September 2017: “People Keep Telling Me I’m Tough…”

When my mom spends a day at the doctors, we usually fill the entire day with back-to-back labs, appointments and IV treatments. There’s usually some down time in-between all of these, so we spend some time waiting. I bring my books and my laptop. She’s good with her phone.

I think her oncologist knows our family by the number of things we carry with us into the office.

you know it’s bad when the medical assistant says, “I’ll grab an extra seat for your things”

On an average day, we’ll have at least 5 bags. I’m not even kidding. 2 purses, snack bag (because food = priorities), emergency bag (clothes and things of the sort), a cooler (with mom’s favorite juice, yogurt and lunch.. yes, food again). I used to fight mom about how ridiculous it was to bring everything because we don’t even use half the things (“Why can’t we leave the emergency bag in the car? Why are you carrying bricks in your purse?”). But, alas, I realized that having these things with us made her feel safe and secure. That’s fine by me.

So… here we are at the elevator, I hit the elevator button “up” with my elbow to take us to the third floor. My arms are filled with bags, as mom holds onto to my elbow for stability. (What stability? I think I am about ready to tip over with our things–)

Laboratory. We sit and wait. Doc appointment #1. Then, some more waiting. IV treatment next…. Doc appointment #2…

During the waiting, I power on my computer and stare at a blank blog page. I need to write something to follow up the post on mom’s cancer. But what about?

Mom sets down her iPhone and I set aside my books— we try to brainstorm on what to write about next. I ask her questions on her perspective of her illness, treatment and daily life, in an effort to come up with some new topic. We talked about faith, we talked about family… it was neat practice to recall the events of the past few months.

Then it hit us, Why not write about this? Can’t we share our conversation?

So, here my friends, is an edited, impromptu interview/conversation of a few of the things we talked about that day.


Debbie: Okay. Let’s talk about things. You were originally diagnosed in December.

Teresa: Yes— we’ve come a long way, it was in my brain and eye then, radiation took care of that. I take morphine daily, there is always pain in my body and I can’t drive anymore because of the medications [she takes]. I am a lot weaker and my eyesight is not the same. I keep hearing the word “terminal” a lot but I’m not ready to be labeled that. I don’t want to die with this illness.

Debbie: How about treatments and care? They’ve been working well because we are now in September, which is more time than we ever thought we would get when we got the news in December. 

Teresa: We are really fortunate and blessed to have insurance and care. We go to Scripps [in San Diego] and right now I am on Gefitinib, it is a chemo tablet that I take once a day. My cancer cells respond to that to “freeze” where my illness is, the doctors say. For topical pain, I use CBD cream and oil which really really helps the pain. I also use those sublingual CBD drops. It is very good for healing.

Debbie: How are you feeling about all this?

Teresa: I’m just so very tired of being tired. I cry. A lot of times I am tired of fighting…. I want to be here with you and dad. With my daughters. I don’t want to die with this illness. I know God has the power to heal me. But I know I should want God’s will for my life, and I am learning to be ok with whatever He wants. It is hard. Waking up with pain is hard.

Grabe ka lisod. Grabe. [She says this in Cebuano; translation: This is so very very hard]

Debbie: We’ve been talking a lot about our faith. We are Christians, obviously. But will you talk a little more about how integral our faith is to our lives? 

Teresa: Without Jesus in our lives, I can’t imagine my life. I always say, without Jesus, without Him, where else would I go? Jesus died for our sins, He went to the cross, so I could experience eternal life and a life with Him apart of it. 40 years walking with Christ and I cannot imagine it any other way.

Debbie: We’ve had a lot of support, from our faith community, like prayers, from loved ones. Plus, a few kindred spirits get to be apart of our everyday lives via text and phone calls. How does this encourage you? 

Teresa: Knowing that others are praying for me really comforts me. Also knowing that others have gone through medical experiences like me, helps me feel that I am not alone. I’m surprised by who God is using and how he is using them to minister to me. You’ve learned who your true friends are through this too, Deb. 

Debbie: Yes that’s true. It’s been an eye-opener for me. I’ve been hurt, but I’ve also been so very blessed by who has stuck around even if my life wasn’t fun. A crisis reveals your truest friends. I am thankful to know who they are. I am surprised by it! But the truth is, my greatest comfort is Jesus- He is the best, my closest friend ever. He heals my heart and never gives up on me. 

Debbie: So, mom, what can people keep you in prayer for? 

Teresa: I believe the trauma from all the change left me with depression. That’s what people call it. I never used to believe in depression- It comes and it goes— I feel like giving up and I am just used to crying everyday—

Debbie: … but you always come back. It just, the fight. It is so very hard. I’ve noticed the fight to get out of your darkness gets longer it seems. 

Teresa: Yes. It is a thin line to trust God and be still and then to be filled with fear and panic. So I suppose prayer for that. The physical pain also affects the depression and it is very hard to distinguish the two sometimes. 

(Here she flips and asks me a question, instead!)

Teresa: How about you, Deb? It [my depression] affects you? Are you depressed too? You had to stop school and your life all for me.

Debbie: I don’t know. I am for sure not going through anything as difficult as you are, but yes I get sad a lot if that’s what you’re asking. 

I used to think I had to be strong for everyone and that meant hiding my emotions and never addressing them— you are so tough, mom! You would never seem to flinch in hardship when I was growing up —  but I don’t know if that’s necessarily the best thing to do for me. I don’t know. I’m not there yet.

*laughter* I’ve been saying I don’t know a lot these days— I am still figuring things out. 

Teresa: Yes, we really don’t know much about our future or anything for that matter. I wish I could be stronger to help you. Except we know God is faithful. Even if we do not understand, our relationship with Jesus is what we can hold on. 

Debbie: Your passion for telling others about Christ is so very apparent in your life. You are so very disciplined and laser-focused and tough and… strict— I can say that, right? Yes, I can. *laughs* And it is apparent in ALL areas of your life, and I love that you devote that discipline in your walk with Christ. I would not be the person I am today if it were not for that. You taught me to run hard and fast to Jesus. 

Teresa: You know, people keep telling me I’m tough, but I really don’t know what they are talking about. I’m just being myself. I guess I am tough, huh? I am different now, so wobbly and weak. I am just surviving on God’s strength. 

Debbie: You’re still so very brave. You following God out of love and discipline has become such a knee-jerk reaction that you always go back to it. What you said [about strength] reminds me of that verse in Isaiah 40 that talks about renewing our strength like eagles-

“But those who wait on the Lord

Shall renew their strength;

They shall mount up with wings like eagles,

They shall run and not be weary,

They shall walk and not faint.”

Teresa: God’s Word is all we have. It is good medicine. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to me when I am overwhelmed though. Has that happened to you? 

Debbie: Oh yes. I hear that is normal. I feel that way too sometimes. Just cling to your one special verse and work through it. You have a special verse for this season you said. That would be a good place to end. Would you like to share it? 

Teresa: Yes, it is Isaiah 41:10. I get so fearful with test results and scans, everything is so uncertain. I get afraid when I feel alone that God reminds me, FEAR NOT.

“Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’”

Debbie: Thanks, mom. I know things aren’t ideal, but you’re doing such a great job in the midst your incredible difficulty. I hope I make you proud!