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This blog really isn't designed to be about ME, however I am willing to share my life with you so that you can gain knowledge about living with cancer, the importance of continued research in cancer fighting drugs, and how the FDA's decisions on releasing or pulling a drug from cancer patients can greatly impact many lives. While my cancer is advanced breast cancer, I am fighting for all cancers, and actually life in general. My life has been directly affected by many other cancers as family members, friends and chemo buddies have died from various cancers. Each one of these people have shaped my life and I am fighting to honor their fight, and to continue fighting for all of us touched by this horible disease in some way. Most of all, I'm fighting for the right of my 11 year old daughter to continue having a healthy mother, and for my Husband and Mother to keep them from the pain and torment that comes from seeing a loved one die from cancer. The FIGHT IS ON!! Please join me!!!

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Awesome Feeling When You Become Aware of God's Purpose

Life can be so stressful when things don't go the way you plan, but I'm a true believer that God has a reason for all things that happen in our lives, and that sometimes the purpose becomes apparent.  After many disappointments in my lifetime, only to learn that God's plans for me were far greater than anything I could have asked for, I have learned to understand that He will care for me.  God will put my interest first, and he loves me.  Obstacles often present themselves and I've been blessed to understand that God's hand is at work and how he can "fix" the broken is beyond any realm of earthly understanding!

June, 1997
Dewey had just graduated from the Highway Patrol Academy and he had been assigned to work in Marble Hill, Missouri.  I had just graduated with a teaching degree and the moment we learned we heard our location assignment, I began submitting applications to the schools in the Bollinger county and surrounding areas.  Most schools had already done all of their hiring by this point, so I knew that it would be difficult to find a position.

So here we were...the stress monitor would have exploded...at this point we had been married 10 years, but we haven't lived together in 6 months due to him being gone to the Highway Patrol Academy in Jefferson City for his training.  We were adjusting to each other, both starting new careers, I was trying to find a job, we were looking for a house to rent, trying to sell our house we were leaving... and the stress list goes on and on, but God took the best care of us!

All the time that these things were going on at once, I knew that I had a medical issue that needed attention.  I delayed it and put it on the back burner because the other issues were time sensitive, and I knew that the problem I had in my breast would still be there and I could deal with it as soon as we were able to get settled. (By the way...Don't try that method out...always put your health first!)

I know, I know...you are thinking, "Julie, Where are you going with this story?"  It is a lot going on to get you to the important parts, but hang in with me and you will see it come full circle.!

We found a place to move in, we got moved and were settled, and Dewey had a few weeks before his first Patrol "Duty" began.  I was still in the job interview process.  A job presented itself to me.  The perfect job!  Immediately I got myself presentable and my things together and drove to the school to hopefully get the opportunity to talk to someone with enough administrative "pull" to get my foot into the door for an interview.  Things went perfect.  The first person I met was the principal, and it seemed like we knew each other.  Before the visit was over, I was given a time for a formal interview that took place the following week.

Things were looking great.  Being a small area, and late in the year for a teaching job to become available (It was late June) I had good vibes about getting this job.  After the interview, I felt even better.  The principal all but gave me a key to the room.  He was presenting me to the board, he had no doubt that I would be joining their staff.  Things were going great. The school board meeting was coming up the next week and I would be given an official answer.  I felt certain that I had the job, but it was a long wait!

The night of the school board meeting, I didn't get the phone call I expected.  The following day, I waited, and waited, and around 10 in the morning, I got up the nerve to call.  The moment that I heard the Principal's voice, I knew.  A native of the small town was moving back and had applied after I had been interviewed.  She was given the job, and I understood that she deserved the position, knowing I would only be living in that area for a few years.

Knowing she deserved the position didn't make it any easier for me to be denied the job.  I wanted that job SO bad!!  I was upset and felt like I missed the perfect job opportunity.  Back to the stress of finding a job in an area that is so rural that "Mayberry"  would seem like a city.

Just a week before Dewey started his first day of being an official "Trooper", we decided to take a few days to get away and enjoy each other and try to absorb all of the changes and decide what we would do and where we would go for my health care.  (We lived close to Columbia, MO when my first breast cancer was diagnosed)  I'll never forget standing in the middle of "Silver Dollar City" when I received a phone call.  Great news!!!  I was offered a position with Meadow Heights school district.

It wasn't the job I had prayed so hard for, in fact the job wasn't going to be that dream job all new teachers imagine.  You know, the perfect brightly decorated room with neatly written name tags on each desk, and artwork lining the hallway of the classroom.  The job was a position as a PAT, "Parents as Teachers" educator.  I began working the same day as the other teachers started, and then I had to attend a training school in St. Louis for a full week.  My office was a 7x7 closet that a desk, phone and file cabinet could fit into.  Most of my job would be out on the road and to visit families that had children under the age of five.

It's all going to start making sense to you as you read on, and you will see God's hand on my life and his plans for me to get through some difficult times that were right around the corner.  I had no idea that major life changes were in the making, but God knew and he carved out a path that would make the changes as smooth as they could be.

As I stated earlier, Dewey was starting his first full duty assignment, and I was having to go to St. Louis for a week for training.  It was impossible for Dewey to go with me to St. Louis, and I'm sure that my parents insisted on going with me, but I wanted to go by myself.  I knew that I would be in classes all day, and that on my lunch break and evenings I would concentrate on finding an oncologist that would meet my expectations and that I felt comfortable with.  My goal for the entire week in St. Louis was to find a doctor.

I couldn't return to my previous breast cancer surgeon due to the fact that he was in Columbia, Missouri.  The distance required me to change.  In Columbia, I had a surgeon that specialized in breast cancer surgeries, and I also had a radiologist that administered my radiation, but I did not have an oncologist.  I felt that this time, I would need an oncologist.

Every break from class I would be on the phone either following up on leads or gathering information about different oncologist in the St. Louis area.  That seems like it would be easy, but time was also a factor that had to be considered.  Here I am with a new job, and I wanted a EXCELLENT oncologist, and one that would see me as soon as my class was dismissed that Friday.  (Yes, I'm somewhat demanding!)

I think it was on a Wed. afternoon and Kim called me and said I found your doctor, do you have a pen and paper near by.  I was thinking... "What, wait a minute, slow down, what are you saying?"  Kim had been told of this excellent oncologist that had much success with some other Sikeston cancer patients, so having heard first hand from the families of his patients, we felt like we were moving in the right direction.  Kim already had contacted them and they were waiting on my call.  I called, and the receptionist that takes new patients was kind and made sure that I was to be seen Friday at 2:00.  Perfect!

That trip to St. Louis for job training was my first eye opener to see that this trip was meant to be all along.  This was part of the bigger picture.

Back home friends and family were scrambling all over trying to get medical records, pathology slides and all the medical records that were to be found.  My dad was even going here and there to pick up lab blocks and slides.  Dewey met me in St. Louis for that first visit with what I feel is one of the greatest oncologist ever Dr. Frank Dunphy, who now practices and teaches at Duke.

That first appointment lasted at least 3 hours.  When we left, we had a scheduled date for my mastectomy.  Dr. Dunphy had things all lined out for my appointment that day, so that I could see the breast surgeon right then as well.  He is the type of Dr. that moves quickly, thoroughly, and precisely.  When he wanted something ordered or done, waiting was not an option, and it appeared as though the entire medical team at St. Louis University knew him and had only the highest level of respect for him.  I said all of that to say, from the point of my first appointment to my mastectomy was about a week.  Many test and additional biopsies were crammed into that week as well.  I knew I had found the oncologist I was looking for.

Back to the job situation.  One of my close friends worked at the same school district and this made that first teacher orientation day so much better for me.  Just knowing one person in a crowd of total strangers makes all the difference in the world.  The comfort we feel from one another is often gone unnoticed until we are in a situation that we are going into something alone.  Melanie was so great to me.  She took me under her wing and introduced me to the kindest people that would become my friends as well.

She was sure to introduce me to the music teacher.  The music teacher had recently finished all of her breast cancer treatments.  It was the strangest feeling at first, because as we began to talk about our cancer, we quickly learned that we had so much in common with our diagnosis and protocols that I'm sure as I was finding comfort in having someone I could turn to, while she may have had the feelings of.... oh no, I'm not ready to jump into this again.

Ready or not, she was there for me.  She was able to let me know what to expect after my mastectomy, and how I would feel after that first chemo treatment, and how it feels to when your hair begins to fall out.  She was with me every step of the way.  She became my saving grace.  I don't know how I would have managed without her.  We became close friends and God knows how thankful I am to him for bringing her into my life to support me and comfort me.  I always had the support of family and friends, but having a new friend that had just finished a journey that I was just beginning was the best mental and physical medicine I could have received at that moment in my life. 

Do you see the picture now?  I didn't get the job I prayed for, instead, I was blessed with something far greater.  This job allowed me to work my own schedule.  I had to meet my job requirements on meeting with my families in the community , schedule various events for the young children, paper work, and follow-ups.  Unlike a classroom teacher, I was allowed to schedule these appointments and work during the times that I felt well.  The week I would have a chemo treatment, I wouldn't schedule any appointments because I knew I would be sick.

Because I was able to fulfil my job duties, I never once lost a paycheck or was docked due to not being at the "school building", and I was able to take my paperwork home to finish. This was unbelievable how well this worked out for me.  I couldn't believe the blessing of being able to do my work on my good days and not have the stress of loss of income.  I was able to complete my job for the year and my goals were met.

God knew my my wishes of that job teaching first graders, but he knew what would be best, so he placed me into a position where I would have physical and mental support of a caring person that would help me each step of the way.  She was definitely a "God Send" because I utilized her and leaned on her to get me through the entire mastectomy and chemotherapy saga of my life.  Having a friend or someone close to your age that has actually been through what your are embarking on, is the best source of support possible, next to God.

Chemotherapy ended that year in February, and by March, I received a phone call from from the job I originally wanted so bad.  This call wasn't for me to come in and interview, it was to offer me that first grade position.  The girl was moving away and her position became available.  I was so excited.  At that point I realized, "Wait a minute...this whole time...this was you God."  I realized that it had all come full circle and that most everything that happens in life has a purpose.

February 23, 2011
One day shy of being at Missouri Delta Hospital a full week.  Sick!!,  never in my life had I felt sick to this extent.  Everyone had left my room and Tina was the only one with me until Dewey came back to stay through the night with me.  (Usually when I've been hospitalized, I stayed by myself, but we all knew, including myself, that I was too sick to be left alone)  I called Tina over to me, I didn't have the energy to roll over to be facing her chair.  She comes over.  My voice is faint, and terrible cough spells after a few words.  Tina leaned down to hear me, and I told her, "Tina, I always thought that I would be ready for this, and I have prepared myself for this moment, but I never thought I would live so long diagnosed with stage four.  Rebecca is 11 now, and I'm not ready for this, I can't leave her at this young age.  I can't , I can't.  I've never felt this sick and I am scared.  Please talk to Rebecca and see what she understands and help me to help her if she needs to talk to someone.  Pray for me to continue living, and pray for her, she needs me."  Tina was strong and told me not to worry, that she would do that, and that I was going to be fine.

The next day, around mid afternoon, Kim was in the room and we had done some walking, because that's what we thought I needed to help my body heal.  I was able to walk about 2 yards, then I had to stop and let my breathing catch up to beating of my heart.  We used a wheelchair to get me back to the room.  A few hours later a great friend of mine that is a physical therapist came in the room about the same time as the respiratory therapist, (which is also a good friend)  I'm not sure if I had my breathing treatment, then walked, or the other way around.  I just remember that when I walked, I was determined to make it and I was going to be strong this time.  I thought if this is what I have to do to improve, then I'm pushing through this.  I don't remember that walk being difficult, and it was twice as far as the one Kim took me on earlier.

This is the beginning of my body going from sick to critically sick.  My o2 saturations were going down.  Both therapist stayed with me, working hard to get me back into the 90's, but it wasn't happening.  My respiratory therapist called one of my doctors that seemed like Superman because he was in my room in what seemed like just seconds.  He didn't waist any time and moved me to the ICU to be put on a CPAP.  At the time I thought he was talking about a ventilator, and I was not ready for that, the thought of that made me crazy.  Once I got into the ICU, things went fast.  They started putting me on the CPAP, and I had to stop them to ask, is this what you are talking about doing.  When I found out that it was just a tight mask that would aid me in breathing, I was was so relieved.  I could handle that.

The next thing I remember is waking up Friday sometime and my doctor telling me that we were going to have to transport me to St. Francis ICU in Cape.  He wanted me to be seen by an infectious disease, and a pulmonary doctor.  He looked at me knowing I would hate hearing the next words, and he told me it was time that I be put on a ventilator.  No way, I thought.  Not while I'm awake.  I'm typically a tough patient that can sit through any medical torture without flinching, but for some reason I had a phobia of the vent.  Sedation was necessary, and most difficult, because, I would fight through the sedation.  I remember small bits and pieces of this moment, but was told by many that I was fighting like a wild horse would fight a person putting a bridle on him.

At one point, I believe my believe my blood pressure either dropped or my body was falling.  But this is true and I remember it as vivid as ever.  Everything went black.  No color.  Then in the top left hand corner I saw a door.  It was shut, the only way I knew it was a door is from the powerful light coming through the cracks of the door.  The light was bright and vivid, and shined through all four sides of the door and through a keyhole.  At that moment my thoughts exactly, "Oh, I know exactly what that means, and I'm not ready for this, I have an eleven year old that needs me and I can not go there yet".  No sooner than I thought that in my mind, I was back into the awareness of all that was going on around me.

Dewey and Mom and already left to get Rebecca out of school and meet the ambulance at St. Francis.  All the scary stuff happened after they left. They were assured that it was ok to leave, I would be loaded shortly and we would arrive at Cape around the same time.  Some complications came about with the ambulance being able to support the ventilator, so the decision to fly me to Cape became the options for the doctors to take.

My Mother keeps telling me that had she known that, she would have never left my side.  But I think if things appeared to be bad to my friends, then they would have seemed that way to my family as well, so I'm glad that they went on and didn't have to have extra stress and concerns to deal with.

This blog goes from 14  years ago to now, just to show you a few times that I could feel God's work through others and how what we do is often God working through us to help someone else.  The day I became so ill at Sikeston hospital, the respiratory and physical therapist stayed way past their work hours to see that I was well taken care of and my o2 sats were stable.  I don't know what would have happened had they not stopped in at that time.  My nurses were great, but I was on a regular floor at the time, so I wasn't on monitors to alert the nurses of vitals getting worse.  I am thankful that my friend Kim and my two friends that were doing there jobs came when they did.  It was all meant to be.  I truly believe that.

My attention span is very short, and I'm still a long way from complete recovery.  I'm still on oxygen and I still have a good case of pneumonia, so it is important for me to stay out of crowds until that is cleared.  It has taken me over a week to write this blog entry, because I get tired and have to quit.  I feel like I'm at a finishing point for now, and I will continue to tell you my story if you seem to be interested.  I put these blogs on FB to let you know that I've just posted again, but I have not personally been on fb since I've been home but for about 2 minutes one day.  It's just too overwhelming to me right now. I love all of you.  I'm thinking of a way I can show "YOU" how much I appreciate you!  When I get well, I will be available to do something nice for everyone.

The one thing I want you take from this post is that when you think your life is having to go through terrible times, remember, God has a plan for you, and this is a stepping stone to greater things.

Love You All, God Bless!

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