Hope on This Side of Eternity
It was the fall of 2013. Like many young moms, Kim Andrew was juggling her busy life as a wife and mother of two with her commitments at work and her ministry to teens. Then the 29-year-old got the diagnosis. Cancer. And the roller coaster ride began. With honesty and humor, Kim blogs from her home in Pennsylvania about her life and her faith. She and her readers laugh, cry, worry and hope together. Here are samplings of her blog.
I’m Kim. I have cancer.
Just the word in and of itself, cancer, makes me mad. Who do you think you are to come barging into my life trying to take it?? You, sir, are a jerk. There, I said it. Cancer is a jerk. You know you were thinking it too. So now that we are past that, it’s time to face the harsh truth. Melanoma, especially once it has spread to your lymph nodes like it has in my case, is a scary, scary thing. But when my husband looks me in the eyes and says with all the love in the world, “It’s going to be OK,” I can relax and know that it is. It really is. My God is a lot bigger than cancer, so I’m pretty sure I can chill and stop with the random crying fits.
A little over two years ago, I had a small, probably half-a-dime-size spot on my forehead along my hairline on the right side that had a weird itch to it. So I called a dermatologist to make an appointment. Lemme tell ya, it was interesting. The guy comes lumbering in during a discussion with his nurse about (no lie) Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher’s relationship. It was weird. Anyway, he looks at the spot and says, “Ah, what we’ve got here is just an inflamed keratosis. You’re too young for skin cancer [yes, a licensed dermatologist actually said this to me!!] but we’ll biopsy it anyway.” Long story short: skin cancer. So I got it removed and the borders were tested and came back clean. OK, cool.
Exactly six months ago [June 2013], my new and improved dermatologist took a melanoma off the back of my calf. I have a really nasty half-dollar-size circular scar to show for it. But everything else seemed fine at the time.
OK, fast-forward to about three months ago. I kept feeling something on the right side of my face and I couldn’t tell if it was on/in my jaw or my ear. I decided to ignore it. Then it grew. And it hurt. A lot. The thing was jamming in my ear canal all the time and when I told my husband this, he took a close look at the spot and said, “Umm, I can see it.” And that’s when, deep down, I knew it was bad. So I started googling (I told you, I’m an idiot!) and I realize it’s a lymph node. So I start to feel around my neck for others, and there it is. A freaking golf ball in my neck on the right side!! How did I not notice that?! Even the CAT scan confirmed that it was the size of a golf ball. Noooo clue how long it’s been there. Sheesh, telling my tale makes me feel like, well, an idiot. But I can see now how lack of awareness plays in. If I knew then what I know now, I would have made a regular habit out of checking my lymph nodes, etc.
I guess I will be man (woman) enough to admit it—I had a moment. You know the kind, the sobbing, sloppy, snotty crying fest. Ugh! I had been doing so well too! I was driving home from a youth event at church and it just hit me out of nowhere. I’m thinking: What if I don’t get to see any more of my kids’ birthdays? Then it turned into me pleading with God: Don’t take me yet Lord, I’m not done down here!!
I spoke with my oncologist last night and wanted to give you guys the news [about my surgery]. First the good news: He said that the cancer had not moved to any more lymph nodes, which is great!! They removed 51 (!!!) lymph nodes total and only the two we knew about contained cancer. Woo hoo!! The not-so-great news is that the one by my ear (on my parotid gland) had, for lack of a better way to explain it, sprung a leak, so although they got the gland out, the cancer will have spread to the surrounding tissue. The next step is radiation.
At first I found it really easy to be upbeat, but I think I was still a little in denial. I mean, I had this big scary diagnosis, but for the most part I felt fine and I still looked normal and, well, nothing seemed different. Then came the surgery, and all the words being thrown around were decidedly
un-cancery (yes, I made that up. Deal with it! Haha). The words were parotid, lymph nodes, flap, swelling, things like that. And now words like chemo and prognosis and recurrence are the main points of conversation. Yikes.
Aaaand I’m freaking out once again! Just got word that my radiation treatments will begin … tomorrow!! I will receive 20 treatments total (hopefully only 20 …) on the right side of my face and neck.
I had my first radiation therapy appointment today! It was an interesting experience and, if I’m being honest, a little underwhelming. It felt very easy and laidback. Everything went really well and I feel a little silly for how worked up I let myself get last night. But part of that is mourning the loss of my precancer life.
Dude, where’s my hair? I did it again! I cried. Not just cried, ugly-cried. I couldn’t help it, all of my hair in the radiation area decided to fall out at the same time. Seriously just like popped out. So I did what any girl would do; I sobbed hysterically in the shower while raking fistfuls of hair out of my scalp. Haha, I know it’s ridiculous. I mean, if I wear my hair down, no one would ever even know it was missing. So why did this bother me so much? Was it because it was a sign that cancer and treatments have a lot of control in my life and over my body these days? Maybe. Was it a scary preview of what chemo might be like? Yeah, I guess. But, if I’m being honest, I think it was just another blow to my already fragile self-esteem.
I don’t know how other cancer patients feel, but I feel like there was my life before cancer and my life after and that they are light-years apart. Everything about me has changed. My appearance, my relationship with God, my relationship with my family, my physical day-to-day activities, my physical capabilities, all of it has changed. I look at the world, and God, and people in a completely different light. Not that this is bad, it’s just hard to wrap my mind around sometimes.
Praise be to God!! He has delivered the miracle that we and so many others have been praying for—it looks like the lymph node in question is not cancer!
So I am currently sitting here in an infusion room receiving my second infusion of 10mg/kg of ipilimumab (or Yervoy). And I can’t quite explain it, and maybe I’m delusional, but I feel really good! I’m thrilled that Cupcake Wars is on! Lol. I just feel happy and at peace and I’m so grateful. I can’t really explain this feeling of elation, but I’ll take it! What in the world did they put in this IV?! I want some for home. ;)
Why do bad things happen to good people? Wow, do I ever wish I had an answer for this! How could God do this? How could God allow this? These are valid questions with no concrete answers, unfortunately. At least not that I know of! But one thing is for certain, we all have issues to deal with. I guess that’s kinda life in a nutshell, isn’t it?
Last Tuesday I received my final chemo …until July. Yea! It still feels like somewhat of an achievement to have gotten through the initial four treatments.
In the past two weeks, I’ve given the sermon at my church (such a cool experience), had three CAT scans (neck, chest, and pelvis), had full-body photography (every bit as awful as it sounds—seriously), had a stage IV scare (still not quite out of the woods there), got 32 vials of blood drawn (THIRTY. TWO.), and saw my oncologist and got a lymph node biopsied. All this in addition to all my normal stuff (kids, work, ministry, physical therapy, etc.). This is to say, you don’t have time for cancer. Seriously, it’s unbelievably time-consuming to deal with all this.
Last night was horrible because we saw the results of my chest CAT scan before talking to my oncologist today and that result showed two very small lesions on my right lung. I don’t know how to speak “oncolog-ese” quite yet, so I was very scared and panicked a bit when I saw this. Any recurrence at this point kicks my butt right into stage IV.
Now they’ve found a tumor in the right side of my brain. This whole day feels like a dream. I was so out of it and in pain and nauseous and drugged up that it all seems like a blur. It was bizarre from start to finish. I’ve never heard my oncologist sound so concerned, even a little distraught, but he was certain. He said I was stage IV and that he was sure this was cancer. It just doesn’t seem real…
Little did I know that around 4:30 a.m. or so I would suffer some major seizures. I just remember yelling for Eric as loud as I could, then I remember all these strangers in my house staring at me and asking questions then putting me in an ambulance. Still trying to get my brain together, everything still seems foggy, but otherwise feel pretty good.
I want my brain back. Getting bumped to stage IV has been the scariest, most ridiculous experience of my life. But at the same time, it has given me so much clarity and so much perspective. My mind simply cannot shut off at night because the thoughts are going 1,000 miles an hour in about 30 different directions. I feel like there’s so much I want to say to people, but it’s hard to know where to even start.
I was awakened this morning at 5:45 a.m. by my husband in my face, “Your PET scan results were posted!”
“Is it good??”
“Uhh … just come downstairs.”
Crap. Pardon my French, haha, but that’s literally what ran through my head. The cancer has metastasized into multiple lymph nodes surrounding my lungs and also into my hip bone. Yikes. I don’t know a lot about cancer in the bone, but I know enough about it to know it’s not good. My oncologist mentioned several times how aggressive my cancer is. Great.
I need to be careful not to place my hope in what medicine has to offer. Think I’m crazy if you want, but I know in my heart that I will be around for as long as I have work to do here. When it’s finished, I’ll go home. If God wants me here another 50 years, then that’s how long I’ll be here. If my work is done in five months, then so be it.
Scanxiety. It’s the anxiety one feels when they know they have an upcoming test or scan, or even worse in my opinion, is waiting for results.
The results are in and here is where I really am at a loss for words. Since I still have not processed this news fully, I’ll just give it to you how I got it. My oncologist called this afternoon and told me that my body is showing a complete metabolic response to the chemo drug. As in, nothing lit up on the PET scan, not even the tumors that I had before.
He was kinda speechless. I was speechless. It was not a lengthy call, lol. I told him that I didn’t at all expect to hear that and he told me that he did not honestly expect it either. Melanoma, at stage IV, is typically a death sentence. So, being who I am, I asked my oncologist how long should we expect this to last. He said that essentially he didn't know, but that people who are lucky enough for this to happen, typically remain in this state for whatever reason for months, and sometimes even years. YEARS! I have not heard that word since being bumped to stage IV. I’m in shock and disbelief. This cancer is still most likely going to be what takes me, but it’s not taking me yet. I just can’t stop crying. I’m seeing a chance. A chance to see my babies grow up. A chance that they’ll remember me. A chance to speak longer and louder about Jesus and the MIRACLES that He performs.
When I was first diagnosed (stage IV melanoma now, but was stage III at the time), I cried a lot. And then I saw this crying as weakness in my faith. And then I felt guilty. It was a vicious cycle that left me feeling like a bad Christian and not at all like those brave, amazing cancer warriors that we hear so much about. I felt like I was bad at having cancer. Like, “You can’t even have cancer right!!” Is that a healthy way to think? No, of course not, but when you are thrown something like this, cancer or otherwise, that puts the brakes on your life and makes you reevaluate everything you thought you knew, it takes an adjustment period. Allow yourself that adjustment period. Please. You deserve it.
This morning was really … something. As we got situated in our seats at church, I began having severe pain in my left lung. One of the biggest, and most deadly, side effects of my chemo is lung issues. As we began singing, I was forming in my mind a plan since I couldn’t even take in a full breath at that point: We would get through service and hopefully Sunday school, and I would have Eric drop me off at the ER directly after and then take the kids to my in-laws. They all could eat lunch, and maybe Eric would come back if I needed him. Well, after the time of singing, our pastor felt led to have anyone who was facing physical struggles to come to the altar to have people come and pray with them. So I go up and kneel and the amazing people from my church come around and lay hands on me, and there I felt the strong, beautiful, powerful, amazing hand of the Lord on me. And when it was over and I hobbled back to my seat, I sat down and took a deep breath. A deep breath. My lung felt fine and it hasn’t been an issue again for the rest of the day. There’s no logical explanation, as God rarely allows that there would be, but He met my need today. I’ve had lung pain many times since June when the cancer was found in my lungs, but nothing this bad. He gives me the strength for today. Amen and amen!! I cannot wait to tell my oncologist about this.
As tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis, I wanted to write a letter to myself [as I was a year ago] to prepare me for October 24, 2013.
Oh, sweet naive Kim, you just have no idea what the next year will have in store for you. There will be more physical pain involved than you’ve ever had to deal with in your life, and you will be stripped down emotionally to a depth that you’ve never experienced before and would never want to experience again. You will feel vulnerable, attacked and you will lay awake at night with tears streaming uncontrollably down your face as you plead with God to let you stay with your babies for as long as possible. You will progress to stage IV and it will feel like getting pushed off a cliff.
You are naive, stupid and you just don’t get it. Surgery, radiation, chemo #1, seizures, brain tumor and other meds, Gamma Knife, chemo #2 and scan after scan after scan. Some days will seem like a whirlwind and you’ll do your best to keep up. Some days will go so slowly and you will feel so isolated and alone, no matter who may be in the room with you. You will, with every passing holiday and birthday, wonder if you will be around to see the next one.
You will find that this gut-wrenching experience will hold more blessings than you ever thought possible. You will, for the first time in your life, have to fully rely on God for everything. And He will be faithful. Every time.
You will find your purpose in this. You will be pushed and you will be reluctant sometimes, but God will guide you. You will experience miracles. Yes, you will! You can do this. You’ve got to do this.
Cordially, Future Kim
Physical demands of parenting aside, I do believe this experience has made me a better mommy in some ways. I want to squeeze every last drop of worth out of every moment so that they know in their hearts how much I love them. And that even if Mommy goes to heaven soon, that it was never my desire to leave them—ever. I need them to understand what Christ did for us and why He had to do it and that I’ll see them again someday if they choose the narrow path. And, the deepest cry of my heart, as selfish as this may sound, is that I want them to remember me. I cry as I write this because, well, Brit just turned 2 and who knows what my timeline is going to look like, but God hears my cries and knows my heart and I believe He will allow this for me. God has shown me, through the privilege of having my babies, just a glimpse of how He loves us and that motivates me to do the best I can while I’m still here to do it.
I’ll make this short and sweet (and sweet it is!!), I heard from my oncologist today that my scan showed no uptake that was indicative of cancer. Wahoo!! In plain speak, still no sign of active cancer in me. Praising God in regards to my news. To celebrate, we will be watching Elf and baking Christmas cookies while listening to Christmas tunes (I think I just heard my hubby’s eyes roll, lol).
I love being a mom. I figure as long as my kids accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and are potty trained that there is literally nothing that they cannot face.
I got some good news today, my brain MRI came back looking good. I still have the one tumor, but no new ones and no alarming changes. This tumor doesn’t really have any effects on me or affect my life at all (as long as I continue my seizure meds), so it’s not concerning that it’s still there.
Ok, so here it is. I have gotten some news (bad? well, I guess it’s not good technically…). Long story short, for the past few weeks I’ve been feeling a urinary tract infection (UTI) coming on, so I began drinking copious amounts of 100 percent cranberry juice with hopes to nip it in the bud. But it wasn’t working. So I sucked it up and went to my family doctor. The only problem was that I don’t have a UTI. At all.
Metastasis … There’s a possibility of a tumor growing in my bladder or urethra. We aren’t sure obviously, but just the possibility kind of put me into a state of shock. And urethra is a really gross word that I don’t want to have to get used to saying. I will be getting a CAT scan soon, probably within a week or so, that will let us know for sure hopefully.
Christmas Day. Not sure that I can even explain my feelings right now. It’s been a really amazing Christmas so far and I am just so grateful to still be here. It’s so unbelievably magical to celebrate this Christmas with my babies, my hunky hubby and our families! I feel like I am on the verge of bursting into tears at any given moment at the overwhelming mix of joy and sadness, and my motivation for doing most of the things I do now is the hope of my kids making memories that include me. But for the most part, I just feel love and joy, and gratitude to God for the blessings that He has continued to give us. Thanks to everyone who’s been praying and has been so generous to us this Christmas season; it’s been surreal to have so much support and love. I wasn’t supposed to be here for this. Take that, cancer! You lost this round …
Last day of 2014. This hasn’t exactly been my best year as far as the physical things, in fact, in that regard the whole year was downright awful, horrible, painful and just all-around bad. But my faith was tested, and it has stood firm. I have seen God provide a way when there wasn’t one, I have been on the receiving end of healing that is inexplicable by medical standards, and I have made it through and been molded into something more pleasing and usable to God. And since that’s my only goal, I’d say it’s been a successful year. Good? Not so much. Successful? Absolutely. I’m still here, so there’s that!
Read all of Kim's blogs at morelikecantcer.wordpress.com
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