Posted by: annnorris | May 27, 2015

Our 26th Anniversary

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Last year, Mark and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary by going on a wonderful cruise to the Caribbean with my parents. Mark also bought me a nice chunk o’ diamond, which I love! It was all very nice.

However, this year, our 26th anniversary, I got bad news – my yearly scans were not stellar. In fact, there are apparently extra lymph nodes in my left armpit that were not there in the scans last June. I also have one node in my upper abdomen that has grown a bit. While this doesn’t mean the cancer is back, it definitely isn’t good news. Next week, I will have a full body and brain MRI, a PET scan and visits with my oncologist and my breast surgeon. My surgeon will more than likely want to biopsy the nodes. I don’t like any of this!

I thought that the removal of both my breasts and all breast tissue assured me of being cancer free, no reoccurrence because there is no tissue in which cancer to grow. I thought removing my uterus and ovaries guaranteed no cancer there either. I thought the chemo was to stop any further spreading of the cancer. I thought the lymph node biopsies assured that the cancer was gone. I thought a lot of wrong crap, didn’t I?

There are a lot of misconceptions that have become my reality throughout this experience. So, for my sanity, here is an earful. Men reading this….you  might not want to read any further. Its about the woman stuff – gross huh?

The first misconception I had was that I was cancer free and this nightmare was over. Wrong!  I’m not sure it will ever be over, or at least not until I am dead. The next misconception is about the “reconstruction”. There is no reconstruction – there is only “Frankenstein” construction. I don’t have “new boobs”, so if you know someone going through reconstruction or getting implants, believe me they are NOT the same in any way as the natural ones and there is NO IMPROVEMENT at all. They have no feeling at all in them – none. They do not in any way look like real boobs either. One of mine is way up high into my chest wall, while the other has pretty good placement. The scars are an ugly constant reminder of the way breast cancer brutalizes your feminine form. Also, they do not feel like real boobs. I can very clearly feel the implants under my skin, even squishing them at times like a wave. Not boob like in at all. Also, sexually, the implants do nothing at all. There is nothing sexy or attractive about them. Why do they try to reconstruct your nipples? Its not your nipples at all but some skin pulled and stitched to resemble a raised bump. Waste of my pain and suffering if you ask me. It gave me the expectations that I might be normal again…I might actually have nipples again…I don’t and I hate it. Then there is the misconception that getting nipples tattooed might give you the look of normalcy. Nope,,,,UGLY! If you are going through reconstruction, and your plastic surgeon suggests that he will do the tattooing – RUN to a real tattooist! There is a reason that your plastic surgeon isn’t a tattoo artist. Would you ask your tattoo artist to do your reconstruction surgery? Same concept here. My tattoos are just purply squiggles in the shape of a circle. Do any of you out there have areolas that look like that? Every single day I mourn the loss of my breasts, they had so very much to do with my femininity and sexuality. Now they are gone. Forever. I would do anything to have them back.

All of that being said, ladies who are having to undergo mastectomies, celebrate your breasts big time before you say goodbye to them. If I were to have a second chance, I would go topless for days!!!

I understand that I am still alive because my breasts are gone. I am thankful for that! I am here to celebrate 26 years with my husband. I am here to turn 50 in July! I am here to see my daughter graduate college! I am here to see my husband and son go on an incredible fishing excursion. I am here to walk on the beach, collect shells and listen to the waves crashing. I am here to love my family, all million of them! I am here to love soccer and to love watching my nephew play. I am here to create beautiful pieces of art. I am here to listen to Steven Tyler scream “Dream On”. I am here to tell my friends that I love them so very much (Becky, Carolyn, Barbara, Laura, Susanna, Angie). I am here to see God work His magic every single day in my life. I am here to tell other friends like Stacey that it is going to be ok. I. Am. Here.

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Posted by: annnorris | May 27, 2015

Trusting God (with our money-or is it His money?)

While growing up, I remember my grandmother, Mimi, would receive a quarterly certificate of deposit statement. Clearly, I can see her standing over the dining room table, looking to see how much interest she had earned that quarter. Then, she would say something like, “That means I need to give the church their 10% of this money.” And, I believe she did just that. I also have heard often from my mom that when you tithe you get back so much more. She also enforced that this was money you gave to further God’s kingdom, but yet, didn’t necessarily have to all go into the church offering.  And, like many of you, I remember putting my dollar in the plate passed during church service (usually the dollar came from my mom or Mimi).

While not always being a Christian, and not always going to church, I tried to donate 10% of my “found” money. I don’t remember the circumstances, but when Jake and Hailey were around 5 and 6 years old, I received a substancial amount of money (meaning maybe around $2000 or so). I told them about giving 10% to help other people and how I had this money to do just that. We talked about what to do with the money, and unanimously decided to buy books to give to the children’s hospital. My kids picked out the books.  We went to the hospital meaning to just drop the books off at the front desk or something like that. However, the front desk sent us up to the floor where kids stayed that had to be there for an extended amount of time. Again, thinking we would just drop the books off at the nurses’ station and leave. I was SO surprised when the nurse said we could go around to the rooms and distribute these books ourselves! This was a moment in time that you want to carve into your memory. Jake and Hailey loved every single minute of this. They would just walk into the room and ask the kids if they wanted a coloring book and crayons or a reading book. I hope they remember doing this.

Over the years, we’ve done other similar things. I wanted them to know there was a world around them that was not as fortunate as us. I remember Hailey’s birthday, on October 8, 2001. We had a simple party at a the “rocket slide” playground in Burn’s Park. However, Hailey, all on her own, asked that no presents be bought, but to please bring a donation to send to the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission organization for the benefit of the survivors from 9/11. It was a huge success, and I think she had maybe $150 or so to give! I love her giving heart!

I remember so well the pastor at our new church, Lee Epstein, talking about tithing. It was the goal of his family to be able to donate 90% of their income to the work of God. NINETY PERCENT! Can you even imagine? Your friends and family would think you had lost your mind! It was then that Mark and I started thinking more about this tithing thing.

At our church around Christmas, for several years, would collect shoe boxes to send to other countries.  Hailey and Jake loved picking out the items to go into the boxes.  They knew some where in the world was a kid not having any Christmas gifts and it was our responsibility to help them.  Most Christmases we would let Hailey and Jake pick an angel from the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree in the mall and they would select all the items for the kids, then make the delivery back to the mall. Great values to have instilled in them.

As we grew much stronger in our Christian faith, and more dedicated to serving within our church, Mark and I started to tithe.  We didn’t feel like we could do 10% at the time, so we gave $50 here or there.  Nothing consistent. I cannot remember when or how we came to this decision, but at before Mark retired from the military, we started working towards an honest tithe of 10%. Pretty good, and mighty Christian of us, to give 10% of what was left over after taxes, savings, and benefits were taken out of Mark’s check.  But God spoke to us and wanted us to give more. Did we have the kind of faith to trust our needs to be met without this money?  We had to. While I can’t say we were the best at hitting that 10% of our gross, we did try.  In our defense, or maybe as an excuse, we did give freely to the Boy Scouts of America, and several other charitable organizations.  We were doing very well financially and this was easy for us.

Our faith was tested when Mark retired. (We did not know this was happening until 3 months earlier. We thought we had years left! Thank you USAF!)  He did receive retirement pay from the USAF, but this was not enough for a family of four to live on.  He was looking for work and so was I.  To make matters worse, Hailey was going to college in the fall.  It was during this time that we decided to give a true 10% tithe. It was hard for us, very hard. Living on $2400 a month was a struggle, and I still don’t know how we did it.  But, something started to happen that we didn’t expect – all of our needs were being met, plus some!

A bit of topic but…Mark started having back pain just before retirement and it just progressively got worse as time went on.  He immediately applied for help from the Veterans Administration, to get a disability rating in order to receive benefits.  This was the worst experience of a life time.  Paper work out the wazoo, mandatory doctor appoints that no one tells you about, phone calls and mail the VA said they sent, but were never received by Mark.   There was no one that was helpful through this process.  We were told to do this by one advocacy group, then a whole different plan from another group.  Truly and sadly, the VA is run by too many people who don’t care about doing a good job and there is nothing you can do about it.  This whole time, Mark’s back is getting increasingly worse.  Mark started sinking into a hole physically, mentally and emotionally.  I didn’t know how to help him or how to handle the situation.  My rock was not as stable nor as strong as I was accustomed to.  We needed some help and soon.   We continued to be faithful tithers.

In July 2011, help came. Mark started a very well paying job at Falcon Jet.  This was the relief we were waiting for!  For months, this position seemed to be an answer to our financial prayers. In many ways, we enjoyed this additional income. We could pay off debt easily. We could go on nice vacations. We could let our guard down and just enjoy life. And, we could tithe in abundance! Look at us, giving so much to our church and other charities! Again, what great Christians we are!

The backlash of working for Falcon Jet was the fact that Mark was NEVER home, but to sleep and shower.  There were weeks where he would work 16 hour days, with no days off to rest.  The whole time, Mark’s back was still in severe pain.  He could live, but only by taking pain meds constantly.  At one time, Mark was in such pain that I had to take him to the ER.  He was admitted, given more narcotics than a human should have, yet still in intense pain and still walking around like a normal person. (Anyone else would have been knocked out by half the meds he was on.)  Within a week, Mark was in surgery and we had hope.  For several months, he was almost a normal person.  Its funny how when you are in pain, money doesn’t really have any value.  You just want to be better no matter what the cost.

Let’s jump up about a year later.  Mark is still working.   I am working from home for a children’s book author.  Life is almost great.  At least until after my mammogram…breast cancer.  For the next year, I go through chemo and many surgeries.  We are so thankful for the two health insurances we have at this time.  And, so thankful for all of our family and friends who reached out to us and at times, held us completely up.  We still managed to continue our faithful tithing.  (I should add that during the Falcon Jet year, we did do a lot of saving as well.  However, I don’t think we were as responsible with our money as we should have been.)

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:48  (Mark and I have this thought that we weren’t that responsible with God’s money when it was abundant, and there fore we have to earn that trust back.)

Moving on along, many things have happened. I am at the end of cancer treatment and reconstruction.  Mark quit working at Falcon Jet for personal reasons.  His back pain is back strong.  Mark finally received his VA disability rating and is getting payments for that. (He is still owed over $40,000 in back benefit pay and after now 38 months, he is still waiting.)  Both of our kids are in college, and thus far have not had to take out any student loans.  If you’ve been to college within the last 20 years, you know what a big deal this is.  Our sweet daughter got married to a wonderful Christian young man, Jason.  Life is life – good and bad, but God is still with us.

My main point in writing this is for others to know how important it is to tithe and to tithe as closely as you can or even over the “recommended” 10%.  I want you to see what happens in the next month for us. Let me layout what is what. In reality, we get $xxxx a month income.  Our bills are $xxxx. We  usually carry no debt other than a mortgage and car payments. However, with the wedding, we had to use much of our savings and put some of the expense on credit cards. We always pay off our credit cards monthly. This month we paid $xxx to Discover Card and Kohls. (Just FYI- last month we paid over $xxxx for our Discover Card bill.)  We had two additional expenses this month, a $xxx vet bill for vaccinations, and Personal Property tax of $xxx.  We tithed our usual $xxx to church. If you are adding this up, you know this leaves us with $xxx to last until August.  Out of that has to come food, gas, and a few more doctor visit copays.  All we can do is pray that God provides for us – and He will, He always does! But I want to share candidly exactly how He will get us through this month. I want to see Him glorified in all He does.  Watch!

(I will update this as often as a miracle happens. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, all your mind and all your soul.)

May 27, 2015  –  This was obviously written some time ago and I just found it here as a draft. I think there are good points here on trusting God, even with your money, so I am going to post it. Originally, I wanted to post exact amounts so you could see how God takes care of my family. However, Mark wasn’t comfortable with that, so I “xx’d” out those exact figures.  Every month, we seem to have enough. Its been amazing how money will just show up in different ways through the month to help us get by. God continually graces us. Since this draft, Hailey married a God loving, wonderful young man and she graduated from Williams Baptist College; they have a bright future. Jake has been blessed beyond measure as well. He just finished his junior year at UA at Monticello, has a great internship with Eagle Forestry and takes flying lessons. God willing, both Hailey and Jake will graduated college with no student loans! Mark and I own Errands Arkansas, where we do different jobs for people, such as errand running, grocery shopping and what not. Its going well, steady. We are also in the resale business with booths at local flea markets, as well as selling on FB and Ebay. Its been a fun and lucrative hobby. 

Posted by: annnorris | June 18, 2014

So Much to be Glad About

Naturally, it is not in me to be positive. I call myself a realist. Don’t ask me a question unless you want an honest answer. I see ways to improve situations, not to just sit back and say, “Wow, great job.” My sweet husband and my ultra sweet daughter, Hailey, find this trait in me hard to swallow. They see the world in a positive light. So, with all that said, I am going to update this blog with the things for which I am glad.

First, I saw Dr. Wilder, my oncologist, on Monday. Apparently, all of my scans came back normal. For that I am both glad and thankful to God. Its very unnerving to go into the doctor office when you are awaiting tests results, and I am just relieved that my body is well.

Second, I stumbled upon another job. Again, like working for Darcy Pattison with Grade Reading, it was a totally God thing. You know, when things just kinda just come together. Debbie Howell Rodgers was looking for a personal assistant. I was browsing Craigslist as I do about once a week just to see what is out there. I came across her add, sent her an email, visited with her yesterday and got a job. I will be working to help her finish, release and market her newest book, Lower Your PSA in 28 Days and Combat Prostate Cancer. I am very excited about this new opportunity and what it will bring to my life experiences. Its my time for a career.

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Third, Hailey and Jason got married. It was a beautiful wedding celebrated by everyone who loves them. Thank God for this union. I can’t wait to see what they do in the future and how they will serve God.

Fourth, Jake finished another year of college! He’s not only learning about GIS (Geographical Information Systems), but he is learning life lessons. I think he has learned that he needs to spend more time on his studies and less time on NetFlix. He has learned to live on his own, pay his own bills and rely on himself. And finally, he has learned what it is to have a true job.

Fifth, Mark is no longer working. With that being said, he’s home ALL THE TIME! All the women who have retired husbands can sympathize here. However, we are learning to live together, to forgive, and to have fun together again. Its been a nice thing.

Its been a busy time of year for the Norris’, but God is carrying us and holding us tightly.

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I just realized that I had not updated this since October! A lot has happened since then. A lot that keeps me wondering, “How do I actually turn my troubles over to God?” I think I am being schooled in that right now. I desperately want to lean fully on God, but how do you do that without worrying? I think I need a bible study in this, so if anyone knows a good study, please send it on my way.

Here’s the medical update. I was finally able to to get a 2nd set of tissue expanders put in. Dr. Love filled them each week, and I reached the limit. It was time to have surgery. In late December, the 27th I think, I went to surgery to have my permanent implants put in. I was so looking forward to this as it signals nearing the end of this breast cancer bout. I came out from surgery with no problems. In fact, I felt so good the next day that I didn’t feel I needed any restrictions. Wrong! Apparently, I was given steroids during the surgery and that is what left me feeling so good. No pain. I was even able to cook meals for the family, wash clothes, go on outings. Well, by Dec. 30 I started feeling like my right side was swelling. I tried to just let it go. We had a little New Year’s Eve party and I acted as if there was nothing wrong. By New Year’s Day, I was regretting my choice to ignore the problem. I resolved to call first thing on Jan. 2.

January 2, 2014, I wake up in a pool of thick blood! No pain, but very scared. It took some time to get it under control long enough to call Dr. Love’s office. Wouldn’t you know it? He was on vacation in Florida. His nurse, Sara, wanted me to come in anyway and let her look at it. During this whole time, the darned incision wouldn’t not stop seeping. Very hard to get to out of the house with this problem, but Mark and I made it. Sara took one look at it and said I needed to be seen by Dr. Love’s on-call physician, Dr. Prince. Sara packed my incision and off we went. Dr. Prince only works out of Big Baptist in Little Rock. We drove to the ER there and were waiting to meet up with Dr. Prince. When she came in, she took a short look at my incision and decided I need to have it surgically explored. It may have a hematoma or a bleeder and she just wanted to check it out. Well, just our luck, Baptist’s OR’s were completely booked up. We would have to just wait until an OR opened up. Well, that was at around noon. I hadn’t eaten or had anything to drink since about 9 pm the previous night. I hadn’t taken any of my regular maintenance meds. And, now, I just had to wait. I was so thirsty my lips were drying out and my throat was closing, but still not allowed to drink. By about 4pm, I was moved into a room and shortly after, I finally got an IV! I have never been so happy to get that liquid flowing needle into my arm! And it helped a lot, as we continued to wait for that OR. I kid you not, it was really that booked up. By about 8 pm I wanted to eat. I was getting upset. I didn’t believe I would have surgery this late, and if that were true, and I would have the surgery in the morning, I WANTED THAT DRINK AND FOOD! But no one was allowing that. Apparently, the nursing staff still believed I would be operated on before midnight. And…about 10:30 pm, two orderlies came in and wheeled me off to the OR! Hallelujah! I was just a few hours away from getting to eat!

Surgery went fine. Dr. Prince said there was a small area that had opened up, but it wasn’t a big deal. There was no hematoma, no infection and the implant still looked good. She repaired me and sent me home….to eat midnight pizza! It was so yummy, and life went on. This time, I have not lifted anything over 2 pounds, no cleaning house, no cooking, nothing to cause any more problems. And, tomorrow, I will have the steri-strips taken off. Next procedure is to reconstruct nipples and get my first tattoo – aureolas.

Now I have to back up just a bit. In early December, my oncologist ordered new scans. She wanted to be sure the cancer was gone. I knew it was. It had to be because I was sick of this whole thing. During my appointment with Dr. Wilder to learn how the scans turned out, she said it looked really good. However….I had a hernia and there was one lymph node that looked suspicious. She wanted me to see Dr. Fant, my surgeon. Upon that appointment, Dr. Fant was not worried about the node at all. She said it was slightly enlarged, but the inside looked like fatty tissue and not cancer. She didn’t think I would need to have it removed, but wanted to talk with Dr. Wilder about it. I had forgotten about it – until this morning. Dr. Fant wants to remove it. I have surgery scheduled for Friday. I think I have actually had surgery every week for three weeks. Unbelievable! Will this bout with breast cancer EVER come to an end? I hope so.

So, with all of that, I ask that you pray for this node to be nothing, and that healing comes easily. The future still holds a hysterectomy and a hernia repair. I have had to put Errands Arkansas to the back burner, but I still plan on having that business I have always wanted. The update on Mark is that he will be seeing a new neurologist at UAMS in February. Hoping that she will be able to bring him back into living the active life he loved.

Again, if you know of a good bible study for me, send it my way!

Posted by: annnorris | October 15, 2013

Trials…its just One Thing After Another

Today I have been schooled in the act of graciousness amidst troubles. My bible study this morning had Philipians 2:14-16 as my last verse.

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”[c] Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.”

I believe I desperately needed to hear this, to see this, to read this, to share this. You see, I come from a long line of grumblers. My grandmother, MamMaw, was a grumbler. My dad is most definitely a professional grumbler. I am a grumbler. And I passed it down to Jake, another grumbler in the making. Here’s the problem:  I don’t want to be a grumbler. I really want to be a positive, bubbly, happy person. God just drove it home with me this morning.

Here’s the latest update on my condition. As you can tell, its October, and I am still working on the reconstruction. I really thought it would be over by July at the latest. I had a few healing issues. It took several weeks for my first set of tissue expanders to thoroughly heal so I could start getting “filled up”. After the healing, I went about once a week to Dr. Love to have the tissue expanders filled with saline I believe.

On about week 6, Dr. Love tells me to start thinking about surgery to get the implants. I looked down at my “filled” chest, and told him that I needed a little more volume, to which he replied, “You really aren’t going to get any more protrusion out of these.” Major disappointment, and I was sad thinking that was the best reconstruction I could expect.

The next week, Sara (Dr. Love’s nurse, who is a beautiful spirit) talked to me about putting in larger tissue expanders. The next week I had surgery to do just that. It was a fairly easy surgery, a few hours and I was home. I had a dull, but strong ache under my right arm, but the pain meds seemed to take it away. When I stopped the pain meds, the pain was back and with a vengence. Mark took me to the emergency room. Dr. Love came in, removed some of the fluid from the expander, and the pain went away. Yeah!

However, it seemed I had developed a “pocket” in my left breast. It simply would not heal up, leaking fluid constantly. On one visit it was so bad that Dr. Love just put a Q-tip on it and it bursts open with blood dripping everywhere. Good thing I was still numb and have to issues with seeing blood. This put me back about 4 weeks til the incisions healed completely. Now, I am once again getting “filled up” weekly. Implant surgery is next and I am pleased to report that there is now increased protrusion.

I left the last post thinking I would need radiation. Mark and I met with the CARTI doctor. It seems that if you had a 15% or greater chance of reoccurrance, radiation was recommended. I was at 14%. I find this strange since all of my breast tissue was removed, but what do I know. I decided against it.

About the time I started the reconstruction, Mark started having back problems again. This is when I felt like we were falling downhill again. He started taking meds for pain. He was working at Falcon Jet during this time, and the job worked him up towards 16 hours a day. While it is always nice to have money, we didn’t get to enjoy it. He was rarely home, and sleeping when he was here. The pain started to worsen and he was referred to a pain clinic. Falcon Jet started to wear on him hard. He could do the job for the most part, but his supervisor began wanting him to do things that were against FAA regs. Mark wouldn’t comply. He would only pass inspections of planes when they were done correctly. He did not want an accidents or crashes to ever be linked back to him. When Mark left for work daily, I could see the defeat in him. It was time to quit. We went on vacation to visit his mom and upon returning, he put in his two week notice.

Also, at the same time, I lost my part time job. I am not bitter about it at all. The job was an incredible gift from God. I can never thank Darcy Pattison enough for giving me the work. I loved it, but knew it was not lucrative for her to keep it going.

Worry starts to hit me. We no longer have double insurance. We no longer have Mark’s paycheck. We no longer have my job. And neither of us are physically able to work. Luckily, Mark does receive retirement from the USAF and VA disability. Our bills are met, but not much left over. After about a week, Mark walked into a job at the North Little Rock Airport. Its part time, no benefits, not great pay (I think Mark is worth so much more) but he likes it.

In 1 Peter, the bible says, “But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” I think Mark and I are going through a very trying part of our lives and trying to keep the faith of God. I hate this most for Mark, because if you know him, he is a very wise, honorable, and kind man. He deserves a great future, pain free, enjoying life as he did just a few short years ago. He tells me all the time, “God’s got this”. I just love him to death!

That brings us to now. I am starting my new career, new business in a few weeks. Its Errands Arkansas, a concierge and errand service. Its my dream to own my own business. I love working for myself. I am the greatest boss I have ever had. Hahaha!  Mark will continue at his current job and help me when needed. Its hope. Its a silver lining. I am praying that God will have His hands all over it!

More later……

Posted by: annnorris | June 7, 2013

Reconstruction begins

Reconstruction actually began in April. I had my double mastectomy and survived it. The hideousness has been replaced with acceptance, and the knowledge that soon, very soon, I will have boobs of a 20 year old! Too bad I don’t have the rest of the body to go with them.

So, about every week I go see my reconstruction doctor, Dr. Love, to have interstial fluid drained out of my breasts and saline inserted into the tissue expanders. No problems here. I do have to thank my wonderful children for taking me to these appointments, even when I could drive myself. It gives them a way to help, and I love their company!

Last week, I had an appointment with my oncologist, Dr. Wilder. She DID NOT make me happy! I was pretty much under the assumption that after the reconstruction, I was done. I expected follow up appoints and scans, but basically I would be finished. Now, apparently, it has come down from those medical experts that no one knows, that radiation is recommended for breast cancer patients who were node positive. That was me, although my breast surgeon, Dr. Fant, reported that my nodes are now cancer free. I have an appointment next week with CARTI to talk about radiation therapy. And, my luck, CARTI that was just minutes from my house, is under renovation and closed for the next 3 months! This means that if I do radiation, and its usually a daily treatment, I will have to travel to Searcy or to “Big” Baptist. I will HATE this!

That’s where I am currently. Life is good.

Posted by: annnorris | May 7, 2013

Reality Hits, and hard

Most of you know that last week I had my double mastectomy. I stayed overnight in the hospital, went home the next day. Haven’t had any real issues, nothing medical. Dr. Fant and Dr. Love (breast surgeon and plastic surgeon) said all went really well. ( I never can resist it, and everytime I hear his name it just makes me want to get up, get my air guitar and sing “…Yeah, they call me (Dr. Love). They call me Dr. Love (calling Dr. Love)”). Now back to the surgery and recovery. Coming home, I was fairly prepared, house clean, recliner in the bedroom, meal train in place, drugs lined up and ready for digestion. I also had bought some pretty hideous nightgown type clothing just in case I could stand cloth touching me. When you think of what your grandma wore to bed, well that’s what I bought.

Really, the first week hasn’t been that bad. I take my meds, sleep, relax, eat and repeat. I decided fairly early on that I didn’t want to see myself after this surgery. And, I have done a pretty good job of it thus far. Poor Mark has had to see it, bandage it, empty drains (lost one drain yesterday at Dr. Love’s office – 3 more to go), and believe it or not, he is still here! Love him completely. I found it really hard to get up out of bed, out of chairs, off the couch, and impossible to bend down. Heck, I couldn’t even open the child-proof caps on my meds. I hate being dependent on anyone, but I was. Hailey has been a great nurse. She’s so patient, calm, eager to help. Last week, I managed two baths off the side of the tub, but had to have help with every part of it. One of the worst issues thus far has been in the potty area, and not going for 8 days. That leads into the horrid reality of cancer for me. (Suffice to say that 8 days of accumulation is really hard to void in one 24 hour period and your body isn’t happy).

I have only one word to describe how I feel today – Hideous. I looked it up in Roget’s and its a perfect description of how I feel about myself today. Here’s Roget’s description: grotesque,horrible,  abominableanimalappallingawful,  detestabledisgustingdreadful, frightful, ghastlygrim, grisly, gross*, gruesomehorrendoushorrid,loathsomemacabremonstrousmorbidnastyodiousoffensive, repellent, repugnant,repulsiverevoltingshockingsick, sickening, terribleterrifyingugly, uncomely,unsightly, weird. I took my first shower this morning. I took every possible precaution not to view “it”. But I did see a little bit, sat on the toilet and cried. Every single one of those words above describes how “it” looks to me. I find it impossible to see anything being beautifully repaired with this mess. As my cries got a little louder, Mark came in and just held me. He always knows. This so completely reminds me that God sees our sin in this same way, then he sits down and cries for our disobedience. But, over our lives as believers, we do become that impossible, beautifully repaired mess. I take solace where I can get it nowadays.

So, the day goes on and hasn’t gotten much better. I had to find a bra to wear that had some comfort – unsuccessful! Then I put on a t-shirt, and saw my tummy bulging out in front when it used to be secretly hidden under my boobs. I try on several shirts and am unhappy with them all. Its my fault alone to have let myself get into this bad of shape. A friend of mine, who has recently gone through this ordeal, told me that seeing her tummy really made her stop and look at her health, body, eating and exercising habits quite a bit more seriously than ever. That’s how I feel about now. Weight Watchers has been waiting on my return.

Needless to say, I am again thankful for Mark and the beautiful way he loves me through these trying times. God really knew what He was doing when He allowed Mark and I to meet nearly 25 years ago.

For this moment, right now, I feel a little less hideous than I did just a few hours ago. “For such a time as this” always comes to mind when I think of the troubles we have been through over the past 3 years. There must be a reason for such a time as this, I just haven’t found it yet.

Posted by: annnorris | April 4, 2013

Admiration, Perserverance, Courage?

Well, it has finally come to an end…of chemo, that is. And good riddance to it! I went in for a follow up appointment with Dr. Wilder, my oncologist, this Monday. The last chemo was really odd. I had very little of the tiredness and aches this time, of which I am very grateful. However, I developed all kinds of weird side effects this time – a dark ring circling the bottom of both my feet and peeling, my fingernails went wacky by breaking and splitting, rashes on my hands, redness on only my forehead and left cheek, tingling in my toes to the point I had to cut my toenails really short (it felt like the nails were digging into my toes), and finally, let’s definitely not forget (haha,,,made myself giggle with that pun) the “chemo brain”. I just simply cannot remember or recall words, so if I talk with you and seem ditzy, you know why.

I am scheduled to have surgery on April 29. This is a whole different phase – double mastectomy and reconstruction. While the surgical part doesn’t really bother me, I am a little afraid emotionally to how I will react upon seeing a part of my body missing, one of the better parts in fact! LOL! I will miss “the girls” and no silicone can ever take their place. Maybe send some prayers my way in regards to the handling of this issue. This stage of recovery could last upwards to 4 months, plastic surgeon has to put in tissue expanders and add saline to them every so often to increase the amount of space I will have under my chest muscles. When that is achieved, I will then get my new girls. I think I will call them “the plastics”!  After a few more months, I will move on to having a hysterectomy. Baby steps all the way to being cancer free.

This all leads me to some deep reflection. Many tell me they admire my courage and perserverance. I usually just nod, no real response. I don’t feel like I should be admired for something I just have to do to live a few more years. Its just something I did. Its just something many people do. You do it because its what you have to do at that time, like taking prescriptions. You just do it.

I admire the men in the world who stand up, man up, and stay with their families for the long haul, when it would have been so easy to run away from this responsibility. I admire men who mentor boys to be the type of man who stays with his “Baby Mama” for the good of the child.

I admire two parents, who may have divorced, but manage to stay civil to keep thier children in as normal an environment as possible. It means so much to these kids not to have to choose sides or listen to one parent bad mouthing the other. Bravo to you all.

I admire the single moms, the ones who make a family without a man. Not only does she care for her children, work full-time to provide insurance and a living for her kids, but she still has to mow the yard, take out the garbage, kill bugs – all on her own. She has no one to share midnight feedings, illnesses, or bad dreams that happen in the middle of the night. Its all on her shoulders. She is the one who perserveres day in and day out.

I admire the families who take in foster children, sometimes at the drop of a hat. They take in the ones who need them most. They ask for nothing in return. They  just do it for the children. This includes those who adopt children as well. There is such a special place in Heaven for these folks.

I admire the people who have the courage to go to war for us. At a moments notice, they can be sent off to who knows where to do who knows what for our country. They have to leave their families, and often do not know when they will see them again. I admire the spouses who are suddenly single parents. And I admire the children of the military who miss their dad or mom; who don’t get those special hugs; who don’t really understand why dad or mom is away; and those children who don’t have mom or dad at a special recital, football game or even graduation.

So, you see, I am not doing anything admirable. I am just living day to day with God carrying me along.

Posted by: annnorris | January 28, 2013

New Round of Chemotherapy Begins

(As usual, this is your warning that there may be things discussed here that are gross. Don’t read if you have a weak stomach.)

Photo on 1-28-13 at 4.31 PM

Today I had my 6th chemotherapy treatment out of 8. I am happy, happy, happy. (Love me some Phil Robertson) Three weeks ago, I started a new chemotherapy drug called Taxotere. This is another nasty drug approved to treat breast cancer, non-small cell lung cancer, advanced stomach cancer, head and neck cancer and metastatic prostate cancer. It is also being researched for treatment of small cell lung, ovarian, bladder, and pancreatic cancer. (Facts here come from http://www.chemocare.comchemotherapy.drug-info/Taxotere.aspx) Some of the side effects are low white blood cell counts and low red blood cell counts, fluid retention, peripheral neuropathy (numbness in toes and fingers), Nausea, diarrhea, mouth sores, hair loss (eyebrows and eyelashes included), fatigue and weakness, infection, nail changes (your nails can actually fall off! WTH?), vomiting, muscle/bone/joint pain, low platelet counts, and liver blood tests results may be increaed. That’s the professional/medical side of what could happen.

Now let me tell you my experience from the first treatment of Taxotere, three weeks ago. I woke up Monday morning and took an anti anxiety pill because I tend to get upset about the situation when I am waiting in the doctor’s exam room. I did well and no breakdowns. Dr. Wilder came in as usual, we chit chat about how things are going and she does a short exam to make sure I am healthy enough for the chemotherapy. I get cleared, and go into the treatment room. Lucky for me, Pat Harris, a parent of a friend of Hailey’s, is my nurse. Its nice to know someone on a personal level, less stress I suppose. She hooks me up to my pre-meds consisting of benedryl, a steriod, and an anti-nausea med. Afterwards, I get the Taxotere. And,  in less than two hours, I am finished and ready to go eat! (I love the Chik-Fil-A and Blue Coast Burrito are over in that area). Then home.

The first day went fairly well. I felt normal. I spent a few hours working, then did some house chores. Went to bed at a normal time. Slept like a baby…all the way until 11 a.m.!!!! I only got up because I felt like I should. I took my morning meds, made a bowl of cereal and relaxed on the couch. Then, it began to hit me. Every single cell in body started to ache and movement was labored. I took some pain meds for this and it helped to contain the pain down to a liveable level. I was soooo happy that dinner was brought to me the night before. There was no way I could have cooked anything. The next four days are just like this. I couldn’t do a thing but lay around.

Around Sunday, I thought I was starting to feel better – I was mistaken! (skip this is you get queasy easily) I noticed that when I went to the bathroom, my urine was red. This freaked me out. I called Dr. Wilder. She was slightly concerned and told to call if it keeps up or go to the ER. A few minutes later, I remembered that I had eaten some red jello beforehand. I am pretty sure this is the cause. After a few hours, I had another bite of red jello and my urine was red again! I called Dr. Wilder’s nurse this time. She assured me that red jello will not show up in urine (Mary, my own personal nurse who does not bill me, also confirmed that jello couldn’t be the cause). I am ok for a little while, then it started to hit me. I had terrible diarrhea. And, there were bright red blood clots in it. I’m worried again. Again, diarrhea and blood. And, again diarrhea and blood so evident that you could smell the irony odor of the blood. I am not well at all. I call Dr. Wilder again and after some back and forth talk, she orders me some steroid suppositories to use over the next few days. (I was doubly worried because my WBCs, and platelets were low.) Dr. Wilder scheduled me to see a G.I. doctor the next week. However, and thankfully, the steroids worked, meaning it was probably just a hemorrhoid breaking open.

The rest of the week, I was still weak, able to get up a little bit and walk around, but that was about it. I did get progressively stronger each day. Looking back on this first experience, I am so glad that the Taxotere is no where near as awful as the Adriamycin and Cytoxan. That is such a blessing. Today, I was sitting next to a lady who started with the Taxotere and was getting her first round of the adriamycin/cytoxan. I gave her my tricks about lemonade, spicy food and Werther’s Orginals, oh, and also to start your phenergan immediately and use it around the clock for the first day and a half. I hope she does well. I did notice she had lost eyebrows.

Right now, I have an extremely poor body image. I am gaining weight, partly from steroids and party from Sonic Blasts, Wendys Frosty’s, Coke. Of course, my hair is just a funky Pinhead from Hellraiser looking mess. I originally thought I would lose all my hair, have a beautiful head and Tracie Durham, mom/attorney/artist extraordinaire, henna tatoo the top of my head with a spiraling Bible verse. Well, my head is not pretty. Mary asked if I head a “brain head”, and I do. Its just bumpy everywhere – weird. Also, I have a lot of dark little hairs that aren’t falling out, and some white hairs that are actually growing, but sparingly. PinHead – that’s me! And, continuing on with the body image, I am going to be so distraught to lose my eyebrows and eyelashes. I have noticed that I only have little tiny lashes right now, but mascara still hangs on to them – can I get an AMEN! And, I still have my brows. (I have an eyebrow pencil and fake lashes ready) I do have a cute wig, but its not comfortable. I have hats, but they are mostly too hot for my head. So I have a couple of funking bandanas that I wear often. And, to think things are only going to get even worse when I start the mastectomy and reconstruction! Its hard to be a woman, to feel sexy or attractive when your body is going through so much. Thank You God, I have a husband who still thinks I am cute. He teased me about a guy at Oaklawn trying to pick me up. I would have been flattered had the guy not been completely beer blasted!

Small things mean so much to me these days. My sister asked me to dinner one night and we had a blast stalking my Jake and his entourage at Park Plaza. Mary brought me a picture that’s all sunshiney and 1 John 4:7 written on it. Cara Stinnett not only made me a yummy dinner one night, but then floated in on her angel wings bringing me a Taco Bell Taco Salad! Deborah Mayfield gave me a beautiful Avon Pink Breast Cancer bracelet (my aunt-in-law Mary Higbee also sent me a beautiful bracelet). I am blessed and fortunate.

So, I am starting round 2 this week. Please keep me in your prayers over the next week and a half. I am on the down swing of the chemo treatments! and possibly 5 months away from a beach getaway with my man!

Posted by: annnorris | December 3, 2012

Grace

Yesterday, Pastor Barry did a sermon on Grace. (You can listen to it by going to http://www.cbf.us and click on “Sermons”.) I have no idea why, but it came to me – how I have been granted such grace from a loving God, even through this cancer ordeal.

Some of you know my past, my way back in high school past. Some of you know that I wasn’t exactly the good girl, even though I appeared to be during school hours. Some of you know me just after high school, during my first marriage. It wasn’t pretty. I wasn’t pretty. Some of you have seen me when a loved one has been hurt in this world. Although I thought it was for good, I was a lioness in protecting them and in exacting revenge for the act. Not pretty at all. Even after marrying Mark, there have been times when I would have totally deserved a good whack up side my head. I am surprised he stayed with me through everything, even when I was not a good wife. And, thankfully, none of you can actually know my thoughts, but sadly God does know that my thoughts have not always been centered on Philippians 4:8 (Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things). I haven’t deserved much (ok, any) of the beauty I have been graced with. In fact, in my humaness, I deserve every bit of ugliness that goes along with the cancer treatments.

But then, a strange thing happened in during church. I started to think about the positive side to the chemo treatments and surgery. I am even becoming thankful for them. Without surgery to remove the cancer from my breast, I doubt I would be here in another few years. Without chemo, the cancer cells in my lymph nodes could have traveled any number of places. I could be suffering from liver cancer, kidney cancer, lung cancer, or brain cancer in the future. I could be in constant pain, unable to function on a day to day basis. I would have to watch my family hurt as they began to lose me. Yes, my chemo is ugly and its going to get worse as I lose my eyelashes, my eyebrows, and become very weak and tired. But, it will not last forever.

For no reason at all, God has granted me grace! I didn’t deserve it. I didn’t do anything to earn it. He just gave it to me. And, He does this over and over in so many ways. Like now, He has given medical treatments that will heal me. He gave me a man who doesn’t see a bald chick, but sees me as his partner in our life. He gave me these awesome kids of mine to raise, love, protect and encourage. He gives us enough provision that we can share the over abundance with those who need it. He put us into a church that speaks the truth, and encourages us to live out that truth. He gave us special friends along our journey that support us. He gave us families that love us.

As I always tell the kids, “You don’t have to go, you GET to go!” Its a privilege to have this treatment that is not available to everyone.  And, that is going to be hard to remember when I have to go in next Monday for chemo, but I hope I can stay focused on the fact that treatment is available to me. My prognosis is great. God is granting me continually that gift of grace. And, I thank HIM!

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