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

 

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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

First Day of Chemo, Leggy Style

We went over the results of the scans this morning. The good news is there is no other organ involvement; however there is significant lymph node involvement, especially in the area around my lungs. The course of action remains the same: Gemzar treatment. I’ll go through about two rounds of treatment and then have scans to check the progress, if any. The primary goal is to get me as pain-free as possible and to slow the progression.

When we did “chemo teaching” last week, I mentioned to my social worker and nurse Oncologist that the name Gemzar makes me think that the chemo is like royal treatment and I’d sweat glitter or dazzle and sparkle or something. I may have suggested that I might dress up in some sparkly get up. However being as hopped up as I am right now I failed to follow through on my glitter outfit.

Alas, my social worker did NOT forget. She brought me a tiara, rings, a scepter and decorated my chemo bag with gems. Oh and a princess mask. Fortunately we got pictures!

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Overall, the chemo went well. No nausea. No extreme fatigue. So far this afternoon I’m holding together pretty well. We will see how I feel tomorrow.

Yesterday’s post was a long time coming together. I spent the entire day trying to write it, but I kept falling asleep. At one point I woke up to “fffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff” on the screen. But I am trying to write as I feel motivated. Even if it takes me all day.

Love to you all. If there are any questions you have about cancer, side effects, prognosis, symptoms, or anything else, please ask me. I love to be given a task. You can ask me in the comments here.

Love you all!

xoxo

I’m Still Here …

Wow! I’ve got so much to tell you. I think … We’ll see how much I can remember. Where should I begin?

Let’s back up to a couple weeks ago. I got sick. Pretty darn sick. My white blood count went down to 1. I was very anemic and neutropenic. And I had a Shingles breakout and cellulitis underneath it. I had to get a daily Neupogen shot. Which made me feel icky. It all made me feel icky, honestly. The worst part was that I had to skip my Chemo that week.

I’m better now, though. I’m still anemic, but everything else looks good, so I have had chemo the last two weeks. Only three more left!!! And guess what! My BFF may be in town and able to come with me next week!

She’s coming into town this Sunday — correction — her whole family is coming into town Sunday. I’m over the moon excited. I have two soul sisters from Pennsylvania, and they are both coming with their families in the next few weeks and it makes me ridiculously happy. Friends are the best!!

So, I have no idea what I have shared and not shared with you, but currently the hair on my head is growing but I’ve lost my eyebrows and eyelashes. My awesome sister just sent me like a million pairs of fake eyelashes. Let me tell you, these suckers are tough to put on! I successfully donned a pair yesterday, with mixed reviews on the make up along with it. Today, I tried again, but my eyes were watering, and one of the lashes started falling off, so they came off early. So no pics yet. I’ll get one when I perfect the application.

My mood swings from frustration to acceptance. But I only have three more chemo treatments. So I can hang on for these next three weeks. I just need to rest when I feel like I need to rest (which, honestly, is most of the time).

Please bear with me … I will try to update again. My brain is pretty much fried, though, so it gets a little difficult to pull words together. And sometimes I completely lose my train of thought.

xoxo!

Beauty Post: Chemo Skin

As many of you know, chemo can wreak havoc on your skin (for details you can visit this article on chemocare.com). The biggest issue is dehydration. Chemo pretty much dries your entire body out (hence the recommended 96 ounces of water a day). Other issues can be Psoriasis/Eczema (since I have Psoriatic Arthritis and Eczema, I was particularly concerned about this).

Fortunately, I am doing pretty well with staying hydrated, and in my last two months’ Birchboxes, I received two amazing products that I ended up buying full-size. I was going to wait an entire month to review these, but I’m so happy with the results, I am going to share now.

First of all, here I am without any makeup on, ready for bed (clarification: in bed).

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Honestly, not so bad. I have received compliments lately on my skin, and my excuse is that I wear a lot of makeup, but I think I need to give more credit to these two products:

As I mentioned before, I am not a paid reviewer, nor do I even think Birchbox knows I exist. But my skin looks like it does seven weeks into Chemo because of these two products. So I think I should give credit where credit is due.

The first product (which, ironically, I received second) is Avène Hydrance Optimale. Somehow they got a whole lot of spring water into this to create long-lasting hydration. It also enhances the effectiveness of any moisturizer used after it. I use this morning and night after washing my face.

The second product (that I received first) is the Embryolisse 24-Hour Miracle Cream. This product contains both shea butter and aloe vera. However, it does not clog my pores at all. Because I am receiving Chemo I use this morning and night as well. For those not undergoing Chemo, I’d probably start with only once a day. It absorbs into the skin quickly, and leaves my face feeling smooth, not sticky at all.

I have a terrible skincare routine, so all of this is pretty new to me. But I have been trying to cleanse my face every night. Thing is, I just use a generic brand (CVS) makeup remover wipe. That’s it. No other cleanser. Then I apply these two products. In the morning, if my face feels like it can handle a cleanser, I just use the Simple Moisturizing Cleanser. Sometimes, I just rinse with water. And then I apply both these items, usually just a minute or so before I apply makeup.

This is the reason I joined Birchbox. I wanted to be able to try products before I bought. I desperately wanted to improve my skincare routine, but didn’t want to spend a ton of money on products, only to have them work poorly. If you are interested in doing something similar, I highly recommend one of these subscriptions. I chose Birchbox, but there are a number of companies that offer similar options.

If you click on the links, you will see that neither product is particularly inexpensive (although the Miracle Cream is available in a 30 ML size for less money and commitment). However, only a little of each product is needed, and, well … when you’re bald and people are paying particular attention to your face … it, in my opinion, is absolutely worth it.

Stay tuned for more Beauty posts. I should be receiving a new box soon, and I might be heading to Ulta soon!

xoxo

My FIRST Beauty Post

I am SO excited!!! Can you tell?? Before I get started, I have to thank my longest friend (I used to say oldest, but then people started thinking she was old), whom I have known since I was six years old. She was three. I’m not sure we were actually friends at that point, because I mean … she was a toddler. But we’ve stayed friends: she was in my wedding. If she gets married, I know I will be in hers (wink, wink). She’s my sister’s sister-in-law. She gave my now husband the affectionate nickname “Stalker” when we went to Italy together in 1999. It’s been a good run, and even though we don’t talk or email much, I think we have mutual faith that we love each other and we ALWAYS have each other’s back.

And my cancer diagnosis was no exception. She gave me one of the most thoughtful gifts I received. Gifts to make me feel feminine and pretty. Nail polishes, lipstick, and a fabulous eyeshadow gift set. Plus a gift card to pick my own goodies. I have taken such an interest in my make up now, especially since I am now bald as a cue ball (you’ll see soon). So A, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I feel pretty when I go out 🙂

This post will be a little longer, because I’m going to share with you some of my basic routine. First of all, I am horrible about a cleansing and moisturizing routine. Which is bad because my skin gets very dry. So I recently signed up for BirchBox. So far, I am enjoying it. They send different samples each month, and if you like them, it is super easy for you to order from your “box.” I have ordered a serum and a moisturizer from them. Once I give it a few weeks, I may review them here (I am not being paid by BirchBox, I just want to share things with my friends that I think works).

I am a pretty loyal Bare Minerals user. I have been for years, now. It doesn’t irritate my skin at all, and I don’t feel quite so guilty when I sleep in my makeup. Although, since I’m so focused on my eye makeup, I tend to wake up looking like a, well, a person who might wake up in an alley questioning her previous night’s decisions (was that PC enough?). Not to mention my poor pillowcase. So I am focusing on washing my face at night now. How quickly I digress.

My favorite thing from Bare Minerals right now is this product, applied with the pictured brush.

It’s a tinted hydrating cream. In the summer, I sometimes wear this without their famous BareMinerals Powder Foundation. Right now, though, I start with this as a base, applying it to my face with my finger, and blending in with the brush, paying closer attention to dark or red spots, and applying specifically under my eyes (dark circles) and on my eyelids. I follow with the three-steps of the powder foundation.

Here is my look from today. I didn’t have a chance to take it until this evening, so some of the makeup has undoubtedly worn off, especially since I’m still blowing my nose a lot.

I had on one of the cute hats that my friend S knitted for me, but I was too warm when I got home, so I decided to show you my new bald head.

I wore a black and grey top today, so I decided to try out the sample I received in my December BirchBox. But, I wanted to throw some more dimension too. Here are the shadows I used:

So my inspiration for the look was the sampler in the middle. I think it is found in the set linked there. But, since I received Le Grand Chateau from Too Faced as a gift (I linked the brand site, but feel free to search your favorite makeup place, too), I felt like two shadows weren’t enough. As far as tools go, I do have a set of eye brushes that I got from Sephora (worth it, in my opinion. I have other brushes too, but I got a gift card, so I got this new set with several more brushes. Bottom line is that eye brushes — whether a few or a set — make a huge difference in application).

I started with La Marais from Too Faced as an all over color — up to the brow bone, down to the lash line. It looks very white in the case, but it actually has this gorgeous pale pink shimmer to it (upon further research, it appears that this is only available in the gift set I was given. However, I am sure that they carry a similar, if not, exact color with a different name). Then I used the left color in the Sample Pack under the brow bone, to the corner, to the lash line. Feel free to connect that all to appear as one stroke. I did this two or three times on each eye to build the color.

Next I used the Mojito in the crease (again several applications). Unfortunately, this did fade quite a bit. I’m still hoping for an eye shadow primer in one of my future BirchBoxes.

Finally, I took a liner brush to the darker Sample Color to create the look of an eye liner to the lash line. For me, the shadow ends up creeping to the lower lash line, so I just need to fill in a bit to get the bottom liner look.

I followed up with Too Faced Better Than Sex Mascara. I’m not being dirty, that’s actually the name of it. It was part of the gift set, and I didn’t fully realize till I looked at the picture with my eyes closed how much I like it!

I finished up with Tre Fab bronzer, which apparently is only available in Le Grand Chateau, linked above, and a swipe with my Bare Minerals finishing brush. I don’t add more powder, just use the remaining in the brush to create a seamless look. The eye shadow can spread to your temples and under eyes … just take a big fluffy brush to wipe away. If you don’t have a brush, a tissue works wonders too 🙂

OK, that’s a wrap! Please provide your critiques, suggestions, adulation, whatever, in the comments.

XOXO!

Perspective

I had a lovely weekend. I credit much of that to the extra fluids I received intravenously and to the care I took to keep myself hydrated. I was able to attend a full-day spiritual event that I had been looking forward to for weeks. So many people approached me and hugged me (hoping that won’t bite me in the butt this week), ecstatic that I was present. It was moving to see how many people had heard in passing, and how much they wanted to offer expressions of affection and love. It is because of our Heavenly Father hearing and answering these people’s prayers that I am coping with this diagnosis so well.

Sunday we got to spend with one of my favorite families in the world! It was such a respite from the barrage of attention I’ve been receiving lately. There were no glances at my head (that I noticed); no looks of concern. Just down to earth fun. M and I swung on swings at a playground; we drank wine and watched TV; and sat around by a bonfire with our kids. It is the most normal I’ve felt lately, and I am so grateful to them for allowing me to just chill.

I saw my sister off last night  with a Manhattan in a cocktail glass she painted for me (remind me to post a picture of it) and her homemade cheesecake (yum). She will be back to visit with her hubs in three weeks, so the goodbye was not quite so bittersweet.

This morning, after dealing with the initial dry-mouth, dry nose, stuffiness that is Chemo treatment, I planned my outfit and applied my makeup (thanks to my friend A for the amazing eyeshadow palettes!). I even tied my scarf by myself!IMG_2252

Clearly, I was proud of today’s look. I am actually quite enjoying the whole outfit/makeup/hat/scarf planning and execution. Not that I’m glad that I have cancer or anything … but it is awfully fun to take a little extra time to make oneself pretty. In fact, I’m thinking about posting different looks, and sharing what makeup I use … almost like a beauty blog post or something like that. What do you all think?

It reminded me that significant events … marriage, birth of a child, major illness … really help to put life into perspective. As anyone who knows me is aware, I am typically a pretty high-strung person. Always tense and anxious, I usually have a heck of a time unwinding at the end of a day.

But since my treatment started, I’ve begun a new routine. Bedtime is earlier (which I’m sure mostly has to do with the chemo), routines are more relaxing to me. I’m enjoying my evening tea as much as I used to enjoy my evening Manhattan (I know, weird, right?!). I look forward to blogging. I feel closer to my Heavenly Father. My heart swells with appreciation to my friends near and far; old and new; fair-weather and steadfast.

The outpouring of love, prayers, and generosity is beyond comprehension. Since my diagnosis, barely a day has gone by that I have not received a card, care package, flowers, or gift. Today alone, I received seven hand-knit hats and two huge cases (24-can) of La Croix. (By the way, please let me know if you sent it because I want to send a thank you).

Ironically, tonight I feel happier than I have in quite awhile. Truly, to love and to be loved is the sweetest feeling in this world. It really doesn’t take much to be happy if we we open our eyes and hearts and welcome all the beauty that exists each and every day. My heart swells with gratitude to each person who has helped me appreciate this.

xoxo