Saturday, December 22, 2012

Recovering from DIEP Surgery!

I'm home from Gainesville! The surgery was on Monday and went well. I was surprised by a few things so wanted to blog about it before I forget, so others can be aware. First of all, the most pain I have ever been in is when I woke up from the 8+ hour surgery and my arms burned like crazy. It turns out they are held perfectly still in some awful position throughout the surgery. If you only have one side done, then it's only one arm. The pain meds don't help and you're not allowed to stretch them, which is the only thing that helps. It was so bad I would sneakily stretch when the workers were turned around. They're still sore today, five days later. I heard that the reason the pain meds don't help is that it's nerve pain instead of surgically caused.

I was also very, very swollen from all the IV-fluid. My fingers looked like juice was about to burst out of them. That took two days to get back to normal. The last bad surprise is that I was not allowed to use my pectoral muscles at all once I could start using around. Not to brace myself when sitting up, to keep balance, etc. It's hard to do that when your ab muscles have recently been removed then replaced into their cavity and only a binder is holding them in place. So the first day they had me move around was really, really hard. But I got the hang of it quickly.

The good surprise is that the nurses told me the recovery from this surgery is considered excruciating and they'd never seen anyone do so well with it. I'm pretty much fine. I feel like I had the surgery, and the 4 drains hanging from my body are very annoying. But I don't feel much worse than I have after any other surgery, or like I did after 6 months of chemo. I stopped taking my pain meds more than 24 hours ago and am still managing.

My discharge note says not to lift more than 5 pounds or drive for 6 weeks. That has already been hard so I'm not sure how it will work. So far when Naomi needs something someone else has been around to help, or a few times I've let her climb on my back and I lift her that way. But it's all going to get harder after the holidays when no one is around anymore, so please join me in prayer about that. I have a follow-up appointment on December 27 and hope Dr. Rosenberg will change my instructions at that time.

Anyway, before the surgery I started getting nervous about putting myself at risk for a cosmetic improvement. I prayed about it and God surprised me by filling me with true and complete peace about it. I never got concerned again. He took such great care of me. It shouldn't surprise me after all He's done for me, but I'm still shocked. He is so kind and loving. So gracious and awesome!

John 14:27  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Prayers and Surgery

I've been so very busy lately and can't wait to talk about some of the exciting things going on. But, for now I am just sending an update for special prayers:

Most importantly, Debora Passetti is having a CT scan tomorrow. She is the one with stage 4 breast cancer who's been going through chemo for a long time now. It's in her liver and the previous scans have shown improvement but it was still there. I know she has been working hard on having the confidence to believe she has been healed despite what the doctors say. Some people don't get how hard that is. Maybe you can't really get it until you're in a situation like this. It's terrifying. TERRIFYING. She's been trucking through chemo for 6 months or so. I know she desperately wants tomorrow to be her day. Not just good news, but THE news. God can do it. God WILL do it. Support her as she prays Psalm 25:2, "I trust in you, my God! Do not let me be disgraced, or let my enemies rejoice in my defeat." My heart races just thinking about it. (As a sidenote, the fundraiser we're throwing for her will be a concert on January 11 at Four Oaks Community Church. Details to come.)

Please, please, pray that the scan shows all the cancer is gone. Pray that it shows her liver is in perfect condition too, not damaged by chemo. Pray that some sort of sign appears so the doctors know that God healed her, not just that the chemo did a good job. And pray that she will have good friends who come along and lift her up, to believe for her when she cannot do it herself. 

When God told Moses to lift his arms so the Israelites could win in a battle against the Amalekites, his arms got tired. Whenever he let his arms fall to his sides the enemy started winning again. So his friends held his arms up for him. Together they did what God asked, and God fought for them (Exodus 17:10-13). 

Sound familiar? That's what we have to do for our brothers and sisters. People ask me all the time how they can support a loved one who has cancer, and that's the answer. Hold their arms up when they are too weak to do it themselves. Help them to look where they need to go, and point their arms toward the heavens. Push any doubters from their presence so they have an unobstructed view of God's plan. And you know what? If you're one of those doubters, love them enough to stay out of the way. I am convinced that the damage caused by over-information (sharing horror stories, tons of news, scary statistics), gossip, and doubt (in the form of people claiming to be "realistic") is more dangerous than the diseases themselves.

Please also pray for a woman named Laura Squires. She was recently diagnosed with a grade 3 gliobistoma brain tumor. It is apparently inoperable because it is so close to her motor functions. Her left side is paralyzed and she's in rehab, about to start chemo/radiation. I don't know much about her but this is obviously a dire situation and must be extremely scary. Please pray God will just take the tumor out and never lets it return.

Next, Aly, who I have mentioned on here before who is cancer-free after tons of treatment for stage 3 breast cancer, had scary tests done today to identify the cause of abdominal problems she's been having. She's been living in lots of pain and we are praying with her that the cause is nothing serious, easily solved, and very temporary. 

Finally, I am having my DIEP reconstruction Monday!!!!! We will leave for Gainesville Sunday, surgery will be about 8 hours on Monday. I am scheduled to be in the hospital until Thursday. Please pray for the surgeon's steady hand and wisdom, a very easy and perfect surgery and for a smooth recovery. It supposedly takes about 6 weeks to fully recover and I'm hoping the pain isn't debilitating as I spend much of my days with Naomi slung over my hip.

Thanks for all the prayers. The sadness I've mentioned lately is mostly gone. Now I'm just thrilled to remember how far God brought me out of that pit. I am so blessed and have a lot of great events coming up. More on those soon. 

Psam 118:21, "I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation."

Friday, November 16, 2012

This time last year...

It was November 18 last year, but I will always remember it on the day Abigail has her Thanksgiving Feast at school. It is November 16 this year. Today. Last year we were so excited--it was her first presentation/show ever. It was a Friday. Two days before I had gotten the call that my mass was NOT cancer. Finally, we could breathe easy! Time to enjoy the holidays!

About this time, 10:30 am, I got a call from my friend Nicole. We were chatting about how I didn't have cancer when Dr. Crooms clicked in on call waiting. I didn't recognize the number but I knew it was him. He had mentioned that the results of the permanent-section biopsy would be in on Friday. I hadn't been worried, less than 5% of the initial biopsies are false negatives. He had no need to call and I didn't expect him to. Unless there was bad news after all.

I knew as soon as I saw the number flash on the phone. My heart raced. I listened. I cried. I died a little inside. A lot, actually. I called Yaacov at work. Didn't want to tell him over the phone but had to get him home in time to meet with Dr. Crooms to make a plan.

I had an hour to process it, then had to get my act together and go to the presentation. The Thanksgiving Feast. When things like this happen people usually report everything was a blur. It wasn't. I was aware of every second that passed. I watched my little girl walk shyly in line with her class. Watched her hiding behind her friends, forgetting all the hand motions she'd practiced since September. Wondered how things would change. I didn't know how bad it was yet, but knew I would go through life-altering treatments. Imagined how her fragile confidence would be shaken if her mommy wasn't around to encourage her.

One year ago was the beginning. I didn't always have strong enough faith to be certain of how it would end. It was hard. So hard. It's still so hard, and my storm is over. But God helped me every second of every day. He sheltered me and yet I still remember the pain. If I didn't have Him there is no way I could have made it through.

Philippians 3:4-11

[Paul said] though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee;  as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.  But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

I can finally say I am truly grateful for the experience. I have moments I still hate it. Hate the fact that there is always a twinge of fear for the cancer's return. Hate my repulsive new body and that my hair looks like Corey from Boy Meets World. But my faith has grown enormously, and I value it more than ever. I don't mean faith like just believing in God and His goodness. I mean faith like the actual act of believing in what cannot be seen. Believing that JESUS GAVE ME THE AUTHORITY TO MOVE MOUNTAINS (Mth 21:21). Believing not than "God Can" but that "God WILL". Back then I thought I had to wait for God to assure me He would do something, and then He would. Now I know that TRUE FAITH is believing that the nature of Him is described in the Bible, and that believing He will do things that fit His nature is what we are called to do. It is a whole new element to my world, and it is more important than anything else I know. It took me 32 years of experience leading up to my miraculous healing, plus that whole journey to get it, and there is no other way I would have preferred to learn it.

Here's to the Lord God Almighty. The maker of heaven and earth. Creator of you and me. He loves your soul, whether you love Him back or not. If you don't, please consider it. Consider Him. It can be hard to believe, but even harder not to.

Romans 8:38-39

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

After our death on earth we are all going to carry on for eternity. You can spend it in heaven with Him, or in eternal separation from Him. Hell. If you're reading this it's not too late. But tomorrow it could be. Only He knows the number of our days, and this could be your last chance. Once it's too late it's over. There will be no take-backs or do-overs. Love yourself enough to look out for your future. Love your family enough to do what it takes to spend forever with them and God. Love your friends enough to drag them off the path to hell and onto the narrow path of righteousness.

Romans 10:9-10

That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

Revelation 22:17

The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Prayers for the Week and Foundation

This is a big week for prayers, so please fill the heavens with echos of these requests. In addition, if you have any prayers I can join you with, please comment or email them. It helps if you send the person's name (first only is fine), and updates as they occur.

Alison: The woman we prayed for a few months ago is having a scan tomorrow (Tuesday), then going to Shands to see an expert on Wednesday. She is the one who had the really rare intestinal sarcoma issue. Several years ago she was diagnosed with it and when they opened her up to do the surgery, it looked like someone had thrown handfuls of cancer (like salt) all over her insides. It was really bad but disappeared for years, thanks to much prayer. More of it showed up in May though and she had a surgery, followed by a clear scan. This is the type of cancer that they say can just keep coming back like that and surgery is the only helpful treatment. Please pray this scan is clear and that EVERY scan continues to be clear. Forever. Not one more diseased cell is permitted in her body. It is the temple of the living God and there is no room in there for cancer or other illnesses!

"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body," (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

Jessica: On the 19th she is having her next scan. She is the one a little younger than me who was suddenly diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. She is on an alternative type of treatment and with every scan there has been much less cancer. But let's pray that this one shows NO cancer. Since her diagnosis maybe 6 months ago, her father had brain cancer recur and he passed away a few weeks ago. It is a lot for her and her family, much more than anyone can deal with. She is casting the burden back to God and He will help carry her. But I know it's time for some good news. Pray for her to be entirely cancer-free. We are not accepting improvements, because God does His work fully. There is no mention of a partial miracle in the Bible, and we are not looking for anything like that. We are looking for those amazing signs and wonders Jesus promised were coming. This is that time!

John 14:12," I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father."

Psalm 77:14, You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples."

Me: In one week I have my regular appointment with Dr. Rassam. I have no complaints to report to him but he will likely do the blood marker tests. I am praising God already that they are lower than ever before!

Psalm 106:8, "Yet he saved them for his name's sake, to make his mighty power known."

Debora: She is the one diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, and in about 6 weeks she'll have another scan. I know she has been healed already, and that liver scan (the one of concern) will show evidence of that. Also pray for her fundraiser, which will either be at the start of December or mid-January. We are working out the details but it will be awesome.

“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,”Colossians 1:9 NIV

Cancer Foundations: During my trials with cancer, Yaacov was editing a textbook with a few friends. One of them is an awesome man named Don Compton (from Vanderbilt), who has decided to donate his royalties to a cancer foundation of our choice. First of all, isn't that one of the nicest things you've ever heard? I don't think I've ever even met him. Second of all, we will be praying about which foundation to recommend. I think it should be a national group because he lives in Nashville and we are in Florida. I am so sick of cancer I want to support research in preventing or curing it. Susan G. Komen is obvious but there are pros and cons. FORCE is a group that deals with genetic breast cancer, so that is another. Anyway, if anyone else has thoughts please let me know.

2 Thessalonians 3:5, "May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance."

Sunday, November 11, 2012


It's official. I'm an obnoxious bum. I was leaving the store today and my eye caught a woman holding hands with her two sons in the parking lot. I saw them approach a lightpost and one of the boys went out of his way to let go of her hand and walk around it. As I watched from my private view of my car, I automatically rolled my eyes, the way I would have if one of my own kids did that. I was shocked and humbled to see the mother respond to this event with a huge smile on her face. She was filled with joy about how cute it was that her son did that.

This might not sound super profound to others, but I can't get the image out of my head. If Abi and I approached a lightpost like that, I would have pulled her closer to me so she wouldn't be tempted to slow us down and walk around it. Or if Naomi did it I would sigh loudly and crouch down to catch her, certain that she would run into the street if given a second of freedom. What I would not have done is laugh. Smile broadly, ecstatic that my goofy child was having a little fun.

This all hit me like a ton of bricks. I am more devoted to getting my errands run than enjoying this blessed life. I would rather get out of the store with time to clean the living room than to stop at the park and run around with the girls in the sunshine. I think the mark of a good day is to have several items checked off my to-do list and dinner on the table by the time Yaacov comes home. Those aren't the memory-makers we need! Those are NOT the experiences I had in mind when I declared I could not leave my children motherless! We have so much to be thankful for, and I for one am not living that way. Maybe my kids need a few more dance parties and a few less life lessons. Maybe we all do.

Psalm 13:5-6, "But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord's praise, for he has been good to me."

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Romans 12:12

Day 2 of claiming my hip healing: Hip feels great. I didn't work out today though, so that's not otherwise unexpected. I'm going to keep praising Him for the healing no matter what. Otherwise I might take it for granted and it will come back.

I had a bad day emotionally today. I have an issue unrelated to my physical health that upsets me. It's one of those things that takes me a long time to get over, and then once I think it's done it comes back up. It involves a loved one and I know that God can change me rather than answer my prayers to change others. So I was praying a lot for it then opened my Bible app to look something up. The daily verse was SO helpful. Romans 12:12, "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." It applies to every situation. This line has the answer to every question. 

No matter what, we will embrace hope. We will persevere during tribulations. Let us all continue praying, no matter what the cost or fear. Live Romans 12:12 with me, even for a day. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My hip

My hip hurts. It has hurt for months and months. It isn't cancer. It bothers me immensely, and this is the story of why:

In 2004 I developed this same hip pain. It was diagnosed as bursitis, but I don't know if that's what it really was. I was a new Christian and prayed about it, fully expecting an instant removal of the pain. That didn't happen. The pain worsened and after a few months I was worried. I was thinking I might become crippled and whatever else healthy people like myself worry about. I went to visit my mom in Michigan and went to church, not expecting anything special. Suddenly, the preacher announced that God was going to heal someone's right hip and asked who that was. I was about to raise my hand, but the person directly in front of me did instead. Not only was it weird, but what are the chances that out of hundreds of people, the person in front of me was the only other one with pain in his right hip? Anyway, that guy got the prayer and joy of the moment, but I still got the healing. From the second I stood up, my hip never hurt again.

Until now. After eight years, the pain is back. It started hurting out of nowhere, right after I was healed. I mentioned it then and Dr. Rassam had a hip x-ray done, which was clear. But the pain has remained. I think it's been at least 9 months.

This is physically manageable pain, but is mentally taxing. What does it all mean? Why did it come back right when God kicked cancer out of my body? Why can't I get rid of it now? It makes me doubt--people who are healed usually deal with fears of it returning, and this seems like the devil reminding me that cancer could come back like my hip pain. On bad days every step I take I feel this pain and push those thoughts down.

I have prayed a lot about praying about this pain, because it confuses me so much. On one hand, I feel that this could be like the thorn of Paul's. He prayed three times for God to remove it, and God didn't (2 Cor 12:7-9). God told him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness". Maybe the pain in my hip is like that. Just a reminder the God is the boss and I'm nothing on my own.

Or...maybe I don't have enough faith to convince God to heal my hip. I'm so sure that it was faith that got me healed in the first place. It is my faith that has grown the most during this journey. I understand it so much better now, and value it above all else. So, it would make sense if it was my faith under attack here.

I've tried praying boldly and still have the pain. I really don't know what God wants, but I don't want to live with it. I don't want to change history from having been healed of it to having been "healed for 8 years" from it. And I don't want to look at my sick friends and tell them to believe God will heal them if I don't have the nerve to believe He will heal just this piddly little issue I have.

So, I have decided to take a leap of faith and believe this is indeed a faith issue. I am going to take this as an opportunity to increase my faith and believe He will heal me, even though I have no evidence or promises from Him. It's the same thing I had to do when He miraculously healed my cancer, but this is a much smaller ordeal. I'm skipping all the months of heartache and sorrow in between. 

This time I'm going straight to believing in my healing, the way I interpret the Bible as requiring. 1) I will pray and believe He will answer. Mark 11:24, "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." 2) I will speak as though it has occurred even before it has, just like Abraham (Romans 4) 3) I will tell the world what He has done (Luke 8:39).

I realize this is a little weird, because God already healed my cancer, which was the reason for this blog. But so many of us struggle with believing He will answer our prayers, no matter how huge or minor they are. And believing is a huge part. Maybe the most important. Much of me wants to just live with the pain. I've been doing it for almost a year now anyway. But I'm feeling like it would be hypocritical of me to encourage others to pray for healing while I'm not having any faith that a minor joint issue will be resolved. I don't want to be a hypocrite, and I don't want to settle. It would be like I'm doing a deal with the devil--trading cancer for hip pain. So, I will expect full healing. Even after He answered my much more important prayers about healing my cancer, this makes me nervous. I keep cringing as I'm typing, thinking about not posting this at all. But I will do it and document this experience.

I don't know how long it will take, or honestly if He wants to remove the pain. The status on Day 1: My hip hurts. I have prayed for healing and praised Him with thanks healing me. 

Deuteronomy 32:3, "I will proclaim the name of the Lord. Oh, praise the greatness of our God!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


I have a lot of long term projects hanging over my head right now, and recently had a big breakthrough about them--they aren't important! There are obviously parts of everyone's lives that necessarily create a pit in their stomachs, but it's occurring to me that they don't need to comprise a large part of my day and concerns. I made a mental list of the (many) that do that for me. The current ones are all self-imposed, like the commitment I made to finishing my next book. I made that on my blog, really to myself. Not a publisher or anyone else that matters. Now whenever I start working on writing different things I remember that goal and feel guilty I'm not working on it. It eats away at me. I'm praying about the answer, but I'm pretty sure I'm taking it off the to-do list. Along with about five other unimportant things that stress me out.

This is pretty huge for me. It goes along with the "release yourself" idea that I usually take issue with. I really respect hard work and honoring commitments, as well as the satisfaction and benefits that come from a goal achieved. However, all the things that stress me out right now are things I decided to do independently. No one is counting on them but me, and I think I might go ahead and release myself from them.

So, that's progress. I think it's working more intentionally toward my priorities. God has spoken a lot about them to me this week. My priorities must be: God, Yaacov, Abi & Naomi, then the ministries I'm involved with. I was praying about my mission this week and feel strongly that it is to tell people what God has done for me. To glorify Him. That must be interwoven among the priorities but if I'm doing a good job in my relationship with Him, that will fall into place. Anything else on my to-do list must correspond to it's spot on my priority list.

1 Cor 10:31, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."

I feel good about all this. Here are a few other things I have going on:
Friday is the Joanna Francis Living Well Foundation event. It is a fundraiser to help people with stage 4 cancer pay their non-medical expenses. I am one of the honorees who supposedly does a good job of "Living Well". The only things I really do to live well is keep a positive attitude and pray. I got to nominate doctors who helped me live well. They picked Dr. Crooms and Dr. Rassam and those two are being recognized. This is an event that has caused me stress, but that has waned recently and I hope it will be fun. I would appreciate prayers for it because it is the first cancer-related event I will go to without the opportunity to say anything. That means I have no chance to tell people what God has done. And that in some weird way I am getting attention like I've done something great. It's sort of anti-God in that way. Please pray for opportunities to tell the truth to these people. I also don't know who else is being "honored", but because it is for people with advanced cancer, I expect to be the only one healed. I ran into one person involved with it and she still assumes I have it and am between treatments. I know a lot of people think that, and as much as I hate to admit it, hearing that sort of thing gives me a hiccup in my confidence. So honestly I avoid it. Anyway, I don't want to tell a bunch of people who are dying that I am not dying. And I don't want to sit there quietly and let them assume I ate so much broccoli that my cancer went away. And I don't want this, I don't want that, yada yada. Please just join me in prayer about it.

If you want to support the Living Well Foundation, you can do so by going to the event or probably just giving money. The link is:

Romans 14:20, "Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble."

I felt led to start fundraising for an amazing woman named Debora Passetti. I have mentioned her on here before. She prayed intensely for me during cancer then was diagnosed, at stage 4, herself. It gets worse though. Her husband had just retired, they'd bought a camper to travel the country. They can't do that now, and the cancer in her liver is not letting up. So her sons moved back to Tallahassee to be closer to her. What do you know, her son was driving one of their cars and got rear-ended. He broke his spine in two places. The police said normally people just die on the scene from that. He has a motor tic and if he had just had one little tic after the crash he would have been paralyzed. But he didn't! We rejoice because he is not paralyzed and is doing great. But it's still so much for his parents to deal with. Too much.

They depend on the Lord but it is clearly a difficult time in their lives. Retirement always drops people's income so it's probably extra hard on her husband to feel a lack of control from that. I read online that the average insured person still spends over $700/month on cancer. So anyway, we started an account where people can donate but so far it's not taking off. I am not sure what to do from here. I have some ideas for fundraisers but they all have downsides so I'm stagnant. If you would like to help support their family, the link is:

1 Timothy 6:18, "Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share."

Monday, October 22, 2012

Some side effects of miracles...

Abi's school was closed today. We had a really, really nice day together. Weekends have been so busy that there's normally no chance to relax, but today we were able to relax and just enjoy hanging out. It makes me feel so much better about everything.

She has been behaving better, so thanks very much for your prayers. God helped a lot and showed me more things I could do to get things consistent again. We're getting there, but it's still one day at a time. On the other hand, Naomi is a happy, happy, happy baby almost all the time. She is naughty in an 18-month-old way but our relationship has improved massively over the past few months, and she seems really well-adjusted.

Altogether, things seem sort of...normal now. I know what to expect every day and hardly any of it is bad. I want to like it, but I can't get comfortable. I have no big problems to consume my thoughts so I just coast through the days without a care in the world, then when I have a bit of time I am overcome with memories from this time last year. I believe I am fully healed, and much of my anxiety has waned in the past few months, but I am still so damaged by it all. I should be happy that I went through all this and got my miracle, but I'm just saddened by it. I'm angry that I will spend every day until I die as a person who might have cancer come back. I am doing my best to cling to the memory of the miracle, and to build my faith in the meantime. But I have yet to come across anyone with a similar miracle who didn't have any hint of a recurrence. Instead, I have learned the key is to not accept it, and through faith and prayer it usually disappears. Good plan, right? NO! I don't want that! I don't want any fear or chance of it returning. That would be a test, and I don't want anymore tests!

I don't want to grow, I don't want to learn, I just want to be happy and healthy forever.

It's so stupid, but I won't even pray for certain things anymore because I'm afraid of they way God might answer. If you remember, I was praying intently for someone's salvation, promising the Lord I would do anything for him to know Him. Right after that I was diagnosed with the same illness that killed his mother when he was a kid. I will tell you I believe his lack of accepting the Lord from that was the only failure from my diagnosis and healing. It might have enhanced his belief a bit, but didn't bring him all the way to Jesus' loving arms. Do you think I pray the same way for him now? NO WAY. No way. nope. Can't risk it.

So, there you have it. We'll call these issues "side effects" of the miracle. I know my mindset is wrong about a lot of things. I need prayer I guess. And faith. Mostly faith. In the meantime, it is back to basics: Get my mind off me and toward God, then everything else will fall into place. "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, rejoice!"

Philippians 4:4-9
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Did cancer ruin my child or did I do that myself?

This whole time I've felt so fortunate that our kids were young when dealing with the cancer. I hated hearing I could die before they'd be old enough to remember me, but it was so much easier than having to deal with the emotions and questions that an older child would have posed. Or, so I thought. It's been almost a year since the diagnosis and the toll it's taken on Abigail has finally become apparent.We tried to keep everything as "normal" as possible during treatment, but obviously we didn't succeed. Everything changed, as it had to. She was only 3 when the doctors first started telling me I was going to die, so she hadn't been through anything difficult. Nor did she have any clue what sickness, cancer, or death were. Added to that, she used to only see Grandpa for holidays, and suddenly he was here full-time, babysitting several times per week. Then he moved away and Grandma moved down. Now she's going to preschool every day, but I drag her to doctors or leave her with sitters at least once a week. She was a trooper through all of it and I thought she was unscathed--a few months ago she said she'd never seen me cry. Clearly she had forgotten the low times from last year, like when she'd begged me to go just one day without crying.

Well, my treatments have been done since June, but the aftermath has just begun. And worsening. I've had to leave overnight a few times and it sets off really bad behavior. She's also having nightmares and outrageously naughty behavior at school. Anytime I will be away from her she wants to know exactly what I'm doing and I have to promise I'll be back. Most issues seem to involve control--she wants it--so we're trying to help her feel super secure but still teach her that she isn't the boss.

I'm blaming cancer for ruining my child, but I might have done it myself. I'm a behavior analyst, how did I end up with the child who behaves so badly at school? There's nothing innately "different" about her, I really believe this is a nurture (not nature) issue. We're praying a lot about her behavior but don't know what to do. Maybe we're reading too much into it, and she is noncompliant because I gave her way too many choices until now. And now she thinks she should always have the chance to have some sort of "say" in what she does.

I don't like either of these hypotheses. So much of my fight against cancer was because I didn't trust God to raise them without me. I'm not sure I ever admitted that before. And now it turns out I don't know what I'm doing anyway. Awesome.

It will all work out, we just need to trust God with everything, and wait on Him for how to proceed. So much of parenting seems time-sensitive, but it will be better if I focus on being God-sensitive instead. God did one of the nicest things ever for me, and I'm going to focus on that: This morning I could not stop singing this song about trusting the Lord. Then I realized I was promising to trust Him but not really meaning it. I started to pray about it but got interrupted and figured I'd think about it more later. Instead, I checked my email and a friend had written to me about how she had this vision while she was praying for me (not about Abi, just generally). She could see anguish, doubt, and fear filling up my cup. Then those things were poured out and trust replaced it. Isn't that awesome? I often joke about how easy it would be to do what God wants if He would just send me a to-do list. This time He basicallly did! He made sure I got an email with His message, "TRUST ME".

People have had dreams and visions a few times for me before, but never anything so specific and timely. I take it as a HUGE honor, that He would do something so bold and clear to get through to me. It must be very important, and those are all issues I've been having. I can't tell you the comfort I get from how personal that message is. So, I will trust Him. God is mightier than my mistakes. I will trust Him today. And tomorrow.

Psalm 9:10, "Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you."

Deut 1:30-32, "The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as He did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes and in the desert. There you saw how the Lord your God
carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place. "

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Lots of Updates

There are so many updates to share that I might not get to anything juicy today. I'm having a hard time getting my act together this fall. I took on too much so am always either overly busy, or so overwhelmed that I shut down.

I just got back from Jacksonville, where the latest FABA conference was held. That is the Florida Association for Behavior Analysis, and I haven't been there in two years. I used to work for the company and have very few fond memories from it, meaning that I was losing sleep about going. In many ways it was as bad as I expected--it was the first time I'd seen all these people since before my diagnosis, so some people were weird to me and others didn't recognize me. As a result of that and several other variables, I feel much more socially awkward than before. I noticed I had virtually nothing to say to people, so sometimes even avoided conversations rather than risking sounding stupid. My hair has grown in nicely but is currently at an awkward length, so tons of people who didn't know about the cancer stuff talked about it. They said they liked it, but I am repulsive so doubt they meant it. Those talks generally turned into an awkward cancer conversation. I tried to avoid it, but people would keep asking why or when I cut it, so I had to say something. It gave me a great chance to tell people about how I was miraculously healed, but..I wasn't really in the mood. I just wanted things to be normal again. I don't actually want to be the one sitting around the coffee station telling them how I'm supposed to die soon. They just wanted to get a packet of Splenda and make small talk. They didn't want the girl with bad hair to remind them of how mortal they are.

The highlights of the conference were when people (some were barely acquaintanes) pulled me aside to say how moved they were by my story. Some said they grew closer to God through it and, as I've mentioned many times, that makes it totally worth it. So, I need to focus on that.

There are other bits of recent good news, too. I saw Dr. Rassam before I left town and he said he's not going by the book with me anymore, because I'm atypical. So, he's sparing me the radiation that goes into regular PET/CT scans and instead will just get me tested if I have symptoms. He took my blood and all my markers were negative again.

I was interviewed for the Tallahassee Democrat (our local newspaper) last week. They are focusing on breast cancer stories throughout October, which is BC Awareness month. I did a written interview, then the reporter took a video of me sharing the story to be posted online. Wouldn't you know--I royally messed up the video report. I misspoke and had weird, nervous inflections. So, I went home and prayed about it. Then a week later the guy emailed a big apology--the video somehow was messed up so he needed to reshoot it!!!! Coincidence? "Sure". The second time went a lot better and I'm excited about it, because most of the stories will not have the same message of hope that mine does.

I do have to report some bad news, too. Both of the people I requested prayer for reccently, Angela Faddis, and Steve Kalogeras, have passed away. Those are the first unanswered prayers out of all the ones I've posted. Steve died almost 2 weeks ago and the funeral was last week. Angela survived a few weeks longer than expected but died yesterday of colon cancer. She was my age. Her husband had quit his job to take care of her. They set up an in-home hospice and her little children were with her until the end. I am so saddened by this. She loved the Lord and is with Him for eternity, but I know she didn't want to die. Not at the first anyway. I imagine that by the end you kind of want to put the rest of the family out of their misery. That's the worst part of the hospice stuff, to me.

I'm still wrestling with this issue of whether everyone can be healed on earth. I can't get past it, because it changes the whole perspective. Most say no, but some of those who think it so are those who then are healed. My take home message from being healed is that God healed me because a) we all asked and b) I (with at least a few others) believed that He would answer. That His word is literal and true. His word says to pray and believe it will be done and it WILL be. Literally, it will be done. For me, it was done. For Angela, it was not done, and I have a hard time with it. I won't presume that it's because she and her family didn't believe she would be healed, because that's almost like blaming them for her death. I guess it goes back (again) to that stuff I keep mentioning about God putting desires in your heart, and that's how you pray. But if that such an important thing, why is it barely mentioned in the Bible? It says TONS of time to pray and believe. It barely says that God gives you the desires of your heart, and that could sort of be interpreted differently.

I guess that is it. Enough sad and confusing issues for one day. This year at BSF we're studying Genesis so I'll probably bring in points relative to that. For now, remember that He created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1). He created each of us. Planned it all. Formed us in our wombs. Why? For His glory. It's individualized because we're all different people, but we are all working together. Every move we make should be pleasing to Him, even if it means living like an alien in this strange land.

"They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath." 1 Thess 1:9-10

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Important, time-sensitive prayers

Just a quick update on a few important people.

Please, please pray for these dire situations. The good news is that the Lord heals people all the time. The bad news is that these people are really, really sick. I will be fasting tomorrow for them and would appreciate if anyone who feels led to do so joins me in that and/or praying.

The first is a young mother named Angela Faddis. She has a popular page on Facebook so you might have heard of her. I believe she has two young children and stage 4 colon cancer. One week ago the doctors told her husband she would be dead within hours. She is is still alive right now. I am going to pray for a full and immediate recovery. That the cancer recedes and never returns. That she regains her strength, mental faculties, and recovers from all damage caused by the horrendous disease. I know it's unlikely, and that part of life is death, but this is God we're talking about. He might not "need" people like her around, but guess what? The rest of us do!  She and her family are kind, loving, faithful people devoted to the Lord and we need more of those around.

"Yahweh will sustain him on his sickbed, and restore him from his bed of illness." Ps 41:3

The other is my friend's dad. I just realized I don't know his name. If I remember right, he has a heart condition that started from being shot when he was a police officier. He's had several close calls in the hospital over the past few years, including briefly dying at least once. He is in a hospital in Miami now, in critical condition. His heart is only working 5% on its own. It's very bad so please pray a lot for him and the Kalogeras/McDermott families.

"And the prayer of faith will restore the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up to health, and if he has committed sins, they shall be forgotten." James 5:15

Monday, September 3, 2012


I'm close to a breakdown...not sure I can handle this...I just learned someone I knew in college recently died. Of cancer.

Yaacov didn't understand the magnitude of the situation, which means you all reading this probably won't either. That's part of the isolation of the ridiculous disease. Especially in my situation--hardly anyone my age can relate to having a terminal illness at all, because, well, there aren't many of the and they die before we can really "bond". So that stinks, and then when you throw in that I was miraculously healed, it's even harder to find people that "get" it. Not that I'm complaining, really. 

There's something about being told time and again that you're going to die soon that changes you. I used to think it was like teaching English as a Second Language--you don't have to speak multiple languages to teach the new one. But I'm pretty sure that in this case you have to live through it or have some really, really, really awesome insight straight from God to get it. 

That said, most people don't have the ability to turn from a happy thought into a mess of tears because someone they barely knew is dead. I have that ability, and right now I don't want it. It's like I'm living his death. I already lived my own, you know. It's not much easier this time. If he had died in a car accident or something, I probably wouldn't be too upset. But the second I read "cancer" I knew. I knew what it felt like for Jim to hear the diagnosis for the first time. For him to hope and pray for good test results. To hear bad news instead. To hope and pray for the miracle. Without ever having set foot in a hospice, I knew how it felt to have to move there, knowing it would likely be his last earthly home. Then finally, to hope and pray for a removal of the agony--mental and physical--that the bastard disease caused himself and loved ones. 

I couldn't tell you what color his eyes were, but I know exactly how he felt. And I know he wanted to live as much as I did. I know he deserved to live as much as I did. And I know he didn't. And I did.

I'm so sad. Confused. Surprised. Everyone in the body has a part and I always thought mine was minor. I did hope sometimes for a position of higher impact, but life and death with myself as an example is beyond my capabilities. Why aren't I called to be a beacon of hope for something lighter? Simpler? Easier? Less painful, perhaps? 

"After he was healed, the man...begged Him that he might be with Him. However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, 'Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had compassion on you." Mark 5:18-19

I am quite certain the scripture above is a direct command for me, so I will keep doing it. It's not particularly hard with the right audience, but what can I say to people grieving from actual loss? "See how healthy I am?!" 

I know it sounds so ungrateful to complain, when I'm still alive, but I don't know how many more deaths I can live through. I suppose the point is that I am utterly unable to perform these duties without the help of the Lord, so when I feel this way I'm on the verge of breaking through--become less so He can become more. So, come on then, God! I'm ready to feel numb again.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Dreaming in Sci-Fi and My Year of Health

Well, this is it. I am 33 today. I am healthy, happy, and cancer-free. I have a perfect family, amazing friends, and a great love-life with our Creator.
Awful things happened this year. Great things happened this year. Things that would change me forever. Things that would remind me that I don't know how long forever actually is.
I am not the same person I was when I turned 32. I am now stronger and bolder, but also weaker and more vulnerable.
Everything about me is older now. I just noticed that my profile picture on Facebook is unrecognizable. I "can't" change the picture because I don't like the updated photos I've been posing for. But the truth is, I don't like the girl I see in those old pictures either. I was so foolish and shallow then. I miss the freedom to live like that, but carry a strong distaste for that lifestyle at the same time. So why can't I say goodbye to her?
Maybe there are deep issues at bay here. Or maybe I haven't fully embraced the two new roles I fell into this year: 1) terminally ill mother of two, and 2) miraculously cured child of God. I don't want to ever go back to the first, but you can't have a former without the latter. Just like I can't go back to the "before" picture of me without dabbling into the "after".

 "He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end." Ecc 3:11

As you likely recall, I received my diagnosis at the beginning of the last holiday season. At the time I tried desperately to embrace Thanksgiving and Christmas as gifts of special bonus time I could spend with my family while knowing it would be among my last. Those holidays were HARD. God carried me through them but I can barely keep it together remembering my sorrow. At the time I thought that nothing could ever relieve that sadness for me. That even if somehow God healed my "incurable" cancer, I could never release the heartache of living as if my time was limited. All our time IS limited, no matter what any doctor says. But I am ecstatic to report that while celebrating my day of birth today, I never thought about my day of death. I don't think I'm invincible, but I don't waste my time thinking of how I'm not.

"Man's days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed." Job 14:5

So, on this day we celebrated my 33 years of life and began a dedicated year of health. It is more than safe to say that Year 32 included the lowest valley of my physical health thus far. There were plenty of things beyond my control, but I can control a lot of physical issues that can make me healthier. Not to make me live longer, God is the one who numbers and knows my days. But I see no reason that I cannot be the healthiest I have ever been this year. Physically, mentally, and spiritually. I have been praying about and meditating on criteria that would demonstrate those achievements, as well as small daily goals that will help me get there. My tentative decisions are to run a 5K in 23 minutes or less (in peak physical condition before I ran them in about 24 minutes), to write a first draft of my next book (discussed below), and to read the whole Bible with a deeper study than usual. I hope to accomplish these before my next birthday. If God intervenes I will have to change them, but I'll keep working on the daily goals to achieve them on His timeline.

"All this I tested by wisdom and I said, "I am determined to be wise"--but this was beyond me." Ecc 7:23

I rarely remember my dreams, but when I had both children I was awakened so often in the middle of them that I would recall what had been going on. I was so happy then. Time and time again I would wake up in the middle of a "sitcom". It was almost always Seinfeld (which had ended years before), and I was dreaming of entirely new, hilarious story lines. I sometimes couldn't fall asleep from laughing so hard. Times have changed a bit since then...I now dream in Sci-Fi. What's that about? I have two recurring dreams that include tons of supernatural events. Nothing God-related, by the way. I don't know what else to do with them so I've started plotting them out for my next book. I am generally the last person to write Science Fiction, given that I do not read it or typically enjoy such stories. But I plan to write a bit each day and finish at least one draft this year. I will NOT rest until this book is one that I am extremely proud of. I really enjoyed writing my last one, but I was not proud of the end product at all, and that made it impossible to market. So, I'm not going to waste the extra time God gave me on earth, writing some nonsense I can't drag myself to talk up. Anyway, I hope this is the beginning of a fun, new adventure, and I'll keep you posted on the progress.

"I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted." Job 42:2

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Updates and Surgery

I am doing great, praise God! I saw Dr. Rassam last week and he was back to his old self. A few visits ago he had changed his tune from saying I had a miraculous recovery, to saying we were just managing the cancer well. I have a little PTSD from all the bad news at this point, so whenever I walk into the place I am tense until after I see him. For the past two visits though, he has been back to normal. On both occasions he poked around on me and said, "I might start believing that you are actually cured of this too!". This is the highest praise and confidence anyone could expect, I think.

I was sure he would send me for a PET scan, but wrong again. He had two types of cancer marker tests done. Both for breast cancer, but one was a new addition, for people who already went through treatment. The CA 27.29 test (the one I've had done before) has a range from normal people of between 0 and 38. Last time mine was 26.5. This time it was 14!!! Zero is not necessarily the goal, because it can be good to have a few. The CA 15.3 test is the new one and I think the range for normaly people is 0 to 25, and this was 10!!! Hooray!!!!

I was waiting to hear responses before mentioning this, but I think I will not get any...for those who wondered, I finally sent notes to some of the doctors who told me I'd be dead soon. I couldn't get the right email for the one at Mayo so didn't send his, but did get one to the genetic counselor there.  I told her about my miracle and she responded, "I'm so glad you've had such a positive reaction to chemo!". That's fine. I sent a nice note to Dr. Litton but she never responded at all.

I started Tamoxifen and so far, so good. I think it acts as a stimulant for me--I'm being more productive with less fatigue. Unfortunately, I'm unable to sleep at night, too. I've always struggled with sleep, but lately it had been a bit better. Now it's taking me 2-3 hours to fall asleep. I see Dr. Rassam in a few weeks as a follow-up, so maybe he'll prescribe me something to sleep if necessary. I feel extremely, outrageously blessed by the lack of unwanted side effects from the Tamoxifen. I know it takes longer for them to develop with some people, so please pray that mine will continue to be awesome.

I got a call from Dr. Rosenbaum's office today. He is the plastic surgeon in Gainesville that I'm going to see about getting DIEP reconstruction. His assistant said his openings were filling up quickly, so she wanted to pencil me in for surgery now. NOW!!!! Not 1-2 years away like the more conservative doctor I saw here. NOW as in, over Thanksgiving or Christmas (the only 2 openings he has left this year)!!!!! I wanted the Thanksgiving one, because that would be basically a year from the time I was told I was dying to being entirely healed and reconstructed. However, I think Yaacov and my mom (the official helpers) will be more available over Christmas, so we'll probably do that. It'll still just be 13 months for all that.

For those of you who haven't seen me, my hair is looking good. I've had two haircuts now, and the pixie cut style I have looks intentional. A lot of people even prefer it to my longer hair, but I think that's because it's so different. Strangers stop me all the time to compliment me, so that's nice. I plan to still grow it out, then will look back at pictures and decide what was best.

I guess that's it. "Through Him, therefore, let us constantly and at all times offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, which is the fruit of the lips that thankfully acknowledge and confess and glorify His name." Heb 13:15

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

DONE with cancer treatments FOREVER

It's official, I'm done with radiation! So, if you're keeping track that's: Chemo, surgery, and radiation ALL DONE! All I technically have left is reconstruction and Tamoxifen, which is a drug I will start soon and am expected to take forever. Please pray with me that I have no side effects from it. If I do, plans might change.

It was nice to end treatment at Dr. Bolek's office today. When I finished chemo I knew the people better, but the attitude was, "see you when it comes back". At the end of radiation it was more of a "keep in touch" style.

You can probably guess how nostalgic this all makes me. Everything has completely changed, yet it is all still the same. Ten months ago, my biggest problems were so minor they were embarassing to even discuss with real people who had real problems. Since then, my problems became so insurmountable that most of these "real people" couldn't discuss them due to feelings of inadequacy.

I guess I find myself back at the beginning now. I believe I was permanently and perfectly healed of "incurable" cancer, so I am not dying any faster than anyone else. God did it all, and His burden is easy, His yoke is light (Mth 11:30). All I had to do is pray and show why do I feel like I've been through a war?

At the beginning of this blog I wrote a bit about how I felt like such a kid, saddled with a death sentence I could barely read, let alone "live" with. How I yearned for someone to guide me through it, to drown out the doctor's bad reports with assurances that with God, everything is possible (Lk 18:27)! God gave me what I needed during the dark times, it just wasn't always what I wanted. His will and plans are perfect though, and obviously turned out better than they do for most, so I have no right to complain. I wish I could say I feel light and airy after all this, because I learned how much I can trust God, and all the extra time I've been given is so freeing. Instead I feel...tired. Old. Worn out and broken. Ugly (inside and out). I'm impatient with the kids, disinterested in the mundane details of life.

Maybe I romanticized the old life I had, and now that I won the chance to keep it I'm unimpressed with the reward. Or maybe I just need a nap. I will have to get back to you on that one.

I would be a worthless hypocrite if I let myself drown in my (unjustified) self-pity now. My choices are to continue feeling sorry for myself, or to get it together. The word is clear: "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again; Rejoice!" Phil 4:4. So, I will praise Him not just for His miraculous healing, but also that I got through all those treatments with minimal side effects, and for the chance to bond with so many great people throughout cancer. Both my parents proved themselves to be very dedicated by moving (Dad, temporarily; Mom, permanently) here to help babysit, and SO many more people than I could have imagined reached out to us in a variety of ways throughout cancer. I might not be more patient or kind than before, but I am stronger in faith, and that will help me more in the future. I have heard from a lot of people how my experience has changed their faith, and even one of those stories makes it totally worth it. We also got out of this without monetary setbacks, which is amazing given the huge expense of cancer treatments. Finally, I learned a lot about myself, human nature, and the nature of God, that will change me forever. I don't want to die anytime soon, but I'm much more content with the idea of it now than before. I know I can trust God to take care of my family, and that is true whether or not I'm present.

I had a really hard time keeping up with formally thanking people, and even went through a time where I met so many people I couldn't recall their names or even meeting them. So, from the bottom of my heart, no matter how much (or little) I've shown it, I really, really appreciate every email, every card, every note, every meal, every dollar, every gift, every thought, every blog reader, every kind word, and every prayer that has been shared with me or on my behalf. I am also so sorry to those I've unintentionally snubbed or forgotten to thank, etc. I just love you
all and have learned how to be more loving by the way everyone has supported and interacted with me throughout this time.

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is
pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Phil 4:8

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Everything you NEVER wanted to know about a mastectomy

I've mentioned tidbits on here about my mastectomy but I know a lot of readers will be involved with their own breast surgeries at some point so I thought I'd give more detail about what to expect and how to prepare. It is extremely long, because I wanted every bit to be in one place.

There are a ton of sites where you can find things to do to prepare, but the ones I saw didn't explain things well. I'm sure these surgeries vary a lot by location and type, but some truths are consistent.

I had what was called a bilateral mastectomy and lymphnode removal, which just means both breasts were removed. On one side, 11 lymphnodes were taken. I had cancer on just one side, but due to my BRCA status and size of the original tumor, it was very likely to spread to my other side anyway. It is also very difficult to "match" a real one during reconstruction, so all-around I felt better with having both removed. In addition, after a mastectomy you don't need mammograms (usually), so that's one less thing I have to do (and stress about) in the future.

Many people elect to have just a lumpectomy instead of full removal. The original size of my tumor was 7 cm, so a minimum of 1/3 of the breast would have been removed, which would require reconstruction or weird pads for the future. As you know, I was cancer-free by the time I had the surgery, but because of the stage 4 aspect, Dr. Rassam recommended the full mastectomy in case the cancer returned and could not be reduced (this is called a hygenic mastectomy). Blah blah. I just prayed about it, and the data were very clear that the mastectomy for my tumor type was the way to go. God made me love research for a reason, maybe this was it. I felt fine going through with it.

Radiation also goes smoother without breasts.

If you are ever diagnosed with breast cancer, search and read a lot about the recommendations for your specific type. Your cancer will be tested to see if it is sensitive to estrogen, progesterone and her2. If it is not sensitive to any of the three, that is called "triple negative" and treatment options are more limited. Mine had a slight estrogen sensitivity, and was negative to the others. Anyway, this status and the size alters the effectiveness of lumpectomy and mastectomy. The "worse" cancer you have, the more likely it is that you need a full mastectomy, and sometimes doctors don't tell you this because they want to spare you emotional pain. But the emotional pain is a lot worse if your cancer comes back. I've heard of many such cases, and the person always regrets just getting the lumpectomy the first time around. Regardless, there are a lot of studies on the importance of each type of surgery, and the results differ based on the details of the specific breast cancer. This is, thankfully, one very easy decision to make if you care about the data.

Proverbs 2:6, "For the Lord gives wisdom, and from His mouth come knowleddge and understanding."

If you're very sensitive or completely thrown off by the prospect of a mastectomy, it might be that you could have a lumpectomy first, then when  you're mentally prepared have the mastectomy. You might be able to have that at the same time as reconstruction, which is a LOT better, mentally. I really wanted Dr. Crooms to do my removal though, and a guy in Gainesville is my top choice for the reconstruction, so on top of no one offering the lumpectomy first, I did it separately.

There are all kinds of mastectomies and reconstruction. There are skin and nipple sparing (they sew your nipples to a different part of your body and "save" them for later!) removals, but the plastic surgeons I spoke to requested that my skin be pulled very tightly because that's better for radiation. Apparently the radiation permanently ruins your skin and tissue, with results changing more for months after radiation ends. So my tissue and nipples were all removed, and the skin pulled taut. When I get reconstruction later I will have new skin put on to replace that.

Some people are good candidates for implants, but I wasn't. I thought it was because of having radiation but I know of someone who got them with radiation, so it might be up to the doctor. I didn't want implants anyway, because there are a lot of options now of how the plastic surgeon can use my extra fat to create new breasts. I'm hoping to get one called DIEP, which is when they pull off my stomach muscles, dissect the fat off, then put the muscle back on my stomach. They would give me a tummy tuck and use that skin to create the new ones!!!! I knew I was saving all that tummy fat for something!!!! If I don't have enough fat (yeah, right!), they will also use an implant.

So, the DIEP sounds great, except that if I was getting implants I could have had expanders put in during the mastectomy. Over time, they are filled with liquid to stretch out your skin, then eventually are replaced with the implants. The point is that after a mastectomy you have something there instead of being so naked (more on that below). That would be awesome and after my surgery I desperately wished I had found someone willing to do that for me. However, a girl who had that surgery around the time of mine just had to have an emergency back flap procedure because something went wrong with the expander. She really didn't want that procedure done, and was totally unprepared to have to race to the hospital and get it done. Plus, they say those expanders hurt quite a bit.

I read that I would need sports bras that opened or zipped in the front, but I couldn't find them. It isn't what you really need anyway. You need to order mastectomy camisoles and sleeping bras with breast forms. You need them because it will probably be 1-2 months before you can wear real prosthetics but you can wear these forms (one size fits all, they're like little pillows) home from the hospital. They actually provide a little padding that helped me with comfort. They are NOT all the same, so order them with plenty of time. TLC is a common cancer website with some good products, but plenty of bad ones. It can be really frustrating. You can remove the forms and use them in many tops. They don't touch your skin directly so I was fine with 2 sets. I heard the hospital normally gives you one camisole and forms to wear home, but I didn't get anything. I found these brands to be good: Too Beautiful (the cutest, by far), Elita and Amoena. I bought a TLC brand open-front camisole and forms, and it was the WORST. AWFUL. Remember that the camisoles/tank-tops that open in the front are helpful at first, but they usually need to be worn under something. Mine ended up looking bulky so either get a smaller size or more sleep/sports bra types. Make sure you own at least one top with a drain holder for the beginning.

Someone lent me a drain squeezer. You can see them at Unfortunately I can't tell where to buy them but it is worth contacting them (Mayo Clinic just gives them out). It was AWESOME and very helpful. I cannot tell you enough how great it was. Squeezing drains doesn't seem like a huge problem, but when you use a squeezer you can't stop smiling from the improvement.

Sometimes it's better not to know what to expect, or what could go wrong. But you obviously still need to plan for things like childcare or work for after surgery. Make sure to ask your surgeon all about his plan for what you can lift and when. Dr. Crooms is of the "do what you can handle" school of thought, so I didn't have stipulations. But some peope get very strict guidelines that could change your plans.

Make sure to get mentally prepared for the surgery, but I don't know how to do this besides through prayer. So, get to it.

"Don't worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." Phil 4:6-8

If you've had other surgeries, this is pretty much the same. Dr. Crooms is a general surgeon so mine was done at the Surgery Center of TMH. Incidentally, some people specialize in breast surgery. I'm sure they're great, but EVERY time I've shown a professional my scars he has wanted to know who did the surgery and remarks at how great it looks. So, if you're local, go to Dr. Crooms! If you're not local, you could still go to Dr. Crooms! Otherwise, don't automaticlly balk at the prospect of having a general surgeon. DO talk to people and get their experienced recommendation though.

I had the typical procedure, including a pre-operative appointment a few weeks before surgery, then the day before the procedure I called for the time and instructions on how to prepare. It was just no food or water after midnight. At the hospital I got the IV quickly and hung out with my mom for a bit. The scary part for me is always when they wheel me into the waiting room, where I'm all alone and completely sober. This time they let me wait in the pediatric surgery room because that's private, in case he wanted to come in and mark me up beforehand. The last time I had to wait in the other surgical waiting area and I felt like a cow being corralled with the rest of the herd. A nurse said I wouldn't remember that part so I guess they assume people will be out of it and they can treat us however they like. But I remember every second. Every embarassing question they asked the men around me, etc. It was scary, sad, and very lonely.

Anyway, in the pediatric waiting area there are paintings on the ceiling, signed by patients. It was really sad to think of the children who had waited in that room, so scared, before.

The surgery was a few hours and I woke up in considerable pain. I didn't know how much pain to expect though, so when a nurse asked I told her I was fine (I meant that I could handle it while she got me medicine). When I finally was about to scream from the agony she said, "can you still not feel anything?" and I realized that they'd really thought I wasn't in any pain at all. She gave me a morphine drip that I could activate every 7 minutes. I used it frantically, afraid to even sleep in case I would awaken up in severe pain. I thought I needed to let the morphine build up in my system but It turned out I didn't need it at all. The pain never got as bad as it was right after surgery. After about a day I figured out that I wasn't even in pain and didn't use it again. They don't let you off the IV or oxygen until you're off the morphine and IV drugs, so it's a good thing to get off it.

I stayed all 3 days there, because I thought going home would be too hard to deal with the kids, etc. It probably would have been fine but we'll never know. This type of surgery is not the same as when you have a child though, so my mom stayed the first night to help with all the cords/bathroom trips, but otherwise I stayed alone.

Isaiah 40:29, "He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak."

The nurses took the bandages off before I left, so I couldn't hide from my mutilated body. I had a drain on each side and maybe 60 staples. They taught me to empty my drains and record how much fluid was removed, but I never reported it to anyone. Nurse Karen at Dr. Crooms office just checked me out then removed the drains at my first follow-up appt (1 week after surgery). She also removed my staples and replaced them with steri-strips. In case I haven't mentioned it, she is one of my favorite people. She taught me some exercises to do to improve my range of motion too.

I holed up in our bedroom for almost a week after surgery. I just sat in the dark watching tv. I imagined spending a lot of time with God during this time, but mostly felt numb and a little abandoned by Him. He snapped me out of it one day though and that was the only depressive-type of episode I had about it.

I was not ecstatic that Karen made me start "exercising". I hoped bedrest would be on the prescription pad, not a bunch of uncomfortable moves. I did them a few times a day for a few days, then petered off. I at least try to do some extra stretches as I'm sitting around. I ended up with full range of motion in my right arm (no lymphnode removal), and almost full range in my left arm. So, God is awesome and maybe my full-time job of child-rearing works my muscles well.

The most helpful thing I learned while recovering: Karen said, "it's going to feel like you're doing something wrong or pulling out your stitches". That was VERY good to know, because that is EXACTLY what it felt like. It's actually just breaking down scar tissue, but I feel it ripping and it definitely seems like I should stop. Instead I know I should keep going.

There is gross and weird stuff going on now. I don't look like you'd expect--I imagined looking like a man, but it's worse than that. I look like a mutilated person for sure. People were created in God's image, and He did NOT look like this. I still have my post-pregnancy fat stomach, but as it goes upward I actually have a "two-pack" of muscles that jut out. If my stomach was flat this might be normal-looking, but as it is is creepy.
Next--you know that crevice between everyone's breasts/chest muscles? Cleavage, I guess. Well, I still have it. I guess it's bone or cartilage, so I have that indention, and the outsides of that protrude from the middle of my chest. Then it all sinks in around it.
Finally, the GROSSEST is so bad. I would actually put a picture on here because I feel like an alien already, but I wouldn't want it to be banned from the internet due to the yuckiness...Are you ready for this? When I move a certain way when getting ready, it makes my tiny pectoral muscles flex. They are the size of ping pong balls. The rest of my chest stays flat, and these little golf balls pop out, very similar to "bug eyes" that might burst out of a cartoon character's face. I'm probably not describing it well, but it is SO weird and icky.

That's all I can think of. I'm so fortunate and blessed to have been healed of this horrendous disease that I don't feel sorry for myself when I see the scars. I just feel joy that I am a child of God, and that this gross body is just temporary.

2 Cor 4:16, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day."

Make sure to ask any questions I didn't answer while it's all still fresh in my mind! Also, add any helpful tips from your own experience to the comments section!

ADDED 8/9: If you live in Tallahassee, you can go to A Woman's Place at TMH for prescription prosthetics. It's a little complicated but much easier than dealing with online purchases, because there are so many types, materials, sizes, and shapes to pick from. At A Woman's Place you call them and they arrange for a prescription from the surgeon, a referral from the general practitioner, and a fitting 4-6 weeks after surgery. You can try everything on there and let you take some things home, ordering the others for you.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

2 months post-surgery, 4 weeks into radiation

"Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thess 5:18

God is so good to me. I am so blessed, I cannot believe how much I whine about being tired or unhealthy. There are so many worse problems to have, and I HAVE BEEN MIRACULOUSLY HEALED. What else do I need?.But God puts up with me. He gently reminds me of His goodness instead of hitting me in the head with a frying pan. Or with a bullet, like all those people in Colorado. We were at the opening night show of Batman here--with just a few different life choices we could have ended up there instead--winding up dead, or desperately wounded, reminded constantly of what life had been like before. I read that the parents of a girl who died were praying that people would not lose their faith in God after this tragedy. Can you imagine having such grace, faith, and peace a day after your daughter was brutally murdered? I sometimes am too burnt out to wish I was like that, because I become fearful that He will put me in the circumstances that would make me like that. As if He would say, "You asked for it. Let's see much do you really want to be like me."

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all who follow his precepts have good understanding.
To him belongs eternal praise. " Ps 111:8 

Sometimes during cancer I felt like I'd brought it on to myself. Not because of eating too much sugar or other ridiculousness, but because of all my prayers to be refined, used, etc. I guess I still do feel that, but not as strongly. He chose me for the challenge, but I will never know why. They say faith is tested not to show God what you believe, but to show yourself and others. Maybe that's all it was. My faith was tested, and ultimately strengthened, through it all. I'm not the same person now, and even today, as I struggle with exhaustion and am disappointed in a variety of my own behaviors, my "worst" is different than it was a year ago. I won't dare to say it's "better", because I'm too tired to view it clearly and do not want to overstate it.

"Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done."
1 Chron 16:8

I have many issues to update everyone with, but a few will have to wait for more detailed posts. The important things are that, 2 months after surgery I'm looking and feeling good. Every professional who sees my wounds wants to know who did the surgery and commends Dr. Crooms on his awesome work. I'm still tender to the touch, and my upper back hurts, but they are the level of pain we all live with anyway. My radiated area just became burned and sore to the touch yesterday, and because it's the weekend has had a chance to heal. This will be my last full week, so I imagine it'll be a painful one, but there are only 7 more times total, so that's fine. I'm getting the genetic testing done that I mentioned but the results won't be in for 6-8 months. I got involved in a genetic (non-treatment) study, and if the Lord chose not to adjust my mutation, my adult relatives can get tested through them for free. So, it's a win-win, especially because my cousin couldn't convince her doctor to let her get tested. Apparently some doctors balk at testing when it comes before a diagnosis. Sort of undoes the point of genetic testing, if you ask me. But it's expensive and different, I guess, so we shouldn't expect anything else.

"And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us." Romans 5:2-5

Finally, the girl we prayed for on 7/26, with the lung cancer got some good results--she is involved in a non-chemo clinical trial and her cancer has significantly decreased after just a few weeks on the treatment. So, thanks for the prayers and to our Amazing Lord!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cool Things Happening

What a nice day! I'm officially half-way done with my radiation treatments, and that in itself is very exciting. The treatments aren't bad and I enjoy the people there, but going every single day has been taxing. It's in the middle of the day, which also happens to be Naomi's naptime, so it feels like I never get a break. I prayed a lot about it yesterday, because it was making me very unpleasant to be around, and I guess my answer was a much easier, more peaceful day today.

So the first cool events occurred during radiation today. I have to depend on my radiation therapist to use a speaker and tell me when to start the special breathing I previously described. If she happens to forget, I start when I hear the machine kick on but so far that has been too late. I have to redo it, and the extra few minutes of fancy breathing is tough. So today she set me up on the machine and as soon as I got inside God told me to start breathing. If you don't know God, that's one of those times you would later say, "something told me...". I recognized that as His, not my own, voice and started it. It turned out she did forget to tell me so we would have had to redo that one. So that was cool.

It turned out the machine went offline while I was in there anyway, so we did have to redo it. After a delay I went back in and heard that same idea of "Start your breathing". This time I didn't recognize it was God and thought, "she would NEVER forget to tell me twice in a row." So, I didn't do it. A second later, the speaker made this garbly sound and I heard the therapist's voice quietly say, "Okay, start your breathing". I did. When the scan was done she ran in and apologized for not having told me to breathe. Amazed, I told her I had heard her voice through the speaker. There was another worker who was with her and both insist she didn't say a word into the speaker, or about breathing!!!!!!!!! WHAT?!? Who was that? Ahem, it was the great "I AM".

Exodus 3:14, "God said to Moses, 'I AM who I AM'. This is what you are to say to the Israelites, I AM has sent me to you"

Another interesting thing that happened today was that I got a call from Dr. McAlpine's office. Basically, he is still concerned that I'm going to get ovarian cancer, because that's really common with BRCA 1 people (usually after age 40, but I'm always the exception!). Dr. Rassam is not at all concerned that I'll get it so doesn't want to screen me for it. So I'm still seeing Dr. Rassam for breast cancer screening but also McAlpine for ovarian screening. Ovarian screening is really behind the times, so we're doing all that's possible--blood tests and utrasounds, midway between the scans I get from Rassam. Anyway, last week I had that blood test and it happened to include one for the breast cancer too. I was not concerned at all until today when McAlpine's nurse left a message to call her. She sounded devastated and I almost forgot Deut 31:8, "The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; Do not be discouraged." I really didn't think I suddenly had cancer, but did think some of the (notoriously inconsistent) results might have been bad and would result in a little chaos and additional testing or problems. Anyway, I called back and she still sounded like she was about to tell me someone died. But she said both tests were normal, hooray!!!!

Habakkuk 3:2, "Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, i our time make them known."

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Updated Prayers for today, Monday and beyond

In case anyone on here is a prayer warrior (I know the answer to that!), there are some upcoming important events for a few of the severe illnesses I'm following. I have been trying to not give away as much identifying info as I did in the past so that's why I'm just using initials:

Today (Thursday) from 6-7 pm we will be praying for DP. She is undergoing chemo and was diagnosed with Stage 4 Breast Cancer a few months ago. She has an upcoming CT scan and Friday is her chemo day. There is a specific prayer we're all praying for her. If you want to join in, email me and I'll forward it to you. Please pray that she will believe not just that God CAN heal her, but that He WILL heal her. Pray for her continued comfort and ease of treatments, and that she will enjoy every moment and blessing around her.

"Jesus replied, 'I tell you the truth, if you have faith and DO NOT DOUBT, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done. If you believe you WILL receive whatever you ask for in prayer." Mth 21:21-22.

Monday we will be fasting and praying for AA.AA has a really crummy case, too. Six years ago she was diagnosed with an extremely rare cancer called endometrial stromal sarcoma. I think there were only 300 cases then or something. It was Stage 4 upon discovery, but she was miraculously healed. When I was first diagnosed, everyone from church told me about her, as the example of how one could be healed. Well, a tumor recently returned and Dr. Crooms removed it (Dr. McAlpine is her other amazing local doctor, woohoo!). There are no tests and very little treatment for this rare condition. Her youngest daughter is 13 now, and this fear of recurrence is the last thing she needs. The last thing anyone needs. I'm particularly saddened by it because the return can make AA lose confidence that she was ever healed in the first place. She is getting another opinion from MD Anderson next week. They're obtaining her slides and reviewing them that way, so we don't know Monday is it. But it's a good day to petition the Lord, in unity, for her true, final healing. There is some debate about whether it is low or high grade, so she would like us to pray that it is low grade. I will be praying for her confidence and peace as she trust the Lord with her health, and that there is no evidence of any sort of disease in her, forevermore.
An elder from church is also a doctor, and he blogged about AA. All the details are here,

Phil 4:6-7, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."

A young lady named JH was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, and felt the Lord guided her away from the traditional treatments. She has no children but desperately wants them, so she had her eggs frozen and recently began a clinical trial for a non-chemo drug. She is having a CT scan on July 26. I don't know what day she'll get the results so that's the day I'll be praying especially hard.

James 5:14-16, "Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has GREAT POWER as it is working."

Please pray that all these women will have supernatural peace and belief that God is in control. Pray they will boldly push aside any doubts that they will be healed, and instead embrace the opportunity to be a part of His glorious plan--a plan that involves their true hope, full healing, and awareness of His glory. Pray they will live as though they have already been healed, the way Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness. Pray they will persevere in the face of odds, and they would be protected from the evil one who comes to destroy them. Pray this experience will strengthen, rather than ruin them, mentally and physically.

There are three other cases to pray about, but I don't know what they have coming up so I'll wait to post them. For the most part, I don't think it matters when you pray for someone, but if we're joining together for the common purpose it feels right to do it at the same time. "For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them" Mth 18:20

Whenever I set aside specific times or days to praying for something like that, I fast from food and entertainment when possible. Once in awhile fasting from food makes me very sick, so I take that as a sign to eat. The idea is to stay as focused as possible on the thing you're praying about. Also, when the disciples couldn't drive out a certain demon, some Bible translations say Jesus replied, "this kind can only come out by prayer and fasting.". Some versions don't say the fasting part, so I imagine there's controversy in the original Arameic term. But, I figure we are called to fast at times, and if there is a chance that some situations are dire enough to require fasting, it wouldn't hurt. When I give up a lot of things like that I'm also more attuned to what God wants, so I pray more in synch with Him.

"When you fast, do not look somber like the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full." Mth 6:16