Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Lesson in Humility

So, today was my first appointment with my new dermatologist. I need to be followed every three months by my oncologist and a dermatologist to check for new melanomas. I arrive at the office and fill out the necessary paperwork. The receptionist was friendly and asked me to have a seat. It is always surreal sitting in a dermatology office to be seen for melanoma. Many of the folks there are for much different reasons. I sat down and began to look around...Botox ads everywhere, the song "Poker Face" comes on. The irony wasn't lost on me and I began to chuckle. I continue to peruse the room to see "Latisse" billboards, chemical peel ads and various other "cosmetic" surgery type literature. Nothing on cancer. When you have melanoma you are basically the kill joy of the dermatology office.

I am taken back to the exam room where I am given what resembled those paper bag vests you make at Thanksgiving in school when you are the Native American in the school play and a giant paper towel type thing to drape on my legs. I stand there staring at them for a moment and then laugh and just put them on. The doctor came in and I immediately knew I liked him. He had kind eyes and was a ball of energy. He explained what he was going to do and took down what information I had for him. He then proceeded to check every single inch of my skin, while his nurse mapped each and every mole coded with letters and numbers. It was so very weird to be sitting on a cold table in a paper vest while the doctor pointed at my moles all the while saying what seemed like random letters and numbers in a language only dermatologists must know.

When he was done he told me I was boring and that we were going to keep it that way. He checked each of my lymph node basins and said he had no concerns, and that my surgeon did a "beautiful job" on my arm. He assured me we were about to become BFFs as I would be visiting him every three months and we were gong to stay ahead of anything that may happen. He explained my pathology reports to me in a manner that I actually understood and asked if any of my children had moles. We agreed Luke should be seen soon and followed yearly. He seemed to really know his stuff. He'd say I bet you've had this mole since you were tiny, I bet you've had this mole since your teen years....and he was spot on EVERY time. He even took a look at my hand eczema for me.

I've always dreaded going to the OBGYN because it was so humiliating...this made that seem not so bad, although the doc did make sure to tell me it could be worse. He said if I were at the melanoma clinic at Harvard that I'd be on a turn table in a g-string. So you know...there's always that. Grateful for EVERY normal doctor appointment in a way I never knew possible. While it wasn't fun necessarily, I urge you to find yourself a GOOD dermatologist and visit them yearly. It could just save your life. Melanoma kills a person every hour. Don't let that be you. God willing....it isn't going to be me.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Meet Lily Grace

She entered our world in September of 2012 at just three weeks old.  Our lives have never been the same....and we are SO grateful.  In a crazy twist, we received our adoption decree in the mail on April 1st.  So, while we are still hoping for a date to go before the judge for a ceremony.  She is officially our new daughter.  I am trying to gather all of the pictures from the last year and a half that I haven't been able to share, but for now....here she is....in all her cuteness.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

It's a Girl!

Monday I had to head to the OBGYN for my annual exam and to discuss what testing he suggested in light of the recent melanoma diagnosis. It went well....aside from the fact that he came in and said, "hey, your blood pressure is a little high which isn't normal for you, are you doing ok?" And the floodgates broke. I am sure he is very used to dealing with hormonal and emotional women, but the poor man had to endure a blubbering me. He was wonderful and compassionate just as he's always been when dealing with me and all that life has dealt.

I got out to the van where Howard and the kids were waiting to pick me up and take me to dinner. As I got in the van I got a text. It was from our foster daughter's caseworker. She said she had just gotten the judge's report and that the judge chose us to adopt our sweet girl! I was elated and immediately began texting everyone who'd been praying and posted to Facebook. In a moment of excitement I'd forgotten the previous post had been an Instagram photo of the gorgeous view of Lake Erie from my OB's office....then about a half an hour later I post "It's a girl". LOL

I confused a few people. All that to say, my uterus is fine but all done having babies we however, Lord willing, will be officially welcoming a 19 month old little girl into our family within the next month or so!

Thank you all for praying! So grateful for each and every one of you.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

This is JUST Skin Cancer

Several months ago I went to the doctor to have him look at a mole. It had changed a bit but was still relatively regular looking, he said it was nothing to worry about. I had a nagging feeling it was. This is the result of a wide excision to rid my body of melanoma. The mole was no bigger than the eraser on a pencil.

People seem to think that melanoma is nothing really to worry about. They joke using #melanomahereicome as they bake their skin on spring break not realizing that every hour someone dies of melanoma. Melanoma doesn't discriminate and it is as much a young person's disease as it is an older person's disease. Children die of melanoma. One in fifty people will battle this beast.

My cancer they say was found relatively early, but it was aggressive. I will have quarterly appointments with a dermatologist and oncologist. I will have blood tests and x rays. We will be actively watching for any evidence the beast might return. I am trusting the Lord in all of it and doing all I can to take care of my body, but skin cancer, melanoma, IS cancer. It is deadly.

I say all of this because I want you to learn from my mistakes. I want you to take care of your skin. I want you to look at what chemicals you are putting in and on your body and what nutrition your body might be lacking. I don't think sun is bad. We NEED sun, but be responsible. Don't burn. Encourage loved ones to get their skin checked regularly and if ANYTHING seems out of ordinary...get it checked. When caught early, melanoma is VERY treatable...in the late stages...it is often fatal. It doesn't respond to treatments the way other cancers do. It is a sneaky cancer that spreads quickly.

Melanoma isn't to be taken lightly. It isn't something you just remove and forget about...it is a lifelong battle. I intend to fight it, and I pray you don't have to, but ignorance could be deadly so PLEASE see your doctor...know your body and don't be afraid to be your own advocate!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

No Word

I just wanted to take a minute and thank you ALL for your prayers for our foster girl and for our family. Court was long and exhausting on Friday and the judge did not rule yet. We should hear by the end of the week and I will keep you posted as to what he decides. We are praying and trusting God, knowing He loves her more than we can even imagine.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Court Hearing Tomorrow

I've spent the past few afternoons as I continue to recover from surgery on the phone with our attorney and the foster agency attorney preparing for a court hearing tomorrow. Our sweet foster girl has been with us since September of 2012. She was reunited with her family for about six weeks between October and November and has been with us ever since. Nothing is new in her case it has pretty much been the same old same old for months. We petitioned to adopt her back in October and some family members decided to contest.

I believe wholeheartedly in trying to keep biological families connected. That was why we went into fostering. It was always my hope to be able to help families reunite and get back on their feet, yet in this case that hasn't been possible. It has made me heart sick. I am so grateful that we have an open and positive relationship with Jacob's biological family. I'd love for this sweet one to have the same thing but I am not sure that is in store for her.

At any rate, tomorrow we go to court and the judge will decide where our girl spends the rest of her growing years. I have peace. I know this decision is not mine to make and that He loves her more than I ever could and that He will do what is best for her and while we love her like our own and will be heartbroken to see her go, I know He is in control. I do not know much about her bio family beyond her parents and I know He does. She's been our little sunshine for about a year and a half...basically her whole life, but today as I prepare myself for court, I am reminded that none of our children are truly our own. They each belong to God and while I don't always understand what he is doing, I rest in knowing He knows what is best for each of them and for me.

Ultimately, this isn't about me. Foster parenting isn't. It is about being obedient to what God called us to and I know we've done that so I can rest in knowing that. What happens from here isn't for me to control. He owes us nothing. Our hearts may well break into a million pieces, but that is what we signed up for. We are here and willing to be her family forever if He'd bless us with this baby girl, but we also know that there are others who have biological connections and we know nothing about them to say we know what is best. We will play whatever role he calls us to and we will love her forever.

Sometimes I sit and I look at my life, the story He is writing and I wonder how much more we can endure, but I know with every storm has come a depth, a love, and a closeness with Him that could have been attained no other way. Tomorrow morning we will go before a judge and promise to always love her and we will face the family members claiming they want the same. I have no idea what tomorrow holds, but I know Who holds tomorrow. Would you pray with me for the judge. That he would truly look at what is best for our sweet girl , whatever that is, and that He would soothe our hearts if that means it is not us. He knows what is best and I am fully confident that whatever decision is made, will be what is best.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

One of Those Days

Well it's been one of those days here at our home. Daylight Savings Time is a cruel joke and we've all been struggling to find our normal. The babies have been fighting a cold and I am still recovering from my melanoma surgery. I am feeling pretty good, but due to the fact that my wound is under tension (from the tissue they had to remove entirely) I still cannot lift over 10 pounds. I have two babies. One is 18 months and the other is 2 and both are over 20 pounds, so guess who has come to my rescue?

My 81 year old grandma. She's been here with me for the past two weeks or so and while it has been a humbling experience to ask my elderly grandma to do things for me, to lift the babies, change diapers put them to bed, etc, it has also been really nice having her here. She's amazing with my kids, and despite her age she can move and clean a house like nobody's business. She is the woman who raised me and as a kid I wasn't always so appreciative for all she did for us. I am grateful to have this chance with her now. She really is an amazing lady, and while I look forward to the day when I can lift my own babies again, I will miss her when she isn't here every day.

Back to today. The older three kids had a dental appointment this morning. I got up early, did my devotionals and ran downstairs to get a load of laundry going. On the way down the stairs I tripped on a pile of laundry and fell. After I sat and gathered myself I gave myself a once over and all was fine. I went in to Jacob's room to see why he was screaming, all the while hoping and praying Howard remembered to diaper him last night (story for another time). He had launched his pillow, blankets and stuffed animal out of the crib and was ready to get up. I asked Luke to get him up for me and put him on the changing table. I got him changed and Luke took him out to feed him breakfast.

Through blood, sweat and tears I got the other four children all ready brushed and flossed all teeth (albeit forgetting my own, GROSS I know), bags packed, grandma got here and we loaded up and headed on our way. The plan was to take the three inside for their cleanings and grandma would feed the babies their snack in the van while they waited.

Victoriously I pulled in to the dentist parking lot ten minutes early, proudly walked the kids in, hung up coats and told the receptionist our names....she looked at me strangely, which I've gotten more used to so I thought nothing of it until she said, "Um, Mrs. Bolte? Your appointment is tomorrow." I am sure she could see the look of sheer exhaustion in my face and she said, "Let me see what I can do". I waited and ultimately they offered to squeeze my three between patients but it could take a while to get them all done. I thanked them and turned to tell the kids I'd made a mistake. They took it well and I promised them lunch tomorrow. Guess today was a practice run. I won't say tears didn't fall as I climbed back into the van, tired, feeling defeated and sore, but I was quickly reminded that in the grand scheme, this was no big deal. It was an opportunity for a cup of coffee and TimBits for the kids. We enjoyed the sunny ride home and we'll do it all again tomorrow. :)

It's been a while since I've shared pictures so I thought I'd show you all how they've grown.

Choosing to count these sweet blessings today in spite of the rough day.  They sure do make each day brighter!

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Cancer Center

Yesterday we drove through a snowstorm an hour and a half to the cancer center where I was to have my follow up appointment and consultation with an oncologist. We got there late and I was already frazzled. As we parked in the parking garage and walked the eerie blue lit tunnel underground to get to the building the cancer center is in, I couldn't help but look around at the facilities and think, wow, several city blocks of hospital surround us, hotels, restaurants, art, it is almost like a vacation spot....almost like a weird Disney World...just not fun.

We walked through corridors, took escalators, passed fountains and modern art, up the elevator, down a hallway and to the cancer center. There was a time, I believed the genetics office waiting room was the worst kind of Hell on earth, but that was before I'd spent time in a cancer center. Sitting there in the waiting room, the pain is palpable. You look around and imagine what each person's story might be, never really knowing. You strike up conversations with folks who "get" your anxiety and offer a look of complete understanding.

I was by far the youngest patient in the waiting room while we were there yesterday. I sat and watched as people wheeled through in wheel chairs, pushed IV poles, walked through the bone marrow transplant doors, and adjusted the babushka on their head revealing the results of their chemotherapy. It is a place that makes your heart just sink. Cancer. A word feared by most, everyone in that room is dealing with it. While the pain is palpable, so is the hope...the resilience and strength. Smiles through the hurt, tears of understanding. It is a whole world you don't know exists until you are there.

My name was called and we went back to sit in an exam room. Howard hung my coat and we sat down blankly staring at the chemotherapy posters on the walls. The nurse sat and asked me a bunch of question and told us the doctor would be right with us. First in came the surgeon. He said that all looked well with my incision sites, that I'd still need time to rest an heal and that some fluid accumulated under my arm but that it should dissipate as time goes on. He removed a few stitches, realizing they probably still needed to stay in, Howard bandaged me back up and we asked what was next. He said, as it stands I am a stage 2A melanoma patient, that the results from pathology were as good as we could possibly have hoped for and that he thought the prognosis was good. He said to quit reading the internet and to just know that everyone's cancer is different and statistics can't predict what will happen. He referred me to a local dermatologist who I will need to see every three months to monitor for new melanomas.

Then he cheerfully shook our hands and said to live life and just be aware of my body. There is a chance it could come back but there is an even greater chance it won't. He walked out and a few minutes later in came the oncologist. He was a tall man with kind eyes. He said that based on my staging that he thought the prognosis was good and that we'd do a lymph node exam and overall exam every three months for now, as well as a dermatology appointment every three months and we'd possibly do blood work and chest x rays once a year. He asked about my kids, he said he and his wife also have five kids and that he doesn't see any reason why I won't be there to be a mom to my kids for a very long time.

It was all good news. The thing is, despite that good news, I didn't feel all that relieved. I struggle still with fear. I know that God is bigger than all of this. I know that He holds it all in the palm of his hand and I trust Him. The thing is....I have melanoma. There is always a chance something could be growing slowly without my knowledge even internally and I don't know it. I want to be here for my kids. Growing up without a mom is not something I want for them. I look at Howard and he's been so great. I love him more every single day and I look forward to growing old with him. I guess the thing that I feel this is all working on in me is that I have been given TODAY. I need to really live it to the fullest. None of us are promised a tomorrow, and focusing on tomorrow robs us of the gift of today. I am grateful for a good appointment, a little grocery shopping and a date lunch holding hands with the person in this world I love most. The fear still creeps up, and I need to be vigilant with doctors appointments and taking care of my body. I can't control this cancer, but I can pray to the One who can.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

And There Came A Lion

I am 35 years old. I lost my mother to suicide when I was nine. Lost two of my children before I was 30. Now, I face a battle against a beast called melanoma. Sometimes I look at my life and I think what on EARTH?! It hardly seems fair. (I hear my dad's voice in my teenage ears saying "Life isn't fair" as I type that.) I often find myself thinking of how I'd love to live a normal life. I'd love to know a little about that place called "Easy Street", and then I think of how God has used the hurt, the pain, and the heartache, and the beauty and growth that has come from every difficult circumstance. If not for those hardships, I would not be who I am today. Through each of these trials, I've grown closer to the Lord, I've felt his presence and though the scars remain, purpose has come from every pain and every scar has a beautiful story to tell.

This cancer thing is no different. It is a beast. I have been thinking of this beast as the lion and I pray I can bring glory to God the way Daniel did. (maybe minus the murder, adultery and other general awfulness) Daniel faced many beasts but had they not come into his life he likely never would have become the king of Israel. Each beast was an opportunity for Daniel.

Friday evening we got great news. NO cancer was found in my lymph nodes and the pathology report showed clear margins meaning they were able to cut the melanoma entirely out. I was so overwhelmingly grateful for that news. It is the best news I could have hoped for. I cried tears of joy and will continue to thank God with every breath I take. This fight is far from over. A quick internet search will tell you that once you have melanoma...the fight is on...it is a deadly and sneaky cancer that often comes back.

Melanoma entered my life and it will likely be a part of my life for the rest of it here on earth. I am going to choose to see it as an opportunity, an opportunity that I will NOT waste. It has been a month since my diagnosis. That month has awakened me, grown me and changed me in ways I could never have imagined. It has continued the process of refining me and keeping my eyes focused upward.

Cancer is an opportunity. I can't say I am glad I have it, at least not yet, but I won't waste it and I won't waste a minute of my life whining or feeling sorry for myself. I have a life full of blessings and people who love me and I have NO doubt God will bring good from all of this.

Tomorrow, I head back to the Cleveland Clinic to meet with my surgeon and consult with an oncologist to see what the plan will be to stay ahead of Mr. Melanoma. I'd love your prayers for those doctors, for my kids who will be shuffled around yet again and for my heart to remain steadfast and KNOW that He holds the future and GOOD things are in store.

Thanks for walking this journey with me. I am so grateful for the love and support we've received.

The LORD is my light and my salvation– whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life– of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 23:6

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Celebrating Life

Six years ago today I was sitting in a hospital bed with stitches, aching as I held and said good bye to my fourth born son. February 22, 2008 was one of the most remarkable days of my life. The loss was great, but the LOVE was so much greater. I had never felt such tangible love, by my Heavenly Father through all of the people around us. I miss that boy terribly and can't help but wonder what a six year old Asher would be like, but I am so very grateful he got to be mine at all. He blessed me in ways I never could have imagined. My life is different because he lived.

Today, six years later I sit in my bed with stitches, aching from surgery last week. I have a large incision on my outer left arm and one under my arm where the lymph nodes were taken for biopsy. So much has happened in the last six years but God's goodness remains the same. I never imagined I'd be sitting here writing about my cancer, but God knew. Last night around 7:40 pm my cell phone rang and I looked and saw that it was the doctor. I answered with a lump in my throat wondering why they'd call so late on a Friday. The physician's assistant explained that my pathology report was in and that they showed clear margins (meaning they got all the cancer) and that my lymph nodes showed no signs of cancer.

I think I breathed for the first time in almost a month. I immediately began to cry and thank her. She said,"I am so glad you are happy, and you should be but please know this is not over. We still need you to come in this week to see the oncologist, we are going to have to STAY ahead of this cancer." Melanoma will be something I live with forever. I will have frequent scans and check ups and while it is scary, I am grateful. I am grateful for the shift in perspective, the renewed gratitude for life and all the little things, and the awakening that I need to take care of myself.

We got GOOD news. The best news we could have asked for and I am so grateful, but I am determined not to waste this opportunity. I intend to let this experience continue to shape me and grow me and I need to show you something. It is tough to look at and not for the faint of heart, but THIS was the result of a mole no bigger than a pencil eraser....it had regular borders but was a little "dark"...and it could have cost me my life...and still could come back to haunt me and I pray we are armed and ready.

Today, as a way to honor my sweet Asher, I am asking you....to NOT let this happen to you.  GET your skin checked and protect your skin.  IT is your largest organ...take care of it.  While SOME sun is good for us, sunburn is not, stay out of the tanning bed.  PLEASE make an appointment with your dermatologist and prevent this from happening to you.  Melanoma is VERY treatable when caught early, and very deadly when it isn't.  Today I celebrate Asher's life and also my own, I pray I am able to live it to the fullest....and I pray you are too.  Life is a gift...open it and live it!