IMs from God?

30 06 2011

This little box of Theo's reflected a mysterious rainbow. Photo by Amy Rauch Neilson.

I was crying when I called my sister-in-law Carrie the other day. A couple of months ago, she made me a CD mix to get me through the toughest moments. The very first song is Katy Perry’s Fireworks. Carrie picked that one because she knows the Fourth of July is my favorite holiday. And she loves the lyrics.

When I called her the other day, I said, through sniffles and sobs, “What if there’s only a hurricane for me, and no rainbow?”

Without hesitation, she said, “The rainbow is already out there, sweetie. You just can’t see it yet.”

“Promise?”

“Promise.”

She knew I was referring to these lyrics:

After a hurricane comes a rainbow

Maybe your reason why all the doors are closed

So you could open one that leads you to the perfect road

We talked a lot about that rainbow, the one that will appear after I make it through the hurricane-force winds that blew into my life following my Stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis in January.

My fear, I told her, is that after the hurricane, there isn’t going to be a rainbow. Just devastation.

But Carrie won’t hear of this. She doesn’t tell me there’s a rainbow out there because it’s what she thinks I want to hear. She tells me this because she believes it to the very depths of her soul. Never, she says, has she been so certain of something.

This calmed me and after a few minutes, I was able to pull myself back together. I had to. Theo was at summer camp and it was time to go and pick him up.

As I was backing out of our driveway, our neighbor, Dave, walked up to my car. I rolled down the driver-side window, offered him a handful of Cheez-Its. He looked at me and said, “I saw you the other day. You weren’t looking very happy.”

We share a narrow, one-lane road with three other houses, a straight path that leads to the lake like a spoke on a wheel. It’s a private road, which means our mailboxes are at the end, where our street meets the service drive. So, getting the mail means a tenth of a mile trek to the end.

As I was scrolling through the moments when Dave might have observed me, I thought about a day last week when it was dreary and drizzling and I’d made the trek for the mail. The neighborhood was quiet; the kids inside doing puzzles or watching movies on a rainy summer day. A few tears on my cheeks could easily be mistaken for raindrops, should anyone cast a glance out the window.

I was just having a moment. And Dave, who has lived next door for the dozen years since we moved in, reads me well.

“You weren’t looking too happy when I saw you last week,” he said.

I looked him in the eyes and said, “I’m afraid…” But I couldn’t finish. I waited a minute, then tried again.

“I’m afraid I’m going to die,” I said, this time staring straight at the steering wheel.

“You’re not going to die,” Dave said. “You’re going to outlive me.

“You have changed the way I think. You don’t realize how much you influence people, how what you say and do changes the way they think. That’s really powerful.”

I thought about that for a minute, trying to figure out what I do or say that makes that big of an impact. Then I took his words and deposited them into my heart.

Earlier in the day, I’d come across this little box filled with shark’s teeth at a gift shop. I thought of Theo and knew it’d be two bucks well spent. I gave it to him when I picked him up at camp. He was ecstatic and for the rest of the day; it was like nothing else existed save this little, tooth-filled clear plastic box.

Then the strangest thing happened. I was making dinner and Theo called me into the family room.

“Look, Mommy,” he said, pointing to the lid of his little box. “There’s a rainbow.”

Indeed there was. The plastic lid of this tiny box was acting as a prism to the light streaming in through the windows, reflecting the colors and shape of a rainbow. What were the chances, on this day, at this moment, in this way? If the conversation with Dave, the observation by Theo, are not Instant Messages from God, then what are they? Dave said my words and actions are powerful, but they pale in comparison to the messages coming from above.

Maybe all the doors closed so God could lead me to the perfect road.

And yes, I do believe there will be a rainbow.

Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson

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Where to Find Financial Assistance

18 04 2011

If you’ve ever been through cancer treatment — or are close to someone who has — you have likely witnessed not just the physical and emotional strain of the disease, but the financial fallout as well.

Thank God there are lots of organizations out there who have made it their mission to help cancer patients navigate these rocky waters. Good people. Really good. I know because I’ve talked with many of them first hand. They are top-notch, compassionate, and willing to help in any way that they can. And they’ve offered me help. Real help.

My blog post for The Pink Fund this week is dedicated to those organizations and people who are devoted to reaching across that great divide, grabbing hold of a cancer patient’s hand and helping to guide him or her to the other side of impending financial crisis.

If you or someone you know is battling cancer and needs financial assistance, be sure to pass my blog post from The Pink Fund on. You’ll give them two gifts — the chance for help when they need it most and the opportunity and ability to focus on Job #1: Getting Better.

Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson





Blood, Sweat, and Tears…But Not in That Order

16 04 2011

Image Courtesy of the American Red Cross.

There was blood, sweat, and tears yesterday, but not in that order.

First came the tears.

Friday was Parent/Teacher Conference Day at Theo’s school. I pride myself on being organized and efficient. I claimed our slot the first day the sign-up sheets were posted. Then, I came home and marked it on our family calendar. I’m sure somewhere in my subconcious, this thought lurked: I may be fighting breast cancer, but I can still manage our daily life with the best of ’em!

I thought our conference was at 10:20 a.m. I would have bet money on it. Big money.

So, when we arrived at 10:15, I thought we were right on schedule.

Not.

There was another parent waiting awkwardly in the wings as Theo’s teacher explained that we were late; our 20-minute conference slot had been at 10 a.m.

There was a perfectly reasonable solution to this problem — 11 a.m was wide open and in the meantime, we could meet with Theo’s music teacher. But I broke down sobbing anyway. Right there, in the school lobby.

That should have been my first clue.

I pulled myself together — well, mostly — and we met with Theo’s music teacher and then his classroom teacher. They are both terrific and, despite my earlier breakdown, it went well.

Next, the sweat.

My bff Anita Griglio Kelly chauffered me to yesterday’s chemo infusion. I was feeling pretty weak when we arrived, but I was determined to get my treatment. I had chills, then sweats, then chills again. That mystery was short-lived after the lab results of blood drawn when I arrived at the Infusion Center came back. Although I’d had an infusion of Procrit on Tuesday in an effort to raise my red blood cell counts, they had continued to plummet. I needed two units of blood, asap.

Finally, the blood.

Following my chemo infusion, I went straight to the ER, where the doctors and nurses prepared me for the first blood tranfusions of my life. I’d been on the giving end many a time. It was a bit surreal to be on the receiving end.

My blood was sent to the lab to confirm and reconfirm that my blood type is indeed A+, then “cross-matched” for other markers that would indicate which packets of the donor blood available were the least likely to be rejected by my body.

Finally, two units of the most beautiful crimson liquid I’ve ever seen in my life arrived in Room 8 of the ER. Might as well have been liquid gold. The nurse accessed my port and the tranfusions began.

During the next six hours, as I watched the blood slowly drip from the bag and travel through clear plastic tubing to the port in my chest, I wondered who it was who had been kind, generous, and selfless enough to donate blood for a complete stranger. I would never know.

But if I could, I would tell that person that their gift restored and rejuvenated the Mom of a little five-year-old boy named Theo and the Wife of a loving husband named Don who just yesterday told me that he is treasuring every day we have together on this planet. I’d tell them that I went from a woman so low on “fuel” that she could barely sustain a simple Parent/Teacher conference earlier that day, to one who cooked a breakfast of french toast and bacon with her family the very next morning. Most of all, I’d say two simple words: Thank you.

Several times last evening I looked up at that donor bag of blood and thanked God that there was someone out there who was willing to give it, destination unknown.

So, although I am humbled and grateful for the many people who are stepping forward to donate blood on my behalf, designated specifically for me should I need it in the upcoming months, I also have another request.

Whether or not you are A+, whether or not you can help me specifically, please give blood.

There are lots of “Amys” out there who desperately need it. Go to The Red Cross website and make an appointment. There are convenient donation sites all around, it takes but a few minutes, and it is truly a life-changing gift.

Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson





Oh, Great Crappy Day!

14 04 2011

Today, I felt physically horrible. Yet, great things happened.

Physically horrible because not only are my white blood cell counts down — which meant Don has had to give me shots of Neupogen the past two nights, the injection that helps my white counts to recover, but makes every bone and muscle in my body ache in the process.

This Chemo Round, there’s also the added complication of a low Hemoglobin count. Tuesday’s chemo was a game-time decision; the doctors considered my counts before finally deciding to go ahead with my infusions. I was given an extra infusion of a drug called Procrit on Tuesday along with my standard chemotherapy drugs, in the hopes that my counts will recover and I will not need a transfusion.

But speaking of great things, I was humbled and deeply touched by the number of people who stepped forward yesterday and today to offer to roll up their sleeves and donate their blood for me, in case I do need a transfusion. Don’t ever bother to tell me there aren’t a lot of wonderful, giving people in the world, because I won’t believe you. Not for a second. I’ve seen way too much to the contrary to ever believe anything else.

And on to more great things — today, I heard from television, print, and radio media regarding upcoming interviews to help get the word out there about my story, the unlikelihood of this diagnosis after all of the preventative measures I took and the aggressive treatments I underwent, and the hope that this information will help to save lives, many lives through better methods of self-examination post-mastectomy as well as monitoring.

I have dreamed of starting a foundation for more than two decades. I wasn’t sure exactly what shape it would take, but I’ve always wanted to find a way to help people on a large scale. I think the pieces of the puzzle of just how that will happen in my life are beginning to fit together.

I had the good fortune to end up spending more than two decades as a financial writer/editor, which means I have acquired a good understanding of investment vehicles and how they work. My plan is to use this background down the road to manage the financial end of my foundation to help all donations and revenues to grow and thrive so that the funds can help as many people as possible.

I see the foundation as growing out of http://www.itsinthegenes.org in a multi-faceted way. I have big plans, many of which I am already moving from the planning stages into the actual implementation of the ideas.

It’s all, always, in God’s time. And He, no matter how confusing or difficult the circumstances in which you find yourself, is always right.

Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson





Living with the Lump…But Only for Now

8 04 2011

This "Hop to a Cure Frog," a gift from my niece Danielle, reminds me that every day, were that much closer to finding a cure. Photo by Amy Rauch Neilson.

Last time is so different from this time.

The first time I was diagnosed with breast cancer was in March 2006. I was a Stage 1; the lump was the size of a blueberry and extensive testing, including a Sentinel Node biopsy, showed that, thank God, the lump was contained to my left breast.

I had a protocol of treatment that felt intuitive. It was through a lumpectomy on March 3, 2006 and the subsequent biopsy results that the margins around my tumor were declared “clear.”

Still, because I am BRCA 1 positive and the likelihood of a new primary was statistically quite high, I opted for a double mastectomy on April 14, 2006. Then, as “insurance” against the possibility that there was a rogue cell or two lying in wait someplace in my body, I opted for the recommended four doses of chemotherapy.

I began my protocol of Adriamycin and Cytoxan on May 31, 2006. I was done by July 28, 2006. I knew I would be. My schedule was pre-set – every third Tuesday, four chemotherapy treatments total. I could count the days, cross them off on the calendar, feel myself getting closer and closer to the end of treatment and the beginning of my new, cancer-free life. But best of all, I knew that the cancer was gone from my body and that all of the additional treatments I was undergoing were “just to make sure.”

This time around is so counter-intuitive. I’m not saying that the treatment approach I’m doing is anything but what it should be. It definitely IS as it should be and I am grateful to have it. The protocol just feels odd and takes some getting used to.

Because I was diagnosed as a Stage 4 this past January, with metastasis in my breast lymph nodes and both my lungs, chemotherapy comes first, surgery later. I understand the logic. First we treat and get rid of the metastatic breast cancer in my nodes and lungs, because that’s where the true danger lies — in its ability to continue to grow or even spread. Then we go for the lump in my breast.

This approach, I’ve learned, is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy – chemotherapy that is given before surgery to help shrink the tumor(s) before removal. Once we’re “down to the last tumor,” – which will likely and hopefully be the one in my left breast that started this whole thing – the surgeon will go in, remove my left breast implant, and get rid of that lump. Then, I’ll go through a series of radiation treatments to make sure we got every last cell.

That’s when the lump in my left breast will be gone for sure. And I’m so looking forward to that day. Because even though I understand the course of my treatment, it is psychologically difficult to walk around with a lump in your breast every day, knowing full well that this hard tumor the size of a shooter marble is cancer.

I feel it. I know it’s there. I want it gone.

All things in their time.

Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson





Status Update: Results Today

31 03 2011

I’ll go into HOW I finally got an appointment to get my results in a future blog.

Just know that after hours of trying, I finally found a way to get through. It emotionally and physically wiped me out, but I will not have to wait until Monday. No patient should have to go through that, least of all a Stage 4 cancer patient waiting for pivotal results.

I have an appointment at 3 p.m. today. So much hinges on the results of this first CT Scan since I began chemo on Feb. 1.

I’ll let you know as soon as I know.

Please pray for miraculous results.

Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson





T-9… And Counting.

2 03 2011

The beautiful breast cancer-themed -- and quite cozy -- blanket up for auction. Photo by Amy Rauch Neilson.


You wouldn’t believe what’s been showing up on our doorstep since my breast cancer diagnosis Jan. 12.

Lake Michigan sweatshirts — one each for me, Don and Theo — to keep us warm. A package of Be Well Red Teas, chocked full of antioxidants and herbs to help me detox my body after chemo. And on their way? Some moonstones from my new bff, brilliant author and fellow breast cancer survivor, Laura Kasischke. (We’ve got big plans on tap once I’m all better. But that’s all I’m gonna say about that for now.)

One afternoon, the postal carrier brought a red and white Staples box to the door. I thought, What in the world did we order from Staples?

Nothing, as it turns out.

And that was a good thing. A very good thing.

Because in the package was a beautiful, hand-crocheted blanket like the one in the picture. Like the one, but not the one. I love you all, but I’m not giving up MY blankie!

It was a surprise from my cousin, Mary Dougherty, who not only made it by hand, but also prayed over each and every single stitch. Now that is powerful! (The new blankie up for auction wields that same power!)

It quickly became the item to swipe and run off with at our house. I’d be looking for it, thinking I absentmindedly set it someplace, and then I’d come across Don or Theo, snoozing happily beneath it. Sigh. How can you take a blankie from a Little Man, or a Grown One, for that matter? I can’t do it. So, I waited my turn. I also had a refresher course in Playing Nice and Sharing. We’ve settled for using it together on the nights when we don’t have quick access to a referee.

The colors are fab — the hot pink stripe gives it some kick. It’ll be there on March 18, at the Bowling Benefit and Silent Auction. Wonder who will be taking it home?

Don’t forget — you can get all the info you need about the Bowling Benefit and Silent Auction under the “Events” Tab on my blog. If you still have questions, please contact my bff Kristi Rugh Kahl, at kristikahl@comcast.net. She’s officially In Charge of this Event — not to mention, the fabulous and talented Bean Counter for Team Amy!

Don’t like to bowl or don’t feel like it? No worries! You are welcome to come and hang out, chatter, laugh, catch up, peruse the Silent Auction items.

Oh. And the T-9? Yeah. About that. That’s how many days you’ve got before you MUST be registered to bowl!

More later, right here. For now, I’m off to nap. Yesterday’s chemo was nothing short of BRUTAL and I promised my hubby I’d rest this afternoon. I’m off to make good on that promise.

Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson








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