Our hearts beat on

notes

Cleaning out closets and drawers is a necessary evil. Especially when you are preparing to move. I make notes on scraps of paper and stick them in drawers and forget about them. Some are mundane: an address or phone number; a note about work or a household chore.

These notes stopped me cold. Seeing them again nearly two years later made the tears flow. I had jotted them down in a  tiny notebook I carry in my purse, a habit from many years as a journalist.  They were made in May of 2015 at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Lexington, Ky. while talking to a very honest and somber doctor who tended to my father when he came into the ER for shortness of breath.   Fluid. Infection. Cancer cells. An oncologist. Neurologist. MRI.  

“I can’t tell you it’s cancer, but all signs point to it,” he told us.  

At that moment, all our lives shifted to focus on our patriarch.  When the official diagnosis came a few days later it confirmed the early suspicions: stage 4 lung cancer. The kind that strikes non smokers. Non-small-cell lung cancer that had spread to the bone.

My father did not want to know the prognosis in terms of time. The doctors respected his wishes.  They ran tests, treated a mass on his spine with radiation and developed a treatment plan that included Tarceva, an oral medication taken by some patients if they are fortunate enough to be a genetic match. Thankfully, my father was a match. As a result, he was spared the suffering and side effects that often accompany chemo.

Watching my father died was like witnessing faith in action. For decades, he’d been a Sunday School teacher, a deacon in his church and an attentive husband and father.  He prayed daily and studied the Bible often. He openly shared his faith with anyone who would listen, including a chaplain who came to his hospital bedside to offer words of comfort  the day before he died.

As he dealt with cancer, he continued to be the leader of our family — constantly calling or texting to check on how we were doing. After he and my mother settled into their routine of doctor visits and monthly treatments and tests, they slowly resumed their normal activities: dinner at Red Lobster; church; visiting family and friends, and tending to their grandchildren.

Daddy was not interested in all the internet research my siblings and I were doing about innovative therapies and alternative medicine. He agreed to come to Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute in Atlanta for a second opinion but was opposed to any experimental treatments or trials. In his case, none were offered because he was responding well to the Tarceva.

Fred Duerson simply wanted to live the remaining days of his life as fully as possible. He took great joy in seeing his youngest granddaughter become a pharmacist, the first doctor in our immediate family.  He relished being able to attend my retirement party and one last family reunion in July of last year.

Then one August eveing a few weeks after his 80th birthday —  in the same hospital where we received that initial news — he died peacefully with his family by his side.

Not a day goes by that we don’t think about him, talk about him, miss him deeply. Grief is funny that way. Many days you feel fine. On other days  it’s all you can do to get through. Faith-based grief counseling  helped put my father’s life and death in perspective. Our loved ones are not our own.  I like to picture Daddy in heaven, reunited with his parents and siblings. Free of all pain.

The notes I found in the drawer the other day reminded me of the short, sweet text messages he sent to me during the year after his diagnosis.  Hello Angela, how are you doing today?   On some days, the message was a passage of scripture meant to encourage me. His favorite was Psalm 27.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear?”

This Psalm of comfort is a great reminder of God’s love for us. We can rest on his promise that no matter what happens, his presence is a blessed assurance.

For more information on grieving and for a list of classes in your area, go to www.griefshare.org

 

A ram in the bush

cancer-jacket

Lap three. We are sweating, talking and laughing. I’m thinking it’s time for a rest, my legs are sore. Then a stranger, a beautiful brown woman with headphones and an i phone in hand, casually breaks into our conversation.

“I like your jacket,” she says cheerily.  This is the third time since we’ve been walking that someone compliments my jacket.

Several months ago my daughter gave me a bunch of cancer gear: T-shirts, jackets, a shawl, a head wrap, a tote bag — about 15 pieces in all. She picked up these items in the course of her work and gave them to me.  My plan is to donate them to an organization that is promoting cancer awareness or research.  I decide to keep the purple jacket  I’m wearing on the track this morning. It is adorned with colorful ribbons and the words “Hope for a Cure For All Cancers.”

The beautiful stranger tells my friend and I that she has just been diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. We stop our walk and turn to embrace her as she melts into tears. She is afraid. Because her mother is a breast cancer survivor, she has taken a test to see if she carries the gene that causes the disease. The test was negative, making her recent diagnosis all the more confusing. Her doctor has given her medicine to shrink the tumor, her hair has fallen out. She is in her 30s and is the mother of four young children.  Her brother tells her that her diet may be the cause.  She is working out in hopes of losing weight and improving her health. She tells us she suffers from bi-polar disorder and eats to ease her pain.  Sonya and I listen, then do the only thing we know  to do. We stand on the track and pray with her. We touch and agree that while cancer may be the diagnosis, God has the final say.

Then we tell her our cancer stories. Sonya’s husband has been battling cancer for six years. Last year, he received a bone marrow transplant. There are dark days to be sure, but they are survivors, she tells her. I tell her about my father, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer last May.  He survived and thrived for more than a year relying on his faith and aggressively seeking treatment.

Our new friend has four children. She pulls up a family photo on her phone. She has much to live for.  She tells us that God put us in her path. Often when we are at the end of our rope, God places a ram in the bush — something or someone to remind us all is not lost.  As the three of us parted ways on the track, we felt God’s love and presence in our exchange. It’s important to remember that he never leaves us, especially in our darkest times.

 

Mabel Jean Lockhart: a woman of quiet strength and dignity, now at rest

Mabel Jean Lockhart

Heaven gained an angel on Sunday, and our church family lost a dear friend and quiet leader.

I’ve known a lot of first ladies in my time, but Mabel Jean Lockhart was different. Sure she wore the beautiful church hats and suits that most first ladies are known for but what stood out about her was not her outer beauty or regal bearing.  This woman was a nurturer in every sense of the word. She possessed a quiet  strength that may have caused some people to underestimate her power. Sister Lockhart didn’t preach alongside her dynamic husband. In fact, it was rare to hear her speak in church.

But get her alone and she would give you an earful. A devoted, wife, mother and grandmother, we shared some special conversations over the years. In most of those chats, she was encouraging me in my journey as a wife and mother. I’m sure she did that for countless women, men and children in our church and beyond.

We became grandparents around the same time nearly 10 years ago, meeting the birth of our grandsons with great joy and pride. Whenever we talked, our conversations always turned to our children and grandchildren. She loved her family in a way only a mother can.  Her love for her husband, Pastor Benjamin Lockhart, and his love for her, was a great example for our church family. He often called her his peacock, but she was his partner in every way.  Her strength and passion for the word of Christ girded him for servant leadership.

From her pew on the center right side of the church, she watched everything that happened. Fiercely protective of her husband, particularly as he dealt with his own health challenges, she was always quietly directing. When he went a little too far, or did a little too much in worship, her expression told him it was time to calm down —  to take his seat and rest for a while. In those times, a smile would cross my face. Like me, she wasn’t good at hiding her true feelings. You always knew where she stood.

I will always remember our last conversation, which took place about a month ago when my husband Joe and I stopped by to visit her at her home. We talked about the return of her cancer and my father’s recent cancer diagnosis. She made it clear to us that she was doing just fine because her soul was anchored in the Lord. We looked at old photos, chatted and laughed. We prayed for peace and strength. That day, as always, confidence and assurance radiated from her being.

While Illness may have taken over earthly body, her soul was at rest. In times of trouble, our faith is what grounds us. Our dear first lady knew that well and spoke it boldly.  She is safe in the arms of her father now. No more pain, no more suffering.

When cancer comes a calling, nothing else seems to matter

#teamduerson #psalm27 #everydaywefight

#teamduerson
#psalm27
#everydaywefight

Three people died in a Louisiana movie theater tonight. The actions of another crazed gunman are being analyzed on CNN.

A black woman died in a Texas jail cell under some very strange circumstances. People want to know how and why. I’ll leave those questions for others to ponder.

I am sad about these things, but I can’t fully process them.  My mind is consumed by the cancer that is consuming my father. It is moving fast and he is standing strong. Me? Not so much. I cry at the drop of a hat. In a store. On the phone. In the middle of the night.

My prayer is that God continues to strengthen my parents, my siblings, the grands and our spouses for this journey. We are in this together; but some days I feel so alone.

I thank God for friends — old and new — who have been amazing in every way.They have recommended treatments, doctors, brought casseroles, peaches, watermelon, cake, you name it. They have prayed with us and for us. They have delivered flowers and fruit to my parents’ doorstep. They have delivered flowers to me. They have listened as I wailed into the phone. They have texted, sent Facebook and Instragram messages, sent scriptures, books and frames. I am overwhelmed by their thoughtfulness.

Two weeks ago, I had surgery to remove a tumor that turned out to be benign. Once the doctor saw my CT scan, he informed me that part of my thyroid would need to be removed as well. An old friend from college called just as my surgeon was breaking the news.  He stayed on the phone with me, asking the doc a few questions on my behalf.  When Dr. Wilson asked if I wanted to do the surgery in two parts, my response was quick. “No, do it all at once so I can get it over with. My father has cancer. That’s all that matters.”

Thankfully, he is not in pain and his spirits are good.  Like Job, he will trust God — just as he always has.

“Angela, God’s got this,”  he tells me daily. “I’m not worried.”

When our family gathers in Atlanta this weekend for our 57th annual reunion, it will be bittersweet. For the first time in decades, my parents won’t be there. But their grandchildren have hatched a very cool idea.  So get ready Mom and Dad. We will have a great reunion and you will be a part of it.

Family love and unity. Nothing else matters.

Cancer, meet my father. He is not afraid of you!

kristen

My dad, with granddaughters Kristen and Megan and great grand Lena!

Hello cancer,

You have visited the bodies of my friends and family on several occasions in your many ugly forms.

Bone cancer. Breast cancer. Prostate cancer. Leukemia. You have caused hair loss, nausea, fear and longing for better days. You have brought about destruction, pain and death.  You come and go, creating havoc in the minds and bodies of so many loved ones in so many families.

But guess what?  Fred Duerson, is not afraid of you. It’s true you have invaded his body.  But you will not get the victory over his mind.

You see, my father is a man of great faith and discernment. He will listen to the  oncologists, radiologists, neurologists, pulmonary doctors and whoever else enters his life during this season.  He will hear their prognosis and will begin a treatment plan prompted by your existence. Yet my father, mother, siblings, family, friends and I will continue to speak life into this situation. We will touch and agree that whatever God’s will for his life, it will be done.

Yes there will be tears, fears and uncertain times. But they won’t last because his faith and our faith is deeply rooted in the word of God, specifically Psalm 27, one of my father’s favorite scriptures.  “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is my stronghold, of whom shall I be afraid?”

Let me tell you a few things about this man we call husband, father, Paw Paw,  Uncle Fred and friend. He is loved because of the encouragement, faith and compassion he exhibits daily to family, friends and strangers. He knows that when God is in it, there is no limit to what can be accomplished.

He is a husband of 57 years, a father, a grandfather and great-grandfather who has lived a life of faith and purpose.  He is a Marine, a deacon, an uncle, a brother-in-law, a father-in-law and friend to many. His wife is just as strong as he. Trust and trust and believe, you don’t want to be on bad side.

You can attempt to crush his body but you won’t conquer his spirit.

So, give it your best shot, cancer. Everything will be new again in the morning.