Yesterday I was feeling pretty darn good. I realized how gracious God is that even during chemotherapy I can find so many moments of rest and play. And then I remembered several survivors telling me that there will be many bad days. So I prayed right then and there for God to protect me from feeling too secure and that He would prepare me for any bad days on the horizon.
And this morning when I woke up to a stiff, painful knee I realized that my next bad day was closer than I thought.
A lot of people have asked me frequently about prophalactic mastectomy on my right side and I've told them what my doctors have said. "The cancer is no more likely to come back in that breast than it is to come back in your knee cap."
So, I won't pretend that I don't recognize the irony that I'm sitting here worrying that I might have bone mets in my knee. (Bone is one of the more likely places breast cancer spreads to.)
I called my doctor's office and spoke to the nurse. I was expecting her to tell me that joint pain is a side effect of both Taxotere (which is part of my chemo regimen) and Neulasta (which is the shot I get 24 hours after every chemo treatment). Instead, after I explained my pain she said it didn't sound like my pain was related to either one. We hung up after she told me to treat the knee like it was an injury (ice and heat) and then come in for an X-ray on Thursday (when I'll already be there for chemo #3).
So here I am. Having to look my last post about peace right in the face. Right in its dirty, ol', good-for-nothing face. Can I lay this down too? Can I be obedient and not worry? Can I sleep tonight without those awful thoughts creeping back to find me under the covers?
From what I've read/been told, every cancer survivor faces these moments on a fairly regular basis. Every ache and pain makes them think they've got a recurrence. I just never expected to face this while I'm still in the early stages of treatment.
And here's some more irony for you: I've been wearing both my pink 'breast cancer' bracelet (that so many of you are also sporting on my behalf) and the purple 'cancer survivor' bracelet that Paul gave me. But this morning mere minutes before I squatted to lift Caleb and felt the sharp pain in my knee, I had taken off the pink bracelet thinking, "My scans are clear. I'm healed, despite my ongoing treatment. I'm losing the pink."
What do you think? A bit of spiritual warfare? The moment I claim my health in a tangible way, my old feelings of death and despair are thrown back into my face?
Help me win this battle. Pray my knee pain is something else. Anything but bone mets.
God has brought me so much peace in these last three months. But up until a few days ago there was one area where I just couldn’t let go. I couldn’t stop thinking of having a recurrence. I’ve got several things going against me- original size of the tumor, spreading to the nodes, presence of cancer cells in other areas of breast tissue than the original tumor, and my age (meaning I’ve got a lot of years ahead of me in which to allow time for another growth). And I just couldn’t get away from those facts.
I’ve been praying to God about healing me this time around. Praying about strength for chemotherapy, answers regarding prophylactic mastectomy on the right side, future pregnancies or adoptions, health for Terry, ignorance (regarding my disease) for my children. I laid these thing down at God’s feet. But for some reason I kept my worries of recurrence from Him. Obviously I knew that He knew those worries existed. But I just wasn’t ready to give them up to Him. I told myself that I’d get through treatment, officially declare myself NED (no evidence of disease) and THEN and only then allow myself to begin to pray over my future health. I can’t explain why I held back in this area. It doesn’t make sense that I wouldn’t offer it to God. Especially seeing how He’d been quick to calm my fears in every other area.
But, I guess we are all familiar with this aspect of our prayer lives. If you’re like me, there have been areas of your life in the past that you’ve purposefully kept out of your prayers. Sometimes we think we can hide sins or weaknesses from God, don’t we? And I know sometimes we think we have to get rid of all of our sin before we go to God. We feel like God won’t listen to us until we’re already clean. Which is silly. I used to hold my anger back during prayers thinking I had to deal with my anger away from God so I could come to Him being pure. Now I understand that it’s God that takes the sin and anger away from us. We don’t have the ability to do it for ourselves outside of prayer. But I digress…
For whatever the reason, I’ve kept my fears of recurrence closed inside me and tried to hide it from God. But, two days ago my sweet friend Paul texted me about going to a cancer support group. And my stomach dropped. I didn’t want to sit in a room and hear about cancer for an hour. I knew that I couldn’t get through that kind of torture without letting my recurrence worries get the best of me. I felt so overwhelmed in that moment. I kept thinking, “Who can understand how I feel? Who knows what it’s like to live every day and wonder how long it will be before you’re faced with a fatal disease? Even worse, a disease that kills slowly. Who can understand my worry over possibly making my family suffer as they watch me lose such a battle?”
I wasn’t praying when I said these things. I was whining. Lamenting my position. Thinking to myself.
Thankfully, the Lord didn’t need to wait until I said, “Dear Jesus.” He didn’t care that I wasn’t on my knees. He doesn’t wait until we’re in a prayerful mood to listen to us. He always hears. And this time was no different. He heard my cry and He said, “I know.”
Jesus came into the world aware that He had a limited number of years on Earth. He knew that eventually, and at a young age, He’d say goodbye to every friend he made. He knew his mother, his brothers in Christ, his followers, would someday watch Him die. Did he know, every time He heard of another crucifixion, that He’d someday be in that same spot? Did He feel how I feel every time I hear a story of someone losing their battle with cancer? Did He often think about how much hurt His loved ones would have to feel someday when He left them?
I think He knows how I feel. He’s been there. He knew everyday was just another step closer to the cross.
I’m thankful to God for answering the prayer I didn’t have the courage to pray. Because, in just a few short days, I’ve already felt the weight lift from my shoulders regarding recurrence. God didn’t give me a crystal ball and tell me I’ll live till I’m 99. In fact, there’s no logical reason for me to have relief over my future health. But there is a very good Biblical reason. God is a changer of hearts and He says to lay our burdens at His feet. He promises rest. So when I offer my worries to Him, He miraculously changes my heart and gives me peace.
He’ll do the same for you. What part of your life are you keeping out of your prayers? What sin are you clinging to and pretending God can’t see it? What worry do you think is too big to hand over?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, despite the eye-rolls I might get: Don’t wait until you have cancer to turn these things over to Jesus. Your relationship with Him is the most important thing you’ll ever do.
I was blessed to have a good dad. Although I think he would have enjoyed having a son, he was a sympathetic dad to me and my sisters. He was a good listener (even when he must have thought our problems were silly or girly) and never seemed impatient when we acted out or went through mini-crises as teenagers. I remember a lot of the girls from church seeking him out to talk about their problems too. I guess, in the end, God had obviously created him to be a father to daughters.
And now I get to see Terry with my boys everyday. And even though in many ways my heart longs for a girl to join our household, we seem to be having the time of our lives with the boys God entrusted to us. Terry is, in many ways, the picture of patience when it comes to our toddlers. He's fun and he disciplines well.
When we were waiting on results from my PET scan- waiting to know how serious all of this was- I had a lot of thoughts about Terry raising the boys alone. And even though I think they might wear mis-matched clothes to church, or eat the wrong foods, I know that their hearts would be happy because, lucky for them, that is their Daddy's first priority. It's hard to be selfless all the time (ok, it's probably impossible) but that's pretty much what being a parent calls for. That's what I was thinking about this morning. This Father's Day morning.
So being a parent requires us to be servants, requires a lot of love and patience. Requires a good amount of "rule teaching." Hmmm.... sounds like what we're called to be as Christians too.
I've always wanted to be a mom. And Terry's trying desperately to correct mistakes of the past when it comes to his family. So we entered into parenthood deciding that our children would be at the top of our list and that we would embrace our roles as "mom" and "dad." Every day we wake up and think about what the kids need for the day. What do they require according to their personalities, ages, current dispositions? What things can we teach by example? What lessons should we teach by instruction?
So, I'm sitting here this morning, praying for dads across the country, and it occurs to me that being a Christian should be just as intentional as being a parent. In the end, we could read all the parenting books in the library, we could take courses on childhood growth and behavior, we could study the common ailments of children and know how to treat them. But if we don't apply the knowledge then its useless, right?
So maybe when I was faced with my mortality and was wondering if I'd been a good enough mom for my influence to carry on even without me, maybe I should have been thinking about my impact as a Christian, instead.
Did I get out of bed today and think about what those around me needed? About how I could serve others to make their world better? About how I could lead by example, or teach from experience, or just share the Biblical truth?
Because if I'm not thinking those things then I'm being disobedient. I've been very convicted these last few months of whether I was living like God tells Christians to. I was reading the Bible, praying, going to church, tithing, and working on my own spiritual walk. But I was still missing a huge part of what we're called to do as Christians-- serve!
Looking back over my life so far, I can see how God used different situations I was in to teach me new things.
My senior year of highschool and into my freshman year of college, I was clinically depressed and God showed me how necessary it was to lean on Him on a daily basis. I had a prayer journal during this time and I still like to look back at it and see how many of my prayers were answered then. That's when God taught me how to really pray.
When I was eight months pregnant with Micah, nearly 4 years ago now, we had an emergency in our family. It brought up so many questions in my and Terry's minds about what was right and wrong. We got confused by what the culture says and even what well-meaninged Christians said. It was a tough time when we had to search and search the Bible to gain an overall sense of what we were supposed to do. I can see now that during this time God taught me the importance of knowing His word and seeking His will in every situation. We learned to routinely turn to scripture to seek the truth before making decisions in our lives.
And now God is bringing us up another step. He's calling us to stop looking inward and start looking outside of ourselves to see the needs of others. I can't explain why having cancer has brought us to this step in our walk with God. I'm not sure if it seems logical or makes sense, but during this time when we're facing a very personal crisis, God has tapped us on the shoulder and asked what we're doing for others. The books I've been reading, the scriptures I've come across, even the current sermon series at church is asking me, what am I doing to serve?
It's my new goal to be as intentional of a Christian as I've tried to be as a parent. I'm trying to see those around me and think about what they need. I'm learning to see them at the "Christian age" that they are in (if they're even a believer at all) and tailor my actions and speech to fit their needs. All day long I wonder if my young boys are hungry, tired, thirsty, bored. And now I'm trying to look beyond our family's four walls and pay attention to those same needs in others. I'm still very, very far from being that servant God has in mind. In fact, I'm still praying about what area in particular God's called me to serve in. But, I'm thankful that He's using my illness to get my attention and to prune me a little bit more. I know that when all of this is said and done, I'll be a better person and Christian for it. Terry too.
I've already seen how it's made Terry a better father. Could it be that their mom being diagnosed with cancer in her twenties will actually provide my boys with better parents? God sure can answer prayers in the strangest ways!
Terry, husband, love of my life, player of XBox and Wii, eater of chicken sandwhiches, lover of baseball and golf, hard worker, and cheesy joke teller... I admire you most for the daddy you are to my baby boys. Thank you for trying so hard and loving us all so much. Happy Father's Day.
Today is day 6 of chemo #2. It's been like a night and day difference from treatment #1.
This past weekend was supposed to be a big trip with my best friends. We've known each other for ten years now and we've been planning a trip for 6 months. Of course my treatment messed up plans so our big weekend ended up being just another trip to Houston. Problem was, they were getting here around 9 p.m. this passed Friday. Day 2 of chemo. Assuming treatment #2 was the same as the first one, I figured I wouldn't be able to see the girls much while they were here. I was so bummed that I'd actually hoped that my white blood cell count would be so low that they would postpone chemo for a week!
As luck would have it (although, I know it's more God than luck) I felt good enough to meet them out for a few hours Friday night. And again Saturday morning. And yet again Saturday night. I was walking around feeling like a miracle had taken place! Really, I felt so blessed to be well enough to move around and spend time with the greatest group of girls I know!
I've heard so many horror stories about the side effects of chemotherapy. And I know last time was bad, and time #3 might be bad, too. But for right now, it's important that I see how much of an answer to prayer this current treatment has been. I've still had my bad moments; they seem to come in waves. Depending on what time of the day you ask me how I'm doing you might get a different answer. But that in itself is a blessing too-- the bad stuff never hung around too long. Sunday morning and Monday night were the worst.
The truth is that if I didn't have so much help and I had to keep on going through the motions of my daily life, I wouldn't be in such good shape. It's easy to think I'm doing ok while I'm lying in bed. But there have been many times when I've gotten up to work around the house or attempt to do some shopping, and I've only ended back in bed feeling worse. Which means half of the reason I'm feeling so well is because of all the help we're getting in the form of meals, childcare and housecleaning. I really appreciate your sacrifice! It's hard not to like we're taking advantage sometimes. It's hard to own up to being an invalid and welcoming the help! There are so many days where I forget I'm sick at all. So it's hard not to feel guilty about the good things coming our way. I think Terry and I both feel some days like we're pulling off some big charade. You live most of your life trying to cross things off your list, trying to do the responsible thing, keep your life in order, depend on yourself. Then suddenly, in the blink of an eye, you're unable to do some of those things and everywhere you look people are trying to help you. I gotta say, it's thrown me a bit. I keep wanting to say, "Me? Really? You sure you wouldn't rather go help someone else? Surely there's someone more sick. More needy."
Then a chill usually sets in as I realize that, scarily enough, I actually am just that sick. I won't lie-- there are days when I walk to the mailbox selfishly wondering what goodies are inside it. Wondering which of my loving friends and family is reaching out to me and spoiling me today. Then there are days when every card or package I get is just a glaring reminder that I'm sick. That my family is in limbo right now and we can't just go through the normal motions and live life. We need help.
But it's teaching me a lot about the community that we, as Christians, are supposed to be. Teaching me a lot about giving. And taking. And I hope when it's my turn again someday to give back, that I can do it as selflessly as all of you are doing for us! In fact, you've been so great, that you're all invited to my cancer-free bash! (Date to be determined...)
Jennie came with me to my appointment yesterday. I think I annoyed people even more this time around by taking this photo. But I had to document the day! I wore my "Chemo Sucks!" pin from the Greens and the necklaces me and Micah made that say his and Caleb's name.
Paul once again drove all the way to the medical center to pray for me before we went in to the appointment.
Once I was in with Dr. Heyne we talked about my hospital visit. They were all happy with my white blood cell counts. I quizzed him again about prophylactic mastectomy on the right side. Doctors are all very careful to not give a definite "yes" or "no" about this. But I figure if I ask my onc. and my surgeon enough times, I'll eventually be able to piece together what they really think is the best option. I go back and forth on it myself. But yesterday was the first time he actually said that it would lower my chances of recurrence (if just by a bit) and that's a big deal.
We talked about my experience with the first round of chemo. He wasn't surprised at how long I used the nausea medicine. But he once again attributed that to me being younger. He was stumped by me feeling symptoms as early as 7 p.m. on day one. He thought it was unusual for me to feel so weak so quickly. So he wrote me a script for some steroids. (They give them intravenously the first day, and he was providing me pills to take on days 2-4.) Then he said that it was highly possible that I just had really bad timing and had picked up a sickness on my first day of chemo. He said for me to go home, see how chemo #2 goes and then call him if I'm experiencing the same weakness.
I had a pretty bad headache last night. Which is to be expected. Headaches are side effects of the meds I get in my I.V. But this morning I woke up and feel pretty good. Just a slightly queasy tummy and I'm tired. But not anymore tired than you'd expect from a bad night of sleep (it is really hard to sleep with all the steroids they give you).
So, praise God, it looks like Dr. Heyne might have been right and I might have had such a bad time last time because I was suffering from a virus on top of the chemo! I'm not going to get my hopes up too high, though. For now, I'm just going to be excited that Chemo #2 is starting off leaps and bounds better than Chemo #1! That's a lot to be grateful for! I'm so thankful you've all been praying for me! It's working-- don't stop now!
I always knew that most people on chemotherapy lose their hair, but I never really thought about the process. So here's what I went through for any of you interested...
My onc. said I'd lose my hair by three weeks from my first treatment. I first noticed it starting to fall out when we were in the emergency room which was about day 6. I remember looking down at my pillow and seeing that it was covered in hair-- probably about 20 strands.
Over the next few days I noticed extra hair in my brush and strands of it on my clothes and pillow. About 2 weeks into treatment I could run my hands through my hair and pull out about a half a dozen strands every time.
My onc. had warned me that many people "poo-poo" the emotional effects of hair loss and that I should be prepared for it to be a bit traumatic. I think, at this point, when I was pulling out handfuls at a time, my first thought was that losing my hair made me feel sick. It seemed like a visible, tangible reminder that I'm not well. And that bugged me more than my impending baldness. By 2 weeks and 1 day I was shedding really badly. Hair was getting in my food, on my toothbrush, on the furniture. I even found a strand wrapped around Caleb's pacifier. At this point, I thought that shaving it off sounded like it would be a relief. Anything would be better than being reminded of my illness everytime I saw more hair fall to the floor. Plus, by this time, the hair I had left on my head was thinning a lot and I couldn't really style it anymore anyway.
I'd hoped my hair would last through today so I could go to church one more time with my own hair. But when I took a bath Friday night and saw how much hair was in the water, I gave up and decided to let Terry cut it off.
We'd been telling Micah that I was going to lose my hair and I thought it would be better for him to see me have it cut, so he was there when Terry pulled out the scissors. He's the one who took most of the pictures. Here's my "Before" pic. My hair looks surprisingly full because I'd just washed and blow dryed it.
Terry started with the scissors first.
What do you think? Does Terry have a future in hair styling?
I think God must have given Terry and I both blinders. Because at this point, when my hair looked like it does above, we both kept saying how good it looked and that I might have to cut it this short someday when it grows back. Seriously. We thought I looked kind of punk. =)
Pretty funky, huh?
And here's the finished product.
You can see how thin it is.
And here I am in my wig.
I've worn the wig for two days now. I wore a scarf for a little bit yesterday but Micah said I looked like a pirate in it. Caleb hasn't seemed to notice a difference. Wig, shaved head, scarf, it's all the same to him. Micah actually liked my shaved head so much that after Terry finished cutting my hair, he asked for the same cut.
So now we're sporting the same hairdo. I was in the bathroom helping him brush his teeth last night (I wasn't wearing a wig or scarf) and he looked up at me in the mirror and said, "You starting to look like Daddy!" Ha!
It won't be too many more days when what's left on my head is gone too. If I reach up and pinch my hair, I can pull it out by the root without any effort. I can do the same to the hair on my arms. It just pulls right out. Weird. I'm not really very bothered by any of it though. I take it as a sign that the medicine is working. People have told me how hot the wig is and I'm sure if I were outside for a long time I'd agree. But so far (which is only 2 days) the heat doesn't bother me as much as the tightness of the wig. It gives me a headache after too long. But maybe it will loosen as I wear it. I gotta admit, I do like not having to blowdry or style my hair in the morning. It's kind of nice to just set my hair on my head and go! And I get to pack up my blowdryer, straightner and curling iron! My bathroom counter will be so nice and empty!
My onc. says that my hair will start to grow back almost exactly three weeks after my last chemo treatment. Which (if we don't get knocked off schedule due to low white blood cell count) will be September 23. My hope is that I'm wig-free by Christmas. Although, who knows, I might enjoy it so much that I become a wig person!
So very many of you have been expressing a sense of helplessness or awkwardness regarding what we're going through. So I thought I'd give you a little insight in to how I'm feeling so you might be comforted.
There is, of course, a fear of recurrence. A fear that next time, it won't be so easy to get rid of. But, like Scarlett O'Hara would say, "I'll think about that tomorrow." No, in all seriousness, the way I look at is that right now, during treatment for cancer, I am the farthest away from a possible recurrence that I will ever be. Meaning I'm not likely to get another tumor while I'm going through chemotherapy and planning radiation. So, I'm not in a particularly vulnerable place right now.
Which means you don't have to feel weird about asking me questions about anything cancer-related. In fact, I welcome the questions most of the time. It's a huge part of my life right now. Even when I'm not dealing with the effects of chemotherapy, I'm spending my days making doctor appointments, returning phone calls, writing thank you letters, and watching my hair get thinner and thinner. So, the question you want to ask is probably the same thing I've been thinking about all day long.
However, if you ask a lot of questions and I start to give one word answers, that's probably a sign that I don't want to chat about it right then. The only thing I would ask that you don't talk to me about is the death of someone you know from breast cancer. I'm sorry if that makes me selfish- I do understand that you might want or need to have someone you can talk to about your loved one. Hopefully someday I will have enough peace and strength to listen. I'm praying about just that.
Why I'm Okay...
I really don't know how it happened, but there was a day soon after my release from the hospital when I was finally able to grab a hold of that peace that God had been offering. I realize it didn't happen overnight. It's been a journey. It took a constant seeking of God and an absolutely open mind about what He had to tell me. And an understanding that, as weird as it feels, you sometimes have to just acknowledge that you're under attack by Satan. In some of my lowest moments, the only way I've been able to get up off my knees is by faith. Saying, "What I'm thinking right now feels so real and so right. But I know it's not Biblical. I know it's from the enemy. So I'm gonna choose to get up, dust myself off and go on with life. I'm going to choose to take the joy and peace you promise and move on believing that it will come."
It did come. And I've learned to recognize the first inklings of dangerous thinking. I rely on Jesus' name in those times. Just repeating His name can calm me. There's power in the wonderful name of Christ!
We've been reading Acts for Small Group at church. I liked reading Jesus' answer when the disciples asked when he would restore His kingdom. He says, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority." Acts 1:7 I understand that it is not for me to know whether I will ever have a recurrence. Whether I'll ever have to sit on a cold table and hear the word "metastisis." Whether I'll even get a good report at the end of all my treatment (Oh, what an awful, long year 2010 is!).
The first time I met Paul P., the leader of the cancer care group at church, he told me his miraculous story of healing. He's had clean scans for years since he was first diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. He said to me right after I met him that people ask him if he worries about a recurrence. And he told me, with a huge, genuine and sweet smile, "God will just heal me again!" That's faith! And faith in my God can move mountains!
What I Pray For You
I pray for all of you a lot. That you might know the things I know without ever having to walk this path. But I know that it takes work to be a follower of Christ. It takes effort to read the Bible every day and open your heart to God while purposefully closing it to worldly things. It can be so challenging that most of us give up and settle for less. We settle for an acknowledgement of God rather than a relationship. I think I'd say that I had a relationship with God before cancer. But I was still holding back. I had given up a lot of things, done things that some would even say were radical, but I was still choosing my own path and choosing when to let my guard down and when not. Cancer blew that all out of the water. Cancer knocked me off my feet and put me in a position where my only option was to crawl up into God's lap and give it all to Him. I don't think God gave me cancer, but I know He saw it coming. And I see how He's used these circumstances to answer many of my prayer requests. And I want so badly for y'all- my loved ones- to know what I know.
To know what I know. Ha! That's kind of funny since I spent the first half of this post telling you that I understand that my future is "not for me to know." That, in a nutshell, is the beauty of faith and peace. That's the precious gift God gives us while we're here on earth waiting for Heaven.
Knowing that you're gonna be okay, that you're taken care of and loved, even though you're undeserving and a sinner. Knowing that because you love Him, you really don't need to know anything else. Praise the name of Jesus!
Today I am grateful for small things.
Visiting with family.
Today I am grateful for routine things.
The strength to do the dishes and the laundry.
Today I am thankful for the big things.
Two healthy, happy boys and a loving husband.
Jesus never let me take it for granted again. Everyday I can get out of bed, use my arms, use my brain, hug my loved ones is a day I am blessed.