Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The First Big Appointment

August 28th was the big day at the Huntsman Cancer Institute with Dr. Glen— a Lymphoma specialist Shaun found. Our appointment was at 8:30am. Thank goodness the Andersons were still with us.  They got our kids up, had scripture with them, got them out the door for school, took Duke for a walk, and dropped Lincoln off at our neighbors.  He was so excited for his play date with his friend, Maron, so that always makes things easy. We had no idea how long this appointment would last but they told us to plan up 5 hours so we were so grateful for good neighbors. We got there and they did all the regular stuff—weight, height, blood pressure.  Everything looked good. (On a side note, one bonus to all of this was that instead of my usual 5-10 lbs I gain every month while pregnant I had lost a little weight, and since my belly was still growing I felt like It was ok. Maybe for once my baby wouldn’t weigh 10lbs and I wouldn’t gain 60…) 
We then met with Dr. Glen’s assistant, Andy. She was very nice.  She took down all our info about how we found the cancer, what doctors we had seen so far, my symptoms, and pregnancy.  She did a little exam checking all my lymph nodes in my arm pits, groin, and neck, determining their size so they could begin tracking them.  She then said, “This is not going to be an easy decision, and to say there is a right or wrong is not true. But you are the mother of 4 other boys and a wife and it is very important we get you better first.”  That was my first super strong wave of fear and “mother bear” moment.  I went straight into self talk mode inside my head. “ baby is every bit as important as me and I am not just going to forget about it.  I will do everything I can to protect this child, I don’t care what you say.”  All while nodding and smiling at Andy.  I know that what she said was very true, but my momma bear was rearing her head right then. 
Shortly after Dr. Glen came in and did the exact same exam on me that Andy had done and briefly reviewed all her notes.  Dr. Glen was very nice but less of a personable person, more like an intense researcher.  Everything she said was backed up by studies and she got right to the point.  First she told us that at the very least my cancer so far was Hodgkins Lymphoma stage 2. That means it is in two parts of my body— my neck and my chest.  They would have to do more exams to determine if it was in my bone, abdomen, liver, groin, and kidneys.  That would change the staging.  She then told me that after this testing they would begin chemo immediately. You can imagine how shocked we were to hear they expected me to do chemo with my baby still inside my body when I was not even feeling sick.  
We asked them about the safety of the baby and she said there are 4 different medicines that would be used in my treatment— A,B,C, and D.  They know for sure that D cannot get through the placenta barrier and is very safe but the others can.  However, they believe it to be fairly safe for the baby.  They basically told us they wished they had tons of studies on this but they don’t. They have done it before and it has been fine, but they don’t have data yet for long term effects to the baby because those babies are still young.  They said as part of the prep for chemo they would need to do a test on my heart, liver, and lungs just to get a baseline so they could monitor them during chemo since the A,B, and C affect those organs.  You can imagine how the momma bear was feeling about baby and chemo now.
   I feel like I should share that I know that the Huntsman Institute has done and is doing great things and has saved a lot of lives.  Those doctors definitely were doing their very best to help me and they were so kind.  I know that my path and another person’s with cancer— even pregnant with cancer— could be very different.  This is simply my honest experience, personal feelings, and unique journey.
     We started making a plan to find out if I had cancer in other places.  We were very limited on what we could do because of the baby.  CT scans were out of the question because of the high radiation.  So we decided that we would do an MRI.  It doesn’t use radiation— it uses magnets instead and is much safer.  Additionally, they would do a bone marrow test to see if it was in my bone, as well as all the baseline tests to prep for chemo (heart, liver, and lungs). They also wanted me to meet with an OBGYN specialist to get an ultrasound and discuss different options we might have for the baby. Wow. Did I mention that I was sick of doctors and tests?  
We scheduled the appointments but did the bone marrow test right then.  That was a crazy test.  I had to lay on my side while she numbed me up.  This hurt the worst by far.  I thought it would be like a shot, but no, it was like what I imagine getting stung by a wasp 20 times feels like.  Finally, I was numb enough to stick what looked like a mini tent stake into my hip bone and get a little piece of bone and marrow.  It didn’t really hurt, it was just a lot of pressure and she was rocking me hard to get the stake into the bone.  It took about 30 minutes and then we had to sit there for 20 more minutes…which turned into 45. Shaun was going nuts and was trying to find someone in the hall.  Finally the nurse came in and let us go after confirming our next couple of appointments, and announcing they had slipped a few MORE in there—all the pre-chemo tests.  I quickly dismissed all of those and told her that we would rather wait and get the tests results back before we proceed.  She agreed and we were off.
It was about 2pm when we finally left the Huntsman.  The Andersons had found a great Raw foods place to eat and were waiting to have lunch with us before they headed back to Idaho.  I was a little emotional as we left Huntsmans, just trying to process all that they had told us and trying to gain control over the fear I felt.  I thought it was under control, but when we walked in the restaurant Amy and Justin jumped to their feet, and…well, I lost it. They both wrapped their arms around us.  I’m sure it was a sight to everyone watching.  We sat down and I was trying to gain control as they looked at us for answers.  I said just talk about something funny so I can stop crying.  So of course it took like 2 seconds for them to have us all laughing as they told us about their crazy morning walking Duke and how he pooped all over the neighborhood and all the things they had used to pick it up, and how a neighbor had come out and they thought he was going to get after them. The two of them animatedly telling this story was so funny and just what Shaun and I both needed.  They were so great offering to help in every way possible, even going on my crazy diet with me.  I was reminded how much support I have with all my family and friends and I can totally do this!

We got home and found the kids had done a great job getting all their stuff done, and we had dinner waiting for us from my sweet visiting teachers.  I was so grateful to have that there because I had to run James to his soccer game and Shaun ran the boys to their football games. (Just like life was normal right??)  Our ward was so great—we have had so many people offer to bring meals and others just brought meals without even a word.  I keep thinking things could get really hard and we may need this help later so I don’t want to wear everyone out while I still feel good, but these doctors appointments have been very stressful and LONG and all of the meals really saved us. I once again went to bed thanking my Heavenly Father for such a great ward family.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Love of Friends and Family

         Sunday, August 24th, was a little crazy at church.  Lots of people saw my stitches on my neck the week before and they wanted to know what we found out.  It’s a little different being on the opposite end of the cancer conversation.  You can immediately see the fear that comes into people’s eyes when the word “cancer” is spoken.  It has affected almost everyone of us in one way or another— and most of us have experienced it with death.  In the last year alone in our previous stake, 3 young mothers lost their lives to cancer.  So I understood as I heard all of them say, “you’re going to make it and I know you can beat this” that the fear was still there.  

However, despite that fear I heard the phrase, “we are going to pray for you” over and over and I can’t tell you how much peace and strength that brought.  I knew that everyone was praying for me and I believe in the power of prayer.  I have seen its effects a million times since I was a little girl and I drew a lot of strength from those words that day. What a blessing to be apart of a ward family who loves and cares for me.  Everyone was immediately fighting to bring us meals, offering to watch our kids, and give me rides to doctor appointments. We have only been in this ward since March, but that day I felt like I had been a part of it for a lifetime as I experience each member opening their hearts and arms to us.  I knew I would never be alone or without help.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is amazing!!  

  The next day my mom and dad went home.  I know Mom was dying and didn’t want to leave me.  I was so grateful they had been here with us during this  time. I am so blessed with amazing parents who care so much and have such great faith.  I have always drawn on that strength and faith and I was blessed by it again that weekend.  I think it was also good for Mom to see that I was ok and in good spirits.  I knew that the time would come that I would really need her, so I told her to go home and prepare for my full diagnosis. After that we would make a plan and she would be a big part of it.  However, there was still a part of me that screamed, “Don’t leave!” because in between all of these appointments, my pregnancy, and my emotional craziness, we still had our normal life to keep up with—-James’ soccer games and practices, Bryant and Mason’s football games and practices, young women’s, scouts, piano, Shaun keeping up at work, and homework. Plus we were in the middle of an uphill battle trying to get Bryant into an accelerated math class. I was hoping I could juggle all the balls that I had at this moment and not drop any. I was a little scared I might not be able to do it all.   

      That night we had two of our good friends come over, the Bastians and the Andersons.  It was fun to see them both. The Bastians brought us these stinking cute little BYU booties for our baby.  

I was so grateful for their gesture of faith and love.  As they expressed their desire to help and concern for our needs I felt their sincerity.  The Andersons had just moved to Idaho and were down on business so we were so excited to have them stay the next two nights at our house. I really needed to laugh, and if anyone has spent time around Justin and Amy you know they can always make you laugh.  In addition to the healing that comes through laughter, Amy created this great spreadsheet for us.  It had all our doctor appointments past and present,  all the doctors and natural healers we had heard about and a description of their methods, and all their phone numbers.  It also had a tab for foods I could eat and couldn’t eat, a recipes tab, and all the books and information we had obtained thus far about cancer.  It was amazing and a great resource that we have referred many many times.  It was also great for Shaun and I to see it all on one page. 

I don’t think I ever realized this before, but having family and friends who sincerely care brings a certain peace— knowing that even if things got really bad we would have so many to lean upon. The Andersons and Bastians are definitely those kinds of friends.  When Shaun gave me a blessing before my biopsy he said I would be blessed to know the love friends and family. Between the love of my ward family and the visits of concerned friends, I truly felt it that weekend.  What a blessing good friends are.