Interestingly, I’m not very nervous about the surgery itself. I’m very comfortable with my surgeon and the quality of care I will receive in the hospital I will be in, so I feel like I’m in good hands. I’m not even really worried about the physical recovery.
I am, however, starting to wonder what it will all be like when the surgery is complete…
I’m going to be quite frank with you and tell you that I have no clue how I’m going to handle this next step in the journey. I know there are so many women who have endured this and I know that in the end I’ll be fine. But I don’t know what it’s like to live life (even if it’s temporary) without one of my breasts. I don’t know what that feels like physically or emotionally. I don’t know what that looks like. I imagine I’ll have a bit of a difficult time with the whole ordeal. There may even be a bit of a grieving process.
Obviously, my brain knows that this is the right choice, and it’s definitely not going to kill me to be missing this body part. But this has been a difficult aspect to this journey.
Your continued prayers are appreciated.
Update for local friends: Thank you for your continued willingness to help us out. At this point, I think we are covered with everything we need for the coming week. We have childcare worked out and meals are being provided. House is clean and laundry is done, too!
Being on the receiving end of help is quite humbling.
The last few years of our lives have been interlaced with military separations and medical situations that have put me in a position where I have been the one receiving help from others.
It has been such a huge learning experience for me. Asking for and accepting help from friends has never been something I’m good at. It’s quite difficult for this very (too?) independent wife and mom. At times, it feels like a sign of weakness. I know no one really has it all together, but there have been times in these last few years where it has felt like all of my untogetherness has been out there on display. I know, that in reality, it’s nothing like that. In truth, you can’t plan for when a medical situation will arise while your husband is away on a deployment or long military school. And you certainly can’t plan for cancer to sneak up on you.
Living so far from family has been one of the hardest parts for me. Though we live our military life by choice (knowing fully the consequences of those choices) I do sometimes envy those who live a mere few miles from their family members. I can’t tell you how many times I have wished I could just drop the kids off with a family member, but I can’t.
As humbling as it has been, friends have been the ones we’ve relied on to help us through these difficult situations. And, wow, we have some amazing friends! If I were to try to go into detail of all the situations where friends have been there to offer childcare, meals, yard work, errands, or other ways of support, I would surely leave someone out. But, this is for you – those of you who were in Florida, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Ohio and ever helped us with anything, we appreciate it! You are setting a wonderful example – not only for your kids, but ours as well. Our children remember your kindness. They remember you taking care of them and how you treated them. Thank you for loving them. I’m sure I told you at the time, and probably even sent you a thank you note, but I want you to know that your kindness and love for our family has not been forgotten.
And, to those of you in Alaska helping us through this new journey – you are appreciated. I wish I had better or more eloquent words to express my gratitude for what you are doing for us. There’s no way I would feel as calm about facing cancer head on without you. You are caring for our children, providing our meals, offering to do anything we need, and praying for us. We are sincerely grateful for you.
This cancer diagnosis hasn’t only brought with it a roller coaster of emotions. It has also included an ever changing treatment plan. And it seems that treatment plan is changing again.
I told you in the beginning of this journey that I have several other medical conditions. One of those is ulcerative colitis. I will spare you the gross details, but you’re welcome to look it up if you are unfamiliar. Telling you that it’s similar to Crohn’s might convey enough to you. Anyway, the diagnostic process and then learning that I have breast cancer caused a whole lot of upset in my body.
An ulcerative colitis flare-up was at the top and most severe of that list of physical upsets. Between all of my natural remedies and the medications my GI doctor put me back on, I began to see improvement. With that improvement came a cancer treatment plan. Chemo (4-6 cycles, depending on a few factors), surgery, hormone therapy. The stability of knowing how we were going to proceed was great.
When I began chemo 3 weeks ago, I was several weeks into the healing process for getting my ulcerative colitis under control. I had stopped losing weight and was feeling great. My treatment team agreed that the chemotherapy drugs should help even further since autoimmune diseases are known to go into a state of remission during chemo. I was hopeful that this would be the case and the only side effects I would be dealing with would be all the known chemo related ones.
Well, wouldn’t you know that my body rarely reacts to these kinds of things in the expected way. I’m always the problem patient, and this experience would be no different.
Remember me telling you about my mouth problems? Well, those weren’t the only ulcer type problems I had as a result of chemo. My colon spazzed out again and I had another setback.
After many conversations with all of my different doctors, and the team presenting my case before the local cancer discussion board, it has been decided that, for the time being, chemo will be put on hold (I’ll tell you about the new treatment plan in a bit) – even though I am now back to the same place I was before chemo started. The thought process behind this is that another cycle of chemo could prove even worse and very detrimental to my overall health. Ulcerative colitis can be very serious and, if it gets out of control, could lead to very serious colon complications and all breast cancer treatment being halted. We don’t want cancer treatment to be halted because we know that my tumor grows quickly and there is the potential for it to spread/metastasize. We don’t want that.
So, after a lengthy meeting with the surgeon this morning, we have decided that to give my colon more time to heal and my body time to rest before I have more chemo, I’ll be having surgery SOON.
I’ll be having a single (left side) mastectomy next Tuesday, October 21. Whew!
In truth, we’ve kind of expected a mastectomy all along, so that part hasn’t really been such a shock. Michael and I have also had about a week to wrap our brains around the real possibility that this would probably be the next step in treatment for me, so we’re doing fairly well with all of it. I’m obviously still wavering with my emotions and I’m sure that will continue.
I know this is the correct treatment plan and I’m definitely comfortable with the surgeon, so I know I’ll be in good hands.
We would ask that you please continue to hold us up in prayer. Please remember not only our little family, but everyone who is involved in the treatment and care I’ll be receiving, babysitters, and all of those friends and family members who are contributing time and money to helping us through this.
* I promise that later on I’ll tell you more about the long term plans (healing, chemo, reconstruction, more healing, etc.). There’s more to the story, but for now, this is really all I can manage to think through without ending up with way too much on my mind.
After receiving several questions yesterday, I realized I should address the alternative head wear options I now have.
The biggest question I’ve received has been “Is a wig an option?” The answer is yes. In fact, I took that photo above on Tuesday evening when I was out purchasing a wig! * Bonus: my insurance will reimburse me for it!
I’m not quite ready to show it to you yet because I haven’t finished fitting it and making the necessary adjustments, but in time, I will!
I’m not sure how often I’ll wear it, and at this point, my scalp is still too sore, but having it as an option is definitely helpful.
I have also received several very soft, crocheted hats from a long time family friend back home in Florida.
In addition, I have all the other hats and headbands I would normally wear in winter. And am open to picking up a cute headwrap if I find one!
Thank you for your continued prayers and support as we continue along this never before traveled path.
I can honestly say to you that having a bald head at any point in my life never crossed my mind until less than 2 months ago. Now that I’m really and truly in the thick (or thin, really!) of it, I wanted to share with you what it has been like for me. I also want you to know that I’m not sharing this as a means to garner pity. I am simply sharing a bit of my real life. I have been told too many times in this short journey that I’m strong. But, I want you all to know that I am not strong. My God is. And it is only through Him that I am able to do the things I am. I am not brave. In fact, those hot, stinging tears and that nagging “why” befall me often. However, I have faith. Faith that whatever this journey holds, it is for God’s glory.
When chemotherapy was first talked about several weeks ago, I kind of blew off the hair loss issue as a non-issue for me. I foolishly thought that I would be just fine and was very much of the whatever opinion. After all, it is just hair.
Fast forward a bit to treatment decision making time and the reality that I truly would be receiving chemo as my first step in treatment. As silly and fickle as it may be, hair loss has been the most difficult of the chemo side effects for me to process. I’ve been sick before, I’ve had strep throat before, I’ve been tired before, I’ve had severe pain before, I’ve been nauseated and swimmy headed before. Do you know what I’ve never done before? Lose my hair or have a bald head. I’ve cried many tears and had many frustrated moments over this one thing.
There seem to be a few facets to why the hair loss has been so difficult for me. I know that I am not defined by my hair (trust me, I know WHO defines me), but in a sense, my hair is a reminder of my femininity.
I truly enjoy my long, natural hair. I also know that Michael prefers my hair that way! It’s a win for both of us.
Long hair is simply a part of who I am. I like it. And frankly, I didn’t want to get rid of it!
The evening of my first chemo treatment, I had an idea that I thought would help me separate myself from my hair, thus (hopefully) easing the transition for me once I did start losing it. I called around and found a salon that could do vivid colors in my hair. I went that evening and had my hair dyed all sorts of rainbow colors! It isn’t something I would ever have done in any other circumstance, but it has been a fun distraction. I’ve gotten many compliments on it and our children think it’s fun to have a mom with colorful hair.
Though I’ve still struggled with thoughts of being bald, it hasn’t really felt completely like my hair since I changed it. I think it has served to help me detach myself from it [a bit].
This past weekend, not even 2 weeks after my chemo treatment, I began losing some hair. It started off pretty innocently. Just a small noticeable amount here and there. By Tuesday morning the loss was noticeable enough that I was trying to collect all the hair into one place to try to keep all the long hair out of the carpet. I really didn’t want to have to clean up that mess. And figured it would only serve as one more reminder of the fact that I was losing my hair.
That afternoon, I called a hairdresser, Lauren, that lives down the street from me to see about getting in for a short pixie cut. She had an opening the very next day, yesterday!
Wednesday morning dawned and before I even unwrapped the bun I had slept in, I knew things were drastically different. My scalp was very sore. I had been told that was a sure sign of hair loss. I thought I was prepared for what I’d find once I took my hair down, but in reality, I wasn’t. Combing through my hair revealed a shocking amount of loss. And I had to wash it myself because I knew having it washed by someone else would be uncomfortable, and it had already been 3 days since I last washed it.
In a two hour time period from when I woke up until after I had showered, combed, and dried my hair, the loss was astounding. By mid-day yesterday, I had probably lost a total of 1/3 of my hair. The photo below is pretty funny (because having our children involved in what’s going on with me helps them process it better), but also shows the significance of the hair loss before I ever even went to get it cut. Seeing that amount of hair piled in my daughter’s hands was just another sucker punch. This is my real life right now.
Lauren was great! She was gentle and understanding and did a great job with what hair I had left.
My hair doesn’t really feel like my hair anymore. It is very strange to move my head and not have those long locks swing across my back. There’s nothing to flick out of my eyes or tuck behind my ears. And running my fingers through it only fills my hand with hair…
The thinning is quite noticeable, especially on top. I’m now at a point where I wonder if people are staring at me and wondering about my hair. I don’t want people staring at me. I don’t want people speculating about what kind of cancer I have that causes me to need chemo and be bald. I want people to see my light, that even in this trying journey, I have joy and can thrive in life because of who I am in Christ.
I expected this cancer diagnosis would be an emotional roller coaster, but I never expected the hair loss to be such a significant chunk of those emotions.
Here’s what I look like today:
** Some housekeeping: I have been posting links to this blog on Facebook as I know that’s how some of you are keeping up with this journey. If it would be easier, you are welcome to subscribe via email on the top left of this page (the orange box with the envelope). You will receive an email directly to your inbox of each post I publish here. Because of Facebook’s algorithms, I know some of you aren’t even seeing the update posts that have the blog link in them. Subscribing to email updates might help you in that area.
It’s wonderful to be feeling normal for now! Other than migraines, which I’ve always dealt with, all chemo side effects have subsided for this treatment cycle.
I truly struggled with the mouth problems and am thankful to know the approximate cycle of the intensity. I’ll be a little more prepared next time.
My next treatment is the [...]
What a journey this has already been.
I am grateful that we have a health insurance plan that is as comprehensive as it is. Unfortunately, even with that insurance plan, we have learned that there are some expenses that won’t be covered in regards to my medical care.
Not only are there medical expenses that we hadn’t [...]
I find that I’m slacking updating here. After I update on Facebook, I tend to forget there are those of you that are following along here because we aren’t friends on Facebook, or you don’t use Facebook. Sorry for the lag.
I had my first chemo infusion on Tuesday of last week. It’s not [...]
I never intended for this blog to end up like this. I wanted more than to just be updating you on my cancer diagnosis and treatment. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be working in much more than that in the weeks and months to come. We have friends and family all over the world and [...]
The view from our front porch – Alaska!
I’ve experienced that moment where you realize that life goes on. I have heard people refer to this when facing a life changing situation, but had never felt the impact of such a realization.
It’s true though, in the midst of really trying to wrap my brain around [...]