Empty Nest, But Not an Empty Heart: Last Chemo Round!
I must tell you that I write for myself. I write to remember the pages and chapters in my life. I write to be able to look back on God’s faithfulness in my life. Many times during chemo, I have had to reread my own writing to remind myself of what God has done in my life. I love that other’s can also be reminded of the goodness of God through my writing. That thrills me to no end. But if truth be told, these stories are for me — because I am so forgetful, and for my family to learn and understand that the God we serve is unlike anything else we may find ourselves serving because we forget about His absolute goodness and the goodness He wants for us. All that to say is that I welcome you along in my reminiscing as I lay my life out for the days when I have foolishly forgotten the faithfulness of my God.
Empty nest is hitting us and I haven’t decided if I like it yet. We moved our daughter to Los Angeles on Monday and our son is moving out part-time next weekend. He’ll be gone three to four days a week. At least that is a gentle transition for me. I really don’t think I could handle both my kids leaving completely at the same time. But I suppose it is time for me to grow up and face the reality that all parents have to face. It is the end goal for raising our kids, right? At least that is what we tell ourselves and then work hard to believe it. We do all this work to help our kids establish adulthood and then, as moms, we feel lost when they fly the coop — well, at least I do. I have many friends that seem to make this transition without a glance back and I marvel at their strength. Both of my kids have been coming and going now for the past three years, so you think this would get easier. Not for me. I will blame it on my emotional chemo state. Most things seem worse than they are and then some things, that I should feel emotions over, I feel nothing.
While down in LA we met with the surgical oncologist who will do my lumpectomy, which sounds like quite a process. Of course, it is a much easier process than a mastectomy, and I am so thankful that I am not having to go that route like several of my friends have had to do. As I have anticipated this surgery date since I heard I had cancer, I finally have a date, September 27th! I have my last chemo this morning. Honestly, I am dreading it. As each chemo treatment robs me of my energy, I know this final one will leave me less than the already depleted woman I feel today. All my friends are so excited for me that this is the end of the poison and I know I should be excited. I can’t even get there in my brain. The date for the surgery feels more tangible and rewarding. I know that sounds weird, but it is the removal of what started this whole process and that feels like a better thing to be anticipating than chemo, even if it is the last one I have to do. I also know that at the time of surgery I should be recovering from the way chemo makes me feel and then I can be excited because the darkness will at least be over.
Chemo treatments 4 and 5 have dug in and don’t want to leave my body. I am on my third round of antibiotics, trying to keep me healthy for “the final round” of chemo. My legs feel like dead weight and every movement has a counter rush of energy burn. It is that same burning feeling you get after an intense workout at the gym, except all I did is try to walk across the room. My breath feels shallow, and I am winded from very little activity. This is what I will be thrilled to no longer feel. And I know I can get my body back into shape, it will just take some time. As my hair grows, so will my strength. Oh! Did I tell you those little hairs are putting up a pretty good fight? Despite all the chemicals coursing through my body, they are slowly, but steadily, emerging through my scalp. Think Chia Pet. Not enough to walk around without a head covering, but they are trying.
HOTY and I just spent five days in the mountains with four other couples that we affectionately call the “Camping Group.” Every year for the past twenty years our five families have planned a summer vacation together. The youngest child was two when we started and today he is twenty-two. We never did come up with a better name for our group, even though we really did try. The most unfortunate part of our group is that we hardly ever camp any more. We rent spectacular houses, which none of us could ever afford on our own. We’ve gone on a cruise to Mexico and rented a house boat on the Delta. We also throw a big Christmas party every year, alternating houses. Beyond that the couples get together once a month and have dinner together. Our summer trips have turned into just the couples with an occasional grown adult or two straggling along. We call them the second gens, but some of those second gens are growing with spouses and children. Our original group started with twenty-one people and has grown significantly through marriages and babies. We never meant to be snobbish about our group, but we purposely kept it closed to just our five families. We were able to look ahead and knew that it was hard enough to plan events for twenty-one people, and we wanted to form solid bonds to last generations.
We evolved out of a couple unique factors; We all lived on the central coast having little to no family here. We all had the desire for family that didn’t exist locally. We all were self-employed. We all had kids that were roughly the same ages. We all had first marriages with spouses that were very committed to each other. We were all Christians except for two husbands (but that didn’t last too long because we loved them into the Kingdom of Christ). Most uniquely all the women got along very well and even more uniquely the men all really liked each other too. We realized very early on that pulling five families together like this wasn’t just happenstance. It was an incredible blessing from God. We love like family, and we’ve had our differences like family. But we support each other and forgive as we’ve all been so committed to sticking it out together. Two of us have now had breast cancer. And we have had many other illnesses and adventures that have brought us closer together. We are a very fortunate group of people, and fully realize that not many people have what we have.
We have purposely initiated other events to pull other families in without ever changing our core “camping group.” We have weekly summer potlucks with twelve families and every summer we look for new families that need connection and pull them in. Because we have been able to create something that most people lack, we are very intentional of sharing that as much as we can and not be “click-ish.” But boy do we realize how blessed we are. I especially realize it. HOTY and I moved to the central coast almost thirty years ago, by ourselves without family to start our business. We were very lonely for many years and God saw to it to prepare friends that loved Him and would love us. The unforeseen blessing is that my nest is never completely empty because we have deep bonds with friends that know us deeply and know our kids. There is no way we could have planned it this well when life was so full of young kid craziness. That is one reason I know that it could only have been arranged by God. We are just not that smart.
All of this reminds me of God’s grace. My strength doesn’t matter. The weight that I have gained during this battle doesn’t matter. All the money that we have had to put out before insurance fully kicked in, doesn’t matter. Those extremely dark days . . . they don’t even matter. What matters is that I understand what God’s grace means for me. God’s grace is like the father whose son went completely off the rails and squandered his inheritance and his life, and yet when he finally hit rock bottom the son returned home for help. The father ran to him with open arms and restored to him his place within the family. God’s grace is free. It is redemptive. It is restorative. He doesn’t hold over us what we did in the past. He looks only at the present and restores us for a future at home with Him (Luke 15:11-32). Man! I have received that gift of grace and all I can do is tell you about how amazing it is. I can lament in my present circumstance, but I only want to do that to bring glory to God for His incredible goodness to me, even in my loathsome circumstance. He is the God who is taking me through it, not leaving me in it. The God who reaches down in the dark days to hold my hand and walk me through. The God who knows I hate the way I look right now. Yet, He gently tells me this is temporary and that His love is not dependent on what’s on the outside, just what’s on the inside, because He knows my heart. This same God took upon himself all the deplorable things I did that held me hostage, just to make me free.
I can’t tell you this story of cancer without telling you about the transformation God is working in me. Cancer is just a small part of my story. It is a pretty amazing feeling to be able to trust God with this and every other area of my life. I was asked recently how I can stay positive through all of this. I had to tell this young man that I am not always positive, but if it weren’t for my relationship with God, my creator, I would have no hope. I know that God has a plan in all of this, even if I don’t know what that plan is. I know that God is 100% faithful because He has always been so to His children since the beginning of time. Since I made the choice to give Him my all, He has never failed me. And I know how much God loves me. That doesn’t mean all my days are perfect, trust me I have many days when I feel very sad and even depressed, but I know that the same God who created the universe cares deeply about me. The same God that has the power to bring the dead to life, loves me. He can take my life or leave me here to glorify Him. I am ok with either scenario, but right now I know I am here to give Him the glory for the transformation He has made within me. I am His love story of grace and this chapter is almost finished, but it isn’t the end of my story. My nest is always evolving because of the love He has put within me for deep relationships with others because of what He has done for me.