"That's amazing! It looks better than last week." These were the words from my shocked radiologist today when he examined my burns. He couldn't believe what he saw. He fully expected one or two areas to be blistered and weeping. And yet they are looking so much better. I told him about the salve I have been using and he was quite interested. I BET he is! Another sweet friend made me another mixture very similar to the other so I am set and healing bound. I practically bathe in this stuff right now. Who knows what else it will help with.
Today was the last treatment to the lymph node areas! YAY! Tomorrow starts what they call a boost. It is a concentrated burst of electrons to the former tumor site. This will take a little extra time to set up tomorrow and then 7 treatments and I am done!
Now I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Thank you for your faithful prayer as I continue on this crazy detour.
I would love to share a list of names of the women I have met along the way as well as friends who have had cancer in the past. I realize it is just a long list of names, but each has an amazing story. Some are survivors praying for no re-occur, but most are currently fighting and some fight for their lives! Please join me in lifting them up in prayer as you read through. It does make a difference. Prayer is a powerful gift. Thank you.
Today I received a gift from an angel. I was a minute or two late for my 2:30 treatment time which turned out to be fine as they were running uncharacteristically behind schedule. I sat down in the empty waiting area and began to read. Then the sweet face of a woman I have gotten acquainted with came around the corner. Her name is Lori. We share a very similar diagnosis. We went through identical chemo treatments and are at the same place with our radiation days. In fact, the radiation techs often confuse us because we are similar in our builds and quite similar in our hairstyles, color and even hair length. And we both usually have a big smiles on our faces. Today when the tech came to get me, he looked between us a few times and we laughed and joked with him saying you're not sure which one of us you need are you? He smiled. Looked between us again and said questioningly, "Tami?" I made it easy on the poor guy and stood to go with him.
Last week she was beginning to experience the burning around the same areas as I was. But today as she rounded the corner she took one look at me and blurted out "I am so happy to see you! I have something for you." She proceeded to pull a small mason jar from her purse and handed it eagerly to me. She then explained how a friend had made this special salve for her and within 4 days her skin, although still getting radiated shows no signs of burn. Not even redness. She continued to tell me that after she realized how much it was helping her skin, she wanted me to have some too. She remembered that we had talked last week and she had seen how burnt I was. She called her friend and went over to her house and made some for me. They call it Jesus Salves. Fitting don't you think? As I read the list of ingredients, I felt as if I were receiving a gift fit for a princess. The first two ingredients were Frankincense and Myrrh, the same gifts once given to a King. I was very touched by the thoughtfulness of her gift and knew that God had indeed had a hand in this. You see both Lori and I started our appointments 5 weeks ago with an 11:00 time. Then I bounced to a 1:50 for a few weeks and then 2:45 for a week. This week I am at 2:30. And so is Lori. Gods sweet and perfect timing of such a precious gift was indeed a treasure. He knows when his children need a little something extra, and I love that he chooses to use regular everyday people to be the angels who deliver it. I've used my gift twice today already and it is very soothing.
Lest you think this journey is easy for me because I often write of my small everyday victories, today I write from the darkness that hovers and threatens to steal my peace. I think anyone who has battled cancer of any kind will attest to the fact that, there are times when the outlook seems bleak and your prognosis feels grim. It's with certainty that you acknowledge the dwindling number of your days. Every twitch, pinch or pain is most likely an incurable tumor full of the cancerous monster. It doesn't matter that this line of thinking is in sharp contrast to what the doctors say or that it will not benefit me in anyway. It is my now. The possibilities haunt me at night when I lay down. They rush in to cover me like a dark suffocating blanket. Stifling the oxygen that I need. I attempt to bury my fear deep in the comforting warmth of my pillow. Here I find safety, familiarity, and rest... At least some nights. On the other nights I anxiously wrestle. I wrestle with my emotions and fears. I toss and turn with doubts and what ifs. I get easily distracted down rabbit trails of pure deception. And for that moment, I am lost. It is dark. It is cold. And it is very lonely. I am at my very core afraid. Afraid "it" will come back and "it" will be worse. Afraid I'm not doing enough. Afraid of what I would miss out on if...
At the end of every detour, along side every rabbit trail there are constant reminders that I don't have to tread this ground again. I already know this. So why am I here again? Why do I continue to join this wrestling match? Because cancer is scary and ugly. It doesn't select only unhealthy people who "deserve" it. It has no scale by which to gage worthy or unworthy. It is no respecter of social class or political party. And it certainly didn't care that I am a mother of 4+ who cooks almost all of our meals from scratch thank you very much. Cancer doesn't care! It simply hits, shatters worlds, and changes lives, forever.
In that darkest part of my nights, when the tears have come and gone and I have exhausted my list of mental gymnastics jumping through loop hole after loop hole looking for the way out, I sit quietly in stillness and realize once again, that I am still not alone. He is here with me in this nightmare called cancer. The scriptures begin to come to mind one at a time. Some nights I have a friend who sends me reminders of the promises. And my peace returns as slowly I retrace my steps back.
The journey is far from over, but I am 5 marbles closer to being done with this leg of the trip. Tomorrow I turn in #10. I have three more radiation treatments that will directly hit my lymph nodes. The area at my collar bone is raw. They anticipate it will blister this week and begin weeping. This will then require it to be covered. The final 7 treatments are called a Boost. They will use special settings to concentrate the rays directly over the lumpectomy site. Then they said to expect that all areas will continue to burn for roughly 5 more days. So while the end is in site and I am close enough to say that I will be done next week, these next few weeks will be hard. I keep my reminders close at hand and know that like everything we experience in life, both the good and the bad, This Too Shall Pass.
This week it has been Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Today I put marble #20 back in the jar. That leaves 15 more to go. I wish I could tell you that it's actually going by quickly, but I think the everyday factor makes it feel like it's dragging on. And that "sunburn" you may have heard about from others who have been there, well it's all true. Here's the kicker. When I get a real sunburn, I'm smart enough not to go back out into the sun! With this I just keep headin back in for more. And after the last two days, I am red! I'll tell you what though... Going in with a smile is well worth it. I continue to meet amazing people. And that aspect I truly cherish.
I had that crazy Sunday doctors appointment with my surgeon at the beginning of this last week. I confess, I was convinced it was on Sunday because he wanted to tell me in person that my Braca gene test came back positive and that it was highly probably that all of my children would end up with cancer. I was even more certain of this as I was driving past the hospital and several other medical facilities all with EMPTY parking lots. Actually, the only other car I saw was Dr Kaughmans. Perfect! It took a while, but I did manage to reign in my free falling mind and bring my wandering thoughts captive. I took a deep breath and surrendered the results of the testing to God. With that task completed, I went inside.
He reviewed the treatments I have already received and covered the ones still to come. He reminded me how fortunate I was to have the triple positive cancer type as it responds very well to the drugs I have received. He also told me what to expect from both myself and those around me coming into this next phase. I was actually very grateful for this insight, as it was confirmation of what a friend had warned me of so it was a good reminder. But I was wondering why the big delay for "the news" I was anticipating to hear. Then, after roughly 30 minutes worth of an appointment, he flipped the page up in my rapidly growing file and said "Well I guess that's it. You got your Braca results from your oncologist, right?"
What? No! Isn't that why I am here, on Sunday, alone with you? So you can break the bad news to me?
Then, Without fanfare or ceremony he says simply as if in passing "Oh, I thought she told you. It's fine"
He was doing a kindness to see me (and a few others) to catch up on where I was at, knowing he would be traveling and was booked out til November. I was convinced he wanted to quickly deliver the bad news. I know it's for situations much like this and others that you can easily relate to that the Bible advises us to not worry about tomorrow. Today has enough of its' own stuff to keep us fully occupied. We don't need to borrow future concerns, especially ones that are woven from the same cloth as the Emperors New Clothes. Easier said than done. Believe me I know. I also know it is possible. It can be a simple matter of relinquishing your ticket to the spinning merry go round of your thought life. What does this look like? Maybe turning the radio up a little louder until you can't help but humm or sing along. It might mean quoting a favorite scripture that has brought you peace. It could be finding a quiet place to sit and silently process the situation. For me it's drawing on the strength of the promise in my anchor verse, and following the sage advise of the author.
He will keep in perfect peace him who's mind is steadfast because he trusts in The Lord. Isaiah 26:3
15 marbles left. One day at a time. One marble each day. And enough grace given simply to handle today.
Flexible - 1: capable of being flexed : Pliant 2: yielding to influence : Tractable 3: characterized by a ready capability to adapt to new, different, or changing requirements, syn see ELASTIC - as defined by Webster.
As defined by me - 4: a character quality one must fully possess to function and survive with any measure of sanity after receiving a cancer diagnosis. ex. oh, sorry, the Dr is running late. Are you able to be flexible? (translation, he will be another hour, or more) we just need a couple of films, (translation, umm your gonna have to lay here a bit longer while we figure this out) We'll see you again next week (translation, oops, we forgot to tell you they changed your schedule to weekly treatments) We were able to get you in with the Dr at 9:00, that should give you plenty of time to get home and back for you 1:30 appointment. I hope you can be flexible. Your appointment time is Sunday at 11:00 (translation ...... not sure, I am just thankful God doesn't take attendance) You know, if you did some more stretching and strengthening, you would become more flexible. Ugh!
As with so many other things in life, I am becoming acutely aware of how important it is to remain flexible and relinquish control. Of course I had a plan, things I wanted to do this year. Ideas for getting fit and running another half, but for now, my body is not my own. It doesn't always do what I want it to and is often crying out for its' own attention. "my joints always hurt", "I'm so tired" or "my arm is tingly and it hurts" "ouch! That's not right." Be quiet! I scold. Your fine! This is when discouragement drifts in on a dark cloud bringing with it a shadow of the things that I could do before. I don't want this to be my new normal and I am not feeling flexible on this point. I want my old normal back. The one where I felt stronger and not so limited. The one where cancer wasn't a thorn prickin at the back of my mind with all of it's ugly friends, doubt, discouragement, and fear.
This newly encouraged flexibility has caused me to look around more closely at people in the different offices where I find myself. I know at least 6 others facing extremely life threatening medical situations and that's just in my own personal circle. How many others that I pass each day are struggling with the desire for the pre diagnosis time. You know, the old normal. How many would give anything to go back to the way it used to be and yet, here they are facing the challenge to be flexible in their current treatments or flat out choosing not to. I find I am challenged to look beyond the physical and find the greater purpose.
Change. We are not always big fans of change, are we? And yet some of our greatest strides forward in life are after a major life shift or trial. We don't always recognize it at the time. Sometimes it even takes years before we can step back and see the benefit of situations which required so much flexibility on our part. And if we knew what the outcome would be... if we could see how it would affect others and benefit so many, including ourselves, would we have the wisdom to choose to continue down that road? Or would we opt out choosing instead the instant gratification of not having to go through the trial? Tough questions - hard answers.
I am learning that the illusion of control is not all that gratifying, and yet loosening the grasp goes against my natural tendencies. But each day I let a little bit go and embrace the changes and exercise my flexibility.
This week I have been reaching out to some of the women around me purposing to make them smile. I sat in the chemo area with a very lovely lady in her 70's. She is on the same track I am on and is just about a month behind. We were sitting there visiting. I had already been hooked up to my drip, she was still waiting. The nurse came around the corner with her meds too hook her up and she got a little flustered and said "Oh, I'm sorry. I'll come back" She meant so he could hook up her drip. He told her she was fine. I explained "This is the new Starbucks. We come here for an infusion that costs $?? and get to sit with our friends and enjoy free coffee. Who wouldn't want to be us?" She giggled and stayed to visit. Then yesterday, I went back to the radiation area for treatment number 12 and noticed two other ladies with similar sporty hairstyles. I said "So this is where all the cool kids come to hang out!" They both started laughing and we started a conversation. One of the women was almost done with her radiation plan, the other was exactly at the same spot with the same treatment plan as mine. Somehow this commonality makes us feel better. We understand each other. We get the long year it has been and the flexibility that has been asked of us. And it is so nice to share that, but then be able to laugh together too. So far, I would have to say the mission was successful as both days I left smiling and feeling better for having put myself out there. Today is Wednesday. Let's both see if we can make someone around us smile!
Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances we know to be desperate