Friday, February 25, 2011

A Day in the Life

Even with everything that goes along with cancer, I have realized that not too much is different in my daily life as a young mother. Yes, the weeks seem busier when I have a lot of doctors appointments. And the days seem longer when I am not feeling well. And ordinary tasks like getting dressed are a bit more complicated when I have post-surgery fluid drains attached to me (on the other hand I do not have to deal with too much hair maintenance!). But none of these things keep me from being a mother or from enjoying day-to-day life with three little ones.

The mornings usually begin nice and early thanks to my four month old alarm clock, Samuel. While I am giving him his bottle I usually welcome two more little munchkins into my bed. I love to start the day with a good cuddle. But the serenity of those early-morning cuddles is very short-lived before the squabbling begins. “That’s my blankie!” “No MY milk!” “Can we watch cartoons?”

Tuesday and Thursday mornings tend to be nice because I have the chance to be alone with the boys when Lydia goes to her preschool. That is usually my opportunity to get some housework done.  It is surprisingly MUCH less crazy around the house when our rambunctious little Lydia is absent. I love it when she comes home though. She is full of stories and loves to show me all she has made from that morning. But this also tends to be a quite hectic time. All of a sudden I go from a somewhat quiet house to the crazy lunchtime rush. My sisters always laugh when I tell them that one of my kids favorite lunchtime meals is scrambled eggs with green beans…now that is normal, isn’t it!?

I am more than willing to extend all of my energy during these morning hours and get everything done that I need to because my reward is yet to come…NAP TIME! This is my quiet time. Without this hour or two of “self-time” I would not be able to make it through the day (and the coffee helps too). I rarely every sleep during this time…my rest time usually consists of reading, blogging, or …the DVR! J

Finally comes the time when daddy comes home. I have not yet figured out why this seems to be the most chaotic and loudest part of the day…maybe because the kids are so excited about seeing daddy, maybe because it is close to dinner time and they are hungry, or maybe there is just an alarm that goes off all over the world that tells all children that it is time to go CRAZY!!!

Dinner is always interesting, starting with our prayer time before the meal. Daddy starts to pray and since daddy prays Lydia has to pray, then if Lydia prays Hudson has to pray, then of course since everyone else prayed mommy has to pray too. By then the food is cold, but it has been prayed for four times, so it works out. At the ages that my kids are right now we don’t have much more of a conversation than, “Make sure to eat your peas,” or “Take two more bites of chicken,”  or “Don‘t rub the salad dressing in your hair,” or “If you finish your spaghetti you can have some ice cream!”

Depending on the night (or the amount of salad dressing in the hair), the kids have baths after dinner. The kids love bath time - and I love clean kids! But my favorite family time activity that we have, specifically in the winter, is fire time. Lydia and Hudson like us to build a fire in the fireplace, turn off every single light in the whole house, and have a dance party. This is actually very good exercise and it is really fun to hear the laughter and see the smiles of dancing toddlers. Then we settle the kids down to read some Bible stories and pray together.  Sometimes it doesn’t seem like the kids are listening or learning during this time, but more often than not we are surprised with how much they understand. It’s also interesting to see what Bible stories they enjoy most - Lydia’s current favorites are the Exodus from Egypt, David and Goliath, and Jesus’ Death and Resurrection.

The last part of the evening is such a sweet time. I am usually eager to move on to my time with Matt, but it is so rewarding to take the time to talk to, sing with, and pray for each of the kids. I pray that that time will both strengthen their bonds with me and soften their hearts towards Christ. Of course, merely putting the kids to bed doesn’t necessarily mean they go to sleep. For instance, Matt went into Hudson’s room to check on him about twenty minutes after putting him to bed. When Matt walked into the room he noticed Hudson’s pants and blankie on the floor, but no Hudson. He looked in the bed, but no Hudson. He looked in the closet, but no Hudson. He looked in the kids’ bathroom, but no Hudson. He looked in Lydia’s room, but no Hudson. He looked in the living room, but no Hudson. Finally, Matt noticed that our bedroom door was half-way open. Matt went into the bedroom and found the pants-less Hudson sitting on the floor in our bathroom - with all the lights off - putting band-aids all over himself. Matt scolded Hudson for getting out of bed and for getting into the band-aids and put him back to bed. And wouldn’t you know it, just five minutes later a pants-less Hudson re-emerged from his bedroom attempting to sneak back to our bathroom for more band-aids!

Each day certainly brings its own craziness and business! But if I have learned one thing from this experience it is that I want to appreciate the little things in life and enjoy my family. And most importantly, I want to model Christ’s love for them day in and day out.

Lydia (turning 4 in 2 weeks), Hudson (2 and 1/2), and Samuel (our enormous 4-month old)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Medical Update

Though I am still dealing with a significant amount of pain from my surgery (two weeks ago today), I am thankful to be feeling well enough to be taking care of my kids again. There are some things that I still can’t do (or at least shouldn’t do), like lifting them or doing things that require a lot of physical exertion, but I am able to care for their basic needs.

There is no way any of us would have survived the last two weeks if my mother in-law and mother were not each able to come for several days to help out. And our good friend Lori continues to be a huge help and blessing to us. She has tirelessly and graciously cared for our kids for the majority of my doctors appointments, including watching them for four days while I was in the hospital for my surgery. Of course, there have been many other people helping us with childcare needs and we are so thankful for all of you! 

This week we met with both of my surgeons to follow-up from the surgery and to discuss plans for the coming months. The surgeons were both pleased with my recovery so far. I have had an unusual amount of pain, but everything seems to be good in terms of my body healing. One interesting follow-up fact that we learned this week is that the tumor that was found in my lymph node was actually .1 cm larger than the tumor in my breast at the time of surgery. We didn’t even know that tumor existed and it was larger than the one we were focusing on! As far as we know there is no reason to be concerned about this since none of my other lymph nodes contained any cancer. However, there may very well be stray cancer cells in other parts of my body, so I will do a follow-up round of chemotherapy once a week for twelve weeks (March 3-May 26) and then thirty consecutive days of radiation treatment. So we are going to be pretty busy with doctors visits in the coming months, especially in the next month as I will need to go to Charleston every Tuesday for follow-up appointments and to Savannah every Thursday for chemotherapy.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Entertaining Side of Recovery

Erin came home from the hospital on Monday evening and has been recovering well from her surgery. The surgery was a success – they removed all of the cancer from her breast and the follow-up pathology report confirmed that the cancer had only spread to one lymph node (which has also been removed). We are thankful to God for the good surgeons and nurses who cared for Erin and helped her through those first days after her surgery. Since we live about 100 miles from the hospital where her surgery was performed, we were a little nervous about the possibility of her having questions or complications after coming home. But so far she has not had any unexpected complications – at least not any medical complications. In terms of her day-to-day functioning, though, Erin has had her share of personal complications.

Of course, this is not her fault. She is dealing with a lot of pain from the surgery, so she is taking a very powerful pain-killer and muscle relaxant - both of which make her tired, confused, and….well…entertaining. Erin’s older sister, Katie (who has a blog of her own), was kind enough to document one particularly entertaining account from a couple days ago. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!



On a typical day, my sisters and I will talk on the phone at least twice. Sometimes it’s for absolutely no reason other than the, “I’m bored and it’s 4:00 p.m. and nap time is over and it’s cold outside and I don’t feel like cooking dinner and my husband isn’t home from work yet and I don’t know what in the world else to do.” Sometimes our conversations simply revolve around what we did the night before and what we have planned for the rest of the day. For some of us, those conversations are more interesting than for others. And then at other times, we simply call each other to laugh. Often it will be over something one of our kids said. How could I not share, for example, the fact that my son thought that my heartburn was caused by the fact that I was just loving Jesus too much! I’m glad we can laugh at our kids and, at times, at life’s circumstances, but I’m also thankful that my family has the ability to laugh at themselves. As my sister Erin has been known to say, “You just can’t take life too seriously.”

While I’ve had plenty of moments that deserve, and often receive, a good laugh (while teaching a Bible study this week, for instance, I referred to the weapons my husband saw on a trip to Yemen as ‘Machete Guns’), I am going to focus, at her request, on a conversation that I had with my “don’t take life too seriously” sister on Wednesday afternoon. When I called, I was concerned. By the time I hung up, I was laughing.

Erin has been in a great deal of pain since returning home from her surgery, thus the need for a consistent dose of pain medications. And, as you can imagine, she is not taking the everyday IB-Profin. And, as you can also imagine, the pain killers do something to her capacity to…well… think straight. And, as you can further imagine, if you catch her at just the right time, the conversation can take all sorts of interesting twists and turns. On Wednesday I caught her at just the right time. I called to see if she was still in much pain. When she answered the phone, I got a very slurred “Hello” (imagine the word minus the “ll’s”). I had the answer to my pain question immediately.

Me: “Erin, how are you?”

Erin: “Not really good. I feel great” (slurred….again).

I have to admit the “I feel great” part already began to take a toll. I was totally smiling, but trying, at this point, not to laugh. Then, silence.

Me: “Um, hello?”

I wondered if I should just hang up.

Erin: “Hello?”

Me: “Are you there? Do you want me to call back later?”

Erin: “Hello?”

Me: “Hello, Erin, can you hear me?”

Erin: “No, no, no. I’m just resting.”

Me: “Oh, are you in bed? I can totally call back.”

Erin: “No, I’m outside.”

Me: “You’re resting outside?”

Erin: “No! I’m outside playing with the kids.”

Me: “You’re playing with the kids outside?”

Erin: “No, I’m resting.”

Now I was laughing.

Me: “Erin, so, do you know when will you go back to the doctors?”

At this point, Erin interjected some results that I was more than happy to hear. It came out slowly, but sensibly:

Erin: “Hey, oh, the pathology on the other lymph nodes all came back negative.”

Praise God!

Me: “Erin, that’s great.”

And then it occurred to me that maybe she was feeling a bit more “with it.” But then, well, then she kept talking.

Erin: “Yeah, but I don’t know what that has anything to do with anything.”

What?! So, I tried to explain why those results were good news. After my twenty seconds of Dr. Katie, she completely interrupted me:

Erin: “Can you believe I have three kids?”

Me: “Um….”

I had nothing. But, I didn’t need to. My drug induced sister kept talking:

Erin: “Wait, you have three children.”

Now, I was just full out laughing. And in a creepy way, I was kind of okay staying on the phone for a few more minutes.

Me: “Yep, I have three kids too.”

Erin then informed me that she was going to sleep on the couch that night for her first night home. It’s important to understand the timeline of events in order to understand the conclusion to this conversation: Erin had surgery on Friday, they came home on Monday, her mother-in-law came to help on Tuesday, and this conversation was happening on a Wednesday. The older sister in me felt the need to set things straight. I have no idea why I thought I could do that at this point in the conversation.

Me: “Erin, this won’t be your first night home. You guys came home on Monday; do you mean you slept on the couch on Monday night?”

If God had granted me a gentle, nurturing personality, I probably would have simply wrapped up the conversation and told her to get some rest. However, I cannot claim those as primary qualities. My first instinct was to prove to Erin that I was right. And perhaps I could have resisted this urge if it were not for my sister who made the foolishly bold statement:

Erin: “You are wrong!”

I started arguing with illogic itself.

Me: “I am not wrong. You guys came home on Monday from the hospital, so tonight will be your third night at home – remember? You came home Monday night in time for the kids to go to bed, and then on Tuesday you picked up ….”

In the middle of my sentence, I heard loud breathing followed by an exasperated claim:

Erin: “We just got home yesterday, I’m telling you!”

Me: “Wait, you’re claiming tonight will be your first night. Now you’re saying you got home yesterday?”

I wondered what would happen if I kept trying to throw logic her way. There was complete silence. And then I started feeling bad. Maybe my poor, foggy sister was trying to sort out my words. I allowed her to do so for a minute, just to ensure that she understood I was right.

Erin: “You’re wrong.”

Good grief.

Erin: “I totally feel good. I mean I could start treatment but they tell me the body has to heal or something dumb like that. I’m healed. I think you’re healed.”

Me: “Yep, I’m healed Erin. And I will talk to you later. Okay?”

I just needed to get off the phone so I could call Bekah so that we could laugh. This time it wouldn’t be about the kids, though.

Erin: “Are you laughing?”

Me: “Yep. This whole conversation has been pretty hilarious and you probably won’t remember any of it.”

Erin: “Oh, I keep telling Matt to post funny things I say. Am I saying funny things?”

Me: “Yep. Okay, then, I’ll call you later?”

Erin: “Okay. You’ll call me because I’m funny?”

Me: “Yep. Okay then. I’ll call you later.”

I wasn’t quite sure how to make the conversation end. So I just hung up. A part of me wondered how long she kept talking. There is no doubt that I’ll be calling my sister again soon. And maybe not for typical, everyday reasons.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Surgery Update #5

Well, after three days in the hospital it looks like I will be headed home in a few hours. The surgery and recovery were not necessarily what I expected, but they were all part of God's plan for me. I am always amazed how the timing of God's plan is perfect. Though it is not necessarily a positive thing that my cancer spread to my lymph nodes it is good I am not having to deal with a more difficult recovery right now. I have had a few complications and have had trouble trying to manage my pain just from the mastectomies. Now I know a little more what to expect when I come back for my reconstruction surgery later this Summer or Fall.

Even though the hospital stay involved a fair amount of physical pain, it was wonderful to have several people take the time to visit me here. On the day of my surgery John Fender (our pastor) and the Grovenstein's (a couple from our church) drove up from Savannah to spend the day in the waiting room with Matt and to see me after the surgery. What an encouragement they were to us! Also, since he couldn't be here with me, my grandfather called a local PCA pastor (whose children my dad baptized) to come by and pray with us. I also had a friend from college, Anna Catherine Wilson Brooks, come visit. I had not seen her since college and so it was good to catch up a bit. Finally, my good friends Keith and Linda Kneeshaw came down from Columbia, South Carolina, today to visit. I knew Linda growing up in St. Louis and have not seen her for several years, so it was fun to see her as well.

Of course, I am looking forward to going home. Hopefully the kids will not climb on me like a jungle gym quite yet. I missed them so much! As I have been here in the hospital I have been so thankful for my husband Matt through all of this. He is my best friend and has been a true servant and has fulfilled our marriage vows: "For better or sickness and in health." He is an amazing man and has such a sacrificial heart. I am glad I was able to provide him with little entertainment during my more drugged-up moments.

Thank you again for all your prayers and encouragement. We have known God's peace and presence in this past week.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Surgery Update #4

Here's a quick update on Erin:

When I went to see Erin after her surgery the first thing she said was, "What happened? How come my tummy doesn't hurt?" Apparently the doctors and nurses had not explained anything to her yet, so I explained how her sentinel lymph node came back positive for cancer and since that would require radiation she would need to wait several months to do the reconstruction. Erin took the news much better than I had anticipated. She's been learning throughout this whole process that plans are continually changing, but that she can always depend on God because he loves her and is working for her good.

In terms of her recovery, Erin has been dealing with a significant amount of pain since the surgery. The doctors and nurses have been working with her to reduce her pain with different medication. She will likely stay here at the hospital one more night before returning home to Savannah tomorrow.

Thank you for your continued prayers and support. We will give you another update in another day or two.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Surgery Update #3

Just met with the breast surgeon...she confirmed that Erin will need radiation. That means they will not do the breast reconstruction today...they will wait until after radiation (30 days) and chemo (12 weeks). They have removed the first two layers of lymph nodes, though only the first node had any cancer. The good part of this is that her recovery will be easier...she will likely go home on Sat or Sun. The hard part is that E really wanted to do everything at once and really wanted to avoid radiation. So please pray for her when she hears the will be really hard for her. She should be done in about 45 minutes and then move to a recovery room to wake up.


Surgery Update #2

Just spoke with Erin's nurse. The mastectomies are done. The first lymph node did come back positive for more cancer so they will continue testing the others and remove all that test positive. This means the surgery will take a little longer. It also means she will need to do radiation. Certainly not what we hoped for, but God will certainly give Erin all she needs to handle it. You can pray that she will not be too discouraged by the news when she wakes up. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Surgery Update#1

Well, after days of waiting it is finally time for my surgery. We came up to Charleston yesterday for one final pre-operative appointment and to spend the night since my surgery is early this morning.

At my appointment, a radiologist injected some nuclear material into my breast which will help the surgeon do a biopsy of my lymph nodes to see if the cancer has spread at all.

After the appointment, Matt and I had a wonderful dinner at a little Italian restaurant and then headed across the street to get dessert at a cupcake shop which several people had recommended. Both dinner and dessert were delicious, and believe me, I made sure to enjoy every last bite of both since I won't eat a good meal for a while.

A few days ago Matt came across this encouraging quote from Alistair Begg that is very relevant for my life right now:
God uses suffering to wean His children away from the plausible sources of false happiness. The Christian may grow drowsy in the sun but will not fall asleep in the fire or the flood. Each of us must recognize how easy it is to think little of God when all is well on the outside. But what a change occurs when, for example, the biopsy comes back positive. A sharp blast of anxiety comes to shatter any illusions of self-sufficiency. How kind of God to rouse us and to bring us to the place of dependence.
Even as I head into surgery this morning and the challenge of recovery afterwards, I know that this is all part of God's good and gracious plan for me and my family. Yes, it is forcing us to depend on God more than ever, but there is no better place to be.

As always, thank you for your continued prayers. Be sure to keep an eye on this blog and on Facebook today because Matt will post a few updates.

Yours in Christ,

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Jesus Draw Me Nearer

The reality of my upcoming surgery has been setting in over the past couple days and it is giving me somewhat mixed emotions. On the one hand, after living with this tumor in me for over five months it is nice to know I will finally be getting rid of it. On the other hand, I am a bit anxious and scared about the surgery and recovery process. I mean, when you get a pre-surgery invoice for $75,000 from your surgeon, you know you are in for something pretty serious. Of course, I've also never been so thankful for my medical insurance! 

For these last several days before my surgery my focus is on enjoying family time since it will be a couple weeks until our family life is normal again. Tonight was a great family evening with the kids: playing Candyland by the fire, reading, looking at photo albums, and just enjoying watching and listening to the kids. And I am so thankful for such a godly and fun husband who cares so much for our children and is both willing and able to care for them whether I am sick or not.

I was listening to a song by Keith and Kristyn Getty tonight called, "Jesus Draw Me Nearer." The words are such a perfect fit for what I am going through right now. Here is just one section:
Jesus draw me ever nearer, as I labour through the storm.
You have called me to this passage, and I'll follow, though I'm worn.
May this journey bring a blessing, may I rise on wings of faith;

And at the end of my heart's testing, with Your likeness let me wake.
At certain moments of this journey it has been very easy to get frustrated and wonder why I have to go through this. But God has been faithful to remind me that none of life's moments - even the hard moments - are ever wasted. In His wise providence, God uses life's trials to strengthen our character and deepen our faith. And in that process, God grants us joy. As Romans 5:3-5 says:
We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
As you think of me this week, please pray for the following things:
  1. That God will be glorified through Matt and me during this process, especially as I relate to my doctors and nurses.
  2. That Lydia, Hudson, and Samuel would do well while Matt and I are in Charleston. 
  3. That Matt will not be worried about me and will be able to keep up with his work responsibilities.
  4. That my doctors will be successful in removing all of the cancer, that no cancer will be found in my lymph nodes, and that the tissue used for my reconstruction would survive without complications.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Medical Update: Surgery Preparation

As I mentioned in my previous post, my oncologist decided to suspend my chemotherapy treatments last week in order to see if my tumor has shrunk enough to go ahead and proceed with surgery. Yesterday (1/31) I had an MRI to check the status of the tumor. You might remember that a few months ago we discovered that I am allergic to the contrast dye used in MRI scans. So this time they gave me a three-day treatment of Benadryl and Prednisone to prevent me from having an allergic reaction. Thankfully, it worked great – I had no reaction at all! And better still, the MRI scan revealed good news: my tumor has shrunk by more than 50%! While we it would have been wonderful to have the tumor go away completely, the doctors were satisfied with my progress and have scheduled my surgery to be on Friday, February 11th. 

So today (2/1) we made the 90 mile drive to the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in Charleston to get everything arranged for the surgery. We started by meeting with my plastic surgeon, Dr. Patrick O’Niell. He filled us in on a few details for the reconstruction portion of my surgery and then sent me off to get a CT scan of my abdomen and to take care other pre-operative details. The CT scan uses different contrast dye than the MRI, so we did not think I would get an allergic reaction. But with all of the reactions I have been getting lately, I should have known better. I had an allergic reaction to the CT dye as well…my throat became swollen and it was a little hard to breath. The doctors were able to complete the scan and then gave me Benadryl and a few other drugs to counteract the reaction. They said the reaction would probably have been more severe if I had not had so much Benadryl in my system from the MRI scan the day before. 

After an hour or two of observing me to make sure I recovered from the allergic reaction, the doctors sent me on to the pre-operative department to fill out paperwork for the surgery and meet with an anesthesiologist. Before this “orientation” I knew how the DIEP Breast Reconstruction surgery worked in a technical sense, but this gave me more practical knowledge of what to expect, how to prepare, etc. In a lot of ways, I began realizing just what a big surgery this will be. The surgery itself will last about seven hours and I will spend about four days in the hospital afterwards. Of course, the hardest part of it all will be being away from Lydia, Hudson, and Samuel for those days! But I know they will be in good hands. 

Tomorrow (2/2) will bring the final step of the surgery preparation process. We will go up to Bluffton, South Carolina to meet with my breast surgeon, Dr. Virginia Herrmann. She will give us a few more details about what has happened with my tumor and about her plans for her portion of the surgery. Dr. Herrmann is not only a very well-trained and experienced breast oncologist and surgeon, but she is a very caring and encouraging doctor (as you can see in the video below). And as an added perk, Dr. Herrmann has spent many years in the great city of St. Louis! 

Thank you for all of your prayers for my MRI and for wisdom for my doctors. We are so thankful that God has brought me to this point and are looking forward to moving on with this next step in the process of treating my breast cancer. As the day of surgery draws near, please pray that Matt and I will have peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:6) and wisdom to prepare for every detail of the coming weeks. Also, pray that I will be able to enjoy some good quality time with my children in the coming week since I will be away from home for the days following surgery and will be unable to care for them as usual in the weeks following the surgery. And, of course, you can pray that this surgery would be successful in removing every trace of cancer from my body. And…why not…I’ll go ahead and ask for prayer for my hair to grow back quickly! Thanks!

Alright…this was a super-long post. If you made it this far you deserve a little reward (besides the picture of my bald head)! So here’s a funny story from the Fray house: Lydia has been waking up in the middle of the night a lot lately, usually due to scary dreams. While it’s sad that she has these dreams (and a little annoying to be woken up at all hours of the night to comfort her), some of the dreams have made for some great comic relief. For instance, last night Lydia woke up at about 3am crying and calling for daddy. Matt stumbled through the darkness towards Lydia’s bedroom and said, “Lydia, what’s wrong? Did you have a scary dream?” Between sniffles, Lydia said, “Yeah, the chickens…the chickens…the chickens took Hudson’s jacket and then they pushed me down!” Matt said, “Well, how did that happen? Were they big chickens?” Lydia said, “No, just mean chickens…mean chickens!” As he tried not to laugh at her (she’s a little sensitive about that), Matt instructed her that in all future dreams where chickens of normal size are involved, she is allowed to just kick them if they are ever mean to her. Then he prayed with her and they asked Jesus to help her not have any more scary dreams.