could, but then I might go crazy!

Sometimes I just need to stand still in that storm, my feet planted firmly into the ground, and watch everything I am trying to hold onto, be swept away into those swirling clouds.

Standing still in a storm is not easy to do. Yet, if we make ourselves do it, and listen to God’s voice, we can see God riding the storm.

Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.” – Psalms 46:10

And then – when we have finally stopped trying to hold our lives together on our own, and we are standing there watching the storm destroy everything – only then, does God move in and bring peace.

“And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” – Mark 4:39