Thursday, April 25, 2013

Radiation--the countdown begins

I love knowing the exact number of radiation treatments I will have.  I have exactly 33 treatments scheduled.  This makes counting them down easy.  And, I know the exact date that I will be done--5/30/13.  With chemotherapy, I had a set number of treatments scheduled; however, at times, I would be in that infusion room every day due to having white blood counts too low for treatment.

So, I can tell you that as of the end of the day today, I will have completed 8/33 treatments.  Since I go every weekday, it seems like that magic number, "33", is getting here pretty quickly.

How am I feeling?
So far, most of the negative side effects of this radiation and chemo treatment regimen is from the chemo pill that I am taking every weekday.  First, the pill is a little tricky to take.  I have to take it every 12 hours, within 30 minutes after a meal and with a full glass of water.  The morning pill is pretty easy to take, because I have had breakfast.  We usually eat dinner early, so I have been eating some bedtime snacks so that I can take my pill on a somewhat full stomach.  Unfortunately, the pill has caused me all day nausea and tiredness last week, which can be difficult with 2 small kiddos.  But, I am feeling slightly better this week.  And, this process still seems easier because I get my weekends off--from the chemo pill and radiation.  Last weekend it was like a night and day difference from the weekday to weekend.  I felt significantly better on Saturday and Sunday since I didn't have to take that chemotherapy pill.

My skin is just beginning to get sensitive as well.  I am really lathering on the recommended creams though, because I am trying to preserve my skin's health as much as possible.

The chemo drug can negatively effect my blood counts, so I am having regular weekly blood draws to monitor that.   My oncologist, Dr. H., actually even started me on a reduced dose of this drug for the first couple of weeks to see how my body handles it.  So far, so good.

Lifting restrictions: Even though the lifting restrictions from my surgery are now "lifted", I have new lifting restrictions.  During radiation, and for some time afterwards, I am limited to lifting no more than 10 lbs with my left arm.  This is due to having so many lymph nodes removed from my left armpit area, and since the area will receive quite a bit of radiation.  My radiation oncologist implemented the restrictions to help prevent lymphedema to my left arm.  So, I am figuring out how to lift Abbey with my right arm and side only, using the left arm only for little support.   It is tricky, but I am figuring it out. I am trying only to lift her in and out of the carseat, in and out of her crib, and in and out of the highchair. I try to change her diaper on the floor when possible, but Miss Abbey is so squirmy most of the time when changing her diaper on the ground.  To avoid a "mess" I often will go ahead and change her on the changing table.

I have also already noticed some re-tightening of my left arm and chest area, so I will be starting the physical therapy back up next week.

What is Radiation therapy?
Radiation therapy is very interesting. In fact, it is so interesting that it seems I have a new question for the radiation technicians each day. I'm just trying to understand how it all works.  I am going to try to sneak some photos with my phone and write a post all about radiation soon.  Hopefully after a few more rounds, I will have a better idea of what exactly they are doing to me.  :-)

Thanks again for your continued prayers.  They are helping significantly to get me through these trials.

Love and blessings,

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Increasing Prayer for a Closer Relationship with God

My prayer frequency has its ebbs and flows.  The times in my life that I am at the most peace and have the most strength is when I am in constant conversation with God.  I am not talking about saying a prayer before meals and at bedtime or even at "quiet time."  By "constant conversation" I mean that as I go about my day, I am constantly praying and praising Him about various things.  For example, as I am driving and Luke is singing a precious song in his sweet voice, I say to God, "Thank you so much for your wonderful blessings, including my precious children."  Or, if another vehicle almost runs into me, I say, "thank you God for keeping us safe."  I will admit I am pretty good about praising God-especially these past 7 months or so, because I really feel so thankful and blessed.  The part that I struggle with most is communicating with Him constantly about "life".  For example, if I am having a parenting struggle with one of my children during the day, I sometimes forget to just stop and pray about it.  Instead, I may let frustration build.  I can tell you this though:  the times that I just take a break and pray about the situation go SO MUCH better than those situations that I try to handle "solo."

I long to be in constant conversation with God, but sometimes "life" gets in the way and takes over my time, energy and priorities.  So, I began something recently to get me back into the habit of having regular conversations with God throughout my day.  It is called the 60/60 experiment.  A local pastor, John Burke, wrote a book called, "Soul Revolution."  In this book, he challenges readers to do a simple 60-day experiment in faith.   Set an alarm--either on your phone, your watch or other timer--for one minute (60 seconds) every hour (60 minutes).  Use that minute to talk to God.  This gets you into the habit of the "constant communication" that I mentioned above.  I simply created an "event" on my smartphone calendar for every hour of the day.  I set the event to recur each day.  I plan on doing this for 60 days.  I remember one of my friends who I worked with went through this experiment.  Honesty, each time I heard her alarm go off (hourly) in the office, it reminded me to talk to God (even though I wasn't even part of the experiment at the time.)  So, I know it works.  :-)

John writes on his "Soul Revolution" site:

A big misunderstanding people have doing the 60/60 Experiment is that they’re supposed to stop and “pray” when their watch beeps every 60 minutes. Please—don’t just “pray!” I mean, prayer is great, but so often prayer becomes stopping to tell God what’s up or what we’d like him to do—this is different. It’s not that any kind of prayer is bad, but in this 60-60 Experiment, we’re trying to do much more than “stop and pray” every hour. The watch beeper going off every hour and other creative reminders (like “60/60” post-it notes everywhere) are just that—reminders to interrupt our habit of ignoring God most of the time. We’re seeking to develop a new habit (using this spiritual discipline of a simple watch beeping). The goal is minute by minute communication with your Creator—in both a “talking over” and a “listening” posture. You’re seeking to develop a habit of including God in on all your thoughts, pure and sinful, all your decisions, all your lustful looks, all your victories, all your judgmental pronouncements, all your stresses, all your celebrations, talking it over with Him. See, this is living in reality (where God lives). Just because we ignore God doesn’t mean he doesn’t know what’s really going on inside us—now, we’re just getting brutally honest with ourselves before God and talking it all over with Him. And…we’re trying to trust Him enough to take risks to do it His way and just see if His way isn’t actually what we longed for all along. God wants to do life—all of it—with you. “Cast your cares on Him (all of them) for he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

Want to try the experiment with me?  You can start today including God in your "life."

Go to for information on the book, "Soul Revolution", as well as other helpful resources.  

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Why I Pray

Before I get started writing about why I pray, first I want to say something about my blogging frequency.  Since I am not sitting in the chemo infusion room for several hours any longer, I haven't been blogging as frequently.  However, I have now decided to write shorter posts more frequently.  I love blogging, but fitting it into the schedule lately has been very difficult.  But, I am going to try to squeeze in a few minutes of blogging each day.  So hopefully, you will begin to see more frequent posts from me now.

Now, about prayer.  With all of the crazy things that happened last week, I have seen a lot of forwards and posts on Facebook about where God is in all of this.   I even saw a sarcastic caption on a photograph that said something like, "Why don't you just do one mega prayer to prevent stuff from happening again instead of praying after it happens?"  Even years ago as a believer, I was puzzled when contemplating God's sovereignty and prayer.  I mean, if God already has ordained what will happen for all eternity, then why does He need/want me to pray?  Of course, the most obvious reason that God wants us to pray to Him is because He wants a relationship with us.  How can you even have a good earthly relationship with a human without regular communication with that person?  The same goes with our relationship with God. To strengthen the relationship with Him, you need to communicate regularly.  Years ago as I was digging deeply into the questions about God's sovereignty, predestination and prayer, I came across this excellent demonstration written by John Piper in his Desiring God blog.  It is a conversation between "prayerful" and "prayerless."

Prayerless: I understand that you believe in the providence of God. Is that right?
Prayerful: Yes.
Prayerless: Does that mean you believe, like the Heidelberg Catechism says, that nothing comes about by chance but only by God's design and plan?
Prayerful: Yes, I believe that's what the Bible teaches.
Prayerless: Then why do you pray?
Prayerful: I don't see the problem. Why shouldn't we pray?
Prayerless: Well, if God ordains and controls everything, then what he plans from of old will come to pass, right?
Prayerful: Yes.
Prayerless: So it's going to come to pass whether you pray or not, right.
Prayerful: That depends on whether God ordained for it to come to pass in answer to prayer. If God predestined that something happen in answer to prayer, it won't happen without prayer.
Prayerless: Wait a minute, this is confusing. Are you saying that every answer to prayer is predestined or not?
Prayerful: Yes, it is. It's predestined as an answer to prayer.
Prayerless: So if the prayer doesn't happen, the answer doesn't happen?
Prayerful: That's right.
Prayerless: So the event is contingent on our praying for it to happen?
Prayerful: Yes. I take it that by contingent you mean prayer is a real reason that the event happens, and without the prayer the event would not happen.
Prayerless: Yes that's what I mean. But how can an event be contingent on my prayer and still be eternally fixed and predestined by God?
Prayerful: Because your prayer is as fixed as the predestined answer.
Prayerless: Explain.
Prayerful: It's not complicated. God providentially ordains all events. God never ordains an event without a cause. The cause is also an event. Therefore, the cause is also foreordained. So you cannot say that the event will happen if the cause doesn't because God has ordained otherwise. The event will happen if the cause happens.
Prayerless: So what you are saying is that answers to prayer are always ordained as effects of prayer which is one of the causes, and that God predestined the answer only as an effect of the cause.
Prayerful: That's right. And since both the cause and the effect are ordained together you can't say that the effect will happen even if the cause doesn't because God doesn't ordain effects without causes.
Prayerless: Can you give some illustrations?
Prayerful: Sure. If God predestines that I die of a bullet wound, then I will not die if no bullet is fired. If God predestines that I be healed by surgery, then if there is no surgery, I will not be healed. If God predestines heat to fill my home by fire in the furnace, then if there is no fire, there will be no heat. Would you say, "Since God predestines that the sun be bright, it will be bright whether there is fire in the sun or not"?
Prayerless: No.
Prayerful: I agree. Why not?
Prayerless: Because the brightness of the sun comes from the fire.
Prayerful: Right. That's the way I think about the answers to prayer. They are the brightness, and prayer is the fire. God has established the universe so that in larger measure it runs by prayer, the same way he has established brightness so that in larger measure it happens by fire. Doesn't that make sense?
Prayerless: I think it does.
Prayerful: Then let's stop thinking up problems and go with what the Scriptures say. Ask and you will receive. You have not because you ask not.
So why do I pray?  
I pray because, as God desires a relationship with me, I also desire a close relationship with Him.  Also, he desires me to pray as He wants to be glorified in everything I do.  If I communicate with Him about my struggles and He provides me strength, then He is glorified in that.  I praise Him for all things in my prayers.  In that, He is also glorified.  He is my Provider.  

I also love the following that John Piper wrote on prayer:

"One of the signs that God is going to do a great work is that he begins to stir up his people to pray for it. He lays a burden on a person here and a person there. He brings it back to their mind again and again. It stalks them. It drives them to their knees. Or it catches them on their knees.

When God aims to do a great work, the first thing he harnesses is the power of prayer. He starts by planting the spark of desire in a few hearts. Then through prayer he fans it into a flame. Then the flame of desire and faith spreads to others. Soon large numbers are on their knees imploring the great work. Then God acts. Then he pours down his blessing. God loves to do great works of redemption. But even more he loves to do it in answer to prayer."

I strive to be in close, constant communication with Him.  But sometimes, "life" and "busy-ness" begin to get in the way and prayers begin occurring less frequent.   When that happens, I begin to feel the closeness that I once had with Him to begin to slip away.  In a follow-up post, I am going to share something that I began doing recently to bring my prayer frequency back up to restore the close relationship I have with my Savior.

Happy Monday everyone!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Fun with Texas Family (and soccer update)

On Saturday morning, Luke had a soccer game and team photos.  He was slightly less shy at his game on Saturday.  But, he was nowhere near acting as the little boy we know at home--the hyperactive, social, funny little Luke.  I am finding that our little boy, who I thought was an extravert, may be an introvert.  Well, at least he is shy when it comes to being in new situations with lots of people (mainly complete strangers).

This photos says it all.  Before the game all of the team players were huddled and yelled "go dynamite" (their team name).  Luke was shy because neither I nor Drew was standing beside him.  Poor little guy.

Team photo. Luke (bottom right) looks so sad here.
But, on Tuesday Luke had his second practice.  Drew said he did SO well.  He participated in all of the activities and had so much fun!  I'm looking forward to seeing him have some fun in tomorrow morning's game!  Go Dynamite!

After soccer team photos, we traveled to the Houston area.  We coordinated our trip to MD Anderson for Monday's appointment with some weekend family fun.  Last month, our nephew, Mitchell turned 12 years old!  We weren't able to celebrate with him on his birthday early last month due to surgery recovery.  But, we made up for it with some celebration last weekend.  We even squeezed a post-Easter egg hunt and some park time in. 

When we arrived at Drew's parents' house (Mimi's and Papa's), we had an Easter egg hunt, followed by Mitchell's birthday celebration.

Happy 12th Birthday to Mitchell!

Luke found some party hats and insisted we use some of them.  Mitchell's party theme was not Sesame Street.  :-)
On Sunday afternoon, during Mitchell's baseball practice, we went to a nearby park.  Below are some pictures of the kids having a blast!

Abbey loved the slides that were built into the side of a hill.
Our niece, Audrey, on top of a rock climbing structure.

Luke--king of the mountain.

Our niece, Lauren, posing on the spinning seat.

Abbey head down the slide to Mimi.

I think it is funny that she is looking right at the camera.
Taking turns on the big slide.

cousins on top of the rock structure.
excited Audrey
balancing cousins

Monday, April 15, 2013

My MD Anderson Follow-up Visit

My Oncologist locally (the amazing, Dr. H) set up an appointment for follow-up at MD Anderson months ago for me.  Today was that appointment. I can't believe it has been 7 months since my last visit to MD Anderson.  That place is, itself, a city--HUGE.  It really is a bit overwhelming.  But, I really love my doctor there.  She sees a lot of pregnant and nursing young women who are diagnosed with breast cancer, so she is somewhat of an expert with women like me.  Dr. H. has kept in close communication with her all along the way and they, together, have agreed upon my treatment plan.  I really feel like I have the dream team treating me.  This is a huge praise to God!

Drew and I were prepared today to ask many questions, since the last time we saw her was before I began treatment.  After reminding her of my treatment drugs, my reactions, and then informing her of the surgery I underwent and the timeline for everything, we began asking her if she would recommend anything different.  She agreed with EVERYTHING that has been done so far.   She stated that Dr. H. is being very aggressive with my treatment and is even "throwing in the kitchen sink" with my treatments.  She agreed with the past and planned future treatment given my advanced stage of cancer and all of the pathological aspects of it.  Actually, Dr. H has been corresponding via email with her all along.  In fact, adding the chemo drug, Xeloda, to my radiation treatment was My MD Anderson oncologist's (Dr. L's) recommendation to Dr. H. This is the "kitchen sink" to which Dr. L was referring.  You see, using this chemo drug in conjunction with radiation is actually a current clinical trial conducted by MD Anderson.  Since it is a clinical trial, they do not have statistical data yet.  But, the goal is that the drug makes radiation more effective.  Unfortunately, it also increases the negative side effects of radiation (fatigue, skin irritation, mouth sores, etc.).  I will be having weekly blood draws to monitor my blood counts throughout the next 6.5 weeks as well, since the chemo drug could negatively effect that.  But, I just tell myself that this is only 6.5 weeks. When you look at the big picture, 6.5 weeks is nothing.  God will bring me through this just as He has everything else.  I will be moving on to this next phase of treatment TOMORROW!  I can't believe it. 

Drew and I were so pleased to look back today and see what God has done throughout this journey so far.  His orchestration of my treatment plan between my amazing, "dream team", oncologists is just one shining example.   God has His hand all over this.  [Psalm 27:1 says "The LORD is my light and my salvation-- whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life-- of whom shall I be afraid?"]

(One more thing: we coordinated our visit to Houston with a weekend trip to visit Drew' side of the family.   We had a blast with them, and I will write a separate post about our fun weekend.)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Radiation Schedule..pushed back a bit

Because I had my final expansion yesterday, I was able to begin the radiation process this morning.  This morning I had a scheduled CT simulation at my radiation oncologist's office.  From Texas Oncology's website, here is a description of the CT Simulation process:

The CT simulator does not deliver radiation treatment, but instead allows the radiation oncologist and technologists to see the area to be treated. Images are obtained and transferred to the planning system where a virtual 3-dimensional image of the patient is created and the treatment delivery plan is developed.

For the simulation session, temporary marks are made on your skin with magic markers to identify the treatment areas. The room is periodically darkened while the treatment fields are being set. Alignment is critical during simulation and is facilitated by lasers mounted on the wall and ceiling. Special individually constructed immobilization devices may be used to help achieve this alignment. While you may see red lines of light, the low energy lasers are for alignment purposes only and you will not feel burning or anything else from the laser light.

Once the aspects of the treatment fields are set, the technologist will take special simulation x-rays representing the treatment fields. In most centers, the patient is given multiple “tattoos,” which mark the treatment fields and replace the marks previously made with magic markers. These tattoos are not elaborate and consist of no more than pinpricks followed by ink, appearing like a small freckle. Tattoos enable the radiation technologists to set up the treatment fields each day with precision, while allowing you to wash and bathe without worrying about obscuring the marks that indicate where treatment will be delivered.

It was a simple, painless process and didn't even take as long as I expected it to take.  I have marks all over my chest and side.  Unfortunately though, the radiation oncologist said that I need to "deflate" my expander on the right side before we can begin radiation.  The right side will not be radiated, so I can get that expanded following radiation and it won't be an issue.  The right "breast" is apparently in the way of the field for treatment of the internal mammary lymph node in my sternum area.  I currently have a total of 200 cc of fluid in each side (not quite an "A" cup size.)  I woke up from surgery with 110 cc of fluid in each side.  So, I figured when I asked the oncologist how much fluid she wanted removed from my right side, she would give me an answer in the range of 20-50 cc.  But instead, she requested it to be about half of the current size.  I explained that I came out of surgery with over half of the current size.  She said that she would need me to be back to that size. 

Initially, I said "ok, no big deal."  But, on the way home, a little bit of frustration set in.  I thought about how my first expansion was delayed 2 weeks so that my right breast incision could heal.  All of that waiting and then expansion process seemed to be in vain, since I will be going back to where I began anyway on that side.  I could have already begun radiation if I wouldn't have had to wait those two weeks.  But, then I told myself that this is all outside of my control, and it is by God's design.  Things don't always go as we planned.  But, He has a perfect plan.  Again, He has already put the destination in the GPS and I am just following along with the directions. (Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.")

So, here is the new plan. Tomorrow I will head back to my plastic surgeon's office to have some fluid removed from the right side.  I will be lopsided for a while.  On Friday, the radiation oncology office will verify the fields look alright so that all of the appropriate areas can be radiated.  I have an appointment with my MD Anderson oncologist on Monday morning.  Then, I will begin radiation (and oral chemo) here on Tuesday.   Thank you for your continued prayers.

Love, Heather

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Silly Abbey!

This is the serious-faced Abbey
I know I've mentioned how silly our little one-year old, Abbey, is in the past.  But lately, she has even been cracking herself up.

A couple of nights ago, Abbey stuck a mega-block in her mouth.  Then, she made a funny sound and expelled it from her mouth rapidly.  She began laughing hysterically.  She attempted to do it again, but was laughing so hard that she could barely put it back in her mouth or even stand up.  Luke thought it was pretty funny also, so he joined in the fun.

Perhaps I should just show the video:

What she was actually doing wasn't the funny part to me.  What made me giggle is how she could barely even stand up or perform the action again because she was laughing so hard at herself.

Here are some recent photos I took with my phone of our girl being her silly self.

Monday, April 8, 2013

I'm officially a soccer mom.

If the mini-van that we purchased in late September didn't do it, then this past Saturday's event did:  I guess I am officially a soccer mom.

On Saturday, Luke began soccer.  He started off with a bang and went right into their first game since their only scheduled practice so far got rained out.  Drew and I were nervous about the game, knowing Luke's personality.  Luke really likes to practice before he attempts new things in front of people.  He also likes to ease into situations. But, once he's comfortable, he really lets loose.  That proved to be true on Saturday.

Here is a photo I posted on Facebook and Instagram of Luke on Friday night.  He was excited about soccer:

And this was Luke at the game on Saturday:

Luke was scared and cold (it was chilly at 7:45am).
Poor Luke hadn't met his team members before Saturday (except one).  It was freezing.  He didn't know what he was supposed to do (again, the no practice thing).  The other team had obviously practiced together before.  The coach knew all of their names and they were doing drills prior to the start of the game.  They also had a professional 4-year old player who scored anytime he touched the ball.  So, that may have been slightly overwhelming for our team as well.  The other team had one adult (the coach) per the 4 players on the team on the field during the game.  Our team had 4 adults per the 4 kids from our team on the field at all times if that tells you anything.  Luke wanted either me or Drew out on the field with him the entire time he played.  And most of that time he was clinging to us or holding our hand.  This meant that we had to run around on the field and chase the ball if we wanted him to do so.  I am sure it was amusing for spectators.  Needless to say, we are all really looking forward to our first team practice tomorrow night.

Luke (#5) and some of his teammates getting a pep talk from the coach.

I captured a short video of Luke "playing" soccer on Saturday.  It is a pretty good picture of how it went for us on Saturday.  I had brought Luke's little collapsible chair for Abbey to sit in during the game.  It was vacant most of the time though, so when Luke would catch a glimpse of it while he was playing, he would, at times, run off the field to sit in the chair.  I think that is what he is doing towards the end of the video below.

You can see he started to become more brave and go after the ball, but then decided to go back to his comfort zone (his chair on the sideline next to me).

On the way home after the game in the car Luke told us, "I didn't like the black team.  They kept stealing the ball."  So, it was then that he got his first lesson from mommy and daddy in team sports and how competition works.  Regardless of how Saturday's game went, I can tell that even though he wasn't participative during the game, he definitely learned some lessons.

Below is a video of Luke playing soccer at home.  You can see the night and day difference!  He was just so shy in Saturday's game situation after being thrown in there with no practice.  I am sure once he gets to know some players on the team and gets to have a practice, he will have a lot more fun and not be afraid!  Because, as you can see from the video, he really does enjoy soccer.


Friday, April 5, 2013

The Life of a Cancer Patient: Rule-out cancer tests

Survivors of advanced stage cancers are forever changed with their cancer diagnosis.  Not only are they faced with managing their cancer in its current state.  But, these patients are also faced with the concern that any new symptom could be the result of the cancer spreading to another area within the body.  So, the life of these cancer survivors involves many "rule-out cancer" tests along the way. 
Since my diagnosis, I have already had two MRI's of the brain and neck and one of the back.  All of these were to rule out cancer for the cause of new symptoms I was having (back pain, neck pain, and headaches for those instances).  Over the past couple of days, I noticed that when I move around on our wood floors on my knees (to pick up toys), I have some pretty severe left knee pain.  I assumed I bruised it somehow.  So finally yesterday, I decided to take a look at my knee.  There was no bruise.  Instead there was a small lump on my bone that only hurt when I applied pressure to it.  Prior to cancer, I wouldn't have notified a doctor of this unless it had been there for weeks and was bothersome.  But as instructed by my oncologist to let her know of any new symptoms, I emailed her nurse.  It is pretty common for breast cancer to spread to the bones if it is going to spread.
I was scheduled this afternoon for a CT of my knee.  I am so thankful for my medical treatment team.  They truly are the best.  Where else can you email your symptoms and receive a reply and attempt to schedule an exam for you the same day?  And then, my CT exam at ARA was super fast!  It was scheduled for 2:45pm.  I arrived early as instructed and was actually leaving the facility at 2:44pm.
At 3:10pm I received an email from my oncology nurse that my CT was NORMAL!  I cannot tell you how thrilled I am.  Satan was really trying to place some fear in my head with this recent scare.  Even though it was just a couple of days, it was a tough battle for me this time.  My weapons included lots of prayer and more time in the word.  It really caused me to evaluate how strong my faith was and renew my mind on the thoughts of God's sovereignty in this cancer battle.  Perhaps God allowed this to happen to draw me closer again.   Thank you Lord for reminding me of your Sovereignty.
Famous author and theologian C.S. Lewis once said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscious and shouts in our pain. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  I am still begging God for and believing in complete healing so that I can help Drew raise these children He has blessed us with to know Him.  Regardless of the outcome, God is good, all the time. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

My first expansion and preparing for the next step in my treatment plan

On Tuesday, I had my first expansion.  In case you are wondering what is involved, here is a good video demonstrating this process:

The plastic surgeon simply used a magnet to locate the port (which happened to be located directly behind my incision).  Then, he made a mark and proceeded to insert a very long, skinny needle into the mark. I quickly asked, "will this hurt", so that I could brace myself?  I didn't take any pain medication prior to my appointment.  He said I probably wouldn't feel a thing.  He was correct.  I didn't feel the needle being inserted at all.  However, as he injected the 40 cc of fluid, I felt strange popping feelings.  I am sure this was due to the fluid filling up the creases in the hard plastic expander that previously existed (since it was somewhat deflated in areas).  I currently have 140 cc of fluid in the expanders and my goal is 200cc, which should equate to an "A" cup bar size.  An ounce of fluid is approximately 30 cc for comparison purposes.  He actually put a little less fluid than planned in each side to give my incisions a little more time to heal before stretching them too much.  So, I am hoping to get the remaining 60 cubic centimeters injected on Tuesday.

What happens next?  On Wednesday, I have a CT simulation appointment with my radiation oncologist.  I saw her yesterday and she said my wounds looked great and that I could raise my arm just fine for the radiation process.  She also said that I would be ready to begin radiation today if I didn't need another expansion.  So, the plan is to have my the CT simulation on Wednesday after my last expansion.  This simulation will help the radiation oncologist map out the field for my radiation treatment.  Then, I can begin radiation the following day, on Thursday.  I will also begin my oral chemotherapy at the same time.  I will take the chemo pill only on the days of radiation (M-F for 6.5 weeks).  Since radiation only kills the cancer cells locally, the goal with the chemo pill (Xeloda) is to keep the cancer under control systemically until I can begin Tamoxifen.  Apparently, the chemo pill can have some negative effects on my immune system, so I will need to be careful with germs again.  They are giving my Saturday and Sunday "off" of the pill to give my bone marrow some time to build my immune system back up.  The chemo pill also magnifies the negative effects of radiation, so I will be watched carefully for burns on my skin as well. 

I am so excited that I get to begin radiation next week!  [I am also so happy that both the plastic surgeon and my radiation oncologist said my wounds looked great!  I was a bit concerned since they had been still oozing blood just a couple of days before.  But, I don't really know what to compare my wounds too--I am definitely no expert.]  So, if I get to begin radiation next week, I will be done my 5/23!  That is pretty exciting to me!  Please pray that my next expansion goes well next week and also that I can begin radiation.  I am currently about 9 weeks out from my last chemotherapy, and I don't want to give any cancer cells that are remaining in my body any more time to regroup and go somewhere else.  Of course, I would also really appreciate your continued prayers for complete healing.  We can beat this cancer with your prayers, God willing!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Easter Celebration

When you are living with an illness like cancer, you yearn to be near your family more than ever.  It is tough not living near my immediate family.  I think that even when we have grown up and are adults, we strongly desire our "mommies" when we are really ill.  I am sure my parents feel the same way towards being near me, because I know how much it hurts me when my children are ill--even with the common cold.  But, at the same time we are so thankful to have Drew's parents in town frequently to help us out and be near us and just love us during this trying time.  I really don't know what we would have done through this without them. We love them so much and they are literally a God-send.

We decided to make the trip to Oklahoma to visit my family over Easter weekend.  I haven't seen most of my immediate family since Christmas and I knew it would be a time that even my extended family would gather together in celebration of Easter.  That meant I would get to see not only my immediate family, but also my extended family, whom I also miss dearly. 

Warning:  to follow are a lot of photos.  I have decided to document our Easter weekend below with some photos.  We had a great time visiting with family and we even made our first trip to church since early September 2012.

We colored Easter eggs.  Here's an idea from pinterest that we tested out this Easter: we used a packet of kool-aid along with 2/3 cup of cold water to make an "eggcelent" dye for eggs!  The eggs dyed with kool-aid were the darkest and most vibrant of all the dyes we tested!

Daddy helped Luke with his eggs.  Actually, I'm not sure who had more fun...Drew or Luke.
But, Luke soon became a pro.

Brody and his dad (my brother, Jason). I think this was one of the kool-aid dyes. 

We played outside at my parents' house:

cousins: Brody and Luke
They had just fed the horses and were watching them eat.

Luke LOVED riding the tractor with Grandpa
Luke offered to steer the tractor back into the barn.  My dad was smart though and declined the offer.  :-)
Luke, Lilly and Linnea (the 3 L's) found a worm on the sidewalk.
Lilly and my cousin's husband, Michael.  He swung her very high from the tree swing.  The older kids LOVE this swing!
On Sunday, we celebrated Christ's resurrection at church.  It was a glorious time and I was so glad to see friends from my hometown church, chat with them, and even meet some new friends, all who have been praying for our family.  The sermon message was a great reminder to personalize what Christ did for us on the cross.  He died as a sacrifice for my sins.  And, the good news is that He is alive!  He is my personal savior.  He desires a personal relationship with me. I am so thankful for my personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

After church, we had our quick annual family photo sessions:

Abbey looks so serious here.  (Perhaps the results of a short morning nap).

My sister, Holly, and her beautiful family (Ryan, Lilly and Linnea)

My brother, Jason, and his beautiful family (Emily, Brody, Kaylee and Natalie)

Sometimes it is so tough to get the kids to smile on command. When you don't have a camera, they seem to smile non-stop.  But, at least I captured a few photos of their "serious looks."

Our little man in his "GQ" pose.

Precious Abbey in daddy's arms.


My handsome hubby and best friend!
My other brother celebrated Easter morning and early afternoon with his wife's family in Missouri.  We got to see him and his precious family later that afternoon though.

After photos, we had a BIG, delicious lunch together with our extended family:

At the "kiddie table"

 We were also a little bit silly together after lunch:

Brody and Kaylee in their new "hats".

And later we hunted for Easter Eggs!

My beautiful and very photogenic niece, Kaylee.

My sweet cousin, Whitney, and niece, Natalie, watched the others during the hunt.
Action shot! Linnea was serious about this.  Here, she is going for three eggs at once.

Abbey even enjoyed the hunt in her own, laid back way.
Carefully placing an egg in her basket.
walking off into the sunset
Luke's basket got pretty full.  That kid is so fast and impossible to take photos of though! This was one of the few taken during the hunt.

So what do you do with all of the dyed eggs once you are done hiding and hunting them?   This is what we did with them!

We crushed them!
Natalie, in disbelief, watched them crush the eggs.