Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Not a Farewell Message

Amy Bradwell died on January 12, 2014. She died at home, in her sleep. I do not think she was in any pain. True to her word, she never posted a farewell message on this blog. I thought I should let the readers of the blog know that she had passed. I also wanted to say a few words about Amy. If you have been reading this blog, you probably already have some idea what kind of person she was, but there are a few things I thought readers might like to hear from me, her husband.

My dad once said of Amy that she was "the nicest person you could ever meet." That's true, but it doesn't tell you much. Lots of people are "nice." What made Amy special? One time, when we were talking about the Old Testament, I said something about what a great job the stories in Genesis, like Cain and Abel, do in analyzing the human failing of resentment. By resentment, I mean the thing that makes us feel a little unhappy when good things happen to other people (even our friends or family) but not to us. Amy at first said she never felt that way. I kept pestering her, though, and she finally confessed to a couple of incidents that happened years ago, when she was in school. They were so trivial that I almost laughed. I thought she was kidding me. Over the years, however, I have realized that she was telling the truth. She was more free from resentment than anyone I ever met. She was genuinely happy when good things happened to people she knew and was always satisfied with what God had given her. The amazing thing is that this was so even after she became ill.

She was always finding little, unexpected ways of showing she cared about you. During the last couple of months, when she was uncomfortable in bed, I would ask her how I could help her, and she would always say, "RAISE me up," in a funny, sing-song way. Then I would lift her and help her prop herself up on the pillows. I never thought much about it until her funeral service, when the music director sang "You Raise Me Up." This was never, as far as I know, one of Amy's favorite songs, and I don't remember hearing it before at our church. Whenever a contestant on American Idol performed the song, Amy would say that it was a bad choice because the song was done too much. In the last few weeks before she died, however, she told her mother (but not me) that she wanted this song sung at her service. I think she may have intended it as an Easter egg hidden for me to find. But the truth is that I was only lifting her, while she was raising me up.

Not long after we were married, we were at a party where a lady that I barely knew and who had just met Amy, came up to me and said, "You know, you're the luckiest man in this room." I'm sure I rolled my eyes at the exaggeration. But I was a lucky man, and I was still a lucky man even after Amy was diagnosed. The last four years of her life were, in some ways, the best years of mine. I found that when I was with her and doing what I was supposed to be doing as her husband, I wasn't scared, or depressed, or lonely, or even unhappy. I don't know that I've ever been much happier. I'm sure I've never been a better person.

Amy did not want her funeral service to be a sad affair; in a statement she wrote to be read during the service, she said that she wanted us to remember the laughter and fun. So I'm going to close with a couple of funny things that Amy probably wouldn't mind me letting you know: She couldn't dance a lick, but she could tell you the make and model of every car on the road. She was very tender-hearted about animals and donated regularly to several animal-related charities. However, she always threw out the literature they sent her requesting donations. It contained sad stories about animals that had been mistreated, and she just refused to read it. She had a nightly ritual where she had to watch something like two hours of Friends before she went to bed. Though she had seen every episode hundreds of times, she was still fit to be tied if even one of the four half-hour episodes was pre-empted. Whenever I told her I loved her, she would say, "How much?" "A lot" was usually not a good answer. What she wanted to hear was "So much!", which is what she always said to me.

When she got bad news about cancer or was just pissed off about something (but never about somebody), she would send you a text message saying, "Motherf***er!" When someone else was upset, she would always say, "It will be ALL right," in her sing-song way, and it never failed to make you feel as if things really would be all right.

I find myself using both of those expressions a lot lately. I miss her. So much.

John Bradwell
Amy's husband

Saturday, November 2, 2013

More Trouble But a Good Learning Experience

For the past few weeks, I’ve been battling what I thought was a minor chest cold. I had no fever, no weakness, or any other drama. So I let my onco know about it and self-medicated. As time went by, I lost my voice, couldn’t walk anywhere without getting winded, and struggled to keep an appetite and drink plenty of water. During the last two weeks of October, I was calling my doc to get some prescription meds – cough syrup with codeine, antibiotics, and a rescue inhaler. He gave me the drugs, but also ordered a chest x-ray. The x-ray showed some congestion and fluid, but nothing alarming. He also delayed my chemo since I was feeling weak.

By Wednesday 10/30, I could barely get my breath. My onco was filling in at another onco office, so the nurse practitioner ordered another chest x-ray. This showed a significant amount of fluid on my chest. In addition to that, since I was struggling with my appetite and wasn’t eating much, my hemoglobin had fallen to 6.5. The NP scheduled a procedure in radiology which the docs would find the most dense source of fluid in my chest by using an ultrasound on my back. Then they would insert a straw-like tool and withdraw the fluid. In the meantime I went to the cancer center to get two units of blood.
I have to say that this was the scariest day of my life, even more scary than when I found out I had cancer, and it had spread. I’ve never had breathing issues before. I’ve had about 5 chest colds in my life, usually cured by over the counter meds. This is the first time in my life that I was struggling, literally fighting to get a breath of air. The fluid withdrawing procedure could not be done until Thursday the 31st because the radiology team was so backed up doing the same procedure for so many other people. To make me more comfortable, the nurse practitioner set me up with a local medical supplier so I could have oxygen at home. As I sat at home, watching the supplier bring in tanks, tubing, and a big central unit for our living room, I got tears in my eyes. I was afraid to cry because I just didn’t have the wind for a good cry. I looked up at John and said, “Well this is it…I’ve seen it a hundred times, home health comes in to deliver supplies, the patient goes on oxygen, gets weaker and weaker and just dies. I’m going to die this time…”  John held my hand and told me to try to hang on.
The next day, my sister Cat came over to help me get ready and take me to my procedure. I was so scared because what if it hurt, or what if it didn’t work? What if there was some other freaky complication? Thankfully, the procedure went perfectly. It wasn’t painful, just a little uncomfortable. It only took about a half hour. They removed 1.5 liters of fluid from my chest. It was in between my chest wall and right lung, completely compressing the lung. I coughed as the lung re-inflated itself, but thank God there were no tears or other damage. My relief was so immediate that I didn’t need my oxygen as we left the hospital. I was in my wheelchair, but it was nice to breathe on my own.
This is another interesting chapter in my battle. I had just told someone at work a few months ago that even though I had some spots on my lungs, at least I wasn’t having trouble breathing. Well, now I know how it feels, and what to expect if I need to have fluid removed again. Plus, it adds to my testimony even more. Knowing exactly how it feels to struggle for air will help me support other people that struggle. Cancer, chemo, and other treatment isn’t supposed to be easy, and I went a long time without experiencing much pain (other than my leg) and side effects. Having these other complications makes me feel even more thankful to be here. One day at a time, sometimes one hour at a time is the only way to live.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Super Duper Extra Bad News

I'm not sure how many times I can title these blog entries "Bad News" "More Bad News" and so on. So, since I'm worse than ever before, I'm titling this one appropriately. Last Thursday, my onco went over my scan results with me, and once again, the disease is spreading. My liver and lungs are worse, I have some lymph nodes involved in my abdominal area, I have a little fluid around my heart, and my liver is slightly enlarged. Oh, and my hemoglobin fell to 7.5. So right after our appointment, I went to the cancer center for two units of blood, and to start a new chemo drug (Halaven).

Yes, I'm definitely upset and scared. But it's kinda weird because I've felt pretty calm this week, overall. I'm in some pain, but not as much as I thought I would be, considering how much disease I have in my body. I had an explosive cry Thursday when I got home safely and had the house to myself. I took Friday off from work because I just wasn't ready to face anyone or talk about it yet. The chemo made me feel nauseated the day after treatment, but by the weekend, I was craving good food again. The two pints of blood also put some pep in my step.

So here's how it's going to go. I had one treatment last week, I get one tomorrow, and I will have next week off, then start all over. I still do not plan on giving up, period. God is in control and His plan and timing are perfect. His plan may be to bring me home to be with Him and my loved ones may never understand why. Then again, he may take me all the way to edge, and then pull me back. I'm going to keep praying for peace, comfort, and miracles.

To anyone who is reading, this is extremely important. You will never see a "farewell" message from me on the blog. I will fight until I take my last breath. If I die, don't ever say that I "lost" my battle with breast cancer, and don't let anyone else say it. I win, no matter what. If I live, I get to see my niece and nephew grow up and I'll do whatever God wants me to do, wherever He wants me to do it. If I die, I will be in my Heavenly home, at peace with no pain and no cane! Just keep on praying.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


My husband is enjoying the iPod Touch I got him for his birthday several months ago, and I can always tell when he’s downloading music. It’s usually pretty loud in the office bedroom, and I always get cracked up listening to him sing along to all of the music. A few weeks ago, he was downloading stuff from the Hair soundtrack and it made me think of hair in general.

My hair hasn’t been longer than a few inches in almost four years. Overall, I really don’t mind, because I can wash my wig at night, then put it on in the morning, run a comb through it, and be good to go in about a minute or less. My current wig has gotten a lot of compliments and I appreciate that. It makes me feel good to look somewhat normal, despite everything that’s going on. I still have hang-ups about it though. Last year, they took new photo ID pictures at work and I wouldn’t let them take my picture. The picture on my ID is pre-sick Amy, and I had a fresh from the hairdresser style. I hate having my picture made anyway, so I don’t really have a lot of pictures of me with that style and color. So when I miss the old me, I look at that photo ID for a few seconds and try to remember what it was like to be healthy. I won’t even change my driver’s license picture. I just renew my license online and keep the old picture from 2005.
Vanity always finds ways to creep in and make me feel bad about myself. I’ve never been beautiful, but before I got sick when I put some effort into it, I could look nice. Now, I have to put a LOT of effort into it, and I still hobble around like a 95 year old woman. Now the statement I’m getting ready to write may make people mad, but I don’t mean it in an ugly way. I don’t ever wish for anyone to be sick or to suffer. But I do believe that every woman should experience losing her hair at least once. Losing my hair really changed me. I used to be so obsessed with my cut and color, and I went every six weeks, no matter what. I spent over a hundred dollars on a CHI flat iron and special flat iron hairspray so I could spend a half hour every morning straightening my supposed “frizzy” hair. I bought special shampoos and styling gels/sprays and kept styling products in my car, desk, and purse, just in case I needed a touch up. But you know what? With all of that grooming, I rarely got compliments on my hair. My wig has gotten many more compliments over the past year than my real hair received during a lifetime.
Please take my word for it. It’s just hair. It will grow back, no matter what you do to it. Cut it off, shave it off, dye it blue, who cares? In the grand scheme of things, who gives a shit, right? I'm willing to bet money that some people might not even notice LOL.

Friday, August 9, 2013

More Bad News

I’ve been trying to find the right words for this post for a week, but they aren’t coming to me. So I’m just going to write. Last Thursday (8/1) I got results from my 7/29 scan. Again, the news is bad. My liver is worse and now I have a spot on my lung. I knew the news would be bad because I was supposed to have chemo on Tuesday 7/30 but they called me and told me not to come. They told me that my onco wanted to talk to me and then I could just have chemo after that. Well, I’ve gotten phone calls like that before. Once, it was good news and I got a 3 month chemo break. But the other times, it’s been bad, “unfortunately…” types of appointments. In addition to that, my blood counts have suffered over the past few months, particularly my hemoglobin. It got so low a few weeks ago that I needed two units of blood. My onco mentioned that if my counts continue to suffer, I may need a bone marrow biopsy. Having so many chemo drugs for so long could have caused me to develop a type of blood cancer.

I’m not going to sugar coat this. I’m upset and I’m worried. One good thing is that my doctor is optimistic as always. He even made me laugh after we discussed the scan results. So while the news was terrible, I left the office with a smile and ready to start my new chemo drugs (Taxotere and Carboplatin). My doctor and the nurses at the cancer center say that these two drugs together really pack a punch, so hopefully, this combo will be the one.  This treatment will be given every three weeks instead of weekly, so that makes me happy. I’ve only had one treatment, but so far so good. My main complaint is gas and indigestion, but I can take over the counter Digel and Zantac, and so far it’s helping. Two days after treatment, me and John drove up to Blacksburg for my dog’s physical therapy and I did fine. That’s another thing – our beloved shih tzu Peyton had a herniated disk and woke up one morning with all four limbs paralyzed, so he had surgery at Va Tech in Blacksburg, about 100 miles from here. So yes, it’s been a stressful, scary, awful month not just for my health, but I’ve worried about my pup too. Peyton is my little shadow so it’s been weird not having him follow me around. He’s making progress every day though, so I’m hoping he will be back to his old self soon.

I haven’t had an explosive cry yet. I had a mini cry in the shower the night that I got the news, but no big blow up yet. Usually the first thing I do when I get home after terrible news is play Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” as loud as I can stand it and cry really hard for about a half hour. I have no idea why I picked “Whole Lotta Love” it just happened once, and then it became a tradition. I’m sure my neighbors really hate it too because my closest neighbors are elderly, and I’m willing to bet they don’t like Led Zeppelin.

Here is a bright spot for this post. The first thing I thought when I left the onco office Thursday was “hmm, now my chemo will be on Thursday so I’ll meet all new people and I bet there is a huge blessing coming my way…” I didn’t think I would experience a blessing on my very first day but I did! The nurse assigned to me said that the lady in the cube next to me was not sick, but with a sick friend getting chemo. However, the healthy lady had stage iv ovarian cancer six years earlier and had been on the same kind of drugs that I was getting ready to start. Today she is clean! That is pretty amazing, considering that stage iv ovarian cancer is so mean. Well, the lady came over and talked to me about it and it was wonderful to hear her prospective and positive story. In addition to her ovarian cancer struggle, she had a story about either a relative or close friend (I was high on benedryl so I can’t remember) that had stage iv breast cancer in her bones, liver, and brain. She is also clean now. I was blown away that on my very first day of new treatment on a new day, I met this amazing woman with such uplifting stories. Maybe that’s why I haven’t had an explosive cry yet. I just can’t feel sorry for myself after receiving a huge blessing on such a rough day.

I’m thankful that I’m still able to work and feel pretty decent. I’m never giving up. I asked my onco if he would ever give up on me and he promised he wouldn’t. So I pray every day, sometimes many times a day that God bless my body and bless my doctor. I also ask that God bless the meds as they go into my body because without God’s blessing, the meds are worthless. I hope that my next treatment experience is just as good as the first one. I know God’s plan is perfect and I ask Him every day to lead me in the right direction. I want to be a better Christian and do God’s work, sick or well. Maybe right now, I can do better work for Him as a sick person. Maybe there are still people out there that I’m meant to meet, and the only way to cross paths with them is being sick. I still pray for total healing though. I still dream of going to nursing school so I can give back to everyone that has helped me, but frankly, I believe I need to be healthy for that. Juggling a full time job and a busy personal life is demanding enough. I don’t think I need to add school to it until I’m strong again. I believe that I will be strong and healthy again someday. Only God can heal me, and God is stronger than cancer, and smarter than science.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

It's Only Breast Cancer

This post may get a little rough so you have been warned. I get tired of people assuming that just because breast cancer is common and gets tons of attention, research and funding, that everything will be okay. Recently, I’ve even seen posts in social media that focus on more rare cancers, and some of them have taken jabs at pink or pink ribbons. I can only speak for myself on this, but after almost 4 years of battling this evil disease, I can say without a doubt that there is nothing easy about this experience. I could easily bullet point everything that I’ve been through but it would take up a lot of space, so I’ll spare the readers. But just because BC has tons of treatment options (and I’m thankful for that) it doesn’t mean that the options are easy, or that they will even work. I put on a strong face because frankly, it makes me feel better to try to be as normal as possible. But under the wig, makeup and stuffed bras, I’m disabled, not too attractive, and in pain. The barbaric mastectomy doesn’t end breast cancer when the disease is already metastatic. I have the disease in my liver and bones and I feel some pain somewhere on my body (sometimes in several areas) every single day. If science has its way, I will die. Generally, people with metastatic BC live between 2-3 years, so the fact that I’m still here is a miracle that I praise God for every day, sometimes many times a day.

I’ll be honest. When I was first diagnosed, I thought that it would be easy. Lots of celebs have had it and did fine. I figured I would have the mastectomy, get a little chemo, wear a pink baseball hat for a few months while I got my hair back, and then get on with my life. I never imagined that I would be sitting here writing this, almost 200 chemo treatments later, with hair that hasn’t been more than an inch long in three and a half years, walking with a cane after two hip surgeries… but I said I wasn’t going to bullet point my woes, so I’ll stop. My previous blog entries have detailed my challenges so people that are reading know what’s going on.
I think that whether you have breast cancer or cancer of the pinky toe, it’s important to remember that cancer is cancer. It’s all bad and scary, stage 0 to stage 4. There is really no need to blast one cancer to boost your spirits about your own battle. We all need to pray that God bless the doctors and scientists looking for new treatments and a cure. Without God carrying me through this, I would either be dead or want to be dead. I can’t survive a single second without Him. I have a lot of weak moments and even jealous moments, particularly when I see people with horrible attitudes get completely better while I’m still struggling to keep my head above water. But I just keep praying, and I will pray about this, so I can let go of the anger, and replace it with positivity.

Friday, June 21, 2013

High Anxiety

I used to make fun of anxiety issues. I’ve always been an anxious person, even when I was a little kid, but I learned early how to hide it away and act like stuff didn’t bother me. I always took pride in giving off the appearance that things roll off my back. But the truth is, not much of anything rolls off my back. I let stuff bother me and I rarely forget things that have been said and done, past and present. It’s not that I hold grudges. It’s more like me beating myself up, wondering, “what could I have done to make that situation better so it would have worked out differently?” or “what did I do wrong here?”

I can’t help but think that a lot of internalizing and worrying contributed to my illness. After all, “they” say that stress is a huge contributor to any illness.  When I was diagnosed, I couldn’t help but wonder what I had done wrong to get this disease, and why didn’t I find the lump sooner? My general doctor pretty much said it was dumb luck, and my onco says that I got it because I got it. It’s just one of those things.
On May 7 I found out that the disease is the worst it’s ever been, with a lime-sized tumor on my liver, and new bone mets in my spine and lumbar. My tumor marker soared to 1075. My onco started me on a new drug the same day (Navelbine) but I still have to wait and see if it’s going to help me. I get the treatment every week for 3 weeks, then I get a week off. I just completed my second cycle of it Tuesday (6 treatments total so far). They checked my tumor marker and I found out Tuesday 6/18 that it’s down to 1027 – the count was taken from my blood work done right before my 5th treatment on Tuesday 6/11. That’s not much of a decrease, BUT it’s a decrease and that gives me hope that I’m going in the right direction. Honestly after only 4 treatments, to see an almost 50 point drop makes me feel pretty good. I won’t get scanned again until the end of July (I get a CAT scan of the chest, abdomen and pelvis every three months). My doctor was worried that the small drop would make me more anxious, but I told him that I would take any piece of encouragement I could get, not matter how small.
The time between May 7 and now has been tough regarding anxiety. I’ve prayed a lot for peace, and God has blessed me with comfort and hope during this time. However, panicky moments creep in. When I think about the size of the tumor on my liver, it scares me to death. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop – am I going to start hurting? Surely a tumor that size would cause some kind of discomfort. Am I going to wake up one morning and have yellow skin and nails because my liver is failing? What’s going to happen?? Then there is bone pain to contend with. For a few days, my other leg started hurting, and all I could think about was the hell I went through with my left leg, and I wondered if I would have to do it all over again with my right leg too. It must have been weather related or a just a fluke, because praise God, it’s not hurting anymore. Sometimes I have a sense that something is “there” on my right side, where my liver is. It’s not pain, just an awareness that something is there. But when I press my side, I can’t feel anything. No pain, no lumps, no bloating, so I can’t help but wonder if that’s my anxiety making me feel a presence there. I pray every day (sometimes many times a day) that God protect me from abdominal/side pain and that I can still eat good. I love to eat, but there are times when my anxiety gets bad, and my mouth and throat dry up like a desert, making it hard to eat and swallow. There have been days over the past month when I’ve had to force myself to eat, gagging after every bite, not because I’m in pain or nauseated, but I’m too anxious to sit still and eat. I’ve prayed for a growling stomach and some peace so I can eat, and sure enough, within the hour, my stomach will growl and I’m able to eat a decent meal. God is always here, carrying me through it.
I’m still determined to beat this if it’s God’s will. I pray for strength, comfort, and healing every day, many times a day. I don’t want to be another statistic. So many stage iv metastatic cancer fighters do well for awhile, and then they get bad again, then worse, and then they die. I lost a friend a few months ago to this horrible disease and she was only 48. I want God to lead me wherever he wants me to go, whenever he wants me to go, sick or well, so I can help other people through this. The one thing I needed so badly when I was first diagnosed was other stage iv metastatic cancer fighters around to say, “I’m making it through this and you can too, with God’s help.” I know one other fighter who has BC with similar metastases, and she’s struggling pretty badly right now. She’s getting ready to go through some risky treatment, dangerous enough to require an overnight hospital stay after each chemo. I’m praying for her every day, sometimes 2-3 times a day. I’m sure she’s really worried and scared.
My dream is to be healed so I can go to nursing school. I want to become an RN, specializing in oncology so I can hold the hands of the sick, and hopefully give them some comfort and hope. I pray that God lead me in the right direction so I can give back to all of nurses that have helped me. My doctors have been awesome, but it’s the nurses that do a lot of the “dirty work” and comforting. Every nurse I’ve had interactions with since I’ve been sick has been gentle, positive, and kind. That means a lot when you feel scared and lost.
I don’t laugh off anxiety anymore. It’s real and it’s scary. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m afraid and that I worry about stuff, and I am not an actor anymore. When I’m tired, I’m tired. When I’m scared, I’m scared. I need my energy to fight disease, not to act like everything is okay all the time. This disease has brought me to my knees – figuratively. I can't physically get on my knees right now haha. I’ve never been so scared in my life. If you have a loved one fighting anxiety for whatever reason, please be patient with them, and pray for them.