Happy Mammoversary to Me!
Even when you're NOT having fun. It's hard to believe it's been five years since the diagnosis that turned my world upside down. Some parts of my journey seem so very far away, and some feel as though they were only yesterday. Other than giving thanks to God for each and every new day He grants me, I do not spend too much time looking back.
Although I have many days where I feel that my life was saved at the expense of my health (chemotherapy, among other things), I am still very happy to be here Squidoodlin'. If you are here [reading this] I hope it will be with a smile and word of thanks for your own today. If you're not, you should be. Even if you are having a lousy day, it could always be worse (I learned this the hard way ;o) Although I'm still working on the 1-2-3's, I have definitely relearned my ABCs...
I am tickled pink
That I was late publishing this lens. Why? Because LIFE got in the way. *Awesome*
All of the Medical Mumbo Jumbo
That has defined my life for the past five years
Diagnosed with Invasive Breast Cancer (Stage 1c; ER/PR negative; HER2 positive)
Lumpectomy (Left side)
Mastectomy (there was considerably more cancer than originally thought)
Port (Central Line) implanted for chemo
Begin Chemotherapy treatments
End Chemotherapy, begin Herceptin treatments
Prophylactic Mastectomy (right side) and immediate reconstruction on both sides (Phase 1 - 8 hours in surgery)
Phase 2 of reconstructive surgery (5 1/2 hours in surgery)
Hospitalized for immediate transfusion due to internal hemorrhage (I'd "sprung a leak" and lost almost 5 pints - whoops)
Shingles (in my eyes, thank you).
Tentatively diagnosed with Dermatomyositis (a rare muscle disease)
Muscle biopsy left thigh on New Year's Eve - Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year - OUCH
Officially diagnosed with Dermotomyositis (wrote a lens)
2009 & 2010:
Numerous neurological diagnoses cause unknown. e.g. positive Rhomberg (balance issues), convergenece insufficiency (depth perception problems), dizziness, a short-circuiting central nervous system and damage to the Vagus nerve which controls digestion (which was caused by the Steroids used to treat muscle disease).
Throw in arthritis in the spine and both hips, bursitis in both hips (and are you kidding me?), probable additional auto-immune/connective tissue disease and blah, blah, blah...it's like a medical infomercial (but wait - there's more!). Meh.
Diagnosed with Fibromyalgia
Diagnosed with Raynaud's Phenomenon (wrote a lens ;o)
Diagnosed with Malar rash (but not Lupus)
Diagnosed with dry mouth and chronic dry eye ('kay).
Rhumatologist indicated possibility of Sjogren's Syndrome and stated we would "watch and see" (translation: another medical lens may be forthcoming *rolls eyes*)
Currently: Posing the question: Am I soup yet Lord?
A shocking diagnosis
And we never saw it coming
It has been 5 years, one month, and 3 days since cancer blew a hole right through the middle of my life. It's funny sometimes the curves that are thrown at you. At 40, I was in the best shape of my life. I walked 2 miles every morning (treadmill) before work, and rode horses every afternoon after school (work). My husband, on the other hand, is several years older than I and has a terrible family history of cancer and heart conditions (his sister died of a heart attack at 42; a cousin at 34; and he's lost countless uncles and cousins to all kinds of cancer). He was overweight, smoked and rarely exercised (to this day he insists he is "in shape" because he is round and round is definitely a shape - funny guy). In any case, the two of us were so busy watching him for any sign of health trouble we were completely blindsided by my sudden cancer diagnosis.
I had planned to go for my Mammogram over the Christmas break when I hit the big 4-Oh (I work for a school system). The holidays were hectic, so I decided to put it off until Spring break. By then the weather was wonderful, and I was so busy outside with the horses and starting up a 4-H group that I figured I could just wait until school let out for the summer. Because of a hyper vigilant Radiologist, I was called back for a second mammogram to check the presence of a "shadow" on my films. Through the second mammogram and then the biopsy process, I was constantly reassured that it was probably nothing; false positives happened ALL the time. Nothing to worry about. My risk of cancer was less than 1%.
Well someone has to fall into that teeny tiny percentile, and that someone was me. I absolutely give thanks to God for the way everything worked out: In the month between diagnosis and surgery, my tumor doubled in size. Had I gone in December or April as I originally planned, the films would have probably been clear and I would have been a Stage 3 or 4 by the next mammogram a year later. For a time, I held the dubious honor of being my Oncologist's youngest breast cancer patient.
In treatment with my chemo buddy Hugh - (he and his wife were friends of my parents)
Sadly, Hugh passed away a few months after my final treatment when his cancer returned with a vengeance. We miss him very much, but I know that I'll be seeing him again one day (and without our respective IV's - Woo! ;o)
What God Has Not Promised
For your mind
For your spirit
Better yourself by becoming aware
Both in thinking and thoughtfulness
What do you complain about? Not have time for? Blow off? Big stuff? Little stuff? Some of each? It is amazing what a little cancer induced introspection can lead to; surprising too is the amount of obliviousness with which we live our lives. I wish I had not wasted so much of my time and effort on the petty things. That I had been more willing to apply the old adage about two ears and one mouth being for a reason. I should have smiled more.
I cannot tell you how many times during treatment I would stand for endless minutes in abject misery (which took tremendous effort) listening to someone rattle off a list of complaints about things like canceled hair appointments (and me with no hair at all), exhaustion from a party the night before (chills and body pain kept me awake), getting dragged off to the beach over the weekend because their kids wanted to go (I spent mine recovering from chemo) and a whole host of other "woes" that I would have traded for in a heartbeat. I would stand there (silently asking God to help me stay upright), and inwardly cringe as I thought about how many times I had probably done this very thing to someone else. Countless, I'm sure. Was I resentful? Of course not; there's not a doubt in my mind that I exhibited the same thoughtless behavior plenty of times over the course of my life. To be honest, I'm very grateful to have had such a mirror thrust in my face so I can fix it (even if said mirror made me feel squirmy). I may not always get it right, but can sure try harder because now I know.
I can't go back and change what was, but I can certainly work on what will be. Why? Because I can. Because I should. Because I want to. I can listen twice as much as I speak; maybe more. I can smile at people I don't know and be nicer to people I don't like. One thing that changed without trying? I can no longer just drive by a hospital without thinking that somewhere in that great big building, someone's life is falling apart. I cannot change it, but I can certainly say a prayer for that nameless individual and their family. After all, God knows who they are.
Be sure to hold on to your smile - Even if you don't like the place you happen to be
We celebrated my final treatment with some fake champagne in plastic glasses.
Hey; life + lemons = lemonade. Well, okay sparkling cider (but you get the idea, right? ;o)
Because husbands need support
Children do, too
There are three answers to prayer - "Yes", "No", and "Wait. I have a better idea."
Celebrate your caretakers
They're not just at cemetaries ;o)
Next to God (and who can top Him?) my husband was the best; he was an absolute rock during my treatments and surgeries. He is not, by any means, an easy man to live with and to be honest I did not expect him to rise to the occasion as well as he did. If you've never been through anything like this, it's awfully hard to put into words. He stuck to me like glue, and in all honesty sometimes drove me a little nuts, but I couldn't have asked for a better nurse. At the beginning of treatments, I managed to give myself a GI Jane but rolling over into a pillow full of little hairs a time or two was enough to convince me it was time to ditch the rest. He shaved my head for me and even offered to shave his own: I declined, although I thought about it long and hard first (hey, I'm only human ;o) He took me to the Emergency Room and held my hand after I spent an entire night throwing up from the chemo (the anti-nausea meds did not work). He sat with me "in standby mode" for hours afterward too. He was at every single treatment and doctor's appointment.
My daughter was a young teenager, and although that teenage 'tude got the best of both of us sometimes, (usually when I was feeling my worst) she was a great help to me as well. I worked my way through chemo, and although it was tough we made it. I was her interpreter at the time and on the days I missed work (the Friday after a treatment) she was able to keep me up to speed when she got home from school. Her teachers were great about making sure she knew what was going on and had everything she needed.
My parents were another blessing; and would often show up for my treatments (since I had treatments for a year and a half, they had plenty of opportunities). My mother even scrimped together enough to send me a cleaning lady once a month to handle the big stuff during my treatment (and that was a HUGE help). My church family was amazing from prayer support to suppers, they were right there.
One thing I learned that was very interesting: You find out who you matter to by the "How are yous?" Most people happily (and with great relief) accept the word "Fine" with a nod and a smile. But a real friend will ask you twice ('cause they really want to know ;o) Speaking of friends: My dear friend Lori was also wonderfully supportive. She took a photo of Taya, had it made into a poster, and taped it to my IV pole so I could "have a horse with me during treatment", which made me laugh. She also took several other photos of the horses and had them made into postcards. She sent one to me every 3 weeks after a treatment for a year and a half. What a wonderful friend!
My redneck hubby made a wonderful mother hen... - Who knew?
I absolutely love these little personalized books - They're wonderful! - It's a smile that keeps on giving :o)
My friend Lori gave me one of these books (the first one listed) as a "just because" gift. The books are full of thoughtful sayings and warm wishes and come with little fill in the blanks for you to add your own special words and thoughts for the recipient.
I'd never seen one before, and I absolutely love it. Whenever I'm feeling blue (and yes, I still have those days) I can pull it out and laugh and smile over some of the things she wrote inside. I think I'm going to order some to give to friends and family.
There (but for the grace of God) go I...
"Lord Forgive Me When I Whine" by: Red Foley
Today upon a bus, I saw a girl with golden hair.
I envied her, she seemed so gay, and wished I was as fair.
When suddenly she rose to leave, I saw her hobble down the aisle.
She had one leg and wore a crutch.
And as she passed... a smile.
Oh God, forgive me when I whine.
I have two legs, the world is mine
I stopped to buy some candy. The lad who sold it had such charm.
I talked with him, he seemed so glad.
If I were late, it'd do no harm.
And as I left, he said to me, "I thank you, you've been so kind.
It's nice to talk with folks like you. You see," he said, "I'm blind."
Oh God, forgive me when I whine.
I have two eyes, the world is mine.
Later while walking down the street,
I saw a child with eyes of blue.
He stood and watched the others play.
He did not know what to do.
I stopped a moment and then I said,
"Why don't you join the others, dear?"
He looked ahead without a word. And then I knew,
he couldn't hear.
Oh God, forgive me when I whine.
I have two ears, the world is mine.
With feet to take me where I'd go.
With eyes to see the sunset's glow.
With ears to hear what I'd know.
Oh God, forgive me when I whine.
I've been blessed indeed, the world is mine...
The best thing to do?
Learn to shift your focus when you need to. Why? Because sometimes reality isn't all that pretty...
Oh...Look what a beautiful butterfly!
Perched ever so delicately on a pile of horse poo and having a snack (eew :o)
LIVE: Life is for the living
And don't just "survive"...Thrive!
Cancer pushed me to start a non-profit [Epic Farms] to help me share the joy of horses with others. It has been a long hard road, with many pitfalls and challenges but we are slowly getting there. Although our progress is slow (and I am impatient) it is an exciting adventure that I may not have had the courage to pursue without the "Big C".
I turned the Epic Farms blog pink for the month of October last year. We decided to have some fun with it so I threw on my "Inspire" pink ribbon T-shirt and DD took some pictures of Bella and I. She was supposed to hold her "Hope" sign so together we could "inspire hope", but was more interested in flinging it into the air and mugging for the camera that day than anything else. As you can see in the photos (this and in the next two modules) Bella had herself a case of the sillies. Gosh I hope it's contagious ;o)
LOVE: Each new day
And celebrate the small things in life
Over the past few years, I have prayed to God that I might live and I have asked Him to just let me die. Today, I am thankful for each and every day the Lord grants me here and I am SO glad He chose to answer my prayers for life. I may not know how many days I have left, none of us do, but I know that I will strive to face each one with a more grateful heart.
I love the Lord, my family, friends, and church family. I love the sunrise in the morning, sunset in the evening and looking at the moon and stars across the beautiful nighttime sky. I'm learning to make more of an effort to appreciate all of these things...there's nothing like a thoughtful note sent to a friend just because. A visit with family for no other reason than to say "Hi" and see how they are doing. I even love the icky rainy days because it makes the grass and all the pretty flowers grow and I can curl up with a good book.
Best of all? I love sharing the joy that horses have brought into my life; they are truly a blessing from above!
LAUGH: It's good for your health
And a lot easier on the sinuses (ugh)
Laugh and the world laughs with you; cry and most people avoid you like the plague (or something like that, anyway ;o) God has gifted me with a very warped sense of humor; something I'd periodically lamented until I got on that medical merry go round. I can usually manage to find a few things to laugh at throughout the day; most often it's at myself.
Those bad hair days are no longer tragic - are you kidding? I've had "no hair" days. Named my wig "Hairyette" as a matter of fact (couldn't resist ;o) I've found entertainment in mentally translating medical terminology, "Accessing the port for treatment" really means they are going to take a big fat needle and punch a hole through the skin near your collarbone to give you a lovely cocktail of toxic chemicals (probably sounds better the other way though).
After countless hours in surgery (13.5 just for the reconstruction) and spending a small fortune on doctor copays, hospital copays and pharmaceutical supplies (not to mention what my insurance shelled out) I announced to my husband that I am officially a "High Maintenance Trophy Wife". He immediately concurred. Hmmmm, I wonder if I should add the initials H.M.T.W. to my signature from now on.... Whaddaya think?
Check it out world:
SMILE! It's a brand new day... - (and look how pretty it is outside)
P.S. it is a proven fact that you can smile while gritting and/or grinding your teeth (I know, 'cause I did it a LOT during my treatments :o)