A Dose of Reality

Life is way scarier these days than I remember it. I remember sitting on our swing just a few days after surgery back in July and wondering how I was ever going to trust my body with normal aches, pains, and sickness again. And now I’m 6 months out and I still don’t know. More times than I care to admit, I’ve caught myself thinking I have a secondary cancer or that Glanda has returned on simple days where I have a regular headache or days when I just don’t feel 100%. Is that totally irrational? Yes. Do I know that? Yes. Does it still happen? Sure does. And many people will tell you that’s the normal progression of being a cancer survivor.

Cancer touches your life once, and it instantly reminds of your mortality and it’s continual ability (not definitive ability) to take breath, life, and love from our earthly bodies. And if I’m honest, I haven’t totally figured out the balance of everything yet. I haven’t figured out how to be ok with the fact that IF cancer is what takes me from this earth, that heaven is far better than the things I think I would miss here. I haven’t figured out why cancer is so much scarier than getting in a car, when a car accident is far more likely to take my life than my diagnosis (especially with my particular prognosis) But first and foremost, I’m trying to be ok with the fact that I don’t have it all figured out.

I have a habit of being extra, super hard on myself. (I can probably blame my 13+ years of dance for that) So I’m struggling lately knowing I don’t have things together in my heart and mind like I want them. I’m struggling past the 2 appointments I’ve had where the physicians tell me I’m doing really great and I look wonderfully healed up to be only a month and a half out of treatment. In the quieter moments, those visits slip my mind and crippling fear sets in.

So why say all this? Why write a whole post that sounds like complaining when I’m a cancer survivor, a healed body, and a life saved. Because I’m human, and I need you all to know that it’s not all sunshine and roses after treatment is over as you hope it might be. It’s still a fight to survive and stay healed…and that fight is more than just physical.

But please hear me when I say that I’m thankful. I would never go back to July and choose to do anything differently. I know with everything in me that the Lord has given me this adventure as my purpose and I know parts of it are well beyond my understanding.  And I do know that heaven is far better than we what know and love on this earth.  I will continue to fight despite how the fight feels sometimes. I will continue to pray when I feel the fear seeping in, and I will continue to inform and encourage anyone else that finds themselves on this treacherous journey.

The Lord is good. Always. He is faithful, and He is merciful. He is sovereign. He is our shelter and our provision. And he is capable of doing abundantly more than we could ever ask or dream. And at the end of the day, I hope you hear that in my heartbeat. Struggle is a part of life, but that’s why we need Jesus more than ever in this fallen world.

 

Week Nine – The Lull

If it wasn’t enough when they found it in my own body (and mom’s), it seems cancer is showing up closer and closer to my heart. More and more families are experiencing that dreaded feeling of the blood leaving your face as news is delivered and the absolute dread that deafens the room after. It’s not fair, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be. But the good part of it all, is the sovereignty and protection of the Lord, even though “good” is hard to swallow through circumstances such as these.

Last week was my first week back in the office full time instead of splitting my 8 hours between home and there as I was through the end of treatment and there after. I had missed my coworkers and feeling a part of things, and I missed the feeling of having a productive day that wasn’t interrupted by getting ready and driving downtown. I’ve been so anxious to get back to normalcy that I ran full force at it and filled my days with everything they used to be filled with. I went to the gym, I danced, I went to bed late, and I just kept going. Even the weekend before was filled with company, football games, traveling, and bike rides through fall air, too.

But at some point during the week I started to experience “the lull” that was so accurately explained to me on Friday. It’s that period of time shortly after you finish treatment. The time past the days you’ve fought through while various agents worked to actively kill cancer cells in your body. The days that are filled with healing, naps, and catching up on all the things you might have missed out on. But this lull brings a sense of fear with it that somehow coincides with healing and understanding you’re healed. It’s a fear that it’s coming back, that it’s not all gone, and that something still isn’t right. And it’s a strange feeling after such joyous celebration just a few weeks prior.

As much as radiation sucked at times, there was a peace and comfort in knowing something was actively being done about your disease is gone, but the thoughts and emotions don’t stop when treatment does. It’s harder than I’m comfortable admitting to remember all the wonderful blessings and the great prognosis I have and the perfect health I have otherwise, not to mention, the fact that a tumor that took over 7 years to grow was only 10% cancerous. 90% healthy cells.

And as I visited my surgeon’s office this morning for a post-radiation checkup, we also talked through the lull. How no matter how much time passes, the fear still creeps in. I almost giggle at how my pulse is always just a smidge above normal at those visits, but no matter how many times I get scared, there is truly no high like the feeling of hearing you’re free and clear…one. more. time.

So while some days are still hard, some days wear me out, and some days I feel like I’m prancing around on clouds, the lull is just another season that I will one day look back on and be thankful to have experienced. It will grow me. It will strengthen my faith. And I will be a better woman, wife, friend, employee, sister, and daughter because of it. Praise the Lord for the lull, this life, and for the opportunity to love.

Onward and forever upward!

 

How It Healed (Radiation Edition)

WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES

Post-op you may have read How It Healed that chronicled the progress of my incision and drain removal as it healed up, so I thought that it was only fair if I created one for my skin toxicity and it’s recovery from radiation.

I was unbelievably spared by the grace of God that my skin didn’t get any worse than it did.  Through radiation treatment, radiation is passing through your skin and is measured out so that it hits an intended area on and around where you cancer is or in my case, was. The below pictures make it quite easy to see the totality of where I was being treated as well. The area went from slightly above my ear on the cheek side, all the way down my cheek, across to my chin, over my ear, and down the majority of my neck to my collarbone.

Now while I was definitely blessed to not have it as badly as some patients,  I’m not going to lie and tell you it didn’t get pretty nasty and didn’t hurt like fiery hell throughout the process, but I made it with LOTS of cream, carefulness, and strategic sleeping.

So now as of today, I’m two weeks out from my last treatment and I’m almost completely healed up. My skin is soft as a little baby and slightly pink like one too. And I’m going to enjoy that as long as I possibly can. It’s kind of magical and has me wishing my whole face was like that, but you couldn’t pay me to have my whole face radiated. Nope, we’re done with radiation FOREVER.

Here goes…a whole lot of healing and a whole lot of graphic pictures of the process.

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October 14: This was the weekend before my last week of treatment. My skin had just started getting to the point of feeling raw.
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October 16: On the way to work that Monday. My face was on FIRE that day because of how raw and exposed it was getting and how quickly it was drying out even putting cream on it several times a day.

 

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October 17: You can see the beginnings of the dead skin detaching itself and starting to slough off. My ear was also getting extra crunchy on the inside.

 

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October 19: One of the grosser pictures I have of my neck and the day before my last day of treatment. Every morning I woke up with it looking similar to this after the Glucan cream being on it all night. The Glucan works to slough off the dead skin cells to help with skin regeneration. And in return…it creates this yucky mess that I had to clean off (verrryy carefully) in the shower. I learned quickly that it bleeds easily.

 

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October 20: LAST DAY OF TREATMENT. I was so super cooked at this point that everything was just dry, scabby, and tight that moving my head was a struggle and it felt like my neck just might rip open.

 

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October 20: So in my undertreat visit on my last day, Dr. Spencer gave me cuticerin gauze to wrap my neck and face up in at night. It is medicated gauze that I was to use to care for my skin as I healed up…which means I went to bed looking like this every night. Poor K.T.

 

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October 21: Day 1 post RT. The edges of the treatment area have sharpened and the redness seems more concentrated. However, this was actually a remarkable improvement from the night before.
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October 23: Day 3 post RT. Redness starting to dissipate especially towards the chin area and my lower neck. Scabs starting to form and some peeling starting too under my chin.

 

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October 24: Day 4 post RT. More scabbing and skin flaking off. Chin is nearly healed up and looking more normal. Earlobe is pretty much a marshmallow. Wasn’t totally sure it was still pierced at this point.

 

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October 25: More scabbing. Looking gnarly but the redness is actually much better in the surrounding areas. If you look closely, you can see how crusty my ear had gotten too

 

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October 27: Scabbed skin has come off somewhat. Affected area still shrinking a bit by day and thankfully getting less painful.

 

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November 2: Nearly two weeks post RT and I’m almost all healed up. You can barely even see my surgery scar too!

 

Week Seven

Yes…there’s a week 7 update (and yes, it’s late) but thankfully it’s not an update on week 7 of treatment. It’s week 1 of healing after 6 wretched weeks of treatment (Woo!) but also the week where there is the highest dose of radiation in my body so we’re not totally out out of the quicksand just yet.

As you can imagine, I crashed and burned last Friday night after my last treatment and all the day’s excitement. And honestly I didn’t move much all weekend. Saturday consisted of lots of Hallmark movies and an afternoon nap and Sunday was about the same but I added roughly 10 minutes of yard work followed by extra nap because those 10 minutes was all it took to wear me out again.

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The rest of the week seemed to be a continuation of the existing symptoms. The ulcers on my tongue soon joined forces and created one giant ulcer down the entire side of my tongue and left tonsil, my ear got crustier and juicier, and my skin was still raw, itchy, and slightly scabby. However, the Cuticerin gauze I wrap up with every night like a mummy has magical powers and has jump-started the healing process big time. Still a ways to go, but I looked less and less like a mutant each day last week and that’s a huge win for me feeling like myself again. There were so many times I would forget how gross my skin got until I looked in the mirror was very quickly reminded that I looked like Two-Face. Seriously. (Stay tuned for a post on all the gross things coming soon)

I could go on about all the physical symptoms, but let me just tell you how incredibly thankful I was last week to not spend every single second thinking about when I was going to be treated next and what else treatment was going to do to me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I have told so many people throughout this that there is absolutely nothing that anyone can do to prepare a patient for the emotional toll that going through something like head and neck radiation (or I guess any kind of radiation) will have on you. I’m not even sure I was able to articulate it well enough here over the course of things, but it was brutal.

There was no physical pain that I experienced that even got close to comparing how many times I wanted to cry simply because of the lack of control I had over what was happening to me, the unknowns I was forced to face every day, or the fact that time seemed to creep by slower and slower the closer we got to the end. I was tired and needed to rest for sure, but so many times I wanted to go to sleep even when I wasn’t actually that tired just to make it all go away for a few hours. And that’s hard to admit. I never felt depressed or wanted to quit, but it took everything in me every single day to get going and keep going until it was time to do it all over again the next day.

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But I made it. I made it by nothing but the grace of God and a trillion naps, gallons of water to stay hydrated, and guaifenesin to thin my saliva out. I’m on the other side now, and the view is way better over here. I’m healing from a very long marathon of the last 4 months. And an unexpected 4 months at that. I’m still feeling crispy, crunchy, and tired at times, but I’m slowly getting my groove back and feeling like the Valerie that pranced into UAB hospital July 6th with two thumbs up and a goofy grin.

So what now? Healing, healing, and more healing. Followed by gaining 5+ pounds back, eating all my old favorites once my tastebuds come back, and finally celebrating my birthday since everything still taste kind of wrong for now. I’m going to eat SO much cookie cake.

On a different, more responsible note, I also have big plans for creating some sort of take-home resource for head and neck patients that draws from my experience and also incorporates good clinical practice so that more and more patients have an increased chance at remarkable success through treatment. I get that there are definitely challenges with this since everyone handles things differently, but I’m determined to contribute something from my experience to help future patients power through this beast better, no matter how small my contribution ends up being. I understand everything so much better now and the Road to RadOnc continues to make even more sense as these layers unfold. Add my technical writing and document design experience to the cool things I get to do at work now. Finally. God just continues to be the coolest dude I know.

So for the last weekly post for a while I’ll say it one more time….onward and upward! Here’s to healing up and being good as new very, very soon. And thank you Jesus for giving me this opportunity to share my journey with you all.

Unconditional

Unconditional. In sickness and in health. For better or for worse.

March 28, 2015, I married Kevin Tyler Powell and celebrated the hope and assurance of all of these things as I said, “I do.” I had no idea what our lives would bring us but we were 400% sure of our love and devotion to one another. And still are.

July 12, 2015, Mom was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer, and he wiped every tear, eased every fear, and stood by me in absolutely every rise and fall we faced through her healing.

July 12, 2017, I was diagnosed with Stage II Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma of the left parotid gland. And the same is even truer somehow.

Since July, I have faced days where I have felt absolutely helpless. The days following surgery I couldn’t even bathe myself, but K.T. carried me to the shower and told me how beautiful I was as he sponged me off, rinsed the shampoo from my head, and washed the fear away from my eyes. I have faced days where I didn’t know what tomorrow might bring and he has given me hope from the Lord, strength through his promise to always and forever be by my side, and comfort by his steadiness. I have faced days where I felt utterly miserable to the point of not knowing what else to do but cry, and he has kissed those tears off my face and shown me what all of those things he vowed to me 2.5 years ago truly mean. And I’ve face some days where there’s still joy in my eyes and we can share a few giggles and a good dance off in the kitchen like normal.

I’m not sure if I can say I knew what unconditional looked like or felt like when we stood face to face with this journey for the first time. Unconditional is something I’ve struggled with even in my faith, worrying whether I was praying enough or spending enough time reading my bible and if I wasn’t did that mean my blessings would be less or delayed because of it, but I know deep down that the Lord’s love wasn’t dependent on those things. And now I know more than ever that K.T.’s isn’t either.

As I’ve shared in several posts so far, I’ve felt like I’ve been absolutely rotten to deal with on many occasions. Nothing has stayed the same long enough for us to get used to it before something else takes over next. The tears are not my norm, my tone doesn’t always come across sweet and polite, I’ve definitely looked more like a halloween costume over the last 6 weeks than I’ve looked like my normal self, and Lord knows I haven’t done even half of my normal chores and responsibilities around the house leaving it all up to…you guessed it…K.T. And he hasn’t once complained that he had to take on more, or dry another tear, or observe his wife in a different state than she’s always been.

I don’t write all this to make anyone feel any certain way. But I refuse to go through all of this and tell you all about it and just let K.T. stand in the wings and not get any honor for literally keeping me going most days. So as you read these words, I hope you will help me honor the impeccable man of love, grace, and true character that the Lord led me to marry. He doesn’t like the fuss so this won’t be his favorite post of the journey, but he deserves so much more than he gives himself credit for.

There are many blessings in this life, but he’s forever my favorite.

 

The Finish Line

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I’ve somewhat avoided this post for a few days, mostly because I was too tired to think and also because I didn’t know if I could do the specialness of this day justice.

October 20th was a day I had been anticipating for every single second since I began radiation treatments on September 11th. And it was no different when I woke up Friday morning. I started with my usual warm bowl of maple and brown sugar oatmeal and moved on to my list of morning tasks soon enough before I started getting ready for my final treatment.

In so many ways that morning felt the same as the rest. I had gotten into a routine over the last few weeks, but I felt nervous and honestly a bit torn. I knew I was about to move into a new phase of this journey and I had just finally gotten used to this one. I had finally understood what was happening in my body and accepted it for what it was. But on the other side of the moon, I knew that I would start the true healing phase and have to wait on my body to adjust to not being zapped every day and start to actually repair itself.

IMG_8192K.T. had taken off the afternoon to be able to come up to the office and see me after I finished which meant he was also at home to kiss my face and send me on my way. It goes without saying that he had been looking forward to this final day for as long as I had if not longer. I was planning to write him as soon as they called me to get ready for my treatment so he could leave the house and head down and make it there by the time I came out of my undertreat visit for the week. Mom instructed I wear something bright and cheery (eyeroll) and since I had insisted on wearing a black dress, this was the compromise. She also requested a picture before I left, so scorched face and two thumbs up…this is what she got.

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Around 3:15, my phone rang and they were ready for me. My friends followed me out to make sure they captured every moment and share in my excitement.  So for the LAST time, I changed into my gown and walked down this hallway into the 2nd door on the right and crawled up on the table, told them my birthdate, positioned my head on the neck rest, placed my mouth piece in, and watched as they lowered my mask to cover my face and snap into the table…one….last….time.

I listened for the usual sounds of the vault closing, the imaging starting, the table positioning me to line up with the treatment parameters, the 2nd round of imaging, and lastly I watched for the pistons in the TrueBeam to begin to narrow and calibrate into my dosage and treatment area.

img_1887.jpgAnd then it was over. I rolled off the table and gathered my bag of clothes like I would be back for more next week, but instead I had my mask in hand as well as that wretched mouth piece and I was never going to lie on that hard black table ever again, Lord willing.

Back in my “last day” dress, I headed around to the front and prepared for my last undertreat with Dr. Spencer and Dr. Nikolaev. Again, my friends followed me up there and took pictures of everything.

Vitals, skin check, ear check, instructions for skin for the weekend, and a whole goody bag of gauze, medical wrap, cuticerin dressing, and Lord knows what else and I was done with this monster forever. Time to ring the bell..but K.T. wasn’t there yet and I was NOT ringing that bell without him.

My friends walked back to our office with me to put down my things and drug me into the break room around the corner before heading back up to the front to meet K.T.. Except we never made it back up front. The door swung open and nearly the whole department was standing there in support of me and finishing 6 weeks of head and neck radiation to kiss Glanda goodbye, once and for all.

Now, I’ve said I’m not a crier (and that’s true aside from the last 3.5 months) and I honestly hadn’t felt emotional at any point in the day so far, but when I saw 50+ people crammed in our break room yell “congrats” at me, I lost it. People from every single department: physicians, residents, billing, check-in, dosimetry, therapy, social work, admin, and physics.  They had all come…for me. And right in the middle was my precious K.T., my parents, and my brother.

 

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Once I stopped crying into my dad’s hanky, I tried to take in every moment and every face that had come to celebrate me as I knew it was something to treasure. Never in my life have I had that kind of work support, and as promised, everyone in the room got a hug and a big thank you for being there. I couldn’t help it.

Last but not least, my superwoman cape from Emily was strapped to my back and the last hooray for finishing 30 fractions of radiation. I had earned my super powers! So we ate cake, opened presents, and celebrated as much as we could for a late Friday afternoon.

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And as I begin to wrap up this post, it’s really important to me that I express as much gratitude as possible to the people that were in the trenches with me through this. The people that dried my tears, listened to my fears, saw first hand what the effects of radiation were doing to my body, how the treatments stole my energy (and my weight), and comforted me with hugs, back rubs, and whatever else to soothe the emotions I didn’t always know how to deal with. The same people that encouraged me, checked on me, got me out of bed, made sure I was fed (the best I could be), made sure I was hydrated, lubed up with cream, and made sure my heart had time to share, and most of all made sure I was getting enough rest so that my body could recover the best it could between treatments.

To my selfless angel of a husband, our two little kiddos Fox & Stella, my parents and brother, my co-workers, my doctors and nurses, and my therapy team, I will never be able to thank you enough or repay you for the way you cared for me during these days of struggle and days of healing. As much as I hate cliches, I truly couldn’t have made it through without you…

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Dr. Spencer
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Dr. Nikolaev (Dr. Spencer’s resident through my treatment)
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My precious nurse, Laura

So Friday, October 20th finally came to a close. And while tired, beaten down, and emotionally drained, we made it one way or another. My parents came home with us and shared dinner in our home and helped us decompress from the day. But as I went to change into my Christmas pajamas (because Christmas is my favorite), I found this on my bathroom mirror…

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Valerie Powell: Lovable, hopeful, joyful, loving, beautiful, resilient, positive, faithful, funny, inspiring, smart, selfless…and HEALED (which lined up right below my chin when I stood to read them all through tears) The perfect ending to a very long awaited day.

I will never, ever understand what I did to deserve this man, but thank you, Lord, you saw me fit to be his wife. Thank you for knowing my heart and his, and for blessing our lives with absolute abundance. I wrote this verse on my whiteboard in my office before radiation even started, and the Lord has been faithful. For Friday, October 20th…there is nothing more to say…

“Now glory be to God, who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of—infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes.” – Ephesians 3:20 

 

 

Week Six

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The final week of treatment is finally over, and I cant even begin to count how many times I thought it would never get here. Reading back through some of the posts, I already don’t remember some of the smaller details of things that happened, but what I do remember is the fight in me and the daily strength only Jesus could have given me to get through some of the best and worst days of my life.

This last week, I made sure to write a small snippet every single day so I wouldn’t forget the intricacies of the final week of this mess. I didn’t want to forget my feelings and emotions as I neared the end and the new routine that I had grown accustomed to was almost over.

Monday
IMG_3531The last Monday…and a rather terrible Monday. I woke up with everything hurting: my skin feeling raw, exposed, and nearing temperatures that a fireproof building couldn’t even withstand, my tongue peppered with ulcers down the treatment side that sent me into seizing pain every time my tongue moved the slightest bit, and my ear STILL stopped up due to a very narrow and raw ear canal although the infection had cleared.

I worked from home in the morning hours, ate my oatmeal, showered, and slowly got ready to head up for treatment and a few hours in the office. I kind of just wanted to curl up in the fetal position most of that time, but I pushed through with a (necessary) swift kick in the rear from some of my work folks and finally made it to my car to head home.

And then the phone rings….and it’s the genetics department with my test results from my testing well before radiation even started. Genetic testing results came back….positive. So that means I’m a carrier for the ATM mutation. Each and every set of DNA in my body has that mutation which puts me at a higher risk for other cancers to develop later down the road like breast and pancreatic. I managed to have a somewhat intelligent conversation with the nice girl that called me and she helped answer some of the basic questions I had like how much of a higher risk does this put me at? What does this mean for our children? When will extra testing begin?

Basically, this news isn’t terrible. It’s news we somewhat expected but it really only puts us on a higher alert just in case, God forbid, anything were to ever come up again. The ATM mutation puts me at a 30% higher risk for breast cancer and suggested screening is 10 years before any family diagnosis unless that age is over 40. Since Mom was 63 when she was diagnosed, mine will just start at 40. So we’ve chosen to actually count this as a blessing since I will have extra scans to make sure we stay on top of my health forever and ever. Wont lie and tell you I didn’t have a serious meltdown over all of this with it being my last week and with emotions running high anyways.

Tuesday
I fared much better on Tuesday although my tongue still felt like it made friends with a chainsaw over the weekend and my neck still felt like it was ablaze. I got some new cream for my face with lidocaine already mixed in to try, and I had lots of energy to bounce around the office for a few hours after treatment and get some actual work done. I finally made it home around 5:30 and celebrated my good day with a can of tomato soup for my first dinner and some high-protein spaghetti noodles for dinner #2. Tuesday was far less dramatic and more like I was hoping the last week would feel.

Wednesday
Another good day for the most part. My neck was definitely raw and getting more painful as the hours passed although it was still pretty manageable with a Tylenol here and there and a LOT of cream. I’ve noticed that other parts of my skin in the treatment has started to heal already and is looking less red (which isn’t saying much considering how red it had been) and since this week is treating a smaller portion as a boost (mostly around the previous tumor site). Even if it’s microscopic, I’m counting anything and everything as progress.

Thursday
IMG_3427.JPGThursday was pretty solid. There was a lot of anticipation I could feel building as the last day approached, but I had a really good afternoon at work, shared a bag of popcorn with a co-worker, and came home to a 2 egg dinner and a night of small group in our home with the sweetest 8 couples we ever could have prayed for. There was a moment when I didn’t know if hosting a small group at our home through all of this would be a good idea or not, but it has blessed me more than I could have ever imagined. Thank the Lord we pushed through and K.T. leads our family so well. Even though we were tired, K.T. and I made some time before bed to talk and reflect on some of the things we’ve been through over the last six weeks and 3.5 months as a whole.

Friday
The day I had been waiting for for 6 very long weeks. 40 extra long days. To make it to a lifetime of healing. And I woke up with one thing on my mind…making it through the day. And I made it…here’s how it went.

 

Week Five

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How is it already the end of week 5? How is there only 1 week to go? And why didn’t the first 3 weeks go by this quickly?

Actually I’m not sure these weeks have gone by all that fast after all. I think I’ve just gotten used to what’s going on and lowered my expectations as to how I’m going to feel.

This week has been some sort of weird hybrid between week three and week four. It hasn’t been totally terrible but it hasn’t been rainbows and sunshine like last week was either. I woke up last Saturday morning with my ear totally clogged up and we we’re supposed to be heading to Race for the Cure by 8:15. Needless to say that didn’t happen, and I’m still a little sad about it because it’s one of those obnoxious daughter things I do every year to celebrate Mom, but we will have our own Race for the Cure soon to make it up.

The ear issues continued through the weekend with no relief after trying literally everything (including standing on my head) so I wrote Dr. Spencer and she had her resident Dr. Nikolaev take a look Monday and prescribe me some steroid/antibiotic drops for an outer ear infection. By Wednesday, I had decided that the ear infection part was slightly better, however the inside of my ear was drier than the Sahara in July and felt swollen to the size of a coffee straw. So, I’m still a little wonky, but I’m praying really hard that there’s not hearing loss and it will clear up after next week.

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My neck is starting to look a little ridiculous (or red-iculous) and feels much more like leather than skin and has blistered in a few spots, but thankfully it’s not terribly painful yet. Since I got the lily white Norwegian genes instead of Dad’s olive skin Italian genes, sunburns are kind of expected when I go outside so I knew this part wouldn’t bother me too much. I’ve become quite the bed buddy of your dreams though…face slathered with Glucan ointment, and propped up on 6 pillows so I stay in one place so I don’t smear my goo all over the bed. Sexy.

The worst part is definitely the taste in my mouth that makes absolutely every food taste like I’m licking the trash can, but I’m figuring out ways to help with that the best I can. Unfortunately it has limited the things I can eat a little more so I’m basically stuck with nutrient shakes and soup and some other solid food here and there, but praise the Lord I’m not restricted because my mouth and throat are torn up with sores and ulcers. That part is still very mild.

So, we have 1 week to go: 5 more treatments, 5 more times to walk down the hall half neked in a gown, 5 more times to shove that wretched mouth piece in my mouth, and 5 more times getting bolted down to the table while being hit with radiation beams. And I. Can’t. Wait. Even if I feel like junk next week, I WILL be running the halls like a fool and acting ridiculous once I crawl off that treatment table for the last time on Friday. And my promise still stands…free hugs for everyone.

Here’s to the final sprint.

 

 

 

A Bit of Reflection

hope flower farm

Feeling nostalgic tonight (as usual) as I sit here on the 2nd to last Monday of treatment and the first day looking at single digit days until the finish line. Reflecting about the last year and wondering how I ever got to this place and how I never even saw it coming.

This time last year I was flying solo up to DC on a work trip where I would drive to the tiny town of Waterford, Virginia and cover the first ever Flowerstock through social media for the magazine I worked for at Hope Flower Farm. The property was gorgeous, the blooms were to die for, and the people had hearts that glimmered and glistened with gold. It was a stark contrast from the current environment at the office, and it was simply what I needed after walking with Mom through her diagnosis and treatment the prior year and lots of other life changes.

I’ve grown up a lot since then. I’ve learned to stand up and think for myself rather than just accept what others try to impress upon me. I’ve learned even more about being a wife and a friend.  I’ve slowly discovered who’s here to stay in my life and who will flee when times get tough or life gets in the way. And I’ve learned to discern what things are good for me and those that I need to let go of even if it’s painful.

The rest of this last year included turning 28, celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family, a ski trip to Steamboat Springs, CO, our 2nd wedding anniversary, a new job at UAB, weddings, babies, and, of course, surgery to find out that Glanda was cancerous.

And now we’re here. 3 months since surgery and 1 day through week 5 and feeling like the last 3 months is actually 3 years worth of time. I prayed super hard before all of this started that I wouldn’t really experience the scary side-effects that many have when undergoing head and neck radiation treatment, and I think at this point I can say the Lord has been faithful through that. I’ve had my crappy days for sure, but most days I can honestly say I feel pretty good considering, and I don’t take that blessing lightly.

As week 5 starts though, I’m starting to think about the fact that grown men have cried on their last day of treatment and that my last day is coming soon. I still can’t quite grasp how my 30th treatment might bring bittersweet feelings with it, but in 9 short (treatment) days I wont have to wonder about that anymore. I won’t plead with the clock to run faster, or psych myself into thinking food actually tastes like food or anything close to food. I won’t have to hope with everything in me that I make it to the end without a feeding tube or a hospitalization. (And yes I know that’s somewhat unrealistic, but these are real fears I faced a few weeks ago.

But I do know that on October 20th as I get beamed up for the final time, I will be running through the clinic halls ringing whatever bell I can find to signify that I’m finally done and that I made it through 6 whole weeks of head and neck radiation. I will also probably hug everyone I see that day too, so be careful stepping into my path on October 20. I actually may hug you.

Lastly, I’ve thought a lot about how I started this journey…dancing. Six weeks after surgery, an old friend and I met up to dance around for a bit knowing we had both been through our share of hard times the past few months and that dance has always been the best therapy. She picked a song to signify our struggles as well as our strength, and on many days the melody and movement has carried me through and reminded me to rise up beyond the physical, beyond the emotional, and beyond the junk…and just. keep. going. Because what other choice do we have really? Time to finish strong.

Week Four

nashville, tn

I’m not sure if it’s the fact that I stayed in bed for nearly the entire day on Saturday, that this week the number of treatments left started getting smaller than the number of treatments behind me, or that my cold and allergies finally started going away, but this week has been the best yet…And it definitely wasn’t supposed to be.

Week 3 and 4 was when things were really supposed to get ugly. Week 3 definitely lived up to that, but week 4 has been a beautiful week of energy, food, rest, and actually a little fun.

Back in May, I found out that Foy Vance was touring in the US again and coming to Nashville the week before Mom’s birthday. Last year on her birthday, I surprised her with tickets to see him at Workplay the same week as her birthday since he’s one of her favs, so why not go for round two? I called her in May, asked her if she would want to do that, and bought the tickets (obviously having NO idea that I would be right in the middle of radiation treatments).

As soon as this mess started, Mom was for sure that I wouldn’t feel like going or that going would cause me to miss treatments and put me behind, but I kept telling her that I would get it worked out and it would be just fine. The last thing I wanted to do was disappoint Mom, and I was determined to make sure she had a nice birthday adventure with her favorite (only) daughter.

Tuesday rolled around and I was having a good day for the 3rd day in a row, which hadn’t happened in weeks so we loaded up the car, drove to UAB to get my treatment, and drove straight to Nashville. Dad had booked us a hotel so we crashed there for a few hours, grabbed some dinner, and headed on to the venue, The Anchor Fellowship. Two and a half hours later, we headed back to our hotel with full hearts and this cute little picture!

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Turns out, a little road trip with Mom was just what I needed. She’s driven me crazy most of my life, but the last several years through cancer (both of us), lots of conversations, working through things, and apologies, we’ve grown closer and we had an awesome trip together with lots of laughs, sweet moments, and hugs. I even caught her watching her baby girl fall asleep at bedtime. I guess it’s a Mom thing, but it was sweet.

Wednesday we drove back to UAB for treatment, headed to get our nails done, and I had both Mom and Dad over for dinner. Thursday and Friday were great too! K.T. and I had one of our best nights leading our marriage small group together with our precious couples that come learn with us each week and woke up to a breezy fall morning.

Now, Friday is here once again. My skin is pink and itchy, a few more hairs have abandoned me, my throat actually feels pretty good, and I’m still eating 3 meals a day. My 20th treatment will be finished in a few hours, I will have my 4th undertreat visit with Dr. Spencer, and another weekend lies ahead of us. While we still plan to rest, we will also participate in the Race for the Cure walk to celebrate Mom being a 2 year survivor and Sunday night we will celebrate her 65th birthday, and I’m excited!

I feel like I say it every week and I hope the weight of these words doesn’t lessen, but I’m so thankful for the recent days. It’s truly been a breath of fresh air and has given me renewed strength and endurance to carry on through the next two weeks.

I hope and pray the coming weeks bring more of the same, but if they don’t, the Lord is still good and He still gave me this week for some hope and a little pick-me-up to keep on going. I was reminded again this week that this journey is one that I’m traveling through. It’s a season, and it will be over very soon to look back on with careful reflection, gratitude, and amazement at the testimony the Lord has built for me. Thank you, Jesus!

2/3 of the way done. 20 treatments down. 10 to go. Week 5 and 6 to go! Time for the final sprint…except I’m actually going to walk because I still get tired.

Onwards and upwards!