"It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn your statutes." Psalm 119:71

Friday, December 31, 2010

Is It 2011 Yet?

Today is the last day of the worst year of all my years.

"Forbid that I should walk through Thy beautiful world with unseeing eyes."
--John Baillie

Click below to enjoy one of the best things in this beautiful world (in my humble opinion)...
Classic country music! And the lyrics I'm claiming for 2011...

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Moving On

I've had big plans for a huge cancer-free bash since almost the day of my diagnosis. Because I enjoy planning events, thinking of this up-and-coming party gave me plenty to think about while I was sick from chemo.

But I'm feeling differently now.

Christmas 2010 has come and gone. And I had four separate family Christmases. And at each one of them, cancer was far from my mind. Who has time to think about cancer when it's Christmas, right? Luckily, my treatment was far behind me (and my surgery so far ahead) that I was able to enjoy Christmas as "just me" again. Not, "Me with Cancer."

So, I'm over the label. I'm past the illness. I don't want to give anymore attention to it. And that includes planning a party. It's not the celebratory event or mood that I mind. It's the effort it would take me to throw the party. And each minute of planning would just be me sitting amongst the memories. And however enjoyable the planning was, I'd be inwardly wallowing at losing more moments to this dreaded disease. Someday, in the future, perhaps, I'll plan the charity event I've thought of for so many months.

For now, I'm just moving on.

I've still got the bruises, metaphorically speaking. And I've been changed in more ways than I can count. So I'll never be the same. But, thankfully I don't have to stay in this moment. It's like covering a wall with new wall paper. You can smooth the new paper over the old and have a shiny new appearance. But, with one intentional scrape of a finger nail you can reveal the old paper below.

I don't want to spend any more time dwelling on having been sick. I want to put up new wall paper. Maybe some paint. The room looks new but the foundation is the same.

"I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed.This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them. O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him."
Psalm 34:4-8

God heard me.
My face has been lightened.
I have been saved from my troubles.
I have been delivered.
I am blessed.

And now I'm moving on.
Never to forget, but never to live in the past.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

More Along Those Lines

Read this post. This woman is a beautiful, moving writer and her tumbling ideas and speech in this post describe how Terry and I have been feeling about living radical lives.

It's worth your time. 

(Note: she calls her husband "farmer.")

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Accountability and an Awkward Topic

Since you were all a huge part in getting us through this last year, I think it's important that Terry and I stay accountable to you.

We are very transparent about finances. That's partly because of our "chatty" generation, and partly because of Dave Ramsey's influence. We haven't been shy in admitting our early financial mistakes and our attempts in the last few years to get things in order.

Before I was diagnosed this year, we paid off our car, were no longer paying credit card debt, and for the first time in a while, had a savings account that was growing. We had mastered Dave Ramsey's envelope system and we were, for the first time in years, not stressing about money.

But since we had just barely righted ourselves, this illness was all it took to send us back in this area. We were at the store the day before my mastectomy and I got a call from the hospital letting us know what our part of the cost of the surgery would be. I was mentally and physically exhausted, and the number the woman gave us felt so high. I ended up sitting on the floor of the store with my head in my hands, thinking, "How can I pay for this?"

Before we left the store Terry and I had prayed and left it up to God.

And as an answer to our prayers, so many of you were there for us financially. You sent checks and giftcards, sometimes with explicit instructions on what to spend money on, and sometimes not.

And even though we're far from perfect, we tried to use your gifts the best way we knew how. And oddly enough, the last two non-fiction books I've read have been about money within God's kingdom and Terry and I are excited about what God's teaching us about it.

And so, since so many of you have blessed us (and we pray you're blessed a hundred times over for it!) we wanted to take a moment to let you know that, yes, we are going to Disney World. But no, we are not paying for it.

You may think it's silly for me to address this topic, but I wanted to be very clear that we haven't taken any monetary gifts and shoved them into a vacation fund! We are blessed that my Dad and Step-Mom offered to fly all four of us to Orlando and they're treating us to a stay in a beautiful condo and four days at the parks. We don't deserve a trip, but we're so very grateful for it.

And I wanted to be accountable to you. You've prayed for us, served us, and sacrificed for us. This wasn't just my journey, but all of your's too. Terry and I will be accountable to you, not just financially, but spiritually as well. We want to use what we've learned the best we can so that all of your hard work and prayers are honored.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Year In Waiting

(*If you're not up for reading a long post, make sure you scroll down and read about how to submit prayer requests.)

Last year for Christmas Kelly and Kyle gave me Mike Huckabee's Christmas book. I was reading another book at the time, so I put the book on the shelf to read later. But when 'later' rolled around I didn't feel like reading a Christmas book when it wasn't Christmas. So over this past weekend, I curled up in bed with a cup of coffee, turned on the Christmas lights in our bedroom, and started reading.

It's a great book. A simple read, (In fact, it's called A Simple Christmas) that features 12 sections on different themes that Huckabee relates to certain memorable Christmases. The first few chapters were on Patience, Sacrifice, Lonliness, Family, Traditions.

Halfway through the book I got to the section called, "Crisis."

When Huckabee was in his first year of marriage, when he and his spouse were both 20, the doctors found a large tumor in his wife's spinal canal. He writes that just after the doctor gave him the bad news, "...I sat there alone trying to soak in what he had just told me. Cancer. That's a word that twenty-year-old healthy women (or their 20-year-old-husbands) are not supposed to be faced with, but here I was trying to come to terms with the fact that my wife had it."

"...If there was silver lining in this cloud, my tear-filled eyes couldn't see it. I did my best to outwardly show confidence and optimism, primarily to keep Janet from giving up and also to further the facade that my faith was unshaken and firm in the face of such unexpected news."

There was much more involved in their crisis though. They were struggling financially, Mike was in his last semester of college. Their car was broken into while they were both at the hospital and many of his school books were taken.

And her tumor was in such an awful place that doctors said she would either be paralyzed from the surgery or, once they opened her up, they would find it inoperable and she would have a few months to live at best.

After the surgery, the surgeon came to talk to Mike. "Dr. Fletcher then calmly and gently told us that when he had gotten to the tumor, expecting it to be firmly attached or wrapped in the spinal cord, he had started the extraction and it had simply dislodged. He said he was surprised, but he had been able to remove the four-or five-inch elongated tumor that had grown inside the bony structure of her spine. I'll never forget him saying, "I think you guys had a lot of people praying for her... and me."

Janet's recovery was long because of the back surgery. She underwent radiation once she was well enough. They got up at 4 a.m. every day to drive 75 miles each way, to sit at a doctors office for an hour, then get back home in time for Huckabee to go to work and school.

And, then, just a few weeks after her treatment, it was Christmas time.

"The Christmas of 1975 was perhaps our simplest ever. Neither of us had money to buy anything for the other that year. But neither of us wanted any "thing" anyway... Something was dramatically different about this Christmas. We had made it to Christmas, and life and hope were all that we wanted. The lights were just as bright and the Christmas food was just as good, but it was the first Christmas ever that no gift at all could have equalled the one we cherished most. We celebrated life itself, and it was a pretty good reminder of what really matters in life... That Christmas we learned that God's greatest gift to us is not to remove us from crisis, but to walk through crisis with us. He does not do us a favor by taking us out of all the trials and tribulations of life, but strengthens us by giving us the grace to get through them and emerge on the other side having realized that what we thought we couldn't endure, we in fact just did."

"How often do we ask for the gift of escape from a problem and instead it seems to escalate? When we want Christmas to represent the easy path and the glittery gifts, we fail to understand that the real message of the Messiah is that the first Christmas was the opposite of easy. It was more about long stretches of darkness and lonliness, instead of the stunning stars that were eventually seen in the night sky. Before the angels sang and the shepherds saw stars, a scared couple fumbled their was around a strange town and endured pain and humiliation. True faith is forged in the furnace, not in the showroom."

This book was a gift, a year in waiting. It would have made for a nice read had I picked it up in December 2009. But this year, it meant so much more.

I hope you've noticed that there are now prayer requests listed on my blog, jus to the right of my posts. Christmas is the most trying time to face difficulties, and I'd like to pray for you if you're going through one. Email me at pray28cancer@yahoo.com with any requests. Unless you specifically request that I don't, I'll list the requests on the blog for others to pray about. 

And if you aren't sure about the story of the first Christmas, if you aren't certain that you do have faith to get you through your trials, read Luke 2 and choose to put your hope in Christ, who came into our world as a baby, but will someday come back as the King.  

Monday, December 6, 2010

Slow Down!

So busy. So busy!! Did I sit down today? Did I sit down all weekend??

I can't stop moving- it's The Reason for the season that's got me anxious to do all I can do to spread His message of hope this year! What can I do? Who can I help? How do I teach my kids it's not about gifts? How do I include a message of Christ's love in my thank-you gifts to Micah's pre-school teachers? How do I remember that its not about gifts-- the ones I get OR the ones I give?

I won't be overwhelmed with chores, to-do lists, or how to buy bigger, better presents. I won't care about wrapping paper, curling ribbon, or gift cards.

I will be overjoyed by the true miracle of it all. I will sing carols and reach out to the needy (which is you, me, your next-door neighbor. Be careful how you define needy or you could miss out on plenty who really need help.) I will pray, pray, pray. I will S-L-O-W  D-O-W-N beginning... NOW!

Every year I say I hate the pace of this special season. I believe our enemy's got us right where he wants us. If we're so consumed with shopping, gift-giving, creating traditions, and attending every party we're invited to, then before we know it... Christmas is over. And we've not stopped to get on our knees and worship. To say how much we're humbled by His grandness. To imagine the sky filled with angels singing the greatest birthday song. It's heart-breaking that I was thisclose to letting it all pass in a blur again!

I had cancer this year. I did! Really-- it wasn't a dream. It's come flashing into my life like lightning, quickening the pace of life and making me dash through things at a break-neck speed! Get-to-the-end-of-it! Get done, get done, get done! Be over, be over, be over!

But now it's time to stop all of that. It's time I looked up again and just sat and talked with my God. The one who "stepped down from his throne... to romance a world that is torn all apart." When Jesus left the wonders of heaven to join the human race and be born into a world full of hate, disease, and selfishness,
 He
      did
             it
                 for
                     ...me.

 Luke 2:14, New American Standard
"Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased."

Friday, December 3, 2010

How You Can Help

Help this family this holiday season. This mom and her sons are members of our church and they've had a hard year. Click the link below for more info.

http://www.khou.com/younews/110952749.html

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Etc.

What made me mad today: difficulties getting hospital staff to FOCUS!

What made me laugh today: when the man doing my bone density scan asked, after being surprised to learn that I was a breast cancer survivor, "Did you eat lead paint when you were little?"

What scared me today: smelling the soap in the oncologist's office. That smell immediately reminds me of sickness and fear!

What made me happy today: generous friends, a smoothie, hugs from my boys, a good book, and the premier of a new season of Top Chef!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Someday

Some days I'd like a mulligan.
A do-over.
A "go back."

Some days I don't care about my new perspective, my new sense of self, or my new take on life.

Some days I'm grouchy and I want to toss my prescriptions, delete my doctors' numbers from my phone, and clear the bookshelves of cancer 'memorabilia.'
---

Some days I want to wear pink, head to toe. Some days I want to shout out about surviving. Some days I want to lose a few hours researching the illness online.

Some days I ask what I can do to help. How can I make it better? Some days I want to embrace the cause and honor those who are still fighting.
---

Usually I just don't want the label anymore. Usually I want to be the best version of me, a personality independent of cancer. I want my family to move on. Usually I'm longing for this to be a shadow of a memory.
---

Mostly I want to figure out what it is God intends to make of all this. Mostly I want the desires of my heart to match his desires. Mostly I want to want to ignore the rest and really be able to say, "Here am I. Send me."

Someday I'll get the hang of it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanks

Thank you husband for not giving up.
Thank you Micah and Caleb for being your fabulous selves.
Thank you Mel L. for being tireless and generous, attentive, and knowing.
Thank you Paul P. for being so wise and so available to me. (And for the constant kick in the pants.)
Thank you accountability partner for reminding me how to live.
Thank you to "The Fam" for giving me the Nook, making me laugh and supporting me always.

Thank you small group for your friendship and sarcasm. And the meals, prayers, and yard work.
Thank you parents (all four of you) for being supportive and understanding.
Thank you Copperfield Church for the meals, community, and encouragement.
Thank you Laura G., Jill C., Jennie B., Michelle S., Lindsey D., Emily R., and Copperfield staff and PNO for taking good care of the boys.
Thank you Kelly B. for the overnight babysitting and housecleaning while I was in the hospital.
Thank you kind strangers and friends for the generous monetary gifts. Including Mel L., Olivia B., Cari F., Jennifer R. Dad and Donna, Scott W., Karen W.
Thank you Angels in Action for the meals, the cards, the blanket, the money to help with car repairs and my wig.
Thank you Linda C. for the weekend at the Purple House.
Thank you Mark B. for ALL THAT yard care.
Thank you Lizzie and Justin for lending us Michelle!
Thank you Mercer employees for picking up the slack and allowing Terry so much time out of the office.
Thank you Lindsey D., Emily R., Olivia B., Cari F., Susan D., Ashley Q., Liz W., and Leslie W. for Eagle's Nest tuition.
Thank you Dad and Donna for the upcoming trip to Disney.
Thank you Mom for all the groceries.
Thank you Pastor Larry and Pam P. for visiting at the hospital.
Thank you Aunt Janeal, Aunt Judy and families for the meals, cards, plants, support.
Thank you Brandy P. for the housekeeping. And the "I know how you feel" talks.
Thank you Wendy for the quilt and all the work that went into it.
Thank you Cheryl S. and church group for the quilt and prayers.
Thank you Sherry B. for encouragement about my wig and the loving emails.
Thank you Bobbie H. for your quick action and helpful supplies.
Thank you fellow pink survivors for seeking me out and giving me advice.
Thank you Laura K. for going before me and making it look easy. You make short hair look stunning!
Thank you Christina C. for the selfless help with chores, shopping, and cleaning.
Thank you Chelsea J. for cutting my hair off.
Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Horton for the words of encouragement, and the "Bald is Beautiful" and "Here I Am" plaques.
Thank you Ken W. for your time spent working on the truck.
Thank you Dr. Morgan, Dr. Heyne, Dr. Zimmerman, Chris for the quality medical care.

Thank you for the prayers. Thank you for the gift cards. Thank you for the cards and letters. Thank you for the flowers. Thank you for the meals. Thank you for being there. Thank you for reading my silly blog. Thank you for remembering us in your prayers.

I've much to be grateful for. Seeing how much help we've been given is mind-blowing.

Thank you God for my salvation,
for the big things and the small.
Thank you for friends and family.
I pray you bless them all.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

WEEEEE!

That's just me,
being foot-loose and fancy freeee!!




(Some of you have asked about my "cancer-free party." It will be Spring of 2011. A great big bash! Details soon...)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Marriage on THE Rock

When Terry and I got married we chose a Bible verse to represent our hopes for the marriage: Matthew 7:25. When I go back and read that verse now I can't help but wonder what God was thinking when our Pastor read those words at our wedding. Did He laugh at our choice of scripture which would indeed become a very true description of the early years of our marriage? Or did His heart break at what He knew lay ahead for us?

"The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock." Matthew 7:25

We wanted our marriage to stand the test of time because we built it on the very firm foundation of Christ.

My treatment is over. My cancer is gone. But Terry and I would both agree we're still facing the rain and the winds. We've been together for nearly 10 years. Once we started dating we were almost inseperable. And for 10 years we've developed some strong traditions. We were alike in thought and attitude in the beginning, but after a decade we've grown even more similar. We agree over the big things, and most of the small things too. For years we'd go to bed at the same time every night, always together. We'd talk on the phone while he drove to work, and again when he drove home. We spent our free time together, we spent our busy times wanting to get back together.

And then out of no where I got sick. And we couldn't be a couple anymore. I had to be at doctor appointments. I had to be sick but hide the worst of the illness from the kids. I had to be diligent to fight away depression. I had to be strong when we headed into surgery where I would voluntarily offer up part of my female identity to be cut into and cut away.

Terry had to be at work. He had to be with the kids. He had to be in charge of paying the bills and cleaning the house. He had to be sure he was always at work when it mattered, so they still saw him as a valuable part of the team. He had to relay the messages of my progress, pre-op and post-op. He had to be ok with me being sick.

We couldn't be a couple anymore because our lives suddenly depended on us being indpendent beings who could tackle our "to-do" lists. There's still been love. Always lots and lots of love. But there hasn't been much togetherness. Gone are the days of going to bed together. I've been turning in at the same time as the kids and Terry's been up until the sun rises trying to get work done. Date nights have dwindled due to budgetary constraints and time constraints and fatigue. And somehow when we do go out it usually ends up being with other people.

I looked at Terry a few nights ago and just felt like, "Where have you been?"

What I do know is where our marriage is going. Good places. Great, big, golden-anniversary places! And the way we're going to make it there is that we've acknowledged what a funky spot we're in now and we're setting out to get back on the right path. There were so many days during the last 6 months when I'd look at Terry at the end of the day and say, "I need such and such." And he'd respond with his own long list of needs. We were both desperate for help and at the same time both so empty that we had nothing to give. I truly believe that this was a recipe for disaster... We would have ended up resenting each other had it not been for our ability to turn to God to supply all our needs.

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

I married Terry because I love him. And because he likes board games as much as me. Because he is a homebody and because his jokes are so cheesy. Because he loves kids. Because he likes to take me out to eat Mexican food. Because he likes to dance with me even though I have no rhythm.

But I'm so grateful that God has helped me to understand that it isn't Terry who will make me happy in life or give me the things I want or need. I believe we would be sitting in couples counseling right now if we didn't both go to God during this process. He gave us strength. He gave us love. He gave us hope.

And then we were able to go back to each other feeling content just knowing we were still with our loved one. And now that our dark sky is beginning to allow the sun to peek through, we see that we've made it intact. And now we can rebuild the intimacy that existed before.

I hope this is the hardest thing that our marriage will ever endure. And I hope that when the next storm comes we can look back and see that if God could carry us through this, then He will surely be faithful to help us uphold His beautiful marriage design during the next curveball life throws us.

I've said it for a decade now-- Terry is the biggest blessing in my life. He is my best friend and "holy smokes" I'm grateful for him! He's seen me bald, bruised, and broken and still fought to hang in there for me. I told him last week that we have a new song. More specifically, it's my song for him... (Swerdna Eiluj, husband!)

If it all falls apart, I will know deep in my heart



The only dream that mattered had come true


In this life, I was loved by you


Monday, November 15, 2010

DONE!

I am still celebrating! It's five days since my last cancer treatment and I'm still in celebration mode!! I am so happy to be finished! It's weird how my worries have diminshed so much just by being done with treatment. I've been in remission almost since the beginning, but I never felt like it until I walked out of the doctor's office last Wednesday.

After my final treatment, I saw Dr. Morgan and then I walked out of his office to a hallway full of applause! They made me ring the bell and I even got a certificate (what am I gonna do with a certificate for completion of radiation?), a t-shirt, a mug, and pens. I was really embarrassed by the attention and I kind of wanted to remind everyone that all I've done to "complete" my radiation is lie on a table every day!

(Skip this paragraph if you don't want slimy details of my skin reaction to radiation...) My skin has gotten much worse since the previous post with pictures. It has scabbed over, peeled, bubbled, and oozed. It's really very disgusting! I've been putting gauze over it when I go out and when it's time to take the gauze off, it pulls a layer of skin with it! Even though it looks so much worse, the pain is gone. It was really bad for about a week and now I'm back to feeling fine! Not so bad huh!?

So Wednesday my mom and Laura came to meet me after my final radiation and we went to Pei Wei (Yum!) and then Christmas shopping. I want to say a BIG thank you to Lizzie and Michelle because I wouldn't have been able to enjoy the shopping as much if I'd brought the boys along. They worked it out so that I had a babysitter for as long as I wanted that day!

Laura came back to my house for about an hour (Terry got off work early! Such a treat!). And then we all got in the car to go to my "Surprise" dinner. Turns out my family isn't so good at keeping secrets because by the time I pulled up to the Mexican restaurant, three people had spilled the beans! But it was still a lot of fun! And I was so happy to see Emily and James who drove all the way from the other side of town! I didn't take pictures because I was too busy celebrating, but here are a few Mel took.



















Micah wore this Super Why mask to dinner. He carried a toy hammer and said he was "Punching Guy!"

Monday, November 8, 2010

Cloudy Days

Yesterday at church we learned about storms. We talked about David and how he handled losing his baby son. Pastor Larry talked about how going through storms can be holy. That we can learn a lot while we walk through them. He taught us to pray through them, learn to accept God's will, and then move on.

At the end of the hour he invited all those who were going through storms to go to the front to pray with a staff member. I had to duck my head so Taunya and Terry wouldn't see me cry. I didn't want them to see the tears because I knew they'd be misinterpreted. I wasn't crying because of my storm. I was crying because for the first time in months I don't feel like I'm in a storm anymore at all.

I have three days of radiation left. The area being treated looks much worse than the last pictures I posted. And I will still have surgery this next summer. But in the midst of all that God has allowed me to finally feel like the storm is passing. I'm sure many of you thought my storm was over as soon as my scans came back clear and I was officially considered in remission. But it's been an uphill battle to come to terms with my higher chances of recurrence. And today I rejoice in the passing clouds because I know that, even as soon as tomorrow, I could hear the thunder again.

Pastor Larry said something about us using our storms to become better people. And that's when I looked around me...

The people sitting near me, friends from our small group, have been going through their own storms in the past year or so...

A divorce.
The sudden death of their dad.
Leaving their newborn twins in the hospital until possibly December.
Waiting for a new heart.

If storms make you better, then our small group is about to cause some damage for the kingdom of God!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Yowza!

(There are pictures below of the effects of radiation. They might make you a bit squeamish. Please know that none of the pictures are of anything innapropriate. Even if I was left with any normal feninine features in the mastectomy area, these pictures would still not be of anything indecent-- just the skin around the area where the tumor was.)

Ok first I'd like to ask for prayer to continue this blog. As my treatment nears its end (only 5 more radiation treatments to go!) I feel more and more like I am ready to leave cancer behind. And much less willing to keep up a blog on it. But it's something I feel called to do. In the beginning I wrote because I wanted an easy way to keep family and friends updated with my progress. Then it became an outlet for my scariest thoughts.
But frankly, it's been really difficult to focus enough on the fears to write it all down. I've learned many lessons, most of them have been recorded, but plenty of them have been too hard to face, much less write down. However, I've continued to feel God urging me to share. I'm constantly reminded by the statistic that 1 out of 8 women will get breast cancer. So maybe I'm in a position to help some of those women just by being transparent in my own journey. But, like I said, it's pretty darn painful to face my fears and allow myself to reflect enough to write about cancer. So I'd appreciate your prayers.
Now on to the "Yowza" part...

Radiation has mostly been a breeze. I've recounted over and over again how lucky I am to be mostly numb in the affected area so that I didn't have pain from the get-go. But now I can REALLY say that I am more grateful than ever because now the pain is creeping up above the numbness and I tremble just thinking about how difficult it would have been to feel this pain since the beginning of treatment 5 weeks ago!

Here's what my skin looked like a few days ago when the pain first started to flare up (up to this point all I'd felt was a soreness and tightening) And no, this is not a picture of any underarm hair. This shot isn't even high enough to include that part of my body, and even if it did, there's still no hair there. If you really want a good look, you can click on the picture and see it upclose where you can tell that you're looking at blisters and peeling skin: (I honestly don't recommend looking any closer though. Although for some reason I imagine Crystal G. and several others of you 'medical types' being interested. = )
 
Here you can see the variation of color in the skin being treated and my normal skin. The purple line on the side is just one of the lines they use to get me in the same spot every day for radiation.

And here's what that same spot looks like today:


Up until today I've been able to use just aspirin but today I had to move up to the "good stuff!" Being at home where I can wear a loose shirt is much better than being out because my bra moves against the bad areas and the weight of my prosthetic hurts a lot. I'm glad my kids are as young as they are because if they were any older and had more awareness they would be scarred forever by the sight of me reaching into my shirt to yank my prosthetic out to get a little relief!
And speaking of my prosthetic, I'm going to post pics of it. Sorry if it's offensive in any way. To me it's just plastic and I thought some of you might be curious. Prosthetics for breast cancer are known commonly in the bc community as foobies (f for "fake").

Here it is...

And here it is in it's little cover that I can take off and wash. You can see the purple stain on the bottom of it. That's because the marker for radiation rubs off onto it.

I think I mentioned that about two weeks ago (or has it been three now?) that I lost all of my eyebrows and eyelashes. I thought that was so odd considering chemotherapy was well over and the rest of my hair was growing back. Thankfully my lashes and brows started growing back almost as soon as they fell out. I'm so thankful for this because losing these things was worse for me than losing the hair on my head. Here you can see that my lashes are growing back (and you can see the few tiny long hairs I've still got which, yes, I've still been putting mascara on!).


And this is how much hair I've got today. Every morning when I look in the mirror I can see how much it's grown. Terry and I love to rub it because it's coming in so super soft! It's still really thin so I'm not quite ready to go without the wig yet.

So to sum up-- Ouch and Yowza!!-- radiation is a bummer! But my last 8 treatments are just to doobie (the mast. area) so the other skin can start to heal. When I was first diagnosed a lot of survivors reached out to me and I remember one of them saying that radiation was only a big deal to people who hadn't gone through chemotherapy as well. I guess that's true. Chemo was 20 times worse, but radiation's no picnic either!

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Hard Week

I've mentioned it several times before but it's very hard to find and keep peace when you're dealing with health issues. Most of the time I am completely ok with my diagnosis, my current status, and my treatment. But then there are times, like this last week, when something somehow dislodges or comes loose and I find myself back at square one. Back at the bottom of the mountain, looking up and thinking, "There is no way I'm climbing that! There's no way I'll ever make it to the top!"

When this murky mood hit me recently I immediately got on my knees, pulled out my Bible, and talked to God. I read scripture after scripture and found that it didn't matter how much I read or how much I pleaded to get some peace- I just felt empty.

And for three days I lived like that- a shadow of a person, just trying, yet again, to crawl into God's lap. Eventually I got there. And I wish I had an answer to tell anyone out there who will ever find themselves in a similar position. But I don't. All I know is that I had enough faith to keep saying that even though things felt scary and dark, I knew that my God was still in control and that if I kept searching long enough, I'd find Him again.

It seems unusual that we have to fight so hard to get to God sometimes. I think it feels unfair that I have to ride this roller coaster of acceptance. I wish I could say that I trusted in God enough that I never had a low moment or a day filled with fear. But there's something about God, something intrinsic to his character-- He isn't a genie in a bottle and He won't always give me what I want when I want it. He loves me enough to teach me again and again that this world, and my happiness in it, is not that important. He loves me enough to allow me to feel pain on earth so that I don't get short-sided, comfortable or selfish while I'm here.

I'm reading The Hole in Our Gospel (phenomenal!) and I read this today and identified...
"'I showed up, Lord. I'm here. It took every ounce of my courage just to be here. But I can't do this job. I feel hopeless for the first time in my life. I don't even know what to do next. It's up to You now. You got me into this, and You'll have to do the rest. Help me.' And He did. For perhaps the first time in my life, God had me right where He wanted me, helpless and relying completely on Him." 

Forgive me, God, for all the times I start to get content and rely on myself. Thank you for the sometimes painful reminders that I can only rely fully on You.

Susan P. texted me yesterday and said she heard a song and God told her it was for me. I'd heard it a hundred times before but somehow never listened to the words. They are moving words that exactly capture how I feel.



Running back to His promises. That perfectly describes my life for the past six months. Continually running back to those promises...

Thanks for the song Susan.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Back and Forth

I'm betting that if you talked to an oncology psychotherapist, I'm right on track with the other thousands of people living with dormant cancer. What are those phases of acceptance? Denial, anger, depression, etc, etc.

Is there a phase called schizophrenic or bi-polar? Cause that's me right now. Up and down, happy and sad, joyful and mad.

I pulled out my pink ribbon coffee mug a few days ago and I felt like it was a huge step for me. It was a good morning, I was embracing my "survivor status." Later that day I decided to venture into my On Demand videos of breast cancer (they are offering a lot of special tv shows on bc in honor of bc awareness month) and I'd eventually turned the tv off feeling depressed. I fumed and daydreamed of burning all of my cancer books in a huge bonfire.

The next morning I thought I'd conquer a left-over effect of chemo- I ordered a green tea smoothie. I used to order them all the time, until I got one the morning of a chemo treatment and from then on couldn't stomach the idea it.

So I walk into Smoothie King and the girl who sees me every morning says, "You want your usual?" And on impulse, I say, "No, give me a green tea smoothie, please!" This may sound like nothing to you, but small things like this are helpful for me. I felt empowered to order this drink I associated with chemotherapy. But three minutes later I was sick to my stomach as I walked to my car with the green drink. And I kept getting more and more nauseous.. and I never coul take even one sip of the smoothie.

Chemotherpay is still with me, even though it's been over a month since my last infusion. My hair is growing back. I look like a chia pet right now. But, my eyebrows are completely gone except for about nine little pathetic hairs on either side. It's weird that my eyebrows didn't fall out until the rest of my hair started growing back.

I still get tingly and numb feet at least once a day, too. Which is also a side effect that didn't really hit me until after chemo. But none of the physical ailments of chemo are as bad as the mental issues I'm still facing from Chemo-Coma or "Chemo brain."

Example: I've always been a fan of Iron Chef. Terry and I used to watch the Japanese version of the tv show in college. And I've seen the American version several times. Earlier this week I was surfing some of the shows On Demand and saw that they had all the episodes of The Next Iron Chef in which they put cooks to the test to see who will be the next competitive star of Iron Chef. I watched 6 episodes of The Next Iron Chef and was watching the finale when it suddenly occured to me that I was watching an old season. And that I had, in fact, seen the winner of Next Iron Chef compete on Iron Chef several times.

Did all that make sense? Simply put, I spent 6 hours of my life watching a competition when I already knew who the winner would be. I just couldn't remember it.

Those of you who are survivors of chemo--- how long does all of this last?

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Weak Little Sissy

It's been over a week since I've written. I've been wading my way through a combat zone- October! It's Breast Cancer Awareness month and it's driving me nuts! While I'm very, very appreciative of all the attention my "popular" disease gets every year, I'm really tired of being reminded about it so much. I know, I know, I sound very ungrateful, huh!?

The truth is that I'm pretty darn annoyed this past week or so. What's that saying about fatigue making quitters of all of us? I'm tired and it's making me grouchy. My radiation onc told me from the get-go that this whole process would make me tired, but I brushed it off thinking that nothing could be harder than chemo.

While I was certainly right about that- radiation is nothing compared to chemo- I have to admit that it's still making me feel pretty exhausted. Every morning I do ok and I guzzle enough coffee to give an elephant a jolt, but by around 4 o'clock I hit a wall and it's all I can muster to get the kids in bed at 8. I've been pushing past being tired, thinking "Who am I to complain? People have it so much worse..." But today I ran into a fellow bc patient at the docs office. She gets radiation just before me and we've struck up a friendship. She didn't have to have chemotherapy, so she quite possibly doesn't have my frame of reference, but today she said, "I'm so tired!" and I was so grateful to her for sharing! I needed someone in my shoes (actually she's had one week less radiation than me) to admit being tired so that I could relax and allow myself to take things a little slower too.

There was a commercial once where this shirt-less man was sucking in his stomach as a pretty woman walked by. After she's out of sight, he lets out his breath and his big belly bulges and drops over his pants. When my friend admitted to being tired today, I mentally 'let my belly out.' It was an immediate and huge relief to stop faking it and say, "Really? You're tired? So I'm not just a weak little sissy? It's ok to be tired? Great news!"

It was a good reminder that sharing our personal feelings and experiences, regarding any matter, is a great thing for us to do. You never know who needs to hear that you've struggled too.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

People on Your Path

Last week I was leaving the house when, as soon as I backed out of the driveway, I spotted a woman walking down the sidewalk on the opposite side of the road. As I drove closer towards her I realized that she was wearing a scarf on her head. And then I saw the tell-tale sign of breast cancer- she had had a mastectomy on one side and wasn't wearing a prosthetic.

I drove a split-second longer, then suddenly slammed on my brakes, parked my car in the middle of the street and left my door wide open as I walked to catch up with her. And the only way I can describe what happened next was that God took over and the Holy Spirit guided me through this conversation.

I said, "Excuse me," and got her attention. She wore no makeup, looked tired, and I could tell she wasn't as old as she appeared. I think she must have been in her late thirties. I said, "I'm being treated for breast cancer right now, and is it ok to assume that you are too?"

She said yes. She told me she was experiencing a recurrence, that it had spread to her lung and that after four years and a lot of chemotherapy her doctors had just told her there was no more hope.

The words I spoke next were from the Holy Spirit as he guided me. I said, "There is always hope. And I'd like to pray for you right now." I grabbed her hands and we stood there on the sidewalk and prayed. I don't remember anything I said, I just remember how wonderful it felt to be in the presence of God on the hot sidewalk in Cypress, Texas. I remember that as I spoke outloud, I was inwardly praising God. For what, I'm not sure. It was actually a sad story that the woman shared. And I identified with her pain. So I find it miraculous and awe-inspiring that I could feel godly peace in that moment.

When I said, "Amen" and looked up, there were three cars patiently waiting on the street. The door of my car was still ajar and no one could get by. We live on a busy street and I was impressed that no one had honked their horns to get our attention. I hope that they could tell by our posture that we were praying and that the Holy Spirit we felt so clearly was also evident to them.

It turns out that Cassandra, the woman I prayed for, was also a believer. I wasn't meant to share the gospel with her that day, but I know I was meant to share that moment with her. I pointed my house out to her and asked her to please come by anytime she wanted. I haven't seen her since. But she's been on my mind every day since then. For me it was a little glimpse of heaven. I didn't know her but I loved her immediately, just as Jesus does. God revealed a little bit more of himself to me that day and I'm still reveling in that palpable presence a week later.

And earlier today, God brought another breast cancer patient into my life. Although hers is a very different story. I met the woman as I picked Micah up from pre-school. She and I were the first to arrive to collect our children (her grandchildren). She was wearing a Komen "race for the cure" t-shirt. It's October- breast cancer awareness month- so I've seen many, many people sporting their pink clothes and Komen gear. But for some reason I decided to ask her about her shirt. "Did you participate in the race?" I asked.

She said, "Yes. I'm a survivor and I walk every year."

It turns out that she is an 18-year survivor. She had stage 3 and it was in her lymph nodes just like me. She said that when she passed the 10-year mark her doctors told her that she was "in the general population." Meaning that she now has no higher chance of recurrence than any other woman. I didn't even know that was possible. And just hearing her story gave me hope.

So, God brought me two women in the last 7 days who've walked my path. One nearing the end of her journey, and one who has put the pain and experience far behind her. I don't know what my journey is going to look like. But I'm grateful that I got to meet these women and hear their tales. I'm grateful that God loves me enough that He takes the time to so intricately weave my life so that I cross certain people's paths at certain times.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Food Fight!

Terry and I have each cooked one meal for our "health food cook-off!" Terry cooked first. Here's what he made:

1. Cod with a lemon butter sauce
2.creamy asparagus
3. black beans and quinoa
4. chocolate covered strawberries

Well, that's what he tried to make anyway. It all started going downhill for him when he attempted the lemon butter sauce. See, a while back I'd accidentally bought vegan butter. I'd been in a rush and seen "All-natural" written on the tub and just grabbed it. I didn't realize till later that my "butter" had no dairy in it! I haven't been cooking with it at all and it tastes ok on the occasional slice of toast. But when Terry attempted to melt it down into a creamy sauce, all he got was a pot of burnt oil. And so he got mad. And gave up on his sauce altogether. So we had cod-minus-the-sauce.

Next he attempted the black beans and quinoa but a few minutes into cooking he decided it didn't "look right" so he tossed it out and made black beans from a can instead. He was really annoyed by this point and said he'd never cook again!

His asparagus dish, on the other hand, was so darn good that I've made it three times since! And the dark chocolate strawberries were great too!

All in all, his dish got a 7 (out of 10) from me. I've told him that he's lucky when it comes to my scoring. I like food in general; doesn't have to be fancy or healthy, is just has to be on a plate (and sometimes not even that!) and I'm happy. Fish- good. Beans- good. Asparagus- gooood!! Way to go, babe!

Sorry there are no pictures of his dish. He was in such a foul mood after cooking that I knew pulling out the camera would send him over the top!

The following week it was my turn. Kelly, Kyle and Eileen were unlucky enough to be visiting us on the day I made my meal! (And the busyness of that night is the reason there's no pics of my food either.)

I made:

1. pear and balsalmic chicken
2. spinach and cauliflower gratin
3. veggie and polenta cakes
4. Almond torte

I really liked the chicken. I think it was the best dish overall. Terry didn't like that my cauliflower was a little undercooked and I thought the sauce on this dish was too sweet (from yogurt). The kids loved the polenta cakes but in the end that dish was waaay too time consuming and not worth making again. The almond torte was wonderful to me because it is the only thing even slightly resembling dessert that I've had in ages. But it was really dry. Not sure if this was because I over cooked it or just because it's a bad recipe. It's made with no flour, sugar, or butter. Just almond meal, eggs (whipped and whipped and whipped some more) and all natural, organic maple syrup.

Terry hated the polenta cakes, didn't even try the torte since he doesn't like dessert, but still gave me a generous 6.5.

And more food tips and finds:

Ezekiel bread! Delicious and so much healthier than even the standard wheat varieties. Find it in the freezer section.  
Stretch Island Fruit Company! Kind of like fruit roll-ups but with only fruit purrees and no added sugar. Great for throwing in your purse. They've replaced Micah's love for those nasty little fruity gel bite things.



Thursday, September 30, 2010

Radiation Explanation

Most women who have mastectomys (from what I've read) don't get radiation treatment. But because my surgeon did a skin-sparing mastectomy (which could possibly leave behind some breast tissue), and because my cancer had spread to the lymph nodes, radiation is a plart of my treatment. It's designed to target any free-floating cancer cells.

Monday was my first day. The radiation tech I mentioned before, Chris, is my main contact during the treatment. He's been great and I've gotten to be very comfortable around him. In fact, today there was another man there in addition to Chris and although he was very nice, he was a bit condescending, talking to me like I speak to my children. And it made me appreciate Chris' laid back attitude even more. The new guy kept drawing out the last syllable of every word. "Liiiiiie realllll stilllll, okaaaaaay?" I wanted to tell him that I have cancer, not brain damage!

I have a 10 a.m. appointment every weekday for 33 visits. The first 25 will all be a high amount of radiation, the last eight will be a lower amount. Here's how each visit goes...

After dropping my kids off, I get to the cancer center (above) about 9:45. It's a really friendly office with a puzzle to work on, magazines and Bibles to read, and there are snacks and cookies in every corner of every room (don't worry Dr. Hill- I avoid them all!). Everyone who works there is really pleasant.

From the main waiting room, I'm called into the smaller radiation waiting room. There's a woman's changing room there and that's where I get into my gown. Everything from the waist up is taken off, including my wig. My gown is kept in a bag with my name on it, so I can access it easily every day. I put my clothes into the bag. Then take it with me to the radiation room.
(The shelf of bags for the gowns inside the changing room.)

Here's where I spend the majority of my time.

Can you see the gorgeous floral scene on the ceiling?
It's really very pretty. But since I have to have my head turned to the side during radiation, I don't really get to see it. I'm sure the patients who face up during radiation enjoy it.

When I get to the room, they've already pulled my mold (the light blue thing on the table) from a locker with my name on it and put it on the table. There's also a purple towel on top of the mold. (I'll get to it's purpose in a minute.)

I lie on the table, put the little triangle pillow under my knees, pull the blanket up (it's cold!) and fit myself into the mold. I wait until the last second to put my arms back because my surgery arm gets really sore from the position it's stretched into.

Once my arms are back, they push a button and the table slides underneath the big machine you can see in the picture (the bed ends up above the big white circle on the floor). I forget what the machine is called but it has the ability to do x-rays and give the radiation. There's a monitor on the wall that tells them the "coordinates" of the bed. Each visit my bed has to be in the same place. They can shift the table up, down, left, and right to get me in the perfect place. Next they pull my gown aside and expose the "x" marks they made on me. There are four lasers coming out of each side of the room (and I think some from the machine itself). In the picture below, you'll see a tan panel on the left, on the wall. That's where one laser comes from.


The cross sections of these lasers have to match up with the marks on my body so they know I'm in the perfect place. It's important for my position to be correct so that only the affected areas of my body get radiation. They spend a good amount of time lining me up-- which I'm grateful for since the spot to be radiated is so near my heart!

Here's where the towel comes in. If my body isn't perfectly aligned with some of the marks, they tell me to "lie heavy" and Chris will pull the towel slightly so that my body shifts and lines up in the right place.

I am getting radiation in three areas. My mastectomy area (I'm tired of typing this out, so from now on my mastectomy area will be known to you by the name I gave it back in May: Doobie.) under my arm, and at the base, left-hand side of my neck (the last two spots are to get any cells in the lymph-nodes).

Once I'm in position, Chris leaves the room. The three-armed machine you see above rotates around me and we start first with x-rays. I hold my breath during each x-ray and when they're satisfied with those results, the round arm (the one at the top of the picture) moves into line with whichever area is being radiated. There's a square screen in the circle part and through that screen I watch skinny, long, metal teeth, kind of like screw drivers, shift into place to form my specific radiation field. The metal teeth will block the radiation and allow it to come out only where there are openings. This is what the doctors were working so hard on during the week after simulation-- getting all these patterns perfect.

Chris comes over the loud speaker and tells me to hold my breath. I hear a slight humming for 15 seconds before I can take a breath. Then we repeat the process and I hear a humming for 30 seconds. When I get radiation to Doobie they use something called Bolus. Otherwise known as Superflab. It simulates a thick layer of skin (I think the stuff is quite fascinating) and by draping it over me it allows the area of skin to get the maximum dose of radiation. You can see superflab in the pic below. It's squishy and soft just like you'd expect a layer of... well, flab to be. And mine even lies in a position quite close to this fella's.


We repeat the x-ray and radiation for the other two areas (without superflab) and then they let me up and I'm on my way.

While my simulation last Monday proved to be a bit traumatic, these subsequent visits have been easy-breezy. Chris is very young and new to his job, so he enjoys answering my many (many, many) questions every day. This whole process is really interesting to me. It's all so scientific, specific, and dangerous. If I had any kind of tolerance for science classes, I might consider a career in radiation. Misty, you'll have to keep us all informed of your progress as you go to school for this. (Do you ever get to just sit and play with superflab? That seems dreamy to me. Can you tell I'm quite taken with it's squishiness? It's the same kind of feeling you get from popping those little packing bubbles that come inside packages.)

The first day I was lying on the table I tried to spend some time praying. But more than likely, while I'm lying there, my brain is just wandering. "My arm hurts. When will the surgery heal? ...Hmm, I haven't seen my surgeon in a while. She wears blue eye shadow. I wish I could wear blue eyeshadow... Oh, maybe at that 80's party I'm going to! What's the point of leg warmers anyway? Why not just wear pants? I like these pants. They're comfy. Micah would say "comfty." Man, he's crazy lately. He needs a hair cut. I wish I could get a hair cut. Why does shampoo always smell better at the hair salon that at home? I miss shampoo. "

And around and around goes my brain.

Last night at home we were all busily rushing around and for a second I thought, "Man I wish I was in radiation right now!" Guess my fondness for it comes from getting to lie still with no responsibilities for 15 minutes. (And then there's my love affair with superflab.)

Side effects: It's made me slightly sore so far and I'm a bit more tired. But that could be just because of the crazy pace I've kept up this week. So far I've got no complaints, but I don't want to be overly optimistic because Dr. Morgan keeps reminding me that the pain towards the end will be pretty bad. Oh- and one more note- I've been cleared to wear deodorant! the doc said that they outrule it because it will cause me more skin irritation, not because it will interfere with the radiation. So I can (and will) use it sparingly ("at my own risk," says Dr. Morgan!).

Monday, September 27, 2010

Plumber's Perspective

I mentioned that our garbage disposal was out. So, we called a plumber and when he came by the house last Friday I opened the door sans wig. I don't wear the wig at home and so I've surprised a lot of solicitors and FedEx delivery men. They've all been polite, none of them stare, but I usually see a hint of surprise in their eyes before they manage to recover and ignore my shiny head.

When I opened the door Friday the plumber was all business. From what I could tell, he might not have even noticed my baldness. He heads straight for the sink, fixes the disposal in a flash, answers his phone and chats with one of his employees, hangs up, looks at me and says, "So, you got some cancer goin' on?"

It took me by such surprise that I laughed out loud. And after a weekend of thinking about it, I like his perspective. No big deal, it's just cancer. Just something I've "got going on" and soon it will pass.

Still makes me laugh though!

Stay tuned soon for pics from my radiation treatment which started today...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

For Pete's Sake, It's Thursday!

The day started off normal. Then we had one catastrophic trip to the grocery store where the long week finally hit my boys and they had major meltdowns in Kroger. (Don't tell my nutritionist that I tried to calm myself with a Starbucks!) I got lunch on the table as soon as possible and we got halfway through the meal before Micah threw another fit about eating his potatoes. He cried for 10 minutes at the table before I finally got him calmed down. I remember thinking at that point, "Wow, I had a lot of patience just then. Go me! Cancer's given me more patience with my kids. That's awesome. Thank you Jesus!"

And here's what I think-- I think the devil's listening. I really do. I think my family and I are under attack. Since chemo's been over we've been hit with several other small problems that are starting to mount up. Our car broke down on our way to our celebratory "no mo chemo" dinner. Then the car was broken into, Terry's truck has been out of a/c all summer, our garbage disposal broke, etc, etc. If you believe that "when it rains, it pours," you should definitely bring your umbrella to my house!

It's been hard to take the trauma and drama of the last two weeks, but I think Terry and I have handled it ok. It's hard for anything to phase you in the wake of cancer. But it wouldn't be the truth if I said we've let it all roll off our backs. We've had to constantly remember to look to God through it all.

Pam recently said in a marriage class at church that we shouldn't be surprised if we come across marital tiffs while we're attending the class because Satan will try to attack what we're building up. And 1 Peter 5:6-8 says,

"Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.  Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith." 

So there I was today patting my own back for navigating a temper tantrum with Micah when the day went from hard to horrific. Other moms can identify when I say that there are some days when nothing goes right. I'd be in the middle of cleaning up one thing when I'd get pulled away to change a dirty diaper, then I'd rush off to clean a spill, stop to argue with my three-year-old, take out the trash, clean another spill, etc. Which would be like any ol' regular day at home, except it's also the day I'd designated as my "major cleaning" day. Which means each task I ran off to do left a half-mopped floor or half washed window behind. Soon the house was littered with cleaning supplies and toys and I was frazzled. So this time when Micah had a breakdown that resulted in two long hours of him crying in his room, I lost it! So much for patience!

As I was angrily throwing a soiled rug into the washing machine, I had one rational thought amidst all the fist-clenching, teeth-grinding frustration: go read the Bible.

So I ignored the mess and the messy kids, eased into my comfy chair and I did. Well, I tried. I read about two scriptures before mommy-duty called. As I was hoisting myself out of the chair (Yes, hoisting. Months of chemo-induced inactivity has left me weak!) I realized, "For Pete's Sake, it's Thursday!"

It's Thursday. I should be getting chemotherapy today. But...I'm...not.

And now here I sit. Housework nowhere near close to done, but for now all the supplies are put away. The boys aren't crying; they're playing. And I've gotten perspective. In the time it took to read two short scriptures God reminded me how far I've come in my cancer journey. And I remembered how far I've got to go before I'm anywhere near the knowledgeable, strong, morally upright Christian God wants me to be.

I let troubles and stresses seep in when I wasn't looking. I made improvements in my life (regarding patience with the boys) and then left myself wide open for Satan's attack.

So next time I thank God for something, I'll remember to give it back to Him to protect from my enemy. I'll remember to put my armor on!

"Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes" (Ephesians 6:11).

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Preparing for Radiation

 Since last chemo I've tried to think of cancer as little as possible. Which, of course, is hard to do. Terry and I went to a movie a few nights ago and when I was walking up the stairs to my seat I thought, "My legs aren't shaking!" Since the first chemo I've been weak enough that walking up stairs made me shaky. But then there are other times when I notice how slow my reaction time is or how foggy my thought process still is and I'm reminded that I've still got a lot of chemicals floating around my body. Although it seems like ages since my last chemo, it really hasn't been even three weeks yet.

I met with my radiation onc yesterday to get ready for radiation which begins on the 27th. I pulled into the parking lot and saw an elderly woman with a cane slowly making her way to the door. I noticed her slow pace, her frailness, her age and I soberly remembered, "Oh, yeah, I have cancer."

I really don't though. My scans have been clean for months. But like Laura Shook said and I copied into my last post, I'll always think of cancer. I'll never be able to turn my back on it.

Once inside the waiting room, I grabbed a magazine and buried my nose in celebrity gossip (a treat I allow myself only at doctor's offices and hospital stays!) and sucked down my coffee smoothie. Soon the cold smoothie plus the low temp of the waiting room had me freezing and I was dreading changing into my little gown for my exam.

The people at this office are great though, and when I was in the exam room the nurse noticed how cold I was and adjusted the temp in my room and gave me plenty of time to warm up before I had to change into the gown. Dr. Morgan was pleasant (he always is) as we discussed my radiation plan and the possible side effects:
tiredness
burned skin
tight/sore esophagus due to its exposure to radiation
slight damage to left lung where it's exposed to radiation
possible heart sac damage or hypertension
about a 3% increase in my chance of lymphedema in the left arm.

After talking with Dr. Morgan the nurse walked me down to the radiation department where I met two people who are to be my technicians throughout my nearly 2 months of radiation. The first was a friendly older woman. The second was a young guy. Very young. Younger than me probably. When I met him all I could think was how uncomfortable I was going to be around him when it came time for me to take off the medical gown and be measured for radiation.

Both technicians were friendly though, and soon I was lying on what felt like a beanbag chair, on top of a long table in front of a scanning machine. It looked like a PET scan machine, but I'm not sure of the correct terminology.

My back, head and shoulders were on the beanbag, while my arms were lifted above my head and all the way back where I had to hold on to what felt like two bicycle handles. I had to turn my head to the right to keep my brain furthest from the area to be radiated. Once I was in a position they liked, they pushed a button and my beanbag chair hardened beneath me and around me, making a perfect mold of my position. Each time I return for radiation I will get back into that same exact position with help from my personal mold.

Once they had my position they could start marking spots on my body so they could hand over specifics to a physicist and team of doctors to get specifics for my radiation. The rad. onc. came in and put little stickers all over me, circling my mastectomy area, marking my scars from the surgery and the drainage tubes. Then the technicians removed the stickers and marked where they'd been with markers.

Before I left they told me that I can't wash off the marker. If it gets light I need to go over it with a sharpie or go back to their office to get it redrawn. When I got back on Monday they'll give me new marks. I have no idea if I'll have to have these marks the whole time I'm getting radiation or just during this preparatory stage.

This picture shows one mark they made on the top right of the picture. It's just above my surgery area. You can see how the area just below that mark is dark. That's not bruising or discoloration, it's a shadow because all the tissue that was removed left a hole right there. On the left of the screen you can see the scar from my port. I'll have to live with the port until my reconstruction surgery which will be sometime in Summer of 2011.

This picture shows the hole a bit better. You can also see the top of my scar site. And you can see how my arm still hasn't healed from the lymph node removal. See how my arm is swollen beneath the strap of my tank?

The mark on the left is on my side, while the one on the right is just under the mastectomy area. So when I take my clothes off now I don't just see my scars and the mess left behind from my skin-sparing mastectomy, I also see these marks. Kind of hard to not think about cancer when you're looking at that, huh?

Back to my radiation story...
Once I was all marked up they took pictures and then needed to scan me. I'd gone through the whole process unemotionally until they moved me into the scanning tube (again, I don't know the right word for the machine). It reminded me of the PET Scan I had when we still didn't know if the cancer had spread beyond the nodes. I immediately got emotional. It's so easy for tears to spring up these days because there's all those scary emotions just below the surface. So I started blinking to keep the tears back. I couldn't move from my position during the scan and so I was frustrated when one sad little tear rolled down my cheek and I couldn't move from the mold to wipe it away. 

As soon as I heard the machine turn off and they began pulling me out of the tunnel, I reached up and wiped it away before anyone could see. But to do that I had to get out of position and so the young guy scolded me. His presence during all of this was pretty annoying. I was lying there exposed for so long, getting all marked up as they talked about me like I wasn't there. 

I'd expected this whole radiation process to be a breeze, so you can imagine how I felt when this whole experience proved more difficult than I'd expected.  

Just before I left the office, the technicians reminded me that I can't use deodorant the entire time I'm undergoing radiation. They said it leaves a residue that interferes with their work. And I also can't shave under my arms. Which isn't a big deal right now while I'm still mostly hair-less from chemo. But I imagine the hair growth will return long before my weeks of radiation are up.

So, that was my first experience with my radiation team. I begin the treatments Monday. Although yesterday was not a fun day, I do have some good news. I'd been so worried about finding someone to watch the boys while I went once a day, every weekday, to the doctor. Thankfully our friends Justin and Lizzie are letting us drop the kids at their house during the day for their nanny to watch. And lucky for us, their nanny just happened to be our favorite night-time babysitter, Michelle! We're so grateful to the Benders and Michelle for helping make the radiation weeks easier! And Jennie and her kids are going to watch the boys once a week, too! Thank God for caring friends!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Me too

I've been keeping up with Laura Shook's blog. She's recently finished her treatment and had her first PET scan since being declared NED (no evidence of disease). Her words are EXACTLY how I feel right now (even thogh I still have radiation and surgery ahead of me). Read her words...

"Since finishing treatment and surgery, it has been interesting to me how many people have made the following statements to me:


"I'm so glad you are finished with all of that!"
"I'm glad it's all over!'
"So glad you are done and you don't have to deal with that anymore."
And many other similar remarks.

I just smile and acknowledge their kind hearts, but the truth is, I'm not finished yet. Not even close. Yes, I am finished with immediate treatment. Yes, I am finished with surgery. But I'm not finished with cancer. In fact, it seems like just recently the stress of the past 15 months is beginning to surface in me, Mark, and our girls. My husband and my children have all been so strong, pushing their own feelings aside in order to carry me through treatment. Now that it looks like I am well, the defenses are dropping and the feelings are surfacing. We are all feeling a little fragile at this point.

I think about cancer every day. I have physical changes and new routines that remind me of where I've been on a daily basis. Although they are less frequent now, I still have regular doctor visits and medical tests. I still take multiple dietary supplements prescribed by my doctor to treat side-effects of chemotherapy. Cancer is still part of my daily life.

I had a PET scan today. I didn't feel nervous about the test or the results of the test at all. Mark took me to the radiology center and patiently waited two hours while I was injected with radioactive glucose, waited for it to make its way through my body, and then spent 30 minutes in the scanning machine. Afterward we stopped to pick up lunch on the way to our staff meeting. Returning to the car I suddenly felt extremely fatigued. I realized that although I hadn't felt it, I must have been stressed all along. Mark got in the car and told me that he was having a mini meltdown too. Even though we fully believe that I am cancer-free, the waiting, hoping, and wondering are heavy loads to carry. Hopefully, the doctor will call soon with the report.

In the meantime, we'll carry on, as survivors. Never forgetting where we've been, and ever look forward to God's continued grace and strength."

Follow her blog at http://laurashooksblog.blogspot.com/

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Change in Taste



At my last meeting with my nutritionist we discussed the likelihood that my PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) is the highest contributing factor to me getting cancer. Namely because women with pcos have a large amount of estrogen compared to their progesterone. And breast cancer is a hormonally-driven cancer where estrogen matters a lot.

If you want to know more about how PCOS-related insulin resistance also likely contributed to me getting cancer, read the next paragraph, if not skip down...

Scientists believe that the components of Insulin Resistance and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome actually favor the growth of breast cancer cells, creating an environment ripe for the development of this disease. While studies are still on-going, preliminary data suggests that increased levels of insulin in the blood increase the formation of breast cancer cells.

My nutritionist will be closely monitoring my hormone levels from here on out to make sure I stay out of that danger zone regarding my estrogen.

But the insulin issues- well, they're mostly taken care of with diet. Which is why everything I'm eating lately has almost no sugar or wheat. I'm eating very little carbohydrates and very little red meat. And fruits and vegetables are, of course, most important.

So far it's been easier than expected. (Of course, I've had the best motivation possible- staying healthy during chemotherapy!)

Some of my best discoveries:

-Smoothie King. My Starbucks addiction has taken a major hit and Smoothie King has luckily been there as a replacement. All last week I enjoyed a Starbucks mocha nearly everyday to celebrate chemo ending, but now I'm back on a no-sugar diet so I settle for the Mocha Coffee Smoothie (with no turbinado) at Smoothie King instead.

-Quinoa pasta has been my favorite health food find. Pasta is a big no-no. Even whole wheat pasta. Thankfully my love for Top Chef came in handy and I remembered a gluten-free episode that featured pasta made of Quinoa. Quinoa is a protein (something I'm supposed to consume a lot of) and the pasta tastes (to me anyway) just like regular pasta, maybe even better! It looks like this...


and you can get it at Kroger. And it's also organic!

-Sweets are completely restricted but I found that sometimes I just need something chocolate! Lucky for me I found Endangered Species chocolate bars that are organic. If I buy the ones that are 88% pure cocoa, then I can eat half a bar for only 5 grams of sugar. I usually can't even eat half a bar though, so this is a pretty healthy alternative to sweets.


I found a tip online today that I can't wait to put into practice. The suggestion is to grate vegetables into all of your recipes while you cook so everything has double the vegetables, but the thin slices don't change the flavor much.

If you know us personally, you'll understand just how many groans have risen from my husband's side of the table lately. He's doing a good job at least trying most of the food I've been serving up. But we've got a long way to go before I get him to give up all of his sugar-packed, preservative-stuffed snacks like Dr. Pepper, Frosted Flakes, and honey buns!

Our game plan-
We're trying to make eating differently more fun so we've made it into a competition. We're going to start combing the health food websites for interesting recipes. Terry and I will each take turns cooking some of the more challenging dinners and we'll keep track of who makes the most delicious meals. We haven't decided yet what the winner gets though. Probably just some guilt-free cash to spend on whatever we want!