Thursday, June 30, 2016

I wasn't expecting this

Today I went for my three month check up with the oncologist. I arrived promptly at 9:00 a.m. I always like to arrive a little early for my appointments and since mine was at 9:30 a.m. I relaxed and read a few articles in the waiting room. While sitting there, I glanced up now and then to see other patients arrive. There were some evidently in the middle of treatment as their bald heads announced to everyone in the room. There was a woman who could barely sit in a chair because of pain she was having in her leg and another in a wheelchair, doted on by loving children. I almost felt guilty being there and feeling as good as I did but I was thankful to be in my position.

Several minutes passed and I heard my name being called. The medical assistant stood in the doorway waiting for me to join her as we sauntered down the hall toward the scale. I was smiling to myself knowing I was 5 pounds lighter without my prostheses on today. I'd weighed this morning with and without them to see exactly how much they weighed. I decided not to wear them so Dr. F wouldn't fuss at me for gaining 5 pounds. It's the small things that matter. After being weighed, I was taken to the lab for blood work. The phlebotomist and I had a nice little chat as she was trying desperately to find a good vein in my left hand. Lymphedema makes it difficult for me to have blood work done and I always have to remind the techs to use a butterfly needle and use my left hand. You'd think by now they'd have notated on my chart these specific instructions, but they don't. After talking with the tech about summer vacations, family and holiday plans, my blood had been drawn and I was about to be escorted to my exam room .

I entered the room and instantly my arms were covered in goosebumps. The room felt like a meat locker, it was so cold! The nurse began to take my vitals and I had to remind her not to put the blood pressure cuff on the upper portion of my arm, once again, you'd think they'd know this...When she was done, she left me alone in the room. As she exited, she smiled and said, "The doctor will be with you in a few minutes." I wanted to reply, "Yeah, that's gonna happen!" but I didn't. I knew it would be a while before Dr. F came in. He's always late. I sat in the room for a long time and began to think I'd been forgotten. Forty five minutes later, I hear a tap at the door.

Dr. F enters and asks me how I'm feeling. I can tell by his demeanor he's behind in his schedule and he's trying to play catch up. This frustrates me and I want to tell him I've waited long enough and he can at least give me the courtesy of sitting and listening patiently while I talk, but I don't. He asks me what my main concerns are today and I hear the underlying, "Hurry up and tell me what you want me to do so I can go on to my next patient" so I comply. I tell him my main concerns are my fatigue, back and hip pain. I tell him I had an MRI done a few months ago and a PET scan and tell him the results of those tests. He excuses himself from the room and tells me he wants to go look at those tests for a minute. He's gone for a lot longer than a fact, he's gone 15 minutes. I looked at my watch, so I know. He comes back in and tells me all he could find was tests that were done last year. I explain those are the only ones I've had done but it seemed like just a few months ago because I've had so many tests and I can't keep up with all the dates. He smiles and says, "We need to do a bone scan then. I don't want to let anything slip." I wasn't expecting to hear that and thought he meant a bone density scan so I pipped up and said, "I had one of those done ten years ago." He tells me he isn't talking about a bone density scan and I get very quiet. Now I know he's looking for evidence of minute lurking cancer cells. He gives me a gown and tells me to undress. I obey and he's back in the room in a few minutes to do a mini exam. He listens to my lungs and heart, palpates my chest and underarms then he's done. He says, "I'll see you again in 3 months. If the bone scan is normal, I'll send you to an orthopedic to help get your pain under control. If not, we'll deal with that then." He tells me goodbye and walks out the door. That was that. And I'm standing there wanting a do over.

I walk up to the check out desk and the girl asks my name. I tell her and she types it into the computer. She says, "He wants you to have a complete body bone scan." I smile and say, "Yes." She gets on the phone and calls the hospital to schedule it. She listens intently as the person on the other end gives her instructions to pass on to me. I'll have to arrive at 2 p.m. next Friday and receive an injection. Then I'll return later that same day to have the scan performed. It will take about 30 minutes to an hour. Next she schedules my 3 month appointment. When we're all done, I head out of the office and to my car.

In the parking lot, I sit for a few minutes letting my air conditioner cool the car. I'm bewildered. I hadn't been expecting a bone scan. I didn't really know what I had been expecting other than to have had a chance to be heard. Is that too much to ask? I don't think so. I wish I were more aggressive sometimes. I wonder how much longer I'll be on this every 3 month schedule with the oncologist. I feel like I should be done with all this cancer stuff by now but it never seems to end.

On another note...
Sometime this week, I'll be in our local paper. I was interviewed by a news reporter the other day regarding my cancer story. I was honored to talk with her about my journey and humbled when she asked if I'd mind having my story featured on the front page. I don't want to draw attention to myself. I'm nothing special. I'm just one of the millions of women fighting the good fight, but if my story can give hope to someone out there, I'll be happy. Hopefully I'll sleep well tonight. There are no doctors visits to dread tomorrow and thankfully none on the calendar for another month. Life is good and I'm so glad to still be here. Oh, and by the way...the lumps I mentioned in my last post, he thinks they were just swollen lymph nodes, yay!

©bonnie annis all rights reserved

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Counting down the days

I have a calendar hanging on the inside door of my pantry. I purposely put it in an inconspicuous place so I wouldn't be tempted to look at it on a daily basis. For the past two years my calendar has been the daily time keeper of my life. Appointments dot the squares in bright red marker so I don't inadvertently miss one of them. Along with those important medical events, I've also squeezed in some happy family events like birthdays and anniversaries. The older I get the more I need to write down lest I forget and so, my calendar has become a treasured possession.

There are two important events coming up on my calendar. The first is a visit with my oncologist. That event takes place in exactly 7 days. I have many things to discuss with him including the discovery of two new lumps. My doctor is usually very attentive although he's very busy. I also want to discuss the possibility of scheduling a bone density scan. It's been over 10 years since I've had one and he mentioned my needing to have another done in the near future. I've been having a lot of hip joint and leg pain lately and I think it might be time to go ahead and get that scheduled. I'm also looking forward to finding out what my lab tests reveal. Dr. F is diligent about performing blood work on every visit. I'm curious to see if my leukocytes are elevated.

Another very important date on my calendar is the two year anniversary of my surgery. I'm calling it my cancerversary. When I passed the first year mark of having my cancer removed, I was too afraid to celebrate. I thought it was too soon and I didn't want to jinx a good thing so I waited. In exactly 16 days, I will have lived two years since having both breasts removed. I'm feeling like celebrating and look forward to a great time rejoicing with my family. We've planned a nice dinner at one of our local restaurants. There will be balloons and cake. We'll thank God for allowing me to live and it will be a grand celebration.

It's always good to have things to look forward to in your life. My calendar used to be my enemy but now it's become a dear friend. I'm thankful it helps me stay on track and keep an accurate record of my life.

© bonnie annis all rights reserved

Friday, June 17, 2016

Oh no, a lump!!!

Last night as I was preparing for bed, I felt a lump just over the end of my left rib cage. At first, I didn't believe what my fingers felt, so I put some lotion on my hand and felt again. Sure enough, there's a nice size lump there and actually, I think there are two. Instantly, I went into freak out mode thinking it's a recurrence of cancer and I wondered if I should have kept on taking those nasty anti-hormone therapy drugs, the ones that gave me all the horrid side effects, instead of opting to go the all natural route...but I felt like the decision I made at the time was the best one for me and I've had two years of pretty good living (other than the swelling and pain from Lymphedema and the constant pain from the bulging disks in my back.) My mind started racing and the shoulda, coulda, wouldas took over and then came the big, old giant what ifs. But I'm not going to borrow trouble. I am going to mention it to my oncologist when I go for my check up on the 30th. I am going to insist he feel it and he do some testing to see what's going on. I'm not going to sit idly by and "watch it" for a while. This is urgent!

I hesitated even mentioning it here because some of my family may read my blog and start to say, "I told you so," but they're not in my shoes and they don't have the whole story. They don't understand why I made the decisions I've made thus far and this is my journey not theirs. I will be honest, I am definitely scared but I know, even though there's a palpable lump there, it could be an enlarged lymph node or a fluid filled cyst instead of a full blown, cancerous mass. If, after testing, the doctor finds it is a recurrence of cancer, I will be reconsidering taking the medication but it will be after much prayer. Although those medications have helped some breast cancer patients, they've also harmed many others.

So, if you're reading this, please say a little prayer for me. Pray the doctor will do whatever necessary to get to the bottom of this and find out why there's a lump (or two...not sure, one feels big and one feels small or maybe it's just oddly shaped and I'm feeling two parts of one lump.) And maybe, just maybe it's something that will resolve on its own...that's my hope, anyway. Cancer is a scary, scary thing and once you've had an experience with it, you always feel like you're looking over your shoulder waiting, wondering, and hoping it will never catch up to you again.

©bonnie annis all rights reserved

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Ring that bell!

It's been exactly 20 months since I completed 28 rounds of radiation. At that time, Piedmont Radiation Oncology was located in an older facility. (They moved to the main hospital about a month after I completed treatment.) While at the new facility today for my checkup, I noticed a beautiful, gold bell on the wall. The receptionist told me it was called a "battle bell." Typically, she said, when a breast cancer survivor completes treatment, she rings the bell and everyone in the office hears it and applauds. There had been no bell in the old facility so I never had the honor of ringing it. When I completed treatment there, my only reward was knowing radiation was over and being handed a certificate of completion. 
Me ringing the battle bell at the radiology office

As I was admiring the bell today, the nurse asked if I'd like to ring it since I'd never had the chance when my treatments were completed. I smiled the biggest smile and she asked me to give her my phone. (I hadn't intended on really ringing the bell since it'd been 20 months since I had finished up, but just as she was about to take the photo, I figured why not?! I'd earned the right to ring that bell and I was going to do it.) I grabbed the rope and gave it a firm swing to the right. When I did, the bell pealed and a loud, beautiful sound resonated through the office complex. Everyone who heard it came out of their offices and gave me a big round of applause. I felt so humbled and so honored at the same time. It was amazing and was the perfect way to end my morning of medical visits. I was even happier when I was told I didn't need to report back for one year! Now if I can just get the same good news when I go my oncologist at the end of the month...I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

© bonnie annis all rights reserved

Monday, June 13, 2016

The naked truth

Naked chest and compression sleeve
Today I feel bold. For some reason, I just feel like baring it all. Maybe that's a good thing and maybe that's a bad thing but in any event, this is my blog and I can do whatever I choose's my space! So, if you're offended by my photo, I'm sorry you feel that way. I'm not sorry you looked because the reason behind my posting it is to let you see what breast cancer really looks like...and this is the mild version! If you'd seen my chest last year, you would have probably been devastated by the ugliness of it. But after 23 months, my scars have almost completely healed. One area is still pretty reddish looking because of a second surgery to remove some necrotic tissue but the original incision has all but faded away. My incisions travel horizontally across my chest and just above them is my Phoenix tattoo. Yes! I have a tattoo. It is symbolic to me and symbolizes rising above the pain and trauma of breast cancer to be a victor. I'm still alive and doing fairly well. I do have daily challenges but I am fighting through them.

The beautiful sleeves I'm wearing are not only decorative, they're medical grade compression sleeves that help combat Lymphedema. I wear them to keep swelling down and alleviate some of the pain. If you look closely, you can see the swelling in my upper arms. I'm really embarrassed by it but am sharing it so you can get a clear visual of what I really look like without a top on. I've tried to be open and honest about everything on my journey in hopes of helping others.

Although my body has been mutilated and scarred, I am so thankful to be living and that's why I have a smile on my face. I pray you NEVER, EVER suffer from breast cancer. It's been the hardest thing I've dealt with in my life to date but God is good and He is faithful. And that's the naked truth!

© bonnie annis all rights reserved

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Joy comes in the morning

"...Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning." Psalm 30:5b

Sunrise on the beach at Cape San Blas, Florida

New mercies every morning, Grace for every day, New hope for every trial, And courage all the way. —McVeigh

One of the things I enjoy most is being able to walk barefoot along the beach in the wee hours of the morning. Usually, I'm all alone except for a few birds as we wait expectantly for the rising of the sun. As I walk along the shore, I spend time in prayer. That precious solitude is sacred to me. In reverent awe, I pause to reflect over my life and I am filled with gratitude. I watch the birds catching tiny fish in the surf as the sun peeks over the horizon. The sky begins to change from a dusky gray to a soft, pastel pink as the sun works its way up. I raise my 35mm camera to my eye and begin to shoot. Every few seconds the sky changes color. Robin's egg blue appears, then subtly changes into a rich orange as the sun rises higher. I feel like I'm witnessing a miracle each and every time the sun rises and I continue to snap away. My heart is full of excitement as the sky begins to blaze with brilliant oranges and reds. Sunrise only lasts a short while and then, without warning, it disappears and the sun is fully up. The colors have faded into bright sunlight and the day has begun. 

This morning, I woke up bright and early. It was just before 6:00 a.m. and I padded quietly across the carpet into my office so as not to wake my sleeping husband. As I slipped into my office, I saw through the blinds, the beautiful colors of sunrise over the tops of the pine trees. I'm thankful our faces East so I can see the sunrise every morning. Although it's not as visible as the ocean sunrises because of the tall trees, I still enjoy it. I sat for the entire show and thought about how much difference a day makes. Yesterday I was distraught and feeling physical pain. I went to bed hurting but this morning, I am rested and looking forward to what the day holds. 

When King David wrote, in the Holy Bible, that weeping lasts for a night but joy comes in the morning, I wonder what trials he went to bed facing that night. I flipped back a few pages and began to read in Psalm 28. David was being persecuted and being treated unfairly by his foes. He was crying out to God for help and asking for vindication. As I read the Psalms, I often find David's words mirror mine. Although the circumstances are vastly different, I can relate to David's heart. It amazes me how God loved David so and used Him for His honor. Once, David was a lustful, sinful man. He was so filled with desire for one of his soldier's wives that he had her husband killed so he could be with her and yet...God loved him and gave him a second chance. 

Sunrises speak to me of second chances. Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning. We may feel hopeless and helpless one day and the next morning, those feelings have disappeared with the night. Brilliant, beautiful shades of hope are on the horizon and we are renewed. I'm so thankful weeping doesn't last forever! Sometimes I feel like it might but it never actually does. 

My body still aches and my arms have already begun to swell but I'm learning this is part of my "new normal." I'm trying my best to focus on one day at a time and in so doing, I know each morning there will be a stunning sunrise just outside my window whether I'm at the beach or looking over the treetops. It's my choice to live with the hope of all the bright new tomorrows. Yes, weeping my last for a night, but joy does always come in the morning if we focus on how very much we're loved and treasured by God. 

Be thankful and look for the sunrises! You have to rise early to catch them. My internal body clock wakes me each morning in time to witness them but you might need to set your alarm a time or two so you can see their beauty. It's worth it, I promise! Be blessed today and be filled with hope! God loves you, you know. 

© bonnie annis all rights reserved

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Some days you just want to give up

It's my party and I'll cry if I want to...
Today has been a really rough day for me. It didn't start out that way, in fact, I had a lot of energy earlier in the day and did all of my housework including mopping the floors. I was on a roll, or so I thought and then around 5:30 p.m. my arms had become so swollen and achy.  I performed the manual lymphatic drainage like I'd been taught by the therapist but it didn't seem to help. I was so frustrated and upset as I realized this is a life long condition. I will NEVER be able to be rid of it and that's when I started bawling my eyes out. My sweet husband came to the rescue and held me in his arms and let me just continue crying. I told him how horrible I felt and that I wished it would just go away. He tried to empathize with me and I told him he had no idea how I really felt. As I explained the heaviness and tightness from the lymphedema, he said, "I know honey. I can see the swelling. I see it every day." Right after he said that I lost it. I just had to go into another room and be by myself.

I cried out to God and asked why...why did I have to go through this mess in the first place. I'd asked Him many, many times in the past and I know He's probably tired of hearing me keep on asking but you know what, the Bible says we are to ask and keep on asking. Now, I'm sure it doesn't specifically apply to situations like mine but I just want to know why He allowed me to go through cancer and why He allowed me to develop complications from it.

Some days you just want to give up and ride off into the sunset. I am tired of fighting and I know, this day will pass and these feelings will pass but right now...right at this very moment, I just wish I could go back to my pre-cancer days. Life was so much easier back then and I felt human. I don't feel human much any more. I feel like a freak in a side show...the lady with the big, fat arms and no boobs...come see her! You can pay a quarter to see the freak! But no one would even want to pay a quarter to see this freak, I assure you.

So yes, today I'm having a big old pity party. I didn't plan it, it was actually a surprise pity party. It just kind of snuck up on me and hit me in the head like a big rubber mallet. KA BLAM! Yeah. Feeling worthless sucks but that's how I'm feeling right now. I know it's a lie straight from hell because God says I am worthy because He is worthy so I guess I'd better suck it up and deal with it.

My arms hurt so much and I feel so ashamed. I don't want to go anywhere or see anyone...the freak in the side show, yep, that's me.

© bonnie annis all rights reserved

Friday, June 10, 2016

I hate my mailbox!

I never thought I could ascribe a feeling to an inanimate object but I did sometime within the last 23 months. The feeling began as sheer dislike as the first batches of medical bills from my recent bout with breast cancer began to roll in. Then it grew from dislike into anger as the bills seemed to compound daily. It was no shock to me to be receiving bills for recent medical expenses. I expected to find bills whenever I checked the mail, especially the first year after my diagnosis but months and months afterward, it was getting a little bit old.

I wondered what the grand total of my medical expenses have been to date. At the end of last year, I tallied them up the ones I had received and was incredulous when I saw the number... $166,000 and change! I never dreamed that having breast cancer could be so expensive and that number didn't even include followup visits to doctors, lab tests, medication, MRI'S, PET scans, or any other types of imaging...oh, no! That total only included bills from the actual hospital itself! Thank God we have insurance! I can't imagine what people do without it.

So today, as I opened the door to my mailbox, I pulled out another stack of bills. At first, I felt a knot in my stomach. We'd already had to borrow from my husband's 401K to help take care of our portion of the bills we'd receive in 2014 and 2015. Since he's planning to retire soon, we don't want to have to dip into that fund any longer. That means we'll be having to set up payment plans to insure these latest bills are taken care of in a timely fashion. Walking up my driveway, I looked back at my mailbox. I really didn't hate the mailbox but I did hate what was in it. It wasn't my mailbox's fault that it was the designated receptacle for holding all that bad news. I continued up my long, hilly driveway and as I walked, I felt the weight of the bills in my hand. Those bills carried so much grief for me. They meant my husband was going to have to continue working 10 hour days and 8 hours every Saturday (as he's been doing for months now) just so we could keep our heads above water. My heart ached for him because he already works so hard and he's getting older. His stamina isn't what it used to be. But as I reached the door to my house, I was filled with gratitude. Yes, I had a handful of bills but I also was alive to hold them. The alternative was unacceptable and I was thankful...poor mailbox, please forgive me...I really don't hate you, really I don't.

© bonnie annis all rights reserved

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Learning to move forward

Three words. Just three little words. They can change your life forever. For those of us who’ve heard them, we know the instant trepidation and fear that accompanies those three words, “You have cancer.” Almost immediately after hearing the words, the mailbox begins to fill with all sorts of pamphlets and information on cancer or cancer related items. The calendar is quickly inked with one appointment after another and life begins to revolve around a disease. That word, cancer, the one we all hate, snakes its way into almost every conversation and suddenly, there’s an internal radar that hones in on any and everything beginning with the letter C. After processing the initial shock of the diagnosis, treatment begins. Life becomes a whirlwind aggressively attacking those cells and doing whatever is necessary to eradicate them. Everything seems to move at warp speed and then, just like an F5 tornado, the storm is over and you’re left in the wake to pick up the pieces. Life is supposed to go on but how do we do it? How do we learn to transition from living life in the midst of cancer to living life after the storm of cancer has passed? There are no guidelines. There are no rules. We’re left to figure it out on our own.

As with each case of cancer, each individual is different. Some of us have wonderful support systems and some of us do not. Some of us operate out of fear, and some of us walk in faith. We are all wounded. We are all broken. We are all struggling. We are all different. We have been forever changed but we can’t live in the past. We have to move on. We have to decide whether we want to fight to live or live to fight. But how do we move forward? When treatment was finally over for me, I began to ask myself this question. I’d just completed my 28th round of radiation. Physically weak and feeling exhausted, I didn’t have energy to do anything other than think, so I thought and thought a lot. In my mind, I kept hearing a loud voice whispering, “Now What?” What was next for me? The doctors wanted me to start on medication to keep the cancer from coming back. My appointments suddenly went from every 3 months to every 6 months. I was doing well and should have been celebrating. How fantastic! I was a cancer survivor. I should have been overcome with joy, but that feeling of joy never hit me. Instead of walking out of the oncologist’s office with my hands in the air shouting, I walked out more terrified than I had been on the day I’d heard those three little words, “You have cancer.” I began to wonder what was wrong with me. I became emotionally distraught. I needed to make a huge transition in my life and I didn’t know how. So I cried. I cried and cried and cried. And after the tears had run out, I decided I had to learn to move from a stance of “I have cancer,” to “I had cancer.” I would learn to put cancer in its place. Cancer is not a verb, it’s a noun. Yes, I used to “have” cancer, but I no longer “had” it and it certainly didn’t “have” me. I was going to figure out a way to move from being just a survivor to that of a thriver. Here are some things that I’ve implemented in my life to help me do just that:   

·         Watch your language! The first thing I did was learn to watch my language. The Bible says the power of life and death are in the power of the tongue and I firmly believe that. Words carry an amazing strength and often, we believe what we hear about ourselves whether good or bad. I wanted to learn to speak life over myself. I started to be very careful in conversations and began to shift my words from saying, “I have cancer,” to “I had cancer.” I started avoiding making negative comments about myself and started focusing on saying positive things. Just doing that simple exercise allowed me to set myself free from the grip cancer had placed on my life. I was putting cancer in the past and I planned on keeping it there.
·         See yourself worthy! The next thing I did was to begin to see myself not merely as a survivor. Even though I’d experienced a very traumatic life event, I needed to see myself differently. When I looked into the mirror, I tried not to focus on my scars. They are very visible but they don’t define me. When I see them, I try not to remember all the physical and emotional pain behind them, instead, I try to count them as battle wounds. I see myself as a victor. I’ve fought a battle I never intended to fight and I won! I came out on the other side. I was still alive! My life mattered.
·         Beauty is as beauty does! The third thing I did was to focus on always looking my best. It became important for me to wake up in the morning and greet the day boldly. After showering and dressing, I put on my makeup even if I wasn’t planning to go anywhere. I fixed my hair and gave myself a once over. I found that if I looked good on the outside, I usually would feel good on the inside.
·         Get out there! I made myself attend family functions and events. Sometimes I didn’t really feel like going but I knew if I made myself attend, I’d usually have a good time. I didn’t want to get stuck in a rut of staying home and isolating myself like I did much of the time I was in treatment. It’s important to be in social settings.
·         Find a creative outlet! A creative outlet is very cathartic. Journaling is a wonderful way of recording and processing thoughts. I find writing down what’s on my mind to be very healing. I also enjoy photography and painting. Find a way to express yourself. Whatever you create becomes an extension of you. Don’t worry about what others think. Do what you enjoy.  
·         Move past survivor’s guilt. It’s hard to wonder why some of us survive and others don’t. We have no control over that and we shouldn’t dwell on it. Learning to take an attitude of gratitude will help shift your mind from what “could have been” to “what is.” I keep a mason jar on my kitchen counter. On small slips of paper, I jot down things for which I’m thankful. I look for not only the big things but the little things, too. You’ll be amazed, when you start looking, how many blessings we receive every day.
·         It’s okay to mourn. Every once in a while, I find myself missing my breasts. They were a part of me and I have a right to be sad they’re gone. I don’t dwell on it long, but I give myself permission to remember them and miss them.
·         Accept your fears. It’s only normal to have a fear of recurrence after having been diagnosed with breast cancer. Every ache, pain, lump, or swelling can strike fear into the depths of our soul but, in order to move forward and thrive, we have to decide if our focus is going to be on the what ifs or if we’re going to have faith and trust that our future is held in the hands of Almighty God.
·         One day at a time, one step at a time. I’ve learned to take one day at a time. I no longer worry about tomorrow. By learning to live in the moment, I can focus on what’s going on right there and then. Life is so very precious and I don’t want to worry or wish my life away.

All of these things have helped me move out of cancer world into the heart of life. I hope you’ll find one or two helpful tips here and you, too, will learn to become not only a survivor but a thriver. We were meant to live a life filled with joy and hope and that’s exactly what I intend to do for whatever amount of time I have left on this earth. 

"Life and death are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit." Proverbs 18:21

"Therefore don't worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Matthew 6:34

Monday, June 6, 2016

National Cancer's Survivor day

Yesterday was the 29th annual National Cancer Survivor's day. I didn't do much to celebrate other than wear my NCSD tshirt and survivor medallion. I'm sure a lot of people celebrated with parties and grand events but I'm saving my personal celebration for July 9th when I'll celebrate my 2nd year of being N.E.D. (having no evidence of active disease.)

I've asked my oncologist over and over again when he will say I'm cancer free and every single time I do, he just ignores me. I don't think doctors like to ever say you're cancer free because really and truly, they can't. There's no way, even with all the MRI'S, CT scans, bone scans, PET scans and other lab tests that can be performed to definitively say there are no cancer cells lurking anywhere in your body. That's why doctors like to say, "we see no evidence of active disease."

Some doctors will say you're in remission, but what does that really mean? If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, you’re probably hoping to hear your doctor use the word “remission.” It marks a major turn in your care and long-term health. But it’s more complicated than simply being done with treatment.

There are two types of remission:

Partial remission means the cancer is still there, but your tumor has gotten smaller -- or in cancers like leukemia, you have less cancer throughout your body. Some doctors tell patients to think of their cancer as “chronic,” like heart disease. It’s something you will need to continue to check. If you’re in partial remission, it may mean you can take a break from treatment as long as the cancer doesn’t begin to grow again.

Complete remission means that tests, physical exams, and scans show that all signs of your cancer are gone. Some doctors also refer to complete remission as “no evidence of disease (NED).” That doesn’t mean you are cured.

There’s no way for doctors to know that all of the cancer cells in your body are gone, which is why many doctors don’t use the word “cured.” If cancer cells do come back, it usually happens within the 5 years following the first diagnosis and treatment.

Toward the end of this month, I'll see my oncologist again and I'm going to try to pin him down and make him tell me exactly what the state of my health really is. He's never come right out and said, "Bonnie, you're actively NED," or "Bonnie, I really think we can say you're in remission right now." No...I've never heard the words from Dr. F indicating that I am no longer considered an active cancer patient but I'm going on faith and I'm trusting what I know in my heart to be true! I have been healed of the breast cancer and I am claiming it. I am choosing to walk by faith and not by sight. No matter what my doctor says, I am believing that I am free from all cancer and that's something to celebrate!

© bonnie annis all rights reserved

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Death doesn't scare me much any more

Yesterday, we had some powerful storms roll through our neighborhood. At first it was just raining really hard and then the winds picked up. Things began slamming against the house and I was afraid windows would be broken. The rain came in torrents and it was difficult to see what was happening outside. I didn't know if we were under a severe weather advisory or not because my weather radio did not sound an alarm. As things seemed to progress and the winds grew stronger, I wondered if perhaps a tornado was approaching. I decided to be safe and go into an interior room of my house until things calmed down a little. While I was in that little room, I began to pray. I asked God to put a hedge of protection over our house and keep me safe. After about an hour, the rains began to dwindle and the wind stopped blowing. I was thankful.

I have many a brush with death over my 58 years of life. The first came when I was 13. My gallbladder ruptured allowing gangrene to spread quickly through my body. If it weren't for the quick thinking on my doctor's part, I wouldn't be here today. The next near death experience came in 1991 when I was involved in a severe automobile accident. I was hit head on and my right leg was crushed. If I hadn't been driving a larger, older model car, I wouldn't have made it but God's providence protected me. My last brush with death was 2 years ago when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Once again, God allowed me to live instead of die.

Death doesn't scare me too much anymore. When you've stared it in the face over and over again, you come to the realization that not one thing is in your control. It's easier to accept that fact that God holds my days in the palm of His hand than to worry about what may or may not happen in the next minute or in the next few days. I have learned to live in the moment and for that, I'm so grateful.

My next door neighbor called me a few minutes ago and told me a tornado skirted across her property yesterday afternoon. She said there were 17 large pine trees down and many others were twisted off at the tops. Limbs and all sorts of debris covered her property. That explains why the weather was so terrible. I'm so thankful God protected us both. She has also had several brushes with death. Twenty three years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She went through treatment and spent years being cancer free. Last year, she was told her cancer had come back and now she's got stage 4 metastatic cancer. She and I both know we can't take a single day for granted. It's amazing what it takes to make some people realize how very short life is...don't waste any time! Live for today and don't be afraid of what may happen tomorrow. Death has no power over you. God says in His Word that it's appointed once for man to die and after that the judgment. We don't need to fear death but we do need to be concerned that we are living the way God wants us to live day to day. Life is amazingly short and the older I get, the more I realize this to be true. Count your blessings and be grateful! You never know when God will call you home.

bonnie annis all rights reserved

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Sum, Sum, Summertime!

Ah, the wonderful days of Summer! How I love them, especially when they're spent at the beach! For the past week, I've basked in the warmth of the beautiful Florida sun, felt the balmy ocean breeze upon my cheek, and let the cares of the world slip far, far away. It was a lovely time to relax and refresh but now that I'm back, I can't help but think of how things would have been so very different had this trip been made before my surgery.

One thing I really enjoy while on a beach vacation is getting in the water. It doesn't really matter whether it's pool or ocean water, I just love the water. This year, I didn't get in the water one single time. The reason may seem prideful and silly, but I just didn't relish putting on a bathing suit without having breasts to fill it out. I knew I'd look like a freak of nature with two hollowed out cavities in the chest wall of my suit. The only way to remedy that would have been if I'd had prostheses specifically made for use in swimming but I didn't have any of those. I thought about trying to wear the microbead forms I'd made earlier this year, but was afraid if I lay back in the water to float one of those little babies might escape and drift off out to sea. As much as it hurt, I just accepted the fact that I wouldn't be in the water on this trip.

Even though I was unable to be in the water, I was still able to enjoy myself on our trip. I was extremely thankful I'd thought to make the lightweight breast forms from the microbeads. If you didn't read about that adventure, you can click here and get yourself up to date.) While they were lightweight and didn't cause me to sweat like my regular prostheses, they did create a few problems. The microbead forms were constantly shifting in my mastectomy bra. I found myself having to reposition them quite often and every once in a while, I'd find them practically right underneath my chin. How embarrassing to have to turn around and push the "girls" down and force them to return to their native resting place. With them being so lightweight I was unaware they were rising until I felt a little nudge under my chin. My family got a good laugh out of my traveling boobs but I did not. It was frustrating to have them constantly moving instead of staying put like their silicone sisters did.

Next year, I'm going to invest in a pair of swimmer's boobs (technically that's not what they're called but I kind of like that terminology so I'm going to stick with it). I've done some research and have found they're not too terribly expensive. They are very different from my regular everyday silicone breast forms. The swimmer's boobs are hollowed out inside. I don't really know the reasoning behind that, perhaps it's to allow water to fill them and help keep them in place while they're inside the bodice of a bathing suit. I'll feel a little more secure knowing I have breast forms that are safe to wear in the pool, ocean, or hot tub and hopefully, I won't have to worry about a rogue breast form escaping from my suit and drifting away from me.

Summertime presents many challenges for women who've had their breasts removed. It's important for us to be able to look and feel as normal as possible while being comfortable at the same time. Mastectomy swim forms and mastectomy swimming suits are available. There are many sites from which to choose. Searching on a web browser using the words "mastectomy swimming form" or "swim form" will yield a number of results for breast forms that are suitable for use in the water. Also, using the words "mastectomy swim suit" or "mastectomy bathing suit" will produce results for various types of swimsuits with built in pockets for prostheses.

These are some of the sites I've checked out. Hopefully they'll help you, too, if you have special needs like I do. There's no reason for breast cancer to keep us from doing the things we love to do, so be courageous and get out there!
Mastectomy Shop
The Pink Bra

bonnie annis all rights reserved

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