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

16 thoughts on “Last Strand Standing

  1. Jamie, what a journey! You have a true gift of expression. As I read this entry, I was reliving this past year along with you. I am thrilled your blood work and all tests are now normal. My continued prayers are with you. I am confident God is holding you safely in His loving arms.

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  2. Oh Jamie!!! You are amazing and people are going to be in heaven one day bc of you are your bold faith!! Thank you for sharing!!!!!

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  3. Jamie, love reading about your journey. You are such an inspiration to all. Your humor and outlook are contagious. Praise for good reports and prayers for no more cancer in the future.
    In happy moments
    Praise God
    In difficult moments
    Seek God
    In quiet moments
    Worship God
    In every moment
    Thank God!
    Love you, Patty and Jim Moody

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  4. Jamie,
    I am in complete of you! Your strength faith and amazing sense of humor are second to none. Love you & loved seeing you and your family last week.
    All my best
    Christina O’Shell
    xoxo

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  5. You are a true inspiration! Thank you for sharing your journey with us. Praising God through all of it. Love you. 😘

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  6. So happy that all is well and you are on the road to totally normal! Love you and love the example yo set for young women. ❤️Sis

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  7. Jamie-

    You are a breathe of fresh air even in the midst stress. I have so much to learn from you. Your faithfulness, trust and love in and for Jesus is beautiful to witness. I am beyond thankful for your news and praying for your days ahead that you get to enjoy them and will pray that you remain cancer free. We miss your smiling face in c stat! Much love! Christen

    >

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  8. Jamie,

    Praise God that your biopsy and your anual check up were good news. I know that you would praise God even if they weren’t. That is what is so especially sweet about you putting yourself out there. I know that in the moment God can feel distant (absent?), but because He has shown himself to be faithful we find hope in the midst of being knocked down again. I believe like you that God can allow us to be stripped down of so much in order that we more fully lean on him. We don’t recognize ourselves. That can be so difficult until we recognize him instead. I will continue praying for healing for you and your friends. Thank you for the update and for the reminder that even when life is so challenging and overwhelming we trust in his plan and purpose. Love you sweetie.

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  9. Oh Jamie. I can’t believe you had to go they that with the lipoma. Enough already!

    … And you better believe I got the 3D mammogram this year. The feeling of being invincible to all of this left the building some time ago.

    But I loved seeing the glimpses of normal returning for you. Thanks for the update and being so honest and also encouraging. Praying for continued black numbers in October.

    Xo

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  10. It was SO wonderful to hear from you. I check daily to see if you have an update. Thank goodness you are doing so well Jamie. This news made my heart so very happy. Keep enjoying your beautiful family and embrace each day as I know you do. I am so sorry you went through this scare on top of everything else and was thrilled to hear all is OK now. Enjoy the rest of your summer Jamie.

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