Just a few more days until Thanksgiving……..and while I’ve always loved Thanksgiving…….this holiday has taken on an even more significant meaning to me over the past few years. Thanksgiving 2020 marks three years since I finished up my chemo. So much has happened in those three years……I went on to complete radiation and get a clean bill of health. Every cancer patient’s favorite three letters are NED – No Evidence of Disease! I’m overjoyed to say that I have continued to show no evidence of disease since then! Praise God!
That’s not to say that there haven’t been some hiccups along the way……but all in all, I have done exceptionally well.
Thanksgiving of 2017 was definitely one to celebrate. I was more than thankful to have twelve rounds of chemo in my rear view mirror. Mostly, I wanted to be able to taste all the food I loved again! 🙂 I remember whining a bit that year because I was struggling with some mouth sores. It didn’t take my mom long to put me in check……and remind me how blessed I had been through all my treatments. She was right – but I was still not happy about the mouth sores!
Celebrating Thanksgiving that year was very humbling for me. I didn’t have to look far to realize just how blessed I had been, and that I had oh, so much, to be thankful for. Thankful to have half of my treatments behind me…….thankful to have survived chemo with minimal collateral damage……thankful to have been blessed with the support of friends and family…….thankful for AHHHmazing doctors and nurses…….thankful to live in such close proximity to a world class cancer center…..thankful for friends and folks I didn’t even know praying for me…..and thankful that God had healed me and allowed me the privilege to still be here.
I’ve struggled some this year with lymphedema in my left arm and breast. Along with that came a bout with cellulitis – but my doctors reacted quickly, got me in PT right away and later had me outfitted for an in-home lymphedema pump that I use daily for an hour of lymphatic massage. I had been doing really well until the last few weeks, and it flared up again……so I’m back in PT several times a week from now until the first of the year…….wearing that dang compression sleeve every day…….and a different compression sleeve at night…….and still doing the 60 minutes lymphatic massage an hour each day. It’s hard to believe that removing one dang lymph node has caused all these problems. Well, honestly, radiation did a number on my lymph nodes as well. In the grand scheme of things, I’ll take the excess lymphatic fluid over cancer ANY day!
So this week, as I celebrate my 3rd “anniversary” of completing chemo…..I have much to be thankful for! 2020 has been a most unusual year – and mostly we are all quick to list off the many ways that 2020 has sucked……and it definitely has…….but there’s been a lot of good things about 2020 as well. I know for us, the pandemic forced us to slow down and spent much more time TOGETHER at home, which has been really nice! We’ve had to be creative about how we do things and it’s forced us to think outside the box! I challenge each of you to focus on the good that 2020 has brought into your life.
I pray that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Enjoy time with your family and friends that are like family!
15-17 Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.
At the end of April, we were spending a weekend at the beach. I woke up one morning and was laying on my left side. Almost immediately, I realized my arm was sore and hurting. My initial thoughts were that I probably just slept on it wrong and it would work itself out. Later that day when I showered, it was still bothering me, and I noticed that it was difficult to raise my left arm when I was washing my hair. Once I got out of the shower, I was putting on my deodorant and my underarm was sore to the touch. Of course, a million thoughts start running through my mind……and I knew I needed to send my oncologist a message.
My doctor responded promptly and said it was probably lymphedema. She said that oftentimes, the first sign of lymphedema is aching of the arm. She said it was not likely that the aching was due to swollen lymph nodes, unless I was able to feel them. Then tend to be tender when they get large enough to feel. She recommended me taking some meds for a few days and if it was not better, to please let her know. would recommend trying some Tylenol and waiting a few days. If it does not get better, please let us know.
Three days later, even I was sure it was lymphedema. By this time, my left breast was also swollen. Another message to the doctor, and she sent me to see the lymphedema PT specialist and also prescribed me a compression sleeve and compression bra. Sounds like fun, huh?
The first of May, I was seeing the lymphedema PT. She measured my arm at different places to see how much it was swollen. She felt like I needed to get started on some PT right away and try to get the lymph fluid moving out of my arm and breast – thus began my frequent trips back and forth to Duke for PT. Eventually, I was measured and “fitted” for the compression bra and sleeve.
Meanwhile – the PAIN continued. It wasn’t unbearable ALL the time – but it was pretty constant. The pain was mostly isolated to the middle area of my bicep – which seemed really strange. My therapist gave me a make-shift compression sleeve to wear until my real one came in. That seemed to help some with the pain.
Week before last, I saw the physical therapist on Friday afternoon. He wrapped my arm that day with cotton and bandages and told me to wear it a day or so and then unwrap it. During this time, I started feeling more pain in my bicep area – but I just assumed it was because there was compression on that area. I took the wrapping off on Saturday night and all was well. I then put the make-shift compression sleeve back on to sleep in over night. When I woke up Sunday morning and took the sleeve off before I showered – my entire arm was red and inflamed and broken out in a rash. Ugh – not good. My husband felt like maybe it was a reaction to the make-shift sleeve – however, I reminded him that I had worn that sleeve multiple times and never had a problem. Fortunately, I had a PT appointment scheduled for Tuesday, so I knew we could address the rash then.
I knew pretty quickly when my PT guy looked at my arm that it wasn’t good. Because of the “rash” he wouldn’t do any therapy on my arm that day…..and he asked if it was okay for him to go grab my PA and have her take a look. Of course I didn’t mind. Well, my PA was not available, but he brought another PA in and she said that we definitely needed to have my medical oncologist come take a look…….and she came in and agreed that it was definitely infected, and she would need to call me in some antibiotics…..and said if it got any worse, to call her and I’d have to come in for IV antibiotics. Goodness…….I really don’t do anything half-ass!!!
Early the next morning, my oncologist called me to let me know what meds she had called in and she said she really wanted me to get them right away and get my first dose by lunch time so I could get in 2 doses that day. No problem. In talking with her I realized that my “infection” was, indeed, cellulitis. No bueno! And, of course, cellulitis can be very dangerous if not treated promptly. So…..THAT’S why my PT wouldn’t “massage” my arm the day before. He didn’t want to risk spreading the cellulitis throughout my body.
My sweet friend Paula said “now Sonja, how can this be…..you only had ONE lymph node removed…..you need to ask the doctor about this.” And I did. I’ve spoken with ladies who have had 14+ lymph nodes removed and never ever had any issues with lymphedema. Well – we learned way back in the beginning of this cancer mess that I am definitely in the 1%!! While I only had one stinking lymph node removed – I received 31 rounds of radiation. Several rounds of that radiation specifically targeted my lymph nodes. My team of doctors (med oncologist, rad oncologist and surgeon) agreed that IN MY CASE, it would be more effective to remove just the sentinel node and aggressively treat the surrounding lymph nodes with radiation since the cancer had invaded my lymph and vascular system. So yeah, I only had ONE STINKING lymph node removed……but they dosed me up pretty good all around my breast and under arm area…….which, unfortunately for me, has caused issues with my lymph nodes draining as they should.
Sooooo because of all of this, my PT recommended that I get a lymphedema pump. What is that, you say? Well, yes – it IS a thing. A most unusual thing at that. It is a pneumatic compression device used to stimulate the lymphatic system. So basically – it’s this really strange contraption that I wear on my thighs/abdomen/chest/arm and lay down for an hour and the machine “massages” my lymphatic system. I won’t dare try to explain it all – it’s way over my head – but here’s an excerpt from the company’s website that says what I can’t…..
The system features a programmable controller unit with numerous program options to meet individual patient needs. When activated, the air chambers sequentially inflate and deflate, creating a wave-like motion that directs lymph fluid from areas of impaired lymphatic function toward healthy regions of the body where it can be absorbed and processed naturally. Inflation lasts just a few seconds per chamber. Only one chamber is fully inflated at any one point in time, providing a treatment sequence and duration similar to manual therapy.
So this “pump” finally arrived on Saturday, however, I was unable to start using it until the cellulitis cleared up. Today I finished up my antibiotics, and there was NO REDNESS and NO PAIN in my arm – Praise the Lord! So today, I was able to use the lymphedema pump for the first time. And ya’ll – it was like the hot mess express over here.
Hunter, bless his heart, had to help me get velcro’d into the suit – which is no easy task. I’m hoping it’s going to get a little easier as we go – but we struggled a little bit today! This pump is hooked up to a control box that has been pre-programmed for my specific needs……and a “session” lasts a full 60 minutes. Right now, they want me to do this 2xs a day. It wasn’t as bad as I thought. It was actually quite relaxing.
However, I am proud to say that I was able to complete two 1-hour sessions today. So I am hopeful that this crazy looking contraption will help keep the lymphedema away! At minimum, it will allow me to do this at home and not spend so much time on the road and in the doctors office. Granted – I love my folks at the Duke Cancer Center……but I prefer my visits to be few and far between these days!
It’s been a long month for sure……lots of doctors visits and tests and PT and more PT…..but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
So now you probably know more about lymphedema than you ever cared to. Trust me – I wish I didn’t know about it……but it’s a small price to pay for being here and being otherwise healthy.
Thanks for all your calls and texts and prayers and cards. They mean so much.
Our world needs our prayers more than ever right now. So much hate and dissension. People of ALL colors are hurting and only ONE person can heal those hurts……and that’s Jesus. My heart is burdened for so much and so many right now……friends and family and church members – so many are hurting and I pray that they are leaning on God during these difficult times.
One of my favorite quotes is this:
Kindness matters ya’ll. And I love that this quote is done in many different colors……just like the many different colors of God’s children. And no matter who we are or where we are – if we all just tried to spread kindness – just a little bit each day…….can you imagine what our world and our lives would be like? It’s not that difficult……and doesn’t cost a thing.
Did you know that kindness releases “feel good” hormones? Who doesn’t like to feel good? Here’s some ways I’d like to challenge you to show kindness to others you encounter…….
share a smile 🙂
hold the door for someone
text someone who has been on your heart
genuinely THANK the cashier at the grocery store
leave a note for the mail carrier thanking them for their extra effort
run errands for a sick neighbor/friend
give someone a ride
invite a friend over for dinner
say hello to strangers in the elevator
You get the picture!! Being kind is not that difficult!
How are you going to show kindness to someone tomorrow? Make it a priority! You will bless someone else – and yourself as well!
Micah 6:8 NASB He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?
Well, it’s been a while since I last posted and that’s a good thing! Life has been full of all kinds of craziness (even before COVID19) and we’ve all been doing well, staying healthy and active……..and then…….CORONA!
Never would I have dreamed that in 2020, we would be living like this. Goodness – we were supposed to be traveling around like The Jetsons (I apologize for those of you who are too young to get that reference)……not being quarantined to our homes under “stay at home” orders!
This post isn’t directly about COVID19……..but it kinda is.
You see, one of my best friends is in the battle of her life right now. She was diagnosed last November with 2 different types of breast cancer (a different type in each breast) and has undergone a double mastectomy, a plethora of tests and scans, and just today completed chemo#5 and has just ONE more to go – Praise God!
Lord knows she needs to stay healthy so she can wrap this chemo up and move on to the next phase of her treatment. When you are going through chemo, you know the your immune system is already compromised, so you try to be as diligent as you can to protect yourself from germs and stay as healthy as possible. I can’t imagine how she’s felt going through chemo in the middle of a pandemic! But the absolute LAST thing she needs is to catch ANYTHING……so she has sheltered in place at home only getting out to go to treatment or doctor’s appointments…….and she is about at her wits end!! I honestly cannot imagine! I know first hand how important surprise visits were during those long days at home…….and those visits just aren’t possible right now. I have struggled immensely trying to figure out how to be a cheerleader in the middle of this Corona chaos. Sometimes you just need to sit on the couch with your friends and a bag of Doritos and a pint (each) of ice cream and have “girl time” and laugh and or cry together!!
Thank God for texting and phone calls and Zoom sessions though! Human interaction is such a vital component of recovery! Real friends send you a last minute text saying we need to chat…….and real friends happily get up out of bed to attend a last minute Zoom meeting! No makeup – no hair – no judgement!
It was just 3 short years ago (June 2017) when I started my chemo treatment. It seems so long ago, and then it doesn’t – so many of the memories are still so vivid in my mind…….and at the same time, “chemo brain” has made some of the parts a little “foggy” – and that’s probably a blessing! Medicine changes quickly – and the medical community is constantly coming up with new and innovative ideas…….and one of those new trends is having the patient keep both their feet and hands in tubs of ice in an effort to reduce (or eliminate) the effects of neuropathy on chemo patients.
Ya’ll, I’ve just got to brag on my friend Paula here. Her husband sent me this picture of her today……and I had to smile through my tears. This girl is one tough cookie! I honestly do not know how she does it. Her infusions are lengthy…….and somehow she is able to keep her feet and hands in those tubs of ice for the entire time! I. CANNOT. IMAGINE!!!
SHE…….is a rock star!
See what I mean? I just want to go hug and squeeze on her for doing the impossible and I can’t! This deserves to be celebrated – and in a BIG way…..with chips and queso and mango margaritas!!! Damn you COVID19!!!
Paula – I am so proud of you! I know that this absolutely HAS NOT been an easy road, but girl – the finish line is in sight!
Another friend was recently diagnosed with cancer and because she had to have some surgery in the middle of this pandemic, her doctors were adamant that she not have ANY visitors after she returned home. Breaks my heart. I know it’s for her own good – but goodness, if you’ve been given a cancer diagnosis, you really need the love and support of your tribe and community……and I just hate that I’m not being able to be there with her. So I text her……and call……and drop off goodies outside for her – but it’s just not the same!
I understand our need to practice “social distancing” – but it sure is hard for a people lover like me! It’s so hard to feel like you are “supporting” others when it’s from a distance. Cheering from the sidelines is one thing – but cheering/supporting those going through difficult times during COVID19 has been quite the challenge! Sure, I can pray from a distance – or call/ text or send a card…… but for me, it just doesn’t seem like “enough”.
My heart breaks for those who have had family members in the hospital for emergency surgeries and they have not had any one there with them……..and so many have lost loved ones during this time and are unable to receive friends or have visitations, etc. And if they are able to have a funeral, it has to be limited to 50 attendees. The COVID19 just makes a difficult/sad situation even worse!
Have you been cheering someone on during this pandemic? If so, how have you done it? Unusual times cause us to have to think outside the box…….so I’d love to hear how you have cheered others on from the sidelines. Please feel free to comment and share your ideas!
Here’s praying you and your family are safe and well…….and here’s hoping that we won’t be cheering from the sidelines too much longer!
**I shared this post earlier on my Facebook Page……and wanted to share it on my blog as well.**
So I felt compelled to share some friendly recommendations:
If you know someone who has recently been diagnosed with cancer – most importantly – show them some grace. The world as they knew it just turned upside down and chances are, they are struggling to adjust to this news and figure out just what this means for them…..and their families. And while they are struggling with this – their calendar is filling up with tests and scans and appointments. It’s a lot of information and change all at once. Allow them to feel however they feel. Their feelings are valid – and they can be sad or hurt or disappointed for a while…….but it’s our job as friends and family to pray them through those difficult times and encourage them to move forward. The timing is different for every single person.
Offer SUPPORT. That can be through prayers, phone calls, texts, emails, cards, meals, transportation, running errands, cleaning house, help with kids, etc. That support is invaluable to the patient and it’s important to know that some people struggle ASKING for help. Don’t wait to be asked. OFFER the help.
Make sure any “stories” you share with them are ENCOURAGING. Don’t be a Debbie Downer – they need to hear uplifting stories, not those that are going to discourage them. If you can’t say something nice (encouraging) – don’t say anything at all.
Stay in touch. Not just at the beginning – but through the entire fight. Be that friend who sticks around til the end. Folks are often bombarded with support during the first few weeks…….and then that support often dwindles over the coming weeks. It can be as simple as saying to them “I don’t know what to say – but please lknow that I am here for you.” Be that person who checks in often…….shows up unexpectedly…….and rides in the passenger seat until they reach the finish line!
Get the patient OUT OF THE HOUSE! When the patient is having good days and feeling good – offer to drive them to the grocery store, or the park, or just on a drive around town. Any trip that is NOT cancer related. Be aware, however, that almost instantly, they may tire and need to return home. And you technically don’t have to leave home – on pretty days, get them to sit outside on the deck and enjoy the sunshine…..or a cool breeze.
This is a big one ya’ll…….so take note……
DO NOT…….I repeat DO NOT give unsolicited advice. I had a boss once who often said “ free advice is usually worth what you pay for it”. Keep your personal opinions to yourself. Do NOT judge the patient for the decisions they make regarding their doctors, treatments, surgeries, etc. Because let’s be honest – UNLESS YOU, TOO, have been diagnosed with cancer – you cannot possibly understand. No disrespect is intended……but you have no idea of the multitude of factors that go into determining the best course of treatment for each individual patient. Things like age, type of cancer, stage of cancer, was it invasive or not, hormone receptors, what are the chances it may recur, what did their genetic testing reveal, if we do option A, then chemo won’t be needed, or if we do option B, that means more radiation. There is no “RIGHT” or “ WRONG” choice to make. It is strictly up the individual and their doctors what the best course of action is IN THEIR PARTICULAR SITUATION. And I’m going to get a little personal here……but in the case of a woman diagnosed with BREAST CANCER……the decisions that SHE makes regarding what is best for HER and HER BREASTS are not up for discussion!! PERIOD. You don’t get to say “why didn’t she have a mastectomy” or “i would NEVER consider removing my breasts”, or “well why WOULDN’T you do this or that”. NOOOOO. This is HER body and HER decision. It’s your job to support them – whatever those decisions are.
For me personally, I’d always said if I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I would definitely have a double mastectomy. And I felt that way when I was initially diagnosed. HOWEVER, after all the pathology was done, and we sat down with the surgeon and she explained ALL of my options. It became clear to me that I would be able to achieve the same end results with a lumpectomy. When given the facts and figures – it just made sense FOR ME!! And when first diagnosed with cancer, I assumed I would have reconstruction surgery at some point. Fortunately, the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act of 1998 is a Federal Law that basically allows women to have reconstruction surgery after breast cancer. This wasn’t always the case – insurance did not always cover this. https://www.cms.gov/…/Other-Insurance-Prote…/whcra_factsheet
However, my radiation doctor advised me to wait 2 years after completing treatment to make a decision. Two years? Turns out she was right. My breast was swollen at one point due to lymphedema in my breast…….and radiation tends to shrink the breast and even make it more firm. I’m just now getting to a place where I would feel like I’m as “normal” as I’m going to get after surgery and treatment. And truth of the matter is – my surgeon did a fantastic job with my two lumpectomy surgeries and lymph node excision. There is very little overall change in my breast……and for ME – at this point in time, the thoughts of another surgery, more doctors appointments, etc, etc., just do not appeal to me. But i wholeheartedly reserve the right to change my mind at any point in the future – and I’m thankful that the current laws allow me that luxury.
So if you have stayed with me to the end – thank you. And I hope that you will share these recommendations with others……and I hope that you will be the friend that sticks around to the finish line. I know first hand what that looks like – and I’m super thankful for those that walked alongside me every step of the way.
It sure has been quiet around here for the last week or so. I am MORE than ready to squeeze that young’un of mine…..they are wrapping up their trip today with a stop at Victoria Falls (one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World). Can’t wait to see pictures of the falls for sure! Tomorrow, they start the LONG journey home. Pray for safe travels, on-time flights and no missed connections!
Several months ago – I noticed a small but crusty scab on the left side of my chest. At first I didn’t think so much of it……but after awhile, it didn’t appear to be going away, and it was often painful to the touch. And ohhhhh was it itchy. I’d catch myself scratching it in the middle of the night.
I was able to get an appointment with my dermatologist, who checked out the area and felt that it needed to be biopsied. She took a sample of the spot and sent it off for testing. They called me a week later to inform me that the spot was a squamous cell carcinoma. Since my breast cancer was in my left breast, and this skin cancer was on my left chest area – my first question was “are these related”? The dermatologist quickly let me know that they were two completely different types of cancers and totally unrelated to each other. She did, however, ask me if I had radiation as part of my treatment. I advised her that yes, I had 31 rounds of radiation. She advised me that it was possible that the skin cancer was a result of the intense radiation because at the end of the day, radiation burns are basically a really bad sunburn. Go figure.
My doctor said that the skin cancer needed to be removed and I had two options. They could do it in their office. They would remove the skin cancer and send off for pathology. If they got clear margins, all would be fine…..but if they did not, I’d have to come back and repeat the process. Option #2 was to see Dr. Jonathan Cook at Duke who specializes in MOHS surgery. Basically, you go to his office prepared to stay as long as it takes. He removes the skin cancer, sends you back to the waiting room and the lab runs the pathology while you wait. If he gets clear margins the first time, then they can stitch you up and send you on your way. If not, then they bring you back in and continue the process until they get clear margins.
For me – it was a no brainer. I’d prefer to have it all done in one sitting and not have to wait weeks in between for results, etc. I personally knew of several folks who had been to Dr. Cook and had excellent results. I was also advised that he was booked 3-4 months out so it would be awhile before I could see him. That was okay – I would just have to wait.
Imagine my surprise when Dr. Cook’s office called me last Friday to schedule my appointment and say that they had an opening on Wednesday at 10:00 am. I would have to rearrange a few things on my calendar, but I was willing to do that in exchange for not having to wait 3-4 months for an appointment.
My neighbor went with me to the appointment. My appointment was scheduled for 10:00 am and goodness there was a ton of folks in the waiting room. Some coming in for their first appointment, some coming for suture removal or check ups. I sat and watched patients come in and out of the waiting area. The nurse came by later and advised me that they were running about an hour behind schedule, but they would get to me as quickly as they could. ALL OF THIS had been plainly spelled out in the paperwork the doctor’s office sends. They explain that waiting is part of the plan. Dr. Cook does not rush with his patients. He treats everyone as if they are the only patient he’s seeing that day. It’s difficult for them to predict how many folks each day will need to come back for a second (or third) excision – so you are advised early on to come prepared to stay all day (or as long as it takes). For me – the possibility of having to spend the entire day there was not a problem. It was more than a fair trade-off for being able to get everything taken care of on the first go round.
Eventually, it was my turn to go back and have the procedure. The nurses and staff were excellent. Dr. Cook came in and introduced himself and asked me if I had any questions about the procedure. He also wanted to emphasize to me that this skin cancer was in NO WAY related to my breast cancer. He looked at the spot on my chest and said it was definitely a squamous cell carcinoma, but he would take care of it. The nurses numbed me up and got me prepped and literally in a matter of minutes, Dr. Cook announced that he was done. The nurses dressed the site and I went back out to wait.
It was after 3:00 pm when the nurse called me back for the results. As soon as I got through the doorway, she said “good news – he got it all on the first attempt”. Praise God! After a few pictures for their records (they take ALOT of pictures – before, after excision, after sutures are in place). Next they put me in a freezing cold room and stitched me up. Dr. Cook did most of the stitches under the skin with just a few top-stitches at each end. I was a bit taken back by the size of the excision but thankful that it was officially removed from my body.
Last night, CC told me that Dr. Cook had called him about 7:00 pm to check on me. Seriously? Who does that anymore? He wanted to make sure I was doing okay. Wow – we were both blown away that after a full day of surgeries (goodness knows how many) that at the end of the day, he took the time to call his patients to make sure all was well. That right there is extra-special in my book. Thankfully – I’ve had no pain. There’s some tightness in my chest from the stitches – but no pain at all.
So if you find yourself needing an awesome dermatologist who specializes in MOHS surgery – I would highly recommend Dr. Jonathan Cook. I’ve seen lots of his work – and I think he’s secretly a plastic surgeon as well. He does some pretty work.
Psalm 56:3 New Living Translation (NLT)
3 But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.
So this past week, I did a thing…….on Wednesday morning, I drove my 16 year old son to RDU Airport and sent him off with 2 other youth and 6 adults to Zimbabwe, South Africa.
He’s flown plenty of times – and he’s travelled without his parents before – but he’s NEVER……EVER travelled 8,000+ miles from home!
In the good ole’ days, you could go with your family member to their gate and say your goodbyes and watch them walk onto the plane and then take off to their destination. Not so much anymore. For starters, the airport was PACKED at 5:00 am on a random Wednesday. Who knew?! And by the time the group checked in, got boarding passes and headed to the line for security – the line was incredibly long. Three of us parents stood in line with the group as long as we could…….and then we stood and watched them go through the security checks…….and then they were gone……out of sight…..and on their way. I couldn’t leave the airport just yet though. My biggest fear of this entire trip was knowing I wasn’t going to be along to keep up with his passport, boarding passes, money, etc. I texted Hunter quickly and said “send me a picture showing me your passport, etc in your hands” – and he immediately responded with this pic!
And just like that, the group was on their way to JFK in NYC and then they headed to South Africa……a mere 15 hour plane ride. With the travel time, connecting flights, and time difference – it was 1:30 pm on Thursday before I heard from him again. Talk about a long day and a half! We knew they had landed safely because we tracked the flight online – but I sure was glad to hear from him via text and to also get to talk with him – even if the connection was spotty, at best.
So what’s my kid doing in South Africa? He is traveling with our pastor and his wife, and 4 other adults from our church along with his youth friends, Jackson and Melissa. Our church has partnered with Zoe Empowers several years ago – and we’ve been supporting “working groups” of orphans in Zimbabwe and this trip was to go and meet with the groups, learn about the different ways they learning to be self-sufficient. “Zoe Empowers equips orphans and vulnerable children to overcome extreme poverty by addressing multiple barriers simultaneously.” So what’s my kid doing in South Africa? He is traveling with our pastor and his wife, and 4 other adults from our church along with his youth friends, Jackson and Melissa. Our church has partnered with Zoe Empowers several years ago – and we’ve been supporting “working groups” of orphans in Zimbabwe and this trip was to go and meet with the groups, see the different ways they are learning to be self-sufficient. They will be able to see first hand, how the Zoe Empowers model is changing lives not only socially, but also economically and spiritually too!
“Groups that are visited perform much better. Your encouragement lifts the heads of orphans and their businesses thrive.”
Zoe Empowers was initially started in 2004 as a Christian response to the humanitarian crisis left in the wake of HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa. Zoe Empowers website states that over 380 million children are trapped in the cycle of poverty. Zoe gives these orphans a “hand up” rather than a “hand out” – and empowers and equips them to overcome the cycle of poverty. I strongly urge you to check out their website to learn more about this awesome organization https://zoeempowers.org
So, since our group arrived in Zimbabwe last week, they have been spending time visiting the 1st, 2nd and 3rd year working groups over there and spending time encouraging them, loving on them and learning how they are supporting themselves. Hunter says some of the areas they are visiting take an hour or more to travel to (by bus).
One day, while Hunter was explaining to me about the different “households” – some are all orphan children, some may have a grandparent living with them – but to hear your teenager say “mom, it’s like they’re missing a whole generation – the parents”. That’s hard to wrap your head around……..an entire generation of the population there is gone!
The group has been sending pictures – and the one thing that quickly caught my attention was the fact that ALL of these kids were smiling…..not fake “posed” smiles – but real, authentic, genuine smiles. These kids have very little by way of “possessions”, they are orphaned and living in very sparse conditions – but these kids are genuinely happy.
Our group was told that many of these kids have probably never seen white people before! Living in the USA – we are accustomed to seeing people of all nationalities on a regular basis!
One of the adults said to me via text today that every one they had encountered in Zimbabwe had been so dang sweet. Not just a few – but everyone!
There’s part of me that sad that I’m not with our group and experiencing this first-hand…….but then it’s also pretty cool to be able to allow Hunter to experience this on his own without mom or dad around. I am confident we won’t pick up the same kids at the airport on Saturday. There’s no way a trip like this doesn’t change you! I’m so thankful they were given the opportunity to be a part of this life-changing trip.
Yep…..this vacation has been awesome and full of lots of “S” therapy.
Lots of rest, relaxation, no agendas……just flying by the seat of our pants.
Two years ago during vacation, I was enjoying every minute of it knowing that I would be starting chemo once I returned. Two years. It seems like forever ago and then again it seems like it was just last week.
It’s so crazy how I can look back now and see that cancer never really “had” me. Cancer took a year of my life – from diagnosis, to treatment and recovery. I could be pissed that I spent a full year of my life here on earth battling that mess……or I could be grateful that I ONLY spent one full year of my life fighting it. Perspective……..it’s all about perspective.
Coming to the beach sparks so many memories now. Savoring all kinds of foods the week before chemo began, cause who knew how things would taste afterwards. Spending that last week with my two best guys…..just the three of us, before our lives turned upside down. Learning to slow down and really “live” in the moment. Sitting and staring at the ocean and being reminded with each wave or change of the tides, that God was and is in control. It reminds me of where I was…….and just how far I’ve come…..by the grace of God.
The ocean gives me pause to relax…….reflect……recharge……redirect…..remember……
For me, the ocean brings a lot of healing. Spiritual, physical, mental and emotional healing. My Papa always said that “salt water cured everything”. He was right on the money! That salt water combined with the ocean breeze in your face, well, that’s some awfully good medicine! For just awhile, the ocean allows me to escape the rat race……the hustle and bustle of the daily grind…..and just be at one with God and his beautiful creations.
I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with some great friends in the area as well…..it’s always so delightful to catch up with them. I thank God for placing these wonderful folks in my life. None of our meetings were by chance – but rather, intricately designed by God – of that I am sure.
Hope you enjoy these pictures of my “S” therapy…….
I threw a handful of books in the car before leaving home. I had a few friends that I wanted to share copies with, and I had the pleasure of visiting two local bookstores in the area and left copies of my books with them. Who knows……perhaps there’s some folks down east who need to be encouraged as they embark on their fight – whatever that fight may be.
My book, Temporary Lumps, is available on Amazon, and it’s also now available as an e-book.
Sending lots of prayers for some special friends are now in the middle of their own cancer battle. I hate hearing that word! But I know that God will guide each of them and give them “just enough” to get through each day. Much love to all of you!
Here’s hoping you take time for some of your own therapy……whatever that looks like for you. Take some time to sit back, relax, and enjoy God’s creation. You will be glad you did.
Jeremiah 31:35 New International Version (NIV)
35 This is what the Lord says,
he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the Lord Almighty is his name:
Well I couldn’t let May 2019 come and go without mentioning a few things……
May 1, 2019 marked 2 years since my initial cancer diagnosis. Isn’t that crazy? Two whole years? It almost seems impossible!
And I know this is going to sound crazy……but when you have spent a year or more in the fight of your life…..with a calendar full of doctor’s appointments, tests, chemo, radiation and who knows what else…….you grow to be thankful for those days of no appointments. And suddenly, the days turn into weeks and even months. Can I tell you that I was blessed to go from December 18, 2018 to May 7, 2019 without a single doctor’s appointment! Can you believe it??!! That is a total of:
… or 20 weeks
… or 4 months & 19 days
Four months and 19 days away from Duke Cancer Center. What a blessing! I had my diagnostic 3D mammogram done on May 7th. The technician took the first set of film…….sent me out to the waiting room…….called me back for more pictures at my incision site……and sent me back to the waiting room. Eventually they called my name, handed me a sheet of paper with my results on it and said I was free to go……all was well! 🙂
Here’s the actual note from the radiologist:
The lumpectomy site shows no mammographic evidence of recurrent malignancy. There are no suspicious masses, calcifications, or other findings in either breast.
Impression No mammographic evidence of malignancy. RECOMMENDATION: Mammo Diagnostic in 12 Months is recommended for both breasts. The exam was electronically reviewed by a staff physician. The patient has been or will be contacted. BI-RADS: 2 – Benign
Praise God! I was elated that everything checked out fine! Then, the next week on May 15th, I had my 6 month follow-up with my surgeon. Again – all good news! Halleluiah! And she asked if I would be okay if she put me on a 12 month follow-up plan. Are you kidding me?! Heck yeah, I’m okay with that! God is so good!
Now, the next appointment I have on the calendar is a follow-up with radiation-oncology, but that won’t be until September……so I get yet another break from constant doctor’s appointments. God is good!
This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of hearing two friends share their testimony at a local church. Talk about God-signs and God providing. Their story is quite powerful. If you need some encouraging today – take the time to listen to these testimonies and see just how intricately God handled all the details to have these two lives intersect and how that intersection become a truly life-changing encounter! Here’s the link to the audio file!
Today, I had the chance to sit and visit with a friend who was recently diagnosed with cancer. As awful as it is to hear the word cancer, I was blessed to be able to just sit and share the good, the bad and the ugly of a cancer diagnosis…..but as we were sitting down having lunch, I told her that she probably couldn’t see it now……but when she has hear treatment behind and life back to normal…..I assured her that she WILL be able to look back and see how this crazy cancer was much more of a blessing than a curse.
Last night I was talking with my pastor after a meeting at church…..and I told him that if I could design my perfect “job” – it would be one in which I could be a cheerleader and encourager for others going through their own cancer battles. I just think that would be pretty awesome. I was so blessed with people taking me to treatments, sending cards, texts, meals, etc. I just want to pay that forward and do the same for others walking down that scary path. I’m a good listener, a really good talker, an excellent driver, and I’m not such a bad cook……there are many ways that I can pay it forward, and I am going to do that every chance I get.
Today, while visiting with my friend, she shared with me that we were both in the same place a few weeks ago – and it was before she had shared with anyone about her diagnosis. She felt sure I caught her staring at me – but truthfully, I didn’t notice. She told me today that she was looking at me, knowing that I had recently been through a similar fight, and she was encouraged to see me out and about and just living life. She said she told her husband if I could do it, she could too! And she’s exactly right! She has a great attitude and she is going to show cancer a thing or two, I’m quite sure!
When I visit with folks who have recently been diagnosed with cancer, I love that I can offer them a copy of my book as a form of encouragement. I honestly love gifting the books – I feel like that was one of the main reasons God laid it on my heart to publish the book was to share with others and offer encouragement to them.
So it’s been a minute or two since I last posted. It seems that there just aren’t enough hours in the day! Life has been great – and quite busy, but that’s a good thing!
In my last post, I talked a lot about “living” after cancer. And while every day is not full of unicorns and fairy dust – they are not all bad either. I didn’t intend to sound as if I were complaining – but rather just being honest about the difficulties of some days. Thankfully, there’s plenty of good days sprinkled in that I can focus on those days instead. I wasn’t posting those things for sympathy or pity – but rather to give you an honest look at a day in the life AFTER cancer!
This has been the craziest few months. Literally, after boat loads of doctor’s appointments after doctor’s appointments…….I am ELATED to report that I have not had a single cancer-related doctor’s appointment ALL YEAR! I find myself constantly checking my calendar because it feels sooooo weird to have so much time in between appointments – but that is a GOOD thing! I made it until last week without a trip to ANY type of doctor in 2019, but I did have an eye exam last week. Gosh, it sure is nice to not have weekly appointments any more! My next scheduled appointment is in May and I have a mammogram followed by a check-up with my surgeon. I’ll take it!
So we had big celebration earlier this month. Hunter celebrated his 16th birthday on March 14th! I simply cannot believe my “kid” is old enough to be driving. He got his license on his birthday and has been loving the freedom that comes with being able to get himself where he needs to be. I’ve prayed a lot – asking God to keep him safe – and for him to make good decisions and look out for the other crazy folks on the road. It feels weird NOT having to take him to school, or to scouts – or anywhere. But I do love that he can now run errands for me if need be. I’ve got a feeling he’s not going to LOVE the running errands part – he’ll just have to suck it up!
Last weekend, I was invited to Rocky Mount to share my testimony at Englewood UMC’s Spring Tea. It was a lovely event with lots of vendors, wonderful testimonies and music and a delicious meal. God was surely present that day and while none of us knew what the others were speaking on……it was awesome to see just how God took care of intertwining every detail from the testimonies shared to the music selection for the event. Just one of those times when all you can do is just smile and shake your head and said “I KNOW that was YOU God” because there is no other explanation for it!
Here’s a picture of the beautiful backdrop for the event. “Spring with me to the Lydia’s Sisters Tea”.
The room was decorated beautifully. Gorgeous china adorned the tables along with tea pots filled with fresh flowers. What a wonderful day sharing God’s blessings with a room full of sisters in Christ.. I am very thankful to Amy Quigley for inviting me to come and participate in this annual event. I am always happy to share my story and tell of all the wonderful ways God blessed me in the middle of my cancer chaos. I give Him all the praise and glory for my healing and feel that it is my duty to share with as many people as I can!
I’m excited to share that I’ve been asked to participate in Piedmont Community College’s “Step Into the Arts” event next Friday, April 5th. I’ve been invited to do a book reading and question and answer session and I’m super excited to participate! This will be a first for me – but again, I’m excited to share my book and my story any way that I can. If you don’t have anything on your calendar next Friday evening, come on out to the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex and join us!
So as you can see, life around here is pretty busy……. but I wouldn’t want it any other way. And no, I am not on the go all the time. I am extra thankful for the one day each week that I have off from work. Most weeks, I take that day to just rest and relax and take care of odds and ends around the house. I am pretty dang good at resting (if you don’t believe me, just ask my husband)!
Today was one of those “rest” days! I rested up most of the day in preparation for a “girls day” date with my sweet young friend, Hollyn. Hollyn knows I don’t get to do “girl stuff” very often, (being the mom of a teenage boy)……so she recommended that we have a “girls day” and get our nails done and hang out……and we did just that. I picked her up after school and we headed to Tricia’s for a few iced coffees. Next we went to the nail salon where she got a manicure and I got a MUCH needed pedicure. We did a little shopping in town and finished up our date eating Mexican food. YUM! What a delightful young lady and what a fun outing. We decided we MUST have these dates more often!
I love that my friends children feel like they can talk to me and share what’s going on in their lives. I also love that my child feels the same way about my friends. It can’t be easy being a teenager in this day and age – and I am thankful that our “village” that is there to help them navigate the rough waters.
So here’s wishing you a strong finish to your week!
Well, I don’t know what the weather is like where YOU are……but here in NC, it’s rain, rain and MORE rain. Goodness. I read a Facebook post last night that said….. “This rain is getting Biblical. Animals are pairing up and I feel the need to buy a boat .”
So what to do on a lazy, rainy Saturday? Well, it seemed like the perfect time to share a blog post.
Big news on the book front. I will be having my second book signing on Sunday, March 3rd, 2019 at 1792 Beer Co at 106 N. Main Street in Roxboro, NC from 2:00 – 4:00 pm. I’m so excited that Zack and the folks at 1792 are allowing me to use their wonderful space to share my book! Books and beer – what better way to spend a Sunday afternoon, huh?
If you haven’t gotten your copy of my book yet – here’s the link to Amazon
If you’re local, you can pick up copies of the book at Truth Books & Gifts at 201 S. Madison Blvd, Roxboro, NC.
From the very beginning of this blog, I said that I wanted to be as open, honest and authentic as possible about my cancer and treatments, etc. Sharing all of that – especially while in the MIDDLE of the fight, was never a problem. Now that I have celebrated my 1 year anniversary of COMPLETING my cancer treatments and my life is back to “normal” (whatever the heck that is)……I feel that I can speak candidly about the past year.
***FULL DISCLOSURE – I am speaking from my own PERSONAL experience…..in no way am I trying to say that this happens to EVERYONE or that OTHERS will feel this way……I’m simply sharing what I know to be TRUE for me.***
For me – the 12 months I spent “fighting” my cancer (surgeries, chemo, radiation, follow-up appointments, etc) were much easier than the 12 months AFTER finishing up my treatments. How’s that, you ask? Well – I knew what I was battling. We determined what/where the cancer was…..we developed a plan of action…..and we went to battle right away trying to destroy the nasty demon that had invaded my body. My doctors were able to give me a heads up on what was coming, how my body may react and what they would do to help me through it.
So after chemo and radiation, I started on a 10 year relationship with Tamoxifen – the hormone therapy med prescribed to me. I went from spending MONTHS being cold and wrapped up in a blanket to feeling like a volcano within 24 hours. Honest to goodness…..I started having hot flashes THE VERY NEXT DAY once I started taking Tamoxifen. I remember one night sitting at the dinner table…….and a hot flash came on from out of nowhere……I was sweating bullets and literally feeling like I may pass out. Apparently I looked awful as well because Hunter was like “mom, are you okay”? And so it began…….random hot flashes both night and day. And they say I need to take this drug for 10 years? Lordy!
Then came the joint pain. Again……compliments of tamoxifen. One day I was fine……then I sat down on the couch for awhile and when I tried to get back up later – it was horrible! My bones/joints hurt all over……and when I walked, I truly looked like I might be 100 years old. And just like that – the joint pain and stiffness became a regular part of my life.
I had pretty severe neuropathy in my hands and feet during chemo……and I’ve been taking vitamins/supplements for the past year in an effort to eliminate the neuropathy. Crazy – I seem to have it worse in my left foot than anywhere. What does neuropathy feel like? Well, for me – it feels like my foot is numb while at the same time feeling like it may be frost bit (as if I know what that feels like – but it’s what I IMAGINE it would feel like). For instance, on this cold, rainy Saturday – my left foot is giving me a fit. I have cabin socks on my feet trying to keep them warm – but honestly, this is going to sound CRAZY – I have found that the BEST relief for me is to rest my foot on the back of our dog, Bella. The heat from her body warms my foot right away and offers me so much relief. So if you ever see me with my foot on/under the dog, you’ll know I’m trying to doctor on my neuropathy.
As far as my hands go, the most challenging thing for me is picking up small things or getting change out of a cash register/money drawer and using a computer mouse. The tips of my fingers are constantly “numb” feeling, but I don’t really notice it anymore. But when I’m trying to get change for a customer from the money drawer – and it takes 4 tries to pick up the pennies – it gets a little frustrating.
I’ve been back at work since August of last year. I’m working at an insurance agency 3 days a week. I work every Thursday evening (from 3:00pm – 10:00ish) at the Old Country Club Steakhouse – as a hostess/cashier. So I basically have 2 days a week at home. I’ll be honest with you – most often, I’m happy to be at home on those days off. I have found that it truly takes me using those days to “recover” and “recharge”. And plenty of times on my days off, I literally do NOTHING. I was beginning to think maybe I was just lazy or unmotivated – but Thursday night when I was working, I talked with a friend and fellow survivor and she said she experienced the very same thing. Her friend said “some days she acts like her butt is attached to the chair with Gorilla Glue” – and I just laughed and said “YESSS _ THAT’S IT EXACTLY!!!!” I find that on the days I feel good, I try to pack in as much LIVING as I can, because I know that it is most likely that I may have a day (or 2) of just being exhausted and doing NOTHING.
By far, the absolute WORST part of all of this is CHEMO BRAIN and the lasting effects of it. It pisses me off ALOT – but mostly when I’m at work – and my brain knows what I want to say – and it’s all right there – but somehow the connection between my brain and getting the words to come out of my mouth – there’s a HUGE delay at times and it completely infuriates me. Like when my boss asks me to quote some insurance for Mr. Johnson. And I spend an hour or more typing his name NUMEROUS times into different applications…….and a few hours later my boss asks me for the quotes on Mr. Johnson and I completely draw a blank……like who in the hell is Mr. Johnson? I know it makes me look like an idiot!
Or when we’re all in the kitchen at home cleaning up after dinner and I attempt to say to my son “hand me that” (and I want to say TOWEL)…..but instead I say “hand me that…………that……..” and I’m looking straight at it and know what the crap it is but the word just won’t come out of my mouth. Finally, I give up and say “hand me that damn blue thing right there”.
Please don’t think I’m confessing all of this for any sympathy or pity……I’m not. I’m just sharing this information to explain why FOR ME – LIVING after cancer has been much harder than FIGHTING the cancer. And I realize that may not be the same for everyone. And I know that others have expressed the same sentiments to me as well. Maybe it’s because I don’t KNOW what to expect.
But I don’t tend to talk about this often. It’s just the way it is…..and I understand that it’s the cards I’ve been dealt. At the end of the day, I’m very thankful to have won my battle with cancer and still be here! It’s all about perspective…..and I choose to continue to see the glass as half-full!
For any other cancer survivors out there, I’d love to hear your take on “life” after cancer. I know everyone’s experience is different – but your experience is valid, no matter what your experience.
So I hope you enjoy this lazy, rainy Saturday. I admit, I’m still in my PJ’s, bundled up in a blanket on the couch……with my foot on my pup…..enjoying some down time! What are you doing today?
2 Corinthians 12:9 New International Version (NIV)
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.