Friday, November 1, 2013

My Blog Has Been Hijacked!

Blessing the Honeybee 

Hello faithful friends, family and followers of our favorite honeybee.  My name is Sarah, and I have the privilege of hijacking Melissa’s blog today for a very special reason.


If you are reading this blog then you are well aware of the journey our dear friend has been on over the past year. She was given the news of breast cancer in February 2013 and has brought us along for each and every step right here on her blog.  She has shared the triumphs along with the heartache.  She has shared pictures which explode with joy in the midst of the unknown. She has opened her heart to us in the messy as well as in the beautiful.  She has fought this battle with courage, dignity and glowing with the grace of God.


I have known Melissa for a few years now, and the memory which shines brightest occurred towards the beginning of our friendship.  A few of us women joined our then fearless leader in women’s ministry for a weekend away up north.  We celebrated each other.  We laughed, cried and one of us may have injured ourselves running from the creatures in the woods. We left that weekend ready to tackle whatever it was that God has in front of us; individually and as a team.  Little did we know that in just a short time our dear Melissa would receive that life-changing piece of news. I look back at that time in the woods together and there is one moment which has been etched on my heart forever.  We were gathered around the kitchen table and given the lead to write words of encouragement on post-it notes and stick them to those women God had placed around the table.  The five of us were covered in squares of multiple colors.  Words such as “gracious”, “loving”, “kind” were flying left and right.  There were post-it notes on our heads, arms and backs and soon they were falling to the ground in piles.  The love of God was flowing strong.  We read the notes out-loud, with tears streaming and hands held tight.  The truth mixing with the soul-deep love exploded in pure friendship. I remember reading one very special note, which as I type this brings back that overflow of emotion I felt when my eyes first read the word written across this blue piece of paper:


….for you have a special place in my heart…. Phillipipans 1:7b


Those words brought a over pour of emotion which fell down my face in a stream of tears. Words which were beyond soothing to my battered heart, and words which ignited a friendship that has been one of life’s greatest blessings.


I tell you this story for one reason – for I am sure if we were standing in a room together at this moment the stories would go on for days on how this beautiful woman of God has created a special place in the hearts of everyone she touches.


Even if you have never met this amazing woman in person, through the words of this blog I am sure she has found a place in your heart. 

It is on this blog where she writes about the hardships and trials of a woman battling breast cancer….but that isn’t all.  She write about God showing up in the big and in the mundane.  She has proven that God can reach down into something messy like cancer and create something beautiful and eternally impacting.  She exudes trust with each word typed across the screen.  She displays faith with each step taken toward victory.  She does all of this and continues to love others like Jesus.

Now it is our turn to return that very love.

She has come so far.  Carried by the very hands of the God she shines with every aspect of her being.  He showed up through surprise donations. He has shown up through hand-cooked meals. He has shown up through hugs, smiles and emails.  She has come so far, but she isn’t done yet. And neither are we.

This next year she will face continued chemo, reconstructive surgery, doctor visits and the mounting ‘every day’ expenses that come with battling cancer.  The Borners also face the new year which for many bring new deductibles with her insurance.  The expenses are mounting while the physical burdens are still ever-present.  While we cannot take away the burden of cancer, we can help shoulder the burden of expenses.

That is where Blessing the Borners comes in.

What is Blessing the Borners?  It is a holiday boutique.  It is an online auction. It is a fundraiser.  However, more than those things it is a prayer.  A prayer that God would continue to show up in the hearts and hands of those he surrounds Melissa with.  A prayer that we can take the teachings of Bible and put them into action; becoming the hands and heart of Jesus himself.  A prayer that God would take our 5 loves and 2 fish and feed thousands.

I encourage you to hop over to and read about the many ways in which you can help ease the financial burden being carried by this family.  Read about the holiday boutique being held on November 10, with a portion of all proceeds going to the Borner Family….then spread the word. Read about, and shop, the Online Auction (which is growing as we speak) where all proceeds are going to this dear family.  Click around and continue to read about the growing number of other ways in which you can financially and practically Bless this family.

But please, whatever steps you take after reading this blog post I urge you to keep this Honeybee and her beautiful family in your prayers.  For the One who hears those prayers has  the power to do more than ease these burdens…he has the power to heal.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Divine Miscalculation

Last week I celebrated another victory!  Radiation is done!  Woohoo!  That morning as I drove Ella to school, we prayed for the day and I thanked God that this was my last day of radiation.  Ella gave me a half-hearted cheer and then asked: "Does this mean we have to go out to eat at a restaurant tonight?" She knew we would be celebrating, but I let her decide how we were going to celebrate this milestone.  That explains how I found myself eating Chinese food and watching a Barbie movie.  I got a certificate and a Rocky Mountain Chocolate bar from the Radiation Therapy staff for completing radiation!  The staff there was great, but I will not miss the thirty minute drive there every day!


Radiation is actually finishing a little earlier than planned due to a slight miscalculation.  The first 31 treatments were a little hotter than they wanted.  So they started the boost (a superficial treatment around the scar) early and I finished sooner than anticipated.  This was another perfect example of the roller coaster of emotions that a cancer diagnosis and treatment brings.  When the radiation oncologist told me what had happened, I didn't feel a whole lot of anything. It didn't seem like a big deal.  I thanked him for telling me, but also said that he could have not said anything and I wouldn't have known the difference.  He said that was never an option and as much as he hated to have to tell someone a mistake had been made, honesty was important to him.  He went on to say that he could remember the last night this happened.  Six years ago. They do not like it when things do not go perfectly as planned. Then I started to get a little anxious.  This doesn't happen all the time.  So I asked all the questions that I could think of.  No, I wouldn't get radiation poison.  No, I wasn't given an unsafe dose.  No, there shouldn't be any long-term complications.  No, that's not why I've been scratching my skin off. No, I don't get a discount on radiation.  He compared it to making change for a $20 bill.  You can get the change in many different ways, but it will still be $20.  I got the radiation that I needed, just a little quicker!  

I called Rick to fill him in and did not expect the reaction I got!  He RARELY gets upset.  I can think of three times in the almost fourteen years I've known him.  This was number four.  That got me thinking maybe I should be more upset.  So I tried that emotion out. Why did this happen to me out of how many thousands of patients they see each year? Then I got over it and convinced Rick that my life was not in jeopardy. It took a day or two to calm him down and convince him we were not suing the hospital.  It's a week later and I can't be sure, but can't help but wonder what if it was a divine miscalculation so I would get exactly what I needed beyond what the computers or doctors thought I needed?  I'll never know, but choose to live knowing that nothing that happens to me is beyond what is in my best interest.  God does know a thing or two about healing!

I met with my plastic surgeon today.  After looking at the radiation site, she said my skin looked amazing, to keep doing whatever I was doing.  She called another doctor in to look at it.  Then a nurse.   They didn't believe me that I had been through six weeks of radiation.  Since my skin fared so well, we can stick pretty close to the six month mark to do the reconstructive surgery.  Or when she gets backs from her maternity leave. Whichever happens first.  We talked for a while and I couldn't help but burst with thanksgiving for the amazing physicians that God led me to. 

 I called Dr. Burroughs to make an appointment for a yearly physical and he answered the phone (since he sent his office staff out for a spa day to celebrate the one year anniversary of his new practice) and scheduled my appointment as well as some extra time to catch up.  He has called throughout the process to find out how I've been doing and to let me know he and his staff were praying for me.  As far as I'm concerned, compassionate care and customer service doesn't get any better than that!

The end of radiation also marks the end of meals.  They have been coming steadily since surgery.  I lost track, but I do know that at least 140 meals were so lovingly and generously prepared and delivered.  That. Is. CRAZY!  I can't even begin to put words together to express our deep appreciation and gratitude for all of you who loved us with food!  I also got some great recipes to use as I try to remember how to cook again! 

Pam Hawley is hard at work again coordinating people and things to help make sure that our financial needs are met.  Thanks, Pam!  She's started another fund drive, or whatever it is called, at  I burst into tears as I read what she wrote and quickly relived everything we've been through since February.  It's been hard.  But it's also been full of joy.  I've never been alone through any of it.  We're trusting God to see us through to the end.  He is so good to us!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Tattoos, Sunburn and Hot Flashes

So…it’s been a while.  Life marches on regardless of my treatment schedule so I’m just doing my best to keep up and pretend my life is normal!
My sisters, Jamie and Ali, came up at the beginning of September to celebrate our birthdays.  We went to Buca Di Beppo for dinner.  A tiny part of me died when the chicken marsala didn't taste like it used to and I found out they're playing around with new recipes. Don't do that.  The next morning we got up early to head to the Great Minnesota Get-Together.  Ella's treat.  She won 8 tickets from the library for their summer reading program. It was a beautiful day in the middle of a heat wave but by late afternoon the crowds were so thick. We ate our milk and Sweet Martha's cookies and left.  I love when our family is all together.  That’s my happy place.
Ella started first grade this year.  It was a huge adjustment to have her in school five days a week.  She did fine with it.  I missed her like crazy the first couple weeks and even thought about keeping her home from school so I could play with her.  But then I looked at my to do list and was thankful to have days to myself to get everything done!  She absolutely loves school and is doing great.  Her slightly over protective mother even lets her ride the bus home in the afternoon.
I started radiation the week after school started.  Radiation is weird.  After the mapping simulator CT scan, my radiation oncologist, Dr. McBride, and a team of physicists worked up the radiation treatment plan and we got started. The radiation machine is called a linear accelerator and is HUGE. I have to be in the exact same position on the table for every treatment.  So they made a pillow that they molded to my arms and head and I have to lay very still.  There are laser lines and rulers that help the techs get me in perfect position.  They use my new tattoos to help get things lined up.  The tattoos look like little black freckles, but they are tattoos and I will always them!  Once that’s done, they leave the room and close the door behind them.  The door is also HUGE.  I keep meaning to measure it, but I bet it’s close to a foot thick.  There are a series of lead plates in the gantry that shift to allow the radiation beam to get exactly where it needs to go.  It’s very precise. The gantry starts slightly to my right side and moves toward the left.  It stops eight times and each blast of radiation is about 90 seconds.  And that’s that. I don't see anything and don't feel anything. The whole process takes about 10 minutes.  It takes me longer to drive to St Johns!  I do this five days a week.  Monday through Friday.  The weekends off give my healthy cells a chance to recharge.  In the beginning the treatment wasn’t bad, just very inconvenient.  Now as I finish my fourth week of treatment I’ve got a mild sunburn and rash and feel the need to walk around with mittens on so I don’t scratch my skin off.  It itches so bad.   Fourteen treatments left!!
I also started taking Tamoxifen.  My cancer is positive for estrogen receptors (ER+), which means estrogen promotes growth of cancer cells and the Tamoxifen blocks the effects of estrogen on these cells.  I almost wish I could do weekly chemo instead of this. Just a few of the side effects: hot flashes, constant hotness, facial flushing, moodiness and irritably, weight gain, blood clots, anxiety, dizziness, fatigue, and possible cancer and on and on.  Yuck. 
I still have Herceptin therapy (a type of chemo) once  month, too.  After the last treatment of Herceptin only, I did get a little nauseous and everything I ate tasted funny.  That was all for side effects though.  I’m okay with that.  Herceptin targets the protein on the cells that makes my cancer HER2+, and more aggressive than a non HER2+ cancer.  I will continue once a month Herceptin treatments until June of next year. 
Mondays are usually my chemo days, but Dr. Shanks was completely booked, so treatment had to pushed to Tuesday.  Which also happened to be my birthday.  I decided that it was the chemo that was helping to keep me alive to celebrate many more birthdays, so spending my birthday in chemo wasn’t all that bad.  After a delicious crepe breakfast with a sweet friend I headed to chemo.  My mom and grandma, who now goes by GG (short for Great Grandma) joined me for treatment.  After sharing some of the racing that my heart has been doing, I got a birthday EKG! It wasn't normal, but wasn't abnormal enough to need to take any action. Just had a few lazy waves.  When chemo was finished and I got unhooked, the nurses and staff all came to my chair and sang Happy Birthday to me and gave me a cupcake! It was so sweet and made my day!  They sure do go above and beyond for their patients.  I will miss them when June rolls around and I don’t need to go visit them anymore.  I left chemo for radiation and was celebrated there as well!  The day ended with dinner at Pier 500 in Hudson.  With all the phone calls, e-mails, texts and Facebook messages that came through that day, I felt so loved!  So thank you all for making me feel so special! I got to cash in my birthday present from my mom and the two of us went to see Wicked at the Orpheum on Wednesday. Oh.  My.  I loved it. 
Back in the spring I took on the volunteer role of Director of Women’s Ministry at Five Oaks.  I fought this for several months.  The timing was horrible and really didn’t make sense to take something like this on when I already had so much going on.  But I finally surrendered and waved my white flag of obedience.  Summer was pretty easy.  We built our team and had a few planning meetings here and there.  Our team is incredible.  Working with these women is a huge blessing.  And we have fun together.  We had a worship night to kick off the year and then started studies in the middle of September.  I am still in awe of this team and how much they did in those two weeks!!  I’ve got front row seats for a great year!
I’m tired of treatment.  Just being honest here.  I’m ready to be done.  Eight months of dealing with all the emotions and appointments and treatments and insurance and bills and side effects and fatigue gets to be a bit much!  I’m feeling a little weary. Planning for Ella’s birthday party and a little birthday surprise/Radiation-is-over present planning is occupying my time and helping to keep my distracted. And then there's always someone waiting just around the corner to encourage me.  A dear friend gave me a mug that said: "You are a fighter, a survivor, a woman of faith and strength.  You are a tough opponent for any challenge.  Even the big "C" is no match for you because you belong to an even bigger "C"."  That was just what I needed.  Right when I needed it.  The next day I got this:
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month in case you haven’t figured that out yet.  So if you are of mammogramming age, make sure you’re getting your annual mammogram.  If you’re not there yet, don’t forget your monthly self-check.  A friend/co-worker was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and I can’t tell you how sick that made me feel. As much as I love helping others, I don't want to have to share my wig lady or books that help break the news to little ones.  Trust me on this one, a couple moments of squishing and squeezing is far easier to deal with than cancer! I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I’ve been through! (stepping off my soapbox.)

Monday, August 26, 2013

What Comes Next

First things first.

1.  About the MRI results....
Well, after I had filled out all my paper work and waited about forty-five minutes, the MRI tech read my paper work and noticed where I checked the box for expanders and said, "Just Kidding.  You can't go near the MRI machine as long as you have those in." Duh.  I should have known that.  So they contacted my oncologist and got him to write an order for a head CT.  So another forty-five minutes later I was able to get my head checked.  My OB/GYN called me a day or two later with the results.  All clear.  Negative.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  Sigh of relief.  Thanks God.

2.  About the genetic testing results....
They tested for the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes, for Lynch Syndrome and for some other things that have letter and number conversations that I didn't take time to remember.  But those test came back and they were all negative.  That leaves us back where we started, with absolutely no idea where this cancer came from.  But I don't really care.  I don't need to know.  God's still got this.  He is still good.  Praise the Lord.  My sisters and Ella will still need to be screened earlier/more often than they would if I didn't have breast cancer.  But I don't need to be hyper-vigilant about getting a colonoscopy and worry about needing a hysterectomy in three years. 

This morning I met my Radiation Oncologist, Dr McBride.  He went over the whole Radiation process and what to expect, what to do, what not to do and then filled us in on the potential risk factors.  There aren't that many, and the likelihood that I get them is low, but I was already trying to retain my composure after the nurse had told me about the side effects.  I had heard that it can feel like a sun burn that won't go away and that's about it for side effects.  That is a side effect, but she also said that compounding fatigue is also one.  NO!!  I thought I was done with fatigue!  As the week wears on from Monday to Friday the fatigue will increase.  It will also get worse the longer I am receiving radiation.  This makes sense as the body is working overtime to rebuild healthy cells.  But I really thought I was done with being tired! The other risk factors include decreased lung function in the left lobe, potential cardiac issues since the heart is on the left side of the body, increased chance of rib fracture and more. I was scheduled for a mapping simulator CT scan for later this week.  This will give Dr. McBride and the team of physicists the information they need to prepare the treatment plan for me.  This whole process is nothing like I imagined.  There's so much involved! I left there feeling a little depressed.

After that appointment at St. Johns we drove to Woodwinds for the first of my every three week Herceptin treatment.  I met with Mark and we talked about where things were and what would be coming in the future.  He answered a lot of questions I had and some questions that some of you have asked that I didn't have answers to.  A phrase kept popping up that I couldn't help but smile at: "curable breast cancer."  My stage 3b breast cancer, even though it was quite large, even though there were many lymph nodes involved is considered curable.  The tumor was removed.  The chemo has done it's thing and now the radiation will make sure that no cancer cells survive.  He gave me a prescription for Tamoxifen.  I'll be taking this hormone therapy for 5-10 years.  My cancer is estrogen responsive and the Tamoxifen will block cancer cell growth that is typically enhanced by estrogen.  This medication has it's own side effects and risk factors!  But Mark was able to dispel some of the anxiety I had about the side effects of Radiation, so it was turning into a better day.  It turned into a really good day when we saw that my hemoglobin had gone almost a gram.  That would be the equivalent of getting 1 unit of blood.  Still a ways to go until that is normal, but I'll take it!  I also go in for another MUGA scan this week to make sure my heart is still strong.  This is a huge answer to prayer.  I've had two MUGA scans.  One before chemo started and one when I finished Adriamycin.  My ejection fraction was at 65% for both of them.  That's really unusual.  From the beginning of treatment to the end of the Adriamycin, it is common for people to lose 10%.  Keep praying!  Herceptin is hard on the heart too.

I headed to the infusion center and got to see my nurse friends again.  Several of them commented again on how moved they were by my window friends the week before.  Those that weren't there definitely heard about it!  They said it was one of the coolest things they'd seen happen there.  It went really quick and I was done. 

We still have a lot of logistical things to work out with Radiation, but I'm hoping these next six weeks fly by!!

Happy Last Day of Side-Effect Chemo to Me!

If you were in on the Last Day of Side-Effect Chemo festivities...thank you!  It was a day that I will not soon forget.  For those of you that weren't in on the celebration, let me fill you in. 

It all started with my mom.  I'm not sure of those details, but I'm sure she sent an e-mail and it all snowballed from there. 
Last Monday, August 19th, was week 12 of 12 for Taxol and Herceptin  weekly chemotherapy.  I love parties, I love celebrating big and small events.  So Lindsay, my high school friend/chemo buddy for the day, and I gathered some treats to take in to the staff as a thank you for taking such good care of me for the last two phases of chemo.  Lindsay spoiled me with treats too! 

So we are sitting in "the office" chemo cubicle talking away, reminiscing about the Spring Break trip we took to Hawaii in high school (she even brought pictures!!!), dreaming of our next trips there and solving the world's problems when we notice three super heroes and their mom outside the window!  It was so out of the blue that it took me a little bit to register the fact that I knew the mom of these masked kids!  I did what I usually do in situations like that...take pictures!  They held up their signs for me, played some music (I couldn't hear the words, but I'm sure it was a fabulous song!) and then vanished. All the laughing drew nurses and volunteers to come and see what was going on.  The cuteness level could not be matched!!  Thank you, Thornton Family!!

Shortly after that my dad stopped in with a balloon to say hi and let me know that he was celebrating the Last Day of Side-Effect Chemo with me and then headed out.  He also handed me a stack of notes from many of you. Short and sweet. But Lindsay and I were deep in our conversation about my newest adventure so I didn't think much about it.  Not long after that Lindsay was looking out the window and starting laughing.  More people (dressed in pink this time) came bearing signs and balloons.  More laughing and waving.  They released the balloons and we watched them float away.  I learned later that there were 16 balloons.  One for each side-effect chemo treatment I'd had.  Not long after this Kent and Cindy O'Grady stopped by to wave through the window.  They were too quick and I didn't get a picture. 

The staff at the Cancer Care Center were so surprised and really moved by all the window visitors.  It was probably my favorite chemo treatment.  If people are allowed to have favorite chemo treatments.  The celebration ended with dinner out.  I was blown away by the people that came out to wave and those that sent e-mails and texts and Facebook messages to celebrate this little milestone with me!  I am so grateful that I don't have to do this alone!  Thanks again for your loving support!

Monday, August 5, 2013

A Few Good Laughs

I had two doctors appointments today. And two doctors laughed at me.  It was a good day!  The first appointment was with my plastic surgeon, Dr. Kadkhodayan. Actually it was with her nurse, but we rode the elevator up to her office together and since she had finished a procedure early, she was the one to see me and fill my expanders.  That is excellent customer service in my opinion.  I knew I was there to see her nurse and didn't expect her, but she wanted to see and connect with me, so she did the fills herself. She laughed at me when I told her I had been trying to do push ups.  My broken stitches, rotated and leaking expander started making sense to her!  She calls me her star patient and always mentions how well I'm handling everything.  She said that most of the time, her patients that have a strong support system tend to handle everything better.  Her comment was, "you must have a huge support system."  I all are phenomenal!  I was excited that I got to brag on all the friends, family, strangers (who are basically friends that I just haven't met yet) and others around the world that are praying for me or supporting me in one way or another.  It's so encouraging, especially at this point in my treatment when I am so tired of chemo every week.  Tired of side effects. Tired of not being my full self.  Just plain tired of being tired!  You guys rock!

I wanted to share this with you all. This picture gets me every time.  This was taken on my dad's latest trip to Africa.  He was updating the men on his family and this room full of men in Africa stopped their meeting to pray boldly for me. See the guy up front? Goosebumps.  And this happened in more than one country.  There are people praying in Slovenia and the Philippines, too.  Just crazy.  I've got an international support team!


Then it was my oncologist,  Dr. Shanks', turn to laugh at me when he asked if I had been experiencing any shortness of breath.  I was honest and told him only when I tried running.  That's when he laughed and said, "You have a hemoglobin of 9 and you're trying to run?! Of course you're going to be short of breath!"  It made sense when he said it.  Not so much when I took off to go on a short run and after a short block later (okay fine, half a short block later) I was wishing that Rick was at home and could come get me!  I didn't think that through.  (For the record, getting my dance on with Ella, Britt Nicole and Jamie Grace also causes shortness of breath!) I was also honest with him and told him all the details about the headaches I've been having for the last couple of weeks.  That honesty is getting me a brain MRI tomorrow morning!  Neither of us think anything will show up, just covering all the basis.  Prayers appreciated if you read head has never been in a Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine before.  Here's praying I don't get all claustrophobic in there!

Sarah was my chemo buddy today.  She provided some great conversation. Iron sharpens iron.  Reminders that birds don't store up anything.  And we are much more valuable. The birds that congregate at the feeders right outside my chemo reminder are always such a great reminder of this! One day at a time.  

                             Top picture is Anissa from last week and the bottom is Sarah.

Chemo is always bittersweet.  I don't like getting a needle in the chest, having my blood drawn, and getting pumped full of poison, but I love the time I get to spend one and one with my friends and family.  I feel so incredibly loved that people actually want to spend all that time with me.  Ahh...such warm and fuzzy thoughts! I got a text from my cousin way out in Tennessee, she knew exactly what I was doing at that time! I got several cards this week as well.  I wonder if they might have gotten a Holy Spirit hint that I might be feeling a little discouraged?!  Those were day, no, week brighteners.  And at our outdoor church service on Sunday, my pastor asked for a new pink bracelet.  Even with his weak and injured arms was able to rip it off with along with another bracelet. I love that my pastor is still praying for me.  We get what need just when we need it.  One day at a time.

Still no word on the results for the genetic testing yet.  My dad also went in for testing since the occurrence of cancer is so high on his side of the family.  Depending on what his results are (and mine), Jamie and Ali (and Ella eventually) will be able to figure out if they need to be tested.  The whole thing is actually quite interesting.  I pretend to know what they're talking about by recalling Mrs. Rich's teaching on the Punnett square in high school biology.  AA, Aa,aa etc...

The next step for me will be finishing these last two weeks of TH chemo.  Chemo will then switch to every three weeks with just Herceptin for another 40 weeks or so.  Sometime in September I will be starting radiation.  Five days a week for six weeks.  5 days a week for 6 weeks. 5 x per week for 6 weeks. No matter how you type it, it spells out HUGE INCONVENIENCE! I'm still not sure how that will work with my work schedule, Ella being in school, my new position at church and my social calendar in general!  Did I mention that I will have to have radiation on my birthday?!  Oops, I heard it now.  Sorry you had to hear that.  I'm so grateful that I am able to receive radiation treatment and celebrate another birthday! Have you seen that Pinterest post of the woman who did 30 something Random Acts of Kindness on her 30 something birthday? How fun would that be?!  This past week alone I've heard of two people receiving a cancer diagnosis and two people that have lost their fight.  For me, cancer is just a constant reminder that we aren't the ones that decide when we're done here on earth.  I just pray that what I've done while I was here was done in love to point others to God, the one who has each of our days numbered.  What else is there?

Time to go and find a way to override the steroid insomnia and get some sleep! That probably includes reading.  I've read some really good books in the last month! Have any of you read anything good lately?!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

8 down, 4 to go

I'm doing better, only three treatments in between posts this time!  My mom and dad both got a chance to be my chemo buddy.  I couldn't believe they hadn't been yet, other than to drop off or pick up Ella.  My friend, Kristen, was also able to join me for a treatment. 

I'm a third of the way through this phase of chemo.  4 treatments of Taxol and Herceptin left to go!
My hemoglobin is stuck and won't be moving until treatment is finished in spite of me eating more red meat and taking iron supplements and every other tip I've found on the internet! So I still get tired very easily.  That doesn't make it easy to work.  At the end of my two day work week last week, I came home and slept for about a day and a half.  And that's when I realized that as much as I wanted to be able to be able to return to life as normal, it's not normal. I can't do it all. I feel like a broken record, but I really think I've got it this time.  

In other news, my eyebrows and eyelashes are thinning drastically.  Thank you, taxol!  What I do find interesting, however, is the fact that the hair on my head is starting to grow back.  That was one of the first things Rick noticed when he came back from his trip to New Orleans with the youth group from our church.  He never noticed when I got three to four four inch trims back in the day, but he notices an eighth of an inch of hair growth!  

I've made it eight weeks into this TH round of chemo with very limited side effects.  This week the nausea decided to come back along with the neuropathy (tingling hands and feet) that is common with this treatment.  I was getting regular headaches for a while, but I think that is more closely related to the weather we've been having and dehydration!

While Rick was out of town, my sister, Jamie, drove up from Missouri to help me! She also joined me on an overwhelming informational seeking, fact finding meeting with a genetic counselor.  The meeting was very helpful and I learned a lot.  Until we got to the part where she said that if I test positive for one of the BRCA genes, there could be a hysterectomy in my very near future.  That's when I zoned out again and was trying to figure out what a group of letters on the wall right over her shoulder stood for.  Jamie was able to fill me in on the rest later.  Brittany was amazing and was able to get some blood on the first try...I was very excited!  So now we wait.  I'll find out in a couple weeks what the results are.  The likelihood of me being positive for the BRCA genes is pretty slim, but it's hard to tell since my extended is so heavily male and neither one of my parents have sisters, so the hereditary-ness is harder to  follow.  They are doing a panel of tests.  One is looking for a gene mutation that may have started with me.  That would make sense to me...I am the only one in my immediate with green eyes and while everyone else has an A+ blood type,  I am A-.  Although I'm told that has nothing to do with price of gas in Pittsburgh.  One other test they are doing is for another hereditary gene that would make me, or my sisters, predisposed to colon and ovarian cancer.  I don't really want to get a colonoscopy every other year for the rest of my life. Jamie also joined us for an event with other families dealing with cancer at a water park.  I think it was good for Ella to see other kids with their bald-headed moms, or moms with wigs. I am getting really good at spotting wigs now.  Just today at work I spotted three.  I still get lots of compliments on mine.  Although the humidity has not been nice to it.  This is new for me.  My hair was never affected by the humidity. I now have a deep empathy for those of you that are frizz prone.  I feel your pain. 

God is still continuing to show up in ways that leave me speechless.  A generous gift from a stranger...strength to get through long days at issues being worked friends STILL supporting my family and me with meals.  I don't think you realize how helpful the meals are to us.  It's more than just cooking, back when I thought I was Super Woman, I did some cooking. It's the planning and grocery shopping and energy that goes into it.  My priority is on letting my body rest as much as I can so it can finish fighting the cancer and rebuild after the chemo. Oh, and working so I still have I insurance to cover all this!  I was just starting to feel sorry for myself and frustrated that most everyone else gets to have great summers while I can never stray too far from the every Monday chemo chair.  But just one look at the meal schedule (thanks for the heads up, Mom) and I was so encouraged.  I am beyond blessed to have such a strong group of people supporting me through this season.  Thank you!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Checking in...

Where did June go?  The month seems to have disappeared before my eyes!  I guess I've been busy trying to balance cancer and chemo with what used to be my normal life and realizing that it doesn't work like that.  I had high expectations for everything I'd be able to do once I was done with AC, but the truth is, I'm still getting chemo treatments.  I'm not able to jump right back in to where I left off before this this thing called cancer entered my life.  This has not been an easy realization for me.  Its hard to not overdo it, but my body very quickly reminds me when I'm nearig my limit.  The nausea is mostly gone, it pops up sometimes right after treatments, but is nothing like I had been dealing with.  The fatigue is better,still there, but different.  It feels good to be tired from housework, getting projects done and going to work rather than moving from my bed to the couch.  

I realized I hadn't posted an updated when I started getting emails and some comments asking how things were since I hadn't posted in a while!  I've had four treatments since my last post! My younger sister, Ali was in Minnesota for a couple weeks and was able to join me for a treatment.  Ella wanted to be my chemo buddy,so she and my mom were able to come sit with me after Zoo Camp one week.  The next week I was so tired and decided to fly solo.  I slept through most of the treatment.  And again when I got home.  My hemoglobin is still low, it actually dropped a little from last week.  They ran some additional blood tests this week to check my iron levels and other things.  Nothing earth-shattering there.  It's teetering in a place, where if its drops a little lower, they could do a blood transfusion and that would bring my hemoglobin up.  I'm hoping to get it up without needing to go to that extreme, but I am really tired of being tired.  My cold is finally starting to clear up.  I had a chest X-ray done a week or two ago to make sure my lungs were clear.  When I saw that X-ray, I laughed out loud!  Between my port, the expanders and the marker they placed where they removed the cancer, there is a lot on that X-ray! Additional labs were drawn to check my iron.  That fell in the lowest range of normal.  My new sister-in-law, Meghan, was my chemo buddy today!  She and Todd are in Minnesota for their reception and will be heading back to Phoenix after the 4th.  


Being back at work is going well.  Thanks to all of you for asking! Four hour shifts was a good place to start.  I'm still exhausted when I come home, and can't quite imagine working 8 hours yet.  I had lat week off and it's was good to rest and get some things done around the house.  It takes me double the time to do things now, allowing myself to rest in between tasks.  I'm trying to be patient with myself.  

Specific prayer requests would be for my hemoglobin levels to continue to go up and for more energy. Pray for a strong immune system.  I feel another cold coming on. As well as for patience as I try not to overdo things!  Please also pray for issues with my insurance company.  Among them, the hold up of processing claims from surgery back in March due to the extra night spent in the hospital due to intractable emesis.  Pray for speedy processing and full payment from the insurance company!

This week I've spent a lot of time thinking back over all the events leading up to where I am now.  The shock and newness has worn off and I look ahead to all the chemo treatments and radiation treatments still to come and find it all very daunting.  It's very routine by now.  But I can't seem to figure out how to emotionally return to my normal routine while adding the cancer treatment routine to it.  It's two worlds that I'm having trouble mixing.  Especially when I don't have the energy for normal.  Except for tonight. Thank you steroids!

This summer has been fun so far though!  My goal is to focus on Ella and make it enjoyable for her.  Her knowledge, understanding and resilience has been amazing to watch, but this summer is all about being a kid!  I'm loving being able to check things off our summer list (and adding some we did, just to check them off). Here are some pictures of my pride and joy to look at.  Or not.  It's up to you!



Wednesday, June 5, 2013

This week. In a nutshell.

Monday marked the beginning of the end.  I started new chemo drugs, Taxol and Herceptin (TH).  Taxol will be over and done with in 12 short weeks.  Herceptin will be by buddy for the next 52 weeks. One year from now, I will be finished with chemo!   After the 12 weeks, I will only go in every three weeks for the Herceptin.  I can see the next year shaping up with radiation and reconstruction and starting what will be my new normal. My older sister Jamie is home for a week from Missouri and was able to join me for treatment this time.  Like I have been since I started chemo, she was impressed with the friendliness and compassion of all the staff and volunteers in the Cancer Care clinic. I'm in good hands!

I'm still really tired.  My labs were at an all time low on Monday, which is to be expected following four rounds of AC.  Dr. Shanks wasn't alarmed, but until they sart climbing a little bit, I'll still be dealing with fatigue.  My weakened immune system is trying to fight a cold, but isn't doing too great!  Last Friday I had another MUGA scan to see if there had been any changes to my heart function following the Adriamycin, which is not a heart friendly drug.  There were no changes, which is an answer to prayer!  I'll still have MUGA scans every 3-4 months while on Herceptin as this also is not a heart friendly drug.  

On Tuesday I went back to work.  I've only been cleared to work 4 hour shifts at this point and will fill in the rest with PTO to have enough hours to keep my insurance.  I am so grateful for Catherine, my job share partner, who is willing to be so flexible and work with me and my limitations and doctors appointments and radiation schedule so I can still focus on my treatment and getting better.  Thank you, Catherine!  You are a blessing!

My friends from small group had a lovely bouquet of flowers sent to me while I was at work, knowing I wasn't quite ready to return to work.  That was a wonderful surprise and definitely a day brightener. Thanks you guys, you're the best!  I love that you have decided to reach out and to commit to help me succeed.  And as I strategically unpack all the things that I appreciate about you all, it's a win-win.  

Wednesday was Ella's kindergarten graduation.  We are definitely proud parents!  We are in awe of the person God is shaping her into.  Her compassionate servant heart humbles me daily.  Her desire to do the right thing even when no one is looking is evidence of the Holy Spirit active in her life.  She's a smart little cookie, which I'm sure can be explained by having a teacher for a mother (or Aunt Jamie's genes, or having been born into a family of teachers). She's still sticking to the same career goal going on three years now.  When she grows up, she doesn't want to be a teacher (even though she has an entire classroom set up under her loft bed and plays school for hours at a time), or a singer or a dancer or anything else little girls want to be at that age.  She wants to be a spy.


We celebrated the end of the school year with lunch at her favorite restaurant (we are so grateful it is no longer McDonalds) with my whole family, a Mint Oreo ice cream cake (from DQ of course), a Jamie Grace concert, and we let her stay up as long as she wanted.  Which was a whole hour pat her usual bed time.  Next year is first grade...eek!  All day, everyday.  That will be a very tough transition!

The garage sale was this weekend and was a great success.  Thanks to all of you for your donations!  I was finally able to part with Ella's clothes and baby things.  Rick has been so understanding as the 12+ totes of "doll clothes" piled up in the garage since I was not able to part with them.  I must not have gotten my fill of playing with dolls when I was younger, so from birth to age 3 (when Ella developed a strong fashion sense of her own), she was my doll to dress up!  Maybe now we will be able to put things in the garage that actually belong there, like another car!  A huge thank you to my mother in law, Linda,  and my neighbor, Sophia, for making the garage sale happen.  Sophia will pricing things in her sleep for the next month!  And thank you to Nancy, Nancy and Lori for all your help, we couldn't have done it without you!

It's hard to tell if I had any side effects from the new chemo drugs on Monday since this cough and cold had me down for the count.  I go back again on Monday for the next round...51 weeks left, not that I'm counting or anything!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Remember that Time I Slept for Two Weeks...

This last round was the worst.  By far.  Even with the steroids, the nausea and fatigue came on strong and hung on long.  I've never been so thankful for crackers and ginger ale.  I didn't even get a good week this time around.  But I am so thankful that the worst is over.  Today I start two new drugs.  So I will be going in every Monday for 12 weeks.  That should be fun!

I go back to work on Tuesday. I'll start out with short days.  Yeah.......

 May 24th was me and Rick's ten year anniversary.  Woot woot!  We obviously didn't get to celebrate in Hawaii as we'd planned all these years, but spending the day together, living our lives such as they are at this point was still wonderful.  We dropped Ella off at school, went to breakfast, I slept while he puttered and tinkered, I slept in his truck while he drove up north to get a part and then stopped for dinner on the way home.  Marriage isn't always beaches, sweet smelling plumeria and luaus.  For us, these last couple years have been really trying.  Infertility. Unemployment. Cancer.  However, our cord of three stands is still holding strong.  And somehow, these last few years have been a blast! In the midst of hardships, we've found joy.  We find complete joy in raising the child we do have and absolutely love our little family.  Rick losing his job turned out to be a huge blessing.  Leaving a job he didn't like for one with better hours, better environment, better management, more flexibility and free ice cream, it makes sense!  In the midst of it it didn't seem so great!  That's when I learned that you have to thank God for what seems bad along with what seems great, because in the end you really can't tell the two apart!  When it's all said and done, the blessings and joys that came our way because of cancer will far outweigh the chemo side effects.  Oh, and just so you know, Rick will have been at his new job for a year in the middle of June, and he has not gained a pound.  He hasn't gained weight since I met him, but I thought for sure this would do it!  Still praising God Ella seems to have gotten his metabolism! So, Rick. We've seen richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, good times and bad-thanks for taking our vows seriously!  Thank you for loving me and serving me for the last ten years.  Thank you for your extreme patience and for making me laugh daily. Thank you for being with me through every step of breast cancer, there could not be a better companion for this journey!  Thank you for being an amazing Dad to Ella.  You really blew me away with that one the second she entered our lives and continue to every moment you spend with her. I have never questioned your love for me or your love for the One who brought us together.  I love you beyond what words can describe.  You are the best Hawaiian souvenir ever! Can't wait to go back to Hawaii when all this cancer stuff is behind us!  For the rest of you-a wedding picture!  Because everyone likes looking at ten year old wedding pictures!


I think I've told half the world already, but have to share it here too.  I was gone over the weekend for some R&R and came back to some gifts from Ella. The last one she had even wrapped.  Before giving it to me she says, "Mom, you are going to get a kick out of this."  I unwrap the little package and hold in my hand this gift my 6 year old bundle of energy could not wait to give me.  She explains it a little further (although no explanation is needed). "I made it for you.  She looks just like you."


When she says made it, she means she ripped the hair off!  Happy Monday!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Last Round of the Red Stuff!

 Today was the last day of AC chemo!  I had to capture the last push of that nasty, life-saving poison!


I found out that, unknowingly, I have been over-dosing on my anti-nausea meds (not my fault, believe it or not).  There's a good chance that was contributing to my extreme mental fog.  I can't blame it all on that though.  I haven't taken Zofran for several days and today after my series of naps, thought I could make a trip to Target to pick up the over the counter steroids that I caved and asked for and then to Cub for some basics and a Red Box rental. While at Cub I remembered that I had forgotten to stop at the pharmacy.  Back to Target.  While at Target, I remembered that I forgot to go to go to Red Box.  Back to Cub.  Ended up with four movies.  Don't ask.  After all that driving I had to get gas. Wow. Gas prices. That is all.


Then I jumped back in the car to get back to my mom and Ella.  So I drove to my mom's house.  Then I remembered they were at my house.  Rick is out of town for work tonight, so my mom locked me in before she left.  She is a very smart lady.

Chemo was nice and smooth today.  The infusion center got new chairs.  They are heated, massaging recliners. Very, very nice. Kara came with me today and kept me talking way too much!!  She is always so entertaining!  


The chemo nurse must have overheard Kara and I's conversations ( it was pretty quiet today, the whole room probably heard us) because when she came in to push the Adriamycin and then later to hang the Cytoxin, she prayed that it would find the remaining cancer cells and attack them and miss the healthy cells.  I loved that!  She was new, I really liked her.   I always get excited when I hear people are praying for me.  At church on Sunday, at that usually awkward greeting time, I "met" somebody that I've known of for years, but our paths have honestly never crossed.  I knew her name so I was able to use it.  She asked my name. Then she asked what my last name was.  I saw something click, and then she responded with excitement, "I've been praying for you!!"  I tried so hard not to cry, but can't get over that people who have never met me are praying for me!!  

And then there is the Hill Family and company in Tennessee that is letting God use them in a God-sized answer to prayers.  Part of my heart has always been in Tennessee. Uncle Stan and Aunt Bunny live there. Everybody should have an Uncle Stan and Aunt Bunny in their live!  So does my cousin, Kevin, who has the coolest life.  He's a fireman turned air-traffic controller and the sweetest man-boy there is.  He will always be the boy that let me give him a makeover! He didn't stand a chance with a sister and three female cousins at holidays!  Get this, he just got back from a week long soccer tournament for air traffic controllers in Ireland!  So does Laura.  You know that friend (that is also family) that you don't get to see. Ever. But you pray for and think about all the time?  And when you do talk and finally get together, not a moment has passed? That's Laura.  I really hate that we live so far apart.  We were in each others weddings (Happy Anniversary Michael and Laura! Grateful that I was able to be a part of it!  Great memories! I pray that God continues to strengthen your marriage as you look to Him for all things and blesses you and your family as you have so richly blessed us!) and just don't get to see each other enough now that we're all grow up!  So sweet, sweet Laura married into the Hill family.  They have a family business.  They have used that business to bless our family.  I told Michael that a cancer diagnosis, double mastectomy, going bald and living in constant nausea and fatigue for days on end (combined) haven't reduced me to the puddle of tears that this generosity has!  So now, more so than ever, part of my heart stays in Tennessee with my family and now my cousins family! Want to know the kicker?  I've only met the Hill family once.  At a wedding. Yes. God is that good.  


Time for bed.  Remind me to tell you about God's next assignment for me!  It's a good one!  


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Encouragement Just When Needed

This last round of chemo kicked. My. Butt.  The nausea started sooner than it had during the first two treatments and lasted a whole lot longer.  I appreciated that Zofran could be taken every four hours and I took full advantage of that.  The fatigue also lasted longer.  This was extremely frustrating and I had to constantly remind myself that its okay to not be uber productive, my priority is getting better, I need to take care of myself...blah,blah, blah.  Doesn't make it any easier.  But it's true.  

Sunday was the Race for the Cure.  It was a little bit of an emotional day.  But it was mostly just a fun day!  Team Melissa was a huge encouragement!  How did I get such great friends?!  


 God knew I needed a little pick me up.  Enter Wednesday mornings!  This group of women encourages me so much, loves on me so much and gets me smiling so I can't stop!  Today was no different!  We had brunch.  The food was amazing.  Seriously so good.  A carbivore's paradise!  Then they had to go and give me a quilt. A homemade quilt.  Each fabric perfect for this season of my life.  The best part?! They signed it.  I didn't read it  until I got home later, which was good since I didn't put on my waterproof mascara this morning.  The words of love and encouragement were so refreshing.  As I think about finishing my last round of AC chemo on Monday, it's one more phase done, but there is so much to come and knowing these women will be there to support me, love me and encourage me through the times when I just don't want to do it anymore is a great antidote to chemo!

A couple of you have asked how to order thirty-one bags....go to
Then click on My Parties on the top of the page.  Then click on the May Fundraising Event.  There you go!  I love the large utility totes for just about everything.  The deal for the month is spend $31 and get 1/2 off thermal bags.  I'll be using mine for the fresh market thermal....great for Trader Joes!  

Thanks to those of you that have dropped off stuff for the garage sale.  If anyone else has things left over from their Woodbury garage sales and want to get it off our hands, bring in on down!

Ella has her Spring Fling gymnastics meet this weekend.  She has been working so hard and we are so proud of her!  Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

3 down, 1 to go

I'm about to slip into my chemo coma for the next several days!  Chemo on Monday was the quickest in and out yet.  My labs are still staying in the range for "normal" women, and the doctors are encouraged by that.  This was my third out of four treatments for this first phase with the the AC drugs (Adriamycin and Cytoxin).  After the fourth AC treatment on May 20th, I will start two new drugs, TH (Taxol and Herceptin) on a weekly basis for 12 weeks.  The TH drugs aren't as harsh as the AC so I won't have to "recover from chemo".  Looking forward to that!  Especially considering that my short term disability will be up in June and I'll have to start working again. Not really looking forward to that.  Hoping that my new chemo brain is a result of the AC and my mind will start to clear!

I did find out that my cancer was categorized as Stage 3 breast cancer.  I might have heard that before, but am not retaining information as well as I'd like! I was always hoping for Stage 2, but I'm sure the size of the tumor pushed it over the edge!

I also found out that I haven't been taking the standard 3 day post chemo oral steroids for nausea. I get the steroid through an IV at chemo, but that's it for steroids for me.  I dragged my friend Jill along with me to this treatment and she was as entertained as I was every time I was asked if I needed a refill for the steroids I have not been taking!  So I guess it's a really good thing that I'm able to keep the nausea under control with just the Zofran.  I chalk it up to all your prayers!  Keep 'em coming.  Especially for the remainder of the week as I drift in and out of consciousness!

Sunday is the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and I'm hoping to be alert enough to cheer on those running on Team Melissa and possibly even do the walk with Ella.  I keep being told what an amazing and emotional time it will be, and I'm looking forward to it!  

Thanking God for all my friends and family and prayer warriors committed to helping me get through this.  I couldn't do it without you!


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Almost Normal

The last week and a half has been so much fun. I was able to resume almost all of my normal activities and while for just a brief amount of time, I felt like a normal person. I was able to drive Ella to school and pick her up and even go on a field trip with her class. I was able to meet friends for lunch and go to Target all by myself. I was able to go to church and see my Wednesday morning women and go to small group. All of these things were followed by naps, but they still happened. Small victories! During all of these things, I got to wear my new hair! Those closest to me knew it was a wig, but some were quite surprised to find out it was a wig! I finally got it to be just how I wanted it. It's my dream color and I love the cut, it's actually comfortable now that my five o'clock stubble is falling out. Getting ready for the day is so quick and easy, I may just consider shaving my head when my hair starts to grow back and keep wearing the wig. It takes Rick longer to get ready in the morning now!

I'm going to enjoy my last day of normal before my next chemo treatment Monday. Tomorrow. In my post-chemo fatigue when I can't focus to read and don't have energy to get out of bed, I started watching a TV show that I quit following a while ago. Yay for Netflix! One of the characters on the show had breast cancer. So in a matter of a few episodes, she was diagnosed, had surgery, had chemo and was declared cancer free and celebrated with a trip to Hawaii. Never have I been so frustrated with TV. Well, except for the time that I was watching TV in junior high and didn't like the writers take on a scene, so I threw a spoon at the screen. But in this situation they made the whole process seem so quick, and it really isn't. I feel like I should be half way through everything now. I'm only halfway through the first phase. There's another 12 weeks, another six weeks and then forty weeks! And then a six month wait. As much as I want this time to fly by, I know that when this is over, Ella will be 7 and in first grade and I'll want time to slow down. Their fictitious TV trip to Hawaii was also rubbing salt in my wound! In a few short weeks, Rick and I will be celebrating ten years of wedded bliss. We pretty much met and started our relationship in Hawaii and went back three years later for our honeymoon. The plan had always been to go back for our tenth anniversary. That won't be happening this year. We're postponing the trip a year and will combine celebrations; end of chemo and eleven years of happily ever after. So the moral of this story: don't believe everything you see on TV!

During this short break, I've also discovered that chemo brain is a real thing. My mind is not quite as sharp as it once was. Funny how many of the same side effects of chemo are so similar to those of pregnancy, but I don't get a baby as a prize at the end! Not much to report, just wanted to pop in and say hi! You all have been so encouraging to my family and me. I need it. I really don't want to go to chemo tomorrow. There will be feet dragging and maybe a little pouting!

Two things before I go:

1. Jodi wanted me to let you know that she has extended her thirty-one bags fundraiser into May so we can get some of the new prints and take advantage of the May special. If you're needing to add to your bag/purse habit, here's what you need to know:

"Thirty-One Gifts Fundraiser for Melissa!! It's the NEW Summer catalog, complete with New prints and items. All perfect for your summer outings, that will carry you through the fall!
Please log onto my site and order right on Melissa's Fundraiser.
I had so much fun in April I decided to do it again, and reach the goal I wanted for her!!
In case you are not familiar, with the fundraiser. There is a lovely young lady at my church that is going through Chemo for breast cancer. I wanted to help her and her family out by doing a fundraiser. BUY LOTS!! It's all going to Melissa!" The special this month is 50% off any thermal with every $31 you spend.

I have received several bags as gifts and LOVE them! My favorites are the three that live in my car, the one that comes to chemo with me and the one that organizes my Wednesday mornings.

2. Rick's family and my neighbor are planning a garage sale to help us out. So if you're in the area and have stuff that you want to donate to the cause, you can call Linda @ 651.459.0700 or Sophia @ 612.961.0445 or you can shoot me an e-mail (melissa.borner@gmaildotcom) and I can let you know where to drop off. The garage sale will be June 7th 8-5 and June 8th 8-3 at Rick's parents house. 8601 Lamar Avenue S in Cottage Grove.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Bald is Okay

After asking for anyone interested in shaving my head, I was surprised at the number of people that volunteered! The day after my last chemo treatment, I went back to the Cancer Care Clinic for my Neulasta injection to stimulate white blood cell growth and I also had acupuncture for the first time. This is a service offered by the clinic to help manage side effects. I was surprised at how it helped the nausea. Still nothing for the fatigue. I lost days again somewhere after chemo. I really don't like being that tired. I think the "chemo brain" I was warned about is also setting in. It's harder for me to find words during conversations and my ability to focus isn't the same.

Anyway. After that short outing to clinic, the amount of hair that had accumulated on my shirt and jacket was just gross. Anytime I ran my fingers through my hair, I would end up with a handful of hair. Gross. I had enough at that point. I asked Kristen (first one to offer, and she's done this before!) if she would come over later that day to shave it off. I needed a little moral support so Kara and Jill came over too and Rick's arrival home from work made for a nice little cheering section. I put Kara in charge of taking pictures and Jill brought lipstick! Only Jill would have thought of that detail! So with lipstick applied, Kristen started with scissors. Step One resulted in a very chic Les Miserables Anne Hathaway cut. Step Two was a #2 clipper, but I just wanted it all gone, so the guard came off and I was left with stubble. And I was bald. I'm glad my friends were there. Even if they were lying, the encouragement helped me not only make it through the event, but make it through smiling! I'm amazed at how God gave me exactly what I needed at the moment I needed it, no sooner and not too late. The strength and comfort I felt left no room for fear or self-pity. I haven't cried over my bald head yet! It's just hair and it will grow back. Until then, it doesn't take nearly as much time to get ready in the morning. I could get used to this! My new hair (wig) is still a work in process. I love the color, but it's a little puffy still! Oh, and Laura, your prayers were answered! My bald head is symmetrical and not at all bumpy, I actually don't mind it!

Ella once again completely surprised me with how well she took it. I wear a little pink hat around the house (sorry to those of you that have been shocked by this while dropping off food!) and for the first night, Ella told me not to take it off. She did pull out the book I had bought for her about losing hair during chemo, "Nowhere Hair", and she read it to me. I think that helped her a lot. The next evening she asked me to take my hat off off so she could see what I looked like. I was bracing myself for a not so kind remark to cover her emotions. All she said was: "Don't worry, Mom. It will grow back." Since then, she has reminded me that I'm still her beautiful mommy. And when she hugs me, she rubs my hair! It's pretty cute! I'm definitely not in the same shape I was when Rick married me almost ten years ago. Thank you God for a marriage that isn't shaken by a bald head and missing breasts.

I feel as though I've been given a tiny gift. I'm going back to getting my chemo treatments on Mondays, but next Monday wouldn't be enough time in between treatments, so I get an extra "good week" where I won't be dead tired and nauseous. I'll get to do some normal things! I'm pretty excited about that! First thing on my to do list is to make a decision what to do about my short term disability and FMLA leave that is nearing its end. Do I use it all up or go back and use it intermittently? I have to work five days every two weeks to keep my benefits. So I need to get that figured out. On good weeks it won't be a problem, but when I start the new drugs and have chemo treatments once a week, I don't know if I'll have the energy or clear mind to work. I did find out today that some co-workers have donated some PTO hours to me and that will help just to get my hours up to where they need to be to keep my insurance coverage after the disability is over. Thanks to whoever did that! I didn't know that was a possibility, so it was a nice surprise and huge blessing! Thank you for sharing those highly coveted hours with me!

The meals are still coming and we are so appreciative! I went to the grocery store for just a few items and left exhausted. It gave me a renewed thankfulness for the meals that show up daily that keeps me from having to plan, shop and prepare. I can focus on resting up, getting better and beating cancer. So, thank you for the meals and the gift cards. Thank you for loving us!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Mission: Gentle and Quiet Spirit

I liked the first round of chemo better. I came back from Arizona pretty tired (even with all the resting and reading by the pool. I read 5 books there and on the plane.) so I expected to balance out with the steroid they gave me. When chemo was over, I had to ask if I had gotten it since I was not feeling like I could conquer the world like I did with the first treatment. Everything went really smooth. My port cooperated this time and we in and out in under five hours.

Our flight arrived in Minnesota last night at 11:00. Rick would be too tired to work, Ella would be too tired for school, so we made it a family affair. I had wanted Ella to experience chemo at some point so she knew what was involved. I wanted her to know that I didn't get hurt at chemo and that the doctors, nurses and volunteers take good care of me. She was able to see all that for the first couple of hours and then Papa and Nan came to get her. (If they knew the pretend play that they were about to endure, they might not have said yes. No. They would have said yes. No isn't a world Ella hears very often from them.)

I'm already feeling more nausea than I did last time. And I'm tired. I slept all afternoon and tried my best to keep myself up so I will sleep well tonight. I wanted to get this finished, I know so many of you are praying and want to know what's going on. And some of you have mentioned that I'm not posting quick enough, so I'm working on that!

The real struggle is this hair thing. I am a simple gal. I don't need nice clothes clothes, I don't care about what styles are, I love accessories, but they intimidate me and I don't wear much makeup. That's just me. I can tell by comments I get when I do wear makeup and make an effort to dress up slightly that I look better, but that's not enough motivation for me to do it! I've never thought of myself as pretty, and I've never wished I looked any different (except for junior high and that is a whole 'nother issue!). My daddy told me I was pretty, my Heavenly Father told me I was created in His image. My husband just has to look at me and I know he thinks I'm beautiful. My daughter tells me I'm "the most beautiful mommy in the whole university." And while I know she has the tendency to exaggerate and dramatize things somewhat, okay, A LOT. It warms my mommy heart. So why I am so scared to lose my hair is a little bit of mystery to me, but doesn't make it any easier.  Then God gave me this reminder:


That sure put things in perspective. We'll be working on the latter of those verses: gentle and quiet spirit.  I consider this a low point, a time when I am at my weakest. Strangely, that makes me excited. I know that with each handful of hair that falls out, that's less of me.  More of him.  That's when I take a cue from TobyMac and let God steal my show. That's when I am strong. So, go ahead. Take it away!

Now I just need to decide if I'm going to shave it off or let it fall out on its own.  Rick doesn't think he can shave it off.  I get that.  Any volunteers out there?!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Rest I Didn't Know I Needed

I feel as though I have done nothing but rest since my surgery over a month ago. I was even starting to go stir crazy at home with all the resting I have been doing. But after spending the last few days in Arizona, I realize just how much I needed to rest. I've enjoyed feeling almost normal again and I try to make the most of each moment to make them last as long as they can and not think about what was waiting for me at home.

Our first day in Arizona we headed up to the Grand Canyon. Mountains, lakes, rivers, flowers......that is my kind of beauty. But the sheer ginormity of that place was breathtaking. We hiked down a trail, realized the farther down we hiked, the farther we'd have to hike back up, so we didn't get too far. We met a scraggly looking elk and then found a good spot to watch the sunset. It was beautiful, but there were lots of other people with the same idea, so it was a little crowded. We stayed in a cabin in the Grand Canyon so we would be able to wake up in time to go see the sunrise.  Usually I research and plan vacations so well that we have all the information need to make spontaneous decisions. A combination of preoccupation with the chemo treatment and not knowing if I'd actually be able to go, left us with spontaneous decisions without the usual planning.  So that's why we were up at 5:00 am waiting for the shuttle to take us to Hopi Point dressed in random layers of clothing, wrapped in a blanket borrowed from the bed in the cabin.  If I had done my research, I would have known that early mornings in the Grand Canyons are cold. 26 degrees of cold. There were only a few of us there this time.  I was so glad that we had braved the cold, seeing the colors shifting on the horizon and then give way to a brilliant, blinding light made it worth it.  As the light spilled onto the canyon, my mind was busy coming up with analogies of light crowding out shadows and our calling to be salt and light.  It was quite an experience, it just didn't last long enough.  Later that day as were getting ready to leave the Canyon and stopped for one last look, the typical first look for most people that plan and research, I couldn't stop thinking "Wow.  God you are BIG."  A reply came.  "You haven't seen anything yet.  Just wait."
We headed back down to Phoenix to meet up with the rest of Rick's family and to get the wedding festivities underway.  During a trip to the Phoenix Zoo, Ella got to feed a giraffe.  She loved his purple tongue.  I am still so thankful that I was able to make the trip.  I would have missed out on so much had I not been able to go.  I was able to meet Meghan's family. Todd married into a great family. Prior to a conversation with Meghan's Uncle Brian, I had not known that his wife was a breast cancer survivor.  I enjoyed talking with him and getting the story from a husbands point of view.  After the wedding I was able to talk with Nancy and was encouraged to see her cancer free and living a normal life 9 years later. 

The wedding was so much fun. Ella did a great job as the flower girl and loved spending time with all the bridesmaids.  Rick enjoyed being the best man for his brother and best friend.  I enjoyed the cupcakes! Ella danced the night away and loved every minute.  And I got to be there for it all. 

After the answered prayer of being able to make the trip, I prayed that my hair would hang on until at least the wedding.  It did. Then I prayed that it would hang on until I got back to Minnesota.  It did.  On the plane ride home I would comb my hair with my fingers and would have an abnormal amount of hair fall in my hands.  I made it back to Minnesota with a head full of hair.  But as I sit here and type, my scalp is aching mildly and tingly.  Those poor follicles are trying so hard to hang on, but it's a losing battle.  I have been planning on just shaving it off at this point, but I'm finding that I'm really struggling with each strand of hair that falls out.  Breasts are a private thing and with each fill from the plastic surgeon, I become closer to be like a normal person.  I never really was phased by that loss.  Losing my hair is so public.  It screams cancer. It just begs for pity. It's just hair. It will grow back eventually. It's still hard. Rick is being so supportive and attentive, trying to help me sift through the waves of emotions that keep coming.  Ella was aware that I might have lost my hair while we were in Arizona and was so encouraging as she made sure that I still had my wig, just in case, as we moved from location to location.  While driving in the car today after dropping Todd and Meghan off at the airport, she didn't look up at me, but stated very matter of factly, "Mom. I don't want you to lose your hair, but you will be just as beautiful with your wig." 
The trip was great. I was able to rest.  It came at a perfect time, but I'm glad to be home. Tomorrow I go for my second chemo treatment. Here's hoping everything goes as well as the first round!