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.