Joanie

Shawhan

In Her Shoes

Dancing in the Shadow of Cancer

Cruise Camp Mak-A-Dream

 

 

“Bon voyage!”

 

 

These shouts echo in the ears of passengers as their cruise ship shoves off from port, the familiar fading into the distance.

 

 

But at Camp Mak-A-Dream, we entered our own high seas adventure greeted by Love Boat’s Julie for our theme night—a cruise ship.

 

 

We are ovarian cancer survivors. Many of us donned sailor costumes, having navigated the uncharted waters of ovarian cancer and chemotherapy. Some wore white T-shirts emblazoned across the front: “I refuse to sink.”

 

 

Another camper sported a captain’s hat and grasped a life preserver ring. A reminder that on the choppy waters of ovarian cancer, we grab our life preservers and hold on.

 

 

Campers in formals, furs and glitz waltzed through our ship, embracing the glamour, and for one night forgetting the baggage we would rather leave behind. We admired costumed tables topped with hand-sewn delicacies while we nibbled on the chef’s specialties.

 

 

We frolicked with dolphins, cruised through shark-infested waters and encountered a life-size Captain Jack. His captain’s wheel beckoned us. How we longed to captain our own ship, grip the wheel, steer into a cancer-free harbor and drop anchor in the sea of hope.

 

 

At Camp Mak-A-Dream, nestled in the Rockies near Missoula Montana, ovarian cancer survivors find hope. We find hope in the testimonies and courage of other survivors who have navigated the waters of ovarian cancer, despite setbacks. New treatments are shared. And one day, we hope for a cure.

 

 

June is National Camping Month. So this is a good time to plan your trip to Camp Mak-A-Dream. Registration is now open for the fall ovarian cancer camp. If you have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, consider embarking on this adventure. The camp is free of charge to ovarian cancer survivors.

 

 

Bon voyage!

 

Link: http://www.campdream.org

 

 

 

I Survived Ovarian Cancer!

 

 

Today is World Ovarian Cancer Day. I am an ovarian cancer survivor.

 

I had observed the ravages of cancer and chemotherapy inflicted upon my patients as an oncology nurse. But I joined their ranks when ovarian cancer flung me to the other side of the bed. Nursing scrubs and shoes gave way to tieback gowns and skid-free gripper socks. I was dragged through the theme park of cancer with its midway of fears that assailed me and chemotherapy that pummeled me. The tune, “What if?” revolved around my mind like a crazed carousel. How I yearned to grasp the switch that would halt this fearsome ride.

 

But I survived the malaise, pain and nausea that stormed my body. I survived the emotional roller coaster, spewing its negativity. Bleach-tipped hair burst forth from my bald scalp. Eyebrows and eyelashes reappeared. By the grace of God, I exchanged the fog of chemo brain for mental clarity.

 

Several months later, I donned my nursing scrubs and resumed my career.

 

Today, I have a comfortable lead in my race against ovarian cancer. I am a survivor.

 

There is no test for ovarian cancer. It is often diagnosed in the latter stages due to its vague symptoms easily ignored.

 

Today is World Ovarian Cancer Day. Let us raise awareness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer:

 

                        *  Abdominal bloating

                        *  Pelvic discomfort or pain

                        *  Persistent indigestion, gas or nausea

                        *  Feeling full or loss of appetite

                        *  Changes in bowel patterns

                        *  Urinary frequency

                        *  Abdominal or low back pain

12 Steps to Spiritual Wellness (Even During Illness)

 

 

 

 

 

March is spiritual wellness month. I don’t believe that it is a coincidence that it usually coincides with the liturgical season of lent, a time when Christians focus on how the death and resurrection of Christ have transformed our lives.

 

We are a triune being—spirit, soul and body, so interrelated that the lack of health and wellness in one part of our being affects the other parts.

 

So, what is spiritual wellness?

 

For me, spiritual wellness is knowing who I am in Christ, and recognizing that He has a plan and purpose for my life.

 

But how do I maintain spiritual wellness when I feel as though my identity and purpose is derailed by illness?

 

That was the question I asked myself when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I lost my job and my hair, and endured a chemotherapy that seemingly stripped me of my identity, plans and purpose.

 

But God did not leave me stranded in my malady. As I called out to Him, struggling over time, I discovered the following steps to help restore my spiritual health.

 

12 steps to spiritual wellness:

 

1.   Journaling – I find writing my thoughts, prayers and feelings helpful as I sort through the plethora of emotions that churn during a health crisis.

 

2.   Scripture – I ask God to reveal to me what verses are relevant to my situation. Then I read and pray these verses, sometimes over and over. I find the Psalms especially comforting as they cover the gamut of my emotional reactions to illness: sadness, loss, depression, betrayal, grief, fear, anxiety and anger.

 

3.   Prayer and Praise – Prayer and praise help me to focus on who God is. They help me recognize that, when I feel like my life is out of control, the God of the universe knows exactly what I am going through. He understands me, loves me and has compassion on me. Prayer does not always change my circumstances. But prayer changes me and offers me the ability to cope with my circumstances.

 

4.   Healthy Relationships – My relationships are among the greatest blessings God has given me. These are the people who have laughed, cried and prayed with me, and helped me through times of crisis. They have been instrumental in honing my character, forming my identity and defining my purpose.

 

5.   Rest and Relaxation –When I take time to do the things I enjoy, I feel refreshed, whether I read a book, watch a movie, take up in a hobby, listen to music or play an instrument. I find spending time outdoors invigorates me. I love the warmth of the sun on my face and the gentle breezes. Whether my scenery includes mountains, lakes, wildlife, flowers or simply the view from a park bench, the wonder of creation reminds me that no matter what is happening in my life, there is still beauty in my world.

 

6.   Exercise – When I exercise, I need to remember to choose activities within my current physical limitations. I found this out when I attempted to take a short walk and almost didn’t make it home. Exercise boosts my mood, helps me sleep better and increases my energy.

 

7.   Laughter – Whether I peruse Far Side cartoon books, watch reruns of I Love Lucy or spend time with funny people, I love to laugh. Laughter releases endorphins and stimulates the immune system. According to Proverbs 17:22, “A happy heart is good medicine and a joyful mind causes healing.”

 

8.   Let Go – The word for me this year is “Let go!” Let go of anger, bitterness and resentment, the toxic emotions that drain my energy and strength. Negative emotions suppress our immune systems, and contribute to muscle tension, digestive disorders, stress, depression and anxiety.

 

9.   Confession – When I confess my sins, I acknowledge that I have made wrong choices. I in turn receive forgiveness and the opportunity to make right choices. I am reconciled to God and people, which opens the door to healing from the effects of my sin.

 

10.   Forgive – When I forgive someone who hurt me, my relationship with God is restored, and I release the other person from my wrath and judgment. I love this quote by Marianne Williamson—“Unforgiveness is like drinking poison yourself and waiting for the other person to die.” Refusing to forgive another only harms me.

 

11.   Helping Others – When I help others, I reaffirm my sense of purpose. I may not be able to do for others to the extent I was able when I was healthy, but sometimes a simple phone call, text, or a card can bless another person. Doing for another others brings joy, combats depression and reduces stress.

 

12.   Take a deep breath – A deep breath helps to calm me when I am anxious or stressed. Sometimes I take a deep breath before I open my mouth to speak so that I respond to a conflict rather than react and generate more tension.

 

 

How have you learned to restore spiritual wellness during your health crisis?

Love Is…(9 Acts of Love Recounted by Cancer Survivors)

 

 

Love—romance, flowers, hearts, chocolates and Valentine’s Day.

 

 

But is this really love?

 

 

I asked my fellow cancer survivors the following question—What acts of kindness expressed love to you when you were diagnosed with cancer and undergoing chemotherapy?

 

 

Let us count the ways:

 

 

  1. 1.   Prayer – Cancer is bigger than we are, but not bigger than God. Many of us experienced the love of God through the outpouring of prayers whether offered by individuals, or through organized prayer chains. For example, a friend of one survivor set up a 24-hour prayer vigil during her first surgery. The night shift slots filled in first for the 15-minute increments of prayer.

 

  1. 2.   Meals – Whether scheduled meals organized on spreadsheets, refrigerators filled with a cuisine prepared by gourmet restaurants, lunch dates, or homemade bean soup to warm the belly of a caregiver, food conveyed comfort and love.

 

  1. 3.   Home and lawn care – Friends vacuumed, scoured bathrooms, emptied garbage, did laundry and even cleaned the litter box. Some offered free housecleaning for a period of time. Volunteers mowed the lawn, raked the leaves and shoveled snow.

 

  1. 4.   Treatment support – The medication regime and generalized weakness necessitated transportation to and from chemotherapy treatments and doctors’ appointments. Juggling rides, meals, cleaning and shopping while undergoing treatments can be exhausting, so one friend set up a list of contacts of those who wanted to help and then acted as point person to fill the need. We appreciate all of those who sat with us, prayed with us and encouraged us during our infusions, sometimes lasting the better part of the day. When one survivor needed a companion to stay with her during six weeks of radiotherapy, her friends each spent a week of vacation time to hang with her.

 

  1. 5.   Finances – A cancer diagnosis is costly. We are grateful to those who orchestrated collections, raffles, fundraisers, GoFundMe pages and MedGift. One group raised funds to enable a friend to have a second opinion at a major cancer center. Co-workers donated their paid time off. Even children operating a lemonade stand, offered a sweet contribution.

 

  1. 6.   Personal care – It is frightening and humbling when we are unable to care for ourselves. When a wife was too weak to feed herself, her husband stepped up to the plate. One daughter flushed her mother’s PICC line every morning for months on her way to work. Another daughter changed her mother’s surgical dressing each day for months. When one woman was unable to shower after surgery, friends and family arranged a hair-washing soiree.

 

  1. 7.   Gifts – We received many lovely and thoughtful gifts: wigs, hats, scarves, prayer shawls, hand made quilts, knitted socks, blankets, cardigans, gift cards, flowers, lotions, magazines, Ipads, puzzle books, devotional books, adult coloring books, Far Side cartoon books and encouraging cards. Earrings, pearls, crystal bracelets, and ribbon necklaces provided the bling. Chemo bags bulged with the above items, but more importantly brimmed with love. One woman received 80 pairs of Lularue leggings. Some received Spa days and massages. Another received a book from a friend she hadn’t seen in forty years—The Little Engine That Could.

 

  1. 8.   Time – Cancer isolates us. We are grateful to those who visited us when we were sick, listened to our concerns, prayed with us, laughed with us, called us throughout the day to let us know we were in their thoughts and prayers. There were the long nights in the hospital with loved ones where we happily relinquished sole control of the remote. We cannot forget the children who tucked their grandma into bed at night and read to her.

 

  1. 9.   Crazy love – Individual and unique acts of love offered by family and friends.

 

  •    *  While too sick to get off the sofa, a friend painted the entire  apartment with odorless paint.

 

  •    *  The students and co-workers of a teacher shaved their heads in solidarity.

 

  •    *   One woman struggled with her daily alternative treatment—a coffee enema. While she was at work, her engineer husband mastered the technique on himself and then instructed his wife step-by-step.

 

  •    *   The sister and friends of one survivor surprised her with concert tickets to see her favorite musical artist, arranging a security escort with flashing lights and a backstage pass.

 

  •    *   Love rivaled a Hallmark movie when a survivor’s boyfriend proposed to her after her third chemotherapy treatment. One week later, wedding bells chimed.

 

 

 

These expressions of love include many faces and facets of kindness.

 

But what is love? According to I Corinthians 13, love is patient, love is kind, and love endures all things—even cancer.

 

 

 

Survive Life’s Firestorms (Without Smelling Like Smoke)

fire-298105__480

 

A firestorm blasted my world. I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

 

Firestorms—those unexpected, devastating losses that disrupt our lives. It may be the loss of a loved one, health, job, home or dream. The derailment may be temporary or have lasting effects. How do we not only survive but also overcome these catastrophes?

 

During the ovarian cancer firestorm in my life, I discovered 3 steps to survival based on the fire safety principles of stop, drop and roll. But how do we rise out of the ashes without smelling like smoke? Hence the fourth step—rise.

 

 

 

  1. STOP

When a firestorm erupts, our daily activities halt. All of our energy, strength and resources shift into crisis mode.

 

After an ultrasound for what I thought was a uterine fibroid, my doctor strode into the room and announced, “You have ovarian cancer.” I froze. Surely this isn’t happening to me. Surgery and chemotherapy consumed me for the next six months. Cancer threatened my health, my job and my future.

 

But when all I had was questions, I found I also needed to stop and listen to the one who had the answers.

 

 

  1. DROP

 

Smoke rises in a fire so we drop to the ground. The air is fresher, our visibility clearer.

 

So too, in a life firestorm we drop to our knees in surrender and prayer, seeking God, humbling ourselves before Him. Our sacrifice of praise and worship mingles with our tears.

 

As I wrestled with the Lord about going through chemotherapy and sought His direction for my treatment, I sensed His voice whispering, “Go through the process.” The Holy Spirit strengthened me to go through the treatments, treatment which were worse than the cancer itself. I could not even focus to pray and read my Bible. All I could do was drop into my Father’s arms like a child and cry for mercy.

 

 

  1. ROLL

 

We roll to douse any lingering flames.

 

The flames of anger, bitterness and unforgiveness will cloud our vision and scorch our lives.

 

As we draw near to the Lord, we roll our cares onto Him: our pain, grief, anger, fears, doubts, loss and loved ones.

 

We stretch forth our hands, grasping for a reason. “Why? Why? Why?” But the answers slip through our fingers like a vapor.

 

I don’t know why I got ovarian cancer, the rarest and most deadly of female cancers. But I needed to allow my desire for answers to be extinguished with the flames.

 

 

  1. RISE

 

God desires not only to raise us up out of the ashes of our brokenness, but also give us beauty for the ashes. (Isaiah 61:1-3)

 

Through thanksgiving and praise, we shake off the ashes and exchange the lingering smell of smoke for the fragrance of Christ. We recognize that all we are comes from Him. We reflect His glory.

 

I lost myself to ovarian cancer, but in losing myself, I found a new purpose and calling in my life—to write encouraging articles for women undergoing chemotherapy and advocate for and educate women regarding ovarian cancer.

 

Because of God’s power we are able to come through the firestorms in our lives without smelling like smoke. But surviving a firestorm does not imply that everything is “all better” and the wound is healed. Some heartbreaks and losses permanently char us.

 

True triumph is not a return to life before the firestorm, but a heart attitude—is God still God despite my pain and loss?

 

If so, then we will be able to proclaim, along with Job, “I know that my redeemer lives.” (Job 19:25 NKJV)

 

How has God brought you through the firestorms in your life?

Embracing the light of Christmas While Navigating a Crisis

5-advent-candled-flicker-east-cobbler

 

 

Everywhere I go I am reminded of Christmas: lights twinkle, trees sparkle, bells chime, shoppers scurry and Christmas carols ring out the joy of the season. Wreaths with cheery red bows adorn the entrances of my neighbors’ homes.

 

I stare at my bare door as I enter my home devoid of Christmas decor. My fireplace mantel, normally home to my lighted nativity scene, lays bare. My energy bank is drained. A crisis has rocked my world.

 

How do I prepare my heart for Christmas when my circumstances do not seem merry and bright?

 

How do we embrace the true meaning of Christmas while wading through the pain of grief, sickness or loss? Is it possible to rejoice in hope and experience peace?

 

My circumstances seem to have smothered the light that I need to shine in my darkness. I am reminded of the lights flickering from the advent wreath candles. Each week an additional candle is lit, symbolizing the coming of Christ with increasing light.

 

I have discovered five truths based on the meaning of the advent candles to help us embrace the light of Christmas while navigating a crisis.

 

  1. The first candle is the candle of hope—a hope not based on our circumstances, but a hope in God who is faithful and fulfills His promises. He promises never to leave us.

 

  1. The second candle is the candle of peace. We long for peace. Peace silences the voices of fear and anxiety. Jesus promises us a peace that transcends our circumstances. He is the Prince of peace.

 

  1. The third candle represents joy—a joy that surpasses our pain. Even though we look to the day when all sorrow and mourning will cease and every tear will be wiped away, the very presence of God fills us with joy.

 

  1. The fourth candle of Christmas is love. God is love. He loves each one of us so much that He sent His Son into the world so we can experience His love through a relationship with Him. In turn, we are able to love others with His love.

 

  1. A white candle graces the center of the advent wreath and is lit on Christmas day. This candle represents Christ. He is the light that will shine in our darkness and show us how to navigate through this life, including the present crisis.

 

This advent, instead of focusing on our suffering, we can embrace the five lights of Christmas: hope, peace, joy and love, culminating in the arrival of Christ, the light of the world.

 

 

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2 NKJV)

BEAT Ingratitude this Thanksgiving

 thanksgiving-1766814

 

 

Do you find it hard to be grateful? Sometimes the challenges we face make it difficult to feel thankful. When I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I was not overcome with gratitude. But I was grateful that I could turn to a God who loved me and had a plan for my life.

 

Ingratitude is just as insidious as cancer. It creeps into our minds, seeding negativity, destroying healthy thought patterns until we become cynical, critical and complaining. We often don’t recognize the destruction hiding within until it spills out over our lips.

 

For early detection of ovarian cancer, we use the acronym BEAT. We can apply this same acronym to detect those areas of ingratitude in our own lives and restore an attitude of gratitude so that we can truly offer thanks to God this Thanksgiving.

 

 

BEAT Ingratitude

 

B – Bow down in humility, surrendering ourselves to God

 

E – Examine self. Am I grateful? What do I complain or grumble about?                Ask God for forgiveness.

 

A – Adore. Praise and worship of God fills me with gratitude.

 

T – Thank God for the blessings He has already given.

 

 

May we be truly thankful this Thanksgiving.

In Her Shoes

shoe-collage

 

 

We are women. We love shoes. Our closets are chock-full: stilettos, flats, platforms, sandals, flip-flops, tennies, boots, athletic shoes. For each occasion we agonize over our perfect outfit right down to our feet. Sometimes it’s a delicate balance of comfort versus fashion.

 

Women with ovarian cancer have trod in all of these shoes. We come from all walks of life, but our paths have intersected in one place—ovarian cancer. It doesn’t matter your choice of shoe. If you are a woman, you are not immune.

 

The trek through ovarian cancer is precarious and unpredictable, marked only by the numbers we patrol and the reports we scan. We slog through the storms of adversity: a life-threatening diagnosis, surgery and chemotherapy—which messes with our minds. We scale the cliffs of insanity: brain fog, jitters, emotional roller coasters plunging us into fear and depression. We vacillate between fatigue and insomnia, ratcheted up by steroids, pain and hot flashes.

 

Along the way, we have cast off our prissy shoes, trading them in for shoes that can handle the muck and day-to-day drudgery of living with cancer.

 

sneakers-572601_1280

 

One day though, we will retrieve these prissy shoes we have discarded. We will walk, we will run and we will raise awareness of this life-threatening disease. We will stamp out ovarian cancer.

 

shoes-1274989_1280

 

 

Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer:

 

  • Pain or pressure in the pelvis, abdomen or lower back
  • Abdominal bloating or a sense of fullness
  • Nausea, constipation, diarrhea, gas or indigestion
  • Urinary frequency or urgency
  • Fatigue

 

If you experience any of these symptoms, consult your doctor.

 

 

(Photos courtesy of Pixabay)

The Whisperer

conch-78124_1280

 

Stop. Listen! Do you hear the whispers of ovarian cancer? This insidious disease assaults over 20,000 unsuspecting women per year and is the most lethal of all female cancers. Since there are no screening tests, it is often diagnosed in the latter stages.

 

As an oncology nurse, it’s a tragedy I’d witnessed too many times. Little did I know it would become my own. Despite my background, I missed the whispers of ovarian cancer.

 

During the summer of 2006, I experienced several episodes of nausea and assumed I had the flu. Suspicions of ovarian cancer crept into my mind, but I dismissed them. I rationalized. This nausea is too infrequent to be ovarian cancer.

 

But in September, I rolled over in bed and felt a hard grapefruit-size mass in my abdomen. The whisperer roared.

 

My doctor thought it was a uterine fibroid, but she wanted to confirm it with an ultrasound. In the darkened room, the ultrasound technician furrowed her brow and shot me a glance. Something was wrong.

 

After examining the images, my doctor announced her verdict—ovarian cancer. She spotted a tumor the size of a cantaloupe. She rattled off the tests and surgery that needed to be scheduled. Words spilled over her lips, sounding foreign and distant. I sat numb, frozen. Is she talking to me?

 

I had witnessed the devastating side effects of chemotherapy inflicted upon my patients and vowed that I would never undergo chemo. But now, I felt powerless to carry out this resolution. The side effects of the drugs terrified me: baldness, fatigue, body aches, nausea, vomiting and a life-threatening allergic reaction.

 

I exchanged my nursing scrubs and shoes for tieback gowns and skid-free gripper socks. I was one of them, dragged through the theme park of cancer.

 

Today, I am cancer free. I lost myself to ovarian cancer, but in losing myself, I found a new purpose and calling in my life—to advocate for and educate women regarding ovarian cancer.

 

September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Stop and listen for the symptoms that whisper. The life you save may be your own.

 

Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer:

 

* Pain or pressure in the pelvis, abdomen or lower back

* Abdominal bloating or a sense of fullness

* Nausea, constipation, diarrhea, gas or indigestion

* Urinary frequency or urgency

* Fatigue

 

If you experience any of these symptoms, consult your doctor.

Boomers Making A Difference

STS cow

Coffee in hand, the 3rd year medical students wander into the conference room and take their seats across from us. We are ovarian cancer survivors.

 

Today, the three of us are presenting to their class. We follow the guidelines from Survivors Teaching Students: Saving Women’s Lives® program sponsored by the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance.

 

Our goal is that these aspiring doctors will recognize the symptoms of ovarian cancer, and provide early diagnosis thus increasing longevity for these women.

 

Our leader engages the group with her charm and theatrical flare. She recounts the statistics related to ovarian cancer: over 22,000 women diagnosed per year, 81% in the latter stages.

 

Ovarian cancer is not the silent killer, but the disease that whispers. Its symptoms, though vague are often misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome or a urinary tract infection.

Each of us shares her unique story, focusing on her symptoms. For me, I had several episodes of nausea that mimicked the flu. It culminated one night when I rolled over in bed and felt a grapefruit-size mass in my abdomen.

 

I encourage the students as I conclude, “If ovarian cancer niggles in the back of your mind, trust your gut and pursue it.”

 

As we pour ourselves into these young minds, we hope they will remember the women sitting across from them and our testimonies of survivorship—the faces of ovarian cancer.

 

Yes, we are boomers making a difference in the fight against ovarian cancer.

 

August is Boomers Making A Difference Month. Do you know boomers making a difference?

 

 

The acronym for the symptoms of ovarian cancer used by the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance is:

 

BEAT

 

B – is for Bloating that is persistent

E – is for Eating less and feeling fuller

A – is for Abdominal pain

T – is for Trouble with your bladder

 

 

If you experience any of these symptoms, consult your doctor.

Joanie with water bottle
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