Unrealized Fragility

Webster defines fragility as being easily broken or damaged.  Life is full of constant motion allowing us to push feelings and issues to the side to continue moving forward.  I worked really hard during the months of December through February to deal with my anxieties and fears that had been boiling this past year due to everything I had been through.  It hit me like a wall during these months because I didn’t know how to go about my life again without cancer, doctors, nurses, and appointments.  My doctor said, “Welcome to Survivorship”.  Pardon me?  This is it…well it kind of stinks.  However, with each passing month, I felt better and started talking to a therapist.  I felt good again physically and mentally.  I envisioned what my new year would look like…so many possibilities.

Going into my 1 year check-up and mammogram, I was confident.  Do you hear me?  Like really CONFIDENT, I was going to leave that office and do the Toyota jump for joy and tell all of you I was Cancer Free.  I never once expected to hear, ‘ we see calcification on your left breast this time…we need to look at closer.”  My body went numb, my legs began to shake and I was really trying hard to fight back the tears.  It was all I could do stand there for more scans.  Again, I thought it will  be fine, they will come back and say everything looks fine at the closer view.  No, instead the nurse pulls me in the small changing room and said the radiologist wanted to talk to me.  I lost it!  Like uncontrollable sobbing.  It was like reliving the same nightmare I lived approximately 1 year prior.  I felt so small in that moment, and why in the HELL had I not learned to make someone come with me.  In that moment, I realized just how fragile my mental state really is.  It’s like you think the ties that bind are loosening, and maybe they are, but they will always loosely hold you.  It’s like that old saying, ‘it’s all fun and games until…’  Well, for me, it goes like this, ‘it’s all fun and games until the doctor comes in and tells you something is wrong.’

This is me…easily broken and easily damaged.  I am numb as I face another biopsy.  I don’t know how else to describe it.  My body feels empty and lost, my mind wanders, and my eyes show exhaustion.  I pray hard each day with selfish requests begging God to hold me, protect me, and keep me safe from cancer.  The thought of possibly taking this journey again so soon is daunting and overwhelming.  Can I do it?  Will my body hold up again?  Will it be nothing and all of this is a moot point? The story is yet unwritten…life on pause until next week’s results.

Whatever the outcome of the biopsy, I now realize just how damaged I am from this monster known as cancer.  Despite my strong attitude and positivity, underneath, I will forever be fragile.  Now I know….

Live each day big, for you never now what tomorrow will bring.

All my love,

Rachel

Is It Really Over?

I have thought a lot about this post, and I keep going back and forth on how it should be written.  First, I decided to go back to the first post and read everything I have written to date.  It was hard.  It felt really raw and tender.  I wanted to stop, but I kept going.  The truth is I remember every detail down to the exact days.  It replays in my head over and over like a broken record.  Will I ever be able to shake the day I got the call, the feeling of walking into the OR for the first time in my life, the silence when the oncologist said I would need chemo?  So much vulnerability.  I will never forget it, it is part of my story.

So, while chemo and radiation are over, cancer will never be over for me.  It will always be under the surface waiting to come out and announce itself as part of my story.  I will be reminded of it with every visit to every new doctor as I fill out the health forms before I am seen. I know I won’t have to explain the fear of it coming back (it weighs me down).  Today, when I look in the mirror cancer stares back at me.  My physical appearance…hair, scars, skin, weight gain. The compression sleeve on my arm and hand gives me a gentle squeeze all waking hours reminding me.  My hips and knees remind me of chemo every time I walk too long, use the stairs, or have been still for too long. The Tamoxifen pill I have to take every morning for the next five years.  The doctor says the joint stiffness and pain will go away, and of course my hair will grow back, but I have never been the most patient person.  It is like my little shadow, and I constantly feel the pressure of my tears welling up waiting to be released on the daily.  I do a pretty good job of pushing through each day.  Some are easier than others.

Today has been a weird day.  I went to the dentist.  You are probably thinking, what’s the issue, Rachel, no big deal.  New dentist, new paperwork.  I think I was asked 400 times when I finished my treatment…Monday…stated at least 400 times.  I was about to yell, read the paperwork.  What was that drug you are on again?  Tamoxifen…look at the paper work! Because if I have to tell you aloud one more time I may lose it.  Don’t get me wrong, they were nice and thorough, but its that reminder that I am really trying to walk away from.  Even at the dentist, I was reminded of the damage chemo left behind.  My gums were pretty damaged in a few places.  They said it wasn’t chemo, but doctors are quick to tell you its not the chemo.  (Funny, my insomnia stopped two weeks after chemo…but it wasn’t the chemo keeping me up at night) My last dental check-up was January 2018, and all was healthy and fine.  WHATEVER.  So, I will just floss more, got it…Can I leave now?

My point is this, it really isn’t over because it is a part of me, my story.  I just have to navigate through these muddy waters to find my new normal. I will get there.  It’s a marathon.  Since, I vowed to never run one, no telling when I will reach the end. I start work Wednesday.  There are anxieties associated with that as well.  I remember working through all the medical drama that lead up to the diagnosis.  I remember working and crying while I typed and went through the motions each day.  It was distracting me to an extent.  So, I am about to go back to that place.  (I know I will be fine, but it is still in my head) I have been in a protective cancer bubble for seven months.  A place where people look like me, talk the lingo like me, talk about the new ache of the day like me.  Now it is back to real life.  Not sure where I fit anymore.  That marathon has many turns to the finish line.  I am a wogger (walk/jogger), so I am wogging along. This is making me laugh because it is actually a pretty accurate picture.  (HOT MESS)

There is a song that will bring to my knees every time I hear it.  I belt it out and cry my way through it.  It is like my and God’s own personal conversation.  It is titled “Thy Will” by Hillary Scott.  Here are some of the verses:

“I’m so confused, I know I heard you loud and clear. So I’ll follow through, somehow I ended up here. I don’t want to think, I may never understand that my broken heart is a part of your plan.  When I try to pray, all I got is hurt and these four words…Thy will be done.”

“I know you’re good, but this don’t feel good right now.  And I know you think of things I could never think about.  It’s hard to count it all joy, distracted by the noise.  Just trying to make sense of all your promises.  Sometimes I gotta stop, remember that you’re God and I am not.  So, thy will be done.”

I wanted to be really open and honest with this post as I know I have some readers that are on this cancer journey with me.  I am so blessed that I am cancer free and have a great future ahead of me.  I wouldn’t be honest If I didn’t share these above feelings.  I read some blogs and follow some people that have breast cancer, and I am like do you ever cry?  I know they do, just be real with me, tell me I am not alone in my thoughts and feelings.  My hope is this blog gives you a full picture of my journey, the good, the funny, and the ugly.  Maybe it will help you talk to a friend who may face this in the future.  I don’t know, but one thing I know is that I am searching for me…pieces of the old me and pieces of the new me.  I will find her…I have faith and hope.

P.S. I promise a lighter post next time, this just needed to be done.

All my love…live each day big for you never know what tomorrow will  bring.

Rachel

 

 

Cancer Free vs. Halloween

Ya’ll, it is official, I am CANCER FREE!  The results of my mammogram last week showed no signs of malignancy, calcifications, or abnormalities. That was such a great feeling. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops, but I didn’t. I did stop what I was doing and gave all the glory to God. He is so good!

What am I doing now, you ask?  Radiation…I finished my second one today and have 18 to go, but who is counting?  Lying on that hard table, exposed for the world, and not able to move a muscle is a little surreal. The thought of what that beam is doing on the inside of my breast is amazing and terrifying at the same time. It doesn’t hurt, but it is intimidating. I am settling in to the process. I was very scared and anxious for my first treatment,  and I am trying to not take my anxiety meds (trying to avoid any reliance upon them), so I just prayed the whole way there. I asked for peace, protection and courage. The first one took about an hour. They had to do X-rays, draw all over me to resemble a cyborg, and line everything up. Guys, my arms are in stirrups over my head like the gynecologist office. I swear. But the whole time, I couldn’t move a millimeter. My arms were falling asleep. I started getting a little antsy, and feeling a little dizzy as the machine was circling over me and they were moving the table. I started talking to God again, and y’all He has a sense of humor, I believe. In that moment, the radio started playing Brickhouse. For those who were by me during my college days, you know that is MY JAM!!!  I started to chuckle and thought well, this is one way to let it all hang out for sure. It made me forget my worry and remember simpler times. Who can believe I remember anything about that time? Hahahahaha! I will keep you posted on how those treatments go as I progress through.

With all that said, post chemo, I have just been battling what my new normal will be. I have been dealing with this for seven months now. Feeling like crap for seven months. Riding an emotional roller coaster for seven months. In and out of hospitals, doctor offices, and cancer clinics for seven months. It stopped me in my tracks and now I have to start building back what normal is for me. It is overwhelming,  but I am taking it day by day and with a positive attitude. I will say this week, I feel so clear headed and have not wanted to crawl back in bed once the kids are at school. The chemo fog has lifted, dare I say.   I have a little pep in my step. Say whhhhhaaaattttt?!?  You heard it here.

My hair is coming in, but at a much slower pace on my right side where the chemo went in. Weird, huh! Eyelashes and eyebrows still holding out, but I am cheering them on to grow. Funny how you miss those suckers. They do serve a purpose…trust me here. I may be trying to lose some of my fingernails, which apparently happens post chemo. Seriously? They are curling to the tips of my fingers and lifting from the nail bed ever so slightly. I have filed them down short and being really careful with them.  Did I mention I got my port removed?  Well, I sure did!  Best day of my life. Hated that thing. It is still haunting me though because that trigged swelling in my right arm. I am now seeing a physical therapist and have to wear a compression sleeve for at least four weeks. Absolutely no fun…not one bit. Not to mention, it looks like I have a fake arm. So, picture this…a girl with baldish/peach fuzz (that is white) with no eyebrows or eyelashes, scar/ bruising on upper chest, blue, green and black markings on sides and chest, and thick nude pantyhose looking arm. Sit me on the front porch and declare Halloween!  Fix it, Jesus!!!

I am a hot mess for sure. One thing I am certain of is this part of my journey is almost over and I don’t know what the future holds, but I know I am never alone.   I Know God is always with me through the good and the bad. I know I have amazing friends and family that will always cheer me on and lift me up. I have learned so much about myself through this process. It’s been completely insane, but worth the trip. Do I ever want to do it again…Hell NO!  My devotional today said it best…

”An interruption or inconvenience are opportunities in disguise.  Everything comes down to how we view things.  Perspective matters, not only towards our attitude but also our response to the circumstances we face.  Being willing to lie down by still waters prepares our hearts for the times we encounter the raging sea.”

PSA: Since it is October and pink is  everywhere for breast cancer awareness, do your self exam for me and you.

All my love…Live each day to the fullest for you never know what tomorrow will bring.

Rachel

 

The Summit

I DID it!!!  I completed chemo!  Four and a half months and 14 treatments later, I am done!  What an overwhelming feeling. In May, I didn’t even know if I could handle it all, but now I know I most certainly can…but I hope that I never have to do it again. I would not be honest if I didn’t say this feeling is also laced with a little fear. Chemo is like your insurance policy. While you have it, you know your covered, but when it is gone, you hope nothing else happens.  With that now laid before you, I am still stoked that I will start to feel better and grow some hair soon.  I saw this girl do a time lapse of her hair regrowth over 12 weeks, seriously may have to do that for documentary purposes.

I will start radiation on Oct 1 for 4 weeks. I get some time in between for my counts to recover, and have some much needed Prosecco.  I have two appointments until then: one to have this port removed (praise Jesus) and two a mammogram and CT simulation to get the radiation lined up where it needs to go. I will do radiation treatments every day.

While I did ring the bell, signing this picture in the Duke Women’s Cancer Center was by far the most touching. My name will forever remain in these halls where I have walked, prayed, laughed and cried. I know I am in good company with the names that were placed before me and for those I left behind in the infusion room. A truly humbling experience.

(First one to sign the fence like the true rebel I am)   LOL!

I heard this guy on The Message XM radio station say this morning that, “there are victories to be won and lessons to be learned, even through the tears”. Well, I am here to confirm that I have shed enough tears throughout all of this, but the best ones yet were the ones that welled up and rolled down my cheeks today. I reached the summit today, and it has all the feels.

All my love…Live each day big, for you never know what tomorrow will bring.

Rachel

Three

It has been a while since I posted or rambled, probably both. I just woke up from a solid two hour Benadryl induced coma. I have just completed my ninth Taxol treatment. Which means I have three Chemo treatments remaining. Ummm, cue the famous Toyota jump in the air. If I tried to capture it on camera my feet would be about two inches off the ground and it would be a true ‘nailed it’ moment.

Description of my physical state at the moment: sluggish. I have energy just kind of move like a sloth or feel like I do anyway. I go all day and all week long just have to stop for frequent breaks. Still having nose bleed issues, a lovely face rash that really fires up over the weekend, and now restless leg syndrome. I thought I had it several weeks ago and finally had the courage to admit it to the nurse today.  She informed me that o am definitely not alone, and a common complaint on Taxol. Joy to the world!!! LOL. Guess when that kicks in…at night when I lay in bed. It is like my legs jump or I feel the need to shake them. So fun and makes it really hard to relax to go to sleep. Calling all sleep aids!!! It is weird, some nights I have it and some I don’t. As we progress further in treatment it is getting more frequent. Hopefully, once complete, it will go away. The ice baths seem to be holding off any numbness in hands and feet. But, I do notice my hands ‘fall asleep’ at night if if I lay on my side. Other than these annoyances, I am alive and well.

Ironic this week marks THREE more chemo treatments, and I had THREE visitors this past week. Emily came and brought the baby to spend the night. I had lunch with a former co-worker and friend who was in town, and then dinner with another friend who made a trip to see me after visiting her parents in a town nearby. God knows what you need and the timing of when you need it. I have been a little down lately between the move, my husband working stupid hours at work, and insecurity about my physical appearance. He knew I needed people in front of me to converse and laugh with, to receive hugs and words of encouragement. It lifted my spirits so high and made the burdens I was carrying melt away. Oh, forgot to mention I got a message that my THREE college roommates bought plane tickets this past weekend to come see me in September. STOP IT!!!!!  God is good to me, and in this season of pause, I see it so clearly. Let me leave you with you one more…these THREE…
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These THREE are my life. I would fight the universe for them if I had to. And I do have too, I will continue to soldier through this treatment battlefield for them. Slaying this cancer along the way. As each remaining week passes, I will pray daily over/for one of my children for the entire week. I will pray for their success and failure, their decisions and consequences, their heart, and most importantly their walk with God.

They say bad things come in threes, and it did for me in 2017/early 2018…Mike having to relocate due to job loss, my then 19 year old telling me she was pregnant(we all know what a blessing came out of that, but still difficult to swallow in the moment), and my diagnosis of breast cancer. But go re-read the above and look at the good things that came in the form of the number THREE. I would have never made this correlation pre cancer because I was so busy with other things. But today, I see HE carried me and blessed me in many ways in the same numerical form where I once thought the world was crashing underneath me, it was just being rebuilt for me, piece by piece by piece .

All my love, Live each day big for you never know what tomorrow will bring.

Rachel

My Inner Elsa

Greetings from Raleigh…we made it!  I will NEVER move again. It has been an exhausting two weeks from the move alone. Currently, I have zero motivation to unpack another box today. Only did one yesterday. Haha. I have hit the wall. We don’t need anything in those boxes, right? The house is nice, and we are slowly settling in. Doesn’t quite feel like home, but I think that piece is still in the boxes. Haha!  Oh, and I have already been stung by the resident wasp nesting on my deck. Lily told me I was so brave because I got stung by the wasp and was fighting cancer. Sweet girl. I told her that is the only way to be everyday. Lily started third grade at her year round school this week, and I am already over homework.  Mallery and I went to her school yesterday, and she is registered for 7th grade and will start 27Aug.  I miss this little guy more than words…we were talking about not pulling my wig when this was captured. I love his expression.

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Back to cancer…I have had two Taxol treatments since the last post. I get them weekly every Monday. This drug is definitely easier on the body than the AC treatments. I would not have been able to do this move if I was still on those. Dare I say, I feel more like my old self again?  I am sure I just jinxed it. I still tire easily, but I have literally been going from morning to night. I am able to drive right after these treatments as I have lost the light headed/dizzy feeling. This is huge for me because I felt so helpless not being able to drive for a week(my choice not doctors…I know my limits). This drug does not cause any stomach issues, so I am happy to report I don’t have to take any medication after receiving this chemo. I am so excited about this because I was taking steroids and anti-nausea pills for a week. The steroids were causing insomnia and puffiness (work with me here). I slept all night Tuesday night for the first time since May. Honestly, I woke up and was like am I dead?  It was like when your baby sleeps through the night…wake up in panic…running to check on them. Freaked me out. Lol. During the treatments, I am doing ice baths on my hands and feet. I am hoping to stop any neuropathy by doing this. I joked with Mike that I felt like Elsa with my blue gloves and being frozen. I threatened to braid the wig next week. Go big or go home, right?  So far so good, but I am sure it takes a few treatments to start seeing the side effects.

Conceal don’t feel…

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After talking with my doctor Monday, I may have to do a couple extra treatments for a total of 10. Apparently, there is a certain doasge she is looking for me to receive and 8 treatments won’t get me there. Boooooo! I called her out on it and she said we would just have to see. I can handle two more weeks. I think! I am eager to start the radiation discussion so I can really start to put an end date on the active treatments. I can see an end now, but I want a true visual. This journey had a fuzzy start and once we started talking a plan and dates it made it easier to focus. Now, I am ready to further define the end. I will still have to take a pill for five years, but I can handle that.

Remaining positive and pushing through each day. Relying on scripture and friends and family to continue to carry/support me through the end. I remain amazed at the calls, texts, flowers, gifts that continue to come. It has touched my heart and makes me smile. I swear on a day, I am feeling down or discouraged someone comes through with encouragement in some form. God is good, and He is working through you. Thank you and I will remain forever grateful and humbled.

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All my love…live each day big for you never know what tomorrow will bring.

Rachel

Yellow Brick Road

Things change quickly in the cancer bubble. I am writing to you today from Room 515 of the hospital. I will be set free today, which is ironic as we celebrate The 4th today. Ha!  Late Sunday night, my stomach was hurting and I didn’t think much about it. Long story short, I had some stomach issues, (I will spare you details) crazy chills (uncontrollable shaking to where I thought my teeth were going to break) and spiked a 102 fever in a matter of two hours. So, around midnight Mike took me to the ER. My blood counts showed low white counts(to be expected) and low lactic acid, and my heart rate was pretty high. Dehydration was also mentioned. They started treating me for an infection while they ran cultures. I received antibiotics that I never knew existed. They ran a new one through my port every hour. In total, I think I received about 15 bags of antibiotics and 7 or eight bags of fluids. No infection has been detected, and they believe dehydration was the cause. The red devil won round 4. I will say I haven’t felt this good in a long time. My skin even feels smooth and soft. It is crazy to me that I have felt like crap for so long that I thought my level of crappy was normal, and I was just pushing through. My body just said not today…she was tired and couldn’t keep up with the devil. I am drinking 80-100 oz of water a day, but I am really going to have to find a way to add more. This should be interesting.

I am doing good now and ready to go home. While there is no place like hope; there is also no place like home.  I am clicking my red sequined shoes and patiently waiting for takeoff back to “Kansas”.

Partying in the ER at 1am Sunday…looking at this now my belly was so bloated.  Chemo gives zero cares about vanity. Haha! It was my first all nighter in a long time. The ER is an interesting place, but I much prefer the Penthouse for late night. (Inside joke and a shout-out to a few special ladies)

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Who is ready for some BBQ….meeeeeee!  Stay safe everyone and Happy 4th of July!

All my love, live each day big for you never know what tomorrow will bring.

Rachel