Seven Year Survivor

DSC02115Every October brings back thoughts of my journey through breast cancer–not because it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but because it is the month my surgery took place. That seems so long ago and far away now. When I was in the middle of it all, a friend who had been there told me that after a few years, it just seemed like a speed bump on the road of life. Now I know what she meant.Silas and me 9-2017

True, I was one of the fortunate ones–no need for chemotherapy. My surgery and radiation treatment went smoothly. There were days of frustration, some pain, much prayer, but overall it wasn’t that bad. I feel for my sisters who go through the losses that go with chemo: loss of hair, loss of energy, loss of time, and so much more. I sometimes feel like an imposter when I call myself a cancer survivor.

Beach clouds 2, 2017For the first five years after surgery, I walked (or ran) in the Komen Race for the Cure. It felt so good to be out with all those sisters in pink. I haven’t done so the past two years. I still feel it is a great thing to do and I am grateful for others who are involved, but cancer is no longer a big part of my identity.

My pastor recently made a point–in an entirely different context–about how we are shaped by the families that raise us. “The mold [family] you are poured into may shape your life, but it doesn’t define you.” I believe this applies to all of the circumstances of our lives. We are molded by the joys, the tragedies, the struggles we face, but we don’t have to let these things define us. We can choose who we will be. Arthur and me 9-2017

I still have reminders of my cancer journey–the scars, occasional soreness when fluid builds up due to the missing lymph nodes–but cancer no longer fills my thoughts as it once did. There are–and will always be–other concerns and struggles to work through. Yet I will not let those define me. I am me–a child of God, a writer, a wife, a friend, a sister, a grandmother (love that role!), a person who wants to be a positive influence in this world. And my prayer for anyone who reads this is that you will be the person God made you to be–and that cancer will never defeat you!

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Race for the Cure: Five Years Cancer-Free

Ready to run

Me and my support group

I raced in the Komen Race for the Cure in Portland, Oregon on September 20th–celebrating five years cancer-free. It feels good! Lots of others out celebrating and supporting friends, family members, and others. It was a great day!

Ready to roll

Ready to roll

Five years and I feel better than ever. Looking forward to a few months from now when I will finish my five-year regimen of Tamoxifen. Back to normal. Well, as normal as I’ve ever been. Don’t want to be TOO normal; that’s no fun.  🙂

Made it!

Made it!

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The Dreaded Mammogram Call-back

Walking the bridge across cancer

Walking the bridge across cancer

 

Four years post-cancer, I was beginning to take my annual mammograms for granted. Go in, get the pictures taken, get a letter a week later saying all is well. That was what I expected this year, too. I’d had no symptoms of any kind. I’d been eating a healthier diet, getting more exercise. I felt great!

In fact I was out walking with my husband when the call came on my cell phone. Kaiser Permanente, it said. Were they calling with the results now, instead of sending a letter? But the words were not what I expected

“We’d like to set up an appointment for a repeat mammogram,” she said.

Here there be dragons.

Here there be dragons.

“Oh, no,” I said. I walked back to the house and looked at my calendar. Yes, I could come in next Wednesday.

“They will give you the results of your mammogram then,” she continued. Of course, I knew what the results were. If they hadn’t seen some sort of abnormality, they wouldn’t be asking me back. It was in the same breast, which seemed like it could either be a good sign or a bad sign. Perhaps it was just a bit of scar tissue. But it could also mean the cancer had returned.

The next few days—for both me and my husband—were days of “What if?” We read up online, wondered, and waited. And turned to God. “I really don’t want to go through this all again,” I told Him. I started remembering all the details of that time—the anxious waiting for surgery, the pain of recovery, the daily trips across town for radiation. No, I did NOT want to do that again. And yet, I knew I had to put it in God’s hands. If that’s what He wanted, then I would accept it.

Still and at peace

Still and at peace

Sunday at church I kept the news to myself. But the sermon seemed aimed right at me. Dr. Lou Foltz talked about King Jehoshaphat. The heart of the message: The battle is the Lord’s. All we have to do is worship God and stand firm.

Worship God and stand firm. Yes, I could do that. Joy coursed through me. Whatever happened, God would be with me. It would be okay.

My husband drove me to my appointment early this morning. They took me right in. “The abnormality was only on one of the x-rays,” the technician said. “It may very well be just a little fold of tissue.” That sounded good. She squished the offending body part between the board and a clear plastic cover. I held my breath. She looked at it and said, “Let’s do one of the original view, as well.” Rearrange, hold my breath, zap. It was over. “Have a seat. I need to show these to the doctor.”

Hope like a butterfly

Hope like a butterfly

I pulled up Kindle on my phone. It opened to a book I had begun weeks earlier. This chapter was all about trusting God, even in the hard times. I smiled. How does God do these things?

Five minutes later the doctor came in. “It’s good news,” she began, going on to explain how mammograms can sometimes appear to show a problem, but it really is nothing. Both of today’s pictures were totally normal.  I thanked her, as the “what if’s” drifted away.

“Have a good day!” she said.

Laughing at cancer

Laughing at cancer

“Oh, I will!” I said. She smiled and left, off to the next patient. I hope that person’s news is as good. I had been ready to go through whatever I had to go through, knowing God would help me. But I’m so glad that, for now at least, I can go back to my normal, busy life with this interruption. Normal is such a nice word!

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Update: Life Goes On

Flowers on Observation Peak, WA

It’s been a long time since I’ve written in this blog. And in some ways, that’s a good thing. Cancer no longer dominates my time and my thoughts, and thus I have little to say on the blog. A friend once told me that her breast cancer from years before now just seemed like a little blip on the timeline of her life. It’s getting that way for me, too.

Falls Creek Falls, WA

Falls Creek Falls, WA

Life goes on after cancer, and that’s a good thing to know when you’re going through it. Life continues to have its ups and downs, but it does go back to normal–perhaps a slightly different normal, but normal nonetheless. Sometime I even forget I ever had cancer–until a twinge at the surgery site or an aching where the missing lymph nodes used to be reminds me. And there is that little white Tamoxifen pill I take every night.

My new grandson

My new grandson

Still, life is good. The sun shines, the rain comes down, the garden grows. I became a grandma this year, which is totally wonderful. If anyone comes across this little blog who is still in the battle: hang in there! Lean on God, lean on family and friends, and keep on going. Things will get better. And hopefully, one day you will be like me, moving on and leaving cancer behind.

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Running for Komen

 

Finishing in 2012

Finishing in 2012

Last year when I walked in the Susan G Komen 5K Race for the Cure, I was amazed by the crowds. As I walked with thousands of others, I started wondering how crowded the running part of the Race would be. My older son had run in a marathon, my husband would be running in one the next month, and my younger son had signed up for a triathlon. Yet I just plugged away at walking. A germ of an idea planted itself in my brain…

Waiting to begin

Waiting to begin

My husband had been using a run-walk method promoted by marathon runner, Jeff Galloway. While I couldn’t imagine myself running 5K without a break, this didn’t sound too bad. I started my training the next month, running 10 seconds out of every minute. My enthusiastic husband came along, encouraging me and pushing me to increase the run time. Slowly, I did. After awhile I was doing three miles (close to 5K) at a 30 second/30 second run/walk ratio. And it wasn’t that bad! There were discouraging days, of course, when I felt about as energetic as a sloth and wondered if this was a stupid idea. But I always did have a stubborn streak, and I kept on.

Running

Running

Two days ago I ran the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure 5K Run in Portland, Oregon. I ran two minutes for every minute I walked. The crowd around me encouraged me to pick up my pace, and my husband slowed his own pace to stay by my side. Cheerleaders encouraged us along the way. Bands played. It was–and I never thought I would say this about running–fun. By the time we reached the end, my face was red, my hair dripped with sweat, and my legs ached. But I made it!

I did it!

I did it!

My triumph was dwarfed by the courage of some I saw around me. A woman with bald head–no doubt due to chemo–passed me as I ran. Whole families ran or walked with tags on their backs listing the names of those in whose memory they raced. A 95-year-old grandmother pushed her walker in the one mile walk–a walk that was led by a 99-year-old lady. It felt good to be there, good to be part of a group racing so that, someday, this race will no longer be needed.

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A Dream

In my dream I was at a writers’ conference (probably Oregon Christian Writers). I walked into a class and sat down, only to suddenly remember that we had an assignment due. “Write down your favorite Bible verse and tell why it is important to you.”

Panic flooded my brain. How could I have forgotten to do my homework? Could I think of something quickly before the teacher arrived? And then a verse dropped into my head. “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) Peace came over me.

I rarely remember my dreams, but this one still echoed within when I awoke. Perhaps because I need it so much right now.

I seem to do a lot of fretting lately. About politics: Who will win the election? Will that measure I so strongly oppose pass? About health: Is my father’s cancer spreading? Will our friends at church who face health issues get better? About career: When will I find time to do the writing I really want to do? And these are just for starters.

I need to remember that, no matter what happens, God is in control, and I am safe in His arms. “Be still and know that I am God.” Only that knowledge can bring me true peace.

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Race for the Cure

the beginning

I never liked pink before. It was too “girlie” for me. Today I found myself surrounded by a sea of pink, and it was beautiful.

My husband and I participated in the 2012 Komen Race for the Cure 5 km walk today in Portland, Oregon. I wore a bright pink survivor shirt and received special survivor benefits–a special finish lane, a red carnation, a goodie bag, and a free mini-brunch at the end. I felt special.

in the crowd

We walked in a flowing river of pink and white, made up of so many unique individuals. Some wore tutus or long, pink scarves. Some dyed their hair pink or carried bright balloons. Whole families walked–from grandparents to toddlers. I saw one person pushing a stroller which held a cute little terrier. Later a group of men walked past, who appeared to be a cross between Scots and Vikings with kilts and bright pink, horned helmets.

halfway point

The special bibs people wore on their backs hinted at touching stories of hope and loss. Some said they walked “in memory of” someone. So many names, including a lot of “Mom,” “Grandma,” and “Nana.” Others marched “in celebration of” those who had won the battle, or were, perhaps, still fighting.

It was a reminder that there can be strength in numbers, that we aren’t in this alone, that those of us who have beaten the demon need to support those still fighting it and provide hope to those yet to come.

nearing the end

My race bib contained the motto, “I am the cure.” There is strength in that saying. Yet it is probably more appropriate to say, “We are the cure,” because one person alone can’t beat cancer. It takes a sea of pink.

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