Friday, March 14, 2008

My story and Update

Every one of us has a story to tell. Today I want to share a little of mine with you. I’m 32 years old. I’m a mother of two. My dad was in the military for all of my growing up years and we lived as far north as Fairbanks, Alaska and as far south as Panama City, Panama and so many places in between. My husband and I have been married for 8 years.

MY Lifestyle:
- I have always been active.
Swimming, skiing, fishing, camping, rafting, and such. I love to cross-stitch, crochet, paint murals, make forts with the kids, and scrapbook digitally.
- I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I’ve always loved eating healthy foods (although I admit to having a bit of a sweet-tooth), I wear sunscreen, and I’ve exercised consistently and on a regular basis for years.

Though cancer is prominent in my family, affecting my dad, his 2 sisters, my paternal grandfather and grandmother and their brothers and sisters, and maternal grandmother. Melanoma, prostate cancer, breast cancer, brain tumors. When people say, I never thought it would happen to me, I admit, I never thought it would happen to me at this age, but maybe when I was much older. Lymphoma typically occurs in girls/women 15-30. Lymphoma is rare, about 1% of all cancer cases yearly in the U.S. Hodgkins Lymphoma is responsible for about 10% of all lymphoma cases - but it is easier to keep in remission.

When I became pregnant with my son, my second baby, I became very sick and itchy. By week 8 I was in the dermatologist office. After steroid shots and allergy pills, as well as topical creams, I was only half sane most of the time. I met with a specialist at McKay Dee who ran some blood tests to check my liver enzymes. Everything looked “normal” and yet my itching was getting worse. By this point I was getting less than an hour of sleep each night, and some nights I wouldn’t sleep at all. It’s pretty hard being pregnant, taking care of a 3 year old, and having a serious lack of sleep. At night I would sit with my feet and hands in the sink filled with ice and cold water.

They induced me a month early, hoping that would stop the itching. The birth went really well. But the itching actually got worse. I could hardly believe it. I was going out of my mind. My OB sent me to a liver specialist – after 11 blood tests and no signs of anything out of the norm, he sent me to a dermatologist. I reluctantly went to this dermatologist, dragging my feet the whole way. But I had to go because by this point I was sitting in waist deep ice water all night long. He ran 16 more blood tests and two skin biopsies. And he sent me to have chest x-ray. He called me the next day and said he wanted me to have a CT-Scan done at 2pm. I went and had that done. He called me the next day one his way back from his son’s BYU graduation in Provo. He said that what I had was very treatable, but that it was lymphoma and it was around my heart and between my lungs, barely reaching into the neck are. He never used the word cancer, but having a father who is a LifeFlight pilot and a mother who was a nurse, I knew what lymphoma was. My tumors were huge! They were crushing my heart and lungs. My son was 4 weeks old at this point. I also realized that I was the first in my family to experience full on chemo and radiation. The next little while was a blur of biopsies and hospital visits. Three days later I had my port put in and began chemo the same day. Almost instantly the itching became tolerable and almost disappeared. I didn’t care how bad the chemo was, as long as I wasn’t itching. And what a blessing it was to be able to be close to home during my chemo sessions!

I want you to know that the fight against cancer is really a team effort and I had the best team anyone could ask for. It was important that during treatment I allowed others to help as much as possible. We were blessed with amazing doctors. Our neighbors, family, and friends at church prayed and fasted for us. But they didn’t just stop there. They brought delicious meals several days a week each week for 6 months. We were so grateful for the wonderful care our two children received from very dedicated family members and good neighbors, which allowed me to rest and recover from my treatments. My mother in law took care of them two days a weeks and my sister in law took them two days a week so my husband could go to work. And my mom watched the baby while I was at radiation treatments and allowed me to sneak a nap in several times a week. Friends cleaned our house and neighbors mowed our lawn, which actually became a contest for the neighbors to see who could get to it first.

I actually looked forward to chemo sessions because every time I went into the DR’s office, the nurses and staff were always there to give much-needed compliments, and would ask about my hobbies. It was quite enjoyable listening to the stories of other patients and many became friends. It’s important to get your treatment some place where you feel comfortable and important and having my treatment here in Cache Valley was the right thing for me. I often found myself thinking about how grateful I was for my own set of trials as I listened to other patients. Gradually I learned that it is all in how you look at it.

I do admit however that losing my hair was a big issue for me. I’ve had really long hair for over 17 years and I chopped my hair off and donated my ponytail. Aside from figuring out how my children would be cared for, losing my hair was the hardest thing for me. Two weeks after my first chemo, my hair started falling out. We have some great photos. I even had a Mohawk for about 2 minutes.

There were times that I struggled, when all I wanted was not to feel nauseated anymore. There were times when I was too sick to even watch TV. Times when I wanted to do something other than lay in bed all day. I wanted desperately to be able to take care of my children all day, all by myself. I didn’t want to burden others. I didn’t want to miss out watching my children experience life.

On the good side I learned that realizing that you are not invinsible it actually quite freeing. While it’s a fight against cancer, it’s also about finding peace during the storm. I learned that we have to go through our trials, not around them. When we work through them, no matter the outcome, our character is strengthened. When we are faced with the bad, it’s up to us to remember the good. I believe that there are two ways we can go when we are faced with challenges -toward the positive and away from the negative, toward God or away. What we cling too when in our time of affliction says a lot about WHO WE ARE.

On October 18th, 2006 I had my last chemo session and on December 7, 2006 I had my last radiation treatment. I am now in remission. Things are so much better than they were a few months ago and life just keeps getting better and I keep getting stronger. I now tend my own children during the day while my husband is at work. Now I can be around for a lifetime of milestones. I am able to photograph weddings again. I’m enjoying my work with the scrapbooking magazines magazine. My hair is growing back quite nicely. I’ve grown from this experience and overcome a lot. I’ve learned a lot from this experience. And I can definitely say that overall, more good has come from this than bad.

okay, now that I've shared my story again, I promise to focus on some fun stuff - because after all - life is worth LIVING!


The Jones Family said...

Thanks for sharing Laura...

Ronalyn "foReveR" said...

*tear* thanks for sharing.. I loved reading every line..

Congrats. saw you on the latest Digi Mag.. you look amazing (as usual!)

Scrapmuch said...

glad to have the update! Your courage and strength are amazing

Heather said...

So wonderful to hear your story again from beginning to end. Your courage and positive attitude through all of it has been inspiring and I am so happy to know you are getting stronger and doing well.

Heather said...

Thanks for sharing this story. I found you through Becky Higgins blog. I have a friend who was just diagnosed with breast cancer at 29 weeks pregnant. I'm realizing what a wretchedly hard thing cancer is - especially for young mothers. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

Marne said...

Hi, I found your blog through my friend Heather. What an inspirational story. Thanks for sharing and reminding us of what is really important.