Monday, February 27, 2012

16 of 16 = Chemotherapy is Finished!

My family has been looking forward to today for a long time. I remember being at my oncologist office last September and listening to him lay out my treatment plan. While he spoke, my mind did the math and I realized that we were looking at 5 months of chemotherapy. With God’s grace and the love, support, and generosity of so many friends and family, today WE can celebrate the completion of the final treatment injection.

So, this is what today looked like:

6:30 am: Opened my eyes to see this one lonely little chain loop hanging to my Chemo Countdown sign.

7:00 am: Got up, dressed, and ready for the day. Put on my special “COURAGE” bracelet that my friend Jackie, who is a recent breast cancer survivor, gave me. I wear this every day. Here is a better look at the ‘poison lines’ that have decorated my fingernails. Kinda cool really.

8:15 am: Our friend and Eric’s boss’s wife, Monica arrived to watch the kids. We left to go to the hospital so that I could have my blood tested.

9:30 am: Enjoyed breakfast at Mr. Perry’s Coffee Shop. Eric and I have gone there before every treatment for a breakfast date. Our waiter Chester, an older gentleman who is as much a ‘landmark’ as the dive… I mean diner is, was excited along with us that this was the last treatment. We will miss seeing him… but that’s okay.

10:30 am: We returned to the hospital for the chemotherapy treatment. Here I am, thrilled to be hooked up to the drip line one last time:

This is a little gift I brought to the nurses as a thank you. I considered baking something… but why do that when Girl Scout cookies have the power to make people crazy happy.

This my thank you note to them:

12:00 pm: My machine started beeping, waking me from my sleep. Treatment complete! Several nurses came over to offer hugs and agree with me that they too hope we never see each other again. Or if we do, it can be at the mall or grocery store or somewhere less cancer related.

12:30ish: Got home to this sign in our front yard:

And opened the door to a surprise visit from this group of incredible friends from our church:

They toasted me with:

And then laid hands on me and prayed for a complete healing.

After the gang left, Nathan and I went upstairs and my boy had the honor of removing the last and final chain loop. Yahoo!

Oh, and my sweet  husband got me this beautiful arrangement:

And then, as if this hadn’t already been a great day, our friends the Kapika’s delivered dinner and celebratory fixings to make Leatherby’s Black and Tan sundaes. Which, if you remember, in September this journey began with a Black and Tan… so this is perfect!

So what now?

Well, I will lie around and enjoy the effects of this last treatment for the next week or so. I have an appointment in a couple weeks with my oncologist to get the details on what follow-up and future scan/screenings will look like. I have the month of March to rest and get back on my feet. Then in early April, I will start radiation therapy. I will go daily (Mon-Fri) for 6 weeks, putting us in mid-May by the time we can actually say treatment is completely finished.

Several people have asked me how I plan to celebrate. Well, I am making plans to get a few items from my bucket list taken care of this summer. (Alternatively, as my friend Claire corrected me, my “LIFE LIST.”) Just to be clear,  I am not doin these things now because I am afraid that I am going to die and I need to get stuff done in a rush. I am doing them because there is no time like now than to start living!

One of my favorite verses is Ecclesiastes 8:15 (GNT):
"So I am convinced that we should enjoy ourselves, 
because the only pleasure we have in this life is eating and drinking and enjoying ourselves. 
We can at least do this as we labor during the life that God has given us in this world."

There it is, a Biblical encouragement to enjoy life! I already have the herb seeds planted, have a group of friends that want to fly in a hot air balloon with me, 2 different friends offering to help make the Yosemite dream come true, and Eric and I are talking about how to go deep sea fishing this summer. I haven’t set it in stone yet, but eating the perfect peach is coming together in my brain. That one is gonna take an extended family effort including blow-up rafts, a picnic lunch, and lots of cousins and their little kids experiencing a secret place we used to go as a family when I was younger. It is a place in my memory that I have gone to many times in moments of stress and despair. Let’s call it my “happy place”. This magical location that will make for “perfect peach eating” is a quiet peaceful crater lake in Lassen National Forest called Silver Lake. During the summer, it is gorgeous and you feel like you are swimming on a mirror. Anyways, one day this summer, I’ll be eating a peach while chillin’ in a raft, taking in the mightiness of the pines and the soaking in the reflection of the most perfect place on earth. Yep, that’s my plan.

Here is a picture of Silver Lake (this pic doesn’t begin to serve Silver Lake justice… look for my pics in late August and I'll try to capture the beauty.):

Thank you to everyone for the love, support, understanding, kindness, generosity, and prayers so many of you have offered my family these past 5 months. We are the luckiest people on this earth. God has been so good to us!

In close, enjoy Psalm 23. 
This Psalm is NOT just for funerals… it’s a truth for today.

Psalm 23
New Living Translation

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need. 

2 He lets me rest in green meadows; 
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
3 He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. 

4 Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, 

for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff 
protect and comfort me. 

5 You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil. 

My cup overflows with blessings. 

6 Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, 

and I will live in the house of the LORD forever.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Breast cancer is not pretty. It is not sweet. It is not pink.

Something has been bothering me the past 6 months.

And when I say bothering, I actually mean that it makes me, as a breast cancer victim, angry. I am disgusted by the way that breast cancer awareness campaigns have become reduced to yet another example of how “sex sells” in our culture.

Breast cancer is not pretty.
It is not sweet.
It is not pink.

It is scary.
It is lethal.
It is an interruption to life, as one knows it.

It forces you to face your mortality.
It takes you to a place of fearing the unknown.
It makes you cry in the night… and day… and night. Over and over again.

It looks like an inverted breast that no longer fits the cup of your bra.
It looks like a scar that will forever decorate the body as a reminder that anyone is fair game.
For some, it means looking down and being forced to confront a disfigured chest and see yourself as marred, missing what was once a sacred part of yourself.

And if you are a candidate for chemotherapy, breast cancer takes on more characteristics.

It looks like a port machine under your skin, a new organ, pumping poison into your veins.
It looks like blood draws and waiting to hear if your counts are okay. If your healthy enough to go another round of cancer killing.
It looks like a quiet room full of strangers, submitting to drip lines and IV’s, united by the common fear and fight that cancer has shoved in their face.

It feels like going from great to awful in a matter of minutes.
It feels like you are forever nauseous and the world is forever spinning around you.
It feels like you are going to throw up all day long, day after day.

It gives you achy bones and muscles.
It gives you dried out skin and an altered appearance to your nails.
It gives some of us the unwanted gift of menopause. Thanks but no thanks.

It makes you want to sleep all day long just to avoid time.
It makes you want to be normal and participate in the basic joys of life… like going out to eat or Christmas shopping at the mall.
It makes you want to go to a family birthday party, but you know you can’t, because those damn kids are walking germ machines, ready and willing to take you out with a single sneeze.

It messes with your mind.
It messes with your emotions.
It messes with your reasoning.
It messes with your sexuality.
It messes with your will to live. On some days making you strong and invincible, and on others ready to throw in the towel.

Loosing your hair is not pretty.
Loosing your hair is not pink.
It is humbling.
It is lonely.
It reduces you to who you are inside… the outside no longer matters.

It DOES NOT look like:



All of the above images are sexy and pretty. 
And these (pictured above) are some of the LESS provocative ads out there.

Breast cancer is not sexy.
And it is definitely not pretty.
It is ugly and it is real.

Many of us victims/survivors are covered in scars both physically and emotionally that remind us of breast cancer. When the focus of awareness campaigns is sexually charged, focusing on breasts and breasts alone, the faces of the women fighting this fight are masked by perky boobs and sexually tantalizing poses. These ads and campaigns remind those of us who have scars or who have lost their breasts that they/we are no longer true whole women like before cancer took over. The campaigns make it seem like beautiful, natural breasts are all that anyone seems to care about. I find it demoralizing and hurtful. The message has become to forget about the women mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, girlfriends involved, just save the boobs! And I imagine I’m not the only warrior that feels this way either. But since sex sells and apparently boobs are more important than people are, this practice is sure to go on in advertising. And shame on them.

So there’s my rant. Done for now.

••• Here is a link to a new documentary, Pink Ribbons, Inc.: The Movie, that is coming out this spring about breast cancer and the cancer industry. I am interested to see it. When I get into another vulnerable mood I will probably write about the “pink washing” of products, and how we as consumers must “think before we pink.”

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Looking Forward - Our Bucket Lists

This pick was taken at last weeks treatment.
Just 2 more to go... and I am totally counting!

Today is my 35th birthday. In addition to whatever sweet gifts my husband and kids will give me, I will also receive a drip line of saline, a sack of Benadryl (so that I won’t have an allergic reaction to my chemo) and a large clear bag of Taxol. Yep, I’ll be spending this glorious birthday morning in the chemo lab. It’s okay. I suppose I could be spending the day somewhere worse… like prison or in a cell phone store (my least favorite place on earth). I am sure everything will go fine and by 2pm I’ll be home in bed snuggled up with my pup. 

The past few weeks have been an interesting phase of this chemotherapy journey. When I met with my oncologist a few weeks ago he asked me how my energy was. My response was that I  had actually noticed an increase in energy and felt great. He replied something like, “Yeah, after this coming treatment patients usually start to feel a sharp decline in energy and experience more fatigue.” He wasn’t joking. I think it has been about 4 weeks since I have felt good. I am not sick and nauseous like during the first 8 week series of chemo, this is different. I just feel constantly exhausted. My muscles and bones ache nearly all the time. There has been a little bit of neuropathy in my hands and feet but not enough to complain about. I feel irritable and emotional just about all the time (which is as draining for me as it is for my poor husband.) Something peculiar I have noticed is that when I am resting or busy I seem to be very aware of my breathing and heartbeat. I am not sure how to explain it. It’s just like I am more in tune with the basic functions of my body as a machine. It is all very strange to experience.

With just two more treatments to go I am beginning to look toward the future and starting to plan for when I am healthy. I have been making plans for how to bring color and life to our backyard and garden and been playing with some ideas of how to create a front porch patio area in our front yard. Looking forward to the change of the season (not that we have really had an honest winter) has been a great way to keep my attitude up and focused on the future instead of the frustrations of today.

I came across something this week that I thought could be fun to share. Last August, when Eric and I went on our anniversary trip I was able to cross off an item from my 'Bucket List.' The item was to ‘Sail in the San Francisco Bay’. We had a delightful day in the bay, sailing from Treasure Island, out toward Alcatraz, inward near the piers and then under the Bay Bridge back to the marina. It was a beautiful 4 hour tour… loved every minute of it. Anyways, I found the 'Bucket Lists' that we made that weekend. In no particular order here’s what we have left on our lists:

v   Take a guided white water rafting trip down the Colorado River/Grand Canyon.
v    Successfully grow a herb garden. (I have tried 3 times without success.)
v    Coach my kids soccer team.
v    Ride in a hot air balloon.
v    Go to Yosemite (never been there) and hike Halfdome.
v    Go deep-sea fishing and catch something.
v    Watch a live human birth. (As a spectator, not a participant.)
v    Own and learn to drive a Harley Davidson. Take Sunday drive through country roads.
v  Eat the world’s most perfect peach. All conditions must be perfect… juiciness, size, color, location, and emotional state when eating.

v    Attend a Super Bowl.
v    Break 80 in a golf game.
v    Golf at ALL of the following:
o      St. Andrews, Scotland
o      Pebble Beach, Carmel
o      Torrey Pines, San Diego
o      TPC Sawgrass, MD
o      Kapawalia, HI
v    Marry/Be the Official at our kids weddings.
v    Dance with Leah at her wedding.
v    Hold a grandbaby.
v    Go to Yosemite. (He has never been there either.)
v    Fly a fighter jet.

I thought it was a little funny how most of my list requires good health and most of Eric’s requires A LOT of money. I am thinking this summer I need to try to accomplish one or possibly two of the items on my list. Hmmm… which should I try to conqueror?

For my birthday, let's have an online dream party!
What’s on your ‘Bucket List?’

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Declaration of Dependance

The other day while I was driving to the store the saddest song came on the radio. A song that used to be somewhat fun to listen to now practically brings me to tears. Since her death last year, does anyone else find “Rehab” by Amy Winehouse to be a downer?

It’s a song of rebellion and independence. The catchy way she sings “No, No, No” has a way of making you as the listener feel empowered to shake your head in defiance and stick it (whatever 'it' might be) to ‘the man’. As I thought about Amy’s cry for independence, it made me think about how this past year of my life has been one of complete dependence on God, family and friends.

It was just about 1 year ago that our picture perfect life in Auburn was flipped upside down. And what a year it has been! We experienced a lay off, sold a house, interviewed for several jobs, went down to 1 vehicle, moved our stuff into storage, lived with friends for 3 months, started a new job, found out I have cancer, moved into a new home, underwent surgery, started chemotherapy, survived the holidays, welcomed a new year, and climbed out of emotional wallowing. Thankfully I think we somehow managed to do it all in a way that our kids are still smiling and I don’t believe they have been negatively effected or hurt by the rollercoaster that has been this past year. Nevertheless, this list of what “we” did is not really a list of our challenges/accomplishments. It is actually a list of what being dependent on God and others allowed us to survive.

Sometime last February we went with my sister to check out her church, Bridgeway Christian Church. Pastor Lance was teaching from some passage out of 1st Samuel, and the main point was about Gods desire for us to be completely dependent on Him. I remember he was talking about how in a moment we can screw up our lives by choosing to do things in our own personal time rather than choosing to wait upon God for His best. (Marrying the wrong person, choosing the wrong job, poor/illegal decisions, falling into temptation and ruining what you have, etc.) Lance talked about how when we feel that we are at the end of our rope and desperate... maybe in truth, that place is actually like half as desperate as God desires us to be.

I remember sitting there in the dark auditorium thinking about our situation of not having any steady income coming into our home (ministers are considered independent contractors and do not receive government unemployment… so there really was nothing guaranteed coming in). What if maybe while our money was slowly fading what God really desired for us was to have like $2 left in our account.... and then His amazing provision would occur? Would He purposely push us to a place of extreme discomfort and complete dependence on Him for every earthly need? Maybe His plan was for our walk through the valley to be so very lonely, that when we emerged on the other side of this mountain of trials the relationship of trust that we had with Him would be so much sweeter. Maybe He desired us to be in a place of weakness requiring trusting in Him to be more than a walk, but a delicate dance of trust and dependence.

In the weeks and months following that sermon, I learned to see all things as a gift of provision from God. Selling our truck back to the dealer for close to what we had paid for it 2 years earlier was a blessing. Eating dinner at someone’s home was God feeding my children. Coupons were a gift of provision. A gift in the mail was more than someone's generosity, it was divine intervention. The buyer for our home was a blessing straight from Gods hand. In retrospect, that was true dependence and it was a great place to be. I actually felt less stress being in a place of dependence than I had before when we had control of our income. It was also the first time in my life I had ever really experienced being truly dependent upon Him.

And then it happened. In June Eric was hired at Bayside Church of South Sacramento, and we were no longer in the same place of desperation. I remember getting the news that he got the job and I immediately wanting to go shopping. For anything, I just wanted to shop. After 4 months of not making a single frivolous purchase, I just wanted to go to Target and get something fun. I wanted to get a Starbucks. I wanted to go to a movie. I just wanted to have a little fun to celebrate surviving the Valley of Despair. However, I came to realize that what I really desired was to declare my independence from dependency of Gods provision. As if I was saying, “Okay Lord, thanks for carrying us through that scary time… but we’ve got it from here.”

I sometimes wonder if those months of depending upon God, was a training exercise for the dependence we would need in fighting cancer. On the other hand, could it be that when I naturally returned to my spirit of independence, He shook His mighty head and said, “Okay, since you missed the point of that exercise, we will now continue with round two.”

Either way I am finding that trusting God with the healing of my body is pushing me again to complete dependence upon Him. In reading more about Triple Negative disease, I have learned that reoccurrence percentages are very high and chemo actually only works about 40% of the time. The flip side of the coin with Triple Negative disease is that if my cancer is going to come back it will do so right away and not hang around hiding for years. So, if the chemo is able to successfully rid my body of the cancer and if I remain cancer free for four or more years, the chances are good that my cancer will NEVER return. I have to believe and trust that I am in the 40%. I am depending on God to put me in that 40%. After all, someone has to be on the positive side of this percentage and why shouldn’t it be me!

Once again, I’m discovering that being in a place of complete dependence is the only place I am supposed to be.