I don’t hate Cancer…I hate Chemo!!!

It isn’t the cancer that I hate.  I was sitting, in tears I’d like to add, with my friend Amanda last night.  She had come over to walk with me before I retired to bed but my hip pain was too much.  I was having a hard time standing for long periods of time.  So, she just talked to me.  In the conversation she pointed out that it’s okay if “I’m not okay today.”  Funny thing is, I couldn’t change it.  I couldn’t make my body any different.  I had taken all my meds, put on all my creams, walked all my miles, eaten all my protein and still I wasn’t okay.  I’m not sure what it was but when she spoke those four little words it dawned on me that I don’t hate the cancer, but I do hate the cure.  Ironically, that is the battle of life.  chemo sucks

It isn’t the sin that makes us miserable.  Although, it may cause some guilt.  It is the process of making us whole that we fear.  The idea of true repentance is more scary to us than almost any amount of guilt we could aquire.  So, here I am with cancer.  It never caused me pain.  It never complicated my life.  In fact, I had a hard time believing I had a disease.  The doctors swept in telling me that something was wrong and sent me to the hospital.  There they administer medicine that makes me suffer profoundly, all the while telling me it is the cure to a disease that was causing me no problems.  Yet again, much like sin.  We go about doing what we do, seeing no problems with it, until someone points out we should “get our lives together as to have a better life.”  So, we start going to church and gaining faith.  We meet with clergymen and understand our follies.  We begin to feel horrible about what pain we have caused our Savior.  To what gain?  Exaltation.

The Apostle Paul was frustrated with the Jews.  He was upset that they did not understand that the Law of Moses had been fulfilled with the death of Christ.  The law had, in essence, changed.  He was explaining that there was no longer a need for sacrifice when he wrote in Hebrews, “By the which we are all sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all.”  Up until the sacrifice of the Savior, justice had been handled by the people  themselves – an eye of an eye – but Christ was trading them the Law of Moses for the Law of Love, asking them to forgive.  It was to become the world’s and my biggest challenge. I should be able be able to beat this.  It’s just a few cells.  What’s wrong with me?  A changing law is not always as acceptable as we think.

This leads to a connected thought about forgiveness and repentance having the same process (a concept I have learned from Bishop Seedall).  Let me side note a bit.  Forgiveness, in my opinion, is being able to unconditionally accept someone the way they are, regardless of their challenges.   This would mean that to really forgive someone, including myself, I must offer the Lord a broken heard and contrite spirit.  To do this, I have to understand “broken heart” and “contrite spirit.”

Broken: having been fractured or damaged or no longer in working order; having given up all hope.  So a broken heart is a heart that is not in working order.  After the past few days of nearly unbearable pain, I think this part is covered for now.  Contrite: feeling or expressing remorse or penitence; affected by guilt.  A contrite spirit is a spirit that feels remorse because of guilt.  Therefore, if I am to forgive someone, again unconditionally accept (even myself), I must be willing to face my Father in Heaven and acknowledge that my heart is too broken to make sense of things on my own and that I have some ownership in the problems that are leaving me with guilt and remorse.  This is still a huge struggle for me.  Any doubters, ask my husband and siblings, or even close friends.  I have a really hard time letting others have input into my treatment, even when I know they are just trying to help.  I have a habit of devaluing them in my head.  This is anything but a contrite spirit.  I have to accept what Heavenly Father asks me to do, trust those he sends to guide me and grasp the concept that Christ died so that I would be able to let go of my anger and bitterness and hurt and control.

It sounds lNephi-Boundike too much.  Some days it feels like too much, but He softens hearts, including mine,  one prayer at a time (although I may need a lot more prayers than most), and the scriptures help.  I often go back to our faithful prophet Nephi.  He had been wronged by Laman and Lemuel over and over again.  He had been physically beaten, called names, threatened, and who knows what else.  Yet his response would be echoed by his actions.  He stated in 1 Nephi 16:4 “And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did exhort my brethren, with all diligence, to keep the commandments of the Lord.”

There are two important words in this scripture that give me clear direction.  First, is exhort or invite.  It must be a clear invitation, a chance to use free agency for good.  For example, the other day I had to explain to Josue and Marina who the better nurse was.  It was easy.  Josue often walks in and tells me how much more I have to drink but Marina stands by side and says “waterbottleMom, I see you still have a half full bottle of water on your stand.  When are you going to finish that?”  It’s a lot easier to follow the instructions when Marina asks then when Josue tells.  Second, is diligence or by definition “careful and persistent work or effort.”  Nephi carefully invited his brothers, doing all he could, in his efforts to keep the commandments.  This is the Law of Love, to do all we can to invite those that have sinned against us to choose to do right because they want to and not because they owe it to us. It’s a lot easier to beg Heavenly Father to help alleviate the pain at night when I know I have done everything I can on my own.  Sometimes, I have to just say to him, “I can’t do this on my own.  Can you please take enough for me to fall asleep?”  And, he does, because I have done my part.

What I love so much about Nephi is that in the following verse, Nephi wrote “they did humble themselves.”  He did not tell us how long it took or what that humbling looked like.  He simply wrote “they did humble themselves.”  I imagine that it wasn’t overnight.  I imagine that it wasn’t quick at all.  I imagine there were days when Nephi wanted to look at his brothers and ask “Are you really this selfish and dumb?  Can’t you see me trying to help?”  However, he knew what I am learning.  That real change is based on a broken heart and contrite spirit and that is not something that you give another person.  They have to find it on their own.  Let them find…it’s worth the wait.  I am clearly in no hurry to be humbled, as the Lord continues to see fit to teach me one fabulous lesson after another.  I’m sure he endearingly asks, “Can’t you see me trying to help?”

Sometimes the best things we can do are to stop worrying about how someone else is living in accordance with our principles and start paying attention to how we are living in accordance with them.  What does our relationship with our Father in Heaven look like?  Are we taking care of ourselves spiritually? Emotionally? Physically? It is so easy to become fixed on the well-being others that we forget that our free agency is not entitled to change or control others, regardless of the nature of the relationship: parenthood and marriage license included.  I can only change me.  I guess I better make sure those changes are diligent ones. I guess cancer is so bad.  Chemotherapy is another story.  The cure is what’s changing me forever.  I am thankful for Savior.  His cure will forever change me.  It has given me hope.  It has given me family and friends.  It has given me direction.  It gives me life.

 

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Chemo, Shots, Oils and Trees

We started chemotherapy on Wednesday.  I was supposed to start on Tuesday but when we go there, we found out that they didn’t have enough dosage of the Abraxene to administer the chemotherapy.  I liked my friend Kyle’s comment, “How does a cancer center not have enough chemotherapy?”  To which I have to answer, “no freaking idea.”  It was a tough blow.  I was all psyched up and ready on Tuesday.  When they sent us home, I felt pretty discouraged.  It was as if the Lord was purposely putting obstacles in our way as to avoid remission.   I do not see it that way now but Satan is a tricky foe.

We arrived Wednesday and they accessed my port for the first time.  In my mind it was going to be painless and worth having.  I quickly learned that you have to use the port for a while so that scar tissue can develop and make the port access painless.  Anyway, they drew my blood for labs, to ensure my cell count was okay, and we waited.  Literally, we waited for 2 hours for the green light.  When the go ahead was given, my nurse, Teresa (whom I adore), came in wearing a full hazmat suit and putting on a double set of latex gloves.  At this point, I am thinking, “you hazmat up to put this crap in my veins?  I’m a dead man.”  She was awesome.  She explained the process and then within a half hour, she was flushing my port with saline (which tastes the way the inside of a mechanic shop smells) and sending us on our way.

The best part had to be when Josue and I got to the car.  After nearly 15 years of marriage, he went out of his way to open to my door.  He pointed out that he would be willing to open it every time if I can kick the cancer.  That alone makes the fight worth it. He has been such a trooper.  He has been beside me for every appointment, even when I was upset and didn’t want him there.  He shows up by side to comfort the discouragement and laugh at everything we can.  He is a constant reminder that I have to believe in the positive or it won’t happen.  Unknowingly, he lives by the words of my grandmother “If It Is To Be, It Is Up To Me.”  Ten two letter words that have made such an impact in my life and now his.  I find great comfort in his act of frequently seeking me blankets.  Each time I sit down or lay down, he covers me up, even if I already have a  blanket.  He endearingly worries if I am warm enough.  Unfortunately, in my worst moments he is also my target, for which I publically ask his forgiveness, as I don’t feel I can possibly as for it enough privately.

Wednesday night turned out to be without any nausea.  Instead, I was part of the 5% that gets chemotherapy induced diarrhea.  There was a point where I thought Josue was going to just bring me a blanket and pillow and I’d make a bed in the sitting position in my bathroom.  We finally got it stopped…all hail Imodium.  But that wasn’t the bad part.  Thursday was to bring what I now refer to as the shot of doom.  When a patient does chemotherapy, the following day they have to return for a Neulasta shot.  This is a chemical designed to stimulate your bone marrow to begin producing white blood cells at hyperspeed.  Why, because the chemotherapy the day before is killing the ones you already had.  They warned me!  No warning could have prepared me for the pain.  White blood cells are made in your bone marrow, primarily in what is considered your long bones (pelvis, femur, ribs).

By Friday, the pain in my hips was so bad that I couldn’t control the tears.  They just came.  I quickly learned that moving helped.  It’s the still that makes it worse.  My good friends have graciously taken turns walking with me around the block.  We walk at a slow pace.  By slow I mean Rachelle’s twins have enough time to get out of the little red wagon for a Chinese fire drill and I’m pretty sure that if Danyelle let Calvin (her 1 year old) out of his stroller, he’d have me beat.  Each step often comes with a shooting pain in my hips but it is relieved as we walk.  The worst is the idea of stopping.  I know if I sit the throbbing will return.  Stairs are difficult but not impossible.  The major relief comes from knowing that the side effects from the shot only last about 4 or 5 days but the worst is day 2 and 3.

My friend Katie gets the award of the day!  I have never been a huge Oil fan but she brought me this little bottle of oil called Deep Blue.  She told me just to try it.  She said it might help with the pain.  I have never been a believer in that stuff but my pain was so bad yesterday that I would tried anything.  I told her I was so desparate that I would use donkey pee if she told me to.  Luck for me it was some pretty good smelling oil instead.  I did what she said and now I am a believer.  For the first time yesterday, after I used that oil my hips hurt only in the bone and didn’t radiate out to the muscle.  You better believe I will be purchasing the biggest bottle of Deep Blue available to mankind.  I have a few more rounds of this whole chemotherapy/Neulasta shot combination and plan to have my oil ready.

Really quick, I want to make a quick shout out to the Taxus Brevifolia.  It is more commonly known as the Pacific Yew Tree.  It is a coniferous tree associated with several conifer and hardwood tree species on a variety of sites. Pacific yew tolerates shade, and in undisturbed stands is usually found as an understory tree. Growth of such trees is slow, but where the over story has been removed or thinned, diameter growth on undamaged yew trees may increase considerably. Pacific yew rarely exceeds 60 cm (24 in), and 15 m (49 ft) in height. The largest on record is 142 cm (56 in), and 18 m (60 ft) in height (28). The wood is hard, heavy, and resistant to decay. Although not of great interest to the forest products industry, it has many special uses. The bark of Pacific yew contains a drug, taxol, that is being used in cancer research, so demand for yew bark by the National Cancer Institute has increased dramatically in recent years (9).  My chemotherapy is derived from this tree.  Praise nature, it’s saving my life.

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Back in Idaho Falls for 21 day bouts

After a really long day, here is the general overview.  Dr. Hung Khong (at Huntsman) and Dr. Brad Adams (in Idaho Falls), have decided that my chemotherapy will be administered in Idaho Falls. There are two immunotherapy trials at Huntsman that would be really good for me but I have to have the chemotherapy first. In order to help me get into the trials faster, both doctors have agreed to use some type of “newer” chemotherapy, which I can neither pronounce nor spell.  I will do the first infusion tomorrow afternoon. I will then do two more infusions, one every 21 days. While this sounds good to only have infusions every three weeks, it turns out that it takes 21 days between infusions to be healthy enough to get another dose. Both doctors say I’ll be able to handle it as long as I can keep my blood circulating well enough in the 21 day spans to help reduce the side effects. They have also given me two, yes TWO, prescriptions for the nausea.  I say if it gets me to immunotherapy trials faster…bring it on. I’m totally nervous. I’m stoked to be home with friends and family that can make me walk. I’m thinking about a letter my cousin, Kristy, sent.  She said not to worry as I come “from good stock.”  I’m wondering, is it good enough?  Can we handle it?  To which I respond…until the Lord himself tells me differently there is no reason to think otherwise.

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It has been an incredible day.  I have been surrounded by great people, doing great things.  I am so overwhelmed by the kindness of my friends and family.  How can I possibly say “thank you” to all the great deeds being done for my family.

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For Mary: You Got This

I Have to  start by sharing the most amazing video (which I have no idea how to post).  My good friend, that just happens to be my boss, and unfortunately one of the people that got me into running, does everything in kind of extreme way
s.  For those of you who know Jorge, you know exactly what I am saying and for those of you who don’t, you are totally missing out.  He painted a portrait of me in 3.5 hours.  To top it off, he recoreded the experience and then made it into a time lapse video (which I can’t figure out how to post on this dang site).  This was Jorge’s idea of “peppy talk” before my appointment tomorrow.  Seriously, I would have been stoked with just a high five and a hug but Jorge really knows how to show emotions.  It is such a beautiful gesture.

As if this isn’t enough, my darling friend, Amanda, swings by.  She spends time chatting with my neighbors that I actually think might be sisters.  They are such a part of my life.  Amanda came over just to “visit.”  Just before leaving she gives me her favorite hat with bling and her favorite necklace with an ‘M’ on it (for Mandy).  These might not seem like much to anyone else but to me they  are tender mercies.  Amanda isn’t someone that gives of her possessions freely.  She is kind and quick to offer help whenever someone needs it.  She likes doing services but this was an act of true kindness, something from her heart, equally as impressive as the dedicated artwork from Jorge.

I can’t believe what it feels like to be surrounded by the tender mercies that the Lord has so abundantly given me and my family.  Jorge tells a story about running his first marathon.  I can’t remember how far into it he was but he recieved a text from Amanda.  Three simple words that have become a montra for our friendship “You Got This.”  I have often thought about how many times  my Father in Heaven has looked in on me and my family to find us struggling with some trial and thought “You Got This.”

Well, as I prepare for the first day of my cancer treatments, whatever they are, I say to all those who may read this…I GOT THIS.  I have this because of the faith of others, the prayers of everyone, the support of friends, the love of family, the hope of my kids, the belief of my husband…but I know in those moments when I stumble and I doubt, all of you will be there.  I know that all of you, as Jorge would say, “got me when I don’t feel like I got it.”  Luckily, the Lord already knows that I do…that is why he sent me such tender mercies.  When you see me,  whether for my benefit or yours, I’d appreciate a quick reminder…”We Got This.”  And yes, its a ‘we’ not an ‘I’…I need you all for this now.

Marvel’s Avengers

I had to see Dr. Lemon today. He’s the surgeon that installed my port.  Side note: a port is a little device now mounted into my left chest with a tube that runs up and links into my jugular at my neck. It’s designed for things like dialysis and chemotherapy.  Anyway, when Dr. Lemon asked how things were or if I was having any problems with my port, I energetically explained that I think mine is broken. I then went on to explain that I was under the impression that he was installing the Arch Reactor and that I’d have a heart like Ironman.  However, mine has no lights.  Dr. Lemon just replied, “uh, funny.”   

 I’m actually getting a little excited to start this whole cancer treatment thing. I’m a huge Marvel’s Average fan. I have now had my Ironman heart installed. The future Gamma Ray radiation is surely going to leave me with Hulk-like characteristics. Chemotherapy trials will pump me full of experimental things that I’m hoping leave me with Captain American’s invincibility. My dear brother-in-law just equipped me with new eyewear, thus leaving me the closest I will ever be to Hawkeye.  I lack only the “special skills” of Black Widow and to stumble upon the hammer of Thor.  Oddly enough, Thor has my old hair.  

 
What do super heroes have that I don’t?  They require some type of unusual training, power, or ability to conquer evil.  I need faith, the prayers of good people, and encouragement.  I am a superhero and I don’t need my heart to light up to know that.  I know it because I see the hearts of those around me light up.  In the days ahead I will need encouragement. I will need reminders that there is hope, and comic relief.  Be not afraid of the challenge I face. See it has a chance to rise up, find your inner hero, and bless the lives of everyone you can. The more hearts we see light up, the more mine feels lightened.  And right now I could use all the burdens lightened that can be.  

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Looking Better

My friend, Amanda, is home from Mexico. I was so happy to see her.  Oddly enough, I’m convinced that her going to Mexico carries with it a bizarre curse. Every time she goes something bad happens here.  I don’t blame her for my cancer…it’s clearly Mexico’s fault. However, having her home and hearing the amazing, not to mention insanely traumatizing, experiences she has had in the past three months is such a great reminder to me that a prayer, even one made sincerely from a little church somewhere in Mexico on my behalf, has made a huge difference.  If any of you are wondering if your prayers are felt or needed or matter, the answer is most emphatically YES. Everyone’s prayer and every drop of faith matters. It matters to me. It matters to Josué. It matters to my kids. We feel them. We are carried through the day by the hope that has been gifted to us as your faithful prayers embrace our lives.  Seeing my friend, hearing her voice, feeling her spirit was a precious gift today. Welcome home, Amanda.

Sadly, I am one of those people that it takes a seriously unfortunate event to get me to commit to things like family pictures. In the nearly 15 years of marriage we have never had family pictures, excluding when my entire family did it for my mom (which I still have never seen).  I could never commit to clothing color schemes or the idea of having to update the darn thing because of how fast my kids would grow. I can probably list another four or five reasons. Josué and I were excited to go today. Our friend, Stephanie Carson (big shout out to her for her work – it’s beautiful) took our first family pictures. We didn’t do anything fancy for clothes. We went with what we could find in our closets. I had to keep taking my glasses off to pretend I had good eyes. Josué, Maximo and I all have the same haircut and used the same styling gel to get ready.  We were freezing but I’m stoked!  We have pictures as a family.  Funny how something that used to seem like a commitment takes on new meaning when your perception of time shifts a bit.  I seriously doubt that in the afterlife I’ll care what we wore in family pictures, but those still living value those pictures very differently. We only have one family picture with my dad. It was taken because one of us kids was selling them as a school fundraiser.  Dang him, after today I realize how many memories he missed out on making. 

So, as a quick recap of the day. My friend is home from the voodoo land of Mexico and family pictures are a great thing.  All this because of flaming cancer…things are starting to look better. 

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Leaving early Monday morning. 

It’s official!  We meet with Doctor Khong (like King King or Donkey Kong depending on your preference) at 9am.  We have been instructed to pack for “a couple of weeks” but it could be only a few days depending on the initial reviews. That part is still up in the air.  Who cares?!?   We are going. Dr Adams, my oncologist in Idaho Falls, is stoked.  We have 6 days to have as much organized and ready to go possible so that the next 6 months to a year run as smooth as possible. I feel relieved about the acceptance, scared about the treatment, and grateful for the distraction of the stress to be ready to go.  

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