Wednesday, January 11, 2017

When Everyone Else has a Special Talent or Gift

April 8 2015

I come from a family of really talented people…I mean, SUPER talented.  The kind of God-given talent that makes people say, “WOW! That’s so cool.”  And careers and livelihoods have been built on that talent.  And while I have watched in awe and pride at their gifts, I’ve often been asked by others, “Can you? Do you too?”  And, I have to say, “NOPE.” 

And it wouldn’t be truthful to say that it didn’t bother me at all.  When it seems like everyone has a special talent or gift, it can be lonely until you find the gift that is for you. 

For far too long I was stuck waiting for God to reveal the mysterious special gift he had for me.  I knew that Ephesians 2:10 proclaimed that I was His workmanship, created in Jesus specifically for these good works that God had prepared in advance for me to walk in.   But I wasn’t sure what those gifts were or when they were coming and so, I did nothing.  I felt like whatever gift I was going to get was going to be HUGE and I wanted to be ready…so I just waited and waited and while I was waiting, I noticed that person’s gift, and that person’s gift, and it seemed like everyone had some special gift except for me.

And I’ve been to churches where they encourage you to pray and ask God for specific gifts and/or reveal what His gift to me was because clearly I didn’t have this gift yet or I’d be using it, right?  Clearly, it was still on its way…and so, I continued to wait.

And I got discouraged.  I felt kinda useless and kind of jealous of all the other people who were using their special gifts.  And then finally, one Sunday morning in a women’s bible study, we were discussing “Doing God’s Will” and being willing and available for the work that He has for us…and this woman raised her hand and asked the teacher, “Well, How do you really know what God wants you to do?” And my heart skipped a beat because that was exactly what I wanted to know too!  I was thankful that she’d asked because I didn’t want to ask such a dumb question! Especially since I was under the impression that everyone (except me) already knew the answer to this…

The teacher gave an answer that resonated so well with my soul…she said, “God has already told you what He wants you to do. In His Word, he’s given us very specific instructions to Love and Serve, Be Light,  refrain from ungodly behavior … And if we can just focus on what we know He’s already told us, we will be better positioned to hear what else He wants to tell us: Go, Do….”

And so, instead of sulking and waiting on some specially wrapped gift from above, God opened my eyes to see the gifts that were right in front of me.  Colossians 2:9 “For in Him (Jesus) dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him who is the head of all principality and power.”  I am complete in Him.  Not tomorrow. Not whenever I receive some special gift, but now.  So, I changed my focus from worrying about the gifts that others had and stopped trying to compare and just started working on how well I was doing what I know to do, and lo and behold opportunities came that allowed me to serve and in serving it became clear that God had made me especially for serving in these particular ways and I realized I wasn’t waiting anymore…

Are you still waiting to know what God has called you to do?  Stop waiting and just start serving.  I’m willing to bet there are gifts in you waiting to be used. 

Secret of a Happy Life - DWM

15 January 2015

I wrote this for Deeper Water's Ministry Blog as well.  It's a piece on the book, The Christian's Secret to a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith.

I remember, even though I was a small child, sitting through our annual summer revivals – the church would be packed for the week long visit from a traveling evangelist. Women with hats bobbing and swaying to the rhythmic sound of the minister’s hoop as he crescendos to a close usually centered around the fact that Jesus was coming back and soon…Then, the alter call.  And tearfully, grown men and women would head toward the outstretched hand of the minister warning against eternity outside of God’s grace. These conversion stories always moved me. Lost sons and daughters redeemed by a loving Savior.
But not me.  I got saved when I was 5 years old. Which is code for: I did all my sinning while I was saved.  My biggest obstacle in this journey has not been giving my life to Christ. That was a done deal from very early on. My difficulty, as is the title and theme of Chapter 7, was in submitting my will to His. Particularly, I think, for women who are raised in this day and age and kind of groomed to achieve and dream big dreams of what we want for our lives, this can be a challenge.
I remember adults asking me my entire youth what I wanted to do when I grew up.  They encouraged me to follow my heart when it came to decisions about where I’d go to college, or what career I’d pursue or who I would marry.  And for so long I got stuck there trying to follow My heart and My dreams.  And when I prayed, it wasn’t “Thy will be done” it was always, “Lord please let My will be done.“ 
             Whitall Smith says “It is not the feelings of the man God wants, but the man himself.”*** And thankfully, He pursues us relentlessly so that we are not left to our own devices and limited to the smallness of our dreams.  God has exceedingly abundantly more than we could ask or think waiting for us when we release our will and embrace His will.  But often we’ve worked so hard for our dreams and waited so long for our plans that we don’t want to give them up. Especially for His will which may not be what we had in mind, or worse, an undisclosed will that requires us to wait and just trust in His plan.  Ick…Waiting is the worst!!!

Yet, God is asking us to release our plans and like Indiana Jones in the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, we approach the alter and instead of trading our will for His, we bargain, “Lord, I’ll trust you with that, but I’m going to hold on to this.”  And we try to offer the counterfeit idols of our heart on the alter and fakes are found wanting…the stone lowers, and a giant rock comes to crush us. Ok, sometimes the giant rock is actual something else that gets our attention…perhaps an illness or loss… and when it’s all been stripped away, then He presents His will as an alternative to the Path of Me.   I realize now there was only ever One way; His way.  All other roads were a distraction.  His will is where I can stop chasing my plans and rest in the knowledge that I am walking in the good deeds He set in advance for me to do.  Daily dying to my emotions and the lies of the enemy bent on my distraction and destruction…Daily praying, “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done.”  Amen

Hope Beyond the Pain - Deeper Waters Blog

23 October 2014

Wrote this piece for Deeper Waters Ministry.  I hope it blesses you.

Earlier this week my daughters and I were watching a sitcom and the tv mom was having a dream about having another baby. She was doing the stereotypical heavy breathing and moaning associated with dramatic (and comedic) television births.  My daughters, I’m sure had seen this portrayal several times before. But, I guess the harvest was ripe for discussion because they began to question me about the validity of pain and childbirth. 

They were horrified when I confirmed that yes, women do indeed typically have a great deal of pain associated with childbirth.  And I may have mentioned Eve and “the curse”…
I also mentioned that thanks to medical interventions, women could “opt out” of the natural pain of childbirth with an epidural.  And they were totally onboard for that idea, until they pressed further about the details of epidural; “HOW long is the needle?  It goes in my SPINE???”  Then they weren’t so sure.

 I assured them that they had PLENTY of time to worry about natural versus pain managed birth plans in the next (at least) FIFTEEN years it would take them to finish their education, marry, and have children.  And more importantly, I assured them that the pain of childbirth is not even comparable with the joy that comes with the birth of a child. 

And this segued into another lesson about how God gives us glimpses of His glory and reassures us with hope during the pain in our lives… “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)
I also mentioned that a lot of women (myself included) report that, while, “Yes, childbirth was painful…Perhaps the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced…” I don’t really remember the specifics of that pain.  “Why else would people have subsequent children”, I joked?
So, it’s not that you completely FORGET the pain, but, perhaps the newfound joy overshadows the pain.  The pain, in fact, is “worth it” when it’s all said and done.  Which I think is a beautiful metaphor for the trials of life. 
Even our Omnipotent God, thankfully chooses to forget some things…“…For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:34 –
Hallelujah, right?!

Instead, He makes sure to remind us that He remembers his promises to us, “He remembers his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations.” (Psalm 105:8)

And, He commands that WE remember:
Matthew 15: 32-39 records the miracle of Jesus feeding the four thousand…and then in the next chapter, Jesus is exasperated with the disciples because AGAIN, they are asking him, “what are we gonna do about all these hungry people?!” Jesus is like,  “Um, hello? Remember the miracle I JUST performed? (my paraphrase of Matt 16:9).
Jesus calls us to remember who He is.  He calls us to remember His promises to us and our children.  He calls us, particularly in our trials and pain to REMEMBER how He has brought us through past trials and encourages us that He will bring us through again and again, until finally, He brings us HOME.

Importantly, He instructs us to teach our children to remember what He has done in our lives so that they can learn to trust Him in theirs.

He commanded the Isrealites to collect stones from the Jordon as a remembrance of their deliverance from 40 years wandering in the wilderness and the provision of the Promised Land. He did so, not just as a tribute to Himself for what He’d done for them, but specifically as a testimony to the next generations, so they would know too.  - Joshua 4:6&7 – “And when your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you? Then you shall tell them…So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”
How are you REMEMBERING Jesus?  What kind of STONES are you sharing as a testimony of what He has done in your life that others may know and trust Him in theirs?

I love that there is hope beyond the pain and His name is Jesus.  I love that the same Jesus who promised to “never leave me, nor forsake me”, makes that same promise to my daughters. And, it is my constant prayer that they will REMEMBER and rely on those promises too.

Cancer #23 - A Reality Check

September 29, 2012

So, on September 11th, I met with the Rockstar. She asked how I was doing and I assured her that I was feeling great. And she called me, (get ready for it...) "Pollyanna"...which I thought was a bit unfair.  I mean, no, I don't sit and pout (most of the time) because I have cancer, and I don't wallow in self pity about what is, or was, or could have been.  Instead, I am grateful that at this time, the crappy chemo is gone, along with the crappy chemo side effects. I've finished my radiation. I have *most* of my energy back. My fingers and toes are *mostly* not numb anymore. I am pretty much back to my normal schedule in terms of my schedule, I can get my daughters up for school, dressed, fed, and out the door, AND I am able to volunteer in their classes three times a week. I cook dinner most nights. And so, I am pretty darn grateful at this point in my life.. so, when I'm asked, I say, I FEEL great! Because I do.  
I am not 100% back to my old energy level, probably because of the extra 25 pounds I'm carrying.  But, I digress...

She said I was doing great and she'd see me again in December.  I asked her about my survivor care plan...I explained about my military (read: transient) lifestyle and the great possibility that we would be relocated next summer and she said, by all means, "Get on with my life".  Which made me really happy.  I have been SO ready to get on with my life, but it also made me a bit nervous because I was also hoping she'd give me some kind of "cancer free card." She pretty much said, that that doesn't exist.  There is no way to tell if, where or when I my cancer will or will not recur.  She just said I need to be diligent about paying attention to my body, seeing a doctor for check ups regularly and staying healthy.  And Live.  She said, to focus on things I can control...cancer is not one of those things.

So, I left her office and went to get my Herceptin and pondered life beyond treatment...moving ON!

I was seated next to a woman who was on her very last infusion of Herceptin! She was by herself and she and I got to chat a bit.  She shared how thankful she is that God blessed her with insurance when she didn't have any previously.  And I congratulated her on finishing her treatment and wished her luck as she got to "move on".  

I imagined my very last infusion, which, if all goes well, will be in March 2013 and what I was going to do to celebrate.

I'd had my mind all set that I was giving cancer ONE year and then I was going to be DONE, DONE, DONE...

But then I got a call from the Plastic Surgeons office two days later to ask if I wanted to cancel my appointment because, "the doctor doesn't schedule reconstructions until a year post radiation"...I said, NO WAY, I am not rescheduling, I wanna see this Dr...and when he sees me, he will marvel at how WELL I have healed and will schedule the surgery in March...right after I finish the Herceptin...

Oh, how naive I can be when I so badly want to believe something...I did get to meet the very talented Dr. Tan, and he IS a rockstar.  He is also a realist and he explained that there is no surgeon in his right mind who would operate on radiated muscle,skin, tissue within a year.  And then he said, I needed to loose all this weight I'd gained during chemo, and that he'd see me in MAY 2013 for my consult and he'd do surgery (granted Uncle Sam lets us stay in the area) in August 2013. 

Well, I was glad for the wake up call.  I was glad to be yanked back into reality...No, cancer was not going to be over completely in one year.  In fact, I will JUST be getting done with my chemos, in March, which will be One year and 3 months post when I started the chemos in January 2012...and he also said, the surgery wouldn't even been complete for a year...he'd do it in August, and then I'd go back every 3 months over 12 months for "adjustments." So, I'd be put back together again, a la Humpty Dumpty, around August 2014... And lets not forget that I have to take Tamoxifen for 5 years...

So, really, maybe 5 years from, I can be DONE...and that's granted there is no recurrence anywhere else.  Additionally, I will have to see a Dr. 3-4 times a year for check ups for the next 3 years and well...for the rest of my life, I'll be looking over my shoulder...

Kinda sucks.  Particularly, when I was sooo wanting to MOVE ON. :-) and be done already...

I am sure I will come to some kind of pass where I am at peace with the trajectory of my life...but it hasn't happened yet.  In the meanwhile...I am on mission, LOOSE THE CHEMO WEIGHT.  And, GO!

Cancer #22 - Peach Fuzz and Reminiscing about the ER

September 8, 2012

Over the last two weeks, (about 2 months post end of Taxol/Abraxane), my eyelashes are back in full effect!!!, as are my eye brows (I even went for a wax yesterday!) and there is marked peach fuzz on my's about 1/4 inch all around and densely populated!  Super excited!!!

Also, as a side note, I was reading through the past journal entries and realized that I forgot to mention my ER visit.  Most of these posts have been written in reflection mode so forgetting details is often a result...but I want to document everything so that looking back, I remember all the details (and so, anyone reading this and wondering, would know) of what I went through this year...

So, here's the ER story:  I mentioned before about my adverse reaction to the Taxol chemotherapy...but what I didn't mention was that a few days later, I got severe chills and cuddled into the bed with tons of blankets and took a nap.  My husband came to check on me while i was sleeping and noticed (by touching my forehead) that I was SUPER HOT. So, he woke me up and took my temperature.  It was 103! 

I was convinced that it was just because I was under so many blankets and spent another 30 minutes lying under a fan, drinking cold water, placing cold towels on my forehead, trying to get my temperature did not budge...So, we called the City of Hope nurse line and they insisted we come in.  

It was about 9pm.  Long story short, I went in, they ran a bunch of tests and took an Xray of my chest to make sure I did not have an infection (I didn't) and then they gave me some tylenol and hydrated me with IVs, my temperature went down and we got home around midnight.  Much ado about nothing.  

Cancer #21 - In which I start MELTING like the Wicked Witch of the West...

I am anxiously awaiting my appointment on the 11th with the Rockstar.  In fact, I have a laundry list of questions for her now that I am past all the hard core treatment and looking at my "Survival Care Plan".  

A Survival Care Plan will consist of my marching orders from now on from the Doctor on best practices to ensure that I live as long as possible. (Ie. how often I will need to check in, what tests I will need to take this year, next year and subsequently, what kind of diet she suggests, etc. etc. etc...) 

Coincidentally, the City of Hope recently called to ask if I would take part in their new trial; and it has to do with Survivalship.  Specifically, survivalship of African American Women (who have the lowest survivalship percentage.* Many reasons contribute to this low percent: type of cancer - most are triple negative, late diagnosis, socio-economics, etc.) But, this particular study will examine how specific Survivalship Care Planning and Mentorship can contribute to survivalship.  

It's a blind study, so I may or may not get paired with a mentor, but ideally, when the study begins, I as a young woman, currently receiving treatment will be paired with a mentor who will also be an African American woman who has already gone through treatment and is at least in her 5th year of survival.  She will talk me through MY survivalship care plan and we will meet once a month 1 on 1 for support and encouragement.  So, it's very exciting to start planning BEYOND the treatment and thinking about getting to my new normal.

I am going to ask when I get to take my Matrix like port out of my shoulder.  I say "Matrix" because it's kind of like when Neo and them are in the real world and they have to "plug in" to the matrix...well, when I'm getting my chemo, the nurses "plug in" to my port to hook up the IV...of course I don't immediately find myself dressed in leather with 500 dollar Ray Bans on, but you get the picture. 

So...two more days until the big sit down with the Rockstar...I will also check in with my radiation oncologist, and then I will get my monthlyish Herceptin...which brings me to the title of this post..."Hot Flashes".

Herceptin is a hormone treatment that inhibits production of estrogen in my body since my cancer is estrogen positive (ie. my cancer feeds on estrogen).  I am ALSO taking an oral pill, Tamoxifen, which I began the day after my radiation treatment ended and which I will have to take or 5 (*yes, FIVE) years!   Anyway, the inhibition of my estrogen has caused me to go into a pseudo menopausal state, which is, for lack of a better word....unfortunate. 

As a result, throughout the day, as I am minding my own business, I will immediately feel as if I have fallen into a volcano.  It usually starts at my neck and the heat will move into my ears and then my entire head feels like it is engulfed in flames...Beads of sweat will pop up all across my bald head and then starts to pour down my lasts anywhere from 1 - 2 minutes, but is totally annoying and really uncalled for.  As if cancer isn't crappy enough!

The Rockstar did prescribe some medicine that she said would help with the hot flashes, but I tried it for 2 weeks and it didn't make that much of a difference so I put the bottle back in the pantry with the rest of the pills.  I am SO over taking pills, so anything not absolutely necessary goes!  

Cancer #20 - Radiated...

I had to do radiation Monday through Friday, with weekends off.  I'd sit in the waiting room for a few minutes until they called my name over the intercom, then I'd go to the dressing room and change into a hospital gown. 

I'd then wait outside the Radiation room until they called me in.  They had us booked back to back, so usually someone was walking out as I was walking in and when I was leaving, someone would be sitting in the chair waiting to go in also. 

In the room, there was that metal bed, but the techs would dress it with a clean/warm sheet and then they'd put another warm blanket on top of me once I was on the table (it was always freezing in that room).  They'd ask for my birthday (to make sure I was THE right Melissa Aaron :-)  ) and then I'd lay there while they pulled and shifted my body into the right position for the laser radiation beams. 

They always had music on and the techs would usually be singing along to Madonna, Anita Baker, Luther Vandross, or some other 80s/90s pop singer.  

I'd just lay there and about 3 minutes later, after the machine with the beam moved around me to the 3 different positions and gave me my three blasts, they'd say, Ok, Mrs. Aaron, you're all done...and off I went...until the next day.  

I'd see the Dr. every Monday and he'd say, "How ya doing?" and I'd say, Great!  I was feeling SO much better now that I was off that "crappy chemo".   The every 3 week Herceptin wasn't causing that many problems...although my toes and fingers were still a bit numb. 

I'd JUST seen the doctor the 3rd week of radiation - about day 26 and was bragging about how great my skin was doing.  Unfortunately for me, I was only looking at the skin on my chest, which WAS doing great...just a bad sunburn...what I wasn't considering, or TREATING for that matter (I had some cream to put on the burns, but I was only treating my chest, not my UNDERARM, which I should have been treating) underarm was BADLY burned and the top layer of skin was completely burned off.  It looked really ugly.  

Thankfully, my nerve endings hadn't quite healed from my surgery yet so it wasn't particularly painful.  

I went to see my Radiologist and he took a look and said, "Oh, it's not so bad...I've seen MUCH worse." which didn't really make me feel that much better. 

He said he wanted to give me a break from treatment...which made me cry a little, because I was SO close to being DONE - I only had 7 more treatments to go and I felt like I was taking a set back...

He assured me that I was NOT taking a set back...that I'd take 2 days off, then do the 5 electron treatments directly to my chest ONLY then do the final 2 full treatments by which time my armpit should be healed and what do you know...He was armpit healed in what seemed like amazing speed!  and before I knew it, the Radiation techs were presenting me with a MEDAL for completing my radiation treatment!

I felt like Gabby Douglas and proudly wore my medal the rest of the day!  I got smiles from all the people as I walked through the hospital to the car.  

I go back to see the Radiologist for a check up on September 11th which coincides with my next Herceptin and my next meeting with the Rockstar.

AND....September 21st, I get to meet with ...the Plastic Surgeon!  Woot Woot!  I am definitely moving toward the light at the end of the tunnel!

Praise God! 

Cancer #19 - Radiation and Tears

Ok, I admit it...I cried. But just a little.  

I went for my "mapping" where they put you on this cold, steel table and take lots of X-rays to figure out where your heart and lungs are so they don't zap any unnecessary and essential organs while they are busy zapping away the nasty and evil cancer cells that may be lingering.

So, one of the techs came out to meet me and he was joking and nice and having me sign paperwork that I understood, this that and the other...and then he goes, ok, we'll call you back in a sec...and he left me back in the waiting room.  

The next thing I knew, I was being led back to a dark room, where I was told to put on a hospital gown and they'd be back.  I did and they did...then they asked me to lay down on the table and I did...and THEN, 800 people came in and they removed my gown and started talking over me and marking on me with markers (ok, so there weren't 800 people there, probably about 7, but half were men and ALL were strangers and I just felt exposed and violated and I had one of those, "this isn't fair moments" and then the tears came...not hiccuping, sobbing tears, just silent tears rolling down my cheeks and onto the cold steel bed. 

The Dr. noticed my tears and screamed at everyone to get out.  The tech that I met earlier brought me tissue and gave me a pep talk about how brave I was and how they were almost done.  He and the Dr. finished by themselves and then they had me get dressed.  The tech told me about his mom who had cancer and didn't make it through chemo and how I was doing great and had just a bit more to go...

I felt like an idiot for crying, but thankful that it was over.  I started radiation the next day and felt like a pro.  No more tears from me.  

Cancer #18 - Encouragement

My girlfriend Alyx, (who also happens to be a Rockstar neuro oncologist at the Scottsdale Mayo Clinic) flew out for the day to pamper me.  

She'd threatened me when I was in Spain that she was going to fly to drag me back to the states if I didn't come on my own, so she said she was happy to spring for airfare to LA and a spa day with me which, she said was by far cheaper than the intercontinental airfare. 

Anyway, we went to the spa at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena for a day of heaven - massages, facials, mani/pedi, lunch, and a chance to catch up face-to-face instead of via email for the first time in forever!

Additionally, one of the beautiful women at my parents church (along with her family) has committed to pray for me each and everyday, and Mrs. Onnie Pointer has done just that!  She also sends me beautiful cards about once a week (EACH WEEK) to remind me that she is praying for me each and every day, which was such a blessing because there were many a days that I wasn't able to pray for myself. 

And those two examples are icing on a glorious cake of family and friends who are also fasting and praying on our behalf.  I can not express how this boosts my faith and encourages my heart.  I KNOW that God hears and answers prayers and I it makes me giddy with joy to know that the Heavenly Father, God of Heaven and Earth is being bombarded with prayers specifically about little old Me!

Thank you to ALL of you who are praying!  Don't Stop!!!

Cancer #17 - A bad reaction, Abraxane and when I start to whine, "It's NOT fair" ...

So, remember all the "pre-meds" and steroids I mentioned in the last post to ward off any horrible allergic reactions to the Taxol?  Well...I had a bad allergic reaction to Taxol on my 3rd round.  

They'd just hooked me up to the IV when I had this horrible shooting pain down my spine and my heart started to pound in my chest.  Johann ran into the hall to call the nurse who ran in and stopped the IV and immediately, the pain stopped and my heart started beating normally...

Turns out, THAT was the allergic reaction I was trying to avoid with all the meds....

So, the Rockstar gave me a week break and then took me off Taxol and on Abraxane for my final 2 rounds of the treatment.  Abraxane had the same side effects as the Taxol, but where I didn't experience neuropathy with Taxol, I did with Abraxane.  The very next day, in addition to the achies I usually get after chemo, my fingers and toes got numb.  

My fingernails and toenails were black by now also and my skin was taking on an ashy, greyish tone.  My face (and the rest of me) was puffy .Not only was I now bald, but my eyelashes and eyebrows were also gone.  I hardly recognized myself in the mirror. 

Also, as I was getting ready to finish the hardcore chemo, I was getting ready to move on to radiation and I met with the Radiation Oncology department who gave me a run down of their part in my treatment plan - 33 treatments 5 days a week.  

I felt like I was definitely making progress toward the END.  The milestones were visible and I felt some accomplishment moving from one thing to the next.  

Lastly, I went to my first echo cardio gram.  One of Herceptin's side effects is heart damage - sometimes irreversible.  So, I went in to see if my heart was in a condition to take the Herceptin in the first was...and then I'd have to go back every three months to keep on top of my heart's progress while on the meds this year. 

It seems kind of daunting...if I beat the cancer, then I may have to deal with the long term damage to my heart from the chemo/radiation and or/ lung/skin damage from the radiation.  

"It's not fair" is a phrase that sometimes runs through my mind.  Particularly when my mind is ready for a little pity party (which can be quite often, depending on how I'm physically feeling that day)...but then my spirit (and THE Holy Spirit) reminds me that I am SO glad God is not fair...that He does NOT give us what we deserve, because THEN I'd really be in trouble.  Instead, He gives grace, and He gives mercy, UNMERITED favor and love and forgiveness, not because I've been so faithful, not because I always obeyed, not because I trusted Him to be with me all of the way, but it's because He loves me so dearly, He was there to answer my call, He was there always to protect me, for He's kept me in the midst of it all. 

Cancer #16 - Taxol and Herceptin and a Life Interrupted

Johann was back, so he got to meet the Rockstar at my next appointment.  It was also at this appointment that I moved into my 2nd round of treatment with the new drugs, Taxol and Herceptin.  The Taxol I would take weekly along with the Herceptin for 6 weeks and the Herceptin I would take weekly with the taxol for  weeks and THEN once done with the taxol, I'd keep taking Herceptin every 3 weeks for 1 year.  

Also, since Taxol is highly toxic, most people have severe allergic reactions to it.  So, not only do they give me an IV full of Benedryl in my premeds prior to infusion, but I have to take 10 (yes, TEN) steroid pills the night before I have the chemo - 5 pills 12 hours before and 5 more pills 6 hours before.  So, I was setting my alarm and waking up at 2am sometimes to take these pills...and yes, THESE are the dreaded steroids that make you blow up like a balloon.  

I digress...the side effects from these drugs were similar to what I experienced on the A/C but slightly worse. The Rockstar had to prescribe some pain pills for daily use just so I wouldn't be completely miserable all the time.  This was weird, since I HATE taking pills and here I was was having to take pain meds just to get out of bed.  

I feel like I lost most of May and June to the bed.  Thankfully the girls finished school and went into summer mode! 

I think it was the weekly treatments that did me in. But I still felt like, whatever it takes, I'll do.  I knew that this was going to be an uncomfortable time, but that it would be over and it would be worth it.  

At the same time, my girlfriend Venise and I began a Women's bible study group with some other women and we used Priscilla Shirer's study of Jonah, "Navigating an Interrupted Life".  This study couldn't have come at a more opportune time.  "An Interrupted Life" was certainly what I was experiencing.  The study was exactly what I needed to hear from the Lord, in regard to how I was seeing and experiencing my interruption and instead of looking at cancer as an entirely negative intrusion from God, repackaging the "interruption as a Divine Intervention, and looking at it as an opportunity to partner with Him in a work on my heart and in my life.  I'm so grateful for the many ways God has sent messages of Hope and encouragement to me throughout this journey.  

Cancer #15 - City of Hope

Finally my slides from Germany met up with my paperwork and City of Hope called to admit me just in time to keep up with my 4th dose dense blast of A/C and to schedule my appointment with my new oncologist..  I call her, "The Rockstar" because she's pretty reknown for her breast cancer research and I was counting on her to do her thing, still holding onto Dr. Harris, from Germany's goal of CURE. 

Unfortunately, my first meeting with the Rockstar left me a little disappointed.  I went in, kind of expecting a partner to kick cancers butt. However, when she walked into the room where my mom and I were waiting, the first thing she said was, "I'm VERY sorry to meet you. You are WAY too young to be here."  

CRAP.  I knew I was too young for cancer. But I didn't want to hear that from her!  

We spent the rest of the time recanting my medical history and going over the recommended treatment, which hadn't changed any...and then she sent me off to get my 4th and final round of A/C.  

Johann and Zeke arrived that weekend! Our little family was back together again, even though we'd been displaced and completely knocked off our feet.  The girls were happily adjusted in school, I was getting fantastic medical care and Johann was given an office 10 minutes from home.  God is incredibly gracious and in spite of it all I can see His handiwork, His care, His grace and His incredible love for all of us. 

Cancer #13 - Chemo #2

The folks at Naval Station San Diego were awesome. I think inherently, all doctors and nurses working in oncology have an amazing compassion along with their expertise.  

I met with Dr. Gable and he listened to my medical history and I spoke with him about referring me to City of Hope, which made sense since San Diego was a 2 hour drive and City of Hope is a 10 minute drive.  He said he'd get the paperwork going immediately.  In the meanwhile, he oked my chemo for the day, and off I went to the infusion center. 

This room was about twice as big as the infusion room in Spain. But, set up the same way, with the big recliners around the room and lovely windows, letting in the sunlight.  I noticed the population in this room was markedly younger, but I'm sure that was due to the population of the Navy base.  Most were my age and there was a retiree or two also.  

My mom drove me down and got to sit with me in the room.  The room was equipped with wifi so I got to read my iBooks, and surf Facebook.  I think I posted something about finishing up another chemo and the responses from my friends were so encouraging and uplifting.  I still go back and reread them occasionally and am continually grateful for the support system I have, literally all over the world.  

We stopped at Carls Jr. on the way home and carbed out.  I remember my neighbor telling me that she gained 20 kilos during her chemo because not only do the steroids in the 2nd round of treatments cause you to gain, but the chemo itself makes you crave carbs and sweets.  Nice...not only do I get to be bald...but I get to be bald AND fat...Oh, lucky me! 

Chemo #12 - Old Stomping Grounds and Bald

August 24, 2012

The day after I got to my parents home in San Dimas, where we'd be staying during my treatment, I noticed that if I tugged, even the slightest bit, at my hair, that it would come right out....which meant, it was TIME. 

I told my dad to grab the was time to shave my hair.

My dad pulled out his clippers AND the vinyl The Wiz soundtrack and we rocked out to "Ease on Down the Road" and "Home" while all my hair (which I'd cut short the previous summer anyway) went on the floor and then into the trash. 

It wasn't as traumatizing as I thought it would be - going bald.  In fact, it was nice to not have to wrap up my hair that night when I went to bed.  I had bought a bunch of head wraps and a few hats from the Gypsy market before I left Spain.  My mom had also bought me some wigs to play around with so I was all set.  A friend and fellow survivor from Spain, Heather, also sent me a care package with a bunch of soft caps and my oldest and dearest girlfriend Kerry sent me a carepackage with not only a cool hat, but a BUNCH of feel good, taste good, pick me uppers ranging from beautiful cards with encouraging scripture, candy, nail polish, pretty jewelry, cozy slippers and more.  

Getting cancer was a huge bummer.  But, having amazing friends who step up and encourage and love and pamper and care really allowed me the ability to keep it movin', bald and all.  

Here are the girls and I at Disneyland on the tea cups.  Rockin' my scarf! 

Chemo #11 - Change of Plans

After my first chemo, I met with my primary care doctor at Naval Station Rota.  She was the doctor who originally identified my tumor.  This was the first time I'd seen her since she sent me to the radiologist and surgeon back in November. 

She set me up with a hospital liaison who was going to accompany me to all my chemo visits and act as translator, etc with the Doctors and nurses should I need help.  She reiterated that the base hospital was not equipped to handle chemo patients and that all my care, should I need additional care, would have to be done out in town at the Spanish hospitals.  

Johann and I decided that given the long road ahead, with numerous doctors appointments, chemotherapy, radiation, and the unknown factor of how I would handle such treatments, AND given Spanish is not our first language; we decided we would return to the states, California to be specific and I researched the leading cancer centers available and we agreed City of Hope, in Duarte, California, would be where we would plan to go for my care. 

We met with the head surgeon at Rota, who wrote a recommendation for a Medical Evacuation for me and the Navy worked its' magic and within a week, the girls and I had airplane tickets in hand to return to California.  We were sent to San Diego Airport because technically, my medevac was written from Naval Hospital Rota, Spain to Naval Hospital San Diego where Dr. Preston Gable would take over my care until he could arrange my referral to City of Hope. 

I packed up suitcases for the girls and I and celebrated my birthday with Johann, the girls and my mom at Venta la Feria in El Puerto where we had the best paella I'd ever had.  Johann dropped us off at the airport on his birthday two days later and off we flew to San Diego, via Madrid, and Philadelphia. 

Johann stayed behind while his transfer paperwork was processed and to pack up our home.  He would join us, along with Zeke our chocolate lab exactly 3 weeks later.  

Here's a picture of the delicious paella!

Cancer Blog #10 - Remembering Chemo...

August 24, 2012

Confession: The last time I wrote on this blog was 7 months ago... I will try to recap as best I can the last few months. 

My chemo was delayed on January 30th because my white cell count wasn't high enough, so I went back the following Tuesday.  My Dad left Spain that previous Thursday and called that morning to make sure I was ok.  

Everyone knew I was pretty nervous about the chemo. 

Johann and I got to the clinic early and after my blood draw which comes first (so the doctor can review my numbers before I take the chemo) and then went to the hospital cafe for breakfast.  We had molettes (toasted spanish bread with butter and jam) and cafe con leche.  We giggled at some patrons who came in to have a ceveza (beer) to start the morning...I joked that I better not see MY doctor in there and just as I said that, he walked in.  He only ordered a coffee (you KNOW we were watching!!!) 

Then it was time to check in for my appointment.  It was only down the hall from the cafe, but it seemed like the longest walk ever.  I felt like I was walking to the guillotine.  There was a small chapel in the hospital, conveniently located between the cafe and my Dr.s office so I slipped in there to say a little prayer...a BIG prayer actually.  Begging God to have mercy on me. To give me strength to face whatever was coming down the line.  I was fully aware that I was facing a long road and today was the beginning.  I needed His help. 

I kneeled there for a while and then realized, after my prayer ended and I was still sitting there, that I was no longer praying, but I got up and met Johann in the Dr.s office.  He'd set up my iPod so I could listen to my favorite songs and relax a bit.  He'd also downloaded some movies and television episodes to keep me busy while we waited...I turned on Israel Houghton's  Friend medley and listened to it on repeat and felt immediately relaxed.  That song would get me through pretty much ALL my chemo sessions...

And they called my name.  Johann and I met with the doctor who oked me for chemo and I went to the ambulatory infusion center right next door for the treatment. 

I would learn that this chemo room would be pretty standard in the comfy recliners that lined the room.  Big windows along the wall, letting in lots of sunlight.  

I saw men and women, mostly older, some youngish, like me, laughing and chatting with their spouse, friends, or other family members as if they were sitting in a Starbucks.  This made me feel better too.  I don't know what I was expecting, but there they were, no one was in pain or crying or even looked particularly "sick." 

My nurse came to start my infusion.  I noticed the IV contents were red and knew that must be the Adriomycin (aka - Red Devil).  Johann gave my hand a squeeze as the nurse found the port in my chest and poked right in with the IV.  She asked me (in Spanish) if I was ok, and I said, yes, and she smiled and gave my arm a reassuring rub before walking away.  

I noticed too that the other patients in the room had looked over to see me getting my (obviously) first chemo.  Johann was busy taking my picture hooked up to the IV, and I had that shell shocked look.  So we were clearly the newbies...all of them also gave me a reassuring smile.  As one older women finished her chemo, she and her husband stopped by to ask how many treatments I'd had. I told her this was my first and she said, that that was her last.  She said (in Spanish) for me to be strong ("muy fuerte") and hang in there!  I loved her immediately and wanted to hug her.  

And so, chemo number 1 came and went without much ado.  I was also given a Neulasta shot which I was to inject into my stomach.  Neulasta is a drug that boosts the immune system to counteract the chemo which kills all my white blood cells.  

Johann played nurse and gave me my shot the next morning.  I was not happy about being given a shot especially by someone with NO medical training...but there was a lot of things I didn't particularly like about this situation...

t spent the rest of the day in bed, resting and feeling slightly nauseated.  I didn't eat much.  But overall, felt that I felt better than I expected to feel.    

Here's a picture of my "Port scar"...underneath that small incision, the Dr. in Germany placed a plastic portal that attaches to my vein and receives the chemotherapy.  It's kind of like the Matrix, but instead of plugging into an alternate reality, they plug the chemo needle in and I get the meds without messing up the veins in my arms.

And here's the DREADED NEEDLE!!!! :-)

Cancer Blog #8

January 30, 2012

I ended the last entry mentioning that everyone here was coughing...and that I was scheduled to begin chemo on Thursday...well, the cooties got me. 

I showed up for my chemo appointment at the clinic in Jerez and gave blood so they could see what my numbers were...My appointment was at 8:30 and when I went to see the Dr. for my consult before the chemo began, he let me know that according to my blood work, my white blood cell count was too low to begin chemo...

He said I must have a "beruz"...

Johann and I were like, WHAT?  I have a WHAT??? A BERUZ???  What is that?  So, he wrote it down...VIRUS...(ahhhh.... the subtleties of English/Spanish vocabulary!)  

Well, I was relieved to know that a "beruz" was just a virus and yes, I had been feeling a teeny bit like I had the smallest cold...itchy throat, bit of sneezing...

But, mostly, I felt like the turkey who is pardoned by the president on Thanksgiving day, because I tell you I was NOT, NOT, NOT ready for chemo...I was a nervous wreck. 

When he said, Sorry...let's see how you do after resting this week and we'll start chemo next week, I wanted to hug him!

So, this week, I am avoiding all contact with coughers...I've forbidden my darling daughters from drinking out of my cups.  And doing all I can to rest up and get ready, cause NOW, I'm ready. 

Bring on the chemo!  And thank God for knowing that I am a chicken sometimes and needed an extra week to prep.  

Cancer Blog #7

January 21, 2012

Back in Spain.  Healing well from the surgery and enjoying my parents who have flown in.  Met with the Dr. here in Spain who referred me out to the Spanish oncologist.  (The hospital on base does not have an oncologist on staff, so we get sent to a local oncologist).  Dr. del Toro (Our Spanish oncologist) was very nice and I am set to begin chemotherapy on Thursday (1/26).  

I am thankful to also have my friend's cancer team at the top cancer center in America consulting with my recommended treatment and we are moving forward with my very aggressive regime.  

I also have my oncologist from Germany checking in and concurring with my RT!  

It is wonderful that I have so much medical support in addition to the the prayer covering and I am confident that the two are not mutually exclusive.  

In the meanwhile, I am trying to stay healthy as I go into chemo.  I understand that the drugs will lower my white blood count which will lower my immune system and make me more susceptible to illness.  Unfortunately, everyone around here is coughing...

Pray for ALL of our health in this household!

Cancer Blog #6

Our final days in Germany I went through a series of CT scans of all my vital organs, a Bone Scan and an MRI to rule out that cancer had gone anywhere else in my body.  The surgery confirmed that the cancer was stage 3A - based on the tumor size 2.7 and the number of affected lymph nodes 6 out of 19.  Praise God, all tests came back negative for metastasis (ie, the cancer has not spread to any other part of my body).  

The 3A staging was sobering news, but we know that God is not surprised by any of this, so we have comfort knowing that He is still in control.  And we were continually blessed by the professionalism and kindness of our medical team in Germany who provided us with all the information we needed to digest the information and the marching orders toward CURE (ie. treatment in the form of chemotherapy and radiation to be arranged when we got back to Spain). 

We flew back to Spain on Friday, January 6th and after being gone for 3 weeks were SO happy to be HOME!  We will meet with the medical team here in Rota tomorrow to get our referral to an oncologist here so we can move forward with treatment tomorrow!

Please keep those prayers going up on our behalf!

Cancer Blog #5

I stayed the night and half the next day in the hospital - mostly in a drugged haze and got lots of lovely rest.  Everything went textbook.  No complications and Johann and the girls took me home that night.  We spent the next days just relaxing at our apartment.  Johann cooked and kept the girls busy.  He put up a beautiful Christmas tree and covered the bottom with presents! It felt just like a regular family vacation! 

Christmas day came and we spent the day as we usually do, celebrating God's greatest gift to us, His son, and enjoying the gifts we gave each other!

I spent a few more days resting and got a little restless and ready for a little road trip, so we drove back to the beautiful village of Heidelberg to finish the shopping we wanted to do while we were there last time and picked up some lovely German souvenirs. And on New Years Day we drove 4 hours to Paris, France for a few days to kick off 2012 with a bang!  We know that all of God's blessings are not in the past and we anxiously look ahead to this new year to see what miracles and blessings He has in store for us! 

Here's a picture of me from the morning of surgery right before I went in.