Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Learning to find God, Love, and Hope in Misery

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

I was all alone in my kitchen, sobbing, praying, calling out and begging Him to take this from me. Every ounce of my being wanted this to go away, for it all be a bad dream.  I wanted to flee, hide, have it all just disappear.  And through my tears, He responded.

Jesus: "Megan, will you do this if it will bring one more person to Me?"
Me: "Jesus.  I don't want to."
Jesus: "But Megan, will you?"
Me: "Yes."
And in that moment, I had peace.

Oh!  We were so close to being done.  So close to putting our cancer journey behind us and moving on.  Charlie and I had scheduled my LAST reconstruction surgery for July 26, 2017, almost three years after I was first diagnosed with stage 3A breast cancer in October 2014.  We were so happy, and we began the process for an exciting new chapter in our life.

On June 1, I stopped taking my Tamoxifen so Charlie and I could begin the process of having our own baby.  The plan was to have the embryo transfer while I was on FMLA from my surgery to prevent the loss of any more time away from work.  We had made our trip to Northwestern to begin the process, our embryos were sent down from storage, my oncologist had given me the green light, and we had a plan in place.  We were prepped and so excited!  If everything went as planned, we were going to be pregnant by August 9th!  The verse above was ringing true in our ears and we couldn't wait!

During this time, Charlie and I had also started regularly exercising again.  While working out though, I began to experience some intense pain in my sternum.  It was pretty consistent, and got worse when working out.  I was almost positive it was connected to my surgery I had in December, but my surgeon was convinced it had nothing to do with my surgery.  So, I scheduled an appointment with my local doctor for an X-Ray.  Everything came back normal.  But, no one called me to follow-up or suggest anything further.  Because we were in the process of having a baby, I was meeting fairly regularly with my oncologist, and I mentioned the pain to her in passing.  She wasn't worried, but scheduled a bone scan just to be safe.  The bone scan was complete, and at the end of the scan, the nurse looked at me and said, "Good luck, sweetie."  Deep down, I knew at that exact moment what was happening.

A few days later, Charlie and I left to go to Missouri to celebrate my 30th birthday.  July 7, in my Carle health account, the test results showed what we all feared.  Bone metastasis.  Happy Birthday.  We got back from our trip, and I immediately called the hospital because no one had talked to us at that point.  We needed a CT scan to confirm the diagnosis, but my oncologist was on vacation and it was going to be another week or so before we could get in.  With the help of an amazing and generous friend, Monday, July 10 we got our CT scan, and confirmed that the cancer had metastasized to my bones. A series of other tests would show that it was also in my liver.

Wait.  What?  Ummmm......Jesus.  Did you forget? Charlie and I have already done this.  We have already gone through some major trials.  We weren't supposed to have this come back.  We were supposed to beat this.  We praised YOUR name throughout all of the struggles from the first diagnosis.  We loved you, we gave you all the glory to your name, we sought and trusted in your healing hands.  And we didn't do it half-heartidly.  We truly loved Him and praised His name and trusted him throughout the entire process.  We grew, we learned.  What the heck was happening?  I'm only 30 years old.  Charlie and I have only been married 5 years, and 3 of them have been in and out of the hospital because of cancer.  I am super healthy.  I eat right, I exercise, and cancer doesn't run in my family.  I can't be dying from this disease.  No.  We were supposed to be done, and having a baby.  This wasn't happening.  But it was.

Charlie and I were heartbroken.  We were numb, paralyzed almost.  I lost 8 lbs. in less than 3 days from stress.  I cried non-stop.  I truly and deeply asked myself if I fully believed in Heaven and the God I have served all of my life.  Are you real?  And if You are, where are you?  I mourned the loss of the life I thought we were going to have, of growing old with my husband, of our children we would never have the opportunity to raise.  I mourned for my family, for the loss they will suffer and endure.  The pain I was going to inflict on them was almost too much for me to handle.  I struggled with enduring this long and painful death that lays before me.  I became envious and jealous of anyone older than 50, why can't that be my life?

However, during this time, God's goodness continued to shine through.  (I doubt it a lot, and I still question His plan daily.)  Charlie and I, along with my family and friends, asked everyone and anyone we knew to pray.  Pray for a miracle, pray that God would save me from this disease. Pray for wisdom, and guidance as we began this process yet again.

He is in this. Even in the suffering and the pain, He is here.  Through some crazy connections, and some of the most amazing friends a girl could ask for, Charlie and I were able to see the leading oncologist in the country for my specific type of breast cancer.  This shouldn't have happened.  Normally, you have to submit your case to Mayo, they review it, and then see if they will accept you or allow you to come for an appointment.  Even if they approve your case, the leading oncologist I get to see is booked for weeks on end and I probably would have never gotten to see him.  As soon as he heard about my case, he was ready to see me the next day.  So, that's what we did.  Charlie and I didn't feel comfortable with the recommended plan of care from Carle, so we drove 7 hours to Mayo in Rochester, MN on Tuesday, July 25.  My appointment was the next day.

We met with the oncologist, he laid out a plan of action we felt fairly positive would work, and then suggested we remove my ovaries immediately. (My cancer feeds off of estrogen, so we needed to remove as much estrogen as possible.) Charlie and I had planned on going home after our initial appointment, but the surgeon was free that next day to perform the needed surgery if we wanted.  So, of course, that next morning I had a full ovariectomy (my ovaries and tubes were fully removed from my body).  After I woke up from surgery, Charlie drove us 7 hours home.  (I have THE BEST husband in the world.)

Now that we are home, we are going to continue to kill as much estrogen in my body as possible to hopefully starve the cancer cells.  If this plan of action works, it can work on average for around 30-35 months.  If it doesn't work, we will need to look at alternative treatments.

Once you're diagnosed with metastatic cancer, there is no cure.  What happens when you're diagnosed with metastatic cancer, doctors look for various treatments that will prolong your life for as long as possible, while maintaining the highest quality of life.  You have "lines" of treatment.  So I will start line one of treatment (removing the estrogen from my body), and then when that stops working, I will start a new line of treatment (line two), and so forth and so forth.  I will be in some type of cancer treatment (endocrine therapy, chemo, radiation, etc.) until the day I die.  For now, I am beyond grateful I can avoid chemo for potentially a few more years, Lord willing.

While there is no cure, there is however hope.  Hope that I will go into long-term remission (this is a possibility, less than 5% chance, but a possibility), hope that a cure will be found before my life is over on this earth, hope that God will provide a miracle and heal my body, and hope in knowing that if and when I die, I will go to Heaven and my suffering will end.  However, hope is scary.  You can hope and pray for one thing, and God can have a totally different plan.  Ultimately, His plan will always be better than our own, but it's scary and hard not knowing what that is.  Especially for people like me who like to plan out their lives.  I like to have goals.  I enjoy knowing potential and practical outcomes.  This is scary.

I don't know what our future holds, and I pray for a miracle.  We will continue to pray for a miracle.  I do know however that prayer is powerful and it's working.  Most, when they are faced with this situation go into a deep depression.  The Lord has spared me of this currently.  The pain in my sternum has decreased drastically, to a point where I almost don't feel it anymore.  Charlie and I are continually surrounded by an army of people who lift us up when we don't have the strength to do it ourselves.   We are able to continue only through the strength of our amazing friends and family.

Amongst the tears, the screams, the fear, the suffering, and outcries, He continues to whisper to me.  "I will restore you." He says, over and over again.  This is His promise to me.  Whether that is here on this earth, or in Heaven with him, I do not know.  But I pray that we will continue to praise and serve Him on this earth until the end of our days.

If you are praying, or if you want to join us in prayer, please pray for the following:

  • That I would go into complete remission.  Pray for a full-miraculous healing. 
  • That our story would bring glory to His name. 
  • Strength for my husband and family.  This is probably a more difficult battle for them than it is for me.  
  • Thank the Lord for all of the blessings He has already given us.  
Thank you.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Half Way and the End of Chemo

"Spirit lead me where my trust is without boarders, let me walk upon the waters, wherever you would call me."

I finally finished chemo on Wednesday, May 20!  One day after our 3rd year anniversary!  Charlie and I celebrated with an amazing home cooked meal with our family and a nice night at home.  It was a joyous day.  We then continued the celebration by retreating to Eminence, MO for a long and quiet weekend.  We had little to no cell service while there, and honestly it was a huge blessing to just stop and relax for a few days.  

Since I've last written, I've experienced a new wave of symptoms from chemo.  My fingernails and toenails started to die and detach from the skin.  I lost my eyebrows and eyelashes (sad day), and I developed symptoms of neuropathy in my fingers and toes.  (Neuropathy is weakness, numbness, and pain due to nerve damage in the body.)  But other than that, my symptoms stayed fairly controlled.  I was extremely lucky throughout this process and remained healthy for the majority of those long five and a half months.  My only major downfall is that I craved cheeseburgers.  I LOVED cheeseburgers and ate them multiple times a day when allowed. 

All of the side effects wore off about a month after chemo stopped and my hair is finally growing back!  Slowly, but surely, it's coming.  I've stopped wearing my wig because it was hot and rubbing off some of the new hair that was growing.  I'll still wear it occasionally, but I've found a new sense of freedom in going just as myself.  I tried hats, but they itched and hurt my head.  So all bald and bold is who I am!  Roar! 

I'll be honest.  The end of chemo was exciting, and yet it was surprisingly sad.  I found myself missing chemo.  At first I thought it was the staff I  missed, and the weekly visits I got to spend with friends and family.  But there was something more that chemo offered that I initially didn't think about.  Chemo in a weird way provided me with a sense of comfort.  Comfort in the fact that I was surrounded by people who were dealing with the same thing I was. Comfort in the fact that something was being done to help cure me and I wasn't getting worse.  Comfort in seeing my doctor on a weekly basis.  I guess I hadn't anticipated feeling like that, I only anticipated joy from being done.  It was a strange feeling.  

It's July 9 and radiation has somewhat began.  I started radiation only to find out that my body wasn't aligning correctly with the radiation machine, and we had to re-map my body.  This wasn't an issue, just slow and extremely time consuming.  I'll finish radiation treatments at the end of August.  I've heard radiation is a walk in the park compared to chemo...I'll let you know how it turns out. 

I will have a grand total of 33 rounds of radiation and I will go to the hospital every week day until finished.  After radiation is complete, I have a decision to make.  I can be put on Tamoxifen (a hormone pill) for 10 years, or take an ovarian suppressant in the form a shot every 3 months + horomone pills every day for the next 10 years.  The shot + pills is a better option in decreased recurrence rates, but it also has more side effects and will put my body in a constant state of menopause.

I switched oncologists and that has been a huge blessing as well.  My new doctor explains things to me in a way I can understand and make better decisions.  She is open to my feelings and concerns and I cannot tell you how she is like a fresh of breath air for me.  She's also extremely honest and I so appreciate this.  Before her, the only person who would tell me the truth without surgar-coating anything was my chemo nurse, Deb.  I love Deb as well.  

Now the hard part kicks in.  Honestly, up to this point, this whole process hasn't been too difficult for me. (I'm extremely lucky God has protected my mind, health, and emotions during this.)  After I switched oncologists, I finally asked her what my overall survival rate/reoccurance rate was.  My stomach dropped a little when she looked at me and said, "Are you sure?  It's not good."  Ummm....what do you mean?  I thought breast cancer was curable?  And I'm doing amazing!

While all of those things were true, I was still looking at an overall survival rate of 44%.  I'll be honest.  That was hard to hear.  I had expected a 95-100% survival rate.  I was pretty numb for 2-3 days, but then by God's grace again, I woke up one morning and felt at peace.  For some reason, if the cancer does come back and I don't beat it, I die.  That's not that terrible. (My family and husband disagree with me here.) Because of my faith, I know where I will be going and I'm not worried.  I will continue to pray for it not to come back, for this to be the only time I have to deal with cancer, but if it does, I'm totally at peace about it.  I can't fix it or change it.  Only trust God.  

Not to brag or anything...but I kicked chemo's butt.  I did.  But I didn't do it alone.  I will continue to say it, its because of my amazing support system.  Because of everyone who prayed, brought food, sent cards, gifts, words of encouragement, your hospital visits, and everything else.  My nurses and doctors still continue to be amazed at how many people I have been surrounded by during this process.  Seriously, YOU ARE ALL AMAZING!! and I'm usually brought to tears when I think of everything that's been done for us.  Thank you.  

What you can do: 
  • Pray radiation goes well with limited to no side effects.
  • Pray I have complete and total healing.  No more cancer, ever.

Radiation Machine

Baby Abe and I are twins.

No more chemo!!

Just another day at chemo.


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Mental Mundane and Daily Battles - Running the Race

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?                                    Run in such a way as to get the prize. 

- 1 Corinthians 9:24

Chemo is nearing an end (yay!), and I've already planned a big celebration for this day!  Once chemo is finished, I'll be starting radiation.  I will have treatments every day (M-F), for six weeks.  Treatments will be short, less than an hour, and the side effects should be minimal. (That's what the doctors say, the nurses tell a different story.) There is a small possibility I can cut this time down to four weeks and receive higher doses of radiation instead.  For this I am hopeful.

Right now, chemo is boring and difficult.  It's no longer a new part of our life, rather some what of the norm.  My normal routine has become chemo on Wednesdays, and sick on the weekends.  This is the hard part.  This is the time that I'm tempted to stop. To go on without any more treatments and just be normal again.  A constant state of feeling well on one day and miserable the next day for months takes a toll on someone in a way you don't expect, nor can you prepare for.  I know this is a short time and I'm nearing the end, but some days it's really hard to continue.  My body isn't the same and it never will be the same again.  Some days you feel worn down, and other days I feel completely normal.  Now its a mental struggle to continue.

Sadness is not how I feel.  I actually still feel quite lucky.  There are several patients who are receiving the same treatments I am and they are so tired and weak that just getting out of a chair without help is a struggle.  Me on the other hand - I'm going on short runs and 5-6 mile hikes when I can.  I know the Lord has provided in unfathomable ways I could have never expected, I know I am LOVED.  There are people who don't have these blessings.  But it's still so hard.  I am six months in now, and I probably have a year left until everything will finally be "done".

I mentally tell myself I can do anything like I normally did, and then my body reminds me that I need to simmer down.  Sleeping is difficult for me right now too.  Night sweats and bloody noses wake me most nights as my body is going through early menopause.  Charlie has been gone with work a lot right now too.  And while I am beyond blessed and blown away by those who have stepped in to help while he is out, it's still hard not having him around.  I will say however, that chemo has provided (well kind of forced) so many opportunities for me to just spend an afternoon with people that I love and care about.  Time to just chat and catch up with them on their lives and for these opportunities I am forever grateful.  I wouldn't trade these times for anything.

I am going to keep running this race, and I'm determined to continue running it well.  Always remembering how blessed and lucky I really am.  Lucky that I live during a time when modern medicine can fully heal me, lucky that I still get to have a normal life after this, lucky we were able to save my future children, lucky to have so many people love me, and lucky to have a Father who has protected me from depression and blessed me with a stubborn personality.

I have six more rounds of chemo left, radiation for six weeks, and two more breast surgeries to fix everything.  Oh and my hair is kind of growing back!  Little stubblies are there, I can feel them!!  So that counts as growth.  One for team Megan, zero for team chemo!   Thank you everyone for all of your help, prayers, letters, cards, and support.  With you all I can quickly and happily answer the question I get asked every week, "Are you suffering from any depression?" with a quick and solid "NO!".   The nurses also love how many people I have brought with me to my visits.  They love getting to know everyone and can easily see how much we are loved an supported. THANK YOU!!  YOU. GUYS. ROCK!!


What you can do:  

  • Pray for continued mental strength. 
  • Pray for Charlie and I's marriage, that we continue to support each other and we stay strong in our faith. 
  • Pray that this is the one and only time I have to deal with cancer and I have complete healing from the treatments. 

If you want to come sit with me during a treatment, just let me know!  I would love to spend time with you, catch up, and just see you!  I go every Wednesday afternoon, 1:00 pm at Carle's Mills Breast Cancer Center.  :)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Start of Chemo

"And whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the son.  You may ask me for anything in my name and I will do it."  - John  14:13-14

Chemo.  I'm learning how foreign of a concept it really is.  Most people know that people undergoing chemotherapy will more than likely feel "sick", lose their hair, and become extremely tired.  While for the most part, this is all true. But for everyone, it's so different.  The process of chemo is rather strange as well.  

I've had a lot of people ask me what it's like to get chemo, how long are the treatments, and how do I feel?  While I cannot answer for everyone, as chemo treatments all range in time, type, and side effects based on your diagnosis, I can give you an inside view of what's it been like for me.  

I have started receiving treatments every two weeks and I've completed the first three of four rounds of chemo and then will move to different drugs that will be administered once every week for 12 weeks total.  These first rounds have been fairly rough, but the doctors say I am handling the side effects extremely well.  My blood work has been coming back 100% normal and once the drugs are "out" of my system I feel completely normal as well.   My energy returns and the side effects dissipate.   

My first round wasn't too bad.  I became extremely tired for two solid days, food tasted weird, eating was extremely difficult, I felt ill but I never became ill, and my brain felt "fuzzy".  This lasted for around 5-6 days, and on day 7 I felt completely "normal" again.  The second round wasn't as "easy" as the first round.  I was extremely tired, my head felt like there was a million blisters from my dying hair follicles, my stomach hurt (not just nauseous), and my entire body hurt from the white blood cell booster shot.  I finally buzzed my head as it helped ease the pain from my swollen hair follicles, and then once my hair started falling out in handfuls, I shaved it off.  Now I have a nice shinny head  - it's so soft and smooth. :) 

Round three, by this point it's a mental struggle to check yourself in knowing that the drugs you're about to get are going to cause you to feel miserable for the next week.  My day usually starts around 7:00 am when I arrive at the hospital.  First, it's blood work, then a check-in with the oncologist.  After that you walk yourself into the chemo room where there is about 60 chairs in a giant room, each with their own IV machine.  I get a giant bag of saline pumped in me to help me stay hydrated, two bags of anti-nausea drugs, two tubes of red chemo drugs (I have to suck on ice while these are administered to help keep my mouth from peeling and blistering from the drugs), then after that I get one more clear bag of another chemo drug. I finally finish around 2:00 pm.

I typically leave treatments feeling pretty normal for the rest of the day and the day following until I get my nuelasta shot (the white blood cell booster shot). After that the body aches begin, my head feels fuzzy, my energy drained, appetite gone, stomach is upset, hot flashes as my ovaries are beginning to die, blurred vision from the steroids, headaches, and other things.  It's not as bad as it seems, and yet it's worse than it seems all at the same time.

The thing I miss the most though are my nose hairs.  You don't realize why God gave those suckers to you until their gone, and my nose hasn't stopped running for the last five weeks.  In all of this though, I've still been able to continue to work.  The Lord blessed me with a job that has flexible working hours, and for this I am so grateful.  Charlie and I have continued to be blessed with friends and family that remain helpful in so many ways.  I say this every time, but everyone has been amazing and we couldn't do this without them!  So thank you!!!!!

Through all of this though, my heart has been softened again. Me heart had grown cold from an old job, life events, and other things.   But the goodness that has been poured  out by so many people, people we don't even know, makes you believe there really is more good in the world than evil some times.  We have been so blessed, it's nearly impossible to be depressed or down about any of this.  :) 

What you can do: 
  • Please continue to pray that the side effects are minimal, specifically that my eyes remain un- effected from the steroids.  My vision is extremely important to me.  
  • For my mental and spiritual strength.  Keep these strong during the long and difficult moments.
  • And for a blessing in the hundreds of people who have reached out and helped Charlie and I during this process.  They are all unbelievable!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Recovering and Learning

Surgery and recovering.  I sailed right through the surgery, and I have yet to master the recovery.   As scheduled, Charlie and I were at the hospital Monday, November 24 at 6:45 am to prep for the mastectomy that would remove the tumor and my entire left breast.  That morning we had also scheduled a surgery to remove any lymph nodes that may have been infected by the cancer as well as reconstructive surgery for my left breast that same day.  During surgery prep, my parents, sister Emily, and in-laws all came to wish me well and pray for me before going back.  It was during this time that I was injected with a blue dye that lit up all of my lymph nodes, showing the surgeons if any were cancerous as well.  Going into surgery, we thought only one lymph node may have been involved.  One seemed suspicious, but it had looked clean during a recent ultra sound, but still, it seemed unlikely that the cancer hadn't spread.

It was also during surgery prep the nurses gave me what we like to call, "the relaxing drug".  "The relaxing drug" made me really happy I was having surgery that day and it also gave me the "courage" to profess my love to my surgeon as well.  (Dr. Kim Cradock at Carle in Champaign...I highly recommend her.)  I don't remember anything after being wheeled into what seemed like a giant cooler, and I woke up somewhere with three people looking at me and saying, "Oh she's too young for all of this."  Surgery lasted 7.5 hours and everything turned out great.  Thank you to everyone who prayed for me and my family that day, your prayers were not unanswered.  

I stayed in the hospital two nights and three days total; not too bad.  HGTV galore, and so many good family and friends came to visit.  I really am one of the luckiest girls alive to have so many people care.  On the morning I was to be released, I woke up to use the restroom, and when I got back into bed, I felt extremely nauseous.  I asked Charlie to please get me a cold washcloth and by the time he came back, I had passed out and caught myself with my face.  Ouch.  After about a half hour of laying on the floor answering a number of questions to a plethora of nurses and doctors, I was finally able to get back into bed.  Bright yellow socks were put on my feet as well as a bright yellow bracelet that clearly labeled me as a fall hazard.  An alarm was put on my bed so I couldn't leave without a nurse's presence and yellow hazard signs were placed outside my room and above my bed.  How embarrassing.  Even with all of this, I was determined to go home that day, and that is exactly what we did.  We were released Wednesday evening and I was going to Thanksgiving at my grandma's house the next day.

Morning of surgery. 

Thanksgiving morning I woke up and took my first shower in four days.  I wasn't able to do it alone, and without my mom and Charlie, I couldn't have done it at all.  It puts you in your place when something so simple as showering is something you can no longer accomplish alone.  I'm a grown 27-year-old woman, I can bathe myself.  Not that morning.  I am so grateful for my mom and husband and the patience they have.  I'm not always the easiest patient, but I appreciate them so so much every single day.  Once the shower was over, we went to grandma's for thanksgiving.  I ate, and then I slept.  It was a wonderful day and I had so much to be thankful for.  The last couple of weeks have gone by well.  I have tried to learn how to rest and I am not exactly exceeding at it, but I'm trying.

During the last couple of weeks, Charlie and I have been back to Chicago and we have begun the process of harvesting my eggs.  Chemo will age my ovaries to that of someone in their 40's, or I could possibly be thrown into early menopause.  This is why we are harvesting my eggs before we begin this process.  I've been put on hormone shots that will help my body produce more eggs and I will have a minor surgery to remove any eggs that have been produced on December 12 - December 16.  Pray that the hormone shots don't effect my moods too much and a large number of eggs can be retrieved.  Once the eggs have been harvested, they will be fertilized to create embryos.   We are hoping to freeze around 10-15 embryos and our hope is that I will be able to carry them when the time is right.  This has been an interesting and somewhat emotional process.  One that has forced us to answer some hard questions such as if Charlie and I both die, do we want the embryos to be donated to a family who can't have children or thrown away?  I mean, this isn't something Charlie and I have really sat around and discussed before.  They didn't go over these questions during marriage counseling.

It was also during these last couple of weeks that we received the pathology report from the surgery.  This report would tell us exactly how advanced the cancer was and if it had spread anywhere else in my body.  When our surgeon called us, she let us know that all margins were negative, which is good and it means that they were able to remove all of the cancerous cells! Yay!!  The tumor was much smaller than we thought, only 2.2 cm, but the cancer had spread to all of the milk ducts in my left breast which is why the tumor showed up so large on my MRI.  They removed 21 lymph nodes from the left side of my body, and of the 21, four lymph nodes were cancerous, and one had cancer outside of the lymph node.  No cancer had spread to my chest wall, but the surgeon said it was very close.  Praise the Lord for His provision here.  We also found out that my tumor was HER-2 Positive, which is different from my original diagnosis.  This simply means that my cancer won't be as receptive to as many treatments as we had originally thought.  It may not sound like it, but it was all good news.  The cancer was out of my body now.

Chemo will start the first week of January, five to six months of treatment, and due to the spread of the cancer, we will still have radiation.  I will lose my hair around the second round of chemo, and I'm just praying I get to keep my eye lashes and eyebrows.  I know that sounds silly, but I've come to peace about losing my hair, not so much my eyebrows and eyelashes though.

While a lot has happened in the last two weeks, I'm so grateful things have finally begun to happen, I've healed extremely well from surgery, I have continued to be surrounded by so many loved ones, an abundance of food has been prepared for Charlie and I, my in-laws have graciously watch Ruger for us during recovering, and the Lord continues to allow me to remain positive about this situation.  The fight has begun, and while we are still far from the victory, progress is being made.

What You Can Do: 

  • Pray for a healthy amount of eggs to be harvested.
  • Pray that Chemo treatments will go well.
  • Pray that my hormone injections won't make me crazy. 
  • Continued prayers for strength for Charlie and my family, I love them so much and I feel as if they carry more of this on their shoulders than I do.   
  • And we still love appreciate all of the food. :)
I chopped off my long hair.  #noonefightsalone

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Taking the Good with the Bad

"And I will do whatever you ask in my Name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.  You my ask me for anything in my Name, and I will do it!" - John 14:13-14

Hallelujah! Praise Jesus! The genetic testing came back negative!!!!  But wait....What does that mean?  Once Charlie and I were told that I had cancer, we immediately got to meet an array of doctors who would help us through this upcoming process.  One of the people that we met was a genetic counselor.  It's her job to find out if my body has developed a few specific types of genetic mutations and she informed us that because of my age it was very possible that I would be a strong candidate to posses the BRCA1, BRCA2, or some other genetic mutation known as Leaf-fro-meanie (That's not how it's spelled, but that's what it sounds like.)
If I were to have tested positive for any of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutations, which makes up about 15% of breast cancers, my chances for developing breast cancer again in my second breast was extremely high as well as developing cancer in my ovaries at a later date.  If I had tested positive for one of these genetic mutations, we had decided to have a double-mastectomy to help reduce any future cancer re-occurrences.  At a later date, we would more than likely have my ovaries surgically removed as my chances for ovarian cancer would have increased drastically if we tested positive for BRCA1 or BRCA2.  As the oldest of four girls in my family, all of my sisters would have needed to be tested for the genetic mutations, and statistics show that each of them would have had a 50% chance of all carrying the mutation.  I could have also passed this gene to any children Charlie or I may have in the future, and they would be at a high risk for developing cancer as well.

If I had tested positive for the Leaf-fro-meanie genetic mutation, or sometimes known as Li-Fraumeni syndrome (only makes up about .15% of breast cancer), I would have been highly susceptible to developing several different types of cancer in my near future.  This included breast cancer again, bone cancer, cancer in soft tissues, brain tumors, etc.   So we are super happy I did not test positive for the meanie gene. :)  I believe prayers had a major role in determining the outcome of these tests, so thank you to everyone who lifted us up specifically for these tests to come back negative.

Thus far, I felt like I had been trusting God with all of this, but when it came down to it, I doubt I really was.  Praying for God to fully/miraculously heal me didn't seem like that was His plan, so I never really asked for it.  These next couple of months were going to be rough, but for the most part, this whole cancer thing seemed pretty easy to me.  We had caught the cancer early, I was going to have a lumpectomy, miss a week of work, have my eggs harvested, start chemo, and then finish with radiation.  Rough year, but we caught the cancer early; I'm young and healthy, and the cancer hadn't spread anywhere else.  
Tuesday, November 18 I was scheduled to have an MRI and the next day Charlie and I were to meet a second oncologist to get another opinion. It felt as if we were told we had cancer all over again when we sat down to meet with the doctor that morning.  Not only did the new oncologist reveal that my tumor was actually over 5 cm wide based in the MRI results (originally thought to be only 1.6 cm wide) he also told us that he was fairly certain the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes.  Originally diagnosed with Stage 1 cancer and then suddenly a strong candidate for stage 3, one begins to distrust the system that has been leading you through this process.  This new information changed a few things for us.  
Due to the size of the tumor, the surgeon no longer felt she could save my left breast.  A mastectomy was our only option now and due to the size of the tumor, the surgeon was worried that the cancer may have spread to my chest wall as well.  For the first time (Lord's provision here) I was actually scared.  Scared that we may not beat this and that the cancer was going to spread too fast for the chemo to kill all of it.  Luckily this lasted only a minute, and I'm reminded of His goodness and the love of everyone who surrounds me!  Seriously though, I had no idea Charlie and I could feel so loved.  It's still beyond words.  I've tried numerous times to express our gratitude, and I feel as if we have only been able to express a tiny fraction of the gratefulness we are feeling towards a multitude of friends and family members who have gone out of their way to make sure we know we are loved.  

So this is our schedule as of today...it changes all the time so bear with me....

  • Monday, November 24 - Surgery Day!
  • Healing for 2-6 weeks
  • December 3 - Begin egg harvesting in Chicago
  • Late December - Early January - Begin 5-6 months of chemo
  • Radiation to follow after chemo - every day for six weeks. 

 I mean when you practically live in the hospital these days...why not take a selfie...

...or two.

What you can do: 
  • Pray specifically for a full recovery.  No more cancer for the rest of my life after this.
  • Continued prayers for Charlie and I, along with my family.  That we stay positive and upbeat; it will be a long year. 
  • If cooking is your thing and you want to send a meal, Lord knows he did not bless me with this gift, you may sign up here for meals or contact Paula Buxton: http://www.takethemameal.com/meals.php?t=YKKF8549&welcome=1  
Thanks for reading and all of your support. :)

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Cancer at 27….Wait, What?

Trust me in your times of trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory. 

-Psalm 50:15

Around two months ago, Charlie and I found each other sitting in the ER due to severe chest pains that nearly caused me to blackout while driving home from Bible study.  As soon as we arrived, I was upset that I had let myself succumb to the pain and found myself apologizing profusely to Charlie that we had ended up in the ER.  Before ending up in the ER, I had been having chest pains for the previous two weeks that I had been ignoring for the most part.  

After the ER, a few weeks passed, the pain went away, and everything seemed fine.  Abbey and Caynan got married on October 11, we celebrated their amazing wedding, and on Sunday…we rested.  Charlie and I were watching Sunday night football as a breast cancer awareness commercial came on the t.v.  I jokingly looked at him and mentioned that I should make sure that I didn't have breast cancer and performed a lame attempt of a self-breast exam on myself…..and I found a lump. 

If I did not have a follow-up exam with my doctor that next day from my ER visit, I would have ignored the lump.  Put it off in the back of my mind and continued with my life as I had been.  I even contemplated not telling the doctor about the lump the next day, but I made Charlie a promise I would at least just mention it.  The doctor found the lump as well, but she wasn't worried.  The percentage of someone my age getting breast cancer, with no prior family history, was less than 5%.  But, she scheduled an ultrasound just in case.  

I debated canceling the ultrasound, multiple times.  Personally, I hate the doctors office and I hadn't been since I was maybe 16 years old and I preferred to keep it that way.  Plus, I hate hospital bills and I felt like this was a waste of my time.  But I went.  The ultrasound looked, "odd" and the nurse concluded that there was indeed a lump there.  All I could think was, "No kidding, it feels like there is a small ball in there.  I could have told you that and I probably just spent a couple thousand dollars for you to tell me that very same thing." 

So they scheduled a mammogram and another ultrasound.  I actually quite enjoyed my stay at the Mills Breast Cancer Institute that day.  I jokingly referred to it as a day at the spa…HGTV, free chocolate, heated blankets, I was a happy little girl.  The doctors told me before I left that they were going to schedule a biopsy just to be safe, but that they weren't worried about anything.  It was highly unlikely that it would turn out to be cancer.  

Biopsy came.  It hurt.  Don't let anyone else tell you otherwise. And then we waited for the test results. I 100% fully expected to find out in a few days that the lump was no big deal, that this was a waste of time, and I could go back to my normal life.  

When the doctor told Charlie and I that I the lump was cancer, two thoughts went through my mind immediately.  First, "You must have the wrong test results".  Second, "Thank you, Jesus, for sending me Charlie."   The first day was a fog.  A lot to process, we called family members  and close friends to update them, and I went back to work.  Doctor appointments were lined up the next day and Charlie and I put our game faces on.  My mom came up to Champaign to attend the appointments with us, and I was extremely grateful for their presence.  

Over the course of the next week or so, we have been overwhelmed by the support of so many friends and family members in the form of prayers, emails, texts, phone calls, flowers, cards, and acts of kindness.  Humbling is all we can describe it as.   

During those nights, I began to have some deep conversations with God.  I have not once been angry, nor have I yet asked the "why me?" question.  I mean "why not, me?".   All I could say was, "Okay God, I'm giving this to you.  I'm going to trust you.  You're going to get us through this.  If this is something you want me to carry, I will do this if it will bring You glory."  

This is what we know right now.  I have breast cancer, invasive ductal carcinoma.  Size: 1.6x1.4x1.6 cm, stage 1, grade 3 (the most aggressive type).  The cancer is hormone positive, which is good as it will allow more treatment options.  Surgery is scheduled to happen at the end of November, chemo to follow (likely starting in January), and then radiation.  We are waiting on the genetic testing to come back to see if I test positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations.  If it comes back positive and that I do have one of the two mutations, we will change our course of action.  

Finding out you have cancer is never easy, but knowing that you're surrounded by so many friends and family members who have been willing to pray over this situation, give up their time to help support us, and send an overwhelming amount of kind words makes it all a whole lot easier.  The journey is just beginning, but we know we will make it through.  We are so grateful for everyone God has placed in our lives, words cannot express our gratitude thus far.  So we just say, thank you.  We will beat this.  We have received so many prayers, I know God is in this.  He is here in this situation. 

What you can do: 

So many people have asked if they can do anything for us, and our answer right now is, Yes.  Please specifically pray that my genetic testing comes back negative and for energizing rest.  Pray for our marriage that this does not define who Charlie and I become over the next year, and pray for my family, as this has probably caused more worry for them than myself.  We will keep you updated along the way, and we thank you so much for reading this.  

Stay positive and enjoy what you have been given.  Each day is a gift and no one fights alone.   

"Leaning" - Photo taken by Karen Thompson. :)