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Updates

Read the story as it happened. Starting with the first e-mail I sent to my family and friends, I've compiled my updates I wrote as the story unfolded. Take a few minutes to experience More Great as those who love me did. 

Update 0: September 21

Melody Raines

Well, friends, I moved to Austin two months ago, and life has been more
adventurous than ever. Most of you know that my little sister died on August
11, three weeks after I got here. Once again I have bad news. I found out
today that I have breast cancer. I don't really know any details at this
point. I'm going to see a surgeon tomorrow who should be able to tell me
more.
 
Here's what I do know right now. God isn't finished using me. Cancer or no
cancer, I can't go Home yet. While I wait for Him to finish the work He's
begun in me, He covers me with grace and peace beyond understanding.
 
Thanks for praying.
 
Melody
 
"But as for me, I will always have hope" (Psalm 71:14).

Update 1: September 26

Melody Raines

Dearest Friends—old and new,
 
I just updated all my e-mail contacts and made this group list for personal
updates. If you do not want to receive my updates or you want to receive
them at another address, please let me know. You won't hurt my feelings at
all. And feel free to cancel your subscription at a later date.
 
Because I added some of you to my contacts only in the last hour, let me
make sure I have everyone updated to this point. Here's the stuff you need
to know. Are you sure you're ready for this? It's rather shocking.
Seriously, take a big breath before you read this.
 
July 20
I moved to Austin, TX.
Aug 11
My little sister died in a car accident.
Sept 21
I found out I have breast cancer.
 
You okay? Alright, here's what's going on today. I'm having a lumpectomy and
lymph node biopsy at 3:30 this afternoon. I'll be back home tonight. I
should receive the pathology reports by the end of the week. We'll determine
future treatments after that.
 
For those of you who are already on your knees . . . I'm not asking people
to pray for my healing. I'm certainly not asking you to stop praying for
that, though. Wouldn't that make a great God story? But when you lose your
little sister, you gain a whole new perspective of life and death. I used to
think I believed in Heaven. Now I know I do. I'm so glad I found out about
this cancer after Ashley died and not the other way around. I've realized
that test results and health conditions are really not that important. What
is important is that God loves me. So when you tell my story and ask your
friends to pray for me, don't ask them to pray for my healing. Ask them to
pray that I'll know God loves me.
 
Thanks for letting Him love me through you,
Melody
 
"May your unfailing love be my comfort" (Ps 119:76).

Update 2: September 28

Melody Raines

Alright, who's praying? I've got joy all over me.
 
I need to clarify some things from Update 1.
 
I used a lot of medical jargon that I didn't explain. Sorry. The lumpectomy
was a surgical procedure to remove the lump and the surrounding tissue
("margins"). A lymph node biopsy involved surgically removing several lymph
nodes from right underneath my arm. The lump and the surrounding tissue went
to the lab along with the lymph nodes. I'm still waiting for test results
(the pathology report) to know if the margins or the lymph nodes have any
cancer cells in them. That information is what the doctor uses to "stage"
the cancer. Regardless of the results, I really feel like my chances of
survival at this point are, oh, about 100%. I'm just waiting for the test
results to tell me how hard of a journey I have ahead of me.
 
Please don't think that because I'm not asking people to pray for healing
I'm not expecting it. I'm asking people to pray that I'll know God loves me
because I think that's more important. Some have asked if the doctor has
given me a life expectancy. He hasn't. I'm expecting to live for a few more
decades. My future may be harder than I would have chosen, but I know God
isn't finished with this body. He still has plans for me.
 
"The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures
forever--do not abandon the works of your hands" (Ps 138:8).
 
See how everything else is centered around His love? If you're really
confused about how to pray for me now, you can borrow Crystal's prayer. I'm
sure she won't mind.
 
"When I think of the wisdom and scope of your plan Lord, I fall to my knees
and pray to you Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth.
I pray that from your glorious, unlimited resources You will give Melody
mighty inner strength through Your Holy Spirit. And I pray that Christ will
be more and more at home in her heart as she trusts in you. May Melody's
roots go down deep into the soil of your marvelous love. And may she have
the power to understand as all God's people should, how wide, how long, how
high, and how deep your love for her really is. May Melody experience the
Love of Christ, though it is so great that she will never fully understand
it. Then she will be filled with the fullness of LIFE and POWER that comes
from you God.
Now! glory be to You God! By your mighty power at work within Melody,
You are able to accomplish infinitely more than she would ever dare to ask
or hope. May You be given glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever
and ever through her endless generations!" (Based on Ephesians 3:14-21)
 
I've dared to ask and hope for some amazing things. Gloria in excelsis Deo!
 
Melody

Update 3: September 29

Melody Raines

After I scheduled my first biopsy, I drove home, walked into my apartment,
pulled my cheeks down to my chin and told God, "I wanna cuss." But I
couldn't think of any cuss words (No, Uncle Tim, I do not want a list).
 
"Well, poop!" is the best thing I can come up with today. I'm going to have
another surgery, probably Tuesday, the 10th. The margin on one side of the
lump contained residual cancer cells. The good news is that these cells are
in situ (had to throw in some Latin for you), which means they're not
invasive. They're just sitting there. This should be the last of the
surgeries.
 
And here's even better news. The lymph nodes are clean. That means the
cancer hasn't spread to other parts of my body. I have a word for that:
Hallelujah!
 
"May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in
you" (Ps 33:22)

Update 4: October 8

Melody Raines

It's been a wild week. Monday was my birthday (thank you to those who
celebrated with me). Tuesday I met my radiation and medical (chemo)
oncologists. Wednesday I had my pre-op appointment. Thursday I had an MRI. And Friday I met with my surgeon.
 
All the doctors agree that I need chemo followed by radiation treatments.
The surgeon will put in a port (catheter just under the skin, near my collar
bone) for the chemo during my next surgery.
 
I will also take a fairly new drug called Herceptin for a year or so because
I am "Her 2 overexpressed/amplified." I have no idea what that means. It
used to mean that my cure rate would be lower than the 80% of breast cancer patients who are not Her 2. But with the use of Herceptin, now my cure rate will be higher than the other 80%. Thank You, God, for Herceptin!
 
I got a little bad news this week, too. The MRI showed a suspicious
something on my left breast--we've been working on the right. My second
surgery is now postponed pending the results of the yet-to-be-scheduled
biopsy. So for the next few days I will wait and rest and enjoy using my
right arm again.
 
Thanks for waiting with me,
Melody
 
"The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his
unfailing love" (Ps 147:11).

Update 5: October 14

Melody Raines

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for waiting and praying with me this week.
The left biopsy results were BENIGN. My surgery to clean out the residual
cancer on the right and put in the chemo port (catheter) is rescheduled for
Tuesday, October 17, at 3pm.
 
"Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will
praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands"
(Psalm 63:3-4).
 
I don't take hand lifting for granted any more.
 
Thanks, everybody,
Melody

Update 6: October 18

Melody Raines

I'm amazed at the friends God has given me near and far. Some I've known for years, some since I've come to Austin. Laura, a young lady I worked with for two days in September, came over to dust and vacuum for me. My neighbor Michelle has driven me around town and attended social events with me. Marissa, my roommate who didn't know me until I moved in two months ago, has become my Gaius (see 3 John). My small group at church (the best community group ever) has fed me for a week and accompanied me to doctor's appointments. I introduced myself to them the night before my first biopsy. John and Ruth Ann, friends from my church in Dallas, have fed me, driven me, flown me, and walked with me through one of the hardest days of my life. And there's my friend who's eating every pink ribbon bagel she can find at a Nashville area Panera Bread.
 
And so many of you have prayed for me. Thank you.
 
But for those of you who are still asking how you can help, I have an idea:
Race for the Cure.


My incredible friends at Dominican Joe, the coffee shop where I'm supposed
to be working, have made it easy for you. They're forming a team in my
honor. You can join the Dominican Joe team with your feet or with a
donation. If you can't run/walk with them, you can Sleep In for the Cure
(seriously). If you plan to Go To Church for the Cure (the race is on a
Sunday morning), you can choose the Sleep In option. I'm sure no one will
check to see if you're really sleeping (in your bed or in the pew). Or if
you want to keep it simple, you can make an online donation. Go to the
Dominican Joe team page
 

http://www.komenaustin.org/site/TR?pg=team&fr_id=1040&team_id=19682
 
and click on my name to "Make a gift!" I hope to raise $479. That was the
price of my mammogram and first ultrasound. If I've already met my goal by
the time you donate, please donate under my teammates' names.
 
And, oh yeah, I'm home recovering from yesterday's surgery. I can still use
both arms. The chemo port is near my left collar bone. It hurts. I hope to
receive the test results from the right margin (where the residual cancer
cells were) by the end of the week.
 
Thanks for praying and for all those other things you do for me.
Melody
 
"Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love that we may sing for joy
and be glad all our days" (Ps 90:14).

Update 7: October 20

Melody Raines

Here's a note from Tasha, one of my former college students.
 
oh yeah, i wanted to tell you! i was in antioch's
prayer room. . . . i was praying for you & this lady came over to me & told
me
'i don't know the situation of your friend, but God
gave me a vision that there were two praying w/ her &
linked to them were more & more people. who ever she
is, she is covered in prayer by her fellow brothers &
sisters in Christ! God is holding her heart in His
hands' i was like wow! i thought that'd probably
encourage you =]
 
That's you, my friends! Thank you.
 
Now for the pathology report from the last surgery. . . . Bad. The cancer is
multi-focul, which means it's not coming from one source--makes me think of
mold spores. To get it all out, I need a mastectomy. Looks like I'll have
one on Nov 1. After recovery, I'll start chemo and then have reconstructive
surgery later.
 
Regardless of the bad news, today was a good day. Radiant Magazine posted an
article I wrote about breast cancer. They change the features every few
days, so check it out ASAP (www.radiantmag.com).
 
Thanks for being such a great support system.
 
Melody
 
"Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence
of death. When I said, 'My foot is slipping,' your love, O Lord, supported
me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my
soul. . . . the Lord has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I
take refuge" (Ps 94:17-19, 22).

Update 8: October 30

Melody Raines

Glossary of terms in this update:
 
1. chemo man -- my medical oncologist
 
2. HER2 -- a genetic protein that promotes growth. We should have 2 copies
of the HER2 gene in every cell. My cancer cells have more than 2, which
means they duplicate even faster than most other cancers.
 
3. port-a-catheter (port) -- a big plug for the chemo IV. Its about 1 inch
in diameter and sits maybe 2 inches below my left collar bone. It has a
catheter (tube) attached to it that runs over my collarbone and connects to
the jugular vein in my neck. Then it runs back down into my chest somewhere.
I can see the majority of this contraption bulging under my skin. I'll show
it to you if you want to see it.
 
Now for the update . . .
 
I found the perfect wig today. At first I told the saleslady I wasn't sure I
wanted a wig; I'm way too practical to spend so much money on something I
may not even wear. Then she put it on my head. I LOOKED GREAT! I'm going to
wear that thing all the time. I may even shave my head for a year or so just
so I can keep wearing it. Think of all the money I can save on haircuts.
 
Last Wednesday I met with chemo man, and on Thursday I went to chemo class.
My first chemo treatment will be on Nov 16 (I may have to debut the wig a
little early). I'll take 8 treatments--one every 3 weeks for 24 weeks (until
mid-May). Then I'll take Herceptin, the wonder drug for those of us who are
HER2 positive, once every 3 weeks for a year. So thanks to Herceptin, this
chemo port will be my bosom buddy for the next year and a half.
 
But I will have no bosom for a while. I'm having a double mastectomy on Nov
1. It's scheduled for 8:30 in the morning and should take only an hour or
two. It's a fairly simple surgery: slice, scoop, sew. Technically, it's an
outpatient surgery, but they want to observe me there at the hospital for 23
hours. That means I'm staying overnight. I hope they don't make me eat
hospital food.
 
Thanks for all your prayers,
Melody
 
"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7).

Update 9: November 3

Melody Raines

Next Halloween I'm going to be a mastectomy. For this year's dress
rehearsal, I'm hunched over a bandaged chest with drainage tubes coming out of each side. My left hand, arm, shoulder, and neck are swollen, and my
jugular vein is bulging. I look like half an angry Popeye. But the
port-a-bump is gone.
 
My surgeon removed my port this afternoon. I had a blood clot in the vein
it was using. That's why I swelled. Now I'm taking blood thinner injections
and pills (the meds begin). I'm mobile but trying not to bruise or bleed.
There are several infusion options (IV plugs) other than the port-a-catheter. Eventually I'll get whichever one chemo man recommends.
 
My surgeon informed me of a few things today. First, I'll Sleep In for the
Cure this year. I'll have to wear my pink survivor T-shirt over my pajama
top on race day. Good thing I ordered a size too big. Second, there was no
cancer in the left breast. The right breast did have more cancer, but the
margins were clean. That means we're pretty sure he got all of it out.
Yippee! I'm clean! Well, sort of. I can't bathe until Monday.
 
Thank you so much for your prayers and encouragement.
Melody
 
"A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, 'If you are
willing, you can make me clean.' Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out
his hand and touched the man. 'I am willing,' he said. 'Be clean!'" (Mark
1:40-41)

Update 10: November 15

Melody Raines

Things I can reach again:
1. the coat hooks on the back of my door
2. the tupperware over the kitchen sink
3. the paper plates on top of the refrigerator
 
I can also walk to my mailbox now. It's a third of an uphill mile away. And
the other day I carried a gallon of milk up the stairs to my apartment. Glad
I didn't buy a Thanksgiving turkey.
 
I am cleared for chemo tomorrow (Thurs) morning at 8:45. I had an infection where my left drainage tube was, but it's getting better. The blood thinners have dissolved my clot, and my blood counts are now at a safe level. The safe level means I don't have to give myself shots anymore. Yay! The only dilemma now is deciding which arm gets poked in the morning. I lost a lymph node on the right but had the blood clot on the left. Both sides have a low risk of swelling. It's chemo man's call.
 
I've heard that when you have cancer you have good days and bad days. I've also heard that the reason mountain climbers tie themselves together is to keep the sane ones from going home. Thanks for climbing this mountain with me--especially you sane ones. Even the bad days aren't so difficult when I'm tied to you.
 
Taking one step at a time,
Melody
 
"And how blessed all those in whom you live, whose lives become roads you
travel; they wind through lonesome valleys, come upon brooks, discover cool springs and pools brimming with rain! God-traveled, these roads curve up the mountain, and at the last turn--Zion! God in full view!" (Psalm 84:5-7 The Message).

Update 11: November 23

Melody Raines

Bia, a girl from my small group at my church, bought me a vanilla steamer
and told me how God had made her turn off her TV and pray for me. I tried to
explain how I feel when people tell me they're praying for me. I used words
like "special," "loved," "covered," "claimed by God," but I couldn't find
the exact word. Then Sannaz, one of my college students wrote me, "God loves
you so much. See how precious you are that everyone is praying for you?" Precious.
That's it. When I see how God has recruited an army of people to pray on my
behalf, I feel precious.
 
So thank you for the vanilla steamers, the meals and the non-chocolate
desserts, the free tickets you won on the radio, all the pink presents, and
the anonymous monetary gifts. Thank you for sitting with me through my chemo
session and cleaning up the side effects afterwards. Thank you for scrubbing
my big garden tub and washing and drying my hair. Thank you for sweeping and
vacuuming my floor, prying open lids and twisting off caps. And thank you
for praying for me. I pray God will show you how precious you are.
 
Giving Thanks,
Precious
 
"I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you,
I always pray with joy" (Philippians 1:3-4).

Update 12: November 28

Melody Raines

The port-a-bump returns. On the morning of Dec 1, I'm visiting my friends at
Seton Hospital again. I'll come home that afternoon with a new chemo port
and the accompanying bump on my chest. My surgeon plans to plant this one on
the right side. He'll make me symmetrical again with matching scars.
 
I'll get the port just in time for my next chemo treatment (Dec 5). After my
first round of chemo I was miserable. But this time I'll know better than to
stop at Bath & Body Works to smell all the anti-bacterial soaps. I had no
idea I would be so scent sensitive. I was violently ill soon after the Bath
& Body mistake. For the next three days, even the smell of tap water made me
sick. Once I started eating again, I met with my small group from my church.
Brook lifted the lid on the cake she had made. From five feet away I
commented, "Mmmmm. I can smell the icing." Now everything smelled good and I
ate everything I could smell. But it all tasted like cardboard. My olfactory
senses were overcompensating for my lack of taste buds. Aren't these
amazing bodies we walk around in all day?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olfactory
 
I hope you enjoy using your tastebuds today. I'm grateful for mine.
 
Melody
 
"Oh yes, you shaped me first inside then out; you formed me in my mother's
womb. I thank you, High God--you're breathtaking! Body and soul, I am
marvelously made! I worship in adoration--what a creation! You know me
inside and out, you know every bone in my body; you know exactly how I was
made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an
open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of
my life were spread out before you. The days of my life all prepared before
I'd even lived one day" (Psalm 139:13-16 The Message).

Update 14: December 5

Melody Raines

Thank you for praying for and helping me prepare for my chemo session today,
but it didn't happen. I don't have enough white blood cells. We're going to
try again next week (Dec 12). I have that
my-professor-gave-me-an-extra-week-to-work-on-my-paper feeling. Not only do
I get to eat for the next three days, but I also get to karaoke with my
small group tonight.
 
I'm up and about again after my surgery on Friday. The port is still a
little painful, but this time I don't feel like my head is about to explode,
and I'm not swollen from my fingers to my ear. It looks like I don't have a
blood clot. But it looks like I have a smaller port this time. The catheter
doesn't extend to my neck, which means my scars are not quite
symmetrical—pretty close, though. I also have a smaller bump now.
 
Okay, it's time to take my port into the kitchen where I will enjoy some
chicken parmigiana. That's so much better than Jell-O. Ahh, taste buds.
 
Melody
 
P.S. I'm doing my part to Keep Austin Weird (see photo).
 
"I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with
braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds,
appropriate for women who profess worship to God" (1 Timothy 2:9-10).

Update 15: December 15

Melody Raines

I borrowed my mom's update this time. For security reasons, I've changed my friend's name.

 

Dear Friends,

 

I am in Austin today. Melody had her chemo on Tuesday. Her blood counts were sky high (thanks for praying). I sat with her while they gave her the Red Devil and she is surviving. She vomited twice but has slept a lot. I'd rather sleep than vomit! Last night she began to feel stronger and I hope to feed her some real food today. I leave tomorrow morning to go home.

 

Melody's friend from Central Asia, Anya, is visiting, so I am spending the nights with Melody's friend Christy. Christy and her husband Ryan are a gracious young couple in Melody's community group. Another couple, Jocelin and Marcus, have offered their home to us to use for the Christmas holidays while they are in Hong Kong. I am always amazed at God's provision. 

 

You would be blessed to know Anya. When Melody went to Central Asia, she stayed with Anya for a few days. While Melody was sleeping, Anya read Melody's Bible. When Melody woke up, Anya began to ask Melody questions, and with Anya's provoking thoughts, Melody explained the plan of salvation. A few months later, at the urging of a fellow student, Anya accepted Christ and she is a bold witness. She has only been a believer for 2 years and is extremely knowledgeable about the Bible and its deep understanding. She is currently a student at Ohio University and visiting Melody for the holidays. Her education in the U.S. is another miracle. I love the fact that Melody only had to go to Central Asia and sleep for God to work His plan!

 

One afternoon I took Anya to the Univ. of Texas and the State Capital. We took the guided tour of the capital and after I explained to her what a hog was, she laughed out loud when the guide was talking about Gov. Hogg naming his daughter Ima Hogg. She loves repeating the story!! She is delightful and a joy to my heart. Maybe one day you will also get to meet her. 

 

I cannot explain the feelings of my heart. Sad, because my Ashley is not here. Glad, because I am greatly blessed to have had her in my life and know that I will see her again some day. Excited, because the Creator, and God Above All Gods, the I AM, cares about the smallest details in my life and has prepared my path. Blessed, because He uses you to reach out and love me and my precious family. 

 

Please continue to pray for Melody's healing and her endurance to have her mother stay and care for her! What is worse? Having cancer or having your mother live with you? <smile> Pray for Larry's surgery on his arm on Wed. Dec. 20th in Birmingham. And yes....he has to live with me, too!!! But, oh....he is glad!!!! Pray for Jennifer and me that we will stay healthy and survive all this attention Melody and Larry are getting! It is a great thing that Jennifer and I love to take care of people! 

I love and adore you. I brag about you all the time to my friends and to my Heavenly Father.

G

Update 16: January 1

Melody Raines

I wish you knew how relaxing it is to let a hot shower massage your bald
head. (Go ahead and "Amen!" that, Uncle Tim.) Tomorrow I'll have my third
round of chemo. I expect to lose the last of my hair by the end of the week.
 
Thanks for praying.
 
Melody
 
"We pray that you'll have the strength to stick it out over the long
haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength
God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into
joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in
everything bright and beautiful that he has for us" (Colossians 1:11-12 The
Message
).

Update 17: January 22

Melody Raines

6 months
1 move
3 jobs
No job
1 fatal car accident
4 surgeries
4 rounds of chemo
And "not a day goes by without his unfolding grace" (2 Corinthians 4:16 The
Message
).
 
Tomorrow: chemo and grace
 
Thanks, everybody.
 
Melody

Update 18: January 30

Melody Raines

A healthy female has 12-14 g/dL of hemoglobin. I have 7. That's dangerous.
That's why-haven't-you-passed-out-yet anemic. Unfortunately, my lab results
arrived after chemo man left for the day. The nurse will call me tomorrow
morning (Wednesday) to tell me if chemo man wants to retest me or send me
straight to the hospital for a blood transfusion. I have a feeling I'll be
making friends at the Seton NW blood bank.
 
Melody the Friendly Vampire
 
"In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins,
in accordance with the riches of God's grace" (Ephesians 1:7).