Saturday, December 30, 2017

Family 2017 Update/Prayer Requests

Image result for woman prayingI am away alone at an AirBnB for a much needed time of retreat, silence, prayer, and writing.  The previous months have been filled with a great deal of stress and joys, and our holiday season was extremely busy with its own ups and downs.  I also will not be able to get away for an extended time due to work responsibilities.  As a result, I have responded to God's compelling call for retreat.

Stephen and Jenna were married in July, and prior to the wedding Heather and I headed to Cedar Campus for a short vacation.  Amy was working on Cedar Campus' summer crew so we were able to get her home for the wedding.  Taking Heather's senior pictures was a highlight of our vacation, but she only tolerated a few pictures as she was anxious to spend as much time as possible on her favorite activity...sailing!
While on crew, Amy earned her lifeguarding
certification and spent many, many hours
getting boats ready for the summer.  She even did some sewing repairs on the sail of one of Heather's favorite boats, determined to get it out of storage and in the water for Heather.  Amy is completing her wildlife/biology degree at Purdue University in the spring and hopes to find wildlife preservation work.  She has been dating a wonderful young man who is a pre-pharmacy/biology major from California.  He also graduates from Purdue in the spring, and he hopes to return to California for pharmacy school.  It will be exciting to see how their future unfolds.

Heather's health has immensely improved after some misdiagnoses, several ER visits, a cyst on her back, and fibromyalgia issues.  The cyst will have to be surgically removed during her upcoming spring break, but we anticipate no issues.

After missing almost 90 days of school during her first three years of high school due to chronic illness, I am happy to report that she has missed only two days this year!  She earned an almost perfect score on her ACT, and she is doing amazingly well in her classes.  She decided to take a weight training/agility class this year, and it has had a stunning impact on her overall mental and physical health.  She is planning to study computer science and meteorology at Purdue next year and work on Cedar Campus crew this summer.  She has also applied to the University of Illinois.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing, wedding and suitStephen's and Jenna's wedding was a Christ-centered, joyful family event.  They love breakfast food so they decided to have an untraditional reception (which was so much their style) with quiche, fruit, and yogurt parfaits with coffee cake for the wedding cake.  After their Costa Rica honeymoon, the returned to Lexington, Kentucky where Jenna is a 6th grade science teacher in a Christian school and where Stephen is completing his graduate work at the University of Kentucky.  In the spring, he will begin applying for a year of internship in his psychology work with school-aged children and teens.
Image may contain: 5 people, people smiling, people standing

On December 17, I graduated with my MBA in Healthcare Administration with a 3.92 GPA!  The work to the end was exhausting, particularly since I have been working so much.  It is a great relief to be done, and I am sincerely proud of my work.  It is my hope that as I approach my layoff date of June 30, that I will be able to find a job as a patient advocate/navigator.  Prayers are needed for God's timing and help in finding the right location.  I am willing to move; however, I may need to remain in Indiana if Heather attends Purdue University so she can benefit from in-state tuition.

I continue to be in good health except for a few minor issues.  I thank God every day for my ostomy as it has radically changed my health and my life for the better.  I had no idea how sick I was until I wasn't sick anymore!  I have been able to go camping, bike riding, walking, and hiking!

Related imageI do however, need great prayers regarding my job.  This summer and fall I began working 60-hour weeks, including Saturdays, as well as traveling to Mexico once a month to train my replacement.  Even if I fly into Fort Wayne at 8 p.m. on a Friday night, I am still expected to put 8 hours in at the office on Saturday.  I want to make it clear that I have no problem with my employer moving to Mexico and with training my replacement.  God is bigger than all that, and I have been able to share Jesus with my counterpart whom I am training.  It is the staggering expectations that I am floundering under as the transition has not gone as quickly or as smoothly as planned, which has led to an enormous, impossible workload.

I eventually crashed under the stress of work, school, and lack of sleep.  So much so that my HR manager and department lead recognized that I was not myself, which resulted in almost two weeks off work.  Two contracted employees quit while I was out, and there were many rumours floating about.  Thankfully, it all turned out to be nothing, and I learned that I desperately needed that break.  I am grateful that the company saw my value and wanted to help me.  What is sad is the fact that it took until someone broke for them to realize they are breaking people.

While I was off I met with my counselor and psychiatrist, got plenty of rest, exercised, spent time with friends, and finished my schoolwork.  I won't lie...there were some very tough days when I was absolutely devastated by the anxiety about work.  It took me over a week to not wake up in the morning having nightmares about work and my heart pounding out of my chest.

Upon my return, some of my responsibilities had been moved to other co-workers, and they are understandably resentful...they continue to work 10 hour days and take work home.  I am under doctor's orders to only work 9 hours a day with a 1/2 hour lunch and 8 hours on Saturday.  I know that seems like a lot, but it is far better than 60+ hours.  I am getting paid overtime, and I am trying to save as much as possible.  I get as much done as I can every day, and at 4:30 p.m. I simply leave.  My counselor has gently reminded me that even if my peers work 60+ hours a week, I clearly cannot.

Image may contain: 1 person, smilingMy layoff date moved from this past fall to this coming spring to next June.  I should be grateful as the added time will help me see Heather through her high school graduation, and it allowed me to complete my degree just in  time to be more marketable post-layoff.  Thankfully, I will receive a severance package and some other benefits to help with continuing my health insurance for a time after the layoff.

So great prayer is needed to sustain me in the coming months at work and as I make the transition to other work and to becoming an empty nester.  Please pray for Stephen, Jenna, Amy, and Heather as well.  Stephen's internship most likely will require a move and Jenna finding a new teaching job.  Amy needs prayer transitioning from college to work, and Heather needs prayer as she prepares for college.  We are all at a crossroads, which scares them at times and excites me.  I can't wait to see how God works it all out in His amazing timing.

All of the kids were very supportive with Dave's recent wedding to his partner, Brian.  I decided a long time ago that it takes far less energy to live in grace and forgiveness than in bitterness and hate.  We still celebrate family events together, although this year was tough...not tough due to their marriage but tough as most of the adulting fell on me.

At the last moment due to a nasty flu bug in their household and due to their unexpected work obligations, I ended up having Heather an extra two weeks, buying all the presents, wrapping them with the girls' help, and hosting Christmas (with a clogged kitchen sink that required the Christmas meal mess be hand washed in the bathroom tub!)  To top it off, I photographed their small wedding, which turned out to be a little harder that I expected...but I made it through...only to have my car hit in the church parking lot.  It was for sure a comedy of errors, and by the time it was all over, I was done adulting...which why today is a pajama day in a cozy loft apartment with everything provided that I could possibly need and even things I did not know I would need.

Isn't that just like God to provide what we need and what we didn't even know we were going to need?  The morning of Dave's and Brian's wedding, I opened my Bible and randomly (maybe not so randomly?) found this very fitting verse in Isaiah.  We are all traveling on unfamiliar paths that God promises to guide us through with His compelling light, and He promises to make the way smooth and will not forsake us on that path.  I can't think of a better frame of mind and heart to start 2018!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Thank you my beloved friends for your prayers and encouragement.  I feel God's power every single day as I am "surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1).

I am now 5 months post-ostomy surgery and am doing well.  I am participating in an ostomy support group at our local hospital, and it is time of great encouragement with new-found friends of all ages and backgrounds.  Soon I will participate in peer counseling training with the United Ostomy Association of America (UOAA) to guide others going through similar surgeries.  I've been in physical therapy, and I am back on my bike and out walking and doing yoga as often as I can.

The exercise is, of course, good for me, and it also is a great stress reliever for all that is going on at my job.  My pending layoff will be sometime September-December, and I will receive a 60-day notice.  Once I am laid off I will be working with WorkOne, our state employment office, to determine the best use of government-funded benefits for displaced American workers along with the best use of my company severance package.

Our workload is immense, although that will likely dwindle when more work transfers out.  Our team has no idea how and whom and when each of us will be laid off.  While this is difficult, most of of have a great spirit of teamwork and get along well.  My co-workers and I are struggling with a particular situation, and I would greatly appreciate your prayers. God knows the details, and for me to divulge anymore would be simply gossip, so please pray as you are led.

I have a great opportunity to show extraordinary servanthood in the face of these many obstacles.  Many of my friends outside of work are extremely concerned about my work load and long response is to not comment about the difficulties, but instead I ask for prayer for wisdom and a servant heart.  Why give power to the negative situations by speaking of them?  I can't change the difficult situations, but I can change my response and my mindset to them.  I complete my MBA in Public Health Administration in December, 2017, and Heather graduates from high school in June, 2018, so I am simply forging ahead and trusting God's timing for new employment.

Heather is feeling much better...thank you Jesus! We discovered no further problems with her heart and discovered a misdiagnosis of narcolepsy.  She is off all fibromyalgia and narcolepsy medication, and she recently completed three weeks of summer P.E.  She has finally embraced the fact that low-impact exercise helps her fibromyalgia immensely.  Like all diabetics, she is frequently in contact with her doctor to make necessary insulin adjustments.  It is frustrating at times for her for sure, but it is a frustration that we can live with...after all, in another place and time her health situation would be far more serious.  I thank God everyday for her dad's great health insurance and access to health care.  Is that likely to change given the current healthcare landscape?  Probably.  Changes that are coming may affect me as well.  However, I choose to not live in fear and remain confident in God's provision.

In the midst of all of this stuff of life, a dear and beloved friend of mine lost her teenage son in a car accident recently.  I took time off work to attend the viewing and the funeral.  My friend's and her family's strength and trust in God's beloved plan for them have been amazing.  There were so many people at the Christ-filled viewing that I waited four hours in line to see her.  Their family's spiritual impact on the their community was so evident.

My friend is a rock for sure, and I would not be where I am as a Christian without her discipleship of my stubborn heart in high school and throughout college and beyond.  I am in communication with her and with her husband through texts and phone calls, and when the time is right, will visit.  I pray that I can be used to sustain them in the tough moments, weeks, months, and years ahead.

In recent months I have also ministered to a friend whose young adult daughter died from a brain tumor, prayed for my brother-in-law who has miraculously gone into remission for pancreatic cancer, ministered to my physical therapist whose wife is undergoing brain surgery for a non-cancerous tumor who will likely face a lifetime of surgeries as the tumor will return, and prayed for and supported a beloved couple dealing with the devastating effects of Stage 4 melanoma.  It all makes my pending unemployment and a new ostomy minimal trials for sure.

My prayer is that these trials will bring me, my precious Heather, and my beloved friends to the Healer of our souls.  This amazing testimony says it all!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Three Months Post-Op!

I am almost three months post-op for my ostomy surgery, and I am doing incredibly well.  I am so grateful.  I am not as strong as I would like to be physically, but full recovery will take a while so I must be patient.  I have been released by my doctor to run, to ride my bike, and to do yoga.  I am also in physical therapy to strengthen my core as I now am at life-long risk for a hernia.  My biggest struggles right now are recovering from a nasty respiratory flu bug that has lingered, getting enough sleep, and managing work and school.

My amazing surgeon, who is also a Christian, has stood along side me medically and spiritually.  I am so thankful for her, her staff, and the ostomy nurses.  The nurses lead a monthly support group at the hospital that I have been participating in.  I also found an amazing on-line support group, The Ostomy Network, with new-found friends whom I dearly love.

Heather has been my rock, and she has walked me through some tough moments.  There were skin issues, appliance issues, etc., and I often became overwhelmed during my one-month medical leave.  She helped me through every single second, assisted me in figuring out what supplies to use and order, and cheered me on tirelessly. 

My brother-in-law came for the Monday early a.m. surgery as he and my sister-in-law are my living will representatives, but Heather literally ran the show!  She missed school to be at the hospital, and patiently waited in the surgery recovery area for me.  The best miracle of all is that the doctor was able to do the entire surgery robotically when she fully expected to have to do an open abdominal incision. 

The doctor came out of surgery and told Heather and my brother-in-law the good news and that she planned to have me go home that Thursday.  Heather firmly told the doctor that she knew I would overdo it the first day and should probably not go home until Friday.  The surgeon got a good laugh at Heather's insistence, and told Heather she would do what she could to keep me longer as needed.  Heather was right...I did overdo it the first day and wore myself out a bit.  Then I ran a fever and had a low red blood count, so the doctor did keep me until Friday to make sure I didn't have an underlying infection and to give me iron transfusions.  My doctor laughed and said, "Besides, if I sent you home like this, Heather will kill me!" 

My precious beloved girl has had her struggles throughout the last year on top of all that I am dealing with.  She has a non-cancerous cyst on her back that will likely need to be removed at some point, so we had to see a specialist for that.  She was also possibly misdiagnosed with narcolepsy, and we now think one of her fibromyalgia medications is causing her extreme fatigue...we saw two specialists and had a sleep study done for that. 

She was on a narcolepsy medication for a time, and she started having extremely high heart rates and chest pain while on it.  We ended up the in the ER, and she wore a heart monitor for two weeks.  Her heart has settled down, but we are still waiting for the heart monitor result and will be seeing a pediatric cardiologist.  We are following up with our family doctor to determine the best way to manage her fibromyalgia while weaning off one medication and starting another.

Two weeks after the ER visit for chest pains, we ended up back in the ER when she had a stomach bug.  Her situation as a diabetic can become very serious if she is not able to eat and keep food down.  Two weeks later, the stomach bug lingered, and we were back in the ER with a dangerously low blood sugar level as she could not keep food down.  We had to use her emergency glucagon/glucose shot, which we have never done before.  We spent that night in the ER, and we were both so exhausted when we got home in the wee hours of Saturday morning.

Through all of this we both have a 3.9 GPA at school, and she has actively participated in our school's robotics club.  They have competed all over the state and have done very well.  The Saturday afternoon of our last ER visit, she felt well enough to go to the state competition in a nearby town.  She amazed me!  The team almost qualified for national competition, and they were very happy with their performance.  She is also taking a very aggressive course load, and is prepping for four AP tests and finals.

As for me, my work schedule has been very hectic.  When I returned to work after surgery I was informed that final layoff move would be October instead of December.  This past week the company announced that the layoff is now back to December and possibly later.  Every single day is a non-stop schedule with many fires to put out.  The good news is that this will enable me to pay off every single medical bill from this year if I stay employed through year end!  I am on payment plans for two large bills and fortunately have met my deductible and my out-of-pocket max.

I also somehow stupidly lost one of my hearing aids while trying on some clothes at a local store.  Even through it was near midnight when I realized it, Heather insisted on driving me to the store to look.  The store staff was very kind and did all they could to help.  Heather and I looked at home, at my office, and in my car.  I was devastated as I thought it would cost me almost $2000 to replace it.  My audiologist office shared the good news that I had purchased a warranty for loss/damage/replacement with a mere $250 deductible.  A friend from church who knew how upset I was about the loss provided the $250 to me as a gift.  Many other people came forward and offered financial help as needed as well.  I was stunned at God's provision.  Apparently I am a slow learner, I needed to be reminded that God can handle something as small as a hearing aid!

Needless to say Heather and I are weary, so this weekend we went to a nearby state park for two days.  It was  my spring break from school, so we stayed at the park inn, slept in, hiked, enjoyed the outdoors, went swimming, and enjoyed the sauna. 

We respected each others' space for quiet...she did homework, and I did some in-depth Bible study and journaling.  We love to go camping, so we also scouted out the perfect site for Memorial Day camping while hiking this weekend.

Life has a way of continuing on through our ups and downs.  Stephen and his fiancĂ© are happily planning their summer wedding, and Amy is making plans to return to summer crew work at Cedar Campus.  We will be heading to the camp for a few days prior to Stephen's wedding.  Heather is planning to take summer gym and an online class.  I will continue to juggle work and school while looking forward to my December 2017 graduation for my MBA in public health administration. 

Thank you all for your continued love and prayers, get-well cards, phone calls, and encouragement.  I am so grateful for each and everyone of you!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Surgery is January 23

My colostomy surgery is Monday, January 23, and updates will be posted at Liz Craker Meal Train.  You can sign up to bring meals, send gift cards for meals, run errands, drive me to appointments, etc. at that link as well.

I believe that I am well prepared for this surgery.  I joined an incredible online support group this past year as well as found my high school classmate Dawnette's website Awesome Ostomy.  On her website, she shares fashion tips, what to expect after surgery, product reviews, helpful hints and more.  I have already ordered some supplies from her! Check out her website if you would like to donate to her ostomy teddy bear program, Awesome Ollie, through which she provides for children undergoing this surgery! 

I also found some very good books to learn what to expect, and I met with my ostomy nurse Thursday.  I was surprised when she helped me put an ostomy bag in place so I could wear it the next several days.  This has been good practice and has helped me figure out needed adjustments.  Medically, it is the most empowering action I have ever experienced.  So my practice pouch and I have showered, slept and tried on clothes together.  I even slept with it through the night with no discomfort.

It is kind of surreal that I am having this surgery almost exactly 20 years from the day I had my original cancer surgery.  Concerned friends have asked if I am afraid, which I am not.  Years ago, when I was at my oncologist's office getting ready for my first round of chemo, I was terrified and did not even know how to pray.  Thankfully, God gave me a great sense of peace at that moment, and from then on I have never been afraid of surgeries and medical procedures.  When I recall that terrifying moment, Romans 8:29 comes to mind...."Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words."  I know, without a doubt, that the Holy Spirit stepped in for me at that very moment.  That peace has never left me, and I actually like having surgery for the very reason that it requires me to completely surrender myself to is an amazing feeling,

I also shared a very personal insight with a friend recently when we were discussing this upcoming surgery.  I has been on my heart for a long time, but I never had spoken about it with anyone.  Upon hearing about it from me, my friend encouraged me to share the powerful here it is.

I am a firm believer that we can invite God into past moments of pain, and that we can ask Him to aid in our healing from those moments.  I learned of this many years ago through an extraordinary book, Healing for Damaged Emotions.  A few years after my breast cancer diagnosis, I invited Jesus into that painful, frightening moment when I was in my surgeon's office trying to grasp the news and trying to decide surgery and treatment options. 

In my memory, I am sitting in a sterile, cold patient room waiting for the doctor.  I am all alone in the memory, when in reality my then-husband was with me at the time.  I believe my vision/memory has me alone because, for me, the cancer diagnosis shook me to my very core, and I felt very alone.  Also, in the memory, I am vulnerably sitting on an exam table, shivering in a paper gown...again, waiting all alone.

I am not the kind of person who believes that God orchestrates the bad events that happen to us, this world and others.  We live in a fallen existence that we were not made for.  The sin, the illness, the bad events are all are a result of a fallen, sinful creation.  However, I do believe that Christ decides how He is going to use the painful for His glory. 

When I invited God into that cold, vulnerable moment in the doctor's office, He entered my memory with an extraordinary my memory/vision, I am sitting cold, huddled and afraid...and Christ stood right on the examining table behind me and fiercely slammed a huge, rugged, wooden cross right behind me and clearly stated, "Satan, this moment is mine!"  It was a life, changing moment for good that leaves me extraordinarily grateful, humbled and empowered.

Because if that moment, to this day, I have used my cancer diagnosis to lend a hand to other survivors and others who are going through horrific medical and personal trials.  Because of my health struggles and experiences,  I have been invited into devastated hearts.  I have been given the gift of 20 years to proclaim the love of Christ to the most hurting people.  It doesn't get much better than that!

So I am able to take this extraordinary, Christ-empowered life into this surgery.  Instead of fear, I am grateful.  When I don't understand what to expect, I ask questions.  When I need to be educated, I learn from books, websites and even YouTube videos.  I ask for and participate in prayer.  I think out loud with God.  I advocate for myself. 

Recently, a friend of mine mentioned that she thought I have had a horrible life.  I disagree completely.  Cancer was and is very freeing and empowering.  Through cancer, I learned not to take life for granted.  My divorce showed me strength I didn't know I had.  All the struggles up to this point have made me a better version of myself....a more Christ-centered version filled with awe of God's work and spiritual contentment that can only come from Him. 

The price of divorce, cancer and other struggles have been worth the God-given grace, love, strength and contentment I now have.  I would not be where I am today without those past and current trials.  I embrace the blessings and challenges that have brought me to this point.

Thanks for letting me share.  I love and cherish you all.