(Previously published July 22, 2010)
"....that I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith....that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings.........not that I have already attained, or am already perfected, but I press on...."Philippians 3:8-12
Oh how those words of Paul speak to my heart this week. I press on. It has been an ongoing phrase for me as I've navigated these cancer waters....I press on. I'm not a girl who often wants to look back, make excuses or wallow in pain and heartache. I press on, looking ahead trusting again that God has something so beautiful in store. So Paul's words hit me today in the core of my heart. "Lord, I want to know you more. I want to be found in you, rooted, established, settled, loved, secure. I want to rest in you and your beauty. Your holiness. Your power and your Truth.
It's been a week. Hard to believe that this time last Thursday I was out of surgery and in my room. It is all so foggy, so I thank God for these pages where i can piece together the thought threads that are weaving together my tapestry. That in pressing on, I can look back with joy, even today at where God has brought me in this week. The touches I've experienced from so many lives of people brought around me. Lives that i have had the privilege to encounter.
A week ago.....out of surgery, breasts removed, expanders in, and lymph nodes being sent to the lab to be scrutinized under a microscope, as we awaited the last pieces of information that would define my cancer. That would determine my treatment plan.
It has been a week of newness. A new 'altered' body. Remembering the first day the nurse came in to change my gauze pads. I had been wound tightly with an ace bandage around a therapeutic bra. She needed to change the gauze pads. I was afraid to look. Afraid to look down under the dressings at what I would see. Who is this new me? The tears welled up in my eyes, but the realization flooded over me that I haven't changed. My body can change. My breasts can be bigger, they can be smaller, but they don't define me. God does. Surgery, cancer, chemo, radiation....it can alter me, but it can't take me.
It has been a week with a new perspective on life and health. A new compassion for those facing breast cancer. A new realization of physical pain and the anticipation that my next dose of pain meds was around the corner bringing relief. Pain that went beyond what I have ever experienced. A tightness that would grab ahold of my chest as if a boa constrictor was squeezing the air out of me. Pain in my right armpit that would pierce through my underarm and radiate down the sides of my chest wall. The peace that would wash over me as the nurses would gently bring me my next dose of pain med that would temporarily give relief for sleep.
A new "foggy" narcotic brain....I'm usually on top of things and now the routine question is "Did I tell you this already?" "Have we already talked about this?" "I can't remember." The newness of surgical drains (2 on each side of my armpits) that allow the excess fluid to filter out of my body for healing and the routine that is added to my day of emptying and measuring them three times a day. The newness of fatigue that quickly envelops me where I have no choice but to be still and close my eyes, even if for a brief moment. The newness of cancer.
But with this thing called cancer and this past week, I have been blessed beyond measure. In all the newness, I've experienced the love of so many family and friends. People that I have let into the intimate moments of my life and the new physical me. Those who have laughed with me, cried with me and held my hands. Those precious friends who knowing I didn't want to be alone, gently knocking on my door, entering in and just praying with me. Words didn't even need to be spoken. The sweet friend who brought me a smoothie.....knowing I was having trouble eating much of anything else and knowing that would hit the spot. The gentle caress of a dear sister's hand against mine. My sweet and precious children coming and hugging me and bringing me get well cards. And sweet little Jed wanting to get up on bed next to me and snuggle in for but a moment.
Beautiful friends who offered to take our three oldest boys on Saturday to their dirtbikerace, so Barclay could stay with me. And throughout the day, as I'm not a momma who misses a race easily.....this dear friend emailed and texted me updates throughout the morning. The friends that pushed through the awkward, silent moments to really see how I was doing. My dear friend brushing my hair, just that simple act of compassion as I couldn't raise the brush to do it myself. Those who just sat with me, even while I drifted in and out of sleep. And then my husband grabbing ahold of my hand and walking me down the hall and outside onto a small patio as we sat in the hot sun thanking God for our marriage, our love, our lives. The beauty on Sunday morning, as Barclay laid next to me just laying my hand in his, telling me he loved me, no matter what...the new altered body.....didn't matter. He loved me. Together, by God's grace we will make it to the other side. So, together, we press on.
I am so blessed and thankful. It has been a week of many blessing us with meals, gift bags, flowers, emails, visits and cards. And it has been a week of waiting, again for the final report.
Since I wasn't allowed to shower fully, per doctor's orders......my hair was in desperate need of being washed. We weren't sure how this would be accomplished due to my pain level and limited mobility. It had also been since early April since I had my hair cut and highlighted. As one who is difficult to sit still, I called my hairdresser and my aunt graciously took me to get a hair wash and quick cut. I have been reluctant to get it cut, not knowing how much longer I would even have my hair, and not really wanting to spend the money if it was all coming off. Well, I succumbed and whereas was totally exhausted after that appointment, boy did I feel like a new woman.
And then today....the final news was delivered. I went to see my plastic surgeon this morning to see how I was doing and have two of my drains removed. He was quite pleased with my healing so far. I must also say, upon looking at my breasts again, without any saline yet, I actually have some form and shape. It made us all laugh as I can only imagine what I'll look like in 6 weeks after the filling draws to an end. Let's just say, I'm certainly not looking to draw attention, but a little cleavage would be nice. I'm being assured by my lovely plastic surgeon that that will be doable. We have to laugh, don't we!! At the end of the day all that really matters is my overall health, but to have a perky 18 year old body again in one area...well, I'm not complaining. :)
I then received the call this afternoon from my breast surgeon. Here is the low down: cancer was found in 2 of my lymph nodes. I think she said 9 were taken out. The two that had cancer were sentinel nodes, so good that the cancer hasn't gone any further. But on each node the cancer was approximately 4mm...a little bigger than she had hoped. They also found a small pre-cancerous non-invasive spot called DCIS 1mm from my chest wall. Other than that, nothing new found in the breast tissue and overall, she was pleased. Her part is now pretty much done. I will meet with her again next Friday.
The rest of the day was filled with phone calls between my breast care coordinator scheduling appointments for the next two weeks. On Wednesday, back to Dr. Singer (plastic surgeon), on Thursday, 2:00 appointment with our first radiation oncologist, Friday, Dr. Chang (breast surgeon), July 5th, 2:00 with Dr. Cheryl Johnson, Medical Oncologist, Friday, August 6th, Dr. Jennifer Armstrong, Paoli Hospital Medical Oncologist. Then we will also have a consult with Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia with both Medical and radiation oncologists to get one final opinion. We are waiting for that date. We will gather all the information and pray that God brings clarity to the decision for my treatment plan. That He makes the pathway easy to navigate.
And we press on through Jesus Christ....next step to treatment before us.
I pray that as you walk along this journey with me, you know that I hold each of you dear to my heart. I don't claim for a moment to have any of this figured out. Daily there is some fear, there is some anxiety due to all the uncertainties, there are tears, there is frustration, there is pain, both physical and emotional.....but one thing I hold true is that I do not waiver....in the love of Christ and the power of God that rests upon me. I choose Him. I surrender to Him. I cling to Him and call out to Him to deliver me from all the emotions that quickly flood my mind. And that is where I am finding victory. He is giving me the grace to stand. He is putting the smile on my face. Whatever you are going through right now, His grace is available to you too. It is available to all.
"So I say to you, ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened unto you." Luke 11:9
"Jesus said, I am the way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me." John 14:6
I'm not kidding myself, this cancer thing....it is hard! It stinks. But through the grace of God, I will press on. I will stand victorious. I will look to Him and give Him the glory. Thank you for pressing on and standing strong with me.