It’s a marathon, y’all

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.

What’s Next

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.

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Two down, one to go

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.

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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

Love you all!
Jess

Update: I’m making progress!

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.

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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 

Love,
Jess

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 then 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