No one knows when their Goliath will show up. But, it’s usually when he’s least expected and least welcome. He could care less. We spend a good deal of our lives building up fortresses to keep him out. Yet, try as we might, he’s bound to come kicking down our walls, ravaging everything in his path. And so the fight begins.
If we are one of the fortunate ones, Goliath collapses in defeat, and our jubilant dance spills forth. Who can contain that kind of joy? Our enemy is crushed and we are still standing! Praise leaps from our lips to God’s ears; we are thankful and make haste to let the Lord know.
I’ve often contemplated how perfectly unaware we are to the misery that potentially lies right around the corner from our lives. One day everything is business as usual; the next day disaster strikes without warning. We all have those moments when we wish we could turn back the clock to a simpler, tragedy-free time. I think God probably keeps us unaware of the doom because He knows its potential to rob us of present joys He means us to fully enjoy. Drink deeply of life’s blessings while you stand in them He urges, without broadcasting the ‘what ifs’ that are largely beyond your control. When the 'what ifs' come pounding in trust Me to raise beauty from your ashes because you are My delight and I love you more than you'll ever know.
When we celebrate the victories in our battles, rarely do we anticipate that Goliath’s meaner, bigger and uglier cousin is spoiling for a fight that is right around our corner, that our hand is forced into, all… over…. again!
When Gina messaged me this summer that her colon cancer had returned, this time in her liver and lymph nodes, I cried in disbelief and shock. I pounded my fists and asked God why. I wanted it to be taken away because it was just so unfair. No one should have to face that kind of battle at such a young age, twice. Why Gina---she is such a loving, kind, radiant and generous woman??
Gina had just received a clean bill of health in March, exactly one year after her initial colon cancer diagnosis. The Barnes and everyone who knows and loves them celebrated. They were eager to put that exhausting year of chemo and doctors visits behind them. They were eager to get back to life minus daily conversations that revolved around cancer treatment.
Yet as March rolled into spring and summer Gina found herself feeling fatigued, with sudden sharp pains happening erratically in her side. Doctors assured her she was fine, she had just been given a ‘cancer free’ diagnosis in March. They told her it was time to live her life again and put cancer behind her.
However, the fatigue and pains did not go away. Excruciating pain in her side one night this summer had Erik rushing his bride to the ER. They figured she must have been having a gall bladder attack. Instead an exam revealed the cancer had returned and her liver was full of tumors. It was time to sound the battle cry once again. Goliath’s cousin had returned, spoiling for a fight. Who knew he was even a possibility?
When faced with this devastating news God knows the wide range of awful emotions that will flood our soul. He feels our pain and knows we may be tempted to turn our backs on Him. In John 6, after some difficult teaching, many who had been following Jesus left Him. Jesus turned to His 12 disciples and asked, “you do not want to leave too, do you?’
Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that You are the Holy One of God.”
This is where Gina is in her battle. She is clinging to her God who offers her hope and comfort while she is in the fight of her life. She and Erik continue to rely on their faith that God will take care of them no matter how difficult the journey may become. They believe it is God's will and continue to pray for strength and healing. They are beseeching prayers for Gina because God is always listening!!!!
I know the most powerful weapon in our arsenal to help this fight is prayer. So I wrote the following note right after her 2nd diagnosis to encourage others to join me in praying, throughout their day, every day for Gina.
There are times in life when praise for all your blessings comes easy. Then there are times in life when you walk through the desert and it takes all you can muster to continue your journey in the dry and weary land. Praise comes in muted tones. You weep, you pound your fists, you question your strength, and then you continue on that journey that you have not chosen, but bears your name nonetheless.
If you are fortunate, there are crowds of loved ones cheering you along each step of the way in the desert. They replenish your reserves and pour their courage into you. You trade turns being strong. You know this journey is not possible alone.
A wise man once said the gift of the desert is more awareness of God’s presence. So you hold tight to that and to our God who has promised, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.“ Isaiah 41:10
You are reading this because you love the Barnes family. Gina, Erik, Alex, Sophia and Jake are precious to you. You probably feel at a loss how to help with Gina’s recent return diagnosis of cancer, in her liver and lymph nodes this time. I know I felt this way and went to desperate prayer immediately, the strongest weapon we have in this fight.
As I’ve been praying, Gina’s strength keeps coming to mind. Her compassion, kindness, devotion, radiance, smile and fierce love for her family jump to mind quickly as well. I wondered, what if those who love her would commit to pray for her every day, multiple times a day? We can fill the gap in the strength where she and Erik need it most.
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” James 5:16 (that may sound intimidating, but we are not righteous on our own but through the sacrifice and forgiveness of our Lord)
So I propose a challenge to all who will step into this fight who believe that God hears the prayers of His people and He responds. Will you flood the gates of heaven with continual prayers offered on our sweet Gina’s behalf? “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6
I know sometimes good intentions can get lost and swallowed by busy days. So the question becomes, in our busy days, how can we remember to pray all through the day?
The answer comes in who Gina and Erik are as fighters. They are meeting this challenge head on with strength. I have ordered 30 key-chain sized boxing gloves as a visual reminder to PRAY, PRAY, PRAY for sweet Gina who is in the fight of her life. Wouldn’t it be cool if every time you saw one of those little boxing gloves, maybe hanging your rear view mirror or in your kitchen…you prayed for Gina? Imagine the number of prayers!
I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth—praise to our God; many will see it and fear, and will trust in the Lord. Psalm 40:1-3
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Psalm 46: 1-3
God’s Word speaks about the trials we walk through being used to comfort, encourage and strengthen others as they walk through their own trials. He doesn’t waste anything; He is the master of bringing beauty from ashes. He uses things He hates, like cancer, to grow things He loves like compassion and intimacy in our walk with Him.
I think of how Ivelisse Paige, a stage IV colon cancer survivor herself, is right now encouraging Gina in her fight with cancer. She has helped many others via Believe Big as they battle cancer. Believebig.org is committed to helping families navigate their cancer journey by providing resources, direction and hope.
In closing, I’d like to encourage Gina with the words of James Stockdale who wrote about his experiences of prevailing through insurmountable odds in a POW camp:
“I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn this experience into the defining event of my life, which in retrospect, I would not trade. This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
Let’s add to that strength and encourage Gina with petitions to our God. I will have a bag sitting by my front door with the boxing gloves. If you will commit to pray for Gina regularly, please come by and pick one up. No need to call ahead, just stop by and grab one. I am happy to order more as needed. 1193 Larkspur Rd. Westminster.
Blog followers may recognize Gina from their family portrait session when I met the family 2 years ago. I have photographed Jake, their now 3 year old son for his 2 and 3 year old portraits as well, so I know the high value Gina places on unique and genuine portraiture in her life.
As I have talked with Gina about where she is in her journey with cancer, we decided it was time for updated family portraits. I know how horrible she had been feeling and suggested we book at least 3 dates and hope that one would find her feeling strong enough to have portraits with her 4 favorite people in the world.
Leading into the portrait session, exhaustion was taking its toll on Gina. She had been unable to move off the sofa for 3 weeks and prayed mightily that she would have the strength for the portraits she so cherishes. Tumor fevers, at times reaching 105 degrees, had zapped her of all her strength as they continued on for weeks. Doctors are at a loss for their cause and her body does not respond well to managing them.
As our session date grew closer, I knew Gina did not have the strength to get herself ready as she would for a regular day, much less for portraits. I suggested she allow my stylist Jill come over to style her hair and make up for her portrait time.
I began offering Jill’s styling services to many of my clients, outside of my glamour work that she initially began with, several months ago and it has been a huge hit. Whether it’s a supermodel styling for my glamour portrait work or a subtler but still gorgeous styling for family and senior portraits, she is a master!
My only concern with the styling is that Gina looked so amazing we both started crying when I arrived at her house. The mascara was not waterproof---so Jill told us, ‘no crying allowed!’ Gina does not have the strength to even blow dry her hair right now in life, so you can imagine how beautiful she felt to have Jill style her!
Make no mistake about it, Gina is a beautiful woman, on the inside and out. However, be aware that she bolstered up her strength to do this. She appears the picture of health and vitality, however that could not be further from the truth. The wind blowing provided her an awesome super model moment for the portrait of she and Erik that I was so excited to have captured for them! However, the day of the session was the first day she noticed her belly beginning to swell. Three days later her abdomen appears as though she is several month pregnant.
She prayed mightily the entire week leading into our session that she would have the strength to have the session. She wants this time preserved of her and her dear family so they will all look back on these portraits together 5 years from now and say, ‘remember when….and can you believe what God has done! Thank You Lord for your healing and how You taught us to trust You and love You more as a family!’
Recently Erik, who I have seen overwhelmed with love for his princess, time and time again, posted the following message on her Caring Bridge site. Caring Bridge is the primary communication tool the hospital offers to keep friends and family up to date with the journey of their patients:
True Companion....this is the song that Gina and I danced to at our wedding. The song is by Marc Cohn and it is obviously one of my favorites! That's exactly what she is, my true companion, my best friend....my hero!
I know that most of you think that you know Gina fairly well and some of you do. However, I'm here to tell you that she is even more amazing than you thought. Everything that you already know: compassionate, humble, honest, trustworthy, talented, faithful, hard working... But what you may not know is that she is my guide post, my moral compass; when I want to strive to be a better me, I try to be more like her!!!!
I talk to my children, my students and my players about their "legacy". When people talk about them, what do they say? I encourage them all to build a positive community around themselves and strive to create a positive "legacy". It is my opinion that all we have in the end is what we leave behind. How we have shaped and impacted those that we have come in contact with says a ton about how we have lived our lives. Gina has expressed concern to me that so many people want to do things for her (fund raisers, cook meals, etc.). What I try to explain to her is that people want to help because they care about her. People admire the way that she has lived her life and what she represents. Tons of people can relate to her and appreciate that genuine smile that she shares so easily!!
I must be honest when I tell you that she has been battling her ass off for the last couple of weeks. Even without any chemo since 9/11 she has experienced high fevers, weakness, fatigue, nausea and sickness. The doctors don't know what is causing all of the fevers and symptoms. They ran lots of bloodwork and blood cultures but that turned out to be clean. We are hopeful that her body is defending itself, but we don't know for sure.
So we wait patiently for Monday to get here to see Dr. Kemeny in NY. Gina will have a scan that morning which will be very telling. If there is disease outside the liver she does not qualify for the hepatic infusion and it's back to systemic chemo. If the disease is confined to the liver, they will remove the one mass outside the liver and install the pump.
Thank you's need to go out to soooooo many people but we are falling behind on getting those out. Our family appreciates everything that people are doing more than words could describe. I honestly think that it helps Alex and Sophia to see that their mother is cared about so deeply. All you "Warriors" out there keep praying for my True Companion!! Gina tells me often that God will take care of us and that we are in his hands. Bless you all.
Time seemed to drag to get to that Monday appointment. However, time slowed even more when Gina had to be admitted to the hospital Friday and Saturday before their appointment because of their inability to manage her fevers.
I met with a group of women on Monday to pray for Gina as a friend opened her home to invite prayer. We prayed for Gina’s trip to NY to Sloan-Kettering Cancer treatment center where she would meet with the top liver cancer specialist in the nation, Dr. Kemeny. We drenched the area around us with tears and asked for the Lord above to set us on solid ground through the miracles only He can perform.
Everyone waited in anticipation to see how Gina's appointment went. Erik posted to Caring Bridge: Long, Emotional and Exhausting Day...This was Gina's description of our day at Memorial Sloan-Kettering yesterday. It was the day we have been waiting for, the chance to see one of the world's best in liver directed cancer therapy (Dr. Nancy Kemeny).
The day started at 7:30 in registration, followed by a scan at 8:00, bloodwork followed then a wait for our 1:30 appt. with Dr. Kemeny. Gina was far too weak to walk or site see so we hung out at a little cafe. While at the cafe, we were able to catch up with one of Gina's childhood friends, Jill Culver-Berber. Once we finally saw the doctor, at about 3:30, she had some major concerns. First, the scan taken yesterday (with contrast) showed a much clearer picture of the progression of the disease. The disease is still primarily in the liver but has progressed considerably. She also has a blood clot in the splenic vein which was a concern as well. The initial plan was to get her a systemic chemo treatment (whole body) then bring her back in two weeks to do the surgery to install the pump. As a side note, you cannot have chemo for two weeks before or two weeks after the surgery. This is why Dr. Diaz chose not to give her any treatments, hoping she would be ready for surgery when we got here. In hind site, that may have been a mistake?
The plan changed as the surgeon had even more concerns about Gina's current condition. He bluntly explained that he felt the status of her liver and the looming blood clot put in a very dangerous position. The plan then became, meds to reduce the clot and systemic chemo to address the disease. I will begin giving her an injection every 12 hours of a drug to dissolve the blood clot. While she will continue systemic treatments every two weeks for at least a month. We finally walked out of MSKCC at 10:00pm last night.
Gina continues to battle. We need to pray that the systemic treatment helps slow the disease that has cause her belly to swell so that she appears pregnant. If those things take place, MSK said that she could return to get the pump that we wanted so badly. Keep praying!!
So, at this time in their journey, we continue to rally as many as possible to join us in praying for Gina’s healing. When I saw her Wednesday night she had just completed her first round of full body chemo since her return. Two weeks from now she will complete another round. Two weeks after that they will journey to NY again to see if her body is strong enough to sustain the surgery they so desperately want to install the pump that will help eradicate the cancer in her liver. Currently her body is not strong enough to carry her through the surgery she needs.
Specifically we can pray for the liver to shrink back to it’s normal size. Currently it is very swollen, which has caused Gina’s belly to protrude similar to a 2nd trimester pregnancy. This is also making it hard for her to breathe. We can pray that the disease will not only contain but also go on the decline. We can pray that the fevers will stay away and her strength can begin to return.
My time with the family to share their portraits was a time full of tears and laughter. Jake continued to dance and clap and crack jokes as he always does. Sophia and Alex encouraged him, as they always do and cheered on their mom and dad’s kissing scenes in the portraits. Gina and Erik had a quiet joy written all over their tear stained faces. If you want to know what love is…spend a little time with these two. The way they look at each other….it’s the stuff of every romantic movie ever written!
When we discussed what I would include in the blog from Caring Bridge, I suggested Erik’s post “True Companion.” I didn’t know if it would be too personal for the blog. Erik said, ‘Oh I don’t mind. I just want everybody to know how much I love Gina and how special she is to me, put it in if you like.’
Erik has been Gina’s constant cheerleader and advocate every step of the way. He goes toe to toe with doctors when he feels it necessary and is ruthless in his pursuit of the best for her.
Gina and Erik are both humbled and admittedly overwhelmed by the outpouring of support their friends and family have rallied within the community. A FB page, “Gina’s Fight” has been set up as a community resource spot where information can be found about the multiple fundraisers and benefits happening.
When Gina talks about all the support, she doesn’t even know where to start. She questions why the giant outpouring, what makes them so special to warrant fundraiser after fundraiser. She looks forward to getting healthy and being able to donate back the generous support they've received to cancer research. She is humbled and feels unworthy of all this outpouring. She wonders why. That’s easy, just spend some time with her and you’ll know why her humble heart hides from her what is so plain to everyone who loves her.