Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fear NOT

I was reading my short daily devotion today while waiting for my first radiation treatment and this was today's reading:

If you have a problem with fear and worry, I can tell you exactly where it came from! Christians who have downloaded fear and worry onto their mental hard drive get their primary information from the devil himself. Let me be blunt here - you are listening to the wrong voice! Press the mute button and open the Bible!

The Greek word for "fear" in both the Ancient Hebrew and the Greek, implies a fleeing or a running away from something or someone. So, when the Bible instructs us to "fear not" it is in essence saying, "Don't run away!" Very few of us actually run away physically from a situation that frightens us, but where we actually run away is in our minds.

The words "fear not" appear in tandem at least 144 times in the Bible! And when the Bible says "fear not," it means do not run away. When you are afraid or worried, rather than running away, you need to run forward into all that God has for you. The reason that Satan tries to give you a spirit of fear is so that you will run away from the blessings and power of God. The opposite of running away is pressing forward. When you are a son or a daughter of the Most High God and know the reality of serving Christ, you press forward. Do not linger over another thought that comes from the father of all lies but press on toward the goal!

If you are running scared, you are running backwards into your past and away from the arms of God. If you are pressing ahead, you are moving toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus!

Knowing that you have not been given a spirit of fear from God, what has God given to you? He has given to you a spirit of power and love and a sound mind. Your mind needs to receive the message that you are one powerful chick! Did you know that the devil knows that you are powerful? He just doesn't want you to know that you are powerful! Declare it today - out loud - and unafraid:

I will not run scared but I will press forward into all that God has for me!

***This was written by Carol McLeod for Just Joy Ministries***

This was one of those God moments where I read just the right thing at just the right time. I was scared, and wanted to run away, but He reminded me that fear is not from Him, and He gave me the strength I needed to face my fears.

And so far, so good, radiation treatment #1/5 went just fine, it was over before I even realized it started, and I'm back and work and feeling fine! (Except I feel like I'm getting a cold! Boooooo!! AND I'm waiting for my radiation induced super powers to kick in, I haven't gotten any yet)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Blah Blah Blah

As it stands right now (which I've learned can change at any moment), tomorrow (Thurs) I officially become a "cancer patient". I haven't felt like one yet, even though I've had appointments with oncologists and had surgery to remove said cancer. But tomorrow is my first radiation treatment and I feel like that changes everything. Part of me is so resistant to radiation and drug treatment, and I think it's because I feel like this forces me to admit that I am a cancer patient. I don't look like one, and I don't feel like one, and I really hope I never do (as selfish as that may sound), but I am.

I really have struggled with the decisions to move forward with treatment. It's not an easy decision, because treatment doesn't guarantee anything. I could do no treatment and be fine forever, or I could do anything and everything, and have recurrance. So I go back and forth between wanting to just leave it all to chance, and wanting to do everything I can. I feel like I'm wrong for even thinking about not doing anything, when I have the opportunity to and others don't. But I also don't want to reduce my quality of life, I want to be able to do all the stuff I could do (and more) before surgery and treatment. I want to run the Thanksgiving 1/2 marathon with my Daddy, I want to torture myself through 12 miles of mud and obstacles in the Tough Mudder in December with my ATF Lakewood crew, I want to run the 26.2 with Donna (but only 13.1 of it!) in February in honor of those I know who have battled breast cancer. I can't even imagine not running the River Run in March with my ATF Jax run club buddies. I want to jump up and grab the pull up bar and be able to do pull ups again. And of course I want to have fun & hang out with friends & family. And then I think that these are silly concerns next to the possibility of facing cancer again. And then I think that there's nothing wrong with wanting to live my life and do all these things. So basically, my brain is a huge mess right now! (more than usual.....)

Bottom line is, there's no way to know for sure which decision is right, so I have to just make the best choice I can, and at this point, I feel like I should take advantage of the opportunities I've been given. I've prayed about it, and although I'm not happy about having to do the radiation and immunotherapy (drug treatment), I feel ok about the decision. I'm becoming a little less freaked out about all of it, at least right now. Talk to me again tomorrow when I'm about to have the first treatment, and later in Oct/early Nov when I'm getting ready for immunotherapy :-)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

You Never Know

I'm not in a great mood today. There's no particular reason, I just have days where I feel like the weight of everything is pushing me down and I just want to go back to bed and try again tomorrow.

I said that to say this: You never know what someone else is going through or dealing with at any given moment. Whether they are a stranger, an acquaintance, someone you know from work or school, or a family member or friend, you don't know everything, and in some cases, you don't know anything about them. I've thought about that a lot lately, and I don't think going through personal hardships gives you the right to treat anyone badly, but sometimes people just need a little extra grace. Most of the time, good mood or bad, I still have a smile on my face, and I appear to be pretty healthy - and I AM pretty healthy! - and no one would ever in a million years guess the things that I am stressed over. That's really helped me to realize that when we encounter other people as we go through our day, we have no idea what battles they are facing. So rather than focus on the negative, or think to ourselves (or say out loud) how stupid or inconsiderate or ignorant someone must be, maybe we should have compassion for others instead.

To sum it up: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle" - Plato

And, in reference to my bad mood: "When I'm sad, I stop being sad and be awesome instead" - Barney Stinson, How I Met Your Mother :-)

PS - I got a call from Mayo Clinic today letting me know that they took care of the whole insurance/clinical trial thing, and it will be covered. I didn't even talk to my oncologist about it, just mentioned it to my Radiation Oncologist and she was on it! Not only did someone in the finance department call, my oncologist called me as well. I really love those people. Of course this means the decision is back in my hands....

Monday, September 17, 2012

Decisions, Decisions

So, I posted Friday that I'd found out that the insurance company wouldn't cover my participation in a clinical trial, and I was at peace with that because I felt a difficult decision had been made for me. Well, Friday afternoon at my Radiation Oncology appointment, Dr. V, my "RadOnc" told me that the insurance company would automatically deny anything they can, and that Dr. J, my regular Oncologist, could probably open those doors back up for me. Which means the decision could possibly be back in my hands. Sigh. I'm terrible at making decisions, and I have documentation to prove that :).  So I am praying, and ask you to pray with me, that God either keeps this door shut, or continues to give me a peace about NOT pursuing drug treatment. I know drug therapy can be necessary, but my choices there are so limited. A well known drug that has a 3-5% success rate, or a lesser known, newer drug that probably will work better, but who knows what kind of long term side effects it'll have? And it definitely has some undesirable short term side effects. And nothing is a guarantee that the cancer won't come back somewhere else.

This is a huge problem with melanoma, the research is so limited, and most people, including me a short time ago, think it's no big deal, it's just your skin and you just cut that part off and move on. Not true! Your skin is your biggest organ, and melanoma is a sneaky little devil that travels through your body and hangs out just waiting to attach itself to an organ and start growing (that's not a complete medical description, that's Melissa's version). So anyway, there's not been as much research on melanoma as other cancers, and there's no tried and true treatments. (That is not to imply that other cancers are easily treated, or have guaranteed treatment, they obviously don't, but a lot of them have more research behind them)

I go Friday to schedule my radiation treatments (was supposed to be last Friday, but they scheduled the appointment for the wrong thing and I basically wasted a trip, good thing I'm so impressed with Mayo otherwise or I would have been really upset!) and then next Monday to talk with Dr J about this clinical trial deal, and regardless of what I decide, we'll be doing follow up scans soon.....fingers crossed for good results, I have a feeling my life will be in 3 month intervals for a while!

Thanks for the love and prayers, hugs and encouragement :)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Count Your Blessings

That old hymn popped in my head yesterday, and even though it's fairly cheesy, it has truth to it. We all have many blessings to count, no matter who you are or what you're going through. So today, I'm going to count my blessings. This list could be infinite so I'll just categorize!

1. My God, faith, and salvation. First and foremost, I believe God created each and every one of us for a purpose, and whenever I get stuck on the negative things in life, I try to remember that He is right there with me, and growth comes from the hardships. And everything else on this list is a blessing straight from God. 

2. My family. I genuinely love my entire family more than I can say. Whether we're related by blood, marriage, whatever, it doesn't matter. I love each and every one of them and am thankful that they are part of my life, whether I see and talk to them all the time, or not so often.  

3. My friends, old and new. I have had an insane amount of support from others, some of them I've known pretty much since birth, some that I barely know or don't know at all. They are probably all sick of hearing me talk about myself, (I know I'm sick of hearing me talk about myself!), but they don't complain, and even friends who are going through problems of their own take the time to ask about me and how I'm doing.

4. My overall health. Even with the whole cancer thing, I'm relatively healthy. I never had any major health problems in the first 33 years of my life, and being side tracked a little by all this reminds me that I'm so very lucky to have a healthy body and not have to live with chronic pain or disease. As a side note, today I'm thankful for sore muscles! Because it means I was able to work out. When I was in the middle of it, hating life, I reminded myself that I should be grateful that I CAN do this stuff!

5. My job. I have a good job, with good health insurance, and I have a great boss, who has been so understanding whenever I've had tough times to go through. I'm not one of those people who just loves my job, and can't wait to go to work, but I cannot even express how grateful I am for the job and for the person I work for. The rest of the guys I work with are pretty alright too :)

6. My 2nd job. I work part time at 2 different gyms, teaching cycling class and training clients. I do actually love this job, and love love love the people at both places, the staff, clients, and members. Every time I walk through the doors, I see plenty of smiling faces and I leave feeling great, not just because of the workout, but because the people are so awesome. Some of my personal heroes are people I've met through the gym.

7. All the material stuff. I try to remember to thank God on a regular basis for the fact that I woke up in a comfy bed, in a nice apartment, with A/C (or heat, during those 5 times in Florida we actually need it), had hot running water, put on nice clothes, got in my nice little baby Jeep that I love, and had a job to go to, that helps to provide all these little things I take for granted. Oh and food. Can't forget food. Not sure if that falls under material things, but I'll add it here anyway. Love me some food. It's easy to forget that there are those who don't have these comforts.

8. Closed doors. I found out yesterday that my insurance won't cover my participation in a clinical trial, which was what I was banking on to hopefully get a new cancer treatment that isn't widely available yet. It was already a big gamble, would I get into the clinical trial to begin with, would I get the new medicine that I wanted, or the old standard of care medicine (with a 3-5% success rate - boo!), would the medicine actually work, would the side effects be too awful, would there be more unknown long term side effects? Question after question. I was immediately upset when I found out I probably wouldn't be able to do the trial, then I just felt peace. Honestly, I wasn't 100% for the treatment, and every time I thought about them starting the IV and injecting me with chemicals, I had this sinking feeling, and could envision myself calling it off at the last second. I prayed the other day that if this wasn't the right thing for me to do, that God would just close the door, and after my initial reaction to the news, I realized that this could just be His way of doing just that. I've thought a little bit about other possibilities, but I'm just not at peace with the drug treatment. It's a hard call to make, and I felt like if I COULD get treatment, I owed it to myself and everyone who loves me to do it. So I feel like this choice might have been taken from me, because I was making the wrong one. There's no way to know for sure, but life is full of uncertainty right?

So, if anything could be taken from this, I guess it's that we all have our own things to be thankful for, and sometimes what might seem like bad news can be good, or at least have a positive outcome. Finding out I had cancer was obviously not something I was happy about, or thankful for, but there have been blessings that came out of it, and it hasn't even been that long. Sometimes I just wonder what great things could be down the road for me, that might not have happened if not for the negative things that life has thrown at me. I encourage everyone to be mindful daily of what you are thankful for in your own life, and what good has come out of the bad.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

My Story

In June 2011, at 33 years old, I was just about carefree and thought I was invincible. Then the "C" word came into my life. I had a mole biopsied (which EVERYONE said I should get checked out for a long time before I went to the dermatologist), and learned that not only was it melanoma, but it was possibly metastatic, and I would need a PET scan and lymph node biopsy to find out for sure. The scan came back all clear, which was a huge relief, and when I had surgery to remove the melanoma itself, they also biopsied the closest lymph nodes, and those came back all clear as well, another huge relief! A few weeks after the surgery, I was back to normal in the gym and the rest of my activities, and had a cool 5 inch scar on my shoulder that I was kinda proud of.

After a while, aside from visits to the dermatologist every 3 months, I sort of forgot about the whole scare and thought I was past it all, especially since there were no other moles the derm was too worried about. I also figured, they'll catch any new melanoma really fast, and slice it off, and it won't be too big a deal.

WRONG. In June 2012, I was at my one year mark since diagnosis, I was very hopeful that once again, nothing would be found to cause concern at my skin checkup, and I thought they'd tell me I could start coming every 6 months (I think I was wrong about that, regardless, but it's inconsequential). Well, skin was just fine, but as she checked my lymph nodes, as she did at every appointment, the derm felt a mass in the nodes under my left arm. She ordered an x-ray, bloodwork, and PET scan, and said I should make an appointment with an oncologist, and apparently this was all routine anyway, I just didn't know it. (That's a whole other story, for another day)

Even after this, I still wasn't THAT worried (apparently I'm pretty positive, who knew?), and I went and had my testing done, and just knew that I was fine. Yep, wrong again. A few weeks later, I got a call saying that my lymph nodes lit up in the PET scan, and a biopsy would need to be done to see what it was for sure. A week or so later, I got the dreaded news, the melanoma had spread to my lymph nodes, so more surgery would be needed, and most likely immunotherapy (cancer drug treatment) would be needed as well. In August, I had the surgery to remove all the lymph nodes under my left arm, and 5 weeks later, I'm recovering like a champ, if I do say so myself :).  I'll start radiation treatments soon, under the arm where lymph nodes were removed, and I'm hoping to get into a clinical trial for immunotherapy, where I could possibly get a new medicine that should work better than interferon, which is the current standard for melanoma.

So, to sum all this up: I tanned, not excessively, but I tanned. I did not go see the dermatologist like I should have. I got stage 2 melanoma, which is now stage 3b. It's not fun, it's something I have to worry about for the rest. of. my. life. GO GET YOUR SKIN CHECKED PEOPLE! Wear sunscreen, etc, obviously, but go get your skin checked, and while I'm on the subject, get everything else checked too, as appropriate for your age, gender, etc. Early detection is almost always the key. So that's my rant for now, and that's the #1 piece of advice I have to give to others.

I'll keep posting as I feel like it, about what's going on with me and how treatment goes (and any other random thing I feel like, b/c hey, it's MY blog!). It's been very helpful for me to read others' stories, so maybe someone will read mine someday and either save themselves a lot of trouble, or have a better idea of what they're in for, or something. If nothing else, at least it gives me an outlet to ramble as I see fit. Have a good one, don't take anything for granted, and be thankful for every new day. :)