Thursday, November 9, 2017

Security and Significance

Security and significance play an essential role in a woman’s life.  I’m confident that few would disagree.  Whether a woman is single or married, she is affected by these two elements in life’s  circumstances and choices.  Cancer rocked my world and the world of those I love.  To say that my security and significance became a twisted, unrecognizable mess is an understatement. I was a teacher who could not teach.  I was a mom who could not do the “mom” things.  I was a housekeeper who could not do much at all around the house.  I was an involved parent who had to sit on the sidelines.  My role of a wife became skewed.  Cancer had robbed me of my hair, my breasts, and my energy to name a few losses.  I was hurting inside and out from head to toe.  Who was I?  Doctors and others told me my job was to take care of myself.  For six months, I had to set aside what I thought I needed to do for what I had to do, kick this cancer.
Cancer is now gone.  I am still who I was.  I am still who God made me, inside and out, even though I look different.
Now the bills and EOBs are coming in for the six days I spent in the hospital.  We will have to fight for some to be reconsidered.  Financial security is huge for cancer patients.  What will insurance cover?  Will I have enough for any copays?  How long will this treatment go on?  Will my treatment carry over into another year, so that my copays and deductible start all over again?  Cancer is expensive.  Financial insecurity is real.  In our home, God has chosen to continually bring in work to the firm and has prompted clients to pay on time.  That does not always happen in our home or in many others. Cancer unsettles the most financially prepared individual.  Thankfully, God owns it all and all is at his disposal.
I have been blessed with a loving, faithful husband who has walked each step of that hallway to every treatment and has slept in the chair right beside me in the hospital as well as at home when I could not even climb the stairs to bed.  He has heard every word from the doctors in every appointment.  For others, cancer has separated spouses and even severed marriages.  Some woman head into cancer treatments insecure of how it will affect their relationships. For those woman who are independent, strong, and single, the question my be how in the world can  I attack this awful disease alone?  They enter financially stable and wonder how in the world bills will be paid.  Who will stand with them in the really hard times?  Will people stay away because they just don’t know what to say?
Each day I am reminded of new mercies, new healing.  I am reminded again, how much I lost, but also of how much I have gained.  For a time, God allowed me to feel insecure in my own doing, so that I can more fully realize my security in Him.  He allowed what I thought made me significant to be altered for a time in order for me to see my true significance in him.
Oh, believe me, I would not have chosen cancer for me and my family.  I have been mad.  I have been scared.  I am still dealing with the new me on the outside, and I will for awhile.  Insecurity often raises its ugly head.  I am working back slowly into my significant roles of mom and wife.
As you meet others who have been blindsided with cancer (I am focusing on what I know understanding that this affects women differently), consider their insecurities and feelings of insignificance.  Understand that it is a process that will continue.  There are no easy answers.  No matter how many times, she hears it and denies it, continue to affirm her for who she is.  Understand her fears are real and know that a hug and an encouraging card goes a long way.  Feel free to help her with life when you can.  You don’t have to ask.  Her insecurity may make it hard to ask for your help.
At the risk of sounding ridiculously trite, the most powerful thing you can do is pray for these women.  Don’t stop praying. Tell her you are praying.  Pray with her.  Remind her that God is in all of this, and He is the one who loves her unconditionally.  He is the one who has the resources to take care of any need.  Cancer is unbelievably hard.  It changes your world.  It will change you.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Clearance and Coming Days

This week marks six weeks since surgery.  Each day brings more healing.  Each day moves us closer to a new reality.  Not sure yet what to expect that reality to be.  Not sure when to expect that reality to plateau.  As of now I am still on the uphill climb toward complete healing.
Last week I met with my oncologist who discussed with me how we are going to approach these next five years.  Yes, five years.  Triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) means that after chemo and surgery there is nothing more to do.  Praise the Lord, there is no further evidence of cancer in my body.  Many of you have shared how you have prayed for just that.  Thank you so much for your faithful prayers.  God has chosen to answer very graciously.  That said, there is also no other preventative treatment either.  I will not be taking any other meds.  There are some benefits such as I will not have to deal with any side effects of harsh meds.   I have no residual cancer, and therefore, I do not qualify for any clinical trial.   I will be meeting with my oncologist regularly and will be having blood work to monitor liver and bone function.  At this point I will not be scanned regularly.  As I am the one most aware of  my body, I will need to be cautious of any crazy changes:  bone pain, difficulty breathing, severe headaches, and significant weight loss.  TNBC has a greater reoccurrence than other breast cancers before the five year anniversary.  After that milestone, the rate of reoccurrence drastically drops.  Can I say again how thankful I am that God is in control of all of this.  My tomorrows are known by him.  He has laid out my days before even one of them came to be.  Oh my, how much I need to hold on to this!
Today I met with the micro surgeon who did my reconstruction.  He is so kind, for which I am thankful.  In addition to kindness, he is really good at what he does.  If I simply looked at the medical aspect of breast cancer surgery, I would be over the moon excited about my situation. It is amazing what the docs can do.  Still, in December, I will need to have outpatient surgery to revise a few things.  When you look at me, you would never know.  Trust me when I say that things are not quite right yet.  I have decisions to make which I never thought I would have to consider.  They are not major life decisions.  Still, as a woman, considering the way my body will look is difficult.  Today was an emotional day.  Just saying.
I am cleared to do what I am comfortable doing.  So,  I guess that means I need to assume my chauffeur job again.  This mom of many cannot say thank you strongly enough to my parents and friends who have filled the gap when my kids needed rides all over creation.  We have been loved so practically.  My kids are watching and have been the beneficiaries of lots of love.
I really hate cancer.  I have friends who are fighting this terrible disease as I write this.  Cancer robs so much. Yet, God gives.  He gives grace, help, and peace.  He give love when I feel unlovely. Bryan and I still have much to work through, but we know God is in it.  Day by day.

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.