Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

I said I would do a Christmas blog post in lieu of our card this year.  But, I am a little late due to all of the traveling we have done.  I thought I would post something on the one day we had between travels, but that got filled up with unpacking, laundry and then more packing.  So, here I am writing that Christmas blog post.  We'll just call it the short and simple Merry Christmas and Happy New Year blog post.  :-)

We have so much to be thankful for this year.  Of course, we are extremely thankful for our salvation, which comes through God's only perfect Son, Jesus Christ.  I love this verse in John, which describes Christmas for me: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)  God decided to send His own Son, Jesus (called Immanuel, "God with Us"), to dwell with us.   But until the time was just right for Jesus to be born, God really wanted His people, The Israelites, to understand His holiness and His desire to be with them.  So, long before Jesus was born, God told the Israelites to build a special place, called a Tabernacle, as a way for them to see these two things.   Although they didn't know it at the time, every part of the Tabernacle was actually a symbol for Jesus.  The word Tabernacle means "tent, "place of dwelling" or "sanctuary." When Jesus was born, the "Word" (which was God) became flesh and dwelled among us!  Jesus, who was sinless, eventually became the ultimate sacrifice for all of our sins for those of us who believe and receive him.   And the moment we receive Jesus Christ as our savior, we receive the Holy Spirit. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the action by which God takes up permanent residence in the body of a believer in Jesus Christ. Read more:http://www.gotquestions.org/indwelling-of-the-Holy-Spirit.html#ixzz3NPiWJdAn).   He dwells with us!  That amazes me every time I think about it.  So,  Christmas for me means all of this and of course I am thankful for it! 

We are also so thankful for ALL of our family!    We got to spend some great time with family over the Holidays.

We didn't get a lot of photos, but here is one with Some of my Oklahoma family (apparently, I tilt my head in many photos, so they decided to all show me what this looks like).

We are thankful for all the fun ways to celebrate Christmas.  We are also thankful for getting to spend these fun times with Drew (daddy), siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews, aunts uncles, grandparents, etc.

We are even thankful for cheesy Christmas jammies:

I am also thankful for another year of being cancer free.   I pray that continues through the New Year!  We are just thankful for so much!

Our family wishes your family a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in 2015!  And, if Back to the future II predicts accurately, this is what 2015 is supposed to look like:

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas Fun!

We have had a blast celebrating Christmas this year!  The kids are at such a fun age right now.  They love learning; and, we are teaching them all about the reason we celebrate Christmas this year: Jesus!   We have been going through an awesome family advent devotional book that our church, The Austin Stone Community Church, put together.  They gave each family in the church a beautifully bound copy of it.  But, it is also available for anyone to view here.

The 25-day devotional includes:

  • Short, individual devotionals for parents to have our hearts stirred for Jesus as we lead our kids to do the same
  • Gospel-centered devotional readings for our family to read together, connecting significant moments in Old Testament history to the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus
  • Ornaments for the kids to color as we read the stories, reinforcing what they are hearing and helping them stay focused. (We received a separate Ornament Coloring Book for the kids to color each day as well.)
  • Four recipes for meals that you can cook and eat with your wider community, helping you spread the anticipation for Christ beyond your immediate family members

We have truly been blessed by this great book, and it has helped to keep the focus for our family on Jesus this Christmas season.  We have done a lot of fun "secular" Christmas things as well, but we always remind the kids why we are so excited and why we celebrate:  because Jesus, our savior, was born.  That said and with keeping our family photo journal, I thought I would share some of the fun memories we have been making this Christmas season.  (Some photos are with our dslr and some are taken with our very outdated smart phones).  ;-)

We had a lot of fun walking through this awesome live nativity, which also followed the entire life of Jesus.  Both kids were so interested in this and we decided this will be an annual family tradition (i apologize for the poor quality video):

We got to see lots of fun Christmas Light displays--like this one that is super close to our house:

The kids loved that display.  Not only were the animatronics fun, but this house even had a snow machine that sprayed snow anytime "snow" was mentioned in one of the songs.  It sprayed it right on the sidewalk where all the kids screamed and tried to grab it as it sprayed out.  We found out that even Olaf liked celebrating Jesus' birthday!

We had fun in the snow at a fun Christmas festival:

We saw the awesome model trains that are on exhibit annually at Art Space Round Rock:

We've had fun seeing all sorts of Christmas decorations:

We even did our own decorating:

And we made our own ornaments:

at our church's Kids Christmas celebration

There was a fun "snowball" fight at the end of the kids Christmas celebration at church.  The snowballs were massive marshmallows.  Abbey preferred to gently hold hers. 

While Luke joined in the fun of launching and dodging "snowballs" with his friends, Benjamin and Jack. 

We visited the Zilker Trail of Lights with friends.  As true Austinites, we twirled under the big Zilker tree until we got dizzy.

They added a huge lit ferris wheel this year that you can ride:

And today, we had our obligatory visit to see Santa Claus.  In our house, we honestly don't talk about Santa that much.  The annual visit and photo with Santa is just a fun tradition we have.  We really try to focus everything on Jesus, so Santa really has a very, very small place in our Christmas.  But, our kids do believe in Santa and we play along.  Honestly though, I really feel bad about playing along, just because I feel like we are being dishonest.  But, it is so fun and magical for them, and it certainly didn't hurt Drew and I to believe in Santa when we were younger.  So, we are going along with it for now. 

They both chatted with him this time, and he had to gently let them know it was time to see other kids.  They were right at home on his lap this year.  

He looks so grown up here!

We always do our pictures at the Bass Pro Shop in the town where my parents live.  They have an awesome "Winter Wonderland" and the best part is everything is FREE!  (including the photos with Santa).  There are other fun things to do there though besides see Santa.

Luke was laughing at this talking reindeer's jokes

I think Abbey may have changed her mind on what she wants for Christmas.  :-)  This girl is so much like me!
Pretend "captaining" a boat---in a very dainty way
We have a week of Christmas left--this means even more celebrating Jesus' birth that we get to pack in!  

I will end this post with a song that our church worship leaders wrote--the words so beautifully explain what this season is about!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Family Photos!

I love photography and capturing special moments via camera.  As mentioned in previous posts, my favorite type of photography is "documentary style":  I love capturing personalities, etc.  This is done best by being "sneaky" with the camera and by not asking the subject to "say cheese" or "look at the camera."  But rather, I follow the subject around, becoming part of the background, and snap snap snap.

Luke doing "school" outside.
Remember this one of Abbey expressively telling me something.

However, sometimes friends ask for "family photos" and I oblige by taking some "posed" photos.  But, my favorites are always the ones I take after the "formal" ones--the ones that I capture of them interacting with one another, etc.  Or, if they are ok with it, my favorite way to take their picture is to have them interact doing a fun activity together and photograph them in the process.  But still, most request more "formal" family photos.

You would think that I would apply this same principle on taking "family photos" for taking my own family group photo.  I mean, rather than set up the self-timer and take a photo of all of us together saying "cheese" in the direction of an un-manned camera, perhaps I would get a little more creative and sneaky and take a photo of us interacting together.  Still yet, that is very difficult when just using a self timer.  Nonetheless, we attempted to take some family photos via our camera's self-timer recently.  It did not go so well.  Wait--let me adjust that sentence.  It went well for all of us---except for Abbey.  Miss Abbey wanted nothing to do with having her photo taken by the invisible photographer.  I have learned in taking her photo, that you have to be careful how you approach the situation.

For example, here was the result of some sweet volunteer at her AWANAs club taking her photo (which became part of a snowflake ornament).  

Ha!   Plus, she recently put us through a 3-4 week period where she was "testing" us.  I think this is what most call part of the "terrible twos"; however, we experienced it later with her than we had experienced it with Luke.  Thankfully, we have our sweet, mostly obedient Abbey back and it appears we are through that period.  But, when we were attempting to take photos of our family together, it wasn't ideal that she was in the middle of the "testing us" period.  I share this post because the situation was pretty comical and the photos ended up telling a bit of a story when I looked back at them.

Picture one.  This is the one that I took when we first arrived to our location.  Really, it was the only chance Abbey gave us.  Can you tell how happy Abbey is about getting her photo taken by the invisible photographer?  It really is pretty funny when you look at it that we are even all (except Abbey) smiling at no-one.   Luke has his best fake smile going on.  And Luke and I are leaning in a bit much.
"Okay Abbey, we will just get photos of Luke with us then."  

Abbey pouting as we took the 3-person-family photos.  As she pouted, we were begging her kindly to join us.
The entire photo session adventure was pretty funny really.  When we were on this bridge taking our photos, apparently, everyone wanted to use it to cross.  There was non-stop activity on this bridge.   So, here we were all set up, with our imaginary photographer (tripod) snapping photos.  This involved me running back and forth from the camera (to push compose the shot and press the button) to the spot where we were posing in between passers-by traveling across the bridge.  It was time to move from this location.  

Let's try a new location.  3 of us are laughing---one is not amused.
She tried so hard to pretend to be sad.  

We kind of got a normal-ish photo together.  Abbey is singing something and Luke looks like a statue trying so hard to have a "good smile."  The "fake smile" is why I don't like these posed photos.  When Luke genuinely smiles, he never looks like that.  Such a sweet boy though---trying so hard!

Okay--enough of the posing.  Here are some pictures I captured as Drew was just interacting with the kids:

Wow---a smile!  There's our always-smiling Abbey!

So, this is where I break the news to all of you that may normally get a Christmas card from us. Unfortunately, there won't be one this year--this was our attempt for a family photo for the card.  But, I plan on writing a Merry Christmas blog post from our family to yours as Christmas gets a little closer.   :-)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

My Decision on the Oophorectomy

Some of you who are friends with me on Facebook may have seen the news that I will not be having surgery on Monday.  For those who didn't see the news and for detailed follow up on the reasoning behind my decision, I thought a follow-up blog post was in order.  So, here is a taste of what was going on in my brain late last week.

The SOFT trial yielded the following results so far, announced Thursday morning:
  • Among those who underwent prior chemotherapy (mean age, 40 years), researchers observed a 22% (HR=0.78; 95% CI, 0.6-1.2) reduction in relative risk for recurrence among those who received tamoxifen plus ovarian suppression compared with those who received tamoxifen alone. The decrease — which was not statistically significant — equated to four or five fewer patients out of 100 developing recurrence within 5 years.
  • Researchers observed a 35% (HR=0.65; 95% CI, 0.49-0.87) reduction in risk for recurrence among those who received ovarian suppression plus exemestane compared with those who received tamoxifen alone. The decrease translated to seven or eight fewer patients out of 100 developing recurrence within 5 years.
Drew and I spent a long time discussing this data, as well as my potential quality of life for the rest of my life due to having my ovaries removed.  The way we looked at it, if I had my ovaries removed and I began taking exemestane (or another aromatase inhibitor), statistics based on this study would show I may have a 7-8% better chance of not having a recurrence (moving me to stage 4 cancer).   I am considered "High Risk", due to the size of my cancer and being considered "advanced stage" (stage 3c).   Thus, the study showed patients like me benefited most from ovary suppression/removal.  However, in the back of my mind, I kept wondering, is this really what God wants me to do?  I am most interested in what the "Great Physician" and healer wants me to do.  He gave me these ovaries and He can take away--but is that what He wanted?   I still wasn't sure--but 8% didn't seem like a significant number to warrant me going to get my ovaries out in just a few days.   If I have my ovaries removed, there is a 100% chance I will suffer side effects that could harm me long-term.  At my pre-op appointment with the surgeon on Thursday morning (before the data was released), I explained to her that I wasn't feeling at complete peace about the surgery.  She told me that I shouldn't have the surgery if I don't completely feel at peace about it.  But, I needed to let her know that afternoon whether I was canceling the surgery.  She did say that the goal of doing this was to be able to "make it" to menopause age.  Yes, I may suffer many nasty side effects due to going through full-blown menopause at my young age.   But, at least it could potentially give me a better chance to live longer.  Plus, Dec. 15 really was an ideal time for the surgery---Drew had time off to help since I would have restrictions for 2 weeks.  We had met our large deductible for the year.  I figured, if I was going to eventually have my ovaries out, may as well have them out now.  But, Tamoxifen wasn't giving me the problems it was previously.  Would I ever have those problems again?   I am "supposed" to be on Tamoxifen for 10 years total.  Arrrrgggghhh.  What to do, what to do?

Next, I pulled out the Bible--it has so many answers--could it have an answer to this question, "Should Heather get her ovaries taken out?"  Hmmm....no, it doesn't have the literal answer to that question.  But, I just wasn't getting an answer or peace either decision (to have or not to have them removed).  So, I prayed again for God to make it clear to me and then I just opened the Bible.  Here is what I read immediately upon randomly opening the Bible:  "Do not trust in nobles, in man, who cannot save.  When his breath leaves him, he returns to the ground; on that day his plans die.  Happy is the one whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them.  He remains faithful forever." (Psalm 146: 1-6).  I could definitely take this to mean, "Don't trust in the statistics that man came up with as a result of this trial--God is in control of all things. He is your maker and knows YOUR body best."  Was He telling me that He would let me know without a doubt when/if He wanted me to remove a body part that He gave me?   Well, after also speaking to parents and talking through it all with Drew, I began to receive affirmation that this just wasn't the right time for the surgery.  In fact, I am not sure if it will ever be the right decision.  

So, I cancelled my surgery.   I am still not 100% certain that the right decision won't be for me to have my ovaries removed someday.  But, for now, they are staying in.  Now, if Tamoxifen starts rearing its ugly side effects head again, it may be my only option.  But, until that day comes, I am going to appreciate and enjoy the extra estrogen.     :-)  

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Super-fun Thanksgiving

Drew, the kids and I traveled to the Houston area to visit with his side of the family over the Thanksgiving.  We had such a great time of fellowship!   Also, the weather was just gorgeous.    We have truly been blessed with some awesome family time during his time off over the past month.  Luke, Abbey and I craved it so much since we missed our family time while Drew was working crazy hours this past year or so.

We celebrated our Thanksgiving with the whole family on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving.  So, what do you do on Thanksgiving day when you have already celebrated your Thanksgiving?  Why, you go to the Zoo, of course!

We visited the Houston Zoo on Thanksgiving day.  The weather was gorgeous, there weren't many people there.  It was absolutely the most perfect time to go!  Here are some (a lot) of pictures from our time there.

getting a lift from papa so he could see the elephants better
I liked this monkey....he was like, "what are you looking at?"
Our special Zoo navigator
Always happy to be in Papa's arms!
Oh---and we got to feed a giraffe!  There was no line--such a special opportunity that the kids will remember forever.  Thank you, Mimi and Papa!

The zookeeper told us as we were feeding the giraffe that his head alone weighed between 200-300 lbs!  That is a big head!

Abbey was a tiny bit shy at first.  You can see here how big the giraffe's head is in comparison to Abbey's and Drew's.

After Abbey saw the giraffe wasn't going to eat her, she thought the experience was really neat!
Luke finally got brave enough to try with Mimi's assistance.  

Here, Drew and Abbey and the giraffe are in the same plane.  Look how big that head and neck is!

Had to include this...this is what Abbey has always done when she feels she does not have your attention--she grabs your face and turns it towards her.  
I guess she just needed a sweet eskimo kiss from daddy.

eagerly waiting in line for the carousel!

Mimi and Luke.  Luke was talking about cheetahs the whole day.  He really wanted to see one.  So, when he saw the cheetah on the carousel, he picked it out and made sure he could ride on it.
Abbey, on the other hand, was a bit indecisive.  She started on a panda.
after relocating to the bench (which did not move), she settled on a turtle.
How adorable is this?

On Black Friday, instead of fighting the crowds on the craziest shopping day of the year, we enjoyed some precious family time on another beautiful day!  We went with Papa to George Ranch.   The George Ranch Historical Park's history follows family lines beginning in 1824 and spans more than 100 years. We got to see historic homes, costumed interpreters, and live demonstrations to learn a bit of history.  It was a fun experience for all of us.

Abbey enjoyed exploring.  But, she made it clear on the houses with the tours that she did not want to be quiet.  So, she hung out with Papa and explored the outside of the homes during the tour time.
Trying out an old children's chair.  She said, "it's just my size, mommy!"
Abbey and Papa were pretty much inseparable.
Exploring an old cannon the pioneers used to protect their property.

Having a little snack on the front porch of a really old house.
my man!

exploring a big treehouse in a big tree with papa
waiting for the cattle demonstration

cows used to be sent through this deep pool of water, which contained arsenic.  The purpose was to kill the ticks and flies.  Of course, later all pools like these were illegal due finding out about how bad the arsenic was.
What a great, memorable learning experience and fun memories created with the kids, Drew and papa at George Ranch!

Family time is so precious!