Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Runny Nose Saga

Tomorrow is the last day of 2010, and I'm thinking it's OK to see it go.  It was not the best of years, and perhaps not the worst, but I will be glad to see it go.  A new year always comes with plenty of promise and hope; and lots of new plans and goals. " It's a good thing", as Martha would say!

My husband and I still have our miserable colds.  Today we decided to play hooky from life and just be lazy all day napping and watching TV from our bed.  And we both actually did sleep and must have needed it.  I know coughing and stuffed noses have kept us both up during the night for a few nights and I, for one, was plenty tired.

I was beginning to realize that my nose has been "running" for a fact, since I began this treatment.  Plus, my eyes are always "watering".  I do have dry eyes and use drops, but as I thought about it, this has also increased since this latest treatment.  So I did a little on-line research and found that a "clear runny nose" and "runny eyes" have been experienced by a lot of patients who have been on Taxol.  I'M NOT CRAZY THEN!  It seems this is another side effect experienced by some people.  It reminds me of how I get with my allergies, and how the only thing that helps is Claritin.  And low and behold...that is exactly what my fellow patients have been taking to slow down the constant running from nose and eyes.  One patient told a story of getting stopped by a police officer for a broken taillight and having to convince him that her runny eyes and nose were not caused by drugs...but by her chemo!  Another patient, a teacher, mentioned having tissues in every corner of the room and in every pocket she owned just so she could catch her runny nose before it fell down her face and embarrassed her in front of her students.

Because as gross as it is to talk about, that's how out of control it is.  You lean over and it just pours like water out of your nose!  Or you are standing there talking to someone and realize that you had best make an excuse and find a tissue fast!  I thought it was all due to the cold, but now realize it is just another added "extra" from the new treatment.  There is just no end to all the little surprises along the way.

So today I went and got my Claritin and indeed, it is a little better.  I also don't find myself coughing as much from all the darn fluid flowing out of my body and I hope it will also somehow help me get rid of this cold.  Feeling tired as much as I do, I don't need this cold dragging me down any further.  I've got a lot of stuff coming up I need to attend to.

That's my story for today.  Tomorrow night as you welcome in the New Year, spend some time thinking of all the blessing of this current year and how you have grown as a person through your experiences.  Then look forward to this New Year with all it will bring for you and your family.  And I hope it brings only good things!  Happy, Blessed New Year to all!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ebb and Flow

My husband and I have had miserable colds.  I get this dry cough that has just been driving me nuts...and making me wonder if I was going to be able to get chemo today.  I wasn't sure yet what constitutes the borderline for "chemo" or "no chemo" (I feel like I'm talking about a game show).  My oncologist is away in Florida seeing her in-laws, so I saw another doctor today.  And my husband is right...she looked even younger than my oncologist!  It's funny how doctors are getting younger and younger (could it be I'm getting older...nah..)

But I was given the stamp of approval and permission to get my 3rd round of Taxol chemo.  YEA!!  I even told her the whole story of my cold and just how horrible my cough sounds at night.  And still, it was OK!  My anemia is improving also.  I am now at 10.2, up from 9.5 last time (11 is "normal).  So I was a "happy camper".

The place was hopping today!  With the snowstorm that rocked the east coast Sunday through Monday, the cancer center was closed yesterday.  That meant the patients there today were the ones scheduled for yesterday AND today!  They needed every seat in the place and a lot of the "guests" of patients were told to go to the waiting room so they could use the guest chairs for patients who needed them.  People were coming and going all day long, and the nurses were just running around getting everyone their meds as quickly as they could.  It reminded me of the ocean and how it can be fierce and then calm; high tide and then low tide; the ebb and flow of a day at the beach.  

It was a quiet group at first.  I think everyone was just tired from the holiday and the snow day.  There was a nice woman next to me, who was accompanied by her daughter-in-law, who was getting a treatment for the first time at the cancer center (she had already received one treatment from a hospital).  I heard her asking the nurse about her port and could tell she was nervous about it.  Knowing how it felt to go through the unknown, I was able to lean over and let her know just what would happen and how it would feel and that it would be OK.  I know I wish someone could have done this for me.  It felt good to be able to calm her a little.  I also talked with a woman across from me who was diagnosed about the same time I was (during the summer),  She is already done with surgery (and had the double mastectomy), had been through the "red devil" (and had a hell of a time like I did), and was now also getting the Taxol.  Only her regimen had her on the higher dosage, which is once every three weeks, for four treatments.   She is having a lot of problems with "restless leg syndrome" and with her feet.  I was secretly glad to be on the lower dosage since I have not yet had too many problems.  In fact, whatever little problems I have (dry mouth, sensitive teeth, still no hair and losing some eyelashes, tiredness, heavy legs, and "chemo brain") seem so small in comparison to what I went through on Ms. Devil herself.  I still am not sure if there will be any symptoms that will pop up as I go along, but for now, everything is "not bad".   Quite the ebb and flow from one treatment to another. 

Once again I slept through the treatment once I got the Benedryl.  I usually get  a saline drip; a "flush"; my pre-meds of a steroid, an anti-nausea drug, Prevacid, the benedryl; flush; Taxol; Herceptin (which also has its own side effects); another flush; an injection of Heparin into the port to ensure there are no clots; then the port needle is taken out and I am ready to go home.  I might have forgotten something (or actually, have slept through something), but you get the idea.  Each of these meds just drips into your line at a rate that is determined to be best for you.  That is why some drips take an hour, some can take three or four hours.  And when it is backed up like today, it can take even more time.  We were there at 10, and left today at 4....a long day.

I am now down to 9 remaining treatments!  As my husband said, "We're now in the single digits!"  And even though some days it seems I just can't do this one more week, I know it will be OK.

I read somewhere that a survivor said just walking into the elevator of her cancer center makes her feel nauseous even years later.  I know what she means since walking across the street and into the building has me feeling tired and weary before I even begin.  It's just the nature of the treatment...the ups and downs of your emotions and your health...a rollar coaster ride you seem to keep riding without knowing where or how  to get off.

I leave you today with a familiar quote that may seem out of place at first....from Sir Isaac Newton who said, "Every action has an equal and opposite reaction"....thus the good and the bad; the ebb and the flow.  This quote reminds me we'll all come out on the other side of this at some point and will be better patients, better people and survivors of this crazy journey.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Hope

Today is Christmas Eve, and it always seems such a wonderful holy time!  Of course, if you go to the malls, it's not so fact it can be downright deadly with all the pushing, shoving, and grabbing.  But at home, with quiet music playing, and a rest on the couch, it is a day of peace.

I have a horrible cold.  In fact, I am thinking if it doesn't get better, I don't think they will give me the Taxol this week.  And I am hoping my bloods are up, otherwise, it's another transfusion.  But...that's for Tuesday, and I have a few days to go.

My husband and I have determined that we think we will be OK to sing at church tonight.  It's an early service, at 7 PM, and we can be home early.  We have sung at the Christmas Eve service for so long, that it is almost a part of "our Christmas tradition".  We are going to sing "Night of Silence", which is one of our favorites.  Then my husband will be going on Midnight Mass (did I mention that we are an "inter-faith" Christian couple...he is Catholic, and I am Lutheran) but I am taking a pass this year.  Usually, we go to both of our churches on Christmas and Easter.

For now, we are resting on the couch so we are "good" for tonight.  Christmas Eve service is important to both of us...feeling a little yucky or not.

I hope you also will be joining your church family and people all over the world to celebrate the birth of Jesus and the hope of His coming again.  Tonight, let the light that is Christ come into your heart and bring you peace.  Blessed Christmas!   

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Benedryl Woman Walking

Yesterday was the second Taxol treatment.  I went in with a cold and was hoping that would not prevent me from getting the treatment.   I was looking forward to being able to begin the countdown from 10 for the next 10 Tuesdays.  It's almost a better number to countdown from since even Sesame Street Kids can countdown from 10 to 1 and then that lovely number 0

I was lucky...even with the cold, I could go ahead with the chemo.  I was told I can also take whatever I normally do for a cold, since there are no restrictions on Taxol and that was good news!  I'll breathe much better tonight.  My bloods came out OK, except it showed I am still anemic, but not in danger zone right now.  However, she did warn me that it is possible there is another blood transfusion in my future; I just have to wait and see.

We got in about 11:00, but didn't officially get started until about 12:30.  I was given the saline drip, as normal, and then the pre-meds.  You do remember me mentioning that Benedryl as a part of pre-meds?  It was here again as it will always be, and this time I just laid back the minute it was hooked up and was asleep a nanosecond later.  

About half-way through the treatment, my subconcious heard a voice I knew and I fought to get my eyes open.  It was my fellow breast cancer pal who is going through radiation downstairs.  She stopped knowing I was there and she was chatting with some of the chemo ballroom patients.  I love her laugh and it called to me through my Benedryl unconsiousness.  I said "hello" and she came over.  I have no idea what we discussed now.  I remember her talking, but it was like those Peanut character's never hear what they are saying except the noise.  My eyes felt like they were rolling and I could barely say "good-bye".  But I knew she understood and I was even glad for the toe-pinch she gave me as a hug.

So, I remember nothing of this time yesterday.  It was even difficult to wake up to go home.  I was glad my husband was there and I was almost falling asleep in the car.  Needless to say, when we got home, I ate something and then fell asleep for a few hours again.  That stuff sure does it's job and more so!

I had been hoping to go to this great new Christmas worship at our church for the "Longest Night" which was a more sober celebration for those who are experiencing loss, illness or other sadness in their lives.  But, I could only snore on my couch, so missed it.

The whole day was in a Benedryl Dream again, and although I was walking or talking, I had no idea what was going on in front of me.  I was a "Benedryl Woman Walking".  However, I am better today so if you see me, I will actually be able to acknowledge you and understand what you are saying!

Hopefully, this week will be a repeat of last, and I will feel well all week.  It would be good to feel well during Christmas.  I will keep you posted.  Keep those lights burning inside and get to church this Christmas to celebrate the Christ who came to earth as a babe, and who will come again!    

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Oil in my Lamp

I am going to warn you that today's blog is a little different.  It is probably more deep and inspirational than my others.  And there are probably some of you who are uncomfortable with "deepness" so I recommend that you skip this blog!  

It also is reflective of my faith, which is a big part of me.  Only read on if don't mind a little inspirational talk today through some deep thoughts of mine.  I'm not offended if you don't.  (Hey..I won't even know...LOL!)

I am feeling still wonderfully good today after the Taxol chemo; and I am somewhat energized by this feeling.  I am also feeling extremely thankful for this and trying to be aware of how I can tend myself in a way that will keep this positive feeling continuing. 

I received help in this from a friend's e-mail that sent me to a inspirational site:  ( -- if you are interested).  This site spoke of how we must tend ourselves so we can be what we need to be for ourselves and for others.

I do think we sometimes forget this.  Whether we are in the midst of dealing with cancer; or just going about our daily grind, we do forget to "add oil to our own lamps" so we can be a better and more fulfilled...US!  There are a lot of poems and biblical passages that deal with light and its effect on life.  Living in darkness can be even more tiring and stressful than making sure there is enough light in your life.  But only you can put it there or ensure it remains there.

At this time of year when lights are all around us reminding us of the holiday season...whether it be lights on the Christmas tree, a menorah for Hanukkuh, or Jesus, the Light that Came Into the World; it is a good time to remember how these lights are a part of us and we should nurture them within us.

As the website said, the world needs our flame...our energy...our presence...our "light".  Yet, we cannot be any of that without making sure to "add oil to our own lamps" so they are able to produce the light needed.  I know everyone has their own way of re-charging (adding oil to that lamp).  My way is through prayer, with the support of family and friends, and trying to think beyond myself so I don't get so tied up in feeling sorry for myself (ok...I don't always succeed, but I try).  

Whatever your way is...whether its the same as mine...or if you use yoga, or meditation, or reading, or looking at a beautiful scene of nature, etc., do it!  Don't let your light fade and start stumbling in the dark.  It is a very sad and lonely place to be.  Sometimes you really have to dig deep to make the changes necessary to even begin to feel your light.  Changes needed can be big or small...but they are needed changes if you are feeling overwhelmed and you are in a dark place. It's easy to get lost there and so stuck that you don't or can't get out.  But the path out is always available right before you.  

I hope you find your light within and do all you can to keep it burning brightly...I'll be working on the same.  What a better time to begin than the week before Christmas with all the joy this event brings!   

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dancing Through Chemo Two

I received a card the other day from a friend that spoke of the dance we experience in life and the need to just keep dancing through all life shows us through the hills and valleys.  I liked that imagery and it had me thinking of this graceful waltz back and forth through a room full of other graceful dancers.  It's how I feel sometimes as I amble through this chemo dance. 

It's not always graceful, however.  In fact, many times it is downright clumsy.  But the new chemo treatment on Tuesday was a graceful one.  Mainly because of the Benedryl.  Let me explain.  It seems that Taxol is a drug that can cause a severe allergic reaction in some people.  To protect the patient from this possible reaction, one of the pre-meds given is Benedryl....50 mg. in fact.  Enough to probably put an elephant to sleep; and certainly someone my size.  I didn't really think about it while it was dripping into my vein.  I was more worried about that "severe allergic reaction" in spite of the protective Benedryl and kept thinking how the chemo nurse said she would "have to watch me for a while" after I was getting the Taxol.  That was enough to scare me!  So, the Benedryl was dripping but I was just panicking in my seat.  Until suddenly, the bag was empty and it was time for the Taxol.  Only, I felt like I had been shot by a tranquilizer dart!  I only had time to say to my husband, "I'm feeling really funny!", when I fell back into my chair and fast asleep.  So I had no time to worry about my reaction to the drug.  And in fact, thankfully, there was none.  I was gracefully floating across the chemo dance floor in a Benedryl dream.  It was even hard to wake up to go the bathroom and then home.  Once home, I fell asleep again for a few more hours.  It was a wonderful thing!  And now, I get to experience this each week for the next 12 weeks.  A wonderful, graceful, flowing dance of peace and contentment.

What's even better is that today, the day after treatment, I feel very good.  I'm not sure how long this will last, but it is in stark contrast to how I felt with the "red devil".  The day after her treatment, I had the headaches, the "unwell feeling" and the buzz of the crash to come.  But today, blessed relief of feeling good!  They did tell me that after the second or third day I will probably get some aches and pains that will last a couple days, but I can deal with that easily after the "red devil" and her violent tango.  There are also some side effects that will come after more of the treatments, but then again, maybe some of these I might escape.  Time will tell.

For today, I am gliding across the dance floor free of pain and nausea and able to move freely when and where I want.  And for that, I am most thankful and feel incredibly blessed.  Even if it is just this one day.    

We will see what the rest of the week brings.  The next treament will be next Tuesday, and then again for each of the next 10 Tuesdays.  That is, unless my counts are down, I get sick, etc.  If that happens, it may be a little longer.  

What I am looking forward to is springtime, with its dance around the Maypole in a celebration of new life.  That's the dance I look forward to the most!  

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Refilled and Recharged

On Friday I went to the infusion room at the cancer center for my blood transfusion.  The worse part of it all was listening to them rattle off all the "what if's" before they started.  It was like listening to a TV commercial for some type of medication where they give you all the side effects that could ever happen in 20 seconds, speaking so fast that you can only hear words like "bleeding", "lose of eyesight" or "death".  The blood transfusion, however, was quite uneventful.  Just weird thinking that someone else's blood is now in my body traveling all over helping to make more blood.  But, thank God, it is doing its job!  My poor husband had just had major dental work done a couple days before and was still a little swollen and sore, but he came to be with me the whole day.  What a trooper!  I was willing to do it myself, but in hindsight now, I am so glad he came.  The transfusion took about 3 hours, and then the muga scan about another couple hours.  By that time, I was so tired I was glad to have him to lean on.

The infusion center was a step up from the chemo ballroom.  It had TV's overhead and a remote and earphones for the patient.  They also served lunch from the hospital cafeteria...and it was good!  I was so happy to see that one of the nurses from the chemo ballroom also worked in the infusion room and she was my nurse for the day.  It was very comforting.  What wasn't comforting was that in the middle of my infusion, we all heard the fire alarm go off.  Usually, those things are turned off quickly as someone discovers the cause is more mechanical than anything else.  But the alarm kept going and the word was passed that we needed to GET OUT!  So, here we are, gathering our stuff and nurses throwing blankets over us and pushing our IV poles into the lobby and then outside.  Quite an adventure.  The fire department arrived and about 10 firefighters came inside and quickly discovered it was indeed a mechanical problem.  So, we were allowed back in and hooked up once more.  Just a little diversion...but a cold one!

After the transfusion, my husband and I headed over to the hospital for the muga scan.  The scan itself is not a horrible one, so I wasn't too worried.  I was only anxious about the results and about the blood I knew they would have to draw before the scan.  But the nurse there was really good and got the blood quickly (I guess it also helped that I just had a refill!)They mix this with a little radioactive stuff, let it sit for 1/2 hour, and then re-inject you with it just before the scan.  This scan has a thin table to lie on with a pillow for your head surrounded by a couple posts to make sure you don't moveYou are asked to put your hands over your head, and then the table enters the chamber and the scan clicks its way around your heart.  Your head is just about sticking out, so it's not too uncomfortable.  And it is over in about 15 minutes.

We no sooner got home, then a nurse from the oncologist's office called to say that everything was OK.  She knew I was worried, and wanted me to know the results before the weekend so I wasn't anxious all weekend.  I so appreciated that!

The next day, we went to breakfast as usual, and I was feeling a little better.  After resting a bit at home, we decided to go and get our Christmas tree.  We had been hoping to do this with my son and his family, who once again could not make it here due to my granddaughter being sick.  But, we still needed a tree, so went to a local church where they also had some wreath making, hot chocolate and donuts, music, etc.  It was fun and after decorating the tree, I was done.  I took another nap, and then we had some company who came to cheer us up and share some cheer for a couple hours.  It was some good friends and my favorite nephew and "old-same".  It felt so good to be with them and to almost feel like I could be "normal" again.  I did "poop out" on them and put my pj's on before they left and told them I needed to go to bed.  But, they are all good friends, so I knew they understood.

Today was Sunday and it was an absolutely miserable day.  My husband gave me strict orders not to go out and to stay in bed and rest some more.  I took his advice, called the Pastor to tell him I wouldn't be there, and then went back to bed.  I was tired from all we did the day before, and watching the weather glad I didn't go out.  But I am feeling better and stronger and so glad to be feeling this way.  Just appreciate feeling's after you feel so realize what a gift feeling good can be.  

My final word is to watch out for vampires, but know if you do come across one, you can always get a refill at the infusion center and be recharged and ready to go!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Is there a Vampire Hiding in my House?

I am somewhat relieved today.  I did go to my oncologist and after looking at my bloods, she told me that I am severely anemic, and need a blood transfusion which will be done tomorrow morning first thing.  Relieved, you are saying???  Yes, I am!

At first I wanted to ask for a mirror so I could check my neck for the fang marks.  She assured me, though,  it was no Vampire, just a combo of chemo and my lousy eating lately.  It sure does explain why I have been feeling as badly as I have!  Honestly, I thought it was all chemo-related until she went over the symptoms with me and then even I could put it all together.  Since this is my first time with chemo, though, (and let's hope the last!) I thought feeling so horrid was "normal"...well, it is....but I guess feeling this horrid is not.

I'm still annoyed that some chemo Vampire might have come in and taken my blood while I wasn't looking!  And if he was half as good looking as the Vampires in the movies (not my type, ...but some people I work with LOVE THEM...and you know who you are!) then I wish I had been awake or something while he was there.  But as is my luck,  it's just the luck of the draw with the "red devil vampire".

It even makes sense now why they just could not get the blood for the testing today, and had to use the port, which they don't usually have to do.  I must really be running on empty.  Thank God this ought to do the job, and I should be feeling much better by the weekend.

I've also been thinking about something that I wanted to say at one point and this is as good a time as any.  I have been talking a lot about what people have done for me...but this journey is also about what I can do and be for others and for finding new guidelines in life for what's important and what is not .  I realize how I have let some relationships in my life go, and I regret that now.  I have also not always been as good a friend as I could have been to others.  I have sometimes been judgemental, or sarcastic, or too proud to admit I am wrong.  I am seeing myself in my own eyes and knowing I can and should change some things.  And I will do my best, with God's help.  Especially after all the love He has shown me through others, I need to show more of it back.

WOW..deep!  I want you to know, though, that right now, I am throwing you some of that love and will give you a big hug when I can.  Cancer has brought me good people...but will also make me a better person.  Bring on the blood, Mr. Vampire Man!             

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bouncing Back? Not so much...

This last round has really taken its toll.  It is now Tuesday, and while I usually don't feel "great" this day, I don't usually feel this bad either.  My legs are so weak that it feels like I am running a marathon just getting from the couch to the bathroom.  Walking upstairs is like a monumental mountain climb that leaves me out of breath if I go too fast...or feeling like I will pass out.  I have more aches and pains in my joints than I have had the entire time so far and a headache that won't quit.  And chills that come and go along with the hot flashes.

I have kept a running commentary on my calendar about how I have felt each day since the beginning, and it does show a progression of tiredness and weakness each time.  But I was unprepared for just how weak I would feel this time.  

I got my appointment for my muga scan for this Friday, the day after I go to the oncologist's office to have my bloods checked.  So, I am hoping that by Thursday when I go to the oncologist's office I am feeling a little better.  Otherwise, I am getting worried about feeling like this and will talk to her about it.

I have found during this whole process that I have been talking to God through my head and I first  thank Him for the people around me and for the treasures that are my life.  And I have also been fervently asking for strength to endure this and a courage to see it through.  I have wavered between doubt and hope many times, and when people tell me how strong I am...I want to refute it and tell them how I am sometimes scared to death and unwilling to go on.  But there seems to be no choice and I am on this "railroad ride from hell" till its last stop.

I heard about Elizabeth Edwards tonight and of course, it is a scary thing.  First, I know our prayers are for her family and we know she is now at peace.  But, of course, it makes me also think about myself (selfish maybe, reality maybe).  I know mine was caught in its early stages, but every once in a while, I confront my own mortality and hope that indeed it was caught in time.  I also hope it has everyone of you realizing the importance of mammograms and ultrasounds and self-checks and that you don't make any more excuses and make your appointment now.  I even think beginning at 40 years old as is recommended is too late....going through this...I would start much earlier and feel much safer starting at a younger age.  

While there have been many hard times and moments I have been overwhelmed, I do want you to know that there really have been some very wonderful, touching times as well.  I am still amazed at the goodness of people who really do care about me and who call or send cards just to let me know they are thinking of me.  Particularly at this stage in the game when it is going on so long.  Yesterday I received two of those calls.  One from a friend of my husband's that called for the second time (not to talk to my husband), but to "check in" and hear from me how I was feeling,  even though I know he reads this blog.  And the second phone call was from someone I know, but not too well, who called just to cheer me up.  My niece has offered to come and be with me many times lately, but unfortunately always seems to be at a time when I am feeling lousy...yet she keeps checking on me and letting me know she is there if I need her.  The friend that cooks keeps bringing meals once a week; as well as some friends from my husband's church.  I have received an offer of a "make-over" from a wonderful spirit-filled lady and an offer to clean my house from another friend.  And my husband and I have become closer and more affectionate than we have been in our entire soon-to-be 40 years of marriage.  These are the blessings that God delivers when we need it the most.

So, hoping that the next few days I can somehow get some of "me" back; maybe not by bouncing so much, but by crawling instead, but I am hoping to get there.  I thank you all for your encouragement and want you to know how much it means and how much it is helping me to keep my spirits up.   

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Here We Go Again!

Well, we knew the crash would be coming, so it was no surprise when it arrived!  I keep telling myself..."last time for this particular crash" and it is helping.  Although once again on Thursday, I could feel that "cloud of yuckiness" coming to descend and was not looking forward to it at all.  And it didn't disappoint...came on Thursday all during the day and by Friday I was just a "couch potato mess"!  

It felt like a really bad flu with a really dry mouth and dry everything else added to it.  You want to drink continuously just to make your mouth feel better, but of course, anything you put in your stomach does a rebound!  I tend to chew numerous pieces of sugarless gum just to make it all go away.  I have even put gum in my mouth all night long so when I wake up, I can chew to make the dryness go away somewhat.  It really is a never ending gift of symptoms and side effects.

This morning, Saturday, I thought I was feeling a little better.  It is our habit (my husband and I) to have breakfast together at a local diner on Saturday mornings.  I thought, "I can do this!"  And even though my husband had his doubts, we did it and I even made it through a pancake!  Coming home, I told him there were a few Christmas decorations in the garage that I wanted to bring upstairs.  So, we hunted through our boxes, found what I wanted and each brought a couple things up the stairs.  

He got his chance to say "I told you so!" because by the time I reached the top of the stairs, once again the dizziness and spots before my eyes appeared and I thought I was going to pass out.  But at least this time he was there and I didn't panic.  I knew I had done too much, too soon.  So, back on the couch I went with strict orders from him not to move!

Next week I have to get another MugaScan (heart muscle) to see if the "red devil" has left any signs of heart damage.  Which is one of the side effects that she can have and why she is a devil to take.  I don't have a good heart history in my family, so I am hoping this will come out OK.  Then I also go to the oncologist office for the blood check, and to hear more about the next regime.  

I keep reading about the Taxol, and the side effects are somewhat worrisome as they mention frequently the numbness and tingling in the fingers (that ought to help with my computer work), and how it will effect fingernails and the potential to even lose some fingernails.  The fingernails will always grow back, they say, but the numbness and tingling could last for a while.  So, it's a little unnerving to be going through it.  And not knowing yet what my personal reaction to it will be is the mystery that haunts me.  I've been put on the "lower dosage", which is good, except it is spread out for a longer period of time...12 weeks to be exact.  A really, really long time it seems to me.

Next weekend my son and his family are supposed to be coming for our Christmas visit.  I am hoping this one will work out unlike the planned Thanksgiving that couldn't happen.  By then, I should be feeling fine and able to have a good visit.  

So for now, Here We Go Again with a little bit of the same, and a lot of the  fear of the unknown thrown in.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Last Dance for Red Devil

Right now, I am so excited that it was the very last time for the "red devil" and me to meet!  I know I won't be so excited in a few days since I will be feeling too miserable, but for today---I am feeling good about this!

Today was extremely crowded at the cancer center since many people had to reschedule their chemo due to the Thanksgiving holiday.  It was a big group and "Mr. Mixologist" (the one who concocts our cocktails) was very backed up and the wait was longer to get your IV chemo bag--or syringe (as the "red devil" comes).  People were anxious to get their meds, not because they really WANTED them, but it meant a longer time sitting in the chair before treatment even began.  But, as I have learned, in this room are remarkable people who kept telling the nurses "not to worry", "it was OK", and they realized "it was a holiday".  Cancer can make you really patient.  The bumps in life become as important and meaningful as the smooth's all good.

It was a funny group.  There were many jokes about Mr. Mixologist drinking our meds and how "someone should go check on him"; and a lot of laughs about all of us having a "pole dancing party" (IV poles....get it?) to get his attention.  The funniest lady was an older woman who kept saying she was dying for a bologna sandwich on white bread with mayo (I don't know how she could eat it during chemo, but that's what she wanted!).  She asked everyone who passed if they were going to the deli.  Finally, one kind soul left and got it for her.  You would have thought she was in heaven....all for some slices of bologna!  Others used the time to walk around and got so tangled in their IV lines that it looked like a wild spaghetti party.  

One woman across from me was stuck with the IV needle repeatedly since they couldn't find a "good vein".  Even after they found one,  the poor woman's arm blew up, and they had to remove it and wait for it the swelling to go down before they could stick her again.  (NOTE:  when you have breast cancer and nodes can't put an IV in the arm on the side you were operated on).  Yet, she was very patient with it all since she knew there was a problem getting a good vein on her arm.  It made me very glad that I had the port and wouldn't have to go through that.  My veins on my right side were always good for drawing blood and such...but since all this, I can't use that arm and my left arm has veins that disappear or close up.  So, this definitely made me see the wisdom of that decision.  

While I was finishing up the chemo, a friend from church who was getting radiation downstairs (for her breast cancer) texted to see if she could come up and visit.  I'm always glad to see her, so I told her "Of course!".   It was good to talk to her and in the sharing of our stories, we knew exactly how each of us was truly feeling.  Sometimes there are things you can only share with someone who is going through just what you are experiencing.  Writing, reading and hearing about it are not the same as being right there "in the trenches".  Even in the chemo ballroom, there is a kind of camaraderie amongst all of us and people who are not "hooked up" (and I mean to IV's, not romantically!) cannot fully join "our club".

Tomorrow I go back to get the shot that boosts my white blood cell count.  My tests today still showed the anemia (which she was not too concerned about yet) and a low Vitamin D count.  So, I have to double the Vitamin D to 3,000 a day.  During this visit, she will also go over the new regimen with the Taxol.  My chemo nurse today said it might be a two week break in between the "red devil" and beginning the Taxol.

So, today I am feeling OK.  I know it will be a tough week and weekend, but hopefully, this will be the worst of it and the next chemo cocktail won't be such a "devil".  And speaking of the "devil"....I have just hung up my dancing shoes and I won't be doing the cha-cha with her again!  Halleluia and pass the Prilosec!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Don't You Just Love a Bargain?

In the spirit of Black Friday, I just had to put the Christmas Tree Shop slogan up there.  This was the first Black Friday that I didn't get up early and join the madness!  I know, I'm crazy to do so, but I do love the rush of a bargain and the early morning in a store.  But, this year, I just wasn't up to it. 

We had Thanksgiving at my nephew and "old-same's" house and really had a great time.  The pre-made meal was fabulous and I was glad to have saved them the preparation and work that they usually do for us.  I would have liked to have stayed longer (or overnight as they suggested), but still wasn't 100% and was "pooped" by 6 pm, so we left to go home.  I don't like feeling so tired (as I am used being the "Energizer Bunny"), but I need to listen to my body when it gets like that and go home to my my jammies, my comfy robe, and my couch.

Went to the oncologist on Friday to get my bloods done.  Told her about my week and my "crying jag" on Saturday.  To my shock, I started crying in her office!  "What's with this?", I thought, "I thought I was over this!".  But she was good and explained to me that some people like me have a similar reaction to the steroids and it makes them more emotional than usual.  Not to mention the stress of having the cancer and the treatments itself.  She further explained that they contribute to my not being able to sleep well, which also doesn't help.  And she let me know that my bloods show some anemia, which is contributing to my tiredness.

So, with that news, I can understand what is happening more.  I do keep forgetting that these drugs are really dealing with every part of my body and being.  I hate giving up the control to them, but there is no choice right now.

After the doctor visit, we decided to stop "spur of the moment" to a dear friend that has been cooking wonderful meals for us to thank her and say "hello".  She gave us a tour of her house, which is like an incredible museum of collections and antique furniture.  She is such a gracious host and just a good person who can make you laugh and feel at home.  This also was a good visit.

Then, we went home and got out some Christmas decorations and began the work of the holiday before us!  In some ways, not having the strength I normally do will be a good thing.  I can concentrate on the real celebration of this holiday and take myself out of a lot of the "hype".  That will be a real blessing.

So, Tuesday is the last dance with the "red devil" and boy, am I glad about that!  One more horrible weekend and then I move on to the Taxol.  The side effects should be less and the oncologist said the nausea and stomach problems I have had should not be as severe.  YEA!

Happy Shopping everyone!  Pick up a bargain in my name today!  Have fun, but don't push anyone! 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Rally Cap

I never thought a month ago, when writing a blog was suggested to me that it would become such an integral part of my journey.  I started out not wanting to "scare anyone away" with just how hard it is, but quickly realized that this was actually more for me than anyone else.  I make no apologies for the blogs that have been hard to read; instead I am glad you have been my company "for the ride". And as Margo Channing said in All About Eve, "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night!"  (But it's smooth riding right now...don't fret!)

Boy...was Saturday tough!  A friend had called Saturday afternoon, and I am sure she didn't expect to get the weeping, depressed person she spoke to....but it absolutely meant so much that she didn't try to get right off the phone and instead listened and offered words of encouragement.  Today, from that same friend, I received on my doorknob a card with beautiful sentiment and a gift of some creams and body washes "to help me slow down and pamper myself".  Again, God coming in the form of a familiar friend lifting me up.  Sunday, my husband and I took a drive, and it really helped to get outside and smell the fresh air and it was a beautiful day.  But even before that, I was feeling much stronger emotionally that morning when I got up. 

By Monday, I felt still weak and a little dizzy, but tried to keep moving doing some simple housekeeping and talking a walk.  By noon, I knew I was getting back to myself and that I would be able to get in and see those beautiful kids in preschool the next day.  And today, that's exactly where I went.  It felt good to be there even though I was tired by noontime.  But, I made it there!

I keep forgetting just how powerful these two chemo drugs are and the toll they are taking on my body for now.  I really need to take advice given to step back and just allow them to do their work and stop racing to bounce back so quickly.  (Just who am I racing with, anyway?)  And you know, here I was so worried about myself bouncing back that I forgot how often it is that children become ill during holidays.  So, you guessed granddaughter is sick right now and they won't be able to come for Thanksgiving anyway.  But, honestly, I also am still feeling a little tired and worn and glad we are still able to go to my nephew and my "old-same's" house for dinner and company.  My son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter are coming the weekend of December 10-12, and that will be something to look forward to next month.

So, I am OK.  I could be better indeed, but I am really OK.  The Rally Cap is on and I am ready to give my thanks this week for all God has given and done for me and I am also thankful for only one more "red devil" treatment.  Then I can kiss her "goodbye" and move on!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!   

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Big Girls DO Cry!

I've been sailing along pretty well...feeling OK even when not feeling OK...making the best of it all.  So, I was kinda surprised at myself this weekend when depression kinda took over and I was having a hard time shaking it.

Maybe I just needed this release; I do know I feel a little better having done all the crying I did.  And yes, like the title says...Big Girls DO cry....even brave ones....even ones trying their best to keep their spirits together.  

The crash this time came sooner than usual.  I started feeling pretty bad on Thursday afternoon.  That night, I had an important meeting with one of the families in preschool and it took every ounce of strength I had just to drive to the meeting and then get through it and drive home again.  Once home, I knew beyond a doubt that the crash was on its way and wouldn't wait until Saturday.

Indeed, Friday found me unable to lift myself from the couch for too long and that dreaded cloud was forming above my head.  And that was the beginning of my starting to feel sorry for myself.  Christmas music was playing on commercials and holiday shows were on t.v.  I kept thinking of how lousy I was feeling and how this Thanksgiving/Christmas season was going to be a hard one to get through.  I was even wondering if I could summon the strength to be "happy and jolly" during Thanksgiving for my granddaughter.  Of course, I am looking at it from the low point of the "red devil" week...I know in my head that it will get better and I WILL feel better next week.  But, that's how low I felt on Friday.

On Saturday, I was just feeling tired and very down.  My husband had volunteered to help feed the homeless a few towns over, and asked if I felt OK enough for him to go.  I didn't want him to feel like he had to stay here for me, so said "yes".  However, I felt so alone all day and just couldn't stop crying.  He called several times, but I didn't let him know how I was feeling since I didn't want him to worry.  However, once he came home, I couldn't stop myself.  Just one look at him and I dissolved into a puddle of water.  He said all the right things, and reminded me that things would be better and that it was to be expected that I would be feeling this way.  And he made me promise not to hide it from him again.  But that's hard for me because I am usually the "take charge" person....the one who "solves the problems"....who "leaps tall buildings in a single bound".  That person, though,  was not me Friday...or today.  That was not me at all.

We all have our walls; the time when we come up against it and just cannot get over.  And that's what I hit today.  In order to climb over the other side, we are planning a walk tomorrow and I'm gonna soak in some of the sun (if there is any) and fresh air and try to drive these blues away.  For now, though, my eyes just keep leaking...with a mind of their own.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wired To Tired

Yesterday was the third go-round with the "red devil".  Although red is one of my favorite colors, seeing it in drink or food form now instantly makes my stomach do a double turn around.  See, it isn't a drug that can just be in an IV bag high up above you where you don't look at it.  Instead, it is injected into your IV right in front of you.  My own dose comes in three syringes.  Seeing that red color in the syringe and then afterward each time I pee is a reminder of what is to come.  So seeing red now in food or drink just makes me feel sick right away.

The chemo ballroom this week we all nicknamed, "the Ladies Room" because this time it was all women.  So, needless to say, it was full of chatter, women sharing stories, laughter, pulling off wigs to compare bald heads, sharing food and just generally sharing ourselves.  I hardly read at all this time since it was just good talking and laughing.  My husband and a couple other husbands felt outnumbered and excused themselves to go out to the lobby and watch TV. I don't blame them, we were a noisy bunch!

I give so much credit to the nurses since all of them are so accommodating and informative and there whenever you need them.  The minute I come into the room, one of the aides will always come up and give me a pillow for my back, and a blanket (they keep the room on the colder side to keep the germs down).  The chairs are all recliners and you can get yourself really comfy.  Of course, when your butt starts getting numb, you can always get up, and talk a stroll with your "partner" IV pole.   This time I wore one of my hats, and everyone wanted to know where I got it.  So, I told them to head to K-Mart, where these hats are only $6.99.  I think I am starting a trend.

The night of the chemo treatments, I can never sleep.  I thought at first it was just the anxiety over getting the chemo, but my oncologist told me today it is a common side effect of the steroids that we get as "pre-meds" before the chemo.  It just "wires us up"!  And that is truly what it does!  I get to sleep, but wake up about 3 am feeling like I need to get up and build a house or something.  I am so wide awake, I have to walk around the house, sometimes put on the TV, and just try to wind down.  I don't usually succeed, and end up going to work the next day feeling like I am in a daze but with energy.  I do get a lot done, and hopefully it all makes sense...and usually, incredibly it is when I do my best work.  This day after chemo is also the day I need to go back to the cancer center to get the shot that helps my white blood cells come back (Come back, Little Sheba's).  My appointment was at 2:15, since you have to come back 24 hours after your chemo.  I stayed at work so I wouldn't fall asleep at home, and the minute I got home, wig and clothes came off and PJ's and a bald head are finally a part of me again.

I will sleep OK tonight since I am now exhausted and not as wired.  I am like a worn down toy whose batteries need replacement.  So, I bid you "adieu" as I really need to get some sleep.  Y..A...W...N...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz   

Monday, November 15, 2010

It's the Little Things

Today, the day before chemo three, I wanted to give you an inside picture to the "little side effects" of chemo to an individual.  Of course, chemo changes with the medications given and the person themselves, so this is just my experience.

The hair loss and the "dark weekends" that I experience after chemo are the biggest hurdles to the whole experience.  But the smaller things also play a part in maneuvering through the experience.

I've mentioned how the drugs make their way through your system and touch just about everything in it.  This involves a "general drying out" of your entire body.  You need to cream your skin daily since it gets very dry.  My eyes, which are always on the dry side, now need more drops to make them stop feeling scratchy.  My mouth is always dry, and my husband bought me a special toothpaste for "dry mouth" that is helpful.  But I also need to gargle a few times during the day with salt and water or water and baking soda to ensure I don't get mouth sores from the chemo.  I also chew a lot of gum since that produces saliva.  

My stomach was affected also and until the Prilosec, as I mentioned, was unbearably painful.  I need to take this every day to just ensure it does not come back.  Of course, connected to the stomach is....yes, the "unmentionable pathway out for food".  This also is affected by the chemo and you go from being constipated to having diarrhea and taking one medication or another to manage this balancing act.  (Yeah, TMI, I know...but it's a part of it).

Your mouth continually tastes different.  That's why foods taste different and sometimes the same thing you ate the day before, you cannot stomach the next day.  Strong tastes overcome this like peppermint, lemon, etc. and I usually look for that.  Right after chemo, even the look of foods can make you back away for a while.  During this time, my food "likes" are very limited and very plain.  It is usually by the Monday after the Tuesday chemo that I can eat kinda "regular" again.

Your brain is a little foggy....cause you are not sleeping all that well and let's face it, chemo does a job on your body and you are not yourself.  But, for those that know me....maybe this isn't as noticeable since my mind is always in three places at once (LOL).

My head, even though the hair is just about gone (there is just peach fuzz), "hurts".  It is kinda sensitive and that is why right now the wigs are not always comfortable.  I did find something to put underneath that does help somewhat, but it's an additional covering on the head, so it also makes it hotter.  

Speaking of head, headaches come and go related to the anti-nausea drugs, and just life itself.  And there are some minor body aches and sometimes a more pronounced backache.

So, this is my life on chemo.  And while all this is going on, life just continues.  And we all know how that can be!  There are still joys and concerns and things to pray about and things to be happy about and things to worry about in spite of what my body is saying.

But, I keep telling myself that I am lucky my cancer was found so early.  I am fortunate to be looking at a pretty good outcome from all this.  And I thank God that I had that ultrasound that picked up my small cancer and enabled all these preventative measures to take place.  

Tomorrow, Chemo Three for the "red devil" and then just one more dance with her before the new drug and new side effects.  I hope most of them are "little ones". 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Is It Hot In Here?

So, first, the counts.  When she came back into the room with the results, she said, "Well, the counts are a little low..." and my heart sank.  But she continued with, "But a safe low.  They should pick right up by the weekend."  WHEW!  Who knew there was a SAFE low???  But, I'll take it!  Backache still here, but since I know that is good news, it's OK.  I can have my chemo on Tuesday, so thankfully I should be "good" for Thanksgiving.  

The hot flashes are back in my life again (at least menopause was good for something...years of hot flash experience) and I am sure they are aggravated by the wig when I wear it! I do now understand why most women who have this particular type of chemo and lose their hair don't wear their wigs all the time.  THEY ARE HOT AND ITCHY!  I have put a small fan on my desk so that it blows some cool air my way which helps during work.  I don't want to make the kids or parents uncomfortable during preschool, so I wear the wig for most of the day.  But by the time it is about 2 or 3 PM, I have to tear it off and wear something else.

I have become fond of those "newsboy hats" and went over to K-Mart (yes, I shop there but I have yet to find that "blue light special" man anywhere) and picked up about five for $6.99 each so I'm set.  I tried scarves, but I just feel like an old woman in them or like someone from Lucy and Ethel's time when women would wear them to clean the house.  But, the hats I's me!

My husband is still getting used to me going out in just the hat.  I am slowly getting used to it since it is much cooler and easier.  Although I admit to actually taking brown eyeliner and "filling in" some short sideburns (not Elvis sideburns, just wispy ones) so it looks even more "normal".   Having the wig gives security and I will definitely use it for certain social occasions and during work, but I am glad to have an alternative as well.  Again, at home, it's just my bald head and me walking in the breeze.

So, Tuesday is chemo number 3 and then one more to go with the "red devil".  The crazy thing is...I am now used to the rhythm of this chemo and how I will feel.  I am already thinking (I know I said I wouldn't look ahead, but I peeked at it today) about how the next drug, Taxol, will affect me in terms of side effects.  Reading about it is difficult, but I have to remember the "red devil" information was equally as startling and I am doing OK.

Meanwhile, I keep opening windows when the flashes come and I am driving my husband crazy...or I think the correct term is "crazier".  But, as I said, he lived with it once before, so we'll get through it again.  Thank God it is fall/winter!  I can't imagine going through this in the summer.   I have a hard enough time with heat as it is.

So, in answer to the question up top....I guess it's not hot in here, just hot inside my own body!  But hey....this may be the only time I can effectively call myself "Hot!"  

Thanks for reading.  Comments are always welcome.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Moving On Up...

Since the beginning of the week, I was still dragging until today.  Today, just as suddenly as last time, I felt my energy level pick up and my head clear.  And once again, my back is beginning to ache...which, according to my oncologist last time, means my platelets are coming back.  I go for my blood tests tomorrow to check blood counts, so I am hoping this is a good omen.  I just need to have this next chemo cocktail on time so I will have good days during Thanksgiving.  Timing is everything now-a-days.  

I am so looking forward to my son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter coming up for the holiday....but I didn't want them to come if I was just going to have the covers over my head.  Plus, we always go to my "old-same" niece (from Snow Flower and the Secret Fan) and that beloved nephew's house for Thanksgiving and I am missing seeing my "old-same" in person (although we talk on the phone all the time).

I have been to work two days this week with my new wig.  Everyone seems to think it looks pretty good (or else they are just being very kind...but I'll take it!) and just the style and color of my "real" hair.  The first day, I had it on too tight, and couldn't stand it more than a couple hours and had to switch to one of the hats I have recently purchased (thank God, hats are in now!).  But today, I loosened it and actually even forgot it was on my head!  When I come home, I just go "au naturale".  My husband has started to call me "Brittney" after Ms. Spears and the time she went mad and shaved her head.  And...he even said it's kinda cute!  Gotta love him too!  I am resigned now to the loss of hair and glad that hurdle is in the past.  I still say if anyone is going through this, shave your head right after the second treatment of the "red devil"...because your hair IS going to fall and it is very fact, just too much.  Shaving it before the "big hair fall" will give you some control over what is going on and not be so horrifying to watch.

Mindset is everything.  I refuse to think about the next few months but do think on the next treatment and the next day.  Looking too far ahead is just too overwhelming right now.  But every once in a while, I do think about the springtime and how it will be when everything is blooming and "coming alive" and I am finishing my chemo.  What a wonderful world that will be!

Wish me luck tomorrow!  And keep sending those prayers my way.  I will do the same for you.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow!

OK, admit knew I was going to use this one!

This weekend, though not as bad as the first chemo crash, was still not a pleasant one.  Saturday another sister-in-law was going to be in town, and a third sister-in-law (and brother-in-law) decided to drive down from upstate to all say "hi" and go out to dinner.  I was hoping to go; but really knew in my heart that it was not looking good.  A fourth sister-by-the-law also joined them and since most of us live far away from each other, it was like a mini-family reunion.  They came to the house to give hugs and encouragement, and then left for dinner.  And I cried not to be able to share that time with them.  But I just needed my bed and to pull the covers over my head, which I did.

Saturday was the beginning of the "hair shower".  I couldn't even brush my hair without large clumps sticking to the brush.  I just left it alone and didn't touch it.  However, it was shedding everywhere.  I finally gave in and put on one of the scarves I had purchased.  I just couldn't stand looking at myself anymore--or--seeing the hair scatter in the air behind me.

Sunday morning, I woke up to a lot of hair on my pillow and even bigger clumps coming out.  It was truly scary.  My hand was shaking as I would touch a section and come away with big bunches of my soft hair.  I decided I couldn't go to church, I needed time to reconcile to this; and honestly, wasn't feeling all that great anyway.  My sister-in-law said maybe if I showered, and the loose hair came out, I would feel better.  I agreed.  My mistake was in doing this once she and my husband left the house.

I turned the shower on and the hot water poured over me.  I did put shampoo to my head, but just came away with more and more hair.  I stood watching as my hair ran in rivulets down my shoulders.  I had to keep pulling it out of the drain and it was piling up on the side of the bathtub.  I was shaking, but stayed in there watching this happen.  Finally, I got out and started to dry myself.  Suddenly, I felt so dizzy and lightheaded and saw spots in front of my eyes.  I was more scared of passing out than I ever was in my life.  I practically crawled to the bedroom phone to call my husband to "please come home, I'm not well".  Fortunately, he is an EMT, so he had an idea what might be happening.  He came in, opened the windows and made me breathe in the air while he took my pulse and blood pressure.  After a while, I began to feel better.  Not great, but better.  He made me something to eat.  I really had not been eating well.  He said that I probably stayed in the hot shower too long and since my counts are at their lowest point, I was compromising the oxygen in my blood even more.  That's the last time I will do that without anyone in the house!

That afternoon, my sister-in-law and I wanted to watch some movies to get our minds off of everything.  My DVD went crazy and I needed to disconnect it.  Of course, then I am crawling around trying to get just the TV working and not being able to figure it out (forget my husband who is technology impaired).  But, I am realizing that I have the energy to do this now thankfully.  Although I did finally have to call my much loved nephew to come and save the day, which he did and for which I an extremely thankful.

I was still bothered by my hair, though.  It was just hanging sporadically in places and I looked like a horror movie.  I put the scarf on and slept with it all night so no one had to look at me.  

This morning, I was feeling a little better and more resigned to this bald thing.  The wind was blowing wild outside, so I took my scarf and let the wind take away some more hair (I didn't even think I had this much hair!)  And then I just put my whole head out the window and shook some more into the wind.  It was some how exhilarating to do that!  I called a neighbor who has three boys thinking she might have one of those hair cutting things and she did!  She came over and trimmed my hair down to a very low crew cut and I am feeling so much better!  It doesn't look quite so horrifying and actually, not bad at all ( if you like that kind of thing).  And I loved that she didn't even bat an eye when she saw me (said she had seen this before, and not to worry) and even told me how cute I looked afterward.  Gotta love her!

So, Hair that now no more.  And that's that.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Balancing Act

I'm finding that dealing with breast cancer and chemo is an enormous balancing act.  

My emotions run up and down depending on the day and on how I am feeling.  Last week I was so relieved to be feeling well; to be "normal" again.  Yet, that very feeling was balanced precariously by the fact that I knew a crash could be happening this weekend.  So far, this time is not quite as bad as last time.  I am feeling like I have the "flu", that my body is dragging 20 pound weights, I have a bad headache, and not feeling quite right in the stomach; but I don't have the severe stomach gas pains and heartburn that I had last time (thank you, Prilosec!).  But...this morning, I needed to wash my hair and afterward, brushing it I could see bunches of hair coming out of my scalp.  It's hard to see that happen, even though I knew this was coming.  I am ready with all the items needed to cover my head, but I am feeling more and more exposed by the loss of each strand.

When I feel very down, I just go to all the cards that I have received to be reminded of the goodness of family and friends.  I have kept every one of them and they are an enormous comfort.  They  remind me that I am not alone (and you do feel alone in your suffering even when others are sitting there with you); and that I can pick up a phone to talk to someone who will help me through the low point....who will balance my sadness with a reminder of their caring and allow me to climb just a little higher for a while.

Physically, for every symptom that is experienced, there is a counteracting medication...a balancing of wellness of various degrees.  When there is too much of one thing, a pill will help it but you have to watch that you take the meds in moderation...too much can also tip the balance so that the relief you want is not what you get.  And it is hard to find that balancing point when you are not comfortable during this "crash time".

I don't know how others do this without faith.  I know I would just be a puddle on the floor if I didn't know with all my heart that God didn't want this for me and that He also is trying to help me get some balance in my life right now.  I am so grateful for the children in preschool with their smiles and their innocent waves and delight when they see me.  I am relieved to have my sister-in-law with me for the weekend both to have someone to share this with and talk to...and so my husband has some relief himself.  And I actually do feel all the prayers that are being said for me in many different churches and places and sometimes I know for sure that it is these very prayers that are helping me to walk that one more step. 

This is not easy.  I knew it wouldn't be, and when it is called a "fight"...that is exactly what is experienced.  You fight everyday for the normalcy in your life, for a spot of "feeling good" in the day, for the ability to rise above the disease in your body so that you continue to see all that is good and wonderful in the world.  And every step is hard to take and needs all your concentration.  Whenever I thought of the worst things that could happen to me, this was one of them.  But I really never thought it would happen to me!  And now it has, and I must deal with it and there is still much more to go through in the future.  I can't look that far ahead, so I just look at today and I am thankful that this "crashing weekend" is somewhat better than last time.  And I balance this relief with the awfulness of last time and know I will get through this weekend and be able to see that I am strong and I can do this!  I will continue to "Fight Like a Girl" and not let this overtake me.     

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Chemo Two and "Three's Company"

Today was my second chemo cocktail and the process turned out to be even easier than last time.  I was a little concerned about how they were going to access the port, since once they took the final pieces of tape off (yeah, some were still clinging), you can hardly see the port since it is under the skin.  This is supposed to be a better way of controlling any infection.  My husband kept thinking something fell off or a piece was missing!  But, that's not the case.  Instead, the chemo nurse just feels the port, sticks the needle (yes, that still has to happen) right in the mddle, and you are "good to go"!

When I saw the blood fill up those tubes so quickly (you need blood tests all the time to check on how you are doing), I was so thankful that the chemo nurses decided I needed to have the port surgery.  The veins on my left arm are my "good ones", but now that I have had a couple nodes taken and the recent breast surgery, all blood has to be taken from the other side, which is my "bad vein side".  There were always problems getting a vein lately and I have had blood taken from various places on my hand which didn't hurt too bad, but during the port surgery they put it in the middle of the inside of my forearm....and that one hurt and is still black and blue!  So, this was a welcome change.

After bloods were taken, I was directed to get a seat of my choice in the chemo rooms.  There are two smaller rooms, and one large room that a friend has nicknamed "the chemo ballroom".  It has chairs for quite a few people and lots of windows.  I prefer to be in this room.  (This friend is the one who was diagnosed at the same time as I was but is receiving radiation, and no chemo.  She has also nicknamed the radiation room, "the dungeon" since it is in the basement of the building... but we are still both smiling through tears and needed laughs).  The nurse started the preliminary meds of some saline, another anti-nausea drug, and a steroid.  Then, the "red devil" appeared within three syringes in all her glory and she was injected into my IV.  Once she was done, I was given an few minutes, and then the Cytoxan IV was added.  Then, a short flush by IV, a flush of the port, and some heperin in the port to ensure there is no blood clotting.  Then, all is done and we are free to leave all in about 3 1/2 hours!

The one part I love about the chemo ballroom....I love the people there whether they are the nurses or my oncologist or the individuals that sit next to me.  Today, I met an older lady who reminded me of my mom.  Her hair was in place and you could tell she applied her make up very carefully and she was wearing a beautiful mauve sweater set.  She was tired, and slept a lot, but also loved my husband's humor (and that's saying something!) and agreed to go for a drink with him afterward!  She was a pip!  Then, there was the gentleman on my other side who was a "talker", but interested in my story as well as telling his own.  We also discussed books and our love of writing, and he disclosed that while he is undergoing chemo, he is trying to write a screenplay and he showed me his notebook that he has been writing and making notes in during his chemo treatments.  You meet the most remarkable people in that ballroom.  The ones I don't have a chance to talk to, I just study and make up my own stories about them.  It's kinda an insane pastime of mine!

Once we left, we went to our voting place back in our village to make sure our voices are added to so many others (and I hope everyone has!) and went back home.  The dull headache has already started, but I did expect it this time.  I have been on the Prilosec, so I am hoping the heartburn and other stomach problems won't be as bad this time.  I am thinking I will be OK (not great, but OK) until about Friday night, when I think the tunnel might make a reappearance.  But, I am more ready and more hopeful that some things have been put in place to make it a little bit easier to climb out of it this time.

And tomorrow my sister in law comes to keep me company during this chemo week and also to give my husband a little bit of a break from worrying and feeling like he needs to be right by my side.  I do love having him with me....but also want him to have some freedom from worrying, watching, and checking on me.  So, I am looking forward to seeing her and having time to talk "girl-on-girl".  We have not been together in person for a while since she lives in the south and we live in the north.  And that is why you can call my abode "Three's Company" this week (remember that sitcom?) since my husband will be living with "two ladies"....and I hope he survives us!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Wedding, A Wig, and Trick-or-Treat ...OH MY!

What a weekend!  I was ecstatic to find out on Friday that my counts were up again!  I had this incredible backache on Thursday night where I could not lie down at all.  I had to put about six pillows on the bed so I could sleep sitting up.  I was so tired that I actually did fall asleep that way!  When I woke up a bit a few hours later, the backache had gone as quickly as it had come.  My oncologist told me that this was probably an indication that my platelets were coming up.  This will be the first time I will say I am glad for a backache!

I walked back into preschool after the blood tests happy as a clam (and I always wondered...just how happy ARE clams?)!  The kids looked great and the Halloween Party was full of their voices and laughter.  I loved reading and singing to them afterward.  It was a good day to celebrate make-believe and good news. 

Then, we went to a wedding I had been hoping to be able to attend.  And I am feeling gooooood!  I am so glad to be able to go and have some "normalcy" in the midst of this "cancer craziness".  I could even dance with my husband and "the girls"! The food even finally looks good and while I can't eat a lot of it, I can indeed eat.  Of course, no alcohol!  Even had I been able to, I'm afraid to get my stomach acting up again.  I am still being careful on what I put into it.  (And....I do need to thank an angel family that came to preschool to give me quite a supply of Prilosec, after they read this blog.  I know now this will be a mainstay for me while I am taking this chemo combo.  Isn't God great?  He just keeps showing up in the forms of others and surprising me with His goodness.)

I also picked up my wig from my hairdresser.  It looks beautiful and I am so glad to have it ready for next week when my hair will begin it's march off my head.  While there, I met this woman (I love meeting people and hearing their stories!) who agreed with me on the fact that breast cancer is just everywhere you go anymore...particularly with my generation.  She not only blames hormones, though, but all the chemicals we eat, drink, and have around us.  She was particularly angry about fluoride and is actually working to get it banned from our water.  I haven't checked this out yet, but she claims it is an by-product of nuclear waste!  YUCK!

Then, tired but happy, I go to church today and many friends from a nearby temple are coming in to be with us as a part of an interfaith weekend.  There was a great speaker, great company, and great sharing of our faiths.  While there, a new visitor to our church approaches me and introduces herself and reveals that she too is a recent breast cancer patient and had started chemo two days after me.  So, that makes three of us in the same church who are currently fighting this battle!  And that's not mentioning all the survivors in the pews.  I am more and more conscious of just how pervasive this disease has become.

So, now back home I rest, prepare for Trick-or-Treaters, and another round of chemo.....OH MY! (Double YUCK!)



Thursday, October 28, 2010

A "Mixed Bag" Day

I guess the title just about say it.  I am still feeling better and glad to feel this way.  I am glad that one treatment is behind me but I am already thinking that the next one is right around the corner.  Feeling better now, the tunnel I was in over the weekend seems far away.  I am not looking forward to going back down again.  But, I have to.

SInce my counts are low, today at preschool I needed to think more consciously about the times I am around the children and any coughs or sneezes in my direction.  One of my staff members even told me that I shouldn't be helping the children out of their cars at drop-off since their little hands have a multitude of good and bad stuff on them at all times.  She was right, I need to stop doing that at this time.  The children are really my joy and it's hard not to be able to spend more time with them as I usually do.  I even find myself turning my head when an adult wants to hug me because I just can't take a chance.  This is hard for someone who loves to hug and take those little trusting hands in mine as I lead them into preschool.

There are also a few pressing personal issues I need to deal with presently.  I mean, life doesn't just stop because you are going through chemo.  So, I need to think these things out and I am finding that I am looking at things a little differently.  A friend told me how these difficult times in our lives really are life-changing and she is absolutely right.  I am thinking that my new life after chemo is going to look different than my life before chemo. 

I told you in a previous blog that I had been kinda "going through the motions" with some parts of my life and kept being nudged by my inner self that something needed to change.  I just didn't realize that cancer would be that "something" and how this struggle (only beginning) will actually be the catalyst for propelling that future change.

I go tomorrow for another blood test to see if the counts are up.  I was feeling tired today...and it could be because I did not sleep well last night or that I did a lot these last two days...but it also makes you a little worried that maybe the counts aren't coming up.  I'm not sure if or what they do to help this at this point.  But I do know if they are not up enough on Tuesday, I cannot get my chemo.  Talk about a "mixed bag"...yeah, who really wants the chemo...but also I need it and I want to get through this as quickly as I can.  But I can't make my body do anything that it doesn't want to do, which is so aggravating (whoops...there's that control issue raising its ugly head again...down, boy, down!).  Also, the schedule they have me on now means that the week of Thanksgiving would be one of my good weeks.  If anything changes that schedule, then Thanksgiving could be "in the dumper" for me.  Yeah, I's far away yet and I have two chemos to get through before then.  And counts to watch in the weeks inbetween.   So, we'll see what happens.

So, today is definitely a mixed bag of feeling good to be feeling good and the anxious anticipation already beginning for next week.  

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Time Out on the Swings

Ahhhhhh....there is nothing so good as feeling good when you have felt so bad.  I still don't feel like me...but I feel less like the person I was on Saturday.  Please...just for me...take the time today to take a deep breath and revel in your wellness!  Laugh out loud at it and thank God for all He has brought to your life.  It is an amazing gift and one we take too much for granted.

I am learning through this.  I am learning about God's goodness through others...about the value of friends and family...about the importance of words...and how we need--I mean really need--each other.  I am also learning that I don't need to be in charge of everything....I can step back and let others do for me and not feel the need to secretly change something or do parts over the way I would do them (please tell me I'm not alone in this need for perfection...I agree, it's a curse).  I am learning others are capable and willing and don't need my interference or my "help".  I am learning that I am just one person in this big world and that all around me are "angels in disguise"  

Yes, the euphoria of feeling better is a great high!

I am also glad to have an idea of the pattern of my next couple months and what kind of side effects I can expect from my body.  I met with my oncologist today to get my blood counts and to talk to her about my week.  I told her all and I am sure it was not unexpected.  She told me to continue the Prilosec and the Mylanta until the Hairy Hearburn had a chance to calm down.  These two items have helped enormously and I was finally able to sleep last night.  Unfortunately, my counts are still low, but she didn't seem too concerned.  Although I do have to go back on Friday to have them taken again.  But now that I feel better, I can start eating a little better and maybe that will help.

I went for my wig fitting today.  I think it's going to look fine.  I have heard from many chemo patients that they don't always use the wig as much as scarves or caps/hats.  And hey, every woman likes to have a reason to buy some more this is not all bad either.  I have slowly come to terms with my hair going "bye-bye" and don't really relate to it right now as I would have a week ago.  I am becoming more defined by who I am than by my hair.  And family and friends have helped me define who I am more than they know.  After the next trip to meet the "red devil", I am told it will be during that week that clumps will start falling.  At that time, my hairdresser is going to give me a short crew-cut and then, it's on to accessories and hair that won't frizz. 

Don't think that I don't know I will be swinging up and down again.  I do know that.  I just know now to be so thankful for the times the swing is going up instead of down.  And I need to remember that there are so many others just like me.  And they have all been through this and are now survivors.  And next year, when there is a Breast Cancer Walk, I will be walking proudly with my pink on and a smile wide and happy at just being there.

I am also aware that today there are so many others that are suffering much more than I know or could imagine....whether it is disease of body or mind or spirit.  We are just simple beings trying our best and sometimes we hurt and sometimes we cry and sometimes we laugh and sometimes we get it just right.  So, this is my "time out" on the swings and now I am going to start pumping my legs to start "swinging up".