Breast Cancer Journey: Stuff Gets Real

img_1406I had a second surgery this past week. Some of the skin they left after my mastectomy had died and had to be removed. After the surgery was over I posted on Facebook, “I had a great time.” The sad thing is, that was true. It says something about your life when surgery is the highlight of your day. But they numbed me. They sedated me. They all took care of me, including my husband. They made sure I was not in pain and that I did not get lost.

In contrast, that morning I had met with the medical oncologist for the first time. He explained to me that my cancer right now is Stage IIIC. That is the last stage before Stage IV, which is metastatic breast cancer, meaning cancer that has spread to other organs. And they haven’t ruled that out either. The oncologist also commented that I’d had a completely clear mammogram in 2014, and then in October 2015 they find a cancer that turns out to have already advanced to IIIC.  It is lobular cancer, which doctors keep saying is “tricky,” first because it apparently grows in sheets so is hard to find, and also, according to the oncologist, if it returns it returns aggressively. Therefore, we are going to have to use the biggest guns available: a total of 20 weeks of chemotherapy, followed by probably six weeks of radiation, followed by five years of hormone therapy. And the chemo? It’s not some new, gentle chemo that has been developed in recent years. It’s the stuff that causes you to lose your hair, suffer nausea, mouth sores, bone pain. The worst of it, a combination that includes “the red devil,” will be given for the first eight weeks. I think the following 12 weeks are a little easier. I also get steroids. So I think this means I get to be bald and bloated, although ultimately chemo generally results in a dramatic weight loss.

It will probably be four weeks until I start the chemo, because I have to heal properly from my surgeries. I also have to have an echocardiogram to make sure my heart is strong enough for chemo, and the PET scan to make sure there isn’t any other cancer hiding anywhere.

So how am I doing? I am going more than a little stir crazy with the recovery from the surgery. I still have a drain, which prevents me from being able to do so many things, including just rolling around in bed at night and wearing a bra.  I remain relatively calm, however. I’ve done only a little online research. It talks in terms of 5-year and 10-year survival rates, and I got a little choked up over that, because I was able to think about how old my grandson would be in five or ten years, and there was so much more of his life I wanted to see. But I spoke to a friend yesterday whose mother in law had Stage III breast cancer, and she just celebrated 20 years cancer free. And that is what I intend to do. I am not looking forward to the treatments ahead, but I got through the surgery and I will get through this. My faith stumbles along, one day at a time, and I am stumbling with it.

I was reading some old journal entries this morning, and I read the one I wrote right after my repeat mammogram, when I started to suspect something might be wrong. I was reading a YA book at the time, Afterward by Jennifer Mathieu, and I wrote a quote from it in my journal: “I’m not going to try to reduce the weight of your burden, but I’m going to help you grow strong enough to carry it.” Yes, that is what I believe. That is what I feel.

I have that faith for my own journey. But if there is an area where I struggle, it is my ability to provide for my family, both financially and emotionally. Why is it so much more difficult to muster faith for that? Nothing new, though. It has always been this way. And yet always, somehow, we have survived. I have been intending for years to write, have two books swirling in my mind and word processing programs, but I have a paralysis because I am afraid that they will amount to nothing. Silly, I know, because in the process what does the outcome really matter? God has given me grace periods in which to pursue this, and has extended them again and again. I pray that what he has given me will not go to waste. Also written in my journal were these words:

“And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the waters of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left…. And he will give rain for the seed with wich you sow the ground, and bread, the produce of the ground, which will be rich and plenteous.” Isaiah 30:20-23

But I noted also the verse right before it: “He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you.” This was one of the words my pastor gave me for the journey. He talked about Peter walking on the water, but later elaborated that Jesus had only stopped to allow that because the disciples had been afraid and had called out to him for help.

So, Lord, here I am. I am calling out to you! I am afraid. Be with me. You don’t have to do it all for me, but help me to do it. Set my feet in the right paths, show me the way, and let me walk in it.

6 thoughts on “Breast Cancer Journey: Stuff Gets Real

  1. Hi Sharon I am praying for you .. I believe you are a strong woman and will get through this .. you can do it .. try not to stress stay positive because that’s best on your body .. I believe if you fight this you will win the battle ..

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    • Hello Sharon, I am sorry to hear you are now very ill. My mother had breast cancer, last year & survived. I pray you also will 2! Just know I been following the story of your daughter micheala since it happened in Hayward. I was around the same age as a little girl, living in Fremont. I am 39 now. My father would take me to Rainbow Market while visiting my aunt ( who recently passed) & her restaurant. I was shocked it happened so close to a place, I was at. Us little girls were so scared after micheala went missing & talk on the playground in Fremont of rumors & fears for our own future. For years & years till now. Micheala, never left my memory. I always pray for peace. You desperately deserve it. Just continue to be strong. & much love to you always. Love u!

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  2. Dear Sharon, I have been delaying writing a possible suggestion for you because I want to make sure I do enough research to be able to say something that is actually useful. But the month is going by so I will just put this out this thought right now and hopefully have something more helpful to say later. Basically, I’ve read that fasting (from food) for certain periods of time can help to reduce the side effects from chemotherapy. This is from recent studies done at USC on people. There are also studies done, but I don’t know how many of them have been on people, finding that fasting can help make chemotherapy more effective and that in itself might be a way of helping the body to fight cancer. Again, I did not get this info. from some hokey site – it’s being investigated at USC and the head researcher on this is called Valter Longo. I just want to be able to offer you support during this time…fasting along with prayer has also been used by people in the spiritual realm, and is considered one of the most powerful practices… I have watched youtube videos about this and it’s very inspiring, so just in case it might be helpful to you this is the idea I thought I’d throw out there. Sending you wishes for healing and comfort…

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    • Hi Again, Sharon…well, even though it is not health related and probably comes across as dangerous and insane to lots of people, I have been inspired by a woman on youtube who fasted for 40 days, 3 times in a row with short breaks in between, back in 2009. She did this to get close to God. I would NEVER recommend anything like this to anybody, but watching her videos enabled me to fast once a week for awhile (one day a week), and then after my body got used to it, I found it pretty easy to fast for 2 or 3 days, occasionally. I will say that it does feel healing, and it does feel spiritual. I think you said in a recent post that you started to eat vegetarian or mostly vegan recently, and that you were surprised at how easy it was? That has happened to me, over time, too. Well, these fasting videos can be found by searching on youtube for: olivia cohen fasting… again, she did this fast only for God (not for health reasons or anything like that), but they are my favorite fasting videos on youtube (though I warn you they are extreme, but very authentic). I wish you great healing and all of the love and support in the world during these upcoming months…

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  3. Dear Sharon, I am here again to say that if there is anything that you think you might need, I hope you reach out to your readers. I know you are surrounded by deeply loving family and friends. If you feel like you might want suggestions for inspirational, or maybe informative books, for example…I hope you would post that. On the practical side of things, I don’t know if you want to get suggestions or tips of any kind…I assume you have heard that medicinal marijuana might help some patients with pain associated with cancer…if you want anybody to look for any studies for you, please say so. I think in Israel in particular they are exploring this avenue. I don’t have any special knowledge of it though at all. I did hear/read that they are also investigating whether marijuana can be protective against cancer, that is if it might actually help fight it off. I am bringing things like this up just because you did not mention them in your current plans, so maybe it is something to file away as an additional option to bring up with your doctor. Mostly I pray that this fight not be more painful than it needs to be, that any avenue to lesson side effects or suffering as you fight to regain your health be fully investigated. Wishing you strength and healing, Beth.

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