Monday, November 16, 2009

Radiation Oncology Consultation

This has been an exceptionally difficult treatment cycle for me emotionally. Hence the radio silence... but I wanted to get at least something of an update posted before I go down from my last scheduled chemo. I'm writing from the infusion center... chemo #6 of phase 2... so let me try to update you before I'm drugged and incapable of focusing clearly.

Two weeks ago I had my radiation oncology consultation. I went into the appointment blissfully ignorant due to the fact that a number of people had told me that radiation is much easier than chemotherapy. I quickly learned that this will most likely not be the case for me. Because of the location of my radiation and the major extent of my surgery this past summer, radiation holds a very likely prospect that it will be just as difficult as chemo for me. The side effects will be a little different, though.

I won't bore you (or gross you out) with the details of the side effects. Suffice it to say - it's not going to be easy and there are some pretty daunting long term side effects, some of which are possible - pray that I don't suffer from life-long chronic lymph edema (a build up of fluid) in my legs - and some of which are definite - those I won't even mention here.

When I was receiving all this information, at first I felt like a deer caught in headlights. I was being inundated with so many details that were just so hard to accept! The longer the consultation went on, the more I felt like I had just slammed into a brick wall. It knocked me off my feet and it took me a good week or so just to shake off the shock and stand back up again. Now it's a matter of processing all that I learned. Brick by brick, I'm pulling apart that wall because there is no escape... I'm going to have to walk through it and get to the other side one way or another.

I won't have any definite answers on my schedule until the beginning of December, but for now it looks like I'll be in radiation for the better part of two to three months. I'll do external radiation every day (Monday through Friday) for about 5 1/2 to 6 weeks... maybe more. Then I'll do internal radiation once a week for about 3 weeks. I'm holding onto the good news that there's a good chance I'll be finishing treatment about a week before my mission trip to Haiti. It'll be rough, but I'm still hoping to be able to go.... We'll see!

For now, I have very mixed feelings. It is such a good thing to be so close to taking another step toward the end of my treatment. I've been unbelievably blessed since I was diagnosed last February. My cancer is so aggressive and advanced, it's a wonder (I would say a miracle) that I have responded so well to treatment. There are days when I'm amazed that I'm even looking at a realistic possibility that I'll be told I'm cancer-free someday.

Yet, I'm finding that it's almost as intimidating to face the prospect of transitioning back into "normal" life as it was to transition into treatment. On top of that, there are so many questions that swirl around my head every day. What will the next scan show? Will I stop responding to treatment so well at some point? Will the cancer begin to grow again? Will it come back after I'm in remission? How long will I live? Will I die a long and ugly death because of this disease? ...And so many more. It's difficult to live in this state of limbo all the time. Yet, in truth, nothing is guaranteed to any of us. We just fool ourselves into thinking that it's all going to be OK. We deny the reality that this life is merely a vapor (James 4:14).

I find myself being pushed into a new reality through all of this. I'm recognizing on a whole new level the pain and fragility of this life. I've gotten to a point where I'm totally burned out. I'm done. I'm done with feeling sick so often. I'm done with always feeling tired. I'm done with my body not working the way I want it to. I'm done with my hands and feet being numb. I'm done with struggling through all the many emotions that come with cancer and its treatment. I'm just done. I wish I didn't have to go any further in this life. I so long for heaven.... I long to realize the promises of no more tears, no more pain, and no more suffering. I'm done with this life! Yet, there are a few people precious to me whose eternity still hangs in the balance... they have become my motivation for hanging on still.

That said, let me be clear about one more thing, so you don't go worrying about me. God has very much so been holding me in place. Somehow by his mercy and grace, he has kept me from being completely washed away and drowned by these thoughts. He has given me a firm foundation and a keen sense of purpose in the midst of it all. I know that if I woke up today, God has a purpose for me in this day. I know that if I'm still here, there's a reason for it... and it is that truth to which I cling.

Still, my feelings are strong right now and I'm struggling in a big way... but this week I got a great reminder. I was reminded of Noah of all people! Like him, I feel as if I've been flooded and I'm floating adrift on a vast sea (Genesis 8:6-12). Noah was in need of a little hope when he released a dove from the ark and waited for it to return to him with a sign of dry land somewhere.... anywhere! He got that glimpse of hope when the dove finally returned with an olive leaf in its mouth. Like him, I'm looking out at a vast and stormy sea praying for a glimpse of hope from the Lord. I'm holding onto his promises and the faithfulness he's shown me, so that I may still have the eyes to see God through this very dark time. No matter how I happen to feel at the moment, he is still my stronghold and refuge (Psalm 18:2-6). That will never change.

If you're in your own dark time, feeling like you're on a stormy sea... let me encourage you with what encourages me, "Look to the horizon. You never know when a glimpse of hope may be coming you way!


  1. Heather, I pray for you. It is hard, so hard I cannot even concieve. I KNOW God has purpose for you. Your messages are so well written and I know reach so many. You have so many praying for you as well, so think of all the lives you touch.
    Prayers hugs and faith,

  2. Heather,
    You are an encouragement and I keep you in my prayers. Always keep hope. You have come a long way, a very very long way. Though it is dark, you are still making progress. Sometimes, because of the darkness that surrounds us, we feel like we aren't moving forward. Don't let that feeling fool you. The struggle may be long, but there is a purpose and a hope that God promises. It is there, whether you can feel it or not. Keep up hope Heather. No matter what happens, God will be with you, and good will come out of this scary situation you are in. I know it will because His Word says it will.