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Entries in Cancer (4)

Thursday
Jun272019

Fears, Fears ... Go Away!

Dawn Wilson is the creator of Upgrade with Dawn. In this Biblical Thinking UPGRADE, she gets honest about her fears and how the Lord has encouraged her to confront them with His truth.

I argued with the Lord a bit.

“I’m not a fearful person; I know better than that.”

But the Lord pressed a few examples into my thoughts and I had to admit, I was filled with more fears than I thought.

When my children were small, I feared for their safety. Then they grew up and I found out—once a mama, always a mama—I still had fears for their safety. And I added my grandchildren to that fear list too! I was afraid of my husband’s safety in his many travels too.

Many fears have come, but I’ve suppressed them all rather than dealing with them biblically.

Then, this past January, I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma. Talk about fears!

Somehow, that first day in the hospital, I kept repeating a verse I learned long ago: “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in you” (Psalm 56:3).

Still, my mantra from February through late April was pretty much, “Fears, fears… go away!”

All that time, my cancer treatment wasn’t working, and I became anxious and afraid.

Maybe I going to only live a year, I thought. I started downgrading my priorities list to something simpler and more manageable. What would I want to accomplish if I only had one year to live?

I started developing a plan, and the only time I cried was when I thought of leaving my family members.

Thankfully, in early May, my oncologist decided to upgrade my cancer treatment. He prescribed a super-expensive drug, which the Lord graciously covered for almost five months through a nonprofit grant.

But my fears that the drug wouldn’t work—or that it would tank my hemoglobin, one of the oncologist’s concerns—continued.

Beneath the surface ... subtle fears. But fears that still had a grip on my heart.

In many ways, I was trying to trust the Lord through all this. I chose to praise and worship Him. I wrote about my struggle on Facebook. I tried to be honest about how I was trying to overcome my fears; and many friends—I call them #TeamDawn—encouraged me.

  • "You're in God's grip."
  • "I'm praying God will completely heal you."
  • "Keep trusting!"

Most people praised me for being a good example. They recognized the battle, but also some of my victories in trusting God.

Yet the toxic thinking continued. Especially in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep.

And then around Mother’s Day, one of my daughters-in-love, Tracy, gave me a book. Switch on Your Brain by cognitive neuroscientist, Dr. Caroline Leaf,* who is also a Christian. It's heavy-duty science, but fascinating to realize how science is catching up with the Bible!

The book affirmed me in all that I’ve taught for many years: As we think, so we come to believe, and so we choose. My ministry, Heart Choices Today, is built on that simple-yet-profound concept.

We build our thoughts, choices and habits based on what we’re thinking.

As I read the book, the Lord began to speak to me about my toxic thinking and the fears and anxieties that wouldn’t seem to go away no matter how I wished them to leave.

There was a lot at stake! And Dr. Leaf made a strong case:

She wrote that fear alone triggers more than 1,400 known physical and chemical responses in our bodies, activating more than 30 different hormones.

Left unchecked, toxic thoughts (like fear) create ideal conditions for illnesses.

I figured "unchecked" fears weren't going to help me battle my illness!

So I decided to do what the book recommended. I'm a writer, but I don't journal. Yet using Dr. Leaf's processyou'll have to get the book to read about that—I began a 21-Day Detox to confront my anxious thoughts and fears. I chose scriptures to study and I am memorizing key verses to make them a deeper part of my life—replacing toxic thinking with strengthening, biblical truth.

It's an ongoing process, but here are some things I've already discovered during my Detox from the scriptures I'm studying.

  1. Fear does not come from God (2 Timothy 1:7). It is a learned response.
  2. God gives me a spirit of power, love and a sound mind (also 2 Timothy 1:7). A sound mind is right thinking!
  3. It is possible to be in “bondage” to fear—or any other fleshly attitude (Romans 8:15). This verse is talking about fear we suffered before knowing Christ, but now we have a Heavenly Father, and the Spirit does not make us “slaves” to fears.
  4. God’s presence, strength and help allow us to not be fearful (Isaiah 41:10). He’s got a firm grip on me!
  5. Whenever we are afraid, we can choose to trust the Lord (Psalm 56:3-4). That was the only verse I could remember in the hospital in January—but it was enough!
  6. God will never leave or forsake me, and because of that, He wants me to be “strong and courageous” (Deuteronomy 31:6).
  7. I can cast all my burdens, including fearful times, on the Lord, and He will sustain me— strengthen, support and encourage me, and cheer me up! (Psalm 55:22).
  8. I don’t need to be afraid of bad news (but instead need to live in light of the “good news”); and when I think rightly, my heart will be firm and steady, not afraid (Psalm 112:7-8).
  9. I don’t need to be fearful or anxious about anything, but instead, I can pray about everything, with thanksgiving, and God will give me His peace… and He will then guard my heart and mind in Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).
  10. Like a loving father with a trusting child, God holds my right hand; and He is the One who helps me (Isaiah 41:13).
  11. The peace Jesus gives us is not like the world’s concept of peace (John 14:27). Though some of the world’s solutions may work if they are based on biblical truth—whether they give God credit or not—Jesus’ peace is a gift from Him, and an answer to my fears.
  12. When fears and anxiety arise in me, I can turn to the Lord and His consolation (comforting) will restore my joy (Psalm 94:19).
  13. God expects/commands me to “be strong and courageous” and not afraid (Joshua 1:9)—because He is with me.
  14. God redeemed me and I am His. Like the children of Israel, I never need to fear that I am forgotten (Isaiah 43:1).
  15. Anxiety and fear is like a heavy weight in the emotions, but a “kind word” of encouragement from God (or others) can cheer the heart (Proverbs 12:25). (I am so thankful for my #TeamDawn prayer warriors and encouragers!)
  16. I don’t need to worry or fear about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34); I need to live in day-tight compartments. God is already in my tomorrows.
  17. I can cast (throw) all my fears and anxieties on the Lord, knowing He cares about me and what I’m going through (1 Peter 5:7).
  18. Even if I must walk through the darkest valley—the “shadow of death”—I do not need to fear, because God is and will be with me to protect and comfort me (Psalm 23:4).
  19. The Lord is my light and salvation, my stronghold—whom (or what) shall I fear (Psalm 27:1).
  20. God is my refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1); and verse 10 says, “Be still and know that I am God….” I am challenged to be still and know my “refuge more.”
  21. When I seek the Lord, He responds; and He wants to deliver me from all my fears (Psalm 34:4).
  22. When I call out to God, He answers and He is with me in my troubles (Psalm 91:15), rescuing me and honoring me (for trusting Him).
  23. The Lord doesn’t want me to worry about the details of my life (Matthew 6:25), but He is concerned about those details. He will provide, but He wants me to know there is more to life than what’s going on with my body.
  24. I can be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power (Ephesians 6:10)—and He gives me the tools for standing strong (the Armor of God, vv. 11-18).
  25. I want the peace of Christ to rule in my heart (Colossians 3:15). I will subject my fears to His control and be thankful for His loving Lordship in my life.

Obviously, I’m going beyond the recommended 21-Day Detox. I want to continue building positive reinforcement thoughts into my life. I want right thinking, godly thinking about my fears, to become my new habit of life.

This is what Paul means when He writes of “renewing the mind” (Romans 12:2) instead of following the unhealthy “pattern” of this world. Scientists are finally beginning to see the brain as having "renewable" characteristics. Biblically, a renewed mind is a Word-founded, Spirit-controlled mind—and from our mind, our thoughts, come our beliefs, choices and habits.

It's the best way I know to make the fears go away ... or at least to confront them God's way.

Is fear a biggie in your life? Or is it something else? Begin now to replace toxic thinking with biblical thinking.

(*NOTE: You might want to read the book I recommended, Switch On Your Brain—there is also a workbook if you want that—to understand how the brain works from a scientific viewpoint, and rejoice that science is finally catching up with God’s truth about our thinking!)

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is a speaker and author, and the creator the blog, Upgrade with Dawn. She is a contracted researcher/reviewer for Revive Our Hearts, and a writer at Christianity.com (wiki posts) and Crosswalk.com. She and her husband Bob live in Southern California and have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

Graphic adapted, courtesty of M. McKein at Pixabay.

Tuesday
Mar192019

11 Facets to Upgrading Our Friendships

I have admired Joanie Shawhan from afar, only getting to know her through Facebook. But I have come to consider her a friend. In this Friendship UPGRADE, she opens our eyes to the different "facets" of the gems in our friendship circle.

"Friends," Joanie says, "are like precious jewels in a treasure chest."

When I (Dawn) think of friends, I too think of precious jewels. The word "precious" means something of great value—not to be treated carelessley. How precious are your friendships?

Joanie continues . . .

Each jewel is different—a different color, a different cut, a different shape. Some jewels are hard while others are soft. Some transparent, others opaque. Some jewels are bold and brash, others muted, softer, less noticeable. Some jewels tolerate harsher climates while others need more temperate conditions.

Jewels reflect light, each one creating a various array of prisms and rainbows.

Each one of us, like jewels, reflects the light of Christ.

The light beaming from one person will not appear the same as the light shining through another, but we all carry the light. Together we reflect Christ.

As I consider my own life, I realize God has brought me the best people—the best of friends.

My friends have:

  • brought healing,
  • shaped my mindsets,
  • and provided godly examples of how to live.

As friends, we complement one another’s gifts.

We love each another despite faults that sometimes seem more glaring than the light we are meant to reflect. But we are friends.

FACETS of Friendship

1. Friends undergird one another with prayer.

My friends prayed me through cancer, chemotherapy and other health issues. They prayed me through the death of loved ones.

Persistent prayer requests remain on their prayer altars.

2. Friends correct one another.

Sometimes I need an attitude adjustment, a course correction, a different perspective. They help me discern life decisions.

My friends know my weaknesses. Their correction is given in love and concern for my welfare.

3. Friends celebrate together.

  • We celebrate birthdays, weddings, babies and retirement.
  • We celebrated when I overcame cancer. My friends rejoiced with me when I was offered a publishing contract for In Her Shoes: Dancing in the Shadow of Cancer.

With joy, we celebrate our victories and successes.

4. Friends open their homes.

For several years I lived with a family and still, many years later, we share meals together. I have enjoyed countless gatherings, laughter, and family meals in the homes of my friends.

5. Friends encourage one another with kind words.

Life is hard! Many times, I have been discouraged and ready to quit because my dreams required too much effort.

The loving words of a friend spurred me on.

Without the encouragement of friends, I would never have completed my book.

6. Friends serve one another.

Friends brought me meals and helped me clean while I endured chemotherapy.

A few years ago, my friends helped me move. Not a small task! They helped me pack, move, and even haul away my donations. Then they unpacked my kitchen, hung my curtains, and fitted my blinds.

7. Friends forgive each other.

Even the best of friends inadvertently hurt one another.

Forgiveness restores our friendships.

8. Friends believe the best in each other, covering one another’s faults.

My friends keep in confidence what I share with them. They do not gossip.

9. Friends strive to understand one another.

My friends listen to my heart and try to understand me—even when we have differences.

10. Friends share one another’s grief.

I have received the comfort of my friends when I experienced the loss of dear friends and family members.

11. Friends love one another.

We often hear I Corinthians 13 at weddings, but these verses also describe the all-encompassing love we are to have for one another.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NIV).

The friends God blessed me with were not necessarily the people I would have chosen.

But God always gives His best

and my friends are God’s best.

Like iron sharpens iron, my friends are shaping me into the person God designed me to be, someone who reflects the light of Christ.

“A dear friend will love you no matter what, and a family sticks together through all kinds of trouble” Proverbs 17:17 TPT).

Who are the jewels of friendship in your treasure box? How does each one reflect Christ?

Joanie Shawhan is an ovarian cancer survivor and a registered nurse. She writes articles and encouragement for women undergoing chemotherapy. Publishing credits include Coping with Cancer Magazine, The Upper Room and God Still Meets Needs. She speaks to medical students in the Survivors teaching Students program. Coming soon—In Her Shoes: Dancing in the Shadow of Cancer. You can find more about Joanie at her website.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of 470906-Pixabay.

Thursday
Sep132018

Rebuilding Our Lives After a Winter Season

Joanie Shawhan is a wise encourager. She uses the experiences of her life, couples them with God's truth, and speaks that truth into others' lives. In this Personal Care UPGRADE, she explains some of the ways we can rebuild our lives after a tough season.

"Sometimes my life," Joanie says, "seems to mirror the two seasons dominating Wisconsin—winter and road construction."

HA! I (Dawn) lived through many winters in the Midwest, and I know exactly what Joanie's talking about. But there's a deeper application here.

Joanie continues . . .

For me, a diagnosis of ovarian cancer raised a stop sign and detoured me into a winter season.

Major life events can divert us into the barrenness of winter: loss of a loved one or a job, changes in finances or health, disruption of our marriage or home. Customary rites of passage such as moving, career changes, graduations, empty nest and retirement may also reroute us into a winter season.

But eventually winter yields to spring.

We attempt to merge into the previous traffic patterns of life, but discover that the flow has shifted.

Questions pop up like orange construction barrels.

  • Who am I in light of these life changes?
  • How do I re-engage?
  • What is my purpose?

My Story

When I emerged from my winter season of cancer, surgery and chemotherapy, I reached a crossroads filled with questions.

  • Who am I as an ovarian cancer survivor?
  • What do I do now?
  • How do I rebuild my life?

I sought out other ovarian cancer survivors, but found no support groups, Gilda’s Clubs or Facebook groups. Were there other survivors?

As I searched for answers, I joined a Christian writing group, Friends of the Pen. I started writing a book for women undergoing chemotherapy—the stories of everyday women with everyday lives interrupted by cancer, concluding each piece with a scripture and a prayer.

My hope was to provide the help I desired throughout my own ordeal.

I finally met other ovarian cancer survivors at an ovarian cancer camp in Missoula, Montana—Camp Mak-A-Dream. Some of these survivors were involved in a program called Survivors Teaching Students (STS) in which they shared their stories with medical students and other health care providers. These presentations raise awareness for ovarian cancer in hopes of earlier detection, thus saving women’s lives.

As a nurse and an ovarian cancer survivor, I was excited about joining the STS volunteer team.

While participating in STS, I met local ovarian cancer survivors. We formed an ovarian cancer group, “The Fried Eggs—Sunny-Side Up.” We meet monthly, sponsor speakers, plan fun outings and participate in fundraisers for ovarian cancer.

A cancer detour steered me into a new purpose and calling for my life—to write a book encouraging women undergoing chemotherapy, and to advocate for women and educate regarding ovarian cancer.

Several new roads were paved into my life. I love the changes.

If you find yourself in a construction zone following your own winter season, don’t lose heart.

Instead, consider these 7 areas of focus as you reconstruct.

7 Tips to Rebuild Your Life

1. Pray.

Ask God what He has for you in this new season of life. Study His word. Ask Him for specific scriptures that define this season.

2. Identify Your Passion.

What energizes or inspires you? Cancer awareness, pregnancy information, adoption, foster care, civic or church activities?

3. Dream Dreams.

Are there dreams you have laid aside or new dreams you discovered? Travel, write a book, learn a language, play an instrument, own a home, start a business?

4. Try a Hobby.

What activities do you enjoy? Music, photography, crafts, painting, gardening, traveling, biking, hiking, reading?

5. Use Your Talents.

What are those things that come easy for you?

Have others around you affirmed a particular gift or ability?

6. Try Something New.

Try a job, class, mission trip or volunteer opportunity.

When we attempt a new activity, we may discover a hidden talent or the ability to do something we never thought possible.

7. Connect.

We often relate with people who have undergone a similar experience.

In sharing our stories, we can make new friends as we help and support one another.

At the time of my cancer diagnosis, I could not imagine how God would rebuild my life. What began as a winter journey blossomed into a life enriched by the wonderful people I met along the way, including my Christian writing community and my fellow ovarian cancer survivors.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9 NLT).

How has God rebuilt your life after a winter season?

Joanie Shawhan is an ovarian cancer survivor and a registered nurse. She writes articles and encouragement for women undergoing chemotherapy. Publishing credits include Coping with Cancer Magazine, Upper Room and God Still Meets Needs. Visit with Joanie here.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Annca at Pixabay.

Tuesday
Apr172018

Walking a Loved One Eternally Home

Joanie Shawhan writes words of encourgement to those touched by cancer and other painful struggles, writing from her own experience and wisdom to encourage us in this Grief UPGRADE. Joanie writes about a phone call she received:

“'I have stage 4 cancer,' my sister Tracy said. I groaned as I tightened my grip on the phone."

I'm sure you would agree with me (Dawn)—this is one of the most painful phone calls we can receive. But what do we do with that information?

The Lord says, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints" (Psalm 116:15); but what choices might we have in the days before they go to their eternal home?

Joanie continues . . .

How could this happen to my sister? She goes to the gym everyday.

As a cancer survivor and a nurse with an oncology background, I was familiar with stage 4 cancer. But a few days later, my heart sank.

God had whispered in my spirit, “Walk her home.”

How do I say goodbye to my sister nine years younger, nine hours away and nine years old when I left home? We had rarely visited or talked with one another between crazy schedules and multiple states.

How DO I walk my sister home? How do we WALK our loved ones home?

With God’s help, I discovered ways to walk Tracy home. 

1. Pray.

  • Ask God how to pray for them.
  • Ask our loved ones for their prayer requests. My sister wanted prayer for the pain.

2. Encourage. Share encouraging words, scriptures and songs.

I sent my sister a Bible, but would she feel well enough to read it? I created daily memes with scriptures of God’s love, comfort and faithfulness.

3. Listen.

Some people want to talk about dying. Tracy did not want to talk about cancer, death or anything negative.

4. Respect.

We need to respect their choices.

Tracy had a rare bladder cancer resistant to both chemotherapy and radiation with a life expectancy of three to six months.

She did not want to live the rest of her days sick from chemotherapy. Instead, she chose two weeks of alternative treatment in Mexico followed by a home regimen.

5. Contact. Call, text and send cards.

I discovered that Tracy was more receptive to conversations starting with “What’s up?” rather than “How are you?” This gave her the option to talk about things other than cancer.

She preferred to text when her breathing grew labored.

6. Gifts.

My sisters and I sent flowers, Polish pottery, tea, books, DVD’s, and hand-knitted socks and blanket.

7. Meals.

Tracy’s co-workers ordered food from a local restaurant when they heard family were in town. There were so many leftovers that she invited her co-workers for dinner the following day.

8. Finances.

A devastating diagnosis can drain the family’s finances.

Tracy’s treatment in Mexico was expensive and not covered by insurance. One of my sisters set up a Medgift * account for her.

9. Visits.

Visits from friends and family can be great distractions from sickness and pain. But they can also be exhausting.

Some days our loved ones may feel better than other days.

Call or text to see if they would like a visit.

10. Outings.

Movies, shopping trips and walks provide wonderful distractions.

11. Serve.

Offer specific help such as childcare, housekeeping or lawn care.

  • Tracy wanted help taking down her Christmas decorations.
  • As part of staging their house, my brother painted and laid flooring.

12. Prepare.

Prepare for the loved ones left behind.

Help videotape messages, sort photographs or write cards for special occasions. Tracy and I sorted through her childhood photos.

13. Celebrate.

My brother-in-law brought Tracy into town for an old-time family dinner. Fourteen of us gathered around the table set with china that hadn’t been outside of a hutch in over twenty years. Wisecracks, laughter and family stories mingled with the aroma of roast beef.

For a little while we could forget that this weekend would be our last time together.

14. Hope.

Allow hope.

Between staggered breaths, Tracy had said, “We’ve had lots of miracles in our family. I hope there is one more miracle for me.”

My sister still clung to hope despite starting oxygen and entering hospice.

On Good Friday, Tracy’s husband texted, “Her condition has worsened. I don’t know how long she has.”

My Mom, sisters and I arrived in town to be with Tracy during her last days. We enjoyed Easter together, Tracy hooked up to oxygen, swinging on the patio and soaking in the sun.

Early the next morning, Jesus received her—eternally home.

I am sure she would say along with the psalmist David:

“When I awake, I will see you face to face and be satisfied” (Psalm 17:15b NLT).

How would you lead a loved one eternally home?

Joanie Shawhan is an ovarian cancer survivor and a registered nurse. She writes encouraging articles for women undergoing chemotherapy. She also speaks to medical practitioners in the Survivors Teaching Students program. Visit Joanie's website.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Kaz at Pixabay.

* MedGift is a non-profit with resources and tools for those facing a health-related hardship or need.