Handle with care

I have never given much thought to the power that words and actions can have on one’s mental state. But as of recently, things that people have done for me or said to me have changed my outlook on my whole day (either good or bad). I know I need to depend on the hope that Christ gives and not let the words of others have such an effect on me, but I am human and they do. These are things that I would never have considered before, so I thought I would shed some light based on my recent experiences. Please don’t be offended! I am pretty skilled at putting my foot in my mouth myself, so I can relate!

1. If you have a story about someone you know with cancer… and they died… Don’t tell it to me!

Even if you find the story inspirational, (which it very well may be) I probably won’t see it that way at this point in my life. All I hear is that they had cancer and now they are gone. Maybe when I am further out from this disease, I can appreciate the story, but right now I am not in a place to hear it.

My radiation oncologist gave me some constructive advice. He said, “Your story is not their story.” My experience is not the same as anyone else’s and should not be compared to others.

He also told me that this is the one time in my life where it is acceptable to stop someone when they are telling me a story about their great aunt “what’s-her-name” who had a long journey with cancer that didn’t end well. He told me to tell them, “I’m sorry. I don’t need to listen to this at this time of my life.” I don’t know what it is about being bald, but everyone has a story about someone with cancer they want to share with me.

“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” Proverbs 12:18

I have found that cancer treatment has a huge mental component. I am fine 96% of the time, feeling calm and enjoying my life, but the other 4% of the time anxiety threatens to overtake me. Most of the time it is directly correlated to a well-meaning comment from someone. I would just encourage you to think twice before you share a story about someone else’s cancer journey.

2. Don’t tell them you know EXACTLY what they are going through because you once had a suspicious looking mole…

I’m not discounting that it was a scary experience, but I’m not sure you know the level of fear that comes from awaiting PET scan results to see if your cancer has overtaken your body.

I don’t even claim to know what another person with cancer is going through. Every journey is different and has its own struggles. Also, every person is unique before they are diagnosed with cancer, so of course they are not going to handle their journey the exact same way as anyone else.

3. Don’t ask what their prognosis is.

Nothing makes me want to vomit quicker than thinking about the different direction my diagnosis could have taken. I have been given a pretty great prognosis and I hate being asked about it, so I can’t imagine how unsettling it must be for the people who don’t have the best news to give. If they bring it up, great! If not, I would strongly encourage you to leave it alone.

4. SHARE your success stories!

I want to hear stories of survivors! I want to know there is life after chemo. I think of death and illness so frequently. I crave to know that life will begin again. So often we hear of the lives that cancer has taken and I think that sometimes it overshadows the MANY who have battled and won. It boosts my spirit to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I have had one lady who has been through a somewhat similar experience tell me that this is a season of my life and I will get through it. I know she doesn’t have a crystal ball but hearing these words empowers me to fight harder.

5. Send cards, encouraging texts, little gifts, ask how they are doing, and support them

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians‬ ‭5:11‬ ‭

There are 4 different women who send me a card every week, and I love getting them. Most of them say “still praying” which gives me such a mental boost.

I also have a few friends that text me every so often telling me they are praying for me or send me scripture verses they find encouraging. They remember what days my treatments and appointments are and text me to let me know they are praying or telling me good luck!

I have also received so many small pick-me-up gifts. Nothing extravagant. But it makes me feel loved and lifts my spirits knowing that I am being thought of. So, shower your friends or loved ones going through trials with these sorts of things.

Adam and Alli have been so supportive every step of the way. They have offered their pool multiple times; saying I can come relax and enjoy it anytime I would like. Alli even set up their loft as “sanctuary” of sorts for me to escape should I need it. She bought comfy blankets and put encouraging quotes on the walls and stocked the room with things just for me.

6. Don’t forget them

Cancer is a long journey. Mine is not nearly as long as other people that I know. Some people have years of treatment. I am almost finished with chemotherapy which has lasted 16 weeks. I have surgery in August, next 2-5 weeks of radiation, then two more operations to follow that. The road is long. I have been blessed with a wonderful support system who has been with me every step of the way and will continue to be with me, but I can see how it would be easy to forget that people are struggling. Once the shock has worn off from finding out that someone has cancer peoples’ lives go back to normal, as they should.

I would encourage you to check in on the people that you know with cancer and other chronic illnesses to make sure they feel loved and supported. This is an area that I have failed at in the past, but now I am more aware of it. My sister is very good at this. She calls me every day on her way home from clinicals to tell me about her day but I know her secret… she is checking up on me; making sure I’m ok. And I love her for that.

7. Be very careful about the phrase “I have some bad news.”

Do you really have bad news? Is it life-changing news? I have heard that phrase before, and it ended with a cancer diagnosis. So yeah, I get a little panicky when someone says they have bad news and it turns out Walmart was out of the brand of yogurt that they like. DO NOT start a conversation that way unless it is really bad news. I’m not sure when this little quirk will fade, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets this way after the experiences that I have had.

I also had about a month where the sound of my phone ringing sent me into a panic because it seemed every time I answered it someone was giving me bad news.

8. Have a conversation with them that has nothing to do with cancer

Talk of cancer, doctor’s appointments, treatment, and tests have overtaken my life. It is so nice to have a conversation with someone where they never mention cancer. I can have a conversation and escape my new normal. A few minutes when I can forget that I have no hair under my scarf or a port in my chest.

9. Make sure they have something to look forward to or a project to work on

This is more for a very close friend or relative. It helps knowing I have something fun to look forward to at the end of the week. Even if it is going out to eat, a concert, or getting a pedicure. I feel like it breaks up the monotony of dealing with the nausea, the bone pain, or the many of their side effects that accompany chemo.

One of my most enjoyable times since this ordeal started was towards the beginning when Robbyn was still in the NICU. We had a spur of the moment evening at my sister’s house where my kids and hers watched Beat Bugs episodes in a pile of blankets. Holly and I just sat there not really talking but enjoying their company. It was absolutely nothing life-changing, but I felt that for a few hours, that my life had some semblance of normalcy.

I have also found that working on projects helps to keep my mind off of stressors in my life of which I have no control. I have “remodeled” our mailbox and revived our front porch. Neither of these projects have cost very much or taken too much time, but they have served their purpose in keeping me sane! I like doing these projects and planning for the future. It helps me to see there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

10. Pray for them

It’s the most important thing you can do.

  • Pray often.
  • Tell them you are praying for them.
  • Have others pray for them.
  • Ask specifically what you can pray for.

I have friends who text or ask me in person what specifically they can be praying about for me. They pray for peace when I need peace or healing when I’m in pain. Knowing that they are continuing to pray to Jehovah-Rapha, “the God who heals,” on my behalf makes me feel so comforted.

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Ephesians‬ ‭6:18‬ ‭NIV‬‬

This list is not the gospel. Not everyone feels the same way I do, I’m sure. These are just some helpful hints from my experience, and if they can help someone else support a loved one with cancer or chronic illness, then it is all worth it.


Really Connecting

Have you ever scrolled through your massive amounts of Facebook friends liking pictures, stories, memes? Posted vague comments on people’s walls saying “we need to get together soon?” Kept checking your Facebook or Instagram to see how many likes you got, as if it validates your existence? In a world, we are so “connected,” why is it that so many people feel so alone? Why does the suicide rate continue to rise even with thousands of Facebook friends?

I’m not an expert in human psychology, in fact, it was one of the few classes in college that I got a B in. Nevertheless, I think that in a world where it is so easy to get in touch with others with a quick comment or like on social media, we use it as an excuse to not make meaningful connections with others. We use it as a crutch to stay at a shallow level and never build a deeper relationship. We claim we don’t have the time (myself included) but we have time to troll through all of our social media accounts and spent hours looking at cat memes. Don’t get me wrong I love a good cat meme.

I have seen so many people come into the cancer center and sit in the waiting room, looking defeated and completely alone. I have wondered if they are awaiting test results or if they are waiting to find out their treatment options. It is very humbling and makes me feel so guilty that I always, always, have someone or multiple someones with me. My dad insists on taking me to every single appointment, test or, lab draw I have. I had to talk him out of coming to my six-week postpartum OBGYN appointment, because NO ONE wants there dad there for that. He still insisted on dropping me off at the door. He is definitely a helicopter mom, but I am blessed and wouldn’t want it any other way.

I have had so many offers of people wanting to drive me to chemo and sit with me during my infusion. This is so wonderful, but it also makes me feel so much sadness for all of the people I see there completely alone. I have heard from many of the nurses how lucky I am to have such a great support system because it is so rare. The nurse navigators at Community are phenomenal and attend all of your appointments to make sure they are entirely up to date on your treatment. They know your plan of care and can answer any questions you have, but that is no replacement for the support of a friend or family.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again… this is why it is so important to have a church home. Sure, you can watch a sermon online or do a devotional at home alone or with your family, but that should be supplemental to church membership. There is no replacement for the unity you feel when you worship the creator with people who also love him. When you attend church, no matter how well you know the other members, you already have 2 things in common: Christ died for you, and it is up to you to share that message with others.

“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭10:24-25‬

It doesn’t matter your social standing, economic status, race, political belief, or whether you pull your toilet paper from the top of the roll or from underneath. You all make up the body of Christ. If a church is made of members who are identical to one another, then that Church is not doing a very good job spreading the gospel. It is not meant to be a clique but a home base for your collective mission. It is a place to spiritually renew yourself before you go back out into the world.

And no, for you skeptics, I don’t believe that the church is perfect. Not even close. As a pastor’s kid, I can tell you, I have seen the downfalls of the Church and its members since I was a little girl. That doesn’t change my feelings on the importance of the church. The church is made up of sinners, and we get off track at times when Satan and our sinful human nature intervene. But for every time I have seen failure in the Church; I have seen support, love, and compassion tenfold, because of the undeserved grace shown to us by Jesus Christ.

I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if I had an emergency, there are at least 50 people that I could call who would be at my door within minutes. The church is so more than a building. In fact, it has nothing to do with the building at all. It is all about the people whom make up the church. If Mt. Pisgah burned down tomorrow we would still exist and thrive because the people are the church. I can’t help but wonder if these people in the oncology center have a church family to depend on. Are they just part of a church that is not loving its brother or sister in Christ the way they should or do they not have a church family at all? Either way, I feel the Church has probably failed them.

At most weddings, you have heard I Corinthians chapter 13 (“Love is patient. Love is kind…”) read so lovingly. What you probably don’t know, is that it is not written in the tone of voice it’s read in at weddings. Paul is ranting, actually yelling, at the church in Corinth because they were fighting amongst themselves, and are not loving each other (Fellow Christians, not even the nonbelievers!) as they should!

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I give all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, I have nothing.”

I Corinthians‬ ‭13:2-3

‭‭According to my bible commentary, this use of the word love is not commonly used, because it means “self-giving love that is more concerned with giving than receiving” We should have this “self-giving” love for other Christians by more than just a quick thumbs up on Facebook. We should show up for them in their time of need even when it is not convenient for us. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t convenient for Christ to be crucified unjustly for our sins. (Guilt trip intended! I am a mom of three, remember?) I wonder if the people sitting alone at the cancer center had a church family that was just too busy to be there. We should offer our support in person, or through a call, or text.

Each family in our church has a deacon assigned to them. Our deacon called us in the early stages of our cancer journey when were in the car coming back from an appointment and prayed with us over the phone. That act of love brought us so much peace. We should really pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ, not just type it into a comment box on Facebook. (Not that it is a bad thing…if we actually stop to pray for them)

I have had the incredible privilege of not only my home church praying fervently for me but multiple churches all over the country and beyond. I have churches in El Paso, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, New York, Alabama, and even Turkey praying for me. How blessed am I? This is just one advantage of church membership! You are not only a member of your church body but also the global church body. Do I sound like a salesman yet?

I was given this beautiful quilt from the prayer ministry at a church in Georgetown, Kentucky. This quilt has several strings knotted all over the blanket and as it says above “Each not represents a prayer that was said for you.”

Pictured above are some of the members of Olive Branch Baptist Church in Vevay, Indiana. They are praying for me over 2 blankets that they sent to me. I don’t know most of them personally but we have gone to church camp together for over 15 years, and we share a love of Christ. Matthew 18:29 Christ says, “Where two or more are gathered together in my name I am there in their midst.”

These pictures may not mean much to you, but I believe in the power of prayer and that “love never fails” (I Corinthians 13:8) I know that these people have not just liked a comment on Facebook, but they have taken action and gone to the throne of God on my behalf. This is love. The kind of love that the world will stop and take notice of. We need to love other Christians (even though sometimes they are the hardest people to love!) so that we can show the world that Christ’s love has made us unique.

I can’t help but think that if we exhibited this love and reached out to those in our church, making an effort to make others feel cherished, that people would extend that love to the world. We could have an impact on the rate of loneliness, depression, and, suicide by loving others the way that Christ loves us. Like my mom says, especially when watching TV commercials nowadays, “This world needs Jesus!”

So, to finish my sales pitch, I would encourage you to make a meaningful connection with someone this week. Starting with someone in your own church family.

If you don’t have a church family, I strongly encourage you to find one. There is a church on just about every corner. Mt Pisgah has a 9 (traditional) service and 11 (contemporary) service, and we would love to have you, as would many other churches in town!

Contact someone you have been meaning to reach out to but have just been too busy to do so.

Stop and really pray for someone that God is putting on your heart or mind.

Invite a new church member out for coffee or play date to make a connection with them.

Invite someone new to your church.

Stop watching your cat memes and figuring out which Harry Potter house you belong to and make a real difference in someone’s life.

***If you are curious about my study bible here it is. Half of the page is scripture and half is commentary. I find it very helpful to understand fully what the text is saying. It helps me read scripture in context.


The Gift of Giving

As I child, around Thanksgiving my favorite thing to do was to walk around Dollar General picking out a toothbrush, a bar of soap, washcloth, candy, a baby doll, crayons, and coloring book. I mulled over all of these items carefully, trying to picture the recipient opening up the lid and enjoying all of the gifts that I could cram into one shoebox. It was for an organization called Samaritan’s Purse, and one of their many ministries is called Operation Christmas Child. They deliver shoeboxes full of gifts to children all over the world, who otherwise would not have a Christmas and they include the gospel message in that child’s language. OCC

I absolutely loved being able to give to someone who genuinely needed it. The joy I felt in my heart knowing that I was making a difference in someone’s life, even at a young age was wonderful. I have felt the same way every time I have gone on a mission trip. I know that I have always gotten more out of the mission work than the people we are supposed to be helping.

In 2 Corinthians 9:7 Paul says, “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or out of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.”

Well, now it was my turn to be the recipient of the cheerful giving of others…

And let me tell you, it is not easy.

It is tough to accept charity especially knowing there is no way that I can ever repay the amazing things our church and community have done for us. I have wanted to turn down the assistance many times, but my sister and mom told me if I decline the help that God has laid on someone’s heart, then I am sinning. God gave people the compassion and the urge to help us, and I shouldn’t rob them of the opportunity to minister to us. Not matter how uncomfortable it is for me to accept.

I always said that I would move away after high school and I would never live in Indiana, much less Shelbyville. Well, that didn’t happen. I went to college at the University of Indianapolis and loved it. When I was in nursing school, I swore I would never work at Major Hospital; where I have worked for five years, and I have loved it from day one. I never saw myself going to the same church as an adult that I was raised in, but we love our church, the teaching and have made the the most meaningful relationships there. After Jordan and I were married, we “moved away” to Greenwood, but quickly realized, we spent all of our time driving back to Shelbyville. Much of my life, I have taken all of these things for granted. Sure, maybe my life would look much more glamorous if I have traveled the world, but I now see the value in community.

Everyone has been so kind to us since my diagnosis. The outpouring of help has been UNREAL and extremely humbling. I am sharing this list of things people have done to help us during our time of need. I do not do this to brag about the assistance we have received but instead, I hope this will give ideas of how you can help others going through the similar hardships. (Also, this is not a complete list. We have received so much help it is hard to keep track)

Philippians 4:19 says, “and my God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory by Jesus Christ.”

And that is just what HE has done. He has met all of our needs through the generosity of the people in our community.

It is the end of June, and I literally have not cooked a meal since April 5th. We have had dinner and/or pantry items brought over every single night since then. April and May my church and Jordan’s parents’ church provided meals and the month of June has been my coworkers providing meals. One of my sister’s best friend brought over at least ten freezer meals. Another mom from church, who I have been friends with for a lifetime, made us freezer breakfast meals. She has three small children of her own and no spare time. I tried to decline the offer, but she insisted they were making them for her family, so she just doubled the batches.

Jordan’s granny knows I love to make cookies with my kids so she stocked our freezer with homemade cookie dough that I can pull out and bake anytime we want!

A lifelong firefighter friend who has a wife and two small children, PLUS a mowing business has been mowing our grass every week; asking for nothing in return. Jordan doesn’t have to worry about yard work on top of everything else. How kind is that? He has two jobs and a family, and he is giving up his valuable time to help us. I feel like many of the things that people have done for us are to help ME out but him mowing our grass takes some of the burden off of Jordan. There have been many nights where Jordan has played mom and dad when I have been feeling crummy, and he can do both jobs without the stress of knowing the yard hasn’t been mowed. Every time I pull in the driveway I almost burst into tears thinking about his kindness to our family.

A group of teachers from Shelbyville Central Schools, many of whom I don’t even know personally, collected diapers for us. So. Many. Diapers. I honestly do not think I will ever have to buy diapers for Robbyn. These diapers filled up the back of my mom’s pickup truck. TWICE! Another teacher friend has kept us supplied with formula from her personal stockpile and couponed to buy the special kind of formula Robbyn needed.

Major Hospital employees have been so amazing to us as well. My coworkers in the surgery department had a bake sale and raffled off gift baskets as a fundraiser to offset the cost of our bills. They even collected an absurd amount of gift cards, monetary donations and gifts for me. They know my extremely unhealthy obsession with Dunkin’ Donuts, and have bombarded me with DD gift cards to buy my iced coffee! (Just a hint when gift giving to people in need sometimes the best pick me ups are not necessities. Like the DD cards!)

HR sent a request out on my behalf asking for PDO donation assistance and people from all over the hospital donated their precious and hard-earned vacation days so that I can still receive a paycheck. Talk about generous giving!

Someone even had shirts printed off and sold for me saying “God is able, We are faithful.” I have loved working at a hospital that values their employees and has such a strong sense of community.

Our family friends, who are really more like an aunt and uncle to me, drove 3 hours to stay with my parents the week after I had Robbyn. They cleaned my parents’ house from top to bottom and help set up a room in my parents’ house that I have as a refuge if need be. She also baked me her famous “Rita bread,” gave me cans of food from her garden, and bought me a kindle so I would have something to occupy my time during chemo.

Jordan’s mom takes me to get fluids every other Friday and comes to our house every Tuesday and Thursday after she works all day to give the kids baths so I don’t have to worry about it. (We made an occasional trip to the NICU to see the sweet girl pictured above!)

I have even received cards in the mail that have no return address and are filled with gift cards. One said only, “I hope this helps.”

Bass Farms sent me a gift basket of skin care products, mouth sore ointment, and burn cream for my skin issues during chemotherapy and radiation and I have to say these products are amazing! Apparently, they frequently send these to cancer patients in Shelby County!

I have been gifted, chemo hats, robes, slippers, hard candies (for the gross taste chemo leaves in your mouth) devotionals, journals, skin care products, gift cards for gas and groceries, and so many other things.

Someone at church filled the back of our car one Sunday during church with paper goods and cutlery so I wouldn’t have to do dishes. Another couple was doing their regular shopping and picked up extra paper towels, toilet paper, and cleaning supplies just so we would have extra.

Almost every Sunday at church I have someone hand me a card with a gift card or check in it. Many times people just quickly slide a twenty into our hand after church.

We have received offers of babysitting, house cleaning, driving me up to chemo, from many, many of our church family. One lady has even offered to do my laundry.

This is one of the MANY reasons I think it is so important to be a part of a church family. They are just that; family. You have the support of so many people at your fingertips. (But I am saving my ramblings about my church family for another post!)

Matthew 25:35-40 says,

“for I was hungry, and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me. Then the righteous will answer, LORD, when did we see you hungry and feed you or thirsty and give you drink? Or when did we see you a stranger and take you in or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and came to you? And the king will answer and say to them, I say to you, what you did to the least of these my brothers you did to me.”

So hopefully you have some ideas here about how you can help others going through difficult times. Just know that you are being the hands and feet of Jesus. Everything that you do out of love for others, is as if you are doing for Jesus Christ himself. What joy you will feel with helping others! I know moving forward I am going to be more aware of the needs of others and I have been given some great ideas on how to help. Any assistance we have received, big or small; monetary or giving of time, we have appreciated.

We have been so blessed by all of the support we have been given. It is humbling to look back on the generosity of our community. We may not have traveled the world but we have been showered with love from so many people in our county. And I think that is much more glamorous.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you.