Sunday, March 6, 2016

One Year Later

So, it just dawned on me this evening that it's been a year.  A year yesterday since I was diagnosed and our life shifted.

Within a year's time I've gone through chemo, had a few surgeries, radiation, and started a new job.  I've met and grown close to so many wonderful people, cried with them, prayed with them; fought alongside them.  There are also those that I used to see who are now gone.

At the end of this week I will travel to CTCA for another round of Herceptin and tests. These tests will help determine whether I have any damage to my heart from treatment (I doubt it), capture my bone density for baseline measurements for osteoporosis (due to Arimidex), and check to see if I have any cancer growing (I'm going with no).

Life right now is a weird juxtaposition of layers.  Now that I'm done with the more aggressive treatments and surgeries, I've begun a new job.  And while I'm thankful for the ability to work, it's strange to be at work eating lunch with a colleague, while answering texts from a friend concerned about her test results.  My hair has grown back to the point where people have stopped coming up to me to chat about cancer, and instead compliment me on my haircut.  My health has improved to the point that I can be up on my feet hefting boxes of food for hours a day, however, it takes me two days to recover.  And then there's still treatment.  On one hand, I'm cancer-free, on the other hand, I still have more treatments, supplements, tests, and a hormone blocking pill for 10 years.  Balancing life obligations, cancer prevention requirements, stress, and work is a dance that can be overwhelming at times and one I'm still working on.  

One of my doctors who's also a cancer survivor told me it takes awhile to process everything that's happened.  When she told me this a few months back I was about finished with my radiation treatments and was totally looking forward to be doing "normal" life again.  I didn't really get what she was talking about then, but I think now I'm beginning to understand.
Before writing this evening I read through my first post from a year ago.  I must say, the tone surprised me.  It was so positive, bubbly even.  It's weird, because you would think now a year later cancer-free I would be the same, if not more positive or cheerful.  Today my heart is heavy, yet on the other hand, I still can't believe that I'm a person who even had cancer.  Maybe it's because I'm processing, maybe it's because I'm still dealing with side effects of treatment.  I don't know, but in the end I trust God.  I trust His plan and I pray that I am walking in it, not against it.

"Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
    you hold my right hand.
24You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." Psalm 73: 23-26

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Declaring Works

"I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord" Psalm 118:17

This is the verse that the Lord gave me about a month ago.  I had been fighting a battle over a span of weeks.  A battle of worry and anxiety about the possibilities of a recurrence and death on one hand and guilty feelings about being cancer free on the other.  It was your classic no-win scenario.

And so, with a few minutes of time I had I fled down the hospital hallway to the chapel.  Thankfully I was the only one there at the time.  I dropped my things, fell into a chair, and started chatting with God, telling Him about this worry that had popped up again.

Glancing up at the front of the chapel I noticed some pamphlets on the wall.  Looking at the time I quickly grabbed one on healing verses and glanced over it, flipping through the pages, scanning.  Suddenly, one verse popped out half-way down as if it had risen off the page.

"I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord."

Having never read this particular Psalm, I finally did so yesterday.  For those of you who haven't I've included it below:

 Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
His faithful love endures forever.
Let Israel say,
“His faithful love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say,
“His faithful love endures forever.”
Let those who fear the Lord say,
“His faithful love endures forever.”
I called to the Lord in distress;
the Lord answered me
and put me in a spacious place.[a]
The Lord is for me; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?
The Lord is my helper,
Therefore, I will look in triumph on those who hate me.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in nobles.
10 All the nations surrounded me;
in the name of Yahweh I destroyed them.
11 They surrounded me, yes, they surrounded me;
in the name of Yahweh I destroyed them.
12 They surrounded me like bees;
they were extinguished like a fire among thorns;
in the name of Yahweh I destroyed them.
13 You[b] pushed me[c] hard to make me fall,
but the Lord helped me.
14 The Lord is my strength and my song;
He has become my salvation.
15 There are shouts of joy and victory
in the tents of the righteous:
“The Lord’s right hand performs valiantly!
16 The Lord’s right hand is raised.
The Lord’s right hand performs valiantly!”
17 I will not die, but I will live
and proclaim what the Lord has done.
18 The Lord disciplined me severely
but did not give me over to death.
19 Open the gates of righteousness for me;
I will enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous will enter through it.
21 I will give thanks to You
because You have answered me
and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
23 This came from the Lord;
it is wonderful in our eyes.
24 This is the day the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Lord, save us!
Lord, please grant us success!
26 He who comes in the name
of the Lord is blessed.
From the house of the Lord we bless you.
27 The Lord is God and has given us light.
Bind the festival sacrifice with cords
to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God, and I will give You thanks.
You are my God; I will exalt You.
29 Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
His faithful love endures forever.

 For those of you who may not know the back story of the Psalms they were written by David, A God Appointed King of Israel, the same David who killed Goliath.  Now you would think that an appointment by God would mean smooth sailing, I mean if God wants you to be king...

But before David took his place as King, he was hunted down by his predecessor King Saul, who was also God appointed.  It's a long complicated story, but before Saul wanted David dead, he gave him one of his daughters in marriage, employed him as a soldier and a musician.  I don't know if they were best friends, but they weren't enemies, at least not at first.  But as David's popularity grew Saul was falling out of favor with God and his people thus, trouble began to brew.  Eventually, David had to flee and spent many years running from Saul and his band of warriors. 

I think knowing some of the background is so important to understanding David's writing.  He's not some person writing down cute expressions or cool philosophical or theological musings to sell a book.  He's been there, he's experienced it.  He knows what it feels like to be hunted down by people you once trusted.  He understands the battle between choosing what's popular opinion and what right in God's eyes.  He's seen his enemies defeated, escaped death, and he's declaring God's works.

The following are just a few of the works of the Lord I'm declaring since beginning my treatment:

  • The Lord has provided for us financially.  Even though for the past 8 months I haven't been working, even though our living expenses have increased, we have always had enough to meet our monthly financial responsibilities.
  • The Lord has orchestrated my treatment.  My surgeries, my appointments, my recovery, there's nothing about my treatment that hasn't been guided by His hand.  Quick aside, my Oophorectomy came about because of an appointment with a doctor I wasn't supposed to be scheduled for met with me and made one phone call.  Five minutes later, the surgery I was told I wasn't going to be able to have at CTCA was scheduled.  If left up to me, I would've cancelled that doctor appointment...
  • Like David, the Lord has delivered me every time from my enemies.  Every time I felt worried, anxious, fear, or doubt and prayed, it's left.  There's power in the name of Jesus.
Thank you Lord for all your works.  Please protect me from thinking it's anything I do. Create in me a heart of worship like David's.  Amen.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Next Steps - Surgery

First and foremost, I'm done with radiation!!  My care team was surprised at how well my body tolerated treatment, Praise GOD!  I attribute that to all the prayers, exercise, acupuncture, and reiki treatments that I received during the past 5 weeks.  I didn't experience much in the way of side effects, the worse being peeling skin that is healing well thus far.

So, what's next?
Well, before radiation treatment began I started on Tamoxifen.  Zeneca, the makers of Tamoxifen claim that this drug significantly reduces the chances of developing breast cancer in the other breast.  I've been doing lots of research on the drug and for me, I'm not sure the benefits outweigh the risks. 
Some of the more disturbing side effects and information I gathered about Tamoxifen while researching is as follows:
  • Listed as a Level One Carcinogen - which means that it has been proven to cause cancer in humans (ironic right?)
    • Uterine
    • Liver
    • Gastrointestinal
  • May cause heart disease, and Osteoporosis
  • Changes DNA
  • Blood Clots - age increases risk
  • Cataracts, retina and corneal changes
  • Potential for drug resistance with long term continued use, thus the drug actually helps breast cancer to form
  • Vocal Chord changes resulting in impairment of singing or speaking abilities
The only reason I needed to be on this medication is because I'm pre-menopausal.  It's the drug of choice to shut down the ovaries (which is where the largest amount of estrogen is created) Women who have estrogen positive cancers that are post menopausal have a slew of  drugs to choose from that block estrogen from other parts of our body such as the adrenal glands.

I never felt at peace while on the medication and after lots of prayer, discussion with doctors, Joe, and family I've decided to stop taking the drug.

Instead, I've opted for an oophorectomy.

Did you just make that word up?
I think it sounds like a Dr. Suess word, right?   Who comes up with these names anyway? Technically, I'll be having a robotic salpingal oophorectomy.  Which means, I'll be loosing my ovaries and fallopian tubes by aid of a doctor assisted robotic arm.  The surgery is laparoscopic, so healing time is short, about 2 weeks. This reduces my risk of recurrence by 50% and the only side effects are menopause; which I've been experiencing since chemo anyway. 

To me it seemed like the best option and I feel complete peace with this decision.

The surgery is scheduled for this coming Monday, December 14th.  Joe will be flying in Sunday night to hang with me and drive my car back to Ohio.  By Wednesday we should be home!

Thank you again for all your prayers and support!  Looking forward to worshiping God with my church family; so much to be thankful for.  I continue to be amazed at how much He cares.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

With Thanksgiving

I have so many things to be thankful for this season - my family, my health, my treatments.  Of course, I'm thankful to be cancer free, but the most important "thing" I am thankful for is my faith.

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God" Ephesians 2:8

Our faith, a gift from God.

A gift from the Creator of the Universe.  Isn't that trippy?  That God desires to give us, humans, a gift.  And not just any gift.  Not something that will run out, expire, or lose it's value, but something that will forever alter the landscape of our lives.  A gift that will continue to inspire, cultivate, create, and give more than we can comprehend.  And the kicker is, this gift is available to anyone, will fit anyone, and when worn has the power to defeat the darkest caverns of our darkest addictions, banish unrelenting self-torment, and rescue us from ourselves.  How awesome is that?

Our faith, a gift from God, and it's free.  Free because of His desire to have relationship with us.  Free because He loved us enough to give us a way back to Him.  Free because of Jesus.

I hope this holiday season that while we are thankful for our families and the things we receive - may we set aside time to truly contemplate The Gift, given out of love and mercy, from a God that desires more than anything to have a conversation with the humans He created.  

And if you're reading this and aren't quite sure about all this "faith" stuff.  If it scares you, or if you don't believe in it; just let Him know.  Give Him a little time.  Unwrap the present before you chuck it.  Set aside any preconceived notions and hang out for a minute.  

Just you, God, and a simple conversation...

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

She's all Aglow - Treatment Update

So, last week I began radiation treatments. I'll have 25 daily treatments over the next 5 weeks, well 4 weeks now.  Given my 100% remission news from earlier, you'd think that I would've danced my way into the treatment room.  You would think that my mind would be unburdened, that I'd be proclaiming from the rooftops my awesome news.  But I didn't...

The truth is, my footsteps were heavy as I made my way into the waiting room, signed in, and changed into my very flattering gown and scrub pants. Battling doubt, worry, nerves, and tears I sat down to wait my turn.  Looking over at the woman next to me I took in her peaceful countenance and began praying, it didn't work.  So I switched to worship, quietly singing to myself.  Before I knew it, I'm having myself a worship break right there in the waiting room, hand to the sky and everything.  (which is not my usual waiting room etiquette in case your wondering.)  The doubt and worry began to dissolve.  I glance over at the woman again and begin a conversation with her. She tells me about her cancer journey of the past 16 years.  I'm amazed at her strength, her quiet strength.  I tell her about my nerves and she states simply, "I just envision the radiation as rays of God's light entering my body and healing what needs healing." (Mic drop)  And just like that my perspective is set right.  I thank her profusely and tell her God put her in my path this morning.

So, how are my treatments going?

Praise to God, my treatments have been going very smoothly.  I haven't felt fatigue.  I don't have any burned skin and I haven't experienced much in the way of nausea either.  I do however, have more x's marked on my body that a treasure map.  I also have three tattoos, permanent dots that they use to ensure proper alignment.

What it's like?

I've gotten this question a few times, so I'll try and break it down for you.

First they take a preliminary scan of your treatment area and then with the aid of computers, physicists and your doctor come up with your treatment map.  The radiation machine then uses this mapping, I'm assuming, like coordinates/measurements.  After the scan is complete, and before you move, they take photos from all angles as reference for positioning and make multiple x marks on your body with markers.  These marks stay on your body for the duration of your treatment.

Once they have come with your mapping, the machine takes these coordinates and dials in to match that specific shape by moving x-ray blocking pieces in the machine.  You must be in the exact position of your initial scan every time you have treatment, thus the markings.  The actual time that I'm being exposed to radiation is very small, like less than 2 minutes, the set-up to get me into the correct position can take awhile at times.  Once I'm in position,  I do nothing but lay there and pray that God is using these rays to protect me from recurrence, kill off anything that is left, and protect my skin and healthy cells.

The room is cold, the table is hard if you've ever had an x-ray.  My arms are over my head, my feet are banded together, and my legs are lying in a stabilizer to keep them from moving.  Not a good time for your body to decide you need to sneeze by the way (which happened today)
Are there side effects? 
Side effects vary for each individual and what part of the body is getting treated.  For me,  typical side effects are fatigue and burning of the skin.  The burning can range from looking like a sunburn to peeling, blistering, or worse.  Just like laying in the sun, it can take awhile for a burn to develop.  To offset this, I apply special lotion twice a day, shower with special soap, stay hydrated, and take supplements to help repair damage.  So far, side effects have been next to nil other than I seem to get crazy hungry right after which can turn to nausea if I don't eat right away.  They say that radiation is cumulative and that the most common side effects, those being burned skin and fatigue usually don't present themselves until week 3.  I'm choosing not to focus on that.  I've been trying to control what I can, take my supplements, get my acupuncture treatments, exercise, pray, and keep myself busy.

Thank you so much for all your prayers, your cards, your thoughts, and your support!  Looking forward to spending some time at home this weekend with family, friends, and church...

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Under the Knife - Treatment Update

She's baaaack, well getting there anyway...

For those of you who are wondering, final pathology is awesome and as we prayed; no lymph node involvement and only scar tissue left at the tumor site.  Praise God!  My reaction to the phone call was weird, even to me.  I wasn't screaming in adulation, or jumping up and down, or celebrating like one would think. I didn't even cry.  All I said was Praise God! It was as if the phone call was merely reporting to me what I already knew was true.  I don't want it to appear like I take this news for granted.  I don't, I'm extremely thankful for this news.  It was an awesome confirmation to that which I already believed was true.

Next treatments will be 5 weeks of radiation, continuing with Herceptin every 3 weeks, but no chemo; and beginning hormone blocking pills most likely Tamoxifen.  Herceptin will continue until May and Tamoxifen for 5 years.

So how have I been?

Well, it's been 3 weeks since surgery, about 2 months since my last chemo and things are moving along.  Incisions are becoming scars, sutures are disappearing and my head is covered in blonde and black patches of peach fuzz.  My head looks like a milk cow...

It's amazing to me, our body's capacity to pick up and move on, never tiring in its desire to make us whole.  Even when we don't see it, it's working on knitting us back together- healing over those places that are ripped open, restoring things that were damaged or taken away.  Much like God, no?  He's just waiting to heal, restore, refine and redeem those things in us that are keeping us hostage, holding us back from what He has for us.  He never stops loving us and trying to make us whole.

What's confusing, hurtful, saddening, ____ (insert your own emotion),  is that sometimes what He allows during this process doesn't always feel loving.  In fact it can feel down right cruel and punishing.  For me, I struggle with the why?  As I've stated previously I'm thankful for my healing, but why me and not others?

It's the age old question, why does God heal some people instantly, some over time, and some not at all?  During my course of treatment I've come in contact with all three.  I've come in contact with individuals who prayed or received prayer and when it came time for treatment the tumors were gone.  Then there's me and others like me who have been healed over time, and unfortunately there are those that do those things and yet, do not get healed.

It's been difficult to get to know people who are undergoing treatment with no end in sight.  My last day of chemo was just another day of treatment to them.  Their bodies have adjusted to this new normal, but they don't have a chemo countdown. It just doesn't feel fair.

God is God.  He can heal anyone at anytime.  So why not them?  I don't know.  I know there are some people who believe it's a faith issue, or lack thereof.  There are those who are quick to make statements about God's will.  Others point to this fallen world.  I don't have an answer to this question that I feel gives complete resolution to this long debated topic so I'm not going to muddy the waters further by adding my own 2 cents.

The only thing that is for certain is that this life is temporary, God is eternal.  We are limited in our ability to see the entire picture or know the whole story. I'm still praying about this, researching, and reading.  I'm confident that if I need to know, I will.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

For Those That Worry...

"You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you." ~ Isaiah 26:3

This verse popped up as my verse of the day a couple weeks ago and it stopped me in my tracks.  It continues to run through my mind often as I go about my day, and has made me think about reactions and responses to life, this bout with cancer being one of those.

When I got diagnosed with cancer many well meaning individuals, some I knew, some were a friend of a friend came to me with advice.  "You need to go to this doctor"; "I can't believe you're not going to do ___;" "This is the surgery you should have"; "Check out this support group," etc.  Add in the accessibility of online publications and it's very easy to become overwhelmed and confused with all the advice.

Some advice I did, some I researched, some I joined, like the online Facebook support groups.  As I read through account after account, article and after article, comment stream after comment stream of individuals with my same type of cancer I began to feel the fingers of panic grip at my heart and I began to hear a little voice in my head telling me to get off the page, off the computer, or out of the group.

I listened partly, signing off but not out of the groups.  Some time later I checked back in and briefly skimmed through the comment streams again, only to read the same kind of postings as before.  It was after this that I decided to listen more fully to the little voice in my head unsubscribed from the groups, and stopped the constant researching .

I'm sharing this because often in our lives when hard times come; so too the well meaning, but often times panic or fear driven advice and comments of those around us.  I know it's difficult during these times not to give into the fear of the what ifs.  What if I lose the house?  What if I can't find a job? What am I going to do with my life?  What should I do about my relationship/marriage?  What if I die, etc?  I've struggled through these life questions and more, both as a Christian and not.

As a non-believer when these kinds of life events occurred, these questions would plague me resurfacing often.  They became the repeating tape inside my head during whatever life stress was currently happening, constantly keeping me in a state of panic and anxiety.  My mind reeled with the continuous searching for the right answer, the best advice, so much so, that in the end I would be decision paralyzed; unable to make any choice and yet worried more because of this indecision.  This pattern of anxiety and constant worry wreaked havoc on my health, constituting in more worry, panic, and anxiety - some say it's a family trait.

I've had these same life events and more happen as a Christian.  Over the past 6 years, I've uprooted my life; been laid-off; changed jobs; switched careers; contemplated schooling; dealt with income loss, death, and cancer, just to name a few.  I'm still me with a proclivity towards worry/panic/anxiety, but the tape that would've been playing constantly has been replaced with truth. 

"For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you." ~ Isaiah 41:13

"You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you." ~ Isaiah 26:3

"Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" ~ 1Corinthians 3:16

Understand it's not that I've changed. I could go down that same well-worn road of panic and anxiety fairly easily, but that the Truth of God is greater.  The more I lay my burdens, worry, and problems at His feet and give them over to Him, and don't take them back, the more at peace I become.  The extra bonus is when he allows me to see His plan at work in hindsight.

I know that what I'm talking about isn't an easy thing to do.  However, it's imperative during these difficult and trying times in our lives that we use discernment and turn less to of those around us, and more to the Holy One inside of us.  Cling to His promises, ask for guidance, and keep our minds focused on Him.  When I do that there is peace, there is stillness, and there is freedom.

God has broken the tape and it's made all the difference for me...

Praise and Glory to God!