Monday, January 28, 2013

Feeling Good - and it's not because of medicinal marijuana

I feel good.  I feel like singing Simon and Garfunkel's, For Emily.  

Watch Simon and Garfunkel - For Emily

I don't know why I feel like singing this song because it's a love song to a woman.  I was thinking about the report my 2nd grader is doing on Martin Luther King Jr. and the I Have a Dream speech.  My dream isn't on the scale of Martin Luther King's.  It's on a much smaller scale.  What a dream I had...but it wasn't dressed in organdy or clothed in crinoline as the song states.  My dream is one of the heart.  I love when my heart is medicated by friendship.  I can't explain how my heart and soul are revived by the love of people.  The definition of revived that I looked up is below. This is the perfect word to use for how I feel in this moment.

REVIVED   past participle, past tense of re-vive (Verb)

1. Restore to life or consciousness: "both men collapsed, but were revived".
2. Regain life, consciousness, or strength.

Today I completed round 9.  I talked on the phone with two of my dearest friends, Nicole and Stefani, from my old stomping ground in Tracy, CA.  I talked with my best friend Ember.  I talked on the phone with my sister-in-law.  I texted with my awesome, butt kicking, trainer/nutritional counselor friend, Heidi.  She's going to help me get my physique turned around from frumpy/fatty to strong/healthy.  Love her!  I saw my inspirational friend Rhiannon briefly tonight at my nephew's high school basketball game.  I love basketball!  I get such a thrill watching the game.  Friends and basketball... medicine for the soul.  Oh boy!  Now I'm feeling so good, so nice, like sugar and spice.  I feel like singing James Brown.

Watch James Brown sing I Feel Good!

To sum things up... the oncologist prescribed me Ambien which means my day will end in deep slumber.  Today was a great day.  I am blessed.  This post could just be the consequence of chemo brain...but who cares.  I love this post.  It involves Simon and Garfunkel, James Brown, and a vocabulary word complete with definition.  The only thing missing is the Word.

"You have changed my sadness into a joyful dance; you have taken away my sorrow and surrounded me with joy."    -Psalm 30:11

The Lord is my strength.  He has blessed me in a countless number of ways.

Cancer Clique

Cancer sucks... just like so many other things we are forced to go through.  Life is hard.  When it gets hard, that's when we find out what we're really made of.  All of our strengths and weaknesses are revealed.  We make choices.  Some good.  Some bad.  All choices made have an effect on those who love us.  Sometimes relationships are lost but sometimes relationships are established in the most unexpected places.  When I first began this journey, I didn't feel a need to have a relationship with other women who have been through cancer... survivors.  I didn't understand the need for a relationship with other women who "understand" until I actually connected with women who do. I have been so blessed by the survivors who were already a part of my life and by those who have come into my life because I am now fighting this battle.  These are amazing women... my mentor and retired women's pastor of my church, my husband's cousin (who I have only met in person one time 11 years ago), two women from my church, a woman who started following my blog after reading the article on me in the local paper.  And then there's this group of women who have been through and are going through treatment for cancer while pregnant.  These women are like my little cancer clique.  I've never met any of them in person.  We are only friends through Facebook but I feel so bonded with them and invested in their lives and the lives of their precious little miracle babies.  They also help me feel sane.  Knowing that they are experiencing the same thoughts and emotions that I do has saved me from feeling completely isolated.  I also have a greater appreciation for my friendships that have nothing to do with cancer.  I have always loved and appreciated my friends but having limited interaction with my friends over the last several months has brought me to a place of deeper appreciation.  After Christmas my friend Ember came into town to visit her family.  While she was here we went out for a beer.  It felt like it had been forever since I had gone out and just enjoyed the company of a friend.  It wasn't about cancer.  It was about friends getting together just because we're friends and that's it.  It was so nice.  Last weekend I met up with two other friends at the park with the kids.  We just stood there and talked while the kids played.  It was such a normal thing to do and it was so enjoyable.  It's been so long since I've done normal things.  It has made me remember how much joy friendships bring me.

I've realized that I've had my head in the sand a little bit through this process.  I haven't paid attention to some of the details of my cancer.  There is so much information and at first it all just felt like too much to process.  Yesterday I got out the copy of my pathology report because I learned something new.  Not only is there a stage for cancer, there is a grade too.  Holy cow... I'm 9 months into this mess and didn't know that!  I also don't even know officially what stage I am.  According to my pathology report, I believe I am (was) stage 2b grade 2.  Tumor size 4.2 cm with 2 of 3 lymph nodes positive.  I could possibly be a more advanced stage due to the fact that there was skin involvement.  I will be asking more questions at my appointment this morning just so I have a definitive answer.

After today I have only 3 more treatments left.  I can't wait to be finished with chemo.  The side effects are getting really old.  I've had a continuous bloody nose for two weeks now.  It's not a lot of blood but just a slow seeping that has to be addressed every 15 to 30 minutes.  I know... disgusting, right?  I think I've only had a bloody nose once or twice in my life before this.  The other side effects are still the same.  Sores in mouth, sore throat, throbbing and weakness in my forearms and shins, and headaches... oh and lets not forget the hair loss.  I can't complain too much though.  I'm not experiencing the neuropathy in my hands and feet like my sweet friend Sarah who is finishing up with taxol after her pregnancy too.  Thinking of her makes me want to remind anyone reading this to please check your breasts.  I was 32 when I was diagnosed but Sarah is only 25.  Check your breasts.  Schedule a mammogram.  Do it!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Bald Chemo Kisses

Ezekiel (12 weeks old) and me... Twins?

Last night I went out to dinner with my family.  The restaurant was so hot that half way through dinner I started to sweat.  I was holding the baby while eating and had a sweater and a hat on.  John said, "Why don't you take off your sweater and your hat?"  So I took off the sweater but not the hat.  As I sat there still uncomfortably hot with my hat on, I was ashamed of myself for being weak and insecure.  I consciously looked around the restaurant at all the people who I could care less about whether or not they see me bald but I thought about the waitress and imagined the look of shock on her face when she returned to our table to a cancer patient and not just a lady in a hat.  I couldn't do it.  I couldn't take off my hat.  How is this now me?  Three months ago I was shamelessly going out in public with a bald head and a pregnant belly.  So, I'm left wondering... I'm left analyzing this change in myself.  Boy, does cancer force you to come to take stock of the type of person you really are.  I've come up with a couple of possibilities as to why this embarrassment of my baldness has come about.

Being bald while pregnant vs. bald after baby:
1. Pregnancy provides the most amazing release of hormones.  Hormones made me feel pretty good.  My oncologist said I pretty much breezed through the first 6 rounds of chemo that I received during my pregnancy compared to most of his other breast cancer patients.  In other words, I didn't really feel sick.  I felt pregnant.  I felt in awe of my body that was growing a precious life while fighting cancer.  Being bald wasn't so bad because my pregnancy was more relevant.
2. Baldness after baby is not so pretty.  I am really looking sick these days.  The chemo is really taking it's toll this time around.  Sometimes I look in the mirror and I'm shocked.  I have a bald head with a rash making it look red and splotchy in places.  My face is constantly pale.  I have dark circles under my eyes and sometimes my eyes are also red rimmed.  My face is looking pretty pudgy these days too.  I try to blame the pudgy face all on swelling from the steroids but that doesn't explain the pudge on the rest of my body.
3. After I was diagnosed it felt like everyone knew what was going on.  Everyone expected it when I lost my hair.  Everyone was aware of my battle.  And then I finished up my chemo during pregnancy, my hair started growing back, and my little miracle baby was born.  All those prayers were answered.  I have a beautiful and healthy baby boy who is beautiful gift from God.  A concrete answer to prayer that people can see with their very own eyes.  Then I started chemo again and it got cold outside and all of a sudden I am wearing hats and it's almost like it's my little secret...I'm not done yet.  I am still weak and fighting a battle for my life and if I have to look people in the face and admit that I'm not just "all better" like they might think... it just makes me wish it really was that easy.  I've had several comments about my short hair and I had to say, "Nope, I'm actually bald again."  And then I get a look of surprise and I get to explain that I had to start chemo again.  It felt like I was delivering really disappointing and unexpected news.  It's not a very fun conversation to have.
These are the reasons I've come up with so far as to why I am currently uncomfortable with my bald head.  Tomorrow I'll probably have yet another reason.  Actually, now that I think about it... the whole rash thing makes my head look pretty unattractive... another reason to wear a hat.  The only problem is that hats make the rash worse.  Catch 22.

The other day, after looking in the mirror and grimacing, I decided to go for a walk with Zeek while the big kids were at school.  And then I thought... why walk when you can run?  So I buckled Zeek into my new Bob Jogger Stroller, laced up my Nikes, put on my beanie (I wasn't about to jog around the neighborhood with a bald head), turned on Pandora, started up my couch to 5K app, and I hit the pavement.  Oh boy was I hitting that pavement hard.  Every drop of my foot felt like I had 100 pound weights attached to my ankles.  The sight I must have been... after 9 months of inactivity and 40 extra pounds... trying to jog for one minute straight and then walk for a minute and a half and alternate doing that for 20 minutes. My jogging pace was around the same as my previous warm up walking pace.  It was completely pathetic.  My husband didn't know I had attempted to jog while I was out (I didn't want any witnesses) and when I returned home he was extremely concerned by my fluorescent face and my inability to move from the couch for the rest of the day. The next day I decided to go for a walk again.  This time I took all the kids and I walked myself right up the street to Foster's Freeze to get the kids an ice cream... more my pace right now.

Today I completed #8 of my post baby taxol chemo treatment.  Only 4 more to go.  Only 4 more.  I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I was diagnosed with breast cancer on April 26, 2012.  I estimate the last of my radiation treatments to be somewhere around the end of this coming April.  One full year of treatment... that's a long time.  I can't wait for treatment to be over.  And then again... I'm terrified of it ending too.  No more treatment means I will no longer be actively fighting off this beast of a disease. But then again... no more treatment means that I can start to get my life back.  I can start a different kind of fight.  Rebuilding my health through diet, exercise and scripture, re-establishing my role as a healthy wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend... these are things I am looking forward to... Oh... and kissing my kids.  Yesterday Tobias asked me when he can kiss me on the lips again.  I told him after 4 more chemo treatments.  He said maybe I could kiss him on the lips for his birthday which is this Friday.  This is a birthday request I cannot deny.  My sweet Tobias has always been my little snuggler.  He will turn 8 years old and wants a kiss from me on his birthday.  My eyes well up with tears and my heart is full.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Complaining Again

I'm at the point where I'm just wondering what the hell happened to me. Throughout my pregnancy I didn't really think about much other than the precious little boy I was trying to grow. After he was born I had a couple months of exhaustion where I couldn't even think at all. Now that I've found my way to the other side of that post baby haze...I'm left to wonder...what the hell was that...this...all of it?

During my pregnancy, my experience with chemo wasn't too bad. I was sleeping well and the side effects were very minimal. This time it feels so different. I'm sure a lot of that has to do with the lack of sleep I've had. It's just hard to feel good at all when you're sleep deprived. I'm wondering also if the lack of sleep might be related to the side effects I'm experiencing this time. You know that feeling you get when you're watching a really touching movie and you start to feel that tightening in your throat? I guess it would be called getting all choked up... Well that's the feeling I have in my throat all the time. Except mine didn't come from watching a touching came from a horror story. Ha! That was a good one. Anyhow, I also have a lovely rash on my head. The oncologist said it was also a side effect of the chemo. Mouth sores... I didn't get them with the last chemo drugs (which is when it was more likely) but I have them now. Neuropathy is the least enjoyable side effect of all. Weakness, numbness and tingling in the extremities is a pain in the butt. I've found a way to ignore it most of the time. The absolute worst part of this all has been the weight gain. I talked to my oncologist about it today and he said not to worry about it and that I can deal with that after I'm through with treatment. I said, " You mean after I've gained another 30 pounds?" I have continued to gain weight since Ezekiel was born. My oncologist said that's just the price we pay when pumped full of steroids that make you feel extremely hungry all the time. He also said that my lack of sleep is probably contributing to the weight gain. I'm pretty disappointed that I couldn't just experience nausea as a side effect to take care of the weight gain for me. Just kidding...I wouldn't really wish that on myself. I know that most of the problem is my inactivity. I just can't seem to find the energy to get up and get active after so many months of not being able to. I wonder how many times I'll complain about this before I actually just do something about it?

Another crappy thing about this whole chemo thing is that I am at the point where I'm irritated so easily. Every week after treatment I immediately get asked about 50 times how I'm feeling. I feel like crap...can that just be a given without being asked and making me have to think about how crappy I feel...because I was doing a really good job of ignoring it. I usually just lie and say that I feel fine because I don't have the desire or the energy to explain how I really feel. See? I have a really bad attitude right now.

A couple weeks ago, shortly after I had to shave my head again, I was asked how I am doing. The first thing that came to mind was the loss of my hair and how upsetting it was for me. After that conversation I started to wonder if I'm a vain person. Why, with everything I've gone through did I choose to mention my hair? I've decided to give myself the benefit of the doubt on this one and explain it by saying that I'm more affected by the emotional trials as opposed to the physical pain. Ive learned how to live with pain from all the broken bones and other sports injuries I've had. But the pain of, breast, healthy body, self-esteem, friendships... those are the things that weigh heavily on me. The relationships most of all. No one really ever talks about how hard this situation is on relationships. Almost every relationship I have has been affected by cancer...from my children to my friends, from my sisters to my husband.

Yesterday I completed number 6 of 12 taxol, number 12 of 18 chemo treatments all together. I was telling my sister earlier today that I was half way done and then I decided to correct myself. I am two thirds of the way through chemo. That sounds so much better. I can't wait to be done!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year

Well, I never sent out Christmas cards so I've decided to utilize my blog as a surrogate for a New Years card instead. I've included some family photos below. My step-son is missing from the photos and no photo is complete without him in it but I will just have to settle for incomplete photos this time.

Some of my favorite moments from the past couple weeks:

Last week Ezekiel had his two month check up. He weighed in at a hefty 14 lbs 11 oz. and a whopping 24 inches long. My healthy thriving precious little Chemo baby. My little miracle. The doctor spent quite a bit of time examining him...even observed his neck strength while on his tummy. Zeek made his mommy proud when the doctor told me, "He is so strong. See the way he has been holding his head up so high for such a long period of time? He is as strong as a four month old!"

Tobias is so impressed with Zeek. He has made the comment on several occasions that Zeek is so amazing because he had breast cancer. It's so cute how his understanding of things comes out. I've corrected him several times but he continues to state that Zeek had breast cancer.

Daphne got some girl Legos for Christmas. She and Ephraim were building one of the Lego sets and I heard Daphne say to Ephraim, "This girl has breast cancer." I peeked over at them and Daphne had taken the hair off of one of the girl Lego figures so that she was bald. It was so cute but at the same time somewhat heartbreaking that my little girl pretends her toy is sick. These kids shouldn't have to know about least they're not afraid to express themselves. Sometimes I wish they would express themselves a little less. I've got some real talkers on my hands.

All three of the kids are super helpful with Zeek. We've had colds floating around for the past couple weeks so some days I've made them keep their distance from the baby. Those days are agony for them and all I hear from them is, "Can I hold Zeek yet? I'm feeling better." I've started calling Daphne Zeek's sister mommy because she's so sweet and nurturing and just instinctively acts like a little mommy to him. The boys are just as sweet to him too. I am so proud of my kids and their tender and loving hearts. I am so blessed.

Ezekiel has been such a huge blessing to me in so many ways. Right now the greatest gift he provides me is affection. With all the sickness that's been going around and my counts getting low, I am having to be extremely careful about kisses. I am only kissing the older kids on the forehead at bed time and that's it. But Zeek is safe to kiss all the time and I am so grateful for that.

Speaking of counts...after the Neupogen injections I received a couple weeks ago my counts went sky high. They have since then been steadily decreasing each week. I have a feeling this is the week they will get dangerously low again. I can feel it. My body is wearing down again. The good news is that my prescription was finally filled by the pharmacy and I now have the Neupogen shots on hand at home to self administer as soon as I know they're needed.

Well, I want to close this post by saying that I feel truly blessed. Despite all the crap that has taken place over the past year, 2012 was not a bad year. Yes, I was diagnosed with cancer but I was also blessed with my little miracle baby. 2012 poured blessings into my life. It was a hard year but I won't complain because life is hard and I believe the challenges in life are what make the experience so beautiful. I have found beauty in so many unexpected places and at so many unexpected times. I am thankful for 2012 and the beauty it brought as well as the trials.