Perspective

The one year of my stage IV diagnosis is approaching.

One of the hardest aspects of the diagnosis in June of 2017 was shifting my “identity.” Our society tends to glorify our ‘status’ roles. Suddenly, I could not care for my own child, cook meals, or even care for myself. Suddenly, I could not help others through my work. My ability to exercise was taken. I even cried wanting to clean my own home. (I’ve since moved past that one!) I grieved all I felt I had lost when the breast cancer metastasized. I grieved a life that is fleeting.

Through all this, I gained perspective. My roles shifted, yet, my identity was solidified. Acceptance of myself. I am who I am and I am completely happy with that. My strengths and flaws are both accepted.

Slowly, some of my roles returned. I play with my child, I take care of her. I spend time with my husband. The best shift within myself has been the strengthening of my faith. When all is stripped away from you…what is left?

Before Stage IV cancer, I often succumbed to the hustle and bustle of life. Who doesn’t? Yes, we need goals, yes we have to meet the needs of our families. But, at what cost? I may not have more credentials behind my name, but my family knows they are loved. I may not have the excitement and spontaneity that some have, but I am building a legacy within my child. I may have less income, but I have a content heart knowing Jesus.

Through the heartache cancer has brought, I can say I am happy and blessed. The only identity that matters to me is how God views me. It is well with my soul. Ask yourself, who are you without your worldly identity? Know your worth!

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Moments (Written for Love What Matters)

Our lives are compiled of a series of moments, big and little. The big moments would not be the memories they are without the little moments in between.  The little moments create the big emotions.  I have always known God has extraordinary plans for my life.  Jeremiah 29:11 states, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope, and a future.”

In 2011, at the age of twenty-six, I was first faced with my own mortality. Death is certain for everyone, but we always hope we have time.   It was a glorious, sunny day that I spent at the pool with my niece and nephew.  Little moments– flips off the diving board and ice cream by the pool.   My swimsuit tag happened to irritate the side of my right breast.  I scratched and felt the lumps.  I frequently did self-exams, but had never felt a lump.  I did not dwell on the fear the pebbles could be cancerous, but husband was scared.  I felt young and invincible.  Afterall, my “plans” were coming to fruition.

Three days after the lumps were removed, I was officially diagnosed with Invasive Ductual Carcinoma—Breast cancer. The surgeon gave me the pathology results and the first words I muttered were, “I wanted to be a mother.”  I was 26.  Invincible. A double mastectomy was performed.  My beloved oncologist revealed that I would not benefit from traditional chemotherapy due to a very low aggression score from the genetic testing; the cancer was caught incredibly early at stage I.  He assured me my dream of being a mother would come.  I was so emotionally hurt, feeling my body betrayed me.  I was angry that cancer interrupted the plans I had for my life.

In 2014, with medical permission, I became pregnant. I marveled at my growing belly and loved feeling her hiccups.  Little moments. Our blessing entered the world in the middle of the night with a thick head of hair and starving.  The man I love stood, holding her with tears in his eyes.  A big moment.  The trauma from having cancer finally seemed healed.  My body grew a child! My focus was no longer on myself and the what-ifs, but on nurturing my girl.  The plans I had for my life were coming to fruition: motherhood, family, career, home.   “Faith over fear became my motto”.

In the breast cancer community, five years post diagnosis is a major milestone. At that point, my chances of a stage IV reoccurrence were much lower.  In 2017, I began having aches in my right hip and occasional pain in my lower back.  It was not an alarming pain, my doctors were not concerned. The pain had come and went, but started increasing more and more.  Bloodwork confirmed my liver enzymes were elevated.  Deep in my core, I knew the breast cancer had metastasized, but I did not want to believe it.  “I am not strong enough to leave you and our girl,” I confided in my husband.  Our greatest fears were confirmed; it appeared the cancer on the scans had returned with a vengeance.  I was 32 years old.  I was doing a puzzle with my toddler when the phone rang.  It’s the little things.

I immediately began having more and more symptoms, as I had the several weeks prior to diagnosis. I was admitted to the hospital for eight days to stabilize my body.  Cancer was in many bones and my liver.  My devoted husband stayed by my side the entire time.  My child was gently cared for in our absence.  My friend washed my hair.  It’s the little things.  I returned home with a greater appreciation for life.  I knocked on death’s doorstep and did not want to return there.  Not yet.   A doctor called me a “saint,” because of the extensive disease in my body, but I did not want to be a saint.  I wanted to be a mother, wife, sister, aunt, friend, believer in Christ.  My motto then became, “I can do all things,” reminding myself that God had plans. His plans are greater than any I could dream.

Metastatic breast cancer is the only breast cancer that kills. The average survival rate is three years. At my worst, I felt like I had days to live. Invincible, I am not.  No one is.  It has been 10 months since my stage IV diagnosis.  Thankfully, God is the only one that knows my future and I do not live in the limits of a medical diagnosis.  I am often told how strong I am.  I am not strong, I am weak, but God is strong.   I have relied on my faith more in the last 10 months than I ever have.   Surprisingly, anger is not an emotion that has resides in my soul often.  I have had to make peace with my own mortality and have to do so daily.  The little things are the big things. 

I have cried after seeing a little girl wearing light up shoes, questioning if I would ever get to let my own child pick out light up shoes. I have cried after my child pretends to ice skate as I have always dreamed of taking my child ice skating.  I have cried when the mom in front of me at church tucked her daughter’s bra strap in her dress.  Will I get to do those things?  Light up shoes, ice skates, bra straps.  You see, it’s really the little things we do with the people we love that matter. At my lowest point, enjoyment with my family was bittersweet.  On those evenings, I would be devastated that I could miss this, acknowledging those emotions, allowed me to learn how to cope with them.  I will savor all the moments I am given, knowing Heaven will be even more glorious, no matter when I enter.

Through prayer, I have gained a peaceful mindset. I have cried tears of joy for being able to make snow angels in the snow with my daughter.  I have cried tears of joy after making travel plans with my husband.  Being thankful has given me a spirit of hope and peace.   I let myself process whatever emotion that comes, but I do not want to dwell in fear and anger.  Fear will steal my peace.  Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

(This piece was written for Love What Matters at:

Moments

Photos featured on Love What Matters were taken by Dani Ford Photography.  Dani Ford Photography

33 years old.

Today is my 33rd birthday.  When my stage IV diagnosis came in the summer of 2017, I craved awaking on this day and celebrating.  I craved normalcy.  I was comforted by God.  I still hold to His truths and that His will for my life is divine.  I may not know what my future holds, but no one does.   This verse gets me through my days, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11.  Hold true to what your future may hold.  Hold true to your eternal life.

I get asked lots of questions about my health and how this all began.  So, in honor of my 33 years of blessed life on this Earth,  I am going to share 33 bits of information about my breast cancer journey!

  1. My original diagnosis came in summer of 2011 at the age of 26 years old.
  2. I found the lumps myself.
  3. I have no immediate family history of breast cancer.  I believe only 15% of cases do have an immediate family history.
  4. I do not have the BRCA gene mutations.
  5. My initial masses were removed and believed to be fibroadenomas.
  6. My surgeon cried as she gave me the results of the pathology.  My first words were, “But I want to be a Mother.”  Faith over fear became my motto.
  7. I was diagnosed Stage I with extensive DCIS (cancer in the ducts) as well.  Estrogen and Progesterone fed the cancer, Her2 negative.
  8. A double mastectomy was completed on August 24, 2011.  #drainssuck
  9. 94% chance of no distant reoccurrence over 10 years with Tamoxifen was the statistics for the genetic analysis of the cancer.
  10. It was deemed traditional chemotherapy would not increase my chance of survival anymore than taking Tamoxifen would.
  11. I had breast reconstruction.  This was a long process.
  12. Encouraging others to do their self-exams and get their mammograms became my passion.  With help, I coordinated a breast cancer support group for our area.  Helping others was the silver lining to having cancer.
  13. In 2013, I had a full-body scan and it was clear.
  14. In 2014, with permission, medical analysis, stopping my Tamoxifen, and prayer, I became pregnant!
  15. A 7lb. 6oz. baby joined us in late 2014–my dreams fulfilled.
  16. I started the Tamoxifen again after having the baby.  Cancer was behind me, or so, I thought.
  17. In 2016, I had vague pains on and off near a rib.  It came and went and didn’t cause me great distress.  The doctor’s thought it may have been my gallbladder or the fact that I had increased the intensity of my exercise.
  18. A breast MRI was ordered and denied 3 times by insurance.  The odd sensations and pain stopped, so I did not pursue it anymore (could have been unrelated).
  19. In spring 2017, my right hip began aching.  Then the left started as well.  Both aches came and went.  I made an appointment with my oncologist.  I justified the discomfort because of increased running and it came and went as well.
  20. I started physical therapy for my hip pain.  It got better!!!!  This eased my mind it could be cancer related.  No physician saw the need for a bone scan.
  21. Early summer 2017, back pain began. It came and went as well.  It seemed I injured myself.
  22. Bloodwork revealed my liver enzymes are elevated.
  23. An ultrasound of my liver and gallbladder were ordered.  Then a CT scan.  All in the same week.
  24. My dear doctor called me on Thursday, June 8th and told me it appeared I had extensive bone metastases and liver lesions.   I’ll always remember the smile on the face of my sweet girl as she went to her grandparents so my husband and I could process the news.  She had on a princess dress.
  25. I was hospitalized for 8 days for high calcium and pleural effusion.   A liver biopsy occurred, which I woke up during!
  26. I chose to be treated at Tennessee Oncology with a young, female doctor that is the top of her field with metastatic breast cancer.
  27. Metastatic breast cancer is manageable, but not curable.  I do believe the Great Physician is holding me in His hands.
  28. Oral chemotherapy began in July.  I will take this or some form of chemo the rest of my life.  I also take monthly bone infusions to strengthen them.
  29. Radiation occurred to multiple locations in my body.
  30. I have scans every three months or more to ensure the medicine is working.  At this time, the disease is stable.
  31. My ovaries were removed, as the cancer was once again estrogen fed.
  32. Overall, I feel very well, but do have extreme fatigue at times.
  33. I am alive!!!  I am strong!!!  The normalcy I craved is back for the most part.  I am happy, it is well with my soul.

Celebrate your birthday every year!!!  Do something you want to do.  Growing old is a privilege, don’t take that for granted.   I never would have believed my future would hold cancer again as the 26 year old that was originally diagnosed, especially a stage IV diagnosis.  But, it does and I intend to make the most of it. Remember, Jeremiah 29:11.   Love to you all.

Cancer, Hope, and Peace

First off, I am not a writer.  This blog will be filled with grammatical errors, but real life love, grief, honesty, and fears.

I am almost 33 years old and living with Metastatic Breast Cancer (Stage IV).  Writing those words is very surreal to me.   I was diagnosed with Stage I Invasive Ductual Carcinoma when I was 26 years old.   Treatment occurred and I was told it was a a “1 in 10,000” chance a distant occurrence would occur.

A stage IV diagnosis followed nearly six years later on June 8, 2017.  The cancer returned to multiple areas of my body.  At times, this does not seem life ‘my life.’   But, it is and I have chosen to embrace it.   Cancer or no cancer, this is the only life we are given.   I often get told that I am “so strong.”  That’s bologna.  I am not strong at all.  My God is strong and I have to relay on my faith to get through my days.  Even when it hurts, life is beautiful.  Having metastatic breast cancer has forced me to live each day in the present.

Ask yourself, is life supposed to be perfect and painless?   No, it is not.  The hard times I am enduring have increased my faith and hope.    Would a painless life, be a joyful life?  Could we see the light without experiencing any dark?   I promise, I have bad days.  Anger, tears, and confusion often flow.  But, that’s when hope can be restored.   Hope for wonderful earthly days ahead and hope for an eternal life as well.   Do I wallow or rejoice?  Both have their place.  Rejoicing brings me hope.  Hope gives me peace.

I am thankful for my life.  I have a wonderful husband, lovely child, strong support system, and faith that can move a mountain.