Saturday, May 31, 2014

Two words I am so excited to say!

Girls, I am so ashamed!  I am ashamed that I let almost three months pass by without documenting everything that has happened.  I started this when I was first diagnosed so that you both, when you are old enough, could have my memories, reflections, and true emotions surrounding my journey with breast cancer.  But you will realize as adults that life sometimes flashes before your eyes and you had no idea that much time had passed!  My last entry was when I was emotionally struggling after surgery...since then I have returned to work full time, completed 28 radiation treatments, Taylor played her first year of softball that Dad and I coached, we participated in Relay for Life, and school is out for the summer.  Nine months ago, time felt like it was moving so slow...and now it feels like I was diagnosed yesterday!

Well, let's just get the great news out of the way----I am CANCER FREE!!  I've never been so happy to type/scream/shout/sing two words in all my life!  (although ''I do'' and " It's a Girl" rank close up there!!)  I have successfully completed 16 chemotherapy treatments over a five month period, recovered from a double mastectomy, and finished 28 radiation treatments.  All of that has lead to my body being CANCER FREE!  I struggled emotionally after surgery but every week I saw improvement in how I felt physically and within six weeks, I was back in the swing of things (work, life, motherhood)!  I still have some residual effects from surgery, like range of motion issues with my arm and numbness, but otherwise, I'm feeling quite healed.  I started radiation therapy about four weeks after surgery and completed all 28 treatments at the end of April.  Radiation therapy for breast cancer patients usually makes their energy level go down, like you've spent hours out in the summer sun, and burns your skin, as the beams are pointed directly at it.  Luckily, the radiation was not bad--my energy stayed up and my skin did great!  I was so lucky with that because I encountered lots of other women who did not do as well.   I was also proud that I was able to work again during treatment!

Now that the ''curative'' phase of this journey is over, I've been released from my Surgeon (Dr. G--you are the BEST!!) and from my Radiation Oncologist (appreciate you too Dr. S and Dr. T--your staff is amazing!).  I am now on to what I consider the ''maintenance'' phase.  I have to take a oral medication for 10 years--yes, I said 10 years--so by the time you are reading this, I will hopefully be done.  This medication will shut down my hormone receptors, decreasing my chances of a recurrence.  This medication has some side effects which I am (and you both and Dad are) dealing with, but nothing I can't get over.  I mean--I've already beat cancer!!  I also have to have an infusion of an IV medication every three weeks for a year (also shutting down my Her2 receptor in attempts to prevent recurrence) but that medication has little side effects.  The only down side is sitting there for an hour and half every three weeks!  But I do get to touch base with my Oncologist every three weeks, which makes me emotionally feel better---and I must say, I truly enjoy visiting with Dr. S.  She has become one of my most trusted physicians and, as I told her when I finished chemo, she never treated me like a ''patient'' but like a friend.  And for that, I cannot thank her enough!!  Dr. S recognized what was important to me--like Dad and you girls--and made sure that I was well enough to do all the things I wanted to do.  She definitely kept me in a positive frame of mind, which is half the fight!  I also have a couple of other ''minor, less invasive'' surgeries to complete by the end of 2014, which will be here before we know it.

So with all that said, now that I am CANCER FREE, we are trying to find our new normal.  I'm in the best place emotionally I have been in in years.  Being able to endure chemo, surgery, and radiation has made me realize that I am stronger that I ever knew I was.  I am truly proud of myself--I feel like I can do anything that I put my mind to!  With my new found confidence and motivation, I am working to get my body in a healthier state that it has been in a long time.  Eating right, exercising, spur of the moment living...focusing on things that I haven't for years.  By doing this, I will be a better wife and mother to you both for years to come!  And I am going to continue to blog...there are still so many things I want to document about this journey for you both to have.  In future letters,  I want to discuss how this journey has changed my spiritually (Thanks be to God for providing complete healing to my body!), how incredibly well you both dealt with this diagnosis, about the AMAZING community support we received, and so many other things!!

But I will leave you with the recent picture of Dad and I--it exudes the happiness we are experiencing that this journey is behind us, that our future as family is limitless, and that unconditional love for one another can heal all things (plus I am loving my new curly do)!

Love you the mostest--Mommy

Monday, March 10, 2014

Get me off this roller coaster!

Surgery is complete.  Double mastectomy with left side lymph node removal and tissue expander placement.  Three weeks ago today.  I haven't written because honestly, the past three weeks have been an emotional and physical roller coaster--one that I want off of.  Dr. G had warned me that I would feel like I had been hit by a truck for a week (yes), then see physical improvement by 10 days (yes), and be out and about in public some by 14 days (yes).  He also warned me that the journey after surgery seemed to take more of an emotional toll on women than physical (yes, yes, and yes).  When he said it, I thought ''Not me.  I've got a great outlook and positive attitude about this.  I have a peace from my Heavenly Father that makes me confident that I will beat this cancer''.  I am improving everyday physically, but I am now realizing that this surgery has shaken me to my emotional core.  A place I haven't been to in a long time.

Here's my disclaimer:  I want to be raw and honest about my feelings so that when you both are old enough to understand, you have a true sense of what I went thru and what we endured as a family.  

I've cried almost every day since my surgery.  I feel mad, I feel sad, I feel relieved, I feel pissed off.  I am truly grieving the person I was and the family we were before this cancer diagnosis.  (My feelings honestly have nothing to do with my physical changes--I was never attached to my chest in any way.  They provided nutrition for you both early in your lives but that was about it!)  I spend time thinking ''how did we get here?''  When I think back to when I married your Dad almost 10 years ago, I felt so carefree about life.  So happy.  So untouchable.  When we had you Taylor, those feelings of happiness and love just multiplied.  And after two heartbreaking miscarriages, when Finley finally finished off our family, I truly felt complete.  I felt like God had reached down with his own hands and blessed us immensely...once again, deeming our perfect family of four untouchable.

Sure, we have had some trails and challenges along the way.  We endured a financial crisis when the housing market crashed (I'm sure there will be something about that in your history books in high school).  Then, your Dad's seizures, plus his inability to drive for nine months.  But even in the midst of these challenges, and especially once we ''reached the other side'', I felt overly blessed, happy, untouchable.

Now, I just feel...EMOTIONAL.  So many different types of emotion that I can't say just one.  I feel sad that you girls have to witness your mother fight cancer.  I feel fortunate that right now you are both too young to understand the magnitude of this disease.  I feel guilty that your Dad and grandparents (along with other family and friends) have to pick up my slack in the daily care giving department.  I feel frustrated that I have had to be so dependent on others during my recovery from surgery.  I feel thankful that the cancer is finally out of my body.  I feel tired and exhausted of this journey and I have a ''stomp my feet, I don't wanna'' temper tantrum attitude about having to start radiation.  I feel grateful that God allows to wake up every day and see your smiling faces.  And sometimes I feel so emotional, that I go back to bed after you both leave for school and don't get back up until you come home.  If I am being totally honest with myself and with you both, I've gotten good at pretending things are okay--especially in front of you!

So, now we've been touched.  Touched and changed by breast cancer.  I have been forever changed.  Our family of four has been forever changed.  For the better and for the worse.  But like I have said so many times on this journey, the blessings that have come from this diagnosis have far outweighed the burdens.  I am confident that six months or a year from now when we've ''reached the other side'', I will again feel overly blessed and happy again.  But in this moment, I would really love to get off this roller coaster!

Love you the mostest--Mommy

Ringing the Bell

So much time has passed since my last letter.  We've been so busy just ''doing life'' that I haven't had the chance to sit down and pour my heart into words.  If this journey has taught me anything, it's that life continues matter what the circumstances are around you.  The days pass faster when you are fighting for every one of them.

In talk of days, there's a new date that has significant meaning to our family now.  January 16, 2013.  The day I finished chemotherapy for breast cancer.  Five months of almost weekly appointments, weekly infusions, days of recovery in between.  Five months of hair loss, energy loss, and other pesky side effects.  But most importantly, five months of love, support, prayers, and peace.  Five months of enlightenment.  Five months of purpose.  Five months of a journey that God laid out for me.

This is a picture of me ringing the bell outside of the cancer center.  Survivors get to ring the bell to signify completion of their treatment.  What a feeling it was to ring that bell that day!  It's a Wonderful Life taught us ''every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings''.  Boy, did I feel like I had angel wings that day, flying high, rising higher and higher above this cancer.  The sound of that bell ringing is truly imprinted on my heart forever.

So next is surgery....February 18.  I have a four week break from doctor's appointments and infusions.  From medicines and blood draws.  Although I welcome the break, I wonder if I will be worried, as not visiting doctors doesn't give me the reassurance that things are okay.  But, that's when I most lean into my reassurance from elsewhere.  From my Heavenly Father.  I must be reassured by Him that everything is okay.  That the cancer is not growing.  That the chemotherapy has done its job.  Girls, we must always seek His reassurance in all situations, that are within our control or beyond.  It is God's reassurance that will give you the peace that passes all understanding...a peace that I now know well.

See you sweet girls on the other side of surgery!  Love you mostest--Mommy

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Seeing the Light

The holidays have come and gone...and we were blessed beyond belief this season.  You girls had so much fun celebrating Jesus' birth and opening presents on Christmas.  And I made sure to enjoy every minute of the craziness this year.  In years past, I have taken the spirit and magic of Christmas for granted--I've been known to be a little Scrooge like at times.  But this year, I made a conscious effort to see it all thru your eyes.  I strategically took the holiday season slowly, cherishing every moment and memory.  I loved watching you both squeal when you opened a present you had been wishing for.  I lived for hearing you scream ''This is the best Christmas ever'' when you finally discovered the new trampoline in the backyard.  I even treasured standing on my tired feet, baking and cooking for family celebrations.  And I will forever remember how precious you both looked in your matching Christmas pajamas.  One thing that I have learned from cancer is that I will try not to take another moment or memory for granted.

Luckily, we have had no more ''bumps'' on the chemotherapy road.  After my last post (and by the grace of the Great Physician), my blood counts rebounded and were higher than they had been since starting this journey.  We (my medical team and I) decided to finish off chemotherapy and then proceed with surgery.  So as of today, I have two Taxol treatments left.  One this Thursday, one the Thursday after that.  Oh, I see the light--and it is shining bright!!  

Back in August, the end felt so far away that I couldn't grasp what it would be like.  But after five LONG months (and I mean really LONG months), we only have a week and a half to go.  Although I've most recently felt physically well, only suffering from fatigue and muscle soreness every now and then, I realize how very emotionally drained I am.  I am tired of going to treatment week after week after week.  I am tired of the other ''subtle'' side bruised, blackened, and brittle nails.  I am over the stiffness I feel every morning that makes getting out of bed challenging.  And, more than anything, I am so over not having any hair.  It didn't bother me at first (and I am still proudly rocking my no wig look), but I am OVER wearing hats EVERY SINGLE DAY!

With all that being said, I still see the light.  I see the small hair growth (that looks more like a bad mullet right this moment).  I see the clearness at the base of my nail beds.  I know that in a couple of weeks from now, I will wake up and jump right out of bed--hopefully!  I see the end of the chemotherapy road...and what a beautiful sight it is.

So girls, after chemotherapy ends, surgery is next on deck.  It looks like it will be the second week of February.  Now I know that surgery will be no easy task!  But, luckily, I know that each day I will feel a little better than I did the day before.  And the good news is, I don't have to start over every week like with chemo treatments.  We are getting closer and closer to the end of this cancer journey.  Oh, the light is so bright!

Love you the mostest--Mommy

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Bumps in the road

As you two girls are much aware, Mommy is a PLANNER!  I'm a list maker, a to-do-er, I still keep a leather bound written calendar (which is so before smartphones), and I have most of our days planned out to the minute.  But this whole cancer thing has really thrown a wrench in my ability to PLAN!  And I don't like it!  Not one bit!

This past week has proven especially hard in this department.  Last Thursday, on what would have been my seventh round of this 12 weekly round cycle, I wasn't able to get treatment because my white blood counts were too low.  I was frustrated and disappointed, and honestly shocked because I felt fine.  Not being able to get treatment last week meant that we had to add an additional treatment on to the end.  Well, being the planner I am, I had already focused my energy on Jan. 9--my last day of chemotherapy--and the mini-vacation I was planning for us that weekend.  I was focused on surgery coming two to three weeks after chemotherapy ends, then radiation after that.  I had already began mentally preparing to be cured by summer time.  I was planning a HUGE vacation this summer and thinking of all the things we were going to do together--since these past months have seemed to revolve around Cancer.  So, as you see, adding an additional week of treatment in January was not in my plans.  And it did not make me happy.  Not only did it delay treatment, it also meant that I had to be overly cautious to stay away from germs, as I was at great risk for infection.  No church, no big stores, no close contact with anyone I wasn't sure was well.  I basically stayed quarantined to the house last week, only going to work and doctors appointments (and being overly cautious there).  I had to wear a mask out in public--if that and the bald head doesn't scream cancer, I don't know what does.  The bad thing is, I felt pretty good.  So staying in and not having contact with others was especially hard when I felt good.

Last week we focused our prayers on having these counts increase so that I could receive treatment today.  Well, no such luck.  My counts still were low--a little higher than last week but still not optimal.  However, my doctor did not want to risk not having chemo for a second week and allowing the tumor to grow any, so I received a decreased dose of medication today (that means not the full dose recommended on my treatment plan).  My doctor is a little stumped as to why my counts aren't rebounding and why they seem to have bottomed out during the middle of this cycle.  We discussed today the possibility of having to stop chemotherapy all together right now, proceed with surgery sooner that we anticipated, then resuming the remainder of my treatment after surgery is completed.  I meet with my surgeon and with the plastic surgeon next week to discuss this option.

And what does this mean for me, Mrs. Planner, the to-do lister?  More plans completely changed from what I was originally focused on.  More frustration and feelings of helplessness and lack of control on my part.  More being quarantined to the house and staying away from those who might be carrying germs.  Don't doubt for a minute that I am not so thankful that the tumor is now small enough to possibly be surgically removed sooner that anticipated, but I'm having difficulty wrapping my brain around changing the course we first decided on.

As I rested after treatment today and sulked over my lack of control in this journey, I more than realized that these plans I have made, I have determined, I have focused on, need to be given over to God--COMPLETELY.  This new "bump in the road" are HIS plans for my journey, as He has already walked and prepared every step of this path for me.  He has already determined when I will get chemotherapy, when I will have surgery and radiation, and when I will be cured of this cancer.  The Lord makes it abundantly clear in Jeremiah 29:11:
    "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". 
So I will relinquish my lack luster attempts at controlling this journey to Him and I will pray daily for the ability to do so.  I pray that Lord will bring me peace with my uncertainty, comfort for my frustration, wisdom for my medical team, and patience and perseverance for continuing and finishing this journey strong, while bringing glory to Him.

Today, I am thankful for bumps in the road, as they have returned my focus to the One whose focus is on me.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving and its new meaning in our lives

Oh girls, today is Thanksgiving.  And this year, of all years, it has taken on a new meaning in our household.  The Thanksgiving holiday has always been a time for us to reflect on our blessings from the past year, to spend quality time with extended family, and to eat lots of yummy food (along with a little Macy's Day Parade action).  This year, we will honor the true definition of Thanksgiving.  Webster defines thanksgiving as the expression of gratitude, especially to God.  And our family is full of thanksgiving this year.  God has provided for us, blessed us with, and outright loved and comforted us more this year than any other.  Hearing the words ''You have cancer" can emote the most negative of emotions in us.  But I say proudly say, three months in, that this diagnosis has been more of a blessing to our family than our most negative experiences.  Sure there are days that we are mad, we are sad, we don't want to get out of bed, or want to go to treatment.  But then, we pick ourselves up (or someone picks us up--God, family, friends, strangers) and we see God's face and grace in this midst of this storm.

So, today, we will give thanksgiving to God for this time in our lives, for changing our lives for the better, for continuing to heal me, and for blessing us beyond measure this year.  We are grateful to the many family, friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers who have showered us with love, support, and prayers during the last three months.  I've never felt so covered in love a warm blanket wrapped around me on a cold day, like the warmth from the sun those first few days of Spring.  It has literally warmed me, from the inside out.  We've been so blessed to receive cards and letters, gifts that have been prayed over, calls and emails and facebook messages.  I've received donations of PTO at work--over 400 hours to be exact--from the most generous and selfless coworkers.  We received many monetary gifts to assist in my rising healthcare costs, including multiple fundraisers done in honor of our family.  We've had meals delivered and gift cards to restaurants given to us--heck, we came home to a pecan pie at our front door just yesterday!.  Our house has been cleaned every other week and our lawn has been kept up.  All of these things, done by family, friends, and strangers, who ask for absolutely nothing in return for their kindness and generosity.  Our lives are forever changed because of the compassion they've shown to us.  Daddy and I have vowed to lead a more purpose driven life--to be more generous and forthcoming with our money, time, and gifts to the community, especially those in need.  To be true servants to our fellow man, like our fellow men have been to us.  To be on the receiving end of such selflessness and kindness feels absolutely undeserving.  But I know all of these amazing blessings are poured out from the hand's of God.  Directly from heaven.  To comfort us, to provide peace within us, to promote healing and rest in this weary battle.

Today I am thankful for God's love and grace, for Jesus's sacrifice and peace, for an loving and selfless husband, for you two--my reasons to fight, for our loving family, for our supportive friends, for a school and church who prays daily for our family, and for a community who lifted us up in so many ways.  Today, I will express my gratitude, especially to God.

Love you both so much--Mommy

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Marching On...a quick update

Well girls, it has been quite a while since I've updated this blog.  And that's because although cancer has invaded our family, our lives keep marching on.  You two go to school, play dates, and birthday parties.  Daddy and I go to work and doctors appointments.  We all go to church on Sundays and spend time with our extended family and friends when we can.

As you can see, life hasn't stopped just because Mommy has cancer.  And that's exactly the way Daddy and I want it to be.  We want things to remain as normal as possible for both of you.  We want you to look back on this time and your only memory of my illness be my bald head!

I have now finished the first cycle of treatment (four rounds of Adriamycin and Cytoxan).  Rounds three and four gave me a run for my money.  I spent several days in bed resting, waiting for my energy to return...while you spent several days with grandparents and having fun with friends.  I try my best to rest as much as I can while you both are away so that when you are home, we can enjoy time together as a family.  Lying around, resting, doesn't come natural to me--I've had to find ways to fill the time.  I have a stack of books but most days I feel to weak to read.  Pinterest is only interesting for the first 30 minutes of each day.  Daytime TV is terrible.  Luckily, I recently discovered Netflix (which is old news actually) and I watched the first two seasons of Scandal in three days.  That's right--29 episodes in three days.  I spent one day sleeping until 1 pm (which I haven't done since college).  But most days, I just spend time thinking, dreaming, allowing my mind to wander.  I pray often, openly sharing my thoughts, fears, desires with God.  This time has been such a growing time for my faith.  He has provided such a peace in my heart during this battle that only draws me nearer and nearer to Him.

So, what's up next?  I began my second cycle of treatment last Thursday (12 weekly rounds of Taxol).  So far, I haven't experienced any of the side effects that comes with it and I haven't had the extreme fatigue that I had with the other chemo.  I've actually felt closer to ''normal'' than I've felt in a long time.  Oh--and the best news is--the tumor continues to shrink!!  The medicine is working and doing exactly what we need it to.  It's exhilarating to see God's great work first hand!

And we will keep marching on...keeping life as routine and normal as possible for you two, as we continue to Kick this Cancer's Butt!!