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Sunday, May 6, 2018

Still Choosing Joy

Yesterday marked 2 years since I received confirmation of cancer's presence in my body. 2 years since we were asked to walk through a trial unimaginable. Despite all that has happened, the physical, mental, and spiritual battle that ensued, I'm still choosing joy.

I wish I could say that that is all behind me, but I'm learning to accept that to some degree cancer and it's effects will always be present in my life. Don't get me wrong, it's not all bad. I've met some incredible people, grown closer to my husband, and more importantly, God has grown my faith as he has walked me through this valley.

Last month I called on my prayer warriors again. Not long after I announced and celebrated that my integrative oncologist had released me from my every-three-months check ups to every 6 months, she sent me for an MRI to investigate some severe unexplained pain in my lower back. I had been seeing a chiropractor but things were getting worse instead of better and my onc was concerned since there had been no injury. "We're not taking chances with you. Since you're not on hormone blockers, we will continue monitoring you very carefully." I had an MRI on April 2nd. They saw a "concerning spot" on my pelvic bone (ischium). They compared that to the CT scan I had in Jan, 3 months earlier, and saw growth. The resulting summary reads "a small probable metastases" but my oncologist said it's possible that the radiologist chose that vocabulary after seeing my history of cancer on my chart. I hope so. 4 days later I had a CT scan of my pelvic region and in addition to the spot on my bone, a cyst was found on my right ovary. More tests were done to see if the cyst was affecting my hormones, a concern since the breast cancer I had was hormone receptor positive (both estrogen and progesterone). I have only been taking natural supplements and dietary changes to control my estrogen production but my body is acting like it's in menopause. For the time being, the cyst is the least of our concerns. Instead, I'm in the process of "proving" I don't have cancer again. This is very much like being "innocent until proven guilt", or vice versa. More about that to come...

In the midst of all these appointments, I woke up with a strange squeezing sensation in my chest. I'm 6 months out from my reconstructive surgery and it felt like my right implant was twisted. After having my plastic surgeon check it, I was devastated to find out that I will have to have surgery to correct it. I have capsular contracture and it's very uncomfortable. At this point, I am scheduled for corrective surgery on June 26th when my doctor will remove my implant, clear out the scar tissue, and put in a new implant. Since that appointment, I have reason to believe it is beginning in my left side as well. I am hesitant to undergo another surgery, especially when it is possible this will happen again. There is an alternative option that was my first choice 2 years ago, but due to the long recovery time (3-4 months) I opted out. I am reconsidering that option again but it would likely mean closing my art studio and I'm not sure I want to do that.

All of this has come up in the last month. I am choosing to wait til after Ryan's graduation later this month to do anything else. I do not want to take away from celebrating his accomplishment. My oncologist says this will not change my prognosis. She had a radiologist go over my scans last week and they believe that either the spot on my hipbone is either a "treated tumor" (that we didn't catch before and chemo affected it) or it's a new cancer but dormant or slow growing due to my wellness protocol. Both of these possibilities make sense since I've been tested every 3 months and consistently showing "zero" circulating tumor cells (via CTC test). I realize that this test is only accurate to a point and will only show an increase once it reaches a traceable amount (think "parts per million" in contaminated water for comparison).

What's next?
I will have another CTC test this week, a month earlier than normal. I am continuing with my wellness protocol and reevaluating my work schedule to cut hours and reduce stress. My oncologist was originally saying that a bone biopsy was needed to confirm if cancer was present, but after reviewing my charts with a few colleagues, she does not recommend the biopsy at this time. (Due to the location of the spot in question, it would mean piercing my hamstring to get to it and has a much longer recovery time. She feels it is more important for me to keep moving, part of my wellness protocol, and manage my pain as best as I can. I will wait til July to go in for a CT scan to check for growth and deciding what needs to happen next.

Prayer request
I have no hesitation in praying for total and complete healing in all three of these issues. I ask that you join me in prayer, for the pain in my back to go away and the spot to complete disappear, for the scarring and pain in my chest to heal and not need surgery, and health to continue to improve. I am also praying for how to best go forward with my business. The studio is thriving, way better than I anticipated this soon, but I am exhausted from doing it alone. I have a few ideas in mind but I'm praying for God's direction and wisdom for how to proceed.

Thank you all for your prayers.
I painted this on May 5, 2016,
the day I found out I had cancer.

Monday, October 23, 2017


In exactly 12 hours I go in for yet another surgery. This time I get these super uncomfortable expanders out and my squishy implants in. New FOOBS for this girl!!

Yes, I'm excited.

I'm only a tiny bit nervous.

Prayers are always appreciated💙

And here's a little humor for your trouble😉 (just don't call me Skipper!)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017



...the process of transformation from an immature form to an adult form in two or more distinct stages...

...a change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one, by natural or supernatural means...

I couldn't have found a more appropriate word to describe this reconstruction process. I felt like cancer and its standardized "treatments" left me in shambles. The wreckage gave light to why so many refer to this as a battlefield and I, a warrior. I felt broken, maimed, mutilated, empty, and lost. I felt like a shell of my old self. I desperately needed God to transform my shattered pieces into something beautiful again. Whole. Feminine. Restored.

I put on a good mask in public...

I'm quickly approaching the anniversary of my last chemo treatment. I've had much work to do to clean up the mess it caused. Detoxing my physical body was only part of it. I needed to rid my heart from past hurts, my mind from the lies I'd allowed to take up space in my head. The healing has been slow and painful, but good. Oh, so good!

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
2 Corinthians 5:17

My Creator is in control here. I'm looking forward to my new form.

[A very special thank you to Bella Joi photography for capturing my vision and bringing it to life.]

Monday, October 16, 2017


4 months ago I went in for surgery to begin the process of restoring some semblance of my pre-cancer body. I haven't posted an update since because...well, it's been hard to put into words the myriad of emotions I've experienced along the way. It has also been a more delicate subject to share publicly, this rebuilding of my breasts. I go in next week to complete the process (God willing!) and I figure it's time to fill in the gaps.

In June of 2016, I underwent a bilateral mastectomy, more commonly known as a double mastectomy. Even though the cancer was only in my right breast (and one lymph node), it was an "easy decision" to have both removed. At that time I opted to delay reconstruction to allow my body to heal from surgery and chemo before putting more stress on my already impaired body.

I was left with scars from armpit to armpit, scattered along my ribs from blistering caused by an allergic reaction to the surgical tape, plus more scars from those horrid drains. I also had "dog ears", weird looking tissue under my armpits that look weird in my clothing and are uncomfortable when exercising. I call those my armpit boobs because...they are.

One year later, I went in for yet another surgery to have tissue expanders placed underneath my pectoral muscles. This is my surgeon's "game plan", marking where he would go in, where my new incisions would be (he used the same scar lines), and that little circle on the right was a suspicious lump that appeared. 

It was removed and sent to pathology and was thankfully just funky scar tissue and not more cancer. More drains, more scars, more healing.

 Giving myself injections to avoid blood clots, measuring fluid output from the drains, nausea. It's sad how familiar this has all become. 

Alloderm, was sewn in to hold the expander in place, creating a bit of a hammock.

Expanders look like fancy whoopy cushions. This is the sample expander my nurse showed me and my mom, my constant companion to these appointments ♥ The ones I have have 3 of those little tabs, each to hold the expander in place with a few uncomfortable stitches. 

Each expander has a magnetic port so they don't puncture the wrong spot. That would be bad!

Each week I would go in for fills. 50ccs of saline in each side until the desired size was reached. That funny looking device in the upper right hand corner reminds me of some type of navigation tool. I guess in a way it is. It has a magnet in it to locate the port in the expanders.

I'm sure you can imagine the discomfort (that word really doesn't have much weight to it) that these things caused. I have rock-hard boulders stitched under my pecs. I can't sleep comfortably on my side or my back and have been on muscle relaxers and pain meds throughout the process. I can't wait to be done. Next Tuesday, October 24th, I will go in for my "exchange". My plastic surgeon will swap the expanders for implants. I'm told they will be much more comfortable than the expanders and I should heal quickly.

There's more to share but that's for another day❤

I got sick this weekend. My first cold in over a year and a half, but it's a doozy. Please pray that I will be well again soon and nothing will delay my surgery date.
Also, my medical donation fund set up last year has allowed me to continue with treatments, self care, and medical expenses but is now less than $200. I see my integrative oncologist this week and that will leave me with very little left and that is causing me no small amount of stress. I'm not even sure how to ask you to pray here, but I trust God has a plan for this.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

2 days post op

This morning was my first time waking up at home. I slept through the night, which is both good and bad. Good because I need the rest to heal. Bad because it means I didn't take any pain meds for almost 10 hours. I was in so much pain just trying to sit up I thought I'd either throw up or pass out from the pain. No bueno. I'm thankful my boys were here to help me get a quick bite to eat so I could take my meds. It's taking about 45 mins for them to kick in. Ugh...

Feeling better now but planning to try and stay ahead of the pain going forward.  I hate taking meds but right now they're necessary.

My surgery went well. No complications. My surgeon was able to place my expanders and give me my first fills. I'll see him again in 2 weeks to remove my drains. Thankfully the drains aren't bothering me as much as the ones last year from my mastectomy. Awkward and uncomfortable, yes, but not awful.

I'm sending out gentle hugs to all my loving helpers these last few days. You know who you are 💜 Thank you! Whether it was to deliver a meal or just a quick visit, we appreciate it. The more I can rest the faster I'll heal.

While prayers for my healing are appreciated, please continue to keep our family (especially Charlie, his sister Angie, and stepdad Ray) in your prayers as we each find our way through the grief of losing his mom less than 2 weeks ago. Thank you❤


8:30 am UPDATE: All is well. Got a little rest and they finally figured out a pain med that seems to be working without making me ill.  I'm going home in a couple hours. Thanks for covering me in prayer💜

Night owls, please pray. It's been over 12 hours since I got out of surgery and I haven't slept. I got 2 hours Monday night. I have a very LOUD roommate that is coughing and puking. I can hear her through ear plugs. The thought of me getting sick when I'm in so much pain already is no good.  I'm wearing a mask but claustrophobia sucks and so do hot flashes. So far nothing they've given me has touched the pain. Please pray. They tell me there are no empty rooms. I just want to go home.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Rearview mirror

One year ago today, I went in for a life-changing, life-saving surgery to remove the cancer invading my body. I am still sorting through the long-lasting effects, even now as I'm preparing for another surgery to rebuild what was destroyed.

Not long after my double mastectomy last year, I had a doctor tell me "I know this is hard right now, but a year from now you'll look back and see that this is all behind you." The timing was perfect. It was just what I needed to hear then to carry me through the months to come. I looked forward to this day, looking in my rearview mirror to see that cancer was far behind me...only it's not.

I'll be honest (because what's the point of lying?) I'm struggling lately. When I stopped chemo last November, I was hopeful to enjoy and celebrate the holidays with my family. They too have been through so much. But it flew by with more doctor appointments and catching up on everything that had been put on hold. Everything but them. I was hopeful for a family getaway to rest and recuperate, to spend time together, to celebrate the end of the hardest days of my life (their lives too), but that has been put on hold too. We went from one hardship right into another. My inlaws both are fighting cancer right now. Both were diagnosed just as I finished treatment. My mother-in-law is close to her Homecoming. Soon she will be face to face with Jesus. How pathetic that I'm a little jealous. No more suffering. It's so not fair! No more sickness and pain. I hate cancer. I'm so happy for her. She will be missed but she will be remembered and loved always.

I said I was struggling. That may be an understatement. I need your prayers, my friends. I should be celebrating today but instead I'm in tears. This dark cloud that has moved in again is not welcome here but I'm helpless to change it. I pray and I know God hears my prayers. I just wish I could hear his response...

Some days it's a lot easier to choose joy. I *want* to choose joy! I want off this stupid rollercoaster of emotions and hardship. I have much to be thankful for. I also have much that weighs heavily on my heart. God tells us (repeatedly) to be strong and courageous. He also tells us not to be anxious. I feel weak and afraid, worried, disobedient. I feel like I've failed.

I planned to have a party next weekend to celebrate my year of being cancer free. As much as I want to do that, I'm not sure it's a *need* that God is providing for. I go in for reconstructive surgery at the end of this month and will not be able to work for a couple weeks. I had planned accordingly with my schedule at my art studio, scheduled extra classes and events to help cover the weeks I won't be working. I'm starting to wonder if that too is a *want* rather than a need. Business is so slow...I truly don't know how I'll be able to keep my doors open if I go through with my surgery. Please pray. God is so confusing sometimes yet I know he loves me. I just don't understand what he wants me to do next. Who am I to doubt his plans when I *know* they are good? Who am I to question God?

How do you climb out of a dark pit of despair when so much is out of your control??