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Sharing Sister to Sister
THE LORD WILL FULFILL HIS PURPOSE FOR ME; YOUR LOVE, O LORD, ENDURES FOREVER -- DO NOT ABANDON THE WORKS OF YOUR HANDS.
-- Psalm 138:8
IF ONLY MY WORDS WERE WRITTEN IN A BOOK -- BETTER YET, CHISELED IN STONE!
-- Job 19:23-24 MSG
I'LL WRITE THE BOOK ON YOUR RIGHTEOUSNESS, TALK UP YOUR SALVATION THE LIVELONG DAY, NEVER RUN OUT OF GOOD THINGS TO WRITE OR SAY.
-- Psalm 71:15 MSG
Surviving for a Purpose
"Hi, my name is Janet Thompson. I am a breast cancer survivor."
Doesn't that sound like a recovery-meeting introduction? Many words associated with breast cancer trouble me. The worst offender is the word survivor. Survivor has become a household term from reality TV programs in which only the toughest, smartest, bravest, and most popular contestants survive the elements and win. To me, this is an unappealing concept. In heaven, the Lord says, the first will be last and the last will be first...and the sick will be well.
The branding breast cancer survivor created an internal struggle for me. My surviving insinuated others didn't -- that made me sad. Having to survive in order to live -- that made me mad. Maybe I wouldn't survive -- that made me apprehensive. Stating I "survived" implies a hardstruggle -- that scared me. Survivor just didn't seem to fit me. I cringed every time someone used the word, especially when everyone felt the need to tell me stories of women who died from breast cancer, then ending with the one who survived. It was like fingernails on a chalkboard.
As I was settling in to write this book, the following press-release e-mail flashed across my computer screen: HOWARD SIGNS SADDLEBACK LEADER. Howard Publishing signed Saddleback Church (Lake Forest, CA) women's leader Janet Thompson for a book that encourages women battling breast cancer. Thompson, a breast cancer survivor, has an extensive national speaking ministry. There it was for the entire world to see -- I am a "breast cancer survivor." Like it or not, it is a fact; so I had better get used to it. I would love to tell you that happened and I now freely use the word survivor. Not the case. I continuously seek a new term to describe the ordeal because I'm more than just a "survivor"; I'm also a "winner"! You see, there is a spiritual battle going on around us -- a battle for our souls, our hearts, and our minds -- and God does not want us merely to survive this battle. He assures us that with His help we will be victorious. Wounded but not defeated. Not just surviving, implying we barely made it, but energized by running the race, staying the course, and fighting the good fight. Somehow, some way, we will be better women because of this experience.
I don't feel I just survived; rather, I believe God had a purpose and a plan in my breast cancer. He wanted my heart to break for every woman going through this. He intended for me to write this book and speak freely so others also might find purpose in their breast cancer.
It took me month s to write the first words of this book. I wanted so badly for you to have it in your hands, but every time I thought about putting my journey into words, it seemed too painful. Finally, I cried out to God to release what was holding me back and discovered that freeing power came when I wrote through the pain and despite the pain. Tears and sadness consumed me as I penned the first pages to you. But I broke through the wall as I poured out my thoughts and heart to the Lord and to you, and before long I wasn't crying anymore...well, most of the time.
This book is for you, my breast cancer sister. While I may not know you by name, I know you by heart. I understand your feelings and pain, and I want to walk beside you as only a friend who has been there can. Dear God, They Say It's Cancer is the book I longed for during my own breast cancer journey. Its purpose is to be a mentoring tool, a comfort, a companion, a journal, a record keeper, a devotional, and a source of information for you. It provides a place for you to take notes and store some of the pieces of paper you receive at doctors appointments along with treasured keepsakes. I trust it also will be an oasis of solace and comfort from the Lord's Word. My prayer is to mentor you from others' and my experiences and to wrap you in God's love.
Writing to you today, in early November, I have not yet reached my one-year surgery anniversary. This time last year, I was in limbo between finding out the biopsy was positive and waiting for the surgery date. There is no way to know in those countdown days how your life is about to change. You live in a continual state of shock. The world keeps going around, but yours has stopped. You desperately want to relive the day before you felt the lump or had the mammogram or the doctor said he thought he felt something in your breast. You pray, "Lord, could You just turn back the clock so I can replay those days and have them turn out differently?"
However, the minutes and days keep ticking by, the surgery date looms on your calendar, and you wonder what to do. Do I live life as normal? How do I prepare? It doesn't really hurt or look that bad. Do I really need to do this? Maybe it will just go away. I'll wake up relieved that it was just a bad dream.
Awakened from your thoughts by calls from the doctor's office, you are not sure which way to turn. Should you check out more information on the Web? Read more books? Talk to people? Who should you tell? How will they react? How and when do you tell your children? What about your job? What about your hair? What about your husband? You feel your life spinning out of control, filled with overwhelming decisions and public conversations about parts of your body you thought good girls kept private. Now everyone wants to take pictures, poke, and look at your breasts. Overnight, you have gone from modest to what feels like an exhibitionist!
My purpose in writing Dear God, They Say It's Cancer is to help you and me be more than women who do or do not "survive" breast cancer, but, instead, women who seek and find God's purpose in it. God never wastes a hurt. Nothing happens by accident in a believer's life. For each of us, God's plan and purpose will be different. I know my purpose is to share my God-given passion to raise the awareness of prevention and early detection of breast cancer, as well as help those on the breast cancer journey live a quality life in the secure arms of the Lord.
Where to Begin?
Dear God, They Say It's Cancer will be relevant wherever you are in your breast cancer or faith journey. This is your book to use in whatever way serves you best. There is no right or wrong way. The book starts at the beginning of your breast cancer journey and progresses through decisions, treatments, emotions, things to remember, things to forget, and tools to assist. Along the way it explores a gambit of feelings and circumstances we all share on this journey.
If newly diagnosed, you can start right from the beginning and journal as you go along, or you might choose to go to the topic touching your life that day. For those of you in the middle or maybe even several years past your breast cancer treatment, let this book be the means to work through any lingering feelings of grief, sorrow, hurt, and brokenness, as well as to remember joys and blessing. Each chapter has the following subsections:
The Topic Title -- A quote from the Lord and/or a breast cancer sister.
Dear God -- My letter to God. A window into my breast cancer story.
A Sister Shares -- A fellow breast cancer sister shares her story.
Mentoring Moment -- Lessons learned, helpful tips, encouragement.
God's Love Letter to You -- Paraphrased scriptures to personalize.
Let's Pray -- Praying through a scripture or praying with me.
Your Letter to God -- Each chapter ends with encouraging prompts to help you journal your own breast cancer story.
The journal section, "Your Letter to God," is one of my favorite parts of this book. It is an opportunity to record a major event in your life. If this is your first experience journaling, what a great time to start! Healing often happens when we talk about it -- or write about it. Please don't be afraid or apprehensive. Journaling is simply writing down and documenting your feelings. Think of it as writing a letter to God. Not everyone understands how you feel, but God always understands, and He is eager to hear from you. No matter what faith you are or are not, you matter to God. God will fill the pages, nudging you toward helpful things to put down on paper. Maybe He will help you remember a good time to laugh about or a different way of looking at a person who said something hurtful with out even knowing it. I suggest you pray before journaling and then let your pen flow freely. Some days you will write pages; other days you won't feel like writing more than a sentence. Here's what three breast cancer sisters said about journaling:
Once you start writing, it all comes back to you. I could go on and on! This book is exactly what all of us survivors need to document this miserable journey and to remember God's faithfulness and lessons learned.
-- Darlene Gee
I kept a journal of my feelings and the things for which I was grateful.
-- Nancy Tuttle
Every day I wrote something -- how I was feeling, things family and friends helped with , especially God's special blessings. It is important to journal because you can go back and read how faithful God was and still is!
-- Linda Taylor
One of my visions for Dear God, They Say It's Cancer is that it be a safe place to document an epic time in your life. Take this book with you to doctor appointments, tests, scans, mammograms, radiation, chemotherapy, the hospital, and wherever the twists and turns of your cancer journey take you. with your book in hand, you can...
You may need more than the space provided for journaling. If you feel up to a shopping trip, visit a stationery store and pick out a journal that reflects your personality. You may want it to be quite feminine and pink, which is the breast cancer color, or perhaps you prefer something more utilitarian. A spiral-bound notebook works fine too. If a trip to the store is not possible, ask someone to pick up a journal for you. Often, people want to get you something, and I have found you can never have too many journals.
Your journal will be personal. Don't feel you have to share it with anyone; however, as God did with me, He might give you the opportunity to mentor others with the wisdom and encouragement that comes from putting your thoughts into words. I am going to let you read my journal. I wish there had been a book like this to journal in while I was going through my breast cancer treatment. I grabbed whatever was available at the time. Unfortunately, my journey is scattered between Realtor notepads, scraps of paper in my purse, or whatever was handy by my bedside. I longed for a book to record everything in one place. For an organized person, breast cancer definitely caught me unprepared to make sense out of a confusing period.
My "Dear God" letters in this book are a compilation of reflections from those scattered notes, as well as current feelings. If you acquired this book after treatment, you may wish to follow my format in looking back at experiences combined with what you are currently encountering. I think you will agree that even after the intense treatment slows down, breast cancer always will be a part of your life. Hearing women speak in terms of how long they have been cancer free assures me breast cancer is now a permanent component of my persona.
Breast cancer sisters have confided in me that if they didn't journal during their journey, they now regret it. They long for a record of this life-impacting event to leave a legacy for future generations. During the heat of the battle with the daily barrage of decisions and assaults to your body, you often don't feel like doing or thinking anything. However, when the crisis subsides, you will wish you had written things down.
If you are in the group of women now looking back at the breast cancer journey, it's not too late. This book is for you too. While often writing my "Dear God" in the present, I am actually reflecting back from notes made along the way and from memory. You may be saying to yourself, "Memory? What memory? Between radiation, chemotherapy, Tamoxifen, or some other drug, my memory is shot." I thought the same thing, but when I took pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, God brought it all back to me, and I'm confident He will for you too!
If you are just beginning the journey and don't feel like journaling right now, just make notes in the lines provided in the margins and come back to it later. If you are in the midst of your journey, some of your entries will be in the present, and other times you will write in the past tense.
Don't worry about grammar or spelling or sounding articulate. Remember, this is your book, and there is no right or wrong way to use it. By the way, the note-taking area in the margins is for you to use however you choose. You may want to write down what you are feeling as you read that page or note something you want to remember. This area gives you an opportunity to interact with the material you are reading.
I share parts of Nancy Tuttle's story in this book. Nancy's son, Randall Niles, who accepted Christ during his mom's breast cancer, found all her journals after she went to be with the Lord, and it changed his life. He says:
One of the last messages Mom received from God was "to write." Although she never fully understood God's purpose for this calling, she accepted the challenge with a servant's heart. As her healThdeclined, she was increasingly frustrated with her inability to focus. She was discouraged that her lack of physical strengThprevented her from accomplishing God's work.
About one month after her death, God revealed to me that His calling for my mother was not yet complete. Through a series of visits and letters from Christian friends who knew and loved her, God hit my heart with the fact that I was part of this calling! As a prodigal son, I was integral to God's purpose for Mom's life! Filled with conviction, I returned to her desk, computer, files, and bookshelves in order to discover the full impact of God's mission for us -- as a Christian mother and prodigal son. I was stunned to find a wealThof material she had been inspired to write over the years. Letters, journals, testimonies, essays, church devotionals, Bible study notes -- they were fantastic, rich with insight and heart. In tears, I collected my mother's works and spent that weekend reading. In prayer, I humbly realized that I was a prodigal son saved by God's patient grace. Through my mother's words, I saw that my relationship with Jesus was the ultimate hope and purpose for her life of fervent prayer.
Maybe you are thinking, I don't want anyone reading what I write. That's OK too. No one has to read it but you. Make that clear to your family and friends and even put it in writing! Whether you have journaled regularly for years or this is your first time, let me assure you there is freedom and healing in expressing your thoughts and feelings in writing.
The best part about journaling is that God is ready to receive our words with a faithful, listening ear. He can take it all: the good, the bad, and the ugly. He beckons, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30). We can't refuse that offer.
Annually, I disciple a small group of women. Journaling prayers to the Lord is the first spiritual habit I introduce to them. You should hear the rumble around the table: "That doesn't seem natural." "I don't like to write. I just want to talk to God." "This is going to be hard." "Why do we have to do this when He can read our mind?" "I won't have the time!" Maybe these are some of your thoughts too.
After the protests fizzle down, I ask, "Does your mind ever wander when praying?" The unanimous answer is, "Always." Wandering minds are corralled when we journal. Then I probe deeper. "How often do you mean to pray, but the time just slips away?" Knowing looks and nodding heads around the table. Ah, that won't happen when we stop, sit down, and write out our prayers. Next, I ask, "Do you always remember everything you pray for? Do you go back and thank God for every answer?" The answer: "Of course not." So I encourage them, "Make journaling a habit and a spiritual discipline in your life, and I promise it will be a blessing!"
The group always struggles through the first few weeks, and then the breakthrough comes. The grumbles turn to, "I can't believe I have not done this my whole life!" "I really miss it when I don't take the time." "It has kept me faithful and focused during my quiet time with the Lord." Soon their journals are full, and they are buying new ones. Let me give some tips to help journaling become a blessing for you too:
Personalizing and Praying the Scriptures
Another purpose of this book is to be a devotional -- a study of how God's Word, the Bible, applies to your life and specifically your breast cancer. No other book can give us the guidance, direction, peace, and answers we seek. The Bible is "a manual for living, for learning what's right and just and fair; to teach the inexperienced the ropes and give our young people a grasp on reality. There's something here also for seasoned men and women, still a thing or two for the experienced to learn -- fresh wisdom to probe and penetrate, the rhymes and reasons of wise men and women. Start with GOD" (Proverbs 1:3-7 MSG).
I invite you to pray Psalm 32 with David, who wrote many of the psalms while running for his life and under great siege, so they apply to your and my life right now too. The Bible is your personal guide for life. There is no other like it. Nothing else will fill the deep need and hole in your heart except God and His words in the Bible.
herefore, throughout this book we will be learning to pray through the Scriptures. That means we personalize them by putting our names in place of all the pronouns and/or adding personal pronouns...another name for this is paraphrasing. The Message (MSG) affords itself well to this because it is actually a paraphrase of the Bible rather than a literal translation in modern-day language like the New International Version (NIV) or the New Living Translation (NLT).
We will prayerfully personalize the Scriptures many times in the "Let's Pray" sections, and often I will join you in this prayer by adding my name. Since we are paraphrasing, these sections will not be the exact original text. Let's try it here to give you some practice:
Prayerfully personalize Psalm 32:1-11 MSG by inserting your name in the blanks:
Count yourself lucky, how happy you, ---- , must be -- you, ---- , get a fresh start, your slate's wiped clean. Count yourself lucky -- GOD holds nothing against you, ---- , and you're holding nothing back from him. When I kept it all inside, my bones turned to powder; my words became daylong groans. The pressure never let up; all the juices of my life dried up. Then I let it all out; I said, "I'll make a clean breast of my failures to GOD." Suddenly the pressure was gone -- my guilt dissolved, my sin disappeared. These things add up. Every one of us needs to pray; when all hell breaks loose and the dam bursts we'll be on high ground, untouched. GOD's ---- 's island hideaway, keeps danger far from the shore, throws garlands of hosannas around ---- 's neck... Celebrate GOD. Amen.
The Lord and I want to walk with you through your breast cancer journey. I hope the "Mentoring Moments" give you some new ideas and helpful hints. In addition, many breast cancer sisters graciously contributed their stories to help encourage, inform, and mentor you. We pray it will give you inspiration to write your own story.
Things never seem as scary when you have a friend next to you. Ecclesiastes 4:9 says, "Two are better than one," but verse 12 adds, "a cord of three strands is not quickly broken" -- the Lord, you, and me.
Your Victorious Breast Cancer Sister,
© 2006 by Janet Thompson
Excerpted from Dear God, They Say It's Cancer by Janet Thompson Copyright © 2006 by Janet Thompson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
INTRODUCTION: SHARING SISTER TO SISTER
Surviving for a Purpose
Where to Begin?
Personalizing and Praying the Scriptures
CHAPTER ONE: MAKING THE ANNUAL APPOINTMENTS
It's That Time of Year Again
The Suspicious Alarm
Setting the Follow-Up Appointment
It's Mammogram Day
This Is Surreal!
Meeting the Breast Specialist
CHAPTER TWO: FACING THE DREADED DIAGNOSIS
Life Is Messy Right Now
It's Diagnostic-Test Day
The Agonizing Wait for Test Results
They Say It's Cancer!
Telling the Family
Who Else to Tell and Who Should Do the Telling?
CHAPTER THREE: PARALYZING SHOCK
A State of Shock
It's All So Confusing!
Becoming "One of Them"
Single and Sick!
CHAPTER FOUR: ASKING WHAT IF? WHAT ABOUT? WHY?
Maybe It's All a Mistake
What About My Schedule and My Plans?
CHAPTER FIVE: DEALING WITH PEOPLE'S REACTIONS
People Say the Darnedest Things
Top Thirteen Dos and Don'ts
CHAPTER SIX: PREPARING FOR WHAT COMES NEXT
Putting Together Your Treatment Team
The Planning Conference
Time to Make a Decision
Being a Good Witness
CHAPTER SEVEN: STARTING TREATMENT
We're Not Just a Number
It's Time for Surgery
Being Strong for Our Loved Ones
We Need Friends
What Did They Do to Me?
The Hospital Stay Is a Relief
The Lonely Oncology Ward
CHAPTER EIGHT: ENJOYING THE GOOD DAYS
There Are Humorous Moments
Feeling Like a Little Girl Again
Lots of Love
CHAPTER NINE: MAKING IT THROUGH THE BAD DAYS
It's Hard Being Brave
The Journey Can Be Lonely
It Still Hurts
CHAPTER TEN: GETTING NEEDED SUPPORT
A Mentor Helps
It's All about You
Should You Join a Breast Cancer Support Group?
My Family Needs a Support System Too
CHAPTER ELEVEN: KNOWING WHO IS IN CONTROL
Spinning Out of Control
Controlling the Controllable
Seeing God in Control
CHAPTER TWELVE: ADJUSTING TO A NEW NORMAL
"Normal" Isn't Normal Anymore
Where Did Your Energy Go?
Learning to Receive
A New Need for Peace and Calm
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: ADAPTING TO BODY CHANGES
The Miraculous Creator
To Reconstruct or Not?
An Extreme Makeover!
What About Your Hair?
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: COPING WITH THE PRIVATE ISSUES
Good Girls Don't
How Will Breast Cancer Affect Your Marriage?
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: GRIEVING THE LOSSES
The Grieving Process
The Steps of Grief
Working through Sadness
It's All Over, so Why Are You Depressed?
Where Were Those You Expected to Be There?
CHAPTER SIXTEEN: RESTORING THE JOY!
It Feels Good to Be Happy!
A Transforming Blessing
You Can Rejoice in the Trials
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: DISCOVERING A NEW FOCUS AND PURPOSE
Finding Purpose in Your Breast Cancer
How Does God Want to Use Your Breast Cancer?
Talking about Your Breast Cancer on Purpose
A New Boldness
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: LIVING WITH BREAST CANCER
How to Let Others Know You're Not Back Yet
You Need an Outlet
It Could Come Back
CHAPTER NINETEEN: RELYING ON GOD
Can You Hear Him Now?
God Always Answers Prayer
Drawing Close to God
Breast Cancer Tests Our Faith
There Are "Angels" All Around
Our Hope Is in God
CHAPTER TWENTY: MAKING A DIFFERENCE
It Just Takes One Woman
Breast Cancer Sisters
Finding a Cure
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: PRAYING EXPECTANTLY
Pray God's Word
Pray for Your Doctors
Pray for Everyone Touched by Your Breast Cancer
Pray for All Your Breast Cancer Sisters
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO: ENDING AT THE BEGINNING
Preparing for the Inevitable
We've Only Just Begun!
APPENDIX A: REMEMBERING WHEN
Dates That Changed Your Life
APPENDIX B: SANITY TOOLS
Books Janet Found Helpful
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
Appointments, Appointments, Appointments
Oh No! I Just Remembered...
Questions-and-Answers Note Page
There's the Phone Again
We Are in This Together
My Medical Team
Important Information about My Medical Team
Additional Numbers Others or I May Need
Keeping Good Records
Taking My Meds
My Breast Cancer Journey Map
My Support and Help Team
Minding the Doctor
Bless You! Here's Where I Need Help
When I Need Comfort or Someone to Talk To
Who Will I Call or Where Will I Go When I Am Feeling...
Where Can My Husband and Family Go for Comfort?
Support System for My Family and Friends
My Breast Cancer Purpose and Plan
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ABOUT HIS WORK MINISTRIES
FOR MORE INFORMATION AND TO CONTACT JANET