Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Round 2 and half way done!

Some people ask if chemo therapy hurts. No. It’s as silent and sneaky as the disease of cancer itself. Of course if you are like me and you don’t like needles, don’t like looking at them or feeling them, then I’d say- yep being a human pin cushion hurts. Otherwise, the only thing you can feel is the cold liquid pumping into your veins. Then a few days later it sneaks up on you with a queasy stomach, head ache, metallic taste in your mouth and a wide variety of other side effects that peek about 10 days after the drip. Weeks later you may lose your hair, coloring, nails and sense of humor. This is what happens when poison is used to eliminate fast growing rebellious cells.
So where can a cancer fighting patient find joy? It’s in all the beautiful people you meet along the way of the journey.  Yesterday I had my second round of treatment and went to a beauty class all in one day. The class was called “Look Good Feel Better.” A nonprofit organization that generously gives beauty supplies to women going through chemo treatment. I found them when I was doing my research months ago through the American Cancer Society. I went to get support and encouragement, but quickly found that giving support and encouragement felt way more natural. Everyone was in the same treatment stage.  They had either just had their second round or going to have it in a few days. We compared war stories like old army buddies. We giggled at our bald heads, no eyebrows while swapping new wigs, scarves and hats.  “Look Good Feel Better” gave us a healthy supply of new make-up which we applied in each other’s company while exploring new colors and techniques. For a couple of hours yesterday, I found a spot of humanity in this whole process. I forgot that I was being treated for cancer and just felt the kindred friendship of my new buddies.  It occurred to me that this was just the same feeling as the first day on a new job, sitting next to a stranger, the first day of school and maybe even the first time behind a wheel. It is just a new experience.
Then reality hit at the very end of class when my new friend Carol age 70, a real pistol, told me that her daughter 45 year old  Dawn was in Chicago dyeing of liver cancer as she was battling breast cancer. I could have sat there for hours to talk with her as the facilitators were turning out the lights and picking up the trash. I’ll pray for you Carol and Dawn too as I waved good-bye! My God, why? Why must this woman be tormented to be away from her dying daughter while she takes her own cancer treatment? All of a sudden my circumstance became so minimal.
I have been forced to stand at the door of mortality and knock to see if the door was open. It takes a little more courage to do that then knocking on doors to sell Girl Scout cookies, but not much more.  Without Jesus, I would not be strong enough to do this. The most courageous person I know is my sister. Once we were standing on her front lawn at 2 am in the morning and a car came screeching by out of control. It slammed into a block wall perpendicular to her house. I gasped and put my hand over my mouth in disbelief. I was paralyzed by the sight. My sister’s reaction set her feet into motion and she ran across the street to see if the crumbled up car had a survivor. There was a girl inside still alive and a call was made to 911. All of this happened before my hand came away from my mouth. I was paralyzed with fear and no courage.
I don’t watch scary movies because I know that my lack of courage will keep me up at night. Cancer is one crazy scary movie! So, when people say that I am courageous and brave. I just laugh because I know that’s not me! That has to be God in me. His word says to focus on noble things, so I do. His Word says that I (the weak) am strong, therefore I am. His Word says that He will strengthen me and I have witnessed this first hand. Thank goodness that the weakness in my character, basically a coward, is where God is illuminated in me.
Several times Christian women have spoken out and told me that they felt the need to encourage me with Psalm 91. There was one young lady who is a friend of my son who had a beautiful quilt made with scriptures all over it for me and sent it home with a book about Psalm 91. What a blessing it has been to read line by line details about this promise of protection in Psalm 91. The verse that jumps right on my heart is
Psalm 91:7
A thousand shall fall at you’re your side, and ten thousand at your right hand;
but it shall not come near you.
I believe that I am healed. Not by my own understanding, but that of my God. I can’t ignore the repetition of scripture that people share with me that bequests my belief! God doesn’t Promise me everything I ask for. But this time I just KNOW that I know that he has promised me this. I will hold on to this promise and speak it out loud as often as I can.
Getting back to standing at the door of mortality and waiting with sweaty palms for an answer to my knock. I’ve asked myself a few questions. When I see the face of Jesus do I want to tell him about all the things I’ve done and accomplished or do I want to know that I did all He wanted me to do? Do I want to have a million dollars in the bank or do I want to touch a million lives? Do I want accolades and approval from man or do I want to walk in the confidence that Jesus perfected of my life? What do I really want out of this life for the rest of the days I have?
I have waited at the door of mortality and decided that it is not going to open for me today. I pivot on my rear heals and about face setting out to search for His sheep to feed, looking for a million hearts to hold with the confidence that God has a perfect plan for my life. Time to be obedient and do the things I know He wants me to do. I will abandon my plans and chose His for the rest of my life.
And this is the gift that cancer gave to me!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bald is Beautiful

Having your head shaved sort of compares to skydiving, I would imagine. I woke up on Monday morning with an excessive amount of hair left behind on my hairbrush. I noticed that my head was tingling all day that day. I imagined it was the follicles in my head letting go of the hair. It was so itchy, but I was too afraid to scratch my head in fear that the hair would fall right out! By Tuesday night it was coming out when I ran my hands through it! I hadn’t washed it since Sunday because of the horror stories I heard from other survivors that it came out in the shower! Wednesday morning I woke up and put my hands on my head to see it was still there instead of on the pillow and  it was, whew. I made it! I made it to the appointed day to shave my head.

About a month ago I popped in a little boutique called “The Wig Cottage.” They specialize in helping survivors make the adjustment from hair loss to wigs and scarves. With my whole head of hair intact, the staff helped me pick out a wig that had the same texture, style and color as my very own hair. I tried on some fun wigs and each time I turned to my husband for his opinion. I’ll never forget the look on his face when I tried on the Lady Godiva wig. Long blonde wig, went down to my waist with surfer bangs. I looked about 18 and could see the real adventure of this wig thing… only to turn and look at him with a disappointed head nod… nope that one wasn’t the one!

Finally, I settle on the strawberry blonde “Malibu.” It was a perfect match even down to the roots! It looked like my hair on a really good hair day. I also picked out a baseball cap with extensions sown in and a nightcap. No, not shot of whiskey, a little flannel hat to keep my head warm at night time because after all you lose 80% of your body heat through your head. There was special shampoo for my head and the wig too. Also, some soothing glaze for my itchy head.

All of these things where right there waiting for me at “The Wig Cottage.” I made the appointment exactly two weeks out  from my 1st treatment as recommended by the staff there. I barely made it! I had a client in the morning and one in the afternoon. So, I thought getting my head shaved between clients on a lunch break was perfect. Although, I was a bit concerned that if it were an emotional experience; would I be able to carry on the day? That was the mauling thought as we pulled up in the parking lot. The morning distraction was sweet and I didn’t have a minute to think about it until I saw the “Wig Cottage” sign.  Nervous and anxious, no return, big deep breath… okay, I’m ready.

I didn’t tell my stylist that I was a wreck inside. I’m sure she already knew. She simply turned my chair so I was looking into my husband’s eyes instead of the mirror. He stared back at me, never looking away.  I heard the buzz of the shears and experienced the greatest relief of itchy head that is known to man. Oh my goodness, it felt so good. I know now why a dog’s leg moves when you scratch its belly. Ahhhhhh……………I didn’t even care that she was taking it off.  No more worries that it’s going to fall out at the wrong time or suddenly. No more stray hair flying in my eyes, mouth and nose. I can wash and scratch my head! I think when people describe skydiving to me that’s what they are talking about. Scared to do it, but so glad they did!

Once she shaved my head she put my wig on immediately so still didn’t have to look at my bald head until I got home. I was so thankful!  With wig on, she turn me around and started to give me a hair cut by cutting the wig to perfection so it was custom to my face and taste. What a great experience. Once I finished my day and got home I was able to take the wig off and look at my head in the privacy of my own home. It wasn’t so bad. I found a few childhood scars that prompted some memories and stories that I repeated to my husband. Tried on my hat, used a hand held mirror to see from every angle, and sent a few pictures of my bald head to those who asked, practiced putting on my wig and ended up just wearing a scarf for the rest of the evening.

Here’s the best part of the day. There was a package waiting for me when I got home. It was from a woman named Joy, who is a survivor. Inside the package was a scarf that Joy was passing on to me. The scarf was given to her by another survivor. She was also Stage II. The scarf is stunning and was purchased in Paris. She sent a beautiful card with it that had the most charming words of encouragement that congratulated me for making it through diagnosis and surgery so far.  It was a message of Hope that arrived at precisely the right moment. Coincidence?  No, that’s how much my God loves me and that’s how much He wants me to know that He is with me.  

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Hello Therapy Room

Hello Therapy room, filled with 3 aisles of yellow reclining chairs. Each aisle had six chairs facing one another, three on each sidewith IV poles on the side of each chair. The gigantic window that stretch from one end of the room to the other and from top to bottom created an outdoor/ indoor environment. Almost like a sun room.

The lady who sat directly across from my reclining chair in our sunshiny room, is considerably older than I and barely a hundred pounds. She looked like a pro at this with her shoes kicked off and a nice bulky book to read. She was so darn cute I could have put her in my pocket. I instantly loved her. She looked up out of her pages a few times and I caught her glance while I was being hooked up. She could tell I was a newbie. I think I saw a twinkle in her eye as she simply sent an encouraging smile across the aisle. Taking her lead, I reclined my chair, kicked off my shoes, snuggled in my pink furry blanket my favorite aunt gave me with my name and a pink ribbon done in bling-bling. I sorted through the Susan G Koman bag of goodies and entertainment that I packed for Gilligan Island's 3 hour tour ( treatment lasted for 3 hours) and picked out my “Crazy Love” book that was given to me by a wonderful Christian sister. It wasn’t long before my aisle buddy took off her little beanie to show my husband and I how her hair was holding up and shared her story about having the hair dresser cut it very short but not totally off as it began to fall out. That little twinkle in her eye disappeared and I saw a vulnerable woman with her insecurity covered by a little beanie. A quick glance back to our books gave us a little break from the eye contact that was about to produce a tear or two. Unspoken rule #1 DO NOT CRY IN THE THERAPY ROOM! When in doubt think about others.

And so I did. I began to just pray for my new friend with the same chant I learned from my 15 year self as a cheerleader. I was going to be her personal cheerleader for the rest of our treatment. Another Aisle buddy joined us. He has melanoma and it was his first time too. So, I prayed for his healing. There were more people who came to the therapy room. One other young man with testicular cancer had his laptop open with pictures of his two little sweetheart children. I met him earlier.. so I prayed for him. Another lady I saw as I went to the bathroom had such a look of disappear on her face that was so intense that I felt it when I walked by, so I prayed for her too. The room filled with more and more patients and I prayed for as many as I could see.

When I got tired of reading I listened to an ipod that my daughter gave me last year for my birthday. First song was Matthew West. “ Strong Enough” Before you listen to the beautiful song join me in this experience of looking up at the Therapy dripping from the IV. Gratitude overwhelmed my heart and I felt it’s expansion was greater than the cold fluid entering my body. I could only think of it as a gift straight from heaven. God knew that I had cancer and no insurance. He knew that I had just lost every penny to my name from 2006-2012 in the real estate crash. A grand total of one million dollars. Busted broke and at rock bottom. He was there when all three of my daughters moved out of state within 6 short months. My Lord has buffered it all with His tender mercies and as a loved one reminds us; with His grace upon grace.

Listen with me again!

The bracelet on my hand in this picture was given to me by one of my best friends. She took it right off of her wrist and put it on my wrist. I thought it extraordinary as she has worn this bracelet everyday for as many years as I can remember. I know the sacrifice was hard for her. It doesn’t compare to the blessing of wearing it over the vein that carried the curing therapy to my body.

There is authority and power in Jesus

“If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad…”

                                                           Lord Byron

Gosh, I have been dreading this for days and weeks! Everyone made it so endurable that I walk away feeling like I experienced a shower of love. The kind of shower that grows your heart to a greater capacity to receive. We’ve all met people who had a Big Heart. I want to have one of those.. A Big Heart! Thank you God for growing my heart.

Prepare yourself to see the word therapy written down and know that I mean chemo. I just can’t call it chemo. It is tied to so many bad implications. Realistically today’s therapy really doesn’t compare to the way it was used like a loose cannon in the days of past. Doctors are so specific in the way they prescribe it. That’s why I had to wait for more tests to be done before we got started. No doctor is going to prescribe a medication for you that has more consequences than the disease they are fighting. Not to mention all the in-between blood tests to monitor ever organ and blood count. So from here on out I am going to call it Therapy!

We left for Therapy about 10am on Wednesday morning which was only about 45 minutes after I spoke with the nurse who said they had an opening! This is NOT a typical way to start your first day of therapy! For me though, it was a better way. Last week I had read a three ring binder filled with possible side affects and it had me so freaked out that I just wasn’t ready and ultimately glad that therapy was postponed last week.

I had a dream a few days before we started that I was in agreement with the rest of my body parts that we were ready to get therapy. As if they could talk to me?

That dream came on the heals of a MUGA-Scan test that I took on Monday. The MUGA -Scan measured all the functions of my heart valves so we could have a baseline knowledge of its health. If I end up needing more aggressive treatment recommended by the Mayo Clinic they will want this test. The most significant part of having this test was the positive self talk I found during it. As I lay there strapped to the table and arms pinned down to a tiny one foot wide table and a massive diagnostic machine over me within inches of my very scarred and flat chest, the fight internalized. All of a sudden I heard the 15 year old Clark High School cheerleader in me begin to chant.

V I C T O R Y. Victory, Victory, that’s our cry!

Go Fight Win! Defense Jesus Defense!

Push ‘m Back!

R.e.- R.e.b.- R.e.b.o.u.n.d. Rebound!

Then I could hear the almost audible sound in my ears of men marching. Thousands of marching boots. I could visualize Gladiators holding spears in the shape of a cross and marching, looking for the enemy.

It was then that I remembered that there is a protein structure outside our cells called Laminin. It forms the shape of a cross. With all this strength of mind, I knew there was authority and power in what Jesus has asked of me. To Believe!


Laminin is a protein that is part of the extracellular matrix in humans and animals. The extracellular matrix (ECM) lies outside of cells and provides support and attachment for cells inside organs (along with many other functions). Laminin has “arms” that associate with other laminin molecules to form sheets and bind to cells. Laminin and other ECM proteins essentially “glue”