Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Help! I can't find my boobs!

This morning I was getting ready to go for my physical therapy appointment. I'd already had my shower and was just about to finish dressing. All I needed to complete my ensemble was my mastectomy bra and prostheses. I went to the dresser to retrieve my boobs from the storage containers and they weren't there! Since I have two sets of boobs, one small and one large, I looked in the second drawer and as I unzipped the storage boxes, my larger set of boobs was MIA too! Puzzled, I stood in my bedroom thinking. Had someone stolen my breasts??? No, that couldn't be. No one would want those things. Where could I have put my boobs? Since I don't usually wear them when I'm at home, they should have been right where they were supposed to be, but they weren't. Hmmm...After a few minutes, I decided to do a quick search of the house.

I looked in the bathroom, our bedroom and on all the flat surfaces in between those rooms thinking I must have laid them down somewhere. Because of their weight, I often remove my fake boobs as soon as I come in the door. They're uncomfortable and bothersome. My husband's gotten used to finding them flung over chairs, lying on tables, in the back seat of the car, and many other places. They usually end up in the strangest places and you'd think, since they cost so much money, I'd be more careful with them. Oh, I used to be. When I first got them, I was petrified they'd get damaged. Since my insurance company only allows me to get a new set of boobs every two years, I made sure to keep them in their little round zippered boxes resting gently in their little net hammocks so no harm would come to them. Since I've had them for a while now, I've gotten a little lax and my boobs aren't always cared for in a kind way.

My search continued and as I entered my dining room, I noticed something lying in the fruit bowl and it wasn't fruit. There dangling over the bowl was my black mastectomy bra and my set of small prostheses. I was so thankful to find them. As I picked them up, I remembered what had happened and how they'd ended up in the fruit bowl. The night before we'd gone out shopping. It had been extremely hot and my fake boobs had caused me to start sweating. Having that silicone against my chest was not fun and I'd struggled with them all through the store. I kept tugging and pulling at the bra trying to get a little air circulation going. After working for a while to remedy the problem, I told my husband I was going to them off the minute I got home and that's exactly what I did. I'd placed groceries on the kitchen counter, reached up under my shirt, unhooked my bra and released the culprits. I'd been so frustrated I'd flung the bra and boobs across the room not caring where it landed. As I remembered what I'd done, I couldn't help but laugh and be grateful we hadn't had company come by before I'd moved my lingerie to a more suitable place.

I took my small boobs and bra into the bedroom and lay them on the bed. I'd be wearing those to my appointment so there was no need to put them away. I still had no clue where my larger set of boobs was and I needed to find them so once again, I went looking. I searched high and low and couldn't find them.  They were nowhere in the house. If they were not inside the house, that must mean they were outside the house. I looked on the carport and they weren't there. Rats! This was not funny. My boobs cost about $600 per set. I couldn't let them just disappear. As I was trying to figure out where they might be, a thought crossed my mind. Check the car! Ahhhh!!! Yes. As I opened the car door and peeked inside, I saw one end of my white bra draped over a utility basket in between the bucket seats. Once again, I'd removed my boobs because of being uncomfortable. We'd gone out to eat and as soon as we'd gotten in the car, I'd whipped them out and plopped them into our little storage bin.

I've always hated wearing a bra. For me, it was one of the most ridiculous things ever. Why would you want to bind up your breasts and make them be held tightly in a brassiere? But that's what society expects and that's what we do. After years of practice, I learned to take off my bra without ever removing my blouse. I was all about modesty, you know. All I'd do was reach up toward my middle back, unfasten the hook and eyes, slip my arm inside my shirt, slide down one bra strap, put my arm back into my shirt sleeve and do the same on the other side. When the bra was free and clear, I'd grasp it firmly and sling it out from under my shirt. It was an art and I'd mastered it. But removing a bra that was empty was a little easier than one that was full. An empty bra flies through the air with the greatest of ease, while a full one usually lands with a thud. My sweet hubby has learned to duck and cover to avoid being hit by flying silicone boobies. And he knows, no matter where I am, if I've reached my breaking point in wearing them, they are coming off no matter who's around, where we are, or what we might be doing.

I was so glad to have found my second set of boobs. I took them inside and put them away. It's a good thing I'd remembered to check the car. It's been in the upper 90s the past few weeks and even hotter inside our vehicle. I don't know if silicone melts at high temperatures but I'm sure my boobs could have become warped or misshapen if nothing else. I guess I'd better learn to take better care of my prostheses. I'll admit, I've been taking them for granted lately. I'll try to make the effort to put them in their proper place from now on but I can't promise. If I get tired of wearing them, they're probably going to still come off quickly so beware! If you're around and you see me reaching up the back of my shirt it means I'm about to take action. You might want to bend over quickly to avoid getting pegged by a flesh colored silicone projectile. It could do some physical damage or it could just make you laugh hysterically, either way, you'd probably do best to be prepared. You just never know how long I can keep them on...

© bonnie annis all rights reserved

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

I'll be a kook for Christ any day

It was close to 10:00 a.m. as I was folding the last of my laundry and getting ready to head out the door to my appointment. I popped in my ear buds so I could continue the conversation I'd been having with my oldest daughter, grabbed my keys, and walked out into the bright sunshine. A wave of Georgia heat slammed me in the face. It was mid-morning but already the sun was high in the sky and the humidity made it unbearable. Climbing into the car, I turned the engine over and waited a few minutes before cranking up the air conditioning. My ride was only going to be about twenty minutes. 

I pulled into the parking lot just a few minutes before my appointment. When I went inside the dental office, I noticed a new receptionist. She stood up, greeted me with a smile and said, "You must be Mrs. Annis!" I was surprised she knew me by name. I'd never seen her before in my life. Out of curiosity, I leaned forward on the counter and said, "How did you know who I was?" She explained another one of her coworkers had brought in the feature newspaper article done on my a couple of weeks ago and everyone in the office had taken time to read it. I was shocked and even more so when several of the office staff came up to greet me. They were all smiles and made comments about how well done the article was and how grateful they were I'd been willing to do it. I thanked them for their sweet words and took my seat in the waiting room. About fifteen minutes later, I was called back for my time with the dentist. 

Oh, how I love my dentist! (We met right after our move to this area so he's been with me through just about every step of my journey.) He's the sweetest gentle, soft spoken and kind. He loves the Lord and though very humble, makes sure others know he's a man of faith. As he came around the corner, he greeted me with the biggest smile ever and held out his arms for a big bear hug. I gave him a hug and after exchanging pleasantries, he got down to business. I'd come in for a followup on some work I'd had done about 3 months ago. Dr. E explained each step of the process and started working on me. His assistant, Sharon, is a sweetheart. She told me she had been the one to bring in the newspaper clipping and she'd encouraged all the staff to read the article. She said they still had the article in their break-room on the wall. It felt funny having such a big deal made over me and I didn't know how to respond. 

At the checkout counter, Kay, the receptionist, went over the proposed bill for my services. This work was going to be done in 3 steps so it would be rather expensive. She wanted to make sure I had no surprises and I was thankful for a heads up on the financial end of things. As I stood there talking with Kay, I could feel something troubling her. I felt a deep need to share my testimony with her and as we began talking, I told her how cancer had been used by God to teach me to live in the moment. Her eyes filled with tears and she thanked me. She said she needed to hear that today. I talked a little longer and tried to give her some words of encouragement. I didn't want to take up much of her time because other patients were coming in but I was trying to be attentive to what the Holy Spirit was speaking to me, too. 

The car was unbearably hot after sitting in full sun for about an hour. I let it cool down and started to drive off. Before I reached my next destination, I felt God saying, "Call Kay. Tell her I have a plan for her. Share Jeremiah 29:11." I pulled over and fished my Iphone out of my purse. Thankfully I had Dr. E's office on speed dial. I heard Kay's sweet, soft voice on the other end of the phone and I told her I'd just been in and I felt like I was supposed to call her. I prefaced what I was going to say with "I hope you don't think I'm some kind of kook or something, but..." As I explained I felt God telling me to give her a word, she got very quiet. I asked if she'd ever heard the verse of Scripture found in Jeremiah 29:11. She said she had but couldn't remember it. I quoted it to her - " For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future." She thanked me and I could tell by her voice the verse impacted her in a mighty way. I was glad I was obedient to what the Lord was telling me to do. I could have easily ignored His prompting and just gone on about my day but if I had, I would have missed the blessing and Kay would have missed it, too. 

I still don't know why I prefaced what I was going to share with Kay with the words, "I hope you don't think I'm some kind of kook or something..." it really didn't matter whether she thought I was a kook or not. I guess I was just concerned because we'd just met and she had no idea who I was or anything about me other than what she'd read in the paper. I'll be a kook for Christ any day of the week, any time of day. I think it's so important for us to be sensitive to others and to do what Jesus leads us to do. 

After I completed my call to Kay. I went into our local Goodwill store. I like to peruse the aisles on Tuesdays because I can usually find some really good bargains on craft materials or toys for my grandchildren. As I was looking on the toy aisle, I saw another woman there. She was looking at a little ceramic figurine. I felt led to speak to her and just said, "Hi. Do you know what color items are today's 50% off colors?" She smiled and said, "Today's color for sale items was green. Anything with a green label would be 1/2 price." I thanked her and got to talking about how I come to Goodwill to buy items for my grandchildren. She said she did the same and was looking for something for one of her granddaughters. We talked about twenty minutes and then went our separate ways. I marveled at how God, once again, has caused me to step out of my comfort zone by prompting me to speak to complete strangers and share His love. I am learning so much by choosing to be "in the moment" and not hurrying through life any more. I have the gift of cancer to thank for that. 

P.s. I forgot to tell you Kay told me the newspaper article had really touched her heart. She said my testimony and my journey through cancer was amazing. I told her all glory goes to God and I was so thankful He used that article to reach others. It's amazing how He's been using my story. I got a Facebook message from a woman in the UK yesterday asking about the alternative methods I've been using to fight cancer. She'd read an article I'd written for Cure magazine. If my story can help others in any way, shape, or form, I will be so happy. To God be the glory for all He's done in and through my life these past 2 years. 

1 Corinthians 12:25-26 God’s purpose was that the body should not be divided but rather that all of its parts should feel the same concern for each other. If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts share its suffering. If one part is praised, all the others share in its happiness.

12. Romans 12:15-16 Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Where are you breasts?

It’s been two long years since I saw you. Since that time, I never gave thought to your fate. Where are you breasts? Do you lie sectioned and frozen in a laboratory freezer somewhere? Were you sliced and diced for medical students to look at you under a powerful microscope? Were you stained and smeared on a slide? Were you shaved into microscopically thin pieces and dipped into solutions only to be resting in Petri dishes on a cold hard counter? Were you examined and studied, talked about behind my back? Where are you breasts? Or, after being used and abused were you casually discarded in a red Biohazard container? Did you rot among other tissue samples in a landfill far away? I can’t help but wonder what happened to you. I didn’t even get to tell you goodbye. If I’d thought about it, I could have made a plaster cast to memorialize you or I could have taken beautiful photographs of you.

I didn’t think one day I’d miss you but today, when I woke up, you were the first thing on my mind. My hand traveled across my chest to touch you and you were gone. That’s when I remembered. Could you have been saved? Did I speak too hastily when asked my preference by the surgeon? Should I have taken another route? Should I have opted for a lumpectomy and chemo instead of mastectomy and radiation? But if I had, would we still be here today but in a much more painful and prolonged way? Would we have started out small, a tiny incision and chemicals that poisoned you only to eventually have you lopped off anyway? Should I have endured countless mammograms and months of testing in an effort to keep your mutilated form? Or did I do the right thing in taking the second choice presented, to completely remove you, to discard you and pretend you never existed? Should I have let the surgeon cut you out and leave empty folds of skin to hold tissue expanders and later silicone replacements? Should I have allowed the fat deposits on my stomach or back to be carved into makeshift breasts to give me an illusion of normalcy? Could I have dealt with reconstructed breasts, mounds of flesh sewn into place devoid of nipples and feeling? Or was I right to just agree to completely remove you?

Where have you gone breasts? Do you lie in a pile joined by others just like you, some of them larger and some vastly smaller, all shapes and colors? Do you wonder why you were tortured? Why abandoned and forgotten after all your years of service? I watched you grow from tiny breast buds at puberty into full, voluptuous friends that fed my children and satisfied my husband and now you’re gone, missing in action, decimated, mutilated, and all but forgotten, but I can’t forget you. I still remember you. You were important to me. Where are you breasts?

In your place lie two imposters, silicone forms devoid of nerve endings, blood flow, or feeling. They have no semblance to you. They are smooth gel filled pinkish blobs with tiny raised nipple-like impressions. They are much heavier than you. They require washing and drying but only after removal from a mastectomy bra which holds them securely against my chest. When I walk, they don’t gently bounce up and down as you once did. They are firm and stationary. Some days I choose not to wear them. I leave them lying in their storage containers. I don’t want to look at them and be reminded they’ve taken your place…poor substitutes for what God gave me. Am I bitter? To a degree, yes. Do I feel betrayed? Yes! I wish I’d known exactly what the future held so I could have made a more informed decision about surgery and treatment, but doctors don’t give you all the details. They don’t talk about the emotional trauma that comes with breast cancer. They don’t talk about those difficult days when your breasts are gone and it feels like the world has stopped spinning and you’re left standing alone stripped naked and bare. They don’t talk about the devastation, loss of femininity, and lifelong changes that will occur. They keep it hush hush, a secret hidden in the dark. But we find out. And some of us do quite well with the change. Some of us make do and move on. Others struggle. Some days are good and some days are bad. But all of us wonder, where are you breasts and why did you have to go? Why? Why? Why….

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Pain and more pain...physical therapy

After the bone scan revealed no evidence of a recurrence of cancer, my oncologist decided I needed to have physical therapy to help with my spinal pain. I was hesitant to even talk about physical therapy because I had no idea what they might do to me, but agreed to allow his nurse to go ahead and set up the appointments. Yesterday was my first visit to the spinal center.

When I arrived, I sat in the waiting room with a dozen other people. I noticed how hard the chairs were as I was waiting to be called back for therapy. If I'd been in charge of ordering the office furniture, I would have made sure to buy comfortable chairs, especially since most of the clients would be experiencing some level of pain as they waited, but that was just me.

A small section of the therapy room
I was called back and taken to a small cubicle with a draped curtain hung from runners in the ceiling. The curtains were wide open and I felt rather small sitting in the corner surrounded by all sorts of therapy equipment. Several staff members walked by and each of them smiled offering up a greeting as they passed. At least the therapists are friendly, that's a definite plus! A few minutes later, my personal therapist arrived and introduced himself. A tall man in his mid to late 50s stuck out his hand and said his name was Russ. He pulled up a rolling stool and sat inches away from me as he went over my history. A worried look crossed his face but he didn't say a word. I beat him to it and said, "Yeah, I've had a pretty rough couple of years." He smiled and told me he was about to say that very thing. After going through the list of medications, surgeries, etc., Russ asked me to put on a gown. He pulled the curtain closed and said he'd return shortly. As he was leaving, I asked if he wanted me to remove EVERYTHING, and he said you can leave on your bra and everything from the waist down. I asked if he was sure...I said, "I mean, I have no boobs so I need to know if you want me to remove my bra and prostheses too." He paused and said, "No, that's okay. Leave them on."

As he approached the curtained wall to my area, Russ said, "Knock, knock." I gave him permission to enter and he instructed me to lie face down on an exam table. I told him it might be a little difficult since I hadn't been on my stomach in some time. He went to grab a couple of pillows to help make me more comfortable and I was glad he did. With the pillows tucked firmly under my chest, I was able to lie on the table without much difficulty. Russ explained what he was about to do. I felt his large fingers unhooking my bra and knew he must be a little embarrassed so I offered up a joke. He laughed and breathed a sign of relief. He began to give me a very firm back massage. I didn't realize how badly my back was hurting until he started working on it. His hands were very strong and I don't know if it was just me or if he was massaging my back a little harder than he ought to be, but it was painful and I cried out. He asked if he was hurting me and I explained there were several areas that were more sensitive than others. He apologized and said he'd be more careful but if I needed him to lighten up just to let him know. I have a pretty high pain tolerance so I allowed him to continue. He couldn't see the tears in my eyes as he was working and I didn't complain. After the deep tissue massage was complete, the therapist explained he was about to begin a process called "cupping." I had no idea what cupping really was although I'd seen it in a movie. I wondered why the spinal center would use a treatment commonly practiced in China. I hoped this guy wasn't into a lot of mumbo jumbo. I needed real relief for my spinal pain and my insurance company wasn't going to pay for some off the wall treatments.

Slowly and deliberately Russ placed small glass cups on my back suctioning them in place. He instructed me to just lie quietly and after about 15 minutes, I felt him removing the cups. My back was really tender and he said I'd probably notice some redness or bruising in the next 24 hours. He followed the cupping session with spinal manipulation, rolling, and pinching. I had never suffered so much physical pain with my back before and wondering what in the heck I'd gotten myself into! I had come to be relieved of back pain not have it exacerbated. I was instructed to get dressed after Russ had applied a good layer of BioFreeze to my back. He said that would help with the discomfort. Watch a video of cupping here.

The cupping set he recommended
When I was dressed and ready, Russ showed me the cupping set and asked if I thought my husband would be willing to do it to me. He said I needed to have it done every 3 days. I asked what the purpose of it was and he explained the suction and negative pressure provided by cupping can loosen muscles, encourage blood flow, and sedate the nervous system (which makes it an excellent treatment for high blood pressure). I assured him I'd ask my husband if he'd mind doing this at home and felt sure my husband would be willing to agree to help. Russ told me I could find an inexpensive set on Amazon.

On the way home, I noticed my back was very uncomfortable. Just leaning against the seat of the car was challenging. I couldn't wait to look at my back in my bathroom mirror. I was sure it was red and angry looking.
My back after one cupping session
(don't pay attention to the tattoo!)

My back continued to hurt more and more as the evening wore on. When it came time for bed, I was nervous about laying down. As I did, the pain was unbearable and I needed to prop myself up on pillows to get comfortable and take a pain pill.

Today, I continue to have back pain. I feel like I've been in a really bad fight and I lost! I'm hoping a hot bath will help and maybe I can get my husband to apply a little more BioFreeze to numb the pain. I'm not so sure I want to go back for therapy next week. If it's going to hurt this bad, I'd rather just deal with my regular back pain.

© bonnie annis all rights reserved

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Good news!

The phone rang at 8:00 a.m. and naturally, I expected the worst. I had been waiting for a call from my oncologist about the results from my recent bone scan. I assumed, since they were calling so early, that the news must be bad. They were probably going to ask me to come into the office to discuss the test results and come up with a strategic plan of attack for the recurrence of cancer. I had steeled myself for this news and when I received just the opposite, had to ask the office to repeat the information to make sure I'd heard clearly..."Mrs. Annis, we have the results back from your bone scan. There was no evidence of metastatic disease. There was no evidence of a recurrence of cancer." I listened intently and thanked the caller for the good news. Before the call ended, I was told I needed to see a spine specialist to address the pain I'd been having. I'd take that any day over chemo or radiation.

When I got off the phone, I was overcome with emotion. The dam burst and all the feelings I'd held bottled up inside me for the past few days poured forth. I fell to the floor and lying face down, I began to weep. My weeping grew exponentially into torrential sobs of thanksgiving. I was so grateful to God for giving me such good news.

After regaining my composure, I wondered why I expected to receive bad news. Why didn't I expect to receive good news? Was I just preparing myself for the worst and hoping for the best? Maybe that was my coping mechanism or a survival tactic.  In any event, I was extremely blessed and I wasn't going to take this gift lightly. I immediately notified my family so they could share in my joy. My sweet husband wept openly and told me he was so worried and afraid he would lose me. I had no idea he felt this way and my heart ached as I watched him cry. The tears weren't sad ones but still, I felt his pain and the deep love he had in his heart for me. My children were happy and excited. I think they'd been worried the cancer might have returned too.

Thinking back to my initial diagnosis and the results of my Oncotype DX (a test that determines the possibility of recurrence based on the type of cancer and the hormones that feed it) I remembered my score was a 7 out of 100. The number 7 is very significant in Biblical times and is the number of completion. When I was given the results of that test in July 2 years ago, I felt God speak to my spirit and say, "It's over. It's done. It's complete, Bonnie." So I claimed it! I claimed that completeness but somewhere in the back of my mind, a little doubt started to fester and grow. That little doubt turned into a bigger fear and worry as time passed and things seemed out of control. But today, God reminded me of that day back in July. And that's why I was so overcome with emotion. God's promises are real and I know He is faithful. If I'd had time to focus on all of this before receiving the call from my doctor this morning, I would have answered the phone with expectancy. I would have looked forward to hearing the scan was completely clear instead of bracing for the worst. But even though I thought I was going to receive bad news, God blessed me with His very best. I am grateful. I am happy. And I am feeling very optimistic about my future.

As a breast cancer survivor, I can tell you cancer feels like it is constantly sneaking up on me. It seems to be lurking just around the corner ready to jump out and scare me to death. I can't live in fear because I know fear is the opposite of faith. I firmly believe God has honored my obedience to walk with Him in faith and that's why He's given me this wonderful test result. And this proves He isn't through with me just yet. There's something more He wants me to do to glorify Him. I don't know what it is just yet, but I'm going to be seeking His face and asking Him to guide me in the days ahead. Life is good and I am blessed. What more could I want?

© bonnie annis all rights reserved

Monday, July 11, 2016

This weekend, I celebrated 2 years of being in remission. All day long I couldn't stop thinking about how blessed I was to be celebrating another year of life. I was hesitant to celebrate because I'd just had a complete body bone scan done the day before and I had no idea what the results of that test were, but I wanted to move forward and celebrate anyway. The day started out normally with routine Saturday housework. About mid morning, I received a nice surprise from my Texas girl. She'd sent a lovely arrangement of blue delphinium and white roses. She's so thoughtful and her arrangement really set the tone for the day. The blue and white flowers were so peaceful and serene, just the way I needed my day to be. 

Flowers from my girl
Early afternoon brought the arrival of my youngest daughter. She'd come to spend the weekend with us and help me celebrate. She's always so full of energy and we had fun catching up on her week and the latest information on her current relationship. 

As the day wore on, I took time to look back through my cancer notebook. When I was initially diagnosed, the hospital gave me a nice heavyweight vinyl binder with the words "Love Me...Love My Journey" printed on it. Inside were various dividers for medical bills and expenses, test results, medications, etc. I never thought I'd fill up that notebook, but after 2 years it's overflowing. I've tried to be diligent about recording every doctor visit, every lab test, every medication, every expense, and notes to help my children know what cancer felt like from day one. As I read back through my notes and recounted each event, I couldn't help but marvel at all I'd experienced. The past 2 years had been extremely difficult but I'd managed to make it through. I was proud of that accomplishment. 
The table set and ready
We began our celebration of my 2nd cancerversary with a family dinner at one of my favorite Chinese restaurants. Although only 2 of my children were able to be present, I was thankful they'd taken time out of their busy schedules to come be with me. My granddaughter, Heather, was such a joy to watch as she tried her best to master chopsticks. We enjoyed a leisurely dinner and ate to our heart's content. We left the restaurant with barely enough room for the dessert I had waiting at home. Earlier in the week, I'd stopped by a local bakery, Smallcakes,and ordered a special treat. They make the most decadent Key Lime cupcakes. 

Yummy Key Lime cupcakes
Back at the house, we entered my formal dining room. As soon as we walked in, Heather exclaimed, "HAPPY DAY!!! HAPPY DAY!!!" She's just a little shy of being 3 years old and can't quite say Happy Birthday but she knows what balloons and festive decorations mean...something good is about to happen. We couldn't help but laugh at her sweet, childlike expression of joy. It was indeed a happy day. With my family gathered around, I thanked them for standing by me for the past 2 years. As I began speaking, I was overcome with emotion and had to fight back tears to complete my expression of gratitude to them. The tears came in torrents as each one of them blessed me with their gifts of love. My daughter, Jamie, had written a sweet prayer and had it placed in the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. My daughter, Laura, had made a photo slideshow on DVD chronicling my journey. I was touched at their thoughtfulness. 

I am blessed to be so loved. My heart overflows with gratitude at all I've been given. Yes, I've suffered physical difficulties these past few years but the love of my family has made them much easier to bear. And now I start on this new year of life. I look forward to seeing what God has in store for me in the days ahead. And Heather was right, it was truly a HAPPY DAY!

© bonnie annis all rights reserved

Saturday, July 9, 2016

A recap: Looking back over the past 2 years

Today, as I celebrate 2 years of being in remission, I thought it would be a good time to look back and remember all God's done since my initial diagnosis. This recap includes the majority of tests, surgeries, etc. but doesn't contain a lot of the daily evidences of God's amazing sense of humor and provision throughout the past 2 years. I tried my best to jot down the main things so others would be able to see God's faithfulness during this time of trial in my life but I kept some of the "sweeter" things hidden in my heart for myself. Please rejoice with me today as I celebrate my new life, my life after cancer. God isn't through with me yet and I'm excited to see what He does in the days to come. I'm being attentive with a watchful eye seeking His direction and counting His blessings. I hope you'll do the same in your life. And just think, the Creator of the Universe calls us His friends!
Beautiful flowers from my daughter, Erin.

March 1, 2014: I discovered the mass in my breast (I was not afraid when I felt the mass. God gave me a sense of peace that I can only explain as His protection as I look backward at the situation.)

March 28, 2014: We closed on our home (our home wasn't even on the market a full week before we had a contract on it! God made provision even when we were afraid our older home wouldn't sell!)

March 29, 2014: We moved into our new home (God provided a home only 8 miles from my husband's workplace. It's much smaller so it's less to take care of and is only one level! God knew I wouldn't be able to perform a lot of housework once I found out that Cancer would be a new part of my life.)

May 1, 2014: I kept feeling a nagging sense that I needed to find a doctor in Newnan (God prompted me over and over again so I wouldn't ignore the mass in my breast. Even though it felt like nothing much to me, He knew it needed immediate attention!)

May 16, 2014: I did an internet search to find an OB/GYN in this area (I had no idea what kind of doctor I needed to see about the mass but God prompted me to call an OB/GYN)

May 27, 2014: I had my first appointment with Dr. Dyson (the OB/GYN) where she felt the mass and referred me to have more testing done at Southern Crescent Women's Healthcare (God gave wisdom to the doctor to send me for further testing and I am very grateful for not only His prompting, but her listening!)

May 28, 2014: I had two diagnostic mammograms done and an ultrasound. The radiologist discovered a suspicious mass and suggested I have a vacuum core needle biopsy done (God allowed the radiologist to see clearly that there was a problem on the ultrasound screen. I remember the doctor commenting that the mass looked like a one armed crab. Crab, by the way, is the meaning of the word Cancer!)

June 2, 2014: I had the vacuum core needle biopsy done and tissue samples sent to pathology (God prompted the radiologist to order further testing. The tissue samples revealed the malignant cells)

June 5, 2014: I received the oral report from the doctor of radiology that my tissue was malignant (CANCER) (God knew before I did that the report was going to reveal Cancerous cells in the mass. When I answered the phone call, I had no idea that I would receive the shocking news while I was alone in the house. God knew I needed to process it in my own way and in my own timing therefore, He allowed the call to come when no one was home but me.)

June 6, 2014: I received a written copy of the pathology report in the mail (God knew I needed to see the results in writing so He prompted the written report to be mailed so quickly.)

June 9, 2014: Dr. Dyson's office recommended I see Dr. Nicole Sroka (a breast specialist surgeon) in Fayetteville (God had already planned for me to see one of the best breast surgeons in Georgia even before Dr. Dyson's office recommended Dr. Sroka! When I did research on her via the internet, I found that she is one of the very best in this area. Why would God give me anything less than the very best...afterall, He loves me with an everlasting love!)

June 11, 2014: Dr. Sroka met with me for over 2 hours discussing all aspects of surgery giving detailed diagrams and advice (God knows I am a very visual person so He worked it out so Dr. Sroka would be running late that day which in turn caused our appointment to run an hour late. The office staff had already left at 5pm but Dr. Sroka told me she was going to sit down with me and take as long as I needed so she could make sure I understood exactly what was going on and what the game plan would be. She stayed with me in the exam room for 2 hours sketching and explaining every little detail of the surgery to me. She was extremely patient and kind. God reassured me that He had everything under control!)

June 23, 2014: We met with a lawyer to prepare our personal wills (God knows I'm a practical person and allowed us to have time to take care of business before my surgery. He provided an attorney who helped us write up wills, medical directives, and powers of attorney.)

June 28, 2014: Two very dear friends came to spend the day with us and ministered God's love to me (God knew how scared I was about the surgery and he sent one of my very best friends to come and comfort me!)

July 2, 2014: My daughter, Laura, came to stay overnight with us and take me to my pre-operative appointments (God knew I would need extra moral support, so He prompted Laura to want to come be with me during testing)

July 3, 2014: Pre-operative tests were performed at Piedmont Hospital in Fayetteville (God knew all the tests that the doctor would need to have done before my surgery. He provided kind people to assist me and make sure my needs were met)

July 4, 2014: We traveled to the beach for a mini vacation and to process all of the medical news we'd received (God knows how long it takes me to process things and He made a way for us to spend time at the beach. A hurricane was brewing off the coast of Florida and we thought the trip would be a total wash out, but God blew the hurricane winds away and let us have bright, sunny days of perfection!)

July 7, 2014: We returned home (God gave us a safe trip back home and allowed us time to spend in prayer before more testing)

July 8: Returned to Piedmont Fayetteville for radioactive dye injections in both breasts (God prompted the doctor to order these tests to reveal whether or not malignant cells were in my lymph nodes)

July 9, 2014: Surgery was performed to remove both breasts and lymph nodes from each arm (Surgery took about 4 hours. God guided Dr. Sroka's hands and brought me through the surgery safely. Diagnosed with stage 2B Invasive Ductal Carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph glands.)

July 10, 2014: Released from the hospital late day (around 5:30 p.m.) (Nurses were very busy but God provided one lab tech, named Darci, to be my constant help. She went above and beyond the call of duty to serve me. God allowed me to progress in my healing so I could leave the hospital and be back in the comforts of my home)

July 12, 2014: My new friend, Karen Fedder, came to visit and share about her Cancer journey (God provided a sweet new friend who's already traveled the Cancer road. She has been able to give me advice, helpful hints, tips and help me know what to expect without sugar coating anything.)

July 18, 2014: Had my first fitting for prostheses and bras at Renewal in Fayetteville. (God provided a kind woman who didn’t make me feel embarrassed or afraid.)

August 7, 2014: Met with my oncologist, Dr. Trevor Feinstein to learn the results from my Oncotype DX test. (My rating was a 7 out of 100 which meant chances of recurrence were extremely low. When I saw the number 7, I immediately felt in my spirit that God was saying, “Bonnie, that’s the number of completion. You won’t have to worry about the cancer coming back again. It’s over.”) At this same appointment, Dr. Feinstein and I talked about treatment. Normally treatment would have been surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and then antihormone therapy. I was concerned about chemo because of the research I’d done and the harm it caused. I asked Dr. Feinstein what he would recommend in this exact same situation had his wife or daughter received my diagnosis. He said he would not recommend chemo because of the drastic and sometimes irreversible problems it causes in other parts of the body such as the heart or lungs. I was thankful for his honesty.

August 13, 2014: Met with the radiation oncologist to discuss my upcoming radiation treatments. I was told I needed to have 35 rounds of radiation with 5 concentrated boosts at the end of treatment. (God gave me a doctor who was direct and to the point. As she explained the plan, I knew exactly what was coming next so there were no surprises.)

August 22, 2015: Began treatment for lymphedema. Therapy sessions will be three times a week for a period of 2-3 months. (God gave me a Christian therapist. We shared out faith at each treatment and it was a great source of encouragement.)

September 2, 2014: Began radiation treatments. (God gave me such peace as my friends were praying for me and I was blessed to have no pain during treatment.)

September 3, 2014: Fitted for compression sleeves and gauntlets to manage lymphedema. (Once again, God provided a Christian to work with me. It was so nice to know God has strategically placed his people in my life.)

September 26, 2014: Radiation stopped temporarily because of severe burns to my chest. (I’m thankful the team noticed my skin deteriorating and stopped treatment for a bit.)

September 29, 2014: Radiation resumes. (My techs are so sweet and always make me laugh.)

October 1, 2014: Rushed to the hospital with chest pains. After multiple heart tests, I was released. (God put me in the hands of a caring doctor and all was fine.)

October 6, 2014: Radiation stopped once again due to dangerous burns on my chest. She wants me to apply Silvadene cream and return in 2 days. (God gave my doctor wisdom regarding treatment for the burns.)

October 8, 2014: Radiation resumes

October 15, 2014: Radiation completed!!! 28 rounds done. (I was so thankful to be finally done with radiation. I was warned to expect extreme fatigue for weeks following.)

November 15, 2015: Began antihormone therapy with Arimidex.

November 30, 2014: Stopped Arimidex due to bad side effects. (After much prayer, God prompted me to stop taking this medication.)

December 27, 2014: Began taking Tamoxifen per my oncologist

January 31, 2015: Discontinued Tamoxifen due to side effects. (Once again, God gave me wisdom to discontinue this medication.)

February 23, 2015: Began taking Aromasin but stopped one week later after much prayer and many troubling side effects. (I’m thankful my oncologist supported me in my decision and didn’t make me feel guilty. He said it’s my body and I am the one who ultimately has to decide what’s best for me.)

June 24, 2015: Ultrasound on ovaries to check for cancer. (None found! Praise God!)

July 9, 2015: Celebrated one year of being in remission. (God gave me a new year of life to enjoy and celebrate!)

July 15, 2015: MRI of the lumbar spine. (God allowed the doctors to find a suspicious mass at L5 and found a Hemangioma, bulging disks, osteoporosis and degenerative spine disease.)

July 23, 2015: PET scan done. (God performed a miracle! The suspicious mass at L5 has miraculously disappeared! No evidence of cancer. Praise God!)

August 14, 2015: Developed a seroma and had to return to the surgeon to have it drained. (God kept me from passing out as the doctor inserted a needle in my chest to remove accumulated fluid.)

August 28, 2015: Another surgery. Dr. Sroka needed to do surgery to remove necrotic tissue from the bilateral mastectomies. (God kept me safe and there were no problems)

January 12, 2016: Pain clinic for spinal pain. (After talking with that doctor, God told me not to return to that clinic. They are in the business of handing out drugs for pain and getting people hooked on opiates. I’m thankful He opened my eyes and let me see clearly.)

January 22, 2016: MRI of spine (God keep the test clear and no cancer was evident.)

March 30, 2016: Demonstration of recirculating compression pump to help with lymphedema (God used a sweet representative from the company LifeTouch to minister His love to me that day. It was a day when I was very down in the dumps and just needed a friend. She was here for about 3 hours and I enjoyed a good conversation with her while the equipment was being demonstrated on me. We talked a lot about God.)

July 8, 2016: Complete bone scan (I was able to take an anti-anxiety medication to help me remain calm while in the scanner. I was completely relaxed and able to endure the test without anxiety. The technician was very kind and pleasant.)

July 9, 2016: Celebrating my 2nd cancerversary today. (The first thought that popped into my mind when I woke up was how very blessed I was to have been given 2 years of life since being diagnosed with breast cancer. I am so very thankful to be alive today and look forward to a grand celebration tonight with my family.)

© bonnie annis all rights reserved

Friday, July 8, 2016

Piedmont hospital, my home away from home
Time to visit my old friend, Piedmont Hospital again. Today it will be for a complete head to toe bone scan. I've been having a lot of spine and hip pain lately. The oncologist wants to do some testing to make sure the cancer hasn't returned. It's funny how cancer always seems to be lurking in the shadows ready to jump out at me at any given moment. I'm always on guard and I don't like feeling that way. I wonder if other cancer patients feel the same way. It's an eerie feeling, one you can't shake.

The lead tube housing the injection

At 2:00 p.m. I went to the Nuclear Imaging Center for my injection of radioactive phosphorous fluid. The injection is housed in a lead casing to protect the workers. When the radiology tech came out with it. My eyes immediately went to the radioactive symbol. I remember seeing that same symbol on the fall out shelter signs in elementary school in the early 60s. I thought of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The images of children on the front page cover of Time magazine with their skin hanging off their bones was fresh in my memory...nuclear fall out, radiation sickness...uggghhh! Shaking my head, I made myself jump back to reality as the technician was applying the alcohol swab to cleanse my arm. I watched him as he carefully wiped my arm and let it dry for a few minutes. There on the counter beside me lay the lead tube containing the injection. It looked ominous.

The tech opened up the lead tube and readied my arm to receive the injection. A bright orange tourniquet was placed above the crease in my elbow. (I'd reminded him earlier it was important for him to only use my left arm because of the lymphedema.) I prayed he'd find the vein quickly. For some reason I'm the one with the tricky veins and usually end up being poked and prodded until a willing vein jumps up. I watched as he overshot the vein and had to draw the needle back to make contact. As he was working, he said he'd been doing this for 23 years. He was a medic in the U.S. Army. I thanked him for his service as he finally made contact. Blood leaked out of my vein onto my skin and he quickly swabbed it up and depressed the plunger on the syringe. I watched as the radioactive liquid swirled into my vein. I was instructed to leave the hospital and drink large quantities of water.

At 5:00 p.m. I returned to the hospital. I'd taken an anti anxiety pill around 4 because I knew it was going to be challenging to be in that tight space for over an hour. I hated being claustrophobic. (I'd never suffered from that in the past, only recently after having been trapped in an elevator for several hours.) When I lay down on the scanner table, the tech took a draw sheet and wrapped it over me tying up my arms tightly. I didn't like the feeling of being restrained. The tech told me it was to keep my arms in proper position for the scan. I closed my eyes and tried to relax as the heavy equipment lowered over my body. I was tempted to look but didn't want to because I knew the machinery was just an inch or two from my face. Using my imagination, I placed myself on the beach. I began listening for the shore birds and lapping water. I felt myself melting into the imagery and almost falling asleep. Before I knew it, the test was complete and the tech was raising the scanner as I moved out from under it.

I sat on the edge of the scanner bed and got my bearings. The tech asked if I had pain in my hip, leg, and foot. I wondered why he was asking this. Did he see something concerning in those areas? I had already mentioned my spine and hip pain but had not mentioned the shin and foot pain. I knew he was forbidden to share any medical information with me because the radiologist had yet to read the films. I dismissed his questions and left for home.

I'll have to wait until Monday or Tuesday for the results of the scan. I hate waiting. I'm concerned because I don't want anything to show up but then again, if there's something that needs to be addressed, I'd rather it show up now and know we can get on it right away. If cancer is evident, I'm going to have to do a lot of praying about my treatment options. I don't want to have to do chemo but I will if I have to. I'm going to rely heavily on my oncologist's opinion.

Tomorrow I celebrate 2 years of being in remission. I am excited about that. I didn't really celebrate my first year of being in remission because I was afraid to celebrate. It was too soon. But this year, I'm ready. We have a family dinner planned and then will come back to the house for dessert. I'm so thankful to still be here.

© bonnie annis all rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Today our local newspaper ran an article about me and as I read it, I had mixed feelings. I was honored to have been featured as a breast cancer survivor. The reporter had done a good job with the facts except for a couple of small errors. And while I was happy to have had a little of my story told, I felt badly that the readers didn't know the entire story. They'd only gotten a little snippet. Nothing had been mentioned in the article about my faith and how God has sustained me throughout every single step of my journey. That was an important part that had been left out. I also felt badly about those ladies who have either been recently diagnosed or who have fought their battles in silence...their stories left untold. Yes, I was blessed to have been featured but there are so many with stories like mine out there. Their stories are only known to close family members or friends and maybe they want to keep it that way...maybe they're very private people and we should respect that, but then again...maybe they're not.

I never dreamed my face would be plastered across a newspaper article. I've always been extremely protective of my private life but something happened after I was diagnosed with cancer. I felt like it was my duty to share information about my journey with others. No, I wasn't anything special. I didn't have all the answers. I merely wanted other women to know they weren't alone. My story might have been vastly different from theirs but it was my story. And for some reason, cancer seemed to bond women together into a sea of pink sisterhood and I knew they'd understand.

As a breast cancer survivor, I've come to realize we're all fighting our own battles. There are no instruction books on how to get through cancer although I'm sure someone has probably written a "Breast Cancer for Dummies" book by now. We still have to take one moment at a time, one day at a time. What works for one person might not work for another but we're all grasping at straws trying to find a way to hang on dearly to life. We're all searching for hope. We all want answers. We do whatever it takes to understand this alien invader and conquer it. We do our homework. We research. We experiment. And sometimes, we find something that works.

My desire, in having the newspaper article written about my journey, is about one thing and one thing give hope to others. To help them understand the words, "YOU HAVE BREAST CANCER" don't necessarily equal the words, "YOU ARE GOING TO DIE SOON." We're all going to die one day or another. We aren't immortal and we know it, but for some reason, when we hear the words, "YOU HAVE BREAST CANCER," it brings that reality into a much sharper focus. When we begin to hone in on that image, the image of imminent death, we become overwhelmed and afraid. That's why it's so important to me to help others see a little more clearly. We can shift our perspective. We can choose to focus on life instead of death and that's exactly what we should do. We don't need to give cancer more power over us than it already has because after all, our days are numbered. They are held in the Creator's hand, not ours. And He alone knows how many days each of us has been given. And with cancer, you can't never always sometimes tell!

© bonnie annis all rights reserved

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

How do I celebrate without guilt?

A reminder to others from me
Surviving cancer is an amazing accomplishment. Any survivor will tell you the fight, albeit extremely challenging, has been worth it once won. But accepting the title “survivor” comes with baggage for some. Instead of being able to celebrate survivorship with complete freedom, feelings of puzzlement can be overwhelming. Survivors may experience feelings of reservation at celebrating their good fortune. They may begin to wonder “why me.” It may be difficult to accept the fact that some with breast cancer survive and others do not. So how do we get past those feelings and learn to accept our fate with joy instead of remorse or guilt?

Survivor’s guilt is very common among survivors who’ve experienced traumatic events in their lives and cancer isn’t the only event that can bring these feelings to light. Wars, disasters, accidents or other types of illnesses are among life changing events that can stir up feelings of sadness or guilt for those who survive. Wondering why survival was possible for some and not for others can be overwhelming. Among those in the breast cancer community, survivor’s guilt is often more common because of the tightly knit sisterhood. I know this to be true in my own life.
When I was first diagnosed, I wanted to find others who shared the same diagnosis. I wanted to compare our stories and understand the reasons behind their treatment plans. It was difficult to understand why some doctors recommended one path of treatment and others chose a different route especially when we shared the exact diagnosis. It became even more difficult for me, when I learned of the death of some of those ladies earlier this year. I didn’t know much about survivor’s guilt at that time but felt devastated and remorseful over the fact that I was still living and they were not. In my quest for understanding my feelings, I began to research and found survivor’s guilt is a very real thing and it’s another part of the cancer journey that must be accepted and processed. Some survivors never experience survivor’s guilt and others are overwhelmed by it. I fell somewhere in the middle. I wondered why. Cancer is not a competition but curiously, I was comparing my course of treatment to others. I wondered if anyone else did the same. Sometimes, I wondered if perhaps, and I hate to admit this, I hadn’t suffered enough. I hadn’t needed to go through chemotherapy. I hadn’t lost my hair. My treatment plan was different from those I knew with the same diagnosis. They seemed to have suffered more. Where did this crazy feeling of comparison come from?

This weekend, I’ll celebrate my second anniversary of being in remission and while I’ve not been given the all clear by my oncologist, as far as we know right now, I have no evidence of disease. I hesitate to celebrate because I'm having a bone scan done on Friday and I won't know the results of that scan until later next week. What if...what if, something shows up? I want to celebrate freely and enjoy the fact that I’m still here and doing well but I can’t help but think of those who are not. How do we get past the feelings of guilt that come at times like these? The only way I have found to move forward is being able to share my feelings with others. Being able to talk about the feelings of guilt and sadness have helped me process them and accept the fate of others.

It has been challenging to learn it’s acceptable to feel okay about surviving. As I celebrate my cancerversary this year, I’m planning on remembering those who’ve passed away but I’m also going to focus on the beautiful gift of life ahead of me. I don’t want to let survivor’s guilt engulf me. The hard reality about breast cancer is that some will survive and others will not. None of us know which category we’ll fall into and none of us should feel guilty about survival. Survival is a basic human instinct. We all fight for it, we all deserve it and some of us even get to celebrate it.

© bonnie annis all rights reserved

Friday, July 1, 2016


Today I received the results of my blood work from yesterday's oncology visit. The tests indicate my lymphocytes are very low. I was surprised to learn this and pulled out the last blood work I'd had done for comparison. As I was checking the results, I noticed there was a 3 point difference. 3 points might not seem like much but when you're fighting cancer, it's a lot. I've been extremely tired lately and wonder if this might be part of the reason for my fatigue. I'm going to try to keep my exposure to people at a minimum until my next visit to the doctor. Low lymphocytes mean low immunity and I don't need to get sick. 

Here's a little more info: 
Lymphocytes are blood cells produced by bone marrow. Their main objective is to protect you from infections. Low lymphocytes count is also called lymphocytopenia. This is a disorder characterized by abnormally low level of these blood cells. It can increase the risk of infection or serve as a symptom of serious health conditions.
Lymphycytopenia: Basic Facts

Normal count of lymphocytes for an adult is somewhere between 1000 and 4800. Children have more of these cells in their blood, so for them, the normal number is between 3000 and 9500.

There are three types of lymphocytes in your blood:

B lymphocytes
T lymphocytes
Natural Killer (NK) cells

The lower your lymphocytes count, the higher your chances of developing an infection. This disorder lowers natural defenses of your body. This symptom must not be ignored as it shows how vulnerable you are at the moment. If your blood test shows lower than normal count of lymphocytes, your most important objective is to determine what causes this problem. Lymphocytopenia cannot be cured without treating the condition that causes it and strengthening your immune system.

This condition can vary in severity. Mild cases usually don’t require treatment as the problem will be resolved in a few days after the cause of it is cured and your body can build its strength back. However, severe lymphocythopenia is a serious problem that must be treated by medication.
Causes of Low Lymphocytes Count

Lymphocytopenia can occur due to a variety of reasons. The vast majority of them aren’t particularly dangerous and can be cured quickly. However, there are some conditions that are fatal.

It’s imperative to go through a full health checkup if your regular blood test shows that your lymphocytes count is too low. Some of the most dangerous diseases that can cause this change have very few symptoms and may not be noticed until it’s too late to do anything about them.

In general, the causes are divided in two major groups: inherited and acquired.

Inherited causes are:
DiGeorge anomaly
Ataxia telangiectasia
Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome
Severe combined immunodeficiency disorder

Acquired causes are:
Steroid therapy
Blood cancer
Hodgkin’s disease
Aplastic anemia
Chemotherapy and radiation used as treatment for cancer
Autoimmune disorders
Infections (either bacterial or fungal)
Viral hepatitis
Typhoid fever
Rheumatoid arthritis
Blood cancer

Your doctor needs to understand what exactly happened to your lymphocytes and the causes of such a low count of these cells. Different diseases affect them in different ways:
Prevent your body from producing enough lymphocytes.
The cells get stuck in your lymph nodes or spleen and therefore, a sufficient amount of them cannot find their way into your bloodstream.
Your body produces enough lymphocytes, but they get destroyed by infection or your own immune system.

There is one very important thing that you need to understand. Infections can cause lymphycytopenia, but it can also work the other way round. When this condition is severe, it may not disappear after the original cause is treated. Instead, the low count of lymphocytes will continue to weaken your immunity, which will make you even more vulnerable to bacteria. This can make you develop another infection. If this situation occurs, treating the next disease will be much more difficult as the natural protections of your body will be stretched thin.

In this case, if the problem is resolved, this cycle will continue and your health will deteriorate to a point where you might develop a fatal disease. Therefore, it’s imperative to monitor your lymphocytes count after you recover from the original infection. This way, you will be able to make sure that your body recovers properly.

The only way to cure lymphocythopenia that exists today is through treating the condition that causes it and taking steps to strengthen your immunity. If you are successful with achieving these two goals, the number of lymphocytes produced by your body will eventually return to normal.

After the bone scan next week, I guess my oncologist will know a little more about what's going on in my body. In the meantime, I'm going to pump the supplements and do everything I can naturally to boost my immune system. 

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