I spent Thanksgiving at my sister’s house surrounded by her children and grandchildren. Paige, Michael, Maxton and Carter joined us. Todd, Kristy, Ethan and Lance were celebrating with Kristy’s side of the family in Boise. It was rather quiet with only sixteen of us gathered round the table. The food was delicious but the company was the best part. We hugged one another, laughed and shared. It was exactly what I needed.
I stayed overnight with my sister and left her home around noon on Friday driving to Meridian for another chemo treatment. I entered the chemo suite and made a beeline for the south the end of the room. Two people were already seated with their drug concoctions dripping into their ports. I sat in the middle recliner, my feet dangling a foot off the floor. The chairs are huge for someone my size but once the drip line is in place, I can and do recline while the drug is administered.
The gentleman seated to my left was there for his first treatment. His doctor came to visit and give him a list of do’s and don’ts. You cannot help overhearing since all three recliners are lined in a straight row only a few feet apart. His doctor was instructing him on stool softeners. The doctor explained to his patient he was sure he would need them. Smiling I thought, ‘maybe, maybe not’.
I asked my nurse for paper so I could pen my thoughts. My friend, Pam had died and I was having a difficult time. She struggled so this past year. My heart could not wish her here but I had such a heavy burden for her family. I knew first hand what they would be experiencing with their loss; how painful the month of December would be. Quite truthfully the coming year will be extremely difficult for all them because they will be celebrating birthdays and holidays without her and the celebrations will feel hollow and perhaps forced for a while.
Jack called me the next day and asked if I would speak at Pam’s services. My first response was to decline. I told Jack I was afraid to do it. It was not fear of speaking before a crowd for I have spoken to a crowd of 500+ people before. What I feared was breaking down in tears and not being able to finish speaking. I wondered how I could pay tribute to the memory of Pam. I asked him to let me think about it but I knew deep down inside that I would honor his request.
I cry so easily now and often when the floodgates open I cannot stem the flow. The day of the service I asked two dear friends and my sister to pray over me. We had been preparing the coffee, punch and refreshments for everyone to enjoy after the service ended. The four of us gathered in the kitchen and formed a circle with our hands clasped together. They began to pray over the service, Pam’s family and me. The fear I felt began to lift. I had a peace that if I cried I would be able to compose myself and continue speaking. I stood before that large crowd of people and spoke from my heart about my dear friend, Pam. I finished speaking and only when they began to sing, ‘I Need Thee Every Hour’, did my eyes well with tears. Seated in my chair I gave the heavy tears permission to flow.
It has been a dreary day. The sky is overcast but as I looked out the window in the distance I could see a flock of geese soaring in flight. I immediately thought of Lolly. I cannot see a goose or hear one honking without memories of my husband flooding my mind. He was an avid sportsman who spent many winters on the river hunting water fowl.
I was discontent today. All week long my thoughts have been centered on my friends, Pam and Jack. My mind and prayers have been entwined around their family. I looked for busyness to divert my mind and ease the angst in my heart but today busyness did not work it’s magic.
I walked to the mailbox. I thumbed through the mail shivering as I returned to the warmth of my house. Most of it was junk; advertisements and catalogs but amidst the junk mail was a card from my sweet niece, Amie. I sat down in my chair and opened the card. Inside was a handwritten letter to me. As I unfolded her letter a tiny golden maple leaf fell into my lap. I picked it up and laid it atop my Bible as I began to read her letter. I did not ask her permission but I am going to share a small portion of what she wrote to me.
Dear Aunt Nicki,
“This will sound strange but the other night I woke up at around 3 a.m. and felt led to send to you, of all things, a leaf. And to explain why I’ve sent you a leaf…it is a symbol. This leaf has been battered by the cold weather and looks different than it did just a little while ago. And though it’s not the same and not perfect, it is still beautiful. And the tree it came from has lost all of its leaves and holds a different kind of beauty throughout winter. Even though it is bare and has been through all kinds of weather, it is still very alive. Spring is just around the corner and it is not long before it will be in full bloom again. I believe this is true for your chemo and radiation beaten body. You have gone through so much and I cannot imagine what these past few months have been like for you. I pray that your “spring” will come swiftly and that your body and spirit will be completely refreshed and renewed. And that with your healing will come an abundant freshness for life.”
With much love,
I framed that beautiful golden leaf. It now sits beside a precious picture of my family; the last picture taken of us while Lolly was alive.
Thank you, darling Amie for the gentle, tender reminder that spring always follows a barren winter. I love you back.
I am done, finished and thoroughly cooked! My daughter accompanied me to my last radiation treatment on Friday. What a day it was. I woke earlier than my usual time on Friday and knew it would be an emotional day when I cried in the shower. My skin is sporting so many different colors from the radiation treatments and it is painful to the touch. My upper armpit is one shade off from the color black. It is close to looking charred. The middle portion is dark brown and the lower portion is feverish looking red. The armpit is the area of my radiated skin that is the most tender and uncomfortable. The chest boasts colors of brown and bright red. My skin is itchy and feels like dry parchment paper. Physically it hurts but I could not wipe the smile off my face as Paige videoed me that final day of treatment. I finished six weeks of radiation and was able to continue to work! My skin did not blister nor break open. I whispered thanks to my Filipino daddy for my skin. I whispered another thanks because so many were praying for me on a daily basis during this difficult treatment.
It was dark when I arrived at work on Friday morning. As I walked towards my work area, turning on lights, I could see something hanging from the front of my desk. I approached my desk and standing there I began to cry (well, sob would more accurately describe it). My shoulders shook while I tried to catch the tears flowing down my face. I was grateful not many of my co-workers were there to witness that scene. The staff where I work had decorated my desk with pink twirling crepe paper, balloons, a potted plant and a long sign that said “Congratulations”. They were doing what I had asked in my blog during week five and were celebrating with me! However, the celebration did not stop there. Other staff members joined together and prepared breakfast; complete with a hot yummy casserole, pull apart sticky buns, donuts, muffins, fresh fruit and juice for the entire office to enjoy. My supervisor said, “Nicki, when you finish your treatment today do not come back to work. Take the rest of the day off. Celebrate.” I am rarely without words but this was one of those times I was speechless. I did not expect anything of this nature when I said, “Celebrate with me where ever you are.” But celebrate is exactly what I did. Their thoughtfulness made my final radiation a day to remember.
Paige drove me to my treatment and afterwards took me to Goodwood’s restaurant for a late lunch. She had asked for the afternoon off from her job and we shopped a tiny bit. She kept asking if I was feeling alright and though my radiated skin was hurting, my heart was happy to have a few hours of my daughter’s company all to myself. We ended the day together with dessert at the Cheesecake Factory.
I went to bed that night extremely tired but with a smile on my face and yes tears again flowing from my eyes. However, these were grateful tears for my precious family, my dear, dear friends who pray for me and for the thoughtfulness of my co-workers. Even in the darkest hours, God is good.
I finished the fifth week of radiation. My skin no longer looks like raw, red meat. Now I look like an over cooked steak! My armpit is very dark brown in color. It looks like I have never ever washed. It is kind of gross looking but the doctor assures me it will fade some in time. The good thing is; summer has ended and I rarely wear sleeveless tops in public anyway. The chest area however is still quite red. The top portion of the rectangle is starting to itch. This, I am told. is common. I apply more lotion to the affected areas. I am really happy that I have not blistered yet. I finally resorted to taking the pain medication but only at night. I was having difficulty sleeping because of the discomfort. Paige referred to me as Wonder Mom. Laughing, I think, “I’m no wonder woman”. Wonder Woman would not take pain pills. Then I remember Wonder Woman is a fictional character and I am not, so I caved and took the pain meds. They helped me get through the nights.
My chemo followed radiation last Friday. I am happy to have the weekend off from any kind of treatment. Yes siree, weekends are my favorite part of the week.
My doctor was pleased when she saw me on Thursday. She has a bubbly personality and talks a lot (like me). In her practice she gives her breast cancer patients a gift when they finish treatments with her. She will be out of the office when I complete my course next week so I received mine early. She handed me a gold colored medallion hanging from a pink ribbon. It had the words “Breast Cancer Survivor” inscribed on it. Survivor is what I intend to be but seeing the word tugged at my heart. As they so often do, my eyes filled with heavy tears that threatened to spill over. Like the surgeon and oncologist, the radiologist reached out to hug me. Don’t get me wrong, I like hugs (I really, really do as Sally Field is known to say) but I am wondering when did doctors start giving them? Do they hug cancer patients because the treatment has been so rough? Or can they read the sign on my heart I thought was invisible that says, “Make me feel special. Encourage me. Tell me I will be a survivor and watch my Four Reasons To Fight (Ethan, Lance, Maxton and Carter) grow up.
Twenty-five treatments are behind me with only five more to go. I am looking forward to Friday of next week. Wherever you are, celebrate with me on that day!