June 14, 2015: The Finale

Her Story:
So this is it, the end of an era for us.  The blogging ends here… well, not here exactly, but at the close of this post.

My port was successfully removed a week and a half ago as were my ovaries.  I am about to enter an amazing time… over two months until my next oncologist visit… WOW!  I used to go to the doctor maybe once a year; the last year changed that perspective so markedly that having a three-month space between doctor’s appointments seems like a long time.  I am back to a normal life… not my old version of a normal life, but the new version to which I am becoming accustomed.  In a month, I’ll be a year out from my mastectomy and allowed to start lifting weights (I’d like to build up my chest muscles so when I go around without prosthesis my chest is not concave!).  No lymphodema so far!  The only ill effects from my treatment with arimidex to block estrogen and the oopherectomy are some kicking hot flashes but that is so much nicer than what I experienced during chemo that it seems silly to even mention it.

The year and change we spent fighting breast cancer
by chemo, surgery, radiation, and long-term medication
has left me…
1) Involved in a closer relationship with Jesus.
2) Counting the true blessing that my husband is.
3) Marveling at the speed at which my three sons are growing up and
how well they have coped with a roller coaster year full of changes.
4) Thankful and indebted to many family members and friends who have
sacrificed their time and resources for my family.
5) Grateful I live in the modern era where cancer can be treated.
6) Healthy (clear PET scan from December).
7) Physically changed (darker curlier hair, no breasts, no ovaries, 6 new scars,
menopausal symptoms, and on medication for a decade that will weaken my bones).
9) Unafraid to die.  If it happens, I’ll see those of you who are in Christ on the flip side!  As for those of you who don’t follow (and I don’t mean believe, I mean follow)… He’ll leave the 99 to find the one that has wandered away, that’s you.  He’ll welcome you back with celebration, even if you’ve done terrible things (look up the parable of the prodigal son).  Jesus died and was raised so that His goodness could cover anything you’ve ever done or thought, if you accept the covenant God offers you.

A final note to my fellow breast cancer patients (I’m still not comfortable with the word survivor)… God can give you comfort when no one else can.  Ask Him.  He knows the turmoil in your body and mind.  Prayer is a beautiful way to connect with Him and receive His comfort in both your darkest and brightest hours.

His Story:
And, so the blogging ends. It has been a roller-coaster of a year (and I detest any roller-coaster…and flying, well really, it is the landing thing, but I will have to get back to that eventually). So a year-ish later and I have to agree (“have to” may be a little strong, I mean I can do what I want) with my wife’s sentiments from above (spoiler alert, I read hers before writing).

It is my hope that through this blog, you have seen the love of Jesus and how we are affected by the gift we receive from Him. As that great group of philosophers and poets, for KING & COUNTRY, sing, “So let my life be the proof; The proof of Your love; Let my love look like You; And what You’re made of; How you lived, how You died; Love is sacrifice; So let my life be the proof; The proof of Your love.” This year has shown the sacrificial portion of love we display to each other and I am not sure that it was prevalent in the earlier days. The whole family has sacrificed in these days and we have received sacrificial love from countless family members, friends (yes, even coffee can be sacrificial), and countless acquaintances and strangers. Sadly, some of them do not know or do not follow Christ. Really, we would not have made it through this without Him and, I think that is the most important part of this experience has been that realization.

If I could leave you with some one-liners that sum this all up (∑) (That is a math joke):
1) Seize the day (Carpe Diem), even if it a concert by a band you have never heard of. It may lead you to Wobble, getting your Chainsaws Up, or going BZRK (Thank you FF5 for those and other songs now regularly sung in our household).
2) Put down the technology and hug you loved ones! First, I realize technology rants are ill placed in blogs. However, we went out to eat today and people were at occupying tables at the same time, but were not there together. We did not know that our world would be rocked in the way that it happened. I shudder to think that if we were techno-tized people that the growth of the past year would have been hindered by angry bird, candy crush, farmville, facebook, or any other website while our children are growing so fast and not knowing the numbers of our days. I can honestly say that I do not regret not knowing what my 500 “closest” “friends” are up to, attaining level “n” of game “x”; and we have some great memories! Speaking of which, the kids, they desperately want me to play outside, so it is time to wrap this up. So, on that note…
3) “Until that day when God deigns to unveil the future to mankind, all human wisdom is contained in these two words: ‘wait’ and ‘hope’!” (The Count of Monte Cristo).


May 31, 2015

Her Story:
Tomorrow marks the end of an era and probably the end of my blogging in a week or so unless I hear otherwise from God.  This cancer journey meets a happy mark tomorrow when I have surgery to remove my chemo port and my ovaries.  Both of these will make my life a little less doctor filled.  I am having my port out because I do not need it at this time and the monthly office visits to have it flushed are outshone in ridiculousness only by the pain caused when one of my little boys bump their heads against it …
Picture the scenario… “Oh, Mommy, I love you!”…
(big hug)
(grimace from me as his head makes port contact)
(forced smile before he sees that he has hurt me in his quest to show affection)
So that’s out as of tomorrow.  One of the oncologists I saw said that if I did have a recurrence of the cancer that having a port put back in would be the least of my worries.  Ha!  So out it comes tomorrow along with my ovaries… and why might I have a oopherectomy (great word) when my ovaries are fine?  Read one of the last two blog posts for that decision run down.  Suffice to say I won’t need them anymore due to my cancer and this way I can skip an injection every three months.  God has given me great peace about tomorrow’s excisions (don’t you like that word?) and I’ll be back up and around in a couple of days and able to drive and do the rest of life in a week.  My parents are coming down to keep track of my boys and I suppose my husband can fend for himself for a week!  At church today (we finally decided on a locale, gave our tithes from the last three months of indecision, and were able to start settling in with this group of believers… at least until we move again in a few weeks!) we ended the service, and I will end this post, with this…
You are stronger, you are stronger,
Sin is broken, You have saved me,
It is written, Christ is risen,
Jesus, You, are Lord of all!

His Story:
So, here is where the story starts coming to a close.  As it was said in the first post, this blog was started when there was an absence in the demographic of experience where we found our life.  It has helped us, helped others, and, hopefully, will continue to find people needing to read that they are not alone.

Some may wonder why we will stop blogging.  We are very private people and if we had not felt a calling to share, we would not have.  We are going to resume our lives in the new normal.  We are also going to start writing (think pen, paper, envelopes) as communication with loved ones, friends, and others.  I, for one, am going to take the time to write those “Thank You” notes I keep meaning to get around to.

Tomorrow has big plans.  God has been visibly present in our lives.  We will see where it goes from here.

April 27, 2015 (And nearly one month later…)

Her story: By the numbers… 4 days on estrogen blocking AI 1 month on ovarian suppression 1.5 months post radiation completion (March 2015) 4.5 months post chemo completion (Dec 2014) 9 months post mastectomy (July 2014) 13 months since diagnosis of Stage IIIa breast cancer (March 2014) The medical update:  I saw my oncologist last week and received a second ovarian suppression shot, had my blood checked, and received a prescription for Arimidex.  I am to take the Arimidex daily along with calcium and vitamin D for the next 5 to 10 years to starve any little cancer cells that may exist somewhere in my body of the estrogen they require to live.  On a positive note; the oncologist I see works at a teaching hospital and the “fellow of the week” who comes in to interview me before I see the oncologist was quite handsome, hee hee.  Anyway, I have a referral in place to see a GYN oncologist sometime soon about surgically removing my ovaries (and removing quarterly Lupron shots from my calendar for the next 5-10 years).  I can have my port removed in that same surgery time.  Apparently I have the option of keeping the port for another 2 years in case it’s needed but I think it will do my psyche a great deal of good to have the thing OUT.  Also, there’s the damage that’s probably done to it every time one of my rambunctious boys sits in my lap and throws back his head right into the port… almost as if it is a bulls-eye.  Thus far the only side effects from the pharmaceutically induced estrogen “desert” have been some very mild hot flashes (compared to the near painful temperature switches during my chemo induced menopause) and some moodiness (see the note at the close of this post). The life update: The family and I are working into a nice rhythm since we moved.  We’re still a bit back and forth on churches, but we find somewhere to go worship with other Christ followers each week.  We still haven’t opened the curtain that hides the television.  That’s a month and a half of the kids seeing no videos at home.  I exclude myself from that number because one day last week when the hubby and kids ran off to a ball game I fed my guilty pleasure and watched some cooking competitions on the computer, the first time I’d done that since we’ve been here.  We read a lot, both aloud as a group and “to each his own”.  Well, except for the 4 year old who can only “read” pictures at this time.  My energy level is still not what I think it used to be (hard to remember what it was like over a year ago) but I’ve been exercising at home and making it to the Y at least twice a week.  Apparently now that I’m on the meds I need to do weight bearing exercise, not to fight the fluff, but to keep from having a broken hip at 40 years old.  My hair is crazy… it’s a bit over an inch long and wavy as can be.  My Dad says it’s beautiful but I’m pretty sure he’s biased.  I think the little old ladies at the market are wondering where I get my curl and set (imagine a brown curly ball atop my head).  Anyway.. I’m thankful to have hair… and to have breath (but not breasts!)… and to get hugs from my hubby and my kids.  In line with that breast comment… I’ve been feeling like I’m lying to the world when I go out with my “bewbs” on.  I feel more comfortable in them if I’m wearing just a t-shirt or something than going flat but there’s this nagging in my mind that I’m being dishonest.  After all, I don’t wear makeup and didn’t wear a wig when I was bald (but not for that reason,,,those things are itchy and hot!) so why would I wear fake breasts?  The mental jury is still out on that one, though when wearing such items I find the knitted ones stuffed with fiberfill far superior to the microbead or the silicon ones but the silicon ones stay the right shape best.  The stuffing n the knit ones sometimes gets bunched and it looks a bit lumpy.  I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts and feelings on that subject as time goes on.  The hubby has zero opinions on it and my kids think it’s funny when mommy has “those things like women have”. The outreach/inreach update:  I wrote a month ago about a couple I met and was able to minister to at the oncologist office (I’ll call them Ginger and the Skipper).  Some insurance delays at last week’s appointment left me in the waiting room for over an hour but near the end of that time Ginger came in for a bag of IV fluids.  What luck!  Not, really.  Of course it was God’s provision to allow us to meet again by “coincidence”.  I’m so excited to be of any help or encouragement I can be to her.  Apparently the Skipper had written about their initial encounter with me on Facebook where he basically blogs his experiences as they face her cancer diagnosis and treatment (hmmm..what kind of person would blog such a thing.. hee hee).  As some of you know, I do not have a FB account.  I lack the self-discipline to keep it from running my every free moment.  The Skipper pulled up the post he’d written for me to read.  It is intriguing and humbling to read about how someone else sees you.  When I got home I had my hubby log in to his FB and find the Skipper’s FB page.  I was able to scroll “back in time” and read their cancer journey from the beginning, which was only two months ago.  As I read through posts about diagnosis, chemo illness, and trips to the ER, my heart really went out to them.  I find it hard to remember just how I felt, but when I read someone else’s account or go back and read my own posts, there it is.  All the pain.  All the fear.  But mostly how well God can provide and meet needs you don’t even know you have. Soapboxes: I think I connect well with Ginger and with two of the ladies I went through chemo with because we’re all about the same age and all have children who can not yet fend for themselves… oh and we all have/had aggressive cancer.  It’s all well and good to some people who “know how I feel” because their mother, or aunt, or sister in their 60’s or 80’s had cancer… and feel the need to tell me such… but to me, that’s untrue.  Some facets of cancer treatment and diagnosis are the same no matter your age but I do not have much in common with most of the patients at the cancer center, nor with the souls in the aforementioned cancer stories.  In the same vein, I have nothing to add to comfort women younger than myself who’ve had less opportunity to live life, some not even having the opportunity to bear children before cancer takes away that option.  I cannot even imagine going up to one of those young women and saying “I know how you feel”.  I don’t and I can’t.  Sometimes people just need to let awkward be.  (That awkward thing is something the Skipper wrote about… the weird interaction when something is wrong with one person, illness or death in the family and the other person is there and it’s awkward.)  If you’re talking to me, then let the awkward be.  You cannot commiserate with me because you had a coworker with cancer.  I can commiserate with Ginger, or the ladies I shared a chemo infusion room with, but only to the extent of our shared experiences.  I cannot commiserate with a six year old with cancer or their family.  I cannot commiserate with a twenty-one year old who must have her ovaries removed to save her life. What we can all do is bear each others burdens.  That is different from commiserating.  Admit it.. we don’t know how another person feels.  Even if you face the exact situation, you are not the same people and so you STILL do not now how the other person feels.  Let the awkward be.  Love people who are hurting.  Listen to them.  Pray for them.  But hold your tongue before you say you “know how they feel” or share your story about yourself, your mother, friend, aunt, or coworker.  Ask if they want to hear it, especially if it is a story that ends in death.   I’ve had so many people feel compelled by my bald head (when I was a scarf-wearing obvious chemo patient) to tell me stories of someone they knew who had cancer… and many of them ended with… “and she died”.  Do these same people regail pregnant women with stories of women who died in childbirth?  I doubt it.  It’s just unkind.  Wow, that was about three soap boxes stuffed into one paragraph.  Another quamdry I have along these lines is why people choose to show support to those balded by cancer by shaving their own perfectly good hair… but that’s a thought for another time. A note for the survivors: If anyone reading this is looking down the road at Lupron injections for ovarian suppression (so most likely a premenapausal woman who’s had chemo and estrogen positive cancer)… watch out for the Lupron shots.  They don’t hurt.  I’ve now had the 1 month version and the 3 month version and it’s no worse than a flu shot (in your back side). Beware of moodiness!  After both shots I found myself all worked up and angry and knew it was really nothing.  Each time I spent a couple of days really ticked off about anything and everything… but nothing different than life as usual was going on… except that I’d been injected with that stuff.  So whatever it does on a cellular level, it affects overall mood in a negative way… at least it does mine.  So watch out ladies (or maybe it should be a warning to the husbands and families of these ladies).

His Story:

How long it has been since I put some thoughts down. My apologies, and I will offer no excuses.

We have been a busy family with each of the boys taking their turn at one-on-one time with me. Of course, there was the date mentioned in the post from the beginning of April. That consisted of Red Robin, and a movie (Cinderella). Then, there was the night I took all three boys to the baseball park (an all-you-can-eat affair where I may have let the boys eat a little too much “junk” food). Irony of ironies, the number of people that said I was brave taking all three of them on my own. She and I talk about the strangeness that fathers are seen as undertaking some great task when taking the children on their own, yet little is said when you see a mother doing the same. This was the second game we had gone to and the third time we had been at the park that week (Sunday was rained out). The boys got to play musical chairs, be mini-managers, and call, “Play Ball!” Eventful night that it was, there was still the desire by the two who had not yet claimed their time with me to make good on their chance. The “oldest” and I went to a “Feed Your Face” Monday at the ballpark (of that single-A team that I cannot get enough of). It went to extra innings too. The next night, the youngest got “coffee” (a vanilla creme frappacino), we ate dinner at home, and then out for dessert at Waffle House and a toy store (we also shopped for the coming weekend which was Mother’s Day).

And we have been traveling. Somewhere in there, we went back home and the boys, my father-in-law, and I opted for fishing while the “girls” (they would be my wife and mother-in-law) went to a baby shower. We probably fished for about eight hours (a conservative estimate) and our children were offering free fishing tips to their dear “old” (as the oldest likes to point out) dad. Okay, they were doing better at fishing than I was, but you should have seen the one that got away…

We made it back home this past weekend too, which has me living the “bachelor” lifestyle (in that I am preparing my own meals and hanging out with our dog). Speaking of the puppy, his bill of health is a little cleaner than originally thought. Though, he is still a thirteen-year-old canine.
I get to meet up with the rest of the family this weekend as we celebrate some of the holidays with my family nearby.

Because of the traveling and some other commitments on my part, we are seemingly still searching for a church “home” in our current location. We have it narrowed to three. We’re just hoping to finalize it in short order. Though on the bright side of traveling, we have attended out home church there for some wonderful times.

There are some events on the horizon that our family will need continued prayers. But, we’ll save that for a later post.

April 1, 2015, or not April 1, 2015…That is the question

Her Story:
I met with my new medical oncologist two weeks ago to determine what my hormone reduction treatment plan would be (since my cancer was estrogen positive I’ll need to starve any remaining cancer cells of their yummy hormone food so they shrivel up and die).  The doctor here gave me the same suggestion that the oncologist in my parents’ hometown had… ovarian suppression with a daily exemestane pill for at least five years.  His suggestion was based on the results from the SOFT trial, a 5 year study of women like myself (pre-menopausal, estrogen positive cancer, had chemotherapy).  It’s an interesting one to read the abstract for, if you get the chance.  I started the ovarian suppression with a Lupron injection last week.  It’s interesting that I was on that same drug, though in tiny doses, when we were doing each of our 4 in vitro cycles.  Anyway, I’ll get one injection each month to get and then keep me on the menopausal side of life.  With that will come all the lovely side effects of menopause, like I had during chemo, except really strong this time.  Now I’ll be going from a fully functioning reproductive system to an estrogen-free zone in a matter of weeks instead of the gradual change over years that most women experience.  My husband has a wife full of moodiness and hot flashes to look forward to dealing with in the next few weeks, poor soul.  I can elect at some point to have my ovaries removed if I want to and save the trip for the injection, but the side effects will be the same.  I’ll also start taking the exemestane pills next month.  They are aromatase inhibitors (for those of you not in-the-know… they’re like estrogen garbage bags, even removing the estrogen produced by fats from the system).   Unfortunately the AI has its own side effects like joint pain (apparently estrogen plays a role in joint health) and weakening bones.  I had a bone density scan done as a baseline and my bones are nice and thick (but I’m an otherwise healthy 37 year old, why wouldn’t they be?)  The doctor also says I can get my port out whenever I want (WOOHOO!!!!!!).  Oh, let me celebrate that one again… WOOHOOO!

Now for the amazing part… God used me to comfort someone.  It was so humbling…and exciting.  I went to my oncologist appointment last week to get my injection.  In my bag I had a head scarf I’d received from the Good Wishes charity.  I’d ordered it when I was bald but delivery was months delayed for a reason I cannot recall and it came after I had enough hair to go uncovered.  I’d decided to take the unworn scarf with me and give it away if I found someone without hair and send it back to the company if I didn’t.  A lady in the waiting room commented on my new hair growth and I went over to talk to her to see if she might want the head cover in my bag.  This was quite unlike me as I will generally go to great lengths to avoid meeting new people.  I spoke with her and she was going to begin chemotherapy the next day.  She was in the middle of the whirlwind.  If you’ve ever been diagnosed with cancer you know what I mean.  One day you have a regular life, then you get the diagnosis and then every day there are things you must get scanned, poked, or prodded, and treatments that must begin as soon as possible.  You cry, you question, you cry more.  It’s a whirlwind of medical treatment and emotions.  From the middle of her whirlwind, I was allowed to minister to her and her family.  I was able to give them the address to this blog in case they wanted to read my story and see how God could provide comfort in such storms.  From subsequent correspondence, I have learned that my attitude that day and my story written in this blog have given them a new outlook on their cancer journey.  I’m so excited and humbled to be able to be used by God to comfort someone else!  I was able to be Christ’s hands!

In case you missed the history:
Me: Christ follower, 37 year old female, married, three boys ages 4, 6, and 6
Cancer: breast cancer stage IIIA diagnosed March 2014 (BRCA negative, estrogen and progesterone positive, Her negative)
Treatment: chemotherapy with A/C and Taxol, bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction (modified radical left, prophylactic right)
Preliminary Outcome: clear PET scan December 2014
Recurrence prevention: 33 doses radiation, ovarian suppression injections, exemestane

His Story:
Well, I guess this answers the question as to if we were going to continue to blog…

We have been reunited (and it feels so good) as a family for about one month as I write (again, I was a little behind the power curve, hence the title of the blog). The month has been a fast-paced one as we try to get everything situated. My wife still likes to rearrange the furniture and I still like baseball. So, as a quick update since I last wrote:

The music at the church that we were attending was not quite what the family was hoping for (remember, I am not musically inclined from an earlier blog) and so we have attended other churches the past two weeks. Don’t know if we will change where we attend regularly, just getting everyone’s take on the various worship opportunities available at our new location.

The television has not been on since everyone has been here. You might ask yourself, “How is that possible?” Simple, there is a wonderfully large, used bookstore in the area. We have been there three or four times and each time seem to spend over two-hours. Dropping TV has, apparently, helped in the twins really developing their reading skills. And the weather, overall, has been terrific. Don’t want to read? Then go outside and run around. We also picked up a family membership at the YMCA (really I think they just go by “The Y” now, which is a shame since you lose the catchy jingle written and performed by that great set of philosophers. The Navy is still the Navy, though) and even the kids have aerobics-esque classes. There is just so much to do here…including getting older. I had another birthday in the interim. While I am sure it felt like to some that it took some great negotiating skills, I allowed the boys to “convince” me to go to Waffle House to celebrate (did you know they put gravy on the hash browns now?!?) and then went to the used bookstore and various locations. We wrapped it up at Logan’s Roadhouse so that someone could throw peanuts on the floor (and I think the kids had fun, too).

We got to welcome her parents in for a visit. While they were here I was talking to some of the people that I work with and found that not everyone has the wonderful relationship with their in-laws that I have. I am truly blessed in that realm. While they were here, my father-in-law and I took the boys to the “kickoff” event for the local baseball (Class “A” affiliate) team. They ate hotdogs, met the mascot, got some team apparel, and played in a bounce house. My wife and her mother had gone antiquing. On our departure, we met up for lunch…at Logan’s (the peanut thing is really fun). The next day, I took just one of the boys (the technically “middle” child) out on a father-son date.

This week, my sister (younger of two sisters, but I am the youngest of our family) and her family are coming for a visit now that we are located much closer than the past several years had allowed.

Now, a year looking back, all I can say is, “Wow! Look at what God has done!” It has been an amazing story, and will continue to be regardless of what happens. We couldn’t have made it without His presence, His peace. I hope this finds you well in spirit. Have a Happy Easter (honestly, I am probably more excited about the meaning of Easter on a regular basis than Christmas because I find the culminating events of that Passover many years ago really draws us in to a more reflective mood towards Christ than the December holiday…just a personal opinion), and we will continue to pray for anyone who might read this or “accidentally” stumble on it (just saying, it may be no accident). In the words of our six-year-olds, “God loves, and Jesus loves you!”

March 4, 2015 (Final Radiation – #33)

Her Story:
I had my last radiation therapy today.  My skin has gotten kind of crusty and brown in addition to bright red and bumpy in the treatment area (collarbone to armpit and about 8 inches down).  The doctor prescribed a compounded cream with aloe and lidocaine and several other things in it.  It is supposed to take about a month for it to heal up.  Thankfully I still have very little sensation in that skin post-mastectomy so it doesn’t really hurt.

This post is my retrospective on the last year and my battle with breast cancer.  Hindsight is 20/20, right?  Well, that seems to be the case here.  Only now, a year into this journey, when all visible cancer is gone from my body, can I see how God prepared me for this and equipped me along the way.  In the past year I have undergone my first (and last) mammogram, sentinel node biopsy, port-a-cath placement, 16 doses of chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy, 33 doses of radiation therapy, and countless scans, pokes, pricks, and prods from the medical community.  So here’s what I now see clearly:  God prepared me for my battle with cancer long before I knew it was growing inside me.

Preparation 1:  I’ve never been much of a joiner, more of a loner, but for whatever reason (which I now think was divine prodding) I started attending Women’s Bible study in the fall of 2013.  I took part in an Experiencing God study… it was not a study I would have chosen, instead it was what was left when I signed up and I was none too happy.  A short way into the study my mind and heart were changed.  I did not develop much of an affinity for DVD lectures but I did learn to listen to God and actually started having a relationship with Him.  My eternal salvation has been taken care of for a long time but I was missing out on the abundant life Jesus talked about.  I had previously felt God nudging me one way or another, but I learned and experienced that I can have a real relationship with God, through the indwelling of the Spirit.  It doesn’t have to be a far off kind of back-and-forth between me and the Almighty God. He can tell me things and help me in my day to day life and feelings, because He’s right there with me in the form of the Holy Spirit.   In effect, God was real to me as a relational God, not only a sovereign God.

Preparation 2: The Fall term in Bible Study was so spiritually rewarding I went back for the spring 2014 term and started a Precept upon Precept class called Covenant.  I have attended church my entire life and have read the Bible and yet I had no idea about the covenants in the Bible.  I knew the term covenant was used in reference to Jesus’ death and resurrection in the Catholic mass as a “new and everlasting covenant” and I’d read the term in some of Paul’s letters and heard it in reference to marriage but I didn’t understand the significance of covenant.  Through the inductive study class, I really started looking at what the Bible says, not just in general summarization type terms but in a word by words sense and I found beauty, real beauty.  Example after example of covenants God struck with man and how He upheld His end each time.  That understanding prepared my heart to trust Him when trials came, to take Him at His Word!

First Stages:  When I was initially diagnosed and began treatment a year ago, my brain was scrambled and I was on an emotional roller coaster.  What stands out in my memory, however, are not the terrifying test results or the fear I had but the beautiful ways God reassured me and brought me calm.  There was the group of ladies in my Bible study group who laid hands on me, prayed over me, and cried with me.  Once I was willing to admit my circumstances to the world at large, I received more encouragement in the notes and cards from people I knew and some I didn’t who were taking my name and my cause before God for me.  Looking back I know I was afraid but I can’t lay hold of those emotional memories… instead I feel the warmth from the care and concern of godly people making tangible the love of my God.

In the Fire: For me, the first 4 chemotherapy sessions and the bilateral mastectomy were my true battles.  They were the fire through which I went.  They forever changed my body and debilitated me for a time.  A man I met at radiation therapy pointed out that Psalms, Jeremiah, Zechariah, and 1 Peter all compare people and faith to gold or silver, the true value of which can only be found when the impurities are removed by fire.  The battles I faced in my body and in my emotions and thoughts and faith as I went through those chemo sessions and surgeries were my fire.  Prior to them I had faith, but it was limited.  God had put people and tools in my path just before my diagnosis to strengthen my faith but all the things in the world still clouded it.  When the fire came, I was stripped.  I was stripped of my dignity, my self-sufficiency, my own body, which allowed my faith to flourish, unencumbered.  The fire removed the extras and allowed the true value of my faith to show itself.   I was able to trust God for myself, for the care of my family, for strength to make it one day to the next.

Burning Plows: A message I heard recently spoke of the calling of Elisha and how he burned his plow and followed Elijah.  By destroying the method of livelihood he had there was nothing to hold him back from following God because there was no “plan b”.  Chemo burned the plow I was using (maybe it even ate the oxen).  It destroyed the life I had. No one could understand how I felt.  Even other cancer patients or survivors couldn’t because each person is a bit different.  It was my mind, my body, my unique thoughts that were being incinerated.  All I had in those dark and lonely times was faith and a God that will endure any trial right alongside me.  I was a wife, homemaker and homeschooling mom.  After a dose of chemo, I could no longer cook, hold my children, plan school activities, play games with my children or meet my husband’s emotional and physical needs.  I felt useless and burdensome.  But above that disparaging thought process was the ever-present Holy Spirit.  God was there!  At first I had trouble with trust.  I could trust God with my life, my eternity… but not with the care of my husband or my little ones if something happened to me… what would become of them?  But through the fire of breast cancer my faith has been refined.  I now trust that my covenant-keeping God will take care of me, and my husband, and my little ones.  He has the strength I can rely on when mine is all used up.

A while back in this blog I recorded the lyrics of the song “Oceans” as a prayer for my journey from a friend.  As God would have it, we sang that song recently at church.  The bridge of the song made my insides glow for lack of a better comparison.  My friend’s prayer for me is exactly what has happened:
“spirit lead me where my trust is without borders,”
     Through the fire of my battle with cancer I have been brought by God to a place where my trust in Him is greater than I thought possible.
“let me walk upon the waters, wherever you would call me,”
     He did allow me to walk upon the waters of this trial.
I did not drown, either in disease or my own self-pity.
“take me deeper than my feet could ever wonder,”
      I’ve been through far more than I could ever have survived alone.
I’ve seen the hopeless existence of people who have cancer, but lack faith in Jesus.
I’ve also grown in my faith in a way that only God could make happen.
“and my faith will be made stronger, in the presence of my Savior”
     My faith has been made stronger by my Savior, Jesus.

A year ago I was 36-years-old with a husband, a 3-year-old, and twin 5-year-olds.  So here I am now, a 37-year-old with a husband, a 4-year-old, and twin 6-year-olds.  Much more has happened than a set of birthdays.  I am seemingly cancer free for now.  I have finished radiation and will start taking hormone suppressor pills and have intermittent follow up tests for years and years.  My hair is growing back.  I am becoming accustomed to dressing for my new body, the one without breasts or dressing normally and putting them on with my clothes!  But what I take from this battle is not the physical scars and emotionally turbulent memories.  God has helped me grow my faith; grow my trust in Him, both before this battle began and during it.  After all, He was before the world began so certainly He was before I started battling cancer and He will be forever …and I’ll be with Him!


His Story:
And, so it is seemingly finished. I was listening to the radio on the way to work the other day (as I often do) and Laura Story’s song “Blessings” came on. Have you ever had that moment when you’ve heard a song countless times, but never have really listened to it? That was how it was when it came on. I listened and couldn’t help but think, “that is exactly how I have felt this year” and with some research, there is good reason why that song might sum it up. And, that is where I will leave it for now. Thank you all for your prayers.

February 20, 2015 (Radiation #25)

Her Story:
I’m going to try to focus on the purpose of the blog as I write today and not chase any rabbits down useless holes. I had my 25th radiation treatment today. I found out earlier this week that I was misinformed (or I misheard) about the number I’d need. It was true that I’d need 28 treatments of the current protocol that covers my entire left chest area around under my arm and up to my neck. Unbeknown to me until this week is that following the completion of those 28 treatments I will have 5 treatments of a slightly different variety that will be aimed at my left mastectomy scar. The good news is that my very red, painful armpit will no longer be within the treatment area after Wednesday. The bad news is that the children and I will not be able to move to be with my husband for another two weeks, instead of the one week we thought. That said, I do have good notes of God’s provision and protection… Today the doctor came in to look at my scar to do some pre-planning for the next treatment and the nurse was in there checking my skin. He thought my skin only looked like I’d had half my doses instead of almost all. With my pasty white complexion I should have been toast by now, apparently! I was burned by the end of the second week but it hasn’t really gotten too much worse than a really raunchy rashy sunburn. God blessed me with skin still far enough back in the aging process to have regenerative capabilities. I’m still young enough that all the beautiful molecules God put in there are still there and working to build and repair as the radiation kills off and burns. And in line with regeneration… I went to therapy sans hat for the first time today… it may be short flat “mouse” hair, but it’s the hair God gave me!!! I will rejoice and be GLAD in it! (but still wear a hat when it’s cold).

His Story:
Focus? Not me…So in the last two trips back home, I have been unable to worship at the home church with our family. The first time had some really nasty rain storms coming in that we decided it would be best for me to miss. That trip, I was home less than 36 hours. Then, this last trip we were on the way to church the morning after some descent wind and the driveway was blocked by a down tree. This gave me a chance to show off my backwards driving skills and the boys volunteered to do a church service. The oldest led worship through music, and the “middle” one did the sermon (a short treatise on the parallels between the birth of Moses and the birth of Jesus). Then, I looked at the weather and thought, “Really? Again?” and headed out a few hours later (a full 24 before I was originally planning on it). And, yet, I have been blessed with pleasant travels in all of this.
How about what we did get to do this time, though? Friday afternoon I got to go on a date with my wife. We went to eat at Olive Garden (thanks to a gift card from my family) and then to the movies. We, of course, went to see that movie that everyone seems to be talking about…Old Fashioned. It was showing the same time that other movie that everyone is talking about and the audience members of that one did not seem as…”happy” I think is the word I am looking for. Many of them just looked shocked and so we talked on the way to the car about that.
Then that night, I went on a father-son trip with the oldest to a concert series that had some of the acts that I had wanted to see and one that we wanted to see again. Family Force 5, Skillet, Jeremy Camp, Building 429…we’re talking about Winter Jam. We can worship with that type of music! The theme of the night was about adoption, particularly overseas adoption. Saturday, we had our usual Un-Valentine’s Day fare.
So, when I got down here I was seeking out certain things that had been “missing” from the last location I worked at. There are Chick-Fil-A’s aplenty and I registered at the library. Along with that, there are used bookstores here. In the absence of my family, I have taken up cooking, reading, and am working on the second jigsaw puzzle. I am reading the last of Stephen Lawhead’s King Raven Series, The Three Musketeers illustrated classic when I get to read to the boys, and The Three Musketeers hardback (it’s Dumas, I could read that guys books twenty times and still want to read them again). I also arranged our books by the Dewey numbering system (and read some Boynton to the youngest on the phone the other night). Still, in all that busyness, I just miss my family.
Church prospects look good here. A wise woman (who has been my wife for over twelve years) said that if I thought I had found the right one, why keep looking? I thought I may try some others this week, but I have to agree that it may be a decision already made, and I am thankful for that as well. In fact, I found myself over in that area today (getting the truck serviced) and realized I already know exactly how to get there (something that has not imprinted itself as well with other churches).
So, again our mantra is “Two more weeks!” Thank you all for your continued prayers, invites to church functions, and baking tips. Jesus loves you! (and we love you.)

February 5, 2015 (Radiation #14)

Her Story:
Today I completed half of my radiation therapy protocol.  In celebration my Mom baked me a cake which was delicious!  I really feel blessed.  God has given me a great family, a wonderful husband, dear friends, and medical professionals who know how to treat this disease (and some who can do it with care and smiles!)
The left half of my chest and my neck look like I just came off a cruise after forgetting to pack sunscreen, but aside from some redness and tenderness I’m doing well.  If anyone is wondering what the actual radiation therapy is like, here goes…. I undress from the waist up and they give me this ridiculously tiny little towel that is somehow supposed to keep me warm!  I lay with my arms over my head on a really cold rolling tray like on a CT scan and lay my arms and head into a mold they made the first day so I’m always laying in the same position.  They turn off the lights and move me and the table in all directions to get the cross-hairs inked on my chest (one under each arm, one in the center of my left chest scar, and 2 right by my left armpit)  to match the green laser lights in their ceiling.  The technicians call numbers back and forth then they leave and the lights come on.  The big machine is above my head and an arm of it is over me.  It beeps for about 15 seconds (that’s when it’s emitting) then moves to it’s next position.  The technicians come back in and change some plates around and move the table a few degrees then they leave again and it’s a repeat of session 1 except the arm of the machine is to my left.  The techs come back in and do some more moving… this time the arm of the machine is right above me and they raise the table up so I’m really close to it.  They leave, lights up, 15 seconds of beeping, machine rotates to under the table, short beep, techs come back.  They roll the table back out to where it started and lower it down, help me up and I get dressed and leave.  Every other treatment, the techs put a gel pad over my chest for the first two radiation doses.  That’s it… no needles, no pain (except the day they forgot to heat the gel pad …WOW).  So to this point everyone was right when they said compared to chemo, radiation would be a walk in the park. Well, if that park is in the Kalahari and you’re missing the front left half of your shirt!
My husband is still residing at our new home and now we have only 3 weeks until we can join him!  The kids are doing well with their learning here at their grandparent’s house.  I had feared they would be too distracted by the woods, the tractors, the cakes and cookies, and all the other things that come from being with your grandparents.  They’ve surprised me with their ability to focus (I use the term rather loosely since they are 3 and 6… think of what focus is for a child that age).
I feel like this cancer journey part of my life is almost over.  I might get back to a regular life, mostly.  Obviously I’ll be sans hair for a while and sans breasts forever and there will be follow up appointments and drugs to take, but the daily and weekly trips to the doctors office and highly invasive medical treatments will be over soon.  My calendar will have blank days!  I thank God for that.
His Story:
Today is actually Saturday here.  Not because I have mastered some Dr. Who-vian time travel, but because I waited a couple of days to post.
The plans to get to go to church with my family last week fell through.  As a storm was sort of bearing down on the region of my travel, we thought it best for me to depart early and avoid the heavier part of the weather.
So, with a return to attempting to find a place for worship in our new location for when we are reunited (and it feels so good) I went to a Messianic Jewish Synagogue today.  I’ll let that sink in for a moment because there may be some who are not even aware that is an option.  When we were at our last location, we (she and I) participated in a Bible study on the feasts decreed in Leviticus and the oldest son and I were participating in an Orthodox Jewish Seder, but never got to the food portion (a story for another time).  So, one of the things that we are pretty sure is that some day our sons will make their own decisions about their spiritual life.  Obviously there are decisions that we hope they make, but the key thing (as I see it anyway) is, first, that they make a decision and that, second, that decision is an informed one.  The attendance of a service like the one I attended today would be very informative for them, as it was for me.  Is it the place we will attend?  That I do not know, yet.  Tomorrow I will be attending a few other “traditional” church services (traditional in the sense that they are more what someone would think of as a Christian setting).
After that I went to one of the local used bookstores.  I got six illustrated classics, one of which we already had a copy of.  Why, you might ask, is he getting a copy of a book that he knows they already have?  Because my family has the other copy with them and that means that I get to read it to them as they follow along in their copy.  Last night I read to them before bed and, oh how I missed it so.  In case you are wondering, the book is The Three Musketeers by Dumas.
How ready I am for the three remaining weeks to fly by that our family will be together again.  How blessed I feel that we have that prospect to look forward to.  God bless you all, and we are praying for you.