Thursday, April 26, 2012

Overwhelming Joy

Just two more days until the Elk Grove American Cancer Society’s ‘Relay for Life’! I am getting excited and looking forward to camping out and being a part of this 24-hour event. So far, with your help, I have been able to raise $2,001 in donations for the American Cancer Society. Thank you to all that have donated. This really is huge! Last week I got a tickle out of watching my name be #1 out of nearly 600 participants in fundraising – kinda felt famous. Over the weekend, 2 jerks (just kidding) stepped up and took 1st and 2nd place… but it’s not over till it’s over. Just $20 more and I kick some clueless dude into 3rd place! (Yeah… I’m a tad bit competitive.) Please join me in this fight and consider donating to the American Cancer Society through my Relay Page: Kelly Joppa Relay Page.

Due to currently going through radiation therapy, and the need to avoid direct sunlight, I will be doing most of my shifts during the evening and throughout the night. If you happen to look at your clock at 2:30am, think of me… I will be out on the track strutting along taking on cancer in the still of the night.

As an added incentive to donate, a gift basket from Ammin Nut was given to me for a little drawing I will hold Saturday morning. If you donate $5 or more, your name will go in the drawing and you could win an assortment of products made with the highest quality Nonpareil almonds right here in California. This gift was donated by my cousin’s cousin (got that) and is a wonderfully healthy food choice – especially if you are into the paleo-diet or looking to increase the ‘natural’ products you consume. Anyways, I thought this was an awesome prize and grateful to Ammin Nut for the donation!

Thanks to you all for your support!

I will share about radiation therapy and how that is going in my next post, but today I wanted to share about something cool that I have experienced over the past week. I’m sure that some of you will know what I am talking about and you will know how rare it is that you get one of these “God” moments. If you cannot relate to me that is okay… but I hope you can understand that what I experienced was more than just a feeling. It was something special.

Lately I have really been trying to make a conscience effort to have the TV off for the majority of the day. My goal is to have it off by 10am and instead fill the house with music. Sometimes we listen to one of the kids Disney CD’s, sometimes 80’s music, sometimes we listen to Christian praise, but if my little boy Nathan gets a vote, we listen to the Coffee House station. Yes, my son loves the variety, coolness and the acoustic sound of coffeehouse music. This is awesome, because I do too.

My littlest dancing partner.
(Note the trains track that have taken over the living room.)
Anyway, I was making lunch and the kids were playing in the living room. Jack Johnson’s ‘Bubble Toes’ came on. I dropped what I was doing and went over to sing and dance with the kids. Picking up Leah and spinning in circles. She giggled and clung to me as we twirled. Then I put her down and grabbed my big boy. As I sang “La da da da da da” along with the drumbeat, we spun in circles as I avoided falling on his train tracks. Nathan’s smile was beaming and Leah squealed “Me mama, me.” It was the perfect mom moment. Then it happened, a rush of God’s peace and overwhelming joy seemed to cover me from the inside out. I broke into tears; tears of gratitude for life itself. I felt a peace that spoke to my heart. Inside I heard myself think, “if this is as good as it gets, then it is well.” In that moment, I remembered that under 2 months ago I could barely lift my kids up, much less dance, sing and give them 110% of my energy. It was a perfect moment… but not one I had created, if was a gift from my God.

Tuesday night we had a big party at my house with all of my immediate family and children to celebrate my cousin and her 3-month-old son visiting. 9 adults and 8 kids under 7 laughed, played and enjoyed the beautiful spring evening in our backyard. Eric was on the BBQ perfecting the tri-tip and I was running around doing one of the things I love to do most – host. I had run into the house to grab something for one of the kids and for some reason looked out my kitchen window and just broke down. Again tears of gratitude flowed. I am so thankful for my family, my home, the many joys in my life and foremost my health. Again, I thought about how just months ago I would have to sit and ask for help and how a gathering like this would have wiped me out.

Despite cancer, God has been so good to me. I know it is crazy, but in some ways, I feel like I have been the lucky one to have gone through this awful experience. I have been blessed beyond measure by the kindness and generosity of friends. My family has been loved on in more ways than I can list. I have found that enduring and seeking joy in all circumstance is worth it. And more than anything, I have again tasted the goodness and peace offered only by Christ. It does not mean that cancer has been fun or easy or pain free. Actually, quiet the contrary. I am just saying, this experience has taught me so much about myself, God and others… that I win.

Remember that glowing man at target that said, “Good things are to come.”
He was right.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Look for me in the "Survivors Lap". I'll be the one smiling!

Luminary Memory Bags at the
American Cancer Society's Relay for Life
A few weeks ago, I read an article about the importance of mentally transitioning from being a cancer patient to being a cancer survivor. In the article, the author wrote about how her fears had stayed with her for months following chemotherapy and at a follow-up check-up nearly a year after being clean, her doctor spoke to her about the need to change her self-perception and accept that she no longer HAD cancer. She needed to view herself as a survivor and needed to live her life to the fullest. I had just seen my oncologist a few days before reading the article and it made me think about how he wanted me to understand that cancer was now in my past.

This is what the port looks like. It
is a bump about the size of a quarter
under my skin just below my collar
bone. Two tubes are laced into arteries,
one up my neck and one down
 into my chest.
During the last week of March, I had to go into the chemotherapy treatment center to have my port flushed. I will need to go monthly to have it flushed with saline until I choose to have it removed. Eric and I have decided to wait for 3 clean scans before I schedule to have the surgery to take it out. Since I need to go for mammograms every 3 months, in 9 months I will have this lovely little machine extracted. Anyways, I walked into the lab full of confidence and excitement to see the nurses that I have come to love. When I sat down in the waiting room, it was the first time I realized I was on the other side. I wasn’t there to get poisoned. I wasn’t going to leave feeling sick. I wasn’t going to need help that night with the kids. I was just a girl, with a port, that needed it flushed out.

Last week a fellow-sister-survivor invited me to walk with her in the Survivors Lap at our local Elk Grove - American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. After about 5 seconds of thinking about it I decided that yes… I would be honored to walk in the SURVIVORS LAP. Then a few days later my friend Heidi invited me to join her family team and participate in the 24-hour-relay. I am excited to join their team and work to keeping the baton moving for 24 hours without stopping. It’s a big commitment, but I’m up for it.

So anyway, this is the part where I solicit your support and donation toward supporting this organization that has personally helped me through my fight. Don’t worry, I’m not asking for a lot. Knowing how hard it is for me to ask for donations, I committed to raising the very obtainable goal of $100. I figure if every FaceBook friend could donate 15¢ or if the regular viewers of this blog could donate 40¢, it is very possible that I could actually reach my very obtainable goal.

This is the generic letter that the American Cancer Society provide for me to distribute:

Dear Friend:
I am participating in the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life because I want to make a meaningful difference in the fight against cancer. Almost everyone has been touched by cancer, either through their own personal battle or through someone they love.

Every day, the American Cancer Society is helping us stay well by preventing cancer or finding it at its earliest, most treatable stages. They assist families in finding the best resources to help their friend or loved one deal with a diagnosis and their journey to get well. The American Cancer Society is also rallying communities (like ours!) through events like Relay For Life, to fight back and find cures for this disease.

Please join my team or make a donation to help the American Cancer Society create a world with less cancer and more birthdays. Together, we can help make sure that cancer never steals another year of anyone’s life!

And here’s my heartfelt letter to you:

Dear Friends & Family:
The day I found out I had cancer will forever be engraved in my memory. I was at my aunt’s house feeding my 15-month-old baby in the high chair when the phone rang. I recognized that it was a number from the hospital so I excused myself, stepping over my 4-year-old playing trains in the center of the room. As the doctor told me about the results of my biopsy, I calmly took notes of every word he spoke and thanked him kindly for the horrible news. I then calmly told my aunt I had an aggressive form of cancer, asked her to watch the kids and then drove to my husbands work to inform him that our life had just taken yet another bump. When he started crying, I started crying. Those were my first tears. We went to my parents house to inform them that their baby girl (me) had cancer. Then I went to my sister’s house to share the news with her. When I read the details I had scribbled down to them, I watched my brother-in-law’s face (who is a cancer research analyst for UC Davis) change from concern to worry. He understood the diagnosis. Through his face, we knew this was going to be a big deal.

This little pillow actually meant a lot to me.
It clearly came from the loving hands of someone that
understood what it was like to have a lumpectomy. 
At my pre-surgery visit, the nurse gave me a bag of books about cancer, chemo, radiation, etc. A full 3 inches of material to read. There was also a small floral pillow made by volunteers that the nurse told me would be helpful after surgery for when I needed to wear a seatbelt in the car. She encouraged me to register with the American Cancer Society so that I could find out about all of the services they had to offer.

The day before I went into surgery, I made the call. A kind woman answered the phone and took my information. We talked for close to an hour, and I think she would have talked to me for 4 hours if I needed it. She shared about the financial assistance they had for transportation costs to patients that needed help in driving to treatment. They had volunteers available to drive me to treatments if I needed it. They had classes & support groups, online or at various hospitals. She even mentioned a class called ‘Look Good, Feel Better’ where I could learn to do make-up around my eyes and how to draw on eyebrows after my eyelashes and eyebrows fell out. She was honest and clear. I felt supported and understood.

Free make-up?
Yes, please!
After my 2nd chemotherapy treatment and my hair had fallen out I went to the ‘Look Good, Feel Better’ class. At the class, I sat with 6 other women who were going through treatment too. One of the older ladies scolded me for not wearing my face mask in the hospital halls. My husband had been telling me I needed to wear it, but when this fellow cancer patient spoke, I somehow understood the need to take responsibility for my immune system and myself. We put on make-up, they showed us different wigs, and head wraps offer by ACS and the volunteers handed out crocheted beanies. We were given a bag of make-up donated by a variety of cosmetic companies throughout the country. Everyone teaching the class had experienced hair loss and had gone through chemo treatment. In that room, I was normal.

I appreciate that the American Cancer Society does not single out any one particular cancer. I appreciate that they were there for me with resources and support as a patient. And I appreciate that, “No single nongovernmental, not-for-profit organization in the US has invested more to find the causes and cures of cancer than the American Cancer Society.”

Please consider supporting me and the American Cancer Society as I joyfully, proudly and gratefully walk in the Survivors Lap and participate at the Relay for Life event in Elk Grove on Saturday, April 28th. Any size donation will help me reach my very obtainable goal of $100. With your generous donation, we might be able to actually make a difference in the life of the next young mother who is shocked to find out that she too has been diagnosed with cancer. 

Here’s the link to my Relay for Life page: Kelly Joppa's Relay For Life Page

Thank you in advance on behalf of cancer patients, families and survivors that will benefit from your donation.


*** If you would like to honor a loved one with a luminary bag the night of the event you can find that button on my page as well. If you choose to do this, please let me know and I will try to find the bag and take a picture of it for you.

I am hoping that this is the right step… or lap… or 100 laps in the right direction toward confirming that I am a survivor!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Nobody Likes A Whiner

This has been a strange week of mental processing and emotions. The Genetic Counselor called last Wednesday to give me the results of the BRCA gene test. Apparently, I am NEGATIVE for the gene. I was praying for this result. But… and it’s a big but… when we spoke he said, “Honestly I am shocked by this result. I thought for sure you would be positive.” He went on to explain that while I am BRCA negative, it is his belief that I likely have a different less dominant hereditary cancer gene, one that science has likely not yet discovered. He encouraged me to contact his office in three years for evaluation for any new tests that might have become available. He also recommended that I begin ovarian cancer screening and blood tests. Yippee.

Therefore, I do not need to have the surgeries, which should make me happy… but I’m not really. I was expecting to find peace… but I did not. I thought the fear of having to one day tell my kids that they have a 50% chance of cancer would be gone… but it’s still in me. I thought I would be able to blame my ancestors of old... but I cannot. I am frustrated. As much as I wanted a negative result, not having an answer to “why” I had cancer, especially at such a young age, has made me angry.

Truthfully, this is the first time in this journey that I have really been mad. I’m mad that I don’t know “why” cancer likes me. I am mad that I’m once again in this category of the unknown. I’m even mad (I know this is kinda crazy) that I won’t be having surgery, as I had convinced myself that by having the hysterectomy and mastectomy that I would at least be eliminating two main locations that cancer could reappear... therefore beating it at it’s own game. And I’m really mad that I have to go through radiation. I knew it was coming, but I’m angry that now that I am finally feeling good, once again life will be interrupted with a 6 week, 30 day reminder that cancer is part of my life.

Today I will go to the Radiologist Oncologist to have the MRI done for my upcoming radiation therapy. The MRI will allow the radiologist to make a 3-D image of the exact location (distance, depth, diameter) where they need to beam the radiation. They will also give me my first tattoo ever… 4 boring little marks showing exactly where they need to radiate me throughout the treatment.

This week has made me think of something that we discussed a few weeks ago in Bible Study. We were discussing anger and how it is a natural human emotion, which we all experience. The discussion surrounded the idea that while we may become angry, it is important to be careful what we do with our anger. (Ephesians 4:26-27 “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.") I have tried, but I have failed at not sinning in my anger this week. I have had such a short temper with my husband and kids. I am angry with God. I've just been plain pissy. I am not proud of it… and I am very aware that in my anger I am giving the devil a foothold.

I’m hoping that this emotion passes soon, cause if it doesn’t it’s going to be a long 6 weeks of kicking and screaming and whining to radiation. 

And let’s face, like I tell my kids… nobody likes a whiner!

Here's a glimpse of one of the many
bright spots this past week. Leah, 21 months,
playing at our churches Easter Family Fun Day.
Isn't she just the sweetest!

Monday, April 2, 2012

A New Season

One of my favorite things about my husband is that he loves Easter. Easter has long been my favorite holiday. I love the tradition of kids dying and hunting eggs. I love Peeps and Cadbury Eggs (although I have not had a single one this year.) I love gathering with my family for a meal. I love the slightly twisted play that my mom has the kids do depicting the Easter story. I love Easter Sunday service and celebrating the resurrection and singing songs like “The Old Rugged Cross” and “Wondrous Cross.” I love the somber reflection of Good Friday and the joyfulness of Easter Sunday when you are greeted at church by excited voices exclaiming “He is Risen!” However, for all that I love Easter, my husband loves it more. The man’s joy for Easter far exceeds his excitement of any other holiday. You see, for him Easter was not always a special holiday, but when his life changed and he met Jesus, this day became the most important day of the year. When we first met, I didn’t really get it. Thankfully, his enthusiasm has rubbed off on me and hopefully our children will get the Easter bug too.

From our home to yours, we wish you a peaceful and joyful Holy Week!

Since my last post, several people have asked for an update on the juicing fast. I did promise a report on what I discovered. First off, I made it all 10 days. I will admit that due to being in environments where I was without juice I did cheat three times. I ate two apples (two different occasions) and had stir fry veggies one meal. It’s not like I busted out the Girl Scout cookies in the back of my pantry, but it was technically cheating so I felt it was only fair to fess up. After ending the fast I decided to continue to stick with the plant based diet and juicing at least one meal a day and so far, I think this is the right thing for me. I’ve have meat once since I started this life change and I’m not quite sure I want to say that I will give it up forever… but I’m leaning that way. So for three weeks I have been practically completely free of processed sugar, caffeine, dairy, starch and meat. I am surprised that I have more energy than before and actually find that I crave veggies and fruit when I do feel hungry. I should add that nuts have been good for taking off the edge. For the first time I cooked with couscous and lentil beans and well, they were not as awful as I had expected. Actually, we were both surprised that they were pretty yummy.

For those of you that asked for info on juicing here are some helpful sites:
* If you are interested in doing a reboot this site is helpful in providing a plan, juice recipes and for support and encouragement:
* My basic and favorite green juice recipe:
* Tons of juice recipes:
*** Be careful when searching the internet for recipes. It's easy to be attracted to the all fruit juices. They are delicious, but the have a lot of sugar and you should be sure you are mainly consuming the "green" vegetable juices as they provide the nutrients you need. After I finished the juice fast I have decided to make smoothies out of fruit instead of juice. I just had a problem with all the waste... it's too yummy to throw away. 

I feel great. Of course just about anything feels better than when you are loaded with chemo… but really, I feel awesome. My face completely cleaned up.  I am sleeping better than I have in years. I have increased energy throughout the day. And I have lost about 13 lbs. Thanks to so many of you that have written and encouraged me in this change. (Also I was gifted a 4 month supply of Juice Plus+. I will share about this product after I have had some time to witness its effects and be able to share my thoughts.)

I have not heard back from the geneticist yet. I carried my cell phone in my pocket almost all last week waiting for the call. In fairness they said it would take 2 to 3 weeks and this Wednesday will make 3 weeks so I am not freaking out or anything yet. I am just eager to get on with whatever our next step is. Sadly, one of my first cousins has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer too. Due to the amount of cancer in our family, her doctor had her take the BRCA gene test up front. We heard that her results were negative which is great news… I am hoping it is a good sign for my results too.

In the mean time, I find that I have more to do in a day than time allows. The kids are forever busy and keeping me on my toes. This week I am planning to get my vegetable garden planted and finish with the landscaping update that I started a few days ago. There is just something spiritual about gardening. It is therapeutic and healing. Breathing fresh air, playing in the dirt and watching the miracle of life (yes, even if it be plant life) is uplifting to my body and soul. It’s hard to believe a month ago I was sick in bed feeling miserable.

I am so, so thankful for this new season!

Listening To Thieves

Three men hung crying (naked)
Rain spilling down
Through their feet
But one man spilled blood

Three men hung talking (naked)
One was groaning
The other searching
For the third man’s

Three men hung praying (naked)
One was cursing
The other pleading
And the third was
Calling Out

Three me hung dying (naked)
One tasted fire
In his carcass wasted
The other was carried
By the third

-Kevin Max Smith