Sunday, October 11, 2015

Stories She Never Knew

Four years have passed since my mother left this life. I rest in the fact that she is joyfully worshiping and enjoying her Savior and the wonderful life beyond this life that He’s prepared for those of us who have put our faith in Him. She is reunited with all those she loved who have also passed from this life, and maybe they’re sharing stories. She loved to share stories and hear about other’s stories!

Still, four years have held a lot of stories for us, and I haven’t been able to talk to her about any of them: about our decision to move to NJ, about how hard it was to say goodbye to our friends and family in GA, about the NJ hurricane that ruined the house we ALMOST bought, about the house we did buy and lived in less than a year, about the friends we met and then had to say goodbye to, about the decision to move to SC, about living in temporary housing with our belongings in storage for months, about the house we bought and loved, about the friends we met and had to say goodbye to again, about our decision to move back to GA . . . about how much I miss her.

I wanted to call her and talk to her about all of those things and so many more! One thing I am thankful I didn’t have to tell her was that I was diagnosed with cancer. Had she not left us four years ago, that might have been enough to take her by now. I am thankful I didn’t have to share that part of my story with her.

This weekend, though, there’s a part of my story that I DO wish I could share with her. I would love to pick up that phone and say, “Guess what, Mom?! On Friday, the doctor said the scans are clear! And he didn’t even mention a stem cell transplant this time. When we asked why, he said some people think it might help, but there’s no definitive evidence that it would help me, because I’m young, I appear to be doing well, and my scans are clear. So, no stem cell transplant! Now, they just monitor and scan me every three months for a year or two to make sure they catch it early if it does come back.”

I wish I could tell her that part of my story, because that’s what happened! I think I know what her expression would have been. It would have been something like this (This is a picture of her being surprised at her 80th birthday party.):

And we would have cried many thankful tears together! I would love to have shared that with her! Some day I will . . . but it looks like she’ll have to wait a little longer to hear that story directly from me. :-)

God already knows all of our story, and He loves to hear and answer our prayers along the way. While my story has been a little more eventful than I would have liked this year, it also has been especially filled with His answers to our prayers for strength, for hope, and for healing for me.

Thank you all for your continued prayers, support, and encouragement throughout all of this! I’ve still got to get strong . . . and grow some more hair . . . but I’m feeling pretty done with cancer at this point. I’m ready to embrace what the doctor said and, as one of my cancer-surviving friends recently told me, to start saying that I HAD cancer. It is in my past. I am living in the healing God provided for me through answered prayers, medicines, and doctors. I don’t know if this healing is full or if I will have to walk the cancer-road again, but for now, that trip is in my past.

I still want to tell my mother all of my stories and I can’t wait to hear hers! But we’ll have an eternity to catch up on that stuff. For now, it will have to wait, because I’m done with cancer! That’s my story . . . and I’m stickin’ to it!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Just the Facts, Ma'am

Facts are important . . . and sometimes elusive.

Two weeks ago today (9/18) at 9:00 p.m., I got an email that a new appointment had been scheduled for me at MD Anderson. I logged on and saw that it was with the stem cell department. Great timing for something like that, huh? Of course, there was no one I could contact on a Friday night at 9:00 to find out why that was scheduled. It was a somber weekend, as we feared the worst, because the MDA doctor had not had any interest in scheduling a stem cell transplant consult until the MYC results came back and then only if they were positive. So, we assumed that’s what had happened.

On Monday, I emailed and called and got no response most of the day. Around 2:30, I got an unrelated call from the radiation oncology department from MDA. She said she had received an order on Thursday (9/17) to schedule me for a consult with their department. This continued to be bad news, as that order was received three days after my first and only appointment at MDA, and they knew when we left on the 14th that we weren’t likely coming back. Now, two new appointments were scheduled with no explanation . . . no facts for me to consider.

At 5:30 that afternoon, the nurse finally returned my call, said she could see how those appointments might have been upsetting, but they were just automatically scheduled. The test results would not be back for another week. She would go ahead and cancel the appointments. Sigh . . . it was yet another very frustrating experience with MDA, and we still knew nothing about the results. But the fact was, at least the news wasn’t bad. I decided after my three days of gloom and doom that I was going to live as if I was well until I found out anything different. So, that would give me until this week to “be well.”

In the meantime, I had my MRI and my PET scan last week. On Monday of this week (9/28), I met with my new Emory ophthalmologist, and he gave me good news. He said my eyes were completely clear and he saw nothing that would concern him. Those are some positive facts I can rest in. Yay! I will see him again in three months. 

On Tuesday, I met with my new Emory Neuro-oncologist. While he couldn’t see my old scans to compare to, so couldn’t tell if the scan had changed (even though I brought the scans personally to Emory weeks ago . . . aarrgghh!), he thought the MRI didn’t look concerning. There was at least no brain involvement. So, I’m going with that being good news, too. We also asked him if the PET scan results were back. He said they were and while that is not his area of expertise, he could read us the notes from the radiologist. They said there was no sign of anything hypermetabolic (like cancer) on the scan! Woohoo! That was excellent news, because if there had been, we’d have to start talking about beginning again with chemo. So, after he compares to my old scans (assuming Emory can find them or get them sent from MUSC again), if he still doesn't see anything concerning, I will also see him again in three months.

In the meantime, while I was at my appointment, the MDA doctor called, so Eric answered my phone. The MYC results came back . . . inconclusive. Ugh! Evidently, the biopsy piece they had to test was not big enough, so we don’t know whether I am MYC negative or positive. This puts us back in the same place we were before we went to MDA, having no real facts that will tell us whether or not the transplant is likely to help me and be worth the risk. However, the MDA doctor did say that if the PET was negative, he would consider me to be in full remission, and he would not recommend the transplant. He said he’s not convinced that there would be a benefit to doing the transplant. That is good news to have, but we still don’t know what the Emory doctor will say, since he’s the one who suggested the transplant in the first place. Eric said as far as he’s concerned, the burden of proof is on the Emory doctor to convince us there is a true benefit to the transplant, at this point. My appointment with that doctor (my Emory Hematologist/Oncologist) is a week from today.

Thank you all for continuing to pray for me and my family! We are so encouraged by all of you. We are asking you to still pray for good news on Friday. To be honest (this is my confession), the skeptic (and control freak) in me is having a hard time believing that we truly know that the PET scan is clear, because what if the other doctor misunderstood the results? Of course, assuming he can read accurately, the facts are good. I think I will just feel better when I get the official word from my main doctor on Friday. (Yeah, apparently, this need-for-control thing is still not worked out of me. :-/)

In the meantime, I will focus on one of the confirmed facts I do know! That is that God has blessed me with an amazing daughter who just turned 16! She’s had to give up a lot and endure much over this last year . . . a sick mom, extra responsibilities, uncertainty of my/our future, moving, more goodbyes, starting over at another school for her junior year, finding new friends, etc. Yet, she hasn’t complained. Really! She just takes what life gives her and trusts that the Lord is ultimately in control and knows best. Through it all, she is joyful, hopeful, a diligent and excellent student, a great caretaker, an amazing daughter, and a wonderful friend . . . to me and to all who know her. 

So, I don’t have all the facts I want, but one fact I know is true is that my daughter is a true gift from the Lord (Psalm 127:3), and I am celebrating 16 amazing years with her!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Observations from the Road

A few observations from our “week” on the road:
  1. Towns called Pintlala, Tickfaw, and Lobdell exist . . . oh, and Flomaton.
  2. The fastest drivers on the road consistently have Texas plates.
  3. Vast amounts of Louisiana’s highways seem to have been constructed entirely of speed bumps.
  4. Happiness can be found at a casino in Lake Charles, Louisiana. (No, really . . . hundreds of billboards told us so, so it must be true, right?)
  5. Out of the dozens, maybe hundreds of casinos between Atlanta and Houston, there appears to be only one smoke-free one on the gulf coast, and it is in Biloxi, MS.
  6. If you’ve been looking for Chubby Checker, we found him. He’s at a casino in Biloxi, along with all of your favorite 80s musicians.
  7. The casino industry is as concerned about your potential addiction to gambling as the smoking industry is about your potential tobacco addiction. There’s a helpful phone number that is almost legible underneath each gigantic casino billboard ad.
  8. Texas is entirely too wide. We stopped at exit 880 as we entered the state.
  9.  MD Anderson’s cancer center appears to be about the size of the city of Columbia, SC.
  10. Just because you are at arguably the best cancer center in the world doesn’t mean you’re going to like your doctor. :-(

We have also
 discovered over the past six months that treating cancer is as much an art as it is a science. Here is what I mean:
  • Mayo Doctor in Jacksonville – recommended typical RCHOP treatment
  • MUSC Doctor – recommended RCHOP plus Methotrexate
  • Emory Doctor – would have likely recommended RCHOP plus stem cell transplant
  • MD Anderson Doctor – would have done tests others didn’t do, would have likely done EPOCH rather than RCHOP, and only would do stem cell transplant if I have double-hit lymphoma, which we will know only after they get the pathology results from the extra test they are doing on my original biopsy.

The MD Anderson experience started out on a positive note. All the staff were kind, helpful, and efficient. Unfortunately, when we met the doctor, our experience changed. I am certain the doctor is one of the best in the nation, but when he walked in, he didn’t bother introducing himself and just started rattling off information that we didn’t understand. It was as if we had walked in to the middle of a medical class where the professor was lecturing, but we had no context for anything. 

He spouted off jargon about cellular and genetic information and test names and acronyms we’d never heard of as if we were supposed to know what he was talking about. He huffed when we tried to ask clarifying questions, once he finally looked up from his computer and took a breath. In trying to understand him, if we incorrectly repeated something he had said, he was very condescending in his tone towards us, and when I apologized for not understanding but told him that most of the things he was saying were Greek to me, he responded with a smirk on his face that that was what I had come there for, wasn’t it?

How did he know? He didn’t bother to ask us what we had come for! He had not really bothered looking at the information they insisted they needed before my first appointment. They absolutely had to have my scans at my first appointment, but he hadn’t looked at them. He said he doesn’t look at scans. That’s what radiologists do, but their radiologists wouldn’t even look at them unless we did new ones at MDA, because they don’t get paid to look at them, since we’ve already had them read by someone else who has already gotten paid for that. If we did new ones at MDA, the radiologists would look at the old ones to compare, since they’d be getting paid to look at the new ones.

He talked about what he would have done differently but really had no insight into what treatment was actually done, (because he didn’t bother to look!). It appeared that he had no interest in helping us as a second opinion. He might have been a great doctor had we gone to him for the initial diagnosis and treatment, because he’s got great ratings and is known as one of or even “the” best lymphoma doctor there. Perhaps he had an off day, but we decided this was not what we had been expecting or hoping for from our experience after a 14-hour one-way drive.

While he said he could do some testing and maybe get me in to see a radiotherapist who he was certain would have administered radiation as part of my original treatment even though it was touching my brain, if MDA had treated me instead of other doctors, “because it’s easy for the docs at MDA.” We asked what they would radiate now, since the original area seemed to be clear, and he seemed to think they’d find something they could still radiate. However, since ordering the tests and scheduling this other appointment seemed like it was mostly just because he assumed we wanted that, we decided to leave and drive home. We both agreed that we had no interest in his being my doctor. Brilliant or not, we did not feel like we received “care” from our doctor at MD Anderson.

While we were emotionally stunned and disappointed, after hours of debriefing, Eric and I do think something useful came out of the information we sort of translated from all of the gibberish we heard. Here’s what we came away with (summarized by Eric after looking up more information on the internet):

My prognosis comes down to two tests. The MDA pathologist ordered an additional test on my original biopsy to determine if it shows something called MYC translocation (pronounced “mick”). This would be indicative of what they call double hit lymphoma, which is not good news, and would cause the MDA doctor to recommend the stem cell transplant. Otherwise, he would not. The transplant carries a 1-2% chance of killing the patient, is tough to go through, and is expensive. Additionally, the data is mixed on whether it actually helps or not.

The other outstanding test is the PET scan. My original doctors recommended waiting 6-8 weeks after the final chemo treatment before doing the scan because the chemo continues to work for some time after it's given. The MDA doc scoffed at that and said I should have gotten it within two weeks of the final treatment. In any case, if the PET is negative, and the MYC test is negative, he recommended doing nothing and is expecting a good outcome. If the PET is positive, we would need to biopsy anything showing hypermetabolic activity to confirm, then we'd be looking at more chemo before even talking about stem cell transplant.

The MDA doc goes solely by the pathology to determine stem cell transplant, where the Emory doc seemed to be basing it more on the location within the body. We're glad to hear the additional test was ordered and curious to know why my previous doctors at MUSC seemingly hadn't ordered it (probably because some of this is new information from recent studies). However, it was good to hear that the MDA recommendation sounded pretty much the same as the original MUSC recommendation (a negative PET scan means do nothing but monitor), unless the MYC is positive.

We decided to go ahead and have the PET scan done at Emory as originally planned. By that time we should have the MYC test results back and will have a better picture of what comes next.

So, we will take the MYC test results to my Emory doctor and hope it means something to him. We will get all of my tests done at Emory from now on, and we will just pray and rest in the care I receive from the doctors there, ultimately trusting in God’s sovereignty. The only hesitation I have with this route is that my MRI and PET scans will now be done next week instead of this week, and my appointment at Emory to find out the results is not until October 9th. :-( Hopefully, the MYC result will be in by then (praying for a negative result), and my Emory doctor will get it and know what to do with it.

Thank you to all who have prayed and helped out for our week (that turned into three days of mostly driving). While it was disappointing in many aspects, it did give us a bit of new information. Hopefully, it will be helpful in our decision-making for the next steps on this roller coaster ride we are on. In the meantime, I’ll just focus on growing more gray peach fuzz for at least a few more weeks and trying to make a few more observations from the road. :-)

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Gray Peach

Yesterday, a lady saw me from behind in a parking lot and said “Oooo! I love your pretty hair!” I didn’t expect someone to be talking to me, so I said, “Pardon me?” and turned around. She repeated herself, but when she saw me from the front, I think I detected her next thought. I believe it was something like, “Wait. That isn’t her hair at all, is it? Oh no! What do I do now?” I just smiled and thanked her . . . and I had to laugh at the thought that if she saw my real hair (I was wearing my red wig), well, my “pretty hair” would never have formed as a thought in her mind.

Yes, I do have hair. It’s about a half inch long (basically, peach fuzz), and it’s completely gray! Yep! I’m in my mid-40s and am completely gray. When we lived in Georgia before, Eric would sometimes lovingly refer to me as his “Georgia Peach.” He now refers to me (still lovingly . . . lucky for him) as “The Gray Peach.” But, at least hair is growing! I am VERY thankful for that.

Of course, I don’t know if I’ll get to keep it for very long. We are heading to MD Anderson in Houston on Sunday to get another opinion of my situation. While I won’t get an official recommendation from my Emory doctor as to whether we should do the stem cell transplant until the first week in October, we talked to my MUSC doctor, and he and Eric thought it best to get an opinion from “the best” in cancer treatment in addition to the Emory doctor’s opinion, just in case they may have different ideas. So, we have been told to expect to be at MDA for up to a week for all the testing they will want to do. I’m not looking forward to the long drive or the pokes, prods, and scans. However, November will mark 20 years that Eric and I have been married, so I’m just going to consider this our anniversary trip. Who needs a dream cruise to Alaska when we get to spend a romantic week visiting a cancer hospital, instead? :-) At least we will get to celebrate over some good Mexican food!

I ask you all to continue to pray for my family, for full healing for me, for the doctors to have wisdom in their recommendations, and for us to have wisdom about which recommendation to follow, in the event the doctors’ opinions vary.

In the meantime, I am in good spirits and am hopeful. When I first found out about the possibility of more and very intense treatments in my near future, and that if I didn’t do those treatments there is a good chance the cancer will return and if so, will likely be incurable, I was not mentally prepared. I sat around for days in disbelief and with a cloud of darkness hanging over me. But my wise and wonderful husband tearfully reminded me that no one is promised another day. So, as long as God gives me breath, I need to live like I’m still alive, not like I’m already dead.

That helped to knock me out of my funk, and I have been focusing the last couple of weeks once again on the gift that each day is. Especially, on this calendar day, when we all remember the terrible events that ended so many unsuspecting lives and forever changed the rest of ours, I am thankful for the gift of today! I pray we will each live like we are alive, whatever our circumstances. As long as we are alive, there is always hope! And once that life is over, if our hope has been in the One who breathes life and conquered death, there is STILL hope!

  • “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!” Psalm 118:24
  • “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21
  • “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:4-7

Hopeful for all of us!

“The Gray Peach”

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Out of Control

A friend recently shared her thoughts on all my family and I have faced this year. She said from her viewpoint, looking in from the outside, it seems like what I’ve been going through (cancer, the move, the house, etc.) is essentially a stripping of all control in my life. (I probably butchered what she really said, but that’s what I took from it.) While I agreed that was possibly part of what God was doing, I really felt like that was something God accomplished already. I didn’t need any more surprises to make me realize I have no control over my life and circumstances. I had learned my lesson. He is in control; I am not. I’m all good with that. Ready to move to the next life lesson.

Evidently, I have more to learn. I discovered yesterday that I subconsciously thought things were getting back to normal, meaning I could have some say-so in what happens next and even into the future . . . aka, control. Nope!

I met my new Emory doctor yesterday. It was my consult with him for my follow-up care since my treatment is now over. While he was a very nice, compassionate, and knowledgeable man, he evidently didn’t understand that I had already learned my lesson and was back in some sort of control of where I was headed. It seemed that no one informed him that I was done with cancer and ready to get stronger and move on . . . that the worst was over, it’s only going to get better from here . . . so, he suggested I might not be finished with treatment.

Um, wait, what?

He referred to my cancer, because of its abnormal presentation and location, as a “bad actor.” He suggested that I might need more aggressive treatment . . . but wait, that was what the Methotrexate inpatient chemo was already! He said he agreed with what MUSC had prescribed, that I did need the Methotrexate in addition to the standard RCHOP regimen that I received. (He said some refer to what I got as "Mr. CHOP." Sounds friendlier that way, I guess.) But he informed us that we may ALSO need to do a stem cell transplant.

Ummm, excuse me . . . I’m done here! I’m on the road to recovery! Are you not aware that I’m here for POST-chemo care?!?! This was NOT on my agenda for the day or the rest of the year or the next . . . however long this will affect our lives!!!

I know very little about this procedure, but my understanding from our brief discussion yesterday is they would do something that would cause my bone to emit stem cells, which they would take and freeze. Then, they would give me very powerful chemo that would kill ALL of my red and white blood cells and my ability to make new ones but hopefully also any hidden cancer that might still be lurking. Then they would give me the stem cells they withdrew earlier that would rebuild my blood cells. This would require a two week (or more) hospital stay, and would be “the worst thing I’ve ever been through in my life.” 

Yep, that’s what he said. 

NOT what I was expecting for my initial post-chemo consult with my nice new doctor. He said that while it would be tough, they’d get me through it. (As you might imagine, my tear ducts had become quite active by this point.) Here’s a link to more of what I can expect if we have to do this:
(I haven't even fully read it, because it started looking worse than the doctors described it, and it is too much for me to handle emotionally right now.)

We won’t know if he will definitely recommend this treatment until after he sees my next MRI and PET scans, which are scheduled for four weeks from now (in the hospital where my mom passed away incidentally, yep . . . more tears). But the other doctor with him (a Fellow studying under him) referred to this as the best way to make sure I make it to my son’s wedding. So, it seems like they are really leaning towards this next step for me. Sigh . . . I thought I already did what was the best path to get me to my children’s weddings and to loving on their children and to growing old with Eric.

None of this was in my plan!!!! Ugh . . . .

That’s when, after talking and crying through this with Eric, I realized I evidently thought I was back in some place of power. Um, yeah . . . no. He said his fear is that I’ve been putting my hope in the wrong place. And it’s true. I’ve been hoping in prayers and procedures and doctors and medicines and encouragement and hope, etc. . . . rather than holding things loosely and truly trusting that God’s plan is good, whether He takes me on my preferred path or not.

His plan may or may not be to heal me. His plan may or may not be to get me to my children’s weddings. His plan may or may not be to smooth out my path, since we’ve had such a trying year. His plan IS for me to “Trust in the Lord with all [my] heart, and do not lean on [my] own understanding, but in all [my] ways, acknowledge Him, and He will make straight [my] paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6) Not necessarily smooth, but straight. The straight path is trusting in Him, not the benefits I think He will or should provide. Historically, His followers haven’t led easy lives or even lives that just have one major bump in the road. He gives them strength to endure (“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13), but He does not promise an easy path. Instead, He tells us that we will have trouble in this world, but we are to take heart because He has overcome the world. (John 16:33)

My life is not and never can be about ease and comfort, if I am truly following Him.
  • I am to take up my cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24).
  • I am to trust that His way is righteous (Psalm 145:17), however difficult it might be.
  • I am to trust that He is working all of this for good and conforming me through this to be more like Jesus (Romans 8:28-29).
  • I am to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10) . . . I am not.

He is in control . . . I am not.

So, I continue to learn and try to wait with open hands, not clenched fists about what the future may hold. Today, I must focus on who He is, regardless of my circumstances, and trust that His way is good. The only thing I have true control over is my response to His truth. I choose to believe He is good and His steadfast love endures forever (Psalm 136). Today, I will try to let go of my desire to control my life and pray I can rest in that.

If you are praying for me, I ask that you specifically pray that the scans will be encouraging enough that I won’t need this procedure and that if that is not the case, for me to have strength to get through this next unpleasant step. Please also continue to pray for my family. This is tough on all of us. Finally, pray that I will be content and at peace with whatever path God has chosen for me to walk, and that I will cling to Him and His love, not just the hope that He will make me better.

Thank you for your faithful prayers and encouragements!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

"If you can't say something nice . . .

. . . don't say nothin' at all."

I decided to live by Thumper’s advice these last several weeks. Well, not around my family, unfortunately for them, but at least on social media. I wanted to spare you all from my impression of Sadness from the movie Inside Out, although I must say I have that character down pretty well! I decided that Savannah has been Joy, and I have been Sadness, and the poor thing has been stuck taking care of me for the last month. (If you haven’t seen Inside Out, you won’t get this at all. If you have, you’re feeling pretty sorry for Savannah right now.)

Yep, it’s been a tough month. Since I haven’t written in a while, I really wanted to have a light-hearted, uplifting, “God really showed me some neat stuff” sort of post. Instead, I think I’m just going to tell the pitiful truth.

I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so down in my life. The stress really peaked the last few weeks. If you are someone who wants to think I’m strong, you’re not going to want to read this. If you want to feel better about yourself, this is going to be your favorite blog post from me.

I have felt lousy physically, and I have struggled with an ongoing case of Optirectalitis (see earlier post for definition). I cannot think of a time where I have cried more tears of hopelessness than this past month.

Complaints of all that's going on:
  • knowing we are forcing the kids to start over at a new school (yet again) with them having no friends there and potentially losing some of the credit for the work they did in SC
  • knowing I have to find new doctors right away
  • thinking about Atlanta traffic and how my daughter is going to be driving in it soon and will have to start all over with her driving requirements 
  • not winning on the final house selection (we ended up with the boys’ favorite, which I was more unhappy with than I expected . . . see earlier post)
  • having to be out of our SC house by 7/31 while I was still in the hospital
  • stressing about the details and logistics of closings
  • worrying about transporting pets
  • fearing that I’m not really healing completely
  • getting the kids registered for school (which involved doctor appointments in GA, shopping, lots of communication with school counselors)
  • knowing we are going to be living out of boxes for months
  • etc. . . 
  • and just feeling useless . . . like I’m just here to be served and can’t contribute to anyone or anything . . . feeling like a patient -- nothing more -- just a patient -- who burdens others and can’t take care of herself 

. . . is what I would have written about.

I pouted, cried, whined, and complained my way through many of my days. Savannah was always there to listen to and encourage me. I dumped way more of my self-pitying thoughts on her than a teenager should have to endure from her mom. I’m so thankful God gifted her with such compassion and maturity to deal with my emotions, as Eric was working in Atlanta most of the time and wasn’t there to help her handle me most days.

I don’t say those things to bring you down or make you feel sorry for me. I only write about it now so you can know the dark pit I have been in and what my poor family has had to deal with. I’ve had some of those feelings throughout, but this past month, they stuck around and I wallowed in them. So, no . . . I wasn’t going to say something nice. It was best for me to say nothin’ at all.

However, I am thankfully coming out of my funk, and I can look back and see something nice to say . . . (and something that makes me laugh, although I shouldn’t).

God has answered so many prayers! First, the logistics worked out for everything! The appraisal came through fine for our SC house, and we closed without a hitch. Everything went smoothly for our close in Atlanta, and we are now in our house. Our movers were great and efficient. My lab numbers were good, and my doctor got me out of the hospital the morning of the 31st, so my sis-in-law was able to take Savannah and me to Atlanta at a reasonable time that day. Friends came over and cleaned our house and stocked it with food before I arrived. My brother and Austin made it safely to the house with the animals. (This is the part that I shouldn’t laugh at, but I do, because I wasn’t in the car. One of the cats pooped in the crate almost right away, so they had to ride with the windows down the whole way to Atlanta. Hey, at least the wind noise helped drown out the cats’ constant wailing for four hours! :-)) 

And this is just a sampling of the answered prayers we've experienced!

Oh, yeah, and my chemo treatments are officially over! That’s pretty exciting, when I stop to think about it. Of course, as I return to my Sadness character, I tend to be afraid that the cancer is not all gone. The doctor said we wouldn’t be able to use a word like “cure” for a couple of years. And we’re really not even ready to go there, because I haven’t had a PET scan to see if the cancer is gone from my spleen. So, I’m reservedly excited. I know many have prayed, and I believe God is healing me, but I also know He doesn’t guarantee that I will be physically healed. I hope that is His plan, but I am trying to rest in whatever each day brings. 

For now, I am feeling stronger almost every day. I don’t know how to describe it other than to tell you that I’m starting to feel like a real live person again, not just a patient, not just a body trudging through quicksand, but a real person. I’m weak and have to pace myself, but it’s like a huge cloud has been lifted.

And as I resurface into the land of the living, I’ve realized I still have something nice to say!

I have had so many people who have bombarded me with love through service, that when I am not being Sadness, I realize it's an amazing gift. Today, I am thankful, and I am hopeful, and God is good, and my friends and family are patient and loving and kind. All of this, in the midst of my self-pity is a gift I don’t deserve. That is something awfully nice!

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17).  

Monday, July 6, 2015

A Restful Week -- HA!

Some families are . . . how do I say this . . . um, just plain nuts! It turns out that WE are one of those families.

Basic Background information:
  • ·       I have cancer and am in the middle of chemo treatments.
  • ·       Eric and I decide he should take a job offer in Atlanta.
  • ·       Our insurance out-of-pocket will now start over . . . in the middle of my cancer. (Great idea! :-/)
  • ·       We have to get our house ready to go on the market.
  • ·       We have to find a house to buy in the Atlanta area in time to get the kids signed up for school.
  • ·       My current job is supposed to be “Rest, and get better.”

So, the last week has been a bit insane. Here’s why:

Before the chaos begins, since I’ve been so tired and the family has been working feverishly for a week to get the house ready to go on the market, we decide to go see the movie Inside Out. Um, let me just tell you, when you are moving your children YET AGAIN, and they have to start in a new school YET AGAIN, this is not the best movie to see. Just a little friendly advice. Eric and I both cry during the movie. (Ugh! This is an ANIMATED movie . . . a kids' movie! So embarrassing!) Eric's crying is not that noticeable, because my sniffling is so loud and my weeping so shakes the entire row of seats, that I think he was able to still walk out without losing much of his manly reputation.

After getting the house ready to go on the market, Eric leaves Sunday afternoon to see a couple of houses that night before he starts his job the next day. He and Kelly, our Realtor and long-time friend, see a house that seems like it might be what we’re looking for. Third time’s the charm, right? (We had already been on two house-hunting trips and made two offers on houses.) So, we make an offer on a third house I haven’t seen.

Eric goes to his new job. He’s never been in the building, never met his team, and his team only finds out they’re getting a new boss on Friday, right before he starts on Monday . . . a bit stressful for a first day. But that’s not enough stress.

On top of that, our house officially goes on the market in SC on Monday. In addition, we find out at 4:00 p.m. as we’re walking out the door to the library that there are multiple offers on the house we made an offer on in Atlanta, and we need to know if we want to be in a bidding war. I can’t decide, because I haven’t seen the house, and Eric thinks there might be a couple of things I wouldn’t like about it. So, at about 4:15, I text a friend in Atlanta to see if we can bring our dog and leave her overnight. My friend says yes, and the kids and I are on the road by 5:00 p.m. heading to Atlanta. (Note: I’m not physically very strong right now . . . and evidently not very smart, either. Multiple times, I ask the kids what I was thinking. They mostly just stare at me wishing we had actually gone to the library.) 

In the meantime, an agent makes an appointment to see our SC house on Tuesday morning. Aaaahhh! Our first showing! Exciting! The house is not in perfect shape, but we left it in mostly showing condition. 

We arrive in Atlanta at 9:00 p.m. to see the house. After all of the craziness it took to drop everything, none of the three of us really likes the house, so we decide not to get in the bidding war. Sigh . . . . We end up getting to Eric's hotel at 11:30 p.m. I wouldn’t exactly count this as one of my resting days, and it wasn't quite the restful night before his second day that he had envisioned.

Kelly shows the kids and me more houses, even though we were not on her schedule for the day and I’m pretty tired and weak. We find a couple of houses that might be okay options. Kelly says she can meet Eric that night to show him those two. 

Meanwhile, we get an OFFER on our SC house at 1:00, three hours after our first showing!!!

We visit two schools in Atlanta (the schools the kids would potentially attend depending on the house we end up in), pick up our dog from our friend, and drive back from Atlanta during rush hour on 285. That’s a neat experience. :-/ We arrive at home at 10:00ish. Nope, not restful.

We have more showings while we negotiate closing dates on our SC house. We settle on 7/31/15. So, we now have to be in a house in GA by 7/31. Did I mention I’m in my final inpatient chemo from 7/28-7/31? Yeah . . . not good. We put Daisy in a kennel to prepare for what’s next. Did get a little rest.

The kids and I get up and drive back to Atlanta to look for houses one more time. We meet Kelly to look between 2:00 and 6:00 p.m. Eric leaves work a little early and joins us for some of that time. We don’t find the perfect house, but we see several we like. By the end of the day, I can barely walk without someone with me. Now, we have to decide which one to make an offer on first. Kelly starts collecting property disclosures while we drive two separate cars back to SC. (Yes, I drove eight hours round trip in one day.) We arrive around midnight. Failed at my job of resting today.

We sleep late and then try to decide which house to make an offer on. We can’t decide.  The girls want one house; the boys want a different one. We pray and then flip a coin. The boys win. :-/ (Our agent asked if that means God loves the boys more. Hmmm . . . :-/)

Then we pack and get ready to go for an overnight (previously planned) to Hilton Head. We drive through some rain and arrive about 5:00 p.m. instead of the originally planned 10:00 a.m. Oh well, we at least are able to go straight to our little condo and check in. We have a lovely view of the ocean from the balcony, so we all sit out there for a little while, soaking it in. Then we decide to go out to eat and proceed to head back into the condo. Only problem . . . the door has locked behind us. 

Yep, the four of us are locked out on the approximately 5’ x 8’ balcony. We call the owner, and he doesn’t really know what to do. He suggests flagging down a neighbor to come through the condo and open it for us. Problem is, everyone is on the beach. We call the HOA, but it’s a holiday. They were going to call maintenance to do an emergency visit, but at the last minute we are able to find a teen on a neighboring balcony (who looks a little terrified by the crazy family yelling at him) who finally understands our situation and rescues us. We end up having a lovely, relaxing dinner and wait to hear about the house. Awakened by drunk neighbors having a fight at 1:30 a.m. Can’t go back to sleep for two hours. No . . . not much rest today.

We get a counter offer that is not as reasonable as we hope it will be, so we make an offer on the girls’ favorite house. We think the house is overpriced but the agent had said the sellers were motivated, so we are hopeful. We enjoy a couple of hours at our tiny square of the beach, along with 50 bazillion of our closest fellow-vacationers. We decide by 1:00 that our 2-day trip of sand and salt-water that turned into a 20-hour trip is enough to satisfy us this go-round. We head home and decide to top off our stress-relieving weekend trip watching Jurassic World. (PSA: I didn't find a movie where dinosaurs eat innocent victims to be quite as endearing as Inside Out, but at least I didn't cry . . . wait, is that bad?) Got some rest today.

We get a counter that is, again, not as reasonable as we hope it will be, so we make an offer on our third choice house. Yep! This is offer number SIX, people! SIX! We start to become afraid that our Realtor/friend is going to fire us . . . as clients AND friends. But again, we remain hopeful, even though we have to close on 7/31 or live under a bridge.

Monday (Today) 

Men show up to rip up all of our defective hardwoods. The kids, the pets, and I sit in our bonus room the entire day, while we listen to the background music of non-stop banging and throwing of wood. We get a counter on our sixth house that is only slightly higher than we want to go. But truly, all three of the last houses are pretty equal in our eyes, all with pros and cons, so we decide to go back verbally with our final offer on all three and see what they say. At the time of this blog writing, we still do not have a contract.

In the meantime 
I have my 5th chemo treatment tomorrow, IV fluids and my Neulasta shot on Wednesday, our buyers’ inspection on Thursday, and hardwood installation throughout the rest of this week.

I have determined that we are nuts, and our children appear to be rolling with it, at least the best we can tell. At some point, we will probably take up donations for their therapy, so let us know if you’d like to contribute. 

For now, here are some specific prayer requests for those who are willing to pray for our insane lives:
  • My chemo treatment tomorrow and my ultimate healing.
  • Eric’s new job to continue to go well, in the midst of our craziness.
  • That we’d be able to finalize a deal on a house that can close by the end of the month.
  • That the inspection and appraisal on our house in SC would go well.
  • That the hardwood installation will be right for our new buyers.
  • That we get the logistics worked out with the moving company.

I apologize for all the emails, calls, and texts I haven’t responded to. I’m also not on Facebook much because I just can’t keep up, and my hands are bothering me too much to stay on there very long with all the other online stuff I'm doing.

All right, in case anyone has read all the way to this point, I’ll update when we know what happens next. Until then, I’m sure I’ll be resting. :-)

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Man Plans His Way, But . . . .

Well, the house we were supposed to close on in the Atlanta area on July 24th is out. After we did inspections, the sellers wouldn’t do some of the significant repairs that needed to be done. So, as seems to be our normal modus operandi, we have no idea where we’re going to live and need to be there in one month for the kids to start school on time.

Our Realtor/Friend is working tirelessly trying to figure something out for us, and we are considering putting offers on houses we haven’t even seen. We are also considering renting, but we have more pets than most landlords allow, and we don’t really want to rent for a year and then have to move yet again. (While I know it may be hard to believe, packing and unpacking are not our hobbies, although I realize they must appear to be.)

In the meantime, the cumulative effect of chemo continues to take a toll on me, so I’m not much use except to supervise pet naps in the family room and make sure the couch stays in place. I struggle with neuropathy, fuzzy brain, dizziness, exhaustion, and muscle and bone soreness. I walk like I’m about 95 years old, and I have to take breaks halfway through my journey from the parking lot to the door, when I go out . . . not exactly inconspicuous. Sometimes, it makes me sad. Other times, it makes me angry. Either way, I frequently shed a few tears each day.

Still, I am thankful; I know this could be much worse. My family is patient with me and continues to amaze me with positive attitudes through all of the turmoil; and family and friends continue to encourage me with cards, texts, emails, and offers to help. I know there are many who walk this road without such amazing support, and I thank God daily for His blessings to me.

At this part of our Summer of 2015 chapter, I am reminded of two Scripture passages that seem to fit our story:  
  • “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Proverbs 16:9
  • “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’” James 4:13-15

I am keenly aware of the reality that all that happens is occurring within the ultimate sovereignty of God, and His ways are right and good. We are not in control, and He is not OUT of control. Our lives are a mist, and God is the one who breathed that mist into being. He is not surprised by any of the chaos we see from our vantage point. He is just weaving a tapestry that we see from the back side. Our view is not the right way of looking at the picture, but He knows what story He is creating.

So for now, we take one step at a time and pray that He will lead us to the right place to live, in the right timeframe, where our children will be in the best schools for them, and where we can live our lives walking in the paths He has paved for us to grow in our trust of Him.

In the meantime, the heart of this (wo)man is continuing to try to plan our way. :-/

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Trudging Through Quicksand

I am happy to say that I am home from the hospital and officially two thirds of the way done with my chemo treatments! Thank you, Lord!

I was more patient while I was in the hospital this time. Although the process was no faster, I knew what to expect, so I think I dealt with it better. It also helped that my wonderful daughter stayed with me every night. She was the best at keeping me upbeat and supplied with whatever I needed, mostly just her delightful company!

Sadly, Eric didn’t have a very celebrated Father’s Day. At least when I was in the hospital for Mother’s Day, my family brought me gifts and balloons. With me in the hospital for Father’s Day, he got nothing! :-( He definitely gets a do-over someday. :-)

Now that I’m home, I feel exhausted, mentally dull, and like I’m trudging through quicksand. My mind and muscles don’t want to even work. I’m praying this will pass quickly, as we have much to do in the next month!

As some of you have read or heard, we are moving to Atlanta. Over the last couple of weeks, we did a bit of house-hunting, and we have a contract on a house there and are supposed to close on July 24th. In the meantime, we’re trying to get the kids’ school records transferred and get them signed up for the classes they need, which we’re finding to be challenging for Savannah as some of her classes are full. We’re also trying to get our current house ready to go on the market, having defective hardwoods replaced, and getting movers scheduled around my chemo treatments. It turns out that trudging through quicksand is not helpful with any of that.

Eric is working non-stop on everything that needs to get done, while I mostly sit and move in slow-motion. Of course, he doesn’t mind a bit. He reminds me that my job is to rest and get well. He is amazing! I truly have never seen a more hard-working, dedicated man, who loves his family more than Eric or who is a more diligent worker or boss at his job. He doesn’t complain or stop to have pity-parties. He just keeps a good attitude and keeps moving and doing what needs to be done. I cannot tell you how grateful and undeserving I feel of his love and devotion. (Just read 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9 for a full picture.)

Okay, I realize that might have been awkward, but I just had to get that out! He is AMAZING! All right, I’m done . . . for now.

I wish I had something creative and deep to end with, but I mostly just feel like we are in the middle of a whirlwind right now, and my hands are tied. I’m watching things get done around me, but I’m just spectating. It’s not a good feeling, but I know God is doing something even in the whirlwind. He doesn’t waste these moments of feeling helpless and tossed about. He still wants us to trust in Him, that He is in control, even when we don’t know what He’s doing. He will bring about good things in His time and for His purposes. 

Until then, I’ll be trudging my way through the quicksand and watching the whirlwind go by, if you need me.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Have You Seen This Woman?

After hibernating a bit too much recently, she has decided to come out and integrate a little more with others. However, she is often disguised.

If you see her in her red hair, approach with caution. She will try to be on her best behavior, but her Jersey girl might come out a bit more in this disguise.

You should be safe when you see her in her blonde disguise, although you might not get the most accurate answers to your questions. Her chemo brain tends to come out a little more when she’s blonde.

Most often, you may see her in her little gypsy cap disguise. While it is not the most attractive of her disguises, it is the most comfortable, especially in “Famously Hot” Columbia. She often wears this one when she’s tired, hot, lazy, and/or doesn’t mind being on the receiving end of children’s stares and adults’ sympathetic smiles and greetings. If she’s wearing big earrings, there’s a good chance she’s having a good day, so feel free to approach.

Actually, she’s pretty harmless in any of her disguises, so don’t be afraid to talk to her. She knows she has cancer; she knows her “hair” is not real; and she doesn’t mind your knowing. She is fully able to talk about her cancer, and she’s fully able to talk about what’s going on in your life. In fact, she wants to! Cancer is a subject that one can talk about only so much, so feel free to discuss what’s going on in your life, too. She wants to feel normal, and that will help her!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Accomplishment . . . Or Not

Accomplishment . . . something I’ve known little of in the past week and a half – unless you count sleeping the day away, watching nonstop HGTV when I’m awake, and spontaneously and regularly bursting into tears from being sick and tired of being sick and tired as accomplishment. If so, then I’m actually doing pretty well.

My son and I pray on the way to school each morning (meaning I drive and watch the road and he prays), and we always discuss what we have coming up in our day first. This morning, I told him my big plan for the day was to do something useful. His response was, “You know you don’t have to do that, right?”

My sweet boy doesn’t care if I accomplish anything today, nor does my wonderful daughter, who has been doing much of my normal house duties, nor does my hero husband, who told me yesterday he was going to quiz me on House Hunters episodes when he got home from work, to make sure I didn’t do too much during the day. :-)

They are handling this much better than I am.

Going into chemo, I thought I was going to have a few tired days and then be back to normal after each treatment. The first one was sort of like that, but this second one has been a DOOZIE! I.Do.NOT.Like.It! (…picture two-year old stomping and pitching a fit . . . yeah, that’s me.)

It’s not just that I feel stir-crazy. It’s that I feel USELESS! I want to ACCOMPLISH something!

So, here is where I’d like to insert great wisdom of how I snapped out of this bout of “Opti-rectalitis: a condition where the optic nerve and the rectal nerve get tangled up, giving you a crappy outlook on life.” 

(Um . . . I didn’t come up with that . . . my former pastor in TN did . . . you know who you are if you are reading this and want to claim credit . . . if not, I’ll let you remain anonymous.)

Back to my point . . . I haven’t quite recovered from the chemo OR the Opti-rectalitis . . . even though:
  • I know this is temporary
  • I know this is normal
  • I know my hair will grow back (hopefully)
  • I know the main thing is for me to get well and not worry about doing something useful
  • I know God is teaching me
  • I know God is strengthening me
  • I know I am loved by Him and by SO many people whom I’m SO very thankful for
  • and I know each day is a gift . . . regardless of what I accomplish in it

Still, right now, I’m struggling to joyfully accept those things as being enough.

So, I am thankful that I read today:

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, 'Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,'
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.
For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
    I awake, and I am still with you."
                                           Psalm 139: 1-18

I am thankful that when I’m lying down and can’t accomplish anything, or I'm in the dark and can’t seem to find the light of hope, or even when I’m suffering from Opti-rectalitis . . . I am not alone. He is there!

I don’t have to accomplish anything to impress Him or earn His approval of my day’s work. He already formed every one of my days from before I was born, (even the ones like I’ve had for the last week and a half). So, I can accept these days and just rest in knowing that He is there. That is enough for today.

“I awake, and I am still with You.” Thank you, Father!

By grace,