Monday, January 30, 2017

Can I unsubscribe from cancer?

There it was, just sitting at the top of my inbox in bold letters, another cancer email. The subject line on this one read “World Cancer Day Celebration.” Without taking time to read the email in its entirety, I quickly deleted it. I didn’t want to read anything else related to cancer. I was sick of cancer. I was tired of hearing about it, reading about it and seeing cancer-related items. Pink was not my signature color, in fact, I hated pink. How did they get my email address, anyway? I hadn’t signed up for anything regarding World Cancer Day. I wondered if, somewhere out there in internet land, there might be a huge database where solicitors gleaned information on cancer victims because lately, my inbox had been flooded with cancer-related emails. When they first started coming, I read every single one. I thought there might have been some important information I needed to know, but as they kept coming, I started sending them to a junk folder. I couldn’t handle all that information. It was too much. It was information overload. I didn’t need it and I didn’t want it. That email shouldn’t have frustrated me, but it did.

For the past couple of years, I’d been trying to shake the stigma of breast cancer. It had attached to me like an angry puppy with sharp teeth sunk deep into the skin around my ankle. No matter how much I’d wiggle and shake to dislodge the angry mutt, he wouldn’t let go. It seemed I was stuck with him for the rest of my life whether I wanted to be or not. It didn’t seem fair and I certainly didn’t like being defined by a disease but I was stuck with it.

The first year of my diagnosis, family and friends thought they were doing me a favor by sending me breast cancer scarves and bracelets. The novelty of their thoughtfulness was cute in the beginning, but quickly became antagonistic. As my drawers filled with cancer-related jewelry and clothing, I began to stress. I felt like cancer was taking over. I felt it growing larger and larger and felt myself shrinking. Of course, they meant well, but they just didn’t understand.   

Last year, I politely let my loved ones know I didn’t want any more cancer paraphernalia. I told them I had enough. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings but I needed to stop the madness. It felt good to say no. Without their knowledge, I gathered up all the pink ribbon doodads and carted them off to a local donation center. I knew someone else could make better use of them than I could. It’s a good thing to share anyway, right?

I’m tired of cancer. When did I give it permission to consume my life? It would be nice if I could simply opt out of cancer, just like those unsolicited credit card offers I get in the mail. They’re nice enough to provide an 800 number I can call to refuse the offer. At least they’re a teeny bit considerate. Not so with cancer. It comes busting through the door with guns blazing and wreaks havoc on an unsuspecting life.  

So where do I go to sign up to cancel my subscription to breast cancer? Is there a cardboard mailer I can fill out and send away? Can I cry, kick, scream and whine requesting a do over? Will yelling out “no fair” make a difference? And even if cancer allowed me to have a voice, would my voice be heard?

Cancer, please don’t bother me anymore. I don’t want your emails filling up my inbox. I’ve read more about you than I’d ever care to admit. You are not my friend, in fact, I’d like to unfriend you now and I would if I could figure out how.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Oh, my aching back and shoulder and ribs and hips and....

My oncologist is Jewish and that's pretty much all I know about his personal life. He looks to be in his mid forties and since the day we first met, I've been very impressed with him. The thing that's impressed me most about him is his attentiveness. On my very first appointment, instead of rolling up beside me on his little wheeled doctor's stool, he walked in the room, came over, shook my hand, and jumped up on the exam table scooting so close to me I could feel his breath on my face. I was sitting in a chair and my my oldest daughter was sitting beside me. Both of us were taken aback by his aggressive and playful nature. When he spoke, he leaned in really close and talked in a very calming tone. Instantly, I was put at ease. He's different than most doctors and I like that.

A few months ago, when I started experiencing overall body pain, I contacted him. I was concerned. For some reason, I immediately thought the worst...cancer in the bones, my worst nightmare. I never mentioned this to him but I know he must have suspected what I was thinking as I told him about my aching back, shoulder, ribs, hips, and shins. He called out some medication for me. He said it might take a few weeks before I'd get relief but I would get relief. I trusted him.

I've been on the medication for a week now and I've been able to tell a great improvement. The medication is called Cymbalta and is often used to treat depression, anxiety and to treat pain such as patients with Fibromyalgia experience. I was hesitant to start it. I don't like taking medicine but I was really hurting and I needed some help. I read every single side effect listed on the internet for Cymbalta. Some of them scared me but as with any medication, there are risks. I prayed and asked God to keep me safe. That's all I could do. I took the first dose. Within a few hour, I could tell it was working. I felt much better. The pain wasn't as severe.

The next day, I took the medication again. I made sure to take it at the exact time I'd taken the first dose because the instructions on the bottle said to do that. About an hour after I'd taken the second dose, I got a call from my doctor's office. I thought they were just calling to check up on me but the nurse said my doctor had wanted me to be on a 30 mg tablet instead of the 20 mg she'd called in to the pharmacy. Oops! She said she was calling in a new prescription. I wondered why he wanted me on a higher dose but understood about an hour before I was to take the next dose. I could tell the medication had worn off. The pain was back. Maybe the stronger dose will work better. I'm going to give it another few weeks and see if things level off. If not, I'll contact my doctor again and see what he suggests.

It's so important to know you have medical professional who really invests time and energy into your care but even more than that, it's important to know they're approachable. In the past, I would have suffered in silence but I've learned, over the years, there's no reason for me to be in pain if I don't have to be. There's no shame in taking medication to help when you need it. And adding one more bottle to my ever growing collection of medication isn't a sin either. I have an entire drawer in my nightstand dedicated to my medicines. It looks like my own personal pharmacy but each medication does something different to help me stay alive and keep me comfortable and I'm okay with that.

I don't like taking any more medicine than absolutely necessary. I am a huge proponent of taking natural supplements and using alternative remedies but sometimes a prescribed medication is necessary. I'm just thankful for a wise doctor who studies and understands what will work best for his patients. I am blessed to have a really, really good medical team and I know God had a hand in leading me to each one of them.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Chilly today and hot tamale

This weather is making me crazy! One day it feels like the middle of Spring and the next day, we're slap dab in the middle of Winter. I should be used to it now. I've lived in the South all my life but the older I get, the thinner my skin gets. I don't tolerate the cold well any more. Since having my thyroid gland removed in 2005, the cold has been almost unbearable.

For those who may not understand the thyroid gland's function in the body, it's like a thermostat on a heating unit. When it's functioning normally, your body stays at a relatively comfortable temperature. When it's in hyper mode (hyperthyroidism) you'll feel extremely warm when others are comfortable and when it's in hypo (hypothyroidism) mode, you'll feel colder than cold.

My husband has learned to accept the fact that I'll be wearing silk long johns most of the year and I'll be sleeping with an electric blanket on year round. (I was considerate enough to buy a dual control electric blanket though so he can turn his off while I'm cooking on the other side.)

Anyhoo...the reason I'm talking about this hot and cold thyroid stuff is to lead into my blog subject for the day. Yesterday, I had my annual visit to the endocrinologist. It's usually a routine formality in order to have my medication refilled but I wasn't expecting to hear the doc say she felt something abnormal. I should have picked up on the fact that something was wrong when she kept palpating my neck over and over. Naturally, the first thought that popped into my head was, "oh no, the cancer's back!," and who wouldn't think that way under the circumstances? But, I've got to suck it up and not go there. I can't afford to worry about "what if." I'll just wait until I get the results from the ultrasound and go from there. In the words of Gilda Radner, "It's always something." Always something.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Change, she's a comin'

Inauguration day is tomorrow and the whole world will be watching as Donald J. Trump takes the oath of office. It's definitely going to be an historic day. I'm not big into politics so I haven't been monitoring the news on a daily basis, but I've been surprised at the number of elected officials who've decided to boycott the ceremony. And that's all I'm going to say about that. There is an electricity in the air and you can definitely feel a change coming.

I learned a hard lesson today. You'd think I would know better than to post my personal opinion about anything on Facebook, but suffice it say live and learn. I made a comment about the election and referred to a scripture found in the Bible admonishing us to honor our king....boy, did I get a lot of responses to that post. Some of them were positive and some were negative. But you know what they say about opinions...everyone has one. It always amazes me how family members react and reminds me I need to choose my audience a little more carefully in the future for fear of upsetting some of the "more delicate" folks.

Facebook used to be one of my main avenues for connecting socially with others. Since moving to the boondocks, I don't see or hear from family much. If I wanted to know what was going on in their lives, I'd jump on the computer and check out their feeds...that is, until I started being added to their restricted lists. I certainly wasn't snooping, I just wanted to know how they were doing and what milestones they were celebrating in their lives, but sometimes there's too much drama to suit me so I decided to limit my exposure. I don't need added stress in my life.

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I turn to my health issues. I've been doing fairly well other than suffering from insomnia, depression, fatigue and pain. Those are the big ones that can take you down in a hurry if you let them. Since things had gotten worse instead of better for the past few months, I called the oncologist. I knew I needed help. He suggested I take Ambien for the next month to get my sleep cycle back on track. He's offered it to me in the past and I'd tried it a night or two but didn't want to get dependent on anything. It's been a long time since I've had a good night of sleep so I'm willing to try it. He also suggested I try something for the constant pain. I'm hesitant but I trust him. Something has to give. I just want to feel better.

This afternoon, as I was looking outside, I noticed the Bermuda grass greening up. Our weather has been so unpredictable lately, I guess the grass thinks Spring is just around the corner. We haven't really had a hard winter but that doesn't mean anything until the end of April. Our area is notorious for ice storms in March and April. I'm looking forward to Spring. Warm weather, lots of sunshine, and beautiful flowers are just what I need to cancel out the S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder) that comes with these gray days. I love change and I'm ready for it. Any minute I expect to see daffodils pushing up through the dirt. Change is coming not only in nature but in our lives as Americans, you can bank on it.

Click here to listen to "A Change is Coming" by Leroy Bell

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Exercise, the best way to fight post cancer related fatigue

For the past year, I’ve been keeping a secret. None of my family or friends know I’ve been struggling with extreme fatigue. The exhaustion has been debilitating, so much so that I’ve silently worried my cancer may have returned. The gray winter days haven’t helped. The cold  coupled with my exhaustion has only made me want to slide deep under the electric blanket and hibernate. Truth be told, I’ve been a couch potato for months. I’m sure there’s a permanent “behind” shaped depression in my recliner and the writing on the TV remote has practically worn away from use. I knew this was not healthy. I knew something had to change, but I didn’t feel like doing anything. I knew exercise was supposed to be a healthy thing to do, especially under my circumstances. I’d done a lot of reading, after all, I’d been doing a lot of sitting and reading is easy to do while you sit. I’d also done a lot of surfing the internet. It doesn’t take much energy to lift a finger or two.

According to an article on the website, exercise is an important part of being healthy. Current research shows that exercise can not only reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence, but it can also reduce the risk of developing breast cancer for those never diagnosed.  In another article, "Several recent studies suggest that higher levels of physical activity are associated with a reduced risk of the cancer coming back, and a longer survival after a cancer diagnosis," said Kerry Courneya, PhD, professor and Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity and Cancer at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.

When it came time to flip the page on my calendar to January this year, I made a conscious decision to do something about my poor, pitiful self. I didn’t want to be lethargic. I didn’t want to keep on struggling with fatigue. I REALLY didn’t want to exercise, but I knew it was exactly what I needed to do so I set a goal. My goal was to find a way to exercise at least 45 minutes every single day until my next appointment with the oncologist. I found a countdown app and installed it on my iPhone. Then I entered the date of my next appointment. It was exactly 3 months away, 90 days. I found another free app, a daily fitness diary, and added it to my phone. I went to my closet and pulled out a pair of spandex exercise leggings I’d tucked away from my before cancer days along with my well-worn running shoes. Don’t get the wrong idea here! I have never been a fitness addict. I’ve tried and failed more times than I could count but the important operative here is I tried. Next I set the alarm on my phone for 8:00 a.m. the following morning. Come hell or high water, I was going to make myself get up when that alarm sounded, get dressed, and exercise for the full 45 minutes whether I wanted to or not. I felt good about my decision. I was equipped. I was mentally ready. I walked back to the living room and planted my behind with plan in mind. Picking up the remote, I flipped on my favorite afternoon show.

The following morning, when the alarm sounded, I moaned. I had good intentions. I wanted to do this but it was hard. I made myself get out of bed, partially because I knew this was part of my plan and partially to shut off the phone alarm. (I’d made a point to set it on the dresser across the room so I had to get up to turn it off.) Now that I was vertical, I knew it was time. I walked to the closet and picked up the outfit I’d laid out the previous day. The spandex pants felt snug against my skin, a little more snug than I’d remembered. I grabbed a sweatshirt, slipped on my shoes and walked toward my treadmill. No one would know if I turned around and went back to bed but I didn’t. I fought the urge to veg and made it to the treadmill’s side. I stood there for a few minutes looking at this huge, ugly behemoth. It seemed to be gloating with its big red eye, the power button. I could almost hear it laughing hysterically as I lifted my foot to place it on the conveyor belt... “Really?” it seemed to hiss as the belt started to turn.

I plugged ear buds into my ears to drown out the sound of the constantly turning noise. I couldn’t bear to hear the treadmill’s mocking. I cranked up the music and began to walk slowly to the cadence I’d set. It was just a notch above the lowest setting. I needed to start out small and work my way up. I’d been sedentary for such a long time, I wasn’t sure who I was fooling, the treadmill or myself.

I walked at 1.9 miles an hour for fifteen minutes. It was super slow. I didn’t even have to struggle to breathe but at least I was moving. That wasn’t so hard, I thought to myself, as I bumped it up a notch and set the treadmill at 2 mph. Another fifteen minutes passed. Wow! I’d already been on this thing for 30 minutes. It hadn’t been too difficult to put one foot in front of the other and listening to the music had helped keep my mind off of the fact that I was exercising. Since I’d set my goal for 45 minutes per day, I only had fifteen more minutes to go. I knew I could do it. I increased the incline on the treadmill a little and added another mile to my speed. When the alarm on my phone signaled I’d completed 45 minutes of walking, I smiled. I’d done it! I’d completed my goal.

Turning off the treadmill, I climbed off and smacked it on the side. Ha! You thought I wouldn’t do it, I whispered, I fooled you. As I walked back into my living room, I noticed I had a little more pep to my step. I wasn’t quite as tired as I usually was this time of day. Could it be that the small amount of exercise had helped? I was perplexed. It didn’t make sense. How could making my body move when it was too tired to move make me feel better? It seemed it would only make me more tired but that was not the case!

Throughout the remainder of the day, I found myself rising from a sitting position to walk across the room for one thing or another. My behind wasn’t glued to the chair as it had been. When I needed something, I didn’t ask someone to hand it to me. I got up and got it myself. I was thankful to have a little more energy and noticed I wasn’t feeling quite as exhausted as I normally did.

The following day, when the alarm sounded, I quickly dressed and made my way toward the treadmill. I was actually looking forward to knocking out those 45 minutes. This time, instead of listening to music as I walked, I’d loaded a book to listen to and boy did the time fly. The time passed so quickly, I barely noticed as the alarm notified me it was time to stop. I could have kept going.

Although it’s only been a short while since I set my goal toward revitalizing my health, I can already tell it’s working. Not only has my energy level improved, I’m sleeping better, too. I really feel like I’m doing something proactive for my health now. Yes, it was hard to make myself get moving but after I started, it really did feel good.

My oncologist says obesity is detrimental to women who’ve had breast cancer because fat cells produce Estrogen and Estrogen feeds some types of cancer. Since my cancer was ER/PR+ and Her2Neu-, I want to make sure to eliminate as many fat cells from my body as possible. One way I can do that is to watch what I eat by making wise choices. Instead of eating unhealthy, sugary sweets, I choose fresh fruits and vegetables. By eating less and moving more, I can’t help but lose weight so that’s my plan.

Setting the goal to get up and move was a good one for me. It’s really just a mind over matter concept and I’m sure there are hundreds of witty weight loss clichés you could apply here, but the point I’m trying to make is the best weapon I’ve found to fight fatigue is exercise. Of course, it’s important to consult a medical professional before beginning any exercise program and each situation has to be carefully considered.

If you’re struggling with post cancer related fatigue like I have been, you might want to give exercise a try. There’s no need for fancy equipment. Even if you can only take a few steps around the room, you’re making a conscious decision to move your body. Fatigue doesn’t have to be permanent. Little by little, we can fight to gain back as much of our energy as possible.

I’ve made a commitment to do this for the entire year. There will surely be some days when I just don’t feel like doing it, but I’m going to push through and do it anyway. That’s really the bottom line, isn’t it? She did it anyway. Because that’s the way we are…we’re fighters. We’re strong and courageous women and we don’t go down without a fight. So stop gloating, treadmill…you in the corner with your big red glowing eye. You might think you’ll sit there unused but I’m going to walk all over you and when I’m through, you won’t be laughing any more. 

Friday, January 13, 2017


Mrs. Betty Ellington was a blue haired old woman with a heart of gold. A member of my church and a wonderful pianist, she was also my eighth grade English teacher.  To say she loved English would have been an understatement. She lived and breathed English. She wanted the students in her class to love English and to respect it. Like an Army drill sergeant, Mrs. Ellington worked hard to help us grasp the concepts of the English language. Parts of speech were her life. She especially adored prepositions. It's hard to believe, after 45 years, I can still recite most of the 48 prepositions we were required to memorize in her class.

Today, as I was thinking about that long list of prepositions, my focus narrowed on the word, through. I'd recently done a Biblical word study on the word abar, a Greek word meaning through. Abar, pronounced Awbar, is an action word indicating movement. The Hebrew Greek Key Word Study Bible points to Strong's concordance which says abar is a verb meaning to pass over or through, to go beyond, to pass away or leave. I like that.

When I began writing my breast cancer blog, I named it Journey Into Pink. After I completed treatment and began learning how to live my life on the other side of cancer, I moved my posts to a new blog. I named that blog Journey Out of Pink. The name for my current blog is significant and reminds me I'm no longer stuck in the middle of the breast cancer world, I'm moving through it.

Through - a word indicating movement, how appropriate for a Christian's life. God doesn't want us to stay in one place and fail to grow. He also doesn't want us to remain stagnant and die. He wants us to thrive. And that's where I am currently...learning to thrive.

Thrive is a verb, another action word. It indicates doing well, prospering, and growth. For me, it indicates progress. It means I've learned to move from letting cancer dictate every aspect of my life to forgetting what's in the past and pressing forward toward the goal of living life and living it well.

I'm sure Mrs. Ellington would be happy to know prepositions have become such a vital part of my life. I'm thankful she was not only a kind and caring teacher but also a woman after God's own heart. You may have noticed I put some of the prepositions in this post in italics. I wanted to draw your attention to them. Maybe you have one or two prepositions that are special to you! I know I do.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Hello Sunshine!

A glorious day!
What an absolutely gorgeous day we've had today! The sun was shining, the temperature was in the seventies, and it felt so good, literally. For the past few months, I've been freezing. Wearing long johns has become a daily joke at my house but for me, it's been a necessary evil. Since having my thyroid gland removed in 2005, my body's thermostat is out of whack. The doctors try their best to regulate my thyroid hormones with supplements but it's a roller coaster. If it's within normal range, I feel pretty good and I'm fairly warm. When it's too low, I freeze and am lethargic. Right now, I'm in the freezing zone so I'll be visiting the endocrinologist in a couple of weeks to get things back on an even keel. I know my hubby will be glad to have me back in the normal range because the setting on our thermostat will return to 68 instead of 78.

Yesterday, one of my daughters and I spent most of the day stacking wood. We'd recently purchased firewood from a local dealer and he'd dumped the load on the other side of our driveway.
More wood to stack
It needed to be stacked neatly to keep it dry so guess who got the brilliant idea to do it? Moi! I was feeling good yesterday and had a boost of energy from a couple of cups of green tea but I should have known better. I paid the price for that hair brained idea last night. When it was time for bed, I was hurting so badly I couldn't get comfortable. I tossed and turned all night and finally, at 3 a.m. this morning, got up and took a couple of Benadryl to help me fall asleep. I did finally get to sleep but woke up this morning at 9 feeling groggy. I've felt loopy all day so I don't think I'll do that again.
This is an antique birdhouse I found at a thrift store. I loved it!

Bluebird house
Staying indoors for weeks at a time is not healthy! As a survivor of breast cancer, it's challenging to keep my Vitamin D levels up anyway so when the sun shines, I enjoy sitting outside and basking in its warmth. The sun felt so good on my cheek as I sat on the swing listening to the birds. (We have a very wooded lot and have many species of birds around. By providing different types of bird food and various housing options, we're always blessed with lots of birds.) Today I saw a Tufted Titmouse, a Black Capped Chickadee, a Downy Woodpecker, some Starlings, Goldfinch, Bluebirds, Cardinals and Mourning Doves.

 I love the sounds of country life and don't miss the city at all. Cars and trucks constantly run up and down our street but we have learned to tune those sounds out and tune in the beautiful bird calls and other sounds of nature around us. In the evenings, we enjoy listening to frogs croaking, crickets chirping, and Cicada rubbing their wings together.

Poinsettia from Christmas
Warmer weather allowed me to take my plants back outside, too. We've had them stored in the carport for the past couple of months due to the cold. Hopefully, we'll stay in this warming trend for the next few weeks and my plants can get some much needed sun.

It's been a good day and I am thankful. Good days haven't been plentiful for a while and it feels so nice to have one now and then. The little things mean so much more to me lately than ever before. Life is short and I'm so thankful to be living. The Bible says to "Rejoice in the Lord always" and that's what I'm doing today. God is good, all the time.

My hen and chicks are happy in the sun!

Monday, January 9, 2017

See you later, sweet friend

My friend Bonnie (second from the left)
When you live in the country, you become friends with just about everyone. Neighbors offer a friendly wave if they're out when you pass by. But after almost 3 years, we haven't quite gotten used to the small town feel here. Even though we're very familiar with small towns and had come from a small town in the Metro Atlanta area, it's just different down here. Everybody seems to know everybody else's business. So today, when I went to get my mail and found a pink sticky note stuck to the top of my incoming mail, I wasn't really surprised to see a note from my mail carrier. (She and I had become friends shortly after we'd moved here and were on a first name basis.) I read the note she'd scribbled and stood in my driveway dumbfounded. She'd asked about the neighbor who lives behind me. The neighbor who also shares my same first name. 

Bonnie was an older woman who lived alone. She was used to being independent and had been since her husband died tragically ago in a small plane crash. I remembered her telling us about it shortly after we moved in. She said he'd had his own plane and had been flying for years. They had enough land for a landing strip and he'd made one. Flying was one of his biggest joys but she wasn't as fond of it so he usually flew alone. The day his plane crashed literally in their back yard, her life had not been the same. She'd done the best she could to get over it and get on with her life but she was struggling. Her children lived out of state and she loved her privacy so she didn't like visitors unless she invited them. She had a beautiful home and had taken time to make each nook and cranny exactly as she wanted it. Everything in her home was something that pleased her. Whenever we were invited to visit, our eyes couldn't help but wander over her eclectic collections. I wanted to be like her when I grew up. 

As our friendship grew, Bonnie and I talked about how we could differentiate ourselves from one another. Since we shared the same first name and she was a good bit older than I was, I laughed as she told me, "I'll call myself, Bonnie over the hill, and I'll call you, Bonnie down the hill." I agreed to her choice and from that day forward, she'd sign her emails Bonnie OTH and I'd sign mine Bonnie DTH. She preferred communicating through email instead of phone. Privacy was so important to her and her time was very valuable. I came to understand why when she shared about her health. 

Bonnie was suffering from Multiple Sclerosis but she also had breast cancer. She'd been diagnosed with breast cancer, she told me, about 22 years ago. She'd gone through all the treatments and had done everything the doctors wanted her to do but it came back earlier last year. She was one of the first women I talked to after I was diagnosed in 2014 because I knew she'd understand how scared I was. Bonnie told me she was shocked when the doctors told her the cancer was back. She agreed to receive treatment at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America and they'd done all they could do. She was sent home to hospice care and had 24 hour assistance through a home help agency. Bonnie hated that. She just wanted to be left alone but as she grew weaker, she knew she needed someone to be with her so she accepted what was to be. For the past year, she's been fighting to live but none of us knew she was close to death. We thought she'd lick it just like she did the first time. 

Kim, our mail lady, had left her phone number on the sticky note and had asked me to call her. When I called, I asked Kim why she might have thought something had happened to Bonnie. She said she'd been around to take Bonnie her mail and had noticed boxes on the front porch and all the lights off. She'd also seen a "No Trespassing" sign on the property. That wasn't like Bonnie. Something was definitely up. I told Kim I'd call Bonnie's property caretaker. I'd met he and his wife at a holiday party at Bonnie's house earlier last year and we'd swapped phone numbers just in case we needed to touch base. That's the way country folk are...we look out for one another. 

I called the caretaker and reached his wife. As I explained I was worried about Bonnie, I heard her breathe a heavy sigh. In a quiet voice she told me Bonnie had passed away. I was shocked and felt the emotion welling up inside me. I listened as she gave me details of Bonnie's death. She'd died on January 1 with her daughter and two sons by her side, just the way she wanted it. The family had decided not to have a funeral service now but to wait until Spring, when all the flowers were blooming. That's just the way Bonnie would have wanted it. She would have wanted them to celebrate her life instead of mourning it. 

The news of losing another friend to breast cancer was extremely hard on me today. Although Bonnie had passed away a week ago, I hadn't been prepared to hear the news. I'd assumed she was still fighting. I assumed she'd be around a while longer. I assumed I'd have time to talk with her again and visit her again, but I was wrong. 

I'm so thankful we were able to meet and become friends. My life is richer from having known her. Bonnie was a tough cookie and she was determined. Her fighting spirit will always be an example to me. I wish I'd had the opportunity to visit her before she died. I would have liked to have talked with her about eternity but God knew best. I don't think I could have handled seeing her at the point of death, especially since we shared the same diagnosis. 

I was able to talk with another friend today and she let me know she'd made sure to share the plan of salvation with Bonnie a day or two before her death. Bonnie assured her she'd accepted Christ as a young child and she felt secure in her salvation. I'm happy to know I'll see her again one day and I'm extremely grateful she's no longer in pain. 

I've lost so many friends since being diagnosed with breast cancer and I'll be honest, it scares me to death but all I can do is put my faith in God knowing He's numbered my days. He's not going to take me home one second before He's ready so I'd better keep on living my life and living it well. It hurts to lose a friend and instead of saying goodbye, I'll just say I'll see you later, Bonnie, because I will see her later. When I cross into glory, she'll be there and she'll have a completely healed and whole new body and we'll be able to rejoice together in the presence of our King. 

Living in a small town has it's perks. People rally around each other and help out whenever there's a problem and they share news when appropriate. Small town living hasn't changed much over the clothesline gossip days except there aren't many visible clotheslines now. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Yay for down!

The Weather Channel has been bombarding us with details of Winter Storm Helena as she's begun pushing east after pummeling the west with heavy snow. Folks in the deep South don't take these warnings lightly and have already begun to raid the grocery store shelves for staples such as milk, eggs, and bread. Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina have all declared states of emergency. Past ice storms and unexpected snow events have caused them to act quickly instead of taking a wait and see attitude and often, those storm warnings end up being much ado about nothing but sometimes...they're underrated and we get slammed. In any event, it's best to expect the best but be prepared for the worst. And so we have. There's food in the pantry, firewood stacked high, flashlights and batteries, long johns, and I've saved the best for last...a down jacket and cozy, down slippers. 

I don't know when I became such a fan of goose down but it was probably way back in the early 70's when I got my very first down pillow. I'd been sleeping on fluffy polyester fiber filled ones for years, you know the kind that compact the more you use them...well, that wasn't good enough for me. I wanted something better so I begged for a down pillow and a family friend blessed me with one for Christmas. I loved that thing! It was so soft and so light and also retained body heat. I became attached to that pillow like a child with a blanket. I took it with me whenever I'd be sleeping anywhere other than home. 

Later on, when I was a teen, I found out down was not only comfortable to sleep on, but to sleep in. On a camping trip to the North Georgia mountains in the late fall, I needed a warm sleeping bag. My father let me use his U.S. Army surplus down mummy bag. I couldn't believe he'd kept it all those years and wondered how something so small and compact could keep me warm. I vividly remember unfurling that musty smelling old sleeping bag and watching it poof up as the feathers inside were fluffed. I'm sure it was probably filled with dust mites but I didn't know that back then. That sleeping bag kept me completely warm and comfortable in mid 30's temperatures.

Earlier today, as I was braving the frigid weather to pick up a few things from the grocery store, down came to my rescue again. My Land's End fluffy down parka not only kept me from feeling discomfort as the sleet rolled in, I noticed it also camouflaged the fact that I didn't have any breasts. No one could notice I wasn't wearing my prostheses underneath my poofy jacket! 

So yay, for down! I'm a big fan! I'm so thankful God thought it necessary to equip geese with these tiny, soft feathers that give me such joy. Tonight, as I get ready to crawl into bed, I'll be sliding in under my down comforter and my electric blanket. I'll lay my head gently on my down pillow and turn out the light while dreams of Canadian geese slide across frozen ponds. Down. If you've never experienced it, I recommend you do, that is, unless you're allergic to feathers...then I'd caution you to stay far, far away. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

An unexpected award

I love surprises because they are usually unexpected and make me happy. They can make us feel loved or validated in some way. Most people I know enjoy surprises. Yesterday, as I opened my email, I received a surprise! I'd been awarded the honor of being considered one of the best cancer blogs for 2016 by the "I had Cancer" support group. It made me feel good to know all the work I'd been doing for the past couple of years had been appreciated. Although I don't really write for others, I'm honored my writing has touched the lives of some readers. Hopefully something I've experienced on my cancer journey has proved helpful to someone out there in internet land. Maybe I've given a piece of advice that helped a struggling soul or maybe I've caused someone to laugh and say, "I know exactly what you mean!" I may never know how or if my blogs have been beneficial in helping someone else but they've certainly helped me. Without the freedom to write about my breast cancer experience, I don't think I would have been able to process all I've been through since 2014.

Cancer is not something easily understood. As with all diseases and unexpected illnesses, questions arise immediately. "Why" or "why me" becomes one of the first questions for which answers are needed. Often, those answers don't come. Learning to struggle through and be okay with no answers is one of the most significant parts of the journey. In my own experience, breast cancer has been a great teacher. While no one would ever want to welcome cancer into their lives, learning to understand and accept it is part of the challenge of learning the lessons it has to teach.

I wouldn't trade anything for the valuable lessons I've learned since being diagnosed with breast cancer. It's been one of the most difficult times of my life but I've learned so many things about life, love, and myself that I would never have learned had I not had cancer. Not many affected by cancer's devastating and life changing grip share my opinion but I can't help but look for good to come from the bad.

I'm honored to be considered among one of the top breast cancer blogs for the year 2016! If I were on a stage, I'd probably be rising from my curtsy but I want to remain humble and accept this award with heartfelt gratitude. God has been so good to me and I'm blessed to be able to share my heart and experiences through the written word on a platform that reaches so many.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The New Year is Here!

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, at least that's what Saint Bernard of Clairvaux penned in 1150 A.D. Actually, his sentiment was expressed as "L'enfer est plein de bonnes volontés ou désirs" (translated: hell is full of good wishes or desires) and both translations describe me today. It's already the third day of the New Year and it's started off in a blur. I had so many good intentions of starting the year off productively but my plans didn't come to fruition partly because I was preoccupied and partly because my husband had taken an extended vacation from work. Today I hope to get back on track and begin focusing on my goals.

Every year, on the first day of the new year, I ask God to give me a word to focus on for the entire year. In 2015, He gave me the word JOY and it was very appropriate since I'd spent the following year focusing on health issues. In 2014, the word I was given was the word TRUST. Little did I know that was the year I would find out I had breast cancer. God certainly handpicks the words He gives me and I know they are for my growth and benefit. This year's word is HOPE. I like that word. In Scripture, according to the Hebrew and Greek words translated by the word “hope” and according to the biblical usage, hope is an indication of certainty. “Hope” in Scripture means “a strong and confident expectation.” Though archaic today in modern terms, hope is akin to trust and a confident expectation. How perfect!

One of my goals this year is to learn to thrive. For the past couple of years, I've been living under the shadow of breast cancer. It's been a heavy, dark, overpowering shadow filled with trepidation and fear. As I was praying, the night of December 31, God revealed to me that I haven't really been living. I've just been existing. Since being diagnosed with cancer, I accepted and received my fate but also allowed my zest for life to pass away. In essence, I allowed myself to die. All of my joy, all of my hope, all of me slowly and gradually began to disappear.

Those who know me well know I'm not one to be depressed or down in the dumps, in fact, I'm the one who always manages to find the silver lining in bad situations but for the past several months, I have been suffering with severe depression. I've felt very alone. I've felt rejected. I've felt unloved and unlovable. I've spent more days crying than I care to admit. I've stayed holed up in my house not wanting to go anywhere or see anyone. I knew this wasn't healthy but it's where I was and I couldn't find a way out. The dreary, rainy winter days didn't help things either. I've always had a hard time understanding how a Christian could allow himself to get depressed after all, we have great reason to hope with God on our side to combat any situation but even David, one of the greatest men of the Bible, found himself depressed on many occasions. In Psalm 42, verse 5, Paul says:

"Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation."

Being overcome with a spirit of depression has been devastating but I'm thankful God revealed what was happening to me. This revelation has allowed me to come up with a game plan and maybe that's why God has given me the word HOPE for this year's focus. I'm looking forward to all He plans to teach me and I'm really looking forward to reclaiming my life.

The days are short and I can't just exist. I have to learn to live and live well. I want to thrive and by golly, I'm going to figure out how to do it.

A robot is going to do my surgery?

My innards have decided they don't want to work anymore. For the past 3 years, I've been having issues. First, it started with diffi...