Not Goodbye

We said “see you soon” to two of our best friends last night. We’ve known them almost ten years. Our times together are marked by laughter. Our kids, despite the age difference, get along fabulously.

These are people we can text and just say, “Wanna hang out?” Most of our time together is spent talking, playing games, watching TV or a movie and laughing. A lot. Ours is a comfortable friendship — there is no competition or need to impress. They see me without makeup and without my prosthetic.

They were there for me through my first battle with cancer, and they have been here for me again this time. She, her daughter, and her mom celebrated my last chemo with me (remember the boob cupcakes?).

She was there for me when I lost my very best friend, offering support and wise advice. She’s younger than me, but I don’t notice. She’s dealt with so much in her life that she seems older. She’s comfortable in her own skin, unafraid of being herself — something I still struggle with at 40.

She’s an entrepreneur, a talented photographer, and recently added teacher to her titles when she started homeschooling her daughter. She’s not afraid of new things — hence the move.

I will miss her tremendously, but I don’t worry about staying in touch. I can be a good long-distance friend. There is texting and FaceTime. Instagram and Facebook. And there is always the opportunity to visit.

No goodbyes, my sweet friend. Only see you soon. Have fun on your new adventure. I love you.

xoxo

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This Time Around

Even though this is my second time with breast cancer, so many things are different about this experience. Aside from the obvious things — different parts of my body, a more serious stage, a different prognosis — I’m finding other differences as well.

I’m already experiencing low blood counts. I believe this is typical of Gemzar, but I have already had to postpone my third treatment because my blood counts are off. I’ve only had two treatments. I’m on a preventive antibiotic. Last time, it was months of chemo before my blood was affected.

My energy level is lower. This may be because of the Fentanyl patch I’m on, or it may be that this cancer is taking more out of me than last time. Most nights I am in bed before 9:00 and I’m asleep until around 7 or 8 the next morning. Some days I nap through the whole day.

I’m on pain medication. My original breast cancer had no pain associated with it. None. The pain of the mass in my pancreas was excruciating. Bad enough that I wear a Fentanyl patch 24 hours a day. Granted, I’ve come down to a lower dose, but the doctor isn’t in any hurry to wean me off of it.

My emotional state/outlook have changed. With an unclear and unsure prognosis, remaining positive is more difficult for me. I feel like I’m in limbo and I’m not sure what to do with myself. As a planner I prefer structure to my days, but with the gravity of this diagnosis my only job is to “take care of myself.” This leaves me kind of lost as to how to spend my time. My sense of humor has gotten darker, and I’ve become more reserved.

Not surprisingly, this last one has been most difficult to me. Last time I took on the role of fighter — I had something to beat, to get rid of. I had a concrete task. This time, it isn’t so clear, not so black and white. Instead of beating or getting rid of something, we’re trying to control the progression of it. It makes for a much more difficult fight song or cheer. Instead of “fight, fight, fight” it’s “control, control, control.” It doesn’t flow as easily.

I’m sure as time goes on, I will get used to my new normal. Taking it day by day. Appreciating the little things. Accepting that “taking care of myself” is my new full-time job. Already, I feel myself slipping into a bit of a routine, and that makes me feel a little more stable.

As with any life-changing event, this will take a period of adjustment. I know that; I just need to accept it. I need to remember that I have an abundance of support in my family and friends. I need to remember to rely on God and remind myself that He is holding onto my hand (Isa. 43:10, 13). That He will help me get through every step of this, no matter how difficult the steps might be.

Today was a rough day for me. But I talked to my husband and my mom and received reassurance, strengthening, and commiseration. Having someone acknowledge and assure me that my feelings are valid is extremely comforting. Having someone offer to help me in tangible ways is strengthening — both spiritually and emotionally. The amazing thing is that I get support like this on a daily basis from so many people. Some friends text me encouraging words. Some send cards. Some I get to speak to and/or see daily. And I thank God for all these ways that he’s giving me support. I may have a life-altering diagnosis, but I am blessed to have my support team standing with me.

xoxo

 

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

Folly Beach, SC

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Labor Day weekend always unofficially marks the end of Summer. Even though it’s still ridiculously hot outside, the kid has been back in school for two weeks, and it’s still Hurricane season. We decided to celebrate this transition by spending a long weekend in Folly Beach.

We hadn’t been before, and really didn’t know what to expect. Dad rented a great condo across the street from the ocean, and though we had a parking lot in front of us, we could hear the ocean from our balcony. It was immediately relaxing.

By the first evening, I knew that it was going to be a fabulous getaway.

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In preparation for reading on the beach, Mom and I had gone to the bookstore and gotten two books each. I don’t remember the last time I read an actual paper book. It was amazing!

I read Liane Moriarty’s Truly Madly Guilty first. Hubby and I had watched Big Little Lies, based on the book by the same name, and really enjoyed it. So this seemed like a good choice. At over 400 pages, I was concerned it would take me awhile to finish it; but it was so compelling that I finished in around 24 hours. This is how I read — I binge, ignoring most of my surroundings. My husband refers to himself as a book widower during these super-concentrated times. It’s why I rarely read books during my daily life. Verdict on the book: a compelling page-turner. Great story with lots of unexpected surprises. The best part — Moriarty wraps up the story in a satisfying manner — so I was not left mourning the characters, wondering what happened next in their lives.

The second book I read is The Woman in Cabin Ten by Ruth Ware. A mystery, the story moved quickly, albeit somewhat predictably. I recommend it as a fun and quick read. At this point, I was out of books, so I raided the library in the condo and found James Patterson’s Along Came a Spider. While I was reluctant, as I kind of see James Patterson as a formulaic writer, I thoroughly enjoyed the psychological mystery.

But I digress. While I enjoyed reading immensely, and it contributed to one of the most enjoyable and relaxing getaways I’ve had, the real highlight was spending time on the beach with family.

Because of the chemo and radiation, I’ve avoided the beach, as I sunburn easily. But I have missed it so much! We brought beach umbrellas for the trip, and I was able to sit in the shade with my feet in the sand. The lovely cool breeze and the sound of the ocean waves melted away all the stresses of daily life.

Watching my son, shy at first, but then venturing into the ocean up to his chest and jumping along with the waves was one of the happiest things I’ve seen lately. In fact, the kiddo didn’t complain about anything we did. It’s the first trip we’ve taken in recent years where he enjoyed every minute.

The other highlight of our getaway was a boat ride to Morris Island. We went with Adventure Harbor Tours and were not disappointed. Great ride out to the island, with some pauses to watch dolphins, and some light Charleston history. Morris Island itself is an uninhabited island and is known for it’s excellent shells and sharks’ teeth. I don’t know that it quite lived up to the hype, but we all found some neat shells and some sharks’ teeth. I would definitely recommend the trip.

Folly Beach attracts a younger crowd, so we did have to suffer through a pretty loud party Sunday night. We will keep the timing in mind the next time we go.

Surf and souvenir shops line the town’s Center Street (their Main Street), eliminating the desire (for us, at least) to do any shopping. Open air restaurants are aplenty, but nothing out of this world. That said, I do recommend Taco Boy for lunch or dinner and Rita’s for breakfast. It’s a very walkable town, which we thoroughly enjoyed. We only had to use the car to drive to the Morris Island boat trip.

We’ve decided that Folly Beach is our new beach destination. The beach itself is beautiful; the town is easy to navigate and walking-friendly. The oceanfront rental opportunities abound. We all slept better than we have in a long time, and felt completely relaxed at the end of the trip.

I know this is not one of my typical posts, so hang in there. I’ll be writing one next.

xoxo

 

New Beginnings?

I’m finished with Chemo! Can you believe it?! I’m actually done. More than a year later, but I’m done! From now on, I am in “screening mode,” which means that I will see the Oncology team every three months — checking blood work and undergoing a breast exam. I will also get a mammogram next week, which as of right now is the only imaging being done.

Honestly, I’m not sure what to do with myself. There are what I assume “normal” anxieties … what if the cancer comes back? Will a mammogram show enough? When will I feel like myself again? But I also have a tremendous sense of relief that it’s all finished.

It’s not the end of the road for me yet. I will have another surgery, but that’s not even a possibility for another six months.

I start back to work next week. I’m so excited. Throughout IV chemo, I went to work a couple days a week, but typically worked in the back (to minimize infection risk). Since surgery and oral chemo, I’ve really not been in the shop much. The general fatigue has kept me close to home. So to know that I get to be at work, interacting with my customers, is a thrilling prospect.

Fatigue is still a concern for me — and will be for some time. But I think the tired feeling at the end of a day full of productivity will be much more gratifying than the feeling of fatigue after sitting at home. In a lot of ways I’m lonely, so I look forward to the human interaction.

I look forward to previous routines (which I can barely remember), like taking the kiddo to school in the mornings and getting to the shop early. And I look forward to new routines, as I adjust to a new normal.

For those who have had a similar situation, what helped you transition from “sick mode” to “maintenance mode”? How did you manage your expectations?

I hope that you all will keep reading my blog. Just because treatment is over, doesn’t mean I will stop blogging. It just means some of the focus may change. Tell me, friends, what would you like to read about?

Un-Expected Delays

Hello, my friends. I’ve been quiet for awhile because I ran into some issues during the month of November. I won’t bore you with all the details, but I will sum up …

I began the month with throbbing pain in my leg that turned out to be blood clots in three places (aka Deep Vein Thrombosis, or DVT). Treatment with blood-thinners was my first delay in my chemo. About two weeks later, I was in surgery to remove my implant that had been exposed, due to my radiation wound not healing properly. Cue delay number two. I’m finally back on chemo with what I think is a January 11 end date.

These delays have been tough, physically and emotionally. Physically, it’s been exhausting. Emotionally, it’s tough for this usually meticulous planner to accept not being able to plan out even one day. The surgery has shaken my already unsteady self-esteem. Fatigue from recovery, chemo, and my untreated arthritis has been difficult to cope with; I struggle with negative emotions associated with my limited productivity.

We moved this month, too. Sold our house and moved into a really nice apartment. This,  has also taken a toll on me. I’m physically unable to accomplish much due to my arthritis; it leaves me struggling with feeling like I’m lazy or a slacker. I worry whether I’m paying enough attention to the kiddo.

The kid has been wanting some extra snuggle time at night this week. The other night, after our bedtime routine was finished and the lights were out, he scooted close to me, threw his arm around me, and said, “Have I ever told you that no matter how scared I am, I always feel safe when I’m with you?”

I may not be able to play with him much these days, but I help him with his homework each night; I listen to his descriptions of superheroes he’s made up in his head; I hug and kiss him. It seems that these things are enough for him.

Putting a stop to the negative self-talk has been more of a challenge. I try to put things into perspective, but it is a struggle. It isn’t even that I’m comparing myself to others, necessarily. I find myself comparing my energy level now to my energy level when I was receiving IV chemo. I know I shouldn’t … this chemo is twice a day every day for two weeks; while my last IV treatment was once a week, and I had steroids to help. However, on bad days I do. I criticize myself for not doing more.

Having an amazing support team around me — and being blatantly honest with them at times — has been such a lifesaver. Whether it’s an outpouring of love in response to an Instagram or Facebook post, my mom taking the time out of her day to eat lunch with me, Face-timing with the bestie, an encouraging phone call from my sister, a reprimand from the hubs for beating myself up, a hug from the kiddo, or even just a sweet text to check on me, my friends and family keep me going.

It’s funny how just hearing someone’s voice can be so upbuilding. Yesterday, it was a phone call to my sister just talking about food and the kiddo’s winter break. Today, I got to FaceTime with my best friend … seeing her face and hearing her laugh made my day. Plus it feels like I’ve accomplished something — I got to be a good sister and a good friend.

Each time I think that I’m not strong enough, God answers my prayers by reminding me that I have the best support system ever. Support locally, and also from across the United States; even from Ecuador!

Again, I find myself so grateful for my friends — near and far; in person or virtually. Thank you for following my journey. Thank you for loving me so much.