Thursday, October 23, 2014

Telling the Family

August 23rd was a little bit of an emotional but very spiritual day for me.  It was the day we told our kids and our families about this life changing situation that was about to ROCK our world.  Telling our kids was a little tricky. Shaun and I had to come to an agreement on what to say to them.  Shaun wasn't sure how much to say because he was worried about scaring them and making them worry-- and while I could totally understand his concerns and agreed, I felt like this was an ideal time for them to learn about faith and see the power of prayer and fasting in action and even come to know the Savior more. I know those are a lot of big words for our young children but I remembered many faith promoting experiences as a young child and I know how receptive these little ones are to the spirit.  Not to mention Bryant is about to turn 12 and get the priesthood.  

So we just kinda combined both our feelings and sat them down for a little family talk before bed.  These situations with young kids are always less than ideal. I think Mason had gone to bed early for some reason and so we drug him out of bed and Lincoln was on a crazy high wanting to run all over the place but that’s how it goes with kids, right?  We had already shared a little with them when Shaun had given me a blessing (before my biopsy) but at that time it was just, “Mom's having a little surgery on her neck to see what is causing these little lumps in her neck. So we are going to pray for her, the doctors, and the baby to be safe tomorrow during her surgery.  It’s not a big deal everything is going to be fine."   Today Bryant and Mason were very aware that there was more going on than a little surgery.  Shaun explained to them that the doctors had done some tests on the lump they took out of my neck and found out that my body is a little sick.  He told them that some of the cells in my body that are supposed to die aren’t, and they are making these lumps in my neck and chest and the lumps are making me sick.  Then he told them my sickness is called cancer.  

Bryant knew for sure what cancer was.  Last year a good friend of mine in our stake named Shannon Sevison had passed away from cancer and I had shed a few tears and shared with the family a lot about her struggle with cancer.  He also knew of a few other family members and friends whose lives had been taken from cancer so I could see the fear come into his eyes.  Mason also had that nervous look on his face, maybe not knowing exactly how bad cancer is but knowing this was serious.  James who is 7, I think was feeling the fear in the air but seemed confused and was just waiting for us to tell him what to think.  Shaun reminded the boys of the blessing I had received and the promises I had been given.  He told them that we were going to get through this and I would be fine we just needed to remember Mom in our prayers everyday and really help out at home.  He told them I still needed to have more tests done so the doctors would know the best way to help me get better. And we were all going to need to pitch in and help. 

After Shaun finished talking Bryant said, “I know what cancer is and it’s not good.”  I told him he’s right-- it’s not good but we have to have faith Heavenly Father will bless us and pray hard and fast. I also told him that we caught it really early and that makes getting rid of it a lot easier.  Everyone seemed to be ok and the second Shaun said I would get better and be fine James was checked out and fine.  He trusted his dad and that was that.  Oh to have the faith of a child again.  We had family prayer and everyone gave hugs and kisses and they all went to bed.  

I went up and talked to Bryant and Mason for a bit to make sure they were ok.  I asked how they were doing and Bryant said, “Well, you have cancer.” Kinda like, how do you think we're doing?  I told them it seems really scary but I feel really good about all of this and that there must be something Heavenly Father wants us to learn from this experience.  I told them I knew I could get better and I was going to do everything I could to show Heavenly Father that.  I told them Dad would be fasting the next day if they wanted to join him they could.  They said yes and I told them good night.  I left their room that night pleading to my Heavenly Father that He would answer all our prayers and let me stay here and raise these amazing young men of mine.   

Next, we called our families to tell them the big news.  Shaun’s parents were a little prepared because they had been here earlier and knew how we were feeling about things.  They had some big leads for us to start with on our quest for the right treatment and knew a lady in their town who had whipped stage 4 ovarian cancer with Vitamin C treatments.  This was super exciting to me...every success story I hear gives me a little more faith and a little more hope.
     At 9 pm we had a conference call with all my siblings.  It’s always a little crazy to get 20 people on one phone call and have any order at all, especially when it comes to the Merrill Permann family who all love to talk (except Ladd and Shaun).  However this call was very different; I couldn't get anyone to say anything at the beginning. No one really laughed at my jokes I was trying to crack. It was painful.  It’s a little weird to hear myself say, “I have cancer,” and tonight was no exception.  I let Shaun take the lead because it didn’t take long for the tears to come.... having all of these brothers and sisters who I love so much on the phone and feeling such love and faith from them.  I am sure that most of them knew what was coming because a lot of them already knew about the biopsy and were waiting to hear back. And why would I call a family meeting to tell them I have a swollen lymph node?   

Anyway Shaun told them all that we knew so far and let them know we were feeling really good about everything and had a lot of faith it was all going to work out.  SILENCE…there was not a peep  for what seemed like hours.  Gradually they each began to speak and say really nice things about me that could bring pride into my life if I concentrated on them too much ;)  They shared moments of trials in their lives and how each trial had turned into huge blessings.  
My brother Todd told me to just have faith in Heavenly Father’s will.  He talked about sitting in a hospital room looking at his own very sick child and wondering if she would make it.  All he could do in those moments was trust God.  Kirk talked about when Brook (their daughter who has down syndrome) was born and some of the feelings he and Amanda struggled with. But what an amazing blessing she will receive after her physical trial is over.  I was so strengthened by this knowing that my trial had a purpose and if I endured it well it would bring me closer to my Heavenly Father.  
Rock said each one of us needed to look at our lives and see if we had any “weapons of war” (pride, things we need to forgive, envy, malice) and get rid of them.  He said we can pray for the windows of heaven to open, but the scriptures say the Lord is bound only when we do what He says-- and if we do not what He says we have no promise.  He was saying, “Let’s not just ask the Lord to pour out his blessings on Tenille. Let’s live our lives so that the Lord is bound by his promise to bless her.”  I immediately began thinking, “What weapons of war am I carrying around?”  What changes do I need to make in my life so that I ensure the Lord’s blessings?  

This made me think of my patriarchal blessing, where I am told to always remember this scripture in D&C 130:20-21: “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated--and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”  I wanted--no I needed--every blessing I could get from God at this time.  Even/especially if His plan for me is to leave this earth.  Which of God’s laws am I not following? How can I become more obedient, more worthy?  I realized (with a little excitement) I was being forced in a sense to wake up and look inside myself and ask as Alma, “Have I spiritually been born of God today?”  I could feel the beginnings of my own change of heart and was so grateful for the reminder.

    Paul talked about ways our family had been prepared for this and different strengths and talents each family member had that could help me whip this disease.  He expressed his feelings that we all need to start making life changes and participate in this journey of healing with Tenille.  

    I don’t think any of the girls could talk because we are all bawl babies, but a member from each family offered love, service, and encouragement.  Dad and Mom both talked after everyone was done.  Mom expressed love and faith in each one of us and the Savior and said she would be here to help at a moment’s notice whatever time of day or night I needed her.  How grateful I am to have her as my mother.  Dad talked about the many times in our lives when our family had pulled together and fasted and prayed for miracles and they had come.  He had no doubt that if we all pooled our faith, energy, and talents I would get through this.  He expressed love for me and the family and his complete faith in my coming through on top.  I was blessed as a young girl to witness many miracles in response to faith, fasting, and prayer and I loved my Dad today once again as he rallied his children together for another miracle.
This was a such a wonderful experience and I realized how blessed I am to have this eternal family who loves me and is willing to sacrifice for me. Shaun and I both felt a renewed faith and hope when this call had ended. I was reminded how blessed I am to have the gospel of Jesus Christ and know about the promised blessings and power that is available to me as I follow Him.  

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Beginning

I'm not quite sure how to start this blog, but I want to say that I feel a huge pull to keep it.  In fact, I think this may one of the most important things I do with this whole experience.  I don't understand all of the whys of the situation I currently find myself in and the whys of how we have been inspired to deal with it, but I do know that Heavenly Father is guiding me everyday.  I find hope in that knowledge everyday and know that as I look to the Savior, feast on his words, and constantly seek to know his will, we will all come through it stronger and closer to the Savior. And for that I am so grateful.

    So lets just start at the beginning.  One Sunday in early August we had been at Grandpa Fairbanks house for Sunday dinner and on the way home I noticed a couple marble sized lumps in my neck.  They were on the side below my left ear just above my collar bone.  I mentioned it to Shaun but really figured it was some lymph nodes and thought I’d just run it past my midwife at my next appointment that next week.  I had also been experiencing a little shortness of breath it kinda felt like I was catching a little pneumonia but it only happened at night when I was laying down specifically on my side.  I at first thought maybe I'm getting sick but then I thought it might be pregnancy, however I was only 4 months pregnant so I shouldn’t be experiencing shortness of breath yet.  Anyway I made a mental note to talk to my midwife about that also.  One last thing I had been experiencing for a while was a full body itch.  I have had this itch for over a year but thought it was just dry skin or something.  I had exhausted everything I or anyone around me could think of to fix it and had heard a couple times that poor liver function could result in a bad itch.  

Anyway on August 12, I made it to my midwives and she told me that she would like me to go and get these little lumps checked out.  She thought my lungs sounded good so she was uncertain about the raspy breathing at night.  Friday August 15 I had an appointment with our family Practicionaer Dr. Takasaki, who is also in our ward.  He checked out the lumps and thought they were just lymph nodes and didn’t hear anything in my lungs so he thought it might be acid reflux.   This is common in women at night and can have the same symptoms.  So he said watch the lumps and then he told me that often the lumps on the side above the colar bone are often just swollen lymph nodes but the when you find them towards the front right on top of the clavical you get a little worried.  So I went home feeling relieved about the lumps but really feeling like acid reflux was not what was going on in my chest.  I just couldn’t figure why they couldn’t hear what I was feeling.  It felt so raspy.  

That night I was telling Shaun about my appointment and the doubts I had about the nightly cough.  I then I was showing him where the lumps are that really worry them and I found this huge 1+ inch lump.  It was so big when I turned my head you could see it sticking out.  I wondered how in the heck the Doc and I had missed that.  Shaun also reminded me that I had not menitioned to the Doc my crazy year long itch.  So on Sunday after church I pulled Dr. Takasaki aside and showed him my new found lump and also told him about my itch.  He told me he wanted me to come in and get a blood test and these checked out again ASAP.  So Tuesday August 19 I went in and Dr. Takasaki checked them again and this time he felt a lot more lumps ordered blood tests and an ultrasound.  He also said that when I about 26 weeks along he would like to do a chest x-ray.  So off I went to take blood (keep in mind I was all alone.  Shaun had stayed home from work sick that day and I thought I was getting my blood drawn so I left our 3 year old with him).  Right after my blood draw I went across the parking lot for my ultrasound.

And this is where I got a little scared.  The Ultrasoundographer :) was super kind but he couldn’t help himself I guess because he kept making comments like, “Oh hunny I don’t have enough fingers to count all the lumps I see,” or “This didnt just appear Friday this has been growing for awhile” and “These things are lighting up like a Christmas tree.”   I know they aren’t supposed to talk and I don’t want to get him trouble because he was very good and sweet.  I asked him, "So have you seen lumps like this that have just been swollen lymph nodes?"  After deep blown out breath he said, “Yes. But don’t ask me anything else.”  I think that was when I really knew for sure that I had cancer.  I had felt that it was very likely when I found the lump on Friday night but I knew in the ultrasound room and the tears quietly trickled down my cheeks.   When the ultrasound was finished he explained to me when they light up that means they are very fleshy and active.  He had noted 10 lumps big enough to take note of and many other little ones.  I also had a small lump on thyroid which may or may not have anything to do with anything.  

I walked out of that room feeling very heavy and scared.  I received a phone call on my way out the door from Dr. Takasaki telling me that he wanted me to do a chest x-ray right now.  He had done a little research and it was safe for my baby and he felt like we really needed that info.  So I went to the x-ray room and the nice girl had me change into my gown top while she preped everything.  When I came out I said, "Now, you know I'm pregnant, right?  I was told you had protective shield to put over my tummy."  She said, “No I didn’t know that. This must be really important for them to do an x-ray while you're pregnant.”  Well that opened the flood gates and I was a mess.  I really wanted Shaun to be there at that moment.  She felt so bad and was like, “Oh no your baby will be fine this is just the same as living 4 days on earth. It’s very little radiation."  I told her I was sorry- just too many tests today for a pregnant lady.  She did  the x-ray and I was finally able to head home and wait.  

When I walked in the door Shaun was there to greet me and I just threw my arms around him and cried.  I knew I had cancer and I DIDN’T WANT IT and I was scared.  Shaun is always really good at calming things down and playing the positive part.  He calmed me down and said, "Hey, let's just wait and see what they say. Maybe it’s nothing and if it’s cancer then we’ll beat it."  I was so grateful for him at that moment I knew he was right-- we, us, together would beat it.  I wasn’t alone. 
Well we waited and that night Dr. Takasaki called said he was ordering a biopsy of the big lump in my neck and he would set the appointment up.  The appointment was made for the next day August 20 to see Dr. Gibb, an ear, nose, and throat specialist.  We were told the procedure was pretty easy.  They would just stick a needle in my neck and take out a sample of the lump to get tested.  When we got there after waiting 45 minutes to get in, Dr. Gibb talked to us about the lump and all the procedures done so far and said, "Ok, well we'll get you set to have this taken out at the hospital."  We told him we thought this was just a little pin prick.  He said he needed to take the whole thing out to get a good biopsy and that we would need to do it at a hospital because I’m pregnant and would be under anesthisia.  I was so tired of going from doc appointment to doc appointment at that time; I just wanted to know for sure if I had cancer and get on with my life.  Little did I know what was in store for me.  

That day Shauns parents came into town from AZ. They were headed right up to Salt Lake to stay for the next 2 days for a wedding and to see Grandpa Fairbanks.  Also, my sister and her husband Jeff were coming into town to stay for the next few days for work and a wedding.  It was so nice to have a few things to keep our minds busy until the surgery.  Also, it was so nice to Angie there to talk to about it.  We talked about how Shaun and I both knew I had cancer.  She felt like something was wrong but didn’t think it was cancer.  She thought maybe it was my liver or something.  We cried and laughed about all the what ifs and I was reminded how blessed I am that I have family who would strengthen and bless me in whatever trial I was given.  She also had this new beautiful little baby girl who reminded me of the amazing blessing and miracle of life that was growing inside of me.

That was something I absolutely  could rejoice in and I knew this baby I was carrying was strong and wanted to and would get here safely.  These feelings brought me so much strength.  

Thursday night Shaun’s mom and dad came back. Shaun had met them in Orem for dinner with all of Nancy’s siblings and he told them all the things we were going through. They came back to the house with him that night to stay the rest of weekend.  Shaun, Vince, and Jeff gave me a priesthood blessing that night that was so full of personal revelation.  I knew at the end of the blessing that I for sure had cancer or some health trial that was going to come from all of this.  I knew that Heavenly Father was aware of me and that my baby would get here safely.  I knew that it was going to be hard and a trial of my faith.  Shaun blessed me that I would know and feel the love and strength that comes from family and friends and that I would draw on that strength.  He blessed me that I would still be able to fulfill all of roles as a mother and a wife.  He blessed me that I would find a way to heal my body and prepare for this little baby coming to our home. He said that through this experience I would come to know the Savior better and that I would rely on him and strengthen my relationship with him.  It was one of the most spiritual blessings I have ever had.  That night in our room I told Shaun I knew from his blessing that I had cancer.  We both felt the same way but this time we had great faith and strength from heaven that all would be well-- and as scary as it may be we were ready for the journey together.

The next day on Friday August 22 at 6:30am we left Angie and Shaun's parents in charge of getting our kids off to school and watching Lincoln.  We headed to the hospital for the biopsy.  I was so ready to get this done but I was kinda scared becasue of the anethesia and being prego.  I was just praying I wouldn’t have to go all the way out.  Heck, I had a C-section and didn’t have to go all the way out-- why couldn’t they take a little lump out of my neck the same way?.  We got right back when we arrived and they gave me a cute little outfit to put on, took all my vitals and some blood, and then we waited for the doc. 

 The robe they had me put on was really cool.  It wasn’t like the cotton gowns you're used to but it was all very heavy layered paper with little plastic holes in it.  I thought it was so wierd but the nurse came in and told us that they have done studies and concluded that people heal and recover faster if they are warm when they have surgery. Sso she stuck this hose in one of the plastic holes and handed me this little remote that controled how much hot air blew into it.  Holy cow, can I take one of those home with me.  I was in heaven.  Dr. Gibb finally came in and told us what we could expect with the surgery and that the anesthsiologist had ordered me to go all the way under.   He told me that he would be in soon and I could discuss this with him. The anethesiologist came in and he told me that there were three medicines that he could use on me for just a local or that would make me out of it but not under completely.  One of them would not be strong enough for the amout of digging in the neck and its just too dangerous when they are working so close to arteries and stuff to have me move or be in any pain.  The other two were not safe for baby.  So the one he was going to use was very safe for baby and me.  I felt a little better but emotions were running high so right after he left they started wheeling me to the operating room, without Shaun, and my tears started flowing.

The operating room was freezing like always.  They gave me some oxygen because I was laying on my back and they wanted to make sure the baby had plenty of O2.  I was still crying just a little and didn’t even know why.  I told them I was sorry I was so emtional and nervous and the Dr. said, “It's ok honey, I have something that will help with that. Why don’t you count for me.”  Well I remember saying 10, 9, 8 and bam- I was gone.  I woke up coughing and gagging because they had had a huge tube down my throat and really scratched it up.  I could hardly breath and of course I woke the same as when I fell asleep-- a little emotional.  They wheeled me back to the room to be with Shaun and hooked my warmer up and of course Shaun was all the soothing I needed.  I calmed right down and went back to sleep.  I think Shaun was ready to get out of there because after a bit he was trying to get me to wake up.  I finally woke up and realized how many muscles I use in my neck when trying to do anything.  It really hurt.  I was determined not to take any pain pills.  I felt like my baby had already had enough for one day and it’s little heart rate had gone down so I was going to tough it out.

Well after they had determined I could use the restroom, my pain was ok, and I wasn’t throwing up, they let me go home.  It was good to be home and I pretty much just sat around for the rest of the weekend trying not to use my neck muscles.  Nights were the worst when I tried to turn over or sit up in bed or even get out bed.  This little cut sure was annoying.  We were so blessed to have Shaun's parents there all weekend.  They were such a help and my kids loved having them and they made sure I didn’t lift a finger.  I'd say I was pretty spoiled for such a minor surgery.

Nancy and Vince went home Sunday morning and on Monday we awaited anxiously for any news.  My mom and dad came from Idaho around 5pm and we had given up on receiving any news.  We were all outside pulling weeds trying to get a few things done around the house when a couple from our old ward stopped by to look at a car we had for sale. They were just about to take it for a test drive when our doctor showed up.  Shaun and I looked at each other with knowing eyes and I could see the fear in my moms face.  Shaun sent the couple on the drive and Shaun and I and Mom and Dad went into the living room.

 Poor Dr. Takasaki was really struggling I could tell so I already having been prepared by the spirit for this news, decided to make it easier on him.  I said with a smile, “It must not be that great of news if you came all the way here to tell us.”  He gave us his most remorseful smile and said, “No. You have Hodgkins Lymphoma.”  Then he told us that they knew it was stage 2 already because it was in 2 places and they would like me to meet with an oncologist ASAP to do more tests and make sure it wasn’t anywhere else in my body.  He told me that it would probably be smart to meet with an OB specialist too since I might have to deliver my baby early to receive treatment.  He said nowadays they can deliver babies at 28 weeks pretty safely.  Wow, my mind was reeling at all the information he was giving and how much my life was about to change. But Shaun grabbed my hand and thanked the doctor and said, “Well, we are going to beat this thing.”  I don’t think my parents felt the same peace at the point as Shaun and I did judging by their faces. But I really did feal peace.  At that moment there was no tears and I was so grateful I was had been prepared before.  

I won’t lie-- after an hour of discussing and speculating, the tears did come as I thought about having my baby so early and all the risk involved in that.  I was pretty determined at that moment that I was going to do everything I could to try and get my baby very safely not just pretty safely.  I was going to fight this cancer every way I knew how without chemo.  That night Shaun I kneeled down to pray together.  Once again the peace came as I heard Shaun confidently thank Heavenly Father for all our blessings and ask him to guide us as we seek out all the options available for fighting this disease and that we would know what path to take.  Can I just tell you that I fell in love with my husband all over again? I felt his role as protector in our home and in our marriage shine through.  I was so grateful for the power, faith, and hope I felt as he prayed.  I could feel heaven already surrounding us as we faced the future.