Sunday, July 12, 2009

1st Cancerversary

Sorry I haven't blogged in a while. It's hard to want to sum up the events of the last year, so it continually has gotten pushed to the back burner...

On 27 June 2008 we knew it could be bad, really bad.

We had the car packed and boys strapped in. We were ready for the Stanley Family Reunion, but we had one stop to make before heading up the canyon. I had an appointment for a mammogram and ultrasound. I had had a 1-inch "bruise" that hadn't gone away in three weeks and was remarkably symmetrical. I remember the nurse being puzzled as to why this would be cause for a work-up, but after seeing the mammogram results, she ushered me to the ultrasound room without hesitation. I remember the ultrasound tech scanning for less than a minute before getting the doctor. There was a possibility of a much less serious diagnosis, but the doctor was 90+% sure it was Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC). I will always be grateful that I had an interventional radiologist who knew what IBC was and properly diagnosed me right away. Unfortunately, this is not the case for most women with IBC.

As we drove up the canyon toward Heber City for family vacation, I remember calling my parents and asking my dad to google IBC. He was able to locate the information and quickly learned of the devastating nature of the cancer before reading aloud all of the terrible details. He told us enough for us to understand the deadliness of the disease, but spared us some of the trauma.

I remember crying the entire time as we drove to family vacation. When we arrived at Heber Valley Girl's Camp, we decided not to say anything to the family to avoid taking away from the fun family time that vacation brings. We had a great time during the day but at night I soaked my pillow all alone, as Bruce lie awake across the cabin (that we shared with 3 other Stanley families) with Ryker (17 months). We so badly needed to be together, but in a strange environment, Ryker would not settle down by himself.

As family vacation came to a close, we informed everyone of our "bad news" and I asked Bruce's brother, Michael, for a priesthood blessing because Bruce was too emotional. As the Stanley men laid their hands on my head I couldn't contain my sorrow and tears. I wish that I had someone write down the blessing because the only thing I heard is that I wasn't promised a cure...

On 1 July 08, upon returning from vacation I had a biopsy and the results confirmed it was IBC. I remember Janene was at my house watching the boys. I was coming home from after discharging my last home health patient and knew we were expecting the results by 2 pm. It was a little before 2:00 when I pulled in the driveway and saw Bruce's car. Just seeing his car, I knew it wasn't good news. The sadness I felt was like I experienced a death of a family member.

As a look back on the past 377 days, I can say with complete confidence that I have cried myself to sleep close to 300 of those nights. I do remarkably well during the day and enjoy it to the fullest, but when I am tired the reality of my broken heart is too much. Having said that, I want everyone, especially my boys, to know that God comforts me each night as I pray and count the blessings I have be given and continue to thoroughly enjoy. As a matter of fact, through my cancer I have gained a greater appreciation of the presence of the Lord in all things in my life.

As I reflect back on the rest of the year I have been blessed beyond measure with amnestic, foggy memories. I think that is a mix of both a blessing from God and a conscious choice to help myself cope and live each day happily.

This year can read like a bad box score. 12 consecutive weeks of Taxol and Herceptin with every fourth week adding Zometa. Two weeks later I underwent a bilateral mastectomy with right axillary dissection, followed a week later with a total thyroidectomy and anterior neck dissection down to my aorta. Upon partial recovery, I continued chemo with 4 bi-weekly treatments of A/C (the Red Devil). During the holiday season, I celebrated my last A/C treatment the day before Thanksgiving and completed 3 1/2 weeks of radiation treatments (given twice daily) a few days into the New Year. Soon after my radiation was over, I endured what I consider to be one of the worst times of this years. For almost a month I was off of all thyroid medication--no energy or metabolism and an overwhelming feeling like crap. All of that for a tiny $10,000 sip of radioactive iodine. After regaining some strength and enjoying a time with hair, I bribed the doctors into giving me a third course of chemo which consisted of Taxol, Cytoxin, Herceptin, and Zometa administered every other week for 12 weeks. During those 12 weeks my hair had thinned, but a couple of days after my last treatment it really started to fall out and I lost my hair for the second time.

Although my treatments and surgeries have been extensive, I have been blessed beyond measure with an unbelievable ability to tolerate chemo, surgeries, radiation, and radioactivity without too much sickness or other side effects.

I have been supported and served by my family beyond comprehension. Bruce has be a source of great encouragement and comfort. Our relationship has been fortified as we have fought this fight together, side by side. My boys are sweeter than ever. Their loving hugs, prayers, and continuous drawings and crafts bring a smile to my face and lift my spirits. I am so grateful for the sacrifice of my parents, especially my mom, as they came to live with us and help with our day to day life. My dad has been wonderful with his wisdom, advice, perspective and medical know-how. I am grateful that my relationships with my siblings has been strengthened. My brother, Jeff and his family have really made an effort to call to check in frequently and to come to assist when we need help on a project. My sister is my best friend and is just a phone call away. I am so appreciative of all of her efforts and sacrifice on my behalf and I am grateful for all of her day-trips up to Layton so that she could spend extra time with me and the boys. My brother Paul has been so kind and thoughtful. I can't even count how many times he has come over to check up on me with a fun balloon and Ben and Jerry's in hand. I will always cherish the time that Rick and Page spent with us as they returned to the states from Cambodia right after my diagnosis. I look forward to their calls and emails.

I am so grateful and amazed at the love shown to our family by our friends, both near and far, and ward family. Throughout this past year there have always been willing hands to bring us meals and take care of the boys. I'm especially grateful to Sue and Kim for not only taking care of my boys, but also loving them. We have also been blessed with countless meals, treats, flowers, cards, phone calls, emails, and most importantly prayers in our behalf.

The week of my 1st Cancerversary was really difficult. I began consistently crying myself to sleep at night. Then one day Bruce asked me that if he would have told me when I got diagnosed that I'd have a clean PET scan a year later, how would I feel? That put things in back into perspective and my gratitude surged.

In deed this has been a long, but blessed year. I know without the healing hand of God and the love and support of our family and friends, this year would have been unbearable. But instead, our family is happy and the PET scan even says we are healthy :)!

Thanks and much love to you all. We appreciate each of you as we continue to fight this fight. Here's to many more cancerveraries!!!

love, Jeanel