That is….if you are in suspense. Hopefully my update here will make the wait, or the time spent reading this worth it (if you are in the mood to read). This past week could most accurately be described as “hell week”, and I really have to tell you about it………
Saturday we drove to Fresno to see Third Day. They are my FAVORITE Christian band. That was awesome- I cried through the whole thing! Sunday we went to church and the woman who did my breast ultrasound gave a dramatic quasi-testimony that alluded to breast cancer. The sermon, being that our Pastor is just returning after a long battle with Valley Fever, was about weathering the trials of affliction, and God’s potential purpose for us in these times. It hit so close to home that I sobbed all the way through that. I spent most of the day Sunday in tears. But I got through it………..
Monday I went in for surgery at a local hospital. I had a port-a-cath inserted in my chest on the left side, and two core biopsies- one of my axillary lymph node and one laterally through my breast. The port-a-cath is a catheter that has a direct line into the main veins that lead to the heart. This method is better for chemo delivery, as chemotherapy agents are very caustic and can not only “burn” smaller veins in the arms, the constant damage from the needles in the veins can cause scar tissue and other complications. I had the opportunity to actually see the port-a-cath line in a chest x-ray I had done last night and it was quite interesting. All-in-all the surgery was horrible! My body got very sick from the anesthesia and I ended up vomiting during surgery (you really wanted to know that, huh?). At least, that’s how I remember it. Tubes being inserted forcefully down your throat tend to make your throat hurt for a while. It took 2 full days to get the anesthesia out of my body- and I was dizzy and sick for those 2 days. On top of that they put the blood pressure cuff on the same arm as my IV, so I ended up with a nice deep purple bruise about the size of 3-4 quarters on my forearm- it fashionably matches the deeper purple bruise under my arm!
Tuesday I went for more blood tests and to the surgeon for complications of the surgery. They thought I may have had a blood clot or a collapsed lung as my symptoms (which I still have) could have indicated either one, and both were known risks of this surgery. That turned out to be nothing at this point- of course they tried to tell me it may be stress. It probably is more likely inflammation in my chest from the procedures.
~THE CT SCAN THAT MADE HISTORY AT KERN RADIOLOGY~
Wednesday I went for a CT scan. That was so traumatic that it reaches the level of being hilarious! After drinking down 3 12 oz. portions of this white, watery, chalky substance that was thinly veiled with an added vanilla flavor (barium), I was ever-so-grateful to get the scan over with. As I sat waiting for my turn, I began to pray- I asked God to show the cancer. It seems weird…..it was almost as if I have been praying for cancer these past few weeks. But that isn’t it. I’ve really been asking God that if there is cancer there it would speak out loud and clear so they can discern it, and I can get the treatment I need. So, they hooked me up intravenously for the radioactive contrast, and in the machine I went. The Dr. told me that I would feel a burning sensation, but that it would go away in about 20 seconds. He left the room and the machine started noisily humming as the table began to move towards the circular laser apparatus. I had to painfully stretch bruised muscles to accommodate my hands lying over my head so all parts could fit into the machine. I absolutely prayed through that too. I was instructed to hold my breath for what seemed like forever. I just kept BEGGING Jesus: “please help me get through this!” So I held my breath several times, and as my anxiety was building I began to wonder: “why am I not feeling this ‘burn’ he talked about?” Then I thought maybe, just maybe, God was shielding my body from this horrible sensation and I just wasn’t going to feel it. About 30 seconds later I began to hear a weird bubbling noise, as my head laid directly underneath this loud encircling laser beam. I felt the IV in my arm begin to move, and then I panicked, thinking that that laser thinggy was actually melting the plastic tubing that was inserted into my vein! Before I could even call out to the Lord, I heard a loud “snap” and felt this warm liquidy substance splatter all over my arms, hands, and hair. The first thing I thought was, “oh God, I hope that isn’t blood”. The funniest thing is that Dr. kept instructing me in this monotone voice over a loudspeaker: “take a deep breath and hold it………now breath”. With my hands still over my head, I tried desperately to wave my hand out the machine at him to alert him that something strange had happened while I was in there. I finally got his attention, and he motored the table out to discover that the contrast line had busted. As soon as I could turn my head back to see, I realized it was that darned radioactive contrast that I had just showered in. So the nurse came back in and after a struggle, reinserted a new line, getting blood in more places than it needed to be. Again I was instructed about this burn sensation. As they stood there for a moment to make sure the line was fluid, I lamented that I still did not feel “the burn”. He told me it was ok, that it would take up to 40 seconds before I would. So everyone left the room again and the machine started back up. Can you believe that as my body got half way through the cylinder the line busted again?! This time the thick and sticky contrast was all over my face, and the machine. We eventually got the whole thing worked out, but I was seriously beginning to wonder if this wasn’t a sign from God! The Dr. said that never in his years of working there has this happened twice in a row, and that it is even rare to have a line bust at all. I left there and washed off as much as I could in the bathroom. But that gunk wasn’t coming out of my hair- so I had to walk past a waiting room with patients, a parking lot full of people, and a drive home with what looked like an entire can of hairspray in my hair, as it stuck up in every direction! I came home and everyone wanted to go out to eat. I surely couldn’t go out like that! So I threw on the hat I had just bought to cover my soon to be bald head, and smiled to myself as I chalked it up as an opportunity to begin to feel comfortable wearing hats…..while I still had hair……..
~THE BONE SCAN THAT WASN’T ANY BETTER~
Thursday wasn’t much better. I ran from Dr. to Dr. nearly all day. I had a bone scan done that was even worse than that stupid CT scan. After they inject you with a radioactive dye, you have to lie COMPLETELY STILL as they raise the table you’re laying on up to about 1/4 inch from the x-ray machine. The machine slowly scans you from head to toe- and I think it spends most of it’s time examining your head, so you get the fine pleasure of your head being boxed in on all sides, with less than an inch of room in any direction (except of course the top). It’s no wonder I felt a weird sensation coming out of the top of my head……..it was my whole body wanting to squeeze itself out through there! So I literally began to have a panic attack. My heart began palpitating, I felt like vomiting, I began to get dizzy, and I had to force myself to not yell out “let me out of here!” I tried to sing Third Day’s worship songs in my head. It would’ve helped tremendously if I could have sang them out loud. In fact, I had this overwhelming desire to sling my arm up in worship to God- but I was trapped! So in this instance my attempts to worship God were actually giving me even more anxiety, as I was literally “trapped” for 15 minutes without being able to move. For a brief moment I considered what it must be like to be paraplegic……..and I thanked God for all my faculties. That momentarily brought me the peace I was seeking. But the panic eventually returned, and I finally belted out to the guy “are you almost done- can I get out now?!”. We were done and he let me out. Thank God.
~THE PUZZLE IS NEARLY COMPLETE- OUR APPOINTMENT WITH DR. PATEL~
Today (Friday) we went to see Dr. Patel. Again, he spent 2 hours with us. After all pathology, cytology, scans, blood tests, surgeries- it appears that I have Stage IIIb Inflammatory Breast Cancer. There are no detectable amounts of cancer in my bones, or organs. The cancer in my lymph nodes is severe, but we don’t know exactly how severe, and that doesn’t really matter at this point. I begin chemotherapy (4 treatments of Adriamycin with Cytoxan and 4 of Taxol, 8 cycles total) next Friday. That equates to 24 weeks of chemotherapy (6 months), as the cycles are every 3 weeks (you can visit: http://www.breastcancer.org/tre_sys_chemo_ideal.html). I may or may not get Herceptin depending on the outcome of other tests. And a modified radical mastectomy is an absolute…..either between the two chemo treatments or after. Dr. Patel said I am a candidate for stem cell treatments (the “biggest hammer” in cancer treatment), but Kaiser will never approve that treatment, as it is very expensive and still considered experimental. Dr. Patel said he doesn’t feel too bad about that, because research is still inconclusive as to whether this treatment extends life any more than the treatment I am getting. So why the “big hammer”, you ask? Yes- it is that bad. IBC is the most aggressive and deadliest breast cancer there is. It not only invades surrounding tissue, but the entire lymphatic system. This is how it travels, and why metastatic cancer and reoccurrence rates are so much higher for IBC than other breast cancers. If you do the research you’ll discover some very grim statistics surrounding IBC- the 5 year survival rate is extremely low, and the reoccurrence and Stage IV rates are extremely high. A lot of people think the younger you are the better you fair- this too can be a double-edged sword because breast cancer tends to be even more aggressive in younger women. So I may be able to run fast, but the horse pursues that much faster. But thankfully, Dr. Patel is a man who radiates optimism and confidence, which makes you want to trust him. He instructed us to research all we want. In fact, he was very proud that we had researched enough and asked for a second opinion, and stated that he believed that may have saved my life. He brought in all the nurses I will be getting to know on a first name basis to tell them that too. He also suggested when we look at the research, we stay away from the statistics, and when they creep back in, to remember that most of those reflect older treatment regimens that don’t offer nearly the hope that this generation of medicines do. He reminded me not to get discouraged about the stem cell treatments- it’s a hard treatment anyway, and one no one should really want. When all was said and done and Dr. Patel left the room, Al and I looked at each other and agreed that we were going to pray very specifically that these specific treatments kill each and every cancer cell in my body. If God says He has every hair on our head numbered (Matthew 10:30, Luke 12:7), then surely He has His very finger on each and every cancer cell in my body.
~OUR SPIRITUAL/EMOTIONAL STATE~
So as this microscopic battle rages in my body….how are our spirits? Well, as I said….I have shed my share of tears. The most difficult time for me is in the car. That’s when I am quiet….when I am praying or worshipping…..when I am thinking. More than once the visions of my own funeral have crept up on me, and inevitably caused me to feel sadness. But I am pretty quick to push those thoughts out- and I notice that my little voice to God suddenly gets almost forcefully LOUD in that process. The woman at church who gave testimony on Sunday reminded me that my disease cannot follow me to my grave. I am thankful that God ministered that to me, because it reminds me that this battle is bigger than just my little cancer cells- and if I hold onto God, I will not be defeated! I was telling Al this morning about my conversation with God in the shower………”I don’t want any more ministries, Lord- You’ve already given me enough!” I know that “from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48). And boy, the Lord has sure entrusted me with a whole lot, and I guess that means a lot more will be asked in return. I think I’ll just focus on resting for now, but it’s hard not to feel overloaded! I’ve been at work all week in between appointments too. A woman called yesterday through our family abuse ministry, and she wanted counseling. I had to tell her we weren’t in a position to take on new “clients” at this time…and felt bad about that. I also just completed the training to become a family mentor through a Christian driven organization, and had to put them on hold too. I really am saddened about that. I keep telling myself I am blessed. I don’t feel it. But I am. And then I remind myself through a rhetorical question: “isn’t that what faith is……knowing and believing even when you can’t see or feel it?” And so I thank God for His measure of faith He has filled me with. Maybe I think too much?
Al doesn’t say much. He’s got a little teary eyed a couple times, and has been much more optimistic than I. But he’s also been realistic when I’ve needed him to be. For the most part this has strengthened our marriage and deepened our intimacy, I think. Having my husband lay hands on me and pray for my body’s healing brought a closeness between us that I don’t think either of us has ever experienced. But we have our moments too. Those seem to mostly come when I start to feel upset because I don’t think people in the house are doing enough to cater to my cancer. And I have to back up and thank God that they don’t. All-in-all, I’d say Al is handling it better than some would expect. I am sure, and agree with him, that his faith in Jesus is also helping him to get through this. Afflictions don’t seem in vain when you know that God loves you and has a divine purpose for your sufferings. Not that it is easy, but Al seems humbled to accept God’s will. We hope and pray that you have come to that place of intimacy and trust with God too……….
The kids are living on as if it’s just another day. We’ve had a few “family talks” explaining what is happening in terms that they can understand and presenting it in a way that is not too scary for them. We’ve mostly allowed and encouraged them to ask questions. And they’ve had some. They’ve all seen and felt (except Jared who didn’t want to “touch it”) Mom’s port-a-cath, and they all know I’ll be losing all my hair. Amanda’s been the most expressive, of course, and has cried a few times. She was particularly anxious about the adoption hearing….really looking forward to getting on with that. That was today. It went well. Steven’s parental rights were terminated. We wait 90 days to give him a chance to appeal, and then we have the adoption hearing, during which Al will be deemed the father of the kids. It seems almost ironic when you take into account we started this process a year ago, and the reality of why we started it in the first place has really played out in our lives………
Many people have asked what they can do for us. I’m a real humble person and it’s hard for me to ask, and just as hard for me to accept. It isn’t really pride- just thoughts of people far worse off, and in much greater need. A contribution to the IBC Research Foundation will always be my suggestion to those who feel compelled in that way. I think I will be learning humility of a different sort though, and I’m glad God is teaching me. If we need something I promise we will ask. I think the biggest need right now is continued prayer and encouragement- and not the kind that points to our faith (I already know what we should do), but the kind that points to the cross of Jesus Christ. I think that as I sit in the belly of this whale….or maybe take a cruise on this ark…….I will be particularly sensitive to God’s leading. Don’t be afraid to share Scriptures, specific prayer leadings, or whatever… we are listening.
God bless you.