Don’t go looking for trouble

I saw my oncologist on Friday. It was my three month check-up since being declared cancer free (I love saying that, by the way!) It was a little surreal being back in his office after having spent so much time there in the past 10 months. He asked some questions, listened to my lungs, checked for swelling in my legs, asked some more questions, ordered a blood test, and said I didn’t need to come back again for another three months. It was rather quick and painless for an oncology appointment. I asked him what I should be looking out for or if there was anything I need to pay special attention to and he said, “Erin, don’t go looking for trouble.” While he later clarified and said if I had any unusual pain or swelling I should give him a call, his words have really resonated with me. How often do we worry needlessly, seek out problems, or fret over things that we can’t control?

God tells us, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6

Our minds can get so wrapped up in worry that we miss the blessings of the day. I am in a great club of women who have battled breast cancer and won!! We each have a choice to worry about the cancer coming back or celebrate the fact that it is gone. I want to spend every day praising God for healing me and giving me cancer free days, not anxiously wondering if it will return.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Matt. 6:25-34

worrying

What does worry do for us anyway? There is no good in it. While we are to be responsible with our lives and our health, there is no need to fear. I plan to take good care of my cancer free body: eat nutritious food, exercise, actively manage stress, rest well, praise the God who saved me, spend time with family and friends, and refuse to worry!  So that’s my plan. What’s yours?

Don't worry just praise

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World Cancer Day

Today is World Cancer Day, a day set set aside in an effort to make known the global issues of cancer and work together to reduce the impact of the disease worldwide. As a breast cancer survivor living in the United States, I have had the benefits of there being a local, state, and federal focus on the epidemic of cancer. I received excellent treatment and I am so blessed to be cancer free. But it doesn’t end with me. Every nineteen seconds another woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. In much of the world a diagnosis of cancer is still a death sentence. It doesn’t have to be.

We all have a part to play in the battle to end cancer. I encourage you to watch the two minute video, “The Power of One” and let it inspire you.

http://y2u.be/V2sBqqX4dck

credit: Susan G. Komen

credit: Susan G. Komen

You can also visit the World Cancer website to become more informed: http://www.worldcancerday.org

“Never the less, I will bring it health and healing; I will heal them and reveal to them the abundance of peace and truth.” Jeremiah 33:6

Sharing our stories…

One of the wonderful things about having cancer (and yes there are some good things) is the opportunity to meet people who otherwise would have gone unknown. People who have, or have had, cancer form a kind of family or club of fellow fighters. While it is not the club I would have joined voluntarily, I am very blessed by many of it’s members. So many people have shared their cancer stories with me. I am encouraged and  honored to join with them as we celebrate the victories, support the ongoing battle, and lift each other up.

One story I have heard recently comes from Cameron Von St. James. He shared with me the story of his wife’s battle with mesothelioma and his role as her caregiver. I had never heard of mesothelioma and was saddened to learn of this form of cancer. He asked if he could share his story on my blog and I am happy to help him get the word out. Here it is:

Learning to Accept Help as a Caregiver

My wife knows that her treatment of mesothelioma was extremely difficult for me.  She’s said that she cannot imagine what I went through, and I really haven’t talked about that time with anyone.  However, I hope that I can help others by sharing that experience now.

It was supposed to be the happiest time of our lives.  Our daughter Lily was only three months old when my wife was diagnosed with this very deadly disease.  I still remember the first time I heard the doctors say the dreaded word.  I remember my wife and I looking at each other through our tears as we tried to comprehend the news and understand what our futures might hold.

My wife was silently crying, and I was sitting there trying to choke back the tears.  When the doctors started talking about future medical options, I knew I had to come back to the present and deal with the situation.  I loved my wife, and the news shattered me emotionally.  I was overwhelmed and scared, but I knew I needed to pull it together to help my wife make the difficult decisions that were awaiting us.

After the diagnosis, I was filled with rage at the unfairness of it.  There were times when the only words I seemed to know were too profane for polite company.  While my language seemed outside of my control, I was able to take charge of my emotions.  I knew that I had to be strong for Lily and Heather.  I tried to break down only when I was alone, so my wife wouldn’t be burdened with my pain.  I was determined to be a source of strength and comfort for her.

My life seemed impossibly busy after the diagnosis.  In addition to working to support the family, I also had travel arrangements for her care, I needed to figure out who would watch the pets and make arrangements for Lily.  It was incredibly overwhelming initially, but I soon learned how to prioritize the important tasks and let the rest go.  I also learned how to accept help from others.  We are blessed with many caring family members and friends who were happy to help us.  I don’t know what I would have done without them, and yet I still wasn’t sure how I would get through that impossible time.

There was one two-month period when Heather had no idea what I had gone through.  Lily was staying with her parents in South Dakota, and she had gone to Boston for her surgery.  After her surgery, she flew out to her parents to recover and prepare for the coming round of chemotherapy and radiation, the next steps in her mesothelioma treatment.  I was out of my mind without my family around, and I only saw them once during that entire long period.

I looked forward anxiously to the visit.  I left immediately after work one Friday, driving through the long night and a snowstorm.  It was eleven hours of misery, and I slept a few hours in the car while I waited for plows to clear the road. Arriving Saturday morning, I was exhausted.  I spent a precious day and a half with my family before driving back home on Sunday afternoon.

I refuse to view this time as an unhappy loss in my life.  I know that it was the best choice for my family.  I wouldn’t have been able to care for Lily, and keep up with my job.  It was one of those impossible choices we had to make in order to save Heather and keep our family whole.  I had to let go of the desire to do it all myself, and I will always appreciate my in-laws for being willing to take care of Lily and Heather.  My family is still here as a result, and I will always be thankful for that.

Hurdles on the Horizon

I have really enjoyed these last few weeks since finishing chemo. I am feeling stronger; I no longer have a headache; I am not such a frequent visitor to the oncology office—Ah, the good life! Yet looming on the horizon is my next hurdle in the cancer fight. I will undergo surgery on Monday and the anxiety is beginning to creep in. I feel confident in my decision. I have great assurance in my surgical team. I have a wonderful support network of family and friends to help me. But since the only surgery I have ever had was when I had my wisdom teeth removed at age 22, a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction seems like a much scarier endeavor!

But I will trust in my God and his protection over me. He has shown himself faithful throughout this cancer journey and I know he will continue to carry me as I enter this next phase. 1 john 4:18 says, Perfect love casts out fear, so I will choose to focus on God’s perfect love for me and not let fear get its grip on me in the days before surgery.

…I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope. Acts 2:25-26

Hurdles aren’t the only thing I see on the horizon—I also see hope.

hope on the horizon

Are you aware?

Fondue for the Cure!Typically I don’t write about breast cancer all that much on this blog. Instead I choose to focus on the positive, what I am learning through this battle, and the blessings I have encountered during the journey. For this post, however, I felt the need for something different. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Then again, you already knew that. Everything is dressed in pink and pink ribbons, even the White House is bathed in pink lights this month. It’s been 28 years since October became the official month for breast cancer awareness but this October is entirely different for me—I am now AWARE of breast cancer. It’s easy to get lulled to passivity by the overabundance of pink every October. Like Pepto-Bismol coating our consciousness, we can see the pink but not the need to act.  I have supported the cause in the past: I have donated, raced for the cure, bought the pink ribbon gear, and worn the apparel, but let me tell you, nothing heightens your awareness of breast cancer like a diagnosis of breast cancer!

So this month I am asking you, no, pleading with you to not only become more aware of breast cancer and the need for continued research toward a cure, but become personally aware of the risk of cancer and take action toward good breast health. By that I mean self-exams. My breast lump was discovered by me in the shower. Mammograms are an important and necessary tool, but there is an equally important process by which many women have detected a problem and begun the first steps in their battle against this disease. Ladies, if you are not in the habit of doing monthly self-exams, now would be a great time to start. Gentleman, please talk to the women in your life about this vital life-saving process. Your mother, sisters, wife, and daughters all could use a nudge and gentle reminder.

If you need a little more motivation let me share some staggering numbers with you. Approximately 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer at some point in her lifetime. That’s just fewer than 12% of all women in the U.S. In the last year, there were an estimated 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer, with an additional 57,650 new cases of non-invasive (in-situ) breast cancer in the U.S.  For more detailed and mind blowing statistics please see: www.breastcancer.org

For all the retail stores offering breast cancer awareness sales, the restaurants with special breast cancer awareness menus (the photo at the top is a group of some lovely ladies in my life out for breast cancer awareness night at the Melting Pot earlier this week), for all the races and pink ribboned fundraising events, don’t forget the important task of assessing your breast health.

Monthly self-exams save lives.

Getting my life back

I am blessed! Yesterday was the first day of classes at William Jessup University (www.jessup.edu) where I teach psychology. It was so wonderful to be on campus surrounded by an excited group of college students, to reconnect with faculty and staff, chat with students I have had in classes in the past, and meet my new students for this term. I love teaching and always look forward to the start of classes in the fall, but this year after a summer battling breast cancer, yesterday was especially sweet. I felt like me!

All summer I have been masquerading as a cancer patient, dutifully enduring tests, chemotherapy, doctor appointments that never end, and basically living someone else’s life. But I have so missed living my own. While I realize I am not quite finished with the cancer patient life, I am getting my life back in stages and it feels great!

While there is no good time to be diagnosed with cancer, I am thankful that my diagnosis occurred at the end of the spring semester. I have been able to devote my summer to fighting this disease and now when I am almost finished with chemo, it’s time to return to classes. How great is that?!?! I did continue to see clients this summer but I did not allow my caseload to increase as I normally do during my break from teaching. I know I needed the down time but now I embrace having fuller days doing what enjoy. My new students were incredibly gracious when their instructor walked in sporting a cap sans hair and I look forward to getting to know them over the next few months. Returning students have been so generous in thier offers to help me, in thier faithful prayers, and encouraging words. The faculty and staff all have surrounded me with love and support.

I still face surgery in October and the possibility of radiation after that but for now I will rejoice in being able to do what I love to do, surrounded by a wonderful college community. I am blessed!

“How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear you, that you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you.” Psalm 31:19

“I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High” Psalm 7:17

Another twist and turn on the chemo ride…

Sitting in the chemotherapy room today, passed my blood test, got hooked up to my IV, premeds are flowing to aid with the nausea and other side effects, but then got pulled in to see the doctor to check out the rash and blisters on my hands. After much discussion he decided I should see a dermatologist before continuing chemo. Just a precaution but he didn’t want to flood my body with those toxic drugs if I am having a serious reaction. Some quick calls to my dermatologist for an emergency appointment tomorrow, the IV was removed, and I was sent on my way.

Feeling disappointed because I thought I would have passed the half-way point today. Praying for a good resolution at the dermatologist office so I can have chemo tomorrow (feels kind of strange that I want chemo especially since I was trying to talk my mom into taking me to the zoo down the street from my oncologist today instead of to my chemo appointment!)

But it also reminded me of my reading this morning in God’s Word. I raise the war cry and say to cancer, “Prepare for battle, and be shattered! Prepare for battle and be shattered! Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted; propose your plan but it will not stand, for God is with us.” Isaiah 8:10

I am eager for the battle because I know I don’t fight it alone. “You are my lamp, O Lord; the Lord turns my darkness into light. With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.” 2 Samuel 22:29,30

I can trust in God to get me through this. “It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights. He trains my hands for battle.” 2 Samuel 22:33-35

I will not back down because God is giving me strength. “I pursued my enemies and crushed them; I did not turn back till they were destroyed. I crushed them completely, and they could not rise; they fell beneath my feet. You armed me with strength for the battle; you made my adversaries bow at my feet.” 2 Samuel 22:38-40

Cancer’s goin’ down!!!

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