Wait, what?

A few days ago, I got a phone call from my clinic. It was someone from Radiation wanting to set up an appointment. It had to be a mistake, and I said so. She assured me that, no, she had the right person, and my oncologist had ordered this consult. I nearly lost it right there on the phone. She transferred me to my nurse navigator who promised to check it out and get back to me.

I got off the phone and freaked out. It makes me sad that I reacted with such lack of control and reasonable thought, but there it is. Radiation hadn’t been mentioned since October, when our decision to have double mastectomy instead of lumpectomy was made. With lumpectomy, radiation is a given. With mastectomy, it is very often not necessary. Since October, we have been under the impression that radiation is off the table.

The nurse navigator called back and confirmed that, yes, my doctor had ordered this appointment. It would appear that this is a way of closing loops, leaving no stone unturned. It is highly probable that the conversation will be to review the initial discussion, talk over what has transpired and where we are now, and determine that radiation is indeed not necessary. But. There is also a chance that, based on surgical pathology, it is still a precaution they want to take (I don’t know what we would be targeting–the tumor is gone and there was no cancer in my lymph nodes).

The element of surprise in this case was brutal. When this call came, I was newly excited about being done with the rough part of treatment, and was beginning to feel better overall. My oncologist had made no mention that he was requesting the appointment. This new development took the feet out from under me. I was instantly in despair and panic mode. “I can’t do radiation. Not now that I am finally on the mend!”

Then, a still, small voice inside reminded me wherein lies my strength. I remembered who holds me–who has held me from the beginning of this journey–who has held me all my life. If radiation is a road I need to travel, He will hold me still. Will I take it calmly and sitting down? Probably not. I am human, after all. Self preservation is part of my nature. But He will work me through that, too.

And so, until my appointment with Radiation tomorrow, I’ll continue surrendering to Him, and trying not to worry about the future. My prayer is that Larry and I will accept whatever recommendation is given and weigh it prayerfully. If God adds another leg to my journey, so be it.

But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” Psalm 31:14 ESV

Part of the Process

*This post discusses the finer points of breast reconstruction. May be TMI for some readers*

My journey thus far has been comprised of new experiences, firsts, and unknowns. As of yesterday, I feel like we are finally starting down the other side of the hill, with the finish line in sight. The road is far from over, and I’m exhausted, but the finish line is coming into view.

I had the final fill in my tissue expanders yesterday. What does that mean? When I had my mastectomy, I had the choice to have my breasts removed with reconstruction or without. I am not even 50 years old, and I’m married, so being flat chested for the remainder of my life wasn’t a consideration. There were a number of options for how to do reconstruction, and that decision was a little tougher. Rather than explain all of those, I refer you to Google.

The option Larry and I chose is tissue expanders. There have been many days since when I have wondered if I would make the same choice again, knowing all that it entails. I won’t be able to answer that for quite awhile yet.

The short story is that when I had the mastectomy, after the general surgeon removed my breasts, the plastic surgeon took over and started reconstruction by putting in partially inflated tissue expanders. He split the chest muscle layers and placed the expanders in between them. This added considerable pain and healing time to the surgery.

About a month later, I went in for my first fill. The plastic surgeon used a magnet to find the port in each expander, and using a needle added 100-125 cc of saline to each side. Doing this every two weeks or so has allowed the muscle tissue to stretch and make room for the breast implants.

It was up to me to decide how many fills I wanted to have, based on what size I want to be in the end. Suffice to say that we have reached that point, so yesterday the doctor did a final fill. Filling is a simple process, but the needle goes through a lot of tissue and is painful. Each fill is followed by a couple days of muscle tenderness. That part isn’t terrible. It feels as if just my chest muscles spent way too much time at the gym.

The expanders are made of a thick plastic material and are designed to be overinflated. What this means day-to-day is that basically my breasts feel almost as hard as softballs. You might imagine how comfortable that is. Sleeping comfortably is a challenge, as are some arm movements. What God created to be flexible is, for the time being, pretty much stationary. It certainly makes life interesting. And often painful.

Once chemo is complete and my blood counts are up, I will have an outpatient surgery in which the expanders will be removed (Praise God!) and the permanent implants placed. Recovery will be far easier and quicker than the mastectomy, and I will have soft and natural feeling breasts again. It will be a new normal–they won’t be the same as my old breasts, but in some ways, that’s okay!

I feel like I have finally reached at least one point of completion. No more fills. Surgery will be scheduled for 7-8 weeks from now. I look forward to that, not only for my physical comfort, but for the milestone of another phase of cancer treatment finished.

After my fill, I went for chemo treatment 7 of 12. While we sat in the infusion room, we overheard the nurses gathered around another room, cheering and ringing bells, celebrating that someone had finished their last chemo. It instantly brought me to tears, and does even now. How I long for that day.

But for now, for today, I’m not there. I’m still running (well, maybe plodding), traveling this road. It’s still hard and I’m still tired and sick. But there’s hope. I see the end, and before I know it, this will all be a memory.

And I am confident of this, that he who began a good work in [me] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6 ESV

Chemo Day 2

This day last month, I had my double mastectomy. Just a month, but it feels like forever. This new reality has overtaken and it feels like life is just cancer treatment. It’s a bizarre feeling. A year from now, all of this will be a blur, and I will wonder where the last year of my life went.

Yesterday was a good day. I had a minor reaction from the steroid I was given–my face was extremely red-purple and sore. It only lasted a couple hours and will likely happen each week. Not so bad. This is my learning week–they say what happens this week will most likely be my pattern. It will be nice to have this week behind me. The unknowns should then be known, and I will be able to settle into my remaining 11 weeks of chemo with some ability to plan and schedule activity accordingly.

I was able to sleep a full night in my bed for the first time since surgery. That was nice. I woke up with a headache, but a couple Tylenol took care of that. Food is tasting pretty dull today and I have little appetite. So far, no nausea; thanks be to God!

I have settled into resting, for the most part. I’ve finally allowed myself to take the time I need and not feel guilty about it. This is the grace of God in my life. I will continue to trust Him on this third day. . . I’m told this day and the next could get pretty rough. One step at a time.

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in [me] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6”

Perspective

There are things in life that you never thought you’d say. . . out loud, at least. Like when I was on the phone with my sister-in-law and she yelled “Stop running the beaters on my curtains!” Or when I said these:

“No, you can’t be Matilda the Hun for the AWANA costume party. He’s not a Bible character. And it’s ‘Attila.'”

“If your duck is going to run around the house, she needs a diaper.”

“Son, if you keep forcing gas, you’ll have to change your pants.”

“Don’t skate on the brown ice in the pasture!”

This sort of thing is what came to my mind yesterday when I got this text from Stacey, my cancer buddy and “breast friend” (for that story, read the post Meet Stacey): “Just got the call. They approved me for a double!”

Whooping. Rejoicing. Because they are going to cut both of my friend’s breasts off.

You see, it’s all in your perspective. We’ve been praying for Stacey’s insurance to approve a double mastectomy, since that’s her best option. It’s a serious situation she’s in, and this major loss is counted as a blessing. She can see it that way because she knows the alternatives, and they aren’t good.

But it’s more than that. She can see this as a blessing because she has the support of family and friends. She has good medical care and a bright prognosis. More than that, she has trust in the One who brought this blessing to pass, who heard our prayers. He will see her through. He will see me through. And He’s given us the added blessing of walking together.

And hey, if we get the chance to trade in our nearly 50-year-old racks for new and improved models, what’s not to love?

Exposed

I got a package in the mail today. It was kind of creepy. I ordered it myself and I knew what was inside. Still creepy. With trepidation, I opened the padded envelope and found an entire head of hair.

They tell me I’ll lose my hair after my first cycle of chemotherapy. Now, y’all, I don’t consider myself to be a vain person (I’m learning I’m much more vain than I ever realized) and I just figured when I go bald, I’ll wear hats. Hats are cute; I like hats.

Then I started thinking. In addition to my kids requesting that I get a wig, I realized that if I don’t have one, everyone everywhere will know that I have or have had cancer. It’s not a fact I care to hide, but it’s also not my favorite topic of discussion. And so, I ordered.

The wig is cute. On a stand. On my head, mmmm, maybe. At the moment, I’m just trying to be as prepared as I can, since I likely won’t care much to be shopping once my hair falls out and I’m a puddle of tears.

Losing my hair is a harder thought for me than losing my breasts. I’ve been trying to figure out why that is. I think part of it has to do with dignity–women my age aren’t meant to be bald. We rarely are bald, and in fact spend quite a bit of time in the pursuit of good hairstyles. Something given at birth is being stripped away against my will. I realize mastectomy will also strip something away, but it’s different. That part of me is shielded from view and protected. My head is just right out there, seen by the world.

Enter vanity. Or rather, expose vanity. I don’t think it’s wrong that I feel grief at losing my hair–not at all. However, it WILL grow back. Maybe it will be even better! And yet, that’s not a comfort. I’m still stuck.

I think, at the core, this is an issue of surrender. I have come to terms at the moment with having cancer (this is something I know I will have to do time after time in the next year). I have come to terms with surgery and mastectomy, and I am willing. My hair, on the other hand, is something to which I’m clinging. Perhaps it’s as simple as having my outside be as exposed as my soul feels right now. Maybe it all comes down to vulnerability. When I walk around now, my battle is private. Strangers, and many people I know, aren’t aware of my situation. In due course, it will be glaringly apparent to the world.

Maybe I’m not ready for that. But I’m working on it.