A Mother’s Heart

Today I am grateful for women with a mother’s heart. I am grateful for my mother, my step-mother, my mother-in-law and the many women I look to as great examples of the type of mother I hope to become. I look to their kind examples of selfless service, kindness and simple acts of love. I am so grateful to the women with a mother’s heart who have cared for me and our children with such love.

These women with mother hearts are strong in their commitments and are positive and happy. They keep their covenants and are unfailingly consistent. They speak truth and their words resonate with their children and the people around them.

These women know that “There is no greater nor more satisfying reward than that which comes from developing men.” A.A. Stambaugh.

They know that the great work to develop humanity comes in the daily shoe-tying, story-telling, spill-cleaning, homework-helping and meal-making. They know that by simple means great things come to pass.

A memorable talk described these life-giving women:

“Who can find a . . . woman [with a mother heart]? for her price is far above rubies. . . . She . . . worketh willingly with her hands. . . . With the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. . . . She stretcheth out her hand to the poor. . . . Strength and honour are her clothing. . . . She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness” (Proverbs 31:10, 13, 16, 20, 25–27).

She educates herself and makes the world around her a better place to be using whatever talents she possesses. Most importantly, she cares deeply about the people around her and about their growth, development and welfare.

The last year has been time for me to take a step back and watch as others tend to our family and to me as well. How much I have learned about mothering from their service! As challenging as it has been to step back and let others take over, I will be forever changed as a mother because of their example. Their actions, driven by their giving hearts, have been those of pure love.

One mother in particular is on my mind today. My mentor and friend Sarah Bertagnole (who is the mother of six and also has myeloma) started her third bone marrow transplant last week. She is now back in Salt Lake City and is receiving an allogenic transplant (a transplant using donor stem cells). She is in the hospital for Mother’s Day and will be in treatment and away from her family for the next four months. Yesterday she said that she knows our children are being watched over and cared for even when we cannot be with them. She is a light and example to me of a caring mother who is adored by her family. She is a woman who is full of faith. We are praying daily for this darling and positive mother and I look forward to seeing her in June and doing what I can to help care for her.

For all women with a mother’s heart, Happy Mother’s Day. For all those in Mexico, enjoy a second Mother’s Day on Tuesday. Your two days of honor are well deserved.

In Remission

Our family came to Utah for Spring Break and for my quarterly testing at Huntsman. I did another bone marrow biopsy and lab work with an MRI thrown in last week. I met with my Utah doctor yesterday and my numbers are showing that I am in remission! Hurrah!

This is great news and we are thrilled.  My Huntsman doctor says that he has gotten over a third of his patients in remission for 8-10 years doing the double transplants. He is waiting on further data to come back, but he believes that this number will move up to 0ver 44% when it does.

There is some debate about multiple myeloma treatments in the MM community. Some doctors favor the double transplants with 3 follow up drug combinations following the transplants. The double transplants are the protocol norm in Europe. Some doctors favor a single transplant with the same three basic drugs. Some doctors favor just using the three drugs without a transplant. This debate can be very confusing for patients. It seems that the problem in determining the most effective treatment is being able to follow the patient for more than 2-3 years. As I understand it, it is rare for doctors to have data for their patients beyond this point. The key question seems to be: How long have you followed your patients?

To really see which treatment is most effective, you need to follow them for 10+ years, not just 2 or 3. The effective myeloma drugs (which came out 8-10 years ago) can alone keep myeloma patients alive for 2-3 years. It is more important to know if a patient relapsed, had to come in for another transplant (or a third) and what the long-term treatment was to keep them alive. My Utah doctor says, “Show me the data.”

I was also happy to learn more about my genomic testing. There are 7 different types of multiple myeloma, all with a different gene mess-up. Mine is the MAFB 14-20 gene, which means that part of the 14 chromosome is stuck to the 20 chromosome and part of the 20 chromosome is stuck to the 14 chromosome. The newer MM treatments are headed to be more personalized, depending on which gene problem you have, so it is good to have this information.

We are happy to be in Utah, happy to have great news about my treatment, and happy to be together!

Happy People

I am getting used to my new routine – from Monterrey to Texas and back every other week. I am so lucky to have friends who have offered to have me stay with them. Todd and Lisa are gracious hosts with a beautiful home and darling girls. They are kind and funny. They are a joy to be around. They are happy people.

My sweet sisters have also come out to be with me in Houston. They are also happy people and have made my time in Houston more fun. We have explored Old Spring, found the Mockingbird Bistro and Escalantes, driven neighborhoods and even gotten a pedicure.

Sondra

My life is filled with happy people. My husband is a happy person, even when he is under stress. Starting a pioneering international venture fund at the same time his wife has had cancer has been quite the family adventure.  Last June, I commented that our first year in Mexico was our hardest year ever. Little did I know what was coming in August or December!

We are working to get the fund settled now that it is closed (congrats to the AVM team – 60M in January!) so we can add a bit more predictability to our life. I am two months into the travel routine and am getting better at coming and going. The 3-year-old is still a bit confused and keeps asking “Are you coming back?” It is a logical question for him after having me gone for 6 months during the transplants. Really, it has been plain hard on everyone.

Over the last two months, I have been frozen by my to-and-fro treatments and the stress of the startup. But you can only be paralyzed for so long before you have to do something else. Being a victim is really not sustainable living. I tried it, I really did. But the anxiety didn’t really get me anywhere. And so I am consciously making the transition from being a victim to someone who is empowered.

Happy people have a secret. They look at the world in terms of what must be done to change it and they use their agency to change the environment around them. Some happy people have taken charge of their healthcare – educating themselves on their disease and tracking their results. Some happy people look around to see how they can serve others – how they can make someone else’s day just a little better. Some happy people never accept a status quo – there is work to be done to change their world. There is a theme here – choice and then action. We get happy in the doing.

Knowing that you should do these things to make yourself happy is very different than doing the things that will bring you joy. As Stephen Covey says, “To know and not to do is not to know.”

If you want to be really depressed, tell yourself that you can’t change anything, watch some TV, be resigned to the way the world is. Do everything you can to be passive. It is a sure-fire recipe for sadness.

For me, it is time for the something else. I can exercise a little every day because I need the endorphins. I can tend to the 6 kids, my husband and my friends with cancer that need attention. I can continue my research to ultimately change the way healthcare works. There are plans and decisions to make to provide a sustainable way to live. For all that I can’t do, I blame the dexamethasone. But there is so much that I can.

What Matters Most

I met my new doctor this Wednesday at MD Anderson and we had a great meeting. He is a top doctor in the field of myeloma and it is always enlightening to learn more about the latest and greatest in research and clinical trials.

At the airport later in the day, the impact of what he actually said hit me. I realized that his message was in no way comforting, just a reminder of reality. I burst into tears. He said that even if I get into remission, myeloma is not one of those cancers that if you don’t have signs of it after two years, you are clear. Myeloma always comes back eventually. And there is no cure. He is a doctor, researcher and scientist. Given the statistics and his experience, they were realistic comments. My Utah doctor phrases things differently. He says, “One-third of our patients can get into remission for up to 8-10 years.” Still realistic, but said in a glass-a-third-full sort of way.

I moved out of the Bentleys after living there for 7 months, came to Mexico, went back to Utah for more test, came back to Mexico again and have now gone to Houston to start the new year’s worth of treatments. I will be spending significant time in Houston getting the treatments, flying back and forth between Mexico and Texas. Is it any wonder that I am in a state of emotional flux?

When I am home, I am struggling to find my place again. I have free time, but as the doctor reminded me, my time is potentially limited. So with all that to think about, what should I be doing? What do I want to be doing? What matters the most? I am watching while Paul is working furiously to close his Mexico venture fund, writing a book about the entrepreneurial process, and fundraising for his Mexico City private equity fund. He is going 100 miles an hour while I am contemplating my life’s purpose on earth. It seems unnatural to be just laying there, sharing in the emotional stress of a startup, but not being in a position to help out too much.

Actually, I find that the cyclone of the startup and the stillness of my cancer have surprisingly a lot in common. They both ask the question, “What is worth my time and energy?”

I just read Paul and Nathan’s Nail It Then Scale It book again before it went to print. The main idea for entrepreneurs is to cycle through business ideas quickly without spending years and millions building a business that won’t ever make it. The idea is to fail fast and fail early, saving time, money, reputation (and may I add relationships). The process takes humility and discipline, but the reward is worth the effort.

Life is like that. We accept or reject ideas about how to spend our time, trying to avoid the crash-and-burn ending. The process takes humility and discipline, but the eternal reward is definitely worth the effort.

My brother-in-law who interviewed for a new job is contemplating the same question with two different approaches: Is there something I should be doing – a sort of pre-ordained destiny that I was meant to fulfill and a work that only I can do? Or should I simply decide on what that good thing is and then set about achieving it?

The scriptures are full of people who were called to do a specific work – Samuel was chosen to be a prophet when he was just a boy and Moses was called to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. The disciples were chosen by Christ and “left their nets straight away.” Most of them said, ‘Who, me? Really? But I am just an ordinary man.” They were all asked to do unbelievably hard things, but at least they knew they had God’s endorsement and power to accomplish anything He asked them to do.

I guess the key point is that they were called by their Creator to do a specific work that He qualified them to do. Most of us aren’t commanded to appear before a burning bush, only invited to do His work, counseled to obey the commandments and then are left to our own judgments about how we spend our time.  I do think that I came to earth at a specific time in history and that I have a place to be and a work to do. I also believe that I will have to account for the work I did here. But if we were all told exactly what to do every minute we were here, it would be too easy. We would not have to sift and sort, prioritize, choose or reject the many offerings in front of us. We would also not have to assess our own talents, strengths, weaknesses, willingness to take risks, or decide on the best venue for our talents. We could blame God for our predicaments, (“Well you told me to go do this!”) even if the work was done with less-than-perfect execution or seriously flawed judgment.

(And maybe this is why those rarely chosen were uniquely qualified with a special blend of timing, opportunity, character, faith, obedience, and confidence in God)

I guess these thoughts just bring me back to the question, “What matters most?” Whether I have 3 years left or more than 30, cancer has forced me to prioritize. I keep coming back to the same 3 things: Doing God’s work and living righteously so I can stand before Him at the end of my life with confidence and joy, caring for my family and those eternal relationships, and gaining knowledge – all three being things that matter now and forever.

On the flight to Texas, I sat next to a man who was a testicular cancer survivor. He had been cancer-free for 16 years. I asked him what he learned by having cancer. His answer was, “Today. Live for today. Love the people in your life today. You never know how many tomorrows you will have. Most people live in their future – when I do this or when that happens, then I’ll have really done something. They completely forget about enjoying today.”

I guess what matters most is finding a way to make faith, family and learning part of our todays. That way we will have lived enough, loved enough and learned enough, regardless of when we are called to go.

Good News

I was in Utah last week for follow-up testing and a doctor’s visit. My doctor says that my numbers are looking very good. The myeloma markers have dropped dramatically. I am not in formal remission yet and it may take a few months, but he expects that I am headed in that direction, so it was very good news at the visit. It is nice to know that two transplants are in my past, that the long separation is over and that I am back with my family again.

I will come back to Utah quarterly to be checked on my progress. In the meantime, I start a new therapy that will run for a year. We are still working on how and where to get that administered.

Thanks for all of your support and love!

 

The Seventh Blessing of Cancer: Greater Gratitude

The saying goes “If you have your health, you have everything.” With my health on hold, cancer is teaching me about the true nature of gratitude.

My life will never be perfect. Logically, I already knew this, but it is so easy to wait to be happy – for the job to take off, the house to be clean, the kids to be more independent, my health to return. If life’s circumstances would just get into alignment with my expectations, then I’d really have something to be grateful for!

Has the selfish nature of this expectation ever been so exposed? Now that I can see it so clearly, I laugh at the ridiculousness of waiting to be happy, for gratitude and happiness come hand in hand.

“A man only begins to be a man when he ceases to whine and revile, and commences to search for the hidden justice which regulates his life. And as he adapts his mind to that regulating factor, he ceases to accuse others as the cause of his condition, and builds himself up in strong and noble thoughts; ceases to kick against circumstances, but begins to use them as aids to his more rapid progress, and as a means of discovering the hidden powers and possibilities within himself.” As a Man Thinketh, James Allen.

It may be human nature to focus on what is lacking, to blame others for present circumstances and to ignore blessings received, but it produces ingratitude, which leads to sorrow and depression.

It strikes me that I cannot simultaneously complain and be grateful. It is impossible. I must pick one or the other at any given moment. I am either grateful or ungrateful, and as a consequence, happy or unhappy.

“Both abundance and lack [of abundance] exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend … when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that’s present—love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature, and personal pursuits that bring us [happiness]—the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience heaven on earth.” Sarah Ban Breathnach, in John Cook, comp., The Book of Positive Quotations, 2nd ed. (2007), 342.

Being in a health crisis has given me greater awareness of my blessings. I am more grateful for the gift of life and the opportunities for growth it provides. I have greater appreciation for the gifts of nature; of air to breathe and sun to warm. Being away from my husband and children has given me greater appreciation for the amazing people that they are, and for the divine institution of the family. Receiving so much service has made me very aware of the compassion and goodness of the people around me.

Someone said that unexpressed gratitude is like wrapping a gift and never giving it. I am learning to spend more time expressing my gratitude in thank you notes, emails and phone calls. Expressing my gratitude in prayer for all that I have been given has also changed me. When I choose gratitude, I am measurably happier.

Can I actually be grateful for adversity? This may be the true test of my gratitude or lack of it. I know that adversity brings me to my knees, a “remembrance” of all I have been given and humility that the world is not here to cater to my demands. As James Allen stated, it may mean that I grow at a more rapid pace and discover strengths within myself I never knew I had. It may also open doors of opportunity and give me the courage to create something of value for others.

After learning the story of Kathy Giusti, the founder of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, I see how this is possible. When she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 1996, there was a 3 year life expectancy with no treatment path and no effective myeloma drugs. She was married with a one-year-old baby. She decided to have another baby and received a bone-strengthener. She and her sister founded the MMRF, now one of the top foundations in the nation. Because of her courage to create a foundation that would bring together research, pharmaceutical companies, care facilities and patients, she propelled the research forward. Today, there is a treatment path and known drugs that have doubled life expectancy. Because she brought multiple groups together, the myeloma drugs are approved 35-40% faster than other drugs. In 2005, she received a bone marrow transplant with her twin sister as a donor. Fifteen years later, she has watched her children grow and is there to raise them. Was she grateful to have myeloma? I can’t say, but I am grateful she had myeloma because she changed my future dramatically.

I may not now understand the hidden blessings that will come as a result of adversity, but I know that they will unfold in time. I suspect they will become more obvious as I decide to look outside myself to the service that I can provide to others.

I understand now why “gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” Cicero, in A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles, sel. H. L. Mencken (1942), 491.

Gratitude is the wellspring of happiness, the foundation of humility, the origin of optimism and the source of vision. Because of cancer, I will forever be more grateful.

Farewell, Utah

The New Year is here and my family has since returned to Mexico after a fun visit in Utah during the holidays. I followed them a day later and returned to Mexico after living in Utah for more than 7 months.

It has been a week of transition – from very cold weather to a sunny 75 degrees, from friends and family in Utah to our newer circle of friends in Mexico, and from lots of quiet alone time to time back with the family.

It will take some time to adjust, but it is a great adjustment to be back with the family again. The kids aren’t quite sure what to think. Neal keeps asking if I am staying. I have been enjoying just being near them and listening to them. I still can’t do much, but it is enough to just be here and to give the kids hugs.

I leave Utah with mixed emotions. So much of our family is there and so many long-time friends are there. We love you all. We have been watched over and cared for by so many of you.  Thank you, Karen and Brian and family for having me in your home. Thank you, Sharon for your amazing care and love. Thank you to all our friends and family for all you have done for us – for your encouragement and support, for your kind acts of service, and for your prayers.

We are continuing our work in Mexico – to create a venture fund that will provide innovation and jobs for the good people here. I will be returning to Utah quarterly for testing and will be doing my annual maintenance therapy in Texas. Our lives have increased in complexity, but we know that we will make it through if we remember where our true strength lies.

May we see you all again soon!

The Sixth Blessing of Cancer: Greater Strength Through Suffering

After 6 months of treatment, I have finished two stem cell transplants. I am giving myself a sticker that says, “I can do Hard Things.”

Suffering is not a fun word. No one really looks forward to it. Most of us go out of our way trying to avoid it, but suffering is part of the human experience.

I ask myself why suffering is completely necessary. Why does personal growth have to come with such a high price tag? Why can’t my test of character come on a Mexican beach with ceviche, chips and an umbrella smoothie? I’ve been there before, and I LIKED it.

But all of the truly great people who have experienced suffering say the same thing about adversity:

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” Helen Keller

In the middle of the suffering, I did not want to hear this. It seems a bit too rah-rah for such a hard moment when I was simply thinking about survival. During the low times, I just want to get through the suffering and be reassured that people love me. Although I know it is true, I don’t want to be told that opposition means growth or that adversity is for your own good. But after some suffering has subsided, I can face the truth. Lying motionless in an infusion room has taught me more than the lying on the beach.

A church leader once said that there are four types of adversity: 1) Adversity created by our poor choices 2) Adversity created by the poor choices of others 3) Adversity that is the “common lot of man” like death and disease, and 4) Adversity that is a personal tutorial for each of us individually.

The last six months started as the “common lot of man” adversity, but has truly become a very personalized set of challenges, growth and instruction. The result has been the receiving of hidden gifts. Suffering for me has produced four outcomes:

First, true suffering broke me down to my foundation. What would I rely on during the hard times? My level of mental, physical, moral and spiritual strength was tested and measured. My beliefs were tested and tried. My foundation was revealed and I clung to it with all my might. My foundation was first my faith. It was steady and sure, even when I wasn’t. My foundation was also a heavy reliance on my family and friends, who gave me great service, support and encouragement.

Second, after the initial shock wore off, suffering required that Paul and I act. Sitting on the beach, it is easy to hypothesize about how I would react to a cancer diagnosis, how I would treat my doctors and nurses, or how much I would really complain, but the infusion room is the Real Deal. There is no more “maybe I would…”, there is only action and choice. “Enduring well” without self-pity was the goal. We chose a treatment plan out of several options: herbal medicine, moderate long-term chemo, or two back-to-back bone marrow transplants. We made decisions to have Paul and the kids go back to Mexico. I agreed to show up every day for treatment. I agreed to more pulls during a bone marrow biopsy in the name of genetic research. Paul moved his office into the house. There were other actions we could take – We could complain about our circumstance, or not, and we could reach a breaking point and break, or not. Suffering required action on our part.

“Action is character,” says F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fortunately or unfortunately, the third outcome was a display of character. Our actions showed what we were made of. While we have tried our best, times of trial always reveal areas where we are already strong, and areas where more work is needed. Strengths and weaknesses are both exposed. I could feel about 5 weaknesses being addressed all at the same time through the same trial –  a crash course of growth. Exposing the Real Me was a barometer of character and the exposure revealed our core thinking about how to live life, but my display of character mattered only if I remembered the fourth outcome: learning.

“The reward of suffering is experience,” says Harry S. Truman. The last and ultimate outcome of suffering for us was to become smarter and wiser, but only if we chose to see it. Anne Morrow Lindbergh wisely said: “I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness and the willingness to remain vulnerable” (“Lindbergh Nightmare,” Time, 5 February 1973, 35). Perhaps it is not the process of simply enduring the trial, but in the process of overcoming the trial that we gain the experience. 

I see the value of our suffering. We gained confidence and experience in our decision-making and in our trials. The move of Paul and the kids to Mexico was the right choice. The treatment at Huntsman was the right choice. Moving forward with faith was the right choice. Worry, which was natural, seemed to always be the wrong choice. The simultaneous demands of my health and work pushed us to a level of concern we had never seen before and it forced us to expand our capacity.

My brother-in-law’s severe leukemia and death almost six years ago prepared both Paul and me for what is required today. The highs were high, the lows were low, and the stress was unimaginable. The deep effects linger for his wife and six children, whom we love dearly. The learning for all of us was permanent. The trial prepared us for my cancer. We are calmer, smarter, stronger and more discerning. There are actions we would repeat. There are actions we would avoid. We were forced to mature and so we did, because we had to.

Call me slow, but I can’t learn every lesson the first time around. Supporting David and Tonya through his cancer helped to prepare us. The two back-to-back stem cell transplants were the same, but I learned radically different and important lessons during each transplant.

I don’t like pain and suffering, but I have seen it’s purpose and I am forever changed by it. I hope I am becoming good timber as described in this poem:

Good Timber

The tree that never had to fight

For sun and sky and air and light

But stood out in the open plain

And always got its share of rain,

Never became a forest king

But lived and died a scrubby thing.

The man who never had to toil

To gain and farm his patch of soil,

Who never had to win his share

Of sun and sky and light and air,

Never became a manly man

But lived and died as he began.

Good timber does not grow with ease,

The stronger the wind, the stronger the trees.

Douglas Malloch (or unknown)

The last six months have been painful but productive. Anything I have given up has been generously recompensed to me in greater compassion for the suffering of others, greater gratitude for simple things given to me everyday, greater patience to endure just a little longer, greater appreciation for the love shown, and greater confidence in my ability to do hard things.  I have tested out my foundation and have found it to be secure and dependable. Knowing that the Savior descended below all things gave me an immense sense of comfort and awe for the Atonement.

In hitting severe lows, I have also given myself mental permission to have greater joy in the highs. I want to smile more, sing at the top of my lungs, learn to dance the salsa, eat flourless chocolate cake and empanadas without guilt, meet fascinating people, visit a Mexican beach with ceviche and a smoothie, and embrace every high with greater enthusiasm. Beyond the experiences of self, I have learned how true joy comes – tending to the needs of others.

Our trial has been preparation for the future, personal instruction, and productive growth. There will always be more suffering, but it will make us become better. I have gained strength and will be ready for what is to come.

The Fifth Blessing of Cancer: More Powerful Prayer

The kindest words anyone can say to me are: “We are praying for you.”

Family and friends are praying for me. My name is on temple prayer rolls. A Pentacostal group in Greenville, South Carolina is praying for me. A Presbyterian group in Salt Lake is praying for me. Sharon’s mom’s prayer group in Wisconsin is praying for me. Many Catholic friends in Mexico are praying for me. People I hardly know tell me that they are praying for me.

Being on the receiving end of this many prayers is new for me and it has completely changed the way I view prayer. I am changed mostly by the way I feel physically. When people say, “I am praying for you,” I respond, “I can feel it.” Their prayers are giving me joy, a physical sense of peace, and a comfort I can only describe as a substance. It is not just a feeling, but a physical presence that feels like tangible matter surrounding me. It is a physical display of a spiritual idea. Your prayers support and uplift. They cheer me and comfort me. Prayer works.

I will never pray for other people in the same way again. I now have greater confidence in the tangible reality of the support that is provided through prayer. My increased faith in prayer makes my prayers more fervent when I ask for blessings for others.

Actually, the entire nature of my prayers have changed during these two transplants. Before cancer, it was easy for me to fall into patterns when it comes to prayer – repetition, distraction, or presenting my “wish list.” But building a relationship with my Creator takes serious effort, “Prayer is a form of work,” (Prayer, BD) I am told. Cancer’s blessing is more powerful prayer.

I have two assumptions when I pray. The first is that God loves me and wants me to be happy. The second is that He wants me to grow as much on my own as possible and wants me to use my free will to do the growing. He offers a condition with a promise: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). The responsibility lies with me to do the asking, seeking and knocking.

With these two assumptions in place, my prayers have changed in three major ways. First, my prayers have changed in intensity. An intense cry for help was my first prayer. Cancer had my attention.We had much to gain or lose by the decisions we were making about my treatment and the kids. The decisions were literally life-changing for every family member. We were at a new level of complexity that warranted a new level of intensity.

The nature of my prayers also changed. Now, they are more conversational. I still use terms of respect like Thee and Thou, but I open my heart and  share everything as I would to a close friend. I describe the situation as a whole; the factors that exist, the possible options, and the decisions we’ve already made. When I am at a loss, I have become very good at saying, “I don’t understand with my limited perspective. Please teach me.”   I am counseling with my Counselor.

Lastly, I have more gratitude in my prayers now than ever before. You would think that I would have more requests than gratitude during a health crisis, but the opposite has been true. I have noticed more about what could have gone wrong but hasn’t. I went through three rounds of chemo during an entire fall season and into the winter without a cold, flu, or sore throat. I have not contracted pnemonia, something that I caught 3 times in the last winter I was in Utah. Our children have thrived, even during a time of great stress. They are doing well and have been safe. Work has progressed steadily and stressfully, but well. I have been very aware and grateful for all of the support and love from family and friends that has made this whole thing possible.

How have my prayers worked so far? Like I said before, I can feel the support from prayer. My prayers have in many ways been answered by the angels around me – the family and friends who have tended to our many needs. When it comes to receiving answers, I have learned much over the last few months. I rarely get answers to prayers in the moment of prayer. It is when I get off my knees and start the seeking process that I will run across a great talk, a song with words that inspire, advice from a friend, or a scripture that gives me my answer. I have learned the most in the last few months by the answers not immediately received. Sometimes I felt like I was praying but not being heard. In some cases, I already had received an answer and I was praying for constant reassurances when in fact I needed to trust in the answer I had already received. “Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?” (D&C 6:23)

For answers still not yet received, I realized that it was a timing issue when I wanted the answer now. I am working on patience and I am slowly getting better at it. He has a plan that involves more people than just me and I can see His hand in the work happening around me.

While I wait, I will continue to pray.

Thank you to all who have been praying for me. I am eternally grateful for your faith and your love.

I will forever pray for you during your times of struggle and challenge and I know my prayer will be heard and answered .

Sisters

If you have not yet seen my favorite Christmas movie this season, it’s high time break out the classic, White Christmas. My kids tell me that people don’t burst into song in real life, but maybe life should be more like a musical. Music has a way of healing souls.

“Sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters…” My sisters fit this description perfectly.  My older sister just came into town to help me for 5 days and it was so nice to have her here. This illness is giving me more time to spend with my sisters, which is time I am treasuring. We all have busy families and getting together is hard, especially with a sister living in California and our family in Mexico. Cancer is giving us reasons to get together, serve one another and enjoy each other’s company.

These are my sisters – the girls who have helped shape my life.

I looked up to my older sister and wanted to learn how to become a beautiful girl by watching her. I noticed how she did her makeup, how hot rollers worked, and how she dressed. She has a great sense of style and could easily design and sew her own couture prom dress. Her sewing inspired me to learn how to sew as well. She taught me by example how to make beautiful things. She still brings me beautiful things and after this trip, I am the owner of a fabulous pair of red Christmas flannel pajamas. Thank you, Karen!

She also led the way in cooking exploration. She built on Mom’s basics and tried new things. It is because of her that I ventured into trying new dishes every Sunday until I learned how to be a better cook. Her cooking abilities have served me greatly. During all of her visits, she has made me delicious and healthy food and has stocked the freezer with perfect soups and meals just for cancer patients.

My younger sister was my pal at home. When we were younger, the only thing she ever wanted was my attention. When I practiced the piano, she would jump around the corner and push the lowest key and then jump back behind the wall. She would repeat this exercise until I jumped off the piano to chase her down and give her the attention she wanted.

We would spend hours in the backyard just hanging out and talking, eating half gallons of ice cream with spoons out of the carton and making fun of high school social scenes. While our metabolisms have slowed down, our friendship hasn’t. She is now the one giving me a great deal of attention, even though she has a family with 5 of her own children to attend to.  She has been a great source of comfort and cheer during this treatment. Seeing her often has been so much fun, even if it is in the infusion room or during a stem cell transplant. She is my pal and has brought me everything from food to blankets and has even taken over my knitting fiasco project. Most of all, she is a listening ear and great company. Thank you, Sondra!

How grateful I am for sisters!

My Sister’s Hands
My sister’s hands are fair and white; my sister’s hands are dark
My sister’s hands are touched with age, or by the years unmarked
And often when I pray for strength to live as He commands
The Father sends me sustenance in my sisters hands.
And yet I know that should I mourn, I need not weep alone
For often as I seek His grace to lighten life’s demands
The Father sends me solace borne in my sister’s hands.
My sister’s hands: compassion’s tools that teach my own their art
Witnesses of charity within the human heart
Bearers of the Savior’s love and mercy unto man
I have felt the Master’s touch in my sister’s hands.
Sally DeFord