Facing Challenges

Two years free of chemo and I still feel effects. I wonder if the aches pains, loss of strength, chemo brain will ever be gone. The shooting pains that feel as it I am being electrocuted from the inside out…in random places all over my body. Headaches that remain for days, when I never got headaches before. These are my reminders of a turbulent time, snapping my mind to never forget my struggles and achievements. As I reflect back on 18 months of illness, I am grateful for every moment…the hard and the easy, the good and the bad, the despair and the joy. Illness can damage so much of us, spiritually, emotionally, physically and financially. It hits every part of our lives and each of our family members differently.

I grew so much in faith and learned many lessons. Our health is a blessing when it’s good or a curse when not. Our outlook plays a big part of our we attack any disease.I found support in my family, friends and faith. I pray that others are spared from the pain and anxieties that I experienced, however if you find yourself down this road I hope my lessons can help you. It may not be cancer, it may be multiple sclerosis, diabetes, arthritis, or a number of other ailments that surround us these days. You may be walking with a friend through these times or maybe a loved one. These are the things that matter most.

  • Prayer. Begin and end each day with prayer. Prayer helps center us and calms our fears. Knowing that the Lord hears us and lifts us can change your attitude instantly. Prayers we learned as child or just talking to God and laying our burdens at his feet.
  • Be Thankful. When facing a life-threatening illness you quickly become mortal. You see the end that you don’t want to even come close to. You realize no one should take life for granted. Be thankful for every breath, every moment and every memory you make. They are what you are living for. Even the moments of hardship will bring the joy of life to the forefront. Every leaf that blows past my feet as I walk is a gift of God’s great creativeness. Every call from my children is a moment of heavenly music. Visits with my mother playing Phase Ten and talking is grace of presence.
  • Relax. Take time to be still, to clear your mind and rest your body. Give yourself a break and stop all the busyness around you. Close your eyes, meditate and relax. Your body needs to rejuvenate, you need to pause….there is a power in pausing. The worries of the day will take care of themselves in due time.

I just finished reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. A powerful story everyone should read. Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning: “in work (doing something significant) in love (caring for another person) and in courage during difficult times. Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it.” Frankl found meaning even in the most horrific situation of a concentration camp. My struggles pale in comparison to his daily norm while imprisoned. But my struggles are my struggles, how I react is my choice. He also states the “forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.”

mansearchformeaning

The decisions we make each day are influenced by the faith we have. A life of prayer, thankfulness and time alone gives us the strength to face what lies ahead. Scripture tells us in Matthew 6:25-27, 33a, 34a

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?  But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness.  Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.”

Matthew 6-34

Grace embraced through lifes struggles produces great joy if you choose to respond in joy and love! May your journey be embraced by grace.

Anniversary thoughts

Today begins the Anniversary march. You know when you experience the “firsts” of everything.1anni

One year ago today I found my lump. Although I say “my”, I never took ownership of it. It was a foreigner in my body and as soon as I felt it I wanted it out. I remember telling my husband and he said lovely “it’s probably nothing”. I know he was trying to calm my fears and comfort me. But the one thing I was not was fearful.

I was with my father on November 24, 2006 when the doctor drained the fluid from his lungs and told him the tests were stage 4 lymphoma. He looked at my mother and lovely said “we’ve had a great life”. He would fight with everything he had, but he was not fearful but calm in those first few moments.

I remember thinking immediately of my dad and how strong he was and how faith-filled he was. And I felt the same way. I was not fearful, but I was concerned. Yet, I felt a peace over me. As if the Lord was saying to me “I’ve got this”. And I believed…

“It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority” Acts 1:7

And I have always trusted in my Lord…and He has never failed me.

I trusted His plan is so much better than any plan I could imagine.
I trusted His timing is perfect and that I will not be disappointed.
I trusted His healing power to guide those ministering to me.
I trusted His joy in seeing His glory in all that I would undergo.

And He exceed any expectations I could have imagined.

I would not wish this journey on anyone and I would not choose to go through it again. But I was so blessed with each step of this journey. You have read before all those that have helped me. But spiritually nothing compares to the depth of the relationship between Jesus and me.

He hears from me daily and many times throughout the day.

And I hear from Him more than ever…
I hear his voice in the friends that have reached out to me.
I hear his voice in the family that have cared for me.
I hear his voice in the doctors as they treat me.
I hear his voice in all the support techs and nurses that have shown amazing kindness.

His grace surrounds me.

When I began this blog I named it Grace Embraced, because I knew I felt grace filled moments as I walked those first few weeks alone with my husband and children. Now I know God named this Grace Embraced because He planned on filling every moment of my life with grace, as He has always done…but my eyes are now wide open and I can clearly see the grace as it flows around me.

Grace is Love.
And
Love is God.

To all the wonderful women in my life…for me, do a self-exam this evening…be aware of your own body…don’t put off until tomorrow…I love you all too much to not remind you…

So even on this anniversary that no one wants to remember, and as I approach the first anniversary of surgery and first anniversary of chemo, etc. I remember my dad’s words “we’ve had a good life” and I’m still enjoying it! Thanks Dad for looking down on me and Praise to the Lord for his goodness endures forever and flows over me we grace! According to my medical oncologist, my chances are statistically 50/50 that I will be here for more than 5 years. But my God knows statistics don’t hold any value with Him and I will continue to embrace and follow Him!

Grace embraced through you all; and you all are embraced with all the graces I have received, because I cannot receive them without sharing them with you.

“the day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Matthew 24:36

Sunshine!

My radiation team is my Sunshine!Sunshine

Each weekday morning for the past 20-some days, I have woken up. Kissed my husband goodbye as he heads into work and I head into the Radiation Department at the Cancer Care Center. Kim, Nikki, Rosie, Joann, and Melissa welcome me with smiles. They are my sunshine every day.

Sunshine provides light to others…and their smiles and warmth help survive the treatments.

Sunshine provides rays that burn the skin if over exposed…that too is unfortunately the side effects to help kill cancer cells (and boy do I have the burning, tight and peeling skin!)

Sunshine also gives you a boost of energy…and I’m now in the final days of radiation which is called the “boost”. It concentrates all the rays on the scar line, where the cancer can most commonly return.

There you have it, “sunshine”, the most amazing women, who care, laugh and smile their patients through a challenging time. They provide music and even mood lighting right before they leave to administer the rays from behind two walls and a huge metal door!

These ladies are truly sunshine! I have enjoyed getting to know them over the past six weeks and look forward to coming to visit with no treatment needed!

Iris is also a bright light each morning. Early December, Iris switched her radiation schedule and began coming right before me. Previous to her switch, radiation a pretty lonely wait. I saw no one in the changing room or waiting area.  Most days I go by myself, so Iris and I quickly took the opportunity to strike up a conversation. We soon discovered that we are on the same schedule, we will both have our last treatment on the same day. What a joy to celebrate with someone! Our hair is growing back at about the same rate, although she is braver than I and wears it for all to see (she also has less white hair). Our journeys have been similar and its been wonderful to share the experience with another survivor. Iris has been a joy to get to know and another beam of sunlight to my radiation mornings.

Grace embraced through the care and kindness of these incredible woman, showing gentle compassion to those in their care. May God bless them and their families

“A cheerful heart is good medicine” Proverbs 17:22a

Aches and pains

HEnglish: Aches and Painsalf way through Radiation! Looking forward to the new year…without the daily routine of radiation every morning!

I had a wonderful visit with my sister, Diane, who was able to come in for five days to help…and it was much appreciated! She also insisted, with my husband, that I talk to my Radiation Oncologist about the back and rib pain I have been experiencing for the past four weeks. The pain has been excruciating in my lower back, especially so when I try to stand up from sitting too long. There have been many times that I have not been able to stand straight up without help or grabbing on to something for support. It has been progressively getting more painful and debilitating.

I wrote it off to side effects of treatments, early onset menopause side effects, reactions from using my right side while no lifting from my left arm, or caused by the 20 pounds steroids have added to my hips and waist. And I was content thinking of the best case scenerio. Or was I blind?

I meet with Dr. Anne McCall every Monday during my radiation treatments. I agreed to talk to her about it. Then a few days before the appointment, a fellow breast cancer survivor reminded me that breast cancer most commonly metastasize first in the brain or bone. The light went off, the blind was removed and I began to breathe faster. My mind started to spin. I left our meeting with nothing on my mind but…”Is this a tumor? Will the new year bring more chemo? Is it back? Will it be treatable?” I remembered that Dr. Hoffman, my oncologist said if my type of aggressive breast cancer returns, it is not curable only treatable.

My drive home consisted of tears streaming down my face. I was so sure I have been moving forward. I trusted that the Lord heard my prayers. How could I bring this up to Kevin without worrying him? Was the light at the end of the tunnel dimming? What is the next step for my life?

I kept going back to my strength, my faith. I am surrounded by angels guarding my path. I had to trust that His plan was perfect. I had to.

I trust in His plan in my heart, but my head aches of the horrible possibility that these pains are more than nothing.

So on Monday, the 3rd, with my sister in tow, I spoke with Dr. McCall. I could see the concern in her eyes and knew her first thought was the last thing I thought of…bone cancer. Her kindness and compassion filled the exam room. “It could be lots of other reasons, but let’s be prudent and get it checked out.” So a bone scan was ordered for Friday.

Thank goodness my sister-in-law was able to go with me, she helped calm my worst fears. Friday morning began with an injection of tracers that will find their way to my bones over the course of three hours so that the imagining will show the bones more clearly. Then off to radiation for my daily dose of hazardous rays.

Mindy and I sat and talked about her upcoming trip to Italy, stopped in the chapel at the hospital and ran into a friend of my parents that volunteers at the hospital. She had a beautiful great dane with her that was a therapy dog. The distractions were so very helpful to keep my mind busy. Then three hours past and suddenly it was time for the scan. The bone scan was painless – they always are – you don’t even have to put a gown on, you just have to lay still while the machine does the imagining.

“Results will be at your doctors in 2-3 days” just sounded like, “continue waiting”… and so I continue to wait…

But I trust in the Lord, which has been my mantra since I began this breast cancer journey. I find peace in music and I know prayers of so many are with me and the Lord is carrying me, so I will climb this mountain too and discover myself in the place prepared for me.

Enjoy one of the songs my daughter gave to me in April, that gives me strength: I’m Gonna Love you through it

See, I am sending an angel before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared. Exodus 23:20

Grace embraced in the comfort of prayer during times of distress and worry. I find comfort in the memorized prayers of my childhood and the honest prayer conversations I have with the Lord daily. I find comfort in the prayers of so many that lift me up every time they remember me. May God’s grace embrace each and every one of you. 

The Big C

I have the Big C.

What does that mean?

How has that affected my life?

Am I a different person?

Do I look and act differently?

How do people react to me?

Does the Big C define me?

Of course my life is different because of the Big C. My outlook on life has completely changed, I mean it has to. Knowing that everything in your life is now looked through a different lens, you re-evaluate everything. What was important to you before, may not be so anymore. Relationships and love is what matters. How I treat other people matters, how I connect with others and give of my time and energy to people. Everything seems to be a C word nowadays. Chemotherapy, Cancer, Communicate, Courage, Comfort, Compassion, Connect, Community, Comments, Cards, Care…

I know I physically look differently. My long brunette head of hair is gone, my eyebrows are going now too and the dark circles under my eyes are more visible, no matter how much concealer I coat on. My chest that once occupied bras is now lopsided and doesn’t even fill a tank top. Bruises and scars now occupy where drains came from my body, ports went in and a 9″ almost perfectly straight scar cuts my left chest in two halves. But my physical appearance is not what I mean.

Do I look differently to others as I reach out to them.
Can they tell a difference in my kindness, compassion and love?
I know I feel different, I hope they feel the difference through my sincerity.
I hope that the Big C in me changes others too.

Does the Big C define me?
Absolutely!

For Me, the Big C is Christ!

I am changed by Christ, I am a better person because I have the Big C.
My Big C has complete control over the little c of cancer that took residence in my body.
Christ has this covered! I chose to focus on the Big C who took residence in my body way before the little c and who embodies every cell inside me. Every since I was a child, I have known Christ. I feel His presence in my daily life. He comforts me and I trust Him completely.

It’s so funny, some people even have a hard time talking about what they call the big c, they want to avoid that I have been diagnosed with cancer, they don’t know how to react. Cancer patients need Christ-like friends and family, that’s all, it’s simple. People who reach out with love and genuine kindness. A simple call, or card shows compassion and love. So take out of our vocabulary that the big c is cancer… it’s not. There are so many other c words bigger than cancer. Fill your day with Compassion and Care and Christ will fill every cell of your being with Love. Attitude is everything, so my attitude is…

For me, there can be no bigger C than our Lord…CHRIST.

For You created my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother’s womb. Psalm 139:13

Grace embraced today as I begin my week of strength and healing, preparing for my 4th Chemo on July 19th, with my Big C carrying me each day. Prayers that I remain healthy and my blood count remain high enough for treatment to fight the little c’s within me. 

Pathology report

May 13, 2012

Today is Mother’s Day. I have never felt so much love from my family on Mothers Day as today. Maybe because the pathology report was not the best as we were praying for. Maybe it’s just because I AM a great mother 🙂 Whichever the reason, it doesn’t matter, I taking all the love I can get today! Homemade omelet served by my husband with fresh fruit and OJ. Movie matinée midday if I’m strong enough and hopefully I will be able to attend mass tonight. Flowers from my daughter in AZ and the love of friends and family walking to fight breast cancer! Love embracing me all day today!

Now for reality…pathology report was the hot topic of conversation last thursday for the interdisciplinary conference at the University of Chicago Hospital. The tumor in the breast was larger than expected: 8.5 cm x 6.1 cm x 4.7 cm. Sounds like a trophy size, maybe I should have asked for a picture? The trophy is that it is not longer a weight on my chest and it is OUT.
They removed 33 lymph nodes from my left underarm and side. I honestly did not even know a person had that many lymph nodes one side. I guess I was thinking about 7-10. They saw only two that appeared abnormal, but 18 have tumors. When Dr. Jaskowiak said “tumors”, it sounded much more cryptic than “abnormal”. It took me back.

I thought, why am I always receiving this news over the phone and alone. But that’s God’s plan, so I accept it and grab for paper and a pen.

33 lymph nodes removed – 18 had tumors. Scribbles, noted, ask questions Janet…

“So what stage am I at post-op?”
“You are now categorized: T3, N3, M0 – Stage 3C. Herceptin and radiation will be effective to HER2 positive receptors”
I don’t understand what that all means, but I write it down and figure I can understand later.
I need the right medical terminology to be able to understand it later. Write it down correctly Janet.

“Where would it travel to next?”
“Great question” But I don’t want to be asking these questions, but I know I have to. “The next basin is usually first the mediastinal nodes between the chest that they do not do surgery to remove, so chemo and radiation will attack them. The other area would be the lymph nodes near the left clavicle area. So we will concentrate chemo and radiation on that area also.”
I am thinking chemo and radiate my whole body – get rid of it everywhere!

Doctor tells me “All margins were clear.” All five of the oncologist at the conference were encouraged by the report.
So I guess I’m encouraged too. Even with the bad news there is good news – I will beat this horrific disease – even if it doesn’t seem that today. Tomorrow will be better. I am confident in that fact.

She suggests that I meet with the Medical Oncologist the week after next to talk about starting Chemo in June. Of the five at U of C, she recommends Dr. Phillip Hoffman. He is also a hematologist, which would be helpful since I have a blood mutation that increases my risk of blood clots. The interdisciplinary conference is suggesting AC TH herceptin chemotherapy. I’ll learn more about those initial through online research I’m sure. I want to meet with Dr. Hoffman with questions about the drug and treatment I will be facing.

Finally, Dr. Jaskowiak explains that the numbness I am feeling in my arm, may go away, but may be permanent. I will be researching if there is anything I can do to help my nerves heal, prayers for healing now include nerves as well.

I walk out into my kitchen, completely numb, and join my sister, niece, son, mother, brother and sister-in-law and choke out the news about the tumors. The amazing turkey meatballs and pasta my sister-in-law made was delicious yet I did not taste anything.

Somebody make me laugh…I need laughter. Kevin arrived home from work at 7:45 pm, the first time this week before 8:00 pm and was I glad to fall into his arms.

Next year’s Mother’s Day will be completely different.

Grace embraced: The grace of knowing what the final pathology report in. Good or bad news, I need the truth and together we can face any truth that lays in my path. I plan on jumping right over the crappy stuff that is in my way and getting to the finish line arm in arm with Christ! Happy Mothers Day!

Anointed with prayer

What an emotional day today, but grace filled!

My pastor and boss asked if I wanted to be anointed. Of course I said “yes”, I was facing surgery. I’ve never had surgery before, so I thought I would find it comforting. Well no one told me to bring my make-up with me to the anointing, cause I needed it afterwards!

Thank goodness Kevin was able to take his lunch hour and come for the anointing. He truly is a solid rock for me to cling to in stormy weather!

Anyway…I walked into the Chapel of the church and there were over twenty co-workers surrounding me with support and prayers. Boy was I glad I grabbed a few tissues before I left my office.

What a beautiful prayer service! As each person came forward and placed their hands on my head and prayed for me, it was powerfully, spiritually emotional.

I read this morning:”Courage daughter, your faith has restored your health”Matthew 9:22.

I love it! The hemorrhaging woman has always been one of my favorite stories. I love the fact that she did not want to bother Jesus, she just knew if she touched a tip of his cloak. What faith! I too find it humbly to bother people for prayers for myself. I much rather ask for prayers for others. But the Lord has other plans for me. But I know as I reach out just to touch the tip of His cloak, I will be restored.

Grace embraced: For the gift of anointing of the sick and all the amazing people who have lifted me up in prayer. For the strength of my family and all that they do for me.