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One Year Ago

One year ago today, my life was forever changed by words no one ever imagines they’ll hear.

On August 12, 2014, I entered an exam room to receive the pathology results from a biopsy of a tumor in my left breast. A biopsy that had been performed exactly a week prior. As I sat there alone – the children were with a friend, and unfortunately Michael was away in Texas for work – I was a nervous wreck. The kids had no idea what was going on, or that I was seeing a doctor that morning, and I was able to maintain calm for them. But, once I dropped them off and began my drive to the base hospital, the reality of what I might find out in just a short while smacked me right in the face.

As the technician took my vital signs, she was absolutely shocked at my blood pressure… I reminded her to review my past, very steady, on the low side of normal history before she freaked out and had me lie down. You see, my blood pressure was higher than it has ever been (even during pregnancy), and protocol dictates they have the patient lie down for five minutes, then test again, then send them on to the emergency room if it isn’t better. I assured her that I was really just incredibly nervous and could actually feel inside of me that I had caused my own spike in blood pressure! She looked at my history and decided to try again anyway. Thankfully, I had concentrated on relaxing and helped bring it down just enough for her to let me be.

Dr. S was very kind and compassionate in the delivery of the breast cancer diagnosis. And he was very patient with me and answered the barrage of questions I threw at him after I pulled myself together. He even offered to schedule another appointment with me for the following week, since he wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get in to the oncologist before then. Overall, it wasn’t quite the retched experience I imagined it would be. I even came away with a piece of tangible advice that I immediately put into action.

After gathering the kids from our friend, driving home and feeding them lunch, I was finally able to call Michael and relay to him what I had just learned. He was as grounded and patient as ever. He did not falter, but simply stated “We’ll beat this.”

AND WE DID!

Michael was home the following day, several days earlier than he was suppose to be!

A year later I can look back on that day and it does, in some small way, feel like it was another person in that room. The months that followed were a blur and a slow moving, uphill train all at the same time. I’ve written some about the physical and emotional toll cancer has had on me, but please know that it didn’t only affect me. It affected my husband and our children, too. Probably in ways that I can’t even imagine.

My rock was strong for me, but I know he was hurting, too. He never really let me see it, but he showed that hurt to others who could help support him while he supported me. He always pointed me to scripture and to the infallible truth of God’s Word – never allowing me to pity myself or stay sad for too long.

And our kids, while absolutely resilient, wondered why they didn’t have many friends, why we couldn’t go out and do ‘stuff’, why I couldn’t remember things, why I was so darn grumpy (thank you steroids), and when they would ever feel normal again.

Our 11 year old son looks at me slightly differently now and notices when I’m not wearing my prosthesis. And I’m not very brave about going without it in public, but he did question me at the pool recently when my swim prosthesis hadn’t yet arrived, but I wanted to get into the pool with them. I did it anyway as a sign that there’s nothing wrong with being different, but let me just be honest and tell you that I don’t want to be different.

I have more to say on the emotional aspect of this journey, because it definitely isn’t over. I have many decisions still ahead of me – the biggest being about reconstruction. I’m incredibly thankful that my insurance company cannot put any limitation on me and force me to decide something before I’m ready. At this point, I still don’t actually know if I’m going to go through with it, and if I do what kind of reconstruction I’ll have. I also have a future filled with mammograms, CTs, and bone density scans (maybe – I’m not to keen on all that extra radiation – see, too many decisions). All that to go along with the long term side effects of treatment that I’m already experiencing.

Our family would be grateful if you would continue to pray for us.

 

Seven Months of Hair Growth

Well, I missed getting an updated posted in July. But I have a really good reason!  Our family just returned from 5 weeks away visiting Michael’s family in Australia!

 

We had such a wonderful trip. We were able to spend lots of time with family, attend the weddings of two of Michael’s sisters, do some sight seeing, and relax. It was a nice reprieve from the chaos that our lives have been for the last year. There were no medical appointments for me and not much thinking about cancer was done. We even took 5 days away for just the five of us to have a little mini-vacation. We stayed in a rental house a few hours away in a country, beach town. There we had very limited phone service and no wi-fi! We were able to spend the time traveling the coast and viewing many things we had not seen before on our travels to Australia. It truly was a great trip. As always, we were sad to leave our family members, but we are also grateful to be home and returning to normal. Though, I’m not a huge fan of having to return to my new reality and more medical appointments…

On to my hair – it’s a shocker!!

When I last posted, I told you how my hair seemed to be coming back curly, well, it’s curly alright. It’s curlier than anything I could have imagined! It’s also quite long, thick, and is definitely turning out to have a different texture than it did before.

I vacillate between being dismayed and amused with this new hair! In my younger, wavy days, I had read about the curly girl method and even gave up towel drying my hair (in favor of drying with an athletic shirt) many years ago. Now I’m back to reading up on the curly girl method and learning how to properly take care of curly hair. My hair/scalp has yet to see a conventional shampoo or conditioner as I’ve only been using completely natural, healthy products so far.

My goal is to keep my curls natural and damage free to give my hair the best chance for actually looking good. I’m still not sure how I feel about the way this crazy hair makes me look. I guess it’s just something I’ll have to get accustomed to, especially if the curls stick around once my hair is longer.

Five Months of Hair Growth

I think I say that I’m surprised or amazed at my hair growth in every one of these posts, but I truly mean it! I am really enjoying seeing the changes in each of these comparison photos.

Many years ago, before I had any kids, my hair was medium thickness, fine, and on the almost curly side of wavy. A good product, scrunch, and blow dry would leave it nicely curly. As the years have progressed and with each child birth, though it kept the same consistency, my hair got straighter and straighter. Finally, after the birth of Rachael in 2008, it was quite relaxed with only a few waves near my scalp.

Here is how my hair looked on my first day of chemo in September of 2014.

And here’s what it looks like now, just 5 months after it started growing again!

It’s definitely coming in wavy, but the texture does actually feel a little different. Maybe more coarse, but that could be a result of the extra gray that I now have. My gray hairs are super coarse, wild, and unruly! It does appear to be generally the same color, though.

I finally feel as though I’m at a point where I don’t stand out so much. I am not an attention seeker and it has made me very uncomfortable being stared at (by adults who should know better). I’m glad to be mostly out of that phase!

It seems as though I’ll be in a really awkward phase of growth pretty soon. Fine hair that is also wavy poses a styling challenge for sure – basically, even the tiniest amount of any product (including completely natural ones) make my hair look like I’ve been doused with a vat of grease. Fine hair does not hold product well and does all sorts of crazy things. Add to that the fact that fine hair that also happens to be wavy can get quite frizzy and ridiculous! So, I guess this will be a learning curve and I might just find myself being stared at again, but for completely different reasons.

My eyebrows and eyelashes remain about the same as last month. No noticeable difference, but I’m hopeful my eyebrows will fill in a little. They were quite light in color to begin with, but they are even lighter and more sparse now.

Homeschooling and Cancer

First day of school 2014-15.

We are nearing the end of our sixth year of homeschooling! A few years ago I wrote about what we love about homeschooling. All of those things still hold true, but as we have experienced this cancer season of life, we’ve come to have a new appreciation for what we’re doing.

Is this lifestyle always easy? Absolutely not. But, we feel that whatever sacrifices we have to make to our wants in life are worth it to be able to to continue in this journey.

This season of life has been exceptionally eye opening and has had many pros and cons, especially when it comes to school and the emerging big kid personalities of our children.

Jacob making granola

Our eldest is now 11 and very self motivated. This means he needs a significantly smaller portion of direct teaching than the other two. He’s also less likely to be distracted, and is trustworthy to work on any independent work without me having to micromanage him. This guy is a voracious reader and has worked his way into (parent-approved) YA and above material. Because we have chosen to educate at home, he is able to spend a significant portion of his day immersed in historical fiction, fiction, classic literature, and supplemental school reading and is quickly becoming a talented writer.  Jacob is quick to complete a task with a good attitude and has even taken over some of my own jobs – his favorite is making our weekly homemade breakfast granola!

Our middle guy is currently the epitome of a distracted child! He actually requires more redirecting than the youngest, but when truly motivated is a very diligent worker. He has different strengths and desperately needs more wiggle time than I’m sure he would get in a conventional school setting. Other than being physical, he is very drawn to music in many different forms. We have found that listening to music during school time improves his concentration and lessens his irritability, and he could easily spend hours each day at the piano. Eli has a compassionate old soul and is the first to offer help when someone is unwell. He has spent many hours over these last months checking on me and writing me heartfelt cards.

Eli at Lego Robotics class

Our sweet girl has an equally different personality to the other two. She’s still at the age where she adores school work. She has a very sensitive heart and if there ever was a child created by God to have a ‘words of affirmation’ love language, it’s this girl. My ever burgeoning card and note stash is evidence of that. She has an artists heart and her free time is filled with drawing, coloring, doodling, and making things for others.

Homeschooling during cancer has been a bit of a challenge, but it has also been a huge blessing. I have been able to lesson plan a month at a time and usually find a few days at the end of the last lesson period that I’m feeling well enough to sort out lessons for the upcoming month. I try to get everything ready, including all pages I need to copy and supplemental library books procured, so the month will run fairly smoothly. We drop history and art as needed and simply work on them on days I feel well enough to spend the time doing those subjects.

Rachael's notes and cards

Michael and I also recently discussed how much more difficult this season would have been if I had been faced with getting the kids up and ready for school (including breakfast, hair, lunches, etc.) each morning and then being available for them at the end of the school day. I realize plenty of people live their lives successfully that way – even during major life altering illness – but I think it would have been so much harder for me. For me, the logistics of cancer were actually made slightly easier by having my children home. There was always someone home to provide help or assistance in any way necessary. I was also able to give them bits and pieces of my attention during the day rather than having to focus all of my energy on meeting their needs first thing in the morning, and then again having a rush of energy, chattering, and needs to be met when school let out.

The most challenging thing we have faced in regards to this education lifestyle has been the ever present need for childcare. Something we would have needed far less of if the children had been at school each day. Thankfully, God has blessed us with some amazing local friends! On the days when Michael isn’t available (sometimes I take the kids to his office, other times he comes home) or wants to attend an appointment with me, we have friends who homeschool and welcome a few extra kids into their day, we have friends who have young children and are already at home with them and can take ours in, we have a high school friend who can come over right after school for late afternoon appointments, and we also have a recently retired from the military friend who is able to help out.

For less ‘personal’ things like lab draws or pharmacy visits, they just tag along with me as they always would. They’ve had a few “Are you out of school today?” questions, and I have been absolutely surprised at how well their answers have been received. Some of them have even spurred conversations with the adult who inquired!

While I stand by the fact that cancer is absolutely not a road I would have chosen to travel, we have been blessed the entire time.

 

Four Months of Hair Growth

Are you getting tired of these hair updates yet? I’m definitely still in awe of how my body is recovering, but I don’t want to overload you with updates on how I look…

I continue to be amazed at how my body is recovering. I did take a full month off of most activities after my recent surgery (I’m glad I did, because it was truly necessary), but I feel great now. I have even been back to exercising again for the last couple of weeks. We have had lovely weather recently which has made it even nicer since I am able to go on family hikes and explorations. I have also taken the children to a few of our local homeschool group’s Friday park outings. They’re held at different parks each week, so it has given us a chance to get to experience new-to-us parks and trails, and helps us feel like we truly have rejoined the civilized world!

I love that I’m feeling less self conscious as each day passes. I am naturally very much a plain Jane and though I do still garner a stare or second take often, there isn’t as much blatant staring happening. And often it’s not children (who likely haven’t been exposed to bald women!) who stare. Along with my plain Jane-ness I am also very non-confrontational and do not posses the gift of quick wit. This has left me feeling very exposed and vulnerable a few times, but thankfully, not many.

I do wonder what goes through someone’s mind when they do stare. Are they curious what kind of cancer I’ve had, do they wonder what’s wrong with me because I don’t look sick, do they think maybe it’s just a butchered hair cut, or something else entirely? I am thankful for friends and family who have continued to see me as they did before. I am thankful for new friends I’ve met on this journey. And I’m thankful for all those stares – maybe they’re teaching me something I don’t even realize.

I have an oncology appointment at the end of next week where I will receive the results from my latest CT scans and bone density scan. I would appreciate if you would continue to keep me in your prayers.

15 Years

September, 2014 – Air Force Memorial, Washington, DC

My dearest Michael,

15 years ago you promised to always be mine. Sometimes I wonder if you really knew what you were getting into!

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