The Breast Cancer Diaries | Part 13Laura Ann Miller
Celebrating the Last Round of Chemo, Breaking Free, & Making Difficult Decisions
Wednesday | May 18, 2022
The last bloodwork and visit with my oncologist before my MRI
I was feeling happy and super excited to get in and out one last time before my last round of chemo on Friday. All I could think about was the fact that I had finally made it to the week of May 20, 2022.
The usual routine is to get my blood taken, then head back to an exam room, go over the bloodwork results, and a short physical exam with my oncologist. I wasn’t completely prepared for all my Doctor would go over with me. It makes sense there would be more to discuss for my last round of chemo. I was wishing Mike was with me for all of this since he’s been my great note taker and asks thorough questions. I did my best to take in all she had to tell me. I love when my doctors go into in depth medical mode. That’s the best way to describe it. There are my normal checkups which are thorough in their own regard, but with words I’ve become accustomed to like hemoglobin and white blood cell count. And then there is a whole new level where I am in awe listening to the knowledge my doctors have while they discuss treatment options and name various studies on medications and statistics and next steps. I tried not to get lost in thought while she talked…
These are the notes I jotted down for Mike-
OK before I forget.… My Oncologist said typically surgery would be 4-5 weeks after the last chemo. So when I meet with my surgeon she’ll set that date with me. I think we’re on track with our vacation. About a month after surgery, radiation starts. I’ll follow up with my oncologist at some point after surgery. We’ll discuss the rest of the treatment plan including hormone blocker tamoxifen. It used to be recommended for five years but new studies indicate a need or a better chance of blocking cancer recurrence if you’re on the drugs for 10 years. But I have a very low hormone receptor positive tumor. So we can discuss this when we get to that next step. Five years might be an option for me… She feels like the tumor is almost imperceptible. She’s looking forward to seeing the results of the MRI. She will be happy with shrinking of the tumor or if the tumor is completely non-detectable. But she would be happy with either outcome. I think these are the main points for now. I love you. Can’t wait for Friday!
Friday | May 20, 2022
Today is the last day of chemo treatment
Forty three needles
I remember the very beginning and all the fear I held, thinking I couldn’t do this. It felt like too much. I remember praying out loud, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” It’s an often quoted, well known verse if you’ve spent any time in church. And maybe the sad part is you become accustomed to hearing certain verses after a while and don’t hold their meaning to heart. At least for me…
But maybe it’s that God opens our eyes and hearts to the things He wants us to learn, in the times we need to learn them. I said it out loud, like a reminder to myself and to God, like a question to us both and a prayer it would be true. And it’s been all of that. Because here I am, from a January prayer to a May finish line. I did it and with the strength I asked for because I felt weak and afraid. Time and again these past five months I’ve felt a peace and a calm when I’ve prayed and when others have prayed for me. Fear was a part of this chemo journey, but so was faith and learning to trust God with all of it. That’s why I chose the shirt I chose today- Let your faith be bigger than your fear. There is fear, but there is Jesus who hears my cry for help. I am grateful.
This last day holds a lot. I took a Polaroid photo in the sunshine with my girl before she headed off to school. We took one on the first day of chemo too.
Mike and I went to Carmela’s for a breakfast date and coffee. And then we drove north. And the place that had been off limits for so long to visitors because of Covid was open for spouses or caretakers and Mike was able to join me for one final round of chemo. Despite my unease for hospitals and needles I’ve grown a bit accustomed to my surroundings after five months. I wonder about Mike as he takes it all in for the first time.
He was surprised by the setting. He said it was more medical looking than I had let on. I asked what he thought it might be like and he said more like a hotel lobby. This made me laugh. But I suppose I would always revert to describing the decor on the walls or the palm trees outside the windows instead of the medical details because I don’t like the hospital side of things. It’s always made me uneasy. But to be fair, it is a hospital and though we come and go through in this chemo room quite casually sometimes, it’s a serious place with skilled medical staff taking great care and attention to their patients. My meds are ordered and double checked before being hooked to my IV line. My chemo arrives in a bag with a warning labeled “Hazardous” and “Toxic.”
My dear friend Edith made a video of friends, colleagues, and students sharing their love, encouragement and prayers celebrating this final day with me. Mike shared this with me as we both settled in and it made me laugh and cry tears of joy.
I told Mike once my Benadryl hits I’ll be a goner for a while. I asked him if there’s a game we could play online together. We decided on trying Wordle for the first time. After all the hype and staying away for so long I’m glad we played. It was fun and we both got the word on our sixth try as I fought off the sleep. I’m not much of a companion on this date, but I’m glad he got to be by my side through this process one time and one final time.
I’m happy I’ve made it through this part. I can’t quite process it all right now.
I rang the bell and hugged my nurses.
I held in my tears and Mike and I walked out of that building together into the rain.
I put on my worship playlist and he drove us home through a classic South Florida summer storm.
Tuesday | May 31, 2022
The last day of May.
In January I longed to get to this month.
By the grace of God I made it here and I’m overcome with joy and thankfulness to just sit here drinking my coffee, which I can taste now, and know the first part of my treatment is done and over.
I slathered myself and my bald head in sunscreen and walked on the beach in the sunshine with Mike yesterday. We walked together with our feet in the sand and the edge of the water. He gave me a hard time about collecting shells and sea glass. He prefers I leave all the treasures right where they are.
I tried to keep my hat cinched tight, but the summer clouds built up along with the wind and for a moment I couldn’t keep it on. The beach was crowded for Memorial Day weekend and I felt self-conscious and exposed, but I let myself feel the freedom of the moment and everything I went through to get to this walk along the shore at the end of May. So I stopped and took a selfie. When I sat in the car on our ride home and I looked at the photo and it made me smile again, looking at myself standing there on the shore, no eyebrows, sparse eyelashes, my baby bird hair, and big smile in my favorite place.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.
Friday | June 3, 2022
Today is the after chemo MRI
It’s a date with Mike again
A chance to talk about the goodness and joy of life and trusting God with the good and the bad and the no matter what’s.
I’m drinking my last bit of coffee in the car, once again watching the rain roll down the windshield. This time it’s possibly our first tropical storm of the season outside our window. It sounds more ominous than it is. Hopefully the same for me and my results from these images.
Sunday | June 5, 2022
I am sitting on my patio reading my Grandma’s devotional Bible this morning. The storm has passed and the sun is shining.
I’m struck by the topic this morning, worry.
And I realize I am in this glorious state of in between. My chemo is done. My MRI passed. I have five days before meeting with my surgeon to hear the report. But just like the title of this devotional, I am not consumed.
There is a beautiful freedom I feel right now. There are no what if’s or imagined results running through my mind.
I have trust and a knowing now, that whatever will be, God is with me.
This valley has given me this.
I can’t say I’ve mastered it. My imagination and worst case scenarios are strong in other areas. I’m still learning this deep trust in God. And I know that if He can gently lead me through cancer, He can lead me through the other areas in my life that feel almost as uncertain. The other things that keep me up at night or let my imagination run away. God cares about those details too. And I don’t have to be consumed.
“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’”
“There’s always a reason to celebrate.” -Pastor Doug
Nehemiah- The joy of the Lord is my strength
Wednesday | June 8, 2022
I’m here at the cancer institute for a final bloodwork after chemo. I have some questions for my nurse and insurance paperwork to pick up again. I’m hoping I’ll hear about my MRI from Friday too, but I might have to wait two more days…
I think May and June are a little bit of off months in terms of decorative holidays. I don’t think there was anything that stood out in May, but for June they’ve brought out the Fourth of July decor early. Stars and Stripes adorn the walls and doorways in the lab. I’m waiting for my results and spending more time than normal waiting here since my chemo is officially done and I don’t have a room to go to. I wonder if there’s a team of nurses that like to decorate each season or if it’s an admin team. I brought a book, but I can’t focus enough to open the pages right now…
Friday | June 10, 2022
Follow up with my Oncology Breast Surgeon-
It’s not as cut and dry as I imagine it to be.
Chemo done. MRI done. Go over the results with my surgeon. Pick a surgery date.
She presented a lot of information to Me and Mike and asked how I was feeling. I told her It all sounds daunting. She said, Really? You’ve been through worse.
I try to stop myself from focusing on all of the procedures I still need and take those words as some bit of comfort. Maybe I have been through worse. Maybe these next steps will be easy. But to me it isn’t comparative. It isn’t easy, or worse, or better. It’s just more.
And more… I’m upstairs now for more imaging. I need a mammogram to gather more information than the MRI provided before my surgeon has all the information she needs. So we’ll wait for these results before deciding on the surgery. This part was a surprise for us. I thought the MRI was our final imaging. I thought we’d have all of the information we would need. We came here ready to have a simple chat, pick a surgery date, and hit the road.
Our car is packed and we’re ready for our road trip. I’m not sure what Mike is up to while he waits for me upstairs. My coffee is waiting in the car cup holder. Our expensive gas is waiting to be burned up on the open road. I’m waiting to shed my pink robe and head off into the sunset…
I try to summarize the appointment in my mind for myself and family and friends… It seems like too much information to share and I write it and rewrite it-
Overall, my appointment went well, although not as cut and dry as I imagined it would be. The tumor appears smaller. Good news.
There are some areas of cancer that extend out in front of the tumor. This existed before chemo, it isn’t a new concern but my surgeon would like more imaging done on a mammogram to see those areas again. She wants to know if the chemo killed those calcifications or if they are still there. This does not show on the MRI so I needed to go and get the mammogram images done. Thankfully we were able to do this today. She’ll review these results and call me. And then we have to decide on the type of surgery (a lumpectomy, which could leave some disfigurement or a lumpectomy with oncoplastic surgery, then I’ll need to choose a plastic surgeon and set up a consultation) however I still need radiation after surgery and this could affect the size or appearance of my breast too…
So, do we do nothing but the lumpectomy and wait and see how everything settles after all my treatments are done? This could mean another surgery for cosmetic reasons after the first surgery and radiation treatments are done. However if we choose to do the lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy with oncoplastic surgery, we still have to wait for more results from the pathology. There is a chance they discover more cancer (this seems like a low possibility….) if those margins or lymph nodes are positive then I will still need more surgery. It doesn’t seem like there is a perfect answer going forward. Please pray for our decision…