The Laser and Life Lessons

Who knew that radiation would zap the cancer and zap the life right out of me?!  Wow.  After my first treatment on Wednesday morning, the nurse met me to review skin care (the laser can cause a sunburn-like effect so skin care is an issue to avoid burning or itching) and address fatigue.  That was my first knowledge of fatigue so I looked at her dumbly and said, “everybody has fatigue with this?” She responded with “oh, honey, you can be sure of that …” and after 3 treatments and confirming with others, there’s no doubt that Miz Pat was right.  I’m still not sure why laying on a table for about :10 minutes with lots of beeping and numbers called out can take the life out of me but by mid-afternoon Linc isn’t the only one in the house sleeping like a baby.  Thankfully, besides a side of fatigue and some tummy issues that I can’t get rid of (they started before the oral chemo but those drugs sure don’t help), I’m really doing pretty well.  Life feels relatively “normal” (whatever that is) except for early mornings and long naps.

My hair is definitely coming back and that’s been a good thing.  Minus shaving my legs and using anti-hair products on my face.  I’ve never had facial hair issues but felt a little “fuzzy” and couldn’t decide if that was because I was so used to not having any hair on my face or something else.  I made a joke about it at the doctor’s office and she responded with an unfortunate answer of, “oh, yeah, a furry face is common … it’s like the body is so excited it can make hair again that it gets a little too excited.”  That’s all I needed to hear to make a quick trip to the drug store for my first facial hair remover purchase.  Then, not shortly thereafter, I had my face about 2 inches from Scott’s saying, “oh gosh, I think I got carried away, do you think it’s burned?!”  Thankfully, the redness passed and I no longer feel like my facial hair may outgrow the hair on my head.  Dr. Osborne said it will “level off” and I hope that happens sooner rather than later.  There are quite a few cancer side effects that seem to sneak up on me – fatigue and facial hair being the 2 most recent.  Apart from the facial hair and having to shaving my legs again, I’m pretty amused by the return of my hair – slowly but surely.  I told Scott the other day that I’ve never ever had so many compliments about my looks in my life before my new buzz cut.  From sweet folks who love me and even strangers that don’t know me.  I can’t decide if they just all think I’m bold and sassy or if Amber Rose is starting a trend.  But, for those that know my story or strangers who are fellow “pink ladies” and recognize me as a chemotherapy patient rather than a hip, trendy, socialite like Amber Rose, I have been blessed by their really sweet comments about loving my new look.  I think it reflects that all of us, in our heart of hearts, love the pictures of new life and renewal – spring, babies, and cancer patients that begin regenerating hair.  I believe God put this delight in our heart because we see the brokenness all around us and when, in the midst of that, He brings forth new life (or new hair), we can’t help but celebrate.  And, these reminders are just a shadow of the greater newness available – small things that paint a picture of the new life available through Jesus.

2 Corinthians 5:17: Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 

Revelation 21:5: And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

It is trustworthy and true that He is renewing my body after intense treatment and I’m thankful.  It is even more trustworthy and true that He has renewed my life by giving me His son.  I’m incredibly thankful for both.

Though I appreciate the many sweet comments from both friends and strangers about my hair, another recent hair experience gave me a good laugh of quite a different kind.  Gigi and I took her 4 foster sons to Six Flags last weekend.  As some of you know, I once was a Six Flags employee and am admittedly proud that I can still navigate the park pretty effectively.  And I love rides.  So, when the boys were given tickets for their birthdays, I was happy to join them and help Gigi.  We got in the park and rode my old ride, El Sombrero (unlike all of you, the boys are actually really impressed that I worked at this ride), and then continued our tour in “Spain.”  At our third ride of the day, we were in a long line for the Bobsled and Gigi all of a sudden said, “we are getting lots of looks … I think we look like ‘my 2 mommies’ …”  Taken aback by her comment, I assessed the situation: 2 woman, 4 dark-skinned children that are obviously neither of ours biologically, one very masculine haircut,  and my attempt at fashionable “color blocking” that could be mistaken for stripes of freedom.  We died laughing.  I had even been rather hot and pulled up my sleeves.  Gigi suggested I roll them back down for a more feminine look.  As if “my two mommies” wasn’t entertaining enough, I then realized that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, I was the daddy-mommy.  I had been perfectly happy for Scott to stay home with Lincoln while I went to play.  Until that moment.  We needed him and Linc as the “rest of our story” to clarify the situation at hand. Or, maybe we would have looked like “Sister Wives” instead of “Modern Family”?

Needless to say, we had a good laugh.  And a good lesson.  I’ve had a heart for the homosexual community for a long time.  I dearly love several people that are in same-sex relationships.  And, I believe they need Jesus just like I do.  I also believe that in many situations “Christians” have treated them in a way that would give them no interest in wanting a relationship with the Jesus I love.  But, all of a sudden, cancer and foster care gave me the ability to “walk a mile [maybe more after 6 hours at Six Flags!?] in their shoes” and it taught me a couple of valuable lessons.  1.  Never assume.  Never judge. How do you know that those 2 men or 2 women you see aren’t just dear friends with cancer and foster kids?! and 2.  Love them.  We stopped for a picture (a family photo?!) and I happened to ask a man with “Jesus” in huge letters on his shirt to take it for us.  He was so kind about it and a woman with him even offered a $1 to try to get one of the boys, who is shy and didn’t want to look at the camera, to turn around and smile.  Even though he never turned around, she gave him the dollar.  It wasn’t until after they walked off and E proudly had his dollar that we remembered again that those “Jesus people” may have assumed what many others probably did all day – and they extended kindness and love.  I hope that I would have extended the same love and kindness as joyfully as they did.  As Todd reminded us in church this morning, “Kindness has converted more sinners than zeal, eloquence or learning.”  Amen.  God’s kindness led me to repentance and I pray I will extend His same kindness to others.

Cancer.  The gift that keeps on giving.  I have a new haircut, new compliments, and new life lessons.  I give thanks to the Lord as the One who “works all things together for good” (even cancer!) and is also able to makes all things new.

Thanks for all the pink, prayers and love!

Ready, Set, Radiate…

I continue my tour of waiting rooms this morning and am writing from my new morning routine at Baylor’s radiation center. I came in for more preliminary work yesterday and felt like a cadaver or astronaut. Not sure which. Cadaver because of the markings all over my chest and astronaut because I’m laying in a huge machine and a handful of folks are hovering over me and calling out numbers, ‘…106.7 …. Medial …. 9.6 … Lateral…96.7 … 3mm…’ I also got a couple more tiny tattoos. With the ink from tattoos and red and black sharpie in lines and circles on my chest, when Scott saw me he thought Linc had written on all over me. In other words, it’s not very artistic. And since I haven’t showered since then, Judy and Fletcher, the radiation techs I’ll see again today, may wonder about my hygiene.

My appointment is at 7:20 but I have to be here at 7:10 to get undressed and robed. Neither mornings or punctuality are my strengths so I slept quite poorly worried about oversleeping. I overslept for my very first college exam as well as a final exam in college as well as a couple of flights while working so my fear of oversleeping and ability to sleep through alarms are valid concerns. However, last night, it just meant I woke up every couple of hours so wasn’t my best night. I am seriously wondering how I ever ran with some of you people at 5:15am for so many years?!?! Thankfully, it’s easy to roll out the door in anything because I just come here to take it off. But the oral chemo started today and there are serious sickness side effects so it must be taken with food and though I love to eat I don’t love to eat first thing in the morning. But, surely it won’t take me too long to adjust back to getting up before 7 or eating breakfast. These aren’t monumental feats. Though, today, they sorta kinda felt like it. I’m also just real thankful for the early appointment because they agreed to take me at 7:20 though 7:30 is the normal start time. There weren’t any other morning appointments available and this is, by far, the best scenario for Linc who will wake up to his dad and hopefully I’ll be home shortly thereafter for Scott to go to work. I’m thankful for Scott’s flexibility with work and little Lincoln has definitely learned flexibility as well. His Mama could use a little more of that so I’m hopeful it serves him well. And thankful for so many who have loved on him in our place.

As I sat here to write a quick update about starting radiation, I’ve received 5 texts of prayer and love. So sweet thanks to Karen, Judy, Julia, Kristin and Michelle. And for countless other things so many of y’all have done to bless and provide for us. We are grateful and blessed. And soon to be radiated…

More Doctors. More Decisions.

Hmmm.  Where shall I start?  I left off last week from highway 45 as Scott drove us home from Houston.  We were, and still are, very thankful for old and new friends there who paved the way, introduced us to amazing doctors, and sent us home with full heads and full hearts.  Last week, my heart was more full than my head.  But, over the weekend, my head caught up with my heart and it was overflowing as well.  As I wrote, the doctors there had a few “tweaks” to our plan so our full hearts were accompanied by full heads.  It’s been a bit of mental gymnastics as Scott and I process what we heard, connect the dots with what we’ve learned over these last 7 months (sidenote:  I initially typed 6 but realized it was probably closer to 7 so changed it then pulled out my fingers to count and, lo and behold, it’s almost 8 … a reminder that this is a marathon and not a sprint because we haven’t even started some of the key pieces of therapy), read and reviewed the doctor’s notes (both doctors offered to type up their notes and recommendations – a huge help!), and then sort through which doctor in Dallas to call next to discuss changes and move forward.  As I read Dr. Tereffe’s notes (would it jog your memory if I described her as my Ethiopian woman crush?!) it was both overwhelming and encouraging to pour over 6-7 pages describing my cancer, the risks, the treatment to date, and the options going forward and actually understand it all.  My mom, after reading them herself, asked if I thought I was read for the second year of medical school.  And I’m considering applying:)

The good news is that I’ve learned a ton.  The bad news is that I’ve learned a ton.  And, the good news is that we had incredible second opinions and resources.  The bad news is that we had incredible second opinions and resources.  In short, ignorance was bliss.  We are now far more educated with almost 8 months of a crash course and some rock star physicians in Dallas and Houston who have held our hands the whole way.  But, now that we have a lot more understanding and education, it’s much harder to sort through our own opinions instead of just robotically doing what doctors told us to and showing up at the next appointment for blood, shots, drugs, or whatever.

Here are the choices we have been wrestling with:

1.  Do we take the oral chemotherapy drugs as recommended by our doctors?  There isn’t strong evidence of its effectiveness in breast cancer though it’s a common practice for other cancers.  It “amplifies” the radiation which makes it more effective for local control of any possible remaining cancer cells but also amplifies the side effects of skin sensitivity and is known for causing tummy issues.  Our Dr. Osborne (I may now have to refer to Dr. Cynthia who is here in Dallas and Dr. Kent who heads breast cancer research at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston since both the medical oncologists are Dr. Osbornes … what are the odds of that?) had recommended it but the others were either agnostic, deferring to one another or “slightly biased towards yes” but not definitively so because there hasn’t been a lot of research done on it that applies to my situation.  The good news is that if any of the side effects are a problem I can quit at any time.  Scott thought we should do it.  I’m just happy someone had a strong opinion:)

2.  Do we suppress my ovaries?  I think, in my heart of hearts, I really hoped a second opinion would at least open the door for discussion of this one rather than our Dr. Osborne’s rather strong sentiments that this was the best thing to do.  Unfortunately, all the other physicians feel the same way.  And, when I read about myself on paper in black and white and all the comments about “high risk” and “advanced nodal involvement” and “extensive lymphovascular invasion,” I realize that they are quite serious about doing anything and everything necessary to make sure that this cancer doesn’t have any food.  And, since my hormones are its lifesource, they want them off.  I still can’t get my head around the idea of permanence on this one so am opting for shots instead of surgery.  However, the shot yesterday was B.A.D.  And I can still feel it sting as I type though I’m sure that’s in my head.  And Scott is quite concerned about the cost at $1000/shot.  He keeps asking if I could make a decision before the end of the year because, clearly, we’ve met our deductible.  I don’t think I can get there.  I expect we will be hitting our $6k deductible for several years ahead.  Scott picked up my prescription for the oral chemotherapy at the pharmacy at Baylor and came back to the doctor’s office with his mouth hanging wide open … care to guess how much they cost?!  Oh.My.Gosh.  $4200 for a month.  The costs of medical care are staggering.  And this isn’t intended to open up political debate.  The truth is, I’m just thankful for insurance and medicine and the opportunity to have both.  And real sad about other folks or countries where that’s not the reality.

3.  Which drug is the best choice for hormone therapy?  I won’t bore you with the details of the drugs and how they work but our doctor had proposed an aromatase-inhibitor but the Houston doctors at MD Anderson and at Baylor both thought tamoxifen was the better choice.  Tamoxifen had been our doctor’s original choice before the pathology results following surgery and I was thankful that, after another appointment with our Dr. Cynthia yesterday, she was supportive of the other doctor’s recommendations.

4.  When to start radiation?  The doctors in Houston didn’t think I should wait much longer to make a decision and move forward with radiation.  So, on Monday, I visited with Dr. Cheek (radiation oncologist) and we confirmed a plan to not only radiate the right breast but my the whole chest wall to target the lymph nodes in the armpit, under collarbone, and breast bone.  Some of this is also controversial because, obviously, my heart/lungs are right behind the chest bone.  And, radiating under my arm doubles my risk of lymphedema (essentially “elephant arm” but that’s my definition and not exactly a medical term used by anyone else). Scott doesn’t usually say much very emphatically but, as we discussed whether or not to radiate the ‘axilla’ (armpit), he said, “babe, I really don’t want you to have one elephant arm!”  Well, then that makes 2 of us, Scott, because that sounds pretty painful and unattractive to me as well.  But, we’re gonna do it.  They keep reminding me that I had 9 out of 19 lymph nodes with “residual disease” after chemotherapy.  So, after we finalized the treatment plan, I got scanned and got 6 tiny tattoos that they’ll use to align my body each day for radiation.  I start next Wednesday and will go every stinkin’ morning at 7:10 for the next 6 and a half weeks!

So, that’s the latest.  But not the greatest.  The greatest is the continued encouragement from friends and the Lord.  He has answered prayers for navigating through the second opinions in Houston, for conversations with doctors, and for daily strength.  We have continued to be supported and encouraged by meals, laundry and babysitting.  And, today, after spending a couple hours during Linc’s nap to prepare dinner, disassemble and wash his carseat, clean the kitchen, and sort through some of Linc’s old baby stuff for a friend, I sat down to rest because I was whipped.  As I sat down, I picked up a note from a dear old friend from Arthur Andersen and out came precious encouraging words with a check with encouragement to use it for something that would give me rest like housekeeping.  I couldn’t wait to call Kristy and tell her that the timing was perfect.  She summed it up perfectly: “God’s providence is sweet.”

In other of the greatest news from this week is the sweetness of our neighbors.  It’s another sweet gift of cancer.  Our interaction with our neighbors has increased dramatically and they have been so stinkin’ sweet!  On Friday, one neighbor yelled across the lawns to tell me she wanted to cook us dinner soon, another one texted on Friday night offering to bring us delicious pizza from Coalvines, and another neighbor babysat Lincoln on Monday morning so I could attend a real sad and sweet funeral for friends who lost their 6 week old little boy.  Our home is even sweeter when surrounded by people who love us and care for us!  And we sure do appreciate and love them.  Our street ain’t called Goodwin for nothin’!

And speaking of good, one more good thing was all the sweet love from Big Mama‘s peeps.  She’s Big Mama to y’all.  Mel to me.  It’s real sweet to me that you all love my Mel – and love the people she loves.  I’m thankful to be one that she loves and thankful for your love and concern too.

I pray, as you read this, that you are reminded that God is good.  Even in the midst of cancer.  And, He’s sovereign over all.  Even in the midst of cancer.  One of my favorite all-time quotes is from one of my favorite all-time authors, Charles Spurgeon.  He wrote, “God is too good to be unkind. He is too wise to be confused. If I cannot trace His hand, I can always trust His heart.”  By His grace, not only can I trust His heart, I can also trace His hand through this season based on how He’s provided for us, sustained us and reminded us of His goodness, sovereignty and love.  But, I know these truths aren’t known or understood by all who may read this.  Or maybe you know it but need to be reminded.  As I type, I pray that all who read this will have a greater understanding of His goodness and His sovereignty and that, if you can’t trace His hand, you can trust His heart. Cancer is a bad thing.  It has the power to destroy cells and bodies and lives.  In contrast, God is all about lifeDeath and sickness were never apart of His original plan.  Whether it’s me with cancer or little Austin Meek who died last week, this is not how the world should be.  And it’s hard.  It’s hard to see folks we love suffer.  Or to know folks in another part of the world who don’t have access to medical care (or even safe drinking water) like we do.  And sometimes these things overwhelm me.  But, I am reminded, God is good and sovereign.  And He loves me.  His greatest evidence of that is the cross.  Where He died so that I may live.  So, whether it’s cancer or prodigal children or sick children or job searches or financial concerns or marital problems or whatever it is that troubles your weary heart, I pray tonight that you know firsthand of His goodness, sovereignty and love for you.

Goodnight.  With lots of pink, prayers, and love.

Houston in our Rearview Mirror

We are headed north on 45 with Houston in our rearview mirror, BBQ in our bellies, and peace in our hearts.

This journey for second opinions was motivated by a desire for confirmation and, as Dr. Cheek (our radiation oncologist) described it well, to shake out any doubt like a pebble in our shoe that could drive us crazy. Well we’ve taken off our shoes (or, in my case, ‘everything from the waist up, please, and tie the gown in the back…’) and shaken out any doubt that we aren’t in great hands in Dallas.

We stopped by MD Anderson to pick up films I’d taken with me and the new mammogram and ultrasound films and reports from Monday. As we got close, my friend Amy said that Dr. Tereffe would like to visit again if possible. And, as I’m sure y’all picked up from my previous visit, I was quite a fan so more than happy to oblige. She wanted to confirm my final pathology report from Mondays biopsy (still negative) and walk through her observations on my CT scan about my internal mammory lymph nodes. I admit that sometimes I nod knowingly but really don’t know what I’m looking at. There are some variables and risks associated with the radiation I need (more intense and strategic to get lymph nodes in addition to breast tissue) but another conversation that I walked away from just glad that someone else understands it and can tell us what we should do. I also confessed my woman crush. It was a sweet moment. I proceeded to tell her I’d felt rejected by her not responding to my text. We pretty much had a DTR. She said that she felt inadequate to respond to my ‘well thought out text’ (those of you who know me well are laughing now bc you know that my texts can be short essays and hers was no exception!). And since this was all while Scott was waiting in car instead of with me she may now be wondering if I was making my move. Not so much. But tempting. She is beautiful, and smart, and Ethiopian, and loves Jesus. And dare I dream and pray about ministering to Ethiopians alongside her someday?! I already have. And she thought it was a great idea. Sadly, in Ethiopia, a large number of people die from breast cancer while awaiting radiation treatment.

From her office, we raced to see Dr Kent Osborne at Baylors Clinic (associated with the College of Medicine and no connection to our Baylor hospital in Dallas). And, again, we were so thankful for the opportunity (and new friend, Trey, who made it happen through his close working relationship with Dr Osborne) to meet with someone of his caliber and experience. After reviewing my history he said he’d start with us as if we were his patient and hadn’t yet been treated. He gave us a Cancer 101 talk that was helpful even though we are 7 months down this road. He explained my type of cancer (invasive rather than in situ which means contained within the duct) and why its so problematic to be in the lymph nodes. He explained that my type of cancer (estrogen positive) rarely has a great response to chemo but that it’s valuable to systemically treat the body for any ‘seeds’ that may have traveled through lymph system or blood to other parts of my body. He then weighed in on the go-forward plan of radiation, hormone therapy, and ovary suppression. He didn’t have radically different recommendations but definitely some tweaks that I liked. For example, though there are some practical considerations, he thought suppressing my ovaries via shot rather than surgery for the next 5 years had some advantages – namely that I could go into menopause naturally and delay those poor quality of life factors. After 5 years of hormone therapy he thought I could still have 5-7 years of pre-menopause which has benefits for none health and to delay the menopause side effects (hot flashes, weight gain, etc.) Am I really talking about menopause?! Unfortunately, I am. The practical downsides would be the hassle and/or pain of a monthly shot every month for 5 years and a cost of $1000/shot! Scott is super supportive of whatever is best for me – with a caveat that there could be benefits of surgery in this calendar year because we met our $6k out of pocket in the first few weeks:)

All in all, he created confidence in our doctors and, for the tweaks, provided great explanations on his drug preferences and other recommendations and offered to write those up for our doctors.

Thanks for praying for clarity and peace of mind. Check. Answered. We leave Houston with clarity and confidence.

Scott planned our day around a BBQ place he’d heard about in Huntsville. For Scott, all cities should be evaluated by its food and all roads lead to BBQ. And he’d heard about a baptist church that served BBQ Th-Sun. Needless to say, this has been on our agenda since Monday since he was disappointed then that it was closed. When the doctor has just told me that most breast cancer patients gain between 10-20lbs (why do I have the onland to make sure I’m not one of them, I really doubt he envisioned me leaving and driving straight to a BBQ joint for the 2 meat plate. But when your husband refuses to share and you can’t decide between ribs and brisket, what’s a girl to do?!

Here’s the ‘statue’ and ‘the more’…

20120913-182517.jpg

20120913-182534.jpg

20120913-182541.jpg

Don’t hate me because I have cancer …

… No, I’m serious.  I really think if I could fully portray the gifts that have poured out from this crazy season in our lives, I think y’all might be tempted to wish it was contagious.  And though I was raised by a Mama who often said, “sweetie, it’s not nice to brag …” and I know that to be true but I can’t help myself today.  I feel like this is a brag on y’all and the Lord and all the ways He has somehow amazingly creatively woven our story and woven people into our lives so that I honestly feel like I’m in an enviable position.  The gifts of cancer far exceed chemotherapy, or baldness, or poking and prodding, or mashed boobs on mammograms, or even the grief of not being able to have any more (biological) kiddos.  In His goodness and sovereignty and kindness, He has showered us with His gifts and His people and who knew there were so many “perks” of cancer?!  Just to name a few …

– friends come out of the woodwork (whatever that expression means?!  is that a reference to termites?! anyways …) both near and far, recent and old.  I have a new friend that I met at the gym who dropped off flowers on my doorstep this week and I have my bestie from elementary school keeping up with us and my running buddies and my old Arthur Andersen buddies and Protiviti friends and friends from First Baptist Academy and friends from church and friends from Bible study and friends from the gym and one of the daycare workers eve chased Gigi down the other day to ask about me and then called me to check on me! And then there are friends like the one who just brought me groceries and picked up something from the tailor and my dear friend and old roommate who brought lunch at MD Anderson and then there are the friends I just emailed about keeping Linc this week and then there are dear friends from college that made me laugh all weekend at A&M.  I couldn’t possibly recap my weekend with pictures and stories well as Mel did: thebigmamablog.com.  Who doesn’t need friends like these?!

– granted, cancer is a shot to the stomach and news noone wants to hear and a zillion doctors appointments and clipboards but to help counter the burden, it’s also been a zillion amazing meals, a zillion hours of help with Linc, several dozen date nights with free babysitting, a bowl full of letters and notes of encouragement, many gifts on doorstep or mail, enough hugs and encouragement to keep a girl going, and even Starbucks deliveries.  What’s not to love about all of that?!

– bald ain’t even so bad:)  I wasn’t trying to be sassy over the weekend but there was a picture-taking moment with 3 of my bestest friends from college (if you didn’t read Big Mama, maybe this will entice you to go back …) and Gulley complained about her hair and Mel complained about her bangs.  And I wasn’t trying to shame them AT ALL (girls, really, I promise!) but I said, “girls, c’mon, I”m bald …” and really just tried to free them up because I was pretty sure anyone looking at that picture would be more focused on the bald head than the bangs out of place.  But, truthfully, it’s quite nice not to worry about your hair in photos – or ever!  I might slightly kind of have to admit that I like being bald.  I get ready faster than Scott and I’m not self-focused in the mirror and I’m not critical of my hair and I don’t have to worry for photos.  And, honestly, I like it.  Wouldn’t most of you girls love to have about 5 months of never using a brush or hairdryer?!  I repeat … what’s not to love?!

– you meet some amazing people!  If it weren’t for cancer, I wouldn’t know Lezley and I wouldn’t know Dr. Tereffe or any of my team of doctors and nurses at Baylor.  And, because of cancer, you get to talk to a lot of folks that you wouldn’t otherwise know or have a voice with.  An old old friend from the youth group when I was a volunteer (and she was a kiddo) called last week to talk about her diagnosis.  And we had a sweet heart to heart about cancer and life and the Lord in my living room. And then, there’s the really sweet moment I just had a few minutes ago when I got an email from my nurse, Christina, asking permission to share my blog with another patient.  Of course!  Who wouldn’t want to have such an easy platform and countless opportunities to get to share the sweetness of my Savior and the countless ways He’s provided for us?!

– you get a priority check.  All of a sudden, with cancer, you have a renewed ability to prioritize the things that really matter: people and Jesus.  Years and years ago, one of my favorite truths was: there are only 2 things on this earth that will last forever, the Word of God and the souls of men … invest your lives in these things!  Cancer helps my focus.  Sure, I still slip back into an obsession with productivity or people pleasing or performance but, all in all, as crazy as it sounds, my world is more at peace with a slower pace and proper priorities because of cancer.  And who doesn’t need that in the midst of a crazy-paced world?!

So, though I know it’s not nice to brag, how ’bout them apples?!  I think sometimes I cringe when I feel like people feel sorry for me because I’m thinking “I think if you knew the real story and the ins and outs of this, they’d be jealous of me … not pitying me!”  Yeah, sure, I have to fight through fatigue (and it’s not nice to brag but while I’m at it I’d like to tell you what I can’t wait to tell Scott when he gets home but I finally jogged again for more than :30!) and we’ll spend $200 in gas this week just to get to doctors and back and Scott will miss 2 days of work and I was sad waving bye to Linc in his Nana’s car even though I knew he would have a wonderful time but, much greater than all that, I have friends, family, my faith and the love of God to see me through.  And it’s all pretty darn glorious.  Please don’t hate me because I have cancer.  And please don’t quit loving on me because  I still need you.  And I still thank you.  And I still thank my God for all the gifts of cancer.  And, if you read this blog, you are one of them.

How is God so big that He can turn something like this into one of the biggest blessings of our lives?!

Praise be to God for great things He has done!

 

MDAmazing

Amazing visit! Incredible place. Lots of tests (including 2 lymph nodes that worried them but after prayers and a biopsy it was benign) and then we met with the Radiation Oncologist, Dr Terreffe, at about 4. Until about 6. Or later. She was so so so smart! She is a beautiful, young, Ethiopian who came to the US shortly after she was born. Her family didn’t intend to stay but war broke out in Ethiopia shortly after they arrived so, after many trips to INS, they were granted refugee status. She was fascinating. And a very gifted communicator about cancer, treatment, and research. Not to mention, as I told her, she was leagues above me in brains but didnt make us feel that way. We liked her so much. I told her I want to be her friend! Thats tricky with doctor/patient legal limitations but she said we could be friends on Facebook if I don’t treat at MDA:) And then she gave me her direct office number and cell phone number and said I could text her anytime. I’m hoping that means she liked me too:)

In addition to being fascinating and brilliant, most of her thoughts, concerns and recommendations were very much in line with our Dallas doctors and our treatment plan. She affirmed the ‘high risk’ concerns, the surprising and unfortunate lack of response to chemotherapy, and then walked us through various scenarios with different combinations of drugs and treatments. She weighed in on ovaries – affirming the rationale but acknowledged a medical oncologist would be better to answer that question. So she began naming MDA doctors she thought would be a personality and profile fit and offered to make us an appointment with one of them. So she asked about our availability this week. When we told her we were coming back on Thursday for an appointment with Dr Osborne at Baylor Medical School, she quickly said, ‘then you don’t need anyone else here … he’s a giant!’ That was awesome confirmation about the opportunity with Dr. Osborne. In summary, she was affirming and encouraging in many ways! And did I mention I really really liked her!?

As we concluded with the medical stuff, since I was real intrigued with her intelligence, I asked about her education. The list of schools was long – and included Harvard. Since I love all things Africa, I couldn’t resist asking about her family coming to the US. In response, she’d mentioned ‘God’s providence’ so later I asked about her faith. As it turns out, she’s a believer but wasn’t raised in a family of faith. So I asked about that and she told more about her upbringing and explained that she wasn’t saved until the last few years … because of my friend Amy! How cool is that?! Amy overheard my excitement from the hall and came in. At that point, Dr. Tereffe said that Amy was ‘fearless … and gentle … and persevered.’ Amy said she just told her about Jesus and He drew her to Himself. I got choked up talking with them about how good and providential and amazing God is! And, as the 3 of us talked, she mentioned finally joining Amy at First Baptist Houston after years of Amy inviting and praying. More sweet weaving. The pastor at First Baptist is Gregg Matte who was a friend of mine in college and influential in my growth and walk with Christ through Breakaway. So that brought more tears to see how God has used two people I love to draw a doctor I needed to Himself. And He let me see the fruit of His spirit and gift of His grace in the life of my doctor.

In summary, amazing day. And headed northbound on 45 back home. Back to Houston on Thursday!

God is good. All the time. And He’s in the details. And weaving our stories and lives for His purposes and His glory. Cancer included.

20120910-205425.jpg

Really?!?!

I can’t tell y’all how many days I’m STILL shocked that this is ME – that I have cancer, that I’m bald, that I’ve had chemotherapy, and that I’ve had surgery. Thankfully, more often than not, it’s far from the forefront of my mind. And it still surprises me. Today is another of those days. Am I REALLY at MD Anderson?! Did they really give me a patient card with my name on it?!

The answer is yes. Whether I believe it or not.

I’m between the pinch-pull-squeeze-ogram and ultrasound and all is going well.

Yall know Im partial to color and was excited to meet the patient coordinator who has handled all my paperwork – and we prayed together on the phone last week. What’s not to love about that?! And after being greeted by her (which brought tears because she was so sweet and kind and excited to meet me) it was super fun to see my old friend, Amy, who was so helpful in getting my appointments.

Then, in a short break before all these tests, my dear dear friend Rach (we lived together in Chicago in 1994 and also moved back to Dallas together and were roommates for another couple of years) came and brought Scott and I lunch and made me cry again just because I was so excited to see her. And the tea and lemonade from Chickfila:)

Thanks to Rach and one of her good friends here, the opportunity has also come up to meet with the head of breast cancer research at Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Kent Osborne. Same last name as my oncologist. Random. But no relation. Anyways, he’s pretty big time in the boob world and already reviewed my files and thought it was worthwhile for us to meet him as well. He’s offered to see us on Thursday. Scott asked if maybe we could just do a conference call. Or Skype. Seriously?! Scott is a little tired. Lets blame those comments on going to bed after midnight and up at 5:15:) He climbed in bed well after midnight from his fishing trip and a crazy-2-hour-driving-like-maniac-almost-missed-his-flight-drive to the airport. I was praying and so thankful he made it!

Those are highlights so far from our day. I’m sure there’s more to come. But so thankful for the texts, sweet comments on blog, and prayers.

Gotta go. More robes, goopy gel, nakedness, and nurses…

With love and thanks,
Jen

20120910-144838.jpg

20120910-144709.jpg

Miscellaneous Musings and MD Anderson

It’s another of those days where my mind is full of thoughts but I have no clue how to organize them. You should know me well enough to read that as a forewarning of potential for randomness and ramblings:) But, I do have some updates and wanted to share. So thankful for prayers – the ones answered and the ones offered.

Maybe that’s as good of a way to start as any … answered prayers! I continue to feel better and better and better. On Friday night, as Scott and I went out (another thanks for Friday night babysitters!), he commented that he thinks my energy level is not only back from surgery but even pre-chemo levels. And I agree! I hadn’t put those words on it but, for the past 6 months, even on days when I felt pretty decent, I would catch myself spontaneously exhaling – tired from doing basic tasks like loading Linc in car, carrying groceries in from store, or getting in/out of shower. And, by God’s grace, with chemotherapy drugs and anesthesia out of my system, I feel much more like my old self. Also, I feel like my right arm works again! I can reach the glove compartment once again, reach around to touch Lincoln in his carseat, and even made it back to the gym this week. I’ve tried to heed the doctor’s lectures (and they are indeed lectures!) about fighting fatigue with exercise so, though it’s almost impossible to fathom that I’ve ever run a marathon or even more than a mile, I am actually back out for long walks and maybe even a few minutes of jogging when I feel really crazy:) Speaking of crazy, when you’re jogging and using your right arm to hold your right boob as backup for the sports bra, it’s definitely a crazy look. But, whether it’s mental or real, the idea of a bouncing boob or armpit (where scars are) still makes me nervous about any type of bouncing movement. But, with just a little exercise and a lot less drugs, I feel like we are back to more normal energy levels … and I’m SO THANKFUL! Nothing makes you appreciate feeling good like feeling bad.

Speaking of good … With my renewed energy levels, when my brother in law texted on Saturday to invite Scott to go to the Tech game later that day, I chimed in with “yes for Scott … but what about me?” Now, I’ll admit that it was easy to say that when they were flying (the road trip would have been different story!) but, needless to say, I was thrilled to be up for it and get the invite too:) So, Linc went to spent the night with Travis and Emmy Kate and I went to my first Tech football game, made some fun new friends, and sat beside my husband while he enjoyed his mistress – Tech football.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And, more answered prayers … As we got the biopsy report a couple weeks ago post-surgery and realized that we had a harder road ahead than we’d expected, it brought back the discussion of seeking second opinions. Since the beginning, I’ve resisted second opinions for several reasons: 1. The effort seemed exhausting (as Scott says, I can be “mentally lazy”) to have more clipboards, more phone calls, more family history discussions, and more coordination for care for Linc and 2. I really think we have awesome doctors and 3. I’m more of a people-pleaser than I realized and though I know she’ll understand I cringed at the thought of telling Dr. Osborne (for fear it would seem to reflect dissatisfaction with her – which is totally not the case!). My mom has really wanted a second opinion (reminding me that she read that “87% of doctors, when they’re the patient, get second opinions …”) but that wasn’t enough to get me motivated. I committed to pray about it. She suggested I ask Jen Welsh – she is one of my dear friends and college roommates and a doctor. She strongly encouraged it. We’ll either get peace of mind with confirmation or, if they have different counsel, we’ll have the benefit of that as well. And, one of my best friends, Jamie (aka B) is married to a doctor whom I love (ie, he’s not only her husband but my friend) and he has done everything short of beg me to consider a second opinion since the first diagnosis. On Friday night, Scott and I agreed we’d pursue it. The next morning, after listening to another encouraging message from Jen, the Lord brought to mind a dear old friend who moved to Houston. I haven’t seen Amy in years but we served together in HighLight (a Thursday night Bible study at Watermark) for several years before she moved to Houston. I went looking for Amy’s number but couldn’t find it so sent a message on Facebook – all I said was, “remind me again … do you work at MD Anderson?” She’s a nurse and I just couldn’t remember for sure if that’s where she worked. To make a long sweet story short, we exchanged emails over the weekend but her first message back to me was, essentially, that she’d been praying about whether or not to reach out and encourage me to come (she had been following on blog), she had already given her physicians an overview of my case and they’d thought the same, and that she would have someone call me on Tuesday (since they were closed on Monday) to set up the appointment So, for the girl who dreads the phone, scheduling, and coordinating, for MD Anderson to call me by Tuesday morning at 9:30 was an incredible blessing. Not to mention my friend who will actually be my nurse when I go. I have an appointment for next Monday! They even offered me one as soon as Friday but Scott is going fly-fishing and I’m going to A&M with Lincoln to see Mel and Gulley (and to get help with Linc though they will be learning that little secret for the first time as they read this!) and we don’t need cancer to get in the way of fly fishing or fun with friends! So I was thankful that our fun weekend plans could stay in tact and we’ll just be up and at ’em at the crack of dawn on Monday, while Linc goes to his Nana’s, and we head to MD Anderson. I’ll have mammograms and other imaging down around 11:30 then meet with a breast cancer radiologist at 3pm. And, since Dr. Tereffe (who is an Ethiopian female and since I am partial to dark skin and Africans this made me extra happy!) will likely suggest seeing a medical oncologist as well, we could have additional appointments on Tuesday or in the future. I am ecstatic. Not only did the Lord clearly direct our paths, as we prayed, but He also made them smooth. That takes my mind and heart to Isaiah 42:16: I will brighten the darkness before them and smooth out the road ahead of them. Yes, I will indeed do these things; I will not forsake them. That’s exactly what He’s done. We are so thankful for friends that are doctors, friends that are nurses, friends that can get me into MD Anderson so quickly, Nana to keep Lincoln, and friends that pray. Thank you Jesus.

And, on to more comical cancer topics, I would now like to see a show of hands of who among you knows who the heck Amber Rose is?! No, I’m serious, I want to know. Raise your hand and let me see it. Because, clearly, this 40 year old had no idea who she was. But I do now …

So, I pull into ChickFilA drive through and the kid at the window says, “has anyone ever told you you look like Amber Rose?”
I said, “No, who’s Amber Rose?” The kid looked very disappointed and said to his buddy, “she doesn’t know who Amber Rose is!” I wanted to say, “dude, I’m 40 and do you see the carseat in the back? I’m maybe not as hip as you seem to think!” I said, “So, who is she …?” He said, “She’s HOT!” I liked where this was going. But, assuming she was a cancer patient or somehow sick, I said, “so why does she have a bald head?” and he said, “I don’t know, I guess she likes it?!” I drove off laughing – and confused. And dying to see what Amber Rose looked like. I quickly googled her. The only thing we have in common is a fuzzy head. I’m no model, actress, socialite or engaged to a rapper. Nor have I recently posed for Louis Vuitton. But, I am flattered. I am flattered that he finds any resemblance to me and the model and that he thinks this 40 year old mom would even know who Amber Rose is. And, the truth is, I later realized that he actually thinks I chose this hairstyle – he thinks that, like her, there’s no reason for a buzz except that I like it. Well, that’s not exactly the case but I’ll take the compliment. And, not but a few miles after that, a drove past a real tatted up guy in a big truck (and I’m fine with tats and trucks!) who gave me the double fist-to-chest pump followed by a big smile and wave. I was sure it was more love for the cancer girl until, later, as I reflect on my recent Amber Rose conversation, that maybe he just thinks I’m rockin’ the bald/shaved and maybe I’m his people?! Nevermind the SUV and carseat and 40 years old?! I may feel tired and forty but I’m likin’ it that the kid at ChickFilA and the tatted up dude on 75 have decided I’m much cooler than I really am.

So, I’ll take my cool self on down to Houston next week and see what those doctors have to say. My heart is full. He has provided friends to meet so many of our physical needs and friends who are physicians and friends who can escort me right into MD Anderson. We are abundantly blessed. I echo the words of Nehemiah that I read this week: You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you. My God, who alone is Lord, has made me and preserves me. I am happy I’m His.

Much love from the Clouse House to your house.