Sunday, October 8, 2017

Baby Steps Towards a New Normal

Reality check…again.
I am 2.5 weeks out after a life changing surgery. They say that you don’t remember much.  It’s true.  Some memories fade in and out.  All I know now is that I sit here cancer free, though not without scars.  The pain in my body is managed with regular OTC meds.  I do not need any home care visits as my physical healing is progressing well.  My mind is what I now fight with daily.  Not that that is anything new.
They say the docs did an amazing job.  I believe them from a medical perspective. I am extremely grateful for the skill of all who cared for me.  The advances in medicine have blessed me.  I do believe that cancer would have taken my life had not the doctors been used by God to treat me.  However, I now need to get used to this new body.
It still hurts.  Even as I type this, my emotions are trying to leak out.  I am standing up straighter, and my kids celebrate that,  even though I am a sloth.  Today, I am prepping my mind to try again to sleep in my own bed next to my husband.  The first time was an epic fail, tears and all.
To be honest, I am not a fan of looking in the mirror.  I know that beauty is not simply a physical thing.  I know that God has created me fearfully and wonderfully.  Nothing can change that.  I know that my hubby loves me no matter what.  Still, any woman who has lost her hair, had her breasts removed, and has a scar from hip to hip will hesitate to say much positive at all.  Remember, this is a reality check,  friends.  I know truth.  Sometimes truth hurts, that’s all.
In future months, I will be heading back to the surgeon to revise a few things and put the finishing touches on my new chest.  Tattoos. Who would have thought that?  Since I have no feeling there, they say it won’t hurt.
I have three docs whom I will be visiting regularly over the next five years at least. My cancer needs to stay away.  If it chooses to find me again, we will be ready to fight.
Daily, I hear my kids mention things they want to do “when Mommy is healthy”.  I miss that.  I hope I never again take for granted the days of being healthy.  Yes, we did a lot this summer.  More than I thought we would.  Bryan has been a super hero to our family.  I did a lot of sitting and watching.  I look forward to really being Mom again.
Cancer is just really hard.  Not harder than any other disease, I am sure.  As October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I have read so many “inspirational” quotes.  To be honest, I don’t believe half of them.  Call me crazy and a negative woman.  However, I don’t believe that this cancer, this pain, this loss, is what makes me anything special.  I don’t believe this makes me a warrior. Yes, I have survived, but not by anything that I did.  There are many others who have followed the same regimen and have had far different responses.  God has chosen to use this cancer to change me: physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  I don’t like it, but I know that God loves me through it all.  Cancer is not about me.  It is about Him.
I am quite tired of sitting in this chair doing basically nothing.  I will be ready to be cleared medically in a few weeks.  Not that that does not bring its own element of fear.  Will I be able to do what I did before?  Ugh, my minds goes crazy sometimes.
I close with the verse that I need so desperately.  You have heard me say it more than once.  God has used this to massage my hurting heart on many occasions.  (Paraphrase). “God will keep me in perfect peace when my mind is stayed on Him.”

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Last Chemo Day

Today marked a milestone.
April 3rd was the day I was officially diagnosed.  Within two days I had seen the oncologist.  By the 12th I had completed all the necessary prelim tests and found myself at a surgical center having a port put in.  The next morning, the 13th, I headed to RCCA in Mt. Holly to begin my first stage of chemo.
Today, August 23,  I walked out of that same floor relieved and crying.
Sixteen times Bryan and I made that trip.  He has been by my side every single step.  Even my oncologist noticed.  Sadly, many cancer patients arrive by themselves for various reasons.  I personally need my hubby right there with me.
Now I have a month off, relatively speaking.  I can get school moving at home.  I get to go to see my kids play soccer.  We get to take a few day trips as a family, and even take a weekend away together.  I might be able to sneak in some garage saleing too.  That said, my body is beat up.  My heart and mind do not really match up with what my body can do.  Thankfully, I have stayed relatively healthy despite lower WBC, still patience is not my strong suit.  Ugh.
I am very thankful that I have some time now for my body to recoup a bit before a major surgery on September 21.  It looks like an 8 hour surgery and a  4-5 day hospital stay with a 6 week recovery. Many things are still unknown and will not have answers until after the pathology is completed at surgery.  Triple negative breast cancer will not respond at all to hormone therapy, so that is not an option.  As I am having a bi-lateral mastectomy with reconstruction at the same time, radiation is not a given unless the nodes are involved.  If cancer is still evident in the tissue or nodes, I believe that another round of chemo is an option.  There are two choices, neither of which I really understand as of yet.  I just heard about it today.  One involves oral meds and the other an IV infusion every three weeks for four treatments (I will lose my hair again ) I was a bit overwhelmed and discouraged to be honest.  I was given the stat of 20% of breast cancer patients will NOT need the additional chemo.  We are praying that I am in that minority.  
Today is done.  Chemo is finished.  We celebrated today with Jersey Mike’s hoagies, chocolate cake, outside play on a gorgeous evening, and chats with our big kids.  I came home today to a beautiful flower arrangement that Bryan had sent to the house.  It is so pretty!!  It was a good day.  Tomorrow is new day.  Anxiety can be powerful in my heart, but God is stronger.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Life Keeps Moving

We managed to survive the school year.  A few sweet ladies helped when chemo made it too rough to concentrate on teaching.  Fall will be another story when I undergo surgery, but we will cross that bridge when we get there.  Until then, I am thankful for the strength to finish this year and work this summer to prep for the next year.  I was a little too excited when school books, anatomy slides, and dissection equipment arrived for next year’s curriculum.
God has been answering your prayers, friends. I have managed to avoid mouth sores to this point.  I have been able to sleep well.  There appears to be minimal bone pain with Taxol so far.  My hands and feet are sore by the end of the day, but that may be just life. There were no reactions to the chemo last week, so the plan is to cut back on the Benedryl for tomorrow’s treatment and speed up the infusion.  My energy level is still minimal.  I think that will take quiet awhile for it to come even close to normal.  I have minimal belly pain that seems to be associated with Taxol as well.  My family continues to come up big to fill in the gaps and help where needed.  Seeing my mom almost every day is a blessing beyond words.
Last Sunday at Immanuel,  Matthew sang with his music team from Baptist Regional.  In his solo, he sang the words “Let them see you in me.”  I am convicted that Jesus is often quite blurry at best.  I don’t feel good.  My schedule is determined by doctors.  My kids are crazy.  I am almost always tired.  None of this lends itself for a clear representation of Jesus in my life.  Catch me on a good day, and I will show you clearly.  It's the hard times that make it seem impossible.
Aly is home this summer, and I am so thankful.  This, however, is the last summer home as she will be getting married next July.  That said, wedding plans have been a sweet distraction for us.  I am enjoying talking through the exciting things ahead for her and Frank.
Bryan and I are still looking forward to our “recovery cruise”.  Some day.  The process of treating and healing from cancer is soooo long.  Next week he and I will celebrate 27 years of marriage.  I don’t have the words to show how much I love my husband.  He has been such a source of strength and encouragement.  He works so hard to keep our family moving smoothly over all the bumps in the road.  His example of godly leadership and love for me is seen by my kids.  I pray that they learn and follow his example.
Tomorrow is another day.  Weekly treatment gets old.  But God’s faithfulness and His Word have been a staying force in my life.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

No Evidence of a Tumor

Last week marked a milestone. Four treatments of A/C completed means the Red Devil is behind us.  Onpro is as well which is a good thing.  I could do without the extreme body pain after the injection.  That said, the Onpro did its job and I was healthy enough for each of my treatments.  Next week starts the next chemo regimen of Taxol. We are praying for limited bone pain and no neuropathy.  It would also be a blessing if I did not lose any of my fingernails or toenails.  I know, gross.
The kids are used to my bald head, but they are wondering when my hair will grow back. I am not counting on any new hair until fall, but we shall see how the summer progresses.
Today was a good meeting with my surgeon.  His words to me: there is a complete clinical response to chemo (no more tumor evident!!!)  Our response:  We praise God for answered prayer.  The next step is meeting soon with the surgeon who will do the reconstruction along side my breast surgeon in the fall.
So much of cancer hurts.  You know that.  If affects so many people.  My cancer is not determined by any genetic code.  As is with 70% of cancer, there is no particular reason why these dangerous cells decided to reproduce in my body.  I have to make a conscious choice not to live in fear of cancer or of tomorrow.  I am grateful beyond words that my God is the one who has created me in my mother’s womb and is in charge of each and every cell in my body.  He knows if cancer will return, and I need to trust him with that, even if it scares me.  Choosing a bilateral mastectomy reduces the chances of a return of breast cancer significantly (from 20% to 1%).
I am continually blown away by the prayers of so many.  The cards, the meals, the childcare...everything has made an impact for God’s glory on my family.
Discouragement is a continual battle for me.  I get out of breath changing a load of laundry (which does not happen much as my mom stays on top of that  ).  My heart races from simply climbing the stairs. For goodness'  sake,  I could not even peel potatoes without having to sit down.    As a mom, being restricted so greatly is hard to deal with.
I am counting on God’s grace for each day.  Even when it is so hard, painful, and discouraging.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Hitting the Wall Hurts

I think I hit a mental wall this week.  The wall won.
When people say that I may think this will never end, I believe them.  I know it will.  I know that God is carefully watching me every step of the way.  I know it will end, but right now I don't see how.
Yes, I am almost done with the yucky stuff.  The summer weekly chemo should not be as difficult on my body.  Surgery will be most likely the end of September.  I will have that nailed down within the next 6 weeks.  There is a practical end to the treatment.
What hit me this week is the lingering effects that cancer will have.  As with most trials that anyone goes through, I will never be the same.  There will be obvious physical changes and scars. My kids wonder what my hair will look like when it decides to return.  There may be some things that never come back.  Will there be nerve damage inherent with a radical surgery?  Will I ever be able to regain energy even close to where I was before cancer?  Will I be ever cured of cancer? My membership in the club of cancer survivors is a lifetime membership.  
I hesitate to write this as I sound like a thankless, grumpy woman.  Today I probably could be described (especially by my family) as an angry, sad, frustrated, exhausted woman.  So, friends, I am sharing a bit of reality.
What I am counting on is the many prayers of family, friends, and friends of friends whom I will never meet.  Worldwide, my family is brought before God’s throne.  Despite my mindset today, I cannot imagine facing tomorrow without a confidence in the One who knows tomorrow and the next day and next year.
A few weeks ago I saw Laura graduate from Cedarville.  This week I get to watch Matthew and Maddie in the their high school play, Shrek.  Life goes one, and God has allowed me to watch.  I can’t DO very much.  My body gets worn down with the slightest exertion.  However, God is always good.
Yes, hitting the wall hurt.  I cry a lot.  However, this is just an obstacle that I  will have to choose to climb, or walk around, or just sit until Someone carries me over.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Headed to Graduation

We dropped her off five years ago.  As we pulled out of the CU parking lot, Bryan and I looked at each other teary-eyed knowing we had done our job.  She was never coming home again to stay.  Yes, she has been home for breaks.  Now  as we reach graduation, we could not be happier for our daughter, Laura.  She has worked relentlessly as a woman in the engineering department.  She has not let any learning challenges keep her from doing what she loves to do.  She has made life-long friends. She has nurtured a servant’s heart and has grown even more in love with Jesus as she has taken each step to independence.
My diagnosis came on April 3.  I had no idea if treatment would keep me home from graduation.  With port surgery and two chemo days in the books, I am on the PA Turnpike headed out to see my girls.  This Saturday I will cry I am sure as I watch Laura get her diploma.  God is always good, but this milestone is huge.  Only He could move all the pieces of the story.
Laura has an apartment and job waiting for her in Michigan.  I will miss my girl, but this momma feels so thankful for what God is doing.  I have done my job.  God will keep doing His.

Friday, April 28, 2017

One more chemo down - 14 to go

I dreaded round two of chemo.  Really dreaded it.  However, God chose to give me one of the best night’s sleep the day before chemo, and I woke with a clear head and happy heart.  With teaching done for the morning, Bryan and I stole out for a lunch at Pei Wei before we headed to the hospital.
The doctor was very pleased in what he saw.  By outward appearances, the tumor is shrinking.  That news accompanied with the clear tests taken previously means we are on the right track.
I was very concerned this week that my white blood count would not be high enough for chemo.  Next week is Laura’s college graduation in Ohio, and I desperately wanted to be there, not in a chemo room.  I gave that specific request to many prayer warriors.  God chose to answer that positively so chemo was a go.
At the first chemo treatment I took an Ativan, but this time I chose not to take anything.  That decision proved to be wise as I am not nearly as wiped out as I was two weeks ago. Also nausea is very minimal.  That said, it was amazing how quickly all the meds pumped into my body changed my perky self from the morning to a sluggish, tired momma.
It was a gorgeous day yesterday both outside and inside.  Bryan and I noticed with only one exception, all the patients in the chemo room wore not only bald heads, but also bright smiles.  One sat coloring.  Another crocheting.  Most had a friend or family member with them.  Not one complained about all the chirping and beeping of the machines waiting attention.
As my three syringes of red devil were carefully pushed via my port, my nurse, Tammie, and I chatted about Easter, family, God provisions, and patience in this trial.   I look forward to chatting with her more.
We left after  3 ½ hours.  As we waited for the car (the hospital has valet service ), I got to sit next to the grumpy one from the chemo room.  Her husband was picking her up, but I had not seen him in the chemo room.  He is having a hard time knowing how to help her, I gathered.   What made her happy was the perogies she was going to make for dinner.  I think she likes to cook.  I congratulated her on her 52 years of marriage and wished her a wonderful evening.   She cracked a little smile.
Sonic is on the way home, so Bryan and I have made it a ritual to stop for our shakes after chemo.  I may not get it all eaten, but it is definitely a treat I look forward to.
I am so abundantly blessed.  I still cry occasionally.  I don’t know why God has chosen to allow cancer, but I most likely never will.  I get frustrated that my energy is so zapped.  I get angry at my kids when I feel I should not.  Sometimes, I cannot complete a coherent thought.  (Now that my be due to my crazy life anyway.). But I look around and listen and cannot help but see grace God has given through so many.  I do not deserve such love, but I will be forever thankful.