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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

 

 

Goodness Me!

Goodness me!  Has it really been MONTHS since I posted here?  Time has just flown by!  I have been feeling fantastic – and I guess that’s the biggest reason for no posts.  I’ve felt so good and stayed so busy “living” that……well, I just forgot!  And honestly, I count that as a HUGE accomplishment.

I’ve been working part-time at the Old Country Club Steak House since May…..just a few nights a week.  I started out really just to get up and out and moving…..hoping all along that it wouldn’t be too much…….and while I come home exhausted some nights, it has been a huge blessing for me!  I get to work with some FUN and fantastic folks…….we work hard, but we have fun in the process.  And I get to see lots and lots of folks!

Unexpectedly, I was approached about going back to work in the insurance business part-time.  While I wasn’t really “looking” to go back to work – sometimes, God just opens doors right before your eyes.  While I thoroughly enjoyed my time at home – it was time for me to get back at it – and I accepted a job working 3 days a week at Piedmont Security Insurance Co here in town.  Need some insurance?  Come see me!  Now I’ve got 2 jobs working with great folks.  God is good!

If I remember correctly, in my last post, I mentioned that I had begun working with a publishing company in hopes of turning my blog into a book.  Things were rolling along quite smoothly – until I got called on the carpet for my “potty mouth”.  The publisher was ADAMANT that I could NOT use certain words in the book.  That makes sense……I totally get that there must be some restrictions, etc.  HOWEVER, I had serious issues with not being able to say “gosh”, or “golly” or “crap”.  Are you freaking kidding me? !!!  After much debate and discussion, they refused to budge and so did I……. and I just said thanks but no thanks.  If I totally changed my language to suit them, then I was absolutely not being authentic and true to me!  Sooooo……then began the process of deciding what to do next.  Fortunately, I was referred to a wonderful publisher here in NC and I’ve submitted all the pieces and parts to them…….and we’re hoping for possibly an Oct/Nov publishing time frame.  How exciting!  And by the way – she was completely cool with my “potty mouth” – if you can call it that! 🙂

So life has been kinda hectic – but crazy good all at the same time!  It’s nice to be “back to normal” – if that’s possible! 🙂  Many would argue I’d never been normal!

The past few days have been difficult ones here in NC with the preparation/anticipation of Hurricane Florence.  Fortunately, we did not see much initial damage here – but goodness ya’ll, our friends and neighbors down east and in SC got pounded.  It’s been difficult to watch and read about.  This storm just sat on top of the NC coast for hours…….delivering devastating winds and rain.  So many have been displaced from their homes.  It’s just hard to wrap your brain around all the damage and devastation.  My thoughts and prayers go out to ALL of the victims and their families.  We are truly #NCStrong and we will bounce back from this……but it is going to take a long time.  Thankfully so many organizations have stepped up immediately to provide assistance in the relief effort.  I urge you to please help in whatever way you can.  As I lay in my warm, comfy bed last night – I had trouble sleeping just thinking about all the folks who have lost homes, businesses, etc.  I pray that God will see them all through the days and hours ahead.  But like Mr. Rogers’ mom told him……..”look for the helpers.”  Times like these tend to renew our faith in humanity…….seeing strangers help strangers…….giving and wanting nothing in return……..people truly being the hands and feet of Jesus.  And then today……seeing flooded roads all over the state…….but by the end of the day, we were reminded of God’s promise yet again, when he placed not just one, but two beautiful rainbows in the sky.

Here’s wishing you a great week…….do try to find something good in each day.  I promise it will make a difference!

Blessings,

Sonja

Isaiah 43:2 New International Version (NIV)

When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.

 

 

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Oh How Far I’ve Come!

Howdy friends!  I hope you are all doing well and enjoying your summer!  I have been missing in action a bit from my blog…….but there has been sooo much going on!  Hunter finished up another school year (how is it possible that he will be in 10th grade in the fall?), we started a kitchen renovation (sooo exciting)……my niece, Jalen, graduated from high school and immediately after school was out, we left for vacation!  And what a vacation it was!  We spent two whole weeks in Beaufort, NC and it was nothing short of wonderful.  We decided to try to make up for the fun times we missed last summer!  We fished, we hung out by the pool, enjoyed the beach, went to Sand Dollar Island and found lots of sand dollars, ate some fantastic food, enjoyed evenings on the deck playing cards, kayaked, read, did a little bit of shopping and just had a FANTASTIC time.  It was a wonderful vacation and all three of us enjoyed it immensely!

Fortunately, while we were away for two weeks, the contractors got LOTS done on our kitchen renovation.  We’re not quite done yet – but we should be wrapping things up in the next two weeks!  Hunter enjoyed a week at home and then he left on Sunday to spend a week in Rutherfordton, NC with our youth group on a mission trip with Appalachia Service Project.  These kids are having a wonderful time…..working hard and blessing others and having some fun in the process.  God is good!

Tuesday, I spent some time just re-reading through my blog posts from the past year.  WOW…….just WOW!  So much has happened in a short time!  It was quite cathartic reading over my posts……remembering vividly some of the days and others (thankfully) were not quite as vivid.  Time has a way of allowing us to forget some of the tough parts yet remember the good parts with clarity!

Dates……now that’s something that I don’t think I will forget.  One year ago today (June 28th, 2017) – I was at Duke Cancer Center preparing for my very first chemo treatment.  CC and Hunter both accompanied me on that very first day.  Kind of hard to believe it’s been a year all ready…….and when I look at myself now – twelve months later…..other than this crazy “hair grow” that I can do absolutely NOTHING with – you would never know I spent the last year in the fight of my life!  Praise the Lord!  What a difference a year makes!

Many of you may be in the middle of the “fight of your life” – whether it’s cancer or some other disease.  My advice to you is to stay the course…….give it all you’ve got……and keep your eyes on The Cross and the Good Lord.  He will NEVER EVER fail you.  I know that there is NO WAY that I could have survived the past year without God directing my path, calming my fears and surrounding me with a boat load of supporters and cheerleaders and prayer warriors near and far!  All I had to do was “show up” – and do (mostly) as I was told…..and the good Lord and my doctors took care of the rest!

Our message at church on Sunday was about David and Goliath.  Little ole David facing the massive Goliath with a pocket full of stones.  But size didn’t matter.  David carried the Lord with him into battle.  Just like God took care of David…….He will take care of you and me……we just have to believe in Him and step out on faith.  We all face different giants – maybe it’s sickness, depression, fear, financial issues, family concerns…..giants come in many shapes and sizes……but if you head into your battle with God on your side……..just like David, you, too, will claim victory!

This blog has been such an amazing source of therapy for me.  As I’ve said before, I started the blog with purely selfish intentions.  I knew that I just COULD NOT spend hours on the phone or answering emails updating folks on my condition.  A blog seemed like a one stop shop!  Type it all down once – and off it goes into cyber space for all to read if they so desired.  Boy……was I totally unprepared for the feedback I would receive on my blog.  Turns out it was being read by those who knew me personally and many who did not…….but my story resonated with them on some level.  Almost immediately I began receiving emails and texts thanking me for putting my story out there…..or folks messaging me to say they had their first mammogram or made an appointment for a check up…….. Who knew?

It’s been a running joke in my family for YEARS…….that my parents sent me to college and I majored in English with a concentration in Communications/Public Relations…….but had never really DONE anything that  truly utilized my education to the fullest.  And for several years, I’d spent a lot of time trying to figure out my PURPOSE.  Surely there was SOMETHING that God wanted me to do but I just couldn’t figure it out.  There had to be some way I could be used to further His Kingdom……..but I just never got my “neon sign” telling me what that something was……but I kept praying.

Isn’t that just like God…….to wait until I’m 50 years old……and diagnosed with breast cancer…..and SELFISHLY start a blog……to remind me that His hands were all over this?!  This verse from Esther has spoken to me loudly over the past year……

Esther 4:14 New International Version (NIV)

14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

Hmmm…..could it be?  I’d spent years trying to find my “purpose”…….could it be that my purpose was to share my breast cancer story?  But more importantly, could it be that my purpose was to share my breast cancer story and share the many many ways that God showed up and blessed me at one of the most difficult times of my life?  Yet here I am a year later…….fully recovered…….living life to the fullest…….and I continue to run into people who are so encouraging about this blog….as recently as Tuesday night!  Crazy!  Many have said “you need to write a book” or “you should turn this blog into a book” and I was like yeah – that’s a great idea…..BUT……and the BUTS were many…..

  • I’d never written a book before
  • Why would the general public be interested in reading my story
  • How do you even get started
  • Writing for friends and family is one thing – but publishing it – well, that’s another
  • I’m just a regular girl from Roxboro, NC – nothing special about me or my story
  • Thousands of others have fought this fight before me – why would I think my story is special
  • And so on, and on and on

Sure, I was enamored with the “idea” of writing a book and being an author – but…..

And the encouragement continued to come in…….from friends…….and family……..and strangers……..former teachers…….fellow survivors……..and I thought MAYBE……..just MAYBE I should give this some thought.  Maybe God was speaking to me by way of these folks and I was just too consumed by everything else to see it.

I knew straight away that IF I published a book, I wanted to publish it with a Christian Publisher.  That much was certain.  So after lots and lots of prayer…….I started researching publishers…….and collecting information…….LOTS of information……..and comparing those publishers…….and talking to other folks who had written books…….and asking for advice……and keeping all of this hush hush because I surely wouldn’t want anyone to know if I submitted a manuscript and it got REJECTED.  Lordy – let’s keep this super quiet.  What they don’t know won’t hurt them.

So my friends……….after LOTS AND LOTS OF PRAYER……..and consideration……..and encouragement……. I submitted my manuscript to 3 different Christian publishing houses…….and wouldn’t ya know – all 3 of them were willing to publish it.  Then began the arduous task of trying to determine how to choose between the three.  And as always…….God took care of that too.  One of the publishing companies came back to me with an exceptional offer……and I knew that was God’s way of pointing me in the right direction.

Now begins the process of editing……..and revising……and cover design…..etc.  I’m a bit overwhelmed………but I firmly believe if I continue to trust in God and let Him walk me through this process…….He will see me through to the end.  If my story can encourage JUST ONE person……then it’s worth it.  If I can use one of the toughest times in my life to  witness to others just how good God was to me during that fight and how many ways He blessed my family and me in ways we could never have imagined……..then so be it…..I will trust Him yet again to see me through this process.

such a time as this.jpg

Please pray for me through this process……..and ultimately, pray that God’s will will be done in and through this.

Blessings!

Sonja

1 Peter 2:21 New International Version (NIV)

21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

 

 

 

Progress Notes

Well, it’s been a minute since I last posted.  May always seems to be a crazy busy month especially when you have school-aged children.  Wrapping up the school year, awards banquets, dance recitals, Mother’s Day, sporting events.  Just a lot of stuff going on.  THANKFULLY I have been feeling great and felt like going and doing absolutely as much as I could.

I had my port removed on April 23rd.  I admit I had mixed emotions about taking it out (one reason why I’d delayed it as long as I did).  The port was such a blessing over the past year.  No arm sticks for blood work, chemo, meds, etc.  I was definitely spoiled by having such easy access.  I hated to give that up…….BUT…..having TRIUMPHED over my cancer meant that I wasn’t in need of weekly appointments, labs, etc, so I truly didn’t NEED the port any longer.  I guess in some ways, it was a sort of security blanket for me.  I just liked knowing it was there……JUST IN CASE.  The removal was quick and painless……and the incision healed up in no time and left a small scar.  Crazy as this sounds – I’m a little proud of my “war wound”.  When I run my hand over my chest, and I feel that small “bump”….it’s a great reminder of this entire ordeal.  These “temporary lumps” were just that……TEMPORARY…..and it’s time to move on.  But it’s nice having a reminder of where I was and just how far I’ve come.

One year ago today I had my first surgery to remove the mass.  I guess some dates will ALWAYS be easy to remember.  Last year at this time I was recovering from my surgery and getting ready to head back home.  Oh, what a year it has been.  Even so……I would not trade the blessings and lessons of this past year for anything.  “Cancer definitely TEACHES more than it TAKES” (this quote was stolen from my friend and fellow-warrior Melissa)!!

I’m having weekly physical therapy for my breast lymphedema.  Not sure how long that will go on…..the therapist has told me that once I’m done with PT, I will probably have to wear a special bra to help keep the lymphedema away.  Whatever it takes, right?  The lymphedema has caused some loss of range of motion in my left arm.  I started noticing difficulties when trying to take off my shirt that I just couldn’t raise that left arm as high as I needed to.

I had my one-year follow-up with my surgeon a few weeks ago and had my first mammogram since I completed all my chemo and radiation.  My surgeon was pleased with how my incision had healed, pleased with the way I tolerated all my treatments……and I got an ALL-CLEAR from my mammogram.  PRAISE THE LORD!  I will return to follow-up with her again in six months!  Hooray!

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of speaking at our local Relay For Life Kick-Off Meeting.  Yeah – I’ve told my story here non-stop……but this was the first time I’d stood before an audience and shared my cancer story.  It was actually pretty awesome!  If you’ve followed my blog – you know that I’m not often at a loss for words.  I always have plenty to say!  As I was preparing my speech for that night – I kept thinking of things I wanted to share and then I’d think “oh goodness, I wonder if this is going to be tooooo long”???  But the audience was gracious and allowed me to talk as long as I wanted to and I am very honored that they asked me to speak at their 2018 Kick-Off.  I met some new friends and was inspired by their fights as well.  Many of them are YEARS out from their diagnosis and they were such an inspiration to me!  Last week, I shared at church that I shared a little bit about my cancer in my speech……but I chose to spend most of my time sharing the many ways God blessed me and my family through this experience.  I told them that I felt like I had been given a perfect platform to share with others just how God showed up and carried me through the past year.

Since my last post, I’ve also learned of several other folks who have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and a few others diagnosed with other types of cancer.  One actually had surgery yesterday and is coming home today…….and the other will be having surgery soon.  Holy smokes…….it truly seems to be an epidemic!  I just can’t even………

When will this madness stop??  I believe you would be hard-pressed to find ANYONE who has not been affected by cancer either directly or indirectly.  That’s the thing about cancer…..one person is diagnosed with the “disease”, but the effects truly trickle down to everyone in their family and everyone that loves them in one way or another.

Our dog, Bella, lost a toenail a few weeks ago.  It bled a bit after she lost it, but everything seemed okay.  Several days later, we noticed her constantly licking that foot.  We thought perhaps it might be infected, and tried to doctor on it ourselves.  Eventually, a small “growth” appeared on her toe.  We took her to the vet and after examining her, the vet told us that she had a cancerous growth on her toe and she wanted to remove that toe ASAP.  Poor Bella.  It was the outer toe on her right front foot.  I asked the vet if she would be able to walk/run, etc after removing it and she said absolutely – she would probably not miss a beat.  My son, Hunter, was in the exam room with us when the vet gave us the news.  I’ll be honest – I wasn’t totally “surprised” by her diagnosis because I’d done a little research online and I was afraid it may be cancer…….but my heart immediately ached for Hunter.  I thought goodness gracious – he spent last year supporting a mom who was fighting cancer and now his faithful companion, Bella was being diagnosed with cancer.  Right after the doctor told us the news, Hunter spoke up and said “mama……you gave Bella the cancer”!  He and I just started laughing like crazy.  I don’t think the vet or the vet tech really knew how to take our warped sense of humor!  They amputated Bella’s toe, stitched it up and we brought her home later that day.  She was not herself for several days……she’d never been sedated or anything before….but she quickly returned to her old self.  Yes, she had to wear the “cone of shame” for 2 weeks and she was NOT a fan.  She was up and walking on her foot the very next day and has not missed a beat since.

conehead

So Hunter is wrapping up his 9th grade year of school.  I’m still in denial.  He’s 6’3″ tall now……but he’s still my BABY.  God truly blessed us with this kid.  He has been such a huge help and inspiration to me over this past year.  I’m so thankful for him.  He stretched himself this year academically…….he worked his butt off and he saw some amazing results.  His first AP class ever……and Mrs. Oakley told us at open house that her class would be like a college class…..and she held true to her word.  He learned the value of putting your time in…….daily……and reaping the rewards.  How are we down to only 3 years left before college???

I have been wanting to renovate my kitchen for several years but never pulled the trigger.  My mom told me last summer while I was at home recovering from surgery that I needed a “project” – something to keep me busy.  She said “why don’t you start thinking about your kitchen reno – you’ve got lots of time to think about ideas, colors, designs, etc”.  So I took her advice.  I contacted the designer and told her that I was just in the early stages of planning – and that there was NO WAY I could take on a project like this while going through chemo and radiation – so AT BEST it would be 2018 before we could start.  We got some ideas together, and came up with a game plan.  About a month ago, I called to tell them that I was ready…….it was finally time to get this thing in motion.  I spent several weeks getting things packed up and out of the cabinets.  Whoever knew you had so much STUFF???   Sooooo they started on the reno this week.  Monday was demo day!  My house is a complete disaster – but that’s okay.  I’m super excited to finally have this come to fruition.  And none of this would have been possible without ALL the input and ideas from Kelly, Trestney and Sue.  These girls have been nothing short of spectacular!

I’ve been doing well all things considered……but I did start having some pretty severe joint pain over the past week.  My hands/fingers/elbows/ankles and especially my hips were hurting like crazy…….and I really hadn’t done anything any different.  After a few days, I sent a note to my oncologist and she indicated it could either be post-chemotherapy rheumatism or due to hormonal changes since starting on Tamoxifen.  I dunnot what’s causing it – but golly gee, when I try to walk, I feel like I’m 100 years old.  The doctors recommended using ice, a heating pad and even herbal supplements like Tumeric, black pepper, etc.  I’m going to give those a shot and see if it helps.  I’ve talked to several other folks who are taking Tamoxifen as well and they’ve indicated they have endured or are enduring similar symptoms.  Goodness!  Praying that this, too, shall pass.

So how are you enjoying the holiday weekend?  No plans here.  It will be a very relaxing, low-key holiday for us……and we are all okay with that.  With one more week of school left……we’re all ready for a little break.  I pray that you enjoy your long weekend, however you choose to spend it.  Be sure to take some time this weekend and reflect and remember those folks (both MEN and WOMEN) who gave EVERYTHING they had while serving……fighting for the very freedoms you and I are enjoying today.

Blessings,

Sonja

Philippians 3:13-14 The Message (MSG)

Focused on the Goal

12-14 I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.

 

and in honor of Memorial Day 

Romans 13:7 New International Version (NIV)

Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

 

 

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.

 

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.