5:30 will come early tomorrow morning. That’s what time we are scheduled to be back at the hospital for the final surgical step in the cancer recovery process.
This final surgery has been hard to decide to go forward with. It’s hard to decide to inflect Holly’s body with more scars when the last ones are just now healing. It’s hard to choose to have a surgery that’s not technically necessary, that just finishes the reconstructive process.
That said — we have peace this is what God has for us. I would have thought this surgery would have been easier, that this would be routine by now.
The truth is it’s never easy to step into pain. We are hard-wired to avoid it, and yet Jesus says things like,
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Mt 5:3-5)
I keep looking for the verse that says, “Blessed are those that push through,” or “Blessed are those that pretend it doesn’t hurt,” but I can’t find it. Somehow it is blessed to have our spirits be poor, to mourn and be meek.
These last months we’ve been learning that these places of blessing are not things that happen to us, they are things we choose. We have to choose to step into — feel — the pain of life and let it crush us a little bit.
It’s in that crushed place where Jesus meets us in new and fresh ways. It’s there He blesses us with healing from pain, current and old pains all the same.
God has been so very good to us in the pain of cancer and recovery. He has faithfully met us, healed us, and blessed us. Please pray we will continue to let the pain break us to continue in the blessing.
Sometimes I feel like life is continual struggle to find balance — all in the midst of the gusts of wind life seems to throw us. 2009 definately brought plenty of gusts our way and we are still trying to find the new normal — what is the right new balance in life?
I watched this TED video recently and was struck at the simple wisdom it contained about finding balance in life. It’s a (very entertaining) lecture based on a long study called the Blue Zones of certain groups of people who live to be 100 statistically much more often than average.
They isolated 9 factors that seem to make this possible (genetics seems to play a small part). I encourage you take 20 minutes to watch it and see if you don’t find some part of your life that could be more in balance.
Don’t you hate it when people ask you to pray for them and then they never update you on what’s going on? Me too!
I hope we haven’t been those people too bad, but frankly most times someone asks me, “How’s Holly doing?” I have no idea how to answer.
Well she’s making some significant progress worth sharing, so I would take the almost-four-week-anniversary-of-her-surgery to update you…
She’s much less tired (went last few days without naps)
She’s almost completely off medication (just occasional over the counter pain medicine or muscle relaxer )
She is got her last drain out today! Wahoo!
She is still under a doctor-imposed ban of lifting more than 8 pounds. (A challenge when taking care of kids that weigh more than 8 pounds)
She is still tired and “runs out of gas” pretty easily.
We’re about to send Holly’s mom home for the first time since the surgery, so we will have a good idea of how well she really is doing pretty quickly. She has been a tremendous blessing, and I seriously don’t know what we would have done without help from her and my mom.
So, there’s a quick update for you! Thanks for all the prayers!
I write this post looking back on what was one of the hardest parts of this cancer journey: finding the right partners to run the race with you. What makes me qualified to pick a cancer doctor? Nothing. Ultimately, I know God led us to just the right people. If you will permit me, I’d love to brag about the team God gave us, in the hopes that someone where we were a couple of months ago may benefit…
Dr. Lynn Canavan, Holly’s Breast Surgeon
The Breast Surgeon
We found Dr Canavan by literally Googling for “plano breast surgeon.” We had been referred to a different breast surgeon by Holly’s OB/GYN, and only went to Dr Canavan for what we thought was a routine second opinion.
What we found was that our first surgeon had really dropped the ball, and grossly misjudged the extent of the cancer. When we switched to Dr. Canavan we found that trips to the doctor went from being full of fear and uncertainty to being full of peace and confidence in the next steps.
She truly has the heart of a teacher and was always available for every question. She went to great lengths to educate us and would always show us, not just tell us, what was going on.
The other great thing about Dr. Canavan’s office is Gaynelle, her scheduler. Gaynelle schedules every appointment with every doctor, every testing center, every hospital — she just makes it happen magically. You can’t imagine how much easier that makes the whole process.
The Plastic/Reconstructive Surgeon
Dr. Patty Young, Holly’s Reconstructive Surgeon
Once we knew Holly needed a mastectomy we started the process of picking a plastic surgeon. While you might think that Plano, TX has the highest concentration of Plastic Surgeons per square inch, but it turns out very few do reconstruction. There’s just not much money in it.
That’s why finding Dr. Young was such a God-send. Like Dr. Canavan, she actually took the time to teach us all the reconstructive options. The first time we left her office, we knew we had found the right reconstructive surgeon, we just had to pick the right procedure for us.
Once we decided on the DIEP flap, her scheduler worked to clear a whole day for Dr Young to do the procedure. That morning we got to pray with and for her, and afterward she told us it was prayer that sustained her through the 13.5 hour surgery. Where she gets the endurance to push through such a long surgery, I have no idea.
She was always sensitive to Holly and us as her family. She had the nurse call out every hour or two to give us an update, so we didn’t get too worried. She did a great job helping to control the pain afterward, including inserting a local pain pump to numb the area.
Oh, did I mention she did b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l job with the reconstruction! She has a gift (and amazing staff like Dr. Canavan).
First off they have the most advanced diagnostic equipment, and the two rockstar doctors above prefer to do surgery there. That should be enough. But they never ceased to amaze us at going above and beyond in caring for the patients and their families.
When we showed up for surgery at 5:00 am the most friendly woman named Robin met us at the front door to escort us the surgery floor. Who does that?
Even the food was pretty good — they call it room service and it’s pretty much whatever you wanted delivered when you wanted it. They even had free wifi throughout so Holly could make a Skype video call to her brother in Hawaii.
Those are little things, but really nice touches. The big thing was the staff — specifically the nurses. We didn’t have one nurse who was not full of compassion, attentive, and just generally great to be around. They always did there best to control Holly’s pain, teach us to take care of her, and make our stay the best it could be.
Thank you to Dr. Canavan, Dr. Young and all the nurses at Baylor Plano. God used you to heal my wife and do it better than we ever could have hoped for.
I hope this helps you if you are ever in need of Breast Cancer Care in Dallas. Of course, feel free to contact us if you have any questions or if we can help in any way.
I realize we’ve fallen off the grid a little since coming home from the hospital. So, here’s a quick update how Holly is doing a week home from the hospital…
Emotionally, she’s doing amazing. She has never stopped being in good spirits, very thankful for all the love and support being poured her way.
Practically, lots of help is helping keep the wheels on the bus. Our moms are still in town, and amazing meals are coming every day.
Physically, she’s doing pretty good. She’s still in some pain, but that is largely controlled by muscle relaxers. She has to take some pain medicine once or twice a day, but muscle relaxers keep it all largely in check. Of the 8 medicines she was taking when she first got home, she’s down to about 3 and that’s definitely a step in the right direction.
She still has 2 of the 4 drains installed during surgery to prevent swelling from excess fluids. Those are an annoyance and sometimes uncomfortable, but not too bad. They should be out by the end of this week or beginning of next.
Mostly, she’s just tired — very tired. (She woke up this morning and declared she was ready for her first nap.) She’s made it out of the house a few times, like to church on Sunday, but that is about all she has for the day. Her body is working very hard to heal itself and just doesn’t have much energy for much else.
On the cancer front, we got good news yesterday. The pathology report came back with “clean margins” which means not only did they get all the cancer, but also 1cm around it all.
They also found cancer in the same breast in a previously undetected area. This just confirms that taking it all was the right choice. Neither of us realized how much we were holding our breath so-to-speak waiting to hear the news. There were a few tears of joy shed yesterday.
So, can I hear a collective “Woohoo!” for being officially cancer-free?
Thanks for all the prayers and for stepping into our pain. We are blessed!
It may seem strange to be talking about the favor of God at a time when we have just gone through radical surgery to remove cancer from Holly’s 33-year old body. But God’s favor is exactly what has been upon us lately.
Grace is not the absence of pain — it’s not an easy life. Grace is God stepping into your pain and showing His goodness by making a way out. Ephesians 2 says it like this:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. ButGod, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.
You see, without the death there would be no grace. Without cancer, we would have missed out on so many ways to see His unmerited favor in our lives.
Mary Ida as one of our team members tended to her wounds.
When I was in Uganda, I saw two things that made His grace more clear. One was Mary Ida — an elderly, emaciated woman literally laying in the dirt waiting to die. Everyone in the community simply passed her by without a 2nd thought.
The second thing was visiting a clinic for HIV+ kids. The pediatrician explained that they advised the HIV+ moms to breastfeed their kids, knowing it would almost certainly lead to them contracting HIV as well. They did this because the alternative was the kids dying of malnutrition.
So to me, Grace is…
…living where the community cares if my wife lives or dies.
…having to make choices between reconstruction options, not HIV vs death by malnutrition.
…a free trip to Africa.
…world-class surgeons who work for 13 hours to not just get rid of all the cancer, but go to extremes to make you look the way you did before they started.
…God providing money to pay for it all.
…people we don’t even know bringing us amazing food everyday.
…family who drops everything to be by your side in a time of need.
…an endless stream of friends almost begging to be able to do something for us.
…God providing the strength to fly 25 hours back from Africa and have minimal jetlag so I can be there to care for my wife.
…two amazing kids who are excited Mommy is cancer free so we can start adopting.
…God stepping into our pain, and being more real to us than He ever has before.
There is nothing in me that merits me getting any of these things more than Mary Ida or the kids at the HIV clinic. I have no idea why Jesus would show us such favor — but thank you Jesus.
Is it strange to say we’re excited to have a surgery day? After so much waiting and so many decisions, it’s good to have this big step on the schedule. We’re also glad that we got in earlier that we might have had to wait.
Friday, September 18 is the big day.
We did decide on a reconstruction option, the DIEP Flap. You can read the details of this surgery, and the truly brave of heart can watch a 1 hour video with play-by-play of it being done (warning: parts are hard to watch).
There’s not a lot to do before then, but Holly is working out hard to do her best to get her body ready for surgery. School has started and life is busy with welcome distractions from cancer-world for now.
Jamie will be leaving for Uganda Monday and getting back the day before her surgery. More about that later though…
Friday, Holly declared, “I have arrived! I am grabbing my coach purse, getting in my Lexus, and heading to the Plastic Surgeon.” Of course, it was a fake coach purse, Jamie’s mom’s 10 year old Lexus she was borrowing, and she was going to the Plastic Surgeon for reconstruction, but still it gave us a good laugh.
We have found a great plastic surgeon out of one of the ones our breast surgeon recommended. We’ve met with her twice, and she has taken a total of two hours to teach us about all the options and answer all our questions.
The problem is there are a lot of options. I won’t try to summarize them here, but this website does a great job of describing them all in detail.
We are currently in the process of narrowing down the options, then adding in new ones, then narrowing, etc, etc. The doctor graciously offered to contact patients who had the procedures we are considering to find out if we could call them with questions. So far, Holly has talked to three of them, including one who was in the office when we were there last.
The surgery will not happen this week or next (plastic surgeon is out of town), at the earliest it will probably be the week after Labor Day.
The recovery time will be something like 6 weeks to get Holly back to something resembling 100%.
Here’s how you can pray for us:
With thanks that God has given us excellent, compassionate surgeons.
That we would be able to see through various kinds of fear and find God’s best in this. (fear of pain, of foreign implants, of not being available be available for our kids during long recovery, of having to redo things later — lots of scary stuff in each option)
That our faith would deepen to in new and fresh ways we would know that God is actively working for our good in all this.
Thanks to all of you for how loved you’ve made us feel us feel through this all.
Last Tuesday Holly had a Sentinel-node biopsy. It was an outpatient surgery where they remove a few lymph nodes and test to see if the cancer has spread there. Generally, that’s where breast cancer spreads to first, so if it’s not there they know it’s contained. This video explains the procedure more:
And… none of the three lymph nodes the surgeon removed showed any signs of cancer. Obviously, this is great news and it means we are as sure as we can be that the cancer is confined to her breast.
So, the next step is picking a plastic surgeon to do the reconstruction. The pool is limited as many plastic surgeons don’t do reconstruction, but the breast surgeon has recommended three.
We met with the first one today and were a little disappointed. We are seeing the next one tomorrow morning, and hoping it’s a better fit.
Based on schedules of all the doctors, it’s currently looking like the mastectomy/reconstruction surgery won’t take place until early- to mid-September. We wish it could be sooner, but don’t have much control over it. Plus, we are trying to work around not missing Grady’s first day of Kindergarten which it coming up in a couple of weeks.
Thanks for following along and for all the prayers. Tomorrow marks the two month anniversary of her diagnosis, and while we are more used to being here, it hasn’t gotten any easier.