Seek and Find the Good: Gratitude Challenge

Giving thanks in all circumstances is no easy task, but as Christians, it’s what we’re called to do.

When we’ve had a terrible day at work? Yes.

When we receive a difficult medical diagnosis? Then too.

When we lose a close family member or friend? There are no exceptions.

We are to give thanks in all circumstances.

Seem impossible? For a long time, I thought so too. In fact, it took me years to uncover the importance of giving thanks no matter what.

Try, Try Again

The first time I consciously focused on implementing a daily gratitude practice I failed quite miserably.

During a period where I was struggling at work, my boss encouraged me to end each day by writing a list of what I was grateful I had accomplished.

Failing to understand how this task would help my situation, the effort I put forth was haphazard. Embarrassingly, not much was gained through the experience.

Fast forward a few years.

I experienced a period in my life where I learned a hard lesson: sometimes life is heavy. I discovered that if life promises anything, it’s that challenges are bound to arise. No one is exempt from pain and suffering.

One year into a life-changing medical diagnosis, I gave the practice of gratitude another try.

I finally came to understand why God doesn’t present giving thanks as optional.

Gratitude Changes Everything

When you take the time to notice the good around you–especially the little things–it truly changes everything.

Your perspective begins to shift.

  • A moved medical appointment means you get to see your regular doctor–whom you trust with your life–instead of a substitute
  • Running late could have kept you from being apart of the accident you witnessed
  • Watching a flower grow and bloom reminds you that change doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a slow, steady process to achieve growth

No matter what each day may bring, when you seek the good, you are bound to find it.

Through a regular gratitude practice, it becomes easier to find the good when life seems to throw you less.

As Robert Edmons shares in his article, “Why Gratitude is Good,” gratitude helps us to “affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received. This doesn’t mean that life is perfect; it doesn’t ignore complaints, burdens, and hassles. But when we look at life as a whole, gratitude encourages us to identify some amount of goodness in our life.”

Do you want that in your life?

Seek and Find the Good

There is goodness waiting to be found amidst everyday life.

How do you get started seeking and finding the good? The easiest way is to start a gratitude journal.

If you don’t have a journal on hand, use a scrap of paper or the Notes app on your phone.

On a daily basis, begin to write down at least three things you are grateful for. The more specific you can be, the better (e.g. feeling the sunshine on my face after three days of rain versus the weather).

It may feel a little unnatural at first, but as you continue to seek and find the good, it will become easier and easier. Slowly, but surely, it will change your life.

Interested in cultivating more gratitude in your life? Take the 10-Day Gratitude Challenge: Seek and Find the Good.

Share Your Gratitude Journey

As you #seekandfindthegood in your everyday life, I’d love for you to join me in sharing what you discover over on Instagram.

Desmoid Treatment: Trial and Error

This is the fourth post in a series that details my journey from the initial diagnosis of my Desmoid tumor through surgery to the discovery of its return in 2016.


During August 2016, while enjoying our third month of marriage, we received the news that my Desmoid tumor was growing. It had returned with a vengence.

“The tumor tends to become more aggressive when it recurs after resection.”

National Organization for Rare Diseases, Desmoid Tumor

While surgery was not entirely ruled out at as a potential form of treatment, the aggressive recurrence indicated the tumor hadn’t responded well. It was time to pursue other options.

Meeting My Oncologist

My surgeon knew of two oncologists in Indianapolis with Desmoid experience. One was a friend he knew I could see quickly, so he put in a referral.

During the first meeting with my oncologist, I was presented with a series of treatment options that we began to work through from least to most aggressive.

All of the terms were new and unfamiliar but with everything laid out in a step-by-step manner, it seemed straightforward. We had a plan. In the midst of the unknown, this was a lifeline.

Upon meeting my oncologist, we began to work through the low urgency options in the right-hand column.

The reality of having an oncologist as one of my primary doctors didn’t settle in. Oncologists treat cancer. To distance myself from reality, I would remind myself my tumor was benign–keeping all thoughts of chemotherapy distant.

Desmoid tumor is called aggressive fibromatosis as it has similarities with a malignant (cancerous) tumor called fibrosarcoma. However, it is considered benign because it does not metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body.

National Organization for Rare Diseases, Desmoid Tumor

(We process based on the information we have at the time–it’s impossible to know what you know don’t. I did not know Imatinib was a form of oral chemo–the second option listed under low urgency. In fact, I wasn’t aware oral chemo pills existed.)

Treatment Trial and Error

Under my oncologists care, we did a trial/error approach to two drugs.

Tamoxifen

The first was Tamoxifen. I was on the drug for three months with minimal side effects before undergoing an MRI to determine its effectiveness.

The MRI revealed growth in a new area of my leg and a second Desmoid tumor was officially diagnosed.

It’s important to note that the tumor did not metastasize, it remained in the area where surgery was performed.

Following the protocol recommended by MD Anderson Cancer Center, my oncologist stopped Tamoxifen and we shifted to a new treatment plan: oral chemo.

Gleevec (Imatinib)

Exactly three months after starting Tamoxifen, I began taking Imatinib, better known as Gleevec.

As I began to research the drug, my optimism that this would be our solution grew. The drug was saving lives and had transformed leukemia treatment.

When the first two-week supply arrived in the mail, some of my confidence faltered. It hit me for the first time what I had to do.

I remember sitting at the kitchen table with my husband and opening the box which revealed a bright yellow bag with bold black letters that read:

CAUTION: OBSERVE SAFETY PRECAUTIONS FOR HANDLING AND ADMINISTRATION.

The packaging did not make me want to put the contents inside in my body.

I didn’t have much time to think. My oncologist wanted me to begin the medication the evening it arrived.

I did what I had to do. I opened the container, took out the three tiny pills I would begin to take every morning and evening, exhaled a shaky breathe, looked over at Caleb, and swallowed them down.

The emotional component of the experience surprised me. It wasn’t the pills that threatened me, but their potential side effects. I was convinced they’d all hit at once. They didn’t. It took weeks for the side effects to set in as the drug built up in my system.

As they set in, my pain increased and my mobility sharply decreased.

Intervention Needed

Mobility Loss

I was on Gleevec for approximately two months. Ultimately, neither drug aided in reducing the tumors.

A few weeks after starting Gleevec, my leg pain sharply increased and it became impossible to put my full weight on my left leg. Within days of the pain ramping up, I had to use a crutch to walk.

I made an emergency appointment to see my oncologist. As soon as he saw me, he rushed out of the room to call my surgeon. He wanted my surgeon to see me ASAP. He also sent me to be evaluated for blood clots. It was a Friday–the day all pertinent medical challenges occur–and my surgeon couldn’t see me until Monday.

On Monday, he didn’t have any answers. Instead he scheduled an MRI–two weeks out–and prescribed Celebrex, an NSAID, for pain management.

The MRI revealed that the tumors continued growth was constricting my gastrocnemius, impairing my ability to fully straighten my leg. His recommendation was to continue Gleevec for another month before reevaluating.

Another month without any hope other than, “eventually, the tumor will begin to go away” was not acceptable to me given my rapid decline in mobility. I was desperate for answers. Desperation wasn’t a bad place to be as my desperation sparked change.

Desperation often sparks change.

MaryBeth Eiler

Before leaving the office that day, I requested all my medical records and scans. I finally understood the importance of being my own advocate.

Finding a New Team of Doctors

I knew something drastic had to happen. I felt the urgency of the situation. My doctors were not communicating and the once-clear path was now extremely hazy.

My sister pushed me to give the remaining surgeon with Desmoid experience a call. Thankfully, my insurance did not require that I had a referral and while I had to wait a few weeks, I eventually got in to see L. Daniel Wurtz, MD at IU Health Physicians Orthopedic & Sports Medicine.

Dr. Wurtz ruled out surgery as an option due to complexity and referred me to his colleague, Daniel A. Rushing, MD at Indiana University Simon Cancer Center–the other oncologist in the State of Indiana with Desmoid experience. The tumor was growing increasingly close to a blood vessel and needed to be stopped before it attached and complicated things further.

A few weeks later, I met Dr. Rushing and everything began to change.

What I Read: July

This month, while I started many books, I only finished a few. I tend to devour fiction in a few days, but try to pace myself through works of non-fiction. I read for enjoyment, but I also read to learn and I find that if I don’t pace myself, I have a hard time applying the lessons learned to my actual life. This month, you’ll see only a few new additions to August’s reading list as I wrap up the books I began in July.

The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman

Rating: four stars

Thoughts: This is a beautifully written book. If you struggle with decision making, this is a must read. Every chapter concludes with a prayer and practice. I related to so many of the stories the author shared throughout the book as a person who is often faced with decision fatigue. Ultimately, my biggest takeaway was this: don’t let decision making be a big deal. Make a decision and move forward the best way you know how in the moment. Then continue to do that over and over again. Thinking of decision making in this way simplified it for me and–as she so eloquently states–”creates room for [my] soul to breathe.”

Breathe Again: How to Live Well When Life Falls Apart by Niki Hardy

Rating: five stars

Thoughts: The book beautifully captures how to thrive instead of simply survive when life throws you the unexpected. As a chemo patient, I could very much relate to both the struggles and triumphs mentioned throughout the book. One page I would be laughing and the next crying. The book is beautifully written–like having a conversation with a very close friend. From the relatable stories shared, to the beautiful prayers you can make your own, to the challenges that will push you to grow, this book is a must read for anyone who desires to thrive instead of just survive through whatever life throws their way. I plan to come back to it again and again.

This book captures so much of what I’ve felt in my heart through my health journey. We can all use this message. It’s my hope that people read it before they need its truth.

Note: The book officially launches on August 6th. It is currently available for pre-order. While you wait, you can download the first chapter for free! I was provided an advanced reader copy in return for an honest review. If you pre-order, make sure to grab your pre-order bonuses!

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin

Rating: three stars

Thoughts: I love the title/concept of this book: better than before. The book details how to approach habits to make life better than before. While I found the content engaging, I struggled to connect with the author. If you have a similar personality as the author (you’ll know in the first few chapters), this book shares many tips you can likely apply to your own life. I found her approach to habits insightful and am interested in applying a few of the strategies mentioned throughout the book to my own life. I just found the book to lean too heavily on her own thoughts/opinions instead of being backed by research.

August Reading List

  • Preach to Yourself by Haley Morgan
  • The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation Into the Writing Life by Julia Cameron
  • This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
  • The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
  • The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (Sept. book club pick)

Desmoid Recurrence Diagnosed

This is the third post in a series that details my journey from the initial diagnosis of my Desmoid tumor through surgery, and the discovery of its return in 2016.


In the year following the surgical removal of my Desmoid tumor, I became part of the 25 to 40 percent recurrence statistic. My tumor came back more aggressive than ever.

“While statistics may vary, about 25 to 40 percent of patients who undergo surgery can have a local recurrence (return at or near the original site).”

DTRF.org

The road to uncovering the recurrence was long and windy.

Post-Surgery Follow Up

In the months that followed the surgical removal of my tumor, life went about as normal. I had check-up appointments with my surgeon every three months. They were brief (< 15 minutes), to the point, and left me feeling very much assured my tumor was never coming back–though not necessarily for the right reasons.

Questions I raised were brushed off as needless concerns. My surgeon had performed a “perfect” surgery. That should be the end of the story.

You may be sensing the frustration I felt. Here’s where I must pause and remind myself:

“At no point do I look back on this journey with regret, nor do I feel we were ever truly directed down the wrong path. Each step in this journey has served a purpose.”

MaryBeth Eiler, Initial Desmoid Tumor Treatment: Surgery

Before moving forward, I will share these important reminders:

  • Know yourself
  • Advocate for yourself
  • Ask questions until you are confident how to move forward

Indicators of Tumor Growth

Six-months after surgery, I began to experience some challenges–primarily a decrease in my ankle flexibility. I have hyper-flexible ankles, so when I initially shared concerns with the doctor, he brushed it off. My ankle was still within a normal person’s range of motion.

At the same time, I was prescribed Gabapentin to manage the pain I was experiencing related to nerve damage caused by surgery (nerve damage can take 2+ years to heal).

My ankle mobility continued to decline and by the end of the year, I was dead set on doing something about it. Upon request, my surgeon wrote me an order for physical therapy.

January through February I completed ten physical therapy sessions. Applying the Graston Technique, we managed to increase the mobility of my ankle.

“Our unique technique and instruments enable the treatment of scar tissue and fascial restrictions during rehabilitation that allows for faster rehabilitation and with greater success when the goal is restoring range of motion, eliminating pain, and restoring normal function.”

Graston Technique

Physical therapy wasn’t easy. It was unpleasant, hard work, but it helped–at least for a while.

A few weeks after “graduating” from PT, I felt my ankle constricting again. I called my PT and she had me come back in for another appointment. She took an aggressive approach to treatment that day, leaving me bruised for over a month. At that point, I decided it was the last time that treatment made sense for me.

I knew something was going on, but was oblivious to the fact that it was the tumor that had returned. There were indicators–the decreased ankle mobility, the need for physical therapy, the increased pain and need for a new medication–but I didn’t recognize them as such, yet.

As this all unfolded throughout the year, my doctor continued to assure me it was part of the healing process post-surgery. Because I had no other baseline and reason not to, I believed him.

One-Year Post-Surgery MRI

Before my one-year, post-surgery follow-up appointment, I underwent an MRI to determine if the tumor had recurred.

At the time of the post-surgery MRI, I was six weeks away from my wedding and the tumor being back was the last thing I wanted to deal with.

The MRI revealed two masses. My surgeon diagnosed them as scar tissue and recommended a three-month follow-up MRI to check for growth.

That may seem like great news, but my tumor actually shows up as scar tissue on an MRI. My doctor assured me that some scar tissue is normal following surgery. In addition, he reminded me that he had performed a “perfect” surgery so it likely wasn’t the tumor growing back.

Although I had doubts, I didn’t voice them. I’m not entirely sure it would have made a difference. I wanted to believe the tumor wasn’t back and what I was experiencing was my body continuing to heal itself post surgery.

Official Recurrence Diagnosed

Three months later, I underwent another MRI. This one showed visible signs of growth in one area. There was no more denying the fact that the tumor was back. My surgeon officially referred me to an oncologist to review further treatment options.

Resilience Against All Odds

These flowers should have died. Instead, they are thriving.

We recently had the house washed. I’d been procrastinating having it done–three years to be exact.

A few weeks prior, I planted some zinnias from seed. I’ve become smitten with this flower and couldn’t wait to enjoy some home-grown beauties.

For weeks, I intently watched as the seeds sprouted little tiny shoots, then began to grow taller as they reached for the sun–all while sprouting big, luscious leaves along the way.

I dreamily anticipated the day the mail lady would walk up and get to enjoy the beautiful blooms as she dropped mail in our box. I envisioned her appreciating the sweet little surprise that greeted her–a nice contrast to the ferocious, yet harmless, dog that typically caused her to quicken her pace.

Then came house-washing day.

The contractors arrived and set to the task at hand. I went out and asked if I could assist by moving anything in the way out of their path. They politely declined stating they would handle it, so I went about my day.

By the time the contractors left, the house was sparkling. I didn’t waste any time offering high praise through an online review.

Fast forward a few days.

I walked off the porch to see my once beautiful, thriving zinnias looking pitiful. Brown spots covered the plants. The chemical used to clean the house had destroyed them, I was certain.

It left me devastated.

They were just a few plants, but I had watched them grow for weeks eagerly anticipating the day they would bloom. All the effort for naught, or so it seemed.

I couldn’t let my zinnias go down without a fight. So, I did what I could to give them a chance. I (painfully) pulled out the plants that were beyond repair and removed the dying leaves hindering the potential of the plants that remained. Every couple of days, I continued the process.

Then one day, I spotted it: a bud. And a few days later, a couple more.

I couldn’t believe it. The zinnias had survived!

Plants highlight so much about life to me. The zinnias chose resilience. They could have easily given up and succumbed to the chemicals threatening to destroy them, but they fought. Once merely surviving, they are now thriving.

How often in life do we choose to give up and take the easy path?

I think back to my desire to stop chemo in December. That would have been the easy choice. But what would I have missed out on if I hadn’t pushed through? Maybe this pot of zinnias would have never been planted. And maybe I wouldn’t have realized just how glad I am that I kept up the fight instead of taking the easy path.

Though the easy route is often tempting, it’s rarely rewarding.

Let’s choose the path that leads us to thrive instead of simply survive.