Sunday, June 11, 2017

Foggy like an October Morning

I am finally learning to accept it: my new normal. I had always heard about people "finding" their "new normal" after cancer treatment, but I always figured life would just go back to being exactly how it was before. But it never does, as you come out of it a different person than you were going into it. I tend to get hung up on the few frustrating things, instead of focusing on all the good things (of which there are MANY, thankfully).

For me, the most frustrating thing is the brain fog! Before I started cancer treatment, I did have some brain fog from my autoimmune issues, but nothing like it is now. I had been doing well, until I started Tamoxifen again a few weeks ago (thankfully I am not crazy depressed this time - praise the Lord!). I feel like my body is running around doing things, going through the motions, yet my brain is stuck in molasses. Good days (no brain fog) feel like my thoughts are running through water, they just move in and out and around with little resistance, and are pretty easy to control. Bad days (very foggy) make me feel like I have Jello for a brain - thoughts come in and get stuck. Very stuck. And when I can manage to think through things, they leave a sticky trail like a slug...which is not only gross, but gunks up my brain more.

Ok that was kinda random...but anyways! This graphic pretty much sums it up:

It frustrates me because it slows me down sometimes, and anyone who knows me knows that I DESPISE moving slow, going slow, or anything slow in general. I like speed and efficiency (I'm a typical goat Capricorn, ain't I? lol). Thankfully all my friends and family say they don't notice it (or they are just being REALLY nice), which is AWESOME; but I still feel it, and it is frustrating to me, as it slows me down. I can't explain things as well as I would like to. I am not as talkative as I used to be (which may be a good thing! lol). I get overwhelmed and overstimulated VERY easily. Etc etc...

Outside of my frustrations with  myself at work, there is one thing that drives me nuts about the brain fog more than any other: my social skills. I have a LOT more social anxieties than I used to (which I didn't really have any previously). Going to the grocery store gives me great anxiety - for no good reason. As with many of my anxieties, I cannot pinpoint why these things give me anxiety, I just know they do. I manage to work through them, and they are getting easier with time (and special thanks to Austin for helping me navigate the scary grocery store, and loading up the items onto the conveyor belt for me...that is the scariest part! #facepalm).

The other aspect of my "social skills" that drives me nuts is my communication skills...this was never something I was great at anyways lol! I've always been terrible about returning phone calls (as in, I rarely return them), but I used to be pretty good about returning texts, emails, FB messages, etc. Nowadays, I am not even good about that! I often compose or reply to a message in my head, but never actually send it. Some days, I am too tired, and I will try to think of a response, and I just can't form the words; and my perfectionist self doesn't want to just send a hurried response. Other days, I simply forget. While I used to be able to just quickly reply, now days all my responses are typically pretty well thought out. Which is probably a good thing, but it slows me down.

Anyways, I just want you all to know that you are often in my thoughts, and always in my prayers. And thanks for always being supportive and understanding...I have the best family, friends, and coworkers a girl could have!!!  <3

Saturday, June 3, 2017

This One's for You, Cara

It is with a heavy, heavy heart I wrote this post. I've been mentally writing blogs in my head over the past few months, but haven't had the actual drive to sit down and write one. I honestly don't know if I can find the words to say, however this one needs to be written.

My beautiful friend Cara (this pic is of us at the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer breakfast last August) finished kicking cancer's ass last year. She did not let several rounds of intense chemo, followed by a mastectomy, and then a clinical trial (maybe radiation, etc, I cannot remember) slow her down - this chick has been running marathons since then! Before I even met her I had a bond with her, as she had the Natalie healing chair for her mastectomy recovery (I love all those women, it's a special bond I will never be able to describe...the Healing Chair is a sisterhood unlike any other, even just the regular breast cancer's amazing). Cara is an amazing woman, friend, wife, and mother. Even as she was doing treatment, she sent me things like cards made by her first grade class (which I still have, and are FREAKING adorable). I pulled those cards out last night and looked through them, after I heard the news. For all those who are not Cara, here are my thoughts and feelings, and how you can help (prayer and encouragement please, and etc); and Cara...these are my words to you, and please excuse the profanity.

Cara, I can't even imagine having heard this news, and it physically pains my heart to think about it. You go in for some simple stomach aches, and come out with the news that you have tumors on your liver and both lungs now?! Stage 4 metastatic triple-negative breast cancer.

Fuck you, cancer. Fuck you.

I am angry and sad and scared for you, and your family. And, of course, for myself. This is what all of us survivors fear, yet try not to live in fear of. You have inspired me so much, more than you will ever know. You and your husband are such incredible and positive people, and you take such good care of yourselves; how the fuck did this happen?! HOW?! I won't even begin to ask why. I have changed my own diet and lifestyle (more whole foods, gluten free and dairy free, almost completely given up alcohol [as it can increase my risk of recurrence 90% since my tumor was estrogen-positive], exercising more, stressing less, etc), but you were like PERFECT about all that (as far as I know). I feel guilty for complaining about "having to" make those changes, and about having to take tamoxifen. A little brain fog is nothing compared to that triple-negative bullshit you've had to deal with. I am a huge believer in spiritual warfare, and I am so thankful for yours and Josh's examples of incredibly strong faith. I cannot thank you both enough for you guys just being who you are. I am just pissed off that you have to deal with this; yet I know if anyone can fight this shit, it will be you. I know God "gives" (I don't believe he GIVES them to us, Satan does, but I know God will use this journey for good) his toughest battles to his toughest warriors, and you are the toughest warrior I have ever met (besides my grandma, who has kicked stage-4 ovarian cancer's ass twice...thus, I know you can do it she is still alive and kicking 10 years later). Ok sorry that was so rambly, but I wanted you and the world to know how fucked up cancer is, and how we need a cure for all types of cancer.

Fuck you, cancer. You've messed with the wrong woman twice now - she will KICK YOUR ASS AGAIN.

Here is info on how to help...I will be ordering a shirt, please let me know if you want one as well!!!!! And please please PLEASE keep them in your thoughts and prayers <3

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Much More Than Conquerors

Ahhh, verse mapping!!!  I love it...Breaking down scripture is so refreshing and satisfying!  It's one of my favorite activities that helps me better understand scripture, and grow closer to God.

Romans 8:31-39 was my reading for today.  There is SOOOO much to unpack in this passage, but what really caught my attention this morning was verse 37:

"No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us." (NIV) 

At first, I just read through it like "OK cool, God loves us and we conquer stuff through him and his love ok yup yeah cool."  Then something told me to go back, and dig deeper...

I tend to think in short bursts (what I call "bullet-point style" lol); this is also how I do my verse mapping.  So if you can follow me, here we go :)

  • "All these things" - In the passage, this is relating to the previous verses in the chapter, regarding condemnation, trouble, hardship, and persecution.  In the bigger picture relating to daily life, it relates to anything and everything in life (including hardships and troubles). 
  • "We are" - Not "we might be," but WE ARE (and YOU ARE!).  No question about it!  
  • Conquerors: 
    • A conqueror is a person who conquers (I know, that's a tough one to grasp!).  
    • Conquer means to: 
      1. Overcome and take control of (a place or people) by use of military force 
      2. Successfully overcome (a problem or weakness)
      3. Climb (a mountain) successfully 
    • This can be interpreted to mean that through him (God) and his love, we can conquer and overcome anything and everything.  We can conquer any problems.  We can successfully overcome any addictions, struggles, weaknesses, health issues, financial issues, anything can be overcome with God's love!!!  
  • Now, what's even more awesome is that it doesn't stop there.  No, the Bible tells us "we are more than conquerors."  Not only can we overcome our problems and issues, but we are so much more than that!  We will not only survive through our problems, but we will truly thrive through (and after) our problems!  
With God's love, anything is possible.  We can conquer and overcome any setback, any issue, any problem, any frustration, anything and everything!  His love is how I've overcome many problems in life, including cancer, and how I will continue to push forward in life!  

"'If you can?' said Jesus.  'Everything is possible for one who believes.'"  ~Mark 9:23 (NIV)

Never forget you're an overcomer!!!  <3  God bless :)  

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Spiritual Warfare, Book Reviews, and Anchors!!!

Whenever I tell people that the easiest part of my cancer journey has been chemotherapy and surgery, they typically look at me like I am crazy (I mean, I get that look a lot anyways, but especially when I tell them about that).  Obviously, they inquire as to why that was easier than my journey since then, and until recently I never could pinpoint it.  It took me a little while, but I finally figured it out.  

I've always known that spiritual warfare exists (at least in my opinion; here is a link about it), as the devil is always looking to get us down and take our eyes off of God.  If you've never seen the movie The War Room, take time to watch it.  Not only does it have a powerful message, it's actually good entertainment!  Anyways, up until late last summer, I never personally knew the enemy's full power (which, keep in mind, is NEVER more powerful than God).  

There was a lot of anxiety (which I've always struggled with) and depression (which was new to me).  I constantly felt overwhelmed, drained, and defeated, with feelings of worthlessness and despair that I couldn't shake.  I would read my Bible, but the words seemed hollow and untrue.  I would pray, and I felt that my words fell on deaf ears.  

Days turned into weeks, which turned into months, and my anxieties and depression grew worse.  I fought them all day every day, which was exhausting.  

His job was much easier when I going through surgery and chemo.  When you are going through that, you are very much focused on just keeping yourself alive; you don't really notice or worry about what else is going on in your life, or what is going on around you.  Plus, that stuff is terrible enough on its own that it's practically the devil incarnate (and I know many of you have gone through "Red Devil" chemo).  The enemy doesn't have to try very hard to get you down; often, you're already there.  Even though I had was fortunate enough to maintain a positive attitude throughout treatment, it wasn't always easy.  I read my Bible and prayed daily, and I know this helped me tremendously.  

When you finish all the physically grueling things, that's when his real work begins, and he works HARD to try and destroy us.  And if you're not ready for it or expecting it, it can catch you off guard.  Wayyyyy off guard.  I had confidently expected once I finished chemo and radiation, the rest would be smooth sailing.  So I threw myself back into "regular" life.  I started seeing my friends regularly, started dating, started fundraising and doing charity work, started a business, etc etc.  All of these things are wonderful, important things, but I slowly forgot everything I learned while going through my cancer journey: put God first, and everything else will fall into place.   

As my schedule got busier and busier, my spiritual life was pushed aside.  I read my Bible and prayer maybe once to twice a week, and my prayers were shallow and rushed.  After a few months, I had become so frustrated and angry and depressed I hated my life.  I was so mad that I went through all of that treatment just to come out the other side with a life that I absolutely hated, even though it was a wonderful life.  I would get more angry with myself when I would ask why couldn't I just appreciate this wonderful life I had?  I started hearing the answers very clearly: Because you don't deserve anything good, Natalie.  You're not worth it.  You have too much baggage to even consider carrying on.  Etc etc, with everything in my life: my friends, my family, my job, myself, everything.   

And these are the lies we start to believe.  The devil is so smooth and persistent that if we are not constantly on guard, his whispered repetitions become our reality.  Thankfully, God is good, and he is always fighting back for us.  

On my way home from work one night,  a few months ago, I randomly decided to stop by a bookstore on my way home (literally one of those God things as I passed the store, and turned around to go back to it).  I purchased two books that evening, and while I have not finished reading either one, they've both already changed my life.  

The first one is "Fervent" by Priscilla Shirer.  This is a book all about spiritual warfare; specifically the top strategies the enemy tries to destroy your life, and how to use scripture and prayer to fight against him.As the back book cover says: "You have an enemy.  And he's dead set on destroying all you hold dear.  He does it strategically.  He does it specifically.  He's doing it right this minute, in fact - aimed at personally drawn targets on your heart, your home, your mind, your life.  And this book, this battle plan, is your chance to fight back.  With a weapon that really works.  With prayer."  Shirer says are the top ways he tries to destroy us (and I am inclined to agree): 

  • Strategy 1: Your Passion - Getting It Back When It's Gone 
  • Strategy 2: Your Focus - Fighting the Real Enemy 
  • Strategy 3: Your Identity - Remember Who You Are 
  • Strategy 4: Your Family - Fortifying the Lives of Those You Love 
  • Strategy 5: Your Past - Ending the Reign of Guilt, Shame, and Regret 
  • Strategy 6: Your Fears - Confronting Your Worries, Claiming Your Calling 
  • Strategy 7: Your Purity - Staying Strong in Your Most Susceptible Places 
  • Strategy 8: Your Pressure - Reclaiming Peace, Rest, and Contentment 
  • Strategy 9: Your Hurts - Turning Bitterness to Forgiveness 
  • Strategy 10: Your Relationships: Uniting in a Common Cause 
Definitely all the areas in which I can feel Satan trying to sabotage me and my life.  

The second book is "Love, Sex, and Lasting Relationships" by Chip Ingram.  I had just recently starting dating literally the most perfect man, but I was constantly plagued with anxiety about the relationship.  Despite his encouragement to the contrary, I just knew I wasn't good enough for him (and that I was probably bad for him), that he was too good to be true, that once the "honeymoon" phase ended it would be over, that I would screw it up somehow, etc.  So I picked this book up, and for anyone in any relationship (romantic, friendship, working, or otherwise), I recommend it.  The enemy constantly wants us at odds with everyone we have a relationship with: blaming them for our unhappiness and frustrations.  In reality, we need to realize there are two different ways of doing relationships (this is specifically tailored to romantic relationships, but can be adapted for all relationships): 

  1. The Hollywood Formula (AKA how most of us have always known to do relationships): 
    • Step 1: Find the right person. 
    • Step 2: Fall in love. 
    • Step 3: Fix your hopes and dreams on this person for your future fulfillment. 
    • Step 4: If failure occurs, repeat steps 1, 2, and 3. 
  2. God's Prescription for Relationships: 
    • Step 1: Become the right person. 
    • Step 2: Walk in love. 
    • Step 3: Fix your hope on God, and seek to please Him through this relationship. 
    • Step 4: If failure occurs (and it will, as we are humans), repeat steps 1,2, and 3.  

Once you work on becoming the right person (and not looking for the right person, or expecting your partner to be the perfect person), walking in love (and not just falling in love, but loving them unconditionally, and showing them grace and mercy), and fixing your hope on God and serving Him through this relationship (instead of expecting this person to fulfill all your hopes and dreams, which one person absolutely cannot do), your relationships will change DRAMATICALLY, as will your life.  

And of course, we are human and we will fail, so when you do...start again with becoming the right person.  And repeat.  And repeat again, and again.....

I LOVE books that change your life.  Now I'm back in the Bible every day, and spending daily time in prayer with Jesus, and I am back to feeling that joy and peace that God so lavishly and lovingly gives.  I know that there will be more spiritual battles I will experience in this life, but I will be reading, knowing that God will always win the war.  

And yes, I'm also back to loving my life and the people in it, my job, and Jesus :)  

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

I wanted to add this bit here too, as it is a post I wrote on New Years Eve a few days ago, but never got around to publishing :) 

2016 is winding down, and 2017 is rapidly approaching.  In lieu of traditional resolutions, I like to pick a "word of the year" for myself to focus on.  This year, it was "survive" (of course!).  The year before it was "cultivate."  2017's word: Anchor.  

As many of you know, at some point during 2016 I became obsessed with anchors.  Not just a "hey those are cool" type of obsession; an obsession in which I became so infatuated I wanted a tattoo of an anchor.  I wanted it on my left wrist (because that's the side my cancer was on); however I'm not allowed to have needlesticks on that arm (since my lymph nodes were removed).  Which is fine; I will just "anchorage" up everything else! ;)  I fell in love with the symbol after I heard the song "Eye of the Storm" by Ryan Stephenson, in which the lyrics say: 

In the eye of the storm
You remain in control
In the middle of the war
You guard my soul
You alone are the anchor
When my sails are torn 
Your love surrounds me
In the eye of the storm 

Jesus is the only one who, when we are lost or falling apart, can keep us together.  Our family and friends and others are great and helpful, but only Jesus alone can save us in the storms of life.  

So what is more perfect than making anchor my word of the year?!? :)  

Now my musings on why choosing the word anchor, so that 1. I can remember; and 2. enlighten and hopefully inspire you all  :D  

Wikipedia defines an anchor as: "A device, normally made of metal, used to connect a vessel to the bed of a body of water to prevent the craft from drifting due to the wind or current."  I interpret this (via my spiritual Christianity) to be: "A device (being/entity = Jesus), normally made of metal (or made of the Holy Spirit! :) used to connect a vessel (us, humans, people) to the bed (a firm rock, or other stable place) of a body of water (life) to prevent the craft from drifting due to the wind or current (life situations/circumstances, stressors, anything that can throw us off course).  Thus, Jesus is my anchor, who keeps me grounded in Him and in His hope; keeping me from drifting away into anxiety, depression, hopelessness, etc.  

Now, don't get me wrong, I still struggle with anxiety almost daily; however it is a lot more manageable when I spend time with Jesus every day!