January 8, 2017: Check-up Day

It has been 27 months since I was diagnosed with cancer, and today, I heard those sweet words: “No Evidence of Disease” – YAY!!!

I do need to move to the beach to replenish my Vitamin D though.

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January 3, 2018:

Before you know you have cancer, they run test after test, which usually includes getting blood drawn. While you are fighting cancer just know you will become a pin cushion. You’ll get your blood drawn all the time. And then you think you’re done, but you’re not. I don’t think we are ever “done”.

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Today was my 6 month blood draw and bone density check. No big deal, right? It shouldn’t be. I know which vein to have them stick. I’m great at making a fist. I don’t get faint even though I still look away while they fill vile after vile after vile. I can have a great quick conversation about the person’s kids or the weather or their pet. It’s not a big deal. It really isn’t.

BUT IT IS!!!

When I turned into the parking lot and saw the word “Oncology”, my heart skipped a beat or two. When I walked towards the automatic doors, my legs got heavier and heavier with every step. Some days it takes all the courage in my world to walk through those doors. It sounds silly, but in that moment it isn’t funny. It’s terrifying!

Today, I walked through the doors and the sadness hit me in the face. Cancer is depressing. If you don’t believe me, walk into an oncology clinic where chemo is administered. Take a hard look around. It’s heartbreaking. I went to go use the restroom, and a man with a pasty white face, his head smooth, and his eyes sat far back in their sockets with dark circles around them shook his head as I walked by. I understood. I walked towards the one he hadn’t just came out of and I saw that faint smile. That smile was because he said nothing, but he knew in that moment that I knew cancer. Ugh! I hate that I know. He hates that he knows. But in that moment, a special connection was made. A conversation took place without words. We just knew. On my way to the counter, he was walking away. I told him it would get better. He smiled a weak smile. I sighed a heavy sigh. A sigh that seemed to weigh a ton.

I handed the clipboard to the lady behind me. “Oh, no! I mean . . . I don’t have . . . I’m not sick . . . I mean . . . I don’t think I need that.” Cancer is a lot like leprosy was during Biblical times to some people. She wanted me to know she didn’t have it. I didn’t tell that I had had it, and people like her make people like me feel like a “less than” and we aren’t. But then I remembered where we were. She wouldn’t be here unless she was currently involved with cancer in some way. I clenched my teeth, more in anger at myself than frustration at her, and put the clipboard back on the counter and sat down. I watched and listened. Silence mostly. The lady at the desk was flustered over her computer. The man behind me assured his wife over the phone that he would be fine. He could do his treatment alone again. He would be okay. They needed the money. His quiet whisper. His silent courage. His strength. I smiled. And then my anxiety soared as they called my name to check my insurance and pay my fee. The door clicked louder today than I remembered it being in the past. Heavy steps. Blank stares. Quiet conversations. Sniff. Sniff. The fake waterfall of colors.

Hold your head high. Take a deep breath. You are okay. Look around. No, don’t. But do. And another wait. A TV blares in the background. A doctor calls for a patient. A nurse talks on the phone. And we all wait for our names to be called.

They call mine. It’s weird. I hear it. I know they are calling for me. Yet, I’m still sitting there looking at them. They apparently get this reaction all the time. It’s as though they are searching for the shell-shocked person in the waiting room. My eyes locked with hers and in a language we all speak and others don’t, she assured me I’d be okay. I walked over and sat in the chair. I have one arm that can be stuck. The other is off limits. I have a small scar from being poked over and over again, yet that’s the easiest place to stick the needle. She collects the viles with different colored tops, pulls off green stretchy tape, gets a blue rubber-band looking thing and places it around my bicep, pulls out a cotton ball, and opens the needle. I look away. We talk small talk. She sticks me and fills every vile. Pulls the needle out, puts the cotton ball on the tiny drop of blood, and wraps that green tape around my arm. She slowly puts stickers on each vile making me state my name and birthdate once again. “The tumor markers are sent out. They should be back before your appointment. Have a great day.” And I leave so someone else can take my place in that chair.

The walk out is quicker and easier than the walk inside. The air is still crisp, but I am warm. There’s a relief that comes with being out of there. I know that sounds crazy, but it happens. I text Jon. And then, I sit there with my back against the seat. I pray for that blood, those markers, my bones. There is absolutely nothing I can do to make time move faster from today until Monday or anything I can do to change that blood in those viles. I must wait. It’s almost worse than not knowing. The wait makes the brain go a little overboard. It will be over the course of the next few days that I’ll have to remind myself that I’m okay, to breathe, and that the Internet is evil until the results are back. Don’t read anything about cancer until Tuesday. It’s just a weird promise I have to make myself. If not, not knowing can drive a person mad. These results say something we need to hear. “No evidence of disease”, or NED, in the world of cancer. Unfortunately for me, remission doesn’t mean cured. Not yet anyway. It’s this time from 2014-2024 that you hope you only hear “NED” at your appointments, so you can stay in remission and hope that in ten years, they will tell you that you are “cancer free” or “cured”. Those are beautiful words. Words those of us that have walked with cancer hope to hear one day.

But in the stillness of the night when most are sleeping, I find time inside my own head. A verse to mediate and pray about. And this light in the distance that reminds me that the results don’t matter. God holds me close. He always has a plan. It is always good.

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January 2, 2018: Fog, Light, Life

Can you see the fog?

It comes in slowly

Swallowing everyone

It can make an entire city disappear

And there it sits

Wisps here and there

But mostly covered

It’s light yet heavy

White yet dark

And there it sits

And then

I don’t know what happens

A break in the sky

Light

More wisps than mounds

And then

It’s as though it never was

If you weren’t there

You wouldn’t have believed it happened

And in the silence

When the air is still

A voice

So tiny and small

Yet as big as the world

Touches you

Tells you

And helps you

Understand that the fog is temporary

The darkness is only there for a moment

And then it is overshadowed

By The Light

And life begins again.

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November 16, 2017: Three Years Post Mastectomy

About three years ago, I had a double mastectomy that would be quickly followed by 6 months of chemo and several breast surgeries to reconstruct my breasts. On the days leading up to a double mastectomy, I don’t remember having the chance to think about what life would be like three years later. Life seemed to happen in fast forward back then and more normal-like these days.

The Best Thing:

  • “No sign of disease” – great words to hear!!

The Good Things:

  • I had an amazing female breast surgeon (Dr. Mary Brian if you’re in the DFW area) and a fabulous plastic surgeon (Dr. Rumalla). They did great work; therefore, I have pretty great looking fake boobs.
  • I had a legit tattoo artist. I didn’t think nipple tattoos would make a difference physiologically. I was wrong. Great decision.
  • We developed the Recovery Tee that has helped so many other women get through a mastectomy a little kinder and gentler.

The Bad:

  • I still have to check in once a year to get these boobies pressed and prodded. There’s always that lurking fear they will find something, and I’ll be right back where I started.
  • I’ve become somewhat of a touch-me-not. I’m not all about the hug that I once was, but if you’re struggling and need comfort, I’ll sacrifice for you.
  • Running isn’t as fun as it used to be. Like not at all.

The Ugly:

  • The nagging pain that never seems to go away. Thankfully, I’ve found an amazing chiropractor, Dr. Danielle Hawkins. If it wasn’t for all her help, I think I’d have a broken shoulder or be so miserable doing life would be torture. I don’t know what all is wrong, but she’s fixing me.
  • There’s an uncomfortable part to having fake boobs. I don’t think I was prepared for always dealing with these foreign objects in my body that just don’t feel or behave naturally. They might look real to others, but they are just weird to me.

All in all, I’d say I’m in a great place. Even with some of the negatives, I think I’d do it all over again if I could go back in time and make the decision again.

My hope is that with more and more research less and less women have to have mastectomies.

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October 31, 2017: When October Ends . . .

When October ends, the pink ribbons will come down, the commercials will stop, and the feel good stories won’t air on your televisions; but breast cancer will still be looming. On November 1st, someone will be told they have breast cancer, someone will start treatment for breast cancer, and chances are that someone will die from breast cancer. Cancer doesn’t care what month it is.

As November turns into December and everyone is headed out to do their holiday shopping or off to a party or family gathering, someone is fighting cancer. It’s not the thing we’d like to think about, but it is true. Cancer is hurting someone right now. It will destroy a family tomorrow. And the next day, a new person will receive their diagnosis. We don’t think about it unless it is us that’s in the middle of the fight or on the outside knowing what the ring was like when we were fighting there. We’d rather all that pink stuff go away, so we can ignore it all.

On the other side, all of us that have been diagnosed love to hear “cancer free”, but the truth is – you’re never cancer free! Cancer haunts you like an unfriendly ghost. It pops up in your mind and makes you tremble for absolutely no seemingly good reason. And then it sits there heavy-like on your chest and fills your mind with frightful thoughts. And then you hear the news of another who has just found out or one that’s earned their angel wings, and once again you find peace in your own remission. You’re thankful for all the “one more days” you’ve been granted. You heart breaks and mourns for those who aren’t where you are and it celebrates greatly when someone says their tests are good – “No cancer”. No cancer!

I wish when October ended, it would take all the cancer with it!

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October 22, 2017

This past week my class read the poem, The Road Not Taken. It had been a bit since I’d reflected on that work of poetry. We talked about how our choices create us into the people we become, so that’s why it’s important to make wise choices. But then I began to think about the choices that are forced upon us. The ones we would have never chosen for ourselves if we would have been given the choice, yet taking them back would have created a different person we might not recognize today, and so that path way back there is just a “What If” while the path in front of us is the life we’re living.

Three years ago, such a choice was forced upon me. I had to walk down the path of cancer. There were many forks in this road. I chose surgery, chemotherapy, and opted out of radiation. But every road was one I would have rather not traveled down, yet they created a new person inside of me.

When faced with cancer, the biggest choice I made was to cling to God. He granted me a peace there are no words to describe. Still to this day, I live in this peace bubble when it comes to cancer. It’s an amazing gift from God.

I stopped worrying so much. Yes, I still stay up waiting on my child to get home regardless of the hour he is to arrive. I still check on all their well beings and pour prayers over them. I’m still a mom. But I don’t worry about everything like I used too. I used to be a constant worrier, and now I am far from that.

I have a confidence I lacked prior to cancer. I know that sounds crazy because breast cancer has a way of stripping that from a woman. But in my case, I gained it. I became a voice for others like me. I sought out ways to help others. My heart says this needs to end, but until it does, let’s at least take care of one another and pass on all we’ve learned to the next ones.

I’m dreaming again. In the fight, you are just fighting. But now, I’m dreaming. I long for vacations again. I love planning our future with Jonathan. I can see past this moment and that’s a wonderful place to be.

On this day three years ago, two paths diverged. I took this one and I look back knowing that it has made all the difference.

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June 18, 2017: What I Miss About Chemo

Today marks the 2nd year anniversary of my last chemo treatment. Eighteen days of my life were spent in a beige, leather recliner underneath a chemo pole. What could I possibly miss about the entire process? People! Yes, I miss the people. I miss the nurses. It takes a special person to work in oncology. We come in looking healthy and leave looking sick, yet they have faith that it worked and was worth it. I loved their positive attitudes and the majority were some of the kindest people I’ve ever met. I miss this old man that came with his wife. He looked like Santa Claus without most of his teeth, but he was a joy. He was always passing out something. What a sweet man. I miss this lady that always had her grandkids with her. Sometimes one of them but often both of them. I loved how they were just present. There was a teacher who graded papers. She taught math. She would grade until the stack was finished or until she went to sleep. Chemo seems to make many of us a sleepy. She made me thankful for my team at school that took care of all the school stuff while I was away. Melissa was a part of that team. She was my constant cheerleader and a vital part of my support team. Thank you. I miss the pharmacist that apologized every time Jon picked up my meds for me. He knew better than many just how much of a finiancial burden cancer could be. He was kind. I loved that my husband was there. It was boring to sit up there for hours and hours surrounded by others sitting beneath the bags of cocktails and chemo, yet he came time after time. I never sat alone. I never had to do chemo by myself. I’ll never be able to thank him enough. I actually miss that the most about chemo. The hours and hours of time spent together. There’s nothing that can ever take that precious time away. The keenness he always had. His care and kindness. His passion for protection over me. He was my Prince Charming. Exactly what you pray a husband will be but without the cancer, chemo, and almost dying part. I don’t think anyone dreams of that!

 

So what do I miss about chemo? People. What you do makes a difference. Be kind!

Summer 2017

Summer 2016

Summer 2015

Summer 2014

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