Sunday, December 27, 2009

What I learned through my Breast Cancer Year

Hello!

As many of you will recall on my first visit to my breast surgeon, she said that 2009was going to be my "breast cancer year." She said it was going to be yucky and rough. I should just write that year off and look ahead to resuming a normal life once the cancer was gone. It is certainly true that 2009 was a stinky year for us. Not only did we deal with my cancer diagnosis, but we had other accidents and medical conditions arise in our family that almost seemed too much to bear in light of what we were already dealing with.

The good news is that all our loved ones are alive and well and that, despite it all, I don't want to just "write off" 2009. Why? Well because there were some good things that happened in 2009 and because I can certainly say I am leaving it a wiser and more spiritually mature person than I was a year ago. Here are several things I learned during my breast cancer year. Some of these I knew anyway but having had cancer (seeing what I saw and experiencing what I experienced) really drove them home. I have to admit that on others of these (sweating the small stuff for example) I am still very much a work in progress, but then if we are really growing spiritally aren't we all?

DON'T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF Did the cake you baked collapse right before the Christmas party? Is the laundry pile taller than you and your to do list a mile long? Sweating the small stuff is not worth it. Do your best. Do what you can when you can and then let it go.

TAKE OFF THOSE BLINDERS! You think you got it bad? Just visit a cancer ward. Read the blog of a child with cancer. There is always someone out there in a worse situation than you are. If you take the time to care, you will see those people in need everywhere.

REMEMBER YOUR BLESSINGS My pastor said this once: Stand in the middle of your house. close your eyes and then reopen them and imagine that everyone and everything around you has a big red bow on it. Everyone and everything in your life is a blessing, a gift on loan from God.

HAPPINESS IS NOT SOMETHING YOU ACHIEVE. IT IS AN ATTITUDE. My Internist told me if I had a good attitude my chances of coming through the fight well were higher. I tell recently diagnosed women that I was able to live a full life on chemo. What I learned from it was that your good days will usually outnumber your bad ones, especially if your attitude is right.

WE ARE ALL DYING. Live a healthy lifestyle so you can feel good about how you have treated your body as a temple of the holy spirit. I have some guilt for being a little overweight, eating alot of processed foods and such. At the same time I know women who did everything right and still got cancer. No one deserves cancer. You cannot be so healthy as to forever avoid cancer. We are all just mortals and the reality is we are all dying. Life is short. Enjoy every moment. Every day you wake up feeling good and can do what you enjoy is a privilege.

BE A PIPE AND NOT A POT. Be a giver not a taker. We all have spiritual gifts. Discover what yours is and then act on it. It will bring joy to your heart. This often means stepping outside of your comfort zone. Solomon asked for wisdom. If I could ask for one gift from God it would be to always know what to say and what to do to encourage another person. I feel ill equipped in that department. Yet I have often found that when those moments arrive, if you are committed to doing something, the words and actions will come to you. Sometimes it is not so much that you say or do just the right thing but that you show you care by DOING SOMETHING.

GOD IS BIGGER. He hears our prayers. Open your eyes and listen. Look for the coincidences that aren't coincidences but spiritual interventions in your life. God is bigger than anything. You are not in this fallen world with its hardships and uncontrollable circumstances by yourself. He is with you. Accept him as your Savior now because you can't do life on your own.

For the first time I am truly thrilled that a year in my life is over. Randy and I have always been "watch the ball drop" sort of people on New Years. This year we really mean to celebrate the New Year. It is afterall such a gift. Blessings to you all for the New Year! Lots of love,

Kerry

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas to All!!

It's Christmas Eve! Last night our family drove around town in our p.j.'s and looked at Christmas lights. I have been wanting to do it for years and we finally got to do it. It was so much fun. We then stopped at Starbucks for some of their decadent hot chocolate. This morning we have been baking up a storm. Laura and Leslie are filled with anticipation about what Santa will bring. (I am hoping for some sleep tonight but am not counting on it) ;). Last year the girls started waking us up every hour at 1 a.m. and we gave up around 5 a.m. I have a feeling we won't make it that long this year. What a blessing it is to be here able to enjoy Christmas.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

And most of all, Happy Birthday Jesus!!

Lots of love,

Kerry

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Why God Gave Me Great Sisters

Hello!

Yesterday out of the blue I had a question pop into my head. "Why did God give me my sisters?"

God has given me two of the best women in the world as my sisters. God has also given me alot of wonderful spirit sisters, women who I have connected with who prayed for me and cheered me on in my fight. I believe God brought these women into my life for lots of reasons. One reason I believe was to show me how to be a "spirit sister" to others. One way I do this is to follow the stories of these remarkable women and pray for them daily. Many have links on the side of my page. Others I follow on caringbridge.

There are two whose links I want to share with you today. The first is Emily, a young mom earning her PhD with a fantastic fighting spirit. www.emesurvivor.wordpress.com The second is Sarah, an amazing 24 year old with awesome faith. www.sarahkathryndavis.blogspot.com

Please pray for them and lift them up in the fight. Lots of love,

Kerry

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Best Christmas Ever








Hello!

It feels good to post again. It has been way too long. Thanksgiving, Leslie's birthday as well as end of the semester school projects and activities have kept me busy.

I have actually been dreading the Christmas season a little bit this time around. I was diagnosed last year a few weeks after Christmas. The onset of the cold weather has reminded me of the last time I felt cold when I was in the midst of all my chemo trips. I know it is silly really but it makes it hard to get in the "Christmas spirit."

As we were putting up the tree last weekend it struck me how differently I view the world now than I did last Christmas. It seems like I was somewhat naive back then, plugging through the holidays with blinders on while the whole time I knew I had a big lump under my arm. Never once at that time did it ever even cross my mind that it was cancer. I knew cancer could happen to me. I knew bad things could happen, but I was just too busy to even stop and think about it. I am certainly not that way now. Every odd or unexpected pain now makes me wonder. It never did before. And so it has been hard lately to feel much Christmas cheer.

All of that changed today though when we experienced our first snowfall. It wasn't a particularly large snowfall, maybe and inch or two, but the snow was perfect for lots of family fun. We were all out this morning building a snowman. It was the coolest one ever I might add thanks to perfect conditions and a snowman kit (which was a Christmas present from my sister's family three years ago) that we were finally able to use to its fullest. The snowman had two faces, one in the front that we could see from our house window and one in the back close to the road for cars driving by to see. We had so much fun. When we finally came inside for some hot cholocate Leslie said, "This is going to be the best Christmas ever." And she is so right. As usual I was letting myself dwell on my cancer past and all the negative aspects of the season...all the hustle, bustle and work. But this morning I got a reminder of just how lucky I am. I get to experience it all...writing out all those Christmas cards, the packed shopping malls, the wrapping, the baking, the feasting and most especially celebrating the birth of our blessed Lord and Savior. I am constantly amazed at how my kids help me put things into perspective sometimes. So come Christmas! Come! Merry Christmas everyone! Lots of love,

Kerry

Sunday, November 15, 2009

More Race for the Cure Pictures!!


Here are some pictures from Race For the Cure 2009! Many thanks to Amanda Gillenwater for taking the great shots!! Way to go team!!








Tuesday, November 10, 2009

This Little Light of Mine...



Kelly, sister survivors Sandy and Kerry
Race For the Cure
Knoxville, TN
Oct 24, 2009


Hello!

I can't believe it has been two weeks since my last post! The picture above is the first of many I hope to have in the coming week from Race for the Cure. It was such a special day and I feel as if I am still glowing from it.

Many of you remember my nurse friend Julie from St Marys. She has set up a breast cancer survivors support group at the hospital. I had the pleasure of sharing my story along with many of the Godinicideces I have experienced at the first meeting.

The list of women facing breast cancer that I have met continues to grow. I met four new ones today at a Look Good Feel Better seminar I attended with my sister survivor friend Sandy. I cannot tell you now how often as I am out and about I see women with bandanas or hats on their heads and I wonder to myself if they are also sister survivors. I am sure they were always there before. The sad truth is my eyes and my heart have truly been opened to them. I pray for about 15 people a day with cancer. Some are breast cancer patients. Others are children who I have come to know with cancer. Each story is different but the heart-tugging emotions are so similar.

I am currently beginning to look into reconstructive surgery. It looks now like the plastic surgeon will take a skin graft from my back (behind my left shoulder) and add a tissue expander. This means I will have to go through stretching on the left just as I did on the right and an additional surgery. I remember several months ago my surgeon telling me not to focus on the number of surgeries but the light at the end of the tunnel. I could see it then and it is even brighter now. I feel like I have my own little light now. I am trying to let it shine brightly in the midst of the darkness that is cancer. Lots of love,

Kerry

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Pink Sunshine

Hello family and friends!

I have lots of pictures to post. I hope to have them up later in the week. You see this has been a busy week. With October being breast cancer awareness month, I have been very involved raising money for the cause and getting the word out about prevention and early detection.

Tuesday I had the pleasure of speaking to Pep Moms. I got to share with them about 5 of the many amazing Godincidences that I experienced after my diagnosis. I felt like I had come full circle since they had so welcomed and encouraged me right after my diagnosis at the winter retreat last February. There was terrific girl named Crystal I have come to know from Mercy Health Systems that went over everything they needed to know about monthly exams and prevention. They gave me a standing ovation celebrating the end of my treatments which warmed my heart very much.

On Thursday I attended a Pink Ribbon Celebration dinner put on by Mercy. I served as a volunteer, decorating a table with my friend Whitney and sister Mitzi. I made some placemats out of scrapbook material and we used an inspiration theme. I left an inspirational book for each to take home. Throughout the night I got to meet with a room full of breast cancer survivors and their medical caregivers. I sat next to a woman named Martha who was a 35 year survivor and the sister of the survivor who had inspired the event. I got lots of hugs from the nurses I have come to know and one of my doctors who has been such an encouragement to me. It was a special night that I won't soon forget.

On Friday several terrific students at coop presented me with a poster they had made just for me. Everyone at coop had signed it. It was something they had come up with and made on their own. I am constantly amazed by the faith and the prayers of young people I meet there. The sign and all of its personal messages were absolutely beautiful and it will always be something I treasure.

The timing of the sign was the perfect send off for the next big event which topped off the week, the Race for the Cure. Our God is Bigger Than Cancer Team ended up being about 50 people strong! It was made up of family, friends from Pep Moms, from coop, from church as well as two courageous fellow survivors and their families. Adding together registration fees and donations, we raised about $3000 toward the cure for breast cancer! Yeah!!! It was such a joy to walk with them all. There were over 12,000 people present. It was a sea of pink.

Right before the finish line my friend Amanda snapped a picture and then I was separated from all the other walkers down a "survivor" lane. There the entire UT vols basketball and track teams were on hand and gave me high fives as I crossed the finish line. Other young people passed out a rose to the survivors. As I got to the very end a youth leader from my church working as a volunteer handed me a second rose. That was such a pleasant surprise. I had to cry, but it was tears of such happiness. It may have been a overcast but Race for the Cure was indeed the "happy day in the sun" I had looked forward to. Thank so much to everyone on the team who made it all possible and all the supporters who prayed for us and donated.

On grocery store labels, on shirts I see, at all the events I have been to it is pink, pink everywhere. It does my heart good. it gives me hope that a cure is not so far away and that if not me perhaps my daughters will someday see a day without breast cancer. Lots of love,

Kerry

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Update on the Avon Walk

Hello!

Several of you have been asking for details on how Brooke Estrada's Avon Walk for breast cancer went last June. I have received a letter from her detailing all the wonderful things that happened during her preparation for the walk and over the course of that weekend. I am excited to share it with you. Enjoy!


My Avon Walk with God by Brooke Estrada

Inspiration is Just around the Corner

Several months before the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer took place in Colorado on June 27th and 28th, I was experiencing a severe lack of motivation. First, my walking partner from last year announced that she would be unable to participate in this year’s walk. To make matters worse, the poor economy had affected most of my friends and family very negatively. Several sponsors from last year were now unemployed, which discouraged me from asking for their support this year.
As you can imagine, I became discouraged with the whole situation; I was without a partner for the walk and almost everyone I knew was broke. For weeks, I was doing a lot of soul-searching in order to re-ignite my passion for fighting breast cancer; it seemed my flame had gone out.

Then, in February of this year – with the help of my weekly women’s bible study – I realized that I was looking inward for something that could only be found upward. I had been looking at this year’s Avon Walk as a duty instead of a labor of love, but the love that I possessed within myself was so limited. So, I decided to pray for God to give me His heart and help me love others the way he does. As long as I was doing this for God’s people with love in my heart, I could shine the light of Jesus Christ into the lives of those who had been directly impacted by breast cancer, giving them new hope.

With that, I started searching for an inspiring t-shirt that I could wear as I trained, so that everyone would know what I was doing and why. It proved very frustrating to find a faith-based t-shirt with the right message. I’ve seen my share of “inspirational” mottos throughout these breast cancer rallies, but none of them really spoke of the hope and strength that only comes from God. Slogans like “I Fight like A Girl”, “Think Pink” “Hope” and “Cancer Sucks” were cute yet lacking originality and depth. After several mind-numbing hours of searching, I stumbled upon the perfect t-shirt. Upon it was written, “GOD – So Much Bigger than Cancer”. It said the exact message I was trying to bring to the people: no matter what kind of hardship you are enduring, God is in control and He will bring you through it.

I excitedly followed the link to what I thought would be an online super-store where I could indulge in all of my Jesus-freak paraphernalia, but instead it was a blog written by a woman recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Her name is Kerry Osborne and since the day I discovered her uplifting t-shirt, I have followed her amazing breast cancer journey through her online diary. After reading all of Kerry’s blog entries that day I decided to write her an e-mail, expressing my thanks and support for her mission. I was so moved by her courage through Christ; it both humbled and inspired me. If a person amidst the battle for their life could stare adversity in the face and say “God is bigger than you”, then I could certainly do the same! God had sent me a message through Kerry: “He is Bigger than Cancer” and it was now my turn to pass it on.

Defeating Doubt with Faith

Days went by and turned into weeks and as the weeks passed I could feel myself slipping again. I was short of sponsors and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to come up with the money to participate in the Avon Walk. I continued to train and solicit my friends and family for donations, but I was so uncomfortable about asking people to spare money they likely didn’t have for a cause they probably didn’t care about. I started to pray; asking God if He really wanted me to go to Colorado. He didn’t say anything. So then I started wondering if this was God’s will or mine? For weeks and weeks God was quiet about the walk and I kept asking him if this was the right think to do. With 4 weeks before the event, I had resolved that if God really wanted me to go on this walk in Colorado, He would allow me to raise $720 more in order to reach my minimum goal. Two days later I spoke to my dear friend Deana Campbell, who informed me that she and her husband Steve decided to donate the remaining $720! I was flabbergasted! Deana and Steve had already donated $500 earlier that year which meant that they had contributed nearly 70% of my total needed funds. However, even with the minimum fundraising goal being met, I was still having doubts. For those remaining 4 weeks, I searched God’s Word and found great reassurance recited this prayer, daily: “Father God, I don’t know what you have planned for the Avon Walk. I just pray that whatever happens, it will bring glory to you. While I am in Colorado, please show me someone who needs to hear from you. Fill me with your Spirit that I may have words of love and encouragement for them; entrust me to be your hands and feet”. I didn’t know what would happen after that, I just knew I had to keep on praying and believing that great things would happen.

“Somewhere, Somebody Needs a Reason to Believe” – Britt Nicole

I arrived in Denver on Thursday, June 25th and stayed the night with my friends Yvette and Phil. The next morning, Yvette dropped me off downtown to catch a shuttle to Keystone, where the event would begin, some 90 miles from Denver. As I waited for the bus, a smiling woman with 2 braids and a silly sun-hat approached me and asked if I was waiting for the Avon shuttle too. Her name was Amy; a weather forecaster in the Air National Guard, who was walking in honor of her grandmother; a breast cancer survivor. We boarded the bus when it arrived and talked almost the entire ride to Keystone. Once we got off the bus, we were like old friends on a weekend adventure. We checked in at the event and into our respective hotels, before meeting up for an early dinner at a steakhouse located in her hotel. After dinner, it was too late to walk around outside, but too early too sleep. We hung out in her hotel room, sitting on opposite ends of a small couch, talking about how the paths of our youth had brought us to our current, respective lifestyles.
When the time had come to explain how I ended up in Las Vegas where I currently reside, the words just started falling out of my mouth. I began telling Amy about my gradual slip into spiritual darkness in my early twenties. I told her that I’d managed to claw myself back onto my feet, but it wasn’t until I established a sold foundation of faith in Jesus Christ that my life began to take on real purpose. I then started telling Amy about my new life in Christ. I could feel the energy in the room rise, as my tale transitioned from one of desperation and hopelessness, to the account of my re-birth. I spoke of the many amazing things God had done in my life and how I have come to love Him so deeply.

I didn’t realize it, but I had been sharing my testimony for the first time, nonetheless to a woman I scarcely knew. When I looked across the couch at Amy’s face, I was surprised to see her eyes streaming with tears but her face was filled with joy. She said, “I feel like this trip has nothing to do with breast cancer; I think I was supposed to find you.” Amy went on to describe her own spiritual emptiness to me. She admitted that she had always been a “very cerebral” person, needing an explanation for everything. Even though, she couldn’t explain God, she knew he existed. I remembered something my friend Teresa said, “I don’t want a God I can explain because that would make him so small”. Amy confessed that although she had not endured severe hardships in her life like some and had been blessed many times over, she always felt something was missing in her life. I remembered having that same “God-shaped hole” before I came to know Christ and really understood where she was coming from. We conversed late into the night and at the end of our long chat, she expressed how unburdened she felt; no longer a slave to her anger and past hurts. Amy said, “Meeting and talking with you has been an answer to a prayer I never spoke”. I know it’s because God knows our hearts; He knows every prayer before we speak it. I am so humbled that God used me to answer that prayer and I am thankful that he answered my prayer for that weekend, too.

Amy and I walked the whole 26.2 miles side-by-side; it was definitely a weekend that we will both remember for years to come. We still keep in touch and I am ecstatic to announce that she is actively pursuing her relationship with Jesus! Amen!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Cyber Cancer Connections

Hello dear family and friends!

The last few months I have begun connecting with cancer patients all over America. This has been a huge blessing to me. I follow the blogs of several other women who have been impacted by cancer. They are all ages and stages and their words have been a tremendous encouragement to me. Some of those sites I am now listing on my blog page.

Through the Tshirt ministry, I have also become aware of 5 children battling cancer. I follow their caringbridge sites faithfully. I am involved right now in doing care packages for two of them and grieving the loss of one of them who just died yesterday. Her name was Sammie. She was a young girl I never met who lived on the other side of the country, yet her story has touched me deeply. I know she is in heaven now and I feel such sadness for her family.

I cannot tell you how often I have read posts from the other women survivors or the families of these children battling cancer and just cried. Cancer is so cruel.

I pray for all of these cyber cancer connections daily. Even though they are people I have never met I am constantly amazed by their strong faith and their courage in the face of adversity. God bless them all. Lots of love,

Kerry

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Getting Involved & Being One Busy Pipe!

Now that my treatments are two weeks behind me I am now really looking forward to passing on all the many blessings that so many of you out there have given to me.

I pray daily for 8 other breast cancer patients that I know or have connected with online. Two of them were in the hospital last week and I was able to check in with the physician about one and visit the other. It has meant a great deal to me cheering on these women who are a few months in their treatment behind me.

Last Wednesday night Laura, Leslie and I went to a breast cancer tree lighting ceremony at St Mary's, the hospital where I was diagnosed. They gave me a special ornament with my name on it and placed a single jewel on it indicating my 1st year as a cancer survivor. I met another woman there who had 28 jewels on her ornament. That was such an encouragement to me. Laura and Leslie placed my ornament on the tree in the hospital lobby. The ornament was one among hundreds in honor of the survivors diagnosed at that hospital who were in the audience or who had passed on. The first physician I saw after my initial diagnosis spoke. She talked about how many of her patients have told her that oddly enough they now see their breast cancer as a blessing. It had opened their eyes to a new clarity about life, a new appreciation. It made me smile. I can't honestly say I see all of this as a blessing but I can truly say I have seen many good things come from it. There was a brief ceremony. Laura won a door prize. It was flower arrangement in a pink vase with the breast cancer symbol on it. You should have seen her face when she presented it to me. Precious. After a brief ceremony, we went outside to see a second Christmas tree atop the hospital lit all in pink. They even had a fountain outside the hospital flowing with pink water.

St Mary's is hosting a banquet at the end of the month to celebrate survivors and raise $ for a cure. I have joined a committee to decorate tables for the event. Many of you will remember Julie, the wonderful nurse who reached out to me the day of my biopsy and helped me give out so many shirts. Early on in my chemo I would give her info about another cancer support group but it never seemed to meet the first few months within my diagnosis. I told her at the time how much I missed not participating in a group like that. Julie is now starting a support group that she says was inspired by me called Mercy's Women of Courage and Healing. She has asked me and a few other women to come and give our testimonials at the event. It is also at the end of the month.

And of course there is the Race for the Cure on October 24th. When I started the team I was hoping to have about 10-20 people join me on the big day. My team is now up to almost 30 people! We have raised close to $300 in donations and about $1000 overall if you consider our registration fees. Who-hoooo!!

And so my post breast cancer life is keeping me busy in some wonderful ways. I hope all of you that have prayed and supported me and my family these past 10 months can read this and smile knowing that your goodness is being passed on.

If you'd like to join our Race for the Cure team, make a donation to it or just check out our team page, here is a link. http://komenknoxville.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=event.team&eventID=506&participantID=1302

If you are a local survivor and would like more info about events coming up in the Knoxville area, please email me or post your information under comments.

Many of you remember my post about being a pipe (giver) versus a pot (taker). It is such a joy to feel the blessings flow through me onto others. So many of them started out there with each of you. So lots of love to all my pipes out there,

Kerry

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dancing Inside & Out



Angie and me
"Sister Survivors"
Survivor's Luncheon 2009





Hello everyone!

Guess what? I had no doctor's appointments this week. None! No temperature or blood pressure checks. No weigh ins. No baggy, drafty hospital gowns. I've had my first week cancer treatment free! It feels so wonderful!

It feels as though I am dancing inside.

I am still a little sunburned from the radiation but it is getting better. I am currently sporting lots of shrugs. It is a great fashion accessory for breast cancer patients I must say. Whenever someone comments on my new spiky hair look I am quite proud to credit it to my "Short and Sexy Hair Gel." It gets me lots of laughs. Yes that really is the brand name. Being that I am a short person as well I like to think the whole look goes beyond the hair gel. Now all I need to do is wear my diva sunglasses and hair gel at the same time. I just don't know if the world out there is ready for all that "divaness" yet.

I guess the only thing that has surprised me this week is that I've felt a little overwhelmed getting back to the routine. You'd think it would be easy and it is for the most part. It's just the things that I've put off for a while I feel like I now have to pick back up as though nothing has happened. Suddenly I expect myself to be back 100%. It is silly I know and I am getting back into the old "normal" life happily now one day at a time.

Last Friday Randy and I went to a survivor's luncheon. The speaker was Dr. Farris Jordan, a psychologist. He was hilarious. He talked about how the best way to battle bad news is to have a great attitude.

He said whenever people deliver him bad news in his office now they do it with a funny dance and everyone automatically handles it so much better. For example, the secretary might say "The computer is broken" while doing the hokie pokie. We have started doing the dance at our house too. Randy was taking the trash out last week and commented on how yucky it was while "getting down." You should have seen my kids' faces when I said "Lucky you, you have a math test today" while doing a "staying alive" dance move. (Unfortunately the joke was lost on them!)

At the survivor's luncheon I had the privilege of sitting with two friends and former coworkers, Whitney and Amy. I also got to see Angie (my Cancer Vixen reading buddy), give her a shirt and get our picture made together.

For 5 months now I have been corresponding with a survivor I met through a relative via Facebook. She got diagnosed about four months after I did. I watched her go through the same treatments I did right after me rooting her on the whole way. Friday I got to meet her face to face for the first time and give her a box with items to help her through her upcoming surgery. All of this gave me such joy.

This week I heard the song "I Hope you Dance" on the radio. I remember first hearing that song when I was pregnant with Laura. At that time I remember having such hopes for that first child, such dreams and wishes. I will always associate that song with her. It is interesting to hear it now after battling cancer. It truly captures how every moment is precious and how life (good and bad) is best faced with, as that speaker put it, a happy dance. Hope you are dancing too. Lots of love,

Kerry

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Radiation Graduation!! GOD is SO Good Ya'll!!


Hello dear friends and family!

Today I had my LAST radiation treatment. Yeah!! I am now officially done with all of my treatments! Whoo-hooo!!

It was a very special day for me. I have to be honest though and say that I did the oddest thing on the way to the hospital. I found myself crying the whole way. Not from joy but from sorrow.

One reason for this was because I started thinking about the future. What would my life be like now AFTER cancer? I had already had my last weekly visit with the Radiation Oncologist on Tuesday. I asked him at the time how I needed to proactively monitor myself from this time forward. Should I have regular scans? Should I pay close attentioin to the tumor marker blood tests? What should I do?

His answer to me was more complicated than I expected. He said tumor markers don't work with all people. He also said some insurance companies won't pay for scans unless you have an outright symptom. His best advice was to know what was normal for my body and to know my Medical Oncologist. Fortuately he told me I have a top-notch Medical Oncologist (which I already knew).

He told me that one of his patients right now probably has about 3-4 weeks to live because of her metastacized cancer. She did not have breast cancer and initially went somewhere out of state. Her doctor there put her through all these tests which were not necessary in her case (like a mammogram) because he owned the equipment (and could make lots of $$). That doctor emphasized that her mammogram was clear without leveling with her about what she was up against. She had not been told the whole truth. And the truth in my case was he didn't know how my cancer would be monitored. He said sometimes as a doctor that is the hardest thing to tell a patient that "You don't know." He did say though that my Oncologist was a good doctor and would do everything she could to keep a close eye on me. This was both very comforting and very sobering to me.

Laura and Leslie heard every word of this and as we left that day Laura suggested we pray for this woman with a few weeks left to live, whoever she was. I was proud of Laura for thinking of it. We prayed for the woman in our car that morning. It prompted lots of questions about life, about death, about heaven and we talked about it all the whole way home.

That was on Tuesday. Today was Thursday. All of this was on my mind as I drove myself to the hospital for my last treatment.

Also on my mind was the fact that I would have to say goodbye to all the special people I saw every day at the treatment center...everyone from the techs, to the fellow patients to the parking attendent.

I was especially sad because I was told by a tech on Monday that Herbert had to take a break from his treatments and would not be in the rest of the week. I thought I might never see him and Virginia again.

What a pleasant surprise it was when I walked into the hospital and saw them both!

After my treatment I talked with Virginia in the waiting room more about Herbert. She told me that he was diagnosed in March. The cancer had started at his ear and progressed to his throat and lung. He has a circular button on his neck he always has to push whenever he speaks. Virginia told me he'd lost lots of weight and was having trouble eating. They were giving him 7 Ensures a day. She also told me that her daughter who lived several hours away has a lung disease and she is worried about her. She said as long as she "had breath in her body and gas in her car," she'd keep bringing Herbert for his treatments. I thought that was a beautiful statment. Many times when I've seen her Virginia would say, "Isn't God good?" with a big smile on her face. I always cheerfully agreed but today it made me stop and think about it further. I was always saying how good He was in the midst of good news. Ever since my diagnosis my news got better and better. Here she is able to say it even in the hardest of times. I admire her greatly. Now THAT is faith!

I was able to give Herbert and Connie each a GOD IS BIGGER THAN CANCER shirt. That meant so much to me. There were lots of hugs. The techs gave me a radiation graduation certificate. In the waiting room I collected my last cookie on my last cookie day. Boy did that ever taste SWEET!

I came to my last day of radiation with tears of sorrow and left with such joy. As I pulled off in my car I was touched that the parking attendent (who waved at us every morning) remembered it was my last day. I proudly showed him my radiation graduation certificate and he was quite impressed. (Yes, Evie I too made friends with the parking attendent).

And so ends my cancer treatments. I will still have at least 3 (maybe 4) surgeries but the battle waged against the cancer is now over. I hope it will be my last. It doesn't mean that cancer is out of my life for good now. No matter what happens in the future, cancer will always be a part of my life.

Please pray for Connie, for Virginia and her daughter, for Herbert and for that woman the doctor spoke about who is dying of cancer.

Please remember most that "God is so good." I have been a witness that it is true in the best and in the worst of times. Lots of love,

Kerry

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tolerable and Temporary

Hello friends and family!

I am now 6 treatments away from completing my radiation therapy! Yeah!! The skin under my arm is black with blisters and I am very red all over my left chest. I am uncomfortable but as I told my doctor today it is all "tolerable and temporary."

When I go to radiation I see the same people. There is Virginia and Herbert who told me about "cookie day" and another breast cancer patient named Connie. We always chat and I enjoy seeing them and the same technicians every day.

Laura has taken to carrying a blanket with her into the hospital. Coats in her view are overrated. Today she and Leslie walked around with it over their heads. Leslie paraded behind Laura her body totally covered except for her feet. It looked like they were part of a huge animal costume. They turned a lot of heads but the onlookers always smiled. Anytime I go to my treatment and they aren't with me strangers come up and ask me where they are at and how they are doing. Guess we must turn a lot of heads (and make a lot of smiles I hope).

Today I met someone new. His name was Will and he has lung cancer. He looked to be in his 80's. He had just finished his radiation treatment and was lying on a stretcher waiting for someone to take him up to his hospital room. He said he'd been married 60 years to the same woman. He joked about how he'd put up with her for all that time (and how his lucky wife hadn't put up with anything). I thought it was very sweet when he said he didn't know what he'd do without his wife or she without him. He asked my name and I told him. He said he'd known another Kerry when he was young in World War II. He said that other Kerry had died on a Pacific island fighting the Japanese all those years ago. That was sobering to me. It made me wonder what all he'd seen in his life. He also told me he was about to start chemo. I told him he would love the nurses in the chemo hut. I said you get to eat ice cream, hang out in a recliner, take a nap and watch TV. He said he couldn't wait to get started.

Just like Virginia, Connie & Herbert he never once lost his humor or his smile. I really admire the spirit of the people I see at radiation every day. They don't complain even when you can tell they are hurting. They just smile and keep going.

Today I also saw a Physical Therapist. I went for an educational session about how to avoid getting lymphadema which is a backing up of the lymphatic fluid in the arm (and therefore a swelling of the arm itself). Because I have had my lymph nodes removed I am at higher risk for it, although the risk is about 25%. The therapist showed me pictures of people who'd had it, some in their legs as well as arms. (It all depends on where your lymph nodes have been removed). I was shocked by the severity of the swelling. Apparently all sorts of things can set it off: heat, mosquito bites, injury to my left arm, a cut, a change in pressure. I have been told now to avoid saunas and shaving with a regular razor under my arm among other things. I cannot have my blood pressure or skin pricked on my left side. I was told to buy a special sleeve if I ever go flying in an airplane or in case the lymphadema ever starts.

One of the things the other radiation patients, the technicians and I often joke about are the floppy hospital gowns we have to wear. Those immodest little things have become a part of my radiation routine. It has fondly brought to my mind a poem called "The Hospital Gown" written by my grandmother Mamma B. It was found after her death in a niche by her easy chair. She passed away from breast cancer in 1989 when I was 18. I think it captures the indignity but necessity (the tolerable and the temporary) of that aspect of the journey. And when you think about it, if Jesus is in your heart and you're going to heaven, it helps everything seems a little more tolerable and temporary.

The Hospital Gown
By Bertha Hutchison Booth

Provided with a smile, I wore it with a frown.
Tied in back like a bib, split all the way down;
So skinny and short,it won't go around
That horrible, hazardous hospital gown.

No buttons to button- no zippers to zip-
Tall, short, fat, thin- all it must fit.
Not even a pocket for hankie or pen,
I hereby declare it a crime against men.
That horrible, humiliating hospital gown.

Now Doc says I'm better- I walk down the hall.
Wearing pajamas and robe- pants, pockets and all.
I'll soon be dismissed and, when out on the town,
I'll praise those who provided with expert renown,
That horrible humanizing hospital gown.

Hope whatever you are putting up with is tolerable and temporary too. Lots of love,

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Vanity...The First Thing to Go

Hello!

I am now half way through with my 5th week of radiation. All is still going well although I can really feel it now. I am totally red on the left side of my chest. It feels like a sunburn and is most uncomfortable under my arm. Sometimes I catch myself walking with my left arm sticking out funny to prevent the friction of skin on skin in my armpit. The doctor said I had 5 more treatments in that area but they are going to postpone them a few days to give that area some time to recover. They have been treating the clavical area of lymph nodes below my neck as well. Starting tomorrow they will also be concentrating the radiation on my masectomy scar. I have 10 more treatments to go. I can no longer wear a bra because of the discomfort.

I remain in a state of menopause. The doctor said I may not know for 6 months whether this will be permanent or not. The past month I have noticed lots of fuzzy hair all over my face. It is even all over my nose. A couple people have commented on it. Randy and I joke that I'm so hairy "the moon must be full" like I'm a werewolf or something. We just laugh about it. I suppose this is due to the drop in hormones. After months of no hair it seems a little bizarre.

Yesterday I saw an interview with Michael J. Fox on Oprah. He was talking about Parkinson's Disease and how it makes him constantly shake. He said after his diagnosis that "Vanity was the first thing to go" and that now he doesn't care so much about what he looks like or how people perceive his physical appearance. I find myself now trotting daily through UT hospital with my very short hair, an uneven chest, fuzzy face and false eyelashes (that have been known to pop off unexpectedly from time to time) without much thought about my appearance. I have laid on the radiation table so many times now with my chest scars exposed that I don't flinch at all when three technicians stand over me lining up the crosshairs for my daily radiation treatment. It has all become a strange sort of routine. It is a bit freeing really.

That's not to say though that it doesn't bother me at all. I see people look at me differently sometimes. I've had several women just come up to me recently and start talking about how they are survivors too. They don't even ask if I have breast cancer. I guess they just know it on sight. One time I even had one woman start showing me her masectomy scar in the middle of a retail store. It guess those scars can be a strange source of pride, really. Like a soldier showing his battle wounds it means you are a survivor in the truest sense of the word. I am fortunate that the scars from my breast cancer are temporary. The shakiness from Parkinsons is not. The lesson learned however is the same. I knew I was not defined by my physical appearance, but sometimes (with so much of my life revolving around my treatments) cancer starts seeming like that is my life. You're poked, prodded, stuck with needles and people stare at your scars all the time. Cancer is very humbling and none of it (except your attitude) can you control. We are not defined by our adversity though. We are so much more.

Last week I saw my Internist. He said in 35 years of family practice he had never seen a cancer like mine. At first I was left to wonder if this was a compliment (reminiscent of the remark of how I was "perfect" for chemo). According to the pathology report my sentinel lymph node was the only one with any sign of cancer and singlehandely soaked it all up by itself. (Way to go Sponge Bob!)He said if it hadn't been for my dislocated shoulder and the size of that gygantor lymph node that we may not have discovered the cancer. I had always thought of the shoulder accident as a "red herring" that kept me from diagnosing the cancer sooner.

So I guess it's just all in how you look at things. Vanity is indeed the first thing to go. And what's left is a new sort of self assurance, a new sort of self worth that confirms that who you are is so much more than what people perceive you are or any hardship you are going through. Michael J. Fox put it this way. He is much more than Parkinsons but Parkinson disease has helped define him. It has brought new people into his life and caused him to make new choices that he otherwise never would have made.

I Corinthians 2:7 says "...we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: 'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.'"

No matter what stumbling blocks we may be facing big or small, God sees the big picture. He sees the true essence of who we are and where we all fall in His master plan. Doesn't it do your heart good to know that? Lots of love,

Kerry

Saturday, August 22, 2009

These Feet are Made for Walking!

Hello dear friends and family!

This is probably going to be my most controversial post. I hate controversy. I avoid it like the plague in fact, but when I started writing this blog I promised myself and others to be honest about the experience. So I am just going to lay it all out there. Cancer should unite us, not divide us. Yet last week I found myself psychologically torn in two.

First a quick update. I am still doing well physically & emotionally. My skin is slightly red from radiation and when I stretch my left arm I can feel some stinging beneath the skin but still nothing major. Randy, Laura and Leslie are doing well. Saturday was "kid's day" at our house. We went to the zoo, played arcade games and ate pizza at Mr. Gatti's. According to my kids it was "the best kid's day ever," which was absolutely priceless.

Now let's dive into the mental wrestling match I've been having all week. Ever since I was diagnosed I have wanted to do something..anything to help others with breast cancer. Hence the Tshirt ministry was born. One of the first things I looked forward to doing with the ministry way back in January was Race For the Cure, walking side by side with dozens of us in our "God is bigger than cancer" shirts. To me it wasn't so much about the money (although raising money for breast cancer is huge) it was about the witness to others. From a selfish standpoint it was also about being with friends, loved ones and a sea of other breast cancer survivors...my happy victorious day in the sun, showing the world that GOD IS BIGGER THAN BREAST CANCER.

Okay, now to the sticky part. No matter what side you fall on in the abortion debate, please hear me out.

A good friend of mine informed me last week that the Komen foundation (which oversees the race) supports planned parenthood. Both of us did some research and discovered that a couple affiliate offices of Komen (usually in rural areas) are giving planned parenthood $ for breast health screenings. The concern out there is that once they receive the $ planned parenthood can do whatever it wants with it, even funding abortions.

There is a video out there that says women who have had abortions are at an increased risk for breast cancer. Another concern it voices is that by giving $ to planned parenthood (which does abortions) Komen is in fact promoting breast cancer, not defeating it. Here is a link to the video http://www.lifeissues.org:80/AbortionBreastcancer/komen/index.htm

I had never heard of abortion as a risk factor before. What I do know is that there are several risk factors, some you can control and some you can't. And even if you live the perfect lifestyle, you can still get cancer. As I watched the video I winced because abortion was the only risk factor it focused on. I understand why the producers focused on it. They felt like women had a right to know and the issue was under reported. Still I had to wonder if I'd had an abortion how would I have felt watching it? With them reasoning that Komen is somewhat "responsible" for breast cancer what is the inference then about the woman herself? It's not so much what the video was saying. It was what I was FEELING. I have long wondered if people ever think to themselves, "Why she's 20 pounds overweight. She asked for her cancer." I know people aren't really thinking that, but it has been a human/gut reaction of mine ever since my diagnosis. And so the video bothered me. If I felt that way (and I'd never had an abortion), how would a woman feel who had an abortion, got breast cancer and then watched that video? And then I remembered the words told to me by the first sister survivor I called to inform of my diagnosis. "You don't deserve this, Kerry. Promise me you won't think you deserve this." Obviously she'd had the exact same emotions. No woman should feel like she deserves breast cancer.


I wish the video had given more resources to women who had an abortion, a phone number or resource they could talk to. Still many of the concerns raised by the video about Komen did bother me. I want to raise money for breast cancer and breast cancer only. I am pro-life and so all of this put me in a tough situation.

Do I walk? Do I not walk? Do I even protest? I have already registered. I've already met fellow breast cancer patients who want to walk with me on my team. (And I can't wait to walk with them!) I want to reach people with my message about God whether they are pro-life or pro-choice. I know and care about people who could be on either side of the debate. WHAT do I do?

So little shy me (who hates conflict) showed up at a team captain's meeting for Race for the Cure. I asked one of the local directors my question. Here's the answer I got:

75% of the money raised by Race for the Cure goes to the National office strictly to fund breast cancer research. It is from this research that tamoxifen and other life saving drugs have been found. 25% stays with the local branch for their overhead, education, breast screenings, and treatment. The national office does not give any money to planned parenthood.

A couple affiliates in very rural areas where there is no hospital or medical facility give $ out of their local 25% to planned parenthood to perform breast screenings. According to the director those affiliates (as well as the recipients of the money) must account (on paper) that the money has gone as intended or they will loose grant money. Could someone fudge this on paper? I suppose so. The director did say that Komen is focused solely on one agenda and one agenda only: curing the world of breast cancer. She assured me that EVERY CENT of the money raised in Knoxville will go to fighting breast cancer.

There is also a nationally recognized Christian food chain that is sponsoring the event locally. I talked to their Marketing Director (and a friend of mine) and they are very comfortable that they money is going only to the bc cause.

These are the viewpoints of the video and Komen as well as my first impressions.
At first this issue was so deflating to me, but now I am glad it has come out. It has raised an interesting theological debate.

For example, suppose I gave money to a homeless man on the street and told him it was only to be used for food. Suppose he went off and used it for something else (drugs, alcohol, a criminal act even). Suppose he only spent a fraction of the money on something I disagreed with and all the rest on a good cause? Suppose I also suspected he might do something bad with the money but gave him it anyway with hopes he would not? Am I doing something charitable or am I doing something wrong?

SO I've prayed about it and here's what I've decided to do:

I am going to walk in Race for the Cure. Komen has done SO much to advance the fight against breast cancer. I want the message from the shirts out there and that is the best forum in which to do it. If people want to give, give.
If they don't feel good about the race, I understand why. Everyone on the team can do what they think is right about the fundraising.

In addition I would like to take part in some other activity to fight breast cancer that those unable to do Race for the Cure can participate in. Any money raised from that event would go toward the Tshirt ministry or to St Mary's Medical Center where I was diagnosed and had my surgery. I'll even sign a petition encouraging Komen to seek another solution in rural areas rather than use planned parenthood. This is the decision I have come to and I am at peace about it. (Now I hope I don't have you angrily picking up tomatoes and throwing them at me and into your personal computer). ;)

Here is where I need YOUR help. Just DO something. Give where you feel led to give and most importantly PRAY. Pray that we reach people. I want people to come up to us in our God shirts during any walk we do. I want us to be able to tell them that the only thing we can count on in life is God. That doesn't mean I will never have cancer again. It doesn't mean that we'll never have any problems. What is does mean is that we will always have HIM. HE is bigger than cancer. He is BIGGER THAN ANYTHING!! If only one person, ONE person gets that....it will be SO worth every minute of my breast cancer fight. Lots of love,

Kerry

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Radiation Week #2 Done & Counting Down to Cookie Day!

Hello friends and family!

I have now gone to radiation 5 days a week for two weeks. 10 treatments down 23 to go. I still am not experiencing any discomfort. In a two week period I will have seen 4 doctors (my Medical Oncologist, my Surgeon, my Primary Care Physician and the Radiation Oncologist). This has become fairly routine and I am looking forward to the day when I can go a whole month without a doctor's appointment. All the doctors say I am doing well and very pleased with my progress. Needless to say Laura and Leslie have been real troopers and well behaved except for one appointment last week when they got into a pillow fight in the doctor's office and hit the doctor! Oh the insanity of it all. Fortunately the doctor has kids and a great sense of humor.
I can laugh about it now although I didn't then.

It is funny what becomes routine. My kids usually sleep in their clothes for the next day to help us get off early enough in the morning. They looked at me strangely Friday night when I said they could put on their nightgowns to sleep in since we didn't have a treatment the next day. We usually eat cereal out of the bag in the car for breakfast so today I made a point of fixing a big, sit down breakfast of bacon and eggs for them.

Thursday has become an exciting day of the week for the girls because it is cookie day at the treatment center. They have all sorts of cookies...peanut butter, chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, macadamia nut. There is one elderly couple we run into every morning. The husband has cancer. You should have seen the smile on his face when he told my girls about cookie day. It is amazing to see what a difference even the smallest, thoughtful gesture can make. Now every weekday my girls are counting down to the next cookie day.

It may sound strange to say it but "counting down to the next cookie day" has become a sort of philosopy of mine I adopted early on in my diagnosis and has served me well ever since. I think if you are fighting something awful like cancer it helps you to always have something coming up that week to look forward to. For me it might be a getting together with family, a date night with Randy, a Mom's Night Out with friends, our coop, playdate with other kids or many different things. But it always helped me get through the day, even the stinky ones.

Tuesday night at the young breast cancer survivor's meeting I met a girl who was just diagnosed. She was starting her chemo treatment the very next day. She was obviously nervous. She said she would have rejected doing the chemo altogether if it wasn't for her family. She asked for some advice from us. It told her how I lived a full life on chemo, that she'd get through it. But the most important advice I gave her was that you should always have something to look forward to. That has made the biggest difference for us. Laura and Leslie are battling cancer too and for them it is cookie day. Thank goodness for cookie day! Hope you have your equivalent to cookie day to look forward to. Lots of love,

Kerry

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Radiation Week 1 Done!!


Hello!

This is just a quick update to let everyone know that my first week of radiation went really well. Every weekday morning Laura, Leslie and I get up and make the 30 mintute drive to the hospital. The girls sit in the waiting room right off from my treatment area and do a little homework within sight of the technicians. The whole process (including my changing into the hospital gown and out) usually takes about 30minutes. I have 4 purple marks on my skin that the techs use to line me up for the treatment each morning. I jokingly call the marks my crosshairs. I am not experiencing any discomfort as yet. We usually end each treatment with a trip to the hospital gift shop where the girls pick up a 10 cent candy or treat for hanging in there with me.

This week I dropped the bandanas and the wig. It is August afterall and hot. It feels good. I look like an army recruit but it's just fine with me. I get ready in the mornings now in half the time. :)

The Knoxville Race for the Cure is coming up October 24th. I have started a team called the GOD IS BIGGER THAN CANCER team and entered our breast cancer shirt into a Tshirt contest. (I think we should win it but of course I am a little biased). I will be sending out emails in the next week inviting all who are interested to join us either through donations or in the walk itself. I am very excited about it. I hope if there are several of us in our shirts people will see what a difference God has made in our lives and want that same blessed assurance that only He can give. Lots of love,

Kerry

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Let the Radiation Begin!

Hello dear friends and family!

Last Friday I went in for a simulation of my radiation treatments. On the way in I ran into Angie (the bc patient whom I met at my first chemo treatment who was sitting across from me reading the same book I was). She has only a couple more treatments next week and is doing really well. She showed me her scar and treatment areas. She looked like she had a red, blistered sunburn. She said she was getting a little fatigued but only now at the end. It was such a joy to see her.

During the simulation I was asked to lie down on my back on this long, flat table. There was a huge machine dangling over my head. It was round in the center with what looked like a mouth in the middle with little red laser beams shooting out from it. There was a remote control for the thing which hung from the ceiling.

Two female technicians came in and began drawing square and circular shapes all over my chest with sharpies. Over the mouth of the machine they inserted different flat trays with holes in them. They had my last name on them and abbreviations like Lat for lateral and Med for medial for the angles/sides in which they were marking me. At times the mouth of the machine would open and close from each side in a square pattern that reminded me of sci fi movies with the view of a shuttle craft boarding into the bottom of a mother ship. The head would also move from side to side as they worked on different views of my anatomy. There were even laserbeams that crisscrossed the ceiling. It was a little wierd.

Every once in a while the techs would pick up the sheet underneath me and scoot me a few centimeters one way and a few the other, turn down the lights and look at some ruler marks projected on my chest. They would call out those number marks and draw on me with the sharpie again. After they did each position, they would tape over the marks with special tapes and take an xray. The doctor would then look at my xrays and have them fine tune the marks and my position (taking more xrays) until after an hour he was satisfied they had me marked exactly where he wanted the radiation to go. Nothing hurt. The only uncomfortable part was staying still for long periods of time and keeping my hands over my head. They kept falling asleep.

After I left I ran into a man in the elevator. I had on a V neck top and you could see all of the circles at the base of my neck. He laughed and said he could tell where I'd been and that it looked like I had cave drawings all over me. Personally I think it looked like I'd been attacked by a crazy preschooler with a magic marker. Most of the marks I was able to wash off but the ones in purple (including what looks like crosshairs) under the tape will stay with me until I finish the radiation.

Today I had my first treatment. Everything went really well. The technicians spent most of the time positioning me. Once they were satisfied that I was precisely lined up, they would leave the room. They stepped into an adjacent room where they could see me through a monitor. (There was at least one camera in my treatment room). A red light would come on making a buzzing sound. It would last about 30 seconds and then turn off. The techs would then come in again, reposition me and it would start all over again. The machine over me would move from side to side depending on the angle they needed to shoot. It didn't hurt. I've been told it takes about two weeks for the discomfort to kick in but that it isn't too bad, just itchy. 1 down and 32 to go! Thanks for the prayer! Lots of love,

Kerry

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Life is Good

Hello prayer warriors!

We are home safely from our trip. I already miss my sister and all our dear friends in Va. It feels good though to be back in TN getting ready for round 3 of my treatment...radiation.

Today I met with the Radiation Oncologist and the radiation therapist who will be overseeing my treatment. The Radiation Oncologist said again what a miraculous pathology report I had from the surgery. He said if the response on the tumors from the chemo was so great, just imagine what it did to any of those "bad cells" that might have been floating around in my system. Yippee!!

They put me through a CAT scan today. It is a big square box with what looks like a big donut hole. You just lie down and move back and forth through the opening while the machine scans you. They were getting precise pictures and data of my anatomy so that the doctor can line up angles and trajectories they will use to shoot the radiation. They also make customized molds they put against you to prevent any of the radiation from reaching your vital organs. They will be shooting side angles of the remaining chest tissues, straight on angles of my scars and also the lymph nodes near my neck for prevention. The individualized nature and preciseness of it all is very fascinating. Because my breast cancer is on the left side (near my heart) I have to use a special machine. On the plus side, it means that machine is less busy and I had my pick of the times. I will start treatment on August 3 at 8:45 am in the morning and go 5 times a week for almost 7 weeks (or 33 treatments).

I am actually excited about starting. Life is so good. I had a wonderful visit with family, there's a new school year to look forward to and still a little bit of the summer to enjoy. If life can be this good, just imagine how good eternal life must be. Lots of love,

Kerry

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Fun, Fun, Fun

Hello Dear friends and family!

This week I am up in Virginia visiting with my sisters and their families. We are having such a wonderful time. There's been lots of swimming, video games, movies and laughter.

I continue to recover well and feel truly blessed. Thursday night we got together with many wonderful friends in King George who have been praying for me these many months. Some of them I met for the very first time. It was truly a joy to see them and thank them for their wonderful prayers and support.

Lots of love,
Kerry

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Psalm

Hello Dear friends and family,

I am doing great! I'm back to sleeping in the bed and rolling over. Yeah!!! I'm stuffing my bra daily and about to glue on some falsh eyelashes tonight (wish me luck). Except for these usual breast cancer oddities, all seems right with the world.

Today I thought I'd share with you something I wrote way back in January after I was first diagnosed. It was the weekend after my first chemo treatment when I attended a Pep Moms retreat. The speaker read a psalm in which King David had poured out his soul during hardship. She then had each of us write a Psalm about what was burdening us down. I remember distinctly that Casting Crown's "The Voice of Truth" was playing on a boom box at the time. I was among several who got up and shared my psalm. We all cried together over different problems, fears and worries that were burdening us down. After almost 6 months I revisited my psalm today. I guess it just shows again God's goodness. I reference a storm in my psalm several times and I must say God's grace has truly carried my family through it.

My burden is heavy Lord
So so heavy.
Cancer stinks Lord.
Some days I feel really bad.
Some days I can't do what I enjoy.
And Lord that stinks.
I want my life back.
I want my energy back.
I want normal back, Lord.
But Lord I know you are greater than cancer.
You are greater than anything Satan or this world can throw at me.
Your love will carry me through this storm.
You will carry me through this storm.
You will hold my hand. You will hold my husband's hand.
You will hold Laura and Leslie my daughters' hands
Against the waves that batter against us.
For you O Lord are great...so so great.
How great is our God. Sing with me how great is our God
And all will see how great, how great is our God.

Of course the last two lines are from the well known song, How Great Is Our God. It was the first song I heard the next Sunday in church after I was diagnosed. How blessed I have been to have gone through the storm so well. I guess all that is left now are just a few thundershowers. How good is that? If there is something burdening you down, I would encourage you to write your own psalm. It did wonders for my spirit. Lots of love,

Kerry

Friday, July 3, 2009

Feeling Whole for the Holy One

Hello dear friends and family!

Surgery is now 3 weeks behind me. I am still very swollen but it is going down. I am now sleeping in the bed again at least most of the night. I can't roll over on my side and have to sleep on my back. Usually between 2-5 am I wake up with a terrible back ache and I sleep the rest of the night in the recliner. (I have new appreciation for LaZboys let me tell you). I have lost most of my eyelashes and eyebrows now too but the hair on my head is definately coming back. My arm mobility is improving. I am reaching over my shoulders now and (with some squirming) can usually pull clothes off over my head. I'm back to driving all over town too. These are all very small victories but I will take them. Life is ALMOST back to normal.

The emotional side of things is still taking some getting used to. Lately breast cancer has made me feel like I am half a person. It can make you feel like half a wife. You aren't as beautiful for your spouse as you were before. What's the use of dolling up when you don't have hair, eyebrows or even eyelashes. It can make you feel like half a woman. Not only is my hair missing but my chest too. Sometimes I feel androgynous. Yes it is temporary but it still can be SO depressing. You want to do something about it, but what are you going to do? You can't make your hair come back any sooner. You can't make the surgeries or the radiation visits over with quicker or be any easier. You can't make the scars disappear or make the swelling go away any faster. So you try to be one of those glass half full people. You look for the silver lining. You tell yourself "I'll shop for scarves and hats." Or you think "I'll pick my own bra size!" Goodness knows I have an large bandana collection right now and reconstruction will certainly make me feel more normal in the long run but neither of these things (or any of the other "silver linings" I focus on) will make me feel whole again inside.

SO how do you feel whole again? Well it isn't by anything you can do yourself that's for sure. The only thing that makes me feel whole again is knowing that God is in control and that He is the one who can fill me up inside. No one person and no one thing on Earth can do that...just Him. Everything you have in life, everything you've achieved....your health, your financial stability, your spouse, your children, everything is a blessing on loan from Him. Those things all make you feel wonderful and happy but nothing else can make you feel complete. I have lots of moments when I struggle with the emotional side, but this knowledge is what carries me through. I can't imagine battling this disease with out it. Hope you are feeling whole inside too. Lots of love,

Kerry

PS: Brooke Estrada emailed me and said the Avon Breast Cancer walk in the Colorodo Rockies was a huge success with lots of answered prayer and Godincidinces. More details to come later!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Healing Rain

Hello dear friends and family!

Healing rain is falling down inside (my spirit) and out (my physical scars). I am still recovering well from my surgery. The drain tubes are gone (yeah!) It feels like I have a huge jelly roll under my arms from the swelling, but there is no pain and I am able to get around well. I have been sleeping in the living room recliner for a week and a half to keep myself elevated and reduce pressure on the stitches. Bed? What's that? Needless to say I am looking forward to sleeping in one again soon.

I have a lopsided chest. The left side is flat. They injected fluid for the first time into the expander on the right side Monday, making it expand & beginning the reconstruction. The expander is actually located underneath the chest muscle and stretches both the muscle and the skin which made me sore for a couple of days. For a while there I vowed I was stopping at size AA. Randy hurt his back exercising that night and we were both hobbling around the house like a bent over old couple. Just looking at each other made us laugh but it also hurt! It was funny.

The little things like the soreness and swelling are really just irritating. Laura, Leslie and I are impatient for me to fully recover so we can get out more and enjoy the summer.

It looks like my hair will start coming back soon. I have a little fuzz on my head now, just a few baby hairs. My toes are still numb so I know the chemo has not left my system for good yet. It is on its way out though.

God is so good. Everything we have needed has been supplied and then some. There were so many kind mailings, cards, emails and phone calls the past few weeks. There were a couple of days last week when I seriously wondered how I was going to close the refrigerator door. Thanks to everyone and thanks also for all the prayers.

I also wanted to remind everyone to pray again for Brooke Estrada. She left yesterday for the Avon Walk coming up on June 27-28th. She and others participating with her are raising lots of money for breast cancer research. Please pray for a successful, injury-free event.

Lots of love,

Kerry

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Eager to be a "Thriver" As Well As a "Survivor"

It has been a week today since my surgery and I continue to recover well. I started out with 5 tubes after surgery and am down to one drainage tube. I am hoping to have that out tomorrow. I got dressed by myself today which was an accomplishment! I also got out of the house for a couple hours with Shannon for lunch and a couple short errands which was a treat.

I have some good news! My pathology report came back and there is NO SIGN OF THE CANCER! It's gone! Caput! Outta here!! Isn't that fantastic?! It boggles my mind how the doctors knew exactly what drug combination to use to so successfully KO the cancer. That these very drugs are out there, the fact that they exist, that they were work together so well shows yet again how miracles in nature always point back to our Omnipotent Creator. Round 2 is won!! Yeah!! Praise God!!

I don't know yet if the doctor had to remove any of the chest wall or how many lymph nodes she took during the surgery. She told my family that the surgery was a little tricky. She had to take out several damaged lymph nodes up against the blood vessals. I hope to know more details when I see her again.

Laura and Leslie are coming home on Saturday. So far my sister Mitzi & brother-in-law John have courageously survived having 6 kids at their house for over a week. Laura told me the other night "Mommy, we all went out last night and caught fireflies. It was so much fun." I was about to say "Awww how sweet..." when she added, "And then we fed them to Stephen's Venus Fly Trap plant." I just had to laugh. I understand there is also a toothfairy (Heather and Joe in disquise) sending notes to Leslie. The toothfairy is not even requiring lost teeth in VA!

I was asked last week by Laura and Leslie if I believed Peter Pan and Tinkerbell were real. I was honest and explained that I thought they were make believe. My girls politely informed me I was wrong because the toothfairy (about a year ago) had written a note saying she'd seen Tinkerbell in Fairyland and if the toothfairy says so, it MUST be true. (Guess I've dug myself in pretty deep). Hopefully this "toothfairy" in VA can help dig me out! ;)

I really enjoyed reading the comments on the last post about the other adventures Laura and Leslie have been having with all our dear friends in VA. Thank you all so much for adopting the girls for the week. It has meant so much to me and Randy to know they can enjoy the summer not having to deal with things like "surgery" or "cancer."

Yesterday I saw an interview with Olivia Newton John who is a breast cancer survivor. She calls herself not just a survivor but a "Thriver." Survivor has such wonderful conotations...you've made it...you've beat the cancer. It also, she said, gives you the mental picture of someone still holding on to dear life or someone with their head just above the water. She proudly explained after 16 years cancer free she felt like a Thriver, with a very full life.

Psalm 1:1-3 says "Happy is the man who does not go in the company of sinners, or take his place in the way of evil-doers, or in the seat of those who do not give honour to the Lord. But whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and whose mind is on his law day and night. He will be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, which gives its fruit at the right time, whose leaves will ever be green; and he will do well in all his undertakings."

I want to be like the thriving tree in that verse. I am definately a Survivor. I have beat the cancer. There are days when my head feels just above the water. On the other hand, I have such a wonderful life. I know there are good times ahead. Guess that makes me a "Thriving Survivor" or a "Surviving Thriver?" I don't know which but I'm on my way to being a Thriver. That's what counts. Hope you are Thrivers too.

Lots of love to all,

Kerry

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Back Home!

Dear friends and family,

I am back home! The surgery went really well. I was afraid I would be scared or lonely when it came time for the surgery to start but I wasn't. The truth is I barely remember that part at all. They started the anesthesia when I still had family around me.

I have two tubes sticking out of me that must be drained every few hours and a pain pump that hangs around my neck. I am sore and stiff but that is all. The scars are a little tough to take, but I know they are temporary and I feel at peace with my decision. Every day I feel better. I am so pleased to have made it downstairs to the computer by myself. That is my accomplishment for the day!

I am spending most of my time hanging out in the recliner watching TV while my wonderful husband waits on me hand and foot. (Sigh, it's a hard life). He is so wonderful. You all have been so wonderful. God is so good.

Laura and Leslie are up in VA with my sister Mitzi. Randy and I miss them but we know they are having a great time.

Thank you all so much for your prayers. Lots of love,

Kerry

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Out of Surgery

Kerry's surgery is complete and she is in recovery. Randy said that everything went well. Please continue to pray for healing both physically and emotionally as I know this will be a difficult time for her.

Monday, June 8, 2009

As Angels Watch Over Me Through the Night...

Hello Dear Friends and Family!

Obviously I've been thinking alot about my surgery lately. It will be Thursday morning at 8 am.

You know those Verizon Wireless commericals, the ones where a person has their entire phone network of like 100 people following them everywhere they go? Well for me surgery isn't like that. Well, it is but it feels like it isn't. Let me explain.

When I was diagnosed with cancer I had never had a major surgery before in my life. Now it looks like I will have three total in my breast cancer recovery, maybe more. The surgery is not life threatening or anything but it still is a little scary. I'm sure any of you out there who have had major surgery would say the same. Now of course the doctor is there. And I think the world of mine. But the people in this world you are used to relying on can't be right there to hold your hand. When you are wheeled into surgery your spouse can't go with you...your parents, your siblings, your friends. Sure they will be waiting for you on the other side and that makes a HUGE difference. But when it comes down to that moment when you go into surgery you are going into it ALONE. Your support network can't go with you. I knew all that in my head before but I never experienced it until I had cancer.

The truth is your "network" as wonderful as it is can't carry your burden for you. They can help you tremendously (and mine certainly has) but they can't take it from you. Like Christian in Pilgrim's Progress your burden in life (whatever that burden may be) is your own to carry.

The good news is that if you have Jesus in your heart you are NOT ALONE and He can make that burden seem light if you give it to Him. And what matters most when you are wheeled into that operating room right then and there is your relationship with God. You can either feel isolated at that moment or know you are in better hands.

When I tuck my girls into bed at night we say the "Now I lay me down to sleep" prayer. The version I said as a kid has the line "If I should die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take." I remember dreading that line as a kid, wishing I just could skip over it. As an adult now though I understand how comforting (not scary) that line really is. My kids and I say a version with the line "As Angels watch over me through the night until I wake in the morning light."

When I am wheeled into that operating room, I am not only going to picture my wonderful network waiting for me on the other side of the door (and praying for me all over the country) but I am also going to close my eyes and imagine an army of heavenly angels all around me, watching over me. I will not be alone. God will carry me through.

It reminds me of that beautiful poem "Footprints."

I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets
of footprints in the sand,
one belonging to me
and one to my Lord.

When the last scene of my life shot before me
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
There was only one set of footprints.
I realized that this was at the lowest
and saddest times of my life.
This always bothered me
and I questioned the Lord
about my dilemma.

“Lord, you told me when I decided to follow You,
You would walk and talk with me all the way.
But I'm aware that during the most troublesome
times of my life there is only one set of footprints.
I just don't understand why, when I needed You most,
You leave me.”

He whispered, “My precious child,
I love you and will never leave you
never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints
it was then that I carried you.”

Margaret Fishback Powers

See you all on the other side of the operating room! Lots of love,

Kerry

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Child-Like Faith



Hello Dear friends and family!

Child-like faith. That is what I hope to show to others. A contagious, child-like faith.

Mark 10:13-16 says,
And they were bringing children to Jesus so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them.

This morning on Good Morning America I saw a story about a 10 year old girl with breast cancer. You heard me correctly...10 years old. Here's a link to her incredible story. Her positive outlook is amazing. I watched it and I cried. http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/OnCallPlusBreastCancerNews/story?id=7739714&page=1

I have talked to a couple mothers whose children are battling or have battled cancer. Their spirit and outlook on life have been very inspirational to me. It is truly amazing and humbling what we can learn from children sometimes.

With this in mind we are happy to announce another new shirt! It was designed by Michelle at Luna B Tees and suggested by a mother whose little boy Phillip is in remission from leukemia. It is the God is so much bigger than Pediatric Cancer shirt! (Yeah!!!!) These are now available on lunabtee.com. I can't wait until after surgery when I can give some of these out!! Here's a link to the caringbridge site of that special family and a precious picture of Phillip modeling it. http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/philipendres

Yesterday Randy and I had an appointment with my breast surgeon. We had a huge list of questions. She spent well over an hour with us going through the list answering each one by one. If there is one thing I have learned about breast cancer it is that it is VERY complicated. You can't expect "yes" and "no" answers to anything. The best doctor in the world can't give you those.

All the answers can be best summed up in two statements: every person is different and every breast cancer is different. I really don't know for sure yet how many surgeries I will have. I really don't know how long my recovery time will be. All they can give you are ranges and estimates. As a "planner" this can drive you a little crazy. There are also so many "what ifs" or unpredictable things that go wrong too, some of which I will have to watch for the rest of my life (lymphadema, blood clots,etc.). What the surgeon kept telling me was to not fixate on all the little unpredictable things but to just keep my eyes on the goal, the goal of being cancer free. I keep wanting the cancer treatments to be a sprint to the finish but clearly it is more of a marathon with unknown twists and turns.

My surgery is late next week. I am having a modified radical mastectomy with an expander on the right. Thanks so much for your continued prayer and support. I am READY for it. That child-like faith will see me through. Lots of love,

Kerry

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Wanting it GONE

Hello Prayer Warriors!

I got the results back from my MRI last night. They can no longer see any cancer in my lymph nodes or the couple smaller tumors in my chest! There is a small amount of cancer left where the biggest tumor was but nothing in comparison to its original size!

I am so excited that the chemo has so dramatically shrunk the cancer! I had hoped for a total knockout but it is okay. I will always wonder in the back of my mind if little cancer cells could still be out there. A complete knockout would have helped that fear but in a way it makes the double mastectomy an easier decision. It would have been harder somehow to loose that part of my body if the cancer had been completely gone. Regardless, the results are still miraculous! Praise God that the chemo was so effective!!

Today I thought I would tell everyone what an MRI of the breast is like in case you ever have to go in for future testing. This is the procedure I had last Thursday that gave me these results.

The good news is an MRI is not painful. The first thing they do is start an IV. You then have to lie down on a table on your stomach with your head in an oval cushion. You stretch your arms above your head. Your chest hangs down over this opening (which feels a little funny). They lower you back into a tunnel and you stay in that position for about 30 minutes. They give you earplugs because as the images are taken you hear lots of clicks and knocking sounds some of which do get loud. The only hard thing is remaining absoultely still and breathing while lying on your tummy. About 3/4 of the way through they will insert "contrast" into your IV. It is a liquid that makes the cancer stick out more in the imaging. I was told with my first MRI that they take about 1200 images.

I hope to have the date of the surgery set on Tuesday when I see the breast surgeon.Last Thursday I dropped off several more God is bigger than cancer shirts to Julie at the radiologist's office. She said they continue to be a blessing to others which makes me smile. She hopes to start a support group at the hospital to serve the Knoxville area. Thank you all for your continued prayer. Looking forward to the day when the cancer is GONE! Lots of love,

Kerry

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Prayer for Upcoming Events

Hello dear family and friends!

I've been doing well since my last post.

The last round of chemo was harder, but I am so thankful for it. God is so good. For every moment that is a struggle I have a thousand more that are so, so wonderful.

On Thursday I will have an MRI to determine how much if any of the cancer remains. We know it has shrunk down dramatically. Please pray that it has been knocked out for good!

I want to remind everyone that Brooke Estrada from Las Vegas will be doing the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer on June 27th and 28th. It is a 2 day 39 mile walk through the Colorado Rockies. Let's cheer her on! Please continue to pray for Brooke as she prepares for the walk. Help her reach her goal of raising $1800 in the fight against breast cancer! Cut and paste this link to go to her personal web page:
http://info.avonfoundation.org/site/TR/Walk2009/Denver?px=3863583&pg=personal&fr_id=1810&et=93jebOVkVWWbZfOynpKaeg..&s_tafId=383633

Go Brooke!!!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Chemo's Last Kick

Rage. Rage so intense you feel like you have to hit something to get it out of your system. Then five minutes later you are on your knees weeping. You don't know why. You just are. The phrase in the Bible "weeping and gnashing of teeth" literally comes to mind. They're back....the insane hormones from my fourth treatment hit another peak the other day.

And what sets off this wild ride of emotions? It's just everyday things...my child losing her softball uniform, the kids bickering in the car, having to ask your child to do something three times. Normal everyday circumstances that you cope with all the time but with Chemo's last kick are harder to handle. My children just stare at me during these episodes in wonder, eventually trying to give me advice about "controlling my temper" and "Mommy just try to smile...you will feel better inside." Ouch! Then you cry because you feel bad about crying! How crazy is that? I feel so sad for my little girls and my husband. I feel so sad that they have to see me like this. At least I know it is temporary. My doctor said it might get worse before it gets better and it has. Last night I sat my girls down and explained to them that the medicine was affecting me. I had to ask their forgiveness for my outbursts of emotion. It certainly wasn't the first time I've had to do it as a Mom. They seemed to understand. They are such strong, wonderful little girls. Later on in the evening they gave me little handmade cards and said a bedtime prayer for me. Isn't that sweet? The light is at the end of the tunnel and I know we'll get through it.

Speaking of light I learned something interesting from a sister survivor today. She had listened to a conference on triple negative breast cancer. Our type of breast cancer is only in about 15% of cases and most common in African American women. (Hence I have wondered how in the world did I get it?) There is some research now into the possibility that a deficiency in vitamin D may have something to do with the cancer. Breast cancer.org suggests that women with my type of cancer on vitamin D supplements (when combined with a low fat diet) may have a lower rate of reocurrence. I was never a sun worshiper for sure but I am not one to avoid the outdoors and lather on excess sunscreen either. I am planning on having my vitamin D levels tested the next time I see my medical oncologist. There is so much new data out there now, so much new research.

Genesis 58:8 says "Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory
of the LORD will be your rear guard." The glory of the Lord as your rear guard. I love that.

Here's looking toward the light. Lots of love,

Kerry