This is one of my favorite weeknight meals – it’s pretty easy, it’s pretty quick, and it’s a crowd-pleaser. All three of my kids like it. Berkley (by far the pickiest of my children) went as far as to call it “her favorite chicken”… and coming from the child who basically lives on scrambled eggs and cereal, whoa! This curry dish a nice change of pace when you just can’t make spaghetti or tacos again. I serve mine with edamame. Enjoy!
Coconut Curry Chicken
3 tbsp canola oil 1 large sweet onion, julienned 2 tsp minced garlic 2 to 3 tbsp curry powder 2 lbs chicken tenderloins, sliced into 1/2” pieces 1 tsp salt 1 tsp cumin ½ tsp pepper ½ tsp garlic powder ½ tsp onion powder 1 14.5-oz can coconut milk (not lite) 1 10-oz can tomato sauce 1 tbsp sugar
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil and add onion and garlic. Sauté until onion is translucent. Add curry powder, and stir well.
Add chicken, salt, cumin, garlic powder and onion powder, stirring well to coat the chicken with the seasonings and brown it a bit. Sauté for 2-3 minutes.
Add the coconut milk, tomato sauce and sugar. Stir well. Place lid on skillet, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes.
Serve over jasmine rice. (For Instant Pot users: 3 cups rinsed rice, 3 1/4 cups water, 5 mins high pressure, quick pressure release.)
*If cooking for a large crowd, you can double to the chicken (the sauce will still be plenty for the additional chicken). Taste at the end and add salt if needed.
It’s a low-key weekend in the Stembridge household, which means getting caught up on housework… and baking! And since telling you all about the yummy raspberry scones I just made is much for fun than housework, alas, here I am, and the housework can wait!
I first made these scones for my daughter Berkley’s tea party birthday back in December. I was a scone newbie, and so I scoured Pinterest for what appeared to be a delicious – and beginner-appropriate – scone recipe. I lucked upon this recipe and it delivered on its promise to be easy and so good. I made these again for a brunch baby shower, and then a random weekend morning. And as I was prepping my grocery list and thinking about what to bake, these little beauties popped in my mind. I’m here to report, they are just as good the fourth time around. Hope you all enjoy!
1 stick of unsalted butter, diced into 1/4″ to 1/2″ pieces, placed back in refrigerator 2 cups all-purpose flour 1 tbsp baking powder 1/4 cup sugar 1/2 tsp salt Zest from 1 lemon 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream 3/4 cup frozen raspberries
1.) Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. 2.) In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and lemon zest. 3.) Add butter to dry ingredients and toss it to coat with the flour. Use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the flour mix until it resembles coarse meal. 4.) Add frozen raspberries and toss to coat with a large fork. Drizzle heavy cream, and continue to incorporate raspberries, cream and butter. Using your hands, begin to kneed the dough until it starts to come together. 5.) Pour out the dough on the parchment lined baking sheet, and press to form an 8 to 9-inch square that is around 3/4-inch thick. It will look imperfect and rough around the edges, but that is OK! 6.) Using a large knife, cut the square into 9 square pieces. Then cut each of those squares in half to create 18 small triangles. Gently separate each triangle to have space for baking. TIP: coat your hands with flour so you can separate the scones and re-form some of them if needed without the dough sticking to your hands. 7.) Bake for 13 to 14 minutes, or until slightly golden.
Recipe from http://www.flourarrangements.org/2016/05/raspberry-lemon-scones/
This year our boys both opted for a Nerf War themed birthday party. With birthdays two days apart, we are always in the back-to-back birthday camp. This year was no different, although picking the same theme made turning the party so much easier (and cheaper)! If you know me, you know that an over-the-top party is my thing. It’s hard to explain the rush I get from seeing all the planning and work turn into the party of my kids’ dreams. Y’all, I know I’m a bit crazy, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s who I am… so now I just embrace the crazy! Watch out!! 😉
Thought I’d share how we structured the party and how we pulled it together! Below is a step-by-step run down of all the activities, what we used, where to purchase it and how much it cost. I’ve even included a link to download the PDF of the printables I created. If you are in the market to create a Nerf War party of your own, I hope you find some inspiration here! 🙂
When the kids arrived, we gave them a drawstring backpack that was full of all the supplies they’d need for the party (and also served as the party favors!). Kids could either be on the orange team or blue team, and we handed out bags accordingly.
Supply Bags: – Bags – nylon drawstring backpacks (10 bags for $14 on Amazon – you will need two different colors) – Small Nerf gun (around $6 each on Amazon and at Walmart) – Nerf bullets – 2 packs of 10 bullets (box of 1200 for $34 on Amazon) – Wrist belt bullet holder (15 for $10 on Amazon) – Safety goggles (12 for $13 on Amazon) – Small bottle of water – Orange and blue bandanas ($1 each at Hobby Lobby)
The party had three main activities: 1) Boot Camp (an obstacle course) 2) Target Practice 3) Nerf War (a capture the flag game)
The objective was to earn points during Boot Camp and Target Practice to redeem for supplies that would help give them an advantage during the capture the flag game. They could upgrade their gun, earn extra bullets and “buy” immunity flags. Points were represented by painted Nerf bullets (wooden tongue depressors painted blue with an orange tip (10 points) and white with an orange tip (50 points)). First up was Boot Camp!
Boot Camp Course: – Low crawl course – small stakes (12 12-inch stakes for $3 at Lowe’s) connected by staples with orange nylon mason line string ($6 for a 250-ft roll at Lowe’s) – Shoot at a target – simple body shape cutout of a foam board, spray painted black with an orange and blue bullseye constructed from poster board – Run around orange cones (4 for $3 at Target) – “Tire runs” – made out of pool noodles ($1 each at Dollar Tree), bent into circles and secured with blue duct tape – Balance beam – scrap 2″x4″s screwed together
We had each team go through the obstacle course as a group and timed how long it took for the entire team to make it through. Our fastest team was 2:37, and slowest was 3:03. Members of the winning team each got 20 points.
Next, they made their way to Target Practice. Kids got 10 tries (bullets) at each station, and we had five stations set up.
Target Practice: – Bulleyes – made with blue paper plates and orange card stock – kids had to hit a plate – 10 or 20 points – Cans lined up on a ladder – kids had to shoot down the can – 20 points – Water bottles topped with ping pong balls – I filled the bottles half full of water so they would stay put – kids had to knock the ping pong balls off the bottles – 10, 20 and 50 points (pack of 6 ping pong balls purchased for $1 at Dollar Tree) – Army men lined up on a piece of wood – kids laid on their bellies (on a blanket) and tried to shoot the Army men down – 20 points (pack of Army men purchased for $1 at Dollar Tree) – Cup shot – kids tried to shoot their bullet into a paper cup for 10, 20 or 50 points (I hot glued the cups to the board; the board was purchased for $6 at Home Depot, cups were $1 at Dollar Tree)
Kids were able to redeem their points (Nerf bullet painted sticks) for upgrades. They did this throughout the Target Practice time. The upgraded guns (100 points) we provided were purchased for around $10 on Amazon, plus we used some of our personal arsenal of Nerf Guns. We had around 10 upgrade guns available, and around 15 kids at each party, so not everyone could get a better gun. We made it first come, first served! The Immunity Flags (50 points) were white bandanas ($1 each at Hobby Lobby) that I cut into four squares. The extra bullets packs (20 points) were in groups of 10, and part of the 1200 I bought for the supply bags.
We took a break for pizza after Target Practice, and while they were gathered we went over the rules for the Nerf War.
Capture the Flag Rules: 1) No shooting above the shoulders. 2) Object of the game: steal the other team’s flag from their base and return it to yours. Don’t let your team’s flag get stolen! 3) If the other team has your flag, shoot the person with the flag. They have to give it to you to return to your base (the other team can’t steal it back before you get there). 4) If you get hit with a bullet, you have to sit on the ground until another teammate touches you OR you can redeem a white immunity bandana. If everyone on your team is down, you automatically lose. 5) First team to get the opponents flag to their base wins.
In our backyard (aka the battle field), we setup 2 bases on opposite sides of the yard, and created a few barricades in between. For both we used Black Dot Silt Fence from Lowe’s ($14 for a 50’x3′ roll). We took our kids’ best Nerf guns and placed them in the middle of the battlefield, along with extra bullets and immunity flags. These were up for grabs for whoever got to them first! Our team flags were bandanas tied to 4-foot tree limbs.
To start our battle, we had each team get behind their bases. We counted down, and let them go at it! The games with the 9-year-olds involved more strategy and lasted longer; the games with the 7-year-olds went a bit faster. We let the kids play three games, and we awarded the best of the three games as the winners! We had a medal ceremony for the winning team members, where we passed out plastic award metals (48 medals for $14 on Amazon – I’ll be saving my leftovers for another party!) We finished the party with cupcakes, cold drinks and presents!
For decor, I mainly used balloons, the orange and blue bandanas, and some blue and white striped fabric. I topped all the tables with orange plastic tablecloths ($1 each at Hobby Lobby). I also designed printable signs and labels that were placed throughout the party, and we created painted wood signs to mark all the stations.
Party Decor: – Balloon arches – this was my first ever attempt at a balloon arch, and I’m hooked because they were so easy! I blew up orange, blue and white balloons (using a hand pump I already had), and tied 6-inch pieces of twine around tied ends. I then stuck command strips to the wall, and strung a longer piece of twine from one side to the other. Next I tied the balloons to the twine, alternating colors and sizes, pushing the balloons together until the right look took shape. Where there were gaps, I filled in with small balloons or added larger ones underneath the existing balloons to push them up and cover any twine that was showing. – Rag tie banner – I used 2 orange and 2 blue bandanas, and cut each of them into 1-inch strips. I then tied each strip to twine, and shifted it along the twine to be even. I alternated orange and blue. – Fabric runners – I purchased 3 yards of fabric (around $5/yard on sale at Hobby Lobby), I was able to make 3 runners, each about 14 inches wide. I used pinking sheers to cut the runners, and did not hem them (FYI – I create these runners for nearly all my parties – it’s a relatively inexpensive way to tie together a theme!) – Paper signs and labels – I created flyers to help explain the party rules and placed them in acrylic stands I already had. I also designed water bottle covers, points labels and cupcake toppers (2 slightly different versions for a each party). I printed all but the cupcake toppers on regular paper – the cupcake toppers had to be printed on card stock for my circle punch to work properly. Below is a link to the PDF file for all of the printables! – Wooden signs – We used scrap deck boards (but any similar scrap wood pieces could work), and my husband cut them into roughly 30-inch pieces and screwed wooden stakes to them. If you don’t have a saw, both Home Depot and Lowe’s will cut wood for you in the store. We purchased a 12 pack of wooden stakes for $8 at Lowe’s. I then used acrylic paint to paint the words – for some signs I used a stencil, and some I free-handed.
For food, I did my best to deliver orange and blue food that was NOT loaded with artificial food coloring. I believe the only food coloring we had was in the blue Doritos (these were a request from the birthday boys), and the little bit of sprinkles I topped the cupcakes with. With my aversion to artificial food coloring, I do my best to avoid colored icing. However, I achieved the pops of color I wanted for the theme with the cupcake liners (always use foil because they keep their color after baking!) and the cupcake toppers (printouts that I cut with my circle paper punch and hot glued to toothpicks). For snacks I had clementines (orange!), trail mix (from Aldi, packaged in blue!) and the previously mentioned blue Doritos. I also created an orange punch (a mix of mango-tangerine and mango-passion 100% fruit juices and ginger ale). I threw in some sliced oranges for flare. We used blue paper plates, napkins, cups, and straws – all purchased at Dollar Tree for $1/pack.
To accompany the pizza (and to serve as munchies for both kids and adults), I made a pasta and veggie salad, pimento cheese, a cheese and meat charcuterie board, french onion dip with chips, and ham and cream cheese roll-ups. In addition to the orange punch, we served Capri Suns (blue!) and tangerine La Croix (orange!).
While this party was a lot of work, it was super gratifying to see the excitement on our boys’ and their friends’ faces! Having a handy husband who happily constructed our obstacle course and battlefield was clutch! For the supply bags, obstacle course, target practice and battlefield, I estimate it was around $380. I was able to reuse all but the supply bags for my other son’s birthday party the next day, so this improved my per-party budget – win!!
If a Nerf War party is in your future, I hope that my post can help give you some helpful tips and ideas to pull off a birthday your kids won’t soon forget! Now, on to my next party! 🙂
Hi friends, it’s me, Jessica. It’s been a while since we chatted, and that’s been mostly because things were going well (and busy) and a little because things got rough. This journey is a marathon, and frankly, I’ve never been much of a runner. And especially not long distances. If I were a runner, I suspect I’d be a sprinter. But the monotony of running a race that seems to go on forever and ever is not my thing. Yet, here I am, jogging along and winded because I’m in this marathon, whether I like it or not.
I haven’t given a health update since last August – and a lot has happened since then. Most importantly, I had a scan in September that showed “no evidence of disease” (NED) and confirmed that the chemo, mastectomy and radiation had done their job. Praise be to God for those glorious results! In October I received my last Herceptin infusion and I began to get back to the old me – cooking and parties and holidays, oh my! The fourth quarter of 2018 was amazing. I soaked up every precious moment with my family, went all-out on Halloween, and Thanksgiving, and Berkley’s birthday, and Christmas. We made so many sweet memories and those months were pure magic for me.
In January, however, I had to hop off cloud 9, put my big girl panties on and brace for another battle. I started a new drug (Nerlynx) aimed at preventing a cancer recurrence. I was warned by my doctor and a newfound Facebook support group to prepare for the worst. This med attacks the GI tract and its number one side effect is pretty awful “D”. So I did what I do best, I concocted a plan to do everything within my power to minimize the side effects and prevent any terribly embarrassing situations. I started my meds on January 1st, and my plan was as follows: drink at least 64 ozs of water each day, change my diet to remove virtually all fiber, start taking probiotics, work from home, try not to leave the house and say a lot of prayers that my body would tolerate this medicine well. I looked ahead at what had the makings to be a gloomy time. But gloomy isn’t for me, so I changed my perspective and reframed the situation. I would be stuck in the house for what I estimated would be a month as my body adjusted to this necessary toxin. But instead of focusing on being stuck, I focused on what things I would get to do while at home once undistracted by my typical busy, running-to-and-fro, and chaotic life. I made a list of the opportunities before me: more time for prayer and gratitude, more time to hang at home with my family, more time to cook and bake, more time to tackle all the “one day” organization projects (for the record, Marie Kondo would be proud!). I was able to keep a positive attitude, learned to manage most of my side effects, and after just shy of a month, felt confident that I could leave the house. My doctor, while thrilled at the measures I was taking and my overall tolerance to the meds, was less than thrilled at the litany of mouth sores I was coping with (10 at one point), and my sudden weight loss. A restrictive diet, a reduced appetite and canker sores that I swear came from the devil himself meant that little ole me lost over 12% of my body weight. At my lowest, I was 95 lbs soaking wet, and even now am only a few pounds over that. He reduced my dose from the recommended 6 pills down to 5, and while I had initial concern over a potential reduction in protection, he made me comfortable with the plan. I’m happy to say that on 5 pills, I’ve been able to stop losing weight, reduce the number of mouth sores, and slowly, return to a normal un-restricted diet. I don’t think I have ever been so stinking happy to eat a salad! But this drug wasn’t the only post-cancer challenge I had to clear this year – the next giant was reconstruction.
Whether or not to have reconstructive surgery was not a hard decision to me. Early on in my diagnosis, it became little more than a bullet point on the to-do list of what I needed to do to get to the other side of cancer. I gave it no more thought than a routine task on a typical to-do list because it was a no-brainer to me… do chemo, have my breasts removed, do radiation, take recurrence prevention drugs and get new boobs. I’ve even looked at this step as the “prize” at the end of the journey. I wasn’t born well endowed and the thought of an insurance-covered, guilt-free boob job seemed like a decent ribbon for my efforts. And while I’m thankful to have not wasted any energy on worrying about this step, fearing the surgery (or subsequent recovery), holy crap I was ignorant. The procedure I had is called a latissimus dorsi flap reconstruction, where they removed muscle and skin from my back, reattached those muscles to my chest, constructed new “nipples” and placed tissue expanders aimed at stretching the new muscle and skin in preparation for a permanent implant. It resulted in a two-night hospital stay, two five-inch incisions on my back, two circular incisions on my front, muscles that were unnaturally cut and pulled and forcefully put into their new position. It left me with four drain tubes protruding from my sides, each hanging by a stitch, which was evident with practically every move. Those drains, for the record, are also straight from Satan. I had limited use of my arms and an extremely sore back due to the over-use of the remaining muscles that were left to carry the load. I would like to think I have a high pain tolerance, as I pretty well tolerated back labor, and three c-sections ,and multiple biopsies, and hundreds of needle sticks, and a mastectomy. But y’all, this one knocked me down. For the first time in my cancer journey I felt low and defeated and wanted to scream and cry “enough!” I had stayed positive and strong before because like, literally my life depended on it, but now, here I was suffering from an “elective” surgery and feeling more hopeless than I ever had before. I think it was partly the pain, partly the second home-confinement (but this time I couldn’t even be productive), partly the fatigue of an 18-month marathon, and partly the anger that this fight was my reality. It sucked. I mean, it seriously sucked. But guys, I made it through. I slowly recovered, I weaned myself off pain pills, got out of my recliner, went back to work, resumed normal activities and (with God’s help) lifted myself from that dark place, back to me. Out from the valley, I am glad I did it. I feel like a part of me has been restored, and for that I am thankful. Having a chest that is no longer concave has given me a shot of confidence that I hadn’t realized I was lacking. I still have one surgery left this summer (to get my permanent implants), but it is out-patient with no drain tubes, and so it should pale in comparison to this last one.
Y’all, cancer doesn’t end with NED. It just doesn’t. If you’ve been through it you understand, but if you haven’t, it can be easy to think a clear scan means it’s over. Even after the treatments and surgeries, cancer is there in the scars you see each morning, it’s there in the decade of daily pills to keep the beast at bay, and it’s the ever-present fear that it will return. And even though, through prayer, I have been able to keep that fear from over-powering my life, it’s still there. It’s like a wolf hiding, just beyond the trees. I can hear him howling. And while it doesn’t stop me from finishing my race, I always know he’s near.
I do not know how people conquer cancer without Jesus. I really don’t. Because without Him, I would have been devoured. But because of Him and His promises, I am not a slave to fear. Thank you, Jesus, that fear does not own me.
Perfect loves casts out fear – 1 John 4:18
At eight weeks post-surgery, I’m back to my old pace and being all “extra” again (a term I’ve come to love and embrace). I’m energized and as cliché as it may sound, I don’t feel like I’m simply surviving – I’m thriving. I’m able to dream again because when I look out at the future, I now see myself in it. I feel called to love big, live my best life and use my God-given talents. I feel the tug to start writing again, to stretch myself in all that I do, to go all-in, and to give Him all the glory. There’s great stuff ahead y’all.
Parties are my thing. I love thinking them up, I love planning out all the details, but most of all I love the joy that they bring to others.
Last year, my middle son Beckett asked if we could have a Halloween party. At the time, I had just been diagnosed with cancer, but the thought of throwing him a party the next year, when I was to be mostly done with my treatments and hopefully feeling like myself again, was a nice goal to set.
And so last night, my little guy’s wish for a Halloween party came true. We had the best time and it was magic for all my kids and their friends.
Here are some pics from our party…
A little bit about our treasure hunt… instead of having all the kids running in a herd from clue to clue, I decided to hand each child their own clue that would lead to a piece of the treasure map. Once all the clues had been found, the map came together and the kids could go find the treasure (a chest full of candy!). Pro tip – I held on to the pieces that had the X until the end so that they wouldn’t find the treasure too early 😉
It’s been months since I’ve “officially” updated you all on my cancer journey. Writing is weird like that – sometimes you feel inspired to write, and sometimes you just don’t. And “just don’t” has just been my writing season recently.
But there’s a lot that’s been going on with me. To start, I finished radiation this summer. Aside from having to refrain from swimming, sunbathing, shaving my armpit or wearing deodorant, radiation was pretty easy on me. My skin was red and tender, but did not break. I felt virtually no fatigue. It served more as an every day nuisance than anything. After 33 trips to the cancer center, I was able to close the door on that phase of treatment.
So what’s next? While it seems like with the completion of chemo, mastectomy and radiation, my cancer journey should be coming to an end, but it’s not. Have I been through the worst of it? I sure hope so. We met with my oncologist last week to discuss the next course of treatments. First on the schedule is Tamoxifen (an anti-estrogen therapy), which I just started. The side effects (hot flashes and night sweats, to name a few) typically take a few months to hit. So far I feel like my normal, always freezing, self. Theoretically I will take this for 10 years, however, my doctor is considering switching me to ovarian suppression in about 18 months. Recent studies have shown this to be a more effective way to keep estrogen-positive breast cancer recurrence at bay, but the side effects can be worse than with the Tamoxifen. He also wants me to begin a new targeted therapy drug (Nerlynx) for the Her-2 part of my cancer in January 2019, and because the side effects of that drug are pretty crappy (literally), he wants to get me through my year of Nerlynx before ovarian suppression begins. That’s a lot of medical speak to say I’m just beginning all the drugs that are necessary to prevent my cancer from coming back. There is a chance I could have minimal to no side effects from all of this. And there’s a chance that the opposite will be true. I will be praying for the former.
Sometime early next year I’ll also begin the reconstruction process. I know that it will at least involve a surgery to give me tissue expanders, a number of fills to expand those expanders, and then an exchange surgery to my “permanent” implants. Based on my mastectomy experience and recovery, I’m hopeful that these surgeries will be similarly non-eventful.
More important than all the status updates of my treatment plan, my biggest report is that I am feeling like my old self again. Maybe better than my old self. It’s like all the energy of my old self, but with the perspective to make my experiences that much sweeter. I find more joy in the mundane, I celebrate the small victories, I am seeking out new opportunities, I’m praying more and I’m worrying less. I am so grateful for all that God has given me, done IN me… and especially what He has done through me. I am more confident than ever that God is still in the business of making miracles, and that the power of prayer is real. You want to know what miracles through prayer look like? A large aggressive tumor shrinking to nearly nothing within days. Facing down stage 3 cancer without fear. Family and friends stepping in the gap to keep my kids’ lives normal. Getting through chemo with no real issues. Getting through surgery with no real issues. Getting through radiation with no real issues. Keeping a positive attitude. Keeping my energy. Growing my faith. Those, my friends, are miracles – the product of so much prayer. So much prayer.
On October 16th I will have a CT scan to make sure all my cancer is gone. While the cancer that was in my breast and my lymph node is gone, we are unsure about what was spotted on my internal mammary glands. Since the location of those spots is on the other side of my sternum, they were unable to be biopsied (to know for sure if they were cancer) or removed. If they were in fact cancer, I feel confident that the treatments have taken care of them. We just want to know for sure. I want to hear 3 little letters: NED (no evidence of disease).
October 16th will also be exactly one year since the day I went to the doctor because I felt a lump.
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 1 Peter 5:10
A few prayer requests:
That my upcoming CT scan comes back clear (NED!!)
That my side effects from the Tamoxifen are minimal
That my cancer never returns
Thank you all for praying for me and checking up on me. I am blessed beyond measure.
Two down, one to go… in terms of my “major” cancer treatments. For those of you who are my Facebook friends, this is old news. But for my blog friends it’s been months since an update. In early March I wrapped up chemo treatments – 6 rounds that began back in November. Last week I had a double mastectomy (without reconstruction – that will come next year). So I’m now at home recovering, mentally well, but physically still coming around.
Chemo – you nasty $%@&*, I am so glad to be rid of you. You sucked. You (temporarily) stole my joy of coffee. You jacked up my finger nails. You gave me a taste in my mouth that still induces nausea if I think about it. You fogged up my brain. You zapped my energy. I’m no longer bitter about my hair because I’m rocking the bald and frankly I don’t miss the shampoo-condition-blowdry-straighten/curl routine that used to eat up a large portion of my mornings. You almost took my eye brows. But, you have a few redeeming qualities… you gave me sweet new friends from the infusion room. You gave me a newfound respect and admiration for the hardworking, amazing chemo nurses (especially mine, Jenny) and doctors who went above and beyond to make sure I got the best care. You gave me an appreciation for actually feeling well because by contrast it is oh so fresh how terrible feeling terrible is. You sucked. But thankfully the bad parts are fleeting and the good parts will carry on. And after all, you did your job – you helped get rid of my cancer.
A few weeks after my last chemo treatment, my amazing hubby Blake coordinated a surprise end of chemo party for me – a big shindig at our house where we celebrated the end of that chapter with family and friends. He thought of absolutely everything – surprise out-of-town guests, a mascara-alert tribute video featuring my sweet children, a beautiful gift, and a legit pig roast. Apparently he’d been scheming for months. I am forever grateful for his unconditional love and caring through this mess. He is the epitome of our vows – for better or worse; in sickness and health.
My surgery has been an interesting, introspective experience. I’ve read about many mastectomy stories; I follow a breast cancer support group on FB; I’m familiar with the physical and emotional scars to be expected. And so as my surgery date approached, I kept waiting for the dread to set in… losing your breasts is a big deal; however dread was never an emotion I felt. So I thought for sure once I was post-surgery and saw my scars, my concave chest and drain tubes hanging from under my wounds, that it would hit me – the finality of it all. But it hasn’t. I’m okay. I am really okay. But in truth I feel a little guilty about being okay. I know it’s not this “easy” for everyone. I’ve been blessed by God’s peace ruling in my life… and by my “don’t worry about what you can’t change” attitude. I am so grateful for this mindset and His grace. Hopefully it’ll allow me to embrace the “rock the flat” mantra as much as the “rock the bald” – especially as I begin to venture outside of my house – I’m cautiously optimistic 😉 Already I’ve been on the winning side of when guests arrive unexpectedly at my house and I have that initial feeling of “oh crap, I’m not wearing a bra!” it’s immediately followed by, “oh yeah, I don’t need one!” There’s always a silver lining, folks!
I met with my surgeon yesterday for my post-op appointment and to review the pathology report from the tissue collected during surgery. As many of you know, I’d been praying for the words “complete response to chemo” which would mean that they found no cancer remaining from the chemo treatments. I had already learned immediately following surgery that my doctor only had to take two lymph nodes and that both tested negative for cancer (even the one that had biopsied positive months ago). But yesterday I learned that there was still some cancer remaining in the breast tissue that was removed, although it was much smaller than the original tumor, and undetectable by touch. The chemo had done a number on it, but had not removed it completely. I was a little bummed about this as I just felt sure that the chemo had done the full job. But as I’ve thought about it the last 24 hours, I feel like maybe the results are a way to keep me depending on and trusting in God to see me through this. Perhaps results that the chemo had gotten rid of the cancer would have left me too logically confident that I’m in the clear, and would not have given me the opportunity to be more spiritually dependent. Despite a little disappointment, my doctor called my results great – they were able to get clear margins around the cancer they removed. As far as the cancer we know about, it is now ALL GONE. I’m hesitant to use words like “no evidence of disease” yet because I have to not had another scan to see if the suspicious spot they saw on my internal mammary gland is still there. I will be doing radiation beginning in May, and so this should take care of anything remaining that surgery and chemo didn’t get. I should have a scan after all treatments are done to know for sure.
Two-thirds of the way done, while slightly battered and bruised, I’m still optimistic and encouraged. I’m still choosing to see the blessings from this journey and how much I will have gained on the other side. I’m still feeling God’s joy and peace. I still feel like the devil messed with the wrong chick – not today satan! I still feel incredibly blessed by the outpouring of prayers and support for me and my family. Y’all, this is the most humbling and beautiful experience I’ve ever been through – to witness miracles, healing, God’s grace, the way my selfless friends and family have continued to give and give and give (this is not a short journey and they just keep giving). To be given the opportunity to see just how much you mean to the people around you is just wow. It’s hard to put it into words.
For my praying friends:
PRAISE that my surgery was successful and uncomplicated
PRAISE that they only had to take 2 lymph nodes that were both cancer-free
PRAISE for continued peace for me and my family
Pray for my complete healing
Pray for my upcoming radiation treatments and that my side effects are minimal
But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. – 2 Corinthians 12:9
Tomorrow is my 4th chemo treatment – wow. Hard to believe I’m this far in this portion of my treatment, but I’m thankful to have done as well as I have. So far my body has responded quite well to the chemo; both in the way my cancer is responding and my side effects. Prior to starting my treatment the doctors and nurses tell you all of the possible side effects you could experience and I’m happy to report that mine have been mild by comparison. The worst part is the nausea and fatigue – it’s sort of like if morning sickness and a terrible hangover had a baby, that’d be my chemo aftermath. Fun times! But fortunately for me, my medical team is very committed to minimizing this as much as possible and so with each chemo treatment and different anti-nausea concoction the severity of it all is improving. Going back to the infusion center post chemo for IV fluids and nausea meds seems to do the trick, and so that’ll be my MO for the next rounds.
Life has started to feel a little more back to normal. The holidays are over, I’m back to work (from home), somehow my tastebuds that seemed destroyed with my first chemo treatment have mostly returned to normal, my will to cook and clean is back (why?!? lol) and as a family we’ve started focusing on things that are not cancer related. Home improvements, vacations, family goals, career goals; things that my mind had no room for upon my initial diagnosis have once again gained space – and that is a nice and normal feeling to have. My feelings of peace and confidence in God’s plan for this season remain. I’ve got days of blah, but the days of hopefulness are greater. Thank you, Jesus!
Medical update: Recently I met with my breast surgeon who did an ultrasound of both the area where my breast cancer was and my lymph node that biopsied positive for cancer. In my breast, aside from a very small area that may be remnants of my tumor (but too small to measure) and the metal clip she inserted during the biopsy, she saw nothing else. My lymph node also showed improvement having shrunk from 2.6 cm to 1.3 cm (so the prayers and chemo are working on this sucker too!!). This was the first time I had seen her since starting chemo, so she was super pleased (and astonished) with the way the cancer has responded to the treatment. I told her we had praying that bad boy away.
One issue I have had through all this is my port; it got infected over Christmas and was removed shortly after. I had to receive my 3rd chemo treatment via IV (which was not as pain free as through the port). Last Monday they attempted to place a new one on the other side of my chest, but the surgeon, upon examining my old port site, discovered it had not fully healed and he was worried that it may become infected again. He said he did not feel comfortable risking an infection to my new port and therefore postponed the surgery. I am now scheduled to have the new port placed tomorrow morning, prior to my chemo treatment, assuming the surgeon is comfortable with condition my old port site. It is still not fully healed, so I’m unsure how this will go.
Despite the dramatic positive response my tumors have had to the treatment, we will press forward with the initial aggressive plan of attack, however, there have been a few modifications. As it stands, my last chemo will be March 2nd. They will give me a month to recover and then my mastectomy will be the first week of April. Initially I was supposed to begin reconstruction at the same time as my mastectomy, but now, due to the extent of the radiation necessary because of where the cancer has spread, reconstruction will be delayed 6 to 12 months. After my surgery in April, they will let me recover another month and then I’ll begin 33 rounds of radiation (I’ll be receiving radiation every week day for 33 days) in May. Finishing up in mid to late June, this should be my final cancer treatment!! Except for targeted therapy infusions every week week… and hormone blocker pills for 10 years… well, let’s just say it’ll be the final “hard” treatment. Hallelujah!!
For my praying friends, here are our specific praises and prayer requests:
Praise that my lymph node is shrinking!
Praise that my side effects are not severe!
Pray for my old port site to heal to allow my new port to be placed
Pray for me and my family’s continued peace and confidence in God through this season
Pray for my complete healing
I continue to be humbled by this whole experience. By so many things – by the outpouring of prayers, messages, calls, cards, gifts, help, food, an amazing husband, so many friends and family that care so much about me. I’m humbled by co-workers who surprised me with a “pink day” video in my honor (video here – mascara alert). I’m humbled by what big things God has already done in me – both physically and mentally. How He’s prepared me by my strengthening my walk with him over the last few years to get me ready to fight this thing with Him. How He’s taken away my fear and my anxiety almost completely. It is truly amazing. I continue to be excited for what He’s got in store for me, but until that is revealed, I plan to keep giving Him all the Glory, and keep my eyes on Him to get see me through this.
Not sure how many of you are familiar with the Bible app, but you can bookmark verses. Through these last few months I’ve been bookmarking several verses that speak to me about this journey. Somehow prior to my cancer diagnosis (like back in October 2016) I had accidentally bookmarked a verse, John 9:3. In my quiet time each morning as I read through my intentional bookmarks, I’d get annoyed that I had this one “mistake” in there- surely not relevant to what I wanted to be feeding myself with. Apparently I hadn’t actually read (or absorbed) the verse prior to my petty annoyance… but a few weeks ago I did. Wow.
Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” John 9:3
It’s been a little over 2 weeks since my last update, and wow, what a crazy, emotional, roller coaster the last few weeks have been. I’ll try to catch you all up best that I can.
When I last wrote, we had met with my breast surgeon who had told us of suspicious spots on my MRI. When we met with the oncologist the next day, he confirmed her suspicions and told us the cancer was actually at least stage 3, and that we’d need a PET scan to confirm it had not spread (which if it had would make it stage 4 – treatable, but not curable). And it was at this point that my world started spinning, that I started to feel real sadness and worry over my diagnosis. Sadness for what this was putting my family and friends through, worry about how long I would be around for my kids and husband. The real dark places that a mind can go when faced with this kind of news. There was a lot of crying at the uncertainty of it all. Blake was also rattled by this news. It was a scary day. What we thought was stage 1 “early” breast cancer, was actually at least stage 3, and my oncologist said it had been around a while. Gut punched.
And then my small group rallied around us. They called one of our pastors, they showed up at our house the next morning. They laid hands on me and Blake – they prayed for us and they cried with us. It was such a beautiful and powerful expression of Jesus’ love for us and the power of prayer.
And after that experience, my sadness and worry left. I physically felt the weight of the anxiety lifted from my chest and I felt as though God was telling me that it was going to be okay. I spent the next few days busy with follow up appointments – a biopsy of a lymph node, a CT scan and a bone scan (my PET was denied by insurance), but I was at peace.
That Wednesday morning I received the amazing news that my scans did not show any evidence of metastatic disease (stage 4), and that I would continue on the treatment plan discussed with my oncologist: TCHP (Taxotere, Carboplatin, Herceptin and Perjeta) chemo every three weeks for six cycles, with Herceptin and Perjeta infusions continuing for a year, double mastectomy in early April, radiation and 10 years of hormone therapy.
So fresh off the amazing news of clear scans, with my girlfriends and family, I had a head-shaving/kick cancer’s butt celebration that evening. While I had been contemplating the idea of a “party” to shave my head, I had to really consider it. The idea sounded awesome in theory, but I wasn’t quite sure how I’d feel center stage with my friend (and hairdresser) buzzing my head in front of 30 of my closest ladies. But I prayed about it, and when I made the call to go forward with the party, I felt confident in the decision. And let me just say, that I am so, so, so glad that I did. Nothing will make you feel better about your newly bald head that all your girls hooting and hollering and telling you how pretty you are! It was such an empowering experience! I didn’t cry, but instead, surrounded by all that love and support, I was beaming. In some silly way I felt like it was my transformation into a warrior party, because that’s actually what I feel like with my buzzed head lol. [Photo cred to my awesome friend and amazing photographer Liz Williams]
The day after my party, I had my port placed (a device that is surgically implanted under the skin to allow chemo drugs to be infused easily). The recovery from this has hurt a little more than I expected, but it’s been manageable.
And then Friday, November 17th, I had my first chemo infusion. We were there for almost seven hours, but the day went really smooth. Blake was with me the entire time, the nurses were super sweet and I had some friends drop by to bring lunch and hang out for a bit.
Post chemo: Saturday went well… and Sunday morning went well… and then Sunday afternoon the intense nausea hit (and barreled through Monday as well) and that was pretty rough. I was able to keep my fluid intake to the 64 ozs they recommend, and I was able to eat throughout the day. The best way I can describe the feeling is it’s very similar to the first trimester of pregnancy – constantly nauseous, hungry (but nothing sounds good) your tastes are off and you’re tired. And since I’ve been through that three times, it sucked, but it was not unfamiliar territory. Today is the first day that (aside from fatigue) I feel almost back to normal. Hallelujah! I was fortunate enough to have Blake’s mom with me for the week so I was able to feel yucky without having to take care of the kids or do housework, and Blake’s stepmom is coming for a few days to help out as well (so I can continue my daily naps lol). Gosh I am so, so thankful for all the help and support we have had through this whole ordeal! It has meant to world to me and Blake to have everyone praying for us, sending messages, gifts, meals, helping with our kids and just anything you can imagine that would be helpful. We have the BEST people in our lives. Period.
And I am happy to report that all of those prayers HAVE been working! My tumor, which the MRI reported as 2.6 cm in diameter a few weeks ago, and that my oncologist “rough measured” at 3 cm right before I started treatment, is now barely detectable. I can still feel some of the DCIS (the not so worrisome other cancer I have), but I can no longer feel “the mass”!! Y’all, talk about humbled, on my knees, praising Jesus that my cancer has already responded so well to this chemo regimen!! I go back to the oncologist on Monday morning and I may be heel-clicking down the halls!
For my praying friends, below are my specific prayer (and praise) requests:
PRAISE: that my scans were clear from further cancer spread
PRAISE: that my tumor is responding well to treatment and SHRINKING
PRAISE: that my body is handling chemo well
Pray: for my complete healing from this cancer
Pray: that my family and I can remain peaceful and positive throughout my treatments
I will continue to claim victory in Jesus name over this awful disease, and I will be thanking Him for all of the many blessings that have come and will come through this trial. Excited to see how He will be using me!
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
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!