Monday, December 29, 2014

One down, Seven to go

This will not be my most eloquent post.  It's been a very long day and I'm exhausted, but so many of you have asked for an update and I appreciate your prayers and concern so incredibly much I want to make sure to let you know how things are going.
My first chemo treatment was today. It lasted about 3 hours.  The drip had to be done via an IV in my hand.  On Friday, January 9 I will have a port surgically implanted into my chest for easier chemo treatments.  Jason was with me the whole time making me laugh so hard I thought we might get kicked out of there. 
We will see what the next few days hold with regard to fatigue and nausea.  Right now I don't feel as well as I expected to tonight. 
God brought me here, He is with me, He will use me, He will heal me. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Circle of Sisterhood

In 1990 I pledged Alpha Gamma Delta sorority at Troy University.  Immediately upon accepting the invitation to pledge Alpha Gam I became part of a Circle of Sisterhood that meant much more than my 18 year old mind could understand at the time.  There in the fall of my first quarter in college, I had sisters who helped me know which classes to take, which boys to avoid, and how to survive living away from home for the first time.  My four years at Troy were wonderful for many reasons, but especially because of the lessons I learned and the friendships I made in Alpha Gam.  At the time I assumed the benefits of the sisterhood would not necessarily extend beyond the college years.  But I was very wrong.  When I packed a bag and moved to the most remote island chain in the world for graduate school, it was an Alpha Gam who picked me up from the airport and put a lei around my neck.  My first few months in Hawaii when I knew no one, it was the Alpha Gams on the island that reached out to me and took me in as family.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, graduation my Alpha Gams were part of it all. I left Hawaii in 2003 and moved back to Montgomery, then in 2004 I got married.  Two of my Alpha Gam sisters flew all the way from Honolulu to celebrate with me.  The bonds of the sisterhood that began in 1990 have taken many shapes over the past 24 years, and they have gotten stronger with each passing day. 
Now, I have many opportunities to meet young Alpha Gam sisters and share my journey with them and teach them how Alpha Gam has benefited me and I always remind them to give back to the Circle that has given them so much.
In 2014 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer I became part of a whole new sisterhood.  These new sisters of mine have walked the dark road of cancer, they have fought the battle and won.  Now they are bringing me into their fold - encouraging me, supporting me, teaching me.  I've been amazed how I've been reached out to from women all over the country.  They tell me their story of survival, but I've found a similarity amongst them -- they do not focus on the tough part of the journey.  They all focus on the victory and the immense lessons they learned and still learn from their journey.
I did not chose this sisterhood of cancer like I chose Alpha Gamma Delta, but I know the bonds of this sisterhood will get stronger with each passing day.  Then one day I will have the opportunity to teach, encourage, and support new sisters as I give back to the Circle that has given me so much.
I will rely on all of my Circles of sisterhood, friendship, and family over the next few months as I go through my cancer treatment.  Tomorrow is my first of eight chemotherapy treatments.  Although I feel as prepared as possible for what to expect, my anxiety level is definitely elevated.  I'm a girl who takes no medication, ever.  The strongest pill I've taken is an Advil.  So the thought of flushing so much mess through my system is overwhelming.  But it is temporary.  And it is lifesaving.  And it's time. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Gracious Favour

Yesterday was the Winter Solstice and exactly five days since the doctor confirmed I have cancer.  The Winter Solstice marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year.
The longest night indeed.
It was a cold, dreary December Sunday in Montgomery and I spent most of the day at home deep cleaning my house and struggling with my thoughts.  What if the PET scan comes back and the cancer has spread?  What if we didn't catch this in time? What if this cancer kills me.  Who will love my children as much as I do?  Who will scratch my son's back every night?  Who will comb the tangles out of my daughter's hair and make sure she knows she is beautiful crooked teeth, cowlick and all?  Who will be their biggest cheerleader?  Who will teach them, advise them, protect them like I can? And as the night grew darker so did my thoughts. 
My bedroom closet, my pantry, and my refrigerator were all cleaned out and spotless.  I made a big veggie supper.  I cuddled on the couch with my kids and made sure not to let them see me crying.
Then I went to bed.  And it was very dark.
But the thing about the Winter Solstice is that it lasts for only a moment in time and after that moment things can only get brighter.
I awoke this morning to a new day. Amongst my blessings, I received an email from Lea Ann Higgins, she graduated high school with my brother.  She told me she read my initial blog entry and it inspired her to press on with a business venture she's been thinking about starting. She spent many years working for an oncology pharma group and knows a lot about the needs of cancer patients.  So she started a business called Gracious Favour.  Gracious Favour creates tote bags filled to the brim with items you need during cancer treatment.  She asked if I would take one of her prototypes and let her know my thoughts on each of the items!  She went out of her way to meet me at the Carmichael Imaging Center this afternoon to deliver me a bag and spend a few minutes encouraging me and giving me some great advice.
A soft blanket for warmth.  Ginger drops for nausea.  Hand sanitizer for germs. Colored pencils and coloring sheets for distraction.  How wonderful! 
This is not the first time in the past week I've seen God use my cancer to affirm someone else.  
It's as if God said, "Ronda, I'm allowing cancer into your life to affirm someone's career path.  I'm allowing cancer into your life so that someone will hold your hand and pray out loud for the first time in their life.  I'm allowing cancer into your life so that someone who has been discouraged for years will be encouraged.  I'm allowing cancer into your life so that relationships will be restored.  I'm allowing cancer into your life for my Glory.
And things got brighter.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Journey Begins

Earlier this month I discovered a lump in my right breast, I had it biopsied and turns out I have cancer.  I'm 42 years old and while I knew I was in a higher risk category (since my mom had breast cancer) I did not see this coming so soon!
Immediately upon hearing the doctor say cancer my mind blurred into a dreamlike state and ever since I've felt like I'm having an out of body experience.  The first few days after such a diagnosis -so far- is the worst.  The fear of the unknown is absolutely paralyzing.  My mind was a battlefield between truth and lies and the lies were winning.  Without exception it was the darkest period of my life.  My mind ran wild with the what ifs.  My fear was never once for myself, but for my husband and children.
And then the medical appointments began!  I've been poked, prodded, twisted, and turned and here's what we know so far:
I had an MRI on my chest and the obvious cancer is only in my right breast.  There are two different types of cancer that form in the breast and, always the overachiever, I have both types.  Also, I have two tumors one medium-sized and one small.  (think golf ball and dime)
We don't have the full picture yet because that won't come until I get a PET scan this Tuesday which will show if there is anything else lurking around in my body, then ultimately surgery will tell us more (ie lymph nodes).
But for now we know my cancer is stage 2 on a scale of 4 being the worst.  There is no obvious cancer anywhere but my right breast, but again PET will tell us more.  My cancer is feeding on hormones that my body naturally produces which makes it more routine (that is good).
My oncologist is Dr. Stephen Davidson at the Montgomery Cancer Center.  He is awesome and came highly recommend by folks from all over the state of Alabama.  I'm going to consult with a few surgeons, but surgery is down the road a bit.
First, we have to shrink the golf ball.  I wondered why we didn't just cut all the cancer out/off immediately and Dr. Davidson explained that your long term prognosis depends on the stage of your cancer at time of surgery.  I'm at stage 2 right now, with a few rounds of chemo the hope is they can get me to stage 1 prior to surgery which will significantly increase the odds that they can eradicate this particular cancer from my body.
I will do 8 rounds of chemo beginning Monday, December 29.  I'll have treatment every two weeks.  By mid-January I will lose all of my hair.  Sad, huh?  My hair is so fabulous!  But never fear, my friends Nicole and Trudy have already planned a "Scarf Party" for me -- wigs, hats, scarfs, wraps I'll need it all!  Every body responds to chemo differently but of course fatigue and nausea are the two cornerstones of flushing your body out with poison.  Just HOW tired and sick I'll get is yet to be seen but I'm trusting for the best!  I will continue to work and we will maintain life as usual.  Jason asked if he needed to stop training for the Montgomery Marathon coming up this spring and I said, "Absolutely Not!"  We will press on.
How do I feel right now?  Perfectly normal.  I've got lots to do in the next week including deep cleaning my house and organizing/simplifying my life some.  Not sure how you simplify a life with four kids and three jobs but I'm gonna work on it!
How is Jason doing?  Amazing.  He makes me laugh 24/7 which is the best thing in the world!
Eli and MJ do not know yet and Jason and I are praying over how and how much to tell them.  If you see me in public and my babies are with me and you mention the "C" word I will kick you right in the gut...hard.  I say that in love, of course. 
I have such an amazing network of friends and family and I will lean on all of you over the next few months!
While I did not expect this to happen to me, this came as no surprise to God.  He has allowed this into my life and He will use it for His glory. I am His vessel, my life is not my own and the good work He started in me in 1972 will be completed in His perfect way and perfect time.  I do not fight this bad news, rather I embrace this as an opportunity -- an opportunity to glorify God and edify others.  Trust me, you have not lived until you have faced the possibility of dying.  (I'm NOT going to die, but let me tell you those first few days were very dark) Nothing in the world looks or feels the same to me anymore.  What seemed so important two weeks ago no longer matters. 
This coming week I meet with a surgeon and have a PET scan.  I'll keep ya posted!
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!  AMEN