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Sometimes, The Heart Just Hurts

“Accept what is.  Let go of what was.  Have faith in what will be.”

Sometimes, the enormity of the human condition is just too much for me to bear.  Certainly no one likes seeing the suffering of others.  It is unpleasant, unsettling, difficult.  It challenges our collective sense of safety and control and inevitably leads us to thoughts about the potential for our own discomfort and eventual mortality.  For me, though, it’s something different.  Something deeper.  I will admit that for a woman of 41, I have an almost childlike sense of innocence when it comes to the well-being of those I love.  I ache when others hurt.  I always have.  I remember my mother telling me when I was younger that, while admirable and beautiful to love and want good for everyone, I simply didn’t have the power to enact that lofty goal.  God has His plan for us, and it’s our responsibility to believe and trust in that plan.  She told me as well that, sadly, suffering is a very real part of life, and that I should focus on living and living well, loving those around me, and trusting and believing in God.  As a grown woman, wife, and mother, I today worry all the time about the safety and health of the people I love.  I see stories on the news about violence and I want more than anything to lock my loved ones away someplace safe, someplace where harm will never find them and where I can be assured of their continued well-being.  I read stories online about little ones with cancer and I want nothing more than to wrap my arms around my daughter and to hold her.  Certainly, with the loving arms of her mother about her, there is no way that illness could find my daughter.  See?  Childlike innocence.  I know conceptually that I can’t protect the people I love from life and its happenings, but for to pray for them and to be there for them.  But that feels wholly insufficient and so, I continue to worry.  And this?  This is all hypothetical.  This is all “what if?” and “maybe.”  This doesn’t begin to scratch the surface when pain and suffering actually find the people I love.

A very dear friend of mine learned last May that she has breast cancer.  This friend, this wonderful person, is quite possibly the most beautiful and kind person I have ever known.  With each adversity she has faced, and she has faced more than her share, she has walked in light and grace and with a dignity that makes me proud to be her friend.  Her double mastectomy has long been scheduled for this Thursday, but she learned just a few days ago that her cancer is now stage four.  It has metastasized to her lungs.  Some friends and I put together a gift basket for her to make her hospital stay more comfortable, and we stopped by to see her this evening to wish her well.  In her characteristically loving and wonderful fashion, she was all smiles and happy, genuinely so.  Her smile was beautiful, and I know she was grateful for our love and our visit.  I came home and promptly fell to pieces.  Why her?  Her only, and I do mean only, crime was having been born to a mother who would later die of breast cancer.  In all the years I have known her, she has been nothing but kind and warm and loving to everyone she has encountered.  It eludes my human understanding why this horrible disease would find acceptable its invasion into the body of someone so undeserving of suffering while others, selfish and cruel and hatred-filled others seemingly walk through life unscathed.  As I prepared a late dinner for my husband and I, the tears just fell from my eyes and continue to do so now.  It was hard to breathe there for a little while.  I ache that this beautiful, innocent person has been made to suffer and I pray and hope with all that I am that her surgery is successful and that the doctors, who are optimistic now (thank God!), will deliver good news after her surgery is over.  My friend’s name is Jill, and it would mean the world to me if you would keep her in your hearts and your prayers this Thursday and in the weeks after as she recovers and begins this new, hopefully much healthier, chapter of her life.  I am so proud to be her friend, and hope that if her situation or something similar should ever befall me, that I could walk through that fire with half the grace and dignity that she has.

I hopped on Facebook after dinner and saw several posts about today being National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.  Ever have one of those moments where you’re upset and sad anyway, and then something you encounter just makes it worse?  Childlike innocence rears its ugly head again.  My heart broke as I thought of the five women I know who have lost children.  My mother miscarried a baby after I was born.  My mother-in-law lost her baby daughter to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.  Three of my friends bore and buried their babies.  The pain that they suffered and continue to suffer breaks my heart wide open.  We bark platitudes all the time about how God is in control (and the Catholic in me believes that) and that everything happens for a reason, but my human heart finds it impossible to understand why the loss of a child is ever good, ever acceptable, ever just.  On top of thinking about my friend, I am thinking now about the little girl that my parents-in-law lost.  Tracy.  She was a year younger than I was, and I have these grand visions of she and I being great friends and having this wonderful sisterhood had she not left this world so early.  I was an only child, my only sisters being the women whose Greek letters I shared on a sweatshirt or bookbag.  Tracy wouldn’t have had sisters, either.  She would have had two brothers, my husband and brother-in-law.  I love the notion of her being my maid of honor and spending hours together talking and raising our families together.  I ache tonight for the sister and dear friend that time and circumstance took from me.

In the midst of my tears and sadness, a beautiful quote found its way to me – “Accept what is.  Let go of what was.  Have faith in what will be.”  That is the challenge God has given me this evening, but my human heart is having trouble measuring up.  Sometimes, I think I just have to accept the fact that the heart just hurts.


“They Live In Darkness. You Be The Light.”

Sometimes, the enormity of the human condition is overwhelming to me.  It just hurts my spirit.  Stays inside me.  Affects me.

This weekend, the Westboro Baptist Church will be picketing at three churches in my tiny little town.  I was browsing through Facebook on my lunch hour and I came across a story published by the Gardner News about this horrible organization’s plans to come to our little town and spew their message of hatred.  Why they chose us, no one knows.  We aren’t burying a soldier this weekend.  There have been no high-profile crimes or deaths in our area (in, like, ages), and none of us can figure out why they have chosen these three particular churches in our peaceful community.  All day long, the sadness and enormity of this has weighed heavily inside me.  I made the immediate decision to react with love, and to encourage the same in those I care for here in Gardner.  These people simply thrive on any attention given to them, and they relish in any negativity shown to them or any efforts made by the well-intentioned to change their hearts and their souls.  Heartbroken for the leaders and parishoners at the churches targeted for picketing, I called two of them today and spoke with members of their staff.  I offered my love and support and prayers to them as a sister in Christ, and I told them that they were cared for here in our community.  One woman asked me how she would explain all of this to her children, and I told her to treat this as a teachable moment.  To use this opportunity to clearly explain the difference between love and hate.  I thought that the very best way that we could respond to their presence was to continue on with our lives as if they were not here.  Show them no consideration.  Give their voices no room within our spirits.  Refuse their efforts to engage us in dialogue or hateful discourse.  Walk with dignity and show them by example the way God wants us to treat one another.  As the day wore on, I had another thought.  Each and every Gardner resident should take a few hours Sunday to give back.  To volunteer.  To do something kind for someone in need.  To combat hatred with love and to bring peace and goodness to others.  Please consider talking with your family tonight and tomorrow and making a quick plan to show kindness to others on Sunday.  It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate.  Sure, if you have the time and are able to schedule a session, go ahead and volunteer at the charitable organization of your choice.  Write letters and make cards for our men and women fighting for our freedom and the freedom of others halfway across the world.  Rally a few friends together and buy canned goods to donate to a local food pantry.  Just a few hours of your time can make a tremendous difference.  Your love and your good works triumph over any hatred shown by others.  As I’ve said many times, there’s nothing in this world greater than love.  Nothing.

I shared my sadness about this situation with a colleague today, and he said something so incredible to me.  “They live in darkness.  You be the light.”  Be the light, my friends.  We cannot do anything to impede this hateful organization’s right to picket and to say the horrible and heartbreaking things that they say.  We can, however, give of ourselves to others and lead with love.

Happy Birthday Erin!!!

Eleven years ago this day, our beautiful daughter Erin was born!  As you know, we’ve been celebrating this big birthday for the last several days.  My parents came to visit from Indianapolis (they’re still here…hate the thought of them going back), and my parents-in-law came down and spent the day with us Saturday.  Today was wonderful.  Erin specifically asked me to wake her up at 6:00 a.m.  She knew that she “officially” turned 11 at 6:34 this morning, and I think she wanted to make sure she didn’t miss the moment!  We watched the clock, and as we got closer (read: 6:32), she got so excited (“Two more minutes, Momma!”)  6:34 a.m. came and our excited girl was thrilled to be 11 years old.  We are so happy.  She is an incredible young lady and we feel so tremendously blessed to have her in our lives.  Happy birthday to my beautiful Erin.  Momma loves you so incredibly much.

We had a great lunch at school with Erin and her friends today.  In elementary school, we’d always make it a big to-do to come and bring treats and spend time in the classroom.  My mom loved to read to the students, and we really enjoyed spending time with Erin and her friends in the classroom.  Now that she is in middle school (*sniff*), they don’t do that any longer.  Rather, parents and grandparents are invited to come for lunch and to bring treats.  At Erin’s request, Grandma Gotshall made some of her awesome pumpkin bread (recipe at the end of this blog post):

We sliced up pieces of bread and took them to school to give out to Erin’s classmates and friends.  Erin was allowed to invite two friends to sit with us, and other friends came by later to say hello and pose for photos:

After lunch, the kids had recess and we made our way down to the fifth grade hallway so I could show my parents her classrooms and introduce them to her teachers.  We gave them the rest of the pumpkin bread, and sailed out of her school on cloud nine.  I was so happy.  It was a wonderful lunch to celebrate an even more wonderful girl.  She has met some great new friends this year, and really seems to be loving her new school!

Erin asked for chicken cordon bleu (that recipe’s below, too) for her big birthday dinner.  Chef Daddy was on the case!

We spent the evening together and enjoyed one another’s company.  Erin played her trumpet for us.  We laughed and just spent time loving and being together.  Being a family.  Erin opened two last birthday gifts…a “Just About Me” journal and a gift card from her all-time favorite store, Justice!  Those were from us.  :)

These last few days have been wonderful.  My heart is full and I feel so incredibly blessed.  My beautiful little girl is a young lady now!  My wish and dream for her is that the rest of her life is spent in love…growing and learning and laughing and loving.  Every mother’s wish, I suppose.

And now for the recipes!

Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread

1 can (15 ounces) of pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1 cup of vegetable oil
2/3 cup of water
3 cups of white sugar
3 & 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons of baking soda
1 & 1/2 teaspoons of salt
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon  of ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon  of ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon  of ground ginger

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour three 7″-by-3″ loaf pans.

In a large bowl, mix together the pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water, and sugar until well blended.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger.  Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended (we used the KitchenAid mixer, and added small bits of the powder mixture and blended, one at a time).  Pour the mixture into the prepared pans.

Bake the loaves for about 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each loaf comes out clean. 

Chicken Cordon Bleu

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (we increased the recipe since there were five of us dining!)
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/8 teaspoon of ground black pepper
6 slices of Swiss cheese
4 slices of cooked ham
1/2 cup of seasoned bread crumbs

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Coat a 7″-by-11″ baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.

Pound chicken breasts to 1/4″ thickness.

Sprinkle each piece of chicken (front and back sides) with the salt and pepper.  Place one cheese slice and one slice of ham on each chicken breast.  Roll up each breast, and secure with a toothpick.  Place in the prepared baking dish, and sprinkle the chicken evenly with the bread crumbs.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the chicken is no longer pink.  Remove the chicken from the oven, and place 1/2 slice of cheese on top of each chicken breast.  Return the chicken to the oven for 3-5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.  Remove the toothpicks, and serve immediately.


Birthday Party Awesomeness…With CAKE!

Hi everyone!  Erin’s birthday celebration is in full swing.  We were so exhausted last night after the party and the evening of family festivities and I zonked out straight away and didn’t get out here to Blogville and share the story and the photos (sorry!)  Erin had a wonderful party at SkateCity, followed by a fun afternoon of opening presents with her grandparents and dinner at the restaurant of her choosing (this year, she chose Old Chicago Pizza – so, so good!)

So, here we are at Skate City…

One of Erin’s best friends, Logan, came with us to the party.  Here’s a shot of the girls goofing off before the party:

It was a “Shake It Up” party through and through, complete with sweet party favor swag bags and awesome tableware…

At Erin’s request, Grandma Gotshall made a homemade chocolate cake (see recipe at the end of this blog post!)

They broadcasted Erin’s name on the big screen out on the skating floor, which was awesome.

Lots and lots of photos were taken…of Erin and her friends, of the cake eating and gift opening, and two shots of the entire group of kiddos before everyone went home.  Here’s one of them:

She got so many awesome gifts from her amazing friends.  “Shake It Up” shirts, CD. and doll, two (!!) gift cards from Claire’s, money, Big Time Rush stickers (Erin’s all-time favorite band!), candy, nail polish, and all sorts of other amazing gifts.  I really loved getting to know some of her new friends, and it’s always great seeing the friends she’s had for so many years and their families.  It was a great party, and she really, really enjoyed it!

Afterward, we went back to our house to open gifts from Grandma and Grandpa Gotshall and Grandma and Grandpa Smith.  Unfortunately. the photos I got of the gifts from Grandma and Grandpa Smith didn’t turn out (grrr!!!).  Grandma and Grandpa Gotshall got Erin something very special.  A trumpet of her very own.  She’s been playing trumpet in band, and the trumpet we have is a rental.  This one is a trumpet of her very own, and it’s absolutely gorgeous.  Here she is awaiting the big surprise…

What is it, Grandpa?

Check it out!

She even played “Mary Had A Little Lamb” to test it out!

Afterward, we went to Old Chicago and the staff there, as always, was wonderful.  (By the way, get their Three Cheese, Tomato, and Green Onion Artisan Pizza!  SO GOOD!!)  Our server brought us a HUGE cookie cake to wish Erin a happy birthday.

It was a wonderful day, and Erin was very happy.  The celebration continued today.  Shopping and spending time with Grandma and Grandpa Gotshall and dinner at 54th Street Grill (sweartaGawd, I am gonna gain 10 pounds by the time Mom and Dad go home!)  We’ll spend more time together tomorrow and Tuesday, which is her actual birthday, and pumpkin bread and school festivities will follow.  :)

As promised, here is the recipe for Grandma Gotshall’s Mexican Chocolate Cake, which received rave reviews from the kiddos and adults at the party.  Enjoy!

Grandma Gotshall’s Mexican Chocolate Cake

1/2 cup of butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup of shortening
4 tablespoons of cocoa (we used Nestle Toll House)
1 cup of water
2 cups of sugar
1/2 cup of buttermilk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon  of baking soda

Mix the butter, shortening, cocoa, and water together in a medium-sized saucepan.  Bring to a boil.

Sift the flour and sugar together in a large bowl.  Pour the cocoa mixture over the flour/sugar mixture and mix well (we used my awesome stand-up KitchenAid mixer).  Add the cinnamon, vanilla, eggs, baking soda, and buttermilk and mix well.  Pour this in a greased 10″-by-14″ pan (I used a 9″-by-13″ pan and it was OK).  Bake at 325 degrees for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. 

Make the frosting while there’s about 10 minutes left on the cake.  Believe it or not, you actually frost this cake while it’s hot!  Melt 1/2 cup of butter (room temperature) in a small pan.  Add 4 tablespoons of cocoa and 6 tablespoons of milk.  Bring to a boil.  Place 1 box of powdered sugar into a mixer bowl.  Pour the cocoa mixture over the powdered sugar and mix well (KitchenAid again!)  Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla and 1 cup of chopped pecans (totally optional, and I didn’t use them for this cake) and mix again.  Ice the cake while it’s hot!

“Accept Your Miracle”

Hi Internet.  It’s me again.  I’ve been deliberately holding off on writing this blog post since March 2oth (an incredibly l-o-n-g time ago, yes, I know).  As you know, I had D&C #3 in mid-March.  It was to be the end of my “hyperplasia uncertainty” journey, and its results would tell me if medication and weight loss alone would be the forces strong enough to combat my atypical complex simple endometrial hyperplasia, or if a hysterectomy would be the only option to prevent me from getting uterine cancer.  As you know, my emotions ran the gamut over this last year.  I came out fighting from the very beginning, unwilling to give cancer any sanctuary inside me, and determined to do all in my power to ensure that I’d live a long and happy life, filled with the laughter and love of the family and friends God had so richly blessed me with.  As I got farther along on my journey, the fear crept in.  And as 2011 left us and the new year began, I became more and more convinced (and terrified) that I’d fail on this journey and that I’d have to have a hysterectomy.  The dreaded “H word.”  I feared it and did all I could to will it not to happen….and finally came to accept the fact that perhaps it was the smartest and most succinct way to end this journey and to get on with the rest of my life.  No more worry.  No more talk about my uterus (because really, isn’t that everyone’s favorite topic?) and hysterectomies and cancer.  Just a future-focus and laughter and love.  In the last moments before last month’s D&C, I told my doctor that I thought perhaps we had done this wrong.  By “we,” I mean “me.”  My OB/GYN and my gynecologic oncologist were right to do all they could medically to preserve my uterus.  Hysterectomies are risky surgeries, and being overweight adds additional complications.  They were right to try to treat me with medication.  But I was absolutely convinced that I was wrong to have been so married to my uterus…so strong an advocate to keep it.  In the end, I felt positive that a hysterectomy was the best decision…and, too, that the results of my D&C would show that I hadn’t beaten this disease on my own.  I had no idea just how wonderfully wrong I was…

…On March 20th, I could no longer waitwaitwait for my doctor’s office to call me with the results of the D&C.  (Oh, and this may be old news, I went for my first-ever mammogram the day after my D&C.  Your Jennifer, ever the glutton for medical punishment – ha!)  I called and left a message for Sherry, my doctor’s nurse, who almost immediately called me back.  She said, and I quote:

“Dr. Eckert wanted me to call and give you the good news.  You are negative for any hyperplasia or malignancies.  And your mammogram was normal.”

I didn’t believe her.  I made her repeat her sentence.  I wrote down the words as she said them:

And then I went completely numb.  Insanity, right?  Why wasn’t I dancing in the streets?  Tears, then numbness.  My husband and mother and bosses were thrilled.  Hugs, and many of them.  And still, I was numb.  When was Sherry going to call me back and tell me that she had given me someone else’s test results?  When was the other shoe going to drop?  I had a follow-up appointment scheduled for two weeks post-op, and I figured it would be at that time that that “other shoe” would drop and that any excitement and happiness I felt would be immediately extinguished and replaced by new fears.  I cancelled an evening out with girlfriends that night, deciding that I needed to spend the evening at home with my family.  I posted my good news on Facebook, and the very lot of people who have been here all along cheering for me and praying for me and loving me were right there to delight in the good news.  When I told my dear friend Donna that I was numb and couldn’t feel this joy, at least not yet, she said, “Jennifer, accept your miracle.”  She was right.  That “follow-up” appointment was today, having been rescheduled from Wednesday of last week so I could represent my agency at a veterans’ career fair in downtown Kansas City.  I told my doctor today that I was worried and waiting for the other shoe to drop, and she smiled and said that there isn’t any other shoe.  It’s truly, truly over.  You may recall that she told me early on that while endometrial hyperplasia does respond to medication, she didn’t think I’d overcome it with medicine alone (see here for a refresher).  She took responsibility for that today, and apologized.  Medicine isn’t always an exact science.  I was so afraid to believe, and now, it’s time for me to accept my miracle.  She said that of all her patients who have come this far, none have gotten sick again.  I have to continue taking the medicine, but I can handle that.  If it means I won’t get cancer…if it means there’s no risk of me dying on the table during a risky hysterectomy…I’ll do it.  It’s finally over.  I’m not sick anymore.  And it’s finally OK to believe that.

I made the decision very early on to take this journey in a very public manner, and I’ll never regret it.  I did so for two reasons.  Well, three reasons, if I’m being honest.  I love to write, and I’m good at it.  Very good at it.  It’s a catharsis for me, and I love using the written word to spin the stories of my heart and my life, and to share those stories with those who will read and embrace them.  I also wanted to be an advocate for women to take charge of their health care, and to not be neglectful of their bodies like I was for so, so many years.  We’ll never know for certain, but the likelihood is very good that I would never have gotten sick if I had gone for my annual exams and if I had kept on top of my polycystic ovary disease.  What better example than a living, breathing one?  I didn’t want any other woman to risk the loss of her health through carelessness or neglect.  I wanted the men in my life to take a second look at the women they loved, and to press them to make smarter health care decisions and to be more careful with their bodies.  Finally, I knew myself well enough to know that I’d need support in order to make it through.  My amazing husband and family were with me every step of the way, but the prayers and hugs and love and support of one’s friends can’t ever be underestimated.  I figured I’d get one or two, maybe five (tops!) people wishing me well and keeping me in their prayers.  I had no idea the outpouring of love that would come my way.  From phone calls and EMAIL messages to hugs and dinners and yummy desserts being brought to our home to dear friends caring for our daughter so I could be at the hospital for three early surgeries to COUNTLESS posts on Facebook and Twitter expressing love, sharing prayers, and listening and responding when fear and sadness made several days on my journey hard to endure.  I have no way to thank all of you with the limits placed on the human language we speak.  I am living proof of the fact that, as I’ve said many times throughout this journey, there is NOTHING stronger than love.  NOTHING stronger than prayers.  To each and every one of you who have followed my journey and cheered me on and helped to make the hard days more bearable, thank you.  For listening and reading VERY long (sorry!) blog posts and sending up prayers and for laughing with me and loving me, thank you so incredibly much.  I am so unbelievably blessed to have had your love and support.  And I’ll never forget it.

So, I guess that’s it.  The journey’s really over.  Time for me now to accept my miracle.  Thank you for being a tremendous part of that miracle.


How Else Do You Explain It?

Yet another blog post opens with an apology for the long delay since my last writing.  I suppose I should give up the notion of ever being a paid writer!  I have this silly pipe dream of someone somewhere…some big conglomeration of social media fabulousness…happening by chance upon this blog or my earlier blog and thinking my wit and bloviations worthy of a paid bloggership.  Kiss the nine-to-five goodbye and stay home in my PJs while my adoring e-public waits with baited breath for my next (very well) paid blog post.  Alas, while a wonderful dream, I don’t think that this will ever happen to me.  If, however, you are someone of social media fabulousness who does indeed find my writing witty and wonderful, yes, I’ll accept your six-figure salary to write for your site and will gladly leave behind the desk and the drama and the everydays of office living.  Have your people call my people.  We’ll do lunch.

All joking aside, lots has happened since we last spoke.  As you know, my last D&C went very, very well.  We found out that even though I was taking (by sheer accident) half the recommended dose of Megace, my atypical complex endometrial hyperplasia was “upgraded,” if you will, to atypical simple endometrial hyperplasia.  Still pre-cancerous, but now two steps away from uterine cancer and not one.  My doctor wanted me to go and see my oncologist again for her take on the news, and to see if she thought we should go forth with the hysterectomy, or if one more round of medication was worth a fighting chance.  Everyone in my life, to include family and friends and colleagues, all knew that I wanted one more shot at the meds.  Look at how far I’d come.  Even in taking a smaller dose than recommended (still can’t believe I did that…note to self, that label on the medicine bottle is there for a reason), I still got better.  My plan of attack today was simple…convince my amazing oncologist to give me six more months on the meds (at the full dose this time!), with a repeat D&C in February.  My bargaining chip?  If I’m still sick in February, you can have my uterus and cervix.  I won’t fight you.  I went in to today’s appointment with so many emotions, not having any way of knowing just how wonderful the news would be…

After being weighed and processed in, my oncologist laughed her way in to my room with a comment about how I am her fastest shrinking patient.  I guess having lost over 50 pounds since seeing her last might have something to do with that!  She did a brief exam, and told me that since my weight loss, my organs were easier to both feel and see.  Everything looks great.  As we were finishing the exam, she said something akin to, “I’m very _____ by the results of your last D&C.”  I tried so hard to remember that word, but right now, it’s just not comin’ to me.  When I got dressed and met her in her office, she and I had another epically fabulous conversation.  (Side note:  is it me, or is it absolutely wonderful when your doctor is someone who is easy to talk to?  Relatively certain it’d break medical ethics rules, but she’s someone I’d love to have drinks with sometime.  So easy to talk to.)  Where was I…?  Office conversation.  She was over the moon for me.  For my weight loss.  For having given up soda.  For having done so well on the medication, even at half the dose.  She bought off on my “six months of more meds” idea hook, line, and sinker.  She was so incredibly positive and excited about my progress.  I laughed and asked her what her word was…what did she say in the exam room?  That she was “encouraged” my the results of my last D&C?  She snickered and laughed and said, “No, my word was much stronger than ‘encouraged!”  I told her I’d come in to this appointment armed with my “six months” idea and dreading “the H word” in the worst possible way.  She smiled and shook her head and said, “Hysterectomy?  Absolutely not.  Not right now.”  And then she said something that took my breath away.  She said, and I quote, “Jennifer, this may even resolve itself.”  I’d read that hyperplasia does, on occasion, go away with medication, but my doctor had previously told me that she didn’t think that was possible in my case.  I was so over the moon today…so happy.  Happy.  Wow.  That’s an emotion I’d not felt to date about this situation.  You’ve read this blog.  You know the evolution of my feelings.  Fear, guilt, sadness, shame, worry, regret, and eventually. a peace of sorts.  But never happy.  Today, I was happy.  For the first time in a very long time, I didn’t self-identify as “sick.”  Instead, I thought of myself as “healing” and “on the mend.”  I know I am not out of the woods yet, but I’m a heck of a lot closer.

I am overwhelmingly blessed to be surrounded at my left and at my right by wonderful, beautiful people who love me and who care for me.  I’ve said it time after time…that I feel so incredibly lucky to have so many prayers and hugs and so much good energy and positivity around me all the time.  I’ve taken this journey in a very public manner, and it’s paid off beautifully.  Yesterday and today both, the hugs and the love and the prayers and the good wishes were all around me.  And look what happened.  I’m better, and I blame all of you.  How many times have I written here or said aloud that there is nothing bigger than love?  No disease.  No condition.  No pain.  No hurt.  Nothing is bigger than love.  My hyperplasia doesn’t have a chance against me because of all of you.  How else do you explain me getting better, especially in light of the fact that I took a lower dose of the medication than was prescribed for me?  It’s love.  You’ve given it from the start and it’s worked.  Some people would rather die than share this level of intimacy with the whole world.  I didn’t think twice about it, and that decision has paid off in spades.  Again and for the zillionth time, thank you.  The words seem wholly inadequate to illustrate the gratefulness I feel.  I am so blessed to have all of you in my life.  Bring it, cancer.  My people are bigger and stronger than you are, even if I’m not.  Even on those days when I feel most afraid, they’re right there, being positive and believing and praying.  You don’t have a fighting chance against them.

I Just…Am

After last week’s panic, I tried to re-shift my focus to the positive.  I don’t have cancer.  My pre-cancerous condition was caught early, and treatment has begun to (hopefully) prevent it from becoming cancer.  I have a wonderful doctor and good insurance.  I have a strong, beautiful support system behind me.  I didn’t think very much about what was happening inside me over these past several days.  My dear friend Sara re-made my webpage for me to make me smile.  Work kept me busy, as always, and I moved from project to project and got a lot accomplished.  Our daughter’s soccer team had an amazing first game (tie score, 3-3!).  We went to the off-leash area with our killer Boston Terrorista and had a wonderful time outside in the beautiful spring weather.  I spent the weekend with my husband and our dear friends (both Saturday night and Sunday) laughing and enjoying one another and the shared experience of friendship.  Plans were made for a camping trip (and a spa day for those of us who prefer indoor plumbing and the comforts of home, free of the creepy crawlies).  Shopping was done.  Crochet work on a purse neared completion.  It was a good weekend.  Then came Monday.

I’ve mentioned that two of my friends are battling cancer.  One is doing remarkably well.  The other received staggering news yesterday about her condition.  Another friend of mine has been losing her father for a long time now.  I’ve been so wrapped up in my own selfish concerns that I’ve not talked much with her about her family situation.  I got a chance to do so yesterday, and it’s heartbreaking and awful.  He’s dying and nothing can be done to stop it.  Another dear friend’s daughter (who is a Brownie sister of my daughter) has bronchiectasis and is sick….again.  (No child should suffer like this little girl has.  It’s just awful.)  My mind drifted off to an ongoing conflict I have with a former friend, and the damage it has caused to a group of people who once considered themselves a family of sorts.  All added together, it made for a crummy evening.  I felt awful inside.  Empty.  Why is it that so many wonderful people who have done nothing wrong suffer and endure heartbreak and physical pain, the likes of which many of us won’t ever know?  It lacks justice on every level, and is so incredibly unfair.  I realize that life isn’t supposed to be fair.  No one ever promised us an easy go of it.  I feel incredibly limited in my ability to help the people I love and it makes me sad.  Maybe the answer is just to love and pray…and to let God handle the heavy things for which my hand can bring no healing and my heart can bring no resolution.  Giving it all to God should make me feel better, but it doesn’t.  Hard to let go, I guess, of the human inclination to control and hang on and do-do-do on our own. 

I spent my lunch hour at the office today looking again at information on atypical complex endometrial hyperplasia.  I’m reading good things and bad things.  One study seemed to indicate that there is a relatively high regression rate of complex hyperplasia with atypia (55%!)  Other literature dooms ACEH patients to certain cancer with or without a hysterectomy (I think it said that in 43% of women undergoing a hysterectomy because of ACEH, the uterus was found to have endometrial cancer).  An amazing YouTube video shows what this disorder looks like through the lens of a microscope.  I’m slowly starting to look again at this information, and hoping to remain grounded and strong enough to see it in its true light and to not panic.  I see my doctor again this week for a follow-up, and I have so many questions for her (Will I need another D&C after the three months of Megace?  What else did the pathology report say?  Is there any metastasis of this condition?  Is this because of my PCO?  Will my daughter get it?  You promised me you’d take all the endometrial tissue out.  You did, right?)  I am looking forward to hearing what she has to say.  A little scared, too. 

Please keep my friends in your hearts and prayers.  Me, too.   Thanks.

…And Even If It’s Not OK, It’s Still OK

So it’s 9:58 on Friday evening and I’ve just returned home from a wonderful dinner and evening out with my amazing family.  A fun weekend awaits.  Tomorrow, our daughter’s soccer team has their first game, which was cancelled last weekend because winter didn’t quite get the message that he’d long outstayed his welcome.  Tomorrow night, we’ll be having dinner and an evening out with some of our dearest friends.  My heart is happy.  My snuggly Boston Terrorista is snuggled up right beside me, her left front paw resting against my leg as to say “I’ve got you, Mommy.”  My daughter is anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Tooth Fairy this evening (lost a tooth at dinner!), and my wonderful husband and I just laughed as we looked at several online April Fools Day pranks (Google GMail Motion – ha!)  It was a good day.  Productive.  My heart is happy.  Not a trace of Wednesday’s numbness.  I think I needed a day or so to just decompress.  Worry less.  Focus on the beauty. I do not have cancer, and my doctor has every reason to believe that I won’t develop it.  It’s all going to be OK, and even if it’s not, it’s still OK.

I feel so unbelievably foolish about the way I reacted Wednesday.  I lost all perspective and had a very visceral and emotional reaction, tossing aside the screamingly obvious (IT’S NOT CANCER!) and focusing only at what could be (but very likely will not).  I had a long conversation with boss #2 (the fitness buff, who, I have it on good authority, is having a few of her own female problems) and she said something  I wish I’d given more immediate consideration to:

“If you find it necessary to blame yourself for anything, blame yourself for making the decision to go to the doctor when you did.  Blame yourself for getting the necessary tests and treatment.  And blame yourself for, ultimately, saving your life.”

She’s right.  Neglecting my health like that is something I’ll never do again.  In fact, I find myself wanting to do more for other women.  There is absolutely no excuse to fail to take care of your health.  It’s YOUR health.  Your body.  Your life.  To every woman I know: please, please, please go for your annual gynecologic screenings.  The discomfort you feel is nothing in comparison to the discomfort of cancer, which, as I’ve mentioned before, two amazing people in my life are battling as we speak.  If you’re not having regular periods, it’s not enough to isolate the reason why.  Do something about it.  Medications are available that will ensure that your hormones and cycles move as they need to.  To the men who read my blog, please share this post and my story with the women you love.  A routine female examination takes less than thirty minutes, and can mean the difference between wellness and cancer.

Heaven Sends A Hurricane

“In the morning it comes.  Heaven sends a hurricane.  Not a trace of the sun, but I don’t even run from rain.”  –  Sara Bareilles, “The Light”

It’s not a good idea to give me worrysome information and then leave me alone.  This morning when I was getting ready for work (and as my husband and daughter slept), I noticed that I’d missed a few phone calls yesterday.  My Blackberry works when it wants to, and it isn’t always reliable at giving me notice when someone’s left me a voice mail message.  I missed three calls yesterday.  My mom called to check in on me.  An old friend from my grade school days called to tell me that a classmate had died from a heart attack.  And the third message was from Sherry, my doctor’s nurse.  The pathology report from last week’s D&C is in.  As expected, the polyps came back negative and I don’t have cervical cancer.  However, she said, I do have Complex Endometrial Hyperplasia.  I snuck a quick peek at Google to see if I could find any information, and the website I read scared me.  A 3-5% chance I’d develop cancer.  There I sat, Blackberry in one hand and hair dryer in the other, tearfully trying to figure out what exactly was wrong with me.  With hardly any time to talk, my husband awakened and I shared the news.  He, as always, was wonderful.  He wrapped his arms around me and reminded me that I am strong and that I am loved.  And he told me to focus on the 95-97% chance that I wouldn’t develop cancer.  I had to leave no sooner than we began talking (drawback of public transportation: be late and they leave without you).  The whole bus ride in to the office, I cried.  Fear was on my horizon, but the overwhelming feeling I had was guilt.  Guilt at having let so many years go by without taking the proper precautions to keep myself safe.  Guilt at having allowed my polycystic ovary disease (PCO) to go untreated for so many years.  More than anything, though, I felt guilty for being heavy.  Yet again, fat found another way to silently remind me of its unending presence.  Obesity is a primary cause of PCO, and PCO is a primary cause of excessive estrogen in the body, which is the cause for, all together now, endometrial hyperplasia.  I read a lot on the bus, and thanked my lucky stars that of the four pre-cancerous hyperplasias (simple, complex, simple with atypia, complex with atypia), I “only had the second worst” and that the numbers were in my favor.  When I got to work and called Sherry back, everything changed.  She told me that I had Atypical Complex Endometrial Hyperplasia with Squamous Metaplasia.  Come to find out, the diagnosis is much worse than I had initially thought.  The studies seem to reflect about a 35-40% risk of cancer for this type of hyperplasia.  Sherry was less than forthcoming with information, and it was very frustrating talking to her.  In all honesty, I learned more online than I did in our conversation.  In the end, the decision was made to give me three months of progesterone hormone therapy (a drug called Megace) and then “go back in” (Sherry’s words) to test to see if I was still symptomatic.  I asked if that meant another D&C, or if I could have the procedure as an outpatient.  “The doctor wants to talk to you about that at your return visit on the 7th.”  That was her standard response for every question I had.  How thick was the lining in my uterus?  Does she think I may need a hysterectomy?  “The doctor wants to talk to you about that at your return visit on the 7th.”  So unbelievably frustrating.  Please don’t leave me out here hanging by myself.  You’re the one with the information and the knowledge.  Help me.  And I was am still angry at the inaccurate diagnosis, too.  Don’t tell me in a voice mail message that I have a condition, only to tell me on the phone later (and only because I specifically asked what the pathology report said, mind you) that I have something (far?) worse.  As the day progressed, my feelings went from sadness and guilt to numbness.  I can’t help but feel a little foolish, too.  Much like with the D&C…a lot of worry over a simple procedure that zillions of women have had and survived.  Today’s news is not that I have cancer, rather a potentially cancerous condition.  Did we not know that on my birthday?  Why, then, did this hit me so, so hard today?

 I am trying to keep this in perspective and see it as it truly is.   Unfortunately, the numbness is making it difficult.  Maybe tomorrow, I’ll be able to see this more clearly and in the proper light.  In the meantime, I’m grateful that I don’t have cancer.  And I’m grateful for all of you who love me and who want for me to be healthy and happy.  I feel like I owe all of you an apology.  This is all my fault.  I hurt my beautiful daughter’s mother.  I hurt my husband’s wife.  I hurt my parents’ only daughter.  And I hurt someone that a wonderful group of people consider a friend.  I feel so bad.  And stupid.  And guilty.  Color me Catholic – we’ve got the market on guilt.

So Incredibly Blessed

Hi guys.  I know I promised I’d share the story about my surgery yesterday and I will in just a second.  I just wanted to say again…thank you to all of you who have been here with me through this entire process.  The love that you have given me has made all the difference.  I feel like phase one of my journey is over.  Now we wait.  Do I have cancer?  We should know in a week or so.  I know that whatever we find out, I’ll be OK.  There is absolutely no disease strong enough to beat love.  It’s just simply not possible.  Thank you for being in my lives and for lighting my heart up from within.

We were running a little bit late yesterday (oops, supposed to be at the hospital at 8, made it at 8:14! Guess it’s a good thing I’d done all that pre-admission stuff the day prior, eh?)  I wanted to get several photos outside the hospital, but I only had a few seconds to take just these two shots…

My nurse, Susan, was waiting for me.  She wrote my name on the board…

…and strapped an ID band on me…

…and then the adventure began.  A student nurse from the University of St. Mary, Loren, was with us, and she asked for my permission to follow my case from pre-admission to recovery.  Of course, I said yes.  She and Susan were wonderful…made me laugh, kept me focused, and answered all of my questions.  Things went very well.  IV in.  Did you have anything to eat or drink after midnight?  (No)  Do you understand why you’re here today?  (Yes, to remove cervical polyps and endometrial tissue)  Is your name Jennifer G-o-t-s-h-a-l-l S-m-i-t-h?  (ever since I married my husband…just G-o-t-s-h-a-l-l before then) Were you born on February 22, 1972?  (yep) As long as we talked, I was fine.  No tears, no worry.  After the IV was in and we were almost ready to go, they left me alone behind the curtain for several minutes to go in search of the leg stockings they give surgical patients to keep their blood moving and prevent clots.  In those 10 or so minutes when I was alone, the fear came back in a big way.  The wi-fi coverage back there was spotty, so I didn’t really have any connection to the outside world.  It was just me and an IV and a huge “Smile, Kansas City” poster on the wall (when smiling was the very LAST thing I wanted to do)…

When the tears were at their heaviest, the wi-fi kicked in suddenly, like a little gift from God.  I saw two messages of love and support from my dear friends Kerstin and Sara, and I felt instantly reassured and less alone.  Talk about a wonderfully timed gift of friendship.  Finally, Susan and Loren returned, and once the leg bands were on, they called my husband back to sit with me.  My doctor came in and did last-second Q&As with us.  She explained that the hysteroscope was a lighted camera and that they’d be watching everything on the screen.  She knew I was blogging the experience and would try to get pictures for me.  She said that she thought the pathology results would be back in a week or two, and promised to call me personally, when with other patients, she’d wait until the follow-up visit to discuss findings.  She was wonderful, just as she has been all along, and I felt grateful and reassured.  I told her about all of you, and all of the love and support behind me.  And then I said, “Thanks in advance.”  She smiled and as she left, she said, “You did great…in advance.”  Not long after, the nurse anesthetist (Mark?  David?  I forgot his name) and a member of his team came to take me off to the operating room.  A few Q&As with them, too.  He was wonderful.  I told him I was a singer and that the last time I’d been intubated, the extubation was horrible.  I was awake and lost my voice for six weeks.  He promised to use a special gel on the tube, which I can only surmise was to make the whole intubation experience less horrible.  I did later hear him say something like, “She’s a singer, so we need to _____” (didn’t catch all of what he said).  I told him that I was afraid of waking up mid-procedure, and he told me that the likelihood of that is 0.2%, and that’s in patients having significant surgeries, like traumas or C-sections or heart surgeries.  He said that because my procedure was so much less invasive, the chances of it happening to me were even less.  I also told him my fear of how afraid I’d be when I was laying on the table looking up at them just seconds before showtime.  He smiled and reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a little vial of what he called, “happy juice.”  He said that he’d put it in and by the time we got there, I’d not even know it.  I smiled and said, “OK!  Do it!”  Off we went to the OR after a few kisses from my husband.  Honestly, I remember so little after that.  I remember Loren not being gowned and them sending her away, presumably to scrub up before the surgery.  I remember a sweet lady saying hello and introducing herself as my surgical nurse.  I remember an anesthesiologist saying hello.  They had me move from the pre-op bed to the table.  Mark told me to move toward him, and I did.  He said, “Come closer, sweetie.  Move back more.”  When I did so, he asked me to lift my chin back, and that’s where it allll went black.  When I woke up, I was in recovery with Loren and Aaron, my recovery nurse.  I asked them if I was OK and they reassured me that I was.  I was in and out at that point…not really remembering anything other than Aaron’s smile and Loren being at the foot of my bed.  At one point, I heard a conversation Aaron was having, I’m guessing on the phone, with….not sure who he was talking to.  I vaguely remember him saying things like, “No, she’s not cramping.  Two polyps.  She’s doing great.  She’s not mentioning any pain.  She looks great.”  All were wonderful things to hear, of course, and made me feel comfortable and confident letting go of the little strength I had and surrendering to sleep once again.  Not long after, he said something like, “Well, this is where our time together ends,” and he rolled me down to what they call “Phase II Recovery.”  On the way down, I saw the beautiful face of my dear friend Mom V., followed by the handsome smile of my wonderful husband.  Enter Rick, my Phase II nurse.  Wonderful and funny and sweet and just all around amazing.  Coherency began to set in, and my husband explained that the doctor had told him that I did have two polyps and she’d taken them both.  She also told him that when they looked at my cervix, it had already started to dialate on its own.  The reason is because my uterine lining was so thick that it was beginning to descend through my cervix.  I can only imagine how painful and frightening it would have been for me to have seen that come through my body.  (OMG – just thinking about that!!!)  He asked her if this changed the probability that I may or may not have cancer, and she said no.  We knew that there was a lot of tissue, we just didn’t know that there was so much.  All of it was taken out, and all of it would be sent off to pathology for a cancer screen.  She drew him a photo of what a normal cervix looks like…

And what mine looked like…

And what the entire inside looked like with the polyps and the descending uterine tissue…

(I decided not to upload the actual surgical photos because they’re pretty graphic.)

She sent me home with Lortab and Hydrocodone for the pain, and I’ve not needed either.  I’d say it was around 2 or so when we got home, and I slept until 5:45 or so, and then from about 6:45 until 9.  In between naps, I answered emails and caught up on Facebook and took a few calls from family and friends checking in on me.  The worst of the discomfort was the super-grogginess and the minor scratchy-sore throat from the breathing tube.  No violent, narcotic-resistent uterine cramping!  Today, the only pain I feel is the little residual scratchy-ness in my throat.  Still no cramping, and no need to tear in to the super strong pain meds or the narcotics.  I drove today, running a few errands and going shopping.  A dear friend made some homemade Mexican brownies and Ro-tel dip & chips for us, and brought it by today.  My mom, mother-in-law, and Mom V. called to check on me.  I called the office to check in on the gossip and to hear what was going on with one of my disciplinary cases.  One of our Omaha managers sent me some beautiful flowers.  I called Menorah’s Director of Surgical Services to ask where I could send a letter of “thanks” to my amazing nurses.  It was a good day.  I feel like me again.

I am overwhelmingly blessed.  I feel wonderful and now join a long list of women who have successfully undergone this procedure.  It’ll be my turn now to help the next woman who’s facing this fear  Paying it forward, so to speak.  It’s pizza and funny movie night here at our house, and we’re having dinner and a movie with Sara and her family tomorrow.  Celebrating birthdays this weekend in Missouri with my in-laws.  A wonderful weekend of love following weeks of support and prayers and well wishes from all of you.  I feel tremendously blessed to be OK, and to be loved by so many wonderful people.  Thank you for being a part of my journey, my heart, and my life.

One more thing…..if you live in the Kansas City area and ever need surgery, you owe it to yourself to have it at Menorah Medical Center.  The nurses there were absolutely amazing and everyone was so, so kind.