Thursday, December 24, 2015

Noche Buena/ Christmas Eve

"You my child, shall be called prophet of the Most High for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins. In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace." Luke 1:67-79

Noche Buena (literally translated means good night), Christmas Eve, is full of so much hope and promise! God is sending us his only son to earth to be His presence on earth in order to bring us to Him! In the tiny babe we will "meet" tomorrow morning we will see the promise of eternity with Christ in heaven.

I remember as a child how Christmas Eve was just as special as Christmas day for us. We spent all morning getting ourselves and the food ready to take to Peachtree City to the home of my aunt and uncle, Tio John and Tia Silvia. All of my dad's side of the family would gather there around 2 or 3pm to spend the day playing, eating, sharing love. We used to even go Christmas caroling through the neighborhood and my older cousins would organize the younger ones to put on plays and a concert for the adults. It was always such a magical day and night. We would all go to the children's mass at their parish and upon our return we would feast on a traditional Cuban Christmas Eve meal of pork, black beans, rice, yucca, plantains, etc. Mom was always sure to make a cake so that the kids could sing happy birthday to Jesus and there was always a pinata to end the celebration! I remember watching my aunts and mom in the kitchen preparing everything and later cleaning everything. The men were typically talking and playing dominos or arguing over the politics of the day. We kids just played until we dropped. Around 10pm my dad would gather us up in the car for the hour long ride back home to Stone Mountain. I have fond memories of my dad carrying us, one by one, into the house as the four of us kids would arrive sound asleep. Mom carried in the baby.

No doubt, mom and dad probably spent another hour placing the gifts around the tree and setting things up for the morning. We would wake up around 6am and mom and dad would lovingly join us around the Christmas tree for the opening of the gifts. The tags on our gifts always said they were from Baby Jesus. Presents were followed by a yummy breakfast which always included cinnamon buns and then a day of putting things together and playing. Our Christmases were not fancy or over the top, but they were magical and full of so much love.

So, Pete and I set out to create something similar for our boys. (And Paul just woke up and came to me and said, "I'm so excited about Christmas Eve and Christmas because we get to see all of our family! My heart just exploded and I burst into tears. Wow- we have set it up right for our boys. They know that Christmas isn't just about the material gifts.)

This is a Christmas they will never forget for many reasons. One is they have received more gifts than ever from a very generous group of anonymous donors (that I think are from my office). This group actually coordinated everything with my mom and delivered everything to her house. On Tuesday as we were out watching Star Wars, mom and dad delivered everything to our house in a beautiful display under our Christmas tree. I am praying that those angels read this blog and know that we are so very grateful for the kind act of love they have showered us with this Christmas. The boys are so excited as are we! We have let them open two gifts each day since the 22nd. The majority will be opened tomorrow morning. Such excitement!

Today we focus on the expectation,the waiting for our Savior to be born. We thank God for each one of you who are praying for us and supporting us through our latest earthly trial. We pray that you will each experience much happiness and peace today and throughout the days of Christmas!

Much love from us to you! Merry Christmas! Feliz Navidad!
The Zakis Family



Friday, December 18, 2015

A Rich Opportunity

"Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it." - Isaiah 30:20-21

"For our light momentary affliction (this slight distress of the passing hour) is ever more and more abundantly preparing and producing and achieving for us an everlasting weight of glory (beyond all measure, excessively surpassing all comparisons and all calculations, a vast and transcendent glory and blessedness never to cease!). - 2 Corinthians 4:17

Both of these timely Bible quotes were in my morning reflection today found in the book Jesus Calling.  They are just so perfect for what I am experiencing through this journey of healing from breast cancer and I imagine it is appropriate for those of you also going through tough journeys of healing from illness or hurt.

Just yesterday as I was mentally and spiritually preparing for what is to come from treatment number 4, I was thinking about how I am the clay that God is molding through this experience. Every experience in life will mold us. If we are in tune with God as the potter then the molding will be for his glory.

I love how the first passage mentions "your teachers will be hidden no more." To me these "teachers"  are my angels. Yesterday was not lacking in angels. They were all around me, from my husband Pete taking me and being with me all day, to the nurses who attended to me, to my dad visiting again with the Holy Eucharist, and David Roman stopping by to visit. And I can't forget all of those who helped with the boys, Mom taking them to school and Christine Roman taking Ricky home in the afternoon until we got home, while Paul got to visit with the Woodrough cousins thanks to Abi. Then another angel, Sharon Nixon, showed up with a delicious dinner and Chris Wilson showed up with some homemade banana ice-cream that Kelley had made for me. (He then took Pete out for a beer which I'm sure he needed.) Not to mention that when we arrived home a package was waiting at the door for me from my mother-in-law, Valerie, with a beautiful pajama and robe combination! God truly spoils me with the many angels around us. I can't forget to mention the many angels who were praying for us all day and continue to pray for me as I go through the side effects. Many of you texted me throughout the day checking in on me. Thank you to each and everyone of you who keep us present in your prayers.

The fourth round was a little different. I had some kind of a reaction to the Benedryl that they give me intravenously each time. For some reason, this time it made my whole body restless and made me very agitated. When I mentioned it to my nurse, Carla, she told me they would give me Ativan to counteract those effects and she said she would request to give me a half dose of Benadryl next time. The Ativan worked beautifully, calming me down and putting me right to sleep. I took a two hour nap in that nice leather recliner covered by the gorgeous quilt that Mary Agnes made for me and resting my head on a wonderful pillow that Joann made for me. I am telling you, all of you angels are always around me and ever present in my prayers of thanksgiving!

I don't have any pictures of round 4 as I was so out of it I barely remember the visits I had from Dad and David. Oh well. That is one reason I am journaling, so that I can remember what happened.
I came home around 3:30 and went right to sleep again. It is amazing to me that I can sleep so much throughout the day and still go to bed at 10 and sleep all night until 4am. My body is definitely healing.

Oh, I forgot to report that we met with Dr. Peacock yesterday and he conducted an examination of the affected breast. Praise God, he could not even sense the tumors nor the affected lymphnode! He was very happy about that and said it shows that my body has responded very well to the treatments. He did still see a hint of redness on my skin which is the tell tell sign of Inflammatory Breast Cancer. Although I tried my best to have him agree to stop at 4 treatments, he insisted that research has shown that 6 rounds is most effective in making sure that the cancer is gone not just from my breast but from anywhere else in my body that it might have been lingering and not detected. I was not going to argue. I would rather go through all of this now to then have more peace of mind later about it all being gone. That is one thing I pray for daily is that when the treatments are all done that I will experience peace about being healthy and not worry about the cancer returning at some point.
Dr. Peacock did tell me that since my white blood cell counts have remained high that I am off all eating restrictions and that I am free to go anywhere I would like! Yeah!! I have missed eating fresh salads. That is about the only thing I had really restricted myself from because of possible lurking bacteria. The only place I had restricted myself from visiting is the schools. But come January, I can go back into schools. I'll still be careful as I carry around my OnGuard hand cleansing spray and OnGuard beadlets to support my immune system.

Today will be a day of feeling kind of high and revved up from the steroid I must take the day before, the day of and the day after treatment to prevent any allergic reactions. It is kind of nice to have a day where I feel I can do ANYTHING! So, I'll be at work getting some things done and having fun celebrating with my friends, as today is the last day of work for most of us before the holidays. Having friends at work who always look out for me and even take care of me has made working through this all the more enjoyable. I look forward to my time at work as I continue to make a difference in the ESOL world for Gwinnett County Public Schools, even if just from my desk.

Thank you for keeping me and my family in your prayers as I walk through the next few days of side effects. They are only temporary but they are intrusive to daily life and some times hard for me to deal with. Pete is great at keeping the boys occupied and distracted and many of you have helped with that as well. Pete and Mom take their turns tending to me when I am totally out of commission. Some of you have pointed out that you know when I am not feeling well because I am not posting on Facebook nor journaling. That is true. On those days it is difficult to even hold my head up and difficult to concentrate on anything. So, thank you for being present on those day by praying for me and the family!

That is all for now. I'll be back in touch in a few days as we near Christmas. What a glorious time of the year. I did think about this yesterday, that I am happy to be going through this trial during all of the holiday season as it provides a layer of happiness for me to focus on and to distract me. I pray that each of you is taking time experience the JOY of the season. God bless you!



Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Consider It Pure Joy!

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds." - James 1:2

"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." - 1 Peter 5:7


It is amazing how much this theme of "have no anxiety at all" comes up for me. I feel that the Lord is protecting me at every turn and encouraging me to remain calm and even happy. I am finally at a point in this journey where I can say that I am not in denial and have accepted the cross and the journey. It took me a while. For weeks I was hoping this was all just a nightmare. I appreciate all of you who have listened to me talk about how I am feeling and what the course of action will be. I think that the more I talk about it the more "normal" it becomes, which allows me to come out of denial.

God continues to shower us with signs of His love through so many of you and even through complete strangers. I would like to share a few of our beautiful moments from the past couple of weeks.

Last week I had the opportunity to meet Pete and the boys for lunch at the Mall of GA as they had agreed that they would go with me to have our picture taken with Santa. I was just determined that this was NOT going to be the year that we would stop taking our picture with Santa. Well, God blessed us with a beautiful experience once again. We showed up to have our picture taken around 1 after we had eaten lunch. We were the only people there to meet with Santa. We chose our package of pictures, the least expensive one just so that we would have a nice memory of the time together. When we sat with Santa he was so gracious. He had Paul and me sit on his lap. After the picture he took time to talk with the boys and before he would give us the candy canes he asked, "So, whose birthday do we celebrate on Christmas?" The boys proudly answered, "JESUS!" Then the lady who was running the camera told us that someone had been there earlier and had paid for an extra package of pictures and asked that they give it to someone. They chose us. We were given a much larger package of pictures than the one we had chosen. We were all very touched by this generous act! The whole experience was so much fun and created a beautiful memory for our family!

I have to share what I call a "God incident" with you. On Sunday we went to Mass and sat down to pray and prepare ourselves. A few minutes later Deacon Mike came to me to ask if I would be the lector (read the readings) since the one scheduled had not shown up yet. I never say no to a chance to proclaim God's word. I love doing it! Usually I would have already read the readings for the day during my morning reflection time, but this time I had not yet read the readings. So, I grabbed a missal as I walked to the back of the church so that I could read the readings and prepare to proclaim God's word. As I came to the second reading I was amazed at what had happened. The Holy Spirit had set it up so that I could proclaim the very reading that I often quote and try to live by from Phillipians 4:7, the one I began this blog with a few months ago, my FAVORITE passage! I must say I think I proclaimed the word with much zeal as I was sure God wanted me to be right there at that very moment so that he could use me to touch someone who was feeling anxious. What an honor! I love it when God's hand is so evident in the course of events. I do feel that God was reminding me, in front of my church family, that I needed to cast my anxiety aside and simply trust Him.

It is interesting how with each round of treatment a new twist on anxiety comes into my heart. My next treatment is this Thursday, the 17th. As I have said before, the treatment itself is no big deal. I don't feel a thing except some tiredness as they pump Benadryl through my veins before the actual chemo. The nurses and my guests make the whole experience very nice. It is day 3-10 after treatment that are the hardest, when the side effects and fatigue set in. So, this time those days will be around Christmas. I already warned my family that I may not feel well on Christmas day. But why was I inclined to assume the negative? Yesterday when Paul, our almost 10 year old, asked me, "So, mom are you going to feel well for Christmas?" I instantly realized the need to state the positive and assure him that all would be fine. So, I replied, "YES! I am going to feel great for Christmas." I know better than to dwell on the negative. I know I need to claim the positive outcome! So, it has been claimed. I will definitely feel well for Christmas!

I continue to be so thankful for the amazing support you are all providing through prayers and acts of kindness. This past week I received a gorgeous bouquet of white and red roses from a dear friend, Susan Shaw, to brighten my days and to honor and celebrate our Lady of Guadalupe. What a special treat! Then just yesterday I was "elfed" by a childhood friend, Lisa, and her friend who are going around celebrating Christmas by surprising people with gifts for 12 days. They brought us an amazing poinsettia as well as a package of smores fixings, cookies and even a gift certificate for me to get a facial. Such a generous gesture that brought much joy to our home. Another friend from church, Mary Agnes, sent me a gorgeous quilt with a lovely pattern of purple roses. It is so comforting! We also continue to receive meals from so many of you. You are spoiling us with such healthy and delicious meals! And I love receiving the cards, e-mails, texts and phone calls from so many. It truly is great to know you are all praying for us and thinking about us. We do feel so very loved and supported! I don't know how we would make it through this trial without each of you.

A group of my childhood hispanic friends gave me the amazing gift of their time as we gathered for our first annual reunion dinner. We laughed so hard as we recounted memories of growing up together in our hispanic families. (Most of us grew up in Cuban homes but one grew up in a Bolivian home.) We truly share a sisterhood, a very strong bond that has thankfully lasted over many years of not seeing each other. We decided that we will make this a tradition, to gather for dinner on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe each year. I cannot even describe the amount of joy I experienced that night laughing and sharing our stories.



Peter and I were given a great honor this past week as we became Godparents for our dear friends David and Christine Roman's son, Dominic. What a joy to be asked to become such a special part of their lives. The Baptism ceremony was beautiful and so meaningful as friends and family joined to pray for Dominic and welcome him into God's family. It was a glorious day!





Yesterday, while meeting with a friend at a local Panera, I ran into another friend's mother, Mrs. Patterson. How beautiful it was to have time to catch up with her. She is the one who recognized me and said, "I have been reading your blog and have been praying for you." WOW! How neat to see that this blog is connecting me to so many who are praying for us. She shared that she is a cancer survivor and assured me that all will be fine. Thank you!

As we get into this last week of preparing for Christmas, the coming of the Savior, I can't help but reflect on the act of waiting. When we wait we must have patience but we may also be excited or even nervous or afraid. In waiting for the coming of Jesus as a baby we typically wait with excitement and we have to teach our kids to be patient as they count down the days. As I wait for this journey through cancer to be complete I am having to exercise much patience and am relying on God and all of you to fill me with peace and happiness, especially on the rough days. Thankfully I am assured that this is just a season in my life. I will survive and be able to look back and reflect on that I have learned through this experience. Mrs. Patterson even shared with me that she has already forgotten how many rounds of chemo she endured. That gave me much hope to know that one day I will even forget some of the details of this journey. But, I do vow not to forget the lessons and how each of you have stepped up to support us through this time.

This Christmas one of the greatest gifts I have already been given is the gift of love, the love that each one of you is demonstrating by praying for us and reaching out to us. I have experienced so much love in the past few months and that is what I will focus on. That is why I will feel just fine on Christmas day!

"May the God of hope fill you with all the joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:13


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Trust in God

"The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The Lord is my life's refuge; of whom should I be afraid? When evildoers come at me to devour my flesh, my foes and my enemies themselves stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart will not fear; Though war be waged upon me, even then will I trust. One thing I ask of the Lord; this I seek; to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. That I may gaze on the loveliness of the Lord and contemplate his temple. For he will hide me in his abode in the day of trouble; He will conceal me in the shelter of his tent, he will set me high upon a rock. Even now my head is held high above my enemies on every side. And I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of gladness; I will sing and chant praise to the Lord." Psalm 27: 1-6

I am so grateful that God sent me this reading today through a book I am reading. What is described in this Psalm is what I have been going through the past few days. I have been experiencing that feeling of an "evildoer devouring my flesh" as I support my body through the side effects of this latest round of chemo.

Yesterday the battle entered my spirit as well. I truly felt that I was simply resting in the arms of the Lord as I waited for the storm to pass. My dear friends Tricia and Nicole were there at work to literally catch me in the morning and uplift me when they saw the battle I was in. How blessed I am to have people all around me who are God's arms. They reminded me that this is temporary and that I would be whole again. They reminded me of the importance of this battle for my kids. They spoke God's words to me as I regained my strength. It worked! Their reflection of God's love spoke to my spirit and rekindled the energy inside of me to keep going.

The afternoon brought about another round of fatigue and spiritual battle. I just had had enough of feeling sick and of not being able to find pleasure in eating anything. How is a foodie to seek pleasure when she can't eat? I had to just surrender. I got into my pjs, got cozy on the sofa and stared at the empty chair across from me, right next to the Christmas tree, where I picture Jesus is watching over me and listening to me. I learned this form of meditation from the book Sadhana: A Way to God by Anthony De Mello, which my brother Gene gave me at the beginning of this journey. I remember my mom reading/using this book when I was a child. Meditation number 21 is called "The Empty Chair." You simply picture Jesus sitting in the empty chair and you talk to him and then think about how he would respond. I expressed my frustration, my exhaustion, my anger, my hopes and my fears. He said back to me, "Relax, take a deep breath and just go to sleep. I will take care of it all." Sure enough, I took a nap and woke up refreshed. But, I will admit that within 15 minutes of being awake the attack began again. I became very overwhelmed by all that I wanted to accomplish between now and Christmas. I began to worry about how I would not get to experience Christmas with my boys the way I usually do. Things will just be so different this year. But then Nicole's words from earlier in the morning came back to me, "This is only temporary. You are fighting a good fight so that next year you can celebrate Christmas any way you want to. You are doing this for your boys." THIS IS TEMPORARY! How blessed am I to be able to say that!!!!
The Empty Chair with Our Lady of Guadalupe blanket on it. Thank you Janice Givens! I talk to Jesus and Mary.


This is what "gazing upon the loveliness of the Lord" is all about... having people around you who will remind you of God's promises. When the boys and Pete returned home from school I was again reminded of the HOPE God has promised. I was covered with kisses and concern and quickly the boys began to make me laugh. Pete comforted me as I recounted the struggles of the day and worries I was dealing with. Ricky shared funny Christmas music with me to make me laugh. God even provided two customer calls that drew me out of my self pitty and gave me the opportunity to serve! Then Gene called, my mom called (for the third time), our dear friends delivered a meal to us, friends were texting me, God's love came flooding in around me. AMAZING! I resigned to drinking a protein shake for dinner, took my medications and went to sleep.

My family continues to be blessed by many of you who have come to visit, brought us meals, thoughtful gifts and have sent cards with prayers. Thank you to all who continue to pray for us. It can become quite overwhelming to think about how this journey is not any where near done. We have a long way to go. Maybe that is why the thought that I am "half way through chemo treatments" is not comforting at all. The thought of having to go through 3 more treatments is quite daunting! But I know that I wont' be alone. I know you are all right by my side and there to catch me and hold me up.

I went in to the center to have my blood work done yesterday. It was the first time that my white blood cell count was low at 3.8. But they don't really worry about it until it is down to 1.8. So, they did ask me to be careful about being around crowds and sick people. I also have to monitor my temperature in order to catch the slightest of low grade fever and let them know about it. But, I will say, I am not worried about that. I am boosting my immune system in all of the ways I know how. My brother said to me last night, "So, I guess this means you won't get to go to our family Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) gathering." My reply, "Come hell or high water I will be there!" I can live with not being able to eat my favorite foods or not do some of the usual traditions, but I will NOT miss the time I am given to spend with family! Family love fuels me! Even if they have to prop me up in a chair I will be there.

As you each continue preparing for Christmas or celebrating Hanukkah during these days, I pray that you will be given peace and the perspective to appreciate the little things, appreciate the love around you and forget about the material gifts. May you "gaze on the loveliness of the Lord and contemplate his temple." You are each in my prayers.
Much Love,
Cristina

A few pictures of Angels to share:
Treatment #3 with Gisela Polanco, a long time friend and ESOL teacher who was receiving her treatment the same day.
Treatment #3 on the same day as friend and colleague, Nikki Mouton.

A lovely visit from the Montealegre family! They brought so much JOY!
Advent by Candlelight at St. Pius High School with childhood friends who are all fellow Latinas! Nothing like reminiscing about the good old days.

Thanksgiving Day brought the chance to spend time with family including the Peek family. Fr. Kevin and I shared tips on how to care for our bald heads. I'm in great company!


Thursday, November 26, 2015

"Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever." Psalm 118:1

From Jesus Calling page 343 "Thankfulness takes the sting out of adversity. That is why I have instructed you to give thanks for everything. There is an element of mystery in this transaction: You give Me thanks (regardless of your feelings), and I give you Joy (regardless of your circumstances). This is a spiritual act of obedience- at times, blind obedience."

I could not have said it better. Even in times of adversity it is so important to be grateful for the blessings that still abound.

These past few days of escaping to Key Largo and Isla Morada in the Florida Keys with my family and much extended family was an absolute blessing in the midst of our storm. My goal was to simply enjoy every little encounter and thing we experienced. I wanted to forget about my reality just for a few days. IT WORKED!!! I truly felt like I was in heaven, staying in a gorgeous home on the water provided by my cousin Manny Becerra and his lovely wife Ana. Then having three days of talking and being with cousins, aunts, uncles as well as my own family. There were hours at a time when I was able to totally forget about my health reality and was able to focus on my reality of love!

People who know me know that I am all about people and relationships. So, being with family for several days of happiness and love was exactly what I needed. Celebrating the wedding of Cristina (my cousin) and Hans was an amazing blessing. To see new love celebrating life is so uplifting and naturally fills me with much hope for the future. To see our family coming together to support the newlyweds and to celebrate filled me with great joy and much gratitude for the life God has blessed me with. I am grateful to provide my boys with that taste of heaven!

As I took my turn driving on our way home yesterday I had time to reflect on the beautiful encounters I had with so many family members. I couldn't help but cry as I realized that each person I saw hugged me a little longer and stronger than usual. As we would say good bye, we would hug again and they would say things like, "I'm praying for you", "God bless you", and "I love you." I absolutely treasure those moments and blessings! I will carry them with me in my heart in the months to come and for the rest of my life.

I'll never forget the dance I had with my honey by the water and the dance I shared with my dad on the dance floor at the reception. I won't forget the time spent with mom in the pool and with my boys on the boat. I cherish the time spent with my brothers and the time spent with my cousins, aunts and uncles. Thank God for pictures that have helped me capture some very special moments. But as always I regret not having taken pictures with each family member. I'm sure some will surface as we all share pictures.

My cousin Cristina and her new husband Hans had planned this wedding as a three day event. They wanted to provide their family and friends with memories and times full of happiness and life. They completely accomplished their mission! We were all there to witness their commitment to each other and to promise our support. They in turn gave us a life time of memories and three days full of happiness and love. Thank you Hans and Cristina!

On the final night of our stay Cristina's siblings put on a fabulous Bernardo family concert. How beautiful it was to see her 9 siblings, who are all very musically talented, singing her favorite songs. We were missing their mom, my aunt Teresa, who passed away just a few months ago. They had a moment of prayer and a special song dedicated to her which was so very special. I looked around and thanked God for the amazing family I am a part of. I would not have all of these blessings if my aunts and uncles had not been open to life! Even amidst the challenges of having a large family LOVE always prevails. Love always shines through. That is how God ordained it. God is love!

On this Thanksgiving day, I thank God for those who made amazing sacrifices to establish this country that gave a safe haven to my family when they fled Cuba. I thank God for the amazing family that I am blessed to be a part of on both sides of my family and in Pete's family! I thank God for each one of you who are part of our support system and our prayer team. Please be assured of our prayers for each one of you and your families. May you each experience a glimpse of heaven through the love of your family and friends today. May you realize how loved you are and may you take time to be thankful for all of your blessings.
Remember to SAVOR THE BLESSINGS!
Much love,
Cristina

P.S. Health update: please pray for me on Monday as I receive my 3rd treatment. This week before the treatment is always full of great days of feeling like my old self. So, it makes it hard to know that the treatment will send me back to dealing with side effects. With each treatment I get better at assisting my body through the side effects. Thank you all for your prayers and support!

















Tuesday, November 17, 2015

"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose; Besides restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul. He guides me in right paths for his name's sake. Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me COURAGE.
You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life; And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come." Psalm 23

I just had to include the entire Psalm! It is so beautiful and full of so many great promises and assurances. I am grateful that God presented this Psalm to me this morning. I have had a couple of very emotional days as I deal with continued exhaustion. I am just not one to have to live life at such a slow pace. This is really tough! When I feel some energy I think, "Oh good, I can pick up the pace again." But then I quickly become exhausted and must retreat.

I know this is temporary and I know this is all in God's timing. It's just some days it is harder to accept than others. But I must say that I now have a new perspective on Psalm 23. I love that it promises courage and that my cup will overflow. On the difficult days I must hold on to these promises and remember that in God's time I will be restored to good health.

Thank you to all for your continued encouragement and support. You are all in our prayers.
As we prepare to gather with family for the Thanksgiving holiday, let us remember to SAVOR THE BLESSINGS!

Sunday, November 15, 2015


"Indeed the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Heb 4:12)

I continue to read and thoroughly enjoy the book Cancer And The Healing Power of Prayer. I have completely stopped reading any type of factual book about cancer. I am really needing to focus on my spiritual health as being sick is spiritually draining for me. My faith does not waiver, but I do tend begin to grow weary. In other times of my life where I felt weary I remember simply relying on the name of Jesus. When I can't seem to put a prayer together, I just repeat the name of Jesus. Well, the author of this book, Fr. Joby, reminds us that simply the name of Jesus is the most powerful prayer. Thank you Lord for making it that easy!

I do want to tell you all about Chapter 8 of the book, "Word- An Elixir of Healing." He explains how the Word of God contains so much power in it. We must learn to rely on it. Read the quote above again. He goes on to devote small sections to each of these topics:
1. The Word of God- Mighty and Empowering
2. The Word of God- Life Giving
3. The Word of God- Healing Elixir
4. The Word of God- Salubrious and Beneficial
5. The Word of God- Salvific
6. The Word of God- Liberating
7. The Word of God- In Our Daily Life
8. Pray Using the Word of God ( He gives 31 Bible quotes with which to pray)

It's funny, ever since I was in high school at St. Pius X in Atlanta, this is the type of reading that has always interested me. I love reading about faith and about matters that positively impact my life and which I can then use to impact other lives. I'll never forget when Msgr. Lopez asked me, in 9th grade, to go with him to IHM (the elementary/middle school) to present a talk to 8th grade students about prayer. He wanted me to tell them about my prayer life. ME???? That experience taught me that we do need to share with each other about what works in our prayer life. Something that works for me may inspire another to deepen their prayer life. In the same way, I love learning from others what works for them. The bottom line is that we must all focus on the Word of God as the basis of our prayer life. All of the answers, all of the comfort, all of the healing, is all within the Word of God, because the Word of God made flesh is Jesus!

Oh, I can tell this Advent is going to be the best one yet for me! I remember experiencing Advent through the eyes of Mary, the Blessed Virgin, when I was pregnant with Paul through Advent. That was a very special time. Now, I will experience Advent in a totally different light, one of waiting for the Word of God, waiting on the Messiah to bring peace. What a blessing to be given a different perspective for Advent this year.

Health Update:
I continue to be quite tired, needing to take at least one nap each day. Yesterday, after attending Paul's soccer game and end of the season party, I came home and took a 3 hour nap. It was great to wake up to UGA winning!  I continue to deal with GI issues which are a normal side effect of the chemo I am receiving. Thankfully I know it will only last a few days and then I'll be fine. The boys are enjoying my ever changing hat and wig styles. We are having fun with that.

On a very happy note, the doctor has given me the go ahead to travel to the Keys for my cousin's wedding. We had planned this trip long before I was diagnosed and as God would have it, the wedding falls on the week before my 3rd treatment. That means I will be feeling great during that week. The doctor said since my blood counts have been so good that I would be fine to travel. We will be driving and staying at a cousin's house, so exposure to illnesses will be minimal. No doubt the sun and salty air and water will be good for us! Not to mention fun times with extended family, which is also very healing!

Angel visits abound! I was blessed by visits from Julie and Kelly who came to help me shave my head and who also lifted by spirits. I was also visited by a very special essential oil mentor and friend, Kelly, who brought me much peace and happiness. My business team acted as my hands in setting up a meeting for our larger team. Mom, my "hovering angel" continues to wear herself out taking care of us. And I use the word "hovering" in a good way. She doesn't let any need slip by her. Our dear neighbors spent time with us yesterday assisting Pete and the boys with the yard work.
We continue to be blessed by angels from church, school and work who are supporting us with meals, prayers, loving cards, gift cards, knitted hats and LOVE! On a day that I was really feeling down and sick, I was surprised by a beautiful delivery of gorgeous red roses sent by Pete's uncles, Marty and Charlie. And I continue to receive supportive texts, phone calls and e-mails from so many. Thank you to each one of you for your prayers! Thank you for thinking about us and reaching out to us. Your love is making these days fly by. Before we know it, we will be on the other side of this journey still counting our many blessings!

This coming week should be a little easier. So, hopefully life will be a little more normal. I pray that each one of you will take time to enjoy the Word of God and to SAVOR THE BLESSINGS!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Do not worry about your life...

"Then Jesus said to his disciples; "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens; They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?" Luke 12:22-25

This messages resonates so strongly with me these days following my second round of treatment. Thankfully, since the second treatment did not contain as heavy a dose of the chemo therapy drugs, my body seems to be bouncing back even faster. However, on Sunday and Monday as I dealt with the worst of the side effects of nausea and complete exhaustion, it was quite overwhelming. I was thankful that they were rainy dreary days that invited me to stay in pjs and just relax. I will admit, it is tough at times to just rest and trust that in a day or two I will feel better. The verse above reminds me to trust!

Yesterday I had the beautiful blessing of meeting Thelema, a certified nutritionist who works with the Gwinnett Medical Cancer Center in assisting patients with supporting their body through the chemo therapy sessions and recovering afterward. I finally met a kindred spirit in this medical world! She is so very knowledgeable on the power of food on our bodies. She knew exactly how to direct me to assist my body with the side effects and even minimize them as we continue through the treatments. She really should have been my FIRST appointment after diagnosis. Just as the chemo teaching appointment was not optional, this appointment with the nutritionist should have not been optional and should have happened BEFORE treatments began. Since the medical doctors just don't know about the power of food and nutrition, it is imperative that patients meet with someone who does. Thelema is just that person! We enjoyed an almost 2 hour visit of going through my diet and sharing information with each other about the research we have been reading. I thank God for her presence on my journey! Another angel, another blessing!

Imagine my good fortune when coming out of that appointment I ran into Amy, my friend and breast health navigator. She made time to sit with me and just chat to check in on all things. I treasure her friendship and professional knowledge. She is always so good to remind me that this is journey with an end. I will get through this and she will be there with me all the way. Poor Amy gets to listen to my views on the disappointments I face with the medical community. Maybe I am going through this to help initiate some changes. For example, how is it that the volunteers at the cancer center where people are receiving their chemo therapy treatments, are handing out Oreos, Fritos, and Doritos as snacks to the patients? Why couldn't they hand out sleeves of almonds, walnuts, raisins, carrot stick packs, etc.? Why not use that time to education patients on the foods and drinks that will actually help their body heal?  They also like to hand out Ensure and Boost. Did you know that the second ingredient in those drink is Corn Syrup? That is AWFUL for our body, especially a body that is needing to heal from cancer. YES, there are alternatives. YES, they are more expensive, but can't a donor provide those? That is my mission!!!! One step at a time we need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. If the Cancer Center is really there to aid in our healing, then everything they do should point to that end. I am thankful that they provide a filtered water station where we can refill our bottles. And they provide a refrigerator and freezer where we can store our own snacks and meals.

So continues the struggle of wanting to go on doing what I know to be good and right and finding that the medical community is not on board with all that I have learned. I have found my one partner "in crime" now which is all I need. : )

Since I last wrote, I have been notified by another friend of her recent diagnosis with another type of cancer. Please add Joann to your prayer list. She is being treated at Emory and has to be hospitalized for 5 days every time she receives her treatment. She also trusts in God's providence and believes in the power of prayer. Thank you for adding her to your list.

I pray that you each are doing well and learning all you can about to best care for your body, the temple of the Holy Spirit. I'll be in touch again soon.
Much love,
Cristina

Saturday, November 7, 2015

"Honor doctors for their services, since indeed the Lord created them. Healing comes from the Most High, and the king will reward them" (Eccl. 38:1,2)
"I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians, for I am the Lord who heals you" (Exo. 15:26)

These quotes certainly come from the Bible, but I found them in an AMAZING book given to me my a dear family friend, Nilsa. The book is titled, Cancer and the Healing Power of Prayer by Fr. Joby Kachappilly V.C.      It is truly a beautiful book that I highly recommend!

This has been a week of being grateful for doctors and nurses for their choice of going into a profession that they feel passionate about and that took so much time to become experts in. Even though I may get frustrated at their lack of knowledge of how the natural gifts from the earth, from God, can assist with this healing process, I am forever grateful for their knowledge of how modern medicine can work in times of disease. And this gives me an added dimension to one of my missions of teaching others about the gifts of essential oils and other natural remedies that have been used for thousands of years.

I went to see a great GI specialist just to check on all of my stomach and other GI related symptoms. He says all seems to be just side effects of chemo since they all went away two days before I went to see him (just like taking the car into the mechanic). It was great to meet him and know that I have another doctor I can trust. He did give me some suggestions on how to help my body with the acid the chemo is creating. Thankfully I could take some of what he recommended and mix it with what I know does well with in the natural remedies.

So, Thursday I went in for my second round of treatment. The nurses at Gwinett Medical Cancer Center are fabulous! They pay attention to detail and give me room to be with my many visitors. Apparently I am already known as the one who brings a party. Those who know me well, know that makes me happy. The only thing missing up to this point is some Gloria Estefan music and some dancing. But, since my port continues to be positional (meaning I have to be in a reclined position for it to work) then I won't be dancing during chemo. I'll just dance before and after.

My spirit and heart surely dance when my mom is by my side and my dad brings me the Holy Eucharist! What a beautiful way to start each treatment so far. I think we have begun a tradition there. With so much support from our Pastor and other deacons, I know this will continue even if dad can't make it. But I don't think there is much that could keep him away.

Just as dad was leaving and it was getting close to lunch time, Angelina came by to give mom a break so that she could get us all some yummy lunch from Pollo Tropical, close by the hospital, another tradition and another piece of the party. Angelina stayed the rest of the time assisting with things and just being present. Such a gift!
I was looking tired here. 

Here she is putting on my feet mitts to protect my nails during the taxetere drug infusion. 

No pictures of lunch as we have to go eat it in an enclosed break room so as not to nauseate those who are sensitive to odors. We had a wonderful Cuban meal! But as mom and Angelina went to eat lunch another angel stopped by, Chris Wilson. 
I have a feeling he will be a constant. : ) Next week we celebrate the five year anniversary of when his body accepted by kidney. We much to be grateful for!


Then, came an unexpected but very welcomed visitor, my good friend and mentor in the essential oil business, Lori. She happened to be volunteering at the hospital that day and texted me to see if she could come by and visit. God is amazing in how he plants angels all around me! So, she came over for a very nice long visit. We talked about so many topics and just enjoyed a great time!
As you can also see from the pictures, I was adorned in many gifts sent by many angels over the past few weeks. I was so grateful for the colorful blanket given to my by a colleague, and the cool black hat sent to me by Kelley that day through Chris. And you can't see the "red tote" given to me other colleagues that carried everything in that day. I just constantly feel supported and loved! I know this will go a long ways toward my healing. Thank you to all who are praying and being present to me in many ways. Thank you for being the arms and hands of Jesus! Thank you for reflecting HIS love!

I must say, I don't know what we would do without the love and generosity of so many! I especially want to recognize my parents and my mother and father- in-LOVE! They are all the most generous people you have ever met. They give of their love, time, and treasure so freely even from thousands of miles away. I know it isn't easy for the four of them to see this all unfold. However, they have remained strong and ready to act in any way needed. They even know our needs before we do. That's what parents do! I just keep saying, I am forever grateful that God chose for me to go through this while they are all still living. I know they will be a BIG reason why I am able to heal from this.
I love you Mom and Dad, Valerie and Chief! Thank you for all you have ever done for us and continue to do for us!

So, Thursday I came home and slept for a few hours before enjoying another delicious meal that was brought to us. After hanging out with the boys for a couple of hours I went back to bed.

Friday morning I woke up pretty revved up from the steroids I take the days surrounding chemo. So, I got a lot done, even though I didn't blog. I was actually up at 3am. We have a tradition that when you are awake at 3am it because someone needs your prayers. So, I dedicated that hour to praying for all who are suffering from cancer. At 3pm we have another devotion to the hour of Mercy (Learn more about this devotion here: https://www.ewtn.com/Devotionals/mercy/backgr.htm) Well, here I am again this morning right at the 3am hour, another opportunity to meditate on Christ's passion, and pray for those suffering. I really love being up at his quiet time. Know that I am praying for all of you who read the blog as well.

I had two more angels come to visit yesterday, Friday. One is Valerie, whom I have been friends with since grade school. All through high school she was like a big sister to me even though our time there over lapped only by a year. We remained in contact through special events, her visits home from Furman, and many a letter written back and forth. I actually credit her with my love of journaling. Later in our professional careers we found that we were mirroring each other. Then we both shared the journey of infertility together. We have often been amazed at our lives have paralleled. All the while Christ has been at the center of our friendship guiding us and inspiring us. Thank you for the visit and the delicious meals!!! Her visit yesterday was another beautiful time of reconnecting and another vision of an angel!
And can you believe that after all of this I still had another angel visit. Lauranell came by with a surprise visit and a great treat for the guys, fried chicken!!! It is amazing (but it shouldn't be) how God sends people at the right time with the right things for each of us. I didn't get a picture of this beautiful angel. There are a few others whom I also need to capture. Just know you are each captured in my heart and memory.

Friday afternoon, after chemo, now consists of going back to the Gwinnett Medical Center for the shot of Neulasta which forces by bone marrow to produce more white blood cells so that I stay healthy through the treatments. It worked very well last time even though the side effect was painful bone pain. This time I am staying on top of the medical remedy for that, which is taking a Claritin pill the day before, the day of, and seven days after. There is apparently something in Claritin specifically that keeps the bone pain away. I tried my natural remedies last time, trying to keep one less drug in my body, and it just didn't work. So, this time I'll do the Claritin thing. 

From there we went to Great Clips to get my head shaved. Thankfully, my friend Pam was there and she took great care of me. It was great to be flanked by family as the hair came off. My oldest son, Ricky, was self designated photographer. I'll admit, it was tough sitting in front of that huge mirror and watching the remaining hair come off. However, in the end it felt so good. I was experiencing a lot of pain at the hair follicles. I guess they just weren't used to all of the exposure up there. Also, I was losing a lot of hair everywhere I went. It was time to just have it taken off. One less thing to worry about. The boys and Pam made it fun! Here are a few pictures.
 The boys just had to see mommy with a Mohawk. I love that you can see Ricky taking this picture!

The final look. It's not as bad as I expected it to be. But I don't think I'll be going out in public much looking bald. I have some great hats, scarves and a beautiful wig that I will get to wear and have fun with. 

There are many other angels who text me, call me, message me on FB and send me cards and e-mails. Thank you all so much! Every message means so much to me and the family. I keep a big basket with all of the cards right next to my prayer chair and I love going through them. Be assured of my prayers for each of you!

Today will most likely be a day of great rest. Soccer is canceled due to the rain and I'm sure the boys will have things to do with friends while Pete prepares their school for the big fundraising event tonight. I am going to miss being there with friends, but will keep them all in prayer for a successful event. I'm taking one day at a time for this long journey. Thank you for being by our side on the journey in your many ways of being present. May God bless each one of you!




Thursday, November 5, 2015

"I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land." - Genesis 28:15

"And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus."- Philippians 4:19

" I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation." - Philippians 4:12


Wow, these three verses for today's reflection in the book Jesus Calling, really apply to my feelings for the day. I know that God is holding me in his arms as I go for my second treatment today. Please know that the treatments themselves are not painful, in fact the experience of being taken care of by the wonderful nurses and having a family member or friend spend time with me is rather enjoyable. I am also "forced" to recline the entire time since my port is "positional." So, so much for doing work. I have to just be present in the moment as I pray, enjoy the company and sleep.

The anxiety I feel going into treatment day is really about worrying about the side effects that will come. However, I am reminded time and time again through our Lord's promises that I need not worry. God will fulfill every need. I need to look at each day and even at each side effect as an opportunity. Indeed I have already been given so many opportunities to share God's love and to share the amazing gifts he has given us in the essential oils. I have shared the oils with nurses, doctors and patients. And people follow my blog and get to know me, then hopefully they see that all of the answers to our anxieties lie in knowing God's love and following His commandments.

Friends and Family, I ask you to add three more friends to your list of those who are healing from cancer. I can't believe I forgot to list them yesterday. God brought their names to my mind this morning which is actually why I am up so early.(I can't figure out how to change the time stamp on this blog, but it is actually 2:55am on Thursday, Nov. 5th)  I knew I needed to put their names out there for you to pray for them. Please pray for Jason, Doug and Victoria. They each have different types of cancer and are at different stages of the healing process. Thank you for praying for them as well.

May this be blessed and full of opportunities for each of you to share God's love.
Remember, you can call me or e-mail me at any time to discuss either God's promises or the gifts he has provided through essential oils. For those who don't know, I am a Wellness Advocate with the leading essential oil provider and I teach classes at night on the weekends about how to use essential oils to promote well being and to protect ourselves and our families from threats. Call me at 404-542-9210 or e-mail me at cristinazakis@yahoo.com.

Remember to #Savortheblessings!


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

"Do you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own." 1 Corinthians 6:19

This verse brought me much comfort this morning as I work to accept all that is going on with my body these days. I am getting used to have a different look with my hair and working toward accepting the fact that I am needing to heal my body and that everything I do should work toward that end.  The verse made me think, do I live my life as if my body is truly the temple of the Holy Spirit? Do I treat my body as the gift that God gave me temporarily while on earth?

I also reflected on the fact that no matter how I feel about my body these days, it's defining attribute is that God lives within me and I live for God! Therefore, even through suffering and uncomfortableness with my body, I must reflect God's love and peace. It shouldn't be a forced feeling because since God is within me (thanks the my parents' gift of Baptism and guidance on my spiritual journey) I have peace and I have love. GOD IS LOVE! When we live with love in us the peace emanates from within (most of the time). We are certainly still human and human nature involves anxiety and fear. But as long as I keep focused on God and his promises, I will be able to have peace and share His love.

How could I not be full of His love when so many of you are pouring His love right into us? Thank you for the phone calls, the texts, the e-mails, cards in the mail, meals, prayers and masses that are being offered. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the many ways you are sharing HIS love with us!

I have had a few days of feeling close to my old self. I have had the energy to live my usual life and to have fun with the boys. I even had enough energy to help Pete out around the house. Today I will visit a GI specialist to check on my digestive system as I experienced so much stomach discomfort with the first round of chemo. However, I can't help but think about how tomorrow I go for my second round of chemo and will again live one day at a time as my body recovers and heals. I will be forever grateful for the way so many of my colleagues are supporting me and covering for me on the days I can't even answer e-mails. I have an amazing support system at work. I am blessed to work with FRIENDS, not just colleagues.

We are thankful for so many of you who also chip in and help Pete and the boys on those days that I am out of commission. What an amazing support system we have with our family, friends from church, Regina Caeli Academy, and friends from various stages of our life. It's been great hearing from childhood friends and friends of my parents who have known me all of my life. What a blessing!

Yes, there have already been many blessings on this journey and God is teaching me to savor every one of them. I pray that each one of you will be given the blessing of being led to savor every moment and every blessing in your life!

Please pray for me and my family in the coming days as I recover from the second round of treatment. It shouldn't be as difficult as the last one.  I also ask that you pray for my dear friends, Nikki, Laura, Gisela and Fr. Joseph who are each also living with cancer right now in various stages.
God bless each one of you!
Remember to SAVOR THE BLESSINGS!

I am just realizing how easy it is to add pictures to the blog. So, or all of you who are not on Facebook and haven't been seeing these pictures, here are a few.

Below are some of the ANGELS who appeared at my first treatment and who, honestly, have been around me at various moments on this journey already. I wish I could capture all of my angels in pictures. I'll be sharing more of them with you throughout future blog posts. (P.S. I no longer have all of that hair.)
 Amy Trammel, long time friend from our neighborhood and the one who has assigned to be my "Breast Health Navigator" with Gwinnett Medical Center. AMAZING!
 Mom and Dad! They brought me the Holy Eucharist and so much more!
 What are the chances that my little brother, Mike, would have rounds at Gwinnett Medical on the day of my first treatment. Such a happy moment to see him! He is in the process of becoming a Gwinnett County Firefighter.
My wonderful husband Pete, my dad and my brother Mike making me laugh!

My sister, Elena, and her family were every present as they sent me a gorgeous spiritual bouquet full of their promised prayers. Such a blessing!
My brother Gene and nephew Joseph even came to visit me on their way home from a long trip.
 
Chris Wilson, my kidney brother, was there to be sure the treatment was off to a good start and to support Pete. He and his wife Kelley are always there for us!