Friday, October 23, 2009


I remember the days.

"How old is your baby?"

"Four days."

"Two weeks."

"Eight weeks."

"11 weeks."

"Three months."

"18 months."

"Two years."

The progression.

I always, in some ways, mourned the transition from days to weeks.  Weeks to months.  Months to years.

Mourned because time was moving so fast.  

I remember each phase of those transitions.

They were not bad.

Just signals that my babies were growing up.

I am back to the transitions again.

"How long have you been a survivor?"

"Three days."

"Two weeks and four days."

"One month."  That transition was particularly amazing.  

Because the one month anniversary of being declared cancer free was September 20th.  

Team Strong and Courageous.

Walk for the Cure day.

I am now at "two months and three days" cancer free.

These transitions bring no mourning.

 I am looking forward to making the transition to answering the questions with " one year", "two years".   Looking forward to moving from the answers being months to years.

These transitions bring amazement.

Amazement about how much can happen in a few short months.

One year ago, exactly, I participated in Breast Cancer Awareness activities at work.  

I had no idea that three weeks later, I would find a lump in my breast and begin the odyssey of breast cancer treatment.

Those months brought transition from regular, normal, stable to indescribable upset.

These months bring transition from that upset back to normal, stable, and regular.


Cancer Free.

Two months.

Three days. 

Monday, October 19, 2009

Beauty Comes At a High Price

I could hardly believe it. 

Did I hear correctly?


"Drenda, your hair is beautiful!"

"Thank you. "

"Do you color it?"


"Is it naturally curly?  Was it like that before?"

"Yes, it is naturally curly, but not this curly.  No, it wasn't quite like this before."

"Wow!  It must make it all worth it."



Was he trying to be funny?

"Uhhh....no.  'It' doesn't make it all worth it."

Another "I'm sure they don't listen to their words" moment.

My hair is beautiful.

And I do like it.

But having beautiful hair does not make up for the pain -- neither the physical pain nor the heart pain.   

It doesn't 'make it all worth it'.

This hair came at a high price.  

Figuratively and literally.

Each chemotherapy treatment cost thousands of dollars.  Thousands.  Each one.  And there were 16 all together.

This hair cost thousands of tears.  Thousands.  

This hair cost thousands of questions.  Thousands.

This hair cost premature aging on the part of three young women who should not have to consider their mother's mortality at their tender ages.  That is expensive.

This hair cost by becoming a defining life "moment" for my babies.  It cost much by being etched in the fabric of their lives.  

This hair cost tremendous strain on my husband.
My father.  My sisters.  My brothers.  My entire family.  My friends.

This hair cost.  And the price is high.  

And it is not worth it.  Not for the hair.

I thought my hair was kind of nice before.

Cancer(?) Update

Below is a note my daughter, Rachel, wrote. She is amazing!

"I want to give a cancer update, even though it's no longer a cancer update as my updates have been in the past.

This summer my mom was declared cancer free by her doctor! Cancer free after months of chemo and radiation - the cancer has gone bye-bye! I am so proud of my mom, who has come out of this a fighter. She has come out victorious and been an amazing example to me and, I'm sure, to everyone around her.

Next month, it'll be a year from the night I got the worst phone call of my life, a year from the night my mom told me she had cancer. This has been a year of tremendous growth. So many blessings have come out of it. One of the big ones is that it has brought my extended family together. I think we all got a wake up call of how important family really is - how important having a support system is.

The race for the cure was in Portland the day after I left for Seattle, so I didn't get to walk with my family. That was hard, because I felt like it was such an honor to be able to be on Team Strong and Courageous (my mom's team), but I didn't get to experience it with everyone. I was glad the leadership conference kept me busy, because, like I said, not being able to be there with all my family and celebrating my mom's accomplishment was... hard.

Tonight we had a worship night in Moyer, it was wonderful. We sang songs talking about how we are broken people, and that we need God to console and complete us. We sang about how great God was. How we would live to love Him. How we need Him.

Whenever we sing songs about brokenness or hard times, I think of cancer. Cancer broke me. Cancer gave me hard times. I hate cancer. But, God consoled me. He gave me strength, He gave my mom strength, He gave my family strength.

Ok, but here's the deal. The cancer is gone, right? Wrong. It has infected my family forever. I am cancerous.

But it does not control me, I am the one in control.

It is going to be a part of my life until the day I die.

I am always going to remember the year of my life when I had to fight cancer.

I will probably always have a small amount of fear that what happened to Mrs. Dowd will happen to my mom; I will always have the fear that the cancer will come back.

I will always avoid soy milk and tofu. Wait, there's a reason. It's because they accelerate estrogen production, and my mom's cancer was a result of some sort of estrogen imbalance. So I will always avoid those foods. Always. Maybe that's unnecessary, but I will also always have the fear of someday getting cancer in the back of my head.

I love this quote: "A woman is like a tea bag: you never know how strong she is, until you put her in hot water."

Monday, October 12, 2009


Would you play the lottery if you knew there was a 15% chance you'd lose?

What if there was an 85% chance you'd win?


That fateful day that Don and I first met Jerry, he explained the odds in my cancer lottery.  Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.  

I don't remember the exact numbers.  Or the exact circumstances that produced those exact numbers.

But it went something like this:

If, in addition to surgery, I had the 'adjuvant' treatment of chemotherapy, my odds of surviving cancer free for ten years increased. 

If, in addition to surgery AND chemotherapy, I had the 'adjuvant" treatment of radiation, my odds of surviving the 10 years without recurrence increased even more.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of 85% chance that I would be alive and cancer free in ten years.

Now, remember, I am pretty good at math.  Even without a calculator.

And it did not take me long to figure out that 85% chance of survival meant 15% of non-survival.  That is where I camped for many weeks.

Don said to me:  "Drenda.  You have to fight this.  You have to get better.  You have to fight."


I cried.

All I could think of was the 15%.  

I never, never ever questioned Jerry's wisdom about treatment.  Of course I would do all the 'adjuncts'.  Absolutely.  This Mama has babies that still need her.  

But I was camped, in fear, on the 15%.  Terror so severe that medication was necessary.  So many evenings Don would only need to take one look at me and know.  

He'd say "Drenda, do you need a pill?"  

Or "Drenda, did you take your medication?"

Or "Drenda, I'll get your medicine."

Strong and courageous?  Me?


Strong and courageous?  Don?

Absolutely.  A rock.  My husband who promised...he PROMISED...to love and care for me.  In sickness and in health.   And he does.  

It was a long time before I could rejoice in the 85%.  

I remember the day.  At work.  Etched in my memory.

In response to a question from Lynn Peterson, I was recounting the statistics.  And I heard myself say "85% of women with the same type of cancer, detected at the same stage, are alive and cancer-free in ten years".  

It was the opposite of a 'punched in the stomach by cancer' moment.

It was weight lifted off of my shoulders.

Literally, I think.

Because I remember saying to Lynn:  "wow!  those are pretty good odds!"  And smiling.  A revelation to myself.

15% had turned over to 85%.

I'd certainly buy that lottery ticket.


And I'm gonna win!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Is It Well?

  1. When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
  2. oh, Lord, please send me your peace...

  3. When sorrows like sea billows roll;
  4. I am drowning~

  5. Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
  6. I will say it but I don't feel it...

  7. It is well, it is well, with my soul.
  8. Make it well.  Make it well, with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

  1. Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
  2. he is buffeting...trials are here--the trial is not breast cancer.  The trial is fear.

  3. Let this blest assurance control,
  4. please be my assurance...please control~

That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
You know!  You know my helplessness, my terror...and You are in control~

And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
And You, Christ, shed your own blood for me.  For me.  

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!

My sin, not in part but the whole,

Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Let it go, let it go
  1. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

You Are Going to Die

Everyone wants to relate.

They want to help.

To reassure.

To encourage.

So many people have told me about someone they know who has battled breast cancer.

But very often, as the conversation progresses, the message that is relayed is not so great.

In the middle of the story, the message can be loud and clear.


That is the message.

I don't believe it is the message intended.  

But it is the message delivered.

For I have heard just as many cancer stories that did not end well as those that did.  

It seems that people want to tell me about all their close relatives and friends who are DYING of cancer.  

Not so helpful.  

So far, I've managed to get through these conversations graciously (I think) -- saving my terror and tears for the dark of night.  

"That won't be me."

"Not me.  I am done with cancer."


 "Right, God?  I AM done, right?  Right?  Please tell me that I am done.  Oh, GOD!  TELL ME, PLEASE, THAT I AM DONE!"  

Sometimes, the story teller is oblivious to my discomfort.  

Other times, I see the upset on their face as they realize their story is going in the wrong direction but they have no idea how to salvage it and end on a positive note.  

I know that death is the end result of life.

I know that I will not live forever.

But I do not like to hear that cancer may be my end.