July 22, 2016
it’s after 8pm – boys are bathed and tucked in bed and i’ve snuck outside with a glass of red wine, a couple squares of dark chocolate & my computer … to soak in this amazing evening air and allow space to sit with my thoughts of all that has been happening. so much to rejoice and allow gratitude to soak in my heart and mind.
i had surgery last friday – 6 days ago. oh, how glad that it is done! it really all went so well but the little pieces like getting sick as i was about to leave (and again in the van driving away); pricks and pokes and 5:30 am arrival and the *operating room … yeah, it was a lot. but oh my, the grace and love and goodness: the hubby who so faithfully is always beside, loving and being present and making me laugh and being steady & strong; the lifelong sister/friend who came super early to sit with and advocate for and hold my hand going in to the operating room … and the initial news: that the sentinel node tested negative for cancer. glory!
this week has been full of the haze of recovering …the throbbing pounding ache of incision sites and bruising and sutures, the bizarre yuckiness & discomfort of the drain (the tube that literally comes out of your body and drains stuff – eck). each day has gotten better. the fog has totally lifted (or maybe that was the side effect of the wonky percocet, lol). shooting pains like a bee sting still keep hitting the incision area – nerves, recovering? i am being vigilant to not lift which, with 2 kiddos, is super hard. no cuddling on mama’s left side, for now.
the initial plan had been for me to have my second surgery (the plastic surgery part) tomorrow – friday, one week after my first surgery. but this immediately didn’t feel right, felt too soon. the standard time frame, i’m told, is 2 weeks between. but the plastic surgeon will be on vacation that second week so his staff pushed for one week. my instinct told me that waiting longer made good sense; that my cancer-fighting immune system (the thing that will continue to ensure my body is inhospitable to cancer, not drugs) needed more time to recover to remain strong. 2 surgeries in 7 days is a lot. so as i do, i called my team of doctors, seeking counsel and collaboration in considering this. some said the timing was fine but a few said waiting was the best so with great peace, i’ve scheduled that surgery for august 15. exhale.
yesterday i saw my oncologist and was super nervous before the appt, expecting to hear results from my pathology done from surgery. however, the path report wasn’t done. our appt was interesting as i continue to feel some discord around my choices that haven’t been what she has recommended (ie, partial mastectomy vs full mastectomy), but it is good to push through those moments, continue to speak truth, ask questions and increasingly just appreciate and recognize the very limited yet specific role she has in my healing journey.
today, TODAY i had a follow up with my surgeon and again, had some mild anxiety wondering if he may have the final path results. hubby and i sat in the room, waiting for him to come in. the door opened and he said, “there’s my miracle girl.” huh? then he said, and at this point the world was swirling and i started crying as i hear him saying that he doesn’t have the final official pathology report but he spoke with the pathologist and of the 8 nodes and breast tissue that he took, that NO CANCER WAS FOUND! that this is very “rare”, that the pathogist sees this maybe twice a year.
there are pretty much no words.
giggling, crying, hubby smiling, the doctor saying how great my incision looks, that i’m healing great, that i am an inspiration to him (??!).
and so now, i press on with the end of this cancer medical healing piece (surgery, then radiation plus herceptin infusions every 3 weeks til january – today included). and i continue to move strongly forward with my healing protocol, thankful for the tools GOD has shown me, more determined than ever to steward well this vessel. there is so much ahead that i feel inspired and stirred to walk in to …
and tonight, i’m grateful. weary & tired but oh so grateful.
July 8, 2016
i had a really great meeting with my local surgeon today and am thankful and relieved to have my surgery set – next friday, july 15th @ 7:30am.
the past week included a few more instances of angst and tension around my surgery choice and i am indescribably relieved to have the agreement of my local surgeon to do the surgery that i desire; to be supportive and to join those on my treatment team holding the belief that, in fact, this is MY body and as my lovely integrated oncologist told me, “they should not take out your body parts without your permission!” well, of course. except i often feel like i’m swimming upstream in holding this expectation. i have wrestled hard with this decision but have a solid and unwavering peace & conviction about my decision, coupled by the instinct that i need to have *courage* and not allow fear to sway me.
i see continued healing and strength in my future and am eager to walk that out.
so, my surgery is actually in 2 stages: next friday is the partial mastectomy and limited lymph node dissection … my surgeon said i may not even need to stay overnight, we will see how i feel and if there was more lymph node involvement.
my breast tissue will be sent to a pathologist to assess the presence of any disease.
once those results are clear, i will have the plastic surgery portion of surgery within 1-2 weeks … another outpatient procedure.
my sweet sister just asked me if i’m nervous for the surgery and i told her that i have total peace. strange. because the operating room terrifies me and i am sure i’ll be super nervous right before but again, overall and deep down, i feel good about it. thank GOD.
June 26, 2016
very few steps of this journey have come easy. from the very beginning, when i pressed and questioned doctors and sought second opinions and then had to make the gut-wrenching decision between 2 different chemotherapy protocols … i have found myself digging and grappling and researching and questioning and often being *that patient.
i believe GOD has good purposes for the struggle; so much is revealed when we press in, although the in between moments are so seriously hard. but the depth of my understanding of the many facets of this journey, the extraordinary healing tools that i’ve learned and applied … much has come from the pressing in. (and also maybe slightly due to my obsession with reading and research and the 20+ books i’ve inhaled, lol).
i find myself here again as i walk toward this next step: surgery. once again, i have 2 dramatically opposing recommendations (local surgeon/local oncologist vs. best breast surgeon in the country @ucsf/integrated oncologist). this weekend, this moment, i sit in waiting, my mind racing with ideas and questions and strategy as i prepare for my upcoming conversation with the local surgeon, hopefully monday. (he’s been out of town this past week which has felt like added stress since there is an oft-cited timeframe of 4-6 weeks for when surgery should happen after the completion of chemo – it’s been 5 1/2 weeks today).
i am not sure how these next steps will play out, but i am believing that through the angst and prayer and grappling and seeking … the plan will again come together.
June 22, 2016
i have this image in my mind that completely captures these last several months.
there is this large, dark pool of water … a big vat. i am in the dark deep water, sinking beneath and at times, briefly treading water and putting my head up to breathe. then i sink again.
fear, physical pain, anxiety, overwhelm, chemotherapy, doctor appointments, scary tests … the dark water.
GOD’s word, a moment in nature, a word or hug from a friend, laughter, physical lifting … those brief moments of coming up out of the dark water and catching my breath.
i’ve felt, since the completion of chemo and the great news from my MRI, like i’m climbing up the side of the big vat of darkness. climbing up, almost to the edge and able to look over the horizon. i see glimpses.
yesterday, i had an experience that felt like my feet were dangling again back in the dark waters. it took some time to feel the shaking off of my legs and the climbing again, the climbing OUT.
this all – these months since my diagnosis january 8 – have been traumatizing. ptsd feels more real and the trauma that dips my feet back in the deep – i guess that will be a part of this healing journey, yet i hope to be wise in navigating areas of life within my control, to avoid the deep.
June 9, 2016
as i sit in this moment – outside, nearly 8pm, glorious breeze and fading summer sunshine and a glass of red wine and the weight of the world lifted off my shoulders – i don’t even know if i have words big enough to capture it all.
most of all and in the deepest way in my bones, i feel grateful. relieved. like i can finally exhale. ive been holding my breath, consumed with excruciating worry, since having my breast MRI done 2 days ago.
the worry associated with these kind of tests is truly impossible to know unless you’ve walked this dark hard road. and this week’s worry flashed me back to the days and weeks after my initial diagnosis (5 months ago today) – the scans and MRI’s and tests and
F E A R
consuming, gripping, valley of the shadow of death, fear.
so. i waited these 2 days, which coincided with the passing of my beloved patriarch papa 2 days ago ( a million blog posts couldn’t touch the depth of my love for that man and the depth of grief we are walking through) and i told my hubby yesterday, this is TOO MUCH.
and right now, i need the GOD of “too much” because i just can’t.
going through the motions this morning, errands and the park and LIFE and just trying to remember to breathe and to stop my mind from racing through possible scenarios for today. at one point, i missed a call from my oncologist’s office and a voice mail wasn’t left and my mind wandered to the possibilities – was it bad news and she didn’t want to leave a message? good news and she was eager to share? i had a dream recently in which i remember my oncologist said to me, “i have bad news and good news” … so i wondered if that forshadowed today. i kept reminding myself that the MRI would just show the response to chemo and it was a good response that we could physically feel and would likely be a “partial response” and my mastectomy would remove any remaining cancer.
of course my mind also wandered to dark places, imagining that perhaps cancer had spread to other areas; that my sweet doctor would walk in the room with a heavy heart and we’d have to discuss other treatment options. i willed my mind against those thoughts.
we arrived right on time for our 2pm appt after dropping our boys happily off at heather’s house (how much do i adore and appreciate that girl??). the medical assistant took us (me and hubby) back to the room and small talked and took my temp and all the while, my heart pounded. then we waited. at 2:24 we were still waiting.
then precious dr. west walked in with a bright smile on her face. i can’t remember her exact words (can we ever when in shock?!) but i did hear, “complete response” and no evidence of any cancer or abnormalities in either my left breast or lymph nodes. where there was clear malignancy before, nothing remained. everything looked normal.
tears came as i laughed and exhaled and felt a smile filling my entire being.
the rest of the appoinment is a blur of discussions about lingering chemo side effects (everything is lifting! every day is better!); mastectomy (meeting with local surgeon tomorrow and ucsf surgeon next wednesday – still not sure if i will have unilateral or bilateral mastectomy. many considerations and my oncologist is recommending unilateral. surgery likely in a couple weeks).
it literally all felt like downhill after receiving the MRI news – mastectomy, no problem! chemo, it’s DONE!
glory, glory … i am so thankful.
May 29, 2016
i’ve been thinking so much lately about the power of our words. the life-giving power tucked in to the words that we speak.
i’ve always “known” this on some level; known the verses and understood the concept. but now i am living the real application.
specific words spoken to me and over me lately have literally gone to the deepest of my core and breathed life in dark and weary and scared places.
i have reached out in desperation to a trusted love and immediately been met with the energy and thought and prayer behind specific words of counsel.
GOD has been so gracious to soften and open my heart to the deep, deep value and gift of what we can offer each other – life and hope and true encouragement.
“death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (proverbs 18:21)
death and life!
it can be so easy as we move through our lives and are met with outreach from someone hurting – to respond quickly, superficially. because we don’t get the gravity of their situation; the desperation and hurt behind their need. i’ve so been there. but being on this end – at times, so scared and desperate and fearful – and experiencing the reality of this biblical truth: life and death … LORD, i pray this remains with me.
i have read and reread texts and emails that felt like soul-liberation … words that so perfectly lifted and eased the anxiety gripping my heart.
“anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.” (proverbs 12:25).
and i’ve felt this in big and small ways – words that spoke to my dark fears and anxieties, and those that simply boosted my spirits.
i walked through the grocery store yesterday, just feeling some lifting from my last chemo, nose and mouth awash in sores and cracks, hat covering nearly-hairless head, and a lady looked up on the pasta aisle and said, “you are gorgeous.” and i said, “no way! i sure don’t feel like it.” “but you are,” she said. her words made me cry, and were such an encouragement to my spirit. i am so not gorgeous but that moment reminded me how much we can impact someone simply by a simple sentence spoken.
“gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” (proverbs 16:24)
i feel an eternal gratitude for the gifts of deep, faithful friendships in my life … i couldn’t be walking this journey alone!
May 1, 2016
it is SUCH a beautiful day!
i’m tucked on our back patio, fresh wind is blowing, it’s mid-70’s spring perfection. the boys are gone with their grandma so i’m breathing in deeply the air of calm and quiet. my heart is smiling.
such grace, as i walk this crazy road. so many times i’m struck by how disconnected i feel from “normal” – everyone i see, rushing along through their everyday lives, and i feel the contrast, the juxtaposition.
today, right now, it is wonderfully non-depressing. i don’t feel that weight of dark heaviness that can be a close companion.
i feel GRATEFUL – to be on day #3 post-chemo and to be feeling relatively OK! glory! and to have just one chemo treatment left!
i feel a deep sense of being present and living *right now*; being alive, breathing deeply, being surrounded by such love.
one of the many great gifts of this journey has been the extraordinary books i’ve been able to read … learning and opening doors to healing in so many ways. i know for sure that this healing journey for me encompasses more than just physical action steps. there is this deeper current, of rest and meditation and grace and forgiveness … that is linked to healing and ultimately to the vision i see of myself stronger and healthier and standing more firmly in the vision of the life GOD has for me. for my people.
it is energizing, the possibilities and the hope that exist … even in this dark tunnel, i sense this extraordinary coalescing, of a million pieces that overwhelm me at times yet i see and feel the change happening … the newness and a beauty around the bend. the way that i’ll know this was a catalyst for something bigger and better.
i realize as i write these words that the dark ache of physical side effects isn’t crippling my vision, today. the last round of side effects (after treatment number 4) were so difficult. and it felt like it would never get better. isn’t it so like that, when we are hurting? yet, it lifted. i felt better and better … and dreaded going in to chemo day #5 last week so much as i felt i couldn’t bear walking through that again.
during my routine visit with my sweet oncologist the day before chemo, we strategized about nausea prevention. i’m so hopeful that our ideas and my implementation will keep it at bay. her physical exam during my appointment revealed that there is literally no evidence of any lymph node tumor in my left armpit, and my breast looks completely unremarkable and normal- no mass, no redness, no initial symptoms. yay! my labs remain good. we talked ahead to next steps which felt good, again seeing light at the end of this chemo tunnel. i will have a breast MRI 2 weeks post-chemo and will take those results to consult with the extraordinary surgeon at UCSF. her consultation will advise the advice of my local surgeon and we’ll come up with a plan.
“O LORD my God, I called to you for help and you healed me.
O LORD, you brought me up from the grave; you spared me from going down into the pit.
… weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, i will give you thanks forever.”