Debbie Dunlap's Journal
Written Dec 24, 2009 11:21pmI'm sitting here in my peaceful home watching the snow fall on Christmas eve. It's magical and serene. And it is happening in Dallas, TX, no less. (I find the whole discussion about global warming very confusing.)
While everyone is asleep, I'm taking time to reflect a bit on this past year. I can't think of a better time than now to say goodbye to this blog that I was so "reluctant" to begin 10 months ago. And to say how much I appreciate everyone who took the time to read my scattered thoughts, to pray for my family and me, and to send words of encouragement to us.
It seems like years since the doctors diagnosed my breast cancer. Maybe it's because I've learned more in these 10 months than I've learned in as many years. A lifetime packed into one year.
I hope you don't mind if I share some of the lessons I've learned about myself, cancer, family, friends, and more. I'll try not to bore you. (Then again, you can always hit the off button on your computer.)
1. The first thing that comes to mind was my first thought . . . . I really, really don't want to die. I know it's unavoidable; death and taxes, you know. But there are quite a few things I'd still like to do. So, coming face to face with mortality was quite a shock. I know my kids think I'm old, but I believe I'm still pretty youthful. (In my mind, anyway.)
2. I may not be ready to die, but I'm certainly more prepared than I was before February 13, 2009. For one thing, I have my funeral planned. Yes, it's true. It can't be helped. I've talked to other cancer survivors who say the same thing. Morbid, huh? But, I'll tell you one thing. I'm going to be hacked if my family can't play Donna Summer's "Last Dance" at my funeral.
3. Surprisingly, I discovered that I can easily give up vanity for comfort. I never, ever thought I'd wrap a scarf around my head and go out of the house. It's never been my best look, you know? I was sure that I'd never allow myself to be seen without a wig covering my cold, bald head. Let me tell you that 100º weather can change a person's mind quickly. Wearing a wig in a Dallas summer is like pulling a muskrat cap over your head in a steam bath. It's about as pretty a look, too, because the minute you walk out the door the back of your neck is covered in (ahem) perspiration which tends to run down your back.
The weather is cooler, but there's no going back. I'm content now to wear my hair shorter than my boys have their haircuts. The best news is that it's growing.
4. I never knew there were so many different forms of breast cancer and so many ways to treat breast cancer. Now, I'm a walking encyclopedia for breast cancer. I can even pronounce, with relative ease, the drugs that I was given. I can certainly rattle off the meds I'm taking right now and the dosages for each. It's a language I never expected to have to study.
5. I want to be a friend just like my friends. I want to take time to write notes that encourage my friends. I want to show up on a friend's doorstep with an unexpected meal that's sorely needed. I hope I have learned to laugh with friends when they need a laugh and cry with them when they need to cry. I want to be a good listener. I want to remember to pray for my friends, even as God brings them to mind. In short, I want to remember all the things that were done for me that were uplifting and return all those blessings.
6. I always knew the following, but knowing and experiencing are two very different things. My family can pick at and argue with one another any and all the time, but when it comes to the chips being down, we are there for one another. I had more love and support than I have ever experienced from my siblings and my children. It goes without saying that my father was concerned, but he was right there with support. (Of course, he called quite a few times about the newest treatments for breast cancer. He did a lot of research during these last months!) It's nice to know that one can depend on one's family in times of crisis.
7. I married the right man. Not that I was ever concerned about that (my mother maybe, but not me). My husband went above and beyond anything I would have ever expected. We were sharing with friends the other night that while this has been one of the hardest things for us to go through together, emotionally we are closer than ever. The physical and emotional strain can be intense. But, Bill truly ministered to me. He took over many of the daily chores. He prayed for me. He ran errands for me. (Gosh. . . . I think I'm going to miss those days now that I'm well! I've got to figure out how to play this cancer card a little longer.)
8. God is as close or as far as a person wants Him to be. Don't misunderstand me. I know that God is always waiting, always there. But, my response so many times has been to push Him away. Back into the far corners of my mind so that I wouldn't have to spend time with Him. But, the thought of being deathly ill made me sit up and take notice of my spiritual lethargy. It wouldn't be exaggerating to say that this has been the sweetest time of growth for me that I've ever experienced. I know as the days become normal again, I'll drift. But, I really pray that I'll never forget.
So, I want to wish everyone a wonderful Christmas and a happy Hanukkah. This year our celebration of the birth of the Savior is especially meaningful. More than ever, we feel God's gracious gift to us through His son.
Bill and I are looking forward to a healthy 2010, and we wish the same for all of you. No matter what the next year brings, though, we know we can face it. We are never out of God's grip. As I sit here and think more about it, this year started as a nightmare. A terror that I thought would never end. Looking back, I realize that it was actually one of the best years of my life. A really great year, after all! Thanks be to God!
Written Dec 1, 2009 11:18am
You would think that I would have flown out of bed and to the clinic today since it's my last (LAST!) day of radiation. But, I almost overslept. Mornings are not my favorite time of day. (As my children will tell you since they learned to pour their own milk and cereal by age three!)
So, I've finished radiation and I'm sitting here in the infusion chair at UT Southwestern getting a hefty dose of Herceptin. I'll be doing that every three weeks for the next seven months. But, honestly, that's a cakewalk.
Starting in two weeks, I will be taking what the doctors call an aromatase inhibitor. What's that? It's basically a medicine that blocks all estrogen in my body. Because I'm estrogen positive (got lots of it), any microscopic cancer cells could latch on and begin to grow. Of course, we don't want that. So, they'll prescribe something that will keep the estrogen and cancer cells from coordinating. I'm not looking forward to the side effect, which is aching joints.
This is a warning to my family. If you think I'm a bear in the mornings, just get ready after I have no estrogen. All I can say to my kids is duck when I start throwing things! Follow your father's lead.
Maybe that should be my most important prayer request for the coming year. A spirit of gratitude and joy, not surliness and discontent. It's easy to grumble when a person's body aches.
Speaking of gratitude, I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving holiday. I know for some of you (Katie M. and family) it was not a very happy one. But, I know that there is grateful acknowledgment of God's goodness even in the midst of pain.
Thanks to everyone for giving our family even more reason to be grateful. We can never stop thanking family and friends for the love and kindness we've experienced.
Looking forward to finishing up. More on that later. Debbie
Written Nov 19, 2009 10:44pmI'm coming to the end of my radiation treatment. Just two weeks to go! I can hardly wait.
It has been interesting to say the least. I never imagined how involved radiation could be. I had always pictured it as similar to going to get an x-ray. Of course, it's not at all the same. For one thing, the radiation machine is, I'd guess, three times the size of an x-ray machine. Massive! This big hulking thing that has a big "eye" that shoots out ions, neutrons, whatever. And it packs a wallop.
I now have red and itchy skin and fatigue. However, some of the fatigue could be because I haven't really slowed down. I think I'm supposed to be resting more than I do. Forget that! Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming.
Last Friday was a sad day. I arrived for therapy, and two new friends were missing. Nothing serious, but they had finished their treatments on Thursday. Another thing about radiation is that the patient goes at the same time every day (unless the patient oversleeps and misses her morning appointment which leads to having to go in that evening. But, that's another story.)
Because of the sameness, patients get to know each other well. In my case, I met with Mary and Billie at the same time every day. We sat waiting for our treatments, in our little gowns, in the dressing area. We learned about each others' cancers (Mary -- breast cancer, Billie -- colon cancer.), about our families, and daily lives. It has made me realize that this whole cancer thing introduces a completely new world of people. These are people who would never cross paths, but for the medical interruption that has made them stop their normal lives and go down a different path for awhile. You can meet a lot of sweet people on that path, I've discovered.
Today was the day I was "re-mapped" for what the doctor called my Boost. This will be a more concentrated radiation at the site of the tumor, and it will be over the last five days. So, once again, they drew lines all over me. Now, I have to be careful, once again, not to wash the lines off. This is a challenge to personal hygiene.
With all these lines and drawings all over me, I'm seriously thinking of contacting the National Endowment for the Arts about a grant and going on the road as an exhibit. Considering some of the things the NEA gives grants to, I think I have a pretty good chance. And of course, it would be rated "X" (for bad taste), so that would draw a big crowd. I'd just have to figure out how to explain it to my children.
Thank you to everyone for praying me through this step. I can tell you that it has been different from what I expected. Some good, some bad.
But, this is a season for giving thanks, and that truly sums up my feelings.
I'm thankful for my family, my friends, my life. I'm thankful for brilliant doctors, wonderful research, and fabulous nurses and technicians. I'm thankful to live in this country and have ready access to the treatment I've needed. I'm thankful for a God above who cares for us more than we can ever imagine. I could go on, but I hope you get the picture.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. See you on the other side. Debbie
"Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!" II Corinthians 9:15