A Year of Thriving

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My mom, brothers and sisters…Love you all!

August 8, 2013 – Last treatment
of the targeted chemotherapy, Herceptin.

August 8, 2014 – A year free of treatments- JOY. A year free of needle pokes and IV bags-PEACE. A year of hair growth and personal growth-LOVE. A year filled with love of family and friends-KINDNESS. A year filled with sunshine blinding my cloudy days because I wake up every morning-GOODNESS.

My daily prayers still include some personal intentions, but they are mostly prayers of thanksgiving. I have faced the evil that cancer is and am still thriving. A sweet cousin, who also overcame breast cancer, wisely told me as I began this journey in March of 2012, that she doesn’t consider herself a survivor, she is a thriver. I have come to realize that my life too is about thriving! My prayer is that I continue to thrive and bear the fruits of the Spirit to others.

I was blessed this past year of good health to spend beautiful moments with my sisters, Diane, Teri and Toni and my brothers, Don and John. I believe our relationships grew stronger and deeper. There were many moments that I treasure with friends too, but siblings share a special bond that runs long and deep. They have seen me at my worst and my best and they continue to stand by me. I pray I have shown them and will continue to show them the love, kindness and gentleness that they have shared with me. Some of the years highlights were…

Kevin and I were blessed to vacation just before my last Herceptin with Teri and Diane for Teri’s Hawaii wedding to a wonderful new brother-in-law, Nick. Teri’s children Mindy and Jack joined us for an incredible 5 sunny days.

Kevin and I were blessed to vacation with Don and Mindy in Cancun for a glorious week in January. Yes during Chicago’s below zero temperatures we were all glad to get away and relax at the beautiful gulf waters. Their friends Tony and Diane joined us for an amazing time filled with lots of laughs.

In March we stole a few days away for my nephew’s wedding in Arizona. Pete and Melissa filled the air with the love that radiated from them. And the time with the extended Caschetta family was so much fun…lots of little ones running around the reception and leading the moves on the dance floor.

The abundant blessings came about at the end of May when we could put off no longer the trip that we had been planning in our minds and hearts for 8 years. Fifteen days in Italy…Rome, Venice, Florence, Cinque Terra and Lucca. My heart felt at home in Lucca. Maybe it was because it is where my Nonno and Noni met, or maybe it was because I knew my father had walked those streets too. I don’t know what it was, but I felt a connection to a place I had only heard stories about.

There may have been hard moments, scary moments and moments of distress this past year. But I choose to remember the moments I spent with my husband, my daughter, my son, my mother, my siblings and my friends. Laughing, loving and living…no, laughing, loving and thriving!

Grace embraced through the love I have been blessed to share with others throughout the past year. May the Lord use me to help others bear their burdens, so that I may lighten their load in some small way.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness,
gentleness and self-control Galatians 5:22-23

 

The Almighty Physician

If you have ever faced an illness you understand when I talk about all the physicians necessary to care for you.almightydoctor

Over the past two years I have met with a gynecologist, breast surgeon, radiologists, cardiologist, oncologist, internal medicine, nuclear medicine, dermatologist, otolaryngologist, gastroenterologist, dentist, ophthalmologist, oncology radiologists, generalist, podiatrist, nephrologist and I’m sure I am forgetting someone (sorry). Each of these doctors were wonderful and a specialist in their field. I am so blessed to have the top-notch professional available at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Although they may have helped me along the way, the only true physician I needed was the Almighty Physician.

When I sat back and allowed The Physician to treat me, not only was I treated physically, but also emotionally and spiritually.

Now I see the scar that a surgeon left, but The Physician healed.
I have neuropathy in my feet left from treatment, but The Physician knows my pain.
He was there in the surgery, He was there for each appointment, walking right next to me.
He knows what I feel, what I need and what I can carry…and I will continue to trust Him with my life.
He is my constant, always faithful and always present.

Grace embraced through the moments I remember to pause and acknowledge the healing touch of our Lord Jesus.

“Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do” Luke 5:32

Prayer

prayer-on-my-kneesPope Francis this past week told the pilgrims at World Youth Day in Rio, “learn to pray everyday: this is the way to know Jesus and invite him into your lives“.

If you did not know how to pray before, everyone learns how to when the hear the words “You have cancer.”

No matter where you are or what you are doing, you lift up your prayers to the Lord.

Some may call God by other names, but just as I have many names (Janet, Mom, wife, sister, daughter, aunt, friend, coworker), God has many names. The incredible thing about God is He loves each one of us completely and hears each one of our cries with a merciful heart, through our calling out to him.

Prayer has been a foundation in my life since childhood. I always knew I had a guardian angel watching over me and felt the presence of God with me. I had a sister that passed away at the age of two, just 16 months before I was born and I always pictured she was my guardian angel. Jesus loves the little children, so having her at the feet of Jesus enabled me to focus on goodness and truth as I grew. I was just an ordinary child, the third of six children growing up. Of course we had our share of fights, but we stuck together. My three sisters and two brothers were more important to me than anyone. We were a big gang when we vacationed (usually camping) or spent the summers at the pool, but we were placed on this earth together…to take care and watch out for each other. And we did.

But it was not until I became a mother that my prayer life kicked into the forefront of everyday life. When I discovered I was expecting I began praying daily…and have not stopped every 26 years later. I learned that the Lord guides my marriage, my children and my life. I can communicate with him, I can disagree with him, I can praise him and I can rejoice with him…but I can not control the path he has in store for me. No matter how hard I have tried in the past – and I have tried!

I enjoy experiencing all types of prayers; alone and with others. Bible studies, meditation, spontaneous, retreats, songs, poems, prayers of the church, memorized, adoration, praying with my husband and so many other forms. This foundation that was built over my the course of my life was essential to living through the past year and a half. I prayed for the medical personnel and my family and friends. I prayed that I would be healed so that I am able to show the Lord’s power and glory. I prayed that I would be able to know the grandchildren that He has planned for me (then I switched to praying that my grandchildren will know me too!) I prayed for other cancer patients and those facing life changing illnesses and in a special way for those facing these challenges without the support of family and friends.

Prayer changes everything…because it first changes you.

May you find time today to pray and be changed.

Rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer. Romans 12:12

Grace embraced through the growth that I have experienced in times of tribulations and in times of prayer.

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

A simple prayer

I received a card the other day that had a beautiful prayer. I would like to share it and offer this prayer up for all the amazing women that are fighting for their lives, their families and their strength. May you continue to be filled with radiant joy! Thanks Aunt Evie for the card xoxo

Faithful God
whose life flows through all the season
bless this woman.

Breathe new life in her to renew
and refresh her spirit

Warm her with cherished memories
and delight her in the wisdom she shares

Be with her now as she opens her hands
in a spirit of letting go

Let her heart hear the whispers
of new voices and new learnings

May she know that she is loved
as she has loved

Gift her with peace and
fill her with your radiant joy

My prayer for all the brave survivors as we near the Christmas season is new breath, warm memories, an open spirit and may you truly know with each moment of the day that you are loved!

May God bless your journey!

Angel Emily

sweet angel

sweet angel (Photo credit: Pierre Metivier)

I met an angel…Emily Forysthe….She was placed exactly where I needed her another reassurance that the Lord’s plan is perfect.

Last week, I had to go for my Radiation planning. It takes two hours for them to measure you and set you in a cast. This cast will be what I lay in for over six weeks each time they send radiation through my left chest wall to erradiate any little cancer cells that are still holding on after two round of chemo. It was going to be a long day. A meeting with my New Lenox Oncologist first, then Radiation planning and then my final chemo treatment that I wrote about. From 9:30 am to 4:30 pm at University of Chicago Cancer Care in New Lenox…praises to Lori who patiently huffed it from waiting room to waiting room with me all day!

Needless to say I was a little nervous. I had not read much about Radiation Therapy yet, except for the side effects that I will experience. Dry skin, burning skin, fatigue…oh and the words that resonate from Dr. McCall, “we are very precise, so that we don’t radiate your heart and will do minimal damage to your lungs”. Just scar tissue on my lungs for the rest of my life…a calculated side effect to clear me of cancer.

Well before I get to Emily, let me go back to the week before when I met with Dr. McCall. Her sweet nurse, Nicole, walked me through everything that I would go through over the next two months and then entered this small stature woman with the kindest eyes. Instead of reaching for my hand to greet me, she embraced me with a hug. I instantaneously knew this is the right doctor to walk this radiation journey with me. Her compassion was only surpassed by her deep concern for my health. She patiently answered all my questions, all of my husband’s questions and all of my daughter’s questions…this is a family affair! We all walked out of her office feeling that we were exactly where the Lord wanted us to be each step of this journey.

On to Emily…

I checked in at the front desk and the receptionist brought me back to the women’s dressing room. Another pretty looking gown was to be donned for this procedure. As we entered the dressing room, the receptionist said hello to Emily who was still waiting to be called. I changed into my fashionable gown and took a sit next to Emily. I said hello and introduced myselft. In the five short minutes we had together before she was called in for treatment I was graced with the presence of an angel. She told me about her five boys, eight grandsons and eight granddaughters. One of her sons lost his battle with cancer that he got from serving in Vietnam and being exposed to Agent Orange. She also told me one of her granddaughters is fighting and surviving brain cancer. I asked about her story….and how she found herself here.

Emily is a huge proponent of mammograms. She said her family use to laugh at how often she would bring it up to her daughter-in-laws, granddaughters and friends. But she was adminent about caring for yourself. Then this spring her mammogram showed a small tumor. She had a lumpectomy and is doing radiation therapy. Her doctors are not planning chemotherapy, they are confident that the surgery and radiation are enough.

Emily got a huge smile on her face when she spoke of her children and grandchildren making her dinner. She is half way through her radiation and has become too tired each day to make meals for her and her husband. She laughed when she shared her husband said he would cook dinner. Her reply to him was “you haven’t cooked a meal in our 65 years of marriage, you’re not starting now.”

Then it hit me…Emily had to be at least in her 80’s. Married 65 years, but still full of spunk. Then she said, “I’m so blessed, so many women I meet here for radiation are doing so much worse than I. It’s like I have a hang nail compared to what they are going through.” She thought of her breast cancer as a hang nail! I sat alittle taller knowing if Emily can endure radiation, so can I.

She was called for her therapy and wished me well. I may never see Emily again, but she will always be in my heart and prayers. And then in a moment of grace, I discovered she was Catholic…as she walked out. she asked forgiveness of the nurse that if took her so long to get up, “Mea culpa, mea culpa”…now that put a big smile on my face!

As I entered the room for my planning session, they laid me on the table and I spend the next hour gazing up at the ceiling. Looking down at me was the red light of the laser that reminded me of the Lord’s love. It appeared to me as Jesus’ heart shining brightly down upon me and so I prayed for courage…I prayed for my family and friends…I prayed for Emily, the angel send by our Lord to lighten my anxiety and to rest my soul.

Grace embraced through Emily, a mother, grandmother, cancer survivor and angel. May she continue to touch others she meets and encourage their journey as she did mine.

“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put with you” Ezekiel 36:26

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