Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Medical Update: God's Plans - Not Mine

I went in today for my second chemo treatment. Having gone through the treatment once before, I thought I knew what to expect. But today did not go as I expected…at all.

During my first treatment (11/9) I had a slight reaction to one of my chemo drugs (Taxotere). The reaction was painful (lower back pain), but overall it was fairly mild. Today was a different story. After only a few minutes of being hooked up to the Taxotere IV I began experiencing chest pains and difficulty breathing. I thought it might pass, but when the pain went to my back, abdomen, and throat I knew something was really wrong. I told the nurses about the pain and difficulty breathing and they immediately disconnected the IV and administered Benadryl and steroids to counteract the reaction.

About 20 minutes later my oncologist, Dr. Taylor, came to discuss the situation with me. We discussed my options and determined that I need to switch to a different chemo drug (the "A" drug). The new drug is much stronger and will most likely cause more severe short-term side effects (nausea, exhaustion). There is also a slight chance the drugs will cause more serious long-term complications (heart problems, leukemia).

Despite the difficulty of the situation, it was neat to see God’s hand in everything today. When we talked to the doctor just before my treatment today he indicated that I would likely need to have this more intense chemo drug (the "A" drug) after my surgery. But now that my body has rejected this first drug, I will just have the "A" drug now and will not have to have additional chemo after surgery. So as long as my white blood count is okay next week I will begin the new drugs next Wednesday (12/8).

Once again I am reminded that I am not in control…God is. In the last week or two I began to feel like I was finally in somewhat of a routine and knew what to expect with the chemo process. I even had all my chemo days marked on my calendar and thought I knew exactly when I would feel well, when I would need help with the kids, etc. But once again, my plans have changed. God has simply given me another opportunity to trust in Him. 

Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.
Proverbs 19:21

Monday, November 29, 2010

He's Always Been Faithful

One of the songs that has been very encouraging to me in recent weeks is a beautiful song by Sara Groves entitled, "He's Always Been Faithful." You can read the lyrics and play the audio below.

"He's Always Been Faithful" by Sara Groves

Morning by morning I wake up to find
the power and comfort of God's hand in mine.
Season by season I watch Him amazed,
In awe of the mystery of His perfect ways.

All I have need of his hand will provide.
He's always been faithful to me.

I can't remember a trial or a pain,
He did not recycle to bring me gain. 
I can't remember one single regret,
In serving God only and trusting His hand.

All I have need of his hand will provide.
He's always been faithful to me.

This is my anthem, this is my song, 
The theme of the stories I've heard for so long.
God has been faithful, He will be again.
His loving compassion, it knows no end.

All I have need of his hand will provide.
He's always been faithful to me.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

New Every Morning

This past week has been a rough week for me as I have dealt with very bad hives (an allergic reaction to MRI dye), continued back pain, and my hair falling out. But every time I have felt overwhelmed with my body I remember God’s faithfulness. Nothing that happens to me is out of His sovereign control and loving care. Not even one hair can fall from my head apart from His knowledge and will (Matthew 10:30).

Last Sunday my husband, Matt, delivered an excellent sermon at church on the faithfulness of God. He pointed out that one of the hardest, most difficult times in the entire Bible comes in the Old Testament book of Lamentations. When the author (possibly Jeremiah) wrote Lamentations, he had not only witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem, but he had also suffered great hardships during his ministry. Yet it is in Lamentations that we have the clearest and most beautiful description of God's faithfulness in the entire Bible: 
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. "The Lord is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in Him (Lamentations 3:21-24)."
The circumstances of this coming week are not very hopeful. I will be going in for my second chemo treatment on Tuesday, which means I will be dealing with significant pain, exhaustion, and sickness for several days. But, like the author of Lamentations, my hops is not in my circumstances but in God. So as I enter this week, please pray for my health. But most of all, pray that I will continually be reminded of and have hope in God’s faithfulness to me.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Like a River Glorious

Some truthful and encouraging words penned by Frances Havergal in 1876...

Like a river glorious, is God’s perfect peace,
Over all victorious, in its bright increase;
Perfect, yet it floweth, fuller every day,
Perfect, yet it groweth, deeper all the way.

Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.

Hidden in the hollow of His blessed hand,
Never foe can follow, never traitor stand;
Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care,
Not a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.

Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.

Every joy or trial falleth from above,
Traced upon our dial by the Sun of Love;
We may trust Him fully all for us to do.
They who trust Him wholly find Him wholly true.

Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind
is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.
Isaiah 26:3

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Fundraising Events

A couple local businesses have contacted me about coordinating fundraising events to help with the medical costs related to my cancer. While the most important and encouraging thing folks can do for me is to pray, financial help is certainly also a need.

The first fundraising event is today, November 25th. Hailey Mae, a website (also on Facebook) that sells hair bows, clips, aprons, and other accessories for girls, will donate $1 for every item sold tonight after 6pm. They will also donate $2 if you purchase a tutu bow holder or holiday clothing. Shipping for all items is just $2. This should be a great way to get a little early Christmas shopping done! (Note: If you miss today's sale, they will repeat this fundraising event for us on the evenings of December 2nd and 9th.)

The second fundraising event is a couple weeks away, but it's worth marking your calendars now! On Tuesday, December 14th, Chick-fil-a of Pooler will donate 10% of their proceeds from purchases made between 5pm and 8pm. In addition to their always-delicious food, Chick-fil-a is making plans for other fun family activities for that night, so keep an eye out for more details in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"Magical" Day Fourteen

Apparently there is something special about the fourteenth day after chemotherapy begins. I was told by the doctor that my hair should start falling out sometime between the tenth and fourteenth days after my first treatment. A few ladies I talked with who have gone through breast cancer thing told me that day fourteen seemed to be some kind of “magical” day that hair falls out. So in the middle of the night last night I woke up in a panic realizing that today was day fourteen! Would my hair begin to fall out today!? I woke Matt up (or at least I tried to wake him up) and he promptly told me to go back to sleep…

Well sure enough, the next morning there the hair went down the shower drain! Not all of it, but it was definitely the beginning. It really made my cancer feel much more real. So I decided to get out all my hats and scarves so that I can try to keep my head warm during this holiday season. It is one thing to have to try to match a shirt with pants, but when you have to try to coordinate an outfit with a hat…well, let’s just say I might be mismatching for a while J

I went in for yet another MRI today. The MRI was to look at my spine which has been causing pain in my back for a while. It is hard for me to distinguish what pain and symptoms are caused by postpartum pregnancy and what could be related to the cancer or chemo. The doctors are not very concerned that the back pain is another tumor, but it is protocol for them to check it out if I am experiencing pain. So I went in for my third MRI in a month. This time was better because I was able to take some medicine to help me relax while in “the tube.”

The MRI itself went well, but as soon as I came out I had hives covering my head to toes. Matt said my ears were as red as fire trucks! I explained to the nurses that I had hives after the last MRI and all the doctors told me it was probably caused by stress (though I really didn’t feel stressed at all). They gave me two large doses of Benadryl through an IV on top of the sedation medicine I took for the MRI…needless to say, I was a bit loopy. The nurses finally came to the conclusion that it was the MRI dye that had caused my hives. I didn’t say it out loud, but I wanted to say, “Told you so!” At least next time I get an MRI I can take something to help prevent the allergic reaction.

With the Thanksgiving holiday this week, we may not hear the MRI results until next week. At this point, I am not as worried about the MRI results as I am about going in for my second chemo treatment next Tuesday. I think Matt is going to have to drag me there by my “hair” now that I know what is coming! But as I am tempted to worry or despair about this process, I must remember that God will be faithful to help me escape that temptation as He comforts me with His truth, goodness, and love. As I continue on this journey, my prayer is that Matt and I will be able to remember and speak of those realities faithfully. 

P.S.  I just found out that there was nothing of concern on my MRI!! Praise the Lord.

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
1 Corinthians 10:13

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Soaring on Wings Like Eagles (Excerpt from My Father's Cancer Diary)

I have been blessed to have the diary that my dad wrote and published during his journey through cancer. It is neat to read and see the ways his journey relates to mine. And it is so encouraging to see his love for Christ shine through his words. There is one section of his diary that I was reading tonight and wanted to share. 
Tonight we had a session meeting.  I led the devotion on Isaiah 40:31, “Those who hope in the LORD will…soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”  I have soared on wings like an eagle knowing the love of a wonderful wife whom God graciously provided, though I did not deserve.  I have been there to see the wonder of my three children being born.  My heart has soared to watch them grow in Christ and take leadership in His kingdom.

I have known many other times in my life where I have experienced soaring on wings like an eagle.  I have known the thrill of leading someone to Christ and watching them grow in the Lord.  I have known the excitement of planting a church and the thrill of watching it grow.  I have seen the amazing provision of God for our facility at Twin Oaks Presbyterian Church.  I have been to conferences that have made my heart soar.  I have experienced missions trips that have given me a whole new outlook on life.  I have been to the Holy Land three times and led a tour to Greece to follow the footsteps of Paul.  I have known what it means to “soar on wings like eagles.”

I have known what it is to “run and not grow weary” in the fast-paced schedule of a pastor.  Many people tell me to slow down, but I love what I do.  Getting up at five each morning to prepare a sermon or plan a worship service, spending the day talking with people, visiting the sick, meeting with staff, discipline men, sharing the gospel with the lost, and running the ministries of the church is very gratifying.  Coming home late at night and crashing, knowing that eternal things have been accomplished that day, is a most rewarding experience.  Sure, I am running fast, but by God’s grace, He has kept me from becoming weary.  I have known what it meant to “run and not grow weary.”

Now I am living in the third phrase of this verse.  I am learning to walk step-by-step, day-by-day, uplifted by the Lord so that I do not “grow faint.’  He has sustained me through the thirteen days in the hospital.  He has kept me from fainting during the additional three days in the hospital.  Starting December 20, I will be getting radiation every day.  That means that we will drive thirty-five minutes to Barnes Hospital.  We will wait in the lobby and then get our treatment, which will take another ninety minutes, and then drive thirty-five minutes home.  This will be a big chunk out of every day when there are many other things I want to do.  But now I must walk, walk with Jesus.  Two to four hours out of the middle of every day for six weeks will not be easy.  I am learning the joy of a slower pace, the joy of walking with Jesus by my side instead of running with Him by my side  It too, is very rewarding.  I am smelling the roses and seeing the sunsets.  It is great.
Though I am much younger now than my dad was when he wrote those words, I feel like there are so many ways in which I relate to them:
  • I have “soared”: I grew up with godly parents who taught and modeled the importance of God’s Word. I have two sisters who are my best friends. I have a wonderful, servant-hearted husband who loves me unconditionally. I have been blessed with three healthy beautiful children. I am a part of a healthy, Christ-centered church. And I have wonderful supportive friends. This list could go on…
  • I have “run and not grown weary”: Like my dad, I tend to be constantly on the go - even in my own house! Being a mother of three young children, it is hard not to be “running” all the time, but God continually keeps me from growing weary.
  • I need to “walk and not grow faint”: In  this next year there will be so many unknowns answers, so many medical tests, more chemo, surgery, possible radiation…all of that while trying to keep up with my life and my family. If I try to look at everything right now, I will grow faint. Like my father said, I need to learn to walk step-by-step, day-by-day , uplifted by the Lord so that I do not “grow faint.”

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I Did It...It's Gone!

I finally decided it was time to let go of my hair. My doctor had told me it should start coming out in the next couple days and suggested shaving it before that starts to happen. I kept putting it off because in the back of my mind I kept wondering, “Will it actually fall out? What if I am the one exception to the rule? What if this whole thing is just a dream and I wake up and find that I have cut all my hair out?”

Well…a rational voice (my husband) whispered in my ear and told me to stop worrying and just do it. I spent the afternoon with a good friend who helped me to prepare me for this event (and took these great pictures). And Matt, wonderful and thoughtful husband that he is, set up a "beauty salon" in the garage. He wanted to make sure that the atmosphere was right for this occasion. Lydia, Hudson and Samuel took their seats so they could watch as mommy got a really cool hair cut. I do hope that they don’t decide to play barber shop tomorrow!

The first snip was the hard to watch (the fateful moment is pictured to the left), but then it was kind of fun to see my new hairstyle evolve. In the end, Matt trimmed it down to the recommended length of a mere ½ inch.

All in all we had a fun time. Taking this step in the process just makes me remember that true beauty is not on the outside. God looks at the heart and that is what matters.

“Man looks on the outward appearance, 
but the Lord looks on the heart.”
1 Samuel  16:7  

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Be Still and Listen

I have had more quiet time in this past week than I am used to. My days are usually filled with constant cleaning, dressing kids, feeding kids, playing referee, playing, driving, organizing etc. I have had some wonderful help in this past week since I have not been feeling well. It has just been me and Samuel for most mornings. He does not talk to me much so I have had a lot of time to just think and read and pray. One of the ways I see this cancer as being a blessing is by making me realize how important it is to just be with God and listen. He has given me this cancer and though it is hard and makes me weary, I know it is for a good reason.  I must take joy in it because I do not deserve any better.

I have been reading a great book by Sally M. Knox who is a breast cancer doctor. She shares the thoughts of a breast cancer survivor at the end of her journey:
Cancer taught me I didn’t know if I had a tomorrow. Cancer taught me that true hope and love were based on confidence in God and on faith, not on egotistical plans for the future. Cancer taught me not to be overly optimistic about what I could do and what I could control. Instead it taught me to expect tribulation. Because cancer is tribulation -- but it’s a tribulation that taught me character. Cancer taught me to walk with God by involving my mind, my heart, and my will in that relationship. I learned that even though previously I had the Lord as my Savior, I had missed the best part, the relationship.
In these words I see a woman who was able to surrender all to God and truly listened to Him, and that is my prayer for myself as well.

“Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted 
among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
Psalm 46:10 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Chemotherapy: Week One

Thank you all so much for your prayers and words of encouragement to Erin this week. I want to give you a quick medical update so that you know how Erin is doing and how you can pray for her.

Erin received her first chemotherapy treatment on Tuesday (you can read about it below). She felt alright on Tuesday evening and Wednesday – she was up and about, but was just a little tired. By Thursday the fatigue and nausea she had been warned about began to set in and she spent more time in bed. On Friday her fatigue and nausea reached their peak and she also experienced side-effects like sensitivity to touch and a perpetual metallic taste in her mouth. Even though she was not feeling well, she did still have the strength to continue caring for Samuel, to eat meals with the rest of our family, and to do some reading over the past few days.

Today (Saturday) she is doing significantly better – much more energy, less nausea, and eagerness about feeling “back to normal.” Even though Erin may be feeling better within the next few days, she will not be able to do many of her normal activities – especially activities that require her to be around other people. The chemotherapy drugs severely decrease her immune system, so she needs to use discretion about everything from what food she eats (no raw fruits or vegetables) to how often she is around other people (at home or in public As much as she would love having visitors at the house and attending events at our church and Pooler MOPS, she will not be able to enjoy those things very regularly for the next several months. So as you continue to pray for Erin’s recovery from this first chemotherapy treatment in the coming days, please also pray that she will not grow too weary of being “housebound” in the coming months.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Chemotherapy: Day One

I am going to write throughout my first chemotherapy appointment today…not because I have anything particularly wonderful to write about, but because the Glee episode I was going to watch didn’t download in time. So I guess my loss is your gain! 

1:00PM - Waiting Room
I have always liked the saying, “the simpler the better.” Details are usually good and necessary, but sometimes they are unhelpful. In many ways, that is the case for me today. If I start thinking about the details of what this treatment will (or will not) accomplish or what my side affects might (or might not) be I will definitely start to worry. But I will be just fine if I think of this process as I explained it to my three year-old daughter last night: “Mommy has an owie and is going to the doctor to get medicine that is going to make me better, but it might make me sick a little at first.”

2:00PM - Treatment Room
I met with Dr. Taylor and several nurses, got my blood work taken, and now am waiting in the chemotherapy treatment room. Walking into the treatment room for the first time was a bit strange. There are about a dozen recliners throughout the room. Most of them are occupied by patients who are sleeping or reading while getting their chemo drugs through an IV. It’s sad to think that all of these other people are dealing with some kind of cancer as well. I do feel pretty out of place here, though…I’m easily 20 years younger than anyone else in the room. As much as I wanted to bring Samuel with me today, it is good not to have him in here. He is in good hands with his Aunt Kristin. But I still miss him…this will be the longest we have ever been apart! 

3:00PM - Treatment Room
I am finally getting my first drug: Cytoxin. They will give this to me for about an hour and then I will get another drug for an hour. Most people are already finishing up their IV, so I will probably be the last one here. It has been interesting people watching in this room - I wonder what all their stories are.

4:00PM - Treatment Room
I just started my second drug: Taxotere. Most of the patients have left, so Matt is raiding the snack table. Hopefully he'll share some with me...

4:15PM - Treatment Room
Just a few minutes into my Taxotere I started getting strong back pains throughout my lower back. The nurse had told me to tell her if this happened, so I did. She immediately stopped my IV and a couple minutes later Dr. Taylor was in the room deciding what to do. He decided to give me a dose of steroids and then try the Taxotere again. Hopefully that will work - otherwise I’ll be coming back tomorrow or Wednesday to finish the Taxotere.  

5:00PM - Treatment Room
I am taking the Taxotere again and am not having any more back pain. Hopefully I’ll be out of here in about an hour.

6:20PM - The Car
We’re finally on the way home. In the future my treatments should only take about two hours. I’m feeling fine so far - just a little tired. The nurses said it would probably be a day or so until I start feeling the true side-effects of the drugs.

9:00PM - Home
Though this has been a long and busy day, it has been so encouraging and humbling to know that many people are praying for me. God has given me an overwhelming sense of peace and joy that can only come from Him. My prayer for the remainder of this week is that I will continue to trust in His perfect peace and rejoice in His all-sufficient strength - even though I might not be feeling well.
"The Lord is my strength and my song, and He has become 
my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise Him, 
my father's God, and I will exalt Him (Exodus 15:2)."

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Wig Shopping

Matt and I went "wig shopping" today. I will probably begin losing my hair in about two weeks and my doctors recommended finding a wig (or "cranial prosthesis" as they call it) as soon as possible. It was a very interesting experience finding out about the different types of wigs, how to wear them, how to care for them, etc. Our first stop was the American Cancer Society which has free used wigs available for cancer patients. They had a very large and diverse selection, so we couldn't help trying on a few just for fun. Be sure to vote for your favorite look on the survey to the right! Even though losing my hair will be emotionally and physically difficult, it is nice to be able to share some funny moments with my husband along the way.

I did end up getting a wig that might work (and just for the record, it is not one of the wigs in the survey). In fact, the folks at the American Cancer Society referred me to a hairstylist in Savannah that specializes in styling wigs - and he offers his services for free to cancer patients. So we took him the wig...it was pretty bizarre to sit in a beauty salon getting my "hair" done!

Lean on Me

People often ask me what kind of music I like. While some people have a favorite genre of music (or a despised genre of music), there is music in every genre that I really enjoy and music that I simply can't appreciate. Well, now that I think it, I don't think I've ever enjoyed Nortena music (the Mexican version of Polka - now playing at a suburban Tex-Mex restaurant near you). So if you looked on my iPod you would find a seemingly bizzare combination of music: from Beethoven, to Alice Cooper, to Michael Card, to the Gypsy Kings (and about two dozen U2 albums).

In fact, just this week I set one of my car radio's preset buttons to our local Gospel music station. As a Presbyterian pastor, some of the theology expressed in Gospel music makes me cringe. But I love the heartfelt and soulful qualities of Gospel music. So I thought I'd share a great song by the young Kirk Franklin called, "Lean on Me." It's been especially encouraging to me in the recent weeks as our family has had the opportunity to "lean on" our friends and family and, ultimately, our God. I hope you enjoy it (and be sure to watch for a certain sun-glass-wearing man from Dublin)!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Whirlwind of a Week

It has been a whirlwind of a week...and it’s only Wednesday! 

I started off the week on Monday by going to get an MRI biopsy on a suspicious lump in my right breast (the original tumor is on my left side). I was not prepared for what that procedure would be like. I had two other biopsies done in the past few weeks and they did not hurt too bad and they healed very quickly. I was expecting the same this time, but I was oh so wrong.  When I arrived the nurses started telling me about the procedure. They told me I would be in recovery for observation for about an hour after the procedure was over. I hadn’t had to do that for the other biopsies, so that made me begin to get nervous. I waited for about an hour while they gave me the IV in my arm. Then I went back to get the MRI. I had to lay on my stomach with my head down and my arms over my head for over an hour while they took pictures then biopsied, then took more pictures and did more biopsy. Compared to the other biopsies, this one was far more invasive and painful.

But the real pain came that evening. After I had been home for several hours, I suddenly experienced incredible pain and severe bleeding where they had done the biopsy. The nurses had told me to call if I had any substantial pain or bleeding, so I immediately called but could not get a hold of anyone. I have a pretty high pain tolerance, but this pain was so bad that Matt and I decided to head to the Emergency Room (thankfully, Matt‘s parents were visiting and were able to stay at the house with the kids). When we were half-way to the hospital, a nurse returned my call and told us I probably had a blood clot burst. While it was very painful, she said it was not necessarily an emergency and that I could stop the pain and bleeding on my own (applying warm and cold compresses for 20 minutes each). Matt stopped at a gas station to get some supplies to get the compress treatments started. Once we knew it was working, we headed home.

On Tuesday, we met with the oncologist  to discuss my chemotherapy treatment. Once again, we had a lot of information given to us. Here are the basic details. I will start chemotherapy next Tuesday (November 9th) and will return for treatment every 3 weeks for an 18 week period. The chemotherapy drugs (taxotere and cy) will take about 2 hours to administer through an IV. The week following the treatment will probably be the hardest in terms of fatigue, nausea, and a very weak immune system. The next week will be a little better and then the third week (the week before the next treatment) will be fairly normal. Then the process will start all over again for another three week cycle.

There are a few things I need to take care of before chemotherapy begins on Tuesday. One of those things is shopping for a wig/ hat/ scarf... I will begin losing my hair the week after my first chemotherapy treatment, so the nurses suggested finding a wig to match my current hair color and style while I still have my hair. I do not want to let my hair fall out a little at a time, so I will probably have someone shave my head a few days after I receive my first chemotherapy treatment. I don’t think I will wear the wig all the time, but I think it would be good to wear when I am around the kids and when I am in public. Another thing I need to take care of is getting some new glasses. Apparently I can’t wear my contacts during chemotherapy and my current glasses are several years old (so the prescription is not very accurate).   I know my identity is not in my body and in my physical appearance, but at the same time, being somewhat young and having this happen is a little disheartening.  It is always good to be reminded of God’s Word:
Psalm 73:25-26
Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Here are a few prayer requests that I have in light of all this:
1. Please pray that I will tolerate the chemotherapy fairly well. I am especially nervous about getting sick or getting infections because my immune system will be so weak.
2. Please pray that I will not become withdrawn because of how I am feeling and not being able to get out.
3. Please pray that my children will not feel the separation that will happen because of my health.
4. And most importantly, please pray that I will continue to use this experience as a ministry. God is good...ALL THE TIME. Please pray that I will glorify Him!