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?

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 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 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.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Beginning

All I have to say, is WOW.

I am so undeserving, so overwhelmed, and so humbled by the outpouring of prayers, support, meals, phone calls, texts, and donations. We are speechless with thanks. It is Kingdom work, what you guys are doing. Don't let anyone tell you anything different. Cooking a meal and dropping it off matters. Texting me that you love me and are praying matters. Dropping off essential oils, recommending a book, telling me about a support group or person.....this matters. Donating money so we can pay medical bills matters. With every text, phone call, note, muffin, book, and graces you are giving me, I am renewed with hope and reminded that this is what church is. This is what Jesus meant when he said love your neighbor as yourself.

I am only 4 days in to my breast cancer diagnosis and I already feel like I can conquer the world because of the backing that I have. There are things that I didn't know I would need that you are already providing. Things that I don't have the capacity to think of. People coordinating care and meals and cleaning and laundry and food storage. Before I can ask, it has been given. And I KNOW that is the Holy Spirit at work within each and every one of you.

Some of you have been felt led to take care of VERY specific things and I want you to know that is the Holy Spirit guiding you and speaking to you and leading you to meet a need. You are better than I am, because you are in-tune enough with who God made you to be to know what your gifts are and know how to be a blessing. I can see your spiritual gifts and personalities coming out in the way you are caring for me. Some of you are more emotional, some are getting business done and have your game-face on taking care of the practical needs. Some are leading prayer. Whatever you are doing, I am so grateful.

God's sovereignty amazes me. I know that He is in control and that He has written the days of my life out already, but sometimes the things He does still makes my jaw drop open in awe. The provision and love during this time is one of them. The only way that I could feel more loved and taken care of and in His Holy Healing Hands is if he audibly told me Himself. That He can tell the sun to rise, control the waves, and still remember me, though I am but dust, is so humbling.

Monday and Tuesday were the darkest days of my life. I felt hopeless. I cried all day and all night both of those days. I held my children like I was never going to get to hold them again. I grieved the loss of my health, the loss of my breasts, and possibly the loss of my life. I was gripped with fear and anxiety. I cried out to the Lord over and over and felt so alone. WHY? WHY NOW? WHY ME?

I am so selfish sometimes. Whining about my circumstance when God has known about it all along and has been prepping me, loving me, preparing me. The pieces are starting to fall into place. The fear and anxiety are slowly decreasing. I can feel your prayers. I can feel His presence.

I don't know what the outcome will be. I do know that it will be a very long and hard journey, and I know that with your support and with His Mercy I will fight. I feel like we are gathering momentum now, preparing for the road ahead. Like pedaling quicker on a bike so you can make it up the hill you see ahead, we are praying, soaking up the Word, resting in His peace, and gathering an army so we can make it up this huge hill ahead of us called cancer.

Thank you isn't enough. But it's all I've got. Thank you. To family and friends near and far. Thank you for believing in me and believing in our Sovereign, Healing God. We pray that He gets all the glory in this and we get none. It is ONLY by His grace.

Be Strong and Courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
Joshua 1:9

Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
Matthew 6:27

Don't let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.
John 14:1