Cancer Survivor

Lenya’s Corner

Some of us remember the Grateful Dead lyrics to Truckin’, “What a long, strange trip it’s been…” While my journey through cancer wasn’t necessarily a long one in comparison to some, it was a strange trip into areas I had never visited. Chemotherapy, hair loss, purchasing a wig, and feeling exactly what my doctor said when I was diagnosed, “You are standing on a platform and the train is going to pull up and take you for a ride” were all firsts for me. But I am thrilled to say the ride has taken me to a place of being cancer free for over one year now. In November, I had my chemo port removed and have had positive lab reports each month. I am gaining strength and very excited about diving into different projects with the Women’s Ministry.

In January we launched our new name, she Ministries, along with our new website http://www.sheabq.org. Our goal is to seek all the many she’s in this world. Our motto is “she is me, she is you.” Also, knowing that women hold a unique place in God’s plan and heart, she Ministries takes inspiration from the virtuous woman extolled in Proverbs 31:

She…does good and not evil all the days of her life, v. 12
She…willingly works with her hands, v. 13
She…brings food from afar, v.14
She…also rises while it is yet night, v. 15
She…girds herself with strength, v. 17
She…stretches out her hands, v. 19
She…extends her hands to the poor, v. 20
She…is not afraid, v. 21
She…opens her mouth with wisdom, v. 26
She…watches over the ways of her household, v. 27

Updates from Lenya was a great place for me to stay in touch with you throughout my cancer treatment and recovery, but as we move into a new season of she, I have a blog built right into the site called Lenya’s Corner. I would love for you to visit and keep up with this new chapter in my life.

Thank you for the encouragement, love, and many well wishes you posted on this blog. Your prayers kept our family going throughout this journey designed by the Lord. I couldn’t possibly say thank you for each prayer, each card, each gift, each word of kindness, but please know that in my heart and memory, each of you are thanked.

Love,
Lenya

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Cancer Survivor

Under Surveillance

Since my last blog, I underwent a cyst aspiration procedure. Inside my abdomen and outside my colon, at the site of the surgical site, I developed two cysts. It caused a narrowing of my colon near the rectal area. Last Wednesday, Dec. 9th, a very long, thin needle was inserted through buttocks (into my right check to be exact) to extract whatever was inside the cyst. Before that happened, I was sedated and run through another CT scan. Then I waited to hear the pathology report. What was growing inside of me now? Seems I exchanged a grapefruit size tumor for an egg sized cyst. Hopefully, I lost the cancer in the switcheroo.

Yesterday, one week later, I had my follow-up visit with Dr. Ampuero. Finally, the “What next?” question would be answered. He told me that he was “cautiously optimistic.” My CA-125 (the cancer marker) remained remarkably low. After two tests, the fluid from the cyst was cancer free. My red and white blood cells were bouncing back. His physical examination confirmed the removal of the cyst and blockage. All of that’s good news, right? But something he said gave me pause. “Now we will keep you under surveillance.” What? Was I a suspect in a crime?

The term “under surveillance” originated as a legal term that means to keep a person under close observation or supervision. Or it describes one in custody or under suspicion. However, now the phrase is used in several venues:

• Police surveillance: The investigation of criminal activities
• Electronic surveillance: The use of electronic equipment (like a nanny camera) to observe activity.
• Vigil/watch: This describes placing someone under guard or observation for their protection.
• Stakeout: In anticipation of a crime a person has under-cover police observation around the clock
• Disease surveillance: The ongoing systematic collection and analysis of data about an infectious disease that can lead to action being taken to control or prevent the disease.

My surveillance falls into the final category. The doctor explained that this cancer “could” return. I must accept the possibility. It happens. But they would be watching. I now am on a schedule to ensure that this disease remains in remission. I will see the doctor every two months for six months, then twice every six months, and then annually. Each visit will include blood work and a physical examination.

I’m not sure I like being “under surveillance.” It has that “big brother is watching” kind of paranoia attached to it. Am I looking in the air for black-op helicopters, or outside my window for suspicious men smoking in their cars? Then, as always, God’s Word comforted me. He reminded me, that more importantly HE is watching me. “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life… Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? …Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt. 5:25-34). I must live in the now. And right now, I am cancer free. That’s enough for today.

Cancer Survivor

I’ve been had!


November 18, 2009

“I’ve been had” is a phrase from the 1800’s that means to get someone under one’s power or to place another person at a disadvantage. The expression employs the verb “to have” in the past tense. Dictionary.com says it means to be outwitted, cheated, or deceived. Perhaps some of you made a bad investment…maybe not the likes of Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme. But, you put your precious nest egg in the hands of someone who took full advantage of you. When the dividends didn’t come pouring in, you knew you’d “been had.”

Another phrase that merely swaps the words and tense “has been” means something a little different. A “has been” describes someone who has outlived their fame. The slang version suggests that someone’s light has “burned out.” During the 80’s Paul Ruebens, aka Pee Wee Herman became a big hit through his T.V. show Pee Wee’s Playhouse and his movie Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. But in July 1991, after deciding to take a couple of years’ sabbatical from showbiz Pee-wee, Reubens, was arrested for indecent exposure in an adult theater in Sarasota, Florida. From that moment on Paul Rueben became a “has been.” He’s yet recovered the fame and fortune of his past.

These terms don’t apply to me, technically. But I feel like a victim of the verb “have” as it shifted into past tense. I take umbrage with word “had.” Today, in my treatment of cancer, I passed the Rubicon of “I have cancer” to “I had cancer.” For the last six months, I’ve been thrust into the “cancer club.” You don’t join it voluntarily. But once you’re diagnosed something profound happens. Almost immediately you flip into the “fight or flight” mode. Me, I landed into fight making crazy moves the likes of Trinity from the Matrix. I threw all my physical fortitude, mental metal, and spiritual underpinnings to meet cancer head-on. And I was playing to win. All of my internal mechanisms shifted into high alert. Because I was “on guard” I really didn’t take the time or energy to emote, wallow, whine, or worry. I saved that energy for the battle.

At 9:00 on November 17th 2009, I had my last chemo. My CA-125 cancer marker is ridiculously low and everything other indicator has risen to the challenge. While the nurse was prepping my port, I began to weep. To Skip and Sherry it probably looked like a teary response to the injection of lidocaine, the awful tasting saline flush, the insertion of the port connection, or IV of poison beginning to drip in my veins. But it wasn’t any of those. I was ready to seriously sob because I couldn’t believe that this was the end. It felt so surreal. Somewhere along the journey I had adapted. Cancer treatment became my “new normal” But after today I would have to learn to live in wellness once again. I pondered, “Can I really let my guard down? “Is this really the end?” “Will another shoe drop?” “What now?”

I confided in the nurse about my feelings. She said, “You’re response is very common. Most people struggle with putting cancer behind them or in the past. It’s a real paradigm shift. Also, we’ve been your safety net. You could face this disease because you had a team fighting with you. Today you go home to finish the healing on your own.” What a weird sensation. She was right. The very thing I dreaded 6 months ago…walking into a chemo treatment center…was now a thing that had brought comfort and healing. I suppose the sensation is similar to soldiers in battle. They learn to live at the “code red” alertness level. They must run on adrenaline for their entire tour of duty. They develop and enjoy comrades in arms with whom they sympathize, draw strength, and derive comfort. But when it’s time to go home they are expected to shift seamlessly back into a calm civilian life. Come on, it has to tweak with their minds and emotions…just like me.

This week a good friend, author and speaker Ken Mansfield, told Skip something that really comforted me. Ken joined the cancer club right as I did. Although he fought a more virulent colon cancer with radiation as his treatment. He said, “Tell Lenya that cancer is the little “c,” but Christ is the big “C.” How profound. Believe me, that’s where I will throw my energy, my transition, my future! Jesus Christ was my comrade in arms and now He’ll be the comforting arms I will find my rest. He walked with me through the hospital. Now He will now walk me safely back to my home sweet home.

Cancer Survivor

Long Time, No Chat


It’s been a couple a weeks since my last update. The colonoscopy confirmed that I have two cysts, about the size of a walnut, growing in my abdomen near the incision site. At first the doctors thought that another major surgery was inevitable. Admittedly, the news shocked our family. I remember, with acute detail, the pain and recovery that the first surgery entailed (just months ago). The Heitzig household geared up for round two. Nate, Janae, and Skip all offered to take turns at the hospital and for home convalescing. I’m blessed to have such support. But my radiologist and surgeon conferred and determined that a less invasive procedure could remedy the situation. A long thing needle will be inserted through my hip region to aspirate the cysts. Thankfully, they’re located in an accessible area. Hopefully, this will relieve all my symptoms and allow the docs to do a biopsy without an incision. Whew!

Cancer Survivor

Time Warp


October 18, 2009

Science fiction describes a phenomenon known as “time warp” that somehow forms a time and space continuum which bends, folds, or warps itself together creating a dual state undetected by the average observer. For instance, in one dimension time might rush forward at the rate of a year per second while in another plan time eerily suspends in a virtual standstill. I believe that sorrow, suffering, and a host of other ailments are catalysts that force humans into that “time stands still” reality. It’s the only way to explain how I can be at home convalescing at a snail’s pace while my loved ones race into the future by leaps and bounds. Their dizzying pace leaves a faint blur in their wake. In my best Yoda voice I warn, “Too fast you are going. Have accident, you will.” The Jedi’s, from the imagination of George Lucas, possess the secret of the time warp…jumping back and forth between continuums. One episode you see Yoda blissfully contemplating life on a distant planet and the next he’s traveling at warp speed to destroy the Death Star or save a princess.

But is time warp just a thing of science fiction? What evidence exists to illustrate this “dual state” phenomena? 1) During the holidays, take your kids to visit their grandparents. And you’ll hear Mimi say, “Oh my, just last year you could sit on my lap. Now you can carry me on your back.” To little Susie, last Christmas seems like a decade ago. For Grandma time whirled by, while for Susie time crept ever so slowly. Or 2) Offer to assist your child with homework (preferably math). Like me, you’ll proceed to methodically do the assignment in long hand, taking just a few hours of your time. But then uber-child walks in, pulls out a computer, and hits a series of keys to find the answer in seconds. You remain stuck in an outdated era while they exist in a new fangled generation. Both evidence of this strange time warp.

So last week a dear friend emailed and challenged me to stop being uber-Lenya. After reading my blog about being A-type and a heat seeking missile, she felt I must move more into the “stand still” time warp. To be honest, I thought that I already was moving in slow motion. But in truth, I can’t help but push the envelope…even in illness. But changing time warps is not for amateurs. It takes great stamina and acumen to leave light-speed for chillax mode. The untrained padawan hits a couple of walls and stumbles through some crash landings before getting it just right.

This week I had one of those hiccups. As I told you, my lower digestive track is wacked. There is a narrowing of the incision site. I have colitis. And there is something external to the colon causing pressure. Most of Tuesday night I was up and vomiting profusely. By the AM I had unbearable cramps. By 8AM I could barely lift my head. By the time my dad got me to the doctor’s office, Dr. Ampuero said, “You were just minutes from being admitted to the hospital.” Through my dad’s sage advice and divine intervention things turned just in time. But Wednesday I had another colonoscopy, which confirmed the above diagnosis. This Wednesday I’ll have a CT to determine the identity of the unknown entity pressuring my colon. Today I have blood work. I am fully in the life at the speed of jello time continuum. I don’t plan on flying anytime soon.

Cancer Survivor

Roadblocks and Detours

Road Blocks

Most people know me as a “full speed ahead” personality. I’ve even earned the nick-name “Heat Seeking Missle” when assigned to a task or project. It’s not uncommon for me to ask others if they want my involvement because I’m either engaged or disengaged. You don’t want to stir the A-type unnecessarily. Naturally, the slower pace of recovery and treatment goes against my robust nature. I attribute most of my weepy days as chaffing against my inner stirring. This little lamb struggles when “He makes me to lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23:2).

Detours and closed doors really frustrate me. I don’t like to be thrown off course. Yesterday, at my fourth chemo session I hit a “slow down dangerous curves ahead” sign. First of all, all my blood work looks fantastic. The Dr. can’t believe how healthy and strong my numbers look. However, I am having some symptoms with my digestive track—urgency and frequency. Let’s just say I have to be acutely aware of bathroom placement throughout my day. While doing a physical exam Dr. Ampuero detected something, larger than a walnut, growing outside my colon wall at the site of the anastomosis. This seems to be creating a narrowing of my colon which explains my symptoms. He ordered a CT scan. But I must wait two weeks as the chemo already compromises my vital organs and the contrast die from the scan would be too taxing. So I’m on a two week detour.

Let me tell you about woman who encountered a detour, Debbie Lascelles who was known by her friends as, “the Texas cream puff.” She knew all the current make-up techniques; could style her hair into the perfect “Texas-Do” and could paint her nails to match any outfit. But there were some things Debbie couldn’t do, like change a flat tire. She had adopted this philosophy of life: “Don’t learn to do something you don’t want to end up doing.” For instance, never ask your husband to teach you how to use the lawnmower unless someday you expect to be trimming the grass. I’ve been told Debbie wouldn’t even screw a new license plate onto her car. Instead, she asked an able-bodied maintenance man working on staff with her at the YWAM base in Tyler, Texas to do the job for her.

She was at the top of her class when graduating from nursing school and was voted the most likely to succeed. Everybody knew Debbie was destined for a prosperous career and would probably marry a doctor. But God interrupted her plans by calling her to the mission field, despite all her previous protests. At thirty-five years old, she and three other like-minded Christians joined Voice Of the Martyrs (VOM) on a mission trip to the Sudan. They were to bring much needed supplies: clothes, medicine, and books to a remote village in the middle of the steamy jungle. The team was also asked to teach their native brothers how to win their enemies to Jesus.

It was a sweltering hot day as they loaded the supply truck. The cream puff was melting. She poured herself into the seat next to another missionary dripping with sweat and fastened her seatbelt for the bumpy ride ahead. They knew that they must travel all day to make their destination before nightfall or they would be lost.

Halfway through the trip a tire blew, and their hearts deflated. The only way to change the tire in that heavy-laden truck was to empty its contents. When the team finally overcame their obstacle, too much time was lost. They’d never reach the village before dark. Disappointed, they decided to turn back.

Rumbling out of the afternoon sky came the sound of airplanes. Their escorts feared the worst, “Those are enemy bombers! Everyone hit the dirt.” Debbie the debutante was now sweaty, dirty, and scared. But to her amazement, the planes roared by without noticing the team or the truck. Like heat-seeking missiles, the bombers remained locked on their target: the very village Debbie had been headed for. The time of detonation? Just before dark. A flat tire had saved their lives.

For Debbie, when God said, “No” His loving hand had placed a roadblock in her path. Has God answered one of your prayers with a deafening, NO? Have you turned back from a desired destination because an obstacle impeded the path? Take time to reflect on the reasons why. Perhaps God was protecting you from a bad decision or attempting to lead you to greener grass. Be sure not to miss supernatural surprises in unexpected places—including the ones you’ve missed.

Cancer Survivor

The Present of Your Presence

October 3, 2009

When it comes to the five love languages my dad speaks “gift-giving” fluently. From pearls to purses and cars to a fur coat, he has showered me with gifts galore. Although I love the things, he includes himself in the package. Every summer he spoiled all four of his kids with a Disneyland extravaganza that included rides, treats, and souvenirs. He was the biggest kid among us riding every ride and eating all the junk! And when his grandchildren were born he continued the tradition. Dad emulates my Heavenly Father “who loved the world so much that He gave…” (John 3:16). Giving reflects God’s heart.

But the best present my father ever gave me was his presence at key times in my life. When divorce shattered my family at the age of eight he traveled from California to Michigan to surprise his kids on their first Christmas without him. Dinner was interrupted by a knock on the door and in walked the skinniest Santa I’d ever seen. He beckoned, “Sit on my lap and tell me what you want.” I thought, “I’m not in the mood for a present.” Just then Santa’s eyes twinkled as he pulled off his white beard. Underneath the disguise I discovered the loving face of my dad!

When I broke my leg downhill skiing in high school, healing included 6 weeks of traction. While I was literally pinned down to the bed, my dad again made the long trip cross country to consult with the doctors. He ensured that I received the best treatment possible. And he didn’t come empty handed. He brought an envelope full of hand signed photos from celebrities including Mac Davis, Buddy Hackett, and Liberace who all wished me a speedy recovery. They decorated my room, drew praise from the hospital staff, and reminded me that I’m not alone.

Ever since my cancer diagnosis last June, dad promised to start every day of my treatment with a phone call. For over 120 days, between 8:00 and 9:00 AM he’s rung me up to talk about everything from politics to my prognosis. But before the calls came the hospital visits. All six day he showed up with a token of his love like flowers, Starbuck, journals, and jammies.

This week Dad once again offers the gift of his presence as he accompanies me to chemo number four. He’s already thinking of distractions like playing cards or cracking jokes. He’ll run out at lunch time to pick up whatever I’m craving. Through his actions I’m reminded of God’s promise to David the psalmist, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

Do you know someone who’s fighting an uphill battle? Are there folks in your neighborhood who are all alone? Can you think of an acquaintance from church who’re convalescing at home? Reflect your heavenly Father by offering them the gift of your presence. And if you show up with a token of your love, all the better.

Cancer Survivor

Great News!

Just a quick update to let all my blogging friends know the best news EVER. I’m going to be a grandmother. Nathan and Janae’ are about 10 weeks pregnant. The baby will arrive about April 27th. As you might guess, we are thrilled. God is so good! Do you have any suggestions on names to call a grandma? I am old-fashioned, so grandma is just fine. But as you’ve come to realize, I love to play with words. What names do you use for grandma?


Baby Heitzig!

Cancer Survivor

Dog Day Afternoon

September 21, 2009
Dog Day Afternoon


Do dogs have emotions? That seemed like a harmless conversation for Christian friends to enjoy over lunch. While ordering salad Gretchen (names have been changed to protect the innocent) extolled the incredible smarts and heart of her pooch. “I just know that Fido (again a pseudonym) senses when I’m sad and cuddles up to comfort me. He’s so sweet.”

With deadpan delivery, I replied, “You think your dog sympathizes? You’re projecting human emotions onto an animal.”

Heads spinning like Regan in The Exorcists they intoned, “You don’t think dogs have feelings?

Awkward. “Animals don’t have a soul,” I defended, “which the Bible describes as the seat of emotions. And only humans have emotions.” I protested that this conversation put us on a theological slippery slope. We were headed to dangerous Creation vs. Evolution territory.

“Well, my dogs gets sad and happy,” said Tiffany (not her real name), “and no one can tell me otherwise.”

I countered, “Have you ever seen a cow cry over an amazing sunset?”

“Everything you attribute to emotion can be explained by instinct, trained response, or reflexes like Pavlov’s dogs,” I continued. Little did I know that I’d started something close to the Middle East Crisis at our table. To save the friendship and our appetites we agreed to change the subject. But knowing my friends like I do, I knew we would each run home to google and gather evidence for our side of the argument.

Dog lovers (and I consider myself one) don’t hate me for the following facts. But in Bible times dogs get a very bad rap. They were half-wild creatures that roamed in packs often feeding on refuse, including dead bodies. The term “dog” referred to impure people since they are considered unclean. False prophets were called dogs as well as those shut out of the kingdom of heaven.

The nicest thing mentioned about dogs in the New Testament was a conversation between Jesus and a Gentile woman who defended her need for Jesus’ healing touch as much as the Jewish people. “Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs” (Mark 7:28 NKJV). Note that she did not elevate a dog to the level of a human, but demoted herself to the low estate of a dog.

So, where am I going with this? I don’t think there’s time on a blog about a bald woman with cancer to debate this issue. Truthfully, I’d love to change up the conversation for a bit. Talking about oneself continuously just feels self indulgent. (See, I just referred to myself in the third person.) I’m not going into denial or anything. I just don’t want to become the poster-child for peritoneal cancer. I’ll continue to update you. However, would it be okay if we talked about other stuff, too?

All my friends know that I adore my dog, Winston. He’s the most brilliant and precocious canine in the universe. Every night he indulges me when he comes to bed and allows me to pet him for as long as he can endure. Then with a harrumph he moves to the end of the bed…as far out of my reach as possible. I’ve heard that a pet (specifically petting them) lowers the blood pressure. So there’s my proof. I get emotional gratification from my dog and since he’s a pack animal my grooming him proves that he’s the Alpha. But my affection for my dog doesn’t warp my Biblical basics.

Cancer Survivor

Hooray for Half Time!

September 20, 2009

Hooray for Half-Time!

Cheerleaders spring into action when the whistle blows half-time. While teams hit the locker room, the squad flips into formation. The funky music and their fancy moves infuse the audience with fresh hope for the game’s final outcome. Will my team get the win? When does coach call the game-changing strategy? Who runs the eye-dropping upset? Half-time—full of potential! Just as many minutes lay ahead as those that have fallen behind. It’s the shining moment when anything seems possible.

On the other hand, half-way just doesn’t sound as thrilling as half-time. “Hey, I’m half-way through War and Peace; just 700 pages to go.” When working toward a PhD, hearing “I’m Mid-way with only 5 more years of study and a dissertation to write,” sounds daunting. And no NASA astronaut wants to make it half-way to the moon. Am I right? One term leaves you wanting more, but the other overwhelms you with so much more to come.

Last week I hit my half-way chemotherapy mark. I should be optimistic. “Woo hoo, I’m half done!” But I’m having a hard time looking at three more installments with excitement. The first series have caused a level of fatigue indescribable to those who have not undergone this type of treatment. I play possum like a pro… Awake enough to hear the news on the television, but lacking the energy to open my eyes and see it, too. For a few days, things just don’t taste the same. Even drinking water leaves an after taste, something akin to morning mouth. My digestive system functions like a preview of “Alien vs. Predator.” Who’s living in my intestines and what does it want? And today my hands twinge slightly with a tingling neuropathy. That could end my beading career.

So I’m asking how to change my half-way mentality into half-time momentum. You know the glass half-full or half-empty scenario. The answer is knowing that Christianity is not a solo sport, but a team effort. My previous blog likened perseverance to running a marathon. But running alone leads to isolation and defeat. So today, I recognize my teammates. First, the strategy from my Head Coach Jesus ensures ultimate victory over sickness and sin. The course He’s marked doesn’t end in a ribbon decorated park, but at heaven’s pearly gates where there is no pain or hurt. He’s, also, enlisted fellow competitors to show me success by running ahead with endurance. I can almost hear my half-time cheerleaders rallying in the grand stands, Give me an “L!” “L!” “Give me an E!” “E” Give me a….

This is my half-time prayer, to, “take a new grip with your tired hands and stand firm on your shaky legs. Mark out a straight path for your feet. Then those who follow you, though they are weak and lame, will not stumble and fall but will become strong” (Heb. 12:12-13). I’m pretty sure I got another half-a-game in me.