Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Day One Down

Struggling. The feeling of walking through muck that sucks at  your feet and makes each step seem like a monumental effort. Hearing voices that come from far away, even when the person speaking is four feet from you. The whooshing sound in your ears that takes precedence over anything else as your heartbeat sky rockets and you begin to sweat. How do you handle this? How can you rationally react when the rug has been ripped out from under you and the world as you knew it starts swirling away. Many people do different things. Me? I write. With paper in my lap and a pen in my hand, I can calm my racing heart, steady my breath, push away the nagging voices in my head, and concentrate on the matter at hand.

It reminds me of the day I went shopping for a sweater dryer to put in our guest bathroom when Dave and I lived in Wilmington, NC. It was mid October and I was 33 weeks pregnant with our first child. While shopping at Kmart, I felt the need to go to the bathroom. What pregnant woman doesn't? Especially in the last trimester. Thinking I still had some time before I needed to REALLY go, I continued to compare the sweater driers wondering if I wanted a wooden one or metal. Suddenly it felt like I was wetting my pants. Rushing off to the bathroom in a red shirt and white shorts, it seemed like the walkway there stretched out endlessly in front of me. As the door grew further and further away the quicker I waddled, I began to have labored breathing as wetness gushed down my leg. Finally reaching my destination and sitting down, that is when I noticed the blood. Everywhere. Through my white shorts, down my legs, pooling in my shoes. Cleaning up as best as I could, in that void-less emotional place, I rushed as fast as I could from the store, into my car, and headed for the hospital where Dave was on call. Who does that? Who wouldn't go to the front desk and ask for an ambulance? Who would go in their car to drive 8 blocks to the hospital while bleeding and pregnant when then they didn't have a cell phone? On the drive behind the oldest man on the face of the earth who drove 20 miles below the speed limit, I composed a letter to our son in my head. A heartfelt note to a child I knew I was losing, failing as a parent before I ever officially became one. A prayer of sorts of protection. With the whooshing sound of my heart echoing in my ears.

Thankfully, that story ended well with a healthy child two weeks later, but the feelings of that day remain. Etched forever in my mind. A memory that still brings back the fear and helplessness. I seldom wear white pants anymore.

Yesterday, as I sat in the Oncologist's office, I felt disassociated from myself. In the waiting room, we sit, all in a row, watching Let's Make A Deal. How ironic. Let's make a deal! Would you like box number 1, 2, or 3? Each box in this waiting room contains a life threatening illness. With it, you get radiation. Or chemotherapy. Or both. Or medication you will be on for ten years as if having your boob removed isn't memory scaring enough. I want another deal! I want healthy bodies! I want cures! I want clear scans and shrinking tumors. I want no child to ever be effected by this horrible disease. I want cancer eradicated. Can someone put that in a box? If so, I vote for that one over and over!

Instead, I sit in a room. In another pink gown. At least this one has purple flowers on it. I snap chat a picture to my friends. Me. Again. In pink. In a doctor's office. Someone else gets to see my chest. Whoo Hoo!! Talking to the oncologist is fine. He's a family friend. A trusted doctor of my husband. I know him. I've been to his home. I like him. I think I know what he is going to tell me. I may not need chemotherapy. But I will need to be on  a hormone blocker. I've done my research. I know which one, I know how often, I know the side effects. I am an educated breast cancer patient. And then that rug gets ripped out again.

Radiation?? What?? I thought that was off the table? I thought because I chose to have the mastectomy that radiation wasn't an option. That is one of the reasons I chose to have a mastectomy!! Now it's back on the table? It is?? WHOOSH.....Frantically I grab for my notebook. I begin tossing things out of my purse in search of the elusive pen. Heart racing, breath quickening, sounds echoing, voices fading, I need my anchor. And then, finally, notes. I am a studious patient now. Writing down everything he recommends. Refocused, fighting back the tears. I have to remain alert. I am at this appointment alone. I need to know what decisions are being made in my health (oh, Lord! How did this happen?? Radiation? I thought that door was closed! Oh, God, please help me!! Keep me focused. Let me hear him, and not react emotionally. I need to HEAR his words.)

Rationally, I understand what he is saying. My tumor was 1mm from my chest wall. They want a 3 mm margin. I did not have that. There could still be microscopic cancerous cells lingering there. Just waiting to multiply and steal my life. Reoccurrence rates are higher. I get it. But what about my already constructed breast? Can it handle radiation? I've heard the horror stories. I know what damage could be done. I'm getting quite attached to this new non boob. I have surgery scheduled in a month to have the other one match. Now radiation? That puts off the augmentation for the other side. And what if it ruins my new breast? How will I handle that?

Dave's words come back in my head. This is not about my breast. Even though I have made it be that way. My focus in on my chest. How does it feel? How does it look? How did I lose my breast? When the focus should be on the fact I had cancer. Cancer! And now, I do not. My focus should be on the disease; on what has been saved, not on what was lost. I need to focus on the fact I had cancer in my breast. I lost my breast but I saved my LIFE. I will get through this next step as well. With God's grace.

Driving away from my appointment, I have my talk with God. I cannot cry, I have to walk into Dave's office to pick up Elliana. I have to go to the pharmacy and get my tamoxifen filled. A medicine I will be on for the next 10 years. And a baby aspirin. I cannot fall apart. Not yet, if ever. I have to march on. While driving to the pharmacy I hear God speak to me as my heart races. "Have I ever led you astray?" No. "Am I still in control?" Yes. "Do you trust me?" I walk in Faith not by Sight. Yes, Lord. This journey is in your hands. I trust you. "Then know, you do not go alone." Breathing in. Breathing out. And then my plea....God, please send an angel to let me know that whichever way this path winds, I will be ok. Let me touch someone who knows where I am. Please.

It's funny how God has worked in my life. I've learned that this is one way God shows me he is there for me. When I ask for angels, each time I have, He has placed someone in my path to reassure me in my walk. I trusted that when the time was right, he would reveal someone to me. Little did I know, she waited in the pharmacy for me. When leaving to put Elliana in the car, smile in place, heart heavy, a complete stranger walks to her car, then toward me, then to her car, then back toward me. I walk around the car to get into my seat and she determinedly walks back to me. "Hi, Kathy. You don't know me but......" Yep. A 14 year breast cancer survivor who had a lumpectomy, radiation, and chemo. A mother who feared she would not see her six children grow assured me, I would see my kids to adulthood and beyond. And that although we have never met, we had friends in common and she was praying for me. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you for the angel you placed in my life who gave me a strong hug with tears in her eyes and tears streamed down my own face. The crooked axis in my life righted itself again. Onward we go.

Struggles. We all have them. We all endure them. Some share, others don't, but no one is immune. I write. It helps me sort things out. Others come up to strangers, totally out of their own comfort zone, because they have been pushed by our Heavenly Father. May I always listen to that voice that prompts me to reach out to others. Whether I know them or not. Lord, let ME be that person to someone else. Let me know when my story will help them. Guide me where you need me to be.

An hour later I get a call from my breast surgeon at Siteman. She and the Radiation Oncologist there are confident I do not need radiation. They feel they were able to get good, clear margins from taking some lining of my chest muscle. They do not recommend radiation. I am free to keep my appointment to augment my left breast. They will see me in six months. They remind me to take my hormone blocker and will call Dr. Oza in the morning. All is well.

And it is. All is well. Especially with my soul. And for that, I am eternally thankful. Day one of my cancer treatment is down. Moving onward! One day at a time.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Six weeks

What can happen in life in just a mere six weeks? You can see the beating of a newly formed baby in it's mother's womb by six weeks. You can be cleared to drive again after many surgeries in six weeks. You can take summer classes in six weeks. You can sign up for a slim in 6 program in six weeks and redefine your body.

In six weeks, I have been diagnosed with cancer, undergone a mastectomy, had my mother move in to care for me, and had a second surgery scheduled to fix my healthy breast so they match. I have had follow up appointments, drains removed, oncology appointments scheduled and my breast stared at by more Wash U pre med students and interns than ever before.

In six weeks I have relied on the prayers from others, the helpings of friends, the food from women who may not even know me well. I have received cards and emails and letters from survivors of breast cancer from all walks of life. I have had people lament with me over my ugly bras, cheer with me in returning to the gym, and continue their thanks for my health.

In six weeks I have strengthened my walk with God. Blindly I follow in the steps he asks of me and know that when I fall, He is there. Boldly, I will tell anyone I am healed through God's grace and the gifts he bestows upon others in my humanly life to heal and reconstruct. I am humbled by the ease of my cancer journey thus far. I feel unworthy to complain of any hardship. I asked for a chance to walk in God's grace. I was given it. And I hope I am walking as He would want me to. As He walks with me. Carrying me when necessary.

As live continues to get back to normal and the fear of my diagnosis and treatment dies down, I know that the real healing is only beginning within myself. For now, six weeks later, there is no big diagnosis. There is no big surgery scheduled. My December 30th surgery will be a molding and augmenting one to show off my plastic surgeon's art of forming one breast to look like the other non-breast. For those skills, I am thankful. There is no need for my mother to stay, to watch over my  healing. To pamper my children, to clean my home, to fold the laundry. Her daughter is healthy, on the mend, she can get on with her own life, with a breath of relief.

It is now that I find myself tearful for no reason. Now that the wind of the typhoon has blown over. Now in the quiet I sit and think. Oh My! Did that just happen to me? How did I endure that? How do I move on? How do I incorporate cancer survivor into my life? Into my psyche? Into my new limitations? In six short weeks I have gone from a cancer victim. To a cancer patient. To a cancer survivor. Even though I will still be a cancer patient. And I will still be a cancer victim, in a sense.

I look at a bracelet on my wrist that an over a decade friend gave to me. "Fight Like A Girl" Even though I have slowly shed all other outward, visible signs of my battle, this one bracelet remains. For it reminds me of what I have done in my life in six short weeks.

It reminds me that hopefully I have reached one other woman and encouraged her to have a mammogram. Or to get a physical. Or to have her blood drawn. Or see her doctor for an issue that has been nagging at her. It reminds me that prayerfully I have touched one soul who needed to see someone walk in a valley so that they could see God is always there. It reminds me that no matter where I am, God is there too. And so are my friends. So many of those! People who have always been there through every transition. In the spotlight, or on the sidelines, I am surrounded by people who have such compassion for others, and a passion for life, like I do.

Six weeks since my diagnosis. Tomorrow it will be four weeks since my mastectomy. Life sure can take some sharp twists and winding roads in a small amount of time. From fleeting heartbeats of a newly formed baby to the removal of a deadly cancer, God holds us all close. Even when things don't turn out like we expect. Never, like we expect, but somehow, better.

I'm relearning that bad situations can remind us of all that is good. Bad things can be the beginning of better things. And that six weeks, although it feels like an eternity, is not that long of a time.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Thankful

At this time of year, I always start the month of things I am thankful for on my facebook page. Although I am thankful for the exact same things throughout the year, it is fun to see what my friends are thankful for in their lives.

On this day, I always celebrate the birth of my oldest child, Kadin. Kadin was 5 weeks early and born after I had a partial abruption. He was teeny tiny and such a watcher. He was a horrible sleeper, nursed every hour and a half for an hour until he was 7 months old. He did not sleep through the night until he was in kindergarten. I was a zombie for the first year of his life. But other than sleep, he was the perfect child. He met all developmental milestones early. He talked in complete sentences by the time he was 18 months. He could read people's personalities better than a fortune teller. He was not loud, did not like messes, stayed where you put him, quietly played for hours, and loved me to pieces. He spoiled us for our future children.

At the same time, I am thankful for those other children. The ones who needed time out. Who were more difficult to potty train. Who talk back. Who have their own minds and aren't afraid to march to their own drummer. They have enriched our lives in other ways.

This year I am also thankful for my friends who have fought cancer before me. I am thankful for their sweet cards, their emails, their timely prayers.....oh for so many things! I am thankful God has surrounded me with people who's arms give comfort with no words. I can't believe there was this huge group of people I never knew in my life. Or I did know, but I didn't know in this capacity. I'm forever thankful that so many have reached out to me, and I hope to do the same.

I wouldn't say I'm more thankful this year than other years, because we have had some amazing things happen in our lives to be thankful for. But this year I am more aware of my thankfulness in the little every day things. I'm thankful to be able to hold my children close, to write letters to friends, to worship a big God, and for answered prayers every day. I am thankful to be able to walk to the mailbox and feel the wind in my face. To wave my arms over my head. To be out of bed. I am thankful that I get to brush my hair. That I get to keep it in the first place. I am thankful for a body who may be weakened, but hasn't let me down. I'm thankful I"m able to tie my shoes. I'm thankful that I have a warm coat that I can bend my arms to put on. I'm thankful for modern medicine and advancements. I'm thankful for life and healing.

And at night, in the darkest part where bad thoughts can drift in and you can feel vulnerable, I am thankful for every person who uttered a prayer for my family. For my health. For ME. Because I cannot repay that action, I can only repeat it. And so I do. Thankfully. Every day.

What are you thankful for? What do you see when you look at your own life? There are so many blessings we let pass us by. I'm determined to not do that any more. As much as I can anyway. I want to be aware of the good things all around me, every day, even in the bad times. I want God to know I see Him in all things. And I want to focus on those things. Rejoice in the little things.

Like tiny little 5 lb baby boys born in red wine amniotic fluid who should not have made it, but did. I'm so very thankful for that! Happy Birthday, sweet boy!