a place of abundance

"we went through fire and through water, yet You brought us out into a place of abundance" Psalm 66:12b

Guest Post About Cancer Lessons October 13, 2011

Filed under: cancer,post cancer,spiritual life — vivmabuni @ 11:48 am

The transition over to the new website www.vivianmabuni.com has gone smoothly. Thank you for all of your encouragement and love. For those of you who receive these posts via email and haven’t re-subscribed yet, feel free to click on over and enter your email in the top right hand box. For those of you who already re-subscribed to receive email posts, my apologies for the overlap.

My friend, Natasha, invited me to write a guest blog on her website: www.asistasjourney.com about some lessons I learned through my cancer journey. Please feel free to click on over and check it out.

Also, for those of you on Facebook. I have a writer page now. It’s Vivian Mabuni (how creative!) but if you look closely there is a place that says “writer” under my name (as I bite my knuckles and squeeze my eyes closed). Anyway, please feel free to “like” the page. I will update with prayer requests, book writing updates, post blogs and share blogs and other writing related stuff there.

Thanks for your encouragement. I go back and reread many of your comments when I get discouraged. Grateful for your support and care.

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Two Years!! October 4, 2011

Filed under: cancer,post cancer — vivmabuni @ 2:38 pm

October. It’s no longer about black and orange and Trick-or-Treating. If you look around the “in” color of the month is PINK. I  have a new Hermes (oo la la) pink scarf that someone gave my mom that she passed on to me. I’ve been sporting it in honor of Breast Cancer awareness month. (see photo) This month two years ago marks the milestone when I finished active treatment (surgeries, chemo and radiation treatments). I found out this morning at my every-four-months-for-three-years follow-up appointment with my oncologist that the two-year mark is even more signficant than the five-year mark for cancer survivors. The highest reports of recurrence happens within the first two years, so that I am still NED (no evidence of disease) is cause for celebration!!! I am continuing to grow in confidence in this survivorship stage, but with a sober approach to the preciousness of life.

When news that our beloved Max died this summer, I couldn’t help but think when I saw my kids grieving what it would be like if it had been me instead of our dog. Two words that describe how I am: sober and grateful. This new season has me saying “yes” to invitations to speak at a fall retreat, on a radio program, staff conference, and at a church in the next two months. The theme that keeps tossing around my mind is: Life and Death. Would appreciate your continued prayers for health and that the words I speak (and write) would continue to point people to God.

 

 

The Beginning of the End and New Beginnings May 18, 2011

Filed under: cancer,post cancer — vivmabuni @ 11:27 am

“When this madness ends, we must celebrate by visiting someplace amazing like Italy.” Dreams of visiting Italy would get sprinkled into our conversations and during the hardest, darkest times the hope of walking about the streets of some new place helped me to stay the course and finish treatment. Leila (of the Awesome Threesome) and I would pull up our frequent flier points and occasionally look on-line to see if there were any specials. I remember sitting bald and sitting in discouragement and sitting in pain and discomfort and Leila would cheer me up with visions of faraway places. We talked of visiting Charmaine in Florence and travelling by train to Toulouse to visit Donna or Paris where Jen was now living. We discovered there was a marathon in Rome.

But then life took over and the weeks and months blurred and the everyday swallowed up the opportunities to visit the amazing some places.

We knew we would be in Orlando the first weekend of March for the annual Synergy conference (incredible conference–a definite future blog). We were inviting our friends from all over to join us. We ended up with six of us making up what I affectionately termed “the California Cohort.”  Cohort. I love that word! So, Lisa, Loi, Sonia, and Joanna agreed to join Leila and me for a heart expanding, world-changing, eyeball lifting outside ourselves and onto God kind of weekend. And somehow our conversation turned to visiting Italy in the Epcot center. Afterall, “something was better than nothing.” We booked our flights so that we would arrive a day before the conference started. We would take in Italy AND France, and the Middle East, and oh, pretty much the whole world through Epcot.

The week before we left I was online and the tickets for the Epcot center were running $82. I couldn’t see paying that much money, so I started talking the whole experience down. “It’s okay. It’s too expensive. We don’t have to go. We can just hang out by the pool at the hotel or go to the mall and just relax before the conference begins.” I was trying to let my disappointment dispel by looking forward to the other good things that would be happening that weekend. Once again, pushing down my hopes, desires, wants, dreams.

But then Joanna (fellow Triathlon 2006 team member…blogged about the Triathlon we participated in on CaringBridge) connected with a friend in California who had a daughter that worked at Disney in Florida. Around 2 am the night we arrived we got a text from the daughter with news that since her boyfriend also worked at Disney that they could get all SIX of us in for FREE with PARK HOPPER tickets!!!

YEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSS!!!!

And so we giggled and floated our way through the Epcot center. No rushing about trying to squeeze everything in. We took our time. Lingered whenever we wanted. We hit Italy right at lunch time. Handsome Italian waiters with fun to pronounce names delivered $20 salads that we didn’t have any hesitation ordering.

After lunch, we headed over to Japan to use the restroom.

And as we came out we heard Taiko drums.

My heart started pounding. Tears starting forming.

We came to source of the amazing sound and saw this:

Three women Taiko drummers.

Most of you know what the Taiko drums signify (also blogged about it  in CaringBridge). Kierstin told me that Taiko drummers play at the finish line of the LA Marathon with the sound heard a mile away–long before they are in sight. Upon hearing that, Taiko drums came to represent the end of the marathon of cancer treatment. The women drummers were symbolic of the journey I have been on trying to figure out and embrace being created in the image of God as a woman, as an Asian American woman, as a warrior, as a leader, as a Christian. Those Japanese Taiko drummers displayed both feminine beauty along with a “don’t hold back, play with all your heart” kind of strength.

And now, here at just the right time, at just the right place, with just the right people, the Taiko drums played.

They played for me.

And we all stood there and wept.

God was speaking to my heart that the end of the wilderness time had come. The Israelites wandered around in the wilderness for 40 years. God provided manna for them to eat, their shoes did not wear out. It was a unique time but not the final destination. God did not intend that the Israelites live as nomad wanderers. He was clear from the beginning that Abraham would have the land. Moses was to lead God’s people to the promised land. Joshua and Caleb reported back about the land God promised and it was all that God said and more. The wandering time was a detour time. God redeemed that time. But the wandering was only for a time. The story did not end with walking in circles. And so, with my little life, I was reminded that the cancer, post cancer wandering time was not the ultimate destination.

And so right there in the Epcot center in Florida, in Japan, down the way from Italy, God sweetly, symbolically, in my heart language, showed me that it was time to take up arms and re-engage in battle.

Game on.

I have sought to be open to opportunities that have come up now that a new chapter is opening.

In one of my bags is the readmittance form to Talbot Seminary. There is an Orange County extension class about three miles from my house  that will meet once a week on Thursday evenings this fall and it seems to be part of the next steps. This cancer book idea keeps coming back around and around. Each time I dismiss it, another reminder comes up for why I need to follow through on at least trying. I have a soft deadline to have the book ready to be looked at by an editor and for next steps by August 15th. My life is not my own. So, once again, I yield and surrender. Be glorified in my life, O God.

Here is the California Cohort in front of the cool looking silver ball in the Epcot Center.

I somehow picture that when it is time for me to go home, Jesus will greet me at the finish line of my life playing Taiko drums. And I picture learning to play from Him and welcoming each of you into heaven playing the Taiko drums with reckless abandon.

 

Dying to Know March 30, 2011

Filed under: post cancer — vivmabuni @ 2:57 pm

“If you could know the exact day and time you would die, would you want to know? Why or why not? Turn to the person next to you and discuss.”

And so began Pastor Kevin’s Sunday message a couple of weekends ago. I was completely unprepared for my response to the question. Normally I would respond, “Yes, so I could best prepare my family and get things in order.” Everyone around me answered that way.

I didn’t. Instead, I fought back tears for the rest of the service.

I don’t want to know.

I don’t want to know now because death has tainted the landscape of my little life. After church I brought Darrin into my fear and pain and let the tears flow. The tears were part of grieving “the loss of innocence.” Those are the only words I can come up with that somewhat describes what is going on in my heart. Before cancer, the thought of dying was way, way down the line, off the radar, really. Part of post cancer life for me is coming to terms with the emotions that got churned up during treatment that I was unable to process at the time. It took all I could muster up to get through the physical demands of surgeries, chemo and radiation. What I didn’t get to was embracing and feeling the reality that rather than a broken leg or getting my tonsils out, cancer can end in death. I have a new perspective on death.

It’s like getting engaged and sitting through a wedding ceremony.

It’s like finding out you’re going to have a baby and noticing all the strollers and car seats.

It’s like watching a movie scene about someone having an allergic reaction and then having a child with food allergies.

It’s like learning you are pregnant after having a miscarriage and struggling with allowing your heart to love a new baby who you may never hold in your arms.

Weddings and car seats and food allergies and miscarriages have always been around, but now they are personal. Each of those things have become part of my life experience.

For me, I notice every cancer billboard, radio commercial, TV ad of a bald kid, and every pink ribbon on a potato chip bag. When I hear of someone newly diagnosed, my heart sinks. It  is personal now. And death is no longer a far away, eventual kind of thing. It is on my radar. And, God willing, when I die of old age and not from cancer I will have lived my life on purpose.

I don’t want to know. But I do want to live.

And there is a difference between existence and life. I don’t want to spend whatever days God has for me merely existing. I want to live fully and not live in fear.

Remember the former things long past for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.” Isaiah 46:9-10

 

Nothing Can Hurry Time December 8, 2010

Filed under: post cancer — vivmabuni @ 5:02 pm

I went into my appointment already feeling emotionally wobbly. Julia’s classmate has a neighbor who died over Thanksgiving break from a four-year battle with ovarian cancer. Her daughter is Julia’s age. I heard about the choices she made to help ease her passing. She was insistent that the family spend Thanksgiving away from their home and with close family friends. She died over the weekend, not on Thanksgiving day. I imagine that she was thinking about not wanting the family to have memories of her death in their home or on a major holiday. I found her choices inspiring. A mother’s love demonstrated to the end.

So with this news as the backdrop, I went in to see my oncologist. I’ve been going on follow-up appointments every three months with my oncologist, surgical oncologist and radiation oncologist all year. It’s worked out to one appointment a month between those three doctors, but somehow the three have all landed in the month of December. I had my blood work done the Friday after Thanksgiving in time for my Wednesday appointment. As I walked from the car down the path and up the stairs to the office I had a rush of memories come over me. The waiting room, the smell of the air freshener in the bathroom, even the sound of my footsteps on the cement walkway all churned up a mixed bag of emotions for me. I was in a different place, feeling physically strong. The scars from the surgeries and where the port was placed for administering the chemo have healed over as much as they will. I was happy to see the nurses and my doctor, but really, really, really, really, really strongly disliked being back in that office.

My doctor was very pleased with my blood work. Everything all in range, even my vitamin D. My body has started producing estrogen again so I no longer am in pain when I get up from sitting on the floor and I can close my fists in the morning when I wake. I asked, with tears in my eyes, “When will I be able to move into the group of people who have battled breast cancer and now are living life merrily on their way?” She looked at me with compassion in her eyes. “What you are feeling is very normal. I have no reason to believe that you won’t be in that group. You have done everything possible to eliminate cancer. Your prognosis is excellent. It just takes time. Nothing can help but time.” And with that I thought, “Nothing can hurry time.”

So then yesterday all over the news I was hearing about Elizabeth Edwards dying from breast cancer recurrence. I couldn’t pull myself away from reading the articles and calculating in my head– first diagnosed in 2004, three years later it came back. And then I would replay in my mind what my doctor said. It’s brutal being in this in between place. All these things hit so close to home.

My dear friend, Leila (of the Awesome Threesome), wisely pointed out that this month is a rough month just because it was the month of diagnosis. When I thought about it, I realized that I have been edgy with the kids, kind of tuning out and going inside. It’s helpful to be aware of what is going on in my heart. I think what makes it hard for me is that I can actually go a few days now and not think about cancer and then think I’m ready to jump back into “normal life” and then I’ll be bowled over with an unexpected story or memory and feel flattened all over again.

Still would appreciate your prayers this month as I go in for a couple of more appointments and hit some of those dates that are “anniversaries” but not really the celebrating kind.

Thanks for checking in…

 

Two Strands October 25, 2010

Filed under: post cancer — vivmabuni @ 6:22 pm

I’m inviting you into my closet. Don’t look too closely. And try not to fall over all the stuff. My stuff outnumbers and outweighs Darrin’s about four to one. He has never, in almost twenty years of marriage, complained about how many pairs of black shoes I own or about anything related to all my stuff in the closet. He is a good man. Truly. And not just because he doesn’t give me a hard time about my stuff.

On the wall inside the closet, by the door, is a misplaced plastic bathroom hand towel holder (put there by the previous owners and remains attached to the wall the 13 years we’ve lived in the house…). I have a few belts hanging from it, my Danskin triathlon medal and now two strands of hot pink Mardi Gras beads that I received at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure event a few weeks back. Each strand represents a year of survivorship.

I wasn’t sure how to calculate survivorship. One woman said from the date of surgery when the cancer was physically removed (January 27, 2009), my surgical oncologist said from the date of diagnosis (December 22, 2008), another said when I completed surgery, chemo, and radiation or “active treatment” (October 22, 2009). I decided that I would wear a strand for every year I take part in the Race for the Cure event.

This year, unlike last year, the sun was out. In fact we were having unseasonably warm weather during that week so we decided to go on the earlier side because the forecast was temperatures hitting the 80’s. Our family arrived in time to take part in the one mile fun run. After the fun run that we walked, they had the tribute time for the survivors. I left Darrin and the kids under a shady tree and worked my way up through the crowds and up the steps to join the 1700 (I think) survivors wearing the hot pink survivor t-shirts, carrying pink roses, with those shiny, hot pink Mardi Gras necklaces draped around their necks.

The sister of Susan G. Komen, Nancy Brinker, has inspired me with what she has been able to accomplish with bringing breast cancer awareness into mainstream life. She is an example to me of one woman who has changed the world. The whole month of October is no longer about orange and black, it’s become all about pink. NFL players and even Michael’s football team has pink ribbon stickers on their helmets and pink shoelaces in support of breast cancer awareness. This kind of support was unheard of when 30-year-old Susan G. Komen, was diagnosed and shortly after, lost her battle with breast cancer in 1980. Part of the tribute time was hearing from Nancy in person.

The previous year I sat in the back of the survivor section to the right of the podium and this year I thought, “I’m in a different place, so I’m going to sit in a different place.” I slipped into one of the empty chairs near the back of the survivor section on the left side this time and looked out over the sea of faces. I couldn’t see the shady tree or Darrin and the kids from where I sat and suddenly I felt a bit lost and alone. Then I felt small arms wrap around my middle. I looked down and Julia was hugging me. I was so surprised. I blinked back tears as she smiled and pointed to Darrin and the boys standing off to the side, right outside the survivor section. Both the boys had grown several inches over the course of this past year. Both stood taller than Darrin now, but Darrin’s broad shoulders are still unmatched and they reflected his strength and presence. I was so proud of them. Once again, Darrin had the wherewithal to know that I needed the family close so I wouldn’t feel alone.

The three of them smiled and waved–and in their eyes I saw that they were proud of me. Grateful tears filled up my sunglasses. We listened to a woman perform the Miley Cyrus song, “The Climb”  and watched as the doves flew into the bright blue sky. Julia and I joined the crowds as we cheered for another year and another strand and all that the event represents.

 

Back There, Back Then September 15, 2010

Filed under: post cancer,spiritual life — vivmabuni @ 11:54 pm

Got a new Nike iPod chip for my running shoes. My old one ran out of juice last year as it sat unused in my closet. Got a nifty new iPod running chip velcro pocket holder thing (see photo). The previous chip holder was one Darrin creatively made from one of the fingers from an old glove that sat unused in another closet. We really don’t use gloves much in California. Like barely ever. He cut the finger off the glove, placed the chip in the tip and sewed it closed. Then he glued on a velcro fastener and even glued on the Nike swoosh from the cardboard box the chip came in. I loved using that old chip because it could track the distance and speed of my runs when I used to run and it would sink onto this cool Nike website where I could see graphs of the total miles run, set up training programs or goals and even use Google maps to figure out the distances of the courses I would run through the neighborhood. And to complete this new theme with the new chip, and chip holder,  I’ve put together a new workout playlist on my iPod. Music evokes strong memories and my old playlists reminds me of life back then.

Back then I was running every other day between three and four miles. Back then I was able to run up steep hills. Back then I was ten pounds lighter. The ten pounds I’ve gained started when I went through chemo but remains possibly because of the medication I now take (a common side effect),or it could be my metabolism slowing down from being truly middle-aged, or it could be post treatment comfort eating. Regardless, it’s discouraging. I looked in our pantry and I have one of those ten pound Costco size bags of sugar. It’s a big bag. I did a double take. Yup, ten pounds. Seems that rather than being evenly distributed throughout my frame, the ten pounds have decided to join my mid section to make for an even heftier “muffin top” (a term I first heard from Missy describing the rolls of tummy that squish over the top of zipped up jeans). Back then. My heart longs for back there back then.

I miss my life before cancer, life back then. I was liking the new season of having all three kids in school all day, starting on my Master’s Degree at Talbot, serving on the Epic National Executive Team and actually having a business card and working with the women’s ministry at church. I was, for a brief time, experiencing life with “the sun shining down on me, and life as it should be” to borrow a line from the song, “Blessed Be the Name” by Matt Redmond.

The farther I get from back then, the better back then looks. But if I flip through my journal from back then, I still had struggles, times of conflict with my husband, confusion with how to navigate parenting, challenges with ministry, finances, what to cook for dinner, decisions, deadlines, laundry ….life. I forget that back then also had its share of struggles in the midst of the joys. I forget that it took time–a long, long time, and intentionality to get to a place where I could run hills.

My thoughts lately have been how I am like the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness after leaving Egypt. They longed for the back then of life in Egypt with garlic and leeks. They forgot they were brutally treated in Egypt and what it was like to live in that land as slaves. God provided, in the wilderness, water from rocks to drink, manna from heaven and quail to eat. Their shoes never wore out in the course of forty years. They witnessed with their own eyes God parting the Red Sea and walking through it to the other side on dry land. But despite the miracles, the longer the Israelites wandered in the desert and ate manna, the more their hearts longed for life back there, back then. I used to find myself looking down on the Israelites and how quickly they would forget God and His miracles or complain to Moses or start looking for substitute gods–now I see how very much I am prone to be like them.

Part of this post treatment phase I’m going through now is embracing and accepting that life will never be like how it was back there, back then. Like the Israelites, I have witnessed with my own eyes God perform miracles and provide for us throughout the cancer journey. There are lessons that could only be learned “when I’m found in the desert place, though I walk through the wilderness” (from that same song). God was very near and tender towards me throughout active treatment and my heart is truly grateful for His mercy and grace, but I also find that I have so many more unanswered questions and life doesn’t fit into neat categories anymore. I understand in new ways how and why people, like the Israelites, and like me, struggle with trusting God.

Eventually the Israelites arrived in the promise land. They were able to enjoy new food and drink, which I’m sure included garlic and leeks. But along with the benefits of being in a new land, there were new areas where they needed to trust the Lord, there were battles to fight, and choices to make and new ways God revealed Himself. I am still wandering around in the wilderness and I know this phase won’t last forever even though it feels like forever. While I’m here in the desert I hope to learn more what is going on in my soul and what drives my motivation and my responses. I want to learn to trust God’s timing of when to stay and when to move. I know up ahead there will be new areas to trust God, battles to fight and choices to make. But I am not up ahead yet.

Instead of longing for back then, I have choices and decisions each day living all here, right now. So today during Julia’s soccer practice I laced on those running shoes and, on mostly flat road, I ran longer than I walked. I’m trying to look up and forward, not back.

 

 
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