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Faith, fiction and cancer stuff.


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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.

 

 

 

 

 


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I’m taking off my judgy pants

I seem to spend half my life trying not to offend people, and the other half exaggerating. I am growing tired of people-pleasing tbh (must be getting old.) So hopefully I will offend some people today, but in a good way. ☺

I believe that if a believer sees sin in another Christian, and they are in a good, trusting relationship  (and/or a leader) then they should be free to challenge (not condemn) their friend on it. So that is what I am attempting to do here. (Please don’t judge me too harshly if I get it wrong.) Note that it must be done out of true love and concern, out of wanting the best for that person; not out of a sense of ‘I am better than you and if you don’t live exactly like me in every way, then you are obviously wrong. And get a haircut for goodness sake.’

I know a small handful of people who do actually get this right, so it is possible.  It’s a gift like a rare gem, shiny and pointing to Jesus’ love for all of us.

Those who hear gossip about someone else and decide to put them in their place with self-righteous indignation, need not apply. Nor am I talking about a believer telling a non-Christian off for not being good enough. Seriously, read the gospel.

 

Sin is bad because it separates us from God, which is a terrible thing (for us, because God is our loving Father who made us to be in a loving relationship with him. He wants only the best for us and sin is the worst thing.) It leads to death (Romans 6:23). Also it hurts ourselves and often, other (innocent) people. So sin is bad. The Bible is really clear on what sin is  so I am not going to go into that too much.

 

The huge problem that I have noticed in the church, is that many are so focused on their sins, or, more often, other people’s sins that they are completely missing the picture on what salvation truly is and what the actual point of this life on Earth is. You are so busy watching for the roots that may trip us up, that you forget to look up to see the beautiful trees. You are so bent over, examining and judging the detail of how sinful other people are that you are in danger of tripping up and falling flat on your judgy-pants arse.

And yes, I have been guilty of this myself. If I have judged you I am so sorry.

Jesus gets angry a few times in the Bible. Mostly it is about religious people who pretend to be all holier than yow, when he and they well know that believers are no better than anyone else. Jesus died for us while we were still sinners. He didn’t die for us because we are clever or dress nicely or because we are somehow more deserving than the average non-Christian. He died for us because he loves us. While we were still sinners. (Romans 5:8).

So we have absolutely no right to go around thinking how sorted we are because we have faith. We have no right to sniff at the mistakes of others in a self-righteous and proud way, as though we have never done anything wrong in our lives.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. 

For many Christians, rather than  loving people like God tells you to, you are actually saying:

“Hi, welcome. This is the way to God. Oh sorry, how awkward,  you just aren’t good enough for Jesus like I am! Lol. Get lost.”

Instead of loving the lost like Jesus does, many of us are casting them out because of our judgementalism,  ego, and inability to truly love people who we are not comfortable with. No wonder people lose their faith, after constantly being told how useless they are and how much they have to change to fit in.

No wonder people are too afraid to go to a church service, worried about what believers will think of them. Or thinking that they are not good enough to be loved by God, because all they see of Christianity is rules.

No wonder many Christians are too scared to open up to their friends when they are struggling with their finances or marriage or kids, dreading that they will be judged and found wanting by other Christians. What they need is love and support and just some good old-fashioned kindness.

This life is not about sin, it’s about God and how much he loves us! Matthew 22:37-39 tells us that we are called to love God first, and others as much as ourselves. We are not called to appoint ourselves as judge and jury over all creation.

Sin is bad and we are told not to take God’s grace for granted, but:

If you inject heroin, God loves you.

If you are having an affair, God loves you.

If you eat too much and then make yourself sick, God loves you.

If you are a Christian who struggles with judgementalism,  God loves you.

Whoever you are and whatever you have done, God loves you more than you know.

 

I am not sorted either, but I am going to take my judgy pants off and endeavour to judge less and love more. I am even going to try not to judge the judgers, because that would make me a hypocrite.

I know I won’t get it right all the time, but that’s OK because God loves me more than I can get my head around, and will help me.

 

Lord, please help me to love others with your grace and compassion. Help me to see people with your eyes. Please help me to be slow to anger and quick to forgive. Amen.

 

 

Matthew 23

1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:2 ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practise what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them…

13 ‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

15 ‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.