Next up would be my lumpectomy and radiation.
2019 came and went without hardly a minute for a breath. Chemo treatment was every week and I would be finished on January 7, 2020. These months of treatment strangely resembled a lesson plan for me which was unexplainably soothing. I still looked forward to treatment days; I felt as if we were really accomplishing something. It is somewhat of a tradition for cancer patients to “ring the bell” to celebrate the last treatment thus symbolizing being cancer free. This is such a catch 22 for us metastatic folks. I knew I would never be cancer free so I wasn’t even sure if I would be able to ring the bell. My oncology nurses thought otherwise! They came over to my chair and proudly presented me with a completion certificate and a beautiful lighthouse picture. I followed them to the bell and rang away. The sound was that of finality…even if I ended up back in there, for now, I had completed a total of 16 trips to Greenville to watch crazy juice enter my veins to work its magic. I never thought about it as being poisonous toxins going in but instead talked nicely to it, thanking it for doing it’s job against the cancer.
At the last minute, we had a mini celebration of ringing the bell. Debbie, one of my high school girls, and JD, Kenneth’s college best friend, made the 6 hour drive to visit. They loaded their truck with their three boys and the whole crew rolled in like a hurricane! Rise jumped in the car and headed down too; she’s not going to be left out! We all headed out to eat Mexican and the girls toasted with a big yummy margarita! My first drink in 6 months and it was good! I am so grateful for Kenneth’s “boys” who check on him in their own way on a regular basis – JD, calling to “talk trees”, Karl, sending one of his many hunting videos or pictures of his latest and greatest remodel, and Joey, well, he just calls to talk about anything!
I thought I would immediately get my energy back but to my disappointment lost even more before gaining it back again. The Outer Banks is flat cold during the January and February months so laying low was actually okay at that point. I took to Facebook while I was on the couch watching the wind blow. I was finally ready, mentally, to start doing some of my own research. I found some super helpful websites which seemed to verify everything Dr. White had planned for my treatment, which was a relief. But the best resources I found were my Facebook groups for Metastatic Breast cancer. I never even knew these types of groups existed! I mean there is literally a group for about anything you are interested in on Facebook. I cautiously joined several groups and wow, did the answers come fast! I got answers to questions I didn’t even know I had and the OUTLIERS in the group, so inspiring! We all are asked to introduce ourselves upon new members joining so of course I do so with a wave and an sunshine by my name emphasizing living on the Outer Banks. This is how I met my dearest friend and inspiration, Kelli. She chimed in replying that her family loved the Outer Banks and they lived near Raleigh. Crazily, she had two attending NC State as well. We started messaging each other that day and never stopped. We shared everything from scripture to songs to family stories to hopes and of course, fears. She was a wealth of information and was about five years ahead of me in her diagnosis. Her inspiration helped pushed me to decide to write this blog to share with the world. I learned so much from her in our short time being “online” confidants and I want to return the favor by helping others in their need.
Jake’s football season had been a great one with the highlight making it to the third round of playoffs. We saved the banquet until January so we had time to plan the celebration right. We had a potluck of all sorts of appetizers and sweets and I happily passed the Touchdown club torch to the underclassmen parents. All conference awards were given out and each player was recognized. It was such a special group of seniors who had been playing together since they were six years old. I watched these boys through middle school and then taught most of them when they got to high school. Many were continuing to play college ball and I could not have been prouder. So when Coach Sawyer announced his last MVP award, I was trying to figure out how in the world he was going to pick just one out of this group. Jake said his group was looking around trying to figure it out as Coach Sawyer continued with his speech of accolades for the recipient. Then, he turned to me and said my name. “Mrs Liz Brown is our 2019 MVP for Manteo HS Football”. All of my emotions surfaced at that moment, in front of 50 players and their parents, Coach Timmy handed me a fancy trophy and everything. Timmy has not only coached my big boys for 6 years but was a student taking my Algebra 2 class back in his prime. His strong love for all of his players and community is undeniable but I got the big Coach Timmy bear hug that night. Thanks to all of the coaches for making it such a special season but even more, for being there for my family!
My lumpectomy was planned for February 10th. Originally thought I would have a full mastectomy but because I was diagnosed De novo (metastatic from the start) and was BRCA negative, there was no need- yay, a little reprieve for now. My body was tired; I was tired! The lumpectomy went off with out a hitch and no cancer was found in my lymph nodes either after they removed 5 of them. It was just another day’s work, another blip off the lesson plan. We left the house at 5 am and got home a little after dark. I don’t remember much of the two and a half hour ride back home but I do remember mom and Kenneth with me the entire time and Will surprising me from college right before I went in. I was feeling pretty dag on special and now with the lump completely out of my breast, I was really getting somewhere.
Because I was healing so well, Mom and I decided to jump in the car and head back to her house in Florida. The weather was perfect, my parents made all of my favorites to eat, and I soaked up some beautiful sunshine by the pool on a clear February day. It was a perfect visit complete with a movie with popcorn (with extra butter, of course). My cousin, Debbie came over from Palm Coast and Manteo friend and collegue, Darana, came over from St Pete to play golf while I drove the golf cart. I loved seeing Mr and Mrs chow, my Sarah’s parents, as I have called them since I was 14 years old. They are living the retired life only 15 minutes away from my parents! Darana and I set off on our 12 hour trip home and had fun reminiscing about our last 25 years at Manteo High School – boy, could we tell you some fun stories!
I took off to Florida just in the knick of time as everything was shut down in March due to the Corona virus. We had looked forward to Jake’s senior baseball season for over ten years. This group of boys had been playing ball together since they were 6 with Jake behind the plate. Moms, dads, grandparents, and girlfriends planned their week around where we were traveling to the next ball game and how hard would the wind be blowing on the Outer Banks for the next home games. We got one game in and we all had the baseball fever although it felt like it was ten degrees below zero. And then, just like that, the season was over. School was cancelled along with all sports as we all went into quarantine. Thankfully, our administration figured out how to do a socially distanced graduation that was absolutely perfect but what I wouldn’t give to hear the “loudest woman in the world” yelling for her pitcher, a fellow senior player, beside me in those stands!
That March I started radiation on my right breast, 20 rounds would do it. I was scheduled for Monday through Friday treatments for four weeks. I was lucky in that we have a fantastic radiation oncologist right here on the Outer Banks. Dr. Shelton and his team were professional, empathetic, and compassionate. When I went in the first day for positioning and x-rays, I wasn’t expecting it all to take so long and I ended up having way too much time laying on the hard radiation table. Idle time is not a good time at this stage. Your mind starts to roll and go every which way considering all the different paths all this could really lead to, some good but also some as bad as it gets. Carrie Underwood’s song “Southbound” came on quietly over my head. I unknowingly started swaying back and forth on the table dancing and my nurses had to remind me to stay still. Music heals, I’m telling you!
We held our breath each day that the treatment center would stay open during the new COVID days. Each day they took my temperature and I proceeded into the treatment center. 20 days later my radiation was complete. As I walked out, I not only got to ring another bell but when I got outside all of the boys were waiting for me! Kenneth had surprised me with the greatest gift of support, my family.
It was a beautiful day on the Outer Banks! We celebrated that afternoon by heading out for a day on the sound. We rode about a half an hour by boat to Kitty Hawk bay to toast to completion of radiation with Anna and her family by their dock. It was a great day with my crew. Sometimes the best medicine is just having time with those sitting right next to you. I am so thankful for my boys—all four of them!