There were two words that sent shivers down my spine when I realized that a lumpectomy was just not going to cut cancer out of my life...
Chemotherapy and Mastectomy
It was surreal to use those words when talking about something that I had to do. In the beginning I was still in the mindset that cancer happened to other people. But as I faced each challenge head on, I began to realize that this was really my life and I began to search for tricks that would lessen the discomfort or at least made it somewhat bearable. The plain fact of the matter is...breast cancer treatments (any cancer treatments actually) just suck, for lack of a better word. However, I was very grateful for advice from other survivors when they shared things that helped them. I thought, "Even if their tricks don't help me, what have I got to lose?"
So that is what I would like to do for today's post...share some tricks and tips that helped me before, during, and after my bi-lateral mastectomy (in layman's terms, I said goodbye to both of the ladies who had tried to kill me.)
Before Surgery Day
It's all butterflies and anxiety in the days and weeks leading up to your surgery. So many unknowns about the process and the pain that will follow. It's tough to keep your mind out of "worst case scenario land." But the thing that helped me the most was to just keep busy. Which is also easier said than done considering that you have probably just spent the last 4-6 months being hammered by chemotherapy.
The day has finally arrived. It's time to say goodbye to "the girls." Everyone experiences their own emotions when thinking about this separation. I went through all the emotions...the relief that I would no longer have breast tissue in which to grow cancer, the anger that the cancer had descended upon me in the first place, and the sadness of losing an important part of me.
Obviously the time immediately following your surgery will be a big blur. I remember people coming in and out of my room and talking to my kids via Skype, but that's about it.
I hope that this post was helpful. Obviously it has been a few years since my actual surgery and if I had written this post right after surgery, maybe it would have included a few more things. But, since I was inspired to keep a daily journal and have since compiled my journal and blog together into a book, I feel like I can remember the things that are most helpful.
If you know of anyone who is facing a mastectomy, please share this post with them. Give them my email address (which is firstname.lastname@example.org) It breaks my heart when I hear of people who are alone in this process and I will do anything within my power to help them or find someone to help them with their needs.
I watched the movie San Andreas this weekend. I know what you are thinking..."Why?" Yes, why indeed. Although it was very far-fetched, I did manage to glean a solid life lesson from all of the chaos that was created by the entire San Andreas fault being active all at once.
If you want to survive when the going gets tough, you have to
Stick with "The Rock."
He will save you every time.
Now I invite you to take that concept one step further with me.
If you want to survive when the going gets tough...
He will truly save you every time.
This got me thinking about songs that talk about our Savior, our Redeemer, our Rock of Salvation. There are a lot and it was hard to choose just one. So I have chosen two for today.
The first one is short and sweet and the lyrics were written by a prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley. Every time we sing this song in church, I can feel his testimony of and love for the Savior. And there is definitely no better version of it then one sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
He lives, my one sure rock of faith,
This song got me thinking of my absolute favorite song about the Savior, one that I love to listen to and sing. I have wanted to record my favorite arrangement of it for a while now, and just have not had the courage to do it. There was always something getting in the way...the sound wasn't right, my voice wasn't right, I looked weird on the video.
Well, this morning I said to myself, "It must be done." And so I did it. The sound is not great, my voice is not perfect, and yes, I definitely brought my serious and weird singing face to the table, but...the lyrics and spirit of the song are what matters. Add those to the fact that this song is a way for me to share my testimony of the Savior and it doesn't matter what I look or sound like. If you listen with your spiritual ears, then your testimony and love for the Savior will grow, because the Holy Ghost works miracles. He speaks to your heart which is the best place for a testimony to take root.
I know that my Redeemer lives,
Many thanks to the talented Michael R. Hicks for this beautiful arrangement. I know that many people love it and have benefited from this inspired piece of music.
Happy Sunday! May you feel the love of our Savior this day and always.
It's time for another shot of inspiration. Are you ready?
I'm super excited about today's guest- Miss Gwen B. She is a darling young lady who went to prom with my son and in the process of doing a little Facebook stalking, I found out that she has quite the story for someone so young. (It was the good kind of stalking, I promise. :)
I Can Do Hard Things- Gwen B.
Hi. I’m Gwen. I’m a junior in high school, an employee at Chick-fil-A, and a lover of chocolate, anything Disney, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. And this is my story.
When I was 14, my life changed forever. It all started the day after Christmas in 2012. My family got our pictures taken and a few weeks later, we got them back.
This is the picture that started it all.
I’m the person in the middle, yes the person that looks a whole skin-tone whiter than my already white family. For a month my mom told me I looked green in the picture, but I denied it. It bugged me so much I even went to my friends and asked them if I looked green. Of course they said no, so I convinced myself that I was fine.
I finally allowed my mom to take me to the doctor the first of March. My doctor called us later that night, saying that my blood counts were way off whack and that I would need to go to Primary Children’s. I was scared and frankly, I felt very alone. It was like getting hit by a train. My whole life changed in twelve hours. I did not know what the future was going to hold. I didn’t know if I would have a future. My mom and I cried, a lot. We were both scared. We were starting our journey into the unknown.
I went to the children’s hospital the next week. At the end of my appointment they said that the next day I needed to come again and have a bone marrow biopsy and a blood transfusion. I cried. I tried to fight them and say that I did not want a transfusion and did not want to miss school again. I did not need to have someone else’s blood inside of me. I was perfectly fine. But I went anyway. Two days later I was diagnosed with Severe Idiopathic Aplastic Anemia, bone marrow failure. I had two options: wait and see if my bone marrow began to work, or receive a bone marrow transplant.
We waited. July hit and I was struggling. It was probably the hardest month of my life. I fought with God. I prayed constantly. I was praying for a miracle, but for the miracle I wanted. In all the blessings I received, the person blessing me always said, “Thy Will Be Done,” but I couldn’t bring myself to say it. I always thought about it, but I did not want to accept that God had control over what my future would be. I wanted to be the one to decide. If you only knew how hard I prayed. I prayed with all of my might. I wanted the miracle of having my bone marrow work on its own so badly. I did not want to have to have a transplant. I wanted the miracle I had created in my mind to come true. It wasn’t until mid-July when I finally told God “Thy Will Be Done.” It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. But that is when everything started to fall into place. God had waited for me to accept the fact that I was in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant.
Most people who need a bone marrow transplant don’t have any sibling matches. Well, I had two. It was truly a miracle. We went forward with preparing for a bone marrow transplant. Some of the things included in receiving a bone marrow transplant are 4 days of almost continuous chemotherapy, a month in the hospital (without leaving your room), 100 days of strict isolation, a year of isolation, and about a million types of medications.
At the time my hair was about 24 inches long. I decided that if I was going to lose it, I might as well lose it in style. I got some sweet pink highlights! (Fun fact: I did not know Desirae at this time, so when I found out she had dyed her hair pink as well I knew I liked her!)
At the beginning of August I entered the hospital for my lengthy stay. I went through my four days of chemo, my rest day, and my Bone Marrow Transplant Birthday! My brother selflessly donated his bone marrow for me to have a second chance at life. Then came the waiting game. During transplant you have to wait for your bone marrow to engraft, which means that the new bone marrow has started producing blood cells. It normally takes between 14 and 28 days to engraft. That’s a good amount of time to sit there and hope. I was very anxious while awaiting my body to accept this new bone marrow. During this time I wanted to do all of the things I was supposed to. Not only doing the things the doctors had asked of me, but what The Lord had asked of me.
My hair gradually started coming out. It was hard, but we made it fun. It was actually quite entertaining! My best friend (who is also my brother) is amazing. We called him one day and told him that it was the day. He came up willingly and shaved his head along with me. Having someone by my side made it easier for me to be bald.
A day in the hospital starts about 4 in the morning and ends at about 2 in the morning. I spent a lot of my time watching tv, doing crafts and sleeping. I was not allowed to leave my hospital room. On Day +15 post-transplant, I engrafted! This meant that my body had now accepted the bone marrow my brother had given me, and had started to produce blood!
It truly was a miracle.
School is kind of my thing. My ninth grade year started a few days after I returned home, but I wouldn’t be attending. Instead of going to school, I had a teacher visit me twice a week for short time and bring all of my work. It was not the prime way to learn, but I survived. For the first 100 days I was not allowed to leave home, I could only leave when going to the hospital. Whenever I left I had to wear one of those very attractive masks that never caused me to get any looks from people. I went to the hospital for an appointment every week, and would be home all of the other days.
Well Day +100 finally came! We went to clinic and found out that my blood was 98% Brandon’s and that my bone marrow was 85% Brandon’s! Yay! That meant that my body was accepting his bone marrow as mine! It also meant that my miracle continuing to progress. After this we started the very slow weaning of cyclosporine (an immunosuppressant drug). This also meant I was allowed to start eating out at restaurants! Exciting!!
On day +217 I was able to kiss cyclosporine goodbye forever! Life only went up from there. I was able to go on pioneer trek, Camp Hobe (a camp for cancer kids and their siblings), and girls camp. One of the highlights was my Make-A-Wish trip. But the greatest was having my Bone Marrow Transplant declared successful and ringing the bell for the second, and last time. My life truly is a miracle.
Isn't she just the cutest thing ever?!? I love her and I love her story. Thank you so much for being willing to share, Gwen! She is another amazing example that we, as human beings, as children of God, can do really, super hard things. :)
I Feel My Savior's Love
I truly do feel my Savior's love. I feel it in everything around me. Some days it is more of a struggle because I inadvertently push Him away. I think that I can handle things on my own and forget that He is there to gently lead and guide me along the path.
But He is always there waiting with arms open wide.
I had planned on choosing another song for this post today, but in my search on YouTube, I stumbled upon this little beauty and said, "Yes."
This is the one.
Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)
I have struggled to come up with something to write today and even as I sit here typing away, I am unsure of exactly what words I am going to share with you. This may set a record for being the shortest post I have ever written.
As I was pondering about my own journey and what would be helpful to share, I suddenly remembered the celebrations.
I like to call these moments S.M.I.L.E.S.-
Sweet Moments in Life that Empower the Soul
I think I have mentioned this before, but in all of the pictures that I have from the 18 months that I was in the active treatment phase of my cancer, I only have 2 pictures where I am not smiling- from the night we shaved my head and that was really because once my kids started crying, I couldn't keep my composure any more. But the majority of the pictures show a smiling me. Sure, sometimes the smile was hiding feelings of fear and frustration, but most of the time, it was a genuine "I am happy with my life" kind of smile.
It was because of 3 simple choices that I had to make day in and day out.
I chose to be happy.
I chose to celebrate each victory no matter how small.
I chose to rely on my Savior who always brings me eternal joy and happiness.
Okay, so this post turned out to NOT be the shortest I have ever written. I should have known my tendency to ramble would come into play. But I am happy with how it turned out and I leave you with 3 pieces of advice...
Celebrate the Victories.
Remember where your lasting source of joy and happiness comes from.
Charlotte Cox is a wonderful friend from my ward and neighborhood. I have known her for the past 9 years and she has been such an amazing example to me of someone who truly has done, and continues to do, hard things.
But enough of my ramblings. It's time to hear what Charlotte has done to help her through hard things...
I Can Do Hard Things- Charlotte Cox
When Desirae asked me to write this I thought it would be a simple thing. So not true. I am an unwilling participant in the heartache cancer brings into the lives of too many. I have not had the terrible ‘C’ word myself, but many in my family have: my father, sister, husband and three of our sons. Some are survivors, others not.
The ghost of cancer has been a constant companion in our home since 1975 when my husband was first diagnosed. Another constant companion, the one that has helped me through the ups and downs that cancer brings, is the Holy Ghost which brings comfort beyond measure. I can keep pressing forward.
I have learned over the years things that might offer a small measure of help to anyone who struggles with trials of any kind. I have learned there is no substitute for prayer whether it be your own prayers, those of family or friends or of complete strangers. That power is felt even by an inactive son who wondered why people would pray for him. To
humble yourself before the Lord and ask for His help when you know you can’t go on alone brings untold blessings.
I have learned the power of priesthood blessings given by humble men who serve the Lord. Those blessings give comfort and courage to meet the trials that come. My inactive husband learned and felt the power of blessings and asked for a blessing before each surgery he had. One time we were told by the doctors that his body was full of cancer, they would just determine how bad it was. Two dear neighbors gave him a blessing, one turned as he was leaving and said: “Don’t worry, there is no cancer”. And the miracle – the doctors found none.
I have learned the hard way to be unselfish in my prayers. It was difficult for me to stop praying for what I wanted: a healthy husband, and to pray for what was best for him.
It is HARD to let go. Years later I gave that counsel to a daughter-in-law as we went through the same experience with a husband/son. You learn to know when it is time to let go.
I have learned you need to have a sense of humor to get through the bad times. Yesterday talking with the same daughter-in-law all I said was ‘remember the right brothers’ and we both laughed. (A private family joke.)
I have learned patience the hard way. When you have had cancer every ache or pain brings the question ‘is the cancer back?’ The testing begins and you wait and wait, holding your breath. Sometimes the answer is what you pray for, sometimes not. But when you get the results you can plan, prepare and move on.
I have learned the power of a positive attitude, to never give up. At times doctors told us the only reason my husband or son were still alive was just sheer determination: ‘I will go fishing’. It is doubly important for the caregivers to have a happy, positive attitude even when things aren’t going well.
I have learned there is always a silver lining and things to be learned from each experience. That silver lining can come in many forms: a beautiful new baby grand daughter, comfort from a blessing received, a sunshiny spring day, a badly needed job for a 30-year stay-at-home mom.
In 2001 I was told my back was a ‘mess’ and I would be in a wheelchair within a year. The pain has been horrendous all the years since. I have learned regular exercise lets me still move and walk [for short distances and still no wheelchair]. A surgical procedure has cut the pain level in half most days which is a huge blessing.
2015 brought the news of a ‘massive’ hiatal hernia inoperable because of its size and my age. Can you believe the doctor thinks 81 is old? I have learned what I can and cannot eat to avoid the pain eating the wrong food causes.
I have learned there are angels among us to give hugs, encouragement, a treat, an arm to learn on. I have done HARD things because I know the Lord suffered for me. I know that Heavenly Father and Jesus live and love me!
This gives me the courage to keep trying.
I love the statement by Elder Gary E. Stevenson: “I need to focus not on what I can’t do but rather on what I can do”. And sometimes I can still do HARD things.
-Charlotte Cox 2016
And thank YOU, the reader, for taking the time to read this post. Remember, YOU too, can do hard things.
It's Conference Weekend!!!
One of the songs that always comes to my mind during General Conference is "We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet." I love the sweet words and message that this song portrays and I have found a wonderful version of it to share with you today. It is a large group of children and there is nothing sweeter than listening to children share their testimonies through song.
I hope you enjoy this blessed Sabbath day and are able to feel of God's and our Savior's love for you.
We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet
Want to join me in watching General Conference today? Click here to watch it live.
You do not have to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to be able to feel the sweet spirit that these meetings bring. If you are curious about the church and want to learn more about what we believe, take a listen to some of the conference talks. I promise that if you listen with spiritual ears, the Lord will be able to teach you what He needs you to know.
I am loving my second chance at life.
Every day is an opportunity to do good and to be a little better than the day before.
I love being a mommy.
It's my favorite thing in this world and my most important job.
What's Happening on
Come Follow Me
Survivor Sister Scoop
Tips And Tricks
You Can Do Hard Things
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