A Day in the Life of Breast Cancer and a Heart Attack

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Today I have the privilege of sharing some of Brenda McGraw’s story through a video interview.  {Bear with any glitches you see…I haven’t done video before} Please watch so you can hear Brenda’s heart. Here are some of my favorite moments from the interview, to whet your appetite:

I was 24 years old, which is very young to be diagnosed with breast cancer. I had been married five years, and things were not going so well. I’m in the prime of my life. This isn’t supposed to be happening to me.

 

People don’t know how to handle someone who is diagnosed with something serious. We actually lost some friends through the breast cancer diagnosis.

People feel sorry for you, but so many really don’t know what to do. This is true even in my family. My own mom didn’t know how to handle it. My momma couldn’t even stay at the hospital with me because she didn’t want to see her own daughter go through this. But my sister was my hero.

 

Even if you’ve been through cancer, you don’t know exactly how someone else feels. It’s best not to say, “I know how you feel”.  Instead of saying, “How can I help,” just do something. Instead of asking how you can pray for someone, stop right then and pray for them.

 

I’ve had cancer, I’ve been divorced, and now I have a heart attack. Come on God!

The doctor said if you’re conscious enough to take an aspirin,

you should seriously go to the hospital.

You get so overwhelmed with life, trying to deal with all the pressures we put on ourselves and others put on us. We just have to watch the signs in our lives and listen to our bodies more.

 

We have to learn to ask this question–What can I do to rise above the circumstances in our lives? [Wanna tweet that? You can by clicking here.]

 

I kept asking God the question WHY? Do you love me? Why are you allowing this to happen? I learned that He doesn’t cause these things, but He does use the things that happen in our life to refine or sharpen us.

Because of His love,

no matter what comes our way,

He will be with us.

(If you are reading this in your email and the video does not show up, click here to watch it through your browser)


Brenda McGraw is the author of, “Joy Beyond, 28 Days to Finding Joy Beyond the Clutter of Life,” which includes a BONUS section with 28 stories of those who found joy through Christ and beyond their trials.  You can find her book on Amazon or on Ask God Today. You can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter too.

A Day (Or 14 Years) in the Life of Chronic Mouth Pain

chronic pain, dental nightmare, teeth, ouch, day in the life
chronic pain, dental nightmare, teeth, ouch, day in the life

Robert D. Smith (swiped from his own page)

Today’s interview in the Day in the Life series is with Robert D. Smith. I met Robert via an email conversation about my upcoming book You Are Enough eight months ago. Since then, he’s been a near-constant source of encouragement to me, challenging me to push the envelope with my branding and writing.

You can find Robert at TheRobertD.com, his outlet for giving tools, tips, and strategies to grow and engage an audience. Robert is the author of 20,000 Days and Counting, a simple guide to injecting meaning into every second you live for the rest of your life. He is also a private branding, marketing, and management consultant to numerous best-selling authors, speakers, entertainers, and cutting edge organizations.

I asked Robert to describe his chronic condition:

It all started with a dental mishap that went from bad to worse over the course of a decade. The details are not important, but it ended with me having a great deal of pain in my mouth. It was indescribable. I did not know how to compare it to anything or talk about it with anybody. But the pain just continued to intensify. And that chronic pain has begun to affect every aspect of my daily life.

Every few months I was in front of a new specialist who looked, tested, asked questions, analyzed…and came to no conclusion. Eventually, I had eight hours of oral surgery. And the six weeks afterwards were some of the darkest days of my life.

There were two more dental procedures over the next eight months. It has been and will be an ongoing process to hopefully soon be totally pain-free.

What are some struggles nobody sees?

Chronic pain is isolating. It’s really easy to feel like I’m in a huge bubble, separated from the rest of the world. It’s like I’m fighting a monster that nobody else even sees. I feel an intense aloneness. It’s truly a fight I have to win from within, every day.

People didn’t see the part where I cried privately, at least twice a day. People just saw that I wasn’t talking to anyone, but they never knew why. What they didn’t see was the pain that kept me from talking to anyone.

What are the biggest challenges with your condition?

I physically couldn’t talk to people without excruciating pain. As a manager, I have people that I need to talk to in order to perform my job. And this condition kept me from doing that.

A lot of it has to do with management of pain. When I found myself in a physically debilitated state—I had to learn how my body works in a way I never considered before. For me, it was truly considering what prescription medication—used properly—could do in the process of pain management.

This was a tough lesson to learn. I was so against foreign substances of this type being put in my body. If they had prescribed me a bunch of broccoli and a crate of carrots I could’ve understood and complied with no problem.

On a different note, I also had to become accustomed with lots of downtime. My challenge was finding constructive ways to fill it. I read, wrote, listened to audiobooks, watched TED Talks, and some amazing movies. But filling the downtime was a big challenge.

What are the biggest misconceptions people have about your condition?

People don’t see the pain. They don’t even know it’s there sometimes. Nobody really knew what to do, because they didn’t understand the pain I was going through. And I could not explain it. It was totally unlike anything I had ever experienced before. And in my mind, I kept thinking it would go away.

There is simply no way that anyone could possibly understand this. That made the isolation I felt much more intense.

As I have been dealing with chronic pain, I have made a transition and realized that survival begins to happen on a moment-to-moment basis. Every thought and feeling is overshadowed by pain. My soul cries out for relief and no one is there to hear, but still I can push through, one moment at a time.

How do you reconcile whatever faith you have with your condition not going away?

I have learned to be grateful on a much deeper level now. For decades now, I’ve been living my life as if it was my last day, and this changed me. Even though my pain had gotten so intense that at times I couldn’t sleep, I’ve always been able to make a list of things I’m most grateful to God for. This has given me a touchstone, something I can return to in the dark times. 

What are some phrases that people use when talking to you, that you wish they would just stop using?

I felt that everyone I talked to about my pain had the best of intentions, even when I heard things like this:

  • Everything happens for a reason.
  • God never gives us more than we can handle.
  • Every cloud has a silver lining.
  • Think positive.

I know that people mean well when they said these things. I never judged what anyone said as inappropriate, because it came from a good place. Some days though I did want to reply, “But there’s always another side of the coin,” and finish their statements for them:

  • Maybe everything really does happen for a reason. But no one seems to know what that reason is. Therefore, my situation still sucks.
  • It is true that God may never give me more than I can handle…but people sure do.
  • Every cloud may have a silver lining. They also might all have a lightning bolt. Therefore, I have a 50-50 chance of blessing or electrocution.
  • And regarding thinking positive—every positive has a negative. So there.

What are some accomplishments you are proud of?

Working with one artist, Andy Andrews, for over three decades. That is unheard of in the entertainment business. It has been an unbelievable journey.

I am elated that we persisted in getting The Travelers Gift published; Over a 3.5 year period it was turned down by 51 publishers, but within six months of its release in late 2002, it hit the New York Times Bestseller list—where it stayed for 17 weeks. It has sold over one million copies in the USA alone with a couple million more in nearly 30 different languages.

 

If you have any questions for Robert about chronic pain, how he worked through it on a daily basis, or even about branding (it is his specialty), please ask in the comments.

Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Sjogren’s Syndrome Didn’t Stop Jeana From Starting a Soup Kitchen

rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, sjogren's syndrome

rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, sjogren's syndrome

This week’s interview is a little different than the last three. I met Jeana Weiss in the process of starting this series, so we don’t know each other very well. But, I am honored to interview her today nonetheless, and inspired by her resilience. She is amazing, and does not let her chronic conditions get in the way of changing lives.

Meet Jeana Weiss

Jeana has multiple conditions, and told me it is hard to know which is impacting her in the course of her daily life. Here is how she describes each of her illnesses:

Rheumatoid arthritis produces intense joint and spine pain. It affects my feet more than my hands, but the pain isn’t consistent – it changes. I receive methotrexate injections and I eat a gluten free diet to manage it, and both help.

My lupus means the sun makes me ill. It also cause skin issues and irregular pain. I basically have to hibernate in the summer to get through.

Sjogren’s syndrome affects my eyes the most by drying them out, but sometimes also dries my salivary glands too. Two years ago I was literally a few minutes from death from choking because I couldn’t swallow. I had to have my esophagus surgically stretched. I will have to have it done again this year.

If you are like me, you feel almost overwhelmed just by these diagnoses. If I could give you one piece of advice…don’t stop reading. We need to hear Jeana’s story, and others like hers.

If you are interested in learning more about these conditions, Jeana provided some great resources to learn more about rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and Sjogren’s syndrome. I found the Sjogren’s one particularly insightful, because it includes a visual component.

She also recommended a book that looks absolutely incredible: Beyond Casseroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend (Conquering the Confusions of Chronic Illness). I have not read this book, but honestly the title alone puts it near the top of my reading list. If anyone has read it please comment below with your thoughts on it.

Talk to me about the things you love best in this world.

fragile x

Meet Stephanie

I love my daughter Stephanie, but it has been a struggle. When she was 5, I was told to put her in an institution. At age 11, I was told she was dying and would be dead in a short time.

stephanie 2

One year later, she was diagnosed properly with Fragile-X, the leading cause of genetic autism. She is now 35, living in a small group home and working 3 jobs. She will never be able to live on her own, but she is living.

I founded a nonprofit ministry for low income and homeless, and I am so proud of this. I also help start a soup kitchen 5 days a week at a church. Right after the diagnosis of Lupus, I was having depressions and pity parties. I found that serving those with so little it takes my mind off me.

I helped a family who lost their home, and their children were taken away as a result. There was no abuse, drugs or violence, but children’s services were so backed up there was no movement. This family did everything to get their children back, and still fell through the cracks. I was able to reunite this family within a week.

Together Because of Jeana

Together Because of Jeana

homeless family 2homeless family 3

We still keep in touch. I was said to be “The Voice for the Voiceless” in a local newspaper article.

I have cut back on the outreach because of funding issues and health but I try to stay involved in the community. I am now working with a church and other agencies to open an emergency shelter for homeless families. I hope to submit a grant soon.

What are some struggles nobody sees with your chronic conditions?

The loneliness and isolation. When I do not feel well enough to even do everyday things, it is so difficult to have a social life. I cannot make plans and promise to follow through. If I have a flare up or infection, I am not up to going out. Beyond that, most people have no clue how much energy it takes to “act normal”.

When I am sick, it is difficult to ask for help, especially when I cannot return the favor. So many people say, “Let me know if I can do anything.” I have learned chances are they really do not want to do anything. It is hard enough to ask for help, and it hurts even more when I am rejected or shined on.

I would like others to understand that I am not being irresponsible or undependable if I cannot make it to a function or meeting that I told you I would be at. My energy level is low. I am not being selfish. The truth is, in a typical day I probably have three or four hours maximum that I can function well.

What are the biggest misconceptions people have about your illness?

I may look healthy but I am not. There is always inflammation in my body.

Sometimes I am told it is all in my head. Many people think I must be a hypochondriac. They cannot understand how anyone can have so many health issues, or even wondered if I was using them as an excuse. Honestly, I might have at one time but I don’t today.

There are many people who think I  should just “suck it up.” I wish it were that easy. Most do not realize the daily struggle.

How do you reconcile whatever faith you have with your condition not going away? 

That is a tough one. I have been told that if I had enough faith I would be healed, I pray that time comes but I have to make the best of what I have.

I have connected with phrases you may have heard: “Make your mess a message” and “There is no testimony without a test”.

I make a concerted effort to try to make the best of it and help others.

I have stopped asking, “Why me?”  Instead, I ask God to show me what I am supposed to learn. 

If you still have times when you have to get something done or go somewhere but your health does not allow it easily, how do you manage that?

If there is any way I can do it, especially if someone is depending on me, I do my best to get it done. I know I will pay for days after, but I weigh the risks.  Fortunately, I have pain management.

Even with that, I am very careful as to the amount of medicine I take. If I take one pain pill and it does not help, I try alternative ways such as hot baths, heating pads or tens unit for muscle spasms. I never increase the dosage or take them too close together.

When I mentally do not have the capability which I call brain fog, I just have to shut down. I have learned to accept that as part of the conditions.  I know if I try to work through it, everything will get worse and take longer.

 

If you have any questions for Jeana about her conditions or her ministries, please ask them below. Above that, I hope you will be inspired and challenged by her approach to her difficulties.