Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Mugs and Cups

Joining the sides of the mug with slip

A few weeks ago, I decided to sign up for a pottery class. I’d wanted to learn pottery for a long time and thought finally, now that I was starting to feel normal again, it would be the perfect time to begin. I also thought it might help with my lymphedema.

The first class was in wheel throwing. I enjoyed that very much and made several items. The next class was in hand building. Hand building is a pottery-making technique that involves creating forms without the use of a pottery wheel. It would be more difficult.

As I stood in front of the classroom counter, a large lump of brown clay lay before me. My job, the instructor said, was to wedge the clay. Wedging the clay is a process to rid the clay of air bubbles which could cause problems in firing. I listened as she explained the process and then watched as she showed me how to manipulate the clay. She worked for a few minutes and then turned the clay over to me. I picked up the brown lump and slammed it down on the counter as my teacher had done. The clay was heavy and dense. After slamming it hard on the counter, I began kneading it. Pushing and pulling the clay, I felt like I was in the process of making bread, only this was more difficult. Slam, turn, knead, press, and repeat. Over and over again, I wedged the clay. Finally, my instructor said I’d done a good job and now it was time to begin working on my project.

I moved to the work area and held the massive blob of clay in my hands. The coolness of the damp clay against my skin was comforting. As I began to roll out the clay and feed it into a large slab roller, my thoughts drifted. Just a few years ago, everything in my life was out of control. Breast cancer consumed me.

Sliding the clay between two sheets of canvas, I began the process of cranking it through the machine to flatten it. I watched as the mound of clay was pressed and compacted. I knew how that felt. It wasn’t too long ago that my breast was being squeezed tightly during a mammogram. It was so uncomfortable, it hurt.

When I’d rolled the clay to the proper depth, I gently carried the canvas sheet holding the clay to my table. Now the fun would begin. I could mold and shape the clay into anything I wanted it to be. The power was in my hands. I decided to make a mug. Pressing and molding the clay, I watched as it began to take form. Next, it was time to trim. I picked up the knife and gently pressed it into the clay. As I moved the knife through the clay, my mind shifted once again. I was being wheeled into the operating room to have my breasts removed. The surgeon was skilled and promised to do a good job. Still, I’d hoped to keep my breasts, but she assured me it was best to remove them based on my diagnosis.

I continued trimming the clay. Working around the sides of the mug, I removed the excess. Gathering all the clay trimmings, I walked toward the trashcan. I stood over it looking down. Thoughts continued to swirl inside my head. I wondered if my breasts had been thrown away after they’d been removed. I shook my head to clear my mind and went back to complete my work.

Why was I struggling so? I was supposed to be enjoying the art of pottery but instead, I was thinking back to my cancer days. Lately, it seemed that no matter where I was or what I was doing, I was reminded of breast cancer. Maybe I’d been so focused on breast cancer because this is Pinktober, the celebratory month for breast cancer awareness.

My mug was complete. Now it was time to place it underneath a plastic covering so it could dry to the leather hard stage. On my next class, the instructor said, I’d learn the art embellishment. I smiled as she said I could decorate the mug as ornately as I wanted. Once again, I thought back to my breasts. My breast surgeon had basically said the same thing to me as we discussed the possibility of reconstruction. She said, “The world is your oyster. You can be any size you choose.” Although I’d chosen not to go the reconstruction route, I knew if I had made that choice, I could have been any size I’d wanted.

Mugs and cups. They didn’t really go together, but then again, they did. Making a ceramic mug reminded me of my missing breasts. As I thought about adding embellishments to my pottery, I had been reminded of the opportunity to increase my cup size.

My hands are dry and cracked from working with the clay. Those wounds will heal quickly and won’t leave any visible scars but my breast cancer scars did the opposite. I’ve learned to face the fact that Breast cancer is always going to be part of my life. Mundane things surprise me by sparking memories taking me back to my cancer days. It’s hard to accept those memories but its important I do remember. Paul Greengrass said, “Remembering is painful, it's difficult, but it can be inspiring and it can give wisdom.”

Sometimes, when I think about the difficult road I’ve traveled, I can’t help but relate my life to pottery. The hard things have shaped and molded me just as I shaped and molded the clay.

My newly created mug will sit for a week on the counter as it dries enough for the next steps -glazing and firing. Those steps will give the mug a beautiful sheen and hardness. Breast cancer has done the same for me. Over time, it’s given me a new outlook on life and it’s helped me become resilient.

I’m glad I took the pottery class. It was a lot of fun but it was also a lot of hard work. Slamming and kneading the clay to wedge it was tough. I realized my upper body strength has weakened due to surgery and lymphedema, but I pushed through. I wanted to learn this new skill and was willing to do whatever necessary to do it.

I can’t wait to see my finished mug! I’m sure, when I hold it in my hands, I’ll be proud of the work that went into creating it. And if I get the opportunity, I might just make another. On my next mug, I think I’ll add a little pink ribbon embellishment to remind me of the lesson I learned about mugs and cups.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Molding and Shaping

Centering the clay at the wheel
Today was my first pottery class. One of our regional artists, Tammy Troyer, was giving lessons so I jumped at the chance to learn. I'd met Tammy at a local arts and crafts fair last month and had the pleasure of watching her at the wheel. When she said she'd be offering classes soon, I jumped at the opportunity to learn. This is something I've always wanted to do and since I've had it on my bucket list for some time, I figured why wait any longer.

I met Tammy at our local Arts Center early this morning. She asked if I was sure I didn't mind getting dirty and I assured her I didn't. She said she was glad and she had some aprons hanging on the hook in the corner. "Why don't you get one while I change into my work clothes." I did as instructed and picked out a nice, heavy denim apron. I figured that would be the best choice for keeping clay off of my clothes.

After Tammy had changed, she pulled out a large box with a huge square of clay in it. "This will be your clay," she said. It was a twenty-pound block and was wrapped in plastic to keep it moist. She took a wire and sliced a chunk from the block. Then she cut the chunk into four equal parts. "The first thing we need to do is to round off the corners," she said. Then she began to show me how to pound the clay to work off the corners. She did two and I did two. It was fun but it was also hard work. The clay was dense and my arms were weak. When the clay had been worked, Tammy said we were ready to start. 

She took me over to the pottery wheel and sat down in front of it. She wanted me to just watch for a few minutes. She took the hunk of clay and slammed it down into the center of the wheel as she explained how important it was to make sure the clay was in the middle. Next, she began pressing the base of the clay tightly to the wheel explaining that it would help keep it in place and prevent it from sliding away. Next, she took a small sponge and soaked it in water. She drizzled the water over the dome of clay and turned on the electric pottery wheel. As the wheel began to turn faster, Tammy straddled the pottery wheel, leaned forward, and placed both hands around the clay in a cupping manner. She told me she was going to start to press in and as she did, the centrifugal force would help round out the clay. I watched as she periodically added water and continued to press in with her hands. The next step was coning. By moving her hands together and pressing inward, the clay began to rise up into a cone shape. Next, she'd press it down. Over and over again, she'd repeat these steps until the clay was perfectly centered. 

After centering the clay, she dug her thumb deep into the center of the clay forming a well. Then she inserted the other thumb and began to spread the clay out. I watched as the hole grew larger and larger. When she got the hole as large as she wanted it, she began to lift up on the sides by adding pressure to the inside and outside of the clay. I was amazed as I saw the project form and then, Tammy pressed a little too hard and the clay collapsed. She laughed and said, "See that's what can happen sometimes, but don't worry, you can always start over."
My first pieces of pottery!

I was surprised when my instructor got up from her chair and motioned for me to sit down. Sitting in front of me, she asked if I remembered any of the things she'd taught me and said if I did, I could begin. I took my clay and slammed it down into the center of the wheel. I needed to make sure my clay was centered otherwise my piece would wobble and become distorted.

I worked hard with that clay and found myself struggling to cone and press down the clay to get it completely centered, but as I continued to work, I did it! My arms were weak because of the lymphedema but I leaned my elbows on my knees and gained more momentum.

I couldn't help thinking about Scripture as I worked today. Isaiah 64:8 says, "Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand." As I molded and shaped the clay into my desired project, I thought about all the ways God's worked to make me into the person He wants me to be. Although clay is very pliable while wet, it's resistant when dry. I'm sure I haven't always been easily moldable and I know there have been times when I've been very resistant. But instead of scrapping me and starting over, God's worked with my imperfections. He's taken time to smooth out the rough spots and make me useful. Just knowing He's fashioned me into the exact work He pictured amazes me.

Some of the work I started today will be Christmas presents. Next week, I'll be attaching handles to my mugs and getting pieces ready for glazing and firing. It will take several weeks to complete finished pieces but I'm sure it will be well worth it. When I hold those finished pieces in my hands, I know I'll take pride in my work. I will have made a functional, useful object and I will have had fun doing it. I wonder if God had fun molding and making each of us? I'm sure He probably did.

It was a fun day and I'm so glad I was brave enough to take the class. Last year, I wouldn't have been ready to go out into public and try something new.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Lessons from the homeless

I almost missed her. There among the shadows, she sat quietly waiting. Her voice was soft as she spoke the words, "Help me, lady?" I almost dismissed her, thinking she was speaking to someone else, but she was speaking directly to me. That's when I realized she was homeless.

One step further and I stopped dead in my tracks. I turned to my husband and whispered, "Give me your wallet." He knows me well enough by now not to argue with me. Obediently, he fished in his pants and pulled out his wallet. Handing it over to me, I opened it and grabbed a twenty. I told him I'd be back in a few minutes and asked if he could wait there. He nodded.

I backtracked to the seated lady and squatted down until we were at eye level with one another. Gently I spoke. "What's your name?" I said. She replied, "Regina." I could only see one eye because the other was hidden by her long, unkempt hair, but that one eye held such pain. I sensed she'd had a very difficult life, one she didn't care to discuss, especially with a complete stranger. With eyes locked, I spoke to this woman. "Regina, I want you to know, I saw you." She acknowledged my words and then I continued, "I saw you, but someone else saw you, too. Jesus saw you. He sees you, Regina." As I said those words, I took her hand and placed the money into her open palm. I closed her fingers around the bill and reminded her, "He sees you." She smiled and nodded drawing her hand from mine and placing it gently into her lap. I rose to my feet, smiled, and began walking back to my husband.

Within those few feet, I felt the weight of Regina's problems on my shoulders. Although I had no idea who she really was or what her history, I felt her pain. The pain of rejection. The pain of longing. The pain of want.

My husband and I walked on hand in hand. He whispered, "Is everything okay?" I assured him it was. I told him her name and told him we needed to pray for her.

We slipped into a corner restaurant to celebrate my youngest daughter's 30th birthday. After we'd eaten our meal, we took a short jaunt across the street. A local bakery was there and their specialty, according to the sign, was cupcakes. We entered and made our selections. It was a tiny place and it was quite crowded so we took our cakes outside. Several metal tables and chairs were there for customers. We pulled two tables together and rounded up enough chairs. Each of us enjoyed the sweet taste of sugar as we sang to the birthday girl.

I'd just finished my key lime cupcake and was about to throw my napkin into the trash when I saw an elderly black woman. She was leaning over the trash can digging out half eaten cakes and stuffing them into a white paper bag. She was so frail. I judged her to be about 80 years old. My heart broke. I couldn't bear to see this sweet woman living in such a way. I walked over to her side and placed my hand upon her shoulder. I could feel her bones, she was so thin. Our eyes locked and I said, "Ma'am, you don't need to dig through the trash for food. Let's go in and get you something good to eat. She shook her head and said she'd be fine. Once again, I went to my husband. I didn't have to say a word, just held out my hand. He placed his wallet in it and again, I took out a twenty.

Walking back over to the trashcan, I placed my hand on the woman's back and spoke softly to her. I felt like I could count every bone in her spine if I'd left my hand there long enough. I took her hand and placed the money in it. She smiled the biggest smile and lifted her head toward heaven. I encouraged her to use it to get something nutritious to eat. Half eaten cupcakes weren't what she needed, I insisted. She threw one of the cupcakes back into the can and took the other two with her telling me she'd feed them to the birds, but I knew otherwise. She asked where the Dollar Store was located and I had to tell her I didn't know. I explained we weren't from that area.

Turning my head for a split second, I looked back and she was gone. That's when I lost it. I couldn't stop crying. Two homeless people in one afternoon were too much. I had no idea Chattanooga, Tennessee had so many street people. I felt like I was back in Atlanta where homelessness is prevalent in the downtown area, but I hadn't expected to encounter it here, in the midst of an area known to attract tourists.

All the way home, I couldn't help thinking about Regina and the older lady. I wished I'd done more. I wished I said more.  I didn't even ask the older woman's name. I didn't share the gospel with either of them. I could have taken more time. I could have listened more. Why didn't I?

We'd been there on a mini-vacation. We were there with other family members. Surely they'd have waited while I ministered, wouldn't they? And aren't we all called to share the gospel of Christ, in season and out? I knew these things and yet, I didn't do them. I hated myself for not sharing the good news with those two precious souls.

All around us people are perishing. Some of us see and some of us don't. Some of us choose to see while others walk quickly past, imagining the problem doesn't exist, but it does. The Bible says when we see someone who's hungry and feed them, we're doing it as if we were doing it unto Christ. Although I didn't react exactly as I should have, I did act and I think God will honor that.

I haven't shared any of this to make myself look good. The only reason I shared it is because I wanted you to see and understand that we have to pay attention. I think God allows us to cross paths with those less fortunate and at times, I think He might even use those situations to test us a see how we'll respond. Will we stop? Will we see? Will we help?

The next time you see someone begging for help, don't be afraid. They're people just like you and I. Sometimes bad choices have put them in their current position and sometimes, something completely out of control has placed them there. In any case, the shoe could easily be on the other foot. You or I could be the ones begging. So please take time to minister to the "least of these" and in so doing, you'll honor Christ. We all need to show a little unconditional love because we all need love, don't we?

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Carpal Tunnel go away!

Ouch. My goal today was to work more on my book manuscript. I had great aspirations of what I'd accomplish today but as I began typing, I felt the ugly sting of my carpal tunnel syndrome flaring up.

It's been dormant since I retired, probably because I haven't spent hours and hours typing like I used to do when I worked a 9 to 5 job. Back then, I have no idea how many words I typed a minute, but at last count, it was over 100. That being said, you can only imagine how many words I typed a day working for one of Atlanta's largest Southern Baptist churches.

I have typed since I was a child but didn't learn correct finger placement until I was in the 9th grade of high school. Sitting under the tutelage of Mrs. Ann Brake, I was so happy to move from a manual typewriter to an electric. It took a little time for the finger placement to make sense and for my fingers and brain to make the connection but when they did, my fingers flew! Every job I've had since learning proper finger placement has revolved around typing in some form or fashion. My poor wrists can attest to that.

Even though my wrists are burning, I've managed to get some work done on my book. I'm now up to chapter number five and I've typed 22,165 words! That's a lot. I think it's time to give my wrists a rest so I'm going to end my post here but I'm so thankful I don't have to write things by hand any longer. Typewriters and keyboards have certainly made my life so much easier. And as the famous Margaret Mitchell said in her book, Gone with the Wind, tomorrow is another day.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Every little things gonna be alright

It's been a little while since I've written, so I felt like today was a good day to catch up. You've heard that old adage - no news is good news? Well, it's true! I am happy to report that absolutely nothing eventful has taken place in my life for some time now and it feels absolutely amazing. Of course I still deal with the daily after effects of breast cancer -  low self esteem, fatigue, and lymphedema, but those little creeps are going to be with me for the rest of my life, I guess, so I'd better get used to them and move on.

Fall is coming and I'm thankful! That means cooler weather and long sleeve blouses. Sweaters and layering are my best camouflaging tools. I'm still embarrassed by the girth of my upper arms (thanks, lymphedema) and finding tops that fit is a constant challenge. If I buy clothing a few sizes larger, the arms fit loosely and comfortably but makes me look like I've got room for a crowd elsewhere. So what's a girl to do? I guess buy a pattern, modify it, and get busy sewing...

Speaking of sewing, I made a new tablecloth for my formal dining room table yesterday. I have a large oval cherry table and it seems manufacturer's don't seem to think anyone has oval shaped tables any longer. I can find pre-made tablecloths in rectangular, square, and round shapes but not oval. It's frustrating but I'm thankful I know how to sew.

My energy level seems pretty consistent these days. I usually go strong from 7:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. and then my get up and go departs. I've learned to plan accordingly and when I have a big project, I get started on it early. I work hard until mid afternoon and then, when I feel the fatigue setting in, I stop. It's been hard to get used to but as I've set these healthy boundaries for myself, I'm able to feel better.

I've been working on my book for several months now. I never thought it would be so hard to process my thoughts and put them down in a cohesive order, but it has. I find I don't make time during the day to write much for myself. I'm always working on articles for the breast cancer magazine or working on book reviews for Christian companies. While I enjoy doing those things, I really need to focus on my own project now. I'd hoped to complete my book by December but now it looks like I'll be pushing into next year.

We've got several trips planned before the end of the year and I'm looking forward to those little getaways. It's amazing how rejuvenated I feel after returning from a small trip. Just being able to step out of my familiar surroundings into a different environment is very therapeutic.

It's strange not seeing a doctor every other month now. I'm finally on the six month regimen with my oncologist. While it's scary not having that constant safety net of periodic checkups, I'm enjoying feeling more normal. Hospitals, medical offices, and labs have been my world for the past three years. I feel like I've broken free from my ragged rope tether and I'm running freely through the world of good health...AND IT FEELS SO GOOD!

So, that's all that's happening in my world right now. What's happening in yours?

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Affordable Testing For Cancer Genes Is a Gift

As I was watching Good Morning America, one story caught my attention. Dr. Jennifer Ashton, a medical consultant for the TV show, shared information about the recent development of an affordable and accessible genetic testing program developed by the health service, Color. The test allows patients to perform a simple at home saliva collection and submit the sample for testing. The company claims, on their website, their goal is to “expand physician-supported access to genetic testing to help every person, everywhere understand their risk for hereditary disorders.”

Recently, when my youngest daughter needed a mammogram to check a suspicious area in her breast, I became concerned. Her doctor asked about our family medical history. She wanted to know if anyone in the family had ever been diagnosed with breast cancer and, if so, if they’d had the BRCA test performed. My daughter explained there was indeed a history of breast cancer. When her doctor asked which family members were affected, she explained only her mother had received a breast cancer diagnosis.

After my daughter’s appointment, she shared about the doctor’s request for information on genetic testing. I’d never been tested for the BRCA genetic mutation and wondered if this was a test I should have performed.

I contacted my oncologist immediately and asked her advice explaining concerns for my daughter. She assured me the test was unnecessary considering my age and the fact that there was no previous history of breast cancer in my family. I felt compelled to push further and asked if it would be possible for me to have the test anyway. I wanted to make sure my three daughters had as much information as possible for future reference especially with my own history of breast cancer.

The oncologist explained the testing was extremely expensive and, although I had good health insurance, she didn’t feel the test was necessary. I accepted her explanation and left it at that. But there was a little nagging voice inside my head telling me it would be a good thing to know whether I carried the BRCA mutation.
Saliva collection container

According to the National Cancer Institute, “BRCA1 and BRCA2 are human genes that produce tumor suppressor proteins. These proteins help repair damaged DNA and, therefore, play a role in ensuring the stability of the cell’s genetic material. When either of these genes is mutated, or altered, such that its protein product either is not made or does not function correctly, DNA damage may not be repaired properly. As a result, cells are more likely to develop additional genetic alterations that can lead to cancer.”

“A harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation can be inherited from a person’s mother or father. Each child of a parent who carries a mutation in one of these genes has a 50 percent chance (or 1 chance in 2) of inheriting the mutation. The effects of mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 are seen even when a person’s second copy of the gene is normal.”

Without my oncologist ordering the BRCA test, it would be impossible to have it completed. Insurance wouldn’t pay for any unnecessary medical procedures and I surely didn’t have thousands of dollars to shell out for genetic testing. I gave up hope of having the test completed and told my daughter we’d just have to hope I wasn’t a carrier of the gene.

As Dr. Ashton went over the collection procedure and the simplicity of submitting the saliva for testing, I knew this was an answer to my dilemma. According to the website, the analysis of the salvia sample could be performed and results mailed back to the client within three to four weeks. It would be possible for me to have results in time for my daughter’s follow-up mammogram.

But I can’t just order the test on my own. The website does explain “All Color Tests are ordered by a physician — either your own or an independent physician who will review your information and can order testing on your behalf. If any questions arise, the physician will contact you. Your physician will receive a copy of your results if they have ordered testing for you, or we can send them a copy per your request.”

And that makes sense. It wouldn’t be wise for someone to order the test and receive results without a physician’s involvement.

I’m curious what my test results will reveal. I’m hoping they don’t say I’m a carrier of the genetic mutation for BRCA1 or BRCA2. I would feel so much better knowing the chances of my daughters developing breast cancer are lowered because I don’t carry either of these breast cancer genes.

The website does state if there’s a family history of breast cancer, it might be wise to choose the more extensive hereditary genetic testing. The broader test costs $249 and analyzes many other gene mutations. Even though this test is a little more expensive, it’s still much more affordable than the cost of other genomic tests.

Bringing affordability to genetic testing is a wonderful gift for those who have been or who may be affected by breast cancer in the future. By simply submitting a sample of saliva and mailing it in, a client can receive information quickly. This will allow more people a chance for early detection and hopefully equip doctors with the tools necessary for assessing cases and starting treatment in the beginning stages of cancer.

Advancements being made in the field of genetic testing are mind blowing. Daily, scientists and medical professionals work diligently to provide the best information possible to the public. Their scientific discoveries are helping to empower people to take better control of their health care. Perhaps one day soon we’ll celebrate the victory of the complete eradication of breast cancer.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Storms on the horizon

Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma have caused a lot of destruction to the United States and surrounding areas. Many people have lost their homes and all they owned. It's horrible to watch the news and see the devastation.

In between the hurricanes, Mexico experienced an 8.1 earthquake. These are troubled times for many.

In Georgia, we felt no effects from Harvey but my daughter and her family did. They live in Texas. It was ugly. Irma was another story. We experienced high winds, heavy rain, and power outages. It wasn't nearly as horrific as Harvey. We are blessed.

As I write this post,  Hurricane Jose is brewing in the Atlantic but it's not projected to hit the U.S. and I'm grateful. We don't need another tragic event so soon after the last two. Hopefully Jose will blow far away from the states and dissipate before causing damage.

When hurricanes form, we have no idea where they're going until days into the forecast. Meteorologists work hard to give us the most updated information as quickly as they can but sometimes, it isn't fast enough.  All we can do is prepare for the worst and hope for the best...and that's exactly what it feels like to have cancer.

When I was diagnosed, I felt the strong winds of a mighty storm begin to blow. They were sultry and gentle at first but grew in intensity as the days went by. Although I couldn't see the storm, I knew it was there. I felt its presence. I knew it was coming. 

I did all I could to prepare but instead of gathering water and other necessary survival items, I began with mental preparations. I started to have conversations with myself about what the future might hold. I role played different scenarios and tried to determine how I would react to each. I felt more secure knowing I had a readiness plan in place. 

When my health storm intensified, I battened down the hatches and did whatever necessary to insure my survival. It was a challenging time. Some days were more difficult than others, but I was determined to ride it out. I wanted to live. 

I watched as the storm whipped and swirled around me. Powerless to control its affects on me, I found myself often huddled in a corner tears streaming down my face. The tears did nothing to comfort me although they did provide an emotional release. 

The storm lasted for 3 years. The intensity has ebbed and waned. As I listen to the news about Hurricane Irma, I'm reminded how I felt in the center of my own personal hurricane, cancer. The center of the storm is fairly calm. My calm came from my relationship with Christ. When the winds strengthened and the rains came, I held fast to the rock that never changes. 

The outer bands of the storm still sweep past me now and then, and often, when I least expect them. These bands contain emotional storms that build slowly and then explode with unbridled fury.

As my cancer hurricane has dissipated over the past year, I find myself doing fairly well in a continual state of recovery. I learning how to move forward and live a life full of rewarding opportunities. Some days are more challenging than others, but I keep plugging along. I find it helps to tell myself it's going to be okay and that I'm doing well.

Positive self talk is a wonderful self preservation technique and I'm finding as I practice it, I'm believing exactly what I'm telling myself. I'm surviving and not only that, I'm thriving! The storm is over and life goes on. And now I feel the winds of changing a blowin'. I wonder what God has in store for me. We'll have to wait and see.


Thursday, August 31, 2017

Hurricane Harvey How We Hate Thee

Hurricane Harvey made landfall near Corpus Christi, Texas last Friday evening as a Category 4 storm. As the powerful winds swirled across Texas, massive amounts of rain and devastation have occurred. During the storm, however, hospitals have still managed to take care of their patients and one of the major hospitals, M. D. Anderson, in Houston, has done an astounding job.

About two and a half years ago, I was able to personally visit M. D. Anderson. I was on my way to Texas to spend a week with my oldest daughter. On the way there, my son in law and I stopped to spend some time with a friend. She was dying of cancer. This young mother of four knew there was nothing more to be done for her. She spent her remaining days in a pristine hospital room surrounded by those who loved her and the hospital staff treated her with utmost respect.

That visit was difficult for me. I had also been diagnosed with breast cancer and though I was not stage 4, as my friend was at the time, having the reality of her cancer slap me hard across the face wasn't something I'll ever forget.

From the moment I stepped into her room, I felt death all around her. Her body, wracked with pain, lay underneath a mountain of blankets. She was extremely cold although the room was very comfortable. IV tubes hung from her bruised and battered arms. Her face, swollen a deep jaundiced yellow, looked subhuman. Tiny slits in her face were eyes that chose to remain closed. We stood in silence staring down at her as tears welled in our eyes. There was nothing we could do, nothing we could say. Our presence spoke our love and she felt it. After a few minutes, she managed to open her eyes. We spoke softly telling her we loved her and we wanted to come to see her. She thanked us and closed her eyes again. The heaviness eternity surrounded us.

We didn't stay long that day. There were other family members there to pay their last respects and we didn't want to infringe on their time with her. On our way out of the hospital, we didn't speak a word to each other. I think we were both in shock. As we pulled out of the parking lot, I glanced back at the hospital. It was a huge facility and on every floor there were hundreds of patients in various stages of cancer treatment. It broke my heart.

It's hard to believe that was almost 2 1/2 years ago. Today, while on Facebook, I was once again reminded of M. D. Anderson in Houston. An article, written by the family member of a patient, spoke volumes to me and reminded me, that even in the midst of a horrendous storm, hospital personnel manage to keep the proper perspective. They do their jobs. They go above and beyond the call of duty because their commitment to their patients is paramount. Here's what he wrote:

"MD Anderson needs to be praised. They have had what they call the Ride-Out team here since Friday; this means no one goes in or out. Imagine being stuck at work for five days straight. And, imagine finding out you are on this team at the end of your third twelve hour shift. It is not optional; it is understood. These people are saints: the doctors, nurses, nursing assistants, dietitians, pharmacists, supportive care team, maintenance, house keeping, cafeteria--all of them. There are signs on closet doors that read: night shift sleeping; do not open. I have seen those doors open at times, and there are tiny cots crowded inside. Most only have a small suitcase. There have been the same cafeteria workers serving three meals a day, every day. Food trucks didn't arrive on Friday due to high water, and cooks managed to improvise and keep us all fed. The meals, by the way, during this time, have been FREE for both employees and visitors. The hospital has updated us every day with well-written, easy-to-read emergency information flyers. Our care has been superb as usual. Wade's usual doctor is even part of the Ride-Out team. Our sheets are still changed. Our room is still cleaned. The pharmacy is still responding quickly to all medication needs. We are eating hot meals every day. We understand that all of this would not be possible without the planning and sacrifice of many. For this, we are forever grateful." ❤️ Douglas and Marla Chandler MD Anderson Cancer Center

The news reports from Hurricane Harvey's aftermath have been constant. Day after day we watch as exceptional people do extraordinary things. Rainfall has reached epic proportions and many have lost everything they own due to flooding, but still, kindness perseveres. And now, another hurricane is brewing in the Atlantic, Hurricane Irma.

I'm so thankful for those who choose to do the right thing even when they are inconvenienced, like the amazing staff at the M. D. Anderson cancer center. The American spirit always seems to rise under adversity. Soon, the remnants of the hurricane will have passed and things will return to normal but lives will be forever changed. M. D. Anderson has made an impact in a good way. Shouldn't we all follow their example....

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A beautiful and interesting stranger

I'm a firm believer that nothing happens randomly in God's world. He orchestrates everything and His timing is always perfect. Today was a prime example of that fact. I was able to have a lovely one hour and 41 minute phone call with a complete stranger! Well, she's kinda sorta. The fact that we've never met in person makes her a physical stranger to me but we've corresponded via Facebook messenger and email for a couple of months so she's not a total stranger.

Some months ago, I received a Facebook message requesting information about an article I'd written. I always respond to those types of messages because I know God has used me in the past to minister His love to others and I always want to be available to help someone in need. It was interesting to me since I live in the sunny South and she lives across the country. Our paths would never have crossed other than with God's divine intervention.

As we talked, it felt like we'd known each other a long time. There was a common bond through our breast cancer stories but there was something deeper. It was a spiritual connection. We both knew and loved the Lord. It was so wonderful to share our faith and how that's impacted out journeys.

I'm sure we'll touch base again soon and our friendship will grow. I'm so thankful God cares about the little details in our lives as well as the big ones. His timing is always impeccable. I am so grateful for the gift of friendship even if it's with a beautiful and interesting stranger.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Accepting Results Gracefully

Yesterday was the big day. I was to receive the results of my bone scan. It had been a year since my last one, and I was nervous. I’d been having a lot of spinal pain and was concerned. I didn’t want to admit my worst fear – the fear of recurrence. After a lot of prayer, I finally resigned myself to the fact that the news was either going to be good or bad and there was nothing much I could do about it. I was determined to accept the outcome gracefully.

Seated in front of the oncologist, we went through the customary formalities of greeting one another. When that was out of the way, I sat on the edge of my seat. I wanted the test results. The doctor could tell I was eager and said she wouldn’t beat around the bush. I braced. I was prepared for the worst but expecting the best. Thankfully, I received the latter. As Dr. N shared the good news that there was no evidence of active disease, I was filled with joy. She could tell by the look of relief on my face that she’d given me a huge blessing. I thanked her and we moved on to the next subject, the one I knew was coming…Arimidex.

Dr. N asked if I was going to take the anti-hormone therapy. Since my specific cancer had been fed by estrogen and progesterone, she explained that I needed to do whatever I could to prohibit the production of those hormones. I listened as she explained the cancer could come back at any time if those hormones were not in check. I mustered up the courage to ask her a question. “Since I’m three years out and I’ve been doing everything naturally with wonderful results, is it necessary for me to take this drug?” She looked at me and said she wanted to show me something. Pulling her laptop onto her lap, she began to type. As she typed, I waited and wondered what she was going to show me. It only took her a few minutes to pull up the website. She entered some data and flipped the computer around for me to see. Pointing to the screen, she explained that she’d entered my age, the type cancer I had, the stage of my cancer, and the hormones that fed my tumor. After she’d entered that information, she’d clicked enter and the computer program had pulled statistics to indicate specific results. The results showed the percentage of women with breast cancer over a five-year period who’d not take anti-hormone therapy vs. women who had taken it. The recurrence possibility for both categories was assessed and displayed on the screen. As we looked together, the doctor and I saw that taking the anti-hormone therapy drugs only would buy me a 2 percent increase in life expectancy.

After reviewing the results, Dr. N expected me to make a decision. It was an easy decision for me. I looked her straight in the eyes and said, “My Daddy always said if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. What I’ve been doing is working. You have evidence of it with my latest scan. I think I’ll continue to take the natural supplements and do exactly what I’ve been doing for the past three years. I don’t want to take Arimidex or any of the other anti-hormone therapy drugs.” The doctor smiled and nodded. I was surprised at her reaction. I expected to receive a dismissal as I had from my previous oncologist but as I asked if she’d continue to be my doctor, she answered in the affirmative.

It felt good to fight for my rights, although I hadn’t had to fight hard with my new doctor. It was my body and I was the one with the right to choose the treatment best suited for me. I’d tried three anti-hormone therapies in the past and each of them came with wicked side effects so I knew I didn’t want to travel that path again. The statistic chart did not impress me, although I was surprised to find there was such a thing available online and to know doctors use it. The program is called Predictor and you can find it by visiting this website. You’ll need to enter your age, tumor size, grade and other information. If you don’t have it all, enter as much as you do have but be forewarned, this is only a statistical tool. It is nothing other than that. It was interesting to see the results, but they did not affect
my decision. I’d made my decision right after I’d been given my Oncotype DX results.

Each person has to make their own choices. Do what feels best for you. Consult your doctor and make wise, informed decisions. If you don’t want to implement a recommended treatment, talk to your doctor and weigh the pros and cons. What’s worked for me may not work for you but I’m thankful my oncologist supports me in my decision. I’m blessed to be doing well after three years and I’m thankful to claim the status of NED right now. I could say if that ever changes, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, but why entertain negative thoughts? Today I am cancer free and hopefully I’ll be able to say that for years to come. God only knows what tomorrow holds. I’m glad I don’t shoulder that responsibility.

Friday, August 11, 2017

God Sent Mr. Browning

My signature on the gloves
I had been in a hurry to get to my appointment with the oncologist. Traffic in the mornings here is always hectic so I wanted to make sure and leave early. I grabbed a frozen smoothie, got dressed, put on my makeup and dashed out the door. I didn't have time to ready my Bible and have my devotional as I usually do but on my way to the center, I began to pray and asked God to give me a verse to hold on to today. I felt Him impress Philippians 4:13 on my heart, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." So I meditated on that verse until I reached the center. (I had been nervous about getting the results of my bone scan but had surrendered the results to God and had told Him earlier in the day that no matter what they showed, I'd accept either good or not so good from His hand because I knew He'd have a purpose for either result and I trusted Him completely.)
Armband and nametag

When I entered the cancer treatment center, it was extremely busy. There were people everywhere. As I looked over the sea of people, I saw so many cancer victims in various stages of treatment. It made me sad to see there were so many gathered in one place and all I could think about were the hundreds of thousands across America that I couldn't see.

I made my way to the oncologist's office and sat down to wait. In the waiting room, chairs filled every few minutes until the waiting room was almost to capacity. The last couple to come in were African American. They sat down close to me and I smiled to greet them. I watched as the man pulled out a full sized Bible and I smiled realizing he was a man of faith. I assumed he was going to read to himself while his wife went back for treatment but was I ever wrong. Mr. Arthur Browning (all CTCA patients and visitors have to wear name tags) began to read Scripture aloud! At first, I watched to see how others in the waiting room reacted. There were some wh
o were visibly uncomfortable as they squirmed in their seats and cast disdainful looks in his direction. Others ignored him completely but I was extremely grateful! God sent Mr. Browning to personally bless me.

Sweet Mr. Browning reads the Bible
For about ten minutes, Mr. Browning read Scripture. When he was through, he and his wife closed their eyes to pray. (That's when I captured their photo) After he raised his eyes, I went over to Mr. Browning and whispered a quiet "Thank you." I explained to him that I'd been unable to read my Bible before coming and I was expecting to receive my test results today. Although I was unsure whether I'd receive a diagnosis of a recurrence of cancer or if I'd get a clear bill of health, his Scripture reading had blessed me and I wanted him to know it. He smiled a big smile and the medical assistant called Mrs. Browning back.

My turn came next and I went to talk with the oncologist. She didn't beat around the bush but got straight to my results. There was no evidence of active cancer!!! I was so thankful to hear that good news. My degenerative disk disease had gotten worse and the scan showed a herniated disk, two bulging disks, osteoarthritis, and arthritis in my knees and heels (weird, I know).

Although I'm struggling with the extreme spinal pain, I'm so grateful for NO CANCER! I have to continue to see the oncologist every 6 months unless things change but I am blessed and highly favored!!! I'm being sent to a spinal specialist to see if we can find a way to manage the pain so I'm hopeful. Thank you for your prayers.