Archive for April, 2020



A Word of Encouragement with Pastor Jim

Romans 8:37-39 (NLT) reads

No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

As I read that passage, I am firmly reminded that God is firmly committed to us with His love. He will not allow anything to come between His love and us – not even pestilence and disease.

 

Throughout this passage, I see that these things may attempt to separate us from God’s love: death, life, angels, demons, fears for today, worries about tomorrow, powers of hell, power in the sky above, [power] in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation. In addition to those things, I specifically state that viruses (viruii) and lack cannot separate us from His love.

 

God is watching over us in His love. He meets all our needs. Even the psalmist in Psalms 23 reminded us that the Lord is our Shepherd and in Him, there is NO LACK or WANT.

 

I write this today because, my friends, there is no reason for us to walk in fear and trepidation – even through our current situations; God loves us and meets our EVERY need. He walks with us in the midst of whatever place we my find ourselves.

 

I do need to note what I did NOT say: God may or may not deliver us from that place – but He ALWAYS walks in and through them with us.

 

This day, put a renewed trust in Him to walk with you and to surround you with His love. Receive His victory. Receive His love.

 

Pastor Jim

 


Let me start my giving all praise and glory to God as He has walked every step in of this journey with me.

One year ago today I sat in my surgeon’s office as a follow-up to my lumpectomy and was diagnosed with DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ) … breast cancer. The story actually started in the spring of 2018 when I discovered a lump in my right breast. After seeing my GYN and having a mammogram and an ultrasound they believed it was probably a contusion that should absorb back into my body over some months.

Fast forward to the beginning of 2019 and the lump was still there. Back to the doctor with another mammogram and ultrasound. This time they are concerned… there a lot of blood flow to the lump so they order a MRI which after some back and forth insurance denied and wanted me referred to a surgeon.

So I find myself in a surgeons office … a God connection for sure. Dr. Robert Maxwell. From the very first day he went above and beyond to take care of me. His excellent care and compassion are unmatched. I had peace when I chose him as my surgeon and from the very first visit through all the twists and turns of this journey that peace has been foundational and solid. Jim & I are so very thankful for him. I found out at that appointment that they had actually discovered a second lump that I wasn’t told about. He immediately contacted a radiologist that he trusts and took my results to look at with her. She recommended a biopsy of both spots. He made a point that she was the only radiologist that I saw throughout this entire process. I’m also thankful for Dr. Ava Powell.

At this point my life went into a whirlwind of craziness. She did an ultrasound guided biopsy and while looking at the ultrasound she discovered a third spot of concern. So, I had three biopsies that day. And I waited for a follow up with my surgeon.

In the midst of all this I knew God had prepared me for this health challenge. I knew that He was empowering me to choose joy through it all! I had just been studying James 1:2-4 and taught on it at our church. So with Him as my strength I determined to choose joy no matter what came my way. I’m so thankful He prepared me.

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”

James 1:2-4

At my follow up I found out that two of the lumps where fibrocystic so no reason for concern. The original lump came back as a papilloma which is not cancerous but they were concerned with the size so the recommendation was a lumpectomy. So surgery was scheduled for April 4th.

We prayed and spoke God’s promises over me and sang healing over me believing God for good results while knowing we would choose to trust God no matter what. My surgeon said he was cautiously optimistic that they wouldn’t find anything.

Surgery went well and my follow up was April 9th. I went in strong, believing God for no cancer. But that was not the case. When Dr. Maxwell walked in the room I looked at him and asked if we were smiling today(his reassurance when all was well). He shook his head and I saw the concern in his eyes. He sat down and compassionately gave us the news. DCIS … breast cancer. His concern for me was comforting and his concern for Jim got my heart. He cared for both of us in this process. DCIS… what’s next … the one thing I remember him saying is “if you are going to have breast cancer this is the best kind to get”. Oddly enough I found comfort in that and came back to it many times over the following months.

This appointment was a punch in the stomach but I quickly found my faith legs and determined to choose joy no matter the outcome or circumstances.

After much discussion and information we decided to get a MRI to see if anything else was going on. We just felt that it went from one lump to two to three and we needed to know if there was more lurking and to see if there was anything in the other breast.

I must say that in all of this the MRI was the worst procedure I endured. It wasn’t being in the tunnel … it was the horrible noise! And the lady-like crawling up and over and positioning myself. Humbling to say the least.

I followed up with Dr. Maxwell the next week to find out the MRI showed 3 additional spots of concern. The positive was that the left breast was clear … as Dr. Powell said “it is hanging out minding its own business”.

So back to Dr. Powell for 3 more biopsies. She felt that two of the spots didn’t warrant a biopsy so she only did the one. I followed up with Dr. Maxwell the next week to find out this is another papilloma presenting like the one that had the DCIS.

At this point he was concerned with the many complexities of my case and I was strongly considering a double mastectomy. He suggested that he take my case to conference the next Wednesday where specialists from radiology, oncology and genetics review and discuss the case and give their recommendations. We agreed this was the next best step so he rearranged his schedule to accommodate that conference. And following is one of the things I love about Dr. Maxwell … he told us to keep living and encouraged us to take our scheduled vacation the next week and see him when we returned.

We followed his advice and left for a much needed time in the Outer Banks. We laughed and cried and prayed and trusted and had a lot of fun and relaxed and ate some wonderful seafood! In all of this God surrounded us with his presence. I am so grateful! And my husband covered me … he changed his schedule to be with me for appointments and procedures and tests and surgeries. He held me. He laid hands on me and prayed for me. He loved me completely and made me know that in everything that I am beautiful, desired and valuable. He has been amazing. So we vacationed well and came back ready to move forward in the journey… and to continue to trust God and choose joy.

We are in May now and back from vacation and sitting in Dr. Maxwell’s office. The specialists at conference came back with the same recommendations as he had shared with us at our last appointment. Due to the my complexities and family history they suggest genetic testing. Along with that biopsies of the remaining two spots that Dr. Powell didn’t do previously, removal of the other papilloma, surgery on the original place of the DCIS in an effort to get clean margins … or a mastectomy. If I take the first option I will see a radiology oncologist for radiation treatments and a medical oncologist for hormone therapy (because the cancer was estrogen and progesterone positive …the hormone therapy blocks the hormones to help prevent reoccurrence or new breast cancer). With a mastectomy there would be no radiation treatments unless more cancer was found. There would still be hormone therapy.

This appointment was overwhelming and I’m leaning strongly toward a double mastectomy … especially if the genetics comeback positive for BRCA1 and BRCA2. And a positive would probably lead to a hysterectomy too. He also brought up the option of a second opinion.

Praying for healing and wisdom and good results I find myself seeing the genetic counselor and a plastic surgeon the very next week in Columbus!

I thought the genetic counseling would be easy so I convinced Jim that he didn’t need to come. I was wrong. It was very emotionally draining. But I got through the counseling and had the bloodwork and headed into a 3 week wait for results … a very long 3 weeks!

Then there was the plastic surgeon. I went to Columbus because he supposedly offered more reconstruction options than the plastic surgeon in Mansfield. This wasn’t true. I wasn’t impressed with him at all and was not happy about the outcome. He would not do immediate reconstruction and would not consider it for the future without some major changes. But more than that I didn’t care for his bedside manners and didn’t have peace. I asked Dr. Maxwell to refer me to the plastic surgeon he works with regularly for breast reconstruction.

Now we are in June waiting on genetic results so we can make decisions and move forward. Dr. Maxwell mentioned the Bing Cancer Center in Columbus for a second opinion. You spend about a 1/2 day there where you see a breast cancer doctor who goes over your records and does an examination. He then meets with a multi-specialist team to discuss my case. The team is made of of top specialists in radiology, radiology oncology, medical oncology, genetics, breast surgeon, plastic surgeon and more. Then they all meet with you to share their recommendations. We decided since we were playing the waiting game that we would take that time to get a second opinion. They got me in right away.

On June 4th I saw Dr. Villalobos for a second opinion for breast reconstruction. He is a character and I like characters so we connected. This appointment was very positive and gave me some good options.

On June 5th I headed to the Bing Cancer Center. On the way I got a call from the genetic counselor that my genetic testing came back negative. Such relief! And so very thankful to God for this win! And thankful for my daughters!

We spent about a 1/2 day at the Bing! I expected it to be overwhelming and emotionally exhausting but we walked away hopeful but with some things we wanted to get Dr. Maxwell’s thoughts on. He was still where God gave us peace. The Bing doctors recommended re-excision of the original site to try to get clean margins. Sometimes this can take 3 or 4 surgeries. Not a pleasant thought! They recommended no further biopsies of the other two spots and not excising the other papilloma. This was disconcerting … I asked about this several times as I was confused on how we just leave these when we don’t know if they are cancer or not. They also recommended radiation treatments and hormone therapy and weight loss. Or a mastectomy. We left hopeful but confused.

After what seemed like forever for Dr. Maxwell to get all the information from these referrals I finally saw him at the middle of June for what was a long, intense, overwhelming appointment. He was perplexed by the Bing recommendations to not biopsy the other 2 spots nor excise the other papilloma. He didn’t think we could just ignore them and move on. He was so committed to this that he would not be willing to do the surgery and would refer me back to the Bing if I chose this route. This spoke loudly! Jim and I both knew that our peace was keeping me in the care of Dr. Maxwell.

So the next BIG part of the discussion was whether to have additional biopsies, excision of the other papilloma and re-excision of the site of the DCIS to try to get clean margins. Or have a single or double mastectomy. I was very conflicted. Jim was concerned about my emotional well-being if I went the mastectomy route and I understood. It all was just a LOT! Dr. Maxwell suggested he call Dr. Powell to see if she thought she could get what she needed through an ultrasound guided biopsy of the other two spots. So he called and we waited while she reviewed my previous results. She confirmed that she believed she could do it so two more biopsies were scheduled “only with her” Dr. Maxwell impressed on us … “don’t let them schedule you with anyone but Dr. Powell”!

So the next week I’m back for two more biopsies! That makes a total of 6 biopsies! Then a follow up with Dr. Maxwell the next week. This was our “then God stepped in” moment and a u-turn from a mastectomy to another lumpectomy and re-excision to try to get clean margins. The 2 biopsies were both fibrocystic so negative for breast cancer. We celebrated God’s goodness and this win in the battle.

With the following week being a holiday week he had openings to do surgery on 7/5 IF Dr. Powell would be in to do the wire guided excision biopsy to show him where the papilloma was since it was deep. She was working that day! So surgery is scheduled for 7/5! Surgical clearance on 6/28. We put out prayer requests to our army of intercessors. Pray for me – to be cleared for surgery, for successful surgery and quick recovery. For Dr. Maxwell – to be able to get clean margins (he reminded me that many times it can take multiple surgeries to get clean margins and there are times that they just can’t and we would be back at a mastectomy), to guide his hands. For Dr. Powell and all the other medical staff involved in my care for success and wisdom and compassionate care. We are trusting God step by step.

July 5th arrived and I found myself being prepared for a second surgery. It was a good day. Dr. Powell had a little challenge with the wire but she got it. Dr. Maxwell came in to see if I was ready and he asked if we were all prayed up. We said yes and then he asked if we all wanted to pray together before they took me back. Of course we did! After weeks of sharing our trust in God and all the prayers going up for us and for him … praying with him before surgery was so great! I’m thankful God connected us to a surgeon who prays! And I chose being referred to him from a picture and profile and God’s wisdom and peace! Only God!

Surgery went perfect! And I was home recovering quickly. But this surgery knocked me on my butt. I just couldn’t get my mojo back so I was home recuperating for 10 days and slowly got back to normal.

I followed up with Dr. Maxwell two weeks after surgery. I can’t begin to explain how wonderful it was to sit in his office and hear him tell me that the papilloma they removed was benign and that he got clean margins on the original DCIS area… he said they just took their time and got it done. Let me remind you that many time it takes multiple surgeries to get the margins and he was able to get them first time. God answered our prayers! Jim and I are more thankful than we can express for my surgeons excellent care, compassion and kindness! And God has been with me and in me and for me in every big and little thing. I am blessed and so very thankful!

He referred me to Dr. Nabhani for radiation therapy and to Dr. Exten to discuss adjuvant therapy. And he said I’m stuck with him as he would be directing my care and I will see him regularly. For someone who is use to going to see my 2 doctors one time each year this will be a kink in my style as I follow up with multiple doctors on a more consistent basis. Fun stuff! The positive is having exceptional doctors.

Dr. Nabhani was wonderful. He was a bit perplexed after going through my breast cancer journey at the size of the DCIS and all I had endured. He recommended 20 radiation treatments all directed to the area where the cancer was removed. I must say that this was difficult as I experienced medical fatigue that was more than I could have imagined. But through all of it God gave me rest and peace and good health. I only had one small area under my arm where my skin was affected. It was minimal and healed quickly. Again, God carried me.

After completing the radiation treatments I saw Dr. Exten, my medical oncologist to discuss adjuvant therapy. This therapy is to protect me from reoccurring breast cancer or new breast cancer by blocking the estrogen and progesterone that caused the DCIS.

My first step was a bone density test which came back with me having osteopenia. This begins an Xgrva injection every 6 months to protect my bones while on the adjuvant therapy. Next was a trip to the dentist to be cleared to start the therapy. Then the medication which has so many possible complications … of which I am thankful to report I’ve had none of other than some fatigue. I see Dr. Exten every 3 months. She is a wonderful and caring doctor.

I had another consult with Dr. Villalobos in October to discuss some reconstruction due to a lot is shrinkage from the radiation … I was just looking for some balance. I had no idea what I was going to go through!!! We scheduled the surgery for 12/20 and I was to be feeling well by the time the family came for Christmas which over New Years.

We had a trip scheduled to Israel in November leading a group of 31 from our church. All year I focused on being ready for this trip. I was ready and we had a wonderful trip! So thankful that God gave me health and strength.

We enjoyed Thanksgiving with our family and had so much to be thankful for and prepared for Christmas! December 20th came and I found myself being prepared for surgery again. Surgery went great but the recovery was much harder than anticipated. I had some wonderful people help me wrap and be ready for Christmas with my family. I was even able to attend our Christmas Eve service and participate in it by speaking alongside my husband.

We enjoyed Christmas with the family. I wasn’t 100% but we had a good time with everyone here. It was right after that when I just wasn’t feeling well. Before I knew it I was in the middle of an infection in full force. I was already on antibiotics and they were extended. The day I followed up with Dr. V and his face went gray and they sent me straight over to the surgery center … I knew I was in trouble. We were trusting God…

He flushed out the surgical sight and gave me stronger IV antibiotics. They also cultured the wound and found out the infection was a nasty one… probably hospital acquired and was antibiotic resistant. I went home on antibiotics and was to follow up with him in a week. He called a few days later and wanted to see me earlier. From that visit I was admitted to the hospital where I stayed for 6 days getting very strong IV antibiotics. Here I got to add another doctor to my growing list, Dr. Ezeki, an Infectious Disease Specialist. He is a godly man and a great doctor.

This was suppose to be a simple surgery to make things better and I was facing an infection that wasn’t going away and could threaten my life.

During my stay at the hospital the wound opened up hugely and was so gross and discouraging and scary. I had to find my faith legs again and choose joy when there didn’t seem to be a lot to be joyful about …

I went home on a wet to dry dressing twice each day with a cleanser and medication. I must say that through all of the ups and downs and health challenges my husband has been right there, my support and my rock. But he really lived the “for better, for worse; in sickness and health” part of our vows. He did all the dressing changes which protected me emotionally as I didn’t have to see the wound every day.

At my follow up with Dr. V he scheduled me for another surgery on February 14th to clean out the wound. What a way to spend Valentines Day! This would make 5 surgeries in less than a year. He was always so reassuring that it was all going to be good … He cultured the wound and the one infection had cleared but this time it showed MRSA so I went on a second antibiotic! The antibiotics were taking a toll on my body. After the cleaning of the wound he put on a wound vac which I’ve been on since 2/14 until last week … 3/30. The wound vac did miracles!

I started my second week without the wound vac on 4/6 seeing positive results. If all goes well this week there will be no more wound vac! It has done an amazing job of promoting new tissue growth and closure of the wound! Now my body is healing without it. I can’t believe this journey with the infection and the wound. All of last years challenges with the cancer were nothing compared with this wound and infection storm.

God’s provision has been amazing since I have been out of work since 12/19/19 other than a few hours the week I tried to go back and the infection set in. God has provided through the generosity of people and decisions I made 2 plus years ago and many miracles and answers to prayers.

Today I followed up with the infectious disease specialist who gave a wonderful report and released me from his care! No more infection! Thanking God!

My next step is a skin graft which due to the CoVID-19 pandemic it can’t be done right away. I am on the urgent list and looking at 2-3 weeks until that surgery can be done. For now I’m told to stay home and protect myself from the virus or any other infection.

I will continue to see all my doctors for follow ups … this along with tests and injections and my family doctor and gynecologist. My life will be medically busy for sure. And more sure is God’s presence and healing in my life.

This is one of the promises we have stood for on from day one of this journey and we still stand strong on it today.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name!

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not one of all His benefits—

He forgives every one of all my sins, He heals each one of all my diseases,

He redeems my life from the pit and corruption, He beautifies, dignifies, and crowns me with loving-kindness and tender mercy;

He satisfies my mouth, my necessity and desire at my personal age and situation with good so that my youth, renewed, is like the eagle’s – strong, overcoming, soaring!”

Psalm 103:1-5

What a journey this has been and continues to be … a journey of trust and joy.

Thank you to all who of you who has taken this journey with us through prayer, encouragement, visits, cards, food, flowers, gifts and so much more. You have been His hands and feet all over our lives.

Bless the Lord O my soul! Forever grateful. Forever changed. Choosing joy.

~Cheri💜🦋

(The picture is from my doctors visit Thursday … 😷)

#stillbecoming #itsaaprocess #mypassion #HeHealsAllMyDiseases #forevergrateful #foreverchanged #choosingjoy


Quarantined!

I guess a lot of us finally have time to sit and ponder a little. It’s funny how something (such as this current quarantine) that is meant to simply keep us healthy can actually be used not only for protection but for our benefit. I am convinced that many great ideas are squashed because we just don’t take time to sit and think – we’re ALWAYS busy.

And this week, it has occurred to me that quarantines and isolations are nothing new or strange. In fact, what really got me to thinking is the fact that this year, 2020, we cannot celebrate Resurrection Day and Passover as we have in yearstw before – we are quarantined.

We are quarantined much like the Hebrew people were just before they left Egypt. They were quarantined because God had instructed them to come together as individual households, to slaughter a lamb, to gather the shed blood of the lamb, to dip branches of hyssop in the blood, and to paint the lintels of their home. And they were in their homes – quarantined. They were there as a household, sheltered by the marks of the blood of the lamb. They were isolated from other households because God was calling them to this task – not as a nation – but as households, as family units, as peculiarly chosen people – because the Lord God Almighty had chosen to protect them – to keep them from death.

They were quarantined under the marks of the blood of the lamb because the angel of death was passing over their “foreign” land. That angel was bringing death upon the firstborn males of every household that was not marked by the blood. But that angel would not bring harm to the Hebrew peoples who were quarantined under the mark of the blood of the lamb.

This was the first Pesach (or Passover). It was a time of being quarantined. It was not fun. It was not interesting. It was, in fact, a time of difficulty in the midst of their hardship. BUT, as they were isolated as a household under the mark of the blood of the lamb, they were safe. They were protected. They were sheltered. And they were His – chosen by the Lord God Almighty.

Today, we face a different time – in a different situation – WITHOUT all the spiritual understanding and innuendo. We, too, are quarantined – called apart as individual households for the purpose of “flattening the curve” of danger, contagion, and contamination. Ours is not, perhaps, a spiritual venture wherein God separates His chosen people from all the rest. But perhaps, this is a time God has set us aside to think, to rest, to trust, to believe, and to demonstrate to others what obedience to the law of the land and faith in the Lord God Almighty can do for a person. Perhaps, it is filled with spiritual innuendo after all.

So, I encourage all of us today as you perhaps sit at home in quarantine. Please do not find this to be a strange thing. Please do not find it to be a burden. And please do not find in it an occasion to grovel and bemoan your existence. As a believer in Jesus Christ, perhaps you are being quarantined – isolated, if you will – so that you can think, rest, trust, believe, and demonstrate to others what obedience to the law of the land and faith in the Lord God Almighty can do for a person. And could it be that you and I are isolated as a household in faith — under the mark of the blood of THE Lamb. We are safe. We are protected. We are sheltered. And we are His – chosen by the Lord God Almighty.