When I was going through chemotherapy treatments, I had a “chemo bag” that I packed ALL THE THINGS one could possibly need during those long days at the hospital. Over the years, I’ve shared suggestions of items to include in a chemo bag with more people than I can remember. Last week, someone asked me for suggestions again, and I FINALLY sat down and made a LIST of some of my favorite things to include and shipped that list off to my niece to design both a visual and itemized check-list that would be quick and easy to share with others.
Some folks like an itemized list, so here you go:
Others may prefer a visual list, and, we aim to please:
I received a text earlier today from a friend sharing their Facebook Memory from May 24, 2017……which was the day before my 1st surgery. This is what I posted:
That was DEFINITELY the best breakup of my life!
Wow – 6 years tomorrow! That’s crazy! And I am oh so thankful for every day that the Lord has allowed me to see!
I hope you find this list helpful and if you need any graphic design work done, let me know…..I can hook you up with a great one!
Psalm 34:1 I will praise the Lord at all times. I will constantly speak his praises. (NLT)
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 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.
I received a wonderful “joy bomb” today……and I just had to share it with you all. I love that God is continuing to use my “mess” and allowing me to share my “message” with folks near and far. Here’s the note I received today that truly blessed my heart…..
Hey there, lady! I hope you are doing well and had a good Christmas! Just wanted to let you know I was sitting at my table this morning and saw a note that came in with my health insurance stuff…(I have Christian Healthcare Ministries) It was a prayer request for a lady out in Arizona who recently underwent breast cancer surgery and is starting radiation therapy…so I decided not only to say a prayer for her, but I went online and ordered your book and she will get it on Monday 💕 I hope it will be a “joy bomb” for her!
If you know someone who may be struggling with a cancer diagnosis and need a dose of humor and encouragement, check out my book Temporary Lumps on Amazon (link below).
Well hello there! It’s been a bit since I’ve blogged and updated you all on what’s going on in my life…….but there’s been good reason why I’ve been MIA.
First and foremost – the biggest reason is because I have been doing PHENOMENAL and just enjoying “living” in the real world again. Yeah – there’s still the doctor’s appointments that roll around a little sooner than I’d like…..but all in all, I’m thankful for those appointments because it means they’re keeping an eye on me.
Life has been very good and very busy and that’s a good thing. As a Medicare insurance agent, I just wrapped up my busy season of Open Enrollment last Friday. Goodness – I was thankful to have survived another year of that.
During my absence, I’ve also been working on turning my blog into a book. I found this fantastic publisher who just “got” me – and she did an amazing job turning my dream into a reality. She contacted me late yesterday to tell me that the book had been officially “published” – but I would get an official announcement in the next 72 hours that it was ready for purchase! Well – that email came today and alerted me that my book is now officially available on Amazon! How stinking cool is that???
And I owe a huge thank you to all of you who have faithfully read my blog and encouraged me along the way. Without your support I would never have even thought about stepping out of my comfort zone and doing something like this! So to each of you – thank you from the bottom of my heart.
I pray that if you or someone you know is going through cancer (or anything for that matter), that you will gift them this book in an effort to encourage and enlighten them….and let them know that they are NOT alone. And it’s available just in time for the holidays! 🙂
Here’s the info that I put on my Facebook Page earlier today! God is good!
Ya’ll, I’m so excited I can hardly type! I just received notification from KDP that my book (Temporary Lumps) is now available on Amazon! My constant prayer has been that my cancer would not be in vain……and that I would be able to use my experience to encourage others who may be walking a similar path. Cancer is scary for sure – but I can testify that God was with me every step of the way. He allowed me to turn my “MESS” into a “MESSAGE” and now I have the ability to share that message with the masses! How awesome is that? I just want to publicly thank The Good Lord first and foremost for seeing me through this……and blessing me in the middle of my cancer chaos. I’d like to thank my “tribe”, my family, friends and prayer warriors for walking beside me during a difficult stage in my life and seeing me through to healthier days! May God bless each and every one of you during this Christmas season – the season of miracles – and I am living proof that our God still performs miracles – he healed me and has allowed me to shout it from the mountain top!
If you or someone you know and love is fighting cancer – I’d love for you to gift them this book. I pray that it will encourage them and remind them that they are stronger than they ever imagined and that our God is greater than all our fears!
And a HUGE shout out to my friend and artist Andi Carlton for designing the amazing cover art! Andi – God has definitely blessed you with a wonderful gift. You took a book title and made it come to life! 🙂 Hugs!