Started Radiation but Who Cares?

I started radiation. It’s weird, but I’m not in the mood to blog about it. I AM in the mood to talk about Leviticus! I’m reading through the Bible and as you might know, Leviticus is one that is really easy to gloss over. It’s all about the details for the sacrifices God’s people had to make before Jesus came along as the ultimate sacrifice.

I was reading line after line of what people had to do after sinning. Whether it was an intentional or accidental sin, they basically brought a sacrifice, treated it in a certain way, then presented it to a priest who passed it on to the Lord. For the umpteenth time, I thought how easy it was back then. A man screwed up so he’d go catch a sheep and take care of it. Done. Over. No embarassment or repercussions besides the loss of time and goods.

I like how cut and dry it was back then. Messed up? Follow this to-do list and forget about it. As I marveled at this the Holy Spirit reminded me of several important things: The first is that Jesus had to come as the ultimate sacrifice because all those laws didn’t properly control men. So as good and simple as the old stuff sounds, what we have now is better for us, and doesn’t cost anything. More importantly, we HAVE the same to-do list now, but better! We know we messed up because we have the Holy Spirit to tell us (Jn 14:26, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”). Then He gives us GRACE and FORGIVES us without having to sacrifice a first-born lamb and whatnot (e.g.John 8:11).

Anyway, back then there had to be a continuous fire burning for the sacrifices. Fire was present all the time, and at least some of the offerings had to be burned up completely (Lev 6:13, 23, 30, etc.), and that is an awesome reminder of what God desires from us nowadays. We need to be on fire for Him all the time, not just in the heat of the battle. If we do lose focus a bit (like I have since surgery), we use the word, pray, and beg the Holy Spirit to rekindle the flame. He didn’t want His sacrifies lukewarm back then, and He doesn’t want us to be lukewarm now (Rev 3:16, “So because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth”).

Finally, we’re all being refined through fire. For some of us there’s a slow, steady burn, for others it feels like stepping on fireworks. During chemo I became terrified of the future, because God brought me through the fireworks but I felt like I’d reached the maximum capacity for growth in this lifetime. Satan whispered that because I’d passed the cancer test, the next would be even harder–TOO HARD. I didn’t want to face anything more.

I finally rejected that fear from my enemy because I don’t think it’s biblical and because the Lord will always be there to help. He created fire. Zechariah 13:9, “This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them, I will say, ‘They are my people’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God’.”

Romans 3:21-24, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the law and the prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference. For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justfied freely by his grace through the redemptiion that came by Christ Jesus.”

So…none of this had anything to do with the radiation treatment I logged in to blog about, but I’m really excited to remember that He can use even crazy books like Leviticus to remind us of things. God is good. The end.

Preparing for Radiation

I haven’t blogged in awhile, but fear not–it’s because I just didn’t have anything to say. Believe it or not I’m doing very well.

I’ve struggled a bit with fatigue that was worse than during chemo. I was sleeping 11 and 12 hours some nights, but was still exhausted and kept telling Yaacov I thought something was wrong with me. Next thing you know, I went for a monthly shot I get at Rassam’s and the chemo nurse mistakenly had my blood tested. It came back as dangerously out of order. Everything was off, and the white blood count was very low. Dr. Rassam said it was too delayed to be caused by chemo, so it was either that cancer was suddenly released into my bone marrow, or a mistake at the lab. They took my blood again and it was fine. YAY, God wins again!
I guess the fatigue was just because my body finally released all the stress I was dealing with over the course of cancer. It also happened to get considerably better after the ordeal with my blood. I think Satan used the fatigue to get my mind ansy about my health. It didn’t work, there was no panicking, just a little prayer and letting God take care of business. Deut 31:8, “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; Do not be discouraged.”
The last time I blogged I was on my way to the funeral of a precious, 18-month-old baby girl. I haven’t been to a lot of funerals so can’t compare it well, but it seemed very crowded as so many people wanted to support the family. The poor parents had to stand there in a receiving line for hours and that seems so cruel to me. Everyone there was trying to support them, but how much support can they get from having to stand and be polite to hundreds of people? Isn’t the point of helping people to ease their burdens? They had to be “in charge”, by keeping the line moving, listening and responding to everyone saying the same thing. I would think this would be one time that they shouldn’t have to be responsible for the success of a big event. I suppose one good point of that would be if the busy-ness helped delay dealing with the reality of the situation. I don’t actually know what a solution would be, but I hope people (including myself) can find better ways to encourage them. “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sins deceitfulness.” Heb 13:3
The really cool and encouraging thing someone mentioned during the service was that as soon as they heard about their loss, the parents immediately vowed not to let it break them. I’ve been relatively obsessed with that concept lately, because it’s the same thing I felt with the cancer diagnosis. But I’ve been trying to understand why some people don’t have that desire to fight. For example, Yaacov told me if he’d gotten the Stage 4 diagnosis he would have just accepted it. So, why is that? Is it a personality trait? Is it a desire for those of us destined to survive to fight against all odds, but those set to actually die just don’t have that same fighting desire? Are the fighters in God’s will and the non-fighters aren’t? Nehemiah 4:14, “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” Obviously an argument can be made for not fighting against our circumtances too, because we live in this world (although we are not OF this world), and we are not to love our lives. So, I’ve been looking up more about the desires of our hearts but still don’t know. The answer always seems to be an individual one, depending on the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Right now I’m waiting on the guidance of the Spirit regarding whether to go through with radiation or not. There are a lot of reasons on both sides and I’m not hearing clearly from the Lord. I need to keep praying about it and will blog soon on all the details.
Thanks to all for all the prayers. The Lord is taking such great care of me. I don’t feel any different than I did before the mastectomy, and my hair and eyebrows are growing back nicely.The radiation therapist today said my scars are some of the nicest she’s seen, which might be helping. Plus, in less than two years (hopefully more like 6 months), I’ll be able to get reconstruction and look better than ever.
“I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul. You have not handed me over to the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place.” Ps 31:7-8
**If anyone who is sick or interested in healing lives in Tallahassee, there is a special church service dedicated to healing this Friday at LifePoint church at 7pm. I can forward you more information if you email me.**

Memorial

I can’t sleep. Third night in a row. The tragic death of my friend’s 18- month-old daughter is haunting me. I keep trying to imagine how it would feel to learn my only child had suddenly passed away. Then trying NOT to imagine how it would feel to learn my only child had suddenly passed away. I am often surrounded by people who have miscarriages or the babies die quite young, but 18 months is a different story. It’s old enough to laugh, walk, run, and talk. Old enough that you can know her real personality. Old enough that life without her feels empty and meaningless.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted. He recues those whose spirits are crushed.” Psalm 34:18

She died Saturday and I learned of it Sunday night. It took until Monday morning to decide to fly to Michigan for the funeral. Sarah, the mother, is my “old best friend”. I think everyone has a few of those. I hadn’t spoken to her in years but we reconnected around my cancer diagnosis. I suppose this new tragedy offers a way for me to redeem myself after years of being a bad friend. Unfortunately I’m pretty sure there were other ways. This isn’t the redemption I was praying for, Lord! I wanted you to grow back my eyelashes and smooth away my new wrinkles!

“As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is proven;
He is a shield to all who trust in Him.”
Psalm 18:30

I feel like I’m suffocating. There’s a weight on my chest that is heavier at night. Cancer has taught me how important it is to be there for people and I do it (or try to) without the strings or questions. But I’m worthless to her now, the baby has already died! I wouldn’t have come for the funeral if it was before everything I’ve been through, but because of it I felt compelled. It made more sense to come later, after everyone but Sarah and her family went back to their old lives. But, God said now is the time I should go, so I did. He lined up everything so it wasn’t even a big hardship. But, um, what now? What is the point? I have no wisdom, no power, no strength to offer.

“Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness in the morning, for in You do I trust; Cause me to know the way in which I should walk, for I lift up my soul to You.” Psalm 143:8

She says she has a great support system and I know she’ll be surrounded by loved ones, so I will just hug her and hang out. Maybe my silent prayers will help her in the future. Maybe. God is in this. So why I am?

“…we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” 2 Chronicles 20:12

Tips for those getting assessed for breast cancer

Well, I’m an “expert” now so I’m going to make some lists of random things that have or could have helped me through cancer and beyond. Maybe I’m not actually an expert but I know more than I wish I did about it. Today I’ll write up some things I verbally advise people about for early days in the diagnosis process, and then sometime soon I’ll put in one about surgery tips and how to support people with cancer. These tips are from my own experience and remember I am very, very unique (just like you!) so just consider these guidelines.

The secret reason for this post is that people give me inside info (yes, gossip) about some of the doctors in Tallahassee, and one in particular has done something so awful his patient is unlikely to recover, even though his cancer was initially curable. But the other day I ran into someone who sees him and I found it really difficult to hold my tongue. I did, primarily because she’s almost done with treatment so it would have just been gossip. But it got me thinking that maybe I could help people be aware of ways to prevent awful situations like that.

Cancer and health problems are scary, so I hate the idea of adding fuel to anyone’s fears. But I know of lots of horror stories, and my own could have been one. Very narrowly missed being one. So for the few people whose fears become reality here are a few tips starting with diagnosis:

1. Do your monthly self-exam ALL the time. By the time you can feel a lump (which is called being “palpable”), it’s well-developed. If any women in your family have had breast cancer, you could be eligible to get early mammograms. My doctors recommend having my girls get screened 10 years before my diagnosis. That’s when they’re 22 years old. I am BRCA1 positive and thus can get them tested via blood test for that when they are 18. If you can’t demonstrate a genetic or other cause for early mammograms, your doctor will recommend them starting at either age 40 or 50, there is some debate on this. Remember that mammograms are not enough–I know someone who had a clear one last year and this year was diagnosed at Stage 4.

2. If you have a lump of any sort, don’t panic! Pray and repeat important Bible verses, like Ps 56:3, “When I am afraid I will trust in you.” Don’t let your mind wander or worry. Just call your doctor immediately (general practitioner or gynocologist will be fine) and get in right away. If he won’t find a way for someone to see you within a business day he’s not a good doctor. You might think I’m kidding. I’m not. (There might be an exception if you freak out about everything, because then they might not take you seriously. Not sure how to fix that, but try!)

3. Most lumps are nothing. Almost all of them, actually. The younger you are and the less family links to cancer make it more and more unlikely to be cancerous. Still, there are tons of stories about misdiagnosis, etc. My general practitioner sent me for an ultrasound and scheduled a mammogram, but the ultrasound technician misdiagnosed me then canceled my mammogram. So, no matter what they say it is (a cyst, galactocele, fibroid, adenoma, etc.), I would say pray about it (of course), but at least consider demanding a biopsy. The biopsy is a tangible way to determine what a lump is, whereas the others require more human interpretation and thus mistakes.

4. So, you still don’t panic, whether your tests come back as clear, abnormal, or cancerous. Just keep praying. There are a few types of biopsy (needles are not intrusive, surgery is). I had a fine needle one and core needle one. Neither hurts, it’s just a mental issue. Just feel like a shot. My fine needle one came back as abnormal, which is again, very frequently NOT cancer. I saw Dr. Crooms (my general surgeon) after that, and he could have chosen to do a surgical removal (lumpectomy probably), but decided on a core needle biopsy first. That is a really, really big deal. If I had gone to a bad general surgeon, he might have skipped the second needle biopsy and done a surgical one instead. It happens all the time. That mistake can kill you! If you have a lot of cancer you often need chemo BEFORE surgery. If you have surgery first it slows you down because you have to recover before treatment. Sometimes they cut you open and can’t even get all the cancer, so you have tons of extra stress and trauma.
The point? Always, always, always get personal recommendations for your surgeon and doctors, AND a second opinion or hard evidence before surgery. In my case Dr. Crooms chose to get the evidence* before recommending surgery. I’ll talk about that below, but it definitively showed it was cancer so he ordered a PET/CT scan and brain MRI to see if it had spread BEFORE surgery. Good move!!!!! Great move!!! I didn’t get a second surgical opinion, but the oncologists I saw all agreed with that decision.
*Abnormal biopsy results are not always cancerous, especially as I was also breast feeding which can confuse cells. That first biopsy could have come back as conclusively cancerous then there wouldn’t have been a need for another biopsy. So the second biopsy was basically for more info. The frozen section is a way for doctors to get a quick look at the cells that were removed. They are only slightly less accurate than a permanent section and take much less time. I believe a permanent section is always done, but ask your practitioner (and insist on one) first. My frozen section came back as an adenoma even though it was cancer. So a few days after receiving “good” news, we got the call that it was actually bad.

5. Always get multiple opinions BEFORE surgery or treatment starts. If it looks bad you will be anxious to hurry up but if you start the treatment first it can be much worse to change it later. For example, many (or all?) types of chemo can only be given once in a lifetime because your body builds up immunity to it. So if you go for a few treatments then ask another doctor what he thinks, you either can’t take his advice or have to waste your chance to ever get the original treatment again down the road. And who wants to doubt that choice forever?
One trick about getting the multiple opinions is to schedule them at the same time. You don’t need to meet with one doctor then make an appointment with the next. Just call them both and schedule for ASAP. It’s your life.
When possible, try not to tell your other doctors what the original said. That way they won’t accidentally be biased by evaluating the original advice. You want independent information first, then you can ask each what they think of the other.
Take notes on EVERYTHING. Remember to get lots of doctor recommendations, but go with the one you fit with best. Some people prefer a good bedside manner over certain medical training, especially if their cancer has a relatively standard treatment.

Psalm 112:7 “He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.”

6. If you end up with cancer you’ll probably have a medical team treating you. You still don’t panic though because God is in control. He IS!!!!! At many hospitals the cancer doctors work together so you don’t have to figure it all out. Mine don’t exactly work together so I sort of make sure they know what each other is up to as needed. My medical oncologist is (or should be) the boss though. This depends on the whole issue, but he should be very aware of surgery and radiation stuff/scheduling before you do any of it. I know of a case where a patient started radiation without his oncologist being aware, and they were supposed to be done in conjunction. That will keep your treatment from working. Boo!!!!!!!!!!

That’s all I can think of right now. If anyone has things to add, put them in the comments section. There are more details and verses about my own experiences throughout this blog,  but I couldn’t explain much without including some personal details.

Psalm 86:2, “ Guard my life, for I am devoted to you. You are my God; save your servant who trusts in you.”

Miracle Stories

I received the “Hero for Hope” award tonight from The Ride for Hope (www.therideforhope.com). In my acceptance I stumbled over my words and didn’t say exactly what I had planned, but Yaacov says it was good so I’m not going to worry about it. They surprised me by having Dr. Crooms come to present me with the award. He was literally between surgeries–after finishing one he put on a suit and raced to the fairgrounds, then back to TMH for the next procedure.  It was so nice. Plus, I actually saw him yesterday for the post-op visit and he didn’t clue me in that he’d be there.

Tonight was great. We couldn’t get a sitter so took the girls with us. They were a bit ansy because it spilled over to bedtime, but I can’t tell you how sweet it was to sit up on the stage and watch them. Abigail was cheering me on and making faces to entertain me. Naomi was walking around, eating Cheetos (anything to keep her quiet!) and smiling with true joy. This is what I’ve been fighting for. TOTALLY worth it.

The organization honors someone new every year. It was set up in honor of a man named Lou Farrah. If I understand correctly, he had some type of really bad, inoperable cancer (not sure if he’d been fighting already or it came out of nowhere), and everyone said there was nothing that could be done, he was going to die really soon. Then he saw Dr. Crooms. It was really late at night and Crooms checked him out and left for a minute. He came back into the room and said, “I can operate but it has to be right now”. So surgery started at something like 10pm and was successful. He lived three years or so more because of Dr. Crooms taking the chance on him. Dr. Crooms was the first recipient of the Hero for Hope award, and I think Lou was able to present it to him. I met Mrs. Farrah today and she was putting on a brave face. She is very kind but misses him terribly. She said she should be over it (I think it’s been 7 years or so), but it’s still very hard.

I have been hearing a lot of stories like this, and they get me thinking. A few people have mentioned how nice it would be to document things like that. It leaves a legacy, which seems comforting. Maybe it would give Mrs. Farrah great joy to tell Lou’s story again and have tons of strangers read it. The stories also give people hope and it’s good to get all the details on paper to distribute rather than let them get distorted through word of mouth. I’m not sure I can do the stories justice, or what kind of format to put them in, but maybe I’ll start collecting them then figure it out. I might be able to submit them as articles to magazines or put them in a book at some point. So, if you’re reading this and have a cool miracle story, please email me at epetscher@gmail.com.

I am so happy. Overjoyed by all my blessings. Abigail prayed for salvation the other night. Do you know how bittersweet and heart-wrenching that would have been if I still had cancer? One of the things I had prayed for through cancer was to see that moment before I died, so it would have felt like one box marked off the to-do list before I ascend into heaven. As it was I got to truly enjoy the moment instead of thinking like that.

Abigail’s always been a happy “Christian”, but we weren’t sure when to make it official. We wanted to make sure she understood what she was praying, but there’s no magic age we could decide on. So, because of all the questions she’s been asking lately, salvation came up a lot. She jumped at the chance to secure hers and we went for it. We videotaped it so at least she’ll have that if she doesn’t happen to remember it as an adult. I thought maybe once per year we would have an anniversary celebration of that day and watch the video and reminisce. Not that I (or any of us) have assurance that I’ll be around next year, but I also don’t see anything getting in the way. Certainly not cancer!!!!

    “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

PET Results and Whatnot

I guess I never got around to reporting my most recent PET scan results–ALL CLEAR, hooray! At this point it’s not exactly a surprise because I already knew I was healed. But it is great, great confirmation!

I am still praying about having radiation and taking the Tamoxifen. These are expected by my healthcare providers but I have a hard time doing it while knowing I’m healed. However, the more I pray, the more I believe God wants me to keep it up. So, we’ll keep praying and planning  on it. The short version of the reason to do it is that these things keep the cancer from coming back. I just have a hard time with God wanting me to do it, because that hints again that there’s a chance it will come back. But I felt the same way about finishing chemo and He showed me some other good reasons to go through with it, such as the people I got to speak to because of it. 
There’s a fundraiser this weekend called the Ride for Hope (www.therideforhope.com). They are going to recognize me tomorrow because I’m supposedly a “Hero for Hope”. I am still wrapping my head around this. It is one of the nicest things man has ever done for me, but I’m just accepting the honor on God’s behalf. 
It will be a great chance to tell people about true Hope, the God of Hope. Hope that is more powerful than circumstances. The great Hope that opens more doors than any man can. The Hope that saw me through this mess, and will see anyone else through theirs. No matter how bad it seems. Or even how minor the situation can appear to other people. God gives this hope freely, we just have to ask. And believe. He will give anyone hope, the only problem is that it doesn’t always look the way we want or expect it to. I think it can be really scary to hope in things we do not see because it’s giving up control. But if you do it right, it’s exhilarating to release that control, especially as it’s a perceived notion anyway–none of us really have control, we just think we do.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” Romans 15:13 
Romans 8:24-25, “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
That took a different direction than I originally intended. But it’s all true so maybe someone needed to read it. Blessings to you all!

Pathology Report

Well, it happened! I just saw my FAVORITE nurse, Karen, who is Dr. Crooms’ nurse. She removed my staples, drains, and gave my report from surgery…My pathology report from bilateral mastectomies and removal of 10 lymphnodes came back, NO CANCER!!!!!!!!!!! The phrase, “no evidence of disease” that I was hoping for is not in there, but it doesn’t matter. The pathologist who wrote it just kept referring to the original biopsy slides and scars as a reference point for the cancer that would have been there.

Some of this is confusing if you’re not familiar with cancer surgeries and my particular case. So, to be clearer: Some people have surgery first, but because mine had already spread I got treatment first and then surgery. The biopsy I had was not a surgical removal of the cancer, but was gathered by puncturing the main tumor with large needles. These needles left scar tissue, which was used a reference point for the report. They did not have cancer in them at the time of removal. For a pathology report they measure “margins”, which is the amount of cancer-free tissue that is removed from the cancerous area. The wider the margins, the less chance of recurrence, because it’s less likely that loose cancer cells jumped the line before removal. My margins are wide. Probably would have been wide anyway, because of the mastectomy, but the size and location of the original tumor could have made my margins smaller. But there was no original tumor left. It wasn’t even reported as a different color, just healthy stuff around the scar tissue that remained from the biopsy zone. Cool.
All that is a long way of saying: God wins, cancer/Satan loses.

God is so good, I feel SO guilty about having thrown myself a pity party this week. I always say that He is good no matter what, but I’ve been in such a bad, crabby zone lately that it was effortful to convince myself of His awesomeness. But guess what? He loves me anyway! This is evidenced in many ways, not just by healing my cancer.

I often meditate on the fact that He loves me IN SPITE of who I am, not BECAUSE of who I am. I am overcome with gratitude and utter humility just thinking about it. He has chosen me for this journey, molded me, carried me, forgiven me, overlooked my flaws, all to glorify Himself in some way. Can you imagine? A king choosing to be represented by a commoner. A judge entrusting a hardened criminal with his valued possessions. A father selecting his outcast, worthless child to take over his company rather than all the righteous, perfect ones that seemingly deserve it.

I am overcome with joy from my father. I know the doctors will view this is a great outcome from all my medical treatment, but I know better. I know God has healed me, and only time or God himself can convince those with hardened hearts. That’s okay. In the meantime, I have many opportunities to share the news and plan to do just that.

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it–the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” –Romans 3: 21-25.

I know I owe a LOT of people phone calls and emails. I plan to reenter the real world soon, and will contact you then. It turns out that hiding out in my room didn’t help that much, but it was worth a try.

I had a PET scan today. I don’t expect to get the results for probably a week, but let’s all keep praying for no cancer at all. At that time I will send all my reports to Mayo and MD Anderson just to update those doctors on everything.

I just noticed that a different version of the Bible (ESV) has a line I didn’t catch in whatever version I used when blogging the other day. This added line sums up a fear i had at the begining of this journey–I was afraid that I would be loud about praying to be healed, because if God chose not to it would make Him look bad. And I’m sure I was at least a bit afraid I would look stupid. I remember my pastor teasing me that I didn’t need to worry about how God looks, so I made an effort to drop it. But the last line below sums up the issue of ourselves being shamed, and somehow it fits into the whole thing. Nice how it’s taken months but He’s showing it to me now when I’m ready to receive it.

Romans 5:3-5, “More than that, we rejoice in our suffering, knowng that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does NOT put us to SHAME, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Hallelujah!