Friday, December 27, 2019

The New Year is almost here

2020. That date freaks me out.

As a child, I remember watching the Jetsons wondering what my future might look like. Would we really travel by flying car? Would we have robots running our homes for us? Would space travel be the norm? As I think about those cartoon images, I realize we're not too far off from those predictions. While we haven't found ourselves traveling by flying cars on a daily basis, we do have robots in our homes (iRoomba, etc.) and virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa to help with our menial tasks like finding the newest movie to watch, pulling up directions as we drive, setting our thermostat or turning on music before we come home and a host of other conveniences. Our electronically run homes would make the creator of the Jetsons proud.

And remember when we went through the Y2K scare at the end of 1999? Everything seemed so uncertain and the doomsday prep began because we weren't sure if all the computers would crash and our world be instantly turned upside down, but thankfully, all of that was for naught.

Now here we are rushing into the twentieth year of the twenty first century, a staggering thought!

Facing an unknown future is scary, especially to someone who's faced cancer. Every single day, I'm reminded I don't know what the future might hold. Every ache, every pain reminds me the cancer could be back and it's hard to live teetering on that precipice.

In February, I'll have my annual check up with the oncologist. It's marked in big, red letters on my calendar. I've already begun to count down the days because I dread that appointment. If I get the all clear, still N.E.D diagnosis, I'll take a deep breath and rest easy until the next appointment, unless some rogue illness or severe pain tells me I can't hold onto that diagnosis any longer.

It's not a good place to be, always wondering when or if the cancer will return. And I don't want to go into the New Year with that attitude. I want so desperately to walk into the New Year trusting God. I know He knows how many days I've been allotted, but it's still hard. I have to remind myself to make the conscious effort every minute to walk by faith.

This New Year, I've promised myself to do everything within my power to be healthier, stronger, better...and I mean it but most of all, I've promised myself to move forward daily with a positive attitude and a hopeful outlook. I don't want to continue to give cancer power over me.

Yes, cancer may come back into my life sometime in the future but I pray it never does. But if God chooses to allow it back into my life, I'll know He has a reason and I'll trust Him to guide me through it.

Cancer caused me to muster up my courage. I was forced to be brave. And every single minute of every single day, I continue to fight to maintain that bravery.

As we ring in the New Year, let's celebrate new possibilities, new hopes, new dreams, and a better tomorrow. And let us not forget to pray for those currently fighting against cancer, the battle isn't one they chose to fight.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

What Can You Say When a Friend Faces a Recurrence?

I was checking my inbox the other day and found a disturbing email. The subject line on the email simply said, "It's back." I knew immediately what that meant. 

The sender of the email was a friend I'd never had the pleasure of meeting in person. Instead, we'd found each other through a breast cancer website. Shortly after we were diagnosed, as fate would have it, our paths crossed. 

We shared so many similarities. Both diagnosed in the same year, we had the same type cancer, the same stage, and the same grade. We were both mothers although my children were grown and hers were not. We shared a love of similar interests and hobbies.

Instantly, as we corresponded, we clicked. 

Through our online blogs, we were able to compare notes and keep up with each others lives. It was fun reading about each other and felt almost like I had an adopted sister. Our relationship was special. And that's why I felt so helpless when I learned, through the email, that her cancer had returned. 

What could I say that wouldn't sound trite? Of course, I was sorry to learn of the news but I wanted to express my heartfelt sentiments. Since our cancer experiences had been so similar, I could almost feel the way she'd probably responded when she received the news. I imagined she felt like I would've if the shoe had been on the other foot. I would have been devastated and confused. My heart went out to her. 

Reading her blog, as she began treatment again, I learned more about her feelings. Not only did she feel betrayed by the return of cancer, she was angry.  I completely understood. And when she began to blame herself for possibly not doing something right, I knew why she felt that way, too. 

My heart broke as she told about having to go through chemotherapy again. It didn't seem fair. Hadn't she given enough the first time around? 

But with cancer, there is no fairness, there are no rules. 

What do we say when someone we love faces a recurrence of cancer? And how can a fellow survivor express compassion and empathy in a genuine way? 

One of the best things we can do is listen. Words aren't always necessary to express caring. Often, an understanding look, or a tender touch can convey the heart's deepest sentiments. 

But if words need to be shared, they should be carefully chosen. A person might say, "I'm sorry. I know this isn't what you were expecting." Or "I'm here for you, just let me know what I can do to help." 

By offering the gift of understanding to the person facing recurrence, validation occurs.

When you aren't sure what to say, it's best to say nothing at all.  

A cancer recurrence rarely comes with notice, but when the surprise comes, it makes a big difference for the person with cancer to have a support team in place. 

As I read my friend’s blog for daily updates, one thing appears in every post – evidence of her warrior spirit and personal bravery. Though she’s having to fight this war again, I know she’ll give it her all, the same way she did the first time around.

It’s challenging to cheer her on from the sidelines, but I can always lift her up in prayer, send her encouraging notes, or post supportive comments on her blog. And in so doing, I hope she’ll know I stand with her because I know she’d do the same for me should I ever face a recurrence. 

That's what we do in the world of cancer, because we've been there and we know how it feels to hear the words, you have cancer, for the first time or at any time thereafter. 

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Thankful for Cancer

It's been a while since I've written. For some reason life keeps getting in the way.

The holidays are coming and I'm so unprepared. Things seem so different since cancer came into our lives.

In the past, I'd start planning for Thanksgiving months in advance. I'd write out my menu, do the necessary shopping, put out decorations, and look forward to spending time with family. It was a grand gesture that always paid off but for the past few years, I just haven't been able to "get into it." In fact, I haven't even been the one to host the meal. For the past two years, my middle daughter, Laura, has been gracious enough to do the family meal at her home. It's been a real blessing and has taken so much pressure off of me, but this year, it won't be that way. The meal has fallen back into my lap.

The stress and anxiety over planning for the festivities has been overwhelming, so much so that my sweet husband has stepped in to help. "This year," he said, "I don't want you to have to cook or worry about anything. I'm going to take care of it." I was shocked by his statement and wondered what he was planning. Two days ago, I found out.

After getting off work, Phil stopped by the Honeybaked Ham store. When he came home from work, his arms were loaded with a stack of frozen side dishes. He was so excited as he began to carefully place them on the kitchen counter. "I picked up some sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, a green bean casserole, cornbread dressing, and even some sliced apples," he said. I watched his face as he fanned out the frozen blocks of food in a neat arc. He was beaming as he waited for my approval.

I was taken aback at the thoughts of serving our guests frozen food for the holiday. As one who has always cooked from scratch, I felt taking such a shortcut was just short of sacrilege, but didn't dare utter a word. My husband had done what he could to take a burden from my shoulders and I was definitely thankful for that. Would it really be so bad to have pre-prepared food for one meal? In my head, I justified his plan, and accepted it as a broad smile spread across my face.

"You are so clever and thoughtful," I said to my dear husband. The pride was evident as he threw his shoulders back and puffed out his chest. "This will be great and will save me so much time! Thank you, honey!"

After giving him a big hug, I asked if he'd help me carry the frozen goodies to our deep freezer.

A lot has changed since my cancer diagnosis. I've learned to make concessions I never thought I'd make. Some of them have been spur of the moment decisions and others have been well thought out plans, but in each case, I'm thankful cancer has taught me to focus on what really matters- I'm still here. I'm still alive. And, I can still celebrate special holidays.

This year, I'll be grateful for so many things but one of the main ones is knowing I'm loved.

Cancer takes the blame for a lot of bad in our lives but rarely does it receive accolades for anything good. Over the past five years, its taught me an awful lot and in all honesty, I have to say, it's taught me so much more about gratitude than I ever knew before it came into my life. This year, I will be able to say thank you to cancer, and truly mean it. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Dolce Far Niente

The first time I heard the phrase, "Dolce far niente," was years ago when I watched the movie Eat, Pray, Love. I sat mesmerized as Julia Roberts sat on a chair in the corner of a men's barbershop eating fruit. One of the patrons shared his disdain at Americans and their lack of understanding the Italian way of life. He used the example of our ignorance of rest and did his best to explain the concept to Ms. Roberts. Shortly thereafter, another patron chimed in and said, "Dolce far niente is the sweetness of doing nothing." Powerful words for a simple task, you'd think. But for some, that simple task is next to impossible.

I am one of those who find it difficult to rest. A typical type A personality, I've always been an overachiever. I work hard. I play hard. And, if I don't have something to keep me busy, I find something to do. My husband, on the other hand, knows the value of rest. He has no problem fitting it into his daily schedule. For years, He's encouraged me to practice the art of resting and although I've tried, I haven't been successful.

Since my diagnosis with breast cancer, I've lived with a sense of urgency. There's an underlying feeling that time is of the essence and that feeling has pushed me into a tizzy. From the time I wake up until the time I go to bed, I am making the most of my 24 hour day. Rest never crosses my mind except on those rare occasions when my back screams out in pain and forces me to stop for a short respite.

Practicing the art of dolce far niente has been a challenge and one task I'm determined to master. Even the Bible emphasizes the importance of rest - "Be Still, and know that I am God." That verse has become a constant reminder that I need to take time to stop and that it's okay. And as I've begun to learn how to master my constant busyness, I've developed a new found respect for the art of doing nothing. I've also found my days stretch a little further as I make room for periods of nothingness.

Sitting with a steaming latte or lying across a bed looking out an open window as the sun beams across freshly mown grass are not only pleasurable intervals, they're also small examples of the larger joy that awaits.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Bend over

Getting a flu shot shouldn’t be a complicated thing, right? Roll up the sleeve, brace for impact, insertion, completion, and leave. That’s the way it should go down but for someone with lymphedema, it’s not that easy.

After a recent annual physical, the doctor reminded Phil and I that we needed to have the flu vaccine. We’d become familiar with this routine and were ready to receive the shots at his office when our doctor sadly shook his head and informed us his office hadn’t received their allotment of inoculations yet. “Not to worry,” he said, “You can stop by any local pharmacy and have your shots today. Many pharmacies are participating in the annual inoculation program and won’t charge anything as long as you have insurance that covers the dose.”

On the way home from the physician’s office, we noticed a large sign outside our local CVS pharmacy indicating their participation in the program. Get your flu shot now, the sign said in big red letters.

Pulling into the parking lot, we were thankful to see only a few cars. Thinking we'd be in and out quick, we meandered inside.

Walking through the store, we made our way down the aisles to the back of the store where the pharmacy was located. Going up to the counter, we indicated our desire for the flu vaccine.

After we filled out necessary paperwork regarding the shot, we read the warnings about potential side effects and other pertinent information. We signed on the dotted line and returned our forms, then were instructed to sit and wait.

Before being seated, I asked to speak to the pharmacist. I told the pharmacy assistant I had important information regarding my health that I needed to share. The assistant asked me to divulge the information to her and she’d pass the news on to the doctor. Reluctantly, I leaned over the counter and whispered, “I’m a breast cancer patient and have lymphedema in both arms. I am not allowed to have the flu vaccine in my either arm. I need to have the shot in my hip.”

I watched as the assistant’s face changed to that of surprise. It was evident, by her reaction, my request was not a common one. As she turned to walk over to the pharmacist, I continued to watch. She whispered into the doctor’s ear and the pharmacist’s eyes widened.

Within a few months of surgery, I’d noticed an abnormal swelling in my upper arms. After seeing the oncologist, I was diagnosed with lymphedema, a painful condition often occurring after the removal of lymph nodes or breast cancer surgery. With the removal of nodes from both arms, the lymphatic system’s proper flow of lymphatic fluid through the body had been disrupted. This disruption caused a buildup of fluid in the extremities causing swelling and discomfort.

“With lymphatic limbs,” my doctor advised, “Any injection, tight pressure, or injury could exacerbate the condition and might possibly lead to a more serious condition called cellulitis.” I was told it was up to me to guard my arms since I was the one who would be affected adversely should injury take place, but doing so often invoked odd reactions from medical staff.

As I waited, I couldn’t help wondering why getting an immunization in the hip was such a big deal. The only reason I could think of, at this pharmacy, was the fact that there was no private area. Immunizations were given in an open area, in front of other customers. And, while I didn’t relish the thoughts of dropping my drawers in front of inquiring eyes, I’d already made up my mind that if that was what it took, that was exactly what I would do. Modesty had left me long ago after my diagnosis with breast cancer.

Thankfully, the pharmacist took me into an employee breakroom to administer the vaccine. I was glad to have the privacy the room offered but hoped no employees would come into have lunch while my cheek was exposed.

Just before the pharmacist injected the needle, she confided in me. “I’ve never had to give a shot in the hip before, in fact, I had to call my fiancĂ©, who is a physician, and ask him exactly how to do it.” Her confession didn’t offer peace of mind.

The pharmacist was unsuccessful on her first attempt and apologized profusely. Standing there with my buttock exposed, I tried to remain calm and patient. Since she was behind me, I couldn’t see what she was doing, but I assumed she was reloading the vaccine and steadying her aim.

Within just a few seconds, I felt the quick jab of the needle and the burn of the medication entering my body. I almost laughed when the doctor breathed a sigh of relief. To lighten the mood, I looked over my shoulder and spoke to her saying, “I bet you’re glad you don’t have to do this every day, aren’t you?” She smiled and shook her head in the affirmative.

As we walked out of the breakroom, I thanked her for understanding. She accepted my gratitude and went back to work.

Rejoining my husband, I noticed the stare of other customers waiting for their shots. I'm sure they were thinking, "Where did she go and why did she get preferential treatment?" But I wasn't in the mood to explain.

Lymphedema has been a challenging side effect of breast cancer surgery and affects every aspect of daily living. Protecting limbs may seem like overkill to someone without knowledge of the condition, but the cautionary efforts are for my benefit.

Educating others about lymphedema is often shouldered by the person with the condition and while I don’t always enjoy doing it, I do it because I must. If I keep quiet, I’ll suffer the consequences and I’m not willing to risk bodily harm because of pride.

Getting a flu shot shouldn’t be a big deal, but sometimes it is, and that’s okay. Laughter and making light of the situation can help make others a little less uncomfortable.

For those with lymphedema, it’s important to speak up. Not all medical staff are familiar with lymphedema, its side effects, or precautions to prevent exacerbation of the condition. It's so important to be your own best advocate.

Monday, September 16, 2019

For those with breast cancer, mundane tasks like grocery shopping can be a challenge.

Before cancer, grocery shopping was a pleasurable experience. Up and down the rows, I'd search out new and interesting products now matter how long it took, now it's a challenging task. Lymphedema and back pain make my trips to the store short and fast, or at least that has been the case for the past year or so, but now that I've discovered online shopping and free pickup, things have become much easier.

This weekend, I ordered groceries through Kroger's online service. The process was quick and easy only taking about fifteen minutes. After I'd loaded my card, I inserted my credit card information and voila! I was done. My order, the site said, would be ready at my specified time the next day. I was grateful I hadn't had to go through the process of driving to the store, wandering the aisles, choosing my food items, loading them into the cart, unloading them onto the conveyor belt and then, reloading them into the car. That would have taken more than an hour and I didn't have that precious time to waste.

The following day, I received a text alert reminding me to pickup my order at the specified time. Happily, I drove to the store to retrieve the order. Sitting in the parking lot, I read through some emails as the store employee loaded everything carefully into my car. Within minutes, the employee was closing the tailgate on my vehicle and I was off. Smiling all the way home, I was grateful.

After bringing all the groceries inside and putting them away, it hit me. There had been a team of people who'd put my order together. Looking at the receipt, I saw about 8 names listed with a big smiley face and a hope you have a great day written beneath it. My "pullers" as they called themselves, had each been assigned separate sections. As they worked together, they made the task of assembling my order an easy one.

Sitting down at the table, I decided those workers needed to understand how vital they were to people like me, people with physical limitations like breast cancer, lymphedema, chronic fatigue, and back pain. Taking out a piece of stationary, I began to compile my thoughts and drafted a note of gratitude.

My husband agreed to drop of the note the next day on his way home from work. I hoped it would be received by the manager of the online ordering department and that it might possibly be shared with other staff.

The following day, I got a call from Kroger. The manager of the online shopping crew called to tell me they'd received my note. She thanked me profusely and said it was rare for them to receive any type of thanks much less a handwritten note. She commented on the fact that I was a breast cancer survivor. I'd shared that information in hopes of helping her understand the importance of their online service, especially when I was having one of my bad days. The manager understood and responded that she had a dear friend with breast cancer who had just started chemotherapy. We talked a few more minutes about the devastating effects of breast cancer before ending our conversation.

I couldn't help wondering if every woman knows someone touched by breast cancer. Perhaps not a close friend or relative, but surely, if every woman thought hard enough, even a distant acquaintance  would come to mind. Would it even be possible to find one women unfamiliar with the disease? I doubted it.

Breast cancer is so prevalent in our world today and it's sad to say so many have been touched by it.

Thankfully, there are companies, like Kroger, who make our lives a little easier by offering their online services. And next month, the shelves are going to be filled with pink ribboned products, but I think I'll pass on those when placing my order. I don't need a constant reminder of breast cancer. All I have to do is look down, there's a permanent reminder just under my nose.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Survivorship, really?

Yesterday, I attended a survivorship appointment at the cancer treatment center. I had mixed emotions as I drove to the center. Part of me was excited to finally be reaching this point and another part of me was scared to death. What was going to happen next? Would the constant cancer care rug be pulled out from under me? I had no idea. All I could do was wait and see.

Traveling up to the third floor, I signed in at the receptionist's desk. This floor was unfamiliar to me. Most of my appointments had been on the first floor where the sickest of the sick usually were. That's where the port room was located. That's where the halls were lined with recliners to help make patients more comfortable as they waited to have blood drawn, scans done, or poison dripped into their bodies. I was well acquainted with that floor. I'd been there many, many times but thankfully, I'd never had to endure the trauma of having a port inserted into my body since I'd refused chemotherapy.

The second floor was also familiar. There, I met with the naturopath, the pain management doctor, and other medical staff. It was on this floor that I found a place of solace in the chapel, found a multitude of books in the library to take my mind off of troubles, and received physical therapy.

But the third floor was different. Instead of seeing evidence of cancer everywhere, it felt like a regular doctor's office. In the waiting room were magazines and normal looking people. I assumed this was the floor for cancer graduates.

When my name was called, a jovial nurse escorted me back to the exam room where she took my weight, and recorded my vital statistics. She sat on the stool and asked some general questions about how I was feeling and if there were any problems I was experiencing. Of course, I mentioned the insomnia, a constant problem for the past 5 years. After making notes, the nurse left the room and I waited.

Watching the clock, the hands moved slowly as I counted down the minutes until the doctor arrived. When she entered, I was surprised by her youth. From my calculations, she was mid 40's. After the initial introduction and chit chat, she got down to business.

The doctor asked many of the same questions the nurse had asked but as she did, she made sure to offer solutions. For the insomnia, she could prescribe medication. For the anxiety, she recommended I try herbal teas or talk to the staff psychologist. On and on we went covering every aspect of my health. Finally, we'd reached the end of the appointment.

The look on my face must have indicated my fear because the doctor looked me straight in the eyes and said, "Don't worry, we won't leave you unattended. If you ever need anything, we're only a phone call away and of course, we'll see you annually to make sure you're doing okay." That made me feel a whole lot better.

One last thing, the physical examination. She asked if I could remove my blouse and my bra. I told her I'd need help with the bra. There were no hooks to loosen it. Either she'd have to help me pull it over my head or I'd have to slip it down. The weight of the prostheses made the decision for me. As they weighed down the bra and pulled it toward my navel. Slowly, I slipped out of the bra and allowed the doctor to view my chest. In the past, I'd have been extremely embarrassed to bare my chest in front of a stranger, but that wasn't the case any longer. After 5 years, I would have gladly stripped in front of anyone to allow them a glimpse of my battle scars.

I thought it funny that the doctor seemed to focus on one of my radiation tattoos. She'd thought it was a melanoma, a small black, cancerous mole. As she leaned in for a closer look, I laughed and told her it was one of my markings from radiation. I explained I had 5 more just like it. She seemed relieved and told me I could redress.

After bringing me a prescription for medication to help me sleep, I asked when I would see her again. She asked if it would be okay if we met on the same day as my next oncology appointment. I agreed and told her it was in February.

It seems odd not to be going to the cancer treatment center every month or so like I have for the past 5 years but it also feels wonderful! I'm glad I am still under the watchful eye of my doctors but I'm so glad to be out of the active phase of treatment for breast cancer.

Though it seems like it was only a blip on the radar, I have to remember that recurrence can happen any time after diagnosis. With that in mind, I will be vigilant to keep an eye on myself but, I have faith in the Great Physician and I am trusting that this phase of my life is completely over. Solo Deo Gloria! All praises to God!

Cancer, if you were on Facebook I would unfriend you right about now and I wouldn't feel one bit guilty about doing so.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

There goes another one

I had no idea she'd die so soon. We'd only been friends for a little over a year, but during that year, we'd shared so much. We shared the same diagnosis, the same stage of cancer, the same grade tumor. Our lives were parallel. It just didn't make sense.

Both she and I had chosen to forego traditional treatment routes. We'd opted for natural treatments. We'd shared each and every possibility in hopes of finding things that worked for one another. At times, it felt like it was a game. "Have you tried this?" Or, "No I haven't tried that, but have you tried this?" And in those moments, we developed a comradery like no other. We were sisters, even though we didn't share any familial ties.
My sweet friend, Lori and her daughter

"Why not me?" I asked myself. Why was I allowed to live and she had not been?

Trying to make sense of the situation was ridiculous. Cancer has no rhyme or reason. It takes whom it will, when it will.

But the feelings of guilt and remorse overwhelmed me. I was extremely sad that she had passed away but at the same time, I was so very grateful to be living. It was a double edged sword, one I didn't want to wield.

After talking with another breast cancer friend, I realized what I was experiencing was called Survivor's guilt. My feelings were valid and I needed to give myself permission to not only feel what I was feeling, but to come to terms with my grief.

Trying to find words of comfort to offer my friend's daughter, I found myself speechless, but at that moment, there was no real need for words. Her daughter took comfort in just knowing my thoughts and prayers were with her.

Since my diagnosis in 2014, I've lost more friends than I care to name. Each and every time, I've wondered why I survived and they did not. In each instance, I've struggled to make sense of it all and I've been unable to do so.

One thing I know for a fact, cancer will continue to take the lives of people I love and every time it does, I'll wonder why it wasn't me. The only thing I cling to is hope. Hope for a better tomorrow. Hope for a world without cancer. And, hope that one day, I won't feel survivor's guilt any more.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

5 years post cancer

It is so hard to believe I'm currently 5 years post cancer diagnosis! I am officially N.E.D. - no evidence of disease and that completely blows my mind. 

Life has been good and I've been busy living it, hence, the lack of posts on my blog. 

I do still struggle daily with the residual effects of breast cancer surgery- lymphedema, fibromyalgia, and spinal degeneration. Along with a host of other issues like post cancer PTSD, cording, and insomnia, but I won't bore you. To sum things up, it I were a horse, I'd tell you to take me out and shoot me, but I'm not so I'll suck it up and keep being thankful that I'm still living.

Currently, I'm feverishly working on my book, the story of my cancer journey. In 2014, I felt God prompting me to write about this trial but things have gotten in the way. I haven't been able to sit down and spend time focusing on a book but He keeps reminding me, it's His project not mine, so I'd better get busy. And that's what I've tried to do this week. 

To date, I have over 135 thousand words written on my manuscript. I think that's a pretty good start! Whoever said writing a book was like having a baby had it about right. It's a painful process, especially remembering the past. 

I'm thankful I took the time to blog my cancer journey from day one. That will help make writing the book a lot less difficult but there will still be a lot of detail to add. And, for a novice, there are so many things to learn. 

My hope is to have a publisher pick up the book but if that doesn't happen, I'll self publish. Time will tell. 

So please forgive the lack of posts and keep your fingers crossed that I am able to complete this book by year's end. My goal is to have it ready to submit to a publisher by then and Lord willing, it will happen. All things happen in His perfect timing so I'm trusting Him to lead and guide me on that. 

In the meantime, I'll try to post as often as possible, so stay tuned. Life is good!

Monday, July 1, 2019

Stop Talking!

Ever have a conversation with your brain? I have. I do almost every single day. In fact, that's part of the problem. I can never get my brain to stop working. Day in and day out, my brain is always working. Random thoughts bombard my mind continually. It's getting to the point that it's interrupting my sleep. Either I don't sleep until the wee hours of the morning, or I find myself waking after only a few hours of sleep. Both scenarios suck.

This morning, as it was pitch black outside I found myself awake. Not knowing what time it was, I crept out of bed to keep from waking my husband. Feeling my way into the dining room, I sat at the table and fumbled around to find my Bible. When I can't sleep, I read and my Bible is my book of choice.

Using my flashlight, I opened my Bible. It fell open to the book of 2 Corinthians, chapter 5. As I read the chapter, I stopped on verse 21: "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." That verse is powerful and has always been a good reminder of how much God loves us and wanted us to be reconciled to Him.

I sat and read my Bible for a couple of hours, taking notes and cross referencing scriptures. After I prayed, I heard stirring. My husband was waking up. Sleepy eyed, he came into the living room and stared at me. "What are you doing up at this hour?," he said. I told him I had no idea. He urged me to go back to sleep but I explained I was wide awake.

After he went to bed, I went into my office to make notes. So many thoughts were coming in, I figured if I wrote them down and got them out of my head, I might be able to rest, but that didn't work. I'd download a few thoughts thinking I was clearing my head when twice as many as I'd written pushed their way in. Finally, I gave up and started my day with household chores. Doing laundry at that ungodly hour was insane and I'm beginning to wonder if I might have some sort of health issue. Do others struggle with getting their brains to rest?

This can't continue or I'll be a walking zombie. I must find a solution. Please keep me in your prayers as I work to figure this out.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Little ones keep you young

My youngest granddaughter keeps me young. She knows how to steal my heart. And the fact that she loves art, too, just makes her that much more dear to me. 

Since she was little, she's always been interested in art. From the time she was old enough to hold a pencil or crayon, she's been creating. As she's grown a few years older, I've enjoyed introducing her to different mediums. Yesterday, we focused on acrylic paint. 

Though she's only 5, she knows exactly what she wants. At our local craft store, I helped her pick out a canvas, some brushes, paint, and a palette. Leaving the store, she was so exuberant I think my heart skipped a few beats. She doesn't know it yet, but this little one is keeping me young. 

Choosing a canvas

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Writing a book is like giving birth

This is the year I'm supposed to complete my book. That was the impression I got from God as I prayed about it. Over the past few years, I've felt I was supposed to write about the story of how He led me through the valley of breast cancer, but one thing after another has gotten in the way. I'm a firm believer in God's perfect timing and I know, He's been working to get me to a point of obedience regarding this matter. The other day, I heard a sermon that said something along the lines of when we are disobedient to a call God places on our lives, that's the very point Satan steps in and takes advantage of us. That really made me stop and think. Had my busyness been a blatant refusal of being obedient to God's call on my life, I think it probably has been.

So, for the past few weeks, I've been focused on making myself sit down and re-read my journals. I've kept a journal since the first day I found a mass in my right breast. It's been hard reading them again and reliving every aspect of my journey but it's been necessary. Without my journals, I'd have forgotten about all I've been through - well, maybe not everything, but a lot of the fine details would have been lost due to my aging memory and post traumatic stress from cancer.

As I've been reading, I've asked God to point me in the right direction for this book. I had a concept and had written over 45,000 words but this morning, as I woke up, God shifted my perspective and He's taking me in a completely different direction.

For the past 6 hours, I've been writing. I had no idea what time it was until I just now looked at the clock. My shoulders are killing me and I'm about to stop but wanted to do a quick blog post. I haven't been keeping up with my blog either, by the way. I've just had stuff to do.

So I scratched some of what I'd already written and boy, did it feel weird deleting that much content, but when God says, "No," I can't very well say yes, can I?

Now I'm excited about my book. Before, I was feeling weighed down and like I had to do it just to complete the project. Maybe that's why God had me shift gears. I know He wants us to experience joy, so thank you, God.

The goal is to have my book published early next year. I have no idea who's going to publish it but I'm trusting. And if God says I'm to self publish, then I'm going to pray for His provision for the funds to do that. In any event, it will be published next year unless I'm raptured first.

I love how God cares about every single detail of our lives. As we learn to walk by faith and not by sight, He takes us on paths we never expected to cross. He's such a kind and loving God. I'm so thankful I know Him.

So keep your eyes pealed. One of these days, my book is going to hit the shelves. Until then, you can keep coming back to my blog and reading about my life. I promise, I'm going to work hard to do better about posting on a daily basis.

One thing I've learned throughout this process is that writing a book is difficult. It's like giving birth to a baby. The labor pains have just begun as I pour out the first few pages. I'm sure the intensity will grow as I remember the trauma I've experienced. One thing I do know is will be worth it in the end. I'll have a finished product that I'll be proud of and I will have been obedient to God. So yay, me! The let process continue and may the words flow freely today and for the months to come.

Monday, June 3, 2019

I Hate Cancer

I don't usually use the word hate. I don't like it very much, but today, I will.

Today I got an email from a friend sharing the news that one of her friends was just diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. My friend was reaching out wanting to know how she could help this newly diagnosed friend. As I read through the email, I was not only sad, I got mad. I wasn't mad at the sender. I was mad at the disease.

Everywhere, it seems, cancer continues to invade and decimate the lives of unsuspecting men, women, and children. Every single day, I hear of another case of cancer. For some reason, once you've been diagnosed, people assume you're an instant expert on the disease and I'll admit, I have learned an awful lot over the past 5 years but there's still much to know and understand.

Naively, I keep thinking one day they'll find a cure for all forms of cancer, but when I think of how much money the big pharmaceutical companies are making from treating the disease, I doubt that's true. My heart hurts for all those who've gone the traditional medical route. Chemotherapy, radiation, and antihormone therapy wreak havoc on the body and many times cause irreparable damage. Many people don't know they have a choice not to go the traditional route and doctors don't offer them the choice. It's up to the individual to do their own research or learn of the option by word of mouth from another cancer survivor.

More than likely, cancer has been around for hundreds of years but doctors back then didn't have access to the medical information we have today. I'm sure many people died of cancer that was left undiagnosed or was misdiagnosed. And they may have lived for many, many years with the cancer growing inside their bodies while they were completely unaware that anything was wrong at all. In fact, the oncologist told me that most of the time, by the time a lump is felt, it's been growing in the body for ten years or more. That's a scary thought. How many people purposely check their bodies every day for lumps, bumps, and bruises? Not many.

All that being said, I'm completely disgusted with cancer and yes, I do hate it, but I'm also grateful for it in my own life. It's been a great teacher. It's taught me to slow down and see things differently. That may be a hard concept to grasp for some but it's true. Before cancer, I took so much for granted. Now I don't take a single moment of a single day for granted.

I do still suffer from the side effects of treatment and complications from surgery. Those are little unexpected gifts that cancer left in its wake. And while I wish I didn't have to deal with the aggravating condition of lymphedema, muscle cording, and so many other ill effects of cancer on my body, I'm just thankful to be alive.

It would be amazing to live long enough to see a cure found for cancer, but I doubt it will happen in my lifetime. In the meantime, I pray daily that none of my loved ones will ever be diagnosed. I think I will always hate cancer and I think it's okay to feel that way.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Homeschool Lesson

I’ll never forget my eight-grade year of high school. It was such a pivotal year for me. I’d just become a teenager and had entered the world of exploring my independence. It was an amazing school year. Most of my friends and I had known each other since first grade. We’d attended the same elementary school and were so excited to be leaving Indian Creek. We thought we were hot stuff but had no idea what who we were or where we were headed.

My first year of high school was scary. I can still feel those feelings of anxiousness as I wandered down those locker lined hallways. I was a tiny minnow swimming upstream in a sea of hormones. But those scary feelings didn’t last long. Soon I learned my way around the school and began to settle into a comfortable routine.

Not long after I’d memorized my class schedule, I began having strange stomach pains. All through the school year, I struggled with extreme nausea and a feeling of something being not quite right in my belly. My mother thought it was just nerves and encouraged me to push through the pain, which I did for many weeks, but soon the nausea was accompanied by vomiting and the pain grew worse.

Realizing I wasn’t feigning illness to get out of classes, my mother took me to the doctor. After running a battery of tests, it was determined that I had a viral infection. We were sent home and told the infection should clear up in a few days, but it didn’t. Things continually got worse. I think my parents really started to worry when I was unable to keep food down and I’d cry myself to sleep at night as the abdominal pains wracked my body.

Somehow I managed to complete the eighth grade but I was still very ill and we had no idea why. One doctor after another was consulted. My mother was told I had mononucleosis and I was sent home to rest. When nothing seemed to help, I was taken to another doctor who thought I had Hepatitis. That diagnosis involved my entire family who had to endure preventative shots but that diagnosis turned out to be incorrect, too.

I wasn’t getting any better, in fact, I was growing much worse. At that point, my mother decided to take me to see a gastroenterologist. Upon physical examination, he could find nothing wrong. But after several visits to see him, this old country doctor had an idea. He told my mother to take me out a very greasy meal. Both she and I looked at him like he was crazy but he assured us he knew what he was doing and that we needed to trust him.

Mama took me to Matthew’s cafeteria to get a big ol' plate of fried chicken. She’d been told to allow me to eat the food and then bring me right back to Dr. G’s office. Shortly after consuming the chicken, I became deathly ill and was doubled over in pain. In the doctor’s office, I sat on the exam table as he palpated my abdomen. He looked at my mother and said we need to do emergency surgery. Both she and I were dumbfounded.

Dr. G explained that I had gallstones and that my gallbladder was severely inflamed. This was a rare condition for a thirteen year old to be facing, Dr.G said, and that’s one reason it had been so difficult to diagnose.

I was admitted to the hospital the following day and before surgery could be performed, my gallbladder ruptured allowing dangerous gangrene to spread through my body. I didn’t know it at the time, but I almost died. Dr. G told my mother if they hadn’t had a cancellation, which allowed my surgery to be moved up an hour, I would have died.

It was touch and go for many days, but they finally got me stabilized and I was able to go home with a foot long scar and a drainage tube in my belly.

Recovery was tough and I spent the summer recuperating at home.

When it was time for me to start 9th grade, I was still weak and the doctor felt I needed to continue gaining my strength back before returning to school. That meant I would have to be homeschooled so I could keep up with my classmates. Teachers at the high school were notified and a plan was made. The teachers would write out weekly assignments for me, my mother would go to the school each week to pick them up, and the following week we’d submit my work for grading. This plan worked well with most classes and I was thankful to have the opportunity to recover at home.

One day, my Home Economics teacher, Mrs. Sara Lou Jenkins, decided to make a home visit to see how I was doing. She’d called the house and asked my mother if she could stop by after school that day. I was nervous about the visit because I’d never met Mrs. Jenkins before but I was also looking forward to visiting with one of my 9th grade teachers.

Mrs. Jenkins rang the doorbell as Mama was getting supper ready. We were going to have fried chicken, something I hadn’t been able to enjoy in quite a long time. Since Mama had flour on her hands from dredging the chicken, she asked me to invite Mrs. Jenkins in.

When I went to the door, I found a slight little bird-like woman standing in front of me. She was in a 1950's style dress with a string of pearls around her neck. I noticed her perfectly coiffed hair and her earrings that matched her necklace. Inviting her into our home, I led Mrs. Jenkins into our living room. She sat on our sofa and began to chat with me. Mama leaned her head toward the living room from the doorway of the kitchen telling Mrs. Jenkins that she’d be available to visit in just a few minutes. She explained she needed to wash her hands first.

Mama joined Mrs. Jenkins and I as we conversed in the living room. Mrs. Jenkins asked about my health and how I was doing with my assignments. We talked for about ten minutes and then we noticed smoke and a loud pop coming from the kitchen. Mama and Mrs. Jenkins rose at the same time as Mama ran into the kitchen. I was right behind them. Flames were licking the cabinet above the stove as the grease Mama had put into the iron skillet on the stove burned. Mrs. Jenkins was frantic and called out to Mama ways to put out the fire. “You can douse it with flour or throw the lid on the pan,” she cried out in a shrill voice. “Mercy, you have to get that fire out fast!” she screamed. Mama was busy grabbing a towel and trying to get the iron skillet off the gas flame so she could put out the fire and I was afraid she was going to be burned, but somehow she managed to get to it and contain the fire.

My face was blood red with embarrassment as Mrs. Jenkins hurried to leave our smoke filled home. I don’t think it would have been so bad if she hadn’t been my Home Economics teacher. After she left, Mama started to laugh hysterically and as I asked her why she was laughing when our house could have burned down, she said, “Well, at least you learned how to put out a grease fire today and you learned never to leave an iron skillet on a hot stove eye unattended.” I didn’t think it was very funny but I guess Mama was thankful she hadn’t added the chicken just yet. If she’d done that, we wouldn’t have had supper that night.

When we sat down to eat, Mama was telling Daddy all about Mrs. Jenkins visit and as she got to the end of the story, she said, “You should have seen that lady fly out of the house! She must have been so frustrated. I bet she’s never seen a grease fire in all her life and yet she has to teach her students what to do in case they ever have one. I think she got a big ol’ homeschool lesson herself today.”

At that, we all had a good laugh but it took weeks for the smell of smoke to leave our kitchen. I’ll never forget how Mama remained calm that day and how she took care of the fire like it was nothing unusual. That was the day I learned my Mama could teach Mrs. Jenkins a thing or two.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Mother's Day - Memories from my childhood

Growing up, I wasn’t blessed with many material things. Although my Daddy worked long, hard hours, my Mama stayed home taking care of the house, my sister, brother, and I. By all standards, we were poor but my siblings and I didn’t realize it. We had food to eat, clothes to wear, and a roof over our heads. But one day, when I was about six or seven, I can’t recall the exact age now, I found out the truth. I learned that the little amount of money my father brought home was never enough and no matter how my mother tried to stretch it, we always needed more. That need caused my mother to become very resourceful but even with all of her effort, most of our needs were met as God blessed us abundantly through the generosity of others.  

One day, not too long after we’d moved to Clarkston from Atlanta, I met our new neighbors. There were two boys and a girl.  Their only girl was a few years older than I. We became fast friends and soon played together every afternoon after school. One day, as we were playing, she pulled out a large case from her closet and asked if I’d like to see her Barbies. I had no idea what Barbies were but they sounded interesting, so I said yes. As she removed each doll from the case, I marveled at their beauty. Though they were only dolls made of plastic, they looked very lifelike. They had real looking hair, perfectly painted on makeup, tiny jewelry, and beautiful clothes. Oh, how I wanted one of those dolls!

When I got home, I remember telling my mother how desperately I wanted and needed a Barbie doll. As Mama stood over a hot iron skillet cooking our dinner, she listened and every few minutes replied, “Uh huh.” I must have talked incessantly, I had a habit of doing that and although the memory isn’t quite as sharp now, I’m sure, as I got ready for bed that evening and waited for her to tuck me in, I was still talking about how much I needed that doll.

Not too many days after our conversation, Mama gave me a gift. It wasn’t a Barbie doll, but it was a doll that was very similar. The doll I received was named Tressy. Mama had picked her up at our local Sears store. Tressy looked very much like a Barbie doll but had one major difference. She had a button on her belly that when pushed would allow her hair to magically grow.

I was so excited to have my very own doll! It didn’t matter that she wasn’t a real Barbie doll. She had tiny black shoes and a bright red dress. She even came with a miniscule plastic brush to help style her beautiful, blonde hair. I could barely wait to show my friend my treasured possession.

After months of playing with Tressy, her bright red dress began to show wear. Unlike my friend, I didn’t have extra clothes for Tressy. As I brought that fact to my mother’s attention, I’m sure my desire for more material things weighed heavily on her. I had no idea how my wants impacted her, but would soon find out.

Mama was a seamstress. She often took in sewing jobs in an effort to supplement our meager income. Many a night my siblings and I would fall asleep to the gentle hum of her sewing machine as she worked diligently to complete a paying job. Sometimes, if there was an approaching deadline for one of her clients, she’d work into the wee hours of the morning, but Mama always did her sewing while we were at school or after she’d fed us and tucked us into bed for the evening.

One night, as I lay in bed listening to the whirring sound of her sewing machine, I was unable to sleep. Quietly, I crawled out of bed and wandered into Mama’s sewing room. Her sewing room wasn’t really a room. It was a tiny closet that had been converted. It had just enough space for her sewing machine, a few shelves on the wall above it, and a file cabinet tucked into the corner where she stored all of her patterns.

When I entered the small space, Mama looked up. “What are you doing awake?” she said. I replied that I couldn’t sleep. As I stood next to her, I glanced down to see what she was working on and was surprised to see a tiny black and white houndstooth coat. It took a few minutes for me to realize that coat she was making was for me. It was a miniature piece of clothing for my Tressy doll.

Mama seemed flustered that I’d caught her by surprise and hurriedly shooed me out of the room and back to bed.  

The next morning, I pestered her about the little coat I’d seen her making. She told me it wasn’t finished yet and said she had some details to add before it would be complete. I was so excited knowing that in a few days, Tressy would have another piece of clothing, a gorgeous black and white coat.

Mama found some teeny, tiny, black buttons at a cloth shop in Scottdale where she purchased all of her sewing supplies. While watching TV she’d often do her hand sewing for projects and in my mind’s eye, I can still see her fingers working swiftly to sew on those little buttons. Thimble on her middle right finger and needle gripped tightly between thumb and forefinger, the threaded needle moved in and out as she guided it to accomplish the task.

When the coat was complete, Mama handed it to me. I was so proud of that tiny work of art. As I leaned in to kiss her cheek, she smiled a great, big smile. I told her I loved her and ran off to play.

That was the first of many handmade doll clothes I possessed. Mama continued making those clothing items for my doll and soon was making them for my sister’s Tammy doll, too.

At Christmas, we each received a storage case for our dolls and their clothes. Only the suitcase had been purchased, the clothing had all been handmade. Tiny buttons, ribbons, and belts adorned each item of clothing and those gifts of love soon became the envy of my neighbor.

There’s not a price you can put on the gift of love. Those little coats and dresses that Mama made were her way of showing me that she wanted to meet my needs. Even though we didn’t have money for store bought items, she did what she could to make me happy.

As an adult, I can’t help but tear up when I remember how hard she worked to make those little doll clothes. It wasn’t until I began to sew that I realized how difficult it must have been for Mama to make those little clothes. The side seams of the garments weren’t more than 5 or 6 inches long and were less than half an inch wide. It took great skill and precision to maneuver the sewing machine needle without piercing a finger or two.

Every year, when Mother’s Day approaches, I remember those little doll clothes and the sacrifice Mama made in buying the extra materials to make them for me. I remember how she worked hunched over her sewing machine late into the evenings and how tirelessly she added the detailed embellishments to make them look professionally made.

Those little clothes are still around. I’m pretty sure my sister has them packed in her little doll suitcase stored somewhere safe in her home. And although I don’t have any of them in my possession, I have every single one of them etched into my memory.

My mother was a remarkable person and was truly a Proverbs 31 woman. She was very resourceful and talented. She was giving and kind. She loved others and loved God. I am thankful for her and though she’s not with us any longer, I’ll always celebrate Mother’s Day remembering her fondly.

Two years ago, my oldest granddaughter wanted a Barbie doll but her mommy didn’t like the worldliness of the dolls. The elaborate makeup and revealing clothing weren’t appropriate for a little girl, she’d said. So, I bought a handful of Barbie dolls at our local Goodwill and brought them home to revamp. With acetone, I gently scrubbed off their makeup and repainted their faces with kinder, gentler eyes and smiles. I removed their clothing and replaced them with some handmade pieces. As I was working, it almost felt like my Mama was peering over my shoulder whispering, “Add a button there.”

My gift of love was presented to my granddaughter on her birthday. The blessing I received, as she opened the dolls, was priceless. That love that Mama had shared with me had come full circle and hopefully, in the future, will be passed down from generation to generation.

This Mother’s Day, as you celebrate your own Mom, try to think about something she said or did to show her love for you. It may not have been through a material gift. Perhaps it was only a look or a word but if you think about it long enough, I’m sure you’ll understand that a mother’s love for her child is a special kind of love and one that can’t be taken for granted. It’s a love that should be celebrated and cherished for now and for always.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Art, art, and more art!

I never considered myself an artist, although I wanted to be. Since I was a very young child, I'd loved to dabble in all types of art mediums. From the moment I held my first crayon, I'd fallen in love with art.

In grammar school, although I didn't have many tools in the way of art supplies, I found my finger was useful. When I was working on a project for a local social science fair, I chose to do my report on Brazil. For weeks, I read everything I could find on South America. My project was going to focus on the art of bull fighting and the rigorous training fighters must endure. As I compiled my information and wrote my report, I wanted to add a visual aid. Digging through my mother's closet, I found an old canvas and some used oil paints. (She liked to dabble, too.) Flipping through the pages of a large book I'd checked out from the library, I found a photo of a bull. That photo became my inspiration.

I had no idea how to use oil paints back then and was unfamiliar with their properties. But in my haste to complete my project, I sketched the bull's head enlarging it to fill the entire canvas.

I had no brushes with which to paint. My mother's art days had been long ago and apparently she'd thrown out her old and worn brushes. What a dilemma! What could I use? I didn't have time to beg, borrow, or steal brushes. It was after 11:00 p.m. and my project was due the following morning. So, I had to become creative. Ingenuity led me to look at the ten digits on my hands. Maybe they would work.

I took a dab of black oil paint and gently placed it on the canvas just inside the area I'd sketched for the bull's ear. Taking my little finger, I began to smooth and spread the paint into the areas it needed to be and found, by taking extreme patience and care, I could manipulate the paint to do what I needed it to do.

I continued working on the painting until three or 4 in the morning and then lay down to rest. When it was time to get up and get ready for school, I gathered my things and started to head out to my mother's waiting car. As I pressed the painting to my body, I realized the paint had not dried completely! What was I going to do?

When I arrived at school, I went into the girls' bathroom. Their, hanging on the wall, was a convenient hand dryers Holding the painting beneath the dryer, I used the other hand to press and turn it on. I stood there as long as possible trying to dry my painting but knew I'd have to get to class soon or be counted absent.

Thankfully, when I returned to class, the teacher was telling us it was time to go and prepare our displays. That's when I realized no one would touch my painting but me as we set up our presentations. The teacher explained that judging would begin the following week, that would give my art time to dry!

By the time the judges reviewed the work, my painting was dry to the touch. I was thankful I'd had sense enough not to use a lot of paint in my work. I'd skimmed on tiny amounts of paint while using my fingers to work it into the canvas.

I can still see the tips of my fingers that day at school. They were covered in dried paint. I'd scrubbed my hands before school but the oil paint was difficult to remove so I'd gone to school with black, brown, and deep red stained fingertips.

Fast forward to my post active breast cancer stage and I find myself loving to paint again. This time I've graduated from using my fingers regularly to only using them on occasion. I paint with acrylics now instead of oils because I'm an impatient person and don't want to wait for the paint to dry.

Painting has helped me pass the time and I've found, when I'm painting, I don't think about my health.

Yesterday, I participated in a local event called Free Art Friday. It's an event where artists create works of art and then randomly place them around the downtown area for people to find and take home. It's a great way to bless others and my husband and I often enjoy watching the finders as they discover my works of art.

Not only do I hide art and give it away for free, I often send packages to friends or family without their prior knowledge. Giving is a gift I enjoy just about as much as I do creating.

My theme for the past month has been angels. There's a verse in the Bible, Psalm 91:11, that says, "For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways." That verse seems very fitting to write on the back of my paintings. When I send those paintings off in the mail, it is my prayer that the recipient will know that God is always watching over them.

Art is therapeutic and I'm thankful I discovered it at a very young age. I hope I'll still have the energy to create well into my 90s, that's the plan anyway! And hopefully, my hands won't be too shaky to hold a brush, but if they are, I know how to use my fingers.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Three little letters

I am an impatient person, always have been, always will be. And while that's not always a good thing, it's the truth. I just hate waiting.

On Tuesday, I spent most of the day at the cancer treatment center. I was scheduled for a biopsy. Dr. H had found an enlarged lymph node along my left clavicle at my last exam. Since that visit, I'd had an ultrasound performed which defined a fairly large node just under my left collar bone. Those findings led the doctor to order an ultrasound-guided biopsy but the thing is, when I went in for the test to be performed, the little radiology tech couldn't find the node! She kept passing the ultrasound wand over and over the area where the node had been. She snapped photos of what she thought might have been the place Dr. H wanted to biopsy. She turned those photos in to the head radiologist for his opinion. She even brought him back into the exam room to talk with me. When he arrived, I didn't know what to think but as a big grin crossed his face, I knew everything was going to be okay.

Although the node wasn't showing up on the ultrasound scan and although no biopsy was performed, Dr. H, along with the radiologist, felt a repeat PET SCAN was due. (I'd had my last scan done in 2015 and I'm sure they felt that 4 years could have led to some notable changes in my body.)

Yesterday, I spent most of the afternoon at the cancer treatment center. First, I was intravenously administered a radioactive tracer. Then it was time to wait. I was told I'd have to wait about an hour for the tracer to course through my system.

After gathering the radioactive vial and other materials, the nurse turned down the lights, brought me a warm blanket, and left the room. I assumed the ambient lighting was to help me relax and possibly even fall asleep, but they didn't know me. I don't nap during the day.

I got up and turned up the lights and began reading a book I'd pilfered from the library on the second floor earlier that day. As I read, I noticed the room was beginning to get colder and colder. Although I had that thin little warmed blanket the nurse had given me earlier, I was freezing! So I got up again and tried to adjust the thermostat in the room but was unable to do so. Apparently, it was controlled elsewhere in the building so I made the best of a bad situation and covered myself from top to bottom with that little blanket.

When the time was up, the nurse came back into the room and told me to empty my bladder. I was so happy to hear her say that! I was about to burst from drinking all the water they'd encouraged during my time there and the coolness of the room exacerbated my feelings of urgency.

After taking care of business, I was taken into the room for the scan. The positron emission tomography scan (PET SCAN) would look at all my bones, tissues and organs. The radioactive tracer would illuminate any trouble spots indicating a probable recurrence of cancer. I was nervous about the test and since I don't do well in confined spaces, I'd taken the anti-anxiety meds the doctor had prescribed for me before being put into the scanning machine. They helped me relax enough to withstand the scan without feeling anxious.

The test was over fairly quickly. I don't think it lasted more than about 15-20 minutes. When the test was over, I asked the tech when I could expect to receive the results. She assured me I'd hear from my oncologist the following day.

All night long I tried my best not to worry. I didn't want to think about the possibility of a recurrence. As I prayed before bed, I told God I'd accept either verdict. If He saw fit for me to go through another round of cancer, so be it. And, if He saw fit to allow me to remain cancer-free, then I'd accept that, too. By coming to terms with whatever God chose to bring my way, I fell asleep peacefully and slept soundly through the night.

I woke up bright and early. From 5:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. I waited patiently to hear from the doctor. I sat by the phone in my office expecting it to ring any minute.

When I finally received word that I was still cancer free, I wanted to dance around the room! I was so grateful and so humbled.

In His goodness, God has allowed me to remain cancer free for almost 5 years. I know so many others who've passed away during that time from breast cancer. I have no idea why God's chosen to allow me His favor, but I will gladly accept it. And I'll treasure those three little letters, N.E.D., every day from this day forward.

For those who've never experienced breast cancer, it's hard to explain what living under an umbrella of fear feels like. It's hard to be on constant guard for the most recent results from bloodwork, scans, or other tests. Sometimes, it seems like they'll never end and for most us, even if we're in a state of remission, we'll continue to be under the watchful eye of a doctor for the rest of our lives.

Cancer is a tricky disease. It can pop back up and become active at any time. Many times, a recurrence appears within a few years after the initial diagnosis and other times, it can appear decades later. But for those of us who've had our lives touched by cancer, we have to learn to continue our lives. We can't live in a state of constant fear - that's a very unhealthy place to be. So on this day, I am celebrating! Fear has no power over me!

And one thing I know for sure...God is good, all the time. He's got a plan for my life and I am choosing to walk in it. I will trust Him no matter what because I know He has numbered my days. No one can pluck me out of His MIGHTY, OMNIPOTENT hand.

Celebrate with me, won't you? N.E.D. seems such a tiny little acronym for such a big blessing but I'll take it!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Dodged a bullet today, yay!

The biopsy setup with all those sharp instruments
Today I was scheduled for a biopsy on an enlarged lymph node on my left clavicle. I wasn't looking forward to it, biopsies hurt, but I trusted my doctor and knew he was watching out for my well being.

As I got ready for the trip to the cancer treatment center, I didn't realize how nervous I was about today's visit until I started to put in my earrings. My hands were shaking so badly I couldn't find the hole to insert my earring. That was not a good sign. I must have been internally fearful and my body's fight or flight system was saying, run, run, run! I didn't run. I realized I had to put on my big girl panties and be brave. I've been having to do that a lot lately.

When I got to the cancer treatment center, the imaging room was packed full. As I glanced around, I saw some familiar faces and many new ones. After check-in, I found a seat and waited to be called back. Usually, it only takes a few minutes. Today, it took almost half an hour.

When it was my turn to go back, I followed the quick-stepping young nurse as fast as I could. She was definitely a power walker! I was having to take 3 steps to every one of hers. We reached the room and she handed me a gown and a warm blanket. I wanted to say, "I know the drill," but I didn't. As she left the room, I slipped off my clothes and donned the gown with the ribbon ties in the front. After waiting for about ten minutes, the nurse came back in and we got started.

She took the warm conductive gel and smeared it on the ultrasound wand. I pushed my hair back behind my ear to keep the gook from gumming up my freshly washed hair. Over and over again, the nurse passed the wand across my clavicle pausing now and then to snap a photo of what she was seeing. When she was done, she left the room to show the radiologist the film.

I waited until the radiologist came in. I didn't know what to expect as he sat beside me on the gurney. He smiled a big smile and said, "You don't need a biopsy today. The lymph node has shrunk since your last visit to Dr. H." I was so thankful to hear those words. I was not going to have to endure the pain of having a large needle inserted into my neck, WOOHOO! But, I wasn't out of the woods yet. The radiologist said my oncologist had requested I have a PET scan and that would be done tomorrow. My last one was done in 2015 so they felt it was time for another.

Ultrasound ready for my scan
With my five year cancerversary just around the corner, I'm hoping I get an all clear from this PET scan. It's my hope that I don't have to come back to the cancer treatment center for an entire year. So, I'm keeping my fingers crossed and hoping for the best. I'm trusting God either way. If He deems it necessary for me to experience a recurrence, so be it. I'll know its His will. And, if He gives me a free and clear scan, I'll know His will is for me to move past this cancer mess and get on with my life. Either way, He's a good God and He knows what is in store for my future.

So that's where we stand today. I am grateful and I am blessed. Until tomorrow....
Happy me - no needles today!

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