This is Me!

This is Me! The good, the bad, and the bald. You get it all! But I have hair now. This spring I'll be rockin the pixie.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Becoming Bionic

I have an amazing friend who had the opportunity to blaze this trail before me.  I say opportunity because when you get the chance to visit with her about her journey, one thing stands out.  It isn't how horrible she felt with all the chemicals assaulting her body, or how completely exhausted the treatments left her feeling.  It wasn't how she felt about losing her hair or the trauma of losing both breasts to a double mastectomy.  What you hear in her voice is Joy and the incredible way God became even more alive in her life. You can hear how he walked along side her when she made her way through the valley of the shadow of death.  She allowed this experience to strengthen her and transform her into a new and even more beautiful person.  She is graciously sharing her experiences with me even though they bring back memories of hard times.  She warns me of the difficult days to come and the reality of the side effects. But even more importantly she has challenged me to grab hold of this season of my life with both hands and live it, knowing it will change me and stretch me beyond my comfort zones but ultimately for the better.

I tell you this about my friend because I am so grateful for her and the way she has prepped me for all that may be coming my way.  She processes things the same way I do and so her insight has been invaluable to me especially this week as the time to start chemo approaches.  

Tuesday I had the echo cardiogram which was very uneventful. In fact, she said I had the healthiest heart she had seen all day.  Not bad for a cancer chick.  

Wednesday I had the group teaching time.  While I was there I met a woman that will be going through chemo at the same time as I will.  We hit it off almost instantly.  We are planning to stay in close contact and encourage each other through this maze of tubing and drugs. It will be nice to share this crazy reality with someone.  It was just one more evidence of Gods provision.  She has her port surgery on Monday so I would love your prayers for her. 

This teaching time was where it all started feeling real.  Gavin was with me for my personal appointment.  They inform you of all the potential side effects and how to prevent things and how to treat things. Wow!  Okay so here we go.  No worries!  We set my chemo and shot schedule here.  Somehow scheduling a day and a time kinda cemented the reality of this for me.  So Monday is the first day of chemo.  The infusion will take approximately 2 hours.  I am nervous just not knowing how my body will respond but am ready to get it going.  After chemo, there are shots the following day and then weekly blood tests.  Apparently you lose your brain to the chemo fog and bless their hearts in order to help you remember all of their names, they keep you coming back for more and more and more!  

The port surgery was Thursday and I am now bionic!  Compared to the lumpectomy, this was really not so bad.  My surgeon wanted to check on the infection in my arm and couldn't get to it with all the blankets piled up and the lovely gown they have you wear.  I said your the surgeon, grab a knife!  He chuckled.  I just reminded him that I hadn't been sedated yet so I still had my sense of humor.  The anesthesiologist quickly put an end to that.  Just a quick little stick into the IV and I was off the stage.  It is tender now and feels funny to have a hard thing under your skin.  It wouldn't be so bad if it lit up like Iron Man's does but alas, not even a hint of a glow.  I think I got gipped.  In the long run, this port will be a huge benefit as it will allow them access to my veins for both infusions as well as the blood draws. 

So It begins.   I am told the hair loss will come within 7-10 days.  For me this means the hair must go in 6-9.  At the first hint of it going, the clippers come out.  Stay tuned.  There will be photos and chocolate!  Lots and lots of chocolate!

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Plan

I have received several messages and calls from so many of you wondering how I have been doing and checking to see if I have started chemo yet.  Thank you for your faithful concern.  The reason for the long delay is that I have been fighting an infection in the surgery site that has left me feeling pretty blah.  I also had a 15 year old birthday to sneak in there this last week.  Thank you for your patience.

Many of you know that I met with my oncologist late Friday afternoon for the first time.  She is new to our area and my primary Dr. thought I would really connect well with her.  Something about her being chatty like me.  I don't know what he's talking about.  I consider myself to be a very quiet private person... when I am sleeping.  He was correct!  She was great and I did really like her.  She was very thorough and gave plenty of details even making sure I realized why I was there...  For chemo treatments.  She explained that she actually had women who came in to see her not realizing they were there to discuss chemotherapy.  I assured her I was there for the full meal deal, including the fries.   

I will begin with this week as it is full of appointments.  I am anticipating being in to see the Dr. this afternoon to get this lingering infection taken care of.  I hope to be switching antibiotics and then of course he will want to drain the site again and for a change, I am actually really looking forward to that relief.  It builds up a lot of pressure and then that starts causing pain. Really, it's almost as much fun as child birth except you don't get a reward at the end. Maybe I need to have a Blizzard after each fun and exciting treatment.  This means I might need another Blizzard Wednesday afternoon as he will probably want to drain it again before surgery on Thursday. 

Tomorrow, I go in for a baseline ecocardiogram so they know what my heart function looks like on a normal day so that when they begin to pump me full of the different chemo drugs they have something to compare it with.  A few of these drugs can potentially cause damage to my heart.  This initial test allows them to monitor that closely.

Wednesday, I will learn about the chemo procedure.  They hold teaching sessions to give you information on the actual process and then they re-discuss the potential side effects and ways to minimize these.  I think I have this part pretty well figured out.  In order to minimize the hair loss, cut it off before it falls out.  Problem solved!  During this appointment I will also be getting my actual schedule for chemo treatments.

Thursday morning, I will be having the port surgery.  It is a much shorter procedure than the lumpectomy, but still he prefers to do it while I am under.  This port allows them access to my veins without having to start IV's every other week or so for the next year.  This is a small piece about the size of a pop bottle top that is inserted under my skin and has several inches of tubing threaded into my vein.  There is a potential risk of puncturing the top of my lung so would pray that God would direct the Dr.s hand for this procedure. 

Next week begins chemo.  I don't have that actual date yet.  That is the schedule I will be getting on Wednesday.  The first set of  drugs will be given once every two weeks for 4 treatments.  Now moms, you know how you tell your kids to eat their veggies first or to eat whatever they don't like first cause then it's done? well that is how this goes.  This first round is my celery, mushroom, liver and tofu all glopped together.  It is the toughest group.  This is the hair stealing bunch.  The good news is that once this 8 weeks is over, it will start growing back.  
Round two will last 12 weeks with once a week infusions.   During this time they will also begin the year long treatment of Herceptin injections.

Once the chemo treatments are over, there will be a two week break to get set up and switch gears to start the 7 weeks of daily radiation.  There will be a hormone therapy that I will be taking for the next 5 years after that is completed, so this is indeed a journey.  With just the chemo and radiation I am looking at finishing sometime in November if all goes as planned.

It was interesting on Friday.  I had been given the opportunity to have some extra hours of teaching time at our school so I took them knowing it would help out with expenses, but not realizing how I would be feeling with the infection.  I spent a couple of hours at our school Friday morning with the kids, ran home and packed for the weekend hoping the Dr. would say I could buzz over to Spokane for a quick trip.  In between the teaching and heading to the Dr at 2:30, I tried to lay down for 30 mins.  By the time I was with my friend and heading to the appointment, I was feeling off to say the least.  I was carrying the weight of work, life, finances, treatments, wondering if I would be allowed to travel, and then just normal things and couldn't seem to shake it. And on top of that I was tired and didn't feel well.  I apologized to my friend and said I wasn't good company that afternoon.  She was very gracious and understanding.

When my time with the Dr. had concluded, they took us back out front to schedule the other appointment times.  As we were sitting there, I realized something had happened during the last hour and a half.  The worry, and weight of life had not only disappeared, it had been completely replaced by peace and calm.  I explained to my friend it was as if God said, "Don't worry.  You still have cancer and I am still right here with you."  Now I realize that even as I write this, that sounds terribly off and I am sure that as you read it you feel that same catch and wonder "is she saying she is glad she has cancer?"   No, I am not glad that I have cancer.  I wouldn't wish this on anyone.  But God has chosen to make himself abundantly real to me through this experience as a couple of you who have walked this road before me, assured me he would.  There is a sweetness in this presence I have never experienced before and wouldn't trade for anything.  It empowers me to move forward and to fight this ugly cancer with everything that I am. 

My clippers and hats are ready.  I have my bad ass cancer chick attitude in place and I fight knowing I am not alone.  You, my friends and family, have made it abundantly clear that you are here with me, even if it's through stalking me on face book (you know who you are, wink wink ) and I am so grateful.  This was not the winter, spring, summer, or fall I had planned, but I have a feeling that when it's over I will be one step closer to who I am supposed to become.  I will have compassion that runs deeper, I will have empathy that is gentler, I will have love that is bolder, and I will have life that is richer and more meaningful than it is even now.  Please be patient with me along this journey as I may be tired and crabby.  I might not feel like talking, which might be a relief to some of you, but rest assured I will be fighting and I will win!

Psalm 16:11

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Tests Are Done. The Grade is In!

I made it through the week of testing with a dot to dot pattern on my arm from needle pokes and a nap record like I haven't had since pregnancy days.

I have been learning a lot with this new diagnosis.  For instance, I didn't know that breast cancer could spread to the lungs, liver, bones, and blood and because my cancer was in my teleporters (lymph nodes) the potential for it to spread to these other areas is higher.

The testing started Monday with the bone scan.  This consisted of an injection of radio active isotopes.  After receiving the injection.  They have you wait for 3 hours then come back for the actual scan.  The isotopes cling to your bones and highlight anything questionable or undesirable.  The scan lasts for about 30-40 mins.  All in all, it wasn't too bad and I even got to tell everyone I was radio active for a few days.  Guess I can't keep using that line.

Wednesday was another full day.  The morning appointment was with my favorite surgeon.  He was anticipating doing another aspiration at this appointment.  Upon further investigation of the surgery sites, he decided that it was unnecessary.  Apparently all my couch assessments and attempts to see through my eyelids, paid off.  Wednesday's score, minus two pokes for me.  

Wednesday afternoon rolled around and it was cocktail hour at my place.  You know the saying, "It's 5:o'clock some where" and this week it was at my house.  Granted it was a Barium Sulfate cocktail and a four hour fast till a second delicious cocktail of the same.  I tried to describe the interesting blend to my kids.  This is the best I could conjure up.  It is a strange blend of orange juice, 7-up, baby lotion and hospital hand cleaner.  Throw in a bit of chalk and I think that is pretty darn close.  After one more hour, it was time for the scans.  These were CT scans that took all of 30 seconds and believe me when I say, you do not want to know the price tag.  There are no words!  Tears maybe, but no words.  One scan was done with out the dye injection and then immediately following, they inject the contrast and do another scan.  And if you're at all curious or interested in the strange warming affect the injection for this scan produces, you can pm me.  I blush to even think about it. This scan would identify any cancer that had transported into my lungs or liver.  I can't complain too much because I got to follow up that day with an amazing friend who feeds me Blizzards filled with cookie dough chunks and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.  Hello!!!

By themselves, these tests are really quite uneventful until you consider what they are looking for and the ramifications of any hot spots located.  Once again, I had several opportunities to take my thoughts captive this week and focus on the master planner in my life.  I realized that although I was able to do this, my kids may not be quite so confident in this area.  I spent time with each of them this week discussing the possibilities.  It was important for me to hear their heart feelings and how far down the road they have gone in their minds.  I think it is very important to allow them to talk freely about everything we are experiencing and that's exactly what we did this week, even when it was hard and scary. 

The final appointment for this week was this morning at 8:30 am.  I stress the time because many of you are already feeling empathy pains for me knowing I am not a morning person.  To that I say a sincere, Thank you.  This appointment was to meet with my radiologist.  He shared with me his intended plan of action, but also mentioned that I probably wouldn't be seeing him again for several months since I was doing chemo first.  Ouch!  So a little sneak peak at the length of the chemo time.  That's okay.  The beach is close.  I can sleep it off there.  Not to mention the fish will appreciate me chumming their waters.  He also shared with me that because the cancer was in the teleporters it had demonstrated its' ability to transport into other areas.  This is a problem.... Cue the Chemo.  This reduces the likelihood of it coming back to 40%.  Add in the golden rays of radiation and that rate drops to 5%. Now that is a number I can work with. 

I have been anticipating a call back from my surgeon to inform me of the test results.  The only call I received from him was to tell me it was okay to get in the hot tub.  Instead, I would hear the information from the radiologist.  It flew out so quickly, as if he thought I already knew.  I had to double check to make sure I heard him correctly.  He said all tests, bone scan, blood work, and major organ CT came back clear.  No cancer in any off them.  While I like to think that I would have been prepared for the other answer, I cannot tell you how grateful I was for these results.  So while the next several months will be long, maybe discouraging, draining and trying, I know that "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength."  Philippians 4:13

Psalm 33:6-11

By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.  He gathers the waters of the sea into jars, he puts the deep into storehouses.  Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere him.  For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.  The Lord foils the plans of the nation; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.  But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.