Journeying to the Other Side of Breast Cancer: Countdown to Surgery Day…

It has taken me almost an entire week to really process all the information I was given during my doctor appointments with the breast surgeon and oncologist last Thursday. My sisters and my mom went with me to the appointments. I woke up that morning thinking about when I joked with Hassan, the PET scan technician, two days prior, as he did the injection of the radioactive substance into my vein. I joked that I was going to light up like a Christmas tree when I left. That thought led me into prayer. I prayed that God would illuminate Himself in me in such a way that Jesus could be seen in me as bright as the star that led the Magi to Him after His birth. 

After I prayed I started getting ready for another long “date” with Jesus.That day I decided to do it up the best I could (pictured above). In order to accomplish that it took much longer than it would have any other day. I felt like I was moving in slow motion. I put on my headphones, hit shuffle on my Gospel playlist, and listened as I was doing my hair and make up. The first three songs that played were “My Worship” by John P. Kee, “Balm In Gilead” by Karen Clark-Sheard, and “Worth” by Anthony Brown & Group Therapy. I left the house that morning with my mind fixed on Jesus, determined not to be moved one way or another by anything that was said to me. In my mind, I knew all I needed to know. Jesus told me on December 29, 2016, before I even had the biopsy that, “This affliction is not unto death (John 11:4 NKJV).” And, “I will live and not die and declare the works of the Lord (Psalm 118:17 NKJV).” That was enough for me. 

My first appointment was with Dr. Hampton, the breast surgeon. My sister, Leslie, went in the exam room with me so she could be my “ears” and catch all the things my brain did not during the conversation. This was strictly a results and plan of action appointment. As soon as we got in the room Leslie had the ingenious idea to record a voice memo of the appointment on her iPhone. It never occurred to me to do that. Yesterday, as I listened to the recording for the first time, I began to remember (which for me is actually seeing random images that look like snapshots or small movie clips of something that happened in a non sequential order), both of my doctor appointments from last week. The way God compensates for what was injured in my left brain is simply amazing to me. He takes the random images in my mind and one by one He “assigns” or attaches words to them. Then as I type the words, He helps me move them around until they make sense. That is how, even with aphasia, I am able to write this blog and wrote and published my first book, “Conversations with the Master: Revelation Genesis” in 2012. But, when I wrote the book it was truly all Him. I was just His stenographer.

As I am sitting here trying to attach the right words to what I remember it is really difficult. It’s almost as if I type out the things they told me and what I know is to come, it makes all of this more real to me. I don’t know if that makes sense or not, but that’s what I feel like inside while I am writing this.

Dr. Hampton went over the details of my tumor, the full results of the biopsy, and my treatment options. My tumor is considered small because it is a little less than 2 cm, which right now classifies it as some variation of Stage 1 invasive breast cancer. She explained that invasive cancer has the ability to spread, but does not do so always. She went over a lot of specifics regarding the tumor itself and said she was hopeful that the cancer had not spread to my lymph nodes, because they didn’t appear to be effected on the PET scan. She then went on to say the only way to be certain is to remove a few of my lymph nodes and biopsy them. From all of the information she had available, she said my two options were a lumpectomy and a unilateral mastectomy (removal of the entire breast). 

If I chose the lumpectomy she explained that she would remove the tumor, a margin of the breast tissue surrounding the tumor, as well as a few of the lymph nodes under my left arm. About a month after the lumpectomy I would begin radiation treatments everyday, Monday – Friday, for seven weeks. She said she could not definitely say chemotherapy would not be a part of my treatment plan until they received the pathology report from all that was removed. If I chose the mastectomy she said they would essentially remove all of the breast tissue from my left breast, similar to the way you gut out a pumpkin. I would then have my left breast reconstructed and that would be it. I would not require radiation, or chemotherapy. In my mind, it was a one and done procedure that I truly considered. There just seemed to be too many unknowns with the lumpectomy. The only thing she could tell me with certainty is that I would have to do radiation treatments. And in both cases I would have to take some kind of hormone pill for five years. As she continued talking, and my sister asked her some questions, I no longer heard anything they were saying. Instead, I was hearing what Jesus said to me on December 29, 2016 after He told me I wasn’t going to die. 

He said, “As for all else concerning this affliction all I ask is that you trust ME and ME alone with the details. You needn’t stress your mind or be nervous over the results of man’s report or man’s prescription for healing. I and I alone am your Healer. I am the Great Physician. I created the body in which you now dwell, every inch of it. I created every cell, every blood vessel, every microscopic entity that even man has not yet discovered. There is no sickness, no disease, no ailment, no affliction greater than Me! This is MY load to carry not yours! I carried it with Me to the cross and it was defeated that day. So why then would I place this sickness upon your back to carry? So, My beautiful one….just remember I NEVER make a promise I cannot keep. And My promise to you this day is that I shall keep you in perfect peace, with your eyes on Me and Me alone, and you shall believe ONLY My report no matter what is seen or said in the eyes of man. MINE is the final say in all things.”

When I rejoined the conversation Dr. Hampton and my sister were having I did so knowing Jesus was asking me not to choose what sounded to me at the time like the lesser of two evils, the mastectomy. With that, there were no unknowns to contend with and no drawn out treatment process, just recovery from the surgery and a pill to take for five years. I told Dr. Hampton that I would do the lumpectomy and repeated to her what I understood the process would be. The surgery is scheduled for Monday, January 30th and I should be able to come home the same day.

I finished my appointment with Dr. Hampton 15 minutes before my scheduled appointment time with the oncologist, Dr. Mendoza, whose office is in the same building. This appointment was just for me to be reacquainted with Dr. Mendoza, who is also the hematologist, I saw six years ago when I had the stroke. He was just as pleasant as I remembered. It was strange to go over all of the changes that occurred in my life the last six years. Until that time, I don’t know that I really realized how many life-changing events had occurred. He was glad to see the significant progress I had made since the stroke and equally disappointed that I was seeing him again now for breast cancer. He basically reiterated the things Dr. Hampton told me. He, however, after looking at the pictures and reports from the mammograms, the ultrasound, the MRI, and the biopsy, did not agree with Dr. Hampton’s timeline of starting radiation a month after the lumpectomy. He said he was not comfortable doing nothing for that amount of time. So, he told me to schedule an appointment with him for two weeks after the surgery. He believes all of the pathology reports needed to begin a treatment plan should be back by then. 

After the appointment, I relayed the information my to mom and sisters, who all waited in the waiting area this time. We then decided to go to Friday’s for lunch. As we all sat at the table deciding what we were going to order, talking about random things, all of their voices, including my nephew who joined us and was seated next to me, began to sound like a bunch of inaudible loud noise. In my own mind I was trying to force my brain to do what it just wasn’t ready to do, which was put all of the seemingly millions of pieces of information I had just received together in a way that was clearer and not so overwhelming. So, I sat at the table and began to cry. All I could say was, “This is a lot. It is too much.” Everyone at the table immediately tried to console me as I continued to cry and tell them they just did not understand what I was trying to say. Finally, I dried my tears, ordered my food, which my baby sister, LaShawn paid for. So, I joked, “If crying at the table gets me a free meal, I will have to do it more often.”

When I got home I immediately went to my bedroom, cried some more, and told Jesus I really needed His mind (1Corinthians 2:16 NKJV) going forward to be able to process what was happening. When I finished crying, I put my headphones on, got in my bed, and listened to music. Later in the evening I played my Bruno Mars Playlist (which now includes all of his CDs). As I listened, I realized though I really do believe “24K Magic” is a good CD, when I listen to it it’s a welcomed escape from information overload, crying, cancer, battle weariness…all of it. Listening that night I had absolutely no thoughts my mind, I just lay in my bed listening to Bruno’s voice (I really didn’t hear any of the words – just his voice layered over some really good instrument sounds).

I’m still not afraid. I still KNOW I am not going to die. I still KNOW I am already healed. And I KNOW all of those things as absolute truth, because God spoke it. Despite all that I know to be true, in my humanness, I still have a dull ache in my heart as I prepare myself for surgery day. For today, I am just so very thankful I made the decision to accept Jesus as my personal Savior when I was five years old. Our relationship has matured greatly since then. When I journal our conversations I almost always end them with, ‘I love You, Jesus. My Lord, My Love, My King, and very best Friend.’ I cannot imagine trying to travel this journey without Him. 

As I’ve been writing this post I have been listening to, on repeat, a beautiful song called, “Because of You,” by Tamia, who has multiple sclerosis. The song so beautifully describes how she has only made it because of the Lord and puts words and music to how I feel today. Check it out if you get a chance. 

Journeying to the Other Side of Breast Cancer: And Beauty is Her Name…

Let me first say if you haven’t noticed already I love music. I do not pigeonhole myself by choosing to only listen to one particular genre or by making the ridiculous decision to listen to music according to the race or ethnicity of the artist singing or playing it. Instead, I choose what I listen to based upon what I can actually stand to listen to. Some “secular” songs are just a bunch of venomous, vulgar words strategically sung or rhythmically spoken over top of music or a beat. To me, that is not music anyway. It’s just a bunch of noise (strictly, my personal opinion. I totally respect yours if you disagree). In the same vein, some “Gospel” songs aren’t really Gospel as much as they are inspirational (again, just my opinion), which doesn’t bother me at all. It’s still music. 

I also love to sing. I am the headliner of my shower and the star of the one-woman shows I perform daily in my bedroom. On our way to or from one of my many doctor appointments, as I was singing the song playing on the radio, my mom said “You have a beautiful voice (of course, she’s not the least bit biased because I am her daughter. Not only that, what mother do you know would say to her daughter that has breast cancer, ‘Oh by the way, you do know you can’t sing, right?’ LOL). 

Anyone reading this who is around my age (46) and happens to have been a member of First Baptist Church of Glenarden (in Maryland) when it was located in the original building on Brightseat Road, down the street from Landover Mall, will appreciate the story my mom then told me about when I was a “Sunbeam.” For those of you who do not know what I am talking about, the Sunbeams is the name of the children’s choir at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden. When I and my sister, Leslie, were Sunbeams (over 40 years ago – WOW!), we wore these bright yellow choir robes, which made perfect sense. We were Sunbeams after all (the new Sunbeams get to wear cute color coordinated outfits. So, are they really Sunbeams like we were? Lol). My mom said the choir director let me be in the choir with my sister when I was three years old and she was six. I don’t know what the age threshold was, but it was older than three. So, unless other such concessions were made over the last 43 years, I may have been the youngest Sunbeam ever! What an honor. My mom said I sang the songs, but spent most of the time asleep on the choir director’s lap once our time to “shine” was finished. 

I said all of that to say, after the stroke I lost a lot of who I once was. But, God in His graciousness, mercy, and unfailing love for me not only left me with my love for music. But, enhanced it. Prior to the stroke, I didn’t wake up humming or singing what I call my “Heaven Songs”, which are melodies or full songs that are somehow downloaded in my brain overnight. I didn’t have my daily headliner gig in my shower. And my one-woman shows did not exist. I am convinced if I could really sing and had any musical gifting at all, I would be dangerous. Maybe I’ll add learning how to play an instrument to my “things I WILL do” list.

One morning last week, after I got out of the shower, I stood naked (is that TMI? In the world we live in now, I don’t think there is such a thing anymore, but if it is I’m sorry) in front of my bedroom mirror and tried to imagine what my body would look like without breasts. My bra size is 38 D (again, forgive me if that is TMI). I stood there for several moments trying to visualize myself without my 38 D’s prominently posted in their normal position (which at 46, having had three children, is much more south than I would like them to be, but such is life). Standing there I recalled how I felt when I had to have a hysterectomy 13 years ago. I already had three children, but still felt like I was less of a woman somehow. My doctor assured me it was not unusual to feel that way after a hysterectomy, but couldn’t be further from the truth (Leslie, yes, I am resisting the temptation to tell the story Aunt Mary shared with you because I know for SURE that is TMI! You can thank me later). 

The medical advancements that are now available for women with breast cancer are wonderful. If you have to have or choose a mastectomy or bilateral mastectomy (removal of both breasts) you have options as to how you would like that area of your body to look afterward. But, even with all of the options available, I’m sure it does not erase the emotional and mental effects of having a part of your body removed that at one time you may have used to feed your baby, or what may have been one of the parts of your body your husband/boyfriend/man/significant other or even you, for that matter, liked most. As I pulled myself away from the mirror my heart began to ache for all of the women who have had or will have to stand in the mirror and no longer see the breasts they once had in their normal position. As I started to get dressed, the chorus of the song “Beauty,” by Dru Hill began to play in my mind. The words are, “Walks by me everyday, her and love are the same. The woman that’s stolen my heart. And beauty is her name.” So, I put on my headphones and listened to the song.

When the song ended Jesus softly repeated something He said to me a few years ago, “Of all the flowers in creation none can compare to the most precious and delicate of them all, a woman. She is the softness, the delicacy of humanity. Her gentle, quiet spirit, should she choose to put it on, captures My heart. Though some have reduced her to body parts, only seeing the parts of her that ignite their lusts, I look upon her as with the eyes of a Master Artisan admiring His most treasured work of art. I see the beauty in every perfectly placed imperfection and declare each one beauty-full. I see the beauty of the heart within, which too often escapes the naked eye. Each time you look in the mirror remember: ‘Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.’ Then look again and see through My eyes.” 

1 Peter 3:3-4 (NKJV) says, “Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.”

So, ladies…big boobs, small boobs, no boobs, big hips, small hips, big butt, small butt, size 0 or the largest size available, and every size in between…no matter where you fall on the spectrum you are ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL, just because you are a woman created with the “incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is vey precious in the sight of God.” Rather or not you choose to walk in, and be who you were created to be is purely your choice. For today, I hope we ALL choose to be beautiful! 

Journeying to the Other Side of Breast Cancer: Feels So Good To Be Alive…

I clearly remember a day a few years ago when I was still recovering from the stroke, I was in my bedroom really upset, crying, and praying. No one was home, but me. The more I cried the louder the volume of my “prayer” grew (it was really me having a temper tantrum, letting God know how totally displeased I was with how He was handling my life). That day I was so angry with God. I just did not understand what He was doing or why He had permitted so much pain and suffering in my life. Admittedly, some of the heartbreak and heartache I had suffered to that point was the byproduct of my own poor choices. But, the things that hurt the most that turned my life upside down I didn’t choose. I didn’t choose childhood molestation for myself, I didn’t choose to witness the things I saw in my parents’ dysfunctional marriage and ultimate divorce, I didn’t choose abuse and abandonment, I didn’t choose divorce in my 15-year marriage, and I certainly didn’t choose to have a stroke at age 40. At one point in my prayer/tantrum I remember screaming at the top of my lungs, ‘Why didn’t You just let me die!’ Of course there was no response from heaven at that moment, which exasperated me even more. So, I REALLY started crying then. I mean the uncontrollable, inconsolable kind of crying where snot is all over your face, your shirt is soaked in the front, and when you are finished you have a headache and are so tired all you can do is go to sleep. 

When I woke up the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that, with no response, I finally accepted God was not the least bit moved by my temper tantrum and to drive the point home He kept waking me up day after day with no response to my inquiry about my sufferings. At least not in a way that I recognized back then. So, I did what I have always done when any kind of pain or adversity came my way, I just kept going. 

My dad gave me a wonderful gift in that I can smile, laugh, and joke my way through just about anything no matter what I feel like on the inside. But, as it is with most gifts, used improperly it can be just as much a curse as it is a gift. For me, to keep going meant continuing on with my life as if whatever traumatic event or heartbreak that occurred never happened. I was going, but I wasn’t moving forward or backward for that matter. I was just aimlessly going, hurting, grumbling, and complaining on the inside, much like the children of Israel did on their 40-year journey toward the Promised Land. At some point I think I just decided, it is what it is. I truly loved Jesus with my whole heart and if this was a part of carrying my cross to follow Him (Matt. 16:24-25), so be it.

Another gift I seem to have is the gift of silence. My sisters call me a “vault,” meaning if you tell me something in private you can trust that it will not be repeated. I introduced you to my family in yesterday’s post. NOTHING in my family remains private for longer than a day or two, before whatever has been said or occurred, good or bad, makes its way through the appropriate channels to ensure the whole family is aware. So, to have gained the level of trust among my sisters to be called a vault is a true honor. To my knowledge, there is only one other family vault (Yes, I am talking about you CB). 

For most of my adult life my vault-likeness worked both ways. Not only did I guard and not repeat what was told to me, I also very successfully never told anyone anything about me or my life, beyond the regular surface level things. I was considered to be a “private” person. Even so, people (not just my family members) have always seemed to be very comfortable talking to me about the most intimate details of their lives, even when I didn’t reciprocate and share anything about mine.

On January 14th I woke up feeling like I had been running a very long race. I felt tired and winded like I was trying to catch my breath so I could keep going. As I got up to try to push myself to keep going Jesus said to me, “But, can’t you see, Lisa? I took your breath away so you can stop and BREATHE!” That morning, I thanked God that He permitted cancer to trespass in my left breast for a time. It meant I could finally stop for awhile and just breathe; taking one breath, one step, one moment, one day, at a time like He told me after the stroke six years ago.

My granddaughter, Chloe and I have a very special relationship. She was born about a year and a half after the stroke. I was still struggling quite a bit with the aphasia and comprehension. At that time I had to talk myself through the most common tasks like brushing my teeth. I would stand at the sink and say out loud, ‘Ok, I take that thing (my toothbrush), put some of that stuff (toothpaste) on it, turn the knob that has the ‘c’ on it….’ When Chloe was a baby, she and her mom (my oldest daughter Ashley) lived with me for awhile. Where I lived at the time had a huge walk-in closet in my bedroom that became my secret place for just Jesus and me. I went in that closet for hours at a time just talking to Jesus. In there, I read Psalm 27 everyday. It was the only thing I could read that I understood. Once Chloe was born, the Lord told me to have her be my prayer partner in the mornings. So, every morning, Chloe and I either went into our secret place or sat on my bed and prayed. 

Chloe is four now and loves to pray, sing worship songs, hear Bible stories over and over again and then retell them to you. She also has this ability to watch the same movie or show umpteen times and enjoy it each time like she is seeing it for the first time. One of those movies is, “The Peanuts Movie.” I have had the privilege of watching that movie with her at least ten times (and I am not exaggerating). After about the third time we watched it together, I let it continue to play through the credits rolling. As the credits rolled a song called, “Good To Be Alive,” by Meghan Trainor began to play. As it played, Chloe and I danced around the living room singing the chorus that says “oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh, oh, oh it feels so good to be alive.” I downloaded the song from Apple Music so it could always be a part of the rotation of songs for the Chloe and Nana dance parties that often take place.

I woke up this morning singing the Meghan Trainor song from “The Peanuts Movie Soundtrack”, until I finally had to put my headphones on and play it. As Meghan and I were singing, I thought about Chloe and could see us dancing and singing around the living room the day we first heard the song. As I was thinking and Meghan was now singing without me, Jesus whispered so softly in my ear, “SHE, among many other reasons, is why I did not let you die.” 

As I sit here with tears streaming down my face, for today, all I can say is, ‘It feels so good to be alive!’ If you’ve never heard the song it’s definitely worth hearing. I think you will like it.

Journeying to the Other Side of Breast Cancer: Introducing…My Team

Yesterday was a long and tiring day. I had back to back appointments with the breast surgeon and oncologist. Way too much information to process in one day. I need a day or two before I can talk about those appointments. I have another doctor appointment today with my primary care physician. So, I thought today would be a good day to introduce you to my “Team.” My medical team pictured above are: on the left is Dr. Jose Mendoza, Oncologist/Hematologist, the beautiful woman standing next to me in the top picture on the right is Dr. Regina Hampton, my breast surgeon, and last, but surely not least, on the bottom right is Dr. Waseem Hussain, my Primary Care Physician. I cannot say enough about this team of medical professionals God hand-picked to care for me during this journey. I cannot say enough about their superior bed-side manner, knowledge, and ability to explain things in “plain” language that I can understand.

My visits with Dr. Hampton are more like sit-down conversations with one of your best girlfriends and the subject of the day just happens to be breast cancer and the surgical options available. She is compassionate, encouraging, supportive, and has a laugh that makes you laugh with her.

Dr. Mendoza and I are old friends so to speak. Since he specializes in both oncology and hematology I saw him several times six years ago when I had the stroke. At that time his job was to try to figure out if I had a blood disorder that may have caused or contributed to the stroke. I remember how thorough he was, because he refused to believe that at age 40 the stroke I had was just some strange anomaly that occurred for no reason. So, I was already very familiar with his determination to leave no stone unturned until he is satisfied with what he discovers. He shows genuine concern and kindness, talks to me not at me and just overall has a very comforting spirit. When I saw him yesterday for the first time since the stroke he said, “It is so nice to see you again, but I was really hoping I would never see you again. And especially not for this.”

I don’t think I have the words to adequately describe Dr. Hussain. He has been my primary care physician for almost ten years. He is by far the BEST doctor I have ever seen. He is knowledgeable about everything imaginable, he is personable, thorough and when you are in his office he spends as much time as you need with him. He is soft spoken and his voice alone is comforting. He has been my primary caregiver through sicknesses, surgeries, the stroke, and I am so thankful he is still on my team during this breast cancer journey. When I saw him in his office the day he got the biopsy results he came in the room, sat down, and said, “Well, we received the results we didn’t want to get.” He thoroughly explained what the next steps would be, held my hand, gave me a tissue, and said, “Everything is going to be ok, Lisa. You can and will beat this. The road may be pretty rough, but you will recover, live a long life, and be here to see even more grandchildren born.” THAT’s the kind of doctor he is! I absolutely love him!

I am blessed to be a part of a BIG, loud, loving, supportive family. My family loves HARD and STRONG. If I had to try to describe the kind of family we are all I could come up with is a black (or African American if that is the better way to say black) version of the family depicted in the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” We are them to the tenth power! My family is a family full of what I call “people collectors”. Meaning, once you have come to a family function, have dated, been married to or divorced from anyone in my family you are a lifetime family member and can expect to still be invited to family functions and remain informed of all the news that travels through the family grapevine. Technology being what it is, my wonderful nephew/son started a family group chat on Group Me that many of us are a part of. There are days that if I do not look at the family group chat for just an hour I return to see 50 messages to be read. I think the all time high I missed in one day was 72. That is who we are. I said all of that to say, in my family if I have breast cancer then EVERYBODY has breast cancer! So, collectively they make up the largest part of my team.

There are a few family members I want to mention by name and face: Pictured below from top to bottom on the left: My mom, Rev. Susie Taylor (holding my grandson, Logan), my older sister, Leslie, my younger sister, LaShawn (also holding Logan – he’s 13 months now). From top to bottom on the right my gorgeous daughters: my oldest, Ashley, in the middle (like me, and she looks the most like me) LiAnne, and my “baby,” Jasmine. This core group of ladies, along with four prayer warrior friends God has blessed me with, are the ones who see or hear from me on my good days, not so good days, and all the days in between. They pray for and with me, they listen to me vent, they comfort and encourage me. But, I must say more than anyone else I can’t say enough about my beautiful daughters. They journeyed with me day in and day out during the stroke recovery years and they have jumped on the breast cancer train with me with such grace, love, and compassionate care. They are exceptional young women. My Ashley has decided she is going to ask to be put under general anesthesia with me on surgery day so she can be wheeled in with me and hold my hand during the procedure (that is just how she is). LiAnne is in the fitness and wellness field. She is in excellent shape and very disciplined. She will be the one to help me stay on track with my physical fitness. Jasmine is in the science field and has an extraordinary ability to explain the most complex scientific information or math in a way anyone could understand. She is definitely my ace in the hole with all of the medical stuff. And if you are reading and intend to follow this blog then you are a part of my team too. You are family. I have already been so blessed by the many words of encouragement and prayers. I do not take prayer lightly and am truly grateful for each person that remembers me when they call out to God in prayer. So, for today I’m just thankful for my team, and that Jesus is the Captain! Because of Him, I know as a team we have already won, because our opponent was defeated over 2,000 years ago. My body just has to catch up to what I already know to be truth!

Journeying to the Other Side of Breast Cancer: My Date With Bruno Mars

February 2nd will be the 6th anniversary of the stroke I had in 2011, two months after my 40th birthday. Many of you are aware of my stroke story, but for the benefit of those who may be reading this that do not know me personally I figured I would bring you up to speed. The stroke occurred on the left side of my brain, which effected the right side of my body. For a time the weakness on my right side was so prominent I was unable to walk without a cane and could not write or do very much with my right hand. I had very little feeling on the right side of my face and a lopsided smile. I did physical, occupational, and speech and language therapy for almost a year. I still have weakness and less feeling on my right side than my left. I still can’t write very long with my right hand, but I no longer need a cane to walk. I still see a crooked smile when I look in the mirror, but I have more feeling on the right side of my face than I did initially. In fact, most people tell me to look at me they would never know I had a stroke. But, because a stroke is a brain injury, an area people can’t see, they don’t know the lasting affects that still remain.

I was left with something called aphasia, which makes it challenging for me at times to process what people are saying to me and to find the words I want to say to respond. Often times when people are talking to me it sounds like the teacher’s voice in the Charlie Brown cartoons. It’s just a bunch of noise. Sometime later I am often able to really process what was said. The words just pop up in my brain. It actually comes in handy when someone is talking to me and I really don’t want to hear what they are saying anyway. I am able to just smile and nod my head and catch up later. Before the stroke I was more of a left-brain person. They told me the left brain is responsible for things like: logic, sequencing, math, language, facts, and thinking in words. Since the injury was in the left brain, the right brain did exactly what it was supposed to do and kicked into high gear. The right brain is responsible for things like: creativity, imagination, visualization, feelings, and intuition. Math and numbers make my head hurt now. I am a visual learner now. I think in pictures or images. I cannot multi-task. I have true tunnel vision and can only see and do what needs to be done one piece at a time. And I absolutely love bright colors and all things creative.

I gave all of that background because when my daughters and I were in a pretty bad car accident on December 4, 2016 I suffered a concussion that made me feel like I felt right after the stroke. I couldn’t think clearly, didn’t understand words, was very irritable and emotional. The doctor later told me that was all completely normal for a concussion and I would have to have some time of brain rest: no TV, no computer, no reading, nothing that would require too much thinking. He also told me it may take me a little longer than normal to completely recover from the concussion, because I had a former brain injury. But, he did say I could listen to music, which I still do quite a bit, with my headphones on, lights off, in my bed.

One day my youngest daughter, who also suffered a concussion in the accident, and I were talking and she mentioned she really liked the new Bruno Mars CD. At the time I didn’t even know he had a new CD out. I asked her to play it for me. After hearing the first few lines of the first song, “24K Magic” I immediately said, ‘Nope, don’t like it. You can turn it off.’ Later that week as I was having a few moments of illegal iPad time I stumbled across a clip from Bruno Mars’ interview on 60 Minutes. As I watched and listened I saw a young man with kind eyes, a pleasant smile, and a seemingly humble heart. So, I decided I would give his new CD a fair try. I downloaded it from Apple Music that night and listened with an open mind. I listened to “24K Magic” thinking, ‘Come on Bruno you told us ladies in “Just the Way You Are” if perfect was what we were looking for just stay the same. You called us a “Treasure.” You made our hearts break with your lyrics on “When I Was Your Man”…now, we are pretty girls that are waking up the rocket and bad b*#@hes with ugly a$$ friends. What is THAT about?’ Still, I listened. That was night one.

I didn’t know it had been four years since he put out a CD. So, I figured now, at age 31, this is “grown man” Bruno I was hearing. Night two I listened again and was suddenly hooked on the old school feel of the CD. Despite some of the words that I still can’t get with on “24K Magic”, it is one of my favorite songs on the CD, along with “Versace on the Floor.” In the right setting, (with a husband since I don’t believe in premarital sex or “casual” sex, whatever that means), “Versace on the Floor” is the kind of song I want to hear playing in the background. I’m not married so I listen to it sparingly. But, I have promised my adult daughters that if I ever do remarry they will most definitely come to our home one day or night and hear that song playing behind a closed bedroom door. My middle daughter said knowing this, if I ever remarry she will never again come to my home. I will have to go to her house to see her. LOL! I guess that’s a moot point, though, because right now after being divorced five years, the idea of having to share my space with a man that I would have to see everyday, compromise with and all the other responsibilities that come with being a wife, really creeps me out!

Anyway, my concussed brain has now decided the Bruno Mars “24K Magic” CD is the best! Very often I put on my headphones and escape to the dance floor of my bedroom listening to it. With the aphasia I hear more of the music than I do the words, but I do know every word of “Versace on the Floor” LOL. I was told he performed at the new MGM at National Harbor last month, which made me check his touring schedule to see if he was coming here again. And wouldn’t you know it, he will be here at the Verizon Center on September 29th & 30th. I convinced my older sister to get a ticket to go with me.

Since the cancer diagnosis I have been forcing myself to make plans to do all kinds of things. As I keep my eyes on Jesus, I keep seeing beyond the cancer journey and all that it entails. I still remember six years ago lying in a bed in the Stroke Unit of University of Maryland Hospital crying and praying softly, ‘Jesus, what am I supposed to do now?’ He responded just as softly, “You are going to take one breath, one step, one moment, one day at a time, holding on tightly to My hand, with you on My right and Me on your left.”

For today, I have reminded cancer that it is just a name. The name above all names, Jesus (Philippians 2:9-11), already conquered it on my behalf when He was crucified, died, and raised to life from a borrowed tomb three days later (Matt. 27, Matt. 28:1-7). It is by His stripes I am completely healed of ALL manner of sickness and disease (Isaiah 53:5). So, despite what the cancer that is currently trespassing in my body tries to imply, I say in JESUS NAME, I will be well, strong, and cancer-free by September 30th (and yes, I did say it out loud directly to my left breast), because I have a date with Bruno Mars at 8PM at the Verizon Center that I WILL NOT miss. And I intend to dance a hole in the floor! I already feel sorry for the poor people who will have the misfortune of being seated near me! LOL!

Journeying to the Other Side of Breast Cancer: The Beginning…

On November 15, 2016 I had my normal annual mammogram that I have had every year since I turned 40. After my mammogram in 2013 I remember how my heart dropped when I got a call saying I needed to come back for an ultrasound of my right breast, because they thought they saw something. The “something” they saw turned out to be a small cyst, absolutely nothing to worry about. So, when I received a similar phone call after my mammogram in November about something they needed to look at further in my left breast I was so unconcerned that it was almost two weeks before I called to schedule the appointment for the ultrasound and mammogram compression views of the area of concern.

On December 22, 2016 I returned for the additional testing. They first did the mammogram compression views of my left breast, which by the way is much more uncomfortable than the regular one they do. Then off to the familiar ultrasound room. I assumed the position with my left breast exposed and my left arm above my head as the technician did her thing. I watched as she measured something she saw on the screen. When she finished she said, “Stay in the same position. I’ll be right back.” She returned with a male doctor who told me I have a mass in my left breast that would require a biopsy. Baffled, I asked, ‘So, this is something different than the cyst that was seen in my right breast 3 years ago?’ He quickly responded, “This is something completely different.” Then proceeded to explain what the needle biopsy would be like. I told him I had a needle biopsy done on my thyroid before and knew the process. He said that the one they would perform on my breast would be much less painful than the one I had on my thyroid. He said other than a needle stick to numb the area I shouldn’t feel anything. Next, they allowed me to get dressed and took me to the “quiet room” so a very nice woman named Vanessa could softly tell me not to worry and that 90% of the time it turns out to be nothing. I’m thinking, ‘Well Vanessa, it may not be cancer, but it is obviously SOMETHING or I wouldn’t be sitting here in the quiet room with you making sure I understand what the doctor told me.” The biopsy was then scheduled for January 9, 2017.

In the midst of all of this I was recovering from a concussion I sustained in a car accident on December 4, 2016, the day after my 46th birthday. So, to say I was less than pleasant would be a tremendous understatement. Still, I had a wonderful Christmas with my beautiful family and began preparing for the New Year with great expectation! On December 29, 2016 I had a dream/vision of a doctor in a hospital talking to some people. I didn’t see myself or my family in the dream. He said, “Everything went well. She is doing just fine. We found the cancer on the left. It is always on the left.” The dream or whatever it was didn’t scare me as much as it made me curious. I wondered if God was preparing me for the results after the biopsy. The only thought that kept cycling through my mind was “This affliction is not unto death…(John 11:4)” and “You shall live and not die and declare the works of the Lord (Psalm 118:17).” The next day, December 30, 2016, I woke up on “auto pilot” singing praise songs, dancing around my room mindlessly, yet meticulously, gathering all of my personal, banking, and insurance information. I put everything in order in a way that would make all of my information easily accessible to my daughters. I didn’t give any thought to what I was doing or why. I just did it.

Monday, January 9, 2017, biopsy day, finally arrived and I was not nervous or anxious at all. I was at peace. I got dressed, put on make-up, took a selfie and sent it to my family. I even joked that I had to make sure I looked my best just in case the doctor or someone involved with the procedure was a hot, single, Christian man. I told them he would’ve already seen my boobs, which may qualify as a first date. No such luck. Ladies, never let a man tell you what will or won’t hurt your lady parts. The assault on my left breast that they called a needle biopsy was much more painful than the one I had on my thyroid. When it was over they said my doctor should have the results within 72 hours.

On Tuesday, January 10th, the very next day, I get a call from my doctor’s nurse who told me my doctor would like me to come into the office so he could talk to me that day. She asked if I could be there by 11:30. I said I could and would make sure I cried before I got there, since the result of the biopsy was obviously cancer. My doctor explained that I have invasive ductal carcinoma, which is the most common type of breast cancer women get. He told me who my new “team members” would be; a breast surgeon and an oncologist. He told me the next step would be “staging,” which would require more diagnostic testing and ultimately surgery to remove the tumor.

On January 12th I had my first appointment with the breast surgeon who basically reiterated what my doctor told me. She ordered an MRI of both breasts and a PET Scan of my whole body to rule out any other areas of concern. I had both of those tests done yesterday, January 17th. I woke up yesterday morning in tears and unnerved by the whole process. The day before and on that morning I kept hearing in my spirit, “There is more to be seen.” For the first time I felt as if I was afraid. I am so thankful that God has given me women of God that I can text, email, or call with my emotional meltdowns. I sent out the distress signal and they responded. As I was crying my eyes out, Jesus whispered in my ear, “You are NOT afraid. You are nervous, which is a normal human response when you experience something new and uncomfortable. Fear is a SPIRIT, which I have not given you (see 2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV) and therefore has no place in you. When you finish crying, get dressed so we won’t be late for our appointment.” Him saying “our” appointment gave me great peace, because I knew He was with me. So I pulled myself together and got dressed.

The PET Scan technician, Hassan, explained he would be injecting some kind of radioactive stuff into my veins, then I would sit in another room for an hour while it worked its way through my body, I guess. I joked with Hassan while he was doing the injection that I was going to light up like a Christmas Tree when I left. He laughed. People have always said I have a beautiful, bright smile. I told him I expected my smile to really light up the room today! He smiled and escorted me to a room that had a nice recliner in it, dimmed the lights and said he would be back in an hour. I reclined, put my headphones on, and listened to my worship playlist. I got to spend a whole hour of just Jesus and me before the next set of unnerving handling of my body. How awesome is that!

After the PET Scan was finished I was seated in a hall waiting area until they were ready for the MRI. There I was joined by Kevin, who was also dressed in one of the highly fashionable blue gowns I was wearing. We chatted a bit as we both tried our best to keep our lady and male parts adequately covered so nothing came popping out that would’ve made us both very uncomfortable. During our conversation he said/asked, “You are a Christian?” I said, ‘Yes’, but didn’t get a chance to ask him what gave it away, because they called me in for the MRI.

The MRI wasn’t too bad, but was uncomfortable because my left breast is still sore from the assault it endured during the biopsy. The MRI assistant, Rosa, was an absolute sweetheart and the technician, Connie, was very pleasant. I got to listen to music in headphones throughout the process. I chose jazz. Connie selected Kenny G’s “I’m in the Mood for Love” CD, which she assured me was among his best. I enjoyed it so much that I downloaded it from Apple Music as soon as I got home.

The whole process for both tests took about 2 1/2 hours. My mom, the awesome Missionary & Reverend to whom no one is a stranger, took me to the appointment. So, I was not surprised at all when I entered the waiting room and she introduced me to an older gentleman named, Mr. Renee, who promptly gave me a hug, told me to give it all to God, and I have a wonderful mother, which I already knew. But, I was glad Mr. Renee was able to experience her special brand of sunshine that I am able to enjoy on the regular. As we were leaving I again saw Kevin, now fully clothed, and we all walked together to the parking lot. He also got to experience my mom’s special kind of joy. With a big bright smile  (not as bright as my now radioactive one – LOL) he gave me a hug as we headed in opposite directions to our cars.

I would love to say I am blogging my cancer journey for some noble reason, but the truth is I am doing it, because on January 13th Jesus asked me to. I have written about some very personal, traumatic things that have happened in my life, but I always did so looking back at it, not while going through it. I said, ‘Lord, this is so personal and raw for me right now. Do I really have to share it in such a public way?’ He responded: “What you deem personal is the very thing I will use to bring healing, comfort, and My very Presence to those who read what you share. Not everyone is sick with disease. Many are sick in heart, sick in spirit, or among the walking dead who do not know Me. You are honest, real, and transparent. You do not hide behind Christian platitudes or memorized scriptures. You SHOW who I Am just by being who you are and allowing Me to be Myself through you.” So here I sit blogging my journey…

For today…somehow making Hassan smile and laugh on a day I was super nervous and giving Kevin a hug he seemed to need made me feel like in some small way they got to see Jesus through me. Because it was definitely His smile, His jokes, and His arms yesterday!