Update and Biopsy

There’s sort of a lot going on. I had my seventh Taxol treatment and am still doing well. I figured out that the daily side effects I struggle with (something akin to restless leg syndrome that keeps me from sleeping is the worst) are actually from a steroid I get with my pre-drugs. I feel better knowing that, because sometimes I feel like I’m going crazy. For example, I get this weird anxiety/claustrophobia sometimes, especially during the chemo, that takes everything in my power to keep from ripping the needle out of my port and running into the parking lot.

So, five more Taxol treatments. I’ve been praying about electing to have radiation even though Rassam says I don’t need it. I don’t know the answer yet. I will ask more about it Thursday then go from there. Along those lines, I need to have a sentinel node biopsy for insurance purposes. I’m considering going to Gainesville for a better reconstruction than I can have here, and to do that they need to see if I need radiation beforehand. If there is cancer in the node, they will say I need radiation. Even though I might want radiation, I really don’t want the biopsy to show cancer. A sentinel node is the node from which your breast cancer spreads. Supposedly once it has spread from there it doesn’t matter if you remove it because the cancer is already loose in your body. But, I still want the biopsy to show that every cancerous cell has been destroyed (or is just gone). I am waiting for the biopsy date for that, but it’s a minor outpatient surgery that I can have even though I’m still getting chemo. Please help me pray that there isn’t even one cancer cell in my nodes. In fact, I want to pray that they appear as though there has never been any cancer there at all.

“I know that all God does will last forever; there is no adding to it or taking from it. God works so that people will be in awe of Him.” Ecc 3:14

I woke up with a tick attached to me today. I normally wouldn’t have been too bothered, but one of the people I’ve been praying for has Lyme disease so now I’m sort of stressed out about it. It is very rare that  a tick bite would result in a problematic disease, so I hate that I’m worried about the exception to the rule. For no reason. I hate that cancer has changed me into one of those people who frets about everything. I’m so disappointed in myself for letting it affect me so much, but I can’t stop. I have already been the exception to the rule multiple times this year, so I can’t tell myself the next time will be different.

But I will try. I will remember what God has done for me. I will trust in the only one who is trustworthy. I will stay close to Him so I can hear His sweet whispers and distinguish between  satantic fears and legitimate concerns. There are no more reasons not to.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own understanding; think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths.” Prov 3:5

As a follow-up from my last post, giving my testimony went okay but not great. I don’t think I focused on the right things, but the next day I had the opportunity to tell a woman about it during chemo. I normally keep pretty quiet there for many reasons, but she was trying to convince herself that God would heal her. I could hear my voice in hers. She was saying the same things I did–we all do when hoping for a miracle–but she didn’t have the authority behind it to convince anyone she meant business. In case you didn’t know, that’s exactly how I was until just before the PET scan. You know God can do it, but you’ve seen enough bad stuff happen that you can’t explain away. You feel like you just need a promise from Him that the specific healing scriptures are for YOU, on EARTH, not when we’re all restored in heaven. The point is, this woman was across the room, talking to someone else, but I knew all these things about her and couldn’t ignore it. So I shouted all this business across the room to her (through tears, again), with everyone else trying to sleep and whatnot. Hearing His deeds encouraged her so I feel like it was a second chance from the one I kind of messed up the night before.

1 Thess 5:11, “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing.”

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Testimony

For the first time in my life, I’m sitting down to prepare what I will say when giving my testimony to people. I’ve given my salvation story to two very large groups, and my cancer one three times. All with minimal amounts of notice. Back in 2004, on two separate occasions I was sitting in a church and the Holy Spirit pressed on my heart that I was about to give my testimony. These were not situations I would have any reason to believe that. But He reminded me of a few verses, so I frantically looked them up while the pastor was speaking about whatever was on his heart. Then just like I had come to expect, both times the pastors, who had NO IDEA what my testimony was, said, “This person has no idea I’m going to do this, but I’d like this girl to come up and tell you her testimony.”. The first time was at a Chi Alpha sermon during grad school, and the second was in a huge church in South Africa after a missions trip. At that one the pastor never said a word to me all week, except to call me the wrong name. But after our project was over, we went to his church service just to pass the time before our flight home, and he called me by (correct) name up to the pulpit.

Anyway, those were great experiences and the Holy Spirit was so clear about what to say, I went up with the verses I had just looked up and told my story. Eight years later it’s a little more difficult. I think because I don’t have the easy life anymore. “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual, but worldly–mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it.” 1 Cor 3:1-2. This time around I’m (supposedly) more mature so my part of the job is bigger. More responsibility. I’ve been broken in–just hours after the great news a radio station called so without any notice Yaacov and I told the story on the air. Over the weeks after that I got a chance to tell two more groups, each with a little notice that I couldn’t utilize to actually prepare.

This time I’ve had TWO WEEKS notice. I can’t just speak off the cuff, I think that time was a gift to help me prepare and say what actually should be said. Mark 5:19, “Go home to your family and tell the how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So, my job is to do just that.

Of course, it’s tomorrow that I’m speaking to a women’s study, so that notice has dwindled down to a day. But I’m going to make sure that everything I say relates to telling how much He has done for me, and all the mercy He has displayed. It really is such an honor to have such good content to discuss, the challenge is to prepare enough to be thorough but timely, and still say what He wants instead of what I want. I guess that’s the challenge in most things, actually.

Oh, and by the way, He reigns. Ecc 3:14, “I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere Him.”

Break from chemo = whole new me!

1 extra week off chemo = a whole new me! I feel so much better. First, I’ve been healthy since Saturday, which is crazy in itself. I’m sure I had healthy times during the first 13 weeks of treatment, but I can only remember one fully healthy day throughout that. So 5 days in a row is a huge gift. The Lord definitely set this all up so I could have a break. I had no idea how much I needed it until I felt well again. On Monday I took Abigail out for a special time and realized it was the first experience in a long time that I didn’t want to end. Throughout chemo I’ve been doing enjoyable things that I could appreciate, but inside I always wanted them to end so I could go home. It came on slowly enough that I felt like that was just who I a now, instead of a temporary problem.

With my newly improved braine made some observations about cancer treatment. First, all the fuss about the governor’s new state employee insurance changes makes more sense. In case anyone didn’t know, this year (without any notice at all for me), it changed so state employees have costly co-pays for “special” drugs. Before this year all my chemo went as expected; the doctor ordered the drugs and the chemo nurse injected me. No big deal. Now there’s a third party I have to go through, so the doctor orders the drugs and I have to approve them, pay $60-100 each, and I’m supposed to arrange for them to be delivered to my home, keep them in the fridge, then take them with me to the doctor for him to administer. I was able to change my address to Rassam’s office, so they get and store the drugs for me, athough that means they also get my receipts and some bills because of it. Anyway, my biweekly bill for the doctor visit + drugs was $70 before Christmas, and after that it changed to $370. We’re fine because of the fundraiser, but that’s a big change for the average joe. A worker told me tons of people are just stopping their treatments because they can’t afford it. 
Anyway, I thought this was all crummy, plus chemo drugs are sensitive-the nurse has to wear a special chemo gown and gloves, so I also think it’s extremely irresponsible for this third party to insist on sending the drugs to our homes. I don’t want the responsibility to protect, store, and transport them. Regardless of all that though, the first treatment I had was at the hospital because the third company couldn’t get my drugs out in time. I just got a notice that insurance didn’t pay it yet (no big deal, I think they’re just late, not billing me), and the fee for 1 treatment was $33, 709. THIRTY-THREE THOUSAND DOLLARS!!!!! For one time! I got 4 of those, and 12 of this other one that I think is cheaper. And this is for a treatment ALL my doctors say canNOT cure me!!!!!!!! Can you imagine what it would cost for a treatment that worked!!??? No wonder the nurse at the hospital kept trying to feed me. That lunch I tossed out probably cost $250. So. Thank the Lord for insurance. It seems like one sicky costs them so much more than they could ever make from the healthy people. And I don’t blame the state for wanting a little more cash for our special drugs. I do really pity those on fixed incomes who will suffer from it though.
That’s that. Don’t read it as a political statement, just a story. The other thing I noticed is about how little it mattered to Rassam that I lost my smell (it’s mostly back, for now, btw). When following a minute amount of research on cancer I learned that they always measure “quality of life” as they search for the ideal balance between longer survival (drugs), and decreased quality of life (side effects). I believe this is the reason Rassam doesn’t want me to get radiation after my mastectomy, but I need to ask him to be sure. Anyway, a common quality of life indicator is weight loss. Five pounds is a problem to them, but I’m not sure if that’s the definition. I find it fascinating that they call this “anorexia”. As if the weight loss caused by virtual inability to consume or digest food is now a mental illness. I’m sure a man came up with that one. My weight has fluctuated severely over my life, but has oddly stabilized during chemo. I actually gained a few at first, but when I started the anti-cancer diet it stopped. I happen to think I deserve to lose some weight, given the restrictions I follow and how much cancer stinks. But, Rassam is glad I haven’t “become anorexic”. The point is they pay much more attention to my weight than my senses. I know it’s not good for cancer patient’s health to lose weight, but I would LOVE to assure all researchers that my quality of life was considerably lower with the loss of smell and most taste than it would have been if I dropped a few pounds.
Tomorrow is my next chemo treatment. I’m really excited, because I’ll only have 6 more after that. I’m going to ask if it’s possible to switch to the triple-strength one that I’d only have to get every three weeks. It might be worse but perhaps I would have more recovery time and be happier overall. 
Ps 147:7-9
“Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving: Make music to our God on the harp. He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills. He provides food for cattle and for the young ravens when they call.”

Finally, A Willing Sacrifice

This has been one of the biggest weeks I could imagine, and not at all for the reasons I expected.

As I said the other day I was praying and thinking a lot about canceling chemo. Thanks so much for the input and prayers about that decision. I finally know the answer but want to explain a little more background first…

First, the PET scan revealed that the important parts (the spread, especially the spine where chemo “could not” kill cancer) of the disease were gone, but there was still a small amount in my breast. It must be removed with surgery or by God just taking it out, because it’s wrapped in fibrous tissue and I can still feel that part of it there.  happen to believe that cancer is gone by now too, but it’s not time for a biopsy or scan yet to prove that. So anyway, as soon as I heard that was still there I immediately “knew” God left it there so I would continue with treatment. I came to wonder about that later, but was extremely close to God when I thought that so I cannot believe it was wrong. At the most the idea would be that something changed since then and now was the time to stop.

The medical reason to keep up with chemo despite the fact that even the oncologist agreed I had a miraculous change is that once the cancer spreads it has loose cancer cells firing all around your body. It takes billions of cancer cells to show up on a PET scan, so there can be plenty of loose guys shooting around in there right now. The chemo gets as many of those as possible, but the reason the disease is terminal is that it cannot get them all. That’s where God comes in. I know He can get them all and in this particular case I am POSITIVE that by the end of treatment every one will be gone. I happen to believe they are ALREADY gone, which was the reason for even considering stopping chemo. I absolutely do see the point of taking care of my body which is God’s temple, but my temple was filled with aggressive cancer and the best earthly treatment for that is chemo. When Jesus went into the temple and saw disgusting things going on, He knocked the tables over–destroying the nonsense that didn’t belong.

So, did something noteworthy change? Not really. I got sicker from the cumulative effects of the chemo, which was the catalyst for making the decision, but I actually took issue with the idea of canceling treatment because there’s something innately wrong with chemo. My point of view is that God inspired doctors to create chemo and it has healed (I didn’t look up numbers) millions or billions. Cancer itself has increased but the drugs have indisputably improved treatment. Regardless of this though, my point was that even if the treatment was as inocuous as eating ice chips twice a week, I didn’t want to do what God didn’t want me to do. I absolutely trust God to heal my side effects if I’m supposed to continue, or to heal/prevent future cancer if I’m supposed to stop treatment. The real issue was figuring out what He wanted.

I will jump to the meat of the story: 1. I prayed and sought wise council who recommended that I get into agreement with Yaacov and prayed Eph 1:17, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better.” 2. Yaacov and I both had peace about canceling chemo. I was ecstatic to finally do something bold for God. 3. I kept losing this peace, which does not line up God’s word. Psalm 4:8 is hanging by my bed and says, “I will lay down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” I kept waking up with less peace instead of more. Remember, I didn’t have concerns about how God would take care of me when I canceled. I had concerns that I wasn’t making the right choice. 4. All the verses I could think of and found were about trusting God, etc. but nothing really gave the direction to stop treatment. Instead I couldn’t resolve these: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” (as in, do what authority says), “To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.” 1 Cor 9:20

Anyway, I had a check in my spirit because I still wanted “to know, know, know” that God wanted me to stop chemo before doing something with such dangerous outcomes. I wasn’t getting it but felt like maybe that was part of stepping out in faith. So, I canceled chemo and made an appointment to talk to Rassam. Yaacov couldn’t come with me so I was really nervous that Rassam would convince me to keep it up. He surprised me a lot by being very gentle. He said kindly, “You know I am a believer like you”. I respect your decision but I must tell you–you are WRONG.” He went on for awhile but that was important to me because the argument behind going against doctor’s orders would be that He isn’t listening to God, etc. Of course, the Holy Spirit can tell me different things than him, which is why it bothered me but not enough to change my mind. He ended up telling me that I could have as much as two weeks off before going back, but after that I can never get this treatment again. He also said it’s extremely common for people to get good results and stop treatment, but they always regret it. None of this scared me because I was aware of how crazy this idea seemed.

Basically, I kept praying and praying for confirmation but instead I got confirmation to keep up with the drugs. I had it so ingrained in my mind that He wanted me to stop though, that I kept thinking it was satan trying to confuse me. Finally, last night I went back to Yaacov, close to a nervous breakdown. At that point the only confirmation I had of doing the right thing was that my first step, which had been to ensure that Yaacov and I were on the same page, was still in tact. It turned out that we had been slightly misunderstanding each other (remember, he’s been traveling for weeks so many of our conversations were cut off). When we talked more and I clarified things, we both lost the feeling that God wanted us to stop. The second we switched to thinking of continuing with treatment we got the TOTAL, 100% true peace and joy. Let me tell you, this peace is nothing like the false peace I had before. I was so giddy I couldn’t sleep. The biggest thing is: I AM SO EXCITED TO GO BACK TO CHEMO! Who in the world is excited for chemo??!!?? ME! Because it’s what God wants, and I finally know, know, know, KNOW I’m doing the right thing. It feels so great.

Psalm 28:7, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to Him in song.”

Some might notice that I’m not being sarcastic or sounding irritated with myself for taking so long to figure out what God wanted. It’s because it went down PERFECTLY and I believe God is actually well-pleased with me. I teared up when typing that line, because I can’t say I’ve thought that many times in my life. But Yaacov noticed something yesterday, and I didn’t understand what he meant until God showed me today: I believe that the fact that I was willing to cancel the chemo, and went as far as to go in there yesterday and start the process, was a HUGE step in my faith that pleased Him. And I believe that, like Abraham offering Isaac, the point was in the willingness, not actually doing it. Months ago I blogged and prayed a lot about being a “willing sacrifice” for Him. It was really hard for me then and I really never resolved it. So I don’t know if I missed a opportunity then, but I did it this time. It wasn’t with half a heart, like originally. This time, I understood the consequences and still canceled without waivering from the belief that God would take care of me. But He interrupted before it was too late. By no means am I as awesome as Abraham, but for Erin Petscher I’m doing okay.

Hebrews 11:17, “It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac.”

NEVER Smelling Again?

I just got a call back from Dr. Rassam’s office. He said to tell me that my loss of smell is likely from the Taxol and won’t necessarily ever come back. Oh, and that, “we’ll continue to watch it”. What is there to watch? It is gone. Gone. Not desensitized, etc. With a few exceptions I haven’t smelled anything at all for days. During the exceptions I had very brief moments of smelling something, then it was gone as fast as it returned. Thankfully the last thing I smelled was Naomi’s sweet baby head. I’m so glad I got to smell her once more, no matter how it ends. But I’ve already forgotten the smell. I remember the moment but can’t recall the scent.

God can redeem me from this, too. I’m not going to get all bent out of shape about it (I type as I wipe away those stupid tears that tend to betray me). It makes me wonder more if I should quit chemo though. I mistyped the other day when I said there were 6 more rounds–there are really 7. My taste is barely here, will it be completely gone if I keep getting the drugs? If I believe God healed me is it a lack of faith to continue with the drugs? Or is it foolish to go against my doctor’s advice? ARGH!!!

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6

Originally this post had a request for people’s input right here. I think I’ve made the decision now though so more info would probably burst my brain. Thanks for the input I got though, and I’ll post my decision soon.

“Even to your old age and gray hairs…I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you.” Isaiah 46:4

Chemo…blah blah…God…blah blah…

I had my fifth Taxol treatment last week. It wasn’t bad but I’ve officially lost my sense of smell. I barely have any taste left but can tell if something is salty and one more sensation I can’t exactly label. Close to bitter but not exactly. The smell thing is really weird and I don’t know when it left because I’ve been sick and assumed it was from congestion. I’m still sick but have moments of breathng freely and there isn’t even one iota of a scent, no matter how strong.

I hope everything improves after chemo is done, but if it’s just temporary it isn’t a big deal. This is Yaacov’s busy time of year so he’s already been gone for two weeks lately, and has two more trips coming up. I’m slightly concerned about the dangers of not smelling fire, etc. while he’s gone but I’ll just pray a lot.

I had an awesome experience the other day but won’t be able to describe it well. I had been in a deep, deep fog lately and it was painful just trying to form a thought. It interfered with my sleep so I tossed, turned and barely dozed through the nights. The only emotions I could feel were bad ones (sadness, fear, anger), so it made it particularly difficult to tell people about all the good healing news. I thought it was that “chemo-brain” people talk about but was feeling so negative it seemed like I would never get back out of it. Anyway, I took a bath to relax and was reading this book on healing on Thursday, and as I was reading and semi-praying about the author’s awesome story the fog lifted! I could truly feel it go, and immediately knew I would be able to sleep. I pratically ran to bed and passed right out.

I’m so glad this fog is gone, and it hasn’t returned. I’m still physically ill but it’s so much better without the mental issue that was bringing me down. I’m back!

I’ve been limiting my schedule a bit to get more relaxing in, but I’m praying about whether that’s enough. I don’t know what else to really do but it seems like I’m sick so much that I’ll never get through the next 6 weeks without a change. In the meantime I’ll pray to figure out what changes to make and about whatever God is trying to tell me through these interesting spiritual encounters. There’s something big going on there but it’s in such an infancy that I can’t even describe it.

Isaiah 58:11 “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”

I am a schmuck

I am SUCH a schmuck. I just typed three long paragraphs about how miserable I am, eloquently displaying my torturous life and all the problems  have. Poor, poor me! I only stopped because I realized I might sound a little suicidal so might need to reword a few things.

Thank the good Lord, I re-read that nonsense. What is my problem? Nothing has changed since a few months ago when I blogged that I am the most blessed person I know. Nothing, except that AFTER that He heard my prayers and HEALED me!

I can almost hear God sighing, “Really, Erin? That wasn’t enough for you? You want every day to be perfect and painless? You could have had that. IN HEAVEN, where you begged me not to send you. Because you loved your life on earth so much.”

Every day I complain to Abigail that she asks for too much. The second she gets a special treat or something she’s asked for, she wants more, or something better, or different. “Can I have a cookie?” I hand it to her and as she’s chewing she asks for another. I sigh loudly each time and act like I’ve never heard of someone so ungrateful, with such a short memory. I suppose this is another reason God made me a mother–to help me realize what I put Him through.

So…knowing how annoying I am doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll change it. But I will try. When I start to complain (in my head, heart, or with my voice), I will rejoice instead. I’m trying to memorize Psalm 34. Verses 1-3 say, “I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. My soul will boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.”