I Am Cancer Free!!!!!

The Cancer Center Doctor called the night before last to deliver the pathology report from my recent oophorectomy, just eight weeks since my hysterectomy.  Her phone call was a bit surreal.  She said everything came back negative for cancer!!!!!

I was laying down when she called as I’m recovering from my surgery last week but I was jumping up and down on the inside!!!  My heart could hardly believe this most excellent news!  It was much like having a 2 ton boulder removed from one’s shoulders!  I hung up and delivered the wonderful news to my husband who was laying beside me.  We hugged and cried.  Oh, how I cried tears of relief, tears of pure joy from the depths of my soul!  My life was handed back to me and I am forever grateful to God for this second chance!

Allow me to back up and give a brief background to this euphoric news!…

In January 2016 I went to the ER with abdominal pain.  Thinking it may be my appendix, I decided to get it checked out late one night.  They did a CT scan, which showed a number of issues – two of the most pressing were my gallbladder and a large, uterine fibroid.  After undergoing a Hida scan, it was confirmed my gallbladder was only functioning at 35% and would need to be removed.  That surgery was in February 2016.

After consulting with a GYN surgeon, I decided to move forward with a hysterectomy as it would resolve many other symptoms I had but was unaware of the source until now.  Surgery was scheduled for the end of June, however, I had to reschedule it due to spending nearly five months out of state tending to my sick father…  Once again, surgery was scheduled…this time for November 29, 2016.

The three hour hysterectomy went well. I had some awful reactions to pain meds, one of which required a trip via ambulance to the ER.  It was while I was laying on the ER bed one week post-op that my GYN surgeon stopped by the hospital to deliver the mind numbing news that my pathology had come back that I had a rare, aggressive cancer.  She said it all seemed to be contained within the fibroid but she was referring me to an oncologist GYN at a cancer hospital.  My husband sat beside my bed, asking many questions and cried.  Mercifully, I was on paid meds and a little insulated from the initial shock.  This was December 6, 2016.

We met with the oncologist GYN on December 20, 2016 and set yet another surgery date for February 1, 2017 to remove my ovaries (which posed an added risk of generating more cancer as it is hormone driven) and select lymph nodes for testing.  They would also do some exploratory work to make sure no other areas had been affected by this rare, aggressive cancer called leiomyosarcoma.  It represents only 1% of all uterine cancers and there is no lab test for it, which is why it is normally only discovered after the patient dies (much like ovarian cancer).  It is by the grace of God mine was found “incidentally”, but I know better.  God ordained this and He allowed my life to be extended by His great mercy.

This would be my third major surgery in less than a year!  I was very concerned that the utter fatigue from the hysterectomy would be further compounded by another surgery, so soon.  I was just beginning to get my energy back as my next surgery was quickly approaching…

The February 1st surgery was a consequential surgery, for it would tell us the “staging” of the cancer and how best to proceed from here.

The surgery went very well and, again, lasted three hours.  I stayed overnight at the cancer hospital and was released the next day.

Fortunately for me, physically, this recovery, while painful, was not nearly as severe as the hysterectomy.  This time around in order to avoid the awful pain medicine side effects, I limped along with Toradol, and now just Advil and Tylenol.  I’ll take the pain, however, if it keeps me out of the ER.  I digress…

The oncologist GYN surgeon said to give them two weeks for pathology to come back, which is standard procedure.  So, to receive a phone call at 7:30p.m. from the Dr. the other evening, just one week post-op, was unexpected to say the least and overwhelmingly euphoric!  NO CANCER!  At this point, I’ll have a follow up appointment from the surgery in five weeks and they want to “follow me” every three months for observation.  So, I’ll go in every three months for a check up and to discuss any changes in symptoms.

If you’ve read some of my other blogs, you know I have kids at home still – 19 and 17, along with an aging father.  I also have a grown son, 28, who lives nearby.  This has squarely been the hardest battle we’ve ever faced.  It was painful to consider they may be faced with losing their mother to cancer at such a young age, just as I was at age 23.  Of course, it was scary to consider having to endure chemotherapy and radiation and the prospect that they may not be enough to stave off this dreadful disease.

Throughout this entire two month journey, I delved into the Word of God, finding comfort daily for my restless soul.  I wrestled with the idea of having to walk such a painful road but trusted that the same God who has brought me through countless difficulties and heartaches, would be the same God who would mercifully see me through even this painful path.  It’s interesting…the day prior to the Dr. calling to deliver the amazing news, my prayer to God had overwhelmingly been focused on the word “Surrender”!  I told God that I completely surrendered to His will, His plan and what He was doing in my life.  If that involved chemo, then I surrendered.  If that involved Him bringing me home to Glory, then I surrendered.  If that involved dreary days of feeling half dead due to the treatments, then I surrendered.  I reached the place that no matter what, I decided that God could either be trusted or He could not.  I decided emphatically HE CAN BE TRUSTED!

I made up my mind!  So, if I say that I trust Him, then my faith needs to follow that declaration.  I surrendered all.

And then we received the phone call.  Maybe that’s what God was after all along.  Surrender.  He already had my heart long ago.  But did He have all of my faith – 100%?  I don’t know.  One thing I have wrestled with for many years is that it seems easy to believe God for other people.  I have such compassion for others and their struggles and heartaches.  But, do I firmly believe that God will do it for me?

That is where I have struggled.  I struggle no more!  God has done it!  And I am eternally grateful.  I do believe that all things are possible to those who believe!  I believe in a God who can do anything but fail!  I believe that my BEST days are still ahead.

And I believe I will go dance in the streets to declare the faithfulness and mercy of the loving God I serve! …

Just as soon as I can get out of bed!

 

Two Choices

When facing a difficult challenge, we are left with a decision as to where our focus will lie.  Will we get stuck on the negativity of the situation or instead, set our eyes on the positive possibilities.  Life or death?  Blessing or cursing?  Defeat or hope?

Which one will you choose?  Sixteen days ago, my surgeon gave me the news that they found cancer during my hysterectomy.  This came as quite a shock as everything I’ve ever read or known about fibroids referred to them as benign.  Always.  That is what we were expecting.  We were pretty certain the pathology would come back that all was well.

But what happens when life throws a curve ball?  Things that weren’t supposed to happen, happen?  Events that defy all logic and human understanding.  What are we supposed to do with that?

We have two choices, my friend.  I’ve long known that wherever our focus lies, therein lies our future.  Not only does our focus affect our future, but our path that leads to our future.  Meaning we can either become bitter along the way, scoff at every negative element and hate life.  Or … We can embrace hope, focus on what we can do and enjoy life’s little blessings along the way.

After my appointment at the cancer hospital two days ago, I found myself processing and honing in on all of the information that was delivered.  While that is my reality, I can choose to pray for the best outcome, trust God and do what I am able to during the process.  I could also choose the path of negative thinking, feeling sorry for myself and wallow in depression.  I could.  But that wouldn’t be me.  It wouldn’t be the Amber I’ve known for 46 years.  Despite many, many challenges over the years, my truest default is to have great faith and hope in the greatness of our God and that my best days are still ahead!

This faith is fueled by my relationship with Jesus Christ and studying His Word daily.  I know in Whom I have believed.

My choice is to believe that God will heal my body and guide us through this process, no matter the darkness we may face.  The comfort I have is in knowing that God promises to never leave me nor forsake me.  That is a great hope.

Choices.  Right or left?  Hope or despair?  Positive or negative?

“See, I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil…”  ~ Deuteronomy 30:15

 

I Am Blessed…

Yesterday morning, my husband, future daughter-in-law and I met with the oncologist surgeon at the big cancer hospital nearby for nearly three hours to discuss the plan of action.  We left the house at 6:30 a.m. when it was still dark outside and returned twelve hours later when it was once again, dark!  What a day!

First of all, I absolutely love and have a lot of confidence in my oncologist surgeon.  He is an expert in his field and I greatly admire his demeanor, approach, candidness and the way he calmly discussed every facet of my care and treatment.  He exceeded my expectations and I definitely feel like I’m in competent hands.  The intern who handled the initial interview with me was also wonderful, very compassionate and thorough.  She also had some very good recommendations regarding pain meds post-op since I seem to have so many sensitivities these days.

So, the plan is to have another surgery in five weeks to remove other potentially affected areas and also to do some exploratory work.  I’ll stay overnight anywhere from 1-4 days, depending on my recovery and any complications.

After the surgery, everything goes to pathology and combined with what they find during the surgery will recommend any further treatment or follow up. So, we will see what happens.

In the meantime, my surgeon wants me to train like I’m preparing for a marathon!  What?!  Haha!  Doesn’t he know I am three weeks post-op from a hysterectomy?  Haha!  Yes, of course, he does.  To place my body in the best pre-op position, I need to help my body heal by walking daily and getting back to my usual self.  So, beginning today, I plan on taking walks, even if it’s just a short one to begin with.

Yesterday as I walked around the large cancer hospital, I saw many patients in various stages of treatment.  My heart went out to all of them.  Some were in wheelchairs, some using walkers and some just their own two feet.  I passed by the wig shop.  I spent nearly three hours in the clinic.  By the time I left, I was on emotional overload, especially since I began the day on very limited sleep.  I felt like I did not belong there.  It was all surreal.

I cannot escape the reality of my situation but I must focus on the fact that I am incredibly blessed!!  My cancer was found in time!  Most with the type of cancer I had cannot say that.  It is most always found after death.  That fact, in and of itself, is deeply humbling.  My heart is filled with utmost gratitude to God for His mercy.

God has given me a deep peace that despite having to walk this journey, He will not only be with me, but also see me through to the other side.  I truly believe that with all my heart.  It does not, however, negate the level of difficulty of the path.  God never said it would be easy.  He only said that we’d never go it alone.

My future daughter-in-law texted me yesterday after attending my Dr. appointment with us,

“I hate that you’re on this journey but I can promise you that you will not go through any of it alone.”

That not only speaks volumes of her character, but is a great comfort to me.  She’s a special young lady.  She already plans on taking time off from work when I have my surgery to help me.

Then my older sister texted me that she would try to take off the week of my surgery and come down to be with me.  I was so touched by this.

And my husband and kids have been stellar.  I know this road is hard on them as well.

Despite the difficulties, the challenges, the emotional roller coaster ride, I recognize that my situation could have turned out totally different if it not for the Lord’s intervention.  And I have to believe that if He spared my life by allowing this cancer to be found in time, that He is also able to heal my body and walk beside me during this trial.  I have to believe that.

When I learned that the fibroid tumor they removed during my hysterectomy turned out to contain a rare, aggressive cancer just fifteen days ago, the Lord directed me to focus on Him and His character rather than my present situation.  If I solely focus on the situation, it will soon magnify and multiply.  However, if I also focus on the greatness and majesty of our great God, my faith grows and my prayers become more powerful as I trust Him.

So, that’s where I am … I am blessed.

…Oh, and if you’re wondering why we were out for twelve hours yesterday …

Hubby and I had a date.  We had a nice lunch together after my appointment, did a tiny bit of Christmas shopping, grocery shopping (’cause no date is complete without!), got ice cream, etc., etc.  It was so sweet of my husband to take off the entire day and really gave me something to look forward to after my appointment!  He’s so good to me.  Yes, I am blessed.

 

I Will Catch You

As I lie on the CT scan table, the gracious and very thoughtful technician gave me these simple instructions – “Just fall back in my arms and I will catch you and very slowly lower you.”  Me, in my pain wracked state just one day post-op from my hysterectomy, said, “Are you sure?”.

He assured me he was more than capable of supporting my weight and making the transition as gentle and easy as humanly possible.  I was deeply touched by his compassion on me and empathy as I endured this ordeal.

His instruction required trust on my part and the ability to fully place my life in his arms.  I was reminded of this scenario yesterday after I received a phone call from my health insurance company notifying me of a cancer support program they offer.  Anything from wigs to out of state hospital and lodging requests to community resources, etc.  The representative on the phone was very chipper and upbeat as she reiterated all of the wonderful facets of this program and the fact that I do not have to go this road alone.  As she concluded our mostly one-sided conversation, she felt the need to add that with a diagnosis like this, “Perhaps it causes us to pause and contemplate our priorities and the important things in life.”  I’m sure it was an attempt to comfort and encourage, however, what she doesn’t know is, I’ve been a deep thinker all of my life and since losing my mother when I was 23, I’ve perpetually considered life’s true priorities.  At any rate, we ended the conversation with me thanking her for the call, despite the fact that I was left with the feeling that certainly this should’ve been directed toward someone else, not me.

As I stood in front of the bathroom vanity, tears began to fall as I told God that I could not take this cancer journey.  His reply: “Just trust me.”

I said, “I’m not strong enough.”

God said, “In your weakness, I am strong.”

I retorted, “I don’t want to go through this.”

God said, “If you don’t, many won’t see your testimony of my goodness.”

Trust.

God said, “I will be with you.  I will never leave you.”

Clearly I have some work to do in the trust department.  I have walked with God for forty-one years and we have overcome some real mountains, giants and obstacles that I thought surely would swallow me alive.  They didn’t.  I’m still here.  Cancer won’t overcome me either.  Ever since I received the news just nine days ago, God has constantly been assuring me that He will walk this journey with me and that I will get through this.

Yesterday I actually felt somewhat well enough to unload the dishwasher and noticed a 3×5 card I taped to the inside of our kitchen cabinets as I put the plates away, which read:

“When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.” ~ Isaiah 43:2

Later in the afternoon, there was a loud knock on the front door.  My son peeked out the front window and noted it was our neighbors, a young couple in their early 30’s and their year and a half baby girl.  I happily greeted them as they inquired about how I was doing.  They also shared about a time when they were newly married, the wife was referred to an oncologist due to some highly irregular lab work.  It turned out to be nothing in the end but they wanted me to know they understand the emotional ups and downs of news like this.

I was very encouraged by their little visit and touched that they would take the time to stop by and see how I was doing.  God has orchestrated such timely encounters over the last several days to combat the discouragement and fear of the unknown.  When it all comes down to it, do any of us know the future?  No.

I had a great aunt who was a little eccentric, let’s just say, but we loved her dearly.  She never married and lived to be 89 years old, despite having long survived a brain tumor the size of a grapefruit!  She was very stubborn.  Perhaps that was her secret to longevity, along with good genes.  She was my grandmother’s sister and my grandmother lived to be 98.

This great aunt said something I must’ve thought profound because it has stayed with me for many years:

“It’s a good thing we don’t know what’s ahead of us.  Just do the best you can.”

For a simple, country woman who used to raise chickens, she sure had a lot of wisdom.  No truer words were ever spoken.

Life sometimes throws us curve balls.  No one can anticipate them.  They simply come.  Our response must be trust.  God will catch us if we merely trust.

The Empty Chair

A figure hobbled into the elegantly appointed kitchen complete with granite countertops and new cinnamon spice wood cabinets.  She set a saucepan of water on the island cooktop in hopes of a pleasant cup of decaf black tea to soothe her sore throat.

As she waited for the pan to come to a rolling boil, she spotted in the living room her favorite cream color, tufted back, reading chair.  You see, she just had surgery and has been on bed rest for two weeks now.  In addition to that, she has had two subsequent emergency room visits due to reactions to the pain medications, etc.  The first episode happened the night she was discharged from the hospital when she could not stop vomiting.  The doctor was concerned there was a bowel obstruction so she was re-admitted 4.5 hours after the initial discharge and scans and X-rays were run.  Thankfully, all were completely normal.

The second episode happened at home when she nearly passed out after taking pain medicine.  Ironically, she was preparing for her post-op doctor’s appointment.  Instead, she was taken via ambulance to the hospital.

And, as if all of that were not enough, she contracted a horrible cold/virus complete with fever and chills likely from germs in the ER.  It’s been a rough run of late.

She’s only been home for three months now after caring for her ill father out of state for four months.  Her father lives with her now and his new, tan leather recliner sits on the other side of the room.

Her favorite reading chair has significance because it is the spot where she began her day with a cup of coffee, her Bible and a prayer on her lips.  She has a written prayer list as a guide to what she wants to talk to God about each day and has seen a number of those prayer requests answered in just the last year.  It’s amazing the situations that loom so large soon become unimportant and resolved, seemingly on their own.  But she knows better.

Yes, the reading chair beckons as a symbol of normalcy, routine and intimacy with our Heavenly Father.  When will I resume my daily routine?  At present, it seems light years away.  But I know that in God’s timing, He has a way of working things out and soon…yes, soon, I will find myself seated in my favorite cream colored, tufted back, reading chair.

So I Got Some News…

It’s the kind of news nothing can prepare one for.  As I lay on the ER gurney recovering from a horrible reaction to pain meds following my hysterectomy, my GYN surgeon pulled up a rolling stool and sat close beside me.  She delivered the pathology news one week ago today that apparently the fibroid tumor they removed, which was inside the uterus, contained a rare, aggressive cancer.

Those are words you simply do not expect to hear at 46 years of age.  From everything I’ve ever read about fibroids – they are almost always benign.  This is the kind of thing that happens to “someone else”, right?  But, in this instance, it was happening to me.

My GYN surgeon said she is referring me to an oncologist GYN at a large cancer hospital in our area because I would now need to have my ovaries (which I was hoping to keep so I wouldn’t embark on presto-insta-menopause) and surrounding lymph nodes removed in another surgery very soon.

As I laid there in pain, the thought of another surgery was not one I’d choose to entertain.  However, if it would save my life, then sign me up!

So far, the pathology report indicates that everything else they removed was unaffected by this cancer and we are very hopeful that great reports will continue to come in.

My GYN said that this type of cancer is super aggressive and spreads rapidly and is almost never caught in time!  Wow.  All I can say is, thank God I elected to have the hysterectomy due to some negative symptoms I was having.

A little background … I went to the ER in January of this year and had a CT scan done, which is when I learned not only would I need my gallbladder out (which happened in February) but also that I had a large fibroid.  I was scheduled to have the hysterectomy in June, however had to assist my father through a health crisis for four months out of state.

It really is a miracle indeed that this cancer was found when it was!!  My GYN said had I waited, I could have been dead in a few months!

God has given me the very best GYN surgeon, who is both professional yet personable.  After delivering the difficult news (her first case of fibroid cancer in her 15 year career!), she gave me the biggest hug.  That was so special of her.

This is all quite surreal at this point.  I’ve only had one week to digest this news.  All I can do is praise Almighty God for saving my life.  I have future grandchildren to meet one day.  I have quilts to make.  I have a lot of living still to share with my husband and children.  I just give God all the honor and glory for the way He has orchestrated events.  It could’ve gone another way and I am keenly aware of that.

One week from today is my initial consultation with the oncologist gynecologist to discuss the game plan.  I am praying that having the surgery will be enough and that no further treatment will be required.  But I do not know.

The Lord laid on my heart the other day as I lay in bed for what felt like Day #99 of my recovery, to write as many bullet points as I could come up with “What I Know About God”.  So far, I’m on #270!  Over the course of several days, I skimmed through the Bible and just drew from what the Word said along with what I already know in my heart to be true.  Instead of focusing on my challenging situation, God was giving me the gift of focusing on His greatness, His majesty and His glory.  He truly is greater and bigger than any situation.  Although our way seems so dark at times, He promises to never leave us and never forsake us.  He is as close as the mere mention of His great Name, my friend.