Beyond the Wall

On Wednesday, April 26th I was walking into Sterling Regional MedCenter. I have walked on that same sidewalk for many different reasons – check-ups for Jake and Matt, bringing Roy in when we thought he might have broken his arm after a horse ejection (he was not bucked off, just to clarify…), or when I tried to cut my thumb off while working with a head knife on a saddle.

This day was different. I walked past the concrete wall. Beyond the wall was the David Walsh Cancer Center. Beyond the wall is where I was receiving chemo just four short years ago. Beyond the wall was a statue of two little boys that were the same age as Jake and Matt where when I was going through chemo.

I was no longer on “that” side of the wall. I was no longer fighting cancer. I remember sitting on “that” side of the wall receiving chemo and hearing family’s walk by with their new baby’s and desperately wishing I would get to do that some day again. My initial oncologist had told me that this chemo was highly successful but would likely leave me infertile. It was one of the hardest things to hear and process at that time.

On Wednesday, I was walking into the Family Care Clinic for baby Waitley’s one week appointment. That in and of itself is a milestone and a miracle. I slowed down as I walked past the wall. I was overwhelmed with emotion that I was “beyond the wall.” I was no longer on “that” side, but I was on “this” side.

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You can see the statue through the crack in the wall. That is the younger boys arm around his brother’s shoulder. The older boy is wearing a blue baseball cap.

It is because the Lord is full of grace and mercy that I got to walk on the other side of the wall. My heart was bursting with joy and I was completely overwhelmed that He answered our prayers. After all these years, Roy and I really began to settle in to the idea that we were blessed to raise Jake and Matt, but that was probably it for any more children. When we found out were were expecting again, we were really in shock. I may still be in shock… But really I was shocked that the Lord so graciously answered our prayer.

My encouragement to you, is that no matter what wall is in front of you, it might be a physical concrete barrier or something else that feels unsurmountable, just wait. Pause. Breathe. The Lord is working everything for your good and His glory (to quote my dear friend and mentor, Andrea). It might be hard. Really, really hard right now. The Lord knows the best timing for you. We are foolish to think that we know what is best for us and when that should occur.

One day you will be beyond the wall that is in front of you. The Lord is too good, too kind, too gracious, to leave you there forever. There may be some serious learning and trusting that needs to occur where you are at, but He will never leave you nor forsake you.

I am victorious beyond the wall, as I trust in the Lord with all my heart!

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Waitley Thomas Gillham was born Wednesday, April 19, 2017 at 11:03 p.m. after nearly 35 hours of labor. He weighed 7 lbs 13 oz. (the same as his older brother Matt) and was 20-1/4″ long (the same as his older brother Jake). 

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Pregnant Again – The Journey Continues!

I wrote a blog post in March 2013 called “Cancer Sucks,” and in that post I wrote, “Cancer sucks because my treatment may kill my ability to have children in the future, and I am not done!” During my first appointment with my oncologist he suggested that I bank my eggs for the future. He believed that my treatment would likely cause permanent damage to my ovaries/eggs. I was devastated. There were so many decisions to make. We did look into the idea of egg banks but simply harvesting my eggs was going to cost over $15,000. That was staring us in the face along with the potential of hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills and what seemed like such big decisions. They were big decisions!

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Me looking veeery sleeping during my first round of chemo. I took a nap immediately after this picture was taken.

In another blog post from May 2013, I scared my readers with a title, “Cancer and Pregnancy,” and in it I listed similarities between the two adventures.

“I believe there are a lot of similarities between cancer and pregnancy (as well as some incredibly severe differences). My list of similarities:

  • Your digestive system gets completely out of whack
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Sense of smell is increased
  • Sensitivity to certain foods
  • Growing a foreign object (growing a baby is WAY cooler than trying to kill what I am growing – so that might be a difference)
  • Unsolicited advice (my personal favorite)

I can’t wait to experience all of these things again, for a completely different outcome…”

It completely amazes me that we are here in this very moment. I am pregnant with our 3rd child. I can’t understand the magnitude of the Lord’s grace right now. That is why it is called grace. I am overwhelmed with how amazing and wonderful our God is. He alone will be glorified! He chose us for this time and purpose.

Now here is the amusing part of the story (you’ll have to wait until the end for the funny part…).

We started trying for another child about 5-1/2 years ago and fervently praying for this next babykins. I started not feeling well and after a 6 month pursuit of doctors and answers I was finally diagnosed with cancer. Stage II Hodgkins-Lymphoma. Although we were forced to stop trying to get pregnant, my heart toward having another a child never changed. I often thought, “What if being pregnant with Matt was the last time I will ever feel a child growing inside me…? What if that was the last time I would ever nurse a child…?” “What if…?”

Chemo lasted for 6 months and then the doctors recommended we wait at least another year to starting pursuing growing our family. Again, even though we weren’t “trying” it didn’t mean my heart wasn’t yearning. A year isn’t just a year. It is 12 months of waiting.

We fiiiiiinally got the all clear and we continued to battle infertility. It took 35 months for Jake to come along and we had travelled this road before. I don’t like this road much. It is bumpy – it caused marriage issues, emotional issues, financial issues, life issues. But you know what the Lord does during times on the bumpy road? He worked on me. He worked on my husband. He worked and we waited! The “refiner’s fire” is NOT about drinking margaritas on the beach and watching the sea gulls pass by overhead. It about cleansing us of impurities. Oh, to think of the fire I will still endure! There is much refining yet to be done 🙂

Well, after 5-1/2 of praying for this specific child, in August I couldn’t quite remember when I would need to take a pregnancy test – I actually stopped paying attention for about 6 seconds. So….I think I was about 4 days late and I took a $0.88 pregnancy test. I use to buy the $15.00 version because I love reading “PREGNANT.” Well, I had apparently gotten cheap. I have taken so many pregnancy tests in my life it was a reasonable choice to pick the cheap one 😉

I read the instructions, “You may see results in one minute….” and then I stopped reading. I waited for about 57 seconds, didn’t see anything and threw it in the trash. I thought, “Well, another $0.88 down the drain.” 2 days later I still hadn’t started and I thought, “What in the world is going on?” I took another test and read the instructions a little further…”You may see results in one minute, but it may take up to three.” Oops! I can wait for 5-1/2 years to get pregnant, but I can’t wait 3 minutes to read the tests results? Apparently not! Darn thing showed positive. I came out of the bathroom and said to Roy, “I think I’m pregnant!” The rest is history. Or really just the beginning!

In case you were wondering (as I was), I did dig the first test out of the trash and it did show positive. Patience is a virtue that sometimes only last me 57 seconds 🙂

Hope you choose to journey with us on this brand new adventure! This baby continues the Journey for His Glory!

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Hate & Thankfulness

21 years ago today my sister was killed in a car accident. That statement, when written or spoken, still shocks me. I so vividly remember getting to the hospital and desperately wanting time to go backward. I wanted to reverse all engines and go back just a few hours. Back to a time when she was alive. Wait 5 more minutes before leaving the school and maybe take a different route home. A route that didn’t end with a woman who was drunk and high driving on the wrong side of the road. No matter how hard I cried that night, there was no going back. This was a time in my life when I didn’t know the Lord. Maybe that is not true. I think I did know a God existed and I HATED him. I worked diligently to hate Him with every ounce of my being. I wanted to throw all that pain on him. He willingly accepted everything I gave Him – all my tears, all my pain, all my hate.

As I ate breakfast with my family this morning I found myself so incredibly thankful. If God had done what I had asked – to stop time, then I would not be here in this moment. I would not be eating breakfast with the three best gifts He has ever given me. A husband who loves the Lord and loves me (despite me). Two little boys who are His to take care of and disciple. I am thankful that my God would never leave me, even when I tried with everything I had to push Him away. He never moved. It took years before I came to accept Jesus after Heather’s death. I was a freshman in college and to be completely honest, I think now, I only accepted him as a way to see Heather again. I am so thankful that, too, is not where He left me. He didn’t leave me in my hate. He didn’t leave me not knowing Him. He didn’t leave me in pain. Oh my goodness, this day is forever burned into my heart and the pain is as real today as it was 21 years ago. But He didn’t leave me on November 16, 1994. He used that day to draw me to Him. Jesus will ALWAYS use our life and our circumstance to draw us to Him and for His glory. ALWAYS!

20 Years Ago

Somehow I felt that after I finished chemo that nobody would want to read anything else I wrote. That journey was over and I should have moved on. Did you know I still cry? Sometimes I am so overwhelmed at the idea that I had cancer at the age of 33 I cry. Sometimes when I think back to being crumpled in the shower wanting to die, I cry. Sometimes when I look at my short hair I cry. Sometimes when I look at my children I cry. Sometimes when my husband kisses me on the neck and I can’t feel it from the damage from the biopsy, I cry. Right now as I am writing this I am crying. I am crying for numerous reasons tonight…

Over the past year there have been challenges in my life. We all have faced challenges. Part of my life got so challenging I lost my voice. I couldn’t speak – figuratively. During cancer I was very transparent. But during this recent life journey I no longer felt like I could be transparent because my challenge would reveal something that was very public. I live in small town America. My name has a real possibility of being in the local paper. So instead, I remained silent. I am all done with that. This is my very non-transparent way of saying, “I’m sorry for being silent” and this is a part of my life that I will keep quiet. Hiding in God’s Word has been the only place I have found refuge.

Today is an important day in the history of my family. 20 years ago, almost exactly, at 8:30 p.m. my sister Heather was killed in a car accident. That night was a living nightmare. It is what they make horror movies out of (one of the many reasons I don’t watch them.) When you’ve been in one there is no need to ever watch one for entertainment. I digress. For many years me and my family asked why? God is sovereign and He knows why. I don’t. I don’t have to know.

Sometimes I think life is like the game of Dominoes. We push one domino over and there is a cascade that follows as a result of that decision. Heather died. Not my choice. Not my domino. I met Roy by God’s design –> Roy took me to a play –> Because of my longing for something greater than to believe that Heather was simply a rotting body in the ground, on November 2, 1999 I accepted Jesus –> January 12, 2001 Nicole died and I wasn’t alone in my grief because I had been introduced to Jesus –> I wanted to know what Nicole experienced in her last year of life so I competed for El Paso County Fair and Rodeo Queen –> I loved serving my county fair and that brought me to a place of wanting to serve the Logan County Fair –> While chaperoning the queens at the Horse Expo I found my dream job of teaching Anatomy around the country. So if we cut out the details, because I met Roy I get to have my dream job. (That might be two-fold because I am also a mama and that is my mostest favoritest job ever). Despite wanting to give Roy lots of credit, the credit goes to Christ alone. God is sovereign. He knows the details and He will work them for His good.

This is one example of one choice I made. I do believe accepting or denying Christ is the single most important choice a person can make. Have you made that choice?

Get in Alignment

We can always tells when our body is not in alignment. Sometimes things get so far off that we head to the chiropractor to put things back in place. We feel better for a while, until we do that thing that sets our body off course again. The same is true of our vehicles. When our alignment is off, our vehicle can start veering in the wrong direction and until we go and get it fixed we will continue to head in that misleading direction.

Sunday was Mother’s Day (thank you Captain Obvious). I love Mother’s Day, especially now that I am a mom. I remember the years longing to have a child. Mother’s Day was hard during that time.

What is it about Mother’s Day that make me desire to not have to do anything mother-like? I don’t want to wake up or get out of bed. I just want to sleep in. I don’t want to make breakfast. I don’t want to tend to the children. I just want to sit back and relax. It is not a day for laundry. It is not a day for chores. Doing everything that is the opposite of my other 364 days in a year is what I want to do for Mother’s Day. I then found myself spiraling down the slide of guilt over my intense desire to do nothing. On top of that I told Roy that Mother’s Day is so significant it is like Christmas and my birthday combined. It is SERIOUSLY important! This is my full time occupation… so he better get it right. He has to have been thankful that I was feeling under the weather on the Eve of Mother’s Day, as I was in my Nyquil-induced coma by 9 p.m. and out for the count. This allowed him to do his always-reliable-last-minute-special-day-preparation. He did a spectacular job. He made me biscuits and gravy for breakfast. Upon my plate he has put a homemade flower bouquet (made of construction paper) and on each petal he wrote characteristics he cherished about me. He let me sleep in (to the point that I was running so late I had to put my make-up on our drive to church). He took me to Bomgaars and bought me a shovel (this man really knows the way to my heart = a good days work) and then to Bamboo Garden for all-you-can-eat buffet. I began craving and enjoying Chinese food during chemo and it just hasn’t gone away. We finished out the evening with steak, baked potatoes, wild rice, green beans and homemade cornbread. Roy did a great job today. Despite all of this wonderfulness, I found myself really pondering how quickly life gets out of alignment.

During all of my “regular” mom days, my children consume my time, therefore they consume my energy as well as my thoughts. When we tuck the little boys into bed I am generally completely exhausted and have very little energy for my husband. After half-hearted attempts at conversation I normally prop myself up in bed to do my daily Bible reading. Most days there is enough gasoline left in me to get that done. I was really reminded today, that although being a mom is one of the most important jobs I will ever have, it should take its proper place third in line. My first and primary priority should be my relationship with Jesus Christ. I must continue to develop that by being in the Word of God and faithfully spending time in prayer. If I am going to call Jesus Lord and Savior of my life, He must sit in that first position. Now here is where things get really off. Roy normally falls to the very bottom of the totem pole. Jake and Matt use me up and spit me out by the end of the day, and Roy is lucky to get some three day old left overs of me. Loving, honoring and respecting my husband needs to take its proper place second in line. Nurturing my children has to come third. Mother’s Day is super significant, but it is NOT more important than Christmas and my birthday combined (maybe don’t tell Roy this…) I believe my life has been a little out of alignment, so I thought I might challenge you to evaluate the same in your life. Is it time for you to get in alignment?

P.S. I may have failed to post anything in quite some time about my health. Short version: The Cancer Center in Denver said there was no reason to believe their was a recurrence of cancer. I am to get a follow-up PET scan in June to compare it to the March scan. I will meet with my oncologist and go over the results. Unless I have an exceptionally large mass growing out of my body, I fully intend not to visit another oncologist for quite some time. Hasta luego cancer!

Peace, where did you go?

For those of you faithful prayer warriors, you may have noticed that I was supposed to get my test results last week and I never gave you any update. One of my goals during my bout with cancer, was that I would not succumb to fear of sharing of my story. I failed at my goal this week. There are particular people I do not want to know what is going on in my life right now. I just don’t. I want to curl up in a ball and take a really long nap. I don’t even really want to know my own story right now. Mainly, because I don’t know. Ultimately, this is NOT God’s best for me, so it is time to share.

Roy and I went in pretty blindly on Monday, March 17th to meet with my oncologist. I kept telling people leading up to my appointment that I wasn’t certain if what I was feeling was peace or apathy. I kept telling people apathy and they kept telling me peace. It was apathy. Unfortunately, we did not get the results we thought we would hear. The mass near my heart has grown. When I started chemo in February 2013 the lymph node near my heart was 5.4 cm wide. After chemo it shrunk to 3.0 cm and my oncologist was pleased with that result. He told us that scar tissue is normal following treatment. It is much like inflating a balloon. After you blow it up the first time, it just never really goes back to the same size. (That must explain what happened to my abdomen following two pregnancies.) My most recent PET scan shows that the mass/node has grown to 4.3 cm and is showing “low grade activity”. Dr. Stone gave me two options. 1) Wait 3 months and then do another PET scan. 2) Do a biopsy on the mass to see if it is lymphoma or scar tissue or some other anomaly. Seriously? Do you know me? Wait? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Wait to see if a mass near my heart continues to grow? Who chooses that? Clearly, I didn’t.

Once I chose door #2 we began asking some questions. What is the course of treatment if the lymphoma is back? Answer: A stronger, harsher chemo plus a bone marrow transplant. How would the transplant work? Answer: I would be my own donor. That was good news… That was all I really needed to know. My thoughts began racing. I just started growing my hair back. What will we tell the boys? How will this impact our daily life? God got us through this last time, He hasn’t changed, He will be faithful to do it again. Again? I don’t want to do it again! I don’t want to ask for help? I don’t want to drain my family, friends, and community. If it is not lymphoma, what is growing? Why couldn’t it be a mass somewhere other than near my heart?  On and on and on they went? ? ? ? ?

Now we play the ridiculously annoying waiting game. I am working with a cardiologist to schedule the biopsy. Despite amazing technological advances, the left hand refuses to speak to the right hand. I had my PET scan done with one business, I mean medical facility, and the cardiologists works for the other business, I mean health provider. I almost drove 2 hours to pick up my PET scan DVD to drive it to the cardiologist 45 minutes away to make life easier… Oh, I would then drive 2.5 hours home. Easier, I know… As I type this entry, it reminds me of my “Cancer Sucks” blog. I feel like I am whining and frustrated. I am. I am so frustrated. The “why?” doesn’t matter. If this is God’s plan, for me to re-enter this journey, then I will gladly go forth. I don’t mind for me. I just don’t want it for Roy. I don’t want it for Jake. I don’t want it for Matt. I don’t want it for anyone else who cares for me and my family. Roy said it perfectly, “Brandee, I just want to live life with you. I want to stop fighting death with you.” I melted.

Comeback

I have loved feeling the sun on my skin and not being worried that I would get a severe, instant sunburn from my chemo. I have loved playing with my boys. I have loved cooking meals and eating with my family. I have loved having enough energy to simply live. I have loved Jesus. I still do. That will not change. Why would it? He has been so incredibly faithful to me and my family. He deserves everything I can give Him, and what I cannot. There is more to my journey. There is more to your journey. Would you pray for peace during our time of waiting? “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” John 14:27

Tick Tock Goes the Clock

It has been 6 months since my last scan. I can’t hardly believe it. Tomorrow, Roy and I will head to Greeley for the follow-up PET scan that is required post-treatement. I am not worried about the results. Good, bad or ugly, God will take care of it. He did it before and He will do it again. We are hopeful for a clear scan, but it will be a week before we know the results. I still don’t like the actual scan – holding still while going into a tube is not my idea of fun. It makes me think of a coffin and I have a whole lot of life ahead of me.

The hard thing to bear is that this is taking such a toll on my little Jake. Jake falls asleep quickly and easily. After we shared with the boys that I would be headed into the doctor tomorrow, it simply put Jake in a tale spin. We are not sure why this is harder for him now. Is he more aware of what cancer did to our family? Is he scared of the results? Does he even understand what he has already faced? Is he worried we will face again? All I know is that I can love him despite his fear. I crawled (in a very ackward, very uncomfortable way) up onto his top bunk simply to hold him. We had laid the boys down, but he was upset and called me back downstairs. Jake couldn’t stop crying. He was trying to be strong, but he simply was “going to miss his mommy time.” He needed one last “big hug” before he said he could fall asleep. In tears I headed back upstairs. For the first time in his six little years of life, he cracked his door open an hour and a half past his bedtime so he could find me and crawl into my arms. On a different day I may have been annoyed or frustrated or worried that he wasn’t getting enough sleep. Tonight I wanted to hold him as much as he wanted to be held. I wanted to take away his pain and worry and tell him everything was going to be alright. Is it? Probably. But there is no guarantee. The one thing I know is that just as Jake found comfort in my arms, I find comfort in Jesus’ arms. He holds me in my sadness and fear with such peace and comfort that I too will sleep sound tonight.