Monday, December 30, 2013

How Big Is Your Brave?

This post has been one that I've been working on for over two months. I've never had a post that took this long to write, but looking back I can see that it has all been part of God's plan. This post wouldn't have been complete if I had posted it two months ago.

This fall I participated in a Bible study about Gideon. During the course of the study, I began really thinking about courage. Courage is defined as the mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.

"Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway." ~ John Wayne 

Most days I don't think of myself as courageous. If I'm honest, most days I feel like the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz. When we meet the lion along the yellow brick road he's scared of his own tail. He tries to act tough, but when he's challenged he proves he's not as tough as he wants everyone to believe. He tells the others, "I'm afraid there's no denying I'm just a dandelion. A fate I don't deserve. I'm sure I could show my prowess. Be a lion not a mouse, if I only had the nerve." He is soon tagging along to The Emerald City to ask the good, old wizard for some courage. 

Courage and bravery are synonymous.  If any of you are like me, you probably don't think you have the opportunity to be brave very often.  Over the last few months I've explored what it looks like to be brave in everyday life.  Brave may be saying something that needs to be said, even if the words are hard to say.  Bravery may be walking away from relationships or situations that may not be healthy for you.  It may be a single act of obedience to something God has called you to do.  For some, bravery may be asking for help when you've reached a state of hopelessness.  For others, it could be choosing to fight a battle although you may be a battle weary soldier.  

Over the course of the two months since I began working on this post, I have experienced all those scenarios I've just listed.  When I initially began writing this, I had no idea what was about to transpire in my life.  You see, I began writing this post the beginning of October after I found myself in a severe state of depression.  I had never been in such a dark place.  I knew God was with me and I would literally cry out to Him to remove this darkness from me.  I know a lot of people think that the darkness was gone just as quickly as I prayed the prayer, but it wasn't.  Through the darkness, God spoke to me and told me to seek help.  I have a great team of doctors and after two plus years with them they know me and I can pretty much say anything to them. I talked it over with the first doctor on my rotation of appointments and we were able to get me back on the anti-depressants my oncologist had prescribed me last year after my second diagnosis.  Most people don't realize this, but it takes about 2 weeks for anti-depressants to get into your system and begin doing the work they are intended to do.  My purpose in sharing this, is so you can follow God's hand in every detail.  I had a PET scan the following week and received my results the next week (2 weeks after I began the anti-depressant).  The scan revealed that I have a small tumor in my right chest wall.  On October 28th I was diagnosed with breast cancer for the third time in three years.  I am a battle weary soldier, but I am choosing to fight this disease with everything within me!  My motto this go round is, "Third Time's the Charm!"  As tired as I am of the fight, God continues to remind me that when I am weak He is strong.  I do wonder why I received a cancer diagnosis...AGAIN!  To be honest, I don't really know how I'm supposed to respond to a third cancer diagnosis in three years.  Cancer is a big unknown for me...for everyone really.  I focus on what I do know, and that is what gives me courage to fight this battle!  

What do I know?  I know that God promises to work all things for my good and His ultimate glory (Romans 8:28).  The Lord will fight for me (Exodus 14:14).  God is with me always (Isaiah 43:2-3).  God has a plan for my life (Jeremiah 29:11).

"God is using your present circumstances to make you more useful for later roles in His unfolding story." ~ Louie Giglio

"You can't be brave if you've only had wonderful things happen to you." ~ Mary Tyler Moore''

"Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny." ~ C.S. Lewis

Remember what The Wizard said to the Cowardly Lion when he gave him is badge of courage?  He said, "You, my friend, are a victim of disorganized thinking.  You are under the unfortunate impression that just because you run away you have no courage.  You're confusing courage with wisdom."  This is key to the other two scenarios I listed above.  You don't walk away from situations or relationships because you lack courage, you walk away because it is the wise thing to do.  God gives us wisdom when we ask for it, and it's up to us if we choose to follow through.  He gives us wisdom to know what we need to confront head on and those that we need to just let slide right on by us.  This isn't always an easy task, but I do know that God gives you the courage you need to handle anything He sets before you.  

The interesting thing about the ending of The Wizard of Oz to me is that The Wizard only reassured each of them of something they all had possessed all along.  As Christians we are in possession of the courage we need through Christ.  If we remember this we can say what the Cowardly Lion said after receiving his medal, "Read what my medal says: 'Courage': Ain't it the truth? Ain't it the truth?"

Joshua 1:9 "Be strong and courageous for The Lord will be with you always."

As I continue to fight against my inward Cowardly Lion, I want to encourage you to do the same.  Remember, God is with you always.  He never leaves you.  He doesn't turn His back on you.  All you have to do is mention His name.  I wanted to close with this quote from Winnie the Pooh that is a great reminder for me daily to be brave.  I hope it is for you, as well.

"Promise me you will always remember you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, & smarter than you think.' ~ Christopher Robin

Saturday, August 31, 2013


For those of you who follow this blog or know my cancer journey, you are aware that I had discovered a lump and some cysts during the last week of August last year.  I don’t know why, but I was thinking about that time this week.  It’s amazing what you remember!  I had gone out of town that weekend to spend time with my family.  Since we were praying that it was only an infection and we didn’t want to cause unnecessary anxiety for my nieces or other family members we didn’t discuss the possibilities or really the situation much that weekend.  When I left my family last Labor Day to make the 2 hour drive home, I remember spending a good portion of that drive talking to God.  One of the biggest things I kept saying to God was that I couldn’t handle another cancer diagnosis.  I didn’t just stop at that, I went on to tell Him the reasons why: I was tired, I didn’t have the strength for another battle, I would have to miss days of work…again, I couldn’t do it by myself, and the list went on.  They were all reasons that I couldn’t do it.  Well, we all know how that ended for me! 

It isn’t always easy to remember, but it is beneficial.  If you look at scripture, God is always calling His people to remembrance.  I was reminded of the passage from Joshua 4 when the Israelites crossed over the Jordan.  God had instructed Joshua to stack 12 stones from the Jordan as a memorial.  In verses 21-24 Joshua explained the purpose of those stones.  The purpose was to be a symbol of remembrance that God had allowed them to cross the Jordan on dry land.  We may not have tangible stones of remembrance, but I believe God allows us to remember things so we can see clearly what He has done for us.

As I thought about it this week, I took a moment to step back and look at the year from beginning to end.  It’s amazing what God can do when we trust Him and stop focusing on our own weaknesses and insecurities.  The truth was that I didn’t have strength for another battle, but God had the strength to carry me through that battle.  I did miss work, and eventually lost my job.  Losing my job was a crushing blow because it was a big part of how I identified myself.  God was using the past two years to position me for a different calling and I wouldn’t have been open to it had I not been in a position where that identity was stripped from me.  I had my income reduced, and expenses increased; but God has provided for every need.  While there were lonely times, I was never alone. 

While remembering can sometimes be painful, it’s always necessary to keep us moving forward.  When we remember clearly how God carried us through a difficult situation or time in our lives, it is a lot easier for us to trust Him to do the same the next time we face difficulties. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Journey Continues

I realize that I haven't been as faithful posting during this second journey, and I do apologize for being a little neglectful.  This second battle has been a little more difficult for me to share openly in this forum because it has been more emotional and mental.  After being diagnosed and September and beginning chemo, I was told that I wouldn't be able to work as I had during my last round of chemo.  This was not a decision made by my doctor, but by the company with whom I was employed.  It is hard enough to hear you have cancer twice within a year, but having parts of your "normal" life taken away from you can pack a pretty heavy blow.  I sunk  into a severe state of depression.  Thankfully, my oncologist had already put me on an anti-depressant.  It wasn't until I had taken myself off that medication during this time that I realized how severe my depression was, and that I really did need something to help me cope.  Since I couldn't spend all my time in my apartment and doctors' offices, I devised a plan to get myself out of the house for at least one hour a day.  This definitely helped!  Eventually, I fell into a rhythm and felt a little more like myself.

As I stated in a previous blog post, during the course of my treatment my short-term disability ended and I was approved for long-term disability.  Per my company, I could not be an employee and be on long-term disability, so my employment was terminated on March 11th.  This was one week before my final chemo treatment.  This decision was very difficult for me.  I felt a lot of different emotions, and most of them were not pleasant.  I do believe God allows everything to happen for a reason, and I am convinced this is no exception!

It's now the beginning of July and so much has taken place.  I had surgery on April 25th to remove all traces of the cancer.  Thankfully, all pathology reports came back clear.  We initially thought I would have to have a skin graft, but I have an AMAZING plastic surgeon who worked some serious magic to ensure that wasn't the case!  I really recovered much better and faster than we had expected; so I was able to begin radiation a little sooner than expected.  As of today, I have completed 28 of 33 radiation treatments.  I started to experience some skin irritation from the radiation during the last 10 treatments.  My underarm on the right side looks like someone has punched me!  I like to say it is what Smurfette would look like if she were to spend a little too much time in the sun without smurftastic sunscreen.  The skin on my chest feels a little scaly.  I liken it to a dragon's skin.  Not that I know what a dragon's skin feels like, but I have a wild imagination; so work with me here!  I lather it up with coconut oil and all sorts of other lotions and ointments.  They say it could look this way for a while or maybe forever...these are not things that I want to hear!  If it does stay this way, I guess I'll just figure out a way to make it work!

Since I had everything removed in April, I  had to get a prosthetic.  I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't at all what I expected.  To be really honest, I absolutely despise the prosthetic!  It is really heavy! Eventhough the weight doesn't calculate on the scale, it feels heavy when I wear it.  I was really shocked by the lack of selection for the post-mastectomy bras!  They are definitely not designed with younger women in mind.  I laughed when the fitter showed me a bra and told me it was comparable to Victoria's Secret.  Clearly, she has never been in Victoria's Secret!  Since it's summer, and I wear a lot of sundresses and sleeveless tops I wanted a strapless bra. I knew I was in trouble when she said they only sold about 10 per year.  It had to be ordered, so I'm faking it til I make it!  I think I actually prefer the faking it becasue it doesn't cause strain on my back and neck or have to be readjusted to look similar to the other side!  I'm telling you, I have to plan extra time when getting ready to be sure I allow enough time to make sure the prosthetic will line up right!  Some days it just takes longer than others!  At first, I thought I wouldn't have another reconstruction surgery, but after one day of dealing with the prosthetic that thought went straight out the window!  I do have to deal with the prosthetic a little while longer since we will need to jump a few more hurdles before I can have the reconstruction surgery.

Once I finish radiation, I will begin taking Tamoxifen (a chemo drug taken daily). This will become part of my daily routine for the rest of my life. I will also have another PET scan this month. It's been 6 months since my last scan. That scan was clear, but I am really nervous about this next scan. I think these tests make every cancer patient/survivor a little anxious; however, I know one reason for my anxiety is my history, and how quickly the cancer returned last year. As long as things on my scan look good, I will then plan to move forward with the surgery I cancelled last year to have my ovaries removed. In the middle of all the medical junk, I am moving forward with next steps for me after this is all over. Those next steps are a little scary, but exciting at the same time. Over the next several weeks, you may notice some changes to this site as I prepare for some of those steps. I will share more here as things begin to take shape a little more. Until then you can pray that God will show me the direction in which He wants me to go and continue to make clear the open doors He wants me to walk through.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Are You Anxious???

Over the past month I've been thinking about anxiety.  After the bombing incident at the Boston Marathon yesterday I feel compelled to share my thoughts.

I've experienced a great deal of anxiety in the past several months, but even more the past month.  In the last month, I've lost my job and am drawing disability.  I've had to figure out how I would live on about 60% of my salary.  In addition to my normal living expenses, I now had to pay COBRA and I still have doctor/hospital bills to pay.  I was worried that I wouldn't be able to remain in my apartment.  If I were to move, the timing would coincide with the start of my radiation therapy. I would still be recovering from surgery, so I wouldn't really be able to pack/unpack.  Since I felt the need to have a plan prior to surgery, the plan took over my entire thought life.  When something is a constant thought running on a loop in our mind, it tends to build up the anxiety we feel. 

After watching news coverage of the Boston Marathon incident, I was reminded how the news media can spur anxious thoughts among us.  I don't make a habit of watching the news all the time.  It's not that I don't want to be informed, but I think sometimes we are over informed.  Just in my lifetime we have gone from news in the morning, noon, 6PM and 11PM to 24/7 news coverage.  I know people who watch news 24/7, and they are anxious people.  They dwell on some portion of a news story or commentary until it becomes so amplified in their minds, it is all they can think or talk about.  I'm not saying that all news is bad, but like anything it needs to be in moderation.  Life without all this news is stressful enough, so why add to it?!?!  We can't live our life in fear of the what-ifs.

Within the last few days, I've been able to figure out a plan for myself.  It's one that involves no major changes for me right now.  God has been faithful to provide for every need, and this current dilemma would be no exception.  Once I settled in on that thought and place my living circumstance in God's hands, I began to feel a peace.  The anxiety is gone.  This morning as I read Facebook posts and tweets and watched the morning news it was obvious to me that there is a lot of anxiety surrounding yesterday's events.  God brought this verse to mind this morning, "When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy." (Psalm 94:19) So very true!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

It's been a while, but here's the latest

This will be a bit lengthy, but I wanted to give everyone an update. I have one more chemo treatment to go. These chemo treatments have taken a toll on my body, affecting my red blood cell counts & causing anemia. This means my energy levels are low, which leads to me not being able to maintain the pace of my "normal" pre-chemo life. Since my latest diagnosis in September I have been on short term disability, and have not been working. My short term disability was scheduled to end on 3/11, so a decision had to be made as to whether I apply for long term disability or return to full time work. Since I still have a good portion of this battle ahead of me, my doctor felt I should apply for long term disability to get me through this last leg of the journey. Thankfully, I was approved! I'm so thankful to have that coverage! There were a few downsides to the approval of the long term disability: 1) My pay would only be a portion of what I normally bring home. 2) My employment was terminated because I had exhausted my short term disability leave benefit and was not able to return to work and perform my job duties.  I applied for long term disability leave benefits and was approved. I could not be an employee and receive disability. 3) I would now have to pay for COBRA since I can't get insured on my own for other medical needs outside of the cancer. I do have coverage on all cancer related items for 1 year...PRAISE GOD! 
It was very hard to end my time with my company. I had been there since graduating college, almost 15 years ago. However, I know that God has a plan and a purpose for everything! He has proven Himself faithful in meeting all my needs. I still have a major surgery ahead of me and radiation. I'm going to take this time I have to focus on getting 100% well, so I can be ready for whatever the next step is that God has for me. Things happen in our lives and sometimes they don't make sense or they are hard to understand, but we each HAVE A CHOICE in how we deal with them...we can let them make us bitter or better! I choose BETTER!!!!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

September is Preparedness Month...Prepare and Plan

This message was displayed on the Georgia DOT signs on the interstates.  It caught my eye, and sort of stuck with me!  We can always make plans for how we think things should go; but sometimes those plans are blown to pieces and you are left standing looking at your plan scattered all around you.

I had finished my chemo treatments on May 3rd.  I took a little vacation to regroup, and came back with a plan of action.  I would have my port removed one month after completing treatment and follow that with reconstructive surgery to exchange the tissue expanders for the actual implants.  That was all completed in June.  By July I had scheduled the final surgery I knew I had to have done (removal of my ovaries).  That surgery was scheduled for September.  My plan was that by October any cancer conversations would be past tensed. 

I would love to say that my plan came off without a hitch, but I can’t.  The last week of August I discovered a lump in my right breast (yes, the same breast where the initial cancer had been found).  In addition to the lump under the skin, I had several cyst-like bumps on the outer portion of the skin.  I called my oncologist immediately, and was instructed to see my plastic surgeon to ensure it wasn’t an issue with the implants.  I was able to get in to see him the next day, and it was determined that it was not my implants.  My plastic surgeon called my breast surgeon and got me on her schedule that morning.  I left his office and went straight to hers.  After 3 ultrasounds, it was determined that the cysts were fluid filled and she believed them to be an infection.  She put me on a strong antibiotic for 10 days, but scheduled a biopsy for the following Friday in case they didn’t clear up on the antibiotic.  Well, 10 days came and went and there was no change in the cysts or the lump.  On September 7th, I had 3 biopsies done.  I was trying not to worry about it, but that isn’t so easy.  I had a long heart to heart with God about it because my opinion is that He already knows what you’re thinking and feeling, so why not just go on and express it.  I told God that I didn’t think I had it in me to do chemo again.  I had a peace.  Somewhere in the time that I saw the doctors the first time and getting the results of the biopsies, I saw a message on the Georgia DOT sign that I hadn’t seen before or since.  It read, “September is preparedness month.  Prepare and plan for the unexpected.”  Well, I wish I had paid a little more attention to those last six words!
I received a call the evening of September 11th with the results of the biopsies…I had cancer…AGAIN!  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!  The next morning I went to see my oncologist where the news went from bad to worse.  She told me that once cancer manifests itself on the skin, as mine had, it was considered Stage 4 and there would be little chance of beating it.  She then told me that if it had spread, which chances were pretty good that it had, it definitely wouldn’t be a beatable cancer.  She said that there were exceptions to the rule, and my theory was that nothing about this process for me had been normal so why start now!  She then referred me to The Mayo Clinic.  They had a clinical trial available for women who were BRCA positive and had recurrent breast cancer.  She made me think that this was my only hope of survival.  I left that appointment feeling like I had been handed a death sentence, but I was refusing to go down without a fight!!!!  I’m NOT a statistic!  I WILL be the exception to her logical rules!

One year to the day (September 17th) that I discovered the initial lump, I was seeing an oncologist at The Mayo Clinic.  He wanted me to have all the scans done there for him to review, but he offered a little more hope than my oncologist.  In addition, he determined a clinical trial would not be the best option for me.  I knew this was God saying this wasn’t what He wanted for me when the clinical trial was closed.  It took a few days to get the tests scheduled.  They split the scans up over Thursday and Friday of that week and I would get all my results on Friday afternoon when I went back to meet with my Mayo Clinic oncologist.  I think we were all nervous going into this appointment.  We had no idea what we were facing, but our prayer had been that the cancer was contained.  Once we were in the room with the doctor, he gave me the best news I had heard this far on the journey…the cancer had not spread beyond this one area.  However, it had gone into the chest wall (including the back muscle transplanted last year) and only one lymph node.  This was good news because it meant this was beatable!  He called my oncologist here in Atlanta and discussed the treatment plan, so I could return home to begin treatments.

While my initial cancer diagnosis was triple negative (meaning not a hormone fed cancer), this cancer is estrogen fed.  This opened up some additional treatment options for me, which are all very positive!  I have been home for 3 weeks now and have completed my first treatment, and will have my second treatment on Tuesday.  Thankfully, the drugs I’m receiving this go round do not make me sick AND I will get to keep the hair that has started coming back!  I’m unsure of the number of treatments I’ll receive, which makes this process very interesting…and very difficult for me to plan out my course of action.  Clearly, I need to stop trying to prepare and plan! 

It doesn’t matter how much we prepare and plan for the unexpected because none of us can ever be fully prepared for it!  This was earth shaking for me, but not earth shattering because I know that God is in control and He has a plan.  I’m convinced that this isn’t the ending to my story…God has a bigger plan in motion here and all I need to do is trust Him!    

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

One More to Go!!!!

I’m just going to jump right in on this update. 

I’m not really sure why, but they were trying to freeze us out at the last treatment!  We were freezing! I had my heated blanket and was still cold!  I decided coffee was what I needed, so Ashlee fixed me a cup.  This coffee is HOT, and I’m not so much a fan of a burnt tongue. SO, I decided I would hold the coffee until it was cool enough for me to drink because that would at least keep my hands warm.  By this time my Benadryl had started to kick in and I started to drift off.  You know your head will jerk when you fall asleep sitting up?  Well, my hands started to relax similar to that.  Suddenly, I heard Ashlee say, “Angela, put your coffee down before you spill hot coffee all over yourself!”  She looks after me really well, and I don’t know what I would do without her!  After I finished getting my drug, I awoke to find my chemo nurse and another nurse talking about me.  My nurse came over to me and asked if I would mind talking to another patient who was getting her first treatment.  Her treatment plan is the same as mine.  After talking with her, it turns out we have more in common that just our treatment plan.  She is also triple negative and BRCA1.  She hasn’t had surgery yet, but is planning to go the same route I did.  We exchanged information, and we have been communicating since.  My desire has been that God would use my experience and what I’ve gone through to help others and to point others to Him.  I’m thrilled that He is giving me opportunities to do just that!

If there were one word I could use to sum up this day, it would be OVERWHELMED! 

I woke up this morning and had a massive to do list in my head of all the things I needed to complete today before having treatment tomorrow.  I don’t know how I got so behind on my pre-chemo checklist, but it happened.  I’m convinced it has to do with the change in days from Tuesday to Thursday.  I was able to slowly check things off my list, and it’s all going to get done before 11PM!  Miracles never cease!!!!  In addition to the checklist, I was feeling a little overwhelmed by trying to figure out exactly what I want or need to ask my oncologist tomorrow for my post chemo life.  I think I just want to be sure to ask anything and everything possible, but it’s not like I’m done with my oncologist after tomorrow…she’s stuck with me now!

Aside from feeling overwhelmed by my crazy to do list, I’ve been overwhelmed with emotion today.  My co-workers surprised me today with a last chemo celebration.  I’ve been so overwhelmed by their love, support, and encouragement through this entire journey.  I started crying and that was all she wrote!  So many people brought cards.  I took some time this evening to read them, and tears flowed AGAIN!  As I read the cards, so many referenced my attitude, my strength, and how I’ve walked this journey with grace.  I did choose to keep a positive outlook, but that’s been hard at times.  My strength and walking with grace is ALL God!  I’ve been clinging to this verse, “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.’” (Isaiah 41:13)

I can’t believe it’s the night before my LAST chemo treatment!!!! I know it sounds crazy, but it feels like the time passed quickly and slowly all at the same time. I know that this isn’t the end to my journey; nor is it the end of God using this experience to help others.

I know that last sentence sounded like it was the end of me sharing my story here, but it's not...