I woke up this morning and walked to the kitchen slowly on my own for a glass of water. Passing the living room, I glanced at the couch and noticed the empty room. Dark and quiet again after the fullness of life and activity camped out for a week. Everyone has gone back home now. All that’s left behind are two refrigerators full of food, a heap of blankets, pillows piled on the couch and half empty water bottles standing by crumpled candy wrappers. It was a seven-day slumber party with loved ones who were brave and willing to lay on the couch with me. The doors were left wide wide open to let the cool breeze in. We snuggled under blankets, watched movie after movie and ate ALL DAY LONG! I can’t imagine recovering from a double mastectomy any other way. Who else besides sisters and brother can make fun of the way you got yourself out of trouble as a teenager or how bad you stink because you haven’t had a bath in two days? Pictures were pulled out, the camera lens cover is still off and there are DVDs longing for their place back in their cases. All reminding me of the love, laughter and strength found in a family. The last flight left yesterday at 6pm with a final good-bye text from my brother who said that they were flying over our home. Yes, the angels were flying over us and he is one of them. It’s four days after surgery and there is so much to report. I hope I can straighten out the flurry of events that happened last week and remember everything. It was a week that I was completely buffered from the reality of cancer and surgery. I found out first hand that love and fear can not be present at the same time. God opened up the flood gates from Heaven and showered His love upon us as His people were stirred to be near us and pray for us. We were sheltered as a family and covered. Every need that I could hope for was met; even the needs that I didn’t know I had were met! So please bear with me as I walk you through the last week of events that will amaze you as they have amazed us!
It was the Saturday morning before surgery when the phone rang in the morning. Really all I had to do for the day was a little laundry and house cleaning. I knew that we would have company over the week and in typical fashion I wanted the house to be clean. Mom was on the other end of the line letting me know that she was at the airport ready to board her flight for Las Vegas. That doesn’t seem unusual, but I actually thought she was coming the Saturday after surgery. Oh my gosh! I was so happy! What a surprise. The days were all so full of details and decisions that I couldn’t be happier that I was shocked. I had planned to fiddle around the house the whole day only to make an hour chore out of it and quickly get to the airport for our special arrival. Before she hung up she murmured that we had her for a week! I whispered to myself that it was my turn, finally my turn…. unfortunately my turn. My mom is really my step mom. We really don’t go into full explanation when we introduce one another to our friends and acquaintances. Instead, you will see that we make direct eye contact with one another and smile BIG when someone questions; your mom looks so young? I’m really only 12 years younger but, she’s still the only woman who dared to love me during those rebellious teenage years. She gave me years of belonging as she took me in her fold and claimed me as her own. My mom helped me understand and forgive the woman who gave birth to me, because my birth mother didn’t have all that it took to mother me. God had a perfect plan to match us up. Because of the power of her unyielding love, I have made it my purpose to keep my wings open wide, pay it forward and love every child as my own who finds themselves in my reach. My mom came to Las Vegas early to prepare me for the sacrifice I was about to make. She listened more than she spoke. She took my side. She took up my defense. She reminded me who I was and turned the last few years of defeat into strength. She told me the truth, I am defined by my boobs, that was my womanhood…. until now. Now, more would be required of me. She told me that she came so I could cry. She prepared me for battle, sent me off with a note pinned to my chest telling of her mighty prayers that had girded up more than one of her children over the years. She has six. Now, we have all had our turn to have her by our side during life’s threats. I’ve watched and learned and I want to be that kind of mom.
Embracing cancer is like putting together a 5000 piece puzzle. It takes more than a week. You put it together one piece at a time and each piece is examined to find its perfect fit. Brief moments are taken to refocus on the big picture and gain perspective. If I accept this mastectomy that means that I accept that I have cancer. That’s like putting together the inside pieces before you put together the border. By the way, that’s cancer will a lowercase c. I’ve decided that it doesn’t deserve a capital c. The surgery marks the beginning of the battle inside of me. I can hardly believe that I have the little “c”. How do I wrap my mind around a mastectomy when I can’t even believe that I have c….? Hum.
It’s the eve of my surgery and I’m not ready yet, not ready I tell ya!!!! I don’t want to do this. I’m just not ready. Oh my God! Big picture, cancer un treated kills. Little puzzle piece, I’m alive today and don’t feel anything. Big picture, it’s going to be a long year of treatment, maybe hair loss and hopefully reconstruction. Little picture, they are going to CUT OFF my boobs tomorrow?!!!!
It’s the eve of my battle and new troops have flown into Las Vegas to bring support. My brother, his wife and children have arrived. We’ve busied ourselves preparing for their arrival by assembling taco night! No one was very hungry though. We shelled out small plates, made small talk and small bites were taken before we cleaned up. Looks like we’ll be eating tacos and that chicken enchilada dish for days to come!
After my brother took his family to a hotel for a night’s rest I sat up with my husband, daughter, son and mother and made my last not ready yet plea… I’m still not ready and there is no more time to get ready. We held hands and prayed. I heard the most gentle requests from our kids that Jesus would help me because I was seeking Him. I don’t think I will ever forget the power of their prayers that night as I lay down to sleep and apologized to my husband that cancer in my breasts was about to affect our life as husband and wife in a gigantic way. He told me that one day I would understand how much he loves me and how little it would affect our life as a couple.
There was little sleep that night. I fell asleep around 1am and woke up again at 4am. What the heck, I was about to be knocked out and get plenty of rest for the next few days! Early in the morning I stumbled to a computer and found a message on Facebook from someone who knew of me but didn’t know me personally. She said that she couldn’t sleep and that she was awake and praying for my surgeon. I gratefully responded to her that I was up praying for my surgeon as well! Boy, I was glad that the Lord woke someone else up to pray with me! I came to find out that several people were up that morning praying for my surgeon. In the midst of it all I remembered a scripture that one of my friends shared with me in Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; Do not be afraid nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
That was it! That was what I needed. I could hear the power and reprimand in that scripture. It was God convincing me to Trust in Him. I repeated over and over… ” Have I not commanded you?…” At last, I found the right puzzle piece to move forward. Just in time to leave for the hospital.
The day of the surgery was pretty remarkable when you consider that I checked in at 7:30am and checked out at 3pm! That’s right I’m not kidding.. bilateral (double) mastectomy! Vomit bowl under chin and cold wash cloth on my forehead and away we went on our way home. Looking back, it was kind of funny when I think about my poor husband who was trying to get me home quickly; the faster he went the more I got sick!
I think the most intimate moment I have ever experienced with my husband was in the recovery room. I remember looking up out of my fog and seeing that wonderful face with his charming smile looking back at me. He just kept saying, I love you. I couldn’t say much because my voice hadn’t returned yet, but I was telling him with my eyes that I loved him too. I made it! Here I am! Almost in one piece and I’m so grateful that you are here waiting for me! There was so much to tell him about my experience since I had last seen him hours ago when he left pre-op. My surgeon picked up my hand and held it like he was holding it as they wheeled my bed into the operating room and once we got there she didn’t let go. The nurse was setting everything up and she just continued to hold onto my hand, caressing it until she leaned over and softly spoke…goodnight Sheri. I remember as they wheeled me in the operating room that it was very cold. The radio was playing oldies and Team Boobie was in good cheer. My doctor, nurse and anesthesiologist were a team who worked together frequently on breast cancer patients. They called themselves Team Boobie, I called them my All Girl Rock Band. The chill of the operating room was sobering. Instantly I snapped out of vanity and became very aware of what was really happening. Team Boobie was not taking off my breasts. They were saving my life. Oh God, I have cancer. Please get it ALL! Take it all! Then Joshua 1:9 ran through my mind and over my lips. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid nor dismayed for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” That’s what I was repeating when the lights went out.
When the lights came back on there was my husband waiting patiently to tell me he loved me. I was only home a few hours when my sisters got in town. One of my sisters is a nurse and going to school to be a P.A. Whew, thank goodness because I tend to be a nervous nilly about everything. But, she was there to keep track of medicine and to help measure and drain the tubes. It was like having my own personal doctor! I was so happy to not be in the hospital! By the end of the day my whole family and close friends had stopped by to say hello. It was a celebration. I am officially a cancer survivor!
It’s been a couple of days since the surgery and I can’t believe how well I am getting around. Not ready to run a marathon, but still I am walking on my own and can change my clothes. All the instructions say that I can’t use my arm on the side of the mastectomy. So, since it’s both sides I’m using more ab muscles than I remember having in the past. Oh.. I’m so sore!
Time for my first sponge bath. Until now I haven’t had the courage to remove a big heavy sweater that I put on as soon as I got home from the hospital in fear that I might see my profile. With my head upside down in the kitchen sink my sisters and I started with a shampoo. We worked our way back to my bathroom where pretty sheets were hanging over the mirrors. My daughters were so sweet to cover all the mirrors in my bathroom so I didn’t have to look until I was ready. I slowly un buttoned my sweater and started to peel of the security blanket. Then off came the shirt. Wrapped around my chest was a huge bandage that went horizontally from one arm pit to another and reached down to my last set of ribs. The shape was flat. Completely flat. I couldn’t see underneath the bandages, only the shape. None. With my bottom lip quivering one of my sisters started to soap up the wash cloth. I had to unhook the drainage tubes that were pinned to my pants. While the tubes were still attached to me I handed them to my other sister. So, the three of us that day, in my bathroom, nurtured the body that was left after surgery. With little strength I sat down on a vanity bench and allowed to tears to come and the moaning to be heard. I’ll never forget looking up at one sister and seeing her with draining tubes in her hand that were connected to my body and watching mascara run down her face as she grieved for me while the other sister stood behind me softly and gently brushed out my tangled wet hair, telling me that it’s going to be okay. Then my husband tip-toed in with a cup of hot tea, taking over the hair brush. He and I took the time we needed to reassure one another that we made a good decision and that everything was going to be alright. With clean clothes and freshly washed hair I enjoyed a day on the patio in perfect 60 degree temperatures, sun shining on a new horizon.
Don’t you just love it when you get the same scripture verse more than once? I do! I recently received a beautiful card in the mail from a relative who sent her love and some supportive scripture hand written in the card. One of the verses she wrote was: Isaiah 41:10
I found it again in my own handwriting taped to the hutch on my desk. What an incredible reminder that God is with me. I can not describe the fear that over comes me when I forget that simple precept. It’s like Peter who was called to get out of the boat and walk on water. The moment he was distracted by an oncoming wave he took his eyes off of Jesus and began to sink. That’s what happens to me! When I take my eyes off of God I forget the confidence I have in Him who has gone before me and whispers behind me telling me which way to go.
That fear is exactly what I experienced a few days ago when we received some bad news. Originally, the pathologist in the surgery room found no trace of cancer in my lymph nodes and we delighted ourselves with celebration and joy. But, when the official pathology report came back it was indeed in the sentinel lymph node. It was micro metastases. I didn’t know what that meant so I conjured up my own definition, which was not a good scenario. It created fear and trembling and a sleepless night. But after I saw the doctor, I realized that it wasn’t as bad as I had dreamed up. It was a tiny 1mm speck and she is confident that it can be annihilated through radiation. I think I have figured out that when I stay within the realms of what God has prepared me for then I am at perfect peace. When I wonder off in my own imagination then I seem to get on a roller coaster with no seat belt.
The front of the card said, God is before you, God is behind you, God is over you and God is in you.
From here on out I will remember that if I get that frightened again, then God simply isn’t in it. Amen.
Just in the nick of time! My application for pre-existing insurance was approved and starting Feb 1 I will have insurance! Thank you God. This means that at the exact time I have to start treatment, I will be insured.
Here’s the information. Please pass it on!
www.pciplan.com Call this number 1-800-220-7898
- You must be a US citizen. I think legal residents are eligible as well
- You must have a pre-existing illness
- You can’t have had insurance in the last 6 months
The monthly rates are reasonable and the total out-of-pocket cost is approx 7,000. After that 100% coverage. It takes about 3-4 weeks to be approved. This is part of the Obama Health Care Plan.