The Ericksons

Category Archives: Living with Cancer

Blog Posts about Living with Cancer


It’s the 1st Wednesday of the month again. That’s when I take part in Alex J. Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group. I encourage you to check out their website and even sign up for the IWSG Newsletter. Today I will explore putting a schedule in place for writing. I’ll focus on the genre of self-help as it relates to writing about cancer, as I answer this month’s IWSG Day question:

February 7 question – What do you love about the genre you write in most often?

If you want to have some fun, take a look at the Wikipedia page for the list of writing genres. You may be surprised at how many there are. So, it’s difficult for me, as a writer to choose just one. My favorite thing to write is fiction, especially mysteries. But at this point in time, I write more non-fiction. If I had to narrow it down to a specific genre, it would be self-help. Until I got this question, I never would have categorized writing about cancer that way. It’s interesting to note my reason for writing about cancer is to help people.

Facing CancerMy first book, Facing Cancer as a Friend, How to Support Someone who has Cancer, came about after hearing so many people express how much they want to be there for friends who are diagnosed with cancer, but they don’t feel equipped to help. Many people don’t even know what to say. I was the same way until my own husband was diagnosed in 2012 with stage IV lung cancer. I soon got a crash course in caregiving. We learned what is most helpful, as well as what to avoid when someone tells you they have cancer.

One of the most rewarding things is to get an email from someone or run into someone in person, who says my book or my blog post writing about cancer have made a difference in how they feel when someone they love tells them they have a life-changing disease like cancer. Instead of feeling powerless to help, they feel equipped.

As part of a support group for families facing cancer, we have met countless parents, just like us, who are dealing with cancer. Their number one priority, like all parents, is the well-being of their children. How are they going to help their children through this? No two kids are alike, but they do have a lot in common at the various developmental stages they go through. Understanding the common reactions and what you can do to reassure them can make a big difference in how they cope when their mom or dad has cancer.  That’s why I’m excited that my next book, Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Child Cope with Your Cancer, is on the verge of publication.

Writing about cancer is often painful. But it’s also important to me because of how difficult it has been to learn what I know. It’s cost our family dearly to learn the lessons I share. So early on I decided that I didn’t want to waste it. Hopefully, others will find what I share in my books and my blogs valuable, and it can spare them some of the pain we have felt.

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available at Amazon.com.

I also blog about living with cancer at, Facing Cancer with Grace.

My Family
The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

 

 


When you or a loved one are diagnosed with cancer, survival tops your priority list. As time passes, you meet other cancer patients. Some of them survive. Some of them die. Learning that one of your friends has died of cancer, always brings with it a sadness–and sometimes, guilt. It’s a phenomenon known as survivor’s guilt.

Encouragement

As a 5-year -survivor of stage IV lung cancer, my husband, Dan, tries to encourage others on their journey. I, in turn, try to encourage caregivers that there is hope. There are new treatments and new tools in the palliative care toolbox to help patients deal with the side effects of cancer treatments. There are also a lot of support groups and systems to help both patients and caregivers.

When it starts going bad.

We recently found out that someone we know “lost her battle with cancer.” I don’t even want to get into the controversy surrounding that statement. I don’t like it much, but for all intents and purposes, it works. We wonder if we lied to them. Why have we had the grace of this time, when others with terminal cancer don’t? Survivor’s guilt rears its ugly head.

In the back of your mind, you wonder if you were wrong to give hope. Did you sell them a bill of bad goods?

How to Support a Caregiver

Comparison

Another thing you wonder is, “Why are we so fortunate when they are going through this hell?” That can place a heavy load on your shoulders, that you were never meant to carry. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people diminish their experience of living with cancer, just because theirs wasn’t staged IV. Anytime you are dealing with a cancer diagnosis, it’s scary. Comparison is the devil’s playground. Nothing good ever came of it. So, avoid comparison at all costs.

As a caregiver and spouse, I also deal with the guilt of avoidance.

I tell friends of cancer patients to be there for them and support them. Yet, when survivor’s guilt kicks in, I find it hard to do, myself.

We have a friend, with the same diagnosis as my husband. She’s been through the ringer and lost more than I could ever imagine to this terrible disease. Her husband writes Caring Bridge posts that make me cry every time. In fact, when I get the alert that he’s posted an update, I dread reading it.

It’s so painful –and frightening.
I’m afraid of our future, and I get a glimpse of it in her story.

So I completely understand when people don’t know what to do with our pain and potential future.

Talk to someone.

When experiencing survivor’s guilt, it helps to:

  • Remember that these feelings will come and go. They are just part of learning to cope with uncertainty and the arbitrary nature of cancer.
  • Share your feelings with a trusted friend, Sometimes saying what you’re thinking out loud can do a lot to banish the boogie man of survivor’s guilt. If you can find a support group, you’ll soon discover that you aren’t the only to have these thoughts and feelings.
  • Do unto others. Think about how you would feel in their shoes. You’d certainly never begrudge someone surviving. You want people to survive, even if you don’t. So, don’t feel guilty about surviving cancer or having a loved one who does. Live well and make it count!

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it.

Thank you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness.

My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com.

The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

Do you remember the last time you went to the doctor? If it was within the past couple of years, chances are, you were asked to “rate your pain on a scale of 0 to 10 with 0 being no pain, and 10 being the greatest amount of pain humanly possible.” What does that even mean?? I’m going to shed some light on this enigmatic pain scale, so the next time you or a loved one goes to the doctor, you can get the best care possible.

Patients hate the pain scale

You are suddenly put on the spot. The nurse or doctor is waiting for you to put a number on what you’re experiencing. It’s the worst pain you’ve ever felt, but is it a 10? It is if you feel like a bear is gnawing on your leg while bees sting your eyeballs and you have your hand caught in an ever-tightening vice. Crazy, right? But that’s a 10. It’s pain that is nearly intolerable. Every once in a while a doctor will see a 10, but the patient is in too much pain by that time to even communicate the number. That’s a 10.

There is the opposite problem as well. I have a relative who was in the hospital in excruciating pain and he was inaccurately reporting his pain at a much lower level than it actually was. Once he understood the pain scale and could express what he was experiencing, the doctors could properly treat him.

Pain scale

Doctors hate the pain scale

Doctors are required to record the number at which you rate your pain along with your vital signs (temperature, oxygen, and blood pressure). That doesn’t mean they like it. They know how subjective the pain scale is. We all know someone who moans for hours about a hangnail. We also know someone who would walk around with a broken bone for days without going to the doctor.

We’re all made different. We feel pain differently, but we also interpret it differently. some people are really in touch with how they are feeling and like to report those feelings to everyone and anyone who will listen. Other people feel like it’s complaining and keep their pain to themselves, not wanting to make a fuss.

The 0-10 scale, itself, is a problem

Then there’s the problem of the scale itself. Most people don’t know what a 7 means. If you were rating a restaurant from 0-10, a 7 would seem okay, but not stellar. On the pain scale, 7 means a lot of pain! Thankfully there are some tools to help you properly assess your pain levels.

The Wong-Baker Faces

Wong Baker Pain Scale

A helpful tool for people who are new to the pain scale is the Wong-Baker Faces. The scale is a visual interpretation of the pain scale, developed by Donna Wong and Connie Baker. It was originally created to help children express their pain. It’s now common to see this scale in emergency rooms and clinics for patients of all ages. It’s intended for self-assessment and isn’t intended to be used by a 3rd party to assess someone else.

Ouchie by Ouchie, LLCApp for pain assessment

There are also apps that can help you track and assess your pain. One example is Ouchie, available (and FREE) through iTunes. This not only helps you to track your specific pain, but it also connects you to an online community of people with your condition and gives you ideas of how to manage your pain. Ouchi is only one example of the tracking apps out there. Try more than one and decide what works best for you.

Imagination and Communication

It takes some imagination to express your pain levels. My bear/bee/vice illustration from earlier is a good example of visualizing the pain to more accurately report it. It takes some creativity, but it can help you to decide, is this really a 10, or is it more like a 7 (the bear without the bees and the vice)?

There’s no substitute for clear, honest communication. Talk to your doctor if you’re unsure of how to assess and express your pain levels. Also, having a caregiver come with to appointments is a great way to stay accountable. They see you all the time and can let you know if they think your assessment may need a little retooling.

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since my husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness.

My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com.

The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

Do we need to “have it all together?”

So many tragic things happen in this world and in our personal lives, that require us to have faith. What happens when the faith we have is imperfect? The truth is that we all have imperfect faith. The good news is that even with imperfect faith, our prayers make a difference.

A Parent’s Perspective

When one of my kids comes to me for help, I don’t require them to have everything in their life together before I respond to their need. If you have kids (of any age) I’m sure you feel the same way. That’s how it is with God. We can approach Him, even with imperfect faith.

Family Care Conference

When you don’t really know God

I have many friends and loved ones, who don’t have a relationship with God. Some of them believe God exists, but they don’t understand who He is, or how to fit Him into their life. Then, something happens that shakes their world to its foundations. It might be a violent death, a divorce, or a life-changing illness. They often feel like they can’t pray, themselves, either because they don’t know how, or because they feel like they have imperfect faith and God won’t listen to them. Many times they ask me to pray for the situation. I’m always glad to do this.

Imperfect Faith

These requests for prayer are often for a loved one, like the father’s request for his son, found in Mark 9: 14-29.

One day there was a man in a crowd, who came to Jesus with his mute son. This son also had seizures. He said, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And when it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid.” The father had even asked Jesus’ disciples to cast it out, but they were unsuccessful.

Imperfect Faith

Jesus how long this had been going on.  The father told him he’d been suffering since childhood. There had been times when he had even fallen into the fire due to the seizures. Then he said, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’.  All things are possible for one who believes.”

To which the father responded,  “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Jesus drove the unclean spirit out.

We don’t need to do God’s job

Sometimes we think that we need to be Jesus, the one solving the problem. Sometimes we think we can’t approach God until we have a complete understanding of spiritual things. We think our faith life needs to be totally together.

I’m not advocating ignoring your spiritual life because God will understand and be merciful.  A rich spiritual life is important. But we will always have an imperfect faith. Who has a complete understanding of God and His ways?

The father in this story was bold. He was saying. “I have imperfect faith, Jesus. I don’t get it, and I’m scared for my son. Help him, anyway. Enlarge my faith in the process.”

Don’t be afraid to approach God with imperfect faith.

If you or someone you love is going through something that requires more than human strength, or if you’ve been distant from God for a long time, and you aren’t sure how to approach Him, I would like to encourage you to begin talking to God. That’s really all that prayer is. There are no magic words or formulas required.

If you have any questions, you can write them in the comment section, or email me personally at heatherericksonauthor@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since my husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness.

My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

Today we will look at why people blame God for trials and sufferings in life. This is the second post that looks at Job from the Bible to gain insight into suffering.

A few weeks ago, we explored the common (though often subconscious) idea that a person diagnosed with a life-altering illness, such as cancer, must have done something to cause it; smoking, drinking, unhealthy eating patterns, etc. You can check out that post here.

I concluded the post by sharing how to be a supportive friend when someone is going through a trial, rather than one of Job’s comforters, blaming the sufferer. Beyond outward behavior that may or may not have contributed to someone getting cancer, there is often a blame game of another sort—sin and God’s will.

Why people blame God when they or someone they know is suffering  

Job (oil on canvas) by Bonnat, Leon Joseph Florentin (1833-1922)

Let’s return to Job, the epitome of suffering. He’s sitting on a dung heap in sackcloth and ashes, mourning the loss of all he held dear; his family, property, and his health. Job’s friends came and mourned with him for seven days in silence. Then they decided to tell him what they thought was the cause of, and solution to his problems. Job’s friends go into this quite poetically, and more in depth, but for brevity’s sake, here is the breakdown, simplified:

What did Job’s friends understand to be the causes of Job’s troubles?

Eliphaz (4:7-11) = Only the evil receive trouble, the innocent never perish

Bildad (8:1-4) = Job’s children were sinful

Zophar (11:1-6) = Job mocked God by claiming innocence as God was punishing

Where did Job’s friends claim to receive their profound insights?

Eliphaz (4:12-5:7) = He was given a vision from God

Bildad (8:8-10) = from the wisdom of the elders

Zophar (11:7-12) = God’s wisdom in this is beyond Job’s understanding

What solutions did Job’s friends offer?

Eliphaz (5:8-27) = Repent to God and He will restore you

Bildad (8:5-7) = Plead to God, and He will respond. Be pure & upright, and He’ll restore you

Zophar (11:13-20) = Devote yourself to God & put away sin, God will remove troubles

It all comes down to God and why people blame God for tragedy

The book of Job is an amazingly accurate picture of how people react to tragedy within the church, as well as in the world.

Both sin and God’s will have been blamed for tragedy since the dawn of time. Remember the Garden of Eden? When God confronted Adam for Adam and Eve’s sin, the first man retorted, “It was the woman you gave me!”

What Jesus said about why people blame God

One of my favorite miracles in the New Testament is the healing of the man born blind. I think I like it so much because we are able to see the before, during, and after of the miracle.

Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth.  And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus answered,

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.  John 9:1-3 New King James Version (NKJV)

There is way more to the story, but the point is that even Jesus’ disciples’ first reaction was to ask who had sinned to cause the man to be born blind. In fact, it was a possibility in their minds that he could have sinned in his mother’s womb, causing blindness from birth!

If we can’t figure out why something happened, we chalk it up to God. He must have seen fit to cause this. Maybe He’s trying to teach us a lesson. Maybe He’s chastising us. If we believe that only the wicked suffer, we don’t need to worry about it happening to us. (I wonder what the apostles did to deserve their martyrdom?)

Just World Hypothesis

 

Psychologists refer to this as the “just-world hypothesis,” first described by psychologist Melvin Lerner and colleagues more than four decades ago (ie. “You got what was coming to you”, “What goes around comes around”, “chickens come home to roost”, and “You reap what you sow”).

We always want to know why something bad has happened. We need to feel that life is under control. Our inability to control life completely is one of the reasons why people blameGod when things go wrong.

Just world Hypothesis

He is.

God is definitely in control, but He has also given us free will. Adam and Eve sinned and thus began the world after The Fall. The very earth itself was changed. Death came to the world.

Back to Job’s friends.

They were doing so well–until they started to talk. My first suggestion for anyone who finds out that a friend is facing a trial is to listen rather than talk. Bite your tongue when you feel like adding your suggestions. When a person finds out they have a cancer diagnosis, they need some time to process the feelings and thoughts that change rapidly as more information comes in. It is helpful for them to have a sounding board, and if they trust you enough to talk to you about those deep thoughts and feelings, feel honored.

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since my husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness.

My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

In part one of The Who Cares for the Caregiver series, we learned who caregivers are, We also looked at the affect caring for someone who has cancer or another serious illness, has on them. In Part two, we learned specific ways you can help a caregiver. In today’s post, the third and final installment in the caregiver series, we learn about the effect of caring for caregivers.

Hearing Crickets

I’m a very private, introverted person. At the time my husband, Dan was diagnosed with cancer, we hadn’t been married long. I was a stay at home mom and didn’t have many strong friendships.  So when the people found out that Dan had cancer, many calls and texts came to his cell phone and countless caring emails arrived in his inbox.

I got a total of two, so I felt very much alone.

Pe Prepared to help someone in crisis

The Turning Point

That changed when I received an email from my sister-in-law, Marion, on the evening of November 2, 2012. Here’s what she said*:

Praying for you on THIS day, today—

That Dan’s results would be given to you by the end of the day. 

That the results would be so much better than

expected.

That you would be able to get at least an idea of a treatment plan and what to expect in the coming weeks

That you would physically feel the peace of the many, many people praying for you today as you wait,                                                                                                                                        

and that you would end the day encouraged, and filled with hope for your family’s future.

Know that your family is deeply loved by God, by family and by friends. 

Kevin, the girls and I had a family prayer meeting last night for all of you.

I felt loved and cared for

memories

Everything she had prayed in that email had been on my heart and mind. I knew that God had moved her to write to me in my time of greatest need.

It was then that I knew I wasn’t alone. I’ll never forget the way I felt, knowing that someone cared, at a time I felt like no one did. She had no idea what a difference her words would make.

From that time forward, Marion became become my biggest cheerleader and my best friend. She’s been used by God in so many ways to enable me to be a good caregiver for Dan.

Why this caring email was so important

Marion continued to send me encouraging emails.

While she and her family have done many more acts of kindness for me and my family, I wanted to focus on this email. That’s because of the power such a simple thing has, to change someone’s life.

The irony is that at the time, she thought I had lots of support.

As time went on, and I became bold enough to make my needs known, many kind people showed me caring support. but in the beginning that wasn’t the case.

Often, I talk to people who say they want to help patients and caregivers, but they feel like something as simple as a card or an email wouldn’t make a difference. Too often people feel that way and it prevents them from reaching out, to remind those going through a difficult trial that they aren’t alone. I can tell you that it makes a huge difference.

I tell this story to encourage you to reach out to the people in your life who are supporting someone who has cancer, or any other life-altering diagnosis. They need support too. The love you show them can make all the difference in the world.

These suggestions come from chapter 10 of the book, Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone who has Cancer

The kindness of strangers

Caring for the Caregiver

Another reason people don’t call or send caring notes is that they worry they will be a bother. They think the job of caring is better left to close family and friends.

During the Christmas of 2015, when Dan was particularly ill, we received the kindness of strangers. A couple we didn’t know who attended my in-laws’ church, called, asking if they could come to see us. They brought us a poinsettia to brightened our home at a time when the future looked dark.

Even more, they brought the love of Christ. They listened to us and prayed for us. When they left, I felt so filled with hope in the midst of a seemingly hopeless situation. While they entered our home as strangers,  they left as friends.

Our Daughter, Sam

While researching for my upcoming book, Facing Cancer as a Parent, I interviewed my daughter, Sam, who was 14 at the time, about what it’s like to have a parent with cancer. I asked what surprised her the most about our experience.

She said, “How much people have supported us, I knew people would be there for us, but it has really been amazing, how wonderful they’ve been.”

Remember that it’s not just the patient who is blessed by your support and care. It’s their family as well.

This is my challenge to you:Facing Cancer

Brighten someone’s world with just a few moments of compassion. consider caring for a caregiver. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture (but it can be). Something to let someone know you are thinking of them in their time of need can mean a lot. If you need help with ideas, check out part 2 of this series. It gives some specific ways to show a caregiver that YOU care.

Want to go deeper?

Get my book, Facing Cancer as a friend. This series was adapted from Chapter 10. I cover loads of topics ranging from how to talk to someone with cancer, practical ways you can show your support, gifts, and much more. If you’d like to read a recent review, check it out here, on one of my favorite blogs, WordDreams.

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since my husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness.

My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

 

 

*Reprinted with permission


Have you ever heard the term, “Job’s comforters?” If you’ve ever experienced a tragedy, especially one with your health, you’ve likely gotten a dose of what Job’s friends dished out to him.

Job was a blameless and upright man (Job 1:1) who got caught between God and the devil. Satan thought he could get Job to turn on God, but God knew Job’s heart, as he knows all of our hearts. He trusted Job enough to allow Satan to do his worst.

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took for himself a potsherd with which to scrape himself while he sat in the midst of the ashes. (Job 2:7, 8)

Now that you have a picture of just a portion of the tragedy that hit Job, let’s look at how Job’s friends responded.

In the beginning, Job’s friends did all the right things.

They made an appointment to come and mourn with him. When they got there, he was so ill that they didn’t even recognize him. They sat with him for seven days nights, and no one spoke a word to him because his grief was so great. I find this to be a tender moment. They were allowing him time to grieve and have the comfort of their presence. That’s being a good friend.

Then Job spoke. “I wish I’d never been born!”

Have you ever had a friend who told you she was going through a divorce, or his kid was doing drugs, or she was diagnosed with a chronic illness, or his doctor just told him he has cancer? What do you say to that? It feels like you should say something—but what?

Family Care Conference

Eliphaz was the first of Job’s friends to give his thoughts on the matter.

“Don’t take offense at this, but I just need to say something. Yes, you’ve done a lot of good things in your time, but it seems to me that you must have done something to deserve this. I was praying for you the other night, and the Holy Spirit told me (Job 4:12) that you aren’t trusting in God, but rather earthly things. Your sin caused this.”

Really???

This is an all too real a scenario, for people facing cancer.

That’s why I wrote Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone who has Cancer.

In Facing Cancer as a Friend, I address what to say, what not to say, end more importantly, how to use your talents and gifts to bless the people in your life who have cancer.

Some things are more stigmatized than others.

When my husband was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, we were quickly immersed in the cancer blame game. “Did he smoke?” Was the immediate response 90% of the time when we told people that he had lung cancer. I soon began to add the tagline, “and, he never smoked,” whenever I told someone about his cancer.

This bothered me, though. After all, are we saying that smokers deserve to have cancer?

The smoking stigma is reflected in research spending.

Job's Friends and Smoking

In a 2012 analysis by the National Lung Cancer Partnership, it was reported that each year, nearly 157,000 Americans die of lung cancer, and 39,970 from breast cancer. Yet, far fewer research dollars are spent per lung cancer death—$1,490 versus $21,641 for breast cancer. (A Sick Stigma by Charlotte Huff, Slate.com)

Other Cancers

For other cancers, behaviors such as eating habits, alcohol, and stress are often called into question. While lifestyle is definitely a major contributor to all illnesses, including cancer, it isn’t appropriate to talk about these conjectures regarding a patient, unless you are the patient or their doctor. To do so, is either gossip or just plain tacky, depending on who you are speaking with.

Alcohol

The reality is, people are just trying to make sense of a senseless disease.

Job’s friends aren’t the only ones to engage in the, “how did this happen,” sleuthing. To this day, we can only guess at the cause of Dan’s lung cancer.  Radon is the top guess, just because it’s statistically most likely. But when and where did he get the radon? Who knows? One in three homes in Minnesota has an unsafe level of radon.

Dan has lived a “good, clean,” life. But, what if he hadn’t? Can you imagine all of the second-guessing that a cancer patient does at that point? We sometimes joke that he got cancer from the polluted air in Egypt. Really, it’s more of the same, “How could this happen?”

A skin cancer patient will look back on that sunburn from 2 years ago and curse the fact that he didn’t use sunscreen like his wife had nagged him to.

Someone with liver cancer will wonder if it was all of the partying she did back in her college days. Or, was it the acetaminophen she takes daily for chronic headaches?

We want to know why.

Cancer is such a complicated disease. Until it touches you, directly, you don’t have a lot of reason to gain an in-depth understanding of it. Social-media “science” only adds to the confusion. It’s horrible to think that bad things could happen to good people. It causes a sense of dread in all of us. After all, that would mean we aren’t immune. So, we try to conjure up a reasonable explanation for the cause of the illness or tragedy. Otherwise, how do I know it won’t happen to me?

When we do this, we are acting more like Job’s friends than supportive friends.

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since my husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness.

My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

This is my final A to Z Challenge post, and it is perhaps, my most difficult. What can I write about that starts with Z? I decided to take an actual term, Z Factor, and slap a new meaning on it, all while sharing what has given us peace of mind throughout my husband’s cancer journey. So here it is…The Z Factor of Living with Cancer.

Survival Rates

There are many things that go into survival rates for people living with cancer. Often how well a person is doing on their treatment seems to defy logic. We’ve seen some patients who are wonderful people with every reason to live, pass away.

As well, we’ve seen patients who do very well and exceed all expectations, despite a dire, initial prognosis.

We’ve heard many reasons for this:Statistics

  • She’s a fighter.
  • He has such a positive attitude.
  • She’s hanging on for the kids.
  • He’s determined to outlive us all.
  • She has faith.

I think there is something to be said for the power of will. There’s even more that can be said about the power of God. This is a power that transcends survival.

We have seen believers and unbelievers, alike, die.

We’ve also seen both outlive their doctor’s predictions. From the beginning of my husband’s battle, he’s said, “I’m going to follow my doctor’s orders and pray.”  And, that’s what he’s done. We’ve had people suggest that faith and medicine are incompatible. That if we really had faith, we wouldn’t trust the doctors, but trust God, alone.

That never made sense to me since Jesus himself said,

“…Healthy people don’t need a doctor–sick people do….” (1)

Jesus was pointing out that he had come to seek and save the lost, but His words also suggest that seeing a doctor and following their recommendations is an appropriate thing for sick to do. Doing so doesn’t negate one’s faith. The true test of faith, even while living with cancer, is resting in God’s will for your life–even at the end of it.

Afraid

The Z factor defies statistics

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”  (2)

The Message Bible says it this way:

“I’m A to Z, the First and the Final, Beginning and Conclusion.” (3)

In our experience, Jesus is the ultimate Z factor. He is our A, there from the beginning. And, He’s our Z, there with us to the very end, the final word, the peace of mind we experience, which statistics would normally steal away.

Often, we rely on what we can see with our eyes and touch with our hands to be a gauge for how well we are doing. How well is our soul? How’s our peace of mind?

The truth is, one day, every one of us will die.

It may be from cancer, or a car accident or peacefully in our sleep. The apostles, save Saint John, all died as martyrs in terrible, painful ways. No one is guaranteed a long life or an easy life. Jesus himself died as a young man.  Jesus isn’t a magic genie that we can command to do our will. It’s our Heavenly Father’s will that He does.

We can rely on Him to care for us in the best possible way. Sometimes we can’t see with our human eyes how that’s possible in the face of cancer–whether it’s ours or a loved one’s. Jesus cares for our needs beyond this life. He cares for our eternal souls, and for the loved ones we leave behind. He has the last word. Our Omega, the Z in our A to Z, our Z factor.

If you don’t know Jesus, but would like to learn more, I invite you to send me an email at heatherericksonauthor@gmail.com. I’d love to help you in any way I can, even if it’s just to lend a listening ear.

Thank you for sharing this A to Z Challenge with me. I hope you will sign up for alerts to let you know when my weekly post is published. Also, sign up for my newsletter. I usually send one out, once a month. I’m overdue right now. Bless you!

Footnotes:

  1. Mark 2:17a. Holman Christian Standard Bible
  2. Revelation 22: 13 New International Version
  3. Revelation 22: 13 The Message Bible, a contemporary language version of the Bible created and translated by Eugene H. Peterson

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since my husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, despite their illness.

My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

X-Ray

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

An X-ray is the most commonly used imaging scan for most people since it is simple, safe, and low cost. Doctors use x-ray to diagnose injury and lung issues, from bronchitis to lung cancer.

An x-ray uses radiation in small quantities. The radiation (or x-ray) passes through the body, capturing an image. The rays are blocked by dense tissue, bone, and objects in the body. Radiologists look at the x-ray picture and send a report of their findings to the doctor.

CT Scans

CT stands for Computed Tomography. It’s a painless scan that combines the power of x-ray with computers to make images. The images are 360-degreecross-sectionall views of your body.

Doctors often use CT scans when they want to see bone, soft tissue and blood vessels at the same time. It’s also okay for a patient who has metal in their body to have a CT. Because of this capability, it is a common scan for a cancer patient to have.

CT scans often involve oral and/or intravenous contrast. This clear, tasteless liquid helps radiologists see certain things in the scan, such as lymph nodes, better. During the scan, you lay on a scanner table. The table will move you through the scanner, while the technologist will take the images from outside of the room. Depending on what your doctor needs from the scan, it takes from 10 to 30 minutes.

MRI

Your doctor may order an MRI if he or she wants a good picture of soft tissues such as your organs, your brain, or other internal structures. Unlike x-ray and CT scans, MRI doesn’t use radiation. Instead, it uses powerful magnets to take cross-section images, or “slices.” This scan takes from 30 minutes to an hour.

Because a patient must lay on a table in a small tube for a long time, it’s not an ideal scan for people who are claustrophobic.

A Helpful Comment from MRI Test Prep:

“While external metal, such as keys, cellphones, hairpins, etc. are strictly forbidden from entering the MRI exam room most metal implants, including nearly all orthopedic and dental implants are MRI Safe. There is a spectrum of safety with metal implants which includes safe, conditional, and unsafe. Even many implants which were previously deemed “unsafe” for instance cardiac pacemakers, are now being built with MRI Conditional varieties, allowing these patients to undergo MRI. As a patient be sure to inform both your physician and technologist of all metal implants prior to your exam, and if you have any implant info cards be sure to fax them to the MRI center before your exam, and have them on hand the day of your MRI. (I know this may be too much information but I don’t want people with metal implants to feel like they are disqualified from MRI when they otherwise would be a fine MRI candidate.)”

Whether it’s an x-ray, a CT, or MRI, your doctor will know the best imaging scan for your needs. They’re very careful about safety. If your doctor orders a scan, it is because they believe the risk of letting a suspected problem go undiagnosed outweighs any potential risk the scan may have.  Thanks to low dose radiation, and careful precautions, imaging technology has become quite safe.

Our Story

The first scan Dan had was an x-ray. Doctors saw something suspicious but needed to know more in order to make a diagnosis. They performed many more scans and tests to confirm their suspicions. Throughout Dan’s treatment, he has had scans at least once every 3 months. Often they have been 6 weeks apart. At one point, they needed more up to date information, so they gave him an x-ray every 2 weeks for 2 months. All of these images have given us a picture of what was happening in his body. With that knowledge, we could make informed medical decisions.

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since my husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, despite their illness.

My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

The Erickson Family, August 2016. Photo By Jim Bovin

One thing all cancer patients do is wait. From the waiting room, on, waiting becomes a huge part of life when you’re living with cancer,

Waiting room

My husband and I had monthly visits to the cancer center for 5 years prior to his diagnosis with stage IV lung cancer. I received infusions for rheumatoid arthritis there. The day we went to the cancer center for his first oncology appointment, the waiting room became a whole new word for us. We saw the other patients who were waiting, in a whole new light. For the first time, we knew their fears. They all had experience in what we were about to go through.

Over the years, the waiting room has also become a place of comradery. We exchange stories. We root for one another. Now, Dan is the patient with the experience, having been there nearly 5 years.

waiting room

Waiting for your diagnosis

This may have been the most anxiety filled time of Dan’s cancer experience. We knew something was wrong. But, what? Countless tests filled our days for two weeks, before we had a complete picture of what we were facing. And, that was fast. Most people wait a lot longer for their diagnosis. It may have been because his symptoms left nothing up to question. The Doctors knew it was cancer. It was just a matter of finding out which cancer and what stage it was at.

Waiting to tell People

The thing that made waiting for the diagnosis even more difficult was the solitude of it. We were waiting to tell people until we knew exactly what we were dealing with. We didn’t want to worry people for no reason. But, that left us alone, with no one to pray for Dan’s health or our peace of mind. If we had it to do over again, (apart from our young children) we would tell some people. We noticed an immediate difference when people began to pray for us. A tremendous weight was lifted.

Waiting for scan results

As you undergo cancer treatment, you spend a lot of time waiting for scan results. They are confirmation that a treatment is working and often the first indication that it has stopped working. Patients have scans at different intervals, but they are always a time of waiting.

Waiting for the other shoe to drop

Even when things are going really well (sometimes especially, then), nerves can get the best of you. I, especially, have struggled with this. When life is somewhat normal, I start to worry that things will change and Dan will have to go back to a hard treatment…or worse.

Waiting is part of the cancer experience. While it’s difficult, you get better at it over time. Cancer slows you down anyway. You become more introspective. The time spent waiting gives you time to think, to reassess your priorities, and to pray.

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since my husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, despite their illness.

My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

The Erickson Family, August 2016. Photo By Jim Bovin

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