Drum roll, please… six down, two to go (well, only two more chemo treatments. I still have a year of IV-herceptin, radiation, drug therapies, etc. But the most toxic portion will soon be out of the way.) Yesterday was a mixture of emotions when I saw my oncologist. On the bright side, my blood counts look great, he determined course of treatment to replace the Taxol, I had my port so there was no IV, and I only have two chemo treatments left even with all the setbacks. On the not so bright side, not knowing what actually caused my recent hospitalization, there are no guarantees that this treatment won’t send me to the hospital also, the new drug is less severe overall but much more prone to nausea, and the port access did not go so well. It was an exhausting, emotional day, and now it is an exhausting, sleepless night.
Here’s the medical update for those of you that keep track. My new chemo treatment is a drug of the same molecular make-up as Taxol called Taxatere. It is not as toxic and generally tends to be easier on the body; however, it’s still chemo and still has some not so fun side effects. I did read that a new study suggests that Taxatere is actually better than Adriamycin (one of my first two drugs) at preventing recurrence, so we’re hitting this cancer with a double-dose of death. The Taxatere also will impact my blood counts aggressively, and the doctor told me not to be surprised if I come in two weeks for my next session and find my counts are too low to even have chemo. This obviously could push things back even farther which makes for a longer treatment time in general. But after yesterday, I’m one step closer.
The actual treatment today was difficult. I am still swollen and very sore from the port surgery, so access to the port was a struggle for me and the nurses. They warned me ahead of time that the first access could be hard, but I was totally unprepared for the onslaught. It took them 20 minutes (much better than 5 hours!) of pushing on the still painful surgery site to manipulate the port and find where they needed to stick me. Then the first needle wouldn’t stay in because of my swelling, so I had to have a second needle stick and manipulation. Lots of deep breaths, cold cloths on my forehead, squeezed hands and tears, but it went in and I was able to avoid an IV and get my treatment underway. It is a shorter infusion than the Taxol, but still a long day (5 hours) at the cancer center. I go back in a week for labwork then back again in two for another treatment if my labs look good.
There, that’s done. I really should leave the health update part up to Brian. Although I am the detail oriented one in our marriage, he’s much more the pragmatist. Here’s where we are, here’s what’s happening, here’s what’s ahead, let’s move on. I far more enjoy sharing the heart side of things. Huh… more proof that he’s the direct one, and I’m the steady relater. So, let’s move on to my heart.
I’ve written a lot about God’s presence lately. What does it look like? How does it feel? What does it mean? Today, He showed me again that His presence isn’t always that felt sense of Him being there. It’s in seeing the glimpses of God in the small and big details of the day. I will share a few with you knowing there are far more that I didn’t even see or have already forgotten. It was a long, hard day, but He showed such faithfulness.
1. Amanda, my sweet friend, who has inundated my home with flowers and calls herself my devotee. Just seeing her smile when she picked me up for treatment brightened my day immensely.
2. My doctor, who is not only an amazing oncologist, but a compassionate and tender man. He sat with me after my pre-chemo exam and just talked with me. “How are you doing? Are you having any depression? You’ve been through so much these last 3 weeks.” While admittedly, I am prone to pessimism, God has kept my spirits up for the most part. I do have days of discouragement, but they do not pass into a darkness that remains. Once we talked through that, he put his hand on my arm and said, “We’re going to get you through this. You are doing great. And there is no reason to think you will not be cured of this cancer. We are hitting it with everything we have, both guns blazing, and you’re body is responding. In a few years, you are going to look back and no, you won’t forget all this, but they’ll be distant and far less painful memories.” I wasn’t able to respond through the knot in my throat, but I think the tears in my eyes showed him how much I appreciate not only his wisdom and skills, but his heart.
3. The nurses. Nurse 1 and Nurse 2 worked tirelessly to encourage, comfort and make things go as painless as possible even though things were difficult. When Nurse 1 couldn’t get the port accessed, she wasn’t embarrassed to call another nurse in for help. And she stood on the other side pressing a cold cloth to my forehead, helping me breathe through the pain, distracting me by making me tell stories about my children, and letting me cut off all circulation to her hand with my death grip. Nurse 2 worked quickly and determinedly, unwavering and unflinching in the midst of my struggle (and hers, too.) When they finally got the port accessed, the waves of relief led me to tears. Nurse 2’s response? Well, she cried, too. “I hate this part of my job.” she said. The nurses at the oncology center are wonderful!
4. More Amanda. We spent the day together sharing our lives, laughing, crying, convicting, encouraging and growing together. As I looked around the infusion center, there were so many people sitting there alone. How blessed I am to have chemo buddies who share in my pain! And not just one. I’ve had six treatments, and six different chemo buddies so far. Plus, we stopped to grab a late lunch to take home (I wasn’t about to eat the provided meal at the center–jello, chicken salad on stale bread, and cream-of-nothing soup), and then we snuggled upstairs to watch a short movie and veg for a while together until my legs felt less like the jello I left at the cancer center and more like utensils for walking.
5. The drugs. That’s a hard one for me, because I hate medication. Period. Anytime. Anywhere. But after the injury to my unhealed surgery area, the cocktail of pain meds and mild sedatives eased the ache and lessened my anxiety. Tonight the pain is still there, but the prescriptions he gave me help for a while.
6. Opportunities. The center counselor stopped by my chair for a bit today to see how I was doing. I was able to share my struggles with her openly and honestly, and in the midst of our discussion, I was also able to share my faith. She even wrote down my blog address to read. She encouraged me in my ordeal telling me how good it was to see a Christian who was able to share her humanness and be real. This only fuels my mantra–only God working in me.
7. My in-laws. Brian’s parent are visiting and took the kids out for the day which greatly relieved their anxiety over Mommy’s doctor appointment. They had a fun day at the Children’s Museum and Chick-Fil-A, so the good-byes before I left were not difficult. This is all still so hard on Micah, who at the supper table, was close to a melt-down telling me, “I wish you never had your chemo. Then you wouldn’t have a boo-boo.” But how thankful I am for family and friends with whom my children are comfortable spending their days when I cannot be there for them.
8. Friendships. Throughout the afternoon, I received phone calls, instant messages, texts, and cards from Mom, Kristin, Sarah, Nat, Tiff and Maretta–thoughts, prayers and love! How grateful I am for the close circle of friends with whom I am surrounded, even if they aren’t able to be physically present with me. I am encouraged by one of these dear ones daily, and they have walked through so much with me. I am loved and I am prayed for, of that I have no doubt. Not just by these, but by so many of you. Thank you. I am humbled.
9. Prayer. I’ve been so encouraged to hear how God is working and healing in the lives of others. To hear good reports about our friends Rachel and Jeff brought sweet relief. While they have long, painful roads ahead and heavy burdens to bear, God is working and providing and hearing our frantic cries. God is good to bring my eyes off myself in the midst of my trials and to give me others on whom I can focus. I know that many of you who read my writings have struggles, too, and I want you to know that I pray for you constantly in the long nights and throughout the days. As Steve Harper puts it in his book, Talking In The Dark, “sound travels in both darkness and light.”
10. Brian. How can I not mention my dear husband when I share about the glimpses of God I see? To have him hold me this morning and pray his heart for me. To lean against him after treatments and just be still. To lie in bed at night with my head on his shoulder and talk through my day and all the things I’m learning about God and myself. He is my tangible Jesus, my vision of the bridegroom to come. His sacrifice, his love and his optimistic faith buoy me on to continue in my journey. He loves me so well. There are no words.
In my last post, I ended with a verse from Isaiah about how God will fill the voids in the wilderness, how He brings joy and gladness. How true God’s Word is! To God all praise and glory!
(On a side note, please pray. It is 5:00 a.m., and I have been awake since midnight. I am weary of the sleeplessness, and it only adds to my physical fatigue. Would you please pray that God would bring much needed rest in the days to come as my body fights the chemo treatment? Also, it seems my father-in-law is coming down with a cold. They fly back to Phoenix today, but I also know the most contagious time is now, and I am very susceptible in my weakness. Would you pray for protection for me, the kids and Brian? I appreciate y’all so much.)