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Faith, fiction and cancer stuff.


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Inbetweeny

I haven’t written a blog post in ages, so I think it’s time for one.

Many of my blogs have been about trusting God in the really difficult times, or being thankful for the good things.

I don’t remember having written many inbetweeny posts. For those without access to a dictionary, inbetweeny is where things aren’t great and things aren’t horrendous. They are just inbetweeny. I guess that for most of us, with the notable exception of Calamity James, a large percentage of us spend most of our lives in this zone.

So, you may not know that I have been some some health problems for the last few months. I do not believe that they are in any way related to my cancer history, but it has still been unpleasant and draining.

Recently I had some investigations, which included biopsies. The nurse said that one of them was not routine. When you hear those words, some small alarm bells are set off.

I want to say that I am not anxious about this, at least 99% of the time. Having cancer has taught me to give over all this sort of stuff to God, and sharpish. I have learned that I can trust him, no matter how bleak the circumstances. So the last thing that I need to hear from anyone is ‘Be anxious for nothing.’ Thanks dude, but I learned that one the hard way and I don’t need your well-intentioned judging.

That said, show me someone who says that they never get worried about anything, and I’ll show you a liar.

And that’s what I mean by inbetweeny, because of course that’s normal. And it’s in the normal, the job stuff and health concerns and fun weekends and family times and business of life that we really need to learn to put God first. There aren’t many athiests on a lifeboat, and most of us are happy to thank God when life is awesome, but those times are just the bookends.

There are a whole lot of unreported stories, times that we may not photograph or share on Facebook, where we still, as Christians, need to learn to put God first. I’m good at trusting him with the big things, but I need to hand over all the small stuff to him too.

So that’s where I am at the moment: inbetweeny and learning to trust God with the everyday. And whenever I make the effort to focus on him, there he is with me, just like when I woke up after my operation nearly two years ago. Right in the room with us, where he always is even if we don’t notice.

 

 


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My letter to cancer

One year ago today I had a double mastectomy and lymph node removal on my left-side. My breast cancer was diagnosed as stage 3, and caught just before it spread to the rest of my body.
I saw that the charity Breast Cancer Now is asking people today to write a letter to cancer. I believe that it’s to raise awareness of secondary (metastatic) breast cancer, which thankfully I do not have, but still thought that I would join in.
Dear breast cancer
Note that you are not in capitals, because you are not worthy of being a proper noun.
I know that you are not a person and that actually you left me some time last year. I’m not sure when exactly that was. One year ago, perhaps,  after my surgery?
Or possibly summer last year when I cast you out of my body, in Jesus name, and the two large lumps in my left breast where you lived, suddenly vanished as I prayed. (My oncologist confirmed that they had gone 2 days later so I know it wasn’t my imagination. ) Either way, you have gone my unwelcome visitor.
You came to me around my 33rd birthday last year. I wasn’t entirely surprised when I got the diagnosis in April, because I had a little voice in my head for up to six months before I found you, saying that I should put my spare change in every Macmillan and Breast Cancer Now charity pot that I saw (which was several over those few months) because I would need those charities’ support one day. And yet. Your arrival was a shock.
You took from me my health, my hair, my breasts, my fertility, my ability to go to work and pop to the shops and meet up with Mummy friends and just take my kids somewhere fun; at least for a few months.
You no doubt caused my husband Mike and my kids and parents and brother and sister and wider family and friends, a whole lot of heartache that was hidden from me.
You shrank my life for a while. You kept me away from many friends.
You made me really confront the high possibility of my imminent death, in a very real way. I had to have conversations with my husband about how I wanted the kids to be raised after I had gone (actually he already knew and I knew that I could trust him with that anyway.) You encouraged me to write letters to my son and daughter, telling them how much I will always love them and that I will see them again in Heaven one day.
You caused me pain and sometimes fear. You changed my life and I can never go back to the healthy young person that I used to be.
But you did not take everything.
No, in fact you (unintentionally) gave me many unexpected gifts.
By forcing me to face the facts of this short life that we are all given, you helped me to see what’s really important.
You helped me to see how happy and content I really am, and how wonderful my family, friends and church are.
You made my marriage stronger, my motherhood more valued and precious, and my friendships kinder.
You helped me to appreciate the little joys in life, like sunshine and autumn leaves and rides at the back of the bus with my children, giggling and waving at other drivers . Even doing the washing!
You helped me to focus on God and his love for me, no matter what the circumstances. Because of you I have an even stronger faith.
You increased my self-confidence because if I faced cancer then I can face anything.  No longer will I be too shy to speak my mind when  someone is causing others pain or trouble.  If I stood up to cancer then I can stand up to annoying gits.
You increased my empathy for others because I know how incredibly difficult being ill or disabled can be. How isolating it can feel.
You wanted to take away my peace, but you increased it.
You hoped to dash my faith and tear me away from a close Father-daughter relationship with God, but you only drove me closer to him.
You helped me to see life for what it really is: short and painful, but amazingly beautiful and full of hope.
So cancer,  I just want to say,
You are nasty and cruel and you take too many lovely people away too early and I hope that they continue to find ways to get rid of you faster and easier.
But you can’t break me and you cannot steal my faith, hope or joy. You lose.
Insincerely,

 

Alex


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Surgery

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Before you go in for surgery, you have to remove most of the things that you hide behind: make-up, skin cream, deodorant, lip gloss, jewellery, nail varnish. Even most of your clothes: instead you get to wear a huge trendy NHS gown that opens at the back, and some ultra-tight green anti-DVT socks.

 

It’s a weird feeling because it makes you feel quite exposed; and I’m not a high-maintenance person who wears nail varnish or loads of make-up.

 

It makes me think of how God sees us: not as surgery patients but without all the stuff that we hide behind. We all show a certain face to other people; that may be businessperson, earth mother, geek or socialite. We may want others to see us a certain way. We show only our good sides and try to hide our faults. But God sees us for who we really are. He knows all about our past and he sees our every thought. We can’t fool him.

 

And that’s ok. He made us, after all. And he loves us no matter what we’ve done or who we are.

 

As I went into surgery yesterday, I felt completely at peace. Firstly, because I trust my surgical team; but mostly because I trust God. That doesn’t mean that I never get worried about anything, in fact I can get anxious over even small things. But I do try to remind myself that God is always in control, no matter how bleak the circumstances.

 

He has a good plan for my life. Events like surgery, trying to conceive and childbirth, remind me that really we have very little control over our lives. Yes we can make decisions, and there will be consequences, but actually we do not control our destiny when it comes to life and death. Sometimes our health will let us down; sometimes our friends and family will let us down; sometimes we will disappoint ourselves. Yet God is there with us, every step of the way.

 

 

My surgery went well and I feel surprisingly good. Hopefully I won’t need a major operation for a few years, although there are risks (like leakage) with implants. I am going to be discharged to go home soon. ☺ I won’t be able to vacuum or lift a laundry basket for a few weeks though, which is a shame.

 

Thanks to everyone for their thoughts, prayers and messages. Thanks to Mike for being the best husband, and to our parents for babysitting and all your help. And thank you to my doctors and nurses, and the caterers and cleaner too. They work so hard and are always friendly. I am so grateful to them all.

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In the mirror

I had a dream last night that I have had before, years ago.

I was looking at myself, feeling disappointed in what I looked like.Then I looked into a mirror and realised that in reality, I actually looked completely different. Almost unrecognisable as the same person.

I knew that the mirror was showing the truth, who I really was. My perception of myself had been wrong. It was only when I looked into the mirror that I realised I had been seeing lies. I had believed the lies until confronted with the undeniable reality.

I believe that there is someone who will read this who has been listening to lies about themself.  Maybe others have been telling you lies,  or perhaps you have listened to the untruth in your own head for too long.

I just want to say that the truth will set you free. Stop listening to the fiction,  and see the reality of who you are.

 

John 8:31-32

He said to the Jews who believed,”If you keep and obey my Word, then you are my followers for sure. You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”

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The gate

 

 

I didn’t want to get up this morning. I was tired and my brain fuzzy, in the increasingly familiar hay fever way.

As I waited for the bath to run, I read a bit from the Bible, like normal. Today it was John 10.

Jesus says:

I am the gate; all who enter through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

(John 10: 9-10)

Instantly my head felt clear and alert. I suddenly could understand much more clearly what Jesus is saying to us; not just intellectually,  but spiritually too.

Jesus’ plan for us is to have life,  and life to the full. The enemy (thief) wants to steal, kill or destroy that life which God has given us. There is a battle for our hearts, minds, bodies and spirits.

If we allow illness, bad relationships, past pain or fear to rule our lives then we are allowing some victory to the enemy; who, let’s be clear, is not a cute cartoon devil who pokes people with his trident, as our culture would have us believe.

 

I had cancer last year. I had chemo, surgery and then radiotherapy. Thanks to God and the medical profession, it is gone. It is my past. Yes, it has changed me physically, shaped my story and its after-effects will be felt for some time; but it does not have a hold over me. I will not let cancer dictate my future.

I have come to realise that many people who have had cancer and are now better, can struggle with a terrible fear of the cancer returning. Logically, this does make sense, because sometimes cancers do return. So I  sympathise with them, because it is a horrible, life-altering or destroying disease.

But for myself, there is no fear of this cancer, or any other cancer. That does not mean that I am going to take up smoking or sunbeds, because of course we should all live reasonably healthily. But, the best explanation that I can think of for this is that God has set me free from fear of cancer. I know that he does not want me to live a fearful life, one where I worry about big or small bad things happening to me. I know this because he tells us not to be anxious so many times in the Bible. And because he loves me.

Someone at church told me that the enemy tried to destroy me with cancer, but he failed. God has the victory. Yes, this makes sense. God has a plan for my life, and he wanted me to win this battle. He knew that I would. I trusted him to fight it with me.

Jesus came to give me life to the full, so I am going to enjoy it.

He never promised us an easy life, far from it. He is the good Shepherd though, and he chose to lay down his life for us. To believers he speaks freedom not just from illness, but from the fear of illness. Freedom from the past, as well as from the mental or spiritual hold that past pain can hold over us. Claim that freedom, it’s a gift.

(Note: I know that one day I will die of something. But that is also OK,  because I know where I am going.)

 

John 8:36

So if the Son sets you free you, will be free indeed.