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Before and After

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Hospital week has proven to be a piece of cake compared to the 2 weeks that follow.  Sound crazy?  Let me explain:

In the hospital, I have one job: to take care of myself.  My focus is entirely on making sure that I am resting, eating, taking my meds, and staying entertained.  When I start to feel nauseous, I push a button and the nurse comes running to the rescue with meds to help.  I was so worried about throwing up a lot.  Once I learned to take the meds as SOON as I felt a little nausea, the vomiting stopped being an issue.   I have even learned to be a bit productive in the hospital.  I have read some great fiction and non-fiction books and have had more opportunity to blog.  

My "project" this week was meal planning.  I have been so OBSESSED with food lately!!  I think about it constantly and feel like my life revolves around what I am going to eat for my next meal or snack.  Over the past 4 months, I haven't always been able to eat what I want because of stomach or mouth issues.  When my mouth is on fire, eating is a chore.  It actually takes work to get food down.  I find myself jealous of other people who can chew, swallow, and enjoy their food without having to think about the least painful "method" to get the food down.  

Before cancer, I had been wanting to get more vegetables into our diets but had really taken any steps in that direction.  I spent some time on Pinterest and saved some great store fry recipes with chicken and veggies and some new ways to prepare tasty veggies.  I also bought an Insta-pot and can't wait to put it to use!

The two weeks after chemo have proven to be more of a challenge than I could have imagined.  While I am so happy to be home with my family, I experience this "tug of war."  I want to be the wife and mom I was before cancer but I am physically unable yet. I have to rest a lot. It has been incredibly difficult to adjust the expectations that I place on myself.  One day, I was crying and told been that I hated just sitting around and doing nothing.  I think my exact words were that I felt like an "amoeba."  My husband's response: "You aren't sitting around doing nothing.  You are in a battle-a fight!"  Those words were so encouraging because they released from some of the guilt I was feeing.  Great guy right?!

I also feel much worse AFTER the treatment than during treatment.  I still am able to control the nausea with meds at home, but the mouth sores have been a different story.  The treatments for the mouth don't work nearly as well as the anti-nausea meds, and the pain is tough to endure.  As I spend these last few hours in the hospital, it is tough to not get anxious about what is to come.  My mouth is starting to burn and I know that it will get much worse before it gets better.  

In the moments when I feel like I can't stand it one more second, I find myself just saying "Jesus" over and over.  Just saying His name when I can find no other words is a way of me drawing on His strength to keep going.  I have also sensed the Holy Spirit whispering the simple words "Look Up."  When you are in pain or feeling uncomfortable, it is so easy and natural to think only about how cruddy you feel and how awful things are. For me, simply remembering that there is a God who loves me, Who is fighting for me, and Who is holding me up has given me strength to get up out of bed and keep on moving forward.  

I remember one day standing in front of the mirror feeling drained.  The image of Jesus standing and walking right beside me "popped" into my head.  I remember thinking, "Ok Jesus its you and me!"  What a God we serve!  So big and powerful and majestic and yet so PERSONAL.  I love how He meets us in our most desperate moments even when we don't ask.  

I write all of this as somewhat of a "pep talk" to myself.  As I face the next couple weeks, God is going to be with me every step up of the way.  May I never forget!!

 

 

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A Shout Out to my People: More on God's provision for our family

I have been wanting to write this post for a long time.  I have put it off because I am afraid that I am going to leave someone out.   However, I believe that God wants me to share the amazing ways that He has provided for our family.  I read this verse recently, and it reminded me of the importance of sharing God's work in our lives:

"Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story."  Psalm 107

The people that God has surrounded us with have held us up every step of the way.  We have been fed, prayed for, lavished with gifts, and flooded with cards and notes.  Our kids have been loved and cared for.  People have spent hours with me in this dreary hospital room. Our home has been organized and cleaned by friends and family from near and far.  I even had a friend travel from KY to be with me during my surgeries!!!

Our families have traveled hundreds of miles to come run our household when I have been unable.  They have taken time off from work and their daily routines to come take care of me and my family.  They have sacrificed energy and money to travel.  They have put off home projects of their own so they could make sure that our house was in order and that my kids needs were being met. They have housed my kids for a week while I was in the hospital. The beautiful thing is that I didn't even have to ask.  They just jumped right in.  They have taught me a lot about what it means to "do for family."  It has been a humbling experience for sure, but one that I will forever be grateful.  

My diagnosis came 3 months after moving to a new city which had many people concerned.  People were worried that we wouldn't have people to help us out, but God knew exactly what He was doing.  Ben grew up in East Tennessee and we both went to college in the area. We both have family members around who have stepped in to help.  

When Ben and I were in college and later when we got married, we became very close with a group of friends that we have stayed in touch with over the years.  We have known some of these friends for over 20 years!  Yikes that makes us sound old!  I am confident that this group of special people will be our friends for life.  They have traveled 45-90 minutes to come spend the day with my kids, including homeschooling Chase.  They all have kids and busy lives of their own, but they have made themselves available to meet our needs on a practical level.  When we were going through the many years of infertility and waiting for our family to grow, I would get so frustrated because all my friends were having babies and we were not.  I so wanted our kids to grow up together and be the same age.  During this season of our life, however, it has been a BLESSING that my friends' children are older than mine!  My friends' kids have been able to help out with my littles, making it a little easier on the mommas who have added my 2 extra into the mix.  

In the beginning of this process, one of my sister in laws told me that the new friendships that I would be forming during this time would be formed in a different way than I was used to. She was right.  When I meet new people, I typically like to present myself as a mostly "put together" person.  Instead, here I am falling apart and making new friends in the process.  It is by God's grace that I have been able to meet people from Chase's school and our church who have been there to pray over me, encourage me, take Chase to school and back, and take my kids on play dates so they don't get cabin fever.  

And then there is our Village Church family in SC.  They have sent multiple care packages filled with books, goodies, precious handmade cards from the kiddos, music, clothing accessories to make me feel pretty, and tons of messages over social media.  We were a part of Village Church for 10 years and they will always be our SC family.  

The support has been overwhelming.  It has been amazing to see the body of Christ come together in such beautiful ways.  I will never be able to say thank you enough, but I know I will be more sensitive to the needs of others who are experiencing hard times. I know that when I see meal train requests come through that I will look at them a different.  Taking a meal used to seem so insignificant, but let me tell you, it is NOT!   It has taken such a huge burden off to not have plan and shop and prepare meals every day of the week.  

I cannot finish up this post without talking about the power of prayer.  I have often felt like my prayers are not good enough.   I always feel that when people are hurting that i need to DO something rather than "just" praying.  Let me tell you,  praying for me means EVERYTHING.  You, my dear prayer warriors, are how I am getting through this grueling process.  Most of the time, I am too weak or preoccupied to pray for myself and my family.  I find such comfort in knowing that i have an army of prayers warriors interceding for us everyday.  Thank you for bringing us before God's heavenly throne.

Love to all,

Alyssa

 

 

 

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Stories from the hospital

 

When I arrived at my "home away from home" yesterday, there were signs posted which read: Visitor restriction- No Children.  Aaaahhhh!  Not cool!  Because the floor I am on has mostly chemo patients, they take extra precautions during flu season.  One of the nurses came down with the flu last week and up went the signs.  

Well, there is no way that I was going to go 5 days without seeing my babies.  So we met downstairs in the cafeteria with cousin Julie!  It is amazing what visitors do for my body and soul. I was feeling yuck right before they got here.  I prayed that I wouldn't get sick while I was with them, and I am thankful that I didn't!

After our visit, I got back on the elevator to return to the "penthouse," as i heard it referred to yesterday.  A man and a woman (unrelated) were on the elevator with me.  The guy looked at me and said, "you keep hanging in there."  I said, "I will try."  

And then I burst into tears.  Woo!  Doesn't take much these days!  He then said, "I will pray for you right now.  What is your name?" 

"Aaaalllyyssa"  More tears.

He got off the elevator.

The lady looked at me and said, "No more crying.  I have cried enough!"

I asked her where she was headed.

"Same as you."

She was going to see her 25 year old daughter who is receiving chemo right across the hall from me.  Cancer is just cruel.  It breaks the hearts of so many moms, daughters, fathers, sons, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, and friends.

The lady invited me to come meet her daughter.  Her poor daughter was asleep, but she woke her up and insisted that I come in.  Awkward?  Yes.  But I could tell that it meant a lot to her.  So we chatted for a few and I left.  It was so nice to meet someone who understands. It encouraged my heart.   It is pretty isolating up here.  Most other patients are elderly and pretty sick.  Not that I feel great when I am here; but I do crave human contact, ya' know?  I get chatty with the nurses and probably see them from doing their job sometimes! Ha!

My encounters with the man and the woman were such great reminders that God is here and taking care of me.  I am so thankful for these moments where He shows Himself.  

 

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Slowing Down

 

Doctors and other cancer survivors have told me that cancer changes you:

Causes you to reprioritize.

Causes you to appreciate life more.

It is my last day of chemo for round 3 and I can't WAIT to go home later tonight. The last day always feels so long.

I have a lot of time to think (for better or for worse) and so I sit here and wonder how cancer is changing me and will change me.  Although this will mark the halfway point of treatment (wohoo!!!), I still feel like I am at the beginning.  I think I have exited the stage of shock I was in and and am able to start processing.

One thing I have noticed is that I have slowed down.  This probably sounds like a "duh" statement.   Of course it has!  My body has been beaten up by surgeries and chemo!  Let me attempt to explain:

In being forced to slow down, my life has been boiled down to the important things.  Before cancer, I moved fast all the time.  My brain moved fast and my body moved fast.  I lived with this constant pressure to achieve, accomplish, and produce.  I have always put a lot of pressure on myself and measured my worth by how much I was getting checked off my "to do" list.  I was constantly looking at what others were doing to see if I was measuring up.  I rarely felt like I was doing or being enough.  

The realization of how much less I would be able to do hit me HARD early on in this process.  I spent weeks mourning the loss of "my life:  By "life," I mean the ability to cook and clean for my family.  To hold my baby as long as needed or wanted.  To shop. To drive.  To do lots of fun things with my kids.  To teach piano.  To workout.  To simply feel good.

I was devastated. 

Since those beginning days, I have found a new rhythm and routine.  With A TON of help from friends and family, life has moved on.  I may have a long list of "can't dos," but I have begun to notice my "can dos" as well.  I am still able to show love to my husband and my kids. And that is enough.  The simple things in life that I used to rush through because I deemed them "unimportant" or "not enough" are the ones that I take the most pleasure in now:

Reading to my kids.

Sitting with my husband

Hugging my family

Sitting still long enough to just look at them and to notice the details of how they look, talk, and laugh.  

Putting my kids to bed.  

Just. Being. Together.

For these things and so much more, I am grateful.  

 

 

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It isn't called a "battle" for nothing

 

Now I understand why people say they are "battling" cancer.  Every day is a fight.  There is always some physical, mental, or spiritual war going on inside.  

The physical effects are never ending.  Just as one ailment heals, another one rears its ugly head.  The fatigue is always there.  I cannot figure out the balance between sitting idle all the time and remaining active.  If I rest too long, my body aches.  If I am too active, my body aches.  I can't find my new normal.  I hear the advice of experts in my head: "Go about your normal activity." or "Don't push yourself too hard."  The irony of it all is that I was functioning just fine before I went to the doctor.  I was an active mama managing all the things that come along with moving to a new city.  Then 1 visit to the ER changed everything.  Now here I am feeling sick everyday, attempting to push through the "yuck" in order to be some sort of wife and mom.  It really stinks that the medicine that will save my life has to make me so sick.

Feeling so bad has led me to think about people who deal with chronic illness like lupus, MS, and fibromyalgia.  Fighting pain and fatigue is part of their everyday.  To those of you who are suffering:  I am so sorry for your pain. 

I keep thinking about children and adults with severe special needs.  Before this, I naively never thought about how they were feeling physical.  My focus was always on the things they couldn't do like run or feed themselves or speak.  I assumed that because they were born with their conditions that they were just used to it and knew nothing different.  But they deal with pain and discomfort EVERY DAY!  Suffering is a part of their normal.  To those of you with special needs: I am so sorry for your pain.

In the moments that I am feeling decent, the mental battle tends to kick in.  I start thinking about the "what ifs."  What if this treatment doesn't work?  What if I have to go through a more aggressive treatment?  What if the treatment works but then the cancer comes back?  Whew.  The "what if game" is a quick way to crazy town.  I try to shut it down as quickly as possible.

And spiritually...the temptation to ask "Why me, God?" is always there.  But God did something really cool for me in the hospital which has kept me from going down the "why me" path. When the cancer diagnosis was confirmed, I had a very vivid image of God handing me this cancer in the palm of His hand.  I felt such a tremendous peace that this was all in His control.  He had ordained this for me at this time.  It definitely is not what I would have asked Him for, but I knew that it was no mistake.  There was such a profound comfort in knowing that His hand was all over this illness and that it was no accident.  His presence was so real in those moments. 

I am reading A Place of Healing by Joni Eareckson Tada.  She became a quadriplegic at the age of 16 in a diving accident.  She was 60 years old when she wrote this book, and was battling severe chronic pain.  She knows suffering.  I look forward to sharing with you her thoughts on God and the mystery of suffering.  

But now, it is time for some ice cream.  

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