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  • jesskhaag

The Choice is Yours

From fires with friends, to concerts, to road trips, to a week at a cottage with family, to a weekend getaway with friends, to delicious s'mores, to sparklers and fires in the backyard with my little family, to making beds on the trampoline to gaze up at the stars, to park visits, to zoo trips, to fishing, to dance parties, to slumber parties in the living room, to tubing behind the boat, to pontoon boating, to endless summer days and nights—it’s safe to say (and my hubby would agree), that this has been our best summer yet. I hope you all managed to have some sort of fun this summer, too!

There are so many moments that will forever be engrained in my brain, but I will say I think one of my favorite moments that stands out is the week we stayed at a cottage on the lake. My entire family was there—and it was the most amazing thing. I think one of my favorite parts of staying at that cottage is that we have known the family for quite some time—I met them in grade school and was friends with their daughters. We actually lived just a couple of houses down from them. They’re probably one of the nicest families you could meet, and you can just feel and see the love throughout that entire cottage. That week was nothing short of amazing for several reasons.

I actually sat down and read an entire book. The nicest part about that? It wasn’t health related. I actually found the book sitting on the steps on the way up to putting my clothes in the room I would be staying in. I took a look at it and thought, “Yup. This is it.” And that’s when I started reading. You see, it’s been nearly two years since I have read a book from cover to cover that was not health related or religious/spiritual. As much as I enjoy learning and as much as I take away from those books, it was soooooo nice to just sit back and enjoy a Nicholas Sparks book. Reading that near the lake was JUST what the doctor ordered. I still smile just thinking about it.

Another one of my favorite moments was the super intense battle---not game, this was a freaking battle—of badminton. Of course, as usual, Steve and I teamed up vs my oldest brother and my little brother. There was diving. There was sweat. There was grunting. There were 4 grown adults who didn’t keep score right, and scored it like the game of volleyball. That makes for not only an intense match, but a LOOOOONG match at that. We were tied at 9’s after like an hour of playing and I remember at one point Steve accused them of ‘picking’ on me because I had cancer—to which my oldest brother replied, “Jess. It’s been almost 2 years now. That excuse is getting old.” That’s something about ‘us’ that might come as shocking for some people to hear—making light of ‘cancer.’ It’s definitely not that we don’t take it seriously or know the severity of it…it’s just that we CHOOSE to keep it as light as we can at times. It’s how we manage. I had to remind him that it wasn’t me pulling the cancer card, it was my husband. But I will say this…again… they’re lucky I ran out of steam. 😉 They did end pulling away and ended up beating us. Okay…I don’t know where. I don’t know when. But there will be a rematch. You heard it here. Maaaan, was it hot that day though. After that match, the guys jumped in the lake and made another competition (did I mention my family is a bit competitive ? when you grow up with 3 brothers sometimes you just don’t have a choice) out of who could run the farthest on the maui pad without falling. I decided it wasn’t worth the time to put on a swimsuit and jump in, soooo I just took off down the dock in my clothes and ran across that Maui pad like a boss. Okay…not like a boss…I may have flopped like a fish eventually but really—it was amazing. I haven’t done something like that in waaaaay too many years. My sister in law was watching us from the sand, and all of a sudden you see her take off running to the cottage. Seconds later, she comes running back down to dominate the Maui pad herself. And just like that….the kids all came following. So. Much. FUN. Talk about food for the soul.

You know what else was simply amazing about that vacation? I had zero reception the entire week...and I SURVIVED. It was so refreshing to be unplugged and really soak up what was happening right in front of me. Too often I've gotten sucked into my phone and I can only imagine the things I truly missed out on without even realizing it. There are times when I contemplate being on a limited data phone plan because I just want more simple in my life. I highly HIGHLY recommend taking breaks from social media, even if they're small ones. You might surprise yourself at what you can accomplish, how much happier you can be, and how proud you are that you, too, survived without being plugged in. :)

That week meant a lot to all of us—to my parents included. We’ve been talking about doing a cottage together for years now, and it finally happened. I couldn’t ask for better memories. And I thank God for all of them. It’s the sweet, simple moments in life that really keep me going. They help to remind me what life is all about—they remind me there is so much good even if there is bad. They remind me that life sure is beautiful, and simple is amazing.

I was also reminded that seeing all the good, even in the bad, is a choice. Attitude…is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Life is just one big choice. I’m not saying we choose the cards we are dealt, but we can choose how we play them. There are some stories I’ve heard, some people who overcame some pretty horrific stuff in their lives, that make what I’m going through seem like a cake walk to be completely honest. I always ask, “How did you keep going?” Choice. They choose to. They could have easily succumbed to what happened to them as a child and I think most people would understand…but they didn’t want to be a victim. It’s that victor/victim mentality. You can’t control what people do to you, but you can control how you react and how you choose to live going forward. Sure, it takes work. It takes work to change, and you’ve got to be willing to put in the work if you want to better your life and yourself. I honestly feel for people who go through life bitter, afraid, and feel as though the world is out to get them. Me? I’m still a work in progress, and I always will be. But I choose to play my cards with a smile on most days. And on the days that I find it hard to smile, I think of a reason to smile. And I pray even harder. This year, I’ve been working on praying hard when things are great—because I found that I was praying hard mostly when life seemed hard.

With spur of the moment stuff and fun to be had, it’s been a while since I’ve updated. There were some new developments and I wanted to wait until after a few of the appointments to let everyone know what’s going on with me in my journey. So…here we go…

I had a new chemo drug added to my mixer (I prefer the term ‘mixer’ over cocktail 😉) back in March and it’s been very good to me. The worst of the side effects has been a nasty rash that I got on my neck and face—an acne like rash that is itchy, burns, painful, and sun intensifies it. I always wear sunscreen but apparently that wasn’t enough. I got this rash sooooo bad on my face that I actually had to skip that drug (the one that worked incredibly well, by the way) at the following chemo treatment. My Dr. didn’t want it getting any worse, and quite frankly I don’t think I could have handled it getting any worse. It was terribly painful—and I think I have a pretty high pain tolerance. Thank goodness it hasn’t gotten that bad since, knock on wood. I have been rocking a nice, big floppy hat when in the sun since then since I’m pretty sure it got so bad after mowing the lawn with only sunscreen on my face. But…they say the rash may indicate how the treatment is working—so the worse the rash, the more effective the treatment. So…I really can’t complain.

We ventured to Madison a few weeks back to meet with my oncologist there to talk next step stuff. My scans all indicated that this chemo I am on has worked very well against the cancer that remains in my liver. We walked into that appointment to have someone from Radiology walk in to talk to us before we met with my oncologist. After meeting with him, we patiently waited for Dr D to come in, and man… I wasn’t expecting what was said.

Dr D’s first words, “This is exciting.” Dude. These are words you love to hear your oncologist say. He continued, “The way this chemo is working is exciting.”

Then there’s me, “Yeah it was exciting!”

Him: “No…it IS exciting.”

Me: “That’s what I meant, sorry. I’ve got a million thoughts running through my head about this next step stuff.”

He continued by telling us the more ‘in depth’ plan, and the hope of it all. So. The next step plan is to do a radiation therapy called Y90. This treatment targets the tumors directly—so what they do, is send super, super small beads of radiation through the blood vessels that are feeding the tumors. Most of the tumors are located on the right side of my liver, and therefore that will be the side that will be treated. I have one larger tumor that falls kind of in the middle, so it falls on both sides of the liver. That one will also be targeted at some point. The hope is that the Y90 kills all of the right side tumors, causing it to scar. When it scars, that will force the left side of the liver to grow larger. When it reaches a size that I could live with (you can live with 30% of your liver), they would cut off the entire right side of the liver.

Wait, whaaaa? Okay, first, that’s craaazy. The body really is amazing. Technology and modern medicine is quite simply mind blowing. And…. Did I just hear possible surgery? Yes, there are a lot of things that need to happen—A LOT—a ton that has to go right…but really?? I wasn’t expecting this. I assumed surgery was completely off the table due to the “flare up” last year after being off chemo completely for 5 months due to rescheduled surgery and what not. This was definitely a welcomed surprise.

After that appointment, I got excited. There’s so much to be excited about. But then, of course, doubt rears its ugly head. “What if I’m too excited? What if he’s too excited? There’s a lot that has to go right for this to even happen…should I be excited?” And as I share all of this with one of my besties, she simply says, “Well. You’d be disappointed either way if it doesn’t happen, right? might as well be excited!” And she is absolutely 100% right. My being excited has NOTHING to do with how everything will turn out—has no effect on the outcome. But….it does have an effect on my attitude, on my outlook, on my health. Stress can be even more detrimental to your health than poor nutrition. So…I CHOOSE to be excited about all of this.

Following that appointment, I went ahead and received my 30th chemo treatment. I also had an MRI done before I met with Interventional Radiology at UW this past Monday for the Y90 consult. Next on the agenda for Y90 is the ‘mapping’ appt. It’s about a 3 hour process where they will determine what blood vessels are feeding the tumors on the right side—to determine what blood vessel they will put the beads through. Then, 1-2 weeks later will be the actual Y90 treatment.

In the meantime, I will still receive the current chemo treatment. I’ll stop prior to receiving Y90, then pick it back up shortly thereafter. My 31st chemo treatment is scheduled for tomorrow—crazy to think I’ve been through 30 treatments already. This past week (my off week) has been a bit rough as my family and I both have nasty summer colds—and I think mine is actually bronchitis. I’ve got us all sipping on Elderberry syrup and it seems to be helping quite a bit, so let’s hope I can continue on with treatment tomorrow. I usually have treatments every other Monday, but I changed it to Friday last time as well, due to the fact that my youngest two are off to 3K & 4K and Monday and I want to be there. My Emma starts Kindergarten on Wednesday—full days…away from Mom… and I’m crazy excited for her, yet can’t help but think about how much I’m going to miss my little sidekick. She’s just the sweetest thing. <3 As hard as it was some days and as much as I wished I had to go to work some days, I would not trade my time at home with my babies. Ever.

So that is what’s up in my life as of now. It’s exciting. It’s scary. It’s nerve racking. It’s unbelievable at times. Thank you to all who have and continue to pray for me, for us. Thank you for your kind and thoughtful words. It's seriously so amazing how much love we have felt throughout this entire journey and we are and we are undeniably grateful.

It’s all in His hands—and that right there brings me the most comfort. Work like it depends on you….pray like it depends on Him.

Hope & Pray.

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Aug 17, 2019

Thank you for the update Jess. You're words and outlook are encouraging and uplifting. I know what you mean about being excited yet thinking cautiously excited at the same time. I went through the same thing with Craig's news. Then, as you said, it's a choice to go with the excitement in the here and now. No one knows what tomorrow holds in this world, but we do know what eternity holds for us. Thank you for being you, and thank you for being a friend.

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