May 11, 2011

What Happened After the Fire Swamp?

Hello All.

I bet I know what you are thinking... "What a place to leave off!" This big thing happens in her life and then she doesn't say anything about it!

Well, that's not really true. I have a lot to say about it, but nothing comes out logically or in order. Any one thing I may say is not representative of what is happening. It's a big tangled mess. Who am I to say that I understand what has happened? Am I a theologian? Not a chance. The only word that comes to my mouth is Jesus. I have actually been writing like mad in the last while. Lots of things are spilling out of me, faster than I can type. But at this point it is not sensical, and wouldn't make sense to the outside reader. All of my emotions are spilling out. If I am away from home, I get to a computer and write myself an email. If I am not near a computer, I jot it down on paper. If I don't have time to write it out, I make a mental note to myself.

All these events remind me of an interview that I read with Brad Pitt after the filming of Seven Years in Tibet. The interviewer was anxious to know what Brad's opinion was on the political situation in Tibet. After all, he is a big Hollywood star, and after filming a controversial movie about the Dalai Lama and Tibet, he must have some deep thoughts about the whole issue. I thought his response was very clever. He basically said, "Why would you ask me about such a loaded topic? I'm just an actor, I don't know anything about this situation, except what happened in the movie." For the record, that is the first time that I have ever quoted Brad Pitt as being profound! (I don't dislike him, but I have never really thought of him as wise! After all, he is just an actor.)

I think his words sum up my own. I may have received healing in my body, but other than saying "to God be the Glory", I'm not sure what to do from here or what to say about it. I won't be diving into healing debates any time soon. Remember the man who was blind from birth? When people asked him for details of what had happened, all he could say was this. "I don't know what happened. All I know is this: I used to be blind, but now I see."

And truthfully, my thoughts lie predominantly with the rest of my comrades who are still in the thick of their struggles. My heart goes out to them as they hear about my story. If I have a testimony, it is this. Jesus' words are true. Whether we are sick or healthy, he is there with us.

I had no special recipe for the way I approached God in this. All I wanted was his will and his blessing. I wanted him to be glorified in my body, be it through Death or through Life. If I was going into the Valley of the Shadow of Death, then I wanted the guided tour. Frankly, I'm a little terrified that healthy people will take my story to those who are sick and say, "Look, God healed her!" My message is about healing, yes, but it is primarily that he heals our sinfulness and brings us back to God, sick and healthy alike. My message is that God is good, whether he heals or doesn't heal. My message is that God is not afraid to walk with us through illness and hard times... but we need to let him.

I'm also afraid that some people will accuse me of not giving God glory for the healing work he has done in my life. But I beg to differ. I want to give God glory for Who He Is, not only for what he has done. He has not given me a reason to praise him... He was already worthy of all my praise, and I would have died praising him if that was his will.

We may tell stories of healing, but we rarely think about what happens to the people after they have received healing. We just assume that after it happened, everything was fine and dandy. But here are a few thoughts for you. What did the man who was healed from paralysis think the first time his legs fell asleep? Imagine what he thought during the first sensation of pins and needles traveling up and down his legs! Imagine his amazement that muscles can ache and that stubbing your toe hurts like the dickens. Or again, this man who was blind from birth. Was he afraid that if he closed his eyes to go to sleep, he would never see again? What did he think the first time he personally witnessed injustice done to other people, a starving human body, or when his eyes ached in direct sunlight?

I bet the once-blind-now-seeing man noticed every blind person he saw after that. I bet the once-lame-now-walking-and-leaping man took special note of every lame person he walked past. Because they understood where those people were at.

My heart remains with those who are sick, and I want them to know that it is not their fault that they are sick. I want them to know that God can be glorified in their life, regardless of their circumstances, and in fact, that God can be glorified even if they are never healed. When Jesus was asked who was at fault for the man being born blind, this is how he answered. "It was not because of his sin or his parents' sin. This happened so that the power of God could be seen in him."

God's power is shown through our lives when we submit to him. Whether or not outward healing occurs, it is the inward healing that matters the most. Followers of Jesus get sick like everyone else. The difference between a follower of Jesus and a non-follower is this: followers of Jesus continue to have hope in their lives, regardless of the desperateness of their outward situation. That hope means that we are not afraid of Death, even though we approach it with alarming speed. 1 Peter 1:3 says "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead"

Healing is only a small measure of God's goodness. But his conquering of Death and guidance in our lives is the hope that sustains us and the unlimited source of power that backs us. If God is for us, who can be against us?

My message is this: As Followers of Jesus, we have the hope and the power not merely to survive hard times, but to actually thrive in the midst of them. Think about the popular movie, The Princess Bride. The brave Wesley leads Princess Buttercup through the Fire Swamp. As they journey together through the swamp he saves her and protects her from the three fears: the fire spurts, the quicksand and the giant rats. My question is this. When Buttercup told the story afterward, what do you think she would emphasize? Would she sigh with relief and never want to think about it again? Or would she tell all of her friends about the Wesley's daring bravery and how he saved her again and again? I think the latter. She did not just survive in the Fire Swamp, she actually fell in love in the Fire Swamp. I would call that thriving. Jesus is my Wesley.

In Psalm 23 (The Lord is my Shepherd...), there is a line that says "He prepares a table before me, in the presence of my enemies. My cup overflows". Here is my version: "He prepares a table before me, in the presence of a brain tumor, of Death, of chemotherapy, of disappointments, and of loss. My cup overflows."

If I get diagnosed with another Krang tomorrow, this will remain unchanged. Because I have a Wesley and I am in love with him.

April 29, 2011

New Frontiers: Shell shocked and very emotional

I went to see my doctor yesterday with James to get the results of my MRI from Wednesday evening. What the doctor had to say took us by surprise to say the least!

Evidence of the tumor is gone. There are no visible signs of it, except for the hole in my head.

They don't seem too surprised by this. This is a very good sign, but apparently I am not out of the woods yet. The tumor itself is sort of like the tip of the iceberg, so there are still cells there that could grow back (statistically speaking). I will be continuing treatments until November. My doctor said that something will probably grow back over time, but that it would likely happen over many years.

I don't really care about the details. Whether we realize it or not, all of us have a "Will Die" label tattooed on our foreheads. On my label it looked like the date was about to expire. I still have the label. I will die at some point in some form or fashion. That threat has not been removed from my life. But for whatever reason, Jesus has touched me and said, "Not now".

Many thoughts, many emotions. I'll try to describe them for you.

I will not merely proclaim the healing powers of Jesus Christ. What I will proclaim is the He is God over this world and over the heavens. I will proclaim that he is always Great and Good and that even in my suffering, He was Great and Good. He is no more worthy of praise now that my tumor is gone than he was while it caused uncontrollable twitching in my body. He is no more my friend and my advocate now than he was two days ago. He didn't need to prove himself to me. I already believed that his goodness extends beyond my circumstances. But for some reason he has.

Its a little bit as though James had given me a huge piece of valuable jewelry to show me that had loved me. Almost inevitably I would hear myself say to him, "Oh, James you didn't have to do that. I already know you love me". This is of course a hypothetical scenario. James has never given me a huge expensive piece of jewelry (okay, a wedding ring!). But I know he loves me because he is sharing his life with me. He comforts me, he gives himself to me when we are going through hard times.

To me, this healing is a piece of jewelry. It's big. It's incredible. It's a sign of love. But without the constant presence of Jesus in my life through thick and thin, I wouldn't know what to do with it. Am I happy about the jewelry? Will I show it off to people? Yes! But just as the tumor was the "tip of the iceberg," so this sign of healing (or perhaps, reprieve from illness) is just the tip of the enormity of his love for me!

Christians like to quote 1 Corinthians 13 a lot. "If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but have not love, I am but a resounding gong or a clanging symbol. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and hand over my body to the flames so that I may boast, but have not love, I gain nothing."

Without the love and the presence of Jesus in my life, this healing would mean nothing. The greatest thing he has done is to redeem me from my sin with his death and restore me to relationship with him, giving me access to the most awesome power and love in this world and beyond.

I will tell of the kindnesses of the LORD,
the deeds for which he is to be praised,
according to all the LORD has done for us—
yes, the many good things
he has done for Israel,
according to his compassion and many kindnesses.
He said, “Surely they are my people,
children who will be true to me”;
and so he became their Savior.
In all their distress he too was distressed,
and the angel of his presence saved them.

In his love and mercy he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them
all the days of old.

Yet they rebelled
and grieved his Holy Spirit.
So he turned and became their enemy
and he himself fought against them.

From the beginning, I have felt the assurance that however my story might end, I would pass through Death to Life. Either I would physically die and find life in the hereafter, or my "life" as I now know it would die and I would be given a new physical life. Either way I win.

But now that I have "won" (at least for this particular battle), I feel weak and shell shocked. It's like I've come home from the war. I've survived. I am alive, and life can now continue. But I've seen so much death in the past 10 months. I've seen my comrades fall dead (my dreams and ambitions), I've seen myself disabled from well aimed shots. I may be "home" and I may be alive, but I can't just fall back into my life. I don't recognize it. I have been living on autopilot. Yesterday I had to let myself cry and weep and scream for all that has been lost. Like honoring all the soldiers who have died. I recognize the awesomeness of what has happened, but only yesterday did it really hit me how terrible and bloody this battle has been on my life and on my emotions. I can't go into detail about what has been lost - there is much more than I've talked about on here. It is raw and it is personal and it doesn't even make sense. But as I sat there mourning, I could feel God's presence beside me, comforting me and acknowledging with me all that has been lost. I need emotional healing too.

That's all for now.

February 13, 2011

In Which Being Able to Laugh at Oneself Pays Off Tremendously

I've been informed by an old acquaintance that I am overdue for a blog entry. The mid-winter stretch is upon us and this of course makes daily life seem rather uneventful. I recently looked back at some of our blog entries living in China and re-realized how many "abnormal" things happened there on a daily basis. At the time it seemed normal enough, and blogging about it seemed very natural. I remember that one of my close friends remarked that either we had a very interesting life or we were just really good story tellers. I'm now of the opinion that it was the former. With the cancer thing slowing down and living back in North America, it seems like there is not much to write about.

This was never intended to be a Cancer Blog. It began primarily as a way for us to relate our lives in China to our faraway friends and family. I really disliked the idea of writing group emails or of having to explain the same things over and over again to different people.

Cancer blog is not a bad thing. In fact I think our readership probably multiplied by a factor of ten or so. It was a little overwhelming when I suddenly realized that we had acquaintances of acquaintances reading, or people that James or I not seen for ten years or so reading it. For a while I was receiving emails almost daily from people that I didn't even know saying that they were reading and praying. I wondered then, as I occasionally still wonder now, what it was about my story that made it more interesting than the thousands (dare I say millions) of other cancer victims out there. Or better put, what is there interesting to read about cancer? What person whose life is untouched by cancer really wants to read about another person's life that is (and a stranger at that)?

Nonetheless, this blog fell into its new role as Cancer Blog. As in China, there was plenty to write about... changing emotions, thoughts about the future, new treatment plans etc, etc. These things have not ceased, but they have markedly slowed down, and they have also had a decreasing impact on our lives. With the continued and growing knowledge that God continues to be God, despite my physical health, the fact that I have a brain tumor has slowly lost its power in our lives. Its not something we spend hours thinking about anymore, even though its medical prognosis over our lives has not changed. Theoretically, I'm still dying. But I do spend hours basking in the Truth that I have in God; that I am not afraid of Death, nor am I afraid of Life.

So now what to write about? Do I write just for the sake of writing? That sounds boring.

James and I have fallen back into a very precious niche of ours, one we've had since we started dating. That is, dreaming about our future. I have mentioned before that this kind of dreaming is not an attempt to escape the present, it is merely an manifestation of the level of excitement we have for our lives. While I live, we intend to LIVE, not limit. Our most recent dreams have included: James doing an internship with the FAO in a few years (which would require us living in Rome), me in Med School (as you already know), or me doing an dietetic internship with the Dietitians of Canada.

Dreaming is just so darn fun! So many of the fun things we have already done started with the seed of a dream. Dreaming is often stigmatized as not being realistic. In our case especially, I think that some people would accuse us of being escapists. Recently, I asked the Dean of my university department to refer me for a dietetic internship. He agreed, but first he sat and talked with me in his office for close to an hour about my health condition and how I was doing emotionally. I suspect that he wanted to determine for himself if my optimism was a carefully crafted front, and if the peace that I display was genuine before referring me. What resulted was an extremely open discussion where both of us walked away feeling encouraged. I viewed it as an unexpected blessing. How many people walk away from a hour meeting with a University dean feeling spiritually encouraged?

In both Christian and non-Christian circles, there is a lot of discussion about the power of positive thinking. I agree, certainly, but my version of it is just to keep on living. We can talk about being positive, or we can just live positively. However, I don't think that positive thinking means rejecting the negative or rejecting Death. That would just be denial. Rather, I think that keeping a view of Death in our lives lends a certain sharpness and acuity to the way we live. In all of our dreams now, James and I always leave room for death. But this does not make us sad.

So we live by dreaming, and we also live in the day to day. There is a lot in the day to day that is also makes us feel very ALIVE. For example, two days ago, I had to go from the University of Manitoba to Victoria Hospital to get some routine blood work done. These two institutions are practically side by side, but in order to get to the hospital, you have to walk all the way to Pembina Highway, which then travels by the longest route possible back to the hospital( at least a 20 minute walk). As I walked the route, I couldn't help but noticing how close the hospital looked just across the field of snow. Impulsively, I took the road less travelled by (aka, there was no road, only a field of untouched hip deep snow).

It started out okay, it seems that one person had travelled part of the way through the field (but then wisely stopped), so I followed in their tracks. When I came to the unbroken snow, it looked hard enough to walk on top, so I gingerly tried to lift myself above the snowy depths. But then I started breaking through the snow up to my hips! We're talking Peter trying to walk on water here. Try as I might, I could not get back onto the surface of the snow, so I treaded through the snow, giggling to myself at how ridiculous I must look! Then my Canadian breeding kicked in, "If only I can increase my surface area, I can stay on top of the snow!". Half the field left to go and the hospital looked closer than ever! Perseverance Jessica! I spread myself out on my stomach and crawled commando style across the snow (still breaking through), clearly visible from two major roads, the hospital windows towering above the field and to the construction workers just across the... fence (oh no!).

At this point I was laughing out loud hysterically at myself and pouring with sweat. A grown adult, mother, nutritionist, and cancer patient unsuccessfully commando crawling over an open field and covered in snow, just for the sake of saving a few minutes! Finally I made it to the last impediment... the chain link fence (complete with wire ends at the top for the express purpose of deterring people like me). But I was not to be deterred. Going back now would mean going through the field again AND walking twenty minutes. And the hospital was right there!

Climbing over a fence is challenging at any time, but far more so when wearing thick winter boots and fighting to rise above the hip-deep snow that sucks you down. I finally made it up to the top, where I hovered on the spikes while preparing to throw my weight in one last concerted effort over the fence. After all, if I got hurt, I was already on my way to the hospital (how convenient!)

Rrrrip! Not my flesh thank goodness, but a large patch of my pants and long underwear had ripped open to the skin! Jessica's thigh exposed to the world! Walking the remaining ten feet to the hospital on concrete, open jeans flapping with each step, I momentarily experienced a sensation of "I wish I hadn't done that". But I quickly brushed it aside and proceeded to go to the blood lab in the hospital, ripped pants and all.

Anyone reading this story will have the same reaction that James did, "Why did you do that?". But, as ridiculous as it was, I hold that it was extremely fun laughing by myself as I crawled through the snow. Personally, I think it is a great example of enjoying living and feeling ALIVE.

Would I do it again? Probably not!

January 15, 2011

Report on the Murder Mystery!

And here we are with the long awaited report on our murder mystery. Despite the fact that James and I were still writing up cue cards a mere two hours before it started, the evening was an unprecedented success! I give credit for the fun time to all of our friends and family who really got into character. I was in peals of laughter at the outbursts of angry Portugese from the Viceroy of Macau, the snuffbox, sneezing and embarrassing medical diagnoses of Dr. Wang, the mysteries of the Tao expounded upon by Master Huang, the operatic bursts of song from Esmeralda Castafiore, the unashamed American pride of the US Marshal and much much more!

So we wound our way down the paths of mystery, with great shocking revelations, startling accusations and, yes, even a few downright fights!

Here are some pictures of our great event.

Group Photo
James' sisters (Mei Li and the maid)
Our roommate (Japanese art collector)
My Dad (US Marshal Orin L'Amour)
James and I (and my wig!)
James' Sister (Madame Wang) and her husband (Dr. Wang)
My Mom (famous American opera singer Esmeralda Castafiore)
Me as the Empress Dowager Cixi with my puppet, the Emperor
Our good friends (the Dread Pirate Tshin Kuo-Hak and his cabin boy)
Goofy, goofy James (Sir James Basswood Yaardley)

Our Brother-in-law (Master Huang)
My sisters (Sister Maria Franco and Sister Maria Ascuncion) and our roommate (the Cardinal)

My sister and her husband (The Portuguese Viceroy of Macau)
James' brother (German mercenary) with an African head carving

Now here comes the shameless advertising. After all the time and effort we have put into this mystery, we have decided to experiment and see if we might be able to make a profit from this!

If you want to find out the intricacies of our story, experience the thrill of a good mystery and get dressed up with your friends for an evening, James and I are considering the option of renting ourselves out to conduct our murder mystery with you and your friends. You would provide the guest list, the location, the food (and a rental fee), and James and I would arrange the rest, even coming to your home in character to facilitate the smooth progression of your party. Make us an offer! We dare you!

Our own little trial run revealed certain glitches that need to be fixed, and of course, the expectation is that there will be some parts of the mystery that run slower than others. We are not professionals and we are still learning, but all of our guests said that they had a really great time.

Of course, the mystery will only be as good as the people who are participate, so you must be sure that you have outgoing participants. Enthusiasm is a must. And everyone must be dedicated to staying in character and following directions, even when told to do something "embarrassing"!

Further update - My last round of chemo went really, really well. Apparently the extra strong nausea meds did the trick. Ironically, I had more of an appetite while on the chemo than I have had in months. I have also started the injections for my white blood cells, and those side effects also seem to be minimal (some bone pain). I have another MRI on Jan25.

We have also begun the new term for school. For me, re-entering chemistry after a five year break has been a little like diving into a cold pool of water. I have been reminded of how much chemistry I used to know.
Nutrition requires a lot of chemistry, but it is a very specific branch of chemistry, so I have forgotten a lot of the stuff from other branches.
Needless to say, a lot of studying is in order. It is starting to come back (thank you God!), but I have had to review some real basics in order to retrieve it. Balancing reactions, laws of thermodynamics, bond energy of glucose... I came home from my second class crying and feeling so out of the loop! I have been glued to my textbook for the last day, and thankfully, along with the returning knowledge is a returning love for Chemistry. Its hard, but I love the way that it is so logical!

The unfortunate news in our family is that the extra grant that would have allowed our whole family to go to Bali, was turned down. I suppose that if I were handing out grants, I would choose an application that overtly expanded science over one that involved flying a family to Bali so that they can stay together. Of course it sucks and we still haven't figured out how the summer will go now with this change in our plans. I won't pretend to be happy about this turn of events, but I also feel that it would be pointless to get overly upset about it (plenty of time for that later!).

Anyhow, that's all for now!

January 04, 2011

Coming Soon... The Murder Mystery!

I'm sure you'll remember that I posted our Murder Mystery invite on here a while back. We ended up having to postpone it by a week due to a family situation. And that means that this Saturday, Jan.8 will be the grand unveiling! We are getting very excited!

Our story is set in the 1880's near Shanghai in China. A Portugese Priest has been found murdered, at his inland mission. Portugal is upset with China and considering military intervention, and China is angry at the insinuation that they are killing foreigners! Queen Victoria wonders if there is need for British involvement. All of this lies amidst mysterious backdrop of ancient Taoist art gone missing, a thriving underground opium trade and piracy on the high Formosan Seas!

Sixteen invitation have been extended and accepted to a small circle of friends and family. A wide selection of costumes have been rented or created. Character information sheets have been sent to each person. Secrets abound! And all of this comes to a climax at our house on Jan.8.

Here is a list of the characters who will be taking part in our mystery...

James Basswood Yaardley III, 9th Earl of Hampshire – A magistrate sent by her Majesty Queen Victoria to investigate the death of the Priest. He must inform the Queen whether it will be necessary to assist Portugal in a war against China.

Lady Hedwig von Bremerhaven – Wife of the 9th Earl of Hampshire

Arturo XXX, Viceroy of Portuguese Macao – As a Portugese citizen, the Priest fell under the jurisdiction of the Viceroy of Macao. If the Priest was murdered by Chinese locals, it becomes be his responsibility to bring his troops into the area and teach the locals a lesson.

Sister Maria-Franco, Nun of the Order of St. Bartholomew – She has worked at the St. Joseph’s Mission for 20 years

Sister Maria-Asuncion, Nun of the Order of St. Bartholomew – She only arrived a few weeks before the murder from Portugal to work at the St. Joseph’s Mission

Sgt. Major Orin L’Amour - United States Marshal – He has come to investigate missing art and stolen money on behalf of the Hartford Castafiores

Esmeralda Castafiore (“of the Hartford Castafiores”) – She is a famous American opera singer who paid a large sum of money for art that was never delivered to her.

Tshin Kuo-hak – Notorious Pirate King of the Formosan Sea

Yang Yang – Cabin Boy of Tshin Kuo-hak

Cixi, Empress Dowager of China – She wants to ensure that the missionary’s death does not lead to a foreign attack on Chinese soil

His Excellence, Cardinal Garibaldi di Popomobilissimo – The Cardinal is the Priest’s superior, and has come to investigate his death on behalf of the Catholic church

Dr. Wang – A reputable doctor of Chinese Traditional Medicine who lives in Shanghai. He often partnered with the Priest to provide free medical care at the Catholic mission

Madam Wang – She is the socialite wife of the reputable Chinese doctor Dr. Wang. She is very elegant, and from a very influential family in Shanghai. She was educated in America.

Master Huang, Abbot of Shanshan Taoist Monastery – The monastery is located close to St. Joseph’s mission. It is well known that the Abbot dislikes the Priest.

Mei Li – Chinese born, American educated, Mei Li returned to Shanghai with America’s famous free spirited attitude. She runs an opium den in Shanghai.

Klaus von Hess – He is a German mercenary (born in the Province of Hesse-Nassau). He has fought in wars on most continents, but currently shines his rifle for the Portuguese army of Macao.

Lao Pangzi – She is the Chinese washer woman and cook who has worked at the St. Joseph’s Mission for twenty years.

Aiko Yakamoto – Ms. Yakamoto is a wealthy Japanese art collector from Tokyo.

The only downside to our party was the dismaying news that I will back on chemotherapy for five days Jan.5-9, and that our party falls in this timeframe. Not so much fun, but we will press on regardless of my condition!

My pharmacy filled a massive prescription for me last week, and even the pharmacist were feeling bad for me and expressing concern! Two anti-nausea meds (one so strong that they had to appeal to a higher governing authority for approval). Two strengths of oral chemotherapy. Seven doses of injections to raise my White Blood Cell count over the next 14 days (side effects: bone pain, joint pain, nosebleeds and headaches). All of this on top of my anti-seizure meds and acid blockers for my stomach!

This update is not here so that you pity me. It is merely an update so that if you think of me over the next week you can pray that I am not just welded to my bed. There are numerous side effects to all these meds and they all sound less than appealing. My biggest struggle these days is my appetite, which is pretty much non-existent. Food has entirely lost its appeal for me (a sad loss - I never realized before how much pleasure I got from eating a good meal). I can only eat when my hunger pangs force me to, and then I need to stop as soon as the pangs are gone. Sweet things have no appeal whatsoever. For the most part I have learned to control and live with the whims of my stomach, but small disturbances easily make whatever is in there come up. I can see myself quickly becoming skeletal!

Nonetheless in spite of the discomfort, my spirits are high and I consider myself to be a very blessed individual. I celebrated my 27th birthday yesterday and it was very pleasant indeed. I am very thankful for my life.