Friday, November 18, 2011 Nuptials!

((Some of my best girlfriends and I in South Lake Tahoe for my last weekend as a single woman!)

I began this blog with the idea that I would eventually be able to write about every little wedding decision and detail...but I have come to a fabulous realization: It's not about all of the little details. What matters is that Brad and I are getting married this Saturday morning at 10:30am surrounded by our dearest family and friends. This time last year I was impatiently waiting for my next MRI to determine the date of my (first) craniotomy. I am so grateful that God has brought me through this last year and has given me the strength to walk down the aisle to the man of my dreams!!

Chemo has been going fairly well. My white blood cell count has been pretty consistent, around 3.3-3.4, except for this last round. My WBC got down to 2.8 but the oncologist allowed me to go ahead with the treatment as long as I was extra cautious and avoided crowds. This month, she pushed the treatment back for the wedding which also gave my immune system more time to build up. Overall, we still have not seen any change in my MRI since I began chemo. 

My classes have been going much better since I have been more conscious of my time management. Big assignments may take a little longer to do and I can't do things at the last minute anymore, but I can still get a good grade. My course load also gives me plenty of time to complete my homework since I only have class in the late afternoon and evening. 

I will post again after the wedding to share some pictures but I do want to share an important link with you. In lieu of wedding favors, Brad and I chose to make a donation to the Gordon Murray Brain Tumor Initiative at UCSF to show our since gratitude to the doctors, nurses, and medical staff for making our special day possible. Please consider giving to this initiative: which will help to expand and improve the brain tumor research center at UCSF. Did you know that some 500 Americans are diagnosed with brain cancer every day and that it kills some 13,000 people in the United States each year? I certainly didn't know that a year ago. 

Please go to the YouTube video I have given below. This elderly couple was visiting the Mayo Clinic and decided to give an impromptu duet performance. I hope Brad and I are still filled with that much love for music and each other at 80. :) 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Brief Update

I have been back in Turlock for about a month now and I am finally getting into a somewhat regular routine. I'm taking 12 units this semester which I thought would be a breeze compared to my previous 19 or 20 unit semesters... but I'm discovering that I'm not the same student I used to be. I used to pride myself on being a good student who didn't have to study for hours to get a good grade. I could wait until the last dying moment to complete an assignment and still receive an A. I received a large, but not overly complex, assignment at the beginning of the semester in one of my classes and put it on the back burner, thinking that I could "do it later." When later finally came, I sat overwhelmed and in tears in front of my computer. I had no idea where to begin...I was so afraid to make a mistake that I literally couldn't start.What used to take me an hour now seems to take an eternity. It was a very humbling and sad realization to come to. All I could think was, "I can't do it. I honestly can't do it." You would think after having a brain tumor, going through three major surgeries and four rounds of chemo I would have gotten the picture but it was like God was saying "You can't do it on your own, Maggie. Ask for My help." When we are at our weakest, God is at His strongest.

I began my fifth round of chemo on 9/21 and have been feeling slightly nauseous pretty much every day this round. Praise God my side effects are so mild! We meet with the neuro-oncologist again on Tuesday 9/27. I will have an MRI at their facility that morning and we will hopefully see some progress from the chemo. The last time we saw her she added another blood draw to my schedule each month (21st and 28th day of the chemo cycle) and it has also added a considerable amount of stress. My insurance only covers my bloodwork if it is done in Woodland so I have to drive an hour and a half there and back twice a month. The doctor in Woodland who administers my chemo sees no reason for me to have the second blood draw because my white blood cell counts have stayed fairly consistent throughout my treatments so far. 

My maid of honor and I went to the hair salon where we will have our hair done for the wedding for a trial run today. She did a great job considering my crazy hair cut! She even said she would give me a discounted rate because I had less hair to work with hahaha. The wedding is in less than two months and I cannot wait for it to get here! Brad and I have so much to celebrate. :) 

If you are praying for me (thank you!) and would like some specific things to pray about here are a few requests: 
-my ability to concentrate on and complete assignments 
-Dr. Chang will reconsider the second monthly blood draw
-a full time job for Brad 
-more hours for me to work at the school box office

Friday, July 29, 2011

Okay Maggie, Here We Go!

Whoa! Since when is it almost August?! 

I don't think we will ever be able to top the year that Fabio attended (see photo below) but this year's Shilling family reunion was memorable nonetheless. It was one of the smaller reunions that my family has had in a long time. It was nice to be surrounded by my family during the last few days of my first round of chemo. As I grow older, the faces are becoming more and more familiar and the conversations seem to come a little easier each year.  

2002 Shilling Family Reunion

My body seems to be responding to chemo fairly well. I have not had any nausea but I do get tired. I have also lost a little bit of my appetite, and as a bride-to-be, that is fine by me! I wonder if I’m the first chemo patient to be excited that I lost weight after the first round. I have been able to bounce back pretty quickly in between the rounds by staying active and eating a little healthier. I also haven’t lost any of my hair. :) 

On July 9th, my parents and Brad and I drove to Cambria to my aunt and uncle’s vacation home. My brother and his girlfriend drove up from Long Beach to meet us on the 10th and we all went to Hearst Castle on the 11th. It was so nice to be able to have the freedom to take a little vacation from doctors’ appointments and bloodwork for a few days. Brad and I explored a few antique stores and even took a little hike. The weather was so beautiful it was hard to stay inside! We talked about our future, made a few decisions about the wedding but we mostly just enjoyed each other’s company. His even-keel, calm nature gives my chaotic life balance.

My body is under a lot of stress because of the chemo so I tend to overheat quickly and also sunburn easily. (I got my first gnarly sunburn of the summer while I was window-shopping on Main Street in Cambria). I went to my monthly blood draw on Monday morning and I found out that I get to cut to the front of the line to avoid as many germs in the waiting room as possible. I’m still trying to figure out a way to make that work at the DMV…My white blood cell count is low but that is to be expected, so the doctor is not concerned. I just have to wash my hands a lot and stay away from crowds to avoid infections.

My “cancer fast pass” apparently only works at the lab because I arrived thirty minutes early for my MRI in SF on Tuesday, my name was called thirty-five minutes later and they didn’t put me into the machine until about thirty minutes after my scheduled appointment. MRIs have become somewhat routine for me. After they call my name, the nurse leads me to a changing room with a locker in it where I get to change into a gown and a pair of medium-sized hospital pants (no matter which facility, they never seem to have them in a large so I almost always end up tying the drawstring waist up around my ribcage in order for them to fit, which inevitably gives me the always attractive "Urkel" look). I finish the outfit with a whisper thin cotton hospital robe and stratchy hospital socks. I lock up my clothes, grab the key, and sit down in another waiting room with other robed people while I wait for them to call my name again. There’s no clock on the wall, because they don’t want you to know how long you’ve been waiting, and the only magazine left is Newsweek or Sports Illustrated...Just about the time I think they’ve forgotten me a nurse appears at the door and mispronounces my last name. She leads me to a chair where she promptly ties a tourniquet around my right arm and begins to nonchalantly slap my veins with her gloved hand. Once the vein appears, she sticks it with a needle and inserts the IV which will be used for contrast. Then she sends me back, yet again, to the second waiting room to wait for fifteen more minutes until the MRI technician is ready for me.

This time, when the technician asked the routine set of “metal objects in or on your body questions,” he was surprised to find out that the extra pouf of hair on the top of my head wasn’t created with hairspray and bobby pins. I explained why I have my super stylish mullet and we both laughed about his little mistake as I laid down on the narrow MRI table and he hooked me up to the IV contrast. He began each set of “pictures” by saying “Okay, Maggie, here we go!” as if I had just boarded a ride Disneyland. There’s a small mirror on the cage that they put over your head that allows you to see the technician at their desk and the door. I watched as the two technicians talked and munched on their lunches. I imagined the different things they could be Maybe it's a sandwich... By the time he said, “Okay, Maggie less than ten minutes we go!" my stomach was growling in rhythm with the MRI machine. 

Brad, my parents and I met with my neuro-oncologist about thirty minutes after we left the imaging center to review the results. She showed us the slides and explained that what was left of my tumor had not shown any growth since the last MRI. It was too early to see any progress from the chemo but she said we should feel encouraged that there was no growth. She left the exam room to grab some paperwork and the neuro-surgeon that had performed my second and third surgery stopped by. He wanted to check in and thank us for the gift my parents had brought him (a nice bottle of wine for his collection) and he also told us a little about his day so far. 
He looked tired and a little disheveled. He had been called into emergency brain surgery for a 19 year-old girl very early that morning. He shook his head and said, “She’s not going to make it.” My mom and I were both visibly shaken by the news. He paused while he examined my expression and said “You look great, Maggie! When’s the wedding?” On the way home that day, my mom told me that my surgeon came in as encouragement for her. I didn’t understand at first but she went on to say that she had gone into the appointment with the expectation that my tumor would be completely gone. She was a little disappointed to hear that it was still there. His news had brought her back to the reality of my situation.
On that note, I thought I would include the original MRI scan of my tumor before I had undergone any surgery in this post. It humbles me, just like Dr. McDermott humbled my mom, to see how much God has allowed me to overcome in the past six or seven months. The entire tumor was about the size of a peach…for some reason it helps to relate it to a fruit…Praise God that only about 5% of it is left in my head. 

Brad and I have made most of the big decisions about the wedding and now I have started to take on all of the little details...but I am constantly reminded that it's not the decorations or the invitations or the flower arrangements that really matter. It's the fact that God has given me the gift of life and a wonderful man to share the rest of it with. 

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, 
for his compassions never fail. 
23 They are new every morning;    
great is your faithfulness. 
24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;    
therefore I will wait for him.”

Lamentations 3:22-24

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Graduation and Chemo

I may have been barefoot and sunburned but I made it across the stage at graduation last week!! :) 

Between Brad and I, we had 11 people in the audience cheering us on and yes, those ARE big neon signs with our names on them...


The morning of the ceremony I received an email from my biology professor congratulating me for achieving an A in her course...If I could, I would have skipped all the way to school!

Since the second surgery I've had some issues with sensitivity and weakness in my left leg and foot so I had some trouble keeping my black heels on during the long walk from Bizzini hall to the amphitheater. Once I got there I realized that I wasn't out of the woods because my heels kept getting stuck in the grass so I just took them off! I decided going barefoot was less embarrassing than falling on my face as I walked on stage to shake the dean's hand.   

My college graduation was like any other graduation ceremony in many ways: boring speeches by unfamiliar administrators who pretend to identify with the soon-to-be graduates that they have probably never seen before. Most speakers will try to inspire the graduates with cliches like "this is not the's the beginning." But for me, graduation was more than just a two and a half hour long ceremony, was proof of God's faithfulness. He gave me the strength and the resources to finish my classes despite all of the challenges I have had this year. But at the risk of sounding just as cliche as the aforementioned administrators, I have not yet reached the finish line. The next leg of the race may be the hardest...

I had my first appointment with the medical oncologist who will be facilitating my chemotherapy yesterday and picked up the pills at the pharmacy about thirty minutes after the appointment. I will take my first dose this evening before bed. The most common side effect is nausea and fatigue so she also prescribed an anti-nausea medicine that I will take an hour before I take the chemo. The doctor was very optimistic about this specific type of chemo having seen good results with patients in the past. My parents and I left her office feeling very hopeful.

Chemo will go on for six months to a year depending on how the cancer and the rest of my body responds to it. I plan to start classes (one to officially finish my BA and three towards my credential) on August 22nd and we have just decided on a new wedding date for mid-November.   

Despite our optimism, the idea of ingesting toxic chemicals for five days every month for a year...on a little intimidating...I mean I'm not even allowed to let the pills touch my skin... I am aware that chemo gives me the best chance for a full recovery but I'm a little nervous...I was nervous when I went in each time for surgery but this is different. Chemo will be attacking all systems of my body, not just my noggin... 
I have a lot of "what-ifs"...

 What if I am nauseous for the entire month? What if I lose my hair? What if I'm so tired that I can't work next semester? What if I can't pay rent? 

No matter what the worry or the question, I believe God's answer for me is: 
"I love you. Trust Me. Let Me handle it." Please pray that I will tolerate the chemo well and that I will be able to follow Christ in full, even when I don't always know where He is leading .

1 My son, do not forget my teaching, 
   but keep my commands in your heart, 

2 for they will prolong your life many years 

   and bring you peace and prosperity.

 3 Let love and faithfulness never leave you; 
   bind them around your neck, 
   write them on the tablet of your heart. 

4 Then you will win favor and a good name 

   in the sight of God and man.

 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart 
   and lean not on your own understanding; 

6 in all your ways submit to him, 

   and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

His Schedule...

I haven't posted anything new in a little over a month for several reasons. First, nothing really "earth-shattering" has happened around here. After I learned I had cancer, I made the decision to use the blog as a way to update my friends and family about my recovery...but I also decided not to post about absolutely everything. Mostly because who really needs to know that I watched three consecutive hours of Law & Order, while eating a toasted blueberry bagel with plain cream cheese? And, yes. Yes I did. And it was wonderful. But who wants to read about that?

My life has been pretty boring the past few weeks, when it comes to my health. I'm getting stronger everyday.  My physical activity from mid-December through March was very limited but now that I'm feeling better I'm trying to challenge myself and get back into shape. The physical therapist gave me a lot of really good exercises to do at home to gain strength back in my left leg and the infectious disease doctor (doesn't that sound like a delightful profession?) cleared me to be able to swim again last week. My mom loves water aerobics so I'll go with her in the evenings and swim laps.

On a happier note, unrelated to exercise, I had a birthday since I posted last time. :) Brad and I saw Young Frankenstein the Musical in Sacramento in the afternoon and then went out to dinner at my absolute favorite barbecue place with my parents that evening. When we got back to the house, my mom served my favorite cake (strawberry cake with rainbow chip frosting) while I opened my cards and gifts. I have never received so many birthday cards in all of my twenty-three years. In fact, I counted...wait for it...drum roll please...46! At the end of the night I had a pile of cards, a plateful of cake and a bellyful of barbecue...what more could I ask for?!

I thought that by May I would be writing about our July wedding wedding plans coming together. Instead, Brad and I had to make the decision to postpone the wedding. We would have come to the conclusion on our own, considering my health situation and Brad's unemployment, but we were strongly encouraged to decide sooner rather than later. So just to review for any the past year I have had two major brain surgeries, been diagnosed with brain cancer, got a staph infection, shared a hospital room with an elderly woman with no control of her bowels (on two separate occasions), shaved my head a total of three times, put my entire apartment in storage and moved back in with my parents while taking classes online, and oh yeah...I also had to make the decision that our beautiful summer wedding followed by a week in Maui would have to wait. I decided that if the wedding had to wait, then the blog did too...In other words, I wasn't in the mood to write about my life because it would require me to think about my life...

God's theme for 2011 seems to be "Your Plans Aren't My Plans" maybe, the "Throw Your Calendar out the Window 'Cause You're on My Schedule Now" year. He wants me to sacrifice my plans and let Him take control. Some days I hand my calendar over without an argument and other days we play tug of war. Needless to say, I put up a pretty big fight over the wedding...

After the staph infection, I began an antibiotics regimen that would last until the end of June. When I saw the infectious disease doctor a week ago, he recommended a minimum of six months on the antibiotics to be sure the infection was gone. He didn't think that the low dose would delay my cancer treatment any further.

I saw the neuro-oncologist yesterday and after looking at my latest MRI (or as I like to call them, my new headshots) she thinks my best treatment option is chemo. I'll take chemo pills for five consecutive days per month for a year, with MRIs every two months and regular bloodwork. She thinks that radiation has too many cognitive risks because of the location of the cancer and she would rather start out small and have the option of radiation down the line if need be.

The doctor warned me that chemo is systemic, meaning that it will affect other parts of my body, including my fertility but I quickly reminded her,"I've got eggs on ice!"... The doctor said that I may feel nauseas and very tired during the five days of treatment but my body will be able to rest and somewhat recover during the days in between. I meet with the radiation oncologist next week to confirm that chemotherapy is my best option.

I also start rehearsals for the last concert of the school year with the Modesto Symphony Orchestra Chorus and the college choir next week. Singing in such a large ensemble is an intense and emotional experience no matter what the literature choice but the opportunity to sing Mendelssohn's Elijah is one that I do not want to pass up. I won't be starting chemo for another few weeks so I will most likely be able to participate in graduation as well. My last final is May 26th and the graduation ceremony is the next day. I have one more class to complete next semester and I will officially be done with my BA! When I started college I never thought it would take me longer than four years but it will end up being a total of five and a half. The phrase "In God's time" takes on a whole new meaning...

I'm praying for patience and as the pastor said last Sunday that I would "see a fresh new glimpse of the greatness of God." I have had a few "spiritual mountaintop" experiences in my life, where I felt surrounded by God's love and infinite power (usually on hikes or during worship services) but mountaintop experiences are just refreshers. Peter wanted to build a shelter and just stay up there but God told Him to remember what He had seen and share it with others. (Mark 9:2-13) Our peaks are just little glimpses at the God that we serve, to humble us and to remind us our lives are His to mold. The challenge the pastor gave was to remember our mountaintop experiences and maintain the change they made in us. Remember who God is on a daily basis and also what He did for us.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Let's Try That Again.

I worked on a post for almost two hours and then accidentally deleted it so here's the short version (sigh): 

I went to the oncologist on March 15th to hear about the chemo/radiation plan and instead the nurse found an infection near my healing incision. The same surgeon who performed my Feb. 24th surgery opened the wound up on March 16th, washed it out, checked out my bone, and inserted an irrigation system in my scalp that flushed the infected area for the next five days in the hospital while I was being pumped full of anitibiotics. I loved the nurses, the dietitian, and especially the meal delievery lady who discovered my love for grilled cheese. I hate staying in the hospital but I was grateful for my awesome nurses and the spectacular view out the window. 
the drains containing my "head juice"or my particular favorite "head punch"
Me (full of fluid and anitibiotics) and my favorite nurse, Daniel

The beautiful view from my bed

Flowers from my aunt and uncle :)

I got to go home March 22nd but I am still getting antibiotic infusions three times a day through a PICC line in my right arm. The cultures showed that it was a staph infection so we are all  happy my bone was not infected or this could have been much more serious. We go back to UCSF tomorrow to finally hear what the plan for radiation/chemo will be. I am praying that God will continue to heal my body and protect it from both therapies' possible side effects. Not knowing exactly what the next few months will hold is very scary for me but Psalm 23:4 says:  
Even though I walk 
   through the darkest valley,[a] 
I will fear no evil, 
   for you are with me; 
your rod and your staff, 
   they comfort me.

Matt Redman sings about God's unconditional love and presence in his song "You Never Let Go." I have been encouraged and comforted by the chorus this week, maybe you will be too. Check it out:

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

UCSF Factory

I honestly can't remember much about my UCSF surgery/hospital experience. I can remember details about  the operating room from my first surgery and recall the names of almost every ICU nurse I had in December but my memories from my most recent surgery are very sporadic and hazy... The morning of the surgery we woke up to pouring rain. We jumped over the puddles in the crosswalk from the parking garage into the hospital lobby and walked to the waiting area where the pre-op packet instructed us to go. The nice lady behind the desk smiled as she handed me some paper work and directed me down the hall to admitting. After a few quick signatures, my mom and I remembered we had left an important document in the car. My dad ran back to the parking garage to try and find the it while I finished signing and dating papers about my impending brain surgery. As it turns out, my dad didn't need help finding the paper IN the car, he needed help finding the CAR. (Anyone who knows my dad will find this really hard to believe. My dad takes pride in finding the "perfect" parking spot. The car might be 28 miles away from where we're going but it also has a four and half foot buffer zone between it and any dangerous objects (i.e. other vehicles, light poles, sap-producing trees, or--God forbid--a grocery cart). In other words, our car is usually hard to miss, so it's a little strange that he had trouble finding it. But the UCSF parking garage has 8 floors and spans across both sides of the street and...oh yeah, his daughter was about to have brain surgery!!! Anyway, with my dad and the car both lost, my mom went to the parking garage and sent me upstairs to pre-op with my fiancée and his parents.

Pre-op at 6am at UCSF is...well, it's a little like an assembly line at a factory. They have twenty-eight operating rooms, and they were all going to be in use that morning which meant every single bed in pre-op was full.  I went behind the blue curtain around my bed, took my clothes off, slipped them into the plastic bag with my name written in sharpie on the side, slipped into my super flattering hospital gown, covered my backside as best I could and sat down on the edge of the bed. That's when it hit me. My parents weren't there yet. My fiancée was on the other side of the curtain, his mom and dad were waiting right outside the pre-op door to wave down my mom and dad, there were a million nurses, doctors and patients milling around  the room, but I suddenly felt very alone...Right about that time, my fiancée stuck his head around the curtain to check on me Whew! and a few minutes later my parents arrived.

I didn't see the surgeon at all before surgery this time, which made me incredibly nervous. I like to look a man in the eye before he takes a saw to my noggin...or at least shake his hand...but he did visit me after surgery in the ICU. The surgery took seven hours. It's weird to think that someone was literally in my head for seven hours...He called my parents in the waiting room to give them an update after an hour and a half, and all he said was, "She's doing great." The man is brain surgeon and all he can up with is "She's doing great"?? What does great even mean in regards to brain surgery? Or in relationship to awesome (another super vague adjective)? Half her brain is on the floor...but you know...she's really takin' it like a champ!"

All joking aside, the surgeon and my oncologist were very happy with the results. He had hoped to get 70% of what was left after the first surgery but the post-op MRI showed that he was able to get 95%. Praise the Lord!!

I spent two nights in the ICU, one more in the hospital, and was discharged on Thursday evening. My left leg and foot lost a considerable amount of feeling and sensitivity and I have a little bit of a depth perception issue in my left field of vision. Basically I'm a little wobbly, I run into things on my left side and my left leg and foot feel a little heavy and tingly. They sent me home with blood thinning medication in the (you guessed it) injection form, so my mom had to learn how to do that lovely job. The first time she almost pee'd her pants! Haha! I was on steroids again this time but for a much shorter amount of time. I'm now off of everything except my anti-seizure meds. I forgot to take them (along with ibuprofen) before I went to bed Saturday night and I woke up at 3am with a terrible head ache. I noticed a dark spot in my left eye as I lay in bed looking at the ceiling, and about fifteen minutes later I had a short focal seizure which, as usual, was followed by complete exhaustion.

For those of you wondering what I'm up to while I'm living at my parents' house, here is what I did today: I woke up and ate breakfast just in time for the nurse to get here. She comes once a week to check my vitals, look at my incision, see how I'm walking, and just generally see how I'm doing. When she left I took a walk around the neighborhood with my dad to build up the strength in my leg and then came back, did my physical therapy exercises and took a nap. After my nap I got my biology book out and got ready for my tutoring session which was from 3-5pm. Tomorrow morning I start volunteering in a kindergarten classroom...should be interesting! I don't want to teach kindergarten, I know that already, but I need the hours for one of my classes. 96 to be exact! :(

I'm still waiting to hear what the treatment plan will be. Radiation and chemotherapy are both options but I will find out for sure when I see my oncologist next Tuesday. In the meantime, I'm trying to study and get my assignments done as close to on time as possible. I have a hard time concentrating on anything for a long period of time (I get really tired) so I am very thankful for my biology tutor! :) I have an occupational therapist that comes to the house as well who is helping me work on my depth perception with some vision exercises.

I am still planning our wedding and while my fiancee was here this weekend we went wedding band shopping! I found exactly what I want and now we just have to shop around for a good price. It is so nice to have something to look forward to...sandy Hawaiian beaches for our honeymoon are sounding better everyday!

Thanks again to all of you who are keeping me in your prayers. :)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Stressful Week, Girl Time, and A Little Nervous

This past week was one full of stress, ultrasounds, early morning drives, moving boxes and oh yeah, class!
My dad and I moved the last of my earthly belongings (except for a few suitcases of clothes and books) into a small storage unit down at school on Thursday afternoon after class. My cat, Jinx, is staying with my roommate for the next week because my family will all be in San Francisco. After I got all settled back in at home, I spent some time with my favorite girls. :) Jackie and I got pedicures and then went over to my fiancée's house to hang out with my future sister and mother-in-law. A movie and some chocolate cake was a great way to relax before the next morning's egg retrieval procedure. The egg retrieval check-in time was scheduled for 7:00am Saturday morning...I think all of these appointments would be so much easier to handle if they were at noon...The fertility team was very friendly and they made me feel very comfortable. They were able to retrieve 18 eggs and even sent me home with pictures of them. My mom is carrying them around in her purse like an expectant grandma! :) I left the clinic feeling bloated and a little crampy, but virtually pain-free. I stayed awake long enough to eat a turkey sandwich and watch a little t.v. and then I slept for most of the afternoon. I'm so thankful that I made it through the process as easily as I did after hearing so many painful stories. God is so good.

I woke up this morning at 6:45am to get ready for the hour and half drive to UCSF for my pre-op MRI and Brain Lab. I am sitting in my fiancee's parents' hotel room with the round plastic sensors that they glued to my head this morning. After I post this, he will be taking me for one last milkshake and then back to the cottage where my family is staying for the week.

I am a little nervous about tomorrow. I should feel better because I have an idea of what is going to happen now...but I have only met with this surgeon once. I know he has great technical skill but I miss the relationship that I had with my first surgeon. Now I just sound sappy...I suppose when it comes to brain surgeons I should value skill more than sue me. Anyways, I check in at the hospital at 6am tomorrow and the surgery will begin around 7am.

Thank you for all of those of you who are praying for me. Please continue to pray for my family as they sit in the waiting room tomorrow and for the team of doctors and nurses.We serve an all-powerful, healing, and merciful God who has proven Himself over and over! I will continue to praise Him in all things. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Foggy State of Mind, Blessings and Eggs

The past few days, I felt like I was wandering around in a fog and the weather conveniently matched my state of mind...I was running to doctor's appointment after doctor's appointment...making phone calls...emailing professors...and packing!! Here's a quick update:

First thing's first, almost all of my professors responded to my email about trying to complete the semester from my parents' house with words of encouragement and have agreed to work with me. I am just waiting to hear from my biology instructor. That is a huge blessing! It meant that I could come back to Turlock for the first two weeks of class--which means I will get a solid start at school before my surgery.

Second, a dear friend of mine offered my family not one, but TWO places to stay during my surgery and recovery at UCSF. Both of which would not cost us anything. Another huge blessing! My family will be staying at a ministry house that is run through a local church within 2 miles of the hospital with a garage for our car and a small kitchen so we don't have to spend a fortune eating out for every meal.

Third, I met with a fertility doctor about harvesting and freezing my eggs yesterday. It was an interesting experience...we met with the financial coordinator first, who explained how much the process would cost. I had been warned that it would cost as much as a down payment on a house so when she showed me the cost breakdown, I was surprised to see that it was considerably less than I had expected. God is so good. After the financial meeting, my mom and I met with the doctor who answered all of our fertility questions. He was a little concerned with the time frame I gave him (I have to get it all of this done before my surgery on Feb. 14) but he gave me a few options. One included moving the surgery date back a week, but I was not willing to budge on that. I knew that my surgeon at UCSF would not agree to it, either. The best option seemed to be the one that was the most "out of the box": test my progesterone, (if the progesterone was high) start four days of injections to induce a menstrual cycle, then start ten days of follicle stimulation injections, and finally harvest my eggs the Friday before surgery. He did a quick ultrasound to be sure I had all my lady parts and then gave me the order for the lab work he needed. The nurses had already suggested that we get the blood work done at our own clinic so that insurance would cover the cost. I made an appointment with my primary doctor's P.A. for this morning to get everything taken care of before I rode back down to school. Long story short I was able to get the tests done (praise God), my dad drove me to school, and my fiancee gave me my first injection. It was super scary...and I'm not looking forward to the next all. But I keep telling myself it will all be worth it in ten years...

Well, tomorrow is the first day of spring semester and I don't have class until 12:30pm. Not too shabby! :)

Please continue to pray that the remaining instructors will be willing to work with me and that I will be able to finish this semester. I am meeting with one of the professors tomorrow at 4pm to discuss the possibility of making accommodations to his class structure. Pray that the Lord will give me the words to say and the courage to say them. Pray for my fiancee and I as we do these fertility injections, that the Lord will take away my fear. Pray that I will be able to focus in my classes instead of stressing about all of the other things going on right now.

I thank You and praise You for the clear direction and guidance You have given me so far, Lord and I pray that You will continue to provide. You know the whole story, and I only know a few of the characters. I pray that you would give me patience until You reveal Your plan because I know it will be  far better than mine. Protect me in the days ahead, Lord. I pray all these things in Your powerful, healing name, Jesus. Amen.

Goodnight all!

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Romantic Valentine's Day...Surgery?

It was still dark outside when my alarm went off this morning at 4:30am. I took a quick shower, threw on the outfit I picked out the night before and grabbed some coffee after I brushed my teeth and we were out the door by 5:45am. My fiancée was working and my brother volunteered to watch the dog, so it was just my parents and I today. We made it over the bridge and into the city by 7:30am so we decided to find a Starbuck's to kill some time until my appointment at 9:15am. It was a beautiful day in San Francisco so there were plenty of interesting people to watch walking down the sidewalk in front of the Starbuck's window as I sipped my non-fat vanilla latte and munched on my mini vanilla scones. My mom and I imagined where each of them were going and I got so wrapped up in the story that I almost forgot why we were there.

We arrived at the neurosurgeon's office about fifteen minutes early, checked in at the front desk, and then took a seat in front of the expansive wall of windows. There was still fog lingering over the Golden Gate bridge when we got there but by the time we met with the nurse and then the doctor and then his office coordinator, the blanket of fog covering the city lifted. The doctor was busy across the street at the hospital so I met with his nurse practitioner first to review my past medical history. He reviewed my scans so that he could show me what he wanted to do.

After looking at my scans, discussing my history, and a meeting last week with my neuro-oncologist, the vice chair of neurosurgery at UCSF recommended another craniotomy in order to remove more of my cancer-infiltrated brain tissue. He said he would never go back in (or perform an extended resection) unless he could get at least 70% of what is left. There is a risk that I could lose some sensory function in my left foot/ankle but it wouldn't affect my motor function in that area. In other words, I will still be able to use my foot/ankle but if I were standing barefoot on carpet I might not be able to tell you if it was shag or burber. He is going to avoid my visual cortex so that I won't risk losing any of my sight.

My surgery is scheduled for February 14th, 2011, which means I will be able to go back to school next week! I will get two weeks of school under my belt before my surgery so hopefully I will be able to make all the arrangements so that I can finish the semester from my parents' house. I emailed my instructors this evening asking them to consider my situation and make appropriate accommodations.

I'm feeling okay about the decision to go ahead with surgery. I understand that I have a better chance at recovery if I start treatment with less cancer cells in my head. I'm nervous about having surgery in SF because I'm not as familiar with the hospital but UCSF Neurosurgery is in the top three in nation and #1 on the west coast so I shouldn't be too nervous. I'm honestly more anxious about being able to finish this semester than I am about the surgery. But the best part is: God's in charge of something as important as brain surgery but he's also in charge of something as insignificant as school. If I'm going to make it through this year I'm going to have learn to let go and trust Him with every part of my life.

I Peter 5:6-7 says: 6 So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. 7 Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. 

I turned our engagement announcement into the Daily Democrat yesterday and since we all know how reliable that paper's the photo just in case it doesn't actually get printed before the wedding. :) 

I will post more updates soon, but for now I need some sleep! Goodnight :) 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Day in the City

As I write this, lounging on the couch at my parents' house, I feel physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. Today was my appointment with a neuro-oncologist at UCSF. My family and I left the house at 10am this morning, armed with all of my scans, lab reports, medical records, and arrived at the UCSF Parnassus Campus at 11:45am. After some coffee and a bagel at the food court, we rode the elevator up to the neuro-oncology waiting room where I filled out some more paper work. 

The doctor invited us back to an examination room where she showed us my pre- and post-op MRIs. I was a little surprised to see that the post-operative scan had so much tumor left. My neuro-surgeon removed the high-contrast portion of the tumor but the surrounding area remained. The oncologist said this was standard procedure but said she would like to consider doing another surgery to remove more of the tumor using some more sophisticated imaging. This imaging would allow them to identify the surrounding brain tissues' function and hopefully avoid disturbing it. 

My tumor is a grade 3 anaplastic oligodendroglioma, with a co-deletion of 1p and 19q chromosomes. Grade 3 means it is a more aggressive type of cancer but the deletion of 1p and 19q means that it IS responsive to treatment (radiation and chemo). The doctor is considering another surgery in order to remove as much tumor as possible before we start any other treatment. She will present my case to the rest of the UCSF team this week, determine the best options for treatment, and then contact me by next Tuesday. They may decide that another surgery in this part of my brain would be too risky, but she said that if surgery is a viable option she would want to go in as early as two weeks from now. 

After discussing the possibility of another surgery, she shared three options for treatment with us. Radiation alone, radiation combined with chemotherapy, and chemotherapy alone. There are side effects and risks that come along with each treatment and since we aren't sure which one will be best for me at this point she just touched on a few including hair loss, fatigue, nausea, and damage to my DNA. She encouraged me to look into fertility preservation as soon as possible because I will have to freeze my eggs before I begin any kind of treatment in order to have any chance of pregnancy in the future. 

I shared with her that I only have four more months of school left before I graduate and asked if it would be feasible to begin treatment after graduation. "I wouldn't wait four months," she said with no hesitation. 

The thought of another surgery within the next couple of pretty overwhelming. But even more overwhelming and frustrating is the idea that I might have to wait to graduate. I am so close to being done! So close...But as my brother said, "This is your brain we're talking about, Maggie." I have to take a step back and let God handle it. This is COMPLETELY out of my hands at this point. No control...whatsoever...

So, what am I going to do while I wait to hear back from the oncologist? Well, first thing tomorrow I am going to call my primary doctor to find out about freezing my eggs. Then I'm cleaning out my closet. Literally. I'm going to go through all of my old stuff from high school and trash as much of it as possible. And then I'm going to register for wedding gifts with my fiancée. I know it's early, sounds like so much fun right why not?! 

Some of you have asked if there is anything you can do (thank you! :)), and my answer has been to please just pray. Here are some more specific prayer requests that I have at the moment: 
  • Wisdom and discernment for the UCSF team 
  • Clear direction as I make very important decisions about my treatment but also about my education
  • Patience and peace as I wait to hear back about another possible surgery 
  • Ease of communication as my fiancée and I live in different cities for the time-being 
  • Rest. I'm having a hard time sleeping.

Do not fear, for I am with you; 
do not be dismayed, for I am your God. 
I will strengthen you and help you; 
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10 


Sunday, January 2, 2011

An Important Update About My Recovery and the New Year

I have been thinking about posting for a few days now, but I have had a hard time getting started...The surgery has passed and I am feeling stronger everyday now. I have not had a seizure since Christmas Eve and I have regained more sensitivity in my left foot. The doctor may have disturbed a nerve during surgery that affected that area of my foot and also my left jaw--I can't open my mouth as wide on that side but my vision still seems to be the same. I am still on a steroid to reduce brain swelling and inflammation so I look a little puffy.

Thursday, December 30th, my parents and I drove to my neurosurgeon's Marysville office for the post-operation appointment. He needed to take the 22 staples out of my head and then discuss the pathology results of my tumor. He had already talked to us about the surgery during my stay in the hospital and at my discharge. My fiancee had to work that day so I remembered to throw the voice recorder in my purse to record the appointment for him. All of us felt so grateful that I had made it through surgery...we were all in sort-of a happy fog. We sat in the waiting room leafing through magazines and chatting about the upcoming wedding preparations. That morning marked seven months to go until the big day. The pathology was on my mind but I wasn't overwhelmed with fear or anxiety. 

The neurosurgeon invited us into his office and then promptly began to rip the staples out of my head with little or no warning. I grabbed my mom's hand and squeezed HARD as he yanked on each one. When he eventually finished and dabbed the tiny drops of blood away, he sat down and discussed the results. 

The tumor was found to be malignant, which means it is cancerous. Apparently, the preliminary results, which the surgeon had received on the day of surgery, had suggested cancer but my doctor had wanted to wait until he saw the next results before giving us the final pathology call. Goomer was the size of an apricot and was identified as an anaplastic oligodendroglioma. We are waiting for some chromosome test results to come back to determine how fast he will grow back and to figure out a treatment plan. My neurosurgeon said that he did not expect me to be able to return to school on time and suggested that I may have to take this semester off in order to receive treatment (some combination of chemo and radiation therapy). This spring is my last semester of college. I have received my graduation approval, I'm registered for classes and I am planning a short trip to Portland, Oregon to visit a friend for Spring Break. I am finishing the application process for the credential program which starts the week after graduation, and the wedding a month following...All I could think was...I don't have TIME for this! 

Everything happens in God's time and according to His plan. I was able to finish last semester before the surgery and now I have three and half weeks to regain some physical strength before spring semester. I feel like God has given me this time to circle the wagons with my family and to really "gear up" for the coming year. While there are still so many unknowns about treatments, time frames, locations, insurance...God has blessed me with peace. He has been faithful to heal me thus far and I believe that He will continue His work. 

The night before the follow-up appointment, I asked my mom to read my blog in it's entirety. Now that she's read it she and I both agree that the posts about my hospital stay and recovery need a little something, so I've asked her if she would be willing to share something from her perspective of the whole experience. She's still thinking about it so for now I will share some pictures from New Year's Eve. 

My neighbor and his wife took my parents, and my fiancee and I out to dinner on New Year's Eve at Il Fornaio in Downtown Sacramento and it was absolutely just what I needed. Delicious food, festive surroundings, a new outfit (a new silk top and a pretty hat with feathers), and wonderful company...what more could anyone ask for! Just as the meal was ending and we were about to head home, the pastry chef presented each of us with a personalized dessert plate. My plate said "Happy Healing, Maggie!" in chocolate ganache. We were back at my parents' house by 8pm and had a swallow of champagne at midnight before fading at 12:15am.

(A little puffy but happy to be out and about :))

(My personalized yummy dessert plate with chocolate mousse and raspberries!)

 The year 2010 was a very memorable parents celebrated 30 years of marriage boyfriend of five and half years got down on one knee in the snow in Ulm, Germany to pop "the question"...his father spent a week in the ICU with serious heart issues and has seen great healing and older brother graduated from college...I survived a craniotomy!! Praise the Lord! The year 2011 consists of so many unknowns for my family and I...but not for God. While I would loooooove to know what He has up His sleeve...I am comforted by Jeremiah 29:11:
 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

I am planning to continue the blog to update my friends and family about my recovery and about my upcoming year in general ( We will be seeing the oncologist sometime this week, so I will hopefully have more information very soon. Thank you for all of your prayers, love and support thus far--it has been a huge encouragement!!