It’s been another week of chemo with a heavy dose of clipboards and new doctors as well. I dread chemo far less than I dread the clipboards these days. Chemo continues to go smoothly with minimal side effects and, along with our doctor, we continue to celebrate that. And, the tumor is definitely shrinking. As Dr. Osborne said last week, ‘it used to be a honker and now I can barely find it!’ Even I can’t easily find it now. The lymph nodes are still more pronounced (and they were the smaller of the two in the beginning) but the pathological response to chemo for the breast tumor continues to be very encouraging. As the surgeon said today, you don’t really know until you get inside if it’s just spreading out or evaporating but, either way, everybody is quite encouraged.
I continue to marvel at medicine and doctors and our access to both. Remember the nagging lip sore and nose sore that bled daily?! Well, I finally decided that they weren’t healing on their own no matter how many lip balms Alyson brought me or the dozens I already had so I finally got fed up and called a dear friend who is a dermatology PA with a message that went something like, “I have no idea if you can help me but I’m hoping so and here are all the nasty sores on my body … but if you’re not it and I have to go back and talk to oncologist you can ignore my call or text me back and say, ‘Not it.'” But she was IT! I got a same-day house call, a prescriptions called in, and noticeable improvements in both within days. I heart Bethany! AND, I am thankful for medicine, physicians, wisdom, specialties and incredible access to all of the above. My mind flashes back to Africa where people I love have such limited access to even the most basic of medical resources. I’m reminded of how blessed we are. And praying for the same care for others in our world.
This reminds me that I failed to mention a couple of weeks ago that on top of all my bodily woes, Linc got hand/foot/mouth ‘disease’ – in quotes because don’t those of y’all that know what it is think that language seems a little strong for what it is? That is unless you’re Ken Dawkins and my kid gives you such a bad case that he said he’ll never read the story of the 10 lepers the same and he was out of commission from work for 3 days – and shunned when he tried to go back. But, despite all of that and with incredible grace towards us, the virus-givers, his response was gratitude for our access to medical care. Despite how bad it was on his hands, mouth, throat, underarms, feet and legs (as well as his 2 children since his mom so kindly kept Lincoln for not only one but TWO appointments on a really busy week for us!), his overarching attitude was of gratitude for medical care in this age and in our country. I second that, Ken Dawkins! We have meds that kill my tumor, meds that keep me from toilet-hugging nausea, meds that make me go poo-poo since the meds that keep me from throwing up also make everything stay in my system, meds that make sores that wake me in the night with pain go away within days, and all kinds of vitamins and supplements to protect my bones and nerves and rest of my body as it’s blasted with cancer-killers. Blessings, one upon another. And, by the way, I’m sure there’s more coming on this later because the thoughts continue to swirl in my head but I still can’t buy into a lot of the ‘survivor/fierce competitor/hero/amazing’ language around breast cancer because, I assure you, I am NOT the hero. The researchers, physicians, scientists that, under the mighty hand of God, have the ability to eradicate something that could kill me and prevent me from incredible discomfort in the process are the fierce competitors, heroes, and amazing. I am completely passive in this process and completely thankful.
And that’s a good segue to something else that’s been ruminating around in my mind. Why hasn’t cancer been as scary or angst-producing or stressful as everyone seems to expect – myself include?! I’m not discounting all the incredible love, support, prayers and help for our physical needs but am talking about the incredible God-given freedom and rest in my mind and heart. And the answer, as best I can tell, is simply based on control. Or lack thereof. In life, I wrestle with a desire for control – I like order and predictability in relationships, schedules, and pretty much everything. I fret over much I can’t control like the injured bird I saw on a run this week, the plight of children I love in Africa, a homeless man named Preston I met this week, the Texas heat and effect on people and creation, my past choice and choices of those I love. But, the truth is, so little of life is controllable. I often think I have some control over Scott or Lincoln but y’all are all thinking the truth that I’m struggling to learn – that it’s futile. But, because I’m under the allusion that I can control more than I can, I find much more frustration, angst, stress, and sadness as a result of Scott, relationships, schedules, unpredictability and other things than I do cancer. And, let’s be honest, I should be far less stressed about the fact that Scott would prefer the whole weekend (every weekend!) to be one big ‘let’s just play it by ear’ than I am about cancer but, week after week, I surrender to cancer and can’t so easily surrender control of schedules, agendas, Scott or Linc. In needlepoint done by my great aunt and given when I was in single-digits-age, I have the Serenity Prayer framed in our bedroom. And, when I had my post-chemo insomnia last night and read it over the zillionth time, its simple truth and power struck me again:
God, help me accept the things I cannot change. Grant me the courage to change the things I can. And wisdom to know the difference.
The truth is that about 99% of life is things I cannot change. Life would be so much easier if I’d just focus on the 1% instead of the 99%. Thankfully, by God’s grace, I have been able to accept cancer as something I cannot change. And surrender to the doctors and other experts as they direct our paths. Lord, help me apply these sweet truth to the rest of life. Indeed, there’s much freedom, rest, and far less angst in that road less traveled.
And that takes us to the clipboards. The biggest decision we’ve had to make thus far is the surgery decision – lumpectomy vs mastectomy. And, I’ve missed being able to abdicate that decision to the experts because this one is tricky. The good news is there are lots of options and opinions. The bad news is there are lots of options and opinions.
Scott and I swing back and forth (mostly together but sometimes not) from appointment to appointment. Scott’s bias is definitely towards ‘less is more’ and ‘more natural results.’ I agree with ‘less is more’ but definitely have more interest in reconstruction than he does. It’s interesting because we both want what ‘looks best’ but have different ideas of what that is. He isn’t sure that the cosmetic gains of reconstruction are worth the cosmetic ‘losses’ of scarring (boob and belly) and nipple loss (who knew?! Not us!). Neither of us like the reconstructed or tattooed nipple and that’s a pretty common outcome with mastectomy (though possible mine could be spared based on location if not cancerous). Thankfully, neither of us live with a nagging fear of recurrence – for some people, that drives the decision for mastectomy. And, for the 3 clipboards of page after page after page of information I completed as a ‘new patient’ in the last week for 2 more plastic surgeons and the radiologist, each of them gave us different opinions on best cosmetic results – from lumpectomy to unilateral mastectomy to bilateral mastectomy. Our ‘less is more’ philosophy has, to date, helped us eliminate the bilateral mastectomy. But, what to do with the one is still up in the air. And, we can’t schedule our surgery (still thinking early August) until we know if we need plastic surgeons present or not. Reconstruction (done by plastic surgeons) is far more involved surgery than simply removing the lump or removing the breast tissue (done by surgical oncologist) so that’s another factor – more surgeries over the next 6 months. So, we have some clarity. But not a lot. And did I mention I like control and schedules and predictability?! The other upside for me of mastectomy is the ‘donation’ of my belly to my boobs. Scott’s less of a fan because of the big scar that, as Scott says, ‘will look like someone took a sword to your abdomen.’ But I am quite a fan of the idea of replacing the boob tissue with belly tissue. And when one doctor didn’t think I had enough extra belly to reconstruct both boobs, I couldn’t believe it. I should have hugged him for the compliment. But, instead, I stood up with an open robe (Scott and doctor sitting), grabbed my belly with both hands and said, “c’mon, seriously, 40 years old and had a baby a year ago … don’t you see there’s plenty here for both?” That’s a low. But, like I’ve said, after wearing an open gown and being poked and prodded and asked ‘can you please remove all clothing from the neck up and leave the gown open in the front?’ about 50 times, modesty becomes a distant memory (and all past roommates would attest that I was lacking in that department prior to breast cancer). Scott didn’t even comment on my double-fisted-belly-holding. I think it was because he was trying to figure out when to broach the topic of being an organ donor and offering part of his belly for the other boob.
One last sweeter thought on the topic of whether to keep or cut the boobs …
On Sunday afternoon, I wasn’t deliberately praying through the decision but I was talking to the Lord and I felt like He gently reminded me that though it is a slim possibility medically, that He’s bigger than cancer and He is ‘able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or imagine’, and He could choose to give us another child. And, with that thought came some extra motivation to consider keeping at least one boob for breast-feeding if He opened that door. I don’t know if that’s His plan or not but it did my heart good to reflect on His ability if He so chooses. And that’s another one out of my control that, at least for now, He’s given me the grace to accept. And He’s given me great joy to be able to rest and recognize and, though some days easier than others, to remember that He is in control of ALL.
Thanks again for joining us in prayer, care, and concern. And for laundry, meals, chicken noodle soup, house calls, babysitting for doctor’s appointments, babysitting for dates and community group, walking and running dates to keep me active, styling my wigs, and lots of love and encouragement.
We are not alone. And we are so thankful. We are not in control. And we are so thankful.