In Christ Alone: My Journey through Breast Cancer

a 35-year old, christian, mother of four, missionary/pastor's wife's story

Serving Despite Discouragement April 29, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — awilmeth @ 12:53 AM
I think my favorite attribute of God is His sovereignty. It is truly amazing how God orchestrates so many minute details in our lives to cause just the right thing to happen at just the right time. It just so happens, as God orchestrated, that my dear husband’s sermon this past Sunday was entitled Serving Despite Discouragement. As he began his study and preparation for this sermon on Nehemiah, he did not know how profoundly we would need this message this past week.
On Wednesday at the oncology office, when hoping to hear my surgery had successfully removed all my remaining cancer, we found out the exact opposite. There was definitely more cancer in the surrounding area, but we do not know exactly where or how far it goes. And the scans show new spots on your back as well.
This news was quite shocking and could probably be termed as “discouraging”.
So this is where the rubber meets the road. How will we respond in the face of discouragement? How can we trust that God is working all this together for our good and His glory? Can we truly praise Him in the midst of this storm?
To be continued.
Stay tuned for Serving Despite Discouragement, Part 2.
In the mean time, I invite you to listen to Eric’s sermon Serving Despite Discouragement online at BenningtonBaptist.com. (Spoiler Alert: Some of these questions may be addressed in the sermon. ;) )
 

Unexpected Answers April 23, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — awilmeth @ 11:41 AM

Philippians 4:4-9 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 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. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Rejoice in the Lord always. This verse is easy to follow when we receive good news or unexpected blessings to share. But rejoicing in our times of trial or challenge is difficult. Can I challenge you today to follow the steps outlined in these verses and rejoice with us?

What do we have to rejoice in? The Lord has saved me and the Lord is with me. He has given me the strength and help I need the last 4 years of this cancer battle, and He will continue to provide as we press on. I know that I could not have gotten through this in my own strength; “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) I am so thankful that when I bring my worries and cares to the Lord in prayer, I receive His peace that passes all understanding. He’s got this! His plans are often not what we expect or even want in the moment, but His plans are ultimately better. He holds me in His hand. He is working all these things together for good. I can rejoice in Him and know that He is working out His perfect plan; “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

I pray that each of you will have the peace of God that we have received and that it will guard your hearts and minds from slipping to things we should not be thinking on. Philippians 4:8 gives us a great list of the types of things we should think on: whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy. I pray you can keep your eyes focused on the Lord and think on these things!

Are you ready for our unexpected results now? We did meet with my oncologist yesterday and received the results of my pathology report and the results of my CT Scan I had last week. My surgery removed the tumor in my right lymph gland, the surrounding muscle and tissue and nearby lymph nodes. We were hopeful that all the cancer was contained in the tumor, but the pathology examination shows otherwise. The cancer is peppered throughout the surrounding tissue, muscle and lymphovascular spaces. At least one of the lymph nodes removed tested positive for cancer as well. There were also no clear margins, meaning the cancer cells continue beyond the edge of what was removed. The mass removed from my abdomen showed the same results, with cancer cells in the surrounding tissue and lymphovascular spaces and no clear margins.

I have shared before that much of my cancer areas we can feel in and just under the skin do not show up on the scans we do. The tumor in my right lymph gland appears on the scan, but anything that is peppered throughout my skin and tissue does not show up. So we were unaware that there was any cancer beyond the lumps and bumps we could feel. It was good to do the surgery and now we are aware of what we are up against. While my current chemo treatment was working and shrinking what we could feel, it was not being effective against what we could not feel or see. The scan last week also shows some new spots on my back, just below my left shoulder blade. That is not a spot I regularly check for bumps, since all of my cancer has been in the chest area so far. The thing about having breast cancer that has matastesized to the skin is that the skin is a very large organ and you obviously cannot remove all of your skin. ;)

My oncologist is optimistic. He says even though these results are not what we were expecting or wanting, it’s not as bad as it sounds. The cancer has not matastesized to any other vital organs. Things are not as bad as they were two years ago around the time I delivered Asher. From the medical team’s perspective, things looked pretty dire then. But we know God’s hand was at work and He allowed my treatment to fight back the cancer for a brief remission then! Remission is still possible now. With God all things are possible!

Once again we are looking at possible new action plans. My chemotherapy oncologist has a different chemo he would reccomend. I have an appointment with my radiation oncologist on Friday, and I will see my surgeon again on Monday. We are so thankful for the many treatment options we have available to us. Will you pray with us again for wisdom and clear direction as we seek what the next step is on this cancer journey?  Will you pray we continue to look to our gracious Lord in our times of need and point others to the hope we have in Him? We want to allow Him to work in us and through us to bring about His perfect will.

I often hear the comment, “You have been through so much and you still have a smile on your face.” I know this is only because of God’s amazing grace. God orchestrated a precious gift for me yesterday as we were still wrapping our heads around these unexpected results. Last night just before going to bed, Adam, out of the blue came and said, “Mom, I want to play my song for you.” He proceeded to the piano and played It Is Well With My Soul. If you haven’t heard the overwhelming circumstances Spafford was facing as he wrote this song, take a moment to watch and listen to it here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=T8_EfDqF7YI. What amazing grace God gives us, so in the midst of adverse circumstances we can have hope and joy in Him and say, “It is well with my soul.”


 

Surgery Update & Birthday Celebration April 18, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — awilmeth @ 10:41 AM

Thank you so much to all who were praying for me, my surgeon, and all the medical staff yesterday! God answered those prayers and everything went well!

I had a new experience with having an IV placed in my foot this time. (I’ve had lymph nodes out on the left arm, they were doing surgery on the right, and it was too close to use my port.) It was a challenge to find a vein with no food or drink after midnight the night before. The foot is definitely more sensitive, but the nurse was able to get it in on the third try and it worked perfectly.

The surgery went just as planned. My surgeon removed the tumor from the right lymph gland. He said it did go in deaper than what we could feel from the outside, but he didn’t think it had gotten to the lymph nodes at all! He did take a couple of the closest lymph nodes to send to pathology.

While my surgeon worked in the lymph gland area, his resident removed the mass from my lower chest/upper abdominal area. This was a fairly easy procedure, removing the tumor located just under the skin and some of the surrounding tissue to send to pathology as well. So now we wait for the results of the pathology report to determine the next step in my cancer journey.

After surgery they gave me some anti-nausea medicine and Tylenol, before sending me home. I am a bit sore, but haven’t needed to take any more meds! I was very tired after surgery and rested for most of the late afternoon and evening.

I was able to come downstairs for a birthday cupcake celebration for Asher’s 2nd birthday! It was so cute to hear him saying “choc-let, choc-let” over and over when he saw his yummy chocolate cupcakes his brother and sister had made for him! It’s hard to believe our Happy Birthday, Asher!miracle baby is now 2 years old! He has lived up to his name and brought much “happiness and joy” to our family and so many others! :) Happy birthday, Asher! <3

2 Year Old Asher!

 

Change of Plans-Surgery Friday! April 16, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — awilmeth @ 1:31 PM

We have had a change of plans this week! Last week, my oncologist told me he thought we may have shrunk the cancer as much as we could with chemotherapy. We are praising God that this new chemo, Halaven, has been so effective with shrinking and getting rid of a lot of my cancer!

I met with my surgeon this week to see if he thought he could surgically remove a couple of the areas of cancer that remain. He said he could do the surgery and get me in THIS Friday! So I am now scheduled for outpatient surgery Friday, April 17 at 11:30am to remove the lump in my right lymph gland and a mass on my lower chest area. Will you pray for my surgeon as he performs this surgery and all the medical staff that help him?

It has been exciting to be able to share the news of this surgery with family, friends, fellow patients, and medical staff that have seen me battle this cancer for 4 years now! God is so good. He continues to provide His grace and strength at every turn in this battle. Psalm 40:5 says, “Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare.” As I look at all God has done to get me to this point, I feel that way: His deeds are too many to declare. It’s overwhelming!

I have learned to patiently wait on the Lord for His perfect plan in His perfect time. And here we go! I can truly claim His promise in Psalm 40:

“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.”

Are you waiting patiently? Are you putting your trust in Him? He will hear you and answer!

Thank you to all who fervently pray for me. God hears and is answering!

 

4 Year Cancerversary March 18, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — awilmeth @ 12:27 AM

4 years. I can’t believe it has been 4 years ago today since I first heard those life-changing words: “You have cancer.” When I began this cancer journey, I never knew where it would take me. What a journey it has been! I remember my mom and fellow two-time breast cancer survivor telling me that the next year of treatment will be awful, but then it will be done. There was a light at the end of the tunnel. Endure this for a little while and then things will be back to “normal” again. (Whatever “normal” is!) My cancer journey is turning out quite different from the expected or the norm, but I still have a light at the end of my tunnel.

I am so very thankful that I will always have a light at the end of my tunnel! I have the assurance that I will spend eternity in true Paradise! No matter how this cancer battle ends up, no matter what I have to endure in this life, I will go to heaven for eternity. Romans 8:18 says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Jesus endured the pain, suffering, and shame of death on the cross for the joy set before Him. Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Have you stopped to think about how short our life on this earth is compared with eternity? Whatever trial you are facing, don’t lose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel: an eternity of joy in Paradise with our Risen Lord and Savior!

Let me encourage you to follow the guidance God has given us in His Word: Run the race with endurance.
Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.
Do not grow weary in doing good. (Galatians 6:9)
Remember His grace is sufficient. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Don’t let the things of this world distract you from keeping your eyes on Jesus. I’ll leave you with a song that has helped me to keep my focus on the truth of God’s promises in His word: The Voice of Truth by Casting Crowns.

If you want to know how you can be certain of the light at the end of the tunnel I’m talking about, take a moment to read this page or watch this 15 minute video. It could change your life for eternity!

 

Sacrifice March 14, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — awilmeth @ 6:08 AM
What are you willing to give up? Have you taken the time to consider that lately? What possessions or finances are you willing to give up? What do you spend your time doing that you are willing to devote to something else? Things you have leftover or don’t need anymore are easy to give. Are you willing to give up things that are actually wants and not necessary in your life? When pressed, we are often willing to give up our wants in order to help someone else out. We often think of this as a sacrifice. But is it really a sacrifice? Or just our reasonable service?
According to Merrriam-Webster’s Dictionary, Sacrifice is the act of giving up something that you want to keep especially in order to get or do something else or to help someone.
I’ve had to decide what I am willing to sacrifice to battle cancer. I’ve had to give up many things I want in order to keep the cancer in my body at bay. Probably the hardest thing for me has been giving up my energy and adjusting to a state of constant fatigue. I have had to cut back on my activities and commitments, as well as my family’s. We have to prayerfully consider what God wants us to say yes to and to what degree. He always provides the energy and resources to do the things He leads me to do.
Cancer and cancer treatment has required me to sacrifice comfort to many unwanted side effects. The treatment that attacks and kills the cancer also attacks and kills healthy cells causing many issues in the amazing complexities of the human body God created for us. With digestive issues, neurological problems, immune system depletion, and hormonal imbalances alone, it is quite astounding how resilient our bodies can be to fight this disease.
I have devoted 4 years of my life to fighting cancer now. That has taken a lot of time and sacrifice. What else have I devoted my life to that requires great sacrifice? I have been a wife devoted to my husband and our marriage for 16 years now. That has taken a lot of time and sacrifice.   II have been a mom for 12 years now. Wow! Parents, you know what kind of sacrifice it takes to lovingly raise a child! I have been a Christ-follower for 30 years now. That has taken a lot of time and sacrifice. But when we sacrifice out of love, it is not hard to make the choice to put the needs of someone else before our own needs and comforts.
Love requires sacrifice. Matthew 22:37-39 says, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  This takes deliberate action on our part. It will require sacrifice on our part. Our natural tendency is to love ourselves. “I deserve this,” we often tell ourselves. I work hard; I’m entitled to a little “me time”. A common idea in our society today is, “Take care of yourself first and then you will be able to better help others.” We are to be good stewards of what God has given us, and that includes taking care of our bodies which are the temple of the Holy Spirit, but the Bible doesn’t say anything about taking care of our own needs and then you will be able to serve God and love others around you. We are to love Him and love others and He “will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)
We often hear these days the phrase “pay it forward”, carrying the idea that when someone blesses us, we can in turn bless others. But that is not really a sacrifice, is it? We like to feel good about helping someone else when some unexpected blessing falls into our lap. But we are to live a life of love, putting the needs of others before our own. It is amazing the things God will do when we are willing to sacrifice and love. Personally, my husband and I are absolutely in awe over and over again at God’s provision when we are willing to sacrifice. Just in the past few months we have again seen God provide for our family in amazing ways! Whenever we see a need and are committed to find a way to help no matter the cost to us, God always makes a way. If it is a sacrifice of our time and energy when we are already bone tired and weary, He gives supernatural strength to do it.
Many often comment to me, “I don’t know how you do it. I know how tired I am from life, and I’m not battling cancer.” I can confidently answer that it is only by God’s grace and strength that I can do what I do! He gives me strength to get out of bed when my body doesn’t want to. He gives energy for me to keep my commitments. He gives me time to devote to my kids when they need help or encouragement. He gives me time to pray for a hurting friend. He gives me rest when I need it. Oftentimes this comes through the love and sacrifice of my dear husband in rearranging his schedule to help with watching the kids or preparing meals when I can’t. Sometimes it is a friend taking my kiddos so I can have a quiet house to rest in. At times it has even been a stranger dropping off a meal at just the time we need it.
If I care for and help others in need around me, God promises to guide me and provide for my every need! Who around you needs a helping hand, kind word, or listening ear today?
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.  The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” (Is. 58:9-11)
How will you spend yourself in behalf of those in need today? If it is a sacrifice of our finances, God provides. I can’t tell you how many times we see a need arise that we commit to meet or an unexpected bill comes in and we receive a gift that exactly covers the cost. Many times a fellow Christian was led to give the gift for whatever we need it for, not knowing we have a specific need at all. And it is the exact amount to pay the unexpected expense. Or it will exactly pay for what we have sacrificed to help someone else.
So instead of paying it forward when you are blessed, will you commit to sacrificing to love God and others first? When we sacrifice, trusting that God will provide, He always does.
My new chemotherapy treatment has required sacrifice and many adjustments to my life once again. It has taken a while for my body to adjust to the new and different side effects this time. This chemo affects my white blood cell counts and requires weekly shots to keep my counts near the normal range so I can fight off other sicknesses. I have had to sacrifice my hair for a third time to chemotherapy treatment. (Thankfully it always grows back quickly and I have quite a collection of hats and head wraps now!) There are many smaller side affects, but with changes to my lifestyle and knowing my energy limitations, thankfully these are manageable with some sacrifices.
Now I can share with you the exciting results of these sacrifices! It has been amazing to watch the tumors and lesions shrink and disappear before my eyes these last few weeks! Where the right side of my chest used to be all bumpy and irritated with cancerous lesions that had begun to eat through the skin tissue, there is now smooth nearly healed, normal looking skin. The other lumps in my lower middle chest area have shrunk significantly and are no longer protruding. And my doctor thinks the tumor in my right lymph gland is about 1/8th the size it was when we began this treatment. It feels about the size of a pea now! Clearly this treatment is doing its job! I am so thankful for God’s healing in His time! Will you praise God with me that He is Jehovah-Rapha, the Lord who heals!? Will you pray this chemo will continue to work, and that God will continue to do His good work through this situation?
When we sacrifice, God will do amazing things! Don’t miss out on the wonderful blessings He has in store for your life!
 

Change January 29, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — awilmeth @ 6:00 AM

Change. Why is it so hard? For me I think it is the fear of the unknown. I like my control. I like to know how things are going to go. At least partially. I like to plan and be prepared for what is coming.
I also like routine. I like my rut and would rather stay in my rut than forge a new route. I find something I like and stick with it. I don’t particularly like to try new things, because I might not like them. I eat the same breakfast every single morning. My husband will tell you that for every restaurant we frequent, I have a “usual” order that I will get every time we go there. I always set my grocery list up so I can follow the same path through the store every time. These things are all routine. Unchanging.
(Unless, of course, we run out of oatmeal, a restaurant replaces their menu items with new ones, or a store moves its items around. ;) )
In life, change is inevitable. And a lot of times it is forced upon us. We cannot stop it. We cannot make it wait until we are ready. But change does not have to be a bad thing or even a hard thing.
If I could truly control everything, there would be no need to trust. In reality, I can’t truly stop anything from changing. Life itself is so very fragile. It can all change in the blink of an eye. But in a world where nothing is truly permanent or unchangeable, there is one thing that is unchanging: God and His promises never change. I am so thankful that when everything in my world is changing, I can still stand on my Solid Rock that will not move.
My battle with cancer has been the source of many changes in my life over the past nearly four years. Just when we get used to a new “normal”, cancer rears its ugly head and our battle tactics must change again. We are redirected and have to adjust. We have learned the value of being flexible and trusting that God knew this change was coming. He is the One that will give us the strength to continue each day, each hour, each minute in this battle. He has a plan and a purpose for each struggle and each triumph. Looking back, we can see His hand at work in the challenges we have faced, in the connections that we have made, and in the miracles and answers to our prayers we have experienced. We ourselves have grown and changed so much!
So what is this new change, you may be wondering? Well, once again, my cancer has built up a tolerance to my current chemo regimen. I began getting sores on the lumps and bumps of cancer on my chest. They continually and slowly got worse over about a four week period. My oncologist shared his concern that this may be a sign of the cancer tolerating the chemo and beginning to break down my skin. Then over just a few days, the sores got much worse and we noticed the larger tumors begin to grow again. This prompted the need for a new battle tactic. I am so thankful for the many options that are available, and the hope that a change could help us find the drug that will kill my type of cancer! So last week I began a chemotherapy called Halaven.
With new chemo comes new side effects, so I have been adjusting to these new side effects over the past week. I am thankful they have not been severe, but a change nonetheless. Fatigue is always a struggle, and I continue to need nearly daily naps to keep up. Some other “new” side effects from this past week have been nausea, headaches, joint aches, and nose bleeds. My blood counts continue to be effected, causing quite a drop in my white blood cell counts this week. I will be getting two Neupogen shots to boost my white blood cell production, which have the side effects of more headaches and joint aches. But these are all manageable side effects requiring some changes in my routine and planning, more trips to the doctor’s office, and a good dose of patience. God has definitely taught me to be a flexible and patient patient! :)
But let’s not get distracted by all the side effects, and miss the main point! Along with all these side effects and changes come results. This is the part we cannot control or predict. It requires faith and hope.
In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego’s reply to the king as they faced the fiery furnace shows true faith in our All-Powerful God:
“Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.'” (‭Daniel‬ ‭3‬:‭16-18‬ NASB)
I know my God is able to deliver me from cancer, but even if He does not, I will praise Him!
Will this new battle tactic succeed or fail in beating the cancer? Will the cancer respond to this treatment or fight its way through? Ultimately we don’t know God’s full plan at this point, but we are cautiously optimistic we are winning this battle! The results so far? In just a week, this new chemo has shown signs of shrinking my various cancerous lumps, bumps, and tumors! Praise the Lord for His goodness! Whatever the coming weeks’ events hold for us in this battle, we will trust God and stand firm on the hope we have in Him.

 

 
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