Thursday, August 20, 2009

Say the Words, Jerry!

August 20th.

Oh what a day this has been!

Jerry, bless him, gave me the words I have been longing for.

"Cancer Free".

It wasn't as easy as it may sound.

I asked Jerry if, after all the treatment, I was considered cancer free.  

His response?

"Oh yes.  Absolutely!"

That wasn't enough for me.

As I choked back tears, I said "can you just say the words?  Can you say them for me?"

"You are cancer free."


Butterflies in my stomach.

Tremendous relief.


Don asked how he knew I was cancer free.  Jerry said that the MRI of my brain, the MRI of my breasts, the continual blood tests all confirmed it.  

Jerry went on to say that, if indeed, he was wrong and there was still cancer in my body, it would be microscopic and the lapatanib would kill it. 

And, if I weren't on the lapatanib, I would be only seeing him every 3 months.  But because of the lapatanib, he wants to see me every month.  I will have an echo-cardiogram in November and February.  Brain MRI annually.

A concern with breast cancer is that, if it spreads, it often shows up in the bones.  Jerry told me if I have bone pain that doesn't go away, he wants to know about it.  If I have headaches, he wants to know about it.

So I will fight down the terror if/when those aches appear.  

But for now, I will work on finding parts of my old normal.  

I will work on building back my strength.  

I will look for more energy.  

And I will spend it.

I can't wait.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Prognosis HOPE


In the last week, I have been asked a number of times about my prognosis.

I don't like the question.

Because it makes me face my mortality each time I hear it.

I don't know what Jerry will say about my prognosis. I am working on the courage to ask him when I see him on Thursday.

But I know what I hope it is.

I hope that cancer is gone from my body.

Never to return.

I hope that I will never have to be as terrified, ever again, as I have been these last months.

I hope that my dear husband will not have to be so strong for me again for a long long time.

Because, in many ways, cancer has been harder on him than it has been on me.

I hope I can return to being a wife and mother who takes care of her family, instead of her family having to take care of her.

I hope that my precious babies will not have to be concerned with breast cancer again. I hope that they will be able to look back on this time and not be scarred from the trauma.

But all these "hopes" are not my prognosis.

My prognosis HOPE is the assurance I have in Christ.

My prognosis HOPE is the peace that comes amidst the terror.

My prognosis HOPE is the strength and courage that come from the fount of life.

Prognosis HOPE is what I cling to.

Because any other prognosis is not sure.

Friday, August 14, 2009


Last night was the Family Support Group at Providence. The Howatt Family's first time attending.

For families that are experiencing some type of cancer.

I went by myself; Don and Ellie were stuck in traffic and were late arriving.

So a cancer patient by herself-- even for a short time -- at a Family Support Group. I didn't like that. All alone in a sea of cancer people.

More surreal moments.

A family came and joined me at my table. Until they sat down, I thought the support group was for breast cancer.

No. Any cancer.

The father in that family, I found out later, is battling brain cancer.

And he did not look good. He did not look like he was winning. He came with his wife, daughter and his mother. His daughter couldn't be older than 10.

He asked his wife "where are we?" And then, upon her answer, he asked "why are we here?"

My heart broke.

I thought "this is not a place for me".

But I wasn't there for me.

I was there for Ellie.

I was there because I wanted her to be there. I wanted Anna and Rachel to be there, too.

I was there because I want my babies to know they are not alone.

That it is not just their Mom who is battling, and WINNING, against cancer.

But do I want them there if it is apparent not everyone is winning the war?

I am not sure. Maybe.

As we left, though, I felt better.

I asked Ellie "do you want to come next month?"

And I was surprised by her answer.

Because I expected an absolute "NO".

Instead, I heard her say "um..., maybe".

Maybe being in a room with other families, with children young and children teens, helped. Even if cancer was not discussed.

Um, maybe.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Clarity of Crystal

Reunion Day.  

August 8, 2009.

First, family. 

Odd to see family members that I haven't seen in over a year.  

To realize they do not know who I am.

And to see the shock on their faces when they take a look at my name tag.


Yes, it's me.

It may be a small world, but it is still a world where some news doesn't make it all the way around.

So the afternoon had a lot of "punched in the stomach by cancer" moments.  

A lot of surreal moments.  

Explanations of the last nine months.  Reassurances to others that the worst for me is over.  Surface descriptions of the terror.  

I heard my voice say words that were unbelievable.  

But they were true.

Rush home to prepare for the school reunion.

Again, no recognition.  

Blank stares.  Perhaps I was a spouse of a graduate, and not a member of the class?

 I was in a room with 115 people, most of whom I had not seen in 30 years.  Lots of looks at the name tag -- not unusual at a class reunion.  The second glances did not bother me.  But when some had to take four or five looks at the name tag and then back at my face, that was a bit disconcerting. 

I realize that my classmates remembered me as a red headed girl.  And now, as a white haired woman, I didn't fit into their memory.  

And the problem was mine.   

I realized that I did not feel safe in a large crowd where just a few people knew my story.  I was thankful for the presence of Kathy and Kim and Kris.

I realized that I have become accustomed to being surrounded by people who know me, people who know my story and struggles.  People who work with me.  People who care for me.  People who have been with me on the journey through breast cancer.  I have not had to explain much lately to "my" people.  So I have been comfortable.  It's easy (as in "easier") to be comfortable with people you know well.  And it is easy (again, as in "easier") to be comfortable with complete strangers.   Not so much, apparently, with those you know "sort of".

At the reunion, I found myself wanting to explain away my appearance. 

Perhaps I am not as comfortable with the way I look as I have led myself to believe.  

I don't like to be different.  

I don't like to stand out.

I don't like to have breast cancer.

Saturday's reunions made that crystal clear.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Present is Priceless

I have written much about the support I have received as I have stared cancer in the face.

So many people have been by my side.  

Some have gone before me.  And then came to take my hand and lead me into the darkness.  And they held a light onto my path.

Some have walked beside me the entire time.  Their presence makes the darkness less scary.

Some are so frightened by breast cancer that they need to hear my story so they can find the differences between us.  For if we ARE different, then they are "safe" from breast cancer.  And once they feel safe, some are still there, and others are gone.

Some I do not even know.  They read my blog, or  hear my story from someone close to me, and then they reach out to let me know I am in their prayers.

But some are absent.  

Pretty much completely.  

And those that are absent make me wonder.

Are they afraid of me now?

Scared to say anything for fear of saying the "wrong" thing?

Afraid that cancer may be contagious?

Afraid of being a bother?

Or, perhaps, not realizing that reaching out does make a difference?

I don't know the answer.  

But their absence does make me realize that I have been "absent" for others before.  

And that makes me sad.

Because now I realize, truly, how important it is to be "present".  

And what a difference that those "present" can make.


Jerry, My Friend...

I am anxious to see Jerry.

Really anxious.

Anxious in a good way.

Because I don't know what to think.

I finished radiation treatment last week.

And all around me, I heard "Drenda is finished with cancer treatment!" "Yay! Drenda is done!"

But I didn't feel so excited. Finishing radiation was good. Great. But I had been viewing it as just one more step taken in a marathon.

I had never considered the end of the totality of chemo and radiation to be the finish line.

I still have the clinical trial drug to ingest until the end of February ish. Of NEXT year.

Brain MRI every year, echo-cardiograms all the time, probably other test I don't even know about yet.

I still have other drugs to take...for FIVE years.

And then more after that.

But maybe my friends and family are right.

Maybe the "cancer" treatment IS done.

Treatment has been my life for almost 9 months.  It has consumed my time, my thoughts, my writings; it has fed my fears and changed everything.  Killing Cancer.  Cancer War.  Zaps.  

Perhaps the next steps in the journey should be considered prevention...like taking vitamins. You know, to STAY healthy.

So I must see Jerry.

And I will ask him.

I will ask him to say the words.

"Cancer Free".

If he will not, I will be disappointed.  Maybe still scared.

I will ask anyway, knowing I may be reminded that cancer is not done in my body.

But he just might say them. Maybe.

And if he does, if those words come out of his mouth, oh what a day that will be.

August 20th.