Monday, April 7, 2014

Travels, Trials, and Everything in Between

I've taken to gardening recently. There's something truly therapeutic about pulling out weeds and clearing last year's dead growth in order to make room for the new little flowers shooting out of the ground. In so many ways, it feels like fighting cancer: getting rid of the bad stuff in order to make way for healthy growth. I've become almost fierce about protecting our regenerating herbs and flowers.

In spite of the ever-improving (although still finicky) weather and the signs of spring everywhere, I've had lots of reasons to withdraw into myself these past months. First, I spent the beginning of February being terrified about my surgery--was I going to wake up in severe pain? Were they going to discover that the cancer was still spreading? How would a mastectomy affect my emotions? I had a lot of questions that no one could really answer, so I just stewed and worried about it until it was all over. Then, once I was well on my way toward recovery, I had another thing to keep me locked up inside myself--we had to make the hard decision to send Roby back to Italy for a little while in order to resolve some visa issues. He left on March 26 and won't be back until May 13. I can't even express how much I dreaded him leaving and how hard it's been now that he's actually gone.

Understandably, I haven't had the heart to write lately. I've been feeling very sorry for myself and struggling to find those fabled silver linings in my life. I'm not done with my treatments yet, and the one thing that was helping me stay happy and grateful--i.e. having Roby with me--isn't even a reality at present. So why did I finally muster the courage to write today? Well, two things happened this weekend that have helped me change my perspective. First, I listened to dozens of awesome and inspiring talks this weekend during our General Conference, and one in particular shook me out of my gloom. President Ucthdorf, with his irrepressible optimism and fabulous German accent encouraged us to choose to be grateful no matter what our circumstances may be. Gratitude, he said, doesn't have to be tied to tangible things--it's a way of life. I cried during the entire 20 minutes of his talk. Then, as if to reinforce the idea of being thankful in all things, I've been reading Corrie ten Boom's The Hiding Place--a remarkable holocaust memoir that I always intended to read and just now managed to borrow from the library. And you know what? If Corrie and Betsie ten Boom can thank God for the fleas jumping around the straw in their extermination camp beds, then I can definitely be grateful for chemo even without my husband by my side. After all, as nasty as the side effects can be, it's ultimately saving my life.

So, enough of the explanations and emotions--how about a little update? Because you know what? There are more awesome things that have happened since I last wrote than most people might expect. :)

In an attempt to get my mind off the impending surgery, we took a road trip down to St. George where we stayed with my uncle and aunt for a few days. It was a brief trip, but we enjoyed some much-needed warmer weather, a trip to a temple that I hadn't visited before, and a fun (though brief--owing to my decreased energy level) hike through some lovely red rocks. It's amazing the difference a small trip can make on your mood. I came back much more prepared to head into the unknown world of major surgery.

A mastectomy can be a pretty scary thought--especially where I'm still just trying to get used to needles and IVs. But you know what? All things considered, it was honestly a breeze. I mean, I hurt a medium amount for several days, I was incredibly tired for weeks, and I've just barely gotten back my full range of motion in my arm, but the pain level was not that bad. Of course, that's actually because I've lost all sensation on the left side of my chest and even under my arm, but if nerve damage means I don't have to feel deep incisional pain, I think I'll take it for now! And as for the emotional impact, because I opted for immediate reconstruction, I don't feel that abnormal. I'm currently equipped with a rather uncomfortable tissue expander (it's something like a hard-edged balloon that they periodically fill with saline) until I can get my implant post-radiation, but it actually doesn't look too weird.

A few days post-surgery--not looking too bad!
And, of course, there was more awesome news that came with the surgery: the pathology report showed that the cancer was almost undetectable! There were only a few "pre-cancer" cells lurking about, which basically means they were individually mutinous cells that hadn't done any recruiting yet. Admittedly, though, I struggled to be excited when we got the news. You see, it doesn't change anything about my treatment plan--I still have to do more chemo and radiation, and while radiation doesn't seem so very dreadful, the thought of doing more chemo was extremely discouraging. Why would I want to put myself through even harder treatment and stronger drugs when I was finally feeling well and my hair was even sprouting in fluffy fuzz all over my head? We prayed about it a lot and even got a second opinion before committing to further treatment, but in the end, we decided that for everyone's peace of mind, it was best to bite the bullet and bring on the chemo.

At this point, I have one treatment behind me and two more to go--and the thing that's getting me through the 12 sick days out of every 21 is the thought that when Roby gets back, chemo will be OVER! Now that is something to be very excited about--the return of all good things at one time! Besides, the positive pathology report means that my chances of complete remission are very good. And you know what? I've had a deep reassurance through all of this that this cancer isn't going to haunt me forever. I've always known that, in spite of the scary initial prognosis, I was going to get through it okay--I still have a lot to accomplish in this life. And if that isn't a silver lining, then I don't know the meaning of the phrase.

Happy in spite of everything!

7 comments:

  1. Donna, you are AMAZING! I wish I could be more like you. I will be praying for you this coming Thursday. Stay strong! I hope Roby can hurry home to your side. Love ya.

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  2. Right back at ya, Ambs! And thanks for the prayers--I'll be thinking of/praying for you too! :)

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  3. Thank you for sharing your story, Donna! You have always been and continue to be such a wonderful influence for good in my life. It really puts things in perspective to hear your trials and to see you continue to press forward with such faith. I loved that talk as well. I hope the time flies while your sweetheart is gone! We love you!

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    1. Thanks, Brooke--it helps me keep going to know that in a small way I'm helping others. :)

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  4. Thanks for the post! I think of you often and knowing you are doing well makes me happy and gives me hope. ☺

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    1. I often wonder about your mom's story and how things went for her--I also recently learned that Carrie (Peyton) Hanna's sister passed away last year from breast cancer. It's a sobering thought sometimes--but hope is definitely the key motivator for me these days. :) Thanks for thinking of me, Monica.

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    2. I don't even really know my mom's story, I was too young to understand in full detail, but if you are curious to know what I know about her story, I would be happy to share. :)

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