Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Story of Survival and Faithfulness ~ and a Freebie for You

I want to share a story with you.  I believe I have something important to say, so I hope you read this, and I’ll try to be concise and not ramble.  
I’ve been away from designing for several months due to some health issues.  On Valentine’s Day, I got a call from my doctor after a biopsy, informing me that I had breast cancer - invasive lobular carcinoma, to be specific.  
It took several days to sink in.  I had cancer? Are you kidding me?  I felt completely fine and in fact was probably in the best shape I’ve ever been in my whole life.  This could not be happening.  I was lost, waiting for the next step.  Within a couple of days, the hospital called and said that because of my type of cancer, I needed to have an MRI done.  They were checking other parts of my body for cancer, and taking a very close look at my other breast.  The hard part was I had to wait three weeks to have this MRI done because the clearest results would show up within a window of time after finishing my cycle.  Those three weeks were the longest I’ve ever lived through.  It felt like three years.
During that waiting period, I had to tell my family and close friends what was happening.  I was, of course, most worried about my children.  They are all young adults, but as all mothers can relate, we want to protect our kids from pain and worry.  My eldest son  lives about an hour away, and I had to “summon” him home so we could talk in person.  I wanted all my boys to physically see me and know that even though we were unsure of the complete diagnosis, I was okay and would handle this.  My oldest son, Joey, knew something was wrong when he asked if one of his friends can come home with him, and I said it’s best he come alone this time.  He has NEVER heard that from me, and in fact often brings people home for a visit.  So that flagged him that something was amiss.
I got through letting all the people know that I had to tell “live.”  My family, my sister, my close friends, my amazing church family all became my my rock.  It was humbling for me, in a way.  *I* was the caretaker, not the other way around. 
I was hurting pretty badly for my husband, and it was frustrating not being able to fix this.  He lost his first wife to breast cancer when she was very young, only a few years after giving birth to their second son.  My husband was outwardly supportive and tried to remain positive, but I could see the fear in his eyes.  Looking through the lens of his experience, he couldn’t help it.
Somehow, I got through all the diagnostics and consultations, and with my doctors' guidance we agreed on a treatment plan.  In a nutshell - my cancer appeared to be localized in one breast (thank you, Jesus, that it wasn’t worse!) and my treatment would be a lumpectomy, followed by a course of radiation therapy.  Chemotherapy and hormone therapy were to be determined based on the pathology results after surgery.
My praise report is this:  The pathology came back, and I was at Stage I (very early cancer).  The “margins” from the lumpectomy were all clear, and the cancer did not travel to my lymph nodes.  I would NOT need chemotherapy, and after several meetings with my medical oncologist following radiation, she left it up to me about whether or not to take hormone therapy.  In my case, I decided against it because it was only a very slight advantage as to non-recurrence of the cancer, or developing a new one.  Because the drug itself can have some pretty serious side affects, I decided the benefit wasn’t work the risk.  That’s just in MY situation.  I know of many women who absolutely should be (and are) taking it.  
My prognosis is excellent at this point, and I have two reasons for sharing all this publicly.  First, I want to stress the importance of getting your annual mammograms, ladies.  My cancer was caught this way.  I never felt a lump - in fact, I didn’t even have a lump.  Mine was a very small “cluster” of abnormal cells.  I would never have knows there was a problem, except for that mammogram.  With any cancer, early detection makes ALL the difference in your treatments and prognosis.   Cancer does not have to be a death sentence. 
Second, I want to express my thankfulness at how God is so faithful, and carried me through this.  For the most part, I remained pretty positive, but there were certainly a few days here and there when I felt down about what I was going through, and scared.  Surgery was manageable but the side affects of radiation was exhausting and sometimes painful.  I saw a little thing on Pinterest that I loved, and it became my mantra:  Let you faith be stronger than your fear.  I wouldn’t allow myself to think too far into the future.  On those days when it became a battle to control my thoughts, I’d remind myself, “His grace is sufficient - for today.”    
I am a Christian, and now was the time to really put my beliefs into practice.  I prayed a lot - not necessarily for healing, although that’s what I hoped for - but mostly for peace and the ability to handle everything with grace.  I didn’t know what my outcome would be, but one thing I did know was I would be bold about my faith.  I talked about it whenever I could - to other patients, my doctors, nurses, and technicians, people in my support group, people from church, basically to whomever would listen.  My hope was to encourage others.  
Listening to worship music brought me peace and comfort, as did reading devotions and scriptures.  Talking to my sister and my cousin helped me so much.  My friend Genie, whose husband is living with a type of non-curable lymphoma, helped keep everything in perspective.  My friends were amazing... they made me laugh and kept me distracted.  My friend and co-worker, Sarah, checked in with me every single day for a “briefing” about how I was feeling that day.  Love her so much, as I do all the people who helped me though this time.  My personal trainer, Khrys... workout partners, etc... were invaluable in helping me stay positive and keeping a sense of normalcy, right up until my surgery date.  Prayers, cards and emails from around the world poured in from my extended family, fellow digital designers, and other friends.  
I felt the impact of how blessed I truly was.  God put the people in my life who I needed right at this time, to support and love me through this.  I am so grateful!  About the same time I learned of my diagnosis, another friend from church also was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Both of us happen to be on our worship team.  While I was NOT happy that another woman had to go through this, at least we could lean on each other.  Our paths have been almost exactly parallel - same treatment, same staging, and we’re counting on the same positive prognosis.  Here’s a photo of us at the Komen Race for the Cure last May.  My family has done this race many times, but never did it occur to me that one day I’d be wearing the pink shirt.
My friend Michelle and me ~ I'm on the left

Some of my family and me

I hear some women say that cancer was a good thing in their lives, for various reasons.    For me, I can’t actually say that.  Truth be told, I would have rather not have gone through this.  BUT... I can say I’ve had some positive outcomes and realizations.  I fully know how much I’m loved because I got to see it every single day.  I have become friends some strong, inspiring women, other survivors on this journey.   I appreciate every day on this earth.  I can “let the little things go” much more easily now.  I don’t pass up opportunities to tell people I love them.  (Okay, I always did that anyhow but now it is even more meaningful to me.)  I know I’m never alone - Christ is ALWAYS there to lift me up.  
Today, I feel amazing.  I’m back to my regular, full schedule (I love routine!).  I got the go-ahead a couple of weeks ago to get back into my workouts, so I’m back in bootcamp classes, playing tennis a couple times a week, and biking.  Movement is so good for the body, mind, and spirit!  
I’m turning 50 years old in a few days.  I have to be honest, at the beginning of the year I was a little depressed about the 50-year milestone.  It just sounds so much older than I feel.  But you know what?  I am happy to be here now, turning 50.  A few months ago I wasn't sure I'd be around to see this birthday.  I am reminded of an old adage, “Be grateful for getting older.  It’s a privilege denied to many.”  I think about that, and I think about my husband’s first wife, and it really does put me in check.  Attitude is everything.
I don’t know what my future holds.  Maybe the cancer will return, maybe it won’t.  But I’m not going to let uncertainty steal joy from today.  Today is all we really have, after all.
Thank you all for bearing with me during my healing hiatus.  My creative mojo got up and left me last Valentine’s Day, when I got that call from the doctor, and all my energy was turned towards dealing with and healing..  But I’m getting back into designing again and it feels pretty darn good.  My DSS store is temporarily “on hold” and I want to keep it that way until I have something new to offer, which will hopefully be pretty soon.  My 3Scrapateers store is still open right now, as is MyMemories.  I am going to leave you with a template freebie for now.

(I apologize that the file name says June2012 - my actual intention was to post this freebie at the end of June. Oh well.)
Here's a sample layout I made using this freebie template, and my California Dreamin' kit:

God bless, enjoy your freebie, and I'll be back soon! :)