Never Say Never

Hi friends!  Again, it’s been way too long (which, considering this is a cancer blog, that’s a GOOD THING).  I always know when it’s time to write a post, however, when I pause and think, ‘Did that really just happen?’.  This is one of those times.

A few days ago I received a text from my friend and fellow breast cancer survivor, Amy Smith.  She said that Vinnie the tattoo artist (remember him?) was going to be in town the first week in December to take care of the Dallas patients.  Vinnie is based in Maryland, and at one point Stephanie and I had discussed taking a girls trip (or in this case, I guess it would be a trip for the girls) to get our tattoos.  But now that Vinnie is coming to town, our trip will be much shorter and way less expensive.

To be honest, I haven’t really given much thought to the whole tattoo process after finishing up treatment.  I guess being normal was just too much fun.

But can we please talk about what’s NOT normal?  Seeing this in your inbox:IMG_0423.jpg

I don’t know what’s more disturbing.  The fact that ‘little vinnies’ is in all lowercase or that this title may actually have a double meaning (pardon even that pun – yikes, I can’t stop).  Right when I saw this, I had a flashback to 2017 and all things cancer.  I haven’t thought about tattoos since I happened to catch an episode of Bachelor in Paradise a month or so ago (please don’t judge).  Is everyone 30 and under now required to have a tattoo and I’m the last to know?

Anyway, after I recovered from the email, I contacted Tasha, who was listed as the scheduling contact.  She then sent me another email which asked me to fill out all kinds of information and reply back.  Mind you, there was no attachment.  This was simply just a few questions in the body of the email.  Name, Phone Number, Date of Mastectomy, etc.  You get the gist.  I was rolling along just fine until I got to the very last question, or in this case the very last request.  Please read #8 for yourselves.

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DYING.  I’m pretty sure I spit out whatever I was sipping on at the time.

We, as parents, have spent the majority of our sons’ teenage years lecturing them on the dangers of sending inappropriate pictures via any type of technology.  I’m pretty sure if you are a parent of a teenager you have uttered the words, ‘NEVER send a naked picture of yourself to ANYONE, EVER.’  Holla?!  We threaten the boys that if they do that, they will go to jail, never hold a steady job, never be able to run for office, etc.  And now THEIR MOM is the one sending inappropriate pictures in a casual email to a stranger.  NEVER SAY NEVER.  All of my internal organs were stressed, and everything in me said this is wrong.  Not to mention the demands to use natural lighting.  I’m a photographer, and do you know where the very best natural lighting is?  BY A WINDOW. 🤦🏼‍♀️

I’ll spare you the details, but I managed to follow directions and tried to remain professional about the whole exchange.  Then I forwarded the ORIGINAL email (without photos) to Stephanie, so she could sign up too.  Later that day, she called and we laughed about the ridiculous nature of that task.  She happened to mention the email address where she sent the pics and I FROZE.  I asked what she was talking about, as I had just replied to the little vinnies email with my ‘attachments’.   NO MA’AM.  There was a special private place in which to send the photos and I just didn’t read the email all the way to the end.  I AM SO SORRY, TASHA. #shecan’tunseethat

So in keeping with my tradition of major surgeries and procedures falling on or around special occasions, I’m getting tattooed December 4th.  Happy Anniversary mom & dad.

As if sending pics of myself wasn’t humiliating enough, I then had to wake up early this morning for a colonoscopy.  (I hesitate telling you all that because I really don’t like to brag about my life.)  This procedure was recommended by Dr. O’Shaughnessy at my 8 month appointment simply as a precaution.  When she scheduled this appointment, it felt so far away.  Then yesterday, when I realized I couldn’t eat all day and had to drink the nastiest drink known to man, September suddenly seemed to get here way too fast.

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Yum.

I remember when Katie Couric first started talking about colonoscopies many moons ago when she lost her husband to colon cancer.

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What I don’t remember is her talking about the nasty drink.

Instead, you see joyful images like this of her encouraging folks to get a screening:

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But what you don’t see is a pic of Jimmy Kimmel chugging his Moviprep the night before.

There’s a reason for that.

I have to give my husband props, however, because as I sat there last night complaining over and over and over again about THAT DRINK and repeating, ‘I’m never going to be able to finish this!!!!’, he kept encouraging me with every hour that passed.  Then, kind of under his breath, mentioned that he just did this and it was fine.  WHAT?  I literally DID NOT REMEMBER him doing this.  Why?  Because he fasted while putting in a full day’s work, drank that concoction when he got home within like 2 hours, stayed up all night, never complained, drove himself to his appointment, etc.  I quickly realized how I might be the most dramatic patient EVER in Bachelor history.🌹

These days, doctor’s offices are so tech savvy that I received a text from Dr. Katherine Little’s office (thank you, Meg, for the referral – loved her!) reminding me of my appointment.  And since I’ve already proven I’m a very wimpy patient, I enlisted the help of my mom to transport me to and from the procedure.  Here’s the exchange we had last night.FullSizeRender-21.jpg

I’m proud to say my mom arrived on time and was very responsible to get me where I needed to go.  My sister, Ashley, also joined us for a bit, because clearly I work better in a group.  And as we sat in the little holding room (which had a wind chill of approximately 15 degrees) waiting for results, Ashley mentioned she was COLD.  The nurse whipped around and draped her with a warm blanket without missing a beat.  My friends Amy and Angela call me the Sugar Queen (a nice person who has absolutely no problem being waited on), but after seeing Ash all snuggled up at MY appointment, I handed my crown over to her.  It felt like she earned it.

After we thawed, Dr. Little came in to report that my colon was perfectly healthy!  But the only thing I think I heard was that I don’t have to tap the Moviprep for 5 more years.  Hallelujah.

As far as everything else goes, I am feeling fantastic.  Thank you to everyone who continues to ask when they see me.  You guys know how to make a girl feel so loved.   I started working out again this summer, and have been humbled by how long it has taken to get my stamina back to where I was before cancer so rudely interrupted my life.  It started with daily hikes in Colorado and has morphed into workouts at Gold’s Gym & Camp Gladiator (shout out to Meredith & Laila!).  I’m not quite where I used to be, but I hope to be close by Christmas.

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My hair is still creeping along, but getting longer by the day.  I was finally able to use an actual ponytail holder for the first time THIS WEEK in over a year!  It’s the little things.  Before now, I haven’t even had enough hair for the ponytail holder to stay in, but I’m happy to report it stayed all day and I was so happy to finally feel like a girl again!!!

B A B Y  S T E P S.

So…next up I have another follow up (which will be my 12 month f/u) October 29th with my oncologist.  It’s hard to believe that milestone is approaching, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Thank you all so much for continuing to follow my journey and for cheering me on in life.  My level of compassion for others has deepened significantly as a result of this experience, as has my relationship with God.  In the past, I feel like there have been many times in regards to other’s tough circumstances when I have said, I hope that NEVER happens to me or to my family.  I’m sure we’ve all felt that way.  You might have even felt that way about what I went through last year.  But through cancer, God has taught me so many lessons about myself and others.  He has deepened my understanding of just how big He really is.  He has given me patience I truly didn’t think was possible (especially with 3 teenagers in the house).  And He has given me the best gift of all: perspective.  Because of that, (and, well the totally inappropriate selfies),  I will try to never say never again.

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

Jamie

PS: Please schedule your mammograms & colonoscopies!!!!

“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you.  We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience…” Colossians 1:9-11

 

 

 

 

 

Last Strand Standing

FRIENDS, I have missed you!!!!  It feels like an eternity since I have written a post, but I just went for my 8 month check up with my oncologist, Dr. O’Shaugnessy, and wanted to catch you up to speed.  I truly hope you are all doing well and are lying on a beach somewhere, hiking in the mountains, swimming in a pool or spending time with family and friends while having just celebrated our great nation!

We were down to just one child for the holiday (the older they get, the more they disappear), which meant that that one child got all of the water toys to himself.  (As well as my in-laws’ undivided attention.)  Well played, son.

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Another move I greatly appreciated was one by my precious 5 year old little neighbor, Will.  He decided that all of our yards needed American flags in them, so a few days ago he decorated for us.  And it was all I could do to not belt out Lee Greenwood’s version of ‘God Bless the U.S.A.’ when I saw his giant determination to finish, as well as his tiny little nod to patriotism.  IMG_1305.jpeg

There ain’t no doubt I love this land.

Before I launch into how my doctor’s appointment went, I want to share a few things that happened since we last ‘visited’.  If you remember correctly, my last post left off with me having just enjoyed some lake time with my friends and just gone to my 4 month check up back in February.  Life has moved at a fast clip since then!

My spring was mainly spent watching my sons play their respective sports.  We have a baseball player, a basketball player and a golfer, so needless to say, there is always a game or round to watch.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I was so happy to finally be able to participate again in real life like a normal person without a procedure or treatment looming.  Praise God for normalcy.  And for at least ONE indoor sport.

We took a break in March (called ‘spring break’, you may have heard of it) and went skiing with my sister, Ashley, and her family.  Because my middle son had baseball that week, I was only able to take my oldest and youngest.

IMG_9288.jpegMight I just say how much fun it was to have my nieces on the trip?!   Oh to travel with GIRLS.  Finally, we watched channels that didn’t end in ‘S-P-N’ and had real discussions around the table that consisted of more than just grunts.  It was glorious.  I was also so excited to ski again since I was restricted in December, so I headed out on day one with eyes wide open and optimism in my back pocket.  That ended abruptly, however, and I had to cut the day short due to a very swollen left leg.  Yes, the leg on which I had my skin cancer surgery back in January.  I concluded it probably wouldn’t be wise to continue, so I spent the remainder of my ski days off the mountain with my sister  (who really wanted a reason to quit skiing, I think.  So you’re welcome, Ashley).

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Another lovely thing happened that week.  During the first few days, my eyelashes started falling out again.  I think I had mentioned before that it might be a possibility for them to fall out twice (and in some cases 3-4 times) after chemo?  Well, round two hit hard and fast while on the mountain.  I googled this phenomenon because I was so perplexed, but apparently we all lose lashes here and there and they regrow.  However, normal people’s lashes are all on different cycles so they are never without lashes.  In other words, they don’t fall out all at once.  But since mine all fell out after chemo, they all grew back together as well.  Therefore, until their growth staggers again, I think this is what I’m in for.  🤦🏼‍♀️

In other hair news…when I got home from the ski trip, I started feeling like I was getting my sea legs back and continuing to ride the normal train.  I actually got my hair colored (my coarse, grey hair that was growing in needed some love), which was a crazy experience.  I have never felt so naked as I did when I took my hat off for my hair dresser to work his magic.   He deserves an academy award for not gasping out loud right there in the salon.  I mean y’all, I cannot even describe what pitiful shape my hair is in.  YES it’s growing back, and for that I am eternally grateful.  But all of the new growth is pushing out the last remaining long strands making it sort of a “last strand standing” situation.  My long hairs are so thin that even the tiniest of clips struggle with holding it together.  I think I was actually in a better place in February than I am now!!  But nonetheless, I have full confidence everything will be back as it should within a year or two!  So saddle up, patience, cause we have a ride to take.

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Trying to carry on with life after cancer is unfamiliar but also so welcome.  But even life without cancer sometimes includes friends with cancer.  So here I am with some of my fellow ‘breasties’ at a lovely brunch in March.

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There truly is strength in numbers, and each one of these precious ladies is prayed for every single morning by me.  Some are finished with treatment and some are still going strong.  HANG IN THERE, ladies!!

That same week (and according to my clothes, maybe that same day), My friend Meredith and I took a day trip to the Arise Africa offices (please tell me you know of my LOVE for Arise Africa and it’s mission.  If not, please ask me about it!!!!).  We got to play with Annie and again, in those tiny moments, I’m reminded that the world is a good place.

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And I’m also reminded that fat thighs and wrists are totally acceptable and even adorable when you are younger than 5.

Later in March, my husband’s all time favorite college basketball team, the KU Jayhawks, played in the Final Four tournament in San Antonio.  Still riding the cancer mentality of ‘might as well’, we loaded up the fam and went the the game.  It did happen to fall on Easter weekend, which was a little strange.  Nothing says ‘Jesus is Risen’ like a trip to the Alamodome.

IMG_9564.jpegDid anyone notice how early we got to the game?

IMG_9567.jpgJust checking.  Anyway, Kansas unfortunately had a terrible (and that’s putting it kindly) showing.  They lost to Villanova 79-95 and never even had a chance.  But as they say,  you’ll never regret missing Easter with your family to attend a sporting event that makes your husband so emotional that he might be confused for a 15 year old girl. (What?  They don’t say that?).

My sweet friend, Melanie, thankfully understands being wrecked emotionally after a sporting event (she is an Aggie football fan, after all).  She was also friends with Trevor at Texas A&M even before I even met him.  So she ‘gets’ him.  And since we were in her hood, Mel hosted our crew for Easter brunch despite the Jayhawks devastating loss.  This made Easter feel a little more like Easter in my opinion.   Thank God for good friends and French Toast Casserole.

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(Especially the French Toast Casserole.)

After our celebration with the Shankles, we made our way back home to enter the home stretch of the school year.  Unfortunately, normal wasn’t normal for long.  A few days after our road trip, I was in the shower washing my left arm (I washed my right one too, don’t worry) and felt a lump on the front part of my upper arm near my shoulder.  I probably wouldn’t have freaked out as much if it hadn’t been in this particular spot (who am I kidding, yes I would have).  But this spot is significant because this is where I had a melanoma removed 2 years ago.  (Is anyone else starting to get REALLY TIRED of my cancer?!  Because I am!!!  Breast ✅ Squamous Cell ✅ Melanoma ✅).  I made an appointment with my dermatologist to get the lump checked out.  And because apparently I don’t learn very quickly, I didn’t tell anyone, nor did I take anyone to my appointment with me.  Turns out that was a big mistake.  My dermatologist happened to be out that day, so her partner saw me in the exam room.  She read over my history (always a fun topic of conversation these days – I SO miss the days when I was able to answer ‘no’ to every single question on the intake form).  She immediately said we need to get a biopsy because of where the lump was located.  THEN SHE STARTED PREPPING FOR THE BIOPSY.  Right then and there.  Ummmmmm….no thank you.  I began to cry, as one does, while she put a big fat needle in my arm.

When I left that office, I think I may have been the most afraid I’ve been on this entire journey.  I had convinced myself that while my immune system was compromised due to chemo, the melanoma cells, just like high waisted jeans, decided this was their chance to make a comeback.  IMG_1339.jpg

While I was leaving my appointment, my sister Ashley called.  In an all too familiar scenario, I was in FULL ON tears.  She had no idea what was going on since I hadn’t even mentioned my new found lump.  She asked me to come over and we ended up going to see a movie in the middle of the morning to get my mind off of everything.  And that, my friends, is what sisters are for.  (They are also for sharing a large tub of buttered movie popcorn.  Hypothetically speaking.)

To make matters more complicated and emotional, the anniversary of my cancer diagnosis, April 13th, was the following day.  And believe me, I was reminded in the oddest of places.

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So instead of being able to celebrate that I was cancer free on that anniversary, I was now waiting on a phone call with the results of my biopsy.  Needless to say, there was no celebrating to be had.  I think I had finally reached the darkest place I had ever been.  There are no words to describe what one goes through on their cancer journey.  I literally felt like each time I stood up, I got knocked back down again.  I think of myself as a strong, healthy person, but slowly over time, all of these set backs were pushing the person that I’d known and identified with farther and farther into the distance.

Literally like Wilson on Cast Away.

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I think God allows this stripping away of our strength, our health, our comfort, our {fill in the blank} in order for us to rely fully on Him.  I’m actually convinced of it.  Until we understand just how weak and helpless we are do we not fully grasp our need for a Savior.  (Is anyone else getting distracted by the Wilson gif above? Or is that just me?  Squirrel!).  Anyway, I went through a period at this point where it was almost too intense for me to be close to God.  I wasn’t mad, but I was disheartened maybe?  I had walked this road so intimately with Him and just couldn’t fathom why I kept getting knocked down again and again and again.  First, losing a close friend to breast cancer, next being diagnosed with breast cancer myself, next having to undergo chemo, next getting skin cancer because my immune system was down DUE to chemo, next finding a lump where my melanoma had originated, etc. etc. etc.  It all just felt like too much (and I feel so stupid saying that because I know friends going through much worse right now than anything I had to go through).  So I am not soliciting sympathy.  Please, hear me on that.  This is strictly me putting my full self out there so that those who may come after me understand that life and all of our experiences are a process.  A journey.  There are many turns, bumps, accidents, joys, thrills, fears along the way.  And ultimately, we have to get to a place where we quit viewing these obstacles as getting knocked down or piling on to our already heavy situations.  Thankfully, God has instead taught me how to view these obstacles as isolated challenges and even more opportunities to see Him do His thing.  2 Corinthians 12:9 says, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  HE is the one who is strong.  Not me.  Not Wilson.

BUT THIS HAS TAKEN A LONG TIME TO UNDERSTAND.

And I wish I had grasped it before this latest set back.  Because as biopsy results often go, I ended up having to wait the entire weekend before I heard back from my doctor.  I cried to a few more friends and just sat with the fact that I may be gearing up for another unwelcome adventure.  But PRAISE GOD the results revealed that this was just a lipoma.  A LIPOMA.  And according to the experts, I am just “unlucky” that it happened to form in that exact spot.  It will come as no surprise to you that I had that thing taken out so fast it would make your head spin.  Making that my 6th (but really, who’s counting) surgery in a year’s time.

And since we are on the topic,  I am not the only one in my family finished with surgery.  In May, my family was able to celebrate my dad’s retirement of 47 years as an orthopaedic surgeon.  I’m so very proud of him for always showing us the value of hard work, and for practicing with such compassion and integrity.  Congratulations, dad!

May your ‘approach’ no longer be associated with anterior hips, but instead your shot from the tee, may a ‘break’ no longer be associated with a bone, but instead the curve on a green, and may your ‘radius’ no longer be associated with your ‘ulna’ but instead with the distance between the center of your swing arc and your hands on the grip.

I love you more than words can say.

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The retirement party was a great way to kick off the summer, and since then I’ve been reconnecting with old friends, making new friends, exercising, traveling a bit (that sounded really good but really it was for baseball tournaments in Norman, OK and Tomball, TX.  In the heat. On bleachers. So you can tuck your jealousy back in now.) #shoutouttocammieanddallastigersbaseball

SO…to wrap this thing up (FINALLY), my 8th month check up was fabulous.  For the first time since chemo, my blood work was completely normal.  Everything in the column (and there’s a LONG LONG column) was black with no red numbers – red indicates anything outside the range of normal.  I know that’s a small thing, but it was HUGE to me.  My sweet friend, Amy, was nice enough to accompany me to my appointment and we both appreciated those numbers more than you can imagine.  We also got to hug Jen’s nurse and doctor while at Baylor, making us feel a little closer to our girl.  For now, I will continue on the Tamoxifen for a few more years, then possibly have Lupron shots which will shut down my ovaries, eventually remove my ovaries and start on Aromatase inhibitors for a few more years.  Sounds awesome, doesn’t it?

I know I sound like a broken record, but ladies please go get your 3D mammograms if you haven’t already.  In fact, I just had lunch with my sister, Jennifer, and our friend, Sheaffer, and somehow we even managed to discuss breast health.  Over waffles and omelettes.  So if we can touch on it (yikes, poor choice of words), so can you.

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My next appointment is in October, so I’ll plan on checking back in then.  Thank you for your continued prayers – they are working!!!

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

Jamie

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me…”  Psalm 28:7

Forever And Ever, Amen.

Since my last blog post, many things have happened both in this world and in my life.  All of these things make me desperately cling to the fact that I need a Savior.  Sometimes life just feels so hard!  I, like you, am deeply saddened by the recent school shooting in Parkland, FL.  To know that seventeen innocent lives were shed for no good reason shakes me to my core.  And yesterday, we lost arguably the most respected Christian evangelist in the world, Billy Graham.  On a group text with Jen’s friends & family, we talked about how she must have greeted Rev. Graham in heaven (with a booming, “BILLY!” through a loud megaphone).  I can’t even imagine the questions she had for him.  My bestie, Kim, lost her mother in late January and I got to be there for & with her (as she has been there for me).  And my dear friend, Amy (who has also been there every step of the way), had surgery this week and is doing great thank the Lord.  My niece and nephew lost their grandfather a few days ago, and will lay him to rest this Saturday.  We celebrated Jennifer’s 2nd heavenly birthday this week.  And on top of all of that, I am raising three teenage boys.  Dare I say again how much I need a Savior?

Thankfully, the hard times are usually counterbalanced by some good times.  And one of those was a quick lake trip with some friends in January.  I have to take a moment to brag on my friends because they know how to do a lake trip.  If it were up to me, I would literally bring some bagels and bottled water for food and beverage.  But not these girls.  THESE girls brought appetizers that looked like this:

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How are these people friends with me?!  And then when we sat down for dinner, look what beautiful flowers appeared…

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I guess opposites attract when it comes to friends because my centerpiece usually looks more like this…

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Fancy or not, I love each and every one of these gals (the ones pictured and the ones not pictured) and am so thankful for the way my friends have loved me through cancer!!

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Today, I went for my 4 month follow up to Dr. O’ Shaughnessey with my mom.  I didn’t expect to feel so many emotions walking into Baylor as it literally has been like a second home for the past few years.  But something today got me.  Memories of being there with Jen plus memories of me waiting for chemo and bloodwork flooded in.  I did what I could to keep my tears at bay, but it was difficult.  I would be happy if I NEVER had to walk in that place again.  Thankfully, however, my appointment went well and my bloodwork was good (despite them having to take it twice 😫 due to using the wrong vials…um, excuse me?!).

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All I need to do now is keep taking my tamoxifen and come back in June.  Yes, that’s it.  I am so incredibly grateful.  Thank you for your faithfulness in praying for my continued good health.  It truly is something I do not take for granted! I did ask about some bone pain I was experiencing, some stiffness and a foggy brain, but apparently that is just par for the course with all that I’ve been through.  So basically I feel like an 80 year old without all of the wisdom.  It’s awesome.

Speaking of feeling “old”, my friend Stephanie and I have a running joke that every conversation we have these days feels a lot like playing a game of Pictionary (without the drawing board).  It’s a lot of “you know, the thing we did last year” or “I can’t think of the name of it but it sounds like…”.  Pathetic.  I started wondering if something was wrong with me, but the more I’m around my friends the more I realize we are ALL just suffering from “age”.  👵🏻

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Age is a funny thing.  Lots of things can age.  Cheese can age.  Wine can age.  Even music can age.  Which reminds me of something that happened the other day.  Trevor’s taste in music is quite, how shall I put it, “old school”.   He is stuck in the 80’s & 90’s and makes no apologies for it.  In addition, he never gets tired of a song.  Like EVER.  The boys and I tease him that no one can kill a song quite like he can (and I think he takes it as a compliment).  Lastly, God bless, he is always about 2 years behind with “new” music.  He gets so excited to introduce a new song to us and doesn’t understand how we already know every single word.   Anyway, I seriously digress.

The other day I got in the passenger’s seat of his car and immediately changed the station.  Did anyone just cringe?  I realize there is some sort of unspoken rule that whomever drives the car gets to be the deejay, and me changing the station without asking permission was literally like breaking the law.  NO MATTER that a Billy Ray Cyrus song was playing (and it wasn’t even Achy Breaky Heart).

Yes, he sings songs other than just Achy Breaky Heart.  Who knew?

Since Trevor was trying to mark his musical territory, he quickly switched it back from my decade appropriate channel.  Then we both laughed because NO ONE, not even him, wanted to keep listening to Billy Ray.  But…STUBBORN.  Thankfully, after Billy Ray’s tune was over, Randy Travis came on the air.

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Randy.

And before we knew it, “I’m Gonna Love You Forever” was being sung by us both.  And out of all the times that I have sung this song, the line “Well, honey I don’t care, I ain’t in love with your hair.  And if it all fell out, well I’d love you anyway.” has never seemed so relevant.   In that moment,  I had to relent about my husband’s favorite station being PRIME COUNTRY.  And without getting too sappy, I am so thankful to have a husband that, when put to the actual test, loves me anyway.

As you know, my hair has been quite the issue throughout this journey.

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If it were a teenage girl, it would be the drama queen of its grade.  I’ve been asked by several people, knowing what I know now, if I would do the cold cap again.  And to that question, I still have no answer.  My hair continues to fall out daily (which is still traumatic for me), but new growth is very evident at the same time.  So it’s confusing.  I never went fully bald (pro), but I also still feel the need to wear caps during this transition (con).  Essentially, I have just enough long hairs left to do my version of the combover.

I did finally bust out at the end of January and left my hat at home for the first time.  I was with Stephanie (we went to a joint doctor’s appointment at Dr. Potter’s office), and she was sweet to reassure me that no one would even know any different just by looking at me (that’s what friends are for, right Dionne Warwick?).  And since then, if the weather cooperates, I’ve been sporting my new look.

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(Me & My sweet dad 2/3/18)

But at home, in the privacy of my bathroom, I look at myself in the mirror and wonder if I will ever truly feel like myself again.  There’s so much of this journey that strips away the familiar.  So much that changes you both inside and out.  And if your journey is long enough, I guess you are never the same again.  Don’t get me wrong.  That’s not all bad.  I have genuinely learned to give up control of almost everything in my life.  Once you are put in a situation that punctuates that fact, you tend to pay attention.  The Lord has really shown me that He’s boss, and in that I find the greatest peace and comfort.  Does it mean I don’t care about my hair?  NO.  Does it mean I enjoy having 3 huge scars on my left leg?  NO.  Does it mean I don’t consider if the cancer will return?  NO.  Does it mean I won’t lose people that I love?  NO.  But what it does mean is that I’ve been faced with the ultimate truth that this life is not ours to control.  Rather, this life is a gift.  And to truly get the most out of this amazing gift, we need to turn it back over to the Giver.  Even (especially) in the midst of our sadness or hard times.  He knows what’s best for us.  He loves us.  And He doesn’t make mistakes.  All we need to do is to surrender to Him.  And ironically enough, I have cancer to thank for that very important lesson.

Forever and Ever, Amen.

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

Jamie

Never Underestimate Pain

Well, crap.  That really hurt.  Like REALLY hurt.  I don’t know what I was expecting in the way of MOHS surgery on my leg (I’ve had it previously on my arm and shoulder), but it was NOTHING like I’d anticipated.  I don’t know if the pain was due to having surgery on 3 different spots on the same leg or the actual placement of the spots or what.  But something made it really bad.  There’s a scene in the movie ‘Hitch’ where Will Smith is standing with Eva Mendes in a museum on Ellis Island and she reacts very negatively to a sweet gesture he had planned.  After her outburst, he says, “I saw that going differently in my mind”.

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You and me both, Will.  You and me both.

I spent the better part of the weekend in bed in excruciating pain, and can’t believe I never saw it coming.  The day of my procedure the nurse said, ‘We have a prescription for Tramadol for you’ and I completely dismissed it.  The cocky side of me explained to my mom on the car ride home that these people don’t know what I’m capable of pain-wise, and we’d be silly to get the prescription filled.  I mean, I’ve survived 4 surgeries and chemo in less than a year and I proudly didn’t take heavy drugs to get through all of that.

WRONG.  I could not have been more wrong.  I quickly learned you don’t DARE pain.

If you imagine having the largest bruise on your shin and having someone press down on it constantly and times that by 1000, you’d be scratching the surface of my pain.  It was downright miserable.   Here I was in bed again unable to even walk around my house without writhing in pain.  It was an all too familiar scenario for me and one I didn’t necessarily want to revisit.  There’s only so much HGTV and Netflix one can watch in a year and I believe I met my personal quota about 4 months ago.

Thankfully, Trevor sprung back into action as my nurse and got my pain under control.  I did eventually succumb to taking Tramadol (which subsequently led to me vomiting and also reminded me why I don’t do well with heavy pain meds in the first place).  But Tylenol and Advil were there to pick up the pieces Tramadol left behind and I am FINALLY feeling much better.

So is this the end?  I’m praying with all my might it is.  But for now I will rest in the fact that it is the end FOR NOW.  And that’s got me and Will Smith doing this…

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Minus the jacket, belt buckle and high waisted jeans.

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

Jamie

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”  Romans 8:18

 

Almost Squamous

Happy New Year to all of you, my faithful prayer warriors!  I hope you had a wonderful holiday filled with love and family.  I’m sitting here in my office freezing (by Texas standards) and contemplating the next few days.  It made me think about how you all have been so kind to follow my journey, and I wanted to thank you again for making sure I don’t walk this road alone.

Tomorrow, January 18th, I will be having MOHS surgery on my leg in 3 different spots where they found squamous cell carcinoma.  And even though this isn’t part of my breast cancer journey, per se, I do believe these spots surfaced because my chemo suppressed my ability to fight them off.  Therefore, in my convoluted way of connecting things, I still think of this as a nasty ‘side effect’.  I would appreciate your prayers for tomorrow’s procedure that they would get everything in the first or second try!

A lot of people have asked me how I feel now that this is ‘over’.  The best way for me to answer that question is to say that life after breast cancer has been really interesting.  I think it was providential that the end of my journey coincided with the end of the calendar year.  It allowed me to begin 2018 with a fresh perspective in so many areas of my life.   And because everyone else on the planet was celebrating the end of something in December and looking forward to a new beginning in January, it was if we were all doing it TOGETHER.  And I just love that.  I mean, who else gets to enjoy fireworks around the world and Ryan Seacrest at the end of their cancer journey?!  (Don’t even get me started on how old I felt not recognizing most of the talent on New Years Rockin’ Eve. My friends, Mel and Gulley, and I were texting back and forth on NYE and Gulley led with “I need to warn you that watching Seacrest is a slippery slope bc I don’t know half the people on there.  Which is why I turned on the Crown.”)  That about sums it up.

My family happened to be in Colorado over New Years, so we rang in 2018 surrounded by God’s AMAZING creation.

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And because I was only 3 weeks out from surgery, my doctor advised I not hit the slopes (all you need to do is make the motion as if you are traversing the mountain with poles and you’ll understand why…#chestmuscles).  I didn’t really care, however, because what’s not to love about sending all of your people out each morning with full tummies while you then go sit in your pjs and catch up on Facebook the rest of the day?  IT. WAS. GLORIOUS.  I may never actually ski again.

And speaking of full tummies, it is a well known fact that I do not cook.  As in, we dine out or bring food in an OBSCENE amount.  Actually, one of my favorite stories regarding this happened a few years ago.  My youngest son, Hayes, had friends coming over just about every day that summer.  Because the friends typically went home around dinnertime, they would notice that I would be bringing food in from (insert restaurant here) each night.  One of them asked Hayes, “Do you get take out every night?” to which Hayes replied, “What’s take out?”  Holy humility.  My boy didn’t know it had a name because it’s called ‘dinner’ in our house.  Shameful.

Even though I do not cook, I do, however, bake.  And as proud as I was to be able to feed 6 guys biscuits, pancakes or cinnamon rolls each morning (two of our boys brought friends on the trip with us), I didn’t account for the difference in baking in high altitude.  Did you know that was such a thing?

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I quite possibly made the saddest looking apres ski brownies you’ve ever seen one day.  (Apparently, adding flour to your mix is key for edibility’s sake.)  Thankfully, teenage boys don’t care how things look and they courageously and cautiously scraped the thin layer of chocolate out of the brownie pan anyway.  God bless them.  But after I figured out the flour component, my blueberry muffins disappeared as soon as they came out of the oven.  It was a culinary victory at 9,000 ft.

In short, however, we had an amazing vacation celebrating the end of 8 long months, and Trevor and I realized we might never travel without the boys’ friends again as everyone was on their best behavior for 6 days in a row.  #thesecrettoagoodfamilyvacation

 

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Boys with their friends meeting up with more friends from home on the slopes

Back to how I feel (which is probably the most terrifying phrase I can utter to my husband at times)…I think the best way to describe it is fully content.  Not to undermine the sheer joy I have knowing I don’t have to undergo chemo in a day or two (because there’s so much of that!!!!), but I also have an uncanny reverence for this disease knowing it could resurface any time it wants to.  So instead of living in an emotional state of teetering between joy and fear or highs and lows, I have learned how to stay steady in the middle.  The Lord has shown me (and grown me!) in the past few months that trusting Him regardless of circumstance is the answer to contentment.  And unintentionally, I just described Philippians 4:11-13 which says,

“…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty…”.

In my case, I would substitute:

‘I know what it is to be sick and to have lost someone so dear to me and I know what it is to be healthy again and to celebrate life.’  

The past year and 1/2 has certainly taken me on an emotional ride.  I have seen the Lord in death and I have seen the Lord in life. He is ALWAYS there. How comforting to know our Savior never leaves our side!  So I’m left to trust.  I’m left to surrender to him regardless if I understand (good or bad) what is happening around me.  I’m left to combat fear with faith.  I’m left to depend on Him when I feel weak and depend on Him even more when I feel strong.  I’m left to resolve conflicts I have in relationships, I’m left to show love to those in need.  I’m left to tell the WORLD about the one who loves them unconditionally.  What a privilege.

So how do I feel?  Better than I have in a long long time.

My next step is to have a follow up appointment with my oncologist, Dr. O’Shaughnessy in late February.  It’s hard to believe, but that marks four months after completion of treatment for me.  Will someone please tell my hair?

Seriously, though, my hair IS growing back albeit grey and coarse.  And I might have way more in common with Billy Ray Cyrus’ mullet than I ever thought possible.  (I am TOTALLY business on front and party on back at this juncture.)

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It may take awhile for the ‘business’ to catch up with the ‘party’, but I’m trying to be patient and praying one day soon I can ditch my baseball cap!  In other hair news, my eyebrows are back (those grow in FAST), and my eyelashes are just barely peeking over my lid.  SO CLOSE.  I’ve heard eyelashes fall out twice after treatment, but I’m on my knees praying that’s a nasty rumor.  Once is plenty for me.  I’ve tried taking pictures along the way to track the progression of my hair, brows & lashes for you guys, but I end up getting sad and deleting them.  So you’ll just have to take my word for it that things are finally moving in the right direction despite my current 90’s hairdo.

So as I head into tomorrow, I want to say thank you for praying with and for me.  And thank you for being such a great companion on this trip.  Please continue to pray for all of those battling cancer, as unfortunately the list grows each day.  I have so many dear friends facing dire circumstances with their loved ones right now, and my heart is literally broken for them.  This disease doesn’t care who it hurts.  And it is not considerate of caregivers.  So if you know someone battling or someone caring for a patient, please mail a card, give a hug or send a text.  Encouragement was the fuel to my fight, and I drew so much strength from all of your kind words over the past year.

And one last thing: PLEASE, ladies, PLEASE get your 3D mammograms if you haven’t already!!!  If for any other reason, you don’t want to be responsible for bringing mullets back.

Much love to you all & make every day count,

Jamie

 

All I Want For Christmas…

Awhile back, when my doctor scheduled my reconstruction surgery date for December 6th, one of my very funny friends (who shall remain anonymous) said, “Now you can say ‘All I want for Christmas is my two front teet.'”  First of all, no one has EVER accused my friends of being vanilla. Secondly, the rule of ‘just because you can doesn’t mean you should’ applies in this case.  But here I am now – with Christmas around the corner – and I finally do have my two new front teet.  And while I may not shout my friend’s poignant phrase from the rooftops, it really is all I want for Christmas.  Because to me that means I’m cancer free and (Lord willing) finished with this crazy journey that is breast cancer.  Thank you Lord Jesus.

Not to be outdone by my friends, my husband brought home these from the store a few days after surgery.

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I’m not sure if the Tom Thumb worker just thought it would be funny to package grapefruit in such a way, or if someone really is that oblivious.  Either way, I want to meet the person who thought this was a good idea and slid it past the produce manager.

With all these jokesters around it’s sometimes difficult to remember that I actually just had surgery.  Thankfully, my most recent surgery (reconstruction) was the easiest one by far.  I can’t determine if it’s just because I’ve done this so many times now, or if it really was that simple.  I’m thinking it’s the latter.  My sister and I didn’t even have to think twice about what to wear in pre-op.  #weareprosnow

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Seriously, though, I was literally up and around the day after surgery as if not much had even happened.  Yes, I was sore.  Yes, I was bandaged up. Yes, I had two drains (you read that right – TWO MORE DRAINS – shoot me now).  But the pain was so minimal and really the only inconvenience was having to sleep on my back again for a few nights.  (Luckily, I remembered how to do this from my post mastectomy days.)  It was like deja vu all over again without all of the pain and discomfort.

Another deja vu moment happened when I took off the bandages this time around.  I kept telling my friends I didn’t want to take them off because what was underneath was there to stay and I feared I may be disappointed.  Before now, I knew that I would undergo a series of surgeries, therefore nothing was permanent.  But NOW I knew that I was about to cross the finish line and there was no restarting the race.  Thankfully, my plastic surgeon is a miracle worker in the truest sense of the word.  Without getting too weird (too late, you say?!), everything looked as if it’s always been there.  I marvel at modern medicine and want to break down and cry when I think about how these surgeons can create something so natural & feminine that cancer wanted to ultimately destroy.

Stephanie and I were in Dr. Potter’s office for my check up a few days after surgery (he is also Stephanie’s surgeon), and I told him how grateful I was for this gift.  There are no amount of words that describe feeling “normal” again after having something so horrendous happen to your body.  Steph and I agreed that Dr. P got a little verklempt when we were thanking him.  Either that, or he had tears of joy that this dynamic duo wouldn’t be visiting his office every other week in tandem.  Regardless, I like to think his compassion matches his talent and he was truly touched by our gratitude.

Most of my days since surgery have been spent getting ready for Christmas, helping my boys study for finals (they tell me I’m only good at coming up with funny acronyms, though – beyond that they enlist the help of their dad), and watching my kids play sports.  I’ve said this before, but I will never take for granted being able to sit in the bleachers and have my ONLY care be if my kid has good sportsmanship.  What a gift.  (It also helps tremendously if you get to sit through approximately 6 basketball games with a friend by your side, however).

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Ahhhh my kids.  A lot of you have asked how they have dealt with this whole cancer thing.  Truthfully, I don’t know how to answer that.  They are boys.  And with boys, sometimes all you get is an extra pat on the shoulder or one less complaint about carrying in the groceries.  I often think of my friends with girls during these times, and imagine adorable homemade cards or decorated houses in celebration of the finale.  Not that I want or need these things, but big events like this highlight the chasm between the sexes if you will.  The tradeoff is zero drama and a quiet house, though, which I have grown to love and appreciate through the years.  Unfortunately for boys and girls alike who are directly affected by this disease, the word ‘cancer’ is all too common.  It’s inadvertently woven through the fabric of conversation and becomes as normal as words like ‘school’ or ‘lunch’.  They hear it in the car, on the phone, over dinner, etc.  In fact, Stephanie caught her kindergartner singing in the car the other day, ‘You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Cancer…”  Yep, that about sums it up.

I will say, however, that my boys have witnessed the kindness of strangers and the love of friends in SPADES this year.  They have also seen Trevor and me depending on the Lord like we never have before.  And I know in my heart of hearts they will be better for it.  That, plus they now have no qualms about talking about the female anatomy.  In fact, do you know what kind of bees get scared often?  BOO BEES (courtesy of a certain Kraus boy).  In all seriousness, though, I have noticed that all three boys have been extra kind and loving since my last surgery.  It’s as if they now feel confident enough that I’m going to be okay so they are free to love again.  And there’s no better feeling that that.

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My next doctor’s appointments are in January, where I will have follow ups with Dr. Grant and Dr. Potter.  I will also finally have the skin cancer removed from my leg on January 18th. Hopefully after that, I won’t see the inside of a doctor’s office for quite some time!

In closing, I want to say that while I am beyond thrilled to have all of this behind me, my heart aches for those still fighting this dreaded disease.  Not surprisingly, I have grown close to many undergoing treatments during my same timeframe.  It’s hard to explain, but you become part of a little club while in battle.  There is a certain tenderness towards your fellow soldiers, and a camaraderie that is second to none.  After my surgery, I almost felt like I walked out on the club.  And yes, in this case, that’s something to celebrate.  But I’m forever changed, and I want my fellow cancer fighters to know that I will continue to fight with and for you until we are ALL out of this club!  (Ladies, I feel compelled to encourage you to go get a 3D mammogram if you haven’t already.  We need more stories with good endings!!!)

This Christmas will be a very special one for our family, as you can imagine.  But I pray that it is a special one for your family as well.  The very best gift of all is the opportunity to have a personal relationship with our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Don’t wait until something challenging in your life happens before you take advantage of this one.  Merry Christmas to each and every one of you!  I hope you get all YOU ever wanted…I know I did. 😉

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

Jamie

PS: A HUGE thank you to the Sewall family for carting Hayes around AGAIN. I couldn’t do this without you!  And to my sweet Bible study girls…I love you more than words and appreciate all of the delicious meals.  And lastly, thank you to my sweet front porch friends who gift me often as well as the thoughtful friends who have sent me little surprises in the mail.  I AM SO GRATEFUL.

“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder.  And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. “  Isaiah 9:6

“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