The Chemo Aftermath

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I got through my first chemo. Fortunately, I didn’t have to deal with the side effect mentioned above (side note: these cards are from the amazingly talented Emily McDowell. She created a line of Empathy cards specifically for cancer patients. Please check her out). In fact, I made out pretty well the first couple days. Tuesday and Wednesday were pretty good, thanks to Steroids in my pre-meds (pre-meds are medications given before the chemo that help to eliminate and/or reduce side effects of the chemo).

Thursday was a different story. I had the flu-like symptoms I was warned I might have. My fever topped out at somewhere 103.4, staying in the high 102s Thursday and most of Friday. By Saturday morning, my fever had broken, and while I was still experiencing chills, sweats, and body aches, I was able to attend a very special meeting via live stream.  I’m hugely relieved about that.

Hopefully this flu-type side effect will improve with each dose of chemo, but for this week, I expect Monday-Wednesday to be pretty good, and then to be down for the count from Thursday through Saturday. Knowing what to expect is more than half the battle. It helps me to schedule chores around the house early in the week with the Steroids kicked in, and then to be able to rest without feeling like I’ve accomplished nothing.

It may seem silly to read that I would be worried about chores or about accomplishing things, but trust me. Chemo makes a patient feel useless enough — she doesn’t need her self-imposed guilt to get out of control. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not steam cleaning my curtains or scrubbing my floors each week, but making sure the bathrooms get cleaned gives me some control over my out-of-control life.

I’d like to give a shout-out to one of my dearest friends — I’ve known her since I was about my son’s age. Our relationship grew out of writing and we now each have a blog. Stop on over at her blog Stand Up and Live Your Life. I am honored to be the subject of her most recent post, and I encourage you to read more.

I don’t know what this week will bring along with it, but if I can find humor in it, it will be shared. Thank you so much for the prayers, cards, flowers, texts, messages, and posts. I read each and every one, even if I don’t respond. I am making every effort to respond to each of you, so please bear with me.

xoxo

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When Words Don’t Mean Enough

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These words seem so trivial to express what I wish to convey. The outpouring of love and compassion has been overwhelming, and all three of us are in awe of your caring spirit. Friends have offered practical help — such as setting up meals for us — but also emotional help. I’ve had several friends offer to listen if I want to scream or cry in my frustration. Be forewarned, I may accept both offers.

Some of you barely know me, but our worldwide brotherhood has allowed us to have strong bonds anyway. Some of you have the ability and talent to see feelings and emotions in me that I am just discovering for myself. Some of you know just which scriptures I need to hear.

You will continue to amaze me by your insights, and please know that each and every word — spoken or written — I treasure. I may not express my gratitude fully enough. Some words may hit me so sharply that I cannot respond without losing my composure. Some words may be so truthful, I’m not ready to hear them yet. And some may simply come while I’m medicated and unable to remember. What I won’t ever forget, though, is how your words have made me feel.

 

My friends have made the story of my life.
Helen Keller

With my first foray into breast cancer, I had virtually no pain, other than what was associated with surgeries or procedures. Nothing that couldn’t be treated with Percocet. This experience is totally different. This time around there was immediate discussion of pain management. I was given Morphine almost immediately, and then Dilaudid as I was admitted.

The hospital doctors were hesitant to give me anything too strong at my release; however my Oncologist is familiar with the pancreatic pain associated with these types of cancers. He has me on two 25 mcg patches of Fentanyl, and Dilaudid 2 mgs every six hours as needed. Unfortunately, I’ve needed all of these, and sometimes I still have pain after taking them all.

We had our circuit assembly with the Branch Representative this weekend. We’d hoped to stream it, but it wasn’t uploaded yet. I really did want to attend, but I also didn’t want to risk getting sick. Plus I’m still not feeling like myself. Instead, we stayed close to home, did some personal study, and spent time together the two of us (our son went to the assembly with Nana and Papa).

Your cards and notes have already started appearing and brightening my days. I’ve gotten funny memes and greeting cards; notes of support from those I barely know. I’m reading each card, each comment. I’m listening to your sympathetic tones of voices.  It may be through a a dazed mind, but I am listening and appreciating your love for me.

I’ll continue to keep you posted.

xoxo

Lost in Tennessee

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Though the hurricane did not directly hit us, we decided to evacuate anyway. The kiddo has a panic attack when he hears the word “tornado,” so we thought it best to make sure he felt safe. Besides school was cancelled until Wednesday, so we didn’t need to worry about taking him out.

We left Saturday morning and arrived late afternoon. The drive itself was not particularly awful. The house was fabulous — three stories with a hot tub, foosball table, pool table, and a mini golf arcade game. We checked things out, and Allen and Brian played a game with pool while I did some writing.

For those of you who are just joining my blog, I’m a cancer survivor and I had a failed implant (became exposed got infected, had to be removed). Therefore I have prosthetics. While my right implant is still in tact, I have prosthetics for both breasts to ensure symmetry.

Prosthetic breasts are rather heavy and I find them fairly uncomfortable, especially by the end of the day. Typically, once I am home and know I won’t be going out, they come off. And if I don’t have to wear them, I usually don’t. Anyway, by around 4:30 or 5:00 I’m done with them. Saturday evening was no different.

After writing, I joined the boys around the pool table. We ate dinner and enjoyed the hot tub. In the meantime, hubs had gotten a bit of a cold and I had been bitten by the writing bug. The next morning we just hung out around the house. Hubby was feeling miserable and didn’t want to do anything. Kiddo was content on his iPad and I spent the day writing.

By Monday, though, we were ready to explore. Upon our arrival Saturday, we had seen a wax museum with King Kong on the outside of the building. Kiddo was intrigued and was unable to quite comprehend that the building itself was not wax, but the figures inside were.

It was while getting ready that I realized I’d lost my boobs. I could not find the bra I’d worn on Saturday that contained them. Though my insurance covered the expense of the prosthetics, I was pretty sure that any additional pair would need to be paid for out-of-pocket. So this wasn’t like just losing an undergarment. This was like losing a $200 dress. We were worried, but I was sure they’d turn up before we left the next day.

Side note — I do go out occasionally without wearing my prosthetics. I figured I didn’t know anyone in Tennessee so I didn’t really care that I was lopsided. And I really just wanted to get the wax museum over with so I could get back to writing.

However, by that evening Hubs and I were both getting pretty worried. Like I mentioned, these suckers aren’t cheap. Saturday morning, we searched — almost in a panic — but came up empty. I swore that I had taken my bra off as soon as we arrived Saturday, but Hubs asked if I’d even worn them Saturday. I wasn’t sure.

How does one lose her boobs in a cabin in Tennessee?

I called my parents at around 7:30 a.m. Here’s a conversation I never thought I’d have with my father:

“Um hey dad, could you go to my house and see if my boobs are there?” But that’s exactly what I said.

Being the good father that he is. He got dressed at 7:30 — without having had his coffee — and drove over to our house to look for his daughter’s prosthetic boobs. About 20 minutes later he called:

“One lumpy bra located.” he said. Evidently in my infinite wisdom, I had thought “why wear them all day in the car when they’re uncomfortable?” while at the same time packing several bras.

I continue t blame chemo for my memory issues.

Hope this made you laugh.

xoxo

On Books and Constancy

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Yes, that it is a book laying next to a toilet. The one in our powder room, to be more specific. The kid enjoys a good read while sitting on the throne. I know it seems funny for me to take a picture of this, but wait until you read why I did.

You see, that particular book — Harry the Dirty Dog — was written in 1956. I bought it from an adorable book shop about 8 or 9 years ago, when kiddo was around 2, and it’s one that has remained in his possession no matter how many times we go through his books (about every 6 months). He loves it. It’s one of his favorites — one he goes back to again and again even though he’s almost double digits and living in the 21st Century.

Books have been a part of the kiddo’s life since before birth. We read him Bible stories in the womb. We’ve read books to him nearly every night of his life. He’s an avid reader, and even chooses books over Minecraft sometimes.

I love that he chose to read Harry the Dirty Dog last night. I love that he has this enduring love — this constancy — for the books read to him as an infant and toddler. I love this picture because it shows me that while our family is dealing with some BIG life-altering things (like seemingly unending cancer treatment and the prospect of moving), my little boy finds security and solace in a good old book.

Kids are resilient, I know. We are told that pretty often, usually after some kind of minor parenting fail. And I’ve always believed that when he’s overheard an argument or when I showed him how to peel vegetables and he peeled off part of his skin. He’s resilient; he’ll be fine.

But when Mom gets cancer, it’s a whole different ballgame. The things I had always done for my child were suddenly insurmountable. There was no chaperoning field trips or volunteering at school; there were months when I couldn’t drop him off or pick him up. Times when those designated to go in my stead forgot him, and the school had to call me. I even had to miss his year-end project because I was recovering from surgery.

As any mother would, I worried that all of this would negatively affect him. That he’d be scarred for life. Instead, though, he made straight As for the entire school year. He reached a big milestone spiritually. He was resilient. Someone told me that those accomplishments mean that he feels secure.

Somehow, in spite of the upheavals that Cancer caused (and still causes), my husband and I managed to keep our little one feeling safe and secure. Mostly, I credit my husband. He took over so many of my activities — reading and saying prayers nightly, dropping him off at school, attending that year-end project — and most importantly, caring for him spiritually. All while taking care of me.

I look at my son daily, wondering with amazement at how seemingly “unaffected” he is by my illness. I know he is — in the way that he occasionally snuggles up to me for longer periods of time, or how quickly he’s willing to do something for me — but for the most part he’s a happy kid.

And I realize that he’s happy because he’s loved. Books may come and go; the snuggles may disappear; but he is and always will be able to rely on our love. It’s the biggest constancy in his life.

The Road Ahead

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I apologize for the absence. Honestly, I’ve been feeling a little down lately, and I haven’t known how to properly recognize/express my feelings until recently. Let me back up …

During my recovery through May and June my Oncologist informed me that he wanted me to start on an oral chemo medication in conjunction with my radiation. Needless to say that was disappointing to me. Actually, it was more than disappointing. I was pretty upset and depressed about it. I won’t bore you with the details of the reasoning behind this, but it’s a pretty much a “better safe than sorry” precaution.

I began feeling like myself again by the middle of June (as far as surgery), and we even went away at the end of the month (to Atlanta to see my favorite band, The Cure.) However, now that I was off pain meds, my arthritis pain has consistently been getting worse. For those of you living with chronic pain, I know you understand how exhausting that is.

Chronic pain hasn’t helped the depression. But I’m able to take some pain meds as needed, and I am getting ready to start a non-drug therapy to help block pain signals. Add to that the start of Chemo and Radiation, and, well, I am one exhausted chickie!

I am happy to report, though, that I am mostly tolerating the chemo well (as in the past). I’m experiencing some nausea/food aversion and it disrupts my sleep, but things could be much worse. Radiation is purely a nuisance to me at this point, for which I’m grateful. I need a little bit of time to readjust my self-expectations and schedule before the pain/irritation sets in.

Once again, I am struggling with whether my lack of interest/motivation is from chemo/radiation fatigue or depression or both. Tonight I plan on an early bedtime with a little extra Trazadone to help me stay asleep longer (I typically only take one because I sleep really late when I take two; but at this point I’m feeling like a walking dishrag, so I probably need to catch up a bit).

My plastic surgeon told me/warned me that all I’d feel like doing in the first weeks after surgery was watching TV/Netflix and shopping online. Much to hubs’ chagrin, I’m still shopping online. Mostly filling my carts and abandoning them, but occasionally I take on all the way through, a brief wave of excitement washes over me upon arrival, and then I’m once again paralyzed by both mental an physical fatigue.

I do feel confident, though, that my mood is nothing that can’t be fixed by some sleep, some prayer, and some realistic exceptions of myself. In the meantime, I remind myself that I could be having more severe side effects; and all of this is better than being dead.

Over the next few weeks, I will try to update more regularly. In the meantime, I would love your tips on getting out of this mood!

xo

 

Ugly Truths

Note: I wrote this last night. I am feeling much better today, but I think it is important to share the post anyway. To share that my attitude isn’t always Sunshine and Rainbows. That I have bad days. Plus, I’d love some feedback on what you do when you feel down like this.

Hi there readers. Guess what! Tuesday marks my half-way point through this second phase of treatment. Thank you, my sister, for helping me realize that! And, I’m sorry that I wasn’t up for talking. I was hungry, and this blog post will explain a little more.

I am glad to be halfway through this phase. But you know what? I’m pretty much over this whole cancer treatment thing. I’m tired. I am experiencing aches and pains and stomach issues and fatigue. It seems that I cannot get physically comfortable, and I’m having more trouble getting distracted with the things that have intrigued me thus far.

If cancer was a person, I would want want to beat the crap out of it. It makes me angry. It’s like this really annoying person who I tried to be nice to, and it just took advantage of me and my good nature. It needs to go. To get out of my life. To never contact me again. I need to change my number. Move, maybe. Get rid of this stalker.

Up until now, I’ve found things that make me happy. Planning my day-to-day schedule. Using essential oils. Always having my nails done with Jamberry. Blogging. Doing my makeup. Now these things aren’t bringing me as much joy as they were. Why? I’m not entirely sure. I assume that the fatigue is a big part of it. Increasingly, lately, the idea of spending the day in bed is more appealing than putting forth the effort to shower and put on my make-up and “look good.” As I plan my week, I see the how the need to adjust for my fatigue level lessens my productivity. Blogging about positive things gets harder by the day because I’m feeling less positive and less productive. And my concentration is poor, so organizing my thoughts and ideas to actually execute a project becomes increasingly difficult.

It’s not to say that I have no positive thinking. Overall, I am so grateful to my God that He has helped me endure this experience. My prognosis is good, and I am handling Chemo (for the most part) like a champ, so I don’t really have much about which to complain. My family and friends are as supportive as they were at my initial diagnosis, if not more so.

It’s just that cancer sucks. It really does. Treatment is rough. I have it far better than many, but I’m over it. And it does get harder, the more it builds up in one’s system. Discomfort increases and fatigue increases. Right now I have a constantly bloody nose because the Chemo aggravates the irritation in my sinus and nose from the dry heat needed this time of year.

Ugh! I have such a bad attitude, which annoys me. I know I will get over it. And I’ve allowed myself this weekend to acknowledge and feel these feelings. My nearest and dearest have allowed me to vent … nodding in sympathy and laughing in solidarity. This already makes me feel a bit better. And I know that I have a full week ahead that will make me feel productive and accomplished.

Tell me, readers, what do you find helps when you experience times like these? Not specific to cancer, but to feeling in a rut or like nothing is bringing you the joy it once was? Any words of encouragement, empathy, or advice is greatly appreciated.

xoxo

Phase I Down!

I am happy to inform you that I completed Phase I of my Chemo today! Huzzah! Woohoo! Yay!

I am equally as happy to inform you that tomorrow is my last Neulasta shot! (Insert your desired celebratory exclamation here). Neulasta, I know that you did good things for me, but boy did you make me feel lousy!

In two weeks I will begin my second phase. Weekly infusions of Taxol (or maybe Taxotere) and Carboplatin. Because of my age and relative healthiness (i.e. no Diabetes or other potentially life-threatening conditions), my Oncologist is using a relatively new therapy with me. The plan is to continue at the same dosage for the entire 12 weeks, but since this is a new treatment plan, and I’m one of the first to be treated this way, we will go on a week to week basis to see how I handle it. It may need to be adjusted some, which may extend the phase beyond 12 weeks.

Oh wait, I forgot to tell you the third piece of celebratory news! My lumps are no longer detectable — neither my surgeon nor my Oncology Nurse Practitioner could feel them! My chemo brain is not remembering anymore celebratory expressions, so please fill in some suggestions in the comments.

A little update on how I am feeling: my CBC shows some anemia, which makes sense because I am feeling more fatigue than I have been in previous weeks. This is to be expected, as Chemo is cumulative and is known to make patients anemic. They may add some Iron infusions to my weekly regimen, but we will see.

I am also experiencing pain, which could be my arthritis or from my Chemo or a combination of both. Not much I can do about that except some Tylenol or Advil. And I’ve been told Epsom Salt baths.

Other than that, I am in pretty good spirits. Aunt H & Uncle D visited for a long weekend, and we finally saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It exceeded my expectations. Even my mom thought it was fabulous!! Then Saturday my sister (I only have one, so no abbreviation needed) and brother-in-law flew in. They are here until Saturday. Mom, Sis, and I saw Joy on Sunday. I loved it! The boys saw — you guessed it — Star Wars (again).

Spending time with family is wonderful. For the first time in several years, all of us were together for a family meal. With my dad retiring at the end of the year, we informally “roasted” him. Then my aunt H recounted a story about how awesome my dad is, and we all ended up crying happy tears. It was awesome 🙂

Sis bought me some new makeup products that I will be reviewing in my beauty blog, and aunt H bought me some puzzles and games to play when I’m not feeling like staring at technology (much needed). She also gave me the coolest body pillow I’ve ever seen. Which I will post a picture of tomorrow if I can.

xoxo