Thursday, July 31, 2014

Thank you

Thank you to the literally hundreds of people that prayed and fasted for my family and for my healing yesterday. It was fun getting to see the locations where folks are praying all across the US and even across the world! It was an incredible blessing to read uplifting prayer after prayer- many of which brought me to tears. It was hard to believe how many of you care so much about me, and yet we’ve never even met. I was so encouraged yesterday. Thank you.

I find it surprising that after all the dread about “the scans” over the last month I feel complete and total peace about tomorrow. I do not have a single ounce of worry about what my oncologist will tell me. I believe this is directly related to the prayers being lifted up for me all day long yesterday. Again, thank you.

I’m excited to see the miracles that God will perform through this journey and I am thankful for the countless prayer warriors that have come alongside our family to battle this with us. Thank you.

[Note: I will continue checking the “Prayer Map” form and adding pins to the wall map. So keep those entries coming- they are a wonderful encouragement to my family and to me!]


[Please note that this post was written earlier in the week prior to yesterday's day of fasting and prayer. Brad and I have intentionally wanted this blog to be "real" and not to sugarcoat how we are feeling throughout the journey- fair warning this is one of the more "real" ones. It is also important to note that I've had perfect peace today and yesterday that I would say is directly correlated with so many people praying- so thank you! 

As it turns out, the day of fasting came at just the right time as I was just notified that my scans will be conducted all day tomorrow. I will post an update on my staging when I am emotionally ready to share the news. Please pray for my heart to be prepared to hear the news, whatever it may be.]

Metastatic is such a scary word. Metastatic means incurable. It means potentially a 0 to 5% prognosis of making it 5 years from now...and the scariest part is there is a 20-30% chance I have metastatic breast cancer.

When I was pregnant I kept thinking the cancer had spread to my bones because my hips would ache or my feet would tingle. Or, I would think it had spread to my lungs because I would get out of breath carrying Noah up the stairs with an extra 35 pounds around my midsection. My doctors had to remind me over and over again that it was much more likely that these symptoms were from me being pregnant.

For the last few weeks I had pretty much convinced myself that if I had metastatic cancer, I would already be having symptoms because my triple negative cancer was moving at the speed of light. I was really relieved when all my aches, pains, and shortness of breath went away after delivery. Then this weekend after my surgery, I started having pain when I took in deep breaths. Which in my crazy mind, means it has spread to my lungs.

I spent an hour on an IBC network facebook page reading story after story about women that had died of IBC- young women, with young children, women that shouldn't have died yet- women just like me. When you combine that with a few websites describing prognoses of metastatic cancer, my brain spirals into picturing what it would look like if I die of this disease. I picture Noah walking around the house calling, "Mama, Mama?" and me not being there to answer him. I picture David never knowing to call "Mama," because he wouldn't even remember who I was.

I know this line of thinking isn't healthy, good, or edifying. Brad is good about trying to course correct me and helping me review the information we do know. I also had my oncologist's nurse and my surgeon to talk some sense into me as well. In fact, my surgeon said that they took a lung x-ray that would have shown any tumors that would be big enough to affect my breathing. So while not a perfect screening for lung mets, it does make me feel slightly better.

When other small symptoms pop up (from one of the many procedures I've put my body through recently, or one of the numerous drugs that I'm on, or from something totally random), it is hard not to assign it back to cancer. To stay functioning and sane though, I have to focus on what we do know - my liver sonogram, blood tests, and chest x-ray came back negative. My breast sonogram, mammogram, and biopsy came back positive for IBC. And even if the PET scan/ MRI with contrast comes back negative for cancer spread, it doesn't mean it won't someday come back positive.

Somehow in the midst of all this uncertainty and terrible odds, I have to keep relying on God to give me peace. I have to keep coming back to His Word:

"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." Isaiah 41:10

So yes, there is a huge percent chance that this disease will kill me, and kill me soon. But during this battle, I will keep putting my faith in Christ and lean on Him for strength, courage, and joy during this season. When the statistics and symptoms scare me, I will look to a God that is greater than all these.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Day of Prayer & Fasting – Prayer Requests

I’m so thankful for the many people that are fasting and praying for me today. I have a longer than normal list of prayer requests to use as a guide.

Ideas on How to Pray
+Complete and total healing from cancer – “No Evidence of Disease” (NED)/ remission status
+No recurrence of the disease
+Be able to live a long life allowing me to mother my children as they grow and support Brad as a wife
+No metastatic cancer (cancer has not and does not move to other organs (lung, liver, brain, bone, etc.) or distant lymph nodes)
+To have a “complete response” from the chemo (cancer completely gone from my body after chemo treatments)
+Limited symptoms from chemo and radiation treatments
+Wisdom for doctors on how to treat me
+Hands of surgeons when the mastectomy is done, that they would get all the cancer out (negative margins)
+Quick recovery from surgeries
+Protection from infections and other sicknesses and conditions that would impact treatment timing
+Make wise decisions with regards to treatments and doctor selections
+Energy throughout treatments to continue normal daily activities (i.e., taking care of little kids)
+Current small symptoms to be gone: rash (doctors aren’t sure what from) and pain in arm (probably from cancerous lymph nodes?)

+My faith would be strengthened, not compromised through this trial
+Not to enter depression
+To not have anxiety
+Be an encouragement to others going through similar situations
+We wouldn’t lose our sense of crazy/fun in the midst of all the seriousness
+Cancer wouldn’t cast a dark cloud on our family
+I would keep away from discouraging resources that describe less than favorable outcomes and statistics, keep my focus on Christ instead

+David to grow big and strong
+Noah to learn discipline and develop respect
+Noah to enjoy being a toddler and be immune from the stress being put on our family
+David to receive the nurturing and love needed to develop well
+We would parent well and know how to best train and teach our children

+Protection for our marriage from the stress and strain two little ones and battling cancer can cause
+Brad to have the energy to pick up more of the workload at home when I can’t physically do my share
+Function well with less sleep
+Brad would continue to be blessed at work and continue working diligently

+Our parents would be strengthened and have energy as they take care of us
+Both families would be blessed during times of career transitions
+Those praying for us would have their relationships with Christ strengthened, that the miracles seen in my life would build their faith in God
+My testimony would bring my friends that do not currently believe in God to know Him

+Short-term disability and long-term disability would work out smoothly
+Our family would not need to worry about finances
+Insurance and bills would be made simple and not pay more than we are supposed to
+Getting to appointments (both in Dallas and Houston) would be easy to figure out with babies and Brad’s work

Ultimately, we want to pray that God would be glorified through this season in my life. That He would work an amazing miracle and get all the glory for it! And even if He chooses not to work a miracle for us, that we would never stop praising Him and claiming that He is still good and still in control.

Prayer Map

Over the past month we have heard some pretty neat stories about different friends, families, and churches that have been praying for us. We thought it might be fun to show on a map where people are praying. If you or someone you know is thinking of us, enter the name of the person/family/group/church and where they are located. 

A Note about Fasting

I'm hopeful most of you have seen by now that we're planning a day of fasting and prayer for Ashleigh tomorrow: Wednesday July 30.  This was organized by one of Ashleigh's sorority sisters and former roommates at Tech.  For those of you who aren't familiar with fasting, we wanted to provide a quick explanation of what fasting is and why you would do it.

Fasting is temporarily setting aside a normal and everyday part of your life and replacing the time and mental energy usually devoted to that task to thinking about God and praying.  In the Bible, food is typically the fast-ed item of choice since it's both universal and necessary for survival. In today's world it is just as drastic to fast from TV, facebook, texting, or the internet as a whole (now that's just crazy talk) as it is to speak of surviving for a time without food.

There's nothing inherently spiritual or metaphysically enlightening about fasting in and of itself.  It is a physiological mnemonic device, a mental "reminder string tied around one's finger". Maybe you have a Catholic friend who fasts from something for the season of Lent - the idea here is that every time you get a craving for chocolate or to check facebook or indulge in the fast-ed item, you mentally re-direct that thought into a prayer.

For the 15 months of our engagement (WAY too long, but that's another story!), Ashleigh and I fasted and prayed for our coming marriage each month on the 7th.  We were engaged on April 7th 2006 and married on July 7, 2007, so it made sense.  We would not eat from midnight to midnight, and often got together during the day to pray for each other, our coming marriage, our future children, and many other things.  Then, at midnight when the fast was over, I would typically go to Taco Bell and load up on some delicious fast food (get it?).  This is not technically a spiritual requirement to concluding a fast, but after a day of not eating I certainly thanked God all the more heartily for that sweet ground beef and cheese ambrosia.  Sorry, back to the point:

Fasting is a statement of priority - that talking to God is fundamentally more important than watching TV, drinking coffee, or even eating.  Check out Jesus' words on this (quoting the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy) - that "man does not live by bread alone".

Fasting is a statement of faith - that we believe God can hear and will answer our prayers, otherwise we're just fools denying ourselves food and facebook for no reason.

Fasting is between you and God - the Bible specifically calls out and condemns folks who make a big deal out of their own fasting, just like it calls out folks who make a big deal out of praying in public just to sound spiritual.

So if you feel so moved, join us tomorrow in a day of dedicated prayer for Ashleigh's healing.  In a separate post, she'll make list of requests to keep you busy through the day.  And if you'd like help remembering to pray for Ashleigh throughout the day, consider going without food, facebook, caffeine, or some other part of your normal routine as a reminder. 

*Note: Obviously if you have some health-related reason for not fasting (i.e., sickness, pregnancy, nursing, etc.), we discourage you from doing a fast from food. There are many other ways to remember to pray that doesn't involve food.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Pre-Chemo Photo Shoot

The Thursday of the week I was diagnosed we had met with a bunch of doctors deciding which team to go with. We decided on UT Southwestern and they set up chemo for the following Monday. I learned that the type of chemo I would receive would make my hair fall out the very first cycle. On the way home from the appointments we called our long-time friends, the Bryants, to see if they would be willing to come do an impromptu photo shoot to capture our family and my long, strawberry blonde hair before it was all gone. 

They came over without hesitation and Maggie shot these amazing photos that we will cherish for years to come. They are full of emotion- both the joy of Noah at such a fun age and the coming birth of David- but also a lot of hurt, pain, and confusion over my diagnosis with such a horrible disease. We are thankful for the Bryants' friendship and these beautiful photos. Thank you Maggie!


Friday, July 25, 2014

Port Placement

Typically cancer patients receive chemo treatments through a medi-port. This allows the crazy chemicals to be more safely and easily administered. If one of my chemo drugs, Adriamycin, had gotten under my skin or in my muscle it would have been no bueno. (This is the crazy red one Brad referenced previously.) Part of the procedure to implant a medi-port involves using an x-ray machine. Because of this, I couldn't have it placed until after the delivery, so the past two chemo rounds have been through IVs in my arm. We did the second round intravenously so not to delay the second round any more than was necessary.

Today was my surgery to place the port. I honestly kept forgetting that I was having surgery with the week that my body has undergone- an epidural/pitocin for 12 hours/delivery, chemo injections, Neulasta shot (that really hit my body hard this week), and then surgery today. I feel my body crying "Uncle! Enough for one week!".

But all that to say, today went swimmingly! Thank you to everyone that prayed for a smooth surgery and quick recovery. I was on the floor with Noah playing with toys and changing diapers/feeding David by this evening. My surgeon was awesome. She called last night to see if I had any questions and check-in with how I was feeling after delivery and chemo. She always makes me feel so good and gives me so much hope!

We are thankful for yet another answered prayer. Next week should be more low-key (at least to my body) with Noah/David doctor appointments, newborn photos, genetic counseling (BRCA testing), and a check-up with my oncologist...and probably labs (there are always labs, but they will be much easier now with my port!).

Thanks again for the continued prayers. <3

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Praises + Prayers (7/22)

So much to be thankful for this week! Thank you everyone for your prayers- they continue to be answered one-by-one!

+ This has been an absolutely joyous time with the birth of Baby David last week! We’ve had a wonderful time of celebrating and praising God. David was born safely and easily without a C-section. We actually had an extra day of recovery before chemo so my WBCs and other measures were up really high before receiving chemo yesterday. I’m recovering from delivery very well so far. It has been a much easier and quicker recovery than I had with Noah. [A baby David post and more pictures are in process…will try to get that knocked out this week!]

+ David has been a breeze to take care of so far. He is sleeping well at night and eating well. We have been getting plenty of sleep. We went for our first check-up yesterday and he is “perfect” in the words of the pediatrician.

+ Round 2 of chemo was only a week delayed and went fine yesterday. It was a little more painful than the first round but nothing too bad. I’m so thankful to have the chemo back in my bloodstream fighting the cancer!

+ Hair fell out and I’m feeling good! I have a nice wig, comfy caps to wear around the house, hats for walking outside, and pretty scarves for doctors’ visits. And it only takes seconds to dry off and get ready in the mornings. Guys have had it so good for so long- who knew??

+ That this round of chemo would have a profound effect on the cancer. The cancer definitely has been growing over the last week or so. I’m praying that it wouldn’t gain any ground before the chemo starts taking effect this week or before Round 3 is given in two weeks. I’m also praying that we would see even greater strides made this round than even Round 1 had.

+ I will have my port placed Friday morning at 7AM and will go under general anesthesia for it. A port is something they put in my neck that connects to a big vein and makes giving chemo easier and safer. It is a relatively simple procedure and I’ll be out of the hospital same day. Pray that the procedure goes well and there is a speedy recovery.

+ Still not sure of when my scans will take place but please continue praying that the cancer has not and will not progress into metastatic cancer (moved to other organs – bone, liver, lung, etc.). I’m still very hopeful that it is Stage 3B or 3C and will still have a chance at a “curable” disease. I would love nothing more than to put this all behind us in two years and get completely focused back on loving and taking care of Noah, David, and Brad!

+ Pray that my spirits would continue staying high despite the hormone drop after delivery. I’ve been weepy the past couple days for no apparent reason. Brad is quick to remind me that I cried every day at 6PM for two weeks after Noah was born- just weird post-pregnancy craziness.

+ Prayers for endurance and strength for grandparents - my parents and Brad’s parents have provided much needed support since this all broke loose. My mom has taken me to a bunch of doctors’ appointments, including chemo yesterday. My dad will drop whatever he is doing to help with whatever we need from giving Noah a bath to bringing me a McFlurry at 11PM at night. Alan and Jane cancelled their big retirement trip to be here with us for two weeks. Jane arrived the day I went into labor (nice timing!) and has done all the dishes and laundry, taken care of Noah (wake-ups, baths, diapers, daycare pick-ups/drop-offs), and has a smile on her face the whole time.  AND is even here for her birthday today – Happy Birthday Jane! We love you!! Can’t wait until Alan is here on Thursday and starts grilling our dinners- yum!! We are so thankful for the support from our parents. Please pray that God will give them the strength and endurance it will take to support us during this long journey.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Hair today…

[…gone tomorrow! One of my friends from business school sent that pun to me and it tickled me so much. I’m very thankful for the folks that have been able to make me laugh in the midst of this situation. There aren’t many, but the ones that have, have provided a welcome relief from all the seriousness. Thanks Lydia for your pun!]

1 Peter 3:3-4
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

My hair started coming out on Monday of last week (Day 15 of the chemo), which was a lot later than I was expecting. My scalp started itching and it felt like I had it in a hair tie for too long where your head sorta aches, similar to a sunburn on your scalp. By Wednesday, it was coming out in handfuls and it got to the point where it was just a logistical challenge to put all the hair somewhere. Brad was at work when I decided I could probably figure out how to use his razor and shave it off. I wasn’t really thinking about the emotional side of doing it by myself. In my brain at the time, I was sick of pulling all my hair out, and I thought I could handle the razor on my head. I took the first swipe across the top of my head and instantly regretted not waiting for someone to be home with me. But you can’t really stop after you’ve buzzed one strip on the top of your head. So I stopped— put my pearls in— then kept going and finished buzzing my head. There were definitely some tears as my new look took shape. It seemed very extreme and harsh. Between the extra pregnancy weight in my face, no makeup on, and now my G.I. Jane head, my reflection was painful to look at. I took a shower to get all the hair off me, put on my makeup, a cute outfit, and a pretty scarf and I felt good again. It felt like me just without all the long hair.
I appreciate everyone that shared such kind words via Facebook— that has definitely helped me through this transition. If I had known how many nice comments I’d get without hair, I might have shaved it off earlier!

My biggest concern was with Noah. I was really afraid I would scare him if he saw me bald. When I picked him up from school with just a scarf on my head, he just stared at me for a little bit. By the end of the evening- even when he saw the bald head, he was cool with it. That was a relief!

Sabrina and I had gone out a couple days before a found a wig. Here are a few of the looks I tried on:
We finally settled on this one:
It turns out there isn’t a ton of demand for strawberry blonde wigs so I’ll be a brunette for a little while. I’m happy my eyebrows and eyelashes haven’t fallen out yet. I hear that is around the corner— I’m afraid when that happens it will be even harder to continue looking feminine and pretty. Losing those comparatively few hairs could be an even harder transition than losing all the hairs on the top of my head. I just don’t want to look sick. I feel so good and healthy right now. I don’t want people to stop and stare at me in the grocery store feeling sorry for me.

In the end would I rather have pretty long hair with a unique color to it? Yes. Is it the end of the world to be bald? No. Do Brad, Noah, and David all love me with or without my hair? Yes. Should I have found my beauty from something other than my hair all along? Absolutely.

I would say this is another answer to prayer. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Baby David has arrived!

David Bradford Range has arrived! He was born on July 17th at 6:39pm weighing 6 pounds 15 ounces and measuring 20 inches long. Mom and baby are happy and healthy. Our family feels so blessed and grateful for this time of rejoicing in our lives.

Ashleigh is scheduled to have the next round of chemo Monday afternoon- God is so good! Thank you to everyone that has been praying for us around the clock. He hears your prayers. Let's continue to pray for complete healing- we know He can provide a miracle!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

WBC Update

Your prayers have worked again! I essentially "nadir-ed" for about two seconds because I got a call from my onocologist tonight that my WBCs have soared past the minimum threshold for starting delivery. After some debate about starting tonight versus tomorrow, the doctors and I decided on starting the process tonight and inducing tomorrow morning.

I absolutely love babies. Within moments of delivering Noah I exclaimed that I would do labor all over again tomorrow! In fact we have a video of me skyping with my brother from the hospital saying that I wanted another baby in probably 15-18 months from then. I have loved being a mom to Noah. A few years ago I might have told you I wasn't really that interested in having kids. I honestly didn't think it sounded all that fun. But the baby bug bit me and I wanted Noah so badly that I couldn't wait to graduate from school to have him! Then Noah was so much fun I figured having two kids would be twice the fun! I feel so fortunate that we were able to get pregnant twice. With the many friends in our lives that have struggled with infertility, I know very acutely not to take this for granted.

Please pray that we will have a safe, healthy baby delivered quickly without a c-section or risk for infection. Also, pray that we will be able to enjoy and savor this joyous moment without the cloud of cancer over us or nervousness about the scans that await on the other side.

I can't wait to cuddle, love on and be a mom to David. I can't wait to meet him. <3

Misc Updates

I have a few misc thoughts/updates to share this morning:

Since being diagnosed I can't say I've been too "scared" of anything that has been going on (you know, minus those two panic attacks the first week). Over the last few days however, I have been pretty worried about two things -

1) The chemo is pretty much out of my system at this point so the cancer is back to winning again. My tumors are starting to grow, I'm showing more symptoms, and the pain is starting to return. It is ridiculously scary and part of the reason I'm so anxious about getting the next round of chemo going.

2) Infections scare the living crud out of me. I'm "nadir-ing" right now which means I have zero immune system with which to fight any basic infection that would normally not even hit your radar. At the same exact moment, Noah has gotten a cold. He hasn't had a single cold since we switched up to the daycare in Allen. It has been really tough not hugging/kissing/cuddling with him. I'm washing my hands 100 times a day, wearing a mask out in public (I'm one of those people now), and bring purell with me everywhere I go. Even with all the precautions I still have been sneezing and have a little bit of a runny nose. The scary thing about infections isn't the bummer of getting a cold, it is how quickly it can escalate into something like pneumonia or other life threatening sickness when you don't have anything to defend yourself with. Very scary.

Baby David
I go back in this afternoon to see how my white blood counts are doing. I was "nadir-ing" on Monday so now it is a question of how long they will stay low before they rebound again. I'm 37 weeks today. I'm really, really happy we were able to delay delivery to give David a few more weeks to cook. There is a 3% chance of him going in the NICU for additional development time which is great compared with the numbers we were looking at a few weeks ago. I'm praying that my counts have already started to rebound so we can deliver ASAP.

On a much lighter note, the nursery is now painted (thank you Sabrina!) and the carpet has been installed. It has been a running joke of who/what was going to arrive first- the baby or the carpet. The carpet won- yay! I still have a ways to go in getting all his clothes/swaddling blankets cleaned/folded/put away and everything set up though. My mother-in-law arrives today and I have a good feeling that together we will be able to get it knocked out pretty quickly. I'm going to the store today to start working on the arts and crafts side of things. There are lots of decorations from Noah's nursery that I can leverage but there is just enough new stuff to put my mind on something fun for a bit this week.

We have already gotten a ton of help from folks. A big thank you to everyone that has done meals so far. It is really nice never worrying about cooking and being able to open the fridge any given time and have 3+ awesome choices of leftovers.

My best friend since high school, Sabrina, came for a long weekend and left yesterday. Originally I thought there might be a baby already so the plan was for her to help with all of that. Since we didn't have too much we needed help with, we ended up just getting to talk the whole weekend. I'm sure it was a nice break for Brad to have someone else that I could vent my emotions to.

My mother-in-law comes today for a week and then my father-in-law will join her for another week. Should be really good help having them in town.

My hair has finally started to fall out. Nothing really started coming until day 15 when I was expecting it to start day 10-14ish. A few folks that have been through chemo before gave me the (accurate) heads up to expect it to itch or feel like a sunburn on your head right before it starts. It has gotten thinner but I'm still not bald yet. It is sort of a logistical challenge to remove all the hairs from your head- where does all the hair go?? I'll post pictures once it is completely gone.

Sabrina went with me to get a wig this week. That was sort of a surreal experience. I wasn't expecting to need a wig at age 29. The ladies at the shop were really sweet and made the process very doable. I'll post pictures of all the wigs I tried on- it was actually pretty funny.

That's it for today. I'll be sure to keep everyone posted on when I get scheduled to induce and bald-y pictures. :-)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Praises + Prayers (7/11)

Your prayers are working! There are many updates to be thankful for this week!


+ The biggest praise has to be the response to chemo in the last 5-6 days. The doctors have all been extremely pleased with the progress made from the first round. My symptoms have all but gone away and we are back to where I was before I went to see my OB the first time 3-4 weeks ago. There is clearly still a very long way to go as there are still massive tumors and the entire breast is full of cancer, but this is excellent progress and I'm so thankful for visible improvement just like everyone has been praying for - thank you!

+ The trip to Houston went very well as you can read in the last two posts. There were no labor scares on the drive to and from, the doctors at MD Anderson were helpful and encouraging, and we had a great time celebrating our anniversary.

+ I continue to have very little to no side effects from the chemo which seems like a miracle to me. It is amazing to see the chemo doing its job on the cancer and not feeling a thing myself. Pretty amazing!

+ My spirits are very high right now. It is crazy to think that I have gotten this pretty horrible diagnosis but somehow feel complete peace and joy in the midst of it. That is also a miracle and I believe a direct result from the hundreds of prayer warriors out there lifting me up to the Lord daily. Thank you to everyone that has sent encouraging words through email, texts, facebook, cards, gifts, flowers, meals, hugs, and phone calls. You have allowed yourself to be a physical extension of Christ's arms to remind me that He does have this under control and that He does love me through all of this craziness. Thank you!


+ My white blood cell counts (WBC) are continuing to drop. Because I'm pregnant I wasn't able to get the standard steroid shot that allows chemo patients to only wait 2 weeks between treatments (it helps boost the WBCs and makes the recovery faster). The WBCs will continue to drop until it bottoms out and then starts to recover. The doctors have to wait to deliver or do the next round of chemo until after my WBCs hit a certain threshold. Currently that is looking like late next week maybe or early the following week, delaying chemo for an extra week and a half. My doctor told me not to freak if the tumors start growing again (how am I not supposed to freak out over that??). 
Please pray for two things: 1) That my WBCs rebound at heroic rates next week so we can deliver sooner rather than later, and 2) that the baby is delivered safely with no c-section or any other complication that would require me to take antibiotics and delay chemo even more. Right now chemo #2 is scheduled for the 24th but I'm really praying that gets moved up so there isn't 3.5+ weeks between treatments.

+ Continued prayers that the cancer continues to recede, break apart, and make its way to a "complete response" with chemo. Please pray that when we do the scans after delivery that the cancer has not metastasized to any other organs and I can "just" be Stage 3B or 3C.

+ This one is pretty minor in the grand scheme of things but I'm told I should lose my hair in the next few days (no thinning or anything yet though, maybe it is going to come out in one big chunk?). Pray that I see it as it really is - just proof that there are drugs inside me killing cells that replicate quickly, which is a very good thing. I hear that losing your hair is pretty traumatic, especially for a woman, and especially for someone that gets a lot of joy out of doing hair. I logically see that it isn't and shouldn't be a big deal, but I hear I might feel differently when it actually happens. Pray I'm cool about it.  

Thanks to everyone who has been following our story. I'll continue putting these specific requests out there because it seems to be working! God has been hearing your prayers. Thank you for taking the time to lift me and my family up!

Anniversary Trip

Taking a trip to Houston to visit MD Anderson probably was not how I pictured spending my seventh anniversary with Brad but it turned out to be a really fun trip that we probably wouldn't have taken otherwise. We got in Sunday night to our friend's house and stayed up way too late talking with them. We love the Dean's so much and always enjoy an excuse to spend time with them. Monday morning Allison woke up before the crack of dawn to make us muffins and bacon to-go. If you don't know Allison, you should, she is sort of amazing.

After the visit at MD Anderson, we got to see a couple good friends from my old job at Alvarez & Marsal. Things ran way longer than expected at the hospital that morning and what was supposed to be an early lunch turned into a 3pm, leave-your-job-in-the-middle-of-the-afternoon lunch. They were so sweet to still come out and visit! My sandwich had personality:

Brad's uncle works at the Houstonian (a classic Houston landmark hotel that has an old school Texas feel) and was really nice to get us a room for the night to celebrate our anniversary. Brad's uncles stopped by for a visit and it was great catching up with them before they took off on their trip to Costa Rica. I really hope we get to go to Costa Rica someday. We loved visiting New Zealand and it seems like a similar type vacation (outdoorsy, diverse landscapes, places to relax, etc.). 
I've actually spent quite a few nights at the Houstonian for events with my former job but not that much for personal trips. It turns out they have a great pool and pool-side bar. We had a little time in the early evening to go sit by the pool and enjoyed relaxing a bit after a fairly hectic day. The bartender gave us drinks (non-alcoholic for me, of course) for free when he learned it was our anniversary (thanks!). He kept trying to make polite small talk and figure out why we would have driven all the way from Dallas to celebrate our anniversary on a Monday in Houston.  Meanwhile Brad and I traded glances, silently willing him to stop asking questions. The last thing this nice bartender wants is to get the cancer-bomb dropped on him. We've learned the hard way over the last few weeks that when someone asks a polite "how are you doing" in line at the grocery store, the correct social convention is to say "fine" and smile, not "I was just diagnosed with a rare stage 3+ breast cancer.  How about you?". So thankfully he stopped and avoided the awkwardness that comes after over-sharing.

By the time dinner rolled around (for us this is 9PM), we were ridiculously tired. Brad was really sweet about telling me we didn't have to go out if I was too exhausted. I powered through because I didn't know the next time we would have an opportunity to go on a date like this in the future. Also, the number of times I get to do my hair are probably less than the number of fingers on one hand right now. So we pulled ourselves together to go to Taste of Texas for dinner. It was delicious as always. If you haven't been there, it also has an old school Texas feel. They have a killer salad bar and you get to pick out your steak from the butcher - like selecting a lobster at a seafood restaurant.  They even stick a number in it so you know it was the same one you actually picked out.  It is one of several establishments in Texas that pipe Christian music through the speakers, which normally wouldn't register except that when confronted by your own mortality all of a sudden every single Christian song becomes annoyingly relatable. One of the songs that came on was "Blessings", by Laura Story, which has become especially significant for us recently.  It is one of the songs Brad has learned to play on the piano and we've learned the parts to sing it together. The weight and exhaustion of the day just hit me and I lost it and started crying at dinner. Our poor waiter was probably like, what is going on?? was the food that bad??

The next morning there was no sleeping in for us. My follow-up imaging appointments were at 7AM and ended up lasting all morning. We went back to the hotel around noon and got to take a quick nap before getting on the road. 

Overall the trip went really well. I never felt scared about going into labor like I had been nervous about the week before. It was nice getting quality time with Brad before the baby arrives - we've always enjoyed even mundane long car trips together as time to just chat and be together. I'm so thankful to have him as my husband to face all this with. He possesses many characteristics that make him uniquely suited to love and support me through this journey. I've loved being married to him the last seven years and I'm excited to face the next few years together as Team Brashleigh. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

MD Anderson Visit

Brad and I travelled to Houston at the beginning of this week to visit MD Anderson Cancer Center. They are known as the #1 cancer center in the US, and most likely the world. The doctor I visited mentioned seeing someone from the UAE before me. Folks travel from near and far to be treated here.

Overall the visit went very well. I have a friend from college that now works there as an industrial engineer improving patient flow through the hospital (similar to my research/thesis at MGH). She was able to guide us around the buildings, prayed with us before the day started, and even came and sat with us in waiting rooms! (Thanks Rachel!)

Comforting to have your rare disease on a wall! 
They have heard of  it here!
Dr. Valero is one of the leading experts in IBC and has helped develop the standard of care for cases like mine. So it was very encouraging to hear that we were on the right track in terms of the steps we've taken so far and the type of chemo we started right away. He was very happy to hear that the chemo was already making a difference. He wanted us to come back after we are done with the first type of chemo (in 3 more rounds, 6-8 weeks from now) to discuss which flavor of chemo to do for the second set of 4 rounds. He was mentioning the same types that my oncologist here in Dallas has been recommending so that was all reassuring as well.

He did want MD Anderson to do a sonogram/mammogram for their own starting reference point, so we ended up coming back on Tuesday for another morning at the hospital. I'm glad we had the sonogram done as it was much more comprehensive than the first one I had a couple weeks ago here in Dallas. This one imaged the lymph nodes up past my collar bone, my armpit, and side to my back. This will be  helpful to the surgeons to know how far to go when removing all the associated lymph nodes and other tissue when it comes time for the mastectomy.

The radiologist was really nice in trying to explain to me what is going on inside my breast right now.  From what I understand, it sounds like my entire breast is full of cancer (can we pause for a moment and think about how scary that sounds??). With IBC, the cancer disperses throughout the breast in, let's call them, "sheets". Then as they hit a critical mass, they start to join together and that's when my milk ducts got blocked causing me to see symptoms. As things progress, and oh boy did they progress quickly with me, they start to form the masses inside my breast. The radiologist said on the report she will write up it will say the size of the "tumor" is the size of my breast. And it will be like that on all future reports until they don't see any more cancer from imaging (even then it could still be there, and a pathologist would have to look at tissues under a microscope to know whether "islands" of cancer were still throughout). She instructed me to watch the qualitative language to change over time. So I'm looking for words like the cancer is becoming more "fragmented" or "stringy" or "less dense". It has to go back the way it came and start to break apart and finally go completely away (wouldn't than be fun??).

This seems a bit daunting to me though. Someone with a X cm lump can do a bunch of rounds of chemo and it still not completely go away. How does someone get rid of this much cancer and have a "complete response" with chemo? Maybe this is why the prognosis is so rough? I'm really hoping I'm "just" Stage 3 because this sounds like plenty to fight all on its own. The radiologist was encouraging saying that the images do look like it is starting to get lumpy and more stringy versus two weeks ago. It sounds like the cancer is responding positively to the chemo.

[Note: I really want to get smart on how the cellular biology of all this is working, and I will, I have had a few other things on my plate recently, so I'm not quite there yet. So if any of what I've just explained turns out to be funny medical logic, I'll come back and correct it.]

Being at MD Anderson made my diagnosis feel much more real. Everyone there has cancer and is sick. I actually really hate cancer waiting rooms. They are so stinking sad. Everyone looks so depressed and no one smiles (except for me of course). When I was waiting for my sonogram at MDA a lady (55ish) who was a 5-year survivor was complaining to me about how unhappy she was with how her implants looked (and then proceeded to show me her reconstruction, thank you very much). I'm going to admit, it was really hard to show her grace. I tried explaining to her that if I'm alive in 5 years it will be the happiest day on earth for me. If I get to see David turn 5 years old, it would be the most wonderful miracle ever. Crying a little seemed to help stop her complaining - hey, you gotta do what you gotta do. So yeah, cancer waiting rooms - the worst!

I think that's it for MDA. Next post will be more fun on how we celebrated our anniversary and all the fun folks we saw while in Houston! Yay!

Monday, July 7, 2014

For Better, For Worse

I love my wife. 
Like, a whole lot. 
I would say it’s a fairy-tale kind of love, but I don’t remember any Disney princes holding hands and praying with their respective princesses while chemo made their hair fall out.  So my love for my wife has gotten a lot more…real…recently. 
In pre-marital counseling we learned the five roles of a spouse: best friend, lover, business partner, co-parent, and soulmate.  Ashleigh is all of those to me, and (in true Ashleigh fashion) she excels in each area.  I can’t imagine my life without her.
So today, our Seventh Anniversary, I’d like to shout from a mountaintop how amazing my wife is.  But I don’t have a mountaintop, I have this blog.  What’s the fun of having a marginally well-read cancer blog if you can’t use it to write an open love letter on your anniversary? 
I want to say how proud I am of Ashleigh for the way she has faced her diagnosis head-on.  For how hopeful she has been, relying on Jesus for strength, and for her faith that He has a plan for her and our family through this.  For how selfless she is - her greatest concern through this is not her own health, but how she wants to continue to be a great wife and mother.  Those of you who know Ashleigh know what an amazing woman she is, and for those who don’t I’m afraid no amount of my words here could do her justice.
We always intended our Seventh Anniversary to be special – we got married on 7/7/07, we were both born in a hospital located on 7777 Forest Lane, and our first chemo treatment last week was in room 7.  We don’t ascribe any mystical significance to the number, but it’s been a running gag in our marriage, an inside joke God has used to encourage us along the way.  We’ve decided that our anniversaries will be in base-7, so this is a milestone for us. 
Sure, we never imagined that our Seventh anniversary would be spent at an appointment at an out-of-town cancer center.  In fact, we pictured something much warmer, on a beach, perhaps including some kind of tropical beverage.   Still, I’d rather face cancer in a sterile doctor’s office with Ashleigh than be on a beach with anyone else on earth.
I wish I could take credit for the love I have for my wife, but the truth is I had it modeled to me from an early age.
I cried like a little girl when I saw The Notebook, and for a long time I didn’t forgive Ashleigh for making me watch it.  Now, before you revoke my man-card (it’s long gone anyway, didn’t you know I sing a cappella?), you should know that my grandmother, Nell Range, suffered from and eventually died from Alzheimer’s.  I won’t give Nicholas Sparks the satisfaction of me re-hashing the trite, emotionally manipulative plot of The Notebook here, but let’s just say there are a lot of similarities.  Towards the end, my grandmother didn’t always know who my granddad was, and would often shout hurtful things at him.  Still, he loved her in a selfless way that impacted me and that marked all of his grandchildren.   It’s one of the reasons my son Noah is named for his great-granddad, Noah Haskell Range.
One of the most poignant memories I have of him, even now that over 10 years have passed, is an altercation when we were all over at their house, and my grandmother in a confused state yelled some very hurtful (and untrue) things at my granddad, in earshot of the whole family.  I was hiding out in another room trying to avoid the awkwardness and pain of the situation.  My grandfather passed by me a little later and stopped, looking at me squarely from behind tearful eyes.  His words to me are seared in my memory.  He said “The marriage vows say for better and for worse.  This is worse.”  He said it almost cavalierly with half a shrug, with no bitterness, with the same inflection one might use to remark upon the weather.  The message was clear: no mere circumstances have the power to affect our decision to love each other.  You don't get a pass when things get hard; in fact, that's when you buckle down and work for it.
My grandmother eventually mellowed out in her dementia, and my granddad became “my sweetie” or “the man who brings me chocolates” (he would sneak them to her in her nursing home).  They lived out their love story to the end, so much more real and raw and beautiful than anything Disney or Nicholas Sparks can touch.  Theirs is a poignant story, but it’s the same quality of love and measure of devotion that I saw in my other grandparents (John and Nancy LaGrone), that I’ve seen for almost 40 years in my own parents, and that I see in my in-laws.
I know the old-school marriage vows are a bit out of vogue these days; the ones that say “For better, for worse; in sickness, in health; as long as we both shall live”, but with my granddad’s words in my mind you better believe I asked our pastor to include those statements in our marriage ceremony seven years ago.  And I intended to stand by them, until one of us stops breathing. 

Happy Anniversary Ashleigh, love of my life.  To the next 120 years (that gets us to 70, in base 7).  :-)

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Facebook Effect

I'm not going to lie - we braced ourselves a bit before posting the news of Ashleigh's diagnosis to Facebook early this week.  I tend to avoid Facebook as a general rule, since it is not always a vehicle of particularly edifying discourse.  I tend to swing to the opposite end of the spectrum to avoid over-sharing, and encourage Ash to do the same.  That's why you all think Noah is so cute...we achieve that illusion by only posting the very best pictures a maximum of about once a month.

...okay, so he's pretty darned cute.

Anyway, even if I wanted to submit a clever thought or dearly-held opinion for public scrutiny, I find it difficult to imagine a message of any substance that would be well-received by both my pastor and my drinking buddies.  Or both my hippie-liberal Boston friends and my gun-toting-right-wing-nutjob Texas friends, for that matter.  (I love you all.  Though I have been known to occasionally tote a gun)

Fun fact: the only reason I have an account at all is because it was all the rage in 2004 (back when accounts were limited to a few select universities) and Ashleigh made me sign up for an account so we could be "in a relationship".  You know, officially.

So Facebook and I have a live-and-let-live relationship.  Still, I can't deny its power to disseminate information very rapidly when the winds of social media are blowing the right direction.  Even though we braced ourselves, we were still unprepared for (and entirely humbled by) the amazing outpouring of support we've received in the last few days since we went public. 

We intend this blog to be primarily for friends and family who want to stay updated, and in the back of my mind I'm hopeful that maybe someday another family touched by IBC or another dangerous cancer could draw some encouragement from our journey chronicled here. We certainly don't have any delusions of bloging grandieur, so the sheer number of folks who have passed through here over the last few days and read our story boggles my mind.  Sorry I wasn't prepared for you - I feel like I invited you into my house with dirty laundry strewn everywhere.  Had I known you were coming, I would have cleaned up the place a little, or at least tried to make previous posts a bit more witty. :-)

I don't want to say that any messages we've received are more or less meaningful than others because we value dearly everything we've received from friends and strangers alike.  But perhaps the most surprising are the messages from friends of friends of friends - people we've never met (and may never meet in person) who have let us know that they are praying for us.  So if you re-posted our announcement on Facebook, decided to follow the blog, sent Ash a message of encouragement, or just took the time to peruse our posts here: Thank You.

A special shout-out is warranted for Emily over at The Journey of Parenthood for sharing our story on her blog.  Emily is a friend of Ashleigh's from all the way back in 9th grade, but she typifies the kind of support and encouragement we've received so far: people who have dropped everything (a tall order in today's world) to think about us, pray for us, and share our story with others who will do the same.

The offers of "anything we can do to help" are overwhelming in their scope and sincerity.  For these offers we are unspeakably grateful.  Please don't feel slighted if we haven't responded to your offer yet. Here's a great way you can help us (if you feel so inclined): go to your outlook or google calendar and set an appointment for sometime between 2 and 8 months from now, and make your offer to help again at that time.  In a few months, after the Facebook furor dies down (it's already trending that way), we're still going to be living with two babies and chemo.  I promise we'll take you up on your offer for food then. :-)

Praises + Prayers (7/6)


Last week we experienced so many blessings! I'll try to summarize a few of the key praises we have:

+ All last week the tumors seemed to be getting bigger- not the response you would hope for when pouring chemo into your bloodstream. Then literally overnight last night things got a ton better to where it was 1 or 2 weeks ago. Seriously an answer to prayer there. The tumors aren't a ton smaller but a lot of the other symptoms are starting to go away. Chemo is so cool!!! Thank you to everyone who was specifically praying for this!

+ I've had essentially no symptoms from chemo yet. Zero nausea (those anti-nausea meds must be rockin'). I took naps every day this week except one (and then everyone including me regretted me not getting my nap- sorry family for melting down on you!). Last time when I was 36 weeks pregnant I wanted to take naps everyday then too, so no big deal. Only one day was I really fatigued (which is the main symptom from this particular flavor of chemo). I got up and did my hair/makeup (for the first time this week) and then suddenly felt woozy. I was so tired I couldn't even stand up. So that day I just laid around in bed and Brad took care of Noah. If that is the main symptom of these drugs, keep 'em coming! 

+ Had a logistics chat with my boss at work and the head of benefits. It looks like everything is going to work out with regards to short term and potentially long term disability. Not having to worry about medical benefits on top of all the getting rid of cancer stuff is a huge blessing. It sounds like DPSG is going to be awesome through all this. Everyone drink more Dr Pepper and Snapple!

+ The encouragement from family and friends has been astounding. I can't even begin to tell you how amazing the response and support has been from everyone. The countless emails and facebook messages have been so uplifting. The best is when I've gotten notes from people I don't even know telling me they are praying for me AND they are telling their family and friends to pray for me too- incredible!! If you have sent me a message and I haven't responded, know that I am so grateful for your message and have probably read it multiple times but just haven't had a chance to respond yet. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Keep those prayers and encouraging words coming!

Speaking of are some specific requests for this week:

+ Brad and I are driving to Houston for the MD Anderson visit this week. Please pray that the trip is uneventful and that I will not go into labor between the two cities. If you've ever checked out a map of Texas there aren't many tier 1 hospitals between here and there so it would not be good if I went into labor!

+ Pray that we would have a productive meeting with Dr. Valero (sooo excited about meeting him! He is kind of a big deal in the IBC world). Pray that he provides us with good direction, information, and hope.

+ Please pray that my white blood cell counts would come back up quickly this week (they go down as the chemo kills all the good and bad cells, and increase my risk of infection). Once the counts are up to a level my drs are comfortable with, they will induce me and hopefully have a safe delivery and then a BABY! yayay!!!

+ Safe delivery (preferably not a c-section) with a healthy baby once my counts are back up

+ Finally, once the baby is delivered, we will start doing all the scans to see if cancer has spread and do the official “staging” (where they categorize how bad the cancer is in your body). PLEASE continue to pray that the cancer has not and will not spread to other organs/lymph nodes and that I will be Stage 3B or 3C. Also, I think once I'm staged it will make all the % prognoses much more real. Please pray that I will be able to emotionally deal with such high probabilities of death in less than 24 months (eek!).

So this post ended up being quite a bit longer than I intended. I'll try and keep future ones more to the point. There are just a lot of praises and prayers going on right now. Thanks again for everyone keeping up with our journey and for the prayers. We need a miracle but know that God can provide! 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Fourth of July

The cancer psychologist we saw this week said that part of the journey of cancer is not making your whole life about cancer. Tonight we had an opportunity to do just that. If I had not started chemo this week, I bet our evening would have looked the exact same.

We had some dear friends from grad school move to Texas last week (yay!) and we had them over for Fourth of July. We grilled out, made too much food, and got to laugh a lot. We talked about cancer some, but it wasn’t the focus of the evening. Noah had an awesome time and it turns out he loves watermelon. I’m so thankful for the friendships we have both near and far during this journey and the ability to be normal, even if just for an evening.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

How to pray - current requests

Current Prayer Requests:

  1. That the cancer has not and will not metastasize to any other organs (bone, lung, liver, etc) (we will be able to do more imaging once I have delivered in 2ish weeks)
  2. That the chemo will have an immediate effect on the cancer cells and that I would be able to see a visible improvement in the tumors as soon as next week
  3. That the birth will be smooth, not have to have a C-section, and that David would be healthy
  4. That at some point during the eight-ish rounds of chemo the cancer would have a "complete response" aka it would be completely eradicated from my body (this is the greatest predictor of survival)