Posted in focus on faith

Pancreatic Cancer as God’s Canvas

IMG_2724“There’s a mass on my kidney,” our daughter Christine said shakily into the phone. Her dad took the call on my cell because I was paying for some shoes at the mall. He stepped into the hallway, pacing and murmuring, while I tried not to show my impatience with the chatty associate who was handling the transaction. I hurried over to where Gerry was in time to hear him say, “Stay there. We are on our way.”I could tell by the look on Gerry’s face that the report of our daughter’s ultrasound was not good. When he said “mass” and “kidney” I stopped breathing. My mother died from kidney cancer. I was shaking so badly I had to lean on the wall while Gerry said all the smart things: we don’t have all the facts yet; it’s too soon to panic; blah blah blah. Of course he was right but he needed to knock the monster off my chest so I could breathe!

That was almost exactly two years ago and yesterday our daughter had her second surgery to remove tumours from her pancreas — the “kidney” diagnosis turned out to be inaccurate. It has been a difficult and beautiful season in our family’s life. “Difficult” because no mother wants her child (grown or otherwise) to suffer. Every mother wishes to take the suffering on her own shoulders and let her child live in glorious freedom. But trading places is not an option. “Beautiful” because God uses our suffering as the canvas on which to paint Himself. Every time you look at that canvas you see Him and you know He cares, He knows, He is with you, He was ready for this, He’s in control, and so much more as the canvas takes on colour and pattern and depth.

There’s hardly a family that hasn’t been touched by cancer so you know what I mean when I say that the early days of waiting for the right diagnosis, the treatment options, the prognosis, the side effects (and so on) seem to drag on forever. You want answers. But you only want good answers, hopeful answers, dodged-a-bullet answers. If the cancer is rare, as Christine’s is, the answers are even slower in coming. Meanwhile, swatches of colour began to appear. The first was when we realized that the tumours on Christine’s pancreas had no symptoms and would never have been discovered until they had done irreparable damage. However a separate minor medical problem required ultrasound. And in the search for something else, the technician noticed a golfball sized mass and other smaller ones in Christine’s abdomen. The touch of God’s hand was obvious right from the start.

After Christine’s first surgery where they removed the tail of her pancreas that held seven cancerous tumours of various sizes she suffered hideously with uncontrollable pain and severe nausea. On her darkest night when she could not stop herself from crying out a young nurse came alongside her bed, took her hand and began to pray. Christine opened her eyes and saw Robyn Booth, the daughter-in-law of my dear friend Susan. Robyn’s comforting presence and heartfelt prayers as well as her subsequent search for better pain control was a giant swath of colour onto God’s canvas.

It took a year for Christine to regain her strength. She went back to work, taking two casual nursing positions. Two months later an MRI revealed a new tumour on the pancreas. We didn’t see it coming. I was on my way back from speaking in Georgia, enjoying some quiet in the Denver airport’s United Club when I read the text telling me the news. I had to find a bathroom stall so I could weep unseen. I called Gerry, bawling, and told him to tell Christine I would talk to her in the morning since my arrival home would be too late. The truth was I didn’t trust my composure. I packed my computer and iPad into my carry-on and stumbled to my gate in a fog. Someone called my name. I turned to see Patsy Woodard, a friend and fellow ministry associate from BC. She was en route to visit grandkids in Texas(?) and she saw me pass by.

“How are you?” she asked.

“Not good,” I replied, eyes watering. I explained. Patsy wrapped her arms around me and prayed, right there in the crowded airport hallway as people flowed around us. Drops of colour shaped like tears fell onto the canvas. God was present.

There’s so much colour on God’s canvas, I can’t begin to put it into words in one oversized blog. Here are some snatches: Christine, Brad and the kids bought a house four doors down a year before the cancer struck. I have been able to rush over — in pjs! — many times when needed. The kids have come to my place — in cuter pjs — many times. Colour on canvas! Women all over Canada and the US are praying for Christine as I share her story in my speaking ministry and so many keep in touch and send encouragement. Splashes of colour! When Christine arrived in the Operating Room yesterday morning, a woman from her fitness class was a nurse in the adjoining OR. She spoke to Christine assuring her that her attending doctors were the best in the area. Colour!

Two years ago in July, when my husband Gerry had his burnout, I felt God whisper into my ear, “Gerry needs a wife.” Obviously, he had a wife but I was so busy with my speaking and writing that I was very distracted. I stopped writing immediately — look at my blog (or lack of) for evidence. I honoured my speaking engagements but did nothing to get more — newsletters rather scarce! You see, God knew that by the time Gerry had recovered (after our “summer of love”), we would get the call from Christine that changed everything.

Christine called us from her hospital bed last night. Her pain was under control. She had no nausea. The surgeon says everything went according to plan and her pancreas is clear. She is in good spirits and excitedly reported how God had so obviously been adding colour to His canvas all day long.

I booked half as many events as usual these past two years but my husband needed his wife and my daughter, her mom. I answered their call, His call. I am following God one yes at a time and have no regrets. His magnificent canvas, ever before me, is proof that I am on the right path.

What about you? Where has God led you in these last months? Can you see the colours on His canvas of love?

Posted in need a laugh?

Beauty is the Beast

I have been obsessed with body image since I was old enough to understand there was such a thing. In elementary school I was keenly aware of my size; I matured early so while my classmates all looked like Skipper (the teenage version of the Barbie doll), I looked like Big Ethel (of Archie comic infamy). Bigger than most of the girls and far bigger than all the boys in Grade Six, I was teased and had only one friend – my cousin.

Don’t feel sorry for me; I was also a bully. I made sure I wasn’t on the bottom of the heap and did my share of making life miserable for those unlucky girls who somehow managed to have even less going for them than I did. Man, kids can be cruel!

In Junior High, things began to change for me because my womanly looks became an asset instead of a liability. That’s when body image really became an obsession. I never just hung out in the school hallway, carefree and relaxed. I sucked in my stomach, crossed my ankles in order to hide my bowed legs, lifted my chin, threw my shoulders back…sheesh!

I started dieting in Junior High and jogging in High School. I was never, not ever, satisfied with how I looked. I was always 10 pounds too heavy, too wide in the hips, too short, had too much hair, too small eyes, and so on and so on. The list was endless. And boring. And disgustingly self-centered.

Now here’s the part where the good Christian girl says, “Then I met Jesus and everything changed! I fell in love with Him and My Body and we lived happily ever after!” I wish that were true. Well, not really…the fact is, I did meet Jesus at the age of 18 and boy did He make some major changes! However, the body image issue ran deep and I now know it was one of those lifelong battles that ain’t over yet!

Paul, my current favorite Bible guy, had some lifelong issues too. In his letter to the church in Corinth he referred to one of his issues as his “thorn.” (2 Cor 12: 7) And even though he asked God three times to remove it, the thorn remained. Instead, Paul learned a valuable lesson about himself and about God, specifically, “My grace is sufficient” (v.9) In other words, we are going to have some issues in our lives that will always be there and we have a choice. We can either focus all our energy on bemoaning their presence and begging for relief. Or we can accept them and take them straight to Jesus and ask Him to use us anyway – thorn and all.

My obsession with body image has not stopped me from following God into living the dreams He has for me. If anything it has kept me coming back to Him over and over for healing and help and strength. My thorn is a constant reminder that I need Jesus every day. All day. Especially now as I watch with a mixture of horror and relief while my body droops and sags and folds over on itself creating roadmaps of history on my face and neck.

“Your neck is wrinkly Gram,” said Jasmine, my six-year-old granddaughter when we both bent over to peek in the oven window at the rising muffins. “Wrinkles are ugly right Gram?” Her little piping voice made it sound like she was announcing her favorite color was purple. “That’s okay though because when I’m a Gram, you’ll be dead!”

Perspective is everything.