Thursday, February 6, 2014


Conqueror. Warrior. Gladiator.  All are words that describe people of great strength, power and authority. Picture the Colossuem in Ancient Rome and men fighting to the death.  Picture brave soldiers on the battlefield storming the beaches of Normandie.  Picture fire fighters blazing through fire and smoke to enter the World Trade Centers after they were attacked.  Now picture David and Goliath.  No one would have imagined that the youngest son of Jesse would be able to overtake the giant Philistine Goliath.  He certainly didn’t look like a conqueror to the human eye.   But, David approached this battle with the belief that God would provide the means necessary to defeat him.  After all, Goliath was simply a mortal man.  Who has the power to defeat God?  No one.  And you know how that story goes.   Now picture me.   I certainly don’t have the stature to look like a conqueror either (after losing most of my muscle and 10 pounds during treatment).  I certainly haven’t felt like a warrior (with fatigue and pain).  Who am I to defeat cancer?  Who am I to tackle the GLADIATOR?   But guess what?  Romans 8:37 says “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through him who loved us.”  I AM a conqueror.  I AM a warrior.  I AM a gladiator.   And so are you if you choose to believe in the saving power of Jesus Christ who gives you strength and power you never knew you had!
You have heard through previous posts that my goal was to do a “comeback” race.  Being athletic and loving to train for events, I thought that just 3+ months after treatment I would be more than ready to attack a course again.  I planned an entire weekend full of festivities for my family and friends to commemorate my comeback from cancer.  It was time for me to prove that I “Kicked cancer’s A$$”.  

I have to tell you that the week prior to this race, I felt worse than I had felt since treatment ended.  My jaw pain was near unbearable.  I don’t cry easily (what warrior does?) and I don’t break down.  But this pain was beyond anything I could fathom.  And unfortunately, since the beginning, pain management has been a challenge for me.  Narcotics make me looney.  But I found that a simple regimen of  4 ibuprofen every 6 hours was the only thing that would mask the pain.  If I missed a dose, I would be on the floor crying until the newest meds began to work their way through my system providing relief from this torture.  Besides the pain, I had constant chills and redness on my face from the infection that was painful to the touch.  My jaw opening was diminishing by the day, making eating a chore.  The infection was worse and the hole in the roof of my mouth was like a fishing net used to capture what little food I could eat (the water pik had become my dear friend).  I was weak and fatigued and TIRED. I was sick of cancer.   BUT… Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  So that’s what I did. 
But, I have to admit, that I also questioned what I had gotten myself into.  I was in no way, shape or form prepared for even just a regular 5K.  I was physically exhausted.   My mom, of course, being a mom, told me not to do it.  She told me to check with my doctors.  She was worried.  I didn’t tell my doctor, by the way, just in case he would have told me not to! In this case I went with the theory that it was better to ask forgiveness than permission J But just like David knew he would conquer Goliath, I knew I would be able to conquer the Gladiator course with the power of the Holy Spirit.  So, with that in mind, I tried to ignore all the things that were getting me down, and began to focus on the things that were bringing me up…like my friends.

My dear friend Terry flew out from Rhode Island to be with me.  My sweet Shelly flew out from California too.  Two beautiful, loving women who hold a very special place in my heart, took time away from their families and spent money that could've been put to better use, all to celebrate with me.  I am blessed.  With Terry, Shelly and my precious friends from Austin (Chris, Stacy, Torri, Gina and Jen), we headed to San Antonio on Friday, November 8th.  Cancer be damned!  Terry, Shelly and I drove out earlier than the other girls, and we made a much needed pit stop at the outlet malls in San Marcos.  After a couple hours and some fun finds, we made our way to San Antonio. Starving, we stopped at Taco Bell for a quick bite (I was able to eat little soft bites of a bean and cheese burrito).  We found it ironic that they had an entire wall full of donation tags for cancer research.  Oh, I forgot to mention that Shelly gave me our mascot for the trip, who we named “Hotty Hedgehog”; a Scentsy buddy wearing a “Cancer Plum Sucks” t-shirt.  We took pictures of him everywhere we would go, like you would for your kids with Flat Stanley.  We would laugh like little girls as we posed him in front of the outlet mall, at Taco Bell and later in San Antonio at all our locales, including the mud pit!  Yes, people thought we were crazy people going through some sort of mid life crisis, I think.  And, I guess we kind of were!
Our hotel on the river walk was a perfect back drop for the events that were to come.  All ready to go out that night, we made our way to the other girls’ room where I was greeted with signs that said “Cancer Plum Sucks,” a hammer, and a plum.  Well, it actually wasn’t a plum, but a peach painted purple to symbolize the plum (plums were out of season).  After scouring the town and multiple stores, Gina came up with that idea J.  I headed to the balcony, grabbed the hammer and pounded the ‘plum’ out of that peach, to the cheers of my girlfriends behind me.  It was a simple gesture, but significantly profound.  It was tangible.  I was symbolically beating my cancer, while physically destroying this ‘plum’.  I was “Kicking Cancer’s A$$.”  A champagne toast would follow (which I could only take a sip because it was too painful on my tongue).  All the while, I’m looking at these beautiful faces and loving hearts and wondering how I got so lucky to have such amazing friends in my life.  Women of such character; such love; such faith; such devotion.  They were such an integral part of my cancer journey, so it was only fitting that they be there with me as I embark on my “comeback” journey and face the Gladiator once again.

We enjoyed a lovely dinner on the River Walk, filled with lots of conversation and just as many carbs (you have to carbo load before a race J).  It was so nice for me to see my friends from across the map, engaging and getting to know each other...I was their only link, but it was so special for me to see them bond.  Unfortunately, the day had worn me out beyond belief, so we headed to bed early, hoping for a good night’s sleep.   When morning came, so did the rain.  But it eventually ceased, and the clouds lingered for the rest of the day.  We all put on our matching team shirts, emblazoned with our motto, “Cancer Plum Sucks”.  A quick bite in the lounge (some oatmeal and fruit for energy) and we were off to take on the day!
Getting from downtown San Antonio to the race site was no easy task.  It was like a bad episode of Groundhog’s Day, where we kept going in circles trying to forge our way past the construction and find the freeway entrance, only to find ourselves driving past the hotel we had just left once again!  Has anyone ever yelled at the navigation lady as she spews out the wrong directions to you?  Well, there was plenty of that going on!  We eventually made our way (not without much frustration) to the event.  Once on the road, the frustration waned quickly and the excitement of months of planning and preparations took over.  As we pulled into the muddy parking field, filled with even muddier people, we were greeted by my entire family, as well as Will’s parents who were all there to support me.  Team Cancer Plum Sucks was a force to be reckoned with.  Just like during my treatment, I had an entire team of support that was going to make sure I succeeded.

After many pictures to commemorate this moment, we headed to the registration where we were given our timing chips.  OK, who were we kidding?!  Timing chips really weren’t necessary…actually, I wish we didn’t even have them.  Unlike races in my past, where beating my time was the most important thing(yes I am very competitive), I had no interest or desire to even look at my time.  I didn’t care if someone saw my name in the results and I wasn’t in the top 50%.  I didn’t care if I was the last person to finish.  I only cared about finishing strong, with pride, with my friends by my side.  Nothing would keep me from crossing the finish line. 
We entered the starting corral, where Dan “Nitro” Clark, the original Gladiator was talking to the crowd getting us pumped for our start time.  I don’t recall how it happened.  If I just demanded his attention, or if he just noticed our shirts.  But I talked to him briefly and told him that this was my “comeback” event from cancer treatments only 3 months prior.  He gave me a shout out on the speaker system and along with that my comeback journey began with the sound of the starting gun echoing into the sky.

Pure chaos ensued as we made our way through mud piles, under barbed wire; through tire courses; over, in and out of dumpsters (thank goodness for Will who helped us girls get in and out); over walls; jumping fire; climbing cargo nets; more burpees than I care to remember; climbing ropes; sliding down muddy hills into an even muddier pit; carrying a log (basically a tree) with your teammates; etc., etc., etc.   I’m tired just recalling the course!  But that morning I prayed and asked God to give me strength to make it through the day.  And unlike the month leading up to the event, I felt great.  I had energy I hadn’t had, I wasn’t in pain, and I was so happy to be doing what I loved to do.  God provided for me.     1 Corinthians 15:57 But thanks be to God!  He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”
There was a moment on the course where we were between obstacles, walking towards the next one on a tattered path that seemed to lead to nowhere.  There was an event volunteer around a bend, that commented on the fact that we were walking…like we needed to be pushing harder, striving more.  I simply showed him our shirts and said, “I have cancer.”  He seemed to then insert his foot in mouth… I was pushing, I was striving, even though to one person it may not have looked that way.  You never know another person’s journey, so it is unfair to judge from what you see.  John 7:24  Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.   It was OK, because I knew what just being on the course meant for me. 

There were several obstacles where Will was required to heave us ladies over a wall or out of a dumpster.  The only obstacle I couldn’t complete was one where you had a partner and you had to carry each other 50 yards a piece.  Will carried me the first 50 yards, and there was no way I was going to be able to throw him on my back and carry him as the obstacle required.  So, just like the last 3 or 4 months, he carried me the rest of the way, with no complaints, with no expectations.  He carried me through the mud and the muck of chemo, radiation, pain, sickness, dread, fear and he also carried me through the mud and the muck of this course.  But, just like he carried me, God carried us both.  Isaiah 46:4 I will be your God throughout your lifetime – until your hair is white with age.  I made you, and I will care for you.  I will carry you along and save you.
I savored every moment on that course.  I loved seeing my brother run alongside taking photos.  I loved seeing my girls cheering me on in their matching t-shirts.  I loved seeing my parents holding signs and smiling as they saw me jumping over walls (this was the first race of mine they had ever come to).  I loved seeing Shelly and Torri who didn’t do the race, but were there to support me.  I loved seeing my in-laws (who had just moved here) cheering me on despite my mother-in-law being on an oxygen tank.  And, I loved seeing the way we all came together as a team.  Not individuals in the same shirts taking on the course.  But a team of people all working together to accomplish something great.  They didn’t do it for their own glory, but for mine.  They wanted me to succeed.  They knew the price I paid to have this moment. And I did it for God’s glory.  It’s amazing what HE can do when you let Him! And I wanted everyone to know it.  1 Corinthians 10:31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

I crossed that finish line with the most amazing group of people by my side and there to greet me. I crossed that finish line knowing I had done it. By race standards, I was a Gladiator.  I had completed the race set out for me (I even drank some of the free beer!).  My “comeback” was complete.  I was bruised and dirty and tired, but I had beaten this course and I had beaten cancer.  Whether my cancer is completely dead or not, really didn’t matter… I have won.  I crossed that finish line with my hands held high in praise to the Lord. By God’s standards, the only ones that matter, I was a conqueror!

I was saddened and shocked to see an email from the Gladiator Event and Dan “Nitro” Clark, who not long after the race in San Antonio had a heart attack.  He showed a picture of his first workout and how this was the start of his “comeback”.  It was ironic, or maybe simply God, that I had my “comeback” at his event, and now he is having to have a “comeback” of his own.  The original  Gladiator would now have to learn to be a conqueror too.   I have no doubt that God weaves lives and events together as part of a grander plan.  What that plan is, who knows, but I wish Dan luck and hope he too finds strength in the only one who matters, the Lord.
I also learned just today of a dear workout friend in California, Nora, who had surgery just one day prior to this Gladiator event for colon cancer.  As I headed to San Antonio on my comeback, she was just beginning her journey.  I had no idea that she was going through that.  Today I saw a post on Facebook that they found cancer in one of her lymph nodes and she was to start a 6 month regimen of chemo pills.  I know that she believes in our loving Savior, and I pray that she is able to stay strong and find comfort and hope, even in the bleakest moments.  God will carry her through this, just as He has carried me, and hopefully everyone who is afflicted with illness of any kind will also seek Him.  Please keep dear Nora in your prayers!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

MASKS - 11/6 Devotional for CBS

It’s no big surprise that people use masks as a way to pretend to be someone else.  We see this on Halloween every year with an array of masks from famous people to zombies to storybook characters.  Masks are an easy way to hide.  But it might be hard to breathe beneath the weight of the mask.  It is hot and uncomfortable and sometimes you might just want to tear it off.  Isn’t this true of the masks we as humans wear every day?  We wear masks to impress people, to hide our feelings, to hide our shame or guilt and even to hide from God.  But just like those Halloween masks, eventually it becomes harder and harder to breathe.  God knows this, and wants us to tear off those masks.  Because the reality is that “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be revealed.”  Luke 12:2

 I’m no different than anyone else…I’ve worn those human masks, haven’t we all?  But I want to talk about this particular mask.  This is my radiation mask.  This is the mask I wore for 33 days during my cancer treatment.  It appears imperfect and full of holes.  You can still make out my face beneath it.  There is no hiding.  During treatment the holes allowed the Proton radiation beams to enter my body in the most precise way.  But those holes did so much more.  They allowed me to open my eyes and see the machine above me that had a cross indicating the exact center position.  But to me I saw the cross that led me to my Savior.  I saw this cross before every treatment and prayed for strength and endurance.  Since my diagnosis, the first thing that came to my mind was Philippians 4:13  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  God is my strength.

The holes also allowed me to breathe. At first the natural reaction is to hold your breath for some reasons, but once you release that first breath it is a burden lifted.   Unlike other times in my life where I felt the weight of my burdens and found it hard to breathe, this time I realized that with God as my strength that I didn’t have to hold my breath.  Job 33:4 “The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”  God is my Father.

So as I lay there on the table, bolted down, vulnerable and alone, wearing this mask I didn’t choose, I had no choice as I saw it but to surrender once again to God. To trust him with my life.  To give him my disease.  To give him my praise and thanksgiving, even in my weakness and suffering.  To give him my all.   Even though I didn’t know what my future would hold, or what my results would be, I had to just relax (hard to do bolted down) and know that He had me in his loving arms.  Isaiah 41:10  “So do not fear, for I am with you;  do not be dismayed For I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  God is my shelter.

 I feel like my mask, with all its holes opened me up to a two way conversation with the Lord.  I could see out and He could see in.  He could see my fears, my anxieties, my worries; but He could also see my faith, my surrender, my desperate need for Him to take over and heal me. James 4:8 “Come near to God and He will come near to you.” I would never wish this disease on anyone, but I wish that everyone could wear this mask just once.  Because what appeared imperfect and full of holes to you, I see as perfect and Holy.  Formed to fit me perfectly; formed to transform me. I see this mask as the shield of Jesus Christ that protected me and healed me.  Psalm 28:7  “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him and I am helped.  My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.”  God is my shield.

I struggle today with wearing the human mask of trying to show everyone how strong I am.  I don’t like being weak. But God sees through this mask as well.   I have nowhere to hide.  I am suffering with pain and infection and unforeseeable treatments to repair my mouth.  Today I admit to you how weak I really am.  But not in God’s eyes.  So I must remember when I feel like I can’t breathe beneath the mask of strength, that  2 Corinthians 12:9-10 says  “But He said to me, ‘My grace is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  This is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  God is my champion.

If it weren’t for this mask, my cancer wouldn’t be nearly dead.  Psalm 30:2 “Oh Lord, my God.  I called you for help and you healed me.” After 33 radiation treatments and 6 chemo treatments it’s true my cancer appears to be dying.  It wasn’t without many trials including, a rush to the ER, a last minute hospital stay and blood transfusion, months of not being able to eat or drink without pain, a terrible infection, jaw pain, dead exposed bones, a huge hole in my mouth and countless other tribulations too numerous to mention.  But each of these trials forced me to put my trust and faith in the Lord.  It has made me so much stronger in my faith.  I never doubted God.  Romans 4:20-21 says “Yet he did not waiver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised.” God is the Alpha and Omega.