Lilly Oncology on Canvass

Lilly Oncology on Canvass, is an art & narrative competition and exhibition for anyone touched by cancer.  The biennial competition invites individuals from the United States and Puerto Rico, who were diagnosed with any type of cancer — as well as their families, friends, caregivers and healthcare providers — to express, through art and narrative, the life-affirming changes that give their cancer journeys meaning.  Creating, viewing and talking about the disease can help patients and their loved ones cope with this serious illness.  Winners’ prizes consist of donations made to the cancer charities of their choice. Following the competition, select artwork embarks on a tour of cancer centers, hospitals and patient advocacy group events.

This year, I entered my watercolor “Beautiful Courage” and narrative below.  I can now announce that I am honored to have received 2nd place overall, and 1st place in the watercolor category in this year’s competition.  My designated charity is The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and my prize award to them this year is $6000.  I am beyond thrilled to have been able to support a cause that means so much to me by using my God-given gifts.  I feel truly blessed!

This is the tenth year anniversary for Lilly Oncology on Canvass, and to mark it they put together The Hope Mural Project, doing ten murals in ten cities around the US and Puerto Rico.  As part of my being one of the top three winners, I was invited, (along with a guest) to come to New York City to participate in painting one of these preselected murals, which would take place in Grand Central Terminal!  There would also be interviews (yikes) and a celebratory dinner (yum).  With all arrangements made and expenses covered, my husband and I went off to NYC.  What an completely extraordinary experience!!!  As I painted these huge panels on easels in the middle of Vanderbuilt Hall, I would stop to look up at the glorious chandeliers and beautiful interior and pinched myself to be sure I wasn’t dreaming.

Thank you Anita, Dennis, and all of the partners for making this trip one of my very best memories.  Your kindness, empathy, and authentic caring for us, as survivors and artists, was incredible.  It was a pleasure to meet artists Dennis Holliday and daughter Dannelle, Susan Schaffer and husband Paul, and Ellen Mayer (muralist artist), who I got to spend time with, paint next to, and share stories that connect us all.  You all made the trip all the more memorable.  Thank you Father God, for good people, good medicines, and for your healing hand upon me.  But most of all, thank you for loving me beyond measure.  This all came from you, and may it reflect your glory.

Featured image

Beautiful Courage

 Cancer redefines everything. It changes how you spend your time, the definition of a “good day”, what you say to your loved ones, and what tomorrow really means. It shifts priorities, challenges livelihoods, and accentuates relationships. Cancer redefines the meaning of things. Things like hope, beauty, and courage.

This painting speaks to what the word courage means to me now that I have gone through cancer and survived. To me, courage need not be loud, prideful, or brash. Courage can be quiet resolve, silent determination, and resilience of spirit. Courage can be both fragile and strong. Courage doesn’t cower, but keeps striving for the light, and in doing so, radiates its own. Courage allows hope. Hope begets life. Life carries on.

By Lynnea Washburn

For more:  http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/the-hope-murals-project-national-art-movement-culminates-in-painting-event-at-grand-central-terminal-on-october-23-481145799.html

Open your hands

With passion
we hold
onto the things
that we know
that define us
and make up
our world

then God whispers…
open your hands

but firmly we clasp
onto all in our grasp
and we softly say no
we just can’t let go

and God whispers…
open your hands

looking down
we see sadly
our fingers uncurl
unleashing
past dreams
and they unfurl
into the wind
we gasp

then God whispers…
take my hands

and there
you’ll receive
something new
something else
something more
than you know
is waiting

In my hands
you’ll remain
as new dreams
call your name
keep your eyes
upon me
as you go

unto a new place
upon a new shore
unknown to all
but Me

The End of a Journey

Graduation season is upon us, and I, too, find myself ready to “graduate”.   With my story told, it seems only logical to wind down this blog.  I don’t look at it so much as an ending, but as an “advancement”.  It’s time to take what I have learned in looking back, turn my sights, and walk boldly into my future, armed with new knowledge, understanding and expectancy.

Although I am not grateful to have had cancer, I am grateful for how this experience has changed me.  I have been humbled by my frailty, and amazed by the strength God provides.  I walk forward with a greater appreciation for life, a deeper gratitude for relationships, and more empathy for others than I had known before.  I may have come away slightly beat-up physically, but I’ve also come away much stronger spiritually.  I have not only survived, but grown through the process.  And I am here to say, you can too.

Every one of us struggles.  I am no different than so many people… too many people.  But what I’ve been trying to say is simple; we have a choice.  Even in life’s brutal trials, we can choose how we live in it.  In most cases, no one can tell us if we will live through it, how we live in it may be the last thing we do.  I say choose hope.  How in the world, you might ask, can one have hope at such a time?  It’s simple.  You can’t… alone.  There is only one I know who offers the kind of hope that transcends even life itself, and that is God.  And there is only one I know who offers a way to be in right relationship with God, and that is Christ.  If you choose Him, you will find it truly doesn’t matter where He takes you.

So as I turn the tassel, my happy ending marks a new beginning.  There is one last thing I would want you to know, and that is how profoundly grateful I am for you.  Thank you my loving family, my caring friends, neighbors, and churches families near and far, for supporting me with massive prayer, small acts of kindness, and everything in between.  Thank you all, for not giving up on me, and for walking with me the whole way.

Note: I will keep this blog public for a time so it can remain available to new visitors. 

In God’s Eyes ©Lynnea Washburn

Thoughts in Prose

A little different than previous posts ~ sharing prose penned in my journal.

Note: These are for you ~ use them, write them in cards you send, share them in conversations you have, email, text… give someone an encouraging word.

_______________________

Small Joys

You can

see the sun rise

you can

hear the birds sing

you can

feel the fresh air

passing by

For there are

small joys

that still can be found

and when it might seem

no one else is around

You can

lean on me

we can

spend the hours

listening to life

and smelling the flowers

_____________________________

Reflection

I thought of your laughter

and I found myself happier

I thought of your kindness,

and I became more considerate

I thought of your enthusiasm

and I got more accomplished

I thought of your big heart,

and I found more room in mine

Then I thought of all that you are facing,

and I got down on my knees

I’m so grateful for the ways you show up in my life,

and I pray for God to show up in yours

_____________________________

Stillness

Today,

just let the world pass…

find peace in rest,

for it is the only job

you need to do right now

Take the day

gently as it comes…

embrace the time

in which you allow yourself

to heal

For today ~

just trust…

that stillness

is best

_________________________

Present

Today

may not be going

the way you might choose,

but today

is yet a gift

because today

I can tell you once again

all that you mean

to me

Hope in the Fire

The smelter’s fire.  Intense heat.  A forced forging.  A process.  One in which a solid becomes malleable.  Shifting, sifting, chaffing, changing.  A removal of impurities and unwanted elements.  A refining.  In fact, a freeing.  A freeing of what is pure from what is not.

I’ve been there, in that fire.  My fire of adversity was named cancer.  From its appearance, it looked beyond enduring.  When you are in the thick of it, you feel like you are being reduced to your base.  You have no concept of how you got there, how long you will be there, if the process will be repeated, or if you will survive it at all.  And if you do, what will be left of you?

Yet, the Smelter’s fire refines.  If you consider the word “refine”, you see its origin coming from Re, meaning again, and the verb Fine.  Again, fine.  One could even say Again Fine is merely a new starting point, as refine also means to improve little by little, as to be perfected.  Also quite compelling is the word “adversity”, as it is derived from the Latin adveretere; meaning “turn toward”.

Adversity. Turn toward.  Refine.  Again fine.  Improved.

Although we may face adversity in its very worst form, we should always remind ourselves that we still have choices while we are in it.  We can be bitter and angry at our circumstances, asking why me, or why this, or why now.  Or we can turn toward the master Smelter, trust Him, and yield to His hand.

If we trust that in this, there are impurities being purged, in this, we are being reshaped into something more, in this, a greater understanding of truth can be learned, and in this, a deeper relationship with God can be gained, then we will have hope in the fire.  And in the end, we will know that is wasn’t all for naught.

Sometimes, it takes the hottest fire to free us, but at all times, God is still with us.  And when adversity comes our way, if we cling to Him, and put ourselves into His loving hands, then He can use the fire to shape us into the people He made us to be.*

*Zachariah 13:9

This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold.  They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’”

Daybreak, by Lynnea Washburn, from the Living Victoriously collection.

All portions of the blog are ©Lynnea Washburn.  All rights reserved.

Restoration

The tech nurse was just about done, and as she disconnected the electrodes she used in the exam,  she smiled.

“Well,” she said, “I don’t want to steal the doctor’s thunder, but… things are looking pretty good.”

It was probably a good thing I wasn’t still hooked up because I was sure my heart just skipped a beat.

It was February, and the time had come for another echocardiogram. This is a type of sonogram of the heart.  It looks at valve function, how the ventricles communicate, and measures cardiac output called Ejection Fraction (EF).  Two years ago my EF was about half at what it should be (>30), which, as a heart failure patient, was not surprising (but as a new heart patient, very).  At that time, my cardiologist said that with medicine and diet changes, we would see improvement, but in honesty, it was not likely my heart would ever return fully to normal function.  And indeed, after the first year, my EF had not improved very much at all.

Coming into this examination, I did not know what to expect, yet I couldn’t help but remain hopeful.  I had been diligent with my medications and diet, and my quality of life had definitely improved.  And, of course, I had been praying every day, thanking God for the healing work He was doing in my body.  So either I was truly getting better, or I only felt like I was getting better.  Now was the day to find out which.  So after the remark by the tech nurse, I was eager for my doctor’s appointment that followed.

My cardiologist confirmed that great news immediately.  It was so good, in fact, that my heart was now functioning in the normal range!  Albeit on the low-end of the normal range, but still, within the normal range.  She said that now she wouldn’t even be surprised to see further improvement.  What a wonderful, fantastic, ecstatic, incredible day it had suddenly become.  We jumped up and hugged, and laughed, and called in my favorite cardio nurse, and we all celebrated together.

“Sometimes the medicine just takes longer to work in some people,” she said, and then added, “I know your faith has had a lot to do with this also.”

Damn right.

Wow.  And wow again.  I couldn’t wait to tell my husband, the kids, my parents, siblings, friends, and well,  just anyone who cared to listen!  Joy and more joy was the order of the day.  I also recalled the moment in December, when my sister (and sister in Christ) told me she had gotten a word from God for me for the New Year.  Now, if anyone ever tells you that, you make sure to stop everything you are doing and listen.  Her word for me was: Restoration.

Indeed.

————————-

I once said, “sometimes we find ourselves in a place where we least expect it.”  Now, instead of that place being cancer, or heart failure, that place is wholeness and healing.  I feel so blessed, very blessed, to be where I am today.  I never want anyone to wish it away… wish that I didn’t have to go through what I did, because there has been so much growing, so much learning, so much faith-building, and so much intimacy with the Lord during this very difficult journey.  I am proof that in all things God can make good for those who love Him*.  He has never left my side, He has shown up for me in new ways, He has heard every prayer, and He has spoken life over me.  Through it all I felt His love, His hope, and His peace like no other time in my life.

So if you have doubt, you remember me.  And if you need encouragement, you call me.  And if you need prayer, you ask me.  We will take these things to God together.

If I should ever again face something that could take my life, I will gladly put myself into the arms of God once more.  He may choose to bring me through it, or choose to bring me home.  But no matter what He chooses, I choose Him.  And today by His grace I can say, I am.

*Romans 8:28

All portions of this blog are ©Lynnea Washburn.  All rights reserved.

Affairs of the Heart

(Note: what was intended as a short break from my blog ran a bit longer than expected.  Thanks for hanging in there.)

Two years ago this April… and for the second time in my life… I was told to “put my affairs in order”.  Never a good thing to hear.  But what I still wonder is, what exactly are “My Affairs”, and what is their proper order?

As it turns out, the kind of chemotherapy that I had needed to kill my cancer has a well-documented history of causing Cardiomyopathy (Heart Failure).  Although the chemo dosage I received was well below the levels commonly known to cause this, it happened none the less.  We knew it was a risk, but if we wanted the best odds of surviving the cancer, it was a risk we simply had to accept.

The most difficult part of living with Heart Failure is the possibility of dying from it.  When the heart is only pumping half as strong as it should, it could stop at any time.  Thankfully, there is treatment: a combination of medication and diet changes that will prolong life. Water pills to help the kidneys work, beta blockers to help the heart pump stronger, and a low sodium/low fluid intake.  Getting the medication to the effective level desired is a long, slow process that for me, took close to a year to complete.

Eight months into the regimen, my doctor determined that unfortunately, my heart had made very little improvement, which meant I would also need a defibrillator device inserted into my chest. With my own set of “paddles” wired into my heart, in the event my heart should stop or fibrillate, I would get a shock that would correct it, and save my life.  Of course, I was told that it would feel like getting kicked in the chest by a horse.  Wonderful.  Still, better than the alternative.

It was during this time that I found myself living with a new companion, the little dark cloud over my shoulder named Sudden Death.  It followed me where ever I went.  Each night I prayed to God to let me to wake up the next morning.  Each morning, I thanked God for His answer.  I constantly reminded myself that in all things God can make good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.*  I worked hard at getting my emotions out of the way, to lean on His strength because mine was sorely insufficient, and to trust, trust, trust God for each day.  It was hard work.

“Are you sure, God?” was my persistent question.  “Are you sure… after the cancer… this is what we are doing?”  The questions only started there.

“Why am I going through another wilderness with you, Lord?  If this is where you want me to be, then what am I to understand here?  What is it that you want Lord?  From me… through this?  Am I to walk here for the rest of my life?”  For months I asked these things of God.  I wrote long open letters to Him, asking for more faith, acknowledging my weaknesses, my bewilderment, expressing my gratitude for what He had already delivered me from, asking forgiveness for my doubts about where I was now.  Although I knew I was loved, and I knew He was with me, make no mistake, I was really struggling.  Struggling to understand, or perhaps… struggling to accept.  Clearly I didn’t agree with it.  Clearly I thought God had made a mistake.

Then, after many months, an answer came.  In a word: Yield.

From a book called One in a Million.**

Once the book was opened, revelations came tumbling out.  It was as if God plucked that book off my shelf, plopped down next to me on the couch, opened a page and started reading aloud.  It was really quite incredible.  That book had been sitting there for so long, it dawned on me that God had put the answers in my hands long before I had formed the questions in my mind.  Right there, in black and white, was a reply to every single question I had written out to God.  Literally.

Clarity followed.  I was reminded of all that I had learned in my walk through the wilderness called cancer.  It was there that I had gotten to know God more intimately than I had ever known Him before.  It was there that I learned I was not as capable as I thought I was, but God would step into my weakness and provide me with the hope, determination, and strength I could no longer muster.  It was there that I experienced a profound humbling that revealed the depth of my belief.  Which was then tested, and cemented.  It was there that I had made the choice to go anywhere with God than to stay where I was without Him.  So, you see, after wondering for so long what I was doing here, in a way, you could way that I was here… by choice.

Now it was time to yield.  Yield to the wilderness, for through it, we will have the privilege to experience God anew.  Yield to it, and through it, He will continue to grow us into the people he knows we can be.  Yield to the wilderness, for He uses it to prepare us for the abundant life He has promised.***  The wilderness can hone, perfect, strengthen, humble, grow obedience, courage, hope and faith.

And in the peace that has followed these many months of wondering (wandering), I realized two more things.  One; at some point the cloud called Sudden Death suddenly vaporized, and two; I found that My Affairs, the ones that truly matter, were being put in order after all.

*Romans 8:28

**One in a Million, copyright 2010 Priscilla Shirer, B & H Publishing Group, Nashville, TN

***Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Copyright Lynnea Washburn.  All rights reserved.