Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Two Year Mark

I just passed the two year anniversary of the end of my treatment.

Last year, I knew the date was coming up weeks in advance. This year, I was surprised to see it when I reviewed my calendar that morning - it was nice to have it sneak up on me.

In general, I feel so much better than I did at this time last year! What a relief that is.

I still have issues with joint pain (I hope those will go away when I stop taking Tamoxifen in a couple more years), arthritis (my doc says he doesn't think chemo had anything to do with that - I'm dubious), my energy level, and hot flashes. But all of these things have shown improvement, and since I am feeling stronger and stronger, they are much easier to cope with.

I've made a number of changes since I was diagnosed.

In case you are curious, here they are:

No parabens - I threw out tons of cosmetics when I heard about the potential link between parabens and breast cancer. I don't give any gifts to my friends that include parabens either. Brands that I use now are Korres, 100% Pure, Tarte, Boscia, Bobbie Brown...I'm always looking for new things to try and more and more brands are going paraben free so it is getting easier to find things.

Supplements - I used to be anti vitamin, it was part of my reluctance to take pills of any kind. Now I carry around one of those plastic boxes with compartments for the days of the week. I take flax seed and fish oil (omega balance), Avosoy Complete from Dr. Theo for my knees (that stuff works wonders. I am mostly pain free if I take it, skip a couple of days and my knees start to ache) , D3, vitamin E, Cinnamon (to regulate blood sugar, long time use of glucosamine/ chondroiton can cause blood sugar spikes). It is a handful, but I'm happy with the results. Every few months, I do a review of what I'm taking and each supplement needs to justify staying on the list.

Pomegranate juice - I drink some kind of high antioxidant juice every day when I take my pills.

No plastics around food - I threw away all tupperware and other plastic food and drink storage and switched to glass and metal only. The last thing I want to change is not drinking from plastic water bottles. That has proven difficult. I tried a Sig bottle but I didn't like the taste of the water, so I wasn't drinking enough. I'm trying to find a good wide mouthed glass bottle that will still fit in the cup holder of my car.

My attitude - I still see a healer who helps me to deal with my issues, balance my energy, and stay aware of what is going on mentally and physically. I consider myself to be on a home study course to master the art of relaxation - seriously - I make relaxation a priority and I scan my body a few times a day and consciously remove any tension that I find. I consciously work on not allowing tension, worry, and resentment to be stored in my body - I had real problems with that before. I try to pace myself - I still have a long way to go on that - but I do see progress. I make more time and am willing to spend more money on things that I enjoy. I get a 90 minute massage every month. I've come to see worrying and fretting as an abuse of my imagination - and I spend more of my time thinking constructively and creatively instead of fretting about the future.

Fitness - this is still an issue since I have lost flexibility, strength and stamina. But, I do yoga, Pilates and dance a couple times a week. Now that I am feeling so much better, I expect to see great progress on this front this year.

Social - I always made my family a priority, but I cut my social life down to nothing for a few years. I was so focused on work and raising a family that I just didn't feel I had the time and energy for it. Now my friends and the time I spend with them are a priority again. I'd say I have some kind of social activity going on at least three nights a week now, and my weekends are packed with fun things to do - so much so that my chores are taking a back seat. I have become much more lenient on cutting corners for chores and sometimes just skipping them all together for one weekend.

Hot Flashes - I have been learning more about Kundalini - visualizing the snake coiling back down as the base of my spine and seeing a cool blue energy wash over me when I have a flash has helped considerably. I also use lavender and rose oils on my pillow at night. Doing these things has eliminated night sweats and reduced the frequency and severity of the flashes by more than 75%. I have not had a cold flash for months. Hot flashes and loss of sleep were exhausting me - getting relief from that has made a big difference in how I feel, my outlook and my energy level. Everything is just so much easier when you feel good and are rested! I know that sounds simple, but it can be a lot easier said than done.

Weight - yes, I have gained 20 pounds. Yes, I'm not happy about that. But I've stopped fussing about it, decided it is a work in progress, and given myself the freedom to work on it without getting all tied up in knots about it. Tamoxifen causes weight gain because it is a steroid, but I think it also changes your appetite significantly. I don't just eat larger quantities than I used to, I want different things. I am more attracted to richer foods than I used to be. Well, whatever! I deal with that by allowing myself to have a few bites of something rich when I want it, and just trying to eat moderately, and stop before I am full. Balance, balance, balance! LOL The real change is that I'm more relaxed about the weight gain, I can accept my new figure and I'm OK if it takes me some time to get back to where I was. How I feel is much more important to me than my dress size. That is a big change for me.

It feels good to have some things that I do to work on improving my health and my enjoyment of life.

It feels good to be here.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Long Time No See

Well, it has been a long time since I have posted.

So much going on!

I went through a very tough time over Christmas vacation. I had terrible pain in my left ankle, knee and hip. I could not walk without a limp, I could not find a comfortable position.

I saw new knee doc. Like him. Got an MRI. Diagnosis was a real bummer. I have moderate to severe arthritis in my left knee, moderate in my right. The medical community says lose weight (I basically felt horrified when I heard that - way to kick me when I'm down!), don't ever climb stairs again, try artificial lubricant shots, consider surgery. I was very sad about it for a day or two. Then I picked myself back up and did some research. I found a book called the Arthritis Cure, it gives a 9 step program to try. I bought vitamins from the author's site, started taking them and started to feel better after about two weeks. I am not in pain all the time any more. Yes, it is true, I still can't easily climb steps - but I am already light years better than I was less than a month ago. And,being the stubborn thing that I am, I fully expect to be vaulting up stairs as much as I like sometime soon.

I also learned that heat works better on my knees than cold. So, if they bother me after dancing, I put a warmie (rice bag that you warm in the microwave - you can get them at Origins) on them and I like that a ton better than ice.

I am going through massive changes. Personally, I feel that going through cancer was more than enough change, but apparently, life is not asking for my opinion on this one. A close friend that I work with is leaving to move out of the country at the end of February. My niece quit her job and decided to move away - and I don't have time to adjust to the shock of it because she is leaving with about a week's notice.

We impulsively decided to have the wood floors redone in our house. They cover close to 50% of the bottom floor. We got an estimate that was so good that we just decided to do it. What we didn't know was what it would be like to live with the house cut in half (they had to do half at a time since all of the doors into the house are on hard wood) you know, little things like finding out that you have to walk out the front door, then all the way around the house in sub zero temperatures since your coat is on the other side of the house. Realizing that the pet fish is stranded on the other side of the house - behind plastic sheeting that I had to tear into to get to him. Finding out just how noisy it is to have someone laying down new floor and sanding the existing. Finding out how incredibly awful polyeurethane smells. We came home every day - sometimes very late, tried to breathe, and if we couldn't - we headed out for a motel. So disruptive! We would flee to the hotel with no luggage, sleep just a few hours, get up at 5, head out into the dark and miserable cold, then come back home to shower and get the kids ready for car pool. I don't know if I can adequately describe how unsettling it is to not know where you are going to sleep every night. To have the kids need to do their homework on the open computers in the motel lobby. To eat out every meal for days because you cannot get into your own fridge and kitchen.

But that is all over now. The floor is in. Looks great. I am sleeping in my own bed and sighing deeply as I stand at my kitchen sink - just because I can.

My elder son is doing well too. He has applied to four colleges now. Two have accepted him so far, we are waiting to hear from the other two. He has filled out scholarship packet after scholarship packet. We are waiting to hear on that too. I have a FAFSA workshop to attend Sunday that is supposed to teach me how to do the whole thing. I will be so relieved when that is done.

Work is off the charts. I am working long, long hours. Working through vacation, working late nights, working on the weekend. I could complain - oh yes, I sure could, but I really see it as the world trying to teach me that I need to take better control over my own schedule and my own priorities, so I am working on it.

So what am I doing for fun? Well, not much actually. I keep missing Pilates classes, Jamz and Contra dances. That makes me very unhappy. I gave my husband a DVD series that we are really enjoying - Reaper. The pilot was directed by Kevin Smith. I didn't watch it when it was on TV, but we became addicted to the DVD's. That was really fun. We would all huddle together every night to snuggle up and watch and episode or two. A nice break.

For Christmas, my husband bought me a ring. I wear it often and the was such an amazing surprise. I also got a ton of new CD's. I have a CD changer in my car, so I got it loaded up with all new music - that's nice for my ridiculous daily commute.

I have not seen my friend who has brain cancer in three weeks. God, that makes me sad. We saw the whole family at Christmas time and spent a great day with them, then I have not taken a second out for them since! That sucks. I'm ashamed. How could I let three weeks slip by like that? I don't care how busy I am - I should make time for them no matter what.

So. Everyone I know says they don't know how I do all the stuff that I do. I agree with them. My project now is to find a way somehow - I don't have any idea how yet - to slow down.Take more time for myself.

Oh yeah, two more fun things. I took the fam to see a dinner theatre production called "Polynesian Fire" - it was great! Just the right mix of hokey and fab at the same time. Girls who look like regular people doing the hula, spinning double ended torches on fire, a buffet that was hilarious because everything had to have a tropical name - Diamondhead Ham, King Kamehameha pork, I'm sorry, but that's funny!! Dragging people from the audience up to the stage and making them dance - we all had a great time. The other fun thing is my DS. I've given up on reading - I just don't have enough time right now, but I can fit in a quick game of Zenses or Meteos.

Uh.

Yeah.

I realize that reading used to be one of the top five things in my life and a great source of pleasure and learning for me. I used to shun TV. I refused to have on in my bedroom for years, and even put ours in a storage locker for a couple of years once. I used to think video games were for kids, or idiots, or maybe for kids that were idiots. Well, I sure have changed my tune, haven't I? I have no idea if that is a good thing or a bad thing, I just know that that's what I'm up to for now.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Struggle

Well, as you know, my auntie in Canada is facing breast cancer right now. That would be a hard thing for me regardless, but it is harder since I know firsthand exactly what she is going to go through. Once you have heard someone tell you that you have cancer, you feel it in your gut when you find out that someone that you know has also had to hear that.

Last week, in a meeting (the curse of having a Blackberry) I found out that one of my fellow contra dancers lost his battle with cancer. I had only heard that he was sick a couple of weeks ago and now he is gone.

Then, this weekend, the daughter of our closest friends in the world called to tell us that her father has a brain tumor. I am devastated to know that these people that I love so much are going through this. It helps that I've been through it because I really do understand any reaction they will have to the fear, confusion, and shock of it. But it hurts me all the more because I so vividly know what they are feeling and what they are facing.

I will be there with them every step of the way, and I will use the knowledge that I've gained to help them as much as I can. But in the meantime, I am drowning in a sea of emotion right along with them.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Making Strides and All

The local breast cancer walk is coming up.

I can't participate this year, I will be in Seattle for work. I'm not sure I feel bad about that. I think I'm more happy that my life is so busy that I just can't fit that walk in. I did not participate last year because I was just too sick.

I'll be interested to see how I handle October this year. Last year, having Breast Cancer month come while I was doing radiation just felt so personal. I was exhausted and scared and everywhere I looked was a big pink sign that said breast cancer. Some things pissed me off. Breast cancer shampoo at over $20 a bottle and when you read the fine print you found out they only donated a dime for each bottle sold. I was irate because breast cancer should not be a markteting ploy. I was irate because they raise a lot of money to fight this disease, but when you go through it you face your medical bills alone. I have pretty good insurance, but treatment still cost me plenty. Breast cancer tic tacs, breast cancer yogurt. Where does all that money go I wonder? Does anyone keep track? Do these companies really give a crap or have they just figured out that if sales go up by 20% when the wrapper is pink - then they can afford to donate 5% and take a tax write off on the donation? Is the whole thing a racket?

On the health front, I am doing pretty well. My energy is good. Appetite is too good thank to Tamoxifen. I am worried about my mobility. The arthritis in my knees is not letting up. One is worse than the other and that one is sore and stiff to some degree pretty much all the time.

I'm not doing much to help myself. I have exercises to do daily. I don't do them. I'm too tired by the end of the day to think about it, and too rushed during the morning. I'm trying to get them back into my routine. I have orthotics for my shoes. I like those, but don't wear them all the time because I wear so many shoes that are open like mules and flip flops. I'm sure I will wear them more in the winter when I change to closed shoes. I take glucosamine. I ice them after dancing. Geez, that's fun. Makes me feel like a granny. Getting up and down stairs is still a big problem. I have to go slow, and I feel unsteady. My knees sound like I'm popping popcorn. There is another series of shots I could go for - but I'm not willing to try it. Cortisone made me worse not better and was fabulously expensive. Made me very reluctant to let them inject anything else.

I still dance whenever I can - and it is still a source of joy for me. I don't compromise on that. Nothing stops me from going to contra, nothing stops me from going to Zumba or Jamz if I am in town for it.

I was in Texas for work last week. It was interesting to teach a class on site after treatment. I had to struggle to get my stupid bags up and down the stairs at my two story hotel since they didn't have an elevator. Going up and down the stairs was hard enough, doing it while dragging my computer bag twice a day was harder. I found it harder to skip meals or wait long hours between meals - I was more sensitive to how bad I felt if I had not eaten in hours. My knees hurt all the time. I had to wait for the elevator when the client took the stairs because we were talking four floors and I just didn't think I could make it. Twelve hour days in front of the customer make anybody tired, I'm sure. But I felt just that little bit more exhausted than I used to.

I am learning how to deal with normal stress again. New job is a total whirlwind. I'm traveling more than I used to. I'm behind on the contra event that I am organizing - I don't have the time to dedicate to getting the committees formed. My eldest son needs help to visit colleges, fill out applications, and fill out his FAFSA form. I have zero personal time. I read for about ten minutes at night before I pass out, that is my relaxation. Eating well and exercising have totally gone by the wayside.

I recognize that I can't let my needs take the back seat in my own life anymore, but damn, it is hard to make the time for myself.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

What a Difference a Year Makes

I had two big events to celebrate this week.

Wednesday was my one year anniversary of my last chemo treatment. By this time last year, I was exhausted, bald, scared out of my wits, ten pounds lighter, plagued by hot flashes and seriously sleep deprived.

To celebrate this important anniversay, I had lunch with a good friend who just so happens to also be a survivor. We went to an all you can eat sushi buffet. And we ate until we were both in pain. Ah - that glorious engorged tick feeling! And I spent the whole day relishing how good I felt. I thought about all the good people and things that have come into my life in the last year. And of course, I hugged my kids a little longer and a little tighter that evening when I came home.

In some ways, I can't believe a whole year has passed, and in other ways, it feels like all that misery was a very long time ago.

Thursday brought another reason to celebrate - I was offered a new job. I applied for the position in March, and it has been a long process to get to this offer. But I got it! I'll start in a couple of weeks. It is a huge promotion and I am so excited about the whole thing. I'm excited about the new team I'll be working with, I'm excited about all my new responsiblities, and I'm excited to work for my new boss. Over the past few weeks, as I have had a chance to get to know her better, she has said and done some things that really impressed me. For me this is the best of both worlds - I get a whole new job but I still get to stay at the same great company.

I am proud of myself for applying for and getting the position; I am proud of my company for promoting from within and I am so very grateful to all the people who supported me and recommended me. During the interview process, I had to meet with a number of stakeholders and it was such a positive experience. It should have probably been scary, but it wasn't. I enjoyed every minute of it. Everyone was so enthusiastic and said so many great things about my work and the contributions that I've made.

And this promotion is only made sweeter by the contrast to where I was this time last year.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Back From Canada and knees

We are back from a family reunion in Canada. The little town that both my parents come from is a bit hard to get to, so the travel days were long and the first one was especially frustrating since we missed a connecting flight, had an unexpected 10 hour lay over and got finally into town at 1 a.m. to discover that they had given away our rental car. It all worked out in the end and I had a great time seeing every one. We were only there for three days, but we managed to see both sides of the family. It was hard to leave.

When I got back, things were a whirlwind. I had to get both sons to their schools to pay their fees and pick up their schedules. They start next Wednesday and they are both at different schools. My youngest is at a new school now since he is in the sixth grade, so we have some learning and adjusting to do there. Then I took a sick day and crammed in as many doctors appointments as I could. Eyes for all of us. So our eyes were dialated. Ordered new glasses and lenses for the boys. I held off on mine. I need to choose new frames and I was in too much of a hurry to get to my next appointment to do any looking right then.

I dropped everybody else off at home and headed off to see an orthopedic doctor for my knees. I've had crunchy knees for about a decade now, but they have become much worse in the last few months. I suspect both chemo and tamoxifen are playing a part in that. When it became very difficult to climb steps and I found out that I could not longer squat or do lunges, I decided it was finally time to look into it. I have osteo arthritis in my knee caps.

I like a couple of the treatments. On Monday I go back for a single physical therapy session where they will give me a list of dos and don'ts and teach me an exercise routine that I can do on my own. I will also get fitted for orthotics for my gym shoes, turns out that I suppinate slightly and the inserts will help to line my knees up properly. The next options I don't like so much. I let them give me cortisone injections in both knees. They said side effects would be minimal. Wrong. By that evening, I could barely walk. My knees were so swollen and stiff that I could not bend them. And they were painful up to mid thigh - very painful. They were a bit better the next day, at least I could walk, but they still hurt and were very swollen. I wore a long skirt to work to hide them.

Today they are still sore, but the swelling is way down and I think I will be able to dance tonight. At least I hope so. I also have prescription strength Aleve. I'm supposed to take one every 12 hours, being stubborn about such things, I'm taking one every 24. They also want me to consider lubricant injections directly into my knees. I don't know about that. I think I will give the inserts and the exercises a while to work before I consider any more injections.

Then I rushed from that appointment to my annual OB exam. I was more than tired of being messed with by the time I saw her as you can imagine.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ah, Summer

Oh, how I am reveling in this summer.

Time outdoors. Walks. Bike rides. Salad from the garden. Nectarines. Watermelon. Kids having squirt gun fights. Church festivals. Fireflies. Long lazy evenings when the sun just seems to hang there low in the sky, as reluctant to go to bed as we are.

So this is what I did this weekend.

I started Saturday with a Pilates Reformer class. Then I came home and worked at weeding our organic veggie beds. They were pretty neglected so the weeds were healthier and more vigorous than the cucumbers, jalapenos, tomatoes and basil. My husband and kids came out and so did a good friend, so we all sat outside and weeded for an hour or so. Being out in the garden with friends and family is one of my favorite activities, so I had a ball.

Then I did a few chores and went out to see the new Hellboy movie. I liked the first one, and I enjoyed this one too. I also really enjoyed watching my kids watch it - they loved it and sat on the edges of their seats a few times.

Then we all went to contra. It was second Saturday, so we danced from 8 until 11. It was miserable kind of humid so we were all sweating buckets, and crowding around the fans to enjoy a cool breeze between dances. But even with the heat, it was the usual great time listening to music and dancing with friends.

Sunday started with Zumba class with my favorite instructor, Chet. I have gone enough that this time I was able to relax and really dance a couple of the dances instead of still fumbling and learning. Boy, that was fun.

Then I came home and did more chores and paid bills. My husband helped me install a new HP print/scan/fax/copy station that I bought (coupon at Costco made me finally get off the stick and buy one after looking at them for the last couple of years). It took a while, but once we got it set up and tested, I fell in love with it. I got my pesky FSA paperwork out in a flash since I could make the copies here and fax it out using speed dial! It rocks. So much better than lugging all the paperwork into work, staying late and using the old and slow fax machine that we have there. I am on a real kick to streamline as much of my chores as possible - I find myself less willing to toil, and more willing to find ways to make time for fun. That's not natural for me. My old way was just buckling down and making do with whatever the circumstance was. Not any more. I ask myself what I want to do and how I want to do it. And if I have to do things I don't enjoy, I find a way to make it more fun (if nothing else, I crank up some tunes), and I consider what I can do to streamline it so I can spend less time on necessary things and more time on fun and family. Duh. I really should have thought about that before!

After all the chores, we walked (about a mile and a half stroll, very pleasant in the evening both ways, I can't remember the last time I walked home in the dusk - the sky was so pretty) to a local church festival. I had a frozen margarita that tasted quite a bit like spiked urinal cake. Needless to say, I only had one. I also got onion rings. I don't feel like I have really experienced a festival if I don't eat something totally greasy.

We saw a few friends there. My eldest won his brother a goldfish, we won a honey baked ham raffle, a DVD raffle, and I won an item at the silent auction. It was a pretty funny walk home. I had my purse, water bottle, goldfish in a bag and the basket that I won. My husband and I took turns holding the stuff, but we both had our hands full the whole way home. The kids stayed later than we did, and rode their bikes home with friends.

At the festival, I saw a woman going through chemo. She wore a pink shirt and flip flops, and a pink scarf covered with a baseball cap. She looked about my age too. And it looks like she decided to skip wearing a wig just like I did. I debated going over to give her some encouragement (you know - hey, I did what you are doing this same time last year, and look at me now kind of thing), but in the end, I decided to respect her privacy and let her enjoy the festival without some stranger bringing up what she is going through.

And I learned that one of my aunties was just diagnosed too. I'm doing what I can to offer encouragement and support and I will get to see her soon when we go to our family reunion.

I guess no matter how far you get away from treatment, you never really do get away from it do you? There will always be reminders. If you don't think of it when you see yourself in the mirror with totally different hair, a scar or two and some extra pounds, then you will be reminded because there are just so many other people going through the same thing.

I'm glad my totally crazy life is back in full swing now, and I'm glad I have a new appreciation for every little bit of it.