About this blog

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 11, 2010. As a result of my treatment, I have lymphedema in my left arm. I draw my strength from the Lord, as well as my family's Scots-Irish heritage. Our Graham's were a tough and scrappy bunch of fighters on the Scottish/English border. They came to America and continued to fight when necessary: in the American Revolution; the Civil War; and my brother is a Captain in the U.S. Army. My ancestors settled this country against all odds. My great-grandmothers on both sides of the family were pioneer women who settled the West. Along with that heritage, and the full armor of God, I am walking the walk and fighting the good fight.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Being grateful

One song I enjoy running to is Kelly Clarkson's "What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger."  I've always believed that to be true in life. Each situation we face makes us adapt, change and grow to deal with and, hopefully, overcome it.

I spent several years working with an birth education and advocacy group, The International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN). My involvement grew out of my own bad experience with Olivier's cesearan birth in 1999. As I became more aware of the physiological and political issues surrounding the birth industry, I was able to go on to have two amazing home births with Isabelle and Jean-Marc. I got involved in ICAN, a group that I found much support and information from during my subsequent pregnancies. I like to think that I helped other women avoid some of the same mistakes that I made the first time around. My cesarean experience definitely made me stronger, but it took me a long time to get to the point of saying that I was grateful for that experience. But now, I can honestly say that I am grateful for my cesarean and for the person it forced me to become.

A new friend, (who found me through this blog), mentioned an interview with "Soul Surfer" Bethany Hamilton. Bethany was asked if she could do her life over, would she have not gone surfing that day or gotten out of the water before the shark came?  And she said, "No", because she has been able to reach so many more people to tell them about her faith and God's love than she ever would have if she'd remained a normal surfer girl.

That got me to thinking...will I ever be able to say that I am grateful for my cancer? Maybe not grateful, but would I ever wish that it didn't happen to me if I could have it all to do over?

Honestly, I don't know right now. Sometimes I look back on what I went through and it doesn't even seem real. Did that really happen to me?  It doesn't take long before I have a glance in the mirror and see my scarred body to confirm that, yes, it did.

If it weren't for the lingering specter of recurrence, I probably could get to the point of being grateful someday. Even with the lymphedema that will always be an issue in my life, I could probably get to that point.  But the thought of the cancer coming back at any time really plays games with your head, because its never really over.

That being said, I can think of some things that I appreciate having gone through cancer and treatment that I would not have necessarily experienced if I did not have the experience.  First of all, I have been able to experience the love, care and keeping of God in a way I never had before. It was experiential at times. It was palpable. I think of my biopsy or my surgery, when I could actually feel the presence of the Lord with me, keeping me, whispering scripture into my mind to bring me peace and calm.

I learned through experience that God's promises in the Bible are true. Things like, "I will not leave you or forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5-6) Or the promise from Joshua 1:9 that I wore on a necklace to every chemotherapy appointment: "Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." Even simple things like being able to sleep at night because "He gives to His beloved sleep." (Psalm 127:2)  I KNOW these things are true because He did them for me. Based on that, I can rest assured that the rest of the promises in the  Bible are true as well.  (Which really puts one in a place of peace during these crazy times.)  Even if the cancer comes back and is what ultimately makes this body die, I know based on the promises in His Word where I'll be, because "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord." (2 Corinthians 5:8)

Another thing I appreciate is the fellowship of other breast cancer survivors. What an amazing bunch of people they are!  Most of them not only have or are going through treatment, but they all try to help others in some way. Many do help through participating in walks or events and raising money for cancer charities. Others have informative blogs, or give back by volunteering to help run support groups and working one on one with women as they go through treatment.  We don't all see eye to eye on all issues related to breast cancer, treatment, pink ribbons, etc. But we all respect each other's experience and I always feel a genuine warmth from all of them.

Having had breast cancer has certainly put the women in my family on alert, as well as many of my friends and acquaintances. If it could happen to me at 40, it can happen to anyone.  Hopefully this heightened awareness will lead every woman to check her breasts regularly, know what they feel like, know what is normal so if there are any changes, she can alert her care providers immediately. I believe that is even more important than mammograms. (Remember...I had a "clean" mammogram a month before I was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer!)

While I will never reach the celebrity of Bethany Hamilton, I hope that my experience has reached out and helped others. I hope that people can see evidence of God's love through my experience and be strengthened in their own faith.

So while I am not "grateful" that I had cancer, I am beginning to see how God has used it for good purposes.  I know that He works all things together for the good (Romans 28:8).  I pray that this list of things that I have come to appreciate grows as I reflect on the past 25 months and move forward in my "post-cancer" life.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sidelined....and it stinks

I'm forcing myself to take a few days off of exercise, and its creating a very unsound mind in me.  

During our trip to France, we did A LOT of walking. But after 60 miles in 3 days and all the running I do, it should be a snap, right?  Well, all of those miles I did in stability running shoes. My tourist miles were logged in flat sandals with hardly any support whatsoever.  So it should not have been a bit surprise when, 2 weeks into our trip, my left heel started to hurt.  I popped a few Advil and kept going. 

France is the land of food. Literally.  It is seeped into the culture. My mother in law was determined to show my parents (who went with us) all that France had to offer in that department: champagne; limitless cheese; souffle; quiche; desserts......you get the picture.  I wanted to enjoy myself and not worry about every calorie I ate, so I set out to get as much exercise in as I could.  Besides, going on runs in new places is a great way to discover things.

I did get in some very excellent runs. An early morning 4.3 miles in a village in Normandy called Isigny sur mer was awesome.  A 7.7 miler in Strasbourg followed by 25 miles on a rented bike. My last run was 10k through the park attached to the gardens of the chateau in Versailles. That was awesome-to run through places where kings and nobles spent their time.  It was great, and I was keeping in as good of shape as was possible given our schedule. 

The problem was, at least 3 of my runs were done on my hurt heel. 

It didn't take long for my left hip to start hurting.  At first I blamed it on the old saggy mattress that we sleep on at my in laws house. But...duh.  I realized that perhaps I was compensating for a hurt foot by altering my stride. 

The first morning we were back home in San Marcos, I went for a run. Not a long one-just 4 miles and change. After such a long travel, I don't feel "normal."  Getting some exercise, getting my heart rate up, makes me feel like myself again. Not to mention work off some of the carb-laden airplane food from the day before.  

After that run, my hip hurt more than ever. I can't even sleep on my left side. So I took yesterday off from any exercise, hoping that perhaps today I could go for a swim. That is stress-free, right?  But it still hurts today. So I'm taking yet another day off and going to see the chiropractor to see what he has to say. 

Needless to say, this is NOT good for my mental state. Its not just the lack of endorphins, although that is part of it.  Another part of it is needing to work off some of the weight that I probably put on during our 3 weeks in Food-land France. But the real thing that really gets me is that I feel less healthy. After cancer, you just can't have a pain anywhere without wondering in the back of your mind if it is the cancer that has come back. Side ache? Maybe it's metastasized to my liver! Hip pain? Boney mets!  It sucks. I can't just be a normal person with a whacked out joint, I will forever be wondering if it is something I should call my oncologist about. 

Bummer for me. 

I just pray that this goes away soon, that the pain in my heel is NOT plantar facitis, and that I can at least start logging miles in the pool very soon!

Friday, July 6, 2012

They said it wouldn't last....

I remember when I was in that terrible time frame of knowing I had breast cancer, but not really knowing how bad it was. I was in the throes of trying to learn a new vocabulary, make decisions about treatment, figuring out how not to go crazy with worry.  I remember meeting with Kaiser's breast cancer care nurse, Judy. She coordinated everything for the newly diagnosed: breaking the news; surgeons; chemotherapy orientation classes; support groups; mastectomy products; post-surgery camisoles, etc. She was our first point person to ask questions of.

When I was diagnosed, we already knew the cancer had spread into my lymph nodes. Based on that, they were recommending chemo for systemic treatment of cancer. One of the first things I was told was that I would most likely lose my hair. When I met with Judy in person, she mentioned that when my hair grew back, it could quite possibly be curly. The "chemo curl" she called it, but she also added that it probably wouldn't last.

Sure enough, last year when it started to come back, my hair was in waves. As it grew longer, it was curly.  It was a new thing for me. I spent a lot of money in the 1980's and 1990's perming my fine straight hair into waves! I didn't do much with my new curls, other than trying to keep it from being too frizzed at the ends.  I always got lots of comments about the curls from people who knew me "BC" (before cancer).  Even though it was kind of wild, I kind of liked it. It was easy to deal with, for the most part.

I happen to be on vacation in France right now.  My mother in law happens to be a trained "coiffeuse."  That is, she has spent most of her life doing other people's hair.  After over 15 years of marriage, she had never cut my hair. She's done all the kids, but never mine.  This trip, however, the top of my hair was driving me nuts. It was clearly too long and I couldn't do anything with it. Out of desparation, I made a comment about it. She recognized the open door and offered to help.

What the heck. Even if I hated it, I figured it will grow back, right? Besides, I've been BALD. How bad could it be?  She took me downstairs, sat me in a chair and went for it.

She gave it a good whack, but had a vision in mind. In her words (roughly translated), she gave it a "shape." It is short, but again, I've been bald so its been shorter. The thing is....the curl seems to be gone.

So Judy was right.  The upside of it is that it kind of mentally puts me on the road of being another step past cancer and treatment. The downside is that I'm having to spend more time on it so it doesn't look ridiculous!  There are mornings when I wake up and its sticking straight up!  Not so easy when not at home with my own hair "stuff," no matter how long it had been since I used them.

They said it wouldn't last...and they seem to have been right!

On the Paris train with my new 'do