Starting the Battle

Today we received further clarity on my breast cancer diagnosis and the beginnings of a game plan. My cancer journey will include four to six months of chemo, a double mastectomy (which we’d already decided), and radiation. I received MRI results that showed some suspicious spots on my lymph nodes, one of which will be biopsied early next week. I start seeing the oncologist first thing tomorrow to learn the specifics of the chemo plan. My doctor thinks chemo may start as early as next week; she said it’s all about to move very fast and they are going to attack this hard. I’d be lying if I said that this news didn’t sting. But, after I started feeling an enlarged lymph node in my armpit a few days ago, I’ve been mentally preparing for this outcome. I am thankful that they are fast-tracking me to start the chemo as soon as possible to prevent any further spread.

Today we also told the kids about my diagnosis. We were careful with our words, but we were honest. We told them mommy has some cancer inside her, she’s going to take strong medicine that will make her sick and make her hair fall out (we clarified it was the medicine that will make me sick, not the cancer). We explained that I’d have surgery to remove the remaining cancer and then mommy would be well. We told them it is all going to be okay. Because it is – we have faith in Him that it is. They took the news remarkably well. There were no tears (from any of us), it was matter of fact. They asked a few questions, it was done in about 5 minutes and then they started back on their homework. The only voiced concern was from Beckett who didn’t want me to lose my hair. I feel ya buddy! But we tried to reassure him it was necessary and I’ll only look funny for a little while.

So how am I doing? Pretty well, all things considered. Getting over the hurdle of telling the boys was really weighing on me, so I am praising God for allowing that to go as well as it did. I feel ready to start this battle. Every day I am a little more ready to lose my hair. I’m bouncing around some ideas on how to make that part fun and a little less traumatic for me and the kids. I feel extremely blessed – not only for the peace that God has given me through this, but for all the family and friends who have been praying for me, thinking about me, calling, texting and offering to help with anything. I feel so, so loved!

Some specific prayer requests:

  • For my complete healing
  • For wisdom and discernment for my doctors as they put together my chemo plan
  • For my body to handle the chemo well
  • For continued peace for me, my family and friends

I started the day choosing power, love, self-control, courage and strength, and that is how I will end it. Fear and worry have no place here!

I’ll update you all as I know more.

Love,
Jess

Pathology Update

First, thank you all for the many prayers, positive thoughts, texts, messages and phone calls. I have felt so supported and loved on over the last week, and I truly appreciate it! A special thank you to my husband. He has been such a rock through this diagnosis. He’s in the midst of the busiest time of a new, demanding job, but has taken this news with poise and compassion and strength. Gosh I love him.

Earlier today I received the rest of my pathology report. While it wasn’t the specific report that my doctor suggested we hope for, after speaking with a breast cancer nurse about it (it’s nice to have family connections!), I’m feeling very happy with these results.

I will re-hash some of the details for those just tuning in: I have stage 1 invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), and my tumor is 2 cm and considered grade 3. I also have non-invasive ductal carcinoma (DCIS) that is 9 cm (this is the calcification the surrounds the tumor, is considered stage 0 and is not worrisome to the doctors). The IDC is the main focus of this fight.

The new piece of information that I got today has to do with the receptors of my IDC (what feeds the cancer). My cancer is estrogen positive, progesterone negative and HER2/neu positive. This means that it’s being fed by hormones and the protein HER2/neu. The good news here is that there are targeted treatments for both of these receptors that are not chemotherapy. The estrogen component can be treated with a hormone therapy pill (typically taken for 5 years) and the HER2/neu can be treated with an IV medication (typically taken for 1 year). While my doctor cannot say yet what my specific treatment plan will be until all of my remaining results are in, it is encouraging to know that there are viable medical options for my scenario that are not chemo.

So here’s what’s next: I have an MRI scheduled next Wednesday and a consult with the plastic surgeon next Thursday. The following week I will receive my genetic testing results on the 8th and meet with my doctor to review the results from my MRI on the 9th. At that appointment I will learn if there is any indication that the cancer has spread to my lymph nodes and whether or not I will need chemo. If no chemo, my mastectomy will be scheduled in the weeks afterwards.

Waiting almost two weeks to really know how we’ll be treating this thing stinks. But I am encouraged by the options out there and am still finding peace through my faith. I continue to see God work through this ordeal – women scheduling mammograms; people reaching out to me about strengthening their own walk in faith. It has been truly humbling.  I believe that more good will come of this than bad, so I am excited to see how I will be used in His plan.

And perhaps God thought I needed a little distraction, because on Tuesday we had a water leak that flooded our kitchen and parts of the basement below. After emergency water remediation (AKA large airplane sounding fans throughout my kitchen and basement – which are STILL here, by the way), and a long visit by our insurance adjuster, we have been informed that in addition to new walls, ceiling and floors in parts of our basement, our main level hardwood floors have to be replaced, and our kitchen will be gutted (new cabinets, backsplash, possibly countertops). Which initially sounded awesome… until we were told that we will have to move out of our house for at least a week (but probably longer). We’re not quite sure the timing of the work, where we will go, or the timing of my surgery, but trusting that it will all work out okay.

I like to end things on a positive note, so here are my silver linings from this week: new boobs (going to make the highlight reel every time), new kitchen and a new excuse to get off the phone with telemarketers… today I was contacted by a man trying to sell me a timeshare. I told him I was not interested, and unfazed he started in on the whole “you’re not interested in vacationing every year in Hilton Head??” and without much thought I answered, “no, sorry, I’m battling cancer right now.” I have never shut up a telemarketer so fast. He answered with, “I’m so sorry, God bless you” and hung up the phone. Score. Wait, is this wrong??

For my praying friends, here are my specific prayer requests for the weeks ahead:

  • Pray for my complete healing
  • Pray for my MRI results to show that the cancer has not spread to my lymph nodes
  • Pray for continued peace and positivity for me and my family

Again, I thank you all so much for the prayers and well-wishes! I will keep you all updated as we go!

Love,
Jess

I have breast cancer.

Yesterday, I found out that I have breast cancer. I’m 35, have no family history, am relatively healthy, and I have breast cancer. Two weeks ago I felt a lump, and despite my initial hesitation to go in and be seen about it, I did. I actually went straight to a specialist. My lump was confirmed by ultrasound… and the immediately after by mammogram. I had a biopsy the next day, and then yesterday my doctor’s initial prediction of cancer was confirmed.

So here’s what I know right now… I have a 2 cm tumor, and so they are giving me an initial staging as stage 1. So far they have not seen any indication that it has spread to my lymph nodes, but they will confirm this when they test my lymph nodes during surgery. I have a 9 cm calcification field surrounding the tumor that is also cancerous. They are less worried about this part. Due to the size of the calcification I will have a mastectomy, probably double (at my own request), and immediate reconstruction (or as I’m calling it, an upgrade! LOL). Surgery will probably be 3 to 6 weeks from now. Within the next week I will get further test results that will tell us if I need chemo, so I am praying that these results are favorable for a surgery-only treatment plan.

My initial feelings of shock, anxiety and sadness have been replace through faith with peace, optimism and gratefulness. I was able to take the official results yesterday in complete confidence that God’s got this! The peace that I feel is unreal.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7

The hardest thing so far has been seeing the worry and concern of my family and friends. And I get it, it’s scary and sad. But please, don’t worry on my behalf! My God is bigger than all of this!

I don’t know what my needs will be over the next several months, but right now what I need is prayer. Some specific prayer requests:

  • Pray for my complete healing
  • Pray that my next round of results come back indicating no need for chemo (positive, positive, negative on the three things they are testing for)
  • Pray that I continue to be filled with the peace of God and can attack this cancer from a position of positivity and optimism
  • Pray that Blake and I find the right words and right timing to communicate this news to our kids

Through all this I feel extremely blessed to have my faith, my awesome family and friends, a very competent doctor, a lot of flexibility with my job, and health insurance.

Now my PSA – ladies, if you feel something, see a doctor!! Even if you’re in your 20’s or 30’s. Even if you don’t have family history. Even if you eat organic, unprocessed food and are healthy! I never thought when I felt my lump that it would actually be cancer. But it was, and I’m so glad I called.

Moving forward, I want to talk about my cancer. I want to joke about it. I do not want it to be the elephant in the room. I want to focus on the positives (like my upcoming new boobs!) and I hope you all will join me in all this.

Love you all!
Jess

A family on the move!

So this is a post where I’ll attempt to squeeze in the content of about five posts into one. It’s been a busy spring and summer. We’ve had a lot of life change – some pretty big things – and I’m finally getting the chance to share them beyond a quick Facebook/Insta post. Yay for the moment to take a breather, give you all an update and share how God’s plan is always greater than ours.

For the past few years, my husband has had a wonderful job as a food service director at a private school. Great people, great hours and the awesome opportunity to send Brogan to that school. It was a wonderful time as Blake was able to be home more than ever before and we grew in our faith, in our marriage and as a family. We were just humming along, enjoying our life, happy with the status quo.

And then this spring, Blake was contacted about another career opportunity. One that would pay more, but mean more time away. Not as bad as his work schedule had once been, but more than what we had grown accustomed to. Our initial answer was no. No, no, no. No, no, no, no, no. We were content, the money would be nice, but we knew money was not everything. And so the first few inquiries about this new opportunity were met with a hard no. Because a change in job would not just impact Blake’s time/our family time, but also Brogan’s school. But the opportunity persisted. And so one day Blake and I decided rather than completely dismiss it, we should pray about it. And so we did.  Relentlessly. Our specific prayer was for God to open doors and close them. To help us see His will. To make it so obvious that we couldn’t deny that we were on the right path. And can I tell you that we both prayed over this more than anything we had ever prayed about before. My heart began to soften slightly to the idea, and so I tried to take an objective look at what his time away could mean to our family time – so I analyzed week night dinners, weekends together, holidays, small group, church, and at that time, baseball with the boys. I plotted what this new role could mean to Blake’s participation in these family activities… and I was surprised to realize it was not as bad as I thought. Yes, he’d be gone more, but what I had originally assumed would be “he’ll never be here” turned into “he’ll miss some.” So my approval rating of the new job went from 0% to 20%. Progress.

While this was going on, the enrollment process at the private school was in full swing. We reapplied Brogan and applied Beckett. We figured until we were certain about our plan, we’d continue on with the current trajectory. But then Beckett did not get accepted. In a decision that shocked us and shocked the teachers and administrators we had developed relationships with over the last few years, Beckett was denied due to his inability to focus and stay on task during his observation. We are talking about a four year old – applying for Kindergarten. But when Blake called me to tell me the news, our emotion was not anger, or sadness – it was awe. Pure awe. We asked for doors to be shut, and this one was slammed. Blake and I knew we did not want our children in different schools and so Beckett’s denial meant the school component was removed from our career decision.

And so we continued to pray and decided to move forward with the opportunity. We knew the official application process would be months of interviews, tastings and red tape. So we moved forward with the same prayer – God please shut doors and open them. Make our path obvious.  Blake entered the candidacy process giving out the disclaimer that he would move forward, but that if God closed a door along the way (either on our end or theirs), that we’d stop the process and there’d be no hard feelings. And so we proceeded.

But because life is never easy, and having a family means our big decisions always impact more than our own lives, we had to start thinking about the other implications of a change. First was school. We knew long term if we didn’t go the private school route that we wanted to be zoned for a different high school, and we did not want to keep moving Brogan to different schools.  We knew that summer was approaching. We knew that if we were going to sell, we needed to do something in the next few months – which also meant that we had A LOT of work to get our house ready for market. Not coincidentally, the money we had saved for the next year’s private school tuition (which was no longer needed), was exactly what we needed to complete the projects on our home. And so Blake got to work. And he worked every night and every weekend. The man who once napped every Saturday and Sunday went two mouths with no naps – and some say miracles don’t happen! 🙂 He painted our entire house, remodeled our master bath, installed new floors, fixed all the random issues that a house develops after 11 years. He was a beast. And he got it all done.

So we also had to find a new house. But we couldn’t pull the trigger until we knew the new job was 100%. Not only were we looking to move school districts, but we needed a bigger house. Like we seriously needed a bigger house. Because it was not only us and our three children, but also our nanny and her one year old son who had been living with us since January. And so the manic Zillow stalking ensued. We knew exactly what we wanted – 5 beds, 4 baths with a basement – but as always seems to be the case, everything we liked was just outside of our budget. But then one day, a house – that met all of our wish list items and then some, within our budget, zoned for the schools we wanted – went on the market. Despite the fact that we did not yet have Blake’s offer in hand (at that point we had been given the verbal “you’re hired” but hadn’t received the piece of paper), I convinced my skeptical husband that we should at least go see the house.  Then that way if we liked it, once we got the job offer, we would be ready to make an offer. So we contacted our agent and made an appointment to see the house that afternoon. As we toured the house, taking in all it had to offer – the amount of space, the openness, the kitchen, the yard – I asked Blake, “is there anything you don’t like about this house?” And his response – “Nope.”

So with intel that there were two other very interested buyers, we took another leap of faith and made an offer. And they accepted. And a week later we had our job offer (which we accepted). And two weeks later Blake finished the work on our old house and it was listed. And a week later he started his new job. And two weeks after that we moved in to our new house. And in two days the boys will start at their new school. And two weeks from now, we will close on the selling of our old house (prayers please that nothing falls through!), just in time to not have two mortgage payments. And if you’d have asked me back in Feb/Mar how all of this life change would go down, and I would have tried toexplain how it would all have to happen so perfectly and intricately, you would have thought I was crazy to even attempt. But here we stand, on the other side, saying wow! God sure does show up with you ask. In our prayers of closing doors and opening them, we were met with just that. I get emotional just thinking about God’s plan for us. And we know that this is not it. God did not lead us here just to relish in the material things of a bigger house and a better job. No – we are looking for ways that from our blessings we can bless others. That we can take the new job, the new house, the new school, the new neighborhood and somehow use it all for His glory.

Oh and because I seemed to have written this entire post without mentioning what Blake is doing – he is now the Executive Sous Chef for the Atlanta Hawks at Phillips Arena. He’s working with an awesome team of a former colleague and a very talented new Executive Chef. We are so excited about this new opportunity! Stay tuned for more great things to come!

New HouseDSC_9916

On medicating my kid

Scrolling through my newsfeed I’ve seen countless articles and posts spouting that we have become a society that is needlessly drugging our kids. That there is an epidemic of misdiagnosis of ADHD, when in fact, we are simply in the midst of a generation of active children with parents who think a pill is the solution that will make their lives a little easier.  Drug them into obedience – shouldn’t we be ashamed of ourselves? What these kids need is good parenting! Interesting perspective. I didn’t give it much thought. Even seemed plausible.

But in hindsight, I was ignorant.

Because here I am, with a child who has been recently diagnosed with ADHD… who has been prescribed medication… and truly needed it.

Our seeking professional help was not the first choice. And if we’re being honest, we knew something was different about Brogan’s behavior since he was very young. He was super, super active, he was defiant, he was disrespectful, he was impulsive.  He expressed himself with outbursts of rage. We did research and thought the answer was “spirited child” (which he probably is too), so we settled on that self-diagnosis and did our best to equip ourselves with strategies that help kids like him. It worked some times. But not most the time. And so we found ourselves in a cycle of time outs, taking stuff away, sending him to his room and spankings. None of which actually stopped the bad behavior. But at least we felt like we were trying and so we kept on.

Fast forward to this fall. All these behaviors that we’d experienced at home started surfacing more at school. His impulsivity was getting worse. His decisions were poor. He was saying inappropriate things. He started seeing the school counselor who tried working with him on his filter, his social skills and how to stay focused at class. He was hard to teach, but his teachers tried loving him through it. He started to get down on himself about his poor choices. But after months of various tactics and incentives ultimately being ineffective, his teacher, his counselor, his principal and an academic advisor sat Blake and I down and said they felt he was unable (not unwilling) to control his behavior. They thought he had ADHD. We heard them out and committed to do whatever was necessary to help him be successful in school… and in life. And so we immediately made an appointment with his doctor and a psychiatrist.

Prior to this, I’d always thought ADHD was simply about hyperactivity and focus. I thought because he was able to focus in some scenarios, that he didn’t fit in the box. But there are many other symptoms, I discovered, like impulsivity, lack of executive functioning, disorganization and lack of a social filter that are evident in ADHD kids. Mind blown.

As we sat in the psychiatrist’s office, after the testing was complete and she had made her official diagnosis – ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (with a statistical certainty of 89%) –  we felt relieved that we had an answer. When she said that traditional parenting techniques don’t work with kids with these conditions, we felt reassured that we didn’t just suck at parenting. When we heard her say that kids with ADHD and ODD, who are born into the wrong homes, are often abused, we felt thankful that God chose Brogan to be our son.

We are now a few weeks post-medication – a slow release version of Ritalin – and wow, what a difference. His teacher said the change in his behavior is like night and day – he’s able to focus on his work, his reading comprehension has improved, his handwriting has improved, he’s getting along better with his friends, he keeps his hands to himself and the impulsivity has nearly stopped. But he’s not a zombie – he’s full of spunk and energy and life. He still eats. He still sleeps well. He still fights with his brother (bummer we couldn’t fix that part ha!).  He’s still Brogan – only now he’s Brogan at his full potential. He likes himself on it too – says he feels more in control and able to make good decisions. He gladly takes his medicine each day.

And so here’s the part where I get on my soapbox. Where I get mad about the spouting of ignorant generalizations that claim my kid is one of the multitude that we are drugging in an effort to make parenting easier on ourselves. That claim mental illnesses such as these are a hoax, citing the unprecedented rise in cases.  You know, there are other conditions that seem to be much more prevalent now than when I was a child, such as food allergies, but no one looks at me sideways as I tote my Epipen around. While I suppose I can’t say that all children diagnosed  with ADHD and prescribed pharmaceuticals are all correctly diagnosed, I can speak for my child. I can say that he has a real condition that needed treatment. I can say that I am at peace with our decision to take action to medicate him rather than live in denial of his mental health condition. I can say that giving him a pill each morning that helps him excel at school, get along with his friends, and improves his self-esteem allows us to sleep well at night. From my soapbox, I can confidently say that I refuse to feel guilt or shame for this choice, and I hope to instill that same confidence in Brogan.

So before you are quick to judge, quick to discount the merits of medication, just remember that many, many children truly need it. Do the research and discover that ADHD is a real disorder based on decades of research, and more recently backed by brain scan and DNA evidence. Realize that when you make uneducated generalizations, you further the stigma associated with mental health conditions such as these. And I ask that when you hear that someone has reached the decision to medicate their child, please try to respond from a place of respect and love.

 

 

 

 

Acts of Service Day – A New Family Tradition

One of the neatest things about starting a family is getting to start our own family traditions.  Last year we spent a day where we focused on others and doing small acts of kindness around our town. While it wasn’t without the challenges you’d imagine with a 3 and 5 year old, it was a wonderful, feel-good family day… and the beginning of a new tradition.

So this year I was determined, in the midst of the craziness of the holiday season and the birthday celebration of my youngest, to carve out a day where me and the boys could spread kindness and holiday cheer in our community. For me, the connection to Christmas and teaching them the true meaning of Christmas is important. Now 4 and 6, they understood the concept a little better, and they were generally easier to manage than last year. We repeated some of our ideas from before and added a few new ones too. I tried my best to capture photos of day. Here’s what we did:

  1. Made sweet treats for our neighbors and went door to door passing them out. dsc_3292dsc_3298dsc_3295
  2. Stopped by a fire station to give treats and cards to our local fire fighters. They returned the favor by letting the boys play in the trucks for a few minutes.dsc_3314dsc_3304
  3. Went to a local restaurant for lunch, left a big tip for our waiter and Brogan sang Christmas carols for the wait staff.dsc_3318dsc_3320
  4. While at the restaurant, we ran into some police officers. The boys thanked them for their service, gave them some of our sweet treats and the cards we made for them (we had intended to drop them by the police station). dsc_3323dsc_3327
  5. Went to Publix, cashed in all of the household coins we could find (to help fund some of our acts of service) and purchased some animal food to donate. We gave to the feed the hungry initiative when we checked out.
  6. Stopped at a gas station and gave the clerk $10 for the next customer who pulled up to pump 10 (Brogan liked the idea of $10 on 10 lol). dsc_3332
  7. Went to the local assisted living home to drop off homemade cards to the residents.dsc_3334
  8. Visited the library to give cards and sweet treats to the librarians. dsc_3343dsc_3342
  9. Stopped by Home Depot, brought in some extra carts from the parking lot and grabbed a last minute Christmas gift for daddy.dsc_3349dsc_3350
  10. Went to Aldi to leave quarters in all the carts and purchase food for a local food pantry. dsc_3355dsc_3356
  11. Made a stop at the Dollar Tree to purchase toys to give to random kids at the park. While we were there the boys left $1 bills all throughout the toy aisle for other kids to find. dsc_3361dsc_3362
  12. While driving through the parking lot, we came across a homeless woman asking for help. Brogan gave her a care packet he’d made at school (that we happened to have in the van), as well as $5 of his own money that he’d earned the day before. The woman was overwhelmed with gratitude by the sweet gesture, thanked us for our kindness and gave Brogan the biggest hug. This was Brogan’s favorite part of the day… and the most emotional one for me.
    [at this point the wheels started to come off, and so my energy was spent wrangling the crazies and not photographing our last few stops]
  13. Stopped at another fire station to give the last of our treats and cards. Again we were met by the nicest fire fighters who indulged the boys’ love of fire trucks, sirens and walkie talkies.
  14. Swung by the food pantry to donate our food and pet items.
  15. Went to the park to distribute our toys. Found four kids to give to – the parents and kids were surprised and very thankful.

I share this with the hope that our tradition inspires others.

Despite the good intentions for a selfless day, I still had to deal with whining from the back seats and little boys who were occasionally annoyed by the diverted focus away from them. I tried my best to keep them on mission and remind them that while most days we cater to their wants this day would be about others. Did the boys see the big picture in all the things we did that day? Probably not. But there were parts where they could see how their actions brought happiness to someone else, and that made them feel really good inside. While I don’t expect that our one day a year excursion turns them into unselfish little people, I do hope it plants a seed. The seed of a selfless spirit, the tendency to do for others, and the true meaning of Christmas.

In short, the Christmas spirit is the Christ spirit, that makes our hearts glow in brotherly love and friendship and prompts us to kind deeds of service. – David O. McKay

 

My Thanksgiving All-Stars

In excitement and anticipation of Thanksgiving this week, I’m re-sharing my all-time favorite Thanksgiving dinner recipes! Enjoy!

Biscuits 'n Crazy

I typically spend my Thanksgivings alternating between my grandma’s house and Blake’s family. And so while I haven’t hosted turkey day at my home but once or twice,  I’m usually making half a dozen sides to contribute to the meal and so I’ve acquired my favs over the years. My office also has an annual Thanksgiving lunch, and so I get another opportunity to try new recipes and perfect the tried and true.

Ever since I began eating cleaner and cutting out all the “cream of whatever” soups, I’ve been on a quest to find recipes that are just as flavorful, but truly made from scratch. So far so good. I’m still lacking a good green bean casserole, but I’ve got a couple of Pinterest ideas that I may just try next week – stay tuned.

So here’s the list… sorry don’t have pictures for all of them, but trust me…

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