Archive | August 2012

Sitting on a rock, the need for support

I honestly don’t know how I would be doing today if it wasn’t for a great support system.  I am so thankful for both family and friends for all they have done for me through this trial.  Just knowing not only that others care about you and are concerned, but have taken the extra step to actively do something means a lot.

Going back to March when I had my surgery and was out of work for two weeks recovering, I had my parents stay with me for awhile.  When they left, I had friends fill in and bring me meals and run errands, etc.  With each chemo infusion again I had my parents take me and stay with me.  Again, friends took over and brought meals for me and my family and offered to do errands.  I had numerous people call and check in on me.  I received cards and gifts in the mail, many from those that lived far away.   So many of them have prayed and continue to pray for me.  I feel so blessed to be surrounded by these people who genuinely care.

What is “support”?  In a plant, the stem is the support, the foundation or prop for the plant.  Without it, the branches, leaves and fruit would not be held up.  In other words, it would be worthless.  One definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary for support  is “to keep something going.”  I know that in order for me to have been able to keep going through this trial of breast cancer, I have needed support.

Receiving support has not been easy.  For me, I like to be on the giving end.  I like to be the one  offering support, helping and encouraging others.  This has been hard for me to be on the receiving end and to say “yes” to offers.  I am usually the one in charge.  It has been a humbling experience but one for which I have been most grateful and appreciative of.  There are times in life when we need to just give in and receive the blessing and allow others to be blessed by being on the giving end.

I think of a battle that happened hundreds of years ago between the Israelites and the Amalekites in Rephidim.  Moses sent Joshua and his men to fight and he climbed a hill to watch.  During the battle as long as Moses’s hands were lifted with the staff of God, the Israelites were winning.  Whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning.  When Moses got tired he sat on a rock and Aaron and Hur (his buddies) stood next to him on each side and supported his hands until sunset.  Joshua ended up defeating the Amalekites. (see Exodus 17)

We get tired and weary and begin to feel defeated sitting on that rock while the battle rages on in. You may feel helpless as you watch it happen before your eyes.   During the battle, whatever that may be for you, we need the support of others to see us through!  Notice that Moses’ hands were not empty either.  Not only do we need others supporting us but we need to be holding on to God.  It has been first my faith, and second my support system, that has gotten me through this trial so far.

They not only prayed for me, they sent postcards telling me they prayed!

Perhaps you know someone personally going through some sort of trial that looks like they could use support.  Even if you don’t know them that well, don’t be afraid to not only offer help but take the next step and just do something you feel led to do.  I REALLY appreciated all the offers and know that they were sincere.  Like I said, it’s hard for some of us to take people up on an offer if you’re use to being on the giving end.  Most of the time, other than meals, I would say “no”  unless there was a real need for a ride or something.  However, sometimes the “offer” happened…it wasn’t asked.  For instance, I was concerned about my family eating.  I had no appetite, no energy to cook, no taste buds, and didn’t even want to be in the kitchen.  Knowing that my family was being fed and that I didn’t have to do it was a tremendous help.  Then there were the times that someone would simply show up on my doorstep with containers of homemade soup or other healthy food just for me.  It was all I could get down for several days and it would tide me over until I could eat normally again.  Would I have asked for it?  No.  Would I have said “yes” if someone asked?  No.  I never wanted someone to go out of their way and was concerned only about my family.

Some practical things you can do is send a card and let them know you are thinking about them, that they are not alone, that you’re praying for them, etc.  In this day and age technology has taken over.  It’s nice to get an email or a post on Facebook but it’s even nicer to get a card in the mail.  Who doesn’t like mail, something you can look at over and over.  I even received letters and a poem written just for me!  Surprise gifts in the mail were very exciting too knowing that someone went out of their way and took the time to purchase something, package it up, and take it to the post office because they cared for me! some of my surprises were “breast cancer” related and a portion of the purchase supported breast cancer.  I even had someone pay for my wig, they insisted!  If you bring a meal to someone, bring it in a disposable container so they don’t have to keep track of who it belongs to and remember to get it back to them.  I had people even bring me disposable plates and utensils so we wouldn’t have dirty dishes to clean after the meal!  Often they included extras such as salad dressing, bread, and dessert.  Offer to pick up a load or two of laundry or better yet, show up and just take it!  Remember, the key is to just do it!  Take the next step!

Some of the gifts I received

If you are the one that is in need of support, don’t be a lone ranger!  Reach out, humble yourself and begin to say “yes.”  It’s ok to be on the receiving end.  Don’t rob others of the blessing.  You’ll get through it and then you can be on the giving end.  You say you don’t have friends and family?  Don’t forget you need to be holding onto God.  He is there with you through whatever you are going through.  Joshua 1:5 says, “No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life.  As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you or forsake you.”

I dedicate this post to my Aarons and Hurs:  In addition to family and friends, I would like to acknowledge my church family at Christ Fellowship, Manna meals ministry, Bridge youth leaders, Prayer teams, Christian Homeschoolers of Union County, and my co-workers.  I do not want to mention any names for fear of leaving anyone out but you all know who you are.  You rock!

A weighty issue with chemo

Who would ever have guessed that chemotherapy would put on extra pounds?  Not I !  I was actually looking at the bright side of all this and figured once I started chemo that I would actually lose a few pounds without any effort.  I had always pictured the stereotypical chemo patient as thin and gaunt.  Right? In the past yes, but not so much anymore.

No thanks to the drugs they have found that suppress the nausea and vomiting, a downside is that the steroid medication  given actually contributes to weight gain. Corticosteroids contribute to fluid retention and increase your appetite as well.  I had to take steroids beginning the day before a treatment until two days after, in addition to the ones they give you intravenously the day of treatment. Your metabolism slows down.  The chemo leaves you fatigued and you are much less active.  The strange taste bud changes take away your appetite. Then when you do feel like eating, it’s the wrong foods. Intense food cravings with chemo often involve sweets and carbohydrates.  There is a change in body composition as your body gains more body fat and loses lean muscle as they redistribute muscle mass from the extremities into the abdominal area as fat.

“Unlike typical weight gain caused simply by overeating and lack of momentum, where you are gaining both lean and fatty tissue, the weight you gain during chemotherapy is comprised only of fat. The change in body composition that is brought on by chemotherapy is normally seen as a part of the normal aging process. Unfortunately, in terms of body composition, a woman going through chemotherapy ages 10 years in the course of a year.” http://www.thebreastcaresite.com/tbcs/InTreatment/Chemotherapy/WeightGain.htm

Before each chemo infusion you have a mini checkup with a weigh in, temperature taken, blood pressure and blood work.  The scale is a digital one in a hospital calibrated to the tenths and I have a strange feeling that it is pretty accurate.  Each time I stepped on, it went higher.  It ended up averaging one pound per week over the course of treatment.  I now weigh more than I ever have in my life.  I started inquiring with other patients and heard that it was referred to as the “Chemo 30.”  Fortunately for me it was the “Chemo 20” although everything I have read says the typical gain is much less.  So much for being typical.

It’s bad enough going through chemo and losing your hair but then to have to deal with all the extra pounds is kind of discouraging.  I recently looked a full body picture of myself sitting with my daughters by the ocean and all I saw was a plump pirate!  I had to buy new clothes for the summer to fit into and really don’t want to buy a bigger size fall wardrobe.

OK, so for most of my life I never had to watch what I ate or how much I ate.  I had one of those metabolisms that everyone wants.  Even after three pregnancies I went back to my pre-baby weight within one  month after giving birth without even trying.  Then with a combination of my fourth pregnancy and nearing 40, the inevitable happened.  The pounds did not disappear and for the first time in my life I had to start watching what I ate.  After a few years I figured it was easier to carry the pounds around because now I was approaching middle age and it’s acceptable to not have a skinny waist.  Right?

I have never been to a gym.  However, prior to going back to work full time last year I worked as a dog walker.  I loved it.  I loved the dogs.  I loved being paid to walk daily.  I would push them to a brisk pace when possible although anyone who walks a dog knows that it is not always possible.  This was my exercise and I loved it.  Some pounds started coming back on once I had to stop dog walking and these were the pounds that I was hoping to LOSE once I started chemo!

Cancer survivors that are overweight are more likely to have a re-occurrence than those that are thin.  I WANT to lose this weight!  I NEED to!  Like I said, I don’t do the gym.  I do have to do something however.  I am hoping the GAIN part is over now that my chemo cocktail is finished.  I am blogging this so I can be accountable (and also so you understand why, yes, strangely I have put on extra weight).  I have a cousin who has lost over 100 pounds in the last year and is blogging about “Tomorrow is a lighter day.”  She has inspired me to do something about this.  So what will I do you ask?  I still feel crummy from my treatment last week but know that my energy will be returning.  I do have a mini trampoline and a stepper in my basement and found some exercise tapes.  They are all dusty and so is my basement.  I plan to dust them all off, well maybe not the basement.  I also plan on starting to walk again even though no one will be paying me!  Perhaps after a bit I will add a little running to it.  “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint,” Isaiah 40:31.  I did jog in high school and college and enjoyed it then, although that was over 30 years ago.  I need to be careful with any  upper body lifting to prevent lymphedema.  Any other suggestions?  I will take it slow so as not to get discouraged but I will start doing something!

I am really praying my taste buds straighten out so I can get on track with eating right again as well.  You have no idea what it is like when everything tastes like cardboard, metal, chalk or absolutely nothing.  You stand in front of the refrigerator or cabinets and nothing looks appealing.  Or you sink your teeth into something that does look appealing and then you can’t even take another bite.  One thing that has remained appealing through this ordeal has been the Word.  No surprises there.  Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”

I’m not going to be a “pirate who doesn’t do anything but stay home and lie around…” like in Veggie Tales.  I’m ready to soar…

 

It’s Good to be Alive

Why is it that so many of us don’t look forward to celebrating our own birthdays because it means we will be yet another year older, when in reality we are only one day older than the day before?  Remember when you were young enough that you couldn’t wait for your next birthday and would tell someone you were six and three-quarter years old!  That three-quarters was very important to add because it meant you were almost another year older.

Birthday cupcakes that my daughter and her friends made for me!

I had kind of blocked out exactly how old I was once I approached middle age and found myself having to do the calculations when it came to filling out forms.  Let’s see, if I was born in so-and-so year and now it’s such-and-such year, then I must be “x” number of years old now.  It was never something I wanted to dwell on before…GETTING OLD.

Well guess what.  Today I turned 53 (and yes, I did have to calculate just to make sure I got it right and wasn’t adding extra years on) and I was happy to celebrate my birthday!  I’ll tall you what made the difference.  Getting a diagnosis of breast cancer this year and realizing that without it there is a possibility that I might not have been here to celebrate my birthday today has made a difference.

My mom wanted to know why I was reminding my Facebook friends that my birthday was coming up.  Was I really “anxious to be a year older”? No!  I was rejoicing that I was alive to celebrate my birthday this year.  I know that some people believe that frequent mammograms actually contribute to breast cancer.  I believe that it is because I did have routine mammograms that my cancer was found in stage 1 before it had progressed further.  Women hear me out.  DO NOT put it off if you are due for one.  Only one year had lapsed for me between mammograms when my cancer was diagnosed. Do you want to celebrate your next birthday?

A very special birthday card I received this year!

Time is God’s birthday gift to each one of us that celebrates a birthday. Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.”(NLT)  Life is short.  Tomorrow is not guaranteed. Our days are numbered. Time is a treasure that attracts many robbers. How are you spending your days?  Don’t live in regret. Write a bucket list and start it!  Attend that reunion.  Take that road trip. Make that phone call.  Nike has that great slogan, “Just do it!”

My father had never skiied a day in his life and took up skiing from 70 – 80 years old. He lived near a ski resort and lift tickets were free to those his age (I tried to help him see the logic in that to no avail). He bought equipment at a yard sale and hit the slopes successfully anyway.  I’m not saying you have to be that extreme but is there something you have been putting off doing?  Be courageous.

I love the lyrics to a song by Point of Grace called “How You Live.”  It mentions not spending your life looking back, of taking chances, facing things, thinking of others, and making peace with God. Check out the song here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNOvLqNVnSY

There’s a song by Jason Gray called “Good to be Alive.”  The chorus says,

“I won’t take it for granted
I won’t waste another second
All I want is to give you
A life well lived, to say ‘thank you’

I wanna live like there’s no tomorrow
Love like I’m on borrowed time
It’s good to be, it’s good to be alive”

Yes, it’s GOOD to be alive but just being alive isn’t enough.  It boils down to how we are actually living each day.  Be THANKFUL for each day.  Live life to it’s fullest.  Don’t be afraid to “turn up the music” loud or to “use your good dishes.”  At the same time realize that our time here is only a taste of what is to come.

Conquering Chemo

Whoever said winning isn’t everything didn’t have to fight cancer. Chemo does kill some good cells but it also saves lives by destroying cancer cells! Yesterday was my last day of my chemo treatments with the “full cocktail”!  I will still have to continue to go every three weeks through May 2013 (1 full year) to receive a short infusion of only one drug called herceptin which takes less than an hour that I can fit in after work.  Best news is it does not give any chemo side effects because it does not destroy good cells.  Yeah! It is designed to shut down a factor that stimulates the growth of new cancer cells (HER-2) which I tested positive for which is why I needed any chemo at all despite being diagnosed stage 1.

Before becoming a cancer patient myself I would hear people talk about their treatments and mention chemo and radiation.  I could never remember which was which and what was really involved.  To make things more complicated I never really understood that each cancer diagnosis is unique and catered to the patient as to drugs used, dosages, number of treatments, how often, etc.  Not everyone with the same diagnosis follows exactly the same course even with the same doctor.  Let me give you a little insight into what my chemo has been like.

“Chemotherapy is a general term used for any treatment that involves the use of drugs or chemicals to stop cancer cells from growing. You may receive one drug or a combination of drugs. You may also receive chemotherapy in addition to other treatments such as surgery, radiation, or biological therapy.  It works by destroying fast growing cancer cells.  Different types of chemotherapy drugs target the different growth patterns of cancer cells.  Each drug has a different way of working and is effective at a specific time in the life cycle of the cell.  Since it cannot tell the difference between cancer cells and normal cells, the normal healthy cells in your body are also affected by chemotherapy.  It can be given in different ways including: orally by mouth, injection (shot), vein(IV), body space (injected into the abdomen or around the lungs), or transdermal (application directly on skin).”

The chemo I received so far is by infusion with an IV over the course of several hours.  I have not had a port surgically inserted so they pick a new vein each time for the infusion, usually in my hand.  The “cocktail” I received for 6 treatments every three weeks was TCH – taxotere, carboplatin, and herceptin.  I’m not much of a drinker and kind of got a chuckle that now I would be getting a cocktail of drugs no less! I was also given an infusion of pre-meds each time of steroids, anti-nausea, and Benadryl before the cocktail.  The “infusion” center at the hospital I go to consists of 23 private treatment rooms with either reclining lounge chairs or beds.  They each have a flat screen TV, DVD player, and CD stereo player with WiFi access. They also have a community short stay room that accommodates 6 patients  for infusions of an hour or less which I will be in for my remaining infusions.  There is a refreshment area that provides coffee, tea, and other beverages as well as bagels and light snacks.  The staff and volunteers have been wonderful.

Not every infusion has gone smooth.  One drug is mixed according to my blood results that day and sometimes the lab has had problems or was backed up adding further wait time to my treatment.  Other times there have been blockages in the hookups.  Every bag of drugs runs through a pump that programs the flow time.  This pump has a beeping alarm that goes off to indicate a blockage somewhere as well as announcing when the bag has emptied.  It gets louder and louder until a nurse comes and can be pretty annoying.  One drug took several treatments to figure out the right way to time it and dilute it with saline because of the intense burning it created when it entered my vein.  I have had leakages occur too but the worst was when I did not realize it until that drug was almost done. It had been soaking up in a blanket I had over me. They brought me hospital scrubs to wear home and took my capris from me because they were “contaminated.”  I was afraid something like the scene from the movie Monsters Inc. was going to occur! Some IV sites have left the area more bruised or sore than others for days afterward.

Initially I was disappointed that we were secluded in private rooms but it turned out to be one of the biggest blessings.  From my first treatment my parents offered to come from Pennsylvania (sometimes the night before), drive me to the hospital, stay with me for the entire treatment, bring me home and then return to their home.  Quite the sacrifice of their time!  We were able to sit and share and talk and spend an entire day together every three weeks.  We don’t get to see each other that often on a regular basis and certainly don’t have hours alone when we are together.  We used the refreshment area but NEVER even used the TV, DVD, CD or WiFi in the room.  This turned out to be a precious time with my parents.

Because chemo drugs can also damage or destroy your normal cells you experience side effects from these drugs.  Side effects vary depending on the treatment and on the person receiving it.  Patients receiving similar treatments can experience different side effects. Thankfully with all the advances in breast cancer treatment, chemo side effects are not typical of what they once were.  Yes, certain drugs will still make your hair fall out (why haven’t they figured that one out?) but they have been able to come up with even more drugs to combat the nausea.  I HATE taking drugs but they practically guaranteed that I would not throw up if I took everything so I did and I never threw up and it was definitely worth it!

I tend to put myself in the category of a health conscious person.  Prior to receiving a cancer diagnosis myself I always thought that if that day came I would NEVER go the route of chemo and radiation but take a more holistic route once I had the surgery to cut it out.  Other than check-ups, we rarely run to the doctor for any ailments and even then don’t run to fill a prescription but have it as a last resort if necessary.  For me it was a whole different thing once I became the cancer patient.  I explored my options and had a peace about what I chose to do to conquer this.  It has not been as bad as what I had thought in the past but I definitely would not want to go through all this again and so far it has only been surgery (lumpectomy) and chemo (which will go until May to a lesser degree).  Radiation will begin in September and I’ll blog info on that then.

I purposely did not read the paperwork they gave me on the drugs I would be infused with because I did not want to subconsciously think I was having some of the side effects mentioned.  Every time you go for your chemo infusion you first have blood work done because chemo lowers your counts and they test your red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.  They also take your temperature and weigh you. Initially I thought this would be the time I would be losing weight.  WRONG!  No one told me that with all the steroids I would be given orally and intravenously that I would be GAINING.  I weigh more now than I did with any of my pregnancies! So much for that fallacy now a days with the thin gaunt chemo patient! Next you meet with your oncologist for a brief consultation before receiving the infusion.  Remember I said I purposely had not read about the side-effects?  Each time I met with my oncologist she would run down a list of questions asking if I had experienced “such and such”!

Fortunately for me the side effects I have experienced were hair loss, fatigue, upset stomach, loss of appetite, horrible taste changes, occasional swelling in ankles and feet, tingling of hands and feet, skin rash, jitteryness, nosebleeds, and ringing in ears.  It could have been worse. I did not have all the symptoms at the same time or even after each treatment.  Most are gone by the end of one week to 10 days after a treatment.  It has not stopped me from doing too much of anything and I was able to work through the first half of my treatments until school was out.  It has been nice having the remaining treatments over the summer.  I look back and wonder how I made it through the first half going to work daily.  I am thankful for all the support (physical and prayerful) that I have been receiving and know that is what has made going through this possible but more on that in another blog.

Because of the problems that some of these drugs can cause there are also different tests that are done prior to receiving the first treatment and then given periodically during the course of treatments.  I have had to have echo cardiograms (heart) and blood work to measure my kidney function.  The day after each infusion I return to the hospital and receive a shot called Neulasta to prevent or treat neutopenia which is having a lower than normal number of white blood cells.  Getting this shot lowers my risk of serious infection.  It must be a powerful shot because it costs $7,000 each time!  Initially it really wiped me out several days later with achy joints and muscles but got better as time went on.  I could not schedule much for the week following a treatment and had help with meals and other things but was still able to do things around the house and local driving.  I am thankful to close the chapter on this portion of my treatment.  I have survived, but not on my own strength!

Cancer is a horrible thing.  No one wants it.  No one wants anyone they know to get it.  But it happens.  Whether it is cancer you are trying to conquer or some other giant in your life don’t think for one moment that God is not good.  We may not understand what He is doing but He is still good and He is there with you through it all.  Nahum 1:7 says, “The Lord is good, a strong refuge when trouble comes.  He is close to those who trust in Him.” (NLT)  You may think life is difficult or that is unfair that you have to be going through whatever circumstance you are facing now.  Don’t let it overwhelm you to the point that you forget how much God loves you and is concerned for you down to every detail (like the number of hairs on your head-read my last post).  Don’t forget that “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them” (Romans 8:28, NLT).  He has given me the strength I needed, the peace I needed, the courage I needed.  He has not forgotten you and doesn’t expect you to go through anything alone.  Trust Him, seek Him, rely on Him and His Word and He WILL get you through it.  Romans 8:37 says, “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (NKJV) .  Go out and conquer!

Say goodbye to bad hair days

I ended my first blog posing the questions of “What is it like to have your hair fall out?” and “Do you have to shave your legs?” I decided to dedicate this blog to answering those questions. And by the way, I really do mean feel free to ask any questions you may be wondering.

Matthew 10:30 says, “And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Imagine that. God has the hairs on your head counted and numbered! Well in my case I gave God a break lately and made the job easier for Him. I think I could even count the hairs on my head but would have a little trouble seeing the ones in the back since my eyes are in the front.

When I first found out that I would have to undergo chemo I immediately thought of hair loss. Not all chemo drugs have the same side effects but the next sentence out of the doctor’s mouth confirmed what I feared. Yes, one of the drugs I would need would most likely cause my hair to fall out within 2-3 weeks after my first treatment. It wasn’t so much a vanity issue or that I loved my hair so much as that I didn’t want to “look” like a “chemo patient.” To me it would be like wearing a name tag that said, “Yes, I have a cancer” and I wasn’t ready for that.

A few other cancer survivors I spoke with said that it was no big deal when their hair fell out. I thought to myself, “no big deal” for you maybe but for me it is. I went out and purchased a wig to have on hand for the day it happened. As two weeks neared, each time I showered there would be a little hair in the drain or on my pillow. My hair was beginning to thin out. Exactly on my two week due date, clumps came out in the shower. There was no way I could go to work (in a school) and risk having it continue to fall out in clumps (possibly) throughout the day. I got out of the shower and 1-2-3 chopped off my hair, threw on the wig and ran out the door. I didn’t give it much thought and surprisingly it really didn’t bother me. It was just something that had to be done.

The funny thing is both the faculty and the students thought I had my hair cut and colored. Everyone loved “my” hair. I had decided to buy a blonde wig and get something different and fun and I am so glad I did. I realized that the” thought of losing” my hair was much worse than “actually losing” it. It really wasn’t a big deal after all like other survivors had said. How many things in life do we dread or put off or worry about and live possibly in fear of when in reality if we just did it or said “yes” to it and got it over with, we could move on? Don’t get stuck or hung up on something because of fear. It probably isn’t half as bad as you think it is.

I didn’t realize that not only the hair on your head falls out, but hair anywhere on your body. This means REALLY QUICK showers!!!! Imagine taking a shower that involves NO SHAVING of the hair on your legs or underarms and using NO shampoo or conditioner. Add to that getting out of the shower and NOT HAVING TO COMB, BRUSH, STYLE, BLOW-DRY, SPRAY or use additional products on your hair! It’s a big decision of wig or which scarf to wear. By the way, even the wigs now have a memory in them so you don’t have to style them. No spending time coloring your hair or worrying about the roots showing either.

OK, now that YOU are jealous that I have no hair and you have to spend time on yours I guess I will share the negatives. Let’s see…there are none. Well, I guess it sucks that I have to draw my eyebrows on. When I wake up and don’t have my contacts in I really have to search for my eyes on my face without those eyebrows guiding me. They are kind of like the lights along the runway framing your eyes. It also stinks when midway through the day you look in the mirror and realize that you wiped off an eyebrow or part of one and wonder how long you’ve been walking around like that! People sometimes are polite enough to tell you that you have something stuck in your teeth but don’t know how to tell you that you are missing an eyebrow! I guess the only other negative is that the hair around your face hides the fat on your neck and chin and now that I have no hair and a short wig, the fat’s all exposed.

This has been a hot summer. I can usually take the heat but with chemo I have been indoors most of the summer with the air conditioning on. I was able to go away and spend a few days at the ocean. If I sat by the water’s edge where there was a breeze it was relaxing. This was the first sun I had been in all summer. I tend to tan easily and made especially sure to keep my head covered. After the first day at the beach when I took a shower and removed my head scarf I burst into laughter. It looked like I was wearing a white bathing cap!!!! My entire scalp was white…never having seen the sun…plus my hair growing back is white contrasted with my much tanned face.


Getting back to “God numbering the hairs on our head,” if you look at that verse in context it’s really saying that He cares about each of us and knows every detail of our lives.  Matthew 10:29-31 in The Message translation of the Bible says,”What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries.”   He knows what each of us is going through and we matter to Him.  That’s why I can go through chemo (or really anything) in life.  I know that He knows everything about me and cares. He has my back.  I’d say that’s pretty reassuring and encouraging!

Why a pilgrim’s ponderings?

I’ve been putting off starting a blog for some time now but it keeps coming back and haunting me.  I feel like I should be journaling some of what it has been like going through a diagnosis of breast cancer, surgery and then treatment.  Perhaps it might help someone else who is just starting the journey or answer questions of someone who has no idea what it is like.  Perhaps I need to do this if for no one else, just for myself.  I’ll start this today and see where it may lead.

I’m titling this blog site “A pilgrim’s ponderings” for a reason.  I did give it quite a bit of thought.  I’m obviously not off the Mayflower.  Merriam-Webster calls a pilgrim “one who journeys in foreign lands.”  Before getting a diagnosis of breast cancer I knew almost nothing of cancer or treatment.  I learned a whole new language of terminology, drugs, treatments, options, side-effects, tests, kinds of specialists, etc.  Initially it was like taking a journey into a foreign land that is now not so unfamiliar.

The other reason I chose “pilgrim” was receiving a diagnosis of cancer has given me a different outlook on my time here on earth.  I could go on forever about that but will save it for another blog.  It has helped to put many things into perspective including how short our time here on earth really is.  As a Christian it has solidified in my heart that heaven is my home for eternity and I am only a pilgrim passing through.

I know that “ponderings” is not a word.  Pondering is a verb and a ponderer is a noun but there are not ponderings, at least not in the dictionary.  But they will be here in my blog. Whatever I am thinking about or reflecting on in my brain that comes out on paper is a noun and a collection of them, which I hope to write would be plural.  Selah.

So, what has this pilgrim been pondering?  Plenty.  Chemo can do many different things to each patient because all chemo is different and specialized for each patient but one thing that I have found true of all chemo patients is that it tires you out!  When you’re tired, you think and ponder because that is something you CAN do.

I have read and heard from other cancer patients that cancer is one of the best things that happened to them.  Sounds strange right?  Getting a cancer diagnosis puts your life on a different course, forces you to put the brakes on and really think about life, your life.  No one or nothing is taken for granted anymore.  Whether you have a good prognosis or an unfortunate one, you have gone through some sort of waiting period for test results that made you think about the amount of time you may have left here in this life.

The sad thing is that for those of you reading this that have been blessed not to have ever received a cancer diagnosis, many of you live each day the same as if you will live to a ripe old age.  The truth is that anyone of us could get hit crossing the street or riding in a car and be gone tomorrow.  When I got news of my cancer and someone was concerned with the possibility that I could die from it,  I reassured them that I was more likely to die from a car accident or something else than from cancer.  How much time does the average person spend thinking they should live their life to the fullest and live each day as if it’s the last?

A cancer diagnosis gave me the freedom to have fun.  When I found out that I would lose my hair from chemo I went and ordered a wig to have on hand.  They tell patients to go before they actually lose their hair so the style and color can be matched.  I did go before my hair fell out but I did not want the exact same style or color.  This was my chance to have some fun and do something different.  I am so glad I went blonde for the first time, not that blondes have more fun but it has been fun having something different!  Once school was out and the hotter weather was here I did not want to wear the wig daily.  Round 2 of fun started with colorful scarfs and big earrings.  Now to the term pilgrim I guess I have to add the word gypsy! Life is too short to be stuck in a rut!

Well it’s time to go have some fun.  Let me know if there are any things you’ve wondered about from anyone with cancer and I’ll try my best to let you inside my head.  Nothing is too dumb to ask like, “What was it like when your hair fell out?” to “Do you need to shave your legs anymore?”