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Entries in Cancer Survivor (2)

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.