Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tying a Knot

I am figuring out about now that this cancer thing isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon. I knew that, but I wasn’t really living it until now. I guess in my mind I thought I would be different. Sure they know how others have reacted to this chemo thing, but I really was beginning to believe that I was going to set some new standard of ability to withstand the poison. Yeah, not true. I always think things like that. Always challenging myself to set some new standard, no matter how ridiculous.

The last two weeks have been long ones. No surprise, I took the new mammogram recommendation hard. It wasn’t just that though. That announcement happened to coincide with other events at work that really threw me for a loop. I spent about a week questioning my value in many arenas. Compound that with the fact that I had my 4th round of chemo 2 days before Thanksgiving, and it wasn’t pretty. So, I have been down for the count a good portion of that time.

The truth is that the greatest difficulty with chemo is the fatigue. I spent all this time worried about throwing up and that hasn’t happened once! They told me that the fatigue was cumulative. I heard them, but I wasn’t really listening. Then, I got through the first two rounds and believed that I wasn’t really going to feel it. I was so wrong! It’s all that I can do to get through the workday. My body aches and the smallest physical activity is exhausting. Just walking from the car to the front door at work makes my legs hurt incredibly. It’s not even far! I’ve done it hundreds of times before without a thought, taking for granted that I had the capability. Well, not anymore. Now the door kind of feels like a desert oasis that keeps inching a little further away with every step when in reality it’s maybe a 150 yards away to begin with. That's crazy and really hard to believe, even when it's happening to me. So when I make it home, it’s all that I can do to prepare for the next day. When Friday comes, I know I will have a couple of days to recover so that I can do it all again.

Another thing that wears on you over time is the bloody nose. It’s one of the things you don’t know or think about until you go through this. Before I had cancer, I never realized that when you lost your hair you lost basically all of it. That includes all of your nose hair. Guess what? You NEED nose hair. It actually serves a really good purpose. You miss it when you don’t have it! I have sinus trouble anyway because of allergies. Now that it’s time to turn on the heater in the house, that gets worse because there’s no humidity. So sinus + heater + chemo = bloody nose at any time. Sitting at my desk with a Kleenex shoved up my nose is a completely normal occurrence now. That, and a compulsive use of hand sanitizer.

For now, I'm just trying to tie a knot and hang on at the end of my rope. Fortunately, I have help. Thank you for all of the prayers and encouraging words. I need every one of them. I have always know that "The Lord is my strength.". But, it means something completely different to me now. I've never thought of it as physical strength. I guess because I've never been physically challenged before. Now I have. And, now I know that it's completely true. I just can't make it any other way.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Verdict Is In...Lives Expendable

I am in complete disbelief about the new healthcare guidelines issued today for mammograms. It's a hard pill to swallow when you find out that the value placed on your life is less than a few hundred dollars. I was so bothered by today’s news that I did something that I have never done before. I fired off a rather lengthy letter to the editor of Dallas Morning News. Of course, the likelihood if it getting published is slim, but I was overwhelmed with the consequences this decision will have for women all over this country. Mark your calendars. It won’t be on the news, but lives were lost today. I cried for the boys and girls that will lose their mother because she thought she was safe and decided to wait until 50, but never makes it. I cried for the women that will know they need it, but won't be able to pay out of pocket. So, they too will die. If there is one single woman that you know and love, send this to her. Send it to the men you know that have women they love. Send it to everyone you know that needs to hear it. People just don’t know the truth. I didn’t until it happened to me. It might take 2 minutes to read, but I know it will save lives. Here's my story and what I had to say:

From: Birlew, Yvette
Sent: Tuesday, November 17, 2009 03:47 PM
To: ''
Subject: Expendable Lives

June 29, 2009 I left work early to get a much overdue mammogram. I wasn't worried about it because in my mind I shouldn't even have to be doing it. I wasn't even 40. But my doctor insisted, so I went. It had been over 2 years since I’d had one. (They found some “harmless” calcifications when I had my original baseline at 35.) I went back for a 6 month follow-up a couple of times. Then I made the decision that I didn’t need to go anymore, at least until I was 40.

This trip to the mammogram place was different. I went in at 2:00 and walked out a little after 5:00, 9 films, 2 sonograms, and a probable diagnosis of breast cancer later. I also got an appointment for a biopsy. It was a full afternoon. Since then, nothing has been the same.

One of the most unbelievable parts of it all is this: 80% of all Breast Cancer occurs in Women with NO Family History of the disease. Some quote a higher percentage, some slightly less, but it’s right there around 80%. No mothers, no sisters, no cousins, no grandmothers. They call it sporadic. Now, I am that statistic. Who knew? I think if more women knew that, they'd never miss a mammogram. I certainly wouldn't have. I had heard so much about having a family history or genetic predisposition that it never occurred to me that I was at risk. No one in my family has ever had it, and I do not have either of the BRCA genes. Besides, isn’t that something that happens to women who are older than I am? That’s what I thought. It isn’t always true.

Since this diagnosis I have spoken to many people about breast cancer. Many tell me all about the frequency of their self-exams. It’s very good that women are doing those, but that is not enough. Don’t assume that because you feel nothing that you are okay. I couldn’t feel mine. My OB-GYN couldn’t feel mine. The people at the mammogram place couldn’t feel mine. Not even my breast surgeon could feel mine. Because of its location it was hidden away like a pipe bomb ready to secretly grow, flourish, and one day take my life. We found it with a mammogram. It really is that simple.

I happen to have a type of breast cancer that is so aggressive that my prognosis could have been quite different if it had the time to grow to a size you could feel. Thankfully, that is not the case. Now thanks to a bilateral mastectomy combined with reconstruction, I have a great prognosis. I will live to raise my young son. To be sure, we are waging war with chemo and adjuvant therapy. A year from now, it should be over. My hair will be growing back, my life returning to normal. Then I will join the ranks of the breast cancer survivors. Too many others won’t have the same outcome.

Now to my horror, I find that a government advisory panel has decided that women like me aren’t worth saving. My government believes that my life is expendable and so are all of the other lives of women who are diagnosed under the age of 50. “Statistically speaking” it isn’t worth the cost of the testing. Really? Tell that to my 5 year old son. Explain to other boys and girls like him that the numbers just didn’t work anymore. Let’s let the people on the advisory panel do that job personally. They can look into the eyes of those children and share that news.

They have justified their reasoning with the fact that some women mistakenly thought temporarily that they might have “it” and were distressed by having a biopsy. Have we grown that stupid as a country? Are we completely asleep at the wheel? Are we going to let them use a statement like that to dictate life and death decisions about our healthcare? Shouldn’t the doctors have a say? After all, I owe my life to my OB-GYN. He made me go. He wanted to be sure. I went because I trust him and my insurance paid for it. Today they say that this recommendation won’t affect our insurance coverage. I don’t believe that. Insurance companies are not in the habit of paying for things without encouragement. Soon, they won’t have to pay for these mammograms either.

This disease touches so many lives, and it takes far more than it should. Because of this new guideline many more will die. That will happen with or without changes in our insurance coverage because women will think it’s safe not to go. Some of them made that decision today. They don’t know it, but today some of them decided to die. They feel more confident that it won’t happen to them. The advisory panel said so. It must be true. Besides, it hurts and it’s embarrassing.

No one wants to do it. But, there is only one way to be sure. Get a mammogram. Pick up the phone and make the appointment. Make today the day that you decide to be sure. No one like me thinks it will happen to them, but 80% of the cases are just like me.

Yvette Birlew
Murphy, TX

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Confident Assurance

What a tough week! Did you know that if you have chemo on a Friday and get exposed to Strep you can get pretty sick? I've spent almost the entire last week in bed. I missed 4.5 days of work. That's enough to be a vacation if I hadn't spent it in bed, missed the top secret unveiling of our year long project at work, and had to skip out on our President's Awards Banquet Weekend. So, the price of being sick was missing out on a bunch of things that I had been looking forward to. But, that's OK because everything happens for a reason. I have faith in that.

Friday when I woke up I flipped my "365 Days of Wisdom for Moms" calendar to Friday, November 13th and landed on this, "Faith is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen." That's Hebrews 11:1, if you're wondering... It got me thinking. How wonderful is that?? Confident assurance... I love that and I have faith in SO many things. So, I've decided to share a few of those...big and small.

One of the small ones is that I have faith that eventually my son will learn to flush the toilet. For now it's like living with a potty-trained cat. He just leaves "presents" in every toilet in the house. Why is that hard???? How do you lose focus between finishing your business and reaching for the handle?? We talk about it all of the time. It's not doing any good yet. But, I have faith that eventually it will.

I also have faith that eventually he will color. This distresses Mom. She's trying to spark the interest so he's not behind in "coloring in the lines" when he goes to school. I'm not worried about that. Turns out both Michelle and I can color in the lines with very little effort. So, she's got a 100% track record. I have faith that she will succeed again. Thanks for taking care of that, Mom.

Then there's the big ones...One of the BIG ones is that I have faith in is the life changing power of scripture. This is SO key to having peace in my life. Without it, I would never have any. My nature is so negative. People that knew me years ago could tell you that. I always had a lot to say, but it was not about building people up. I was usually complaining about something or someone. But, it doesn't have to be that way. And, I don't live that way anymore. No matter what the problem, there's a scripture for that. So, God has something to say about just about EVERYTHING. And, if we just take the time to remember that, we can have what we need to get through it. So, here's just two of my favorites and why they matter to me.

I've already shared this one, Romans 8:28 "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." That' s one of my favorite scriptures because I have faced many things that would have seemed unbearable or would have broken me for good if I didn't have faith in the fact that I just can't see His plan. Those blueprints aren't made for human eyes.

It's like those pictures that we've all seen where you think you're looking at a picture of something, but it's actually a giant collage of thousands of little pictures of other seemingly unrelated things that have been selected for the color that they add to build the bigger one. I think of God's plan as a cosmic-sized collage where each of us lives in just one of those pictures. We're never going to know in this life the extent of how our lives have affected others for good or for bad or exactly how He's used that. We get glimpses of it, but not full knowledge.

So, good and bad things are working together for our good in our little picture. Please understand I'm not saying that God is responsible for the bad things that happen to us. I'm not saying that. I have, however, seen him use bad things that have already happened to me for good. This cancer is one of them. Some days I see the bad. But, most days I can take a step back and see how much of a blessing it has been. And I certainly don't blame God for my stupid cancer. I just know that he's got the blueprints, I'm not in charge, and it will all be used for good as long as I'm focused on His purpose for my life. That's confident assurance.

Another one is 1 Corinthians 10:13, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." This one has been so important to me for so many things. It had helped me through throwing off more than one bad habit, behavior, or vice. I love this one for many many reasons.

One is the realization that our temptations aren't anything that isn't common to man. Turns out we're NOT special in this regard. TONS of other people have been there. So whatever we battle, we need to get it out of our heads that our situation is more difficult than other people's. It's just not. "But you just don't understand...mine's different..." NO, it isn't! Says so right here in the Bible. That's a cop-out! Now, that's a little tough love/slap in the face. That part took me a little while to digest. If you're the same, just attack it one little bite at a time. But, once we "get" that, the message gets SO much better.

The next three words I camp on and know to be so true. God is faithful. That means that no matter what, He's going to be there. Faithful to the best of God's ability, not the human version of faithful. Since He's perfect, so is his faithfulness. There's never going to be a time when he won't be. If you think about that for a while, it is AMAZING. It means no doubt on this point, period. God is faithful.

Add to that... He won't let us be tempted beyond what we can bear. It may seem like it to you now, but once you focus on the fact that your temptations aren't special and you completely get his faithfulness, it changes. It becomes pretty easy to see that you CAN bear it with His ever-faithful help. Then, it's just a matter of looking for the escape hatch. Because it also tells us that he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. How cool is that?!? Not special, always faithful, not more than you can handle, always a way out. He's going to give us an option that doesn't involve choosing poorly or toughing it out on our own.

So, how to execute that one in a bad situation? It's like being a situational-spiritual MacGyver. I say MacGyver because you're going to have to work fast in most of these situations to get out without making the wrong decision out of reflex. And, not succeeding can have dire consequences. So, here's the steps:
  1. Quickly take in the situation and remember what you know. No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.
  2. Be confident in your ever-present help. God is FAITHFUL, and this is NOT more than I can bear.
  3. Then look for the escape hatch. He's promised us one. If you don't see it immediately, pray for it. For me that usually sounded like this, "I need you to show me the way out because right now ____________ is looking like a good idea and I know that you have an escape plan for me. Show me the hatch!"

Once you have a couple successful experiences like that, you'll have confident assurance in that as well. That's not to say that my track record has always been perfect. It's a battle after all. In the beginning I lost more than I won. But using this focus and verse over time has given me the eye for the escape hatch every time. In fact, a bunch of things that I used to be tempted by aren't even a passing thought for me now. And the funny thing is that now I can see how even those experiences are being used for my good. Thank you, Jesus for always meeting me where I am and bringing what only you know I need with you. That's truly my greatest confident assurance.

Monday, November 9, 2009


Well, I celebrated my 40th birthday yesterday. It was not what I expected it to be this summer when I was planning to have a 40th girls weekend somewhere. That was before the whole cancer mess. It's funny how we plan things and they never seem to turn out like we thought. I have waited with anticipation for things that were quite the letdown. And, I have had an enjoyable experience at more than one thing I wasn't looking forward to attending. Besides, we're going to have that weekend at a later date, and we'll have much more to celebrate than just a birthday.

I did have a wonderful dinner with some great ladies on Wednesday night to celebrate. What a delightful surprise it was to see friends that I haven't seen in ages and enjoy a fabulous meal. I even got to go to the Stars game this weekend. Then, we had a wonderful birthday lunch yesterday with the family. So, as far as birthdays go, it was a good one by any standard...with a little chemo thrown in for giggles.

You just never know what's around the corner. And as much as that sounds scary, it's also what makes life great. So, Sunday was my birthday, but Friday was the event. Friday I had my third round of chemo. I can't believe how quickly the time has flown by. I'm halfway there! Of course there's a bunch more other treatments and another surgery to follow, but for the hardest part, it's halftime.

Time to regroup, get ready, and prepare for the second half. Things have gone pretty well so far. I tolerated the first three rounds much better than I thought I would. I haven't been sick once. So, the drugs that they have given me for the nausea are everything they promised they would be. For that I am SO thankful. I have also gotten a grip on the awful hormonal changes that were plaguing me.

I still have broken ovaries, but I'm not half insane with the trauma like I was before. I spoke with my doctor about it and there's no reason to think that I don't have a fair chance of things returning to normal once the chemo is over. So like my birthday, why would I be planning for a lifetime of something I can't predict? Thanks to all of you who've called or written because you were worried about me after my last post. And for all of the prayers, I am so thankful.

I was not dealing well and I know some of you were worried about me. I really meant to get back on here and post what was going on, but just haven't been able. I have been consumed with things at work and just too beat when I get home to get on the computer. The one thing that I hadn't quite anticipated was the exhaustion. They warned me about it and told me that it would be cumulative. They were right.

I went to get my Neulasta shot today before work. I was already tired before I even got out of bed, but I wasn't feeling too bad. So, I went in for my shot and then went on to work. I've been taking the Advil in the hopes of not having the terrible side effects that I did last time. We will see...So, the full effect of it all remains to be seen. Even so, I didn't make it through work today. I had to come home early and crawl into bed. It was just too much. I'm trying to not push myself, but I do. I don't really know how to do anything else. I wasn't expecting that I wouldn't make it, even though that's what they told me would happen. I always think that I can do more, like I'm proving something...

Anyway, Friday I decided to write down all of the medications that I was getting. See, it's not just the chemo. I actually get 2 chemos and 2 additional "designer" cancer drugs. But before that, they have to give you all of the other drugs that make it possible for you to tolerate those. There's 5 of those. Now, that doesn't count the ones that I have to take everyday anyway. There's 3 of the pre-chemo steroids, and the ones that you take afterwards to control the nausea and to sleep since the "roids" make that nearly impossible. The human body is quite the creation. It's amazing what we can withstand. I figured out that the number was 16. Sixteen drugs. No exaggeration. Good things that's only once every three weeks.

So, I guess I should cut myself some slack for missing a couple hours of work. It's bound to happen. And with a drug load like that, how could my body NOT have fatigue? That's the part that I am having to learn to live with. So if I don't return a phone call or forget to email you back, please forgive me. I literally just don't have the energy to remember. But I haven't forgotten that this is all temporary. I haven't forgotten that I am blessed, loved and forgiven. And, I'm trying to remember that I am human. So, I won't always have what it takes to push through. I am, however, gearing up for the second half. Because with support of my family, the prayers of my friends, and the grace of God I will make it through victoriously. I am counting on it, and I'm halfway there.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

My Breaking Point

It's been well over a week since I have even attempted to write about my experience. This past week has been much too hard to handle. I'm not myself, and nothing seems OK. I haven't attempted to put this into words because there aren't any that seem to fit. I can't pull the emotions together well enough to express it. Even so, I'm going to try.

Here's the thing, everyone has a breaking point. No matter how much you can handle, there's a point at which you just can't take any more. It's that point when you simply fall apart like shattered glass into what seems like thousands of tiny shards. I really didn't see this coming, but do you ever? The hardest blows I've taken in my life have all been a surprise, coming when I least expected it.

I handled this diagnosis quite well. I made the tough decision for my surgery in actual minutes without reservation, never looking back. I finally got a grip on the hair thing and now pick out my hair each day like an outfit. That's the hard part, right? Those things are the big ones. Or so I thought...

But this week I ran into a new wrinkle that has me completely undone. It seems that I have developed "chemo-pause". This lovely condition throws your body into all of the symptoms and realities of menopause regardless of your age. The chemo kills cancer, your white blood cells, your hair, and to add insult to injury, your ovaries. At 39 (for exactly 1 more week) that just seems impossible and unthinkable. Yet, for an entire week I've been waiting, hoping against hope that I would just start my stupid period like some teenage girl in "trouble" that just can't believe this is happening to her.

I spent Monday and Tuesday in a fog of tears. All I could think about was getting done with work so that I could be alone to fall apart. I didn't make it. So, I cried silently at my desk for most of both days. I still hadn't accepted that this is what was going on, even as I fought the stupid hot flashes. I even caught myself pressing my arms against my chest subconsciously looking for the tell-tale sensitivity that so often accompanies that time of the month. Why would I do that?? I don't even have my real boobs anymore. Even if I did have my period on the way it wouldn't affect my chest. That moment was devastating. It was the moment when I no longer felt like a woman at all.

Months of physical change collided with my definition of what it means to be a woman. And suddenly, I was an imposter. I guess I'll have to redefine that definition one of these days. So, here I sat with my 1/2 constructed boobs wearing a wig because I have no hair, a mouth full of sores so sensitive that I could barely talk, and a constantly running and bloodied nose. The combination was overwhelming. I was truly devastated. And then I got mad, really mad. For the first time in my life, I was mad at God. By the way, it's OK to get mad at Him sometimes. Turns out, He can handle it. And believe me, we've discussed it! It's not like He doesn't know anyway.

When you reach those moments in life, you really have only one choice. You can turn to Him, or away from Him. That's actually not a choice at all. But, so many people choose poorly when faced with that situation. I knew I wouldn't be one of them. But, I also knew that I needed help. So, I picked up the phone and asked for it. I called a couple of friends and told them what was going on between sobs and asked for prayer. I asked them to ask other people to pray as well. There is incredible power in the intercessory prayers of others. We have to pray for each other! By Thursday, the prayers were working. Thank you, thank you, thank you if you have prayed for me. If not, please do. I still desperately need it.

I'd love to say that I'm completely better now. But, that's just not true. Instead, I'm lost in the numbers again. 60% of the time this condition is permanent in women my age. 6 out of 10...I don't like that statistic. I can't tell you why it matters to me as much as it does when the other things haven't seemed to. I think it's cumulative like the chemo. None of these things individually is too much, but the combination packs quite the punch. So, I am praying for things to get better. I'm praying for understanding and the strength to get through. And I'm praying that there are better days ahead because these days are nearly unbearable.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Tips from the Trenches

I spend quite a bit of time on this blog talking about how the experience of cancer feels, what the emotional impact has been, and how it has influenced my life spiritually. All of those things are really important, but there are also just the plain, practical things that can help other people who are going through this just behind me, with me, or might have to deal with it in the future. This post is about those things.

Some of the best advice I ever got about breast cancer came from a wonderful woman that I have never met in person, but feel like I know because I got the idea for this blog from hers. A friend of hers that goes to my church sent me the link to her blog, and I read every word she ever typed about her really tough trip through this nasty disease. Today, I am happy to report that she is a survivor. Having the insight and guidance that she provided me was priceless. Thank you so much, Sheri! Her advice to me was this, "Don't get cancer." Unfortunately, it was too late for me on that one, but it did make me laugh.

The other piece of advice that she had for me was about the Neulasta (white count booster) shots. You see, chemo kills all of your fast splitting cells. Cancer cells are fast splitting so that's why it works on them. Well, so are your white blood cells and other things like you hair. Since it can't discriminate between good and bad cells, it kills all kinds. So, many times either because your count drops too low or as a preventative measure, you have to get these shots to boost your body's production of white blood cells. Since these cells are created in your bone marrow, a common side effect of the shot is bone pain. Take it from me, you DON'T want this. I spent my week this week dealing with it. Sheri struggled with this as well. He advice to me was to get pain medicine and take it BEFORE I had the shot.

That is GREAT advice. Here's my two cents to add to that. You don't necessarily need pain meds from your doctor. Advil did the job for me after the first round. I just didn't know it until I failed to do the same this time around. I had taken Advil every 6 hours for a full 2 days before the first shot for cramps. So, I was unknowingly treating myself for the shot 2 full days before I got the shot and 2 days after. Since I had no pain from it, I just thought I was having no effects. So, this time I didn't "pre-treat". The result was a very hard week that cost me a day of work and required prescription meds. Next time, I will begin taking the Advil 2 days before and through the day after like I accidentally did the first time. Then, I have the prescription only if I need it. I'm not going through that again. So, don't follow suit. Thank you, Sheri for the advice because I wouldn't have know why there was a difference without it.

One of the other things that made such a difference for me was something that Mom and I figured out all by ourselves the first week after surgery. When you have this surgery one of the most inconvenient things that you have to deal with right away is the stinkin' drains. These things are a complete nuisance, to put it nicely. So, you're cut up, medicated on opiates, and have 4 tubes with bulbs on the end of them hanging out of your body. Not fun. Then, they tell you to pin these things to your pj bottoms. You don't want them pinned to your shirt because they're gross, so you go ahead and pin them to your bottoms. And that's all just fine...until you have to pee.

So, since you're operating at a diminished capacity (reads: drugged out of your mind on narcotics), you forget that they are pinned to your pj's and tug away at them by mistake when attempting to get the pj's down. Ouch! Now on the off chance that you remember to unpin them, then what? How do you do anything else when you're holding 4 drains?? You can't just let them hang, so now what? Your hands are full, you're still fully dressed, and desperately need to pee! Plus, you're still drugged on the narcotics so your problem solving capacity is COMPLETELY absent.

The solution is simple, really. Bring a 1.5" wide satin ribbon to the hospital with you. Make sure it's long enough to go around your waist and tie in a bow. Each of these drains has a plastic loop attached. If you string the bulbs on a ribbon and tie it around your waist, they stay put, are out of sight, and don't interfere with peeing while on heavy drugs. The drains are secured and completely independent of your clothing. PRICELESS advice I assure you...

Then finally, whatever you fear most, face it and become a boy scout. What I mean by that is "Always be prepared." Any of you who have been following my journey know that for me this was the hair thing. If you are like me and worried about the hair thing, here's what I've learned about that.

First, you don't need to buy human hair. You might think you want it, but you probably don't. For me, this was decided as soon as I saw the CSI Miami where the lady got busted for murder because her human hair extensions had been cut off a cadaver and had microscopic mites as a result. With my bug phobia, even the mere mention of the possibility was more than I could handle. Besides, you just won't believe what the quality synthetic hair looks like these days. And real human hair has to be styled. If it rains, it falls and frizzes. Synthetic doesn't. It looks great no matter what and is so real that you just can't tell the difference.

A quality human hair wig will cost you more than $500-$800 for starters. A quality synthetic one retails for between $150 and $300. But, if you find what you want and go to to get it, you can cut that to $75-$150 for the EXACT same wigs. Then, you can get it cut by a professional stylist to make any alterations.

I have one that I paid retail price for at the cancer salon. The service that I received and the support they offered me was MORE than worth the investment. But, for my other looks, it just made sense to shop. So, I ordered those from the site above. Here's the funny part. I now have the hair I've always wanted. It not only looks real, but healthy, shiny, and there's no grey hair or roots to color. I also have 3 different looks that I can interchangeably wear. Plus, I get to do my hair the night before and pop it on just before leaving the house.

Now I've even got the brows and eyelashes covered. I still have all of my eyelashes, but have lost 1/2 of my brows. So, I am already using a brow kit that I received at my Look Good, Feel Better class. The key to looking natural here is that it is not a pencil, but a powder (like eyeshadow) applied with a specially designed brush, It also has a pomade sealer. You can't tell the difference! Although I've never used BeautiControl before, I totally recommend their brow kit. They have that down! And when the lashes go, I have those as well. I found some that look just like my real ones and black glue, too. So even that doesn't have to be a big deal. As long as I can get them on...Stay tuned for that report.

I guess that's enough for one post. I hope that these things are able to help other women that have joined this "club" against their will like the rest of us. There are SO many of us, and we have to help each other through. The good news is that we can. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You to all of those women who have helped me, most of which I have never met in person. I couldn't have made it this far without the things that each of you have taught me.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Wishing Away Time

I have a quote hanging on the wall at my desk at work that says, “If we fill our hours with regrets of yesterday and worries of tomorrow, we have no today in which to be thankful.” I know exactly where I got the quote but have no idea who said it. Unfortunately, the person that quoted it to me doesn’t know either. I wish I knew so that I could give them credit. It’s quite wise.

Lamenting about things that are past is a complete waste of time. There’s nothing we can do to change it. That time has come and gone. If I had it to do over, there are MANY things I would have never said or done. But, I don’t dwell on them because I can’t change them. Besides, I have asked forgiveness for them already and most likely everyone but me has forgotten them. If you haven’t and I was wrong…please forgive me. Feel free to call and we’ll discuss it. I am ready to admit my mistake if you just remind me…

Worrying about tomorrow or next week…Well, we all do that from time to time. Some more than others. I used to be worried about EVERYTHING. I saw another quote once that said, “Worry works because most of the things I worry about never happen.” I used to think that was funny and worth quoting. Really?? It really just shines a light on how futile worry is in the first place. We know we aren’t supposed to worry. Yet, we do. Most recently, I was worried about losing my hair for so long that I sounded like a broken record. And look how that turned out! Not a big deal at all.

Friday I had my second round of chemo. It appears to have gone well. I wasn’t sick this time either. I felt a little queasy today at work, but nothing that the medicine couldn’t manage. I am feeling the effects more than the last time. It seems stronger because it's starting that cumulative effect they warned me about. I guess I could be worried about that, but I haven’t been. If this cancer has taught me anything (and boy has it!) it’s that I am not in control of things. What a relief! I was sick of feeling in charge anyway. It’s a shame to admit, but for me it took cancer to understand surrender. What a slow learner! Still, I am so thankful for the lesson.

So, let’s check the list: No regrets and dwelling on the past. Check! No worrying about tomorrow. Check! That leaves today. Thankful for that…check! Or am I? I hate to admit it, but I realized today that I usually am not. Not really, anyway. You see, I’m tired. Chemo makes you tired. Of course if you’d ask me before I got cancer, I would have told you the same thing. I was tired then. It’s all just degrees of the tiredness. But I found myself thinking, “I wish today was over so that I could go home and lie down.” How many times have I thought that? Have you?

I hate to admit it, but even in my mode that I thought was “thankful” I haven’t been. I have spent a good deal of those days wishing away time. “If I can just get through this day, then I can go home and rest.” Someone asked me on the elevator this morning, “Is it Friday yet?" It’s Monday! You have to wish away five FULL days to get to Friday on Monday morning! How crazy is that? The truth is that we aren’t guaranteed anything but this moment. For some, this will be the last one here on earth. Even if that’s not the case, we can wish away years of time with nothing to show for it if we aren’t careful. Just passing time, making no impact, getting by…

Yesterday I got to spend the day with my dear friend, Meghan, from many years ago. One of the things that I just couldn’t believe as we talked was how much time had passed since we’ve seen each other. Her son will graduate high school this year and she didn’t have a son the last time we saw each other. How many of those days did I wish away? I look at Brayden and see him growing up so fast and know that it will be his turn to graduate before I know it. I just can’t wish those days away.

So, that brings me back to chemo. I’ve got two down and four to go. How can I not wish it would hurry up and be over? January 8th is circled on the calendar for sure! It’s the last one. But in the meantime, how many moments, memories, and days could I wish away just wishing it was over. What would I miss? I want to miss NOTHING. So, I have to learn to be still in my situation. Enjoy the good times while this is going on. There’s so much more going on than chemo. How can I sum it all up in that? I can’t. So instead of making this time something else I “check off the list”, I’m going to accept it as just one thing happening in my “today”, a today that I am choosing to be thankful for.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Under Construction...Inside and Out

This whole experience has been such a trip. I realized today just how much has changed in the last couple of months. When you really take a look at it, it's so much! I think everyone around me realizes that. But the funny thing is that on any given normal day, I don't really feel any different and none of it seems like a lot. I look different, and I am but still feel the same. It doesn't seem possible, but it's none the less true. It's comical really. When you add up all of the stuff, no wonder people look at me weird when I tell them everything is great! How can that be? Let's go through the list...

Well for starters, I happen to be as bald as a cue ball at the moment. I still have a few hanger-on hairs, but basically they've all fallen out. I was so worried about how traumatizing that was going to be. But, here I am in the middle of it and it just isn't. That seems really hard for me to believe. My ex told me last night that I looked like Uncle Fester from the Adam's family when he stopped by to see Brayden. I had just taken a shower and forgot to use my eye makeup remover when I got out so here I am, no hair, and I had giant black circles of eye make up all around my eyes. You know what? I did look like him! Today he told me he didn't mean that. It was more like Darth Vader when they removed his mask. I laughed at that, too. If I had trauma from this, I'd probably be on the news having killed him in a terribly violent manner. But, I laughed instead of doing 30 years near Huntsville.

Ok, number 2. I had my breasts removed! Really?? Really. Chopped those puppies right off. That definitely should have traumatized me. I thought it would, but it just didn't. I can't explain it. We're rebuilding though, Texas style.

I say Texas style because that's what we do here in The Great State of Texas. In other parts of the country there's a ton of historical things. Not in Texas. When it gets old, the shine wears off, we just rip it down and build something new. The "new" is usually better and always bigger than what stood there before. Now, I'm not saying that's necessarily a good thing. It just is what it is. And as of today and my last appointment with the plastic surgeon until my surgery next November, we're tracking for the same on my reconstruction. I hate to admit it, but I just wasn't paying attention when we started with the saline yesterday morning. I wasn't fully awake and was too busy looking at my doctor (reads: eye candy). Next thing I know...Well let's just say, I don't own a bra that will fit me. The good news is that I don't need one for a little while longer because gravity has no effect at the moment. Woo Hoo!! Hey, it's one small perk to having cancer. Still not worth it to go through the whole ordeal, so don't get any ideas. But, a reward of some kind all the same.

I could go on, but isn't that enough to drive home the point? There's really only one explanation for all of this. It's JOY, real, genuine JOY! I've learned the difference in joy and happiness in the last couple years. And what a difference there is! There's also not a single passage in the Bible where it says God wants us to be happy. If you find one, let me know. But you won't because, it just isn't there. It DOES, however, talk about rejoicing in the JOY of the Lord. You see, happiness is dependent on your circumstances, and it is fleeting. It is a thing of this world. No matter how happy you get, it's going to go away either in a few minutes or maybe days or weeks. It wears off, or something about the circumstances change and poof! It's gone.

Joy is SO different. It comes from God, and He alone can supply it. It doesn't go away and isn't fleeting as long as we are focused on living in His will, bringing everything to Him, and trusting only Him to get us through. Our circumstances change, things go wrong, but yet we can still be full of joy. (Even when we aren't happy about what's going on.) This is a really hard thing to understand. That is of course, until you experience it. When I first heard it, I thought that it sounded great, but couldn't see how it was actually going to be possible. For this I am so thankful for our Singles pastor at Fellowship Church Grapevine. Josh taught a class (what I believe to be about 3 years ago) on the study of James. The first thing he had us do was begin to memorize James 1:2-4. Here's what it says:

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

At the time, I really liked the "mature, complete, not lacking anything" part but was really confused about what it would take to find the joy in trials. I mean, who thinks that sounds good or is even possible?? On the other hand, the mature and complete thing sounds great, right? So, I wrote it down on a post-it and put it up in my desk right in my line of sight. (In fact, even though the ink is fading that same post-it is still there.) I did memorize it and since that day I refer to it (in writing and from memory) anytime I feel challenged. Still, I wasn't sure if it was working on me or not and hadn't made the connection until I was at our retreat this past weekend.

Josh opened up his talk this time with the same verse. I was thrilled about that because over the last 3 years it has become really important to me and an integral part of my prayer life. He told us something different this time though. He said that joy as defined in the Greek means "overqualified for your trials". WOW! How powerful is that? In all of those prayers that I have sent up over the last few years asking for joy in times of what has turned out to be much smaller trials, God was preparing me for this one, the biggest of my life. He knew what was coming Even though I didn't. Now, I am prepared and as it turns out actually overqualified. This round of breast cancer hasn't and will not steal my joy. It can't, you see, because God has given it to me and it is not linked to my circumstances.

With that joy comes something else, too. Philippians 4:6-7 makes us a promise when we turn things over to Him completely, with thanks, and prayer. It is this:

"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."

There's no promise there that everything will turn out the way we want. It simply says that thankfully and prayerfully we turn it over, in this case that's a trial. By doing that I have found peace that surpasses understanding in the midst of my biggest storm to date, and He has given me joy in the process. I still have no hair. I still have 1/2 constructed boobs, and I still have more than a year of this treatment and more surgery ahead of me. But, so what??? I also have joy and peace, two things that I've never had before. It already has been worth it, every yucky little step. I wouldn't trade it for the world because breast cancer has allowed me to finally find them.

So as I sit here in the chemo chair again today, I am overflowing with peace, joy and thankfulness. That’s not to say that I am never challenged with things. That would be a lie. Even yesterday I was anxious about today and how this treatment was going to go. But, I turned it over and back came the peace and the joy. The enemy has lost another round because he and his thoughts cannot dwell where the Holy Spirit resides. Thank you, Jesus for continuing to bless me so far beyond anything I could have imagined, much less deserved. You have made me unbelievably overqualified for this trial, and I am certain that I could never do it without you. That would be completely inconceivable.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Camping, Shedding, and Giving Thanks

I'm home from our wonderful weekend retreat at Allaso Ranch and back to work. What a great weekend of teaching and fellowship! I had a wonderful time and met some great people. It's funny how things turn out. I spent quite a bit of time worrying about how it would be going to camp with a shaved head and what it would be like "wearing hair" around a bunch of other people.

You know what? It was wasted time. Everything went fine. No one treated me weird at all, and I wasn't uncomfortable in the least. I'm sure it was strange for some of them. I mean there's a bald lady putting her hair on in the bathroom and she's wearing different hair than she was yesterday. I would think that was strange if I were them.

Of course that was nothing compared to the lady I talked to during breakfast on Saturday morning. She and I had a great talk. After breakfast, I went back to the cabin to change hair. I didn't really think anything of it. It was raining and I wanted to wear my lower maintenance, shorter "Terry Bradshaw" hair with one of my hats. (I packed 5 for the 2 day trip.) It's straight and better suited for camp because the long curls don't fare as well in the weather. Well, I ran into her later that day, and she was extremely confused. She kept staring at me trying to figure it out. It was pretty funny. There were several people I confused with that. But, it all worked out. In fact, my hair didn't really start coming out in an obvious way until I got home from camp. So the timing could not have been better.

I made the decision to shave my head prematurely (meaning before it started coming out) based on what I thought to be the bad timing of my retreat. Now, I am so thankful for that timing! I say this because it made me go ahead and shave instead of waiting for it to come out on it's own. One of the things that I most wanted to avoid is waking up in a bed full of all my curls. I didn't have to because, the timing of the retreat ensured that I wouldn't. I couldn't go off in the woods and have it come out there, so I had to deal with it before.

I hope that no one reading this has to deal with cancer and chemo in the future. But if for any reason you do, think seriously about shaving before it starts to fall out. My doctor was spot on with the prediction of when it would go. It started on the 14th day and came out in masses on the 17th. That's exactly what he said would happen! Knowing this and getting shaved a week beforehand, I had the opportunity to get used to my wigs and get comfortable before the shedding began. Now, it's not traumatic at all. Not for me anyway, I just can't wait for it to be over.

It has been traumatic for others in my family though, especially my mom. See, right now, there's still some left but it's not really attached. So if you grab it, it will come right out in your hand with no pulling. Well, I can't keep my hands off of it once I get out of work and get the hair off. It just seems so weird to me. So, I can't help but demonstrate this over and over. So far, I think I've grossed out everyone that I've shown, which is just about everybody. Although, no one has taken it like my mom. She can't handle it at all. So, of course, I can't stop doing it and showing her. I guess in some ways, we never grow up. I still think it's funny even though she's not laughing. Now I know where Brayden gets this behavior. All this time I've been blaming it on his dad...

I guess none of this has been as traumatic as I thought, and for that I am so grateful. Yes, unbelievably so, even the hair...Isn't it funny how that works out? I worry. I imagine things as I think they will unfold. And it just never seems to work out that way. Nothing ever seems to live up to my horrid imagination. Camp was great, wearing hair isn't as bad as I thought, and shedding like a cat hasn't bothered me a bit. So why in the world was I worried?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Off with the Hair and Back to the Laughing…

I figured something out in the last couple of days. I am entirely too comfortable with this cancer thing for the rest of the world. What’s funny about that is that before I had cancer, I would have been one of the people that walked by me yesterday uncomfortably, made sure to look me directly in the eye, and say nothing about the hair. Then I would have obsessed about whether or not I did/said anything wrong. That’s crazy! But, nevertheless true.

Believe it or not, I’ve learned a lot of how people want to be treated from having this cancer and even more from my 5 year old son. I know that I’m supposed to be teaching him stuff, and I am every day. But, he has taught me things as well. And I don’t mean things about parenting. I mean Christ-like acceptance of others. It’s strange, but he has an acceptance and kindness of spirit about him that is almost not of this world. It manifests out of nowhere and when you least expect it, but it also never leaves him.

I first noticed it when he was 2 and we went to see Grammie in the nursing home. I don’t like nursing homes. Who does? They always have a bad smell and there is so much sadness there. I didn’t know how he would react because I was terrified of them when I was a much older child even. We used to go and sing to the residents at Christmas and things with my church group growing up. As bad as it sounds, I couldn’t wait to leave and some of the things I saw really scared me. Not him. He walked in that place like he owned it, talked to everyone like they really mattered to him, and wasn’t scared of ANYTHING.

There was one gentleman who had lost his legs to diabetes and was terribly overweight. This made his legs look like giant tree stumps in his wheelchair bigger around that Brayden’s entire body. It was a sight like nothing I had ever seen exactly and chest high to Brayden. Truthfully, it was quite shocking to both me and Mom. He didn’t say a word about it. Instead they discussed ice cream. I didn’t know what to say, but my 2-year old did. We were all in line for ice cream in the nursing home. Instead of staring at or talking about his legs, they just discussed ice cream. They were on the same wavelength, and Brayden made his day.

Sunday when I asked him to help me pick out hair for church, he said, “Don’t wear hair Mommy. You’re beautiful without it.” I would never have said that to my mom at that or any other age. Instead, I would have been making sure that she had the “right” one on at all times (even at home) and in constant prayer that it wouldn’t shift or blow off for the sole purpose of embarrassing me. I guess that’s also the difference between boys and girls. I was born to be the mom of this boy, that’s for sure.

So, back to my point…Day 2 in the office with the wigs. I wore the one that looks most like my own hair. It’s Mom’s favorite and my least favorite, for now. But, it does look the most like me. Someone who didn’t know me well or didn’t pay attention could think nothing of it. In fact I had a co-worker in the elevator ask me when I was going to start treatment. So, if incognito is the goal, mission accomplished sort of. Anyway, the cap on this one is so much itchier than the one I wore yesterday since I still have stubble on my head. (I’m told that will be different once it falls out sometime in the next week.) But for now, it is UNBEARABLE in that particular wig. It felt like the aftermath of a bad beach prep or stuffing stubble covered legs in tights three sizes too small. By 10:00 this morning I was in trouble and my head was bright red on top. So, I forfeited my normal lunch time and lunch money to run to Target and get an inexpensive microfiber hat.

I know what you’re thinking…another hat?? No, this was not another manifestation of my addiction. This was different. I bought this one for a scalp emergency and for everyone else in the office. It’s to leave in my desk for days like this one. The hair had to go! So, if you’re counting, it took less than a day and a half to get comfortable enough to be “hat only” within my department. But, as much as I don’t care it seemed inconsiderate of me to walk around the building with nothing but a hat on my head. Especially with all the ignoring the wig that was going on yesterday. (Still Funny to me…) So, when I get up and leave my desk I put back on the hair. It’s kind of comical really, the whole on/off hair thing. Hair off. Hair off. Hair off. Like the Karate Kid, only with cancer.

But here’s the thing…Cancer doesn’t give me the right to make everyone else in the building feel uncomfortable at work. There’s a whole lot more people here without it than with it, and they should be comfortable at work regardless of what’s going on with me. I don’t get to be entitled to walk around purposefully making people uncomfortable just because I happened to get cancer. That’s the way I feel about it anyway. I hate entitlement of all kinds, but that’s a whole rant for another time. So, I need hair on my head for all those people. My own department, well that’s different. And at my own desk, in the corner by the window…

So once I got the hat, I ran back upstairs, ripped the hair off, and put on my super soft hat. Relief! Then the nose bleeding thing started…It’s a side effect from the chemo that I am not enjoying. I’ve already got that horrible winter nose and it’s going to stay that way for months. Not fun. Don’t get me started on the acne side effect either. My face has texture, like the walls in my house. No eruptions, just a consistently inconsistent texture that is red and jacked up. What about all those women I see with beautiful chemo skin? Where’s my beautiful chemo skin that looks angelic??? If you're going to have no hair, you should at least get the beautiful skin. But, I digress...

So, I’m sitting in my cube trying to get my work done and dealing with no hair, a damaged scalp, bloody nose, and not too pretty skin. But, I have work to do. So, since it’s just me…I had my wig on a make-shift wig stand (a roll of paper towels) and a Kleenex crammed up my left nostril securely but with the majority of it hanging out to try and stop the nosebleed. So, I’m typing away, feeling pretty good about my progress on something, and around the corner comes one of my co-workers. Cast your hair, Kleenex filled nostril, typing away like everything is normal. That's not what he expected to see, I'm certain! Based on the look on his face and the 25 blinks he had in 3 seconds, I don’t think that’s what he expected to see AT ALL…Now, no one comes to my cube anymore. We’re in a “call-first” pattern even if you’re a couple cubes away. How is that not hysterical? I wish I’d had a camera.

And I can laugh about it no matter what happens while I’m there because I have my very special boy to come home to. You know, the one that doesn’t see missing limbs, missing hair, or any kind of disability. He just loves me the way I am, in whatever state that might be. That’s such a beautiful gift.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Unexpected Perks of Breast Cancer

Today was the first day back at work with my new “hair”. It was quite the decision trying to decide which one to wear. I like them all for different reasons. But, I settled on the one my sister bought me. It’s the only one that I’ve worn since the “shave” besides my Terry Bradshaw. I call it my Terry Bradshaw hair because there’s nothing on top just some hair around the sides. It’s “hat hair”. It’s also the most comfortable because it’s not itchy and it soothes the guilt of having purchased what I now know to be about 28 hats.

Work went well. It was kind of funny when I got there this morning. Some people bless their hearts, just don’t know what to do or say around a bald cancer patient with a wig. The first few people I encountered acted like I wasn’t wearing a wig. I felt kind of bad that they were noticeably trying to not look at my hair and terribly uncomfortable. Then it kind of became funny. I shouldn’t laugh at others discomfort, but talk about an elephant in the room! Really? I say this because my new hair is so totally different than my real hair was. My real hair is naturally curly and shoulder length. Today I have long straight hair that is layered and only curled on the ends. It would have had to grow 7 or 8 inches over the weekend to be mine. Call Ripley’s we got a “Believe It or Not” situation over here. Everyone else was complimentary and kind. Not one asked why it wasn’t pink…

Now that the shave is behind me, I have to talk for a minute about the unexpected perks of having cancer. I say this with all sincerity, but not to diminish the seriousness of this nasty disease. It’s terrible. It kills people for goodness sake. So, please understand that I’m just looking at this situation from the inside and there are a couple of perks to enjoy while going through all of the rest. They don’t make chemo worth it or the whole experience a good idea. I still recommend avoiding it all together. But, hey, as long as I’m dealing with it anyway…

I take back everything negative I said about hair as an accessory. It is a fine idea, a little itchy but EASY! The downside of having more than one look is trying to figure out which one to wear with what. When I got out of the shower this morning, my hair was already dry and styled. It’s like some “Jetson’s” set up, without the robots of course. And if it gets messed up during the day, you just have to stop by the house on your way to wherever and put on one of the others.

It’s also kind of fun to not be recognized anywhere. In plain sight, but out of sight...That is fun for a people watcher like me. Plus, getting to take it off when you get home is priceless. I know many women who look forward to ditching the bra after a long day. I used to be one of them. That’s a good feeling, but doesn’t even compare to ditching the hair. So, that’s a big perk.

Another thing is that you can do extremely stupid things and people excuse them because you’re just not yourself! Here’s an example. Right after I found out about my cancer and before our trip to Mexico, I was frazzled one day dropping Brayden off at Mom’s. Dad had the sprinkler on out front showering my normal path, and I broke my routine by pulling around back to drop him off. My sister and her family were living with Mom and Dad waiting to close on their new house at the time. So, blah, blah, blah a lot of cars in the driveway/parking lot.

When I came back outside to get to work, I backed straight into my sister’s car. Hard enough to smash both of our cars up pretty well. Her car got wrecked and she was in the shower at the time. So, I ran back in the house yelled, “I just wrecked mine and Michelle’s cars!! But, I've got to go to work! I'm late!! Tell her I’m sorry when she gets out of the shower!” (Keep in mind that she purchased her dream car about a year ago.) Not only was she not mad, she offered to pay my deductible because I was about to have so many medical bills. I didn’t let her, of course. But, when else can you smash up someone’s dream car and not only are they not mad, they offer to pay your expenses? Only when you have cancer. That’s when.

One last thing… I hate to even admit this, but I’ve done it. So, here goes. Have you ever wanted to get out of a situation really badly? You know, just can’t seem to end a conversation that should have ended long ago and you’re annoyed? As I have said before, people just don’t know what to say about cancer. So, if you bring it up, you can effectively silence them and escape. It went something like this...

When I went to get my rental car from the accident while the body shop fixed both mine and Michelle’s cars, it took forever. There were 2000 (slight exaggeration) people there and I waited over an hour (NO exaggeration whatsoever). So finally after much negotiation, they had a car for close to the price of my insurance coverage. So, I pay 5 bucks a day out of pocket and think I’m on my way. But, no. We have to have an additional 10 minute conversation about the extra insurance. At the end of it, I had about had it. Still being nice, but getting seriously annoyed on the inside. As a sales person myself I can respect the attempt to close me, but I HATE pushy sales people. They give all of us a bad name. Sometimes NO means NO, especially after the fourth one.

So when he said to me, “What about this doesn’t seem like a good deal to you? How is it unfair?” He was talking about me paying an extra 20 something dollars a day for coverage I already have with MY insurance after we just spent an hour looking for and negotiating on the price of a rental car. A car that they finally produced for me because they didn’t have any more for my $30/day coverage. They had already given everything else away, but wouldn’t turn loose of the claim so that I could go elsewhere. Yeah, then. So I said, “Fair has nothing to do with it, all of the extra money I have right now is going to pay for my cancer.” To which he responded (once he recovered and closed his mouth) “Please initial here.” Checkmate. Escape achieved, even if it did mean playing the cancer card. I have to admit it was the only enjoyable thing about the whole experience and the only time in more than an hour that he actually quit talking, was speechless in fact. I chuckled all the way home because the look on his face was priceless. So, I have to add effectively silencing people like that as a perk, too.

The point I guess is to find the humor in it all. I can’t imagine life without it. Sometimes the only thing that will get you through is the humor. I can’t even begin to count the number of times something so awful, or a series of things strung together, has caused me to laugh uncontrollably. And that’s where the key is hidden. It’s all uncontrollable anyway. As much as we plan and think we’re controlling things, we’re just not. So, sometimes you just have to stand back, take it in, and chuckle.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Fronts of Life Blow in...

One of the coolest things about living in the Dallas area is the weather. Now, I'm not talking the triple digit heat of summer. That's what you put up with just to get to live here. The great weather is just around the corner. Fall in Dallas is the best time of the year. It's also one of the times when we get to see storms blow in from out of no where. We just happen to be in a part of the country where the weather patters from the east and the west collide and on occasion it also includes some Arctic air are straight down from Canada. These events create fronts that draw a distinct line across the sky. It's a clear line of demarcation from what was to what is to come.

You see that line as it approaches, knowing that blue sky will give way to black clouds and violent storms. We had one of these on Thursday afternoon. It happened to hit just as we were leaving work in Denton for our much too long commute back to Dallas. Thankfully, Brian was driving because neither Carol or I could have stood the stress of the torrential rain while behind the wheel. It came out of no where, eclipsed the sky and dumped so much rain that you couldn't even see the front of the car much less the other cars around us. Yet, we drove right on through it.

Sitting in that back seat I couldn't help be so thankful that Brian was there to drive us. Neither one of us felt we could have made it through it. So, as I sat there putting my complete trust in his hands to get me home, it reminded me of how our relationship should be with God. He should always be behind the wheel, driving us through no matter what the weather.

Life is a series of these storms. Some of them we see coming and some we just look up and there it is out of no where. We are not prepared and have no shelter to protect us from it. The real question is whose hands do we depend on to get us through in the storms? We know who it should be. But do we go there first? Or do we try to handle it ourselves?

I've gone both ways on this, but I can only recommend one of them. It's the one where you totally surrender it to God and know that he will fix it. I spent years trying to handle everything myself. It's exhausting. I'm just not doing that anymore. People ask me all of the time how I'm handling this cancer thing so well. It's because I'm not handling it. I'm participating, but not handling it. It's what freedom is really about. It reminds me of the disciples when they were out on the water with Jesus in the boat. He was sleeping so when the storm kicked up, they became terrified. They thought they would perish and that he was going to sleep through the whole thing! Instead, He got up rebuked the waters and settled the storm. Then He asked them, "Where is your faith?" How often are we in that same boat? Knowing Jesus is right here with us, yet we feel as if we will drown. In that case, Where is OUR faith?

The beauty of it is that those fronts, and storms aren't forever. Just as quickly as it appeared on Thursday, it left. And as I was approaching home I was reminded of something beautiful. The backside of any front brings with it the sun and renewal. So, I snapped that picture from the side of my car (driving 45 miles and hour looking out the side window) as a reminder. No matter how dark the storm or black the night, He will always get us through to the other side. And take a look at how that other side looks! Gorgeous sun and clear skies... I can honestly say that I have experienced no storms in my life that didn't leave me changed for the better once they passed.

Today I made it through a "storm" that's been haunting me for a while. I got my GI Jane. Buzzed all of my hair and had my wigs fitted, and it was great! We laughed about it and had no tears whatsoever. I'm getting to fight on my terms. Blue skies ahead, black cloud gone. Now we're one step closer to getting this done. We actually had fun. Thanks to Sharon for being my video woman and support that was forbidden to cry. You did a great job. Thanks to Tracy and everyone at All About You. You are all wonderful. I couldn't have done it without you. And as I left there...nothing but blue skies ahead and that front line behind me.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Confessions of a Compulsive Hat-Buyer

I have a confession to make. A handful of you already know this...I’m an addict. My story’s not unique. It all started with just one, maybe two. I thought I could handle it. I didn’t know what I was messing with…I found out about the hair and had what I thought was a harmless thought, “I should get a hat.” That was all she wrote. Notice, I thought “get A hat”, not “get 23 hats”…

I hear there are people who can stop at one. Occasionally they will go buy a hat and not even think about hats again for a long time. Some people go their whole lives and don’t even know they’re hat-addicts because they never bought one before, kind of like a Baptist alcoholic. I think I heard a joke about that one… (And for the record, as a born and raised Baptist, I'm allowed to tell it.) At any rate, I now know that I used to be one of those hat people, but am no longer.

In my defense, they’re A LOT of cute hats out there right now. They’re everywhere! Either that or I just started noticing them. The odd thing is that I don’t even like to shop. The fact that I was at the mall on Saturday is more unusual than the fact that I was wearing a wig, which I have never done before.

I got my first two when Mom and I went to buy Pj’s for my surgery. Turns out that I had no button-down-the-front Pj’s. And when you have that surgery, you can’t pull a shirt over your head since you can’t lift your arms for a while. So, the Pj’s were a necessity. That’s how she got me to the mall in the first place. The hats were between the Pj section and the door at Dillard’s. So, since there was a huge sale (75% off!), we casually picked up two that looked kind of cute. I didn’t even pay them attention for a while. I was busy with the surgery, recovery, and everything else. But once I got obsessed with the hair…that all changed.

Now, you should know that I DO like to BUY, but not to shop. There’s a huge difference. If you “shop” you like to spend the day in many stores or the mall, looking around with no specific goal necessarily, and you could come home with something, a lot of things, or nothing. Ugh! I don’t do that. When I shop it’s a mission (as in black ops, not small church). You get in, get out, and if you do it right no one even knows you were there. That’s how you BUY, not shop. The faster you can pull it off the better. That’s why the Internet is so dangerous. You can buy anything you want whether the stores are open or not. Up at 3:00 am? Need a hat? No problem. We got your hat right here!

I could spend a great deal of time justifying all of the good reasons that each of my hat purchases was legitimate. The first dozen came from the American Cancer Society’s online store. How could you argue with giving money to the American Cancer Society? What with having the cancer and all…Plus, it’s a good cause. I bought some pink stuff at The Breast Cancer Site, also a good place to spend your money. Then there’s 60% off day. That was Saturday when I capped off the collection (no pun intended) with the last two. I actually even started stretching the truth about my addiction. I told Terri at work today that I bought A hat in two colors. When she thought I meant one, I did not correct her. She caught on though. For the record, I did buy A hat in two colors, it just adds up to two if you’re paying attention. Besides, I didn’t even get the black one. So, I was proud that it wasn’t three. The black on was really cute.

All of this begs the question, What is going on here? What’s with all the hats? I’m not usually a hat-wearer, so why the compulsive need to buy so many? I couldn’t have told you until today. When I got out of the car at work this morning, the wind was blowing SO hard in our parking lot. It was cool, dry, which is the thing that I always look most forward to when the weather FINALLY cools down after the triple digit heat of summer. But today I had a different thought. Instead of my usual complete joy in that moment, I felt panic. What if it’s this windy next Monday? I had visions of my “hair” flying across the parking lot. That vision was immediately followed by a series of surprising feelings. Shame, embarrassment, terror. It was fleeting, but it was there for just a second. Then a quick sense of security because I had a hat to wear to protect me from that. Like a hat is some Harry Potter-esque cloak of invisibility/wind protector...

Shame and Embarrassment??? Really??? There’s no shame in having cancer! Where in the world did that come from? Still, that’s what it was as sure as I sit here and type this. So I thought about that all day, and I came to a couple of conclusions.

First, no matter how far past the teenage girl we once were that we think we've grown, she's still there. You know the one that thought the whole school was looking at the minuscule little zit hidden where no one could see it anyway? Yeah, her. She's still around even if you think she isn't. Secondly, sometimes it takes things like cancer to remind and reveal these things to us. I had no idea she was still hanging around. But, now that I know she's there, I can handle her because 40 years of life teaches you a thing or two.

One of those is this: People don't look as closely at us as we think they do. Most of the people I encountered on Saturday in my wig never knew I was wearing it. And if they did, so what?? As I've already said, there is NO shame in having cancer. Another thing is this, the only people that it should matter what they think are the ones that love us hair or no hair. And the hair really doesn't matter to them anyway. Then finally, when we do feel that way or if we just want a cute look, it's completely OK to grab a hat and head out the door.

Women spend so much time beating each other down in this world. "She's put on a few..." "Did you see what she was wearing?" "I would just DIE if that happened to me..." "She did what with who? I'd NEVER do that!" Gossip everywhere. Whole industries are built on finding flaws in others and exploiting them. Beating others down to build ourselves up. It doesn't work. It just changes the standard by which we judge ourselves as well. It's always too high when it comes to our appearance. We need to STOP it! We're all in the same boat really.

Each of us is God's creation that He made to be exactly who we are. Unique. Special. Needed. And above all else, LOVED, just the way we are. We can always do better in how we behave, serve, or treat others, but that's OUR imperfect human sinful nature. It's not a flaw in his creation. My pastor says regularly, "There is nothing that you can do to make God love you any more, or any less." He already loves us completely, totally. If He can love us with all of our imperfections, why can't we?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

One down five to go, and a date with my new hair...

So I spent Friday plugged into the IV machine getting my first round of chemo. We got the day started with blood work about 8:30 followed by a trip to Ihop. I had about an hour to kill between drawing blood and being able to see the doctor and get things going. They told me to go have a normal breakfast. So, Dad and I went to Ihop where I proceeded to eat 2 eggs over easy (my favorite), hash browns, 2 pieces of bacon AND 2 pancakes with a large glass of milk...ALL of it. I'm sure that's a normal breakfast for someone...At least I didn't lick the plate. He didn't finish his...quitter. But, he did stay the whole day with me except for a couple hours when I had other company. That gave him time to go home and console Mom who wasn't handling it well that morning. She chased me out to the car crying. I thought something had happened to Brayden, but she was just sending her baby off to chemo. I can't imagine if it were Brayden, so I get it.

The rest of the day went better than expected. My nurses and all of the people that work at Texas Oncology were all so wonderful! I was so well taken care of that I couldn't believe it. It's a little boring sitting in a chair all day, but that was broken up with a wonderful visit from my new friend, Amy. Thank you so much for coming to see me!! One of the hidden blessings in this cancer business is all of the people that you would not have met otherwise. Amy is one of those people. You see, she has already done all of this. We were diagnosed with the same kind of breast cancer. Since there's more than 20 kinds that we know about so far, she's the only person I have met that has MY kind. It is so inspiring to have support from someone who has walked this road and become a survivor of the exact cancer that I have. Besides the giant daisy balloon she brought me really dressed up my IV pole as I cruised the infusion room later in the day.

The giant balloon also actually added to the flair of the moment when I mistakenly broke all of the rules and escaped the infusion room. This is a full service facility. So, they have a pharmacy on site where they fill your prescriptions for nausea or whatever else you will need while you get the chemo. Fantastic! No Walgreen's wait on the way home...Well, when they came and told me my prescriptions were ready and that the pharmacist needed to talk to me, I got up, unplugged my machine and took off down the hall to the pharmacy to get them. That's apparently a big NO! NO! I guess mobile chemo patients aren't the normal thing in the hall (maybe it was the balloon...) but everyone looked like they would fall over when I pulled up to the window at the pharmacy to get my drugs chemo and balloon in tow. They lady behind the counter said, "What are you doing here??" and one of the nurses from infusion came running out to get me. So, I was recaptured and returned to my chair. Oops!!

So, when I say full service, I mean it. The pharmacist came to my chair to go over the nausea drugs and make sure I understood everything. He was wonderful as well. (That won't happen at Walgreen's when the guy behind the glass shoves the drugs into the "tube" and out to your car.) They weren't lying either when they said that they could keep me from getting sick. I've taken the Zofran this weekend, but that's it. They pump anti-nausea drugs into you before the infusions, one of which lasts for 3 days and they seem to have worked so far. So, bye to Chemo #1. We've done it.

Since I felt pretty good when I woke up Saturday morning, I decided to get dressed, slick back my real hair, put on one of my wigs with a cute hat and go out into the world. Next Saturday it's for real, but I needed to know if I could do it before I HAD to. So, I did. I went to the mall and a couple other stores for a test run. Then I met my mom and Carol for lunch. It was a good experience. Mom and I even went to get her clothes for her 50th reunion before I began to feel too run down. I CAN do this. Thank you Jesus for YOUR strength. It's the reason I'll get through.

Today, I only made it to church and Subway. I've rested and that's what I needed to do. I am going to do more of that. I understand why my nurse was concerned. Even thought I ranted about it before, I get it now. I'm not going to try and push it as I go deeper in the process. The effects of the drugs are cumulative and I don't want to get on the wrong side of this. Chemo is no joke. It's poison. So, I'm going to follow the advice of my medical team and put my health first.

One last thing, if you're praying for me, please do tomorrow. I am having to get the Neulasta shot in the morning to make sure my white count doesn't get dangerously low. That can be brutal because the main side effect is bone pain. The good news is that Friday my count was so high that I'm only getting 1/2 a dose. Like so many other things lately, I've been told it's "prophylactic". So, we're trying to keep it that way. We'll know by Wednesday or Thursday if I'm going to feel it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

If you don't know what to about nothing?

So since I finally seem to be over the trauma of the pending hairloss (**still reserving the right for relapse), I want to help the women that are behind me just a little, the ones that are suffering in silence with the realization and trying to come to terms with what's to come. So, I thought in this entry we'd just discuss something that every cancer patient in the world would like to say to all of the people WITHOUT cancer. This is stuff that actually matters to people who've just gotten this diagnosis, but they aren't going to tell you for fear of being rude. Fortunately (or not) for everyone reading this, I'm a little less afraid of that than the average bear. So, here goes...

See, when you get cancer you inevitably end up talking about the cancer with almost everyone that you encounter, like it or not. Now, although it has become a very easy conversation for me since I am choosing to handle it publicly, that doesn't mean that everyone else is as comfortable. That includes those with the cancer and those of you without it. So giving the rest of the world the benefit of the doubt, I thought that I would help those of you who don't have cancer with a few common missteps that might just come up in conversation. You know, things you might be tempted to say for some reason that I cannot explain, but really just shouldn't be said for ANY reason.

Now as women, we have certain things that help define who we are. Our eyes, our smile, our style, our expressions, and OF COURSE our hair. Hair is a big deal! It's a BIG part of the whole package. No one gets this diagnosis and and says, "good riddance!" For many of us, "Am I going to lose my hair?" is the first question we ask. Possibly even before asking about the prognosis... Most will get the news that I did. "Yes, you're going to lose it." That news is quickly followed by a deep breath, confusion, realization, tears, panic, worry...all kinds of stuff BEFORE acceptance. That's about how it worked for me. With, of course, unexpected spontaneous bouts of bawling that can rise up at any place, time, or in any company. (If you happened to witness this from me, sorry about that. I really couldn't control it.)

So to be clear, here are some of the most common things that you (the women without cancer) should NOT say to one of us. Saying these things can have several outcomes. None of them are good. Let's have a look at why...

First of all, almost all of us do get wigs at some point. You don't really need to ask us IF we're planning on that or just going "natural". Maybe you COULD ask "Have we already shopped for one? Have you found a good place to find one?" Or be helpful with something like, "I have a friend who knows a great cancer salon..." Any of those are actually acceptable.

It's AFTER that where the conversation goes wheels off with comments like the ones to follow, all of which I had with multiple people. So, if you're one of them, you are not alone and I am not putting this out there to make you feel bad. I am not upset with you in any way, and might have said some of this stuff myself if I didn't actually HAVE cancer either. I just want to explain how there might be a better way.Or, to ask you to consider how you would feel if these things were said to you...Here goes:

"You should get a pink one!" Really??? Based on what? Why? Because everyone wants pink hair all of a sudden? Because people need extra help identifying cancer patients in a color coded fashion? Because once you get cancer, you want to draw as much attention to yourself as possible?? What's up with the pink comment?? Let's shave YOUR head and get YOU a pink one. It's just a year or two. No biggie. You up for that?? I didn't think so. So then, why would I be? It's NOT cute or OK to say this to us. So please, skip it.

"Have fun with it!" What does this mean exactly? I am so unclear about where the fun part is coming from. Is the fun part the anxiety of it all coming it out at once, or waking up in a bed full of all you your curls that fell out while you were sleeping? Maybe the fun is about praying it's not too windy in Dallas this fall (NOT LIKELY) or that your wig doesn't shift strangely off to the right during an important meeting with your President or while addressing a group of a couple hundred people (which I get to do this fall in my stinking wig). I'm just not clear on where the fun is supposed to be coming from! It's fun to wear a wig for Halloween. There's also a reason Halloween is ONE day a year, not 365. Have you ever worn a wig for Halloween and gotten up the next day and thought, "I wish I could wear that thing everyday!"?

Then there's the tried and true... "It will grow back!" So will yours! I'm so glad you have that attitude. Let's do it together! Are YOU going to get a pink one?? Come on! Have fun with it! Why are you running away...?

The truth is, it WILL grow back, but we have to get to that realization and acceptance point on our own. You can't help us get there and saying it actually makes the pain of the situation worse because we feel guilty and shallow for even caring about our stupid hair! I did anyway. The thing is, you just can't understand this unless you've done it. The only people who can say that are women who've been through it, and it's still hard to hear.

Now, if you've said any of these things to me or anyone else with cancer, please don't worry about it. We're not mad at you. I just want you to understand that you don't need to have handy a perky response that's gonna make everything peachy keen. That response DOESN'T exist. And we're NOT looking for you to solve it for us. As much as you'd like to, you just can't.

Side Note: You know how we give men such a hard time about trying to “fix” everything for us when we just want them to listen? We even get into groups and talk about this phenomenon, right? Newsflash: When you say these things, YOU are doing the same thing! Interesting…isn’t it?

So, here's what it comes down to, we (women with cancer) know that you don't have the answers because, we don't either. What we probably need is for you just to listen. If what we're describing is tough and you don't know what to say. It's OK to say, "That's rough/terrible/awful (insert ANY bad adjective here), I don't know what to say." Or, "Is there any way that I can help?" Or, "I can't imagine what that's like.” Or, “I'm praying for you." Or, maybe there ARE no words, maybe it's just a hug that we need. That's OK, too.

©2009 80% Sporadic | by TNB