Tuesday, November 28, 2017

H&P #31 + Appointment with Julie + Mourning a Loss

When I was sixteen, halfway through my junior year of high school, my family and I moved to a new house in a new neighborhood, in the same town.  By that time, my group of friends was pretty established, and I was grateful that I didn't have to change high schools, as there was only one in our city at that time.  We did, however, switch church congregations, attending one right in our neighborhood.  This gave me an opportunity to get to know and make friends with people in the youth group, especially an amazing group of girls.  I wish I would've become even closer friends with these girls, but I was busy working and traveling and left for college a little over a year later.  (This was also before social media, so it wasn't until many years later that we connected again.)

In 2013, when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I got a Facebook message from some of these women.  (It had been 15 years since I'd seen any of them, so it feels weird to call them 'girls.')  One of our mutual friends was also fighting breast cancer, and she also lived in Texas!  I reached out to this fellow survivor and was able to get some advice/answers to questions.  She was on a similar journey as mine, only further down the path than I was.  She even offered to send me the wig she never wore, it being too hot in the Texas summer for her.

We exchanged Christmas cards and kept in touch, but casually.

In 2015, when cancer returned to my bones, she reached out to me for my new address.  By the time a box came in the mail from her, I'd forgotten that she'd even asked for it.  Inside, was a book: Sadaku and the Thousand Paper Cranes, along with a box of 1,000 small paper cranes she had folded in my honor, for a miracle for me.  My entire soul was warmed by this simple, yet powerful gift.  I cried, touched by the time taken from a fellow survivor, one whose heart was kind and loving, one who knew the journey and knew that even though she couldn't do much, hopefully the little she could do was more than enough.  It was!

We kept in touch and followed each other’s progress, scans, and status.  She moved away from Texas, her health intact, and I celebrated with her on her scans with NED (no evidence of disease).  When cancer came back to my brain this year, she commiserated with me on the suckage of cancer.  When I was back in remission—again—she rejoiced, and I knew her prayers had added to the thousands of others to bring about a miracle for my family.

In September, my heart ached when I heard that cancer had come back in her bones.  I hated that she had to start another fight, but knew that cancer was up against a super woman, and told her as much.  I didn’t ask a lot of questions—What’s your treatment plan?  Will you have radiation and chemo?, etc. because she wasn't one to like attention on herself, preferring more to give to others.   I knew I couldn't do much, but did what I could:  had high hopes that she’d conquer and prayed for her and her family.

Then, mid-November, I read a post about her having a port placed, needing to dye her hair and take family pictures before she started chemo and it fell out.  I remembered the exact feeling, all too well.  I saw her post about loving Christmas cards and knew I needed to get going on our own family pictures so I could send her one.

Last night, as I was finally catching up on social media, I saw that my friend had passed away.

And I missed it.  I missed my chance to tell her how much her love and time had meant to me—how much hope it had given me for my future.  I missed sending her another Christmas card.  Between Thanksgiving prep, the boys being out of school, movies, Christmas decorating, and other activities for the week, I had missed knowing that my friend was truly sick.  I had no idea Hospice was called, no idea her time was short, no idea she was gone until after she was gone.

I was sad that I hadn’t truly reached out when her cancer returned, as she had when mine did.  I hated that I underestimated cancer, never imagining it would take her, especially so quickly.  It shocked me that she hadn’t even made it to the two weeks when her hair would fall out.  I had simply assumed that she would soon be in remission, again, just like I had.  I also realized just how amazing and miraculous my story is, how blessed I have been, how lucky I am to still be here.

I wasn't able to tell her before, but I believe life continues beyond the grave, so I'll say it to her now:

Dear Friend:
You have given me hope and strength.  Your humor and honesty on life has inspired me.  Your faith, talents, and endurance have helped drive me forward.  Thank you for pushing me on the path of this journey.  I hate that you’re no longer here to fight, but so grateful that you no longer need to suffer or feel pain.  I have faith that God has a plan.  Our plans are different, but that’s okay.  I pray for your family to have peace and be able to feel of your love and your mothering from the other side.

Your cancer sister, Mel

RIP, Natalie.  You are loved and missed.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017


I love Halloween!

It just so happened that my treatment fell on October 31st, so I used it as an excuse to dress up in my pink princess power suit.  The sight of me brought smiles to some, eye contact avoidance with others, and the comment, "You must be a FUN person!"

I like to think I am a pretty fun person, even when I'm not dressing up for a holiday.  I try to be positive and friendly.  I try to serve others and give back.  I've felt that it's important to stand out and stand up, using my journey through cancer to inspire hope.  This month, I lost a bit of wind from my sails, though.  I sadly found out that some people think my faith isn't inclusive to supporting all women facing a cancer battle and that my story isn't compelling enough because it's not a "happy ending," that my future is unknown.  

I felt pretty defeated after learning these opinions.  Beside my family, my biggest reason for keeping up the fight is to support and inspire others through their similar cancer journey, or though any challenge they might face.  I kept going over and over in my mind why these people couldn't or wouldn't see that.  I kept challenging these opinions, just in my own head.

 "True, I could die of cancer.  But, that doesn't mean my story isn't inspiring!  No one makes it out of this life alive.  We all have a terminal illness.  It's called 'mortality.'  The inspiring part is what you do with the time you're given and how you face the storms and learn to dance in the middle of them!  I fight with faith, perhaps not the same faith that every person does, but finding faith and hope and love in something is what the fight is all about.  Perhaps my story could inspire others to find their own faith."

I questioned if I should give up and quit putting myself out there, stop sharing my faith and hope for the future, no matter how long it may be.  The comments stung.  I took them too personally.  I wanted to fix it, to fight back and defend myself, to make them see.

Soon, I was shown that I just needed to turn the other cheek.  Trying to debate these opinions would get me no where and would sever friendships more than it would satisfy my pride.  However, I don't want anyone to ever feel that they aren't good enough, or that their story doesn't matter, the way I felt for several days this month.

In case no one has tole you:

You are loved and known.  You have a part to play in this world.  There will times when certain people don't believe in you, don't agree with your positions, or don't fully support you.  Those are people who don't quite understand.  Those people are not your tribe.  Find your tribe, and allow them to fight fiercely, right along with you.   With your warriors on your side, it's so much easier to break through the self doubt and hold on to hope.  You always have someone in your corner, so keep on keepin' on.  You are good enough!      

Still kicking cancer's butt!

Monday, October 2, 2017

H&P 29, Appt. with Fleener, 3-month Shot #1

Happy Breast Cancer Awareness Month!  Dr. Fleener wondered if I was a person who celebrated or hated October for that reason.  I celebrate it!  
So much so, that I put a pink glaze in my hair and showed up for treatment in pink, head to toe!  

In my appointment, we basically discussed the change in my Zoladex shots, from once a month to every 3 months.  Side effects could be more pronounced in the first month, but taper down in the next two.  Or, it could not affect my body at all.  We will have to wait and see.   

I have been thinking about miracles lately.  Just last Friday I talked to the my sons about the mini miracle that happened, thanks in part, from their constant prayers for my health.  On Wednesday, I woke up with a sore throat.  Throughout the day, I started to cough and feel worse.  Thursday was worse.  I ended up in bed for most of the day, eating soup, drinking fluids, and pumping up on vitamin C.

For the last few years, about 3 times a year, I get a cough/cold that doesn't quit.  I cough so loudly and deeply at night that I keep Stephen up unless I sleep in another room.  Plus, with my immune system as weak as it is, it usually takes weeks to overcome.  Miraculously, I woke up on Friday feeling well.  No tired aches, and even the cough was gone!

When I think about how little time I might have because of cancer, I worry that my sons may not believe in miracles and answers to their prayers if I'm not healed.  How much more important it is for me to explain to them the miracles of healing that I receive, such as what happened last week.  This amazing blessing could have only happened as an answer to prayer.  When the cough and sore throat began, I just knew I'd be facing weeks of sickness, but it cleared up in 2 days.

Then, this weekend I heard a quote that backed up my thoughts on the gratitude for even small miracles.

The Lord is in the small details of our lives…God’s miracles remind you that He is close, saying, “I am right here."  Think of those times, some daily, when the Lord has acted in your life—and then acted again. Treasure [those] moments...(Ronald A. Rasband).

Finding the daily miracles, the "tender mercies" from above is one way to see the good in hard times. I've tried hard to train myself to be more positive, especially since my terminal cancer tries to suck all of the light out of life.  God does remind me daily, however, that He is close and that he knows me and my family and our needs.  All we need to do is start to recognize them and give thanks for those blessings.  I can only hope that counting these miracles as they happen will help my kids to remember how much God loves our family, even though the big miracle might never come.

That I've made it this far is a miracle.  (I've passed the 6 months from February's 6 months to a year to live.) I know further miracles lie ahead, and look forward to recognizing them.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

H&P #28

Living in Seasons

I've heard about different "seasons of life."  This phrase usually refers to a persons' age/life events at various times through mortality.  For me, this phrase has taken on more of a literal meaning, as I have started actually thinking about my life in seasons: those 3-month chunks I have in between happy scan results and the next time I have to be scanned again, when I don't have to think about cancer.

After such great news about cancer-free scans and still being in remission, a great sense of relief comes over me.  I get to take a deep breath and not worry about cancer for a season, hoping that the next 3 months will continue with similar answers.

This hope is why I can go on today with a smile, even while the threat of the next cancer season is always looming.  {Winter is coming....}
I try to remember this advice in all the hard things, as our nation and our world seem to be swept up in various natural disasters and attacks of hate.

"Never lose hope. Storms make people stronger and never last forever.”
                                                              ― Roy T. Bennett

I have hope for today, and the day after that, and for as many days as I'm allowed to stay, knowing that all our days here are only temporary.  I have learned quite well to look for the good in each day, even if it's just that I've been given one more day with those I love.  

“They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.” 
― Tom Bodett

I am blessed to have many "someone's" to love, much still to do, and the hope for more time.  Who knows how many more seasons I have, but I never want to stop hoping for more.  

“Hope is the thing with feathers 
That perches in the soul 
And sings the tune without the words 
And never stops at all.” 
― Emily Dickinson 

Look who got to visit me today!

Continuing to give cancer the boot---with pretty, pink suede shoes!!

*updates on treatment:  
since the Zoladex shot doesn't seem to be doing its job of putting me into full menopause--I started a full period a day after the last one--I'm moving to only having shots once every 3 months, instead of monthly.  Perhaps my body doesn't want to be told what it will do OR when.  (Not surprised, at all.)  

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Shot #6 (Right Side) PET Scan, MRI

I read a 300 page novel yesterday.  

I hadn't planned on it, but I had so much *free* time while I waited for medical procedures.  

First, I have my fifth shot.  This one didn't hurt at all!  

Next, I waited to have my port accessed for the PET scan.  

Then, I waited for the radioactive juice to flow through me and had another PET Scan.  

The technicians weren't allowed to remove the port needle, so I went back to my chemo nurses for that.  

Had a little cat nap during the PET.

I was able to get away from the hospital for some lunch, having fasted since the night before for the PET.   Then, I returned to the hospital and waited, and waited, and waited.  FINALLY, 40 minutes late, it was my turn for an MRI.  Without contrast went well.  Then, we had to wait to have my port accessed AGAIN for the scan with contrast.  FINALLY, the tests and procedures for the day were complete, and Ryan was only ten minutes late to his first day of gymnastics, where I watched and waited and finished reading the last 4 chapters.    

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Girls are Four!

Four years ago, I was opening birthday presents in the hospital and waiting to be released after my mastectomy and reconstruction.   This is what I looked like my first day home:

Four years later, the scars are almost completely faded.  

The nipple area before was patched with skin from my abdomen and later formed into a new nipple, completed with areola tattoos.  

The tattoos have faded a bit, so I'm thinking of having them touched up again, but these girls have come a long way!  

Happy 4th!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

H&P #27 + Dr. Visit

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world.
        Jack Layton                                      .

There have been days of terrible news over the last few weeks.  The world seems to be so full of hate, darkness, and destruction.  The thought of the society in which my children are growing makes me sad and a little worried.  We do strive to teach our children (and pray over them) to be kind to everyone, to be positive leaders, and to stand up for what's right, but these qualities seem to be less and less prominent in society.  It's getting harder and harder to have hope in the future. 

However, I cannot allow myself to worry for my sons' futures.  I need hope and optimism for my own future WITH them, so I have come to see the changes that come about when we take one day at a time, give gratitude for even small miracles, and blot out fear for future days.  I have no idea how long I will be able to stay on earth, but I don't want to waste any of those moments angry, full of hate, or lost in despair.  

We do change the world by beginning with our own thoughts and deeds toward ourselves and other people.  It sometimes must start with a personal change of heart and/or behaviors--whether to be more loving and kind, driving out fear, and learning to see the glass half full.  Add in a little courage, and we truly make the world a better place, even if just for ourselves and our own families.

Cancer has taught me to try to be less critical of others, as everyone has their own 'hard.'  I have turned into an optimist out of necessity; what good is the fighting if you don't have hope in surviving?  As I have honestly shared my highs and lows throughout this journey, it's been in an effort to help others, to touch hearts, and to build hopes.  I have LOVED hearing from people all over the country (and a few in other parts of the world) who have been touched through my thoughts and experiences.  It's one simple way I've been able to fulfill my own mission on earth, as well as change the world one heart at a time.           

KICKING CANCER TO THE CURB + mermaid leggings, an early bday present from my sister!!!!!