I wanted to write a quick update since I chose to share about my recent health concerns here.
Too Soon? 🙂
I got my MRI results today and the words that continue to ring in my ears are “it is definitely NOT cancer”. It has been 1 month since my bone scan showed an area of increased activity and an xray confirmed there was definitely something in the bone. They were focused on a part of my hip that had been hurting for over a year but I had dismissed thinking it was tendonitis from running. It was difficult to calm the anxiety during the day and sleep became almost impossible. Cancer patients call it “Scanxiety” because we’ve already been on the receiving end of bad news. Often when we go for scans and wait for results we relive the trauma of the original diagnosis…
the way it felt when the earth dropped out from beneath our feet…
how time seemed like it was moving at warp speed and standing still in the same moment…
how we feel our dreams and plans for the future evaporate in an instant. Not because the disease will ultimately be fatal but because we are forced into an unexpected battle and immediately focus on the near term threat…
how even though we felt perfectly healthy a Dr is telling us we are sick and in the end the treatment will make us sick…
because we know that with this beast of cancer we are never really free.
It became an act of will to keep my mind from constantly wandering through all the scenarios and wondering whether I will re enter an active cancer treatment with chemo and radiation. The 5,000 miles that separate me from my family felt like an insurmountable chasm and at a certain moment the waiting here was too intense that I booked a last minute trip to Seattle. These past few weeks have been overwhelming.
But today my oncologist told me that the results of the MRI were a “Synoviale inclusiecyste” (a certain kind of cyst – this is where the Dutch/English thing can get a bit tricky and I need to do more research). My onc admitted that this was not her area of expertise and proceeded to call some orthopedic surgeons to see what it was exactly and what I should do next. It took a few phone calls and some persistent questions on her part but we reached a level of information I am comfortable with. An orthopedic surgeon looked at the MRI while she was on the phone and also confirmed it was benign and suggested I schedule a consultation with the “hip experts” for how to proceed.
So that is what I will do…in the next few weeks I will meet with a “hip expert” to discuss my options. The most common treatment paths are letting it go and seeing if time will take care of it or surgery. This saga is not over but I am much more comfortable waiting knowing that it is something benign and that it has nothing to do with the breast cancer. Deep breath out.
Someday soon I might be up for cautiously celebrating but right now I just feel like I need a nap.
Today is Easter Sunday. A day when Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and how he defeated the power of evil by rising from the dead. Through his resurrection we have hope for a new life. A new, full abundant life. A life of love and freedom. A life of peace and joy. And it’s not just for the future in heaven but available to us right now…in THIS moment. It’s an awesome day!
A good friend of mine who I haven’t seen in a few weeks came up to me at church and told me I looked fantastic…like I am enjoying life. Laughing. Smiling. I said thank you and
A beautiful image by Jennifer Studio JRU
we proceeded to catch up for a bit. We talked about life and I told her what has been going on for me the last few weeks. Her next amazed question
“How are you smiling?”
You see what I filled her in on is…my cancer might be back. A few weeks ago my Dr. confirmed there is something in my hip bone and I am currently waiting on the results of an MRI I had last week. I don’t know what it is. I know it is in a place where I feel something like a bruise but it has been more annoying than painful. The last few weeks have been a process of getting scans and waiting…waiting…waiting for results. It could be benign. It could be malignant. I don’t have any answers.
I wasn’t going to go public with this process until I knew more information and could tell a definitive story. Posting information like this makes people concerned and I don’t want to worry anyone unnecessarily.
But I was convicted this morning that I need to share this. Right now. In THIS moment. The moment where everything feels uncertain again. The moment where my tentative future plans are once again abruptly stopped. The moment in the midst of the fear and anxiety BEFORE I know what the path forward is. Because THIS is the moment where I experience the power of Jesus most profoundly.
When my friend told me that I looked fantastic and seemed happy…it’s because I am genuinely good. When she asks “How are you smiling?” I think of Philippians 4:7 which says “and the peace of God which transcends understanding will guard you heart and mind in Christ Jesus”. I can’t explain it. I just know I’m not faking it. There is a peace deep in my soul that can only come from God. I am always a bit hesitant to proclaim this because I know everyone has a different experience of God’s peace and I don’t want to say it always feels like this. I have been through seasons of grief and sorrow where peace was much harder to experience through the pain.
But, right now…for me in this incredibly difficult moment…God’s got me…and I can’t help but smile.
My future in this life is completely uncertain…thanks to Jesus my future after this life is solid.
So…How am I smiling? It’s Easter Sunday…He is RISEN…a better question is How can I keep from smiling?
Well hello there…I didn’t realize how long it had been since my last blog post until I looked at the history. Yikes 4 months sure seemed to fly by. This has been a season where I have been doing more internal processing and didn’t have much I wanted to post to the blog. In the past several months I have been in a season of transition…of letting go…of accepting my new reality and (attempting to) embrace the changes that have forced their way into my life for the last 2 years. It is not easy. Today is the 2 year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. I have a difficult time even remembering what life was like before that. Everything feels different.
The other day someone I just met said to me “Don’t you just love your pixie cut?”. Outwardly I smile and say “Yes, it’s fun and SUPER easy to style”. Inwardly I cringe “If you only knew I didn’t choose this…this is a recovery hairstyle…when I could choose I picked something completely different…How can I love this? It was forced upon me…it is the consequence of the hazmat chemicals which were pumped through my body in the name of treatment.” Self pity. I’m not necessarily proud of that reaction but it’s honest. Why is it so easy for me to go there? To have a little pity party because I am reminded of something I lost due to cancer? I didn’t choose it. It just happened. Why am I reluctant to let go and admit that honestly…
I DO LOVE MY PIXIE CUT.
It’s fun and flattering and truthfully very easy to style. But somehow admitting that I like it is difficult. It is hard to acknowledge the things I have gained through this traumatic experience because it feels like I am saying cancer was a good thing. It wasn’t. Not even a little bit. BUT the experience has brought some good things into my life and I am realizing how much courage it takes to embrace the changes and make them a part of me. It means taking responsibility and moving forward. To not be stuck wallowing in everything I have lost but attempt to focus on the the things I have gained…and having peace in the present moment. To not judge my scars (physical and emotional) but see them as part of my story.
I am not the same person I was at the beginning of 2012. I like to think I am a better version of myself. I like my life…I am curious what it will look like in the next 2 years. But for now I’m going to rock my pixie cut.
My blogging has been a bit sporadic lately because life took another major turn and I have once again been trying to pick up the pieces and recover my “new new normal”. I changed the tagline of this blog to “Living for Jesus…dealing with breast cancer and life.” Because while I feel like I am in the twilight of this breast cancer battle that is only a small part of what I am trying to reinvent. Many people have told me how strong I am through this…and while I know I’m strong…I’m not THIS fucking strong. But God is.
When I first moved to the Netherlands I was asked frequently if I was “religious”. Honestly, I didn’t know how to answer that because I believe in God but don’t think that “religion” has done a very good job of representing him on this earth. I don’t believe in a church or an institution…I believe in a good, loving and personal God. A God who knows me. A God who won’t prevent bad things from happening (obviously) but will support, love and restore me through them.
Faith to me is a recognition that there is a longing in my heart for “something”. In college I tried to fill that “something” with an engineering degree or partying. And while there were some fun times I would wake up in the morning and know that there was “something” more than what I was choosing. No amount of hobbies or career aspirations or relationships or money or travel or would fill that “something”. Only God. I heard a story about a God that created the heavens and the earth…but knows every hair on my head (heh, that’s not too hard for Him right now 🙂 )…not a God of condemnation…but a God that knows all the dark places in my life and loves me anyway. A God of grace. A God that wants me to know him as intimately as he knows me. This God filled that “something”.
Now that I’ve written a few things that God is to me…here are a few that he isn’t:
- A political party
- A license to spew hateful words or condemnation
- A crutch for when bad things happen…I promise if you put your full weight on a crutch that isn’t real you will still fall on your face
- A free pass to the “good life”…or feeling that if things aren’t easy it means God doesn’t exist or doesn’t care
- God is not a cosmic vending machine there to solve all your problems, in the way you want them to be solved in the timing you want.
So if you are looking at my life from the outside…dealing with cancer…navigating a relationship crisis…in a foreign country…please know I get out of bed and write a blog post only because I am being upheld by his righteous right hand.
PS – On a health update I only have 4 more radiation appointments left!! Wahoo…I’m done on Thursday.
Well folks the time has come…number 6. I have my last heavy duty chemo infusion in my treatment plan tomorrow. It has managed to come fast and slow at the same time and, to be honest, I have mixed feelings about it. Don’t get me wrong I am SO excited to not have poison pumped through my body every three weeks. I am ready to de fog my brain and re grow my hair :-). But it is odd to get to the end and wonder if I accomplished anything with this challenging process. Emotionally and spiritually I have grown in profound ways but I will never know if the chemo actually did anything. I just get to the end, walk out the door and wait…hopefully wait years without any sign of the cancer returning.
When I started on this cancer journey it seemed like running a half marathon/marathon was a good metaphor for the process. I would be tested physically and mentally and would have to rely on mental fortitude to push to the finish. There are many similarities but where the comparison breaks down for me is at the “finish”. Tomorrow I will be done (minus the side effects) with the tough chemo but my journey with cancer will continue in a different capacity. There is not an “I made it” moment and now I get to leave this all behind me. I get to leave this particular physical challenge behind me but the race is not done. I am now thinking a better metaphor is a long distance hike and I have just crested a summit but the trail continues before me. There will be times that are more physically demanding and others I get to stroll along enjoying the scenery. However, I am now on a cancer path and it will forever influence me.
But, that wont stop me from having one heck of a celebration after cresting this “chemo peak”. After all this I’ve learned you have to party whenever you have an excuse. 🙂
Someone told me a joke once: “What is the difference between an introverted engineer and an extroverted engineer?” Answer: an introverted engineer stares at his shoes while talking to you and an extroverted engineer stares as your shoes. Hardy har har. Hilarious. 🙂 While this joke pokes fun at the (sometimes accurate, mostly inaccurate) stereotype of the socially awkward, pocket protector wearing engineer it also misrepresents the difference between introversion and extroversion.
I am an introvert. It comes out in every personality test I take. When I tell people this they are sometimes quite surprised because they see me as a friendly, outgoing, social person…which is also true. The two are not mutually exclusive. The difference between introversion and extroversion isn’t measured by how social you are but by where you get your energy. I love being with people but it costs me energy to do it and I need to recharge by myself after. Extroverts will gain energy when they are with people and spend more energy to be alone. (Side note: I think personalities are fascinating)
Being a “social” introvert with cancer has created quite a dilemma. We have collected friends here in the Netherlands and around the world, who care for us dearly and who are concerned about how we are doing. But processing through and dealing with everything we have to face leaves my energy reserves low. So at a time when people are reaching out to us more than ever my ability to respond to it has never been lower. See: Dilemma. I still go out in social settings now but I have to check myself first to see if I have the capacity for it and I have to mentally prepare for it. I have to prepare myself to answer the same questions over and over (seriously, it’s like sorority rush cancer edition) because friends want to know how I am feeling and how we are doing. But honestly, if you are here reading this you should have a pretty good idea. We have intentionally set this up and share our feelings/thoughts in a way to help people feel included in our process. This is our way of addressing the dilemma.
Friends have mentioned to me that they wish they could do more to support us personally. I have to say that sending a care package, e-mail, card, comment on the blog, text message, or reaching out on Facebook is the PERFECT way to support right now. Honestly. We read them all, it lets us know you’re thinking about us but gives me the freedom to respond when I feel up for it. If you call me out of the blue, I’m sorry but I will most likely ignore it, because 1. I don’t like talking on the phone and 2. I haven’t had a chance to mentally prepare. It’s just the way life is right now. Jonathan, does not appear to have the same problem I do so if you feel the need to call…call him. 🙂
Update: Things after the first treatment have continued to be quite OK. I have my tired days but in general feel pretty good. The only major side effect is that my taste buds have gone haywire and my mouth has a constant metallic taste. It’s not pleasant but it will be manageable for the next 4.5 months. It was Queen’s Day yesterday and the weather was beautiful so we wandered into town to check out the markets and music. I decided to try out a blonde look as I toasted the Queen with the rest of Groningen. What do you think? It was a fun day but I can tell today that I spent too much energy yesterday and will be on the couch most of the day recovering. But, it was worth it.