And the answer is…

No tumor!

My bone scan was normal! No signs of arthritis either! No abnormalities! Great news!

My mind is at ease, but my aches are still there. As a cancer patient, every twinge and every ache become a question of where did that come from? Could it be a symptom of something worse?

I learned a valuable lesson this past month. I need to continue to listen to my body. When I have symptoms and aches, I need to address them.  This terrible disease can come back and I never want to let it grow in my because I choose to close my eyes to symptoms.

I have to be my own advocate when dealing with health care professions.
I had mentioned my back and rib pain to the chemo techs after Thanksgiving. They did not ask more questions. I’m sure they see every kind of symptom as patients go through treatment. So their non-concern gave me permission to not be concerned also. I also mentioned it to the dermatologist I saw earlier this month to remove a suspicious mole. Still no concern. Every health care professional that I have dealt with over the past ten months has been wonderful and caring. But they don’t know what is going on in my body. They can’t feel what I feel. I can try to describe it, but it’s not the same. They are focused on the reason I am seeing them. I need to be my own advocate with new symptoms.

Well I now have a rolodex of physicians. Breast surgeon, Medical Oncologist (two), Radiation Oncologist, Dermatologist, Hypertension Physician, Otolaryngologist, Urologoist, Gynecologist and Primary Care Physician, along with all their fellows, associates, nurses, techs, nutritionist, and medical assistants. I’ve got people to talk to! A few months ago, I was asked if I was going to a health screening my office was hosting. I thought maybe I should go, then paused and realized I have been scanned, x-rays, imaged and blood worked so much this year, there is nothing a health screening can discover! I hope!

I am so thankful for all the prayers, texts, emails, cards for my concerns. I am grateful to the Lord for sheltering me from the worse case scenario of this symptom. Finally, I have opened my eyes to the endless possibilities of what await me as I move forward as a breast cancer survivor.

I embrace grace through prayers. I pray for all the women fighting this disease, that you find strength in those around you that care for you. I pray for those that have fought this disease and are surviving and thriving each day, you are an inspiration to me. I pray for those who fought and lost their battle with cancer, look down on those here fighting and intercede for us.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Philippians 4:4

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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. 

12 done!

Celebrate You- Celebrate Life!

(Photo credit: sirwiseowl)

August 2nd began a journey I would have never wanted but now that I am through it, it is a journey I would never trade for anything.There were moments of discomfort, sadness, insomnia and pain. But grace was interwoven through every moment.

I was so sad when my daughter had to return to Arizona for her second year of teaching. Although I am so proud of the woman she is, I wanted her to be in Illinois to help me through the Taxol/Herceptin treatment that I was facing. She was with me for all of the Adriamycin and Cytoxan chemotherapy and now she will be 1700 miles away. So, I was needing to rely on the wonderful family and friends that were patiently waiting for me to call ont them to help.

A Taxol/Herceptin treatment needs someone to drive me home.  The Benadryl makes you drowsy and the chemo makes me exhausted. So over the last twelve weeks Don, Teri, Kathy J., Lori, Diane, Wendi, Colleen, Kathy E, and Jeanne Marie were all my treatment angels. Jaclyn was home for fall break was able to take me to one.  But these wonderful angels were willing and happy to share this experience with me. Sitting with me for 4 to 5 hours, some even called a blessing to them. Amazing, beautiful, giving, loving people! My life is so filled with blessings!

Yesterday was my last treatment of Taxol/Herceptin. The Herceptin will continue until August 2013, but every three weeks and will only take an hour to administer. Radiation therapy will begin in ten days and last to the middle of December. But today I celebrate another DONE!

The Chemo Brain will stay around for possibly years…
The neuropathy will take time to heal…
But, after the Taxol is out of my body within ten days or so,
The bone pain will be gone…
The nose bleeds will stop…
The indigestion will ease…
The insomnia will subside…
The hair should begin to grow again…
The mouth sores will heal…
The dry red skin will start to soften…
The weight from the steroids will begin to fall away (hopefully)…
My blood pressure should return to normal…
My blood counts will begin to return to normal…

But will my life get easier? I received my first survivor item at the walk we did a week ago and realized I am surviving, even striving, but will always carry the weight of cancer on my mind. The Taxol attacked the rogue cells that want to take over my body, but they cannot take over my spirit.

My family, my friends and my amazing treatment angels, walked this journey with me. They prayed for me, they prayed with me, they held me and supported me. Christ is my rock, but they are my rocks on earth.
They helped me during the most difficult moments of my life and they did so with joy, compassion and love. When I first began this journey of treatments, I thought who would want to spend so much time sitting in a chair watching me get poked with needles as toxic fluids are dripped through my body. Who wants to cover my feet with ice and wait on me if I needed water, snacks, or a bathroom break? But the angels the Lord sent did and I am forever grateful to Him for choosing each one of them. I pray that one day I am fortunate enough to repay their kindness.

My joy of completing the Taxol treatments is sadden by the  completion of the time spent with the my angels. I hope to survive the next batch of treatment with as much grace that my angels showed me these past twelve weeks.

Grace embraced through the hours of love I experienced with my angels and the positive effects the Taxol will have, which is worth all the side effects I have endured.

“The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him and He delivers them.” Psalm 34:7

Side Effects and Survival

Sorry that I have not posted for a while, but life gets busy and I was accomplishing lots of work from home and had some wonderful visits. Anyway…here’s the latest!

So tired of the Side Effects:
fatigue                                  nausea
hot flashes                          bone pain
muscle ache                       lack of sleep
heartburn                           itchy scalp
gastro complications       swelling left arm
emotional swings             mouth sores
dry mouth                           nose sores
loss of appetite                 weight gain (I know…how with loss of appetite?)

I was so glad to complete my final AC treatment on July 19th! Some of these side effects will diminish as the AC works out of my body. My niece Brook and Jaclyn shared that final treatment with me, catching up on life and laughed a lot. Having someone with me really makes the time goes easier. My side effects seemed to be minimal and I wonder if I was just enjoying Brooks visit so much that I did not pay attention to them. Of the fatigue kept me homebound for the weekend, but it did not stop me from enjoying all the crafting that Brook and Jaclyn were doing. The two of them were Pinterest crafty queens, making an assortment of bracelets and t-shirts. So fun to watch their creative minds and artistic hands go to work! The extra t-shirt is for my sister Diane, who was not able to join us on the weekend last-minute, so please picture her beautiful face in the photo :). And I ask for you to please keep her dear friend, Dawn who lost a 23-year-old son that week, in your prayers.

After Brook left on the 22nd, I soaked up as much Jaclyn time as I could, since Arizona was calling her home on the 26th. Our last days together were so special for me. She is an amazing woman and I truly enjoyed every moment that June and July allowed us this year. And we did not tif once! If you remember her senior year, you would know what an accomplishment that was! Haha! Love you my baby girl!

Then at 8:00 am on Thursday morning Kevin and Jaclyn left the house for the drive to Arizona. I climbed back in bed and prayed for their safety cross-country. The Lord never failed and they safely make the trip through Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, New Mexico and into Scottsdale safely. Zach and I spent the weekend together and I watched more Sci-Fi than ever, but it was a wonderful weekend. Zach is so caring and picked up right where Jaclyn left off as my caregiver! Of course the week was peppered with delicious meals from Mindy too! Thank goodness my side effect dissipated by week’s end and I was ready to return to work on Monday.

Now on to my next phase of treatments – Taxol/Herceptin. I started them yesterday and we privileged to sit in a comfy recliner for five hours! Allergic reactions are the most serious side effect with this treatment, so they start the drip really slow the first time. My brother Don was able to take me, he was great, he took wonderful notes and asked questions – allowing me to sit back and relax. Which was all I could do after the dose of Benadryl, Tylenol, and steroids they began with. I often wonder if will ever return to the days where I never took medicine. I can dream…

All in all, I have survived the most aggressive part of the treatment plan, on to the next phase. Although I miss Jaclyn terribly, I am so happy that the next eleven treatments will bring a wonderful group of friends and family that have filled in my calendar to take me for treatments. Although I get exhausted as the infusion fills my body with toxins, I absolute love the time to catch up with whoever gets to sit in the uncomfortable chair next to my recliner ;). And I am so glad and appreciative to them for giving of their time to me. Although this diagnosis has been a true challenge for me and my family to adjust to, the blessings of rekindled friendship and deepening commitment from family and friends has been uplifting and inspiring. It is amazing to me that so many people four months after my diagnosis are still remembering me in prayer, with cards, messages and dinners. I treasure them all and appreciate the calls and visits too. I am back to work for the beginning of the week, with Fridays, Saturday and Sundays off to rest after treatments and love the company, thank you!

I looking forward to a two-day Pastoral Retreat I have this month and keeping back to as close to normal as I can with work. I began physical therapy on my left arm this past week and hope to soon regain as much strength and movement as possible, while keeping lymphedema at bay. My trust in my caregivers and the Lord gets me through each day – and your thoughts and prayers sustain me.

I am truly loved and it is a humbling feeling to accept all the power you are sending me, but I gracefully accept it all with grace and love back. Please know I pray for you all each day too.

May my supplication come before you; deliver me according to your promise. Psalm 119:170

Grace embraced through my survival of the most aggressive parts of my treatment and surviving all the side effects. May these treatments attack the cancer cells and free my body of the destruction cancer has tried to do. Christ will conquer my cancer and I will proclaim His glory!

Chemo A/C #4

Four AC Chemo completed! With my support team of my daughter, Jaclyn and my niece, Brook with me!

I feel so blessed. My father did not handle chemo well. At 75 years, the medicine that was to help him fight Mantle Cell Lymphoma wretched havoc through his body. I know his “cocktail” of chemo was different from mine, but I could not help remembering his experience as I entered this cancer journey in March.

Dad had episodes where he passed out after chemo, it was really scary. The medicine finally tore through his intestines causing so much pain for him; he chose hospice and no more treatment. I will always remember that February day in the Naples Hospital, after hours and hours in the ER, when he said, “I’ve had such a wonderful life, but I can’t take the pain, chemo is not working for me.” My niece, Michelle and then my brother, Don visited to help and heard similar words. Don moved him into hospice. Dad was done with the pain; he was ready to go home. But none of us were ready to hear those words.

Reflecting on those months, I can now understand how he could make that decision, but in February 2007, all I wanted was for Dad to fight. Flashback to October 2006, Dad was a healthy, three times a week golfer, who exercised every day and was an active artist. Enthusiastically involved at the Art League, painting beautiful watercolors and easily lifting marble pieces to work on a sculpture. As my family was visiting at Thanksgiving, Dad was having trouble taking deep breaths. I took him to the urgent care clinic, which discovered fluid in the lungs. In December I flew with my parents to MD Anderson to confirm the diagnosis and a treatment plan. After a month in Texas, Dad and Mom wanted the comforts of home again, so Don flew them home to Bonita Springs.

Our family experienced many heartaches; but so many blessings during this time. My siblings and I, there are six of us, took turns visiting and helping where we could. My Dad once said how super it was to spend time individually with each of us, he had not done that for years. My Dad always saw the blessings and positive in everything. I never really thought about it, but since we all had families, visits were always as a family and the one-on-one time does get limited. I loved our talks and spending time with my Mom and Dad alone, as I am sure my siblings did also. My niece and nephew, Michelle and Jim who were the only grandchildren at the time out of college and working, even used their vacation days to take days and spend with their grandparents. It was a hard time, filled with sad and happy memories.

The true heavenly blessing came in the end. My father was first and foremost about family. His children and grandchildren was his biggest pride, then his friends, followed by his many accomplishments through the Chicagoland as an architect/builder. From February 16th to Easter, April 15th, every member of our family was able to visit Dad. He saw and said his good-bye to six children, two daughter in-laws, three son-in-laws, and thirteen grandchildren. It was a beautiful testament to the life he led that everyone within a short time was able to get to Florida. Then on April 17th God came to take him home. And he was ready.

I miss him everyday…everyday. And when I was diagnosed, I would not help but remember his journey. But his journey is not my journey and I am so blessed to have completed the hardest part of my treatment. This AC was the one that closely reminded me of Dad’s treatment.

Most importantly, I feel his presence with me, in between his heavenly golf games of course, giving me strength for the journey.

My chemo is different, thank the Lord! The AC chemo has the most side effects of my treatment plan and is the hardest on my body, but I need to get through this next week and move forward to Taxol/Herceptin, Radiation and then Herceptin only. AC is called by many the red devil because it is a toxic red medicine. But I read on a cancer blog that she thinks of it as a miracle, like how the blood of Christ cleans us and it is cleaning her body of cancer cells…that’s so much more a beautiful positive image! I chose to focus on His great sacrifice for us all!

So…the sleepless nights begin. I don’t know if it is the medicine or my mind, but the 6 days following AC chemo are sleepless nights for me. As is true for tonight, five hours and I am wide awake.

I try meditating, praying, reading, warm milk, and cool wash cloths covering my eyes to my forehead to relax me, but nothing is successful. I lay with my mind racing and nowhere to go. So I get out of bed and am totally awake. It’s 3:15 am.

Taking so many drugs for nausea, pain and high blood pressure, I find I am not a big fan of more pills…sleeping pills. I prefer to trust that the Lord will give me the rest I need. But maybe, like my episode with the pain meds in May, I need to believe that the Lord provided the medical community the ability to create sleeping pills for situations like this. J

But now I am at a crossroads, it’s 4:00 am and if I take the sleeping pills I will sleep through the morning. I don’t want to do that, Brook’s here and even though I don’t have much energy I want to enjoy her company! She’s the best, yesterday after chemo both her and Jaclyn jumped into my bed and talked and watched old Friends episodes, had some munchies (don’t tell Kevin we ate in the bed, we cleaned it up) and laughed. It was exactly what I needed as my energy was sapped. I think they have surprise crafts planned for today and tomorrow, they won’t tell me any more than we need to go to JoAnn Fabrics.

After my Neulasta shot tomorrow, they will gather their supplies and begin! I can’t wait to see what they have planned and so looking forward to the weekend with Brook!

Well, another blessing in the sleepless nights is the time I am able to spend before the house awakes; reflecting on the Mass Daily readings, completing my prayers and reading the Bread of Life.

“Not one is missing, not one forgotten. God the Father has his eye on each of you, and has determined by the work of the Spirit to keep you obedient through the sacrifice of Jesus.” 1 Peter 1:2 (MSG)

Grace embraced through the healing powers of AC, Christ love, the strength of my Dad and the love of the wonderful support of family and friends, especially Jaclyn and Brook this week!