Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Past Couple Weeks

It has been a while since I have posted any updates on the blog, so here are a few highlights of the past couple weeks: 
  • On Sunday, June 19th, I went into the ER because of a severe allergic reaction I was having to a medication I had just started. Apparently, I can now add a penicillin allergy to my list of weird allergies I have gotten since my being diagnosed with cancer last October.
  • On Monday, June 20th, I began a week-long adventure of teaching a class of fifteen 4 year-olds at our church’s VBS program.
  • I have been having radiation treatments every weekday for the past three weeks and have been very thankful for how well it has been going. I have not had any side effects to the treatments other than a little fatigue. Praise the Lord! Fourteen treatments down and another twenty-one to go!
  • On Sunday, June 26th, I played the piano for the worship services at our church. It was a great joy to be able to help out and it went well - apart from messing up on my introduction to the Doxology!
  • On Monday, June 27th, Bethany, the kids, and I drove up to North Carolina with the Jr. and Sr. High students from our church. The students are attending a camp at Ridge Haven, a camp and conference center owned by the PCA. I was not originally planning on going to Ridge Haven, but a few days before my doctor agreed to let me skip a day or two of treatments so that I could go.  
  • We a great time at Ridge Haven – we went hiking and swimming, enjoyed games and worship times with the students, and got to try out an amazing 100-foot long waterslide! We did get some bumps and bruises, though – I sprained my left ring finger while playing basketball (the doctor said if it swells up any more they are going to have to cut my wedding ring off) and Lydia took a tumble down some concrete stairs. I guess those things are always part of the true camp experience!

  • Bethany, the kids, and I had to return home yesterday (Wednesday, June 29th) so that I could resume my radiation treatments. Matt will return with the students on Friday.
In many ways my life is currently dominated by my cancer. My treatment effects my overall health (managing medications, side effects, allergies) and my daily life (going to appointments, avoiding too much exposure to the sun, returning early from trips). But while my cancer does dominate my life these days, it certainly does not define my life. I am so thankful that I have still be able to do so many things I enjoy (caring for my kids, playing piano in church, helping with church activities, going on trips). There are so many people who are incredibly limited by various health issues, and so I do not for granted the gift it is to be able to remain active in the things I love. God is good!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Medical Update: Doctors, Doctors, Doctors

When a mom of three young kids is going through cancer treatments, there is just no way to go more than a couple days without a doctor’s appointment. And sometimes, like yesterday, you can have multiple appointments – even five – in a single day. In the past week, I have found this out in a very real way. 

Last Friday, my surgeon recommended that I have a full body bone-scan done as well as Vitamin D testing. I had been having some severe pain in my left hip, and she wanted to rule out the very real possibility that the cancer had spread into my bones. She explained that estrogen-positive breast cancer (like I have) tends to like “weak” bones. This possibility made Matt and I very nervous, but praise the Lord, the test came back normal (though my Vitamin D levels were a bit low). She put me on Vitamin D and Calcium supplements to help strengthen my bones and possibly relieve some of my pain. 

On Monday, I had an appointment with a pulmonologist to investigate a persistent cough I have been battling for the past three months. After an x-ray and brief exam, he discovered the culprit: my SINUSES! If you know me well, then you know that I have suffered with sinus problems my whole life. I have what is called “non-allergic rhinitis” and “chronic sinusitis.” I have had four sinus surgeries since high school, including one that kind of messed my sinuses up even worse. Anyway, the pulmonologist said it looks like surgery might be the only thing to help me, but obviously now is not the best time to be having sinus surgery!  It was wonderful to have an objective diagnosis of what is going on, but it was also wonderful to connect with this particular doctor. When he walked into the waiting room he asked me if my husband was a pastor in Pooler. I responded, “Yes,” and he said, “I think you are the one we have been praying for lately.” He said that he attends a local PCA church and that they have been praying for me and my family for the past several months. WOW! I am continually amazed at the faithful prayers that are continually offered up on my behalf! What a blessing!

On Tuesday, I made a total of five visits to various doctors, but the one that stands out is taking Hudson to the pediatrician for a severe allergic reaction. You see, in the midst of our unusually busy family life, we decided we needed to take on a new challenge: we decided to adopt a sweet, one year-old cat that has been hanging out outside our house for the past two weeks. We took “Louie” (named in honor of his presence in our driveway when we returned from our trip to St. Louis) to the vet on Saturday to see if he was healthy and to get him the various vaccinations he needed if he was going to be around the kids. Of course, just three days after paying for the vaccinations and all the “cat stuff” we needed (litter box, food, collar, kennel, etc.) we discovered that Hudson was allergic to Louie. While I was at a physical therapy appointment for Samuel (for his head – he ended up being able to do PT instead of getting a helmet!), Bethany called me and said that Hudson was a little out of sorts. I came home to find Hudson’s eyes red, watery, and nearly swollen shut. He was also coughing, sneezing and whining a lot. I called the pediatric nurse and she said to bring him in. They gave him a little Benadryl and he was fine. But needless to say, we need to find a new home for Louie.

After I brought Hudson and Samuel home I went back into town for my radiation and for a physical therapy appointment for myself. Radiation is continuing to go well. Since My first radiation I have had arm pain that could be the start of lymphedema. My PT appointment was scheduled to get that issue checked out. I guess I have to keep a close eye on that as radiation can tend to make lymphedema worse. 

Thanks to Bethany I have been able to get all these appointments done. Matt and I are so thankful that she is here! Thanks to her, it has been a lot easier to use my non-medical time to have some summer fun with the kids. We have gone bowling, to library story time, to the pool, and to the mall. 

I came home from my PT appointment just in time to spend the evening with the youth group from our church. God has blessed us with sweet group of kids, and it’s always a blessing to hang out with them! As a pastor’s kid (and pastor’s wife), I just love finding ways to use my gifts to serve the Lord by serving others in ministry. Next week I will be teaching fifteen 4 year-olds at our church’s Vacation Bible School program, so I have been preparing for that as well (reviewing curriculum, making decorations, etc.). Of course, every time I talk to my sisters about teaching VBS in the mornings and doing radiation in the afternoons, they think I'm crazy. Well, I like to have a little crazy in me. And even though doing these ministry things while dealing with my treatments can be especially exhausting, I have found it to be such a blessing to get to know the children of our church and to be able to have fun with them while teaching them God’s Word.

I apologize if this blog post seems a bit “whiny,” but I really want my blog to be an accurate representation of what my life is like these days. I want to balance stories of personal encouragement and truth from God’s Word with an honest account of some of the hard and tedious aspects of this journey. In my own experience, I know I always benefit when I am able to read others’ honest reflections on their difficulties and take a certain comfort in identifying with their struggles. But of course it is equally beneficial to read more positive, hopeful reflections on persevering through life’s trials, and especially wonderful to see how the truths of God’s Word relate to those trials. I would appreciate your continued prayers.
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." 
Philippians 1:3-6

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hardships and Blessings

It has been quite a week for me – very physically and emotionally exhausting – and it is only Wednesday! I have had lots going on medically and Matt has been away at a conference in Virginia since Tuesday. I guess until now I haven’t realized just how much I have depended on him both physically and emotionally during this process.

On Monday and Tuesday I had my final two preparation appointments for my radiation treatments. The preparation process involves taking several scans of the area they will radiate, marking the area on my body, and calibrating the computerized devices which actually do the radiation. Since radiation can do damage to the heart and lungs, they want to be very careful to only radiate a specific area. For some reason, this process was harder for me than getting stuck with needles for chemotherapy. It has always been very painful for me to be flat on my back (I get headaches and backaches if I am flat on my back for too long), and that is the position I need to be in for the radiation (with my arms above my head as well – not too comfortable). As I lay on the table during the tests and today during my first treatment I kept asking myself, “How am I going to do this thirty-five times?!” Not only do I have to assume this painful position daily, but I have to work out a time to come each day during a busy summer schedule. I quickly realized that I am just going to have to take it one day at a time! 

God is really teaching me to have patience right now...especially with my body. In many ways, it seems like the past nine months has brought my body problem after problem. Sure, progress is being made in important ways – but new things keep coming up. It has been very frustrating and discouraging. But in the midst of each new problem, I need to trust and rest in the truth that God is in control and he is taking care of me day by day. As the song in the video below says, "What if the trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?"

As I am typing this I am outside watching Lydia, Hudson, and Samuel play in the pool. Watching them play reminds me that I can have the hardest day in the world, but I still have so many incredible blessings that God has given me and I am so thankful for them. I am thankful for each of my precious children and for their good health. I am thankful for a loving, caring husband who loves me, but even more importantly loves Christ and His Church. I am thankful for wonderful friends who are there to listen to me. I am thankful for the wonderful friend and helper I have in Bethany, who has volunteered to be here with our family for the summer. And I am thankful for all of my doctors who are continually using their expertise to help me.

As I go through the remainder of this week I would appreciate your continued prayers for the radiation process, as well as for some tests I will be having later this week. Please pray that God will give me strength for each new day and help me to see his blessings in everything.

Salvation belongs to the Lord
your blessing be on your people!
Psalm 3:8

Monday, June 6, 2011

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Fray Family Vacation '11

Hudson checking out the view from 30,000 feet...

Enjoying the plane ride to St. Louis...
This past week we took a family vacation to visit family and friends in St. Louis. I had about two weeks in between the end of my chemo treatments and the beginning of my radiation treatments (which start this week), so we had a pretty tight window of time to get away. Of course, family vacations with three kids four and under are not necessarily relaxing. It takes a lot of energy to keep up with the kids, and it can be quite a logistical challenge to spend long hours in cars and airplanes (we flew to St. Louis and drove my mom's old mini-van back home). But it was such a blessing to spend the time with Matt, Lydia, Hudson and Samuel.

We stayed at my mom’s house and spent a lot of time with my sister Katie, her husband Chris, and their kids Ella, J-Rod, and Lilly. The cousins had a wonderful time together. We had fun doing a lot of St. Louis things like going to the zoo, eating Imo’s Pizza, walking around Kirkwood and getting snow cones, going to Trinity Church (PCA), swimming, having a BBQ, having a playdate with some wonderful friends, and of course I cannot forget my annual dentist appointment!  

Hudson and a giant horse statue...
Hudson and Samuel in their matching outfits...
Lydia and Hudson petting a goat at the St. Louis Zoo...

Hudson's sidewalk chalk self-portrait...
The view of the arch on the way out of St. Louis...
On our drive home we stopped in Chattanooga and stayed at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, an old Southern Railroad train station that has been converted into a hotel and conference center. In addition to having several trains to explore and eat in, they have some that have been converted into fully-functional hotel rooms, so we stayed in one of those train car rooms for a night. This was especially fun for Hudson because he LOVES trains! We were also able to have dinner with my Aunt Kathleen and Uncle Niel Nielson who live on Lookout Mountain, so it was great to get a chance to talk and spend a little time with them as well. 
Inside the train car room...
Matt and Hudson looking at the model train car exhibit...
Hudson trying on a Chattanooga Choo-Choo conductor's hat...
Lydia and Hudson on the steps leading to our train car room...
The outside of our train car room...

Matt and I are both coming back to several very busy weeks, but our vacation refreshed us in many ways so we are ready to go. This week Matt will be headed to the PCA's General Assembly in Virginia Beach and I will finish my radiation planning today and begin the daily treatments on Tuesday or Wednesday. I would appreciate prayers as I begin that process. I would also appreciate prayers as I try to figure out problems that I have been having with my lungs. I will see a Pulmonologist this week for that. Then in the coming weeks I will be continuing my daily radiation treatments, we will be helping with our church's annual VBS program, and Matt will take a group of students to a camp at Ridge Haven at the end of the month. Thankfully, our friend Bethany will be here to help out while Matt is out of town and while I do my daily treatments!

Thank you so much for your continued prayers for me and our whole family. I will be sure to post an update in a few days to let you know about my first radiation treatments.