Sunday, January 19, 2014

Hair Evolution

Lately, the questions I'm most asked are about my hair. 

How long is it? About this long (using my thumb and finger to show a little over an inch).

What color is it? Mostly white.

Are you going to color it? I don't know. Part of me wants to leave it natural as a reminder of what I've been through and that I'm a survivor.

Is it straight or curly? Curly. Definitely curly.

Is it like it was before? Probably. I colored it before, but my roots were mostly white. It was curly before, but never this short.

When are you going without the wig? Not sure yet...

I'm experimenting with different headbands trying to find something that works with the awkward stage of my hair. I've ventured out with just a headband to a movie and to dinner at our friends' house. I show all the white curls around the house and around select people (like my friend who shaved my head). One of these days I'll ditch the wig and go back to messing with hair every day. Only this time, I think I'll find a way to mess with it less.

I've learned some lessons while dealing with not having hair. Vanity takes a hit when something so attached to appearance is gone! I'm not totally comfortable being so exposed, but it is what it is, and I'm okay with that. Life it too short to stress about hair, which is why I'm not in a hurry to color it or do anything besides goop it up and let it go. I'd be happy not messing with all the tools of blow dryers, curling irons, etc. I've actually found a new confidence through this experience. Who knew it would take cancer to give me some style - HA!

So, for all of you who are curious about what my hair is like after chemo - and also what I looked like bald - here's a scrapbook page I made...

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Little but BIG Blessings

Don't you love it when God blesses you with things that alone are fairly insignificant, but in context of the circumstance are HUGE!!! I think I first became aware of this wonder (can't think of the right word) when my dad passed away a few years ago. My mom, sister, and I cleared out our stuff from the hospital room but didn't make it home with my sister's jacket. She and I drove back to the hospital and found it on the sidewalk next to where we had parked. In all reality, the jacket was a little thing, but the fact the we found it on a day that we were already stressed and emotional was a BIG blessing. All the way home I was thanking God for the little but BIG blessing

Now I'm more aware of these blessings, and it's fun to recognize them! We experienced several the day of my 6 month follow up last week. We were able to stop and see a sweet friend and her three adorable kids, shop at some of our favorite stores, and attend the Light the Night Walk recognition dinner. It's always uncomfortable attending events where you don't know anyone. We picked a corner spot at the big "U" shaped table and were blessed by the couple who sat next to us. 

Obviously, we have cancer in common due to being involved with the Walk. One of their sons just passed his five year mark of being cancer free from a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma! The more we talked, the more we found we have in common. The church they attend supports the ministry where we work (Cookson Hills Christian Ministry). Their minister and another son attended our alma mater (Ozark Christian College). That son and his family are sponsored on the mission field by the church we attended for 10+ years after being married (College Heights Christian Church). 

We were blessed in a BIG way by meeting this couple. They were so encouraging, and the love of Jesus radiated from them. We exchanged contact information and have already been e-mailing! I hope to learn some fundraising tips from them as they were recognized at the dinner for team and individual efforts!

Another blessing that night was seeing one of my chemo nurses. She gave me a big hug after I told her my good CT scan results! It was a sweet moment.

Then this morning I was thinking of the biggest blessing of all during communion at church. If you've read some of my blog posts, you know that cancer has given me a whole new outlook on the gift of God's salvation. Again, what is the point of physical healing without spiritual healing??? With communion, the tiny piece of bread and miniature cup of juice alone don't seem that significant. However, these seemingly little elements are reminders of the BIG sacrifice Jesus made for us. There's no bigger blessing!

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone, who took on flesh

Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save
'Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live

There in the ground His body lay

Light of the World by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death

This is the power of Christ in me
From life's first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
'Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand
~ written by Keith Getty  and Stuart Townend

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Whew - I Can Breathe

My 6 month follow up appointment with CT scan results was very nerve wracking. As usual, it involved a lot of waiting. There was a mix-up about whether I was seeing the oncologist or his nurse practitioner, so the lab wasn't sure what they were supposed to do with me. They finally took a few vials of blood, flushed my port, and sent me upstairs. The nurse was waiting for us as we got off the elevator and took us through a maze of hallways to an exam room. Do they know how stressful that is for a patient with chemo brain??? Apparently the new facility is still working out some bugs!

I think I was more nervous at this appointment than I was when getting my initial PET scan results. Back then I knew I had cancer, just not sure how bad or where. This time, I was scared the scan would show something - enlarged lymph nodes, masses, tumors, etc - and we'd have to look at other treatment options. So while waiting on the lab to figure out what to do with me, I got the nervous shakes. You know, when you start shaking from the inside out and can't stop. I also had to work at holding back the tears. Then I remembered my go-to verse...

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in Him.
Jeremiah 17:7

...and I quoted it several times. I began to relax and felt more at peace. I gave it all to God - no matter what the CT scan showed, I know that He is God, He is good, and He is faithful. Here was an opportunity to put my faith into action!

My nurse practitioner could tell I was a little anxious. She said the results were great and that I could breathe now! My lymph nodes are back to normal size!!! No other concerns showed up on the scan!!! And she said my blood work was perfect!!! My white blood count and neutrophils are a little more than half way back to where there were before chemo!!! WOO HOO!!!

Of course, following the good news was the reminder that the follicular (indolent) component of my lymphoma is not usually's probably still there...and could some day turn into the aggressive lymphoma again. She said to think of it as a chronic condition that we'll watch closely. But right now, I CAN BREATHE!

I mentioned to my NP that we are going on a cruise (honeymoon 25 years late, 25th anniversary, and celebrating surviving this past year) and asked if there were any precautions I needed to take or concerns, etc. She gave just told us to enjoy the cruise because we deserve it!

My follow up plan will be:

  • Port flush every 6 weeks (yes, I'll keep the little alien inside me for awhile)
  • Blood work and visit with oncologist every 3 months
  • Scans every 6 months

It's ironic that my appointment was on the year anniversary of my needle biopsy. Funny how I can remember a date from a year ago but can't remember what I wore yesterday - HA!

For the word of the Lord is right and true;
He is faithful in all He does.
~ Psalm 33:4  

Saturday, January 4, 2014

I Still Like Peanut M&Ms!

Before I started chemo, I did a lot of google searches and read blogs of other cancer patients. One thing that I came across several times was a warning against taking your favorite things to chemo because it would cause you to have negative associations and then not like those things after chemo. Well, then what do you take??? Don't you want things that are familiar, comforting, and fun? Don't you want Peanut M&Ms?

I decided to take my chances and packed Peanut M&Ms to snack on during chemo. And guess what? I still like them :) Yes, I do have some negative associations from my six chemo sessions, but they mostly are related to the actual chemo and are not experienced otherwise --- the nasty taste of the Prednisone and the strawberry candies the nurse gave me to cover up that taste, the metallic taste as my port was being flushed, eating ice chips while receiving Vincristine, peeing red, being drowsy from the Benadryl, tummy issues, etc.

In my case, the positive associations far outweigh the negative. It's extremely positive to reflect on God's faithfulness when I hear songs that have been meaningful to me during this journey. I remember hearing Jason Castro's Only a Mountain while waiting on biopsy results. I began praying for God to move the mountain in front of us. Then I discovered Kristian Stanfill and thought it ironic some of my favorite songs (Always) were from his album entitled Mountains Move. Daryl made sure my iPod was loaded with the songs I wanted so I could listen to them during chemo and while waiting for my PET scan. There are so many songs that have positive and encouraging associations with words that seem to be written just for me.

Today I heard on The Weekend Top 20 Countdown that the #1 Christian song for 2013 was Chris Tomlin's Whom Shall I Fear. Is anyone surprised by this? I distinctly remember listening to it (and maybe singing along) while driving home from my CT scan after three rounds of chemo. How comforting to know God is always by my side! I may have had Peanut M&Ms, too!

You hear me when I call
You are my morning song
Though darkness fills the night
It cannot hide the light
Whom shall I fear?

You crush the enemy
Underneath my feet
You are my sword and shield
Though trouble linger still
Whom shall I fear?

I know who goes before me
I know who stands behind
The God of angel armies is always by my side
The One who reigns forever
He is a friend of mine
The God of angel armies is always by my side

My strength is in Your name
For You alone can save
You will deliver me
Yours is the victory
Whom shall I fear?
Whom shall I fear?

And nothing formed against me shall stand
You hold the whole world in Your hands
I'm holding on to Your promises
You are faithful
You are faithful