Cancer Survivor

A cut above

Hi all!

I just had the best couple of days with my dear friend Dianne Saber. She flew in from California to hold my hand for a chemo cut. She also talked me into waxing my eyebrows. You’re probably thinking, why cut your hair if it’s all gonna fall out anyway? Well, I’m a control freak. When the Doctor says, “Your hair may fall out.” I think, “Not if I cut it first.” That and I couldn’t stand the thought of discovering long locks on my pillow, hair brush, or drain. So, I made a preemptive strike. I think the “new do” suits me. I also bought a matching wig. Yep, when the hair goes…I have a back up in the exact same color and style. When you see me, you’ll never know what’s real or not. At least, that is my plan.

Thanks for all your love, prayers, and concern. I feel surrounded by God’s love and saints.

Love,

Lenya

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Cancer Survivor

Getting an Upgrade

Every time Apple comes out with the latest, greatest gadget my guys jockey for position into long lines for the “must have” upgrade. The iPhone rolls out a 3G and immediately they’re hooked up (I have to confess, I detest electronic devices at the dinner table. Grrrrrr!) It’s no wonder that most of us look at getting an upgrade as a good thing. We dream of a flight attendant calling our name over the loud speaker to say, “We’re upgrading you to first class. Sorry we overbooked the flight.”

My grandest string of upgrades occurred during 1996 when the New York Yankees competed with the Atlanta Braves for the World Series. John Wetteland, the Yankees clean-up pitcher who led the American League with 43 saves, invited me and Nathan to come see an away game in Atlanta. Because we knew John, his name opened the door to untold opportunity wherever we went in Atlanta. It unlocked a hotel room at the Ritz Carlton after the Marriott overbooked our reservation—all expenses paid! Shopping with the team family members brought amazing discounts. It gained us entrance to the Yankee locker room and even provided seats on the team bus right next to Reggie Jackson. Nathan and I felt like we landed in a dream. And it was a dream come true!

Today I received an upgrade I could live without. I learned that my Stage 1 cancer was elevated to Stage 2. Yes, the pathology from my lymphs, omentum, colon, and abdominal fluid were all negative. On the positive side, it is not a clear cell carcinoma, which are notoriously virulent. Dr. Ampuero was astounded at how quickly I’m recovering from the surgery, saying, “You’re well ahead of schedule.” He added that youth and strength are on my side. However, since my hysterectomy in 1998, there’s no knowing if the peritoneal cancer originated elsewhere, like my ovaries or uterus. That and anything that impacts the colon brings unsolicited upgrades.

This Wednesday I have more blood work. On Thursday, I undergo a procedure to implant a “port” into my chest to receive the chemo. Next Tuesday, August 4th, I receive my first of six rounds of chemotherapy. The toxic cure will be a combo of Paclitaxel and Carboplatin. Most likely I’ll lose my hair, be fatigued, and have a compromised immune system until the first of the year.

On the average, the awesome upgrades I’ve received have far outweighed the aggravating ones. I will rest with Job on this thought, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

Love,
Lenya

Cancer Survivor

Going Up the Down Staircase








Skip and Lenya sitting on the Spanish Steps in Rome

Doesn’t that phrase remind you of a mysterious message out of C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series? Stairs are not marked, like highways, with white and yellow lines informing drivers to stick to the appropriate side of the street. Escalators, however, are direction specific. Everyone knows that you don’t go up these down staircases. In fact, it’s dangerous. When Nathan was a toddler he tried to tackle them backwards. You guessed it, his fingers got jammed. They shut down the apparatus. And I looked like the world’s worst mother.

Did you know that ancient Israel possessed designated up and down staircases? On the Southern Temple Mount you’ll find one of the most impressive archeological discoveries. First, you’ll see the Western and Southern walls in their full height and grandeur. But leading up to them, you’ll also encounter the Southern Steps that rise up to the Huldah Gates and into the temple itself.

Astoundingly, some of the stairs are authentic as they lead their way up from the City of David. Common people climbed these steps on their way to worship. The city’s rabbis and elders met there to make important decisions. One can actually say that Jesus probably walked “right here.” “In the 1970’s Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, was visiting the steps near the southern wall. When he realized that Jesus had walked here, he said he was more excited to stand here than on the moon.”

There are two sets of Huldah Gates at the top of the Southern Steps. The “double gate” lies right beneath the al-Aqsa mosque, now behind the Turkish wall. If you look to the right or east several dozen yards you’d discover three blocked gates that make up the eastern Huldah Gate (the triple gate). Ingress into the temple came up the Southern Steps through the western Huldah Gate. Those departing the temple left through the eastern triple gate.

However, there was one exception to this traffic pattern. A person ending their mourning or being restored from excommunication would walk up the down staircase. This precedent is found in Masechet Midot, chapter 2, mishnah 2. Why did the rabbis include this ritual? For comfort and consolation. The person who returned to worship after suffering would encounter those leaving the temple, face to face. And as each passed by, they would speak a word of blessing or encouragement. “May God bless you.” “Welcome back to God’s House.” “God restore His joy and keep you.” Imagine how the absentee attendee felt?

This weekend, I got to walk up the down staircase at Calvary. Holding my husband’s hand, I walked out onto stage to see God’s people after a month of discovery, diagnosis, surgery, and recovery. And they clapped their hands, laughed or cried, and called out words of encouragement to me. I was uplifted on angel’s wings. If you’ve been avoiding church because of sorrow or sin, won’t you come in the door backwards? Saints are waiting to welcome you home with a smile and a blessing.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4

Love,

Lenya

Cancer Survivor

Go For A Walk!

Walking works wonders after surgery. As excruciating as it sounds, dangling your legs off the bed and hitting the floor brings amazing post-op benefits. Most abdominal patients start their ambulatory therapy within 24 hours after surgery.

So why is it so important to get moving? It’s because walking prevents a host of complications that follow an operation. First of all, lungs become depressed from anesthesia as well as getting dried out from receiving oxygen as we lie in one position for a protracted period of time. Therefore, changing positions and doing some deep breathing helps prevent Pneumonia.

Secondly, walking gets your guts going again. Often abdominal surgery shuts down our intestines and these organs are ornery. They don’t like being messed with; sometimes it takes a day of two for them to get over it. But walking will let them know that they need to get back to work. Gas, appetite, and bowel function depend on the activity of walking.

Finally, a stroll several times a day builds up stamina. Gentle exercise strengthens your muscle and metabolism. The old axiom, “Use it or lose it” really does apply. The more we plow through the pain the better we’ll feel.

I couldn’t help but see the spiritual parallels between physical exercise and walking by faith. In fact, Scripture exhorts saints to get moving! Jesus commanded the paralytic man, newly healed from his infirmities to “Rise, take up your bed and walk” (Mark 9:2). Sounds like the Great Physicians knew the benefits of walking long before doctors discovered it.

And then there is Paul, the biped of the faith. He told Christians to walk through a variety of circumstances. On the positive side he said to, “Walk in the steps of the faith” (Rom. 4:12) and that “we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Contrarily, he warned us not to walk in the flesh, or as the ungodly, or the disorderly.

The Bangles made walking like an Egyptian popular, but my personal favorite Scriptural swagger is found in Colossians where we are told to walk like God. “Walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him” (Col. 1:10). Maybe you have not had abdominal surgery like me. Perhaps the Lord has cut away a bad habit, or an unhealthy relationship, or something you thought you really needed. The best medicine I can offer? Go for a walk! Get up and get going! Show God that you’ll walk with Him through the valleys all the way to the mountain top.

See you on the trails,
Lenya

Cancer Survivor

“M” Is For The Many Things She Gave Me…

Lenya and her mother, Nathan’s wedding

Mothers have the magnificent ability to change hurt into hope, especially my own mother. From the moment she heard that something was wrong with my tummy she began planning ways to make it all better. Mikey, the nickname her father gave to her, arrived in Albuquerque three days before my surgery. This morning she departed, after willing me back to wellness and working tirelessly so that my convalescence was comfortable. She also returns with good news. The pathology report came back yesterday. My lymphs, omentum, and estrogen and progesterone uptake systems are all clear. The tumor remained intact, adhering to but not invading into the colon. Yes, I’ll need chemo, but largely as a precautionary measure. Stage 1 cancer is the best worst news a girl could get.

Believe it or not my mom spent all six nights sleeping on a tiny, tough fold-out mattress beside my hospital bed. In the night, we reminisced like school girls–she held my hand to ease the pain, and served as bull dog to keep visitors to a minimum and nurses attentive. The key to a quick recovery? Bring your mother to the hospital! They’ll even taste test the food, which is notoriously worse than airplane fare. She lost six pounds trying to stomach the stuff.

Upon arriving home, she did all the heavy lifting: changing sheets, cooking, cleaning, and keeping up with my new health regiment. We laughed and cried; watched movies and made necklaces; and walked up and down my street for much needed exercise. No one can field phone calls, flower deliveries, or meals like a mom. Don’t get me started with her recipes. The Swedish apple pancakes that she calls “Dutchies” are to die for. Chicken Wellington wrapped in puffed pastry, simply divine.

So today, I move into the next phase of recovery. Flying solo. I’ll admit it, I’m going to cry. Cry because I’ll miss her. Cry because I’m so blessed to have a mother like her in the first place. And cry because the Lord knew what I needed before I was even born. And when I’m done crying, I’ll rejoice for the woman she’s raised me to be and hope that I love as deeply and sacrificially as she does.

Here’s the song of homage she sang to her mother and I now I serenaded it back to her:
M is for the Many things she gave me,
O means only that she’s growing Old.
T is for the Tears she shed to save me,
H is for her Heart of purest gold.
E is for her Eyes with love light shining,
R means Right and Right she’ll always be.

Put them all together, They spell MOTHER.
A word that means the world to me.

Love,
Lenya

Cancer Survivor

Night Watches

Paul’s song begins at 1:30 on the video.

Pain speaks volumes, if we’ll just listen. I’d like to think that I’m an active listener, both to God and others. Yet, there are times His still small voice must be dialed up to ten. C. S. Lewis once wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Anyone who has had abdominal surgery will attest that the pain has a voice. Day three after my surgery, the O.R. nurses came for a visit and said, “We always like to visit our big belly patience on day three.” I didn’t know whether to be thankful for the care or insulted by the term. What they meant was that surgery that invades the bowels rises to a special level of concern. They’re right! I had three surgeries in 1998, the final culminating into a full hysterectomy. But this procedure was the grand-daddy of them all!

Those in my special club also know that a key piece of advice is to stay ahead of the pain. Once you let it get a good grip…it takes some management to put it back into place. So far, I’ve been managing the pain like a champ during the day. Oh, but, the night watches. They sneak up on you. I take my last medication on my bed. And then about 6 hour s later, about 2 hours too late…I get the wake-up call.

Each night, what awakens me is not the discomfort, but my own voice. I’m stirred by the sound of my own prayers. They are sweet and strong. I hear me calling out to Jesus or asking the Lord for help. Last night Skip asked, “Honey, what are you saying?” In a semi-conscious state I replied, “I think I was praying.” Then my sweetheart reminded me that my pain management was past due.

As I reached for my pills, God spoke. Seriously, I heard an audible harmonious voice. Somehow I’d brushed my iPhone with my wrist and had unwittingly engaged the iPod. Singing sweetly out the darkness, came the melodious tune of my dear friend, Paul Clark. And wouldn’t you know it, my favorite song, “Abide.” The lyrics promised… “The more I go on with the Lord, I find that I cannot afford, to stay away from His side, It’s in the vine I’ll abide…”

I asked Skip, “What is that?” He told me he thought it was my alarm. I assured him that I don’t use the alarm or 90% of the other apps on my gadget. He asked me to pass the device. “Hmmm,” he said, “It turned itself onto shuffle.” Those who are close to me know that I have never downloaded a song or know how to shuffle. But God did! He sang sweetly to me in the night watches.

David said, “When I remember Yo u on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches. Because You have been my help, Therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice” (Psalm 63:6-7).

Love,
Lenya

The Heitzig family, Paul Clark, and friends

Cancer Survivor

Thankful for the pain…

It’s times like these—the unexpected pains, the unplanned detour, the unannounced upset—that make me realize how lucky I am. Oh I know we don’t believe in luck, but God’s good hand of providence. But sometimes the word luck just makes you feel special. It captures the seemingly random blessing we do nothing to deserve. It means having unexpected good fortune. Believe it or not, that’s how I feel about my recent health crisis. It took a malignant tumor to emphatically underscore how incredibly blessed I am!

Saul the zealot turned Paul the apostle understood this concept of blessed bummers. God foretold that He had selected Paul as a fortunate man who would experience triumph through trials. The Lord said, “He is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16).

It is my joy to testify that each morning, as I rise; I experience God’s incredible faithfulness. He has been good to me every moment of my life, not just the fun ones. And in the evening, as I recline, I’m acutely aware of God’s especial grace and kindness to me…much more apparent than in prosperity.

David understood that walking in long shadows highlighted goodness and mercy as his lifelong companions from God. They would join the Psalmist beside still waters of refreshing or scary encounters with enemies. I’m blessed to share the purposeful pain these saints enjoyed. I have joy for this journey and anticipate that great doors of opportunity will open along the way. My cup overflows!

Something Matthew Henry wrote helps me frame unexplained pain. Once, when he was accosted by thieves and robbed of his wallet he wrote these words in his diary: “Let me be thankful first because I was never robbed before; second, although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, and not someone else.”

Thank you for all your prayers and well wishes. They have been treasures.

Love,

Lenya

Cancer Survivor

Hi Friends

Thank you for your love and prayers the past few days. It’s been a tough road, but today I feel that I have turned a corner. Today I had an Armenian nurse come in and poke my stomach–she told me I should do it, too! I’m not so sure I want to take her up on that. Then I went outside for a walk. The Albuquerque sunshine is always therapeutic. My family has been a source of constant comfort. I am still physically weak but my spirit is strong.

I’ll check in with you soon. I know that God’s good hand is with me every second of this journey.

Love,
Lenya

Cancer Survivor

Out of Surgery – Women’s Ministry Update

Lenya is out of surgery; the mass was a malignant stage 1 cancer. The great news is that it was fully contained and they were able to remove all of it.

Once her body recovers from the surgery, she will have to have some chemotherapy treatments to make sure it is all gone. The surgeon and oncologist are very optimistic, as is Skip, and the prognosis is very hopeful.

She is resting and knows that God is still in control. Thank you all for your prayers and thoughts; please continue to pray for her and her family.

You are welcome to send cards to:
Lenya Heitzig
Women at Calvary
4001 Osuna Road NE,
Albuquerque, NM 87109

Also, in lieu of flowers, Lenya has requested donations for Women’s Ministry Bible study scholarships. To make a donation, please contact the Women’s Ministry office at (505)338-3654.

The Women at Calvary

Cancer Survivor

Tuesday Afternoon Update

Today [Tuesday] I had my very first colonoscopy. Ewww! Since I was asleep for the procedure, I don’t remember much. It was the prep the day before that was the hardest. I’ll spare the gory details. However, this morning I was 5 pounds lighter…not a recommended weight loss program. The great news is that they did not find anything! They captured a shot of the tumor pressing on my rectal wall, but it had not invaded the bowels.

No solid food again today or tomorrow. However, I feel strong. Okay, tired but strong. We arrive at the Hospital at 6:15 AM for a 7:45 surgery. My sweet mother will spend the night in my room.

Thanks for all your love and prayers. I am certain that they are sustaining me throughout this storm. “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, whose thoughts are fixed on you!” (Isa. 26:3).

Love,

Lenya