Best Ways to Help a Cancer Patient

Here are my Top 5 Ways to Help a Cancer Patient

1. They aren’t contagious. They are still the same person they were before that diagnosis. So please, please, please don’t treat them differently. Invite them to go and do knowing some days they will be able to go and sometimes they won’t. On the days they can’t go and do, stop by and stay a bit. Listen to what they have to say. Watch a show with them. Run an errand for them. Just be there with them. But don’t ignore them and don’t forget them. Having cancer is isolating enough. Please don’t make it any harder than it has to be.

2. Money really is the best gift you can give. I know the cute baskets full of pretty pens, notebooks, lotions, and colorful bows look pretty, but it doesn’t pay the insurmountable bills that basket is going to hold whenever you leave. Having cancer is expensive. It sucks most patients completely dry and leaves them in a horrible financial situation. Sending money can cause a tremendous amount of relief to a cancer patient.

3. Offer to donate your travel points to a cancer patient if that’s a possibility for you. Hotels and flights are often required of many patients but few can afford it.

4. Do you have a rental? An AirBnB or timeshare? Consider donating it to a cancer patient so they have a clean and safe place to stay during treatment or offer it as a relaxing getaway to heal.

5. Send gift cards. Think gas cards, restaurants with a variety of options especially if there are healthy options or soft food options, Uber Eats, Grub Hub, Uber or Lyft, Amazon cards, grocery store cards, and no fee credit gift cards. Often times the things a cancer patient needs are their basic needs met and specific items for their types of treatment you might not even know they need. If you want to buy something for them, reach out to a person who’s been through it and ask them for some specific ideas of things to buy for them. Don’t be surprised by the list. It might looks like this one: thermometer, shower wipes, water bottle with a straw, pill box sorter for AM/PM, wedge pillow, breakfast tray, Tylenol and/or Advil, a fan, hard candies, chapstick, thank you cards and stamps – how many of these things would you have thought to go out and purchase? Believe it or not, these are some basic needs most cancer patients need.

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Rejoice, Again I Say Rejoice!

Today was a big and stressful day. First of all, we had to drive in more bumper to bumper traffic on roads made for covered wagons, Model-T’s, and smart cars not Escalades. Michael has driven thousands of miles in such places, actually in LA itself, so as sick as he is and as limited as his mobility is, he was insistent he was driving today. Probably a good thing too because as he turned into the parking lot (more about that later) the power steering went out. Not exactly the start to our day we wanted or needed.

We got up to the main lobby and found out we were in the wrong building. Walking to the end of the block for a healthy person isn’t that big of a deal, but when you have stage 4 mantel cell lymphoma and you’ve spent the last three days traveling over a thousand miles, you’ve had to climb stairs, drive through traffic, and used all the energy you had left trying to turn a big ol’ machine, that block had to have been like walking five miles for Michael. But he didn’t complain. He took it one step at a time and we made it to the correct building and found the cancer center.

After a few hoops, you can’t go to a doctor’s office and not have to jump through a few hoops, we were finally in a room waiting to meet the doctor. Dr. Epner came in, introduced himself, and began asking many questions. He did the exam. He seemed quite confident he could help Michael out. I felt a rush of relief even as he began writing down all the medications and explaining the process of the treatment plan.

Michael has avoided common medical protocols. Today, that was a huge answer to all of our prayers. Because he had never undergone chemo, radiation, stem cell transplant, etc., he was eligible for this treatment plan. A plan that has been used successfully on 70 other mantle cell lymphoma patients and many other patients with other forms of lymphoma. His success rate is unbelievable. 97% percent of his patients are in remission. He told us there’s no cure for mantel cell lymphoma but he has patients who have been without any signs of disease for over ten years. In the cancer world, that’s as close to being cured as some of us will ever get. We will be forever grateful for ten years or more of NED! Michael agreed to begin treatment as soon as possible. The doctor took that to mean now, which we are even more thankful for.

We would make his appointment downstairs for an ultrasound on Thursday morning before I’d leave him at the cancer center to walk about three blocks to pickup his medication. I knew he didn’t need, nor have the energy, to walk those blocks with me. The pharmacy was kind and customer service was great. Great job CVS of Beverly Hills! I would have to wait for insurance to be verified and for prescriptions to be filled before heading back to the cancer center to pickup Michael.

We would discover the parking garage we parked in we couldn’t receive a discount for using since we parked in the wrong one. Oops! That was costly! Nearly $22 to park there for a couple of hours. Michael, once again, was determined to drive us back. Once again, that was probably the best choice since we drive back in rush hour traffic without power steering. I’m thankful God gave him the strength to do that too!

Tonight we rejoice! Michael has a plan in place that should bring him relief and more comfort than he’s had in several months. The doctor seems confident that the treatment plan will quickly calm his very angry lymphatic system, and he also talked as though Michael should be able to turn this monster of a disease around and be in remission in a few months. A few months! And again we rejoice!

We need some prayers for some specific things.

1. Thursday’s appointment will allow the doctor the ability to make Michael as comfortable as possible going into the weekend as he awaits his official start date for treatment.

2. Insurance quickly approves the treatment plan, including this very expensive drug Michael needs.

3. Michael responds quickly to the initial medications he will start Thursday to start calming the infection in his neck and face.

4. For someone’s schedule to open up so they can come out to California and replace me, so I can return to my responsibilities at home yet Michael still has the kind of care he needs here.

5. That we can find an affordable and nice place to stay after Friday for the duration of his treatment.

6. That a doctor in Amarillo or Dallas is willing to monitor Michael’s treatments after this initial first week, so he can continue this treatment in a more comfortable and affordable way as it will last approximately 6 months and then every 2-3 months after that for five plus years once he’s NED.

7. That the power steering issue is an easy and cheap fix.

8. For Michael’s strength to endure all that’s coming.

9. For safe travel.

10. For complete healing.

Today, I rejoice and again I will rejoice! God reminded me once again that it only takes a little bit of faith for Him to move mountains, so I will have a little more faith until Michael is in remission!

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God Lights the Path Before Us

Sometimes God works in such a way that makes me stand up and notice. Tonight, as I went in search of His wisdom and power, he was eagerly awaiting my cry in the darkness. He would show me in a way that probably means more to me than it will to those reading this blog that He has already gone before us and is lighting the path in front of us.

The verse of the day pops up whenever I open my Bible app. Tonight it was James 1:5 – “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Before starting chemo my 2nd grade teacher, Miss Perdue, would reach out to me to say, “When the darkness comes, and it will come, hold on to the light.” These were powerful words that would get me through some dark days.

And then the avalanche of my thought process. I’m convinced God had a hand in spinning this all into motion because I would go in search of Chris Tomlin’s song “Whom Shall I Fear”. It was the song I listened to before and often during every chemo treatment. I’ve listened to it hundreds of times since. It’s one of those songs that just speaks to me. That song would lead me to Deuteronomy 31 because I briefly saw how this chapter inspired the words to this song. I start reading and I’m like, “Hey, I know this story.” And then I smile. Oh, God, you got me! Your hand has been in this from before I could probably imagine, and here you send me to this place in your word. We’ve come full circle. Deuteronomy 31:7-8 and Joshua 1:9 – two in the same!

If you walked cancer with me or have heard me speak of God’s walk with me through cancer, then you know how deeply Joshua 1:9 spoke to me. It is my battle cry verse, my go-to verse whenever I feel inadequate. And here I am tonight covered in God’s peace once again knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that He has gone before us and tomorrow His light will shine before us directing our paths. We have nothing to fear!

Tomorrow, I will take Michael to a cancer center here in Beverly Hills, California to see if he can begin a trial to treat his Stage IV mantel cell lymphoma. And tonight, God sends me on this journey to show me His hand is all over this and to remind me to just have a little bit of faith and to stand back and watch Him move mountains!

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When God Calls – Answer

If I learned anything from having cancer, it was when God calls – answer! Some times it seems easy to answer the call and other times it seems impossible. Yet, I’ve learned whenever I answer with a simple “yes”, He provides everything else.

Nearly 26 years ago, I met two guys. One fell head over heels in love with me and the other one was determined to hate me for stealing his skiing buddy. 😂 Over the years, the three of us have been on some crazy adventures. We’ve traveled together, lived together, worked together, had fun together, gone through trials together, and been there for each other more than we can probably count. Michael is my husband’s cousin on paper, but he is our brother by love.

This weekend he wasn’t able to fly to California to see if he can get accepted into a trial for his stage 4 mantel cell lymphoma. God called. I answered. We left Sunday to make the more than 1,000 mile trip from Canyon, TX to Beverly Hills, CA by car. This isn’t an easy trip for him, but he’s been amazing. We probably stop more than he is used to, drive slower than both our lead feet prefer, and I try my best to avoid as many rough spots in the road as possible. We drive off the beaten path at times. Why? Because life is precious. Because it’s worth the few minutes to see and do what you might not get another opportunity to see and do. I haven’t been down these roads since I was young. It’s beautiful country. I love America! I love traveling up and down our interstates and highways. God created beauty everywhere and we’ve been soaking it in as we pass mile marker after mile marker.

We have another day of driving. This next leg will require me to drive in LA. I’ve driven in many massive cities with crazy traffic, but I wasn’t prepared to be gone this long so I didn’t pack extra medication. I ran out yesterday as I was supposed to be home tonight. Whenever I don’t take my medicine, my anxiety has been known to go through the roof. So please pray tomorrow goes against the norm and I won’t have any issues. Pray Michael has a great travel day with less swelling. Pray for his comfort and peace of mind. Pray he can handle my driving in multiple lanes of bumper to bumper traffic. Pray we both safely and sanely arrive at our destination. And then pray for Wednesday. Pray for God’s hands to be on us as well as the doctors and those making the decisions regarding this trial. If this is the best call to action for Michael at this point in his journey, pray he is accepting and at peace with what’s to come. Pray God cares for everything that follows. I’m sure there will be much we aren’t currently prepared for but pray God provides us with whatever we need.

Matthew 17:20 has been on my mind since this all began. God doesn’t ask much of us – just a little bit of faith. And then watch as He moves mountains.

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Healing My Thyroid

A little over a year ago, I was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism with four large goiters on my thyroid. I was put on medication and was told to come back in three months. I went back in two instead because of some serious side effects I was experiencing. I was retested. My goiters had shrunk, but they found both the antibodies for hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. Unfortunately, the medication they had put me on had dumped me from hyper- to hypothyroidism. This would be the beginning of a horrible cycle. Meds would be used to solve one extreme only to send me over the edge to the other side. In May, I began doing my own research. I sought out natural remedies. I started talking to people about different whole food diets. I decided to embark on a rather extreme diet change. I probably wouldn’t recommend it to most people.

Note: I am not a doctor. BUT I was under the care of five doctors. I had my blood drawn six times over the course of four months. I was being closely monitored and was told specific things to be aware of and what to do if and when such things happened. I say this to assure people I wasn’t doing this alone. By the way, my endocrinologist wasn’t on my side going into all of this. My oncologist and regular doctor told me as long as my labs stayed steady or improved, they’d support me.

So what did I do? I cut out nearly all processed foods, all sugar (including fake sugar and the thirty words for sugar I didn’t even know were sugar), diary, grains, most fruits, most root vegetables, carbonated drinks including water, and nuts (I don’t drink alcohol but if I did, it would have gotten the boot too). I could basically eat 4 ounces of high quality meat and lots of green and leafy vegetables. And I could drink water or pure tea or coffee. That was pretty much my diet for the first couple of days. Then, I began to do a water and bone broth fast. This was the hardest part but apparently a needed part. I was thankful I was off from work. The side effects were pretty brutal. I don’t think I even realized exactly how much “junk” I was consuming a day. I suffered from a pretty nasty headache. I was fatigued. I was drained. I snapped at people. This part of the diet was a mixture of fast days and days you could eat. Two weeks of cleaning out my system, and cleansing my palate if we are being honest.

By week three, I was feeling like a new person. Energy levels had improved. Cognitive levels had improved. My headache was dull and bearable. My skin was softer. My hair started to shine again. My body stopped aching. Positive things were happening.

I wasn’t perfect. I made mistakes. Then I’d feel awful and I’d be reminded of why I should stick with the diet, and I’d go right back to doing whatever I was supposed to be doing.

Six weeks in, I knew this was working. I felt so much better. I couldn’t believe it!

Recently, I’ve been able to add some things back into my diet. I was able to add berries which I tolerated just fine. I was able to add diary, which is hit or miss. Some things I handle okay and other things make my stomach hurt, so I’ve cut them back out. As I add in, I only add organic, whole foods back in not anything canned, boxed, or processed. This week I was able to add nuts back in, but I haven’t tolerated them except for Brazilian nuts. I’ve been allowed two of those a day since the beginning and I still eat those. I can have natural oats this week, but I haven’t tried these yet. I’m not sure how I will respond to them.

I’m not ever supposed to really have sugar. On special occasions a few times a year in small quantities is all. This seemed impossible whenever I started. Yesterday, I took a bite of my daughter’s cookie and had to spit it out. It was disgusting, so maybe its not as impossible as I once thought.

I can tell you that food tastes very different now. I like things I didn’t used to like. I don’t crave foods as much as I used to. I don’t feel the need to eat all the time. I’m no longer a grazer. I eat quality foods over quantity of food.

In three months, my labs are nearly normal across the board. My thyroid disease is almost considered in remission. I think by my next appointment it will be. I feel so much better physically, mentally, and emotionally. I’ve lost twenty pounds and several inches all over my body. I’ve proven to myself the mind is powerful, very powerful. My skin and hair look great. I feel amazing. I have a piece of me back I lost somewhere along the way.

I don’t know if this will heal my thyroid forever. I don’t know if I will get to be off thyroid medication for the rest of my life. I don’t know if this will keep my cancer from coming back or another kind from creeping into my body. BUT I know I’m feeling so much better, so it’s all been worth it.

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At My Table

I sat at a table with three strangers. Three women I’d never seen before; therefore, I’d never met before. Two women knew each other. They talked away to one another. One woman sat silently, reserved, and reluctant. I recognized her inner uneasiness. I felt a connection to her.

At some point in the conversation, mammograms rose to the top of our conversation. I don’t know why. But the shy, quiet woman spoke up. She gave great advice to the two younger women across from us. She actually made a mammogram sound a lot kinder than most women would describe. She over-encouraged these two women to have theirs done even though they were young. One of the women mentions her mom died of cancer when she was 35. This was the bonding moment of four strangers.

Both young women’s mothers had been diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age. The quiet woman beside me had just finished treatment for breast cancer and she fretted about her shorter grey and wavy hair. I actually thought it looked nice and was meant to be styled like it was but I understood her uneasiness about it especially after she said, “My hair used to be long like yours. I don’t know if it will ever be long like that again.” I smiled and simply said, “This hair is only 4 years old. Mine all fell out during treatment too.” Instant connection. Every woman at the table walked in as strangers – walked away connected by a disease we would all rather not have ever known. Yet, here we were reminding one another of our responsibilities to take time to care for our bodies and to remind each other of our many blessings and that good things can come from horrible situations.

Four strangers walked in and sat at a table. We knew nothing of one another. We walked away connected in multiple ways. God works like that!

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Joy in Healing

Chemo is the treatment many breast cancer patients go through in the hopes of entering NED (no evidence of disease). Many of us also take a pill for five to ten years after our initial treatment. This pill blocks the hormones that many of our tumors were using as food to flourish and thrive off of. Whenever you strip away and block hormones, it wrecks havoc on your body. I’m thankful I have no signs of cancer in my body. Trust me, I am! But the side effects of treatment create their own challenges along the way. One of mine is bone loss.

Every six months, I have to wade through my anxiety and enter the infusion lab. I nearly have a panic attack every time. I have to tell myself a million times that I’m not going through chemo today. Each time, I am able to convince my brain a little more that I’m telling it the truth.

This shot goes in on the right side of my stomach the first of the year and the left side the last part of the year. It’s a very cold shot, so I always have to sit and wait for it to warm up. While I sit there, I look out into the infusion lab. Some days it’s full of people stuck to IV poles and other days there are only a few, but there is always someone in there. I pray for the day they are empty. This last time a woman was nearing the end of her treatment. Her hair had grown back enough that she had stopped covering it up. I recognized the fine, salt and pepper look. She looked up at me and asked, “Are you here for chemo?” This began a conversation of hope for her. She looked at my long hair after I told her I had my last chemo treatment in the summer of 2015 and smiled, “I hope mine grows out too.” “It will,” I assured her.

The nurse politely interrupted our brief conversation and sat down to slowly push the fluid of the shot into my gut. It stings but it doesn’t really hurt that bad. She puts a bandaid on it and sends me on my way. I’m quick to exit this room. I’m thankful I don’t have to sit and wait for hours for the infusion to drip into my veins. I’m grateful this part of my journey has ended and I pray I never have to walk that path again.

By the time I’m back to my car, my stomach is cramping and my lower back begins to tell me it’s a bit uncomfortable. At home, I help my husband make dinner. There’s this ache that keeps reminding me something was injected into me my body doesn’t necessarily like so much. Within the next hour, I ask Jon, “Do my bones always hurt this much after this shot?” He smiles as he assures me I say this every time. I suppose it’s a small price to pay for being alive.

I stayed up late and it paid off. I was able to sleep without much difficulty. This morning my lower back cries out in pain as I move around and sit. By tomorrow, it won’t be so bad. By Friday, I probably won’t even notice anymore. My bones will thank me for added strength, so the next time I fall down (which is guaranteed to happen because I haven’t stopped living) hopefully, I won’t break anything.

I’m reminded nearly every day of some joyful moment that reminds me why God had me live another day. Finding the joy in all things isn’t always easy, but I’ve learned it is always there. I’m living life with my eyes wide open in search of things to be grateful for – even if it’s a day of thanksgiving for getting out of bed and walking to and fro or for long hair to untangle or for the sun shining on my face. Each day has a blessing waiting on me.

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