Monday, August 24, 2009

Pathology Results Are In...

I got the call from the surgeon this afternoon.... pathology results are the best news they can be. We already knew I had breast cancer, which was again confirmed. In total they removed 15 lymph nodes from my left arm.... and ONLY ONE was positive!!! The one lymph node we already knew about and had already biopsied was tough and didn't allow the cancer to go any further down the chain! PRAISE GOD!!!

There's still some more tests they will do in the next week that will give more information about the characteristics and personality of the cancer that will further determine the best combination of chemo drugs for my treatment. As of now, my official cancer "stage" is II A, which is a good thing... or more accurately said, it's a God thing.

Thank you all for your continuing prayers and support.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Storms

Tonight there was a big storm in Houston... many of you may have been caught in it... we'll get to that in a minute.

First, let me catch you up since my last update. I came home from the hospital on Wednesday and things went relatively smoothly, mainly just rested.

Yesterday (Thursday) I had a few little tantrums. I didn't blog yesterday because I wasn't sure how much information is "too much information", but since then I've decided considering I've already broadcast details about my boobs and ovaries and uterus, there's just no need for holding back.

I've said all along on this journey, "It's God's story to write, I just want to be faithful in telling it."

So, God's story yesterday included a 35 year old women having a tantrum that lead to a mini melt-down. I don't really know what triggered it... it's obviously been an emotional time and things just seemed to pile up. I also know that I didn't have time or energy before surgery to process all the emotions and it was only a matter of time before that caught up with me.

One of the hardest things for me this week has been admitting my weakness, limitations, and lack of independence. I hadn't needed my mommy to give me a bath since I was a young child, but yesterday she had to do just that (and she did it gladly).

I have always been a self-sufficient and independent individual... and those attributes have been reinforced significantly by my being single at 35 and living alone for years. Translation: I'm sometimes really stubborn and proud... I love to be the one doing the helping and self-sacrificing, nursing, counseling, encouraging others, etc. But, being on the receiving end of that has been a challenge for me and will continue to be an area where God stretches me and gives me opportunities to grow and learn.

So, the tears flowed yesterday, which is to be expected from time to time. Despite my getting emotional, I still know that God is in control and has a plan for my life and every journey along the way. I did have a moment yesterday when I wanted to just say, "okay, change of plans, I don't have cancer anymore... rewind and do over." Clearly, that is not a real option.
I'm comforted when I have my "tantrums" by the book of Psalms... take a look at it for yourself... you can go from "God, you are mighty and great" to "God, where are you, I'm in despair!" in just a few chapters. Bottom line: God can handle all of our true emotions, anxiety, fears, and anything else. He IS and ALWAYS will be a good, loving, sufficient God.

Moving on to today.... started out tired (I have discovered that I have a penicillin allergy... hives on top of everything else... fun times.) Had a follow up visit with the plastic surgeon... wounds are healing well and everything is on track. Obviously we changed the antibiotic and started benadryl, so the allergic reaction is close to under control. I'm still adjusting to the feeling of foreign objects in my body: I have 2 tissue expanders in my chest, then there are the four drainage tubes and drains attached to my sides... that guy in the Spiderman movie... Dr. Otto Octavious known as "Doc Ock" ... he would totally think my "tentacles" are hot and want to date me right now. Besides feeling a little like an alien at times, my pain is under control and my range of motion in my arms is much improved.

Tonight I had a wonderful visit with an old friend I hadn't seen in a long time who brought dinner to the house. Then the big thunderstorms hit... and Alyson was on a brief errand until her car broke down on the side of the road in the rain... and Gracie needed to potty stat... and Katie accidentally knocked over my Sonic vanilla Dr. Pepper and was feeling terrible about it... and the oven was beeping telling me to do something, but I wasn't sure what... and the house phone was ringing... and my cell phone was ringing at the same time and telling me I also had a text message.... and so I loudly announced to the girls "Sit down NOW, we're going to pray" That's right, I have a master's degree in Counseling and Play Therapy and I pulled the "I'm the grown up, so do what I say" trick.

So we sat on the floor: me, Gracie (age 3), and Katie (age 4) and prayed for safety for their dad and mom in the storm... and we thanked God for giving us friends to help us weather the storms.
(Then we ate our yummy casserole and awesome brownie dessert.) And after I put them to bed, I took a REAL shower... now I'm clean head to toe and resting comfortably in the living room of my dear friend Alyson who has chosen to weather this storm with me.

Goodnight and peaceful rest to you all.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I'm Home!

I was discharged from the hospital today around 2:30pm. The first thing I did when I got home was take a bath, then I went down the road to my hair dresser and got my hair washed and blow-dryed. Being clean after 3 days with no shower felt really good.

I still have some pain, which is to be expected with this surgery. The pain meds are my friend and I'm taking them routinely to try and stay ahead of the pain. I'm getting up and around better each day, but still require frequent naps. I'm very much looking forward to sleep in my own bed tonight.

Alyson's girls Katie and Gracie were happy to have me home and have been "helping me" with walking, getting me pillows and blankets, etc.... they are adorable.

Roxy (my dog) also seems relieved to have me home... she is being very gentle with me and her GI issues seem to be improving now that her mama is at home.

The prayer pager continues to be a great encouragement and constant reminder of the extended family of faith that is with me through this journey... thank you to you all so much.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tuesday Update

It's Tuesday at 5pm and today has gone well. I have been up several times to walk around and am back on a regular diet. My pain is much more under control today, but I will continue to be sore for another week or so. I am most likely going to be discharged home sometime tomorrow.

Alyson's girls Katie and Gracie came to see me this afternoon and were adorable... they've been practicing giving "gentle hugs". We had a good visit.

Prayer requests:
1) safe travel for my dad tonight back to Arlington (mom will stay here with me through the weekend)
2) a speedy recovery for my dog Roxy (she's a boxer)- she has been having GI issues since Saturday... dad took her to the vet today... she got IV fluids for dehydration and some antibiotics... we think she's worried about me and want her to feel better ASAP
3) strength for me... surgery makes you TIRED! I'm napping constantly and have to rest after only a short walk... pray that my body has the energy it needs for healing.
4) peace and rest for Alyson and Wayne as they prepare to welcome me back in their home to care for me

Monday, August 17, 2009

Feeling Better

It's now 10pm and I'm in my hosptial room with my mom. She wore the prayer pager today and said it's been going off constantly :)

There's some pain and soreness from surgery, but it's getting better and I've been able to sleep alot today. I'm drinking water and, of course, had a Sonic Vanilla Dr. Pepper special delivered... those of you who know me well know I had to have my Sonic!

In Room

Meredith is in her room now. She is extremely groggy and in A LOT of pain. They are controlling the pain in several ways so she is able to sleep. She is sleeping now. Please pray for comfort and relief from the pain.

In recovery

Meredith is out of surgery. Everything went great! She is in recovery and said to the doctor, "I am so confused!" We will get to see her in about an hour. The pathology results from the lymph nodes will not come back until the end of the week.

Moving forward

We just heard from the surgeon-everything is going smoothly. There have been no issues at all-no elevated heart rate, no bleeding issues, etc. As Meredith would say, "The boobies have gone byebye." The plastic surgeon has taken over and is expected to be finished in one or two hours.

In surgery

Meredith is in surgery. She was in great spirits this morning-laughing and happy. She was a good patient when they started her IV (even though it took a few tries with her tricky veins). I will update when we hear from the surgeon in the middle of the surgery.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Tomorrow is the big day...

From Alyson:

It's 8:30pm... less than 12 hours until surgery time. Meredith is still getting things together for tomorrow, so I thought I would give you a quick update with some prayer requests for tomorrow.

Meredith, Mary (her mom), and I met with the oncologist, the surgeon, and the plastic surgeon on Friday. It was an exhausting day of appointments and paperwork but we all felt better prepared for tomorrow when we were finished. We got great news from the oncologist. All the labs and tests looking for metastases came back clean-there are no other obvious tumors in her body! Also, chemo will not start until 6-8 weeks after the surgery. That puts the first chemo treatment into early October which gives the doctors more time to get her eggs harvested and put them on ice (almost double the amount of time we originally expected)! As you can imagine, there was a deep sigh of relief (and thankfulness) when we got these updates.

Another story of God's faithfulness...Meredith has been very careful about when and how we have talked to Katie and Gracie about everything that is happening. (I am so thankful that she is a trained play therapist-she knows how to explain all this in ways they understand!) Since surgery was coming up, Meredith was looking for various supplies for "medical play" with the girls. The wonderful staff at the plastic surgeon's office were eager to help us get what we needed, but they ran into roadblocks as they looked for one item in particular- a JP drain. A single drain costs more than $50, so there were not many "spare" ones lying around. Earlier this week, I got an email from the nurse apologizing because they weren't able to get one for us. I was disappointed, but I knew God wants to protect Katie and Gracie's hearts and minds even more than I do. He knew exactly what supplies Meredith would need to talk to them. I left it at His feet. No more than an hour later, I got a second email from the nurse saying that the hospital GAVE a fully functional drain to the doctor to give to us! He owns the cattle on a thousand hills...and the medical supplies of a thousand hospitals! Yesterday, we had a sweet time of explanation and play with the girls as they played surgeon on their dolls. (see pictures below) Katie already says she wants to be a doctor when she grows up, so playing surgeon was VERY exciting!

Ok, now for info about tomorrow:
Meredith's surgery begins at 7:30 AM (that means an EXTREMELY early morning for all of us) and is expected to finish around 1:00 PM. She will be spending one or two nights at Houston Northwest Medical Center. We will know her room number when she is in recovery tomorrow. I will update the blog as we get information. Meredith's mom, Mary, will be wearing the prayer pager during the day tomorrow, so continue to page her as you pray! The prayer pager number is 713-200-0069 (just put in your zip code). I know it will be an incredible encouragement to all of us!!

Meredith is looking forward to seeing everyone again, but she has asked that visitors be limited to immediate family on Monday. On Tuesday, I'm sure she will enjoy having a few visitors. She is expected to come home on Wednesday.
If you would like to help with meals, a care calendar has been set up for Meredith. Email me at alysonjpmiller@gmail.com for the web address and code. If you would like to send her a note while she is in the hospital, feel free to email me at that address. I will print them out and share them with her.

Prayer requests:

1. Wisdom, energy, and expertise for all who are involved in the surgery. This includes respecting the "sterile field"...you can ask Meredith about that one later. :)

2. Peace and comfort for Meredith. This is MAJOR for her in so many ways. She has been in many hospitals as a nurse and done many procedures on patients, but she has never had an IV herself, never had stitches or a broken bone, and never slept in a hospital bed; so this is like jumping into the deep end...

3. For Meredith, a deep "heart" understanding that body and soul, she is marvelously made (Psalm 139:14 from The Message).

4. Strength and endurance for the rest of us (Mike, Mary, Nathan, Alyson, and anyone else I'm forgetting) as we sit at the hospital and as we care for Meredith in the coming weeks.





Thursday, August 6, 2009

Okay... here it is... the long awaited update... you'll quickly see why it's taken so long for me to get back to blogging.

Here's a summary of the last few weeks: (PARENTS: Please keep in mind this is a story about Breast Cancer... please screen this blog before deciding if you want your children to read it.)

Tues, June 23: I turned 35.

Thurs, June 25: 2 days after turning 35 I got a mammogram (Thank you Dr. Dawson for instructing me many years ago to start getting mammograms at 35... that advise saved my life.)

Tues, July 7: I had a repeat mammogram and ultrasound done... they informed me they had concerns and wanted to do a biopsy

Fri, July 10: I had a biopsy done on my left breast and a lymph node on the same side

Tues, July 14: The pathology results were in and I got the call from my Ob/Gyn that both biopsy samples were both positive for cancer... I fell to my knees in my office and cried and prayed... and felt the loving arms of my God wrapped tightly around me. I called my parents, my brother, and my best friend Alyson Pope Miller (who lives in Houston)

Wed, July 15: Mom and Dad drove down from Arlington... that afternoon my parents, Alyson, and my brother Nathan all went with me to my appointment with my Surgeon... there were some tears shed, but again the peace of God which transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:7) was very real to me.

Fri, July 17: Four more biopsies were done... (the pathology results would later show the same kind of cancer that we had already discovered)

Sat, July 18: My small group met for a sweet time of fellowship and prayer with me, my parents, and Alyson. Afterwards, I was in my car driving back to Alyson's house when my car A/C went out... again (it had been in the shop 3 times in the previous 2 months for A/C problems.)

Mon, July 20: I called my brother Nathan and told him I needed a man's help... he went with me to the auto repair shop and I let them know that I couldn't handle the stress of the car and that Nathan would be handling it all (thanks Bubba!)

My mom and Alyson went with me to my first appointment with the oncologist... she spent over 2 hours with us! I have been blessed with an amazing team of compassionate and knowledgeable doctors.

Tues, July 21: Exactly one week after my diagnosis. My mom left that morning to return to Arlington... and I returned to work for the first time in a week. After work I picked up my car from the shop... at NO CHARGE! (the compressor had to be replaced again and I had already paid for it to be replaced in May)

So, I headed home to my apartment to eat dinner before heading to small group... when I walked in the door, things were a mess... it took me a minute to realize that my apartment had been broken into that day while I was at work. My reaction?... "Are you kidding me?!!... No, really, are you KIDDING me?!!!... don't the burglar's know I've just been diagnosed with cancer....and my car A/C has been out the last few days in the 110 degree heat ....and therefore they CAN'T do this to ME!" I quickly scanned the living room to see what was missing... my new laptop my parents had purchased for me just 6 days prior and 2 digital cameras.

Then I looked into the bedroom and saw my big jewelry chest with the drawers pulled out on the floor and all emptied, and immediately I held my breath... 95% of my jewelry is inexpensive and easily replaced, except for a few sentimental pieces including the ring that Alyson and her husband Wayne gave me for my birthday when I first moved to Houston... it had so much sentimental value, especially now since Alyson was by my side at every step of this new journey with cancer in my life. As I walked into my bedroom I feared the ring was gone and said "Oh Lord, NO!" I stepped into the room... and there on my bed was the box that I kept my ring in... I held my breath and opened it... and there was my ring safely inside!!!!!! Immediately I KNEW that God had intervened... the burglar's definitely saw the ring box... they had taken it out of it's drawer, dumped and packed everything else in the drawer to take with them, then picked up the ring box and set it on the bed... and God must have made them forget it or blinded them to it, because there it was. A passage from 2 Corinthians 4: 8-9 came to my mind. "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." God is SO faithful in all circumstances... He knew that even though it's just a possession, losing that ring would have crushed my spirit, so He protected it.

I called the police... they came out quickly and the officer informed me there had been several break-ins in my complex recently... not violent crimes, just "crimes of opportunity" where they took things that are easy to carry and sell quickly. I knew that I couldn't deal with the stress of worrying about safety on top of everything else, and that I would be moving. I called Sareca from my small group to let her know I wouldn't make it to group... a few minutes later I got a text from her saying "We're on our way." My sweet sisters-in-Christ came to my apartment and helped me pack to go stay with friends and spent time praying with me.

I never stayed another night at that apartment.

Wed, July 22: I woke up at Alyson's house and got ready for work... I knew I needed to move and didn't have time to find a place, and I knew that my precious friends would welcome me with open arms into their home, and I know that God works ALL THINGS for good, and I knew that I wouldn't be able to live alone throughout all of my treatment, so I told Alyson I was moving in. Right as I was about to leave for work, Alyson's 4-year-old daughter Katie asked me "Mer Mer (the girls' nickname for me), are you going to stay at our house again tonight?" I told Alyson to grab the video camera, and we recorded me telling the girls (Katie and 3-year-old sister Gracie) that I would be living with them... their reaction was PRICELESS!
****SEE THE VIDEO CLIP AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POSTING****

Thurs, July 23: I had an appointment with a fertility specialist... not something I had ever before imagined doing, especially not while single! The thing is, chemo has a tendency to permanently shutdown the ovaries. The doctor told me that after all of my surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and 5 years of Tamoxifen are complete, my chance of getting pregnant will be less than 1%... My IMMEDIATE response to him was "My God is big enough." There's so much more I need to write about the fertility issue and plan but, in the interest of time, for now just know that we're working on it (freezing my eggs) and God is very clearly guiding me through a situation I NEVER saw coming.

Sat, July 25: girls from my small group met me at my apartment and helped me quickly pack everything for the move

Mon, July 27: My appointment with the plastic surgeon (Alyson was there with me for this one too)

Tues, July 28: The movers came to the apartment... one week after the break-in all of my boxes and furniture were out of the apartment and taken to Alyson's house. My amazingly gracious friend stored enough of their furniture to make sure there would be room for me to have my own bed, couch, TV, etc. all set up so I could really feel comfortable and at home during my treatment and recovery.

Wed, July 29: I received my "Prayer Pager" from my church (Second Baptist in Houston). When someone prays for me, they can call my pager # 713-200-0069 and enter their zip code and hit pound(#)... then my pager goes off and shows the zip code.

Now, those of you who know me well are aware that I startle very easily... and that I'm very ticklish... so you can imagine how entertaining it has been for me to wear a vibrating prayer pager on my waist that goes off constantly. :) That being said, I've gotten used to it, so keep the prayers and pages coming!!

Thurs, July 30: Appointment with the radiation oncologist... everything goes well and she prepares me to expect that they will recommend radiation once the pathology results are received from my surgery.

Sun, Aug 2: I gave my testimony in my Sunday School class

Mon, Aug 3: After work I attended a support group for women with breast cancer... and I went home doing the ugly, can't breath, snot dripping, sobbing cry (you ladies know the cry I'm talking about).

As a nurse and a daughter who watched her mom go through breast cancer twice, I know a lot of the milestones that are ahead, but as I sat in that group, I was aware of how young I am in comparison to the other women, and that I don't feel at all like a "sick person." I've been asymptomatic this entire time... the only reason we found the cancer was because of the mammogram... I still feel as healthy and strong as ever.

Let me say that it was SO comforting to know that I was NOT driving home to a lonely one-bedroom apartment. Instead, I was going home to my dear friends. Wayne made an emergency food run for comfort food for me & Alyson gave me a big hug and just listened while I threw a brief "this is not my life" tantrum... then we watched So You Think You Can Dance (great show) and Wayne made me do the Mer Mer belly laugh when he tried to "dance." The tears quickly dried and we ended the night laughing and talking... and I thanked God for the burglary that lead me to the decision to live with my friends.

Thurs, Aug 6: I took the day off to spend at the hospital for a chest xray, bone scan, blood work, and abdominal ultrasound. All of these tests are relatively standard to check for any spread of the cancer... still waiting on official results, but I expect them to be clear.



And that pretty much brings us to today.



THE PLAN:

4 major steps: Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, more surgery.

Translation: Bye-Bye boobies, lose my hair, get red & irritated skin, then hello upgrade :)


Surgery is Monday 8/17/09 at 7:30am at Houston Northwest Medical Center. I will probably stay in the hospital for 2 nights. I'm scheduled to be off of work for 2 weeks. My parents, of course, will be here and my mom will stay with me in the hospital. I will assign someone to post an update on my blog the day of surgery for you all to read.



Prayer Requests:

1) Continued peace and guidance in this journey

2) Rest and good health this week entering into surgery

3) Strength, rest, and energy for my parents, brother and his family, and Alyson and her family as they rally around me and care for me in the next few weeks

4) Strength for the nurses at work who will be absorbing my patients while I'm away

5) Patience and understanding for Katie and Gracie (ages 4 and 3) as they witness my journey through surgery (Remember I'm a trained play therapist and nurse... God prepared me long ago to be ready to help them through this in age-appropriate ways!)

6) Pray that I have my period after surgery... yes, you just read that right, I said pray for my period, as in menstrual cycle. Stress can cause it to be delayed... and surgery can delay it also... and I need to have it for the fertility treatments before starting chemo.
(Talk about getting personal! I've said throughout this journey "It's God's story to write, I just want to be faithful in telling it." Well, my ability to one day be pregnant is part of God's story, so I'm telling it)


Financial Assistance:
Cancer is expensive. I am very grateful for insurance that will cover the vast majority of the cost. Fertility treatments are not covered by insurance. So far, I’ve paid for the 1st biopsy and co-pays for doctor visits. I know the bills will soon start to add up… I’m just trusting that God has a plan that includes all the financial matters.
I have always been uncomfortable asking for money… even in grade school when I had something to sell for a fundraiser, I dreaded asking for money. I have had a few friends ask recently about helping financially. In order to take the emotion and guilt out of this topic for me (and yes, I know it’s my issue and I need to learn to accept generosity from others), I have appointed my brother Nathan Stedham to be in charge of the “Mer Mer Cancer Fund.” He can be reached by email at Nathan@mirandgroup.com .


Thank you all SO MUCH for your support, prayers, cards, emails, text messages, etc.
I am incredibly blessed!

Meredith
meredithstedham@hotmail.com
(If you need my mailing address, email me and I will send it to you)

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