What a year 2015 was! It was a year filled with both immense joy and deep pain. Getting married in March and beginning to build our first house in August are two of the most wonderful things about 2015. We also went apple picking and whale watching, which are two things I’ve always wanted to do. I got to see my little brother graduate from high school and begin college. We saw some of our dearest friends get married, went on a cruise, and Adam was able to see his Clemson Tigers go undefeated. I turned 30 and finally had dinner at The Melting Pot. Although we weren’t able to go on another mission trip, we were still able to volunteer together. We spent a lot of time with our families and friends, and just tried to enjoy our time with them as much as possible.
Some things this past year were not quite as wonderful. Last New Year’s Eve when I was looking forward to all that 2015 would hold, a cancer diagnosis was not what I had in mind. I was beyond excited for our wedding that we were planning for June. I was looking forward to dress shopping, cake tasting, and marrying my best friend. I’d also already felt the lump, but I wasn’t too concerned. I had my annual doctor’s appointment coming up in February and I’d have it checked out then. A couple of weeks into January, I changed my mind. I am so grateful for the person God placed in my life who shared their own personal experience with me which prompted me to take action. I still never thought it could possibly be cancer, but I felt I shouldn’t wait another month. I called one morning and they saw me that same afternoon. My doctor never mentioned cancer and wasn’t alarmed either, but scheduled a mammogram and ultrasound to be safe. The weeks before that next appointment were uneventful, and I still wasn’t worried. I never expected to be asked to come back an hour later for a biopsy, and then get a phone call the next afternoon that turned my life upside down. If something doesn’t seem right, go see your doctor. Don’t wait until your next appointment, or until you think about it again. Don’t think you’re too young, too healthy, too busy, or anything else. Just go. Had I waited longer, the cancer could have very well spread further throughout my body and made this battle much more difficult to fight.
This is just one of the things that I learned last year that I feel is important to share. I’m no expert on life, nor do I claim to have all of the answers, but there are a few things on my heart that I’ve realized through the process of this journey.
#1 God is good and He is faithful ALL the time. When things seem to be falling apart and you are in your darkest valley, He is there and He will carry you. Exodus 14:14 says “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” He truly will fight for you, and he will give you strength for each day as it comes. There is absolutely no way that I could have fought this on my own. I haven’t come this far because of my own strength, but because of His. I have experienced His love for me this year in such a deeper way, and His grace continues to amaze me. I don’t deserve it, yet He gives it freely to me daily. Even with all of the mistakes I’ve made in my 30 years, He still loves me and remains faithful no matter what. No matter what 2016 holds, no matter how wonderful or how devastating, I know that God will not forsake me.
#2 Show up for the people that you love. Show up for them all the time, but especially when they are going through a storm. Make time to spend with them and be there to do life with them. Show up when you are excited to be there and maybe even when it’s not so convenient for you. Even if you don’t know what to say, say something. There may not be anything that you can say that is going to make their situation better, but that’s okay. They don’t expect you to have the answers, but letting them know that you are thinking of them and praying for them will mean the world. Don’t just ask what you can do, do something. It doesn’t matter how big or small. It truly makes a difference.
These are a couple of gifts from sweet friends. I’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love!
#3 Reach out, reconnect, and share your story. Some of the people who have encouraged me the most and made such an impact on me throughout this past year have been people who I never would have imagined, many of them are people who were complete strangers a year ago or who I hadn’t heard from in years. You never know how great of an impact you can make on someone. You just may be the encouragement or voice of counsel that someone has been praying for. Don’t let your pride get in the way. Don’t think it’s been too long, or they don’t want to hear from you, or they will think you’re crazy because they don’t even know you. Don’t think you can’t make a difference. You don’t know how God wants to use you.
Yesterday I completed one more part of this cancer journey, radiation. This was the last of my cancer treatments, and I was happy to close that chapter on the last day of 2015! So am I finished with everything now? Not quite. In November, I finally finished the first phase of the reconstruction process and then was able to move on to radiation. A lot of people have asked me how radiation is different from chemo – it is very different. While my chemo treatments were every other week, radiation was every day. Chemo lasted several hours, while radiation lasted 10-15 minutes. The side effects are also not the same. There is no hair loss or nausea with radiation, just fatigue and burns on the skin in the area being radiated. Thankfully, the fatigue has not been too terrible for me, but the skin under my arm is burned and blistered pretty badly. Neosporin, Aquaphor ointment, aloe, peroxide, and Mepilex dressing have become some of my best friends! I could write a whole post about those dressings and how much they’ve helped keep me from being even more uncomfortable the past few weeks. Before I began treatment, I had a CT scan to help my doctor plan my treatments. I got 7 blue ink marks that would be used to help the techs always be sure I was in the exact same position on the table so that the beams could be focused on the correct area. Every day, Monday – Friday I drove to South Carolina Oncology for a treatment. The treatment was always fairly quick, other than seeing the doctor and having blood work once a week. Driving there and changing clothes took more time than the treatment itself. I would lay on a table with my arms over my head and my feet strapped together and then a large machine would move over the top of me and stop several times to deliver the radiation beams. I had to be completely still for a few minutes and then it was over. I never felt anything, almost like having an x-ray. All this was in hopes of destroying any cancer cells that may have been left in my skin or lymph nodes following my mastectomy. Yesterday I completed my 25th and final treatment! The burns are not pleasant, but having already suffered through chemo, radiation really was doable.
I took this photo yesterday before my last radiation treatment. The last time wearing that beautiful pink gown!
In a few weeks I will start taking a drug called Tamoxifen which I will have to take for at least 5 years. It’s often prescribed for women diagnosed with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer with the goal of reducing the risk of the cancer returning. I also will have another surgery sometime this year, in the spring or summer, to complete the reconstruction process. It will be another major surgery, but hopefully won’t have quite as painful of a recovery as the first one. I am looking most forward to finally being able to sleep on my stomach again! I will also get my port removed during that surgery. My hair is growing back, and it is starting to curl in the back! I’m learning to use hair gel, and soon I think I may need to get my hair dryer out from the back of the bathroom cabinet. Everyone tells me I look great with short hair and asks if I’m going to keep it short. No, I’m growing it back out. While I am so very thankful to have any hair at all after being bald, I definitely would love to have long hair again someday.
In closing, I have one very special prayer request for my mother-in-law who was diagnosed with breast cancer in November. She will be having surgery next week on Wednesday. We are praying for a smooth surgery and recovery, and clean margins. We are also praying that her journey can be a much shorter one than mine and without chemo. Please keep her in your prayers!
Happy New Year!!