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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

One Score Minus Three

September 7, 2001, we closed on our newly constructed home. We began the laborious move across town, and by "across town" I mean about 40 miles away. On Monday, September 10, we finally closed the new garage door, full of boxes, and went to sleep, wondering how we would acclimate to our commute to Moody Bible Institute the next day.

Mark awoke just before 3 AM, as per usual, readied himself, and got to the radio station by 4:30. His morning program went from 5 AM to 9 AM.

My alarm went off at 4:10, so that I could get on the road at around 5 AM and hopefully miss the dreadful commuter traffic on the Stevenson (I-55 heading into Chicago).

My desk was in a quad toward the back of the building housing Moody Press (now called Moody Publishers) and Public Safety. I went to work ... which included greeting all my coworkers and combing through emails to find the urgent items of the day. And, as a dedicated wife, my hubby's program was on in the background.

As the years go by, certain memories bubble up, but exact times are not some of those memories. I've never been good with sequential events.

It must have been just before 8 AM when Dave Mitchell, the morning program's news director, broke in with the sad news that an airliner had just "crashed" into one of the World Trade Center buildings in New York. We were so shocked, wondering how does that kind of accident happen? It wouldn't be long before we figured out ... this was no accident.

At that point, we had computer video news going as well as the WMBI audio.

And as all eyes looked on in horror, the second plane hit the second tower. Shock doesn't begin to describe the realization that intentional mayhem had just occurred.

The towers fell. Another plane heads into the Pentagon. And the heroes on Flight 93 brought down the terrorists, and therefore the plane before it could hit its most likely intended target: the White House or Capitol building.

No one was concentrating on anything productive. The TV was on in the conference room, and as the plane hit the Pentagon, I began sobbing uncontrollably. My brother is a military retiree working as a consultant to military medical practice. He would have been within walking distance of the Pentagon on a typical day.

We were called together as employees to pray for the responders, the family members, and our nation. The one line I will never forget is, "Lord, thwart the evil intent of these people."

For a short while, the nation rallied. Flags everywhere. People back in church. "We are America strong!" The skies were devoid of aircraft, as everything was grounded. Those stranded at airports had to try to find rental cars.

Soon, the TSA was formed. Security lines. Armed police and military at the airports. Travel, and life, would never be the same.

There has been an undercurrent of distrust ever since. Will it happen again? Will they use trucks? Cars? Are my neighbors suspect? And yet, there is an entire generation coming up now who have no knowledge of why this emotional buzz is just part and parcel of our reality.


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Over and Out

"Well, I don't like to toot my own horn, but that looks really good!" No, I did not say that. It is a direct quote from my surgeon, Dr. Beatrice Klade, of the Edward-Elmhurst Medical Group. It's the kind of thing a survivor likes to hear from her surgeon: that the 12-inch scar extending from the underarm to the breast bone has healed so far ... and has closed this chapter in this part of my cancer journey.

I say "closed this chapter" because, to the even mildly observant, life is not to be taken for granted. The zero on my Onctotype DX test is fantastic, but it does not preclude a recurrence entirely, nor does it promise that the remaining side won't take off on its own. 

The team at E-E has been nothing short of excellent. Caring. Thorough. Empathetic. Accessible. And transparent.

But there's more to this journey than just the testing and the surgery. The emotions are part and parcel of the process. And for support there, I thank my friends and family on Facebook, my breast health navigator (yes, that's a thing) at E-E, and the incredible women on the Pink Sisters in Christ Facebook page. Prayers have encouraged me, and God has sustained me. The roller coaster ride has smoothed out a bit since the beginning, but there are still days when worry rears its ugly head.
In case you didn't know, the answer is "no."

Part of the healing is acceptance that life will never look quite like it did before. But in an effort to feel as "normal" as possible, survivors have the insurance-required option of reconstruction or prostheses. The most desirable boutiques are those who will work directly with your insurance company. So it was that my navigator suggested I head to Naturally Yours, which is a bit of a hike for me, but worth the effort. 

Don't assume that the prosthesis is for vanity or aesthetic value only. No, the "good ones" are weighted to the point of balancing your posture as naturally as possible. Otherwise, over compensation takes over, followed by back pain. So I am thankful that Blue Cross/Blue Shield is taking care of my posture today. ;-)

Speaking of keeping the spine aligned ... and other physical considerations ... I (re)joined a health and wellness center yesterday! Admittedly, I'm a bit nervous about actually showing up. I mean, what if my new body part takes on a life of its own and decides to bow out during Zumba or AquaFit? Yipes. No, that won't happen ... will it?

This brings me to what the future looks like. 20/20 vision only works in hindsight, as you've no doubt heard. Seeing the future is squarely in God's purview. Not mine. 

Original sin's ramifications are far reaching. Death, disease, broken relationships, and evil in general. If someone tells you you can avoid the ravages of sin in this life, they are selling something. "The rain falls on the just and the unjust." And this will continue until Jesus returns. But that doesn't mean that we are without power in this life. Nor are we without hope. Jesus has secured my eternity. The Spirit is carrying me through this life. All because God first created us and loved us. 

In my humanity, there will be days I'm concerned that I might have to go through this again. But overall, God has been incredibly gracious and merciful to me. One might even say that I suffer from a bit of "survivor's guilt." There are women (I'm specifically referring to breast cancer here) who have to take on years of treatment, struggling to stay upright physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I'm grateful for the path God has opened for me. 

For now, let's leave it at "over" ... and it's "out." Thank You, Lord!

Monday, August 06, 2018

Big Hairy Deal

I was attending college when I first started singing the jingle to "Sun In." Remember it?

šŸŽµšŸŽµSun in and sunlight, and you'll be blonder toniiiiiight!šŸŽµšŸŽµ

The best it ever did for me was to turn my ash colored hair a bit redder. More of a strawberry blonde.

Then, when I was in my mid thirties, I noticed the dreaded stray gray hairs begin to appear. Over the counter color boosters worked just fine. But by the time I was in my mid forties, I alternated between over the counter color and paying someone to make me look "natural." Assuming "natural" is not gray, of course.

So, now I'm sporting a full blown stripe of gray down the middle of my head. There's a fairly good reason for that. I'm pragmatic. I don't like to pay for something that may have a short shelf life.

As you are aware, I had a single mastectomy on July 18. I'm not quite three weeks into recovery. The surgery went well. I only have slight aches and pains if I overdo it. And the nodes and margins were clear. Praise God!

But there's this little thing called the "oncotype score" that is a good predictor of whether cancer will return or not, based on all sorts of factors too scientific to relate here. The score ranges from zero to 100. Each number represents a percentage of "likelihood of recurrence." Depending on the score and the oncologist, there is generally a "break even" number where the benefits of chemotherapy outweigh the side effects. You've no doubt known someone who has suffered through those "benefits."

If I'm going to head into rounds of chemotherapy, losing my hair two weeks into the process, I'm sure not going to pay good money to rid myself of gray that will fall out anyway ... know what I mean? Instead, I'd need to have her buzz my hair to get ahead of the game.

My prayer warriors went to work, praying with me that the clear nodes and margins would also translate into "no radiation" and "no chemotherapy." I will be the first to admit that I don't know how prayer works. I do know that it is a conversation with my Creator ... my Savior ... my Comforter and Healer. And I know that God is sovereign. He has the right to rule, and that means that what He says goes. I know it will be for my best, because He is working in me to make me more like Jesus. God ALWAYS answers prayer. We just don't know HOW He will answer, and we may not like the answer.

At first, I thought I was going to go to my oncologist appointment this afternoon ... alone. There is something about that word. I can say "by myself" and be fine. But as soon as I say "alone" the tears start. And so I asked my dear hubby just how late he could head to work today, knowing he usually has to leave no later than 1 PM ... the exact time of my appointment.

He asked me how important I thought it was that he be there. Duh!!! If it's bad news, I'm going to need to cry on his shoulder. And if it's good news, I want him to be there to do the happy dance with me! Okay, maybe he'd just watch ME do the happy dance, but that's close enough.

Thank You, Lord. Mark went with me.

The first stop is always to get the vitals. Rats! I drank two cups of coffee, ate way more than I should have for both breakfast and lunch, and first stop was weigh in. Quick! What can I take off? Oh, well.

Then comes blood pressure. You can imagine it was on the ascending scale as I'm waiting for what could be life changing news.

Then meet with the kindly nurse, and a knock on the door from my sweet, albeit business-like, oncologist.

"Well, I have your results here, and let's just get this out before we discuss anything else..."  Blah, blah, blah ... "You are only the second person I have ever seen with this score in my 11 years of oncology." And then she handed me the results sheet.

I cried.

Yes, I prayed for a low oncotype score, as did so many of the prayer warriors out there, but ... God, You are just showing me that I need to trust You with everything!

ZERO!!! Unheard of! ZERO!!!

That is a big hairy deal. So, please excuse me while I go make a hair appointment ... praising and dancing all the way!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

I Just Might Dance!


Right now, Diane is going through my discharge papers, which tell me what kinds of activities I should be doing ... most include the word REST. But others say shoulder rolls and 90-degree arm raises. You know, the hard stuff ... ;-) Really, not supposed to do anything else until given the okay by the surgeon on Monday.

Speaking of the surgeon, I was blissfully sitting with my personal comfort dog, Pepito, when the phone rang. It was my surgeon, Dr. Klade (I think this is the first time I've named her.).

She said, "I hope I didn't disturb you. I know it's Saturday, and I'll see you on Monday, but I didn't want you to worry until then. We got your pathology report back, and ...

ALL MARGINS ARE CLEAR and ALL LYMPH NODES ARE NEGATIVE!

So, I just might do my happy dance in whatever way is permissible without damaging a stitch or two.

PRAISE GOD from Whom all blessings flow!
Praise Him all creatures here below!
Praise Him above, ye heavenly hosts!
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!

AMEN!!!

Where do I Begin?

Buckle your seatbelt, this is long.

Before the residual fog of anesthesia and time blur the memories, I need to recount (to myself, if not to you) the events of my single mastectomy on Wednesday, July 18, 2018.

I drank my required 12 ounces of Gatorade at 10 PM the night before, and again at just before 7 AM, along with 1000 mg of Tylenol ... this, they say, to just start to take the edge off of upcoming tests before surgery.

Thanks to Sue Meilleur, I packed up my tiara and pink feather boa, along with all the various and sundry things the hospital said I should bring, and headed for the hospital in Naperville just before 7 AM. Pete Tammeling, our church's care pastor, called on our way to pray with us.

Sidenote and repetition: I am SO grateful for the prayers of family and friends! My goodness, I feel like the young man whose friends lowered him through the ceiling to get to the healing power of Jesus. Just that thought makes me want to weep. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for your prayers!

All parked, winding our way through the maze of hospital hallways to the one elevator that leads us to the surgical check-in, I'm remarkably calm. This is unusual for me. I don my tiara and feather boa and walk into the office to a grinning receptionist. I swear, everyone we came in contact with was comforting and welcoming. And probably a little shocked at my appearance, but I digress.

Not long after, Ingrid walked in, also all smiles. She's one of my best cheerleaders.

From here on out, I get the royal chariot ride treatment. Wheelchairs all the way, baby! First stop, vitals and gowning. They want to make sure I know who I am and why I'm there and that I will sign away my firstborn should anything go wrong. Okay, not really, but I get no drugs until I've signed the paperwork. ;-) First the nurse applies a "desensitizing" cream to the area in question. Then I get the valium. Why? Because I've got some tests coming up that might cause a little anxiety.

Wait, wait, wait, while that starts to take effect. Family goes to the waiting room, while I get the chariot ride to radiology. I'm greeted by (see, I've already forgotten her name...). Again, so friendly. I told her that a friend of mine warned me that I might want to punch out the doctor who does this test. You see, they inject a radioactive tracer to find the nearest lymph nodes to the affected area. They tell you that it "might burn" a bit. The radiologist returned, "Yes, that's why we give you the Valium. You can't hit as hard that way ... *grin*"

But what I didn't know is that there are two different types of radioactive injections. One is the tracer that just finds the sentinel nodes, and one is the blue dye that finds all the ... well, the rest of them and their pathways. Praise God, this was the former!

So, I'm on a typical exam table. The desensitizing cream has been covered up and doing its job, and the radiologist explains the procedure to me. But wait, I'm staring at the ceiling where usually you'd see a glaring light. Instead of squares of fluorescence, there is a tree branch with diffused sunlight. Great! I can count the leaves!

Next comes that freezing spray and a "pinch" (why do they always say it will feel like a pinch?) as she injects the first tracer of four. Ditto three more times. Now she turns on some soft music, dims all the rest of the lights, and those tracers find their marks. I could almost fall asleep ... almost. And no, it didn't hurt. She asked me, on a scale of 0-5, what pain level that test was. I said, maybe a 1. Bingo! Right answer. She was happy to oblige.

Now it's time for four 5-minute pictures of where those tracers ended up. For this, I get my first experience in an open MRI, of sorts. But it's not MRI, it's gamma rays, she says. "Are you claustrophobic?" We'll see, as I glide into the machine and the "ceiling" comes within an inch of my nose. Thankfully, it's open on the sides, so I turn my head and close my eyes. No problem.

All done with that and head back up to OR holding, where my surgeon and anesthesiologist will visit just prior to wheeling me off.

At this point, Mark, Diane, and Ingrid are able to come wait with me. Ingrid had the temerity to say that she really likes me on Valium ... uhhh, just what do you mean by that?

Dr. Dude (I've given him that nickname, since the first part of his name sounds like that, and he is a really funny guy) comes in and tells me that he's going to send me to lala-land so I should pick out a dream now. Then the surgeon pokes her head in to tell me that they'll be ready for me in just a bit, how am I doing, and jokes with Dr. Dude. Mark asked her how early she starts surgery in the day, and where am I in line? She said I'm the 4th of the day, and mine is scheduled for 11. Wow!

Here we go. My transport awaits and takes me through a labyrinth of secret hallways to OR #19. They assist me from the gurney to the OR table, and introduce me to everyone in the room who will be helping for the mastectomy. No, I don't remember ANY of their names!

Somewhere behind my head, Dr. Dude appears. He asks me what dream I've picked out. I said, "A Viking Riverboat cruise!" "Where are you going?" "The Grand European tour." "Great! Bon voyage! Have a great cruise!" And that's the last thing I heard ...

Until I awoke to a nurse asking me my pain level. I'm groaning. I'm crying (not afraid to admit it). And I am shaking like a 9 on the Richter scale. At one point I was sure I was having a seizure. I could not stop quaking. "Your pain level?" "Maybe 6-7. And my face is itching!" "Okay, I'll give you something." wait...wait...wait... "How about now?" Crying ... 6-7. "Okay, morphine it is." I think I quit shaking after that, and at some point my next chariot came to transport me to an overnight room.

By the time I was coherent, the nurses informed me that I had an allergic reaction to something in the anesthesiology cocktail (thanks a lot, Dr. Dude!)...most likely the Ancef anti-biotic. Who knew? I do now.

But hey, from then on out, pain level was almost nil. The nurses and techs were incredibly helpful. Numbers stabilized. Christian inspirational music piped through my "entertainment system" and I got food! Good food, actually!

My nurse navigator and surgeon visited the day after surgery, walked me through what to expect going forward, including all the goodies that the kind folks at Blue Cross/Blue Shield and the American Cancer Society have available to survivors.

Because that's what I am. A survivor!

Monday, July 16, 2018

God is in the Details

Are you a detail person? Or are you a "just give me the big picture/bottom line" kind of person?

Call it a control issue (I know you will), but I want it all. Give me the goal, and then I want all the details that will get me there.

Some say "the devil is in the details," which is true if those details go awry. However, God is a God of order, and therefore I can trust him with the details.

Here are some details I'm dealing with right now.

  • My mastectomy surgery is on Wednesday, but I still don't know what time. I'm told that the hospital will call me on Tuesday with the time I'm to arrive. Important detail.
  • Before surgery, I will first go for sentinel node mapping. (What are the details of that, you ask.)...
  • Head to Nuclear Medicine in the hospital. I'll be wheeled there, thank you very much. Mark can follow me.
  • I'll change into "the gown." 
  • I'll be given an IV.
  • Cream will cover the surgical area (they don't want to slow blood flow during this time, so no lidocaine).
  • Hop onto the exam table.
  • More numbing from topical spray (that feels like you just jumped into a bucket of ice, apparently).
  • I will receive four injections of blue dye that may burn.
  • I'll be given a warm pack for comfort after the previous jolts.
  • Wait for 15 minutes while the dye works its way to the lymph nodes.
  • Then come four 5-minute scans.
  • I'll be wheeled to OR, where I'll chat with the anesthesiologist (yeah, right) and the surgeon. 
  • Followed by possibly waiting for one hour before surgery. 


I'm told that the surgery will take 1-1½ hours. Sounds like a good nap to me.

So, please pray that ...

  • Every one of those details runs smoothly.
  • I have a bold and trusting attitude, considerate of those who are working with me.
  • The surgeon and anesthesiologist have every one of THEIR details under control.
  • I will relax into the knowledge that God has every detail under control, and me in His loving hands.
  • The final outcome is ... all clear! "Clear" to me means no cancer remaining, no infection, and no lymphedema.


Thanks to all you detail-oriented people who can pray specifically now. And thanks to all of you bottom line people who will pray for that final outcome.

The biggest God detail I want to remember is that, because of His power, I can have peace.


Thursday, July 12, 2018

Real Notes

Things got real with the call from the surgeon's office.

"What time would you like to schedule your operation?" (You mean I actually have a choice? Well, let's get this thing going!) "What is her first availability?" "Let's see ... looks like next Wednesday, the 18th." "What time?" "We won't know what time until you get a phone call the day before."

Well, okay then. Here we go. T-minus 6 and counting.

Notes from the pre-op instructions:


  • No blood thinners from now until surgery.
  • No multi-vitamins until surgery.
  • No more coQ-10.
  • Zi-cam seems to be okay.
  • Nothing to eat after 11 PM on the 17th. But wait ...
  • Drink 12 ounces of Gatorade 12 hours before surgery.
  • Drink another 12 ounces 4 hours prior to surgery.
  • Take 1000mg (if my math serves me correctly, that would equal 1 gram) 4 hours before surgery.
  • We can park on the second floor of the south parking garage that states "reserved for surgery patients."
  • Enter in the south lobby, turn left, go to elevators at end of hallway and take them to second floor.
  • Straight ahead to check in (heart palpitations...).
  • Leave all valuables at home.
  • Take off all jewelry ... rings, piercings, etc etc.
  • Wear loose clothing that buttons up the front.
  • No pathology will be given over phone.
  • Staying overnight.


MyChart is my frenemy. Timely information, and sometimes too much or too little to suit me.

My sister, Diane, has volunteered to stay with me for the first part of my recovery. I'm so grateful. She may as well be a home health aide with as much as she's done for our parents the past few years. So now she is stepping down a generation and helping me.

As we go into this next week, my prayer list goes like this:


  • Bravery
  • Trust in the LORD
  • Peace
  • Flights at a good price and time for Diane
  • Pain management without dependence
  • No infections
  • All cancer GONE!!!
  • Ministry to those with whom I'll come in contact

I purposely didn't put a link to this blog today. If you are reading it, you have determined to be a prayer warrior, and for that I am SO grateful! Thank you.

Really

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

My Comic Relief

For Women Only! (Men, read at your own risk.)

This blog is really just an elaborate ruse to say thanks to my own private comedy company: our daughter, Ingrid. Between my husband and her, their lot in life is to make me see the bright and humorous side of everything.

And so began my day with the plastic surgeon. Ingrid agreed to accompany me to give her womanly wisdom on the subject of reconstruction.

I mean, really, should that be cause for laughter? Only when you can see that God is saving you from something far worse and, therefore, whether or not to add a stand-in for a soon-to-be-removed breast qualifies as joke fodder.

First, there's the fact that I had to weigh in ... again! Horrors. But the nurse laughed. Ingrid laughed. I removed my glasses, shoes, and anything else that I could without being indiscreet ... and laughed. At one point, I think we probably discussed how much weight I would lose by having my breast removed, but ...

I may have been raised in the 60s, but I am a bit on the reclusive, modest side. I get a tad embarrassed at the doctor's office, and this is really pushing it for me. Because next came "measurements." And I don't mean "around." Picking a focal point ("my eyes are up here!"), the reconstructive surgeon measured to the center of each breast. So no ... not twins of a gazelle. More like distant cousins. And remember when Mark had to get his eyes lifted a few weeks ago because of "ptosis"? That means "sagging to the point of falling asleep." The same term was used for those "twins."

You might guess, if you know me well, that I am risk-averse. I'm practical to a fault, usually. When I initially met with the mastectomy surgeon, she made it sound like reconstruction would be done at the same time as the mastectomy. Well, sort of. The only thing that would be done at the time of first surgery would be to install an "expander" in the space, which (much like a dental expander) would need to be tweaked each week to accommodate the next surgery for actual implant. Remember the risk-averse? Yeah. More than one surgery is not my idea of recovery.

Basically, there are three types of reconstruction open to me. Since I must have a complete mastectomy (sorry if all of this is TMI), I can either leave it as is (no reconstruction), implant a saline sack, implant one of two different types of silicone gel sacks, or opt for autologous reconstruction.

The best thing I heard all morning was when the reconstructive surgeon was discussing the autologous type of reconstruction. Frankly, it makes my knees go weak just thinking about it. Skin and underlying fatty tissue is removed from either the abdomen, buttocks, or inner thigh, and used to form the new "breast" and then inserted where an implant would go. But wait! He said I didn't have enough to work with. Hahahahaha! I guess that one  oversized love-handle wasn't enough to go on.

Then there is the saline implant. Much like implanting a water balloon. Picture that, if you will. I laugh just thinking about it. I asked him how many he did of those each year, and he said, "One." What? Well, yeah ... that mind picture. However, they are probably the more "safe" of the two types of implants, because if there is a rupture, the saline just gets reabsorbed into the body. Right after your chest deflates...

So then there is the gel implant. One is smooth, and moves around under the skin (creepy) and the other is textured and stays put. So, why wouldn't you want the one that stays put? Because all that texture tends to gather problems that the lymph system wants to war against.

Most women opt for the "gummy" type of gel. I have two friends (who will remain anonymous unless they want to out themselves) who got these gummy gel implants. One describes it as feeling like something is constantly strapped to her chest, never quite feeling natural (gee, I wonder why?). The other affectionately calls her breast "Sponge Bob Square Boob"! Go ahead and laugh ... it is hilarious. This can happen due to scar tissue build up around the implant.

Then he treated Ingrid and me to "before and after" photos, complete with tattooed nipples (why do I not like to even say that word?). This is an ingenious and excellent way for someone who has been through the reconstruction process to have a sense of normalcy.

But since when have I been entirely normal? My initial surgeon wanted to make sure I got together with the plastic surgeon to go over options. I've done that now, thank you.

To reconstruct or not is an extremely personal decision for each woman. I belong to a FB group called "Pink Sisters in Christ." All 3300 of us are somewhere in our breast cancer journey: newly diagnosed all the way to 10 years NED (No Evidence of Disease). I want to thank a friend of mine for turning me on to the group, because it is a treasure trove of encouragement, wisdom, and women praying for one another. I love it! Thank You again, Lord, for your praying people!

Every one of the women in that FB group is unique and has their own reasons for how they decided on recovery and reconstruction.
My bottom line: I'm sticking with mastectomy and no reconstruction. So now you know. Sometime in the future, if we should meet face to face, I expect you to look me in the eye, because there is nothing to see down there! Just call me "one and done." Or "One-derful" will work, too. Or, perhaps, "Padiddle" (you know ... when you see a car with one headlight out?). But whatever you do, help me keep my sense of humor.

I will keep my scar.

It will be a constant reminder of what God has saved me from. There are plenty of alternatives out there to show the outside world that I look "sort of normal." But I will never be normal again. That makes me tear-up just a bit. So ... someone tell me a joke. I would like to laugh my way through recovery.

Thanks again, Ingrid, for being my morning comic relief. I love you (and pray you never have to go through this yourself).