"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)

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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!

Echocardiogram:
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! -