Processing

Cortney and I have gotten TONS of messages of love and support over the past 48 hours and we are so grateful. I had therapy yesterday as well, and when asked how we are doing with all this, I just nod slowly and say, “Ok. We are processing it all yet.”

The culmination of a day of ALL THE PROCESSING resulted in a major ugly cry meltdown on my part at bedtime. Cortney held my hand the whole time. He let me fall apart, so (as he says) we can start building it back up again.

I’ve been having problems sleeping, which if you know me means this is something that is really giving me anxiety. I love my sleep and can usually fall asleep any time, any place. Charlie’s answer to what his mom loves on his Mother’s Day sheet from school was, “books and naps.” The boy is not wrong. So when I lose sleep due to a racing mind, well, it’s serious.

I had cancer. It’s gone now, but I need treatment to make sure it doesn’t come back.

Cortney and I have an appointment next week with my surgeon and oncologist to map out what that treatment will be and what the schedule will look like, but simply it’s going to be chemo and radiation.

Chemotherapy is exactly what I was hoping to avoid.

When they went into surgery we thought the only tumor was in my breast, but because there was a speck of a tumor in my first lymph node (they took three, two were clean), it changes the treatment from just radiation, to chemo and then radiation.

In the spirit of being open and honest: I am having a hard time with this news. Like seriously struggling.

People are saying all the right things (and a few of the wrong things, but that is Ok too. They’re trying), but I am grieving a lot of things right now.

I know the list of “At least you’s…” Trust me, those are what keep me getting out of bed.

I have the best possible partner in this life. The best.

My kids are great. I worry about them, but they are magical beautiful little weirdos that I am in love with.

I work with the best staff in the world who are so supportive and loving.

I have an ENORMOUS community of support and love.

I have women who have walked this arduous journey before me who are holding me in their hearts and literally holding my  hand.

My family–gosh my family. I have siblings and sibling-in-laws and parents and parent-in-laws who give and give selflessly out of love and support and concern.

I am one of the luckiest women in the world and that does NOT escape me.

But I am still struggling. I’m still processing.

One minute I feel like a warrior who is ready to pump those chemicals in and give myself that NO MORE CANCER “insurance”.

The next I am a weeping ball of snot because I feel like it’s all not real, and this can’t happen to me, and that I can’t do it.

I love my hair and all the time and product that goes into it. It’s not the most fabulous hairstyle, but it’s mine and I love it. I love my salon visits–they have become my self-care that is scheduled and part of my mental health management. It’s the thing we splurge on to make me feel good.

I’m going to lose my hair.

But I know I can do it.

But I’m struggling too.

It’s all part of the process.

I hate this process.

Correction

I have cancer.

Correction: I had cancer.

On March 22, I had my first mammogram. They called me back because there was some dense, weird-looking tissue in my left breast they wanted a second look at.

“Don’t freak out,” I was told. “About 1 in 5 women get called back after their first mammogram because we don’t have anything to compare it to.”

I showed up completely not freaked out on the morning of Friday, April 6. They redid the mammogram.  Then they took another couple pictures.

Then they wanted an ultrasound.

Then they were ultasounding my armpit and that is when I knew–they found something they didn’t like. Why else would they now be looking in my armpit–where my lymph nodes are? I started to mildly freak out.

Eventually the radiologist (to this date the only person who had any part in my care that I have not liked), came in and told me that they found concerning tissue and that it needed to be biopsied. I started to sweat.

When the radiologist left the room, a nurse stepped forward and hugged me and I began to cry. She held my hand and said, “do NOT worry. We will take good care of you. We will get this all taken care of. YOU. WILL. BE. FINE.”

I am so grateful for her.

For those of you who don’t know, we live in a part of Michigan that has some of the top medical professionals in the country concentrated in something called the Medical Mile about a thirty-minute drive from my house. The cancer center was able to get me in that same day for a biopsy.

The doctor who did my biopsy did a good job of preparing me for the fact that it looked a whole lot like cancer. However, she also told me that it was so very small–that it was incredibly lucky that I had my mammogram and found it this tiny. I could have hugged her, but she had needles in my bewb, so that seemed inappropriate and a little dangerous.

The results came back the following Tuesday during my planning hour as cancer. I was expecting it. I think Cortney and my mom took the news a bit harder. My first question to the nurse who called with my results was, “now what? What do we do to get it out of me?” She gave me a few options and I told her I would talk to my husband and call her right back.

I called her back 8 minutes later. I don’t think she understood that I mean I wanted to get the ball rolling NOW.

By the time I had taught my two afternoon classes, a call came back from the surgeon I requested to be referred to: they had assembled an entire team for me and could I meet everyone in one big appointment in a week and a half?

Hell yes, I could.

So we met the team on April 18. I met my surgeon, my oncologist, my physical therapist, a nutritionist, and some nurses. All badass women ready to get this cancer out of me.

Because my grandma and my aunt on my dad’s side both had the same thing (only they were about 25 years older than I am when they were diagnosed), I qualified for genetic testing. On April 30, I did that. I chose the largest panel of genes to be tested because A) it used the same amount of blood as the smaller panels and B) it all cost the same. Why not get as much information as possible, right?

While we waited for the results, my surgery was set for May 10.

Genetic results show absolutely no genetic mutations that would increase my risk of breast cancer or breast cancer-related cancers. This means there is no increase risk of reappearance or spreading. This meant lumpectomy was still the best choice and there was no need to remove my breasts at this time.

And so May 10 arrived, and I had my own correction: a tumor and three lymph nodes removed. Cancer Corrected. Hopefully.

Next week Wednesday we have an appointment to discuss treatment options to make sure this cancer does not come back. Those treatments are scarier to me than the surgery was. But it is what it is, right?

I’m fine.

I will continue to be fine.

I’m just an emotional patient right now who wants to get back to her life as quickly as possible and put all this behind me and my family.

Because through all of this, it is Cortney and my kids who I worry most about.

Mary

Before having kids, Cortney and I “shopped” for a church home. Most places we went treated us kindly enough–people shook our hands and said, “welcome”, but that was about it. Even our current church was kind, but not overly so. It had been a long time since we had gone regularly and in those days before kids, we were greeted as if we were new.  This sort of bugged Cortney since he had been a member of our church since childhood.

We found a church we thought could be our church home, but by then I was largely pregnant with Eddie, it was winter, and sleeping in on Sunday rather than driving to a church where we didn’t know anyone seemed exhausting.

We had Eddie and Charlie baptized in our current church, and when Charlie was about 18 months old, we started going back regularly.

This time was different than the first time though. This time we were friends with more people and they welcomed us with open arms.

I figured we would just start going to Sunday services and send Eddie to Sunday School. You know, sort of ease in.

Nope. This was not what God planned for us, apparently. He was maybe sick of us “easing in” for the past eight years, so we were thrown right in.

My friend, The Preacher’s Wife, approached me about “helping” with our Sunday School program: Children in Worship. I figured I would be a helper in one of the rooms occasionally, but I found myself teaching right away.

And that is how I met Mary.

lordshepherd

Mary has been involved with the Children in Worship program for as long as it’s been a part of our church. She knows all the stories, knows what story objects go with every story box, what reflection activities each grade did with most of the stories, and she remembers all the children and loves them all individually. She remembers Cortney being in Children in Worship when he was a wee lad.

She was not just kind and welcoming, she was the epitome of love when she heard I would be joining the team. She held my hand and told me she was so glad. She already loved Eddie from his few times, and looked forward to Charlie joining in as well.

When I told her I was pregnant last summer, her eyes filled with tears and her hands went to her face in excited joy. Then she hugged me.

Before Alice was born, she loved her.

When Alice was set to be baptized, The Preacher’s Wife gave her a vintage baptismal gown, but Mary found the idea of making a hankie into a bonnet with this small poem:

I’m just a dainty hanky,
As square as square can be.
With stitches hands have fashioned
A bonnet out of me.

She’ll wear me home, a newborn,
Or for a special day.
Then I’ll be washed and pressed and
so neatly tucked away.

When Her Wedding Day arrives,
She’ll search about I’m told,
To find an item quite small
Of long ago and old.

And when she spots baby’s cap
No better will she see.
Snip out my stitches, and a
Wedding hanky I’ll be.

by Howard Ray White

She came to visit Alice and me in the hospital and gave me a tiny knit hat meant for a great granddaughter she would never have (she has all great grandsons).

She delivered our family a meal when Alice and I were released from the hospital.

She pats the boys on the heads and always asks them how they are. The boys love “Grandma Mary”. She is one of many “Church Grandmas” my children are blessed to have, but she will always be the very first.

Mary is always there with encouragement and unconditional love. She never expects anything in return, but hold my hand each Sunday and asks how I am–and really wants to know. Love and grace ooze out of her very being.

Without Mary’s genuine love and welcoming for my whole family, we may not have stayed regular church-goers and I know I would not be as involved as I am with our church family.

Mary has been described by many as a saint, but I am sure she would brush that off because all she does is love. But that is so much. In fact, it’s the greatest command, Jesus says.

And Mary does it as best as any human can.

At the end of last week, I received some devastating news about our beloved Mary. Once again I would have to sit my boys down and tell them someone we love is going to make a trip to Heaven soon.

Our hearts are hurting for our Mary. For her family. For our own hearts.

It’s hard to see why God would allow something to happen to the best of the best. We don’t understand. We feel that familiar feeling of being lost in a sea of sorrow and questions.

The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd has always been a favorite of Mary’s. I can see that she takes it to heart–loving those around her and guiding them to safe places. She certainly guided my heart and family to the safe place that is now our church family.

We hope Mary feels God’s love. We hope Mary feels all of our love and our prayers.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

Psalm 23

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