Cancer Sucks

I know we all already know this. But let me just tell you that cancer totally kicked my butt these last few days. To be more accurate, Neulasta, a drug used to fight the effects of Chemotherapy, kicked my butt.

“They” warned me that I would feel achy after getting my Neulasta shot. Honestly, I thought, “it can’t be any worse than my arthritis.” Well, I was so wrong. Neulasta makes me feel like I have the flu, except without the fever. Tylenol helps, Percocet helps even more because I sleep. But nothing really shakes it.

I received the shot late Wednesday. Thursday and Friday I took Percocet and slept, waking ocassionally to eat or drink some water. By Friday night, I felt thoroughly pathetic … I’d been through about a dozen popsicles, wasn’t drinking nearly enough water, and honestly hadn’t showered or brushed my teeth in the previous 48 hours. “Hubs,” I said, “Please make me get up and have a normal day tomorrow.”

He did and I did. I got up and showered, put on some gorgeous makeup (thanks to a fabulous care package from a life-long friend), and went about my day. Last night I even had a cocktail and a glass of wine. I also went to sleep before 8 p.m., utterly exhausted and achy.

Today was another day spent laying around and, honestly, feeling particularly sorry for myself. I wallowed that my mouth is so dry (from the chemo) and I can’t bring myself to drink enough water. I wallowed that I don’t really know what I want to eat, and when I think I do, I smell it and feel immediately repulsed. I demanded a ridiculous amount of sugar and little nutrition. And then I immediately beat myself up for eating so much that is bad for me.

This evening wasn’t much better. A couple sips of wine before I realized that,  for me, the durating of my chemo will likely be alcohol-free.  Something about alcohol turns my stomach. Actually, something about lots of things turns my stomach.

Woe is me … except that if I didn’t feel like this, I wouldn’t be fighting the cancer. And if I wasn’t fighting the cancer, I could be dying.

So, with much assistance from Hubs, I’m attempting to adjust my thinking. Rather than feeling sorry for myself, I must realize that these side effects are a semi-permanent aspect of my life right now. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I should accept that I am going to feel achy; that food isn’t going to interest me; that *gasp* I will spend months without Bourbon or wine touching my lips; that I’m going to have cotton mouth and feel thirsty much of the time.

And instead of ignoring all the medications I’ve been prescribed proactively, I should accept that maybe I should pop an anti-nausea pill; or that maybe I do need a narcotic to make me comfortable enough to get a good night’s sleep.

And I should remember, above all, that this is all temporary; but the alternative would be permanent. So I ask for you to keep me in your prayers and for you to forgive me for slipping tonight and feeling sorry for myself.

#iwillbeatthis

xoxo

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One Down …

Warning: This is how I actually look with no makeup. The chemo had barely had a chance to kick in. I just naturally look like this without makeup. I apologize in advance 😉 

First chemo down:

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It was pretty anti-climactic. The biggest surprise was how long it took and how many steps came with the “therapy.” First, I needed to have a full blood CBC panel done. Then I met with Doc Oncologist and his Nurse Practitioner (he has two), who explained that my blood work looks good and we can move forward.

We (Mom and Hubs joined me today) were shuffled into the chemotherapy room, and I assumed we’d get going right away, and I’d be out within an hour or so. Mmm… no so much. Here’s how it actually goes:

  1. Saline drip to flush out my kidneys (chemotherapy is hell on the kidneys).
  2. Steroid drip. This is to help counteract any nausea and discomfort I would potentially feel.
  3. Adriamycin. This is aministered over 12-15 minutes. This is to ensure that the medication does not leak out of the veins because that’s not good. It’s also the color of red Kool-Aid or hummingbird feed. (I am intentionally not linking to medication information, but feel free to look. I just ask that you be reassured that I am under the care of amazing professionals and I would not receive it unless it was absolutely necessary. So in other words, keep your “holy crap” reactions to yourselves, and rest assured that I’m good 😉 )
  4. Cytoxan. This is a slow drip chemo drug that takes about an hour. See the above parenthetical.
  5. More saline to flush out line, and heparin to make sure I don’t clot too quickly.

We were there for about four hours total. During those hours, I snacked, read, and played games on my iPad. It really wasn’t awful. A little boring, maybe, and we certainly could have done without the Medicare Supplement infomercial in the background, but all in all dare I say, relaxing?

I took some time to observe my fellow comrades. I was the youngest today, probably by about 20 years. An older woman had a total of three visitors (two who stayed the entire time, and one who popped in); two were alone — one in the private room (I wonder who seeks out the private room. I’ve been told I can go there if I get in early enough, but there is a comfort in knowing that we are a silent team); and two who had what I believe were their husbands by their side most of the time. Except when one decided she decided she wanted a milkshake. Then hubs got her the milkshake.

About half-way through my treatment, a man I will call Retired Marine (RM, in case he appears in future blogs) came in. While I couldn’t tell with the others, with RM it was obvious this was not his first time. He was a pro. He shuffled in with his walker fully decorated in Marine paraphenalia. His bride tucked him into the chair with his own camouflage blanket. She explained that she was going to run some errands, but would return shortly. After a minimally worded exchange with the nurse, RM fell fast asleep (I could tell, as he was snoring away peacefully).

I looked at his walker for awhile, making out the details that I could. I really wanted to take a picture of it, but refrained out of respect for his privacy. I did wonder, though, what kind of cancer he had, if he got it from his time in the Marines, and what is prognosis is. His presence spoke to me louder than any of the other patients I observed today. He reminded me of a friend’s Dad — also retired military — who recently lost his battle with cancer. Something about RM made me want to hug him, talk to him, ask him his name, but I figure we have a lot more encounters where I can reach out to him. Today he needed his nap.

The demographics of today’s room — other than age — were five women and two men. Interestingly, it didn’t appear that any of the women had lost their hair, while both men’s heads were a bit sparse. But who’s to know if that is due to ordinary baldness or to chemo. Each of us kept to ourselves, other than our interactions with the nurses and our companions.

I am happy to say that at the end of the day today, I have little complaint. My tummy got a little unsure, so I preemptively took antinausea medicine. And I am on the last of the 92 ounces of water I must consume daily. I seem to have a headache stemming from the steroids, but after drinking some Sleepytime tea, it seems to be dulling a bit.

First one down. Nineteen to go. Thanks for sharing the journey with me.

xoxo

PS The general consensus was for me to take the pictures. I can always choose whether or not to share them; but I cannot go back in time to record it. Time will tell what pictures — if anymore — I choose to share.

Introspection

A word before I begin: I’ll be completely honest. I feel a bit silly blogging about my life this evening when Paris is still reeling from a terrorist attack, and the number of states that will refuse Syrian refugees cotinues to grow. To be honest, I scan by the majority of these articles and statistics, because what is being done is so far the opposite of what I know to be true and loving. The opposite of Jesus’ example. However, I do know that a future exists where there will be no terrorism and no need for countries to decide whether or not to accept refugees.

For the past few days, my vision has been blurry when looking at things closely. I’m writing this blog right now, and the letters are blurry. I don’t know why. I think I noticed it on Saturday for the first time. It comes and goes, but I don’t know what caused it. Anthesthesia maybe?

Let me back up. Thursday morning I had a sentinel node biopsy (Doc removed three nodes) and my porto-cath implanted. That afternoon I took my Percocet and slept. Friday was a little better … except that the skin around my incisions (and especially under the adhesive bandages) was really red and quite itchy. By Sunday, a rash had spread down my left arm, across my chest, and on my neck. Evidently I am also allergic to the surgical soap they typically use during operations.

So, I’m on steroids, but I am still good to go tomorrow morning for my first chemotherapy appointment. Question to my small readership … should I take a picture each time, noting the countdown to the final chemo? Part of me wants to photograph each step so I can see for myself how I am affected. But the other part of me thinks that it could contribute to making cancer my whole life, rather than it being something I schedule my life around. Plus, aren’t we over-run with images like this on social media? Please provide your thoughts.

Since chemo is taxing on the liver, I am not allowed to drink alcohol for two days leading up to and after my chemo treatment. Oh the horror! No wine. No bourbon. This is stressful on the already stressed Ladybug (me). Therefore, I am turning to herbal teas for my relaxation. I have already gotten some great recommendations, but feel free to suggest more. I have eight months to go … I cannot receive enough suggestions.

As I got comfortable in my bed tonight, I had the Voice on tv. I wasn’t entirely watching it, but I tuned in as Madi Davis was getting ready to sing “Who Will Save Your Soul,” by Jewel. Please do take a moment to watch the video.

Good! You’re back. Did you like it? I did. Now get this: she is only 16 years old! Sixteen! At 16 did I know what I wanted to do with my life? Was I that sure of myself? How about you? Were your goals at 16 in line with what your goals are now?

My immediate thought was, “I am nothing like that 16-year-old child.” But, as I look back in detail, maybe I’m not so different …

Sixteen-year-old me wanted to be a Journalist. I wanted to write for a living … preferably as a travel writer. I dreamed of being sought after by large travel book publishers or sophisticated newspapers that would pay me to review the most exotic locales and resorts.

Thirty-eight year-old me still loves to write. I never got a phone call from Lonely Planet or The New York Times, but I write. And I write real life. And sometimes people even like what I write.

The Cure was my favorite band at 16. While I never fully embraced the gothic lifestyle (I wasn’t nearly macabre enough), Robert Smith sang to my soul. I loved him, and fantasized about somehow winning backstage tickets. But then I worried I was too happy for him, and I didn’t want to ruin the illusion.

Today, The Cure is still my favorite  band. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy lots of other music (especially since The Cure hasn’t released anything in years; and their later music didn’t touch me like the earlier stuff), but The Cure still gets me everytime. In fact, they’re going on tour in 2016, and if I can land tickets, I will go with a red-lipstick-stained mask and a Robert Smith wig.

I had my first boyfriend at 16. I think I’ve mentioned before that it was a typical teenage romance: poetry, parents who didn’t approve, mystery, and after a year-and-a-half romance, a broken heart.

This is one area that I am in no way like my 16-year-0ld self. My husband of 15 years is not particularly romantic, and he definitely doesn’t write poetry, but I wouldn’t choose anyone else to be my best friend and life partner. I am so glad I went with someone who made me feel loved and safe.

My junior and senior years were when I first took an interested in psychology, a hobby of mine down to this day. I still love fashion and edgy trends (love my Doc Martens), like I did at 16. And while I’ve learned to compensate for my introversion since 16, I still need some downtime to myself.

I don’t go to concerts nearly as often as I did as  teenager and young adult; but I think part of that is due to living in a small town, where the nearest decent performing space is over an hour away; and the only decent arena is about five hours away. But I still love to write, and I love music, and I’m still a bit too happy for Robert Smith.

The changes I’ve made in the last 20-plus years are good. My faith is stronger than it was; I have a beautiful child; and I have a husband I love and trust infinitely. Plus, I am part owner of a shop, where I get to make people happy every day. And, I still get to write.

xoxo

 

Chemo Teaching & More

Today I had something called “Chemo Teaching.” Basically this means that one of the Nurse Practitioners on staff tells me all of the possible side effects of Chemotherapy, and then explains what is really likely to happen.

Nausea is likely, but I already have two prescriptions to help with that. Plus, I will receive anti-nausea meds ahead of the Chemo infusion. Fatigue is possible, as is anemia. My white blood cell count will be monitored very closely.

I’m likely to lose weight, but retain water and appear puffy. My hair will be gone within one to three weeks. Tonight I discussed this with the kid. He laughed when I said that I will be “bald,” but he thinks he will get used to it. He’s not quite on board with buzzing his head as a show of solidarity. And that’s OK. We cannot expect too much of a nine-year-old whose mom has Cancer and is going through Chemo. Both are scary words for him.

Between the time change and the anxiety of the diagnosis, I am only sleeping about six hours a night. Therefore, I am unreasonably excited about having my procedure tomorrow and being under anesthesia. A whole day of sleep is wildly appealing to me.

Speaking of tomorrow’s procedure … I am having something called a Port or Porto-Cath put in; it connects directly to my blood vessels. This is the site from which I will receive Chemo and have blood drawn. I will also have something called a Sentinel Node Biopsy. When I had my breast MRI, one of the lymph nodes lit up. The Sentinel Node Biopsy will help to determine how many — if any — nodes are involved.

In preparation for tomorrow, I was instructed to shower tonight and tomorrow morning with antibacterial soap. Tonight, in hopes of being able to blissfully unwind (yeah, right) I took a leisurely shower. I washed my hair and face, used the antibacterial soap, and shaved my legs and under-arms. As I completed this, I realized that I pay more attention to what my surgeon may or may not glean from my shaving or lack of shaving than to how my husband feels about it. Sadly, I want my surgeon to think I have it all together (Ha!), more so than my Hubs. Sorry, babe … maybe it just means I know that you won’t judge.

Now I will watch two more of my crushes: Shemar Moore and Matthew Grey Gubler. Criminal Minds is my fave show. Please oh please … could one of you show up in my dreams tonight?

xoxo

Exhaustion, Celebrity Crushes, and Ice Cream

I am tired. I have had six appointments in the last seven business days — today being my only reprieve. Tomorrow I have another appointment, followed by my port insertion and sentinel node biopsy Thursday morning.

The first of my chemo-caps/hats arrived today. Mom and I ordered several on Sunday night. Better to have them before my hair begins to fall out. My hair stylist is on call to shave my head.

I was finally able to spend a full day at the shop. It seems that a cancer diagnosis brings a large number of visitors to check on me. Today I had no less than five people stop by; one of whom I’d never met before, but heard of my diagnosis from another of my neighbors/customers. Fortunately the afternoon was quiet, and I was able to cross a lot off my list.

In the days since my diagnosis, life seems surreal at best. I fill out the same paperwork at each appointment, and for the reason each test is being ordered, I have to write “breast cancer.” I feel like it’s all a dream. Even when I  am discussing my diagnosis and treatment, I feel like I am speaking for someone else. It’s tough to determine whether this is my coping mechanism or if I’m in some sort of denial.

Speaking of dreams, I had the most wonderful one the other night. As some of you know, I don’t have celebrity crushes on “typical” celebrities. Except Johnny Depp … many share my love of him. Not so many people share my extreme affection for John Malkovich and his amazing voice. Or Mo Rocca and just how utterly adorable he is (I mean c’mon, his show is “My Grandmother’s Ravioli”).

Anyway, my dream the other night was that I got to meet John Malkovich. And I got to tell him how I fell in love with him after we read The Glass Menagerie in school and watched the movie. And he laughed and hugged me. And told me I should study ornithology. What??? John Malkovich, if by some strange chance you read this, can you explain to me why you wanted me to study birds? In any case, Mr. Malkovich, it was the first really good dream I’ve had in a long time, and interacting with you in my dream made me feel so good.

And Mr. Rocca … please know that I love you too, and you’re welcome to visit me in my dreams any time (I used to have a picture of you hanging in my office cubicle once upon a time).

Don’t blame a girl for using the C-word to try to get some attention from her crushes. It was successful in getting a late fee removed … so I’m getting a little cocky.

Back to reality …

Hubs told me tonight that every night when the Kid says his prayer, he pauses, and then says, “Please help my Mommy to feel better because she is sick.” It’s the last thing he prays for. I worry for him when I lose my hair. How will he react? I know children are resilient, but I do worry about how he will handle things once my treatment starts.

Many thoughts and worries are filling my mind these days. Please know that if you have texted, messaged, or called and I have yet to respond, I appreciate each word of kindness. Between appointments and phone calls, and concerns over family and work, by the end of the day I am so tired I cannot think straight. I will try to respond to each message; I just ask for patience as I adjust to my new normal.

Feel free to ask questions in the comments, to share my blog, and to continue to send me texts, messages, and to call. I love and appreciate every single one. Especially to my wonderful friends that I made through my husband who sent me wine-flavored ice cream. Yes, you read correctly. If you’re local, you’d better line up for a chance to share it with me. And there is no guarantee that I will.

xoxo

The Devil in the Details

Yesterday we met with the Oncologist. We had a full house — Mom, Dad, Hubs, Breast Care Navigator, Social Worker, and a Med student. My oncologist immediately put us all at ease, joking with us, and making us smile and laugh.

He gave me my full diagnosis, complete with stage:

Stage 2 Triple-Negative Invasive Ductal Carcinoma

What does that mean, you ask? Let me dissect it a bit …

  • Stage 2 is good. It means it hasn’t spread outside of my breast, except maybe a lymph node Yay!
  • Triple-Negative means that it isn’t caused or affected by my hormones. So, I am not a candidate for hormone therapy. It also means that it is a very aggressive type of cancer.
  • Invasive means that the cancer cells have gotten greedy and spread outside of a single milk duct.

Treatment Plan

Beginning November 17, I will undergo approximately six months of Chemotherapy. Triple-Negative Breast Cancer is known to benefit from Chemotherapy prior to surgery. After the Chemo, I will have a mastectomy followed by radiation.

Likely effects will be hair and weight loss. The entire process will be close to one year.

We thank everyone who has offered kind words of support during this time. The last ten days have been mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting. I plan on using this weekend to process some of my emotions, so that I am ready emotionally and mentally to fight.

I apologize for the overly factual nature of this post. My mind is so taxed that I’m not quite able to form many emotional thoughts. I am sure they will come to me shortly.

Int he meantime, hang tight … I’ll post more soon.

xoxo

Diagnosis: Cancer

I am sure that many of you suspected that I was alluding to a potential cancer diagnosis. And sadly, that is how my case has unfolded.

My timeline has been fairly quick. My husband found a lump on 10/24. Mammogram and ultrasound were scheduled 10/29. Biopsy this Monday, 11/2. Diagnosis yesterday 11/3. Crapload of testing today, 11/4.

Emotions have been crashing like waves. For the most part, I am calm. Removed, almost. Treating the testing and diagnosis as though I am absorbing it for some close family member. But then a thought crosses my mind or I see my husband looking at me or not looking at me, or I see my mother’s red-rimmed eyes, or I hear my dad’s voice catch and the tears rush into my eyes like a dam breaking.

My overwhelming thought is that I hate that I am causing such worry to my loved ones. I look at my strong and protective husband and I see fear and uneasiness. When I ask him if he is OK, he hesitates, and then tells me that he is struggling with his worst fear — losing me. And my heart sinks.

Dad came by late yesterday afternoon just to hug me. Even though we were coming over less than two hours later. Mom cried at work. My sister booked a flight here. My close friends called and texted, in shock at the diagnosis, but doing their best to be calm and supportive. My sister-in-law cried, and my niece is devastated. My nephews are concerned.

And my son. My sweet son. His reaction was nonchalant. But he wanted to sleep with me last night. Keep me close.

I chose to take a public route to inform all but my closest family and friends. My husband and I announced it on Facebook and then to Instagram. We live in a small community and have a business in the center of town. Word travels lightning-fast here, and Hubs and I felt the best route was to pre-empt the rumors with a statement from us. While some may feel this is an inappropriate form of communication, my husband and I felt it was best for us, as we have friends in several states, a large local presence, and a proven local rumor mill.

The response has been nothing but extremely supportive. I am so utterly touched and encouraged by every single response. To know that casual acquaintances of mine, but good friends with my sister, are rooting for me make me know that she has an amazing support system so many states away from me. To know that the people my husband grew up with are in his court are praying for us makes me feel a tiny bit less concerned about his support system. To know that my parents’ friends and colleagues know and are offering their kindnesses and friendship to them, helps me to think they have confidants with whom they can honestly discuss their fears.

In the meantime, my biggest fear is that I will cause my loved ones heartbreak and grief. I am not afraid of my treatment. Sadly, I am used to feeling different, vomiting at a moment’s notice, and dealing with pain. It doesn’t scare me. What it could do to those connected to me — that is what makes me cry.

One of my dear friends asked me to not stop writing. And so I won’t. I am a proponent of self-advocating, and I will continue to be. Writing is so cathartic for me, so I will continue to write. And I will hope that my words resonate with someone else.

xoxo