Every Time

A few weeks ago, I had found a lump on the edge of my reconstructed breast. It feels like a cooked grain of rice. Naturally my first thought was swollen lymph node. They aren’t common in that area; but not unheard of.

Within a few days I went to my Nurse Practitioner and he ordered an ultrasound. I love that he gets every concern is worth his time…he never makes me feel like I shouldn’t be wasting his time. Ever. That’s important to me.

Tomorrow I am scheduled for my annual screening mammogram on my favorite breast (you know, the one that HASN’T tried killing me). Unfortunately, I’m hearing a lot of, “Well, you should have just let them take both, I would have.”

Well…here’s the thing.

When it’s your turn, you go ahead and choose that. I didn’t, for my own reasons. And I’m gracious with saying, “Well, after talking with several specialists at the time, this was the best course for me.” Because I get it.

When I first heard I had cancer. I thought I would just chop them both off and be on my merry way. What I didn’t even know I didn’t know was (and still is) astounding.

It’s hard enough for women who feel like they have to give up their womanhood when they loose their breasts, but for others whom have not had the experience to make judgement on their decisions is a slap in the face.

I didn’t give up my womanhood…although many women struggle with their physical body after all that cancer puts them through; I’m quite fond of mine. I love that I have a scar that runs from hip to hip. I think it’s neat that I have my same bellybutton but in a new location. I’ve come to adore the flap on my left breast as a unique part of me. I truly enjoyed being bald and often wonder if I should go back to that because it was so awesome. As I consider that I am currently out of conditioner and using the shampoo one of the boys picked out…bald sounds pretty good.

But I digress…(as usual)

The day before my scheduled mammogram, I start bleeding. Now, at 43 this is normal for most women. For somebody who has been in menopause for the previous 2.5 years…not so much.

I called my friend as I was emailing my Mayo Clinic Doctors.

Then we began to discuss how busy satan has been throughout October in my life. Every time I think everything is fine, something pops up that makes me wonder. First, I switched jobs and that made me wonder about my role in both locations. Then I found the lump, which turned out to be nothing, and now this. Like COME.ON.ALREADY.

When I discussed the lump though, I wasn’t afraid. I said I had already heard, “You have cancer” once. Thankfully those words can never be heard again for the first time. I already know what to do if I ever hear them again.

Being treated with chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and targeted therapy and then  healed by God, I still must remember that 1 in 8 women will receive a breast cancer diagnosis. I may still be 1 in 8 at another point. I no longer consider myself at a higher risk of cancer as a survivor; just back in the pool with everybody else…I’m just lucky enough to have some preventative meds in my toolbox. So maybe I’m not 1 in 8 anymore. Maybe I’m 1 in 25.

So this light bleeding, extremely out of left field today and oddly…not overly concerning after the initial shock. I’ve emailed my doctors and will figure out the next step when they contact me tomorrow. Between now and then, it’s not my concern. It is all in God’s hands.

So as busy as satan has been this month, it’s nearly comical. He has no authority in my life and sees the good works I do. He puts thoughts in my head and pulls triggers that I thought had been deactivated years ago.

Sometimes, I just need that reminder, that satan has ZERO authority over my life and every piece of it is in God’s care and control. He works everything for good…so whatever attack brought upon me by the enemy…I’m ok. It will be used to deepen my faith and trust in God, not to question Him.

Lord,

I am fully expecting a clear scan tomorrow so I can continue to serve the children I work around and the other staff members I encounter on a daily basis. I know You are the designer of all things; I also know that you want your children to ask for their deepest desires. I ask you for a clean bill of health.
I pray that you bring a mate that will bless our lives in ways we cannot even imagine. I pray that he comes soon so we can start our forever together. I pray for a long, healthy life with him and my children.
Thank you Father for giving me an opportunity to shout Your Grace and Mercy from the rooftops through this journey and for giving me the patience and understanding to make the most of everyday here on earth.
Lord, I ask that You cover my city with love, that You bring healing to my hometown, and that people open their hearts to Your goodness.
I pray all of this in Your Son’s Holy Name;

Amen

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Truth

Of all the things I have ever posted, this may be the most vulnerable I have ever been.

Please know I want no recognition of this awful day. This feels like a war memorial of sorts. A somber occasion.

I posted the following on a breast cancer group I belong to. This is what cancer looks like to me tonight…

So tomorrow (Saturday) is my cancerversary. Three years ago I went to the doctor because I thought I had pulled a muscle being back on the ice after 20 years of not skating…and volunteering to help coach my son’s hockey team. Doctor felt nothing, thought nothing…but offered a mammogram just based on the fact that I had just turned 40 and “we should get a baseline”

As I walked out of the imaging department, the technician informed me that the radiologist was already writing his report and that my doctor would be calling me and, “…I’m not going to lie, it’s not good.”

October has been so full of triggers and PTSD and just trying to survive in one piece already. I feel this swallowing me whole…encompassing my entire being…and it hurts…physically hurts my soul.

My boys are no longer 6 and 9, they are now 9 and 12. I am cancer free. I am healthy.
Tonight though as I crawl into bed…I am not strong enough. I am a crying mess.

THANKFULLY…we are at my parents in Northern Canada…and I am safe here…Oh God it’s killing me…but I’m alive…I LIVED…I MADE IT…why is this swallowing me whole???

Tomorrow I will wake up…with my young son snoring at my side (he shares a bed with me here). I will wear the t-shirt I EARNED finishing the NorthShore Inline Marathon in September…and I will SURVIVE…and I will continue to survive.

I will live my life filled with love, courage, and never ever stop.

What To Say

Another warrior discovered her cancer had metastasized to her bones a few weeks ago.  Her doctor ordered a brain MRI and she received the results today that she has three lesions on her brain.

I do not even know what to say. I am sorry sounds like a death sentence. When I think of what I would want to hear, I cannot even imagine.

I think the most logical, honest, heartfelt response for me would be, “Oh Fuck, now what?”

Seriously…because for women who have breast cancer that metastasizes, it means life-long treatment. It means facing the unknown and every fear you have faced since your initial diagnosis has been realized.

One lady said she feels such peace now. She had spent years wondering if and when it would show up again; now she knows and can make a treatment plan and move forward.

I would like to think I would also feel that way; but I am not that strong. Oh, I would look that strong on the outside, of that I am sure. On the inside, and at my Mommy’s house though, I would be a mess. A puddle of mush.

And when it was time to get to work, I would get to work. Maybe I would be like that. I am glad I do not have to find out.

Being healed has brought me a peace I had before I ever heard that ugly word; Cancer. I am different though. I no longer am able to be naive about my mortality. I am no longer willing to let simple symptoms go for more than a couple of weeks.

What if I had gone to the doctor when I first felt pain in my left breast? Would that have changed my treatment plan or outcome? I never want to be that close to death ever again. So from now on, if I have a pain, a twinge, a feeling something is not right, I will get it looked at sooner rather than later.

I may be healed yet I still take medications on a daily basis. My body tried to kill me once, I will do everything in my power, to not let that happen again. As I still have one natural breast left; I am still at risk.

My risk for a new primary cancer in my right breast is pretty slim; I get that. I also get that it was pretty much a fluke of nature (if I believed in such a thing) that I had it in the first place.

So difficult to put yourself in the shoes of somebody receiving such devastating news; I am blessed that I can though. I am thankful I know her well enough to ask what now and have her know she can share the details with me, they will not scare me away and I will not tell her to eat more carrots.

To my stage IV warriors, my friends; this sucks, and I’m coming along for the ride. Hang in there and you do you.

Lord,

I pray for all the metavivors out there, those I know and the ones I don’t. I pray for their medical team to be the best, I pray that the treatment decisions are sound and successful. I ask for relief from any pain or anxiety as they live their new life.
I ask for a miracle, for radical healing as only You can do.
Lord give me strength and courage to continue to grow these friendships and not back away. To not fade.
I praise You for my healing, God. For giving my another shot at life. For allowing me to serve you with grace and wisdom.
Amen

Emotions

Our shirts are finished. Team Kiss My Skates is ready for business. We have matching shirts, pants, helmets, and wrist guards. The front of shirts are adorned with 66 names of people who have or have had cancer. Some are in remission or NED (No Evidence of Disease), others are dealing with recurrence, and unfortunately we have lost a few.

Seeing my own name on the shirt along with my grandpa and my baby sister is killing me. I had no idea that seeing us together on this shirt would hit me so hard. It was a pure gut-check moment for me.

There was a brief moment when our shirts almost did not get made. Katie’s was finished and there just was not going to be enough time to get mine done. I told the friend of ours who was doing the shirts that it was ok. He had already gone above and beyond for us and the time he had taken to just get hers done was already more than I could ask for.

I told him it was fine if I did not have a shirt.

After he left, Katie asked if I was really okay with not having a shirt and try as I might; I could not hide my sadness. We started to brainstorm for ways to make me a shirt.

Little did we know, our friend had gone home and printed out a new sheet of vinyl letters for my shirt; saving the day.

When I skate with those names…I cannot even describe the power, the feelings, the drive. I have pushed myself so hard physically. Although I would like to say I have never pushed myself as hard before, it would be a lie. I would like to say this is the most rewarding thing I have ever done. That would also be a lie.

While I was doing chemo, I fought this hard (and harder) every day just to get through the day. I had to will myself to breathe when I did not think I had any strength left in me. I had to will myself to move my legs so I did not develop blood clots. I had to trust God when I was not sure I would make it, that I would wake up from a nap.

That fight makes all this skating look like child’s play. It also reminds me that I can overcome any obstacles. I have already proven to myself just how strong I am.

My biggest task right now is to not expect too much of myself on race day. It is my first marathon, my first time ever on this course. I truly have no idea what I am up against. I have told myself (over and over again) that my goal is just to finish the race. Anything above and beyond that will just be icing on the cake.

I would like to work myself up to eventually skate in one of the advanced waves; just for the fun of it. That may take a couple years, but it would be so worth it. Next year I want to skate more than one marathon.

I was bitten by the inline skating bug…and I like it.

Seeing the reactions of my friends in the chemo group has been so humbling and inspiring. I am skating not only for myself, I am skating for each one of them and they are all skating with me. Just as chemo would have been unbearable without them, I could not finish this marathon without their support. When I cross that finish line with Katie, we will be crossing with 66 warriors. We are each of those warriors, they are with us.

Lord,

As I focus on bringing the glory to You, wrap all these warriors in your loving embrace as they skate with me in heart.

Amen

 

Training

In August I skated 23 times for a total of 185 miles. Not bad considering I was unable to skate for 12 days last month. Those are the days I was in Canada with my friend and then my family. Of course the first morning I was back and ready to get back to skating…it rained.

About a week ago I knew I had to do some practice on hills. There are a few hills along the marathon route although most of them go the right way (a decline) there are a few that are backwards (an incline).

I have figured out that I can pretty much skate forever on a flat surface. I also know that hills nearly kill me. One evening I told Katie I was going to go up a very small incline on a bridge beside the trail we usually skate on. When I got to the top of the bridge I decided that I was going to try a park that has a very steep hill.

And that is when it happened. Mine and Katie’s lives were changed that night.

Every time we skate now we go up and down that hill a few times. It is a crazy steep hill. Steeper than anything we will encounter on the marathon route. It is a great workout. The first couple of times, I could not make it all the way up without stopping and would have to step off into the grass and catch my breath.

I bomb the hill, reaching speeds of 20 mph then trudge back up with every ounce of muscle and energy I can find. By the time I reach the top, my heart rate is in the 150’s. I let it recover…and head back down the hill again. Four is my maximum reps at this time.

Last night, we were to meet at the trail at 6:30…but I fell asleep on the couch (being back to work and having a routine is hard). I got there late, skated just over 4 miles before heading to the hill and then did four down/ups. I think it was on rep three that I almost fell coming up the hill and had to stop. Unfortunately it was near the top so I actually had to wait for my heart rate to recover a little bit before finishing the way up.

I think the five miles before heading to the hill is going to be the secret to our success though. Those were the some of my fastest miles ever…because I couldn’t wait to get to the hill.

Unfortunately there is a bit more traffic on the trail in the evenings and I am thankful that people are very courteous when it comes to right of ways. There are two older couples who ride bike and each time we passed they cheered us on. I told Katie I want THEM at the finish line.

And I know there are spectators along the route, and at the finish line; I am selfish…I want our own cheering section. People that know how hard we have worked to make this happen, what we have accomplished in just 88 days.

To the spectators, we are just two more finishers to cheer.

In our hearts, God has brought us here and given us this opportunity. Finishing this race means we have not only beaten cancer, we have WON. We have finished with each other and the 66 warriors whose names are on our shirts, on our hearts.

Each of those men and women who are listed on our shirts has been prayed for, has fought a battle that cannot be described with words. The warriors we have lost are not only written on our shirts, they are written on our hearts.

The privilege of racing for these men and women is so amazingly humbling. I can only speak for myself (but think Katie feels the same way). Skating with these warriors on our shirts gives me strength. It reminds me not only of how far I have come but how many never got the chance.

My friend Denise did not even get a full year between being finished treatments and her cancer came back in her bones. It was then less than a year and she was gone. It does not even seem real or right that this is how it works some times.

When we reach that finish line, I cannot wait to hold Katie’s hand and let out a huge victory cry! There are tears in my eyes just THINKING about what crossing that finish line means. I have a feeling the finish line tears may turn into an all out bawl…

We are going to come around that last corner…join hands and finish strong…for God…for the people on our shirts…for our hearts. I guess I really do not need a cheering section at the finish line when I know that we truly will not be finishing alone.

Lord,

I ask for your protection as the race draws closer and the emotions become too big for us at times. Give me the strength to be vulnerable and to give myself permission to feel all the feelings as they arise. I want to be able to process this all in real-time…not look back and wonder where the time went or what happened.
As we finish our training and complete our race, may the warriors on our shirts feel the same satisfaction that we feel.
God, I know without You, none of this would even be possible and am humbled to be chosen You to complete this task. To shout from the race track to the training trail to the hills how great You are has been my honor.
Thank You for your provision and your protection. Your faithfulness is amazing.
For the families who have had to say goodbye to their cancer warriors, give them comfort. Help them feel the love around them. Remind them there is no pain, no sadness where You are and that even though our earthly trials are sometimes harder than we think we can bare; we can bare them with You.

Amen

Done Dating: Part 2

My first Done Dating post was the announcement. This one is more of an explanation of how I got there and why I can be confident in my decision.

My friend Katie and I have only known each other for a little over a year. We met after the hard chemo was finished and I was healing from radiation and the after effects of chemo.

In normal circumstances, Katie and I never would have met. Her husband is a pastor of a church I had never stepped foot in and had never even been curious about stepping inside. Not that I questioned their church, I was just happy with the church I was regularly attending and very heavily involved with volunteering.

She started a MOPS group at her church and I was invited by a friend from Epiphany Station. I explained I have no preschoolers left and so a MOPS group was not really my thing. I was assured they were also a MomsNext group for mom’s with older children and I agreed to give it a try.

I was through what we thought was the difficult part of cancer, life was moving forward, and I was interested in social activities that were not overly time consuming. I enjoy group social activities that are regularly scheduled; especially if they include food and a craft!

Katie was very pregnant and we did not socialize much. We were familiar with each other but I would not have called us friends.

Then it happened.

I went to Rochester for my reconstruction in March 2016. I flew down on with Angel Flight Central and was scheduled to fly back with them as well.

I was released to fly home on Good Friday. With my appointment time and the volunteer pilot’s schedule, flying home Friday was not an option. Then the weather was bad for small aircraft travel and my weekend flight was canceled. I was heartbroken.

When I knew I would be going home before Easter I had visions of surprising my boys at church Sunday morning. With no available flight, my plan was crushed. I posted my heartbreak on Facebook and was flooded with messages of sympathy.

Then Katie said she would come and get me…she would drive to Rochester (384 miles) to pick me up and bring me home so I could surprise my boys and be home for Easter. This plan was coming together on Good Friday.

The caretakers of Nazarene Well House (where I had spent my post operative time) knew what was happening and they offered to meet up with Katie so that was it…they drove North and she drove South the day before Easter and got me home in time to surprise my boys at church Easter Sunday.

Our friendship has grown from there and she has become a best friend. She babysits our cats when we are out of town, I babysit her animals when they are gone. I can walk into her home as they start a meal and sit down at the table as if I was invited.

A few weeks ago when tragedy struck and four people died, she comforted me, she engaged me, she got me through. When I did not know how exactly chicken eggs were fertilized (she has chickens, I was curious) she taught me. (Note to self: Don’t ask if you really don’t want to know…I didn’t really want to know). When she needed help taking straw off her septic field, she put me to work. When my heart is rattled and confused and breaking and filling all at the same time, she grounds my feet.

This woman, a mere stranger just 15 months ago who let me carry her water and nothing else when we stopped for coffee on our way home from my surgery. The woman who understands my humor, who gets me, who loves to see me growing closer to Jesus and helps me through the tough spots.

This woman is why I know I no longer need to be on dating websites where men with questionable motives lurk. She is the reason I do not need to be searching for my life partner.

If God can bring together Katie and I, He certainly can bring together the man I will spend the rest of my life with. He certainly can make things happen without my assistance.

I thanked Katie for this the other day; telling her that our friendship gave me the understanding that I did not have to be out there looking for ‘The Right One’ when God already knows where to find me.

Lord,

Thank you for everything You have provided through Katie and her family. They are truly my family here with so many others.
I am so thankful that You have opened my eyes through her about the ways You work and that she has been able to show me just how much You can do.
For my future husband, I pray he also has a friend or group of friends who teach him lessons he doesn’t even know he wants to learn. (save him from the chicken stuff though if he doesn’t already know)
For all of my friends whom are now family; the thanks goes to You. I am eternally grateful.

Amen

Beyond Done

I am fuming today. I know I have said it before and I will say it again; I thought after treatment and surgery I would be finished with breast cancer and nobody thought to tell me any different.

The previous estrogen modulator I was on caused such sever joint and muscle pain it nearly crippled me. Add to that ovarian suppression and I was in a chemically induced menopause that my body decided to mutiny against.

I have been on a medication vacation since January. The pain has decreased significantly but is still prevalent.

Today I started on a new estrogen modulator, Tamoxifen. although tests show me to be a low – to Intermediate metabolizer of the drug, my doctors have decided it is better than taking nothing.

I asked for specific studies and the numbers may not sound big…but 13% is 13%. It reduces my risk of recurrence by 13%. My sons are nine and 12, my daughter 22. Thirteen percent is a pretty big deal.

Unfortunately, the risks are a crap shoot. On one hand, the medically induced menopause can lead to the same joint and muscle pain I was experiencing before. On the other hand many women experience an unparalleled moodiness from the drug. Yay

One friend of mine (also a breast cancer survivor) posted on my Facebook #HideAllTheKnives. That sounds encouraging. She stopped taking the drug because of the side effects. Sounds like ongoing compliance is hard to come by for any of these drugs.

Today I took my first dose. Because I am a low metabolizer, it is a lower than normal dose. We will reevaluate in 2 – 3 months. While I am trying my best to have a positive attitude the numbers and real life stories just don’t support it.

My ten year survival still sucks (less than 50%); as of now, nothing changes that. My five year disease-free time is the number these drugs seem to make the biggest difference on. I am working on wrapping my head around the disease free time in regards to the survival time.

Disease free time does not mean much if it is spend in agony. Survival time takes a crap if  it is spent undergoing treatment.

And that is where I am. My mother told me to listen to Mayo and do my homework; they saved my life once, they might know what they are doing still this time.

I just thought I would be done. Nobody warns you that you are forever a cancer patient, forever a cancer hypochondriac. Nobody warns you that the assistance stops when your hair grows back.

Nothing in this life has ever come easy…I guess I shouldn’t have even pretended it might.

UGH