Wednesday, March 27, 2013

First Visit...

Well, I had my first visit to the Breast Center today.

When I opened my eyes this morning, I thought, "What day is it? Oh... I don't want to do this." I prayed and read my devotions and a lot of Scripture, and journaled for a while. I tried to pinpoint what exactly I was so scared of.

I think I'm scared of the truth. That I really have to go through something awful. I would much rather just have everyone be nice to me and tell me that they're praying for me than feel sick all the time, loose my hair and have my breasts removed.

Here's what it boils down to. My body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. I am a steward of that body. I only get one. Somehow it got all messed up. But I have to live in this temple as long as I am here on earth. I want to treat it with the respect it deserves.

I spent the day preparing food for a Passover Meal that we shared this evening with our small group. It's something we always did at Hanfield, the church where we spent 8 years doing ministry in Indiana, and I have done it with at least 3 small groups since moving to SD. I love this tradition. As I drove around doing errands and while I was doing meal prep in the kitchen, I put a Pandora station on my phone- starting with Passion Worship Band. That was a great station for me today. So many wonderful worship songs (not too many lame ones) and a lot about healing and victory. It was exactly what I needed.

Around 2:30, we went to meet my surgeon, his nurse, the geneticist and my nurse navigator. I was accompanied by a small entourage, Matt, my mom and my step-dad, Jim all paraded down the halls with me.

First off, let me say that the Prairie Center at Avera in Sioux Falls is BEAUTIFUL. Matt & I were honored to attend the grand opening and get a tour of the place several years ago because Lance Armstrong was the keynote speaker, and tickets were a gift from my mom. (Lance... yeah, I know. Go visit Matt's Twitter account @chewbika if you want to talk about him.)

Anyway, the people that work there are so nice. When I arrived at the right office, the receptionist said, "Oh yes, Amy! Someone brought you something!" And they brought out a beautiful, exotic bouquet and a card. I thought maybe it was a new patient thing, but no. The card was perfectly worded, and from someone that I didn't know. (Kind of confused...) Matt quickly looked the family up on Facebook, and sure enough, it is a family from Embrace (our awesome, wonderful church that somehow exists on FB as much as it does in regular life). The wife works there in the cancer center (I quick "friended" her while in the waiting room), and she was thoughtful enough to send me flowers for my first appointment. And not just any flowers. I'm thinking this is the coolest bouquet ever. Check it out!

The picture doesn't do it justice. This is a totally funky and exotic bouquet!

Seriously, what a thoughtful thing to do! Nice Random Act, Amber!

There was fun 80's music playing in the waiting room, I had my pink sparkly shoes, my pink striped socks, my Fight Like a Girl shirt, and my pink scarf with my black & white coat. I was going to have a positive attitude no matter what, dammit.

When it came time to start, my posse and I headed down the hall. The nurse weighed me. What do you know? I've lost 5 pounds (probably all that not eating I've been doing). When the doctor came in (I made the posse leave for the breast exam part- I'm not THAT open), he had a young male med student with him (I had been warned ahead of time).

"Hi I'm Dr. Dosch, and this is a med student who is shadowing me, Dr.  xlklsfj (I don't honestly remember. He instantly became "Doogie" to me.)

"Hi. I'm Amy," looking at med student. "You're twelve."

He said, "No! I'm 26, and I've been to college, I swear!"

I said, "Well, you have a nice low voice, so I know you've passed middle school."

He dropped his voice as low as he could and said, "I might be overcompensating."

Everybody touched my lumpy boobs, and discussed them for a while, then I got dressed and my posse came back. (Isn't this fun so far?)

Here's the nitty gritty.

I have Stage 1, Invasive (or Infiltrating) Ductal Carcinoma. I am positive for the Estrogen Receptor, Progesterone Receptor, and another receptor called HER-2. (If you want more info about this stuff, look here. They explain it a lot better than I do.) That part is sucky, because the HER-2 is the aggressive thing. BUT, they have specific chemotherapies developed to melt those kinds of tumors much faster, so I guess it's not as bad as it used to be, when you were pretty much screwed when you got HER-2.

I have 3 choices on surgeries. I could have a lumpectomy followed by radiation, a single or double mastectomy. I haven't made this decision yet.

It does not appear that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, but I am having an ultrasound and a chest MRI next week to rule that out. If it has spread, that makes it a Stage 2 cancer. So that is probably good news, but an area that could still use prayer.

They also did a genetic test on me to see if I had the BRCA mutation. We had this cute little curly-headed dollie (when did everyone else get so young?!) come and explain genes and chromosomes and DNA and mutations pretty darn well. If she had been teaching my undergrad Bio class, I probably wouldn't have gotten that ONE B in college. (Stupid Bio). Unfortunately a mutated DNA in this case just means you get cancer, not that you get super powers like in X-Men.

Darn! No superpowers for me! (Well, no NEW ones)

I won't get the results from that genetic test for a few weeks, and they won't do a surgery until the results come back because that might alter my decision. Little Dolly Girl (I think her name was Kayla) drew up a family history chart and we went back through all my parents, aunts and uncles, and up to my grandparents to get cancer histories. Good news, Eitemiller and Haisch families! We are a good-looking group on this chart! Aunt Jeanne and Aunt Fae were the two red flags, but there is not a strong genetic marker for cancer of the "lady parts" so the test will most likely come back negative. I qualified for financial assistance, so the test was no charge for me, so we went ahead and ordered it. This is another specific area of prayer, that my test would come back negative, and not positive or inconclusive.

I don't have a specific timeline just yet, but the surgeon seemed to indicate that I would be able to finish the school year out before starting treatments. (Another specific area of prayer)

OK, so chemo.

I really don't want to do chemo. And it's not just because I have awesome hair. I just have to believe that with the millions of dollars and the decades of research that have been put into this disease, that there is not a better answer than dumping poison into your body to try and heal it.

I know there is a lot of information out there on the interwebz, and believe me, I will be doing my research. I am starting here, (I have a bunch of other pages marked, I just haven't gotten a chance to read them yet), and have decided to alter my diet drastically in my own personal prescription to fight off the cancer naturally. I think I would like to do surgery first, and then revisit the chemo idea after recovery... but I don't know if that's an option for me. I meet with the oncologist next week.

I think this was the thing I was most frustrated about when I left. I had been doing research all day (I know. That makes me an expert, right?), but no one would listen to me. They talked about some of the auxiliary therapies like acupuncture and enemas and stuff that they offer there, but I wasn't really hearing anyone talk about supplements and nutrition. I asked if I could please see the dietician sooner rather than later in the whole process.  Usually, she doesn't enter the picture until right before chemo starts.  I don't know nearly enough to make these changes for myself without some coaching, and it's really hard to change your diet so drastically without someone to hold you accountable.

So, I guess I was just kind of crabby when I left today. Mostly because of the whole chemo-as-a-foregone-conclusion kind of thing. Which I TOTALLY expected, so I'm not sure why I'm acting so offended.

There are a lot of good things here: Stage 1, probably no lymph nodes, probably not genetic, and no rush on the surgery.

I have a lot to think about and process, but I wanted to get an update out to you all.  I cannot believe the number of hits I've had since I started this page less than a week ago! Almost 3,000 before I post this entry. You guys make me feel so loved. I think everyone should get a chance in life to know just how much you mean to people. It really makes you all weepy.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Kids: Part 2- Xander

Middle school is a weird time.

No one would deny this. We all remember middle school as some of our roughest days. I wonder why that is? I have enjoyed watching Xander transition beautifully into middle school from elementary. It was probably harder on me than it was on him.

You see, what I have learned about this strange breed of people (middle schoolers) is that they are weird.

No, you don't understand. They try to out-weird each other.

Let me give you an example from our own child's experience. When The Boy entered 6th grade, he didn't really care that people knew his name (anonymity is actually preferred). But he decorated his mammoth binder (mandatory school supply to house all his homework and be carried on one's person at all times) with a sign that said, "I Like Pie" in huge black letters, with a clip art picture of a piece of pie. For most of the school year, most of the kids just referred to him as "The Pie Guy."

You see? It's not really funny. It's just kind of weird.

This week, when Xander filled out his March Madness brackets (a family ritual- the winner gets to pick what restaurant we go out to), he didn't write his name at the top. He wrote "Bill Halvorson." Apparently, last year at camp he convinced an entire busload of kids that that was his real name, and so he's sticking with it.

... What?

Now, when we left Indiana, and a humungous chunk of friends behind, Xander was 5 and he looked like this:
Aw! What a little cutie!

He is now taller than me, and at age 13, looks like this:

Good grief! What happened?!

His voice is lower than his dad's and all rich and radio announcer-y.

And as I stated in my last entry, he's über smart, and generally a fun, quirky kid. 

Oh, and he'll kill me when he finds out this much information is out there on the interwebz about him. He's kind of private- so don't tell him I love him. It embarrasses him. 

Anyway, back to Wednesday- Diagnosis Day. Xander had Lego League after school (I don't have time to explain how awesome FLL is, so look it up here if you're interested), so he didn't get home from that until about supper time. It was not fair how we hit him with the news. Maia was anxious to tell him, and we didn't let her, so I just blurted it out over a bowl of soup, "Hey, guess what. Mom has cancer!" (Thumbs up, cheesy smile). 

OK, in retrospect, maybe not the best way to announce this type of news to anyone at the emotionally vulnerable age of 13...

We tried to explain as much as we could- I had mentioned that I had found a lump in my breast to the kids (again at the dinner table- what is wrong with me?!) a couple of weeks earlier, so the news wasn't completely out of the blue, but he had to have been twice as shocked as Matt & I were when we first heard the news. 

But then it was time to rush off to youth group. Matt had emailed the church staff (his co-workers) earlier in the day, to let him know what was going on, and I'm sure those awesome youth people took great care of him that evening.

We didn't really tell everybody until I published the first entry on this blog late Thursday night, so I don't think Xander mentioned it to anyone at school the next day. 

Matt had a chance to talk to him Thursday after school, and said, "We really blindsided you with the big announcement yesterday. How are you feeling?"


Matt said, "So are we. Do you have any questions?" 

Xander said, "Can you guarantee me that she's going to survive this?" 

Matt said, "No, I can't guarantee that."

Xander said, "Well, can you give me a percentage?" (anyone who has ever known him will recognize this as a very Xander question)

Matt said, "You're asking great questions and you're asking the same questions that we have, and we just don't have the answers yet. BUT, all of the early indicators are favorable, and breast cancer is very treatable."

I wish we could guarantee survival. But the chances are pretty good. I guess I can't guarantee that I won't die in a car accident tomorrow either. We really have to trust in the Lord on this one. Life is precious. 

So, on Friday, I started getting all these wonderful emails, phone calls, Facebook messages, and texts from people in all my social circles, crying with me, encouraging me, cheering me on, sympathizing and in general just letting me know how very very loved I am by so many people.  

What an encouraging day!

When I picked up Xander from school on Friday, I asked how his day was. Turns out, his was not as awesome. He finally told someone in his class that his mom has cancer, and do you know how his dumb-ass classmates responded? 

"Yo mama" jokes. 

Yes, you read that right. Instead of rallying around a hurting friend, they found an open wound and poked it with a stick. 

Now, if I had been there, I would have laughed and thrown a few jokes right back at them. I did tell him, "You know what? Yo mama is tough enough to handle it." Unfortunately, he isn't yet. He just wasn't really in a place emotionally to be able to fight fire with fire. 

I still get red in the face with anger when I think about this. I emailed his teachers... All of this is SO embarrassing for a 7th grader! The last thing they want is for Mommy to come swooping in (or even show signs of existence) while at school. 

Granted, this may have only been 2 or 3 kids. I know that there were others who were much kinder to him, but when you are 13, the negative really has a way of sticking to you.

I don't know how to fix this. So far, this is the one thing I am the most angry about in this whole journey. 

On the plus side, as I walked past him playing video games this weekend, I nudged him with my foot and said, "Hey. I love you." He grunted as usual.

"Ahem! I said, I love you!" 

He pushed pause, looked me in the eye, smiled and said, "I love you too."  
Aw... he'll always be my little boy!

The Kids: Part 1- Maia

How are the kids doing?

I get this question a lot. Since I seem to be getting a lot of traffic from people who don’t know me right now (wow, do I feel popular this week!), let me tell you about my wonderful family. Here’s the cliff notes version:
All Photos: Courtesy Leah Schoeneman,

I have been married for 20 years to my high school sweetheart, Matt Morrison. 

We grew up together in Sheldon, IA, a small town just over the IA/ SD border from where we now live in Sioux Falls, SD. We got married at the tender young ages of 19 & 20 after dating for 4 years. Matt & I attended USD in Vermillion, then the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. After grad school, we moved to Marion, Indiana and lived there for 8 years. That was where we began our lives in ministry, and had our babies. Xander was born in 1999, and our daughter, Maia came along in 2004. 

Xander is now 13 years old, and in the 7th grade. He is extremely intelligent, and his teachers describe him as “quirky and fun.”  He has wonderful friends, who are as delightfully nerdy as he is. He is a member of the “Robot Geeks,” who are the SD state champion First Lego League team for the past two years. He plays a lot of video games- favorites are Minecraft and Pokémon, and more recently Assassin’s Creed III (against my preferences. I keep telling him he can’t grow up to be a psychopath, and he just rolls his eyes). He is musical, but probably plays the cello and drums out of a sense of obligation more than passion. He sort of assumes that if you’re going to be a Morrison, you have to play an instrument. He has a beautifully rich, low voice that changed almost overnight a couple of summers ago. I kind of wish he would sing- but he says he plays cello and that’s enough. 

Maia is 8 years old, and in the 3rd grade. She is 100% her own person. She is silly, and sensitive, and very musical and theatrical. She is a free thinker, and a dreamer, and a hoarder. Her favorite thing in the world is... well, me. And a close second is her bunnies, Bon Bon and Lily. She plays the piano (when she feels like it), harp, and sings like a little angel. She keeps our lives very interesting, because she says the funniest things. Usually without intending to. She generally rides an emotional roller coaster, and the adolescent years are going to be awesome with her. 

In my humble opinion, they are the best. 

When we got the news on Wednesday, we went and picked up Maia after school. She gets out early on Wednesdays, so she was home by 1:30. She actually went down and was making her bed- the finishing touch on getting her room ready for company to come over that evening, as we were hosting our weekly Bible study that night, and all the kids play down in her room. 

Matt & I went in and sat down on her bed next to her and said, “Honey, we need to talk. We got some bad news from the doctor today. Mommy has breast cancer.” (How do you deliver this kind of news to your baby?)

She immediately grabbed the closest stuffed animal (a dog named Goliath), and pulled herself into a little sitting ball.  I looked her right in the eye and said, “Now, you need to know something very important. This is not going to kill me. I am going to be around for a LONG time. I will see you grow up and get married and have your own kids. I plan to hold my grandbabies. You understand?”

She nodded with tears in her eyes. I gave her a big hug and stroked her long blond hair. I said, “We don’t know much of anything yet. We just found out, and I’m going to meet with a team of specialists sometime soon, and they will help us all understand more about what’s going on. I’m probably going to be pretty sick for a while, but it’s all temporary. OK?”

“OK.” She nodded. I asked if she had any questions, and bless her heart, she said, “How are we going to pay for this? Will we have to use the money we saved for St. Louis?” 

Knife in the chest.

She’s eight. This tells you a lot about a kid who knows that sometimes we have to make sacrifices because there’s just not an abundant supply of money at our disposal. 

Many of you are probably wondering the same thing, so let me take a big weight off your shoulders and tell you that I qualify under the income parameters for a program called All Women Count, and from what I can tell, the whole process will be covered. It’s not all finalized yet, so this is an area that can use some prayer, but we are simply not worrying about money as we begin this journey. (That’s extremely unusual for us, so what a blessing!)

Now, back to Maia. She is processing slowly. Wednesday evening, I let her touch the lump and see the bandage where they took the needle biopsy. Thursday morning, she was whining about  a pain in her foot, and then she kind of just curled up in a ball and sat on the floor (the same ball she curled into when we told her the news). She was a little teary, so I wrapped myself around her and said, “Hey, why the tears?”

“I’m just going to miss you,” she whimpered. 

“What, when I go to work?” She shook her head no. I said, “Hey. I’m not dying from this. Remember?  I’m going to rock my grandbabies. We talked about this.” 

I think she turned a corner in her thinking because the next morning as I was combing her hair, she said, “After your cancer, we’re all going to start over and be better.”  I caught that word- after.

I laughed and said, “Maybe we could just try to be better right now. Who needs to be better?”

“Xander. He should stop swearing at me.”

“Well, yes. He shouldn’t be swearing at anyone. What about you?”

“I should feed my bunnies.” 

“Well yes, but you already do that. Maybe you could try to think of some other things to do better. What about me? Do I need to be better?” I asked.

“No, you’re the best one of all of us. That’s probably why you got cancer.” I laughed and said I don’t think it works that way, but I do think we will all be better people as a result of this season of our lives. 

I'm already seeing my sweet little goofball start to trust Jesus in ways that she couldn't before. That is one of the things that makes this journey worth it. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

First Day of Spring 2013

Wednesday, March 20, 2013.

I started my morning with a migraine headache. This is the third Wednesday in a row. The last two made sense. I have been directing the All-School Musical at my daughter's elementary school for the last 3 months, and Wednesdays are rehearsal days. Last Thursday was our performance. We did Disney's "The Jungle Book: Kids!" It was pretty epic.  Here's a picture:
This is not actually the whole deal. There are about 100 more kids that function as the chorus. It's a pretty big deal. That performance each year is one of my favorite days. This was my 5th year as director.

But it's a lot of stress, and migraines are one of the ways my body handles stress. About 3 weeks ago, I noticed a breast lump. I have had sort of "fibrous breasts" most of my adult life, and I tried my hardest to convince myself that this was just nothing abnormal. I cut sugar and caffeine out of my diet completely because I knew that those things contribute to fibroids.  I didn't have time to go to the doctor. I ignored it for a week.

Well, 2 weeks ago, I decided that it was bothering me enough (in my brain) that I should see if I could squeeze in a doctor's visit during spring break/ production week. The doc who saw me said there were several good things about this lump: It was mobile, smooth, and tender. BUT she sent me in for a diagnostic mammogram just in case. 

So on Monday morning of this week, I dropped my son off at middle school and drove over to the Breast Center. I had just been there for my yearly mammogram (first one) in January, so at least I was familiar with the process. 

The mammogram showed nothing, but they sent me to get an ultrasound because it was a palatable lump. The mammogram tech sounded very positive. The ultrasound tech could definitely see something there, but he sounded positive too. They had a doctor read the ultrasound, and he recommended a needle biopsy. They were actually able to do it right then, with only a little waiting for phone calls to be answered and permission to be given. 

They numbed up the area, and used the ultrasound wand to make sure they were going to hit the right area, then stuck a needle with a spring-loaded trigger into the mass and grabbed some tissue samples:
This is a picture from the Avera breast cancer information site. 
This experience is just about as pleasant as it sounds...

Anyway, when I left there on Monday morning, everyone was very positive that I had nothing to worry about. I figured I had done the things I needed to do to allay my fears. So I stopped worrying.

I went to work at the small Christian university where I teach voice lessons as an adjunct music professor, and I taught my boatload of lessons that I normally do on a Monday. I reconnected with students who had just gotten back from Spring Break, and dropped some ice packs in my bra as the day went on and the numbness wore off. 

I worked all day Tuesday, and went home and was just getting ready to teach my after-school lessons when I got a call from my doctor's office. They asked me if I could come in yet that afternoon to discuss the results of my test. It was 15 minutes until I started my after school lessons for the next 2 hours. I told the nurse that no, I wasn't available because I had to teach piano lessons. She was a bit taken aback. "Piano lessons." She said. Uh, yeah. It's my job. I rescheduled for Wednesday morning at 11:30. My darling husband, Matt said, "Do you want me to come with you?" 

Wait. Is this going to be bad news? Naw... It's probably just "So now you have fibroid tumors. Let's talk about what that means." I honestly wasn't worried. 

Imagine our surprise when my doctor came into the exam room and broke the news that they found cancerous cells in the biopsy. I was seriously shocked! We do not have much history of cancer at all in our family- well, I guess my dad's sister fought it for years. But, I breast fed both of my babies! I have totally cleaned up my diet! I haven't had a drink of soda in YEARS! I am really healthy! My immune system is very strong. I go to the chiropractor multiple times a month. How can I possibly have cancer?! 

She answered as many questions as she could, and now we wait. 

I have an appointment next Wednesday with the Avera Breast Center, just a few blocks away from my house. It's a beautiful building. I've actually had students do a recital there. They have a lovely piano and stage in their main atrium. I am now a patient. That's so weird. 

I won't know anything about what stage I am, or what the treatment plan is until after that appointment, so for now, we tell our friends. 

And we wait. 

This part isn't fun. 

So here's what I have found to be thankful for:
• I have SO many people who love me. Wow. It's just overwhelming. I can feel the peace that comes from  so many dear friends praying for me and my family. Everyone keeps asking what they can do to help. I really don't know. Take it away?

• I have a great big God. And I trust Him completely. He has prepared me for this moment in a lot of ways, and just like Jesus' disciples, I was still blindsided when the hammer fell. But God is still in control, and I am in the palm of His hand. 

• My husband rocks. He is just so supportive and wonderful. We are both scared. Of course we are. But I have no doubt that he will be right beside me through all of this. Please pray for our kids, Xander (13) and Maia (8). They're having a rough time. 

• My mom is all over this. As a nurse, she knows the lingo, and will be right there beside me every step of the way. 

• I was diagnosed on the first day of Spring. It is also the beginning of Holy Week on Sunday. These two things mean so much to me on a symbolic level. I know that God is beginning a new work in me through this season. 

I would like to tell you a story to finish out this post.

6 months ago, I was a part of a major production of "The Magic Flute" here in Sioux Falls (click on the link to see pictures. It was also amazing). We rented our set from a small opera company in North Carolina. 2 guys from that company came along with the set to make sure the production went off without a hitch. We learned a lot from one of them in particular, and some of our opera board members met with him to talk about the future of Sounds of South Dakota, Inc. It wound up being me and two other ladies who were able to meet with this guy (David), and when they both went to the salad bar, he and I made small talk, and it wasn't long before he discovered that I am a Christian. He was so excited! I said, "Well, all of us are. It's actually not all that uncommon around here." But he just couldn't get over the fact that he had come all the way out to the other end of the planet and felt that it was God-ordained that we meet. (He is a little more charismatic than some of us stoic Upper Midwesterners) 

I invited him to come with me to church on Sunday morning during the run of the show, and he accepted. When we got there a bit early, we sat and talked for a while, and he said, "I don't want to freak you out or anything, but I feel like I have a word from the Lord for you. Are you open to that?" 

Well, sure. 

He said, "I feel like the Lord is saying, 'You're going to have a bit of a health scare coming up here. But everything's going to be OK.'" I know he said more than that to me. There was something about finding peace in His presence, but suddenly, this moment of prophecy has come back to me, and it is a great comfort. 

Anyway, we are beginning a journey, but I am still me. I am still going about business as usual. I told my students that nobody gets out of recital because of this. We are still hoping to be able to go to St. Louis with Xander's state champion Lego League team in late April. But obviously, things are going to suck for a while. 

Thanks for joining me on the journey.