Wednesday, June 17, 2015


This post is not about my cancer, but as I learn to adjust to life with significant physical changes, I cannot help but think about body image and the role it plays throughout our lives.
As I watched my six year old daughter walk out the door headed to the YMCA this morning I wondered, when does it happen? When does it happen that a once carefree, uninhibited girl turns into an insecure, overly cautious woman?
At some point someone will say to my little girl, "that outfit is dumb." And she will believe it and begin to fall in line with the normalized behavior that surrounds her.
One day some mean girl will look at Margaret, roll her eyes, and tell her she's not cool. We all know those mean girls, unfortunately at times we've possibly been that mean girl.
At the moment of the hurtful remark the girl who was once full of confidence, character, and drive is squashed.
In an effort to preserve her confidence, character, and drive I tell her every day that what is on the inside matters most. I remind her the importance of kindness and generosity. And I tell her she is beautiful.
Don't be defined by the opinions of others! Be defined by the example of Jesus Christ!
Don't be different just for the sake of being different, just be yourself.
That goes for adults too because those mean girls oftentimes turn into mean women. Don't listen to them. The only person that should make you question your self image is Jesus, if you don't look like Him something needs to change.
Regardless, the socks are fine.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Cancer and Kudzu

I have neglected a lot of things the past few months during chemo, this blog included. The physical battle is only eclipsed by the mental and emotional war. I did my best to get done what needed to get done but many times things just didn't happen. In early April as I dragged my weary body out of bed to help my kids get ready for school I noticed, for the first time in months, my six year old daughter's shoes. They were blackened with dirt and her toes had literally busted a hole through the front of them. I got teary eyed as I stared at those shoes, how long she had been wearing them like that without me even noticing. I mean look at them, how did I not see something right in front of me completely falling apart. Clearly it's been a rough few months and a lot has gone undone - but here is my blog update at long last. 
My final chemotherapy treatment was on Monday, April 13 -- hoorah!  Chemo was the first phase of my 3-phase treatment process. I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in December 2014, that's pretty serious and the best way to treat that is chemo, surgery, radiation. That entire process must be completed in order for me to have the best odds of long term good health.
Two weeks after my eight agonizing rounds of chemo ended I had a PET scan and the results were good. Very good. My oncologist shared with me word for word the report from the scan and all of the cancer that showed up on my initial PET in December seemed to be gone. There was no "apparent" cancer on the scan. So if this news was so good, why do I still have to have a mastectomy (breast removal)? Remember, chemo was just phase 1 of my treatment plan.  It is super that phase 1 went so well, but we still have to complete the entire process.
Also, the phrase no apparent cancer is important and should not be misinterpreted as cancer free.
Cancer cells are invasive and deceptive. Although we know a lot about cancer, specifically the treatment of cancer, we haven't figured out how to stop it from invading our bodies to begin with. We treat cancer, we don't cure it, but what we really need to do is prevent it to begin with.  We Race for a Cure, but we need to Race for a Prevention...but of course it is tough to prevent something when we aren't completely sure how it originates.
So that gets me back to my explanation of why I still have to have surgery even though the PET results were good.  A scan does not show 100% of every cell in my body. It cannot. For purposes of this very inexpert explanation let's say that a PET scan detects 95% of all the cells in our body and tells us conclusively that those 95% of cells are normal.  Considering we have a kabillion cells in our bodies, that other 5% unaccounted for is considerable.

Let's think for a moment of cancer as kudzu. Everyone knows about kudzu, right? The green weedy vine that runs amok across the Southeast covering hills, valleys, trees, and even homes if left unattended. Let's imagine your yard is covered in kudzu and that kudzu is choking out all of your beautiful plants and nice grasses and it's running up your porch onto your roof about to completely cover your house. So you call a kudzu expert to come and help you rid your yard of the nasty weed. The kudzu expert tells you the best way to fight kudzu is to first spray a weed killing chemical on all the kudzu. That should kill the kudzu back, but it's growth will out pace the use of herbicide sprays. Therefore, the second step is to cut all of the kudzu out of your yard - get rid of every inch of kudzu you can see digging deeply to the root. At that point, in the event there is still some tiny amount of kudzu left in the yard, the kudzu expert recommends covering your yard with a special radiation based kudzu killing agent. This three-pronged attack is the best strategy to rid your yard of kudzu...but as the kudzu expert walks out your front door with a pocket full of your money he hollers over his shoulder, "but we make no guarantees that the kudzu won't come back."
So it is with cancer.  And that is why the chemo, surgery, radiation attack is my best defense against this dangerous, elusive foe.
Next Friday, June 5 I will undergo a mastectomy of my right breast, the one that was full of cancer. They will also remove any lymph nodes that show a presence of cancer cells - please pray that none do! Once I heal from the mastectomy, I will undergo radiation.  Radiation will zap any bad cells just in case the first two punches didn't knock them all out.
For those wondering why a mastectomy and not a lumpectomy. A few reasons: I was diagnosed as stage 3, I had two tumors in my right breast one of which was pretty large and the second of which was pretty deep, and I had two different types of cancer. 
Surgery will put me out of commission for several weeks. I won't be able to lift my arms, drive, or get out of bed without assistance so please pray for Jason because he is about as good of a nurse as I am!  It will be tough but we will get through it for better or worse. Then radiation will last 33 rounds, five days a week (M-F). My body will need about three months to heal from all of that then I will have reconstructive surgery in November.
So to those who were hopeful that this journey was over for me after the good PET results, please know we still need a lot of prayer and support.  The road is long.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Deceptive Looks

I recently texted a colleague to let him know I would not be able to attend an important event because I was having a hard time with my treatment.  He immediately picked up the phone to call and check on me.  He was so kind and very sorry I was having a hard time and said he was glad I hadn't really had bad days until now.  I smiled and said, "I've had lots of bad days since December, but you only see me on my good days."

Well we all have a face
That we hide away forever
And we take them out and show ourselves
When everyone has gone
Some are satin some are steel
Some are silk and some are leather
They're the faces of the stranger 
But we love to try them on 
(Billy Joel, The Stranger)

The truth is chemotherapy is bad, very bad. A necessary evil. But the medical community has made great strides helping patients cope with the side effects. There have been improvements. Everyone is aware of cancer, but not everyone is aware of what chemotherapy really does to the human body.
When I am out and about on my good days, the number one comment I get is "Well, you look wonderful."  There is an underlying current of surprise in their voice, as if they expect me to look like Tom Hanks in the movie Philadelphia.  Yet, somehow I appear perfectly normal. Truth is, on my bad days I do look a lot like Hanks, I just keep it at the house, on the couch, wallowing in my misery.
So many of you are all too aware of chronic pain and physical suffering of all kinds.  You've got debilitating illnesses for which the doctor has no cure.  You medicate, you seek out endless doctors, you suffer. You power through every day in spite of your misery, in spite of the fact that you want to crawl in bed and stay there all day.  Never before have I been able to understand or empathize with the daily horror you experience.  You are amazing. I am so very sorry for the road you have to walk through this life. You power through, and you wear your mask beautifully.
Of course I only speak for myself and my own experiences.  Chemo is not one size fits all. A treatment regiment is developed based on many factors including the type and stage of cancer you have. Not all chemo makes your hair fall out, or makes you nauseated, or burns your skin.  But on my bad days I feel like I have the flu, am extremely nauseated, cannot eat, have to force myself to drink, headaches, mouth sores, burned skin, fatigue, and of course the whole bald thing just to name some of the effects.  And there are more bad side effects I can expect over the next few weeks.
After the first few rounds of chemo I described the effects as difficult but bearable and within a few days the effects would disappear altogether.  With the accumulation of the poison in my system I would now say the effects are difficult and at times unbearable and I don't seem to bounce back in between treatments as well as before. While this isn't the chemo of the 80s, it is still pretty tough stuff. But thankfully, it is temporary. I will rise from the miry clay and my weeping will last just through the night, then my joy comes with the morning!

Three more chemotherapy treatments to go.
April 13, 2015 should be my last treatment.
Then surgery.
Then radiation.
We know the chemo is killing the cancer cells, we also know it is impacting healthy tissue as well.  Once the treatments are done my healthy tissue should win the day and I should start feeling back to myself. 
So when you see the pretty blond girl with the smile on her face out and about, please remember looks can be very deceiving.  Cause this girl...and that girl are one in the same.  And neither of them feel all that great.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

His Mysterious Ways

I've been reading a lot of fiction lately, it's a good escape from my day to day ups and downs.  Most recently I finished Gone Girl, The Last Jihad, and Justice for All.  When I went back to the bookshelf for something new, I grabbed something old instead - a copy of His Mysterious Ways.  The inscription in the front of the book, in my handwriting says, "Happy Birthday Momma, January 27, 1991".  I've enjoyed reading through the stories of God's providence, presence, and miracles...and it motivated me to share with you a recent example of God at work in my world.
Earlier this month after dropping the kids at school I came home and opened my Bible.  I was down, I was discouraged, and I asked God to please comfort me in some way - big or small - I just wanted to feel his presence, to be reminded of His love and that He is with me in this valley.
Later that morning as I was curled up on the couch not feeling my best I kept seeing commercials for Shari's Berries.  I'm sure you've seen them, especially around Valentine's Day!  They are decadent chocolate covered strawberries.  I'm sure they cover other things in chocolate but what beats a chocolate covered strawberry?!  I think one of the commercials came on during each break - urging folks to buy a box for their sweetheart, sibling, or friend and it would ship in time for Valentine's.  By lunchtime I couldn't take it anymore, I was dying for a Shari's Berry!  I went into the kitchen and searched the fridge up and down for a strawberry and some chocolate - to no avail.  My craving would go unsatisfied!
That afternoon I had to get out and run an errand then I went to pick up the kids.  As the kids and I pulled into the driveway I noticed a box on our doorstep.  As I approached the box, I stopped dead in my tracks, frozen.  It was a box of Shari's Berries sent from some friends in DC!  I had never asked anyone for these, never even though of them until that very day.  I asked God to comfort me and He did!
Truly if our God knows the number of grains of sand on the beach and the number of hairs that used to be on my head - that same God cares about every detail of our life.  Are there things I've asked for that I have not gotten, of course.  But He will always reveal His love for us, every single time we ask.
For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. "Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? "Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?"

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Virtual Scarf Party

So many of you have asked about the beautiful pink and white scarf nicknamed the "Ronda Scarf" that you've seen pictured on Facebook so I want to take a moment and tell you the story behind the scarf.
 Donnie Sasser, owner of Two Blessings Gift Boutique and Mastermind of the Ronda Scarf

On the evening of Thursday, January 22 I had already crawled into bed when I read a message from my friend Donnie Sasser saying he had left me a gift at my front door. Donnie is a lifelong friend who currently owns a fabulous gift shop in Montgomery, Two Blessings Gift Boutique. I opened the package to find a pretty pink and white scarf inside.  I had already lost my hair to chemo, so I was happy to get a scarf to tie around my bald head. I put the scarf by my bedside and fell asleep.
The next morning I awoke and as I laid in bed gathering my strength I picked up my phone.  As I looked on Facebook I saw that I had been tagged in several pictures.  Each of these pictures was of a woman wearing the same scarf I had received the night before.  And they were calling it the "Ronda Scarf"!  It took me a few minutes to unfurl the mystery, but when I realized Donnie was behind it all I went to his page and saw his post...a post I had never seen because he unfriended me on FB!  Smart guy. 
TOP SECRET! Many of you know Ronda McCaul Walker - we have been friends for 30 + years and she is bravely and publicly fighting breast cancer. There are surely tough times ahead and I have a way you can show your support. After working closely with vendors and other friends, we have a Ronda scarf. We are selling these at Two Blessings Gift Boutique for $7 ($10 to mail). This is at cost, + tax (she is a Commissioner) and a portion of the sale will go to an organization of her choice. There will be no profit from the sale of this scarf. The scarves are due any day and we would like everyone to have one by January 23rd. On that day, I'd like her Facebook page to be flooded with pictures of people wearing their scarf! Again, I'm trying to keep this as quiet as possible and a surprise, but she is clever. Please feel free to share thru private message. I'd really like this to go way beyond our mutual friends and involve as many people as possible. If you would like to reserve one, please send me a message and we will contact you as soon as they arrive. If you would like one mailed, please send your contact information via private message or by phone at 334-647-1745. Thank you all!
It was a virtual scarf party! Once I had it all figured out I just sat back and enjoyed the encouragement. Women I had known my entire life were wearing the scarf and women I've never met were wearing the scarf.  I was simply overwhelmed.  At one point Donnie said he sold 100 scarves in one day!  Eventually, the vendor he bought the scarves from sold out and could find no more of them on the planet!  So Donnie put on a search for a "Ronda II" scarf which looks very similar to the original. And more posts popped up on FB and more women were wearing the scarf.  One Sunday at church I was wearing my scarf around my head and someone that I don't know stopped me and said, "Hey, is that one of those Ronda Scarves?  I have one too!"  It was so cool to see how something as simple as a scarf could bind so many people together.  I have so many pictures of friends wearing the scarf, here are a few examples:
 The Honorable Lisa Merkel, Mayor of Herndon, Virginia wearing the scarf
 Friends from work Tonya and Jane wearing the scarf
 A precious lady I've never met - Mona - who just lost her husband to cancer wearing the scarf
 A great group of ladies from Pike Road, Alabama wearing their scarves
My fabulous friend Katie wearing the scarf in Washington, DC
And this is how I wear my Ronda Scarf

But all of this is not simply about a scarf.  And it certainly isn't about one women in Montgomery, Alabama with breast cancer.  This is about friends and strangers sharing in the suffering of another.  This is about the countless people who have personally been impacted by cancer.  And this is about prayer.
There were women who bought the scarf that have never met me, but they have endured chemotherapy, radiation, surgery.  Some women who bought the scarf have a friend, spouse, sibling, or parent who died from cancer...or survived cancer.  Women who bought the scarf understand the importance of bearing another's burdens and the power of praying without ceasing for their own struggles and the struggles of others.
Thank you Donnie Sasser for having a heart to encourage a friend!
If you want to purchase a "Ronda Scarf" please visit the store in person, you won't be disappointed with all of the fabulous gift offerings in addition to the scarf, or go to the Two Blessings Gift Boutique Facebook page or call the store directly at 334-647-1745.  Remember, Donnie is selling the scarves at cost ($7), he's not making a dime on them.  He is happy to ship to you as well ($10).
Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Survive or Thrive?

For thirty-eight years my life was perfect.  No, really, it was.  A fun childhood filled with doting parents, playing softball, church trips, lots of friends, and even an occasional family trip to Panama City Beach.  Those eighteen years were followed by a wonderful college experience at Troy University, then a move to Washington, DC to work for U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, then on to graduate school at the University of Hawaii - (three years in Honolulu, I told you it was perfect).  Then back to Sweet Home Alabama where God introduced me to my amazing husband, I got married at 32 and had babies when I was 35 & 36.  Life was perfect.
But that all changed in the fall of 2010 when my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  She died on November 26, 2010 when she was just 65 years old and my perfect life came to a bitter end.  My mother, Jackie McCaul, and I were very close.  We talked on the phone most every day and shared all of the minutia of life.  She was my biggest cheerleader and never left any doubt about how much she loved me.  My babies were her first grandchildren and they were the light of her life.  We were having fun raising them together. But suddenly she was gone.  And I didn't handle it well.
I spent the next two years in a dark place, wrestling with the grief that threatened to consume me.  I wondered why I was so weak.  I wondered why God didn't spare me from the pain. There were some friends who told me it was time for me to snap out of it.  I withdrew from those friends.  Actually, I withdrew from most of my friends.  And as my emotional state plummeted into the abyss so did my physical state.  I spiraled into a very unhealthy lifestyle and gained a lot of weight, a lot.
My mother and I at my wedding shower:

Then, after two years - as if a switch flipped - the light came back.  I began reaching out to friends again and rebuilding relationships.  Although I still miss my Momma every single day, I guess I reached the "acceptance" stage of grief and realized that while permanently altered, life could move on. But while my emotional and spiritual healing was going well, my physical self was still a mess.  Then cancer.  And the mess got worse.
Now I find myself griped with the fear of death.  I know, I know the breast cancer survival rate is very good and I have every reason to believe I will survive this disease.  But, trust me, when you have something growing inside your body that could kill you, you cannot help but think about the possibility of death.  I find myself saying, "I don't want to die." And that begs the question, "Why don't I want to die?"  Let's face it, this world ain't all it's cracked up to be.  While there are many wonderful moments and experiences during this life, there are exponentially more devastating and tragic experiences.  The Bible promises us tribulation in this world and we have plenty of it.  Poverty, starvation, human trafficking, sickness, hatred, terror attacks, war, murder, and perhaps the worst of all - children dying.  Not to lose those of you who don't share my Biblical world view but this world is not a battle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, powers, and the ruler of the darkness (that would be satan) and those dark forces do a great job of making us miserable here on earth.  Bottom line:  this world is a bad place.  So why do I want to stay here?
Do I want to remain on this earth to merely survive another day, or do I want to stay here so I can thrive?
Yes, I want to survive for my children.  They need a mother.  They need me to be their biggest fan, their fiercest protector, and their wisest teacher.  They need me.  My husband does not need me in the way my children do, but we love living life together.  We have plans, things we want to see and do together...and we have actually saved for retirement and I hate the thought of missing out on spending that money.
But I don't want to survive just to exist.  I want to survive so I can thrive.
Seize the day.
Live like you are dying.
Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.
All of that.
If we consider the longue duree of world history we are but a blip on the radar, a spec of sand on the beaches of time. Not to go all deep on you but we can't waste a moment of the time we have on earth, we need to make an impact.  Even if we get 100 years on earth we don't have a second to waste.  Every moment counts.  Whether we have one year or a hundred what matters is what we do with the time we have.
Most of you haven't come face to face with the end of your time here on earth. But I have and I'm tired of wasting my time.  We are creatures of mind, body, and spirit.  Our goal each day should be to improve our mind, our body, and our spirit.  And in doing so we improve the lives of those around us which will create a ripple effect in time as we impact our generation, the next generation, and the next. And please, let's not consider this challenge to thrive in some sappy, philosophical way - but in a real, tangible, world changing way.
What will we do today to improve our mind, body, and spirit?
Casting Crowns recently released a song entitled Thrive which says in part:
Just to know You and to make You known
We lift Your name on high
Shine like the sun, make darkness run and hide
We know we were made for so much more than ordinary lives
Its time for us to more than just survive
We were made to thrive

I agree.  Its time for all of us to more than just survive. Chemo number three is tomorrow, now let's all get out there and thrive!!!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Bad Hair Day

It's been a long week, a very long week which is why it's taken me a while to get this update to all of you.  Last Saturday my Daddy was admitted to the hospital here in Montgomery at Baptist South.  He's 85 and in relative good health (golfs, fishes, travels) but it seems that after my Mom died four years ago he wasn't so faithful about taking his heart and diabetes medications.  Doctors had to amputate one of his toes and put in a stent. He is struggling to get all of his organs to work properly and get back up and moving.  Hopefully today, two days out from surgery, will be a better day.  He survived the jungles of Vietnam and he will survive this, but in many ways I think the jungles were easier for him to tolerate than the hospital!
Since a hospital is probably the most dangerous place for me to be right now, my brother Darryl is shouldering the lead on taking care of Daddy.  When I visit I'm masked and gloved and cannot stay long. Jason and my sister-in-law Jesi are also spending a tremendous amount of time at the hospital as is my Dad's friend Jane - it's an exhausting time for everyone and we appreciate your prayers for Daddy's total healing.
Now, about my hair.  About 12 days after my first chemo treatment my hair began to come out.  The first two days it just came out a little then it really began coming out in handfuls.  My wig had been ordered a couple of weeks earlier but it had not come yet (they are custom made and I didn't realize how long it would take). My hair actually began to mat, it felt like steel wool and was very uncomfortable on my head.  It was time for it to come off.  I reached out to my friend who is high up with UPS and he was able to get the Montgomery UPS facility to intercept my wig as soon as it arrived and he contacted me and I was able to drive out and pick it up.  Then I went to my wonderful stylist Linda Echols who owns the Phoenix Salon in Montgomery. Linda told me when it was time for the hair to go just to show up and she would drop everything and take care of me.  She did.  Oh the money I've spend getting cut and color from her over the years only to see all of that hair get lopped off! Linda was so sweet and took such great care of me.  She cut it as short as she could then took the razor to it to finish it off.  My wig is a touch blonder than my color but it's close.  My sweet friend Martha Roby bought it for me and I love it. Linda put it on me and styled it and voila, hair again.  I like wearing the wig but I've also been wearing hats, scarfs, etc.  This Friday night my girlfriends are throwing me a "hat and scarf party" so I will have plenty of fun options when leaving the house each day!
How does it feel to be bald?  Weird and cold!  My head actually often feels wet, I guess that's the cold sensation I'm experiencing.  It's tough, no woman wants to lose her hair. It's a very defining part of our physical selves.  To find a silver lining I had to make a mental list of all the money I will save because I don't have hair:
No cut and color costs
No shampoo and conditioner
No mousse, hairspray, styling gel
And Jason loves how clean our bathroom vanity is now that all my products are gone!  And how fast can I get ready...20 minutes flat!
Me with my fab new wig:

A popular question:  How are Eli and Margaret handling my new look?  It's a process.  They knew the day I would lose my hair, I prepared them when they got home from school I would be bald.  I had on a hat when I picked them up and they immediately wanted to see my head.  Then they immediately wanted me to cover up my head!  It's been tougher on Eli than MJ.  Mommas of boys know how much a little 7 year old boys loves and adores his momma.  He just stares at me, shakes his head, and will say sadly, "I just cannot believe a doctor would give you medicine that would make you lose your hair."  I keep reminding them it is temporary! Each day they get more used to my new look.  And so far I am able to be "normal Momma" with a smile on my face and reading and cuddles and taking them to Chick-fil-a.  As long as I'm acting normal they will be ok. Around the house I wear a little cotton cap, not my best look but it is comfy and they're ok with it.  Although Margaret often says, "Momma, please put on your pretty blond hair so you can look like me again."
Yesterday I had a County Commission meeting and got rave reviews about my wig.  Most folks didn't even realize it wasn't my real hair.  My favorite comment was from a lady who told me her daughter wears wigs and always says, "You either wear your wig or your wig wears you."  Then she told me, "Ronda you are wearing that wig!"
I'm feeling pretty good this week.  My next treatment is on Thursday, January 29 and I do not have any doctor appointments until then!  Hoorah! Tomorrow we will celebrate Jason's birthday and honor him for being such an amazing husband and father.  He's going over and beyond for better and for much worse.  I love him and thank God for knowing and loving me so well as to let me be Jason Walker's wife.