Thursday, August 8, 2013

Time to Celebrate!

Wahoo! Chemo is over! I had my last chemotherapy infusion (#6) on Tuesday, July 23, 2013.   Unfortunately, I couldn’t celebrate right away, because I still had to go through the after-effects. I had all the regular symptoms: fatigue, mushy head, touchy stomach, etc. but because I had the treatment on a Tuesday instead of the regular Thursday (that’s kind of a long, unnecessary story), I came out of the fog 2 days earlier than usual, and felt good for Sunday morning church- which was great because I ended up playing on the worship team that morning. That would have been absolutely impossible for me if I had still been in the fog. Not only would I have been too tired to stand, but one of my symptoms is that my brain can’t handle music, and it bounces around inside my head like I’m inside a cement bunker. It’s just too much, and I can’t stand to listen or sing. As you can imagine, that drives me crazy, as playing and singing are my favorite things to do!

a little glimpse of the crowd at our one morning service (replacing the normal 3). 
I was on the bandshell stage waaaaay in the back of this picture.

Predictably, my tongue took a couple of weeks to recover from the treatment, but it’s my hands that have really been bothering me this time around. It now looks like I will loose all of my fingernails. It started with them turning white along the tops, then grey along the bottoms (I’ve just kept them painted because they look so ugly), but these last few weeks they have been very sore. They feel bruised, like they were hit or pinched, and every time I bump a nail against anything- even a pillow or something soft, it hurts like crazy! Even playing keys in church last Sunday (the second week after treatment) was sort of painful- but not enough to keep me from doing 4 services (3 morning, one evening). 

I have been very careful with my hands, keeping the nails very short, not allowing them to soak in water, and trying not to subject them to undue trauma, but a few days ago I noticed something new. They stink. They smell vaguely like old cheese. Gross! This is because the nails are lifting off the beds. I can look down my fingertips and see right up under the nails. My left thumb is the only one of my 10 fingers that has not hollowed out yet, but I have a feeling it’s only a matter of time.
Eew! Gross!

So, much like my hair, I will loose my nails, and they will grow back strong and healthy in a few months. And much like loosing my hair, I’m not happy about this. I have to confess that I’ve been downright grumpy about it. Meanwhile, I have increased my Neuro-QOL supplement to the recommended 2 capsules 3x/ day to help with the neuropathy in my hands, and I got a big box of rubber gloves to protect me from infection. I’m thinking of getting some pretty little white gloves like the kind ladies used to wear all the time- simply because I’m so vain, and I hate the idea of they way my hands will look without nails. Wonder where you find those? Might have to search some vintage resale shops... Or Maia’s dress up box, now that I think of it.

I had my pre-surgical blood draw this week, to make sure my levels were high enough to endure surgery. I could have stuck around and waited for the results, but I didn’t. Until I hear otherwise, I’m going to assume that my platelets are high enough to have surgery. The surgeon wants them at 120K. Before I started chemo #1, they were at a nice healthy 300K, and they gradually have dropped over the course of my 6 treatments. I asked everyone to pray aggressively for my platelet levels before the last treatment because they were at 128 before #5, and had to be over 100 in order to do the last one. Thank you for your prayers! They actually went back up to 132 for #6!  So unless this last round of chemo knocked them significantly- and I don’t see the physical signs of that- such as unstoppable bleeding, nose bleeds and excessive bruising, I’m going to assume that I’m in the clear. 

Some friends offered to have a party for me, but because I’m done with chemo, AND trying to build up my endurance to recover from surgery, I’m trying to naturally detox. I’m still avoiding sugar, eating lots of fruits and veggies, avoiding processed foods and stocking up on protein for recovery. All these things line up to make for not a very fun party, actually (who wants naturally sweetened granola and kale chips? What a party!). Also, it’s terrible timing, because school starts in a couple of weeks, and everyone is squeezing their last bit of summer fun in before we all have to go back to our regularly scheduled lives. 

But last weekend turned out to be the exact kind of celebration I needed. It was a second weekend after chemo, so I was feeling pretty good (except for a little bit of cardboard tongue). I was scheduled to play and sing for church on Sunday morning, and our worship leaders picked the BEST music! One song in particular, was one that we’ve never done, but when Aubrey (my friend/ worship leader/ former student) found the song shortly after my diagnosis she claimed it as her “Amy song,” and knew we had to use it in celebration once my treatments were over. It’s called “In Jesus’ Name” by Darlene Zschech (pronounced "Check"), and you can watch the full 9 minute video here:

I know, I don't usually watch videos either, but I want to share the lyrics with you, because they were such a great victory cry for me this weekend:

God is fighting for us,
God is on our side
He has overcome,
Yes, He has overcome
We will not be shaken,
We will not be moved
Jesus You are here

Carrying our burdens,
Covering our shame
He has overcome,
Yes, He has overcome
We will not be shaken,
We will not be moved
Jesus You are here

I will live, I will not die
The resurrection power of Christ
Alive in me and I am free
In Jesus' name
I will live, I will not die, 
I will declare and lift You high
Christ revealed and I am healed 
In Jesus' name!

God is fighting for us
Pushing back the darkness
Lighting up the Kingdom
That cannot be shaken
In the Name of Jesus,
Enemy's defeated
And we will shout it out,
Shout it out

We also sang a couple of other great celebration songs, and some songs that we just love as a congregation and as a band. It was an aggressive song lineup that asked a lot of our musicians, but the Spirit was so strong even in rehearsal, that we eagerly anticipated Sunday morning. And God did not disappoint! We were convicted that we should be that excited about our weekly gatherings every week, anticipating and preparing for a great move of the Spirit every time the Body of Christ gathers. 

In addition to a great Sunday morning, and Thursday evening practice, I attended a Beth Moore Living Proof Live conference in Sioux Falls on Friday night and Saturday morning with my mom and several ladies from our church. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been leading a Beth Moore women’s Bible study this summer with about 8 other ladies, and I can’t say enough good things about her teaching. I’ve seen Beth speak live 3 times, and attended simulcasts a couple of other times. I’ve done about a half dozen of her studies over the years, and I always come away feeling like I’ve grown in faith and Bible knowledge. I haven’t done one of her studies in about 4 years, mostly because they take a lot of discipline and daily dedication, and those are not my strong suits, but I knew that this summer was the year to dig back into the Word in a way that one of these studies would really help me to do.

I have been griping a bit lately about not really knowing what I’m supposed to do with my life now that the worship leading chapter of my ministry has apparently closed (this was about 8 years ago). To be honest, I’m still mildly resentful about this, but remaining obedient and subservient with a good attitude in my background role on the worship team. But I’ve been trying to figure out what ministry looks like for me moving forward.

So we get to this huge event on Friday night last week, and the main logo comes up and the theme for the weekend is “Birthing Purpose.” Identifying God’s purpose for your life. Because we ALL have a purpose, and until we figure out what that is, we will be vaguely unsatisfied, and searching to accomplish something, but never really knowing what to aim for. Perfect! 

I have loved talking to my friends that attended about what God is doing in them as a result of the weekend and listening to His Spirit. I just love seeing how God is moving in the lives of others, and being able to help them process through what that means for them. A couple of the things that I came away with were: 

  • to keep writing here on my blog, as I’ve received a great deal of encouragement from so many people- often complete strangers. 
  • I am trying to figure out what it looks like to be sort of a mentor figure to the young women in my church and in my life. 
  • I need to get back to work. Shaping singers into the best that God has for them is something I love to do. I have been off work for almost 5 months now, and I am chomping at the bit to get back to it.

My book project is on hold for a while. I think I need the benefit of hindsight to really see how God is putting pieces together throughout this journey for me. Some of it is so obvious right now, and some things won’t make sense until later. I will revisit this idea later. It may happen, it may not.

My treatment schedule for the next little bit looks like this:

  1. I will continue Herceptin infusions every 3 weeks until next April. Herceptin is targeted chemotherapy for HER2-neu receptive cancer, the aggressive form of breast cancer that I have. I will be able to do this on Friday mornings when I go back to work, which is my regular day off. It will not give me the nasty side effects of the other two chemo drugs, Taxotere and Carboplatin, that I have been taking during the last 18 weeks.
  2. I have a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery scheduled for Wednesday, August 21 (pending platelet levels). I will post more about this process in another entry, as it is not a simple procedure. It will involve 2 nights' stay in the hospital and 4-6 weeks off from work, so I will return to teaching at USF on October 7.
  3. I will begin hormone replacement therapy after surgery. I will explain that more when I understand it better. All I know is that the chemo has shut down my ovaries, sending me into early menopause. The hot flashes have started. (yey.) Mostly they bother me at night. I hardly notice them during the day. 
So prayer requests are:
  1. Again with the platelets. The higher they are, the better I will fare during and after surgery.
  2. Successful surgery with no complications. 
  3. God's provision, as we are nearing the end of our savings. Paychecks will start up again at the end of September, so we're pretty close. Thanks to all of you who have sent gift cards, meals, money and food. Your gifts mean more than we can express in words!
One more thing I want to touch on before I finish up here. This stupid thing called cancer might be harder on my loved ones than on me as a patient. It is especially challenging to my parents. They both have their own ways of dealing with their grief, and helplessness. 

I sat down with my mom on Friday night, and she told me how angry she was with God at first.  Angry, scared and helpless. She said, "It took me a long time, but I had to get to the point that I knew I could live if you died. And you helped me with that because you made it clear that you know you will live even if you die." We had a great weekend together, and I'm not looking forward to them being gone all winter to Arizona. But somehow I'll make it through! 

My dad, much like me, writes his feelings out. He has sent me several poems over the last few months. This is the one he sent today.

Honor is Due
By David Eitemiller
Jesus, you are my creator and sustainer
All I have has come from your hand
Help me to draw from your wisdom and power
So I can fulfill some small part of your plan.

Jesus you are loving and kind
Your mercy is bountiful and true.
And you are a God of justice and grace.
So help me to glorify you.

I am weak and lowly
You are almighty and holy
You already know, the way I should go
But why do I learn so slowly?

My heart is deceitful and wicked
But you are so pure and so kind.
Keep the evil one away from me Lord.
And help me keep you on my mind.

As I relate to others around me.
As they observe me in all that I do.
Help me explain how you found me.
And give honor where honor is due.


  1. Ah friend - beautifully put! That poem is amazing - and your mom's statement - so very true! My great gma lost 3 of her 4 children before she passed - mom asked her once how she did that - she said "I prayed a lot." Really - that simple - trusting Christ to sustain us. thanks for sharing! I have friends praying for you who aren't on this blog (a couple who read it too)... they are always asking for updates. Love you, my friend - and I'm praying the Lord's hand on your blood and on your life as you reach out to others in His name through this process. Praying over surgery - the physical and mental/emotional side... God's walking with you you - Behind you to encourage you, above you to guard and protect you, in front of you to lead you, beside you as your best friend, and IN YOU with his Power, LOVE, AND UNBEATABLE JOY!

  2. Yay....hurdle over. Hopefully your fingernails will recover quickly. Are you having similar issues with your feet??? Also, hormone replacement therapy (HRT....I <3 three letter designations (i.e. TLD's)) is not that bad and you will start feeling much more "regulated" shortly (mine was about a week-ish). Sending good thoughts and speedy platelets recovery so that surgery can go on as scheduled. I know getting back to work is not only a joy but also a necessity. :)

  3. Amy, I am so ridiculously grateful for you and for your blogs! Thank you for staying so connected and keeping everyone informed! I'll be praying for you and I can't wait to start lessons with you again in the spring. Wishing you well!