Saturday, July 29, 2017

Ultrasound Results

We met with my new oncologist today. She's very nice and very professional. As she went over the results of the ultrasound, I was happy to hear there was nothing visible other than dense scar tissue. The pain I'd been experiencing was due to the regrowth of nerves in that area. Dr. Ninan explained it can take up to three years for nerves to regenerate and grow. Since I'm still having severe back pain, she wants me to have a bone scan next week. We'll discuss my treatment options depending on what that scan shows.

After we finished our time with the doctor, Phil and I wandered through the facility. I hadn't had a chance to learn my way around and the patient advocate assured me there were some areas I'd want to visit. We made our way up to the fifth floor to the rooftop terrace. There, patients had the freedom to lounge in outdoor breezes under the shade of the rooftop pergola. Comfy seating and complete quiet provided a getaway from the hustle and bustle of the downstairs areas. We also visited the chapel located on the second floor. This small worship area was beautifully designed and featured a lovely stained glass window. Worship services are held throughout the week and on Sundays. Phil was amazed at all the attention to detail in the center. He couldn't get over the fact that there was an onsite Hair Salon, Restaurant, Gift Shop, and Acupuncture center.

It was a good, productive morning. I was thankful he was able to go with me to my appointment. He's been having to work so many Saturdays lately, I was worried he couldn't go. It always makes me feel more at ease to have his moral support.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Fighting naturally, building my arsenal

After meeting with the Naturopath the other day at the cancer treatment center, I felt I'd been given a new arsenal of tools to fight cancer. Among the supplements I've already been using, he suggested I try a few more including Meriva 500, Indoplex, and Cortisol manager. Meriva is a supplement that helps modulate inflammation and provide anti-cancer support. Inodplex helps support healthy metabolism of the body's estrogen. The Cortisol manager will help regulate Cortisol in my body and hopefully provide some much needed, good quality sleep. The Doc suggested I purchase these from two companies I was unfamiliar with, Thorne and Integrative Therapeutics. Both of these are online companies but they also offer the products at the onsite pharmacy of the cancer treatment center. I'm excited about these new weapons and hope to begin implementing them into my arsenal later this month.

My kitchen cabinet is already lined with multiple bottles of natural supplements. Daily, I continue to take Vitamin D3, Turmeric/Curcurmin, Chlorophyll, Ashwaghanda, Fish oil, Vitamin B12, Calcium, Magnesium, and others. Sometimes it feels like I'm popping a supplement into my mouth every few minutes but I don't mind. I know I'm doing all I can to fight cancer in a more natural, healthy way.

I'm also continuing to drink mega doses of Matcha Green tea. I was glad both the Naturopath and the dietitian agreed this was the perfect thing to do. I'm glad Amazon sells large bags of organic Matcha and I can buy it in bulk. By taking all these supplements, I feel I'm being a responsible and active part of my health care regimen. It's a good thing to be proactive. I wonder how many other breast cancer patients/survivors realize the importance of stepping up and working with their medical team? So many seem to only want to follow doctor's orders without doing any research on what they've been advised, but I want to protect my body and make sure I'm getting the very best care possible.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

More confirmation

The newest CTCA patient
 Today I headed back over to the cancer treatment center and received more confirmation that this is exactly the place God wants me to be right now. My first appointment was with the Naturopath. He was a very nice man and took a lot of time talking to me about helpful supplements to fight cancer. He was impressed that I'd done a lot of research already and that I'd been taking Ashwaghanda and Turmeric/Curcurmin for some time. He suggested I try boosting my Melatonin to help with more restful sleep and that I increase my Vitamin D3 dosage. He was very knowledgeable and I appreciated his input.

Next up was an appointment with the pastoral care department. It was so nice to walk into their beautiful chapel to meet with the head of the pastoral care department. We talked about the importance of spending time in prayer and relying on the truth of God's Word. It was nice to know this center cares not only about the patients and their bodies but also about their spiritual needs. I was impressed when they handed out a sheet of Scriptures on healing and a booklet on God's faithfulness.
A devotional in the waiting room

While in the pastoral care department, I met a nice couple from Pensacola. They had come up to the Newnan facility for treatment. I'm thankful I live close enough not to have to travel a long distance for care. Many are not as fortunate as I am.

After the pastoral care meeting, I was directed to the nutrition department to meet with the registered dietitian. They want to make sure you're not only eating well but making wise choices to benefit your health.

Next up was a meeting with my patient advocate. Each patient is assigned an advocate to be available during the entire time of their treatment. My advocate's name is Angie and she was extremely nice. She gave me a tour of the entire facility and explained what each department does. As I was touring the facility, I realized that this building and everything inside it represented a huge, self contained cancer bubble. Each doctor, each patient, each clinic, lab, or testing facility was all part of a community affected in some way by the far reaching tentacles of breast cancer.

During the meeting for patients with their advocate, I met a woman from Eastman, Georgia. Her name is Shirley. She's had a lumpectomy performed 3 times and her cancer keeps coming back. She was here for radiation treatments. I was able to share my experience with her and we exchanged numbers. She's staying onsite until her treatments are complete. I hope we'll have time to develop a good friendship before she returns home. I felt sorry for her because she's all alone in town. I'm hoping we can meet up for lunch on my next visit to the facility.

Shirley and I sat beside each other as the head of the Cancer Fighters group shared her testimony. My heart was touched as this lady shared how she'd endured cancer 3 times already and was currently stage 4. Though she's doing fairly well, she's on continued chemotherapy. She recently had the cancer return to her shoulder and had to have a huge section of her shoulder and upper arm bone removed. Each time I hear someone else's story, I realize how very blessed I've been thus far.

The ceiling skylight
Ultrasound area
I headed to the imaging center next for my ultrasound. I was thankful the tech offered me a warm blanket as she asked me to disrobe for the test. Lying on the gurney, I smiled as I looked up at the ceiling. Usually, while waiting for these types of tests, I get to stare at blank, acoustic ceiling tiles. Today was different. There was a lovely scene with blue sky, clouds, and flowers. I commented on it to the tech and she said many patients had complained about having nothing to look at so the center put in these attractive skylights. At least they listen to their patients and try to do what they can to make each test as pleasant as possible.
The exam room

I tried to look at the screen as the ultrasound tech was performing my scan but I couldn't see anything. She had the screen turned toward herself and I couldn't crane my neck far enough to get a glimpse. That's probably a good thing though. Patients don't have the skill or knowledge to know how to read the scans and we'd probably speculate on the findings before being told the results.

6 vials of blood!
After my scan, the tech left the room to get the doctor. I didn't know if that was good or bad, so I waited patiently. When the door opened and he came in, the first words out of his mouth were, "It's not bad news!" I was so glad to hear that. He said he always liked to give the patients an immediate statement if it wasn't bad news so it would put their minds at ease. I was grateful. Apparently the spot that's been causing pain is more necrotic tissue. I don't know if they're going to want to remove it like before or not. I guess I'll have to wait until I see the oncologist on Saturday.

At 12:00 I was finally done for the day. Thankfully I headed to my car. As I was walking down the hallway, an alarm sounded and all facility doors locked down. Lights were flashing and everyone in the hallways looked around with great trepidation. Nurses and doctors assured everyone it was just a false alarm and that perhaps some work being done on site had caused the alarm to be triggered. It was an eerie feeling to be trapped inside and with all the terrorist type activities around the country, I couldn't help but wonder if a shooter was on campus. It was a huge sigh of relief to know it was a glitch and after talking with an employee, I guess she could see how nervous I was so she offered to take me out the employee exit. I thanked her profusely and was so glad to get to my car and head home.

Locked down! Notice the closed accordion doors at the end of the hall.
When I got home, the first thing I did was take off my shoes and grab a tall glass of cold water. I was so thirsty! I'd forgotten to take my bottled water with me the hot sun on the ride home had made me realize how thirsty I'd been. What a day! One appointment after the other, but I was thankful to be able to attend each one in the same building.  This will certainly be more convenient than driving to three different doctors in three different cities.

Saturday I'll meet with the oncologist to hear her plan of treatment for me. I'm looking forward to it. Any doctor who's willing to meet with a patient on a Saturday is good in my book.

I can't believe I was so nervous about making the change to a new facility. Isn't that funny how change affects us as we get older? I find security in having things remain the same but God often uses change to help us grow. I'm so thankful for the opportunity to make the best choice for me and I'm glad I have access to good quality healthcare. There are so many who don't have that option. I'm also thankful for my husband's job and his good insurance. We are truly blessed.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Here we go again

I was so keyed up about going to my appointment today that I needed something to help me sleep last night. I'm so thankful I had a prescription for Ambien and I was able to fall soundly asleep within about fifteen minutes after taking it. I don't really like taking medication to help me sleep but lately, it's been a necessity. Either I'm in too much pain to rest comfortably or I can't get my mind to stop thinking.

This morning, the nerves have kicked in again. I'm not looking forward to going to this appointment alone. I'd feel much better if I had someone to go with me but I guess it's time to pull out the big girl panties. I may look for my little friend, the tiny stuffed lion my friend Wendy gave me at the beginning of my treatments in 2014. I took that little guy with me to every test and every treatment. I know. It was a silly thing to do but it brought me great comfort and made me feel less alone.

No one likes feeling like a bug under a microscope and that's exactly how I'll feel today. After answering a zillion and one health questions, the poking and prodding will begin. Today's supposed to be an easy day. Tomorrow will be the testing day. I've already been told I'll have another bone scan and probably more ultrasounds. I feel like I'm starting from scratch....

Saturday, I'm to meet with the new oncologist. Yes, I said Saturday. I know. I thought it was weird too. How many professionals are willing to meet with patients on a Saturday? Not many. But I'm thankful it's a woman and I'm also thankful my first meeting with her will be on a Saturday so Phil can come with me. If this doctor is like my other doctors from India, I'm sure she'll be very pleasant and very helpful.

As I type this, I can't help but watch the clock. I need to leave for my appointment soon.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Everything happens for a reason

I've always been a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and everything that happens is ultimately part of God's perfect plan for my life. Of course, some things that happen happen because of choices we make and some things happen because of choices we did not make but each choice, whether wrong or right, takes us down a path that God has allowed. Sometimes He allows the path to be used as a teaching tool. Sometimes we learn the lesson and sometimes we do not but, if we remember, each thing that touches our life has to first come through the mighty hand of God, then each thing should be received as a gift. I choose to look at life this way although there are many who do not agree with my perspective. 

For some time now, I've been feeling like I needed to make a change in my medical care. Earlier this week, I took the first step in that process and started the ball rolling. I contacted Cancer Treatment Centers of America because I felt I deserved better care than I was getting from my current oncologist. I could have stayed with my current doctor. I've been his patient for the past three years but something in my gut was telling me it was time to make a change and I've learned to listen to my gut (actually, the prompting of the Holy Spirit is more accurate terminology) because when I listen, I always reap the benefits of making a wise decision. 

Today, I spent an hour on the phone with my nurse navigator. CTCA (Cancer Treatment Centers of America) assigns each patient their very own nurse to help them navigate through all the testing, paperwork, questions, etc. throughout the time they are under the care of any medical staff at their facility. My nurse navigator's name is Crystal. She was extremely nice and very professional. We went over my medical records which included medications, tests, reports, surgeries, and personal history. As I went over each item with her, it was as if I were back at the beginning of my breast cancer journey. I was surprised at all the emotions that came creeping up as we talked. There were several times in our conversation that I had to fight back tears and as I did so, I began to experience a little doubt. I wondered if I was doing the right thing leaving the oncologist, breast surgeon and radiation oncologist that had taken care of me for the past three years. They'd been good to me but if I had to rate them on a scale of 1-10, I'd give the oncologist a 2, my radiation oncologist a 4 and my breast surgeon a 9. 

I wondered as we wrapped up the conversation how my medical team would feel when the folks at CTCA contacted them for all my medical reports. Would they feel betrayed? Would they wonder why I was leaving? Would they even care? I'm sure patients leave practices all the time under normal circumstances but I was abnormal. Cancer makes you abnormal. And even as much as I'd like to be normal again, I'm glad I'm not. 

My nurse navigator said I'd more than likely have a bone scan as soon as I start treatment there next week. I've been having a lot of pain in my thoracic spine around the T7 and T8 vertebrae. She said they'd probably want to repeat a chest ultrasound too. When I mentioned my desire to continue my natural health care regimen, she told me she needed to speak transparently with me. I knew what she was going to say before she said it. She said since my cancer was fed by Estrogen and Progesterone, the doctors at the center would more than likely put me back on adjuvant therapy. That means oral chemotherapy and that also means it will probably be one of the three drugs I've already tried - Arimidex, Aromasin, and Tamoxifen. I mentioned the bad experience I'd had with each of them and she assured me the doctors would manage any side effects with other medications or they may even put me in a clinical trial. When asked if I would be okay with that, I answered in the affirmative. 

Truth be told, I'm nervous about what the future holds. The fear of recurrence is always in the back of my mind. I talked to the nurse about the insomnia and anxiety I've been experiencing and she made a note of it in my chart. Over the next couple of days, my new medical team will meet to discuss my case. On Tuesday, when I go in for my physical assessment, they'll have even more information to review. Wednesday, there will be more testing and I'll meet my new oncologist on Saturday. Yes, Saturday! At CTCA doctors work on the weekends and it's not an abnormal thing. 

CTCA believes in integrated treatment. They have a naturopath, a spiritual advisor, a nutritional counselor, a mental health advisor, and of course, the medical team which includes the oncologist, nurses, therapists, etc. 

I'm a wee bit anxious about what comes next but I'm doing my best to trust God and leave everything else up to Him. I can't control any of it anyway, so why worry about it, right? So, we'll see what happens and where all this goes. Right now the path is dark and unclear. I feel like it's a winding path through a dense, brush filled forest. I'm standing at the head of the path looking down through a tunnel of overgrowth. There are thorns and thistles on both sides of the path and the road is rocky underfoot. I've taken the first step by deciding to leave my present team, now I need to be ready to move forward when the time comes. Next week, it will be time to venture a little further on the path. If you care to follow me on my journey, check back often for updates. I'm sure there will be many. 

The willow which bends to the tempest,
often escapes better than the oak which resists it;
and so in great calamities,
it sometimes happens that light and frivolous spirits
recover their elasticity and presence of mind sooner
than those of a loftier character.
- Albert Schweitzer

Monday, July 17, 2017

When is it time to find a new oncologist?

When the mail came and I found an envelope from my oncologist’s office, I felt fear rising in my chest. A knot developed in my throat as I slid my finger underneath the pre-moistened flap of the long, white envelope. Sliding my finger along the flap, I held my breath until the letter was finally opened. As I withdrew the enclosed letter, I braced. I had no idea why I was receiving any form of written communication from my doctor. I hadn’t had any recent blood work or other tests. I began to read the letter and was instantly put at ease. It was just a standard letter. My upcoming appointment had been canceled. I needed to call the office and reschedule. I wondered why. I’d made the appointment several months earlier with the scheduling clerk. She’d offered me that specific date and time.  

At first, I wanted to give my doctor the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he’d had a surgery scheduled that he’d forgotten, or perhaps he’d been called out of town on a conference. Maybe his wife wanted to go on a family vacation. Then, I remembered this was not the first time I’d received a rescheduling letter in the mail. This was actually the third time in several months. I wondered why they didn’t just try to call me, like most of my physicians did when they needed to change my appointment time or date. The more I thought about the letter in my hand, the more I realized things hadn’t been quite right with my doctor for some time.

I noticed it almost immediately after I was diagnosed. When I refused chemotherapy, my doctor seemed to become closed toward me. Although I explained I wanted to conquer my cancer as naturally as possible and avoid conventional treatment as much as I could; he seemed disinterested in me. Each visit after my initial diagnosis seemed extremely uncomfortable. The doctor barely spoke to me and only spent a few minutes of time with me. I chalked it up to a busy practice with many patients scheduled each day. So when I saw him, I tried to get straight to the point and not take up his valuable time. One of my friends suggested that perhaps he wasn’t pleased with me because I had decided not to take the anti-hormone therapy. She even said some doctors take kickbacks from pharmaceutical companies though they’re not supposed to do that. I didn’t want to believe he’d stoop that low, but I just didn’t know.

When I discovered a small, grape sized lump in my side, I made a mental note to bring it to my doctor’s attention. On my next visit, I asked him to feel it and let me know if I should be concerned. He lightly rubbed his hand across my abdomen and said he didn’t feel anything. The lump was palpable even to my untrained fingers. There were several incidents afterward that caused me to wonder if perhaps my doctor was losing interest in me. He’d slip out of the room to have a personal conversation on his cell phone. He’d pay more attention to his watch as I talked than he’d give to me. I didn’t understand why the sudden shift in interest. When I first began to see him, he seemed so kind and caring. I wondered if it was because I’d voiced concerns over my regimen of care. I hadn’t ever dismissed his suggestions and always deferred to his medical expertise, but I did explain my desire to avoid any unnecessary side effects along the way. That was why I’d refused chemotherapy and had stopped taking the Aromasin, Arimidex, and Tamoxifen after several months.  I wondered if maybe he thought I didn’t want or need his help but I’d never missed an appointment or scheduled test. I’d always respected and listened carefully to him.

I talked the situation over with my husband and explained how I’d noticed a decline in my relationship with the doctor over the past three years. He suggested I look for another oncologist and advised that I needed a doctor who was genuinely interested in my health care. If I felt uncomfortable with my current doctor and didn’t feel the freedom to discuss things with him, it was time to move on. I’d never given this option a thought. I assumed when you began treatment with an oncologist you were with them for the duration. After all, this wasn’t a minor health care issue. This was a lifelong illness. So I promised I’d consider it and I began looking.

The first concern I had in seeking a new oncologist was wondering if he’d accept a patient not currently in active treatment. Would an oncologist take on someone like me who seemed to be in remission and might just need to come in for periodic “tune-up” scans? The first thing I needed to do was make a list of potential doctors. Next, I’d have to check with my insurance company and make sure the doctor I was considering was “in network” under my plan. If he was not, I’d have to keep checking until I found one who was on my plan. After finding a new oncologist, I’d need to check credentials. I preferred a board certified oncologist. It was important to me to find a doctor who’d been practicing for a number of years, one with a good reputation, and one with  a good education. The most important requirement for me was to find an approachable doctor with a good bedside manner. I wanted a doctor who would not only listen to what I had to say but hear what I wasn’t saying. Was it too much to ask that I could feel comfortable enough around him to consider him a friend? This was going to be a long term relationship. I also needed him to talk to me in a way that I could understand. I didn’t want to be afraid to ask him questions. The more I thought about all the things I needed and wanted in a new oncologist, the more I realized I didn’t have any of those things with my current doctor.

I made the first step today.  I called our new cancer treatment center. It’s within ten miles of my home. I wasn’t able to speak to a human but I did leave a voicemail. If I can find a new oncologist, the next step will be transferring all of my medical records. With access to most digital files online, it shouldn’t be much of a problem. I’m nervous about forging ahead but feel like I need to do what’s best for my medical care. A doctor with an attitude of indifference doesn’t make me feel very confident. I think my husband’s right, it’s time for a change.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Happy 3rd Cancerversary to me!

It's been 1096 days since I was first diagnosed with breast cancer. Today is my third cancerversary and it's hard to believe it's been three years since I was diagnosed with Stage IIB Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.

We celebrated early (yesterday) with family at a local Chinese restaurant over a scrumptious dinner of all kinds of Chinese favorites. There was Moo Shu Chicken, Mongolian Beef, Egg Rolls, Fried Rice, Chicken Wor Bar, Sweet and Sour Shrimp, and some other dishes. We all ate to our hearts content sharing memories and laughter. It was a good time to just relax and let our hair down. Later, we came back to the house for cake and ice cream. The cake was from Publix and had delicious cream cheese frosting and a luscious center filled with chocolate and strawberries. It more than likely had a couple of thousand calories but we didn't mind! We were celebrating and calories didn't count.

Throughout the day, I'd been emotional. It was hard not to think about all the things I'd been through over the past three years. I couldn't help but remember the surgeries and the pain. There had been many struggles and physical challenges. I'd spent 840 minutes underneath a linear accelerator being radiated. I'd been sick from radiation fatigue and had experienced radiation burns along my right chest and neck. I'd gone through physical therapy, manual lymphatic drainage, and spinal therapy. I'd traveled many miles to countless appointments. I'd spend untold amounts of time on phone calls to doctors. I'd dished out hundreds of thousands of dollars on medical bills, prescriptions, bandages and ointments. I'd had MRI'S, CT SCANS, BONE SCANS, PET SCANS, ULTRASOUNDS, CORE NEEDLE BIOPSIES, XRAYS, MAMMOGRAMS, and more. I'd given pints of blood for testing.  I'd fought with insurance companies over medical equipment. I'd cried more tears than I could ever count in a million years. I'd suffered insomnia, nausea, cording, and Lymphedema. I'd tried three different anti-hormone therapy medications and had horrible side effects from each of them and the list goes on  and on. But, along with all those challenging, heart wrenching, terrible, horrible, awful, very bad things, I'd also experienced many priceless, beautiful, unforgettable moments. And those were the ones I tried to occupy my mind with on Saturday. Those were the ones that mattered the most.

I also thought about the people who'd been there to support me over the past three years. Some family members had been there through thick and thin while others had chosen not to be there at all. I'd made friends and connections with other breast cancer survivors through Facebook and breast cancer websites. I'd had complete strangers offer their love and support. It had been amazing! I have a briefcase full of greeting cards I've received over the past few years. Each and every one speaks volumes to my heart as I read them over and over again.

Never in a million years did I dream I'd still be alive three years after being diagnosed with breast cancer. I still remember the day I heard the words, "YOU HAVE CANCER." I thought surely I'd be dead within the year, but I'm still here! God is so good and I am extremely grateful! It's been a wild, crazy, tumultuous rollercoaster of a ride and even though I'm still on it, I'm thankful the curves, twists, and hairpin turns have drastically slowed down. I keep pushing toward that miraculous 5 year mark my oncologist keeps talking about...the one that's supposed to mark the "approaching safety zone" where the fear of recurrence gets all but obliterated but it seems so far away. No matter how hard I try, I can't help but wonder if I'll ever experience another round of cancer. I surely hope not but if I do, I'll be better prepared the next time around. But I'm really, really hoping there's no next time.

So, happy cancerversary to me! I've made it one more year. For some reason, it feels like cancer was just a tiny blip on the radar and now that tiny blip has disappeared and I'm home free. I guess that's kind of what hope feels like, isn't it? And speaking of hope, if you think about it, I'm already into the first day of my fourth year being "cancer free." (I put those words in quotes because my oncologist won't declare me cancer free although I did goad him into saying I was N.E.D. (no evidence of disease) on my last visit. Isn't that great?! Life is good and I am blessed. What more could a girl ask for? (except maybe a new Porsche and some diamond earrings...)

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Joy of Being Accepted

Last year, we visited a neighborhood church. We hadn't been in the community long and were hoping to find some godly, like minded people. We prayed and asked God where He'd have us to go. He led us to Unity Baptist Church.

On our first Sunday visiting Unity, we met a lovely couple. There was an immediate bond between Cindy and I. It was too overwhelming to describe and clear evidence that God had ordained the relationship. As we grew to know Cindy and her husband, Dave, we learned they were part of a motorcycle ministry called F.A.I.T.H. Riders. They were kind enough to invite us to participate in some of the events, which we did. We were pleased to be accepted so quickly and to be welcomed into the F.A.I.T.H. Riders community so readily. Our acceptance was unique since neither my husband nor I own a motorcycle and neither of us ride. We knew this had to be part of God's plan. It became more clear as months passed and we watched His plan unfold.

I feel like I need to give you a little history here. I've always had a heart for bikers. Perhaps it's the rebel side of me from my youth or perhaps it's the adventure and freedom biking affords, I'm not sure which, but it really doesn't matter. I've always loved bikes and I've always loved riding. If anyone offered me a ride, I accepted. I've been on the back of Kawasakis, Suzukis, Hondas, and Yamahas. I've been on raggedy dirt bikes and lush comfy Goldwings. It didn't matter what type of bike, I loved them all, but I was never brave enough to learn to ride one on my own.

As I expressed my desire to love and support the F.A.I.T.H. Riders group, I was encouraged to do so but how could I do it? How could a non-biker relate to full time bikers? I prayed and asked God how I could help. He prompted me to offer my administrative skills and my gift of encouragement. I didn't know it at the time, but the Director of the Unity Baptist F.A.I.T.H. Riders had been praying and asking God for help with those very things!

As I talked with the Director and shared my heart, it was as if a landslide of ideas began to pour forth. We collaborated and began to work on finding ways to minister to the bikers in our area. Our efforts started out small but began to blossom and grow. God has used my willingness to be part of the group to not only bless me, but to bless others.

I am so grateful to be a part of the Unity Baptist F.A.I.T.H. Riders. They are a wonderful group of men and women who love the Lord. As I've watched them interact with each other, I've learned a lot. There is a special bond between bikers and a beautiful code of respect their share.

Although I don't know how to drive a motorcycle, I've always loved riding on the back of someone else's bike. There's no greater experience than feeling the wind in your face, the sun on your back, and freedom from worry and care. Those feelings have been magnified for me since having been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Three years ago, I thought my life was over. I was told I had stage 2B Invasive Ductal Carcinoma breast cancer. The cancer had not only invaded my breast, it had traveled to my lymph nodes. At 56, I prepared to die. But God in His magnificent grace, gave me a second chance. Instead of allowing me to go through the trauma of chemotherapy, debilitating illness, and eventually death, He allowed me to live! Now I'm not going to sugar coat the past 3 years and make them seem like they were a piece of cake, because they have been the most difficult years of my life, but I know He had more for me to do and that's why I'm still here. Cancer made me realize how precious each moment can be and that I'd taken a lot in life for granted. That's where F.A.I.T.H. Riders came in...

The F.A.I.T.H. Riders have filled a need in my life. They're not just a passing fancy or a weekend hobby, they've become a vital part of my life's ministry. I find joy being able to pray for the special needs of the members. I look forward to waking up in the morning and writing mini-devotionals for their Facebook page. I am honored to be able to maintain and update their blog. And although I'm not a REAL biker, I've been accepted into their group.

Today, as we went to lunch, I wore my F.A.I.T.H. Riders leather vest with my colors. This was the first time I'd felt I had the right to wear my vest in public. As we entered the restaurant, I was proud to have the F.A.I.T.H. Riders logo emblazoned across my back. I was prepared and ready should anyone have questions about the group or my faith. Of course, Satan did his best to take away my joy. A fellow rider questioned why I was wearing the vest since I'm not a rider. At that very moment, my heart sank and I felt ashamed. I wanted to run out to my car, slip off the vest, and pretend I'd never worn it, but then...I felt God speak to my spirit and affirm that I did indeed have the right to wear the colors. I was a vital part of the ministry even if I didn't ride. He reminded me of all the hours I'd spent praying for each member, all the hours I'd agonized over planning material for the blog or the devotionals, and how He'd been using me to reach out to others. No, I wasn't a rider and I didn't pretend to be, but I did love them and I needed to be part of them.

A couple of months ago, I was on a ride with one of the bikers. Comfortably seated on the back of a Honda Valkyrie, we'd traveled the back roads of South Georgia. We covered 100 miles that day and my heart was full. One thing that touched me as we rode was the biker wave. I'd never paid much attention to it in all my years of riding with others until that day. As we rode, we'd pass other riders. As we approached, each driver stuck out their hand in a low wave. But it was more than a wave. It was a symbol of respect and camaraderie. It was a brotherhood. The riders were complete strangers and yet, they gave honor to the other rider. That spoke volumes to me. Shouldn't all of us be as gracious?

Many people look at bikers with disrespect. They judge them by their appearance. They assume they're roughnecks, foul talkers, and bar hoppers, and while there are some bikers who definitely fall into those categories, I assure you the F.A.I.T.H. Riders do not. These men and women live to a higher standard. Wherever they go, they represent Christ. They are His representatives and they want the world to know it. No, I'm not a biker, but I'm sure proud to be part of a group of riders. Maybe my gifts are small and maybe they go unnoticed, but I'd like to think I'm worthy of receiving the biker wave, at least in my dreams.

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...