Another Good Day

How many people would be hooked up to an oxygen machine, feel exhausted after morning shaving, endure a constant “bloated” feeling from fluid retention, and still say in all sincerity while getting into bed at night, “It’s been another good day”.  That’s my Dad.

Yesterday morning I was in the kitchen making waffles, Mom was making coffee,  Dad was in the den enjoying the smells of breakfast wafting through the house.  Suddenly we hear him call out, “This is the day the Lord has made.”  In unison Mom and I responded with, “Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”   We ate our waffles with a serving of syrup on the plates and gladness in our hearts.

Life is tainted with trouble.  No one escapes their share.  Life is also interspersed with happiness.  We all get that too along the way but absolute joy and peace in the middle of life’s storms?  That comes from walking with Jesus on the water but Dad gets real tired walking these days…..but hey…..no problem……his motto?   When you can’t walk, put on ski’s and let Jesus pull you to the boat.

As for me?  Well……it’s been another good day.

Up, Up, And Away!

Well, here’s a surprise for you.  It certainly was for my parents last night at midnight…but I’m getting ahead of myself.  I have to back up a few days to begin this story…

First of all, you’ll be happy with me to know that my own personal Hercule Poirot detective nurse succeeded in her attempts to get me an appointment to begin radiation therapy. I received the letter a few days ago.  The appointment date?  May 16th.  My first thought was, oh no! a month! My second thought was, oh great! a month! I can hop on that plane after all and go to see my parents.  The plan was very quickly made and yesterday I flew to Atlanta from London.  I had arranged for a friend to meet me and take me to my parents house.  Excitement was growing when we turned onto the country road that would take me to their home.  It was nearly midnight. I phoned my Mom.

“Were you asleep?”  I asked.

“No, not yet.”  She answered

“I was wondering if you’d do me a favor.”

“Well sure.”

“In about five minutes, will you open the gate?”

“What?”

“I’m on your road; I’m almost there.”

“You are kidding!”

We pulled up and there was Mom standing in the middle of the front yard, her pink robe blowing around her legs in the breeze. What a reunion we had.  I hadn’t thought we would wake my Dad.  I had envisioned him coming into the den the next morning to find me there but Mom said, “Oh, we must wake him; he’ll be so thrilled.”

“Chuck?”  My Mom gently touched his arm.  I was standing just outside the door.  The sound of the oxygen pump was humming.  “Chuck?”

“Hmmm?”  His sleepy response brought him to wakefulness.  I took that as my cue and walked into the room.  He looked at me; I looked at him.  In the dim lights of the room I saw the clear oxygen tube in his nose and looped around his ears.  His legs were elevated in his new remote-controlled bed.

“Dad?  Surprise.”  I could feel the smile on my face.  I had made it.  I was seeing him, my Dad.

“Vickie?  Vickie.  Oh my.”  His voice sounded sleepy and gravelly but the joy in his eyes was strong and alert.

A little later I crawled into my bed, tired and happy.  I had been so frustrated at not getting my appointment to begin the next stage of treatment.  Father used that delay to bring great blessing to me and to my parents too.

Dad is still retaining fluid….so weak in body; so strong in spirit.

As for me?  The pain and burning sensation from the lymphatic cording has completely ceased.  I told you last week that as quickly as they had come, just as quickly they eased away.  The cords are still there but are not making themselves a nuisance at all.

I’m happy to be here to spend time with my Dad and happy to be here to give my Mom some relief as full-time carer.  All is well.

What? More Guitar Strings?

You already know last week was not the best concerning the guitar strings.  I grew another one and another one, and this week…..yes, another one.  I am better understanding the “web” in Axillary Web Syndrome.  I’m branching out all across my abdomen.  If it keeps on I’ll be able to do an imitation of a road map.  Last week-end was not good and it got worse.  The burning sensation truly felt like being entirely too close to a fire and twinges of pain were like quick, sharp stabs with the slightest of movement.  Then suddenly, almost as quickly as it all seemed to happen….it began to ease.  Two days ago I awoke with the burning sensation gone.  Yesterday the twinges of pain eased and today I actually feel like a normal person.  (I can hear some of you saying I’ve never been normal) 🙂    I’ve felt so well, I’ve even gone for a dog walk with a friend and her dog and felt great afterwards!

Also, this week I began taking the drug called Tamoxifen.  I’ve got a 30 day supply for now.  I’m to be aware of any particular side effects like difficulty swallowing or sudden rashes appearing.  So far, so good.  If I’m fine for this month I’ll be given a supply for 2-3 months at a time.  I will be taking this drug for the next 5 years.

I’m still waiting for an appointment to begin the Radiation Therapy.  Matters concerning that appointment got very frustrating this week.  I phoned to inquire about the appointment only to find out the Radiology department didn’t have the referral.  I then phoned my Breast Cancer Nurse and she has been wonderful.  She got right on the case, making phone calls, meeting with people from Radiology, making more phone calls.  She was like Detective Hercule Poirot, not letting the matter go.  The fault lay on the administration side of Radiology who had misplaced the referral concerning me.  My Nurse told them I am not to be put on the bottom of any pile as a referral being lost certainly isn’t my fault.  I have a feeling I will be hearing something very soon.  I’m so thankful for that particular nurse.  I have to say, I can take many things that life throws at me but administrative failures send me plunging to the depths of frustration.  Such frustration makes me cry and aggitates me to the fullest.  Isn’t it amazing how we are all so very different?  I can walk along war torn streets or be marched away by police with machine guns but for goodness sake, don’t mess up my appointment!  It’s too much to bear!

Such moments in life, after I calm down, remind me again and again of the beautiful way God has made each one of us, like pieces of a puzzle.  Standing alone and the piece doesn’t seem to fit, but standing together and it’s a part of a much larger and beautiful picture that God is designing in His plan for each of our lives.  I am reminded of the following verses:

“But God has made our body with many parts, and He has put each part just where He wants it.  What a strange thing a body would be if it had only one part!  Yes, there are many parts, but only one body.  The eye can never say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you.’  The head can’t say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you.'”  I Corinthians 12:18-21

So, to my fellow ‘parts’ out there.  Let us all press on, amidst all life throws at us, with the joy and the sadness, the unexplainable and all that makes sense, the easy and the tough, the laughter and the tears.  We are not alone; the Master Puzzle-Maker watches over all.

If I may share one other personal thing in which I would greatly appreciate your prayers.  Would you pray for my Dad?  He is retaining a great deal of fluid and swelling all over his body.  Many of you know about his heart condition.  In past years, whenever I wanted to, I could hop on a plane and be there to help him and my Mom.  For the first time ever, because of present cancer treatment, I can’t go.  How I long to be there.  Will you pray for my Dad and for his doctors as they help him?  Would you pray for my Mom in her care for him?   As always, thank you everyone.


The Folded Napkin

It’s Easter.  I would love to celebrate today in church but the infamous “guitar strings” are keeping me at home.  It’s okay.  I will celebrate in my heart.  I would like to share something of today with you and so I share one of my very favorite things about today.  It’s a little piece, but a very significant piece of culture and history.

We know what today is, the celebration of Jesus rising again.  In churches everywhere the story will be read of Mary Magdalene going to the tomb only to find it empty.  We will be reminded of the fact that she went to tell the disciples and that Peter and John ran to see what it was all about.  Those details will be read and commented upon but will the napkin be noticed?  Have you seen it before?  In John 20:6-7

“Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside.  He noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying to the side.”

Now, why was that folded up napkin so important that it needed to be mentioned in Scripture?   Such a small, seemingly insignificant detail, but it’s there.  Why?  Here comes the exciting part.  In Bible times the servant would set the table and stand just behind his master while he ate.  The servant was attentive to his master, watching closely at all times.  When the meal was finished, the servant watched as the master took his napkin to wipe his mouth and hands.  If the master crumpled up his napkin and placed it on the table the servant would come forward to clear the plates away.  If, on the other hand, the master wiped his mouth and hands but folded his napkin, laying it to one side, the servant would not come forward.  Even if the master left the table the servant would not move.  Why?  The folded napkin was a sign to the servant that said… just wait, I’m coming back.

Is there anything more exciting?  🙂  Happy Easter everyone.

 

Still Strumming

The “guitar strings” are still there and may be for some time.  There is so little known about lymphatic cording.  In some women the cords last 2-3 months while in others they last a year.  Pain levels are also  individual, from very little in some to a great deal in others.  As for me, I’m still strumming along, doing all I’ve been instructed to do.  I have stretching exercises to do three times a day which has already helped tremendously with the movement of my right arm.  A week ago I couldn’t raise it above shoulder level without a good deal of pain.  Today I can already lift it straight up over my head with very little pain at all.

I also took it upon myself to use a recently learned skill.  I told my doctor about it.  She laughed but told me to carry on as it truly helps to lower the pain levels during the day all along the corded areas.  “What is this recently learned skill?” you may be asking yourself.  “Horse massage!” comes the answer.  “Nay,” you my be thinking but alas it’s true.   Now in the future I will know exactly how my horse patients are feeling.  I just hope I don’t develop a craving for hay.   While the equine massage technique is seriously helping during the day, the night time is uncomfortable.  Sometimes the skin feels like a lit match is being held above it.  This burning sensation comes and goes throughout the night and sleep is intermittent.   However, even in this I feel a sense of adventure as I wonder, who will cross my path in the future who is dealing with lymphatic cording to whom I may say, “I know how you feel.”  All I am going through now is simply boot camp.  I have to smile and be glad as I think of soldiers in training, shouting their own encouragement with the words, “no pain, no gain.”   I press on.

The incisions are almost completely healed now.  There is still some swelling and bruising but very nearly back to normal.  Therefore, I will probably be starting radiation therapy within the next two weeks.   I’ll keep you informed and as always, thank you so much for keeping me in your hearts and prayers.  Words can never fully express the encouragement you give me.  Thank you so much.

A strange place to find guitar strings

The first two weeks after surgery was great.  I could hardly believe there had been so little pain.  I’m in my third week now post-op and things are looking strange…..really strange.  A few days ago I felt a twinge of pain.  Twinges happen after any operation so that’s no problem.  However, with this twinge I instinctively touched my hand to the place that hurt which was on the right side of my abdomen.  “Goodness gracious!” I say aloud to myself, “What is that?”  I quickly get to a mirror and what to my astonished eyes do I see?  Something that looks like a couple of guitar strings snaking its way downwards for about six inches.  Upon further investigation, I see in actual fact, these guitar-like strings begin under the arm and proceed down toward the stomach area.  How peculiar is all I keep thinking to myself over and over.  The strings are tight and tender to the touch.  For several days I had been feeling more sore than the first two weeks and now I am realizing these “strings” are the reason why.

I’ve been in touch with my Breast Cancer nurse who asked lots of relevant questions and confirmed I have something called Axillary Web Syndrome.  That’s a new one to me; never heard of it.  This phenomenon most often occurs under the arm and may proceed down the arm even to the fingers.  In more rare instances it can begin in the armpit and proceed into the chest area or abdomen.  So….I have to be rare with mine proceeding down the abdomen.  Axillary Web Syndrome occurs when there has been a trauma, like surgery, to the lymph nodes.  The lymph drainage system has sustained a shock to its system and responds by what is called a ‘lymphatic cording’.  I thought my description of ‘guitar strings’ was rather picturesque but we’ll stick with the medical term used – ‘cording’.

The nurse has given me some stretching exercises to do for the next three days to keep the cords from tightening further.  Tightening of the cords can greatly affect shoulder and arm movement.  I’m not sure how it affects abdomen movement but I can say it’s a bit uncomfortable bending sideways.  I’m to phone the nurse on Tuesday to say how I’m doing after these exercises and we’ll proceed from there.

Besides limited movement, this syndrome can lead to Lymphedema.  This is something I would prefer not to have; hence another prayer request for you.    Lymphedema happens, as does Axillary Web Syndrome, when there has been trauma, like surgery, to the lymph glands.  This can cause the system to back up, sort of like a clogged drain, which in turn causes swelling.  Again, in most women this would happen in the arm.  I’m not sure what all happens when it’s in the abdominal area.  At any rate, as I said, I would really prefer not to have this Axillary Web Syndrome to develop into Lymphedema.   Although not life-threatening, Lymphedema  is not curable and would therefore be a bit of a nuisance to deal with long-term.  So, there we are with the latest news alert along this current journey.

I continue to be encouraged by the knowledge of your prayers and your many reminders of those prayers through emails and cards.

One other word….from here on I will always update my blog on Fridays unless there is something particular to report in the week.   Thank you everyone.  You bless me tremendously.

 

 

The Verdict Is In

I have been recovering very well these past two weeks since the surgery took place.  I have two incisions, both healing nicely.  I’ve been doing my daily arm exercises and the surgeon was pleased that I can lift my arm straight over my head with no problem.  I told her I can’t say I’ve had any real pain, just some soreness and discomfort at times.  Tomorrow I may begin driving again but must still be careful not to lift heavy objects.  I am feeling very well and must thank you all for your prayers for me.  I have no doubt that your prayers have had a great deal to do with my easy recovery.

This morning I awoke feeling some of those “butterflies” of nervousness as I began to get ready for my appointment today.  My mind was playing guessing games as to what the next steps might be.  Now the guessing is over; the verdict is in.  I’m happy to tell you that, in my case, chemotherapy is not necessary.  I will have a three week course of radiation therapy and begin taking the drug, Tamoxifen, for the next five years.  My doctor had told me on the day of surgery that she had to incise deeper than first expected.  Today she explained the pathology reports showed the tumor was bigger than the mammograms or ultrasound had revealed, probably because it was so deep and could not be fully seen.  She also explained the cell types were aggressive.  I have been graded Stage II cancer.  This is not bad news.  The tumor was localized in one place and had not spread anywhere else; the surgery was a great success in removing the tumor and leaving clear margins around the excised area.   I am feeling rather exhilarated. The incisions need to heal a bit more before they receive radiation.  Therefore, the treatments will probably begin in 2-3 weeks.  I’ll be keeping you informed.

In the meantime, I must tell you that my hopes for this current journey are beginning to be realized.  I am meeting others who are going through various cancer treatments, each one with their own unique fears and feelings of what tomorrow may bring.  It’s been interesting to note the immediate camaraderie between two people who have either had or currently have cancer.   The women I am meeting do not know that sweet peace that comes from Father alone.  I am praying that by the end of our journey together they will indeed know the One who gives such peace, who gives such promises as “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Heb.11:5    I love being involved in what I call “friendship evangelism”, just being who you are, with whoever you are with, letting Jesus love those around you through your own words and your own heart.   I know you will be praying for me in these new friendships.  I’m now recalling what Father put in my heart from the first moment of this journey…this is an opportunity to seize, not a curse to endure.  Thank you for sharing in my joy everyone and for praying with me in these opportunities.

There was just one moment of disappointment when my doctor advised I do not travel to Central Asia for a minimum of six months after the radiation therapy has ended.  She explained the side effects of the treatment.  They vary with each person as far as skin burn  and fatigue.  Her concern is the extreme heat of Central Asia in summer (one must be careful in heat and sun after radiation treatments)  and also concern of being in poorer conditions when it takes time for one’s immune system to fully restore and strength to be regained.  I am longing to return; at the same time I know there is a purpose, designed by Father Himself, in my being here.  I choose to trust Him in my disappointment.  How thankful I am for a doctor that truly cares.  I am blessed beyond measure….again!

Surgery Day

March 8, 2012

I arrived at the hospital at 7:30am as instructed.  There were several us there, all for some type of cancer surgery.  The first of many nurses we would all see that day told our loved ones and friends with us that this was the time to leave us in their care.  There were hugs and well-wishes in the room and then we were each led to our own, private, curtained-off cubicles.  One by one, various medical personnel came to speak to us; anesthetist, surgeon, charge nurse, all with their forms and questions.  I could hear a woman in the cubicle across from me softly crying.  She was in for a mastectomy.  She said through tears to the surgeon, ‘I don’t know if I can look when it’s over.’  I began to pray for this lady.  I prayed  if she knew Father, she would sense His nearness; I prayed if she didn’t know Him, that through this ordeal something would cause her to seek Him.   Throughout the morning I was urged on to pray for the women around me.  It was a lovely time of joining Father in His own desires to touch these women.  I thanked Him that I know Him and His peace and courage.  Thoughts came again to me as I talked things over with Father in my cubicle….’Show me how to use this experience.   Help me to help others through this, perhaps to show them the way to You.’  That familiar joy quitely bubbled inside at the thought of opportunities that might come as a result of all this.  What a mission field. I thanked Father again that no matter what happens to us on this earth, nothing at all is wasted with Him and indeed, He uses all the bad in our lives to show up His own goodness and then, blesses us in that goodness too.  Only a true and living and amazing God can take the terrible and create wonderful.

At the appointed time I was prepared for my turn in the operating room.  I was given tight, white socks to aid with circulation…designer leggings I told my nurse.  We laughed.  She asked me what I do for my work, so as I was being rolled under large lights, I told them about life in Central Asia.   There was lots of activity around me; heart monitor attached, oxygen, an IV line in my left hand.  The anesthetist says, ‘this might feel cold.’  She was injecting a milky-looking fluid.  I said, ‘Ive wondered if I’ll really go to sleep.’  ‘Oh, you’ll be asleep,’ she assured.  The next words I heard were, ‘Vickie, wake up, it’s over.’  Amazing!  An hour an a half had seemed a few seconds.  It was over.  The surgeon walks in then.  She gives me a double thumbs up.  ‘The sentinel node was negative for cancer cells,’ she tells me.  The sentinel node is like the gateway from the lymph nodes under the arm which, if cancer cells had reached this point, could have carried the cancer cells to other parts of the body.  She explains the tumor area was deeper than she had realized so she incised deeply but removed all the cancer affected area and cleared the margins.  That tissue is now in the lab being scrutinized for types of cancer cells.  I’ll go back in two weeks and then be told the Stage of cancer I’m in and the plan of treatment, meaning chemotherapy and radiation or radiation alone.  Since there was no cancer found in the sentinel node it is very likely I may only have to have radiation therapy.

I’m with dear friends through the week-end (I didn’t have to stay in the hospital as no drains had needed to be inserted) and am being well looked after.  I’m having dog therapy here too which is always helpful! 🙂  I’m not to drive for a couple or weeks or lift heavy objects.  I’m feeling very well, very little pain, and sleeping well too.  Thank you everyone.  Each of you are appreciated more than my words can tell.

The Monkees and An Ice Pick

March 7, 2012

So there I am this morning, back at the hospital, ready to receive an injected dye that will highlight the sentinel node for the surgeon tomorrow morning.  This is the radio-active dye which has made me wonder if I could actually glow in the dark.

The first thing that happens, of course, is the injection of the dye.  I’ve read the info sheet which clearly states the only pain felt is “a slight prick and stinging as the needle is inserted straight into the…..” well, never mind.  I will assure you, now from personal experience, that it is in no way “a slight prick and stinging” but more of a, let me see…..oh yes, I know…..more like an ice pick going into the center of….well, as I said before, never mind.  The ordeal only lasts about 4 seconds but I will never forget those 4 seconds; that’s because it’s not a “stinging” but a searing.   One doesn’t forget a searing.

The next instruction is to lay on my back onto a movable table that will ease me forward.  Digital panels are on either side of me and at times tilted to get photographs all around.  The point is to make certain the dye has indeed gone properly through to the sentinel node.  I am told to position my right arm above my head and hold it there for the next 45 minutes.  I’m also asked what music I would like and am given a selection from Classical, Jazz, or ‘Oldie Goldie’ Pop.  I choose Pop.  “Oh thank goodness,” says the technician.  “I get tired and sleepy with the usual request for Classical.”

I wriggle my toes in time to The Monkees singing “Take The Last Train To Clarksville.”    Then I close my eyes as the music makes me reminise my teeny bopper years.  Davy Jones is now singing “It’s Nice To Be With You”.  I recalled my plans to marry him when I grew up; either that or become a Brain Surgeon.  After a while I realize I’m humming to Mickey Dolenz singing “Pleasant Valley Sunday”.  I’m sure it’s not in tune but then I think to myself, it’s probably not too bad considering my humming comes so soon after the ice pick incident.

45 minutes later and it’s all over.  The technician wishes me well for my surgery tomorrow.  I thank her and I whisper a “thank you” to Father God too, for His presence and strength in the midst of storms and ice picks and for all tomorrow holds.  It has always been comforting for me at various times in my life to remind myself….we might question, “What will tomorrow bring?” but when tomorrow arrives, we find God has been there waiting and planning for us all the time.

I’ll write again after I’m home from the hospital.  Thank you everyone and blessings of peace and joy be yours.

Peace In The Storm

March 6, 2012

Thank you everyone, as always, for your prayers for me today.  Knowing you were bringing me before Father has been a tremendous encouragement to me throughout this journey.  I left for the hospital this morning with the following words of one particular email sent to me….

“your reference to the sudden appearance of the swirling and twirling waves will have reminded us all of the storm on the Sea of Galilee where also it came unexpectedly: yet, it was Jesus who had initiated the journey and was present right through”

The thought that Jesus had initiated the journey filled me with a great joy; a wonderful reminder that when we are surprised; Jesus is not.  Thank you, John, for sharing what Father put in your heart for me.  The words you wrote have not left me.

I had all the pre-op blood tests, etc. today and then met again with the surgeon.  As on Friday, she was so kind and as happy as me in my inner peace, with no offers of a cup of tea needed this time.  She explained once more the procedure and the reasons for her recommendation.  She also said she had been reviewing my notes again from Alabama and from the last ultrasound given here in the UK by the first surgeon.  She had seen “a shadow” and wanted to do another ultrasound just to check and also to locate the ‘marker’ that had been placed in Alabama to mark the tumor location.

I was taken to ultrasound and the procedure began.  The doctor performing the ultrasound murmured, “I just don’t see it.”  My surgeon was then called to see for herself.  I had assumed the marker was difficult to locate.  My surgeon came, looked herself for several moments and then said to me, “Vickie, the shadow I was looking for isn’t there and at this time I see no sign of a tumor.”  You can imagine how I felt. I said, “Well, that’s good news.”  She responded with, “Yes, it is.  It could be that most of it was actually removed in biopsy.”  She further explained that she will continue with the lumpectomy and also check the sentinel node plus four additional nodes to micorscopically check for cancer cells.  She expects to find nothing in the nodes.  I also have a hunch she will find nothing in the nodes.  Should this be the case it is very likely I won’t have to undergo chemotherapy but would take radiation therapy as a precaution to kill any unseen cancer cells that may be lurking undetected.

I had walked into the surgeon’s office with that “peace that passes understanding” and I left with an added elation of great joy.   Father arranged the swirling of my boat on Friday to put it on the course of His choosing for today.  I have wonderfully been reminded that no matter the rage of the waves on the outside, Jesus is peacefully standing in the midst.  He is master of the sea and the boat.  How thankful I am for the ride.


 

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