Friday, October 12, 2012

Cancer is a gift…a gift that came with no receipt

I was reminded the other day how the journey of breast cancer has molded me into the woman I am today. My husband and family tell me there is a new woman that stands in front of them and I would like to believe that is true. I can think of cancer as a gift in some ways…mind you, I did not think a cancer diagnosis was a gift at 24 years old nor did I think it was a gift when I was going through treatments and I have to say I didn't think much of it when I was finally cancer free and done with doctor visits. However, there came a morning when the fog of sickness and despair lifted and I found myself breaking away from the footsteps that I had been walking in before my gift of cancer was given to me. My eyes were opened to a new way of life. A life where the possibilities are endless!  A life where my family and I always come before social standing and financial gain; and where I choose more happiness. I never want to look back at a year of my life and say all I did was work long hours, take for granted the people I love and miss out on opportunities for adventure. I want each year to be better than the last. Visiting new places, meeting new people, helping those who are hurting, reveling in each glorious day and experiencing all that God created us for!

I have those goals but it is sure hard to stay focused and keep my eyes on the prize! Recently, I was involved in a car accident where I was rear ended. I have been in serious pain even with therapy three times a week. If I am not careful I can find myself being grumpy about how terrible my day is and taking my frustration out on those around me. That’s when I have to yell at myself, "Whoa Sister!, You think neck and back pain are bad? Do we not remember what kind of pain we were in for the last few years? Take a look around you and let’s get back to knowing that each day is a present from God that He doesn't have to give us!" I have a choice to be angry that I only had two months of feeling great in between cancer and a car accident or I can choose to ask God to help me with my pain so that I can enjoy what He has for me. I choose God with a side order of healing!

Sometimes it is so easy to remember that cancer straightened out my priorities and that my mind is focused on what it should be. In August my family went on a cruise to “Celebrate Life!" Both my mother and I have struggled with breast cancer and this is the first year in four years that all of us have been healthy. On the cruise we created so many memories that will be remembered forever as well as the hilarious stories that will be told at family gatherings each year. Cancer is horrible don’t get me wrong, but if cancer can make me never forget that family is everything than I can at least be grateful for the lessons God taught me from it. I don’t wish trials on anyone, but when trials come your way never ever brush aside the amazing gifts you can take away from them.

Love Always,

Please enjoy this video "Celebrating Life"! 
This is my family's Caribbean cruise vacation! 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Complete Cancer Remission

Today was my three month check up with my oncologist at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. I have been officially done with ALL cancer treatments since February so I am in complete cancer remission!

As I was walking through the lobby at SCCA I had a skip in my step. This appointment was different. I wasn’t looking down at the floor feeling tired or sick, I wasn’t listing all the concerns in my head that I wanted to bring up with the doctor, but instead I was holding my head high as a smile beamed across my face. For I, Sarah, had beaten this cancer that stood between me and life. I had fought and I had won.

When I was filling out my paperwork for check in I loved that I was able to cross out all the meds on my file and not replace them with new ones! It also tickled me pink when my doctor said she didn’t recognize me when she saw me down the hall. She has only known me when I have been sick so here’s to looking healthy! My blood work came back perfect and my vitals all were normal so I am so happy to say I don’t have to go back for 6 whole months! I have been going to Seattle for oodles of appointments for the last few years so this will be a wonderful change...especially on the gas budget. Goodbye SCCA and UW until the end of the year!

Yesterday I was surprised by friends and family celebrating my victory over cancer. My heart melted as I was showered with love, kindness and “girlie” presents. My mom and Miss Sherri spent hours preparing finger foods, decorating with bright Spring colors and creating gorgeous flower arrangements. I will never forget walking in the door to find smiles in every direction! What a wonderful way to celebrate a new chapter in my life. Thank you to everyone who helped make me feel special on my very “special” day.

The Lord has restored my health and strength and I will give Him praise all the days of my life!

Love Always,

Thursday, May 17, 2012

I was asked a question...

I have been attending a cancer survivorship series on Thursdays. The men and women that surround me each week are truly amazing. Everyone has a unique story of struggle and disappointment but one similar strand of truth can be found in all…each one of us chose to fight and we came out victorious against an attack on our lives. I am proud to stand with these “warriors” and I am also proud to say I am one of them. I have to admit that when I walked into the first class everyone’s face said that the high school volunteers were down the hall and that I was definitely in the wrong place. Quickly after introducing myself I found that I am not alone in trying to find my way after being diagnosed with cancer. I have people who “get” me and I in return “get” them.

This week’s class is about finding hope and meaning so for this week’s homework we were asked a question that has had me stumped. We were asked to bring an object that symbolizes something that has meaning in your life; it must be something you can hold in your hand and it can’t be a picture. If you already know what you would bring just after reading that question you certainly have life much more figured out than I do. I have been walking through my apartment opening drawers, looking in boxes just searching for something that symbolizes importance in my life. Day after day I continued to search and came up with nothing. I felt defeated until I stopped and took a moment to think about it. What if something that has significant meaning in my life isn’t a trinket from the past but wouldn’t it make more sense if that meaningful object is something I use and see every day? I sat down and looked at my empty palms trying to imagine holding something and a smile stretched across my face. I turned my hands over and there staring back at me were two meaningful promises. On my right hand a ring that I have had on since I was 19, a promise ring. On my left hand a ring that symbolizes a promise but it is a little more meaningful. My wedding ring symbolizes the loyalty of my best friend. The best friend that stood by me for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer and in sickness and in health and trust me in the last two years we have seen worse, poorer and sickness. We are hopeful for the next few years we will see the better, richer and health parts. Can I get an Amen?

I felt pretty happy when I had finally found my meaningful object but something else was tugging on me. My heart was telling me that there was another object that held meaning and hope and that it was right in front of me. The only problem with that thought was that the only thing right in front of me was the TV. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something so I stared into the black screen for a few minutes and it wasn’t until I gave up and started to get up that I finally saw what I was looking for. As I started to move I saw myself in the reflection and another smile stretched across my face. This time my meaningful object wasn’t something I could hold in my hand but the meaning and the significance was off the charts. Me, myself and I. My life has meaning because I am still here. My life has hope because I chose to conquer over a cancer diagnoses and continue to live out the life that God has given me. If God was done with me He would have brought me home and since He didn’t I must still have value here and I must still have a purpose. I am a woman who symbolizes meaning and hope! I am a walking billboard for God’s love and redemption. I still don’t like everything that cancer left in its wake but I can think of my scars as badges of courage and strength. Yes, I wish they weren’t there but each scar is a constant reminder of my incredible journey to becoming the woman who God destined me to be. 

Love Always,

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Sarah's New Youtube Video...

Click here to view Sarah's New Youtube Video! This is her journey with breast cancer and her victory over it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cancer's Aftermath...

We cannot win if we refuse to fight –Beth Moore
I listened to these words from a Beth Moore study in April of 2011. I not only believed in them I acted upon them since at that time I was fighting for my life as I battled stage 3 breast cancer at the age of 24. I battled hard, I fought with every ounce of strength I had and by golly I did win the physical fight against that horrible cancer that invaded my body. I am physically free of the death grip cancer had on me but now what am I left with?

After I had finished 18 weeks of chemotherapy treatments, a double mastectomy surgery, and 30 radiation treatments I was suffering with severe pain for eleven months that could not be explained by any of my specialist doctors at Providence Cancer Partnership, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance or the medical team at University of Washington. On many appointments I felt passed around from department to department because I was their medical mystery patient that no one knew what to do with. It felt as if every drug was tried…at my expense no less, but nothing seemed to help the pain that never ceased and caused me to stay in bed more often than not. I was on many harsh drugs including a very dangerous drug that temporarily affected my heart function. I was told on more than one emergency room visit that if I continued this drug my heart would stop and I would die. Fear had had its hold on me like I had never known. In January I stood my ground and told all my doctors I wanted off ALL these drugs and after extreme opposition from each doctor I started to taper my dosage of each one. It turned out I was having an allergic intolerance reaction to a daily chemotherapy drug. After three days of not taking the drug called Tamoxifen my body started to feel something that I had not felt in years…comfort! No more pain in my hips, my knees, my back, my neck and also no more headaches or nausea! I had a new lease on life. Each day I have more energy and each day I feel like I am in my twenties and not like I’m in my nineties. I was now feeling physically better than I had ever felt in the last two years but something started to happen.

I have now realized that while I was fighting the physical war that was raging in my body, in order to cope, my brain locked away the emotions that I couldn’t deal with at the time. My brain started repressing mental pain, fear, depression as well as many disappointed goals and dreams. Picture a hurricane destroying everything in its path while you have locked yourself in a safe place to weather the storm…when the physical storm is over you venture out of your safe place and the reality of the destruction is finally upon you. I weathered the physical storm of cancer and now I’m venturing out to see what it really took from my life emotionally and physically. All I can think to call it is cancer’s aftermath.

My cancer aftermath began when I started having flashbacks. My mother was diagnosed with stage 4 incurable breast cancer shortly after I had my reconstructive breast surgery. I have tried to be brave and not let anyone know about the fear and anxiety that was growing inside when I went to her first chemotherapy appointment. Only a year and a half earlier I had been in that same chemo chair, in the same building, on the same floor, in the same room, with the same nurses and receiving the exact same chemotherapy drugs. I would watch each drip of chemotherapy “poison” enter her I.V. and hate would rise from a very hurt and very dark place. Many times during treatments I kissed my mother’s cheek and told her I was going to the restroom just to escape the panic that was about to erupt in me…I would find a quiet place in a deserted hallway and cry tears of fear and guilt. Fear because I am so afraid that cancer could take my mother away from me and guilt because I am not strong enough to push through my own emotions and be there for my mother no matter at what cost. My body is afraid that going back to those cancer treatment rooms means that I will get sick again so to protect myself my mind and body revolt. Very quickly the memories of the chemotherapy side effects come rushing back. My mind panics and wants to run but where? My mouth begins to taste metallic and my stomach begins to sour. I have read plenty about these happenings and many doctors call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

I can admit that I am hurting emotionally and that I have a reason for this anxiety but there is absolutely no way I’m leaving my mother to fend for herself at chemotherapy treatments or doctor appointments so the only thing I know how to do is to just get on my knees on days when I know I will need help and ask God for strength and peace…there is nothing else I can do.

After going through any traumatic experience people are not the same when they reach the other side. Most of my family and friends look at me and say I’m the same Sarah I was but I know the truth. Much was taken from me. Not just from my physical body but from my heart, my mind and my soul.  My self-esteem hit rock bottom and still is not in a healthy place…it may seem like nothing has changed for those around me but I learned early on to wear a mask that hides the tears, disappointments and the ugliness that I feel inside and out. For many months I tried not to look into mirrors because I didn’t recognize who was staring back at me. Even now I don’t recognize the tired and weary eyes, bright pink scars and pale skin. Who is this woman who is staring into my eyes searching for something familiar?

Cancer stole part of my womanhood and it has been stripped away from me which makes me feel very self-conscious…did I just say that? What I am eloquently trying to say is I feel ugly. I hide myself in layers so people won’t see what I see…a woman who is desperately trying to find inner beauty that could maybe wash away some of the outer ugliness that I see and feel.

All I’ve ever wanted to do was be a bride, a wife and a mother. I was the fairytale bride who married her best friend who is in fact my prince charming and I am living out being the best wife I know how to be but I am struggling with the choices I have to become a mother. I have BRCA 2, a cancer gene that makes me have a predisposition to having breast cancer and ovarian cancer. My children will have a 50/50 chance of receiving this gene. I already had embryos when I found out about my gene but we have the knowledge now that those tiny embryos can be tested for this life threatening gene so in reality I do have the ability to stop this gene dead in its tracks and end with me but am I doing the right thing? Should I just not have children because they still could possibly have cancer by some freak accident? Do I just leave it up to fate? Or do we use the technology that God allowed us to create? The trials of having breast cancer personally as well as watching my mother go through it 3 times have been the hardest things I have ever had to do. Do I want to subject my children to this? Am I being selfish wanting to be a mother? I would never forgive myself if I could have done something to save my child’s life and I didn’t act when I could have.

My disposition in life has changed. I’m a glass half empty kind of girl now a days; as situations present themselves I immediately prepare for the worst case scenario in order to protect myself. It is dark and twisted I know but I’m trying to change. I guess I just constantly blame myself for everything. I understand I didn’t choose to have cancer and it isn’t my fault that it turned our lives upside down, but I blame myself for money troubles and for losing 2 years of our lives when we were supposed to be traveling to Russia, Paris, Africa and wherever the wind blew us. I feel like it is my entire fault for Kirk and me not to be able to have our children the regular way but instead putting ourselves in $10,000 of debt just to try to have our first child. Sometimes I cry at night thinking Kirk would have been so much better off without me, I’m so incredibly happy and grateful God gave us to each other but I love Kirk so much that I hate to have to see him hurt and struggle so much to make our dreams come true. I feel as if I am defective and a burden. We went to the fertility clinic this last month to see how the chemotherapy, medical scans, and other medications affected my fertility and the results were not great. In 2010 I had way above average levels of fertility and now in 2012 my levels are on the very low side. It was great that we chose to create embryos because they might be our only way of having children. We are just faced with the mile high wall that is in front of us: raising 10,000 to try for our first child and 4,000 to try for each of our other 3 children. God will provide I just know He will. He just has to.

Will I ever be able to live up to be the woman that I once was. Will I ever be the same? I am not whole anymore because of cancer and as life goes on I’m finding more and more that it is still taking. I pray in time I will become whole, find myself beautiful again and completely triumph over cancer physically and emotionally. God can renew and restore me please pray with me that He will have favor on us.

Love Always,

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My Valentine’s Day Gift

My gift isn't one particular thing like flowers or chocolate, although Hubby did lavish sweetly on me, instead it is a collection of little and huge blessings from God Himself that my heart still has not been able to grasp the depths of His love for me.

My Family: I can’t help but crack a smile when I think of them. My mom and dad are both having major health issues at the moment but they aren’t letting their bodies hold them back from enjoying life and each other. In the midst of having to be off work together God had cooked up a plot for these sweethearts to fall in love all over again. Can you imagine seeing a new twinkle in their eyes when they are together? I see it every time I look at them. They talk about their future, they have “inside jokes” and my favorite is when I see my dad reach for my mom’s hand, squeeze it just a little and grin like he has just held her hand for the very first time. Everything else fades when I see them so happy…at least for now I can rest in knowing they are completely in love and that God is the best matchmaker.

My Health: I have been asking for healing and answers for the pain in my body for almost an entire year now. I have been prayed over, had hands laid on my body and we have fasted for answers. We have prayed for wisdom as my doctors performed countless tests and experimented with powerful and dangerous drugs. I am incredibly joyful to tell you...I HAVE NO MORE PAIN!!!
I just want to write it one more time…I HAVE NO MORE PAIN…oh wow does it feel good to finally share the good…no…GREAT!!!, news with those who have been cheering me on since my diagnosis. The glory of finding the answer doesn’t go to doctors, nurses or a lab tech. It simply goes to God putting the desire to be a mother deep inside my heart.

There I was scared to death that my parents would never see my children because my body wasn’t getting any healthier or any younger…my clock is ticking because of my risk for ovarian cancer. I had an Oncologist appointment coming up so I took a chance and brought up stopping my daily chemo drug, Tamoxifen, that is said to be keeping my body free from cancer, so Kirk and I could start looking into starting a family. My Oncologist said there was a risk for cancer coming back without the drug but I felt so strongly about it Kirk and I decided to stop the drug the next day. To be honest I felt for lumps all over my body for the next two days but when that third day came I dropped to my knees because I did feel something…it wasn’t a lump…I felt relief. I could move my body more freely, I could walk without cringing in pain, and I could stand tall with no fear of falling from weakness. The Tamoxifen was my enemy. That daily white pill was causing my bone tenderness, the aching muscles, the sleepless nights plus every other symptom that had been plaguing me for the past year. Without the pain and nausea symptoms I have been able to stop a whopping seven other meds! I was poisoning my body every day. Trust me, I do not and will never take Tamoxifen again. The ability to enjoy my life again far outweighs the risk of not taking Tamoxifen. I have come to the reality that my protection from cancer will come from God as he allows and not from a small pill.

My Future: Kirk and I are finally making plans. We were stopped dead in our tracks at two years of marriage and since then we have been desperately trying to find our way back to moving forward. Finally the time has come to close the book on my breast cancer story and start writing “Our Future”.
We have been given the green light from my Oncologist to start our family. Joy just rushes over me writing this. Becoming a mother was one of the strongest motivations for me to fight for my life. I have appointments set to speak with a family planner who specializes in women who have a history with cancer at Seattle Cancer Center and also with Seattle Reproductive Medicine. Soon I hope to have all the information needed to be safe with my own health risks as well as becoming the healthiest mommy-to-be that I can.
Kirk and I are also getting ready to buy a house. We have been praying about settling down near Snohomish and soon we will start to look at homes in our area. I can’t wait to start a new life in a new home that doesn’t have any memories of sickness tied to it. Here’s to finding Home Sweet Home!

Lately Kirk and I just smile at one another because we know that cancer isn’t holding us back any more. We beat cancer and we now have the choice to move forward and live the life that God has for us.

Thank you for the love and kindness that you have shown me through my darkest hours. I am so grateful to be in your hearts. You have always given me the courage to fight through with your prayers and messages. Because of you I knew I wasn't alone.

Love Always, Sarah

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

At least she is out of the hospital...

Mom is getting healthier every day. She got out of the hospital a few days ago and is so thrilled to be home. She spent eleven days in isolation due to neutrapenic fever...she is very, very happy its over. When she got home there was a special surprise waiting for her. Stephanie Puzey gave her a shaved ice machine and let me tell you that little machine is working overtime! Yesterday we visited her doctor’s office to have a blood draw and to talk about when to start back up on her chemotherapy schedule. Her blood results improved very nicely so we were all very happy. The doctor and his team recommended that she start chemo treatments early next week so she can be as strong as possible and also they want to cut the dose of medicine down so it wouldn’t be as strong on my mom’s body. Your first thought might be “Great! She won’t get as sick!” but what it really comes down to is a lower medicine dose decreases the effectiveness of the treatment which could give the cancer time to grow. If you know anything about my mom you know she chose to do the full and strongest treatment but she was warned that another infection could cost her her life.

My dad is having his own health battle while he is desperately trying to fight for my mom. His knee is giving him so much pain. He has a torn meniscus that is causing him to wear a knee brace, ice it every night, and get cortisone shots to help the pain. Tomorrow he has an M.R.I. to figure out exactly what is going on. After those results come back his doctor will determine if surgery is necessary or not. He is very concerned if he has to have surgery. He is crazy worried about both of them being laid up in bed and not being able to take care of each other…(he forgets he has two daughters and many, many friends and family to help).  I’m afraid he is going to suffer and create more problems in his hips and back waiting for my mom to be finished with treatment before he will even think about surgery. Our family is up in arms about these hard choices that need to be made and we need God’s divine wisdom. Please keep my parents in your prayers. They need a joyful moment to look forward to and I fear they think it will never come. Hold them in your hearts as I hold them in my arms. Pass the word…pray for them in your small groups, Bible studies, and in your quiet time…just lift them up in love and healing. I thank you for keeping up and supporting us. I’ll keep you updated…

Love Always,

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Here's To Better Days...

We were celebrating. Celebrating my family's victory over breast cancer. Celebrating life and second chances. Celebrating moving on and finally walking forward with our lives. Why did things have to go so wrong so fast?

In my last entry we wrote about how my reconstructive surgery went fantastic and how my body was healing afterwards. My family watched as the chest pain that haunted me for over a year melted away and the vision of total healing was on the horizon. The tissue expanders were the center of all the chest pain and I was so relieved to have them out. Kirk and I started dreaming again of all the things we wanted to do in our lives. After all this was our second chance at life together. We wanted to live without fear, travel without maps or guide books, for once color outside the lines! We started talking about moving to our favorite place to relax and forget the world, Hawaii. Kirk and I wanted an adventure and our adventure would be in paradise for a year. Research was done, phone calls were made, potential apartments were found, and the perfect swimsuit was bookmarked in my favorites. We figured we would take Hawaii by storm and come back rested and ready for the next step in our lives: a family. Our dreams were going to become our reality.

Just a few weeks after my reconstructive surgery my world was shattered…again. My mother found a lump. As all women should do she was doing her weekly self-breast check and there was a small lump under her right arm. I could barely feel it but I knew it held my mother’s future in its hand. She had surgeons feel the mysterious lump and they reasoned that since she was taking a chemotherapy pill to deter cancer to form again that this lump must be scar tissue left over from her double mastectomy. They told her not to worry but a lumpectomy might be a good idea. It turns out it was a great idea because it came back positive for metastatic breast cancer. My family’s hearts dropped to the ground. The thought of seeing my mother go through more pain just sickened my soul. She had just won this battle three years earlier and now it was back? It seemed impossible. Her P.E.T. scan confirmed that cancer was in her body and it had spread fast. She had surgery to remove all the cancer including 38 lymph nodes. My mom and I are no strangers to the operating room so she healed very quickly. When the pathology came back it showed that all of the 38 lymphnodes were positive for cancer. With that information she was diagnosed with stage 4 incurable breast cancer. She was told that she may have 18 months to live depending on treatment success.

My mother grew up wanting to be a warrior for God and for justice. She worked very hard to become a nurse and she conquered that dream with pride. My mom meets people on the worst days of their lives and she shows them kindness and God’s love. What an amazing woman! She is and always will be the role model I honor and respect. My mother is my best friend and I love her with all my heart. If you asked me I would never admit it but I’m becoming more and more of my mother’s daughter. Our personalities are very similar so we know what each other needs and wants and we were bonded so tightly even before sharing the awful experience of breast cancer. She was and is always there when I need her and now I need to be the strong one for her. I asked God for the strength I would need to help her emotionally and physically…I know I can trust God to take care of me so I in turn can care for my mother and family.

On Tuesday the 10th of January she started her 16 weeks of intense chemotherapy treatments. 8 treatments, 2 weeks apart. After chemotherapy she will undergo 6 weeks of harsh radiation treatments. Doctors call stage 4 cancer incurable and give a timeline of 18-24 months to live. When those are the odds all we can do is get on our knees and ask the Lord for a miracle; a miracle that tops all miracles for a woman who has been faithful all her life to Him.

A week after her first chemo treatment she was admitted to the hospital for low blood pressure, a stomach infection, very low white blood cell count, and nausea and vomiting. She is still in isolation at the hospital because of her inability to fight off any kind of infection. Masks must be worn to protect her delicate state. All this only after one treatment? How can she go on? Her next chemo treatment is less than a week away and she may not even be out of the hospital by then.

When does it end? The hurt, the pain of seeing those you love suffer? What line does it have to cross to see that it has cut us too deep to recover? I don’t understand…all I do is hurt…all I do is ask why couldn’t it have been me again? What lesson am I to learn from all this tragedy and I’m screaming no more, please no more. Cancer kills dreams. My mom shared that cancer killed her dream of having a Christmas without its dark presence. It has killed my family’s dream of a celebratory victory vacation. It has killed Kirk’s and my dream of living in paradise. Cancer is a disease that kills much more than cells in your body, it spreads and kills laughter and smiles. It kills futures. When will this darkness end?

This is the reason I have been gone so long. I have doubts that there is hope; that there is a future without fear of finding a “game changer”. Sometimes I feel better days won’t come. Just when you get the hope of getting your head above water you get dragged back down so far that you can’t see the light. I’m sorry that this isn’t uplifting and comical but I don’t want to be fake. I’m hurting and I’m wearing my emotions on my sleeves these days…well not around my family. I want to be the strong one. The calm one under pressure, the one who knows what to do and can fix any problem without showing how distressed and exhausted I really feel. The job is hard and has quite a lot of private meltdowns but I would rather take the job than have it be on anyone else.

I want good days to be on the horizon. To have a victory vacation that rivals all other vacations. To have my nephew know that hospitals and sickness are not normal. To create a future with my husband with traveling, a house, a dog and of course our 17 embryos! I want those days to be near but I find myself not putting much stock in any of my dreams. Only God has the power to change the circumstances and I know He will but the time waiting is feeling like a lifetime.

Love Always,