Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Apigalypse Now

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What kind of blogger would I be if I didn't take a whack at the Swine Flu discussion? Therefore, I am going to discuss the pigdemic from a chemo patient perspective. This is a cancer blog after all.
Let me begin by saying that I do not want to offend anyone, and no one should think for a moment that I'm not taking this seriously. I am. I am taking my own health very seriously. That said...

A few people have asked me if I'm particularly worried about swine flu being that I'm a chemo patient. The answer to this question: No. I am no more worried than any of you are or should be. This is true for a few reasons. The first of which is that my immune system is doing pretty well at the moment. All my counts are, according to the nurse, "...normal for anyone and excellent for a chemo patient." I don't have any food restrictions currently, they don't have me staying home from work due to susceptibility, and they're not limiting me on anything. At the moment, I'm about as likely to catch the pigdemic as any of you are!

My mother, in particular, was worried because she read that there were two cases in Kansas. To all of you who had the same thought, let me put your mind at ease on a couple of points:

1) Those two cases could really be classified as one case. It was a husband and wife who had recently returned from Mexico. The incubation period for the pigdemic is 2-7 days so they won't be sure that it was confined to the couple for a few more days, but it's looking like they caught it early, isolated the couple, and prevented the spread.

2) Kansas really is a big's a whole state afterall. The couple was not in the Kansas City area, they live off more toward central to western Kansas. I live in the upper northeast corner of the state...I'm a couple of miles from Missouri.

My point here? It's going to be fine. No, this is not to be taken lightly. Yes, I am more susceptible to illness than your everyday person, but I have great doctors that are only a phone call away. I'm supposed to monitor my body temperature anyway since that's one of the first indicators that something (anything) is wrong. I have been doing this.

In general, there has been a great deal of misinformation handed out about this pigdemic. To begin with...we're not allowed to mention pigs or swines in reference to this anymore. According to the CDC, we're now supposed to call it H1N1. Apparently pig farmers were getting angry about all the bad press. And let me take this opportunity to inform all who were curious...NO YOU CANNOT CATCH H1N1 FROM EATING PIG PRODUCTS. It's an influenza virus. You catch it like you catch any flu. The best advice I've heard...stay away from sick people, wash your hands a lot, and don't touch your eyes, nose, or mouth if at all possible until you have washed your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.

Now, you are all educated and smart individuals, so this all probably goes without saying, but just in case, let me also talk a bit about the virus itself. The reasons why everyone is scared and throwing around words like "pandemic" are two-fold. 1) All flu virus are prone to mutation, but this is the only one that seems to be able to be passed between pigs, birds, and humans. Previously, human to human transference was scarce, but it seems this mutated strain is easily passed human to human. That scares people. 2) There is no vaccine! But guys...good news. They believe a vaccine will be ready as early as June of this year. just one short month, you can all go out and get your pigdemic vaccine.

Yeah...vaccine...about that....

I remember learning in college about the last swine flu scare of 1976 (though I incorrectly remembered it as a Jimmy Carter was President Ford). The President sent everyone out to get vaccinated against swine flu and the vaccine wasn't ready. It was rushed. If there were any deaths at all from the flu, they were few and far between...all the related deaths actually came from the vaccine in the 70s. Don't believe me? Google it.

That said, I don't think we'd make that particular same mistake twice, but I myself think I may wait past the first wave of vaccines. ; )

In summation, yes, this COULD be a scary thing that is not to be overlooked or taken lightly, but the fear mongering media also appears to be hungry for something to fill their 24-hour news cycle. Apparently pork satisfied that hunger. In a turn of irony, they also spent the weeks prior to the pigdemic discussion talking about "pork" in government spending. I'm noticing a theme. When did the piggies get such a bad rap?

Personally, I have some ham in the fridge and I haven't eaten dinner. I also have some bacon-wrapped scallops in the freezer. Theme of my own...

Thanks for humoring my brief rant and goodnight to you all! Sleep well and cover your mouth when you cough! Stay healthy out there!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Solidarity AND a Fashion Statement

Saturday April 25, 2009 - Sunday April 26, 2009

This weekend, my parents were in town to celebrate both my birthday and Joe's birthday. Well, in truth, my mom had been here since last Tuesday night to help take care of me, our cats, our apartment...and basically anything else that came up while I was drifting around in my chemo drug stuper. On Saturday morning, my mom and I drove out to the airport and my dad joined us for about a 24-hour birthday celebration.

What do you think was the VERY first thing my dad said when he got in the car? He loudly states, "Take me to a barbar shop, I want to shave my head in solidarity." This was a theme all day being that my mom and I did NOT stop at a barbar shop on the way home....more to come on solidarity in a moment.

So, the weekend was great...the gifts were fabulous too (I finally got good sunglasses!). Joe and I both had a sort of themed birthday in that we received a lot of cash and a lot of gift cards placed in cards that said, "Use this on anything you WANT, but NOT medical bills." I can't tell you how much we appreciate it either. All our free cash and MOST of the money that we set aside for savings each month will be going to medical bills for the next several months, so it's nice to have spending money for something fun and slightly more tangible (tangible as my chemo drug stuper may be).

Joe, my parents and I spent the day mostly laying around (my fault...I was tired), but we got out briefly to go by a nearby nursery and buy some flowers and planter boxes. I now have beautiful flower boxes on my balcony and make me smile each time I see them. I needed a break after that, but managed to pull myself together again later in the day to go out to J. Gilbert's for a tasty steak dinner. I LOVE that place.

After dinner, we came back to the apartment to watch a movie we had rented. Do NOT see The Spirit under any circumstances. It was so bad we turned off about 30 minutes in. We did not watch the movie, but instead decided it was time for Joe to shave my dad's head for solidarity's sake. Dad reports that he has received multiple compliments on the new look and is considering keeping it that way all the time. Not only is he standing solidly by his daughter, but he's now one stylin' individual. Pictures below.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

All in all, great birthday weekend and a great opportunity to recover from last week's chemo. I'm now rested and ready for my good week, which is already on in full force! It really does take me a week to feel better, but it's refreshing to know that I just have to make it Monday through Sunday, then the feeling good begins!

Last night, I met friends for happy hour after work and tonight...I'm headed out to a Royal's game. It should be a cool 65 degrees at first pitch...perfect!

Everyone have a great week! I know I will be busy catching up at work and busy catching up on my social life in the evenings! Give me a call if you're up for plans! :)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Happy 25th Birthday to Me!!!

Friday, April 24, 2009

6:00am: Woke up early, as is traditional for me on my birthday! Receive 25 kisses from husband plus one for luck for the upcoming year, plus one more big smooch for additional luck!

I feel much better today. Yesterday was the head shaving, which was somewhat emotionally draining (yet also freeing), but on top of that, I was just exhausted. I crashed by 6:30pm last night and am now up greeting a beautiful morning and sunrise while sitting out on my patio. It's a gorgeous day and promises to stay as such well into the evening!

Tonight's Birthday Plans: Headed out to dinner with some friends, then out for drinks on the Plaza in KC. If I'm being realistic, THEY will be having drinks and I will be consuming only water, but that's okay. This is a birthday celebration for me AND for Joe since his birthday this week was spent caring for me at chemo! I'm just excited to get out of the house and focus on an event other than having cancer! :)

Today's Mood: Optimistic and Cheerful

Today's Song of Choice: "Roxanne" by the Police (Don't ask me why, but have a listen to it once for me today!)

Today's Hair of Choice: Blonde Wig (They say blondes have more fun, you know!)

Anyway, to all of you...have a wonderful day! To all who share this day of birth with me, a very happy birthday to you and a very happy 25th birthday to me!!!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bald is Beautiful...And It Just Got a Little Hotter...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Well, as I've said before...everyone told me it would take 14-17 days for my hair to fall out. Today marks Day 17 and this morning, Joe and I shaved my head. Why did I do this, you may ask? Well, when so much hair falls out in the shower that you need to immediately go out and buy drain cleaner just to drain your shower, that's a problem. When brushing through your hair once clogs your brush to the point where it needs to be cleaned, that's also a problem. When your bathroom floor is littered with clumps of hair from drying it...also a problem. So, today's post is simply pictures. For your viewing pleasure...

To the left, this is a picture of me this morning after washing and drying my hair. I have spared you the picture of all the hair that fell out accumulated into a little pile. It's not for the weak stomached individuals, that's for sure. That is NOT what my part normally looks like.

Just below is a picture of Joe getting started on the head shaving process. It was simply time to do it. Enough hair had fallen out this morning and enough appeared to still be falling out that I assumed that by the end of they day, I would have significantly less hair. Additionally, having your own hair everyone is kinda gross and really itchy. It was time to let it go.

Now, a series of pictures of the head shaving process...I fully believe you can follow along from having more hair to having then less hair. Yes, there's a mohawk involved in there somewhere. Then there's a little bit of that rocker business where the whole head is shaved except for really long stringy bangs in the front, then...the complete baldness. Joe shaved his head in solidarity as well (though he does it frequently anyway, it's the thought that counts!). So there it is kids, the baldness is on! Who knew I looked like Sinead O'Connor under all that hair!!!!

Last, but not least, I tried my first wig today, so at the very bottom we have my brown wig, which I wore to work and got several compliments on! I like it!

Monday, April 20, 2009

2 Down, 6 to Go...Could be MUCH Worse

Monday, April 20, 2009

Let me start by giving a big shout out to Joe who turned 27 today!!! Happy Birthday, my love! Joe took one for Team McClendon today and spent his day first at work, then sitting with me for 3 and a half hours at chemo, then he watched me sit/lay mostly motionless and tired on the couch when we got home. This will NOT be the most memorable of birthdays for him. Scratch that...perhaps most memorable birthday of all. Hmm...

Thank you a million times for being my steady, strong rock and have the HAPPIEST birthday. You deserve it!

On to the juicy stuff....CHEMO!!!

12:30pm: Today was my second treatment and they opted to NOT give me enough Ativan to mellow a herd of bison. Yes, they did do this last time. My blood pressure has nearly fallen back to normal, so I guess they think I may not need to be sedated anymore. Have they met me? Keep the Ativan coming.

As a note, I have always had stellar blood pressure--120/80...always flawless. Since this little shindig began, I've had the blood pressure of a 70 year old heart patient off his blood pressure meds (i.e. 155/ For those of you who don't speak in Megan-like comparisons, let me be clear...that's bad. As a result of this, they have prescribed me generic Ativan to take as needed for anxiety, nausea, and as a sleep aid (but mostly for anxiety). In addition to my by mouth prescription, each time I've gone in, they've pumped me full of Ativan through my "dongles" (See picture below for clear idea of what my "dongles" look like...Joe didn't zoom in at all far enough for you to be grossed out). Result of this on today's blood pressure? 124/82!!! Much better. Therefore, no Ativan. point is this: Not being on Ativan makes one significantly more clear headed, thus allowing one to observe her surroundings.

Observation of the Day: This whole treatment thing could be a LOT worse.

As I've mentioned before, the drugs I'm given at chemo are few. They give me two small IV bags full of anti-nausea meds, then they give me two 10oz syringes full of the bright red chemo drug, Adriamycin, then one mid-sized IV bag full of a chemo drug called Cytoxin. In addition, you also get a regular IV bag as well. Keeping count? That's 4 bags, 2 syringes.

As I looked around today, I saw IV stands for each patient. I saw stands with 8, 9, 10 bags on them, not to mention the nurse-administered syringe drugs on top of that. I spoke with a woman today who was there for her first treatment (I empathize with her anxiety). She was being treated for a cancer in her jaw. She had 10 IV bags and a substantial amount of Adriamycin that would take so long to administer that she had it in a carrying bag. It went home with her to continue the process of administering the drug. She had been there 8 hours already. She will be back tomorrow...and every other day this week.

I keep hearing that every cancer is different and there is a different treatment regimen for each, but I don't think it really sunk in until today. With 2 treatments down and only 6 to go (and 2 weeks to recover before the next), this could be so much worse. I truly am very fortunate by all accounts. :)

4:30pm: Went home pretty exhausted. Absolutely didn't want to cook so it was such a relief to have coworker and friend meal service food! My coworkers and friends have signed up to deliver food to Joe and I throughout treatment weeks. I cannot tell you what an amazing gift it was. Homemade Mac & Cheese & Ham tonight. Yum...though now I'm feeling nauseated. Not to be graphic...but I hope it's not bad on the way back up either. :(

As for how I'm feeling...well, my hair started falling out today and after a brief bout of tears (when I say brief, I mean 3-5 minutes), I placed a call to both my mom and Joe (both of whom excel at making me feel better). When I hung up, I swept up the gobs of hair blown out by my blow dryer, cluttering my white tile bathroom floor, I wiped up the white sink where more hair had drifted and rested, and went to work.

At days end, I'm doing okay with it. The hair thing is now more of an annoyance. I made the horrible mistake of wearing black cotton today. I had my own hair stuck to me all day as the little suckers blew in the wind and fell out or as I ran my fingers through my hair and they fell to my shirt. The weirdest part about it is the way my scalp feels. It doesn't hurt, per se, but it's sort of awkwardly tender and sore, and at the same time sort of tingly. It's not really like the way your hand tingles after it falls asleep and starts to come back--it's more subtle than that--but that's the best way I can describe the sensation.

9:30pm: At this moment I'm shocked and amazed I made it this long without falling asleep, but I've fought it as long as I can. I leave you with this picture ---> (as referenced above) of me getting blood drawn. I'm in one of the treatment chairs and you can see my IV stand behind me. They use my pic line (my "dongles") for blood work and infusions both. It's not hospital-esque at all, much less intimidating than that. See for yourself.

Goodnight and love to all of you!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Cancer Opens Doors...Apparently

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Over the past few weeks, since the diagnosis, I have truly been awed daily by the outpouring of support that I have received. Here's the thing, it's not just dear friends and family that have stepped up to do all they can, it is truly anyone and everyone that hears the news. It's enough to restore my confidence in the human race! :) I have heard from people I haven't spoken with since high school graduation, I have heard from parents of friends, I have received cards from friends of parents of friends...the list goes on and on. Let me share with you the most distinctive and truly hilarious card I have received from one such person. Also, let it be said before you read this card that I truly appreciated this card...let NO ONE say that I don't have a sense of humor about this. Folks, cancer is funny if you let it be funny! :)

The front of the card reads:


Open the card and it says:

"It just f***ing sucks."

The sender then included a lovely message of her own which was very nice, but I must say, Joe and I laughed for hours about this one! A big thanks goes out to Sharin! You absolutely know my sense of humor!

Okay, on to the opening of doors...

As I said, the outpouring of support has come from all directions, including on the career front. I am in the unique position of having access to a number of high profile individuals in the Kansas City area through my House of Representatives employment. It makes it very easy to make connections. This week, I had the opportunity to make a breast cancer connection that may be so helpful in coming months as I begin the "survivor" journey. Obviously I will have to experience this five month cancer journey first, but I see nothing wrong with looking ahead on to the next journey (this one will be lifelong).

A lovely couple from the Kansas City area started a nonprofit organization for breast cancer survivors not too many years ago. The organization is called Back in the Swing (it's a great organization...check it out here). It has spread to include chapters in cities around the country.

So anyway, they came in to meet with my boss about the possibilities for legislation and federal funding for breast cancer research. It was suggested that I sit down with them for a meeting as well--just a short visit for 20 or 30 minutes. They are kind of the "it" people in the area involved in breast cancer non-profits and they'd love to sit down with me when I'm cancer free. I now have a great volunteer opportunity starting after July. Cancer opens doors...apparently. On top of the volunteer opportunity, I was able to talk to them about their experience in dealing with breast cancer as a husband and wife. They provided insight and it appeared that they dealt with the journey with positivity, humor, and optimism, just as Joe and I are attempting to do. It was a really great experience brought to me by my job!!!!

I must say, I feel almost bad--guilty maybe is a better word--for so easily finding the silver lining. For example:

Hair Loss = A solid 30 extra minutes that I can sleep in the morning due to the fact that I don't have to wash, dry, or style my hair. I get to pull a Britney without anyone accusing me of being crazy!

Cancer diagnosis = Instant networking opportunity due to the fact that, " estimated 182,460 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in American women in 2008 alone" (taken from Susan G. Komen). Also, there are millions of breast cancer survivors in the U.S.

Job + Cancer = Easily make local area connections and find volunteer opportunities for the future.

I suppose I'm just intellectualizing the situation (since that's just what I do) and that has resulted in me trying to find the perks in the experience. My guilt comes from the fact that it hasn't been hard for me AT ALL to find perks. By no means am I saying that I'm glad to have this opportunity. I'd still pick NOT cancer if given the choice, but I suppose I may as well take full advantage of the perks if I have to go through it. Right? Thoughts?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Thinking of Others

Today, Wednesday, April 15, 2009 (aka Tax Day)

That's right, folks, I've caught up to real time. Hopefully we can keep current from here on out.

Yesterday I received a call from my mother, and in an unfortunate turn of events, it turns out that my godmother--one of my parents' oldest and dearest friends--was diagnosed with breast cancer as well, as of this week.

I find myself in an unusual position of being just a few weeks ahead of her in terms of progress. I know what she must be going through. That moment when you hear the word "cancer" is truly the hardest moment. I also find myself very willing to offer my services as someone to talk to, share the journey with, while simultaneously understanding that she will NOT want to talk to me. What do you talk about? What do you say? What do you ask? What advice do you give? The answer to every one of those questions is "nothing." There is nothing to say, nothing to ask, and no appropriate advice to give. The only reality is your new one and you face it as a new challenge to overcome. Each person's experience is different and they must live it for themselves. I have found that hearing of others' journeys is not for me...I'm simply traveling my own. She may or may not feel the same.

The point? She is in my thoughts and prayers just as so many people have told me that I'm in theirs. Please, as you keep me in your thoughts and prayers, send a few her way as well.

In closing, it seems 2009 so far has been rough on most everyone, but with weddings and new babies for multiple friends of mine on the horizon, 2009 shows great promise. Thinking of you all and sending positive vibes your way!

The Saga of the Elbow Continues...

Monday, April 13, 2009

7:00am: I got up feeling pretty good and ready to go to work. My elbow looked a lot better after elevating it all night.

7:20am: I got out of the shower, my elbow was red, swollen, and looked worse than ever. I make the executive decision to telecommute so that I can elevate my arm and use my laptop simultaneously. This was a very good decision.

9:00am: Call the Cancer Center to ensure that I actually get to see the doctor on this particular day. At this point I'm pretty concerned and ready for some answers about my stupid elbow. They reschedule my already scheduled blood work appointment for later in the day so I can get it all out of the way at once.

2:30pm: Arrive at the Cancer Center for blood work, pic line cleaning and bandage change, and doctor follow up for my elbow.

2:45pm: My oncologist sees me, gives me great news about my progress after JUST 1 WEEK of chemo and then takes a look at my elbow. Much to my disappointment, he is not quite sure what it is either. It is one of three things he decides...infection, rheumatoid arthritis, or gout? Gout? Seriously? Has anyone had gout in like the last 100 years?

3:15pm: I head to the infusion room for blood work and now, for a uric acid test which will apparently tell me whether I have gout. Neat.

4:00pm: Leave the Cancer Center with new dressings on my pic line, blood work done with all of it looking normal, and still no answers about what the HELL is wrong with my freaking elbow. Elbow? Seriously? ELBOW? Also, I leave with ANOTHER new prescription!!! Shocker.

***Let me take this opportunity to, it is not the elbow on the same arm as the pic line. That is EVERYONE'S first question.

7:00pm: Take my three new medications, plus the brand new anti-inflammatory just prescribed, as instructed by my oncologist. I am told that I should finish out the 10 days of antibiotics and hope for the best. Not the answer I was looking for, but neither the nurses nor the doctor seemed that concerned, so apparently, I need to calm down.

Note: I am still taking my temperature frequently and monitoring the elbow closely. I mean, frankly, if I'm not going to take control of my own health care by being an informed and conscientious patient, then who is? I urge everyone to trust your health professionals, but a healthy level of skepticism and concern is not to be sneezed at! Second opinions are the gold standard. Inquisitiveness and curiosity as a patient are your currency! Take care of yourselves.

Just for fun, here's a picture of the rig I've concocted at work to keep my elbow elevated and still be able to do my job. Is it silly? Yes. Do people laugh when they see me? Absolutely. Do I care? No way. I'm freaking brilliant for coming up with this at all! Props should also be given to my coworker, Cheyne, for lending me the white thing that my keyboard is sitting on. This was taken Tuesday, April 14, when I went back to work. Enjoy!

Seriously? My elbow? Seriously?

When we last left our heroine...she was on her way to the Shawnee-Mission Hospital Emergency room for another ambiguous problem. This time it was....her ELBOW! And now the exciting conclusion...

Saturday, April 11, 2009 - Sunday, April 12, 2009

9:45pm: So, Joe and I roll out to the emergency room a few blocks away from our apartment. This was recommended to me by the on-call doctor at the cancer center. I explained to him that my elbow was red, swollen, and it hurt to move my arm...this sparked his over-the-phone diagnosis of "probably an infection of some kind," which propelled me to the emergency room to get on some serious antibiotics. The problem with any infection for a chemo patient is that our white blood cell counts are low, which makes it hard for us to fight off an infection like your everyday individual. At this point I'm thinking to myself, "Oh, great...only one treatment in and a problem...let's just hope we're getting all the kinks out early!"

10:00pm: Just as the commercial for Shawnee-Mission Emergency states, "I was seen in less than 12 minutes!" Well, yes, I was taken back to triage immediately, but then they put you in an exam room and leave you there to rot and die of old age. A lovely gentleman took my blood pressure and wrote down my prescription drug allergies, then he put me in a room.

10:30pm: A nurse comes in to again take notes on why I was there in the first place and she writes down my prescription drug allergies. She says the doctor will be in shortly.

11:15pm: The doctor, a very nice lady who reminded me a lot of the Dr. Bailey character on Grey's (not in looks, but in character), came in, told me we would get some x-rays and blood work, and she'd be back soon enough. She again asked me about my prescription drug allergies. She wrote them on her hand...hmm...

11:45pm: The nurse came back to take blood for blood work. They didn't want to mess with my pic line so I got jabbed again pushing me further in my resemblance to a pin cushion. At the exact same time, the guy came to take x-rays. The nurse told him to come back in 10 minutes, which I knew would mean it would be at least 30 before I saw him again. And it was...

12:15pm: The guy came back to do x-rays. Somewhere in there, the nurse administered a pain killer through the IV. I nearly vomited, but got through the x-rays.

1:00am: Apparently I fell asleep because I woke up to the lovely Dr. Bailey copy telling me she was sorry for my long wait. X-rays looked fine, so did my blood work, though my white blood cell count was a bit high, suggesting that my body was trying to fight something off--infection perhaps. She said she'd get a nurse in there immediately to administer IV antibiotics and get me checked out.

1:15am: A male nurse that looked about 17--I'm sure he was in his 30s...but he sure looked 17--came in to take my blood pressure again, administer the antibiotics, and get me all checked out so I could FINALLY leave. He AGAIN asked me about my prescription drug allergies. At least they're thorough, right?

1:40pm: With all final tests done, antibiotics done and IV removed, I was finally allowed to leave. I left with 3 new prescriptions to add on to my other 8 (not exaggerating, I really had 8 already) and the instructions to follow up with my oncologist on Monday.

10:30am: I finally came around to consciousness due to the pain in my elbow. I didn't go get my prescriptions at the 24-hour pharmacy because Joe and I were so damn tired at 2:00am. I immediately regretted that decision.

11:00am: Joe drives me to Walgreens because I again can't move my arm enough to drive. I fill my three new prescriptions, one of which is Vicodin....AWESOME!

11:15am: Go home, eat a bagel, take my new pills.

11:30am: Sit back in awe of the speed at which Vicodin takes effect. Suddenly feel as if I could do anything with my still swollen and red elbow. Know this is a bad idea and decide nap with arm elevated is a better idea.

The remainder of my day consisted of napping, television watching, and putting together a puzzle. I ended the day in much less pain than I had when it began, but I was eager to see a doctor that would give me more than 5 minutes of his or her time. I was eager to see what my oncologist would say about the elbow. Tomorrow...a second opinion and a definite diagnosis.

To Chemo and Beyond...

Monday, April 6, 2009

As Joe shared in his recent post, I started chemo about a week and a half ago, and I have since discovered that all those side effects they talk about really ARE side effects. I have to say, however, my body took it pretty well. I know it will get harder with each treatment, but at the moment this is all very manageable.

1:00pm : Chemo treatment. I finally made use of the "dongles" I have sticking out of my arm semi-permanently. The previous Friday, April 3, I went in for a small procedure where they put in my pic line. A pic line is essentially a semi-permanent IV. They put it in through your arm and a tiny tube goes up through the vein in your arm across your chest and stops right before your heart. What you see on the outside of the arm looks a lot like an IV with two little IV plug ins hanging off. I have it covered all the time to keep it clean and sanitized...they clean it and change the dressing each wee, and it just hangs out there. It doesn't hurt anymore, but if I knocked it too hard...well...let me just say, it's sutured to my arm, so I DON'T want to hit it too hard.

So, the way they use this for treatment is...they just plug you in. It's very convenient and it keeps me from looking like a pin cushion after 16 weeks of blood work and treatment.

4:00pm: Went home, sat up with Mom, Joe, and Kristen for about an hour and then pretty much crashed until my alarm went off at 7:00am the next morning.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

All Day: Felt pretty good overall. I was tired to be sure, but I had no nausea and I was able to go to work. Worked a full day, got a hug and tears from my boss...overall, pretty good day.

1:00pm: Went to get my Neulasta injection. This is basically a drug that rebuilds your bone marrow and white blood cell count after chemo treatment. I found that this is incredibly painful. Your bones literally growing pains, but times about 5.

5:00pm: Went home. Went to bed instantly.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

I had my rough day. I went to work in the morning, can't provide you with times because I don't remember much from the day, but I went home at lunch, fell asleep, and slept until the next morning when my alarm went off. Very rough day, but if I just sleep through it...I should be fine!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

7:00am: Got up much more refreshed than the previous day. I went to work and made ALMOST all the way through the day. I finally went home at 4:00, but I was pretty productive overall.

This is the day when the headaches kicked in full force. I was feeling better for the most part, but my God!!!! The headaches were awful. Turns out...the doctor thinks it's one of the chemo drugs, so I may just have to pop some vicodin and deal. Sad panda.

4:00pm: Once again, went home, changed, brushed my teeth, and instantly fell asleep until the next morning. Like I said...I was very tired.

Friday, April 10, 2009

7:00am: I wake up feeling almost GOOD! Still feeling pretty weak, but I head off to work...still with a headache...and work a full day!

5:00pm: Went home and actually stayed up for a little while. Shocking. Joe was exhausted too, so we fell asleep early, ready for the weekend. I had actually made plans for Saturday so I needed my rest.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

8:00am: Felt good, still tired...even after ALL THAT SLEEP!

11:00am: Went to lunch and the mall with Kristen, Katie, and baby Luke, which was the first time I'd gotten out of the house to go somewhere other than work, the doctor, or the pharmacy, so it was nice to be around people. We ate Nordstrom Cafe, which I love...then we ate cookies, which I love even more.

3:00pm: Head home to make plans with Scott, our friend who lives in L.A., but is from K.C. originally. We had made plans to go to the Royals v. Yankees game with him.

4:00pm: Head out to the remodeled Kaufman Stadium to see the Royals a lot. Suddenly realize that my elbow has been hurting all day, but it's now just throbbing. I finally take a look at it and find that it's swollen and red and very painful. The deets of this story will come in my next post. Blow off the elbow...after all, it's just an elbow, and watch the game.

<--This is Joe and I at the game!

9:00pm: Leave during the 7th inning stretch because I can't move my arm anymore due to pain.

9:45pm: End up in the ER at Shawnee-Mission and THAT is to be continued.....

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Chronicles of the Spouse: The Chemoing

Megan's chemo started last Monday (April 6). There were some rough spots this week after the treatment, but I would say that it was mostly a good week, all things considered. She felt fine on Monday after the treatment; she started to get tired around 7:00 p.m. and finally crashed around 9:00 p.m., but no nausea or sickness. She woke up on Tuesday feeling a little sick, but treated it with the first level of anti-nausea medication that she has been prescribed. She told me that she made it through the whole day on Tuesday without feeling too awful. Again, she crashed as soon as she got home, but no sickness yet.

Wednesday the other shoe dropped. She woke up feeling fine but her disposition quickly turned for the worse after she got to work. She had to go the third level of anti-nausea medication just to get to lunch-time. She came home during her lunch hour and slept for the rest of the day.

Thursday and Friday were better days; she came home about an hour early on Thursday but overall felt fine both days. Again, lots of sleep after work but nothing to call the doctor about after hours. Unfortunately, that all changed on Saturday.

Megan had some sort of bite/small wound on her elbow on Saturday morning. We don't normally pay attention to that kind of stuff because unless your arm is rotting off, spider bites aren't that big of a deal. Her elbow became a big deal, though, right before we went to the baseball game. That joint was radiating a lot of heat and had swollen and was red in color. By the time we got home from the game, she could barely move her arm at the elbow from the pain. We called the on-call doctor at the KCCC and he advised us to go to the hospital.

I'm sure Megan will want to tell this story, but the short version is that we arrived at the emergency room at 9:45 p.m. and didn't leave until 1:30 a.m. Sunday morning. Megan was diagnosed with an infected bursa, which apparently took over 3 hours to figure out. They sent us on our way with 3 new prescriptions and instructions to come back if her elbow got worse. Awesome.

This first week has been tough. Megan's mom stayed in town through Thursday, which was great because her motherly instincts took over and she took care of a lot of things that neither Megan nor I had the energy to deal with. Even with her help I felt drained of all energy nearly all of the time. I know that it's medically impossible for Megan's chemo treatment to physically effect me, but I'm almost as wiped out as she is most of the time. On a good day, my eyes are puffy enough so that I look like I have been in a fist fight when I wake up in the morning. This last week I looked like I had been repeatedly punched in the face by 10 different people. I'm not sleeping well at all these days; I normally get a solid 7 hours of sleep but I have been restless every night.

I learned this week that cancer affects everyone, not just the patient. I'm going to have to try a lot harder to share my emotions and feelings with Megan and my close friends. A friend of mine told me that he regrets keeping everything to himself while his mother was being treated for breast cancer and that I should absolutely not do what he did. I'm a stoic person by nature (probably to a fault) and talking about my feelings is very difficult for me, but I can already see how much of a mistake it would be to try and handle this on my own.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Cancer and Happiness; Not Mutually Exclusive Principles

Thursday, April 2, 2009

"The grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for." - Allan K. Chalmers

Note: Bright and early I wake up for a full day of tests, meetings, and preparation. Something to do: I'm making progress and moving in the right direction. A plan is in place and I'm pursuing it.

8:30am: Arrive at yet another medical facility for yet another test to get a true portrait of the situation. This time, it's an MRI of my chest and breast area. The concept behind this is that an ultrasound and mammogram can miss things. An MRI will show a much better picture and will allow us to be more at ease if it comes back negative--a negative read will suggest that the rest of the left breast and all of the right breast (surrounding lymphnodes included) are cancer-free.

On a side note: The receptionist was rude to me as soon as I walked in the door. She then demanded a "downpayment" of $465 just to do the test that day. When I asked, and I thought it was a reasonable question, "Don't you think a payment of this sum might warrant a phone call for a heads up? Just because I happen to be able to pay you $465 today, that doesn't mean everyone could."

Her response, in the snottiest voice she could muster, "It is THIS hospital's policy that a patient is responsible for knowing his or her own benefit plan. Your benefit plan requires a downpayment of 15%."

I looked at her with what I can imagine was a bit of amazement and retorted back, "Is it THIS hospital's policy that every patient who walks through the door should know the flat cost of an MRI off the top of their head thus allowing them to do the math to figure their financial responsibility and then do more math to figure the downpayment?"

She glared, but said nothing. She handed me my intake sheet and pointed down the hall to the sign that said "Radiology." She was sweet. We're doing lunch next week.

9:00am: They take me back for the MRI. If you've never had an MRI, you should be aware that it's not much fun. You must lay very very still and be subjected to very loud intermittant beeps and tones. They have improved the experience since I last had one though...I got headphones that looked more like earmuffs so I could listen to music. I couldn't hear it over the MRI tones. Oh's the thought that counts.

11:15am: Joe and I have a meeting at the Cancer Center with the oncologist's Nurse Practitioner, Brenda, to discuss all the medications that will be pumped into me and all the side effects that will come along with that. Additionally, this was our opportunity to talk about all the many things you wonder, but no one ever tells you about cancer. The truth about the hair falling out: Is it ALL the hair? Everywhere? The truth about my energy level...we'll leave it there. So on and so forth. We left feeling confident that our questions had been answered and that we would feel comfortable asking any more that came up along the way.

Note: Joe holds my hand through all of this. He takes notes, he asks questions, and he talks about "when I'm better." Something to love: Joe and his unending vow to be my rock through all of this.

1:00pm: Time for another test. Joe went back to work and I ran across the hall to the other side of the Cancer Center for my PET Scan. For this one, they inject you with radioactive fluid and run out of the room as quickly as possible, thus making me a little nervous about being injected with the stuff to begin with. I then lay there letting it filter all the way through my blood stream for an hour.

2:30pm: PET scan finally starts and takes about 20 minutes tops. Lots of preparation, very little time in practice. Very little effort on my part: lay there very still and the machine moves you in and out of the tube as necessary.

3:00pm: I finally get to eat for the first time that day. The PET scan requires that you not eat--best Chick-Fil-A chicken nuggets I've ever had. Now it's home to get ready for the Britney Spears concert! Pussycat Dolls are opening and we're doing mexican and margaritas beforehand. A girl's night out is just what I needed!

Note: I head home to do my hair and pick a Britney-esque outfit with the promise that my MRI and PET scan results will be in my tomorrow. Something to hope for: Negative results on the PET scan and MRI. Negatives on both of those would mean that the cancer hasn't spread to anywhere else in my body and THAT would be amazing news.
Here I am with the girls at dinner before the concert in my most Britney-esque outfit. I even have one of those hats she always wears. Yes, that is a pitcher of frozen margaritas. It was a much needed night to unwind. This is prior to the hair cut. I was told that it's less traumatic when your hair falls out if you've cut it much shorter to begin with. I've been growing it out for the last year so I can do that wavy thing...dammit.

"Crises refine life. In them you discover what you are." -Allan K. Chalmers

As I'm faced with the greatest crisis of my life, I am discovering that I am stronger than I ever thought I was. I have action. I have love. I have hope. And, I'm discovering that I have happiness despite having cancer. Cancer and happiness...turns out one really can exist even in the presence of the other.

A New Reality

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

9:15am: Arrived at the surgeon's office for a more thorough take on the results of the biopsy. "Cancer," though a loaded word and obviously pejorative, is not in itself all that telling. If anything, the diagnosis inspired even more unanswered questions. What's next? How bad is it? Am I going to get better?

9:30am: The surgeon comes in to speak with me, my mom, my dad, and Joe. He presents me with the surgical options, but is completely clear that the ultimate call on treatment schedule should come from my oncologist. At this point, I had an appointment with the oncologist later in the afternoon, so again...more questions that would have to wait.

So, at this point my options...pending a lot of things...were lumpectomy, mastectomy, or bi-lateral mastectomy. For those of you who don't know, a lumpectomy is the removal of just the mass, a mastectomy is the removal of the whole breast and a bi-lateral would be the removal of both breasts. Now, the concept of mastectomies seems brutal, but there are some really good reasons for it. For one, if I were to carry the gene that predisposed me to breast cancer and associated cancers, my likelihood of having another mass would be significantly increased. For some women, the lifelong fear is just not worth it, so they opt for the mastectomy or bi-lateral mastectomy. Unfortunately, it really comes down to a numbers game. Percentages and chances all resting on whether I carry the breast cancer gene. That fact is still to be determined. I'm waiting on the genetic testing results as we speak.

1:30pm: Meeting with the oncologist. Again, I have my entourage in tow. He was matter-of-fact and direct, but compassionate at the same time. The staff seemed very competent and caring. It helped a lot to finally have a little confidence.

So, we sat down to discuss treatment options (surgery is a part of this, but treatment is much more about the drugs + the surgery + the emotional treatment). The oncologist recommended chemo first with surgery to come later. From what I understand, this is gaining in popularity because there's some amount of research that shows that cutting into a tumor can potentially spread cancer cells into the surrounding tissue, possibly increasing your chances of cancers later on. This way, they kill all the precancerous cells that are floating around in there, shrink the tumor, and you're already deep into treatment before they cut into anything.

My doctor and I will sit down every two weeks and reevaluate how the tumor is responding and when surgery might be an option. Initially, he thought surgery wouldn't happen until after the fourth of eight treatments, but I'm staying hopeful that this thing will be out of there as soon as possible.

Treatment Verdict: Eight chemo treatments over the course of 16 weeks. The first four treatments will be a mix of two chemo drugs and a third will be added in by the fifth treatment. I will be tired all the time, sick most of the time, my hair will fall out about 14-17 days after the first treatment, and it will be a rough 16 weeks. But at the end...both the surgeon and oncologist agree, there is every reason to believe that I will be healthy and cancer-free! About five tough months from finding the tumor to being cancer-free! I can totally do this!

2:30pm: They shuffle me off to have blood drawn for your typical blood work stuff as well as to be sent off for the genetic testing. I then get a full tour of the facility and a little walk through of how the chemo treatments will go. Little scary, but I'm ready to get started.

4:00pm: Time to head home after a very long day. Just as I suspected: a new month brings new promise for better outcomes. My day ends on an optimistic note with about 20,000 new tests scheduled between now and my first treatment on Monday April 6. Here we go!

Friday, April 10, 2009

The End of Ambiguity

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

11:00am: Despite the fact that it was the phone call I had been anticipating for days, when the phone actually rang, it scared the bejeezus out of me. I ran outside, my coworkers looking on somewhat confused, and took the call. It was my surgeon on the other end of the line, "Good morning, Megan, I'm afraid I don't have good news for you today."

I listened, tried to hold it together, and set an appointment to meet with him to discuss "options" the following morning. A friend of mine commented that news like that should not be simply given over the phone, but I have to say, I appreciated the time to mourn and come to grips with the news before being forced into a tiny room with a doctor, a nurse, my husband, my mother, and my father to discuss that same news again.

11:15am: I hung up and as soon as I could be understood through the crying, I called my mother, my husband, and Kristen (that best friend that knows you so well that somehow she ALWAYS knows how to make it better). One by one, they launched to action. My mother left work, packed up my father and luggage suitable for a visit of indefinite length, and set out for the five and a half hour drive to reach me (it took them eight hours, but I know that the urgency was there in spirit!). My dearest husband, Joe, left work immediately as well, to reach me as soon as he was able, and Kristen got up, walked out of a meeting that she was leading, left her office, and was by my side within 15 minutes.

11:30am: Kristen, knowing me as she does, suggested sushi and margaritas on the Plaza. Excellent choice. Joe met us there and it was a fine distraction as I mulled over the term "invasive ductal carcinoma" over and over in my head. Following lunch, Joe, knowing me as he does, took me to Super Target. Yes, I have an obsession with Super Target and I find that an hour or so of wandering through the aisles fantasizing about all possible uses for the items in the "As Seen on TV" aisle can be the highlight of anyone's day. From Target, it was off to a movie, a comedy of course, before finally heading home.

10:00pm: By the end of the day, Kristen had gone to work to get me an appointment with one of the premier breast cancer oncologists in the area, my mind was not quite as swimmy--I had resolved myself that this was going to be okay in the end, and my parents had finally arrived.

Tomorrow would be another day, the first day of April. A new month was beginning, a new battle, and a new reality for myself, my family, and friends. The most daunting thought--telling people. There is no "right" reaction. There is NOTHING appropriate to say or do and there are no expectations on my end. The outpouring of positivity and support that I have received thus far is more than I could ask for. Keep it comin'! I'm gonna need it! :)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Week of the Ambiguous Breast Lump - Day 2-7

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 -

9:00am - Immediately started calling surgeons that I had recommendations for. Within a couple of hours, I had found out that surgeons do NOT get in a hurry to schedule an appointment with you despite a fairly bleak mammography and ultrasound report. Finally find surgeon who comes highly recommended and can get me in on Friday.

Thursday, March 26, 2009 -

All day - Nervous waiting

Friday, March 27, 2009-

1:30pm - Appointment with the surgeon, who I liked (and still like) a lot. After fully reviewing the radiology report, he felt that a core needle biopsy was the best way to go and he wanted to try to get me in as soon as possible.

2:30pm - Arrive downstairs in the same medical building for core needle biopsy procedure absolutely shocked that they got me in the same day and on a FRIDAY nonetheless.

The Core Needle Biopsy - This is supposedly a painless and easy procedure that is slightly more horrible in practice than in theory. And it is important to note that one of the real risks of this procedure (though it may not happen that often) is a punctured lung. That really puts an already racing mind at ease, let me tell ya.

So...they numb the area with the same stuff that dentists use...I was really hoping for something stronger. Then they stab you with a GINORMOUS needle. While all of this is going on, they have an ultrasound machine going to make sure they're taking a sample from the core and to once again measure the lump. Additionally, during the biopsy, they take another, closer look at the lymphnodes in the nearest armpit to make sure they look healthy. First good news of the week: My lymphnodes looked good! The radiologist then stabs you repeatedly and you hear load clicks as he takes the samples (4 of them in my case). When he's done, I bleed a very long time, look very bruised, and then they force me to do YET ANOTHER mammogram just so they can take a picture of the tiny metal marker they have placed inside the tumor to show where the biopsy was taken from.

Let me take a moment here to say...I had no idea how many procedures radiologists perform. I really just thought they looked at films taken by others and then sent them on to other doctors for diagnoses. I have truly underestimated their role. Another radiologist will reappear after my diagnosis to do more procedures...look for that coming soon.

5:00pm - Go home no more confident in a beningn outcome mostly because I had nurses asking to pray with me, doctors telling me I "did good" to find this one and a biopsy "is a very good move here," and everyone was being much nicer to me than when I came in.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

All Day - There is a distraction in sight so that I don't just sit at home and mull all this over. Kristen, Matt, Joe (the husband) and I head off to Branson, Missouri for the Mrs. Missouri pageant. The day of exploring Branson, margarita drinking, and basketball watching, followed by the pageant was a brilliant distraction. Kudos to dear Mrs. Heather for getting first runner-up! If only your question had been equivalent to the rest (i.e. What is your opinion on the clubbing of baby seals? or Do you hate puppies?)...instead Heather was essentially asked to present a five year plan of action for solving the Palestinean-Israeli conflict. Kudos, Heather, kudos!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

All Day - Driving home from Branson lacked the distraction capabilities that driving TO Branson had. Nervousness is back in full force. Pharmeceuticals and half a glass of wine once again needed to sleep.

Monday, March 30, 2009

All Day - Got my hopes WAY TOO HIGH that I would have biopsy results by the end of the day. Heard nothing. Another half glass of wine and an Excedrin PM. Go to bed nearly positive that I will hear something tomorrow, Tuesday. Confident that my hellish month of March will end with the last day of March and April will bring renewing showers, a plan of action, and lots of hope.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Week of the Ambiguous Breast Lump - Day 1

So, I am embarking on my first blog post for this particular journey, but to really start from the beginning, I'm going to have to start about 2 weeks ago. It may take me time over the next week or so, but I will catch you up to present day soon enough.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

7:00 am - Wake up. Get in the shower. Find suspicious round red rash on breast. Touch suspicious rash, find MORE suspicious lump underneath. Freak out slightly.

7:10 am - Step out of shower. Find that suspicious rash has even more suspiciously disappeared. Think to myself, rash gone...lump gone too? No. Lump remains. Call Joe (the husband) in for first consult. Verified. Lump, indeed. Cry immediately.

8:00 am - Try calling OBGYN's office to set up immediate visit. Pointer: While the rest of the working world in the Midwest begins work by 8 or 8:30...doctors and their staff seem to think that 9-5 with a non-working lunch is a better way to go. Irritated and frustrated, I then wait until 9:00 a.m.

9:00 am - Sneak out of office to make semi-embarrassing, highly-personal phone call. Finally convince scheduling assistant at front desk of practice that I absolutely SHOULD be seen today and I'll see anyone! I get in with a nurse practitioner.

10:30 am - See Nurse Practioner for second consult, first medical consult. Yes, indeed...suspicious lump. Cry some more. Relatively nice lady out front schedules me for mammogram and breast ultrasound that afternoon.

1:00 pm - Arrive at new medical facility for the fun to come. They cover you in a lovely full length gown so that you may modestly frolic about, so you're thinking...this can't possibly be too bad...despite all the horrors of mammograms your mothers and grandmothers warned you about. Spoiler alert: Guys skip the mammogram section if this is more you ever wanted to know about what your mothers, wives, girlfriends, fiances, sisters, and grandmothers have gone through, will have to go through, or are currently going through.

The Mammogram - Okay, so you're shuffled into a room with ambient lighting in your modest floor length ground, though you only have to undress waist up, and that's where the modest ends. A young woman, who I am sure is very lovely if you were to know her on a day to day basis, yanks my arm out of the sleeve, grabs my breast like she's carrying a turkey breast to the oven to be cooked, sets the breast on a cold piece of plexi-glass and starts mushing it around. If this is not awkward enough, she then brings a second piece of glass down on top of it to squish it further. I believe mammogram technologists must be those individual whos, as children, were able to squish the playdough the flattest and have subsequently turned that into a career. Then, after asking you stand in very awkward positions, meanwhile not wearing any deoderant as they say it can mess up the pictures, she's ducking under your undeodorized arms and shifting your whole body and you boobs into the most uncomfortable positions your body has ever had to endure. Then, they do the other one. Then they do each of them from 2 more angles. They keep asking you to breath normally before the picture is actually taken, but really...who could? Huge relief when that portion ends.

The Ultrasound- Slightly less ridiculous than the mammogram and hardly worth's the same kinda thing they do to see babies in the whom. They look at the lump from different angles, then they check out the lymphnodes in the armpit. Aside from the part where I had to be groped by yet ANOTHER individual...could have done this part all day. No biggie.

The Results - The radiologist came in shortly after having looked over the mammogram films and the ultrasound films, he brought a female nurse with him who held my hand. THIS WAS MY FIRST CLUE!!!! Cried some more. He categorized my mammogram finding has more likely to be malignant than benign and thus refferred me to a surgeon for a biopsy. Cried a lot more. They then provided me with my own copy of all the films and the radiologist's report so that I would have it to show to the surgeon. I did something horrible wrong (or right) here. I tried to interpret the report by going onlin and googling all the medical phrases I didn't understand. The end result you may ask? By the end of Day 1, I was pretty positive that I had cancer and no one around me was willing to tell me yet, being that a pathologist had not yet looked at a tissue sample. So...the day ended after 5:00 (let me remind you all doctor's offices are closed by then) with more waiting until I could schedule the next appointment, with the surgeon, who would then have to do a removal biopsy himelf, or refer me to YET ANOTHER doctor for a needle biopsy.

5:30pm: Home for the day. Lots more crying. Told only Mom, Dad, and Husband at that point. No need to worry anyone else. Afterall, EVERYONE and their dog kept telling me, "Don't worry, 85% of these turn out to be benign."

12:00am: Still can't go to sleep. Time to mix wine with pharmaceuticals. Half glass of wine and a Tylenol PM knocked me right out.