Kimberly Pope is an amazing photographer and friend. I have know her since I was little. She has two beautiful little boys. It was great to see her again! Here is the link to her website and our sneak peak!
This last year has been a blur of what seemed to be never-ending doctors appointments, surgeries, trips to Emory, hospital visits, and endless blood work. Where has it gone? Holidays that I would have normally marched the girls out to get their pictures taken were quickly overshadowed by sickness. When I look at the pictures of my girls, they were just babies when all this happened. They had no idea what was going on. My youngest was barely 18 months and very dependent, her big sister, only 21 months older was very demanding. I went through stages where I had no energy at all to even function, let alone take care of my girls 24-7. God provided help through friends and family and gave me supernatural strength. When I found out I was chosen to have a photo session with Kimberly Pope, I was beyond excited, a flood of memories washed over me. Although I had missed capturing the memories during the midst of our trials, this is a victorious way to celebrate the ways that God had provided and blessed our family! We are very grateful for this opportunity this weekend!
Exactly this time one year ago, I was calling the Doctor's office to get the results of my biopsy. I was told that they would call to give me the results as soon as they got them, but days later had not heard anything. I remember talking to the nurse and her words were filled with guilt and worry. "Yes, Mrs. Westbrook. We do have your results (pause) but the Doctor wanted to be the one to talk to you about them." "Oh really?" I said, because I was told that the results would be told to me over the phone..quick and easy. Then God took a hold of my heart and prepared me for what was about to come. He calmed my racing heart and said be still. I called my husband and had him meet me up at the doctor's office. When I got there I was met with stares and a few whispers, and a nurse who was especially apologetic. We were quickly rushed back to a room. It seemed like we waited forever in that small room. I remember talking to Nick and telling him that I felt like it was cancer. "Just wait and see what he says." When the Doctor came in, he talked and talked but never once used the word that I was waiting to hear. He said that my blood work was fine, I had neither a hyper or hypothyroid. He mentioned surgery, removing the tumor, it was a solid mass, the size of it was about 3cm, used terms that I didn't know anything about at the time, but would soon be all to familiar to me. Finally I just looked at him and said..."is it cancer?". He nodded and looked down like he thought I would fall apart in the chair. "It's fine," I assured him. God will take care of me. He mentioned only taking one half of my thyroid so that I could still function without medicine and I had an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. He wanted to schedule the surgery as soon as possible. But I wanted to get a second opinion about this cancer that was in my body. I wanted it gone, all of it...gone.
I feel like I have been postponing this post because I wanted things to be picture perfect but we all know that is not how life is! So here's my story. Well....the week before we left was filled with sickness. Hallie had pink eye, Laney Grace sounded sick. I had an eye infection and had not been feeling well at all. I decided that I would take a trip to the Dr. just in case. I am glad I did b/c he said that I was on the verge of getting phenomena. Just what I needed to start my vacation, a large dose of medicine!
The trip and the beach were truly amazing. That is my little piece of paradise each year that leaves me refreshed and grateful! I absolutely love the place that we stay and the owner is generous enough to let us stay for free which is amazing ! I love being at the beach and seeing how beautiful Gods creation is and yet so detailed. Having kids has taken my understanding to a whole new level. In the business of life we forget to throw our hands up and praise him or we think we are just beyond that.
Well...I am not. I may not run on the beach and laugh like my little girls do, but inside my heart overflows. I am blessed. I am loved...by the very creator who made me and knows me full well. I think I have been waiting on my one year mark to look back and say, whew that was tough but we made it. God is showing me that He is much bigger than that. Its not about me...He wants all the glory for my healing and He holds my life in His hands. I may not feel great everyday or even feel like praising Him everyday, but I should and I trust that He holds my future and YOURS in His hands. I am left here on my knees and urge you to do the same. Please pray that God will heal my body but before u do that make sure to thank Him for all the blessings we have already taken for granted. May God bless you beyond what you can even imagine....
We went to church at the beach
Ate lots of ice cream at the sugar shack
Watched and cheered for Nick during his triathlon...which he placed 4th in the age group by the way!
and played in the ocean and the pool! It was a great vacation!
Okay, I know most people know all about this blogging world, but I am still learning!! So, I changed the look of my blog, to this! I love shabby chic and the white frame is my favorite of all. Pretend that it's a mirror because I have no idea how to make a picture appear in there.
So my *reflective* thoughts for today are it's almost been ONE YEAR! This weekend marks the "anniversary" of my "first" ER visit. Here's a recap, I was talking to Laney Grace one morning and started to feel really dizzy, my words became slurred, my vision was blurry and I lost feeling in my right arm. I had a ongoing headache that had not gone away for 3 weeks and was in a lot of pain. So, I went to the ER and waited for them to do a cat scan, lots of blood work and tests. I found out that I had been through what they call a complex or classic migraine.
Oh no, I thought, we were supposed to go on vacation to the beach today, my favorite trip of the year. That really was my first thought, then I thought about how crazy all of this was for a person who rarely had headaches let alone migraines. Then I started to worry, what did this all mean, what caused it, is there something seriously wrong?
After a migraine "cocktail" at the hospital and several prayers later, I returned home. My outlook was starting to change, but I would have never imagined all that this one year had in store. God only allowed me to see directly in front of me. Which happened to be a nice relaxing trip...to Rosemary Beach. I had no idea if or when I would have my next episode, all I could do was trust and put one foot of faith in front of the other.
***side note*** We are leaving tomorrow to go on the same vacation trip to Rosemary Beach. Nick has his race, then we stay for a few more days and enjoy each other and the beach!
First of all let me start by saying that my husband is the most dedicated, hardest working person that I know. Once he gets his mind set on something, there is nothing that can stop him!!
Laney Grace is turning 4 this weekend, she has been "planning" her bday ALL year. For the past 3 years, Nick has taken on a big...HUGE project right before her bday. The first year a fence, then a double deck, and this year....our hill. He started this massive project Saturday, I woke up to find this huge machine in the backyard and dirt all around. As the weekend progressed the dirt turned to mud and continued to take over the backyard. I could not help but think about how this related to my life right now and the promise that God has given me.
"I waited patiently for the LORD; And He 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 and put their trust in the LORD."
You never know when you will wake up and your life will change drastically. Your house might burn to the ground, you might lose your job, you might get in a wreck or you might lose someone you love. In Job 7:7 Job says "O God, remember that my life is but a breath.." I plan to read that book of the bible today. It's an amazing story about how Job chose to praise God in the midst of his extreme and excruciating circumstances.
As I was waiting to hear the results Friday, several things went through my mind. "What if it's back? That one word...Cancer, will it always be something that I fear or will I choose to embrace God's sovereignty?"
I am clinging to God's word and trusting that He will set my feet on a rock and my eyes on Him. I can already think of the song that he has given me. Here are the words so far (this is the song "I'm still yours" by Kutless.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVyAMvx4PdQ
If You washed away my vanity If You took away my words If all my world was swept away Would You be enough for me? Would my beating heart still sing?
If I lost it all Would my hands stay lifted To the God who gives and takes away
If You take it all This life You've given Still my heart will sing to You
When my life is not what I expected The plans I made have failed When there's nothing left to steal me away Will You be enough for me? Will my broken heart still sing?
If I lost it all Would my hands stay lifted To the God who gives And takes away
If You take it all This life You've given Still my heart Will sing to You
Even if You take it all away You’ll never let me go Take it all away But I still know
Thanks for all of yall that have been praying for me and checking in on me!! My friend Kristin came up last night and woke up early this morning to go with me to my Drs. appointment. She's such a sweet, dedicated friend!! Today I had my full body scan. I got the results soon after. The Dr. said that it was clear!! I am so relieved and thankful! The blood work came back a little high, they wanted it to be between 0-2 and it was a 2.9. There is a team of Drs.(endocronologist, ENT, nuclear med. and oncology) that will meet next week to discuss the next step. I may have to repeat the diet, thyrogen injections, and all the bloodwork again in three months. I am praying that is not the case. I will go back to Emory Thurs. and should know more then. I'm going to go EAT now, I forgot how good food is! It has so much flavor again!!
Spent another looong day at Emory. I fasted this morning b/c I wasn't sure if I was supposed to eat before the radioactive iodine dose. I've had two injections that basically make me hypothyroid.
I went to get my blood work and had to wait an hour. After that, I ran over to nuclear medicine and filled out paperwork. They were waiting on the results of my blood work including a pregnancy test. They are not allowed to administer my treatment until they get the results of that. So after waiting about an hour wondering why it was taking so long, I was told that the labs systems were down. I decided to go over to the other building to find out myself. After talking to several people we discovered someone had dropped the ball and not sent it over. I walked back across the building to the hospital, passing snack machines and looking away b/c I knew I couldn't eat yet. I returned to nuclear medicine and waited for another hour until the Dr. called me back.
While in the waiting room, I met a lady who was having her second treatment. She has had cancer for a year and a half and they found more after her yearly whole body scan. It was sobering talking to her and realize that I am just days away from hearing results.
The whole time I was on pins and needles thinking something was wrong with the results from the pregnancy test. When I found out the results were negative, a man walked in carrying a metal canister, and everyone backed out of the room. I knew this was my cue to swallow the pill quickly and leave! This time the dose was I 131, its purpose is to attack any cancer cells. My body has been deprived of iodine and the pill supplies dose of radioactive iodine. If there is cancer, the cells will absorb it and the scan will show areas where the uptake is.
I asked them to measure how radioactive I was. They came in with a red and yellow "gun" pointed it at me and told me that it was a 1.5. That is how much radiation I was putting out. They consider a 7 to be "dangerous." It is a really strange feeling to know that I have radiation inside me...crazy.
They told me not to eat for another two hours,which made me so sad. At that point I felt a migraine coming on so I found a spot to stop for a few hours just to rest and relax and take in all that had happened today.
Whew....ready to start a new day tomorrow! No Drs. appointments until Friday!
I'm updating this blog with Hallie in my lap, so it may be short! I've been constantly listening to this new song and wanted to put it the lyrics on here. I've also been listening to the book Crazy Love (on CD). They have reminded me of how incredible and powerful God is. He knows us and sees what our future holds, yet we question his choices or doubt his sovereignty. I've spent the last few days at Emory getting ready to have my scan this Friday. So far, I've had bloodwork and my two injections. I've been on a diet for 2 weeks, it's really been so much easier this time around. My mom made some delicious bread and my friends from High School suprised me with an array of delicious foods that they made for me themselves!! I was very impressed and grateful that they took the time to do that for me. I am so blessed!
Tomorrow I will get my dose of radioactive iodine. Friday is the whole body scan.
Here's a picture of Laney Grace and her sweet friend!!
My Dr. apt. went well yesterday. My surgeon spent a lot of time talking to me and explaining what steps where yet to come. I was comforted that she didn't seem worried about the 2 lymph nodes that were found. I will have a full body scan in July to give a more detailed explaination. After reading this report, I am amazed at how our body functions. All these little details that God created to allow our body to thrive, it's powerful how intimate he is!! The Drs. are really concerned about my levels and want them to go down A LOT! My medicine has changed to the brand name and a higher dose. She also stressed the importance of allowing my body to rest and recover. I'll go back in a month for more bloodwork. I'm just praying that my body will absorb the medicine and that I can get back to normal! I never knew how much I loved "normal" until all of this happened! I am so thankful for the care that I've received at Emory. My doctors are amazing! They are on the cutting edge on researching, treating, and truly caring for their patients.
Here's one picture from Laney Grace's dance recital. I have a few more that I can post later! It was so fun to see her dancing, so carefree and loving life! Reminded me a little bit of me when I was a little girl, especially when she was galloping...I'll try to post that video! On another note, I am getting ready to go to the Emory again this morning. My levels came back a 7.7. They are extremely high, they need to be a 0.01. I am meeting with my surgeon so she can do a physical and go over the results from the scan.
I heard back from my Doctor a few days ago about the results from the check up and bloodwork. He said that my TSH levels were really high (5) and needed to be lower. Also, there were 2 lymphnodes that were questionable, but looked benign. They want to go ahead and do the 1 year scan early to make sure everything is okay!
So I went today and got more bloodwork done....with my 2 little girls. Hallie was sitting in my lap and Laney Grace was saying "please don't hurt my mama!" Afterwards, I thought we all deserved a treat so we went to Chick-Fil-A and got some ice cream!!
I'm going to call the Drs. again tomorrow and find out if the bloodwork was still the same or if the second opinion is different. Either way, I'll be glad to know what's going on! If the levels are high, they will just adjust how much medicine that I am taking. I will write more later and put up some new pictures of Laney Grace's first dance recital!! She was so adorable!!
I went Friday morning to Emory for my scan. Just walking through those doors again, brought back a flood of memories and emotions. Some that haven't even had time to catch up with me yet. This last six months has been a blurr. It's surreal. My mom went with me to the appointment, I was so glad that she was there. I appeared to be so nervous, tapping my feet and walking around. She kept asking me what I was so anxious about. I never could figure it out! I was not afraid of the results, although I was hoping they would magically appear that same day. I was not afraid of the Doctors. I have grown to love and appreciate each and every person that works at that hospital. It's amazing the kindness and compassion that I have been shown.
I guess it just made me realize how every person in there was hurting in some way. They were there for a reason. You might not know just by looking at someone what pain they have just been through or what victory they are celebrating. You don't even know what tomorrow holds for yourself!!
In a matter of months, I have been to Emory countless times, had so much bloodwork that I felt like a pin cushion, had tests run, been through surgery, had treatment, and am taking new medication that is now just a normal part of my day.
I am thankful. I am glad that God picked me. I have no idea what his plan is or what I will encounter next, but I praise him for his love, grace, and mercy. For the ways that he has comforted me through others and for the way that I am learning to comfort others. I am able to experience His love in a whole new way!
I wanted to walk up to each patient and ask what they were going through. How could I help? What could I pray for? Did they knew the hope that I have found? The joy that comes through the sweet release of just trusting God and not having to have control. So whatever the results, whatever the next step. I am trusing in HIM!
Cancer. You have cancer. No, that’s not possible. I am 29 years old. In fact, my birthday is just a few days away. I am too young. I have a husband, a three year old, and a one year old. They are full of life. They need me. No, not me. Can this be right? God, I need you. I desperately need you. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD...(Jer. 29:11). Then, I thought about it. I am a child of God. I am a Christian, and I am blessed to have a wonderful, supportive Christian family and church. God knew this was going to happen to me. He knew I was going to have cancer. Although it was a terrifying surprise to me, He was not shocked for a moment. Something about that fact gave me peace.
I never thought I would have cancer. It was a week before my thirtieth birthday. Instead of celebrating with my family, I was facing thyroid cancer. We were going to doctor appointments, making plans for babysitters, discussing treatments and possibilities, researching information, and trying to make it day to day with this new word in our world–cancer. Hearing the word cancer was the last thing I expected to hear. When you sit across from the doctor and they mention cancer, it is really only the beginning. You are faced with so many worries, anxieties, and possibilities. That is when I realized that the waiting and not knowing is sometimes just as difficult as the knowing!
Again, I heard God’s Word speaking to my heart, “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength.” (Isaiah. 40:31). The doctors had explained that there was only a very small chance that it would be malignant. I had two small girls to take care of and a lifetime of memories yet to make. How could this one word change my life forever?
Finally, after multiple tests, I was told that it was malignant. Initially, I was shocked. Questions began swirling in my mind? Has it spread to other parts of my body? Will they remove my thyroid? What effects will it have? Will I have to undergo treatments? Will I still be able to care for my children? Then, I began to think of every possible situation that I could control. Before I could wrap my mind around this life change, God wrapped His arms around me. I heard Him in my heart again, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10) I realized that he had allowed me to have cancer for a reason and would be with me every step of the way. He had a plan for me. It might not have been revealed immediately, but His plan was revealed to me in His time.
The plan of action to fight my thyroid cancer was surgery. Their plan was to remove my entire thyroid and anything suspicious. I met with the surgeon and asked a lot of questions. My initial reaction to surgery was picturing the imperfection that would be there. The thought of them cutting my neck open to remove the mass was quite scary, but I imagined this huge scar on my neck for the rest of my life. I could just see me wrapping my neck with a scarf or keeping it hidden under a turtleneck. Not so bad, it would not be too difficult to hide after all. I was attempting to find ways to hide my scar. Isn’t that the same way that we try to mask our weaknesses and struggles in our life? We try to look and act perfect, and we so often forget that no one is perfect. No one except Jesus.
After the surgery, we were relieved to find out that the cancer did not spread past my thyroid. I would have a recovery period, and then I would undergo treatment. Your thyroid works to regulate different things in your body such as hormones. I never realized how instrumental my thyroid was to my body until I was faced with this cancer! Following the surgery, I started taking a pill to regulate my hormones, the way that my thyroid used to function before it was removed. My energy level was low; I was tired and felt exhausted all the time. This was a trying time for me. Without that energy, I found myself having to rely on others. Wow, that is difficult for someone used to being independent!
However, despite my attempts to resist the help of others, I found that my needs gave others the opportunity to surround me with love and comfort. Matthew 11: 28-30 says, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest...” I was able to witness God’s comfort through a new set of eyes. I think you can truly feel God’s comfort when you are so low that you have nowhere else to go but to look up to HIM.
Friends and family covered me in prayer, helped take care of my children, cooked meals, and continually reminded me of God’s strength. They were definitely God’s vessels during this battle. As God and others loved me, I was reminded of His promise in 2 Corinthians 1:4 “God comforts us so that we can comfort others.” I realized that God’s plan was for me to love Him in spite of my circumstances and to love others. I prayed that He would allow me to comfort others the same way that He was comforting me.
The next phase in fighting my cancer was through treatment. My doctor discussed the treatment describing it as a process that would require an isolation period. I would take a radioactive pill to destroy any remaining cancer cells in my body. Several precautions had to be taken during my isolation period. I had to be especially careful of my children and the effects of the radiation. I spent a week away from my family and friends. As a busy, young mom of a toddler and a preschooler, I had dreamed of a week to myself. However, this isolation was not exactly what I had been thinking! Although I was sick after some of the treatments and lonely at times, I did have a lot of time to reflect, to read encouraging cards and verses I had been given, and to ask God what other plans He had for me. The isolation period was difficult on my body physically and on my heart emotionally, but it gave my spirit a week of rest, prayer, and a week of God showing me how He works in spite of my weaknesses.
I feel inspired with a new life now. I have heard people say that after facing cancer, you see life differently. I truly do have a new vision on life. I try to live a life where I appreciate the little blessings. I try not to get distracted by insignificant problems that used to plague me. I remembered what all I experienced and witnessed through my fight with cancer. I remember that God’s promises are real. He tells us not to worry or be anxious about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34).
After going through this experience, I wake up every morning and look at the small scar on my throat. It is a reminder that God had His hand on me through such a scary time in my life, a time that I really did not have any control. He carried me through it all. He has answered prayers, and He has shown me His peace in the midst of a storm.
Am I fearful the cancer may show up again? Yes, at times. Then I remember where I have been and where I am going. More importantly, I remember Who I am following! I continue to see how God is using my experience to glorify Him. God has placed several young women all facing similar devastating news of cancer across my path. I am able to share with them my experiences, my fears, my triumphs, and encourage them through God’s love. I was also presented with the opportunity to be interviewed on NBC about the rise of young women being diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Satan’s plan is for us to have self-pity and feel hopeless, but God’s plan is for us to draw close to Him so we can lead others to Him. I do not know what my future holds.
I do not know if it will be cancer free or not. However, I know that the greatest things that God has planned for us are the things that we do not even know yet. We just have to be ready to follow Him wherever our life leads us and whatever circumstances come our way.
Well, I know I haven't blogged in forever. I've been busy enjoying and appreciating the little things in life! I am going for my 6 month scan next week and will find out if the cancer has returned or not. I can't believe it's already been 6 months. I don't feel nervous or scared...God has already demonstrated his faithfulness to me and will continue to! My girls are such a sweet reminder of God's love, they bring so much JOY to my life. When I think about how care-free and trusing they are, it reminds me of how God wants us to be. Cast all your cares upon HIM, he cares for YOU!!
Today I was thinking about how much has happened this past year. When I was celebrating new years last year, I would never have guessed that cancer would be a part of my life. That just proves that we need to keep our minds on the present journey, enjoying God's presence along the way. We walk by faith and not by sight. I am looking forward to this year, whatever it may bring.
I hope this blog provides an opportunity to stay in touch with me and my family as we go through this journey. It's all been an overwhelming experience even though we are just at the beginning. I was recently diagnosed with thyroid cancer or more specifically, papillary cancer. My goal is to keep the blog updated so that our friends and family can follow us as we progress over the next few months. I have several people that will be helping to keep the blog updated with what's going on especially on days that I am not up to it. I feel so blessed to have so many people that have sent their love and prayers. Please know that I feel them all and keep them close to my heart. God is teaching me each day that He is sovereign and has ultimate control of our lives...to everything is to His glory.