Thursday, December 29, 2016

The year is coming to a close

2016 is coming to a close and with it, a year of transition. While I would like to say this has been a year filled with nothing but blessings, I have to be honest and say it's been a year filled with many challenges, too.

My focus this year has shifted from revolving completely around health issues to learning to love myself. That probably seems like a strange thing for a 59 year old to say but it's the truth. I haven't loved myself, in fact, I haven't really even liked myself. That may come as a surprise to family or close friends who take the time to read my blog especially since I always try to emit an air of self confidence. It's been hard to admit I don't really know who I am. I've always been something or someone to everyone one else...a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a friend, but who am I really? These past few months, I've begun to delve into and answer that question. I'm sure 2017 will yield more clarity as I continue to seek out my identity as a person. Now don't misunderstand me. I know full well who I am in Christ. I understand whose I am. I completely comprehend that I am nothing without Christ. He is my life. But I want to discover Bonnie. I want to learn more about what drives me, what I like and dislike, how best to use my gifts and talents. I want to pursue my dreams and discover hopes for tomorrow.

As 2017 approaches, I've already purposed in my heart to spend more time in prayer asking God to help me hear Him clearly. I have a burning desire to write and I feel Him leading me to begin my life story. A book is on the horizon and I know my cancer journey will be a major portion of the book. I've learned so much over the past 2 1/2 years and I know God didn't allow me to go through everything I went through for no reason. In order to glorify and honor Him, I need to tell my story. His timing is always perfect and I know it will happen. I'm just trusting Him to pave the way.

While I don't remember everything that transpired throughout the year ( I do have each event recorded in my journal but I'm too lazy to go get it and look them up to record here, so I'll just jot down a few)

The good:
We enjoyed two vacations, one to the North Georgia Mountains and one to West Palm Beach, Florida. It was wonderful to get away to both locations and very special to spend time with family.

I was able to spend some time with my oldest daughter, Erin, who came into town for a family funeral. She lives in Texas and I don't get to see her often so that was a real treat even though it was just for a day.
Me and my beautiful Erin

I was finally approved for the 15 chamber compression pump for Lymphedema. The insurance company had been dragging their feet for over a year saying it wasn't medically necessary. It was a huge victory for this equipment to finally be approved. I'm thankful for the perseverance of the medical representative from Flexitouch and the documentation to substantiate the claim submitted by my oncologist.

I was able to take a 100 mile motorcycle ride with a new friend. She and I traveled to Pine Mountain and areas nearby on a Honda Valkyrie. It was freezing cold and I had on so many clothes I felt like the Marshmallow man from Ghostbusters, but it was well worth it. There's nothing like traveling 80 miles an hour with a cold breeze blowing in your face and the feeling of freedom that accompanies it.

The bad:
We had to put both cars in the shop this year for regular maintenance and ended up spending more than we intended due to unexpected repairs. We're thankful for good mechanics and having both of our cars paid in full. It's so nice to have no car payments even though we'd love to get a new one in the near future.

Regular visits to doctors continued and will continue for years to come. It's frustrating this is now a permanent part of my life thanks to breast cancer but it's necessary followup. I'm glad I have excellent doctors.

The ugly:
My broken wrist
Falling and breaking the Scaphoid bone in my wrist was a painful and challenging event. It was an unexpected injury and occurred while I was outside playing ball with my granddaughter. Falling in a leaf covered hole isn't a good thing when you're 59. Sticking out your arm to brace for a fall isn't a good idea either! I learned this the hard way. I am still experiencing pain from the break and continue to have swelling and bruising even after months in a Spica cast.

Jenny Cooper
I lost two sweet friends, Jenny Cooper and Linda Juul. It was heartbreaking to add these two ladies to the ever growing list of friends who've lost their lives to cancer. I've lost 4 friends in 2 1/2 years. It scares me to even think about the possibility of recurrence, but at the same time, makes me realize how blessed I am to still be here. I pray constantly for their family and friends. Breast cancer sucks!

These couple of days in December will be spent in deep reflection. I'm asking God to give me a word to focus on in the New Year. This year's word was JOY. Last year's word was TRUST. As I seek Him, He always answers and each word has been so timely and precious to me. If you've never done it, I would highly recommend it. God wants to speak to His people but we have to be ready to hear when He answers.

I'm sure I'll post once or twice more before the 31st so hang in there! I'll be back soon.

Linda Juul

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Losing another one to breast cancer

Yesterday was a very hard day for me. I lost another friend. Linda and I met almost immediately after I'd been diagnosed with breast cancer. We connected through an internet breast cancer site and found we had so many things in common. Many people might have a hard time understanding how I can call her my friend when I've never met her in person, but through internet conversations, emails, cards and letters, and Facebook, we forged quite a friendship.

Linda and I shared the same type of cancer, invasive ductal carcinnoma and we both were diagnosed stage 2. I was stage 2B and she wasn't sure, but thought she was stage 2 A, barely a difference where we were concerned. We shared our treatment plans and spent days comparing notes on how we were feeling and areas we were struggling to overcome. We also shared encouraging words and found our faith to be another common denominator.

Linda took a different route with treatment than I did. She did everything exactly as the doctors recommended. She went through chemotherapy, radiation, and anti-hormone therapy, while I only chose to do radiation although I tried the anti-hormone therapy for several months. Although Linda did everything her doctors told her to do, her cancer spread to her bones, liver, lungs and brain. She fought the good fight and she won for she's now home with Jesus and in no more pain.

When facing me own mortality, it was difficult to learn of Linda's death. It's only been 2 1/2 years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer and I guess I'm suffering a little from survivor's guilt. Why did Linda pass away and why am I still here? The only reasonable answer I can offer to that question is based on my faith. I know God has numbered my days and He numbered Linda's too. He is the only one Who knows how many days we have allotted on this earth. I can't help but think about my future as I think about Linda's death. Although I'm sad she's no longer with us, I'm thankful she's no longer in pain. Her suffering is over. She has a new body and she's forever in the presence of her King.

I don't want to dwell on "what if" or what tomorrow might hold instead, I'm reminded of a specific verse in the Bible, Matthew 6:34 “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  So my goal for the New Year is to learn to live in the moment, to cherish each of the 14400 minutes in each day and live them to the fullest. That's the best way I can think to honor my friend, Linda, and I think it would make her smile knowing that I've chosen to live my life that way.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Lessons in Brokenness

Wednesdays...hump days. Today was a cold winter one but I'd slept well last night and felt great. I didn't have anything pressing to do other than to run by my doctor's office for some blood work. I thought I'd be in and out in a few minutes but ended up waiting there for over an hour. The office was crowded. Thankfully, there was a seat in the rear of the waiting room and it was empty. As I sat among the coughing and cell phone conversations, I wished I'd had a paper mask to place over my mouth and nose. With a weakened immune system, I was fearful about catching germs.

After having my blood drawn, I headed to the parking lot trying to think of something to do. I'd already done all my housework the day before so nothing was pressing. I got in my car and started to drive. I'd head to Goodwill. This would be a great time of year to peruse the aisles as I was sure they'd be full due to donations received before the holidays. I always enjoy shopping at Goodwill. It's fun to see what kinds of things end up on their shelves and I can always use a new book or two or three.

When I arrived at the store, there were very few people inside. I liked it that way. It's hard to shop when  you're crossing paths with someone at every turn. I looked on the sign to see the daily color. Today was green and that meant everything in the store marked with a green tag was half price. In the book department, I began scanning for green stickers. Immediately, I found several Nora Roberts books I hadn't read and a Fannie Flagg. As I was pulling it from the shelf, my eyes fell on another book. A book with a red spine. The title was Broken in the Right Place, How God Tames the Soul by Alan Nelson. I picked it up and flipped through the pages. At only a $1.00, I decided to take it home.

I left the store with my purchases and went home to unpack. As I ate my lunch, I pulled out the book about brokenness and placed it beside my plate. I'd just recently completed reading The Broken Way, a new book by Christian author, Ann Voskamp, and had been deeply touched by it. I began to read the first few pages of this book and realized, God was doing something. I think He's still trying to teach me about being broken. No. I know He is. I've been kicking and screaming and fighting Him every step of the way but now, it's time for me to lean in and listen closely as He continues to reveal the fact that suffering isn't only meant to teach me, it's meant to break me of my self sufficiency.

The forward to my new book from Goodwill says: " It's odd that a religion that carries the cross as its central symbol should require a crash course in suffering. But it does. Oh, how it does. We have somehow ended up with a country full of Christians who consider suffering, whether it comes from a broken body or a broken heart, a violation of the spiritual rights. When things go badly in body or job or family, they whine and complain endlessly. Sometimes they protest vehemently. In between complains and protest, they seek out the company of those who anesthetize them with soothing words and soft music. They have no difficulty finding such anestheticians - pain killing spiritualities are a glut on the market. The only cross they seem to have any acquaintance with is a piece of cheap jewelry. Can anyone get their attention long enough to convince them that suffering must not be avoided, but embraced; that brokenness does not diminish a life of faith but deepens it? Wow! That's powerful stuff.

I am humbled to think God loves me so much He's wanting to use this cancer journey and all the suffering that has gone along with it to teach me more about Himself. I'm looking forward to reading my new book and comparing what I learned in Ann Voskamp's book with it. I know God uses physical suffering to often break the will and spirit of those He loves in order to make them more teachable. I sure hope I learn the lesson soon. I've been through an awful lot of pain and suffering in my life. If I can know it's all been part of God's perfect plan to teach me a valuable lesson, it will have been worth all the pain that came along with it.

I'm thankful He loves me enough to want the very best for me. Last year God had me focus on the word TRUST. This year it's been on the word JOY. I wonder what word He's going to give me next year...I guess I'll know in the new few weeks. Do you ever pray and ask God to give you a word for the New Year? I do and He always answers.

I'm glad I took the time to go by Goodwill today. I had no idea I'd be led to buy a book on brokenness but God did. I bet He's up there smiling right now knowing I'll be digging in over the next few days. Have a pleasant evening! And thanks for stopping by to read my blog.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Okay to not to be okay

This morning, as I was busy doing some heavy duty cleaning in my bedroom, I found a tangled cluster of watches. I'd tucked this tangle of Fossil, Timex, Armitron, and Lorus,watches away after my life was forever changed by breast cancer. Although time was pretty much the only thing on my mind, I didn't want to spend a single moment focused on how much time I had left or how much time I'd already lost. I stopped wearing watches. After giving up on these time keepers, I found a new freedom. The 1440 minutes of each day seemed longer and more precious. I didn't want a single one to slip away.

The frozen faces of these watches stare up at me, their hands fixed. I gather the mess of metal and leather and hold it tightly feeling the weight of them pressed against my skin. It is then I realize not only has time stopped, but I've stopped. I've stopped living my life. I've stopped being me.

I look in the mirror and wonder who's looking back at me. I don't know this person. This woman, the one with the flat chest, the one who doesn't even look like a woman, standing in front of me. She looks sad and depressed. She looks lonely. She has low self esteem. Where did she come from? Where did the old me go? I used to be so vibrant and full of life. I used to be self confident and outgoing. I loved being around others and now, I prefer to spend my time alone. I know this is unhealthy. But how do I fix it?

There are days when living post cancer is difficult. There are so many unspoken expectations placed upon survivors by family and friends. Somehow we're expected to just figure it out and make things work and most of the time we do a pretty good job at hiding behind a mask of "okay-ness." But sometimes, isn't it okay not to be okay?

Some days are more difficult that others. Most of the time, I have good days. Although I'm in constant pain, I push through. I'm determined to make the best of a bad situation. Truthfully, I'm very blessed so I try to live that way. But there are days when I'm just not feeling good and those are the hard days. I try not to complain because I'm sure my husband and my children are tired of hearing it. Although they sympathize with me on the days I mention I'm hurting, I know they wish things were the way they used to be and so do I.

The weight of the watches has grown heavy in my palm. Why do I keep holding on to these non-working time keepers? I should just throw them away. They serve no purpose other than to remind me of the day time stopped for me. Maybe one day, I'll be strong enough to throw them away but for now, I'll just slip them back into the drawer. I've used too much time thinking about the past today.

It's a good thing I don't wear a watch any longer. I don't want to know how much time I just wasted but I'm sure it's more than I should have. You'd think I would have pretty much put all this cancer mess behind me by now, wouldn't you? But some days, it just overwhelms me.

How did it get so late so soon? Its night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon? Dr. Seuss

Monday, December 5, 2016

God still hears and answers prayer!

I want to take a few minutes to share an example of God's faithfulness and provision in my life. In late 2014, after surgery for breast cancer, I developed Lymphedema in both arms. Lymphedema is a painful condition where lymphatic fluid pools in the extremities and other areas of the body where the normal flow of lymphatic fluid is disrupted.
The 15 chamber pump my doctor wanted me to have
Earlier in the year, my oncologist ordered a recirculating compression pump to aid in dispersing the fluid and easing the pain in my arms however, the pump he originally ordered was denied by my insurance company. They considered it medically unnecessary and told me I'd have to take another model that should work just as well. Without much choice, I agreed to accept the 8 chamber model and tried it for several months with no success. (You may remember my earlier post about that pump where I was trapped and couldn't get out by myself. You can re-read that post here.) The 8 chamber model was designed for someone suffering from Lymphedema swelling in the area of their arms from about the bicep area down toward their fingertips. It did not address upper arm and trunk swelling. On each visit to my doctor, he'd note extreme swelling and ask why I wasn't using the pump he'd ordered. I explained about the insurance company denial and their statement of the pump being considered medically unnecessary.
To make a long story very short, I kept praying and my doctors kept writing letters to the insurance company giving information about my medical condition. They did everything they could to substantiate the claim. After 5 1/2 months, I received a call today from the insurance company stating the original pump Dr. F had ordered was approved and on its way to me!
It is my hope that this bit of news might encourage someone else as they continue to pray for their need. God is a God Who hears and answers prayer. He works in His timing and works in ways we don't always understand, but He does answer!
These pumps are extremely expensive ranging from $2000 and up. It's no wonder the insurance companies don't want to pay for them, but I am extremely grateful for diligent doctors and their willingness to help me fight the insurance company. I'm grateful we have a good insurance company but they don't really have the medical knowledge to determine what is and isn't medically necessary.
I can't wait to receive this new pump and get some relief from this uncomfortable swelling. God is so good! And you know, the Bible tells us to pray without ceasing, so don't ever stop praying but make sure your prayer requests are in line with God's will for you. He isn't a big genie in the sky that just hands out gifts willy nilly, but He does reward the faithful with His very best.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."

Saturday, December 3, 2016

A broken wrist can certainly thwart the best intentions of keeping a blog up to date, believe me, I know. To say the past few weeks have been challenging would be an understand, but I've managed. Learning to do things with one hand wasn't fun but it was doable. My mantra has always been "where there's a will, there's a way." And there has been. Anyone who knows me will tell you I'm a very determined person. When I set my mind on getting something done, I will do it!

My determination allowed me to get my Christmas decorations out and put into place. After a bit of sweet talking, I got my husband to bring in the artificial tree so I could decorate it too. This year, our tree is a Jesus tree. We decided to veer away from our traditional trees of the past and change it up. Our tree is covered with the names of Christ and the names of God and that's the way it should be! As Christians, everything we say and do should point others to Christ so why not our tree? Phil and I have decided we'll keep it this way for all future Christmases and only wish we'd thought to do this sooner.

Hubby putting up the tree
All of the shopping is done! Yes, I'm on a roll! I was finished with everything by the end of November. I wanted to work hard at having everything in place so I could spend the month of December focusing on the season of Advent. Knowing I have no upcoming stressors related to the holiday is a blessing.

The finished tree
I celebrated my 59th birthday yesterday! What a joy to celebrate another year of life. I can't believe I'm on the cusp of being a sexagenarian. I think I'll hold here. 60 sounds so old! But honestly, I guess age is just a number and I should be thankful for the days I've been given thus far. Life has been good and I am blessed!

Now back to knew it was coming, didn't you, after all, this is my breast cancer journey blog and cancer is one of the main topics of conversation. I won't only be focusing on me and my health today, I will also be talking about my friend, Jenny. Jenny and I connected through a breast cancer website 2 years ago, right after we were both diagnosed with breast cancer. We received our diagnoses about a week apart. There were a few differences in our situations and diagnoses. Jenny was much younger than I. She as 31. I was 56. She was a wife and mother of two young boys. All of my children are grown and I'm a grandmother. She was diagnosed with Triple Negative breast cancer. I was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, stage 2B with metastasis to the lymph nodes. My cancer was fed by Estrogen and Progesterone. No one knows what feeds Triple Negative cancer. Triple Negative is nasty stuff and it's hard to treat.
Jenny before diagnosis

Jenny was really open about her breast cancer. She posted all about her life on YouTube. She wanted to chronicle every step for others who might be diagnosed after her. She knew from the beginning the odds were stacked against her but she kept on fighting and trying to have a good attitude. She had two little boys to live for and a husband who adored her. She found the right doctors and did all the right things but it didn't matter. Cancer took her away anyway. The cancer had spread from her breasts to her lungs, bones, and brain. She wanted to be allowed to die with dignity. She begged for that right but it wasn't legal in her state. She went into hospice care months before the end of her life and was under heavy pain medication until the end. She fought her way and no one can fault her for it. Every breast cancer patient has to figure things out for herself. There are no rules, only guidelines.

The one thing I hated most about Jenny's death was knowing she didn't have the assurance of faith in God. I did my best to share my faith with her and encourage her with words from Scripture but she never accepted it. I can't even imagine dying and not believing there was a life after death. I can't imagine not having hope. For me, death is a time I look forward to with great anticipation. I know this world is not my home! I'm just an alien here, a sojourner passing through. I can't wait to get to Heaven, but there are some who don't feel that way and it breaks my heart.
After losing her hair during chemo

If I could, I would have traveled to Jenny's bedside and held her hand. I would have talked to her and let her talk with me. I would have tried my best to help her see that there is something to look forward to after our time on this earth is done. But I didn't get that chance. She lived in another state on the other side of the country and she was actively going through treatment. I was able to send her messages and converse on Facebook. I did my best but it wasn't my job to fix her, only to present her with truth and speak that truth in a loving and kind way which is exactly what I did. I feel good about that.

I won't tell you her death didn't affect me profoundly though because it did. This is the fourth friend I've lost since I was diagnosed with cancer and that does a lot to your mind. It stirs up the cloud of "what if" that's been lying dormant for the past few months. As it begins whirring overhead, I have to fight hard to remember my days are numbered and nothing is going to change that...not even cancer. I hate living under constant fear. It's caused me to suffer insomnia and post cancer PTSD. And no, I haven't sought treatment from professionals about this other than to ask my oncologist to prescribe something to help me sleep. I've tried to work through it myself using my faith and the Word of God as my weapons of choice. There are good days and bad days. Some days I'm walking in faith and doing really well keeping the fear of recurrence at bay. Other days, it's hard, especially on days when another cancer victim loses her life. And when it's one I've come to know...that makes it very difficult because the demon of "what if" rears his ugly head and laughs in my face.
Jenny and her boys

I do my best to take one day at a time. The past two years have taught me to live in the moment and it's very freeing to be able to live that way but when you're a type A personality, old habits die hard. I'm used to always planning, always going, always doing...being busy. God has been breaking me of that though and He's been teaching me to be still and to trust. I've learned to let go of the control I used to think I had on things. I've learned to be okay even when I'm not feeling okay. And I've learned to appreciate the small things.

Every. Single. Day. I am grateful. I'm grateful for my chance to begin again. Each morning the sun comes up, I'm thankful. I focus more on being intentionally grateful now. I look for blessings and count them.

Jenny's family is in the process of grieving. I'm sure her husband and little boys are in a state of shock and bewilderment. Would you please offer up a prayer for them that God would surround them with His peace and comfort them during this time? And pray for all the women who've been diagnosed with breast cancer or have just been diagnosed. We walk a hard road. Our journey begins with shock and learning to step out into the unknown. It's a path none of us chose to walk but I'll tell you from personal experience, I'd much rather walk that unknown, dark path with the light of my faith than in complete darkness any day. And I'm very thankful my faith is grounded in the One who never fails, Jesus.

If it ain't one thing, it's another!

  Trying to smile through the pain I've been AWOL for a while now, so this post will more than likely be longer than most. I don't e...