Saturday, May 28, 2022

When can I be free of worrying about a recurrence of Cancer?

 

Bone scan with bone metastases 

A cancer recurrence isn't something anyone ever expects and as a survivor, we do our best to not think about the possibility of a recurrence. But occasionally, we get a reality check. Though we want to believe we're completely and utterly cancer free, a random test or procedure can break that glass bubble reminding us that there's always a possibility of its return. 

For the past few days, I've been anxious. I've tried to overcome the nagging feeling that something is about to happen. I don't know what the "something" is, but I definitely feel like something is just over the horizon. My feelings of anxiousness are probably related to the upcoming full body bone scan my oncologist recently scheduled. Though I've had them several times over the past 7+ years, I never once gave a thought to the possibility of them finding something. 

It's strange how God works things out. I'd been having issues swallowing and the ENT wanted to do a CT scan. That scan didn't reveal my swallowing problem but did reveal a possible tumor on my right lung. That's when I was forced to think about the big "what if." 

After contacting my oncologist to let him know about that test, he scheduled me for a chest CT with and without contrast. Though he was wanting to clarify the potential problem in my right lung, which was later determined to be scar tissue from radiation treatments,  a new area of concern appeared on the T6 vertebrae. 

Those test results caused his office to schedule a nuclear medicine full body bone scan. (That's a mouthful, isn't it?) Though they didn't tell me why, I assumed it was to look for cancer. Since hearing the words uttered, "area of concern," uttered by the oncologist's office, I've borrowed a whole lot of trouble. I've let my mind wander, letting it dip into the vast ocean of what ifs. 

It's funny, but I assumed when I reached the 7 year cancer free mark last July, that I was home free. I mean Biblically speaking, 7 is the number of completion right? But was I being naive in thinking my bout with cancer was completely over? I wanted to believe that trial from God's hand was over but what if...

Three days from today, I'll go in for the scan. They'll inject a radioactive tracer into my vein and 3 hours later, I'll return so they can scan my entire body. I'm praying that nothing lights up. I'm hoping that the "area of concern" at T6 is just degenerative disk disease or osteoarthritis or something minor like that. If it is cancer, I don't know what I'll do. 

I have several friends who've gone long stints of being cancer free only to have the cancer return many years later. One of the longest periods of cancer freedom was in my friend Bonnie Ferguson's life. She went 22 years without a recurrence and I can still remember the day she told me it was back. I could hear the tremor in her voice. I could see the worry on her face. 

She went straight back into warrior mode and began treatments at the cancer treatment center. For the first few weeks, she was hopeful, but as her body began to weaken, she decided it wasn't worth it to do chemo again. When she stopped, she felt better but it was only months later that she grew extremely ill and eventually passed away. I don't want that to be the case with me. 

When my brother was diagnosed with cancer, he only did 2 chemo treatments before giving up. They made him so sick he couldn't continue. Cancer and the treatments wreak havoc on the body. 

So, I don't know what I'll do. I guess I'll have to wait for the test results. If they find more cancer, I'm sure I'll be shocked, especially after almost 8 years, but I'll also have to trust that God has a reason for allowing it into my life. 

I'm no saint, believe me, but I do know, from past experience, that God handpicks our trials. I just hope He doesn't have another round of cancer on His agenda of scheduled trials for me. 

We can't understand why He allows such hard things into our lives sometimes, but if we try to look at them as teaching tools, they're a little easier to accept. 

Please say a pray for me on May 31st at 9:00 a.m. That's when I go for the radioactive injection. They always have trouble finding my veins, especially since I can only have injections in my left hand. And then later that same day, around noon, please pray again as I go in for the actual scan. Pray that if there is a problem it will be illuminated clearly so the doctor can see it. But if I had my druthers, I'd like to ask for a completely clear and perfect scan result. I know God's able. 

Waiting isn't my strong suit, never has been, never will be, but I'm going to do my best to wait patiently. I'm also going to do my best not to worry. A friend told me earlier today that worry will just rob my day of strength. I think she's right. Worrying never accomplishes a thing other than giving us something to do. 

Thank you in advance for your thoughts and prayers. I'll keep you posted. Now off to do some crafting!

Friday, May 13, 2022

One thing leads to another


They say hindsight is 20/20 and I've found that to be true for the most part. When I look back on various things in my life, I can see so much more clearly, especially when those things are health related. 

In December 2021, I was extremely sick with some weird illness that caused me to be unable to swallow. I went to the emergency room twice, to urgent care twice, and to my general physician 3 times. During that time, I had all sorts of tests run - bloodwork, laryngoscopies, MRIs, and CT scans. At first they thought I had a salivary stone. Next, they thought Sjogren's Syndrome, after a positive ANA test, they thought it was a rheumatological disorder but nothing definite was ever determined. After 2 rounds of steroids and 2 of antibiotics, I got a little better, but then, I got Tracheitis. Unsure whether or not my CPAP machine may have contributed to that issue, I was told to stay off of it for 3 weeks. 

The CT scan on my head and neck revealed an area of concern on the upper right lobe of my lung. How it picked up that area, I have no clue, but it did. Immediately, I freaked out thinking the cancer had returned. Calling my oncologist, I shared the news. He scheduled a CT scan of my lungs with and without contrast. That was earlier last week. On Friday, I got the call from his office. They said the area on my lung was damaged tissue from radiation therapy. Whew! I was glad to hear that, but I wasn't expecting what came next. The test also picked up an area of concern on the T6 vertebrae of my spine. Great. Just what I needed. Another area to freak out about! And now, they want me to have a nuclear medicine full body bone scan. They didn't tell me why they wanted me to have the test, but I know. They're looking to see if the cancer has metastasized. 

When they lopped off my boobs, they did find cancer in my sentinel lymph node, too. That meant the cancer was traveling. Thankfully, after removing a total of 6 nodes in my right arm and 2 in the left, They didn't find any more cancer. So, I assumed everything was all good. 

In July of this year, I'll celebrate 8 years of being cancer free...I hope. 

I have to look back at the circumstances of the way everything happened with gratitude. If I don't, I can't accept that God allowed each thing to lead to another thing to hopefully take care of a potential problem before it gets out of control. 

I don't want to go through cancer again...EVER! But if I have to, I'd rather know very early on so the doctors can help me figure out how to battle it. 

I don't know what I'll do if they say it is a recurrence. I don't know how I'll choose to fight it. The first round, I refused chemo but did do radiation therapy and anti-hormone therapy for a few months. If I'm told the cancer has returned, what will I do? I've already started to think about it. 

My friends and family tell me not to borrow trouble, and I'm not trying to, I'm just a practical person. I like to have a plan. I like to think ahead. 

I never really thought long and hard during my first round of cancer. I just did what I had to do. I knew I wanted the cancer out of my body as fast as possible so I went radical and said, "Cut them off!" If I get news it's in my spine, I'll probably lean toward doing chemotherapy this time. I know it will make me extremely sick, but if it means I'll have a better chance of living longer, I'll do it. 

My Aunt died of bone cancer. I watched her during the last few weeks of her life. She was in excruciating pain. The morphine didn't help lessen her pain or control it. Her agony is not something I think I could endure. 

I wish I didn't know so much about the spine. Working for a two chiropractors I learned a lot. And now it all makes sense. I've been having a lot of back pain in that area for some time. I thought I was just dealing with a herniated disk. I guess time will tell. 

The funny thing is, even before I find out the results from the complete body bone scan, I have a sneaking feeling I'm going to get bad news. I'm not trying to be morbid, it's just a gut feeling I have. 

Back in 1976, I read a book by Betty Rollin called, First You Cry. It's about how she felt when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Little did I know that 38 years after I read her book, I'd face the same plight. 

Last week, while visiting a thrift store, the spine of a book caught my eye and it nearly jumped off the shelf at me. It was Betty's book. For some reason, I purchased it and brought it home to re-read. It's been 46 years since I've read her story and I felt the need to read it again. 

Maybe it's just a coincidence or maybe mere curiosity, but as I've been reading the book again this week, it's felt comforting to know her feelings are so similar to mine. I'd forgotten about her sick sense of humor that cracks me up. For instance, at a dinner party, she's talking with a speech writer and all of a sudden he asks her what she does for a living. Betty pipes up and says, without missing a beat, "I had a breast cut off recently and I'm trying to get over it." Naturally, the man sitting with her is caught off guard by her candor and nearly drops his fork. I had to laugh out loud when I read it. Only those who've been there would get it, and I did. Sometimes, we say things for the pure shock value because it's the most suitable thing we can think of at the time. 

It will be interesting to see how all this plays out. The scan is on May 31st. I'll go into the hospital at 9:00 a.m. to be injected with a radioactive tracer then I'll return to the hospital 3 hours later for an hour long scan. I don't know how long it will be before I receive the results, but I'm praying now that whatever is on T6 will be miraculously gone. If not, I'll try to receive the news with grace and trust that God has everything under control. He's the only one who knows what my future holds. 

Oh, sure, I'd love to have a crystal ball and be able to see what happens in the days, weeks, and months ahead. I'd love to know how long I'm going to live and how I'm going to die, but God doesn't give me that ability. If He did, there would be no reason for me to have faith, would there? 

It's hard. I won't lie. It's so hard to think about possibly going through cancer again. I know I'll beat myself up with the what ifs - did I do the right thing in my choice for the first fight? Did I do something to feed the cancer and cause it to grow again? Was there something I ignored? The questions are endless. 

All I can do is wait and I suck at that. In the meantime, I'm going to spend some time at the beach trying to think about nothing other than watching the rolling of the ocean waves, seeing the splendor of the sunrises and sunsets, feeling the sand beneath my feet, and allowing my mind to be soothed by the sights and sounds of nature. 

Please keep me in your prayers. I'll keep you posted in the days ahead. No matter what, I know that God is good and He has a good plan for my life. 

I’m trying really hard not to cry…

Monday, May 9, 2022

I don't want to go there

 This past Friday, I went in for a routine colonoscopy. I wasn't expecting them to find 2 polyps, but they did. Although my mind doesn't want to go there, I can't help but wonder, could it be cancer? 

Today, I was scheduled for a CT scan on my lungs. A couple of months ago, after visiting the ENT for some swallowing issues, he did an MRI on my head and neck. That test also revealed a "small tumor" in my right lung. He didn't think it was anything, but I begged to differ. When you've had cancer, even the smallest thing can turn out to be something big. Immediately, I called my oncologist and told him about the findings. After he reviewed the report, he wanted me to have a CT scan with and without contrast. I was glad he was being proactive. My mind didn't want to go there, but once again, I couldn't help but wonder if perhaps the cancer was trying to come back. 

In exactly 2 months from today, I'll celebrate my 8th cancerversary. I really want to make it to this celebratory event. I'm hoping neither of the aforementioned tests screws it up, but they might. 

Survivors always live with the fear of a possible recurrence. Just because we pass the five year mark, the standard where oncologists tend to take their hands off and allow your visits to slow considerably, doesn't mean we're home free. Cancer can come back any time and usually, when it does, it comes back with a vengeance. 

The polyps in my colon have already been removed and biopsied but I don't have the results yet. As for the tumor in my lung, I'm praying it's already gone, that it magically disappeared. But if they do call me in to do a biopsy, I'll probably have a melt down. I don't want to go through anything to do with breast cancer again. 

Did you know, even if cancer were to show up in my bones, spine, or any other place, they'd still say it was a recurrence of the breast cancer even though I've had both breasts removed? Yes! They'd just say it had metastasized. 

I am doing my best not to dwell on the what ifs, but it's hard. I don't want to allow my mind to go there, but it's not listening very well. 

Please pray I don't hear the word cancer in the next few days or even next week. I'm planning a beach trip! I definitely want to go there. And I want to go without the awful news that my cancer came back. 

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Growing up poor

I didn't realize, until I was an adult, that I'd grown up poor. I was raised in a household whose income fell well below the poverty line. My Daddy’s upbringing was in a home with an even lower income. He was the first of his siblings to graduate from high school and after that, he took night classes at a technical school to learn a skill. He was one of the hardest workers I've known. While most of the years he was the sole wage earner, my Mother was a stay-at-home wife and mother. When she could, she'd take in ironing or make clothes for women who were much better off than we were, but most of my growing up years, we lived on Daddy's meager income. 

Watching my mother and father worry about making ends was hard. No matter how hard Daddy worked, it never seemed to be enough to take care of my sister, brother, and I. I was determined I wasn't going to live that way forever, so when I was 12, I took my first babysitting job. I was determined to rise above such intense struggle to survive. That job only paid a dollar an hour and I was babysitting 7 children, but I didn't care. I was making my own money and it felt good. 

When I was 15, and still in high school, I wanted to get a real job. Back then, parents had to sign a work permit for children under the age of 16. I begged my mother to sign the permit so I could work and thankfully she did. The next problem was how to get to the interview I'd been lucky enough to schedule. 

Our cars were usually very old and in ill repair. Daddy did his best to fix them up and keep them running, but sometimes, we only had one working car and of course, he needed that to Atlanta to work. Luckily, the day I was to have my interview with a local department store, Mama's car was running and she agreed to take me. I put on my prettiest dress and my best game face. As I talked with the gentleman at W. T. Grant Company, I did my best to be posed and mature. Mr. Weaver had no idea how hard my knees were knocking as I listened during the interview. I prayed he couldn't hear them. I landed a job in the collections department at $1.25 an hour. I was ecstatic.  Working hard every day after school, I managed to get raise after raise until I topped out at their maximum $1.65 and hour. I worked there almost a year before becoming engaged. 

At 16, I got married. Young, stupid, and in love, or so I thought, my young husband and I did our best to make ends meet. He was the only wage earner while I worked at completing my education, but $80 a week didn't go very far. We lived in an apartment down the road from my parent's house. The apartment rent was $135 a month and took almost 2 paychecks to make. On top of that were utilities and groceries. We lived off of peanut butter or bologna sandwiches that first year. I washed clothes in the bathtub and hung them out on the balcony of our apartment to dry because we couldn't afford a washer and dryer and certainly didn't have spare change to use the on site laundomat. Growing up poor taught me to survive. 

When my husband got a new position with Georgia Power making a little more money, we moved to Covington, GA. We'd found a repossessed single wide trailer that came fully furnished. It had red and black shag carpet and black naugahyde furniture in the living room. We thought we were stepping up in the world! The trailer payment and the rent at the trailer park were well within our budget. We were doing okay until I got pregnant. 

Adding a new baby to the mix brought on even more challenges. There were extra expenses for diapers, bottles, formula, etc. We did the best we could but had to rely on family to help pick up the slack. Soon, tensions were high and our marriage on the rocks. After 3 years, we called it quits. I ended up moving back home, baby in tow and lived there for about a year until I could get on my feet and get my own apartment. 

My life took a lot of twists and turns. It always seemed I was taking two steps forward and three steps back. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't seem to get ahead. I was determined I was not going to live paycheck to paycheck as my parents had done all their lives. 

So much has changed since those early days. I said goodbye to a second marriage and hello to third. My family grew in size from one little boy to one boy and three girls, all grown now and three of those children have blessed me with grandchildren.  

It's funny how growing up poor shaped me into who I am today. I don't take anything for granted. 

There were many lessons I learned from growing up without money - 

Here are a few of them.

1. Don't waste a thing. Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. 

2. Respect the value of money. It doesn't grow on trees and if you can save a little, you'll start to see it grow.  

3. Money can't buy everything. It’s amazing how little it takes to survive if you learn to “make do” and improvise.

4. People are worth immeasurably more than things.

5. You don’t have to own something to love and enjoy it.

6. Memories are treasures. They don't take up space,  can't be stolen, don't have to be maintained, and never cause worry. 

6. Don't live above your means. Going into debt isn't worth the stress or hassle. 

7. If you maintain an old car properly, it will last a long time. Regular oil changes and checks cost less than a car payment. 

8. Working hard never hurt anyone. 

9. You're stronger than you think. 

10. You can't take it with you when you go. Have you ever seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul? 

My parents struggled because they had to. Back then, jobs were tough to come by and for those without college degrees, manual labor was about all that was available. Daddy took pride in what he did. He came home from work exhausted every day but got up each morning to do it all over again. He never asked for anything. As soon as he got paid, he handed his paycheck to Mama. She was responsible for paying the bills, buying the groceries, and taking care of our needs. She didn't always do a good job but did the best she could with what she had. 

I'm thankful I grew up poor. I wouldn't have learned many valuable lessons that I've carried into my life today if circumstances had been different. I'm glad I didn't know I was poor at the time I was living it. It would have been much harder to swallow back then. Today I can look back and be grateful. 

I've done my best to teach my children valuable life lessons without going into a lot of detail about my past. Hopefully they've learned and accepted those and will let them trickle down into their own families. 

Life is hard whether you're rich or poor. I consider myself lucky to have grown up the latter. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Silver Splendor

 Yesterday, I was in the kitchen working on a project when Phil pops in the front door calling to me. "Come here, quick!" he said, so I dropped everything and went to see what he needed. As soon as I walked through the door, I could see his back. He stood, faced turned upward, looking at the sky. It had just started to rain. "Look at that!" he exclaimed. I stood beside him and looked up. At first, I didn't see it and asked what he was looking at. His long arm lifted and he pointed to a specific spot just above our roofline. "There - look!" Following his pointing finger, I saw the most beautiful, silvery drops falling from the sky. 

They weren't ordinary raindrops. They seemed to be illuminated by a special kind of light, making them appear as long silvery threads. I'd never seen anything like it before. 

We stood in amazement, watching. And both of us knew, we were being allowed to see how rain looked when it first fell from the floodgates of heaven. Beautiful, silvery sparkles continued to fall but only in that specific spot. All around us, rain was falling, but those drops looked ordinary. The only ones that were illuminated were the ones directly above our house and seemed to be coming straight down from heaven. 

Of course, we could have reasoned it away. The sunlight could have caught them just so and made them look silvery, but there wasn't any sun shining at that point. And why would both of us be overcome with such a powerful sense of God's love, provision, and power at the same time, if it weren't something so unique and special? We felt His presence as we stood staring at the sky and smiling. 

Cars passed by as we stood on our walkway looking heavenward. I'm sure they were wondering what in the world we were looking at. The huge smiles on our faces and the tears in our eyes probably made them think we were looney, but we didn't care. 

What a priceless moment in time! I'm so thankful Phil called me out to share in the splendor. 

After we'd watched for about fifteen minutes, the silvery threads of rain disappeared and were replaced by regular raindrops. 

We have no idea why we were allowed to witness such a spectacular sight, but we saw it together so we know it was real. 

Some may say we're crazy and that's okay. We're firm believers in the majesty and power of God. Even though this was a tiny sliver of His majesty, we'll take it and hold it in our hearts forever. 

Little God signs are everywhere. We have to be on the lookout for them. If we look with the eyes of our hearts, He'll reveal Himself in ways we may have never imagined. No matter what tool He chooses to use to get our attention, we must give Him the praise and worship He deserves, even if it's just because of a little rain. 

Almost a firecracker

Happy Saturday! Today would have been my Daddy's 90th birthday. It's so hard to believe he's been gone for 11 years now. I sure ...