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 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 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 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 it and live it!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


Yesterday morning we arrived at the hospital at 8:00. I got my bracelet, did some paperwork and at about 8:30 I was called back for the lymph node mapping. The doctor and nurse were so great. The nurse walked in with this metal box that was locked with the radioactive symbol on it and capital letter RADIOACTIVE. They explained the procedure to me. They'd be injecting four vials of radioactive material into the site of the cancer and they they'd put me under the gamma machine to see which lymph node basin the cancer drains to. I asked if I could expect to turn into the Incredible Hulk or if I might walk out with Spidey Senses. They assured me I wouldn't.

It is difficult to describe the pain of having radioactive material injected just under your skin, but I think it is safe to say I am tough enough for that tattoo I've been wanting. Once the injections were done and the doctor was finished apologizing profusely seeing how I flinched with each one, they raised me into the machine for pictures. I just had to lay still for several sets of images. The lymph node basin that lit up was under my left arm which was expected so they marked it, sent me with some pictures and I was off to the next adventure.

We headed to the next building for the surgery. They were waiting for me and got started right away. I was whisked back to pre op where they started paperwork, ran a pregnancy test (NEGATIVE), and got my IV going. I can say without a doubt they were some of the most amazing nurses ever. I was anxious and teary and they were SO reassuring and sweet. Getting an IV placed is one of my most dreaded things. The nurse started, I felt a tiny pinch and then nothing else. I looked down and said, "Did you NUMB my hand before doing that?" and she said, "Girl I am giving you all I've got." :)

As I looked around the pre op/post op area it was a little surreal. I was in the plastic surgery department so most of the people were so excited to get their surgeries, face lifts, lipo, breast augmentations....then there's me. The doctor came over to mark my arm and talk to me and I started crying. He assured me it would be ok. I told him I wasn't afraid of the surgery, moreso the big picture of all of this. He grabbed my hand and said, "We see LOTS of people cured. I see no reason why you won't be one of those people, you are a little higher risk because of the depth of the tumor but we're going to get you through this." I breathed and thanked him. Having a confident doctor is SO important.

Then the anesthesiologist came in. In my experience, they are a quirky bunch always in fun scrubs, he was no exception. He was an older grandfatherly type man. He stroked my cheek and said, we are here for you, "whatever you need, physically, emotionally, spiritually we are here. I have a friend who just went through this same surgery and she is doing great. You are going to do great too. I can just tell you are going to beat this." I cried. He hugged me and they walked me to the operating room.

I got up on the table and my friendly anesthesiologist said, "Are you ready to go to Margaritaville?" I nodded and he injected some lovely something into my IV. Then I remember a nurse saying "we are going to take VERY good care of you and get you home to those kids". Then I remember an oxygen mask....and waking up in recovery.

I'd say the worst part of the whole ordeal was waking up and being told I needed to eat something. They brought me Snackwells cookies and due to the cottonmouth of anesthesia, I struggled to choke them down. I think I drank six cups of water. I got up and used the bathroom and they let me get dressed.

I got home around 4 yesterday, ate dinner, took my meds, watched a movie with the kids and struggled to get comfortable enough to sleep.

I am feeling pretty good. Groggy and sore but overall good, glad this part is behind me and looking forward to good test results next week. Thank you all for your prayers. I can truly feel them. I am so grateful for all the love being poured out upon my family.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Surgery Tomorrow

Tomorrow morning we'll get up before dawn, take our sweet foster girl to a respite home (of dear friends), pick up my dad, and head to Cleveland for my surgery. First I will have blue radioactive dye injected into the melanoma site (which I am secretly hoping gives me some kind of super power) and they will watch where the dye drains to. They will make note of which lymph node basin and which is the sentinel node and I will head to a different part of the hospital to have a node or two removed and sent for biopsy (we are believing and trusting God that the results will be good), after the lymph nodes are on their way, my melanoma, which a friend has appropriately named "assmole" will be evicted with two centimeter margins in all directions leaving me with a gnarly scar, which I will proudly wear.

Overall, I am not sure if I feel overwhelming peace, or just numb, but I feel positive and hopeful and truthfully I've been taking such good care of myself that I haven't physically felt this well in quite some time. The plan is to get some rest tonight, rock this surgery tomorrow and be home by dinner. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little nervous about the pain, the possible drain for lymphatic fluid and the idea of letting other people take care of my sweet kids, but I'd also be lying if I said I didn't have a list of books, TEDTalks, and Netflix movies all ready. In the past few weeks I've seen quite a bit of growth in myself. It sounds a little crazy but I am grateful. I am grateful for the perspective this cancer has brought.

I am enjoying my days, my family and my friends, I am eating well, exercising and spending time in my bible. I am healthy and I have EVERY confidence with Him, I can BEAT this cancer. I'd appreciate your continued prayers on this journey because I can truly FEEL every one and it has done MUCH for my heart. The outpouring of love has been amazing. I am a blessed woman.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

It's JUST Skin Cancer

Interestingly, even I was kind of of the thought that skin cancer was just something that you had cut out and then you moved on and never really had to deal with it again. Unfortunately this couldn't be further from the truth. Here are some statistics about Malignant Melanoma, my particular brand of skin cancer.

From 1970 to 2009, the incidence of melanoma increased by 800 percent among young women and 400 percent among young men.

One person dies of melanoma every hour (every 57 minutes).

An estimated 76,690 new cases of invasive melanoma will be diagnosed in the US in 2013.

An estimated 9,480 people will die of melanoma in 2013.

Melanoma accounts for less than five percent of skin cancer cases, but the vast majority of skin cancer deaths.

Of the seven most common cancers in the US, melanoma is the only one whose incidence is increasing. Between 2000 and 2009, incidence climbed 1.9 percent annually.

1 in 50 men and women will be diagnosed with melanoma of the skin during their lifetime.

In 2009, there were approximately 876,344 men and women alive in the U.S. with a history of melanoma.

About 86 percent of melanomas can be attributed to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.

Melanoma is one of only three cancers with an increasing mortality rate for men, along with liver cancer and esophageal cancer.

Survivors of melanoma are about nine times as likely as the general population to develop a new melanoma.

The vast majority of mutations found in melanoma are caused by ultraviolet radiation.

Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for young people 15-29 years old.

The overall 5-year survival rate for patients whose melanoma is detected early, before the tumor has spread to regional lymph nodes or other organs, is about 98 percent in the US. The survival rate falls to 62 percent when the disease reaches the lymph nodes, and 15 percent when the disease metastasizes to distant organs.

A person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns.

One or more blistering sunburns in childhood or adolescence more than double a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life.

Regular daily use of an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen reduces the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by 40 percent and the risk of developing melanoma by 50 percent.


Young men account for 40 percent of melanoma cases, but more than 60 percent of melanoma deaths.

From ages 15-39, men are 55 percent more likely to die of melanoma than women in the same age group.

An estimated 45,060 new cases of invasive melanoma in men and 31,630 in women will be diagnosed in the US in 2013.

An estimated 6,280 men and 3,200 women in the US will die from melanoma in 2013.

Melanoma is the fifth most common cancer for males and seventh most common for females.

Five percent of all cancers in men are melanomas; four percent of all cancers in women are melanomas.

Up until age 40, significantly more women develop melanoma than men (1 in 391 women vs. 1 in 691 men). After age 40, significantly more men develop melanoma than women. Overall, one in 35 men and one in 54 women will develop melanoma in their lifetimes.

Women aged 39 and under have a higher probability of developing melanoma than any other cancer except breast cancer.

The majority of people diagnosed with melanoma are white men over age 50.

Caucasian men over age 65 have had an 5.1 percent annual increase in melanoma incidence since 1975, the highest annual increase of any gender or age group.

The number of women under age 40 diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma has more than doubled in the last 30 years; the incidence of squamous cell carcinoma among women under age 40 has increased almost 700 percent.

Adults over age 40, especially men, have the highest annual exposure to UV.


In adults 65 or older, melanoma treatment costs total about $249 million annually. About 40 percent of the annual cost for melanoma goes to treating stage IV (advanced) cancers, though they account for only three percent of melanomas.43

The estimated cost of treating melanoma in 2010 was $2.36 billion.49


Cancer is cancer and it affects all of us. None of us are please consider having a skin check done. It could just save your life.

And Then There Was Cancer

I apologize for my lengthy absence here at the blog. We actually had a few month period of pretty normal life. :) In the past few months we enjoyed the holidays with family, celebrated Jacob's second birthday and did many fun things as a family. I will get to posting updated pictures of the kids soon.

On January 23 I went to the Cleveland Clinic to have a mole removed. I'd shown the mole to my Primary Care Physician a few different times and he was not concerned. I was. So finally I called around locally to find out when I could get in to see a dermatologist. It was a three month wait. I wanted it looked at immediately so I called the Cleveland Clinic on January 21st and had an appointment for the 23rd.

The doctor was very sweet, she removed the mole and said it was likely nothing to lose sleep over but she would send it out for testing just for peace of mind. We went on with our weekend and I didn't think much else about it.

Monday morning, January 27th, I had just gotten the big kids started on school work and the little ones were having a snack while I got myself a cup of coffee. Our home phone rang and I didn't get to it in time, then immediately after that my cell phone rang. I saw that it was a Cleveland number and answered. I barely remember anything else that happened after that. The Doctor herself was on the phone, which I knew wasn't good. She said that the biopsy came back as malignant melanoma and that I would need to be scheduled as soon as possible to see a surgeon to have the area excised and due to the depth of the tumor I would need a sentinel node biopsy. I remember just nodding my head and saying ok, ok, ok, meanwhile just wanting to get off the phone so I could bawl.

I got off the phone, took a deep breath and collected myself. I was to wait on a call from the Clinic's Melanoma Clinic at the Taussig Cancer Center. I just became a cancer patient. I called my dad and that might have been the hardest part of all of it. I manned phone calls for setting up more appointments and waited for Howard to get home.

Howard called on his way home and I was still so stunned, all I could muster was "I have cancer" over the phone. He said, "ok. We'll deal with this. I will be right home. It is going to be ok." I walked around in a fog for a few days as I incessantly Googled melanoma statistics. (I should NOT have done that)

A few days later I got my wits about me, got my face back into my Bible and decided....that since none of us are promised tomorrow, I'd take it a day at a time and do all I could to take care of my body and help it beat this thing. I've switched to a primarily plant based diet, complete with supplements, juice and smoothies. I've lost 12 pounds and am exercising every day. When fear creeps in, I get that Bible back out and remind myself that He is where my help comes from. I feel better physically, emotionally and spiritually than I have in a while. I think I've been in autopilot for a while and this has snapped me out of that.

On January 30th I saw my new doctor at the Taussig Cancer center. Until this date, the genetics office was by far the most heartbreaking place I'd ever had to sit in, a cancer center beats that. Just looking around I could not believe this is where I was. We met with the doctor, he was very positive and upbeat but realistic. It is a scary cancer. It is the leading cause of cancer death in people my age, but he reminded me that I am not a statistic so to quit Googling. We scheduled surgery. He explained that I am currently, because of the characteristics of my tumor, a stage 2B melanoma patient which on the continuum is still better than many. We have yet to test my lymph nodes yet. That will be done the day of surgery. If there is no cancer found in the lymph nodes, odds are quite good, although we will still have to be vigilant because melanoma is a SNEAKY cancer and comes back frequently. Clear lymph nodes is what we are praying for.

My surgery is scheduled for Monday, February 17th. I will have lymph node mapping first to detect which lymph node the area of cancer is draining into, then I will go into surgery where they will excise a large portion of my arm flesh to be sure they get ALL cancer cells and I will have a few lymph nodes removed for testing. Recovery will likely be a little tough since I am a homeschooling mom of FIVE, but we can do this. Our friends and family have stepped up and been such a blessing. We feel peace about what is to come, knowing that God is in control and that He will equip us for whatever comes. If you wouldn't mind praying for all of us, we'd be so grateful. Please pray for clean lymph nodes, smooth recovery and for Howard as he takes on more responsibility, our family and friends who will be stepping in, and for our kids as this is a lot for them too. Please also pray for the doctors as they treat me and help me to get rid of this cancer, I feel good about the Cleveland Clinic and the doctors there and am confident they will help me to overcome this obstacle.

"For nothing is impossible with God" Luke 1:37

"With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall." Psalm 18:29

"He will have no fear of bad news, his heart is steadfast trusting in the Lord." Psalm 112:7