Surgery #2 and Recovery

As most of you know, I had my second surgery for thyroid cancer April 26, 2013–almost exactly 8 months after my first. I’m surprised I haven’t written until now, but recovery has been difficult and lengthier this time.


I had my first surgery with a different surgeon at a different hospital, so I knew this experience would be different. However, I don’t think I was really anticipating just how much different it would be.

My parents flew in from California to be with me during the surgery and to help me afterward. I picked them up from the airport the afternoon before, and we made it to University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) hospital for my surgery by 5:30 a.m. the next morning. My surgeon showed up a half hour late , so I didn’t get rolled back into the surgery room until after 8 a.m.

When I woke up from my first surgery, my surgeon was right there reassuring me, and it was a matter of minutes before I was in a private room and with my family. This time, I woke up and no one was around me. While the nurse visited occasionally over the next hour and a half, I felt very alone. To make matters worse, I had an allergic reaction to something they used in surgery, which created intense itching under my skin from my sternum to my chin. However, since the nurse wasn’t around very often, he didn’t take the time to listen to why I was crying heavily (I hate to admit this). Since my voice was weak and my throat was in pain, I couldn’t raise a voice to alert anyone’s attention. Instead, I sat weeping in my bed, wishing my family was there.

Eventually after what seemed like a lifetime, a room became available and I was wheeled to a room and able to see my family. The itching intensified over the next 6 hours, without any relief. Since my skin was so numb and I didn’t want to scratch close to my incision, I was rubbing my chin and neck for relief, but my hands felt like they were touching rubber because of the numbness. There was no relief. It felt as though thousands of ants were crawling under my skin and I couldn’t do anything about it. It was truly miserable.

I have very few allergies and interestingly, one of them is Benadryl cream. I have taken Benadryl successfully by pill before, but the nurses didn’t want to risk any further irritation, so they did very minimal dose through my IV and gave me morphine just to try and calm me down. It didn’t get better until my dad convinced them to finally wipe down the surgical prep area. I was only itching where they would have prepped me for surgery, so Dad and I thought my reaction might be from whatever sterilizing prep they used on my skin. Sure enough, after they did this, I felt exponentially better within 30 minutes. Dad said the next day, there was a clear red rash. It was such a rough way to start recovery, especially after being back in a room feeling uncared for and alone for what seemed like an eternity.

The room I was in was a double, which bothered me mostly because my family couldn’t stay as long as they could have if I was alone. For the majority of my stay, I had a very noisy roommate, which made it very difficult to sleep, and without anyone allowed in the room from 8 p.m.-11 a.m., it was rough. I was so thankful when they let me go home to recover.

36 stitches and a drain!

36 stitches and a drain!

Physical Healing

After my first surgery, they sent me home the second day with heavy bandaging on my neck and nothing else. This time, I went home after three days with no bandaging, and I had a drain in my neck for five days. While it was bizarre to have to drain a bottle of liquid from my neck several times a day, it is clear that my incision is healing much better and with a much slimmer line than last time. It was also much more comfortable not having thick bandaging to deal with.

Removing the enormous drain

Removing the enormous drain

The surgeon removed 47 lymph nodes from my neck. Raise your hand if you knew it was possible to have that many nodes in such a small area? I didn’t. This is after having several removed in my last surgery and he even left one chain of nodes on my left side and cleared everything else out.

Forty-seven. Wow.

The swelling on my neck and chin was much more apparent and lasted much longer this time (I’m still slightly swollen), though I’m not surprised. He said some of the cancerous nodes he removed were imbedded in muscle in the thyroid bed. and after reading the surgical report and seeing some of the major maneuvering they did in my neck, I’m surprised my swelling was equivalent to my overall body weight. For example:

“After rolling neck contents into the internal jugular vein, a combination of sharp dissection using a 15-blade scalpel, as well as blunt dissection with a tonsil clamp and division with Bovie electrocautery, was performed to released the neck contents off of the internal jugular vein.”

GROSS (and kind of awesome). The first time I read “rolling neck contents,” I gagged a little. hah

My chin practically disappeared for more than a week. It was a beautiful day when my dad looked at me and said, “Hey, I can see your chin!” 🙂

The first day I really noticed the swelling going down.

The first day I really noticed the swelling going down.

My pain level this time around is also substantially more, as well as the area left numb. Last time, I was numb under my chin and around my neck and never gained back feeling. This time, I’m numb from down on my right shoulder up to slightly above my chin and my right ear is completely numb (I’m seriously considering getting a new piercing, since I can’t feel it!). At the same time, these areas also have bizarre sensitivity, where clothing and touching certain areas feels like pins and needles. Wearing shirts with a normal crew-neck collar is completely out of the question right now, and extremely uncomfortable.

When I came home for recovery, my pain level was high, but no medication was helping. Until yesterday, there was a constant dull pain in my shoulder and sharp pains that changed day-to-day. The dull pain has lessened, but sharp pains remain, especially when I have to take a deep breath–a sharp pain in the back of my neck shoots down my spine. I’ve tried the narcotics they gave me, with no success, and every kind of anti-inflammatory, to see if it stemmed muscularly but who knows. I saw my surgeon this morning, and while he doesn’t know why I’m having the pain I’m having, he’s not concerned. I’ve given up on medication, so I’m just waiting it out.

The good news is, I’ve lost 5 pounds.

Emotional Healing

Healing emotionally has been a bigger challenge this time around. After last surgery, I returned to letters/packages/cards from my friends all over the country–I felt so loved. I definitely feel supported this time around as well, but there have been many dark days as well, and days where I feel isolated. I am thankful my parents were able to be here for my surgery and that my dad extended his stay for a week to help me heal. If they weren’t here, the dark days would have been unbearable.

One thing I’ve learned over the last 8 months is how much harder this journey is the longer you’re on the road. The longer you’re dealing with the same issues, the less people ask and the more isolated it becomes. I have started to think about all of the people in my life who have been on similar journeys, and I wonder how many of them felt truly uplifted lately. I encourage you to do the same. If you know someone in your life who has been struggling with any kind of issue for a long time, while it may be old news to most people, it’s something they are dealing with every moment of every day. Reach out–Give a hug, send a card, shoot a text, show support, let them know they’re on your mind. It can make all the difference.

Lately when I lay in bed at night, all I can think about is how much I can feel God’s presence. For some reason, late at night in the quiet of my room, I feel closest to him. He’s tangible–real. I feel as though the worries on my heart are already in dialogue with the One who loves me more than I could ever comprehend. I often get overwhelmed, sometimes to the point of tears, knowing that He wants to walk this with me. I remind myself Jesus is enough… I don’t need anything else. I’m not sure this has ever resonated so strongly.

Law School

I start school May 29. It’s been a long time coming, and now it’s approaching fast. I was also offered a scholarship for housing downtown for a year. I signed the lease yesterday. Below will be my view starting this August:

Photo May 05, 1 43 46 PM

It’s a new year.

It is just over a week since the new year, and it has already been an eventful year. January 2 was my 23 birthday and early in the morning my sweet nephew Oliver was born! I am already in love with this little boy and we get to share our special day for the rest of our lives–I feel privileged.


Aunt Lydia and her little lamb, Oliver Daniel.

I spent a couple days in Indianapolis visiting my brother, sister-in-law and little Oliver. It was such a special time. I can honestly say, he has been such an inspiration of hope for me the last few months. I have been looking forward to his arrival, and I find some redemption in his birth on my birthday. Thankful for this little miracle.

When I returned to Chicago, my friend Matt was in town from California for his brother’s wedding. Matt and I played music in the Blue Devils and RCC indoor percussion for three years together, and it was wonderful seeing a familiar face. We ended up at a blues club that plays live music seven days a week. It was an awesome find.


New Year Resolutions

Some people are wary of new year resolutions and skeptical. I have never made many in the past, but I think the idea is lovely. It is a chance to make a fresh start and try to challenge ourselves and grow. This year I have made a few commitments and with so many questions about my future right now, they have rejuvenated my drive and given me a renewed sense of purpose.

First, I will be more available. Bob Goff, in his book Love Does, encourages his readers to be more readily available to others. He specifically refers to answering the phone, and not letting it go to voicemail. I am going to be much better about this, and this will be a huge challenge for me.

I have never been a huge fan of talking on the phone. I’m awkward, I often pace while I’m on the phone, and I never know how to end a conversation naturally. It seems silly right? If you have talked on the phone with me, you’ve probably quickly noticed this. In any event, I am putting my fear aside and being much more readily willing to answer the phone and not let it go to voicemail. Call me? 🙂

Second, I am going to learn how to live more sacrificially. With a group of 18+ other people, I am challenging myself to run 1000 miles (about 20 miles/week) and save $1000 throughout 2013. This money will send food to the Thai/Burmese border. With 18 people participating, we will run 18,000 miles and provide 274,000 meals for Burmese Refugees.

I hesitated to write about this, because I do not want this to come off as just as another “cool” thing I’m doing and to come across prideful. I share this will you in an attempt to share our deep rooted desire to grasp what it means to respond to biblical justice and respond to God’s heart for the poor and needy.

A friend of mine initiated this goal and talked about his goal to live more dangerously, sacrificially and generously in 2013. I am thankful for this challenge and for another year to seek those things that stir God’s heart–how special it is that he allows us to respond and participate in his story of justice.

More on this to come…

This May, I will run my first mini-marathon, and it will be soon after I have a follow up scan regarding my thyroid cancer (we will see if the first round of radiation did the trick). I can imagine completing this race will be quite an emotional experience, especially depending on those results.

Health Update

I have returned to the weight I was before I was diagnosed last August. I never gained that much, but it was enough for me to notice and enough to struggle emotionally. I had no control over my body, and it was certainly a struggle. It didn’t matter how much I went to the gym, how little I ate or how much I slept (or didn’t sleep), my body responded to the lack of thyroid and medication however it pleased.

I have always been able to control and maintain my health and body, and I didn’t realize how much I took that for granted. All of this was taken from me the last few months, and I was not emotionally or mentally prepared for it. I am thankful for the struggle and the time I had to spend reaffirming my identity  without the exterior I was used to. I’ve always been confident in who I am, but I didn’t realize how much I depended on my physical strength to present this confidence.

Here’s to a new year, improved health and new beginnings.

Here’s to new adventures.

Pushing Through Recovery and Seeking a Meaningful Story.

Two and a half weeks have past since my full thyroidectomy and lymph node removal surgery, and I am reluctant to admit that it has become difficult. The first couple weeks I was pushing through the pain of the surgery and the little inconveniences of recovery, but the process of healing in that regard was relatively simple for me to push through mentally. It was surgery after all, it made sense that pain would come, and it made sense that I would be down for the count for a week or so with all of the antibiotics and anesthesia in my system.

Now, however, since my wound is healing very nicely, and I’m gaining more mobility in my neck, I desperately desire to be able to go about life normally, but my body will not allow it. I feel very tired all day and while I can go out for a chunk of time–even the majority of the day or the majority of an evening–I cannot make it through a full day of walking around or even talking without getting exhausted. I really do not want this to be a woe-is-me blog, so please bare with my transparency and honesty.

It is definitely a mental battle. I have never been forced to rest for this long. I am used to being able to get up early, exercise, accomplish an extensive “to-do” list each day and feel pretty energized even at the end of the day. Deferring law school a year because of being diagnosed with cancer four days before starting was difficult, but not as difficult as dealing with the frequent thoughts I have these days:

“What are you doing with your life now?”
“Why are you just sitting there?”
“Why are you wasting time?”
“How are you helping others by laying on a couch?”

I have committed myself to a daily devotional each morning and have learned that if I read immediately when I wake up, I can read what I planned to before my nausea and exhaustion settles in. It has certainly helped start my day off on the right foot and kept my spirits high. I look forward to being able to read more throughout the day and growing more in knowledge and understanding. For now, it is hit or miss each day if I will be feeling well enough to read and comprehend. It’ll come though, I know that.

I want to make a difference in this world, and it is hard for me to be confined to my apartment for much of the day. I want to go out and talk to people. I want to love strangers, seek justice for the oppressed and pursue opportunities that place me in optimal position to impact people for good.

Right now, I need to seek more silence and prayer. There is nothing else I can do at this point, and I am finding peace in that. From living in California, working four jobs while going to school full-time and being part of a world-class percussion group to—-> moving to Chicago, being diagnosed with thyroid cancer, having no school and work only two nights a week for a couple hours…I do not think it is an accident that I’m being forced to slow down. It is time to truly evaluate what I want the rest of my life to look like when I complete radiation and get back to full health in the next few months.

I am so thankful that my favorite author, Donald Miller, just released a new book called “Storyline: Finding Your Subplot in God’s Story.” It looks like it is going to be an excellent resource for planning a life that has a meaningful story. I hope that while I’m quarantined for radiation treatment, I can spend time working my way through this book. I meet with my endocrinologist on Monday to talk about the treatment.

In everything though, I continue to be reminded of how blessed I am and how beautiful the people in my life are. Thank you for your encouragement and steadfast love through this journey. While I like to pretend I can do this all on my own, I am willing to admit that I am wrong. I would not be where I am today without all of your love and support. If you have made it through the end of this post, you are one of those people, and I just have to say from the bottom of my heart–Thank you.

“My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.” Ps. 73:26

My Story of Accepting God’s Love

Growing up I never had a problem accepting the freedom and grace that Christ offers us. I never had any problem understanding his motives, his love, his mercy, his kindness and now I am somewhat ashamed to admit this. While God’s intention is for us to accept and receive his grace and love, I think sometimes we do so too flippantly. Do we fully understand the weight of this gift? I didn’t.

During the last four years, I have learned so much about the character of God, the person of Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life. This has been an overwhelming experience. He has given me joy beyond my comprehension and has filled me with a passion to love people and to pursue His kingdom daily. 

“Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly.” Micah 6:8

However, the closer I have come to know Christ–the closer I have come to understanding a glimpse of who He is–the more spiritual warfare I have experienced and the more difficulty I have had to accept this  free grace.

I have become aware of how beautiful it is that in my brokenness, in my pain, in all the ways I screw up, Christ pursues me relentlessly with his love. In my fear, in my uncertainty, he calls me by name and declares his sovereignty over my life. I don’t deserve such love and devotion; I don’t deserve that he desires so deeply for me to know him. I guess that’s why it’s called grace…

Through this acknowledgement and understanding of Christ, the devil has stepped in and tried to strip me down to the core. The past several months I have had days where I am bombarded by thoughts of how disgusting, worthless, selfish and cowardly I am. These thoughts bring me to my knees in tears, crying out to God for forgiveness. I used to think this was God convicting me, but I realize now that it was actually Satan trying to lessen the impact of grace in my life. Many nights he won, leaving me beaten and broken.

“Accepting God’s kindness and free love is something the devil does not want us to do. If we hear in our inner ear, a voice saying that we are failures, we are losers, we will never amount to anything, this is the voice of Satan trying to convince the Bride that the Groom does not love her. This is not the voice of God. God woos us with kindness, he changes our character with a passion of his love.” Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz

A close friend recently told me that when Christ convicts us, it’s to draw us closer to Him, it’s to direct us back to Him. If thoughts of guilt and worthlessness flood my mind and there’s no directing back to God, then that’s not God’s voice. It’s the devil trying to convince me that God will not love me in my sin and brokenness. It’s a lie. Satan is a liar and deceiver, and he will do whatever he can to lessen my understanding and acceptance of God’s free love and grace.

I hadn’t experienced spiritual warfare before, but I can tell you, it’s absolutely real and incredibly painful. However, I can also tell you that part of me feels blessed to experience this, because I believe the devil realizes he’s losing me and that my life belongs to Christ. He’s trying so hard for me to not follow Jesus, but it’s too late, my life belongs to Him.

I now know that when I face these dark days and when I feel like I am not worthy of anything, that this is exactly where Christ comes in. His love, his peace, his grace and his mercy meet me there. He comforts me and reassures me that He will never leave me, or forsake me. He will love me despite my failures, he will be there in my suffering, his promises are true.

It is no longer flippantly that I accept Christ’s grace into my life, for I have a greater understanding of my need for him and how little I am without him. I am more thankful today than ever that he sacrificed everything so that we may live abundantly in him and with him. I will never be the same again.

Seek a Freshness of Vision.

“One of the tragedies of growing up is that we get used to things. It has its good side of course, since irritations may cease to be irritations.

But there is immense loss when we get used to the redness of the rising sun, and the roundness of the moon, and the whiteness of the snow, the wetness of rain, the blueness of the sky, the buzzing of bumble bees, the stitching of crickets, the invisibility of wind, the unconscious constancy of heart and diaphragm, the weirdness of noses and ears, the number of the grains of sand on the thousand beaches, the never-ceasing crash crash crash of countless waves, and ten million kingly-clad flowers flourishing and withering in woods and mountain valleys where no one sees but God.

I invite you to seek a ‘freshness of vision,’ to look as though it were the first time, not at the empty product of accumulated millenia of aimless evolutionary accidents (which no child ever dreamed of), but at the personal handiwork of an infinitely strong, creative, and exuberant Artist who made the earth and the sea and everything in them.”

–John Piper

Through it all.

I need to let go, and let God. I am continued to be humbled and put in a very vulnerable place.  I know that I will not make it through these next two weeks, if I do not come to the point of surrender.

I struggle with trying to control every detail of my life, and just when I think I can, Christ brings me to my knees and reminds me that His strength is so much greater than mine.  It surprises me that I continue to have this battle of control even though He has proven Himself more than worthy of guiding my life. What am I waiting for? Let go, and let God.  Come on Lydia, let go, and let God.

Read this devotional that met me where I am this morning:

Read Exodus 2:16–25

You’d better believe that Moses, though tucked away in a corner of that wasteland, heard the latest news from the travelers in caravans making their way up from Egypt through the Midian desert. When Moses learned the Hebrews were crying out, his heart must have turned over within him. But unlike before, he rested and relied upon God. He didn’t try to organize a rescue party. He didn’t slip back into Egypt as an assassin or saboteur. Not him! He’d learned that lesson.

Do you know who it is who keeps erecting all those unrealistic standards in your life? Do you know who keeps raising the bar beyond all hope of clearing it?

It’s you. You do. And so do I. Our Heavenly Father doesn’t. The psalmist tells us, “He knows our frame. He remembers that we are dust.” We think we’re finished because of our failures, but God says, “No, you’re just getting started. Press on!”

Our problem isn’t that we’ve failed. Our problem is that we haven’t failed enough. We haven’t been brought low enough to learn what God wants us to learn. We’re still trying to redeem Egypt single-handedly.

So what are you trying to prove? Who are you trying to impress? Why don’t you step off that treadmill and just be yourself? Plead with the Spirit of God to prepare you, then use you, however He pleases, dark side and all. You’ll be amazed how that takes the pressure off.

This very moment, you and I are the recipients of a gift from One who loves us just the way we are: warts, cracks, failures, and all. Since it is a gift, you might as well open your hands and receive it. Look, there—that’s your name on the tag, just underneath the ribbon.

The gift is called grace.

By: Chuck Swindoll