spring forward

March 15, 2013

Woohoo! It’s a good spring break when you get good weather, and an even better one when you get good news! Thankful that I can say today that I’m still in remission and still on track to graduate, get married and get on with my life! Thank you Jesus.

I’m blessed. It’s been so nice to be back in college! Although I’ve had a heavy course load this semester that has kept me busy and been a little hectic, I’ll take an exam and write a paper any day over a dose of chemotherapy. And I’m so happy to have hair again! In fact, it was getting so long and shaggy so fast that I already got my first hair cut.

I’m so excited to finally graduate and get married! For real this time. And equally excited to go on my much-needed honeymoon so I can relax on a warm, tropical beach and finally put cancer behind me.

I honestly don’t think about the bad times during cancer much unless I’m asked about it. Though I sometimes wish I didn’t have those terrible memories buried in my mind somewhere and often wish that I could forget that I had cancer altogether, I constantly try to remind myself daily to remember what God has done for me. Every time I get discouraged about something or down when I think that cancer took away two years of my life, I say to myself “You’ve been through chemo four times” or “You’ve beat cancer twice.”  Instead of remembering what cancer took  from me, I try to remember instead what God gave me.

Thanks again for keeping up with me and supporting me. When I think about the joy I experienced during the hardest days of my life, I think of all the people who were rooting for me and covering me in prayer that made me feel so loved. Since I have doctors’ appointments a lot less frequently, I will probably only write on my blog every couple of months. I am getting my immunizations in June, and my documentary that my friend Jared is working on is supposed to be finished in April! So I will let you know how you can watch it when it comes out.

Thanks again for praying for me, believing with me and helping me conquer.

“Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases”

***I just want to remind people once more that I didn’t get through this because of who I am or how I handled it. Having support lifted my spirits and having optimism helped me stay positive, but having God in my life gave me strength and carried me through cancer.

IN A NUTSHELL

  • Still in the clear! Praise God!
  • I’m graduating in May and getting married in July!
  • I’m getting my immunizations back in June! (since I lost them from the stem cell transplant)
  • My documentary should be finished in April

year in the clear

January 9, 2013

Starting my new year with a clear scan! Praise God!

I’m so relieved that I’m still in remission so that I can resume living out my goals in 2013: starting my last semester of college, graduating in May, getting married in July, moving to Charlotte. I try not to live in the future too much, but I don’t want to stop dreaming and believing that God will get me there. I don’t want to take the present for granted, but I don’t want to live in fear, scan by scan, afraid to make any plans. The first two years of remission are crucial, and once I get past the two-year mark my likelihood of being cured for good goes way up.

Thanks again for all the prayers sent my way. I had a lot of peace to carry with me to my appointments today, so thank you for praying for that specifically. In addition to talking about my scan with the doctors, we also talked about the cough and hoarseness I’ve been experiencing the last couple of months. They gave me antibiotics to help my immune system get rid of my cough and hopefully my hoarseness will leave with it. Due to the location of the area I was treated, there is a chance that the nerve near my vocal cords was effected by the radiation causing my voice to fatigue easily. So I’m hoping that it is unrelated to the radiation, and that there is no permanent damage.

“For nothing is impossible with God.” -Luke 1: 37

IN A NUTSHELL

  • I’m still in remission!
  • I’m taking antibiotics for cough and hoarseness I’ve had for a couple of months and praying there was no permanent damage in my throat from the radiation.
  • I feel so blessed and favored by God because of all the people He has placed in my life that care about me and support me. So thanks for being one of them and for praying for me and with me. God hears your prayers and that it why I am where I am today.

cancer-freedom

December 2, 2012

Last week I had my final dose of radiation! It went by so fast and so smoothly! My only side affect was mild fatigue and a little redness at the radiation site, which was to-be expected. I am excited to be done with my treatment plan, so I can start living life again. I am hesitant to say that I’m done with cancer for good, because I said it once before, around this time last year…

I don’t know the magic number or the “chances” of my cancer relapsing nor do I want to. I made the mistake of taking comfort in the 95% cure rate last time, so the statistics don’t mean much to me anymore. If God’s plan is for you to be the 5%, believe me, you will be. I’m just going to try to keep trusting God with His healing process and believing that my cancer is never coming back. And hopefully, when I reach the 5-year mark, my scans will be clear and they will say the 3 words I long to hear: “You are cured.”

In the first year of cancer, when getting scans frequently, it was easy for me to be optimistic and not stress out about them. But now I feel like there is more pressure with each one, I guess because the treatment options are becoming harder and fewer. I have been in remission since June and had another clear PET scan in September. My next PET scan is on January 9, so please pray that I can have peace about it and that I keep getting great results!

In the meantime, I’m getting back on the horse, though I’ll try not to take off too fast. Since my radiation is over and I’m not tied down to TN anymore, I’m going to visit my family in Texas next week. I’ll also be starting my last semester at Appalachian on January 14 and I’m SO excited! And I started wedding planning again, too and set a new date for next summer!

I have enjoyed reflecting on my blessings and celebrating thankfulness this past month. I don’t want to take anything for granted, because I have been beyond blessed with what God has done in my life and provided me with. I would like to point out that I am especially blessed to have such great parents that have done an amazing job of taking care of me and making sure I have had everything I needed my whole life and throughout cancer. And a big thanks to all you that are reading this right now for continuing to keep up with my progress and supporting me through this long journey to health.

IN A NUTSHELL

  • I’m DONE with radiation! I tolerated it very well. Praise God! 
  • Welp, I finished all my treatment so there’s nothing left to do but keep on living and praying. I am moving back to Boone in January to finish school and can’t wait!
  • On January 9, I have a PET scan. Please pray that it’s another clear one, so that I can continue to be cancer-free!!

radiate love, not people

October 25, 2012

Yesterday’s appointment about radiation went…great! Instead of 5 weeks of radiation like we had initially thought, I only will need 17-20 doses so that’s only 3 weeks! Also, the increased risk of getting of breast cancer in the future from having radiation now being our main concern, it was so good to hear the doctor say that the area on my neck being treated is high enough up that the radiation should have very little to hardly any exposure to my breast tissue. Not to say that I am off the hook completely from ever getting breast cancer, because no one is, but  it isn’t as risky as we thought. The radiation oncologist also told us that in my case they will be using a lower dose radiation rather than a stronger, harsh radiation that they would use in other severe cases. So what all this boils down to is, if I have to get radiation, the circumstances and amount in which I am getting it is optimal. Thanks again God.

Next Tuesday I will go in for my first treatment of radiation and from that point on I will go 5 days a week until all my treatments are completed. Kind of like getting an x-ray, I will lie down under the laser and the machine will do its thing. To ensure they line me up in the same exact position each time to radiate the correct areas, they have to mark on my stomach, ribs, and chest with a permanent marker, and I have to wear clear tape stickers over the marks so they don’t rub off the whole time I’m getting radiation. So if you see a black mark on my chest near my shirt collar, that’s what it is.

I feel great. My lungs are better, but mentally and emotionally I feel better, too. I think taking a week to take a trip to Virginia to see my sister and her family, stopping by Charlotte, NC to hang out with my fiance for a few days, and then swinging by Boone, NC to get some hugs from friends I hadn’t seen in months, is just what I needed to get refreshed and motivated again. As of last week, I have eyebrows again and my hair is finally starting to grow back. And in the mean time, I got a free, nice wig from the hospital I’ve started wearing so I can enjoy looking and feeling like a healthy person again.

I’ve started trying to get my ducks in a row so that I can go back to school next semester and finish my LAST semester of college! I have even already found a place to live! No matter how much I don’t deserve any of it, God continues to be so good to me. Praise him.

IN A NUTSHELL

  • My lungs are back to normal and I’m feeling great, just tying to stay healthy now.
  • I am starting radiation on Tuesday and will go to the hospital 5 days a week to receive 17-20 treatments.
  • Praise God, for everything has been going smoothly, and I’m planning on going back to school in January.

it takes your breath away

September 28, 2012

I got my PET scan and my line out of my chest on Wednesday as planned. It went surprisingly well–I thought getting the line out would hurt more, but it wasn’t too bad.

Today was a pretty crucial day: the day we would get the results from the PET scan and discuss radiation…so we thought. To knock out some of my anxiousness about today, I was happy to have my film crew buddies visit this morning to work on the documentary today and to capture meeting with the doctor.

I thought we’d be talking a lot about the PET scan and radiation, but we actually only touched on that matter because apparently there is another issue at hand that is more of a priority. Although my fever went away from the virus a few weeks ago, my cough never did. But more importantly, I have been short of breath which I first dismissed as being “out of shape” since I haven’t be able to exercise much in isolation, and then I thought since I had sinus congestion due the fall weather, maybe I was just breathing out of my mouth more. But especially today, I could tell that getting physically fatigued this easily was abnormal.

As the doctors pressed their stethoscopes to my back and listened as I inhaled, I could tell they were concerned about what they were hearing. A problem that some stem cell transplant patients experience that doctors look for around Day 30, which I just had last week, is Pulmonary toxicity (damage to the lungs) resulting from a specific type of chemotherapy used during the SCT. After discussing my shortness of breath and listening to my lungs, my oncologist, Dr. Morgan, decided to go ahead and schedule a pulmonary function test (PFT) and a high-resolution CT scan this afternoon immediately following our appointment.

His sense of urgency to schedule those appointments told me that my little out-of-breath issue was a bigger deal than I initially thought. The PFT and the scan were to determine if my we were looking at an infection in the lungs that could be treated with antibiotics or inflammation of the lungs due to the chemo in which I would have to be treated with steroids. Dr. Morgan stated that he was hoping it was just an infection.

But he called us tonight and told us that after comparing my lung tests from before the SCT with the ones from today, there was strong evidence that the chemo had done some damage to my lung function. So in order to prevent further damage and keep the inflammation from turning into permanent scar tissue, I am starting my steroids tomorrow.

I know things are going to be ok and work out, I just really want to finish school next semester. These next few weeks of steroids kind of put a dent in my plans because treating my lung issue is further delaying the process of getting the radiation over with, if it is needed, in time to go back to college in January. I just want to be done with this, and not just for the next few months, but for good. Forever.

I think staying positive is relatively easy for me. It’s the staying patient that’s the hard part.

IN A NUTSHELL

  • Due to the toxicity of a chemo drug used during SCT, I have been experiencing shortness of breath resulting from what tests showed to be injury to my lung function/ inflammation in my lungs
  • I have to take steroids for a few weeks to get the inflammation under control and to prevent permanent damage
  • The question of radiation still remains to be discussed after my lung problem is resolved
  • I’m praying for healing, patience, and that this delay won’t be significant enough to keep me from returning to college next semester

 

 

baby steps

September 17, 2012

I can’t imagine how this all would have played out so far without prayer. Thank you for believing in the power of prayer and lifting up this time in my life to the only One who could do anything about it. That’s why I was not too surprised when against the odds and despite my immune system being in its most fragile state, I made it through the first 10 days without fever and engrafted perfectly (meaning the SCT worked just as it was supposed to).

After lying low for the first 15 days or so, I started to reintroduce my body back to the world a little bit at a time. While still wearing my mask, I got to get out of the apartment with my new immune system a little bit, go to the park and ate a Krispy Kreme doughnut as my first item of outside food since the SCT. My dad along with my sister and nephew who I hadn’t seen in a month came and visited me at the apartment. Then last week my oldest sister from VA came to visit and give my mom a few days off.

Everything was on point, until over the course over several days…I got allergies that turned into a cough, that turned into chest/back pain, that turned into fever. And the golden rule if you are a sick cancer patient at Vanderbilt is–if your fever reaches 100.4, call the doctor immediately. (It’s that little ‘.4′ that matters: 99.9- don’t care, 100.1- keep watching it, 100.3- still not there,  100.4- call right now!) So of course, what follows the “fever call” is going into the hospital with the expectation of staying at least a couple of days.

When I got there, my fever had reached 102.3, which is the highest its been in a few years. I ended up staying in the hospital to be monitored and receive IV antibiotics from last Wednesday to this Saturday afternoon. After chest x-rays/scans and deciding it wasn’t pneumonia, the doctors best guess is that it is some kind of virus. But in SCT patient’s case a little virus, can turn into a big deal.

I’m glad to be out of the hospital and hoping I’m well enough to stay out. (My goal is to get better before Friday so I can enjoy my birthday.) I’m still going in for clinic visits, but since Day 10 they have become less and less frequent. Before my fever last week, I had only been going in to the clinic twice a week.

It’s hard to believe that I have lost all of the immunities I spent my whole life building up since I was a baby. Every bug I fought off, every cookie I ate off of the ground, every gland that swelled up, every new germ I met, was all part of the process of carefully building up my immune system so that it could be strong enough to hold its own in my adult life. Now with a 4-week-old infant’s immune system in a 21-year-old’s body, I’m relying on a couple of pills I have to take for the next few months to do that until I can get my one-year vaccinations/immunizations.

I’m happy to be on Day 28 today. Day 30 is a major checkpoint after the stem cell transplant: I get a PET scan, my catheter taken out of my chest, and I get to stop clinic visits! The question of radiation still hangs over our heads, but we will know more about that after the PET scan.

IN A NUTSHELL

  • Better than most, I made it to Day 10 with no fever, and my immune system is right on track!
  • I got sick with fever last week and had to stay in the hospital a few days; I’m back at the apartment and feeling better, but still recovering
  • I will have a PET scan this week, so prayers for good results and about the radiation decision would be great

This graphic is dedicated to my fellow cancer-survivors who have battled or are still battling cancer: Lauren Maxton, Sue Hasse, Barbara Eubanks, Shelly Liles McBurney, Jeremy Hinton, Jerry Schneider, Jennifer Bratton, Lizzie Metcalf and Libby Boren to name a few. Feel free to share this to encourage others you know who are battling cancer.

numbering the days

August 25, 2012

The past two weeks I endured the 5 days of chemo followed by the Stem Cell Transplant referred to as “Day 0. As expected, this chemo has definitely been the roughest. Due to the harsh side effects from the toxicities of the chemo, they decided to keep me in the hospital last Saturday until Wednesday to better monitor my condition and control my nausea intravenously. Miraculously, out of all the chemo I’ve had in the past year and a half, I’ve battled nausea and managed to hold my stomach. But this chemo finally did me in.

I also experienced my first blood transfusion. It was weird being on the other side of the bag of blood, as in, receiving rather than giving. Back in the day when I was healthy and not terrified of needles, I gave blood a few times. Little did I know that one day I would be needing one of those bags of O positive. So now I’m an even bigger fan of the American Red Cross; therefore, I encourage everyone to volunteer or donate sometime because that one person who decided to give a bag of blood helped me.

Since Wednesday, I have been able to stay at the apartment while visiting the SCT clinic daily to check my blood work, see doctors, receive fluids, track progress, etc. I am now 5 days out from the SCT, or at Day 5. My nausea is under control and I’m feeling pretty good for what I’ve been through. The chemo also causes my mouth and throat to be raw and sore until my immune system becomes strong enough to heal it, so I have been sticking to bland, soft/liquid foods. Though my body has been weak and fatigued, it is coming around and my energy level is increasing. Yesterday I received a bag of platelets, and it is possible I could need blood again in a few days. As rocky as things sound, everything has gone pretty smoothly as far a stem cell transplants go and all the stuff I am going through has been anticipated.

So now that I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt literally (the nurses give all the patients who undergo a SCT a t-shirt that says “LIFE BEGINS AT DAY 0″), I’m waiting for Day 10 to Day 14 because that is when my immune system should really start responding. With a white blood cell count of 0.1 and on the decrease, I’m treading lightly with the hope that I will be one of the lucky ones that makes it to Day 10 without getting a fever. The doctors didn’t say it was likely, but they told me because of my age it is definitely possible.

“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.”

 -Psalm 34:19

IN A NUTSHELL

  • I’m on the other side of the SCT and my body has tolerated everything well
  • We are waiting to see my immune system start picking back up by the end of next week
  • If you want some specifics to pray for, pray that don’t get a fever over the next week so that I don’t have to go back into the hospital and also that my immune system responds when and as it should

Am I surprised that I didn’t start the stem cell transplant two weeks ago as planned? Maybe I would be if it were the first time things didn’t happen like we thought they would. For those of you who don’t know, I unexpectedly got a fever and infection two weeks ago and had to stay in the hospital for a few days, thus delaying my stem cell transplant until this weekend.

I have been hesitant to write on my blog the past couple of weeks and decided to wait a bit longer to avoid posting another potentially inaccurate update; although, the SCT schedule from the last entry is still accurate since I didn’t provide exact dates. There was talk last week among the group of doctors that are working on my case of the possibility of getting radiation before or after the stem cell transplant. The doctors had a meeting to discuss whether or not I should have radiation and they decided it was best to just go on with the SCT for now and leave the decision to do radiation after the SCT for further discussion in the future. Due to the risks associated particularly with being a young female getting radiation to the chest, I’m not really comfortable with the idea of having it and hope that it won’t be necessary.

As I’ve mentioned before, I will be going to the hospital pretty much everyday for the next month and half, so I had to move into an apartment designated for Vanderbilt patients in downtown Nashville that is close to the hospital. I moved into my new place a couple of days ago. I was fortunate to get a two bedroom so that my Mom (caretaker) can have her own room too. It’s pretty spacious, and it’s nice to have a change of scenery. I have gotten to enjoy the past few days of feeling good, hanging out with friends, and having my own place in the city.

As weird as it is to have a doctor’s appointment on a Sunday, I had my first of the shots that grow my stem cells this morning which I will be continuing daily throughout this week. Getting a needle in the stomach sounds terrible, but I have to admit that it’s not as awful as it sounds. The side effects haven’t kicked in yet, but I can expect bone pain and flu-like aches this week, which actually means the shots are working like they are supposed to.

Tomorrow morning after my shot, I am getting surgery to put a catheter in my chest that acts similar to an I.V. that will stay there until I am finished with the SCT. This will give the nurses quicker and easier access to drawing blood, giving me medicines, etc. (And I won’t have to get stuck every time anymore!)

It’s nice be in a new place to start working on a new health. As much as I’ve been dreading the SCT since I found out more about it, it’s lifted my spirits a little bit to be able to move in and move forward.

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
-Revelation 21:5

For those of you who were asking or wondering, here are the restrictions during my stem cell transplant:

    • No raw fruits or vegetables
    • No leftovers (You are allowed to bring me meals that can be frozen and cooked, we just aren’t supposed to reheat it over and over again.)
    • No live flowers/plants
    • I can have (100% healthy) visitors at certain times with limited direct contact

IN A NUTSHELL

  • I moved into a my new apartment in Nashville a few days ago to be closer to the hospital
  • I started the SCT transplant process today by getting a shot that helps harvest the stem cells for collection
  • Tomorrow morning I am having a line/catheter surgically placed in my chest
  • Over the next several days I will continue to receive shots daily to build up my stem cells for collection at the end of the week

from harvest to health

July 14, 2012

If I were to write about what exactly I will be doing for the next few months, it would take days so I’m just going to start off by giving a broad overview:

Stem Cell Transplant Schedule

Week 1: central line placed in chest, shots daily to harvest stem cells
Week 2:
shots daily continued, collection of stem cells, move in to apartment close to hospital
Week 3:
5 days of intense chemo
Week 4:
thaw/receive stem cells
Week 4-7: daily clinic visits to check bloodwork, no immune system, susceptible to getting sick, hospitalization and blood transfusion likely
(looking for increase of white blood cells 10-14 days after receiving stem cells)
Week 7-8:
recovering immune system, daily clinic visits to check bloodwork gradually become less frequent i.e. every few days

Day 30 (after receiving stem cells): CT scan

Post SCT:

    • Immune System fragile for 100 days after stem cell transplant (they told me to wear a mask in public)
    • Another CT scan on Day 100
    • 1 year after stem cell transplant I get another scan and I have to get all of my childhood vaccinations since my immune system is similar to that of a new-born baby

Basically, the idea behind all of this is to wipe out my current, cancer-corrupted immune system and use my stem cells to grow a new one. I just finished up two days of medical testing for my SCT evaluation yesterday that included bloodwork, echo cardiogram, chest x-rays, EKG, pulmonary function test, and everyone’s favorite, a bone marrow biopsy…

On top of all the testing, we had a two-hour appointment with a nurse to go over all the details of the SCT. Going through a printed checklist of all the things I’m not going to be able to do, all the side effects I’m going to experience and all the bad things that might happen was definitely overwhelming. I liked the idea of a SCT a lot better when I didn’t really know anything about it. I’ve felt a lot of emotions through out all of my cancer days—sad, surprised, upset, overwhelmed—but this time I would have to use the word ‘scared’.

It is obvious that this whole time, my goal has been to get rid of cancer, to get better. My desires have been for college, marriage, freedom, hair. But now my desire more strongly than ever: health. Life.

The SCT team is going to place me in an apartment close to Vanderbilt hospital in Nashville since I will have to be at the clinic so often. It is mandatory that I have a caretaker (a.k.a. my mom) live with me at the apartment to assist me and keep a close eye on my condition.

I start the process of getting the shots to harvest my stem cells next Sunday, July 22. So I will be taking full advantage of my ‘last week of fun’ for few months the next few days. Now is not the time to be scared. People older and in worse condition than I am go through successful stem cell transplants all the time. God has gotten me this far and come through every time. I will  “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is FAITHFUL.”-Hebrews 10:23 (Not only is my blog an update that you can read, but the self pep-talk I come back to sometimes.)

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