Monday, November 3, 2014

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you annoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy should follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.



Psalm 23. It’s followed me since the first week of my diagnosis. The Sunday after I heard I have breast cancer we went to church in a blur. I sat there searching for something, some type of understanding. The sermon was about Psalm 23. The pastor started to paint a picture of a person who was very driven but overwhelmed with life. She traveled for work constantly and carried her cell phone everywhere. Vacations were not true vacations. Family time was never left undisturbed. Sleep was quick and somewhat of an annoyance. Work came first. The cell phone, emails, money….it all came first. The point of the sermon was that you need to simplify your life. Let God care about the stuff that stresses you out- put it in His hands and you’ll never want. He’ll take care of it, but only if you trust Him. But if you don’t trust then you will constantly carry it all on your own shoulders. So then what? Well, there’s a point when something’s gotta give and you might end up needing to lie down in green pastures. I listened to this sermon and something happened, I started making horrible heaving sounds and tears ran down my face. This WAS me.

***

“It’s going to come back.”

These are the words spoken by my oncologist after he asked me how much I wanted to know. It’s going to come back….not it might, but going. I was re-staged with advanced breast cancer after my surgery and final pathology report. Staged with 3C and deemed “chemo resistant” was what he considered a death sentence some day. I took this information in and did everything in my power to make him wrong. But only 2 short months later and he was right. While driving in for my monthly check up with him I just happened to put my hand by my clavicle and felt a very small familiar lump. He ordered a PET scan, a cancer patient’s worst nightmare. On September 3rd, our third anniversary, Ben and I learned that the cancer was back in 6 lymph nodes all over my left side. The next day I got even worse news. They finally got the full report back and there’s a 1 cm spot on my right lung that lit up- potentially cancer.

So started the many appointments….back to back, every day….to devise a plan. I met with Radiation again. This was something I never felt good about doing because I was told my cancer was going to come back distantly (metastasized) and I knew radiation didn’t do one darn thing about that. They told me that if I was “normal” (meaning that the cancer would have responded to initial treatment) that we would not do radiation right away; we’d go back to chemo. But, since I was “chemo resistant” that it was best to do radiation now to alleviate symptoms and keep me comfortable. So my initial reaction was “then what?”. They told me we would send my tissue in for genome sequencing testing, and hope to find a targeted approach similar to what I was doing with Tamoxifen and the endocrine/hormonal therapies I’m on. But, this would not save me. This would just prolong my life and most likely not very long. They said I would have to try chemo again and hope it works. Of course, I can put two and two together. If they want to do the radiation first to alleviate my pain it’s because they aren’t confident that the chemo is going to work. And so begins my journey for yet another option.

Wednesday and Thursday I got the news. Friday I met with Radiation. Monday I talked to an alternative doctor out of Canada. Tuesday I met with my oncologist here in MN. Wednesday I was on a flight for Reno.

I decided to go to Reno to work with world renowned integrative oncologist, Dr. Forsythe. Some may know him as the doctor that Susan Somers touts in her books. He’s also known as a maverick doctor that has had his share of run-ins with the FDA (a-whole-nother topic that will find its way in my blog at a later date). Dr. Forsythe doesn’t believe that I am what they call “chemo resistant”. He uses a chemo sensitivity test where they ship your blood to Greece and they test it among every chemo known to man (as well as a number of different supplements and homeopathic treatments). You get a report back that tells you what chemotherapies are effective on your own tumor cells. For once, I have a doctor that does what I’ve asked all along- to look at each person’s disease individually because every cancer is unique. It has boggled my mind that we are still using the same 3 chemos for breast cancer for the last 40 years. Everyone gets the same classic cocktail. Why? Clearly the cancer I’m dealing with is different. When I asked my doctor here in MN what chemo he was planning on using for me he said he was going to pick a standard one they use for metastatic breast cancer. I don’t have many more chances here to just keep throwing chemo darts and hope that they stick. I decided my best option was to not just pick a chemo out of the sky but use a more targeted approach with the Greek test. I found out that I have 3 chemos that my tumor cells are very sensitive to.

While in Reno I received what they call IPT (Insulin Potentiated Therapy) chemo. It’s administered with insulin and only requires 10% of the regular dose. This means less side-effects and most importantly it doesn’t wreak havoc on my immune system. Chemo kills fast growing cells, that includes cancer but also the cells in your marrow, gut, mouth, and hair. My white and red blood cells got hit hard on my first go-round with these nasty drugs. Going through it again, with hardly any recovery time, means my body most likely couldn’t handle a full dose. The theory on IPT administered chemo is based on the fact that cancer cells have many more insulin receptors than normal cells. They administer the insulin and chemo at the same time and the cancer cells suck it up, like a targeted smart bomb! Even better, they administer the insulin and chemo while bringing your blood sugar to a depressed state. At this point your normal cells turn to oxygen to survive but the cancer cells are anaerobic and still need sugar. They are literally starving right at that moment that the insulin/chemo mix enters your body. It’s like bringing them to their knees and then hitting them right then!

***

Trust has always been something I’ve had a problem with. It’s why I always had the need to be in control. In work and college I couldn’t delegate activities, I just did it myself, because I knew it would get done and it would be right. It’s why I couldn’t detach from work; I couldn’t trust anyone else caring for my deals. I had a hard time trusting anyone with my heart until I met my husband. Sadly, I also had a hard time trusting God. I’m not sure if it was because I didn’t fully believe there was a God or if it was because He never felt close to me. But through cancer God has become real to me.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.

I believe that God uses many of our struggles to reveal Himself. This is probably why He allows them to happen. Because many times without them we would go on with our life never taking time to truly question our existence. It’s sad, but many of us take advantage of our God, only turning to Him when we need something. God has been with me through every moment of this journey. There are times where I cannot doubt His presence; moments where I will start praying because I am overwhelmed and scared and just at that time I will get a text or a call from someone He sends to help. We’ve had so many coincidental and beautiful things happen to us during this time.

your rod and your staff, they comfort me

Sometimes His presence in this journey is subtle, sometime there’s no doubt he’s guiding my path. Early this past spring Ben and I were looking for a church to call home and one Sunday we impulsively rerouted our way to a church that I saw on my map app that looked closer. We ended up really liking it and started to make regular attendance for a couple months. While Amari was in the hospital we got a call from the church secretary asking if the pastor could come see us. While visiting he shared with Ben that he knew what he was going through. And he wasn’t just saying this….our pastor began to tell us that in the late 90s his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer while she was pregnant. She was the exact same age as me and she found out during the same point in her pregnancy. At that time they did not feel that chemo during pregnancy was safe and she did not want to take the risk. She gave her life to make sure her unborn baby was safe. It was heartbreaking to hear. But, even more, at that moment I knew that God had planted us at that church during this time for a reason. To physically see The Master’s hand in my life makes me feel so blessed.

I know that there are some cancer survivors that take offense to the idea when someone refers to their disease as a blessing but I’m not going to apologize for saying that in my situation I believe it is. I’ve been stripped of my health, my hair, my career and money, and my energy yet I’ve never felt more blessed. When you are faced with the fact that there is a chance that your time here on earth is limited and in fact, may be sooner than you expected, you begin to only focus on the things that matter and all the other distractions subside. I find thankfulness in everything. Through my diagnosis I’ve got to see the beauty in people, resiliency from other survivors that inspire me, and incredible generosity through the outpouring of support. I will never be the same. My heart is overflowing with love because I’ve seen how much people can pull together to help someone in need. I’ve seen God move powerfully and I feel so grateful and even special that He chose to move in my life. Maybe I needed this to happen to save me from where I was….someone who took things for granted….someone who was a slave to her cell phone….someone who needed to take a break and lay down in green pastures.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

It’s easy to trust God in everything when you’ve had to learn to trust Him with your life and even more, your child’s life. I now know that no matter what, everything will work out for the greater good. With that promise, I have no fear. I used to pray to God to help me trust Him. What a blessing that He turned around this terrible situation and used it to provide me with the one thing that always hindered my joy. Learning to trust has taken away my anxiety, my need for perfection, and has given me time and mindshare to appreciate life fully!

The morning of my surgery we got a big surprise. Not only was our pastor sitting in the waiting room at 6 am but so was Ben’s family’s pastor. He came all the way from Hector. Before they took me away he asked if he could pray for me. He read Psalm 23.

During the short time I was in remission I went to a Monday night church service because I was feeling scared. I had a pain in my chest that wouldn’t go away. The sermon that night was on Psalm 23. This time the pastor focused on God’s healing and restoring to health. I was praying to God to help me not focus on the chest pain and to eliminate my fear. Right at that time I sneezed once and my chest popped. Coincidence? Maybe. But the pain in my chest was alleviated and it took away my worry. Just when I needed it. Just when I asked.

Psalm 23….It’s followed me everywhere it seems. When something is revealed to you over and over it would make good sense for you to take notice. How comforting to know that I am promised goodness and mercy. Yes, the cancer came back. Yes, I’m fighting for my life and some days are very hard. But, I’m not going at this alone. He’s here…..and He knows how I feel because He already bore my sickness for me at the cross.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Amari's video

 
It's been awhile since I've had a chance to post anything here. A lot has happened in the past couple months. I am truly fighting for my life and trying to love every minute of living it at the same time.....that takes time and leaves for less time to get to things like my blog. But, there was something I always wanted to finish and that was a video of Amari’s first weeks on this earth- her time at the hospital.

Amari:  I want you to watch this, Sweetheart, and remember how special you are. You are a fighter from the start. Thank you for coming early to help your mom out.  You are our precious miracle!

 
video

Friday, July 18, 2014

Restart

I want to start this out by sharing the fact that I am officially CANCER FREE!  And, I’d like all who read this to continue to go back to that statement and believe with me that this is for good!

Looking back I remember feeling like cancer robbed me of my control.  Now, further into my battle I have come to realize that being a cancer survivor is all about having control.  True, there is a physical battle that one undertakes but that’s nothing to the emotional struggle that survivors have to endure day in and day out.  It gets exhausting.  It’s frustrating and sometimes it feels like you are being held prisoner to the fight that goes on in your head because it doesn’t always leave room for other normal, happy thoughts.  That’s where control comes in.  You need to gain control of your thoughts.  You need to remain positive, hold strong to your faith…even as you are bombarded with news that sometimes does not support what you believe.  And to be honest I suck at doing this!  So I’ve decided, the control-freak-type-A-person-that-I-am, to give up my control….to give it to God.  He guards my thoughts and heart way better than I do.  I sway back and forth alone.  I’ve also learned that I need to acknowledge those thoughts and fears.  Be ok with the fact that they do sometimes pop in my head; realize where they come from, but then move on. 

Four weeks ago I had a lumpectomy and auxiliary lymph node dissection.  The lumpectomy was a breeze but the node dissection causes a burning in your arm from nerve damage.  I’m hoping it goes away sooner or later.  When I look into the mirror I see my scars – over my breast, in my armpit, by my collarbone, and the one from my C-section – they are a constant reminder that this is not a dream.  After surgery I was told that they got IT all, the margins were clean….Thank you God! 

With surgery comes the pathology report- they send in the tissues to be evaluated so we can learn more information about what has happened in my body.  Again, the report showed what we already knew…my cancer had little response to the chemo for whatever reason.  But we saw the extent of it; my cancer did something that they rarely see…it grew during my treatment.  They found evidence of cancer in 13 out of 20 of the nodes they removed.  One of the tumors grew from 0.4 cm to 3 cm.  What’s more, my estrogen receptors only slightly increased….where about half of the tumor cells need estrogen to grow.  This information means that I am now “restaged” to a more advanced cancer stage, 3C.  So in a nutshell, these stages provide statistics and this new stage drastically increases my chance of the cancer coming back, especially since the chemo was considered ineffective.  It puts me one stage away from 4 which is considered “incurable” by the medical field. 

So that’s it….in that little paragraph I shared all my bad news.  Now you’ve read it, don’t dwell on it, let’s move on….I have (although it took me a good week J ).

Trial and suffering expose and refine true faith.  Sometimes it takes bad news to really kick ourselves in gear, to dial in closer to God and light fire to our determination.    Before this news I obviously took this fight seriously but I was still putting a lot of hope into our medicine.  That’s not where my hope should lie.  With this information my focus has been redirected, my resolve set to over-drive, my faith clinging on hard.  I’m in God’s hands and God has reminded me he provided me a great gift…my incredible drive and my love for life.  I will use that drive to let no stone go unturned and to push through dire circumstances.  This news made me realize that I need a change, a radical life change.  I’ve learned to welcome this news because without it I still was facing a serious situation….yet I wasn’t ready to be drastic in my fight.  Anyone can have their cancer come back.  People with stages 1 and 2 can have it recur and someone with stage 3 can go on living without it ever rearing its ugly head again.  Hearing you are in remission does not give you an excuse to sit back, relax and let nature take its course in my book.  I’m set to do as much as I can to prevent this from ever taking away from my life again!

I went running last night for the first time since my chemo-ridden body had to stop about 4 months ago.  It was a very emotional thing for me.  Running is such a big part of my life and every time I ran I would thank God afterwards for the ability to do so.  It was tough when it was taken from me.  The first mile or so my lungs burned.  I haven’t felt that whole out-of-practice-lung-sensation since I was in Jr. High.  I thought to myself this is my “Restart”.  My body needs to relearn how to run again but this Restart isn’t just about running; it’s me getting back to normal….my new normal.  They say nothing will ever be the same after your first child.  What about after your first child and a battle with cancer?  Truly everything has changed for me and it will never go back to life as I knew it.   

In the past weeks since my surgery I’ve radically changed my diet to only raw-vegan.  I juice anywhere from 10 to 20 pounds of fruits and vegetables a day and take many, many supplements.  My health has become a part-time job. I’ve spent every moment during Amari’s naps to research what is cancer, why conventional treatments don’t always work, alternative treatments, and recurrence risk reduction with diet and exercise.  Yet I feel I’ve just touched the surface.  The problem with the medical field is that they put so much emphasis on their drugs that leave our bodies in ruin, unable to fight off any future infection or disease.  This is why so many people fight the good fight to only have their cancer come back down the road.  You are taught to just sit and wait and hope that it doesn’t come back.  Then once you are told it’s Stage 4 you pull out all the stops, doing everything you can…and sometimes, most of the time, it’s already too late.  It would be easy for me to sit back and wait.  But the easy road isn’t always the best route to take.  Giving up many of the foods I love is not easy!  Extending my leave from work to focus on my health is not easy.  Finding time to juice and being on a structured-by-the-hour supplementation program is not easy.  Getting 8 hours of sleep with a newborn is not easy.  Removing stress out of my life is not easy.  This is my new normal.

Recently my faith was tested and made stronger.  Since I gave up control of my thoughts my fear has almost completely subsided.  Sure, before this I was able to get it under control but it would always push its way back in my head.   This isn’t a chore anymore….the fearlessness comes naturally now!  It’s interesting that with bad news came peace.  There’s a valuable lesson there….sometimes it takes rain to bring the sunshine.  Before you get down on yourself or upset that nothing seems to ever go your way remember that it could be just what you need to make a change.  A change that will spark resolution, contentment, and even joy.








Thank you to the lovely ladies at Agape Moments for this gift of pictures.  We will forever cherish these moments. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Sayonara Cancer!

So what’s next for me?

December 27th of last year I found out I have cancer.  It’s been 6 months and honestly, I feel like it should just be over!  The big climatic ending happened right?  I had a baby, pouf, now it’s done!  But unfortunately the story goes on.  Clearly I’ve been busy since I posted my last blog before Amari was born.  We’ve learned some more information and a lot has changed.
After giving birth I decided to start Tamoxifen almost immediately.  This is the drug that blocks the estrogen in my body.  The hormone-level swing was quite intense.  Postpartum depression is linked to the changing levels of estrogen in a woman’s body- naturally going from so much to so little.  Tamoxifen made this change even more drastic for me and I started it while I was still in the hospital recovering.  I had night sweats and actual shivers and shakes.  I couldn’t sleep, couple this with the pain meds and I was a mess… a very emotional mess!  My last day in the hospital was 4 days after I had given birth and I had one last thing to do….get a PET scan.  I’m going to pass on talking about the gory details and get to the point.  That pain in my rib….it was Amari’s head or something to that effect!  We were so relieved to hear that my cancer was only where we expected- 2 small tumors in my lymph nodes, 1 in my breast.  And so, it was business as usual.  One week later and I was back on chemo.

Here’s the thing about chemo and me.   I run into a lot of people going through the same thing I am and they really have some horror stories with chemo.  But chemo really doesn’t affect me much (in fact, I can actually comb my hair!).   This can be a good thing….and a bad thing.  One month after Amari was born I had a breast MRI done to see the response of chemo on my tumor.   The scan showed what we really already knew.  My cancer is still not responding well to the chemo.  Now it’s not that it hasn’t responded at all….just not well.  Again, this is a bit baffling.  Chemo kills off aggressively reproducing cells.  The doctors wonder if maybe my first treatment (the “AC”) did just that and what’s left over is the cancer that needs estrogen to grow.  This cancer may be less aggressive and therefore, doesn’t respond to chemo well (but obviously responded to my pregnancy hormones).  This sounds like a reasonable explanation doesn’t it?  So, how do we know if this is the case…well, they will run a pathology report on my tumors once they are removed to see how they’ve changed.  

That leads me to the next step.  Given this information we decided to forgo any more chemo and move straight to surgery.   And when I mean straight to surgery I’m talking like tomorrow (at 8 am).  I’ve decided to do a lumpectomy.   To explain why I’ll provide a little cancer lesson for those that know about this stuff as little as I did.  There are many treatments for cancer.  Chemo is actually a preventative treatment for early stage breast cancer.  We know that my cancer likes to spread- that’s why it’s called invasive.  We know this because it spread to my lymph nodes.  My doctor calls the lymph nodes the “landfill of the body”.  It’s where all the garbage filters to.  So, my lymph nodes did what they were supposed to.  They captured the cancer that left my breast.  What we can’t be sure of is if tiny micro-cancer cells detached during this ride to the lymph nodes.  If they did, they can travel throughout my body and lay dormant in my organs, blood, or bones and possibly grow back there.  This is the cancer that can be fatal- this is the cancer that to be honest, I am scared of.  Cancer within your breasts and lymph nodes does not kill you. Surgery and radiation are the medical treatments they use to remove the cancer from these areas.  Chemo is primarily used to kill off any of the micro-cancer cells that may have traveled elsewhere.  There are also other forms of treatment for this- such as hormonal therapy (like the Tamoxifen I’m taking).  A mastectomy does not statistically give you a better chance of survival.  It reduces your chance of getting the cancer back in the breast by 2% over the lumpectomy. 
I believe in another way of fighting cancer and that is naturally by using your immune system.   I want to get back to my healthy lifestyle where my immune system isn’t constantly trying to rebound from surgeries and chemo.  A mastectomy would require multiple surgeries for the next year.  A lumpectomy requires one.  I noticed after my C-section that my blood counts were having a really hard time rebounding.  I believe this was because my body was focused on healing my surgery site and my immune system was constantly in catch-up mode.  I think this is very important just IN CASE the chemo I did have wasn’t effective in getting all of the possible micro-cancer cells.  I’m a runner, “a juicer”, and soon to be even more obsessed health nut.  I believe that I need a less invasive surgery so I can get on to fighting this the best way I know how- with my healthy lifestyle. 

And so I say, Sayonara Cancer!  Tomorrow they will cut it all out!  I won’t have it constantly burning in my body and in my mind. 
And again the story goes on but I am believing the cancer will not!  What’s next after that?  I will have radiation to ensure the cancer does not come back in the tumor areas.  After surgery there could be some micro-cancer cells that weren’t picked up by the scans, which were missed.  Radiation will kill these.  There’s more I can do to make sure that any leftover micro-cancer cells are shutdown.  I will most likely under-go some more aggressive hormone-therapy, potentially shutting off my ovaries.  If the cancer needs estrogen to grow we just won’t give it any estrogen.

So how does this new information make me feel?
Right after Amari’s birth I was sitting in a coffee shop working.  I wasn’t wearing my wig and I was sporting my very short ‘cancer-do’.   For a moment I thought that on-lookers are probably feeling sorry for me.  Realizing I have cancer and that I’m sick and weak since I was having a hard time getting around from my C-section.  And then it dawned on me…I am NOT weak!  Just because I have a disease that is supposed to make me feel sick does not mean I am weak.  I am strong, incredibly strong….I’m a fighter…a pull-your-boot-straps-up-and-get-the-job-done-fighter!!  When I come around the corner and see Ben and Amari asleep, snuggling, my fight rages inside of me like it has never done before.  I will be honest, hearing the chemo wasn’t “as effective as we hoped” and that this statistically increases my chance of dying from this wasn’t the easiest news.  But it changes nothing in my mind…I WILL beat this!  I will beat this with God on my side. This Sunday we learned about the power of prayer in church.  Have you ever cried out to God?…I’m talking yelled and really cried.  I did…I told Him I wasn’t ready to leave this party and go on to the next.  Everyone knows I always arrive fashionably late!  Of course I cannot see the big picture when it comes to His plan but I am truly believing that I will be fully healed of this because my family needs me and I need them.  And so I say it again, I’ve got this!

 

 

 

Introducing One of the World’s Smallest Cancer Survivors!

My sweet Amari,

Let me tell you the story of when you were born!
Never have I felt more anticipation, excitement, and fear all at the same time.  May 6th was finally here!  Time to meet you!  Before we entered the hospital your dad and I said a prayer together that everything would be ok- that we would all be in safe keeping. 

Dr. Wothe, the resident “Baby Whisperer” was called in to see if he could flip you around since you were breech but his Version Technique was no match for you.  You were right where you wanted to be and you weren’t moving.  So it was on to the C-section, something I didn’t want but I was quick to accept.  I felt maybe there was a reason….maybe you just knew that there would be more complications with a natural labor in the end. Yes, funny to think that an unborn infant has intuitions but from the beginning of this journey I’ve always felt that we were in this together and that you were always protecting me, as I promised to protect you.
Unfortunately we received some unanticipated news.   Since it was certain you’d be in the NICU and that today was the day, we were supposed to have a room reserved.  But, understandably they had ran out of rooms due to a rush of deliveries.  So we were sent home, worried, because in my situation every single day counts and we weren’t sure when a room would open.  I had already stopped my chemo for a little over a week and now that I needed a C-section I would require more down time to recuperate – leaving me unprotected.  Here we had emotionally prepared ourselves for what was about to happen and we were being sent home.  I felt devastated.  Our doctor did too.   She did everything she could to see if we could get in at that time. 

Everything seems to work out for a reason though.  It was only a short time until they called us back in again.  This gave us some time to go home and get some more things wrapped up before you came. Grandpa and Grandma Serbus already had arrived to help. It also allowed us some time to try to make this feel more normal.  We rushed back to the hospital, excited, just like we would have if my water had broken.

And so, at 9:05pm you entered this world…both of your parents, nervous as ever, but faithfully trusting that all would be ok.   You were 3 pounds and 13 ounces.  One of the most precious things that has ever graced my ears is hearing your cry for the first time.  The second most precious thing…hearing the words, “She has hair!”.   Hair meant the chemo hadn’t touched you.  Hair was something I was hoping for.  Just to reconfirm what I knew, that you were going to be ok.  We saw you for a brief moment and then you were wheeled away.  Oh how that hurt.  I barely saw your face.  I didn’t get to look at you and study every little inch; see if I could make out which features were from me and which were from your dad.  It was as if I got a glance of a celebrity surrounded by bodyguards getting hurried away. 
It took several hours to control my pain.   I don’t really remember but I believe it was close to 1 am before I finally got to really meet you….and that’s when my heart melted.  How perfect you were!  It was hard to see all of the wires.  We learned that your lungs were still underdeveloped so you were on a ventilator and receiving a drug to help your little lungs grow quicker.  The next couple days were emotionally hard as we waited to see you progress and get stronger.  When we came down to visit it was still so difficult to see your face with all the wires, tubes, and masks.  I felt terrible…that it was my fault that you had to endure this….if it wasn’t for my body failing me, if it wasn’t for my cancer.  I wanted to hold you.  I missed that closeness we shared when I was pregnant. 

The first time I got to hold you was three days after you were born.  They call it Kangaroo Care, skin to skin contact that is proven to help preemies progress.  It was such a production.  I believe there were four nurses there working quickly to remove you from the incubator to my chest.  Your dad looked on nervously; his protective nature was having a hard time with this.  I think the Kangaroo Care may have helped me as much as it helped you.  I cried as I finally got to hold you in my arms.  You were so tiny! The time was brief but it made such a difference. One day later I told the nurse that we barely had seen your face.  She was so nice; she decided we could move the phototherapy mask.  And at that moment we really saw you!  You were alert, your eyes open!  You just stared at each of us…. your dad, me, your Uncle Adam.  Our eyes locked and I felt that bond, it was magical!  Looking into your eyes I felt an unexplainable connection.  We had already been through so much together.  What you were enduring at that moment was a sacrifice for me; just as I had sacrificed for you…nothing more could define our love for each other. 
After that special moment things changed quickly.  The next day we got to hold you longer and following that they slowly removed each one of the wires.  And as true fighters do, you continued to surprise everyone with your spirit.  Within two and a half weeks we were heading home!  You were way ahead of the game, eating on your own and everything. 

As I type this, six weeks have passed since you’ve been born.  You sure do turn heads.  It’s hard to even go shopping as people constantly are stopping us to see how tiny you are.  So many people were excited to meet you.  Your grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, family and friends lined up! We even had people asking about you at the Chemo Lounge!  You’ve blessed our life and turned it upside down in so many ways.  Your dad and I used to have everything so under control and now we are flustered in everything we do!  We laugh at ourselves as we do everything everyone told us we would do as first time parents.   We laugh as we constantly fight over who gets to hold you!  I love when I catch the cutest pictures of you snuggling on your daddy’s chest.  You both look so peaceful.  There are moments that I wish I could just freeze in time….when all 4 of us are snuggling in bed on a Sunday afternoon or when I’m holding you and you are fighting to not fall asleep, making those cute faces.  Pumpkin, I love every minute of being your mommy!  There is nothing that makes me want to fight harder.
Love,
Mom




 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

“Fearless”

I had a dream the other night.  My little girl was swinging in a park.  Ben was playing fetch with our dog, Miken, close by.  Everyone looked happy.  There was a woman pushing her on the swing….that woman was not me.

Here’s one thing I’ve learned, when you are pregnant you dream like crazy- this is common.  While I have lots of silly dreams that really make no sense I know where this one comes from.  It comes from fear.

A couple nights ago I lay in bed, feeling the tumor that hangs out in my left breast.  It’s gotten bigger in the last couple weeks.  Not as big as it was in the beginning – but it hasn’t continued to shrink.  I also can feel a second tumor in my lymph node which provides a constant aching pain.  My oncologist said it’s most likely due to the last stages of my pregnancy.  My estrogen is at an all-time high.  The cancer which resides in my milk duct and feeds off of estrogen has a direct line to it.  They say a pregnant woman will produce more estrogen during her pregnancy than in the rest of her entire lifetime as a whole and as you can imagine there’s a steady climb of it to the very end.  It’s because of this that our care counseling session offered news that came quite unexpected.  I will deliver much earlier than anticipated, May 6th to be exact, at 32 weeks.  We had a team of doctors, specialists, and nurses in a room to discuss our situation.   They discussed the risks.   The risk of continuing my treatment which is limited with the baby in me versus the risk of taking the baby before she naturally wants to come.  We always expected it would be planned and earlier than term but because of this now slowed response to treatment the plan has been bumped up a month.  The Neonatologist went through the statistics with us.  We learned there is very little risk to take the baby at 32 weeks.  In fact, in most of their graphs they showed us there was nothing listed past 29 weeks because the risk was so minimal.  Of course, they were talking about major concerns. There are the little things.  For example, we officially have a room on reserve at the Special Care Unit.  She will most likely live there for her first month of life.  We had to tour the NICU, just in case.  They don’t expect her to go here but if she has problems breathing she may be there a couple nights.  I’m getting 2 steroid shots 48 and 24 hours before delivery to help her lungs prepare for this world.  She also will be small and need to catch up both physically and mentally but this usually takes place in the first year.  Let’s be honest, lots of babies are early and are just fine.  Once she’s out we can begin to fight this effectively by stopping the production of the estrogen that continues to make my body a happy environment for this crappy disease. 

In the beginning of this journey I was filled with fear.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of dying.  Fear for my unborn child.  I believe through many prayers I was relieved of this.  I had the most astonishing peace and I was truly in my battle zone.  Admittedly, in the past couple weeks that fear has crept back in.  It’s to be expected.  All warriors have their moments of doubt.  Think of the great action movies you’ve seen.  It’s at that moment when the fighter feels like he can’t go on anymore that a surge of power and belief in oneself lifts him up and he finishes off the fight.  That’s what makes a good battle.  I think back to running.  When running long races there’s always “the hill”.  The point where you get tired and discouraged and you push through and persevere and a wave of energy comes back.  Once over “the hill” that energy carries you home to the finish line.   I wonder if that’s where I am.  This news…it brings on the climax of the story that’s coming.  The upcoming moment of delivering with a body that’s been beat up the last 5 months.  There’s more of the unknown as they plan to deliver our little girl 2 months early.  She’s still breech.   A C-section is the last thing we want; it halts my continuation of treatment after.  Hearing my cancer seems to be “chemo insensitive” at this time and thinking about a lapse in treatment on top of that is hard to swallow.  I continue to have chronic side and rib pain.  Originally the doctors felt it could be an ulcer so we treated it as such.  Then we checked for a blood clot which was a nothing.    The doctors are fairly certain that this is pregnancy related but there’s always the worry that it’s progressed cancer which has made its way to my bones.  We won’t know until I can do my PET scan….scheduled May 9th, immediately after it’s safe because baby is out.  The accumulation of these recent events and news brings on fear and discouragement.
I finished a book not long ago, “Fearless” by Max Lucado.  I believe everyone facing a life threatening situation should read this book.  Scratch that, everyone…period… should read this book. 

Fear creeps in for me unexpectedly.  I’ll be going on with my daily routine and suddenly I’ll begin to think about Ben and what I would want for him if I’m gone.  Would I be ok if he remarried?  Of course, I would want him to be happy.  Would I want her to make him happier than I did?  Would we be together in the after-life?  While I’m painting our little girl’s nursery my mind wanders to a thought of my daughter waiting to walk down the aisle…wishing her mom was there to see her now. While organizing gift wrap, I think of my family having their first Christmas without me. 
Max Lucado says that fear is a natural emotion and we use it to help our bodies sense danger; but that does not mean that we need to let fear take control.  In the bible there is no other command that God urges more than to not be afraid or have fear.  And rightfully so, there is no reason to be afraid when we have God on our side.  Over Easter I realized this.  While sitting in church I listened to numerous stories of how Jesus healed people.  The Gospel is plump full of this among many other miraculous things He did.  And here’s the kicker….Jesus was real….let me rephrase…is real…He walked on this earth….there are accounts of this happening in history.  Yes, I am human and like many of you there have been times that I question my faith.  Trust me, you really start to think about those things when you’ve been told you have a diagnosis that many people have died from.  But it’s not hard to grasp that my God walked on this earth and healed people some 2000 years ago and for that same reason I can expect to be healed as well! 

The opening of the book talks about a story in Matthew where Jesus is on a boat with His disciples.  There is a terrible storm.  All of the disciples are freaking out and Jesus takes a nap.  And when they go to Him asking Him how He could be so calm and why He isn’t up and helping He asks, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?”.  Good question.  With a track record like His I really have nothing to worry about because regardless, in my situation, the end result will be good.  This big nightmare of a storm that I’m facing is of mere, little concern to God.  It’s not that He doesn’t care; He just doesn’t sweat the small stuff.  I don’t just got this…He’s got this!
And as I’ve said before, I am in no way super human.  Just because I’ve lain fear to bed once doesn’t mean it won’t hit me again.  Just a couple days ago I saw that a young lady my age passed away after battling my same diagnosis for only a year and a half.  I was shaken and didn’t know it until I couldn’t concentrate during a customer presentation I was giving.  Afterwards I prayed to God that I wouldn’t go to that place again in my head….and then, I received a call right at that moment. My pastor was calling because I was heavy on his heart.  I told him he had good timing.  He told me “God has good timing”. 

God has good timing…that struck a chord with me.  God does His finest work when He’s got your attention…and boy, does He got my attention now!  I’m in His care.  It’s not my plan, it’s His. To quote Mr. Lucado, “His call to courage is not a call to naïveté or ignorance.  We aren’t to be oblivious to the overwhelming challenges that life brings.  We’re to counterbalance them with long looks at God’s accomplishments.”  This lesson has brought me to a new place.  When I feel scared or discouraged I now know where to turn.  My focus shifts to those things that are true, honest, just, lovely, and of good report.   I look to those little things that I’ve seen along the way that help me remember I’m held in His balance and care….and then I feel safe.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Complete with pictures...

If there's one thing the doctor ordered it's a one-way ticket out of this frozen tundra of hell!  OK no, I'm kidding, I don't have enough guts to truly leave this place...only because I would miss my family and friends of course.  But, we settled for a fun filled vacation with great friends and tons of sun in Florida.  It truly did make me feel better.  The dryness of this state during the winter does a number on a chemo patient.  Florida's humidity was refreshing.  Here's a quick look at some much needed R&R...and yes, it took me over a month to post these.  

We miss you Greg (he was home cooking during this photo)

Time for an old fashioned airboat ride in the 'Glades!


I told him to hold it like a baby...I think he may need more practice

A little too close for comfort!
22 weeks!
 









This guy is my inspiration!  Our friend Gus has underwent 6 brain surgeries in the past year.  That's a lot of baldness in one pic!