Saturday, December 19, 2009


"Do I really have to do this?" is the question that her bright eyes and adoring expression begged me. Our little one had a tough time first thing today. Never experiencing snow before today, Mystie, our ten-week-old Havanese puppy, was quite perplexed and fearful. For her, going outdoors in the 8+ inches of snow at 5:30 in the morning seemed nearly impossible.

I opened the back door and encouraged Mystie to cross the threshold into winter, the biting wind, and the falling snow. She surveyed this new and frigid environment for a moment and at one point refused to go outdoors at all. After some coaxing on my part, she relented, did her business, and turned around and scaled the mounting peaks of snow in order to return indoors as quickly as her little legs would carry her. Her tiny paws and face covered in snow, Mystie hopped inside our home while wagging her tail furiously, even though she was cold, shivering, and obviously uncomfortable. I immediately praised her and cradled her in my arms while gently wiping the snow off her trembling body with a dry washcloth. My husband got up out of bed and began shoveling a path for her to walk along the next time she has to go outdoors.

Sometimes, we think that we just can't do something. We just don't have the strength to take yet another step or to forge ahead through the obstacles that are blocking our paths. I remember thinking those thoughts when I was in the midst of receiving chemotherapy. It was hard, very hard. And even now, years later, I still sometimes feel defeated, or I worry about what the next test will show. Viewing a little puppy who's venturing out for the first time into the elements of cold weather pales in comparison to the struggles we face on a daily basis, but the point is that we are both strong and we persevere. We have to persevere, for there really isn't any other option. Breast cancer has taught me to never give up, to never look at the gale-force winds that continually try to strip me of my fortitude ... or my faith. Cancer has shown me that the only thing to focus on is God's love for us all, and to anticipate His warm arms cradling us, as He wipes away our tears, melting our fears. Once again.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My Roommate

Annette called me the other day, saying she'd be traveling through my town on a business trip, and wondering if she could stop in for a short visit. "Sure!" I replied upon hearing her request. Annette was my first roommate after I graduated from college in 1984. We roomed together for a little more than a year, after which time she found a better job and relocated.

Years passed, and we both married, had children and moved around a lot. We'd kept in touch over the years, but only through Christmas cards. She would send to me the latest photo of her three children, characteristically tucked inside the cards, and I'd typically send pictures of my kids to her. But we hadn't actually seen one another since we were roommates; literally decades had unfolded between us. Until three days ago.

Annette rang my front doorbell, and when she entered my home, it was as if time just stopped. It froze. We hugged, laughed and she handed me a beautiful bouquet of flowers. We chatted a lot, while walking into my living room, and I showed off my kids' pictures to her. Smiling, she pulled out her wallet and produced the latest photo of her family.

We decided to go to a nearby restaurant for lunch, where we talked so much, trying to catch up, that the poor waitress had to keep checking in numerous times to see if we were ready to order our food. Stories of our times together when we were so young, so carefree, so innocent, came to life once again, as if those happy times had happened just recently. I don't think either one of us stopped looking at each other, or stopped smiling, the whole time we were together. Without our being aware of it, the clock hands raced around. Warm coffee refills came, and our conversation continued, neither one of us pausing for even a second to look at those around us.

It became time for her to leave, unfortunately, so we hugged again in the parking lot, as the cold chill of winter reminded us that we were indeed living in the year 2009. She had to get back to her business, her family, her life, and her world. I needed to do the same...

I turned to watch her drive away; we both waved. A tear fell, but at the same time, I smiled. Annette was more than just a roommate to me. She actually played a huge part in directing the path of my future. You see, I met Annette through a young man that I was dating at the time. He knew her, and he also knew that she needed a roommate. So, out of convenience, really, I shared an apartment with her. We became very close, and as God would have it, a twist in the story line occurred, when one day Annette introduced me to another young man. Two years later, her little "introduction" became my husband!

It's funny how things work out, isn't it?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Our Christmas Gift

She's adorable! At just a tad over eight weeks old, Mystie, our little Havanese puppy, brings much more joy to our family than I'd expected. We picked her up last Thursday and after being in a her new environment in our home for only three short days, she's already demonstrated that she can sleep through the night! She eats well and even whimpers to go outdoors! We keep her in a fenced in area in our kitchen, so she always sees me and feels secure, yet she does not have the freedom to roam about the house and potentially get into trouble.

You know, I actually look forward to returning home after being away for a couple of hours, just to see her again and rub her cute pink, plump belly. Her tail never stops wagging. In fact, when I initially saw her, she immediately greeted me with a gentle lick and a wagging tail. I knew then that she'd be a faithful little "gift" to us, one that I am sure will only grow more endearing with the passing of each Christmas.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Status Quo

The kids are doing their homework at the kitchen table. Leftover turkey and stuffing are slated for our dinner tonight. Patrick's returned to college, studying (hopefully) for upcoming finals scheduled to take place next week. I started doing a little Christmas shopping today. Things are quickly retuning to normal; the status quo emerges once again, following the happy chaos we enjoyed during Thanksgiving while visiting our families and staying up later than usual to chat.

Just as things are returning to normal again, I find myself facing another change in the usual status quo. For almost two decades now, I've refused to purchase a dog for my pleading children. I mean, really: dealing with dog-chewed shoes? Training it to go outdoors during countless sub-freezing nights just so that it can urinate? No thanks!

We all know that puppies can be a challenge. I had a dog when I was a child, a fact that my kids constantly reminded me of, prior to my relenting to getting a dog in the first place. I also remember my mom doing most of the work back then. My mother typically let the dog outside, cleaned up after her, and fed her. Day after day.

A few months ago, I noticed my youngest, Caroline, "walking" her dog - a stuffed animal - outside on a leash. Peering through the living room window, I watched, open-mouthed, as Caroline repeatedly stroked it and talked to it. She didn't see me. For the first time, my eyes fell to the floor as reality struck me: my children have never had the pleasure of taking care of a dog, walking it, and experiencing the unconditional love that exudes - day after day - from most canines to their human friends.

The girls are just thrilled that Christmas is around the corner, and a puppy's not only on their wish list, but she'll be arriving this Thursday, three days from now. A ten-week-old Havanese puppy will become our newest family member. Soon, the status quo will be disrupted.

Why did I give in to my children's whining and pleading this time around? This time it just felt right. I've no other explanation, really. I just hope I'm not making a mistake. Even though my daughters have drafted and signed a "contract" that states that they will be in charge of the dog's care, I am realistic. Soon I'll be the one who takes the dog outside in the middle of the night while the girls are sound asleep. I'll be the person in charge of her meals, and I'll be cleaning up the mess while my daughters are at school.

What about my coveted status quo? In my opinion, maintaining the status quo is very much overrated. And when you stop and think about it, the status quo is really only as important as you demand it to be. The girls will be speechless when they see the puppy. Sure, the status quo will be altered in our home, but hopefully, it'll be for the better. Day after day.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Last evening, while my daughters and I were quietly eating dinner, we heard the kitchen door opening. I knew that my husband was out of town, so I couldn't imagine who would be coming into our house. I'd read in the newspaper that a house in a neighboring town had been broken into a few weeks ago while the owners were at home and asleep. Apparently, while their house was being ransacked, the pour souls were held at gunpoint for hours. Hearing my kitchen door squeak as it was opened last evening immediately made my heart race. Did I forget to close the garage door? What next? Who could be there?

Just then my son strolled in! Both Melissa and Caroline simultaneously darted from their chairs while shouting "PATRICK!" upon seeing him walk through the door and into the kitchen. Meanwhile, like a domino effect, the girls' quick actions awakened our cat, Ritchie, who was previously sound asleep on the kitchen rug. Anyone who has a cat knows what typically happens at this point.

Notably frightened by this intrusion and with pupils immediately dilated, Ritchie jumped to his feet, arching his back in a lame attempt to defend himself. The tiny hairs on his tail flared and bristled outwardly so that his tail appeared to be more than twice its normal size! I don't think I've ever seen him look more irritated and annoyed! The kids found the cat's expression and appearance so hilarious that the sight of him just added to the excitement and surprise of seeing Patrick! Laughter filled the kitchen, followed by hugs, one at a time, as we were all so eager to embrace my son, who wasn't supposed to come home from college until tonight. He'd found an earlier ride home, and he wanted to surprise us.

I just love surprises, and this one was one of the best ones I've had in a long time. Upon waking this morning, I couldn't help but think that when I see Patrick at lunchtime today (since he'll likely sleep in until noon), I have so much to be thankful for. I know that the story of the cat and his funny reaction to our outburst upon seeing Patrick arrive expectantly last evening will continue to flavor many more Thanksgiving recollections over the years. I can hear it now from one of my kids, "Remember a few years ago when Patrick came home early and surprised us, and the cat went crazy, and ..."

And I can see them all smiling.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Letter to the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition

I received a letter from Sarah, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition, which is a very active organization located in Harrisburg, PA.. (I receive this organization's monthly newsletters, and I participated in the most recent conference, held in October, 2009). Due to the recent "changes" proposed in breast cancer screening, specifically, delaying initial mammography until age 50 and discouraging Breast Self-Exams, Sarah's letter had encouraged breast cancer survivors who were diagnosed in their 40's to share their stories and their reliance on mammography screening. Please read what I wrote to her regarding this issue:

Dear Sarah,

I am a breast cancer survivor. Here is my story.

At the age of 43, I felt a very small lump in my left breast, specifically under my left armpit area. Initially, I was not very concerned about this finding because I have a history of fibrocystic breast changes, and I believed that this lump was just another one of those benign, small nodules. But I visited a general surgeon just to be sure, in November, 2005. Her exam and palpation of the lump were inconclusive at that time. She recommended that I have my annual mammogram, which was scheduled to take place in January, 2006. The mammogram report acknowledged the lump, but again, the radiologist was unable to confirm that it was malignant. I then underwent an MRI scan which was also unclear, in January, 2006.

It was only after the biopsy was performed in February, 2006, that a definitive diagnosis was made: Stage 1, Grade 3 (the most aggressive rating) malignant breast cancer. The biopsy also showed that the cells were HER-2 Positive, poorly differentiated and extremely aggressive in their make-up. If left unchecked, the cells would have very likely spread quickly to other organs, and most likely, death would have been the result.

I underwent a left breast lumpectomy, 15 months of chemotherapy and Herceptin, and 33 daily radiation treatments at age 43.

I have no family history of breast cancer or any other type of cancer. I'm not at all obese, I've been an active runner for ten years, and I've followed a low fat diet for nearly 30 years. The news came as a complete shock to me, my husband, and our children who were 15, 9 and 6 years old at the time of my diagnosis. Simply stated, I have no risk factors, except that I am a woman.

I am quite certain that if the new "mammography screening guidelines" were in place today, I would not be alive to write this letter. If women are instructed to wait until age 50 to have mammograms and are discouraged to perform Breast Self-Exams, I feel that their lives will be in grave jeopardy. I am concerned that women will put off having mammograms, or simply forget whether or not it is their time to have one, if the recommendation is relaxed to "every other year mammography," as it is proposed. For many women like myself, waiting until age 50 for initial mammography screening is a death sentence. If this proposal is passed, breast tumors that could have been treated early will have become much more invasive, resulting in more lives lost and more children left motherless.

Early detection is crucial. Mammography and self breast exams are key elements in early detection and prompt treatment.

Please consider this letter a heartfelt plea to keep mammography screening at age 40 and earlier for women at high risk. Please continue to encourage all women (and men) at all ages to perform monthly breast exams. The risk is just too great.

Karen L. Holmes, R.N., M.S.N.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Baking Cookies

I know it's a bit premature to do this, but last evening my ten-year-old daughter Caroline and I made gingerbread cookies from scratch. I had recently bought a nonstick cookie pan which contains little wells of all sorts of holiday shapes, just the perfect size for making formed cookies. There's a stocking, a wreath, an angel, and many other very detailed shapes for a total of 12.

We added the ingredients one at a time, and as I opened the small container of cloves, I lifted it to my nose and savored the aroma. For a moment I was a child again, too. The cloves smelled like Christmastime. The spice reminded me of pumpkin pie, and laughter, and warm conversations that circled around countless Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners in the company of grandparents and cousins.

Caroline's questions and the burring noise of the electric mixer interrupted my thoughts and nudged me back to the task at hand. I placed the cloves container under Caroline's tiny nose, as she'd sat perched on the counter, positioning herself at just the correct height to see - and participate in - each step in the cookie-making process. Smiling, she also took a whiff of the spice. I couldn't help but think that this particular smell might also be etched into her brain for decades to come. Would she reflect on this time when she's 47 years old and baking cookies with her own daughter or son?

Flour seemed to fly everywhere, and I momentarily remembered that I'd just cleaned the kitchen earlier in the day. But I said not a word about her fumbling fingers and the mess that ensued. (Believe me, it was difficult to keep my hands to myself!) Our time together making cookies might be one of those events that remains engraved in her memory long after I'm gone, so don't spoil it by trying to keep a clean kitchen! I thought.

Finally, it was time to bake them. For Caroline, this 9-minute period seemed endless. She waited ... and waited ... and waited patiently for the oven timer to beep. Finally the seconds passed down to zero, and the long overdue "BING" sound summoned us. The whole kitchen swelled with the tantalizing aroma. After I removed the hot tray from the oven, she almost couldn't contain her excitement. We gently lifted each precious treasure from its warm little cavity. She smiled with anticipation, eager to see how the cookies turned out. And they were just perfect!

I remember vividly making cookies with my older daughter, now 13, a few years ago after I'd been through the heat of cancer. I remember praying and asking God at that time for the blessing of having many more years of making cookies with my children. It's amazing how something so simple can become so monumental in our small minds. Making cookies - no matter how messy it can get - has never felt quite the same to me after that.

God answers prayer. We never know how many more "cookie" times we'll actually have, but we do know that He has planned every day for us and that He already knows exactly how each day will "turn out." We just need to trust Him. Our lives rest ever so gently in His hands, and if we allow it, He will create within us the most perfect shape of all: the heart of Christ.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Time For a Change?

"A government task force said Monday that most women don't need mammograms in their 40s and should get one every two years starting at 50 — a stunning reversal and a break with the American Cancer Society's long-standing position. What's more, the panel said breast self-exams do no good, and women shouldn't be taught to do them."

Sounds unbelievable, doesn't it? Things sure have changed! Yet that's what a panel of "experts" is supposedly proposing. I was stunned last night as I heard that announcement on a news channel and then read about it just now.

I was diagnosed at age 43, which was 4 years ago. After reading about this new proposal, however, I couldn't help thinking that if I'd had to wait until I turn 50 to receive my first mammogram, I am quite certain that I would not be alive to write this post. My tumor was quite small, but it was grade 3, the most aggressive type. It was also classified as being "HER-2 positive," another characteristic that makes it extremely aggressive. Fortunately, it was noted on a mammogram and confirmed by a biopsy.

And I have no risk factors. Under the new guidelines suggested, I would be one of the women who would not have been eligible for a mammogram or biopsy at age 43.

Sure, many biopsies turn out to be negative, meaning no cancer present. However, the biopsy is one test that I believe is worth the money. Quite simply, it saved my life. Same is true for the mammogram.

Let's hope this new proposal doesn't come into effect. There's just far too much at stake, namely our lives. This is one change I'll not support.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


My oncologist called me today. I had received a message from her yesterday (my 13-year-old daughter had answered the phone while I was out). Melissa had relayed to me that the MRI scan of my breasts was okay, but that I could call the doctor the following day. I'd thought the message meant that I could call her if I had a question or something. There was, however, a little more to it than that.

As the doctor spoke to me, I became silent. I listened intently because I didn't want to miss one single word of what she was saying. Her thick Middle-Eastern accent was strangely all too familiar to my ears. I should have known better; each time she's ever called me (since our very first meeting three and a half years ago when I was originally diagnosed), her news has always been sobering.

It turns out that when I spoke directly to the doctor today, she informed me that the MRI did show some "enhanced tissue in the right breast" -- the "other" breast. So, the doctor suggested that I have another MRI scan in 6 months, rather than a year from now. She told me that the additional MRI scan is indicated to "keep an eye on things." In a perfect world, the only person whose eyes should be looking at my poor breasts would be my husband's. But this isn't the perfect world anymore. That world disappeared thousands of years ago, when Adam and Eve didn't listen. Well, believe me, I'm listening.

Oddly, I had just posted how happy I was to hear that the recent MRI was normal. And it could very well be -- normal, that is. But there's that black cloud that just won't ever quite disappear from my cancer horizon. Most days I don't even notice it, but today it produced that evil darkness that distorts my perspective and smothers my spirit.

But do you know what the best part of all is? I'm praying to the One who hears my prayer... and listens. And He'll hear every single word I speak. He's in control of my life, and from this day forward, I can't waste one more minute worrying about a dark cloud that may never develop into a tempest.

I just need to keep listening ... to the One who promises to walk every step with me, through every storm.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Negative Messages

I just love receiving negative messages. Negative?!? Yes.

Yesterday afternoon, after I returned home from my girls' parent-teacher conferences at their school, I saw the note that made me smile. Penned by my 13-year-old daughter, who wrote the message down on a torn piece of paper, I read silently:

"Mom, the MRI is O.K.. Call her tomorrow."

*Gulp.* Smiling, I spun around and asked Melissa, "The MRI was okay? Call WHO tomorrow?"

After my daughter shifted her gaze from the T.V. screen long enough to look at me, she assures me that the woman on the phone who had left the message earlier said that the MRI was, indeed, okay and that I could return the call in the morning.

"Oh, and she had an accent," Melissa added.

That's my oncologist, a wonderful woman with a Middle-Eastern accent that is sometimes very difficult to understand.

But, thankfully, the result was negative - meaning no recurrence - no matter how it was relayed. And I'm still smiling...

I love getting negative messages.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Gift

Life is a gift. That's the comment that I heard on my radio this morning at 6:15 AM, when my alarm went off. It's not really an alarm, but instead, the Christian radio station comes on and delivers soft music to my sleepy brain. A nice way to be awakened. Especially to these words: Life is a gift.

You know, I hear those words, and I believe them to be true, but do I truly live them? Do I see each day as the unique blessing - or the gift - that it was meant to be?

Yesterday, I had my MRI scan. I survived it, even though I'm glad that that's over with for another year (hopefully). But as I drove home from the hospital afterwards, did I really behave as if life is a gift, or was I just so glad to be out of there, that I overlooked the most important fact: I have the gift of life. And I'm well enough to drive, to shop for groceries, to shower, to run, and to do all the things that I take for granted every day. And suddenly, sitting behind the wheel of my minivan, I found myself mentally caught in that hard place between being a woman and acting like a child. I moaned about the test; I worried about it and what the results might show. Immature in my thinking, I realized that I was not unlike a young girl who doesn't understand that life really is a gift. And we're all called to use that gift to fulfill God's purpose for us.

To a large degree, we make each day what we want it to be. Sure, there are bumps in the road that trip us, and we find ourselves flat on our faces at times. Cancer did that to me. But we're strong. We get up, brush the dirt off our skinned kness, and we keep pressing on. Each day. Don't get me wrong: the scans, the monthly doctors' appointments and blood tests, and especially the agonizing wait for the results - those things are often insurmountable and can cause me to toss and turn at night.

But the bottom line is this: Each day is a new start. It might be a difficult day, or it might turn out to be one of our best. Either way, with God in control of each day, I'll rest knowing that it's His gift to me. Now it's up to me to use His gift the way He wants me to.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I Hate This Part

There's a song that my thirteen year old daughter occasionally listens to on the radio. It's not one of my favorite songs, but the title captures my thoughts completely -- right now. It's called "I Hate This Part."

Tomorrow I'm scheduled for my third MRI scan, a test that I have every year (for a total of five years). And this is the part that I hate; it's the time when you are simply anticipating having the test or scan the following day. I wish I could just wave a magic wand, or blink, or just close my eyes and not have to think about this part -- this part of cancer. The tests, such as this one that requires an I.V. to be inserted into my nearly invisible veins (thanks to the effects of the chemo three years ago), will determine if there is any "suspicious activity" in the breast tissue.

After my poor arms are poked numerous times with the I.V. catheter in search of a "good" vein, I will walk into the cold, sterile-looking room and lie on my stomach, while positioning my small breasts into two, neatly cut holes in the table. My breasts will just hang there, suspended oddly through the holes. If they had brains, I'm sure that by this point my breasts would be very confused.

Then the technicians will push a few buttons and I'll feel the table moving into position within a tubular-shaped machine. Within a few minutes, the clicking and banging noises will begin, all the while my arms must remain "locked" into position above my head. I'll stay this way for about 30 long minutes, trying to remain as motionless as possible. And I'll also be trying to ignore the unrelenting ache in my neck and shoulders that I know I'll experience as a result of maintaining this position for so long.

The banging noises around my head will continue and I'll pray throughout it all. And I'll continue to pray some more until I run out of things to say to God. I'll be the only human being in the room; the technicians will have already scurried out to sit in their chairs which are located behind the glass enclosure, and they'll be watching me through the window, pushing more buttons, and at times talking to me through my headphones. The only thing that gets me through this part is believing that God will carry me through, and that He hates this part, too, because He loves me and doesn't like it when I suffer. He knows my thoughts - even before I think them. And He cries when I do, too.

But I don't have that wand, and closing my eyes won't change a thing. I do have cancer, however. And I do have the Lord's assurance that He'll get me through this part. But I still hate it. And there are some days when I'd do almost anything to hold that wand, even for just a little while.

Is there anyone out there who hates this part, too?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

His Place

Last evening I attended a local Pink Ribbon dinner. There were more than 250 of us present, all breast cancer survivors. As I surveyed the huge dining area, instead of seeing a 'sea of pink' which typically represents breast cancer, this year's theme was Christmas in October; therefore many colors prevailed, especially glittery reds and vibrant greens.

My friend Gina and I arrived late, so woman of all ages were already seated at the tables. Some women were happily chatting with one another, while others seemed to be just sitting quietly and thinking. Still others appeared to be observing other women. Not that they were staring at one another. But you know the simple, brief looks that are shared between women as we all find ourselves somewhat plopped into chairs as we smile across the table at each other. Except for Gina, I didn't know anyone at my table. Gina is the woman I'd met three weeks ago, who I'd invited to join me for this event. We all introduced ourselves. We chatted warmly and then there seemed to be a temporary lull in the conversation. I wondered what the others were thinking about. I know what I was thinking.

"Karen, did you ever think you'd be here? Did you ever think that you'd find yourself at this place? And I'm not talking about the church. I mean this place. The cancer place. At a breast cancer dinner. As a survivor. As a mom with three kids who had breast cancer 3 and a half years ago. Every day, I still wonder when or if it will return. Two people at my table are currently undergoing treatment for recurrences. One woman said that she's been free of cancer for 19 years now. Nineteen years! Will I return to this cancer place again, or am I one of the lucky ones who'll never, ever, have to face it... again?"

I'll bet that those were some of the exact same thoughts shared by every woman in that room. In that place.

The evening represented celebrating life, blessings, and love. Gina is the survivor who amazes me because she smiles through her trials. (In fact, she's headed off to Philadelphia as I write this post today, to have her 6th dose of chemo for her 3rd - or is it her 4th? - recurrence.) At the end of the evening, as we walked to my car, she said these words to me, "You know what? I really think that this time will be my last time - my last recurrence." And she spoke with a smile. Again.

My thoughts of that place can't consume me. They can't hijack my life, or my family. Whatever comes my way, I'll handle it, with the help of God. That's the place - the only place - where I'll find my refuge and my strength! And it's not my place at all; it's His.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Where Have All the Nurses Gone?

I'm embarrassed. Very, very embarrassed. Yesterday, I attended the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition in Harrisburg, PA.. I'd previously registered for two sessions. One was called "Customizing Breast Cancer Treatment - Why We No Longer Treat All Breast Cancers Patients the Same Way," and the last one of the day was entitled, "Journaling to Help Healing." Both topics interested me, and they both proved to be very enlightening.

I had arrived at the journaling class a few minutes before it started and noticed an elderly woman, the only person in the room at the time, sitting in a chair located in the front row. I chose the seat directly behind her, said "hello" as I sat down, and we both started to chat. After only a minute or two into our conversation, she apologized and stated that she felt very ill. She immediately reached under her desk and pulled out a small glass dish. Then she began to vomit into it.

I instinctively stood up and walked the few short steps toward her, and then I gently placed my arm on her back as she heaved in wracking, guttural noises. When she'd finished, I asked her if she thought she'd contracted a virus or something. "No, it's the chemo," she responded. "I'm just so sorry ... and so embarrassed," she commented while wiping her face with a tissue.

I replied, as anyone who's been through the storm of chemotherapy would, "Oh my, PLEASE, don't apologize. We've all had this experience. Everything will be okay. Would you like me to find a place for you to lie down?" I asked.

She shook her head and replied that her husband was the speaker of this particular class, and that she really wanted to stay so that she could hear him teach. She drank a few sips of soda and said that she was feeling a bit better.

Her next words saddened me. "You know, I became sick in the bathroom earlier in the day today, and there were about four nurses who came in shortly after I did. They heard me getting sick, and not one of them asked if they could help me. Not one. And they're professionals! They just scurried out of the bathroom as fast as they could."

She began to say more along those lines, when I spoke up gently and said, "I have to tell you something: I'm a nurse, too, and..." I paused because I really didn't know just what to say at this point. I began again, "I hope you know that we're not ALL like that. I'm so sorry that happened to you." Just then her husband entered the room and proceeded to remove the glass dish from her shaking hands and carried it away.

She smiled and seemed a bit more relaxed by this point. The class began, and I'd glanced over to her several times during the discussion. Each time I looked her way, she seemed to be faring much better. As the class ended and I hugged her goodbye, she stated to me through shining eyes that her faith in the nursing profession was restored. I know that I'll never see her again, but I hope that I made her day a bit more bearable.

Throughout my cancer journey, I had plenty of opportunities to interact with nurses. Most of them treated me with dignity. Providing comfort to me seemed to be their top priority. But every once in awhile, I'd come across a nurse, or a receptionist, or a physician who just seemed to be going through the motions while caring for me, not really caring about me. There were, unfortunately, some professionals, who didn't even notice when I was scared, or hurting, or just plain tired of the whole cancer ordeal.

And you know what? Those were the times when all I really wanted was for someone to sit next to me, put their hand on my shoulder, and tell me that everything was going to be okay. It sounds like such a simple task, but I have to admit that today I am feeling embarrassed to even call myself a nurse. To all of you who've been treated poorly by a nurse in the past, please know how sorry - and disgusted - I feel.

I'm by no means perfect. But I have to ask: where have we all gone?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Savoring This Time

I just love Friday afternoons: no homework to check for tomorrow; no piano, art or any other lesson to race my children off to; no major commitments scribbled on the calendar for this evening; and especially, I love the anticipation of sleeping in on Saturday morning and enjoying a cup of coffee, sans the usual hectic school routine. It's been a long week, but thankfully, the weekend is approaching, and I feel more than blessed for all that I have. And for all that I am capable of doing. Every day. I'm savoring this time. Right now. Today. This minute. On Friday, as well as on each and every day, God is so good to me.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lessons Not Learned from a Textbook

It was during the month of June, when, on one particularly warm day approximately two months after losing my hair from the chemo, I'd noticed that several of my hanging plants in my backyard were nearly dead from my own neglect. Extremely disappointed at seeing them, I immediately walked outside as fast as my chemo-laden muscles would allow, filled the watering can, and began supplying the limp vines clinging inside each basket with water. Within minutes, I became so warm (just another one of those wretched HOT flashes again) that I just HAD to remove that uncomfortable wig, which I'd previously placed upon my bald head as I anticipated leaving the house to run an errand or two. It was during this time that I'd refused to go out of the house without wearing my wig; I just couldn't bear to expose my cancer in public by wearing merely a scarf or cap on my head.

I thought that I could pull it off well, the cancer secret, I mean. "I'm not ever going to let people know that I have cancer," is what I though each time I donned that uncomfortable wig. Well, eventually, I did pull it off - the wig, that is - permanently. Here's how it all unfolded.

The increasing temperature of that day convinced me to remove that darned wig, and after surveying my immediate surroundings and deducing that none of the neighbors could possibly see me through the shade trees that lined the property, I took it off. I then placed it carefully on the patio table. Feeling much cooler, I finished watering the plants as I silently chastised myself for having had neglected them so severely. Then, looking at my watch, I nearly gasped because I'd remembered that I had a dentist's appointment scheduled within the hour. Snatching up my wig, I hastily replaced it on my head (after some previous practice in this feat, I had become VERY skillful at replacing and adjusting the wig without a mirror so that it looked quite natural).

While sitting in the chair at the dentist's office, my head seemed to itch more than usual. I'd scratched at my wig numerous times during that office visit. Each time I had felt the urge to scratch, while trying to adhere to normal social mores, I'd wait until the dentist turned his body slightly to adjust or retrieve something so that he wouldn't notice my incessant scratching. Just when I thought that the intense itching would drive me mad, my appointment came to an end, so I scooted to the nearest restroom as fast as I could.

Once inside the restroom, I didn't even waste time closing the bathroom stall door behind me before I ripped off the wig, and there, nestled inside my fake hair, I saw it: a completely dazed (I'm sure) Japanese beetle! It must have crawled into my wig - and staked its claim - when I'd momentarily laid the wig down on the patio table more than an hour earlier! To think that ALL THAT TIME I carried around a disgusting bug, provided it with a nice, cozy abode next to my warm scalp, and "massaged" its little exoskeleton repeatedly as I scratched! Well ... the thought of what it may have "deposited" while it enjoyed its little excursion atop my smooth scalp just sickened me. And, oddly enough, I felt as though I'd become an integral part of its food chain or something.

I never again wore that wig. And I felt so much more comfortable without it. More importantly, I smiled ... a lot more.

You know, it's amazing how doing some of the simplest things can teach you valuable lessons. Today, more than three years following that bug event, my daughter came home eagerly awaiting my assistance with her science homework, an exercise that was exclusively about beetles. And the funny thing is, I'd forgotten about that bug experience and it was only when Caroline mentioned it, laughingly, that those memories, particularly the insane itching, once again surfaced. I can surely laugh about it now; but I couldn't then. I've relearned an invaluable lesson: Life is just too short to take too seriously. Now that's a lesson that can't be taught in any textbook.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Insomnia, Depression, and Anxiety

Last week I attended a nursing conference entitled, "Insomnia, Depression and Anxiety," and I enjoyed gaining a comprehensive overview of these topics. The issues caused me to take a careful look at myself and reevaluate some of my own habits. I find myself at times falling headfirst into the "down-in-the dumps" category. Nothing serious, but I feel the effects of it, and I often seek current literature that addresses it. At the risk of sounding like a know-it-all (which I hope you don't think I am by writing this post), I thought I'd share some of the information that I've learned. I found the topics fascinating; I hope you do, too. Here's what I gleaned about depression:

First, exercise was the main "magic bullet." The speaker stated that "exercise can improve symptoms of depression faster than antidepressants in many cases." I couldn't help but ask myself how many billions of dollars are spent annually on the plethora of antidepressants available to us. Exercise improves circulation to the brain and enhances the production of endorphins. Give me a double shot of those endorhpins any day! An added bonus: exercise also helps promote sleep at bedtime.

Next, I learned that music has been shown to alleviate depressive symptoms, particularly symphonic music.

Also, and this one I really liked, the boon of animal therapy was underscored. "Clinical research confirms (not just suggests, but confirms!) that interaction with animals can benefit patients with cancer, (which was at the top of the list!), heart failure, depression, grief reactions, eating disorders, substance abuse, and cerebral palsy." Cats and dogs were both highly recommended by promoting happiness, but cats surpassed dogs in preventing heart disease. (I happen to be a cat owner, so this one made me smile!)

Spending time in natural settings helps to relieve stress and also promotes normal circadian rhythms. (This made me want to go for a long walk after the conference was over.)

Laughter contributes to a reduction in stress hormones and upper body muscle tension, improved oxygenation, and enhanced immune function.

Expressing kindness and altruism showed an increase in the happy hormone, serotonin, in both the giver and the receiver. (If you get a chance, read my "Fall Harvest Cake" post :)

Prayer and religious practice, such as reading scripture or participating in regular religious services, have been demonstrated to decrease depression in many individuals.

Nutrition was also discussed. Vitamins, such as folic acid as well as Omega-3 Fatty Acids found in certain fish, are very important in alleviating depressive symptoms.

What I found interesting and particularly relevant was that the speaker noted that Tamoxifen is being used to treat disorders such as bi-polar depression and Alzheimer's disease.

It seems that we do have some control over how we live our lives. Living with cancer is the one thing that won't keep me down; I just won't let it.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Gina's Smile

I met a woman named Gina the other day. We have something in common: we both have breast cancer. A mutual friend of ours invited Gina and me to her house for lunch. After talking with her for only about five minutes, Gina's soft spirit and endearing demeanor birthed a miraculous connection between us that was so strong it felt as though we'd been friends since childhood.

But in addition to her lovely personality, the one thing I cannot stop thinking about is Gina's smile. Even though she shared with us that this was her fourth bout with breast cancer (incidentally, she jokingly stated that the doctors had, in her own words, "lost count, but we think it's the fourth time now!"), Gina continued to smile as she described her cancer journey. Initially diagnosed in 2005, Gina said that her cancer was the triple negative type.

What I marvel about was her ability to see beyond the immediate circumstances. Even though she was gearing up, both mentally and emotionally, for receiving her next round of chemo drugs, which would be administered the following day in Philadelphia, a nearly three-hour drive from home, Gina focused on the things in life that are pleasant. Simple things, like book clubs she belongs to, and her interest in jewelry making. It was her smile, coupled with the seemingly effortless way she made us feel like there's so much more to life than the ugliness of cancer, however, that remain embedded in my brain. Although she is honest about her feelings concerning cancer and its impact on her life including constant pain and tingling in her fingers and feet, she will not allow it to rob her of her happiness.

Women such as Gina amaze me. They encourage me. They bring new meaning to the proverbial phrase "raising the bar" when it's fortitude that's being measured. And they bring to the forefront the true meaning of life: to live each day, as best you can, with a smile.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Fall Harvest Cake

Yesterday I attended the local annual C.V.B.C.A. (Cumberland Valley Breast Cancer Alliance) fundraising event. The silent auction seemed to be a huge success; I noticed literally hundreds of women happily writing down their "bids" on the pink cards located next to each item. In fact, I bid on - and won - a few items, namely a Byers' Choice Caroler, a woman sporting a cute white dress adorned with the pink ribbon symbol for breast cancer. But there was one item that really caught my eye: A Fall Harvest Cake.

This Epicurean delight retained the perfect shape of the circular bundt cake pan in which it had been baked, and it had also been carefully wrapped up in pretty cellophane paper and tied with a pink ribbon. But even beyond its noteworthy appearance, I wondered what on earth a Fall Harvest Cake tasted like. The more I looked at it, the more I thought that I just HAD to have it. So I quickly wrote my bid on the card, at $10.00.

There! I thought after replacing the pen on the table. I'm sure that everyone will keep walking right on by this silly cake, and they'll most likely pass it up for something much better, something that will last longer than a couple of days, I thought as I smiled to myself and felt my salivary glands gearing up in anticipation.

The afternoon continued, and several times when I wasn't tasting the refreshments, laughing with friends, or surveying the other items that were included in the silent auction, I'd glance at the card next to the Fall Harvest Cake.

As I checked the pink card assigned to this cake, I'd noticed that several woman had OUTBID me and that my original bid was way at the top of the list! In fact, it finally came down to one woman who seemed as hungry as I was to win this particular masterpiece. Her name, interestingly, was also Karen, although I didn't know her. The price of that Fall Harvest cake had escalated; her bid was the highest, at $55.00.

By this point, it became more of a game, a lighthearted competition, as to who would fold first: me or the other woman who continually outbid me. I'd find myself walking by the cake table and glancing at the last price, and each time I did this, I noticed that the woman had made a counter offer on my Fall Harvest Cake. In response to her efforts to secure that cake for herself, each time I'd write down a price that was $5.00 more than her price.

Finally, the bidding came to a close. I was the last person to offer a price for that Fall Harvest Cake. It sold for $90.00. All the proceeds for this event were donated to women with breast cancer who needed financial assistance. I was happy to donate the $90.00. But what I really wanted at that point was to take the cake home, sit down with a cup of coffee, and savour a delicious slice.

And I did just that. I tasted apples, cinnamon, and a few walnuts, all nestled within a perfectly moist cake. While enjoying this treasure, however, another thought occurred to me: I needed to share the cake with others. For some reason, it just tasted too good to keep to myself. And part of me felt a little guilty for outbidding that other woman, whoever she was.

So, after enjoying the last morsel of my piece of cake, I carefully cut the remainder of the beautiful cake into 10 slices, placed them onto a large platter, and covered the plate with clear wrap and a pink bow. The following day, I drove to my husband's office where I dropped off the cake for others to enjoy. And the smiles that I received as I gave the cake away was worth it - every last cent. I silently bid farewell to my Fall Harvest Cake. And the funny thing was, it was so easy to do. And it felt wonderful...

So many times in life we think that we really want something and would do almost anything to obtain it. But when it comes right down to what really matters in life, seeing the smiling faces of other people is worth more than any amount of money. Make someone smile -- it'll do wonders for you! Enjoy your day!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Father's Hug

You know, there's something so sweet, so innocent, about a simple hug, but when you receive one so tenderly from your 77-year-old frail father, it's so much more. My dad, along with my mom, raised my siblings and me (there are three of us) to be self-sufficient, true to our word and resilient. Yet, when I hug my dad these days, who will celebrate his 77th birthday tomorrow, I see a man who, unfortunately is becoming increasingly debilitated, physically weaker, and often mentally confused. Now only able to ambulate with the help of a walker, his thin appearance, increased sleep periods, and decreased appetite (resulting in a bony frame which is barely able to support him) remind me of the passage of time and of days gone by. Days when I was a child and he'd effortlessly lift me up into the air, and I 'd squeal with delight. Or those warm Saturdays when he would finally come back inside the house, beaming and sun tanned, after mowing the lawn all afternoon, his smiling eyes greeting me, and I didn't even care that his hands were dirty and grass-stained. Or the times when I'd had an argument with a friend and he'd be there - at just the right time - to listen to me through my tears.

I wrote a poem for him, today, the day before his birthday. I probably won't share it with him, though. I'm not sure why I won't. Maybe it would make him sad. Or, more likely, maybe he wouldn't really understand it - due to his diminished cognitive ability - and that would make me sad. But I thought that I needed to write it and share it with anyone who can relate to a father's hug. And although my dad may not see his next birthday and my heart will be especially heavy on that day, I know that our heavenly Father will always be there to give us the strength we'll need, at just the right time.

Daddy, Do You Know?

He used to sling me up onto his back,
"Giddyap!" I'd squeal with delight,
"Daddy, do you know," as we rounded the bend,
"That you are my hero - my powerful knight?"

He gave me away, walking down the aisle,
I remember the tear in his eye,
"Daddy, do you know," as we danced alone,
"That I'm not really saying good-bye?"

His first grandson arrived one cold March night,
To my babe, he sang lullabies,
"Daddy, do you know," as we smiled at him,
"That he has your handsome, dark-colored eyes?"

Years later, his voice from his hospital bed,
Resembled an old man's, to me,
"Daddy, do you know," as I hung up the phone,
"How I long to see you in heaven, so free?"

For our worldly bodies are fleeting and marred,
They're nothing but vessels, you see,
"Daddy, do You know," as I prayed to our God,
"How grateful I am for his memory?"

I love you, Dad.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

It's Really Quite Funny

I received a phone call yesterday from the receptionist who works at the diagnostic imaging center. She called me to say, "We'd like to schedule your routine MRI scan for this week or possibly next week."

That's strange, I thought, since I'm not due to have my next MRI until November, and in the past I was unable to schedule MRI's until the one year anniversary date or later, due to insurance coverage.

Even though I told her that I wasn't due for an MRI until November, she continued to ask me questions and I continued to answer them. Through the phone, I could faintly hear her dutifully typing the information I'd given to her. Then the old familiar question came: "When was your last period?"

"About three years ago, but I've had some slight slight spotting maybe two or three times since then," I responded.

An awkward silence ensued. There was a pause in her typing. And she broke the silence by asking, "You don't have periods?"


"Oh. So you've had a hysterectomy," she deduced confidently, albeit incorrectly.

"No. I've had chemo," I replied, trying to sound neutral, as my irritation mounted. I guess this particular piece of information wasn't noted anywhere in my records.

The typing stopped again. " don't get periods anymore?" She questioned - again.

Poor girl, I thought. "No," I replied. "I don't." More silence. I got the feeling she didn't know quite how to enter this type of information on her computer screen, or as if there wasn't enough space on her data form for statements such as "no periods since having had chemo."

"So when would you like to schedule your next MRI?" she asked again, while moving on to a topic she could understand.

"November," I said for at least the second time now.

"Oh, I'm sorry, but we can't schedule the MRI until closer to the time, closer to November," she answered.

By this point I was totally perplexed. Why did she even call me at this time? I think what really bothered me was her lack of knowledge about chemo and its side effects, such as its tendency to propel many women into early, and unwanted, menopause. Am I the first person she's ever called who is menopaual at age 47 - due to chemo?!?

"How about if you call me in November then?" I asked, again trying to sound pleasant.

She agreed to do that, and the typing stopped again. We both hung up, and I wasn't sure who was more confused - me or the receptionist.

Shaking my head, I couldn't help thinking that, without a doubt, I'll be asked the same set of questions again next time I am called, including this one: "You don't get periods anymore?"

Some things never change. And it really is quite funny...

Monday, September 14, 2009

You Never Get Used to It

Today at 12:15 PM I will visit my oncologist for another follow-up appointment. It's been over three years since my diagnosis, but the appointments keep coming, and they keep reminding me that it's never really over. Every three months or so, I visit with my oncologist, or my surgeon, or the lab technician (for blood samples to be taken). In addition to those visits, I have either an MRI scan or a mammogram every six months.

You'd think that I would eventually get used to all this. But I don't think that you ever do. In fact, during my last mammogram in May, I needed to have additional "angles" assessed because the technician reported to me that the radiologist had seen something "suspicious" in the mammogram pictures. Upon hearing the words "something suspicious" my heart rate soared, my body quaked, and I felt week in the knees. The tech. didn't appear to notice my anxiety as fear crashed into me. Instead she just said dryly, "We need to take a few more pictures because the doctor thinks he sees something that we need to 'chase', but I guess you're used to that, right?"

No, you never get used to it. Not any of it. Not the scans, the blood work, the office visits, nor the waiting for the results to be known. I just faked a smile, and I could feel my palms become moist. My mind filled with images of more chemo, and more explanations to people that I'd had a recurrence. More uncertainty loomed.

I raised my arms and gripped the thin metal bar located along the side of the mammogram machine. I held my breath as instructed. I tried not to cry. The additional pictures were taken. It seemed to hurt more this time. My breast was red from the compressions of the machine; it throbbed afterwards. Finally, I left the room to sit in the radiation suite and wait for the results. Those were some of the most agonizing minutes I've ever felt.

"You're all done. They were all clear," the tech. finally reported to me. Fortunately, during that particular visit, the repeat mammogram turned out to be negative.

Almost numb, I arose and I walked into the small dressing room once again to change back into my clothes. Before I removed my gown, I instinctively grabbed a small white towel from the shelf and held it to my face. I didn't want anyone to hear my sobs of relief, combined with sobs of momentary anguish, that just erupted from my soul.

I often read several blogs from women who are going through treatments for the second or third time and I silently (almost selfishly) ask myself, "What if I'll be next? What if this day will mark the beginning of a second recurrence for me? What then? Why have I been spared from a recurrence thus far?"

No, you don't get used to it. Not ever. Over time, the thing you do get used to is the daily reminders that life is too short, too precious, to ever take for granted.

There's one more thing that I need to remind myself to get used to. And here it is: God is in complete control. He's the One I lean on, and hold on to with all my strength, while I wait for lab results to be known, or as I hear the hammering noises of the MRI scan vibrating all around me, or as I sit in the doctor's office waiting for my name to be called.

Submitting to God's will for my life is the most difficult, yet at the same time the most liberating, concept to embrace. He has all the answers and knows all the "results" already planned for my life. Although it takes getting used to, each and every day I need to lay down my burdens and fears to the only One who already knows.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Abortion and Breast Cancer

This is a controversial subject, but I felt that I needed to write about it.

I don't know why, but recently I've been thinking a lot about the link between abortion and breast cancer. Ironically, the other day I happened upon a blog from a breast cancer survivor who posted a comment about this very relationship: having had an abortion can increase a woman's risk of developing breast cancer.

In my book, I briefly described this association, noting for example the dramatic drop in hormone levels within a woman's body following an abortion. The resultant shift in hormonal activity can, according to many studies I've reviewed, affect a woman's breast tissue and put her at risk for developing breast cancer later on in life.

I remember the plethora of negative feelings that washed over me as I contemplated this issue months ago. No, I have never had an abortion, but I most certainly have had breast cancer. What would I be feeling at this very moment if I'd had an abortion in the past and am now finding myself battling this horrid disease?

Unfortunately, most young women NEVER hear about this association between abortion and breast cancer, because this knowledge might make them decide NOT to have the abortion. Abortion clinics would lose money. And most people just don't want to talk about the topic at all. "It's too personal," or " It's none of my business." However, I feel that this scenario is somewhat ironic; we give women the choice to decide what is best for their bodies, but yet we deprive them of crucial information that could ultimately result in saving their own lives.

I realize that abortion is a highly controversial topic. But regardless if one is "pro-choice" or not, I feel that medical information should be available to everyone, and especially to women in this case, that outlines the associated risk between abortion and breast cancer. Most likely, many women would choose not to have an abortion if they knew of this risk beforehand. In my opinion, it doesn't really sound like they are given all the information they need - and deserve - in order to make a good "choice."

My heart goes out to the millions of women who have chosen to terminate their pregnancies. The decision to have an abortion was, I'm sure, very difficult to make. I can only imagine the excruciating emotional pain they may suffer, perhaps years or even decades later, and I pray that they never find themselves face to face with possibly one of the most colossal battles imaginable: breast cancer.

May God bless you, and I would love to hear your comments!


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Save the Date!

Hi, friends!
Save the date: Wednesday, October 14, 2009. The annual Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition Conference (PBCC) will take place at the Harrisburg Hilton, Harrisburg, PA. This all-day event sounds like a wonderful time to meet other survivors, network, check out the display tables, and attend some informative workshops!

Several educational workshops will be available, including the following:
1. "Breast Cancer and Exercise for Strength and Courage"
2. "Journaling to Help Heal"
3. "The Art of Caregiving"

Although this conference is targeted for breast cancer survivors, it can be helpful and provide information to anyone who is a cancer survivor or knows of someone who is battling the disease.

Visit the website at and click on "programs" to find out more about this highly acclaimed event!

I'll be there -- hope to see you, too!

May God bless you! God is good!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

"I Never Knew What It Was Like Below the Surface"

I was honored to be interviewed by Pat Fridgen, editor of the Echo Pilot, a few weeks ago. Her story, "Cancer experience results in book," appeared in the local newspaper on Wednesday, July 15th, 2009. She describes many aspects of my book, including the initial shock surrounding the diagnosis, the lengthy treatment phase, and finally, the author's return to a relatively normal life.

Fridgen writes about our interview: "Today people ask of she is cured. 'I'll know when I'm in heaven,' Holmes replies.

"She explained that breast cancer does not have the five-year mark to indicate remission like leukemia does. The longer she is cancer free, the better.

"Though her career has been as a neurosurgical and orthopedic nurse, she realized immediately she had never truly understood what a patient went through. 'I never knew what it was like below the surface,' Holmes said.

"Then she became the patient. Her experience, chronicled in the book, shares the fears, triumphs, and daily realities of fighting cancer. She wrote of her love/hate relationship with wigs and the pink ribbon symbol for breast cancer awareness. Interactions with friends, neighbors, and medical personnel offer insight as to what is helpful and what may dishearten a cancer patient.

"'Breast cancer is not a death sentence,' Holmes declared. 'The sooner you catch it the better.'

"She is willing to talk to anyone about the disease. She encourages mammograms. She has one or an MRI every six months to keep on top of her condition.

"'God is great,' she said. 'He takes you through the rough times, but there's a reason for it.'"

Thank you, Pat, for a wonderful article!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

One Survivor's Story

I received this email eight days ago.  I have never met this woman, but after reading her story, I immediately felt as though we had been friends for years. Cancer can do that, you know. It can bring people together who would have never connected otherwise, spawning unique and personal bonds that can last a lifetime.  God's perfect timing and desire for us to grow in relationship with Him -  as well as with others - are truly indescribable.  The sender's name is Karen, and she allowed me to reprint excerpts of her letter to share.  Please read on:

"When my oldest daughter told me about your book, the title sounded really familiar.  Did I hear this on Midday Connection on WCRH?  She said maybe I could take it with me to Myrtle Beach.  So with 2 days left until our departure, I stopped at Borders and bought it.  I was excited about reading it so I opened it that same evening and couldn't put it down.  So many memories and feelings came flooding back to me ...

"I only read it on the beach, at times tears ran down my face - under my sunglasses, tears I hid from my husband.

"In February of 2008, I was diagnosed with breast cancer - and it was bad.  At least it seemed bad to me.  It could have been a lot worse.  Mine was stage 1, grade 3, triple negative breast cancer.  I was devastated.  I dreaded telling my children (all grown) and grandchildren.  I dreaded telling my aging mother.  

"Like you, I was low risk.  I had no family history, I breast fed all my children and  I was physically active ( I attend Body and Soul Aerobics).  I had mammograms for the last 13 years and they were all negative.  I could have very well skipped this one -- thinking this one would be negative, too.  But God spoke -- and kept speaking until I made the appointment.  Although I felt a little "jiggle" each time I walked down the hospital steps where I work, I ignored it.

"I worked full time through my treatments.  I had 6 treatments of Cytoxan and Taxotere every three weeks.  Patients normally have 4 [treatments] but since I was triple negative (not having receptors for estrogen or progesterone) I needed 6.  I can not take any oral treatments because of the triple negative status.  I had an 80% survival rate, the extra 2 treatments gave me another 2%, totalling 82%.  The treatments were cumulative and hit me hard after the 6th one. Then I developed a huge DVT [blood clot] and was hospitalized for 6 days for heparin and to get the clot dissolved.  I have just in the last 3 months started to feel like myself again.

"Working daily with that darned wig ... I couldn't wait to get home and take it off.  I felt like taking it off in the car, but was sure I'd be stared at.  Even though it looked very natural and like my  own hair, I was glad to say goodbye to it on Christmas Day.  

"Anyway, I read your book on vacation.  I finished it on the last day that we were there; it was excellent.  It made me realize that I'm not walking as close to God as I should  be.  I have drifted away, but I'm changing that.  I blamed Him at times for what I was going through.  But I realize that I have touched others, helped others who were diagnosed after I was.  With so many women working at the hospital, it seems like every time I turn around, someone has had or is being diagnosed with breast cancer.  So many people were praying for me; I was on lots of prayer lists.

"I plan to save your book and give it to a friend or acquaintance when the time comes -- for encouragement and spiritual guidance.  Thank you for writing this book."

Psalm 51:10

I immediately looked up the Bible verse she selected and wanted to share it with others:
"Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me."

Although I don't know this woman, there is  one thing I do know for sure: God loves her, and He will never leave her side.  That is His promise to all of us!


Risk Factors Associated with Breast Cancer

I was honored to be interviewed recently by Lauren McLane, editor of the Record Herald Newspaper, in the May 14, 2009, Relay for Life issue.  Entitled, "Cancer has many causes," this article highlights two types of risk factors associated with breast cancer, namely those that we can control and those that we cannot.  The article noted that I was diagnosed at age 43, and I was not in any of the categories usually associated with the risk of breast cancer.  Because  of that, I wanted other women to be aware that they, too, might be at risk.
The risk factors that we can control include the following: 
1.) Being overweight, especially after menopause, or gaining weight after menopause.
2.) Lack of exercise. The American Cancer Society recommends 45 to 60 minutes of intentional exercise five times a week. 
3.) Having more than one alcoholic drink per day.
4.) Never having children. 
5.) Undergoing hormone replacement therapy.
6.) Use of birth control pills. 
7.) Night shift work. Studies have suggested that working at night and sleeping during the day interferes with the body's ability to produce melatonin, a crucial hormone.

I was also asked to relate the factors that women can't control.  These include:
1.) Being a woman.  Women are 100 times more likely to get breast cancer than men.
2.) Aging.  Getting older increases the chances dramatically.  Over a woman's lifetime, she has a 1 in 8 chance of getting breast cancer.  At age 20, the risk is 1 in 1,837; at age 30, it's 1 in 234; at age 40, it's 1 in 70; at age 50, it's 1 in 40; at age 60, it's 1 in 28; and at age 70, it's 1 in 26.
3.) Having a mutated gene, including BRCA1 and BRCA2.
4.) A family history on either side, of having breast cancer.  A first degree relative - a mother, a sister, a daughter - nearly doubles the risk of breast cancer.
5.) Women who start menopause after age 55 or start menstruating before age 12  are at a higher risk.
6.) Having a first child after age 35.
7.) Having a high breast density on a mammogram.
8.) Treatment for Hodgkin's disease.
9.) A personal history of breast or ovarian cancer.

"Holmes encourages all women, especially those younger than 40, to perform routine breast self-exams, to have yearly checkups with a doctor and get regular mammograms (starting at age 40).
"Some women are leery of mammograms, fearing that the radiation from the procedure is a risk.  Studies have shown, however, that the amount of radiation is a safe level.
"The benefits of early detection absolutely outweigh the risks."
I concluded the article with this statement, "Do as much as you can to prevent it - exercise, lose weight, eat healthy.  Fear is our worst enemy."

I would be happy to discuss the above article, risk factors, or any other questions with you! 

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Welcome to my blog!

I created this blog so that we might all work together to help each other.  All of us--the person with breast cancer, as well as family members and friends-- often need encouragement and support.

My book, "He Provides the Shoes: Walking with God through Breast Cancer" shares my story, my journal, my prayers and even my poetry.  Most importantly, it reveals just how intimately God "walks" with us during our deepest trials.  My prayer is that you, too, will find the inner strength you need in order to travel along life's challenging road with joy--joy that only God can provide, if we strive to focus on His will for our lives instead of merely seeing the long stony path stretched before our eyes.

Please join me in my walk with God, and I invite you to chat with me during our journey together! I would love to hear from you at any point along the way!  May God bless you, "sisters," and hang in there!