Friday, January 16, 2015

Mom's Cancer Chronicles: Bony mets.

Mom holding her first grandchild, baby Audrey, in 2007.

Read my mom's latest cancer post here.

Mom called me on Tuesday night. It wasn't a call I was expecting -- I didn't realize she had any appointments that day. Turns out, she didn't know her oncologist would want to meet with her then, either. Surprise for everyone.

"I just had an appointment with my oncologist, and I don't want you to freak out, but ... the cancer has spread to my bones."

No, no, no, no, no, no ...

Metastasis. That's a fancy word for a primary cancer transferring through the blood stream or lymphatic system and latching onto a new set of tissues. In my mom's case, the primary breast cancer transferred to the bones. The PET scan showed "suspicious" small lesions on her shoulder, spine, pelvis and hip, she said. Metastasis means an automatic upgrade to Stage IV as far as cancer staging goes. The oncologist will need a bone biopsy to confirm, but this is what it appears to be.

She also tested positive for HER2 protein overexpression, which basically means her cancer grows more quickly and is more likely to spread than normal. She said the oncologist also called the cancer estrogen-receptor-positive -- which means the hormone estrogen fuels its growth -- and she'll need to go on hormone-blockers to prevent it from spreading.

As we talked about this ominous development, I felt an odd sense of calm and peace. Odd because metastasis is news you NEVER, EVER want to hear with regards to cancer. It was definitely upsetting to me, but I did not experience the panic I felt when my mom initially told us of her diagnosis. I simply felt like this would mean a new path, albeit a more difficult one, for her. I believe this peace and sense of direction to be the comforting influence of the Holy Ghost. Furthermore, I believe his presence at this time is a direct result of others' prayers on our behalf.

Whenever I am faced with a trial, I feel less afraid and more empowered by taking in as much information as I can about it. It's how I fight my fears. So after I got off the phone with my mom, I started researching HER2+ cancer. I read a lot about how it can be treated through specific chemotherapies as well as hormone-blockers. I found it all very encouraging.

The next day, I had an appointment with my mom's surgeon for myself to discuss that lump I have on my ribcage. It's gotten bigger since I first found it and with all this cancer news, I decided to take action. Thanks to a friend who works at the office, the surgeon was able to see me about it on Wednesday.

As I was heading over there, Mom called me. Bless her soul, she told me she had been up crying and dry-heaving all night from worrying over this new information. She then said she'd called the surgeon's office manager and they'd worked it out so she could piggy-back on my appointment. I was more than OK with that, and actually relieved since I had Clara with me and knew she'd probably benefit from Grammy's presence.

My lump was examined and the doctor recommended I have it removed. It is probably a lymph node, but it's better not to guess with these things, especially since it has grown quite a bit. So I'll have it out in a few months, after Clara is weaned.

Then, it was Mom's turn. I listened quietly as she expressed her fears about the news of the bone metastases. She was crying and panicked, her face lined with genuine worry ... it broke my heart to see my mother in that state. It's one thing to be told you have breast cancer and be presented a pretty cut-and-dried plan about how to treat it. But to find out it's Stage IV and in the bones ... everything changes at that point.

The surgeon (whom my mom LOVES) was so sympathetic and even teared up at my mom's emotions. She explained that "mets" (short word for metastases, which is a real tongue-twister in my opinion), though they aren't good, aren't necessarily the end of the world, either. Especially "bony mets" as she called them. The cancer is NOT in any of my mom's vital organs. And the lesions must be very small because she has no bone pain, either. She went on to tell about patients of hers with the exact same diagnosis as my mom's, thriving decades later. She said there is no cure, but you can manage it as you would any other chronic illness. This visit really put my mom at ease and I was glad to be there with her for it.

After I got home, I researched more about these bony mets. They can be treated in a surprising number of ways. There are clinical studies about this very thing -- breast-to-bone metastasis. There are online support groups, members of which have had their mets for years, some for close to 20. I found all this information so encouraging, so I sent it to my mom, too.

One thing the surgeon recommended was that my mom take some time to do things for herself right now. I couldn't agree more. I am coming up with some things I could do for her or with her, but I appreciate suggestions, too. So please, send your ideas my way!

Every day brings new emotions and feelings about this experience. Anger, sadness, hope, relief, worry. It is a roller coaster, and not a fun one. I sometimes find myself breaking down at the thought of my wonderful parents having to endure such a huge trial in their lives. But a friend whose mother had cancer gave me some great advice this morning. She said, you can't worry about the future because that's too overwhelming. You can only allow yourself to worry as far as the next appointment or treatment and it's more manageable. I'm sure she's right. And she reminded me that faith and prayers will get me through. I KNOW that to be true and I have experienced the healing power of prayer already.

Thank you all for your prayers, thoughts, good vibes, hopes and well-wishes. It really is helping. I do believe it's all in God's hands, but I also believe we are ALL God's hands on earth and that we are here to lift each others' burdens.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Mom's Cancer Chronicles: the announcement.

Dropping me off at BYU, 2005

My mom rarely cries. So when she does, I know it's serious.

On Sunday evening, Mom began weeping quietly before announcing to us, her children, that she has breast cancer.

This is her illness, her story to tell. She wants it that way. But, she also sees the wisdom in sharing this burden with others. As she has told her family and friends, she has felt the weight of it lightening. She also feels that by having cancer, she can provide others who find themselves battling it with credible experiences, facts and encouragement. She says, "That's why there are other people in this world -- so we can help each other." For these reasons, she has decided to go fully public with her illness on her blog where she will chronicle her journey.

In addition, she has asked me to tell my story as the daughter of a woman with cancer. I have agreed to do it, knowing that although it may be difficult to process these intense emotions for all of you to read, it will also be cathartic for me, and may even be helpful for others whose loved ones are battling cancer.

The Announcement

"I don't want you to be sad, but ... I do have breast cancer."

Mom's words rang in my ears, deafening. A looming fear became a reality in a matter of seconds.

In that moment, my world came to a screeching stop. Emotional whiplash. I felt my eyes well up with tears, my throat became full and a warm fear passed over me. Earlier that day, I had been preoccupied with church-related business. Upon hearing about my mom, those worries became insignificant and evaporated effortlessly, as if the news were a blowtorch on an ice cube. I had the distinct thought,

Everything is different now. Everything has changed.

After the initial shock of receiving such news, I began to digest it all. What does this mean? It means Mom is going to have to do all that horrible stuff you only read about other people doing: chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, tests, biopsies, scans, endless procedures. It means she will have to go through all the side effects of treatment: recovering from surgery, extreme nausea, fatigue, pain, hair loss. It means every time she receives new information, she will either be relieved or feel like she's being punched square in the stomach, again and again.

This is the reality of cancer.

My mom is such a good person. One of the finest. Why does she have to go through this?

Well, as she told me on the phone yesterday, "You can't choose your trials." And she's right. You can't. But you do get to choose how to handle them.

Mom has instructed us to stay positive and optimistic, which I am. I KNOW my mother is going to beat this cancer. The doctors and surgeons feel it is highly likely. Will it be easy? No. But it is entirely possible, and it just so happens my mom is freakishly good at doing difficult things. Like serving an 18-month mission in the sweltering jungles of Panama and Costa Rica. Having twins. Having three more kids, one born breech (and without any anesthesia). Losing her mother and three siblings. Graduating from college after a 20-year break.

So she's totally got this cancer-thing beat. The game's in the bag.

Still, it's scaring the living daylight out of me. Cancer took my grandmother and her mother before her. Now, my own mother has it. What about me? What about my sisters? My children?

Mom will be having the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 gene mutation test soon. This will give us a better idea of what we're dealing with and what it means for the rest of us.

In the meantime, each day brings more tests, more information to process and an inevitable change in plans. Cancer certainly keeps you on your toes.

Right now, Mom is still in the discovery phase of her diagnosis. The have concluded she definitely has invasive ductal carcinoma, which accounts for 80 percent of all breast cancer cases. They say it's Stage II, which could change. It could be in both breasts -- still testing to find out. There are talks of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy. But even that is uncertain.

Here's what IS certain, though: my family is standing with her one-hundred percent of the way. We Haneys are loyal and we defend one another. We're not going to let some crazy cancer bully our mom around. No way.

As Mom has asked me to tell this story through my perspective, I decided to do that here, right on my blog. I'm still Mom, the Intern (of Life). And right now, my internship is covering the intricacies of helping a loved one survive cancer. It's something I hoped I'd never have to study during the course of my life, but here I am. My mom has breast cancer. And I'm ready to do whatever I can to help her overcome this.

Here we go.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Nine years, nine pictures.

This morning, I checked Facebook and saw a lovely tribute Dill had posted about me on this, our ninth anniversary. He chose nine of his favorite pictures of me and shared them with the whole Internet.

True love.

But really, it melted my social media-loving heart. And I was super-impressed he took the time to do it before heading out to work early this morning while I slept in our cozy, warm bed. Major props.

I decided I would follow suit here on my blog and post MY nine favorite pictures of Dill. It's hard to choose because he's so dang handsome all the time. But here they are, with explanations.

This one was taken in December 2004, so ... a decade ago. We had just started dating and Dill invited me to his work Christmas party. I felt so nervous to be going on such a "grown up" date with a guy. He made sure I felt comfortable and must've really talked me up to his coworkers beforehand because they were all so nice to me. It was such a fun and memorable night.

We had our professional wedding pictures taken a few days before we got married in December 2005. This one is my favorite of the bunch. We were a picture-perfect bride and groom, like a cake topper. Thanks to our photographer Bruce Barnes for this iconic shot.

A few months after we got hitched, Dill's brother Mark tied the knot, too and Dill was one of his groomsmen. Here, Dill is holding his nephew Tanner, the ring bearer, who was 3 at the time. It was blistering hot that day and Dill took good care of Tanner. I love this picture because this was one of the first times I remember thinking what a great father Dill would one day make to our kids.

Speaking of which, this is Dill with our firstborn, Audrey, on her birthday in October 2007. She came into the world via emergency C-section just prior to this. Childbirth is crazy enough for a first-time dad without the added stress of complications and I admired his calming presence during all of it. I was being sewn up when this was taken by my dad. I love how Dill is just sweetly stroking Audrey's little head with his thumb and staring at her in awe and concern. He was so nervous to be a dad, but I'm not sure why because he was already a pro at it!

Another favorite: Audrey straight-up sucking on his face. He clearly loves it. That's genuine happiness right there!

This is Dill with our second-born, Carson. A boy! You can see the joy and elation in his face at holding his newborn son. This was another rough delivery and we had been up all night without sleep. Carson was a beautiful prize at the end of a difficult journey.

My friend Jessica Drew took this of us in 2010. Dill loves me so much and this picture really shows it.
I'm also crazy about him in a dress shirt and this light blue one is a favorite of mine. He is just too handsome.

This was from our Caribbean cruise in January 2013. Dill was so excited to try the FlowRider surfing simulator and I was amazed at how brave he was! He did great, too. This picture is exemplary of Dill's fearlessness and his natural ability to excel at anything. Plus, it also reminds me of one of the most fun adventures we've ever been on together! I think it's about time for another cruise. Wink-wink.

Last but not least, Dill holding our last cutie, Clara, just a few days after she was born in April of this year. Scruff-faced and holding a baby? Yum. That's the way to a woman's heart right there. And Clara looks so happy o be chilling with her dad. Dill really is an exemplary father and I'm so glad he's MY baby-daddy!

Thank you for 10 years of togetherness and nine years of marital bliss, Dill. It's been wonderful, crazy, and very trying at times, but that's what love is. I've also experienced my greatest joys with you and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Thank you for always supporting me and loving me completely. Thank you for your patience with me and our children, for sacrificing so much and for making life grand for us. I love you, Dilly-Pie!

Monday, December 29, 2014

It's great to be eight (months)!

It's the 29th of the month which means it's time for a visual representation of exactly how quickly time flies. As a refresher, here is a sequence of pictures to show Clara's incredible growth since May. Behold:

Yeah, WHAT?! How is this even possible? I feel like shedding a tear over it. But, I probably won't shed an actual tear because watching your baby grow up is fun, too.

Here she is today at a whopping eight months of age:

Precious angel!

Clara is now crawling everywhere, which means the permanent baby gates have been installed on the stairs and in front of our doorless master bathroom. She is also eating adult foods on a regular basis, and despite not having any teeth (STILL!!!!), she really prefers whole foods over purees. Well, I'm not thrilled about the prospect of giving my child the Heimlich maneuver so I hope those teeth come in soon. In the meantime, I'm just mashing and chopping everything I give her. She still nurses every three hours or so. It's been about 4 years since I last had a nursing baby and I forget when they start to drop their day feedings. Any hints on this? It seems a bit overkill to be nursing her so often still.

We've had a rough month with teething and both an ear and upper respiratory infection, so Clara got a little off-track with her sleeping. I hate to see my babies suffer! I wish it wasn't possible for the wee ones to get sick. But with a brother in preschool and a sister in 2nd grade, we pretty much have to expect it. I took her to the PA at the pediatrician's office and he said she is 16.5 pounds. Besides the sickness, she seems to be doing very well, he told me. He also said we should bring her over to his house anytime to be babysat because she's so dang cute. Haha, I wonder if he says that to everyone.

Christmas with Clara was so much fun! She basically chewed on all the gift bows while the kids unwrapped their presents. She was very happy to be the honorary bow-eater. She got some cute jammies, a quiet book for church, clothes, cereal puffs and a few chew toys. Oh, and a sippy cup! She's figuring out how to drink from it and it's funny. She seems so tiny still so it cracks me up to see her do big kid stuff already.

Clara is a real doll and everyone who sees her in public lights up. She has huge, expressive eyes and is always smiling. What's not to love? She is adorable, cuddly and fun. And VERY curious! She gets into everything just like her siblings before her. She's going to be exceptionally smart just like them, I can tell.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmassy picture and thoughts.

Since we only send real paper cards to direct family members because it's 'spensive, here is the digital version of this year's Foote Family Christmas card. Photo cred to my sister Sarah. Card designed by moi, as per usual.

Aren't we all just adorable? I think so.

Speaking of mailing things ... do you remember when we had to lick postage stamps before they could be applied to envelopes? (That statement ^^^ made me sound about 80 years old.) What's weird, though, is I'm pretty sure stickers came into existence long before the US Postal Service converted over to self-adhesive stamps. So why the delay? That's what I want to know. Those things tasted nasty. The gob'mint relishes our suffering.

Hope you have a splendid Christmas and new year! Good ol' 2014 was in a big, fat hurry to get over with, wasn't she? Wonder what 2015 has in store ...

I'll leave you with this splendid video of the Guiness World Record-breaking massive nativity scene ... including goooooorgeous music provided by The Piano Guys, David Archuleta, Peter Hollens and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Enjoy!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Bedtime blogger.

Does anyone read this thing anymore?

Hello, world! Answer me!


I guess you might care to continue reading if I cared to continue blogging. Haha.

What can I say? Life is busy. It's organized chaos, basically. To use a worn-out idiom, my plate is pretty full at the moment. It's like Thanksgiving every day of the year up in here.

To put it in simpler (yet still idiomatic) terms, I'm just trying to stay afloat right now. I used to do it all, but now I have three kids. And that alone means frequent sleepless nights, way too much car pool and never-ending laundry piles. And let's not forget I'm a choir member, a sometimes-music-teacher and a Young Women president at church. So now, if I even dare to do it all, I verge on qualifying for the psych ward.

Blogging, at the moment, is one of those things that has been removed from my plate. It's not that I don't love it -- believe me, I have a million stories to tell and countless thoughts to share on various hot topics. But yanno, kids and house and responsibilities and stuff. They tend to take precedence.

As a result, I end up sharing a lot of those thoughts and stories with Dill during our nightly pillow time. And that's actually fine by me. If my audience fizzled down to one lone reader, I wouldn't even care, as long as it's Dill.

I guess this makes me a verbal blogger now. A verbal bedtime blogger, whose unrecorded rants are driven by exhaustion and general frustration with the world and its many inhabitants.

Although sometimes, instead of ranting, I simply dream outloud. I let my imagination run wild. I yammer on about bigger spaces, new careers, hopes for my children and hopes for us, which then usually leads to me trying to figure out how I can make it all come true and SOON. Because I'm ambitious like that, and my wheels don't turn for fun.

Or maybe they do. Because see, instead of making stuff happen, I'm currently sitting here in my pajamas on a concert day, blogging to no one.

Oh, and the baby just woke up, and she's shrieking in her crib, demanding my attention.

Back to life. Back to reality.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Lucky number 7.

I've thought long and hard about how to cleverly explain why I've become an absentee blogger, and it turns out ... I've got nothin'. Nothin'! I'm just lame and that's all there is to it. At least I remember to blog Clara's monthly chair pictures. That has to count for something, right?

I can't get enough of this little chickie!

Clara is seven months now. We started her on solid foods at the end of October and she's really taken to them! She sits in a high chair and enjoys her meals at the table with us now. She is still breastfeeding five to seven times a day, too, so she's growing like a weed.

She is getting around by rolling and scooting. She is also doing the pre-crawling rocky-thing on her hands and knees which is both adorable and horrifying. I am not ready for a crawling baby, not in the slightest! And my older kids aren't ready either, judging by the amount of small Legos, marbles and Barbie accessories I find scattered on the carpet in their room. That will have to change ASAP unless we want a choking victim on our hands.

Clara has also started talking a little, babbling and shrieking delightedly most of the time. She's also saying "Dada" and "Mama," intentionally addressing us, which is so cute I can barely stand it. Also, "Mmmm!" when she's eating something she likes. She is really curious and always looking around the room. She loooooves watching her crazy siblings and their antics. She enjoys people in general, it seems. A smiley extrovert in the company of others.

Clara started doing a new trick yesterday. We were sitting on the floor of my bedroom playing a game of Clue when all the sudden, I looked over and she was sitting up. All by herself. Unassisted and unprompted, sitting like a big person. None of us saw it happen, though. But we all whooped and cheered like she'd won the World Series or something. Big milestone for a bobble-headed baby.

Let's see ... what else has been going on 'round these parts? School for the big kids (they are both loving it and thriving -- Carson is even READING already!), work and Stake Sports for Dill, Young Women, teaching music lessons and singing in the Millennial Choir for me ... oh! Speaking of, we have a few Christmas concerts at the Mesa Arts Center this weekend. The theme is Heavenly Peace and I'm really excited about the repertoire, which includes the one and only Eric Whitacre. Like, my fave composer of all time. And if you don't believe 250 singers can pull off Whitacre, well come and see for yourself. Because it's going to be amazing.

Get yo' tickets here and HURRY, because they're almost gone!