May 30, 2010

The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. James 5:16


I am sure many of you have noticed that it has been over a month since my last update. During the last month, I felt like God was showing me some things, shifting me a bit. I didn't know for sure what it all meant and therefore wasn't sure what to write about. I wasn't experiencing any new problems really, but I still felt as if I was being prepared for something that was coming. Now I know what that thing was.

Mike and I left last Sunday evening around 6:30 pm to make the 7 hour drive out to Chicago. One reason we drove this time is because I believed God was perhaps telling me that we might be there longer than we were expecting, and it would be less stressful if we had our own transportation instead of trying to change flights. Our trip was pretty uneventful, it was a good time to travel as far as traffic goes. We arrived at the Guest Quarters, which is a hotel staffed by the hospital, at around 12:30 am. The next morning we slept in as long as possible to prepare for a long day. We did not have to be at the hospital until 2:15, but arrived around noon to take advantage of the free cafeteria lunch. Their food is always pretty good. After that we went up from the lower level where the cafeteria to the 2nd floor Port/Blood draw waiting area. On usual visits, I have my port accessed for all of my labs but when I go for scans it is different. My skin is really sensitive and the tape they cover the port with irritates my skin. If I had it accessed overnight so it could be used for chemo the following day, I would have probably itched and scratched the tape completely off by morning! So, this means they have to draw the blood from my right arm only (because of my previous surgeries on the left side. The techs take a look at my arm to see where the best vein might be and simultaneously, my veins retreat. It seems like every time is the same... they think they see a vein calling to them where my arm bends at the elbow. I then tell them they should just use my wrist because the one they are thinking is going to work for them has teased the nurses and techs for years now. And it never fails, they try to use that vein I warned them not to, and they seem to surprised when it gives no blood. So, off to my wrist they go. They try to avoid this area because it is more sensitive but I would rather one stick and be done with it. (The wrist vein worked nicely, just as I knew it would).

From there we headed back down to the lower level to the Imaging Waiting area. I was called back by my old buddy there, Craig. Now Craig is one of the few that remember that my veins like to play hide n seek. He usually uses my wrist, but unfortunately, that vein decided to puff up and bruise right after having my blood drawn a few minutes earlier so that vein was out. He found one up closer to my bicep and joked how he was in unchartered territory and to keep that spot a secret for all of the other techs and nurses at the hospital. That would forever be my Bone Scan injection vein. I received the dose of radioactivity and sent on my way. I got my bottle of G2 mixed with CT prep and we went up to use the hospital's computers in the Resource Center. I needed to drink my prep at 4:00 so I would be ready for my 4:30 scan. At 4:30, we went back down and checked in again at the Imaging Waiting area. I distinctly remember telling Mike that my CT scan was only scheduled as a chest/pelvis/abdomen scan so no pictures would be taken of my brain. Typically, my doctor does not order brain scans unless you are showing signs that something needed a closer look. Three months ago, I requested to have my entire body scanned, brain and all, just for my own piece of mind... not because I was having symptoms of anything, but just because it had been awhile. So, three months later, it wasn't unusual to not have a brain scan scheduled. Oddly though, when I was called back to have the CT scan started, the first thing she told me when I was all settled in was that they would be taking a couple of pictures of my brain first. This was strange as I knew it was not on my schedule. Immediately, I wondered what God had planned. Or was this the enemy trying to make me worry? The rest of the scan went as planned and I was on my way back to the waiting area for a few minutes before my bone scan would begin. I remember telling Mike that it was odd that they scanned my brain after all.

I went back for my bone scan as I do every three months, right on schedule. I wrote about how during my last bone scan in February, a rainbow appeared across the whole monitor instead of the pictures of my bones. I had thought maybe it had to do with the angle the light was hitting the monitor. During this scan, I saw the very same thing. A rainbow took the place from my head to my thighs, then my bones showed up from my thighs to my feet. I knew God was with me as I lay there.

After my scan, I stopped in at the restroom. Oddly, as I stood at the sink, my lower back started to spasm. I have never had this happen before and it was pretty painful. We were free to go back to our hotel room after my bone scan. As the night progressed, so did the pain in my back. It got so bad, I could barely move and it was impossible to get comfortable. I asked Mike to go see if they had any Advil for sale downstairs. He told me that we should also get a washcloth and wet it and put it in the microwave to heat it up and see if it helped relax my back. While he was on the Advil hunt, I got up to go into the bathroom and was reminded of a book I am reading called "Hear My Cry.. How grace conquered cancer" The woman who wrote it had a very aggressive sarcoma in her leg that was considered incurable. The night before she was to get results from tests ran on it, she said she was in her hotel room and the pain got so bad it was unbearable. She decided to take a hot bath to alleviate the pain, and realized she could get no hot water in her hotel room. She ended up with a fever and chills, her leg swelling and bruising more than it ever had before. As she went to remove her bandages to relieve some of the pressure, she said God spoke to her and said he was healing her. She prayed to God and also told satan what a moron he was. Immediately after that, she was able to sleep, the pain subsiding.

When Mike got back with the Advil, I read him this portion of the book, and prayed her prayer aloud. I asked Mike to pray out loud for me and for our hotel room, that if the enemy was there that he would know he was not welcome. Shortly after, I was able to get comfortable enough to sleep and in the morning, the back pain was gone.

The following morning, Mike and I got to the hospital around noon to eat lunch. Then we went up to the 2nd floor to check in for my doctor's visit. After getting weighed in and my BP, oxygen level, temperature, and heart rate taken, I saw my Doctor's nurse Terri. I let her know about my back pain the night before, but that it was now gone. I also told her about this occasional tingling I started getting in my left hand. When I had my mastectomy in 2008, some lymph nodes were also taken out of the left side of my neck. I have a scar there, therefore I have scar tissue also. But in the last couple of days, I noticed that this area was swelling some. So I mentioned it to her also.

Then I went to across the hall to see my oncologist, Dr. Levin. he always starts by asking " How's your bones?". And usually, I say "Good, but you tell me.". This time I told the story yet again of my back pain the night before and how it was now gone. He thought maybe it was from lying on an uncomfortable scan table. I wanted to say "Really, Dr? You think that I couldn't move because I was lying on a board for an hour? I do that every three months, for goodness sake!" I know in my heart it was an attack from the enemy to instill fear. It wasn't going to work. Then, he asks me if I have been getting headaches. Uh oh. He's never asked me that before. I knew what that meant. He read over my scans, saying that the bones looked stable, some even may be healing. My liver is also stable. But a 1.3 lesion had now appeared in the left portion of my brain.

Now I knew what God was preparing me for. I shook my head, almost more of "Okay, I expected something." Surprised by my reaction, he asked, "You knew this was coming?" I said I thought something was but didn't know it would be about my brain. I told him I thought it was odd that my brain was scanned the day before when it wasn't even scheduled to be. He looked confused and asked how they scanned it without orders. Um, you tell me, Dr. Personally, I think that was a God thing. Otherwise, it would have been three more months before this little spot would have been seen.

I did okay until he started telling me some risks associated with this brain lesion stuff. I always used to be able to say "At least it's just in bone. I can handle that." That changed after my scans in February showed liver mets. Once I got over that, I said "Well, at least I don't have anything close to what Jeff had. For my family's sake... we don't want to revisit all of that." And WHAM! now that had been taken. However, what Jeff had and what I have now are two completely different things that should not even be compared.

My doctor suggested I have an MRI taken to make sure that there were no other tiny lesions anywhere else in the brain. If there was only the one lesion, it would be possible to radiate only the one spot. If other lesions were seen on the MRI, the whole brain would need radiated. Chemo was all stopped for now, and a new regimen will begin once radiation is complete.

So, now I was off to make an appointment with the radiation oncologist, which is something I hoped I would never have to do. If whole brain radiation was needed, it would involve a 3 week stay in Zion. It would be really hard to be away from home for that long, but I knew if I had to, I could do it. That is a draw back to having your doctors 7 hours away.

My MRI was scheduled for the next morning, Wednesday. We had hoped to be home by Tuesday night so this involved getting a new hotel room, as we had already checked out and our room had been occupied by someone else. After finding a new hotel, we grabbed some dinner and went back to wait some more.

The following morning, I needed to be at CTCA by 7:45. My MRI was on time at 8:00. For an MRI, you lie on a narrow table with your head in a thing that keeps it from moving. Another mask was pulled over my head and I was given ear plugs. They then slide you into a thin capsule where you cannot move even if you wanted to. For the next hour or so, you hear a series of sounds similar to a jack hammer. Near the end, I was pulled out of the capsule and an IV was started (in my wrist... she listened to my advice!) and contrast was injected. Then, I was slid back into the capsule and more pictures were taken. I was praying that the little spot would no longer be there and I could just go home.

We met my Radiation Oncologist, Dr. Patel, that afternoon. I was surprised as he was not at all what I expected. He had a very gentle demeanor and was very thorough in his explanations. He said that a 1.4 x 1.1 cm lesion was seen on my brain near my left ear. The good news was, this was the only lesion. It is near the area of the brain that controls speech, learning, and some short term memory. I was told that something called Stereotactic Radiosurgery or SRS treatment to the brain was the best option for me. This would involve only 1 powerful session of treatment, localized just to the lesion and no other part of the brain, which would carry less side effects. He referred me to a Neurologist at a nearby hospital to establish a connection with him and seek his opinion as well. This doctor was Dr. Erikson and he was located in Libertyville, IL, which I thought was a suited name for where I was headed.

So, we had yet another night in the hotel room. My appointment with Dr. Erikson went smoothly other than my appointment running an hour late. When he finally came in to the room, he pulled up my MRI on a laptop and showed me this little spot that is causing all of the fuss. He said it was close to the surface and quite small, and this SRS surgery should work nicely to get rid of the lesion. He said that both my radiation oncologist and my oncologist were very smart men and I was in good hands. He also said that he would be happy to come to CTCA to assist in the preparation of the radiation, as he has done in the past.

I left that appointment with peace, feeling like I had gotten a second opinion of sorts and felt like everything would be okay. I felt blessed that God cared enough about me to stay one step ahead of the enemy and have this scan done without there having been orders for it!

Mike and I started back home to Ohio from the Neurologists' office. We hit traffic in Chicago which pushed us back an hour and a half. We arrived home just before midnight Thursday night.

On the way home, I just tried to think about all of the promises God has given me over the last five years. I tried to listen to music filled with words of God (except for the one Justin Bieber song I randomly found on Mike's iTouch and played just to tease him.). At one point while we were stuck in traffic, the car in front of me had a license plate that read "In God we Trust." I took a picture of it. About 15 minutes later, we were behind a different car with the same "In God we Trust" on the plate. I got out my camera but this time my battery was dead. I guess the enemy had enough of my capturing positivity.

Last Sunday in church, we had a guest speaker who talked about how the Bible says many are called but few are chosen. How do we become one that is chosen? He compared it to having a bunch of friends sitting around with you. You can always tell who your real friends are by the ones who help you move when you ask them to. It would go something like this "Hey, I am moving this Saturday. It's supposed to be hot and my furniture is really heavy and doesn't quite fit through doorways, but anyone wanna help? I can pay you with a slice of pizza." Suddenly, everyone drops eye contact and thins of everything else they have to do other than accept this tempting offer you've just presented them with. You might have one friend that says "Okay, I will help you move." And in that moment, you can say " Okay, then I choose you to help me." Many were called, but few were chosen... based on the willingness of those who were called.

This guest speaker also mentioned in the Bible how  Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown into prison. In the midst of their suffering and circumstance, what did they choose to do? They praised God, worshipping and singing. And then suddenly they earth began to shake, releasing not only Paul and Silas's chains but also the chains of everyone else, even those who were not engaged in the worship. Others benefited because of the way Paul and Silas chose to praise God in their circumstance.

For quite some time now, I have had an thought going in my head that I don't think I have mentioned on this site before. I guess I always meant to, but I suppose the timing is only now right.

Have you ever seen the movie "Monsters Inc"?

Well, not too long ago, I watched it with my nieces, Olivia and Emily. The premise of the movie is that these monsters go to work at a company that bottles children's screams to use as their energy source. The monsters have a door that comes down, they open the door and it leads into a sleeping child's bedroom, so it appears that a monster is coming out of the closet. The child screams and cries and energy is captured. By the end of the movie, the monsters realize that more energy is generated by the children's laughter and happiness than that of their tears and screams.

I started to think of my prayers in the same way. I know that God hears me when I cry out, my face dripping with tears. I know He cares and wants nothing more than to comfort me, as I am His child. I know that there is power in these prayers. But how much more power is generated by my praise and laughter and singing? Those are the prayers I want to offer up.

When I had first found our about my brain scan report, I called home to talk to my family. I am so fortunate that my family is so close to one another and they were all able to make me laugh and feel at ease in the midst of the circumstances. My brother, Brian, told me that earlier that day when my mom was relaying the news to my sister in law, Jenn, my niece Emily was in the background. Emily is 3 1/2 and she had gotten two drops of water on her shirt. She was crying and upset, while Jenn tried to assure her that it was just a little water and it was okay. And Emily kept saying "No, it's NOT okay." To her, this was a big deal and she was not happy about these two spots of water that had gotten onto her shirt. Brian told me that maybe this is exactly how God saw my circumstance. To me, this spot was a huge upset. To Him, He was trying to assure me that it was just a little spot and it would be okay. That story helped me get through the rest of the week.

This morning at church, Mike and I went up to have prayer over us. I was anointed with oil and many laid their hands on me. I had my eyes closed so I did not know for sure who was around me. Our assistant pastor's wife, Debra, got my attention and I opened my eyes to see a little girl standing in front of me with her hand on my shoulder praying for me. She couldn't have been more than 11 or 12 years old, and I had never seen her before. Her big eyes looked up at me, and I noticed no eyelashes. Her eyebrows were not of hair, but a thin line of make up and she wore a really cute wig with a braid in the front. I am not certain what condition she has but in that moment she was someone God put there to pray for me, and I for her. It was a really moving thing to be a part of. She did not cry, as I did... instead we just prayed as we held each other's hands. God cares so much for His children. I see it in so many places all of the time. This cancer stuff is not out of His reach. It's really and truly not out of His reach.

Mike and I leave again tomorrow (Monday) afternoon. We are hoping to be on the road around 3 pm eastern time so we can get to our hotel in Zion at around 9:00 pm or so. I have to be at CTCA on Tuesday morning at 7:00 am central time to start all of the fittings that will keep my head immobile for the radiation. I will have another MRI and CT scan, as the radiation is all computer guided. I am still believing that it's possible to have those scans show that the little spot that was there has been erased by God's hand. If God chooses to heal me through the radiation instead then I trust Him to watch over me through that process. The radiation is scheduled for Thursday June 3 and we Will be on our way home hopefully the following day.

In one of my emails, I referenced the commercial that says "ReThink Possible." stating that this is what I am doing. With God, ALL things are possible. I am not discouraged, I am not afraid. God is with me and I feel like I am closer than ever to a break through!

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