Knowledge is key to a Healthy Life

This entry is part 12 in the series Improve Your Life, Improve Your Mind

Originally published as part of the A to Z challenge on 12 April 2018

The A to Z  challenge is over:

But the value of the posts is not. My theme for the challenge was “Improve your life, Improve your mind.” Nowhere is this topic more relevant than when you’re facing a huge challenge in your life like retirement, marital problems, health problems in your family, and especially cancer!

For that reason, it’s my intention to revisit each of the posts and invite folk who didn’t read them at the time to visit them now. And if you did read them before, if you were reading at the speed I did during the month, chances are you will find new thoughts to encourage you.

Please add your comments and share the posts on social media.

The purpose of Rise and Soar with its associated blog is to inspire and encourage those in the cancer valley, whether as patients, survivors, caregivers, family or friends. Please note that it is not a health site. It is meant to encourage folk. When I tackled the A to Z challenge I reasoned that these posts should apply to everyone who cares about what is happening to their bodies, be it through age or through cancer.

I plan to post one “letter” a week only, and will commence with those who saw the least amount of attention during April. Once the official Road Trip commences I will link to that.

So for this week, let’s look at 

Knowledge, the key to a healthy life.

Here are three easy ways to gain knowledge on most topics:

read more

The Dream Gains a Name

Originally published in 2012. Updated in February, 2018

eagle from morguefiles

Vereaux Eagles

During my rigorous months of chemotherapy, one of my favourite haunts was the Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden not far from our home in Krugersdorp, South Africa. There we would sit and watch for the appearance of one or both of the Vereaux’s eagles that nested high on a cliff overlooking a rocky valley. I would marvel at their ability to rise and soar across the valley until they were mere specks in the sky. How I wished I could rise and soar over the valley of cancer.

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It’s Not the Messenger that Counts – devotion

This entry is part 4 in the series Devotions

“In my distress, O LORD, I called to you, and you answered me. From deep in the world of the dead I cried for help, and you heard me” Jonah 2:2 GNB.

Meet the messenger

Imagine the scene. Here comes Jonah, squishing along the beach. He’s covered in the stomach contents of a fish and smells of vomit. His skin and hair are bleached white from stomach acids. Seaweed drapes around his shoulders. This man has a message from God? You have to be joking! Yet amazingly, the people of Nineveh listen to this unlikely messenger. They repent and turn to God.

At the beginning of my cancer treatment, I prayed that I would continue to be a witness to others of God’s love. But toward the end of the year my thinning hair looked and felt like straw. My complexion was so pale and spotted that my sons said I was “transparent.” My eyes were sunken because I had lost so much weight. I don’t think I looked quite as bad as Jonah must have looked, but I didn’t see how God could use me. Yet surprisingly, He did.

Many people listened to what I had to say. They saw God at work in my life and asked questions about my faith. The Lord opened doors for me to write about my experiences so that others would be encouraged. 

People don't need to know me personally. I'm only the messenger. Click To Tweet

Not the Messenger

Years later I wrote about my cancer experiences in a book of meditations, Strength Renewed. Many people have contacted me to share how the Lord has spoken to them through one or more of the messages. Yet they don’t even know me. I am only the messenger.

As I’ve thought many times about the story of Jonah and his terrifying fish ride, I have seen over and over again that it is not the messenger that makes the difference—it’s the message. Often when we are at our weakest, God can use us to spread His message of love and forgiveness. 

As writers, how often do we face a writing project that seems beyond our abilities? We believe God wants us to tell a story, but we don’t have the experience. Perhaps we lack the knowledge. We feel we’re too young. Or too old. Inexperienced. Not well enough known. Whenever you feel that way, remember the story of Jonah. And remember, it’s not the messenger that makes the difference. It’s the message.

 

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Getting Ready for the Heavy Weapons of Radiotherapy

This entry is part 25 in the series Victory in the Valley

Start at the beginning of the story

Now read on . . .

The time had come to commence radiotherapy. The one-hour drive into the Rand Clinic, a private hospital in the center of the notorious Hillbrow suburb of Johannesburg, went too fast. Rob and I prayed aloud in the car. Then we tried to keep up positive conversation. How much positive conversation can you think of on the way to the gallows? I wondered.

The streets of Hillbrow

It was almost a relief to spot the grey building of the hospital towering ahead of us. We drove through the litter-strewn streets and past the street vendors with their wares laid out on the pavement. We shook our heads negatively at the shifty-eyed hawkers who plied their goods at the traffic lights. Two outrageously dressed girls, who looked as if they should still be young, faces plastered with make-up, cheap jewelry hanging over black plastic jackets, seductively sauntered up and down the pavement. Their high-heeled black boots covered their knees and almost reached the hems of their diminutive skirts.

“Are those what I think they are?” I glanced at Rob’s silhouette as he concentrated on the heavy traffic.

“Yes.” 

When Rob and I had first married, we lived in a flat near here.

“How the area has degenerated through the years,” I remarked sadly. My gaze was drawn back to the building ahead, as Rob maneuvered the car into the parking lot across the street from the main entrance.

Advice of a friend

Raeleen, a friend who had been through radiotherapy a year ago, had warned me of certain things, for which I became extremely grateful. She told me that I’d be left alone in a room full of gigantic machines. “There is a heavy metal door which will clang shut as the technicians leave. “When the machines start to work, they make a hideous row.” She explained how no one had warned her, and the first time she received treatment, she got such a fright that when the machines started to work, she leaped off the treatment table in terror, causing total panic to the staff! “There’s absolutely no pain,” she reassured me. “You won’t feel a thing.”

Be prepared! This is not only relevant to scouts. It applies to cancer treatment. The more you know, the better you'll cope. Click To Tweet

“Just be prepared for being left alone, for the clanging door, for the noise,” she assured me. “You’ll be fine.”  

As we walked through the hospital entrance, I drew a deep breath, and held my head high. I can do this! Then—O Lord, help me through the next couple of hours!

A new game?

“Please could you direct us to the radiotherapy Unit?” As Rob asked the officious looking woman at the Inquiry Desk, I noticed her disinterested gaze moving from him to me. Guess the cancer patient, I thought wryly. What a fun game!

We entered the lift, and pressed 6 on the lift panel. I felt if everyone was gazing at me, instead of watching the lighted numbers ticking off our ascent. One by one the passengers got out. Everyone, except Rob and me.

I reminded myself that I was unique. They had never given radiotherapy to Shirley Corder, so I resolved to stay positive. 

Cultivate a scornful disregard for statistics. You are unique! There are no statistics about your life! Click To Tweet

Ping! The lift shuddered to a stop, the doors opened, and we caught our first sight of the room where we were going to spend a good deal of time.  Rows of identical, upright, comfortable looking seats lined the walls of a long, cheerful room painted in pastel colors. Several tables stood under untidy piles of old magazines. To my left was a smallish reception area, with a number of busy ladies ignoring the lift and the newcomers. Hesitantly we approached them.

Reception Committee at Radiotherapy

Eventually a lady glanced my way and handed me a clipboard. “Please fill in your details.” With Rob’s help I filled it in, including all sorts of apparently irrelevant information, and took it back to the counter. I gave the lady a bright smile, hoping to receive one in return. From her expression I realized she didn’t consider this to be a smiling matter. She wasn’t the only one.

Soberly I answered some further questions, and retreated with Rob to “sit over there and wait until you are called.”

In the corner stood a vending machine offering free coffee, tea, and drinking chocolate. How I longed for a cup of coffee. Surely, the fact that it stood in this room indicated I could help myself. Yet, I didn’t know what to expect. Could I drink just before the treatment? I didn’t want to do anything wrong. I looked at the frosty-eyed lady, and decided it couldn’t do any harm to ask.

A smile goes a long way

“Excuse me. Is it all right for me to drink coffee?” 

“I don’t know what you are allowed, it depends on your diet. You’ll have to ask your doctor.”

I looked in astonishment at the steely eyes, looking out through the empty window of the top half of her glasses. I realized she had misunderstood me, but I didn’t have the courage to try again.

A young clerk smiled up at me from the other end of the desk. “You’re welcome to help yourself. It won’t make any difference to your treatment if that’s what’s worrying you.”

“Thank you!” What a relief to see a smiling face. I walked over to the vending machine and poured us both some much-needed coffee. 

 

I couldn’t concentrate on a magazine, so I stared at my shoes and allowed my mind to drift over the illustration of my war with cancer. In the next room there were machines that I’d never seen before. These were the artillery, and they were preparing for my arrival. I pictured those cowardly cells hiding in the scar tissue of my breast and resolved to tell the machines where to look for them. 

How about you?

If you are facing radiotherapy (or radiation as it’s called in some countries) try not to be afraid of them, but to see them as part of the weaponry in your fight against cancer. They are not the enemy! They are there to help route out the enemy and restore you to health once again. 

How do you deal with suffocating fear? It doesn’t need to be a fight against cancer. We all have to deal with this  terrifying emotion at one point of another.  Please share your coping mechanism with me and with other readers.

 

What Cancer Cannot Do

This entry is part 24 in the series Victory in the Valley

 

Start at the beginning of the story

 

Now read on . . .

Disclosure: This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience. Click here to read my full disclosure policy

Last chapter I listed some (and only some) of the suggestions people showered at me. Ways to fight cancer. Ways to improve my health. I became so overwhelmed by all the free advice and not-so-free treatment suggestions I didn’t know where to start.

Then, at my next visit to Dr. Meiring, I discovered he had his own ideas. Actually, they weren’t just ideas. He expected me to follow his recommendations. In view of all the information and misinformation floating around my head I was only too relieved to have someone with authority dictating what I should do.

“You are to take a shark-liver oil capsule three times a day,” he said. “Also this multivitamin, mineral and anti-oxidant combination. I believe this will give you a good balance of all you need nutritionally. My staff will show you where to get them.”

Barley Green

Later, a good friend from Durban, a distance away, wrote and sent me two jars of an expensive dark green powder called Barley Green. She explained how this powder, which she sold, would help my immune system cope with the treatment I was about to embark on. Included in the package was the name and phone number of the representative in my area. 

The jars sat unopened for a number of days. It looked so revolting! Eventually I felt guilty. My friend had paid out a lot of money for me. I reluctantly started taking it, following the instructions. It tasted every bit as repulsive as it looked. I determined to just take it long enough to prove it didn’t help.

I started to mixing it with some strong fruit juice and found as long as I gulped it down without stopping to taste or smell it, I could tolerate the ghastly drink. What we do to honor our friendships!

It was with relief that I came to the end of the jars, and decided I didn’t need to take any more as my friend wouldn’t know. A few days later, I reached for the telephone to order more. I realized it had really helped to build up my energy, and I needed to take it for the rest of my treatment. Praise the Lord for generous friends.

The result of all this advice was that I stopped reading about diet and nutrition. Each time a book started to tell me what I should or should not be eating, I turned pages until I reached another section. It was only much later that I would realize I was ignoring a major part of the healing process, and giving my poor overworked immune system even more tasks to cope with.

Spiritual advice

“Take up yoga,” came more advice.

“Channeling is much better.”

“Reflexology will work wonders for you.”

“Have you thought of trying PNI (Psycho Neuro Immunology)?”

There just didn’t seem to be an end to the things I could or should be doing to rid my body of this cancer, even where it went against my beliefs as a Christian..

Eventually I found myself suspicious of so many things.

Is it safe to use this deodorant? 

How wise is it to use perfume?

If we went in the car on the freeway, I would put the window down. The air conditioner was bad for me. 

“Oops,” I closed them again to avoid the car fumes and smell of petrol. I’d switch on the air conditioner.

Well meaning though all the advice no doubt was, I found the total confusion and misinformation I received from people, including an unsure medical world, made things so much worse.

Perhaps the cruelest advice I received, at intervals throughout that terrible year, was the best intended.

“Shirley, put your trust in the Lord!”

The words TRUST THE LORD can cause hurt in the person who IS trusting the Lord. We need to watch our words. Click To Tweet

I am a committed Christian, so why do I say this was cruel?

It implied to my over-sensitive mind that people thought I wasn’t trusting Him. It made me feel that perhaps, if I really had faith, I would not subject my body to all this treatment. Is my faith at fault? I often wondered.

Temptations

All the advice tempted me to do the very thing I longed to do. Stop the treatment and “trust the Lord.”

During my treatment period, two other people in our congregation, both Christians, did this very thing. They declared that God had healed them and stopped their treatment against medical advice. I played the organ at both funerals. 

“Shirley, what are you saying?” a friend asked me in horror when I said this. “Surely you’re not suggesting it’s wrong to trust the Lord?” 

“No, of course not. I know the Lord is with me. I also know He can reach down and heal me in an instant. But until He personally shows me beyond any shadow of doubt, that He has done so, I am going ahead with the treatment as planned.”

I stared at her wide concerned eyes.

“I can’t pretend I’m not scared of what I am letting myself in for. But I trust Him to guide me, to steer my treatment, to over-rule where necessary. Even if there are dark days ahead, I know He will always be there to show me the way.”

Trusting the Lord

One day when I was reading my Bible, I came to the well-known twenty-third Psalm.

Next time someone asked me about why I didn’t stop treatment and trust the Lord, I opened to that passage.

“David says ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,'” I read. “‘For thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.1‘” I pointed to the verse so my friend could read with me. “Lynne, where will I find the rod and the staff?”

“In the valley of the shadow of death?” she read the words slowly, doubt creeping into her voice.

Thy rod and staff they comfort me. And where are they found? In the valley. Click To Tweet

I nodded. “I have no idea why the Lord wants me to go through this valley,” I said. “Nor do I understand why He needs me to pick up a rod and a staff. But, Lynne, I trusted Him with my life many years ago, and there is no going back. He wants me to go through the valley and collect the rod and staff. Then He will comfort me. He will go with me.”

I hoped I appeared more confident than I felt, yet I knew that what I said was true. I had to keep my eyes open, looking out for the rod and staff He had promised to leave for me in the valley.

When I started to feel afraid, I often went to my brown paper wall hanging of cards, and read the beautiful words and encouraging messages. One which really encouraged me was a computer message by an unknown author, beautifully printed and posted to me by my daughter’s mother-in-law.

I remembered those weak, confused cells my doctor had described to me. They were indeed so limited.

Yes, the war against cancer was beginning to hot up, but I had a wonderful family, many dear friends, and a countless army of prayer warriors throughout, not only South Africa, but overseas as well. Most important, I had the Lord on my side. The enemy might appear threatening, but “Greater is he that is in (me) than he that is in the world.”I drew a deep breath, and prepared to move into the unknown.

Would you like a gift for a friend or loved one?

Click on the image to see it on Amazon.

Primitives By Kathy Box Sign

Cross Stitch Chart and Free Embellishment Pamphlet – 1956 by Stoney Creek Collection

 

What saying or quote helps you when you look at the topic of cancer? Please share below.

NOTE:
These events occurred between 19 and 20 years ago. I have tried to recreate events and locations as accurately as possible, but in order to maintain their anonymity, in some instances I have changed the names and identifying characteristics of individuals and places.

[1] Psalm 23 verse 4
[2]  1 John 4 verse 4

Deciding on an oncologist

This entry is part 18 in the series Victory in the Valley
Surgeon taking notes

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Start at the beginning of the story

Now read on . . .

Talking to the oncologist

As Dr Meiring, the oncologist recommended by my sister-in-law Denise, explained the various ways a malignant tumor is classified, I began to understand the seriousness of my situation. I had an aggressive, fast growing cancer, with a number of negative factors. It was far more advanced that it would have been had it been caught earlier. If I’d had a mammogram when I first requested it, the tumor would have been identified in its earlier stages. Nothing could have stopped it developing, but I had my gynecologist’s stubborn attitude to blame for facing the rigors of chemotherapy.

M.E. history

Dr. Meiring grew concerned when I mentioned I had been ill for months two years ago with M.E. (Myo-encephalitis) or as it is also called, CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). I hotly avoid the nickname of ‘Yuppy Flu’, which is lightly bandied around by those who don’t believe in this debilitating condition. It is neither ‘yuppy’ nor is it ‘flu’!

Fortunately for me, Dr. Meiring did believe in M.E.  “Chemotherapy will depress your immune system,” he explained. “When that happens we could face a further flareup of the virus. I need you to have a minimum of three intravenous drips of Polygam which will boost your immune system.” He wrote carefully on his notes. “I will try and motivate with your medical aid to pay for this. It is pricey.” 

Further tests

sonar for tests ordered by oncologist

Image creative commons

He gave me a long list of blood tests to have done at the laboratory, including tests for the Coxsackie virus which had caused the M.E. I confidently expected this to be negative, as I had fully recovered my energy and strength, prior to my breast cancer operation.

“We also need to check out your heart before we embark on the radiotherapy and chemotherapy.” He made an appointment with a cardiologist at a private hospital some miles from my home. 

“I want him to do a MUGA scan which will measure how well your heart pumps with every heartbeat, and an echocardiogram to ensure that there is no serious heart damage as a result of the Rheumatic Fever when you were seven,” he added.

He assured me that he would spend time looking at my situation, and discuss it with some of the other oncologists before he saw me again the next day. Before we left for home, he called his radiotherapist and assistant, and together they laid hands on me and prayed for wisdom, and for healing.

The decision I didn’t want to make.

We spent the hour that it took us to drive home, talking about what we had learned that day. We spoke about Dr. Meiring. Was he the right man? Rob was totally convinced.

When we got the home, we sat together in the lounge with the inevitable cup of tea, and prayed.

“Lord, is this the oncologist you want to use in my life? He’s nice, and he’s supposed to be good—but I’m just not sure.”

“I think he’s the right man.” Rob was unusually positive as he spoke. “If you are really not happy then we need to try one of the others, but really, I think we’re wasting precious time; and who will we go to?”

Who indeed? With me being in the medical field, I received plenty of advice.

“You must go to Dr. X,” I was told on several occasions. “He’s a lovely person; a truly dedicated oncologist.” Then I heard that he was so busy he never had time to sit and listen to his patients. This would not suit me. I knew, even then, that I was going to have lots of questions.

The cancer patients I had known up until this point, either in my role as minister’s wife, or through my nursing, were usually at one of two stages. They had either just been diagnosed through tests or surgery, or they were dying. When it came to the outpatient treatment, I knew no more than the man in the street; nor did I know any of the oncologists, except the one whom I had already rejected. The oncologist who took me on had to be prepared to give me time.

This is my life

This is my life! I am taking control wherever I can, I reminded myself. I needed an oncologist I could talk to, who would explain things in ways I would understand, and who would see Rob as part of our team.

“Dr. Y is the best man in his field,” I was advised by a number of people. He held down a very high position in the cancer field so was obviously highly qualified. A member of our congregation and a good friend, was exactly one year ahead of me, and this was her doctor. She couldn’t speak highly enough of him.

“He is such a nice man,” she assured me. “He listens to me, and answers my questions. However, he only speaks to the patient. He totally ignores my husband.” That was no good for me either. Rob and I were in this together. I needed Rob, and Rob needed to be a part of my treatment plan.

So we decided to listen to my sister-in-law and accept Dr Meiring as my oncologist.

“After all, I don’t need to commit myself to him if I’m not happy,” I reasoned aloud. “We can always change our minds and go to someone else if we don’t like him.”

This was easy to say. Where could I go? Would I really be happier with someone else?

Next chapter in ongoing story of cancer journey, In the Valley by Shirley Corder. #cancer Click To Tweet

Over to you:

Have you ever had to make such a decision?

Or were you automatically assigned to an oncologist?

Please leave a comment, and if you leave a live URL in your comment, I’ll get back to you. 

NOTE:
These events occurred between 17 and 20 years ago. I have tried to recreate events and locations as accurately as possible, but in order to maintain their anonymity, in some instances I have changed the names and identifying characteristics of individuals and places.

Strategies for World War III

This entry is part 17 in the series Victory in the Valley

World War III machine gun

World War III

“I must warn you that I do not believe in fighting World War III with World War II weapons.” After a few words of introduction, the oncologist made this opening sentence.

I sensed my heart go into overdrive. What a way to start. If this was a book, the man in front of me had me hooked. Dr. Meiring leaned forward, his arms folded on the large untidy desk. His gray hair was neatly in place; the slightly crumpled jacket of his suit hung open to show a conservative shirt, with a cheerful tie.

A Friendly Room

The tiny consulting room, attached to his home in an upgrade suburb of Johannesburg, had no outside window. A warm breeze came in through the open door leading to the tiny examination cubicle. A small shaft of sunlight shone through a porthole in the roof, adding to the heat. Behind me, an assortment of medical and Christian books spilled out of a too-small book-case. A friendly room, even if rather claustrophobic.

This was the first of two comments, uttered during that initial appointment, which would have a profound effect on my life.

The other was, “When the cure makes you sick it is no longer a cure. The cure should not be worse than the disease. Then it will be time to stop.”

To my mind came the words, 

God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13.) Click To Tweet

Many times over the next year I realized God had different ideas to me of how much I could bear. I also often wondered how bad things had to be before Dr. Meiring considered it worse than the disease.

No Death Sentence

His confident manner, however, reassured me and totally won over my husband. This man saw cancer as something to be fought and overcome. He had not offered me a death sentence. By classifying it as World War III, it was a war we could fight.

weapon-999_640

He shared with us some of his family background. There were so many cases of cancer that he said,  “It’s not IF I get cancer – it’s when. The secret is in finding it before it finds me!” What an unusual approach to a dreaded disease!

That first appointment lasted the full afternoon. The three of us drank coffee together – several cups – and talked. We talked about cancer. We talked about the Lord. He was a devout Christian and expressed his encouragement over the ‘team’ that we would form. He saw my husband Rob and I, together with him, as the ‘principal players’. But he expressed enthusiasm over the ‘back-up team’ consisting of a supportive family, a united congregation of God’s people, and many other Christian friends and colleagues, all praying.

That afternoon Rob and I sensed a new friend in Dr. Meiring.World War III viruses

Simple Explanation of Cancer

“The human body is made up of billions of microscopic cells, each with its own role to play,” he explained, drawing a dot the size of a normal full-stop on the paper in front of him. “Some of these are so small that 250,000 could fit into that space. They grow and reproduce in an orderly fashion.” He continued to doodle as he spoke, sketching out a complex diagram of circles and lines.

“Sometimes, something goes wrong with the reproduction process, and a cell is produced which contains incorrect genetic information. If this cell becomes a ‘mother cell’, it produces ‘daughter cells’ with the same faulty data. Normally the defense system of the body, the immune system, mounts an attack on these intruders and destroys them. When this does not happen, for whatever reason, these cells start to multiply rapidly, and a cancerous tumor begins to develop.”

Bewildered and feeble

For the first time, I began to understand what my cancerous tumor really was; a mass of bewildered, feeble cells, incapable of carrying out their God-appointed task.

“Healthy cells know which organ they belong to, and remain within the established limits. However, cancer cells are undisciplined, and they invade adjacent tissues, even traveling throughout the body.”

This, he explained, was the reason I needed radiotherapy and chemotherapy. According to the pathology report, the sentinel gland under my arm was ‘brimming’ with cancer cells. The cancer had already spread from my breast. World War III was about to begin.

READ ON: Next Chapter – Choosing an Oncologist

Operation Mobilization

This entry is part 16 in the series Victory in the Valley

EXERCISE REGIME:

action-Public DomainOnce the clips were out, I no longer had an excuse for avoiding the prescribed exercises. I had attempted to do them in the past, but the sling made them almost impossible. I pumped my stress ball almost continuously, shrugged my shoulder up and down, and twisted my hand back and forwards. But that had been the limit to my workout. It was time for Operation Mobilization.

“You only need to wear the sling at night or when traveling in the car,” Dr. Prinsloo had said. “Start to mobilize your arm now. You cannot start radiotherapy until you can lift your hand above your head.”

Until this point, I had told everyone how relatively easy this operation had been. “Sure, it’s a bit painful,” I would say. “But it’s really nothing like I had expected.”

Now the picture changed. I soon realized why the Physiotherapist in the hospital had been so negative about the sling. Because of my incredibly good cosmetic result, I do not, to this day, regret wearing it, but the pain of trying to use my arm again was unbelievable. It seemed to be anchored to my chest, and the slightest effort to move it was torture.

“The best exercise of all,” assured everyone in the know, including my physiotherapist, my surgeon, and Beulah from the Cancer Association, “is to stand close to a door, and allow your fingers to ‘walk up and down the door.’ Just push yourself a little further each time and in no time at all, you will be back to normal.”

It sounded simple. It probably was—if I could reach the door. My arm stayed frozen in position as I desperately tried to force it away from my body.

“I will never be able to move this arm!” I moaned at Rob, tears streaming down my cheeks. “And until I can move my arm over my head I can’t have radiotherapy. I don’t know what to do.” I returned to my efforts with gritted teeth. 

The words from that television show floated back into my mind. Time to get back on the beam!

INVENTING NEW EXERCISES:

After a few days of battling to move my arm, I started to panic. It was taking too long. That is when I remembered what I’d read. Make your own decisions where possible. If the prescribed exercises were not going to work, I would have to invent my own.

I found if I lay flat on my back and totally relaxed my left arm, I could grip my wrist with my right hand. Then I could slowly move the stiff arm away from my body. Because I wasn’t using my muscles, it didn’t hurt as much. I soon devised a number of exercises, which I called ‘passive exercises.’ Every hour I spent ten minutes working on my arm in this way. Within a few days, I could reach the door.

Then started the agonizing process of trying to move my fingers a little higher, a little lower. I did this exercise against a polished wooden sliding door which had knots in the grain. Each day I would strive to go one mark higher. My goal, the top of the door, seemed way out of reach, but every excruciating little step was a battle won.

“I can do this,” I would mutter regularly, through clenched teeth, often with tears streaming down my cheeks.

CHOOSING AN ONCOLOGIST:

The time had come to choose the man who would control my life for the next year or two. The city where I lived boasted many well-known oncologists, but no one seemed to have heard of the man my sister-in-law recommended. How we prayed the Lord would lead us to the right person. Should I go to the one I had told my surgeon I wanted to see? Was he the one who would give me God’s choice of treatment? After much prayer, we made an appointment with Dr. Kurt Meiring, Denise’s recommendation.

Read on: Next Chapter: Strategies for World War III

NOTE:
These events occurred between the years 1997-2000. I have tried to recreate events and locations as accurately as possible, but in order to maintain their anonymity, in some instances, I have changed the names and identifying characteristics of individuals and places.

Getting Back on the Beam!

This entry is part 15 in the series Victory in the Valley

—Victory in the Valley – Chapter 13—

Start at the beginning of the story

Now read on . . .

FALLING OF THE BEAM

Gymnast on balance beam

Gymnastics_2015 European Championships

It was the day after we’d watched the TV show where the young gymnast fell off the balance beam. My husband suggested the message for me was to get back on the beam. He didn’t get it. I hadn’t fallen off the beam. For someone doing battle with cancer, with a poor prognosis, I was doing well.

I awoke uptight and irritable. It was one of ‘those days’! Nothing went right.

Halfway through the morning, I walked past my younger son’s bedroom. I noticed he hadn’t opened his curtains before leaving for his college. I shoved angrily at his door and stalked into the room. The door boomeranged off a pile of books on top of his bookcase and slammed back into my left arm. The handle punched me on the breast, at the exact point of the wound.

“Ow!” I wailed in agony and kicked the door. Real mature!  I lowered myself onto his bed, sobbing helplessly.

Rob came racing through the house. “What on earth’s wrong?” He sat next to me and held me while I cried and cried. All the pent-up tears and emotions of the last two weeks poured out.

“It’s going to be all right!” he assured me repeatedly. “You’ll see. We’ll get through this.”

He passed me a handkerchief.

“Come, blow your nose. You’ve got to stop this. You’ve cried enough.”

“Rob, I’m sorry, I can’t go on,” I muttered into the sodden handkerchief.

After a moment of quiet, he answered. “Shirl, the Lord is saying to you, ‘You’ve got to get back on the beam!’”

FOLLOW-UP VISIT

It was time for the follow-up visit to Dr. Prinsloo.

“This is really healing beautifully,” he remarked with a near smile. As he prepared to remove the clips, I attempted to hide my fear. As a result of my arm being strapped to my body for ten days, I had difficulty moving it even slightly. How would he reach the wound? Since my experience in the hospital with the wire, my pain threshold had become just about non-existent.

As the last metal clip fell into the receiver, I looked at him in amazement. “Wow! I hardly felt that.” Then I took him by surprise. “Please, may I take these home? I want to show them to my nephews.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea. They need to be properly disposed of.”

“I’ll take them to the laboratory where I work and throw them into the ‘sharps’ box,’” I pleaded. “Promise!”

“See to it you do.” He folded them into a paper towel and handed the little parcel to me. “Well, you seem to be doing very well so far.” 

He explained again his reasons for doing a Quadrantectomy and not a Mastectomy. “The tumor was so deep, there was little point in taking the entire breast,” he said. “In any case, this gave a better cosmetic result.”

I jerked when I heard his next words. “Of course, there would have been less likelihood of a recurrence if I’d done a Radical Mastectomy.”

Inwardly I screamed at him, Then why, oh why didn’t you?

Outwardly I smiled. “What are the chances of a recurrence?” I made it sound like such a minor issue.

PROGNOSIS:

Surgeon taking notes

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The doctor avoided my question and eyes, as he drew out the Histology report. He went through it with me, and I learned that the cancer was an aggressive, fast-growing type. My prognosis was not good. I noticed he didn’t say how long I had, and suddenly I didn’t want to know. I sensed that a time limit might just become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

During my student nursing days, patients were sometimes given a placebo (a capsule with no medicinal effects) instead of a sleeping pill. Many times, they settled down and had a really good night’s sleep. I feared that knowing the doctor’s estimate of my life span would have the same effect. If he gave me an estimated life span it might just prove prophetic. I didn’t want statistics, I wanted to conquer Goliath.

LOOKING AT THE FUTURE

“You are going to need a full course of radiotherapy, followed by chemotherapy.”

“Yes, you told me,” I replied, and took a deep breath. “But Dr. Prinsloo, I would like to go to Dr. Meiring.” Through my work, I had met the oncologist Dr. Prinsloo normally referred his patients to, and I didn’t like him at all. I had never met Dr. Meiring, but my sister-in-law had worked for him, and she thought he was wonderful.

“Shirl, please give Kurt a chance,” she had pleaded on the phone. “After you’ve met him you can choose to go to someone else if you like, but please give him a try. He’s a wonderful oncologist – and he’s a strong Christian man.”

A look of extreme annoyance flashed across Dr. Prinsloo’s face. He did not like patients to make suggestions. Tough! I thought. This is my life! I am taking control wherever possIble.

He reached for his script pad and started to write a referral letter.

“I am not happy about this decision,” he stated flatly. “And I want to see you regularly myself.” 

NOTE:
These events occurred between the years 1997-2000. I have tried to recreate events and locations as accurately as possible, but in order to maintain their anonymity, in some instances, I have changed the names and identifying characteristics of individuals and places.

Read on: Next Chapter – Operation Mobilization

A Day of Tests

This entry is part 11 in the series Victory in the Valley

—Victory in the Valley – Chapter 10—

Start at the beginning of the story

Now read on . . .

courtesy of hin255 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

courtesy of hin255 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Day 3

On my third day in the hospital, a porter whisked me away in a wheelchair for numerous tests. How I longed to take the still-hidden Squiffles with me! But the picture of a mature aged lady sitting in a wheelchair with a stuffed lion was too much to visualize.

Reluctantly I left him under my blankets, with the whispered words, “You be good now—I won’t be too long!”

 

The Ward Mascot

The inevitable happened. While I was away, the nurses made my bed. When I returned, I found Squiffles out of hiding, lying on my pillow and watching the two opposite sides of the door for my return. Swallowing my embarrassment, I climbed cautiously into bed and slipped him under the covers. My secret was out, however. Each time a staff member came to my bedside, they asked after my lion. Soon everyone knew his name. My ward family would ask, “How’s Squiffles this morning?” sometimes before asking after me. He became a little mascot of hope in that ward. Brenda, who lay in the bed next to me and was recovering from major back surgery, got her husband to bring her teddy bear to the hospital.

A Day of Tests

The multitude of tests gave me an insight into the future. These were not routine tests. ‘They’ were looking for more cancer. The chest X-ray proved negative, as did the liver and abdominal sonar. I hated the way they told me the good news.

So far there’s no sign of cancer.”

“There is no sign of cancer yet.” 

They seemed disappointed. It was as if they were saying, “But one day we will find it . . . .

The entire body bone scan was scary. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the man at his computer studying the images. Images of my body. What could he see? When the man gave me the envelope to take back to the ward he smiled reassuringly.

“So far so good. Everything’s just fine!”

I appreciated his attitude.

Trying to co-operate with the various technicians was made awkward by the ever-present sling, yet they were all so kind and understanding, so patient with me; so . . . sorry for me? Tests in the past had never bothered me. They were “just routine”and wouldn’t show up anything. Shirleys don’t get cancer. Now it all seemed different.

bouquet-of-flowers-pub domain

A Garden of Flowers

I received so many flowers it became embarrassing. Both cardiac tables were by now full. Flowers lined up along the wall under the window. A difficult decision had to be made. Each visiting time, Rob and the boys would leave carrying beautiful arrangements of flowers.

We tried to choose those from people who wouldn’t be able to visit me, then at least we didn’t have to admit to sending their flowers home. Yet they all lasted so well I didn’t need to worry. Back home my “indoor garden” awaited me.

Divine Encouragement

I wish I could list all the Scriptures I received at this time. I wish I could share all the wonderful things the Lord said to me. If He said anything specific, I have forgotten it. However throughout that week I was constantly aware of His presence and His guiding hand. Little things, like Beulah, the Jewess, spoke to me of His amazing love. I tried to read my Bible often but usually gave up in frustration. The drugs plus the clumsiness of being one-armed, made reading my big Bible difficult. I contented myself with reading the small booklets and cards I received from many.

I prayed, but only a loving Father would have understood. My words were often jumbled and incoherent from the drugs. Somehow, I just didn’t know how to pray. I found that the one thing I could still do was praise. And so I praised. I praised Him for my life and for my family. Then I praised Him for the removal of the monster, which I now thought of as Goliath, naming it after the story of David and Goliath. I tried to think of it as a giant, a monster, that had been destroyed by the surgery.

All day long I found more reasons to praise Him. The more I praised Him, the closer I drew to Him. I asked myself, for the first of many times, How do people cope with cancer without the Lord?

Somehow it never occurred to me to say, “Why me, Lord?” If anyone had to have Breast Cancer, why not me?

Throughout this period I learned to appreciate the small things. I learned how much I was loved. People really cared. The visits, the cards, the flowers—they all meant so much.

Meaningful cards

The cards I received were wonderful. As a keen stamper I had made thousands of cards over the past few years and taught many people how to stamp. It thrilled me to receive hand-stamped cards. I knew how much time had gone into making them. Some were elaborate and beautiful. They took hours of love to create. Others were simple but made especially for me. People had given up their time to make something – just because they cared for me.

I had been brought up to believe that for a gift to really mean something, it had to cost money. Where did this idea come from? I wondered. The smallest, hand-made card meant as much to me, if not more, than the most expensive bought card. The simple words, ‘We love you, we are praying” meant as much as the beautiful eloquent words of Helen Steiner Rice. My most treasured of all came all the way from the steamy jungles of Venezuela. A simple, home-made card, stained with tears. “Mum, we love you, and we’re praying.”

Even the simple words, “Wishing you a speedy recovery,” encouraged me, probably more than the sender anticipated. In a time of negative vibes from all the tests, that message brought me hope. The sender expected me to recover.

Read on: Next Chapter: Welcome Home!

NOTE:
These events occurred between the years 1997-2000. I have tried to recreate events and locations as accurately as possible, but in order to maintain their anonymity, in some instances I have changed the names and identifying characteristics of individuals and places.