Never Quit!

Those fellow thyca warriors can relate to that familiar feeling of scanxiety. That feeling of fear and anxiety that sets in as one simple test can determine your fate. Are you are going to be sweating bullets, or can you actually be breathing a sigh of relief? Is your cancer going to be stable, or does it go to the next level of sheer panic as the cancer is spreading? It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been at this, whether you are newly diagnosed or even an old pro at this, these feelings just never go away and it surely hit me hard at my most recent ultrasound. You know something is suspicious when you have three separate ultrasound techs that come into the room to scan your neck over and over. I don’t know, maybe they could have been training someone; I always have two techs, but never three! I guess I am fortunate to be at a facility that is very thorough. Sure enough, test results revealed yet another questionable nodule that has appeared that was not seen previously. They can’t be one hundred percent certain that there are calcifications in there, which can be a good indication that there are cancer cells present. The size of this nodule is too small to even biopsy and so now here we are once more, playing this continuous waiting game! My Tg, which is the tumor marker is slightly up and TSH levels are above levels that both my doctors and I are comfortable with. It puts me at greater risk of not being suppressed as I should be and maybe that is why this new node has appeared.

Before these tests I thought to myself that I wasn’t going to worry about what the results were going to show. However, this enemy we call cancer can strike at any given time and for people like me who have persistent disease, we simply cannot afford the luxury of not being on guard. Although they can’t prove there are cancer cells in there right now, my gut instincts tell me otherwise and it’s only going to be a matter of time before it will be proven. I have always been able to rely on my gut instincts and very rarely has it ever been wrong.

Naturally, this finding was upsetting to me. Why does this seem to keep happening to me? It’s like they appear out of nowhere. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is something which is going to continue to hang over my head. I am not going to lie, always being told “no we can’t do anything with this,” has certainly taken its toll on me. Nevertheless, I know how I choose to react to the situation can definitely make a difference in its outcome and where I go from here. I was going through some old messages and emails and just happen to come across a message from my friend, Rob who went through his own cancer battle that he unfortunately lost. I have mentioned Rob before in my blog. That message was one in which Rob told me that “when you start to lose your mental battle, your body will not be far behind.” Why did I happen to come across that message at this particular time? That message was something I really needed to hear; even from the grave Rob is continuing to support and give me encouragement. Thank you Rob, message received!!

I love this quote and it rings so true…….

We dont meet people by accident

People come and go throughout our lives and they are put in our path for a reason. There are many angels among us and are all around us; sometimes we don’t even recognize it. Nevertheless, I believe it is God’s way of taking care of us. I have much gratitude for those angels who have been put in my path on this journey. Rob has been one of my many angels in disguise and still continues to inspire me even though he is no longer with us. I never had an opportunity to meet Rob in person, only through online communication; however, I do look forward to the day I can see him on the other side and thank him for his part in helping to guide me through my own cancer journey. Other guardian angels include all my other fellow thyca warriors and most especially my doctors and I thank God every day for them. They are the real heroes and without them I wouldn’t even be here!

One thing is for certain, I know I have to be vigilant and keep a positive attitude throughout this whole experience. It is the one weapon I do have control over against this enemy, because if I don’t the cancer wins! If you are going through your own struggles and trials in your life, whether it be going through cancer, loss of loved ones or other difficult challenges, please know that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. It might not seem like it right away, but it will happen, it just takes a little patience and leap of faith! The message I want to get across is simply this…. that no matter what challenges you face in this life you must never, never give up! I want to close with the following poem which I came across that says it all!

Dont-Quit-poem (1)

 

Looking Forward

Every year we are given the opportunity to have the chance to start over fresh at the beginning of the year. To learn from the past year, things we should have done and what we can do better. This past year has certainly been one that has been filled with some challenges. I’ve lost a few people in my life……..mostly to thyroid cancer and to other circumstances; also, I’ve had some challenges with the cancer, but I won’t go into that as you can read about that on my previous blog-posts. In addition, having my husband deployed has been something that has weighed a lot on my mind as I am concerned for his safety, but very grateful and proud of him for his willingness to serve alongside those who are protecting our freedoms. Nevertheless, I am looking forward to good things happening. However, as I have faced the many challenges in my life one thing that comes to my mind is that I have seen how the grace of God and his tender mercies are working in my life. We are all going to have rough patches at one point or another in our life when we think to ourselves “how can I handle one more bad thing happening in my life?” Nevertheless, something that I have realized is that when we experience these times of sadness that we are actually alive and there is a song that I want to share that describes that. The song is called, “This is What It Means,” by Danny Gokey. Music has been another avenue for me in dealing with life’s challenges. It has also been a great tool I’ve been able to utilize that has provided me encouragement as I have experienced the challenge of facing cancer and other difficult times in my life. I am grateful for the wonderful friends in my life who have helped me to learn and appreciate the power of music.

We are going to experience joy, pain, fear, faith and loss in our lives and I believe that this song depicts it perfectly. It is through experiencing these various emotions that we know we are alive. When we can no longer feel these kinds of emotions that is the point when life stops. The grace of God is what gets us through those difficult times; he makes up the difference when we think we cannot do no more. We can see the hand he plays in pulling us through those tough times, but we have to take that leap of faith and trust in his almighty hand. He works in very mysterious ways by placing circumstances and people in our path to help us in our journey. I have seen it firsthand in my own cancer journey the many people which have been placed in my path to help me and guiding me through, to which I am truly grateful. Nevertheless, we will not be free of sadness and sorrow as that is a part of life, but it is how we react to those situations in our lives can that can determine where we are going. Something that I heard a long time ago and not sure where it exactly came from, but it is something which has often popped into my head is that “our decisions can determine our destiny.” We don’t always know how we are going to react to a situation, but this is a bit of wisdom that we can always remember. Sometimes you have to sit and ponder a situation before you do react.

As I ponder and reflect on this past year, it makes me understand that maybe perhaps I didn’t react the way I should have to some situations. Life is surely a big learning curve and the important thing is to learn from our mistakes. The beginning of each year is a fresh start that allows us to reflect and hopefully make changes if necessary. I hope that we can each look forward to the coming year and for me personally I see this as an opportunity for growth and development, to improve and make myself better. It is important that as we do face challenges in our lives that we embrace them fully. It is through those challenges where we can be strengthened and it can also help us on our path to become the person we were meant to be.  I will close this post with the following quote which I really like and believe it to be very true:

 

Challenge quote1

Tribute to a Warrior

Rob1

 

Rob3

 

 

 

Rob5

 

 

 

 

People may come and go throughout our lives, but there are those few people that touch our lives in such a way like no other; those extra special stars that put a stamp on our heart so deeply and we are never the same. One such unique individual that I have met through the online cancer support group forums is a wonderful man named Rob Bohning.  As many can attest, the influence this man has had on so many people as he has shared his own journey with Thyroid Cancer, as he has been there to inspire and uplift others in their good days and especially during their darkest of moments with this disease. Despite the many difficulties he was going through himself, Rob’s thoughts always seemed to be towards his fellow thyroid cancer survivors and what he could do to help them. He was the leader of the pack and truly the “one” who always put others needs ahead of his own.

So what exactly defines a cancer warrior? I think that all who are touched by cancer in one way or another are warriors, whether you are the one going through it, family members, friends and even the doctors themselves trying to battle this beast of a disease that sometimes seems to have no end. The struggles of these brave souls are many with what cancer puts them through both physically and emotionally. Those going through cancer each have a story to tell. Although every journey is different, cancer survivors have such a common bond in relating to one another and being able to support each other in this fight, which is why support groups are so important.

I met Rob through the Light of Light Foundation Facebook support group. Through these online forums I have been able to gain more knowledge and understanding about thyroid cancer and its effects. As I have mentioned in previous blog posts for the first year after my diagnosis I felt like a little lost puppy not knowing how to navigate my way through this disease. However, when I stumbled upon these online support groups I felt as though a weight was somehow lifted and that I could see a light at the end of the tunnel after all. The knowledge gained through these forums has taught me what questions I need to be asking my doctors and the skills necessary in learning how to advocate for myself. I am truly grateful that I have been able to have that support from someone who gets it as they are living through it and walking in similar shoes.  I have been able to develop many lasting friendships with those in the online support groups; although I have never met many of these people in person we are uniquely bonded together by similar circumstances.

With that being said what I want to do with this blog post is to pay tribute to one of these true warriors who has had such an impact on me as I have traveled this path. Unfortunately, Rob lost his very lengthy battle with Thyroid Cancer. He always shared his wisdom and honesty and was always straight forward about it. I think what I loved most about Rob is his testimony and faith in God. He was a man of enduring faith and was an instrument in God’s hand spreading his message of love and hope even amidst the darkness that this disease can put on a person. Here are a few lines of what Rob spoke about in our discussions that I want to share as they have such great meaning to me and are pretty powerful.

“Cancer is a hard diagnosis. But many have lived with it as a chronic illness for years. Even a stage 4 diagnosis is not a death sentence. ( I really thought that I did receive a death sentence with my Stage 4 diagnosis, but Rob has taught me to see things in a different light)

“I will tell you that fighting cancer begins in the mind. If you lose the mental battle with it, your body won’t be far behind. So wake up each day and be determined to live your life to the fullest.. and choose to beat it. I know there are bad days of pain, new things that pop up, and new things that can worry you every single day with this cancer. But take it a day at a time, and do not let it control your life. Remember, you have cancer, it does not have you.”

“ I do what I always do–I choose to pray. I know this battle ultimately resides with God. It’s His to fight in the end. All of us are merely renting these bodies and they will all break down over time………

Ecclesiastes 3:1 says:” there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens”

If you are in a healthy season, enjoy every minute of it. If you are not healthy, embrace that too. Because in these deep furnaces of affliction, God will infuse you with iron and you will be able to withstand anything. “

“It matters when you are put into the fire, because it withstands despite the heat. So embrace your sufferings if you can.. you will learn the most during this time about yourself, and God does His most precious works in you when you are being refined in the fire.”

 

One other amazing quality that Rob had was his talent and passion with photography and here are a few pictures of how he captured nature’s beauty. The first is a favorite of mine and words that I now live by which Rob taught me.

 

Rob

 

 

 

 

 

Every season

Be Still

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunrise

 

Pier

 

 

 

 

 

Rob would often speak about the things that just stick with you forever and how serving in the Marine Corps helped to prepare himself to have the fight and attitude to win the battles of life. Without a doubt those marine experiences did prepare him for this war and battle with cancer.

 

Rob4

 

Another important quality that Rob demonstrated was the deep love he expressed for his wife and beautiful children. It was very obvious in the way that he spoke of them and proudly shared pictures of them with us. He taught his children well and I was so impressed when his son Andrew, wanted to do his part in helping his dad fight this disease when he did a triathlon last year to raise funds for research and had raised over $7000. The apple surely doesn’t fall far from the tree there. The impact of one small little boys’ wish was great and I am sure that Andrew is going to do great things and make an impact on the world, just as his dad has.

Rob was there for others sharing his love for God and his testimony of faith through his actions. Here is a short clip of of how he shared his cancer journey and his faith which was done about a year  ago and and I will let this video speak for itself.

 

One song that comes to my mind when I think of Rob is by Kutless entititled “Even If” which is a video with lyrics that I want to share:

 

 

Although the healing just did not quite come for Rob and yet in the midst of all the suffering he went through, he still knew who God was and chose to have gratitude even with the trials and challenges he was facing. He was one extraordinary man teaching others what it means to endure to the end.

It just seems so surreal and I can’t believe I will not be able to have conversations with Rob again. He was there providing such wise words of wisdom and I could always count on Rob to lift me up  and give me encouragement when I was feeling down. The ThyCa community has been greatly affected by loss of this amazing individual and his death is greatly felt among us.

I look forward to the day, as do many others when we can see and talk with Rob on the other side to tell him face to face just how much he influenced our lives. Rob was such a true warrior in every sense of the word and fought this fight to the finish; this brave soul may be gone, but he will never be forgotten!

gone-but-never-forgotten

Twists and Turns

In life we may experience some unexpected twists and turns and this journey has been no different. There have been circumstances that I never expected and I’m sure neither did my doctors. I never expected that I would ever get cancer let alone such an advanced stage, never thought that my doctors would not be able to completely contain it, never thought I would have a recurrence especially in such a short amount of time, and yet my docs still couldn’t contain it, and I never thought that the standard treatment options with RAI therapy would not work either. Although my case has been anything but the norm, what I have learned throughout all of these turns of events is that you have to continuously keep rolling with the punches. No matter what downright nasty blows that cancer or any difficult circumstance or challenge can give you, if you allow it to control your life or continue to live in fear that is truly not living, because that can steal so much of your inner peace.

As it has been said by many survivors, “I have cancer, but it doesn’t have me!” This disease may have invaded my body but that does not mean it has to invade every aspect of my life. It is about making the choice to learn from this experience rather than having those negative thoughts overtake you. When I finally came to terms with my situation I made the decision to turn this into something positive, by showing others that they can conquer and overcome and to not let this monster we call cancer to defeat you.

This has been my own personal triumph in overcoming impossible things and I hope that it provides encouragement and inspiration for others that anything is possible with the right frame of mind and attitude. There truly is life after cancer and even an advanced stage. I have bounced back and I am finally back doing what I love working with special needs children again, which is something that truly makes me happy and fulfilled. I hope one day to be among the living when cancer will be eradicated so that no one has to face this monster ever again! I think it rings true as the saying goes:

Strongest soldiers
– Unknown.

This is a battle that I intend on winning as I will NOT allow it to defeat me and I will fight until the finish! I will continue pushing forward and live my life to the fullest extent possible, no matter what is thrown my way.

Moving On

When I first heard those words Stage 4 cancer, I thought that was a death sentence, but yet here it is three years later and I am still alive and kicking. My success in being able to survive this thus far is really owed to the skill and talents of my brilliant surgeons, endocrinologists and other medical professionals who have provided the needed encouragement for me to drive on. My fellow ThyCa warriors have also been there as well cheering me on and helping me to know that just because you have a Stage 4 cancer that it is NOT the end and that we continue to live our lives no differently, other than we cherish each breath we take and consider it a privilege to do so.

Having cancer has been the worst, best thing that has ever happened to me. Is that really possible to have something so bad happen, but yet so good at the same time? I have learned so many valuable life lessons along the way throughout this journey about having true courage, strength, hope and faith during this trial of my life. Now, I can say that I look at life in a much different light. I don’t sweat the small stuff and don’t let trivial things bother me so much anymore; I let things come as they may and I am no longer afraid of the uncertainties that lie ahead of me. Instead, I focus on what truly matters to me, the important people in my life, my wonderful family and friends who have been there to support me as I have waged through this battle. What is important and I have to remind myself is to live in the moment and not focus on the, what if scenarios that often play in my head. The key is to appreciate the moments we are given. This makes me think of another favorite quote of mine:

surrender

I have shared a few quotes throughout my story and it helps me in dealing with and understanding life and what I have experienced throughout this cancer journey. Life is all about gaining the right perspective and persevering despite the trials that we each have to go through in life. Some experiences are good, while others really test us to see what we are truly capable of. It is about believing in yourself that you can overcome obstacles that come your way. I hope that others who are going through challenging times can know that one is NEVER alone in any battle that we encounter. There is always someone who has been where you are and knows what you are going through as they have been there and done that. It is by sharing our stories and our life experiences that we can lift and support one another and I hope that I have accomplished that. I will continue to share my story so others know they are not alone in this war against cancer and in other battles we face each and every day.

Gratitude

I have talked about the medical professionals who have assisted me in my cancer journey; however, the people who I have the utmost gratitude for as I have gone through this experience are my family. They are truly the glue that holds me together! First and foremost, is my wonderful husband, Jerome who has stood by my side, as I have gone through all of the ups and downs of this cancer experience; he keeps me grounded. He has been the constant in my life and is my rock that I rely on the most and I don’t think I would have made it through this cancer ordeal without him!

The separation while I was being treated was difficult especially during the Tsunami and Earthquake not knowing what was going to happen and wondering if and when I would see my husband and children again. However, the separation I looked at it like a deployment. That was not new to us as we have been through that before when Jerome was sent to Bosnia years before, but it had been such a long time. I really admire the men and women in the Armed Forces and the sacrifices that their families have to face on a daily basis.

This experience has made us take a step back and really appreciate each other that much more. It has made our marriage stronger than ever as we appreciate and know that life is so fragile. I am extremely grateful that I have someone in my life that puts my needs ahead of his own, which is the way it should be and sadly it doesn’t always work that way for everyone as I know many people who have walked out on their better half at a time when they need them the most.

Next, I want to express my appreciation to our wonderful daughters, Chelsie and Chandra who were there to support my husband during the Japan tragedy being that I was not able to be there, and to ensure that our home was well taken care of; I’m sure that it was quite a learning experience for them as well. If anything, we have learned as a family to really rely on one another and we have come out stronger, because of this experience. I reflect many times on the song by Kelly Clarkson, “Stronger.” If it doesn’t kill me, this cancer WILL make me stronger and I know that to be true! When cancer strikes, it doesn’t just affect that individual it really does affect the entire family and can turn your whole world upside down. It makes you appreciate each other so much more and every moment you have together is priceless!

I am so grateful to my wonderful parents who have taught and raised me to always give my best efforts in everything that I do. They have taught me to work hard and have molded and shaped me into the person I am today and I feel so fortunate to have them in my life.

Follow-up Testing

It is now July of 2013 and time for testing once again. Every time I come up on follow-up testing I always worry and wonder are they going to find something more, is the tumor marker going to rise? It is a hold your breath and wait for it……wait for it…..moment which feels like it has no end. You go in and get the tests and then have to wait for the results. I think that is the most nerve wracking part of it all being kept in limbo not knowing whether it is good or bad. The fortunate thing is that with the hospital system at UCH you have automatic access to your medical records so you can see the lab results online and don’t have to wait for the phone call from your doc. Best invention ever designed with the patient in mind. The result for the lab work is fairly quick; however, results from ultrasounds and scans takes a bit longer. I am so fortunate to have such wonderful docs that are on top of everything and usually call me fairly quickly with my scan results so I don’t wait too long.

The results are in – absolutely no growth of my existing nodule! The nodule has stayed the same exact size since the last ultrasound. Yeah for me! So I am celebrating and doing the happy dance! How I would long to hear those words cancer free, but I really don’t think that will ever happen in my lifetime; I’m not even sure that it’s possible, because with thyroid cancer the likelihood of recurrences are so high. However, I am really grateful for those stable results; stable is good given the other alternative of it taking a nose dive and having the increased risk of more cancer cells growing and multiplying.

My TSH level is slightly above where I really need to be to keep those cancer cells from waking up and so we are going to try and raise the dose of Synthroid on a trial basis and hope that it doesn’t push my heart rate back into overdrive again. Time will tell how my body will react and I’m hoping that all will be well and that I don’t have side effects from the dose increase. Currently, my Tg marker has gone up from 0.4 to 0.5 which is not a significant rise and seems to be holding steady. However, if my Tg does rise significantly and there is an increase in the nodule size, Dr. Song tells me we’ll need to have a serious discussion on attempting to go back in to find this blasted cancer, which would mean another surgery. That is a conversation I really don’t want to have and hope that we never have to come to that point EVER!