The First Blessing of Cancer: Taking Stock

I’ve tried to be healthy, I really have. I don’t drink or smoke. I eat whole grains, have cut out most refined sugars and exercise pretty regularly. Getting a cancer diagnosis was totally unexpected, to say the least. But a cancer diagnosis for anyone; breast cancer for my mother, a brain tumor for my friend’s 5-year-old son, leukemia for my brother-in-law or even lung cancer for my chain smoking grandfather is equally shocking.

The sentence, “You have cancer,” is distressing because it makes the general truth of mortality an immediate and possible personal reality. It is no longer that people die, but that you, your child, your spouse, or your friend could die. And that they could die in a few days, months, or years. Time is suddenly limited and now more precious. In one simple sentence, your life is forever changed.

But the shock of cancer also leads to the First Blessing of Cancer. Saying “I have cancer” felt like a dream. My immediate next thought was, “Oh no. What about…?”

What about my family, my children, my spouse, my future, my life’s work? Whether you react in sorrow, surprise, numbness or anger to the news, you unconsciously and instantly consider your life’s top priorities.

I was suddenly forced to take stock of my life. I had a more pressing reason to ask heavy and important questions: Have I chosen my priorities well? Have I spent the time where it was best spent? Did I build the relationships I needed to create and nurture? Did I serve God? Did I understand His will for me? Was I accomplishing my life’s purpose?

There are two ways of being: task-oriented and people-oriented. There is no question that I am insufferably task-oriented. But when I take stock, all that really matters to me are my relationships – with my eternal Father and His Son, with my family, and with the people I am meant to know, love and serve in this life. Tasks are needful and good, but relationships are clearly the “better part.”

I suppose I am now faced with an opportunity (a forced one!)  to evaluate and prioritize, but an opportunity nonetheless. We all have this opportunity because none of us know when we will die, but it is easy to forget unless we are confronted with the reality.  “All of us have faced deadlines. Fear can grip us when we realize that there may not be enough time left to finish what we promised we would do. The thought comes, “Why didn’t I start earlier?” Do Not Delay, Henry B. Eyring.

I want to eliminate this kind of fear and regret. I hope my opportunity will not be missed. I am grateful for the First Blessing of Taking Stock and know that it leads to eternal truths: time is limited, life is precious, obedience to true principles is joyful, choices matter, and change is always possible.

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Father and Sons

A Game of Pit Monster

I mentioned to Paul that there are women who think it is just great that he is taking care of the children. They usually say, “It will be good for him” and “He will really appreciate what you do by the time you get back.”

When he is asked how he is doing in raising five boys and doing the heavy lifting of creating a new venture startup simultaneously, he says, “If I had known it was this easy, I would have asked Jenny a long time ago what she did all day!” I guess you have to know Paul. With a smile he says that he wants the names and phone numbers of these women.

More than feeling satisfied that he is learning to appreciate me, I am spending a great deal of time in awe of my husband who is managing a challenging situation with great capacity and courage.

This weekend I had a jail break and travelled to Monterrey to see Paul and my boys. (Don’t tell my doctor. I swear I wore a mask ALL the time!) It was a heavenly weekend with the favorite men in my life. There were family dinners, a special dinner with friends, watching the kids jump on the trampoline, church, naps and stories, snuggle time, hugs and normalcy. It filled me up and was the most perfect weekend I could have imagined.

My husband plays with the boys, tells them original nightly stories, and listens to them. He does have support there, thanks to the loving help given by Tami, Angelica, Cecia, Justin and our many friends in Monterrey, but Paul is a father, a mentor and a friend to these boys. Paul has been walking to school with Neal every day, listening to his chatter about his friend Jose and his teacher, and helping him pick flowers for Mom, Tami and Angie. The new foosball and air hockey tables look like an extended father/son outing to me, but Paul knows this is a time for the boys to bond with one another.

The weekend confirmed that we had made good decisions both for my health and for the family’s emotional needs. The boys will miss me, but they will spend a unique time with their dad that can never be replaced. Paul’s high emotional I.Q. serves him well. He leads kindly and knows the importance of letting the kids make decisions and mistakes which become powerful personal lessons.

As a father and entrepreneur, there will always be a struggle to balance the split between work and home.  The day-to-day decisions like when to come home, when to attend a child’s event, when to take a work call and when to listen to a child will always be a juggling of priorities for any parent, especially one with two full-time jobs.  But in all of these efforts at both work and at home, he is supporting his family physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally. I am forever grateful for all he does for his family.  I am lucky to have such a husband. These boys are lucky to have such a father.

He says that he can never do all that he has seen me do for the kids. He says he handles the situation by telling the kids to “wake up, get dressed, get your own breakfast and run to the OXXO and pick me up some milk!” I know better. These kids are in good hands and they will be just fine.

Can You Say “Conscious Sedation?”

Having my first baby was easy. He was born via c-section and with full spinal anesthesia, I didn’t feel a thing. Our daughter came next as a normal delivery. Paul and I were natural childbearing dropouts after the first class when he heard the instructor say, “Breathe in the light, breathe out the dark.” When I started into full labor with our second baby and really needed the breathing techniques, he suggested “This time, why don’t you try gritting your teeth?” So much for husband help in the area of pain management.

I’ve had six children and yet I am a wimp when it comes to pain. I am not one of those mothers who enjoys the challenge of natural childbirth. I am one of those mothers who is grateful she is not a mother birthing in any part of the history of the world without local anesthesia options. Give me the spinal (for my c-sections) and the epidural for everything else. I am thrilled.

Last Thursday was another bone marrow biopsy before the transplant. I arrived with considerable fear after my first biopsy; a screaming/crying/crush Paul’s hand experience. I had come in that morning happy because I was blissfully naive. I even said yes to additional extracts in the name of research. Little did I know that an unsedated biopsy was a really bad idea.

I was tipped off to the conscious sedation option by my friend Sarah. Prior to the event, I made sure that several people in the clinic (repeatedly) knew I wanted that option.  Paul in his usual form suggested I bring a piece of leather to bite on. They asked if a nursing student could watch the procedure. I think my screaming reputation had preceded me, so the mentoring nurse suggested that I get “good and drugged up.” I don’t know how much of that was for my benefit or was to prevent the student from being too traumatized on her first viewing. It was probably some of both.

In the end, conscious sedation was clearly the right choice. I was fully awake and didn’t even feel loopy. When they finished, my thought was, “I could do that again!” (Well, not at that exact moment of course.)

I will forever request the sedation, a hand to hold AND Andrea the nurse – a perfect bone marrow biopsy combination. I’ll save the leather strap for Paul in his hour of need. He hails from pioneer stock and might actually use it.

Ten Blessings of Cancer

If my family is supposed to be in the refiner’s fire, I want to see the shine. I just started keeping a journal about the “Good things about Cancer.” There are plenty of not-so-good things about cancer, (tomorrow’s bone marrow biopsy being one) but I can’t really spend my time thinking about those and I definitely don’t need reminders.

My new goal is to come up with 10 Blessings of Cancer – a list of reminders of the good, the growth, the learning and the blessings that are here and are coming. I already have a few in mind because they are such obvious blessings to me.

When Paul’s brother David had AML, we held a 300-person fundraiser for him right before his death. We asked all cancer survivors to stand and a small group stood to enthusiastic applause. We asked all those who had immediate family members affected by cancer to stand. Half of the room stood. We asked all those with extended family members affected by cancer to stand and almost every person in the room was standing.  The entire room was on their feet when we asked if they had friends with cancer. Cancer is a community disease. Our symptoms may be different, but we are all affected by it.

I know that many of you have been affected by cancer on very close and personal levels. I would love for you to share with me what you found to be the blessings of cancer. I would love to hear your stories and learn from you to appreciate the good that can come through the trials. I will need the reminders during the more difficult times and will add them to my list. My goal, at a minimum, is to find ten. I am sure there are many more if I keep my eyes open to them.

I am trying to follow the advice of the wise mother who counseled a disappointed son, “Come what may and love it.” Her son said, “I think she may have meant that every life has peaks and shadows and times when it seems that the birds don’t sing and bells don’t ring. Yet in spite of discouragement and adversity, those who are happiest seem to have a way of learning from difficult times, becoming stronger, wiser, and happier as a result.” (Come What May and Love It, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin)

Thank you for your words of support and encouragement. I am so fortunate to know such kind and loving people. (This is one of the 10!) I am doing very well and am getting ready for the stem cell transplant. I look forward to having my husband join me for the next stage we will go through together. I am anxious to hear what you have to say.

What Just Happened to My Life?

I feel like someone just opened the drawers of our family’s life and dumped them onto the floor, expecting us to make sense of what just happened. Can you tell that the reality has just set in? Tami’s Facebook post in Mexico said it best: “Starting to realize I really live in Mexico with 7 boys and this isn’t just a trip.”

Now that we are a few weeks into the process, the whole family is sort of in a stupor. We are all still moving forward, but now that the rush of decisions is over, the day-to-day is setting in. There is no “normal” way to do what we are doing and we are all feeling a bit lost.

We will navigate our way through it, but wow, this is all new.

An Increase in Faith

Today I was supposed to work on updating our family “Putting Your Affairs in Order” binder. It is a practical thing to have a will, powers of attorney and important documents in order, but it was a bit harder to think about today than the last time I updated it 7 years ago.

I suppose none of us have any guarantees about how long we will live in this mortal state. Elder Maxwell called illness and death part of the “common lot of man.” When I think about it like that, the quality of my life matters more than the quantity – my relationships with God, the Savior Jesus Christ, family, friends, the knowledge I can acquire and the service I can render while I am here.

Lately, I have been trying to learn more about faith in Jesus Christ. I start my study wanting to better understand how faith in the Savior relates to healings. I ask myself if I have enough faith to be healed. I think I do. I have always had a firm faith in my Father in Heaven, in His Son, in the restored gospel and the reality of miracles. But in focusing my study on healing, I think I have made a common mistake. Any time we are afflicted, I think it is normal to ask the same questions: How can I get through this, but avoid the pain? Can I skip the hard part? Can this trial be taken from me? Can’t I learn the lesson another way (maybe my own way)? How fast can I get through this?

The pains are real and relief is wanted, but from what I have learned so far these are the wrong questions. My mentor and friend Sarah sent me a quote today I wanted to share.

“No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted.  It ministers to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility.  All that we suffer and all that we endure, expecially when we endue it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God….and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven.” Orson Whitney

And so my study on faith takes a turn away from healing for awhile. Now, I am wanting to know how I can increase my faith to match the severity of the trial. I don’t think my faith of today is enough. I think I need greater faith to get me through.

I mentioned my desire to increase my faith to my friend Esther and she shared with me some talks on faith. Are there better friends than this? One of the talks had a heavy impact and described gaining first-person faith, or faith that is deeply personal and not general. Believing in general that God commands the universe is not the same as believing that He watches over my day-to-day activities. Believing that miracles happened for people in the scriptures is not the same in believing that they can happen personally for me and for my family.

I share the feelings of the man in the scriptures who wanted Christ to heal their son and their family.  He had faith but knew that there could be more. I feel the same way. “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”  (Mark 9:24)

I am praying for an increase in faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  I am just beginning, but I move forward knowing that action is required on my part and also  knowing somehow that pain and a spiritually profitable outcome go hand in hand.  I hope that as my faith grows and matures, I can doubt not and fear not, but be believing.

If you’d like to read a full version of the talk I loved, see: (http://www.byui.edu/Presentations/Transcripts/Devotionals/2007_10_02_Hammond.htm