Loving exploring on my eBike. May 2022.
Speaking at Breast Cancer Foundation high tea in Palmerston North. May 2022
Learning new skills. May 2022
Not a question I can answer.
“This might not be a fair question … will the fact that I only had one of the six chemotherapy sessions affect my prognosis … shorten my life? “
I was sitting in my Medical Oncologist’s office for a routine follow-up; 5 months after my one & only chemotherapy session in January. I was feeling vulnerable, not sure about recurrence of the cancer(s) and venturing out from under the close chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgical surveillance I have been so accustomed to since July. From what I have read, surgery and chemotherapy are both required to improve the prognosis of those with triple negative breast cancer.
“I know that you are really concerned about this Marie, but that’s not a question I can answer. The intention of your mastectomy and clearance of those 29 lymph nodes was curative. The surgeons were confident, but of course no-one can be absolutely sure.”
CT scan of chest, abdomen and pelvis showed no other malignancies. February 2022.
I have felt very safe throughout my cancer journey; well-informed and supported and by a plethora of kind, expert health practitioners. Rebecca Carroll, my Medical Oncologist (aka chemotherapy specialist) seems to understand me well.
“You are going to have a mammogram every 12 months for the next 10 years and we are confident that we will pick up any further malignancy early”.
“10 years … that’s a lot better than 5 years … I’ll take that”, was my first thought.
“I would also like to start you on Zolendronic Acid.”, she said. “It’s a 6-monthly short intravenous infusion to help prevent any spread to your bones and also strengthen your bones. Letrozole can reduce bone strength over time. So you would have 4 doses of Zolendronic acid over the next 2 years. After that we will do another bone scan to see whether we need to change from Letrozole to Tamoxifin.”
Look Good Feel better
I love the way Dr Carroll takes the sting out of a potential loss with the hope of another very practical strategy. And she is not the only one providing helpful and practical support. I have been attending live online video classes provided by the Look Good Feel Better team. This week’s session was on skin care and make-up. Right on cue a courier knocked on our front door bringing a heavy parcel of free skin care and make-up products to use during the 1-hour online session. So very generous! Thank you to whoever donated these beautiful free skin care and make-up products.
All makeup for the session provided free & delivered to our front door! May 2022.
The host Frankie, facilitating from her caravan at Pukehina Beach, took us all through the full routine of cleansing, toning, moisturising, foundation & concealer, blusher, eye liner and eye shadow, lip lining and lipstick. It was the most interesting and interactive Zoom session I have ever participated in. We learnt how to enhance sparse eyebrows or loss of eyelashes following chemotherapy, to help us feel like ourselves again. Given that I am not a make-up person, I now have the whole kit of high- quality make-up chosen especially for me and matched to my skin tone. The classes include: brow focus, headwear and scarf tying, hand and nailcare, managing hair loss and regrowth, wigs and headwear, and dealing with worry. Such valuable and practical support during our recovery journey. I am feeling spoilt and very grateful.
Time for giving back
I felt honored to be the keynote speaker at a Breast Cancer Foundation high tea and silent auction last weekend in Palmerston North. There were 4 or 5 brave men in the overwhelmingly female audience. There seemed to be high interest in learning more about breast cancer and a first-hand insight into the experience. As I scanned those attentive faces I couldn’t help thinking that several of those women and men in the audience would probably be completely unaware that their breasts (or prostate glands) are hosting malignancies that have yet to be detected. And will they go for their routine screening? Men can have breast cancer too. When I had my routine mammogram last July I was completely unaware of the Grade 1 infiltrative ductal carcinoma that was seen as a tiny spot in the upper outer quadrant of my right breast; and even more sinister, the highly malignant triple negative breast cancer that had already infiltrated 2 of the 29 lymph nodes that were later surgically removed.
Speaking at the recent Breast Cancer Foundation high tea in Palmerston North. May 2022.
I wanted to authentically share my journey and had 9 or 10 photos up on the big screen to illustrate different aspects of my 10-month experience. In one of the photos I am posing happily on my eBike, enjoying being immersed in the beautiful countryside surrounding Napier. What the slide doesn’t show is that I had just had diarrhoea (thank goodness for the toilet on board our motorhome) and anticipated that I probably had about an hour before the next one. I would have already prepared the bikes and said to Jim, “OK, quick … let’s go. We’ve got an hour to explore”. Facebook photos never tell the full story! But having said that, my very bad experience with chemotherapy and nasty sequelae, was the only really low point in an otherwise well-supported experience. My Radiology Oncologist (aka radiotherapy specialist) tells me it may take another 6-8 weeks to feel “normal” again. I try every day to make the most of whatever energy surfaces and to welcome the increasing breaks from fatigue, racing, irregular heart beat and overactive bowel. Life is getting much easier.
My most important message during my presentation was that what you think about really matters. Right from the first diagnosis I felt a divine nudging in my Spirit that this cancer experience was a gift. I didn’t really understand what that meant. Whilst I was shocked by the initial diagnosis, I was certain that this was God speaking to me; giving me the courage and calmness to face whatever was coming. It has been amazing to look at my life through another lens; to acknowledge discomfort, disappointment and worry, but not let them dominate my thinking. I have come to really appreciate the power of redirecting unhelpful rumination and the need to focus on things that are authentic and real, beautiful, pure, merciful and kind, as instructed to do in Philippians 4:3-4 in the Bible. This passage says not to be pulled in different directions or worried about a thing; to offer faith-filled requests before God with overflowing gratitude. The consequence of doing this is a peace that “transcends human understanding”. I know this is true, because I am following this way and am experiencing real peace and calmness in the face of considerable challenges right now. For me, being grateful is the key to unlocking a more positive and optimistic future.
Click on “The Gift” below to read about the gifts Marie has identified…
What now? – The gift
“I am having a real problem with what you said on Saturday”. My friend had attended the Breast Cancer Foundation high tea on Saturday and heard my story. “Because I don’t think that cancer is a gift. I don’t think God gives gifts like cancer” he said.
“This gift of God to me is not the breast cancer, but the opportunities that it brings to take a whole new look at my life and see it from a different perspective. It is a transformative process”, I replied. “I have never had to lean into God and His promises, his goodness, his love, His written Word as I do now. Every day familiar scriptures in the Bible leap off the pages and open up new understanding of His love, His plans for my life, what I mean to Him; and a fresh understanding of the meaning of my life. The harder my circumstances get, the easier I find it to trust God with my life. This is my gift”.
“Yes, well I had a good talk to my wife and told her I just couldn’t understand how you could possibly have this view of cancer being God’s gift to you” he stated. “She told me to read your blogs; that I would gain a better understanding of how you are thinking and why you feel this way. I read your last one … number 8 I think it was”. He drew in closer, obviously concerned and a little bewildered.
I advised him to read all of my blogs starting at number 1. “I know this is difficult to accept or understand. It is hard to clearly convey the sense of peace and certainty that I have about this gift.”
I wondered how many of those listening have cancer that is not yet detected. May 2022.
A friend shared a similar concern voiced by one of the women sitting at her table during my presentation. The woman just could not accept that God would or could give cancer as a gift. My friend understands that cancer is not the gift; it is the opportunity to view my life differently and to live with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. She suggested that I use my next blog to specifically identify and explain the powerful physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and relational benefits I am experiencing through this gift. Yes … I will do that next in Blog 10. I am amazed myself at how this journey is impacting positively on every aspect of my life.
I keep being drawn back to Psalm 139. I just love this psalm in the Bible written by King David of Israel, probably by the 2nd century BC. The Passion translation brings it alive for me. In verses 13-18 Kind David writes, “You formed my innermost being, shaping my delicate inside and my intricate outside, and wove them together in my mother’s womb. I thank you God for making me so mysteriously complex. Everything you do is marvelously breathtaking. It simply amazes me to think about it. How thoroughly you know me. You even formed every bone in my body when you created me in the secret place; carefully, skillfully you shaped me from nothing to something. You saw who you created me to be before I became me. Before I had ever seen the light of day, the number of days you planned for me were already recorded in your book. Every single moment you are thinking of me”. I find it really comforting to think of God’s incredible creativity and loving kindness towards me. He is simultaneously in my past, present and future. I don’t have to worry about my future.
A friend gave me a scripture yesterday that she felt would be significant for me. The Good News translation of Isaiah 46:3-4 says, “I have cared for you from the time you were born. I am your God and will take care of you until you are old and your hair is grey. I made you and I will care for you. I will give you help and rescue you.” When I read that I felt my spirit leap with relief and awe … knowing that my journey ahead is going to be safe in God’s incredible power and love. This is a beautiful gift of certainty that is emerging out of this cancer journey.
A small contribution back, knitting snoods for the Cancer Foundation to sell. May 2022
As the rain and cold of winter set in it has been fun finding little things that I can do to give back to those who have done so much to support me. I am a bit of a novice at knitting, but am enjoying sitting snugged up under the lovely mohair rug my UCOL colleagues so generously gave me before my mastectomy last November. I have started knitting a snood for the Cancer Foundation to sell. It is cosey, calming and generative … I love that. I made a mistake last night while chatting to friends. I should have put it down but kept knitting, somehow hoping it would fix itself … that it was definitely the wrong thing to do! A friend is kindly going to sort me out today. Here’s another gift … the love and help of friends, and the opportunity to keep learning new skills.
Bill Davies teaching me to paint rocks. His is the brilliant red and orange one. May 2022
I am being drawn to painting rocks as a small way I can bring encouragement to people. I plan to paint cheerful designs on one side of the rocks and an encouraging saying or scripture on the other. I love looking for small painted rocks placed at the base or in the lower branches of trees, on fence posts or bench seats when I am out walking. Now I get the opportunity to plant rocks myself for other to find. I can be a blessing to others when out and about walking, biking, or in the motorhome. Another new gift uncovered through this cancer experience.
Coming up shortly in Blog 10, I will identify and explain some of the powerful physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and relational gifts arising from my cancer journey. I gratefully embrace them all.