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Monday, September 24, 2018

Thursday's Child

Monday's child is fair of face
Tuesday's child is full of grace
Wednesday's child is full of woe
Thursday's child has far to go,
Friday's child is loving and giving,
Saturday's child works hard for a living,
And the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, and good always.

August 29, 1957, was a Thursday. There was no hospital in this tiny hamlet of Polo, Missouri, and so the mother, heavy with child as she was, knew that there was a drive to Cameron in her near future.

If history had taught her anything, it was that she had better get to the hospital when she felt her first "pains." So she quickly got the two older children ("older" being a loose term, since the oldest daughter would turn 3 tomorrow, and the son just turned 1 three weeks earlier.) to the church babysitter. She then enlisted her minister husband in driving the 24 miles on a hot August day.

The mother's obstetrician had warned her early on not to have any children at all, given her Type 1 diabetes ("juvenile" as it was then called), and its danger to not only her but the children as well. But the two older children were born healthy and she had minimal problems, so she had no reason to believe this birth and child would be any different.

In the 1950s, it was common practice to use heavy anesthesia to, in effect, put the mother to sleep while the doctor delivered the baby. And in this small town, that practice still existed. But this mother was a study in fast labor, so when she and her husband arrived at the hospital, she was well on her way to delivering her third child.

Goodbye to the father ... not allowed into delivery unless by emergency edict. Not long after, a baby crowned. 

"Put the mother out!"

The hapless mother couldn't understand this backwards event. The baby was being born! She didn't need to be anesthetized. What was going on?

From the doctor's perspective, there was something dreadfully wrong with the baby. He was convinced the baby had two heads. Sparing the mother this sight upon delivery was his main objective.

Fast forward to recovery. The doctor met with mother and father, telling them that the baby had a rare condition known as hydrocephalus. This had resulted in a water "bag" on her brain that had looked like a second head at the time of birth. Newly developed and understood procedures allowed for draining the cerebrospinal fluid, but the doctor had more bad news: the baby girl also had half an extra vertebra, which would cause problems later in life; he warned that due to the pressure on the brain, she may not live to go home from the hospital; if she did go home from the hospital, she may not live beyond 8 years old; if by chance she did live that long, her mental capacity would never surpass a 12 year old.

Numerous hospitalizations were followed by a move to a tiny town in eastern Iowa, followed by another move to a tiny town in northwestern Montana. The infrastructure wasn't much better in either location.

At the age of 3, what should have been a running toddler/preschooler was scooting around on the floor on a cookie sheet, as she was still unable to walk, and had never crawled, due to her spasticity. Her speech was nearly incoherent. But she was indeed happy. The mother described her as the happiest of babies.

The town of Conrad, Montana, was approximately 60 miles from Great Falls, the largest city nearby. So instead of going to preschool or kindergarten in a town of 2000, the little girl was driven to a special class, physical therapy, and speech therapy down the highway. She would bring home scrapbooks full of glued letters and cut out animal and food pictures. Eventually, she was walking, talking, and putting two and two together.

Time and care availeth much! Although her speech still sounded like she had hailed from Massachusetts, progress was happening.

It became obvious, around the age of 10, that the girl had scoliosis. By that time, the father had joined the Air Force as a chaplain and was being transferred from Montana to Minnesota. A fortuitous move for the family. Opportunities and resources became readily available. Little D was fitted for a "Milwaukee" brace that covered her body in steel and leather until the time when the doctors felt it was time to do back surgery.

That time came not in the US, but after the family was transferred to an Air Force base in Japan. At the age of 12, the daughter was taken to a nearby hospital for surgery that would remove some hip bone, remove the half extra vertebra, and fuse her spine; in essence stunting her growth from that point. She was 4 feet, 10 inches tall at the time.

With the steadfast love and care of a mother, Little D progressed mentally as well. Upon relocating to Missouri, and then California, she was about to graduate from high school ... no small feat. But one of the requirements of the high school was to be able to swim two laps of the swimming pool. The young woman's spasticity (what one side of the brain did, the other did also ...) prevented her from driving, swimming, and the like. Anything that required the two sides of the body to be working independently. (Although she DID learn to type at 56 words per minute!)After much intervention from the parents, the school recanted and allowed her to graduate on the merits of her schooling alone.

"She will not live past ... she will never ..." 1. graduate 2. get married 3. live independently 4. have meaningful employment

And this is where we come to the chapter of disclosure.

She moved in with her sister for a short time, and then into a boarding house, where she went to work for the county in a training program. This led to an aide position in the public school system, for special needs students, with whom she could empathize. This led to going to a local church and singles group. Which led to dating, and eloping to Reno, Nevada!

Diane ... my sister ... is nothing short of a miracle. She has held her aide position, as an awarded member of the school employees, for more nearly 40 years! She almost singlehandedly assisted our parents through their life at a local retirement community, until their deaths. She has had the difficult job of sorting through all of their things, as well as sifting through probate issues.

God has the final word! Not the "she will never" naysayers. Outside of a limp and still sounding like she spent years on the East Coast, Diane is a thriving giver to her church, school, and family communities.

Today, Diane is a wife, a sought after teacher's aide, a gardener, a camper, one who gets asked the tech questions, a kitchen gourmet, and a believer in Jesus. Maybe I should have put that one first. Above all, that is what matters most. God has been gracious and merciful in more ways than temporal. His grace is eternal.

Thank You, Lord, for my sister and the miracle that she is. She has come far. Just like Thursday's child.

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 ...


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!


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.