December 5, 2016
almost 7 months since finishing chemo,
nearly 5 months since surgery,
and over a month since the last radiation.
these views in my rearview gain increasing distance and time moves happily forward and i feel myself entering in this new space of “life after cancer.”
i remember the long dark days of chemo, the sinking of my heart and my body and the sense that this time would never pass. i could hardly see any light in the distance on some of those days.
and i stand here now, in the light of those days ahead, knowing: THEY COME! we do round that bend, and that spacious place we read about does become ours to step in to.
“He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me” (psalm 18:19).
as i walk each day in the gift of this moving forward, my heart and mind also swirl with words and a passion to share this incredible chapter with its lessons and dark hard and highs and lows and forever imprint on who i am and where i’m going.
slowly, the words are coming.
and the learning, it continues to unfold. listening better to my body, following its cues (like, rest! when anemia just hit, rest! oh, this one pushes against my instinct and inclination but continues to be the very needed thing), figuring out the best way to support healing now and what foods make the best sense for me and what rhythms now resonate … i sense this will be a lifetime of learning.
and it can feel overwhelmig but also, it feels very much ALIVE.
November 7, 2016
it was after 8 pm the other night, and a snack sounded really good. nothing unhealthy, necessarily, but something to munch on.
and in that moment, i remembered my plan and the “loss” seemed small compare to the great gain i was choosing.
one of the most urgent recommendations from my integrated oncologist, during our phone appointment last week, was that i should not eat (a single calorie!) three hours leading up until bed, and for 13 hours total overnight.
she explained the reasons, having to do with circadian rhythms and pituitary function and insulin and melatonin and all the things that resonate with the extensive research that i’ve done.
the overnight fasting for 13 hours has been something i’ve been practicing for many months and feels like a very doable. our bodies aren’t meant to be constantly working, digesting and processing nonstop food consumption! they need time to heal and build and repair. this overnight fasting has been fine.
changing the habit of snacking in the evening will take a little time but it’s absolutely doable! it is exciting to make changes that just make sense. in fact, over the years, i’ve had this very conversation with a few different girlfriends and a couple of us have even made pacts to stop eating after dinner – on an intuitive level, it just makes sense.
October 30, 2016
amazing, how much pure joy & gratitude can fill a day! and one that starts with radiation, no less.🙂
thursday, october 27 marked the final day of 33 radiation treatments, every morning at 8:15am, and oh my gosh i was SO ready, so done. this morning ritual was a dark spot on every day and on my final drive there, i was beaming.
(pick a robe every morning)
(i always used this same dressing room – crazy creature of habit i guess :))
i felt the love and warmth around me even as i arrived alone that morning, as i had texts and messages and virtual hugs already surrounding me. and then, i was blown away when i walked out of the dressing room in to the waiting room to find a dear kindred friend there! waiting with hugs and joy! (and the gift of her presence in that place means even more as it was revisiting hard places she’d walked years back with her beloved). she recognized the tech, bruce, who came out to bring me back – and she reminded him that he needed to play “hit the road jack” during my final treatment. yes!
i lay on the table, laughing and with tears rolling down my cheeks as that song blared and i was finished and gave hugs to bruce & kalvin. done!
next was our thursday morning bible study & preschool, followed by an invite from grandma to come to her house for a bowl of soup on that rainy day. perfect. as we finished lunch, my precious aunt nancy arrived with these beauties, and more hugs and love.
when we arrived home, there was a note at the door that a flower delivery had been attempted … it arrived a couple of hours later and again i was just completely blown away. so much kindness from a friend who lives in colorado, who has walked this hard road.
mid-afternoon, the crashing radiation fatigue hit and i tucked in to our cozy bed, sunlight and big puffy clouds out my window, and took a lovely short nap while hubby picked up maddie from school.
then it was time to get ready for our date – the most crazy generous gift ever from heather, offering to have our boys come over (plus kids of our other best friend) so 8 kids under age 9 for the evening while we got dinner out. oh yes!
i sat in her driveway, smiling through tears reading her card filled with words of such deep encouragement and love … then hubby and i tucked in to a booth at a local restaurant and filled our bellies with yummy food, fabulous red wine, and heart-filling conversation, dreaming of things ahead.
the celebration started even earlier than thursday … and thinking of it even now overwhelms my heart. one of my best girlfriends invited me and our other bestie out to a celebration dinner tuesday night. we sat for hours, and they spoke words over me, having seen me at my darkest and hardest and lowest, knowing this journey so intimately. we cried and hugged and truly celebrated. i couldn’t have walked this hard road without them and i can think few things as life-giving and soul-lifting as being truly seen and completely loved. carried by love; such grace and gift, this kind of friendship.
October 26, 2016
TOMORROW IS THE LAST DAY OF RADIATION!
the deep sense of exultation and celebration and relief that i feel is seriously off the charts! i am so, so thankful.
radiation has been a different beast than chemo for sure. looking back over both, chemo was much more grueling physically: dark days of sludge and malaise and nausea and exhaustion and overwhelm. i often felt like i was in a tunnel, and the days passed slowly with the end seeming so far out of sight. in a million little and big ways, my body protested the infusion of 4 different toxins, each creating their own impact in my body. many of those results remain and are just starting to lift.
surprisingly, radiation has felt more mental and emotional: having to walk *each day* in to that “cancer center”, in to the bright lights and sick faces and techs arranging my body and machines swirling about and panic always one step away and dizziness most days when i stand. how do you brace yourself for that, every morning? but it must be done – i have to walk through those doors.
tomorrow i will walk through those doors and lay on that treatment table one last time and i am already feeling the sweetness of it. wahoo!!
just around the bend and in fact, already sitting here with me, is the pressure and angst about the next big treatment decision that i need to make. as i shared here, the last 2 rounds of herceptin were pretty devastating for me. the current standard of care is to receive 12 months (concurrent with starting chemo, which i did). i completed 7 1/2 months when the decision to stop during radiation was made simple by the screaming of my body and the wise counsel of my integrated oncologist. i am so thankful for that right decision, knowing for sure it was the best for me at that time.
but that decision was to be revisited after radiation ended … and now i am here. i’ve exhausted all available research, spoken again with my main oncologist (who recommends resuming and completing the full year, per the standard of care). i have prayed and attempted to still my body and listen and weigh pros and cons and still, i am just not sure.
these big decisions feel too hard, too heavy and with stakes that are too high.
i long to be able to meet with my integrated oncologist, who has provided God-sent counsel and insight at previous crucial decision-making junctures, but my budget will not cover a visit with her.
i need some clarity in the next week as the window to resume isn’t wide open – now or not at all is the bottom line.
so, i will press in in to praying and seeking answers. i am so unspeakably ready for the period at the end of the sentence of this chapter of “treatment”- ready to turn the page.
October 19, 2016
the gift of a few hours alone each wednesday has become a pocket of such refreshment and refueling. i am not sure i truly understood the deep and real ways that deep relaxation, invigorating creative work and simple pleasures just for the sake of pleasure – how these things actually move my body toward healing.
intuitively and experientially, i now know this to be true. we need to pour in to and build and prioritize the beauty, the quiet, the joy-giving, soul-filling, creative around us and within us.
i am so thankful for today, for every wednesday when i drop my littlest loves off to play and learn with others for four amazing hours.
my first stop is the sauna, which is like a literal happy pill that energizes, fuels and invigorates me *every time, in ways i couldn’t have imagined.
then, i allow myself the treat of tucking in to a local coffee shop (often parking and taking a brisk walk first) to read, write & study. bliss!!
today, after leaving the sauna, i couldn’t contain a big grin and drove on the back roads of town, windows down, music blaring … singing and laughing and feeling the deepest soul exhale.
it’s been so beautiful to shift away from what felt like an empty call in our culture for “self care” toward an understanding of the deep richness of cultivating quiet, creativity, and restoration on this path of healing. these pockets of time are a gift & this mama feels no guilt, only gratitude.
October 17, 2016
my beloved created a GoFundMe page early on in this journey, sharing thoughtful updates as i’ve walked through the chapters of this story. his perspective on our life unfolding has been tender and insightful.
and the support i’ve received has truthfully been life-saving, as it has allowed me to take specific healing steps that otherwise would have been out of reach.
seeing an integrated oncologist at key decision-making junctures in this journey has been made real by this support and i know for sure that her input and guidance has meant a dramatically different trajectory for my life. it makes me tearful to consider.
healing foods to build my body and not support the growth of cancer; sauna; supplements to support me during chemo and now radiation; naturopathic and acupuncture support … and so much more. all of these things made possible by the deep generous support and i will live, forever grateful.
as i walk through radiation, and look ahead to a surgery in the coming year … i covet the support to continue to build and heal and move joyfully beyond this cancer valley.
October 17, 2016
i have been in a groove, moving through radiation every morning, then jumping in to the daily groove of juggling the many balls that is my life. i have been eyeing the end date of radiation, counting down, and thinking through next steps to finish out conventional treatment.
i decided to keep my appointment with my local oncologist last week, which typically precedes the next day’s infusion of herceptin – even though i’ve decided to stop the herceptin, for now. i was looking forward to seeing my labs and assessing different levels, as well as – and most of all, honestly – pressing through with relationship and dialogue and big-picture vision with this woman who has walked closely beside me since my diagnosis.
((when she learned of my decision to go against her recommendation and stop herceptin, i received a message from her office, asking if i wanted to “transfer care.” i felt stunned, because in my (perhaps utopic) vision of the model of care in medicine, if a patient disagrees with their doctor about one decision (of a multitude made) – that doesn’t mean that they stop working together. it means that we disagree, and that we remember that i am in this body, driving my healing, and i weigh many factors in making a decision and we continue to move together toward our common goal of my healing.))
so i decided to step in to that space that can feel awkward and tender, and sit with her in face-to-face conversation. i am always glad when i choose this option.
we went through much of the robotic check-the-box questions, and at one point in conversation about radiation, i shared that i often experience dizziness when standing up from the radiation table. this is something i’ve shared with the radiation oncologist (the doctor who specifically oversees my radiation treatment and with whom i meet weekly). he has maintained that it is not a side effect of radiation, although i know that it started 2 weeks after i began and typically hits only when standing up from the radiation table.
so my doctor stopped me and began to ask more questions about the dizziness. i was unfazed by her deeper questions and still wasn’t absorbing her level of concern.
as the appointment concluded, she said gently that she wants me to get a brain mri; that she thinks i’m probably fine but would like to be sure.
i felt that crashing in my stomach; that dark panic starting to hit. what was going on? because this appointment was supposed to be a quick check in, nothing to see here, moving right along. and this doctor, who had dismissed a different side effect months ago that i actually *was worried about, was now insisting on an mri of my brain. to look for the spread of cancer, of course.
and she wanted it done that week.
i felt the familiar companion of fear and anxiety start knocking at my door. the spinning of reality, the pit in my stomach, the wrestling with possibilities. a quick check to dr. google confirmed that spread to the brain is a signature of the particular type of cancer that i had.
how does a girl walk through this wait? this holding still of time and space while everything moves as normal all around?
the next morning, i got a call from the imaging clinic to schedule the mri. they had a cancellation that afternoon and did i want it? yes. i know now that i prefer to just do the hard thing instead of put it off when it comes to wild ride of these tests and waits.
the roller coaster afternoon included my first hair cut (!!!) – which was such sweet joy and tearful celebration of healing, followed immediately by the appointment for the mri.
sometimes it feels like too much.
claustrophobia and mri’s are not the best of friends. and this one, with the cage around my head, while laying still in a tunnel and then being injected with contrast and laying still even longer – was rough. i vacillated while laying there – i had moments where i focused on my breathing, exhaling the fear and inhaling the belief that i was well, visualizing my brain as well and without disease. but there were pockets of panic; of placing my hand over my heart to feel it racing and pounding, imagining dark hard outcomes.
i woke up friday morning clothed with the dark cloud. oh LORD, please. please let me be dealing “only” with radiation side effects and the ending of treatments and the opening up of the bright spacious new that i see ahead.
let me focus on my loves before me, and savor this day at home with them, not fighting stray thoughts until the call comes.
i reached out to a couple dear trusted friends, sharing this dark hard and feeling desperate for encouragement. i read and reread the texts that came, being reminded of what i knew and hearing words of life and hope. oh, the power in our words!
late morning, i called the imaging clinic and asked how long i should expect to wait before hearing results from the previous day’s mri. she said that the results had already been sent to the doctor, so i immediately called the factory. i told the receptionist that i knew that my results had been sent, that i also was aware that my doctor doesn’t work on fridays but that i hoped that wouldn’t prevent me from hearing back from another doctor that same day. she assured me that the on call doctor would call later in the day.
so life swam on … learning and eating and cleaning and picking up my girl from school and then late afternoon, my phone rang.
the cheery voice on the other end was sydney from the factory. she said she was calling to give me … pause … the results from my … pause … mri. my heart was pounding out of my chest. yes, yes, sydney – what are the results??
“no malignant lesions” in my brain, she said.
i hung up the phone, shaking with relief … just so thankful.
it felt like the gift of life and healing that i’ve been walking out, was just returned to me. no more barriers, no more delays, only purposeful joyful growing-in-strength and wellness and love and life as i have the gift of this one before me.