Friday, August 27, 2010

I Am Excited.

Well, I am doing very well right now. My body may be a piece of crap, but I’m feeling exhilarated by where I am in this process. I don’t know exactly where I am in this process, on the timeline between this point in time right now and the point when Jesus will come for me… But I feel extraordinarily peaceful and I feel very, very, happy.

I’ve been pretty euphoric for several days, and I’m still trying to articulate why. And it’s not due to anything I’m putting into my body, for those of you wondering about that. I feel like I’m sensing an end to all of this crud. I just feel ready.

Somehow it just feels closer. I could be wrong, and His coming for me could be months away, but it feels closer, and I like that. Three people in twenty-four hours have independently indicated that they are sensing that it feels closer to them too. We’ll just have to wait and see.

The closer death gets, the more peaceful I feel, and the more excited I get. I have a couple things I'd like to finish, but I have no regrets about anything, and I am ready. Did I mention that I feel ready?

Anyway, I got to meet my hospice nurse today, and she is amazing, as expected. She gave me lots of information about all kinds of things and it was very helpful. Among other things, she said she feels like I’m starting hospice at a very good time in my process based on my symptoms, needs, and the obvious progression of disease in my superficial lymph nodes.

She’s going to start out visiting me once a week and can increase the frequency if needed. They also have people available 24/7 to help with anything major that might come up. I can’t believe how well planned out and organized hospice is.

Anyway, I just got oxygen yesterday, to use as needed. I have been using it as needed since it was delivered yesterday and it really does help with the shortness of breath, so that is nice.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Sorry for bumping the Hospice post down so soon, this is too exciting to delay posting. If you read THIS post, you know I've been waiting for this night all summer. If there's something better than my first Moonflower opening, it's six Moonflowers opening on the same night, and if there's something better than six opening at the same time, it's all six opening after a light rain in beautiful overcast light.

You can click on the pictures to see them bigger...

This one was almost fully open...

I think Heaven is going to be full of these exhilarating gasps of beauty.


I met with a hospice nurse last Friday. The idea in my mind was that I would just get some information on how hospice works, when to start using it, etc, and then I’d go on my merry way. Well, she gave me all of that information and then asked me how I was feeling and what kinds of symptoms I am experiencing… My list looked something like this:

-Shortness of breath and dry cough for the last week, off and on, thought it might be allergies. Took Zyrtec and it did nothing, took Benadryl and it did nothing.
-New lymph nodes, bigger lymph nodes
-Sharp head pains, occasionally
-Sharp pains around rib cage on both sides, very occasional, unpredictable
-Headache several times in the last week, first in a long time
-Ultra-tired, can’t walk dog for twenty minutes 2x p. day because don’t have enough energy to function for rest of day. Walking once p. day, twenty minutes.
-Vision-have had two instances in the last week of seeing a vibrating C shape that is flashing like a neon sign. Can still see it when I close my eyes, is in both eyes; not one or the other. Starts out small and gets bigger and bigger over 15-20 minutes and then goes away.
-Appetite very irregular but usually very small. Occasionally ravenous, usually not very hungry, often feeling full/borderline nauseous.

The nurse said that she would strongly recommend that I go ahead and start hospice care, even though I did try to get out of it by explaining that a lot of this stuff, okay fine, the less dramatic stuff, has been going on for months and months. My Doctor had also suggested that it would be a good idea for me to get a relationship going with hospice. The nurse said that it would be better to start soon and keep symptoms monitored than wait until something dramatic happens and becomes a major issue. The idea is to keep suffering to a minimum. I like that idea.

She said that while the general recommendation is for people to start hospice when it’s expected that they have six months or less left (Insert a smile here, hope that it’s a lot less than six months before Jesus comes for me. Insert a sigh here, nine months ago I thought I’d be long gone in three or four months max), for some people it’s longer and some people do start hospice and then stop.

Anyway, with hospice comes a lot of resources. There’s a nurse, a social worker, a chaplain, the latter two for both the patient and their family, a home health aid if/when that becomes necessary, volunteers….

In a nutshell, the goal of hospice care is to help me be as comfortable as possible physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Quality of life is the priority.

As of right now, my oncology nurse is working on setting up the hospice stuff. I anticipate having a first meeting with a hospice nurse sometime in the next week or so.

Meanwhile, I’m still mobile—I can still move around easily and drive and take care of myself, I can still walk my dog, I can still spend time with people close to me, etc. All of that is a blessing. I can still do all those things; I just can’t do as much of them.

Oh, and last fall I did a lot of reading about the end stages of life, I find that the more I know about it, the less room there is to fear because for me fear is usually of the unknown.

HERE is a post on fear/end of life from last fall.
HERE is a link to all things end of life related—many of the articles on EOL issues are written by people who were terminally ill, including doctors, so it’s fascinating and very helpful. This is the best site I’ve found so far for information on these topics.
THIS article is particularly good.

“….we tend to die in much the same way as we have lived, according to our temperament, according to our beliefs, and much more in control of the process than we may know. Perhaps the suffering of death is more the result of our fear and struggle against the ultimate loss of control…" (Click HERE for article) This article is incredibly insightful. It’s very sad that most of us don’t have this information a lot sooner. I wish everyone could read this.

This information has been very comforting to me. For example, as I’ve reflected on the shortness of breath, I’ve wondered if I could suffocate to death. One of the EOL stories on that site, written by a daughter about her mother, mentions that her mother had the same worry about not being able to breath. The answer: They can give you enough morphine that you won’t know you can’t breathe. That sounds good to me. Now I can cross that off my waste-of-mental-energy-things-to-think-about list.

I’m not quite sure what I think about hospice yet. I’m more than ready to leave and be done with this whole cancer thing. I think mostly I’m not sure I need hospice yet because I’ve had so many weird symptoms off and on for so long. But, the way God has been changing my heart and the extra peace He’s been giving me in the last several weeks makes me wonder what He’s preparing me for… I would say who knows, but He does. I’ve seen Him do stuff like this before.

In His Grip, Martha

Friday, August 20, 2010

My Dog.

My dog Dresden and I celebrated our eight year adoptaversary today. Eight years ago today I picked her up at the pound. I had always been skeptical about “gut” feelings and knowing things “at first sight,” but after visiting at the pound four or five times, I walked in one day and saw her… And as soon as I saw her, I knew that I knew that I knew that she was my dog.

After eight years of being together, it’s pretty clear why God gave her to me. She’s been amazing. I could get effusive, but I'll spare you.

Interestingly enough, Dresden acted so strangely for about a week before my very first doctor’s appointment for the cancer symptoms to get checked out that I was sure that I had cancer, and I did. And she acted strangely when the cancer recurred—for about a week before I even found the lump under my right arm. She knew I had cancer before I or anyone else did. God used her and her behavior to prepare me for the initial diagnosis and the recurrence.

She helped me recover from surgery...
And she helped me stay sane during chemo...
She continues to be pretty consistently awesome...
Anyway, she is a treasure. It’s a huge relief to know that my family loves her and is going to take good care of her after I’m gone. And I’m 100% sure that we’ll be together again in Heaven at some point.

If you think of Dresden after I leave, please pray that she will adapt well to my absence.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Uncivil War

The powers of darkness in my house have been caught off guard. If you read THIS post, you know I have what feels like millions of heinous killer crickets in my house. A friend of mine told me how to make cricket traps with a big loop of duct tape. Apparently camel crickets are attracted to glue. I usually use three loops of tape attached to a piece of cardboard.

Well these traps work. So instead of the trauma they were inflicting, they are being caught on the duct tape traps. Yes, I do check the traps and dispatch them in a fast and merciful squash.

Just last night I was walking around checking my locks in the dark, by the faint street light coming in through the blinds, and I saw a large dark spot on my floor. I stomped, it jumped. I stomped again, it jumped again and disappeared (this is why I never go barefoot in my house…). I made a duct tape trap and put it near where I saw it. This morning? Not one, but three large crickets caught, with no adrenaline rush or trauma.

Thank God for a solution. I can’t help but think that the place Jesus is preparing for me won’t have any giant crickets in it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Eucatastrophes and Thank You

This post might not be as clear and concise as I’d like, I’m trying to articulate a bunch of ideas that have been coming into my head since last Thursday.

Last Thursday morning, I met with a friend of mine. Some of the things he said reminded me of the beginning of this cancer process in December of 2008, the process before living with cancer, the process with cancer, where I am in that process with cancer right now, and where the process is going.

So for almost a week, I’ve been ruminating.

And I’m not having a nice, happy day today; there’s something in me that wants to express gratefulness for the hideousness and beauty in this process and the people who have been alongside me through both.

Many times there is an overwhelming sense of isolation that goes along with my diagnosis. In one sense, this is an incredibly accurate description of what it’s like:

“There are seas of suffering that the sufferer must navigate alone. No other sail is in sight. Scan the horizon and nothing is seen but wave after wave... He knows your poor body, and He permits it to be frail. He permits your heart to tremble…” Charles Spurgeon

That is true because really, who else do I know who, at age thirty-three, has a terminal cancer? Even the people who listen reflectively and thoughtfully and who do their best to support me and who love me so well aren’t actually in my position.

And in another sense, there is a sense of great community in this process. As one of my brothers said, it’s like I’m running a race by myself, and he and all of my other supporters are cheering me on from the sidelines.

So while all of that isolation issue is there and very real, and sometimes overwhelming, it is also true that I have often been overwhelmed by the love of people around me.

In some ways, this cancer process has been a healing process for me. Like everyone else, I have my own set of weaknesses, and one that has been strong for almost all of my life is a strong misanthropic tendency. Something about this cancer process and how people have shown love to me has had a very healing effect on me. I will continue to struggle until Jesus comes and transforms me 100%, but all of you people who have helped, have helped on a much deeper level than you’ll ever know.

This process has also been very healing for me in the area of fear. I lived the first two thirds of my life nearly paralyzed by fear. Through a gradual process of healing over the last ten years or so, God has proven Himself to me in real, tangible, I-can-trust-Him sorts of ways that prepared me for the fears the cancer diagnosis triggered. Throughout this process, He has spoken to me twice, and let me tell you, when God speaks there is no questioning it. I’d never heard Him like that before, and hearing Him has given me so much freedom from fear that it still surprises me.

If you want proof, here is something I wrote while recovering from my first surgery and anticipating my first chemotherapy treatment:


body battered
spirit shaken
mind in tumult
emotions shredded

skin and bones

hoping for an easy death
or life clearly defined
and healthy
and worthwhile
and together

terrified of an
long drawn out
before freedom from this poison
this bondage

trying to hope

at peace with God
grateful for family
grateful for support

praying constantly
for my spirit
my soul
to be released
from this “life”
this prison

Compare that with Easter Sunday if you want. That should give you a sense of the contrast and the healing.

Another thought that I’ve been reminded of in the last week is the concept of a eucatastrophe. One of the pastors at my church talked about eucastastrophes in July 2009, several days after I had discovered the enlarged lymph node under my right arm, which I was absolutely certain was cancer, and which proved to be a recurrence.

Eucatastrophe is a neologism coined by Tolkien from Greek ευ- "good" and καταστροφή "destruction".
"I coined the word 'eucatastrophe': the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature chained in material cause and effect, the chain of death, feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly snapped back. It perceives – if the story has literary 'truth' on the second plane (....) – that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is made. And I concluded by saying that the Resurrection was the greatest 'eucatastrophe' possible in the greatest Fairy Story – and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled…." J.R.R. Tolkien
(From )

Good: Having desirable or positive qualities especially those suitable for a thing specified, most suitable or right for a particular purpose, that which is pleasing or valuable or useful.

Catastrophe: Any large and disastrous event of great significance; A disaster beyond expectations; The dramatic event that initiates the resolution of the plot in a tragedy; A type of bifurcation, where a system shifts between two stable states.

Eucatastrophe has been the most accurate term I can use to describe my cancer process, and when I learned it, it made something previously confusing and ephemeral make a lot of sense.

My cancer has been a disaster beyond anything I could comprehend AND it has had desirable qualities—it has brought inexpressible joy and delight and it has also brought unfathomable sorrow and horror. Like the Resurrection however, when Jesus comes for me, the joy and delight will win, and He will transform the sorrow and the horror into something glorious.

And, while I was reading Hebrews 11 this week, for the umpteenth time, it occurred to me that each of those people of faith experienced some level of eucatastrophe. Somehow knowing that was deeply encouraging to me.

If I were going to be really honest, I’d say that I’ve never experienced anything so horrifying and grotesque as having cancer. I can’t possibly describe how shocking and disgusting some of its effects on my body have been. I can’t describe how painful cancer is on an emotional and psychological level.

If I were going to be really honest, I’d say that this time while I’ve had cancer has been the time in my life where I’ve most tangibly felt the presence of God, where I’ve heard His voice speak to me for the first time in my life, where He has met me over and over in so many specific ways through people, conversations, scripture, and reading, and where I’ve experienced so much of life so much more fully than ever before. And all of this—this is the part of this process that has been breathtaking in its beauty.

If I were going to be really honest, I’d have to say that I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.

So thank you. Thank you for your part in the eucatastrophe of Martha-with-terminal-cancer. Thank you for your support, love, encouragement, prayers, time, listening, help, and so much more. Thank you for being available. Thank you for caring. Thank you for cheering me on from the sidelines.

When my race is done, I hope people see the glorious parts of it—where God intervened; both the parts where He intervened Himself, and the parts where He used people like you to intervene on my behalf.

In His Grip, Martha

Monday, August 9, 2010

A New Art Site

I've been trying to figure out an easy way to document what I've been doing creatively in the last while. I've posted all of it on here but having it all spread out throughout the posts on here was irritating to me. I don't have my old software on my new computer so I can't do something nice and smooth like my last art website.... but a blog is more appropriate to the miscellaneous nature of what I've been working on anyway. So HERE is the link. It's also on the blog list on the right side of this page... It may still need some adjusting. I feel like there isn't a lot on there but I've been spending a lot of time writing and it's been a busy and tired kind of year so far. It is what it is. I'm going to keep posting new art on here as well as on there.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Light vs. Darkness

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

I love how God keeps shining His light into my darkness. I was reading this morning and took this photograph of the side of the bookshelf next to me.

This is what I’m trying to soak in and keep in my heart and mind today, and always, in light of the promises God has made me and what He’s chosen to do with my life:

So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs (to me) of the promise the unchangeable character of His purpose, He guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, I who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before me. I have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of my soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on my behalf…. Hebrews 6:17-20

Let me hold tightly without wavering to the hope I affirm, for God can be trusted to keep His promise. Hebrews 10:23

But I am looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called my God, for He has prepared a city for me. Hebrews 11:16

And let me run with endurance the race God has set before me. I do this by keeping my eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects my faith. Because of the joy awaiting Him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now He is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Hebrews 12:1-2

I personalized the pronouns in some of the verses because that’s how I read these verses, as gifts from God to me.

This is a daily issue, it’s an ongoing struggle, and it is really difficult to keep from allowing myself to slip back into the darkness. But the light is there.