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

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Life Beyond Cancer?

This post has been months in the making. It has been rolling around in my brain — in my conscious and subconscious — but I’ve had difficulty converting it to coherent thoughts and words. This is my sixth attempt.

Here are facts I can state. I developed Lymphedema in my left arm. It presented at first with purple skin, and then the arm became slightly swollen. We ruled out a blood clot before determining that it was indeed lymphedema. Treatment involved wrapping the arm in about five layers of cotton, foam, and bandages for three weeks. Now I wear a compression sleeve and gauntlet (covering the wrist, thumb, and palm; but no fingers). I am still supposed to wrap it overnight. We will see how that goes.

I am waiting to find out when and where I will have my next surgery. Being on Medicaid limits my options as far as surgeons go. I may need to travel anywhere from one to six hours to find a doctor who will work with me. I am hoping to qualify for the DIEP FLAP procedure. It is a long and complicated surgery; hence the reluctance of many surgeons to work with Medicaid. Medicaid just doesn’t pay well.

I turn 40 tomorrow.

Those are the facts I can relate. After that, things get swirly and blurred. This cancer-free life is not at all what I expected, and my emotions ebb and flow like a stormy sea. It doesn’t help that tomorrow is an age-related milestone.

The lyrics to this song have been on repeat in my head lately. Some days I feel others’ pain intensely, to the point of tears. But when it comes to me, I flatline. Nothing. No joy or  melancholy. No frustration or contentment. Just a big empty space. It’s like I am hollow; that if you really look into my eyes you’ll see resignation, exhaustion, or maybe nothing at all.

Trust me, I know that I am still recovering from the physical trauma of cancer treatment. My energy is building, but it isn’t great — and it may never get better. Side effects, like lymphedema and infertility are realities that will not go away. Other effects, like early menopause are physically and mentally exhausting. But these are realities that I can learn to live with.

What people in the cancer community don’t really talk about, though, is post-cancer depression. Some studies say that as many as 25% of cancer survivors suffer from low mood and/or depression. In fact, some experts compare these weeks, months, even years with grief. Not in the sense that the survivor is mourning the end of cancer treatment; but feelings of anxiety, anger, and sadness sometimes flood the brain after hearing the “all-clear.”

For instance, turning 40. On the one hand, I look at what I have accomplished in my 30s. I became a mother (technically I was 29, but it took until I was 30 to really get into a routine). I became a business owner (we’re about to celebrate our 10th anniversary). I grew spiritually, celebrated anniversaries (17 years and counting!), and watched my son navigate his way through the early school years.

On the other hand, I look at the hardships and difficulties from the last 10 years. I had a miscarriage. My Psoriatic Arthritis came back (it went into remission during pregnancy and the first few years of his life) with a vengeance. I had allergic reactions due to medications, and a stay in the Psych ward from a medically-induced manic state. I had three surgeries. A death in the family. I lost my best friend, and I nearly ruined my relationship with my parents.

I GOT CANCER.

Forty is just an age. It’s still closer to one than to a hundred. It’s also even more time for the cancer to return. That’s what think of on bad days. Some days, these lyrics could be about me (not romantically, of course).

The frustrating thing about chemotherapy is the longer-term side effects. The memory impairment. The lack of concentration. These last months, years, or never go away. So it takes an immense amount of energy to focus, to be motivated, to care about things.

I used to love adult coloring to relieve my stress and to make me feel better. Now the thought of starting a page is so overwhelming that I haven’t tried in more than a year. Trying to pick which color pencil to start with is a monumental task.

While I was going through chemo, I took great pride in doing my makeup, choosing my outfit, and making myself as “pretty” as possible. These days, I don’t even want to shower. And I won’t go into the impact cancer — breast cancer — has on one’s self image.

Fortunately, I am quite sick of my wallowing. So I am trying to fake it till I make it. Many days, this has worked. I’ve taken on a new project at work. I try to engage more with my husband and my son. I check in with family and friends.

It’s a work in progress. I am going to talk to the doctor about adjusting my antidepressant. I will try to exercise more. But it is a fight, and sometimes I lose the battle. I’ve learned that I can succumb for a little bit — maybe even a day — because it’s OK to acknowledge the anxiety, worry, and anger, that comes with cancer, or even with our daily lives.

I also realize that allowing myself to feel and explore these negatives emotions needs a time limit, or the hills grow rapidly into mountains I cannot imagine climbing. Recognizing this seems like an accomplishment in itself.

Not much will change tomorrow. I’ll still be a mom and a wife and a business owner. A daughter, a sister, and hopefully a friend. Maybe I will be a little more grateful. A little more compassionate. I’ll listen to my son’s imaginary super heroes with a little more patience. Look at my husband and pay attention to what he is saying; pulling myself away from whatever I was doing. Maybe I will look up from my phone and look at creation with a little more awe and appreciation.

Cancer is life-changing. The key, I think, is to listen to what the experience teaches. To be present. To be loving, compassionate, and kind. To help others when it’s inconvenient for us. To be thankful to God for life and the strong body that helped me fight and beat cancer. To be happy and content with what and who I have in my life.

xoxo

 

Last Chemo

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Yesterday was my last chemo. We celebrated big time. With boob cupcakes and Wonder Woman attire. With my Batman by my side. And some of the most important people in my life in my corner.

I was greeted at the front desk with a special delivery from my kindred spirit, J. Her card made me choke up. Once I got hooked up, I handed out gifts to my amazing chemo nurses. They kept saying that I didn’t need to give them anything. My response, voice cracking, “You kinda helped save my life, so yeah I do.” I didn’t realize how emotional I would feel.

Once I finished up, the family and friends arrived so we could celebrate properly — with cupcakes decorated like boobs and Prosecco. We posed with the cupcakes and laughed with my nursing staff and my Oncology Nurse Practitioner. My Oncologist stopped in (he loved my Wonder Woman costume).

It was a great day. But it was more emotional than I thought it would be. While I will still see my social worker and Oncologist and Oncology Nurse Practitioner pretty regularly, I won’t see the amazing chemo nursing staff as much. These women took the scariest time in my life and made me feel safe. They made me laugh. They tolerated me as I rambled on weekly in a steroid-induced frenzy. They listened to my stories, and patiently answered my random questions. They made me feel brave by asking me to talk to a new chemo patient. They complimented my makeup and fashion hits (and probably some misses too). Several times they stayed and let me talk or joke with them when I’m sure they were ready to go home. They were educators, caregivers, therapists, and they became my friends. I will miss them. I am already coming up with “reasons” to visit.

Chemo has been an interesting road. The last five months have been filled with fatigue, random food cravings and aversions, some of the worst heartburn and indigestion I’ve ever faced, sleepless nights, steroid-mania, and increasing forgetfulness and inability to pay attention. But overall, I came through it mostly unscathed (shingles and cellulitis aside). My youngish and mostly healthy body withstood chemo with tremendous strength. I’m proud of this chubby body that absorbed this medicine without vomiting, high fevers, or illnesses.

I look forward to a few weeks of feeling less fatigued. But I am ready for the next phase of this journey. I hope to get my surgery scheduled next week when I meet with my surgeons. I’d like for it to be scheduled for the last week of this month, but we will see. In the meantime, I hope to enjoy the next few weeks being chemo free!

Thanks for reading, and being patient as the frequency of my posts has slowed. I appreciate all the comments, likes, and follows. Thank you for sharing this journey with me.

xo

 

Happiness through Illness

Almost daily, I am asked “How do you feel?” And I feel almost guilty because I really am holding up well. That’s not to say that Chemo isn’t kicking my butt some days, or that I don’t get frustrated at my limitations or sad that sometimes I have to sleep all day long. But my overall mood is better than it’s been in years.

I credit several actions that I take to my overall sense of wellbeing, and I wanted to share them with you, dear readers, so you if you are currently coping with illness or do in the future, you can try some of these tactics. I hope they work as well for you as they do for me.

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Hope

Hebrews 6:19 tells us, ” We this hope as an actor for the soul, both sure and firm” (Revised New World Translation). As humans, we are born with a spiritual need. I don’t ignore mine, and I have tremendous hope through my faith in God and the promises that He has made for us through His word, The Bible.

This hope keeps me grounded. Through prayer, I throw my anxieties on God, and allow him to calm my heart. It has strengthened my relationship with Him and strengthened my faith in the hope He provides us.

I encourage all who cope with illness to fulfill their spiritual need. Find your hope, because it will anchor your soul.

Stop Negative Thinking

Recently, I was asked about whether or not certain events happened to me before my cancer diagnosis. And I realized, that I had never given a thought to why I had cancer. I already knew. Humans are imperfect. King Solomon said, “The swift do not always win the race, nor to the mighty win the battle … because time and unexpected events overtake them all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11,  Revised New World Translation).

Maybe my love affair with wine, bourbon, and bacon contributed to my cancer. Maybe not. Maybe it’s my family history. But does it really matter why? If it wasn’t this, it is likely some other difficulty would have come along.

When I was diagnosed, I did cry. I hated the thought of making people worry about me; turning my family’s world upside down. I felt that way on and off for a few days.

And then, I realized how blessed I am to have parents who jumped in to take work responsibilities off me. To have a husband who has yet to argue with me, even when I am at my most ridiculous. To have a son who understands my current limitations, and shows concern for me in the sweetest and subtlest ways. To have my sister drop everything to visit me whenever I need her. To have an outpouring of kindness from friends near and far. The first month after my diagnosis, not one single day passed that I did not receive a care package or cards. I have a beautiful kindred spirit who sends me a card every single week, texts me several times during the week, and arranges FaceTime “dates” every few weeks. All with two kids! Friends are arranging to visit, even just for a long weekend (an 11 hour drive with two kids) or a day or two during the week (from 3 hours away).

How can I be sad? I have never felt more loved in my life.

If you are faced with illness, please try to push negative thoughts away so you can see how much you are truly loved.

Surround Yourself with Those You Love and Who Love You

Illness saps our energy and it is easy to end up isolating ourselves. Try not to. It’s difficult for me, because honestly I don’t know if I will be too fatigued to leave the house. But I do conditionally accept invitations. And with some careful planning, i am able to make these invitations work.

Mom and Dad take turns bringing me to Chemo (I cannot drive myself). And as much as I plan to get certain things done, we usually end up talking. Sometimes it’s about the shop (work). Sometimes its catching up on other things. But we talk and it’s fun and it makes the time go quickly.

When my son comes home from school, I try to engage him a little bit. He’s nine, so he’d rather play Minecraft, but we at least talk about his day and get his homework finished. I try to spend time with my husband during the days that I’m able to keep my eyes open.  And we go to my parents once a weekend for dinner. Always.

This leads me to my next practice.

Plan Out Your Days

You already know that I am a planner. A paper planner. You’ve seen it. I won’t bore you with details. But both chronic and temporary illnesses can  cause forgetfulness, foggy thinking and more. So right now more than ever, I find it essential to writ out and plan my days.

I divide my days into my most important topics (Spiritual, Health, and Work/Personal). And then I write my goals in each section, keeping in mind how I feel during each day. And I don’t try not to get upset if I have to move some to another day. Last week, an entire day had to be rescheduled. It is what it is. I plan heavier on days I know I’ll be hopped up on Steroids, and lighter on the days I know my fatigue is bad. And I plan so that I can do my best to be where I want to be and accept invitations.

I don’t know if this will work for you, but I think it’s worth a shot. It doesn’t have to be in a planner. It can be a to do list. The sense of accomplishment you will feel when you’re able to cross items off your list, is sure to improve your outlook.

Unlock Your Passion

For me it’s always been writing. It is cathartic. It makes me happy. I also enjoy grown-up coloring, creating fun looks with clothing and makeup (see the Beauty menu), and listening to music. These are things I do for myself and not anyone else. I think we all need to do that from time to time.

Do you want to learn to knit? Go for it! Do you like to paint? Create some art. Find something that makes you feel good and that you do just for yourself and not for anyone else. Unless you’re really good. Then sell that stuff 😉

In all seriousness, though, sometimes what we love doing we do want to share. That’s why I write this blog. In the hopes that what I love to do and write about might help others.

Communicate With Your Friends

We have sort of covered this already. But it’s important to be in touch with friends even when there is distance between us. I usually HATE FaceTime, but it is one of my favorite things to do right now. To see someone’s face that I don’t get to see daily fills me with joy. The introvert in me hates speaking on the phone, but I try not to ignore any phone calls.

I try to write thank you notes when someone gives me a gift. It helps me to remain grateful and appreciative, and it also a great way to extend my forms of communication.

Do I speak with my friends as much as I want to? No. And I like to think that they understand. Sometimes days get away from me. But I do try to respond and reach out as much as possible. It prevents me from being completely isolated, especially on days when I’m not up to going out.

Last Thoughts

I realize that we all have different personalities. You may be reading some — or all — of these, thinking that I’m ridiculous. And that’s OK. But for me, these things work, and they have made me happier and more contented than I’ve felt in years.

Yes, I have days when sadness overcomes me, or I get angry at my limitations. But eventually I am able to put things into perspective and regain my happiness. I hope that some of these ideas will help you, sweet readers.

 

 

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

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