Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Best Birthday Yet

Birthdays have always been a big deal to me. I believe we should all have that one day a year that we feel celebrated. I try extremely hard to remember the birthdays of those I love and often find myself stressing (way beyond what is necessary) over the gifts I pick out for people. So when my diagnosis came a month before my own birthday, one of my thoughts was how my treatment might affect my birthday celebration. See, I had plans...I was going to my happy place (my parents' beach house in Bethany) to celebrate with a few of my closest friends. We were going to spend time at the pool and the beach and even take a girls' shopping trip to the outlets.  

So when the date of August 25th was given as my surgery date for my bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction surgery, I was a little disappointed. At the same time, I have tried to give every detail of this journey over to the Lord and trust that He knows what is best for my body. After all, He created my inmost being and knit me together in my mother's womb." (Psalm 139:13) I also realized that coordinating the schedule of three separate surgeons was no small task, and I would happily accept what was given. Besides, my Nurse Navigator, Amy (if I have failed to mention her yet, it is a real shame because she is definitely a Godsend to us) confirmed that instead of me having a birth"day", I was to have a birthday "month" instead. So as a huge fan of birthdays, how could I complain about that!  

My actual birth"day" started with a visit from Hurricane Irene who wiped out our power for 3 days (I know many of you have had it worse) and consisted of being propped up by pillows in a recliner, popping pain pills, having Blake empty my nasty drains, and eating birthday cake in the dark. As unappealing as all of that sounds, I can honestly say that this "lover of birthdays" wasn't even bothered by it. I wasn't bothered because I realized something in the weeks leading up to the actual day. My gifts had already been given to me. At birth, God gave me the two most amazing, supportive parents. Eight years ago, God gave me a husband who is taking better care of me than I could ever imagine (without a single complaint by the way). Starting three and a half years ago, God gave me two little ones that fill my life with so much joy. Last June, He gave me a job that has surrounded me with amazing friends/co-workers and patients. Two years ago, He brought us to a neighborhood full of people ready to lend a hand in our time of need. And throughout the years, He has given us the kind of friends that are walking each step with us day-to-day. As far the physical gifts given to me over the last few weeks, I liken myself to Oprah (not that I love that comparison) because I have literally been showered with all my favorite things. Although there have been many physical birthday gifts given to me over the last few weeks for which I am so thankful, the fact that this journey has surrounded my birthday is certainly no accident because I have felt more celebrated than I have in all my past 33 birthdays combined. 

And apparently my birthday celebration continues through 10:30 am this morning, we met with Mollie, PA for our post-op visit and received the very exciting news that all the sentinel lymph nodes that were taken (3 on the right and 1 on the left) are all clear of Cancer. The pathology report came back as good as it could have considering where my tumors were located.

Psalm 139:13-16
 "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."

We actually did get to go celebrate my birthday at the beach a week earlier than expected so I thought I would post a family pic from that weekend.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Day for Courage

According to Wikipedia, courage is the ability to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty, and intimidation. Cancer and surgery for cancer stir up some fear and uncertainty for me.  It even intimidates me.  The day(s) ahead will involve some danger and I am likely to experience pain. Therefore, I'd say this is a day for courage. The only way I know how to have courage is by clinging to the promises of an Almighty God who knows me and loves me beyond my comprehension. Deuteronomy 31:6 tells me "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of it, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you."  Isaiah 41:10 says "Do not fear for I am with you, do not be dismayed for I am your God; I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand."

And I also know that "the earnest prayers of a righteous man or woman has great power and produces wonderful results" (James 5:16). Throughout yesterday and this morning, many of you have been sending sweet messages that you are praying for my surgery today. We appreciate your kind words and prayers more than you know.  There are a few specifics we ask that you might pray for this day: 1) That Jesus would be my portion for this morning as I am unable to eat or drink anything (even water) until surgery 2) That the pathology of the Sentinel node/nodes would show no cancer (we will get results early next week) 3) That the surgeons would have clear minds and strong hands as they work on me 4) That we would make some new friends and bless those that will be taking care of me at AAMC  5) That the waiting time for Blake and my parents would go quickly and they would feel the Lord's presence with them and 5) That our kids would feel secure in their normal routine while being cared for by other family/friends.  And please don't limit your prayers to these. I am sure there are things I have not even thought of that you will. 

Oh and one more thing for this the words of one of the most inspirational speakers our time, Coach Eric Taylor (of NBC's Friday Night Lights)  "Clear eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose!" 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Shepherding the Flock

A few weeks ago, my dad who recently completed the training required to become an Elder at Bay Area Community Church reminded me of James 5:14-16 and asked if I might consider having the Elders come together to pray for me. Then it was hardly a coincidence that Pastor Greg preached a sermon two weeks ago from 1 Peter 5 on the Elders of the church. He said that one of the two main responsibilities of the Elders is to shepherd the flock. Shepherding includes 1) Feeding and Teaching 2) Protecting 3) Praying 4) Disciplining and 5) Living as an Example. 

I believe that God's Word is just as relevant today as it was in the days of the early church. I also believe the instruction about what to do when one is sick is quite clear. Last night, I arrived to a prayer room full of Elders and their wives ready to shepherd me by listening to my story, reminding me of the healing power of Jesus, anointing me with oil, and praying for my healing, as well as for many of our other concerns related to this journey.    

James 5:14-16  "Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Learning to Let Go

When baby #2 comes along, people tell you how different he/she will be from your firstborn. I thought I understood that concept, but then we found ourselves expecting certain things to be true that just weren't. We expected Kalea would sleep through the night at 2 months cause after all her sleep champ of a big bro did.  We expected that we wouldn't have to baby-proof our new home because after all, Koa just never messed with the cabinets or fell down the stairs. Then we expected that she might say her first word before she turned two cause after all her brother spoke in full sentences and sang entire songs by 18 mos.  But here we are, just shy of a month before turning two and the girl barely says "yea" and "na". Before cancer, this was one of our biggest concerns. 

It would be an understatement to say that our perspective on life has changed since July 29th.  We are more aware that things like our health, financial security, even a car that runs are out of our control. (We were blessed by the challenge of our car battery dying on our way home from Bethany Beach on Sunday night.) We realize there is little that we do have control over and decided that one thing we do have control over is how we spend our time. The television has barely been on (although that might need to change with the start of football season soon), we are reading more, we are talking more, we are praying more and just enjoying time as a family. 

All this to say that I realize I can cut my baby girl some slack. She'll get there.  She may not say much but she sure loves to grab onto our hands and squeeze her eyes shut to pray.  What more could I ask for!  

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Man Down

One thing that I have grown to love even more over the last few weeks is the way our 3 1/2 year old son, Koa loves to imitate his daddy. We have a saying in our house when someone trips and falls (which is usually Kalea), we say, "Man Down".  It has gotten to the point that Koa will hear Kalea fall from another room and yell "Man Down" exactly on cue.  

The last several days since hearing my surgery date, we have been gathering information about the recovery process.  And from everything I hear, mommy is going to be "Man Down" for quite a while. I am hearing that I will stay in the hospital at least overnight and will have a home health nurse visiting me every day for a week. I am hearing there will be plenty of pain but also (hopefully) plenty of drugs to help with it. I am hearing that sleeping will be difficult, and I can look forward to sleeping in a recliner for a while.  And perhaps the most unpleasant part, I am hearing that I will have drains attached to me for 10 days-2 weeks. I know this period of time will be hard but I also know that it will make me appreciate the good health I have enjoyed up until now and will enjoy in the future all the more. 

I am including a picture of my inspiration for today's post, Kekoa "Koa" Li.  I am so blessed by his sensitive little spirit and I pray that he continues to follow in his daddy's footsteps! 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Unfailing Love

In everything I read yesterday, the theme of God's unfailing love kept jumping out to me. Ephesians 3:16-19 tells me that He wants me to experience how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.  I am definitely experiencing it.  At 5 pm yesterday, I received a call from the Radiologist, Dr. Pack with news that the biopsy results of the lymph node were benign!  I will undergo further testing of the Sentinel node/nodes during my surgery but these results are definitely a victory.  I will celebrate and praise God for every victory as I continue to walk this journey.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Considering It Pure Joy

I must admit that over the last few days I have been having a little more trouble "considering it pure joy" (James 1:2). I have been feeling kind of down and wrestling with some silly thoughts. One of the things that has really helped me since this journey began is to work. I work with some pretty amazing people and can honestly say that I love what I do as a physical therapist. Being able to focus on my patients and things that concern them has done wonders for me. Today was the perfect example of that. I have shared my news with all of my co-workers but have decided not to tell my patients until it is time for me to stop working to have my surgery (a day that will most likely be very tough for me). In two separate conversations with patients this morning, one shared that his wife was about to begin a journey through breast cancer treatment and the other spoke of having gone through a mastectomy 5 years ago. They were both encouraging stories. These patients may never know how much they lifted my spirits today and prepared me for my 1 o'clock Biopsy appointment.   

Today's biopsy of the axillary lymph node was a little more painful than the biopsy of the breast. I was afraid of that but there is no doubt that my prayer warriors were at work. Amy (ultrasound tech) and Dr. Pack took great care of me, and it seems that Dr. Pack was able to get the sample she needed despite the lymph node being in an extremely difficult spot. I will receive the results of the this biopsy no later than Friday, and it should help to give them more information about what is happening in the lymph nodes prior to surgery.

This brings me to the next big news of the day, I was given a surgery date. I was hoping to get to celebrate my birthday (8/28) before surgery but I also trust that God knows what is best for me. My surgery will be on Thursday, August 25th at 2:30 PM. We are at peace with this date, and it means that I plan to spend the next two weeks celebrating my 34th birthday! Of course, we ask for your prayers on that day but also for the time leading up to it as we work out the details of recovery time.  

James 1:2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Wind in my Sails

Over the last several weeks at Bay Area Community Church, we have been hearing sermons about marriage, and this was all to lead up to a marriage conference called the Art of Marriage this weekend.  Blake and I had been talking about going but were having some difficulty finding childcare. Between hearing last week's news and listening to last Sunday's sermon, we were quickly convinced that the conference was where we were supposed to be this weekend.  My parents gave us the sweet gift of taking our kids away for the weekend so we could really enjoy this time together and not be distracted from all that God wanted to teach us.  

In our 8 years of marriage, I have found little to complain about my husband. But if there is anything I could pick on him for, it would be his lack of emotion. One of the speakers at the conference said something that struck me. He said, "Sometimes the things we love the most about someone are the same things we choose to pick on." I am immediately taken back to last Friday when we met with Dr. Tafra to hear the biopsy results and treatment plan. Blake had just been told that his wife had cancer and he was able to remain clear-headed enough to spend the next 60 or so minutes asking her questions. As Dr. Tafra stood up to leave the room, she gave me a hug and she said to me, "You have a wonderful husband and he has asked really good questions. This will serve you very well as you walk through this."  I already knew I had a wonderful husband but the wisdom, strength and love he has shown since this trial began has only caused me to admire him more.  

Ephesians 5:25 "Husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her."

Friday, August 5, 2011

Gene Mutation

I have certainly learned a lot about Breast Cancer, much more than I ever thought I might. However, I have also tried not to learn too much. A friend of mine shared an excerpt with me from John Piper's Desiring God entitled “Don't Waste Your Cancer”.  One of the key points he makes in this excerpt is "You will waste your cancer if you spend too much time reading about cancer and not enough time reading about God". The excerpt goes on to say, "For every hour you spend researching or discussing your cancer, spend 10 hours researching and discussing and serving your Lord".  I have really tried to spend more of my time in scripture than reading about breast cancer, and I feel that it has taken the focus off the cancer itself and all that must be endured because of it.  

With that being said, ignorance is not a virtue. It is important to be asking the right questions and getting the right treatment. Thank goodness for my husband who is really good at this. Last Friday was an example of a time when it was necessary to take in a lot of information about a specific detail of breast cancer. I met with the Genetic Counselor, Elizabeth to learn about and be tested for the BRCA1/BRCA2 gene mutation. These specific genes are tumor suppressors and when there is a mutation, this leads to a higher probability of developing breast and ovarian cancer. We asked the question that if we have already decided to have a bilateral mastectomy, what would be the benefit of having the testing done. The answer was two-fold. If I am positive, then there is a chance that my mom and my daughter would be positive as well. If I am positive, it would also mean a higher likelihood of ovarian cancer, and I would want to consider having my ovaries removed in the future. We will not have these results for another 2 weeks, and as you can imagine, we are praying for this specific test to be negative. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

My Faithful Guide

Lately, I have been reading a devotional book entitled Jesus Calling by Sarah Young in my time with the Lord.  The devotionals are written as if Jesus himself is speaking. Today's devotional said, "As you focus on your thoughts on Me, I will guide you carefully along today's journey. Don't worry about what is around the next bend. Just concentrate on enjoying My Presence and staying in step with Me."  

Based on the findings of my MRI from Wednesday, which showed a questionable area in the left breast and mild findings of the right axillary lymph nodes, I had an appointment to have an additional mammogram and sonogram this afternoon. This appointment proved to be a significant step on my journey. They were unable to detect anything in the left breast through mammogram or sonogram, and I was told that I would need to have a MRI biopsy of the left breast to be sure there is not cancer in that breast. I was also told that I would need to have another Ultrasound Biopsy of that one axillary lymph node that they were originally concerned about. 

They began to schedule these appointments when my Nurse Navigator came into the room to consult with me. She told me that if I decided to have a bilateral Mastectomy, I would not need to have the MRI biopsy of the left breast. She also told me that imaging of my left breast would be difficult for the rest of my life and I could anticipate having to undergoing these tests every 6 mos. in the future.  Based on some other details and information we had received from the Plastic Surgeon on Monday, we were leaning toward a bilateral Mastectomy by this point anyway. One of my prayers with each step of the journey has been for clarity and the promise that I feel God has spoken to me again and again is that He will direct my steps. He is faithful! Since we have decided that I will have the bilateral Mastectomy and Reconstruction, they have begun to start the scheduling process, and I might have an idea about my surgery date as early as Monday. 

As far as specific prayer concerns, please pray for my Ultrasound Biopsy on Wednesday, 8/10. Please pray that the Radiologist would be able to get the sample they need from the questionable lymph node and pray that it would show no cancer. I will also have a biopsy of the Sentinel node during surgery that will tell us more about the lymphatic system. However, a favorable outcome from Wednesday's biopsy would obviously be a really good thing.