“Cancer is Good for the Closets”

That is what my friend Stephanie texted me yesterday as I was in FULL OUT NESTING mode.  I literally felt like the Tasmanian Devil as I cleaned out closets and threw away almost everything that was underfoot.  I had more energy than I’ve had in 6 months and could not stop.  I didn’t really think about why I was doing it, but after Stephanie texted, I realized that I was desperately trying to get everything in order before everything was seriously OUT of order starting tomorrow with my upcoming reconstructive surgery.

If you remember, Stephanie is my friend who was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after I was.  Until now, I have done everything first and been able to coach her through the procedures, surgeries and appointments.  But because Stephanie didn’t have to do chemotherapy, she was able to finish her reconstruction process first.  She just had her final reconstructive surgery a week and a half ago (this involves removing the expanders and putting in implants).  Therefore, she recognized my crazy house cleaning because she, herself, had filled up 8 trash bags in her own home the day before she went under the knife.  So you know the saying, “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it”?  I would improve upon that by adding, “If you really want something done, ask a woman whose about to undergo breast reconstruction”.

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(Stephanie and I today  – NOT AT THE SPA.  Just at a joint doctor’s appointment – not kidding – with our plastic surgeon.  #welovetheirwafflerobes)

As I’ve said before, I wouldn’t wish cancer on ANYONE.  But having a buddy to go through this with has been indescribable.  And in Jennifer’s absence, it was so sweet of the Lord to give me Stephanie who truly understands this journey so I don’t feel so alone.

Since my last post, I have several updates.  Specifically as it relates to HAIR.  Praise God and Hallelujah – my hair is slowly starting to grow back!  I honestly thought I would be the one calling the lawyer hotline on that commercial that says, “If you or someone you love has suffered permanent hair loss due to the chemo drug Taxotere, please call 1-800-IAM-BALD.”  I could not be more excited about this development.  And even though that means shaving my legs again, I WILL TAKE IT.

The one (gazillionth) thing I have learned is that I cannot compare my road to anyone else’s.  When I asked a few cancer friends about how long it took for their hair to start growing back, their answers varied from one day to two weeks post treatment.  Well, here I am at 8 weeks and mine is literally just now growing back.  EIGHT WEEKS.  Thank goodness for a book my sweet friend, Lezley, gave me called ‘The Silver Lining.”

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This beautiful book was written by a breast cancer survivor, who also happens to be a nurse.  She was the ONLY one that mentioned it took her about 8 weeks to finally start seeing sprouts.  I held out hope SPECIFICALLY because of her.

I know people mean well, but unless they physically document their cancer journey (i.e. WRITE IT DOWN), I’m learning their recollection of events can be a little fuzzy at best.  Similar to childbirth or the first year of your baby’s life (sure, your baby recited the alphabet at 3 months), we might not should rely on our memories past the age of 35.  Just sayin’.

So for all of you out there reaching and searching for answers to compare to your own story, take everything with a grain of salt.  God made each of us so unique (Psalm 139:14), and what is one person’s experience may not be another’s.  It takes lots of patience to learn this lesson but I’m slowly getting the hang of it.

In a similar vein, a lot of people had told me they lost their eyelashes and eyebrows approximately 4 weeks after chemo.

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Wouldn’t you know I got all cocky after 4 weeks and thought I had finally beat SOMETHING?  Well, two Sundays ago, my eyelashes and eyebrows began to fall out.  Not even kidding.  And let’s just say that before my hair showed promise and my eyelashes were simultaneously hitting the floor, there may have been lots of tears.  I think I’ve explained before that this process feels like someone is slowly stripping away your femininity.  It’s so bizarre.  To not have my chest, my hair or my eyelashes makes me feel like I’m pulling the opposite of a Bruce Jenner.  So I’m trying to tap into that patience thing again and realize this is a marathon and not a sprint (even though back in the day Bruce could have totally conquered either).

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And because of the skin cancer debacle, I learned that my surgeon is ultra picky about increasing the risk of infection around surgery (so thankful for this – I’m not complaining).  As a result, I grew a little concerned about a horrendous cough I had a few days ago.  This cough had lasted for over a week and wasn’t letting up.  I tried to forget about it, but my mom and my friend Casey asked if I should let my plastic surgeon know about it.  Hesitantly, I called to see if the cough might be a concern with my upcoming surgery.  Unfortunately, it was a big concern.  They wanted me to go for a chest x-ray to make sure I didn’t have an infection.  I got a little teary because anytime you go for a scan or an x-ray, a part of you gets nervous that they may find cancer somewhere else (in this case, my lungs).  It’s part of the curse.  Trevor was quick to allay my fears, however, and the chest x-ray was clear!  The funny part was I had made plans with my friend Kathy for lunch that day.  She lives in LoveJoy so this had been planned awhile back and I was really looking forward to seeing her.  We were all excited to go try a new restaurant in town, but I had to text her and see if she could meet me at the ER instead.  You know you have a good friend when…

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Lastly, with the upcoming surgery tomorrow, one question remains:  To Nip or Not to Nip? (Why yes, I went there.)  Dr. Potter, my amazing plastic surgeon, is so gifted and is able to create an actual nip using my own skin.  Y’all.  These things look real.  It’s truly incredible.  I really hadn’t even considered doing this until Stephanie endorsed the process.  Once I saw what they looked like, I realized it made the ‘girls’ seem real.  Like ACTUAL girls.  Not like I’ve-had-breast-cancer-and-this-is-what-I’m-left-with girls.  It’s totally the difference between the winners bracket and consolation bracket.  Anyway, I’ve spent the better part of a week polling my girlfriends about whether or not to nip.  The consensus is a resounding nip nip hooray.  Cons include I will now need undergarments as the nips aren’t operable (read non retractable).  But pros, as my friend Angela noted, are that I’ll always be ready for Mardi Gras.  So there’s that.  On a more serious note, however, I am really giddy about feeling like a female again.

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I want to thank you all again for taking this journey with me.  It helps so much to have your encouragement, support and prayers.  Your love for our family is so evident in all you do and I wish so badly I could express my gratitude in words.  As for tomorrow’s surgery, I would appreciate your continued prayers.  I go in at 6:30am and the surgery is scheduled for 8:30am.  It is a day surgery, so if all goes well I should be in my pjs and my own bed by early afternoon.  The recovery from this procedure is not nearly as difficult as the one from the mastectomy.  THANK THE LORD.

In closing, I wanted to wrap up with the sweetest card & thoughtful gift I received from Kim.  She says it better than I ever could…

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2017 has been a tough year for our family, but I love the reminder to remember all of the LOVE we have received instead of all of the pain.  Thank you, friend, for the gift of perspective.  I love you and all of our boys!

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Until next time…much love to you all & make every day count,

Jamie

PS: When Jen was alive, we started a tradition of decorating gingerbread houses with Amy’s kids, my kids and Lincoln.  Last weekend, we were able to get together and churn out some incredible houses if I do say so myself.  I would venture to say that the closets in these houses may need some cleaning out, however.

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A Time to Dance

Ecclesiastes 3 tells us, “There is a time for everything…a time to mourn and a time to dance.”  It is finally time to DANCE.

First of all, Happy Thanksgiving to you all!  I hope you are able to hug the people you love the most this time of year.  Obviously, this Thanksgiving means a lot to me as I feel like I have SO MUCH TO BE THANKFUL FOR.  And not in a cliche type of way.  Like a real GET DOWN ON MY KNEES and PRAISE GOD type of way.  When I look back at the last 7 months, I can’t believe how much has happened and how much my life has changed.  I’ve experienced emotions and challenges I never thought possible.  But the Lord has sustained me.  He promised to give me everything I need to get through each day (Philippians 4:19) and He has delivered on that promise.  I pray that I CLING to that truth in the days, months and years ahead.

My last post left off in the middle of the World Series, which was so darn exciting.  Our family couldn’t get enough so we traveled to Houston to catch game #4.

IMG_7920.jpegI know it’s hard to tell who we are rooting for, but (spoiler alert) it’s not the Astros.  This night happened to be the ‘Stand Up 4 Cancer’ night so that was fairly sobering.  At one point, the entire crowd stood holding a sign and pausing for a moment of silence (you can see the signs taped to the seats around us).  To think of all the people who have been touched by this disease is a little overwhelming.  I dare say each one of us has in some form or another.  My prayer every morning before my feet hit the floor is for my long list of friends currently battling cancer.  I even have a post it note on my bathroom mirror with each name to help remind me throughout the day to pray.  I can’t say it enough how destructive and time consuming and exhausting this battle is.  But I hope to be an encouragement to those continuing the fight (you know who you are and YOU ARE LOVED).

And if you happen to be walking alongside someone with cancer, my friend Melanie wrote a beautiful article about how to do it with grace, humility and most of all humor.  Mel was good friends with my friend Jen, whom we lost fifteen months ago.  I love how she captures Jen’s neon personality, which was larger than life itself.  Click here to read the article.

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(Me, Mel, Jen & Gulley)

Anyway (as I try to change the subject so I won’t cry), the World Series.  Unfortunately, the Dodgers didn’t come home with the trophy, but they sure did have an exciting run.  Congratulations to all you Astros fans out there!  And here’s to next year, Dodger fans!

In my last post, I mentioned that I was going to see a specialist for my skin cancer who was trained in both MOHS surgery and PLASTIC surgery.  This was super exciting to me, as I didn’t want my leg to end up looking like it had been chewed on by an alligator after they took out my 3 spots.  In fact, my sweet friend Anne sent me these in case I had to cover up!  #myfriendsaresothoughtful #bringingbackthe80’s

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The physician was amazing and I decided right then to just to go ahead and book an appointment for surgery.  If you remember, the surgical option was in place of me doing the chemo cream every day for 6 weeks.  I don’t know if I was just tired of the thought of having to put that cream on every day or if I really was that impressed with the doctor, but this surgeon made me feel like he could make my leg look pretty normal after we were all done and I was good with that.

Good plan, right?  WRONG.

My other plastic surgeon, (Surely that is a phrase only Joan Rivers used…how is this my reality?!), the one who is doing my breast reconstruction, just informed me that he did not want me to have the MOHS surgery 3 weeks before OR 3 weeks after my reconstruction.  Hello?!  Since my reconstruction is scheduled for December 6th,  I had to cancel my MOHS surgery and am now back to square one on skin cancer.  The good news is that my dermatologist is not worried about it spreading as it’s superficial.  But I might have to reconsider the cream again as I’d like to be finished by the end of the year with all of this mess!!!

In other news…I had my final follow up with Dr. O’ Shaughnessy on Halloween (of COURSE it was on a holiday) and my blood work looked great.  She said I was good to go for another 4 months and the only thing I needed to do was to start Tamoxifen.  This is a drug that blocks estrogen receptors in my body, thus slowing down the growth and reproduction of breast cancer cells.  The protocol is to take this drug every day for 5+ years (yes, you read that right) and the side effects mimic menopause.  So you can imagine just how pumped I am about Tamoxifen.  I was actually getting a pedicure the other day and picked up a People magazine to read (because I’m deep like that), which mentioned Tamoxifen.  There was an article written about Harry Connick’s wife, former model Jill Goodacre’s battle with breast cancer.  She said that she had experienced weight gain with Tamoxifen and even referred to it as ‘Tamoxifen Tummy’.  Here’s Jill with her ‘Tamoxifen Tummy’:

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Judging by this picture, I’m thinking a ‘Tamoxifen Tummy’ might actually be better than what I have going on now.  So there’s that.  If I wake up 5 years from now in a soft grey sweater and Harry Connick, Jr. by my side, I might even start selling Tamoxifen.  (Just kidding, but I totally want to recreate this picture with Trevor some day.)

Anyway…here we are a little over 2 weeks away from my breast reconstruction surgery which is the FINAL PIECE of my breast cancer puzzle (Lord willing).  For those who don’t know, reconstruction involves removing the expanders (or place holders) I have in now and trading them out for actual implants.  Because the expanders are about as comfortable as carrying a backpack full of heavy rocks up at mountain, I’m a little giddy about bidding them adieu.

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I am WAY past caring how anything looks or the size of my new chest (sorry, men).   I just want to feel somewhat normal again and have the girls move right along with me.

Along this journey, I’ve had a few people ask the same two questions to me repeatedly.  So here are my answers:  Yes, I am still officially off of diet coke.

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I haven’t had one since April and have only seriously craved one about twice in the past seven months.  I consider that remarkable given my once very serious addiction.  And secondly, my hair is still not wanting to budge very much.  This is frustrating at times, but I’m trying to be patient.  I never thought I would ever WANT to fix my hair instead of putting on a hat.  But what I wouldn’t give to blow dry and style my very thin and stringy mane right now!!!  And no disrespect to Justin Turner, the LA Dodger’s 3rd baseman, but take away the color and the beard and we might have the same hair situation going on underneath our caps.

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The saving grace is that NONE of my hair is growing back yet, so I still don’t have to shave my legs or underarms.  Because of that, I’ve actually become the fastest one at getting ready in my household full of boys.  #ohtheirony #thebrightside

In all seriousness, I am so thankful to be at the end of this long road.  As I think about closing this chapter, however, I am filled with so many conflicting emotions. I want to be ecstatic that this is almost over, however my past experience with cancer tells me that we can’t know that for sure.  My friend, Jen, found out on December 6, 2014 that her cancer had metastasized.  That was the same day we realized her story may not end favorably.  I was with her that day in the ER.  I heard the doctor utter the words, ‘it is back’.  I cried with Jen, Scott, Gigi and Trevor right there in the ER.  I spent the next year and a half by her side until the Lord called her home.  Jen’s journey lasted longer than we’d anticipated, but ended more quickly than we’d hoped.  We all miss her more than words can say.  But what I realized the other day made me stop in my tracks.  I realized that my cancer journey will most likely end on the EXACT DATE that we found out Jen’s cancer journey would continue.  December 6th.  And somehow I feel like that’s not a mistake.  The coincidence is too great.  I have a feeling Jen is looking down, smiling at me, and THRILLED that I will redeem that date.  And instead of mourning this Dec. 6th, I pray we will all be dancing!

Until next time…much love to you all & make every day count,

Jamie

PS: Thanks to Kim & Bob for the SWEETEST way to kick off the holidays!  I can’t wait to see you all!  IMG_8136

 

Feel the Burn

So many of you have sweetly requested an update on my visit to MD Anderson on October 17th, so thank you for continuing to care about my journey.   Before I do that, however, let me back up just a bit to report on how I fared in the weeks following chemo #4…

All in all, my fourth round of chemo was better than my third.  Hallelujah!  I was more tired and weak on this round, but I wasn’t nearly as nauseated.  And I call that a win.  In fact, my sweet friend Ashley had flown in from Florida to be with me (as well as my friend Jenn from Tyler) and I was able to hang out with her the day after chemo (which is totally abnormal for my typical ‘day after chemo’).  I even wrote the following in the spiral that I keep to record my meds, any atypical symptoms, and how I feel each day.

FullSizeRender.jpg.jpeg I think the Lord allowed that gift, and I took full advantage of it.  😉  I love my friends Ashley & Jenn but only get to see them about once or twice a year.  THAT IS NOT ENOUGH.  Our husbands all went to med school together and we became close friends during those 4 long years.  I started crying when I saw them at my chemo appointment because I’m overwhelmed at how good ALL of my friends have been to me on this journey.  Taking time out of their busy schedules to really try to understand what I’m going through.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!  Now I’m crying again!

Not only did I feel good the day after chemo, but I felt good for a FEW days after chemo.  I couldn’t believe it actually.  I’m sure mentally I was SO relieved to be finished that my mind tricked my body into celebrating early!  Whatever it was, I was jazzed and wasn’t going to question it.  And I’m sure receiving my little front porch goodies didn’t hurt either.

 

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Around October 8th, however, I started developing a huge red mark that covered my right forearm.  The next day it was even worse and was extremely hot to the touch.  You know the phrase, ‘Feel the Burn’?  Yeah, that.  Knowing that’s not a good sign, I called my oncology nurse.  She told me that it was probably what they call a “TC Burn”.  The two drugs I used during chemo were Taxotere and Cytoxan (aka “T/C”).  Because I received these drugs via an IV and not a port, somehow the connection between the needle and my vein wasn’t air tight and some of the drugs leaked out.  Excuse me?!  The nurse who administered my IV better be happy that I was SO DARN TIRED or else I’d have marched back up to Baylor and given her a talking to.  Now if you get squeamish with this type of thing, I suggest you don’t look at the following pic.

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SO GROSS.  I’m so happy I had chocolate to comfort myself because it HURT.  And the kicker?????  My oncology nurse made the comment, “Well, just be glad this happened on your 4th round.”  To which I obviously replied, “And what if it hadn’t?”  She went on to explain that if this had happened in my previous rounds, I would have had to get a port (which is put in surgically) because they couldn’t have put an IV back in that arm (and my other arm is out of the question because I’ve had lymph nodes taken from that side).  Let’s just say I might have gone over the edge if that would have been the case.  Even my amazing stash of Hershey Kisses and Ghirardelli Sea Salt Assortments couldn’t have made this okay in my book.

Thankfully, I already had an appointment with my Dallas dermatologist on Oct. 10th and had her look at this unsightly new development on my arm in addition to my skin cancers.  She gave me a steroid cream and healing ointment for my arm, which is working beautifully.  Can we all just take a moment to PRAISE THE LORD that cold weather is on the horizon because between the skin cancer on my leg, this burn on my arm, and my sparse head of hair, I feel the need to be FULLY covered from head to toe these days.

In regards to my skin cancer, she took two more biopsies (one on the same leg and one on my left arm) during that appointment.  The one on my arm was just a precancerous spot, but the one on my leg was also a squamous cell carcinoma.  So, to help you keep track, I now have 3 spots on my left leg that need to be treated.  My dermatologist suggested Efudex cream twice a day for 6 weeks.  The downside is your skin looks N-A-S-T-Y for the duration until it heals.  That’s so unfortunate because I am seriously feeling SO ATTRACTIVE these days.  #totallysarcastic #cancermakesyoufeelugly

After my appointment, my dear friends from San Antonio, Mel and Gulley, came into town and we got to hang out which ALWAYS makes me happy.  If ever you have a bad day, Mel and Gulley are the people you want in your presence.  It’s virtually impossible to be sad or mad when they are around.   They are like a traveling circus in that they entertain you, make you laugh until you cry, and always leave you wanting more.  Even Dodger got sucked in.

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I’ve known these girls for almost 30 years and love them more with each passing year.  Mel was in town for a book signing (oh yeah, she’s a New York Times Best Selling author – no big deal) for her new book, Church of the Small Things.  But what’s important to me is that we sat on the couch for hours, talked life, and had a mini slumber party.  That’s the church of MY small things.

A few days later, I flew to Houston with my sisters and my mom for my appointment at MD Anderson.

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We all laughed when the guy at the ticket counter cheerfully asked, ‘So are y’all going on a girls trip?!’ Never mind that we only had our purses with us and no luggage whatsoever.  (WHAT FEMALE GOES ON A GIRLS TRIP WITH NO LUGGAGE?) He was so excited, however, that we just said, ‘YES!’.  (We concluded that saying ‘No we are heading to MD Anderson for a cancer check up’ might be a bit of a buzzkill).

Let me just say, though, that if we had a dollar for every time we commented on how nice it was to travel so lightly, we’d actually have enough money to go on a girls trip.

We arrived early in the morning (thanks for driving us to the airport, dad) and uber-ed (or buber-ed) to MDA.  Our driver was awesome and Karen proceeded to get his life story on the way to the hospital.  My mom never misses an opportunity to be social.  It’s in her DNA.

IMG_7723.JPG.jpegWe got to MDA a bit early and headed up to the waiting room to check in.  One or four hours passed then finally our name was called.  We laughed because one man in the waiting room said, ‘You know what the ‘MD’ in MD Anderson stands for?’  MOST of the DAY.

I was one of the lucky patients to have a Fellow come examine me before the actual dermatologist came in. (Does anyone smell sarcasm?).  And to preserve some sort of dignity, I had my sisters and mom get behind the curtain while I changed into my flimsy gown.  It’s hard to take anything seriously (even at MD Anderson) when this is your support group.

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Trevor always says my family has personal space issues.  I have no idea where he gets that.

Both of the physicians conducted their exams and were in agreement that either excising the spots surgically or using the chemo cream would suffice for treatment as the spots were superficial and hadn’t invaded beneath the skin.  It was a great affirmation that my physician in Dallas was on the right track, and we all felt good about their conclusion.  Seems like either option is an easy fix and thankfully this type of skin cancer is not dangerous.

SO…I have one more visit with a plastic surgeon next week trained in Mohs surgery (thank you, Joni!) to see how I feel about having the spots surgically removed.  I’m buying a little more time until my body is able to heal properly before I choose either of these options (maybe just a week longer).  I will definitely keep you posted!

For now, my little family is just enjoying life and taking advantage of all the fun opportunities that come our way.  Trevor and I keep joking that cancer has made us totally irresponsible because we keep doing things we’d never do before my diagnosis (unexpected gift of this dreaded disease for these two type A folks).  We had the chance to go to game 2 of the World Series in LA this week, which was such an incredible experience.  Despite the 100 degree weather (yes, we FELT THE BURN here too), we had a blast.  If you haven’t heard about this game, click here.  It was an incredible thrill of back to back home runs and extra innings.  And even though our beloved Dodgers didn’t win, it will go down in the books as one of my family’s favorite memories.

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And just like Game 2, I’m learning that life is really just one big contrast of highs and lows.  A roller coaster of emotions.  And whereas before cancer I was able to stand at the gate and watch the ride, I am now strapped in the back row and fully experiencing each and every peak and valley.  There is so much sadness in this life, but there is also SO MUCH JOY. And although I’m forced to endure the lows, I’m also blessed to experience the highs in a whole new way.  Life on the other side of chemo is BLISS, and I am beyond thankful for all of your support.

Please continue to keep all of those who are fighting cancer in your prayers.  It is a brutal, tiring road to travel.  Much love to all of my cancer friends – WE CAN DO THIS!

Until next time…much love to you all & make every day count,

Jamie

“This is the day the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

 

 

 

It Is FINISHED

I am thrilled to write that I am OFFICIALLY finished with Chemo (now for sure, and Lord willing forever)!!!!!  My 4th and final round was on Tuesday, October 3rd, and I could not be more elated!  Thank you ALL for your prayers, your encouragement, your presence, your support, your cards, your calls, your texts, your front porch presents and your love.  I literally could NOT have made it through the past few months without you.  The Lord has been so very faithful to use each of you as a reminder of His goodness & faithfulness, and I am overwhelmed with how beautiful and tangible the body of Christ can be.  In my darkest hours, He provided hope.  Through my tears, He provided joy.  And in my weakness, He showed His strength in a mighty way.  I pray with all of my heart that cancer, illness or tragedy does not come your way, but if it does, I am here to testify that the Lord will carry you through it.  Our struggles on earth afford us a dependence and closeness to the Father that we do not have otherwise.  So while I wish so badly I didn’t have to walk this road, I am grateful for the intimacy I have experienced with the Lord over the past few months and wouldn’t trade it for the world.

To back up a bit, in my last post I had written that I was fatigued and a little frustrated that I couldn’t even stand during the last song at church.  I naively thought I would follow the pattern of my previous chemo treatments where I would have one bad week and two good ones.   That did not happen on round #3.  I was down for all 3 weeks.  After the fatigue, I developed an insane itching all over my body.

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I’ve never had poison ivy, but I think I can now relate to all of those who have.  And let’s just say OUCH.  It was maddening.  The nurse told me to take Zyrtec each morning, which helped a bit.  But didn’t completely stop the problem.

Then last Saturday night, we were planning on going to our friends, the Messick’s, house to watch the Aggie football game (we are gluttons for punishment).  But that day, I started developing severe chest pains.  WHAT?!  I was walking the dog with Trevor and had to stop about 4 times to lean over until the pain passed.   I learned that the pain would subside if I was lying down but would resume when I was standing up or moving around (thus, ruling out reflux).  I finally called the doctor and they told me to go to the ER just to have it checked out and make sure we weren’t missing something.  Yikes.  So Trevor dropped me off at the ER then dropped the kids off at our friend’s house only to circle back to me.  After blood work, an EKG, a chest x-ray and a CT scan, all was clear!  Praise God.  And we even got to go join our friends afterwards and watch the Aggies get a win!!  (Yes, I learned that when you are a cancer patient plus you have chest pains, you are the first priority at the ER and get moved through at a pretty fast pace.  Nice perk.)  The best explanation the physicians could come up with was that I was experiencing bronchospasms due to my compromised immune system.  Given the other alternatives, I’ll take that one.

Sunday, October 1st, was my middle son’s 15th birthday, so we celebrated all day by watching him play baseball (his first and only love thus far).  My parents and in-laws joined us in Balch Springs (now THAT’s love) for the double header, as did my other two boys.  It was most certainly a banner day.

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Monday, October 2nd, was Hudson’s 16th birthday, so we geared up for yet another celebration the next day.  I always have that moment of feeling lazy for leaving the ‘Happy Birthday’ banner up, but really how silly to take it down at night only to put it back up the next morning, right?  My brain is so weird that it contemplates such things.

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Needless to say, I left it up.  Thank goodness Hudson was so excited to go get his drivers license that day, he didn’t give a flip about the banner.  And I got to spend the majority of the day with my eldest at the DMV waiting for our number to be called.  I’m not exaggerating when I say the line was approximately this long.

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But we persevered and walked out with an official license!!  It’s so surreal to have a child that is driving a real actual vehicle and not the motorized jeep he had when he was 3.

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I still don’t know how these boys are 15 & 16!!!

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(The original plan was for Hunter to get his drivers permit that day as well, but he told me he had 2 quizzes and he wanted to stay at school instead. Clearly, we are not related.)

Fast forward to Tuesday, October 3rd, and my 4th chemo date.  I want to start by saying that I had my strongest game face on and was ready to tackle the last round.  My friends and family were with me, my adrenaline was pumping, I WAS READY.  I felt like Rocky Balboa about to run up the last few steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art to my final destination.

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I had my blood work taken then met with the PA before chemo.  She was very concerned about all the bad side effects I had during round #3 that she casually mentioned that Dr. O may want me to skip the 4th round (WHAT?!) or delay it (NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!).  I couldn’t deal at that moment.  The PA slipped out of the room to go call Dr. O to discuss and I summoned my prayer warriors via text from the exam room.  I was so prepared that day to have my treatment and just wanted this all to be over.  Thankfully, she reentered the room a few minutes later and said that we were good to go for the day.  PRAISE GOD.

I went to sign in for chemo on the 3rd floor and had a corner full of love waiting for me when I got there.

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What’s a girl to do but feel so completely cared for and supported?!  I LOVE my people.

I finally got called back for chemo, where only a few friends at a time can visit.  And when I sat down in the chemo chair and was getting my first cold cap on, I noticed that my ankles were completely swollen.  (My body at this point feels like the craziest science fair experiment, I swear!).  We had to call the doctor to make sure it was okay to proceed with treatment (another hold your breath moment).  To be honest, I don’t know if she ever called back, but we proceeded nonetheless.

I want to say that the steady stream of visitors throughout the day made this process go by so quickly.  As did ALL OF YOUR PRAYERS.  No kidding.  I had so many sweet texts encouraging me and with every word I gained more strength and acquired more grit. You have no idea how big of a role you played in getting me through!!!

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Ashley, me, Casey & Jennifer (friends for 20 years); Ashley flew in from Florida just to be with me and Jenn drove from Tyler.  I’m so thankful for these ladies!!!!

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Me & Amy (friends since 1st grade); Amy was with Jen through all of her chemo treatments as well.  It’s safe to say we’ve been through it ALL in our years of friendship.  

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Meredith, me, Lezley & Stephanie L  (college friend, and breast cancer friends); I could not have made it through without these gals.  {Please note that my hands are in ice (as are my feet) to combat neuropathy.  How am I still smiling?!}

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Me & Stephanie B (friends from aTm); Steph noted that she looks like she has no limbs in this photo as I remarked that I look like I’m setting a “pick” in basketball terms.  We clearly need posing intervention.

After the final infusion was over, I was able to participate in a ritual they have for chemo patients.  When a patient is finally finished with his/her treatments, they are allowed to ring a gong.  It sounds corny, but I was so excited that my time had finally come.

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It’s so sweet because everyone claps and cheers for you.  What a special memory.  I guess I really did channel my inner Rocky.

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Man, it feels SO GOOD to be finished.  Thank you, Lord, for the gift of modern medicine and good health.  I made it to the top of the stairs!!!!!!  Hallelujah!

Trevor ended up surprising me towards the end of treatment (I think he was having FOMO), which I greatly appreciated.  Oh how I love this man.

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And he loves ME…silver mushroom hat and all.

We all made our way downstairs to get ready to leave Baylor and grabbed one more pic (cause you obviously can’t have too many pics).

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Casey, Jennifer, me, Jennifer, Ashley, mom & Ashley; yes, it’s confusing

I went home and finished out the cold capping with sweet Sandy (my cold cap concierge and also a breast cancer survivor).

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My last cap came off around 7:30pm and pray to God I never have to wear that thing ever again!!!

So…many of you have asked about next steps.  I have an appointment with my Dallas dermatologist next Tuesday, Oct. 10th to review topical chemotherapy for the skin cancer on my leg.  Then I go to MD Anderson the following Tuesday to do the same.  After that, I will determine how to proceed and hopefully it will be an easy and fast fix.  I figure if I can freeze my head for 8 hours at a time, surely I can rub some cream on my legs.

And lastly, I have my final reconstruction on December 6th (removal of expanders and insertion of implants).

This journey has taught me so many valuable lessons that I hope I can remember and apply from here on out.  I’m so happy I didn’t have to walk this road alone, so thank you for being my sounding board and my audience.  You have cheered me on in a way that is so overwhelmingly beautiful, and I AM GRATEFUL.

Until next time…much love to you all & make every day count!

Jamie

“Praise the Lord.  Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”  Psalm 106:1

 

 

 

In Sickness & In Health

Well, chemo #3 is officially in the books and it was by far the hardest one yet.  I’m not going to pull any punches.  My body is definitely feeling the effects of the cumulative treatment and I am downright exhausted.  Physical weakness to this degree is something I’ve never experienced.  Some days, I’m at the point where I hesitate climbing up my stairs for fear I might not make it to the top without a break.  THAT, my friends, is super humbling.  I am also still trying to take my daily walks in the morning, but my legs feel so heavy that it’s like I’m dragging weights.  So strange!  My sister, Ashley, took me to the mall the other day to walk and I literally had to find chairs in the stores to sit in while she shopped.  Never have I identified so much with all the males in a mall as I did that day.

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(Shout out to Nordstrom for some comfy chairs btw.)

In addition to weakness, I also had the lovely side effect of a swollen face this time around.  And I’m not talking in my cheeks.  My forehead protruded and my eyes were almost swollen shut for 3-4 days.  I felt exactly like Will Smith in the movie “Hitch”.

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SOMEONE GET THE BENADRYL!!!

My middle son, Hunter, and I were trying to have a face to face conversation one day and he stopped right in the middle of a sentence and said, “Mom, I can’t take you seriously like that.” (In the most loving way, of course ;)!

I don’t know exactly what the swelling was from, but I did learn that the last medicine administered during my treatment this time was given in 30 minutes vs. the usual hour, which I’m told can make all the difference.  That little change may also be the reason for my nausea, my extremely fuzzy brain, my terrible insomnia, my skewed taste buds and my increased hair loss as well.  Guess who’s NOT going to let that happen next time?  Me. And Will Smith.

To make matters worse, my husband’s birthday fell right after my treatment (because what’s a cancer treatment/event of mine without a special occasion surrounding it, right?!).  And to say I wasn’t in a place to make that day special is an understatement.  Yes, I got a cake.  But only because Kim ordered it for me and my mom brought it over.  As you can see, I left it in the box WHILE lighting the candles.  So clearly I’m in not in a good place.

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I sure hope my fire extinguisher is.

Trevor has been an absolute rock star in taking care of me during this entire experience and I really wanted to celebrate him like he deserved to be celebrated.  He really has been amazing.  In fact, my friend Ellen and I had lunch this week and upon her asking, ‘so how are you and Trevor doing during all of this?’ tears immediately started rolling down my face.  Right in the middle of the restaurant True Food.  Now, if that would have happened about a year ago before I appreciated super healthy food, the tears may have been due to the fact that I had a bowl of quinoa sitting in front of me.  But no.  This was because she touched on something I hold so sacred.   And even though I was surprised by my emotional reaction to her question, I know 100% why I had it.  Trevor is a natural born care taker (it’s a good thing he’s a physician).  But never have I been so appreciative of someone than I have been of him the past few months.  Not only does he get up every single day and go to work at an ungodly hour, but he works all day long then comes home and immediately starts taking care of the kids.  At this stage in life, that means making sure they have something other than oreos or pop tarts for dinner, shuttling them to their various activities and confiscating all of the electronics at night to make sure no one overdoses on screen time.  He even attends the late night games in timbuktu while I lay in bed and watch Fixer Upper or House Hunters for the 40,000th time.

When you get married and recite your vows, you say “in sickness and in health” not really knowing or understanding the gravity of that promise.  But I can say now that Trevor is not only the best example of knowing and understanding what that means, but he also does it without complaining and with sincere compassion for me.  He makes me feel so loved even when I’m at my worst physically and mentally.  I am so so grateful for the man I married and told him that we’d have to BOTH redo our birthdays next year as neither was even in the ballpark of adequate (hello, double mastectomy on mine).

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(Breckenridge, CO // September 2017)

I love you, Trevor!

Now, with all of those crazy side effects and such, the good news is they usually pass (somewhat) within 7-10 days after chemo.  So I’m writing to you from a better place.  Or so I thought.   I did have to leave church a few minutes early this morning to go sit in the car because I felt too weak to keep standing during the closing worship song.  (Makes me happy I’m not an NFL player during the national anthem right now as I might have to kneel for an entirely different reason.)  After I got in the car, however, I started to cry.  It’s so bizarre at my age not feeling like I can even make it through 30 minutes of standing!  And even though there’s a reason for it, it still feels pathetic.

This week, I pray that I feel as normal as possible before I go back in the Tuesday after next, October 3rd, for my last treatment.  As tradition would have it, the special occasions surrounding chemo #4 are my middle son’s birthday on October 1st and my oldest son’s birthday on October 2nd.  They turn 15 and 16 respectively, so we will hopefully have a permit and a license before I convalesce for two weeks or so afterwards.  I really hope they like their new bumper stickers, too.

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As for my skin cancer (yes, aren’t I the picture of perfect health?!), I will be going to MD Anderson with my sisters and mom on October 17th to see what the dermatologist recommends for treatment of my spots.  The oncologist at MD Anderson believed that because chemo weakens my immune system, it creates an inability for my body to fight off squamous cells, thus the multiple new cancer spots.  They have mentioned a topical chemotherapy, which I’m in favor of, over surgery.  Please pray that that is a viable option.  I’ve had more surgeries than I’d like this year and still have one more to go.  If I can avoid yet another procedure or two, I’d be thrilled.

So, in closing I’d like to thank every single one of my incredible friends and family for running my errands, taking my kids places, dropping off food, etc.   I also appreciate the continued texts, cards and words of encouragement from you all.  Just on a day when I feel like I can’t keep going, I hear from one of you.  God is so good to keep prompting you, and I’m grateful for your obedience and willingness to listen to Him.

Please continue to pray for me and for all of my fellow cancer fighters.  This is not an easy road, and we could not do it without your support.

Until next time…much love to you all & make every day count,

Jamie

“My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words.  Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body.”  Proverbs 4:20-22

 

 

Misplaced Hope

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Last week, a friend of mine (who also is battling cancer) experienced some disappointment over her lab numbers, and she reached out to let a few of us know.  In her text she mentioned that in revealing her sadness to us, she was exposing that her hope had been misplaced.

Misplaced hope.

For whatever reason, that phrase stuck in my head and I’ve been replaying what that means over and over again for days.  What my friend meant was that she had put so much hope into having the right lab numbers for chemo (as a patient, your labs must reach a certain number in order for you to have chemotherapy), that when hers came back as less than desirable she was disappointed.  Well, I said to myself, ‘Who wouldn’t be?!’.

But then it got me thinking about hope.  I dare say that all of us put our hope into things that are unpredictable, ever changing, and not secure.  Whether that be our house, our belongings, our health, our careers, our kid’s success, our appearance, our finances, etc.  All of these things are so temporary and can be compromised in a split second.  Just look at the news.  My heart is broken for those in Houston, Port Arthur & Beaumont who have just felt the wrath of Hurricane Harvey (click here for ways to help).  And for those (specifically my sister in law and her family from Tampa) who are bracing for Irma.  The devastation alone is almost too much for our human minds to process.

But last week, LAST WEEK, my heart was broken into even more pieces.  My husband’s cousin lost his precious wife in a car accident.  Emily was just 37 years old and an incredible mother to SIX incredible children (two of whom were adopted at birth).  And just like that, so many lives were changed forever.  Trevor and I went to Kansas this weekend to be with the family.  Just sitting in the midst of such sadness made me wrestle even more with the concept of hope.  Trying to comprehend the pain her husband, mother, father and brother are feeling is next to impossible.  But Emily knew Jesus, and that definitely acts as a salve to the wounds of everyone she loved and left here on earth.  Her husband, Matt, knows that she is in heaven with the Lord, all the while HE IS GRIEVING.  But he is not grieving like the rest of mankind who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).  His hope is in something predictable, unchanging and totally secure.  His hope is in the Lord, REGARDLESS of circumstances.  (“But now, Lord, where do I put my hope?  My only hope is in you.” Psalm 39:7).

I say all of this not to depress you.  (I realize this post is very different from my others and I might should insert a pic of me in the cold cap for levity about now.)  On the contrary, I say this to encourage you that there is someone out there worthy of our hope.  Living with cancer and all of its ugly has changed the way I feel about bad things.  Bad things (and sometimes very bad things), hurtful things, and painful things happen.  Life is hard.  That is a fact and something that is mentioned in the Bible several times (Psalm 34:17-19; 2 Corinthians 12:10; 2 Corinthians 4:8-9; I Peter 5:10; Romans 8:35-39; John 14:27; 2 Corinthians 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:3; James 1:2-4).  But if I continue to place my hope in circumstances that are beyond my control or things of this world, I will be disappointed a lot.

We are not promised a beautiful life filled with only good things.  But we ARE promised a relationship with the God of hope if we choose. Isaiah 40:31 says, “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on the wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”  How amazing is that?!  This same God of hope is the one using YOU to send me cards to let me know you are praying for me.  He is using YOU to give me hugs and send me funny texts.  He is using YOU to drive my kids all over town.  He is using YOU to deliver hope to me on a daily basis.  The kind of hope that is unexplainable during difficult times.

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Words fail me at a time like this when I feel engulfed in bad news.  I wish I could just put my heart on this paper (screen) instead.  My heart, even in the midst of sadness, is full.  It is hopeful in spite of my diagnosis.  It is filled with compassion for others who are brokenhearted.  It sees life differently after walking this journey.  It yearns for others to know the God I know.  Because when bad things happen, God still provides indescribable hope.  He is preparing us for something even greater than life here on earth.

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Tomorrow I will be heading to Baylor to have my blood work drawn and to see the doctor in preparation for chemo #3 on Tuesday morning (September 12th).  I shared in a previous post that I was concerned about a spot on my leg.  Well, it was confirmed to be a squamous cell carcinoma (a fancy way of saying skin cancer).  Since then, a few more spots have popped up and I had another biopsy done of one spot that was only an inch away from the first.  This one was also a squamous cell carcinoma.  I have cried and cried about these crazy spots and what chemo might or might not be doing to wreak even more havoc on my already weak body (I will try to get more answers tomorrow during my appointment).  But I am confident that the Lord will continue to remind me to not misplace my hope in my health improving or my body getting stronger, but instead to fix my eyes on Him no matter what comes my way.

“For my eyes are toward you, O God, my Lord; in you I seek refuge; leave me not defenseless.”  Psalm 141:8

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  2 Corinthians 4:18

Thank YOU for helping me remember that as well.

Please join me in praying for all of those affected by the hurricanes, for my fellow cancer fighters (Amy, Heather, Stephanie, Susan, Kay, Angela, Ed, Sterling, Leslie, Beverly, Louise, Patrick and so many others) and especially for Emily’s family.  We ALL need hope.  Pray that we have the courage to place that hope in something everlasting.

Until next time…much love to you all & make every day count,

Jamie

PS: Gosh, that post was SO SERIOUS.  Sometimes I just get on a roll.  I couldn’t let you go without a laugh, however, so I’ll leave you with this…IMG_6721.JPG

Bring it, #3!

A Shed Above the Rest

Round #2 of chemotherapy is complete, and I could not be more grateful!!  This means I am halfway through treatment and the expression below pretty much sums up how I feel about that.

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Actually, that may have been the Ativan talking.  But you get the picture.

God has given me everything I need to be able to sustain this challenging journey (Philippians 4:19), and a huge part of that is your continued prayers.  Thank you so very much for your calls, texts, cards, comments, food, errand running, carpools, love, support and encouragement.  You literally are the conduit through which the Lord provides peace and endurance to me on a daily basis.  I hope you know that even if I don’t respond, I read every single thing that pops up on my phone.  Your words are life-giving.

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Round two was similar to round one in that it sucked (sorry, mom, I know that’s not lady like).  The actual chemo portion is not bad at all – it’s mainly just the cold capping that bites the big one (to which I have to remind myself that I SIGNED UP FOR THAT).  To have a frozen head for 7-8 hours in one day is something I pray you all never have to experience.  Sandy, my cold capping angel, swaps out these frosty caps every 20-25 minutes for up to 8 hours on the day of treatment.  And every single time a new cap is placed upon my head, it stings/burns for approximately 2 minutes until my head freezes and goes numb.  Never have I ever related so much to a Disney character as I do to poor Elsa. #frozen

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Oh how I wish I could LET IT GO.

Thankfully, my amazing gaggle of friends and family rallied around me again at the hospital and provided much needed comic relief and distraction throughout this process.    Molly, my dear friend from College Station (and the one who accompanied me to MD Anderson) drove in to hang with me for awhile which I greatly appreciated.

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It’s so hard to explain how all of this works, so unless you are there in person I don’t feel like you really appreciate my complaining!!!  😉

My other sweet friends and family floated in and out throughout the day and brought new conversation and life to the ‘party’ each hour (steph and Jen I’m sorry we didn’t get a pic!).  What a blessing these people are in my life.

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And then there are people like YOU.  The ones not pictured above, but bringing me meals or running my kids to and from school and practices.  The one leaving me precious gifts on my doorstep or sending heartfelt cards or texts.  It takes EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU to get me through this and I want you to know that you are just as appreciated even if you aren’t pictured!!!!!

The side effects of this round have been much better but also much different.  Sweet Dr. O’Shaughnessy had so much compassion for my horrendous bone pain last time that she allowed me to only receive 1/2 dose of the Neulasta this time around.  That has significantly decreased my bone pain and there has only been one night that it has awakened me thus far which is a HUGE improvement from last time.  Thank you Jesus!  I might actually feel like snuggling Trevor on the couch in a day or two.

Other side effects are numbness and tingling of my toes (neuropathy), weakness, insomnia (I NEVER EVER thought I’d be wide awake watching Mayweather and Mcgregor duke it out until 1am with no yawning like a boss), and hair loss.  Yes, my hair continues to fall out (again, still to be expected even with the crazy cold cap) every single minute of the day.  This, for some reason, has been the hardest on me.  I don’t know if it’s because I’m working so hard the day of chemo to prevent this and it doesn’t feel like it’s working, or if I’m just really vain and I didn’t know it!!!  I have to wear a hat everywhere, and fear that if the Royals saw me these days they might label me a “try hard”.FullSizeRender.jpg-3.jpeg

 

But I assure you I am not.  So please give me grace if you see me around in my fedora…I’m NOT trying to be fancy.  I’m just trying to conceal the nappiness that atops my head at present moment.  You are WELCOME.

And even though I make jokes about this in my blog, I am in tears as I type.  We reached an all time low this morning when, before church, my middle son announced that he had found my hair in his cinnamon rolls (SO GROSS).  He didn’t stop there, however.  He suggested I get a hairnet when making breakfast from now on.  And he wasn’t kidding.  I don’t know about you, but I think even Kate Middleton might have a hard time pulling this off.

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The emotional toll (due in part to the physical toll) of cancer related things is brutal.  And today is one of those days.  I dare say that Golden Retrievers would even be jealous of my shedding.  Supposedly this slows down (please dear LORD), but please pray for me (and the cinnamon rolls) to tolerate this nasty side effect.

On a positive note, I felt good enough to participate in some school activities last week (pep rally, first day of school for my oldest, football scrimmage, meet the teacher, etc.).  I do not take those things for granted anymore and have a new appreciation for the privilege to be involved.  I have some great pics of these events, but my teenagers have put the kibosh on me posting pictures of them so I will refrain (for now at least).  (Don’t they know their mom posts pics of herself in a COLD CAP for crying out loud?!).

So now we wait.  In a few days, I will feel back to normal Lord willing and will have 2 good weeks of that.  My next treatment is September 12th, which happens to be a few days before my awesome husband’s birthday.  And I think I have the perfect gift for him.

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Until next time…much love to you all & make every day count,

Jamie

 

Gearing Up for Chemo Round #2

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I’ve joked a lot about how most of my significant cancer related events have fallen on or around a special occasion whether that be a birthday, anniversary or holiday.  If we count the much hyped solar eclipse that happened today (which I still can’t figure out if I thought it was cool or if I feel like a SUCH A SUCKER for purchasing the $12 eclipse glasses for approximately 10-20 seconds of viewing pleasure) as one of those, then the tradition continues.

 

Tomorrow (August 22) I will undergo round #2 of chemotherapy.  With the anniversary of Jen’s death earlier this month (thank you ALL for your sweet comments and texts), I didn’t feel up to writing about the side effects of round #1.  But I will tell you that it was not fun.  My oncologist told me that a possible side effect of the type of chemo I am undergoing is bone pain.  To which I thought in my head, ‘What is bone pain?!’.  Ladies and gentlemen, now I know.  It was truly excruciating and lasted for a good 5-7 days.  At one point, I considered going to the ER because I couldn’t get it under control (the disclaimer being I wasn’t willing to try narcotics because they make me nauseous).  But then I had a conversation with the nurse and she told me it was normal.  NORMAL. Super. (I say with complete and utter sarcasm.)  This bone pain is due to a shot they give me called ‘Neulasta‘.

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It’s sole purpose is to have my bone marrow work overtime to create healthy white blood cells to fight off infection.  I kept telling myself that at least the shot must be working if I felt so badly.   That worked for about the first minute then I would start complaining again.  I was waiting for the moment when Trevor and I would cozy up on the couch and interlock arms like the couple above but it never happened.  And you know why?!  Cause these people are ACTORS and I can guarantee this lady never received an actual shot.  If she did, her man would be doing this instead:

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Thankfully after chemo, I never got full out nauseated, but was conflicted all the time about whether food would settle my stomach or make everything worse.  I never figured that one out. And there were a few other expected side effects like fatigue, but it’s hard to tell if that’s chemo or just being in my 40’s and raising 3 kids in the dead of August.

A full week after treatment, I was definitely inching my way closer to MY normal and feeling great. I exercised, got some house chores done that I’d put off for months, grocery shopped and watched two of my boys scrimmage in football.  But these last few days, I have started losing my hair.  This is to be expected – even with cold capping – but it is still very unsettling.  The hardest part is that it’s a visual reminder of what I’m dealing with even though I’ve felt so good the past 2 weeks.  Ugh.  Please pray for me to be patient with this aspect.  With a mastectomy, I’ve already had to cross an emotional hurdle and in some ways this feels like another one.  I REALLY like being a girl but feel like some parts of that are being stripped away during this process.  I guess the good news is that in this day and age I can use any bathroom I please regardless of my physical appearance.

Today, I went for another inflation.  The reason being that the days immediately preceding chemo is when I’m at my healthiest and at the least risk of infection.  My friend Jenny drove Stephanie and I to Dr. Potter’s office this morning and boy, were my sweet friends in for a big surprise.  As we say in Texas, bless their hearts.  This process is not for the faint of heart, as mentioned in previous blog posts, but they handled it like champs.

FullSizeRender.jpg-4.jpeg And I’m just gonna say, what happens in Dr. Potter’s office, stays in Dr. Potter’s office.

Lastly, for the record, I noticed a crazy spot on my leg yesterday and then today realized it had changed in color.  I went to the dermatologist to be safe and they decided to take a biopsy because of the way it looked.  I should know those results in about 7 business days.  If ever I felt vibrant, feminine and healthy, this is NOT the time.  The Lord is working on patience in my life and on trusting Him at every turn.

So tomorrow, I start the cycle all over again.  I know this is THE place to ask for your prayers.  I felt them last time and am looking forward to having them carry me through again this go round.  It will be a long day and I’m grateful for a team of friends and family who are rallying around me and keeping me company.  I loved receiving all of your texts and comments last time and appreciate your encouragement more than you know.

And to my precious cancer friends, Lezley and Alyson, who have been through this, thank you for your thoughtful gifts today!!!  I could not do this without you!

IMG_6934.JPG.jpegIMG_6938.JPG.jpegUntil next time…much love to you all & make every day count,

Jamie

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”  Romans 12:12

PS: Is it sad that this makes me feel like I didn’t waste $12?  #totallyworthit #sorrydodger

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A Life That Saved Mine

One year ago today, I lost a huge piece of my heart.  My friend, Jennifer Clouse, went to be with our Lord and Savior after a long battle with breast cancer on the morning of August 9, 2016.

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I met Jennifer in the 6th grade at First Baptist Academy and we remained thick as thieves for 33 years.  Even as I write that, I feel like it was more like 80 years.  The depth of our friendship truly encompassed real, raw, unedited versions of our selves.  She knew everything about me, and I knew everything about her.  Jen was loud and boisterous and a BLAST to be around.  There was never a dull moment in her presence.  She could make me laugh so hard that it would take me hours to recover.  And even up until her final days, she could shock me with her unfiltered commentary.  Jen and I had the type of friendship that resembled sisters, in that we didn’t have to pretend to be nice when we didn’t feel like it.  We were completely comfortable sharing our opinions with one another even if they were at odds.  The beautiful thing about that, however, was that we ALWAYS, and I mean ALWAYS, knew that our love for each other was unconditional.  We were tender with one another’s emotions and fiercely protected each other when hurt came our way.  We laughed and cried so much together on our journey that I think those emotions eventually melded into one.  Last July (18th to be exact), my friends Amy, Angela and I celebrated Amy’s birthday with Jen in the hospital.  (We have all been friends since junior high.)  It was one of the last times that Jen was really Jen.  We visited for 2 hours and had the best time, which was not unusual for us.

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Shortly after this, Jen slowed down quite a bit and became very lethargic.  I had one or two more good conversations with her after this day, but this one is the one that is permanently imprinted on my heart.

It seemed only fitting that one of her last best days was spent surrounded by the peeps that had been there since the days of overindulgent hair spray and hideously bad bangs.

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I’m so thankful for the memories we made along the way, and cherish every single one.

Because of Jen’s journey, lives are being changed.  Not only spiritually (that’s another post for another time), but also physically.  After Jen died, I became extremely diligent about self breast exams.  Something I had never done in the past.  And when I found a lump in April 2017, I didn’t sit around wondering if I should or shouldn’t go see a doctor.  I went immediately, knowing what a cruel and unpredictable enemy we might be dealing with.  Sure enough, I was diagnosed shortly afterwards with breast cancer.  And since my diagnosis, at least two other women I know were prompted to have mammograms and have since been diagnosed.  I feel that because of Jennifer and her story, my cancer was found early and I will most likely live a long and normal life.  As will these other brave women.  It may be a leap to you, but I know that the dynamic and enthusiastic girl I met when I was just eleven years old not only saved my life, but the lives of so many others as well.

So many of you have been tenderhearted enough to grasp the surreal nature of this experience, and you ask how I am doing.  Honestly, I can’t help but question what the Lord’s plan is for all of this.  I can’t wrap my brain around it.  Since February 2012 when Jen was originally diagnosed, I have walked this cancer journey with her.   That’s five long years for those of you who are not good at math.  I’m tired of doctor’s visits.  I’m really not equipped to endure these awful side effects of chemo.  And I don’t understand why, so soon on the heels of Jennifer’s death, I still have a daily reminder of how vicious cancer can be.

Thankfully, however, I know the Lord.  And while I may be baffled by my own life’s circumstances, I do rest in the fact that He is faithful (2 Thessalonians 3:3).  He sees infinitely more than I could ever see (Isaiah 55:8).  He calls me to trust in Him and not in my own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).  He already knows how this story will bring HIM glory (I Corinthians 10:31), and I’m confident in His ways despite my endless confusion.

My friend, Catherine, sent me this verse the other day and I felt like it conveyed all that I am feeling.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but NOT CRUSHED; perplexed, but NOT IN DESPAIR; persecuted, but NOT ABANDONED; struck down, but NOT DESTROYED.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the LIFE of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”  2 Corinthians 4:7-10

NOT CRUSHED, NOT IN DESPAIR, NOT ABANDONED, and NOT DESTROYED.

These are not only powerful words, but they are the TRUTH.  Jennifer knew it and preached it all the time.  And now it is my turn to rely on that truth amidst these crazy circumstances.

I miss my friend every single day.  I’m sad that she’s not here to cheer me on and lift me up with her bald bitmoji she would so frequently text.

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I wish so badly I could let her know that now I ‘get’ so many of the things she said and did over the last few years.  I have such a newfound respect for everything she endured now that I’m the one sitting in the chemo chair.  In short, my cancer journey has only made me appreciate even more what I believed to be true about Jen – she was a strong, vibrant, tough, sensitive, passionate soul.  And I’m thankful for the promise that I will get to see her in heaven again one day.  What a glorious reunion that will be.

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So TODAY I celebrate the life of a girl well lived.  A life punctuated by all things Jesus.  And a life that saved mine.

Until next time…much love to you all & make every single day count,

Jamie (aka B)

How Great Thou Art 

“We grieve, but not in the same way as those who have no hope…” I Thessalonians 4:13

 

Ice, Ice Baby

Well, I completed my first round of chemo yesterday and it went a lot better than I expected.   Thank you so much for all of your prayers, calls, texts, etc.  It brings such a sense of comfort to know so many people are thinking of me during such a crucial and scary time.

As I mentioned yesterday, Kim flew in from Boston to be with me for my first treatment and I could not be more grateful.  Kim has FOUR boys at home, and we can all appreciate how difficult it is to leave your kids during the summer to spend a few days away from home.  A big shout out to her husband, Bob, for holding down the fort (and for sending us JD’s Chippery cookies!), as well as Kim’s friends (hey Jenn!) in Boston for carrying her load so she can carry mine.  I’m so grateful for my friends.

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My posse also included Trevor, my mom & sisters, Amy & Angela, Casey, Courtney, Stephanie and sweet Jane.  Overkill?!  YOU BET.  And I loved every minute of it.

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We arrived at the hospital around 10:30am where I immediately went to get my blood drawn and saw Freda, Dr. O’ Shaughnessy’s physician’s assistant.  We also had the bonus of seeing Jen‘s nurse, Christina, and her oncologist, Dr. Osborne.  They came out to the waiting room for a visit, which was bittersweet at best.  Lots of tears ensued, but thankfully we had our JD’s Chippery cookies to dry us up.

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None of this process has been easy emotionally given the constant reminders from Jen’s days at Baylor.  But there is a sweetness to it all in the way that it almost feels like she’s there with us in spirit, as we sit in all the same chairs, say hi to all the same nurses, and laugh at all the same jokes.  Oh how we miss our Jen.

After the blood draw and doctor’s visit, I went down to floor 3 to sign in for chemo.  We were met there by Sandy from Chemo Cold Caps.  Sandy is what I like to call my “cap concierge”.  She was an angel and got every ready for me as soon as I arrived.  Sandy is a cancer survivor and had actually been a customer of CCC prior to being hired by them.  She has the most beautiful long blonde healthy hair now and served as a great motivator for me throughout the day to keep that stinking cap on!

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As soon as I was called back, Sandy began to work her magic and put the first cap on when I sat down in my chemo chair.  She put on a clear shower cap first, then the actual cold cap, then this HUGE silver lame insulated chef hat on top of all of that.  It was just as attractive and comfortable as it sounds.

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And no, you aren’t the first person to reference the character, Toad, on Mario Kart as my doppelgänger.

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Now to appreciate just how cold this sucker was, this is how the caps were packed in dry ice before being placed on my head.

IMG_6685.JPG.jpegThis picture was taken before we actually filled the remaining void spaces with dry ice pellets and added the second rack of caps numbers 4, 5 & 6.

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I kept thinking this song would come on every single time we opened that cooler…

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To which I would reply, ‘Too Cold, Too Cold’.

To add insult to injury, the nurse suggested that I also put my fingers and toes in ice while I was given the drug, Taxotere, to combat the possibility of neuropathy.  It was all I could do to not bust out with ‘Cool it Now-ow’, New Edition style (thanks for the GIF, Chris Bone!).  Seriously????? More ice?

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Thank goodness I only had to do that part for an hour.  The caps, however, lasted from 1pm until 9pm – getting swapped out every 15-25 minutes.  Sandy mentioned that the first 2-3 minutes of the cap were the worst.  Naively, I thought she meant just the first cap.  But, alas, it was the first 2-3 minutes of EVERY SINGLE CAP.  20 of them.  Nice.  It was only through YOUR prayers that I made it through.  Thank you so much!!!!

Today, I’m not feeling so great and honestly I feel like a wimp.  I thought I’d at least make it to day 3 or 4 before feeling crummy.  I guess you could say I’m an overachiever.  But I was happy when Courtney texted me this morning and asked if she could take me up to the hospital to see Stephanie before her surgery.  I knew I couldn’t drive myself because of the drugs I’m on, so this was a treat for sure.

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Steph is now out of surgery and we are praising the Lord it was a success!!  I envision that by Friday we will be having a pajama party and watching movies all day together.  The perks of having a cancer buddy.

To express my gratitude to all of you in words seem impossible.  The best way I know how is to say thanks for being so ‘Nice, Nice, Baby’.  You have shown me love that I’ve never experienced before, and I pray that I will be able to pay that forward someday.  The Lord is GOOD even in the midst of difficulty, sorrow, confusion, pain and sadness.  I have experienced it first hand and hope that through this blog you might be able to as well.

Until next time…much love to you all & make every day count!!

Jamie

PS: A HUGE thank you to Kathy for keeping Hayes this week, Catherine, Laura, Erin, and Courtney for getting Hunter to and from Drivers Ed, and Casey and Michelle for making sure Hudson gets to his 2 a days for football.  I’m SO SO SO grateful for all of your help!!!

“Give Praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done.”  Psalm 105:1