Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Fighting like a Girl..giving my final class presentation
of graduate school 
Many thought I was crazy for continuing with my graduate school career as I faced several aggressive rounds of chemotherapy in my battle to fight stage 4 Ovarian Cancer. As graduation is quickly approaching I am glad I have always been a little crazy, and determined to complete a journey I began three years ago. Last week I gave my final presentation of my graduate school career and tonight I will attend my last class. Tonight is bitter sweet, as graduations always tend to be, as you relish in completion of a strenuous chapter and as you say goodbye to many friends and look back on memories made both in and out of the classroom. Before I can completely celebrate graduation I will have to get through three more chemo infusions, and then I can look forward to graduating with my Masters in Social Work from the University of Oklahoma on May 11th!

PS That is not my Coke Zero in the picture.  My first round of chemo cured me of that habit.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Grab the Bull by The Horns

Benjamin wrote on Facebook "Mrs. Warren wants
 bikes to ride...she gets bikes to ride"

It has been quite a week. I have taken up a saying that my Uncle Jim used to use when he battled Stage IV Colon Cancer.. "It feels good to feel good". I have enjoyed my week off from chemo and relished in an increase in my strength and abilities.

This weekend Benjamin I didn't waste our time talking about an activity to enjoy together, we went right out and "grabbed the bull by the horns" and purchased some bikes. We are very pleased with our splurge and some may be surprised to learn we've already logged seven miles on our new rides. I named mine "Thunder Struck", and told Ben this evening that I hope we always enjoy our rides together as much as we have the past couple of days.

It really was a big day for me as I was able to attend church today and rejoined Benjamin in our weekly duties of conducting children's church on Sunday mornings. I told the children the story of David and Goliath with much more understanding of the importance behind one of the most well known Bible stories.  David was able to take down a 9ft monster named Goliath because God was with him. We all have our own Goliath. Right now mine is Cancer, for some of the children it was a hail storm or starting at a new school, and for another child it was a lady who forced him to run out of the children's church room crying when he saw her bald head. No matter what giants we encounter, like David, we can face them with courage and dignity because God is with us.

Thanks for your continued prayers. My Goliath this week is a doctor's appointment and blood draw tomorrow, homework, and chemo on Wednesday and Thursday. I hope we can all face this week with as much  as bravery as David displayed.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Love and Cancer

Benjamin and I in Crested Butte, CO August 2012. I had my first appointment
with a specialist two weeks after getting home from this amazing trip 

I have been feeling a lot better over the last twenty-four hours, and the nausea has left for the most part. Friday started kind of a tough. I woke up with more strength then I have had, but honestly just did not feel like having a fighting spirit. Obviously my body has grown weary and my desire to have the abilities and energy as I did before Cancer was immense. When surrounded by darkness, as we all are at times,  sometimes your mind deviates from where you want it to be giving in to what you would "hashtag" blah day!

Attempts I made at refocusing were like a revolving door that continues to end at feeling downtrodden. Watching the coverage about the manhunt in Boston didn't help, but I couldn't stop watching. It was as if I was watching a battle between good and evil, and evil had an upper hand which was how I felt.

Benjamin got home from work, and as we had discussed earlier he gave me the second haircut of our marriage. During the haircut I was attuned to how good it felt to have a nice day to sit outside and be in each other's company. Feeling blessed I prayed. I prayed in thankfulness for what I've been given, for a better outlook, an ability to refocus, and forgiveness. I decided in those moments to be happy and cling to Light.

Soon after my prayers Benjamin asked me on a date, I gladly accepted even though getting out is a little tough, and getting ready is pretty much not existent. Still I tried to dress in something I could wear, had a sweet momento around my neck, and decided to go somewhere we used to frequent when  dating. It was a special night together, and I am attuned to Benjamin's attentiveness to my care in a different way when we are out in public. We walk slower and with more caution, but also hold tighter too. A sweet couple noticed Benjamins love and care for me, and attempted to pay the bill in secret until we locked eyes with one another. The night was made even more memorable by a sweet blessing, an extension of kindness,  an act of love.  How can we all love one another better today?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


If you are on the Teal for Tarah Facebook page you already saw this picture of my 12th chemo treatment. The collage encompasses the sentiment I had with two days of chemo the week before. (Benjamin calls it my grump face). The photo also shows the port in my side through which I received chemo drugs, this method of chemo is called IP or Intro Penitential Chemotherapy, and although harder, they said it could double my life expectancy.

On a lighter note, the picture also displays Care Packs I have begun to put together and pass around the chemo room, which has become a calling and bright spot for me each time I go.  What I did not realize when the pic was taken was how sick this cycle would make me (IP chemo can make you very sick sometimes.) Many know I ended up having to go to the emergency room Sunday, because I was violently ill for several days and unable to keep down even a sip of water.

Thanks to prayers and good caretakers I have begun to stabilize, and although I am weak and my stomach's uneasy I can proudly say it has now been twenty-four hours since becoming sick. I do have chemo again today, but  I am thankful that I have additional Care Packs to distribute, and I will be in the company of amazing caretakers and a God who goes before me.

The day of my last infusion, the one that made me so sick, my devotional challenged me to strive towards rejoicing in all of life's circumstances, which doesn't come easy as I've been scared of and dreading another chemo. As I pray I did discover, once I focused on my many blessings, it is easy to see so much I have to be grateful for; I have a home to rest in,  a husband who loves me, family and friends who help and pray for me, a puppy to lay by my side, and although food does not sound good, I have plenty to help keep me strong! I have enough support to share with others, and much to rejoice about despite the circumstances.  I am certainly not grateful for Cancer, but I can be thankful in the midst of the storm.

To close I'll share a moment in my search for thankfulness and rejoicing in the midst of Cancer treatment. While I was in the hospital,  sick from the chemo, I asked Ben to crawl into my hospital bed with me. Since I could talk very little, and not do much more then close my eyes and pray, I asked Ben him to tell me about things we could/would do when I was no longer so sick. Some of things he told me about were grand gestures, the picture of us sitting on a beach somewhere, and some were things we used to take for granted. The idea of cooking a meal together, or going to the store, watching a movie, or coming home from work to talk about the day. There is something about being sick that makes you really appreciate the life and blessings you have been given. I encourage you today to rejoice in your circumstances, rejoice in the blessings and moments we're granted, thank God in Heaven who created them for you, and I commit to endeavoring to do the same even as I face my fifteenth round of chemo.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Chemo Woes and Chemo Joys

I am not really sure where to begin. My desire for my next blog post has been to be positive, so I guess I will start there. I submitted and completed my comprehension exam, which ultimately determines if I pass graduate school. I am pretty positive I passed although there were moments that I questioned if I would be able to analyze the coincidental case that detailed the trials of working with a woman dying of Cancer. For those who don't know I am graduating with my Masters in Social Work from the University of Oklahoma on May 11th, 2013, and that in itself is a positive and cause for celebration. In addition, the chemo nurse navigators called today and told me my Cancer counts are coming down, which means the chemo is working!

Speaking of chemo, I start my fifth cycle on Wednesday. Wednesday will be my thirteenth infusion.I think people are curious about chemo, so I thought I would write about what I have come to expect of the three infusions I receive in each cycle.

Wednesday- I receive IV Taxol. This is the chemo drug that makes me loose my hair, but is not the one that makes me so sick. It is about a six hour day, and once I get home I expect to be anxious tired and uncomfortable. Most of the discomfort stems from the IV they leave in my hand for the following day and the steroids they make you take to prevent adverse reactions from the  drug.

Thursday - I receive IP Cisplatin. IP means they will use the port that has been secured to my right rib since my surgery in December. From the beginning I was told that IP chemo causes more side effects than utilizing a typical chemo port usually found near one's collarbone, however, IP has better long term success. The Cisplatin knocks me down for about a week with severe nausea, headaches, stinging  eyes, and pain that seems to reach into my bones.

The following Wednesday- I receive IP Taxol and Evastin. Taxol is the same drug that I receive the first day of the cycle, however, again they use the port in my stomach. During this chemo session I have come to expect quite a bit of pain, nausea, and blood clots in my nose. This is another full day lasting about seven hours, which includes the turning they have me do after IP chemo to ensure the drug coats my stomach.

After explaining what a chemo cycle entails this story will likely have more meaning.  On the last day of my most recent cycle I was awakened about five hours before I needed to leave my house. I was nauseated, uncomfortable, and anxious for more chemo. I prayed for much of the morning, listened to worship music, but still couldn't find the strength to get out of bed. That morning I sat up in bed and began to pray the Lord's prayer out loud. This is not typical for me neither to pray out loud nor pray using the Lord's prayer. As I began, "Our Father who is in Heaven" I began to cry as a result of the suffering I was enduring, and understanding that there was no way I could get through the day on my own. Throughout the entire prayer I pictured my God in Heaven, and uttered the words I have known for many years in the midst of mixed tears of joy and pain. Saying this prayer did not take away the sickness, but it gave me enough strength to get out of bed and get ready for another infusion. I continued to rely on His strength as I put together a few goodie bags, and while I dealt with a need to stay near the bathroom due to becoming sick. What comes next is the miracle, as I made my way to the car I felt God's spirit come over me. It was as if I had to keep trusting Him and His strength throughout the morning until I made it to the appropriate time for Him to really intervene. Once I made it to the Cancer Center the sickness I had dealt with all morning was almost completely gone and He had replaced my suffering with abounding joy. I had so much joy that a friend who met there jokingly asked what I had taken that morning. I was happy to tell her I was high on the Holy Spirit!  Maybe an even bigger miracle was the reduced side effects I had during the infusion this day, and the ability I was given to talk about God with others while I received chemo, which is a stark contrast in comparison to the silence I had to maintain the last time I had received the IP Taxol.

I tell you all of this not only to recount how faithful God has been  in the midst of suffering, but also to share this truth with someone who may need to be reminded of His faithfulness. We have heard it before, but once again God doesn't always act as quickly or in ways that we desire. This testimony, however, hopefully  gives tangible evidence that even when we are doing everything right, when we are surrending ourselves to Him, He may require us to fully rely on Him to a point where we almost can't take it anymore. I have been to that point on several occasions, but I and I hope you will find that once we reach that point is often when God does His biggest miracles and carries us through what is left to endure.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

"Sweet Surrender"

Recent days have been tough. I am learning that as much as my spirit wants to compel me to accomplish even the most mundane tasks my body is not allowing me to. This is my off week from chemo and in cycles past has typically been a week where I have a little extra energy and ability to live life with a past sense of normalcy. I have a lot I would like to do, a few things I must do, and gathering the energy is quite the endeavor.

This week is jumbled with additional feelings as I am trying to complete my final case analysis for school, and what I must analyze involves a women dying of Cancer. In addition my aunt underwent an intensive surgery yesterday to reconstruct what was taken from her after a diagnosis of Breast Cancer. My heart has been heavy for her and her three daughters, and it makes me wish my uncle’s body had not succumbed to the hardships of Colon Cancer so he could be with them.  Thinking about their trial allows my mind to drift to my cousin Spencer who greeted my uncle in Heaven, but not before a long and arduous battle with Cancer. From there my mind drifts to my mother who thankfully God chose to heal, but not before she endured her own hardships of battling Stage 3 Breast Cancer. Further still my mind drifts to the many adversities and sufferings found in every corner of this world. As my mom has said, “Everybody has something they are dealing or struggling with”.

It makes it easy for me to understand why there are people who don’t believe in God or why some are angry with Him. Many of you know me and my past, and for a quick synopsis let’s just say God and I were not friends, and I would never have been referred to as the devotional type (Ill get into this more at another time). Along life’s journey, however, I learned of the beauty God can create in our lives when we surrender our sorrows to Him. When I turn to Him, when I am mindful of the realm of good and evil that we live among for now, when I make a conscious effort to use His strength; I am given the greatest gift one could hope to receive. JOY, PEACE, and LOVE!

This is a song written and performed by my cousin Spencer who as I mentioned earlier now sings and plays music with my Lord and Savior in Heaven. He wrote the words to “Sweet Surrender” while he was battling Cancer. I understand his words very clearly now, and have listened to them many times throughout this journey. When we surrender it, no matter what it is, although He may not take it away He will give us the spirit we need to get through it. 
                                     Link to my cousin Spencer's song; "Sweet Surrender"

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

I Had Chemo the Next Day, but Boy did I Ever Thunder Up!

Feeling blessed that Fox Sports and Thunder NBA wanted to write about this journey. I thought a sign that helped me share with a large crowd why I was bald might get on the big screen but I didn't imagine the interest it has received!