Tag Archive | health

Making change

Our toy cash register

Our toy cash register

It’s been awhile since I posted in this blog.  The good news is  life is back to “normal” in the sense that I am not undergoing any treatment for cancer.   I am feeling pretty much recovered from all the side effects.  There’s still some aches and pains and sensations but at this point I honestly don’t know if it’s still from treatment or if it’s from aging, LOL.  The joke among my “cancer friends” is that we can blame most any symptom we are feeling as a lingering side effect from chemo!

Here we are at the start of 2014.  A new year.  A clean slate.  Another fresh start.  It’s probably a blessing that we don’t know ahead of time what the year may bring.  One thing I learned through this whole journey is not to worry about what may or may not happen but to take one day at a time and to enjoy life to its fullest. (Matt.6:27) Whatever comes my way, I am confident that God will give me the strength I need and will not leave me to walk  alone. (Deut. 31:6) He has brought me through some very tough days.  The road ahead may include some steep inclines, rough terrain, deep valleys, curvy and winding roads, an occasional bump in the road, and detours but my GPS (God Perspective System) will keep me focused knowing that He has my best interest in mind.  We won’t always understand the course He has us on but we can be assured of where we’ll end up ultimately.

I enjoyed the bike the most for cardio...actually steered on the courses selected!

I enjoyed the bike the most for cardio…actually steered on the courses selected!

New Year’s is a popular time to make resolutions on changes we want to make in our life as we reflect on how we did the previous year.  Some things are out of our control but many are not. We have a choice on how we’ll travel our journey through the year. Probably some of the most popular resolutions are health related…exercise, lose weight, eat healthier, get more rest, etc.  Most of these are broken within a month and then people just give up completely.  I wish more people looked internally to make changes…attitude adjustments and heart issues…than just externally.

My graduating class...12 weeks of sweat and tears.

My graduating class…12 weeks of sweat and tears.

I think the success of a resolution boils down to desire, motivation, discipline, and wisdom.  You have to really want to reach a goal bad enough in order to do something about it.  There has to be reason to reach it.  You have to have an obtainable plan to get there and it has to be plan that if followed will indeed get you there.

As a child I enjoyed playing “store.”  When I was teaching my own children, we used a play cash register and they learned how to make change.  We would set up toys and other items and put price tags on them.  They would “shop” and purchase items or be the cashier, but either way they had to learn how to count money and make change. It was a process and took time to learn.

Receiving my diploma and yellow rose at Livestrong graduation

Receiving my diploma and yellow rose at Livestrong graduation

doing the leg press

doing the leg press

Do you really want to make change in some areas?  Then do something about it.  I know for myself that last year I set a goal to run in a 5K and to start getting myself back in shape physically after going through cancer treatment.  I did run the 5 K in September and then I also signed up for the Livestrong program at the YMCA.  It is a free 12 week program for cancer survivors that encompasses cardio, strength, and flexibility.  It was a big commitment.  I had never even been in a gym before.  Not only did I learn a lot and get healthy and fit but I met a great group of people as well.  Now at the start of the new year I am ready to take on the challenge of trying to maintain my fitness.  I am still not sure whether I will join a gym or do it on my own at home but I am determined to follow through.  I feel better than I have in a long time.

Whatever my journey this year encompasses, I am determined to go through it feeling my best, not only physically but emotionally and spiritually as well. “Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever.” (1 Tim.4:8 MSG)  Change is hard but if we stick with it and really want it, with God’s help we can achieve it.  Here’s to the best in 2014.

“I can see clearly now…”

I was nearing the end of my supply of  contacts and went to have my eyes checked.  Imagine my surprise when my doctor was puzzled why my eyesight in one eye had rapidly gone down hill…I  couldn’t even make out the big letters on the chart.  He started asking me if I had had a head injury recently and other  related questions.  I was getting more worried by the minute and so was he.  He proceeded to do some tests and use some different instruments and was able to establish the fact that there was no internal damage to my retina or anything but that one eye was inflamed and scratched and dry causing my vision to blur.  I had conjunctivitis about a month ago and apparently that had never fully cleared up.

Prescription eye drops 4 times a day and artificial tears hourly were to be part of my routine for at least the next week along with check-ups every few days.  When I left his office I closed my good eye and realized I couldn’t see out of my “bad” eye even with my glasses on.  How long had this been going on?  My good eye had been doing such a good job overcompensating for the lack of vision in the affected eye that I had not even realized the vision had deteriorated in one eye so drastically.

The good news is that my vision was back within two days but the eye was still not healed.  Next I was switched to eye drops that were both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory as well. We realized that the other eye was extremely dry as well. Unfortunately although it appears the infection did clear up, the inflammation is  still under my eyelid.  I continue to hydrate my eyes and be treated while we figure this out.  The doctor is a little puzzled and is not sure yet if I will be able to wear contacts anymore.

The more I thought about this it occurred to me that it had been almost a year that I have been having some “problems” with my eyes and that it was almost a year ago that I had my first chemo treatment.  I wear contacts daily and rarely wear my glasses but over the past year my eyes had been bothering me in some way or another.  At times my vision seemed blurry, my eyes were red, they were sensitive or itchy, even excess tears and I would have to leave my contacts out for days or a week at a time until the redness or irritation went away.  I had so many uncomfortable side effects from chemo that I was dealing with that I had paid little attention to a minor one such as the eye irritation or my vision.  It wasn’t until this eye exam that I finally put two and two together and realized that dry eye syndrome was yet another marvelous side effect from cancer treatment.  It is not listed specifically for the drugs I had been given, but I see it listed in general for chemo treatment and see in forums where many patients complain of it.  I was unable to see any information about whether this goes away in time.  If anyone has more information about that, I would be anxious to know.  Dry eye syndrome is also more common in those over the age of 40,  in menopausal women, and in those taking blood pressure medication so it could be a combination in my case.

Your immune resistance is lowered during chemo and you are more prone to infection.  This, in addition  to the dryness in my eyes, Drawing the human eye by echo1180allowed for more irritation as well. When  my hair fell out after the start of chemo, I lost my eyebrows and most of my eyelashes as well, allowing even more bacteria to enter my eyes.   Wearing the same soft porous lenses for a month at a time did not help.  My doctor said switching to daily wear contacts would be better with a lesser chance of infection since they are disposed of after one use.  Another option may be going back to hard lenses as they not only cover a  much smaller portion of the eye, but would not be sitting in solutions overnight and would carry less bacteria since they are not porous.

 

On a humorous note, one of the tests that my doctor does is put drops of Fluorescein in my eyes.  Fluorescein is a yellow dye that stains the cornea where the epithelial (surface) cells have been worn away because of the lack of an adequate protective tear film.  With the use of a “blue” light it will help identify abrasions or scratches present on the surface of the eye.   Somehow the bright yellow dye ends up outlining my eye and appears bright orange once it is on my skin.  After I left there the first time I was unaware of the dye left until I walked into the store to meet my daughter and she wanted to know what was the matter with me.  When I looked in the mirror we both busted out laughing at the orange circle around my eye!

I still don’t know for sure where this will end up but it got me thinking about many things…how we take our vision for granted, how we tend to the more urgent things but allow smaller things to fall by the wayside, and especially how we can easily end up allowing something to be “acceptable” or the norm and take a foothold in our life, learning to live with it, even becoming insensitive to its presence in our life.  The last thing you would want to happen in your spiritual life is to “give the devil a foothold in your life” (Ephesians 4:27), allowing him to stay and putting up with his presence to the point that you are not in tune to the spirit.  We do not want to become complacent or numb but want to remain sensitive to “irritations” in our lives that have no place being there.

“Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does.” (1 Peter 5:8-11 Message)

 

Waiting

Well this week I had my first mammogram since this whole thing started.  My radiologist gave me a script to have a diagnostic mammogram done this month and I went early one morning before work.  It felt so strange to fill out the paperwork and check off the box and write  breast c-a-n-c-e-r on the information.  I think this was the first time I had to include that word and put it in writing under my medical history.  There was no denying it and it literally stopped me in my tracks for a moment.  This is real.  This is part of MY history now.  It was a weird feeling I didn’t like.

Can’t wait for this day!

Back to the mammo.  It cracks me up that they always tell you not to wear any powders or deodorant.  In my opinion it is one of those things you have done where you definitely need the deodorant!   After it was done I was told to sit and wait to get changed until a radiologist looked at my films in case they wanted to take more pictures.

In the meantime I could hear others getting their mammogram done and when they were finished the technician would tell them they could leave and would get the results in the mail in a few days.  It was the waiting game.  The longer I sat, the more I envisioned the technician returning only to tell me they wanted to take more pictures because they saw something.  It was probably the longest 15 – 20 minutes I remember in a while.  It is hard to wait.  Finally she poked her head back in and told me to get dressed and that I could leave.  Whew!

I have not heard anything back from my doctor yet…so I’m still waiting… but I’m believing that it will be a good report.  I’m not going to sit around worrying in the meantime.  I have learned to trust God no matter what the circumstances.  He has been with me every step of the way and will be with me regardless of what the future holds.

There’s many things that we have to wait for during our lifetime.  Think of the amount of time you spend just waiting in lines whether it’s at the bank, at a store, a gas station, on hold on the telephone, for something to download, for clothes or paint or nails to dry, for food to cook, for something to come in the mail, for someone to get out of the bathroom, for a party, for a check, for someone to take your order, for someone to get back to you with an answer or  for news, for someone to ask you out, for the next train or bus or plane, sitting in doctor’s offices, for an event or ceremony to start, for water to boil, sitting in traffic, waiting for something to cool off, for summer to come back, for a vacation, to get over an illness,  or for a cure, etc.  Supposedly the average person spends an average of 45-62 minutes a day waiting, or by the time you are 70 years old you will have spent 3 years of it waiting.

Some waiting is minutes, some is days, some is weeks, some is months, and some is years.  It all depends what we are waiting for.  My question is what are we doing while we wait?  Think about how much of your lifetime is spent in a waiting or even in a holding pattern of sorts…possibly even unable to go forward until the waiting is over.  Often we don’t know how long the wait will be.  I try to be as productive as possible if the wait is anticipated.  I will often bring something to read with me or if it’s longer, a task I need to accomplish.  When my kids had lessons of some sort I would bring coupons to clip and file or homework to work on or I would run an errand while I was out.  When it comes to longer term waiting I still try to focus and keep going in the direction I would like to be once the waiting is over.

I think this waiting principle applies to the most important thing I’m waiting for.  Jesus told us that He is coming back one day.  Many have predicted to the day when this would be but obviously they were wrong.  Matthew 24:36 says, “But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father knows.” (Message) No one knows how long this wait will be but I want to be ready. “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him,”  Matthew 2:44.  I won’t sit and do nothing while I am waiting for that day.  I am determined more then ever since having cancer to live my life to the fullest for the Lord.  I don’t want to waste time while I wait for His return.  Isaiah 25:9 says, “They will say on that day, ‘Look! This is our God, for whom we have waited—and he has saved us! This is the Lord, for whom we have waited; let’s be glad and rejoice in his salvation!'”

It is interesting to see that in Psalm 37:4 where we are told to WAIT for the Lord, depending on the translation used, it says to HOPE in the Lord.  These are synonymous.  The way to do our waiting is by putting our hope in Him and trusting Him during our time of waiting!  We are told to “follow him,” “keep his way,” “rely on the Lord, keep his commands,”  “wait for the Lord’s help and follow him” in various translations of this verse.

My question is, “What are you doing while you wait?”

 

Who’s to blame?

I’ve learned a lot over the past year.  It was ONE YEAR AGO this month that I went in for a routine mammogram with plenty of things on my mind.  One thing that was not on my mind was concern for the results from my mammo.  I had had one plenty of times before and wasn’t having it done as a result of a lump I felt or because of any pain or tenderness.  It was “routine” after all!  Little did I know at the time how the results from that one screening would change the course of direction for me last year.

Ever think about how one action, one choice can make such an impact on your life?  I didn’t know much about cancer other than that it was something that happened to “other” people.  I wasn’t really overweight, got plenty of sleep, some exercise, ate fairly well with healthy choices, didn’t smoke or drink…why would I even think that cancer would happen to me?  Especially breast cancer…after all, I had nursed four children and each at least for one year and went for yearly exams and  check-ups.  After cancer happened to me I realized that no one is exempt!  We all live in a fallen world where there is sickness, poverty. disease and evil.  It is a sinful world and we are subject to many things.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to live a healthy lifestyle or that it is in vain, but it doesn’t exempt any of us from  disease or illness.

I would not choose to redo last year.  Going through tests, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, prescriptions/medication, continued infusions,  pain, discomfort, all the side effects (long and short term), the inconvenience, the monetary expense, missed work and activities,  the paperwork, the follow-ups, the appointments, the dependence upon others for meals, rides etc. is no fun.  In a word it is suffering!  I would not wish it on anyone.  Your whole life changes overnight.

The Blame Game

However, some changes are for the better and would not have come if it wasn’t for the suffering.  As much as cancer in any form is a negative thing, how you deal with it as an individual will determine whether it can be used as a positive in your life.  I have seen this over the course of the last year running into many cancer patients throughout my treatment.  Some are angry and bitter and curse and blame God asking, “Why me?”  Realizing that no one is exempt living in a fallen world I ask, “Why not me?”  I don’t blame God for my cancer.  He chose to send His Son that He loved to a sinful world and die a painful death to accomplish salvation  for us.  I am sure that there is a purpose and plan in my cancer.  Some of that I have seen already and one day the rest will be revealed.

Do I blame God?  Let me answer that again.  As a matter of fact I do.  I blame Him for making me fall more in love with Him.  I blame Him for making me more empathetic towards others who are physically suffering.  I blame Him for making me re-prioritize my life and think about what really is important.  I blame Him for trusting Him even more with my life.  I blame Him for strengthening my faith. I blame  Him for giving me a platform to share my faith.  It is a direct result from my battle with cancer that these things have happened and for that I am thankful.

Dr. John Piper has written an article/booklet about his personal experience with cancer called, “Don’t Waste Your Cancer”  which can be downloaded as a free PDF. I highly recommend it.  Our sufferings teach us not only about ourselves but about the true nature of God as well.  It is our opportunity to get to know Him in a way that you only can if you are sharing in His sufferings.  Dr. Piper writes, “Satan’s designs and God’s designs in our cancer are not the same.  God designs to deepen our love for Christ.  Cancer does not win if we die.  It wins if we fail to  cherish Jesus Christ.”

Philippians 3:8-11 says, “ Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ  and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.  I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death,  so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” (NLT)

I believe the difference in anyone’s journey though cancer or other suffering is whether you choose to avail yourself of the HOPE that is yours for the taking.  Instead of blaming God for the suffering, praise Him through it and allow Him to work in you.

Feeling Foggy

source RSNA 2012

Okay, so just this week in the news there were numerous articles saying that “chemo brain” is REAL and not just a patient’s imagination.   Guess I am not going crazy.  There are definitely cognitive changes as a side effect from chemotherapy.  I may have finished my “chemo” treatments a few months ago but I am still feeling rather foggy.  At times it seems to be worse instead of getting better. However, the study said that once chemotherapy is finished, chemo brain gets better on its own.  Guess it will just take time.

I had heard about “chemo brain” but thought that maybe it happened just as a result of all the stress and everything on your mind as a result of being treated for cancer.  It’s nice to finally see some studies being done that will now give us a legitimate excuse.  The study was only on breast cancer patients and 82% of the 595  studied reported having problems with memory and concentration.  This was confirmed using PET/CT imaging showing changes in metabolism involved in long-term memory, mental agility, decision making, problem solving, and prioritizing. WOW…women need all these things to run a household on a “normal” day.  Now add spending even more mental energy dealing with doctors, treatments, appointments, insurance bills,etc. while not feeling 100% physically.

What is it like having chemo brain? It is very frustrating to look at someone you know and see on a regular, okay a daily I Have Chemo Brain Mouse Padbasis and call them by the wrong name.  I can picture people, places and events in my head and know what I want to talk about but can’t remember the name or date or location for the life of me sometimes.   Everything is always on the tip of my tongue but doesn’t want to come out.  I have always been a good multitasker but often I forget what I’m doing while in the middle of several things.  I admit that I am not a young chick any more but I really did not want to start practicing for Alzheimers either!

I was trying to remind some coworkers at school about what happened the last time the students had a half day and the staff had to stay for a full day.  They were very puzzled.  I could picture it in my head but when we looked at the calendar there had been no half day yet.  Finally someone reminded me that it had happened the end of the last school year in June, not in this new school calendar.  My timing had been way off but in my head it seemed like it had just been recent.

I was really good at “winning” with my husband because my mind was sharp as a tack and I could recall exactly where and when I informed him of something.  Now I am not so sure myself so I need to shelve that approach which probably isn’t such a bad thing.  My kids think this whole “chemo brain” thing is funny and now every time they tell me something and I look at them funny like I never heard what they are reminding me of, they say “chemo brain.”  They could really use this to their advantage “reminding” me of things that never existed!  This is not a good thing.  This is potentially dangerous.

I have always been a list maker.  It’s part of my personality.  Some of you reading this know exactly what I mean because you can’t live without your lists either!  Every day has a new list and sometimes if I do something that is not on my list I will add it just so I can get the pleasure of crossing it off.  Now you have evidence that I am really in a fog!  Anyway, I have always gotten through my day with a list.  With chemo brain for me it is even more vital to have a list so I don’t  forget what I need to do or would like to accomplish.  Ironically in the articles they suggest having family members or friends help make lists for you to get through the period of mental fog.  I don’t need or want anyone making lists for me…I just need someone to help me FIND my lists!  I don’t remember where I put them.

I know they didn’t have chemotherapy back in Bible times but I think 1 Corinthians 13:12 was written with chemo brain in mind.  It says, “We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!” (MSG)  Yes, whether my chemo fog clears in 6 months or a year, I know that one day the fog will lift, the sun will shine and the only thing that really matters will be seen clearly, my Savior!

Just a few of the articles this week on the chemobrain study:

http://www.healthimaging.com/topics/molecular-imaging/rsna-your-brain-chemo-petct-may-enlighten-its-effects?page=0%2C0
http://www.webmd.com/cancer/news/20121129/chemo-brain-real?src=RSS_PUBLIC
http://www.medpagetoday.com/MeetingCoverage/RSNA/36138

Some books on chemobrain:  www.chemobraininfo.org

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”

 

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

Pink ribbons vs. bandages

 

Now that October is here you are probably seeing those pink ribbons everywhere you look because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  It seems that there are more and more products sporting a pink ribbon in every aisle of every store.  I never paid a lot of attention to them before.  I knew what they were for and would occasionally pay more to get whatever it was so a few more cents could go to breast cancer research but that was the extent of it.  This year more than ever I am fully aware of each and every pink ribbon I see.  At first it sort of excited me and I would smile and think out loud to myself, “I can relate to that.”

It’s hard to explain but another part of me does not  identify with a pretty pink ribbon.  I tend to think that men who get breast cancer (YES men can and do get it) really can’t identify with a pink ribbon! There was nothing pretty or girly about the whole experience for me.  I think back on the surgery, and the chemo, and the side effects, and the radiation, and the drugs, and the doctor visits, and the hospitals, etc.  I can identify more with a bandage covering stitches from a lumpectomy or a bandage where an IV was pulled out than I can with a pink ribbon.  I can identify more with a band aid covering where the blood work was taken from or with a scarf covering a bald head than I can with a pink ribbon.  Don’t get me wrong…I am all for research and raising both funds for it and awareness but in a way, a pink ribbon troubles me.   I am left now with scars from surgery and drugs and tattoos from radiation that pink ribbons cannot cover up.

I am proud to be a survivor and I will wear a pink ribbon with honor as one but I’m not so sure it is a good representation of breast cancer.  There is nothing pretty or pink about it.  It’s ugly.  There’s nothing cute about it.  The closest resemblance I can think of is after your hair falls out and starts to grow back in it is like a soft fuzzy peach, like a newborn’s head, and I guess that reminds you of a cute baby or a pink ribbon!

Aside from my ribbon  ramblings since it is Breast Cancer Awareness month, let me take this opportunity to once again remind you ladies that are due for one, to please schedule your mammogram!  I know it’s no fun but many times the things that are truly worth it will cost us something….in this case discomfort, okay, a lot of discomfort.  It was through  a routine mammogram that I was diagnosed.  Often times you cannot feel anything but an x-ray will pick it up.  If you wait to go until you feel something it is probably already advanced.  If you have the opportunity to walk or run for Breast Cancer (Race for the Cure, Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, Think Pink Walk, etc.) or can buy a product to help fund research, do so!  Kohl’s has two pages of items $10 or less that when you purchase them, 100% of the net profit goes to supporting the fight against breast cancer. Check their website under women’s cause merchandise  Elle collection.  This is just one example.  Your donation could be helping out yourself down the road or your own mother or sister or niece or wife or daughter!

“Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women, except for skin cancers. About 1 in 8 (12%) women in the US will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime.

The American Cancer Society’s most recent estimates for breast cancer in the United States are for 2012:

Maybe a pink ribbon is not the best representation for breast cancer but I can think of one symbol that I would agree with.  Whenever I see a cross I think of the sacrifice that Christ made for me.  There is nothing pretty or pink about it. The cross was rugged and probably splintered. Nailing anyone to a cross is ugly.   It had blood dripping on it where they nailed his hands and feet to it.  At the same time because of what was accomplished on it, it holds a certain kind of beauty. Christ died on the cross but he did not remain defeated.  He conquered death. His nail scarred hands show His love for us.  ” He humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” Philippians 2:8 NLT  He loved us so much, he stretched out his arms and died.

I guess it’s the same with cancer.  It’s ugly,there’s  nothing pretty about it.  At the same time there’s  a certain beauty in the battle scars because we are survivors.  We are fighting or have fought the battle and we are winning or we have won.  We are victors and that is a beautiful thing…pink ribbons and all.

Skin deep Beauty

I have tried to take advantage of the different workshops and activities offered through the cancer department at the hospital I am treated at.  One particular class is a two hour workshop on how to make yourself look beautiful so you  can feel better about yourself while going through cancer treatment.  Due to scheduling difficulties I was not able to attend one of these until very recently and had to drive a little distance to a different hospital in order to attend.

When I entered the conference room I felt like I was walking into a little girl’s princess birthday party.  The table had little mirrors standing up at each place with bags of makeup and various things at each place.  The only thing missing was cake but they did have bottles of water for everyone.  We sat on sides of the table depending on the color of our skin tone because the makeup kits were arranged that way.  It didn’t take long for all of us to start meeting each other and sharing where we were in our treatment, comparing hospitals, side-effects, etc.  Again, it was that cancer camaraderie as we were quickly joined in sisterhood.  During the course of the night, the “host” had to ask everyone to be quiet several times because we were so wrapped up in conversation.

Our “host” spent the evening “demonstrating” not only how to put makeup on but instructing us in the order to do it in.  There were twelve steps.  No one had told  me I was going to a twelve step program!  “Hi!  My name is Sue and I am a recovering cancer patient.”  I said our host was “demonstrating” in quotes because she never took her makeup off at the start and never actually touched her face with anything the entire evening.  She also was not allowed to physically help any of us or apply makeup to our face but was only allowed to demonstrate, so demonstrate she did by pretending to put it on her face! It really was quite comical.  Just as comical was the sorry looking lot of us.  I think the majority of us were the type that hardly wore makeup even when we didn’t have cancer.  Either women were there looking for a social gathering or the fact that we normally don’t wear much makeup meant we really needed this class especially now!  I was amazed at all the different products to use.  What was really nice is that companies donate all the products and we were each able to leave with a large bag full (our goody bag from the “party”).

In addition to the makeup, we also had a brief session on wigs although I think everyone there already had a wig.  Different types of hats and head coverings were also shown.  I must say that all of us did look very pretty by the end of the evening and probably felt a little better about how we looked at the moment anyway.

The next morning I was excited to try to repeat what I learned the previous night after I got out of the shower.  I opened the bag of supplies I was sent home with and was dumbfounded.  What was I supposed to put on first?  Twelve steps were far too many to remember this early in the morning.  Okay, I lied.  It’s too many steps to remember at any time of the day!  Which one is for the eyes?  What direction are you supposed to start applying from?  It was time consuming too.  Remember how I said it was so quick for me to get ready for work now that I have no hair?  Putting on all the stuff to make yourself look beautiful is very time consuming!  I decided after that first morning that I would stick to just a few simple things so my eyes and eyebrows can be seen since my lashes and brows are gone.  It helps to give others something to at least focus on and know it’s your face they are looking at.  Other than that, I’m still me and am happy being plain me.  I do congratulate all you beautiful looking women knowing the time it took for you to get ready!

I met a woman at radiation who told me she was going to get her eyelashes “done.”  I didn’t know what she was referring to and she said you can get individual eyelashes applied/glued on to fill in places you lost them during chemo.  I asked her where you go to get that done assuming it was some expensive type of salon and to my surprise she said, “Walmart.”  Now that sounds like something doable in the future.

It’s important to take care of yourself and to look presentable but we don’t all need to look gorgeous everyday unless we’re a model and even then someone else does it all for you.  It’s fun to dress up and follow the 12 steps if we’re going somewhere special or for a certain occasion but that’s not for me on a regular basis.  I tend to believe that real beauty is deeper than skin deep.  Proverbs 31:30 reads, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;  but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” (NIV)  1 Samuel 16:7 says, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”(NIV)  In Galatians 2:6 it says that God does not judge by external appearances.  “ Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (1 Peter 3:3-4 NIV) I’ll take striving to be a model for inner beauty any day over outer beauty.  I’d rather spend my time and effort working on the inside than the outside.  You know what, I feel better too!

Do you need to hear that YOU are beautiful?!  Check out this link to “Beautiful” by Mercy Me:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmUfJtsaqps&feature=related