A Funny Tasting Chemo Morsel…

Why don’t cannibals eat clowns?
Because they taste funny…

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It’s been about 13 1/2 months since my last chemo treatment.  I just realized that there was definitely one good thing about having chemo in my system.

I tasted funny to all the bugs!

As a child, I was always covered in bug bites.  Regardless of ALL the different changes to my body chemistry over the last 43 years, I could always count on being a big bowl of yummy to any and every bug that desired a delectable morsel of my sweet meat.

As I stood in my kitchen this morning frantically clawing at yet another bug bite, I was struck by the fact that this didn’t happen last year.  And it took me a bit longer than a moment to remember that last summer was bug-free… because I was chemo-filled.

Remember:

No Smiling Allowed!

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Welcome to every day for the rest of this life!

Why would you want to compare yourself to a cancer patient?

Let me give you a run down of what I am living with at this point in time:

  • Spinal pressure and pain every night as I (attempt) to sleep.
  • HOT flashes, from Tamoxifen and chemically-induced menopause, all through the already restless night.
  • At least 30 minutes of concentrated stretching to compensate for the 18 inches of scar tissue across my chest that has contracted throughout the night.
  • Seeing 18 inches of scars across my chest.
  • Fatigue because I have not sleep well in weeks due to spinal pain and hot flashes.
  • Cognitive issues (chemo brain) from having toxic chemicals pumped into my heart.
  • Metabolism and ‘mood’ issues due to Tamoxifen and chemically-induced menopause.
  • Chemically-induced menopause because of the toxic chemicals pumped into my heart.
  • Private issues because of chemically-induced menopause. 
  • Gastro-intestinal issues because of the toxic chemicals pumped into my heart.
  • Lymphedema issues because of the ancillary node dissection I was required to have.
  • Learning to live without my breasts and having to adapt my wardrobe and my outlook accordingly.
  • Learning to live the with possibility of cancer re-occurrence or metastization.
  • Dealing with people who choose to be cruel instead of compassionate in their words, actions, and/or attitudes.
  • Learning to bear-up under the scrutiny of cruel and uncompassionate people.
  • Fatigue because my body has just come out of 17 months of aggressive cancer treatments in order to save my life.
  • Dreading sleep because it just starts this list all over the next day. 

There is one verse in particular, found in Matthew 11, that has taken on new meaning for me.

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

Can you imagine that???
Don’t compare my burden to anyone else except His burden…

Christ tells me to carry HIS burden because it’s light in comparison to mine!

Truly amazing is this God who loves me!

 

A Word of Thanks

This is a guest post from Football Fan.

The Apostle Paul writes in Philippians 4.14, “You have done well to share with me in my affliction.” (affliction = suffering) He wrote these words from a dank, filthy hole in the basement of Mamertine Prison in Rome, and he had just received an extremely generous gift from one of the churches in Paul’s ministry. Their gift to the politico/religious prisoner marked them before one of the world’s most infamous dictators. They truly shared in Paul’s sufferings.

Many people shared in our difficulty. I would like to take the opportunity to give a public word of thanks to God for the help we received during Lee’s cancer. I won’t mention names because: 1) I don’t remember them all, so I don’t want to give unnecessary offense if I forget to mention someone, 2) I don’t know some because they gave as part of a group, 3) I don’t want to embarrass others because they gave without wanting attention, and 4) some would be embarrassed because of the noticeable absence. Truly the too-numerous-to-count thoughtful acts of love and compassion overwhelmed us, and we appreciated the people who loved us enough to give of themselves to us. I remember one night when (half an hour apart) two families showed up on our doorstep with a hot dinner.

I make one exception to not naming specific people. Lee’s Aunt B and Uncle B have been the greatest source of personal encouragement through all of this. Aunt B called regularly and patiently. We weren’t always able to return calls immediately, and sometimes the calls went unreturned because we were literally fighting for dear life and making a phone call was the last thing on our minds some days. She always had a word of encouragement. She knew Lee wasn’t working and that we desperately needed that second source of income, and she provided for needs in very practical ways. She kept the girls for a week so they could get out of the sick house for a change of pace and scenery. She contacted other churches to pray for us. Between our many friends through the years and Aunt B’s efforts, churches from Pennsylvania to Texas to Florida were praying for us. Thank you, Aunt and Uncle B!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the churches in the Harrisburg Area Preachers’ Fellowship who reached out to us with the love of Christ. Four churches in particular went far above and beyond in their generosity. Two churches (one not from the fellowship) provided significant gifts, and two other churches gave us (in total) two freezers full of heat-and-eat meals. One of the latter churches invited my oldest daughter to go to camp with them last summer and completely covered the expenses for us. My daughter had the time of her life! Thank you to the body of Christ in southcentral PA and northern Maryland.

Our own church helped us greatly in many practical and loving ways. What stands out the most was that the church leadership team told me to take all the time I needed to do whatever I needed to do. They were true to every word, enduring my fluid schedule with the constant doctors’/therapy appointments. We could not have done it all without that kind of freedom and flexibility. The congregation patiently endured a handful of rerun sermons. They also patiently endured the sermons that weren’t reruns but which I wondered how much sense they made because I wrote like a teenager first learning to drive a standard — some days writing my sermons was like getting that kind of whiplash. The church family constantly asked about the latest developments. They provided many things, sometimes on very short notice. I am and always will be deeply grateful for my Grace Chapel family.

These gifts and acts of love, while meeting real physical needs, ministered to our hearts and souls — our spiritual needs. They all shared in our afflictions, sometimes crying with us and other times laughing with us, but in all, helping us in our walk of faith. They have all been God’s grace poured into us in our time of weakness.

Why

There is no answer to the ‘Why?’ of my cancer journey.  

Well, there is, but it would not satisfy the centuries’ old question of ‘Why did this happen to me?’ and it definitely would not satisfy your expectations of your own ‘Why did this happen to me?’.

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There are 3 lessons that I have learned though and each lesson is dependent on the previous lesson:

Draw near to God.
You cannot get through any trial or tribulation by yourself.  You have to find hope somewhere.  Many look to the wisdom and courage of others’ struggles.  Many look to themselves.  But ultimately, each and every one of us will fail simply because there is no perfect foundation on this earth that is unmovable, unshakable, enduring, and strong enough to withstand any and all things.  The hope that you want to find is what will become your anchor.  It will become what you believe in.  It will become your faith.  Without that faith, you will not survive and if your faith is founded on that which is imperfect, then how will it survive?

How will you survive?

My faith must be anchored in the only thing that is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, and unchangeable and that anchor MUST be my Creator.  As I endured some of the darkest days of my life, I had to draw closer, nearer to the One who understood perfectly, the One who is perfect, the One who created me.  There were moments in the wee hours of the night, as I wept silently, pleading for comfort, for assurance, for strength, that He gathered me in His mercy and grace and loved me with His perfect, everlasting love.  And as I continued to draw closer to Him, He taught me the next lesson:

He is my ALL.
This is the hardest lesson to learn for I am continuing to learn it.  Football Fan was my 24/7 caregiver.  Next to him, Camo Kid and Princess Pink were my 24/7 caregivers.  You cannot imagine what that means until you have been someone’s 24/7 caregiver.  I have had people pray for me, provide meals for me, and a multitude of other beneficial and meaningful ways of ministering to me during my journey, but ultimately, it was my blessed little family who were there at the highest and lowest points of my illness.  Nobody else was there 24/7.  We have been blessed to be ministered to by complete strangers and we have been devastated to lose the relationships of those we counted very dear to us during this journey.

And yet, even with the 24/7 care and compassion of my blessed little family, they could not be my ALL.  My Creator urged me to draw closer to Him so that He could show me that no matter what, I am never alone, that I would never be alone.  In those darkest days, as I became a recluse because of my illness, as I watched and heard of the activities of my family, my friends, of strangers and as I longed to be part of the world, He never left me.  He became my ALL: my confidant, my confessor, my comfort, my joy, my peace, my God.  My relationship with Him changed from Him being The God of All Things to being My God of Everything.  His grace became sufficient so that I could bear the tremendous loss of so much because His grace IS sufficient.  And as I learned that He is and must always be my ALL, He taught me the final lesson:

Point you to Him.
What is it that you are seeking?  What is it that you are hoping for?  Don’t look to the wisdom and courage of others.  Don’t look to yourselves.  Look to Him.  It doesn’t even matter if you believe in Him or not.  It doesn’t matter if you understand Him or not.  Just look to Him…

You see, He loves you.

He has loved you forever.  

We all want to be loved.  We are all looking for love.  And He is waiting, patiently for you to look to Him: to understand what true love is and what true love feels like.  You turn your face to the Sun on a bright beautiful day and you feel the warmth of its rays.  Turn your face to the God who created you and feel the perfect love that can only come from Him.  You can only want to draw closer to that perfect love and it is only then that you will begin to understand that He is your ALL…

And then you will point others to Him.

And they will want to draw closer to Him…

And learn that He is their ALL.

And tell others…

Why.

 

Y-OW-ZERS!

Jackson-Pratt the Drain and I have ended our friendship.  I didn’t need his kind of drama in my life…  He, however, was very much attached to me.  And when I say attached, I mean actually attached, physically attached, and that is outside of the necessary attachment for the relationship that was forced upon us.

JP has many relatives and throughout the last 10 months, I have met 2 of his identical twins and one of his cousins.  They were all very easy going concerning our necessary relationship.  Their presence caused me no pain.  

JP #4’s needy existence was a different story…  

It has been 13 days since my simple right-side mastectomy.  My mind and my heart, in conjunction with no longer being chest-endowed, are experiencing calmness and a sweet communion.  My spine is elated at the lack of lop-sided-ness!  My body (The right side of my chest specifically.), however, feels like it went one-too-many rounds with Mike Tyson (Never fear, though, for my ear is intact!)!

The unnecessary drama began on Sunday, March 13th, as I was trying to remove the surgical dressing covering my incision.  I got woozy…  After calling the girls to call their Daddy, we all thought it would be best if I just resided in the bed for the rest of the evening.  The surgical dressing could stay put till another day…  

On Tuesday, I asked Football Fan to help me remove the dressing (Read here.) and for the rest of the week, I grasped a better understanding of what “being punched in the ribs” could possibly mean.  I don’t remember feeling this way with the last 3 surgeries.

On Monday of this week, I had my post-surgery check-up.  My chances of ending my relationship with JP were good and I didn’t care who pulled the plug, uhm… tube.  There I was on the examination table remembering JP’s 2 identical twins and one of his cousins when the burning sensation began because that’s what happens when the entrance for JP’s tube and JP’s tube, which have become one with each other, need to be forcibly separated.

Y-OW…

And the –ZERS comes when the end of JP’s tube has become one with tissue located in a chest that has gone too-many-rounds with Mike Tyson.  Let’s just say that the tugging motion was more like a yanking motion and I was still attached to the yank!

And there you have Y-OW-ZERS!

 

A-O-KAY

I’m sitting here in my little nest of pillows and all things soft attempting to focus on the immediate, the high priority needs.  The last 6 days are not a blur.  The last 3 weeks are ingrained on my heart and in my mind…  The last 16, almost 17 months have formed a new person with many scars carried over from the person I once was.

~~~~~~~~~~

I’m sore.  Football Fan helped me remove my surgical dressing today.  I tried to do it by myself on Sunday and almost passed out.  Today, I told him that I would sit on the bed while he tried to remove them.  He said that he would need to sit down too.  I think that the adhesive tape and I became one.  And now, I am tired… and sore…

~~~~~~~~~~  ~~~~~~~~~~

Thursday came with much anticipation and little fanfare.  We were at the hospital at 9:45 am and finally, by 11:30, I was riding down the hallway on a gurney to the operating room.  Sliding across the operating table while trying to maintain your modesty is really very fruitless when you are about to have a breast amputated and yet, there I was in my hospital gown, my paper hat, and my green grippy socks trying my hardest to be a prude.   

An hour and a half later and it’s done: my status as a one breasted woman is over; I am no longer chest-endowed.  Of course that is not the first thing that comes to mind as I am coming out of the anesthesia in the recovery room.  My groggy world consisted of a lot of shaking and pain.  They had me wrapped up like a mummy and they’re talking to me and I’m like blah, blah, blah because I’m Sahara Desert parched.  The only important raspy, slurred words I could mumble are water and pain.

I think I was finally back in a room for overnight observation by about 2:30 pm.  I’m still parched and I’m still in pain, not incision pain though- its nerve pain, like a repeat of my surgery in June.  Great!  Just great…  My nurse is a nice young man who is giving me pain medicine and lots of IV fluid and I have to… you knowgo.  And prude SmiLee is back!  Two nurses (One is Mr. Nice Young Man) are trying to help me to the necessary and all I can focus on is the breeze gusting at my backside.  Chin up, shoulders back (Uh, no!  Just had a surgery on your chest, silly.), shoulders hunched, and my bum-de-bum is just gonna have to live with the embarrassment.

 There’s a hamburger calling my name rather loudly and the liquid diet of chicken broth, jello, Italian ice, apple juice, and ginger ale has no chomping-down power.  Granted, I’m not as parched any more, but really, all this liquid only means one thing: the need to… you know… go.  And every time, I have to ask for help because they have me hooked up to leg cuffs that were attached to the bed.

My night passed as expected when you have someone coming in every so often to check your vitals or reset the alarm on your IV machine.  Awake.  Asleep.  Awake.  Asleep.  Awake... and although it’s not a hamburger, breakfast has arrived and is much appreciated!  Before I know it, it’s 10:00 am and I am officially discharged and on my way home with my blessed little family.

~~~~~~~~~~  ~~~~~~~~~~

So, the next time you see me, tell me something funny and I’ll smile a big smile that will lead to a laugh and we’ll all get past the fact that I’m flatter in the chest than when you last saw me.

I am A-O-KAY.

And it’s okay to be caught off-guard…  You’ll be okay too.

Between my smile and my pretty blue eyes, you’ll forget THAT part of me is missing!

A Symmetrical View

There’s just one small space, one click of the space bar if you will, between having a symmetrical view and having an asymmetrical view of whatever it is you are looking at or going through.

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An asymmetrical view is one-sided; a symmetrical view is balanced.  In dealing with my War Within, my PSA (Post Storm Assesment) continues to remind me that I have been living with an asymmetrical viewpoint for the last 9 months.

I am one-sided;  I have one breast.

This was not the goal back in June when my mastectomy was performed.  The goal was reconstruction.  Nobody knew, at that time, that my body would reject the necessary expander to begin that process.  Nobody knew that I would not be a good candidate for reconstruction and so, as time forced me to focus on the immediate needs (healing from the 3 surgeries in order to have radiation and then the 30 radiation treatments), I learned to adapt to carrying all that weight around, as a chest-endowed woman, in more ways than one…

It started first,

in my mind,

the clothes I wore,

how I would carry myself,

how I could sleep,

and so on…

Then the pain began with my right knee first, then my right hip, the right side of my neck, the right side of my lower back , the entire right side of my spine, and so on.  I was lopsided.  Sleeping became even more of a challenge.  I would flop like a fish out of water throughout the night in my efforts to find a position that didn’t put more stress on an already stressed spine.

And so I made the decision to opt out of a breast reconstruction and opt in for a breast reduction.  This was to take place on Tuesday, March 1st…  My ultimate goal was form and function with an strong emphasis on function.  It was more important that I alleviate the pain and sleep then how I was “formed”.  As previously noted, I got caught in the process of crossing i’s and dotting t’s with insurance paperwork on February 29th.  So, after a week of more doctors’ visit than I cared to participate in, more phone calls than I preferred to make and receive, and more paper work that included many more i’s and t’s, I have made the very well-formed (and finally, well-informed) decision to opt out of a breast reduction and opt in for a mastectomy on my right breast on March 10th.

I would be glad to benefit from any prayers you would whisper to Him on my behalf.  

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I am learning everyday to balance the view my body, my self, my world.  It’s just one more Lesson in Humility  I imagine that everyday for the rest of my life, I will be learning to view my body differently, to have a more symmetrical view instead of an asymmetrical view.  For me, the processing is very similar to learning to view my God differently.  After 43 years (HappyBirthday to me!) of growing in the knowledge of Him, I am still learning that, for the rest of my life, He has something new to teach me.

May I be a smiling vessel, fit for His use…

March’s Smile

“Here’s wishing you the tip o’ life
without a single tumble.

Here’s wishing you the smiles o’ life
and not a single grumble.

Here’s wishing you the best o’ life
and not a claw about it.

Here’s wishing you the joy of life
and not a day without it.”

~ Irish Blessing ~

11:40 AM

My day today (February 29:  Happy Leap Year 2016!  It feels like April’s Fool Day instead…) started with a long list of stuff to do in order to be ready for my scheduled surgery on March 1.  I won’t bore you with the intricate details, but needless to say, I was on a roll and checking that stuff off my list regardless of my fatigued state.

Have I mentioned my fatigued state to you?
(Rhetorical question, I know…)

At 11:40 am on this day it all came to a screeching halt when I received a call from my surgeon’s office warning me that my surgery may very well be cancelled.

Did you hear the pin drop?

Actually, that was my heart and my jaw hitting rock bottom…

Let me just summarize everything up as concisely as possible:  I, the patient that has endured the last 16 months of cancer treatments and the last 9 months of being severely lopsided from a modified radical mastectomy that has caused extreme physical discomfort for my entire spinal column, have gotten caught in the politics and communication errors of 2 doctors’ offices and 1 insurance company.  After frantically trying to contact WHOEVER possible to plead my cause, my surgery has been cancelled till March 29th.

It is only Monday evening of this week and I am already emotionally battered and bruised after a rough last week.  So with this new setback in my journey through life and cancer, after a few shed tears, much contemplation about the strong desire to ingest a humongous bowl of chocolate ice cream, and a talk with my God, I know that this postponement is the Lord’s answer to my prayer to continue to draw me closer to Him.

I choose to trust Him.  

It is amazing to realize how much more a person can endure from the vice grips of life as they strive to live what they believe.  You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”  ~ Isaiah 26:3 ~

May I continue to be molded and shaped into a vessel that is fit for His use!

May I continue to stay away from the chocolate ice cream that is screaming my name…