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The Rebellious Boob Chronicles: Why Not Me?

Life, it is a precious gift. It is also full of tragic moments.  Every minute of every day someone’s heart is ripped out of their chest with news that seems impossible to bear.  According to the American Cancer Society, in the United States alone, 4,950 folks are diagnosed with cancer every single day, and 1,650 of those will be a fatal diagnosis.  Heart disease, accidents, respiratory diseases, strokes and other numerous diseases and circumstance crushes the lives of hundreds of thousands per year.  Tomorrow is always hoped for but never promised.

My family has had its share of personal tragedies. My children lost their father to colon cancer in 2011. My son’s friend was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when he was only 14, and is still fighting 7 years later. Friends have committed suicide and others have lost their lives in car and motorcycle accidents. Just this month I had a good friend go in for kidney stone surgery and never returned home due to sepsis, leaving behind a husband and three children. Moments like these make us question what good there is in this world! Early one March morning in 2018 my family was devastated with the news of a senseless act of violence that forever robbed us of a beloved friend. Our hearts were shattered to find out that someone very close to us, someone we loved dearly, a young man that had become ingrained in our family structure and more so in our hearts had been violently shot. It was as close as I could come to losing my own child. Not a day goes by that we don’t somehow feel the sting of his loss.

While attending his funeral, one of the speakers made a statement that resonated deep in my spirit. As she was talking about the enormous hurt and loss that we were all feeling, and how at moments like these we are moved to ask…why me? She stated that what we really needed to ask is…”why not me? What made any of us different than the hundreds of mother’s who lose their sons daily, or the grandmothers who lose their grandsons, or brothers that lose their brother, or friends that lose their friends?” The statement seemed downright cold and harsh, nevertheless it was true. Loss; tragedy; hurt; these are all common things that we as human beings will experience multiple times in our lifetime. The thing that we have to do in moments like these, as difficult as they are, is not ask “why me” but decide how are we going to face the devastation before us? How will we cope with the pain? How will we let it define us? These are hard questions to ask ourselves, but they are necessary for our survival.

Those powerful words of the speaker kept playing over in my mind when I was going through the process of determining whether or not I actually had breast cancer. As many times as I prayed for the diagnosis to be in my favor, as many times as I pleaded with God for my children to not have to walk through this diagnosis of cancer again, as many times as I laid out why it wasn’t a good time for me to fight cancer, during the moments I had to hear my doctor confirm it was indeed breast cancer, during the visits with the surgeon, the visits with the oncologist to get my treatment plan, even when I had to sit my children down and tell them the news, never once could I question why me? Research shows that one out of eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, 325,010 women per year, 890 women per day.   All of a sudden, my reality included me in those statistics. I am not a rarity, I mean I know I am unique, and awesome and fabulous :), but I wasn’t facing anything that so many other women hadn’t faced before me.  To be honest, I didn’t have time to ask why me, I had to focus on how my children and I were going to get through this journey together as gracefully as possible and come out victorious. I knew that it was going to take facing each day with a positive attitude, grit, determination, perseverance, lots of prayer, lots of support and above all else, the faith that could climb the mountain that wasn’t being moved for me. 

I had to focus on what was and not what could be. I was in the best physical, mental and spiritual shape I had ever been in in my life. Had this hit me 6, 7, 8 years prior, I would have been in a mess! I had a personal relationship with the God of heaven, the maker of all things, the ruler of the universes, the one who flung all the stars in their places and strategically placed the planets in position. Not just a God who I had read about in the bible, but THE God who has proven himself, his love, his faithfulness and his power to me over and over again in my life. My God who was not going to leave me hanging but would continue to walk each step with me through thick and thin! The God who promises in his word that he will “make all things work together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.” (that’s me!!) (Romans 8:28). I don’t by any means want to make it sound like fighting cancer was a walk in the park. On the contrary…it freaking sucked raw eggs and maintaining a positive attitude didn’t mean that everything was okay all of the time!

There were times that I felt like crap on a stick. Times I had to laugh hysterically or cry profusely. Times my body rebelled against me. Times I was so tired that I didn’t think I’d make it eight steps to the bathroom without fainting.  Moments I missed with my children and grandchildren, family and friends, because I just wasn’t up to getting out and doing anything. Times I just couldn’t’ do the hike or climb. I lost my taste and smell. Times I couldn’t eat anything – I got soooo tired of smoothies! Times I got hangry (its a real thing!). Times I struggled with depression. Times I cried out to God for mercy and grace. Times I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize myself. I had lost my hair, my eyebrows, my eyelashes (well, one eyelash held on for dear life and we celebrated each other daily!). My nose hairs were even gone! My fingernails all turned black from the skin dying underneath them. I lost my dignity more than once. My muscle tone said see-ya-later.

The picture above was right after my double mastectomy. Staring in the mirror at the ace bandage covering the place where my boobs – a significant part of a woman’s femininity – lived carefree for years, were now gone forever.  My oncology nurse, whom had fought breast cancer herself, had told me at the beginning to take lots of pictures throughout my journey, even when I didn’t feel like it. This was one of those that I didn’t feel like taking, and one I thought I would never share.

However now, over a year later, I can look at this picture and see just how far I have come. I don’t just see a feeble cancer patient that had been robbed of so many parts of her. I see a woman, who despite the circumstances, chose to face the bull manure life was throwing at her and fight back with vengeance.  I see a woman who stood in faith, endured the pain, won the battle and is victorious and cancer free! Am I happy I had cancer, NO! Do I ever want to walk that journey again…HECK NO! But I am thankful that when I look in the mirror today I see a woman, who is much better now than she was before the journey began and I understand…why not me?

I close this blog saying that I don’t in any form or fashion want to make light of anyone’s struggles. Life hurts and sometimes the pain can be so overwhelming that it can feel as if we just can’t get through it. I do want to say that you do not have to get through it alone! If you are hurting today, regardless of the circumstance, please reach out those who love you and support you. I would have never made it through my journey without God’s strength and mercy and all of the love, support, prayers and encouragement I received from so many. If you don’t have anyone, please reach out to me. I will listen; I will pray for you, I will fight through the darkness with you. It won’t be easy, but we won’t give up until we overcome!

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

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The Rebellious Boob Chronicles: I Wish…I know…

Some mornings when I get out of bed and my feet first hit the floor, I wish I never knew what it was like to have cancer.
I steady myself as I feel the fiery sensations  on the soles of my feet
I slowly straighten up
I hear each joint whisper a sigh of discomfort
and I whisper back, I know, I’m sorry you ache
But we can do this!
I began to walk and I know that this day is a new day
With new mercies, sufficient grace and strength to make it through.

I know that my burning feet will carry me everywhere that I need and want to go
and on some days they will hike miles, scramble through creeks and over rocks
bushwhack through briars and thick rhododendron
and climb glorious mountains.

I know that my aching joints will sit down, rise up, make coffee, embrace my babies and grand babies, throw dog toys, cook dinner, do the laundry, take out the trash, do yoga, vacuum my house, mop my floors, mow my yard, drive my car and when the day is said and done, we will lay down together and silently weep accomplished tears.

Some days I look in the mirror and I wish that my body wasn’t altered, scarred, weak, different.
I miss my strength, my form, my endurance,
The definition in my arms and back from countless hours of climbing.
The firmness in my thighs from relentless, exhilarating adventures over the hills and through the valleys.
I gaze at the swelled areas of my chest,
I long for the day that I can stand in front of the mirror and look and feel like a woman again instead of a cancer patient.

Then I take a moment and a gaze a little deeper…
I run my fingers through my silvered hair,
I gently trace the scars where my breasts use to be
And I know that my body has been through hell and back
Fighting like a warrior
Enduring each poke, prod and knife against its delicate skin.
It armored up through chemical warfare, standing bold and courageous all the while suffering from the friendly fire coursing through its veins
destroying the terrorist that was attacking us.
I know that we are working in harmony for healing and victory,
We are stronger because of our battle
And I know deep inside that I am more of a woman than I have ever been.

Some days I struggle for the right words to say when my granddaughter asks why I shaved my head?
Or why can’t I jump on the trampoline with her?
Or what is cancer momsy?
My heart aches and I wish I never had to explain to her, or any of my babies or grandbabies, about this hateful disease.
I wish that they would had never had to see me tired, weak, sickly, bald.
I wish they would never have to experience hurt, fear, shame, or injustice in this broken world.

I pray and I know the right words will come.
I also know that actions speak louder than words!
Silently they are observing what grace and grit and determination look like.
Soon enough they will see with their own little perfect eyes and pure hearts that life isn’t always kind,
But we can be.
They will know that God is always on our side.
He is faithful and just and
He will never leave us or forsake us.
They will know what a firm foundation of faith looks like in certainty and uncertainty,
And they will know that  with the love, support and encouragement of family and friends
A person can make it through even the most difficult of times,
And even broken things have beauty to behold.

Some days I wish life was different
But I know that no matter the situation, the circumstance, the season or the struggle,
Life is a gift to be treasured
To be lived to the absolute fullest
Today and everyday.

March 27, 2020
Ramblings of a quarantined survivor, thriver and lover of life
#coronapandemic2020


 
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Posted by on March 27, 2020 in breast cancer

 

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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 breast cancer, Uncategorized

 

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The Rebellious Boob Chronicles: When God Makes Your Coffee…

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Do you ever have this sneaking suspicion that something just isn’t right? You hear your intuition talking to you and you try your best to acknowledge it and ignore it all at the same time? Last spring through the fall (2018), there were moments I just did not feel like myself. Times, especially on the trail, that I would feel fatigued more so than I thought I should with no reasonable explanation. With having several diabetics in my family, I too have struggled some with regulating my sugar over the past few years so I would just always reason it out as being that, and perhaps some moments that was truly what was going on. However, there was this deeper gnawing in my gut that would throw these ridiculous thoughts into my head. I would shake them off and think…what the heck Christy? I would pray, rebuke (yes, I was raised charismatic! Lol), and go about my business. Then, around July or August, I started noticing a lump in my right breast changing. In 2015 I had a mammogram come back questionable, went for a diagnostic mammogram and an ultrasound and thankfully the diagnosis was just density. It was a scary moment, scary enough to make me cautious and I kept my mammograms up from that point on, even when I didn’t have health insurance. (Kuddos to a grant at your local health department. Check it out!) Always, it showed up, always it came back as density. In November of 2018, I made yet another regular mammogram appointment, went, received the same diagnosis and was scheduled for yet another diagnostic mammogram and ultra sound for January 3, 2019. This time seemed a little different than the last, the concerns a little more pressing, more care taking during the examination and I somehow knew that a biopsy was on the menu. Now I am a faith filled woman who believes in praying about everything, I had already been talking to God about the possible outcomes and reasoning with him why having something wrong with me would not work at this stage in my life.  My biggest concern, my fear, my pleas…My children, Lord, please don’t make them walk this road again. My children lost their dad to colon cancer in 2011 and needless to say it has been a very tragic and painful road for them. Please Lord, not for my sake, but for theirs, let everything be okay.

I shared the news of the upcoming biopsy with a few close friends to have them pray for my outcome. One of my girlfriends, you know the kind that have been intertwined into your being and became an essential part of your life?  She agreed to go with me to the biopsy, just in case, for comfort and support. And thus it was scheduled, January 10, 2019. I got up that morning standing somewhere between confidence, faith and agitation. I really didn’t have time for all this. I opened my phone to Facebook and my memory from January 10, 2018 stared me in the face: “Dear Christy, when I choose not to move the mountain, then what?” Lamentations 3:21-25. (FYI: My Dear Christy series is a whole other blog!)  I felt like I had been hit with a ton of bricks. I had been fervently praying for God to move the mountain I anticipated in the distance, and it was at that moment I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, inevitably, me and my children were going to be facing a mountain not of our choosing. Emotion consumed me and I let out a huge sigh. I admit I was a little pissed off at that fact that my children would again have to walk a difficult journey that they had no control over. I was fearful of what the news would do to their precious hearts. My mind full of anguish over the terror that would be piercing to their souls when I had to tell them the news that their mother had cancer. I’m a fairly persistent woman so again I pleaded with my Lord, please; do not make them walk this journey.  Please. Not this mountain, Lord. I said nothing to my children and settled within myself that I wouldn’t say anything until I had something in concrete to tell them.

Fast forward to January 18, sitting in the doctor’s office with my soul sister again by my side. The diagnosis: invasive ductal carcinoma in my right breast. Two places, Stage 1 and 2. I scheduled an appointment with the surgeon and left the office in a fog, trying to figure out how I could get through this diagnosis perhaps without even having to tell my children. I just knew when I went to the surgeon that she would tell me that I would need a simple surgery to remove the lumps and all would be well. ROFLOL right?  I‘m so ambitious.

On January 22, a normal Tuesday evening, I asked all my children to join me for dinner at our house as I had to share the news with them. The next year of our lives would involve months of chemotherapy, surgery, more protein chemotherapy, and reconstructive surgery.  My heart broke as I saw the look in their eyes and heard the gasps escape from deep within. They were devastated and they had every right to be. Why Lord? Not why me? Hundreds of women a day hear the same news, if not worse, but my question was, why them Lord? Why again?  What on earth do you have for them to do that requires all of this suffering and growth at such an early age?  I know this journey will be different from the last one, but why, Lord? My heartfelt prayer was simply God give them grace, peace and strength for this journey. Make your presence known to us Lord. We have to know that you are with us every step of this way Lord. We have to.

Over the next several days, we talked, we cried, we talked more, laughed a little, cried more and prayed much. As the moments passed, I sensed a peace that passes understanding envelope us all. Sunday evening rolled around before my first treatment and I was busy trying to get everything prepared for the next morning. Bag packed with goodies and things to occupy the time, clothes picked and laid out, snacks, water, and oh, before I lay down, let me get my coffee pot ready so that I can just hit the button in the morning when I am ready to brew. No need to turn on the timer, I will just have it ready and it will be one less thing I have to focus on. The clock flashing 12:00 am.  Prayers. Goodnight.

Morning rose and so did I, like a warrior, ready to face what was before me. I showered, dressed and prayed fervently again for God to make his presence known to us today in a mighty way. I was collecting my things and remembered my coffee, time to turn it on! I walked into the kitchen and to my surprise there in my coffee pot sat a freshly brewed pot of coffee. It was finishing up its last drip as I flipped on the light. I was a little puzzled as how this had happened. I distinctly remembered NOT turning on the timer to set it, so I looked again at the clock and it was flashing 12:00 am as it had been doing the night before. No one had been up in my house yet, no one had been stirring except for me and God.
God? Did you make my coffee for me?   Did you really turn my pot on for me and make my coffee?

The same God who spoke the worlds into existence, and separated the day from the night. The same God who holds the stars in their place and calls them all by name. The same God who formed the mountains and measured out the seas. The same God who stores the treasuries of the snow and releases them in due season. The same God who gave his son for a ransom so that I could know Him by name. That  very same God had showed up in my quaint little kitchen on a rainy Monday morning in February and turned my coffee pot on. True story! Yes, yes He did! The same God who had walked with us so far in this journey of life is the same God who was saying to me loud and clear, I am here, I am with you, and I am going to take care of you.

I know there are a lot of unknowns that I will be facing over the next year. Lots of ups, downs, surprises, irritations. After making it through my first post-chemo week I have made new discoveries about my body that wish to never have became acquainted with.  I have been dished a rude awakening to just how unbiased chemotherapy is, it doesn’t matter how tough you are, chemo doesn’t care! Did I mention I am a little pissed off about the whole thing and what subjecting myself to chemical warfare is going to do to this rock star body I have worked hard to have? (insert a little laughter – a merry heart does good like a medicine). To even say that I am excited about this journey in the physical sense is absurd. No, I am far from excited. Yet in a few short hours, days and weeks, I have been showered with so many blessings, covered in abundant fervent prayers, received overwhelming support and love and have made connections with women that will be forever set in stone. Do I have a feeling this is going to be one of the worst times of my life? Heck yes!  However I face it head on, with courage and know that it will also be a season coupled with one of the best times of my life.  When the God of all creation cares enough about me and my children to show up and make my coffee for me, what other grand things is he going to do through this journey? This is my story, stay tuned….

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2019 in breast cancer, Uncategorized

 

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