Getting Ready for the Heavy Weapons of Radiotherapy

This entry is part 23 of the series Victory in the Valley

Start at the beginning of the story

Now read on . . .

The time had come to commence radiotherapy. The one-hour drive into the Rand Clinic, a private hospital in the center of the notorious Hillbrow suburb of Johannesburg, went too fast. Rob and I prayed aloud in the car. Then we tried to keep up positive conversation. How much positive conversation can you think of on the way to the gallows? I wondered.

The streets of Hillbrow

It was almost a relief to spot the grey building of the hospital towering ahead of us. We drove through the litter-strewn streets and past the street vendors with their wares laid out on the pavement. We shook our heads negatively at the shifty-eyed hawkers who plied their goods at the traffic lights. Two outrageously dressed girls, who looked as if they should still be young, faces plastered with make-up, cheap jewelry hanging over black plastic jackets, seductively sauntered up and down the pavement. Their high-heeled black boots covered their knees and almost reached the hems of their diminutive skirts.

“Are those what I think they are?” I glanced at Rob’s silhouette as he concentrated on the heavy traffic.

“Yes.” 

When Rob and I had first married, we lived in a flat near here.

“How the area has degenerated through the years,” I remarked sadly. My gaze was drawn back to the building ahead, as Rob maneuvered the car into the parking lot across the street from the main entrance.

Advice of a friend

Raeleen, a friend who had been through radiotherapy a year ago, had warned me of certain things, for which I became extremely grateful. She told me that I’d be left alone in a room full of gigantic machines. “There is a heavy metal door which will clang shut as the technicians leave. “When the machines start to work, they make a hideous row.” She explained how no one had warned her, and the first time she received treatment, she got such a fright that when the machines started to work, she leaped off the treatment table in terror, causing total panic to the staff! “There’s absolutely no pain,” she reassured me. “You won’t feel a thing.”

Be prepared! This is not only relevant to scouts. It applies to cancer treatment. The more you know, the better you'll cope. Click To Tweet

“Just be prepared for being left alone, for the clanging door, for the noise,” she assured me. “You’ll be fine.”  

As we walked through the hospital entrance, I drew a deep breath, and held my head high. I can do this! Then—O Lord, help me through the next couple of hours!

A new game?

“Please could you direct us to the radiotherapy Unit?” As Rob asked the officious looking woman at the Inquiry Desk, I noticed her disinterested gaze moving from him to me. Guess the cancer patient, I thought wryly. What a fun game!

We entered the lift, and pressed 6 on the lift panel. I felt if everyone was gazing at me, instead of watching the lighted numbers ticking off our ascent. One by one the passengers got out. Everyone, except Rob and me.

I reminded myself that I was unique. They had never given radiotherapy to Shirley Corder, so I resolved to stay positive. 

Cultivate a scornful disregard for statistics. You are unique! There are no statistics about your life! Click To Tweet

Ping! The lift shuddered to a stop, the doors opened, and we caught our first sight of the room where we were going to spend a good deal of time.  Rows of identical, upright, comfortable looking seats lined the walls of a long, cheerful room painted in pastel colors. Several tables stood under untidy piles of old magazines. To my left was a smallish reception area, with a number of busy ladies ignoring the lift and the newcomers. Hesitantly we approached them.

Reception Committee at Radiotherapy

Eventually a lady glanced my way and handed me a clipboard. “Please fill in your details.” With Rob’s help I filled it in, including all sorts of apparently irrelevant information, and took it back to the counter. I gave the lady a bright smile, hoping to receive one in return. From her expression I realized she didn’t consider this to be a smiling matter. She wasn’t the only one.

Soberly I answered some further questions, and retreated with Rob to “sit over there and wait until you are called.”

In the corner stood a vending machine offering free coffee, tea, and drinking chocolate. How I longed for a cup of coffee. Surely, the fact that it stood in this room indicated I could help myself. Yet, I didn’t know what to expect. Could I drink just before the treatment? I didn’t want to do anything wrong. I looked at the frosty-eyed lady, and decided it couldn’t do any harm to ask.

A smile goes a long way

“Excuse me. Is it all right for me to drink coffee?” 

“I don’t know what you are allowed, it depends on your diet. You’ll have to ask your doctor.”

I looked in astonishment at the steely eyes, looking out through the empty window of the top half of her glasses. I realized she had misunderstood me, but I didn’t have the courage to try again.

A young clerk smiled up at me from the other end of the desk. “You’re welcome to help yourself. It won’t make any difference to your treatment if that’s what’s worrying you.”

“Thank you!” What a relief to see a smiling face. I walked over to the vending machine and poured us both some much-needed coffee. 

 

I couldn’t concentrate on a magazine, so I stared at my shoes and allowed my mind to drift over the illustration of my war with cancer. In the next room there were machines that I’d never seen before. These were the artillery, and they were preparing for my arrival. I pictured those cowardly cells hiding in the scar tissue of my breast and resolved to tell the machines where to look for them. 

How about you?

If you are facing radiotherapy (or radiation as it’s called in some countries) try not to be afraid of them, but to see them as part of the weaponry in your fight against cancer. They are not the enemy! They are there to help route out the enemy and restore you to health once again. 

How do you deal with suffocating fear? It doesn’t need to be a fight against cancer. We all have to deal with this  terrifying emotion at one point of another.  Please share your coping mechanism with me and with other readers.

 

What Cancer Cannot Do

Why did I get Cancer?

After I was diagnosed with cancer, I had no idea why I had got the disease. The interesting thing I soon discovered that everyone else seemed to know. They showered me with suggestions on how to fight it, ways to improve my health, and above all, why I had it in the first place. And it all seemed to be my fault!

I became so overwhelmed by all the free advice and not-so-free treatment suggestions I didn’t know where to start. As I read about the disease, I learned that the cancer cells were actually weak and confused – not at all the giant enemy I had visualised.

I soon decided, “It’s not a case of what caused my cancer, but rather how am I going to deal with it.”

It's not a case of what caused my cancer, but rather how am I going to deal with it. Click To Tweet

How will I deal with it?

Perhaps the cruelest advice I received, at intervals throughout that terrible year, was the best intended.

“Shirley, put your trust in the Lord!”

The words TRUST THE LORD can cause hurt in the person who IS trusting the Lord. We need to watch our words. Click To Tweet

I am a committed Christian, so why do I say this was cruel?

It implied to my over-sensitive mind that people thought I wasn’t trusting Him. It made me feel that perhaps, if I really had faith, I would not subject my body to all this treatment. Is my faith at fault? I often wondered.

Trusting the Lord

One day when I was reading my Bible, I came to the well-known twenty-third Psalm.

Next time someone asked me about why I didn’t stop treatment and trust the Lord, I opened to that passage.

“David says ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,'” I read. “‘For thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.1‘” I pointed to the verse so my friend could read with me. “Lynne, where will I find the rod and the staff?”

“In the valley of the shadow of death?” she read the words slowly, doubt creeping into her voice.

Thy rod and staff they comfort me. And where are they found? In the valley. Click To Tweet

I nodded. “I have no idea why the Lord wants me to go through this valley,” I said. “Nor do I understand why He needs me to pick up a rod and a staff. But, Lynne, I trusted Him with my life many years ago, and there is no going back. He wants me to go through the valley and collect the rod and staff. Then He will comfort me. He will go with me.”

I hoped I appeared more confident than I felt, yet I knew that what I said was true. I had to keep my eyes on the Lord. Then I received these beautiful words from my daughter’s mother-in-law.

I remembered those weak, confused cells my doctor had described to me. They were indeed so limited.

Yes, the war against cancer was beginning to hot up, but I had a wonderful family, many dear friends, and a countless army of prayer warriors throughout, not only South Africa, but overseas as well. Most important, I had the Lord on my side. The enemy might appear threatening, but “Greater is he that is in (me) than he that is in the world.”I drew a deep breath, and prepared to move into the unknown.

Cancer is so limited. It is made up of weak, confused cells. See a list of things it can't do. Click To Tweet

[1] Psalm 23 verse 4
[2]  1 John 4 verse 4

Deciding on an oncologist

This entry is part 18 of the series Victory in the Valley
Surgeon taking notes

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Start at the beginning of the story

Now read on . . .

Talking to the oncologist

As Dr Meiring, the oncologist recommended by my sister-in-law Denise, explained the various ways a malignant tumor is classified, I began to understand the seriousness of my situation. I had an aggressive, fast growing cancer, with a number of negative factors. It was far more advanced that it would have been had it been caught earlier. If I’d had a mammogram when I first requested it, the tumor would have been identified in its earlier stages. Nothing could have stopped it developing, but I had my gynecologist’s stubborn attitude to blame for facing the rigors of chemotherapy.

M.E. history

Dr. Meiring grew concerned when I mentioned I had been ill for months two years ago with M.E. (Myo-encephalitis) or as it is also called, CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). I hotly avoid the nickname of ‘Yuppy Flu’, which is lightly bandied around by those who don’t believe in this debilitating condition. It is neither ‘yuppy’ nor is it ‘flu’!

Fortunately for me, Dr. Meiring did believe in M.E.  “Chemotherapy will depress your immune system,” he explained. “When that happens we could face a further flareup of the virus. I need you to have a minimum of three intravenous drips of Polygam which will boost your immune system.” He wrote carefully on his notes. “I will try and motivate with your medical aid to pay for this. It is pricey.” 

Further tests

sonar for tests ordered by oncologist

Image creative commons

He gave me a long list of blood tests to have done at the laboratory, including tests for the Coxsackie virus which had caused the M.E. I confidently expected this to be negative, as I had fully recovered my energy and strength, prior to my breast cancer operation.

“We also need to check out your heart before we embark on the radiotherapy and chemotherapy.” He made an appointment with a cardiologist at a private hospital some miles from my home. 

“I want him to do a MUGA scan which will measure how well your heart pumps with every heartbeat, and an echocardiogram to ensure that there is no serious heart damage as a result of the Rheumatic Fever when you were seven,” he added.

He assured me that he would spend time looking at my situation, and discuss it with some of the other oncologists before he saw me again the next day. Before we left for home, he called his radiotherapist and assistant, and together they laid hands on me and prayed for wisdom, and for healing.

The decision I didn’t want to make.

We spent the hour that it took us to drive home, talking about what we had learned that day. We spoke about Dr. Meiring. Was he the right man? Rob was totally convinced.

When we got the home, we sat together in the lounge with the inevitable cup of tea, and prayed.

“Lord, is this the oncologist you want to use in my life? He’s nice, and he’s supposed to be good—but I’m just not sure.”

“I think he’s the right man.” Rob was unusually positive as he spoke. “If you are really not happy then we need to try one of the others, but really, I think we’re wasting precious time; and who will we go to?”

Who indeed? With me being in the medical field, I received plenty of advice.

“You must go to Dr. X,” I was told on several occasions. “He’s a lovely person; a truly dedicated oncologist.” Then I heard that he was so busy he never had time to sit and listen to his patients. This would not suit me. I knew, even then, that I was going to have lots of questions.

The cancer patients I had known up until this point, either in my role as minister’s wife, or through my nursing, were usually at one of two stages. They had either just been diagnosed through tests or surgery, or they were dying. When it came to the outpatient treatment, I knew no more than the man in the street; nor did I know any of the oncologists, except the one whom I had already rejected. The oncologist who took me on had to be prepared to give me time.

This is my life

This is my life! I am taking control wherever I can, I reminded myself. I needed an oncologist I could talk to, who would explain things in ways I would understand, and who would see Rob as part of our team.

“Dr. Y is the best man in his field,” I was advised by a number of people. He held down a very high position in the cancer field so was obviously highly qualified. A member of our congregation and a good friend, was exactly one year ahead of me, and this was her doctor. She couldn’t speak highly enough of him.

“He is such a nice man,” she assured me. “He listens to me, and answers my questions. However, he only speaks to the patient. He totally ignores my husband.” That was no good for me either. Rob and I were in this together. I needed Rob, and Rob needed to be a part of my treatment plan.

So we decided to listen to my sister-in-law and accept Dr Meiring as my oncologist.

“After all, I don’t need to commit myself to him if I’m not happy,” I reasoned aloud. “We can always change our minds and go to someone else if we don’t like him.”

This was easy to say. Where could I go? Would I really be happier with someone else?

Next chapter in ongoing story of cancer journey, In the Valley by Shirley Corder. #cancer Click To Tweet

Over to you:

Have you ever had to make such a decision?

Or were you automatically assigned to an oncologist?

Please leave a comment, and if you leave a live URL in your comment, I’ll get back to you. 

NOTE:
These events occurred between 17 and 20 years ago. I have tried to recreate events and locations as accurately as possible, but in order to maintain their anonymity, in some instances I have changed the names and identifying characteristics of individuals and places.

How to Encourage Family Members or Friends who have Cancer

This entry is part 20 of the series Friends

(Originally published January 2016. Updated 23 January, 2018)

friendship

When I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer with glandular involvement, I found my family members and friends reacted in one of several ways.

1) There were those who rose up and said, “We’re here for you.”

This included my family members who lived at home, and I hate to think what my year of cancer treatment would have been like without their support. But it also included many of my friends.

The evening following my surgery, I had so many visitors it was embarrassing, so I did what all post-operative patients are allowed to do and went to sleep on them! Once I returned home however, the visitors spread out, and it soon became evident those who were going to truly support us through the time. And there were a good number of them, for whom I praise God.

2) Others, including family members, didn’t cope well.

In at least one case this was because the lady had lost two family members to cancer, and couldn’t handle a third. She didn’t live in our town, but kept meaning to answer my email. However the days went by and, believe it or not, she forgot I had cancer! A couple of years later, during a phone call, she realized what had happened, and was mortified. How could she have forgotten me during that time?

On my side, I was confused that she didn’t reply to my email. She wrote to me, but it was as if she’d never heard I was ill. Only after we opened up the subject, years later, did I understand what had happened.

3)  A close family member had just moved to a foreign country across the globe.

She had tiny children and was already stressed to her limits trying to adjust. She didn’t forget—she wrote and emailed me whenever she had the chance. But her comments showed me that although she hadn’t forgotten my diagnosis and treatment, she didn’t have a clear understanding of where I was at. That hurt me, and I took it to mean a lack of interest. It couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Months later, a psychologist gave me this explanation: She had so much going on in her life, she couldn’t also cope with someone she loved dearly who had cancer and whom she couldn’t visit. Her subconscious mind created a “mental cupboard” in order to protect her emotionally, and whenever she received news from me, she skimmed through it, then stored it in the “cupboard”. When she sat down to write to me, she couldn’t bear to re-read my emails so answered it from her “filtered” memory. When I heard this explanation, it helped me so much and alleviated the hurt I had felt.

4) Others didn’t know how to speak to me or act around me, and so they kept away.

They were dealing with their own shock, and they didn’t know how we were coping. I wish they’d sat down and spoken to me. Perhaps they thought I wouldn’t notice their absence, but I did.typexnick/Flickr

5) There were those who seemed to think I was contagious. 

They visited, but stood at the door and left in a rush with some sort of excuse, which left me confused and feeling rejected.

6) Some had me dead and about to be buried.

They offered no hope. For some strange reason, they usually found it necessary to tell me all about someone they knew who had died from breast cancer. Not at all what I wanted or needed to hear.

7) One lady was devastated by my diagnosis, and seemed to want to visit so she could cry with me. 

Only thing was, I didn’t want to cry with her! She seemed to feel committed to do all she could to depress me. Eventually, my husband had to step in and try to prevent her from visiting. As soon as we saw her car draw up outside, he chased me off to bed. He could then honestly say, “I’m sorry. Shirley’s lying down.” That of course led to more stress in our lives. And the poor lady was even more worried that I seemed to spend the entire day on my bed!

8) Some struggled with my sense of humor.

They seemed to feel it was inappropriate to do battle with a life-threatening disease with a smile on my face and making jovial remarks. The trouble is, by nature I often see the funny side of not-so-funny events, and make flippant remarks to lighten the gravity of the situation. Instead of supporting me in my personal reaction, inappropriate though they might think it to be, I later learned some labelled me as being “in denial.” Nothing could have been further from the truth.

9) I received a couple of visitors that weren’t really friends at all.

This happened especially in hospital. I came to the conclusion that they were there to satisfy their own curiosity and sure enough they never came back. They probably thought I would be touched. I was just baffled! There are some strange people in this world!

10) And then there were those called to preach!

Oh my. They brought me the Gospel. They urged me to have faith in God. They quoted all the verses they could think of to convince me that if I had faith I would be healed. Far from building me up, these people annoyed me and put me on the defensive. I often had to bite my tongue. “Who do you think I’m trusting in?” I wanted to snarl in my most loving Christian fashion.

Do you have someone who is currently doing battle with cancer?

As you read through these different reactions, and there are more of course, see if you can identify where you fall in. If you are a 1), then praise the Lord for the way you are supporting your loved one. If you fall into any of the other categories, pray about your reaction. Ask yourself why you feel the way you do. Look at the message your reaction is giving to the patient, and look for another better way to show your support.  

Your family members or friends have professional medical assistance. They need friends. Real friends. Friends who will love, support, and accept them without judgement. Cancer is a beastly intruder in anyone’s life, and you never know how you will cope until it hits. So let them be themselves, and you just love and pray for empathy.

If you’ve had cancer, what did people do that encouraged you?

If you have a friend with cancer, what do you think you could do to bring encouragement?

Please leave an answer in the comment box below. Your words could go a long way to uplifting a person you may never meet.

Coping with Anger

This entry is part 19 of the series Friends

Angry_womanIn an earlier post, we looked at anger, and we saw that it is a normal part of the cancer roller coaster.

We’re now going to look at ways you can help a friend or family member that is riding that roller coaster, cope with their anger.

We saw the need to help your friend recognise the anger, and identify the fear, frustration or hurt behind that emotion.

Realise it’s not easy for them to admit to fear, or to share their deepest hurts or frustrations. So take it slowly. Once your loved one knows you understand, it will be easier to explore deeper, hidden feelings. You’re obviously not going to turn your back. That opens the door to discuss the unwelcome feeling and the reason behind it. read more

Writing to Publication

Writing – a Hobby

Writing was a hobby until the beginning of 2001. Then the Lord spoke to me through Scripture and the words of a meditation.

“Pick up your pen and write . . . Share the wondrous things I have done.” (Habakkuk 2:2; Psalm 118:17)

It wasn’t the first time He had brought these verses to my attention.

In 1997-1998, I went through radical treatment for aggressive cancer. While lying on my bed recovering from the latest chemotherapy treatment, I read both these verses. I believed at the time that God was saying I was not to keep my cancer diagnosis and the lessons I was learning a secret. That I was to speak openly. I also thought He wanted me to journal so that I wouldn’t forget.

Then a Calling

I believe both of these were true. But there was more, and in 2001 I understood. He wanted me to write for publication and to share all He had done with any who would read.

I have had hundreds, probably thousands, of articles published online and in print. Not all of them are devotional in nature, but they all speak from experience. The more I had published, the more I felt like a writer.

Then in 2012, Revell Publishers in America brought out my book of meditations for those on the cancer journey, Strength Renewed, Meditations for Your Journey through Breast Cancer. At last I felt like an author.

Since then I have had a number of books published which you can see under the heading Published Work on the menu.

Strength Renewed

Corder_StrengthRenewed-3D

Strength Renewed, Meditations for Your Journey through Breast Cancer

“Nothing can sap a person’s strength and hope quite like a cancer diagnosis – unless it is the energy-stealing radiation, chemotherapy and surgeries faced in the fight to survive. But one can find hope and strength in the pages of Scripture and in the experience of someone who has been there.”

So says the editorial blurb for Strength Renewed.

Strength Renewed is an encouraging devotional by Shirley Corder for those living in the valley of cancer, whether as a patient or a carer.

Scripture and Life Experience

Meditations combine Scripture and stories from the author’s own experience. Reader may choose to read the short chapters in sequential order, moving through a typical cancer journey from diagnosis through treatment. However, each devotion stands on its own, so readers can go directly to the entry that speaks to their need.
In addition to offering help to those traversing the traumatic valley of cancer, many have written to claim how this book has helped them face other types of crises.

Updated Information re Strength Renewed

You can preview the first chapters of this book, or purchase it direct from this page. Click on the relevant tabs below the image.

If you live in South Africa, it will be cheaper to purchase the paperback from Takealot.  Send me an email if you have a problem. The Kindle version is available on Amazon.

Where else to purchase the book:

Get it now at Amazon.com, print or ebook.

Also available at ChristianBook.comTakealot.comKoboBooksKoorong and the Apple Bookstore  (ebook version).