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The Rebellious Boob Chronicles: A Year Ago Today…

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(I dedicate this blog to my dear friend and soul sister Brooke West who took me to all of my doctor visits, who sat with me through every minute of chemotherapy, who endured me on steroids…whoa! who laughed, cried and prayed with me, and who sent me the most powerful text message early one late December morning that inspired these words.)

They say time flies when you are having fun. I say time has a way of creeping by and flying by all at the same time whether you are having fun or not. It is hard to believe that just one year ago today I was getting ready to embark on the most challenging personal journey I have ever faced in my life. I have definitely been through some rough times in my 49 years, heck my early childhood was enough to make anyone tremble a little (but that is another blog for another time). I have lost family, friends, a marriage, a spouse. I have had my heart broke by people who were supposed to be my friend. My family has experienced the tragedy of senseless violence, we have suffered the consequences of not-always-the-smartest choices (a nice way of saying I have done some stupid stuff in my life!), and we have had the proverbial rug pulled out from under us on many occasions. I could go on and on, but I think you catch my drift that life hasn’t always been a piece of cake. The hard times have shaped me and my faith has produced a stubborn resilience that refuses to let the hardships get the best of me! However, in January of 2019, life was getting ready to throw me a hefty kick to the gut, on the most personal level, which would require me to dig deep, trust wholeheartedly in my faith and endure with the strongest determination I could muster up.

On November 21st, 2018 I went for my yearly mammogram. After receiving a bad scare in 2015 and having to go have a diagnostic mammogram and ultra sound to determine density in my right breast, I had kept up my mammograms on a regular basis regardless of the fact that I didn’t have health insurance for years (kudos to the local health department for a grant that covered mammograms for uninsured women). On November 28th I went for a complete physical with my primary care physician. I hadn’t had one of those in years and felt it was a smart move since I now had health insurance that covered such things, and I hadn’t been feeling quite like myself here and there. The good news is that my physical results were fabulous! All of my blood work came back perfect and my doctor said I was one of the healthiest women she knew. The bad news is my mammogram came back showing some questionable areas in my right breast, and once again, a diagnostic mammogram and ultra sound was ordered. I would like to say that I was as calm as a cucumber, but I won’t even try to downplay the fear that ravishes a woman’s heart when she is told further tests need to be done. Not to mention that over the course of 2018 I had noticed a change in the pea size mass that was diagnosed as density in 2015. It was now about the size of a nickel but according to google it was nothing, (seriously, of course I googled it!!) but deep down inside, I was scared. On January 3rd 2019, I went in for my testing. It wasn’t anything I was unfamiliar with, but this time the atmosphere seemed a little more intense. The mammographer appeared a little more serious and the ultrasound tech took an extensive amount of time checking out my right side and under my right arm. Finally, she called in the radiologist so that she could sit down with me face to face, eye level to eye level, and tell me ever so gently that it was expedient that I go for a biopsy.

I left the office feeling overwhelmed and as I drove back to work, I cried a little and prayed a lot. My thoughts rushed to my children and I had no I idea how I would tell them that their mother may have breast cancer. I spent the next week praying profusely and diplomatically telling God why I DID NOT need to walk through breast cancer at this time in my life. No just NO! Of course I didn’t want to have to fight the battle, but my reasons weren’t selfish ones, first and foremost I did not want my children to have to suffer through another parent having cancer. Please Lord, not at this time in our lives. Give us a little more time to grow, to heal, to enjoy life. I am strong in my faith and firmly believe that the God I serve can work miracles and remove anything out of my body that He chooses. Yes Lord, work a miracle on my behalf, after all my God moves mountains, right?!?

A year ago today, on January 10th, 2019, I was dreadfully waiting for the sun to rise as I rose out of bed early to get ready to go to my scheduled biopsy. One of my most dear friends and soul sister’s was taking me so that I didn’t have to go alone. I made my coffee, read my devotion, prayed and again recited to God at what a testimony it would be and how I would so praise Him if He would just remove these freaking lumps in my breast (yep, ultra sound showed two!).  I opened my Facebook and the first thing I saw was a memory from my ‘Dear Christy from God’ letters on January 10, 2018 (exactly one year prior) that said:

“Dear Christy, when I choose not to move the mountain, then what?” ~God~.

I knew in that moment what the outcome of the biopsy would be before they ever pierced my skin. I knew in that moment that my life and my children’s lives were getting ready to change drastically. I honestly didn’t know what all it would involve, but I knew from this moment on that my life would be on a different time table – you know, like how we measure time as BC (before Christ) and AD (anno domini – the year of our Lord) – now for me it would be “before I got breast cancer” and “after I survived breast cancer.” I sighed deeply and read the memory again:

Dear Christy, when I choose not to move the mountain, then what? ~God~.
Dear God, well, I guess we climb the dang mountain, that’s what. ~Christy~

And that is exactly what we did.

It took eight viciously long days for the doctor to call and ask me to come in for my results. Tom Petty nailed it on the head when he said “the waiting is the hardest part!” My dear friend and soul sister went with me to hear the results and we all had to chuckle a little as my doctor recited again that I was one of the healthiest women she knew…but…the biopsy showed that I had breast cancer.  My first reaction was “well hell” and after listening to what the next few weeks of my life would be like with all the doctor visits they would line up for me, Brooke and I both agreed on one thing; My God, the one in whom I believe in and love wholeheartedly, the one who loves me more than I can imagine, the one who flung the starts into place and measured the depths of the seas in the palm of his hand, the One who is good all the time, He was not at all surprised by this diagnosis. The bargaining was over, the course had been set and if He wasn’t going to move the mountain, then in no uncertain terms He was going to have to show up and help me climb it. On this side of the battle I can say that not only did God show up, but He showed out!

I have spent the past year of my life climbing this mountain called breast cancer. I have gone through two port surgeries, 5 months of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, 25 radiation treatments, and reconstructive surgery. I lost my hair, my dignity, my hot, muscular beast of a body I had worked so hard for (okay, maybe I wasn’t so hot to start with but it’s my story and I’m sticking to it! J). My battle isn’t quite over yet as I am still doing immunotherapy infusions every three weeks. I am getting ready to take a preventative pill for a year and then another preventative pill for five years. Hopefully I will only have one more surgery left to complete reconstruction. All in all, it is safe to say that it has been a wing-dinger of a year! I have felt strong and I have felt weak. I have felt empowered and I have felt helpless. I have been brave and I have been scared. I have been challenged physically, mentally and emotionally. I can say that being on this side of the battle feels much better than where I was one year ago and, despite all of the losses and struggles,  I have experienced some pretty awesome things through all of the madness. I have been surrounded by the most wonderful support system of family and friends, saturated in prayers and positive thoughts by a countless number of people and received more acts of kindness than I deserve. I have met some of the most precious folks along the way who had fought this same battle, strangers who became friends almost instantly because of the special bond we share. In the best of times and in the worst of times, I know without a doubt, that I have not been alone in this struggle for one single minute.

By the grace of my Almighty God, I was not only able to continue to work full time, I was also able to do my job with a passionate fervor and reach and exceed the goals that were set before me. I have traveled to more states this year than I have in all my life and I have watched the sun rise and set on the east coast and the west coast. I was able to experience a sweet beach vacation and a grandiose out west adventure, celebrating my 50th birthday watching the sun come up over the Mesa Arch in Canyonlands, Utah. In the midst of fighting cancer, I logged 3,284,177 steps and I was on the trail 83 days, only missing  a handful of adventures due to treatments and side effects. The most difficult year of my life has also been the most glorious of adventures! And I give all praise, honor and glory to the God in whom I gave my heart to so many years ago. His joy IS my strength!

Some would argue that if He was such a good God, why didn’t He move the mountain like I had begged him too? Oh my, as I type this I shudder at the things I would have missed if He would have done things my way. Am I saying that I am thankful for cancer? NEGATIVE GHOSTRIDER! However,  had I not walked this journey, I would have missed the recognition of His mighty hand weaving the strands of my life and guiding my every step. In 2012 God sparked a desire in me for the outdoors, and after my first hike in June 2013, a passion for hiking and adventure was birthed in my soul. I can name 3 things that tried to divert my passion through the years, but God in His goodness would always just redirect my steps and lead me to another place til eventually I found my Tribe. From 2016 through 2018 I spent weekend after weekend on the trail and with each step God was with me, honing my heart for maximum strength, honing muscle and sinew to perfection, building up every aspect of my body, strengthening my mind. healing my soul, and preparing me for a battle that would inevitably attack it all. He knew that on January 18, 2019 when I received the news that I had breast cancer that I would need to be in the best physical, mental and spiritual shape that I had ever been in to endure and come out victorious. Insert that I worked for 13 years without health insurance, and in August 2018 I was hired at my new job that offers incredible benefits, my health insurance kicked in on October 1, just 3 short months before my diagnosis.

A year ago today breast cancer was my diagnosis but it was never my destiny! It is just a path to another purpose and I hold fast to the peace, joy and thanksgiving that fill my soul. Today, on January 10, 2020 I open my eyes to a new day, a new year, a new decade and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am better, much better than I was…a year ago today.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2020 in breast cancer

 

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The Rebellious Boob Chronicles: Chemotherapy – Round 3 – Brutal but Effective

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Round three of chemotherapy was by far the harshest so far. After my treatment on Monday, I woke up with the beginnings of cold/allergies on Tuesday morning. I usually get one cold every 3 to 4 years at the most and never deal with allergies, yet this is the second cold I have had in a month. It lasted for two weeks (and the allergies are still lingering) and sucked the sap right out of me, ugh! Let me insert I also never take any over the counter cold medications but after drinking my apple cider vinegar/honey and lemon water for days to no avail, I resorted to some Alka-Seltzer plus severe cold (to no avail I might add). I missed another weekend of adventuring and I was nonetheless unhappy about that and I found myself feeling angry.

The second thing I dealt with was the mouth issue again. Thankfully using the Miracle Mouthwash at night before going to bed and the Biotene religiously throughout the day, although my mouth was raw, I was able to maintain enough where I did not get any sores. However, the metal taste was so prevalent this time and I spent two weeks not being able to eat anything. EVERYTHING I ate and drank, even water, tasted like metal, and I used plastic silverware! I survived on protein smoothies, jello and pudding for two weeks.

The little bit of food I was able to choke down stayed on my stomach for about 5 minutes and then it was the familiar mad dash to the bathroom, which I seldom won. I had some of the worst stomach cramps I have ever had in my life. I do believe I picked up a stomach virus for a couple of days upon the beloved back door trots side effect of chemotherapy. Yay me, right? Have you ever thrown up so much that you had nothing left in you and the dry heaves come? Well, I didn’t throw up but experienced the same effect on the other end of the spectrum. Hello fuzzy!  And that is all I will say about that. After a few days I found myself frustrated, exhausted, 12 pounds lighter and ‘hangry.’

For someone with my background, the state of being ‘hangry’ is something that I have never been able to quite understand. Why would people get mad when they are hungry? To me, food has never been a source of pleasure or satisfaction.  From the time I was 13 until I was 33, I struggled with anorexia and bulimia. I could go for days without eating but a morsel of food, and when I felt like I did overeat, I took measures to rid my body of what I looked at as my enemy ASAP. It became a lifestyle for me, a second nature so to speak. The only time I was conscious of eating right was throughout my pregnancies, but as soon as my babies were born, I fell right back into the mindset. After coming to terms with the struggle and making a lot of changes over the years, food became a source of maintenance for me. I rarely crave anything and seldom sit down and really enjoy what I am eating. I eat to be healthy (except after a big hike and then I may eat the heck out of a pizza or a big ole burger, fries and cheesecake or pie!) So for me to be hungry to the point that I was angry about it was an extreme. Nevertheless, I was angry.

I am thankful that the week I was in Fort Lauderdale for training, food finally began to taste good again! Every morning I ate the biggest Belgium waffle you have ever laid eyes on and enjoyed every minute of it. One of my fellow trainees even commented on how I seemed to enjoy my waffle each morning, lol. After I told her my dilemma, she completely understood and celebrated with me and my ability to eat. I believe when this season of my life is over, I will actually appreciate the ability to sit down and savor a good meal much more than I ever have.

I experienced nosebleeds for the first time ever in 49 years. I woke up several mornings with the inside of my nose hurting so bad I could hardly touch it. I assumed it was just from the drainage from the cold however, when I went to put some Aquaphor in it to ease the pain, I noticed I had sores all on the inside of my nose and it was blood raw. Ouch! Oh, and all the nose hairs you have in your nose…gone…without a trace.  I blew my nose carefully, 5 minutes later I had a nose bleed that did not won’t to stop. Can someone say angry??

My face broke out like I was a pubescent teenager and I started noticing some small sores on one of my elbows. I developed a pin size rash on most of my body and might I add it itched like a mother cracker! Bruises from hiking and climbing lasted for weeks, and a simple nick on my skin while cutting my toenail turned into an infection by the next morning. Other simple cuts on my finger and a scratch from a cat briar from hiking bled for two dang hours! WTH! My body just seemed to be falling apart more each day. Can someone else say angry???

One morning while getting ready for work, I noticed my eyelashes and eyebrows were thinning very noticeably and my left eyebrow has this bald spot that refuses to be filled in with an eyebrow pencil. Even though I lost 12 pounds, my face felt like it was puffed up like a blowfish and, at times, when I looked in the mirror, I scarcely recognized myself and I struggled to see Christy staring back at me. I found myself, yep you guessed it, angry! and yes, I cried a little.

There were more days than usual that I felt tired, struggling to get through my work days and evenings to the point that I didn’t think I had the energy to drive 6 minutes to get home.  When my friends and family would call, text or message me to encourage me and remind me that I was ‘one of the strongest women they knew”  I wanted to scream and cry because strong was the last thing I was feeling and I somehow felt like I was failing them all. For the first time through the process, I was not just pissed off, I was angry at all that my body was enduring from the side effects of the chemicals.

I would close my eyes at night and thank God that I had made it through another day and when morning rose, I would pray for sufficient grace to make it through the day and for new mercies to find me, and they always did.

One thing I have always been is real, open and honest and, well, the truth isn’t always pretty. In fact reality can be quite harsh at times but I have always found freedom and healing in authenticity no matter how raw it looks sometimes. When people ask me how my treatments are going, I tell them the truth – brutal but effective. Why do I say brutal? This process that is working to save my life also robs me of my dignity at times. It’s a little embarrassing at work when I have to tell my co-worker that works our front desk that I have to run home and change clothes. It robs me of my confidence at times when I look in the mirror and I see a stranger looking back at me. It robs me of my motherhood at times when my children have to take care of themselves when they are sick or when I am too tired to cook a simple meal. (Let me insert – they have been more than understanding and wonderful to help me and take care of me when I need it!) It robs me of my joy at times when my grand babies want to play and I don’t have the energy. Chemotherapy is brutal yet effective and the tumors are shrinking significantly already and for that I am very thankful!

So as I gear up for round 4 today, I will be 2/3’s of the way done with this process. Insert a big Woo flipping Hoo! I remind myself that this process is working to save my life. This process is going to give me many more years of love, adventure, joy and fulfillment. Although this process is brutal it is actually on my side and rooting for me. I prepare myself as I draw strength from the One who holds me in the palm of His hand. I take with me every prayer, positive thought, word of encouragement, phone call, message, card, text, support and love that is so generously being poured out to me by so many, I am beyond blessed! I clothe myself with a warrior spirit ready to fight this dragon called cancer that has invaded my body. I will fight with a vengeance and I WILL win and I WILL be cancer free! In my near future when I am standing on the mountain top again, I will not forget those moments when it felt like that very mountain was crushing me (thank you to a wonderful friend for those words!). I will be thankful and I will be better than I am at this moment.

It is time…Let’s do this! Round 4, here I come!

 

April 15, 2019

 
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Posted by on April 15, 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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