When Life Stops

When Life Stops

It will soon be almost a year since I was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time.

It seems like life has effectively stopped for me, leaving me untethered from all that provided me with the structure of daily life. While my work once created the boundaries of my days, now the treatments have taken over that role, resulting in new, smaller borders and limited capabilities.

Depression has set in big time.

Although I have struggled with this much of my life, the onset of this most recent episode started not long after I began taking Anastrozole, which can cause depression and insomnia, among other things. The depression with Anastrozole is different than any previous darkness. It is much deeper and foggier, with fatigue as an added weight.

I’m gradually moving out of this depression, but it is taking time. Still, there is some progress.

I was blessed to be prayed over twice this week, and I feel a lightening in my spirit even though my circumstances are still the same.

Things are changing, and I believe that this spring will bring new opportunities.

Right now I feel the need to focus on recovering spiritually and emotionally after all that has happened this past year. That means more private time, more scripture, more prayer. Clawing my way up out of the darkness bit by bit.

Until my writing juices are up and running again, take a moment to read this article that I wrote for Compassion That Compels, a great organization. If you have a bit of extra money this month, please consider making a donation.

And if you need prayer, please comment on this post with your prayer requests. Even if I can’t hug you or offer you a cup of coffee, I can be there with you virtually, praying and believing.

The Best Laid Plans

Best Laid Plans

Releasing my own expectations and plans has been a difficult part of my own cancer journey. I had worked hard to build up my reputation with my employer, and I was proud of my accomplishments. I had my own expectations for my life and what would happen in the future. After my cancer diagnosis last year, my life began changing rapidly.

My body and my plans went awry, so to speak.

During cancer treatment, you learn pretty quickly to roll with the punches. Depending on the results of scans or reactions to medications, the direction of treatment can veer around the corner into a new neighborhood, leaving you wondering at the scenery.

My latest tour through the unknown was my reaction to Tamoxifen. After a little over a week on the drug, I found myself calling my oncologist and asking for help with the side effects, all of which could be found in the “Incidence Not Known” listing. I was taken off the drug immediately.

The new plan is Zoladex + Anastrozole until I am able to have a hysterectomy. When I meet with my oncologist next month, I’ll most likely get a referral so that the plans for my next surgery can begin taking form.

Can I admit something right now? I generally don’t like change.

Although I try to cope with things in a healthy manner, I’ve sometimes resorted to not-so-healthy ways, such as eating frozen cookie dough. Yes, you heard that correctly. Each night, when everything was quiet and I had plenty of time to think, I suddenly had the overwhelming need for the cold sweet stuff.

I’d feel ashamed, but then I’d do it again the next night. Finally I put a stop to it by putting the bag of sinful goodness in front of my husband. It was gone that night.

I know that many cancer patients like myself have struggled with their own unhealthy coping mechanisms. Too, we feel even more ashamed when we fall down because of the incredible pressure to be a positive, healthy-eating, exercising, full-of-gratitude, and all-around perfect cancer patient. If we don’t live up to that ideal, then we feel even more awful.

The truth is, we’re only human. And that sometimes means eating cookie dough at night in order to cope with often overwhelming circumstances.

As Mike Foster says in Rescue Academy,

“It’s human to run from our hardship and our feelings. It takes recognizing God’s grace to stop running and turn around to face the lion that is chasing us.”

So, at least from my perspective, I say give yourself a break. Cancer treatment is long and tiring and downright awful. You’re doing the best you can. And if you fall down, pick yourself up and try again.

At this point in my treatment, I’m beginning to think about my future again. My original plans and my body have already gone awry, and so I must gather up what remains to re-shape and re-form my life once everything finally settles down.

The thing is, this is me now. Cancer changes things, and it changes you.

The fun of Anastrozole will be with me for a long time, and the risk of a cancer recurrence is high. Any plans I make will have to incorporate all of this, allowing me to jump on the airplane of change at a moment’s notice. What will that mean for my future? I honestly have no idea at this point.

Mike Foster goes on to say,

“…God provides us with permission to embrace it all. And we mean all of it! We start to see our hurts and hang-ups on par with the bright and beautiful, not as ‘better or worse.'”

Like it or not, cancer is part of my life and will most certainly be so for the rest of my life. But life goes on.

And if I occasionally eat some frozen cookie dough, that’s ok.

Accepting the New Normal

accepting-the-new-normalAccepting the fact that your life will never be what it once was after a major illness can often be the hardest thing to overcome. It has been for me.

When my current cancer journey began in July of last year, I easily fooled myself into thinking that this would be similar to my first diagnosis in 2004. I thought I would go through surgery and treatment, easily sliding back into my old schedule and employment.

Hoping to return to work soon has often been my lifeline over the past several months. I happily remembered having gainful employment and feeling that wonderful sense of accomplishment when a particular task was completed. Despite the often stressful nature of my job, I loved the work. And I miss it even now.

But the progression of this particular cancer journey has been much different. The cancer is much more serious, and the treatments have been life changing. This is Inflammatory Breast Cancer, Stage IIIB, and I am now much older than when I was first diagnosed back in 2004.

My body and my life are now totally different than they once were.

I have had a bilateral mastectomy with no reconstruction due to various reasons…

I have been diagnosed with a rare genetic mutation that puts me at greater risk for multiple cancers…

According to the doctors, it is almost certain that I will face even more cancers in the future due to my diagnosis of Cowden Syndrome…

I have undergone another course of chemotherapy, which has caused pain and illness…

I am now undergoing radiation treatment to the same area that was treated in 2004. I am already burned and am in constant pain now…

Breathing has become difficult since the radiation started, which sometimes limits my daily activities…

The fatigue from the treatments just doesn’t seem to end…

I am now in chemically induced menopause, which along with the mastectomy, have basically destroyed my sexuality as well as caused long-lasting effects throughout my body…

After radiation, I face a hysterectomy and most likely 10 years of anti-estrogen therapy, which are known to cause extreme pain and weight gain, among other things…

I have lost at least 10 pounds and have been physically weakened by the surgery and treatments…

I may already have osteoporosis due to the treatments, and so may have to begin treatment for that condition…

And that’s just a short list of all the changes to my life that have happened so far, the beginning of my “new normal.”

And now I have found out the truth about the doctors’ current success with treating inflammatory breast cancer. While it has improved over the past 10 years, their success rate is now 50%. I have a 50% chance of being cured with all of the treatments that are currently available. If I happen to fall into the other 50%, then I have been told their ability to treat a recurrence would be quite low.

I have given up hope of returning to work any time soon. I have filed for disability, which has been something I have dreaded doing.

I do not want to be sick. I want to work and feel good about accomplishing things. I want to feel like my old self before all of this started.

Perhaps acceptance of things is good. Or maybe it’s giving up. I’m not really sure at this point.

But I tire of people dismissing the true effects of cancer. I have been told that surely I now see the “light at the end of the tunnel,” and everything can go back to normal. I wanted to scream when I heard this but stayed silent.

There will not be any going back to my former life. My body is changed permanently, and I may have effects of the treatment for at least a decade, probably longer. And I may never return to work. And to be perfectly honest, this cancer may kill me.

I just don’t know any more.

I guess I have come to that point where acceptance of this “new normal” is my only choice. What happens after this, I have no idea.


If you’re the praying sort, please pray for me. I have been struggling mentally and spiritually–and well, physically–lately. I could use the strength and prayers. And possibly a bit of fun if you can share a bit.

High Anxiety

high-anxiety

I must admit that I have never watched High Anxiety although I have attempted to do so in the past. The humor and movie references were way, way above me at that point in my development.

Still, the title is very appropriate for me these days.

While in the surgical waiting room before my bilateral mastectomy in December, I was anxious about the procedure. I did not want to have the surgery and was uncertain about my life afterwards. As a result, I found myself sobbing and bent over the trash can in the waiting room while the older men and women who sat in chairs around me just stared at this hopeless wreck of a woman.

I have never been like this.

And today, I had a similar experience before my two appointments with my medical and radiation oncologists. Weak and ill, I yet again became sick before we even drove to the hospital.

I managed to make it through my appointments, though. I found out more about the staging and biopsy results today. The cancer is officially Stage 3B, with a small margin of cancer remaining in the muscle and two positive nodes. Both doctors reiterated the high possibility of a recurrence or future metastasis of this cancer.

Before the radiation oncologist treats me, she will be researching PTEN and any related risks involving this. There are additional problems in that she will be treating the same area that previously received radiation treatment in 2004. Right now, though, she believes that the risks of the cancer outweigh any risks of the treatment itself.

Honestly, I’m tired and frustrated at this point. Anxious too and feeling alone in all of this long, drawn-out process.

Being a “brave” cancer patient can be exhausting, to be honest. That’s the real truth of it all. I admit I don’t like the current plot of my life, but I’m hanging on to the hope that is stated by Craig Groeschel in his upcoming book, Divine Direction: 7 Decisions That Will Change Your Life:

“I am not a quitter. With the help of my God, I am a finisher.”

May things be better tomorrow, with a new outlook and a fresh hope so that I can be a finisher too.