Sunday, February 19, 2012

My Story.

Five years.

Those words taste really, really sweet in my mouth. Five whole years. That's 1,825 days. And I'm thankful for every single one.

Today is February 23, 2012, and as of today, I am officially five years N.E.D. For those of you who are not actively involved in the cancer world, N.E.D. means No Evidence of Disease, and it is what the doctors declare you when you receive a clean scan. During the first five years is when relapses generally occur, so making the five year mark is kind of a big deal. So, I wanted to share my story with you guys. This is just a snippet, but here is my journey through these past five years.

When I was in the fifth grade, the school calendar that we had allowed for a short winter break in the middle of February. That year my family decided to go on vacation to the beach with a couple of my parent's friends. While we were there, I came down with a terrible cold. The cold ran its course, but during that time a knot appeared on the right-front side of my neck. When we got back home, my mom took me to my pediatrician. The doctor checked my neck and was not one bit concerned. "These things happen all the time," he told us, "they can be caused by a number of things, even just a simple dental cleaning. And they can take up to a year to go down." But, since the knot was resting on my airway, he decided to attempt to get rid of it via antibiotics. I had several rounds of these numerous medications, but the knot never shrank, which left the doctor quite puzzled. He then sent me to my parent's family doctor, Dr. G, who also put me through several rounds of antibiotics. This medication cycle had lasted almost an entire year at this point, and the knot was still unfazed. The family doctor couldn't figure me out, so I was referred to yet another doctor: an otolaryngologist that my dad had been going to for his own ear problems, which I unfortunately gained in the gene pool. When the otolaryngologist, Dr. M., looked into my ears, he saw several things that needed to be fixed, including a total reconstruction of my left inner ear and a removal of a cholesteatoma from my right ear. This would require some out-patient surgery. So, a couple weeks later in late January, I found myself in what would become a very familiar setting at Baptist hospital. The plan originally was to fix my ears and wait to see if the knot on my neck would go away as a result. But my family doctor had this feeling that he just couldn't shake and, the week of the surgery, he called in and ordered a biopsy be done of the knot in my neck while I was under anesthesia. No one was really quite expecting the results.

While in recovery from this first surgery, the completely baffled otolaryngologist brought the news to my parents. Cancer. Papillary Carcinoma of the Thyroid to be exact. The doctor was so astounded, as he had never seen this type of cancer appear in this way. Once I was awake enough to understand them, the trio of my parents and Dr. M. delivered the news to me. A month later, I sat in the same exact hospital for a complete thyroidectomy. What began as a simple 3 hour surgery soon turned into 7.5 due to the complicated growth of the tumor on my thyroid. In total, they ended up removing the entire thyroid itself, all of my lymph glands in my neck, two of my para-thyroids (they control calcium intake), and my right vocal chord nerve. (This is where I want to interject that if they had let this run its course like they wanted to, rather than biopsy, there is a very real chance that I wouldn't be able to speak today.) I remained in in-patient care for a little over two weeks. I would elaborate more on this time in my life, but I really don't remember it. Drugs can do some fabulous things! I do remember the fact that I couldn't speak or lift my own head off of the pillow by myself. It was no fun at all.

A few months after surgery, we had our first set of scans. This was in the stone age of five years ago where we didn't have the lovely medicine known as Thyrogen yet (I'll get there in a sec!). So, to begin with, I had to go on a no-iodine diet for 6-8 weeks. Do you know what all has iodine in it? Everything! So it was interesting. During that time I also had to be off of my thyroid hormone medication, which made me a tad bit crazy! I went into the hospital one day to receive a tracer pill for the cancer cells, and then the following day for the actual scan. This scan was super long, and no fun as I had to have my bladder full for the entire thing! Then, once it was completed, the radiologist reviewed the scan and ordered my dosage of radioactive iodine, also called I-131. A pill was delivered inside of a huge, metal, sealed container that I was only allowed to open after everyone else had left the room. My parents then drove me straight home where I was isolated to my room for 7-10 days. I couldn't be near anyone at all, because the radiation that I had inside of me would cause harm to someone else with a healthy thyroid. Anything my parents needed to give to me, they had to leave at the top of our stairs and go back down before I could move out of my room to get it. I am a big people-person, so that was quite difficult. I missed my hugs, and seeing people. Finally, when all was said and done, we went in and did a separate scan to mark our progress. It was a slow-working radiation that needed to be given some time, so it was several months later before I went through that same cycle again.

After I had dieted and scanned again, the scans appeared to be clear! There was one tiny spot on the film that was literally the size of a pixel, so to be safe we had some blood work done in the labs. When the blood work came back, it revealed that the spot (which was resting on my one remaining vocal chord) was larger than the scan had led on, and called for another round of radiation. So, another 7-10 days isolated. This time, though, they had to almost double my dosage so that the same concentration of radiation would hit that small spot. I was quite sick for a few days, and being sick when no one can be around you is not an experience I would wish on anyone! When I had the radiation, I lost my sense of taste for almost six months. I couldn't taste a thing, the only think I could determine was if the food was warm or cold. This radiation also settled into my salivary glands, making them no longer function. This is still an issue that I deal with today, but medicine is making some amazing discoveries, and we're hoping that we'll be able to treat it someday! A scan that soon followed my last round of radiation showed that I was finally and officially NED!! Each year, I go back for scans. Now, though, I am old enough to be on a medication called Thyrogen, which I mentioned earlier. This is a three day process that basically takes the place of all of the dieting and hypothyroidism! I go in two days for shots, and then 72 hours later I have an extensive lab draw. From this, they are able to tell more than they would with the scan in the first place! So neat, and so much less taxing on my body! Anyway, I have been blessed enough to remain NED for the past five years. True, these years have been an emotional roller coaster with unexpected twists and turns, medicine changes, lab work, doctors visits, relapse scares, and days when I honestly didn't know if I'd make it through. It's been one of the scariest and most difficult things to face, but I'm so much stronger for it.

In many ways, five years ago seems like a lifetime, but in many others it seems like it all just happened yesterday. Cancer has taught me many lessons. It's taught me how to appreciate the small things in life, because you never know when you won't have time to enjoy them as much. It's taught me that, no matter how bad it may seem, there's always someone who is worse off. Always. It's taught me to not sweat the issues, no matter how pressing they may seem at the moment. Life is too short to worry all the time. And finally, it's taught me how to love people. Through this journey, I have been blessed with the opportunity to get to know an entire world of people. The cancer world is one that I wish no one had to enter, but it's one I'm thankful for every single day. These people have the biggest hearts of anyone I know, and I truly aspire to love like they all do one day. Because of them, I am now considering entering into a field of working with pediatric oncology patients. This is a field I probably never would have even heart of had I not been involved myself! It's neat the way things work out like that.

So, there you have it, that's my story. I want to take a minute and thank each and every single person who has been a part of my life over these past five years. I am so blessed to have each person that I do in my life! I can't imagine life any other way. Every single smile, encouraging word, gift, conversation, and experience has been more of a blessing than I could even begin to explain! Without all of you, I most definitely wouldn't be here today. So, thank you. SO much. I love you guys with my whole entire heart!!

Every day that I wake up and look into a mirror, the pink crease at the base of my neck is a reminder to me of how beautiful life is. True, it's a scar. But with that scar comes the most amazing feeling in the world. The feeling of knowing that I'm loved, and lucky, and that I have a story to tell the world. I really hope that this gets to whoever needs to hear it, because I want to leave it at this: YOU are special, YOU have a story, and YOU are changing lives out there. I'm so thankful that I have YOU in MY life!! <3


Love,
Sarah

02.19.12



A la tumblr (:

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Bucket List.

#5

Mentor someone, and be able to be there for them whenever they need me.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

02.12.12

‎"If she’s amazing, she won’t be easy. If she’s easy, she won’t be amazing. If she’s worth it, you won’t give up. If you give up, you’re not worthy." ~Unknown

via Gabby (:

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Bucket List.

#4

Eat Authentic Italian food, in Italy!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

My Road to Healthy.

Psssst. I have a secret.

I've always struggled with my health.

Phew! Sure does feel great to get that off my chest. Now, why am I telling you this, you ask?

Because I'm done with it. I'm done with the unhealthy me.

That's right! I'm getting fit, and I'm doing it now. There's no better time than the present right? As I embark on this journey, because that is fully what this will be, I want to lay out some fundamental rules for myself to follow. And I want to post this for the entire world to see, because I need your help.

I need you to keep me accountable.

Okay? Please, please, please. I'm only a step above begging at this point. Call me out on my unhealthy habits. Tell me to put the brownie down and step away from the cake. Tell me that water is a lovely alternative for whatever beverage that I may be consuming at the moment. If I miss a workout (this mostly applies to my Zumba friends), call me out on it. Make sure I did something to compensate for my absence at class. I'm not very good at being self-motivated, so I'm going to need a ton of help. I'm serious, it may take an army. But I want each and every one of you to stay on my butt!

So, here are my rules... or guidelines, really. Thank you in advance for all of your help!

1. Don't forget my worth. Who I am is not defined by a body shape or number on a scale. Who I am is so much more than those things, and I am worthy.

2. Don't be negative. Mind and body are connected, so be nice!

3. Go all out, even when I don't necessarily feel like it. You won't regret the feeling that comes after an awesome workout.

4. Stop making excuses. I'm not too tired, and I do have time.

5. Eat to nourish my body. Stop filling it with crap and empty calories. And snack with healthy snacks!

6. Don't get discouraged with a plateau. My body has to take time to adjust to the new routine, and regardless of the numbers, inches or pounds, I am still moving towards a healthier lifestyle.

7. Don't get frustrated when I do slip up. It's going to happen. Don't call it quits when it does, but use it as a platform to keep pushing myself forward.

8. It took more than a day to put this weight on, and it's going to take more than a day to get it off. Keep moving forward, because each baby step in the right direction counts.

9. EXERCISE. Do something I love to do, and do it often. Like Zumba! And Dance! And weight lifting!

10. Encourage and allow myself to be encouraged by others that are walking this journey alongside me. We CAN do this... and we WILL do this!!

So, there you have it. These are small, but they are only a beginning! I hope that you'll join me on this journey, and I really would appreciate your help as I walk this road! Do you guys have any more tips? Anything that will help me out? What do you do to get healthy?

Thanks! Love you guys!!

Monday, February 6, 2012

02.06.12

I've spent so long feeling worthless.

Do you know what that feels like? To feel like you are of less worth than a penny in a mud puddle? It's a scary place to be. For several years, I consistently had someone whispering in my ear how worthless I was... how I would never fall in love with anyone, because who in their right mind would want to love a person like me, right? Satan is a crafty person, and he's good at his job. He knows how to break your heart. He's good at telling me that I am worth so much less than I am.

Society has made things so complicated now. People think that they must be a size zero with a big smile that proves that they are perpetually happy to be anything at all. But you know what? That's crap. And that's why the world gets so messy sometimes. People are sad, but they don't cry. People are angry, but they don't scream. People are broken, but they smile like nothing is wrong. People are normal sized, but they quit eating to become ultra thin and try to attain what they perceive as the 'perfect image'. Why the heck is that? We were created in the image of GOD. THE God. The holy, righteous, amazing, all-powerful, creator of the universe, healing, moving God. How dare we say that any part of who we are and how we look isn't correct. God has purposed every single part of who we are, including our emotions. It drives me insane to see all of these people walking around with their broken eyes, hiding behind these fake smiles. Regardless of if you're smiling or not, your eyes reveal a lot about who you are. And even though the brokenness is obvious, no one takes the time to stop and care for one another. We're all so busy pursuing things that will ultimately bring no satisfaction. Trust me, you won't remember that mocha frapp nearly as much as you'll remember the time that you were there for someone who needed you. Don't be afraid to be vulnerable. I know that's so much easier said than done, but it is so worth it! Be willing to show all of who you are sometimes, mess and all, because you never know who may need to know that they're not alone in this crazy ride called life. If you're mad, scream. If you're sad, cry and eat ice cream. It's okay. I promise.

Now, I know a lot of that was just rambling. But I want to tie everything up by saying this: God is crazy about you. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, and purposed for an amazing story. Yours is a story that none can replicate, and it's special because God wrote it especially for you. Don't let someone make you feel worthless like me. Because trust me, you are SO worth it. Anyone who doesn't see how much you're worth must be completely blind. Trust HIS word, today, and know that God is all about loving on you just as you are right this moment. He is crazy about you, and He holds you right next to His heart. Banish those lies that say otherwise.

I'm not just preaching to you, though, my dear readers. I'm equally preaching to myself. Together, we can do this. Let me know if there really are any of you out there! And, if you want, we can most definitely hold each other accountable! Let's take Him at His word and believe in our worth today.

You. Are. Not. Worthless.
You. Are. LOVED.

Love,
Sarah

Sunday, February 5, 2012

02.05.12

I gave my testimony in church today.
I wish you could have heard it.
God moves in amazing ways.
Don't forget that.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Bucket List.

#3

Take a picture of the Eiffel Tower in person.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

02.01.12

"And that's the thing about people that mean everything that they say...

They think everyone else does, too."♥