Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sunday, May 31, 2009

It's true. My posts have been more infrequent as of late. Part of that is the fact that very little of what is happening now is new. I'm in the middle of treatment and I've kind of hit a rhythm. We're not waiting on any test results and we're too far from the end of this to start talking with any seriousness about surgery or anything after. Rhythm, rut, whatever you want to call it...we're there.

Tomorrow, I will see the doctor again, but I'm not expecting any excitement. It's basically just a follow-up appointment. He'll do a physical exam and measure the size of the lump with a tape measure. I keep hoping that he won't be able to find it (since I can't find it these days), but sure enough, dammit, he appears to know what he's doing and finds it every time.

In the meantime, I have spent this weekend operating under the impression (perhaps a flawed impression) that I am capable of ignoring cancer and chemo all together and living my life on the first really summery day in KC doing exactly as I did before cancer or chemo. Yesterday, I woke up early, went lawn and garden shopping with a friend, and helped her do yard work and plant flowers out in the sun all day. We washed my car as well and didn't go in until 5:00. I then went home and Joe and I went for a 3 mile jog. This is all damn impressive. Of course, today I am BEYOND sore, but I plan on trying to go again this evening.

Today's plan is to go out to my friend's country club and spend the day by the pool. I realize I'm supposed to be sun sensitive due to the chemo, but if I head off to Mexico at the end of June as pasty as I was in addition to the sun sensitivity, I'm going to hurt myself. I'm attempting to build up a base and I'm having a lot of luck with it! All in all, it's a great 90 degree, cloudless, humidity-free weekend in KC and I've been taking full advantage...cancer or not.

For a moment, can we revisit the fact that I ran 3 miles yesterday. It may not be the 6 or more that I was used to running before....but it's a start. If these next 4 treatments are less hard on me as the nurses have suggested they will be, I could start getting back on a workout schedule!!! I've been missing it so much and the plan is to be back in shape to do a boot camp course starting in October! I basically can't wait!

Anyway, for now I'm coasting through, but June promises to be a fabulous month full of vacations, days in the sun, and jogging with my husband. I can't believe June is here, but if it is, I'm going to take full advantage! Hope you all do too!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

OOOO, we're halfway there...OOOO livin' on a Prayer!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Hello dearies. Today, I write to you from my parents house in Oklahoma as I am visiting for the Memorial Day holiday while my husband parties it up all weekend at the bachelor party of a dear friend of his. I hope he lives through the experience because that 5 1/2 hour drive back to Kansas City really sucks when doing it by yourself.

I realize I have again fallen behind on my posts. I blame this in part on the fact that this was by far the roughest chemo week yet. Not only am I accumulating exhaustion and toxins in my system, but I'm having some sort of allergy/sinus issue as well. Not a good combo.

On Monday, I had chemo treatment number four. This is exciting for two reasons, the first of which being that it marks the halfway point for me. Yes, that's right, 4 down, 4 to go! The second reason that this is exciting is that I now switch over to a different chemo drug for the remainder of the treatment schedule. 

For the last four treatments, I have been getting what they call A/C treatments. A/C refers to Adriamycin and Cytoxin. I get both drugs each treatment and my oncologist initially scheduled four of these for me. I have now completed my A/C treatments! Now, it's time to switch over to Taxol treatments and I will have four of those as well. I'm told by the nurses that some of my side effects may be much diminished for the next four. I will still be tired of course, but there's a chance that my killer headaches won't happen anymore and I won't have to spend three straight days tanked on Vicodin. This is exciting for me.

In addition to hitting the halfway point, I also set up all the dates for my treatments from here on out. At this point, it looks like my last chemo treatment will be July 20! It's nice to have a date in mind and have a focal point to shoot for. For those keeping track, that is less than 2 months away! This is also exciting for me.

So, rough as this week was, it was nice to have hit another landmark...the halfway point. Although, that said, I have had an interesting development this week. I'm not sure whether it's the mixture of the Adriamycin, Cytoxin, Vicodin, the 3 anti-nausea drugs I took this week, and the Benedryl I'm taking for the allergies/sinuses, or whether I'm just totally mentally losing it, but I've started having relatively disturbing dreams about cancer. I'm going to go ahead and say it's the drug combo because I've always had messed up dreams on allergy meds and with all that other stuff thrown in, it's not really surprising.....

Anyway, so these dreams I'm having are essentially my subconscious (and conscious but unspoken) fears rearing their ugly heads in dream form. I never remember dreams all that vividly so the retelling of this will be subpar, but here is an example from last night. Last night I had a dream that I went in to see the oncologist (who up to this point in real life has been very positive about my progress) and he explained to me that the chemo was actually having an opposite effect on me, increasing thickening in the breast tissue, and subsequently causing the cancer to spread to my lungs. 

Now, I'm relatively certain it wouldn't (and couldn't) happen that way, but I woke up freaked out in a cold sweat nonetheless. Mental quandary brought on by this experience: 

Option 1: Deal with allergies/sinuses and feel crappy all the time or 
Option 2: Wake up irrationally terrified about cancer

I suppose I'll go with option 2 based on the fact that I feel crappy enough already. Sigh.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Kicking Cancer's Ass

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I had been looking forward to going to Ladies' Night Out at Kaufman Stadium for weeks and weeks. It did not disappoint. This year, a portion of the ticket profits from the game went to Susan G. Komen, so OBVIOUSLY I had to go. It is my organization of choice these days. Heather, Katie, Kristen, and I had a little too much fun culminating in Heather asking our "waiter" (we were in Diamond Club seats where they go get your food and beverage for you...very fancy...huge thank you to Kristen's parents!!!) to go find us frozen blue margaritas. We're pretty sure he had to run to a concession stand far far away, but sure 15 minutes, he was back with frozen blue margaritas.

Basically, we went to a baseball game, but were surprised by the score every time we remembered to watch the baseball game. You can see this for yourself if you're savvy when it comes to finding videos on the internet, as we were on Sports Center the next morning. The Royals were playing the Orioles and our seats were directly behind home, every time they showed the batter, you could see us....not watching the game! It was beyond enjoyable! We must do it again.

Friday, May 15, 2009

10:45am: I went in for my every other week follow-up appointment with the oncologist. I was hopeful that he would do the physical exam, take the silly little measurement, and look and me and say, "Well then, that's amazing progress...let's take it out now." That didn't happen...well, at least not the last part.

My report was great though. My doctor said he's really pleased with the progress and that he likes what he sees in terms of the tumor shrinking. He also has determined that we will wait until August to do the surgery. That will be after the completion of all 8 chemo cycles. Tough that means I will have to be patient knowing that it's still in there all the time, at least now I know when to expect that portion of it.

I also asked him to talk me through the genetic test results since it had been the nurse practitioner who gave me the results the first time. He basically told me what I reported here last week...I don't need to have my ovaries out and there is no reason at all to do a bi-lateral (double) mastectomy. I already knew that, but I needed it verified!

Lastly and MOST importantly, he told me that I get to go on both the vacations that I have planned in June!!!!! They had both been booked before March when this business began and I was worried that he wouldn't let me go...particularly since one of them is to Mexico. But...he has told me I get to go! This is fantastic news. Now I just need to keep my white blood cell count high and stay healthy so I don't end up having to stay home at the last minute while everyone else still gets to go! We're working my treatment schedule around the trips and everything is looking good.

Basically, all of this means that I'm kicking cancer's ass one week at a time and doing it successfully so far.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

In totally unrelated to cancer best friend, Regan, who I grew up with and who now lives in New York, is here to visit. She got in yesterday (Saturday) evening so we went to dinner then came back to the apartment so she could change before we went out. Well, we never actually left again, mostly because we started drinking margaritas...then we drank more margaritas.....then we had one more.

This morning, I am pounding back water and trying not to move my head to0 quickly. I have a horrible headache, not so much brought on by the chemo, but by the tequila. Below, I have included some of the silly fun that we had last night. The pictures of Regan and Joe are taken with them in the same wig as the one I'm wearing above. Oh my....

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Some Good Info

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

So, I'm straying from my norm, which has tended to be a long and wordy post, and giving you a short, sweet one. Today, I found an interesting article debunking 10 breast cancer myths. Check out the article here and follow some of the links off in the sidebar content.

Breast cancer is a very scary thing and it helps to have good info.

Check this out for information about causes and read this one for information about symptoms. For reference, my only symptom was the lump. If I experienced a thickening of the breast or armpit, I didn't notice. On the other hand, I had been working out with a personal trainer before all of this and I did feel like I was getting some rockin' pecs...could have just been the cancer. Damn it.

Read up and educate yourselves ladies (and gentlemen)! Peace out for now.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Emotionally Cumulative Too

Sunday, May 10, 2009

When I began this blog, I promised it would be an honest recounting of this journey that I'm on, and so far it has been for the most part. If I'm being honest with all of you and with myself, however, I've been holding back a little. I've received so much praise from all of you regarding my strength, my courage, my wisdom...and a slew of other characteristics that I wouldn't necessarily use to describe myself. Don't get me wrong...I thank you for the praise and support. It is what I need most. The problem is, I think I've been so worried about remaining positive, not only for myself, but for everyone else, because it is what everyone has come to expect of me that I have forgotten to mention some of the other emotions I've been feeling.

I've said before that the effects of chemo are cumulative...well, it's not just the physical ones that are, but the emotional effects too. It's becoming increasingly difficult to stay positive and upbeat through the "on week" when I feel so completely like crap all the time. It's true that I feel a little better over time during chemo week and I feel quite a bit better in the off week, but I never feel quite right. I always feel a little off.

I'm frustrated. I miss the gym. They gym had become a daily ritual and a release. I drive by and I miss it because I don't have the energy to go.

I miss going for a jog or a walk just because I feel like it. On Friday, it was beautiful out and my husband wanted to take a walk...just a simple walk with me in the nice weather. I couldn't do it. I didn't have the energy.

Believe it or not...I miss having the energy to clean my apartment. I would really like to give it a nice spring cleaning, but it's not going to happen. I'm simply too tired.

I miss the time when walking to the back of the apartment to grab something didn't seem like a long, hard journey. It does now.

I know this is temporary. I know it will be over before I even know it. I'm already 5 weeks into my 16 week chemo treatment schedule...but I'm tired and I'm frustrated and yes, I'm still a little (a lot if I'm being honest) scared.

Cancer is a roller-coaster ride of emotions and physical responses--sometimes you feel like your soaring and rising and fighting back, but sometimes you feel like you're on a climb and at any moment the tracks are going to fall away and you're just going to drop...hard. Please, please, do not call me a pessimist. I am far from it. But, every now and then, I can't help but worry that things seem to be going TOO well for the situation I'm in and I'm not through this journey yet.

So, to all of you...I apologize for this post being a bit of a downer, but I think it's important that I keep this thing honest. If you have it in you today or this week, I would just ask that as you're sending positive thoughts and prayers my way for my physical health, send a few my way to help me stay emotionally strong. It's getting harder. I will have many more good days and some more bad, but the last few in particular have just been a little tough.

On a positive note, it's Sunday and a new "off week" lies ahead full of the promises of baseball games, more energy, and a visit from my best friend who lives in NYC! So, stay strong and healthy out there, and have a great week!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Delightfully Optimistic Yet Cautiously Realistic

Thursday, May 7, 2009

6:15am: Woke up early today, which is strange and shocking for chemo week. I attribute it to the 28-30 or so hours of sleep I've gotten since I came home from work on Tuesday afternoon. It's just means tiredness will hit me around lunch today at work instead of around mid-afternoon. The Thursday of chemo week (as long as my treatments remain on Mondays) is the day I start to feel a little less foggy. I'm still tired on those Thursdays and I still have the headaches through about Friday mid-day, but I start to feel a little more normal. I don't truly feel myself until the following Monday (well, as "myself" as I can feel these days), but Thursday is what I might call my "turn-around" day.

As difficult as this treatment was--I had more nausea, more distaste for food, more headaches...

Side note: Headaches this time were brought on by the chemo and worsened by the fact that the city chose to test the tornado sirens 4 times yesterday in the middle of the day and there is one not even a half a block from my apartment--for those of you who don't live in a place where they have tornado sirens, let me just say...THEY'RE LOUD!

...more tiredness, and more side effects in general. I was warned that each treatment would be cumulative so this is to be expected. Despite all that, the good news that I got at the beginning of the week overshadowed everything and made it VERY HARD to be too upset about chemo side effects when one of those side effects is that the tumor is shrinking!!!!

I haven't had a follow-up MRI, mammogram, or ultrasound yet, so there is no HARD evidence that it is indeed shrinking....but.....let me just remind everyone that I found this in the first place myself. It was a hard knot that felt very near the skin and I could truly feel the whole thing on all sides. Now...I'm having a hard time finding the thing at all!!!! I can feel and feel for it and I gotta tell you...if this is what it had been like a month and a half ago when all this started....I NEVER would have found it. I know it's still in there, but it's absolutely not as prominent at all after only 3 of 8 treatments.

As positive as I'm being and as positive as things seem to be going now, nothing is certain yet, so I'm trying to stay grounded and realistic. Things look good, but I still have cancer. It's still in there and until it's gone, I plan to stay grounded--optimistically grounded.

For now, I'm going to work on rebuilding my strength for my coming good week. I'm really planning on hitting the gym--very lightly hitting the gym--a few times this coming week. I'm feeling squishy these days and I was getting so toned before this began. If I can't pull off gym work then I may just try some yoga or pilates, but I need something for sure!

Everyone stay healthy out there and I'd like to wish a slightly early Happy Mothers' Day too all of you mothers out there! Everyone remember to call your mothers this Sunday. I know mine has gone above and beyond her motherly duties so far this year driving back and forth from OKC to KC, cleaning my apartment, feeding me when I'm too tired to get up and get it myself, driving me to appointments, and being generally awesome! So, an early Happy Mothers' Day, Mom!

Love to you all!

Monday, May 4, 2009

If It Weren't For That Pesky Cancer...

Monday, May 4, 2009

8:00pm: Today, I had my third chemo treatment. It started out like any other normal day and I was truly having a hard time staying positive about treatment number three. I really wasn't looking forward to it at all. However, I got some AMAZING news today that made getting a chemo treatment almost exciting and I absolutely had to share with you all.

I got my genetic testing results today and it turns out that I DO NOT have the genetic mutation!!!!!!!! All my genetic tests were negative, suggesting that I am not genetically predisposed to cancer!!!!! This is the best possible news that I could receive at this point. This may mean that a lumpectomy followed by radiation treatment is what I'm looking at and that is the best possible surgical option that I could hope for!!!!

It seems that this was just a fluke thing--there is no rhyme or reason to it. There is no explanation for it. It just is. My dad put it best when he said, "If it weren't for that pesky cancer, you'd have nothing but good luck!!!"

Anyway, I'm pretty exhausted at the moment so this is about the extent of the post, but I had to share this phenomenal news. I truly couldn't be more thrilled. Keep the positive thoughts and prayers coming! They're working!

Thank you all!!!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Truth About Side Effects

Sunday, May 3, 2009

I will begin by apologizing to the readers who have been clammering for more--it's been days since my last post. I will warn you in advance, however, that this will likely be a far cry from my a last post, which I lovingly consider to be a brief tribute to our own version of the movie Outbreak, except without any real medical problem to fear. Today, it's back to cancer...primarily.

This week is an "off week" in my treatment schedule and though my term seems counter-intuitive, that means it's a "good week." Chemo weeks are "on weeks" and since I have 8 treatments over 16 weeks, that means that I have one "on week," one "off week," one "on week," one "off week," and so on. Now that I am fully through two full cycles and prepping to go in for chemo again tomorrow, I feel I'm becoming well-versed in all the many side-effects that my pile of prescription pharmaceuticals can and do cause.

That said, chemo is a little different for everyone in a lot of ways, both emotionally and physically, but it appears to be pretty standard for everyone in a lot of ways as well. So, today, I am going to give you the truth about side effects as long as you keep in mind what I just said..."chemo is a little different for everyone..."

As I said, this week is an "off week" and just as was true in my last "off week," I'm battling random infections and general aches and pains (recall the elbow incident). This time around, it is not my elbow, but my left thumb, my lower back, and a silly infection that I'm going to refer to as a "pre-kidney" infection because there are limits to what I will publicly discuss (take from that what you will). All these problems combined become worrisome after a few days and it inspired me to go in for an appointment with my doctor's nurse practioner, whom I LOVE, by the way.

Just as I thought, all of these are NORMAL and EXPECTED side effects!!! My thumb appears to be arthritis, which now makes them believe that my elbow might have been as well, thus suggesting that I may have rheumatoid arthritis (as brought on by the chemo)...we're keeping an eye on that in coming weeks. My lower back, which hurts so badly ALL THE TIME that it can only be managed by mixing meds--half a Vicodin with two ibuprofen, lather, rinse, repeat--is a totally normal side effect of my Nuelasta, a drug that is supposed to rebuild bone marrow and wide blood cells. It's supposed to be good for me and I an only manage the side effects with Vicodin. Nice. That one causes bone pain, particularly in one's hips and lower back, thus, my lower back pain. Additionally, it causes my hips to pop out of place and back in and causes intense shoulder joint pain. Fun AND exciting! As for the random infection...I'm suppposed to expect that to happen EVERY off week. We're managing that with MORE prescription medications and some over-the-counter stuff as well.

All that is apparently pretty mild. In order to prevent this post from being too ridiculously long, here's a list of my side effects from on and off weeks so far:

"On week" -
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • A 4 day headache that can only be managed with Vicodin
  • Extreme exhaustion which causes me to sleep about 10-12 hours each night and take naps during the day
  • Lack of appetite
  • Strange taste in my mouth at all times
  • Constipation (sorry...getting a bit graphic)
  • "Chemo brain," a real thing, not a term I made up, which basically refers to my inability to remember details and the fact that it takes me much longer to process what is going on around me--general confusion and forgetfulness, basically
  • Bone and joint pain brought on my the Neulasta
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Extreme sensativity to the sun
  • Hot flashes
  • A general screwing up of all things hormonal - changes in body temp, breakouts, etc.
  • Susceptibility to illness due to WBC being low
  • And of course, hair loss
"Off week" -
  • Exhaustion
  • "Chemo brain"
  • Bone and joint pain
  • Sun sensativity
  • Hot flashes
  • Hormonal changes
  • Susceptibility to infection
  • Susceptibility to illness
Now, with all of that, would you believe that I consider myself very fortunate???? These are all NORMAL side effects--managable side effects--and hair grows back. There are plenty of scary things that chemo can cause (long-term heart damage or infertility for example), but at the moment I'm taking each one as it comes and so far everything that has happened can be fixed easily with meds. It's the ones that can't that you need to worry about!

They truly get better and better and minimizing the side effects for the patient and chemo isn't always as bad as what you see in the movies--they play it up to enhance the drama as they do with everything. Yes, I'm a little more delicate (and I don't think ANYONE would have referred to me as delicate before), but I am by no means frail! So for all of you who have a family member going through this now or in the future, or God forbid for all of you who are going through this, or will go through this yourself--take it a day at a time. It IS manageable! Find doctors you trust and a treatment plan you can get behind and you will come out on top!

Take care all...I'm out after a lengthy post. The in-laws are in town and we have a fun day ahead of waffles, plaza shopping, and spending time together! A perfect Sunday!

Love to you all.