The Crashing Waves

Toothpaste revolutionized my day yesterday. I know, that is such an odd statement, but here is the deal: When I met with the oncologist and nurse practitioner for the first time, back in the blur of February, they told me I needed to start using a different toothpaste. It was a toothpaste that was designed for sensitive mouths, and since chemo kills the inner lining of my digestive system from top to bottom, they recommended a change. Since I began chemo, which was merely six days after meeting with the first oncologist, I have had little time to process. I am mostly one who will follow directions as given (from doctors especially). This toothpaste may be the root of all evil. Many people experience odd, metallic or lack of taste in their mouth related to chemo and boy has that been true. I have described it to people as “sour, tart exhaust fumes”, which is a pretty gross taste if you really try to think about it. I have never tasted exhaust fumes, but I am assuming this is what they might taste like. In an odd way, I felt like I could also breath out exhaust fumes after chemo. The special concoction they give me makes me really think I am leaking some odd fumes. (Roy says that I am not, but he also won’t even say a normal husband-slightly-negative-comment to me, so I am not certain he is telling the truth.) Finally, after weeks of brain drain, I got an idea yesterday. Yes, just one. “Is this special toothpaste coating my mouth?” The answer is a resounding, “YES!” I saw a stinkin’ commercial about this very toothpaste, which is odd because I never watch commercials. Their catchy slogan was something about making unhappy people happy. I almost jumped off the couch and shouted, “LIAR!” I went back to my tried and true toothpaste and my mouth feels better and the exhaust fumes appear to be gone. Maybe it is the time of the post-chemo cycle, maybe happenstance or maybe it was the toothpaste. My vote is toothpaste.

Many people ask, and about just as many people are afraid to ask, how I am doing? It is just as tricky of a question to answer. My go-to response this week has been, “I am managing,” which is about as accurate as it gets. After chemo I am given quite a few options regarding my anti-nausea medication and when to take them. I have never done this, so I don’t know when to take it or how often. Although it does come with directions, the frequency is up to me. This anti-nausea medication comes with its own list of side effects which require me to take two additional pills. The challenge is to try to figure out if the side effects are worth not being nauseated. I am not quite convinced they are worth it yet…

My hair loss may be leveling off, but I may also be just a bit hopeful. I had a dear friend fly out from Seattle last week right after chemo. I had my infusion on Monday, and then we drove off to Denver on Wednesday to check out wigs. I know my last blog shared some of my sentiments on wigs and hair loss, but the actual shopping experience was quite a bit different from my expectations. We started with a risqué, probably taboo salon in Denver, and ultimately had a great shopping experience. The gentleman who helped me gave us some great suggestions and “knew the perfect wig” for me. It was a pretty good cut, so I agreed with his expertise. I wish I wanted the long, blue wig, but unfortunately I was not in that mood that day. We had a yummy lunch at Chipotle and a facial. Then we headed off to a much classier, uptown wig salon. The price reflected their location, and although we found another good wig, I was not ready to jump into that purchase. Ultimately, I am still waiting. I am waiting to see what my head is going to do. I asked Roy if he wanted to see my first real, little bald spot and he adamantly told me “no.” I am hoping Dr.Lininger can give us some guidance about what my hair may do over the next few weeks given his expertise. One thing I have learned already is that every patient, every cancer, every regiment, every outcome is different.

Wig `

Interesting salon – Can you see the tutu’s hanging from the ceiling?

This was after a few tears and a long day. Kind of amazing how we can look so different given our hair cut and color

This was after a few tears and a long day. Kind of amazing how we can look so different given our hair cut and color

I got to start out this week with a great visit from my sister Jessica and her family of five. We had an excellent time of fellowship which does any soul some good. We stayed up later than we know we should have as parents, but we just couldn’t stop talking. We laughed and laughed and simply enjoyed one another’s company. My little niece, Camryn is infatuated with horses right now (and Uncle Roy hopes forever), and she maybe said, “Excuse me, Branee, (there is no “d” in my name currently), can we go see the horses?” about eight dozen times. If you could see her deep, dark, large brown eyes, no one could ever turn this child down. She is a thing of beauty, as are her other siblings. Holding my four-month-old nephew was about the best medicine I have received since starting treatment.

I continue to see the Lord work through this situation in my life and many others. I had a major meltdown on Wednesday night after wig shopping. I was crying hysterically in the shower. I did NOT want to do this any more. I did NOT want to find a wig. I did NOT want to have cancer. I did NOT want to feel like exhaust fumes were coming out of my mouth. I wasn’t certain it was going to be worth the challenge. I was so tired and I was already tired of feeling tired. I was sick of feeling sick and it is just the beginning. The Lord reminded me of the coming Easter season. Although I may think this is pretty terrible, it is a drop in the bucket in comparison to what Jesus suffered on the cross and on the road to the cross. He suffered such torture and pain for our sins although He remained sinless. John 3:16 is likely one of the most well-known Bible verses for both believers and unbelievers alike. It is our family memory verse this week.

I add pictures to help the boys remember the verses.

I add pictures to help the boys remember the verses. In case you are not familiar with the verse, the word “in” is missing from the flash spot.

God loves you. He loves me. God gave His only Son for you. He gave His only Son for me. God does not want you to perish. He does not want me to perish. God wants you to have eternal life. He wants me to have eternal life. Although the waves of life seem to be crashing around me, I stand firmly planted on the solid rock of Jesus Christ. I pray that if the waves are crashing, you are able to find your footing and stand on the same solid rock. God does not promise that the waves will stop, but He promises to never leave us nor forsake us. The rock NEVER moves. The waves will come. The crashing may seem severe, but He will not leave us there. This storm will pass and He will calm the waves. I pray that you feel the love, grace and compassion of Jesus as you venture out this week.

It’s a Hairy Situation

Luke 12:7 states, “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” I say, “Good luck with that one God, I am keeping the You on Your toes!” My hair has begun to fall out and the number of hairs on my head changes about every second. It started Wednesday of last week. It was different than I imagined. People spoke of it falling out in chunks or in two days, but my process is taking longer. My poor family and dear friends got this wonderful picture texted to them… Poor souls, no one knew what to say. Sorry about that! I didn’t expect a reply, just wanted to keep them informed.

Hair falling out

Gross! I know! Sorry about that… but part of this blog is a journaling session for me. A therapy of sorts. I have found that my hair comes out when I brush it.

Hair brush

Maybe it is because my hair is so long? I think it gets so attached to the hair next to it, that it is just not coming out in chunks. For as long as I can remember, Roy brushed my hair after my evening shower. It was just something special we did. The night it started falling out, I was crying as he was so tenderly brushing my hair. I reminded him, that no matter how softly he worked, if it was detached, it was going to come out. Boy, I cried for quite a while. I was hoping, just really hoping that I could slide past this side effect. I have started to wonder if there was a side effect I was not going to experience? If it is on the list, I am experiencing it.

Now, what do I do with this hair that is falling out? It seems to be such a waste for it to end up in the trash. Although, that is where it is… Maybe a bird nest? That’s gross. I don’t want to find a swirling nest of my own hair when I am out mowing the lawn. I am going to mow the lawn? Hope so – I LOVE mowing the lawn. Tangent…

Hair in trash

I may still experience just partial hair loss, but it is time to get prepared. It has been over one month since my diagnosis and I have tried to avoid thinking about wigs/scarves/turbins (which makes me think about Osama Bin Laden, so I am really staying clear of those 🙂 ) People have asked, “What kind of wig would you wear?” I don’t know. What kind of wig would you wear? I simply have spent 0.0001 percent of my life thinking about wigs. The time is upon me and I am incredibly thankful for the blessing of a dear friend who is coming to visit tomorrow and has done all of the research for me. That information combined with my sister’s research is easing the blow. How will I know when to shave my head? Did I just say that? Never thought I would shave my head either. So odd.

It is time to proclaim, Luke 12:22-25, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worring can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” Okay God, I’ve got the memo. Maybe everyone has been right: It is just hair. It will grow back. God is so much bigger than this situation in this day. He is faithful to the end. He is not going to leave me here, bald. Maybe for a bit, I will need to be bald, to really experience this. You better be prepared for some future wig humor, though. Let’s be honest, I showed you my trash can full of hair. I am probably not going to hold much back.

Today, I got my second round of chemo and my digestive systems is saying, “I HATE YOU! What are you asking me to digest? I think I would prefer to turn inside out…” I get to take my anti-nausea medication with supper, so that should help.  Nita has been here all day helping with the boys this morning and then cleaning during their afternoon nap. What a blessing. I thought during the next phase of our life, I would be down dusting her house. I know that is still in my future, but what an odd reversal of roles. She has got soup on the burner and it sounds and smells good – another blessing. Food that sounds good, is great. Roy and Richard got the pick-up unstuck… How did we get a pick-up stuck when we are in the middle of a drought? Time for a little chuckle and I was so thankful to laugh. Endophins are a great medicine. Blessings on them, too.

We continue to be blessed by our family, friends and community offering a helping hand. Roy and I actually got to vaccinate cows together on Saturday, with the help of a community crew. It was a beautiful spring day to be out, getting squirted with manure and slimed by snot. Simply perfect. I know, I know – I am a little weird, but it was a wonderful morning. I felt like I didn’t have cancer. I felt like I could contribute. Today, I feel like I got kicked in the guts, so I get to start over again, but that is okay. I continue to have the opportunity to really witness and minister to those who desire to hear about my faith in Jesus Christ. That will be the greatest blessing I receive during this journey. Thank you for the questions you have asked and for making the journey worth it! It is an interesting situation to be 33 years old, with cancer, but I am still very thankful. God is using it for good, just this week was a bit of a hairy situation.

Cancer Sucks, but there is Joy and Healing

Before you go thinking I have jumped off the deep end, I haven’t. My faith remains the same – it is not shaken. I am really still at peace and am not concerned about the positive outcome of this process. God is a mighty Healer and will be glorified through my journey. I have just recently come to the conclusion, though, that cancer sucks. I will not say that word in front of my boys, because I don’t actually think it is a “good” word, and I don’t even really like the word, but we are adults here, so “suck” should be more admissible (or should it?) Anyhow, I have a whiny, it has been a rough few days, list of why I think cancer sucks:

Cancer sucks because it is using my time in ways I don’t really want to. I want to be at home raising my babies.

Cancer sucks because it is using my finances in ways I don’t really want to.

Cancer sucks because people have offered to help and I don’t know how to receive help well. I am practicing, but my strong independence has always limited my ability to receive help, so I know this is a God thing.

Cancer sucks because I am too tired to be the mom I want to be.

Cancer sucks because I am too nauseated to want to cook for my family I love.

Cancer sucks because I may lose my hair and I really like my hair. Lot’s of people say, “It will grow back.” That is not comforting. (I am not scolding anyone who has said that, so do NOT feel bad… it is just not a helpful statement.)

Cancer sucks because my treatment may kill my ability to have children in the future, and I am not done!

Cancer sucks because I caught a cold last week that completely put me out of commission. I slept for 20 hours one day alone. I am a full-time stay-at-home mom – that is NOT an option.

Cancer sucks because I yelled at my husband last week and it wasn’t even his fault.

Cancer sucks because my husband is helping me more with the boys, which limits what he can do on the ranch. We are ranchers, so there is always something to do and we are always behind. This is making us further behind. Again, we have wonderful cowboy friends who would drop anything to help us, but we are struggling to decipher what jobs cancer is truly effecting versus our knowing that we were already behind???

Cancer sucks because it is using up my extended family’s time and resources.

Cancer sucks because I feel like I am using up prayer time that would benefit someone else more. I have a dear Christian family I know, who’s little girl just got to come home after months and months of a gruelling treatment. I feel like ALL prayers should be focused on Esther and her family. My cancer is so small in comparison to her fight and their journey. I know God loves us to pray for one another and I am so thankful for the prayers. Please don’t let my ridiculous complaining stop your praying – keep on keeping on. Just add Esther and her family to your prayer list, please, and thank you. 🙂

Cancer sucks because just when I am ready to do another round of chemo, my “absolute neutrophil count” is at 0.09 and needs to be at 150 to proceed, so I couldn’t complete my infusion yesterday. More time is used up. Here is a pretty picture of a neutrophil (the purple blobby one). I loved looking at these cells in histology – they are easy to identify under the microscope and that is always helpful. Never thought I would care so much about these little cells…

Cancer sucks because I have 3 additional appointments this week to boost my bone marrow production to produce more white bloods cells (specifically, my neutrophils) and it makes my bones hurt.

Okay, okay, okay… My goodness that is enough. I will be lucky if half of you made it to the bottom of this list. Whew! Well, there is my humanness out on the table. This list is NOT a plea for help, or sympathy notes. I really am okay, but I believe in being honest. Although, I know I am on this journey to show God’s joy and peace and constantly praise Him, I also want you to know that sometimes…cancer….just…sucks. I promise my next post will have more encouragement, a great verse, and a bit of humor. Oh wait… a bit of humor should actually finish this one off. On Sunday evening I was talking with Jake and Matt about the idea that “Mama has to go to the doctor tomorrow to get my medicine that is going to shrink my lumps”… Immediately, Jake is jumping all over the room, dancing and singing, “Shrink the lumps! Shrink the lumps! Shrink the lumps!” Matt chimes in with jumping and bouncing, singing, “Jump for joy! Jump for joy! Jump for joy!” Thank you Lord for a bit of perspective. The boys were excited about chemo – the lessons they will teach me and have taught me are already astounding. They reminded me that there is joy and healing in the power of Jesus! Amen.

This is my port. I have a sign hanging in my office that says, "Stupid should hurt", I love that all you can see it "Stupid" and then my port. It made me chuckle :)

This is my port that was surgically implanted just under my skin on my chest. You can see the catheder entering my jugular vein (the raised line on my neck). I have a sign hanging in my office that says, “Stupid should hurt”, I love that all you can see is “stupid” and then my port. It made me chuckle 🙂 Go ahead and laugh.

This is my port hooked up to the IV. They use a special needle that is bent at 90 degrees in poke it into my skin to make contact with the port.

This is my port hooked up to the IV. They use a special needle that is bent at 90 degrees in poke it into my skin to make contact with the port.

My first round of chemo.

My first round of chemo.

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

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

The final quote of today. I would have added... "with Jesus."

The final quote of today. I would have added… “with Jesus.”

Time is Not Wasted

Yesterday I had a follow-up appointment with my oncologist. It was different from the first appointment. When I went in last week, it was early in the morning and I was the only one in the waiting room. There was one other gal back in the chemo room, but it was a very quiet morning. Yesterday was different. As I walked into the waiting room, it was bustling. When I take my kid’s to our primary care physician, I never really know what people are there for. It is sometimes more visible: broken leg, snotty nose, etc … but I don’t really know the circumstances of their visit. Yesterday I was also overwhelmed with the idea that everyone (or at least one person per pair) in that room was fighting cancer. I am pretty sure no one volunteers to see an oncologist for headaches – I sure as heck wouldn’t. Although there are lots of different types of cancer, I recognized that everyone there was going through a pretty substantial battle. The other major difference yesterday was I was the only one in my 30s. Not only that, but there wasn’t a patient that was less than 70. It was odd. I felt like I was really in the wrong place at the wrong time. Wrong! I was EXACTLY where God needed me to be.

My appointment ran an hour and half late and despite cancer being a super time waster I was enjoying visiting with people. People I would not have the opportunity to see and talk to without cancer. I met a man who’s dad is struggling with colon cancer and he himself is an agronomist who will struggle this year because of the financial impact of the drought of last year. Boy, did he speak cowboy language I understood – stinkin’ drought. (Whoa, tangent, refocus…) I met a lovely elderly couple where the wife has lung cancer and the husband has bladder cancer. My conversational opener… “Nice pink case on your iPad.” This guy was 70+ and sporting a snazzy pink encased iPad – I was actually really impressed. He brings it to his appointments to record them so he can send the audio file to his daughter in Washington. I don’t even know how to do that. We had the time to talk about cancer and Jesus’ ability and power to heal us. I spoke a little louder than I should have to make sure some innocent bystanders heard our conversation.

Overall, my appointment went well. My blood count looked good, my white blood cells are down just a bit, but that is normal. My doctor wants to change my anti-nausea despite me telling him that it was okay. I shared with him my philosophy that having cancer is much like being pregnant. I survived 7 months of nausea during my pregnancy with Jake and 6 months with Matt. Dr. Lininger chuckled and told me that he intended better for me during my treatment. We have a real praise report that he is willing to allow me to come in on Monday a little early to do my blood draw right before chemo rather than another trip to Sterling the Friday prior to my infusion. Woo hoo.

As I drove home I was panicking because my two and half hour trip to town turned into five. Roy was at home with the boys and I just know he has five million things to do on the ranch. I took a breath and the Lord revealed to me that this was “His time”. I am on this journey to devote time to Him and His purpose. The time I will spend with people I know and those I don’t will NOT be wasted.

It Overcame Him

Bday party group pic (1 of 1)

Last night was such an amazing night. Without my knowledge, which in and of itself is quite a feat, my husband pulled off a surprise 33rd birthday party. It is the largest birthday party I have ever had and truly one for the books. My favorite part of the night is that it wasn’t about me. It was about celebrating through praise, message and prayer the redeeming power of Jesus Christ. It was also about my husband being the man of God I know he is called to be.

I woke up yesterday still feeling nauseated and pretty tuckered out. I thought, “It’s my 33rd birthday, which is an insignificant birthday in the scheme of ‘life’, but I have cancer. Stink! I don’t want to go down this path. I don’t want to have cancer. I don’t want to have this journey.” My eyes welled up and I knew my own personal pity party was about to commence. Then… the boys came roaring in the bathroom screaming, “Haaaaaappy Birthday, Mama.” Pity party over. Roy was making  my favorite breakfast – biscuits and gravy. I wish I was a gal who loved a low-fat yogurt and an apple for breakfast, but I like my homemade flour and crisco biscuits covered in milk gravy – yu-umy! He did a fine job, too! (Also, part of him becoming the man I know he can be.) We had a bittersweet good-bye as Mom and Dad headed home after being with me for the better part of nine days. What a day.

In the afternoon, Roy told me we were heading in to town for supper and although I was excited, the mouth sores that were beginning to develop put a bit of a damper on a nice burrito. We celebrated and laughed as a family and I simply stared at the beauty of my children. They are wonderful, perfect creations. They are also loud, make embarrassing “boy” noises frequently in public and the littlest one has no sense of volume control….yet. After the usual clamour of a meal we headed to our church for this surprise celebration.

Revelation 12:11 states, “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony.” Last night there was testimony. Roy got up and spoke, which if you know Roy, is something that has been overcome. He is a cowboy. He is the type of cowboy who is quiet. He is the type of cowboy of very, very, very few words. But, he spoke. When Roy speaks you listen. He does not repeat himself and he has truly thought about what he is going to say before he says it. (We have worked on this for nearly thirteen years and his strides of improvement are outstanding)… Last night, Roy shared that the Lord had pressed on his heart that he was to coordinate a praise and prayer gathering on my birthday. He knew he was to walk out his faith and “do” that something that God had called him to do. He was to be a man of courage and valor. Ladies and gentlemen, he was!

Pastor Dale from the United Church of Crook led some fantastic praise and worship. We sang beautiful songs that glorified God. The theme of Revelation 12:11 rang through the choruses. It is BOTH by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony that we overcome the evil one. He reminded us that we are “safe” from evil and fear. He stated James 1:3-4, “The testing of your faith develops perseverence. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete.” What an opportunity to grow and develop in maturity of faith.

Frank Waitley, a gracious friend of ours, and the man who officiated our wedding ceremony, brought the message. Frank has such a kind and tender heart. He can ride and rope with the best of the them, and loves Jesus dearly. Frank told stories of Grandpa Dean Gillham offering him a home, rent-free, for four years while he and his new bride figured out life with Frank as the new science teacher in Peetz. Frank reminded us of our wedding vows – that we promised to stand beside each other in sickness and health, in good times and in bad. Frank shared scripture after scripture, which is exactly how it should have been. He proclaimed 2 Timothy 1:7 boldly, “For God did not give us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love and of a sound mind.” If I could store Frank in my back pocket I sure would keep him around forever. He is a man who you are better for knowing.

As I took my turn to speak (I just don’t know how to do it any other way), I simply wanted to stand at the front of the church and look out, not at a sea of faces, but focus on individuals who were able to join us to celebrate life and resurrection in Christ Jesus. There were people from all walks of our life – family, friends, pastors, church family, Fair Board members, past rodeo queens, neighbors, our youth group “kids” (as Jake and Matt call them) from Bulldog Ministry, and even our veterinarian. Roy had solicited the troops. My spirit swelled. I really didn’t know it was in him, but the Lord revealed a plan to Roy, he took action and overcame any preconceived notion that we were going to submit to fear and pain in the face of cancer. With Jesus, a superb husband, an encouraging family and an excellent support network on my side, this will only be a journey for God’s glory. We declared that we are going to praise God in the good times as well as in the bad. We have been abundantly blessed by the magnitude and outpouring of prayers and well wishes – thank you.

Bday party family pic (1 of 1)