The Breast Cancer Diaries | Part 6Laura Ann Miller
Before It All Starts
December 29, 2021 | Wednesday
Somehow I’m lucky enough to have everyone home with me for the start of everything. Ethan has been living and working in North Carolina and he finished his job up there and moved back home for more local work. Today he called and asked if I had any plans for tonight. I told him I didn’t and he said good. I’m trying to guess what he might have planned, but I can’t figure it out.
He came home from work and we got dressed and headed out in his truck. Our drive took us north on 95 and then down A1A to the beach. We pulled up to an oceanfront restaurant and handed the truck over to the valet. Our table was in a little corner tucked away from the crowd but open to the patio and sound of the waves on the beach. He ordered the snapper and I ordered coconut shrimp. After dinner we walked on the pier together and watched the night fishermen and a shark swim past underneath us illuminated by the glow of the lights on the water.
I’m so grateful for this precious night together with my son.
January 3, 2022 | Monday
I woke up early and snuck out of the quiet house to see the sunrise. This isn’t too much of an accomplishment with daylight savings the way it is now. But I was there to watch the golden sun rise up, ever so brilliant, from the warm Atlantic Ocean at 7:08 AM.
I was feeling sorry for myself about the fact my doctor told me it’s probably best to stay out of the ocean during my treatment. I read somewhere in all my notes on cancer that it’s important to keep a positive attitude and continue to do the things that bring you joy. I imagined spending time at the beach swimming and paddle boarding. Time in favorite place.
But then came my doctor’s recommendation- no swimming in the ocean. The chemo will weaken my immune system and make me susceptible to bacteria and infections. And I need to make sure to use extra caution in the sun. Two strikes against perfect beach days.
This morning was quiet and peaceful. I brought my camera for the first time in a long time. And I realized this is a new perfect way to spend time in the place I love. I can sit in the soft morning light when the world isn’t baked in sun rays. I can be still and listen to the sound of the water crash along the shore. I can take in the magic wonder of a sunrise. I can wander with my camera in hand and capture the beauty around me.
Enjoying my favorite place isn’t off limits or impossible.
I just needed to adjust my focus.
January 5, 2022 | Wednesday
My first chemo treatment.
Mike and I pulled into the parking lot listening to The Final Countdown by Europe. Which was comforting and terrifying. Overall it made me happy. Since Ethan has been home we’ve been watching all the Rocky movies together. And today before we left the house Ethan put on Rocky IV. And even though The Final Countdown is not in any Rocky movie, it all feels right together.
Mike can’t come in because of Covid.
I’m upstairs on the second floor. I can see the tops of the trees, the gray sky and slight rain falling. It’s full in here. Warrior grandparents tackling all of the horribleness of cancer.
“Are you nauseous today?”
“Oh yes, the usual.”
I’m sitting waiting my turn, listening and taking it all in.
It’s quiet except for the sound of the IV pumps and beeping machines.
The nurses are kind in all their care.
I’m hooked up to my own IV now. My Pre-meds– a steroid and anti-nausea medication.
I’m doing it.
1/6/22 | Thursday 1:37 AM
I’m thinking about the beauty of creation and God in those places.
In the beginning God created the perfect place–
We find perfection starts in a garden
We discover God’s Holy Majesty dwelling in mountaintops
We learn there is peace in storms at sea with Jesus near
We see the unique design in millions of animals
We witness the brief beauty of flowers
We learn God cares for a single sparrow
We wonder at the vast and mesmerizing secrets of our galaxy
If all of this is created for us to live in and enjoy and feel in wonder of here on earth, what will heaven be like?
This goodness in the midst of brokenness is a gift, a glimpse…
11:45 AM – my first wave of nausea
Note– continue on the path of natural, whole foods. No more cookies. No more sugar.
Day 8 From the Start of Chemo
1/13/22 | Thursday
My mouth feels weird today
My food doesn’t taste good
I remember being told something about side effects and the mouth–
I had to look it up: chemo mouth
“Five to 10 days following an initial chemotherapy treatment, inflammation and sores can develop on the tongue, gums and anywhere along the digestive tract. This can lead to discomfort and a loss of taste…”
Something more pleasant to think about–
I’ve only finished one round of chemo, out of many to come, but I’m dreaming of our trip to the Keys when I’m done with all this. A celebration. A bucket list item I don’t want to let go of. The one where I hope I get to snorkel at John Pennekamp and see the statue of Christ of the Deep.
We took a trip last year and I had our snorkel tour booked, but our boat tour was canceled and we were refunded the money due to a high seas advisory. Not ideal conditions for snorkeling. We didn’t get to see the statue of Christ, but we still spent a beautiful time relaxing, fishing, and kayaking together in Key Largo.
So today I Googled, “How long is your skin sensitive to sun after chemo?” just to have an idea.
If I have to be extra cautious for a while, maybe we’ll take Mike’s celebration trip of seeing us through all of this cancer care first. His bucket-list-wish is to go ice skating on a glassy mirror-like frozen lake. I’ll keep working on my crochet beanie-making skills.
Which trip would you prefer?
Chemo Round 2
January 14,2022 | Friday
Today the text messages asking me to confirm my upcoming appointments are popping up on my phone.
I confirm each one and my whole body tenses up. I feel like crying. I don’t want to do it again. But I remind myself, it’s only a few days you’ll feel awful and then it’ll gradually get better. That’s not too bad really.
My dear friend, who is also fighting this same battle, suggested I make a checklist so I could mark each appointment off as I go. I was inspired and excited by this idea. I thought about making my checklist of appointments beautiful and inspirational, but the joy of crossing off those chemo appointments is not enough for me to face all those dates head on. It felt overwhelming to lay it out. I was filled with fear and doubt that I can’t do any of this. It felt like too much.
I thought of Philippians 4:13 and prayed it out loud, I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Lord, I can’t do it on my own.
I have a general idea in mind that I’ll finish chemo in May, which is a beautiful ending for my birthday. This I can hold onto. This is all I can do for now. One appointment at a time. One day at a time.
… In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
-1 Peter 1: 6,7
1/17/22 | Monday
Preparing for my next round of chemo feels like preparing for a hurricane.
I’m doing all the things I know I won’t be able to for a while, cooking, cleaning, laundry, enjoying hot coffee…
Thankfully I don’t have to board up the house or worry about the food in the freezer going bad. It can sit there until I feel good enough to get back to the ingredients inside. And I don’t have to buy gallons of water, although maybe I should since I need to flush out my system after the chemo.
I need to get it all done and then “hunker down”.
1: What Floridians do during a hurricane / what I prefer to do after chemo
2: to stay in a place for a period of time
1/18/22 | Tuesday
I’ve come across the fact cancer returns.
I’ve heard the stories and read the prayer requests.
I filled out a form yesterday and had to check a box for my type of cancer. One of the options to check off, “recurring”. I hate that.
I haven’t even made it through this battle yet, but my mind wanders to more what if’s…
What if I go through all of this and it comes back again?
Although one of my doctors used the term lightning strike to describe the why of my cancer, I’m researching diet and ways I can improve my health. I want to do what I can on my part to strengthen myself and become healthier. Maybe this will boost my odds of this not coming back.
But here I am this morning turning to my devotional and there at the bottom of the page in red pen, my Grandma Annie’s handwriting, Trust God.
And this is the title of the devotional, Trust.
“You will keep in perfect peace
him whose mind is steadfast,
because he trusts in you.”
“let it go completely. trust. live with it all in an open hand before God. Jesus promises he WILL work it all out. I do believe for you, always…. a new sunrise.”
-Ann Kiemel Anderson (from the NIV Women’s Devotional Bible)
1/19/22 | Wednesday
Mike and I are on our way to my second round of chemo. It’s pretty out today. Blue skies and fluffy clouds. It’s a quiet car ride. There’s not much to say. I’m not fearful but I don’t want to go. Is it better that I know what to expect or worse? I can’t decide.
I wondered where my nurse would have me sit today. The chemo room is a large rectangle, surrounded on three sides by walls of windows. There’s an old patio which goes part way around the windows, but the sign on the glass door says, no outside use. The floor tiles look a little uneven. I imagine some repairs are needed. It makes me wonder if nurses and patients used to enjoy the patio and fresh air at one point. Or was this large open room converted from its past use to the Chemo room? Either way I’m happy for all the windows and the natural light.
I walked with my nurse and we both kind of stopped at the chair I had last time. Perfect. Familiar window views and the wall with the red abstract heart painting. My mind has claimed this spot as my own.
I’m just one patient, in the span of a few hours, in a giant room, which is filled Monday-Friday, in one hospital in south Florida… Lord, how are so many people fighting these cancer battles?
Today I prayed for the elderly woman across from me when I saw her remove her glasses and wipe her eyes with a tissue. Lord, please comfort her… I was so happy to see she was in and out and it wasn’t a long haul treatment for her today.
I’m hooked up and settled in my recliner with my water, warm blanket, and my book.
Today I’m reading The Story of With: A Better Way to Live, Love, & Create by Allen Arnold
1/20/22 | Thursday 3:30 AM
I can’t sleep.
I decided to get up and use the bathroom, but when I stood up I saw a flash of light. I was certain it came through the window. I stood still and watched. And then it happened again, a bright flash in the darkness. A few more seconds standing still trying to figure it out…
and then I realized it was me! The darn injection patch on the back of my arm with the blinking green light. I hate this thing. But I am relieved no one is outside my bedroom window with a flashlight.
Today is Day 15 since the start of chemo.
I think my hair is starting to fall out.
1/22/22 | Saturday
A friend asked me if I was worried or upset about losing my hair. At the time I said no. I feel like everything else is already the worst news. Everything else is the hard part. Losing my hair seemed like a matter of fact that I just had to accept. But now that it’s going it feels strange and slightly awful. I don’t know if I should just preempt this and shave my head or take it in stages. I asked Mike and August to help. We’ve decided on a short haircut for today. My sweet girl cut it for me. She did amazing.
1/23/22 | Sunday
My second round of chemo was hard. It drained me of energy and left me down and overwhelmed. Today I’m feeling a little better. I showered and went for a walk with Mike. And he convinced me to get out of the house with him. First hockey and then a walk on the beach. We went to the park and I brought a book with me to read while he played hockey. I sat on the bench near the outdoor rink with my book, but it was cold out and I didn’t have as much energy as I thought. I needed the coziness of the car while he played. I went back to the car and cried and read. And in that time frame of sitting alone in the car feeling sad and overwhelmed I received one text after another. Precious friends checking in on me, letting me know they were praying and thinking of me.
Seven messages of love.
God nudging friends, using them in just the right moment.
I’m not alone, even in the hardest parts.