Thursday, April 14, 2011

Looking Back

As I was going through treatment, I listened to music. I listened during long days in bed, and many sleepless nights. There were many songs that encouraged me and helped me remember how big God is and how faithful He is.
I remember thinking those songs would be ruined for me; when I listened to them after cancer, they would take me back to the pain, the weakness, and the frustration.
As I listened to some of those songs today, tears pooled in my eyes. The songs did bring back memories, but not of the agony of cancer treatment. The very thing that encouraged me then, encourages me now.
I'm reminded of how close God came.
The songs remind me of the miracle of peace, hope, and comfort that made such dark moments light.
They remind me not of cancer, but of a God who is bigger than cancer.
They remind me of a God who can get me through the scariest moments, a God who gives hope even in the face of death.
And I am so thankful. I'm thankful for a God who draws near, for a God who dwells among his people, for a God who hears our prayers.

I don't want to forget or take for granted the many prayers God answered during this season. Big and small, He heard them all.
Look back with me, at the detailed answers to so many prayers. All of the things listed are things we prayed for, specifically...

Doctors & treatment: I initially prayed that God would direct my steps, that He would lead me to the right doctors and the best treatment. At the time it was too difficult for me to do the research necessary to make decisions. As you will see, God provided me with amazing doctors and nurses, and successful treatment.

Biopsy procedure: Damie made it back into town just in time. The atmosphere was bright and peaceful. The doctors said I was their star patient, especially since they couldn't give me some of the pain and anti-anxiety meds they usually give because I was still breastfeeding.

Diagnoses: The day we received the call, I had unexplainable peace and joy.

Weaning: my baby girl was successfully weaned in just four days. It was not fun, but she did it! She learned to use a bottle quickly and once she got the hang of it, preferred formula over breast milk.

First meeting with the surgeon: results from the lab work and chest x-ray were good, the cancer had not spread to my organs.

Port surgery: no complications

Finances:
All of our medical expenses were taken care of, through hospital grants and the generosity of family members, and a last-minute catastrophic insurance policy we purchased just a few months before my diagnoses.

First round of chemo:
My very first nurse, on my very first day, is a breast cancer survivor. What an encouragement and God-send she is to me.
no serious complications
minimal side effects
no neuropathy (nerve damage in hands & feet which is very common)
treatment was effective and the cancer responded; tumors shrunk significantly after just three weeks
no heart damage from first 12-weeks of treatment (also a possible side-effect)
discouragement lifted
grace and peace for my family
help from family and friends, all of our needs were met

Surgery: Amazingly successful!
no complications
no infections
no lymphedema (common side effect)
speedy recovery
minimal scarring; I've had other doctors repeatedly and enthusiastically ask me who my surgeon was because they are so impressed by the great job he did and how well I've healed
range of motion completely back to normal (so thankful for my physical therapist!!)

I had an almost complete response to the first round of chemo...meaning after the first round of chemo, the cancer was almost completely gone. Only tiny, trace amounts remained (which were removed during surgery). There is only a 20% chance of that happening and it indicates a better long-term prognosis.

Cyrus: my friend with a brain tumor did just one round of chemo and radiation and the cancer was gone!! It's unheard of! He's been back for multiple MRI's, and there is still no cancer.

Andrea: my friend who was diagnosed with uterine cancer. She responded great to her treatment and is now cancer-free!

Second round of chemo:
I have to admit this was the hardest part...
God enabled me to endure, and taught me so much about endurance and faith, and about rejoicing through trials.
He gave me strength and encouragement.
He continued to provide for ALL of our needs, most often through the generosity of our family and friends.
Although I was very sick, there were many common side-effects that I did not experience.
No depression or anxiety
Discouragement lifted, when people prayed

Radiation:
no complications
minimal burning

My family:
There has been peace in my home. Our marriage is better than ever; we are closer than ever before. My kids are happy, even though many things changed for them this year. They've learned to pray, and to turn to God in times of trouble.

Post-treatment scans:
I had a CT scan of my chest and abdomen after my treatment was completed. I also had a bone-density scan and a echocardiogram. Without going into too much detail, all of the test results were very good.

Tamoxifen:
This is an oral medication that I will take daily for five to ten years. I started it right after I completed radiation (two months ago). It is accompanied by many unpleasant side-effects. I've been told it is like menopause on steroids. Side-effects should show up within the first few weeks. I have had NONE!!!

Tracey:
My sister Tracey, who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, began her treatment with surgery. The pathology report indicated that the cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes and the tumor was smaller then they initially thought. (She began chemotherapy today).

Healing:
Cancer is behind me. I can move on. I get to raise my three beautiful children. They don't have to grow up without a mom. I get to make their meals and clean up their messes. I get to give them hugs and tell them I love them, everyday. I'm very thankful for that.

What a mighty God we serve!! My continual prayer is that my life will bring Him glory. Hopefully this is just the beginning.

One more thing to labor for in prayer:
My distant cousin, Marla, who has esophagus cancer, needs a miracle. Please continue to pray for her and her family. We know that God will provide all that they need!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The New Me

My last chemo treatment was December 15th. That was almost four months ago. It took about eight weeks for my hair to start growing back. Then it came in so very slowly. My husband, who normally wears a clean-shaven-head, started letting his hair grow out too. He committed to letting his grow until mine was long enough to go without a wig.
He shaved his off last week, signaling the time had come.
I thought my hair would be much longer by now, but it is still very, very short. It also appears to be very curly.
My wigs are getting scraggly. I'm tired of wearing them. Last week, I ventured out of the house without. I felt naked, but free. And also very self-conscious. No one looked at me strangely.
So on Sunday I worked up the courage to go to church with my short, short hair. It is such a big, public place. But also a safe place.
I wanted to hide. I had that same feeling when I first cut my hair and when I first wore a wig. So I did the same thing I did then. I stood up extra tall, lifted my head with determined confidence, put on a big, nervous smile, and approached the building.
My fashion-diva friend opened the door. Her face lit up as she enthusiastically exclaimed, "You look gorgeous!" Just what I needed to hear, from just the right person.
People don't seem to think "cancer" or "boy" when they look at me. But this style does have a loud voice. It speaks bold, eccentric, risky, confident, modern. Am I those things? I've always liked my long, safe, mainstream hair. I like to blend in. I like to conform. I like to follow protocol.
Yet maybe this hairstyle does represent the new me. I'm not afraid anymore. I am bold. I am determined. And I am free, from so many things.