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The Rebellious Boob Chronicles: Radiation and Vacation

The Subway

A diagnosis of breast cancer is something that no woman ever wants to hear, however, on average, one woman out of 8 is diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States every two minutes. On January 18, 2019, I experienced those “two minutes” and my doctor informed me that I had invasive ductal carcinoma in my right breast. Suddenly I became the “one in eight.” The good news was there are 3.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States, the cancer had been discovered in early stages and I was the healthiest I had ever been in my life, which gave me a running start at what my body was getting ready to endure for the next several months. My treatment plan included 6 rounds of chemotherapy, once every twenty days, and then surgery to remove the affected breast tissue. The bad news was…I had freaking breast cancer and I was getting ready to embark on the most challenging year of my life.

After my diagnosis, things moved quickly. I had my first MRI on January 24th, first Echocardiogram on February 1st, had my port put in on February 4th, and my first chemotherapy treatment was February 11th. For the next several months I had more doctor visits than any one human should have and my body experienced many hardships and changes. I had my last treatment on June 3rd (hallelujah!) and went to my follow up MRI on June 17th to assess how effective the treatments had been. On June 19th around 11:45 am, I received the call with the results, ““No evidence of residual malignancy in posterosuperior and upper inner quadrant areas of the right breast or elsewhere.” The tumors were GONE!  The chemotherapy had worked! The prayers had worked! All the support and encouragement had worked! All the moments of fighting against the terrorist that had invaded my body had worked! And last but not at all the least, my God had worked on my behalf and we had won! This stage of my battle was over and my next stage would be surgery scheduled for July 8th, 2019.

After careful consideration and consultation with my oncologist and surgeon, I chose to have a double mastectomy instead of just having the right rebellious boob removed. No cancer had been present in my left breast, yet I wasn’t willing to take the chance in having to fight this battle again if ole lefty decided to rebel against me in the future. Plus, the aging process is a reality in all of our lives and what woman really wants one boob that says “hello there!” and one that is saying “see ya later alligator” as she ages?? So, a double mastectomy with complete reconstruction beginning during the same process was scheduled. I am happy to say that surgery was a success and healing came swiftly. Perhaps it was the resilience that my body had already proven time and time again; the many prayers; my stubbornness; or all of the hiking I was able to enjoy while on medical leave. I was back on the trail 12 days after surgery and enjoyed 7 trail days, a beach trip between July 20th and August 4th and I was able to return to work August 5th.  My conclusion is that it was a combination of all the above! My surgeon had said that I could return to my normal activities after about a month so within one month and two days after surgery, I was back on the rock, climbing carefully, but nevertheless climbing! We even climbed one route completely blindfolded! Booyah!

Needless to say, despite all the hardships this year had brought so far, I was living and loving life! My follow up consultation with my surgeon brought unexpected news. She only had to remove 3 lymph nodes, which came back crystal clear, however one of the cancerous tumors had rested so close to my skin margin, and because she didn’t have a whole lot extra to work with (her kind words referring to my size B!) she recommended radiation to make sure there was nothing microscopic lingering around the tumor area. I would probably be okay without the radiation she said, but if I chose to have the radiation, she was confident that there would be no cancer left behind. So of course I chose to proceed with a radiation consultation and the next step in my journey would be 25 treatments, one a day for 5 weeks. We opted to allow the plastic surgeon to complete his process of stretching my muscle cavity to make pockets for my new implants before we started the treatments and this put us on a close time table. I had told my doctor during my consultation that I had to be done by October 17th because I flew out on October 18th to Utah for a much awaited out-west adventure that had been in the makings for almost a year. They weren’t that happy about the time restraint, nevertheless 2 days after my consultation my first treatment was scheduled.

Radiation began on September 12th and I had 26 days to complete 25 treatments! The first treatment was somewhat overwhelming as you walk into this huge room, a nurse stands behind you holding a hand towel to cover you up as you undress, you lay down on a table and they wheel you under this huge concoction of a machine that lines you up and shoots a radioactive beam straight to the targeted spot. After I got over the reluctance of taking my top off and standing naked in front of strangers, bearing my scarred chest that looked like it had two cement filled softballs crammed in it, the process itself was painless, a little dehumanizing, but painless. Each treatment lasted less than 15 minutes to show up, undress, lie down, get zapped, get dressed and leave. I began to get some minor skin irritation after 18 treatments, but I only had 7 to go and then I would be done and my body could enjoy a much needed 10 day vacation while healing.

On Wednesday October 16th, I completed my 25th treatment. Needless to say I was elated as I walked into the office to see the doctor and say goodbye. Treatments had gone well with minimal side effects and it was time to heal. The doctor looked at my skin, frowned a little at the irritation and then informed me that radiation side effects were about 10 days behind and I could expect more irritation. I would have to watch carefully and treat my skin with a special salve 4 times a day to avoid cracking and possible infection. When I explained to him I was going on vacation and would be hiking and camping, he explained to me that there was no way I needed to carry a backpack for at least two weeks. Yeah right, bahahaha! Inside I was screaming…what the heck! Why do you always have to rain on my parade! I am going out west and I do not have time for irritation and infection. Insert some major eye rolling and heavy sighing as I left feeling my stubbornness rising up from the pit of my stomach and as rebellious as the boob that had gotten me to this point in the first place.

Friday came and we were on a plan to Salt Lake City Utah. To make a long story somewhat shorter, we enjoyed 10 days of the absolute best adventuring a girl could have. The scenery was overwhelmingly beautiful! Mountains bigger than life! Incredible monoliths that didn’t even look real! Rocks, canyons, rivers, waterfalls! We put 1700 miles on a 15 passenger van, and almost 140,000 steps on my Fitbit. We visited Bridal Veil Falls in Provo, Utah; camped in the desert of Moab; visited Arches National Park and  Canyonlands;  watched the sunrise over the Mesa Arch as we rang in my 50th birthday; visited Mule Canyon and the House of Fire; drove through Natural Bridges National Monument and down the Moki Dugway (whoa what an adventure!); went through Mexican Hat, Monument Valley and Navajo Nation; stayed the night in Page, Arizona and visited Horseshoe Bend; drove to Bryce Canyon for a night of camping and exploring; and ended our trip with 3 days and nights camping in Zion National Park right behind The Watchmen. We hiked the Subway (thank the Lord and Jeremy for getting the permits!) and Angels Landing and finished up our last night at the Canyon Overlook trail. WOW!!! Needless to say the entire trip was beyond amazing. I have inserted pictures for your viewing pleasure :).

I somewhat followed the doctors’ orders and spent time treating my irritated radiation skin in a cold van in the desert of Moab and in campgrounds at the National Parks. I only had to wear a pack twice the whole time we were there (thanks to my David for carrying everything!). By the time we returned home, my skin was almost all the way healed and ready for the consultation with my plastic surgeon on November 12th. The next stage of my journey would be scheduled for November 26th – surgery #2, the removal of the concrete softballs on my chest I had been carrying around since July and the insertion of new implants. Goodbye softballs, hello noobies!

This year of my life was almost over and the hardest parts of my journey were coming to an end. As I reflect back I must say it sure has been a challenge. There were days I felt like a victorious warrior and days it took all I had within me to fight through. Through it all I’ve lived, I’ve learned, I’ve loved, I’ve collected priceless memories and have been surrounded by the most precious people. I’ve discovered I am stronger than I thought I was but yet I don’t have to be strong all the time. There is a time to persevere and push on and a time for rest and healing. I’ve learned that no matter what life throws at you, with a little faith and a lot of support, you absolutely can make it through anything. It may not always be pretty and you may not always like it, but you will prevail. I’ve learned that during the struggles, if you keep on keeping on, the day WILL come that you are better than you were during those moments.

Next step – say hello to the ‘noobies!’

 

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Delicate Arch

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Landscape Arch

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Sunrise at Mesa Arch

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Canyonlands

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The House of Fire

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View from Moki Dugway

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Looking back up Moki Dugway. We drove down that!

 

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Sunset in Monument Valley

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Horseshoe Bend

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Bryce Canyon

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Bryce Canyon

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Welcome to Bryce Canyon

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Welcome to Zion National Park

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Front view from Campground

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The Watchman

 

 

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along the Subway hike

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Hiking up to Angels Landing

 

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Canyon Overlook

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Going up the Wiggles

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Our total number of steps…Whoa!

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The crew at The Subway

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The Subway

 

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

The Rebellious Boob Chronicles: Surgery – Out With the Old, In With the New!

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Boobs have never been something I have put much thought into over my 49 years. I was never over endowed but I didn’t feel like I was underendowed either. Mine just seemed to fit my body size and I was okay with it. They served their purpose when I had my children and didn’t seem to endure too much aging damage over the years. Breast augmentation (a boob job!) was never something that crossed my mind. I’m definitely not judging any woman who has chosen that route; it just never seemed to be a practical choice for my life and lifestyle.

However, things changed for me when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January of 2019. My treatment plan would include chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation if necessary. The cancer was only present in my right breast so I had the choice of having just the right one removed and keeping my left one or having both removed. Seriously though, what woman wants one boob standing in attention boldly saying hello while the other one looks as if it’s a little tired and trying to sneak out of the door unnoticed? After much thought and consideration, I chose to have a double mastectomy and total breast reconstruction. Surgery would be scheduled just a few weeks after my last round of chemotherapy on June 3rd, 2019.

The thought of major surgery intimidated me more so than the thought of having my breasts removed. The only surgery I have had so far in my life was having my port put in (twice, by the way, because my body rejected the first one and stopped it all up!) so I had never been put completely under.  I am a deep sleeper and I have very vivid dreams, sometimes nightmares – I didn’t want to be put to sleep! It scared me a little and I experienced all kinds of anxious thoughts running through my head: What if there are complications from the anesthesia? What if I don’t wake up? What if I have a bad dream while I’m under and I can’t wake myself up? What if there are complications during surgery? What if my body was too weak to handle the surgery? What if my heart rebels against me? Whew! Those what if’s will drive you a little crazy so I had to pray for peace of mind and believe that everything would be just the way it is supposed to be!

On June 5th I went in for my follow up appointment with my surgeon, had my consultation with the plastic surgeon on June 20th and my surgery was scheduled for July 8th. My body had 4 weeks to prepare for the most major event of its life so far (well besides enduring 18 weeks of chemicals being pumped through it!). I decided to throw myself a “Boob Voyage” party the Sunday before surgery and have friends and family over to help me celebrate my victory of the cancer tumors being gone, and to help me say goodbye to the rebellious boob. We had a big time filled with lots of laughter, a few tears, tons of food, corn hole, kids running everywhere, wonderful fellowship and more love and support than I could have ever hoped for. When I finally laid down in my bed, I was ready – mind body and soul to open the next chapter of this journey.

Monday morning came and the sun arose in the sky just like it should have. I didn’t have to check in until 10 am, but I woke up early, did my devotion, prayed and got up to shower. Before getting dressed, I looked in the mirror a little longer than normal. This was the last time I would see my body as it had always been. The next time I would look in the mirror, I would be changed, different, scarred. I had talked to several women who had been through a mastectomy, each one having their own experience and I wasn’t sure what emotions would rise up in me when the time had come. But here I was, looking at myself one last time and at that moment I wasn’t afraid, angry or sad, I was just ready, ready to get through this process and begin my recovery. I took my hands and I held myself for just a few moments and respectfully said goodbye to my rebellious boob.

My David, my Kaley and my momma all went with me to the hospital. We sat in the room together as I waited on the nurse to come take me down, we talked, we laughed and their presence calmed my spirit. When the nurse came in around 12 to get me I was so excited! It was the same nurse that took me down when I had my port redone. That day, on our way down to the surgery room, she stopped and prayed for me and I felt such peace. I was hoping she would be my nurse again and boom…there she was. I welcomed her prayers on the way to the surgery room again. Surgery took a little under 3 hours. Not only would I have my double mastectomy, but the plastic surgeon would come in right behind the general surgeon and place the expanders for the reconstruction process in before they sewed me up. Everything went great! I was back in my room by 4 and was blessed with family and friends stopping by to check on me, love on me and bring me gifts (thank you Pam for the socks! and Brooke for the aprons!).  I was released the next day around lunch and I was ever so happy to get back home to the comfort of my own surroundings.

The month after recovery went well. I took it easy for a few days but thankfully I was back out on the trail in no time and back on the rock in just a little over a month!

July 20th we hiked Bald Knob Ridge off of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Mt. Mitchell.

July 21st we visited Roaring Fork Falls and Set Rock Falls.

July 22nd We finally made it to the Emerald Forest on Unaka Mountain.

July 24th I reunited with a great friend and we headed towards upper Sill Branch Falls on Clarks Creek.

July 25th I took my oldest daughter and my grandbabies on a hike to Lower Sill Branch.

July 27th We hiked from the Jonas Ridge trail head at Rhododendron to Hawksbill and down the Ledge Trail.

July 30th was a camp-out in the bus with the grand babies (well momma Kaley slept in the bus with them, I was still having to sleep in the recliner!)

August 1st – 4th David and I took our first beach vacation together and had a blast!

Heck, I needed to get back to work to rest! 🙂

And if you are wondering, yes, I looked. I looked at myself in the mirror after surgery. It was a few days before I could take the bandages all the way off, but finally, after all the drain tubes were out and the bandages were off, and I had a wonderful long hot shower (you forget how great they are until you can’t take one for several days!) I stood in front of the mirror and I looked at myself. I looked at my now flat chest that sprouted at a young age and carried part of my femininity for years. I looked at the scars that now graced the area where my breasts once were. Although I grieved the parts of me that were gone, I was not sad. My body was different but I was not ashamed. More so I was proud of my body and my scars were a beautiful testimony. Before I even knew anything was wrong, my body fought against this terrorist called breast cancer that was lurking in the shadows and kept it contained in my breast versus spreading to my lymph nodes or other parts of my body. For the past 7 months it fought a long, hard battle through chemotherapy and surgery and we survived. Together we fought, we struggled, we endured and we overcame. As I stood there and looked at myself, I knew there were parts of me that were forever lost and my body would never be as it was before. However, as I stood and looked at myself in the mirror,  I smiled and I cried. I knew that I was more me than I had ever been in my life and I was much better at this moment than I had ever been.

Next step radiation and reconstruction!

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

The Rebellious Boob Chronicles – Chemotherapy Round 6 – Victory on the Horizon

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When I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer on January 18, 2019 life as I knew it suddenly changed. Beginning February 11th, I would spend the next 18 weeks in chemotherapy, a treatment every 21 days with a total of 6 treatments. I remember walking into the first treatment bold, extremely positive and a little anxious facing the unknown. After experiencing the first round of side effects I felt like it would take forever for this season of my life to pass. Fast forward to June 3, as I walked through the doors of the treatment center, I was more than ready to receive the last and final round of chemical warfare. I had made it! I had physically and mentally endured the side effects and changes that the chemicals had wrought on my body, mind and soul. I had lost much, gained much and learned much. I was ready.

From having endured the previous 5 treatments, I knew the side effects would come. Somehow though, knowing it was the last time I would have to deal with them made it less dreadful. The 6 or so hours of sitting  in the chair while chemicals were being pumped through my body was filled with conversation, laughter (I thought we may get called down at times!) and tears with my faithful friend, who had brought me to every single treatment.  A friendship that began 20 some years ago in the flower beds of a church yard; a friendship that was woven together by the very hand of God; a friendship that has endured loss of spouses, divorce, relocations, loss of contact at times and many broken hearts. A friendship that seems no matter where life always takes us, it always brings us back together to see each other through the moments of life’s devastation. Before my first treatment, another friend had shared with me that statistics showed that women who were facing cancer and had that ONE girl friend who went with them to every treatment had an extra 40% higher chance of healing and survival on top of the statistics of their treatment plan. My friend, my soul sister, my +40% had endured this season of my journey with me, she had diligently stood with me, fought with me, checked on me, cried with me, prayed with and for me and sacrificed her time for me.  If anything good came out of those times of being bound to a chair and hooked up to chemicals, it was the wonderful time we got to spend together and I am forever grateful for her!

After the treatment, I felt great! I went home and worked outside for a while, planted some pepper plants, went to work the next day and made it all day (heck yes!), went to the grocery store, cleaned out my refrigerator and cooked dinner (can anyone hello to my ambitious self?!?). As the days passed, I kept anticipating the side effects hitting but I think my body was as darned excited as I was about this being the last time it had to go through this cycle. It had fought so hard over the last 18 weeks and been changed so much, yet this time, it rose up like a valiant warrior. My mouth did not get as sore even though my taste buds were in rebellion, the fatigue came but didn’t put me under as long (or maybe my ambition and stubbornness was is control). The bathroom episodes weren’t as tragic or frequent. The worst part I dealt with this time around was the skin under my fingernails dying. On most of my fingers my entire nail bed looked bruised and my nails became dry and brittle. Overall, the few weeks following the treatment were manageable and there was no dread of another one coming. We were able to get out and enjoy waterfalls, kayaking and climbing without me dying of exhaustion!

I had my follow-up MRI 14 days following the last treatment and on June 19 my doctor’s office called with the results – “No evidence of residual malignancy in posterosuperior and upper inner quadrant areas of the right breast or elsewhere.” The tumors were GONE!  The chemotherapy had worked! The prayers had worked! All the support and encouragement had worked! All the moments of fighting against this terrorist that had invaded my body had worked! And last but not at all the least, my God had worked on my behalf and we had won!

It took a few moments to collect myself after the phone call. To try to explain the emotions that were coursing through me is impossible. I had spent the past 5 months in the fight of my life, for my life and sweet victory was mine. I couldn’t wait to tell my children, my family, my David, my friends, my support system! We had won! The victory we had fought for, stood for, prayed for, hoped for and longed for was ours. My “someday” had come, this part of my journey was over and I knew at this moment that I was truly on my way to being better, much better than I had ever been.

I am not thankful for cancer. It is a horrid, hateful disease that has no prejudices or discrimination. It attacks with a vengeance and destruction is its priority. I never want to deal with it again in my life. I am thankful, however, for all of the blessings that I have experienced through this journey…

The incredible outpouring of love and support!

The prayers, positive words and encouragement.

The cards, phone calls, messages and visits.

The pampering visits and dinner dates with friends!

The unexpected care packages and gifts! and poems! and M&M’s! and hand made pottery! and prayer shawls! and blankets! and pictures!

The dinners made for my family! and the help cleaning my kitchen!

The strangers who have stopped whatever they were doing, wherever we were, and prayed for me.

The strangers who have asked me to pray for them!

The connections made and bonds formed with those who have walked this journey before me.

The time I have been able to spend with my children as they supported me through every moment of this journey! You ALL are the BEST! The strongest, most courageous and awesome 4 people that I know! I am blessed to be your mom and I love you BIG!! (Insert…I have the most amazing grand children this side of the universe ❤️)

The absolute best family and friends ever!

The sweetest, kindest, most generous and supportive boyfriend on the face of the planet. (Insert…he has some awesome shoulders to cry on and stunning blue eyes that slay me every time! 😊)

The unexplainable (spell check tells me that I may have made that word up!) God moments! God will make your coffee! He will shine his glory down from heaven and saturate YOU in the midst of 12000 acres! He will send the right word at the right time! He will schedule meetings just so you can spend time with a dear friend who lives 12 hours away!

So many blessings and I am beyond grateful for each and every one.

I am thankful this part of my journey is over. Now it is time to prepare myself to say good-bye to my rebellious boob…out with the old and in with the new…to move on to bigger and better things (no boob pun intended!)

My next step – surgery! See you on the other side of the knife!

June 3, 2019

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

The Rebellious Boob Chronicles: My Journey, in Poetry, through the Eyes of a Friend

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If there is one thing that I am blessed with in life, it is the treasure of great family and friends! There is no way that I would have ever been able to make it this far in my journey of life as a whole, much less this adventure through breast cancer without the love and support of all who surround me. I covet every single gesture of love, support and encouragement, each prayer muttered on my behalf, every phone call, text, message and visit; every single card, note and gift.  I am honored when someone takes a moment to share with me how something I have said or written touches their heart and inspires their soul. Yesterday one of my dear girl friends carved time in her day to come and fellowship with me during my incarceration (aka…recovery time from my double mastectomy surgery – this girl was not made to stay immobile and locked inside! Yikes!) Not only did she bless me with much needed conversation and fellowship, she came bearing gifts. She had a pillow made with the above picture on it and wrote me this poem. WOW! I do not have sufficient words to express how deeply this touched my heart!

This journey has been a mixture of  beautiful roses and ferocious thorns. There have been times when I have felt like a complete and total failure as a woman (it can be challenging to your femininity when you lose your hair, your eyebrows, your eyelashes and your boobs!!), as a mother (what mom can’t take care of her children when THEY are sick??), a momsy (do you know how hard it is to tell your precious grandchildren you don’t feel like playing??), a daughter (I am thankful for a momma who takes care of me no matter what age I am!), a sister (that moment when you can’t muster up the strength to go to a family get together) a companion (ah the adjustments and grace it takes to cater to a sick girlfriend!) and a friend (I am so not used to being on the receiving end of needing help!).  In those moments of struggle, I can be my worst critic while fighting through the darkness and depression. I would think “me, positive? strong? victorious? yeah right! more like exhausted! weak! defeated!”

And then, there are those golden moments, when God sits you down and allows you to look at your self through the eyes of someone else. When He calls for a ‘pause’ in your self criticism and saturates your soul with words of reassurance. A moment that refreshes the core of your being. I share this poem with you,  this priceless gift, written for me and about me. I do a lot of writing and sharing about myself and my journey but what a gift to see myself through the eyes of someone else. As I heard the words, I sat in awe, speechless, and weeping at the goodness of a caring God and the obedience of a loving friend who was willing to be a conduit of His grace. I sat with my heart overflowing with thankfulness for those intimate moments shared between two women, with our hearts laid bare before each other. I sat there blessed, refreshed and renewed.

By Joyce Weldon, my dear friend and anointed poet

She knew her cancer would be like risking a difficult climb.
After all she was a mountain thinker
Not a valley sinker.
Her thoughts were used to soaring to new heights
She knew the value to flee or to take flight.

Now will this journey choose for her the mountain of the small place?
Will she just be satisfied with the fertile lowlands, plushes,
ready-made she face?
Throughout life she had been a friend of struggle
Maybe every once in a while to have with it a few snuggles.

But even in her broken body she continued to smile
Instead of looking back toward the valley she looked upward to the mountain with a whisper, “in a little while.”
Thinking small was not her style.
No small dreams.
No small outlook.
No small aspirations.
No small faith and no small vision.
Just a new decision.

She took the flavor of God’s spirit enhanced
Whatever lives it touches from the depth of her mind to the depths of her soul.
She let it go.

From the perspective of the heights
She gave cancer new sight
No matter the outcome to remain in steadfast, unyielding,
Unmovable, unshakable, and useful for flavoring other lives
That be sprinkled into the world cries.
In the shadow of the mountain where bushes once burned
And voices thundered and the finger of God was carved in granite
the direction of where freedom lies.

Life lives…

July 18 2019

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

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The Rebellious Boob Chronicles: Chemotherapy and Losing Your Hair

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I will began this blog by saying that it has taken me 4 ½ months to be able to complete and post this blog. I began writing it shortly after we shaved my hair off on March 4th, yet every time I sat down to pen my thoughts, I would either draw a blank or would be so overcome with emotion that I just couldn’t finish. Losing your hair isn’t just a physical side effect of chemotherapy, it is an emotional one, one that reaches down into the depths of your soul and touches the heart of your identity. It’s visible evidence that something isn’t quite right in your body. Hair loss isn’t limited to just your head either. Eventually you lose your eyebrows and your eyelashes (I miss them!) and your body hair (I won’t complain about not having to shave my legs for months!! ) It changes your appearance and it takes time to get used to it. Months later I have grown accustomed to my bald head. I’m much more comfortable being without a head covering around my family and friends, letting that bald, round head shine – especially when it’s blazing hot out and I am crawling up the trail, literally! I am able to look in the mirror and most times I don’t even bother with the fact that I have no hair. I discovered that I can take naps without having to worry about messing my hair up. I can drive with the window down and let the wind blow as much as it wants to. I can take showers at night and not have to fool with fixing my hair in the mornings, thus getting to sleep later. The perks have been many. So as I post this today, I am thankful for the progressive adjustments. I am thankful for those who contributed to my hat fund and collection and allowed me to look fashionable these past months. I am thankful that I am 3 weeks post-chemotherapy and I have a nice little layer of baby hair growing back already. I am thankful for all of the positive words and encouragement to boost my struggling self-esteem and keep me smiling. Most of all, I am thankful to finish this blog and finally get the words out of my soul that have been churning on the inside for so long. And I am thankful for YOU for sharing my journey with me.

Rebellious Boob Chronicles – Chemotherapy and Losing Your Hair

One of the things I dreaded most about chemotherapy was losing my hair. Even before it was confirmed that I had cancer, I had nightmares about being bald.  Once I received the diagnosis I would catch myself standing in front of the mirror, holding all of my hair back, trying to imagine what I would look like bald. My kids would walk by and be like…mom what are you doing? (Insert a strange look on their face)

Once the news was out and I started chemotherapy, everyone knew it was inevitable. I have the best of friends and every one would do their best to console me. “It will grow back!” or “Ah, It’s just hair!” they would say. The truth is, yes it will grow back, however to say that my hair is just hair is quite an understatement. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with my hair since it started growing 49 years ago and it became a part of who I am, a part if my identity.  I’ve had long hair, at one point it was blonde and curly.  However, the older I got and the more I began to discover who I truly am deep on the inside, the shorter and darker my hair got until finally, I found MY hairstyle and it became my icon. People who didn’t know me personally would recognize me by the infamous red streak that I wore forever. My children’s friends would say, “oh yeah, your mom is the one with the short red hair.”  Strangers would stop me and compliment me on how much they liked my hair. Well most strangers were in my favor. I remember once a man stopped me in the grocery store and felt the need to tell me that most men didn’t like women with short hair. I come a frog’s hair of letting him know that most women didn’t like men with short …., but I refrained and just told him it was okay, that I didn’t like most men and went my merry way without cutting the fool. So without much ado about nothing, I think you get the point. My hair was an important part of me.

At my first visit with my oncologist, my doctor was gracious enough to talk to me about the most common side effects of chemotherapy and how long it usually started for them to show up. Hair loss usually occurs 10 to 14 days after the first treatment. Wow. I thought I would have longer than that but I began to mentally prepare myself for the loss that was coming.  At first it was just a hair or two here and there that I would find or would stick to my hands. However, the second weekend after my first treatment, I was getting ready for an adventure and when I went to fluff my hair glue through my hair, I brought my hands down and they were covered in my dark brown locks. Ugh! Day after day the same scenario until I came to the conclusion that the inevitable was happening and it was time to take control. Thus I planned an “Ode to my hair” head shaving party for March 4th, the evening of my second chemotherapy treatment.

My kiddos, my hairdresser, and my grand babies were present and some of my awesome girlfriends came bearing gifts of wine, appetizers and desserts. I parked a chair in the center of the kitchen and the party began. The buzz of the clippers hummed a somber melody. We shared lots of laughter and a few tears were shed.  We made videos and took selfies. My oldest son, whose hair was way down his back, shaved his head also in honor of his momma. I was surrounded by tons of love and support and it made such a bittersweet event and that first glance in the mirror a little more bearable. It was done. My hair was gone. I was bald.

Now came the rush of fears. Would people look at me different? Would my boyfriend struggle with having a bald girlfriend? Would my friends avoid being seen with me? And of course, my greatest fear about it all was how would my children and grandchildren  react to having a bald momma and Momsy. I know, it sounds silly to even say that out loud, but every day and especially through this whole ordeal, they have been and always will be my greatest concern. It wasn’t long after we finished with the new hairless style that my phone starting blowing up with notifications. My children had posted some of the selfies we took on their social media. Yikes! I admit that at first I was a little shocked. I wasn’t sure that I was ready for thousands of people to see me with no hair! However, as I began to read their proclamations of love, support, and encouragement and the sweet, positive responses from others,  my heart was flooded with gratitude. They were proud of their momma, hair or no hair, and they wanted their world to know it! I was overwhelmed and the fears I had melted away. I was thankful. I was blessed beyond measure. I knew in those precious moments that no matter what I had to face through this journey that I would be okay, and more importantly, I knew they would be okay.  I knew that someday soon, I would be better than I was at this moment.

March 4, 2019

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My Kaley

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My Olivia

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My Kaler

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Getting a haircut!

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The party crowd!

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

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The Rebellious Boob Chronicles: Round 5 – The Emotions of Chemotherapy

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We all are pretty familiar with the fact that chemotherapy wreaks havoc on the physical body. The chemicals are effective in attacking the cancer cells, with the purpose of shrinking them and ultimately killing them. Chemotherapy targets cells that grow and divide quickly, like cancer cells, however it cannot tell the difference between a cancer cell and other fast growing cells such as those of the skin, hair, intestines and bone marrow (red blood cells producer). Thus it attacks them also and the side effects, as I have so willingly  shared, can be quite brutal. The physical body shares in the benefits of the drugs along with the misfortunes of poisonous chemicals being pumped through your veins.

The mind is a powerful tool that can get you through the worst of scenarios. One of the most beneficial things you can do throughout the process of treatments is to maintain a positive attitude and outlook. I strive daily to focus on the benefits while fighting through the hardships. It has not been easy and I will not for one moment pretend that is has been. The first four treatments were a shock to my physical body, but the fifth treatment brought some struggles with it that I wasn’t quite prepared for. My physical body has been pushed to limits I would have never imagined that any human should have to endure. The sore mouth, the ridiculous weight loss each time, the achy joints, the loss of appetite, the inability to eat even if I am hungry, the incessive stomach cramps and diarrhea, the skin rash, the hair loss, the eyeballs burning like you are pouring fire and gasoline in them, the loud and random ringing in my ears, my feet and legs swelling up like tree trunks, neuropathy in my fingertips and the skin under my fingernails and toenails dying, muscle spasms from Hades. I’m sure I have left some things out, but the one that has annoyed me the most, that one side effect that I have wrestled with more so than any of the others…the fatigue, that chronic fatigue, that shut-your-body-down-where-even-sleeping-wears-you-out fatigue. When your body is beyond tired and you can do absolutely nothing, there comes a point that the fatigue begins to play on your mindset. You go from being supermom who takes care of everyone and everything to the mom who barely has the strength to take care of herself much less anyone or anything else. From the momsy who is fun and adventurous to the momsy who can’t even walk outside to watch you do your tricks on the trampoline. From the friend who is always there doing for others to the friend who needs others to do for her. From being the girl who tried the hardest climbing route just to challenge herself to being the girl that can barely climb in and out of bed. From being the ambitious, adventurous soul to being the one who has to lag behind and wait while everyone else completes hikes that you just can’t handle. During those moments when I am lying in bed day after day, I am too exhausted to get up and too exhausted to sleep and all I can do is think, my mind becomes very vulnerable. Darkness wraps itself around me and my thoughts become clouded with all the things I cannot do…

I hear my grand babies outside playing and I can’t even muster up enough strength to get up to hug them.

I can’t even remember the last time I cooked a good meal for my children. (let me insert that I am so very thankful for the friends who participate in the meal train and have cooked for us!)

It’s Friday and I normally drive over to see my sweet boyfriend but I can’t even drive 5 minutes from work to home without needing a two hour nap.

My friends are going hiking and I can’t even walk to the bathroom without feeling like I am dying.

I try to participate in outings and be my sunshiny self, but inside I am dying because at any given moment I feel like I am going to pass flat out.

I want to go eat with my friends but I am afraid I will have an ungodly crap attack before I make it out of the restaurant so I just stay home…again.

My son has a baseball game but I have to sit at the car and watch him because if I walk into the stadium, I won’t have the energy to walk back out and drive home.

My dog wants to play tug of war but I can’t even hold the rope because my arms are too tired.

I long for the company and fellowship with friends but I’m so tired I don’t even feel like carrying on a conversation.

So many things I want to do, but can’t. Little things that mean a lot to me.

So I lay there exhausted. I feel weak. I feel useless. I feel worthless. I feel insignificant. I feel ugly. I feel stupid. I feel lonely. I feel lost. I feel disconnected. My fears, those ones I don’t dare speak out loud, overtake me. I cry.  I just want to be held. I need someone else to be strong for me, just for a little while. I just want to feel like myself again. I feel ashamed. The darkness overwhelms me. I don’t want anyone to know. I am so tired. I pray. I quote scripture. I speak positive. I turn on praise and worship music. I pull myself together. I close my eyes. I tell myself that tomorrow is another day and I fall asleep.

I wake up, exhausted, yet determined to face the day.

I pray, I focus, and although I am struggling with the lingering darkness, I remind myself of all of the things that I have been able to continue doing despite the fact that I am fighting a vicious fire breathing dragon that is healing  my body while at the same time breaking me down and wreaking havoc upon me (don’t you just love the dramatics??)…

Every three weeks for 6+ hours I have gotten to enjoy time with one of my dearest friends in the whole wide world. It may possibly be against the law at how much we have laughed and cried and carried on while I’m sitting in a chair getting poison pumped through my veins (more dramatics!)

I have been able to go watch my grand babies play t-ball.

I’ve been able to go to all of my son’s baseball games (except last week when I was out of town), even if I do have to cheer him on from the car. And he scored two home runs in the last game!

I’ve continued to work full-time through this process and have only missed two full days of work.

I’ve traveled twice for work related training’s, and it rocks when your training is in sunny Orlando Florida! (AND I got to spend precious time with a dear long distance friend and her family! Woot woot!)

I got to see the sunrise over the ocean’s horizon! Breathtaking!

I’ve spent precious time with my children and enjoyed their company and help.

I have only missed 3 full weekends in the woods out of 16 (and some of those were just rainy days) . The odds are in my favor!

I’ve hiked 23 times since my first treatment, including 7 off trail gorge hikes: Dellinger Falls, Piano Rock, Crevasse Point up Pinchin (what the heck fire was I thinking??), Ziggarut  (not to mention I led the first known ascent and stood on top!), Bug Out Point – twice, the Linville Crag area and the Castle and Cracker Jack Point. I’ve rock climbed 4 times. Seen 9 different waterfalls and went kayaking with my son. Thank you Lord for your grace to continue to do the things that feed my soul!

I got to see the most beautiful sanctuary I have ever laid eyes on! Quiet Reflections Retreat near Burnsville, NC is a must to go see. Thank you David!

I’ve enjoyed special times with family and friends on random occasions and planned occasions.

I’ve been held by the strongest of arms and wrapped up in peace and comfort.  Again, thank you David!

My doggy has snuggled with me during those moments that I needed him most.

I have the best Tribe ever. They are always willing accommodate me and structure hikes to my level.

I’ve met so many people that have struggled with cancer and have been inspired by their stories and friendship.

I’ve had the privilege of praying with strangers in grocery stores.

I’ve made new friends that have already become very dear to me.

I’ve been touched by so much kindness that my heart overflows.

I’ve had so many ‘God moments’ where His presence has just been incredible.

I’ve been showered with so much love, support, prayers, encouragement, and thoughtfulness sent my way daily!

I’ve been blessed beyond measure!

So, although I fight the darkness at times when exhaustion overtakes me, I wake up each morning reminding myself that it’s a new day, with new mercies, sufficient grace and strength for the day. I encourage myself that this too shall pass and one day soon I will be much better than I am at this moment.

Slay the dragon. Seize the day. Conquer the darkness. Be the light!

May 6, 2019

Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again— my Savior and God. Psalm 42:5 The Living Translation

 

 
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Posted by on June 4, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

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The Rebellious Boob Chronicles: Chemotherapy Round 4 – Me versus the Brick Wall

Round 4 of chemotherapy got off to a smooth start. The Thursday afterwards I was feeling energized and the sun was shining, so after work I decided to work out in my yard weeding, blowing leaves and mowing. I was supposed to wait on my son to get home to help me, however being the ambitious soul that I am, I began without him. It felt so good to be outside being active that I got carried away. I worked for 3 ½ hours and even proceeded to mow my front yard (at sloth speed I might add!) but nevertheless I got it done and felt quite accomplished.

Friday came and I was a little tired but still felt pretty good so I headed to North Carolina for a weekend of adventures. Saturday morning was a different story. We had a hike planned and I was excited to get out before the rain settled in. Our destination was English Falls, a short but moderately strenuous pull back out of the falls. I had done it once before and knew it would be a small challenge but nothing that I couldn’t handle. As I was getting ready that morning, I felt tired and struggled with standing long enough to get dressed and ready. My ambitious heart once again threw caution to the wind and urged me to proceed. We got to the trailhead and as we headed down the steep trail to the fall, I sensed that I was in a little bit of trouble. My legs were becoming very fatigued and I had to even stop a couple of times heading down. The coming back out of there was a complete struggle! What should have taken a quick 15 to 20 minutes became double that and there were moments I found myself getting as low to the ground as possible and almost crawling out. My legs were on the verge of completely rebelling against me, my heart felt like it would explode out of my chest and I became very dizzy each time I stood straight up. Suddenly concern was on high alert yet I was bound and determined to make it up out of there and not become the chemo poster child for the next Search and Rescue call!

When I finally made it to the guardrail at the top of the trailhead, my body went into complete rebellion. I slumped went over and dry heaved for several minutes before I could make the short distance to the truck to fall into the front seat. Whew! What was I thinking? I just knew however, that after a bite to eat, I would feel fine again…hahahaha! For the rest of the evening I was completely useless. The recliner and I became best friends and I lay for hours doing absolutely nothing. Easter Sunday morning came and I had to drive back home from North Carolina to make dinner for my family, which I was highly looking forward to! The hour and a half drive that I have done hundreds of times before felt like a cross country extravaganza. I had to call a girlfriend and talk to her the entire way just to ensure that I made it home without any mishaps. Changing gears in my car felt like doing 400 pound leg presses. I was exhausted and it wasn’t even noon. When I made it to Kingsport, instead of going straight home, yeah you guessed it, ambition took over and thought it was a great idea to go ahead and head to the grocery store so I wouldn’t have to run back out.

I struggled pushing the buggy, walking around to grab the few items that I needed and I felt faint and self-conscious that everyone I passed could tell I was about to fall in the floor. Suddenly I hit a mammoth size brick wall, I knew I just couldn’t finish the task and I called my youngest daughter and asked her to come to my rescue. In just a few short minutes she and her boyfriend arrived to finish shopping and I went home and straight to bed. My oldest daughter came to the house and they proceeded to prepare the family dinner for me that I was looking so forward to cooking. One of my passions is cooking and hosting my company, but on this particular Easter Sunday, fatigue had overcome me and I could do nothing. 5 o’clock came and I was able to get up and sit like a knot on a log with everyone and fellowship. I felt terrible and could barely even get up and fix a plate of food that I wasn’t going to be able to eat, thanks to chemotherapy mouth. However I felt even more terrible that my family had to see me in such a comatose state! I hadn’t experienced this kind of fatigue since I started treatments! After everyone left, I retreated back to my bed while my daughter and her sweet girlfriend cleaned up my kitchen for me. I got up long enough to spend some time with my David, as he drove from North Carolina to see me, and after he left it was bedtime, again for the umpteenth time that day. I laid there knowing that when Monday morning came, I would feel much better! Insert another hahahahaha!

Come Monday morning, getting up and walking 8 steps to my bathroom felt like an unconquerable task. I was so weak and became dizzy to the point that I didn’t think I would make it back to my room. I was able to manage enough strength to get my youngest son to school but had to come straight back home and lay down again before I could even fix my smoothie for breakfast. Sleep an hour, get up and fix my smoothie. Lay down an hour before I had enough strength to even drink it. Drink it, lay down another hour before I could muster up the strength to shower. Lay back down an hour before I could get dressed and head to the doctor for labs and fluids to see what the world was going on with my body. My oldest son was gracious enough to take the day off work to take me to the doctor or I would have never made the trip on my own. 5 hours at the doctor, labs that showed low potassium and low red blood count, fluids, exhaustion and back home to the old faithful bed. For several days it was a struggle to get up and make it to work only to come straight home and retreat back into my bed. It became a humorous question when my kids would get home and say, ”hey mom, what are you doing?” and my answer was “absolutely nothing!” I am never one to do absolutely nothing! I am use to working until I’m done, not until my body says no. However for several days, my body refused to do much of anything and I had to succumb to the exhaustion and lay down more than I wanted to!

As the week progressed and the weekend came, I began to feel a little better and regain some energy. My appetite started to come back and I was finally able to eat something besides protein shakes and soups. Saturday came and I spent the day taking family pictures for my daughter, prom pictures for my son and then drove to North Carolina to spend the night and attempt a very easy adventure for Sunday. We ended up hiking to the Chimneys and setting up top ropes to do some climbing with our Tribe, however I didn’t even take my climbing equipment. My goal was to set up a hammock, take some pictures and just soak up the spring sun and fresh air.  Let me insert how hard it was to just sit and observe! Inside my ambitious heart was dying to get on the rock, but for once in my life, I listened to my head and not my heart and opted to not exhaust myself and get back in the shape that I had experienced over the last week.

The next week was a great week of recouping and eating all the stuff I had been craving while lying in my bed exhausted and hangry the week before. Work went well, Friday came and I had decided to take a vacation day to enjoy a three day weekend before the next round of chemical warfare. I was able to enjoy a day of climbing, a Saturday of waterfall chasing and a Sunday hike on one of my favorite trails. It was an adjustment for my mind to follow the much slower pace that my body demanded, but I am determined to continue to not only seek my healing through the chemicals I am relying on to zap the cancer cells, but to also continue saturating my soul in the healing powers of nature that I have grown so fondly of over the past several years. In order to do that, it is necessary for me to listen to my body, to slow down, and to succumb to the rest that is beckoning me. I have to be wise on how I spend my energy, knowing that it is limited. It isn’t easy by any means so I face the battle with prayer for my mindset and to not begrudge that rest that my body desperately needs. No matter how weary my body grows, and how big the wall seems at times, I must keep my eyes on the prize of being cancer free and remind myself that one day soon, I’ll be better than I am at this moment.

Up next…round 5.

April 15, 2019

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

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