The Breast Cancer Diaries | Part 14Laura Ann Miller
Vacation: The Good and The Bad… But Mostly Good!
Sunday | June 12, 2022
We did it! We left the cancer institute Friday afternoon right after all the unexpected extra imaging. We still don’t know the results, but we hopped in our packed up, fueled up car and drove north. Right through the stormiest highways into the gentlest sunset over marshy Georgia islands.
We stayed, just the two of us, in a little beachside hotel on Jekyll Island for the night. Mike would have loved the long haul, straight through the night, twelve hour drive, but he’s so good to me. And it was a rare gift to take the out of the way scenic route, enjoying each other and our time. A slow pace with a view and a walk on the shore at night. Still the Atlantic at our toes, but a whole and different seashore. Quiet and hidden in darkness. It felt like a secret place filled with peace. It was the perfect end to wash away the uncertainty of Friday morning.
Now we’re sitting together on our friend’s deck, drinking coffee, listening to the sounds of the forest surrounding us. Tall thick green trees and sunshine filtering through these leaves warming my face –I dreamed of this escape for months and weeks and now we’re here. I’m thankful.
Sunday | June 12, 2023
Mike is the one who keeps our adventures going. He found an incredible bike ride through the mountains with August last summer (The Virginia Creeper Trail) and he wanted to share the experience with me and our friends. I was so uncertain about this. Would I be able to make it on the long ride? How would I feel? How would I keep up? And of all the crazy things I was totally self-conscious about being out and about with no eyebrows! But he had confidence in all of the details and made our reservation. I’m so thankful I didn’t let my fears keep me at home. The ride was all downhill through a cool covered forrest. I hardly had to pedal , the momentum of the bike carried me along. And there were beautiful places to stop and take in the views along the creek and a little coffee shop too. Mike even surprised me with a cold sweet tea at one point. Riding with friends, enjoying the beauty around us and laughing together was such a gift.
Monday | June 13, 2023
Today was wildly different and difficult. I don’t even feel like I have the energy to write about all the disappointments and unexpected turns. I tried to write down my thoughts in the car, but I’m keeping this journal going in Pages on my phone and there was no WiFi so my journal wouldn’t load. I was too tired to come up with an alternative. Ive got to share the awful highlights because it’s too absurd and maybe one day I’ll look back and be able to laugh about it.
I packed dress clothes for this trip. A beautiful navy formal gown to give to my mom for Ethan and Julia’s wedding, a white lace dress and a dress shirt for Mike and I to wear for an anniversary portrait I planned to make on this trip. These clothes were hanging in the back right passenger side of the car. Below on the floor sat an unzipped cooler.
We headed down the mountain and in to town for some antiquing and grocery shopping for the week. We ventured left for a quick stop at a favorite local coffee stand. While Mike was ordering there was a sudden loud explosion. We were all shocked and confused. I looked back at August and she pointed to the cooler in our confusion. And the realization slowly came over us. There, in the unzipped cooler, was a forgotten bottle of orange ginger beet juice. I drank most of this in Florida. Now at a much higher elevation, left in a hot car for 3 days, pressure built slow and steady until that bottle exploded with enough force to blow open the cooler lid and spray the red mixture of oranges and beets onto the beautiful clothes hanging above that cooler.
All I could do was leave the chaos of the car and walk over to the Dollar General across the parking lot to look for some solution to our exploded juice problem –rags, spot cleaner, Clorox wipes, a gallon of water, anything to help fix this catastrophe. We spent the next half hour in the parking lot sorting and cleaning items covered in bright red juice. The pavement looked like there were puddles of blood covering the ground. I tried to rinse that too with the gallon of water I bought. We eventually got it sorted and clean and made our way to a dry cleaners to drop off my white and now red, beet juice dress.
We regrouped and made our way to the antique shop. I relaxed and took it all in. I made my way all around and took my time with August. Mike took his opportunity for some stress release with a long walk around town. I found a rustic picture frame and August bought a Coca Cola shirt at the vintage shop next door. Most of the little downtown was closed. I forgot the odd store hours here were mostly Wednesday-Sunday. We were lucky these two shops were open.
The only other thing left to do on our day out was head to the grocery store. But there in Food Lion with our cart full, I got a call from my surgeon. Mike stood by and we huddled next to each other and my phone, in the produce section, next to the Avocados. I turned the volume up and we both tried to listen at the same time, but I couldn’t hear her well. So I put it on speaker, which Mike thought was weird, but it wasn’t working to share the phone and I didn’t want to miss what she was saying.
I told her we had thought about surgery and decided to only do the lumpectomy and think about plastic surgery after radiation was done. But she told us to reconsider, she thought it was important to see a plastic surgeon before deciding. And she had the results of my mammogram… the calcifications were initially at four centimeters, but now they’re at five centimeters… could be from chemotherapy but we won’t know for sure until after surgery… she kept talking while I fumbled with the phone trying to take in everything she was saying. The tumor had shrunk, but the calcifications weren’t gone, the area wasn’t smaller, it was bigger. And I kept staring at the avocados and thinking maybe we should move to the cookie isle. It looked quieter over there…
We managed to end the call, pay for our groceries and load up the car. Our new plan was to find a plastic surgeon, make an appointment for our return home and pick a surgery date.
Mike kept asking if I was ok.
I think so.
I just don’t know how to process everything she told us. I didn’t know the growth of the calcifications was an option…
Tuesday | June 14, 2022
Blowing Rock, NC
The good thing about being on vacation is getting out and wandering around different settings. Like walking through my favorite antique shop with my girl today and aimlessly running my fingers across most of the things I like to look at but never buy. I can see the hodge podge of items in my mind, but I can’t describe any of it here now…
What stands out is my conversation with a sweet woman behind the counter at the antique store named Phyllis–
She sees my scarf wrapped head and lack of eyebrows and asks me about my cancer. Her husband is battling cancer too. She shares a few things that have helped her husband and tells me she’ll be praying for me and hopes I’ll come back to town sometime and visit. This cancer journey is a long winding road and it carries me along with so many traveling the same path. It’s tough, but I’m thankful for those I get to share part of it with, the understanding, the encouragement, the prayers -prayers from people like Phyllis and Don and prayers for them…
Phyllis tells me and my girl, “It’s in God’s hands… Keep the faith for your mamma.”
Yes and amen.
Wednesday | June 15, 2022
I’m finding my way through faith and trust. And it’s day by day. But some days I’m just so alone with the weight of it all and it’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever experienced. We’ve spent hours today researching plastic surgeons, calling our insurance, trying to figure out doctors who will work with my oncology breast surgeon, our hospital, and are also in network… it’s confusing and frustrating. I’m nervous about the process and meeting another doctor. I’m locked in the bathroom curled in a puddle of tears on the dark hardwood floors. I wonder if all this is worth the fight. To grab at life for a fistful of extra days? The Lord knows. I don’t.
Keep the faith for your mama…
someone has to today
Thursday | June 16, 2022
I’ve wanted so much to reach out to family and friends and say, please pray for me.
But I haven’t. I didn’t. I didn’t want to explain the why, to rehash all the messy details and thoughts swirling around my mind and heart. My sleep has been restless and at times all I can do is wake and ask Jesus to provide what I don’t have.
Friday | June 17, 2022
Simply reading and spending some time alone in the quiet this morning. I’m sitting in our friend’s mountain home, surrounded by the trees, listening to the bird’s chatter while I read.
Three things stood out to me this morning-
As I read from Acts 3 in my devotion this morning from Our Daily Bread, Peter called Jesus the Author of Life. I know Jesus has many names, Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, Healer… but reading this name struck me this morning. He is the Author of Life, the author of my life, each day was written in his book before one of them came to be… I am not grasping for it, what I have has already been given.
Peter heals a crippled man at the Temple gates and speaks to the crowds at the Temple-
“By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him…”. -Acts 3:16
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”
I need to remember where my confidence should be. I need to send my roots out to Jesus. Living water. I need to stay planted. I need to trust.
“The trusting stay planted in God—the One who walks with us through the joys and adversities of life.”
Saturday | June 18, 2022
Lenoir, sometimes you’re too much, the way a beach girl has to adjust to farm life and the big wild woods and sometimes you’re never enough. Driving down the mountain and tracing our steps backwards around the long winding road is always the saddest part of summer.
June 18-25, 2022 | Arriving in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee
Leaving Lenoir is always sad, but our adventures continue on in Tennessee with my family. This is our first time in this part of the Smoky Mountains together and I’m so happy we have more time away and for the opportunity to be together. My mom is always one step ahead in planning our summers together. By one step ahead, I mean she tends to ask us where we’d like to go the next summer while we’re still all together and then she books our next vacation a year in advance. Once cancer treatments started we all wondered whether this grand Tennessee plan would come together this summer. The timing of all of this working out is a gift.
We had Sunday Supper and drives through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We went thrifting and antiquing, and rode down water slides and lazy rivers, we hiked and saw bears, and we just enjoyed our time together making more memories. Mike took the long early morning hikes with my sister. My mom and the girls went to Dollywood. I stayed behind for some of the adventures, not sure of my limits and my immune system after chemo. But Mike pushed me to have fun while still taking care of me when I needed it. We hiked part of Chimney Tops Trail and took time to enjoy our time together. I couldn’t make it all the way to the top. But it felt good to be on the trail surrounded by the lush green forest. There’s nothing more beautiful than sunlight trickling through the leaves of a deep green forest.
My family and I stood on the balcony on our last morning together and mom and dad and my sister prayed over me before we said goodbye. The week went by too quickly, but it was good and full.
And mom already has Tennessee booked for part two next year…
“God will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” – Psalm 91:4