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How we got here…

This is the post excerpt.

On April 18, 2017 – my life was pretty normal….well, there are those that would argue that I’ve NEVER been normal, but…..anyway, I had an appointment for my yearly OB/GYN visit.  During that visit, I mentioned to my doctor that I had been experiencing some “tenderness” under my left armpit area.  I really thought the underwire in my bra was causing it (probably due to a FEW extra pounds I’d put on) but felt it was worth mentioning.  After several attempts to locate the area of my “tenderness”, the doctor found the culprit, a lump.  My doctor was optimistic it was merely a cyst, due to the feel of it, and the fact that it was tender (everyone will tell you that cancer is not typically painful).  He sent me for a mammogram and ultrasound to determine what it really was. I was able to get an appointment the same day.  Mammogram appeared to show a cyst, while the ultrasound did not appear to show a cyst.  The only way to know for sure was to do a biopsy.  I was scheduled to come back in a week for a biopsy on April 26th, 2017.  During the biopsy, the doctor saw yet ANOTHER mass that had not been apparent on either the mammogram or ultrasound the previous week.  She biopsied BOTH spots.  The next 5 days were truly the LONGEST of my life…..waiting to hear the results from the biopsy.  A phone call from the radiologist on May 1, 2107 confirmed that the biopsy results showed both spots tested positive for CANCER!  Seriously?  How can this be?  How can I feel totally fine and healthy and have cancer?  The pathology showed a Stage 2 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma – the mass measured 2.4 cm.  I was blessed immensely and was able to see the surgeon that same week on Friday, May 5th.  After consultation with her, I opted to have a lumpectomy + radiation in hopes of riding myself of this beast.  The lumpectomy was scheduled for Thursday, May 25th.  Surgery went well, recovery was great.  All that was left was to wait AGAIN for the pathology results that would let us know if we got clear margins.  A call from the PA on May 31st indicated that the doctor had NOT been able to get clear margins (the tumor was larger than it had appeared on the scans) and cancer cells were found in my Sentinel Lymph Node that was removed during surgery.   The tumor was shaped a bit like a sea urchin – with tentacles going in many directions.  Clear margins were achieved on 3 sides of the tumor.  Next we waited for radiation and medical oncology to review my pathology and recommend to the surgeon whether or not they needed to remove any additional lymph nodes when the re-excision surgery was done.  Oncology recommended NOT removing any more lymph nodes – they would just target them with radiation.  Surgery was set for June 8th, 2017.  The surgery was successful and clear margins were obtained.  Next up were visits with medical and radiation oncology at Duke University Cancer Center on June 14th.  The long and short of it is that I will be needing 12 doses of chemo (4 doses of CEF or FEC – it’s a combination of 3 drugs Cytoxan, Epirubicin and Fluorouracil) followed by 8 doses of Taxol.  Once chemo is over, I may get a mini break and then start radiation.  They have recommended 6 weeks of radiation at 5 days/week for a total of 30 doses of radiation.  Doing a little bit of math in my head (which is NOT my strong point) it quickly became obvious that I would spent the majority of the rest of 2017 at Duke Cancer Center.  While it’s not the Ritz Carlton or as exciting as an all-inclusive vacation – I am oh so thankful that Duke Cancer Center is less than one hour from home.  I am very fortunate to have such a world-class facility right in my back yard.

Thursday, June 15th CC and I spent over 1.5 hrs with the oncology pharmacist at Duke Cancer Center.  She went over the first chemo regimen that I will be doing (CEF or FEC depending on your preference…..same drugs either way).  She also spent a lot of time talking about the side effects and everything they do to try to minimize any nausea, sickness, etc.  It was a very informative meeting.  She sent me home with printed calendars with treatment days listed, when to take meds, what to do in event of fever – you name it, she prepared us for it.  She said her goal was to make this treatment as boring as possible and hopefully to keep me as healthy as possible during this.

I am scheduled to have labs done and port put in on Monday, June 26, 2017 and I will start my first dose of CEF on Wednesday, June 28, 2017.

Pshew…..ALOT has happened since April 18th.

I have been journaling this mess since it started.  Mostly because it was therapeutic and also because I wanted to be able look back on this and see all the ways that God blessed me in the midst of all of this “chaos that is cancer”.   I’m not a very private person – I probably “overshare”…..but I truly felt like the more people that knew my story, the more people that I would have praying for me and the better off I would be.  So this blog is my attempt at sharing my story.  The highs and lows……the pretty and the not so pretty.  If sharing my story encourages JUST ONE woman to get her yearly breast exam, then it will not be in vain……or if it encourages another breast cancer warrior who is fighting this same fight alongside of me, then I will count that as a blessing as well.

This much I know is true…….God’s hands have been oh so apparent during EVERY. SINGLE. STEP. of this story so far.  It’s amazing just how many times HE has shown up and shown off and given me that not so gentle nudge letting me know that HE is right here with me and my family as we navigate the days ahead.  I intend to give HIM all the glory for the big things and the small things.  Having a cancer diagnosis truly changes you in an instant.  Your attitude…….your outlook…..your priorities……the ability to discern what things really matter and what truly is insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

So…..that’s where we are right now.  Here’s to kicking this cancer right where it hurts!  And the good news is – these were just “temporary lumps”…..the real “lumps” have been removed from my body (Praise God) – but this cancer WILL NOT define me.  This chaos that is cancer is just a “temporary lump” along the course of my life.  I’m going to look back on this adventure one day and say “you know, it wasn’t ALL bad”.  I just met a new friend this weekend – she is a breast cancer survivor (just finished up her treatments around Thanksgiving 2016) and she said to me “the treatments were long and tough some days, but I was tougher”!!  I plan to look back on this mess and say the same thing…..that, with God’s help, I was tougher than all the surgeries, doctors appointments, lab work, scans, treatments, etc.  Stay tuned to hear me make that same proclamation!

**Disclaimer** for those that don’t know me personally, let me issue this disclaimer.  I have a pretty warped sense of humor…..and have been known to make jokes about this cancer.  It’s not meant to be rude – it’s just who I am.  Laughing is much better than crying……and I’m choosing to laugh my way through this mess every chance I get!

Thanks for taking time to read my blog.  I pray that you’ll hang around with me for the rest of this ride and celebrate with me when we get to the finish line!

Blessings to you!

Sonja

 

 

What a Difference a Year Makes

April 18, 2018.  One year ago today, I had my yearly checkup with Dr. Frenduto……and he found the “lump” in my breast.  In some ways, it seems like the past twelve months creeped by and then in many ways, it seems like it flew by.  You get so caught up in the moment……doctors appointments, tests, chemo, radiation……as I was busy checking things off one by one……the months rolled on by.  Some pieces of the last year stand out so vividly in my mind…….and thankfully, others seem a little blurred and hazy!

I’m happy to report that I am feeling FANTASTIC.  I’m not quite at 100% yet, but I’m dang close!  My energy level is great, I feel good every day, food tastes great and I’m finding myself doing most of the things I did BC (Before Cancer)!  Praise be to God!  He has brought me so far over the past year.

To celebrate kicking cancer’s butt – my sweet husband took me to see The Eagles last night.  I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate!  The concert was great!  Yeah – the original members can’t hit all the notes like they used to – but golly gee they are 70 years old.  They can still rock it though.  And Deacon Frey joined the band in his dad’s absence.  He’s adorable and talented in his own right.  He really looks just like a 70’s version of his dad……long hair, mustache.  Such a cutie! Joe Walsh can still tear up that guitar and Vince Gill was a nice addition to the band.

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I had a follow up with my medical oncologist yesterday.  Everything looks great.  I did mention some tenderness/burning near my incision area – and upon investigating, she determined that I was very swollen in my left chest and breast area.  It appears I have lymphedema of the breast.  I’ve heard of folks having issues with lymphedema after they have lymph nodes removed – but it’s usually in the arm and/or hand.  Who knew you could have lymphedema in the breast.  Sooo……I’m being referred to physical therapy.  Yep – you heard me right.  I’m being referred to physical therapy for my breast!  Who knew that was even a THING???  You can ONLY imagine the comments I’ve received from  friends and family over the past 24 hours.  It’s given us some comic relief for sure!  Anyways – other than physical therapy – I don’t have to return to my medical oncologist until December.  Halleluiah!

And today was my follow-up with my radiation oncologist.  I’ve completed my steroid regimen (thank GOD – cause I was about to eat myself into oblivion)!  I definitely feel better than I did when I was initially diagnosed with the pneumonitis.  The doctor said my lungs sounded wonderful and unless I had any other issues with coughing/breathing again – I don’t need to come back to see her until September!  What great news.  She did, however, concur with my medical oncologist and believes that physical therapy was needed to get the excess fluid removed from my breast.

Wow…….sooooo much has happened over the past year.

As I’ve reflected back over the past year……I’ve tried to think of a word or phrase to describe it.  The word that continues to come to mind is COMMUNITY.

I would not have been able to endure the highs and lows of the past year without COMMUNITY.  For those of you who have followed my blog from the very beginning, you may remember that I did a post last July on COMMUNITY.  Pastor Karl’s message that Sunday was on “Created for Community” and he reminded us that Jesus created us for community and that God has said for us to be alone is NOT a good thing.  He wants us to be one with Him and one with each other.

The love that has been showered on me and my family was nothing short of spectacular.  I truly felt the love, care, concern, compassion and the goodness of my COMMUNITY.  I was the recipient of so many good deeds, meals, rides to doctors appointments and treatments……just having someone to hang out with the hospital on those long days was such a huge blessing.  Who knew you could have a “waiting list” for folks who were eager and willing to help you with transportation or meals!  Talk about a wonderful problem to have.  Not once during this whole ordeal did I ever feel “alone”.  I knew I had a tribe of folks supporting me in so many ways.

I received so many blessings from family members, old friends, church family, neighbors, mere acquaintances, new friends, and yes – complete strangers.  What a humbling experience to be the recipient of random acts of kindness from folks you don’t even know!  God showed me in countless ways just how good His people truly are.  They loved on me like nobody’s business…….and I just soaked it all in.  We are encouraged often to “be the hands and feet of Jesus”.  Lemme tell ya – I saw first hand people doing just that – doing the Lord’s work here on earth.  My friend Joni calls it JOY work.  And I promise you that I could tell every act of kindness was done with loads of JOY.  I’m reminded of this quote…

You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give. – Khalil Gibran

If you’ve ever spent much time in a  hospital – you know that it’s not uncommon to make small talk with those around you.  Today, as I was waiting to see the doctor, there was a young couple sitting near me in the waiting area.  I knew she was the patient because I saw her armband.  Otherwise – she had a full head of hair, cute as a button and looked as healthy as could be.  Yep – I know that look well.  I asked where she was from and she said Columbia, SC.  Turns out they had come Duke for a second opinion.  As I had been whining about making 2 trips in 2 days to Duke – I quickly stopped to count my blessings.  Yeah – I’m 45 minutes away – but I do have the luxury of coming home and sleeping in my own bed each night.  Before we were able to talk very long, I was called back to see my doctor.  I could not stop thinking about this young couple.  They’d gotten up super early to drive from SC to Durham for a second opinion – and came early hoping they would be seen early……..and turns out her doctor was running behind today.  You know how life just happens like that sometimes.  Well, while I was in the exam room waiting on my doctor, I took time to write a little note to her – (I’m ashamed to say I don’t even know her name – we just didn’t get to talk long enough).  Anyway – I gave her my contact information, shared a Bible verse with her hoping it would offer her some comfort and I told her that she was going to find out she was stronger than she ever, ever imagined……and that I could promise her there were gonna be tough days ahead – but she was going to have to be tougher…….and I told her that in a year from now, she’ll be on the OTHER side of this mess just like I was and she’ll be proudly marching out of her follow-up appointments after all her treatments are done.  We were both about to get all weepy – so I just hugged her and wished her well.  It’s crazy how this “sisterhood” bonds you immediately with complete strangers.  I don’t even know her name – but she has been on my mind and my heart all day……and I know God will hear my prayers for her.

What a difference a year makes!  I’ve come full circle.  Last year I was enlisting the prayers and support of my COMMUNITY…….and today, I was able to attempt to OFFER encouragement, prayers and support to someone just starting out on this wild ride.  My “battle” with breast cancer began one year ago today…….and while I am NOT thankful for cancer…….I am very thankful for what cancer has TAUGHT me.  God has restored my health…….and life is really good.

It was difficult to choose just ONE verse for today – so here’s two that sort of sum up my year.

Blessings to all of you!

Sonja

 1 Peter 4:12-13 The Message (MSG)

Glory Just Around the Corner

12-13 Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.

 

1 Peter 5:7-10 New International Version (NIV)

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

 

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He is Risen!

Well it’s been a good little spell since I updated my blog.  As I sat here and realized just how long it’s been – I had to smile and say “thanks God” because the truth of the matter is, I’ve been feeling great and been quite busy going about life.  How awesome is it that I’ve been so busy I completely didn’t think about blogging! 🙂  Small steps!

These steroids must be working……..I’m feeling much better and no coughing, etc., even though I still have another week of meds left before I complete the regimen.  I will be thankful to finish up the steroids.  Good grief ya’ll…….I’m eating every thing in sight!  I’m not a huge “sweets” person – I typically prefer two helpings of meat and potatoes over sweets…….but lately…….oh my!  We have been making s’mores in the oven wayyyy more than we should……..and I made a lemon pie because I could not stop thinking about lemon pie!  Totally out of character for me!  I will be big as a Buick if I don’t hurry up and get off these steroids!  Lordy!

So we spent Easter with our family at Myrtle Beach.  We had a great time – laughing, eating, shopping and just hanging out.  For several years now the Methodist church a few blocks away has held Easter Sunrise Service on the beach a couple blocks up from our condo.  We were there the very first year they held the service and it was a handful of folks in attendance and lots of technical difficulties…..you know, the typical growing pains when you are trying something new.  The next year there were a few more people…….and golly gee, I’d be afraid to guess how many folks showed up this past Sunday for the Sunrise Service.  HUNDREDS for sure!  It was an enormous crowd.  Kudos to the folks at Trinity UMC for all their hard work in organizing this wonderful worship service.  Check out these awesome pics!

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Easter has always been a special time of year for me……..but now it holds even more significance to me personally.  You see, last year Easter came a little later in the year.   It was on April 15th to be exact.  I am too old for all this “selfie” craze (thank goodness)!  But last year, CC wasn’t able to go with us to the beach for Easter because he had to work.    We were sitting out on the beach, and I took a “selfie” and texted it to him to say thanks for working hard so I could play hard (or something to that effect).  I had forgotten about that picture until recently when I was going through the photos on my phone.  I saw my picture and took note of the date.  April 15th, 2017.  Unbelievable!  This picture was taken 3 days before my yearly physical with Dr. Frenduto when this whole mess started.  Three days before my personal “shit storm”!  How crazy that I could look so “well” and “healthy” in that picture and not have any idea what was lurking in my body.

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2017 was full of doctors appointments, tests, chemo and radiation, and unfortunately my treatments spilled over into 2018 as well….but we finally wrapped that mess up.  And this Easter…….I was back at the beach with my family…….. fully aware of just how blessed I was to be there……things had come full-circle and I’d celebrated my own personal “resurrection” experience, so to speak.  I’d endured some dark days over the past year – but God saw me through those tough days and continues to guide me through the days ahead.   To think that Jesus endured the Cross for me……for my sins……for my cancer!!

So this Easter was pretty stinking special.  As I watched the sun rise on Easter Sunday………I was pure thankful.  I find myself living more “in the moment” now.  Truly trying to soak every thing in…….and not miss a thing.

I know it’s a little late given Easter has passed – but the video below is a favorite of mine.  No matter how dark your Friday(s)……..it’s okay, because Sunday’s coming!  It’s worth sharing even if it’s a little late!

 

I’d like to give a big shout out to my friend and fellow cancer warrior Miriam.  She finished up her treatments today.  Well done, my friend!  So happy you have this behind you now!  God is good.  She rocked this cancer #likeaboss!

Happy Weekend!  Make every minute of it count!

Sonja

Matthew 28:6 The Message (MSG)

5-6 The angel spoke to the women: “There is nothing to fear here. I know you’re looking for Jesus, the One they nailed to the cross. He is not here. He was raised, just as he said. Come and look at the place where he was placed.  “Now, get on your way quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He is risen from the dead. He is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.’ That’s the message.”

Happy Spring Y’all!

I’m happy to report that today I checked off the first week of steroids for the pneumonitis (one week down, hopefully only 4 more to go)!  I’ve felt good all things considered – the worst part has just been the cough that just doesn’t seem to want to go away.  I know…….it just takes time.  The cough seems to be more annoying first thing in the morning and then again late at night.  Thankfully, I’m able to sleep now without having to take any cough medicine……so that’s a step in the right direction.  This, too, shall pass!

I was at a meeting at church last night and of course, was coughing off and on.  I know the first thing folks think when I start barking is “oh gosh, she’s contagious”.  Fortunately – I can’t give you pneumonitis.  But I totally get folks wanting to keep their distance!

I find myself celebrating the weeks when I don’t have to go to Duke for any doctor visits.  It’s funny how sometimes even the smallest of victories are worth claiming!  I do have to return to Durham tomorrow for an appointment – but this time it’s with the endodontist to complete the second and hopefully last part of my root canal.  Praying the second part is as painless as the first.  If you are ever in need of a great endodontist, check out Dr. Deborah Conner in Durham, NC.  They have an awesome staff there!

So I’ve been asked over the past few weeks about updates to my recovery and I’ve enjoyed sharing my success/progress by this crazy yard stick:

BBC (Before Breast Cancer) – my friends made fun of me for going to the grocery store MULTIPLE times a week.  I know…..kinda crazy but over the years I’ve tried meal planning for a week and it almost always ended up in wasted food.  CC may call at 3:00 pm and say “I just had lunch, don’t worry about dinner” – or “I’m working late, you just get something for you and Hunter”………or we might get an invitation to meet friends for dinner or in the best cases – be invited by family for a real old fashioned home-cooked meal……and this crew REFUSES to turn down that kind of food.  Anyway – weekly planning just doesn’t work for us – so the result of that is that I was typically at the grocery store 3-4 times a week.

Last week, as I stood in line at Food Lion waiting to check out – a friend was in line ahead of me.  She turned around and asked me how I was doing…….and in that instant…….it suddenly hit me.  I couldn’t help but stand there and chuckle to myself.  This was the second day in a row that I was at Food Lion getting items for dinner and that hadn’t happened in a very long time!  I laughed and told my friend that it appeared I was back to normal……given that I was finding myself back in my old habit of grocery shopping several times a week!  It was crazy and cool all at the same time.  As crazy as my grocery shopping habit is – it was  pretty awesome to stand there and realize that – WOW – maybe my life is getting back to normal!  So…..right there…….in the check out line at Food Lion – I felt like God was patting me on the back and saying “we are almost there, my friend”.

My energy level is increasing daily.  I find that my stamina is also increasing.  I still have a bit of a “sinking spell” each afternoon typically between 3-5pm – but I just try to stop and catch my breath……and take a power nap if need be.  Baby steps.  I’ll take them!

I feel like a spring flower…….pushing through the dirt…….a little bit at a time…….but eventually, all that pushing pays off and a beautiful flower emerges.  Bring on the spring!

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My heart is heavy tonight as I learned that a dear friend and fellow cancer warrior, Roger, went to be the with Lord today.  He put up an amazing fight over the past three years.  He and his wife were extra special to me……and I am truly a better person because I knew them.   Roger definitely showed me how to fight with grace and dignity.  While I will miss his big hugs when I walk into church on Sundays…….I celebrate that He has met our Lord and and Savior and his suffering is no more.  My thoughts and prayers go out to his wife and children.

Last night at a meeting at church, my friend Lisa shared this devotion.  It really spoke to me.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Pauline Hylton
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

My wrinkled 92-year-old-mama looked up at me as I entered her cheery green bedroom.
“I’m looking forward to seeing him again.” She paused, “I miss him.”
“I do, too, Mom.”
“Him” is my dad. He’s been in heaven for almost five years now. The longer he’s gone, the more I appreciate him. If I could use one word to describe him, it would be passionate.
He was passionate about nature, about life, and about his Lord.
He took me poisonous snake hunting when I was a girl to show his Boy Scout troop our finds. (Our neighbors were not appreciative.) He filled out mammoth piles of paperwork to enroll me at Asbury University when I wasn’t sure I believed God’s Word, told him so, and lived like it. He stood by me when I rebelled, and opened his arms wide when I came back.
He made me laugh, and when something touched his heart, he cried. He showed me that it was okay for a man to cry. (Except in baseball.)
But the thing I love most about my dad is what he left me. It wasn’t money. That corrodes. He left me a legacy of following Christ–not perfectly—but passionately. Dad was fruity.
He and my mom were officers in The Salvation Army. Often, when my dad preached, he’d march across the stage, paying no attention to the podium. Sometimes, he’d grab the back of his collar, face the audience, look in an imaginary mirror, point his finger and say, “Ray Wert, what are you going to do for Jesus today?”
It’s a good question. A valid question.
I can know the Bible backwards and forwards, but if I don’t tell someone about Jesus, or better yet, show them, what good is it?
The book of James is all about that. Believing. Doing.
My dad did that. Today, as I knelt in prayer, I read from his Salvation Army Songbook. He put brackets around a verse written by Charles Wesley.
“Jesus, confirm my heart’s desire
To work and speak and think for thee;
Still let me guard the holy fire,
And still stir up thy gift in me.”
Before the verse, he wrote a place and a time, after the verse he wrote in his all caps, left-handed scrawl, “DON’T LET THE FIRE GO OUT.”
Jesus talked about bearing fruit in John 15:15-17, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.”
The passage says not only are we Christ’s friends, but we’re commanded to bear fruit. To tell others about Him. To let the Holy Spirit work in our lives so that others will ask about our Lord.
Dad did that. I’m looking at my life and desire the same thing. To leave a lasting legacy. To have a fruitful life.
Will you? Maybe you need to march yourself across the room by the scruff of the neck and say, “What are you going to do for Jesus, today?”
Ignite your fire for Jesus. Don’t be a burn-out.

What a powerful message!  It really got my attention.  What are YOU going to do for Jesus today?  How awesome would it be if we all woke up each day with a desire to do even just ONE thing for Jesus each day.  I challenge you to give it a shot.  It doesn’t have to be HUGE……maybe it’s buying a meal for someone, or calling a shut-in, or sending a card of encouragement to a young teen, or running an errand for an elderly neighbor, paying for the person’s coffee in line behind you at the coffee shop, text a Bible verse to a friend who may be struggling.  There are countless ways we can do something for Jesus and share His love with others.  I’d LOVE to hear ideas you have of other awesome and creative things we could do for Jesus.

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Wishing you a very blessed week.

Hugs!

Sonja

Song of Songs 2:11-12 New International Version (NIV)

11 See! The winter is past;
    the rains are over and gone.
12 Flowers appear on the earth;
    the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
    is heard in our land.

Pneu-mo-WHAT?

If your remember, on my last update, I was sad to report that I had been diagnosed with Flu B.  Thankfully – I had just finished a round of Tamiflu, so I think I was able to kick the flu a little quicker because of that.  About a week after my diagnosis, I was feeling better thank the Lord.

Last Thursday I was scheduled for my baseline Bone Density Test.  That was one of the fastest appointments I’ve had at Duke.  I was called back before my appointment time, changed into a gown and less than 5 minutes later, I was dressed and on my way back home.  What a pleasant surprise.

My radiation oncologist had made a return visit for me last Friday to follow up from the flu.  She had said if I was better, I could cancel it……and I seriously thought about it…..especially since I had just been to Duke on Thursday – who wanted to go back again if it wasn’t NECESSARY.  The only thing holding me back was the fact that I still had a very nasty cough that just wouldn’t seem to go away.  But I’d talked to several folks who were recovering from the flu and most of them said the cough just hung around forever – so I kinda thought it was just part of the process.  Of course, I mentioned to my mom that I was considering NOT going to the doctor and she quickly informed me that she thought I should definitely go and see what they said about my cough.  Hopefully it was nothing – but better safe than sorry.  And truthfully – she was right.  She even went with me to the appointment (I think mostly so she could make sure I went and didn’t take off shopping)!

My lungs sounded great when the PA checked me out.  She agreed, however, that my cough was going on a bit long and she felt like it was prudent that we investigate it a little further.  She ordered a CT scan and I was blessed to be able to have one that day within an hour.  Some days you just hit the hospital lottery!  I walked over to the Medical Pavilion to have my CT scan and was called back before I could get seated good.  The CT took about 3.5 minutes and then I was on my way.

I wasn’t really expecting to know anything from the CT scan til probably the following week…..but I actually received a voicemail from the PA Friday night about 7:41 saying she was just calling me to follow up on the CT and if I hadn’t heard back from her by Monday morning, to give her a call on Monday…….which I did.  When we were finally able to connect on Monday evening – she informed me that the good news was there was no signs of cancer …….HUGE sigh of relief…….but that there was evidence of pneumonitis.  Grrrrr.  My doctor had told me of the possibility of pneumonitis literally the very first day I consulted with her….but of course we had hoped that we wouldn’t have to deal with it.

For those of you who are like me and may had never heard of pneumonitis before –

Pneumonitis (noo-moe-NIE-tis) is a general term that refers to inflammation of lung tissue. Technically, pneumonia is a type of pneumonitis because the infection causes inflammation. Pneumonitis, however, is usually used by doctors to refer to noninfectious causes of lung inflammation.   If pneumonitis is undetected or left untreated, you may gradually develop chronic pneumonitis, which can result in scarring (fibrosis) in the lungs.

Pneumonitis, a noninfectious inflammation of the lungs, is a side effect associated with several cancer treatments, including radiation and chemotherapy as well as newer targeted drugs and immunotherapies. The symptoms range from mild to severe respiratory symptoms but may not appear until weeks to months into treatment — and sometimes long after treatments end — leading to frequent misdiagnoses, particularly because the symptoms resemble those of pneumonia.

if you’d like to read more – here’s a link with some additional information

https://www.curetoday.com/publications/cure/2015/summer-2015/pneumonitis-a-delayed-reaction

 According to the doctor – one of the types of chemo that I received can cause pneumonitis as well as the radiation……so I kinda had a double whammy.  On top of that, the breathing issues I experienced when I had those few Taxol treatments already had my system compromised a bit.
Even though the doctor had mentioned this all along – of course we had HOPED and PRAYED that I would avoid it.  But that wasn’t to be the case.  Soooo…… they put me on a high dose of steroids for the next 5 weeks and I pray that will take care of.  They have all ready warned me if I’m not better at the 5 week mark, that we may do an additional 3 weeks of steroids.  Whatever it takes.  The Good Lord has seen me through the past 11 months…..I have faith He will see me through this hurdle too.  (gosh is it possible that next month will be a year since all this started)???
That being said…….to quote Uncle Joe from Madea, I may be “big as a Buick” by the time I finish these steroids.  So if you are looking for me any time in the next 5 weeks, if I’m not at home, check the closest buffets! 🙂
So…….as bad as I hate to say it…….Mom was right.  It was prudent for me to take the time to go back to the doctor to have my cough investigated.  While we didn’t get the news we had hoped – at least we know and have a plan.  I’m glad I went and let them check me out a little further.  Better safe than sorry.
Now you know that when you see me and I’m still coughing like a villain, I’m NOT contagious……but just having a difficult time shedding this cough.  Hopefully I will start to see some improvement soon.
On a brighter note……today we celebrated Hunter’s 15th birthday.  How is it possible that my child now has his learner’s permit?  God blessed us with a wonderful son.  He’s kind, sweet, sensitive, caring, smart, compassionate and just an all-around good kid.  I am so proud to be his mom!

Prayers for a great rest of your week.

Sonja

Romans 15:13 New International Version (NIV)

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Thinking Out Loud

Well it’s been a minute since I’ve posted.  Things got a little crazy around here.  CC was diagnosed with the flu in mid-February…….and my doctor put me on Tamiflu the same day he was diagnosed and I tried as hard as I could to stay away from his cooties.  I slept in the spare bedroom, disinfected the house like a villain, diffused essential oils, washed, washed, washed my hands, drank elderberry syrup…….you name it, I did my best to avoid it.  What’s that they say about the best laid plans?  Well – the flu caught me too!  Crazy enough we had both had the flu shot this year (this was the very first year I’ve EVER had it, but my oncologists strongly recommended that I take it).  CC was diagnosed on a Sunday and by the following Friday – I was feeling like crap!  The worst part was the terrible cough and congestion.  Because of the timing of my illness, there was some concern that I may have pneumonitis (often a side effect of radiation that can show up a month or more after treatment).  My radiation oncologist ordered x-rays to be sure what we were dealing with.  Thank goodness there was no pneumonitis – but she called me later that day to say that I, too, had tested positive for Flu B.  Are you kidding me?

flu

I’m happy to report that we are both feeling much better at this time.  Praise God!  That was a rough few weeks.  I still have a terrible nagging cough – but who knows if that’s from the flu or from this crazy weather that now has everything blooming outside!

My strength is coming back day by day.  I’m finding it easier to be out and about doing things for longer periods of time.  Slowly but surely life is getting back to normal.

Tomorrow I have an appointment for a bone density test – they ordered that after they put me on the Tamoxifen.  Guess we need a baseline reading on my bone health.  Hopefully that will be a quick trip tomorrow.  I have enjoyed not having to travel to Duke on a daily basis these past few weeks!

I seem to be adjusting okay to the Tamoxifen.  Yeah – I started experiencing major “power surges” literally within the first 24 hours of starting the meds.  They occur sporadically all through the day and night.  Fun times!  I haven’t felt like I’ve experienced any “mood swings” – which seems to be a common side effect of the meds.  My guys haven’t seemed to complain, so I hope we can avoid that one!  I’m finding that nothing really sounds good when it comes to food.  Food tastes pretty normal now so that’s a good thing……but even foods I have always loved just don’t appeal to me like before.  Or I’ll spend all day thinking about the yummy dinner I’m gonna cook and then by the time it’s ready – it’s not appealing to me at all.  I dunno.  Maybe this is a good thing?  Maybe I’ll lose some weight?  Fat chance!

My hair is coming back and it’s grown a bunch over the past few weeks. Many folks have asked me if my hair is coming back it’s natural color.  HELLO PEOPLE……I’d been coloring my hair for so long, who the heck remembers what my natural color looked like???  Last I knew, it was almost black.  Now it’s coming back baby soft and very much in a salt and pepper color!  I haven’t noticed ANY. SINGLE. BIT. OF. CURL………DANGIT!  I had sooooo hoped I’d have some ringlets!  Or at the very least a little bit of body!  I’m still holding out for that!  I want Melva Thompson hair! 🙂

short-hair.jpg

Here’s wishing each of you a wonderful rest of the week.  I challenge each of you to find some JOY in each day.  Even in the midst of chaos – look for the blessing that tucked away somewhere around the corner.  Choose to be optimistic rather than pessimistic…….choose to see the glass as half full rather than half empty……and by golly, be nice to yourself every now and then.  Right Tina Morris?  It’s okay to buy yourself a bouquet of flowers or treat yourself to something special.

But ya’ll……seriously……with all the crap that’s going on in the world around us……there’s a lot of bad stuff, but a heckuva lot of good stuff too……and we may not be able to do much but one thing we can all do is just BE KIND.  It’s just that easy.  Need some ideas?

https://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/30-ways-kind-and-happier.html

be kind

Choose kindness……..every time!

Blessings!

Sonja

Colossians 3:12-14 The Message (MSG)

12-14 So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

A Few of My Favorite Things

It’s been a little while since I last posted – but I am happy to report that I have been doing well and getting stronger each and every day.  My energy level is improving each day.  I’m ready to feel like my old self again.

CC was diagnosed with the Flu B on Sunday, so I was immediately put on Tamiflu in an effort to keep me well.

 

Yesterday I had someone share with me that a friend of theirs had recently been diagnosed with colon cancer…….and she asked me what were some of my favorite things that folks did for me.  We messaged back and forth with ideas, etc and she recommended that I do a blog post featuring my favorite things……she said “people want to help, but don’t always know how”.  Well here goes……..and these are in no particular order.

  • Meal Train – having friends arrange an on-line meal train was wonderful.  It allowed us to pick days we did or didn’t want meal deliveries.  On days when I felt like crap and didn’t feel like eating – at least there were meals here for CC and Hunter.  It was a true blessing.   https://www.mealtrain.com
  • Silk Pillowcase – a dear friend sent me a pink silk pillowcase and after I lost my hair from chemo.  Even though my hair is growing back now – I haven’t been able to give up my pillowcase!  https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=pink+silk+pillowcase
  • Chemo Bag – I bought a Scout Bag with several pockets and used that for my chemo bag.  Inside I packed the following:  blanket, phone charger, hand sanitizer, orange tic tacs (to help with the taste of saline when they flushed my port), snacks, lip balm, Cusomething to read, hand wipes, ACT lozenges for dry mouth, https://www.scoutbags.com/dippin-dots-pocket-rocket-pocket-tote-bag?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&adpos=1o6&UTM_campaign=general&scid=scplp16150&sc_intid=16150&gclid=Cj0KCQiAzrTUBRCnARIsAL0mqcwPnVAYXPwFymRa8-Apo-ruBdzfMIqe4dS4HNLe1Jd945nrydWFu-kaAjQQEALw_wcB
  • Transportation – having friends and family arrange to transport me to doctors appointments, chemotherapy sessions and radiation treatments was such a blessing.
  • Journal & great pens – having a journal to record visits, calls, thoughts, etc was very therapeutic.
  • Gift cards –  during chemo when I was battling with mouth sores, soups were about the only thing I could eat.  We have a deli in town that has a variety of soups.  I was gifted several rounds of gift cards there and they were such a blessing.  But gift cards in general are great – that would allow the family the ability to grab dinner on the go at times.
  • Books – hands down this was my favorite read.  https://www.amazon.com/Fight-Back-Joy-Celebrate-Greatest/dp/1617950890
  • Milkshakes – on days when eating just wasn’t in the cards……and nothing sounded good – a banana milk shake was my go-to.  I had folks call or text at random times to say “I’m in town, can I bring you a milkshake”?.  YESSSSS please!
  • Adult Coloring Books & Pencils – these offer a great escape when you’re sitting and waiting in the hospital.
  • Cute Caps – these are definitely a MUST – even if they lose their hair in the summer time, your head still gets cold.  Do you knit or crochet?  Even better!  Make them some super cute caps!
  • Lip balm –  chemo really really dried out my lips – so I kept lip balm on my nightstand, in the car, on the end table, in my coat pocket……..you get the picture.
  • Cleaning – whether you go and do a few loads of laundry or clean out the refrigerator – those are truly great gifts.  Or maybe you prefer to pay a cleaning service to come in and clean – that works too!
  • Port shirt – these are fantastic for chemo.  The zippers allow for super easy access to the port.  They come in several different colors and long and short sleeves!  http://www.survivorroom.com/chemo-port-accessible-womens-pink-long-sleeve-shirt-by-comfy-chemo/?utm_medium=googleshopping&utm_source=bc
  • Cards of Encouragement – I have received an enormous amount of cards since my diagnosis.  Some days I got a bunch and then some days just a few – but I treasured each one.  If you are a card sender – DO NOT underestimate the value of sending cards.  They are truly treasured!
  • Goody baskets – Gosh, I got my very first taste of Shari’s Berries last summer.  Can you say DELICIOUS???  Goodness these things were awesome.  https://www.berries.com  I also received a wonderful gift basket with lots of yummy goodness from NC.  NC Country ham, pancake mix, grits, and homemade preserves. Yummy!  These were gifts the entire family was able to enjoy!
  • Schedule some time to just hang out –  we really get sick of ONLY talking about cancer……I promise.  I remember one day a friend came by and had lunch with me and was sharing about a work issue.  She apologized for venting to me saying something like “you have cancer and here I am going on about this small issue”.  NO!!! I WELCOMED the distraction.  Cancer patients are still normal human beings.  We want to talk about kids, school, church, what’s going on in the world around us, vacation plans, etc.  Just schedule an hour or so to just come by, hang out and catch up.  Normal feels good.
  • Therapy lunches or getaways – i tried as much as possible to still have our weekly therapy lunches with my girls.  It didn’t always happen – but when I felt like it, we always tried to work something out.  Again – keep doing what you’ve always done.  And if the patient is well enough to sneak away for a few days – a girl or guys weekend away can do wonders.
  • Shop for a wig – losing my hair wasn’t such a big deal for me – but the idea of shopping for a wig was a little scary.  I was fortunate to have a wonderful friend from church who offered to take me to Raleigh to the Gallery of Wigs.  A trip I truly dreaded turned into SO – MUCH – FUN!  If you’re a great encourager – offer to take them shopping for wigs! https://www.galleryofwigs.com
  • Make life normal for the kids – this one was HUGE for me.  my son was 14 when I was diagnosed with cancer.  Fourteen is difficult enough on a good day – but factor in a mom battling cancer, and that just gets even more complicated.  Having folks offer to take my child places, do things with him, invite him to movies, games, etc – anything to get him AWAY from the house and the constant reminder of cancer.  That was a HUGE blessing to me.  So if you can borrow the kid for a play date, a day at the lake, a trip to get ice cream, movies, dinner out – ANYTHING…….I promise you if you are keeping their kids engaged, that’s blessing the patient also!

I’m sure I will think of many more ideas – but these were just the ones that stood out.  I will try to keep this page updated with ideas so the next time I’m asked, I can just send them a link to this post!   I can promise you that no act of kindness – no matter how small or great – will go unnoticed.  I was and continue to be thankful for everything that has been done for me and my family.  My “tribe” and my community showed up in big and small ways – and I am forever grateful!

I hope this list helps those of you who were looking for ideas.  And by all means – if any of you have great ideas you’d like to add, please send me a note and I’ll add your favorites also!

Blessings,

Sonja

Luke 6:38 New International Version (NIV)

38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Hebrews 13:2 New International Version (NIV)

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

Thankful, Grateful, Blessed

Well I enjoyed a wonderful two weeks with NOTHING on my calendar.  No appointments, no treatments……just NOTHING.  What a blessing that was.  I didn’t feel my best earlier in the week – I had some headaches, wasn’t sleeping great and just feeling yucky…..almost like I was trying to come down with something, but thankfully, that passed and I felt much better as the week went on.  I enjoyed a lot of Netflix time.

***Side note – if you have Netflix and HAVE NOT watched Parenthood……oh my……add that to your list of MUST SEE TV.  It really is an awesome show!!  Yeah – I mighta watched all 6 seasons in record time!  #allthefeels #missthebravermans #reallifestuff

Wednesday I had my follow-up appointment with my medical oncologist.  My blood work was incredible she said.  My potassium was a bit low – but other than that, everything looked fantastic.  Praise God!  My radiation burns are healing nicely.  The area under my arm pit is almost completely healed.

We discussed immunotherapy and she put me on Tamoxifen for the next 10 years.  I admit I was startled when she said 10 years – most folks I know that have taken Tamoxifen have only been on it for 5 years……but as we all know, things change.  There are new studies out indicating that studies have shown that taking tamoxifen for 10 years reduced the risk of breast cancer recurrence and death more than taking tamoxifen 5 years……so there ya go.

As with any drug – there’s a host of potential side effects…….so the plan is for me to start on the Tamoxifen and go back to the doctor in April to see how I’m tolerating the drug.  I hope and pray that I don’t have any issues with it – but she assured me there were other options for me if this one didn’t work out.

I will go back next month for a bone-density test.  So between follow ups with the surgeon, medical oncologist and radiation oncologist – my Duke My Chart is already full of return appointments set up for the rest of the year.  They said the first year is the worst – lots of follow-ups and return visits.  I will see the surgeon every 6 months for 2 years.  I’m already scheduled to return to the surgeon for a visit and a mammogram in May.  But……the hard stuff is behind me.  I can handle random appointments and tests for sure.

These last 9 months have seemed like an eternity and then they seem to have passed rather quickly.  So much has happened…….I have encountered so much GOOD over the past 9 months.  I have been loved on like nobody’s business.  From family, friends and folks I didn’t even know.  I have felt the overwhelming power of prayer – and the peace that only God can give us.  I’ve been moved to tears when I had friends say “I was up and down all night praying for you” and I’ve been the recipient of so much love and kindness in so many forms (cards, food, texts, visits, calls, gifts, money, transportation, prayers, etc).  I will be forever grateful…..and I know I got a little slack on thank you notes…..but please know that I appreciate every act of kindness that has been shown to me and my family during all this mess.

Several folks have asked if I”ll continue blogging.  My initial thought is this……I pray my life is uneventful enough that I won’t have much to say! 🙂  But……if you know me…….you know I’m typically not ever at a loss for words no matter how mundane and uneventful life may be.  So we’ll just see.  Stay tuned!

My prayer has been that God would take my MESS and turn it into a MESSage.……and for the rest of my life, I will continue to praise Him for the many ways He has blessed me always…….but especially over the past year…..and I will continue to share my personal testimony of how He saw me through one of the toughest battles of my life.  I have been praying for God to reveal to me my “purpose”…….and I trust that He will answer me……in His time.

Until next time,

Sonja

Acts 20:24 The Message (MSG)

22-24 “But there is another urgency before me now. I feel compelled to go to Jerusalem. I’m completely in the dark about what will happen when I get there. I do know that it won’t be any picnic, for the Holy Spirit has let me know repeatedly and clearly that there are hard times and imprisonment ahead. But that matters little. What matters most to me is to finish what God started: the job the Master Jesus gave me of letting everyone I meet know all about this incredibly extravagant generosity of God.