Photo Source: Pixabay
Photo Source: Pixabay
Facing a chronic illness is a scary daily challenge for the person with the disease as well as the family and the caregiver. Through Jesus Christ, we can be strong and courageous. How can we do this?
We cannot do this by ourselves in our own strength. We are only able to do this in God’s power. We must remember that daily the Lord Jesus, our God, goes with the Christian. We need to remember He goes with us and is with us today.
Today’s Scripture tells us the Lord will not leave or forsake the Believer in Jesus Christ.
Late in my wife Benita’s battle with cancer, she suffered confusion and disorientation. It was mid-March. Only three months earlier her Melanoma Cancer had spread to the brain. She had been diagnosed with a brain tumor the size of an egg. She had surgery. The tumor was removed. She had completed three weeks of radiation treatment in February.
Following the treatments, she had a brain scan. No sign of cancer was detected. She and I had talked at length cherishing every moment. We could feel the sands in the hourglass of her life quickly running out. Daily and at times hourly I told her how much I loved her, how blessed I was to have her share life with me.
We openly discussed how scary cancer was. Benita made me aware of her wish that if cancer recurred in the brain to not let the doctor do another surgery. She did not want to be operated on again. She did not want another brain surgery.
Our faith in God and the Lord Jesus Christ was strong. Her Christian faith and trust in God were the strongest I have ever seen. And then the confusion and disorientation hit her like an express train. She did not know who she was, where she was, what date it was, what month it was and could not answer my rudimentary questions. I’m not a medical doctor, but I knew her situation was terrible, very horrible.
With the help of my children, I took Benita to the emergency room of the hospital where she had had the original tumor removed the previous December. I knew from the emergency rooms physicians’ initial responses and reactions this was serious.
I was awake thirty-nine consecutive hours during this time. The ER doctors deferred talking to me about the details of a recurrence in the area of the original tumor. They left the difficult conversation with me to the brain surgeon. The surgeon was straightforward in his talk with me. The cancer had recurred with a massive blood clot. The operating room was available in fifteen minutes if I gave the okay. They needed an answer now. Time was critical.
I asked a few questions. I was told the surgery would only extend life two months on average. I was reminded of the recovery time for this type of surgery was six to nine months. It was pointed out that due to the location of the tumor that surgery may leave her totally blind, with the possible loss of speech, and unable to care for herself. Then I was told we need a decision. He said if you say no to the surgery, your choice cannot be reversed because of her critical nature. The other option was for her to go on hospice care. If I selected the hospice option, the doctor gave her days to weeks to live. He could not guarantee she would regain consciousness.
I asked the doctor for ten minutes. I left the room and called two of our children. Our oldest child was with me. I did not ask for their opinion. I told them what was going on and that per their mother’s wishes we would not have surgery. I next called my wife’s sisters and told them the same. I returned to the intensive care unit and informed the doctor. He agreed with our choice. They started her on massive steroids to stop the swelling and on morphine for pain management.
Within a few hours, she regained consciousness. A few hours later her brain function had returned where she realized where she was, what was going on including understanding she was going to die, Benita thanked me for honoring her wishes.
She was moved from ICU to a room to stabilize her. She then went to an inpatient hospice hospital for a week before being transported by ambulance to our home. Benita’s wish was to go home. Again, I was honoring what she wanted.
I was scared to death wondering how we would manage. Could I get her to and from the bathroom? Then it was could I get her on and off a potty chair? I worried about lifting and turning her in bed. I wondered how I would handle watching her die.
God was faithful. We had a caring team of hospice nurses, her sisters, our children, and even me that managed to make it through the twenty-three days from when I took her to the emergency room until she passed away with family and friends surrounding her. I was holding her hand, had just kissed her goodbye and told her it was okay to go on to heaven when she took her last breath.
No, it wasn’t easy. Yes, God was there with us each step of the way. He went with us and did not forsake or fail us.
Deuteronomy 31:6 (KJV), “Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.”
Because Christians have God with them, they should be of good courage. The courage comes from their confident assurance in God. It is this certainty comes to abound as a result of their faith. This sure faith in Christ allows Christians to bravely face each day knowing through Him we shall have the ultimate victory.
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Learning to care for a loved one with a chronic illness includes discovering how to laugh. Our attitude is crucial when caring for a person with a chronic disease. Our view is also contagious, infectious.
The cheerfulness of mind does good like a medicine for the body. Our attitude contributes to the restoration or preservation of bodily health and vigor. Medical science tells us the red blood cells, most white blood cells, and platelets are produced in the bone marrow, the soft fatty tissue inside bone cavities. A poor spirit/attitude ‘drieth the bones’ and remember it is the bones which produce the needed cells.
We can learn a lot if we read our Bible.
Anyone who ever saw or knew my late wife Benita in her last three to five years would almost always comment on her smile. Her attitude would match the smile.
The July before she passed away the next April was one of the few times when I saw her spirit nearly broken. She shared with me a visit she had with the dermatologist. The young dermatologist told Miss Benita she was surprised she was continuing to work her day job.
The physician stood facing my wife, looking her directly in the eyes. She had placed a hand on each of my wife’s shoulders to make sure she had her attention. She commented, “We, that is me and the rest of your medical team (the managing oncologist, surgical oncologist, primary care physician, gastroenterologist and the radiologist are all concerned that you don’t understand that you have Stage 4 Melanoma Cancer and Stage 4 Neuroendocrine Carcinoid. One or the other of these cancers is going to kill you. They are incurable.”
Benita told me that upset her said she took the lady doctor’s hands off her shoulders and told her. “I know I have cancer. I know without Providential intervention they will kill me. I am not just going to sit on my couch in my living room and wait to die. I work because I need the medical insurance and because when I work, I don’t think about cancer.”
“That had to be tough to hear,” I replied.
“Don’t patronize me. You know it was hard to hear even when I knew it.”
She added, “I told her that God had my days numbered. I was going to smile and keep my trust in God. It was my hope in Jesus that allowed me to smile, to have hope, and keep going.”
She hugged me and then thanked me for supporting her approach to handling the illness.
She lived about eighteen months longer than the doctor’s original projection of life expectancy. I am sure attitude added to both the quality of her life and the length of her life.
Proverbs 17:22 (KJV), “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.
The attitude of the sick person is crucial when dealing with a chronic illness. Their cheerfulness of mind does good like a medicine for the body. Their mental approach contributes to the restoration or preservation of bodily health and vigor. Their outlook gives them hope. As caregivers, our attitude is equally critical. The one we’re caring for with catch our state of mind. Caregivers need more than a positive attitude. We need the joy of the Lord in our heart.
Over the years I have noticed people who have the ability and skill to do a task or assignment often lack the confidence to tackle the job before them. If they are a writer, they may fear to put words on paper. If an analyst, they may hesitate or question themselves before solving a problem or recommending a solution.
I have found that a little encouragement helps them achieve their goals and do their job. Here are ten thoughts on how I encourage others.
What are some ways you encourage friends or coworkers? These techniques also work with your spouse or partner. Please share your suggestions in the comments.
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How in the world am I ever going to care for my loved one? I can’t do this. I don’t know how. I don’t have the physical strength to help them to lift them in and out of bed. How will I ever get them on and off a potty chair? I’ll never keep the prescriptions straight. How will I ever give my loved one the right medications at the right time? There are so many prescriptions. What do I do when they don’t want to eat or drink?
Caring for a loved one with a chronic illness isn’t easy. You may be the only caregiver. You may have family help. If they offer, please consider accepting the help. You might have your church or Bible study class giving some assistance where you can go to the grocery store or just have a few hours for yourself.
Part of your education in caring for a loved one with a chronic illness is learning that God’s grace is enough.
2 Corinthians 12:9 (KJV), “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
My wife had surgery within a week of her initial diagnosis of Melanoma Cancer. I was mentally prepared to provide her with world-class care and unconditional love. It was almost like I had put on my superhero uniform and was singlehandedly going to do it all.
While she was still in the hospital it was easy. I cared for her every need and the nurses and surgeon came in from time to time to check on her. This is a breeze, I thought.
I brought her home. There was a challenge in getting her from the car to the bedroom. I wasn’t as easy as I had envisioned.
My Bible fellowship class brought in a few meals to help. I was so thankful for their assistance. They also provided several restaurant gift cards for food. The gifts cards were a challenge. They required me to be gone from the house which meant I was leaving my sweet wife alone as I drove to the Subway or another restaurant to get the food.
On one trip I was greeted by a severe thunderstorm that pounded me, flooded the roadway, and contributed to a significant automobile accident that had the road blocked for over an hour. I was stuck. I tried calling my wife but her telephone was turned on vibrate where it wouldn’t disturb her rest. I had visions of her crying out needing help and no one responding.
By the time I returned home, I was soaking wet from the rain and exasperated from the delay. My thoughts were of the worst proved unfounded. However, the storm and accident had my wife having lunch almost two hours late.
I discovered a hard lesson. I learned to be smart in using what God has provided. Going forward I wouldn’t go out for food during periods where my wife was recovering from surgery or treatments unless I had someone to sit with my wife.
My wife’s sisters offered to come from out of state to help. At first, I thought, I don’t need them. I can handle this. They need to wait until she is sicker and she requires more care. I was afraid they didn’t think I could care for their sister.
My oldest son was a voice of reason. He suggested to me that I welcome my sisters-in-law. He pointed out I was already tired. He was sure I could use the help where I maintained energy and strength for the extended challenge ahead. Besides, he said, the sisters needed each other. He added that God might even be prompting them to come.
I agreed. My wife’s sisters came. God’s grace and provision were sufficient for the challenge.
I learned lessons then that prepared me for thirty months later when we needed all hands on deck to walk through the valley of her last five months before she ultimate passed away.
God’s grace is sufficient. He may provide you with the strength you need for a specific task. He may send the family to you to help. He may have meals delivered to meet your needs. Regardless of how He does it, God’s grace is sufficient.
Suffering uncovers your heart’s weaknesses so that Christ is your strength.
Photo Source: Pixaby
Knowing that illness and disease ultimately destroy the body makes not losing hope difficult when caregiving for a loved one with a chronic illness. We cannot care for someone if we allow ourselves to become exhausted or sick. Our staying healthy is essential.
Our caregiving should include taking care of ourselves. This self-care comprises of eating correctly, exercising on a regular basis, and getting enough sleep. In addition to caring for our physical needs, there is an equally crucial fourth element.
What is that fourth element? We must also make sure we renew our spiritual side daily. We need to do as Psalm 46:10a New Living Translation says, “Be still, and know that I am God!” We need to rest in the Lord.
In today’s verse, God is merely pointing out we should view all earthly adversity in comparison with our future heavenly glory. When we do this, we should be strengthened to endure our human trials.
My wife Benita and I shared the same cardiologist. I saw him because of blood pressure issues and having experienced two transient ischemic attacks or TIAs that put me in the hospital. What’s a TIA? A TIA is also commonly known as a mini-stroke.
My wife saw him for heart testing. He every few months performed an electrocardiogram (EKG) on her to ensure her heart was healthy enough for the chemotherapy medications and radiation treatments she endured over her two years and ten months of treatments for her Melanoma Cancer.
Our cardiologist would tell me it was important to care for myself where I could care for my wife. He would also remind me of Benita’s next EKG appointment.
In March of 2017, I was diagnosed with Lichen Planus, both the oral and on other parts of the body types. It has an unknown cause and is not contagious. It is an autoimmune disorder. Some feel it is brought on from an injury to the mouth, having an oral infection, taking certain medications, or having an allergic reaction to something that came in contact with the mouth, like food or dental appliances. Almost all physicians agree Oral Lichen Planus happens most often when a person finds themselves under extreme stress and has not taken everyday stress reduction actions.
In March 2018 I was diagnosed with colitis. It has an unknown cause and is not contagious. It is an autoimmune disorder. Again, the disease has multiple probable causes, and most doctors feel it is brought on or aggravated by extreme stress.
I share the above to say my physicians feel the stress I was under caring for my wife, my father, and my mother and my failing to take care of myself may have contributed to me developing two chronic illnesses. The physicians felt I lacked balance in caring for others with taking care of myself.
In my mid-60s, I find exercise challenging. My activity of choice is walking. I monitor by walking with a smartwatch. I have a daily goal of walking at least 10,000 steps. My walking happens in the climate-controlled environment of the local shopping mall or giant box stores.
No, I don’t make the goal every day. However, I manage to reach the goal between five and six times a week. Does it help? Yes, it helps. My body notices when I miss a couple of days.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (KJV), “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
While our bodies (that is, the outward man) grow old and suffer from diseases, our spiritual side (that is, the inward man) is renewed daily. Too often we only focus on the things we see in this present life. Way back in the 1960’s there was a hit song that became an anthem for the baby boomer generation. Its title was “Live for Today.”
Sure, we have to live for today by exercising our daily responsibilities. We need to also focus on the spiritual, that is the things that are not seen but given to us by God as a future promise.
These are only seen with our “spiritual eyes.” It takes faith. A part of faith is believing that what God has promised he will undoubtedly bring to pass.
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Thank you for reading. Here’s the next chapter! Are you coming in new? Start with Chapter One.
Learning to accept tears and crying as normal is part of the process of caring for a person with a chronic illness. When we care about, and for someone, it is normal to shed tears when they hurt, when they face sickness.
It’s okay to cry. The Heavenly Father cares about our tears. In this chapter, we look at what God’s word says about crying.
The door opened revealing the surgical oncologist in her light green colored scrubs and matching booties. As her eyes scanned the room looking for me, I stood and walked in her direction. There was a deathly serious, all business look on her ashen-face.
“Dr. Kepler, we just finished your wife Benita’s surgery. She’ll be moving to recovery in the next fifteen to twenty minutes. You can see her then.”
I looked at the young woman’s now pallor face. She displayed tiredness from getting up early and then being in surgery for over three hours. I sensed a fear as she approached me.
She looked down at her feet for a brief moment and took a deep breath.
This can’t be good. Dr. Landry’s having to muster a lot of courage, I thought.
She looked up at me. “Let’s go somewhere private,” she said looking over my shoulder at my anxious family, friends, and coworkers seated behind me.
She leads me to a small private consultation room. She took my hands in hers.
“I’m so sorry,” she began. “It is Melanoma Cancer. The Melanoma has spread into the lymph nodes. I had to remove thirty-four of them.”
My eyes filled with tears instantly. They just as fast were flowing down my cheeks. I tried without success to not sob.
She went on to tell me the five-year survival rate for Melanoma Cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes. She expressed concern about the distance from the initial site that the Melanoma had already spread.
“Is the Melanoma Cancer going to kill her?” I asked. I needed to hear her say it.
“Probably. Yes, well, yes it will if Benita’s neuroendocrine carcinoid cancer doesn’t kill her first. Having two types of cancers makes the treatment very difficult. It removes most of the normal treatment options,” said the oncological surgeon.
I briefly thought back to December 2013 when Benita had surgery for a malrotated intestine. The surgeon was surprised when they found a malignant tumor. It had not shown on the CT Scans, MRIs, X-rays or any of the other tests they had performed before the surgery.
“I understand,” I said. Tears were now streaming down my face.
But I didn’t understand. Why my wife?
“Are you going to be okay, Dr. Kepler? Do you want me to get someone to be with you? I could ask a family member or maybe someone from the chaplain’s office to be with you.”
I just looked at her and started crying uncontrollably for a couple of minutes. She hugged me until I quit sobbing.
“Thank you for everything,” I choked out. I thought about how hard it had to be for Dr. Landry to share this news with me. She was the same age as my oldest son.
Yes, delivering bad news is hard. Receiving the life-altering message is harder.
“We’ll talk when I check on your wife in a few hours,” she said. The color was returning to her face now that she had transferred the information to me.
I nodded. I knew I needed to tell the family and friends in the waiting rooms, start calling people and get the prayer warriors praying.
The oncological surgeon nodded, turned and left the room.
I moved slowly from the consultation back toward my entourage. With each step closer to the group I teared up more. Through teary eyes, I told the family and friends present but somehow kept my emotions under control. As I called my wife’s sisters, I became choked up and started crying.
A friend I had grown-up mentioned that God collects our tears in a bottle (Psalms 56:8-9) and that since God collects the tears, they must be important.
“Crying must be okay if God collects our tears,” he said. He gave me that much-needed reminder that God cares for us.
As an ordained minister and ordained deacon, I had visited hospitals hundreds of times over the previous thirty-five years as I provided pastoral care to church members, their family, and friends. While many people were uncomfortable in a hospital setting, I wasn’t. I had held their hands, prayed with them, watched them cry when the physician would deliver bad news or when their loved one passed into eternity. During all these visits I never once wept.
When the patient was my wife, I cried in public and bawled in private.
I want you to know it is okay for you to cry.
Psalm 56:8-9 (KJV), “Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book? When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies turn back: this I know; for God is for me.”
Why would one keep tears in a bottle? The idea behind the keeping of “tears in a bottle” is a remembrance. King David, the writer of these verses, is expressing a deep trust in God. He knows that God will remember his sorrow. He knows God will remember his tears. He also is sure the God will not forget about him. David is confident that God is on his side. As Believers in Jesus Christ, we have that same confidence.