Cancer Survivor

Dash or Long Distance?

Lenya in Ephesus beside Nike sculpture

Driving along Rio Grande, on the way to church this morning, I witnessed the final stragglers push through the last mile of the New Mexico Marathon. Some still ran, others managed to race walk, and a few drew fresh energy from road-side encouragers. But others looked like they’d barely limp across the finish line. The scene jogged this thought, “The race of faith isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon!” After nearly 70 days battling this illness, I feel tired. I’ve been a trooper muscling my way through surgery, CT scans, and gruesome procedures. I’ve hurdled past chemo, hair loss, and nausea. But about now, with four more treatments to go, I’d like to be done. I don’t want all the attention or the slow speed of recoup and recovery. I know that others have suffered longer and deeper. I’m fully aware that God knows my dusty frame and exactly how much it can take. But sometimes trials seem to linger just a little too long. After you round one corner, another curve takes its place. “Hey, who keeps moving the finish line?”

Perhaps living “life at the speed of Internet” breeds impatience. If something doesn’t happen instantly, then it’s a nanosecond too long. Think of it, in just one decade we abandoned snail mail for email. And now that’s too slow. Today, we text and twitter in real time with a lexicon of abbreviated phrases instead of grammatical sentences. There’s no need to drive to the local library to research on the micro-fiche scanning endless films to find your data. Now, from the convenience of your own home, just tip tap your way to Google to retrieve exhaustive and instant results.

FYI, the Bible doesn’t offer short-cuts, abbreviations, or a face-track to faith. The writer of Hebrews coaches us to, “run with endurance the race that God has set before us” (Heb. 12:1). Emphasis lies upon the word “endurance.” It describes both the mileage as well as the mind-set the runner must achieve. The Greek translation means patience, continuance, or waiting; implying a great distance. However, endurance can also be interpreted as cheerful or hopeful; describing a godly attitude. For Christians our journey should be long and light-hearted.

I’ve drawn inspiration from Bill Broadhurst who entered the Pepsi Challenge 10K race in Omaha, Nebraska. Ten years prior his left side became paralyzed after an aneurysm damaged his brain. One July morning he joined 1,200 lithe-looking runners at the starting line. The crowd lurched at the gun shot start. Bill threws his stiff left leg forward, pivoted on it as his right foot hit the ground. His slow plop-plop-plop rhythm seemed to mock him as the pack faded into the distance. Sweat rolled down his face, pain pierced his ankle, but he kept going. Six miles and two hours and twenty-nine minutes later, Bill reached the finish line. A man approached him from a small group of bystanders. It was Bill Rodgers, the famous marathon runner and winner of this particular race. “Here,” says Rodgers, putting his medal around Bill’s neck, “You’ve worked harder for this than I have.”

So know I must learn how to plod when all my life I’ve plowed. It’s not about the dash but the distance. You might say that I’m in training for the big one. Sure I may have a couple of 5Ks or 10Ks under my belt. But life is a marathon. I’m assured that once “I have finished the race…there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

Love,
Lenya

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Cancer Survivor

Common Denominator

September 1, 2009

Common Denominator

Mathematicians instruct us that a common denominator is a quantity into which all the denominators of a set of fractions may be divided without a remainder. Put more simply, a “Common” Denominator just means that the denominators (the lower part of a fraction) in two or more fractions are the same. But the term has sociological meaning, too. It describes an attribute common to all characters in a category or a shared trait; as in “Unbelievably, everyone in their family shared the common denominator of being left- handed.”

For human beings, pain is the common denominator. None of us escape its grasp. Eventually, everyone you know will walk through a season of suffering. It comes, uninvited, to the infant born with special needs and in equal measure to the senior citizen whose genetic predisposition blossoms into disease late in life. You’ll find it on the streets of Harlem as well as the mansion in Hollywood. No race, religious affiliation, or gender is exempt from its grasp. Whether you possess diplomas, trophies, stocks and funds, or great social standing; pain serves as the great equalizer. In a world full of diversity, it’s the one thing we all share.

So why do we act so surprised when we encounter pain? What makes us think that we are the one exception to the rule? Do we really expect this unwelcomed visitor to pass us by? James taught that we should expect trials not avoid them. “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2). That sentence is packed full of punch. First, the word “count” is an accounting term that implies that you can take this statement to the bank. The second key term, “when” indicates time. James doesn’t suggest “if” one day you might suffer, but “when” you get hit, it’ll hurt. Thirdly, pain comes in a variety of forms. “Various” means multi-colored or diverse. In other words, suffering comes in many shapes and sizes; there’s one form that perfectly suits you.

By now, you’re thinking this is the most downer blog you’ve ever read. Well here’s the good news. Jesus was more emphatic in his prediction of pain, but He also had a common denominator remedy. “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). With Jesus pain will still hurt, but it also brings the prescription for peace. Also, it won’t be permanent. We can overcome any situation this world throws our way with God on our side. Jesus promises to transform pain into peace both here and in the hereafter, if we’ll just let Him.

Love,

Lenya

Cancer Survivor

Tip Of The Hat


A tip of the hat is a traditional greeting or a sign of respect. Additionally, the term means to honor someone who’s doing a fantastic job, as in, “Let’s give Scott a tip of the hat.” Today I’d like to tip my hat to the body of Christ, the miracle of God’s making, who have upheld me through my suffering season. You have empowered me through prayer, covered me in kindness, and blessed our household with generosity.

We are part of a community of individuals designed to function as a unit. We truly are better together. Paul said, “The members [individual] should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor. 12:25-26). Through the power of the Spirit, I realize new strength. By God’s grace, my sorrow abounds into joy. In your love, I find quiet rest.

Perhaps Lucy from the famous Peanuts cartoon can portray the courage of our collective stance better than I. Lucy demands that Linus change TV channels and then threatens him with her fist if he doesn’t.
“What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?”asks Linus.
“These five fingers,” says Lucy. “Individually they’re nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold.”
“Which channel do you want?” asks Linus.
Linus looks at his fingers and says, “Why can’t you guys get organized like that?”

As Christians we should be organized because we are…
Fellow citizens: “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints” (Eph. 2:19).
God’s family: “Now you are…members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:1).
His holy temple: “In whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22).

What has been the result of all your kindnesses in my life? Yesterday was my second chemo. I told Dr. Ampuero that last week, I ran one mile during my 2 1/2 mile walk since he’d told me “you could do anything you feel like doing.” His eyes jumped open wide, but he looked very pleased. He said that trials prove that chemo patients who exercise recover better than non-exercisers. But here’s the best news! There’s a blood test, called CA-125, a “cancer marker” for abdominal/female cancers that has a normal range of 0 – 19. Before the surgery my marker was elevated to about 110. Today, it was down to the low end of the average at 7. Multiples tests, surgery, and 2 chemo treatments down with just 4 more toxic drips to go. I’m more than half way through this ordeal and flourishing. Okay, I felt tired and nauseated. But after taking my little yellow pill and a nap I felt much better.

Your helping hand reminds me of a story about a Vacation Bible School teacher whose class was interrupted by a new student who had one arm missing. She was afraid that one of the children might comment on his handicap or embarrass him. She began to end the class they way she always did by asking the class, “Let’s make our churches,” she said. “Here’s the church and here’s the steeple, open the doors and there’s…” Suddenly she panicked and stood speechless. The little girl sitting next to the boy reached over with her left hand and placed it up to his right hand and said, “Davie, let’s make the church together.” This story may be seen as a parable of our search for oneness in Christ: to put our inadequate, handicapped lives alongside the lives of others and to pray, “Let’s make the church together” (Unknown source).

I will never be able to thank you individually for your concern. You’ll never get the warm hug you deserve. You might not see the amazing ways God answered your quiet prayers. But this much I have learned; something done for another member of the body of Christ comes back to bless the doer. When one suffers, we all suffer. When one succeeds, we all succeed. Please reach out this week in small and simple ways to give hope to one of God’s children in pain. What goes around really does comes around. And then we’ll offer you a tip of the hat.

Love,

Lenya

Cancer Survivor

Oops, I Did It Again!

Britney Spears terrified fans in 2007 when she walked into Esther’s Hair Salon in Tarzana, CA and told the stylist, “I want my hair shaved off.” The proprietor, Esther Tognozzi, said “Well, I’m not doing it,” suggesting that perhaps the pop star was having a hormonal moment and might feel differently in the morning. Ms. Spears grabbed the buzzer and began shaving it away herself. TMZ ensured that the scene would live on in infamy–playing it relentlessly for months on end. As usual, there’s a story behind the story. Bad hair weaves had damaged Britney’s beautiful blonde locks to the point that she complained the extensions were too tight.

Today, more than ever, I have greater sympathy for the teen idol. Chemo hair hurts. It causes a sensation similar to the one you get after taking your hair out of a ponytail that you’ve worn all day. This morning I couldn’t take it anymore and it became obvious that my badly damaged hair couldn’t be salvaged either. Just like the diva, I reached for the electric razor to do what must be done.

Hope you don’t mind if I indulge in a little red neck humor. You know you need to shave your head when:
…there’s more hair clogging your shower drain than there is on your head.
…you scare yourself when you look in the mirror.
…it takes a lint brush to clean off your pillows in the morning.
…blow-drying your hair creates a cyclone.

What does it feel like to watch your lengthy locks fall from your head into the bathroom sink? At first I wept. But mid-way through (picture me with half a head of hair), I started to giggle. This turned into a laugh-out-loud moment. And then I felt empowered by taking my journey into my own hands. I decided I’m not a victim, I’m a victor! We have a choice in the midst of disease, divorce, debt, or despair; we can press into our faith or flounder in the flesh. I followed the footsteps of Paul.

The apostle met far greater adversaries than cancer. He was thrown into prison, shipwrecked, beaten, ridiculed, abandon, starved, robbed, left for dead, and eventually martyred. I can’t find one Scripture where he felt sorry for himself. He kept his eyes on Jesus rather than his troubles. The apostle wrote to the Corinthians, “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed and broken. We are perplexed, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going. Through suffering, these bodies of ours constantly share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies” (2 Cor. 4:8-10).

I don’t know the trials you face. But I do know that you, too, can follow Paul as he followed Christ.

Love,
Lenya

Cancer Survivor

Goldilocks


Remember Goldilocks’ quest for perfect porridge, a cozy chair, and a comfy bed? She sampled a trio of options in each category that ranged from too hot to too cold and too hard to too soft. Eventually, she stumbled upon the things that were “just right.” It’s true, life really does imitate art. We all encounter some duds before identifying the ideal. For instance, how many pairs of jeans do you try on before purchasing the ones that fit “just right?” Don’t get me started with bathing suits; just the term creates spontaneous rolling of the eyes and heavy sighs in most women.

Well, it’s time for me to trade my golden locks for a wig. Believe me, I tried on some doozies before getting it “just right.” I named the red one “Mrs. Roger Rabbit.” Let’s just say, “va, va, va, voom!” The brunette made me look in the mirror and say, “Hello, mother.” No offense to mom; she’s beautiful, but no one wants to look like their mother, right? Next was the long, blond bombshell. Immediately I parted it into ponytails and began speaking with a Swedish accent. “Yah, dis is so not me.” In the end, the one that was “just right” was the one that looked the closest to normal; it was the one that suited me the best.

I confess that last night when I ran my hands through my real hair and multiple strands came out, I gasped. Then I did it again, just to see if it was a fluke; more hair. Once more…just to be sure. Oh no, it’s really coming out—not in clumps but equal opportunity thinning. I silently walked Skip to the sink to show him the carnage with tears rolling down my cheeks. Of course, he hugged me and said all the right things.

This morning I could still wash, dry, and style it to look presentable. But I know that the days of freeing my follicles are numbered and thankfully, so are my hairs. The Lord said, “The very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matt. 10:33). By next Wednesday, the day of my second chemo, I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to count them too. The doctor assures me that when it grows back, I will have curly locks. Imagine that. I pray that it’ll look just right.

Love,
Lenya

Cancer Survivor

The Weaker Vessel

Stefanie Farley, Suzanne Friesner, Nedra Farley, Lenya Heitzig, Hanna Farley, and Janae’ Heitzig

Peter dubbed women as the “weaker vessel” (See 1 Peter 3:7). I think he meant it to be a deferential, honoring term. I’m all for knights in shining armor, but the women I’ve encountered lately are certainly not weak. In fact, I have drawn such strength from their courageous reservoirs that I attribute much of my wellness to their influence.

My sister, Suzanne, left this morning after seeing me through the first round of chemotherapy. Walking into the nicest of such facilities reduces the stoutest of hearts to feeling like a lab rat. When she scanned the sterile environment with its bags, tubes, and needles full of dread, her eyes began to well. I thought, “Uh oh, she’s going to start boo hooing big time. If she starts, I won’t be able to stop.” But no, she straightened her spine and with heroic resolve cracked a joke, “The scariest thing in this room is the scale hiding in the corner; dare me to get on it?” she asked. From that moment on, I knew we would persevere with laughter and love.

Seeing others who had joined the chemotherapy club long before me, smiling with shining heads, strong hearts, and Sudoku puzzles, made me realize that I’m following a legacy of fighters and survivors. I would take a seat beside them, Bible in hand, and show the world that another “weaker vessel” could do it.

Recently, I wrote about the unique ability women possess that men do not. Friendship between women shape who we are, soothe our troubled hearts, and support emotional gaps in our marriages. Scientists in a landmark UCLA study now believe that spending time with our friends actually relieves stress which manifests in upset stomachs. Previous to the study conducted by coauthor, Laura Cousin Klein, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biobehavioral Heal at Penn State University, scientist supposed that stress caused a rush of hormonal reactions in the body triggering the flight or fight instinct in humans.

But the new data reveals that women have a greater repertoire than men due to the hormone oxytocin released during stress that causes us to make and maintain friendships with other women. Instead of running or raging, oxytocin encourages us to tend to children and gather other women for support, which counters the stress and produces a calming effect. Drs. Klein and Taylor describe this female response to stress the “tend and befriend” syndrome.

“This calming response does not occur in men,” says Dr. Klein, “because testosterone — which men produce in high levels when they’re under stress — seems to reduce the effects of oxytocin. Estrogen, she adds, seems to enhance it.” As a result men tend to isolate their feelings, which has significant negative health repercussions.

The old adage is true “united we stand, divided we fall.” Maybe the key is that we are the weaker vessel, but when we come together we make one strong stand. So what about you? Maybe you don’t have close family or friends, but you can find sisters in Christ in the Women at Calvary. We all need someone else to stand with in our hard times; I hope that you will step out in faith and engage in a small group. Maybe you will be the strength that someone else needs to persevere in laughter and love.

Love,
Lenya

Cancer Survivor, Family

For Better or for Worse…



It’s not easy being married to a man made of superior genetics. He’s tall and thin, blonde haired and blue-eyed. I promise he eats what he wants, when he wants, all day long, and has never gone up a pant size. After 28 years of marriage he’s had a headache once—one time! He’s smart and talented; he still corrects my English gaffs and I write books! He plays the guitar (electric and acoustic), the base (electric and acoustic), the piano, and the harmonica. He photographs on a level that should be shown in a gallery in Santa Fe or New York. He just rebuilt his ’42 Harley and we all know about his silver tongue oratory skills. Truly, I live with a renaissance man.

With all his amazing talents and abilities there’s an area in which he did not excel. Whew! That would be in the realm of coddling, cuddling, and care giving. I’m not saying he doesn’t care, he just doesn’t know how to show it. It’s like expecting a father to be a mother. The nurturing skills just don’t come naturally to him. If I need sermon suggestion…he’s the man. If I want to take a road bike expedition…he’s the guy. If I need the lawn or car maintained…he’s on the job. But ask for help washing your hair, preparing Cream of Wheat for breakfast, or getting dressed in the morning and things go south…that is up until recently.

I’m convinced that your prayers and God’s grace have transformed Skip into a saint. He’s on top of my complicated medicine and supplement schedule. He has accompanied me to every doctor’s appointment and takes notes. He ordered and assembled a teak wood bench for my showering needs. He keeps the wily Winston (our Airedale) brushed and bathed. At bed time, he places a beverage and crackers on the nightstand, just in case I feel nauseous. He tweaks the thermostat, adjusts the curtains, fluffs the pillows, and hands me the channel changer. It seems that my worst is bringing out the best in him.

Today he will escort me to my first round of chemotherapy. He’s made sure that my sister will be by my side throughout the eight hour ordeal and he will bring us lunch mid-day. Then, after the toxic drip, he’ll bring me home and tuck me in bed. I know when I wake up that he will have been hovering the whole time. What a comforting thought.

Love,
Lenya

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

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