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.  

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Melanoma update: Treatment and Diet

Hi friends,

Yesterday marked eight weeks since my big melanoma surgery.

Life is mostly back to normal now, bar the odd blood test, physiotherapy appointment, meet-up with my oncologist and immunotherapy infusion. This week felt like a busy one since I had all four of those appointments to fit around my kids' new school term and activities.

Today the kids went to their one-day school for the first time and they LOVED it. I was blown away by how excited they were when I picked them up, especially the girls. It sounds like they learned things and had a fun day, so I'm grateful for that answer to prayer.

While my children were at their one-day school, I had a physiotherapy appointment and then my second immunotherapy infusion. Both these appointments took place at the same private cancer treatment centre.

I'm incredibly grateful to the charity PINC&STEEL for funding my physiotherapy today, because I received massage of my surgical site as well as laser treatment, which both worked to smooth and soften the area amazingly. I can't believe how different it feels after just one treatment. And my shoulder hurts less too, because the scar tissue isn't pulling quite as tightly. Long may that last.
Surgical scar after massage and laser treatment.
Immediately after my physiotherapy appointment, I received my second Keytruda immunotherapy infusion. I was able to pay for this week's infusion with insurance money, which came through last week. Praise the Lord!

My blood test earlier in the week showed that one of my liver counts was slightly raised, so please pray for my liver - and my entire body - that I don't suffer negative side effects to the treatment. It wasn't elevated enough to discontinue my treatment, but I'm sure my oncologist will be watching it. 

While I was receiving my infusion, I ate about half a giant salad. I started eating these a few days ago, when we were holidaying at the beach. I got the recipe for it from Chris Wark's cancer-fighting protocol. It worked for him and he was Stage 3C like me, so I'm happy to try it too. Today's salad was a mix of a store-bought and home-grown vegetables, topped with a homemade superfoods dressing and a few raw almonds that I had soaked for 36 hours and then dehydrated to make them crunchy again. 

For the next 90 days I'll be eating/drinking raw fruit and vegetables 99% of the time. 
At the moment this raw vegan diet looks like a superfoods smoothie in the morning and one or two giant salads later in the day. Chris Wark recommends drinking a smoothie for breakfast, then eating two big salads for lunch and dinner, and drinking as much fresh vegetable juice as you can around that. However, finding the time to prepare and eat just one ginormous salad is tricky, let alone two. 

Surprisingly, I haven't been getting hungry with eating all plant-based, so maybe one big salad a day will be enough for me. Fresh fruit and vegetables don't seem to work up my appetite. 

I'm going to be borrowing a juicer from my friend, Michele, so that I can start incorporating raw juice too, although I'm not quite sure where I'm going to set that up in my tiny kitchen, or how I'm going to keep on top of the juicing and cleaning up. 

That's a problem for another day. 

After the 90-day raw period, I'll slowly reintroduce cooked vegetables and pulses, and possibly fish. I'm still trying to figure it all out so, if you've done Chris's protocol, please send me your tips and tricks. 

While we were on holiday last week, I also read Jane McLelland's book, How to Starve Cancer Without Starving Yourself. Jane's story fascinated me. She managed to heal herself from stage 4 cervical cancer (and then metastatic lung cancer and then radiotherapy-caused leukemia) by a combination of diet, exercise, surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and off-label drugs. She used the off-label drugs to block her cancer's ability to feed itself along the glucose, glutamine and fatty-acid pathways and then she delivered the killing blow to her weakened cancer cells with chemotherapy and high-dose IV vitamin C taken in conjunction with NSAIDS. (This is a very quick/incomplete summary of what she did, so if you're interested in finding out more about Jane's story and protocol, I recommend reading her book.) 

I'm doing a little bit of Jane's protocol, but after speaking with my oncologist this week, have decided not to do all of it while I'm receiving my immunotherapy treatment, as many of the off-label drugs Jane McLelland recommends can have side effects on internal organs, and I'm already treading a fine line there with my current treatment. 

It's good to have Jane's protocol up my sleeve, however, in case the Keytruda doesn't work for me. 

I believe that's all my news for now. Thank you for your continued love, support and prayers. We have been carried through by so many people, and I can't imagine doing this without the help of others and their prayers.

Love Emma

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Our homeschool plans for term 3, 2020

Well hello again!

It's been six weeks since my big melanoma surgery and you can tell I'm feeling a lot better because I'm writing a blog post again. I got my surgical drain out on Friday under another general anaesthetic and am relieved to have it gone. Because the drain had been in for so long, it had adhered to my shoulder muscle and couldn't be pulled out while I was awake. However, getting it taken out in theatre was such a quick procedure that I bounced back in no time. I already have much more movement in my shoulder, just because there's no longer a drain pressing in on it.

Anyway, enough about boring/gross medical things. Today I wanted to share our plans for the coming school term, since we have made a small but significant change in order to accommodate my ongoing treatment requirements. We've decided to enrol the kids in a small, local, private school one day a week.

It means I can book my immunotherapy and physiotherapy sessions for that day, and won't have to drag the kids along to my appointments, or leave them with Paul and interrupt his work day.

Instead, the kids will get good quality teaching and social time with their friends.

And, as an added benefit, the school seems to run in-line with the classical education style of teaching I prefer, so it will complement and enrich my children's home education. For example, the kids will be learning a new poem each week, which is so great for their developing minds.

This will be Master J's first experience of formal education without me, so I'm not sure how that's going to go, but I will try to prepare him as best I can. We already know several other families that go to the school and the kids have some lovely friends there, so I'm hoping that will help ease everyone's transition.

Apart from the one-day school, we are also going to participate in classes at one homeschool group next term. We'll probably sign up for a mixture of art and science classes. The homeschool group hasn't been running since the end of term one because of lockdown, and we've all really missed it.

The girls are also doing netball over the winter terms and are in the same team as each other, which is so wonderful as it means we only have to go to one training and one game per week. They've already played a couple of exciting games.

Both girls are also continuing with their music lessons, although Miss S's wonderful piano teacher moved away over lockdown, so her lessons are all run via Skype now.

Master J was doing swimming lessons until lockdown happened, but those have been cancelled and we've been informed won't be resuming in term three either.

At home we are continuing on with our normal Good and the Beautiful for language arts and geography, Math-U-See for maths and Story of the World for history. Business as usual there.

We are all happy to be on holiday at the moment. When lockdown meant we couldn't go away in the Easter holidays, we decided to just carry on with schooling, so no one has had a break since the summer holidays. We are hoping to get away to the beach for some of these holidays and I, for one, am looking forward to it.

What are your holiday plans?

Monday, June 8, 2020

Surgery and recovery

Hi friends, I wanted to do a post to let you know where we are at with my melanoma journey. The last time I posted, I shared the news that I had been diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma when a lymph node biopsy next to the melanoma site in my neck came back positive for cancer cells.

A full-body PET CT scan then showed us that the melanoma had spread into at least three of the closest lymph nodes, as well as to my parotid gland (which produces saliva), so I was booked in for a left partial parotidectomy, a selective lymph node dissection of all the lymph nodes on the left in levels 2 to 5 of my face and neck - around 50 of them, and the removal of some of my shoulder muscle.

That surgery took place two weeks ago at North Shore Hospital.

When my surgeon first described the surgery to me, I was so overwhelmed that I thought I was going to vomit. That feeling lasted for about 24 hours, but I was covered by so much prayer that God's peace soon replaced my fear and I didn't feel anxious again, even as I was wheeled into surgery.
Paul and I having our last hug before surgery.
If you have prayed for me at any point during this time, thank you. Really, truly. Thank you. Your prayers are getting me through this.
Upon hearing I was having surgery, our wonderful church set up a meal train for my family, so that Paul wouldn't have to worry about cooking meals while I was in hospital, or for the two weeks after that either. Other friends saw the link and jumped in on the meal train, so my family has been enjoying the delicious provision of many wonderful home cooks these past weeks. We have enough leftovers and meals in the freezer now, that we probably won't have to cook for another three weeks after the meal train ends.

This has been a real blessing because my energy levels have been low since surgery and Paul has had to do everything around here. I find myself falling asleep at odd times during the day. It's all part of the healing process, I guess.

People who live too far away to cook for us have sent flowers and care packages instead, which have been so wonderful and have really boosted our spirits as a family. My kids keep saying, "Wow Mum, you're so loved!" And I've really felt that love during this time. Thank you everyone who has blessed us with gifts or messages of love.
After surgery, recovering in my ward. 
Paul's mum stayed with our family while I was in hospital, so she could homeschool the kids and Paul could visit me.

I spent four nights in hospital after the surgery, in a room I shared with three other ladies. Sharing a room provided me with something to think about besides myself, which was good as I was too tired to read or do anything else to pass the time. My legs were fitted with massaging cuffs to help prevent blood cots, so I was pretty well tied to the bed except for when I got unstrapped to visit the toilet.

I quite liked having my own massage therapist machine. I called it Sven.

The hardest thing about sharing a room was that my sleep was very interrupted. When one of the other ladies had a rough night, we were all kept awake. It was hard for me to hear other people suffer. I wanted to be able to help, but couldn't do much more than pray.

I greatly admired the nurses who were able to deal with everyone's pain in such a steadfast and compassionate manner. I did manage to fall asleep easily and often while in hospital, but my sleeps were quite short. I had two drains in my neck, which put pressure on my throat, so I found it best to sleep upright. I loved that my hospital bed had controls which allowed me to move it into a sitting position with the push of a button. I missed the bed when I came home, if nothing else from hospital.
Paul visited me in hospital every day. (I was only allowed one visitor a day because of COVID 19.) He was a good visitor, because if I looked tired, he told me to go to sleep.
Eating a superfood chia seed pudding that Paul made. 
He also brought me nourishing homemade chicken stock, superfood collagen enhanced smoothies and superfood chia seed puddings from home to help me heal. And when we realised we couldn't get them in the hospital, he also brought me liposomal vitamin C and Spatone iron supplements. I had the misfortune of getting my period on the day of surgery, so I had that to deal with on top of everything else, and my iron gets low at the best of times. (Sorry if that was TMI.) Spatone really helps boost my iron levels, and it doesn't make me nauseous like some other iron supplements do.
Here's a look at my suture lines and my puffy post-surgery face on my last day in hospital. I wasn't allowed to use shampoo or conditioner on my hair, so I had just washed it with water and that wasn't cutting the mustard. Greasy hair is the worst! I felt so gross.

My pain levels haven't been too bad. The surgical area is mostly numb, although I'm now starting to get electric shock type feelings as nerves reactivate, especially across my chest.
One of the things I was worried about, going into surgery, was whether the surgeons would have to cut my nerves to get access to the cancer. The two that were most at risk were the nerve that controls my lower lip and the accessory nerve that controls my shoulder. Thank God, neither nerve was severed, although the tumour had to be peeled off the nerve that controls my lip, so it is still in shock. When I smile broadly, my whole mouth moves to the right because my nerve doesn't pull back on the left. The surgeons are hopeful this will recover in time.

My left eye has also been weak since surgery. I'm not able to close it as tightly as the right, and it gets blurry quite often. This seems to be resolving though, as my facial swelling reduces.
Last Wednesday, I met with one of the doctors on my surgeon's team. He gave me the pathology results from my surgery. Cancer had spread into levels 2 and 3 of my neck, but not 4 and 5. This is reasonably good news, as it means we are hopefully ahead of the spread of cancer. Of course, with melanoma, there can still be stem cells floating around, so I'll need some kind of treatment going forward to deal with those.

My melanoma nurse took my stitches out at the same appointment last week, so I've been held together by steri-strips ever since. The suture line is healing really well. It's in the natural crease of my neck, so I don't think it will be very noticeable at all.
Today I washed my hair with shampoo and conditioner, and it felt amazing! It really lifted my spirits. Greasy hair was getting me down.

Tomorrow, I have a Zoom physiotherapy appointment, which I'm looking forward to as my left shoulder gets very sore if I use it and I have limited motion in my neck. Here's hoping my physiotherapist will be able to work her magic on me. I also hope I'll be able to have in-person physio appointments soon, now that we're moving to Level 1 here in New Zealand.

On Wednesday, I'll be meeting with my surgeon to discuss medical treatments going forward. While I'm there, I also hope he elects to remove my remaining drain, as it's a real bother. We've been waiting for my outputs to get below 20mls in 24 hours, but they're sitting pretty steady at about twice that amount. I know I'll be a lot more comfortable once the drain is out.

And I think that's all my news for now. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments below.

Thank you again for all your support and prayers. We are being carried along by your love and God's goodness.