I’ve Got My Baby Back…

…and all is right in our world again.

Here is the video of our reunion.


Thank you Jenny for bringing him back to us.  We loved having you with us – it’s been a long time since the two of us have had a slumber party.  Jenny and I have been pretty much inseparable for 21 years (crazy it’s been that long!) – she is a dear, special friend.


I also wanted to update you that my surgery has been scheduled for the afternoon of October 21.  I will have my ovaries taken out which will eliminate the need for the monthly shot.  I am okay and at peace with this decision and think it will be best long-term.

I am looking forward to starting back physical therapy tomorrow.  I am so thankful for Turning Point and absolutely love my therapists there.

I hope y’all enjoy your Labor Day weekend.  We will be celebrating Mark’s birthday.  Garrett’s birthday is also this weekend, but since he’s been gone the last 3 weeks we decided to celebrate him at the end of the month.  Didn’t want to miss his last weeks of being a toddler so we are pretending it’s not his birthday.  (Call me sentimental).

Love,

AJ

Tomorrow…

…Tomorrow.  I love ya. Tomorrow.  You’re only a day away.

Man, I loved that movie as a child.  I’m a sucker for all things Broadway, but Annie was my favorite movie as a child.  I would watch it, rewind it (gotta love VCR days), and watch it again.

Tomorrow, for us, is a day we have all been anticipating.  My sweet friend, Jenny Morgan, is bringing Garrett home.  Hamilton is asking if they can have some ‘just brother’ time tomorrow afternoon.  I’m thankful that (most of the time) my boys get along and that both he and Luke are legitimately excited to see Garrett and have

missed him tremendously.

Tomorrow, for me, begins the first day of our new normal.  I go to Dr. Mackay (my plastic surgeon) for my 3-week post-op.  He should release me for PT and to lift Garrett.  I go straight from his office to the airport.  Our reunion will put a bow on the end of my cancer recovery for me.  No more ‘not able’, ‘can’t’, ‘wish I could’.  No more watching someone else care for my child, having to refuse him.  It all goes back to as it should be – a mamma being a mamma.

I did get a phone call today that once you hear, “Ashley, it’s Dr. Zelnak”, stops you cold and puts a lump in your throat.  Dr. Zelnak is my oncologist.  She said my hormone levels are higher than she would like.  She wants my estrogen to be below 30 and I’m at 110.  She is changing my daily pill to something stronger, but basically it means that my ovaries are not fully suppressed.  I have a call into my OB/GYN, Dr. Howard, to inquire about getting my ovaries out permanently.  Dr. Zelnak is recommending it.  She insists it is an easy, out-patient, surgery with little recovery, but I’m waiting to hear from Dr. Howard.

On the eve of everything I was just talk

ing about, to hear the potential of another surgery and the possibility of more recovery that could remove me from my normal…well, I’m not going to think about it until I hear the facts.

In other news, Mark and I celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary yesterday.  We are trying something new this year with the boys: Awana.  They had their meeting last night (it’s $15 per child for the ENTIRE year – free weekly date nite or just sit in the car for 90 minutes silent or reading…ummm…yep, okay! Sold!  (Not to mention what they are learning while there is amazing!)).  Mark and I went to dinner to a fun local restaurant.  The last 6 months I got through still (somewhat) sain because of the man I’m married to.  There’s no one like Mark Jansen – he’s just one of the best you’ll ever meet.  He’s had to endure a lot – being the spouse of a cancer patient is no easy task.  Saying “yes” to that man, well – I’ve never regretted it.  He’s my best no-regrets decision I’ve ever made.

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Thank you for your continued prayers.  I will let you know once I hear more.

Love,

AJ

Welcome!

Welcome to the new site!  This website will be the place I post new updates concerning my health and life in general.  I’ve gone dark on social media for the next year and the helpinghands site has served it’s purpose regarding the care calendar, etc.  I felt it would be easier to move over to a site that does not require a user name to view thus making it easier to access and share.

If you were a member of the helpinghands site I have transferred your email to this site for you to receive email updates when I post.  You will get a confirmation email for you to confirm you want to continue receiving emails of my updates. (You can always reject the registration or unsubscribe if you wish).  If you were not a part of the original helpinghands site  you can put your email address in the ‘Follow blog via Email’ box at the top right corner of this page and click ‘Follow’.  You will then get an email with any update I post.

I have moved all of my previous posts since February to this site that you can access on the right – they are organized by month.  So I hope you will stick around on this journey with me – although chemo is over and I’m officially cancer free I know there is still much road untraveled.

I meet with my oncologist next week to get my second shot (the one that suppresses my ovaries to stop estrogen production) and have blood work done.  I also have my three week follow-up appointment with the plastic surgeon next Friday.  He will be able to tell me whether he thinks I need future surgeries as well as release me for physical therapy and normal activity (i.e. pick up Garrett).  Overall, I am feeling much better both physically and emotionally.

Speaking of Garrett he is doing great and having a wonderful time in Texas.  He even sent us a note in the mail.  We miss him much and we are all looking forward to him coming back next weekend and our days and lives regaining a little normalcy.

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My last post was pretty vulnerable and you were all so kind to write and respond with love and concern.  Your continued prayers are appreciated.

Love,

AJ

P.S.  With this new website you can still get in contact with me by responding to the email (that you will receive if you sign-up above) or you can comment at the very bottom of the page in the ‘Leave a Reply’ box.  I try to respond back to everyone that reaches out to me – I so love reading your feedback and comments.

It’s My Birthday…

…And I’ll cry if I want to, cry if I want to, cry if I want to.  You would cry to if it happened to you.

Are you humming this song from the 60s now?  I’m so thankful I had parents that played the oldies radio station growing up and I can have songs like this in my memory bank.  I need to play that station for my boys – I’m failing them in the history of good music.  (by the way the picture of my parents from the previous post was taken by none other than my almost 5 year old son Luke – we thought he did a pretty good job).

Ok – back to the crying during my birthday song.  (And yes I know the words are It’s My Party, but she does say in the verse “Oh what a birthday surprise” so I took liberty with the words for the sake of this post.)  I spent the last hours of last night and the first few hours of today crying.  Just could not dry it up people – the tears kept coming and the sweet birthday texts and facebook posts kept dinging on my phone.

Here’s the deal people the last 24 hours have been rough.  I told Mark last night I wish my birthday was next week, maybe I’ll be in a better place to celebrate.  But right now…ugh!  Just ugh!  It’s just a lot and it’s heavy.

The month of July was like a big ol’ torment.  I got the taste of my life being normal.  But now I’m back sleeping in my chair because it’s more comfortable than the bed.  It hurts to walk.  It hurts to sit up.  My bruises are purple and green.  The scars are big and messy.  (I thought I mentioned this, but maybe I didn’t, they used fat grafting on my sides so the bruises go around each of the sides of my waists in addition to my chest).  I never wanted plastic surgery.  Some people consider this a ‘bonus’ when it comes to breast cancer.  I don’t honestly.  I never would have gone to a plastic surgeon on my own.  I had to face time with my baby for my birthday – he even kissed the phone.  Oh my word the preciousness – and he’s so happy.  But that’s not normal people.  I have no hair and I’m just tired of it.  I’m tired of touching my bald head.  Yes it’s growing back, but I’m tired of having to match hats to outfits every day.  That’s not normal.  You are supposed to get dressed and fix your hair – not have to make your head match or coordinate with whatever you want to wear.  And as much as I wanted today to be about celebrating life, I just couldn’t get there.  I kept thinking about six months ago today.  I thought that this time, six months later, would feel better.  Would feel further.  And it just didn’t.

Didn’t – past tense.  Not doesn’t – present tense.

I decided to tell Satan to stick his pity party up his *** and that I was done with him stealing my joy.  And so I sat down and just started journaling, writing, crying like a baby and begging God to help me, to show up, to comfort me.  And here is what I wrote:

Lord I need your comfort and your help.  I need you to lift me up on wings of eagles right now.  So high out of this shadow; out of this pit.  I’m tired.  I’m tired of climbing when falling is just easier, but if I could climb onto your back fly out under the shadow of your wings instead.  Please Father.  Sweet Abba Father help me.

Isaiah 40:31 “But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.  They will soar high on wings like eagles.  They will run and not grow weary.  They will walk and not faint.” New Living Translation

 “But those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in Him] shall change and renew their strength and power; they shall lift their wings and mount up [close to God] as eagles [mount up to the sun]; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint or become tired.” Amplified Version

Lord I needed this verse.  I needed it to refocus on the new life I have.  The new hair that is growing.  The new boobs that took place of the sick ones.  Celebrate new days as a survivor.  This being my first birthday after cancer.

Psalm 55:22 was my verse from the very beginning – still thinking of that Veggie Tales song.  “He will take care of you”.

Amplified Version “Cast your burden on the Lord [releasing the weight of it] and He will sustain you; He will never allow the [consistently] righteous to be moved (made to slip, fall, or fail).

1 Peter 5:7 “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” New Living Translation

Amplified “Casting the whole of your care [all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He care for you affectionately and care about you watchfully.”

Whew Lord.  Deep breath.  Hold my hand.  Help me take one step at a time.  I’m leaning on you Lord for support.

So there you have it.  Straight from my journal.  And I knew I had to share it with you.  I wanted his encouragement to reach out to you as well.  I feel lighter, not necessarily better.  All of those things are still my reality, but I’m not carrying them anymore.  He is.

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On another note I feel very strongly that the Lord is asking me to get off social media for a year.  One whole year…AAKK!  I will post occasionally on my Team AJ page, but my personal Facebook and Instagram page I will be going dark.  Birthday to Birthday.

I will continue posting updates on this public, easily accessible website since the care calendar time came to a close.  Please sign up to receive these updates to your inbox, I will slowly start migrating my health updates and posts to this site.  You can do this by clicking at the top right corner and putting your email in the blank under ‘Follow blog via email’ (if you are viewing this on your phone you have to scroll to the bottom).

Thank you for your continued prayers.

Love,

AJ

Recovering

Just wanted to let everyone know that I am doing well. I got my drain out Monday morning. I go tomorrow afternoon for a post-op appointment where Dr. Mackay will change my dressings and check my incisions and healing process.
Right now I am sore and pretty bruised. I’m hoping that Barbie is on the other side of this healing process ;).
I said good-bye to Mom, Dad, and Garrett today. They should be landing in Dallas about now. The first time Garrett was in Texas was over Mother’s Day and this time it’s over my birthday. I know it’s only three weeks, but the Mama tears are real and I will miss him and will miss being his caregiver. Appreciate your prayers all around that situation.
My parents have been wonderful these last 6 months. (Six months tomorrow that I got the call that changed my life). I know what it feels like to receive that call, but I don’t know what it feels like to have your child receive that call. And as much as this has been a journey for me and my family of five i know it has also been a journey for them. Their support and sacrifices have gotten us through this time. Thanks mom and dad – I’ll never be able to say thank you enough. I love you! Take care of my sweet G-man!
I’ll write again soon.
Love,
Me
P.S. Many of you may have joined this website more recently and not read all of my updates – you can always go back and read previous ones through the website. If you ever want to reach out to me you can just reply to this email.

Surgery Tomorrow

Tomorrow, August 4, is my final surgery.  I will be having reconstruction that involves the implant transfer as well as some work of symmetry that insurance is so kind to cover.  I’m not sure what recovery will look like, but I have heard it is much better than the initial mastectomy surgery.  The biggest part is I cannot lift Garrett for 3-4 weeks.  Mom came in town last night and dad comes Friday.  They will take Garrett back with them to Texas for most of August to help care for him.  My sweet friend, Jenny Morgan, will be bringing him back to me at the end of the month.
My surgery is at noon.  I have to be there at 10:00 in the morning.  They said surgery should be 2-3 hours with 2-3 hours of recovery and then I am released to go home.  Crazy it is out-patient, but glad I’ll be sleeping in my own bed.  I covet your prayers for Dr. Mackay and his team, my recovery, and my family.  I would also love for you to pray that this is in fact my final surgery.  Dr. Mackay has mentioned that he may want to go back in for touch-ups late fall and I am literally begging God for me to just be D-O-N-E DONE after this.
I am blessed with an amazing support system – thank you for everyone that has signed up to bring us a meal or groceries this month.  It will be such a great help!  The boys started school today so it is a big week in our house.
The month of July was wonderful.  I felt great and loved to take back my roll of mom and housewife that I have missed.  I canceled the meal calendar for July and actually got to use my kitchen for the first time since moving in at the end of March.  We took the boys on a few fun summer activities and extended our road trip of picking Hamilton up from Kanakuk Kamp in Branson, Missouri. On our way home we visited The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, The Ark Encounter in Kentucky, and our close friends, The Greiners, in Tennessee.  I was asked to write a review of The Ark Encounter – when it’s published I’ll make sure to send you the link.  We also took Hamilton and one of his sweet friends to the Lauren Daigle (I posted one of her songs on one of my previous updates: I will Trust In You) and Hillsong United concert. I included a collage of pictures for you to see below.
Because I know you are curious, my hair is starting to grow back just a little bit.  (I never thought I would get excited about having to shave my legs – it’s the little things these days.)  Luke is praying my hair grows back rainbow.  Hamilton wants it to come back red like Garrett’s.  I guess we shall see.  (I’m just thankful I know a gal who will make it look great however it comes back (Love you Hanna Power!)).
And just to keep things real, this journey of cancer does funny things to your emotions.  You just never know when things are going to hit you in a way that seem…well, overwhelming.  As wonderful as July was to feel ‘normal’, it also was hard emotionally.  Due to chemo, my monthly shot, and daily pill I am officially in menopause.  With that comes some “fun” side effects (but praise the Lord that they are not too extreme).  We decided last week that we would send Luke to the school Hamilton has been attending the last 4 years (Covenant Christian Academy).  God has confirmed this decision in many gracious ways over the last week, but the emotions of sending Luke off to big school a year early were felt (He’s in the 4K program).  There is emotion as my surgery drew near and I was not going to be able to care for Garrett and as much as I know he will be well taken care of in Texas – it’s still my last baby that I feel I’m losing time with.  In addition to those family changes, we also had to put our sweet dog, Baylor, down two weeks ago.  For those of you that aren’t dog people this isn’t a huge deal to you, but for those of you who are you understand.  (Ironically, she died from cancer).  The boys miss her.  Luke tells us he misses Baylor daily.  She was 12 and we got her when she was 8 weeks old.  She entered my life during a dark time and she helped me immensely and it was sad to say good-bye to her during such a hard time of our life now.  I turn 37 next week and well there is just something about having a birthday, in midst of a cancer journey, that makes you more reflective.  More serious.  There is nothing significant about being 37.  But in my life it will mark the first year of being a cancer survivor.  The ‘youngness’ of it is more real than before.  The realization of how much life I have yet to live ahead of me and what the shadow of cancer can make that feel like.  We feel so surrounded by love and prayers and community, but then at the same time it’s the loneliest we have ever felt.  Life moves on outside this strange cancer bubble we are in – as it should.  This whole thing has made us rely more on each other and our Savior than ever before – ever before!  And I’m thankful that it has made our marriage, our family, and our personal relationship with our God, Jesus, and The Holy Spirit stronger!
But if I’m real – it’s still hard.  It’s still emotional.  I cried my eyes out for hours Monday night and when I stopped I cried some more.  Garrett woke up around midnight and I went in there and got some sweet time just rocking him back to sleep and held him and cried some more.  (Thank you God for your grace in giving me that time).  And when I thought I was all dried up I cried some more missing my dog who I had not cried without in the last 12 years (she always would come up and put her chin on my knee or snuggle in my lap trying to comfort me).  I felt myself spiraling into a pretty dark place, a pit almost.  I went to bed just sad. The next day I started praying.  And I shared my feelings with my husband and some close friends and they spoke truth over me. And prayed for me.  And opened up a window so some light could shine into my dark places.  My soul just needed some uplifting and isn’t it amazing that God gives us people to help do that for Him sometimes.
He is the creator of community.  He is a relational God.  We can find rest and rejuvenation in abiding in Him.  We also can find encouragement and help through His vessels of our relationships.  I would encourage you to find community somewhere.  Attend a church this Sunday.  Churches are gearing up for the fall and it’s always an exciting time to start attending church if you haven’t been in awhile.  I will give another plug for Community Bible Study – many classes are still accepting registrations for the fall and they usually do not kick off until late August or early September.  Dare I say start your own group.  Step out of your comfort zone.  There are many ministries that make it easy to use their curriculum and start a group.  I love Birds On A Wire – such a great way to gather your mom friends together and commune.  I have friends that participate in an IF:Table group.  Do something to connect with someone.  Maybe you need more than a peer, you need a mentor.  Recently I was honored with the request to be on the board of a ministry dear to my heart, Titus2.  My sweet mentor, Regina, who is with our Father in Heaven right now after WINNING her battle with breast cancer, mentored me and founded Titus2.  Check out the website and find a mentor or start Titus2 at your church. (Everything I just mentioned I linked above – all you have to do is click on it to learn more! Or email me questions – I will help you get connected.)
But please, don’t wallow.  Don’t stay stuck.  Don’t curl up in a ball and remain in the pit of your dark place.  Because the winds of that tornado get stronger and harder.  I know depressive thoughts are real.  I know dear friends and family members who struggle with clinical depression – I have in the past.  I’m not against medication (for anything for that matter).  But I also know that coupled with feeling connected to your Savior and feeling connected to a local body of believers (be that in your church, in a group, or with a mentor) is God-given medicine that he wants you to partake in.
I’m always worried I come across preachy when I write, but I’m writing what’s on my heart and I feel it’s what God has given me to say.  If you made it this far, thanks for reading.  As always you can respond to this email and comment.  I love getting your responses, even if I don’t have time to respond back.
I will have Mark or Rachael send out an update when I’m out of surgery tomorrow.  Thank you for your continued prayers and support from wherever you are reading this.