November 26, 2013

Thankful for the Real Caregivers

Cancer Center on the left, view from the hospital at sunset.
Twice in the night his cell goes off with the ring that sounds like an alarm. More than once I thought it was a fire alarm. I have acclimated and now I remember the alarm means the hospital is calling.

When it rang in the dark, he didn't have the phone on speaker but I hear the nurse’s voice, direct and to the point, “C-section stat.”

He hurries to crawl into his jeans and shirt. I know he had left them hanging on the knob in his closet just in case. Most times they hit the laundry bin the next morning. But this night, he got the call. He doesn’t know exactly what he will find when arrives. He’s been called hundreds of times. Every time I pray.

I know he’s praying too.

He closes the door gently, thinking I hadn’t heard his commotion getting to the door.

Later, I didn’t hear him slip in beside me, so when the second call came, it jolted me from a deep sleep. He was out the door in minutes, and back to the New Life Center again.

The next alarms we heard had been set to wake us. They rang simultaneously. I didn’t know we set them at the same time. I swipe mine off and reach over with my foot so I can feel for his presence, see if I need to turn his off too. He had snuck in on me again, and I felt his warm leg. He wasn’t quite as quick to shut it off as with the other alarms. I didn't blame him. Morning came too soon. 

He rolled out but I rolled over. He got ready for work in the clinic with less than four hours of sleep.

I heard him heading to the kitchen to get the coffee dripping before he came back and turned on the shower. I wake up slowly. I have never been one to jump out of bed unless I am going on vacation.

He heads out to take care of babies and I get head out to take Dad to his daily appointment, day 14 of a seven-day-a-week attack on multiple myeloma. There no end in sight at the moment as the battle wages and we await the day when he will receive his own stem cells---a bone marrow transplant. The treatments have started to take a toll but we have learned to be flexible to expect the unexpected and be thankful that he sleeps in his bed at night.

We parked in the deck and I opened a mask in a cellophane package before we step into the cold. He puts it on in the parking lot. I dig mine out of the blue bag. We walk masked to the revolving door. We will take no chances in the close quarters of the elevators. 

I signed Dad in at the reception desk, grabbed a rubber glove from a box sitting near the CaviWipes. Pulling a wipe from the tub, I wiped down the chair where Dad is waiting for me. Germ-free chairs, we sit to wait.

Twenty minutes pass and we hear his name coming from the door that has now become familiar. We move toward a flexible routine we have come to know. I was scrambling to get my computer stashed away, grab our coats, and hurry to catch up with him.  I caught up and stood looking over his shoulder as he stepped onto the scale for his vitals. Suddenly, time slowed as I watched his body began to fold up. The nurse caught him, a wheelchair appeared, and fifteen nurses flocked to the scene.

We got the unexpected.

We are in the hospital tonight. He recovered quickly after we rode in an ambulance across the medical campus to the ER. His collapse was most likely a side effect from getting up in a hurry and medicines that are messing with his blood pressure and slight dehydration.

Dad tells me later, “It’s hard not to hurry when you’ve been hurrying seventy-one years.” I know he's telling the truth and I know this experience will change that. My dad compensates easily when he needs to---at least most of the time.

Last week, I went to a class for caregivers. It’s nice to be called a caregiver, and somewhat weighty. But this I have figured out: I am not one of the real caregivers. The real caregivers are up in the night with sick babies, and with their momma’s bearing down; and they are catching father’s who are battling cancer and side effects. They are hanging bags of fluid and chemotherapy. They are giving shots right into the belly without flinching. They are dispensing medicine and making schedules and asking if we need anything else. And they are bringing supper with a smile even when they don't have a clue about what is on the plate under the dome.

They are every race, both genders. They are jovial and pragmatic. They are old and young, seasoned and learning. Above all, they are committed to their callings.

The men and women who work in the field of medicine are the real caregivers. 

From the kid who talked football with Dad while he took his blood pressure, to the genius I am certain was working an algorithm in his head as he looked over gene studies and body scans, these serve others in ways that comfort and confound, help and heal. 

Last night I was thinking about Thanksgiving and how the schedule says we will be at the Infusion Clinic twice on Thursday, (at least Dad will be there twice.)

I know that we can give thanks in all things because all things are working together for those called to God’s purpose. I determined to set my meditations toward thankfulness even in this, even when battling cancer means riding the roads 130 miles most days.

I walked back over to the cancer center to show gratitude to the ladies who caught my daddy as he crumbled. One of them grabbed my scrawny self up into her arms, whispered in my ear, "God answers prayer."

I tear slipped from my eye. Because He does and she is my sister. 

Tonight I am so thankful for the real caregivers. May they receive many crowns in glory.

I know many of you are caregivers (or you love one.) On behalf of those you have cared for, I thank you and I thank God for you. I pray you have blessed Thanksgiving, even if you have to work. 

Who is the caregiver you thought of as you read this post? Will you share your gratitude in the comment box below?

Linking with Jennifer at #TellHisStory

November 20, 2013

The Promise: Protocol for Healing


She took off her cape before she pulled the stool up and took her seat. She placed her music on the stand and gently laid her fingers on the cool white keys of the Steinway.

I sat waiting for my son to bring his grandfather down to meet me at the cancer center.

I attended a two-hour caregivers meeting earlier this morning. Some of it I knew; some of it they don’t tell you until the treatments are rolling along. It’s probably best. Everyone is different and if there is anything that requires taking a day at a time, it’s fighting cancer.

I told a friend in an email earlier this week what I had learned in the daily-ness of fighting this disease. While sitting in the waiting room, I began to develop a deeper gratitude for God's resolve to set in place his redemptive plan to send Jesus to save those that He loves. As I sat among those fighting to live, I started to think that we don't die when we get cancer or are hit by eighteen-wheelers. We began to die the day we were born into a sin-cursed world. We are all dying. That is why God wasted no time in Genesis 3 when he gave the first hints of the plan that would bring our peace.

The protocol for healing started with a promise.

“The Lord God said to the serpent,

‘Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock
 and above all beasts of the field; 
on your belly you shall go, 
and dust you shall eat 
all the days of your life.

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring;
 he shall bruise your head, 
and you shall bruise his heel.’”                                                                                    (Genesis 3:14-15)

He was the Son of God, Jesus.

He would defeat sin and the devil.

This afternoon Dad and I will sit among the mask-wearers in the waiting room.

I will comfort my aching heart by remembering that God knows the end of every story. Life or death is our destiny...

We usually don't die daily. We live mundanely, and with a fundamental denial that our end is death, physical death. We grasp for the beauty in the now because we cannot wrap our minds around the beauty to come. We settle for what we see with our eyes, hear with ears, and taste on the tips of our tongues. 

Since we can't peak over into eternity, we struggle to live with an eternal mindset; we set eternity aside to live our days. 

God chose to save the dying from the beginning. He determined our redemption and exchanged our broken life for his eternal life. Sin would be crushed through the sacrificial life and death of Jesus.

The God Who Sees knew the end from the beginning. He knew all the living and dying that would happen in the lives of those He created to love, to give him glory.  

We cross the great chasm between our sin and our healing on a cross dripping with the pure blood of Lamb of God, the true chemotherapy. The cross is our healing. The resurrection is our hope.

I listened to the sound of the music climb up through a ten-story atrium. A little bit of heaven bounced off the stone and mortar of the building. People milled around, people who are hurting and healing. And I was reminded again that this is not all there is.

There is more. So much more…

For those of you who read my blog, thanks for indulging me through these days of the “new normal.” That's what they called our days in my class this morning. God is near and I am thankful for the woman who volunteered her talent at the Steinway this morning. God’s Presence seemed a little closer in those soft notes vibrating out of the beautiful instrument of His grace.

 It’s the little things…

Linking with Jennifer at #TellHisStory and Emily at Imperfect Prose


November 18, 2013

The Red Devil and the Red Bull


It’s Sunday afternoon and he should be turning the corner, teeing off on Number Ten. That is what he was doing on Sunday a month ago. Instead he sits across from me leaned back in a waiting room recliner in his short sleeve half-zip windbreaker---his red one. His feet, in his brown loafers, are crossed on a small stool. 

His eyes are closed and he naps breathing into the mask that protects him and others from the enemies we cannot see. His catnap won’t last long. 

I wish he could sleep through this waiting.

We pushed the pumps on the antimicrobial bottles and rubbed the bug killer into our empty hands before we came up to Infusion 4. There are six elevator doors and we push the button and try to guess which one will open. We are never right. It’s good that we didn’t put money on it. We’d be in the hole.

The doctors are throwing everything and the “kitchen sink” at him tomorrow. We are seven days into a three-week run of coming down to the clinic everyday. 

It sounds crazy but it’s true: the doctors (and nurses) are in the process of getting my dad’s bone marrow to a place were it can grow healthy stems cells. Once that happens, they’ll harvest the babies.

We will pray they grow up healthy.

He’s going to have a bone marrow transplant outpatient. Mind-boggling.

He sleeps in his bed every night.

When he gets up the morning he can look out the front windows, out to the field, past the white fence where the Black Angus graze on the last fragments of summer’s Bermuda. The giant bull is easy to spot wearing his red coat among the girls.

We don’t know what the week holds.

The nurse warned me the steroids he starts in the morning will make him restless and moody, not to let him go out and buy everyone a car. I quipped, “Why not?” And we all laughed.

Dad will be popping pills morning and night, two bags of chemo, three treatments in all, one of them they call the “red devil.” The devil will be running through his veins for twenty-four hours a day for four days. 

The “devil” may be running through his veins but I’ll be running to the Savior. More than we need the incredible knowledge of medicine and science, we need the grace and strength to endure it.

Dad needs the grace and strength to endure-- and I need to grace and strength to witness the perseverance that will be required as he bears under the weight of treatment and moves forward in the days ahead. 

The preacher said that word perseverance in the New Testament means to “stand firm.” I am sure he is right. I haven’t been doing word studies lately. But I learned a long time ago that to persevere, or endure, is “to bear under.” It is to move forward even as you carry a great weight.

The bag with all the chemo drugs and battery operated pumps will be heavy the nurse warns. 

He will carry it, bear its burden, move forward in hope.

My sister went with us to the clinic yesterday. It’s a seven-day a week regimen. Yesterday was an easy day and we laughed a lot. We were thankful. Dad is tired, but he is a warrior…

Linking today with Laura at Playdates with God at The Wellspring

November 16, 2013

Waiting


Frost clung to hay fields this week, 
leaving the fragile broken. 
The rigid frame remains.
The seeds have fallen. 
Some will provide sustenance, 
some will die in the dirt, 
be resurrected in the spring. 
Until then we wait through the winter as the darkness falls, 
we wait for life reborn.
"Transition is the sacred place of a watchman waiting. It’s the place of dying to self, to the past, and what is taken for granted, in preparation for a new awakening on the horizon. It’s a co-mingling of grief and hope with the tattered edge of purpose sewn into the spine of the story He’s writing with your name on it."  Shelly Miller, Redemption's Beauty
Sharing in Community at Sandra Heska King's Still Saturday 

November 15, 2013

"Ever Full of Sap and Green"


We use the word “sapped” to describe being depleted.

I have had an exhausting three weeks but I don’t feel sapped helping care for my father as he was diagnosed and began treatment for cancer.

How could that be? I put over a one thousand miles on my car in a week and have driven no further than 60 miles at a time. My backside has sat for hours in chairs in a setting surreal and sterile, warm but cold, alive and dying. 

My body is tired and my muscles on the left side of my neck and shoulder are roped and aching, but the spirit of Christ is alive in me. 

The Scripture shed these leaves of gold on me this morning:

The righteous flourish like the palm tree
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the Lord;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever full of sap and green,
to declare that the Lord is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him. 
(Psalm 92:12-15, ESV)

In Christ, I am not depleted; I am “ever full of sap and green.” 

Last year the willow oak out front waited late into May to sprout its leaves. Every other oak up and down the road was dressed. The willow struggled to put on its shade. My man almost cut it down.

I urged him to give it a little longer. I had scratched the surface and saw the green under its grey coat. The sap bled and I swiped it sticky on my finger. There was hope.

It lived even though it looked like it was dying. 

Looks can be deceiving, and I am remembering this as I head to Infusion 4 today.

Joining Lisa Jo for Five Minute Friday. Word prompt: Tree

November 12, 2013

Growing Pains


Dad asked me if I wanted to take his truck. I said we’d take mine. He crawled into my SUV and I realized I had never driven my Daddy anywhere. I don’t think he even taught me to drive. I learned to drive mostly in the pastures on the farm. Somebody taught me to press the clutch and shift the gears. I don’t think it was Dad.

We were on our way for his first outpatient appointment at the Infusion Clinic where he will receive his treatments for cancer in the days to come.

I have been growing up in the past few weeks. Cancer in my parent has put me on growth hormone. I am forty-nine, but I don’t  always feel that way in my head or my heart. I vacillate often between being a little girl and a grandmother.

Yesterday in the car, I was eleven. A few miles down the road, I almost pulled onto the access road instead of the freeway. He was paying attention and steered me in the right direction.

Driving like I had something to prove, I used my signal lights and checked my mirrors and tried to drive just above the speed limit, follow at an appropriate distance.

When we got to the parking deck, we drove around like a mouse in a maze and I parked as close to the door as possible. I wondered if I would be so patient if one of my kids were driving me.

I retrieved the cute blue bag I bought as treat for myself at the end of the summer from behind the passenger seat. It has been my constant companion for the past few weeks. It’s heavy with my big binder called the “Navigator” that tells a lot about the days ahead but not enough. I have my computer in there, a toothbrush, contact solution, books and pens and breath mints.

Everyone in the hospital elevators has complimented me on the bag with pockets all around. I want to tell them I bought it for the beach. 

Dad and I took our seats in the waiting area away from the other waiters, most of whom were wearing masks. We didn’t talk. Just waited. I don’t know what he was thinking but I know next week we will join the mask-wearers, and I am sure he knows it too. What would be the point of talking about it?

After his results came back, we walked back to the maze to head to the house. Dad had an infusion pump filled with potassium in his shirt pocket. I had my blue bag, in it were syringes of saline and heparin the nurse gave me. I would need them to flush his line after the plastic tube sucked the essential mineral into his vein through his central line.

Why they are letting me do that, I don't know?

Eleven-year-olds shouldn’t be flushing central lines. 

And I am having growing pains.

We find out tomorrow the plan to battle for multiple myeloma, which we expect will be a bone marrow transplant using his own stems cells. Our prayer is that he can do much of the treatment as an outpatient. 

We realize more and more how blessed we are that Dad lives within an hour of the world’s foremost clinic for his particular cancer. This is a rare among the patients we will see from day to day. We are thankful since most of those around us in the waiting room are living in hotel rooms.

And just so you know, if you read my last post…I've taken up praying again.

Linking with Jennifer at #TellHisStory and Emily at Imperfect Prose

November 6, 2013

Grace for a Prayerless Day

I got up this morning and put on yesterday’s clothes, ran a brush through my hair and punched the arrow down to the hospital café for a café au lait.

The lady in front of me in the line was having ice cream for breakfast.

It was tempting but I got an orange muffin, skipped the protein.

Last night I had a meltdown on the young nurse that took care of Dad all day. I’m afraid she became the victim of a convergence of reality finally sinking in, hormones, and the barometer. (I don’t know much about barometric pressure but it’s as good excuse as any.)

I thought I might be able to write through this journey with Dad but I am not sure I can. 

Outside the picture window, the city is socked in by fog. Someone said it was warm yesterday but I don’t remember. I suppose there is cool air moving over cold ground and the world outside looks like it is melting away.

My brain is foggy as well. I never think about one thing at time. (Am I the only one?) All this learning about multiple myeloma and the treatments ahead, projecting what is to come, and the wondering how it will all come together has me whirling at times.

A couple days ago, at the end of the day, I realized I had not prayed all day. All day. Not about anything. Not a thank you. Not a, “Help, Lord.”

I had disconnected from my heart. At first, I was alarmed. Prayer is one of God’s greatest gifts. It has been prayer more than anything that has kept me close to his heart, helped me to remember His greatness, and solidified my assurance that He loves me, loves to hear my voice. Prayer is a gift. I don’t usually take it lightly.

But I took the day off.

I wanted to beat myself up for failing to pray. It wasn't a conscience decision, an act of rebellion. So I decided to give myself a break. The next day, after a night in the flannel sheets next to the doc (my husband--so there's no confusion), the first thought when I awakened in the morning was a prayer. Grace.

I thank the Lord for his forbearance, for his compassion, for Jesus who always lives to make intercession before the Father.

I thank him as we await the protocol and grateful he has always known what we are facing. I thank Him for grace for prayerless days. And I thank him that He never leaves his children. Never.

This I know: “when I am weak, He is strong.” 

I want to be a prayer warrior. I want to win the spiritual battle and the physical. 

God's showing me that He is God of the Angel Armies. This battle is His to win and not mine. This dusty flesh sloughing daily reminds me of the greater realities, the real battle is out my hands. 

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.

Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! 


Behold, your God will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.

He will come and save you.”  (Is. 35:3-4)
I hold out my hands and get on my knees, give God my anxious heart. 

“He is mighty to save.”

----------------

Thank you if you prayed me through my prayerless day. I don’t plan having on another one. Truth be told, I am not planning. I am taking the moments as they come, each day a gift. 

Linking with Jennifer at #TellHisStory and Emily at Imperfect Prose

November 3, 2013

Dinosaurs, Some Bears and Shadows



She says she’s scared of three things: “dinosaurs, some bears, and shadows.”

She’s two and three-quarters, going on five.

I know she isn’t talking about the shadows that come this time of year when the arc of the sun causes their dark presence to fall out in front of us as we come up the driveway from getting the mail.

A couple of weeks ago, the three of us caught our shadows in the late afternoon. They became our dancing partners, six girls dancing---Naomi, her baby sister, Olivia, on my hip, and our three shadows.


Naomi isn’t afraid of the shadows that look like her, only taller with longer arms and legs. She’s afraid of the shadows that creep in from the tree branches outside her window. Shadows crawl onto her bedroom floor in the afternoons when she curls up under her covers for a nap. They sneak back at night when the streetlights send them her way after prayers are said and the lights go out. Scary shadows.

When the curly-lock beauty encounters a room mostly dark, where only the silhouettes of the room’s contents can be seen from light over her shoulder, she hesitates. The shadowy room is a menacing place. The room morphs into one big monster shadow.

Shadows are unpredictable. They aren’t vulnerable. They shift when we move. We don’t trust them. We reach for what seems real, look for our way among the shadows, but our hand pushes through and we become unbalanced, especially the night shadows.

Faith lives in shadows. The Light shines from behind us. We only see the teasers, the dim shape of the greater realities. We live in the “shadowland.” We have to remember what we saw in the light and remember what was in the light, remains the same in the dark.

There are times when life turns from light to dark, from seeing to blindness, with a flip a switch. Light or dark, the Lord never changes. He is the God who Sees.
Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. (James 1:17)
My father’s life is about to change. I suppose the truth is it already has. And I don’t believe he will be the same when we get through this time in the shadows. I expect his perspective on life will be different. How could it not?

When God gave me Psalm 91 as my healing psalm when I suffered through a major clinical depression, I embraced the Shadow of God’s Wings, found comfort and peace, love, underneath the Shelter.

Tonight I make my bed next to my Daddy. The NFL plays on the television while he snores sweetly. (I am sure later, I will feel different about the sweet part.) He’s stronger as we wait for the plan, the plan that will bring hope. Tonight I am thinking of the Shadow, remembering he is covered.

We won’t fear the terrors of night or the pestilence that waits in the darkness. We will battle germs, and viruses, try to hold them at bay in the days to come. We will let the medicine bring us to our knees, and then be lifted at the hand of an angel.

At least Dad will. 

I am thinking all of us who love him might need an angel's hand too. We’ve never walked this way before.

I sit on the green couch in the picture window. I gaze past the zoo where the bears roam their cages near the football stadium and the golf course. The sun is sliding down behind the foothills of the Ouachita's brushing the sky pastel.

The shadows are disappearing with the sun. It’s early to bed since the clock fell back last night. Every day is a gift and we are thankful.

Dad and I are steering clear of “dinosaurs and some bears.” And we lying down to sleep in the Shadow of the Almighty.

Dad gets his treatment plan soon. He is ready to fight and regaining strength after a difficult couple of weeks.

And I am taking all of this living in the "shadowland" a moment at a time, because that is all I know to do... 

Linking today with Laura at The Wellspring: Playdates with God