Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Broken

Warning: this post may be uncomfortably descriptive for some

Before leaving the hospital, the doctor requested that I change my bandages and take a shower. Knowing how difficult it would be, both physically and emotionally, I put it off until the last possible moment. And when that moment finally came, and I could put it off no longer, I mustered up all my courage and got up, allowing Damie and the nurses to unwrap the bandages. I stood there, with my eyes closed, not daring to look, my emotions coming to the surface.
Damie gently led me to the shower. I collapsed onto the seat as my blood pressure unexpectedly dropped. My eyes blurred and everything sounded muffled. I sat there in the shower, naked, hairless, scarred, with drain tubes dangling from my sides. I must have looked pathetic sitting there, my body marred, still covered in iodine and the markings from the surgeon.
Damie was at my side. He was praying fervently for me. Then he was calling for the nurses and directing them to help. There was worry and compassion in his voice. They covered me and got me back into bed, closely monitoring me until my blood pressure was back to normal.
This isn't quite what I pictured when we vowed, "...in sickness and in health, till death do us part." This isn't how I want to present myself to my husband.
And yet, he sees past all the brokenness and weakness in my body, still seeing me whole, still seeing me how I looked when we first met. And more importantly, loving me for who I am today, and for who we have become together.
And in the midst of all the activity, while I was barely conscious in the shower stall, Damie reached for my hat. He tenderly covered my head, somehow knowing that would comfort me.

Picturing myself lying broken in the shower, and experiencing the unconditional love of my husband...I'm struck by the resemblance to how each of us comes to Christ. Torn apart by the hardness of life. Bruised and broken by sin. Overtaken by depression, anxiety, fear, failure. Wounded, broken-hearted, hurt.
Finally, in our weakness and desperation, we realize how much we need a savior. We stop trying to cover our brokenness. We stop trying to excuse our sin. We surrender. We cry out to God, and He comes and exchanges our filthy rags for robes of righteousness. With compassion and mercy, He picks us up, broken and scarred, and wraps us in His garments of salvation. He heals our wounds. He forgives our sins. He takes away all the fear, all the guilt, all the shame. He makes us new. He makes us whole. He makes us presentable, beautiful, spotless and pure. His bride. His beloved.

Isaiah 61:10
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,
My soul shall be joyful in my God;
For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
He has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments,
And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Surgery Update and Thanks

My amazing husband sent out some update emails from the hospital yesterday. He didn't have everyone's email addresses readily available, so I am posting them here for you to read...

9/27- 3:35pm

To everyone who has blessed our family with meals and prayer. I want to thank you all for the blessing it has been to receive your kindness and prayers. I am sitting in the waiting room now. They took Stephanie in to surgery about 1:00 pm today. The surgery is scheduled for about 5 hours. They will be doing a biopsy on the non-cancer side while in surgery. Please pray for a good report on this test. Stephanie was so very peaceful (thank God for His grace). She showed so much courage and faith going into this surgery. While we were talking before they took her she was saying how lucky she feels to have such a wonderful support group of family and friends. I wanted to let you all know that all your help and prayers have made this trial so much more bearable for our family.

When I look back over the last year, it is God's grace and mercy that He has done such a work in our family, marriage and our hearts. His timing is so merciful and I am so thankful that he has shown us His favor and equipped us with strength and support to handle this trial. It is true that faith is a gift and His strength is sufficient to get us through everything. I am sure that God will continue to give us strength and faith to keep looking to Him for our healing, provision and strength.

I again want to thank you all for so much that you all have done for us, I will try to keep you all updated on Stephanie’s status.

Thanks again
Damie



Update 9:52pm

Well, Stephanie is doing well. We have gotten her into her room after surgery. It was a 4 ½ hour surgery but there were no complications. Everything went well. Stephanie had a bit of a hard time with the anesthetic when she first woke up, but she came through ok. Her spirits are up and she is doing wonderfully. She was very chatty after coming out of recovery. She was very interested in finding out all about the people that were helping her, she was asking all types of questions, and saying how kind and compassionate they all were.

Well in short, God has removed her fear and she is so peaceful and joyful. It is wonderful to see her so peaceful.

Thanks again for all your prayers.
Damie



And here is a comment from my dad, in case you missed it on my last post:

To all who have been offering so much love and support: It means so much to all of us in the family and is a great source of comfort and optimism to us as well as to Stephanie and Damie. There is no adequate way to express our gratitude, but thank you so much.

Stephanie's Dad, Alan.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Details

I check into the downtown Boise St. Lukes at 11:15 on Monday (9/27).
I will have a sentinel node biopsy first. Once that procedure is complete, the doctor will start surgery.
Surgery will take approximately five hours.
I'll spend the night and come home Tuesday.
Damie will be with me at the hospital, and then he'll be home with me the rest of the week.

Overwhelmed

Here it is, the night before surgery. I think deep down I didn't believe this day would really come. Yet, here it is and I'm feeling overwhelmed.
Not by fear.
I'm at peace, and content.
Rather, I'm overwhelmed by the love and encouragement I have received from friends over the past few days. Tears run down my cheeks as I think of all the extra-long hugs, prayers, words of encouragement, notes, emails, phone calls, and comments on this blog.
I am overwhelmed with thankfulness. I'm overwhelmed by the love people have shown me.
Thank you dear friends, for your encouragement.
Thank you friends who are fasting and praying for me tomorrow. I'm so humbled that you would make that sacrifice and petition God on my behalf.
Thank you friends for your generosity and open-ended offers of help.
Thank you friends for your love and concern, and for being sensitive to the difficulties I'm facing.
I'm filled. I'm overflowing. There is no room left in me for fear. For sadness. For loss. I've been forever touched by your loving kindness.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

No Scar?

Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land;
I hear them hail thy bright, ascendant star.
Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound?
Yet I was wounded by the archers; spent,
Leaned Me against a tree to die; and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned.
Hast thou no wound?

No wound? No scar?
Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,
And pierc├Ęd are the feet that follow Me.
But thine are whole; can he have followed far
Who hast no wound or scar?

~Amy Carmichael

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Surgery

I met with the surgeon today. I've chosen to have a bilateral mastectomy (modified radical on the cancer side, simple on the other).
Surgery is scheduled for Monday, September 27th.
I don't have much to say about it. I'm feeling very emotional, but haven't yet processed it all. Mostly, I'm sad.

Things to pray for...
1. No complications
2. Speedy recovery
3. My surgeon, Dr. Wolf - that God would expertly guide his hands.
4. Minimal nerve damage
5. Cancer free results!!
6. God's peace and comfort
7. My family

Thank you friends!

Friday, September 17, 2010

First Round of Chemo Complete!

I had my last treatment today! I made it through the first phase of chemotherapy with minimal side effects. Praise the Lord!! Today was the first day though that my blood work wasn't perfect. My white blood cell count was down, which means my immune system is weak. It's on its way back up, but I would appreciate prayers - that I won't get sick.

My pre-op appointment with the surgeon is Tuesday (9/21). Surgery will probably be the following week. They will give me approximately four weeks to recover before they start chemo again.

I've been asked if I still have my eyebrows, or if they were painted on in the pictures. I do still have eyebrows and eyelashes, although they have gotten very thin. I'm pretty sure they won't last much longer.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Surrendered

I tried on post-op clothing today. I was forced to face the reality of my upcoming surgery. I must confess that as I ponder it, my heart grows heavy. It is bothersome in so many ways.
Will it be painful?
How long will it take to recover?
How deformed will I be?
Will I be disgusted and repulsed when I look at my body?
How will I handle the loss?
Will they find even more cancer?
So many unknowns.

As I was agonizing over this, I felt a deep reassurance that God would be with me. My body relaxed as the stress and heaviness lifted. Tears pooled in my eyes as I felt the sweet comfort. For I know that if God is with me, I can face anything!
Then my mind went to Jesus, on the cross. "My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?" He cried.
Did God really forsake him? Did Jesus have to face death alone? Did God really abandon him in his darkest hour - or did Jesus, in his agony, just feel that way? Or was it my sin that made God have to turn away, as Jesus took it upon himself?
It makes my heart sad.
I feel so selfish. My relationship with God is selfish to the core. I wish it wasn't so, but I can't help it. I need God. Every part of me longs for Him, and for what He gives me. As if God was made for me, to give me pleasure, rather than the other way around.
Oh, how I long to be an empty vessel! To be rid of selfishness. To be completely yielded to God. To live knowing I've been created for His pleasure. I'm made for His glory, not my own.
Yet, I don't even know what that looks like. What would my life be like, entirely, unselfishly devoted to God? Every ounce of selfishness removed?

Oh selfish heart! Go away! Let my life be one that serves God wholly. Let my life proclaim the glory of my Maker.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Exposed: Part 2

I'm sure everyone is wondering what I look like bald.
Very few have gotten to see.
I almost always wear a wig when I leave the house.
At home, I wear a scarf. I've been gifted the most beautiful scarves!
Even at night, I sleep with a warm hat.
Very rarely do I leave my head uncovered.

So, my dear readers, I want to give you the opportunity to see me, exposed!

My friend, Jonie, is the most amazing photographer! I knew if anyone could make my bald head look beautiful, it would be her. We spent a morning together, sharing our trials, and taking pictures. It was a windy day.
I've never had a photo shoot of just me. It felt weird. Especially under these circumstances, and without my own hair. It was an exercise in both vanity and humility.

In the pictures you will see...
  • Two wigs. I bought one (with help from my dad). The other is from my friend, Kristie - a breast-cancer survivor!
  • Two of my favorite scarves, ones I wear all the time at home.
  • The red scarf: from Ann Jones, a local artist who expertly hand-dyes silk.
  • The blue scarf: made by my cousin, Chicky (not her real name, but that's what we call her).
  • Just me, with a little make-up (my apologies).





Friday, September 10, 2010

Exposed: Part 1

There is something very strange about seeing your face with no hair. And even stranger is seeing it with no hair or cosmetics. Sometimes I'll stop at the mirror and stare at myself.
I see me. Just me. Every facial feature, no longer masked.
What beauty remains when the external adornment is gone?
What beauty is really there, all by itself?
I ask the same about my character.
What inner beauty remains when the masks are removed?
When I no longer put my "good face" forward?
When I'm just me?

We do all these things to change how we really look.
Fancy hair. Fancy clothes. Fancy make-up.
All attempts to look better.
How often do we do the same regarding our character?
We cover our nakedness, our sin, the scars, the ugly things inside.
Trying to look better than we really are.

Will people love me less without hair?
Will people love me less if they see my sin, my struggles?
Certainly not!

I lay myself bare. Every scar. Every blemish. Exposed.
No more cover-up.
Just me.
Knowing that whatever beauty remains is authentic.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Confident Dependence

My mom shared a bible verse with me the other day. This particular translation struck me.

"So now, come back to your God. Act on the priciples of love and justice, and always live in confident dependence on your God!" ~Hosea 12:6

This sums up the lesson I've been learning through this trial.
I used to think that pleasing God meant to serve Him, to live a holy life, to pray, to read my Bible, to love others, etc. All of those things are good. But ultimately what pleases God is my faith, my confident dependence on Him.
I've heard this so often, but only now am beginning to understand.
Only now am I able to walk in it; to truly let go of all my striving and performance.
Now I find freedom in depending on a God who is much more capable than I and who loves me beyond measure.

I know now...
When I sin, I run to Him
and He forgives and restores.
When I'm weak, I run to Him
and He gives me strength.
When I'm afraid, I run to Him
and He comes alongside me and gives me courage.
When I'm confused and I've lost my way, I run to Him
and He counsels me with His word and directs my path.

It's all about depending on God, confidently
Trusting Him
Despite my weaknesses and my failures
Despite my circumstances
Confidently depending on Him
Only then can He be glorified in my life
For He is all that I need

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My Comforter

The last few days have been pretty miserable. My mom asked me if I struggle more with fear when I experience pain. It is just the opposite. In my hardest moments, I have the most peace. I repeatedly say, and continually find it true...God gives me just what I need to get through each day.

Sunday evening I laid in bed, pain in every ounce of my body. It was a strange tingling-nerve-ache type of pain. It is difficult to describe.
I sat there, longing for the pain to pass. Trying to be patient, knowing in a couple of days the pain will subside and only fatigue will remain.
Then I felt comforted. The pain was still there, but it was overshadowed by the presence of the Comforter.

"And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;" ~John 14:16

I rested there, enjoying the peace and comfort found in the presence of God. I didn't want to leave. In spite of my pain, I wanted to remain there, forever. In the silence of my bedroom, God was there.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

No Reaction!

I didn't have a reaction yesterday. Woohoo! I had some minor reaction symptoms early on (tight chest, back pain), when the dose was low. But since the symptoms weren't serious, the nurse continued to administer the lower dose. After the symptoms cleared up and they fed me a yummy lunch, they switched to the regular dose and finished the treatment. What a relief! I'm so very thankful for all those who prayed for me!
My friend Jami, who was with me yesterday, was also very relieved. I think it is harder and scarier for friends and family to watch the reaction, than it is for me to experience it.
Yesterday was my last treatment of that drug. I'm relieved that I don't have to worry about another reaction, and happy to put something behind me. But part of me is a bit sad to be finished with a drug that is so effective in treating my cancer. What strange feelings!

Just a few more weeks until surgery. I asked the oncologist if they do pathology work on the breast tissue after they remove it. They do, of course! He said that there is a 20% chance that it will come back with no trace of cancer. Please pray with me that the cancer will be gone. If it is, they still continue with the remaining treatment (chemo, radiation, hormone blockers). But, it would still be fantastic news, and very encouraging, to get a cancer-free result!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Plan of action

I go in today for another difficult treatment. It will take all day, and they will once again give me the drug that has previously resulted in negative reactions (can't breathe, skyrocketing pulse and blood pressure). They gave me oral steroids yesterday and I felt fantastic! It was nice to have a day of feeling normal and having energy. Steroids can be really wonderful, if not taken in excess. Hopefully they will prevent another reaction. But please pray that everything goes well today.

Many have been asking about my treatment plan...
  • I've been taking a wonder-drug called Herceptin weekly. It has very few side-effects. There is a really great movie about it called Living Proof. I haven't actually watched it because I was told it would be hard for me. But it is supposed to be VERY good.
  • Every third week, I take Taxol (the one that causes the reaction). Also a wonder drug for my specific flavor of cancer, and it has caused most of my side-effects. The Herceptin/Taxol combo is a twelve-week regimen. Today is week 10.
  • At the end of September, I'll have surgery...a mastectomy. The plan is for a single, but I will be discussing with my doctors the possibility of a double mastectomy - for peace of mind, and prevention. My oncologist doesn't think it's necessary. Please pray that God would help me with that decision! And I welcome words of advice if anyone has experience or opinions in these matters.
  • About four weeks after surgery, I will start chemo again. Two different drugs than the ones I'm on now, for 8 weeks. I've been told they are more difficult than the chemo I'm on now. More side-effects, more fatigue.
  • That will be followed by radiation (not sure how many weeks). I will also go back on the Herceptin (for 9-10 months) and an oral hormone-blocker (for 5+ years).

Fear is a Liar!

My dear friend lost her baby girl 18 months ago. At the time I was amazed by her faith as she walked through the horrible nightmare of losing a child.
When I first found out I had cancer, she visited me. She told me, "Fear is a liar!" She explained that when you come face-to-face with the thing you fear the most, God's grace comes in a way you've never experienced. Fear melts away and the thing you feared is not as bad as what you anticipated.
Now, I understand! It is the most amazing thing. I've repeatedly been bathed in the goodness of God. He's given me, and my home, a peace and joy like nothing I've ever experienced.
People are always telling me they are amazed by my faith. But the truth is that it has absolutely nothing to do with me - there is nothing particularly amazing about me.
It is the outpouring of God's grace, God's goodness, God's faithfulness in my life. It is indescribable. Miraculous. Supernatural.
There are times - I can tell - when people don't believe me about my lack of fear, my joy, my peace. I'm not wearing a mask, hiding my true feelings. I'm not mustering it up in myself by having a positive attitude. It's not in my nature to do either of those things. And it isn't my faith that is getting me through this. It is the source of my faith. The living God.
I'm not saying this isn't hard. It is. My life has changed. There has been much sacrifice, and fatigue, and difficult decisions.
But my God proves Himself faithful everyday - as He continues to give me all that I need for each part of this trial.
So come glorify His name with me. He is all-powerful. He is just. He is full of compassion and mercy and love. There is no one like Him. Great is His faithfulness!!