Light in the Valley of the Shadow of Death (part twenty-four)

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)

By the end of March 2012, I was feeling far less fatigued than just four weeks earlier, when I finished my course of treatment for parotid gland cancer.  This sense of increasing vitality was reflected in the test results from the blood that was drawn at my weekly follow-up appointment with my medical oncologist: my white blood count had risen to within the normal range in just four weeks’ time.  This positive development meant I would no longer need to see Dr. Hayes on a weekly basis.  With more time between appointments, life could begin to regain a sense of normalcy.

March also marked a much-anticipated visit from my mother and sister from Ohio.  I had asked them to hold off coming to North Carolina until my treatments were over so that they could help me as I regained my strength and attempted to resume the everyday aspects of family life, like shopping for groceries, cooking meals for Gil and Caleb, and laundering our clothes.  Although I was feeling much stronger, I still had a ways to go before I could resume fully these domestic responsibilities.

While they were visiting I learned, to my great delight, that I would be the beneficiary of four complimentary house cleanings, through a program called, Cleaning for a Reason, which my friend, Beth, had told me about.  Cleaning for a Reason is a national non-profit program which matches house cleaning businesses, which are willing to offer pro bono services, with women going through treatment for cancer.  The first of those free cleanings took place in mid-March.

In May, our water heater broke, which was not surprising since it was more than fifteen years old.  The damage was minimal and by the end of the day it had been replaced with a new one.  However, after the plumber left, and as I was sitting at our kitchen table, my eye was drawn upwards to the place in the ceiling where there had been a leak six months before – one that had manifested itself on the day after I had been diagnosed with cancer.  Only now, there was a huge water spot on the ceiling.  I realized it must have occurred shortly after the plumber turned the water supply to the house back on.

But what had caused the water spot?  Gil and I had assumed the previous November, when we noticed water dripping from the kitchen ceiling, that it was the result of a faulty shower pan under the shower in our master bathroom, which is directly above that area of the kitchen.  However, we had not used that shower since then; neither had any water leaked from the ceiling since that time.  If the water spot was not related to the shower in any way, then what had caused it?

That riddle was solved by Keith, a man skilled in determining the source of water leaks, who is employed by the water, fire and wind damage restoration company our insurance adjuster recommend we contact.  It turns out that the leak and the water spot were from Continue reading

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Light in the Valley of the Shadow of Death (part twenty-three)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

On the afternoon before my last chemotherapy treatment, I succumbed to the stress and exhaustion that had been building for weeks and I began to sob.  Rain beat relentlessly against the French doors leading out onto our patio while I lay inside on a sofa in the family room halfheartedly watching a marathon showing of all the Downton Abbey episodes from season two.  It was a Sunday and the nausea from the treatment I had received the previous Monday had just subsided.  I hadn’t been well enough to go to church that morning, something which grieved me greatly, and the thought of subjecting myself to renewed nausea for another week was just too much to bear.  I had had enough.

Gil came over and put his arms around me and I cried into his shoulder.  He knows me so well and he knows just what to say whenever I fall into such a deep emotional pit. He knew that I was feeling trapped and so he told me I didn’t have to go through with the chemo treatment if I didn’t want to.  I could call it quits – and I would have his full support.

I straightened myself up and my head began to clear as I thought about this option.  I hadn’t considered before that I had a choice in the matter – that I didn’t have to do what my doctors wanted me to do, unless I agreed to it.  How liberating that notion was.  Suddenly, I didn’t feel as powerless as I did moments before.  In this new frame of mind I was able to pray and listen for God’s direction.  I discerned Him saying again, what he had promised many times over the past several months: “I will get you through this.  Keep your eyes on Me.”

So I did undergo that final chemotherapy treatment the next day.  And as with my very first one, Continue reading

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Light in the Valley of the Shadow of Death (part twenty-two)

“You keep her in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because she trusts in you.  Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.  (Isaiah 26:3-4, ESV)

I was told to expect that the side effects from my weekly chemotherapy treatments and daily radiation treatments, which began in January of 2012, would be minimal at first.  However, I was warned that the side-effects would increase exponentially as the weeks wore on.  This piece of information from my doctors proved to be very accurate.  At first I experienced nausea from the chemotherapy only on Wednesdays and Thursdays; just two days out of seven.  However, by the fifth week of treatment, I was experiencing nausea for five, and sometimes six, days of the week.

The second of the three prescriptions which Dr. Hayes, my medical oncologist, had prescribed for nausea helped me a great deal.  However, this medication came with its own side-effects – lots of fatigue and constipation.  So as my need for it increased over the weeks, so did the side effects from it.  Having to deal with side-effects from multiple sources is common for patients being treated for cancer.

Location of taste buds on the human tongue.

Furthermore, I had underestimated how the loss of my taste buds, due to the radiation treatments, would affect my ability to eat.  I assumed that food would still be edible, even if it had no taste.  But I was wrong about that.  First to go was my ability to taste sweetness and saltiness.  Potato chips simply tasted greasy and chocolate tasted like dirt.  But soon I lost the ability to taste anything accurately and the dissonance between what I expected food to taste like and the distorted sensation I did taste was so great that there was not much I could bear to eat.  I did find some foods that were somewhat tolerable – ones that were naturally bland, and which had an interesting texture, like scrambled eggs, hot dogs and vegetables.   Although these didn’t seem quite right, either, at least I could consume them in small quantities without gagging.

Also, by the end of the third week of treatments, I developed a condition known as “thrush.”  Thrush is a yeast infection of the mouth and tongue, which commonly occurs in head and neck cancer patients who are undergoing radiation treatments.  The radiation kills off healthy bacteria in the mouth (as well as taste buds) creating a condition in which yeast bacteria can multiply.  My tongue felt like it had hundreds of paper cuts all over it and my gums were sore.

There is a prescription pill to treat thrush, but it, too, comes with side-effects, chief of which is Continue reading

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