Wednesday, January 27, 2010


While home, I was able to take a course in pediatric oncology and chemotherapy administration. We are doing something different this year on the ship, we are taking in the Burkitt's Lymphoma kids and giving them a program all to themselves. While praying about whether or not to stay last year, and if so, where I would work, God plainly laid out His plan for me. There were no questions, no hesitations, I just picked up and followed. He made it easy this time. I have no experience with oncology aside from my year in Africa, so I emailed my old boss. Within a day, I was in touch with an educator from our oncology floor at Boston Children's, and she had re-scheduled a course just so I could attend it during my small window at home.
Told you He made it easy.

While sitting in the course my mind wandered back to Africa (Shocker-my mind was wondering. Even bigger shocker-I found my thoughts falling back to Africa)
As we talked about Cyclophosphamide, the drug we use to treat Burkitt's, I thought about sitting for hours, waiting next to men with semi-automatic weapons to buy a few vials for 2 dollars a piece at the ministry of health. All so we could assure Luc and Rachelle had enough medication to finish their treatment.
When they mentioned doxirubicin, I thought of Luc, how his cancer was recurring when we left Benin. How we were trying to find this drug that isn't available at all in his country unless it is imported from Europe.
When we talked about the Nadir during treatment, the time when the immune system dips low following a dose of chemo, my heart ached for Maddie and her parents. She died because her body was too weak to fight her infection, too compromised during that time. The wound from that pain is still so present in my heart.
They mentioned complications, how nausea and vomiting is common. I thought about holding Maurice while he suffered quietly, too exhausted and sick to even cry.

She mentioned the risks associated with spilling chemotherapy while preparing it, how everyone should clear and secure the area, then call the 'spill team'.
I smiled at the difference between my old world and my new reality.

As I listened to the extended treatment and availability, to millions of dollars worth of medications, transplants, and other various options, I realized something.
A lot of people asked me if I was in culture shock while at home. I kept thinking of this phenomenon while I sat and sipped fancy tea at a world class hospital, watching the differences between Africa and Boston become more and more vast.
No, I wasn't in culture shock. I silently recounted every step it had taken for me to be at that place at that very time. I thought about all of the differences. How I have come to appreciate both worlds.

Before I left for Africa I worked at one of the top hospitals in America.
'I put you there, Suzanne. Look at what that time prepared you for.'

I now work among some of the poorest people in the world.
'That is my will for you, you were made to do this my child.'

The kids in Africa don't have half the treatment options, they die because they do not have access to certain drugs.
'The time they get from your simple steps is precious. You know in your heart they come home to me when it doesn't work.'

With Burkitt's we give basic chemotherapy. No, it doesn't always work, but without it, death comes quickly for these kids. Do I resent America, or Children's Hospital for having better options? Do I get angry that Africans appear to be at the short end of this medical stick? Do I resent the fact that kids suffer from cancer and I never wanted to have to face pediatric oncology as a nurse?
Simply, no.

I was sent to Africa, where I found my place and my purpose in life. Burkitt's kids like Luc, Rachelle, Maddie, and Aime helped me find my place and direct me where to go next.
Instead, I sit here and appreciate all that God laid out for me. What better place to learn valuable information to bring back to my beloved Burkitt's kids then from the best of the best?
Treatment is simple, but that only means we don't interrupt their quality of life too badly. If we give them 10 years or 10 days, they don't suffer under a system that doesn't let go just because there is always one more option.
(Disclaimer: things can come across wrong in writing here. In no way am I glorifying Africa or blaming America for over-treating. That's not the point of this anyways.)
The fact that my current focus is on pediatric oncology is no surprise, really. Last year I learned that there is no end in regards to how much our hearts can love. God forced my heart open wide, even in the face of devastation, and I have never felt more alive.
God took the one thing I said I would never do, in a situation I never thought I would be in, and showed me His heart.
Appreciation doesn't even begin to describe what I feel for that.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Rise to the challenge

My dad's friends asked me the other night if I dreamed about Africa. It wasn't until then that I realized how much I actually do. Every night I wake up feeling as if I have been thinking for hours about all that has happened this past year. Its a strange thing, really, and I suppose it is entirely normal, in an abnormal kind of way (such is my life).

The more I think about, and read back over my year, the more I find myself challenged by all that has happened, all that I experienced. Even beyond that, I realize that I am most challenged by the simple things I observed, moments that changed my life, moments I know God was behind, wanting me to open my eyes and soak it all in.
I don't really believe all that much in New Years resolutions. I do believe in change, and I pray these moments will do just that, forever change me. That a day doesn't go by where I don't treasure service to God as the most important thing in my life. I hope I continue to be challenged by the people in Africa, by their simple actions. So I ask you, as I ask myself, will we allow ourselves to be challenged this year?

"Muffled singing from a mouth filled with cancer. Praise to God from the lips of a boy and his mom who were just told his deadly disease is untreatable. Hands held out, palms up in prayer from a dying woman who wants her children to pass their exams, their only chance at a life. Tears from a woman as she talks about being afraid of dying, the smell from her exposed breast cancer filling the air as we listen." -What you don't have is much less than what you do, May 26th
Do we pray as if we believe God will answer? Do we worship through trials?

In regards to putting an iv in on a little boy: "Afterwards I leaned in and kissed his forehead, watching him pucker his lips. After all was said and done, after I had to inflict pain on this little guy, he kissed my cheek. And simply smiled."-All you need, July 24th
Do we forgive easily? Do we love freely and without fear?

"I can't wrap my head around how a mother can watch her child fail. How even with talk of curses and the disfigurement of being born with a cleft lip in a culture dripping with fatalism, she sleeps through cries from her own baby who is quite literally starving. As I walked, bounced, and swayed at 4am in our small ward trying to convince this child that it was indeed time to sleep, I thought about how we are all hungry. We are hungry for a love that is unconditional. A love that defies all boundaries and logic. A love that never fails. Just a taste, a small sip of something that perfect would satisfy us forever"-Hungry, August 3
Are we hungry? Oswald Chambers said, "If your cup is sweet, drink it with grace. If your cup is bitter, drink it with common union with God"

"We said goodbye to Hubert this morning. He went to be with Jesus while being rocked by his dad, something so beautiful, so precious, I'm not sure I'll do it justice by trying to explain.
Over the last few days your prayers and mine have been answered, just not necessarily always as we would have had it." -It's ok, August 24th
Do we believe in Miracles? What if they don't look how we want them to?

"Tonight, as myself and another nurse ran up and down the halls with two 5 years olds who find pure bliss in this simple act, I felt my heart being restored, my soul again being filled up."-Miracle, September 1st
Do we believe God is in these moments? Do we let joy come into moments of devastation?

"We stayed and talked about Enock, about what a special boy he was. His mom told us a story from the morning when she had gone about changing his bed. Enock, who was too weak to lift his head, was found by his mama on his knees in front of his bed praying when she came back into the room. He had found the strength to kneel before Jesus." -Going Home, Nov 19th
I still can't help but cry when I recall this. Do we even have an ounce of the strength Enock found just before he died?

Do we have the perseverance of Anicette's mama?
The faith of Maddie's parents?
The zest for life like Maurice?
The ability to love like Luc and his parents?
The humility and sweet spirit like Rachelle?

"Life, living, is about real moments. Moments that rock your world, leave you weak in the knees, with tears on your face, completely poured out.
Life is about holding a hand, smiling at a baby, letting yourself melt into a hug, looking someone in the eye out of sincere honesty even if you have nothing good to say, and showing emotion."-Life, August 31

"God is faithful, there are a million ways to come to that same conclusion. Yes it hurts, yes its hard, but this is life. Life is about changing, about loving with abandon. That life, that kind of love, it comes with a cost, its painful at times. But the alternative, well, no thank you." -Pain in the offering, Nov 1st.

What does the Lord require of you?
To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8
Please God, help me rise to the challenge. Help me love you more. Let me see the world though your eyes. Show me how to love like you.