Friday, September 28, 2012

My First Day of Chemotherapy

Yesterday morning I began my chemotherapy treatment. I arrived at 8:45am and was on my way home at 1pm.  It really was not what I expected at all.

Me in my Chemotherapy Chair
The room at my oncologist's office where the chemotherapy is injected was full of the reclining chairs as pictured above.  There are many televisions in the room that patients can watch (wireless headphones are provided).  There is also free guest wifi available, so that if you need to work (or just want to play on the internet) you may.  They offer you a warm blanket (or you can bring your own) because the room is kept very cold.

This is the machine that they connect to my port to inject medication.

This port implanted in my chest on Wednesday is so weird!  The first thing the nurse does when you arrive for chemo is clean the port area and draw a ton of blood from it.  It is strange to see vials of blood drawn from your chest within seconds.  They check my blood to make sure my cell counts are high enough to enable me to endure the treatment.  My cell counts were OK yesterday, so they began treatment.

Before they inject the actual AC (Adriamycin Cytoxin, my chemotherapy for the next three months), they inject a lot of other things:  saline, anti-nausea drugs, steroids.  I didn't receive the steroid injection yesterday since I had already begun a steroid pack for hives issue (I have discovered since all of this started that I am allergic to CT contrast and latex).  When they inject saline into my port, I can taste metallic gases immediately.  It is such a strange and icky feeling.

I was feeling pretty well following the injections until last night. That is when nausea began.  I am in the process of figuring out how to manage the nausea, much like I did when I had morning sickness with both children.  So far, I have found that using my motion sickness wrist bands, combined with trying to drink water as frequently as possible and eating even when I don't feel like it works best.  It is so hard to eat when nothing sounds good though. 

This afternoon I went back to the oncologist to receive my Neulasta injection.  It is much like receiving a flu shot, except they hold the needle in much longer since there is quite a bit of medication to inject.  This injection is given to keep my immunity up.  About an hour after receiving the shot, my lips and mouth began to swell.  So, I returned to the oncologist's office and they injected me with more steroids through my port and told me to go home and take Benadryl around the clock.  Perhaps I am allergic to something in the Neulasta.  We are probably going to need to change some things up for the next round.  My body is not used to having any medication, so it is getting a bit overwhelmed.

Enough with the boring chemotherapy updates.  How about some positive news?  First, when I returned home from my injection, I discovered a wonderful surprise that was delivered by Fedex to my front porch. Some of my friends at one of my former employers, Dayco, sent me the best care package imaginable.  I was overwhelmed by their generosity and thoughtfulness!  Each gift had been thoughtfully selected and I just sat in tears as I read each card and looked at each of these things these wonderful women purchased or made specifically for me.  I thank God for all of the wonderful friends he has put in my path throughout my life.  Abbey and Luke enjoyed looking at the items in the package also.  We captured a couple of photos of Abbey, but Luke, as you can probably guess, moves too swiftly for a camera to capture. 

The package was full of thoughtful gifts--scarves, a beautiful hand-made bag, blankets, books and magazines to get me through the chemo sessions, lotion, lip balm, a special bracelet, pajamas, a comfy robe, and more!

We have also already received some delicious meals from friends.  We are SO thankful for these.  We are thankful for our friends who continue to bring milk for Abbey and for our friends who are watching the kids when needed so Drew can go with me to some of my appointments.  We are most thankful for the hundreds of people praying for us right now.  The prayers are truly felt.  We are just feeling so blessed right now.  Sometimes, it takes times like these for us to realize all of the many blessings we have.  God has taught me the importance these friendships.

And, I can tell you that God has made himself SO present in all of this.  I see His Holy Spirit in our young children.  Some of the things Luke has been saying lately are WAY too mature for his age.  I know these specific words are coming from the Lord.  I could document countless examples on here--enough for an entire post.  But, I think it is important for me to share at least a few.  Luke turns three years old next week.  Today, he has asked me numerous times about my "boo boo."  He asked if it was getting better.  He told me that he is so happy to see me several times.  He said, "I love you mommy" and hugged me countless times today.  He asked if he could bring me my water.  He asked if he could hold my hand.  He asked if he could rub my feet (I am not sure WHERE he got this sweet and so intuitive).   He brought me his "blue blankie" (this is his lovey that no one gets to touch normally) to comfort me.  This is just today!  Each time he said these things I felt my spirits lifted.  One more example of his ability to relate and comfort:  When he first saw my bandage from my biopsy two weeks ago, he asked me what happened.  I told him it was just a boo-boo.  He then showed me a boo-boo on his knee.  He said, "See that mommy--that was bigger but now it is smaller.  It is getting all better."  He was telling me that my boo-boo would heal also.   And Abbey--oh precious Abbey.  It is so hard to feel ill when Abbey is making hilarious faces, doing funny things, or giving you her precious smiles, hugs or kisses.  Thank you Lord for orchestrating all of this and giving us these precious children to provide so much joy during this difficult time!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Answered Prayers thus far

Remember the list of prayer requests from my "I Have Cancer" post? Here are some that have already been answered:

  • That the cancer is contained to the breast area and has not spread to ANY other organ.   Prayer Answered
  • That the treatment team is the best possible for my specific cancer.  If we need to travel to get that best treatment, we are willing.     Prayer Answered
  • That I can get all of my appointments scheduled just as quickly as possible so we can treat this rapidly.    Prayer Answered--I think I may even have a record time on this one.
  • That I will be as healthy as possible through all this.  I currently have bronchitis and it is difficult to breath.  I feel very weak, lightheaded and dizzy, and I am hoping this will all pass when the bronchitis passes.    Prayer is being answered-I feel SO MUCH better!
  • That Abbey can start more easily drinking formula.  She is now doing pretty well drinking breastmilk out of the sippy cup, but knows when we try to sneak the formula in.  We are starting to be able to get the mix of breastmilk and formula down her.  However, with my need to discontinue lactation, the supply is getting low.    Prayer Answered--Abbey is doing SO WELL!  She is even drinking out of a bottle! Thank you to all of the wonderful mommas who have donated milk to help us wean her.  This has been, and continues to be, extremely helpful.
  • And lastly, that I find time to visit my family in between treatments.  I really miss them.    Prayer Answered--my parents visited last weekend, we visited Drew's family in Houston Sunday and Monday, and hopefully, after we figure out this chemo thing, maybe I can visit my Oklahoma family sometime soon.

Here are some other answered prayers:
  • Andrea, Drew's cousin, set up a prayer event for Monday (9/24) on Facebook titled "Healing for Heather."  We have really felt the numerous prayers.  On Monday, God orchestrated the appointment  at MD Anderson and even the specific words used by the physician to make it extremely clear where he wanted my treatment.  Also, we feel so comfortable with the treatment plan and our local oncologist's expertise based on the MD Anderson appointment.  This has added to our peace and strength to continue in beating this cancer.    Prayer Answered
  • Immediately after my diagnosis, I was very concerned about being a burden on Drew, and him missing some work to go to a lot of initial appointments.   His manager and team has been AMAZING. They told him to focus on taking care of me and not to worry about work.  Of course, he is still going to be an extremely dedicated and diligent employee as he has always been, but a huge burden has been lifted.  He doesn't have to worry about needing to take off of work for all of these initial appointments.  Prayer Answered
  • I had an MRI of the brain and lumbar region on Saturday to rule out some things based on some symptoms I have been having.  The results showed the brain is clear of tumors and the lumbar region also looked great (other than some early arthritic changes).   Prayer Answered
  • Lastly, Drew and I just have an extreme sense of peace about everything.  This type of peace can only come from prayers being answered in my opinion.  This is an extremely scary thing we are going through, and I know the road ahead will be extremely tough.  However, we are dealing with each day as it comes, trying not to worry about the future. God has given us so much peace.  Mathew 6: 25-31 says,
25"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?26"Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 28And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
31"So do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?' or `What shall we drink?' or `What shall we wear?' 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Thank you again for your continued prayers.  Here are our current prayer requests:

  1. That things feel as normal as possible to Luke and Abbey.  Luke knows something is wrong with me and he is the sweetest little guy ever!  He has been loving on me extra hard and asks me each day if my boo boo is getting better.  He has even offered his words of encouragement, showing me his "boo-boos" that were once big but are getting smaller and smaller each day.  
  2. That the port-placement surgery goes extremely well and I have no sedation issues.  
  3. That my body tolerates the chemotherapy well and that it is extremely effective in ridding my body of the cancer.  (Basically, prayers for complete healing).
  4. I have been broken out in hives since the day following my PET/CT scan last week (Wednesday).  Perhaps I am allergic to the contrast. So, I have been itching continuously since then.  I am taking benadryl as often as I am allowed, but they have not yet gone away.  Also, I found out that hives are a pretty common side affect of chemotherapy.  So, I ask for prayers that these hives go away and don't come back!  
Love you all!

My first MD Anderson appointment

I was so happy that my parents drove down from Oklahoma to visit for the weekend.  I missed them and just even wanted to be able to hug them before I start this treatment journey.  They drove down on Friday and headed back on Sunday. As they headed  to Oklahoma, we headed to Houston for our MD Anderson appointment on Monday.

MD Anderson is HUGE!  This makes me hate cancer even more.  I can't believe that mini-City (MD Anderson) was just full of cancer patients.  I was able to spend a lot of time with the nurse practitioner and physician with whom I was scheduled.  The physician had reviewed my entire file and recommended a treatment plan that was almost identical to what the oncologist near our house said she would recommend.   When I told her what the local oncologist recommended, she said she was fine with that as well and understood why she wanted to recommend that.  When I asked her why she recommended the treatment in reversal, she explained that it was just the "MD Anderson Way" and that she didn't mind me getting the treatment in either order.  I asked her if there were any other benefits to me going to MD Anderson for my treatment.  She stated that if it were her, she would probably want to stay near home and keep life as normal as possible since we have small children.  She said she does not receive any special incentives for us going there (MD Anderson) for treatment and there would really be no difference in the chemotherapy.  She then asked the name of the local oncologist.  When we stated her name, she immediately said, "Oh!   You all are good....just go to her. And, I wouldn't say that about any oncologist, but she is really good."

There is, however, one potential clinical trial in which I may be eligible to participate at MD Anderson. It is based on my cancer pathology having a positive Her2 status and is a vaccine administered once every three months.  The vaccine helps prevent the continuous spread of the cancer.   I found out on Monday morning by phone my Her2 status is negative; however, the physician at MD Anderson said she needs to see the full pathology report to determine my eligibility.  There are different ways of determining Her2 status, and it is possible I could be even a slight percentage positive.  If I am the slightest percentage positive, I would be eligible to participate in the clinical trial.  She said if that is the case, then traveling to MD Anderson once every three months for that would be totally worth it.  Her2 positive cancers are extremely aggressive.  She said I could receive chemotherapy treatment locally near our home and still participate in the trial.

One thing the doctor recommended is that I have an ultrasound and potential biopsy of some of the enlarged lymph nodes in my neck prior to beginning chemotherapy.  She said it is important to know the cancer involvement of those for the radiation oncologist down the road.  I asked her, "If we decided to go with MD Anderson for treatment, would I be able to get that Ultrasound and potential biopsy that day (or even the following day).  Also, when will I be able to begin treatment."  She said that I would have to call the MD Anderson appointment scheduling team to schedule the ultrasound and the appointment would likely be next week.  I really liked the oncologist I met with and I was so thankful for her honesty and expertise.

After the appointment at MD Anderson on Monday afternoon, we felt at complete peace with our decision.  We would stay home for the chemotherapy treatments and try to keep life as normal as possible for our kiddos.  I called the oncologist back home and was able to get an Ultrasound for this afternoon, right after we got back home from Houston.  Then, I get the port surgically implanted tomorrow and start chemotherapy on Thursday.  So, here we go!!!  Again, we were so thankful for the quickly scheduled MD Anderson appointment.  It helped us feel like we made the most informed decision and it is enabling us to start treating immediately.   Thank you everyone for the many prayers.  My next post is going to be about all of the answered prayers we have already witnessed!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!

This is getting real.

After our first visit to the Oncologist on Friday, the cancer diagnosis became very real.  We really connected with the oncologist here and her office happens to be just a couple of minutes from our house.  We knew we were going to like her when she asked us if we were familiar with the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and then proceeded to describe cancer and my cancer treatment using the movie as an analogy.  She said, imagine the cancer cell as "orks."  There are a lot of them and they continue to multiply.  To kill them, you not only need to stab them in the heart, but also need to cut off their head (sorry if that is a bit gruesome). Now, it does no good if you continue to kill them but don't do anything about the fact that they are multiplying.  You don't gain any ground.  So, what we do with the cancer is we attack it with two separate chemotherapy treatments.  If the first doesn't kill the cells, we hope the second round will.  At the same time, we have to prevent new cancer cells from growing.  Since my cancer is estrogen receptor (and progesterone receptor) positive, the cancer cells thrive on those hormones and needs estrogen in order to grow.  So, we fake them out with a drug called "tamoxifen" which binds to those cells but does not activate them.  Thus, breast cancer growth is hopefully blocked.   So, here is her recommended treatment regimen:

  • 9/26/12:  (yes, that is tomorrow) 11am:  Port (or portacath) placement via sedated surgery   3pm (echocardiogram of my heart to use as a baseline)
  • 9/27/12:  First Chemotherapy treatment.  I will do one dose of AC (Adriamycin and Cytoxan) every 3 weeks (takes 4 hours) x 4 doses.  So, I will have 12 weeks or three months of this chemotherapy.  Apparently, I will feel like I have the flu, with a lot of fatique, with this treatment.  I will most likely feel my worst around day 7 after treatment, with the day or so leading up to and following the treatment being pretty tough as well.  The doctor said she can give me plenty of meds to help with nausea, but she cannot give me anything to help with the fatigue.   During days 8-14 following the chemo treatment my immunity will be at its lowest.  We are going to need to implement some really good routines at our house to prevent illness.  This means that Luke will need to be doused in Purell every Tuesday and Thursday when he is picked up from school.  We will also have to be careful about having people over.  The doctor jokingly said, "I am going to help you beat this cancer, but I don't want you dying on me with a silly cold!"   The doc also mentioned that I WILL lose my hair.  It starts falling out around two weeks into the treatment.  
  • 9/28/12: Injection of Neulasta (prescription medicine used to reduce the risk of infection due to the strong chemotherapy I will be receiving, which lowers the number of infection-fighting white blood cells)
  • Following the first three months of this strong chemotherapy, I will go through three months of chemo treatment using the drug, Taxol.  I will have an injection weekly for 12 weeks (approximately one hour).  Apparently, this treatment is not as hard on the body as the first treatment (AC).
  • Then, I will have surgery, then radiation, and then "BAM" the cancer is gone.  This is what we are praying and is actually how the doctor described the process.  I said, "OK, let's do it!"   We told her we had an appointment at MD Anderson on Monday.  She told us they would recommend pretty much the same treatment, only in reversal.  She said she was fine with that, but recommended the reversed way because she likes her patients to have the less harsh on the body treatment right before surgery.  I will also be taking tamoxifen for 5 plus years daily.  

Before we left, I had 5 vials of blood drawn and I was scheduled for an MRI Brain, MRI lumbar and echocardiogram.  Is there a test or imaging study that I have not had in the past week?   Going to all of these doctor's appointments has been like a full time job for the past week and a half.  But, I am so thankful I have been able to be scheduled for all of these exams so swiftly. The oncologist said that I need to start chemotherapy as soon as possible due to the aggressive nature of my cancer and my age.  We were so thankful to have the appointment with MD Anderson on Monday as a second opinion so that we could begin treatment as soon as possible.  Stay tuned for another blog post about our MD Anderson appointment.  

Friday, September 21, 2012

Trying not to "waste" my cancer.

Our Church campus pastor forwarded to me a really good article from Jon Piper titled, "Don't Waste Your Cancer."  Here is one part of the article that is very important to me right now:

"You will waste your cancer if you spend too much time reading about cancer and not enough time reading about God.

It is not wrong to know about cancer. Ignorance is not a virtue. But the lure to know more and more and the lack of zeal to know God more and more is symptomatic of unbelief. Cancer is meant to waken us to the reality of God. It is meant to put feeling and force behind the command, “Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord” (Hosea 6:3). It is meant to waken us to the truth of Daniel 11:32, “The people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.” It is meant to make unshakable, indestructible oak trees out of us: “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:2). What a waste of cancer if we read day and night about cancer and not about God."
When you are diagnosed with cancer, it is difficult trying to refrain from spending time on the internet researching and trying to learn all you can know about the disease.  Now, there is nothing wrong with being informed.  However, if it begins taking time away from time reading about God and if it begins taking time away from being able to cherish the special moments I do have here on earth with my precious family, then it can become a problem.  Honestly, I have not been looking much up about this cancer, because I am fearful to see certain grim statistics about life expectancy, etc.  Another important part of Jon Piper's article states, "You will waste your cancer if you seek comfort from your odds rather than from God."  For me, that means not even seeing my "odds".  To be completely honest, my stomach hurts when I think about my odds.  I need to rely on the comforting thought that God is Sovereign and has designed this cancer for me.

We missed church on Sunday, because I was pretty ill with bronchitis.  I went to the doctor early Sunday morning to get an antibiotic.  A friend in our small group said that it was almost like the sermon we missed was directed at our current situation.  So, Drew and I watched the sermon on youtube with his parents on Monday night. It is such an awesome message and I truly did feel it was directed at me.  The title is, "Jesus, the Person of Power--Raiser of the Dead".  Here it is in case you are interested:

Thursday, September 20, 2012

We are headed to MD Anderson on Monday!!!

I can't believe I just typed that Blog Post Title!  It is true--exactly a week following my diagnosis, we will be headed to MD Anderson to meet with an awesome Breast Oncologist!  One of our great friend's half-sisters is actually a Director at MD Anderson and, thus, was able to move my appointment from October 2 to either this afternoon or Monday, September 24!!  And better yet--it is with one of her favorite breast Oncologists.  I couldn't ask for better timing.  When we visit her at noon on Monday, we will have had an ultrasound and mammogram on both breasts, left breast core biopsy and lymph node biopsy and pathology reports, BRAC Analysis (genetic testing), PET/CT, meeting with a Breast surgeon, as well as a meeting with a local Oncologist.  Whew!   I can't believe we will have accomplished all of this in one week since diagnosis.  Thank you Lord for helping all of this move so swiftly!!!  And, thank you to all of our friends who have helped us get all of these appointments so quickly!  I have heard that getting into MD Anderson with an appointment this soon is just unheard of, so thank you to all of you who helped make this possible.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Day 3 following Cancer Diagnosis

Warning--Long post!

Today has been a good day.  We have received an overwhelming outpouring of love from all over the United States.  Of course, most important are the prayers that have been, and continue to be, prayed on our behalf around the clock.  Thank you--we definitely feel your prayers.  [As a side note, even though I haven't been able to respond to each of your facebook messages, emails, blog comments and text messages, please know that I have read each of them and they mean so much.  We have been SO busy scheduling and going to doctor's appointments, requesting medical records, faxing paperwork to MD Anderson, etc., that I have not had a chance to respond.  As soon as things slow down a bit, I will definitely respond.]  I feel like God has already taught us so much during this process.  First, I will provide updates with details on what I know, so far, is going on in my body.  Then, I want to share what God has already taught me since my diagnosis. 

Part 1:  What is going on?

On Monday morning, we received the verbal pathology results of the left breast and axillary lymph node biopsy.  For those who like to know all of the specific details, here you go.  The core needle biopsy of the left breast mass, which measures approximately 14.5 x 9 x 7cm, showed presence of invasive mammary carcinoma, ductal type.  The grade was "moderately differentiated, modified Bloom-Richardson Score of 6 of 9."  We are still awaiting the addendum of the report, which will include the results for ER (estrogen receptor), PR (progesterone receptor) and Her2/neu status.  We should receive those results very soon.  The left axillary lymph node, fine needle aspiration sample came back as positive as well (metastatic adenocarcinoma).

After hearing the news, we moved swiftly into business mode.  We were able to get an appointment with the surgeon the following day at 11am.  This was awesome since we were told to expect to get in by the end of the week or earliest part of the following week at the earliest.  The surgeon was amazing.  She spent probably an hour and a half with us.  She went through the results, reviewed the images with us, gave us the BRAC analysis genetic test to complete, and even used the Ultrasound wand herself to look at the breast.  She answered all of our questions, and told us what to expect as far as treatment goes.  She said to expect 24 weeks of chemotherapy, followed by a surgery and then radiation treatment.   The BRAC analysis test is pretty much standardly administered now in Breast cancer patients, since disease may come from an inherited genetic condition known as hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC) syndrome. This condition is caused by changes, or "mutations" in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes and passed down from parent to child. Families with HBOC syndrome tend to have more cases of breast and ovarian cancer than average families. Cancer often happens at a younger age and across generations.  So, the BRAC analysis test I took will tell me if I have this mutation.  If so, I will likely need a double mastectomy eventually, as well as will need to have my ovaries removed to prevent a re-occurrence once this cancer is beat.  In addition, if it comes back positive, there is a 50% chance my siblings, parents and children also have this mutation.  We are praying that this mutation does not exist in me.  

We asked the surgeon about what she thought the staging might be.  She said, if it is not in any other organ, it would likely be Stage 3C.  This is kind of what I expected based on what I read, but not what I had hoped.  Breast Cancer stages go from 0 to 4.  She told us that if it had moved into another organ, that would be stage 4.  When we asked her about her thoughts on us going to MD Anderson for treatment and opinions, she mentioned that she thought it would be a good idea if it were stage 4, just because they have access to more clinical trials.  She also thought it would be a good idea to go, regardless, to receive a second opinion.  However, chemotherapy is chemotherapy.  There is a standard recognized concoction and dosage, so it doesn't really matter where I receive that.  So, while we were sitting in her office, she even made a physician referral online!!  Again, she was awesome.  She then referred us for a PET/CT and to an Oncologist.

With God's orchestration and the amazing people at ARA, we were able to schedule a PET/CT the very next day (today) at 9am.  We also have an Oncologist appointment scheduled for Friday (even though we were told it may take a while to get in to see her).  Two deacons and two elders from our church came over last night to pray for me.  It was an amazing time of worship through prayer and I now feel completely at peace with everything.  We prayed specifically for complete healing and that this cancer had not spread beyond the breast and lymph nodes in the area.  This morning, the PET/CT exam at ARA went so well. It was a quick process and I received amazing care.  The radiologist even sat with us to review the results personally in his office.  He began by saying, "I am so sorry Heather, this is very extensive."  I immediately was fearful it had spread beyond the breast and area lymph nodes.  When I found that the cancer was covering almost the entire left breast, many left axillary lymph nodes, as well as lymph nodes in my sternum and neck, I said, "That is awesome--Praise the Lord."  I am sure he probably has not heard many patients be that excited to hear they have such extensive cancer, but I was just so thankful it had not spread to another organ.  He did have suspicion that there was cancer in my right breast, but it is so difficult to tell on that particular imaging study on a lactating breast. Again, the radiologist was awesome.  He made a phone call to another radiologist at ARA, who is a breast specialist, to see what she recommended as far as the further evaluation of the right breast was concerned.  Also, he contacted the oncologist who I will see on Friday to get her opinion.  She recommended we rule out the involvement of the right breast.  So, I visited another ARA office this afternoon for an Ultrasound (and possible biopsy of my right breast).  Thankfully, there is no cancer in my right breast!

While all these appointments have been scheduled so rapidly and I have been getting results, we have had so many people helping us out in trying to get into MD Anderson. Drew's best man and college buddy has been such an amazing friend in all this.  He has worked so hard at contacting various experts in the area of Breast Cancer.  He has some great contacts who have helped us get into MD Anderson.  We have an appointment scheduled for October 2 for another opinion on treatment options with a Breast Cancer Oncologist at MD Anderson.  Drew's friend also has a contact who is an oncologist.  She has offered to talk to us about treatments as well.  Lastly, a great friend in our Church Community group also has a relative that works specifically in the breast center.  She is one of the first individuals I would see at my first visit to MD Anderson.  So, perhaps we can get in even sooner with her help as well.  I know the sooner I begin Chemotherapy, the better.

In the meantime, my bronchitis is getting less annoying (slowly going away) and Abbey is taking a sippy cup.  These are also huge answers to prayers.  I have been just amazed at the outpouring of love of our friends.  Several women have either donated or offered to donate breast milk to us.  This has really helped to lift a heavy burden off our shoulders, as going through cancer is hard enough.  Adding trying to quickly wean your baby, who won't take a bottle and hates formula, makes things so much harder both physically and emotionally.  Abbey takes breast milk from a sippy cup at all meals now.  We are slowly adding more and more formula to the breast milk and it seems to be working.        

Drew's parents being here to support us and take care of the kids has been a huge help as well.  We certainly would not have been able to attend all of these back to back to back doctor's appointments without their help staying here and taking care of the kiddos.  Another huge burden was lifted here.  

Part 2:  What has God taught me so far?

1.  He is Sovereign, in complete control, and for that I am thankful.  As I sat in the chair this morning receiving the FDG (radioactive solution) intravenously prior to my PET/CT study, I prayed and reflected.  I had an hour to do this prior to the study.  I thought back as to how God has orchestrated my life.  His orchestration has lead up to how he sent me to Austin and I began employment at ARA, one of the top radiology groups in the nation.  I then found and fell in love with someone who could not be a more perfect husband for me, Drew.  We have two beautiful children when I thought having children was not even possible for me, according to a previous medical opinion.  And, then I was stricken with cancer.  I have been able to get into each of these doctors' appointments so swiftly.  This has been due to the help of many involved--contacts at ARA and friends of mine and Drew.  Drew's parents happen to live in the Houston area (if we need to go to MD Anderson).  Five of my friends are breastfeeding right now-they have helped out with Abbey's transition from breastmilk to formula.  So, Drew and I have moved from a mindset of, "why did I get cancer?" to "wow, God has totally orchestrated everything in our lives, knowing I would get cancer, to help me beat it."

2.  God has taught me to not sweat the small stuff.  I know, that sounds so cliche'.   But seriously, when you are faced with the possibility of death, a lot of things that mattered so much before no longer matter.  My perspective has completely changed.  I am going to make the most of every moment I have from here on out with my family and focus on spending my time loving others. 

3.  God has taught me that there really is a good reason to what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments from Matthew 22:36-40:  When Jesus was asked which is the greatest commandment in the Law, he replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  I am going to make sure I follow these two commandments all the days of my life.  So many people have been pouring out their Christ-like sacrificial love to us and I know the great impact it has had already on our lives. 
I know there is more, but this post is already so long.  I will share more of what I am learning from this experience in my next post. 

Love, Heather

Monday, September 17, 2012

I have cancer. :-(

I got the news earlier this morning that I have Invasive Ductal Cancer.  This is the most common type of breast cancer.  My lymph node biopsy also came back as being positive for the cancer, so we know it is in my lymph system.  It appears to be in many lymph nodes, which means the cancer is likely advanced stage. You can read the blog post about my journey to this point right now by clicking here.   It was a tough weekend waiting to hear the results.  However, yesterday was SO MUCH easier than Saturday.  We are sure it was due to the countless prayers going up and we thank all of you who have prayed and continue to pray.  We are also so extremely thankful for our church Community Group!  One couple brought us dinner last night, one dropped by some extra pumped breast milk and all have offered to help in SO MANY ways!  They are praying continuously as well.  What amazing friends (or as we call them, our Austin family).  Lastly, we are thankful Drew's parents were able to come stay with us for a while, as we attend appointments, try to wean Abbey to a sippy cup, etc.  They happened to walk through the door this morning just as we were receiving the pathology results by phone, so it was perfect timing!

When we heard the results this morning, Drew and I surprisingly felt a sense of peace. Of course, this is very sad news and we know it will be a tough road ahead of us, but we can, with God's help, get through this. Your continued prayers are greatly appreciated.

Our next step will be to meet with the Breast Surgeon tomorrow morning at 11am.  We are hoping to find more answers then.  The Breast Surgeon is the central point of contact for the treatment team.  I am sure we will have a ton of doctor's appointments over the coming weeks so that we can find out more about this cancer and the treatment plan.  The next step will be for the surgeon to schedule a PET CT so that we can find out whether this is contained to the breast area or not.  We are really praying that it is contained, but we know that this is typically a very aggressive cancer in young women.  Especially considering how quickly it has progressed in my body.  Once we have those results, I am sure we will be referred to an oncologist so we can create the treatment plan.  We're not sure if I will need to begin chemotherapy or radiation therapy right away or if I will have surgery first.  We are pretty certain that the treatment will involve a mastectomy of the left breast, but are uncertain at which point in time that will happen.

I am in business mode right now--let's get this taken care of!  I am ready to move forward and past this and hope that this will be all in the the past very soon.  We have so many decisions ahead of us.  For those of you who wish to follow our journey, I will be documenting it here.  Again, we would REALLY appreciate your prayers, because we believe in the power of prayer.  Here are our requests today:

  • That the cancer is contained to the breast area and has not spread to ANY other organ. 
  • That the treatment team is the best possible for my specific cancer.  If we need to travel to get that best treatment, we are willing.  
  • That I can get all of my appointments scheduled just as quickly as possible so we can treat this rapidly.
  • That the prognosis is excellent. 
  • That our children are not negatively affected by the emotions of all of this.  Also, that we will be able to take care of them easily.
  • That I will be as healthy as possible through all this.  I currently have bronchitis and it is difficult to breath.  I feel very weak, lightheaded and dizzy, and I am hoping this will all pass when the bronchitis passes.  
  • That Abbey can start more easily drinking formula.  She is now doing pretty well drinking breastmilk out of the sippy cup, but knows when we try to sneak the formula in.  We are starting to be able to get the mix of breastmilk and formula down her.  However, with my need to discontinue lactation, the supply is getting low. 
  • I have a strong desire to survive this.  I want to be here for my husband and children for a really long time!
  • And lastly, that I find time to visit my family in between treatments.  I really miss them. 
Thanks again for your continued prayers!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

God's Sovereignty as Comfort during Tough Times

WARNING--this is a very long post and has some pretty detailed information regarding lactation. 

Yesterday (9/14/12) was such a tough day.  It was a day that will change my life forever regardless of the outcome (results that we find out Monday).  Yesterday morning, I had an ultrasound of a large mass in my left breast.  I am currently breastfeeding our precious Abbey, so initially I thought perhaps I had a lot of galactoceles forming around the side by my arm.  Galactoceles are milk-filled cysts that lactating women sometimes get.  I had found out in February that I had one on the opposite side of the same breast.  Over the past few months, I have had various ailments and noticed one of my lymph nodes under my left armpit was enlarged.  I had a large mole under that arm that I had all my life, so I thought perhaps it could be related.  I had that removed in June and it was, thankfully, benign.  Over Labor Day weekend, I really worked on trying to get rid of a mass that formed in my left breast.  As I read online about how to get rid of it, I also started reading some scary discussions about breast cancers in lactating women.  They pop up quickly and are very aggressive, with poor prognosis.  I tried heat, massage, pumping, etc.  But, I also noticed my nipple was also pulling towards the mass.  Finally, I called my OB/GYN who scheduled an appointment to take a look. She thought it was probably related to engorgement, but sent me for an Ultrasound.  The Ultrasound unfortunately couldn't be scheduled for a week and a half later.  I found another place that could get me in the following day, but my OB/GYN insisted I got to a particular women's imaging facility and she said she was comfortable with the time frame.

Yesterday was that appointment.  As I lay on the examination table, I watched the screen as the sonographer scanned my breast.  What I saw did not look good.  But, I still hoped I could be mistaken.  The radiologist then took a look and told me what she saw looked "very suspicious" of cancer.  She said that these types of cancers pop up quickly and are very aggressive in young, lactating women due to the significant increase in certain hormones (estrogen).  She saw at least a few lymph nodes under arm (apparently these were all of the lumps that I thought were more galactoceles) and one in my chest that were enlarged.  In addition, the mass spanned across two (upper) quadrants of my left breast.  I saw a rather large blood supply that was feeding to the mass.  The office squeezed me in for a biopsy at 11:45am and I should receive the results by Monday afternoon.

I was pretty insistent on continuing to breastfeed Abbey through this, so I tried to pump my left side so that it would continue to produce milk.  After the pump container filled with blood-tinged milk and clots, I made a call to the doctor.  She told me something that was SO hard to hear.  She said, "Now we won't have the pathology results until Monday, but you really need to think about weaning your daughter because there is a VERY REAL possibility you will need to start chemotherapy soon".  She told me only to pump to relieve engorgement and to try not to pump at all on that side so it can heal.  After that call, I broke down in tears.  So many thoughts went through my head:

  • I am not ready to wean Abbey.  I hope she will not refuse formula or the sippy cup (we've tried bottles and failed for months).
  • It will be so difficult to take care of my kiddos and myself during this tough time.  My primary job is to take care of them!
  • I want to survive this!  I want to help them grow up.  I am too young!
  • I miss my family! (we don't have immediate family here)
  • I don't want to be a burden for Drew.  He is such a good, loving husband.   He has a great job that he loves and I don't want him to have to take any time off because of this. 
I got no sleep last night.  But, I did pray over and over and over.  In addition to all of the thoughts running through my head, I am also sick with a cold.  So, I can hardly breath.  And, I can only lay on one side due to the biopsy on the other side.  So, I was very uncomfortable anyway. After one prayer that Drew prayed with me, I felt comforted.  It was almost as if the heavenly Father was patting me, telling me he was going to take care of me.  Although my biological father or mother is not nearby, He is always with me.  He is sovereign and knows the journey I will be going through.  In fact, it has all been orchestrated to bring Him Glory.  This is the only thought I rest upon that gives me comfort. So, I will continue to rest on this and make my requests be known to Him.  I pray for strength, courage and comfort so my children don't see my pain.  I pray for miraculous healing of whatever is causing this in my body.  I pray that if it is a cancer as they suspect, that it is limited to my left breast and has not spread via the lymph system to other parts of my body.  I pray that I will survive this so that I can continue His mission on earth.  I pray that if it is a cancer and I need Chemotherapy, that I am well enough to take care of my precious children.  I pray that I am not a burden for anyone.  This all sounds so negative and I know I am supposed to think positively, but it is so hard not to think of possibilities in the future given the doctor's talk to us yesterday.  She told us to prepare mentally for this.  Still yet, I am praying for a miracle right now. 

Today we are working hard at weaning Abbey to the sippy cup.  It is so hard to hear your precious baby scream for hours, knowing that she just wants to nurse.  We had her try some formula, which she has never ingested, and so far she has refused all but 1.5 ounces of it.  Meanwhile, I am still trying to pump milk for her out of my right side, but I am just not producing enough.  I have increased my pumping schedule but am just shocked at how much my supply has gone down.  This is so tough, but we will get through it all.  I am documenting my journey here so that we can go back someday and see how far we have come, giving God all the Glory! 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

We are ready for Fall!

Luke is watching a kite fly high above him.

This past weekend the weather was absolutely BEAUTIFUL!  So, we decided to play outdoors ALL WEEKEND LONG!   We stayed inside as very little as possible.  It felt great to be able to get some fresh air, since we have been spending way too much time indoors during this hot summer.

On Saturday morning, we visited the Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuary.  The Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuary is a pleasant Hill Country zoo experience where you can see the animals close-up, spend some time outdoors getting exercise, and have fun (taken directly from their website, but also very true).  The zoo is a non-profit organization and obtained most of their animals through their rescue operations.  I don't know why anyone would want to keep a pet tiger, lion or bear at home, but I guess some feel they need to have them as pets.  When these folks can no longer take care of them, the Austin Zoo comes in for the rescue.  Even some of the monkeys came from research labs.  Nonetheless, we loved visiting them on Saturday and getting super-close to them.  Luke wasn't as excited to get super close to this tiger--it was a little too close for comfort:

I am almost giddy about the thought of this weather sticking around for a while as the fall season approaches.  This is my favorite time of the year.  It brings cooler weather, fun times outdoors and NCAA football!  We loved our time at the zoo, walking down the paths in the beautiful hill country and seeing the animals up close.  You could tell the animals loved the weather also, as they were all out and about and playful.

Quack Quack!

Big Turtle!  Luke was having a conversation with him.

Luke was SO EXCITED about everything at the Zoo.  So Happy!

Super Close!

Peeking at some lions
We even saw an adorable family of peacocks walking along the path at the Zoo:  two mamas, many babies and some daddy peacocks perched pretty watching from above.  I think you can tell from this video how excited Luke was to be at the Zoo....he was so excited he could hardly talk about it!

After our trip to the Zoo, we ate and came back home for naps and then more fun outside!

Luke has never flown a kite.  So, we took a couple kites to a nearby field and had a blast with them.   The weather was perfect for kite-flying.

watching the kite fly high above

That's Buzz Lightyear flying HIGH above!
We just had so much fun being outdoors this past weekend and are excited for more of this weather!  Fall, we are SO ready for your arrival!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Back to School!

Last week was Luke's first day back to school....and it happened to be at a new school.  We all absolutely LOVE his new school, which is also just 4 miles from our house!  We met Luke's teacher, Ms. Krista, at meet the teacher night on August 30 and just knew it was going to be a great year.  She is awesome!  She has such a sweet demeanor and has some great experience.  She must really love two-year olds, because her and her husband also teach the two-year old Sunday school class at the church every week.  She included in our packet some biographical information about herself, in addition to her testimony.  She is very organized as well, and gives me information about how Luke did in school each day.  She has already told me that she thinks Luke is such a sweet little boy (which I agree with, but it is nice to hear from someone else as I know I am biased).  She seems to already understand that he thrives on environments where he can get lots of hugs.  Anyone who knows Luke gets that "Physical Touch" is one of his Love Languages.

Luke on his first day of school.
Luke attends from 9am-2pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Because of his age, he is required to have a nap or rest time from 12:15-1:30pm.  This was my biggest concern since he absolutely loves his two-hour naps each day (normally from about 1-3pm or so at our house).  But, he is adapting pretty well already.

Luke was waiting patiently for me to pick him up on Tuesday.  I was surprised when he wasn't extremely eager to leave.

We receive a written report each day about how Luke did at school, what he learned, how much food he ate, etc.  I love this!

Here is a picture of Luke I snapped with my phone when I picked him up on Thursday.  He and his new friend, Kaylee, were pretending to cook in the kitchen.   I figured he would probably either be playing with the kitchen or dolls when I arrived.  :-)

The tape on the floor is for circle time.  Luke told me about it on the way home from school the first day.  

Here is his class schedule.  He was pretty excited about his P.E. class on Thursday. 
I love that he has been telling me about Chapel Time each day.  I asked him about his prayer requests this past week.  (The kids pass around a rock and state their prayer request as they are holding the rock).  On Tuesday, he prayed for mommy and daddy.  On Thursday, he said he prayed for God---then corrected himself and said, " prayed for mommy and daddy again."   I wish I were a fly on the wall during prayer request time for a two-year old class.  That has to be so precious!

One of our least favorite things about this particular class is that it is peanut free.  There are a couple of kids in his class with peanut allergies.  Unfortunately, our Tuesday/Thursday lunch typically included a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, simply out of convenience.  Don't get me wrong--I completely understand the reasoning behind not allowing peanut butter in the class.  I would be very protective of my child as well if he/she had an allergy like that.  It just makes things a little more difficult.  Apparently, this is the only class at school (and Ms. Krista's first class) that is peanut free.  So, I visited Whole Foods and purchased some soy nut butter to replace the peanut butter.  We tried it on Thursday.  Luke ate every single bite of his meal that day!  We love our good eater!

I do have a funny story about Tuesday's lunch though.  :-)  On Tuesday, because I hadn't purchased the soy nut butter yet, I packed Luke some Macaroni and Cheese (along with peas and applesauce).  I didn't even open the lower sandwich compartment of his lunch bag, because I didn't need to place anything in there.  Then, on Tuesday night when Drew was asking Luke about his day at school and whether he ate his lunch, Luke stated in a very concerned voice, "Daddy, there was no sandwich--there was just blocks!"  Oops--this is what his lunch bag apparently looked like:

I guess Luke was pretending with his lunch bag the previous day and placed some Legos in that lower compartment.  Because he was used to always having a sandwich down there he was probably not amused by the blocks being there.  Also, his teachers probably thought I was having a rough morning when I packed his lunch!  Ha!

It appears like we will get some great communication along the way for each learning unit.  This will also help me reinforce what he is learning while we are home.

In a nutshell--we love his new school and teacher and are looking forward to a great year!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Abbey is 8 months old.

As of Monday, 9/3, Abbey is 8 months old!  Oh My!  

Abbey is such a sweetie pie!  Also, I think she is one of the most content babies in the world!  She loves to sit in one spot, or get on her belly, and just watch whatever is going on in her surroundings or plays with whatever toys are around her.  Of course, it probably helps that we bring her anything she needs.  She has no desire right now to be mobile, and I am perfectly alright with that.  She really balances out our household and God knew exactly what we needed.  Her brother, on the other hand, was extremely mobile at her age.  He actually was cruising around furniture even before he crawled (Luke didn't crawl until around 9 months of age).  He was very energetic even in the womb, and.....he is still is very mobile.  Abbey just giggles at him.  She thinks he is so silly!

 Abbey is a talker!  She currently says "dada", "mama", and "bubba", along with a bunch of gibberish.  And although she is very content, when you leave the room, she also likes to let you know very loudly that she is not happy with that.  She does not like her peeps to leave her!  Just because she is content does not mean that she is not loud.  When we are out and about and she remembers just how happy she is, she lets out these VERY LOUD happy screams.  We get many looks with body language that delivers the message, "please control your child who is hurting my ears".  Of course, I am sure those are people who have never had a child and do not understand that it is difficult for a baby to understand when it is alright to let out his or her loud happy sounds.  Nonetheless, we are trying to teach her these things.

Our sweet Abbey Lee

Abbey is getting tall.  Perhaps I measured incorrectly (I measured 3 times, but still, it is possible), but today she measured 29 1/2 inches.  Her infant carrier car seat only fits babies up to 28 1/2 inches tall--oops.  I don't know how she grew so quickly!  So, she has now transitioned to the massive, convertable car seat in our car.  This makes me sad for so many reasons.  First, my baby girl is growing up too quickly--she still is super-cuddly though!  Second, our front passenger seat had to be slid all the way forward, which makes it difficult for someone else to ride along with the driver and the two kids.  And last and most important, her car seat can no longer be clicked into the stroller base when we are out and about and she is still sleeping.  Bummer!  Oh well, I will just need to make sure I am home for her morning naptime from now on I guess.

Abbey is a great sleeper just like her brother.  She still does a great 45 minute to one-hour morning nap, a two-hour afternoon nap and sleeps 12 plus hours at night.  We usually put her to bed around 7pm, she wakes up to eat around 5:45am and then goes back to sleep until around 8am.  

She is still such a good eater.  Also, she now will drink milk out of a sippy cup.  This is a HUGE milestone.  She never drank milk out of a bottle.  We tried daily for many many months and then finally just gave up on it.  Then, we noticed around 5-6 months of age or so she was obsessed with trying to grab Luke's cup and hold it.  So, we bought her a sippy cup around that time.  At first, she just loved holding it and biting on the spout.  But, over the past month and a half or so, sippy cup time has become one of her favorite parts of mealtime.    

Abbey's favorite toys happen to all be Luke's toys.  Right now, Luke thinks this is cute.  But, I am sure he will soon realize it is not as fun as he thought it might be.  If Luke is playing with the Lego duplo blocks and Abbey is sitting next to him with some of her toys, of course, she grabs some of his blocks and begins playing.  If he is playing cars, she wants his cars.  I guess she is already looking up to big brother and is excited to be able to do what he does. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Birthday Celebrations!

This is a season of birthdays for our family!  Last week, we celebrated Drew's birthday (8/31), as well as our nieces', Audrey and Lauren's, birthdays (their actual birthday is today, 9/4).

Last week, I proclaimed it officially the week of Drew, as we celebrated his birthday all week.  I celebrated his birthday for an entire week 5 years ago as well.  So, I told him we would have a week-long celebration of his birth every 5 years, as he hits those key age milestones.  I am SO glad he was born!  Each day last week, I gave him a special gift to show him just how thankful I am for him.

Here, Drew is walking through the door after arriving home from work and sees one of the surprises we made for him.

He mentioned recently he would like to have some dominoes to play with Luke.  This was a Day 2 gift.

Looking at his gift and card for that day.

 Happy Birthday Drew (Daddy)!  We love you so much!

 After Drew enjoyed a fun golf tournament at Barton Creek Country Club with his dad, friend Adam and Adam's father-in-law on the morning of his birthday, we headed down to the Houston area to celebrate our nieces' birthday.  (Congratulations guys for scoring third place for the tourney!)

Audrey and Lauren turned 5 today.  I still cannot believe they are already 5!  Erica, Drew's sister, created such a cute "Under the Sea" Little Mermaid party for them.

Luke liked the decorations hanging from the ceiling.

The decorations made us feel we were under the sea!  There were balloon fish, water made out of streamers, and even jellyfish made from streamers.

Abbey enjoyed sitting with her new friends at the party.  (On Abbey's left are some of Audrey and Lauren's birthday gifts--two American Girl dolls).

The cake--entirely made by Erica!
Audrey's turn to blow out her #5 candle.
And Lauren's turn.