Archive | November 2012

Giving Thanks in/for Cancer?

We just celebrated Thanksgiving…that time of year when we purposely take the time to pause and give thanks for all the great things in our lives like jobs, homes, family, friends, food, and our good health.  But wait.  What if we don’t have “good” health?  Can we still give thanks if our health includes cancer?

I am one of those people who likes to give thanks for almost everything every day of the year.  I feel blessed and find it easy to look at the positive in most situations year round.  Let me make it clear that I was not happy when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I found it hard to find anything positive about being the one with the diagnosis.  It was scary and after finding out about all that treating it would entail I was even less enthusiastic.

No woman enjoys a mammogram, especially repeated ones.  Having a needle core biopsy is an even more unpleasant experience.  Recuperating from surgery with drains is a few more notches down the scale.  But nothing compares to going through chemo and dealing with all the side effects from poison being poured into your veins.  Radiation is not painful but it  is time consuming and has some side effects as well.  Additional infusions for a year, medication for 5 years, numerous medical tests, doctor visits, and follow-ups for who knows how long. Don’t even mention the finances with co-pays, the phone calls and paperwork involved with billing.  Then there is always the possibility that despite all the treatment and medication the cancer can reoccur.  Is it possible to give thanks for all these things?

I know it’s not easy to give thanks for cancer and all that comes with it but you can give thanks in it!  I am thankful that I was diagnosed with breast cancer during a time when there has been so much progress made with treatments available.  As much as I hate medication I am thankful that there are drugs available to specifically do battle with my kind of cancer.  I am thankful that they came out with anti-nausea meds that I could take while going through chemo.  I am thankful I live in a country with a multitude of doctors and hospitals available to treat my cancer.  Personally I am also thankful that my cancer was diagnosed in an early stage, especially because it is an aggressive form.  I am also thankful that I had just obtained insurance.

Giving thanks for cancer comes after you’ve been in” the storm” awhile.  As a result of being in the cancer storm, I have become a stronger person, have learned a lot more about myself, have felt freer and more focused in my goals (aside from “chemo brain”), and most importantly have relished the relationship I have with God.  I have never felt closer to Him, enjoying His presence, being filled with the love, joy, and peace that only He can fill your life with.  How can you not give thanks for something, even cancer, if it draws you into a closeness like that?  That is why I can give thanks for my cancer.  1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Thank [God] in everything [no matter what the circumstances may be, be thankful and give thanks], for this is the will of God for you [who are] in Christ Jesus [the Revealer and Mediator of that will].” (AMP)   My favorite song for this time in my life, “The More I Seek You” by Kari Jobe, says exactly how I  feel.

 The more I seek you,
the more I find you.

The more I find you,
the more I love you.
                                                                                   

I wanna sit at your feet
Drink from the cup in your hand.
Lay back against you and breathe, feel your heart beat
This love is so deep, it’s more than I can stand.
I melt in your peace, it’s overwhelming”

 

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All Things New

When you are in the midst of any kind of trial it is hard to imagine that it will be over some day.  Fortunately, we occasionally get to begin to see glimpses of the light at the end of the tunnel, or at least in that direction.  I have been marking milestones along the way of treatment.  It is too overwhelming at first to think about all that is ahead as far as treatment is concerned.

First it was anticipating the surgery, waiting for results, praying the drains would come out soon, and healing.  Then it was counting each dreaded chemo infusion down and looking forward to the good week in between.  Next came radiation with an almost daily countdown but it still seemed to last forever.  Now it’s the herception infusion every three weeks but it’s still too far away to even begin to think about a countdown.  In the meantime it’s little things like waiting for all the fatigue to disappear, for the “chemo brain” fuzz to go away (although that’s a good one to keep as an excuse as you get older), for my brittle nails to stop chipping, and achy joints to improve.

light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnelThe light at the end of the tunnel is becoming brighter as my hair begins to grow back.  It was kind of nice not having to shave my legs or underarms, or tweeze my eyebrows.  At the same time as I have to start doing those things again it makes me smile to know that my body is slowly mending itself and getting back to normal.  It will still probably be awhile before I go out without wearing a wig or scarf as the hair on my scalp is so short and I don’t like the way I look.

When radiation was finished my radiologist told me to continue to moisturize my breast twice a day and that in a month it should look normal again.  I found this hard to believe as it was literally blackened in areas, especially around the surgery site from radiation burning.  I also had hard scar tissue there as well.  To my surprise  three weeks later even the appearance of my radiated breast looks almost normal again.

By the time I had started radiation I had finally stopped gaining weight but have not lost any weight since.  Between going back to work in September, and the winter and the holidays coming, I don’t see any coming off for a while.  Guess this will be one are that will not be returning to normal for awhile.

I have a feeling that “normal” for me will be a “new” normal.  I guess I can’t expect things to be the same as “BC” (before cancer) as “AD” (after diagnosis).  Many things have changed that can never be the same again and actually there are things that I hope will never be the same as BC.  Having cancer has changed me not only physically but in other areas as well.  I have had the time to reevaluate my life, my relationships, my goals, and to think about what really matters.  I feel like a new person, like I’ve been given the chance to start over.  A fresh start.  A new start with whatever time I have left in this world.

I watched a DVD the other week on Joni Eareckson Tada who after 45 years in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic (from a diving accident) was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer.  http://www.joniandfriends.org/television/cancer-jonis-journey-part-1/  She mentions how it was a good experience in that it changed her on the inside and has helps her to live her life now in the moment.  Galatians 5:25 says, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”  Joni does not dwell in the future, but is taking one step at a time, responding in the “now.”  She is able to wake up happy each day wondering what God has in store for her for the day.

We are all given the opportunity to begin a new life here on earth.  2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (NLT)  In Revelation 21:4-5 we are given a glimpse into eternity for those who belong to Christ, “ God will take away all their tears. There will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain (OR CANCER).  All the old things have passed away Then the One sitting on the throne said, ‘See! I am making all things new. Write, for these words are true and faithful.’”  A pain free, disease free, burden free future for eternity.  That makes me smile from ear to ear.

No small thing

As I continue in this cancer treatment I am amazed at all that is involved with it in order to give me the best possible chance of no recurrence.  I am also in awe of how specific treatments are for the type of cancer you have, the stage it was diagnosed in, what the cancer tests positive for, etc.  My latest addition is taking an aromatase inhibitor drug.

What a strange word, “AROMATASE.”  The word sounds like “tasting a smell” to me.  Aromatase is actually an enzyme that turns the hormone androgen into small amounts of estrogen.  Certain cancers require estrogen in order to grow.  In treating these types of cancer, it is important to lower the amount of estrogen in order to starve any possible remaining cancer cells of estrogen so that they will die.  To do this, “aromatase inhibitors” are prescribed in postmenopausal women like myself whose cancer tested  ER+ or estrogen receptive positive.   There are three AI’s (aromatase inhibitors) approved to treat breast cancer; Aromasin (exemestane), Arimidex (anastrozole) and Femara (letrozole).  The AI’s block the enzyme aromatase so less estrogen is present to stimulate further growth of hormone receptor positive breast cancer cells.

You may have heard of tamoxifen. Premenopausal women’s ovaries are still producing estrogen and aromatase inhibitors will not stop that so they are usually given tamoxifen instead.  Aromatase inhibitors have more benefits and fewer serious known side effects than tamoxifen but they are also not without risks.  The most common side effect is joint pain or joint stiffness.  One week after finishing radiation my oncologist started me on the AI Femara.  Within two days I woke up feeling stiff all over.  I can only describe it as feeling achy like the flu is coming on.  Every joint in my body from my fingers, wrists, elbow, shoulders, neck, knees, etc. ached.  This experience has made me more empathetic to those of you that suffer from arthritis.  I was scheduled to see my doctor and receive my herceptin treatment in only a few days so I hung in there and continued the Femara for three more days hoping my symptoms would improve.

My symptoms did not improve but only worsened.  I walked into my doctor’s office.  One look at me and she said, “What’s the matter? Are you alright?  You looked better than this when you were going through chemo!”  I was on the verge of tears.  I felt physically horrible.  It probably didn’t help that we had just gone through a hurricane the week before (Sandy), losing power for 4 days and nights, were dealing with gas rationing and now commuting to work, and at the moment I was looking out the window at several inches of snow that was falling in the middle of a Nor’easter (Athena) knowing I still had at least another hour at the hospital until my infusion was done before I could attempt to go home! Wahhhh!

Needless to say, I stopped taking the Femora the next morning and could already feel a difference!  It felt so good to start feeling good again.  My doctor gave me a new prescription, this time for Arimidex which I will get filled in a week.  She is hopeful that this one will not affect me in the same way.  Since it’s something I will have to take for five years, yes that’s FIVE years, I am praying that it agrees with me.

Femora

It got me to thinking about how something so tiny could have such a big affect on my entire body!  For me, that tiny pill caused symptoms that left me miserable.  A different AI pill will hopefully do the big job of lowering the amount of  estrogen to feed any ER+ cancer cells.  There are many things that are small but can make a huge difference in our lives, for the good or the bad.  A few words of encouragement can make all the difference in someone’s day but so will a few unkind words or a certain facial expression leave an effect in a negative way.  “Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up.” (Proverbs 12:25 NLT)

several mustard seeds

With hurricane Sandy last week there has been an outpouring of random acts of kindness.  Something so small as an invitation to hang out for a few hours in a house with power made all the difference in making it until things were normal again.  “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10 NIV) The biggest thing I can think of is actually one of the smallest, a mustard seed. They are usually one or two millimeters in diameter.   Matthew 17:20 says “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”(NIV)   “The simple truth is that if you had a mere kernel of faith, a poppy seed, say, you would tell this mountain, ‘Move!’ and it would move. There is nothing you wouldn’t be able to tackle.” (Message) Again, my mustard seed faith has helped me through not only this cancer journey but life.

Enjoy Jason Castro’s “Only a Mountain” music video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxWayfx3p2s

Don’t underestimate the power in small things:

“Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” – Mother Teresa

“They might not need me; but they might. I’ll let my head be just in sight; a smile as small as mine might be precisely their necessity.” – Emily Dickinson

“A small leak can sink a great ship.” – Benjamin Franklin

Good Reads

In need of hope or encouragement for whatever you are going through?  Is living your life consumed with treatment and doctor appointments and “what if’s” and “why me’s”?  Feeling hopeless and like your life has changed for the worse?  Looking for peace in a storm? Read on…

I would like to put out a recommendation for two books that I found this past weekend at a convention.  The first is a devotional called Jesus Jesus Today  -             By: Sarah Young    Today – Experience Hope Through His Presence, by Sarah Young.  She is also the author of Jesus Calling which was a #1 seller.  This devotional was written during a very difficult time in Sarah’s life when she was having serious medical problems and treatment.  The devotional consists of 150 two-page entries along with 50 quotations of hope dispersed throughout the book.  It is written from the perspective of Jesus speaking to the reader and includes the scriptures related to each entry.

Here is just a small sampling from one, “Learn to live from a place of resting in Me.  Since I – The Prince of Peace – am both with and within you, you can choose to live from this peaceful place of union with Me.  This enables you to stay calm in the midst of stressful situations, by re-centering yourself in Me.  We can deal with your problems together – you and I – so there is no need to panic.  However, the more difficult your circumstances, the more tempting it is for you to shift into high gear and forget My peaceful Presence.”

The second book is After Diagnosis: LIFE, Moving People from Devastation to Extraordinary Living by Dr. Jim Henry.  I was privileged to be at a convention and Jim Henry taught one of the workshops I attended.  The book was written for anyone confronted by a crisis that is stopping them from living life and for those watching.  It’s a small book (115 pages) that shows step by step how to turn a crisis or diagnosis into living life abundantly, not just “coping” with an illness or problem.  It offers peace, hope and quality of life, regardless of the quantity.  Receiving a life altering diagnosis should not be the beginning of the end but a new beginning altogether.  I felt like I could have written much of this book as I had already done most of the steps  he suggested.  This is exactly how I feel after going through my cancer journey and now it is in print ready for me to pass onto others.  The book can be purchased through https://www.tlgn.org/cms/ebook

“We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.”  Martin Luther King Jr.

“A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”  John 10:10 (Message)