Thursday, November 19, 2015

Cancer, infertility, & hope.

 Where to begin. I've felt like I needed to share more of my story for months now, but it's so hard to get the words out. It brings up so much hurt & emotion that I'm honestly tired of feeling (insert tears throughout). But here's my best try. Let me preface this post with saying the point is to share where God has brought me & my family through the last several months.

  How far we've come from my dad's diagnosis of stage 4 kidney cancer in Oct. 2012. How far we've come from my post a year ago when we had just gotten news of new spots. I just thought that was the hardest time of my life. Good thing we only see small pieces sometimes.

  Last February, mom & dad called all the kids into town for a 'family meeting' (most dreadfully anxious week ever). That's when we heard the words '6 months left'. Treatments weren't working & the cancer was growing rapidly. Of course we were devastated. All the hope of healing just left the room. We spent a wonderfully hard weekend together, followed by as many more as possible. Come May of this year, dad told us he only expected to have weeks left. So much for 6 months. Thankfully he got to be at home & had little pain along the way. It was so sweet but awful to have those last few weeks together. Watching my dad decline was inexpressibly hard, but there's no other place I would've been. On June 6th about 8 pm, we surrounded dad when he went to be with Jesus. The next several days are very surreal, but I remember being surprisingly strong & being able to keep it together in public somehow. Combination of shock & the Lord!
  Before describing how God's worked in my life the last couple of months, there's another huge piece of the puzzle I need to share:
  Tim & I have been trying to have a baby for 2 years now. After nine months of trying, we got pregnant, but miscarried early on in Sept. of last year. At the one year mark, we started seeing a specialist (whom I love if you're in need). Thankfully nothing showed up being wrong in the process of testing & blood work, but also no answers. Five months after, we were pregnant again in late April of this year. We had the joy of finding out while at the beach (last week I can remember being deep down happy), & most special the joy of telling our family. I am so blessed to have on video my dad's reaction. It is priceless to me. However, at 6 weeks, I miscarried again. Yes, this happened within a couple weeks before dad passing away (Did I mention I was teaching all this time too!?). There are no words for how hard that is. Since then, we've had more negative blood work, lots of waiting on my body to cooperate, etc, but still no treatment or answers. That's 8 months of nothing. We are hopeful for what treatment lies ahead and pray that we get to see God's plan for our family very soon. Infertility is a struggle that hurts deep down every day, but clearly we are not in control, so it comes down to whether I'm going to trust God.

  My first reaction to losing dad & my 2 babies was anger. I was mad at God & thus didn't talk to Him for quite awhile (just now getting there, honestly). I will never understand why God's plan had to include taking my loving, faithful, godly Daddy. I will never understand why my dad couldn't meet my children (baby #1 would've been due before dad passed away). For weeks into months I really struggled with the Lord. As soon as I felt some improvement, another huge wave of grief would come. It wasn't until about October (like a month ago) that I felt like I could breathe again. One of the biggest factors in my growth was an infertility & loss Bible study I did Aug-Oct (glad to share more if interested). God knew He had to grow me slowly & patiently. Life is still pretty hard to live day to day sometimes, but I can start to feel hope. That brings me to the main point of my post (about time, right? Got that from dad ;) ).

   I apologize for the long, heaviness of this post thus far, but I needed to share where I've been in order to truly show how very far God has brought me. Through my Bible study/worship songs, constant encouragement from family & friends, & my biggest support, Tim, the Lord has been slowly working in my heart. It has taken weeks and weeks of ups & downs & baby steps, but I am making progress. This is not because of my strength whatsoever, but because God hasn't given up on me. When it was hard to see Him as loving, I was reminded of His greatness instead. Thankfully He takes us where we're at. And now I can start to see that His plan is infinitely bigger than just me and my circumstances. Wrapping my mind around that is hard, but I have to be content (hard word) in letting Him take control.

  The goal of this post came largely from my dad's service. It was the most personal, uplifting, & impactful service ever (I'd love to share more on that if interested). The entire service was laid out by my mom & dad, which made it easy to see dad's faith throughout. I cannot explain the steady peace & faith that dad had facing his last days. He was confident in meeting the Lord. Dad wanted his service to be all about leading people to God. The biggest take away from dad's service was how he wished he'd been more bold in telling others. That has haunted me ever since. That is why I am writing this extremely long post.

  I can't possibly leave out my mom here. Through the years of taking great care of dad, to facing what was to come, to losing the love of her life, my mom has been faithful. She is an amazing women, who couldn't possibly be strong all the time, but constantly chooses to show God amidst her hardest days. She is my biggest example of someone whose life is given to the Lord. I love you, mom!

  Here's what it ultimately comes down to: I desperately want my dad's life, my life, & your life to mean something. I want to bring God glory. That has taken me a long time to be able to say. And I still struggle nearly every day to choose joy over sadness. But slowly the Lord is showing me His faithfulness. Even at our darkest times, He has never left. He doesn't promise answers, but He does promise to never leave us. I choose to trust (most days) that He is bigger & knows the entire plan. The only possible reason for my family's hard times is to show other people who God is and how he loves them. I pray that you see that through my story. I fail often to be bold in my faith or simply to praise God, but I know He can use my weakness for His glory. I would love to tell you more about God through my story, but I think that's enough for one day! ;) Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading.




Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Lost in the Waiting

  Waiting is hard. And long. And often drags along with little to report (thus the 6 months since blogging).  But sometimes answers are even harder.

   Here we are over two years after dad's diagnosis of stage 4 kidney cancer. It's been a long road with many turns and the hardest part- an unknown destination. The last 6 months has been mostly steady. Dad's targeted therapy medication has been working for over a year. It's been easier hearing good news. And less of a weight on my heart as things were going well. However, I've still found it hard to completely praise the Lord knowing the journey's not over. I know I should (and have wanted to) fully give God the glory for each positive step, but it's hard. I like knowing the plan and being in control of it. This is far from that. Waiting is one of the hardest things in life I think. It's unknown, confusing, & scary. Sometimes you get answers you want to hear. Sometimes you don't.

   That brings me to where we are now. A week ago dad got scans done that showed new spots in his abdomen. The other places are still stable, but these spots are brand new. Thus, the cancer has become smarter than the meds. Scary. More decisions, treatments & specialists to come. More unknown. Harder to praise The Lord.

   I want to deal with this differently than just anyone. I want to be joyful and have faith that no matter what, God is good and I can trust His plan. 'Want' is the key word. I've always wanted to rely on God. The 'how 'part is where I fall short. How do you become ok with having someone you love in such a bad place? How can you say it will be ok no matter the outcome? The answer I constantly have to tell myself: God is bigger. His plan goes way beyond me and my emotions. And if I live my life through Him, I might show someone else how to follow God too. I hope.

  We may or may not get our big 'Praise The Lord!' moment of healing.  Either way, I pray more often than not my life will show praise even if my mouth has trouble forming the words.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Helpful Tips for Hard Times

Dad's diagnosed with stage 4 cancer...{Or insert your current struggle} Now what?

 Here are 3 things that have truly helped me find hope while dealing with dad's sickness. I am writing in hopes that someone else will find joy through these as well.

Note: Most of the below subject matter has to do with God working in my life. If this turns you off, I hope you won't give up on reading it quite yet. I can't imagine going through hard times without my faith. So, if you aren't a 'religious' person or don't feel close to God, start where you are. Just see if a little prayer or Bible verse brings some hope. It can't hurt! I'd be glad to pray for you too! ;)

1. Almost immediately after dad was diagnosed, mom told me to read Psalms. So, I started a 150 chapter journey! I decided to circle any verse that meant something to me in my Bible. I also underlined a lot. In addition, I wrote down all the verses that applied to my life on small little white paper squares. After I started, I just felt the need to complete the project. I think I wrote about 200+ little white notes full of Psalms over the next 6 months or so. It was especially neat how God worked it out that the chapters I read went right along with my emotions. When I was down, the verses always seemed to be about God as my refuge and strength. After good news, I'd be reading about praising the Lord for His faithfulness. After awhile I found myself with dozens of little papers on my nightstand. So, one night I posted the verses all over my parents house. Most of them are there to this day. Not sure if it was more for me or them, but either way those little verses have been a big blessing. Why stop there? I posted them in my house. I gave some to both my sisters. I gave some to a friend who I felt needed them. And then another friend. By the end of Psalms I had given nearly all my notes to anyone I felt could use encouragement. I hope it helped them, but I know it has helped me. It gave me a positive and hopeful task to focus on. And writing helps me remember, so I took each verse to heart much more than if I'd just read them. Even now they are a daily reminder that God has given just the words I need at the moment I need them.

2. A second very helpful item has been the book "Red Sea Rules" by Robert Morgan, also suggested by mom (smart woman!). Soon after finding the cancer, mom gave me this book with a special note inside encouraging me that "the God who leads you into the storm, will also lead you out." Well after reading the chapter titles "God means for you to be where you are" and "Be more concerned about His glory than your relief", I promptly put that book down.  I didn't want to hear that God put us in this situation- my heart wasn't open for a long time. Thus, the little red book sat on my nightstand for a good 8-9 months before I was willing to pick it up again. Luckily, I did start to read it. And it was just what I needed. It allowed me to start opening my heart to God's plan- even if it wasn't what I wanted. Each chapter had exactly what I didn't want to hear, but needed so deeply. I am so thankful mom gave it to me- it has greatly impacted my outlook. Because it had been so great for me, I felt the need to share it. So, I got about 3 more copies and gave them to friends who God put on my heart. Well that wasn't enough- so I got about 5 more. I only have 1 left (& will probably need more copies soon!) because I keep feeling the need to give them out. I pray that God has used this little book to impact someone else like it did me.

3. The third thing that has helped me tremendously...people. Family. Friends. Co-workers. Even acquaintances. Anyone and everyone who has prayed and asked how things are going. If you ever question whether to bring up a tough topic, go for it. As long as someone has shared what's going on in their life, asking for updates is a blessing. It lets them know you are thinking of them- just be ready for a bit of emotion in the answer. ;) But, that's needed at times and better than avoiding the topic which can seem as though you haven't given it any thought. I am very grateful to have had so many people ask how dad is doing. Or even specifically how I am doing! Thank you to all of you who have made a point to encourage me and my family and really pray for us. Even when I had a hard time coming up with the words to pray, I knew we had countless people praying on our behalf. Keep it up- it works!

  Those are just 3 things that have made a big difference in how I've dealt with my family's circumstances. We're still walking this journey God has chosen for us (still not easy, but my heart's getting there..) and are thrilled at the progress dad has made so far (see previous post). Praise the Lord for His healing and prayers for faith no matter what lies ahead!


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Stage 4 Kidney Cancer

 The last year and a half has been the hardest time of my once uneventful life.

  On October 29th, 2012, I sat in my dining room with my family and listened as my dad told us he had kidney cancer. Small cell renal carcinoma- which had spread to multiple parts of his body, thus making it stage 4. I remember tearing up but being too stunned to cry. I kept thinking it wasn't real. My life had always been easy. I grew up in a wonderful loving, Christian home and hadn't gone through a single gut wrenching event in my life...until then. My first response was a million questions. One of the hard parts about cancer is that there aren't a lot of answers. I had a good cry within a day or so thinking about the horrible possibilities ahead of us. I went through moments of great hope and faith and moments of anger and just not understanding why. It was the beginning of quite a long road.

   From there it was decided that dad needed surgery to remove the left kidney, the source of the cancer. O Nov. 29th, we spend an anxious day of waiting, but thankfully all went well in that surgery. After recovery and radiation, the doctors said dad needed a second surgery to remove a mass from his spine and to rebuild the surrounding area. So on February 19th we gathered again for another scary day with a longer surgery ending in the ICU for the night. Having never had a loved one go through major surgery, seeing my dad all hooked up, pale, and under anesthesia was hard- both times. However, the surgeon was very pleased again and after several weeks of recovery, dad was mostly back to himself. All was going well, but the long road had really just begun.

    After further scans and appointments (which feel like they take forever to get results from!), the doctors decided chemo was the next step. I have yet to mention how skinny my dad started out being...and by now he weighed less than me! Appetite, immune system, and digestion were all big concerns as well. Without a functioning body, you can't respond well to harsh treatments like chemo. My parents found a great naturalistic doctor to partner with in these areas. Chemo began in late spring. The lower dosage dad was given luckily kept him from feeling very sick. After 12 weeks of chemo and weeks of more appointments and scans, the results were not what we wanted. The cancer (now small spots in the liver, lungs, and pelvic muscle wall) had grown. Up to this point it was definitely scary, but it had been headed in the right direction. Personally, I was pretty upset and just frustrated at not knowing what to do next so this didn't happen again. This was a low point for me.

    Next, dad was put on a different pill called 'targeted therapy', which is essentially a new medicine similar to chemo that targets only the cancer cells instead of harming all of the cells it encounters. Another 12-14 weeks of waiting and praying that this would work passed. As the next scans approached I worried a lot about what we'd see. I tried not to be pessimistic, but it was hard. I don't like not knowing and not being in control. ;) Results were in...and the spots had SHRUNK!! Praise the Lord! We were overjoyed! Since last fall dad has been on this same targeted therapy med. We got another round of results in May (again, ball of nerves!), which showed less progress, but even the word 'stable' is a praise! 
    The current status of my dad is that he is feeling well and will continue on this same pill for  several months to come. Thankfully it is an long term option if needed. I am still a mix of emotions. I am thrilled that my dad's body is fighting this cancer and that over 90% of the original masses are gone! However, I do wish we were at the end of this battle. It's hard not knowing when the end will be and what that will look like. We pray daily for complete healing, but ultimately we are not in control.

(If you don't want to read through my long-windedness, start here!)

   You might be asking why I am just now writing this. A few reasons. At first I wasn't ready for the world to know what my family was going through. It seemed too heavy to put out there I guess. Then after months passed, I felt like I couldn't start in the middle of his journey, so I just didn't tell everyone. So what changed now? Me.
   A wise co-worker of mine told me bluntly, "Your dad has cancer so you can share Christ and change lives." Wow- I wasn't doing that very well. My closest confidants are mostly believers. So how was I sharing my story beyond that? I had thought that social media was too surface level for my story. However, I was wrong. It is a tool that I am praying God uses to show how He has worked in my life.

   I am sad to say I haven't praised the Lord throughout this entire journey. And yes, it is easier to say I'm praising God now that we are in a good place. But, I am praying with all my heart that if this story doesn't end like I want it to, I will still praise God. I have grown a lot this last year and a half. I have learned so much about my God & that His plan for me is perfect. All that He does is for His glory. So if just 1 person is changed because of me or my family, then it's a success.

   Unlike me, my mom and dad have had this viewpoint from day one. I always knew I had great parents, but now I can say I have the most amazing parents who's whole life is given to Christ. Seeing them walk this road with complete faith, peace, joy, and confidence in whatever may come has been such an example to me. They are changing lives because of their story. I just hope to do the same. I pray that this story has done just that for someone. I won't pretend to be good at sharing my faith. It's uncomfortable and scary and could hurt feelings. But I am trying! That is the #1 reason for my blog.

If you don't know my God, I would love to tell you more. May my life bring Him glory!


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Welcome to Home Sweet Hare!
  My idea of home sweet home: A little bit of home renovation. A little bit of refinishing furniture. A little bit of Pinterest projects. A little bit of teaching. A good bit of family. A good bit of friends. And a lot of Christ. I hope you'll follow me as I write about life at the Hare house!

PS~ Stay tuned for the next post with the story that led me to start blogging.