"Let's kick cancer's booty and take some names."
LORD, after this suffering, let it be said that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, make my Savior clear to all those around me. Because of my suffering and willing perseverance, cause others to be encouraged to speak the Word of God more courageously and fearlessly.
(Phillippians 1:12-14)

About Me

God is walking with me. This I know.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Chemo #5--Straight Talk About Depression and Other Side Effects


I hope everyone is having a good December so far. It's COLD outside! Even with the hot flashes that sometimes occur during chemo, I still don't like the cold weather. When it's too hot in the summer and I'm sweating buckets from the humidity, it's just uncomfortable. But the cold HURTS! Every muscle in my body tenses up and it's hard to move.

But I have to say I love the changing seasons. I just wish it would start warming up right after Christmas. :)

Several weeks ago after my 3rd chemo, I began experiencing what I called panic attacks. It happened after the 1st and 2nd chemo visits, but not as bad. By the 3rd treatment, I was crying non-stop, my heart was racing, my thoughts were out of control, and I felt as though I were on a merry-go-round. I couldn't gain control over my thoughts or even make them go in 1 direction. I believe to some extent that it was spiritual warfare. However, I'm just smart enough to question whether the chemo was playing a roll in it as well, especially considering I don't have panic attacks when I'm not on chemo.

Let me say that while I believe some doctors hand out anti-depressants like Tic Tacs, there are some very legitimate reasons to be on anti-depressants. If you are on them, that's between you and God and your doctor. I'm not God and I'm not your judge. I only mention it because until it got really bad and I was finding it hard to function, I never considered them. Now, however, I am a firm believer in them in the right circumstances.

I made a call to Dr. Yardley the week after my 3rd chemo treatment. I let her know that I was crying constantly, and I work with all MEN! I promised myself when I took this job that they would never see me cry. For some reason, men don't know quite how to react to that. Other side effects of panic attacks are paranoia and not wanting anything or anyone to touch me. I nearly ripped those hats and headscarves off my head a time or two. I couldn't remember anything like going through a stop light. I'd question myself 3 or 4 times after passing it, wondering if it was green or red.

Anyway....she decided to call in 2 prescriptions for me to try out: Pristiq for every day, and Xanax to take as needed. She said the Xanax would start working immediately and the Pristiq would take 3-4 weeks to get into my system. I took 1 of each that afternoon when I got home. I wasn't sure what side effects they would have and if they were bothersome, I didn't want to be at work when they occurred. Thankfully, the only side effect is sleepiness with the Xanax. The Pristiq has caused no side effects up to this point. I am feeling more like myself, actually wanting to go places again and not faking my way through the hugs and smiles. It was awful. A time or two as I was sitting in church, I wanted to bawl my eyes out. I had to remember my Momma's words to me when Angie was in the hospital having Megen 2 months early and I came in the hospital room crying: "Dry it up." There is a time and a place to let the tears come and mine was in the shower. I still look forward to kneeling on the shower floor, letting the warm water rush over me. It's one of the most comforting positions to be in, especially when it includes prayer, inviting God to come in and invade every inch of my mind, body and soul.

I have since found out that the steroids they give you during chemo are a stimulant and have been known to cause anxiety and panic attacks. The amounts they give are so great to combat inflammation and nausea. But the side effects are anxiety and insomnia.

Other side effects from the chemo that I've noticed and will go away once treatment stops are a racing heart. I can't wait across the room without feeling out of breath. I also have hot flashes and (WARNING GUYS: COMPLETE GIRL TALK HERE!) my periods have stopped.

Other than that, the only other thing I've noticed is my fingernails have started getting white lines across them and are cracking from top to bottom. I have decided to go with fakes until after chemo, when I will diligently nurse them back to health.

One more chemo to go and it's right after Christmas. So unless something is around the corner waiting to knock me down, I should be feeling pretty good for Christmas.

I have an appointment next week to go to the Radiation Oncologist (Dr. Hunt) to talk about when radiation will start and to get the mold made for my arm to lay in the radiation machine. I will blog about that visit next week and explain in more detail what happens during radiation.

Hope everyone has a great rest of the week! -

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Immanuel, God With Us

Hello friends. I was thinking today that I haven't posted in a couple of weeks about my progress with the cancer. It's just that things are going really well right now. There's not much progress to report.

I have an appointment with Dr. Yardley in the morning, then chemo #5 next Tuesday, the 7th. This last chemo went really well and I was hardly sick at all, besides this on-going sinus crud. I think a lot of folks are battling it though. I'm finally starting to feel like my old self today and am looking forward to this weekend. I have joined a Knitter's Fellowship with some of the ladies from Old Hickory Church of Christ and we get together on Thursday nights. It's so much fun and a guaranteed laugh or two. Friday night is the annual Ward girls dinner at my house. We have been doing this for the last few years and look forward to it every year. I make a standing rib roast, mashed potatoes, salad and dessert. Then we play cards or dominoes and have a blast. It's just Momma and her girls. I love them so much and can't wait for our time together. Then a hockey game with the Old Hickory Youth Group. They are some of the best kids in the world, hands down. They are sweet, funny, good looking and love the Lord. They have a great leader in Mark Adams. Scott and I adore them all and look forward to our time with them. And I think it's so very sweet of them to remember me in their prayers, which they do constantly. I'm just getting to know some of them but they are all very special to me.

So.....since I really don't have much news to share on the cancer front, I thought it would be fitting to begin wishing you all a Merry Christmas. Someone posted on their facebook status today that it's not Xmas. It's Christmas. They said, "Don't take Christ's name out of His own birthday." I agree. Christ should be the center of all our thoughts as we go through the year. I grew up hearing that we don't really know when He was born. However, December 25th works just fine for me. Stopping to reflect on the miracle of His birth is what I look forward to in December. As an adult, I'm trying much more to shine the light of Christ throughout Christmas.

Matthew 1: 23 repeats the prophecy found in Isaiah 7: "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel." Immanuel, as you may know, means God with us. Several people told me to buy a book called God Calling when I was diagnosed with cancer. I bought the devotional/journal book and have enjoyed it a lot. A constant theme throughout the book is God's presence with us. It's been a long time since I've let the fact that God never leaves us and is always with us roll around in my head. God with us.....hmmm...

I could use a 'with me' God.

When my eyes lazily open in the morning, before my feet even hit the ground.....God is with me.

When I drive to work and sing along with the radio and try not to cuss at the folks driving around me, cutting me off, putting on their makeup, going too slow for my taste......God is with me.

When I walk into my office and I have 4 installers waiting to talk to me, my desk phone and cell phone ringing and ringing and ringing........God is with me.

When I talk to vendors who angrily want their money and can't promise me product........God is with me.

When my email won't stop coming and I have bank statements up to my ears to balance.......God is with me.

When I go for chemo and the smell nearly knocks me out and makes me sick to my stomach......God is with me.

When I am home from chemo and the sight and smell of food nearly makes me throw up......God is with me.

When I get in the shower and kneel down and let the warm water fall over my body because it's the only position I can get in that feels better..........God is with me.

When I go to church and get lots and lots of good hugs and well wishes......God is with me.

When I get medical bills in the mail that astound me........God is with me.

When I celebrate Thanksgiving and other holidays, or just get together with my family and friends.........God is with me.

When a best friend sends me a text that reads, "Praying 4 u today,"..........God is with me.

When I call my Momma and I hear her sweet voice almost sing, "Hi baby!"........God is with me.

When I laugh and laugh and laugh with my sister and niece..........God is with me.

When I go bowling with the youth group and laugh until I almost cry..........God is with me.

When I sit down to Cracker Barrel biscuits and gravy (blessing!!)...........God is with me.

When I lay down in the bed at night.........God is with me.

I can sure use a "with me" God. And the more I realize He is with me, the more I desire to be with Him, where ever He wants me in this life, on whatever path He has put in front of me to walk. Psalm 26:8 says, "Lord, I love the house where you live, the place where your glory dwells."

God is with us, this season and always. Are we with Him?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

An Invitation to be Thankful

"In the palace, in the land of mercy, the king looked down from His throne. He saw the sick and the homeless and hungry. He saw me lost and without hope. And moved with compassion He sent out His only son with the invitation...to come.

So I stood outside the gates and trembled in my rags of unworthiness; afraid to even stand at a distance in the presence of holiness. And just as I turned to go, the gate swung open wide. And the King and His only Son....they invited me inside.

This is your invitation. Come just the way you are. Come find what your soul has been longing for. Come find your peace. Come join the feast. Come in. This is the invitation.

So now will you come with me to where the gate swings open wide. The King and His only Son are inviting us inside. ~Steven Curtis Chapman, "The Invitation".

As young children we are taught to say please and thank you. Somehow, through our adult life, we forget those simple words. "Please excuse me" turns into "move" and "thank you" turns into "it's about time!" We all seem to grow up and lose sight of our manners and our up-bringin'.

Once a year we stop and are thankful and we vow to carry it over into our lives in the new year. But the new year comes and school and work and troubles creep in and somehow the thankfulness we felt in November has dimmed to the light of an almost burned out flashlight. With each step it gets dimmer and dimmer until we are left walking in darkness. We eventually trip over something in the road and that is where we should drop to our smooth, unworn knees and begin thanking God. Most of us, though, skip over the thanking and head straight to the "get me up from here" prayers. We could stand a little more time on our knees. I love to see kids with skinned up knees. It means they've been out playing and falling down and running and jumping and living life like a kid should. I love it more when I see the scars and scrapes and cuts of adults who have lived out something down on their knees. And when they get up, they limp a little because wrestling something out with God can take it's toll on a person. But you see, when God allows or even invites His children to wrestle with Him, His constant goal is to make us over-comers. Even when God appears to be against us, He is for us.
"We are to walk as people who have encountered God, and some of our most transforming encounters are wrestling matches."

So keep up a thankful spirit this year and into the next. You never know what's around your next corner. There could be blessing untold and I pray that it is. But it could be a dark season, with the loss of a child, a job, a home, a family or your health. Thank the good Lord above for the things you do have. And if you're having trouble finding something for which to be thankful, drop on down to your knees and look at your life from a little lower place. When your nose is to the ground, you might just be closer to your promised land than you ever dreamed.

Happy Thanksgiving and may God bless you all richly. -

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Chemo #3-Stand Your Ground

I love mashed potatoes. They fall under the category of "blessing" in my book. Due to the chemo and the sickness I've felt after each treatment, mashed potatoes have been my bread AND my water. And as much as I love mashed potatoes, I'm getting a little tired of them.

God seems to work that way in my life as well. Sometimes I will hear a sermon, study a lesson, or in passing have a conversation with someone and the theme is always the same. That's when I know God Most High is trying to tell me something. Don't tell me it's a coincidence. It's a God-incidence. God speaks to me in a language I understand and He knows how hard headed I can be. Therefore, in His patience and everlasting love, He brings up a point to me time after time, until I finally understand and it sinks into the marrow of my bones and I can live the thing out.

Chemo #3 has been nothing out of the ordinary physically. But mentally, emotionally and spiritually, it has taken it's toll. The point I believe God is making to me is to stand. My good friend, Tammy, brought it up to me today. Sometimes you just need someone to tell you what you've been thinking all along. God is good that way and He is urging His children to believe that He is believable.

For those who grew up in church, you've no doubt heard of the armor of God. Ephesians has always been one of my favorite books of the bible, and the armor of God described in Ephesians 6 is no small thing to me. It is how we maneuver the battles we face in life. I love how the bible describes heaven and the joy we will have there and the home that God has prepared for us. But God didn't create us and leave us here to figure it out on our own. Jesus said in John 10 that He came so that we may have life, and have it to the full. God did not create us, put us on this earth, give it a whirl and said, "I'll see you in heaven." He knew we would need some help. So, among other things, He gave us the armor of God.

I love how Paul writes what he knows. He was chained in a prison in Rome. He saw the soldiers each and every day dressed in their armor. My favorite piece of armor is the belt of truth. It comes first because the other pieces of armor hooked to the actual belt of the Roman armor. You can't wear the breastplate of righteousness and the sword of salvation without some truth to hang it on. Each piece of armor protects a major part of the body: the waist, the chest, the head, and the feet. Isn't in interesting that there is no armor for the back? Why? Because God never intended for His children to turn their back on their enemy. I've said it before and I'll say it again: we are allowed to intimidate the kingdom of darkness.

And so as God has brought me through this journey of cancer, He has driven home the point to me over and over that I must fight. Today I had no strength to fight. So I called Tammy. She is a lifelong friend whom I love dearly. I told her I was having trouble focusing and thinking. I was becoming paranoid and feeling as though my life will never be the same again. Praise God that through His blessing, all can be recovered.

As I was talking to her about how I believe God has asked me to fight this battle and how I've prayed to keep my armor on, she said to me, "Oh Candy. It also says to stand and we will hold you up if you can't stand." She's right. 4 times in Ephesians 6:11-14, the word stand is used. I recalled how in Exodus 17, Aaron and Hur held up the arms of Moses while the Israelites battled the Amalekites because as long as he held his arms up the Israelites were winning. And he got tired so his friends held up his arms for him.

Praise God that our weaknesses do not strain His strength and that what we see with our eyes and understand with our minds is not the only thing God has going. We talked today about the the spiritual battles going on all around us. John Eldridge writes referring to Daniel 10: 1-3, "Something has happened that Daniel doesn't understand. I think we can all relate to that. We don't understand about 90% of what happens to us, either. Daniel is troubled. He sets out to get an answer. But three weeks of prayer and fasting produce no results. What is he to conclude? If Daniel were like most people, by this point he'd probably be headed towards one of two conclusions: "I'm blowing it", or, "God is holding out on me." He might try confessing every sin and petty offense, in hopes of opening up the lines of communication with God. Or, he might withdraw into a sort of disappointed resignation, drop the fast, and turn on the television. In an effort to hang onto his faith, he might embrace the difficulty as part of "God's will for his life." He might read a book on "the silence of God." That's the way the people I know handle this sort of thing.

And he would be dead wrong.

On the 21st day of the fast an angel shows up, out of breath. In a sort of apology the angel explains to Daniel that God had actually dispatched him in answer to Daniel's prayers the very first day he prayed - three weeks ago. (There goes the whole unanswered prayer thesis, right out the window). Three weeks ago? What is Daniel to do with that? "The very first day? But....I've....I mean, thank you so very much, and I don't want to seem ungrateful, but......where have you been?" "You haven't blown it, Daniel, and God isn't holding out on you." The angel goes on to explain that he was locked in hand-to-hand combat with a mighty fallen angel, a demonic power of dreadful strength, who kept him out of the Persian kingdom for these three weeks, and how he finally had to go get Michael (the great Archangel, the Captain of the Lord's hosts) to come and help him break through enemy lines. "Now I am here, in answer to your prayer. Sorry its taken so long."

It is a good thing to stop and remember that God is completely in control and that He never asks His children to do something and then not provide the strength to carry it out. And sometimes though the battle rages on around us, God only asks us to stand. Steven Curtis Chapman's song Believe Me Now says, "You hear the enemy that's closing in around you and I know that you don't have the strength to fight. But do you have the faith to stand?"

Thank you Tammy, for allowing God to use you and for all the prayer warriors you called upon to help me stand today. Y

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Meet Me In The Middle

I love the book of Joshua. I love the story of the enslaved Israelites who go from slavery into their promised land. I love how they had to fight for it. I love that God was with them every single step of the way. And I love that they did, indeed, finally finish their race.

However, I also hate that my life parallels their journey. In my first sentence out of the gate of this blog I wrote, "It's not that I hate the color pink." I've changed my mind. I now can say with surety that I HATE the color pink. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month as you probably know. I'm pretty sure we're all well aware of it by now. Somebody needs to find a cure for the thing! I hate that the journey the Israelites took was so long. I hate that I can look at it from my 21st century point of view and say, "Don't they get it? Don't they understand?" And I know full well that if I'd been there with them I'd have gotten myself into the same messes. It's like watching a horror movie and saying, "Nooooo! Don't go into the scary basement by yourself!" I hate cancer. I hate chemo. I hate that seasick feeling I get from it. And I hate the middle of the journey.

My Momma will tell you that when we'd go on a trip anywhere--and I mean anywhere--I'd continually whine, "How much further?" I hate the journey. I just want to get where I'm going without any stops along the way. I was fortunate enough to go to Hawaii 2 years ago and besides the blisters I got from walking on hot pavement in cheap flip flops, the flight was definitely the worst part. 10 hours on a plane with me was no picnic. I fidget. I whine. I look for things to occupy my mind and my time. I can't read in the car because I get carsick. Throwing up was an almost weekly occurrence. (Be sure to ask my sister, Angie, why she hates Krystal to this day and my Momma why she thought I was allergic to chocolate when I was little).

In Joshua 3, the Israelites are standing at the edge of the Jordan river. We're all familiar with the story of the Israelites leaving Egypt and God parting the waters of the Red Sea. This is another less familiar story of God parting the waters for His children. At the end of Joshua 3, Joshua tells the people of Israel, "As soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord--the Lord of all the earth--set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap." I love that Joshua makes it very clear that the ark of the Lord is the Lord of all the earth. And don't you love that word 'heap'? I've heard of a heap o' trouble (and I've been in a heap o' trouble, but I'll save that blog post for my Momma to write!) but I've never heard of a heap of water. The bible says the Jordan was at flood stage. Those who live in Nashville or saw it on the news back in the spring remember the Cumberland River being past flood stage. That was a heap of water!

I've read this story probably a hundred times. But somehow I missed the last verse of chapter 3. "The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completely crossed on dry ground." How did I miss the part where the Lord's presence was "standing firm" in the middle of the Jordan?

The Hebrew word for firm is kuwn (koon) and it means ready, fixed, set, certain and to be stable. My seasick stomach and I could use a little stability right now. I think my favorite definition of the word is accomplish. Don't you just want God to accomplish some things in your life? Can we just finish some things up?

I've told some of the members of my family that after I finish radiation we're going to have a party. It's going to be Candy's After Cancer No Pink Allowed Party. But for now I'm in the middle. And like every other journey in my life, I'm wanting to be finished. I want to get to my destination.

In Joshua 4, God commands the Israelites to collect 12 stones from the middle of the Jordan and set up a memorial that God parted the waters yet again. As one of the ministers at Hendersonville church of Christ used to say, confession is good for the soul; bad for the reputation. So here's my question and confession: Did any of them dare grumble like I would have? Did any of them say, "Oh, for cryin' out loud! Can't we just get a move on?" I don't know. But it sure sounds like something I'd say.

My 3rd chemo treatment got rescheduled for Monday, the 25th. My family has a gathering at the park every October and I love it better than Christmas and Thanksgiving. We get there early and cook breakfast. People bring crockpots full of chili and we bring hot dogs and sit around the fire and we draw names for Christmas. And one of my favorite activities is the annual Ward family kickball game. We laugh until we cry (or pee on ourselves) and we have a ball. We stay until dark and before it's over I'm already thinking of next year's day in the park. I told Dr. Yardley about it and asked if I could have a mini dose of chemo so that I'd feel good for Saturday. She suggested that I wait until Monday to have chemo. I understand why she made the suggestion and I appreciate it so much. She said she's a bigger advocate for my Saturday than I am. But it was a stop in the middle of this journey. And I whined about it. The reason for my whining? I just want to get it over with. I didn't want to postpone it. I'm dying to get this journey over with. The end of December (when my last chemo is scheduled) can't come soon enough.

There are people out there who say, "Just sit back and enjoy the ride." Why?! I don't understand. I have some very dear friends who will hop in their car in Nashville and drive to Atlanta to the Varsity for a hamburger and then drive back home. I don't understand. I know people who like to take Sunday drives. I don't understand. That's precious nap time! I know people who love to read books and devour every page. I don't understand. Just tell me what the plot is and whodunit.

When I had my 5 surgeries back in the summer (yep, I added them up! 5 surgeries in 3 1/2 months!) I would come home from the hospital and would lay on the couch. I would try my hardest to stay awake. I think I was afraid I was gonna miss something. That might be why I hate journeys. I'm afraid something is happening out there, lingering in my future and if I don't get there soon, I'm gonna miss it.

So I have to remind myself that God is standing in the middle watching over my every move. And if I move too far ahead without Him, I'm toast.

I still hate the middle. But I'm learning from it. This place is not a happy place, but it is a good place to learn.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Chemo #2: Fight or Flight

You know what they say about defense mechanisms, right? Most people either have fight or flight as theirs. God has been gently showing me over the years that mine tends to be flight, but He would rather me fight.

I didn't voice it much during the time, mostly because I didn't want to get on this blog and talk about God and His strength and all my blessings and then whine when something went wrong, but the 1st week of chemo was AWFUL!

OK.....looking back it wasn't THAT bad, but when I'm in the heat of the battle, my tendency is to flee the scene. Quickly. I can remember as a child, I would be working on a homework problem or I'd ask my daddy to fix something for me and when it got tough I'd say, "Oh, just forget it." I can't tell you how many he'd look at me and say, "Baby, you give up too easy." (I love that my daddy STILL calls me baby!)

And he was right. I do tend to give up too easy. I believe that's why God, at times, keeps me on a short leash. He tends to make some things in my life very difficult because He's teaching me to fight instead of flee, and to lean on Him.

During the 1st few days after chemo, I suffered a sinus infection, a double ear infection, acid reflux like no one has ever had before (ok.....not really, but it was painful!) and I thought I had a bladder infection. The antibiotics they gave me had their own, really gross side effects, which I am choosing not to disclose. :) The anti-nausea drugs they gave me made me very dizzy, which made me nauseated. Go figure. And I was only taking them as a precaution. I never felt nauseated once!

By day 5 after chemo, I was ready to call Dr. Yardley and tell her she would not be seeing me again.

I seriously had visions of them trying to nearly kill me to heal me. Chemo messes with your head a little. Or maybe it was just Satan trying to weasel his way into the mix. Either way, I was not happy during that 1st week.

Chemo #2 has gone a LOT better......so far. I had one of the best conversations with Dr. Yardley I've ever had. She spent a lot of time with me, asking me questions and answering mine. She seemed very concerned about the acid reflux and even lowered the dosage on one of my chemo drugs which can cause acid reflux. She added an extra dose of Prilosec each day for the 1st week after chemo and also added another prescription (which I call glorified Maalox) to take the 1st week. She also changed one of my anti-nausea drugs. She said for most people it makes them sleepy and sedated. But for a few select people (that would be me) it makes them a little hyper and doesn't combat the nausea.

We decided I would be her problem child right now. (My words, not hers).

We had a really good visit. Possibly because she also told me 3 things, which were music to my ears: 1) the nausea will not get worse. I was taking the nausea drugs as a precaution, but I'm not doing that this go around. She said typically, however nauseous you are the 1st treatment is what you'll experience the rest of the time. I could've kissed her! And I wasn't nauseous (until I took the anti nausea drug, which she changed. Confused yet?) 2) "Your numbers and blood work are phenomenal. On paper it doesn't look like you've had chemo". 3) "You will become more tired, but right now, you look great. You are wearing the chemo well".

So I walked out a little happier and a lot more relaxed.

I went straight to the chemo room. And waited. And waited. And waited some more. I told y'all last time, Barbara the bread lady comes on Wednesdays. I seriously think that's one of the reasons it's so crowded. (This week she had banana bread, chocolate chip banana bread and zucchini bread, which I picked. YUMMY!) But because it's so crowded and I believe because she changed one of my dosages of chemo drugs, they had to enter it in the computer and it just took longer. Plus it was just packed. I was 6th in line but those 5 people ahead of me could've been newbies (or probies as Tony on NCIS calls them). When you're new, they have to get you to sign some paperwork and give you a welcome packet and go over all the drugs and side effects. It just takes awhile. So I sat and talked and waited. 2 1/2 hours later, they finally got to me. It really did fly by for me (but you might want to ask Scott and Angie if it flew by for them). By the time I was finally done with all the IV bags and syringes of drugs, it was 4:00. I had arrived that morning at 7:45. It was a LONG day. We're gonna seriously have to find the pizza delivery guys number.

I felt fine when I left, other than being extremely hungry. We went to the Macaroni Grill afterward and once I got some food in me, I felt human again. My sweet friend, Pam, fixed dinner for us, which we will eat tonight: pot roast with potatoes and carrots, rolls, cinnamon fried apples, frozen fruit salad (pink stuff as I call it) and for added comfort: banana bread. Y'all need to be friends with Pam. She's a great person and a great cook!

Today I have felt really good, other than I didn't sleep last night. I went to bed at 9:30 and fell asleep, only to wake up wide awake at 12:45. I never did go back to sleep. I didn't even doze for a few minutes. I'm pretty sure it's the steroids they give you before the chemo drugs. It stays in your system for a day or two, then it will go away. It's 3:37 in the afternoon and I'm not that sleepy. Just a little tired.

So I'm going into this next 3 weeks not quite as scared. I've lost my hair, I've not been nauseated, I'm armed to the tooth with acid reflux meds and my sinus and ear infections are pretty much gone. Unless a new side effect occurs, I'm feeling pretty good about it.

Now y'all know I have to leave you with a bible verse. My niece, Jennifer, wrote on my wall on Facebook yesterday and said this: "You are 'wearing the chemo well' because of your faith and the power of prayer. It's time to use our weapons that God gave us to get through stuff like this." And she's exactly right. One of my favorite quotes is from John Eldridge. If you've never picked up one of his books, I'd suggest you start with Waking the Dead. This quote is long, but please read the whole thing. It's great: "Onward Christian soldiers marching as to war? You've got to be kidding me! We gave up the hymn not so much for musical fashion but because we felt ridiculous singing it. We don't sing it 'cause it ain't true! We have acquiesced. We have surrendered without a fight. We've exchanged that great hymn for a subtle but telling substitute, a song that is currently being taught to thousands of children in Sunday school each week, which goes something like this: 'I may never march in the infantry, ride in the cavalry, shoot the artillery. I may never fly o'er the enemy but I'm in the Lord's ar-my. Yes sir!'......There is no battle and there is no war and there is no Enemy and your life is not at stake and you are not desperately needed this very hour....but you're in the Lord's army. Doing WHAT, may I ask?"

He's right. We have acquiesced. We have given up without a fight. But we're in the Lord's army.

OK.....so with God consistently teaching me to fight, here's the verse I found very comforting. King David must've struggled with this a little bit too, even though he was a man after God's own heart and eventually, was a great warrior. Psalm 144: 1-2, 5-7 reads, "Praise be to the Lord my rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle. You are my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield in whom I take refuge. Part Your heavens, O Lord, and come down; touch the mountains so they smoke. Send forth lightning and scatter the enemy; shoot Your arrows and rout them. Reach down Your hand from on high; deliver me and rescue me!" I love that he starts out saying, "You train MY hands and MY fingers." But then toward the end it's almost as if he's saying, "But God....why don't you just come on down here and fight this battle for me. I can just fight by you or maybe I'll just go to my fortress. C'mon God....deliver me and rescue me (translation: get me outta here!)" I love that David was so easy to understand because he sounds a lot like us, doesn't he? You've gotta love somebody who's honest enough with God to say, "I love you and I want to be close to you and I need you but can we just skip this lesson God? And by the way......I've got a bone to pick with you." And they just lay it all out there. And really, isn't that what God wants from us? A relationship and not just a religion? You might as well tell Him what's on your mind. He knows it anyway. It's not like you're gonna surprise Him with some information He didn't already know. Plus when you confess it, and I mean confess it ALL, it gets it out of your system and makes room for His healing and His love and His Spirit to just flow through you. And you might just sleep a little bit better and walk through your day a little bit lighter and a whole lot closer to our loving God. Amen?

Everybody have a great rest of the week and weekend and get out and enjoy what I call "the most wonderful time of the year". -

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Candy and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Hair Day

There's nothing better than a good hair day. Amen? I saw a sign the other day that read, "The higher the hair, the closer to God." :) Isn't that just precious? A good southern woman must've come up with that.

My hair is neither good nor high these days. In fact, it's gone. The chemo will do that to ya.

Dr. Yardley told me when I began seeing her that between days 10 and 14 my hair would begin to fall out. And what hair I had left at the 2nd chemo date, would be gone soon after. Days 10, 11, and 12 showed no signs of my hair falling out. But day 13 was a different story. It was this past Tuesday.

I was getting ready for work and taking one last look in the mirror before I left. I noticed a couple of hairs out of place right behind my ear. I tried to put them back in place but they came out into my hand. I gasped and said to myself, "It's starting." That was a dark day for me. I was depressed the rest of the day. I prayed and asked God to help me not cry at work. By the time I got home, I was getting on my own nerves, whining about it and struggling between letting it all out in a good cry and sucking it up and being strong. I got in the shower Tuesday night and half expected all my hair to come out when the water hit it. It didn't. But I decided then to have my good cry.

I woke Wednesday morning and felt much better about things. Yes, it was still falling out, but I was dealing with it better. Thursday rolled around and I had the top down on my car. I could just see me riding down the street, top down, wind in my hair, and my hair coming out in clumps, blowing back onto the cars behind me. "Honey! Was that a bird we just hit?" I cracked myself up just thinking about it. Friday I went to breakfast with a friend and did a little shopping. I noticed that my scalp was getting sore. Even lying my head on the pillow at night hurt. By Friday night, I'd decided that my hair had to go. By this time I was able to pull out large clumps of it and it was extremely thin.

Saturday morning I had some errands to run. And when I got home, it was time to shave my head. I sat in the chair and cried. It was a gradual process, using guards on the clippers from largest to smallest. My hair is now about 1/4" long. And even though I hated losing my hair, I don't regret shaving it. I have some pretty large bald spots on it.

The woman I met at my first chemo treatment who has brain cancer, Darlene, told me to get a satin pillow case. I went to Walmart looking for one last night but couldn't find one. Instead, I bought a slip. ha! I slid it over my pillow and it worked beautifully. When you are used to having hair, then all of a sudden you don't, a regular pillow case can pull your hair and it feels like you're raking your head through sand. The satin makes it easier to move your head around while you're sleeping.

I went to the Predators game last night and wore a hat and headscarf. I did the same thing at church this morning. The compliments I received were overwhelming.

So, the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad hair day..........God turned it into a blessing. As usual.

I'll tell ya......it sure does make it easier to get ready in the morning when you don't have to do your hair!

The hair thing was my rock bottom so far. And as far as I'm concerned, I can only go up from here. And I have nothing but thanks and praise in my heart tonight.

Everybody have a great week! -

Monday, September 13, 2010

Anybody Else Need Some Pala?

In my attempt at keeping myself occupied yesterday, I was looking back at some old notes I'd made from a bible study I participated in several years ago.

I was trying to keep occupied because I've been suffering the last 2 days with acid reflux and heartburn. I have prided myself over the years because I've never suffered from either of these. I didn't even know what it felt like. So you can imagine my surprise and dismay when I started feeling the symptoms. It felt like someone had poured acid down my espoghus (which, basically, had happened if you think about it). It also felt as if someone was sitting on my chest. Someone asked me if I felt as though I were having a heart attack. Thankfully, no. I didn't jump to that conclusion. However, it was extremely painful. Still is. But I'm dealing with it. After all, that's part of the fight, right? And thank you so much for all the suggestions regarding how to deal with it. Some of them, though, I ain't tryin'. There's no way I'm mixing vinegar with water and drinking it.

Anywho, as I was trying to hold off a panic attack at the thought of going through 5 more chemo treatments, while also trying to get some relief from the horrible pain (I never claimed to be a STRONG fighter....I'm a WHIMP!), I was looking over my notes and came across something interesting.

In the book of Joshua, Joshua has been given the task of leading the children of Israel across the Jordon River, to possess the promised land. I find it interesting that Joshua sent spies to "look over the land". In other words, we gotta see what we're up against.

In Joshua 3:5, Joshua tells the people, "Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you." Consecrate is one of those words I grew up hearing, and always nodded my head in agreement to it ("Yes, Lord!") but never really knew what it meant. The King James Version reads "Sanctify yourselves." That's not much clearer. So, to the Lifeway.com online bible I go. Turns out it means to be set apart, dedicate, devote, prepare. It also means to be tabooed. Really? That doesn't sound so good. However, cancer is a taboo in some circles, and going through chemo sets me apart from most of the crowds I run with, so I figure I'm good, right? :)

The thing that stuck out to me yesterday, though, was the phrase "amazing things." I could use some amazement about right now. I'm not talking about being a "wonder junkie". I realize that not every day can be a mountain top experience. But I could use a little amazement. So I looked up the phrase "amazing things" and it's translated in the Hebrew as pala (paw-law'). It means wondrous, marvelous, be extraordinary, to be difficult to understand. But my favorite meaning is "to be beyond one's power; to do an extraordinary or hard or difficult thing."

Right now, I could stand to be "beyond my power." I would love to do an "extraordinary or hard or difficult thing".

Chemo is hard. A lot harder than I ever dreamed. (I DID say I was a whimp!). And then I realized that the Word does not say I (how come you can't type much of an emphasis on the word I?) will do those amazing things. It says the LORD will do amazing things. Just for kicks and grins I looked up the word LORD in this verse. It means Jehovah. It means "the existing one". It also says it's the "proper name of the one true God."

Did your Momma ever call you by your proper name? I remember one time when my Momma called me Candace Joyce Ward. I knew she meant business and although I'm certain I gave her a large share of headaches, I'm pretty sure I never ever did whatever I did to get her to use that name with me again.

God, using His proper name, Jehovah, is going to do amazing things in my life. Hallelujah! I could use some pala. How about you?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Chemo #1, Day 3

Hello! Just wanted to update you on my progress through this first chemo treatment.

Today has been a little weird, but still not bad. I've been more tired.

I have 3 anti-nausea medications. At first I was told to take them around the clock for 48 hours. Then I was told I could take them as needed. It was a little confusing.

Emend is the 1st one I take and it was yesterday and today, in the morning. It's a 24 drug, only taken 1 time a day.

The 2nd is Zofran, which you take every 8 hours. The 3rd is Compazine, which you take every 6 hours. They all block different receptors that make you nauseated. The problem is the Zofran and Companzine both say they can make you dizzy or drowsy. It almost makes you feel worse than the chemo.

I had dinner with some friends tonight who are in the medical field. They both said Companzine can be very hard on a body. They said it is mostly given as a last resort for nausea. I think for the next treatment I'll only take the Emend and only take the other 2 if I need them. They cause my tongue to feel a little swollen too and make my mouth dry. But the worst is they make me feel like I've either had a 50 gallon drum of caffeine, or like my blood sugar has plummeted.

So....lesson learned. We'll see how the next treatment goes.

Day 10 is the day when my immune system is supposed to really drop. Thankfully, that's a Saturday. I'll mostly stay in that weekend. I'd hate to get sick, and I'd feel horrible if I made someone else sick too. A weekend mostly inside won't be too bad. I'll put my fall decorations up and do some fall cleaning.

My hair should also start falling out in about a week. That will be a tearful day, but as my friend Lyn said last night, it's the start of getting better. It will only fall out once and then it starts growing back. And as my friend Maria said, just think how many hair styles I get to try while it's growing back out. Plus I have lots of cute (well........I think they're cute) hats and headscarves and bandanas to wear while I'm bald. ha!

I have 2 other folks I'd like you to say a prayer for: 1) Darlene. I met her during chemo and she's coming to Nashville from Virginia Beach to get a trial drug once every 3 weeks. She has breast cancer that has spread to her liver and her brain. This round of drugs is her 5th round of chemo drugs. She seems to be in very good spirits and she's a fighter. 2) John and Gayle Barrett (I think that's the last name). John is a cousin of my friend, Lyn. He was just diagnosed with prostate cancer that has spread throughout his body. He is just starting this journey. Please lift them both up in prayer to God, who works miracles every day.

Love and hugs to all! -

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Chemotherapy #1, Day 2

Hey everybody!

So far, so good. I'm feeling much better from the muscle aches. I went back to TN Oncology this morning for the Neulasta shot. It burned a little bit but was over with quickly. They said I could have muscle and joint aches from it, but they would go away in a few days. It hasn't hit me yet, so I'm keeping high hopes that it won't be bad at all.

On the car front, I got 2 estimates this morning. Turns out there are 2 collision repair shops within walking distance from my office. I got the estimates and called the other driver. After she picked herself up off the floor (it costs HOW much??) she said she would call her insurance company. She called me back and said they would be contacting me and would pay for the damage and a rental car for me. She asked me if I worked at the Atrium (where the Sarah Cannon is located) and I told her no, that I was having chemo. She felt horrible. I hated to add insult to her injury. I actually felt a little sorry for her. She said it was her 3rd claim in a month. I'm choosing to believe those things just happen sometimes and said a prayer for her. I would certainly hate to be in her shoes (especially when she told her husband about it!)

Thank you, again, for the calls, text messages, cards, facebook messages, and for asking Scott how I am every single time you see him. He's been a real trooper.

Love and hugs and more posts later! -

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Chemotherapy #1

I hope everyone is having a good week.

My first chemo treatment was this morning. I gotta tell ya, I was a little nervous (but I think I put on a good front!). Things went really well. I sincerely hope I would be saying that if things hadn't gone so well. But let's focus on the positive.....

I arrived at TN Oncology 10 minutes late. Traffic was horrible. It took us an hour to get there. I figured they've, at times, kept me waiting longer than that so I didn't feel so bad about it. :)

I was called back to the lab and had blood drawn. I actually let them draw it out of my arm this time instead of the port because 1) I was scared the port wouldn't work and 2) they would've had to send me back to a room first, draw blood, wait on lab results, and THEN see Dr. Yardley. Allowing them to draw blood through the vein in my arm would get the ball rolling quicker. Afterward, I was taken to a room.

One of the research nurses came in and we talked for a few minutes. Then Dr. Yardley's physician assistant came in and talked to me. I never did see Dr. Yardley. I'm not sure how I feel about that at the moment. I really didn't have anything to say to her and I guess she didn't have anything to say to me either since we went through it all 2 weeks ago. Trisha (the assistant) talked to me a little bit about the medications I would take home. I have 3 anti-nausea drugs: 1) Emend (2 pills, 1 each morning on Thur and Fri) 2) Compazine to be taken every 6 hours as needed and 3) Zofran to be taken every 8 hours as needed. They all block different nausea receptors and can all be taken together. As Dr. Yardley told me on my first visit, it's easier to prevent nausea than to go in an rescue me after I get sick.

The other drug is Levaquin, an anti-biotic. It's to have on hand in case I develop any kind of infection. Most of the time, as luck would have it, those things happen at 2am on a Saturday morning when there is no one in the clinic; just an on call doctor who may or may not know my history and exact circumstances. Anywho, the anti-biotic will already be in my hands should I need it.

I was taken to the chemo treatment room and found a seat in the corner. My favorite place. :)
A few minutes later they came by and had me sign a consent form for the relaxing drug, which they told me was the Benedryl. They brought over some supplies and I held by breath. This was the moment we'd been waiting for.

I asked the nurse if she had the long needle. She said it was 1". That didn't sound very long to me. She said they had a 1 1/2" and she used that. Then she said, "Oh. You could've used the 1". It should be plenty long. This longer one is sticking out some." I would rather be safe than sorry, so I think I'll stick with the 1 1/2". The port worked beautifully. I didn't know whether to jump up and dance or cry. I felt a lot more relaxed at that point. Plus, my friend Karri Tucker recommended a numbing cream called Emla Cream. It worked great! I hardly felt the needle go in at all.

I was given a steroid and an anti nausea drug. It took roughly 20 minutes for it to finish dripping. I was then given the Benedryl. It was a fairly small bag, but it was potent. Almost immediately I felt the room start to spin a little and got a little sleepy. But I was having a conversation at the time and just kept right on going. (Insert women-who-never-shut-up-joke here) I felt like lying back and sleeping a little, but really, I wanted to stay awake. I wanted to see what they were gonna do next.

After the Benedryl, they gave me a red drug but not in a drip bag. It was in a very large syringe. Kelly, the nurse, sat with me and gave it to me by hand, pushing it in very slowly and making certain she was getting a blood return. She said they do it that way because they have to make absolutely certain they are getting this drug in the vein. The blood return shows her that the vein is being accessed. So they watch it very closely and administer it by hand. Once that was completed, she gave me more anti-nausea medication and then the final 2 chemo drugs. One went in very slowly because it can cause a bad reaction. They wanted to make sure I was going to tolerate it well. I did, and after half of it was gone, they sped up the drip. That one bag took almost an hour. The final drug took roughly 30 minutes and then I was given a saline solution and heparin to clean out the port and prevent blood clots. I was there for about 6 hours but it flew by.

They unhooked me and sent me on my way. I will go back tomorrow for a shot of Neulasta. It helps to boost my immune system and shorten the time that it's down. My next appointment is Wednesday, Sept 29th. I had originally thought my appointments would be on Tuesdays because they told me it was less crowded. But today it wasn't as bad as 2 weeks ago on a Tuesday. Also, Kelly told me today that the last several Tuesdays have been very busy. During chemo, a very nice lady named Barbara came by with a basket of homemade breads. Today she had banana, strawberry and chocolate chip banana. And it was VERY good. Now THAT is a ministry I can get behind! :) OK, OK.......I'm coming clean. I'm switching to Wednesdays because Barbara comes ONLY on Wednesdays. Who wants to go with me now? :)

Tonight I'm feeling so much better than I thought I would. Why is it you only hear about the horror stories? (Dr. Cooper told me once that people always want to have a better story at family reunions, so they embellish as much as possible. Isn't that interesting?) My legs are a little sore, sort of like I have the flu. But it's not bad. And I'm a little sleepy. I took a short nap this afternoon, and am hoping to sleep through the night. I'm going to take a long, hot bath to help relax the muscles and probably take some Advil or Aleve.

The worse news of the day? Someone hit my car in the parking lot. They did, however, leave me a note with their name and phone number. I called and she apologized, saying they would definitely take care of the damage. She also told me that her car had been totaled. I screeched, "In THIS accident?" She said no, it had been totaled a couple of weeks ago and she hit mine using a rental car. I'm thinking at this point she's either hit a run of really bad luck, or she's one of those horrible drivers who applies mascara while barreling down the interstate, changing the radio station and driving with her knees. She MIGHT be the reason I believe everyone should have to re-test for their driver's license every 5 or 1o years. But God is faithful. I'm expecting this all to be taken care of in the next few days and it will go better in real life than in my imagination. Romans 1 tells us that the people of Paul's day knew God, but did not glorify Him as God or give thanks to Him and became vain in their imaginations. I love the New American Standard version. It says they "became futile in their speculations." I seem to always expect the worst. Futile. Speculations. Praise God that He is working on me still.

I will keep everyone posted the next several days on how I'm feeling. Some of the side effects won't hit me for a few days. As each chemo treatment comes along, things will get progressively worse. It just takes it out of you. This first treatment will be a measuring stick of how well I will do with the next 5 treatments. It's round 1 of a 6 round fight. And yes, I did have my cancer butt kicking shoes on today. I wore brown hi heels and what I call my Wonder Woman bracelet for good measure. I'm sure they helped but truth be told, God is the reason things went so well today. C'mon......I've got to give credit where credit is due.

Just for fun I got a shirt that reads "My oncologist is better than your oncologist" and a button to put on my work bulletin board that states "I'm fighting cancer......what are YOUR superpowers?" I put it next to the button that states, "If the shoe fits....buy it!" I work with all men and they just need a little reminder sometimes that I'm a girl, not one of them, and that I'm not their secretary. I do NOT make coffee or copies, except for my boss. He signs my paychecks! Sorry fellas.

Have a great rest of the week! Love and hugs! -

Friday, September 3, 2010

Follow Up Port Surgery

Hello! I completely forgot to post about the follow up surgery!

I talked to Dr. Cooper on the phone on Wednesday after the 1st attempt at chemo. He explained that during the port surgery everything was working fine. But according to the x-rays, the port, had indeed, moved. I scheduled the "port revision" for Friday, August 27th.

This was my 5th surgery in 3 1/2 months. I realized on the way to the hospital that I've had to go through almost everything twice. I had 2 tumors, 2 needle biopsies, 2 lumpectomies, and now, 2 port surgeries. I sure hope to get off this merry-go-round soon. I'm getting dizzy.

Because this was my 5th surgery it was FREE! Just kidding!
Because this was my 5th surgery, I knew exactly what to expect. The nurse even joked that I could get myself ready, insert my own IV, and tell them what to do next. They have all been very sweet to me at the hospital. The nurses are just great over there.

However, on this trip, I was a little nervous. I had talked to Ashley, Dr. Cooper's surgery scheduler, and she explained that I would not be fully under anesthesia this time. They would do something called a Local Mac (sp?). It would be like a twilight sleep, where I still wouldn't remember anything, but not fully asleep. I could just see me being able to hear things. When I'm having surgery, I want to be OUT!

I got to pre-op and DeeDee, my favorite 'pain pusher', talked to me about the anesthesia. She said they would do the local mac and then if I wanted to be put under more, she would do it. Then she asked, "What do YOU want?" I told her I wanted to be out as much as possible. She laughed and said, "We are on the same page. I'm putting you under." Whew! I just love her.

So, a few minutes later, I was off in the best sleep ever. I don't dream during surgery and I don't remember a thing. To some people, that's not good. They like to be in control or they don't trust the doctors and nurses and they want to be as awake as possible. Not me. Nuh-uh. Kill me and bring me back to life. I don't want to feel, see, hear or even smell anything. I even get the laughing gas at my dental cleanings! Does that tell you anything?

Surgery was over in no time, and when I went to recovery, a very nice nurse named Christy was tending to me. That is, when she wasn't helping several other patients who are moaning and crying and throwing up. That place was full of SICK people! :) She was very sweet and asked this question: "Do you mind if I ask you how you found out you had cancer? Did you find the lump?" We went on to talk about it and I told her it was by the grace of God that I was doing as well as I am. She agreed and I could tell she was a little scared. She was going through something similar, but still in the very beginning stages of it. God was giving her a story to tell. Let me tell you something.......giving a testimony under the influence of anesthesia is a WEIRD feeling! :)

I went back to my room and was told that everything was put back in place and that the port was working beautifully. Dr. Cooper told me before surgery that he wanted to check the port site before I started chemo. Monday morning I scheduled my follow up visit with him for Wednesday, Sept 1.

On Wednesday I arrived at Dr. Cooper's office with a full tray of cake truffles made by my friend, Heather Roberson from The Little Sugar Shoppe. I'm tellin' ya....those truffles melt in your mouth. If I was a chef on the Food Network and was on that show The Best Thing I Ever Ate", the wedding cake truffles would be my choice. I deserve a medal for getting that tray there with 40 truffles and not 35 or 36. It was my parting gift (let's HOPE my parting gift!) to Dr. Cooper and his staff. They are the best.

After we talked truffles, Dr. Cooper looked at the incision and explained how the port is attached and actually works. I love his explanations. He gives me information in corn-bread language (as the old preacher at Hendersonville used to say). He explained that if you go out in your front yard and take the cover off the main water line, you'll see a large pipe that water is flowing through. He then said to imagine dragging your garden hose (he must not be from around here. We call 'em hosepipes here in TN) and then drill a hole in the main pipe, just large enough for the hose. Insert the hose into the main water line and there you have something that works just like a port. They keep pushing that tube from the port into the vein and it can float around in there. What happened to me was, at some point, I coughed or sneezed or something along those lines, and when that happens, pressure builds up in the veins. When that happens, it pushes on the port line and it can back up. It didn't come out of the vein. It just moved to a smaller off-shoot of the larger vein. That is what the radiologist saw on x-ray and recommended that it be repaired.

So, for now, everything is back in place. I'm trying not to sneeze or cough too hard (huh?). I distinctly remember lying in bed around 3:30 one morning a few days after my 1st port surgery. I was on my right side and I used my left arm (the port side) to pull up the covers. You know how sometimes the covers get stuck around the corner of the bed and you have to yank them? That's what I did and I vividly remember thinking "Oww! That hurt!" It felt like I'd pulled a muscle all across my chest. I feel sure that's when the port moved.

I feel more at peace this go-around. Thank you so much for the prayers. Please continue to pray that the next chemo attempt will go smoothly. It's scheduled for Wednesday, Sept 8th.

Everyone have a safe and happy Labor Day weekend! -

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ransomed Heart Letter

As God would have it, I just received a letter from Ransomed Heart Ministries. At just the time I needed it. John Eldredge is the author and founder of Ransomed Heart and I receive a letter once a month. How fitting this month's letter was. Here is the majority of the letter:

Over the past couple of days I've been on the phone, or texting, or on email, 'catching up' with a number of friends and family. (I've been a bit unplugged this summer, and it was time for me to re-engage). As I was reflecting back on those conversations this morning, I was struck by how many of the people close to me are going through something hard in their life right now. One just lost someone dear to them; another lost their job; a third has been slandered; a fourth is in deep marital pain; several are in real financial trouble, and a few are in physical affliction on top of it.

I suppose in one sense it has always been like this. Life comes to us in such staggering contrast--there is goodness and love, laughter and beauty. Just last night we had the most gorgeous sunset. And right there along with the goodness, almost hand-in-hand, there is heartbreak or trial or affliction. But when it is in YOUR life, or the life of the ones you love, it really shakes you, doesn't it? Thomas Paine's line, "These are the times that try men's souls" comes to mind.

And so I was asking Jesus, "What do we need, Lord, to help us navigate these times?"

"Union with Me," is what He replied.

Ah yes. Of course. Union with Jesus. The great resource of an unquenchable life. The secret to the Christian life.

Though I have to confess, this is not exactly my first reaction when my world or my inner life is shaken. No, I'm sorry to admit that my typical immediate reaction is something like what you see in those disaster movies when the deck of the ship heaves upward or the city streets begin to spit--we panic. We flail. We all do this. The deck of our little ship suddenly lurches and we kick into whatever our particular survival mode is. (You DO have a survival mode; please tell me you realize this. Ask your spouse or best friend what it is). Some of us rally. Some reach for control. Some withdraw. Some grasp for the person nearest them (as the drowning always do). None of which is anything close to union with Christ.

Jesus knew life would test us so hard it would break us. He knew we needed something more steadfast to hold onto; He knew we needed an unquenchable life. And so He gave us....himself. He made us vine and branch, created us in such a way as to be able to unite with him in reality--not just in thought, or inspiration, not just as a figure of speech, but in reality.

It is a good thing to believe in Jesus. A very good thing to obey Him. An even more beautiful thing to worship Him. But this is not the reality Jesus refers to when he says, "Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches....apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:4-5

Now, as Watchman Nee pointed out years ago, we CAN do many things apart from Jesus. People do it all the time. Christians as well as non-Christians. The point Jesus is trying to make is that it is fruitless. Particularly the things we do when we are tempted into survival mode. There is another way. A far better way. Which got me thinking about something I recently read in MacDonald: "But there is a reality of being in which all things are easy and plain--one, that is, with the Lord of Life. To pray for this is the first thing: and to the point of this prayer every difficulty hedges and directs us.....Communion with God is the one need of the soul beyond all other need; prayer is the beginning of that communion, and some need is the motive of that prayer.

In other words, our pain---whatever else it might be or might do----can serve to drive us into a deeper union with Jesus. But it is a choice we must make.

We must first see what it is we naturally do, what our particular survival mode may be--- whether it is to kick into overdrive, or blame someone, to grasp for the nearest thing that looks, if not stable, at least comforting. And we let it go. We stop it. We turn, and look for Jesus.

And then, we ask Jesus not merely for strength or comfort or wisdom, but we ask Him for Himself. For a deeper union. We pray for union with Christ.

Jesus, I need you desperately. I am only a branch; you are the Vine. I need your life. I need YOU. Lord Jesus, I renounce my other way of attempting survival. I give myself over to you utterly--body, soul and spirit--to live in a deep union with you. Spirit of God, restore my union with Christ. Fill me with the Life of Jesus Christ. Deepen my union with Jesus, and keep me here in union with Him.

Nothing else will see us through. Let us find a deeper union with Jesus, and in that, find His life is flowing through us. That His life has become our life.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Not So Fast.....

Hope everyone is doing well today. I have a LOT of information to report, so I'm going to get right to it.

Thank you all so much for the prayers and good thoughts today. As I told my family, I believe God is intentional in His timing. Things did not go as planned today.

I did not have chemo and it will be at least another week or two before I begin.

I arrived at the Sarah Cannon Cancer Center at 8:15. I was taken back to the lab almost immediately. The nurse pricked my finger and took a small amount of blood to be tested, then handed me 2 tubes for Dr. Yardley's nurse to draw blood through my port. I was then taken back to a room. Dr. Yardley came in and went over the chemo drugs I would be receiving, as well as the drugs I would be sent home with, most of them for nausea. They also included an antibiotic to have on hand, just in case I need it. She sent Bill (the nurse) in to draw blood and get the site started before taking me to the chemo room. He injected the needle, which was quite large as far as needles go. It was angled at the end. Now....maybe I'm a wimp.....no, I'm sure I'm a wimp. I don't like needles. Remember that as you read on......

It hurt going in. Not for long, but it did hurt. He then proceeded to press on the site, trying to get a return. I learned today that by return he meant he was looking for blood to come out of the site and into the tubing. He injected a saline solution and got no return. He said the chemo nurse would look at it and we'd go from there. So we went on to the chemo room.

I found a seat (they have recliners for the chemo patients) and was shown where they had a refrigerator stocked with cokes and juice, a snack basket and a coffee machine. I was given a pillow and there were blankets available as well. A few minutes later the nurse manager came over and said they were going to work on getting my port going. She also tried to get a return, to no avail. At this point, we discussed taking the needle out and placing it again, this time with a longer needle. Had I known the needle would be the one I was keeping in all day, I would've asked Bill to make sure he used the longer needle. Dr. Cooper warned me this could happen. She asked if I minded and I told her no, as long as I could have that anti-anxiety drug. She laughed, but I was serious. That needle HURT going in. She brought over what I now refer to as "magic spray". It's akin to that stuff you use to clean out your computer keyboard. I think it's referred to as 'canned air'. She sprayed it at the injection site and it was COLD. But it numbed my skin enough so that I didn't feel the needle stick quite as bad. However, still no return. At this point, she said there could be a blood clot in the end of it (the end that is inside my body) and she injected a medication called Activase. It would sit there and dissolve any clots that happened to be there. She went on to explain, in great detail, each medication I would be receiving and their side effects. She set an egg timer for 15 minutes and we waited. At the 15 minute mark she came back and checked, but still no return. She let the medication work for over an hour. Still no return. They tried having me lay back with my arms up and leaning forward and coughing. Still nothing.

Bill, Dr. Yardley's nurse, came by and gave me my options. He said I could go ahead and have chemo injected into an IV in my arm (uh....no thanks) and then go have a test run on the port to see if it was working properly, or I could go ahead and have the test run, then come back later in the day for chemo, or come back tomorrow for chemo. I chose to go ahead and have the test run. He left the needle and tubing place, and sent me to the hospital.

The imaging department took me right away and I was taken to a room with a LARGE x-ray machine and lots of monitors. I was lying flat on my back and the x-ray tech, Tara, went to work on me. She took a picture of the port site and right away noticed that the needle was in the wrong spot. WHAT??? WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT'S IN THE WRONG SPOT? Turns out the needle was placed just to the side of the port, and that's why there was no return of blood. And guess what that meant? You got it! They had to take the needle out AGAIN and replace it. And no magic spray this time. Once Tara got the needle in properly (she checked it on x-ray) she injected the dye and found the port to be working correctly. At this point, I thought I was home free. Not so fast.....

Tara gave the x-ray pictures to the radiologist. He came in to talk to me and by the look on his face, I knew something was wrong. He proceeded to tell me that the end of the port had somehow moved. Now, you have to understand, the port isn't just the triangle part (see the picture I posted on my last post). It has a very long tube, roughly 9-12 inches long, on the end of it. The end of the tube is somewhere toward the right side of my rib cage, while the triangle part is on the left side. Back to the port movement........he said the tube could've moved when I sneezed or coughed really hard. It could've just moved on it's own, just because the body moves and it just happens sometimes. He said he was not comfortable with signing off on chemo at this point. The port will have to be removed and then replaced. He said if we go ahead and do chemo, it could bust the end of the vein and chemo would end up in my chest cavity and around my lungs. Basically, had I had chemo today, it could've ended very badly for me. In the chemo room I sent a text message to 7 people, asking them to pray for me. I had in mind praying for the port to work today. Turns out God used the delay and turned it into a blessing. Sounds about right for Him, doesn't it?

I have not spoken to Dr. Cooper or Dr. Yardley this afternoon. Bill called me after I left the hospital, asking me once again if I'd like to go ahead and have chemo in an IV. I declined the offer. I did not go through getting a port put in so that I could have chemo in my arm. If I was fighting an active tumor, I might think differently, but at this point, chemo is a preventive and 'just in case' measure. I do not feel the need to rush it. Bill understood, and said they would get with Dr. Cooper and let him know what needs to be done. If I don't hear from him tomorrow, I will call his scheduler and see what I need to do next.

The last few days I have been very nervous. When I get nervous I clean my kitchen. You should see how clean my sink is!! I felt as though I were walking into a lion's den. In Daniel 6:16, the king who threw Daniel into the lion's den said to him, "May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!" I love how the king could not eat or sleep that night and the next morning hurried to the lion's den to see if Daniel had been rescued. And in verse 23, the writer states that "no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God." I love it that God is faithful beyond my wildest dreams and continues to amaze me.

I will post again soon, when I have more information on the port replacement. Thank you, again, for all the prayers, cards, good thoughts and facebook messages. I have said it before and I will say it again: I praise God for you all and do not know how people get through things such as this without God and without friends and family. Especially, I want to thank Greta and my Momma for bringing dinner to us. Even though I didn't have chemo, we are gonna enjoy the good food!

Everyone enjoy this nice weather we're having. Maybe I'll take you for a ride in the convertible! :)

Love and hugs! -

Monday, August 16, 2010

Port Surgery

Hey everybody!
Hope you're having a good Monday so far.

I had my port surgery last Friday. I posted a picture above of what the port actually looks like. It was placed under the skin and attached to the chest wall, right at the area of my bra strap. Dr. Cooper told me once that when he performs surgery, he likes to make the cuts so that when you have on a bathing suit or tank top, no one can see the scars. I think it's compassionate on his part. But right now, it's sore.

The little circle in the middle of the port is where the needle will go. I can also have blood drawn from that spot, so no more needles in my arms. Thank goodness for that.

I have an appointment tomorrow to get more lab work done, then I can start chemo, probably next Tuesday the 24th.

I had a long talk with Dr. Yardley last Wednesday. She explained the chemo in more detail, along with what would happen around chemo days.
1. As long as I have someone driving me to and from chemo, they will give me something to help me relax. She called it anti-anxiety medication and I'm guessing it's probably Valium or something similar. She said I COULD drive myself, but why do that if I have someone to drive me. She also said if, for some reason, I do drive myself, they won't give me the relaxing drug.

2. She said I will be given several different medications to fight off nausea and that I will need to take them for 48 hours after chemo to prevent nausea. She said it's easier to prevent than go in and rescue once you get sick.

3. She said between day 10 and 14 after the first treatment I will begin to lose my hair. It will start growing back after the last treatment.

4. I can have 1 person in the treatment room with me. Each appointment will last around 3-4 hours because I will have lab work done, as well as see Dr. Yardley before each treatment.

5. My treatments will be 21 days apart (or once every 3 weeks). Dr. Yardley said the middle week will be the hardest. That is when the immune system gets hit hard and they would like for me to not schedule any other treatments (dental cleanings, other physical exams, etc) during that time. She said week 3 will be the best weeks.

6. I will have an appointment the day after every treatment for them to give me an injection that will help boost my immune system. It's given under the skin and is supposed to shorten the time that my immune system will be lowered. It won't prevent it. However, if my immune system is normally lowered for 5 days, this could shorten it to 2 1/2 days.

I was given 2 bracelets in the hospital on Friday. They are those rubber 'awareness' bracelets. One states that I am to have no needles, BPs or IVs in my right arm. The other tells people that I have a power port. The bracelets are on my right arm because that's where I had my lymph nodes removed to test for cancer. Evidently, any IVs, blood pressure cuffs or needles on and in that arm, can cause lymphedema. So they want everything to go in the left arm.

I am ready to get this started and over with. I think the 1st treatment will be the most nerve-wracking since I don't really know how my body will react. I am probably going to take treatment days off. My boss has been really great about everything. Unfortunately, his wife has had to go through this too. Because of that, he knows how hard it might be and has been really good to me through it all.

I will schedule my first treatment tomorrow and will post again once I go through the 1st treatment.

Hope everyone has a great week. -

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tests, Surgical Consult and Drug Trial Decision

How is everybody today? Staying cool, I hope.

This week I had a CT/PET scan, an echocardiogram and a surgical consult for the port placement.

CT/PET Scan:
I arrived at Imaging Alliance early (6:50am) Monday morning. I had to drink a contrast fluid before the test and they asked me if I wanted it in fruit punch (memories of throwing fruit punch up in 2nd grade made me pass on that one), lemonade, or water. I chose lemonade. They handed me 2 LARGE cups of lemonade and a straw. I went back to my seat and got to drinking. I got it all down fairly quickly, and then I started getting really, really cold, then a little bit nauseous. I figured it was because it wasn't 7am yet and I'd already had 36oz of lemonade and nothing else.

After about 20 minutes they came to get me. I was taken to a room where 1 man asked me a lot of questions (are you allergic to anything, what is your height and weight, etc.) and another man started an IV. They give you another fluid through the IV during the scan. Once the IV was in, they sent me down the hall to wait.

About 10 minutes later they came to get me and took me to a room with the CT machine. They told me to lay flat on my back and put my arms above my head. They raised up the "bed" I was lying on and it automatically put me through the machine. For those of you who've never had a CT scan, the machine looks like a very large donut. The "bed" part goes in and out of the hole. It's not loud (like an MRI) and you don't have to wear earplugs or take off your jewelry. They did a test run, then began the IV solution. They said it would give me a metallic taste in my mouth, make me warm (which I was grateful for since I was freezing!) and it might make me feel like I was peeing on myself. They assured me I wasn't. When they started the IV, I immediately felt those things. And 2 thoughts immediately came to mind: 1) That was quick, and 2) Are they SURE I'm not peeing on myself? Because it really feels like I am and I just drank about 36 oz of lemonade.

The scan was over in roughly 5 minutes. They said Dr. Yardley would get the results that afternoon. I was then sent on my way.

I had to call Dr. Yardley for something on Tuesday morning and at that time, they said the CT scan showed no other cancer spots. Praise God for that news!

If you've ever had an ultrasound, then you know exactly how they do an echocardiogram. If you don't know, here's what they do: You get undressed (mine was only from the waist up) and put on a beautiful designer hospital gown. :) The tech comes in and you lay on a table. They use a probe with gel on the end of it and rub it on your skin in whatever area they are focused on (for me, it was the heart) and look at it on a computer. It's very interesting.

The tech asked me to lay on my left side and the probe was placed on my chest toward the left. He took lots of pictures and turned on the sound a few times and I could hear my own heartbeat. Pretty cool. He then did the same thing on my left side, my stomach (my friend, Alex, says a major artery runs into your stomach and you can feel it when you've eaten too much at Thanksgiving!) and my throat. The whole test took about 15 minutes. He said Dr. Yardley should have the results by tomorrow afternoon.

Surgical Consult:
I went back to see Dr. Cooper for him to look at my incision and evaluate port placement. The port (in case I haven't explained this) is a tiny devise, about the size of a quarter. It is placed against the chest wall and Dr. Cooper stitches it in place. Once it's in, the chemo techs will be able to feel the location of it and that is where I will have the chemo 'IV' placed. They can also draw blood from there. The port keeps me from having to get my arms stuck with a needle all the time. I will have the port for as long as Dr. Yardley recommends.

Dr. Cooper looked at my incision and said it was looking pretty good, but wanted to put some medicine on it to help it heal up quicker. It still has an open part and is still draining. He put silver nitrate on it and a band-aid. He also said I could quit wearing my extra supportive sports bras, as long as I didn't feel any pain. I call that sports bra a corset because it's hard to breathe in it! He also said we could schedule the port surgery, which we scheduled for Friday, the 13th. He said it would be my lucky day. :)

Drug Trial Decision:
I decided not to participate in the drug trial. If I got put in Group 3 (the group who actually gets the trial drug) I would have to take the drug (it's given just like chemo) for 1 year. I can opt out of the study at any time, but I would still feel obligated to finish. Also, they could never answer my question about whether or not I could go right into radiation on the trial drug, so I decided it was easier to just not participate.

My follow up appointment is with Dr. Yardley on the 11th. She will decide what chemo regimen I will receive and when it will begin. I also think I will be on pre-meds, although I don't know that for sure or have any other information on that. I will know more on the 11th.

That's all the cancer news I have for now.
Everybody have a great rest of the week and stay cool! -

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Oncology Appointments

Whew! I'm tired!

It's been a VERY long 2 days, seeing 2 different doctors. Here we go......

Dr. Hunt, Radiation Oncology
Radiation is typically done after a lumpectomy and Dr. Hunt explained that radiation goes one step further than chemo in fighting any remaining cancer cells. He said I would have radiation treatments for 7 1/2 weeks, Monday-Friday, and that each treatment would last about 15 minutes.

I will schedule an appointment for a mold to be made of my arm raised above my head. That is how I will lie in the radiation machine. I will then have a dummy scan so they can point the radiation in the area of the tumor. The first 5 weeks of radiation will be a little more broad. The last 2 1/2 weeks will be directed in the exact spot of the tumor.

He said it's very easy and there is no pain whatsoever. The only side effects will be a skin rash and tiredness. He said the tiredness would be similar to being out in the sun all day; I could get up and do things and go places, but I'd rather just stay home and rest. He said both side effects would gradually get worse as I went along and they would gradually disappear once I finished radiation. He also said they can give me creams to put on the rash to help and that it was more uncomfortable than painful.

I will begin radiation treatments after chemo........

Dr. Yardley, Medical Oncology
This appointment is the one that really wore me out. Thank you to Jennifer Mumphrey and Greta Ward for sticking it out with me.

I arrived at Tennessee Oncology (at the Sarah Cannon Cancer Center) 30 minutes before my appointment, as directed. I submitted all my paperwork and paid my co-pay. About 30 minutes later I was called back. My posse (Scott, Greta and Jennifer) were asked to sit in the hallway in chairs they had lined up while I was swept away to the lab. That place was BUSY! They had 4 stations in a room roughly 9 x 9, each with a chair, a nurse, a computer and a shelf full of tubes, needles, blood pressure machines and thermometers. I was weighed and my height was measured (5' 1" in case you're wondering.....and no, I'm not telling you my weight).
My temperature and blood pressure were taken and then she got out the needle. Rats! She drew about 5 tubes of blood. I commented, "Wow. This place is busy." The nurse replied, "Yes, it is. And sometimes it's busier than this."

I was then asked to sit with everyone else in the hall. They didn't have a room available for me. After a few more minutes of waiting, we were all ushered back to a room. A very small room. And it was stuffy in there. And we could hear the conversation next door. We cracked the door a little bit to get some air and Dr. Yardley finally appeared about an hour later. I was getting antsy at this point.

She started using really big words and it was tad hard to understand her (she mumbled a little) but once she got going, I was able to understand what she was saying and started to relax a little.

Dr. Yardley stated that I had a few things in my favor and a few things working against me. The positive things were that the cancer was caught very early and the lymph nodes were negative. She said the tumor was small in comparison to others. Her exact words were, "It's amazing that you actually found this because it was so small." God and I did a mental hi five (because He's cool like that) and I said to myself, "GOD is the amazing one." She went on to explain the negative pieces: I have a 30% chance of never getting this again if I don't do any chemo and those odds weren't good with her. Also, the type of cancer in my case is very aggressive and very fast growing. She said the tumor hadn't been there long.

Along with the aggressiveness of the cancer, she also said the cancer is estrogen positive but HER-2 negative. Basically a HER-2 negative diagnosis means that the the HER-2 gene is not over-producing protein, causing cancer cells to grow. The estrogen positive factor means that I will have hormone therapy for 5 years after chemo is over.

She is recommending 6 chemo treatments to be administered once every 3 weeks. If I start in the next couple of weeks, I'll be done somewhere around Thanksgiving. I can add that to my list of things to be thankful for.

She went on the explain a drug trial that is available to me. It's a drug called Bevacizumab that blocks a protein that is required to form new blood vessels. Without new blood vessels, the growth of the tumor is slowed. If I choose to participate in the trial, there is only a 33% chance that I will receive the trial drug. Do you know how they decide? It's basically a crap shoot. Seriously. It's completely random. The paperwork even says so: "Research participants will be randomized (similar to flipping a coin or the roll of dice)". There are 3 groups and only Group 3 gets the trial drug. The other 2 receive a regular chemo regimen. In group 3 the trial drug is administered along with a regular chemo regimen. I have to decide if I want to participate in the next few days.

Dr. Yardley also stated that there would be lots of support drugs. She said the chemo would be the easy part. But they give you lots of prescriptions to keep with you for immune support, nausea (about 3 different ones for that) plus drugs to keep infections at bay, etc. I will have to be on several drugs prior to starting chemo and continue a lot of them throughout the 18 weeks. Some will only be taken as needed. She said they want to provide me with everything they can, so that I won't have to suffer through any additional medical problems. They stay on top of it because the chemo can really weaken the immune system. She said not to go to the emergency room for anything, but to let them know ANY other symptoms I'm showing, even if it's just sore throat.

Several tests need to be run before I can begin chemo. Next week is going to be busy. Monday morning I have to be at Imaging Alliance on White Bridge Road at 6:50 to drink the contrast fluid (a powder mixed with Crystal Light). Then the test will begin at 7:50. It should take about an hour. Then Wednesday morning I'm scheduled for an echocardiogram at 8am, then it's off to Dr. Cooper for a surgical consult about placing the port. If he says my incision is healed up enough (it's still open in one tiny spot and still draining) and he has a spot open on the surgery schedule on Friday, I will then have the port placed.

The port: It's about the size of a nickel and it's placed under the skin. It had a long tube on the end of it that will be placed inside a vein. It will look like a knot on my skin. It's placed just under the collar bone on the opposite side of the tumor (mine will be on the left).

If Dr. Cooper can put the port in on Friday the 6th, I will begin chemo on Wednesday, August 11th. I will see Dr. Yardley before each chemo treatment and they will do lab work (draw blood, take my blood pressure, etc). Each treatment (including the labs and doctor visit) will take approximately 4 hours.

After chemo, I can return to my normal activities, as long as I'm feeling ok.

She said around day 10 after chemo I would start to feel tired and my immune system would start to fade. Around day 14 I would begin to lose my hair. I want to thank my new friend Shelly Hackney for giving me all her hats and headscarves. She just finished her chemo back in February and is doing really well. Momma, Angie and I are going shopping this weekend to see what else I can find. There is also a web site (http://www.headcovers.com) that has a boat load of hats, headscarves and other things for women (and men) going through chemo hair loss. Dr. Yardley stated the hair would begin growing back after the last treatment.

Speaking of hair loss, I would like to also mention my brother Ted and his wife, Greta. Greta has really short hair and is going to let it grow out as long as I'm going through treatments. Ted has shaved his whole head completely bald so I don't have to go it alone. And Scott says he's going to do the same thing when I start losing my hair. How sweet is this family?

I think I covered everything for now. I will post another update once I get through all my tests next week.

Everyone have a great weekend! I'm headed to Fall Creek Falls to pick up my niece from church camp tomorrow. I love church camp and plan on going for the whole week next year.

It's good to be alive! -