Most everybody has been touched by it, someway.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.
I am a Survivor!
(disclaimer- this is a long one.. just saying)
Breast Cancer affects every person differently. A very dear friend of ours died as a result of breast cancer. HE was one of the most Godly men I ever knew. Breast Cancer is non-discriminatory. It is not a woman's disease. Cancer is ugly- period.
my journey started with a sense- a sense that something was wrong. i was barely 30. i went for a mammogram- willing to pay on my own, since insurance wouldn't approve- i was too young. the phrase, "i'm sure everything is fine, but" became my most hated phrase. It was never fine. I never paid for that mammogram. Insurance paid for all the mammograms, sonograms, biopsies, follow-up visits, scans, and blood work. The next several years, I lived my life on a 3-6 month timetable. Every time I'd go, I'd hear that hated phrase, "i'm sure everything is fine, but" and there would be more tests, more biopsies, more xrays, more waiting.
we lived our lives waiting for the big C word- so my hair could fall out, i could take chemo and get on with life.
then, in the fall of 2003 life-changing decisions had to be made. the oncologist advised it wasn't if but when all the abnormality in my body was officially called cancer. the 14 cysts in one breast, and the ugliness and deformity of what was left of my other breast were screaming for attention. what was hiding behind the cysts were also of great concern. with each biopsy, a new cyst grew. it was time. the surgeons request- radical bi-lateral mastectomy(with immediate reconstruction). he wanted to get the cancer, BEFORE it got me.
i never was a "breast" woman- if you know what i mean- but what about my honey. would he still love me? could I do it? how did I know this was the right thing?
i prayed. one of those prayers that you pray when you're desperate to do the right thing. when you need God to answer in a BIG way. a GOD ONLY way. you've prayed those prayers. sometimes He doesn't answer the way we want, when we want. this time He did.
it was a friday afternoon. my surgeon had completed the necessary paperwork. it would be 4-5 weeks before we got an answer from the insurance company. it always takes a while to get an approval. more waiting. more praying.
i remember going to the altar that sunday morning. praying. crying. scared to have the surgery, scared not to have the surgery. i had a son i wanted to see drive, get married, give me grandchildren. i had a husband i adored. i had life to live. i was scared. i remember the hands of my precious friend- cheryl - touch me as she knelt beside me. teri was there- she always was there.
monday morning- on my way to work. i prayed. i remember exactly what i prayed.
God please, i need to know this is the right decision. I need you to give me a God only answer. please just show me this is the right thing.
around 9:30 that morning I got a phone call from my surgeon. the insurance had approved the surgery- and i was scheduled for December 19, 2003.
did you catch the significance here- less than 1 full business day of my surgeon filing the paperwork, the insurance company had approved the surgery. God had given me my BIG, GOD ONLY answer.
my surgery got bumped- so instead of an early morning procedure, i waited nearly all day before finally going into surgery. when i went into surgery that day we didn't know what the future would look like. chemo- radiation- or successful surgery with no additional treatment. my surgeon wanted nothing left where the cancer could grow. they took EVERYTHING.
on christmas eve we got the diagnosis- benign. no chemo or radiation required. Merry Christmas to us!
it was months before i could put thoughts on paper. denial or just exhaustion from trying to recover from such major surgery?
here are a few excerpts of my journal...
"the decision to have the surgery was easy in comparison to living with the decision after it was made. the excruciating pain i felt in the hospital- way more than i could have ever prepared for. breathing hurts! 6 months to get my strength back. i'm 3 month's away from the surgery and still hurting, still frustrated. my tears fall without reason. i am continually exhausted. i am different than i was on 12-19-03, and i'll never be the same. waiting for a bone scan- my surgeon thinks my ribs are caving in."
3/14/04 9:30 pm
"so many people at church today commented on how good i looked. a few ask how I am doing. when i tell them the truth- they change the conversation. they're being nice. debbie keeps telling me how strong i am. i don't feel strong. i feel weak. i feel fragile. i feel like i will break if you touch me. i am afraid to feel. i hope to feel "finished" some day, now i feel like a project"
3/16/04 9:30 p.m.
"today is the day i lost the battle of my will- my will to be stronger than this thing i am in the midst of. the tears, real tears have started and i cannot seem to turn them off. i spent the morning dreading the afternoon, and the expansion, and the bone scan.... i knew i was in trouble at the hospital, when they told me to lay flat for the scan. easiest test ever and i couldn't do it. i couldn't breathe. it hurt. the tears were puddling on the table below me. the technician had to help me up. i was free to go."
"today has been a better day. i am anxious to hear the results. the new pain medicine is working, i think. i woke up with 'refiners fire' playing in my head. i know God is teaching me something that i'll be able to use for his glory. i am so blessed to have rex who has been so supportive. i couldn't go through this without him. he is a truly awesome man"
3/24/04 9:10 am
"i am waiting for Dr M's office to call - i am in a lot of pain this morning. moving my head, breathing in and out, leaning forward, moving forward all bring intense pain. movement of any kind is very difficult. why am i in so much pain.
"this is the closest i have felt to normal in months- i am exhausted and my ribs are killing me but i spent the day doing mom things- planning shayne's birthday party. granted it took me all day to do what would normally take a couple of hours but i felt like i accomplished something and i didn't feel like crying all day. i actually had some fun. maybe there is light at the end of this tunnel."
"the day is finally here- i've been so anxious for this surgery. as hard and painful as these last few months have been, i have learned what to expect. all that is going to change again in a few hours. what if they are wrong and the pain doesn't go away. what do i do then? i want my life back and i am so afraid it will never be normal again."
i had another surgery for the reconstruction on 4/29/04. there were multiple visits for expansion between december and april- which was the cause of so much of the pain. my ribs did cave in during the process. i never could lay flat, or sleep comfortably in a bed during this time. i slept very little, and took comfort in little things, like the train whistle around 4 am each day- a sign that i had survived one more night, and was one day closer to the end. joy comes in the morning , right.
Friday 4/30/04 6:30 p.m.
"THANK YOU LORD!" the surgery is over and m. was right. immediately after gaining enough consciousness to try, i took a deep breath and it didn't hurt. the intense pressure and pain inside my body is gone. Thank You God! ....God gave me back my femininity- the fear i have lived with for months is gone. i feel hopeful and excited. it is a good feeling. Thank you God, again, you have been faithful to me!"
there were two more surgeries that followed through the rest of 2004 to complete the reconstruction process. there were more days of pain, and fear, and frustration. even today, i am constantly reminded of the decision made in 2003.
I felt guilty for a long time saying that--survivor word. i felt like it wasn't right to call myself a survivor. my doctors and nurses disagreed. they call me an early survivor. i cheated, and I got the cancer before it got me.
cancer is an ugly thing. that "normal fun" day i mentioned in april '04. turned out not to be such a great day. that same day, teri called me to tell me they thought she had cancer. no way. way.
God, in His sovereignty allowed best friends to walk a journey of cancer together. over the next several months the focus shifted to teri, her diagnosis, treatments, long days. watching her kids. praying.
10/9/04 12:43 a.m.
"we kept k & p tonight. they got here to pick them up and t. was sick. all of us were thinking the same thing but afraid to say it out loud. had the chemo finally hit? maybe just a flu bug. she threw up and layed down on my bed for a while and they left about 12:15am. i was amazed by how the fear of what could be comes flooding back, it is overwhelming. we are so desperate to to fix things. and so many times in life, like with my dearest friend tonight, there are no fixing, just living, just surviving. the thought of my friend being sick like this for the next several months breaks my heart. i want her to be healthy. to be around to bug me 20 years from now when we've been through menopause and can't remember where we put the milk. i want, i want. i know i must trust God's plan. what if his plan is different than mine. will i be able to embrace Him without moving away. we all desperately need God and his grace and mercy to get through this, I know He is faithful.
11/18/04- robin reconstruction surgery
11/22/04- went with teri while she had chemo
12/28/04- robin last outpatient surgery for skin grafts
1/2/05- teri last chemo
our stories are very different. she never had to have surgery. i never had to have chemo. she lost almost all her hair. i kept mine. i got forever perky boobs. she.... let's move on. she was there for me, and i was there for her. we just kept living. and praying. it was a privilege for her to trust me enough to let me in on the ugliness of her cancer. it was an honor for her to walk beside me.
"THANK YOU JESUS! teri got results today- no hot spots- all clear- cancer is gone! this is the best news we've heard all year. i am so happy, and so thankful- God you are worthy and receive all the praise. when teri called my reaction was to find her, and hug her- exactly like it was when we got the news of the cancer. rejoicing together was awesome. thank you God for my friend. both of us have been through a lot last year and now both of us can look forward to a future. one day at a time, trusting the Lord each step. I am so relieved that my friend will be around. i was truly scared i might loose her. Lord God, thank you, thank you, thank you!"
we are survivors- but not because of us. in our weakness, He is strong.
"He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might, He increases strength. But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint" Isaiah 40:29&31
be aware- cancer strikes all of us, in some way. would i do it again? in a heartbeat.