Monday, August 3, 2015

On Mastectomies and Healing

I am almost two weeks post-op from my bilateral mastectomy and axillary dissection.

When Mark and I went in to find out my biopsy results back in March, the first thing the doctor said to me was that I had breast cancer. The second thing she said was, "I'm not going to be able to save your breast". I have been dreading surgery ever since that moment. I knew from the beginning that a lumpectomy was not an option, and pretty early on I knew that I would lose not just one breast but both. I'm not afraid of surgery or pain. I had c sections with all of my babies, and I've been told I have a high pain tolerance. I definitely don't enjoy those things but they don't scare me as much as they should. But I have been dreading this surgery since day one. I was SO relieved to be finished with chemo after my last treatment in June....but I knew that the end of chemo meant the count down to surgery was inching closer and closer.




A lot of people ask me what it was like to lose my hair. If I was emotional the first time my husband saw me bald. Honestly, losing my hair wasn't a big deal for me. I didn't love my hair to begin with, and once it started falling out my head was so sore and tender that it was a relief to shave it. Being bald was annoying, don't get me wrong. I had to cover my head when people came over and constantly having a scarf or a wig on was a pain, especially in the summer heat. But most of the time around the house, I was bald. Mark and the kids aren't phased at my baldness...it's just how they see me now. It's normal. I can't wait for my hair to grow back. But losing it wasn't emotional. It was inconvenient.

Losing my breasts, however, was emotional. It was harder than I expected it to be. The surgery was what I expected, and the pain was too. But as a woman...as a wife and a mother...it hurt. A different kind of pain than I have ever experienced before. I'm not a very sentimental person usually, but it's getting harder and harder for me to look in the mirror and hold back the tears.

Fortunately, the first phase of my reconstruction was done at the same time as my mastectomy, and that really has made the emotional part of this much easier. They used tissue and skin from my stomach to begin reconstructing new breasts, so when I woke up from surgery I wasn't completely flat. That doesn't mean that what I saw resembled anything to what used to be there...and without getting into some details that some of you may not want to hear, let's just say...it's not like getting a "boob-job". It's different. They had to take a lot of my skin. I have a lot of scars and incisions. All of this will heal, I know, and I'll look much better after the second phase of my reconstruction, but that probably won't be until next Spring.

Things are different now. I look different, I feel different, and while I'm recovering from surgery, I can't lift, hold, or take care of the kids. Since I had lymph nodes removed along with the mastectomy, I'm not allowed to lift my arms above my shoulder, or lift anything more than 5 pounds. These are standard precautions to prevent clotting, lymphedema, and further complications. But try explaining that to a 2 year old and 11 month old. Not holding Cora has been torture. Not lifting Stella up when she wants a snuggle has ripped my heart apart. But I know I have to do what must be done in order for me to heal.

I'm more thankful than ever for our beach trip we took before surgery. I held Cora as much as I could. I let her fall asleep on my chest and we all cherished the time together. I didn't realize how difficult recovery would be, which makes the time before surgery all the more special.



After our beach trip, we immediately began preparing ourselves mentally and physically for surgery. Surgery would tell us a lot about my future prognosis, and depending on my pathology report from what they harvested during surgery, we would know if they removed all of the cancer or not. We knew that my chemotherapy treatment was effective. I had an ultrasound in the middle of treatment that showed my tumor had shrunk significantly. But we didn't really know how much it shrunk and what the chemo's effect on my lymph nodes or the rest of my body was. 

While I was very confident and prayed big that I would be completely healed, honestly we didn't know what to expect. We knew what we wanted and we knew what we were praying for and we knew that I was in good hands. But ultimately we knew that God's will would be done and He would work it for good, no matter what it was. Exactly a week ago today, my surgeon called me with my pathology report. No cancer in my lymph nodes, no cancer in my skin, and an amount of cancer in my breast tissue so small that it was "immeasurable". They couldn't even give it a size because it was so small! All three of those places originally were positive for cancer. My tumor was so large it took up about half of my left breast. And now, after 6 rounds of chemo, and the miraculous healing hand of our great God, I am cancer free. The super tiny amount of cancer that was left in my breast was removed during the mastectomy (obviously) and the rest of my body is clear.

"But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name." Psalm 33:18-21

"He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking, and jumping, and praising God." Acts 3:8

"I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me. " Psalm 13:6

"Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you." Psalm 63:3

It took a day or so for that information to sink in. He called me on a Monday late afternoon, and on Tuesday morning I woke up crying and didn't stop crying all day. Tears washed over me in relief, joy and thanksgiving. Tears flowing from months of pain, fear, and despair. Now all redeemed in this moment. I knew immediately after my diagnosis that the Lord wanted me to walk through chemo. So that's what I did. I went through chemo because He ASKED me to, not because He NEEDED me to. He can heal me with a whisper. And I believe He did. I have learned more about my Heavenly Father, my community, my faith and my family in the past 4 months than I have in my entire life. Cancer has changed me in every aspect of my life. What the enemy intended for evil, He turned into good. 

I still have a long road. I have to heal from surgery, begin radiation, and then have the second phase of my reconstruction done next year. I also have to have my ovaries removed in the next year or so. I believe I am 100% completely and wholly healed. But fighting and defeating cancer is a long process, and continues long after the cancer is gone.

For now, I am sneaking in snuggles when I can, loading up with pillows so that the kids can sit with me. They are cared for and loved during the day, but we are all struggling and ready for mama to be back on her feet running the household again. I miss my girls. I miss my husband. I miss my former self. I still miss my eyebrows.

But praise God that the worst is over, and the best is yet to come. Praise God that my story is one of healing and recovery. Praise God that He chose to use our family in this way. Praise God that we are stronger, more united, and more thankful than ever.





Please continue to pray for us. Pray for the girls, that they aren't too damaged by the lack of contact with their mama. Pray for Mark and I to connect and strengthen our marriage after so much pain and suffering. Pray for quick healing and recovery and for no complications from surgery. Pray for provision. Pray that someone hears my story and comes to know Jesus because of it. Pray that we all cling closer to our Savior, in good times and in bad.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Chemotherapy Complete!



I had my last EVER chemo treatment on Tuesday. Six rounds of intense chemotherapy, and my body is shot.

Everyone keeps telling me, nurses, doctors, and other patients, say that the drug regimen I am on is one of the most difficult. Physically and mentally I really struggled each round. After a few days in bed after each treatment I would get depressed, missing my life and missing the girls...feeling guilty that Mark and everyone else were doing so much and carrying me through this. A few days after treatment I get an injection to make my bone marrow boost blood cell production. After that shot I get body aches, a fever, and generally feel like I have the worst case of the flu that exists. About a week after treatment, the fog lifts a little and I am able to atleast come downstairs and be present, maybe even read the girls a few books or play on the couch some. Sometimes there were set backs and I would have a rough day again, but usually after days 8 or 9, I progressively improve and am able to be up and around more. Then by day 10, I get my blood counts checked to make sure my white count is high enough that I don't have to be as crazy about germs and isolation....and then usually its uphill from there. The stomach issues, fatigue, and body aches are constant....even all the way up to the next chemo treatment. But they are manageable after about day 10 and really just more annoying than debilitating. Other side effects that I've just come to know as my new "normal" are hot flashes, dry mouth and skin, and fatigue fatigue fatigue. Can't say enough about that one.

HOWEVER........with my last chemo treatment finished, I can now hope that all of these side effects, the pattern of my sickness and the hard days in bed....I can hope that they are over. I know some side effects from chemo stay with you for life. Especially the fatigue and achiness. But some people say they improve over time. I'll take it.

Knowing that I never have to feel that way again, is a huge victory. I've been really depressed and anxious lately about the surgery and if my lymph nodes are clear and if the cancer will come back and my prognosis and just everything cancer related.....but really....I just made it through six rounds of chemotherapy with NO delays, and really no complications other than side effects. My blood counts always rose, my kidneys and my liver handled everything well....and finishing chemo should be celebrated. I've allowed Satan to take my joy and fill me with fear and anxiety, but really I should be celebrating. It's a big deal. We've made it this far.

Chemo was the thing I was most afraid of, and the thing I knew the Lord was asking me to walk through, and I did it. Well....correction.....Mark, my mom, his mom, our entire family, friends, our church, and the Lord, THEY did it. They shoved me into each treatment and then pulled me out, patted me and took care of me and loved me until it was time to do it again. I was just a rag doll. An angry, moody, sick, opinionated and bald rag doll.

Let's just relish in the moment, and take in the victory....I went through chemo, my body responded well to it, and it's done! WOOO HOOO!!!!! Praise Jesus Hallelujah and all the Amens.

I felt like I needed to get that out. When you celebrate the little victories, it's harder to focus on the fear.

Side note: since my cancer is HER2+, I have to get one of the drugs infused for an entire year, still on the every 3 week schedule like chemo. This drug doesn't (apparently) carry any side effects when it's given alone, apart from the other meds, but I do still have to keep my port until I'm finished with that drug, which will be next March. So technically, I have to go sit in the chemo chair and get my port accessed and all that mess every 3 weeks, but the Herceptin only takes about 30 minutes to infuse so it's no biggie....and no side effects, so YAY! This could be another small joy-killer since people who are HER2- don't have to do this....but I'm counting it as a victory. Another year of this drug going through my veins keeping the cancer at bay.

Ok...next on the Suck It Cancer Agenda: SURGERY!!!! And then Radiation.
The surgery is a big deal for several reasons. First, because it will truly show how effective the chemotherapy was in killing the cancer. After surgery we will know if my margins are clear, and if any of my lymph nodes contain cancer. Second, it's a big deal because it reduces my chances of recurrence. I only have cancer in one breast, but, from the advice of two surgeons and my oncologist, I will be having a double mastectomy. I'm only 31, I have a lot of years to live Lord willing, and taking both breasts is the most aggressive way to treat and prevent this demon from returning. Lastly, surgery is a big deal because, well, it's surgery. I've heard recovery is really rough, and I'm expecting it to be hard. I'll spend several days in the hospital, go home with several drain tubes and be on very limited restrictions for atleast a few weeks. Then I can start lifting and light activity after 6 weeks. I'm hoping I will recover faster than that, because we all like to think we're the exception, not the rule....but honestly I expect it will be really difficult. More help with kids, more resting, and more relying on everyone else to do all the things that I'm supposed to be doing.

That being said, I've lost all shame on this journey. I've learned now that we DO need help. And I've learned that I have to ASK for the specific help I need. I have four kids. Two of which still sleep in cribs. I won't be able to lift them into and out of their cribs for....well I'm assuming several weeks. Also, have you ever been around a baby that sees her mama but can't be HELD by that mama? It's not a fun situation. We could really use your prayers and also your physical hands during this time. The grandparents will be doing most of the childcare, and a precious friend of the family is cleaning our house (Thank you Tammy!!! If you know her then lavish her with gifts). The areas we could really still use some help is with meals and groceries. If you are local and can bring us a meal, that would be uuuuhhhhhmazing. I love cooking and miss it so much, but after surgery it's going to be awhile before I can. And there are 6 mouths to feed around here. We have a website where you can sign up to bring a meal, and I have no shame in posting it here. Pass it along. If you aren't local, or if cooking isn't your thing, or if you don't want to bring a meal, we would also love grocery store gift cards or restaurant gift cards for takeout.

We have had SO many dinners delivered to us during the past few months, and I wish I could portray in words what a blessing it has been to us. I haven't been physically able to cook. I know it seems like "bringing dinner" is so the cliche thing we southerners do when something happens....someone has a baby, someone dies, someone gets hurt or sick, someones gets a job or loses a job....you bring food. That's because food is always needed. Food heals. Food brings people together. If you have already brought us a meal, please don't feel obligated to do it again. I am SO grateful and I hope that one day I can bring a meal to you too. But if you do feel led to bring us some food, here's the link to the website to sign up

http://www.takethemameal.com/meals.php?t=BIKB1454

I have been so blessed by all of you. By your cards, packages in the mail, donations, and meals. It really is like getting water in a desert land. You guys are filling me up when I'm dry and empty. The encouraging texts and calls mean so much. I have been blown away by our community coming together during this time. I know there are so many people in need, and I'm humbled that you have chosen me to pray for and to lift up and bless.



Friday, June 5, 2015

Wrestling

This is basically going to be one big long pity party of a post. Physically, it was a really good week for me. But emotionally, it has been one of the worst. Mark and I have both hit a brick wall. The weight of all this is catching up to us and wearing us both down. I am snapping at the kids, and we are snapping at each other. We have no one else to snap at. I feel a little forgotten. The help isn't flowing in as freely as it once was, the money has stopped, and the blessings are hard to see right now. We are still getting meals every week, which is a bigger help than I think anyone will ever realize...but I still feel really alone. Things aren't clicking into place anymore. All I can see are the obstacles, the pain, the longevity of this never-ending journey. The life that this cancer took from me. A healthy, carefree life that I will never have back.

"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." 
2 Corinthians 4:16-18

I know all the things I'm supposed to believe. I know all the things I'm supposed to think about. But I want the seen things. I want the earthly. I want prosperity and blessing and comfort. I want to stop feeling like a target for all the bad things. Some people seem to coast through life and get everything handed to them, and I feel like we are limping, barely making it through each day. We struggle to pay the bills, we fight back the anger while trying to deal with the girls at the end of the hard day, we bicker and stress, we fear the future. I want to sleep constantly and I know Mark just wants me to cool it on the crazy. I so badly want to handle this with grace, but its becoming too much. My family deserves so much better. They deserve a mom who can stay awake in the afternoons and play with them. Who doesn't snap on them because she is so tired and moody ALL. THE. TIME. Mark deserves to not be so stressed all the time. He deserves a healthy and beautiful wife who doesn't need him so much. I can see how I'm scraping him dry and it kills me. This is all word vomit but I just want to be real and honest in the struggle.

I'm tired of over spiritualizing it. I know God is sovereign, I know He is in control, but that doesn't mean that this doesn't suck. I have been wrestling with God this week with my conflicting emotions. I am so grateful that I have a cancer that can be treated. But I am so angry that cancer is the card I was dealt. I am so thankful that this life isn't the end for me, that no matter WHAT I have the hope of Heaven. But I am so angry that I find myself longing for Heaven and wanting to leave this life behind because it is full of nothing but heartache and struggle. How can I be so angry and grateful at the same time? How can I have complete faith that the Lord will heal me, and still an overwhelming peace if He doesn't? I'm too human, too selfish. I am but dust....and He KNOWS that. He knows I am dust. Tired, Angry, Selfish dust. And yet the cards keep flying, and I can't help but feel like we are being punished. I can handle the sickness. But I can't handle my family being under attack like this. Yes I'm the patient, but everyone around me suffers just as much as I do. I know life isn't fair, and that we have more blessings in our life than some people dream of. I KNOW all these things. But all I FEEL is anger and resentment and grief.

I want to do better. I want to handle this better. But all I can seem to do lately is cry and pray and sleep and get more angry. If this post seems bipolar, that's because it is. I really am grateful beyond words for all the help and all the prayer. That it's JUST BREAST CANCER and not something else. But I'm so angry at the suffering and the grief and the pain of this world. That everyone has to deal with something, and right now, this is our something.

We need prayer. Obviously. We may also need counseling when all this is over. I will need it because I think I will be gripped with fear for the rest of my life. My family will need it because I am driving them absolutely insane with my mood swings and my constantly pulling the "cancer card". Clearly I will need to write multiple letters of apology for everything I have done/said/typed during this period.

Things you can pray for today and this week:
- There is a mechanical situation with Mark's car...to fix it would cost more than we paid for the car and more than the car is worth. It seems trivial to ask for prayer about a stupid car, but it's a big source of stress for us right now. We are aware it's just a car. But throw us a freaking bone right now and just pray about it.
- I'm trying to find a plastic surgeon that will take our insurance and it's proving difficult. I can't just use any plastic surgeon, but need one that specializes in reconstruction after a mastectomy. This is not your average boob job.
- Chemo is next week, and all the things that come with another chemo treatment will hit us like a ton of bricks. Pray for provision for cleaning/food/child care, strength for Mark as he tries to work and care for me, that side effects are minimal for me and that my body bounces back after all of this.
- Pray that we give each other grace. That Mark and I give each other grace, that the girls give me grace, that they don't remember all the ways I have failed them during this time, that they only remember the good.
- Pray for our momentum to return. For my desire to fight to return.
- Pray for healing. That when it comes time for the surgery, the cancer would be gone.

Thank you for praying. Thank you for not judging me too harshly for all the word vomit. Thank you for all the meals.

I know God is in this. It's just hard to see right now. I'm blinded by all the bad and I easily forget all the good.

On Sunday at church, something happened that I don't think has ever happened in the history of our church. The sermon was on valleys, what to do in the valley and what God is doing in the valleys. At the end, He had people who were going through valleys stand, and if you saw someone stand then you were to go and put your hand on them and pray out loud over them. I reluctantly stood. And people flocked and put their hands on me and Mark and prayed out loud over us. It was the most beautiful and humbling thing. The only other time someone has put their hands on me and prayed over me is right after my second miscarriage. We were heartbroken and angry, and our small group put me and two other dear friends dealing with infertility in the middle of a circle, put their hands on us and prayed out loud over us.

We all three had healthy babies the next year. One even had a set of twins. (for us, sweet Annie Faith was born from that prayer)

Prayer works, friends. I know our God listens to our cries. Even when they are angry cries that are muffled by tears and hurt. Thank you for crying out on my behalf.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Real Life: Chemo Side Effects and the Bald Reveal

I had my fourth chemo treatment yesterday and I thought now would be a good time to talk about the side effects I've experienced and also to let you guys see me bald! It's important for me to be real during this entire process, and that involves being open about side effects and the way that I look. It's all temporary, I won't look this sick forever, but it's still difficult to see myself at my worst and to post it online, so be warned that this video is not flattering...but it is real and it is who I am right now. Plus now if you stop by my house unexpected and I'm not wearing a scarf or my wig you won't fall over at the sight of me bald....or maybe you will....and that's ok too.



I would say the worst side effects are the fatigue and the GI symptoms. The nausea is really bad the first few days after chemo and then gradually gets better. I'm used to dealing with nausea because of my pregnancies so chemo nausea isn't that big of a deal for me. The anti-nausea medications don't really work for me (didn't during pregnancy either) but I am trying something new this round that I hope will give me some relief. The fatigue, diarrhea, and stomach cramps are constant. Even during the week that I feel "good", I get worn out really easy and have stomach issues. They are definitely better the third week but never fully go away.

Obviously I lost all my hair. Exactly 2 weeks after my first chemo treatment I started losing my hair and I was pretty much bald within a week. Mark had to shave my head because I would get huge tangles in my hair and it was just unmanageable and really annoying. Hair was falling out all the time everywhere. It happened VERY fast for me. Everyone keeps saying I'm on a very difficult chemo regimen so I assume that has something to do with it. BONUS, body hair also falls out, so I've only had to shave my legs about 3 times since I started chemo. I've shaved my armpits maybe once or twice. Just trying to look on the bright side....a summer without shaving my legs!

Some side effects I didn't mention in the video that aren't really debilitating but are worth mentioning: peripheral neuropathy (tingling sensation in my extremities), this one hasn't been huge for me, it mainly happens when I'm getting the chemo and then the day after and then pretty much goes away. Some patients really struggle with this side effect but the drugs I'm on don't seem to be causing much of an issue for me in this area. Another problem I have majorly is chemo brain, or as some call it, the chemo fog. I already have mommy brain and never fully recovered from pregnancy brain from my four pregnancies so add chemo brain on top of that I'm pretty much a disaster. I can't remember anything, it's very difficult to focus, and sometimes I switch words around and say the wrong thing. I constantly have to ask Mark what day it is and what's happening that day. Nothing major....its kind of funny actually. The few days after chemo are the worst. I can't read or focus....but then the "fog" kind of wears off and I'm back to just being forgetful mommy again.

Like I said in the video, my skin and nails have taken a hit...my eyes are puffy all the time, I'm pale, and my skin is really dry. My nails get really brittle and my skin on my fingers peels a little bit right after chemo but then it gets better. I'm putting argan oil on my face and on my nail cuticles and that seems to make a big difference. But some days I'm too tired to moisturize or care so I don't....I also have a really dry mouth all the time and I can't taste anything. Everything tastes bland and blah. But fortunately I haven't had any mouth sores yet so I'm thankful for that.

I've run a low grade fever right after chemo everytime and ran a high temp with the 3rd round. I've also had a few secondary infections but all that is just par for the course. I'm getting a Neulasta injection the day or two after chemo to help get my blood counts back up, and that shot gives me really bad body aches....it feels like I have the flu. That goes away after a few days but I do have some general body aches occasionally after that. I also get a rash that comes and goes randomly. Just weird and annoying but nothing that's a big deal.

I don't want this to seem like a big whiny post about how hard this is, I just want to be real, and to help other people going through chemo know what to expect. That being said, all the meals, the grocery shopping, and cleaning are a HUGE blessing to us right now. Some days I can't even get out of bed, much less grocery shop and meal plan and cook. Knowing that I don't have to worry about meals for my family is a huge weight off my shoulders so I can rest and get well. Even on the days that I DO feel good, I can use the energy to play with the girls instead of worrying about cooking and cleaning. So THANK YOU to everyone who has helped. It is not unnoticed and we are forever grateful.

Just because I have breast cancer and am going through chemotherapy doesn't mean life stops. As you can tell in the video, I'm still a mom and still have four girls to take care of and a husband to love and a life to live. I have to keep going....even when I don't feel like it. Thank you for encouraging me and helping me push through this difficult time. Thank you for making me see that my life is worth living and this cancer is worth fighting.


Saturday, May 9, 2015

Momentum

Pardon my silence.

I think my momentum left with my hair.

My 3rd chemo treatment was a rough one. I was VERY sick for a whole week after...sicker than I have been so far. And even after I started to feel better, I still didn't feel great. Today is probably the best I've felt in a while and I'm still very tired and weak. I feel really sick, and I'm starting to look sick. And when I see myself in the mirror, I'm reminded of how weak I am right now.

I have been counting down the days and the treatments, calculating in my head when surgery will be and when I will be active again after surgery. I'm dreaming about the finish line before I have even made it up the hill. Chemo is just the first step in my treatment and I'm only halfway finished with that. I have a long road ahead and I have been feeling very discouraged lately. That I can't do this.....that I don't want to do this....that I shouldn't do this. But then I remember that I don't really have any other options.

"Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well developed, not deficient in any way." James 1:2-4 The Message

I've been trying to get out prematurely. 

I say all this not to be a downer, but because I don't want to give the impression that I'm brave all the time. I'm certainly not. I'm not a hero, and I'm not a rockstar. I'm not strong. I'm just a person, backed into a corner, with a will to live strong enough to seek treatment for a terminal illness. I go to chemo every 3 weeks not because I have super powers, but because I want to watch my girls grow up and graduate and get married and have babies (and because I have a husband shoving me through the doors of the doctor's office).



If seeing your 6 year old daughter with a hot pink piece of paper on the back of her t shirt saying she is racing for her mommy at the Breast Cancer Walk isn't reason enough to get up everyday and fight this disease, then I don't know what is.

We have walked the Susan G Komen Race for a Cure in Atlanta for many, many years, beginning when my grandmother (Mimi) was diagnosed with breast cancer about 16 years ago. We used to all do the 5k together and over the years we kind of slowly dwindled off and haven't done it in a few years. This year we signed up for the 1 mile walk, mainly because I didn't know if a week after chemo I would be feeling up to the 5k or not. The breast cancer survivors all get pink t shirts that are a little different than the other race day shirts, and this year Mimi and I both got a Survivor shirt.


All those years Mimi walked through the Survivor line alone as we cheered her on and this year I walked through with her. It was emotional, amazing, infuriating, depressing, inspiring, fun, and motivating all at the same time. I'm thankful she traveled the road before me, but still pretty angry that it's our road.

Can you be grateful and pissed off at the same time?

If Race for the Cure didn't exist, I probably wouldn't have hope. Breast cancer research, awareness, and support is vital to increasing survival rates. My specific type of cancer is very aggressive and was not treatable not very long ago. But I learned from ultrasound a few weeks ago that my one, very large tumor, has shrunk down to a few very small spots. Yes, I'm sick.....but it's working.

This race came at just the right time in my treatment. I was feeling very down and discouraged, and putting on a hot pink t-shirt that says "Survivor" on it was just the motivation I needed to put my head down, focus, and keep trucking. Seeing all the other breast cancer survivors, feeling at home with my shaved head, and realizing that I'm not alone, really is comforting. If these other women can do it, then I can too.


My amazing friend Ashley had a purple sign made that says "suck it cancer". So proud to walk with all of these friends and family members today. I'm so blessed.

God is so good. Just about the time I start to cry out and say, ok, I can't do this, throw me a bone here.....He does. When I admit my weakness, He displays His strength.

Mark said to me today, not actually talking about me but talking about himself, but I feel I should quote him anyway because it was so true for me as well...."if we don't let the emotion happen, then there isn't anything for God to redeem". If I stay strong stay strong stay strong....then where does His strength come in? But if I mourn, weep, and cry out, then He is faithful to answer. But we must declare our dependence on Him. We must admit that we are not enough.

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." 2 Corinthians 12:9


I'm angry that my 6 year old has to know what breast cancer is. I'm angry that my girls run up and kiss and pat my bald head 10 times a day. I'm angry that my husband is on bedtime duty alone most nights because I'm too tired and sick to help. I'm angry that Mimi and I have the pink shirts and not the white ones. I'm angry that I look and feel ten years older than I did 3 months ago.

But He is faithful. And He is good enough to redeem my anger. He will turn my mourning into dancing. He has done it before for me.

"He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God." Psalm 40:3

"The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them, He delivers them from all their troubles." Psalm 34:17

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Cancer Q&A

I've had a lot of questions recently about the details of my cancer, so I thought I would do a quick post to keep everyone up to date. This post could be very boring or very interesting depending on your personality type.

What? When? How? SERIOUSLY?
Yeah I know. I'm there too some days. I found a lump when I was pregnant with Cora. My OB and I both kind of shrugged it off as hormones or a clogged milk duct since I've been pregnant and/or breastfeeding for the past 5 years straight. She said to get it checked after Cora was delivered. At my 6 week visit after Cora was born, the lump was still there so she wrote me an order to get a mammogram. I told her that wasn't necessary because I wasn't going to go. She wrote it anyway and handed it to me. I rolled my eyes and stuffed it in the bottom of my purse for approximately 4 months. At the end of February, when Cora was 6 months old, I finally went and had an ultrasound and mammogram. Mark, several friends, and my grandmother, who is a breast cancer survivor, encouraged me to go. So I did, just for peace of mind. The radiologist recommended that I follow up with a breast surgeon for a biopsy. On March 2, I met with the breast surgeon, who recommended a biopsy that same day. She biopsied two different areas. On March 9, Mark came with me for the results of the biopsy, and we found out both areas she biopsied were breast cancer. March 10, I met my oncologist. March 11, I had an MRI. March 13, I had my port placed. March 17, I had my first chemo treatment. It's been a blur. 

What kind of cancer is it? Is it triple-negative?
My breast cancer is the kind that initially starts in the milk ducts, but it then spread into the skin, which is why they classified it as stage 3. My cancer is NOT triple-negative, which is a good thing. I am HER2 positive and ER (estrogen receptor) positive. HER2 positive cancers tend to be very aggressive, and just a few short years ago being HER2 positive was a bad thing. Now HER2 positive cancers are still aggressive, but they have created very good chemotherapy drugs that specifically target those cancers. Estrogen receptor positive means that my cancer is fed by estrogen. 

What is your treatment plan?
There were a few very scary days where we did not know the treatment plan because we didn't know the above information about my receptors. Those were dark days. I cried a lot. I'm a planner by nature, and so having an actual treatment plan was crucial for my mental ability to handle this diagnosis. Once my oncologist called me with the receptor news I felt like we had a better handle on things and I knew what to expect. My oncologist is at Atlanta Cancer Care with Northside Hospital. She is brilliant and I am in good hands. The plan is to treat me with chemotherapy first, in order to shrink the tumor as small as possible. After chemo, I will have a double mastectomy and reconstruction. I will probably have radiation after surgery as well. We also will talk about removing my ovaries since my cancer is fed by estrogen, and this increases the chances of ovarian cancer for me in the future.

What is your chemotherapy regimen?
I am on four different chemotherapy drugs, and I have infusions once every 3 weeks. Everyone keeps saying the regimen of drugs I am on is a very difficult regimen. That's good of course, because its aggressive. But bad because, well, its aggressive. I will have 6 total treatments of chemotherapy, except for one drug, Herceptin (which is because I am HER2 positive) I have to get every 3 weeks for an entire year. I'm told Herceptin alone doesn't carry side effects so once I'm receiving only Herceptin I shouldn't have any of the typical chemo problems. I am so thankful that I have 3 weeks to recover in between each treatment.

Will you lose your hair?
Yep.

What have your imaging reports said?
The initial biopsy reported breast cancer in two different areas in my left breast. I had an MRI two days later, and along with my left breast, a small area lit up on my right breast, and in a lymph node on my left side as well. However, my PET scan reported no lymph nodes and the rest of my body as all clear other than the left breast. (PRAISE GOD!)

How are you feeling?
TIRED. The fatigue is comparable only to pregnancy, but worse. And I've only had one chemo session so I expect the fatigue to get much worse. The few days immediately following chemo I felt very foggy and just kind of drugged. Then I was fine for a few days, and then this past week I was very sick. Now I'm feeling much better and just a little tired again. I'm hoping to feel like this for a full week before I have treatment again. As I have told a lot of people though, I did not have fun pregnancies. Nausea/Vomiting from about 1.5 minutes after I take the pregnancy test all the way up to delivery. And a lot of the chemotherapy side effects are very similar to pregnancy ones. So I can handle that. I'm used to it, and throwing up is no big thang for me. Yeah it sucks, but its something I know how to deal with. So maybe the Lord has been preparing me for this all along.

Yes, I have breast cancer, and some days I still can't believe it. And yes, it's a big deal and I will have to deal with this for the rest of my life. My health will probably always be affected by it. But you guys, it could be so much worse. We found it. I'm getting treated for it. I have amazing doctors. It's not 20 years ago. I have a huge support team.

Speaking of which, last night Landmark's baseball team, the high school Mark and I both graduated from, had Beat Cancer Night in honor of us and I got to throw out the first pitch. Landmark is so much more than a school, and the people from there are like family.







I am just so overwhelmed and grateful for all the support. I do NOT enjoy being the center of attention, so I just pretended like everyone was there for a Landmark reunion and not for me or for cancer. It's still just surreal sometimes, that this is all happening, and that people could surround me like this in support. I'm certainly not worthy of it, but our Heavenly Father is, and only He could gather an army like this.

I have felt His hand on me since day 1, lovingly giving me things that only He could give. This Landmark family is one of those things. Only a good, good Father would create friendships able to withstand time and distance in order to be reunited for such a time as this.

"He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" Romans 8:32




This was a good night. Just a few hours before this we received the news that my PET scan was clear of additional cancer in my body. What seemed like the end of the world just a few short weeks ago, now seems like just another mountain to climb that will be a part of my story. What started out as, WHY GOD? Has turned into, THANK YOU GOD. Thank you that it's just breast cancer. I trust Him fully with my heart and my life, so how could I not trust Him with this? He, who gave his one and only Son to die for me.....how will he not also... be with me in this? He knows what He is doing, even when we can't see it. We don't deserve an explanation. I'm just humbled to play a small part in His bigger plan. So that's what I'm going to do. Do my best to play my part and point to Him while I'm on stage.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Not My Will But Yours, And How I Acted Like A Toddler

My first treatment of chemotherapy was yesterday and this whole cancer thing is starting to feel normal in my head. We walked out of the office after a very long and draining day and Mark said, "You just got chemo." Then we fist bumped. We find ourselves talking about it and it no longer seems like this surreal thing. It's real, we are going through it, and although we are early in the process, our feet are moving in a direction and I feel like we are right where we are supposed to be. This didn't happen overnight. I went through (and still am going through) a lot of emotions to get me to this place of action and of peace.

Fear and Anxiety were so overwhelming the first week of my diagnosis that I could hardly function. I didn't sleep. I laid in bed at night imagining that the cancer had spread all over my entire body and that there was nothing we could do about it. I cried a lot. I'm a crier anyway....so add a cancer diagnosis to an already emotional mom and I was pretty much an endless faucet. But I felt your prayers, and slowly the anxiety lessened. I still have moments of fear, like getting my port placed, and my first day of chemo, but I'm no longer living in a state of constant fear.

After I moved past the fear and anxiety, I began to feel a lot of Anger. Not necessarily anger at God, but just anger at the sickness and unfairness of this world. Angry that it was me. Sitting in the waiting room of my oncologist surrounded by people at least 30 years older than me. Driving in the car as an older woman in a car next to us smokes a cigarette with her windows rolled up. Really? Why me? I'm healthy, I don't smoke, I eat well, I exercise, and I have four young children. Why am I the one to get cancer? I'm not saying I would wish this disease on anyone, but when you think about the face of cancer, you probably wouldn't picture mine.

Then I started to dig my heels in the ground and act like a toddler. This phase didn't last long, but I'm still not proud of it. I thought, ok God, I got cancer, but ya know what? I don't wanna do it. I think  I'll just sit here and live my life and eat better and exercise more and wish it away.....that'll work right? I even ran this notion by my husband, who immediately demanded that I sign over Power of Attorney to him since clearly I'm no longer capable of making decisions for myself. As my friend Carolyn put it, "maybe if we just pitch a big enough tantrum you won't have to do it?" That's exactly how I felt. I pitched a big hissy fit and stubbornly decided, nope. Not gonna do it. No chemo for me! You can't make me. And I'll sit here and bang my fists on the ground and cry until it's over. And let's just go ahead and get this port removed because I won't be needing that anymore.

Ahhh......but then, Jesus. Remember when Jesus prayed to our Heavenly Father in Luke 22, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." Right as I started to pray this, to pray to my Heavenly Father who loves me, take this cup God. I don't want it. Give me something else. As soon as I started to pray that, I started getting messages and texts and talking to people telling me that they already see the Lord moving in a mighty way. That their friend who is far from Christ is praying again. That someone who doesn't know our God personally read my blog and is following my story. That in a staff meeting, 30 people prayed for me by name. And I remembered the end of the prayer, not my will, but yours. THIS is why He has not taken this cup from me. Because He is doing a great work, and it's only just begun. I want His power to be displayed through me in this process.

First day of chemo....lotta good that temper tantrum did me

Yes, there are stories of people healing themselves of cancer through food and nutrition and holistic measures. And I'm not discounting those. All I know is that I've talked with my Heavenly Father, and  I feel like He is telling me I need to walk through the chemo. Not because He can't heal me without it, but because the chemo is what I'm most afraid of, and I know He is going to teach me something through it. This is the story He has chosen for me, so I'm going to walk it. There are still ugly, emotional, fearful moments. I still act like a toddler. But every day we are choosing trust and choosing obedience. One step at a time.

I'm still praying for healing, but not until He has completed the work He has set out to do through this. This Cancer Mountain WILL be cast out into the sea. I know it will. But not yet. In His timing. Not my will, but yours. There is work to be done.