Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Ask Away

One of the things that breaks my heart about cancer is the fear it strikes into the people around the person going through it. I find that people are too scared to ask me deep questions for fear of upsetting me or fear of the answer. When I say people, I mostly mean adults. Kids, on the other hand, are a completely different ball game. Before the start of the treatment, I was at my friends house and she has three children. My friend had told her kids that I had cancer and what that would mean. When I walked into their house, I was greeted by the youngest, who is four years old, with "Stari, are you going to die?" No hesitation, no embarrassment, no build up to the question, just straight out with it. The question did take me by surprise, mainly because I was expecting a "hello" first, but I answered it as best I could in a way that she would be able to understand. It was refreshing to be asked a direct question with no awkwardness.

I was thinking about this last night and I decided that people have questions and those questions need to be answered. It is important that these questions are answered not only for your sanity but it will help to prepare you to walk alongside other people with cancer. So here's the idea. Ask Away. If you have a question, write it in the comments box on this page, or any future Ask Away pages, and I will answer it. You can leave your name if you like but don't feel you have to. You can ask about anything. You can ask about the medical questions e.g. treatment, symptoms, prognosis, patient experience, physical and emotional health, faith, life, my past experiences, or it could be something completely random. The point is, you have the freedom to ask anything if you wish.

I shall look forward to hearing from you!

Monday, 25 February 2013

The End Of Chapter One

The end of this chapter has come abruptly but has been a good surprise. I am allowed to go home today for roughly two weeks. My immune system is very low so I still have to be careful but at least I can recuperate in a much nicer environment. But there is one final hurdle I have to jump before being allowed to escape today - a bone marrow biopsy. I have had one before and it was agony so I am mentally preparing myself for the inevitable. The results from this bone marrow biopsy will show how well the chemotherapy has worked against the cancer. Those results will help the doctors know if they need to adjust the treatment before the start of my next round of chemotherapy which will begin in roughly two weeks time.

It is exactly five weeks today since I started my treatment. What a whirlwind! It has been incredibly painful, physically and emotionally, at times; but God's grace and loving faithfulness has been present the whole way through. I know many of you have been praying for me and I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the love, support and encouragement you have given me. It has greatly helped to carry me through this first stage of the journey. You have been the Body of Christ to me and I pray that God will grant you every blessing and continue to strengthen your faith.

So this is me signing out for a week but tune in next time for the start of Chapter Two.


Failure. Even the word conjures up bad feelings. I have often felt in the past that my life has been marked by failure. In primary school, I failed to be accepted and was bullied. I failed the entrance exam for the secondary school I wanted to go to. I walked out of mock exams because I had a panic attack. I failed to control my emotions and was depressed. I failed to get the grades for medical school straight after school. I didn't complete my degree in St Andrews. When I did get to medical school, I failed my exams. I have had eight years of university education and nothing really to show for it; and now, yet again, my body has failed to maintain its health.

I think that the worst part of failure is knowing that you're not good enough. When I have failed at things in the past, it was always accompanied by a sense of shame and embarrassment."What will people think?" would feature in my thoughts. I started to fear failure, especially in academia, and as a result my anxiety increased to a level that was unmanageable. It would also stop me from doing things in case I failed at them. 

But that was then. My perspective on failure has completely changed.  There are lots of things that I have succeeded at, but that is not the point. The success that I have had does not make me feel better about the times I failed; one does not cancel out the other. What has changed my perspective is looking back and seeing how, through failure, my character has been built. There are two ways to respond to failure - stay on the ground or get up and run. The greatest lesson I have learned from these experiences is perseverance. It is still feels rubbish when failure comes but having the resilience to bounce back trumps that feeling because I know that it is only temporary. I am a strong person now, not because of failure itself, but because of what God has taught me through those experiences. Whatever happens I know I will not be given more than I can cope with. This gives me freedom to attempt new and challenging things with the crushing fear of failure.

I may not be good enough at lots of things in this life but that doesn't really matter anymore. Through my own strength, even though I tried as hard as I could, I could never meet the requirements to have a relationship with God. It was only through believing in Jesus that the infinitely large chasm could be crossed. Now I know that because I have faith in Jesus, I will always be good enough for God because when He looks at me He sees me covered with the perfection of Jesus. So even though, by human standards, I may continue to fail and not be good enough, I will always be good enough for God.  

Cupboard Update

So, I should probably update you on what has been going on over the last few days. I am no longer hiding in the glorified arts cupboard; I was moved back into a side room on Friday morning. I can't tell you how relieved I was and am for having my own room and being able to sleep. I feel so much better in myself now. 

In other exciting news, I think I'm ready to go home for a week either today or tomorrow. So, technically, the doctor hasn't actually said that I can go home because I haven't seen him today yet, but I saw my blood results and I'm pretty sure that the end of Chapter 1 is imminent. I shall keep you posted! 

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Straw That Broke The Camels' Back

I have been in here for 31 days now and I have finally cracked. In my defence, however, I think I have lasted a substantial amount of time before this meltdown. So what is the nature of this straw? A promise broken. In their defence, it is a relatively small promise, but it was enough to awake the monster. I was moved from the side room into a bay 6 days ago. Which is fine because someone more ill than me needed the side room. However, there are disadvantages to being in a bay with other people, firstly there is no privacy - pulling a curtain round your bed does not make it sound proof, nor does it stop people coming in when you are trying to get changed. Secondly, you are always with people, there is no time where you can be on your own in silence; I like people but even I need some time on my own. Thirdly, most importantly, you are continuously woken up through the night with other people's machines going off and the nurses coming in and out. To add salt to the wound, it isn't even possible to sleep during the day because people are constantly coming and going. I have been sleep deprived for 6 days and counting. I can cope with most difficulties, but sleep deprivation is my Achilles Heel.  As an aside, in some countries it is actually a form of torture to wake people up just as they are about to fall asleep. But there was a light at the end of the tunnel which was holding my will to live by a thread. The staff promised me that today, although I would still be in a bay, they would move me into the corner where there would be a tiny bit more privacy. Did they deliver? No. They moved someone else into that area instead. When I asked them why they had done this, instead of owning up and apologising they shifted the blame. The result, adding fuel to the fire.

I am now venting in a glorified version of a store cupboard because it is the only place where I can find some quietness and privacy. I have kind of half decided that I am no longer going to be a compliant patient; I am even toying with the idea of self discharge. Why should I get up and go to bed when I'm told to, take the tablets when I'm told to, stay on this ward and not wander off. I know what your thinking, it's for my own good and they are only trying to help and keep me safe. But here's the thing, everything is so controlled that I want to push back. At least in prison, they get to go outside for exercise and are not being pumped full of poison; I bet the food's better too. What the staff don't appreciate is that for now and the foreseeable future this hospital, this ward, is my home where I am trying to live my life. Nobody would dare to walk into a persons house and act in this way.

This is normally the point in my blog where I flip the issue round and talk about what I think God would say on the matter. But, at this current moment in time, I've got nothing; but maybe something will emerge. The reason why, in my blogs, I always turn the issue over to God is to stop myself wallowing and going round in a vicious circle of despair. It is when you look to God that you find hope and your burden is lifted. So even though, the last thing I want to do right now is take this to God because I rather stay angry, I am going to try because I know it is the right thing to do and I will feel much better for it. So here goes.

I guess the first thing I need to tell myself is that it is not wrong to be angry and upset. It is ok to grieve. I know that when Jesus was on this earth He got angry and He was upset. I know that the pain that I am feeling now He feels too because He is with me. But staying angry and upset is not good because it leads to bitterness, resentment and the desire for revenge which is all consuming and destructive. I have to forgive the staff, as many times as necessary, for being inconsiderate. God has forgiven me for much much worse so I have no excuse not to forgive others even if they don't apologise or don't change. Forgiving people is hard and sometimes I find I need to forgive the same person for a particular issue in the past several times before the forgiveness has fully settled in my heart. It is a discipline, but it is one worth persevering with because the alternative is destructive. Once we forgive, we can receive healing from God for our wounds.

So the prediction of feeling better once I focused on God has come true. For those of you who are slightly concerned that I am going to stage The Great Escape, for now at least, I shall put my blueprints away. As always, God has the final word. True rest comes from Him, so I will trust Him to give me rest. I am much calmer than I was at the start of this blog but woe betide anyone who dares to wake me in my cupboard!

Monday, 18 February 2013

Are You Sure?

I've been a Christian for a little while now and over the years God has strengthened my faith. But that doesn't mean that I don't doubt, I am still only human. The question that comes back to me from time to time, especially when things are hard, is "Is what I believe is actually real? Can I be sure?" I can't see God with my eyes, I can't touch God, so what proof do I have that He exists? Sometimes I wonder if the way I have chosen to live my life has been for nothing. Have I been brainwashed? Maybe the atheists have it right, or what if a different religion is the one.

But despite these doubts that arise, my faith is not shaken because it is through God's strength, not my own, that I have faith. Faith is not blindly believing in something without questioning and it is not dependent on how you feel at a particular point in time. Faith is believing what was said to be true even though it can't be seen.  I used to think that seeing was believing until I came across optical illusions. That was when I realised that I can't wholeheartedly trust, in the absence of other evidence, what my eyes tell me. But there are some things that we believe in that we can't see. Take the wind for example; we can't see it but we know it is real because we can feel it's effects.  Likewise, I can't see God but I can feel His effects. 

I work out my faith in two ways, with my head and with my heart. When doubts arise, my starting point when investigating the validity of these doubts is to ask the question "Is the bible reliable and true?" I am no biblical scholar, but the evidence that I have heard for and against has convinced me that the bible is historical, reliable and true. Once I have established the trustworthiness of the bible, that pretty much takes care of most of the doubts that I had.  But if I left it at that, it would be useless.  I would just be an academic and miss out on the transforming power of what God says in the bible. I have to believe the bible to be true in my heart. This comes over time. When I look back on my life, I can clearly see God's hand in it and I can see where the promises He has made in the bible have come true. This is what truly builds up my faith and squashes my doubts.

However, there is one further objection that rears its head.  What about the parts in the bible I disagree with. I have since learned, the hard way, that when I disagree with what God says in the bible, it is either because I don't understand what it being said or because I don't like. Generally, when I don't like what is being said, it is because I am doing the opposite when I know I shouldn't be. Just because I don't like or understand something doesn't make it untrue. There are some things in the bible that I will never understand and people ask me how can I believe in God when I don't understand. Firstly, God is all knowing and limitless and I am just a mere limited human. It would be equivalent of a child refusing to trust a parent because they didn't understand the decisions the parent was making. Secondly, not even in science is it possible to understand everything yet we will still use it.

So that is basically my train of thought I go through periodically when I doubt. I don't tend to worry about having a crisis and losing my faith because God doesn't lose a person. Knowing this gives me the freedom to ask hard questions without the fear of rejection or falling away from God. Faith is a gift given from God. It cannot be taken and cannot be earned. But it comforts me to know that faith is a gift that is freely given when asked for. My life has completely changed now that God is in it. Travelling the road of faith is hard but I wouldn't change it for the world.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

If You're Happy And You Know It Clap Your Hands

I like being happy. I'm generally quite a happy person, but it does surprise me that I am. It almost doesn't make sense. When I look back on my life, I see a life full of pain and suffering and I wonder why I am happy now. As I've said in a previous post, I have struggled greatly with depression and even though there were glimpses of happiness in the depression and out of it, it never lasted.  I felt like a leaky bucket; I would start to feel happy but then it would leak out and I would never be able to find the hole.

I used to keep myself super busy going from one thing to the next so that I avoided any possible opportunity to think.  I hated to going to bed at night because it would be the only time that there was for me to think.  Instead, I would stay up until I was exhausted so that I knew I would fall asleep. I was afraid that if I had time to think, then all the pain and hurt that I had put into my metaphorical box would burst open like a Jack In The Box.  In my world, emotions were a bad thing; they hold you back and stop you getting the job done. The solution to this persistent problem. Don't stop.

People who knew me would see me as a happy bubbly person. But it was my mask that I would wear in the world. Inside, I was scared and felt alone amongst the crowd.  I got very good at this act, I was even able to talk about hard issues in my life without being emotionally connected.  The result?  Nobody knew I was suffering.

But that was then and this is now. I am no longer a leaky bucket, I am a bucket overflowing. What changed? My box exploded - repeatedly. Through a combination of slow learning and stubbornness I had missed an important lesson.  It is only through healing that I could be truly happy.  The box that I had for my pain and fears needed to be healed. But it was a long and painful process; but it was a good sort of pain.  The pain in healing was nowhere near as horrific that I feared it would be but, in a way, it was soothing because I was finally allowed to grieve. 

The biggest lie that was contained within my box was that God was not loving but out to get me.  It took many years for God to undo the hurt in me and open my eyes to His true nature.  I remember the distinct moment when I the truth sank into my heart that God loves me and that's when everything changed.  Knowing that truth has set me free to be happy. I know that when I am hurting, I can trust God to heal my wounds because I can't heal them myself. It is because of this truth that I am able to be happy despite my past and despite the cancer.  

The joy and excitement of personally knowing God has no comparison.  I used to think I was happy filling my life with work, hobbies and distractions but it was a poor imitation of the real thing. I am happy not because of where I find myself in life, but because I do life with God.

Sunday, 10 February 2013


Do you ever wonder how things would have turned out if you had made a different choice? I do. I look back on my life now and find my self asking how I got here.  This place were I am now couldn't be further from where I saw myself being.  If you asked me ten years ago where did I see myself in a decades time, I would have said that I would be married, a doctor and living an easy life.  We all know how that turned out.  But why?  Why did my plan not work out? Did I make a wrong choice at a critical point in my life? Did I make a series of wrong choices? Would things have turned out differently or would I have ended up in the same place regardless?

I have often wondered if I had know the outcome of my choices in advance if I would make a different choice.  Sometimes yes, sometimes no and sometimes I would rather not know.  I am generally quite a decisive person which is a good thing, but my weakness lies in my impulsiveness.  I have made choices that I regret, that have caused myself and other people to get hurt; if I could get a chance at a do over, I would take it.  But there have been times where I have made the right choice, but the fruits of that choice have only become apparent later down the line.  The choices were I would rather not have the foresight for are few, but they are pertinent to me.  Just before I was due to start treatment for this cancer and the first cancer I was told that there was a chance that the chemotherapy could affect fertility. There was the opportunity for egg harvesting but it would take time, time that I potentially didn't have.  In both cases, I chose to take the risk to my fertility and have the chemotherapy as soon as possible.  But the future consequence of that choice scares me.  However, I think I have chosen the lesser of two evils.

If you ask me now where do I see myself in ten years time, I would tell you that I wouldn't have a clue.  This is quite novel for me.  I tend to always have a long term action plan and I then live my life making choices that would achieve those goals.  But if you don't know where you are going, how do you know which road to take?  In my experience, my plans have invariably never come to pass.  No matter how much I try to control the situation, my plans seemed to be foiled at every turn.

I previously thought that a lack of a long term action plan would strike fear into me and bring chaos, but it has been surprisingly liberating. Why? It is because I trust. I trust not in knowing all, but in the One that does.  I didn't realise it at the time, but my desire to strive for my self imposed goals was crushing me.  But when you trust in God and ask Him for His plans to be your plans then you can rest assured in the knowledge that those plans will work out for your good.  The road He takes you on will be rocky and at times it seems like a terrible idea. The path that God has led me along has been, and is currently, very rocky.  I remember saying to Him that this is really far from the plan, that there must be some mistake. But I can't see past the end of my nose. Who but God alone can know the future in all its entirety with all variables considered? I know that He has got me through such tough times before so I know He will again because regardless of how faithless I am, He is always faithful. 

I may not be a doctor or married or living an easy life, but I wouldn't swap it for the world.  There is one choice that I do not and will never regret and that is to follow Jesus. I don't know what the future holds or what choices I will make, but there is one thing that I do know. I am safe because He's got my back.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Mirror Mirror On The Wall Who Is The Fairest Of Them All?

What do you see when you look into the mirror? Over the years, I have spent a vast amount of time looking into the mirror.  If I'm honest, most of the time, the purpose of the mirror is to feed my vanity - to make sure the world is seeing the person I want them to see.  When I was growing up as a child, I hated the way that I looked; I was very fat.  The story of the Ugly Duckling would feature a lot in my thoughts and I would hope that one day I would turn into a beautiful swan.

During my teenage years and at university, I spent my free time doing sport. I did karate and trampolining and I was good at it. I remember a switch in my thinking when I started to win competitions. Before, the goal was to exercise to get thin but now it had changed to making my body into a performing machine that was capable of winning and being the best of the best. 

When I got cancer the first time round, my perception of body image changed drastically.  My skin turned grey, my body shape changed, my fitness went down the toilet and I lost my hair.  I distinctly remember looking at myself in the mirror and not recognising the reflection I saw.  It was in that moment that I lost it and was completely distraught. 

After the I recovered from the first bout of cancer, I began to work on my body again, I went back to the gym and decided I was going to get fit and lose my fat once and for all - I even got myself a personal trainer. Finally, I was starting to reach my goal of being thin and beautiful.  But here we are again.  Back in the same position I was three years ago.  All that hard work, all that effort, all that self control wasted.  It leaves me asking the question why did I bother?

Beauty.  That is what I was striving for.  In my mind, I had believed the lie that being thin made you beautiful.  I learnt the hard way that what makes you beautiful is your identity, in my case, it is my identity in Christ which reveals beauty.  The world we live in is very superficial and we judge people by the external.  We are bombarded by images of "beautiful" people being successful.  What we don't see is their internal suffering which destroys them and sometimes leads to suicide.  What is the point having a beautiful exterior when you are rotting on the inside?  Eventually, the rot on the inside will spread to the exterior. 

My body is weak and fragile, but my soul is not.  It is because of what Jesus has done that I know that I will live on.  It does pain me to watch my body slowly decay, but yet I call this to mind; one day things will be different, one day there will be no more pain, suffering or death, there will be no more tears.  

Saturday, 2 February 2013


This is one of the hardest topics for me to write about.  Why?  Because it is the issue I struggle with the most.  From the title of this post, you have probably worked out that I am not in a relationship; I haven't been in one for a long time.  I am not a serial dater; I have always firmly believed and strived for marriage, which means that I will only pursue a relationship if I think it has the potential to lead to marriage.  But it is tough.  Ashamedly, I have to admit, that there is a part of me that feels bitter every time I hear of two people getting engaged.  I know I should be rejoicing with them, and a large part of me does, but I would be lying if I didn't admit that a part of me envied the life they have, as it is the life that I want.

Up until about a year ago, being single tormented me relentlessly.  I was haunted by loneliness and self disgrace.  I so desperately wanted to be in a relationship, having the comfort that other people had, but because it never happened, I attributed it to myself.  I believed I was unlovable, damaged goods and beyond redemption.  A slight aside: for those of you who have met me, you may be thinking that there was never any hint of this broken girl I am describing; but the truth be told, I suffered in silence and I used my acting skills to cover my tracks.  This torment that I am describing started ten years previously and I had to learn to live with it every day without rest.  It was always worst at night I would routinely be distressed going to bed.

However, God is the God of redemption. Something inside me changed drastically after I was prayed for intensely regarding this issue.  I felt like the chains that bound me had been broken; it was like taking a gasp of fresh air after you have swam up from the depths and broken through the oceans' surface.  I began to identify the lies that I believed that had tormented me and replace it with the truth, the truth that sets free.  The biggest lie that I believed was that I wanted find my husband so that, in marriage, he would always be there for me, love me and never leave me.  The fundamental flaw in this thought is that the job description I have just described for my husband can only be fulfilled by God.  Only God can promise to, despite what I do, always love me, always be there for me and never leave me - no strings attached.  By placing that responsibility on my future husband would surely crush him and lead to a poisoned relationship between us and between God and myself.

Another lie that I believed was that I was unlovable.  This was because my identity and self worth, at the time, was in being in a relationship.  Not being in a relationship meant that I felt unlovable.  The lie of being damaged goods and beyond redemption, is still a lie that creeps in from time to time now, especially when I go through major life events like cancer.  However, we are all broken people and I challenge anyone to disagree.  But the good news is that God is the one who heals.  Over the years, the past hurts that have been embedded in my soul have been removed and replaced by a new and rich awareness of God's love for me.  Through this healing process, I have found that I am being transformed from a broken scared girl to a new complete person, a beloved child of God.

So now that those chains had been broken, did that mean that this issue became non existent?  No.  But, I tell you, the change has been so dramatic, that it is only on occasion that I struggle with being single and nowhere near to the severity that it once was.  It is on occasions like this that I struggle, occasions like cancer.  This diagnosis of cancer changed everything in the space of ten minutes.  All my hopes and dreams, one of them being finding my husband, no longer seemed plausible given this diagnosis.  It is not the fact that I am currently single that troubles me, but the fear of being single forever, or for a long time, that does.

However, it is worse to be unhappily married than to be single.  Just because, it is something that I hope for does not mean that I will compromise.  In the bible it says that a husband must love his wife like Christ loves His Church.  Now, I don't know if you've ever given this some thought, but basically it means that a husband needs to love his wife faithfully regardless of how she is and be willing to die for her and take responsibility for her in the eyes of God.  That is tough.  But I will not marry a man who is unable to do that.  It is up to the man to take up the responsibility, commit and grow into the Christ-like man that God intended him to be.  Until, I meet the man who's first love is God and who can take up that responsibility in such a way that I would be able to follow, I will remain single, even if it means being single for the rest of my life.

Being single, as well as being married is for a season in this life; what isn't known is the length of time these seasons will last.  For example, if you are married now and remain married for the whole of your life; unless both of you die at the same time, one of you is going to once again enter into a season of singleness.  This is one of the reasons why it is so important to have your identity in Jesus and not in your spouse or marital status.

For me, singleness is an opportunity.  It is a opportunity to know God deeply and learn to rest and trust in Him.  I have often wondered if maybe I will be single for the rest of my life, but in a way, that answer is not important.  What is important is knowing that, regardless of my circumstances my God will always provide.  He will never leave me, He will never forsake me and one day I will see him face to face and spend the rest of eternity with Him.