Prayer works, y’all.

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.

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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]

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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.

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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 

Love,
Jess

 

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!

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The Next Chapter

It’s funny how things always work out. And that’s not just my rosy optimism speaking. Pray, stay faithful, look for signs that point you in the right direction and you find that even through rough times, God’s plan makes itself apparent. It’s true. We’re proof.

Most of you know that last summer Blake and I bought a gym. Blake left his career as a chef to be a gym owner and operator. We were blessed with what appeared to be an amazing opportunity – more time with family, Blake doing something he enjoyed, the chance for him to be his own boss. So many positives. Blake jumped in with enthusiasm and determination. Things started off great – we made some improvements to the gym, increased membership and made a lot of friends in the process. We saw ourselves in it for the long haul.

But over the last few months the growth waned and the gym was not as profitable as we hoped it would be, especially at the first of the year, a time when most gyms are at their peak. We asked ourselves a tough question – did we think the gym would be able to support our family financially long term. It was a tough call.

Then there were the changing family dynamics with the addition of our daughter. Coming from the restaurant business, where Blake worked most nights and every weekend, the gym schedule was an improvement. However, it still meant he wasn’t home three nights a week. And while that was a schedule I had gotten used to with the boys, caring for an infant made it much, much tougher. I entered into “survival mode” each night Blake wasn’t home and to be honest the stress was pretty intense.

One of the things I love about Blake is his commitment to not settle and not get comfortable with the status quo. When he sees things aren’t what they should be, he acts. And so after lots and lots and lots of prayer, we decided that continuing with the gym was not in our family’s best interest. We were lucky to have purchased the gym from two great people who have worked with us this whole time and who will be operating the gym once again. It will be an easy transition, and we are so blessed to have done business with good people who ultimately want to see the gym succeed, even if we are no longer involved. It could be easy to look at this venture as a failure for us because this was not the outcome we expected, but that’s not how we see it at all. I actually see it as a blessing. Tough times can make you or break you, and this season has strengthened us. It has made our marriage stronger and brought us closer to God. Funny thing, huh. It has reaffirmed to Blake just how important it is to be able to provide for his family and has given him the perspective to appreciate what it means to get a steady paycheck. Sometimes it’s hard to find happiness unless you’ve really seen all that the other side of the fence has to offer.

So what’s next. That’s where it gets exciting. In addition to trying to figure out what to do with the gym, Blake also had to ask himself what career would make him happy and allow him the chance to put his family first. And I’m happy to report that with a lot of prayer and faithfulness, Blake has yet another great opportunity. Blake will be going back into the food industry, but this time he’ll be the Food Service Director for a private school – where they only serve lunch. He’ll be back in the kitchen, but this time he’ll be home before 5pm, and won’t have to work weekends either. He’ll be able to coach the kids in sports too, which is something else he’s really passionate about. It’s pretty much a dream job.

So here we go, the next chapter in our lives. We’re excited, we’re grateful and we’re humbled by all of the blessings we’ve been given. Once again, it’s not the path we saw ourselves on, but it’s the one we’re meant to be on. God is so good!

Jess and Blake