Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I wrote the following a few days after Shannon died. It was published in the program that was given out at her memorial service. - Mike Gifford

Where Was God?

When facing life’s trials, some begin to wonder if God is really there or, if He is, if He really cares about our suffering. Considering our frailty, such questioning is reasonable, so long as one searches for the answer and doesn’t just throw his hands up in disgust and conclude that God does not exist. Job, Habakkuk, Asaph (Psalm 73) and others engaged in this type of thinking when they were facing difficulties. As we consider the question in this article’s title, I hope that you will indulge me in my personal references. Their usage is the best way I know of providing an answer.

Where was God…

  • …when we learned that Shannon had an aggressive cancer that had arisen suddenly and without warning?
  • … when she nearly died of collapsed lungs caused by the cancer?
  • … when our family was thrown into turmoil with emergency room visits followed by days and then weeks of hospital stays?
  • … when we were told that the cancer was incurable and that the best we could aim for was to make her comfortable in her declining days?
  • … when she lost her battle for life?
  • … when she departed this world?
Now let me tell you where He was…

  • …when we were told of her disease. He was in the same place as He had been the dozens of times in years past that she had previously gone to doctors for checkups and was pronounced healthy.
  • …when she nearly died. He was in the same place as the day the world was blessed with her birth.
  • …when we were experiencing the long days and nights of hospital stays. He was in the same place that He had been on the thousands of days in which we walked freely and in good health.
  • … when we were told that the end for her was near. He was in the same place as He was the day that we fell in love and our world began.
  • … when she lost her battle for life. He was in the same place that He was on the day that He gave His only begotten Son on the cross so that death would not have the victory over His faithful ones (I Corinthians 15:55-58)
  • … when she departed this world. He was in the same place that He was when He welcomed her into His family by virtue of her new birth in immersion in water for the forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 3:15; John 3:3,5).
In essence, the God whom some blame for their woes when they’re in the throes of life’s challenges is the same God who is often forgotten when things are going well. He has not moved. The apostle Paul said that He is not far from every one of us, adding, “For in him we live, and move, and have our being (Acts 17:27-28). Through that same apostle God said, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (Hebrews 13:5). If in our trials we feel that God is not there it would be wise for us to consider the fact that it is we who have moved, not God. In life’s darkness, thinking that God has forgotten us, we might find ourselves asking, “God, where are you?” but in life’s good days, when we tend to forget God, perhaps He asks, “My child, where are you?”

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Your Support System

When the hospice staff first came to our house, they told us of all the people in their network to whom we would have access whenever we needed support. I think I shocked them when I told them that all we would need would be the nurses and aides because we already had a significant support system in place. It saddened me when they told me that not everyone has that though. Apparently there are some who are practically alone in their suffering. It makes me think that each of us needs to be more aware of those around us who are hurting.

Our support system consisted of God (the Bible and prayer) first, each other, immediate family, extended family, fellow Christians, other friends and medical personnel. Each one provided something unique that held us up through our ordeal. There was not a single day that we ever felt we were alone in our battle. True, no one could take Shannon's illness on themselves and no one could bear my pain, but in their own way, every person who prayed for us, sent us cards and emails, called us, came by to see us or did something "hands on" to help us contributed to the strength that we were able to maintain through it all. No gesture was insignificant in our minds.

You will need a support system in order to battle cancer. You probably already have one in place but don't realize it. If you don't know how to build one, let me tell you how I watched Shannon's grow over the 31+ years that I knew her. She was a servant who gave of herself, expecting nothing in return. Even when she needed the support, she expressed that she felt unworthy of all the attention. Jesus told His apostles, "but whosever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant." (Matthew 20:26-27). I myself benefited from Shannon's understanding of that principle as I enjoyed the overflow of the support that was being extended to her.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Lesson Learned From the Hospital

Let's face it, no one likes the idea of having to stay in the hospital. Between the unfamiliar food, the strange bed and a host of other inconveniences, a hospital stay is a far cry from home. Having said that, I'd like to remind you that said hospital stays are often necessary when other care is not sufficient. The hospital staff is there to help you. They know you would rather be home. Their task is to try to get you home, as soon as possible, but in better health than when you were admitted. As aggravating and disruptive as a stay in the hospital can be to both the patient and the patient's family, it nonetheless could be a lifesaver.

My biggest trouble with hospital stays in the beginning of Shannon's illness was the anticipation of being able to leave, only to be told that we had to postpone her release for one reason or another. Hopes would be built up and then dashed. It was only after the events of March 17 that I learned that just being able to be with Shannon was more important than my desire to be home. That was the day that we were getting ready to check out and she suddenly lost a great deal of blood and passed out. Had this occurred at home I don't think I could have helped her. Thankfully, two nurses were there at her side to revive her.

I'm pretty slow and hard-headed sometimes but this lesson came quickly that day: Be thankful that you are with your spouse, no matter where you are. You may not want to be in the hospital, but if that's where he or she needs to be to get the medical help they require, just be glad that you can be near them. In your "hatred" of the hospital and your complaining and your impatient desire to go home, you may find yourself wasting precious moments with your beloved.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Seeing Shannon

Even though I can no longer physically look at Shannon, I can still see her through a multitude of sources.
  • Above all, I see her in our children, Whitney, Elise, Andrew and Adam. Each of them carries one or more traits that I loved in Shannon. From time to time they may even display a Shannon-like quirk or two and that brings a smile to my face. With a heightened appreciation for what my children gleaned from their mother's teaching and example, I don't think I'll ever look at any of them in the same light again.
  • Just since this past Monday, we have received 11 new orders for her Zippers book and back issues of her newsletter at SensibleSewing.com. While Shannon's writings helped countless numbers of people learn the art of sewing, they also helped her family financially. The great effort that she always put into her work continues to help support her family, even after her passing.
  • Every day this week I've received numerous cards, emails and other communications from people who have been kind enough to share their stories of how Shannon touched their lives. Sometimes we're hesitant to say anything to an individual regarding their loved one who has died out of fear that we'll make that person sad. I'm not sure if this is true across the board, but in my case at least, I welcome the memories, especially shared by those whom I have never met. Each story gives me a new reason to rejoice over Shannon's life.
As all of this relates to couples dealing with cancer, it's a reminder that every day, whether we realize it or not, we have an impact on someone's life. Whether you're sitting in a recliner in the chemo room, lying in a hospital bed or just engaging in your daily routine, your attitude can help you handle your disease and lift others' spirits as well both today and well into the future.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Thank You

Let me begin by saying that I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of love that has been shown since Shannon's passing on Sunday night. My amazement is not over how many people are commenting on the great impact Shannon had on their lives. That doesn't surprise me a bit. She made a positive mark on the heart of every one she met. What's astounding is how her love and concern for others has motivated them to offer their love and concern for a family they have never met. From around the globe people are letting us know how much Shannon meant to them and how they are thinking of us. I never would have experienced this had it not been for how deeply Shannon was able to touch people's lives.

I do want to remind everyone that cancer is not an automatic death sentence. Countless numbers of men and women recover from it. Keep this in mind because a proper attitude can be one of your greatest allies in your battle against this disease.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


This evening at 8:59 p.m. Eastern time, Shannon went home to be with the Lord. She was not in any pain and was surrounded by loved ones. As you would expect of her if you knew her, her final words were those of encouragement, telling us how much she loved us and how happy her life had been.

Shannon's life was one well-lived. With faith in God and love for others, she touched so many people across the globe. It was my blessed privilege to be her husband since December 30, 1979. I can't begin to imagine what my life would have been without her. She made my time here so joyful. There wasn't any challenge that we weren't able to overcome together, including this one.

The title of this site is "A Couple Conquers Cancer." As a faithful Christian, Shannon conquered it. It robbed her of her physical strength, but never of her determination. It stole her mobility, but not her heart. It even deprived her of her beautiful hair, but it did not touch her dignity. The Bible says in I Corinthians 15:57, "But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." This evening, Shannon became the victor and nothing harmful will ever bother her again (Revelation 21:4).

We are planning a memorial service for Shannon on Saturday, May 1 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern time at the building of the Cartersville church of Christ, 1319 Joe Frank Harris Parkway, Cartersville, GA. We invite all to come. In lieu of flowers, we are requesting that donations be made to the Memphis School of Preaching in Shannon's name. We will have information about this at the memorial service.

My heartfelt thanks goes out to each of you for the support you've given and for frequenting this website. I plan to leave it up and may add more to it as the days go by. If you feel it might be of help to others who are in the battle we've been in, please share it with them. May God continue to bless you as you do His will.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Celebrate the Simple Pleasures

By her actions, Shannon is reminding me on a daily basis of the importance of the little things in life. She was so excited the other day because the swelling in her feet had gone down and she could move her toes. Today it was biscuits, gravy and sausage from Ross's Diner that brightened her morning. You ought to see her light up when she gets a piece of fresh fruit. For so many months during the chemotherapy she wasn't allowed to have it and now with every bite it seems as though she's tasting it for the first time.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told His audience to "behold the fowls of the air" and "consider the lilies of the field" to learn a lesson about God's care for His people (Matthew 6:26,28). These are just simple, every day things, but like so many other facets of God's creation, they can elicit joy and appreciation in the hearts of those who are willing to slow down for a moment or two and take a look at them.

Shannon has had another good day today and continues to share her smiles.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Talk About Priceless

Remember the "priceless" credit card commercials? Glancing over at Shannon to discover that she has been gazing at me and smiling; catching that gleam in her eye that makes my heart melt; sharing a look that only those who have ever truly been in love can understand - now that's priceless.

She's had another good day today, eating well, resting well and enjoying occasional, brief visits. I'm glad we decided to come home and I'm thankful for our friends and family who have helped make this time so pleasurable. They're the best.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Going Against the Grain

As expected, Shannon is sleeping more. We seem to have the right mix of medications going so when she's awake she is alert. She's having some pain but we're able to lessen it before it gets too severe.

I'll have to admit that I'm blazing some new trails for myself here. In the past, whenever Shannon got sick I knew my job was to make sure she got what she needed so that she would get back to full health. Now, because she is not expected to recover, I can't do anything to help her get better. I can only make her comfortable and try to ease her pain. Initially it was difficult to accept this because one's basic nature is to help an ill loved one recover. Now that I have a better understanding of my role, I realize that by seeing to her comfort, I am helping her as much as I ever have.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My Energizer Bunny

Here's your word for the day: Indomitable. Look it up, and if you don't see a picture of Shannon next to the definition then you have a faulty dictionary.

As visitors have come by in the last week, some have talked about items that they are sewing or quilting. As you might have guessed, somewhere in those conversations Shannon has been sharing tips to help those folks complete their projects. The apostle Paul quoted Jesus as saying, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:35). I have to smile as I watch Shannon continuing to give of herself even in her weakened condition.

She's having a good day and has eaten more today than she has in several days. As always, we enjoy these days and are thankful for them.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Appropriate Scriptures

Shannon continues to battle bravely each day but she is getting weaker as the doctors said she would. She has minimal pain but other than the occasional Tylenol to ease her fevers, she takes no pain medication. She speaks openly to me of what is going on inside her and though it's difficult to hear, I know I need to be aware of it so that I can be the most help to her.

Several people who have contacted us have cited the qualities of the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 as an appropriate description of Shannon's life. I feel the same way, considering verse 30 to be especially accurate. "Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised." In this case I have been triply blessed in that while I found a lady who fears the Lord, I also know her to be charming and beautiful.

Another section of God's Word that comes to mind when I think of Shannon is Acts 9:36-41 where we read of Tabitha, also called Dorcas. Read those verses for yourself, especially verse 39, and see if you don't picture in your mind's eye the countless number of women who could stand around Shannon, holding out garments that she made or that she helped others make.

The Divinely inspired verse that really stands out to me though is the one that I know will apply to her for years after her passing. The apostle Paul wrote of Abel's righteousness, saying, "by it he being dead yet speaketh." (Hebrews 11:4). I am confident that Shannon will live on in the hearts of those she touched through sewing, through her Bible class teaching, through her loyal friendship and through her Christ-like example. Even now she shares smiles with those who see her and talk to her. I believe all who know her will carry a piece of her in their hearts and will benefit greatly as a result.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Enjoying the Moments

Over the 31+ years that we have known each other, Shannon and I have written memories that would fill a library full of books. We've never been ones to sit around and dwell in the past though. Sure, we've taken the pictures and filmed the significant events, but we rarely sit down and relive those memories. I guess it's because we're too busy in the present making more memories.

Interestingly enough, even now we're continuing this pattern. While we've been admiring old family photos and home movies from time to time since coming home, we still spend her waking minutes talking about our family as they are now, our friends, current events and God's faithfulness to us during this time. In short, we seem to be enjoying the moments we have together just as we always have without an overemphasis on the past or the future. Sometimes it's difficult to look into her eyes and not project myself into my future without her, but the effort to save that for my "private time" is well worth it and allows me to get the most out of this time that we have together.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Planning Ahead

Among the difficult tasks I've encountered in the past week is that of preparing for my life without Shannon. Like a lot of people, we've planned for our deaths with wills, insurance, etc., but in the planning stages, death seems so far away. There's a considerable difference between the preparation for and the practical application of the deeds and events surrounding the death of one's spouse. The former is "way off in the distance" (or so we think), while the latter is staring you right in the face.

For over 30 years I've relied on Shannon to help me organize the many facets of our life together. Ironically, I am now relying on her to help me organize my life without her. Whether I'm asking her where something is or how to do something that she had typically done, I'm thankful for her patient answers. I'm also thankful to know that, even though there will be a major void in my life after she's gone, the example she set in life will continue to influence me as I'm sure it will those whose lives she has touched.

Friday, April 9, 2010

When Love Takes Over

When we learned that Shannon's cancer was untreatable we had yet another decision to make. Should we stay in the hospital with 24/7 care or go home with the assistance of hospice? Frankly, to me it was not ever in question that we would go home. Who doesn't want to be home? However, Shannon was concerned that she would be a burden. I imagine that this is not uncommon among those in her situation and that it can become a nagging feeling, despite constant reassurances to the contrary.

Since being home I've learned some valuable new skills as a caregiver. I've also developed a heightened appreciation for all those men and women who tended to Shannon in the hospital. Whether they were administering medicine, changing sheets or whatever, those who give their lives to serving in medical care are wonderful people. No job that they do is unimportant.

The role that I have now assumed has allowed me to plumb the depths of my love for Shannon and, as I have done so I find that it is as deep as I always felt it was. None of the tasks I now do for her is burdensome in the least. I'm sure the most difficult task will be that of finally letting her go, although I'll never let her out of my heart.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Shannon's Turn

Coming home has been bittersweet. While I am thrilled to be back in familiar surroundings and away from the sterile atmosphere of the hospital, I know that this will be the last place on earth I will live. However, doesn't it seem more appropriate to go from the home that has given me joy and pleasure for so many years directly into the home for which I've waited all my life?

I will be leaving one set of loving hands to go to another. I am not afraid, I'm in no pain and I'm thankful to still have a clear enough brain to be able to enjoy my family. I love you all.

Just Another Ordinary, Every Day Love Story - Part 2

I am the world's fastest shopper. When I see what I like, I get it. I've always been that way. So maybe it shouldn't come as a surprise that after our first date and six more days of seeing and getting to know Shannon, I asked her to marry me. That's right, it took me a whole week to muster the courage to ask her to be my wife. When people say that you'll "just know" when you find the right one, they are right, at least in my case. A little more than a year later we were married. Shannon was dressed in a beautiful white gown that she had made on the sewing machine I had bought her for her birthday. Not being a person who readily shows his emotions, I nonethless cried throughout the ceremony, not so much out of nervousness as out of gratitude for and amazement at the gift God had given me.

When I say that ours is just another ordinary, every day love story, I mean just that. Our life together has had very little drama. We have never been on the brink of marital collapse. We have both been faithful to each other and to the vows we made in the sight of God. Our children have been outstanding and continue to faithfully serve God as Christians. Basically, if I were to write our story in a book I probably couldn't pay people to take the copies. Our life is just not "Hollywood" enough.

In spite of how mundane our life might appear to some, it has been filled with constant open communication, mutual respect and love for one another and for God. Just as a person is not fully grown on the day of his birth, a marriage is not fully grown right after the "I Do's" are said. To use another metaphor, marriage is a house constantly under construction, never completed until one of the spouses leaves this life.

Now we come to this, the final chapter of our story. Each challenge we've faced, each prayer we've prayed, each Bible verse we've read, each midnight heart-to-heart, each tear and each success we've experienced over 30+ years have made this past year and its many challenges seem, as the apostle Paul said, like a "light affliction." (II Corinthians 4:17). To get to this point we really haven't done anything that any other married couple can't themselves do. Devotion to God and commitment to one another as husband and wife are attainable by all.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Just Another Ordinary, Every Day Love Story - Part 1

For over 30 years I have been married to my best friend. Occasionally someone will comment on the longevity of our relationship and wonder how we've done it. If you'll indulge me a little meandering down memory lane, I'd like to share how Shannon and I got to this point in our lives where, as a single-minded force, we have been able to stare down cancer and conquer it. (Yes, conquer it. Even though it will eventually claim Shannon's life, cancer has not defeated us. If its intention was to discourage us and cause us to grow apart due to the stress and strain it causes, it has failed miserably. We have only become stronger and closer as a result of this.)

When we first met at fine arts camp in Henderson, TN in 1978, we didn't like each other very much. I was the new kid in town and she thought I was a dumb athlete (she always has been good at judging character). She was very sure of herself,  had been a part of that group for a couple of years and held some leadership positions. I thought she was snooty. A week or so later, in my first semester at Freed-Hardeman University, I had pretty much forgotten about her, choosing instead to focus on getting acquainted with other people at the school as well as my new surroundings.

Sometime into the semester the drama department was holding auditions for "The Music Man." I tried out and won a small role. You can probably imagine who the student director was - Shannon. At that point our opinions of each other had not changed, but as days of rehearsals passed, I began to notice something about her. I again saw that self-assurance, but this time in a different light. I saw it even in the face of a bunch of male teenage cast members who sometimes weren't very respectful of their young, female leader. I also saw an interest in and concern for other people. There was something there that I had never really seen before in a young lady and suddenly I wanted to get to know her better.

I asked her out and, thankfully, she agreed to go with me to dinner at The Old Country Store in Jackson, TN and then to Bible class afterwards. It was a memorable evening for me. Does that mean I remember all the details? Well, I recall where we sat but if you ask me what I ate and what she ate, forget about it. Regarding the meal itself, suffice it to say that we ate food, got full, I paid the check and we left. But this person for whom I previously had little regard had now captured my thoughts, and, as I would soon find out, my heart.

More to come...

Monday, April 5, 2010

From Shannon

Despite the disappointment of knowing that medical treatment is no longer effective, I am thankful. I am thankful for the many friends who have expressed their love and concern for me, for my family who has been so supportive through this ordeal and particularly, I am thankful for my husband who has been my strength.

God is good. I know He will take care of me and I know He will take care of those I leave behind.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sometimes the Choices Are Made For You

Yesterday's difficult decision turned into a non-decision today as the doctors informed us that the cancer is now untreatable. While a chemotherapy treatment could still be an option, the scans show that the tumors are growing so rapidly that a treatment would virtually be of no effect and would in fact make Shannon feel worse.

So now we go home to familiar surroundings, hoping to make her comfortable. She's not in pain, just getting weaker. She's also not afraid. This is "the valley of the shadow of death" of which the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 23:4. We both know the Shepherd of this Psalm and right now we are walking beside Him, hand in hand. Soon I'll need to let go but Shannon will continue her walk through the valley, not alone, but in the presence of the One who can safely lead her home.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Making the Hard Choices

Throughout our battle with this illness, we've found ourselves faced with challenging choices. None was more challenging than today. When we learned earlier in the week that our daughter, Whitney and grandson, Daniel would be coming today for a week's visit, we set our hearts on getting home so that we could spend time with them. Based on the fever that just doesn't want to go away, the doctors informed us that they had different plans if we still wanted to try to get a chemotherapy treatment and take advantage of the 20-30% chance they say we have of this treatment working. They felt that the best way to be prepared for the treatment would be for Shannon to be under constant care in the hospital. Home health care would be available if we went home, but of course it would not be available 24/7 like it is in the hospital.

So here we were, on one hand wanting to spend quality time with our family members who had flown half way across the country, and on the other hand wanting to at least get a shot at the treatment that we have not been able to take due to one reason or another for so many months. If the treatment has such a small chance of being effective, would it be best to just go on home and enjoy the family in a more familiar environment? If the treatment has any chance at all of being effective, no matter how slim that chance may be, would it be best to stay in the hospital, sacrificing that week of family time for the hope of having many more weeks of family time in the future?

We opted for the prolonged stay in the hospital. Since the element of risk is evident on all sides, we decided to go the route of doing whatever we can to get to the treatment and hope and pray that the 20-30% chance is enough. Talking things out with one another and with the doctors seems to be key to making the hard choices.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Two Steps Ahead, A Brief Step Back

For the first time since last August, Shannon is breathing without the aid of an oxygen machine or tank. The work that was done in repairing her lungs was apparently successful. The cancer had travelled there through lymph nodes and caused damage. The tumors continue to grow in the lungs but we're hoping to get to another chemotherapy treatment to see if it can help.

We're still in the hospital due to Shannon's persistent fever. It's just a couple or a few degrees over normal, but when we're talking about body temperature that small range can be a huge factor in one's health. Sometimes it's the seemingly tiniest things that can slow you down. More positives than negatives today though.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I Don't Know What to Say

Yesterday Shannon had a radiation treatment, its purpose being to lessen and hopefully eliminate her blood loss. Today brings with it the typical side effects but her temperature has been normal for two days so that good news offsets the harshness of the radiation. She says she's not in pain, just weak. She always has enough strength for a sweet smile when I need one though. I've burned that look into my mind for the past 31 plus years that we've known each other and carry it with me.

Many times people don't know what to say to folks in a situation like ours. A feeling of inadequacy gnaws at them as they avoid saying anything for fear of saying the wrong thing. That lack of communication then turns to guilt for not talking at all to the sufferers. It's a vicious cycle. If you've ever had this happen to you, allow me to help you out. Say, "I'm sorry," "I'm thinking of you and praying for you," "I love you," "I want you to know how much you mean to me." These are simple, few word statements. After saying the one or ones of your choosing, sit back and listen. Don't probe. Just listen. Let that person lead the conversation. Whether you're talking by phone or in person, you don't have to keep the conversation going for a long time. Just knowing that they are in someone's heart is sufficient for most people dealing with a critical illness.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Questions and Answers

Today finds us waiting to see which of the multiple antibiotics that have been administered will be effective in keeping Shannon's fever under control. After hitting a high of 104 over the weekend, she's back to normal now. I want her to remember that a person's temperature is like a golf score, not a bowling score; the lower the better (as long as it's not below 98.6 anyway). Her blood count has gone down again so it's time for another transfusion. Thank you to everyone who gives blood. She wouldn't be here without you.

We're at the point where the doctors feel they need to make us aware of the possibility of no recovery. I know they've seen hundreds of patients at this stage so perhaps they see signs that we do not. We continue to ask questions. Since we don't have a lot of experience with doctors, I will say that I hope all of them are like the ones who work with us. If we have a question we get an answer. They listen and respond. This is not the time to hold back on the questions and we're thankful to have people caring for us who recognize our need for knowledge.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Time For Appreciation

Today we were told that the surgery we were expecting to have is not necessary at this time. On Tuesday we expect to have the other chest tube removed. We're thankful for every positive step. We're trying to make sure that we don't spend so much time asking that we forget to give thanks.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Another Bend in the Road

It's been such a joy to be home. Tomorrow we make our way back to the hospital for another surgery. We're in that vicious cycle of trying to fight the cancer but being prohibited by other complications that are being caused by the cancer. The apostle Paul wrote, "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair." (II Corinthians 4:8). The battle is getting tougher. How anyone can face death without the faith that comes from God's written Word is hard to imagine. The Bible gives us plenty of examples of men and women of faith. It's my privilege to be able to see a living example of faith in Shannon every day.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


The definition of "normal" changes often during this type of challenge. Normal, a year ago, meant shopping trips, visits with friends, and lots of church activities. Normal, today, means taking meds, resting, visiting assorted doctors, and rebuilding strength.

It's important to me to have something that feels really "Normal". My online classes have been my "normal" thing to do. It takes me away from the IVs, the strong medicines, and the odd smells that come with this.

I must admit, I'm impatient. I want to be outside, smelling those hyacinths and feeling the fresh air. I want to visit with friends, and attend every church activity possible. These things will come; I must be patient.

In the meantime, redefining normal is a daily process.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Home Again

Last Wednesday, all things were go for leaving the hospital. I had gone to pick up a prescription, our boys were waiting in the hallway outside of Shannon's room and she was inside preparing to dress, sign discharge papers and leave. Suddenly she lost a significant amount of blood and passed out. The nurses revived her but by the next morning she was in surgery again, this time in an effort to stop the incessant bleeding she has been experiencing for so many months. A day or two prior to all of this we thought again that we might be going home but a very dangerous attack came then as well and, thankfully, soon went. When Friday came and they released us, we were watching every step to make sure this time our departure would come to pass. Her many continuous days in the bed weakened her leg muscles but her determination had her quickly adjusting and she is now getting around with the help of a walker. She is eating and resting well and we look forward to being able to once again attack the source of all of this, the cancer.

The Psalmist wrote, "I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made..." (Psalm 139:14). The complexity of the human body has never been so evident to me as it is now. Our bodies are so intricate that, while the vast majority of our muscles, cells, etc. are working properly, one tiny afflicted area can stop us in our tracks. That's not always bad. In this case, had we gotten home on Wednesday and had Shannon lost the blood and passed out at home instead of in the hospital, the results could have been much worse. At the time we were disappointed that we were not going home, but the cause of our disappointment actually turned out to be a blessing. I may sound like my needle is stuck in a groove (that's "record" talk for you younger folks) but you really don't want to get too bound up in a schedule when dealing with cancer. Circumstances can change in an instant.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Up for a bit of air

The past week has been a blur of procedures and fevers and medications. I'm feeling better today, and am happy to be enjoying this lovely day.

I am so blessed, with family and friends, who encourage me to keep fighting. I will!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Little Courtesy

Even though we're in that "hurry up and wait" mode, the last couple of days have been peaceful. Shannon is eating well, breathing well and, aside from the napping that comes along with the pain medication, is in many ways back to her self. I knew things were bad a week or so ago when she said she didn't want any chocolate. Thankfully, she's eaten everything chocolate I've brought to her lately.

From our youth we've known the value of courtesy. Having spent little time in the hospital, I'm nonetheless aware of the challenges and pressures faced by the staff. Some time ago I remember reading something that suggested the hospital staff appreciates "please" and "thank you." It may not be much but we've tried to use those two words as often as possible during our stays. The doctors, nurses and the rest of the crew put in a lot of work. We've struck up conversations with just about all of them. It seems that just a little common courtesy from a patient might make their jobs more enjoyable.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Peace That Passes All Understanding

So far, so good on today's surgery. The pneumonia skirmish and now the lung skirmish still occupy us and are keeping us from fighting the bigger battle of cancer. Thankfully we're beating back these enemies so it is with high hopes that we prepare to take on the major adversary within the next week to ten days.

With each challenge we've faced we have seen Bible verses come to life. Verses such as Philippians 4:6-7 (I'm going to make you get your Bible and look those up) have always been meaningful and powerful because the Bible is God's living Word (Hebrews 4:12), but here, in a surgery pre-op room, I actually see the peace that passes all understanding in Shannon's eyes. This is not a tumultuous time for either of us. Instead, it's an opportunity for us to enjoy God's blessings.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Riding the Roller Coaster

Roller coasters have never been a favorite of mine. I prefer to keep my stomach in one location. Dealing with cancer is a roller coaster ride of epic proportions. One day you're riding high when things seem to be going well. On another day you've been hurtled down literally into "the valley of the shadow of death," wondering if this is the last time you'll get to hold your spouse and see her sweet face this side of eternity. On still another day everything seems normal, like it was in the pre-cancer days. For me, an important factor in dealing with this is to maintain an even keel. Don't panic in the valleys. Don't become unrealistic at the peaks. Stay steady and enjoy the time you have with your loved one, caressing every moment you have together as if it were the last. (Actually, why should we wait for a long-term illness to make us appreciate life's precious moments?)

The last two days have been good ones as we wait for the pneumonia to go away while anticipating surgical repair of Shannon's lungs. With the completion of these two steps, we can move on to the next treatment in hopes that this will be the one that sends the cancer into remission.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Up to Date

To finish the timeline of our experience, I don't recall ever looking forward to a new year more than I looked forward to 2010. 2009 had had some other challenges beside the cancer so the prospect of a fresh start was pleasant. It was another of those "things to look forward to" that we tried to keep in front of us to help us keep going.

For the first six weeks of 2010 we went through the weekly treatment regimen, only briefly interrupted by a visit to the emergency room, not really knowing if any progress was being made. A scan on February 22 told us that, in fact, no progress had been made and the cancer was worsening. In addition, the scan revealed the lungs were again collapsing. A few hours after the scan we were again in the hospital and stayed for five days, only to come back again four days later with recurring issues related to the lungs as well as pneumonia that had developed.

So here we are in our third floor condo and now you are up to date. Several words come to mind in summarizing the past nine and a half months, among which are: unique, challenging, frightening, faith-building. Through it all though I can say that I can't think of a time when we lost hope. We've never really faced any long-term challenges in our lives. This is a first. All those years of studying God's inspired Word (the Bible) and committing it to heart and mind have, I'm convinced, built a wall around us that is protecting us from despair and doubt.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Off Schedule

I'll admit to being "schedule happy." I like everything to be organized, in its proper place and just so. But cancer has its own schedule. For instance, while I had planned for the last few days to update the history of our encounter with this illness, one of the offshoots of the cancer decided to attack Shannon again and has brought her back to the hospital. Ideally, we were going to post here daily, each one of us playing off the other in our writing. She just hasn't had the strength and is barely able to talk, much less write.

Dealing with cancer requires flexibility. You go where you need to go and change what you need to change in order to accommodate the unexpected. Basically the whole experience is filled with unexpected twists and turns. While learning from those who have gone through this is helpful, no two experiences are exactly alike. Glean what you can from what others have to say, but don't be frustrated if things don't happen on the same time table as it did for them.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Finishing Up 2009

After our August/mid-September hospital ordeal, we fell into sort of a routine back at home. Granted, it was a routine different than we had ever experienced in our lives but it was a routine nonetheless. There were still rough days but the news that the chemotherapy was making a difference helped us deal with those. As the holidays approached we looked forward to the family being together. Even when December brought the news that this treatment had stopped working and that we would have to move on to another after the first of the year, we were still excited about the holidays. They gave us something to look forward to. We have found that to be important. Whether these things are large (the family coming together, going on a short trip) or small (bringing home a movie to watch together, cooking a favorite meal), the anticipation of positive events has helped us deal with the down times.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Next Chapter

The phrase, "the dog days of summer" took on a new meaning for us in August 2009. On Saturday, August 8 Shannon was at home and having difficulty breathing. I was going to drive her to the emergency room but when she could barely walk as far as the living room we decided to call the ambulance. Later we would discover that the cancer had spread to her lungs and had caused a hole in one of them that had it working at only 10% of its capacity. While in surgery a cancer-induced hole developed in the other lung. Thus began a string of 25 days in the hospital, interrupted by only a few days off back at home.

It was during this time that I experienced what was without a doubt the lowest point of my life. One day, struggling for a breath, Shannon said to me, "Take care of the kids." I knew her medications might be affecting her mood, but still, it felt like she was giving up. All I remember saying is, "I refuse to believe you're going to die from this. We will not lose." She had demonstrated such a strong will to that point; now she needed to borrow some of my determination. It was only fair that I lend it. After all, she had already given me so much of hers.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Story Continues

In July 2009 we spent a few days (or years, depending on your perspective) at a hospital about an hour away. The surgery was successful but we were still facing cancer. By this time we were both thinking, "When is this nightmare going to be over?" Other than having four babies, Shannon had never had a hospital stay and I've never been an overnight patient in a hospital at any time in my life.

One thing you'd better learn in a hospital is patience, and you'd better learn it in a hurry. It's not anything like being at home. You can't run down to the refrigerator and grab a snack. Privacy is unheard of (and, by the way, 70% of the people who pass by an open hospital room door look in; 100% of those who look in think it's strange when an occupant in that room waves at them). Obviously the sleeping arrangements are different as are the smells, the sounds and even the television. It's a different world and BOTH the patient and spouse have to adapt.


The day your diagnosis is listed as "cancer" is a day that is not easily forgotten. It seems as if your life is separated by a gulf; those days that happened before cancer, and then the days after. The challenge of fighting this disease permeates every pore, invades every thought.

It is easy to become overwhelmed by the everyday changes. New medications must be taken, many times to a confusing level of intricacy. Equipment might be needed, such as oxygen machinery or special monitoring devices. There are feelings of isolation, frustration, and exhaustion.

Eventually, one becomes familiar with what was once totally alien. The sound of the oxygen machine, while still loud, is now a familiar sound. The wires and tubes are organized, and the routine is set. The internet and the telephone help ward away the isolation, and big windows bring in lots of sunshine or snow or rain to bring variety to the day.

And then you can fight....and fight...and fight. Our motto has become, "Fight every day; enjoy every moment!"

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Day One

Time now to fill in some blanks. May 27, 2009 was the day we first heard the word "cancer" and Shannon's name used in the same sentence. The two of us were alone in the car when she told me. I took the news calmly. My immediate reaction was to try to reassure her that everything would be okay. I believed that and, in fact, I still do.

Half an hour later I was breaking the news to our children. What caused that word to stick in my throat and be held back by tears at that point I'm not sure I'll ever know. Maybe it was a rush of memories of all of the years Shannon and I had had together with our children; maybe it was the mistaken notion that a diagnosis of cancer was an immediate death sentence; maybe it was looking into the eyes of my children and feeling the pain that I knew they would feel in just a few moments when the word finally came out of my mouth; maybe it was just having to say the word, "cancer." Whatever the cause, the word did not come easily.

Tears and hugs and reassurances came next, followed by frank talk of a practical plan for dealing with our new challenge. Our routine would be interrupted. There would be hospital stays forthcoming, treatments to take, medical equipment to which we would need to get accustomed. In effect, multiple changes were coming and could not be stopped.

When cancer comes, it doesn't sneak in gradually. It rushes in like a flood, bringing with it previously untouched emotions, untold challenges and an uncertain outcome.

Friday, February 26, 2010


A lot of times I'll talk about how "we" are going through this. That may sound kind of strange. After all, Shannon is the one with the disease. I can't feel the pain she's experiencing, but I do feel pain. It just hurts in a different way. The emotional strain is the most challenging and from time to time that spills over into some physical pain. It's not really "sympathy pains" like a husband gets during his wife's labor. It's real pain. Casting this stress on God in prayer as He invites us to in I Peter 5:7 is my outlet for relief. When one is caring for a spouse with an illness, he or she needs to acknowledge the strain and take the necessary actions to deal with it so that they can have the physical strength to be there when their spouse needs them.

The key to success

The key to managing a challenge such as this is to stick together. There is no way I could possibly face the many doctor visits, pokes, prods, hospital stays, chemotherapy, and other trappings of cancer without a strong support system. That support begins with my husband of 30 years, who has never wavered in his love and strength. I draw from that strength to help me through each day.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Conquering, Not Just Coping

As you can see from the graphic in the header, the idea for this site started with a focus on how we as a married couple have been coping with cancer. When I looked up the word, "coping" and found that it means, "to struggle or deal, esp. on fairly even terms or with some degree of success," I felt that the word was so bland. To me, the idea of coping with something means you're putting up with it. Well, I don't want to put up with cancer. I want to beat it into submission. I want to control it, not allow it to control me. In short, I want to conquer it.