I need to grow up.

I really need to grow up and be a big girl and not find it so awkward to constantly and repeatedly be talking about my ‘breasts.’ I had more than sufficient anatomy education from my mother and schooling but, despite every opportunity to mature into adult vocabulary, I still cringe. And, I still prefer to say ‘boobs.’ This week, while sitting in the plastic surgeons office with Scott, I realized I should take my cue from the other adults in the room and use the big-girl vocabulary but, no, I’m still cringing and referring to them as ‘boobs.’ It’s a low. And I need to grow up. Because there’s a lot of talk about them. And now, in order to update you on this week’s doctor’s appointments and requests for prayer, I’ll continue …

This week’s talkswere with the surgeon who will remove the remaining mass and also a plastic surgeon. Our heads are beginning to spin. Up to this point, we haven’t really had to make any decisions – the course has been clear and the doctors have been able to make straightforward recommendations. But, when it comes down to surgery and the anatomical impact, there are lots of variables. After meeting with the surgeon, it looks like a good candidate for a lumpectomy based on the tumor size (and though we haven’t had another mammogram or MRI which are more detailed, it looks like it’s shrinking on the sonogram!) and location (on the outside of my breast). But, they never really know how much of the tissue they’ll have to take until surgery because they need ‘negative margins’ so will take as much surrounding tissue as they need to make sure they have all the tumor. And, apparently, I have invasive and noninvasive cells so they’re not sure what those noninvasive cells have done during the last couple of months (apparently, the chemo doesn’t target them but they can morph into invasive cancer in the meantime). And then there’s the lymph nodes. We don’t know exactly how many because when this journey started it didn’t matter how many it was sufficient that they knew it had already spread and so they just began the course of action. The notes from scans refer to them as ‘bulky’ and all of that has to come out. The surgeon we met with, Dr. Lamont (who put in my port), thinks it’s possible to get the tumor and lymph nodes from one incision. That’s good. And we are thankful that he thinks his part will be pretty straightforward.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case for the reconstruction. Scott and I were under the impression that a lumpectomy would leave minimal change to appearance but that’s not the case. On top of removing the mass and the implications of that, there’s also the radiation factor – and radiation affects the physical appearance as well. If you have a mastectomy, you don’t have to have radiation. But, in my case, it’s likely that I’ll have to have radiation anyways because of the lymph nodes. And, at that point, we’d have some lopsidedness that would need to be addressed with plastic surgery. And, then, there’s the debate, if you’re going to have one reconstructed, is symmetry more possible/likely if both are reconstructed instead of trying to ‘match’ one to the other? I’m impressed with the technology now around plastic surgery. He can reconstruct using my own tissue (big score that it could come from my belly!) rather than implants and they look more natural. OK, I think that’s enough of big girl breast talk for now. But, needless to say, it’s a little overwhelming. And since there are a lot of options and these surgeries for the reconstruction are pretty complicated, we’ve been encouraged by the surgeon and oncologist to at least 2 opinions. We’ve only had one. And even the thought of scheduling the others gives me tired-head so that should tell you how unexcited we are about having to sort through it and actually make a decision. The first of these surgeries (and the reconstruction takes several because they can’t begin reconstruction until after radiation and they’re sure I’m cancer free) would be early August we hope. I’ll finish chemo on July 18th and we need a couple of weeks to make sure my white blood cells are back up but not too much time that the cancer can remain in my body untreated.

I’d love your prayers as we process all this information. We are thankful for good doctors and information. But we are overwhelmed with the decision. I continue to struggle with questions of vanity and not wanting that to overly impact my choices. I keep going back to verses about how ‘charm is deceitful and beauty is vain but a woman who fears the Lord shall be praised’ or ‘man looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart’ and even Paul’s words that ‘all things are permissible but not all things are beneficial.’ I know it’s certainly permissible for me to have reconstruction and I know God values femininity evidenced by this is His design for the female body but I just want my motives to be acceptable in His sight as we evaluate the reconstruction options. And, without a doubt, I’m open to the possibility of the side bonus of reconstruction post-cancer but not wanting that ‘perk’ (no pun intended) to be disproportionate (again, no pun intended) to the other considerations. Scott continues to be a good truth-teller toward that end so I know my motives and thoughts will be kept in check by him but just pray that I’ll accept the changes to my body as well as the medical advances in proper perspective.

Body image, which is something that’s haunted me most of my adult life, has been hard with chemotherapy because, admittedly, I was sure it would be an easy way to drop an extra 5-10 lbs I’ve still carried since Lincoln was born but, instead, my weight is a few pounds higher than when we started. The doctor isn’t surprised but I am. I’ve eaten pretty well and continued exercising so while I’m not saying I should have lost weight (though that would have been a nice benefit), I wouldn’t have expected to gain. But between messing with my digestive system and also my hormones, my body is just not functioning like I’m used to. I’ve resorted to prune juice. That’s a new low. Am I 40 or 80?! Actually, I’m 40 but I’m bald, gaining weight, and looking at the possibility of lopsided boobs – or is that asymmetrical breasts? In any event, it’s definitely a chance for me to grow and mature through old (and new) body image insecurities. I’m thankful Jesus doesn’t care. And sad that I do. Please pray that I won’t. Intellectually, I know these are small prices to pay for my health. But, they are more visible daily reminders than a tumor that I can’t see.

One last thing, I’ve shared how sweet folks have been about the now-obvious-I-have-cancer-bald-head. And it continues. As we left the doctor’s office on Monday, Scott and I heard someone behind us say ‘hey’ and we turned around to find an older lady standing there with her thumb up and all she said was, “you look great.” Is that not so cute?!

However, as adults, we have grown into that maturity (unlike me and my anatomical vocabulary) but most kiddos aren’t there yet. Last Friday, I took Linc to my friend Kim’s house to swim. And her daughter, almost 3, met me at the door. She was all smiles – and then …

The poor little thing noticed things weren’t the same under my hat as her Mama had warned her. And she was scared. And started to cry. And it was PRECIOUS to see this little girl, whom I’ve known since day 2 of her life when she was adopted in Tyler and I went to the hospital to see her, cry because “I want Lulu [my nickname which was adopted pre-Clouse and taken from Lewis] to have hair.” I asked her if she was scared and big crocodile tears formed in her eyes as her she nodded yes. I asked her if she wanted me to take my hat off so she could see my head or touch it and she began shaking her head no – and she meant it:) And she cried. And before I knew it, all 3 of us were on the floor crying. And then I sat with Lily Ruth and we walked through all the pictures of the head shaving and, in the end, she said it wasn’t so scary after all. But she still wanted me to leave my hat on. In the pictures below, Kim captured me sharing all the pictures from our shave day at the salon with Lily Ruth. And, also, swimming with Lincoln … with my hat on – as requested:)

Again, we thank you for journeying with us by praying, reading, and caring about our family. We’d specifically appreciate prayer for surgery decisions, accepting changes to my insides and outsides, and our family to stay connected as we walk this road together. We are headed to Tyler for Memorial Day weekend with Scott’s family and I’m praying for some needed restful, playful, relaxing time with Linc and the hounds.

And though we covet those prayers, we still find ourselves with much to be thankful for. And ask that you thank the Lord with us for great doctors; minimal side effects (the worst ones now are hot flashes, insomnia, tummy issues, and a sore on my lip that won’t heal and makes me crazy waking up to blood on my pillow but, all things considered, those are quite manageable!); continued care and support in the form of meals, babysitting, notes; and a little boy that is too little to notice that his Mama doesn’t have hair! I’m so thankful that much of this change in our lives is lost on Linc who is only showered with that much more love by friends and family who are also his caretakers these days…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Much love and many thanks!

 

Advertisements

Not a Hooker. Not a Pirate.

In my update last week about shaving my head, I failed to include details about the response in South Dallas. If my goal were simply entertainment, I would never omit details from South Dallas. But there’s only so much a girl can blog between doctor’s visits, life, and a baby. But, today, the girls outdid themselves and I feel like I’d be failing you not to share. Last week, it was enough to get the entry and pictures out from the beauty shop and I failed to include the ‘day after’ when I showed up for Bible study in my wig. I was sure they’d all be excited that I’d joined their wig-wearing-world but, instead, got chastised for covering my head and told to go bald. Not by just one of them but it was a rather unanimous sentiment. From a demographic of women who ‘lay tracks’ (translation for white women = gluing down extensions), wear wigs, all kinds of scarves, don ‘stensions’ (translation = extensions to their own hair woven in at the scalp) and have asked me to purchase Africa’s Best hair products, I was quite sure they’d be so glad that they’re ‘undercolor sister’ (best nickname ever courtesy of Sarah Mae) was sportin’ a wig. But, lest I ever think I know what to expect down south, they threw another curveball and told me to go bald. As we often say, “you couldn’t make this stuff up.”

Here I am with Lisa from last week. She told me to go bald and be proud. You can see that my wig is in my hand – they had no interest in it on my head. So, as I headed down south today, since I don’t yet have the courage to sport the bald outright, I thought I’d give it a go with a scarf – again, these are some scarf-wearing women so I expected some positive feedback. I was wrong. When I walked in, feeling pretty cute in my scarf (thanks, B!) and even proud of how I’d tied it into a bow in the back, Lisa was at the door. And she said, “now, girl, we told you to go bald, whatchu doing with that there scarf? You be looking like a PIRATE!” A pirate?! In a previous post, I expressed concern about looking like a muslim man, a gypsy, or a shepherd girl but little did I know I needed to be concerned about looking like a pirate too. Thanks, Lisa. You’ve never been short on opinions and you didn’t disappoint today.

I went on into Bible study where we’re finishing the book of Matthew. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a note passed in class but, again, you never know what may surprise you down south. I think you can read this sufficiently (her handwriting is much more legible than mine) but, in short, she’s telling me she brought her makeup to give me ‘a lil color’ and is gonna keep her hair short in my honor. Man, these girls love me well. And I love them pretty big too! As soon as Bible study was over, she was headed my way and pulling things out of her bag. She said, “I ain’t got much time but we need to get you a little color. Not so much that you look like a HOOKER. Just a little color.” Really?! Like if she got too much was it possible that people would think I was a street-walker? Say it isn’t so. But, good news – she was gonna make sure they didn’t. She dug in her bag and out came out with more makeup than I own.

I can’t tell you about Meme’s makeover without telling a little bit more about Meme. She’s been in our study for about a year and she’s awesome. She’s consistent, kind, a student of the Word, and a delight in the group. Today, she told the group that she’d known she needed to quit usin’ [drugs that is but they don’t need to add that detail because that’s implied when you say ‘usin’] but it wasn’t until she went to her dealer one day and overheard him say, “y’all get out da way, my number one customer is comin’ …” that it wrecked her heart and made her quit. I asked her, after class, if she knew Jesus then. She explained that, at the time, she was a single mom raising 4 kids but was a functioning addict. Doing crack in her room every day but maintaining her kids and her job (as an LVN). She said, “I knew Jesus but I didn’t do Jesus.” She was raised by her Grandmother and knew the Truth but had started using diet pills and, after awhile, was using anything and everything. Jesus got her attention with the drug dealers description of her and then He set her straight. And she even got a new job this week at a nursing home. As Pastor Chris (at Cornerstone Baptist, our partner church in South Dallas) says, “if it’s good in the ‘hood, it’s gotta be God.” He’s there. And Meme knows him. And He’s got her. And I love her.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Apparently, it wasn’t enough to work on my face but my head needed a shine too. Again, with another talkin’ to about just going bald but shining up my head so it’s not dry and wearing bigger earrings. These studs just aren’t gonna do it. And, the sista-girls are always quite concerned about ashy skin.

And then there came my scarf-tying lesson and some mention of Josephine Baker who was, apparently, the first African-American professional dancer (though the girls tried to trick us and tell us she was the first African-American stripper … not so fast, homey!) and the first to introduce elaborate scarf tying. So, thanks to Josephine and Monisha, I have a few more scarf-tying options. And, it’s a real shame for y’all that I’m too cheap to add the video upgrade to this blog because I am absolutely withholding another great moment of the morning. Not only would you have the benefit of a scarf tutorial should you ever need one but, better yet, you’d see the mid-lesson-interruption from Lisa who came into the room, saw the new scarf style, and screamed, “OOH GIRL! YOU AIN’T A PIRATE NO MO’ … YOU BE A LADY NOW!” So, there you have it. Not a hooker. Not a pirate. A lady. A bald lady – and learning to love it. I mean, seriously, did anyone else get an unsolicited full makeover or note in class today?! Bald ain’t so bad. And God is SO good. All the time. And everywhere. South Dallas is proof.

Baldness Begets Kindness

Thanks for all the sweet and encouraging words about my bald head.  On the first day of our diagnosis, February 9th, when Dr. Kuhn said “I regret to tell you that it’s cancer.”  My first response was, “so does this mean I’ll lose my hair?”  So much for worrying about my life or my little guy.  Looking back, that question is silly.  And, I really don’t think it was intended to be as vain as it clearly sounds.  I think what I was expressing was my very limited knowledge about what it means to have cancer – all I knew was that you lose your hair.  I now know a tad bit more.  But that fundamental truth remains.  And I’ve now joined the ranks of the countless men and women who have gone before me with bald heads.  Though, with much greater knowledge and perspective now, it feels like a much smaller price to pay than I once thought.  And Scott and I are so thankful for doctors and medicine that can sustain my life (Lord willing) even if they can’t sustain my hair.

In response to the pictures here and on Facebook, y’all are pretty free-flowing with words like ‘beautiful’ and Scott and I appreciate the kindness – but we’ve decided, more than anything, ‘beautiful’ is really a nice way of saying “that wasn’t as scary as we feared” … and I couldn’t agree more!  If y’all think this is beautiful (and I’m trusting you’re not just flat-out-lying) then that’s a gift from the Lord to give you vision beyond the natural because it still kind of shocks me in the mirror.  But, I’m also thankful that the shock isn’t horror and just a reminder of our reality.  And, seriously, how stinkin’ cool is it that God has it rigged that we can’t see ourselves?!  We have to seek out a reflection and/or mirror to actually look at ourselves.  And I don’t think that’s a design flaw.  I think it’s genius.  I regularly and often forget that I don’t have any hair.  I’m reminded quickly once I catch my reflection but, unlike those around me, I’m not constantly reminded by what I see – because I can’t see it!  Genius.  Good one, God.  Real good.  I love that He knows how vain we can be so he rigs it so that we can’t constantly be evaluating (positively or negatively) our physical appearance.

But, while I may forget, baldness is now like a flashing sign on my head that announces to the world that I have cancer.  And, yet again, even that hasn’t been so bad.  In fact, it’s got a little sweetness to it.

For one, as Scott and I have noticed, people are exceedingly accommodating and friendly – waves, opened doors, courtesy, smiles, and kindness.  We have been laughing about the ‘cancer card’ and often whisper it under our breath when we experience one of the many interactions that are noticeably different.  It’s like I’m flashing a cancer card that functions a bit like a VIP card for anywhere and anytime.  Especially if you happen to be bald and jogging and pushing a baby in a jogger and trying to cross the street.  It’s golden.

That jog concluded at Starbucks and, with my bald head, I went in for our drinks.  As I waited, the girl that works there, whom I know, responded so beautifully and honestly and graciously.  She said, “May I ask the obvious question …?”  It was SO endearing.  And I told her so.  It was nice for her to acknowledge the obvious but ask in such a gracious way.  Honestly, in that case, when I’ve seen Lauren regularly for a couple of years, it would be more awkward for her not to ask.  And there’s a lesson in there somewhere too but I haven’t yet unpacked it.  It was just nice for her to be real and honest in the moment.

Over the weekend, apart from jogging (which seemed silly with a scarf or a wig so I just went bald to try to get a little color on my head so it’s not a vastly different color than my face!), I was wearing my wig and, if I say so myself, it’s fabulous.  I’m not bragging  because it’s not my hair.  But whoevers hair this was, it is much better than mine.  And it isn’t subject to humidity.  Or grease.  Every day you can just put Pinky back on and go.  Check her out …

Pretty believable huh?! As I look at this picture now, I notice for the first time that my part might be a little off.  But I guess that’s what happens when your hair isn’t actually attached.  I don’t think anyone at the Arboretum would have thought it was a wig.  And I was happy to just have a real fun and normal day with the family:) I admit it’s taking some getting used to.  At dinner on Friday night, Scott and I saw some friends and in the middle of talking to them, I reached up and just plopped my hand on top of my head as if it might be missing or off or sliding back.  As soon as they left, Scott and I had a good laugh.  Cathy and Kirk, if you saw that random and awkward hand-to-top-of-head-move, it was because I was momentarily panicking that my wig was out of place!  But, for the most part, every time I’ve checked, it’s still on my head – albeit maybe the part is a little off in this picture, who’s to say where your part is supposed to go when it’s not attached to your head?!

Over the weekend, I was with family both days and at church among folks I know so, as it turns out, the real ‘public debut’ of the flashing neon I’ve-got-cancer-sign was today when I was out alone and more easily approachable.  My friend, Amy, offered to keep Linc while I ran some errands and since I was still in my running clothes and it seemed silly to put my wig on top of a sweaty head, I put on a bandana.  My first stop was Goodwill and I could tell my friend there, Javon, was extra friendly but he didn’t say anything.  Next stop was for a bagel.  I ordered and went to get my drink.  Someone came up behind me and I turned around to hear, “may I give you a hug?!” as one of the employees was launching into a full-frontal-endearing-bear-hug.  And not letting go.  I said, smiling as we hugged, “is this for me or for you?” because, honestly, I didn’t think my demeanor was screaming “please give me a hug” but I sure was getting a sweet one.  She responded with “maybe both?” and I said, “I like that.”  She pulled back with tears in her eyes and said, “I lost my mom 5 years ago.  And you remind me of her.”  For now, let’s skip over the part about her being African-American.  So I’m not sure exactly what about me reminded me of her mom (who I’m also guessing would have been much my senior) but, honestly, I’m thankful it did.  I asked if Mother’s Day was hard and she kept crying.  She told me she was adopted (maybe her adopted mom was white?) and how much she loved her mom.  I told her how much I loved adoption.  And how much I loved her hug.  When she gave me my bagel, I couldn’t resist asking if I could pray for her tender heart.  I prayed that Mona knows the love of God as sweetly as she knew the love of her Mama.

Why does baldness beget such kindness?!  As I sat in my car at Einstein’s, I thought about how powerful kindness is and how weakness welcomes it.  The truth is that I’ve lived a lot of my life in strength (real or portrayed) and there’s nothing about strength or self-sufficiency that beckons strangers to give you sweet hugs – or practically beg you to cross in front of their car while jogging.  But, in sharp contrast, weakness begets kindness and, in that kindness, the weak one is strengthened.  I was reminded of the truths of 2 Corinthians 12:9, “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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”  I haven’t really intended to boast in my weakness but cancer doesn’t really give you much choice.  Intended or not, it is advertised to the world by a bald head.  Or a bandana’d head.  And, all of a sudden, I’m quite liking it.  I’m liking what it’s teaching me about living without the props of hair or health, beauty or braun, strength or self-sufficiency.   I was hesitant, before, that the bald head that would make me the center of attention or self focused.  But, so far, the Lord has allowed me to often forget about it (by his genius design that others can see it but I can’t!) and used it as an opportunity for me to experience the strength and love of others more fully.

So, again, I repeat what I’ve said in other entries … The blessings still outweigh the burdens.  There are definitely roses on our thorns.  And, though I know this road could get harder with more drugs and surgery ahead, for now, I marvel at His kindness.  And the kindness of my dear friends.  And the kindness of my family.  And the kindness of strangers.  And the kindness of meals.  And the kindness of encouraging words.  And the kindness of babysitting.  And the kindness of laundry.  And the kindness of thoughtful gifts.  And, most of all, for the kindness of God that leads us to repentance.

With a full heart and a bald head, I thank you for your kindness to read this blog, pray for our family, and walk with us.

Held…

… In the big, good, sovereign and loving arms of God.
… AND by the love of friends and family.

Warning: this post comes with the tick of Benadryl dripping in background so will be short and unlikely proofread:)

As I sit here on my 11th week of chemo, I have a full heart and He deserves the glory. I continue to marvel with how HE has sustained us by minimizing my side effects and fear, sustaining Lincs adjustments, providing connectedness with Scott, and replenishing us with the daily manna of joy and peace. And, along the lines of being HELD, do y’all remember the story in Exodus where Moses is in battle with Israelites and they win as long as his hands are held up and he prayed?! I think it’s Exodus 14 or 17 but this Benadryl ticking means I need to wrap up instead of look up. [If someone looks up, can you please post correct reference in comments?] Remember how Moses got tired so his friends Aaron and Hur held up his arms to help him extend them to the Lord in prayer?! Glorious picture of friends and community. I SO get that visual more than ever. We have countless Aaron and Hurs battling with us. We are upheld. It’s as if one arm represents the upholding of (1) emotional and spiritual needs (scriptures, generous and thoughtful gifts, encouraging words, notes, and PRAYER) and (2) physical needs (meals, laundry, babysitting…). We feel sustained by the grace of God through the people of God.

This little Mosette nods off now with sweet thanks for all the Aarons and Hurs that are granting strength and joy during our journey.

We love you all. And thank you for upholding us in prayer and all things. May an Aaron or Hur bless you today as you’ve blessed me.

Night night…