Once cancer has become part of your life, even after “beating it,” its effects still linger. It’s never completely over with, this side of heaven. There is always that nagging thought, as subtle and far away as it may be, that it could come raging back with a vengeance. These past three weeks I thought mine had.
It really started months ago with the death of a friend. Her breast cancer, same type as mine, returned and spread throughout her body taking her life just one year later after it returned. Then another friend also had hers return and is presently going through treatment, again. These circumstances made me pay a little more attention to some vague symptoms I had been experiencing. Including some numbness and pins-and-needles feeling in my hands at night, different from my neuropathy symptoms. Also, back spasms and numbness and tingling sensations on the side of my head. I waited until my 6 month check with my oncologist and brought up everything to her. I complained about the usual side effects, of course, my body trying to decide if it wants to be in menopause after chemo which brought on heat intolerance, joint pain and fatigue, to name a few of the worst symptoms.
My oncologist is very good and willing to run tests to look into suspicious symptoms. My symptoms triggered her suspicion. She ordered an MRI of the brain and spine. One week later I spent 2 full hours flat on my back in an MRI machine. That was not easy. The results came back showing degenerative disc disease (rather common), but also some “nonspecific findings” in both the brain and spine. This triggered further testing to rule out the worst case scenario, the cancer had returned and metastasized to my brain and spine.
This past week was a crazy week. I spent 3 days at City of Hope. I had labs drawn, a PET CT from skull to thighs and a Lumbar Puncture to check for cancer cells. In the midst of all this my annual PAP smear results came back with abnormal cells. So a colposcopy, endometrial biopsies (ouch!) and a pelvic ultrasound were also completed.
Initially, when I heard the MRI results, I wasn’t too worried. My God has walked this valley with me all along and I knew he would not leave my side now. I trust Him, completely. I knew that most likely it would turn out to be nothing. I did not feel any impending sense of doom and I had peace. My husband, on the other hand, could barely talk about it. He was terrified and majorly stressed out. Poor man, I have put him through a lot. He is a trooper and my rock! If Jesus is on one side, he’s on the other!!
When I heard that abnormal cells were found on my PAP smear, things shifted for me. Even though I knew it could be a coincidence, my thoughts kept going there: “what are the chances of it being nothing now?” “God must be preparing me for something bad” “what will this mean?” So inevitably I started thinking about death, my life ending, what that would mean for my husband, my kids, my grandkids. Closure, all that was required, writing letters to loved ones, decorating for Christmas in June! Wait what?!? I know you’re asking what Christmas has to do with this?Everything!!! If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna enjoy my favorite time of year throughout the process. And I know how to do Christmas!
These are the thoughts that fluttered around in my head. I didn’t obsess or dwell on them, by any means, but they happened. God truly gave me peace. But the reality is the unknown takes your mind many places. Sometimes it can be scary, sometimes practical and sometimes sentimental.
Yesterday’s appointments included a follow up visit to my oncologist. All the results were back except my ultrasound which was scheduled to follow my appointment with her.
Good news!!! Everything was negative. No evidence of disease. No cancer cells found. Nothing.
Praise God! I got a thumbs up from my husband. I smiled. I asked questions. I was kind of numb. What was wrong with me? Why didn’t I feel happier? It took some time for it to really sink in that I wasn’t dying. It really had been a fluke that my PAP came back abnormal, with no explanation, after 34 years of normals. Those “nonspecific findings” was just an overly cautious radiologist dealing with a patient “history” of breast cancer. My weird symptoms had no real explanation, I guess.
Somewhere along the way, in the course of just two weeks, I went from mostly believing it would be nothing to mostly believing it would be something. All the while trusting God that he knew what was best for me, even if it was calling me home.
I had actually started accepting that fate peacefully. Now she says it was nothing? All of this? All of these tests? Nothing? It took a couple hours for my mind to wrap around it. I texted out to those who waited to hear: “All good news. Tests negative.”
My doctor plans to take my case to the tumor board to discuss everything including my symptoms, she is referring me to a neurologist for my symptoms and to consult a neuro surgeons opinion for my spine issues. Also, a rheumatologist for my hands which she thinks could be carpal tunnel or just my neuropathy.
In the end, most likely I will hear that I’m almost 50 and I’m getting older, I’m not as young as I used to be. My body has been through a lot. I should loose weight and exercise regularly to relieve the joint pain and back issues.
But…I’m NOT gonna die…not yet anyways!
This time the “not knowing” was different than with my initial cancer diagnosis. That is because of where the Lord has brought me and what he has taught me. My trust and faith in him runs deep and real and I rely on him fully, not just in hollow words but in truth! That is a peaceful and light place to live. It’s full of hope and security, resting in the shadow of his wings. And maybe he is preparing me for something bad, eventually, and I’m ok with that too. The unknown isn’t fun, but at least I know I can count on the one who holds my future, it isn’t unknown to him. Knowing Him is all I really need. And I’m thankful!
There is hope beyond this! Praise be to Jesus all glory to Him!
I will be 50 this year. I’m close to being an empty nester. I’ve raised 7 children. I’ve had an awesome career I’m now retired from. I’ve been through cancer and beat it. I could name so many more things I’ve accomplished or been through up to now. But here I am with my time ticking down on my 40s, each day reminding me I’m “almost” 50! And I’ve decided I no longer owe anyone an explanation or excuse except the man I share my life with. If he’s on board, that’s all that matters.
When I was younger and wanted to get married when I was 17, I had to defend it. I had to convince people I was ready, explain why I would want to get married so young. When I started having babies right away and just kept having them, I got to where I actually dreaded calling certain family members to tell them I was pregnant again. Not because I wasn’t ecstatic, because I was. But because of the tiresome comments I knew were forthcoming. I was different, I knew it, wanting to get married young and have so many children. But it was right for me.
Anytime in my life that we made a change, a move, bought a new car, a dog, a cat, changed jobs, spent money, even ate unhealthy food, I felt I had to defend it. Well that’s ridiculous! I’m an adult. I’m “almost” 50 now. I’ve been through my share of crap. And if I want to do something that seems crazy or unreasonable to someone else, why should I feel afraid to share it, or do it?
People judge. That is why. My whole life I have lived under that cloak of judgement because I cared what people thought of me. Also, maybe, a small part of me thought I was being crazy too. But no more. I’m going to be me and that’s not crazy. So this year I’ve decided I’m too old to worry about it anymore.
No more am I going to allow myself to worry about other peoples responses or what they think of me, what I’m doing, or how I’m spending my time or my money. If I’m excited about something and want to share it, I will. If I need to loose weight but want to eat poorly right now, it’s my choice. If I spend money on something you don’t approve of, as long as my husband does than it’s not your problem. So if my response to you is not what you expect than this is why…I don’t need to defend my actions.
So my first announcement after this life changing, freedom giving decision to live on my own terms is this:
I’m getting another puppy!!! Yes I am. And not a little puppy, a great big puppy!!!!! Dan and I are welcoming a Saint Bernard puppy into our growing family of dogs. Because I want to, that’s why. My husband approves because he loves and supports me and we’ve always wanted one and he’s cute! So there!
Watch out 50, here I come!!!!
There is hope beyond this too! Glory to God for 50 years of living!!!!
I was obsessed with babies from a very young age. Newborns specifically. To me holding an infant in your arms was the best. I couldn’t wait to grow up and have babies! Lots of babies.
I volunteered in the church nursery from the age of 9 or 10. I knew all the babies in our church and they knew me. If there was a new baby to be held, I always asked to hold. I was extremely mature for my age and the parents liked me. By the time I was about 11/12 I was taking babysitting jobs for those children in their homes. Anywhere from 1 child, to a home with 6 boys. Back then you got paid $1 to $2 an hour for babysitting! I loved it and took every job I could.
When I was 12, I would walk back and forth on our front porch talking to God about how bad I wanted to be a mom. I prayed, “Lord, why can’t you just make me pregnant like you did the virgin Mary?”
I didn’t want to wait, I wanted a baby, bad.
Well immaculate conception was not in the cards for me but I did start young! I met my husband when I was 14, he was 17. One year later, at 15, we were engaged and when I was 17 and he was 20 we got married. No I wasn’t pregnant, but you better believe that was my first priority once I was married. So my cycle started a few days after our wedding and by the next month I had a positive pregnancy test. My first born arrived 9 months and 9 days after our wedding date. Finally, I was a mom, at 18.
Now I realize most 18 year olds aren’t ready to be moms, but I was. I had prepared for this mentally and emotionally for nearly 10 years. And I had the skills to care for a baby. Side note: Needless to say I also did a lot of growing up while I was raising my own children. But some 30 year olds aren’t even as mature as I was at 18. So I do condone young marriage and parenthood depending on the individuals and circumstances. Age doesn’t define readiness. Everyone is different and no situation is perfect.
What a joy it was to hold a newborn in my arms that was all mine. I couldn’t be happier. After that, the babies just kept coming! I knew I wanted at least 4. Between 18 and 30 years of age, I gave birth to all seven of my children. I was either pregnant or breastfeeding for almost 12 solid years. I had babies in diapers for 15 years.
During that time a lot happened. Among which, I went to nursing school and became an RN and of course went directly into the maternal child area of practice. I started out as a postpartum nurse and within a year trained and transferred over to NICU nursing. My dream job! (If I had to work) I got to work with the tiniest of newborns! So after my last child was out of diapers, I still changed diapers and fed babies for another 10 years beyond that! I retired in 2013 from nursing (and 25 years of diapers) when we moved back to California. I finally got to be a stay at home mom for the youngest 3 of my kids even though they were mostly grown.
So, many would say I have experience with raising children. My kids turned out great, by most accounts and opinions. Not perfect but respectable, good humans with varying levels of success and some with children of their own. I became a grandma at 40 and love it! One of the many benefits to starting young!
Now that my kids are grown I sometimes hear about things from when they were little. Impressions left, hurts inflicted, mistakes made. I realize it’s the dramatic moments we tend to remember. The normal, mundane and ordinary often seems like the lesser of a childhood and the things that stand out to a child were the scary, hurtful, and big moments. (Good and bad). So sometimes kids grow up with a somewhat distorted perception of their childhood. But in reality that is how they remember it so changing their mind is nearly impossible.
My grown kids even argue among each other about what did and didn’t happen and what is true or truly exaggerated. Who had it the worst and the best will never be agreed on by all of them. I almost feel like I’ve learned more from their perceptions of things then I did raising them. Because no matter how good (or bad) of a job you do, perception is everything to your children. And the things you say and do in their childhood is what shapes and molds their memories, opinions of you as a parent and feelings toward you in general, as well as their emotional and mental well being.
That’s when you truly see the mistakes you made, little and big, even when you thought you were doing an okay job. And it’s different for each individual child and personality. The unfortunate part is, once they are grown, it is done and you can’t go back and have a do over. I’ve realized that it’s nearly impossible to know some of the things you may be doing that leave a negative impression with one of your children but there are some general things I’ve learned. Sometimes you just do the best you can and hope it will be enough.
So this is my advice for those out there who are still in the midst of raising up your children, or just starting out having babies.
Love is the number one most important thing you must give your child. Not necessarily what love means to you but what it means to them. We all receive love and affection differently, so try to learn what matters to each child. Is it quality time, affection, individual time, words of praise and encouragement, fairness, interest in what they love? There are many ways to give and receive love.
You may think that working long hours to provide everything for them they could want is how you show you love them or buying them gifts and toys and things they want should show them. They should be grateful for all your hard work and everything you do for them and give them, right? Wrong. In reality, most kids don’t care about that long term. There may be certain times that a special item they wanted really badly, when received, could be a good memory etched into their collection of childhood memories. For the most part, though, they won’t remember all those things you bought or all the time you spent working to support them, cleaning up their messes, doing their laundry, cooking them meals, making holidays extra special or whatever we do as parents to just responsibly care for and raise our children.
What they remember is whether you were there for them at the times they needed you or wanted you most. Were you compassionate to their feelings even when you didn’t understand why they felt the way they did. Did you show them respect even though you are the adult and they are the child and not belittle them or their interests. Trust me, you can do it without even realizing it, by telling them video games are stupid or you don’t like their taste in clothes or confirming truth to hurtful words their siblings have used toward them.
Raising children is hard work. Paying attention to all their individual needs and personalities when you are tired and overwhelmed with life, stressed out or fed up with bickering, messes made, disobedience etc etc etc. Sometimes you do have to pick your battles for your own sanity.
Although, it’s how you respond when you’re feeling the most depleted that they seem to remember later. When we lose are tempers, say things that are hurtful, ignore their needs and refuse to defend them when asked. Sometimes it’s just making the best of what life hands you that can become distorted in a child’s memory. We even often repeat similar cycles we didn’t like about our own childhoods.
For example, I hated that my mom was gone most of the time. I needed her to be there for me more but she worked swing shift, the hours that we were home from school, 5 days a week on rotation. She had very practical reasons for working that shift, that allowed her to help support her family financially and raise 7 children and run the household. All good. She did an incredible job of it too. As an adult I completely understand. But as a child I just resented that she worked when we were home. My primary love language is quality time. So yes, I took it personal that she worked a shift that kept her away. I can remember some of the special gifts they gave me growing up, but the best and most meaningful thing she ever did was take me with her alone to a women’s retreat weekend that happened to land on my 12th birthday. I don’t remember a lot of details about the weekend but the fact that she took me and only me to spend an entire weekend with her, that meant the world to me. It wasn’t planned, it was a last minute decision, probably because I made her feel guilty. But there it was, her decision filled my love tank and etched a memory that said she cared about me to my soul.
I also became a working mom out of necessity and when I was home I was sleeping because I worked graveyard shift. I only saw my kids for a couple hours a day and on my days off I was often running errands, doing laundry, running a household, taking kids to practices for various activities or just vegging in front of the TV because I was exhausted.
My kids memories are of a mom who wasn’t around a lot and too tired to meet their needs when I was around.
Obviously there are other important things that factor into raising children. Teaching them to love Jesus is the most important thing to instill in them. discipline, consistency, responsibility, protection, open communication, involvement, teaching them how to be good humans, all of these are important.
But the thing that will speak the most into their perceptions of you and their childhood memories is how well you show them love. I’m sure that is why the Bible tells us …”the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 14:1 (NLT) tells us, “Let love be your highest goal!”
God love! Not worldly love. 1 Corinthians 13 teaches us about God love. We often think about it in relation to marital love but this is how God loves us and how we are called to love others. All others. Including our children. Do yourself a huge favor parents and study what love really is in the Bible and apply it to your marriage, your parenting, and all your relationships.
I could go into all those other important factors in parenting and maybe I will in later blog posts. Maybe I will make it a series. But for now I will focus on the greatest of these…love. Everything else will come with it! Don’t believe me, Jesus said it in Matthew 22:37-40: Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
The greatest commandment is to “Love.”
All the other laws and prophets hang on love!
With expressing love to your children don’t forget to let them see you expressing love to your spouse. One of the biggest mistakes we made raising our kids was not necessarily letting them see us argue, which wasn’t the best, but it was not letting them see that we had made up. Letting them know we were wrong and that we had forgiven each other and love each other no matter what. Don’t just assume they know it because everything is fine the next day. Your children don’t know the words of humility, kindness, forgiveness and love that you have spoken toward each other in private. We often left our children with the impression that we weren’t very fond of each other for many reasons. It wasn’t intentional, we didn’t know the thoughts they had about the state of our marriage until they were grown. It bothers me to know my children grew up worried our marriage wasn’t good and we could potentially end up divorced. This shaped many of their beliefs about marriage, love, forgiveness and how to treat someone you are in a relationship with. No matter what principles you may be teaching them, remember actions often speak louder than words. Although, reassuring words to enforce all the loving relationships in their life are also very important.
So show love, to Jesus, to yourself, to your spouse, and to your children! It is the greatest of these!
Pray often, love fiercely, be humble, do your best and never stop trying to improve. Your children will be blessed for it and so will you.
Last week someone I knew died. I didn’t know her really well. Our paths crossed briefly for about a year and a half, we were both leaders of women’s Bible study and in the same community leader group. Our contact was brief, our conversations short, we also enjoyed Bible study together at our community leaders house that summer for a few weeks. We stayed in contact as friends on Facebook after I left that church in 2017, the year before I would also be diagnosed with breast cancer.
Back in 2015 and 2016 when we met and shared time together, she was bravely fighting breast cancer. I remember our team leader mentioning her surgery and her drains from surgery and treatment in prayer requests. She missed a few weeks because of treatment but most of the time she was there. Looking back it impresses me because I was clueless at the time but now know what she was going through. I only half listened, I was a NICU nurse so I knew nothing about oncology or breast cancer. I was focused on the women at my table and so I never became very close to the other leaders, I never got to really know her the way I wish I had. I look back and feel so insensitive for the lack of care and concern I showed her. She just always looked so good and she was there enough that it didn’t seem all that bad.
I have a very bad memory for details of people’s stories that they share, which always makes me feel bad especially when they seem to remember details about me. Once I was diagnosed she reached out once and reminded me that she had just gone through breast cancer herself. I had so many people reaching out to me and was so wrapped up in my own situation that I have no idea what I responded to her.
In December 2019 she posted a link to her “Caring Bridge” site on her Facebook post. I clicked on it and read it which prompted me to read her journal entries all the way back to her diagnosis in 2014. I learned many things about her then that I didn’t know before. First, she had been cancer free for almost 5 years and after a routine, every 6 month post cancer check up, discovered that the cancer had returned in her lungs, liver, spine and hip. Stage 4. I learned that her original breast cancer was invasive ductal carcinoma and was HER2 positive just like mine. Our treatments and surgeries were even similar in many ways which I will touch on. Also, she was exactly 4 years ahead of me at diagnosis.
I immediately wrote to her expressing my love and concern and understanding of what she must be feeling, knowing words were inadequate. She was receiving 100s of messages and wasn’t answering most, not that I expected her to. She was one of those women who had so many friends and a huge support system. So I followed and prayed and commented from a distance. She was well loved and cared for over the last 13 months of her life before she went peacefully and joyfully to meet Jesus, with family and loved ones at her side constantly. She wrote about her experiences on Caring Bridge along the way sharing her journey and inspiring and blessing others.
I know she is in a wonderful place. Her family, though grieving, is truly at peace and writing about her grace and strength through the process and what her last days were like. Even after her passing they are still blessing others with their words. Truly inspiring.
Even though we weren’t close we share an experience in this life that makes me feel close to her, they call us “pink sisters.” But more than that she was the only one I knew personally that had the exact same kind of aggressive breast cancer that I had. So, yes, I was very interested in following her story over the last 13 months and making so many comparisons in our cancer journey for myself. It brought that nagging reality to the surface that this could come back, it could spread and the reminder that the chances were higher because of the aggressive nature of it.
I talked about her with my husband and my mom and even my oncologist every now and then. It helped to talk about it, to talk about her, to talk about how hopeful I was that the differences in our overall treatment, doctor and facility choices and pathology reports would hopefully mean mine would not spread and reoccur like hers did.
I knew she chose to stop treatment after Christmas because it wasn’t prolonging her life by much anymore and causing her a lot of pain and illness. She went into hospice care at home with her family with the expectation of a month left to live. She got her month. Yesterday I read that she passed last Thursday and I read the words of her husband, Danny, yes I see the irony in our husbands having the same name. Today I read her daughters words then texted my Danny and told him that Roquel died. He commiserated with me over it expressing his gratefulness that we sought treatment at City of Hope. A few minutes later I asked him what was really on my mind…”will I be ok?”
Along with his wise words was the reassurance I was looking for, “of course you will.” Not that he gets to decide that, but hearing that he believes it, helps.
When I was first diagnosed we had HMO insurance and everything was a process, every referral, every test, every separate doctor visit. We discovered it is a very compartmentalized approach to treatment. The doctors don’t work together as a team and they all have different thoughts about what should be done and in what order. I did a lot of research including asking for advice on community pages for best treatment places. In the end we were blessed to be in our open enrollment month and decided it was worth it to pay the money to switch to the PPO and go to City of Hope, a premier cancer hospital, and be treated by a team of breast cancer focused specialists that collaborate together instead of a generic oncologist and general surgeon that do not.
We learned a lot along the way and my treatment, testing and different specialties involved were extensive. They had a plan and implemented it together. They knew the significance of my specific type of breast cancer and the meds necessary to treat it. The actions taken were quick and effective. Appointments made before referrals approved because they were a cancer facility and didn’t take no for an answer from the insurance companies. They fight for you! You aren’t left twisting in the wind or should I say the whims of people sitting at a desk putting their stamp of approval or disapproval on record after record.
I could go on and on about the differences we discovered in the different medical approaches to oncology but in this case all I want to focus on is what I compared in reading Roquels journal entries about her treatment and my own treatment.
They didn’t discover that her cancer was HER2 positive until months into treatment after her surgery. So she had 2 different series of chemo treatment initially prior to her surgery which was not combined with reconstruction. Then once they discovered the aggressive cancer she had, she was then started on Herceptin, which is HER2 specific, for a year. She had a positive lymph node at the time of her surgery, so they also treated her with radiation.
Before her cancer came back I could see the differences in treatment, diagnosis and progression between us. Her cancer had spread to a lymph node, mine did not. Her chemo treatment was similar but she had been given more chemo drugs initially and Herceptin at the end. I was given Herceptin right from the start. She had to undergo radiation, I did not. She had several more surgeries then me because her reconstruction was done later in several steps. Mine was combined in one surgery, then later a nipple reconstruction. (Because i chose not to keep my nipple tissue to be safe) I was grateful for COH and their thorough and efficient approach.
So when her cancer returned I clung to those differences as a positive for me and my overall outcome for success. I wondered of course if I had stayed with the HMO and had my treatment through a general surgeon, oncologist and facility how much would my treatment have looked like hers, how prolonged would it have been, how different would my outcome have been possibly giving the cancer the opportunity to spread to a lymph node and then hide out in my body, for years possibly, before returning with a vengeance.
These are all legitimate questions and real concerns for a cancer survivor. It has made it very real that someone I know personally had the same exact type of breast cancer and her journey resulted in the cancer returning to invade her body and take her life. 7 years from her diagnosis to her death. It makes me so sad for her and for her family. All the fears and worries I’ve had before, realized in someone else. Then of course the obvious questions, “is it going to happen to me?” “Is my cancer gone for good or will it return?” “Will I be ok?”
Yes, I can reassure myself with the differences in our treatment, diagnosis and outcomes between us which can and possibly did make all the difference. But, ultimately I have to live with the reality of being a cancer survivor, I just don’t know what the future holds. So I remind myself that I do know who holds my future. I leave my worries and fears where they belong, with Jesus. I trust him with my life whatever is to become of me. I am human of course, so the thoughts are there and are certainly triggered at times. This is where I practice the skill of taking my thoughts captive. The Bible says, who by worrying has added one single day to their life, don’t worry about tomorrow, today has enough troubles of its own. And Jesus says, cast all your cares on me because I care for you. I have told you these things so you may have peace, In this world you will have trouble but take heart I have overcome the world. These are several verses that I am grateful to have hidden in my heart and memory. It is Gods Word that sustains me, fills me with hope and gives me the peace that surpasses understanding.
I am so grateful for this hope and peace we find in God alone, not just for myself and the unknowns of the future but for Roquels family. She is in heaven with Jesus, she is fine. A place with no more sorrows, pain or tears, in the presence of Jesus. Although, her family, has to deal with her absence, grieve the loss and live their unknown futures here on this earth, they also have the peace of knowing where she is. They will see her again and even though our future here is unknown, we are loved by a known God and are assured of our eternal future in heaven with him.
Rest In Peace dear pink sister! Until we meet again.
I was sitting here this morning during my quiet time contemplating what Gods plan is next. My house, with only the sounds of my dogs wrestle playing out on the back porch, the ice maker kicking on and off in the background, a cup of coffee in my hand with the words “make some coffee and own the day,” on my mug and it’s still dark outside.
My spirit is light and full of hope and joy. Despite the heaviness of world and national events which I think about often, I don’t carry those burdens or worries around with me. I talk to God and I leave them at the foot of the cross. Jesus died so we could live an abundant life casting all our cares on Him and believe me I do.
I haven’t always been able to do that. I carried burdens and stress and resentments and anger around with me like it was my cross to bear. I tried to lay it down. I would pray and ask God to take it, fix it, do something about it, but somehow I didn’t or couldn’t let it go even when I desperately wanted too or thought I had. The key is to trust Him, really trust.
Life is a journey though and my journey stretches out over nearly 50 years (50 if you count my time in the womb, which how could I not count, it was the beginning of me, the formation of me and God knew me and was with me even then. The process of changing and growing in your relationship or walk with the Lord is called your sanctification process. I can look back throughout my life and talk about the lessons I’ve learned along the way, the struggles that shaped and molded me into who I am and what God was teaching me or pruning me for. He never gives up on us, even when we head off on our own path thinking we know better. He always finds a way to use our choices to teach us, shape our character and use our mistakes to bring about good for those who love Him. He works it all together. Sometimes the good is hard to see and I think that is why we carry those worries and burdens. But if we keep our eyes fixed on Him, he guides us and gets us back onto the right path.
The Bible says don’t worry about tomorrow because tomorrow has enough worries of it’s own and who by worrying has added one day to his/her life? I’ve never been a worrier, so therefore I thought my faith has always been a strength of mine, I trust God.
Well since moving back to California nearly 8 years ago, God has blessed me with the desires of my heart and also brought me through some valleys so I could experience those mountaintop moments and the joy of the Lord and the goodness of God. Those experiences changed me and taught me how to truly “take my thoughts captive for Christ,” “Cast my cares on Him,” “fix my eyes on Him,” learn about biblical love (the breadth and depth of it) and what it truly means and how it is expressed. “The greatest of these is love.” Also, what it means to really “seek Him first, and find Him,” and lastly but most importantly how to trust Him with my life and everything in it, for real! This is what breast cancer gave me, the gift of fully trusting God. I always thought I did. But He showed me that wasn’t completely true and He took away the borders.
Oh He isn’t finished with me! I’m still a work in progress, as we all are, until the day we meet Him face to face. I am always being given chances and lessons to practice what I’ve learned and continue to improve or even mess up and humbly admit it and get back on track. Thank goodness God is merciful, we are forgiven and have the gift of Gods grace.
I know the future looks scary and it’s easy to worry and let fear creep in. We are in the midst of a world wide pandemic, as a nation we just came through the most controversial election of our lifetime with more on the line then ever before for our nation and for our own lives. Our country is divided now more than ever. So many are confused, frustrated, angry, grieved, and feeling hopeless. Others are giddy, hopeful, ecstatic, and feeling relief. Such opposite emotions between family members, friends, co workers and even the church?!
The Nation is at a crossroads spiritually. Many are asking, has God turned His back on America? Is it time for her to suffer for her sins and be left to the evil that has pervaded our society and our culture? Is America’s time as a great Nation over? We are watching daily as good things that were accomplished for our Nation, sanctity of life and liberty, freedoms, economy, security, creation of jobs and independence are being rolled back and taken away by a new administration with new priorities. It is a time of unknowns?
We have prayed fervently, we have spread the word, we have voted. Some are asking, didn’t God hear us? Doesn’t He answer our prayers? Doesn’t He care? I can most assuredly say “Yes!” Gods ways are not our ways, His timing is not on our schedule, His plans are not ours and sometimes are difficult to understand. He does promise His plans for us are for good and not for evil, to give us a future and a hope. That does not always mean it will be easy along the way. It does not always look the way we think it should. He can see the bigger picture that we can’t see. His promises are sure, He is faithful and just. So here is where the trust comes in. Trust Him with ALL of it!
We must keep praying. We must be ready with our spiritual armor because we don’t fight against flesh and blood, of that the Bible is clear, which means we are not each other’s enemies. The power of darkness and of evil in the heavenly realm is our enemy. So we must pray, stand and pray more. God will fight for us.
A spiritual awakening is coming! Now is your opportunity to draw near to the Lord, fix your eyes on Him, allow His love to flow through you to everyone (even those we disagree with). We need to share the good news of Jesus in our words and deeds. We need to love like never before. Ask God for wisdom, discernment and grace. Ask Him to allow you to see others through His eyes so you can love and live at peace with everyone. It is our stories, our witness, our testimony and the blood of the Lamb that will win the lost for Christ.
The Bible tells us to not be sleeping, be sober minded and on guard for the devil prowls around like a lion looking for whom to devour. Seek the Lord, stay connected to the vine, and trust Him with your life, your well being, your family, your future. This is where our Hope comes from. It is possible to walk through these times full of peace that surpasses understanding to guard our thoughts and mind, joy to give us abundant life in the midst of our trials, and love to overflow from within us pouring out to others and to be a light to a dark world.
GOD HAS A PLAN! We can trust His plan. He doesn’t need our help to carry it out but we do have a role we should be honored to participate in. Ask Him what your role is and offer yourself as a living sacrifice for His will and purpose.
God has set heaven in the hearts and minds of men because this is only our temporary home. We are not of this world. Long for and be ready for our heavenly home and the coming of the Lord. Nobody knows when that will be but with each passing day it is drawing closer.
His promises are in His Word and spoiler: we win in the end! EVERY knee will bow and tongue will confess that JESUS is LORD! Now let’s take as many people with us as we can!
The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.
Happy New Year everyone! I am sitting here reflecting on this past year and ever so grateful. Did COVID rock our world, absolutely. But, I am ever so grateful to say it hasn’t taken anyone away from us. I appreciate my parents attitude about it and it’s one I share. We have to live our lives trusting God and know that our days are numbered since the beginning and nothing we do will change when our earthly time is up. If COVID is the thing that takes us from this earth then so be it, we know where we are going.
Many family members have tested positive and had some milder symptoms, nobody has been hospitalized. We have been careful but not to the extent that we will miss out on visiting loved ones and attending family gatherings, hosting holidays and giving hugs. We wear a mask if it is required and we social distance in public places, but with family we live! If you were a friend that came to my Crazy Christmas Sweater party you got a hug, good fellowship and freedom from masks. We had a blast! The holidays were wonderful and my parents flew out to join us for the first time this Christmas. We spoiled them good. My daughter and her fiancé joined us from Texas also. We are blessed.
This year has had medical hardships. My husband Dan got sick in March and after a couple weeks he ended up in the hospital for several days with NO visitors allowed, diagnosed with pneumonia. His COVID test was negative. Although the infectious disease doctor and pulmonologist believe he could have possibly had it and either got a false negative or was passed the COVID infection and had secondary pneumonia. We will never really know. They tested him in August for antibodies and he was negative but they say the antibodies only last for 2-4 months. His medical issues have lingered, mostly fatigue and shortness of breath. He was getting better after his hospitalization and then in August began feeling worse which began another coarse of treatment for “walking pneumonia.”
His shortness of breath never fully resolved and after a chest X-ray showed some non-conclusive areas it began months of fighting with our insurance for further scans, referrals to specialists, more doctor appointments, and more fighting with the insurance. Finally I got him an appointment with one of my fabulous doctors at City of Hope for further investigation. That was key. COH is no nonsense and won’t put up with insurance denials.
Meanwhile in September his smart watch told him he had atrial fib, which resulted in EKGs and more referrals. He did not have A fib but something “inconclusive,” again, showed up, which led to further testing throughout October and November. His heart rate was consistently high so he was put on medication for that. His blood pressure was high and so he was put on medication for that. They ruled a lot out but never really gave a good explanation for what was causing all these new symptoms. Also, was his heart the source of his shortness of breath or his lungs, or a hiatal hernia they found? This is the question!
So now he is seeing a team of specialists at COH, getting further tests done this month and hopefully they are going to get to the bottom of it all. He has always been a little mysterious in his medical issues, but we are hoping for some solid answers.
So that is the worst of what 2020 brought us. My poor husband has had a rough year. I did mention the aftermath of cancer in my title, so I will share where I am at in my journey.
2020 has been good to me overall. Surgeries are behind me, cancer treatments finished at the end of 2019. I had tattooing (nipple color) done 3 separate times this year because the color didn’t take too well the first two times and needed touching up. I still see several specialists including my oncologist every 3-6 months for follow up. As far as lingering symptoms go, this is the part that is foreign to most people, myself included. Chemotherapy side effects can last for months, even years and in some cases permanently.
My body has been adversely effected in ways that unfortunately are permanent, some I can and will overcome. It screwed up my metabolism and hormones. So it pushed me into menopause and often the symptoms can be more severe when this happens and mine are; including heat intolerance, joint pain, hot flashes, and weight gain. My metabolism is out of whack which also made the pounds pile on post treatment which, according to my endocrinologist, is extremely common for cancer patients post treatment. I have gained 60 pounds in the last year and my goal is to spend 2021 losing it!!! I am still experiencing mild neuropathy (nerve damage) in my feet and legs. At this point it is permanent. I have Chemo brain fog still at times, my memory isn’t as good, my vision is more blurry. I don’t drive at night anymore. Then there is the fatigue from decreased metabolism, screwed up hormones, weight gain and spending so much time inactive due to a combination of all of the above, my husbands shortness of breath and resulting lack of stamina, and COVID restrictions as well. I am blessed that with an altered immune system that has been hit hard the last couple years I have escaped illness. Praise God!
So that’s my life! I’m grateful for it and I’m happy. But my goal this year is weight loss, increasing activity and hopefully then, my energy.
Cancer has changed me. I am much less social and more reclusive. I actually enjoy being home more than anything and often alone. I like it! Weird…for me anyways!
So I became a dog person this last year. My wonderful husband humored me and went along at first even though he wasn’t excited about the idea until he delved in in March when we went to see a litter of Golden Retrievers not knowing the address was a shopping center parking lot and the litter was being sold out of the back of some jerks Prius. Only two puppies left, I was ready to walk away, but Dan suddenly wanted to “save” this puppy from that man! So we came home that day with our Lexy girl.
We had a 6 month old cocker spaniel named Lady at the time that later moved to Texas to become my daughters puppy because of behavioral issues we couldn’t deal with. Lexy, on the other hand, was the perfect fit we were looking for.
In August we welcomed Maximus the great, “Max,” into our house. My husband had always wanted a Great Dane which we set aside when we thought we were done with pets. But when we started looking for a friend for Lexy, we chose Max so my husband would love him and be invested as much as I was and as much as he was with Lexy. Also, because after researching 4 breeds of interest, we concluded he was a perfect breed for our lifestyle. So I am officially a dog person. I spend most of my days with Max and Lexy and they have turned out to be perfect fits for us! They are so smart and well behaved and we have our routine.
In September I fostered a momma cat and seven kittens which reminded me how much I loved breeding animals. I grew up always having a cat that had kittens every year. I had fun fostering them for 5 weeks until they were old enough to be adopted out by the shelter. But it ignited a spark in me again and I decided I want to breed puppies!!!
Our new love for Golden retrievers and knowing the popularity of the breed made it the perfect choice. So again my wonderful husband allowed me to invest in another puppy!!! An English cream golden male. He will be 8 weeks old in 2 days. I picked him out and he will be coming in 2 weeks. So a year from now we can breed pure bred (non papered) Golden retrievers as hobby breeders. I am so excited!!!!
Who knew that 2020 would bring us 3 wonderful puppies and a whole different lifestyle and hobby? It is perfect for me being home alone most of the time and enjoying my new squad, they are my constant companions!
So as 2021 starts off, Dan, myself, Tristan, Lexy, Max and our unnamed puppy to come, wish you the happiest and healthiest of New Years, blessings and prosperity galore, love and joy found in living life, making memories and in wonderful family moments!
There is hope beyond 2020! To God be all Glory on earth as in heaven!
Several years ago when I was going through biblical counselor training, God taught me what it really meant to “take my thoughts captive.” This was a lesson He spent years trying to teach me but because He is so amazing, in that He never gives up on us, it took me a long time and a lot of lessons to really learn how truly taking your thoughts captive can allow you to walk in freedom like you’ve never known.
I knew the verse: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5. I had heard sermons preached on the subject, I had done bible studies with the topic included, I knew this truth! But as we know as Christians that it’s not enough to know the Word, we must also put it into action. That is much easier said then done.
When we are hurt or offended or betrayed, it’s so much easier to justify our feelings and thoughts than to take them captive for Christ, and this is where the devil has his field day! Once we allow those hurts to fester, “because I have a right to feel what I’m feeling,” than we start believing all the lies, distortions and misperceptions that start creeping in. Once we have done that we start looking for anything we can to affirm our thoughts, so we can be validated in our thinking. Which leads to more misperceptions, misunderstandings and flat out reading into things. Raise your hand if you can relate with this pattern of behavior?
We end up in a place of holding on to hurts, grievances and even misperceived offenses without even realizing we have. We carry this baggage around with us. Until something triggers those wounds and then our reactions are often over reactions or behavior dumped on someone who may not even have anything to do with the original offense. But we have a right to feel this way, right?
Not if you want to walk in freedom!
Remember the verse, we demolish every argument that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive in obedience to Christ!? That is a size-able action. More than knowing it we are called to doing it!!!
So how do we apply this when we are hurting or feeling offended. First we start by not allowing lies and distortions to seep in, we seek clarity if we need to and we follow all the precepts to achieve peacemaking. “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” James 3:17
Read that again, wisdom is pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, merciful, unwavering, producing good fruit and without hypocrisy!!! That’s a tall order! So check yourself in your speech, attitude, body language, intentions and goals or should I say, end game. Be a peacemaker not a strife stirrer!
We need to speak truth into our situation. We focus on the good things we know to be true about that person, relationship or that situation. Because when we are focused on the good, it grows and the bad becomes less “in-focus” and vice versa (so you don’t focus on the bad or it too will grow and grow and grow). Get it?
Then we are putting into action Gods Word: Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Philippians 4:8
Also, we ask the Lord to help us see them as he does. To love them like he would. So even if a person seems unloveable and we are having a hard time seeing anything good, we ask for eyes like Jesus and He will give you grace to see that person in a different light.
We can tell ourselves that our feelings and thoughts are justified, that we have a right to feel this way, that “they” don’t deserve our forgiveness or mercy or love. That we deserve an apology, or validation or understanding or whatever we may be searching for. Or we can take our thoughts captive and walk in Gods peace that surpasses ALL understanding!
That my friends is true freedom! And when you learn how to apply His Word in each and every situation, to fix your thoughts on Christ and His Word instead of your circumstances and feelings. You will bring peace and truth to all your relationships and the truth will set you free. And even if that person doesn’t change, you will, through your actions. And trust me, people will notice!
It’s taken me two weeks to write this. Stopping and starting, editing, and rewriting parts. I have avoided writing for awhile now. I have been stuck. I have been somewhat depressed and didn’t feel I had anything that I wanted to share or worth sharing. I haven’t felt any inspiration and so I tried to focus on other things. My family, my home, my garden, my puppies. All good and worthwhile. But I am who I am at the core, even when those characteristics conflict with my feelings. Transparent, strong, hope-filled, honest and I wear my heart right out there. So I will share.
These last two years have been a roller coaster physically, emotionally and mentally. They have been hard. They have also been full of joy and treasured moments. They have been disappointing. They have been peaceful. They have been scary. They have been transformative. Some days I’m lonely, depressed, conflicted and stuck. Every day I’m alive I treasure and thank God for. I know I’m blessed. I’m happy and I have a good life.
I’m gonna get real here and share some things I’m not proud of. I’m going to share the real stuff, emotions, thoughts, and feelings that I’ve experienced and that I’m still working through.
First let me say, I know I’m loved and blessed and I am thankful and grateful for so many things. I don’t sit around sad or in a negative mood or unaware of how incredibly good I’ve got it! But the truth is these other feelings coexist as well. They intrude in my day, they sneak into my thoughts, they overwhelm me at times. So I’m gonna share them even though the good stuff outweighs the bad by far and I know that joy is a choice and most days I choose it.
Looking back to this time two years ago I was oblivious to the turn my life was about to take. I was loosing weight, again, using my daughters cookbook recipes alongside my husband. We were recording our progress monthly on her blog with pictures and updates and measurements. I had lost 55lbs in 8 months. I was feeling good. Life was good. The calm before the storm.
For those who follow me or know me, you know that August 2018 was when I went for a routine annual mammogram that revealed a mass that turned out to be invasive breast cancer. I was 46 years old. Those were some scary and overwhelming days that followed as I waited for test results, then appointments, then more test results, then more appointments. Decisions had to be made, huge decisions that would determine my course of treatment, my doctors, my insurance, my body, my life. I clung to my Savior more than I ever had before in my life. True peace and hope filled me and guarded my mind despite the struggle. I learned to trust Him without borders.
Treatment began and I was filled and uplifted by so many friends, family, neighbors and in some cases strangers who came out of the wood work with encouragement, love and support, and showed it in a variety of ways. It honestly filled me up, and some days, held me up. I had never had so many people express care and concern for me in my lifetime. Honestly, I didn’t know that many people really cared about little ole me! I liked the attention, I liked the feeling of having my “love tank” full and overflowing with acts of service, words of affirmation and quality time!
So despite the trauma my body was going through physically, mentally I stayed strong. Emotionally I surprised myself with how good I was doing, rarely shedding a tear. Don’t get me wrong, chemo sucked bad. The side effects were awful. Then came surgery, the beginning of the physical changes of removal and reconstruction of my body. Emotionally that was difficult. Physically it was the hardest thing to recover from. Again, I had angels who stepped in to be there for me. So much care and attention!
After my physical recovery and learning that all signs of the cancer had been removed, things began to change again for me. Although I knew of all the people that were pulling for me and praying for my continued healing and remission of any signs of cancer, the majority of actual attention went away. I had liked the attention. I missed the attention.
I was adjusting to a new normal. A new body. An “after cancer” life that left me changed. My love tank slowly emptied. I tried to get to know the new me and not just my physical body. Cancer changed who I was and I didn’t recognize myself. I became more introverted more protective of my heart and time. Home became my sanctuary. A loneliness set in I wasn’t prepared for. But I didn’t really want to be around people. I went to follow up care at City of Hope which included occupational therapy. I also began physical therapy due to a frozen shoulder and overall weakness.
The therapy honestly helped me physically of course, but also mentally and emotionally to understand that what I was feeling was normal. It takes time to recover from everything I had been through and I needed to give myself grace and take it one day at a time.
Well, sadly, I fell back into old comfort habits throughout my treatment and recovery, FOOD! Fortunately, throughout my chemo and surgery recovery I maintained my weight loss of 55lbs. I fluctuated up and down within 5-7lbs of that weight for an entire year. Nice! However, after regaining my health and without readjusting my diet, maintenance was no longer happening. I started to gain weight.
I was in a funk, stuck emotionally, my support had disappeared, I was alone, the attention was gone. I was coping with my body image (a new body), physical therapy, further cosmetic reconstruction and lingering side effects.
I continued to comfort myself through food. Old habits die hard!
I saw the pounds slowly creep back on but I was defiant about giving up the food I wanted. My head space would not allow me to give it up! The holidays hit and it got worse, all my favorites were everywhere. I ate bags of candy corn through the fall, Christmas cookies throughout the season. Then as soon as the Easter candy was out it was bags of jelly beans. All the while, eating whatever my heart desired. After all, look what I’d been through, right? So easy to justify.
Covid hit, physical therapy stopped, I became more of a recluse. I had not regained any motivation to cook since “before cancer.” We ordered meals in. I became more depressed each time I stepped on the scale and so I began to avoid the scale. My clothes weren’t fitting anymore, so I online ordered bigger sizes.
When I finally stepped on the scale, I was disgusted and disappointed in myself. I had gained back ALL the weight I had lost the previous 8 times! PLUS 5 POUNDS!
I was officially 5 pounds heavier than I had ever been. I felt terrible. I could no longer tell if the physical symptoms I was experiencing were really from chemo side effects, like forced (chemo induced) early menopause that brought on joint pain, hot flashes, diaphoresis, and low energy. Or was it from how heavy I now was?
I wrestled for weeks with knowing that I needed to do something about my weight and not wanting to give up my favorite foods! “I want what I want” kept ringing in my head. I don’t want anyone to know that I failed again in keeping the weight off. I don’t want to hear what I already know about how to loose weight and keep it off. I don’t want to be told to follow my daughters recipes and do what she did because she succeeded. I told my husband I wish there was a diet where they put you to sleep and when you wake up you’re thin. There’s not!
So here I am, two years has gone by. I beat cancer! My body is full of scars. I’m still adjusting mentally and emotionally to the new me which I don’t like very much right now. So I have to decide if I want food more than health. Do I want to enjoy looking at myself in the mirror or do I want to keep eating what I want and avoiding the scale and the mirror and pictures!
I started what I hope will work the best for me on Sunday. A combination of intermittent fasting and healthy organic pre-made meals from a delivery service, when I eat. (Because I know that I won’t cook.) This is different from anything I have done before. I chose it because it is what will work best for me and my current circumstances.
It’s been 3 days and I’ve already lost a few pounds, the more I loose the more it will motivate me to stick to it. I’m still working out the mental and emotional stuff. It’s so much more than just the need for weight loss at this point. I’m still getting to know the new me, the “after cancer” me. Gaining this weight didn’t help at all. I’m deciding what I will accept and what I won’t. Carrying around all this extra weight is something I won’t accept. I don’t like who I am and what it does to me physically and emotionally.
The struggle remains. It is a familiar struggle. A struggle that I have battled most of my adult life. Here is to a healthier tomorrow. Here is to making good choices, one meal, one day at a time. Here is to figuring out who I want to be and becoming that person.
Yesterday was my last Herceptin infusion, a targeted therapy medication that I started with my chemo infusions and lasted for an entire year, 17 total doses. It specifically treats HER2 positive tumors and cancer cells. It was an exciting day of completion! Nurses sang to me, bells were rung, hugs were given and I even received a “champion” medal. It was a milestone day!
I have shared my journey through my blog and through social media over the last year. My last blog post was 4 months ago explaining my brain fog and difficulty with writing due to my lack of focus. I talked about the side effects I was still experiencing and what it felt like living in the “in between.”
The last few months have had their challenges. My joint pain and neuropathy resulted in a referral to a rheumatologist who ran every test to rule out any possible autoimmune disease that could explain the worsening symptoms. He expected them to come back negative and they did. His opinion was that I was experiencing side effects of chemo and my continuing Herceptin therapy. My medical oncologist felt the joint pain was more likely due to the chemo induced menopause. Either way, I started on Cymbalta for joint and nerve pain and after a follow up and increase to my dose, my joint pain and neuropathy started to resolve and became minimal. Then coincidentally (or maybe not), two weeks later at the end of August, I had a period for the first time in 10 months.
So in September my rheumatologist suggested stopping Cymbalta to see if it was the Cymbalta or the hormone changes relieving my symptoms. After a week off Cymbalta and experiencing some horrible side effects, I went back on it and will remain on it until all my treatments and surgery recovery are complete or longer if the mild neuropathy symptoms I still experience do not resolve.
One additional complication from my double mastectomy and reconstruction surgery in March, and the immobility that came with that, is I have been dealing with frozen shoulder in my right shoulder since about 4-6 weeks after surgery. I have been going to physical therapy twice a week since June. It is a very painful and limiting condition and could take months to resolve.
Overall, I feel healthier and my energy is increasing and I am also working with a physical therapist on overall wellness and physical conditioning to build up my strength.
With the end of treatments behind me, the next step is surgery to complete reconstruction. My surgery is scheduled for Monday October 7th with my plastic surgeon. He will create nipples from skin on my new breasts. I have been without nipples since March. He will also even out and smooth out my hips and tummy which will require some scar revision and some lipo. He will also remove my port in my chest since I have completed my infusions. The surgery is a day surgery and will last about 2 hours. Recovery is expected to take about 2 weeks with minimal discomfort. This surgery is one more step before the final step of tattooing color on my newly created nipples and adding color for areolas, which will take place 3 months from now after my nipples heal.
Then we move into follow up stage. I will be following up with my medical oncologist every 3 months for 2 years, then every 6 months for 3 years, then annually after that. I will also follow up with my breast surgeon, my thyroid Dr and my cardiologist every 6 months for now.
This is the end of the tunnel, so to speak! I feel the light on my face now! Soon to be basking in it!!!
Spiritually I walk with my Savior, the valley is behind me as I embark on the final climb to my mountaintop moment!!! I can’t wait to see the view from up there. I know it will be glorious!
I have done a lot of reflecting this last month of how far I’ve come this last year. I am forever grateful and filled with joy despite any suffering. My God is big enough, my husband has been the hands and feet of Christ to me, my family has loved me well and my friends and neighbors have shown me unconditional support. All my people have loved me, held me, encouraged me, supported me, prayed for me, fed me, walked with me and cheered me on. Jesus was not the only one there with me in the valley of the shadow, I felt each of you gathered around us each step of the way! I am grateful.
To God be the glory for His never changing faithfulness and healing hand and all of you that He used to graciously lavish His love and care on me. There is hope beyond this!
I have had a really hard time getting back to writing. One of the lingering side effects of chemo is foggy thinking, lack of focus and inability to concentrate. They call it “chemo brain” and it doesn’t just go away when chemo ends. Chemo is a double edged sword. It heals and it destroys at the same time.
My pathology results after my surgery showed that the invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), the tumor that was rapidly growing in me, was gone! All that remained was a small DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ). This is a tumor inside the duct, which chemo doesn’t treat, it must be removed. It was also explained to me to be the origin of the invasive tumor that was rapidly growing outside the duct. All traces of the cancer were removed through surgery. I no longer have any breast tissue left in my body. My breasts were reconstructed using abdominal tissue (fat basically).
So chemo did it’s job and not only dissolved the tumor but all evidence shows it kept any cells from escaping from my breasts and spreading anywhere else in my body, resulting in my breast cancer being staged at 2. I am fortunate. I am blessed. But chemo damage lingers. So I may be considered “cancer free” but I am not yet side effect free.
I am also still undergoing treatment for the full year, due to the type of tumor I had being HER 2 positive. I am receiving a drug called Herceptin. Although it is a targeted therapy drug and not chemo (it targets specific cells for destruction), it still has side effects. One of which is joint pain, which I am now experiencing all the time. I receive this transfusion every 3 weeks, just like chemo, for the full year (17 doses total).
Around 60% of patients on chemo get CIPN (chemo induced peripheral neuropathy). I am in this 60%. 6 months after chemo 30% still experience symptoms that can last from 18 months to 5 years and can even in some cases be permanent. I am 4 months out from chemo and still experiencing CIPN. I pray I will not be in the 30%.
I am also in chemo induced early menopause and because of my age it is highly likely that will be permanent. I experience intense hot flashes and reduced hormonal effects.
So between having chemo brain, neuropathy, hot flashes, lingering fatigue and now joint pain daily, I continue to struggle with healing from the effects of cancer and treatment. I also have nerve sensitivity and blanket numbness over most of my breasts and my hips and abdomen, from my extensive surgery.
My body is foreign to me and still unrecognizable. The reconstruction is not complete yet. I am taking it one step at a time. My next surgery will probably be in late summer. My perspective has shifted in regards to my body after my cousin said to me, “Hey this is your second body, most of us only get one and you were gifted another one!”
I know I’m blessed. I feel fortunate for so many reasons and that makes the acceptance of living with this “newly gifted body,” and these hopefully temporary side effects and pursuing complete healing my goal. So I press on.
I am grateful I was able to keep most of my hair through cold cap therapy. I did loose most of my eyebrows and eyelashes, but all my lost hair is now growing again. I am also recovered from my anemia and feeling much stronger.
I am “in between.” That is my new terminology for where I’m at physically, emotionally and mentally. I am cancer free, but not yet to a place of “normalness,” whatever that may be? When treatments and surgeries and healing is complete and I can feel normal, even if it’s a new kind of normal. I have heard from other survivors that it can take 2-3 years to reach a place where they wake up one day and feel “normal” again.
Emotionally it can be hard, not just because I’m dealing with treatment and physical side effects still, but because not everyone close to me truly gets what I’m still going through. So many people see me as cured and healthy again. I get that, not everyone knows what I experience every day. So mentally I’ve had to adjust my expectations and also understand the average human response in light of my situation. I’m taking one day at a time, with my eyes on the path before me.
My husband has been beyond amazing and continues to be my biggest support. His understanding and compassion toward me is astounding. I can’t say enough about how lucky I am to have him in my life. He gets me and he loves me so well.
The struggle is real through each step of this process. And it is a process. Cancer will not consume me. Treatment will not consume me. Despair and fatigue some days try to consume me, but I have hope beyond all of this!
My hope is in The Lord. My redeemer, my comforter, the rock on which I stand. My trust is in Him.
But you, O LORD, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high. Psalm 3:3
So I may be “in between” and that’s ok, because my God is right here with me every step of the way. I am never alone. He knows the plan for me, a future full of hope!
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord.
I will seek Him with my whole heart. All for His glory. There is hope beyond this!