Today I'm delighted to introduce to you my cyber friend and critique partner, Yvonne Ortega.
In addition to being a writer and speaker, Yvonne is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Licensed Substance Abuse Treatment Practitioner and Clinically Certified Domestic Violence Counselor.
Yvonne and I met on the web nearly seven years ago. Not only are we both Christians, writers and breast cancer survivors, we soon learned we shared the same goal. We each wanted to write a book of devotions for cancer survivors. In March of this year, we finally met in person at the Florida Christian Writers Conference. Yvonne's book is published. Mine is due to come out in 2012.
Shirl: Hi, Yvonne! Welcome to my blog.
Yvonne: Hi Shirl. Thank you.
Shirl: I know that cancer was the catalyst that launched your writing career. Do you have a family history of cancer?
Yvonne: My dad, one paternal uncle and his son (my cousin) had kidney cancer. My uncle and my cousin died of kidney cancer, but Dad survived. Until my generation, no family history of breast cancer existed. Two of my cousins died of breast cancer, before I received my diagnosis. So I feared I would be next.
Shirl: I can understand that. How did you go about learning what to do to fight the cancer? Did you do a lot of reading?
Yvonne: I read everything I could find. I checked out books from the local library and the oncology library at the hospital. I contacted the American Cancer Society and received many pamphlets from them. I also spent hours online to be certain I knew the latest information and could advocate for myself.
Shirl: At what point did you decide to write a book yourself?
Yvonne: I began to journal to pour out my emotions in a safe place. I asked God to use my bout with cancer for good in my life and the lives of others, for His honor and glory and for furthering His kingdom here on earth.
When I was in the hospital after my second chemotherapy treatment, I wrote a devotion on notebook paper. The nurse read it and wanted to have a copy for everyone on the oncology floor. She and the other patients told me I should write a book. So I kept up the journal and transformed it into a manuscript for publication.
Shirl: That’s great. Yvonne, you've shared with me that you often felt angry with God about your cancer. Would you like to share more about this with our readers?
Yvonne: Yes, of course. Before cancer, I sensed God’s call for me to become a licensed professional counselor. So I returned to college and graduated from the College of William & Mary with a Master’s Degree in Education in Counseling. I was half-way through my 4,000 hour residency when I found the lump. I thought God had made a mistake. I didn’t like His timing and told Him so. I also told Him that the way He treated His friends, it was no wonder He had so few.
Shirl: That makes me chuckle, but at the same time it shows me you had a real relationship with the Lord. He isn’t upset by our honesty. The emotional roller coaster is a well-documented part of cancer treatment. What was your experience of this?
Yvonne: Oh yes, I rode that emotional roller coaster. Initially I experienced denial. If I didn’t talk about it, maybe it would go away. Of course, it didn’t.
At times I was angry with God, with the government for not doing enough about pollution, with the Food & Drug Administration for approving drugs that increased a woman’s chances of getting breast cancer by 80% and with the health & wealth televangelists who said if people just believed they could be made whole.
Other times I feared I would die of cancer. When I found out the cancer was in a lymph node, I felt depressed for days. I stopped wearing make-up and didn’t care what I wore to work.
One thing about that roller coaster is that I went back and forth with the various emotions. I didn’t simply get angry, get over it and go on. The same goes for all the other emotions.
Shirl: Yes, I can identify with that. I’ve never been as emotionally unstable as I was during that period. So did you ever feel like stopping your treatment?
Yvonne: I didn’t want to do chemotherapy but felt God led me to take it anyway. After the second treatment, I spent a week in the hospital with low white blood cell counts which dropped three days in a row. I called my parents and asked them to come to the hospital. I thought I was dying. Mom cried and told me to fight. I responded that I had nothing to fight with.
Then I quoted 2 Chronicles 20:15: “For the battle is not yours, but God’s.” and told her God would have to fight for me because I couldn’t.
Shirl: So what were the main weapons He showed you to use?
Yvonne: Praise & worship music provided my first line of defense. Prayer and Scripture came next. I asked God to let me live so that I could praise Him (Psalm 119:175). I kept a gratitude journal and found something each day to be grateful for. I memorized promises from the Bible and claimed them for myself. I reminded God of what He promised in the Bible. I asked God to let me keep my sense of humor. I watched comedies on TV and DVD daily and asked family and friends to send me humorous cards.
Shirl: A couple of years after my cancer treatment ended, I went to a seminar where a number of people said things like, "I'm glad I had cancer." Have you ever felt that way?
Yvonne: Absolutely. I’m a better person, a more effective counselor, a stronger Christian and am highly motivated to speak and write for the Lord. I realize life is precious. It is a gift.
Shirl: So how did it affect your way of life?
Yvonne: I left my teaching career and became a full-time substance abuse counselor. Recently I took early retirement to be able to devote time to my writing and speaking ministry. I take time to be with friends. I walk at the beach, enjoy the sound of the waves and collect shells. I have an unlimited long-distance phone plan in order to call family and friends whenever I so desire.
I made a “bucket list” before the movie by that name came out. I realize that I’m not immortal and invincible. So I’m checking off the items on that bucket list. I learned how to use Facebook, Linkedin and Skype.
Because of the people who helped me get through breast cancer, I want to give back. Therefore, I send out a weekly
devotion in both English and Spanish. I also host a blogtalkradio show for breast cancer patients. (Interviews are archived.)
Shirl: Do you have anything you'd like to say to any reader going through treatment at the moment?
Yvonne: Never, ever, give up hope. If you survive cancer, you will probably have a greater appreciation of life, family and friends and will live life to the fullest. Remember that we all come with an expiration date. Some die sooner than others. If you are a Christian and don’t survive cancer, God will give you the ultimate healing. He will take you home to Heaven where there will be no more suffering.
Shirl: Do you have any advice for those with family or friends facing treatment?
Yvonne: Yes, I do. Expect them to ride an emotional roller coaster. Please listen without judging. If you take meals, take them in disposable containers. Don’t say, “Call me if you need anything.” They probably won’t. Simply let them know when you are going to the grocery store, the post office, etc and ask what you can pick up for them. Go to their homes and offer to do housework or yard work. Offer lifts to chemotherapy or radiation treatments. Send cards. Keep visits short. Pray. Bring joke books or humorous DVDs.
And please, oh please don’t tell them about all the people you know who died of cancer. Tell them about the ones who lived.
Shirl: Your book, Hope for the Journey through Cancer has just come out in its second edition, Finding Hope for your Journey through Breast Cancer. That's wonderful. It's obviously selling well. Where can people buy this book?
Yvonne: They can buy the book at local bookstores, online at places like amazon, Christianbook.com and BarnesandNoble. They can also buy a signed copy from my Web site where it says, “Signed by the Author.”
Shirl: Thank you so much for this time we've spent together, Yvonne. I wish you all the very best for your second edition.
Yvonne: Thank you so much, Shirl. I wish you the best also, especially when your book comes out in 2012. I’ll talk to you soon on Skype.
Shirl: Read a review of Yvonne's book, Finding Hope for your Journey Through Breast cancer. Please visit Yvonne at her website. There you can read her blog and sign up for her email devotions in either English or Spanish.