Sunday, May 6, 2018

"I just want it to be over!"

Recently, I was visiting with a newly diagnosed Breast Cancer patient who was looking forward to getting "it" all behind her. Part of the reason we connected was so I could help her manage her expectations. It's such a tender time being newly diagnosed. Everybody's case is so unique, but it's safe to say, if the patient is having surgery & chemo, she will have some long-lasting effects. Suffice it to say, when a newly diagnosed patient has the expectation of reaching the finish line (which is always the case), I have to think of the gentlest way to try to get her to frame a different "picture."

It's hard for a Survivor to wrap her head around the fact that this atrocity is not going to end. As a Survivor, she sets her eye on the end date, usually about a year (depending on the regiment prescribed for her case). Whatever the specifics, she may be bracing herself for surgery, chemo, & radiation (not necessarily in that order). She fixes her eye on that last treatment, & says, "I can do this; I will do this. For my family, my children, my spouse, myself... I will do this."

As I sit visiting with her, I know where her head is because I remember the most tender moments of my life. The early days of this diagnosis qualify. I don't want to traumatize her anymore than she already is, but I also don't want her to be mislead. My cousin who is so dear to me is also a Survivor. We reconnected after a lifetime (almost) through our Breast Cancer journeys. She was less than one year out, & I was about 4 years out. I remember how she kept saying, "I thought this would be over. I was so clueless until this happened to me. I just never knew."

I try to look the new Survivor in the eye with all the compassion I have for her (which is pretty much all of me) & quietly suggest that she might want to reframe her picture. I explain that as much as we want this journey to end, perhaps a safer or healthier way to picture "it," is to try to embrace it. I remember when my counselor suggested I look for the gifts along the way. I came home that day & wrote a blog that went something like this..."Can you believe it? My counselor told me to look for the gifts on this journey. What the Heck!"

Well... I'm 6 years down the road now. I look back & easily get a lump in my throat. I look at new Survivors, & my heart is heavy. My road continues. The journey does not end, not the fear, not the unknown, not the longterm effects... I am forever changed both on the outside & on the inside. The surprises keep coming, & I keep accepting them. I have no other choice. I surrender, but I hang on for dear life (sometimes by a thread). Some people get it. Some don't. My relationships are deeply impacted. I am sorry for those who have to hear my story over & over & over. BUT, I do believe the best advice I was ever given was to look for the gifts along the way. The treasures are many & the depth of those treasures are the trade-off for this journey.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

It's not OK for you!

So... today it happened. I walked into Susan G. Komen Memorial Affiliate, & there it was! I had to wait to see it because I had to attend to a few other things first. There was Katie. There was Jeanette, and of course, Linda, & Jordan.  I didn't see Gail. I had to hug each one of them. I had to thank each one of them for their prayers, their words of encouragement, & for caring for me. I haven't been there for a while, & as I walked thru the doors, it felt like home. Home Sweet Home.

Unless you've had a reason to walk thru these doors in the shoes of a Survivor, you might not understand what this place means to me.  It's a refuge. It has an atmosphere that welcomes the Survivor, & says, "I am here for you." When I think of the story of Susan G. Komen & why & how this organization was founded, I understand the meaning of leaving a legacy. There is a saying that "A legacy is not something you leave for people. It's something you leave in people."

Over the last 6 years, I have thought about the legacy I hope to leave. The women I mentioned above... Katie, Jeanette, Linda, Jordan, & Gail. They & a few others are leaving a legacy. Not only are they carrying on the legacy of Susan G. Komen, they are doing it with their own touch (each of them). The older I get, the more thankful I am for compassion & understanding. When I walk thru these doors, I see pink (my favorite color). I see these women working so hard on my behalf. One of them (the youngest) is a Survivor. They all have a heart for the Survivor.

Because of them, I am alive. They represent HOPE. They know so much about this awful disease, & they give their lives to that one day it will be eradicated. I don't know why they care so much. Yes, they earn a salary, but I believe they give far more than they take. Yes, they have to live, to put food on their tables, & support families. Many volunteer to help, but these women; they never stop. I think when they awake in the middle of the night, they ponder what they can do to find this much needed cure. Why do they care so much?

When I donate my own $ to this cause, I know that it is well used. When I ask friends to donate, I believe in this cure. It is just around the corner. I want it so bad! I want it for my daughters, for my grand daughters, for my cousin, for my fellow Survivors, for my friends, for the people who will come after me. You see, people who never knew me went before me. They tried to find a cure for me, & they didn't even know me. I don't know who the next Survivor will be. Will it be someone I love?

Lump in throat. I cannot bear the thoughts of this. It's worse than my own cancer returning. I have walked this journey for 6 years. If you know me deeply, you know what it's done to me. I have embraced this journey. Even tho' it's currently wreaking havoc in my life, I still embrace it. It's okay for me, but "NO, it's not OK for you!" I finally got to it. My Pink Shirt! I can't even begin to explain what this Pink Shirt means to me. No words for that!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

in the quiet

As the day winds down, dusk comes, & the dust settles. My heart begins to quiet as it continues to process the news of the day. I now have a date for my procedures. It is a month away, & I have to be okay with that. It's complicated as it always is for everyone. Nothing is simple in the world of medicine. I have been doing this for 6 years now. It's time I "let go" of the things I cannot control. We don't always get our way in life, & I believe it's important to be a good sport.

So I will wait, & I will apply the things I have learned that make the wait a bit easier. I will keep busy, pray, refocus, focus, listen to uplifting music, live in the moment... I will enjoy my grand babies & plainly do the best I can. It isn't the procedures that bother me. I will be put out. It's waiting for the results that gets me every time. I wish medicine could alleviate the anxiety of waiting, but I will not bank my hopes on that.

As for the procedures. I'll be honest. I don't want them. Many women have said, "Oh, I've had that. It isn't bad."  I'd like to believe them. I do, but we each have our own story, our own baggage, & who knows what the impact will be on me? Will cancer be found? Will lymph nodes be involved? If the answer to either of those questions is yes, what will I do? How will I respond? What am I willing to endure?

There's 2 sides to every health issue, the emotional side & the medical side. Both have a great impact on one's overall well being. There are 2 sides to every doctor, their knowledge, & their bedside manner. Both impact the overall well being of the patient. It's so much to process, so much to think about, so much to put on the back burner & live life to the full regardless of the answers to those questions. And, I suppose there are 2 sides to every patient, the side others see & the side that's tucked away in the quiet of the heart...

It's the place a friend or loved one sees only if invited. I believe it's sacred. It's the innermost part of a human, perhaps it's the soul. The way the soul responds is everything. It determines what the person gives to others, what she shares, perhaps her eternity.  It determines the well being of the person in spite of  her circumstances. It allows the person to say, "It is well with my soul. It is well."

Monday, April 23, 2018

That's its personality.

You've heard of MBC. I'm guessing that unless you have Metastatic Breast Cancer or love someone who does, you may not really know what it's about. As the current commercial says, "It's relentless." I have watched this relentless disease take the lives of a few close friends, & the lives of a few friends I can only wish I knew better. It's too late.

I must pay tribute to a few... Jenny, Elizabeth, Brenda, Bilinda, Amy. Some of these women were young & had young children. Some were in my age range with grown children & perhaps grand children. I have 2 friends now with metastatic breast cancer. I admire both of them so much. I believe they both have teenagers. One of them defines positivity & the other, fierceness. I believe it takes both of these qualities to survive MBC.

There seems to be similar threads to each breast cancer journey. Each person's story is unique, but as God has blessed me to know these remarkable women, I have picked up on some signs which make my heart sink, signs which make me know that the odds are not so good or just took a sudden dive. It's hard to understand. Life is hard. When the breast cancer cloud rests over your family's head, things are never quite the same, especially if it becomes metastatic.

So what is metastatic? Metastatic means the breast cancer has metastasized. It has gone to another part of the body & taken up residence with the desire to multiply & grow. That's its personality. By this time, it's usually aggressive, relentless. So where does this insidious disease land once it leaves the breast? The most common sites are brain, blood, bones, & liver. However, it's been known to show up in other places too.

All of the amazing women mentioned above fought to the end. They tried chemo after chemo until the list was exhausted. Then, they became candidates for experimental drugs. They never gave up. They fought for the love of their families. They hung on for one more day, day after day. Their quality of life was deeply impacted, but for one more day with their beloved family, they hung on. As I remember each of them, I could be more specific because it seems each of them transitioned into the Heavenly realm in their own way, yet in similar fashion. I am going to stop here out of respect for each of them & because it's too painful for me to recount.

Susan G. Komen has a goal to decrease MBC by 50%. If you donate to this cause (my cause), your contribution will go toward research, toward helping local Survivors receive much needed screening & care, & other things too. You can look on the website & get the specifics. From my point of view, research is what will save lives. Science is on the brink of much in this department, but the answer still has not been found. Yet, we get closer & closer. What will it take to eradicate Breast Cancer?

It will take success in treating remarkable women like Jenny, Elizabeth, Brenda, Bilinda, & Amy... With each success, we will be one step closer. Each time someone donates to my team, I get a bit excited. My heart begins to race. My eyes well up a little bit. I thank God. It warms my heart because I know that person cares about me & about my cause. It's a simple way to bless another person, yet it means more than you could know unless you too are a Survivor or love a Survivor.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

She cries...

Yesterday, I cried. It's okay to cry. I believe crying is healing. It was a hard day, not because I received terrible news. I didn't. It's just that my reserves are low from an accumulation of health issues, & what the doctor said I needed was too much to hear (at that moment). It was another act of surrender for me, & I knew that was my only choice. There were no options. This is the order of how we proceed. For my good, we cannot skip a step. I'm impatient at my best. At that moment, all I heard was more waiting. I just want to be done. I don't want my mind to be consumed with this another day. Too bad for me. Surrender.

I believe that an important component of the breast cancer journey is surrender. We talk so much about the fight. "Fight like a Girl!" Yeah, before the tornado, I had a pink ball cap I loved to wear. It said, "Fight like a Girl." Back then, it was about fight. "Never give up! Kick cancer in the butt!" You know... this whole attitude is prevalent amongst cancer survivors & their cheer leaders. Truth is, that's not who I am. I am strong (most days). Most days, I would like to kick cancer from here to Texas. But truly, I'm much more about surrender than fight.

If you think about it, fighting takes much more out of our bodies than surrender. Yes, most everyone wants the cancer patient to fight. It seems the natural, admirable thing to do. It seems right. You've been dealt this hand, now fight. Boss that cancer back, & tell it where to go! Yes, I think we who walk this journey have all felt that way. It's not that I too don't feel that way; it's just that I walk this life in relationship with my Lord & Savior. It isn't that I think He doesn't want me to fight. I believe in gratitude, & I am grateful for every day; yes, even the bad ones.

However, I think my Lord offers me another way. It isn't giving up. It isn't lack of gratitude for each breath I am given. No. It's an acknowledgment of what is within my power to change & what is not. It isn't about resentment toward cancer or hating it. It's about a relationship with the Lord that gives me strength for each day. It means I don't have to be strong. I can be weak. I can cry. I can process my news, & I don't have to like it. I can be angry or bitter for a while, but in time, I simmer down. I place myself back in God's hands, knowing He has the whole picture. I don't. I rest in Him. I am conscious. I am alive. But I don't have to fight. I don't have to resent, to hate, or even be strong. I can simply just be. I can rest in Him, knowing that whatever comes my way, He (at the very least) allowed it.

This doesn't make me mad at Him. No. I believe my life is my story, my calling. I hear God saying that I am to live my life to the full (whatever that means for me). I am to trust in Him. I do. It's okay to be filled with fear, to cry, to have a complete meltdown. It's okay to hate cancer, but I have a choice. My choice is to see the gifts along the way. I promise you, the treasures you find on this journey, & the stuff you pull out of yourself, they are more than you could ever expect. They are brilliant surprises that give you strength for the next thing. They are the gifts you hold on to. They teach you how to take your next step. They give you a deep sense of what matters & what doesn't. They are where I meet God, & I thank Him for my journey, because without this journey, I would never know Him the way I do.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

It's incomplete, but I must share...

Dear Friends (those who care, those who pray, & those who share encouraging words),

I am writing this blog as a letter to you because it is very personal to me as is my gratitude for each of you. I don't have a final answer to my health problems, but because you care, I want you to know what I know. My purpose in writing this blog has always been to increase awareness in others so that they may not be caught off guard if they end up on a journey similar to mine, called LIFE. Of course, you can never prepare yourself for certain types of news (good or bad) or for how you will handle these unpreparable situations in life.

I have good news to share that came in a very round-a-bout way. I won't get into the specifics, but I am thankful God works in mysterious ways. I think it is safe to say at this point that NO CANCER was found. For this I am eternally grateful. I can handle what's next in this department even tho' I don't yet know what that is.  It may take some time to get an answer. You know how doctor's offices work. I admit that I am an impatient person. I like answers. I like to know what's ahead of me so I can prepare my heart & mind. Sad for me & for others out there who are wired like me, but that is NOT how the world works (especially the medical world). There is no way around it. Waiting is hard for many. Some of us are better at this than others. If "practice made perfect," I'd be much better at it!

My oldest daughter pointed out to me when I shared my last blog that I should share the details of what I'm going thru so that others may know & be aware. She thinks that many women would not know to call the doctor if "this" happened to them. For that reason, I have chosen to share. Suffice it to say, sharing the specifics is not within my comfort realm, but I feel lead to do so. It's simple. One day I was having a really good day, spending time with family & grandkids, out & about, enjoying life. When I got home, I noticed (when I went to the bathroom) that I had some spotting. Immediately, my inner alarm sounded. I knew this wasn't good, but I didn't think it merited what followed in the days ahead...

The next step was a pelvic ultrasound. A uterine biopsy followed that. News just came yesterday that no cancer was found. I am so grateful for that news alone & for the person who was willing to give me my results. Being able to breathe that sigh of relief was nothing I would ever take for granted. Plain & simple, I am grateful. The next step may be nothing. It could mean a change in medication, a procedure, or surgery. These options do not induce fear in my soul. I know I can get thru them, & I will. The thoughts of cancer shook me pretty badly. It didn't rattle my faith. I am not afraid of dying. It just took the wind out of my sails. Of course, I began to imagine leaving my grandchildren & how they would be impacted by my passing. My counselor says this is a human response, actually quite normal. Other Survivors have been kind enough to share this path with me. I know the outcome of that, & that scares me for my loved ones. Not that they can't do life without me, I just want to be here to pour into them & share life with them. I believe that is all in God's timing, not mine.

In closing, I can NEVER adequately express the meaning of your kindness in my life. It puts the wind back in my sails. It fills my heart with warmth. It lifts my spirit & assures me that I am not alone. It takes my breath away (but in a good way)! Heartfelt love too all of you. Please know I love to pray for you too!

Love, Susie

Monday, April 16, 2018

She waits...

It happened almost a few weeks ago. Suddenly a new symptom. Do I call my doctor? Maybe it's nothing. I don't know what to do. Is it cancer? Has it come back? Maybe I'm jumping the gun. I don't want to get ahead of myself. One step at a time. I call the doctor. I go for a test. I get a biopsy. Now I'm waiting. The results will take 1-2 weeks. What's next?

If you are a cancer survivor, these thoughts may have crossed your mind. After all, if it happened once, it can happen again. To all survivors, I ask, "How do we wait?" Do we google? We don't have enough knowledge to understand what we read, but the temptation! Everybody does it. Doctors expect it.

Keeping busy? That helps. If I keep busy, my mind stays occupied. If I live in the moment, I'm NOT robbed of my joy. I focus on the present, not the future. If I look into the eyes of my pets, I feel better. If I take a moment to talk to them & pet them, I feel better. If I listen to my grandchildren, I can't help but laugh. If one of them hugs me, kisses my cheek, or calls my name, it's like magic. I can even forget my troubles. When I interact with them, they are all I see. They capture me, all of me.

What do I do when anxiety rolls in (without my permission)? I try to refocus. I've gotten better at this. I've had practice. It helps. It's become a habit. I have a choice. I don't have to live in the fear of my future. I can think about other things. I have a respit.

I have family. I have daughters, cousins, & friends. They care about me. They are here for me. It's okay to share my fears with them. They can take it. I don't have to be strong. They know me. They don't judge me for my frailties. They listen, they pray, they bear my burdens with me. They make me feel better. They are my escape. I love them. I need them. I lean on them. I pray for them.

I must ask myself, "What can I control?" The answer, nothing. This is out of my control. I cannot control the outcome. I did nothing to bring this on myself, & if I did, it's water under the bridge. It doesn't matter now. No, now the only thing within my power is how I wait. Again, I do have a choice. I have chosen to put myself in the Lord's hands. I trust Him. He has the whole picture. I don't.  I trust that whatever befalls me. He is with me. I pray. I know that His presence is my everything. With Him, I am okay even if I am not okay. He is with me.