Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Our homeschool life ~ Term 1 2021

We've been homeschooling for a few years now, and a lot of our curriculum choices have stayed the same during that time. 

For maths we've stuck with Math-U-See, although I now supplement that with "Fun Maths" days where I play Right Start maths games with the kids, do logic puzzles and generally just try to make maths fun.

We've also continued to use Story of the World for our history curriculum and are still working through the second volume of that. I only do history once a week, so it takes a while to get through the books. I love how interesting the stories are, and how they've helped me and the kids to put the known history of our world into a logical order in our minds. 

Science has been our most changeable subject when it comes to curriculum. We've done some Apologia, some Mystery Science, some homeschool group science classes and we're currently doing The Good and the Beautiful Chemistry. As with history, I only get to science at home once a week at most, so it takes me a while to get through any topics. 

For Language Arts, we've stuck to The Good and the Beautiful the whole time and loved it. However, I've just changed up our writing curriculum this week, so I thought I'd explain why. 

I've really loved The Good and the Beautiful, especially for its focus on good and beautiful literature and art. I've also appreciated how simple it is to use - just open and go to cover a wide range of subjects including reading, writing, spelling, geography and art. I'm a little sad to let it go, and will continue to use its stories for reading time with the kids where I can, because they are so wholesome and uplifting.

However, I've been feeling that the kids need more of a focus on writing. There is some writing in The Good and the Beautiful, but it's mixed in with all the other subjects, so the kids only come to it now and again. I really want to do some consistent writing with them so they can build their skills. 

Before the Christmas holidays, I did a free three-week trial of IEW's Structure and Style program, and found it really good so decided to purchase it. Andrew Pudewa has put together online videos that the kids can watch, where Andrew walks them through the process of writing. Each week there is a new story to read, which provides the material for that week's writing exercises. 

Andrew Pudewa is hilarious and engaging to watch, which has helped to draw the kids in, and yet he explains everything in such a clear and logical manner. I'm finding Structure and Style a good fit for all three kids. It's pretty challenging for Master J (7), who doesn't love writing yet, so I've paired him up with Miss L (11), and they work together to write their key word outlines, rough drafts and final drafts. That partnership is working well so far. 

Alongside Structure and Style, we're also doing IEW's grammar program - Fix it! Grammar - and have started with book one, The Nose Tree. It's very simple and doesn't take too much time, as the kids just have to edit one sentence from a story each day, and then write that day's sentence into their own copy of the story, before looking up one word from the sentence and copying the definition into their own page of definitions. The story grows by one sentence each day, which is pretty cool.

Now that I've described what we're doing for our set curriculum bookwork, I'll explain what other activities we're doing (or trying to do) this term. 

Last week I invested in a soccer ball and a couple of soccer goals, so the kids would have an incentive to run around the yard. They've been getting out there even more than I though they would, and coming back inside sweaty, which is great! 

Master J and Miss S are still using the Simply Piano app to learn piano. They practise every day, and are progressing well. Master J could probably benefit from the help of a teacher, but he is learning something and using the app is both affordable and enjoyable, so I'm going to stick with it for now. 

Miss L is still doing Suzuki violin lessons and it's wonderful to see how far she has come with those. The lessons have trained her ear so well, they're even helping to improve her singing.  Lessons are happening via Zoom at the moment, since Auckland is in a Level 3 lockdown. 

I also started teaching the children French last week. I've been wanting them to learn a language for a while, but it's hard fitting everything in. I studied French myself for several years as a girl, although I've forgotten most of it now. Still, it's useful to have that base there for helping the children. We're keeping it simple so that it will be doable for us, and are just watching a Learn French with Alexa video on YouTube most days and learning what she has to teach us. 

So far the children have learned some simple greetings, as well as how to count to twenty and the days of the week. 

We're also currently using YouTube to learn our national anthem. It's such a wonderful song! Every time we sing it, we're singing a blessing over New Zealand. I love it so much. 

My friend, Geraldine, lent us two beautiful Uncle Arthur Storytime books, so we've been reading a story from those most days. I highly recommend them if you can get your hands on them. The stories are so uplifting and help teach the children (and me) how to live with better character. 

We taught the kids how to play the card game 500 over the summer holidays, so we usually play a few rounds of that each day. Today was particularly rainy, so the kids played a lot of other board games too. 

I think that covers everything we're doing at home for homeschool.

It's hard to say with certainty how many of our outside-the-home activities we will get to do this term, as Auckland keeps going in and out of lockdowns. 

We're meant to be doing athletics with a local Christian homeschool group, but have only had a couple of sessions and now we're in lockdown again.

We had also signed up to do writing, art and science classes at another homeschool group, but we've only had one session and now those are on hold again thanks to Level 3. One of the classes might continue by Zoom, which will be nice for the kids. 

We did manage to go on our big homeschool group excursion this term to Tree Adventures, which was so much fun. That excursion had been cancelled in 2020 because of lockdown, and it looked like it might get cancelled again, but happily we squeaked through. The kids and I all took part, and it was terrifying and exhilarating and hard work. 

We loved it!

I was hoping to get Master J into soccer this term, but that's been put on hold because of Covid. The girls are supposed to have their first netball trial in a couple of weeks, but there's no telling whether that will go ahead now. 

Never mind. We're still loving our simple homeschool life, and days at home just mean more time together learning and enjoying each other's company. 

Saturday, February 27, 2021

My nine-month post-surgery update

Hello dear ones, I hope this post finds you well.

I know many of you have been wondering how my melanoma treatment is going, so this update is well overdue. I do apologise. I have no excuse, other than that I was enjoying a lovely, long, summer vacation with my whanau. 

It has been nine months since surgery and everything is going as well as could possibly be hoped for. 

My scars are healing well, and not giving me too much trouble. I'm continuing to have physiotherapy every three weeks on them, where I receive massage and laser therapy. The scar is a bit lumpy bumpy and tight still, but I'm sure it will come right in time. 

I've had three CT scans since surgery, and they have all been clear. Of course, there's always the chance that tumours are growing which are too small to see on the scans, but I'm hoping for the best. 

I've had twelve rounds of Keytruda/pembrolizumab (pictured above - with my personal details erased for privacy reasons), and have five more rounds to go. It's really starting to feel like the end is in sight and I'm hopeful the melanoma is gone from my body for good. 

Issues with my thyroid and liver have completely resolved. In fact, my last few blood test results have all come back in the normal range. 

It's unexpectedly good news that my thyroid has returned to normal. Typically when the thyroid is impacted by Keytruda, those impacts last for life. I think that two things have contributed to my recovering thyroid. One is the enormous amount of prayer coverage I've been enveloped in, and the other is that I take Lugol's Solution iodine every day, which has both helped my thyroid to recover from the Keytruda and has also helped to protect my thyroid from CT scan radiation damage.

My oncologist is really pleased with how everything is going. The fact that I did have initial inflammation of the liver and thyroid shows that the Keytruda has activated in my body, which is a hopeful sign if there were indeed any melanoma cells still lingering. Hopefully my body will have targeted and eliminated them by now. 

My iron levels are still lower than I would like, even though I've been eating meat again since October 2020, but I'm not overly tired anymore. In fact, I feel pretty much normal. Woohoo!

I continue to trust in God for my future, knowing that whatever happens, he's got me.

Love and blessings to you all.

Emma xx

Friday, December 4, 2020

My six-month post-surgery update

Hello dear friends and family. 

I was planning to do a post-surgery update for you every month, but as you may have noticed, the five-month one never happened. 

I did actually think about writing one, but I had a lot of mental processing to do that I wasn't up to sharing at the time. You see, one of my dear friends lost her battle with depression, despite getting help and doing all the right things, and it really threw me. 

I had been praying for her for a long time to receive healing, yet my prayers went unanswered. 

That was hard for me when I've had so many miracles on my own health journey. It felt unfair that my my friend didn't also receive a miracle. 

I know that God is good and that my friend was ultimately saved, because she had given her life to Jesus and He would have been there to meet her and advocate for her in heaven, but I so desperately prayed for a miracle for her here on earth too. 

That's one of the hardest things about living this life with the limited perspective we do. We don't know why God chooses to intervene sometimes and not others. We can't see the end from the beginning as He can, and we just have to trust that everything is ultimately going to work out for good if we put our faith in Him, because He has said it will and He has proven faithful before.

I guess I didn't feel like I could write an upbeat post last month about how everything is going well for me with my treatment, when my friend's fight against depression had ended so badly. But I realised that if no one shares the good stories for fear of making other people feel slighted or unseen in their suffering, then it will seem like there are only bad stories happening and the darkness will get awfully black. 

So I'm back this month to testify to God's goodness in my life, even as I hold it in balance that we are all dealing with various struggles at all times, and sometimes those struggles feel completely overwhelming. 

My only advice (which is the advice I've been living by for the past seven months since I got my stage 3 melanoma diagnosis) is to pray, ask for help, allow God to shape you through your struggles, and hold on to hope. 

Here's my good news:

My shoulder is functioning really well. It's almost back to normal and I'm able to do most things without struggle. I still have to stretch my neck multiple times a day to keep working against the scar tissue that's trying to pull it tight, but it's healing well.

I had another CT scan a couple of weeks ago and it was clear; It didn't show any signs of new tumours forming. Hurray!

My thyroid became under-active over the past couple of months and I was fearful that it would become so under-active I would need to be put onto Thyroxine for life, since my oncologist warned me that's the usual chain of events when the thyroid is damaged by Keytruda. However, I've received prayer for my thyroid and also been taking Lugol's Solution Iodine daily, and my thyroid has started to recover. In fact, it's almost back to normal. Hallelujah! (But please do keep praying for it.) 

My iron got really low in the last couple of months and I've struggled with fairly extreme exhaustion. I've been eating meat since it started to tank and also taking spirulina and Spatone iron supplements, and my last blood test showed a slight improvement. I'm still tired, but hopefully on the mend. Tiredness is one of the common side effects of Keytruda, as the treatment causes more immature blood cells to circulate, so that could also be what's sapping my energy. The under-active thyroid won't have been helping either. 

I would appreciate your prayers for my energy levels. 

I've been taking liquid chlorophyll each day and drinking vegetable-packed smoothies for breakfast, filled with all the good things like kefir, kale, spinach, okra, cauliflower, blueberries, spirulina, cinnamon, collagen, Nano Curcumin, Nano Quercetin, Nano Silymarin, Boabab powder and Vital All-in-One green powder. I think the smoothies and the liquid chlorophyll have helped my liver to keep detoxing the Keytruda, because all of my liver levels have returned to normal and stayed there for the past few months. 

Lately I've really been enjoying homeschool with the kids. We've been changing things up a bit, trying new things and it's been a lot of fun. We now do "Fun Maths" twice a week, where I bring maths alive with stories, competitions, games, logic puzzles and living maths concepts. The kids and I all really enjoy it and, whenever I ask, the kids say it's their favourite subject. We've also been having fun with science experiments, which is something I've never felt that confident doing with the kids before. I'm just so grateful that I get to spend my days with my children. 

Whatever happens to me, we've been able to pack in a lot of quality time together because we chose to homeschool. 

God is good and I've been enjoying my morning quiet times with him. I've been keeping it fairly simple lately and just reading various books from the New Testament. At the moment I'm reading 2 Corinthians. It's been amazing to me the things the Holy Spirit has highlighted as I've read, and it has reminded me that the Bible is a living book, which the Lord is able to use to speak directly into our hearts and circumstances. 

I'm also part of a ladies' group that meets weekly, and we've been working through Priscilla Shirer's Bible study, The Armour of God. It has been a really blessed time together. We've learned a lot about the weapons God has gifted us with, and we've also had the opportunity to lift each other up in prayer each week. 

I did an interview for Melanoma NZ's November newsletter, to help get the word out about the importance of getting dodgy moles checked early. You can read the article here

We have a large swan plant directly by our kitchen window. I've loved watching dozens of caterpillars transform into Monarch butterflies over the past month as I've cooked and washed dishes. The kids and I even got to watch a butterfly hatch this week, which is something we've never managed to witness before. 

And I believe that's all my news. As always, feel free to ask any questions you may have about my melanoma journey. 

Bless you. 

Love Emma

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

How we're homeschooling in term 4 of 2020

It's been said before, but 2020 has been a weird year. 

Homeschooling has definitely had its benefits for our family during this year of lockdowns, in all the obvious ways you can probably imagine. And, since the first lockdown, Paul has been permanently working from home, so that's been a bonus for our family. 

However, our family has missed out on a lot of the fun activities we normally do, like going to homeschool groups, swimming lessons, netball games, church activities and in-person piano lessons. Those are the things that add a little spice to our week, so it has been a disappointing year in that regard. I'm grateful that some of those things started back up again once we returned to level one, although not all of them did.

All things considered, this homeschool journey is a blessed one. I'm grateful for all the "extra" time it gives me with my children, especially after coming face-to-face with my own mortality this year and realising that there are no guarantees I'll always be here with my family. 

I thought it would be interesting to share how we are homeschooling this term, since we've changed a lot of things around from our normal way of doing things.

No homeschool groups

The biggest change this term is that the kids aren't going to any homeschool groups. Back when we first started homeschooling, the kids went to two different homeschool groups each week. 

At the start of this year, I decided to cut that down to just one group, to save money and to give us a bit more time in the week for doing schoolwork at home. However, the group we chose to stick with didn't run at all in term two because of Covid, and only ran for two weeks last term before the second lockdown shut it back down. That same group has been postponed again this term because of issues around its venue. 

We are really hoping it starts up again next year, as we love our homeschool group and the precious friends we've made there. 

Nature journaling

To take the place of the homeschool group this term, we've organised to get together with another couple of families each week to do nature school. Basically, we go to somewhere in nature to play and do nature journaling, where we take the time to really study something from nature and draw it as accurately as we can. This was inspired by the writings of Charlotte Mason

Our nature journaling outings are always a gorgeous time. I get to catch up with the other mums and be inspired by their homeschool journeys, and the kids get to free play until we tell them to sit down and draw something beautiful from nature. 

With all the nature journaling we've done so far, I've been amazed by how long the children can focus for, and how much they notice and observe. 

Artist study

Also following along with the Charlotte Mason way of schooling, we started an artist study this week. I checked out a book of Colin McCahon artwork from the library, and we will spend a few minutes each week looking at one of his paintings and reading a little bit of the story behind the painting. We will do this for several months, before moving onto a different artist, so that my kids can really get a feel for Colin McCahon's style.

There's also a Colin McCahon house in French Bay, which I plan to take my children to on a field trip as part of our artist study. 

Poetry study

I'm trialling quite a few Charlotte Mason concepts this term, and another one is her poetry study. As with our artist study, we will focus on works all by the same poet for several months to get a thorough appreciation of that poet's style. We will simply be reading one poem each week by Robert Louis Stevenson, as I already own his book, A Child's Garden of Verses

I told the children a little about Robert Louis Stevenson's life when we started this poetry study.

Read aloud time

Another Charlotte Mason idea is to read living books - stories from history that bring it alive. For the past couple of weeks I've been reading to the children William Carey: Obliged to Go. This is the fascinating story of a man from England who became a missionary in India in the early 1800s. Reading his story, the kids and I have been struck by just how difficult life was for people living back then.  

For fun, we're also listening to the Wild Robot audiobooks whenever we drive somewhere in the car. These are completely fictional and set in the future, but still interesting and engaging. 

Trialling the Simply Piano app

Miss S's piano teacher moved out of Auckland during the first lockdown and we continued doing piano lessons with her via Skype for two terms, but over time it became apparent that this wasn't working as well as the in-person lessons had been. 

I made the tough decision to cancel our lessons at the end of last term. I was really sad about it as I loved our piano teacher, but it's a big financial outlay each term and I could no longer justify the expense, since the Skype lessons were putting Miss S off wanting to learn the piano. 

Instead, this term we bought a year-long subscription to the Simply Piano app and are trialling how that works for our family. We're only a few weeks into it, but so far it's going really well. Miss S enjoys her piano lessons again and maintains her focus for a surprisingly long time with them. She seems to be particularly motivated by the awards she receives at the end of a piece, if she plays it perfectly. 

Another benefit to the app is that it has three accounts, so Master J and Miss L are also able to use it to learn the piano. Miss L already does formal violin lessons with a teacher, so learning the piano is an added bonus for her, but I hadn't put Master J into any formal music lessons yet and was wondering what to do for him. He seems to be enjoying the Simply Piano app, so I think this could be a good introduction to music lessons for him. 

I imagine that at some point we will need to find a formal piano teacher again for Miss S, and for Master J if he wants to continue with learning piano, but this is meeting our needs for the moment. 

At the very least, it's getting Miss S re-engaged in playing the piano, and it's getting Master J to try something he wouldn't have otherwise tried. Financially, it's a much more affordable option for us too, which is always helpful. I have a feeling Miss L is going to be able to play all the instruments by the time she's a grown lady. 

One-day school

One thing that has continued on from last term is that the kids are still going to their one-day school each week. It works out well for our family at the moment, as I'm able to get my immunotherapy and physiotherapy treatments while they are there. 

As with all schools, there are some good things and some bad things, but on the whole I'm pleased that my children are able to attend. They get to spend time with really lovely friends, and they have been memorising poems and songs each week, which is something I always mean to do with them but never seem to get around to. 

I think that going to the one-day school also makes them appreciate their time at home with me more, as things are a lot more relaxed at home. 

Book work

When they're at home with me, the children work in their individual Math-U-See and Good and the Beautiful Language Arts books each day. They also do their music practise, do chores, read their Bible and do some form of exercise. 

Science

We do science together as a group.

We are currently working through The Good and the Beautiful Beginning Chemistry unit study. This week we got out all our various scales, rulers and measuring cups and had a play with them so we could learn about the importance of accurate measuring in science. It was a fun lesson, with water splashing about and everybody weighing themselves and our cat.

History

For history, we have been working through The Story of the World Volume 2: The Middle Ages all year. We usually just do one lesson a week on this, so it will take us a while to get through the whole book, but it's always fascinating. 

Story of the World 2 lap-book.


We started out the year making lap-book components during each history lesson, but this was actually quite distracting, so I've now assembled all those lap-book components and stuck them in the kids' lap-books for them to look at, and my children instead simply glue in their timeline pictures and colour in an official Story of the World colouring page about the story we're reading. It's much simpler and helps the kids focus on what I'm reading to them. 

Bible study

Every day the kids read their Bible to themselves for a few minutes, but we also have a group Bible lesson from time to time. In this group lesson, I read a chapter from Scripture and the children draw whatever picture they're inspired to draw from that chapter. They also copy out a Bible verse from the chapter. 

We're currently working through Genesis. I find that the kids ask a lot of great questions during this Bible time, and we have some great discussions. 

Excursions

One of the great things about being a homeschool family is getting to go on excursions during the week. If it's a rainy day and I feel like the kids need to burn off some energy, I take them to Jump, the trampoline park. If it's a lovely day outside, we might visit a beach or go for a bush-walk. I really appreciate being able to do these things during school-time, when the places we visit are not too busy. 

Last week we went to Muriwai Beach, because Miss S had been gifted a voucher to go horse-riding there. We made an afternoon of it, and spent several hours playing at the playground and exploring the beach and tunnel next to the gannet colony. It was a truly magical day and really reminded me why I love this homeschool life. 

I think I've covered off everything about our homeschool in this post, but, as always, feel free to ask any questions you might have.

Monday, September 28, 2020

My four-month post surgery update

Amazingly, it has already been four months since my big surgery back in May. I'm not sure where those months went, but I'm definitely feeling a lot better than I was in May and it's time to update you all. 

I had a quick read over last month's post to remind myself what I've already shared with you, and it was encouraging to see how much has improved just in this last month. 

My smile is 100% back to normal now, as you can see in the photo above, which was taken this weekend. Already the memory of not being able to smile properly is beginning to fade. I still can't believe how close I was to losing the nerve that controls my mouth. My surgeon thought that if we had waited another two weeks for surgery, he would have had to sever it. As it was, he had to peel the tumour right off it, which is why the nerve was in shock for so long. I'm thankful to God that he protected my smile. 

Speaking of my surgeon, I saw him a few weeks back and he was happy with how everything is healing. I won't need to see him again until August next year, when he will take over my care again after I finish with my year-long Keytruda treatment and the oncologist who is managing that. 

I can now lift my arm straight up above my head to hang out the washing. (It was probably hanging out the washing every day that got it back to normal so quickly.) I was even able to prune our hedge with the new hedge trimmer Paul gave me for my birthday. (Yes, I became a year older since my last post.) When pruning the hedge, I was slightly weaker on my left-hand side compared to my right, but the fact I could do it at all felt like a miracle. 

I've been able to see both my lovely physiotherapists in the last month, and one of them asked if I always heal this quickly. I took that as a good sign.

In the two blood tests since my last post, my liver became mildly inflamed and my thyroid became overactive, but then both returned to normal. Praise God!

My CT scan with contrast didn't show anything abnormal - no sign of new tumours forming. Hallelujah! I'll be having my next CT scan in late November, and then every three months after that for a couple of years. I know the possibility still exists that new tumours will form in the future, but I have made my peace with it. I trust God with my present and my future. 

I received my 5th cycle of Keytruda (pembrolizumab) immunotherapy last week, and have 12 more cycles to go. I'll be receiving them three-weekly until July next year, as long as my body continues to respond well to them (not have any major side effects). I'm so grateful that I'm not suffering any of the common or not-so common side effects from my treatment. Thank you Lord!

The potager garden that I showed you in development last month is now finished and planted with a mixture of vegetables and flowers. It's the view out my kitchen window and I love looking at it as I wash the dishes. (We don't have a dishwasher, so I wash the dishes multiple times a day.)

I've been incredibly challenged and encouraged by Jen Wilkin's Bible study, Sermon on the Mount, where she delves into Jesus' first recorded sermon. Jen's 9-part Sermon on the Mount video series is available for free via Lifeway Women at the moment. I highly recommend it as it has helped me to better understand God's heart and to draw closer to Him. 

I'm still eating mostly plant-based, although I've starting eating the odd treat too because it turns out I'm not very good at only eating fruit and vegetables. I don't miss meat at all, which is strange since I ate it my whole life. We're monitoring my iron, folate and vitamin B12 levels in my three-weekly blood tests, and so far they're all in the normal range, although my iron did drop in my last test, so I'm now taking Spatone iron supplements to help boost that back up. 

For the past few weeks, I've gone for a three-kilometre walk every morning and God has been so good to me - it hasn't rained once on me in all that time. It often pours with rain not long before or after I go walking, but I've never been caught in it. It feels like a hug from God every time I walk out under His sunshine. 

You can probably tell, but I've really felt the closeness of God this past month and it has been a truly special time for me. I almost wish everyone could get cancer, just so they could experience His goodness as I have. 

I think that's all my news for now but, as always, do feel free to ask any questions you may have. I'm continuing to be as open as possible about my journey. 

God bless you all. 

Love Emma

Monday, August 24, 2020

My three-month post-surgery update

My makeup-free face tonight, slowly returning to normal. 

Hello dear ones, 

I know many of you are wondering how I'm doing on my cancer journey, so I thought I'd post a three-month post-surgery update for you. 

First up, I want to say thank you for your ongoing love, support and prayers. It is making so much difference to me and my outlook on things. 

Right now I'm sitting in my living room, which is filled with the beautiful fragrance of lilies that my friend, Geraldine, dropped off for us along with a delicious meal a couple of weeks ago. The flowers have been slowly opening up and releasing their sweet smell ever since. I love them. (Thanks Geraldine!)

Another amazing thing that has helped me on my journey all the way through is a weekly prayer Zoom call with my extended family. It's something my wonderful cousin, Rachel, organises every week and I can't even express how much it helps me mentally and spiritually. I bring my worries and fears to the group and, together, we pray the peace back into me. It's also lovely seeing everyone's faces each week, since we all live in different parts of New Zealand. 

Now for all my treatment updates...

This week I'm booked in for a CT scan with contrast. I will be having these every three months to keep an eye on things internally and see if there is any sign of new tumours forming. I have my doubts about the accuracy of these scans, since my PET CT scan only showed three tumours, but in fact 11 were removed during surgery. Still, it's better than nothing. 

Melanoma is a sneaky disease. There's currently no way to find it through a blood test, although I'm part of a University of Auckland research study that is hoping to change that. 

Unfortunately, I had to miss my last physiotherapy appointment because of the Level 3 lockdown in Auckland, but my neck and shoulder are much improved and I continue to do my exercises at home. I'll be able to see my physiotherapist again when we move to Level 2. I actually see two different physiotherapists, and they both spend time massaging my scars and doing lymph node drainage, since I had 71 lymph nodes removed during surgery. 

Here's how my scars were looking after my last massage and laser treatment. Can you see that tendon pulling tight on the side of my neck? It wasn't there before my surgery. I have to keep doing stretches to try and loosen it, because it is constantly shortening and trying to pull my shoulder out of alignment.

I hardly have any pain now and I'm getting more range of motion and strength every week. I noticed a huge improvement when I started eating a plant-based diet. I think it reduced the inflammation in my shoulder dramatically. I can even lie on my left side to sleep sometimes, which is amazing. It feels a bit strange because my surgical site is largely numb, so I feel like I'm floating, but at least it gives me a break from sleeping on my back and on my right. 

I'm enjoying eating plant-based. There are lots of lovely vegan foods available at the supermarket these days, which make it easy to whip up quick lunches and dinners. It's also nice making the most of my vegetable garden. 

I'm actually in the process of building a new potager garden directly out the door from my kitchen, to give me even easier access to salad greens and herbs. I like having a project to tackle. It gives me a sense of purpose and I love spending time in my garden. I think it's good for my mental health. 

I seem to be regaining nerve function in my face every day. I posted this side-by-side on Instagram, a couple of weeks ago, and I think my smile is even more even now. (The photo at the top of this post was taken tonight.)

My Keytruda immunotherapy treatments continue every three weeks. So far I haven't noticed any side effects to these treatments, apart from a slightly elevated liver enzyme level. (I have blood tests every three weeks to keep an eye on all sorts of things.) Please pray I will continue to be free from negative side effects and that my liver will return to normal. 

One good thing about my cancer journey is that I haven't had to do radiation or chemotherapy, so I haven't had to suffer the horrible pain and nausea that people on those treatments suffer. 

I had the option of doing radiation on my neck, but chose not to as it has awful side effects and only a very small chance of helping. Because we were able to fund the more-effective Keytruda immunotherapy (thanks to my husband's generous bosses and our insurance policy), my surgeon and oncologist were both happy for me to forego the radiation. 

Not being obviously sick also means that my kids aren't too worried about me, which is nice. I would hate for them to worry. The cancer they're familiar with is the one they've seen on TV, where people lose their hair and throw up way too much. 

I actually have lost a lot of hair since having my surgery. I lose handfuls every day and estimate that I've lost about a third of my hair so far. Since I'm not doing chemotherapy, I can only assume it's because of all the stress and trauma my body went through with surgery and healing from that. Fortunately I started out with a thick head of hair, so it's not too noticeable. 

And I think that's everything I have to update you on at this stage. Please feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments below or over on Facebook. 

I chose to make my journey as open and transparent as possible because, in the past, cancer seemed like this scary and mysterious thing to me and I didn't know how to help people who were going through it. My hope is that my openness will eliminate some of that mystery for you and and make it easier for you to support others battling cancer. 

God bless you,

Emma xx

Saturday, August 8, 2020

My thoughts about cancer

Living is a strange thing. We all know it's temporary. We all live with the knowledge that at some point in the future, death is going to come for us and the people we love. Yet we keep on living and planning for a future that might not even come to pass because of things like cancer. 

Cancer has to be one of the scariest words around. It often feels synonymous with death, even though it isn't. 

I know far too many people who have died of cancer, but there are survivors too. I know just as many survivors. Despite that, the first thing I think when I hear that someone has cancer is, "Oh no! They're going to die!" That's my gut-instinct reaction, because cancer is scary.

When I learned I had cancer, I didn't immediately think that I was going to die. I thought, "Okay, what do we need to do to get rid of it?" The only time I worry about dying is when I think about the survivability statistics for my type of cancer - Melanoma Stage 3c. Those stats scare the dickens out of me because the odds are against me still being here in five years, and they're really really against me being here in 10 years. 

But as my sister-in-law pointed out, those are other people's stats. They don't apply to me. 

I must confess, I was never very good at statistics. I scraped by with a Bursary pass-mark and then never thought about them again - until I got cancer. Now I find myself doing the dishes and trying to calculate what my personal survivability stats might be if I add in the following factors:
  • My surgeon's patient melanoma recurrence rate is 12%. As in, only 12% of the patients he operates on have their melanoma come back.
  • I'm doing Keytruda immunotherapy, which increases the five-year survivability stats by something like 50% and, if it works, could potentially be considered a cure for life.
  • I'm trying to eat the right things and help my body heal and fight the cancer from the inside out, which has helped other people with more dire outlooks than mine beat back their cancer.
  • Many, many people are praying for complete healing for me. 
I know that the first three factors above don't even matter if God decides to answer the prayers of the people who are interceding on my behalf. His power is such that he can simply remove this cancer from my body like it was never there. 

Still, I have no way of knowing if he's going to do that. God sees the end from the beginning and, in his goodness and wisdom, might make the choice that I wouldn't make for myself. Either way, I win. Either way, I get to walk with my Lord. But I would prefer to stay here on earth for many years to come, so I can be here for my husband and children, and for the other people who love me.

It's one of the things you find yourself asking yourself when you get cancer - "Do I want to live?" At different points in my life, I might have answered, "No," to that question. At those times, life felt hard and I felt pointless.  

But I believe that God has allowed me to journey with cancer, partly so that I can come to understand that my life does matter. It matters to a lot more people than I would have realised if I hadn't got cancer, and it certainly matters to God.

If I have five years, ten years or fifty years left on this planet, I hope I can use my life to love other people well, and to bring glory to my Lord.