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Posts tagged “Sandra Peebles Pullen

Things I Learned from Cancer 101 (9)

Lobular Breast Cancer. Single file cells and c...

Lobular Breast Cancer Cells

by Sandra Pullen on Sunday, February 27, 2011 at 9:51am

You know that sinking feeling you get in your gut while standing on the edge of a cliff?  Yeah, that one.  Hold that thought.

Now, imagine that you have just been told to step off…………..

 There is nothing but air.   You will surely fall and die. 

Next, I want you to take that “feeling of fear”  and transpose it on to the face of every one you love. That is what the family of a cancer patient looks like………….

I am the oldest of five children.  Born and raised in a time when you never worried about your children playing outside, as a matter of fact, none of us ever considered staying inside on a beautiful day. 

A bicycle was the accepted mode of transportation.  Designer jeans were not an issue.   No cell phones for distraction.

You had everything you needed…your best friend and a dollar for a drink and a honey bun at the store.

You went to Church on Sunday, and Mom never had to make us go.  Our attendance was expected.

Life never got much more complicated than that.

Our family has been abundantly blessed with good health.   Grandparents lived to ripe old ages, after living a full and happy life.

The closest I had ever come to cancer was a paternal aunt with Breast Cancer.   It was so long ago, that I barely remembered it.

Then it happened.  The diagnosis. The surgery.  The recovery.  The acceptance. The establishment of “new normal.”

To rebuild  your life after the beast enters is not the easiest thing to do.  I did what I had to do. It never occurred to me to give up, to not do what I had determined I would do and be in my life.

But.. my precious family still had to deal.

Looking back, I can see that each of them dealt with the beast in their own way.

My brothers and sisters have always known and still do, that I am here for them. They can talk to me about anything. Sometimes I give good advice, and sometimes I just listen.

But I’ve always been here.

Now they had to face the possibility that I may not “be here” 

I know they love me.  I never doubt that, just as they know I love them.  We have and will always love each other.

If you know my family, you know these truths..

1. We are affectionate.

We love one another and  are not afraid to show it.  Hugging is acceptable. Kissing is optional.

2. We are loyal.

All for one and one for all.

3. We are always and I mean always here for each other. 

No one has to go through troubles alone, not with the Peebles Clan.

4. We are LOUD!

I know, but the truth is what it is.  I have watched many videos of us at family gatherings and the volume has to be turned down.

Like my daughter Shelley says, “It’s the only way to be heard in this family, to get louder than others.”

My family is very important to me.  I was taught that you “took care” of the little ones.  And I did that. 

I have been told, I did it so well, that I would take their punishment for them. 

Now before you get all “well she is just bragging” on me, wait a second…

I was only a little girl, and I certainly don’t remember doing it…….so it’s not as noble as it sounds. But… I would do it today in a heartbeat.

Just as they would for me.

But the beast was one enemy that they couldn’t fight for me. That one had to be dealt with one on one 

.Man to man.


Every brother, every sister that I have would have fought the beast for me. I know that, if they could they would have gladly done what ever it took to get me through the battle with the beast.

But in life,  there are some battles that are meant to be fought alone.  The only help you have or will ever have is HIM.

And that is all a warrior needs in a battle of any kind is HIM.

Please never think that I am better than any other survivor out there. I never felt special or singled out for any special or divine purpose.

I was just a working mother, with a life that I loved and a family that I loved.

Battling a beast as strong as cancer was not on my life’s agenda.  Or so I thought. Now, looking back, I realize that it is exactly what I was supposed to do and be.

It is a time of my life of wonderful lessons.

Lessons learned and hopefully taught to others through my struggles of how life can be lived.  And that the beast doesn’t always win.

Most of the time it wins, but there are those times that we can look at with new hope, new faith, new strength. Those are the times that we should strive for whether dealing with cancer or with the jerk who cut you off on Woodward Avenue.

Those times when you know you are loved, you know you are strong, you know you are the “best you can be”

You just know !

And if the battle with the beast is lost………………………..

What then???

Well, to be absent here is to be present……………where???

That is the question.

I love my family, they love me.

There are just no givens in life. No certain outcomes. No promise of another day. No guarantee that what you want is what you’ll get. Not one of us is guaranteed our next breathe.

But you are promised an eternity. Time without end.

A wonderful alternative to the beast

Eternity, what a lovely word

The next lesson I learned from cancer, and every day life is this.

Family is the heart of the matter

We don’t get to choose them. They are GIVEN to us.  I love that idea!!   This group of people were chosen just for me. This Mother, this Father and these brothers and sisters are mine.

There is no one in the world who has a family like mine.  The unique personalities and bond that we share is not so common these days.

I’m not saying that we are perfect…… just that we are perfect for each other.  Mom, Dad, Anthony, Beth, Bryan and Karen

You are truly my foundation.

Family…. The Heart of the Matter.

Things I learned from Cancer 101 (8)

by Sandra Pullen on Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 11:30am

When we mess up, immediately, we seek an excuse.  We’re only human.  How many times have you heard that?  Or said it yourself?

To be human is sort of a given, I mean, I doubt you could be anything else, right?

But to be human is not an excuse for mistakes.  One mistake is just that, a mistake……….but the second time you make the same mistake, it has become a choice.

Choice, choices, decisions  all equal  free will.  Just a little something that GOD gave us.  The freedom to choose.

Most of the time, our choices are good ones.   To go to the best college, who to marry, which dress to wear…….Roll Tide or War Eagle.  

Choices like this are easy to make.  There is not a lot of effort needed to make those type of decisions.Austin, Aaron, and Allison Pullen

I heard once…”I’d rather die than to take any more chemotherapy”

WHAT????   Are you crazy?

Now, I understand. It becomes a choice of quality over quantity.   So often choices we make are selfish, made with  ourselves as the number one consideration.

When it comes to a child with cancer,  decisions become  much harder to make. ” Well, there is no decision to be made. I want my child healthy and whole, no matter what the cost.”

We all do.

It’s our job as a parent, to want the best for our children and set out to obtain it.  But what if the best is painful?   During Austin‘s treatments,  I remember Aaron, my son casually mentioning a slight irritation with his wife, Allison.

Now being the mother that I am and that my children know me to be, I wanted to get defensive and take his side. But instead I found myself saying…”Don’t tell me about arguments because you are mine, and I love you.  I will always take your side, but………….you are not always going to be right.

Our heavenly Father is the same way after all, He is where we learn it. He is always on our side, even if and when we are not right, but yet He loves us.

The best for Austin was three years of Chemotherapy and oral medicines. On a particularly difficult day, we tried to give Austin his chemo med in pill form.  Every single time, he would throw it right back up. We knew how desperately he needed this medicine and we were desperate to get it down.  We tried, water, milk, cool aid, holding his nose, a syringe. Nothing worked.

I asked Allison to go and call the Doctor and ask if we could get this medicine in a liquid form. Maybe we could get it down and it would be easier for him.  By this time we were all in tears and Austin was exhausted.

Allison returned.  Her face pale and tired. She looked that way a lot for those three years.  She never stopped. Not once did she say, “I quit” She was strong and knew that she had to be for her son. That’s what we mothers do

“What did he say”  I asked “It doesn’t come in liquid form”  she replied. “Well why not? Don’t they know how hard it is for a two year old to swallow a pill?” “I asked him the same question.  He just said that it doesn’t come in liquid form because, babies aren’t supposed to get cancer.”

Oh my poor baby!   My heart ached  those three years for him.  My own cancer was never as painful  to me as his was for me.

Nothing about that time is pleasant for me to remember. 

Nothing about that time is happy for any of us. But I will tell you this…. I love that boy!  He is special in more ways than one.

The innocence of childhood protected him and insulated his little mind from so much.   He doesn’t remember some of it, he was only a baby. But he does know the way to St. Jude.   If he is in the car and see’s his surroundings, he can tell you really quick,  ” I don’t wanna go to St. Jude!”

Aren’t we all the same?   I don’t wanna go!   I don’t wanna!   I don’t want to have to deal with cancer, it is physically and emotionally painful.  Well, guess what?   Put on your big girl panties and deal with it!!   That is one place, one circumstance that you have NO choice.

You know what, if I find out there was a choice about this cancer business, I’m gonna really be pissed!!! I had no choice, Austin had no choice. Not about cancer, not about treatment.

The beast.   I hate the beast!  I wish IT would get cancer and die!!

Now, having said all of that, I want you to know………the next thing cancer taught me is that life is about choices……..good ones, bad ones, ones we didn’t make,  all of them come together to make us who we are. 

But, the most important thing to remember about your choices is this……………they always affect some one else.  We don’t get to be selfish all the time.  Our actions, though our own, affect the people around us. Whether for better or worse.

I choose to be happy, never trusting any one else with such an important part of my life.  My happiness.  It’s all up to me. You see GOD gives us that choice to make.  HE doesn’t coerce us, or force us to love him. 

My earthly father has never forced me to love him,  I just do!  I don’t question that love, it’s just there.

All I have to do is love him back.

And I choose to do just that………… him back

I choose life, happiness and most of all………..My Saviour

Choice……..means one of a number of things from which only one can be chosen

Only one…..Choose.

I did, and I didn’t need cancer to teach me that,  I already knew that!!!

The Pullen grandchildren…

form the circle of life.

The Pullen Grandchildren

Doug and Sandra Pullen's Grandchildren

The funny thing about cancer is…




Things I learned from Cancer 101 (5)

by Sandra Pullen on Tuesday, January 11, 2011 at 12:40pm

 The funny thing about cancer is….oh wait……..there is nothing funny about cancer! But, there is no rule that says one can’t laugh AT it!

And that is what I did.

Humor is a wonderful way to feed the spirit.  There is a rule at Nana’s house, if Nana thinks it’s funny, nobody is in trouble.

The problem with that is ….I think everything is funny.

Humor is found in circumstances that sometimes seem difficult to face, whether you believe it or not.  It just made dealing with my situation easier. I knew that if I did OK, then so would my family. They were watching me.

So, if I smiled, they smiled. It was a learning process.  I had never dealt with this before, so I just took it breathe by breathe. Some days I couldn’t even see day by day, it had to be one breathe at a time.

After surgery, the hospital sent a counselor or a helper or a busy body, I’m not really sure what to call her, but my friendly “counselor” came by my room just to discuss recovery options and prosthesis.  She brought me an attachment to wear home.

It never entered my mind that I would need something like that to look “normal” on my way home. 

It was just a small cushion that fit under my arm so that the front of my body resembled a normal female’s. Now I have always been blessed with curves, shall we say, so when I put the little cushion on , Doug and I both burst out laughing!

It was so obvious that this little cushion was not my size!  I looked at Doug and said ” they brought me 32 petite instead of a 34 long”   I still have that “little” (little being the key word here) cushion.

Laughter truly is the best medicine! To smile when you are concentrating on NOT throwing up is a real gift!

I used to tell my oncologist that I am the only person I know, who for six months, twice a week took chemo treatments and threw up on a regular basis and STILL gained forty pounds! 

Now, I don’t care who ya are, that right there is funny!

Steroids will do that to you, so they tell me.

The chemo room, or family room setting where our infusions took place was a huge, sunny room filled with recliners all around the room.

Some were big lazy boy types and others were small, petite ones.  So I made it a point to always find the small ones, because I could let my feet actually touch the floor.

While getting my labs done, (blood drawn) I asked Doug to go ahead of me and “reserve” my chair.

When I finished and got to the room, I saw an older man who was small in stature like myself.

I had seen him many times before but he always had a scowl on his face that made him unapproachable.

On this day, I determined that I would introduce myself and just see what happened.

Boldly I walked right up to  where he was sitting with his wife and said ‘hello, my name is Sandra, how are you today?”

Still scowling he looked at his wife and said ” Yeah, this is the lady that always steals my chair”

Now I just told you , that I find humor in strange places, so instead of being offended, I just smiled sweetly in return and said  ”  OK, you big baby, if you want your silly old chair, you can have it!”

Wait for it………………………………………..

The biggest grin spread across his face and I honestly thought he was going to laugh out loud!!

From that day on we enjoyed prodding each other with good natured insults. As it turns out, he was not such an ogre after all. He just wanted to be talked to and have fun.

In his own way, he was coping with the “beast”.

It is true, you really never know the things a person is dealing with or how they feel unless you actually get involved.

His is gone now, as are so many faces that sat in that room at that time.

I wish somehow he could know what an impression he made on me that day.

I had one of the sweetest nurses. Her name is Kim. I have lots of wonderful people in my life named KIM! Go figure!

On the first day of my first infusion, she was explaining how the chemo worked.

In an off hand way, she explained that it would make me sterile. Now at the age of 46, being sterile was not the tragedy that it might have been for some one else, so I just looked her in the eye and said with a grin……”Sweetie, you better hope it does, because if I get pregnant, somebody is gonna go broke around here!”

She still laughs about it to this day!

Laughter is defined as … the display of merriment through sound.  I love that!! 

I usually don’t wake up every morning with the intentions of being an ass that day, how ever circumstances often cause that result. But by nature, I am not generally in a bad mood.  I try very hard not to  project my moods onto others, and I hope that I have been successful.

Oh wait, except for that one time in Walmart to that lady who broke in the check out lane if front of me. Now that was a circumstance beyond my control. I had an out of body experience and while I was gone my evil twin, Julie took over and well, let’s just say…..even the cashier was apologizing by the time she left.

BUT, I did smile at her as she was leaving and told her to have a nice day.

Now that counts for something, right?

Oh, well maybe not.

My poor oncologist….poor Dr. Patel!

Not even he was spared my humor!  It didn’t help that my sister works for him. That only made him more vulnerable because we tag teamed him!

She would tell him that there was a lady in room two that just could not wait to see him, so of course when he came in I would take over.

I told him that he was the only man other than my husband who could get me to take my shirt off!  Being of Indian ancestry, I could never be sure, but I think he blushed!!

 I know that some of you may think it odd that I find humor in a life threatening situation, but let me tell you, each of us has the ability to see the silver lining!

It may take a while, but it’s there. Sometimes you have to look really hard to find it.

My diagnosis came right after September 11, 2001. The whole country was shocked. Every one was in a  state of disbelief.

You can imagine how, after all that had happened, how frightened I was.

I had to deal with the beast in my own way.

I discovered that laughter heals the spirit. A body is simply a house, but your SPIRIT is where you LIVE.

A sick body is sad to see, but a sick spirit is heartbreaking. The defeated attitude can sneak in before you know it, so one has to always be on guard.

It would have been so easy to sit and cry. To just give up and give in. Oh, trust me, I tried that. Not the way I wanted to live the rest of my life, but had I done that, I feel like I would have been letting down every person who loved me. My husband, my parents, my children. All the people who loved me and that I loved right back and more!

So, I just decided one day after my hair started to fall out that I would just stick my tongue out at cancer and get on with living.

The lessons I have learned from cancer are so valuable! How else would I have known how strong I am, or how much my body can endure without quitting?

How else would I have obtained the gift of compassion for others who are suffering, or the ability to show others that cancer is just a word, not a sentence?

How else would I have become who I am today without the tough schooling by cancer?

No, cancer is not what I would have chosen for myself, but without it, I would not be the ME, that I am today!

And the me that I am is not perfect but I’m not done yet.

I am not what I was yesterday, and not what I will be tomorrow, but I am me today! and the one thing I want all of my friend to know, without a doubt is this…………………..

If I die today, you are to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was HAPPY today!!!!  That is how I want to be remembered.

My children have been informed that I want a “drive-by” funeral.  Every body is to drive my  grave side and blow me a kiss then go home  and …………..LAUGH !

The next thing I learned from cancer is to laugh in the face of fear. I love to laugh. I believe even GOD  has a sense of humor.

If you don’t believe me just look at some of the animals he created. A hammer head shark?  Are you kidding me???

How funny looking is that?

A squid????? An octopus???  Come now, you gotta admit, that’s funny!!!!!!!!!!!!

LAUGHTER…..The display of merriment through sound!!!!!!!!!!!  ENJOY YOUR MOMENTS!  Even the ones tainted by cancer. I believe it pleases God, much like it would any parent to hear the joy in their child’s laughter!

Yeah, it pretty much sucks…

Sandra Pullencancer, that is.

Things I learned from Cancer 101 (4)

by Sandra Pullen on Tuesday, January 4, 2011 at 7:19am

Yeah, cancer pretty much sucks. It has rotten timing too.  It came between the two best holidays of the year, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  How is that for a gift?

I had just found out that I would need the lumpectomy, and of course no Doctors work on the holidays, so I had to get through Thanksgiving with a “happy” face. Minutes dragged by. That was the longest period of time in my life. So, the lumpectomy was done on a Monday. Fast forward the mastectomy on Wednesday. Thanksgiving was a blur. I was scared. I am not ashamed to admit it. I was terrified.The fear that is clearly seen on the face of every cancer patient I have ever seen.

One day after I finished a chemo treatment, I had to reschedule another appointment for the next week. As I waited at the front desk for the receptionist, I noticed at my right a young man. And then I noticed his face. And I saw it.  FEAR.

I knew that look…………I’ve lived that look.  It was the same throat clenching fear that I had become so familiar with.

I’ll be honest with you , I have no idea how to explain what happened next.  I felt the need to help him. To try to ease his fear in some way, or something, I just knew I had to do something, anything.

Before I thought about it or analyzed it, or tried to talk myself out of it, I found myself leaning over to the young man.  In a whisper,  I asked…”what you got?” His head jerked up and his eyes were startled.  “Excuse me?”   I sort of grinned and said ” I got breast cancer, what you got?”  I can still see his dark hair as he dropped his head and said quietly “testicular cancer”  I could barely hear his whisper.   To this very day, I don’t know how I found the courage to say it , but out of my mouth came “dude, it’s just cancer. It can only take your life. It can’t steal your joy, happiness and it will never take salvation if you have it. Don’t give it any more power than it has.”

As I made my appointment and turned to leave, an older woman whom I assume was his Mother, touched my arm.

“Thank you” she said softly, “he needed to hear that”  Her eyes were filled with tears. I just smiled and walked away before I turned into a puddle of mush.

I never knew his name or how his cancer story played out.  But for that moment, for a brief time,  even though cancer was all we knew about each other, we were kin.

Christmas was celebrated, just in an abbreviated style. You really can’t do much cooking or decorating when you are recovering from 2 surgeries. How ever I have the most amazing brothers and sisters ever! They all pitched in and we had food and good times as if cancer had never entered our world. I spent most of the holiday season in the recliner, propped up with pillows, but, all in all it was not a bad way to spend Christmas. The babies were my “get well ticket”.  Their visits were the best part of recovery for me.

On a particularly difficult day for me emotionally, my then 2 year old grand daughter, Ryleigh Katherine and her mom were over, and Ryleigh being the very observant child that she is, noticed that I had bandages.

“Nana, do you have a boo boo?”  I had to tell her the truth, but wanted to do it so as not to frighten her or let her think I was “hurt” so I carefully explained that I did have a boo boo, but that it was all right and did not hurt. She quickly scrambled down off my lap and left the room.

  I just figured she was off to play, really not thinking much about it. After a bit, she came back into the room and climbed back up into my lap and ever so gently she touched my cheek with her little hand and said, “when I have a boo boo, my mommy puts lotion on it” and proceeded to rub baby lotion on my face with the most determined look on her small face. It was the sweetest touch I have ever experienced. Her little hand with a blob of lotion on my left cheek was the most precious moment I have felt in my life and if I live to be 90, I’ll never forget that moment. MY moment, the moment, I savored and  knew, that everything was OK, whether I lived or died she loved me NOW! and NOW was all that mattered. Not tomorrow, not yesterday but now!  Oh the healing touch of a child! 

I cry now remembering how I felt that day. As soon as I had gotten back to work, one of the first things I did was get her into the office and make a photo copy of that little hand next to mine and had if framed. If you are one of my patients, you have seen it.  Now you know the rest of the story.It hangs in a place of honor and if the building ever catches on fire, that is the first thing I’m grabbing on my way out! Precious memories amidst a storm. I can vaguely recall some of the pain but I vividly remember the joy, oh  the precious joy of a child’s touch, I will always remember and cherish.

To view cancer through the eyes of a child was an emotion I never expected to experience in my life time. Our approach to all things should be with the faith and trust of a child. Easier said than done.  The faith of a child, the blind trust of a child is a wonder to see. Not because it is so sweet, but because that is the way HE tells us to be. HE wants us to trust him like a child trusts his parents. To love him without question as a child does his parents. When we are afraid, to take his reassurances to heart, like a child. Faith is so easy to say but not so easy to PRACTICE. One has to make your faith work, and by that I mean, to exercise it. How does one exercise faith?

Let me explain how I did it. When my children started driving, my prayer life expanded. I spent a lot of time praying for their safety. I would not stop until I saw headlights coming up the drive. This was done out of fear (that word again) as Doug and I had lost a niece in a car accident when she was 18, many years before. So when our children started to drive to school, I would pray, Dear Lord,  let them have traveling grace, just keep them safe and from harm’s way, then just to make sure God was doing his job,  I would drive past the school parking lot on my way to work.  Now how is that faith?? 

Oh, don’t get me wrong, by no means am I claiming to have the answers or to know it all, heck, I’m not even claiming to be a good person. I just claim to be a child of the king who has learned a lot of tough lessons from an illness that I wish no one had to suffer from.

No, sweet friends, I have no magic words of wisdom, no special phrases of wit, just a heart filled with knowledge that no matter how rich you are………cancer doesn’t care.  No matter who you love…….cancer doesn’t care. No matter who loves you….cancer doesn’t care, and there in lies the secret.

No one is exempt. It could just as easily have been you writing this story of lessons. The fear is the same for all of us. I feel safe in assuming that every one with a diagnosis of cancer has fear. The defining moment comes when you decide what to do with that fear. Do you carry it around and nurse it so it grows and takes over the time you have left?  Or, like myself, do you decide to stick your tongue out at it and fight!!!  

  With a cancer diagnosis, faith grew. I had no where else to go. I had no control over who would be the winner in this breast cancer battle, only HE knew the answer to that.  So the next thing I learned from cancer was………..FAITH and how to make it work.  Hey, that sounds like another book!  ;  )

Savor your moments…

and make them last.

Things I learned from Cancer 101 (3)

by Sandra Pullen on Thursday, December 30, 2010 at 6:28am

To savor means to enjoy something with unhurried appreciation.  My diagnosis came at the age of 46. I know, not so young but I was still reveling in the joy of being a Nana.  My grand daughter Ryleigh had just turned two and my grandson, Trey was only 9 months old.  His giggle echos to this day in my head as  I remember how he loved to jump in my lap as I sang “Five Little Monkeys” Such a happy time.

The night before my mastectomy, I sat in the floor and played with them, crying and “savoring” them. I knew it would be a while before I could hold them so I “savored” them in my arms. They were so unaware. The blessed innocence of

Pullen Grands

The Circle of Life

childhood. The un-knowing-ness  (If that’s not a word, it should be) of their play was so sweet.

Not one of us knew with certainty what the outcome of the next day would be.  Had the cancer spread? Were the lymph nodes involved?  Was there other cancer?  Would these two precious little wonders remember me if I should die?  Who would tell them how very much they were loved by their Nana?  Would they really ever know how much I loved them?  I was  afraid, not of dying, that is the one certainty in life, but of being forgotten. To just be one of the faces that disappeared and was no more. I could not bear the thought of being forgotten. I knew how special a grandmother was, I had mine until I was 55 years old, and , oh how I loved her! I so wanted to be here for them.

  The grand babies were going to be fine, but what of my children?  My daughter and two sons were scared. It showed on their faces, but they were young.  My Mother and my little Daddy were another story. I was supposed to be around to help take care of them.  What if I wasn’t able to do that?  My daddy cried every time I looked at him. My precious mother had a shell shocked expression. She doesn’t handle fear well at all. I just wanted to take care of them all, and I was terrified that I was not going to be around to do it.  My husband, my sweet Doug, never missed a treatment. Would go and bring back burgers for anybody who needed one. In sickness and in health and he proved himself to be faithful. He is truly my better half.  But what if????   What would he do without me?  Who would tell him to pick up his dirty clothes?  Who would remind him to cap the toothpaste, or remind him to take his medicine?  The little things became so much more important and the big things that we used to worry about faded away.

  What were we going to do about cancer? So many thoughts, emotions, fears to face.  Talk about emotional overload, I was eat up with it!!

So surgery the next morning. I don’t remember much about that time, this is the part that gets a little fuzzy, thank heaven for good drugs. I had an incision from the center of my chest ,across and under my left arm.   And drain tubes, oh my goodness, THE  DRAIN TUBES!!!

People let me tell you………..drain tubes are created by Satan, straight from the bowels of Hell!!!

For those of you blissfully unaware of what those evil things are, allow me to enlighten you……..picture this….two small plastic bottles with caps, from which a tube extends. Now this tube travels into my body, up my chest and into the front part of my arm, a good foot and a half of tubing.  The way this works is like this..  The bottle is compressed and capped while collapsed, so as it expands the suction pulls fluid from the chest which allows the muscle to reattach itself to the chest wall.  I know sounds gross, but you should of been there! So the fluid drains. Now you get to keep these nifty little gadgets until no fluid is collected.  For me that was about 8 weeks for one tube and 10 weeks for the other.  After that amount of time, the incision that holds the tubing in has healed.  So has everything else, which means the tubing is stuck in my chest wall and guess how the Dr. takes it out????????????  Oh yeah,  he says “take a deep breathe”  and proceeds to PULL it out.  Oh yes!! with a mighty yank, out it comes. I could have sworn it was wrapped around a wisdom tooth, it hurt so bad!!

   I have never had to have another person tell me to breathe, but on that day, Doug had to shake me and yell breathe!!!  Not fun, and not something I ever want to do again. 

So, the healing began. Long days of ignoring the left side of my chest. Just pretending that if I didn’t look at it, it was OK. The longer I ignored it, I could delay the inevitable.  I knew I had to face the fact that my body was different, but I was not ready. When the time came, after drain tubes were out, the bandages came off.  Reality would not be ignored any longer.  I had decided to take a bath. So with the tub filled with a wonderful scented bubble powder and refusing to look in the mirror, I stepped in.  I took a deep breathe…….and looked down.  I remember putting the wash cloth over my mouth so Doug would not hear me cry….but he did.   This giant man knelt down beside the tub and said ” Mama, it’s not so bad, really it’s not.  It’s OK!  I knew, I finally knew,  I could do this. The first step in reconciling my heart and my head to deal with cancer had been taken. I can do this. I CAN DO THIS!   And I have. Cancer may win in the end, but I’ll die trying to kick it’s butt!

The days of waiting for results was agonizing.  The tests to see if I had lymph node involvement was agonizing.  Patience, hurry up and wait. Not my strongest attribute.  I hate waiting.  The news was good. Thank you GOD!  Finally, something was going in my favor!!  No involvement. Now onward to chemo!!  I figured, the sooner I got started, the sooner I would be finished.  I learned this about myself……….I am a fighter!   Now let’s get this show on the road!

The next thing cancer taught me was……I am strong!  I am a much stronger person than I ever believed it possible to be. I know where I get it, it comes from my Father.  Without his strength, I have no power. I am woman, hear me roar.  Patience, strength and courage, that became my prayer.  When I knew something was going to be particularly painful,  I said my mantra over and over in my head.  Never once did HE fail me.  Not one time when I asked did HE say no.  I am such a lucky child that my Father loves me so much.  This I know!!   I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  

   The next lesson cancer taught me was   I AM STRONG  IN HIM!   Fear, to Savor each day,  and where my strength is found, just the beginning of lessons learned.

When hurt hits home…

 Alabama girls become steel magnolias.

Things I learned from Cancer 101 (Part 2)

by Sandra Pullen on Tuesday, December 28, 2010 at 7:05am

The first lesson I learned from cancer was  FEAR. To learn to cope and keep the monster at bay. Took a while to master the art of hiding…fear…but after the first couple of chemo treatments, I could do it.  I put on the brave face. No one knew how often I threw up or  how really bad I felt until  THE DAY!  

The day my hair started to fall out.  Those of you who have known me a while, will remember that I have not always been the spiky haired wonder that I am today      ; )    I kept my hair short, just because it suited me, and let it be its natural color which is gray. It just got to be too much to fight cancer and mother nature at the same time. It was the first of the new year 2002. I had showered and put on a cute new sweat suit, navy of all colors!  Blow dried my hair and went into the den to sit in my chair. I still had external drain tubes at this time, still healing. Got in the chair, got all

Sandra Peebles Pullen

Sandra Peebles Pullen

 comfy and looked in my lap. There it came again…….FEAR.  I saw strands or clumps or whatever you use to describe them, it was my hair!!   Clumps and clumps all over the navy lap. I was processing this when the phone rang. To my utter horror, it was my little Daddy, just calling to see how I was feeling.  Fear had closed my throat, for the life of me I could not even say hello.  I mumbled something about calling him back.  Then came the sobs, no sobs is not a big enough word for what I did.  I grieved!  The Doctors had told me I would not lose all of my hair, but I was so not prepared to lose so much! 

Oh well,  it was only hair after all.  I didn’t have to shave my legs for about 9 months while on chemo, and that, my friends is the only positive thing I can say about chemo! But enough about hair……

What is normal? Normal is subjective. For some it is routines that remain constant, 24-7. Others have to re-define….normal. Normal for me is getting up every morning and putting on a prosthesis, not unlike those who have to wear an artificial limb. Nothing special, it’s just my new normal. Really sucks when you forget where you put said prosthesis or heaven forbid, you lose it.  I have done that by the way, found it hiding under the bed.  In case you are wondering a prosthesis is a rather pricey little attachment that fits inside a special bra that makes me look “normal”.  They can be had for the every day price of three to four hundred dollars.  I know!   Almost four hundred dollars for a hunk of rubber molded to look like a breast.  Oh well, I don’t make the rules.  How can a hunk of rubber look like a breast you ask, well let me tell you …. It is flesh-colored and it has a small concavity that shapes it to your chest. All in all, a rather neat invention. I have no idea why they cost so much, thank goodness for insurance!  It is a cute little pink thing.  I suppose the little bump in the center is  the manufacturers idea of what a fake nipple looks like.  As fake nipples go, it will do.  I laugh now remembering when I got my pathology report and it said “nipple unremarkable”   Pissed me off to no end!!   I told my oncologist that it most  certainly was remarkable, it nourished and sustained 3 babies!!  I call that pretty dog gone remarkable, don’t you?

While taking chemo at the Northwest Alabama Cancer Center, I made lots of friends.  Most of them are gone now. Weekly treatments were taken in a huge room, much like a living room. There were recliners, big comfy chairs to make the IV infusions more “comfortable”  Oh yeah, they helped, trust me.  You lay back and let the toxic chemical do it’s job. It made for a very long day. Infusions usually took 4 to 6 hours.  There was tv but nobody could agree on what to watch. Eventually we got to know each others names, until I realized after a few weeks, some of the faces changed while others just disappeared.  How sad to think, laughing and talking one day and the next, no more. A happy lady sat next to me for a while, and used her time to put on her makeup. She wore really red lipstick and turned to me to ask “Do you think this is too red?”   “Oh no!  Dear, there is no such thing as lipstick being too red!”   I remember the smile she gave me.  I think it pleased her that I “got” it.   She had no idea she was talking to the purse, shoe and lipstick queen who never allows her naked ears or lips to be seen in public!  Those are the moments to savor! And that my friends is the second thing I learned from cancer……………TO SAVOR THE MOMENTS!!   And oh what moments I have had to savor!!!!

Things that an Alabama girl learned from cancer…

 Things I learned from Cancer 101, Chapter 1

by Sandra Pullen on Tuesday, December 28, 2010 at 7:05am
External (gross) appearance of a mastectomy sp...

External (gross) appearance of a mastectomy

Fear is a killer.  When you first hear the words that give voice to your diagnosis, fear is the first emotion to hit you in the gut. It is a paralyzing fear that grabs your throat and squeezes…..tight…….until you feel like you’re going to pass out.  For me, when Dr. Copeland entered the room, I knew.  I held up my hand and said “if you have any good news, I want it first”  He threw my chart down on the table and looked at me, square in the eye, ” We caught this as early as it is possible”

Then, I could breath again.  One deep breath, “now tell me the bad news.”  Both tumors are malignant. OK, now what?

I had enough medical knowledge to know what a mastectomy was, so that in itself did not frighten me, but some how, the word “chemo” did.  Go figure,  surgery not so scary, losing a body part, not so scary but chemo made me FEAR.

I had known people who had done chemotherapy. They always looked so “sick”  No hair, pale and weak, so opposite of me.

I have always battled a weight problem. Food is my drug of choice. It makes me feel good.  Never once did I look , pale or sick. I was the picture of health.  Robust health.  The word cancer was foreign to me.

Oh, I knew what it was, but that is something that happened to other people.  Other people got sick and died.  Not my family, and certainly not ME!

 So with that ,November 28, 2001 became a date that is forever engraved in my mind. Not likely to forget that one, nor the December  day that started my journey to recovery. 


What a strange word, chemotherapy.  Why is it called therapy?   That sounds  cathartic, almost cleansing.   SOOOOOOOOOO not what chemo is, at all!!

 So, for six months I did the “therapy” where they gave me toxic chemicals twice a week.  I took a cocktail mix of three cancer drugs……Cytoxin, Methotrexate, and my favorite of all cancer fighting drugs………..ta da……5-FU!!    No seriously, that is what it was called.  I loved my 5-FU.  The coolest of all cancer drugs. I could just see those 5-FU toxins entering my blood stream, searching for cancer cells all bad ass and mean!  I always wanted my 5-FU first!

All of this was after a bag of Zofran for nausea, and Decadron (steroid)  so you felt like sitting up and taking your toxic medicine.

After all this time you would think that the memory of that time would fade slightly.  Nope!   I remember it like it was yesterday. All I know is the FEAR is always near.  Some days I can feel it breathing down my neck.  It hovers around me like a ghost, whose presence is  seldom seen and only occasionally felt. That is when I tell myself……..cancer is only a word. It has no power. I have made a decision not to give it power over my life. Cancer only has the power to take your life. It can not steal my joy, my happiness, and it certainly has no power to steal my salvation, my gift from a loving father who knew me before I was born, who wondrously  and beautifully formed me!!    Take that cancer!!!   My  DAD can whoop your dad!

Cancer has taught me that life is indeed, fragile. There are no guarantees  given. We are not promised tomorrow. Not one minute is a given. 

I have learned that life is a school. What we learn here is preparing us to be what HE wants us to be.  No, I do not believe that God gave me cancer.  I do believe that  there are things here on earth that are under Satan‘s influence. Cancer is simply a product of this environment, not like air or water, I mean the environment we inhabit. Our earthly environment.  I wish I had the answer to all the questions, but of course, I don’t.  But by the time we get the answers to the questions………………….I don’t think the questions will matter so much.

Now 9 years later, I still remember the fear. Funny, but I can’t recall the pain, just the throat clenching fear.  Little did I know that there was something coming that was so much worse than my cancer. Only three years after my diagnosis came the worst day of my life. The day that my 2 year old grandson Austin was diagnosed with………………………… guessed it cancer.   Man, how I hate that disease!!    To steal a quote………..cancer sucks!!!