Thursday, August 30, 2007

Haunted

Back in the early 80's my Mom had breast cancer.

She found the lump herself, and I could feel it, but her doctor could not. He told her it was nothing. She insisted on a biopsy. He did a sloppy job of it because he was sure that it was not cancer. I was there with her for the operation, of course. I remember him walking into the recovery room with tears in his eyes to tell her that he was wrong, and it was cancer.

She went to UCLA and had a full mastectomy. She did not need chemotherapy or radiation. She made no changes to her lifestyle after having cancer. I can remember her fighting with the doctor in her hospital room because he was insisting that she stop smoking and she was unwilling to even consider it. Her life and our lives went back to normal quickly and she adjusted so easily that I remember a few years later when I saw her get out of the shower, I was surprised to see her chest. I had completely forgotten that she had a breast removed!

My husband and I moved away to Chicago for a little over a year in 1987. I hated it there. So we literally quit our jobs, packed up our stuff and drove back home. We took a year off and lived with my parents. At the time, we thought we were probably crazy to take such a break from our careers while we were so young, but it turned out to be the best thing we could have done. It gave us a year of seeing her every day, and the time to enjoy it. Only a couple of months after we got jobs, bought a condo, and moved out, my Mom was diagnosed with lung cancer that had already traveled to her brain. They told her is was not a spread of the breast cancer, instead this was a new one. It was inoperable.

She went through chemo and radiation this time. She was in her mid sixties by then. I came and saw her for lunch every day since I worked close by my parent's house. My dad stopped working to take care of her. She lost about 70 pounds and became very frail. I remember her throwing up all the time. They did not have the drugs to help with nausea that they do now. I remember her doctor recommending that she try Coke syrup, so she kept some in the fridge, I don't remember it helping her much. At some point, she became cold all the time, and pretty much stopped moving around, it was difficult for her to walk. So I bought her a cane, a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt (her first and only sweatshirt ever, Mom did not wear casual clothes), and an electric blanket. I can still see her curled up in a corner of the couch, huddled under that blanket. She went into remission for a short time. I became pregnant with my first child. She was only cancer free for a few months, and in the end it traveled to her pancreas and she died a few days before my son was born in December of 1990.

Even on a good day, I am haunted by this because I was so close to my Mom and it was a horrible way to go. She suffered a lot. And of course, I am always reminded that neither of my children ever got to meet her.

As I face cancer myself, all of those memories are constantly with me. This is both good and bad. Good because it taught me to understand a lot about cancer, and that led me to choose the most vigorous treatments that are available to me. If I had not seen what she went through, I think I would have been tempted to skip chemotherapy. Bad because I miss her a great deal, so many of the memories of her fight are painful, and because I keep comparing what happened to her to what is happening to me.

If you have also lost someone to cancer and are now facing it yourself, it is important to remember that everyone's illness, body, and treatments are different.

I think any rational person would fear chemotherapy and its side effects, but I was especially fearful because of what my Mom went through. Somewhere deep in the back of my mind, I expected to waste away, stop moving around, and never recover from it. But my situation is so much different. I am getting chemo for breast cancer, not advanced lung cancer. Cancer treatment and side effect management have changed a great deal in the last twenty years. Now that I am done with chemotherapy, though it was daunting and maybe the biggest physical challenge I have ever faced, it was a piece of cake compared to what my Mom endured.

I have read and heard so many times that you can't compare your cancer journey to any one else's, and that is true. But that does not make it easy.

I can't separate her experience of chemotherapy with her experience of radiation in my mind. It was too long ago for me to remember many of the specifics, and I was young and pregnant and maybe too absorbed in my own life to pay attention to some of the details. The only thing I remember for sure was that she was so dismayed when they tattoed her skin. I don't even know it they used radiation just for her lung (hence the tattoes on her chest) or if they used radiation on her head too.

But since I came through chemotherapy so well, I have less fears about radiation, and less fear that this process will make me frail, weak, and inactive. But the memories are still there, and the loss and sadness are still there. It is almost like I am going through cancer for two people, not just myself.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Here There Be Monsters

I was thinking more about what I posted yesterday.

Remember a very early map that showed the world as flat and had an uncharted area that just said "here there be monsters"?

Well, trying to be a cancer survivor is like that. There is no road map for your treatment and recovery. You will assemble a team that will do everything they can to help you, but in the end it is you who decide which treatments to pursue. There are plenty of people who refuse chemotherapy and go on to have long lives, there are plenty of people who pursue every treatment alternative, and they don't win the fight.

And once whatever treatments that you choose are over, there are no hard and fast rules to follow to avoid having to deal with cancer again.

Do I think that eating non organic produce caused my cancer? No. Or that the occasional glass of wine did it? Or working too hard? No. I have no idea why I got cancer, but I suspect that it was a combination of causes, or maybe just random chance. I don't know. Just like I won't know which treatment or combination of treatments did the trick if I am alive and well twenty years from now. Maybe surgery would have been enough. I'll never know. But I do know that I'm the kind of person who could not sleep at night if I didn't do everything that I could to take care of this, so I had to choose every treatment that could help me for my own peace of mind.

What I am trying to do is take control of my recovery and make changes that make me feel like I am taking the best care of my own health. Others could choose to make totally different changes or no changes at all, and whatever decision that each of us make is going to be the best one for us. That's the all that we can do.

Oh, yeah. I have an update on the cat scan. I forgot to tell you that they took a picture of the girls! There I am, stretched out on this hard table, with black marker on my exposed chest, and they take two polaroids! I'm sure they need them to document the position of the marks, but geez! I thought about turning toward the camera and grinning like a maniac, but in the end I just stared up at the ceiling and pretended that I wasn't there. I've had children, and spent a lot of time lately baring my breasts to rooms full of people, so I thought I was pretty much done with modesty, but having those pictures taken really bothered me. I think it made me feel like a patient instead of a person. Or maybe I felt like a bug pinned to a board. Whatever it was, it didn't leave me much room for dignity.

And I hardly slept last night because my lower back hurt so much. I was angry about it last night. I never got mad during chemo, I knew that was going to be uncomfortable, but I was mad that a simple cat scan made me so uncomfortable for hours afterward. I'm going to have to think of a way to make sure that the radiation treatments don't hurt my back, since I will be in the same position for them.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Cat Scan Day, the Today Show, and Changes

I went in for my cat scan today.

First I had to sign a release for the thirty treatments that I will receive. And we picked a start date for my radiation - September 10th.

Then I had to take my clothes off from the waist up and lay on my back on the cat scan table in an ARCTIC room. It was freezing in there. And I was wearing shorts and flip flops. Next time I will wear sweatpants and thick socks! I asked for a blanket, and the technician did find a sheet that she put over my legs. But, as you can imagine, that did nothing for my totally exposed upper area.

The doctor put some stickers that have a wire in them around my chest. I had to lay there with my arms up over my head, holding on to some handle bars, and my head was cradled in this hard plastic headrest. They had a cushion under my knees, but the table is rock hard, so it was still made my lower back hurt. I'm going to need to do some stretches to keep my back limber when I do this every day.

Then the tech left the room and the cat scan machine moved back and forth over me. I have never had an MRI, but I have heard that they are difficult because the machine is so close around you and it is very noisy. Well, cat scan machines don't have that problem, and other than the cold and discomfort to my back, I found this very easy.

Since I had some time while I was lying there, I said a prayer thanking God for this painless technology that provides the information that will help me to get the best treatment possible.

Then the tech came back and made marks on my chest with a Sharpie and then covered the marks with little clear stickers. The marks have to last all the way through treatment, so I have to make sure that they don't soak in water, and that I get them touched up if they start to fade.

So that's all there was to it. I've got to say, that was the easiest part of my cancer treatments so far!

I also caught the "Today" show today. They had a young woman on who has a rare vascular cancer. It is untreatable and incurable. She wrote a book called something like "Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips". I have no idea if it is any good, but I think I'll try to get it just to support her. So far, she has managed this cancer for four years! That is amazing. And so very sad. She was 31 when she was diagnosed. She has made a lot of changes to her life since then, so maybe I can learn something from her.

A couple of changes that I have made are to buy organic when I can, and to add even more servings of fruits and veggies to my diet. I was already eating very well before my diagnosis, but I am trying to do even better. Fortunately, I love fruits and vegetables, so other than the planning involved to buy and prepare them, this is easy for me.

I have a friend who had cancer years ago. We ended up going to Kroger's together to pick up some last minute things for dinner one night. I headed to the organic section and mentioned that my research suggests that you should buy organic produce if you can. Not that it is for sure going to help you stay cancer free, but that it is suggested for your continued good health, and it is a positive change that you can make if you want to. He was shocked. No one had ever mentioned that to him. That makes me think that even when I have been cancer free for years, every once in a while, I should pick up a current book to make sure that I stay informed on what the newest recommendations are.

I've also read that if you are so inclined, it's a good idea to get reflexology, massage and or/acupunture treatments too. I think the thought behind this is that you should spend some of your time and money making your health a priority, and that these treatments are all seen as relaxing and possibly helpful with very little risk or down side involved. If you hate those things and are not interested, then seek out other treatments or activities that would make you feel good about taking care of yourself.

I agree that in general, you should make the changes that make you feel that you are making your health a priority. For me that means, organic produce making up a larger part of my diet, getting back to my usual activities including dancing and Pilates, getting massages more often simply because they are relaxing and feel good, and visiting a healer who does tons to make me aware of issues in my body, and to help me work out past experiences and emotions that I'm still holding on to.

I'm also making an effort to remember to put my needs first. I tend to over-extend myself at work and at home, always putting my needs last, and I know I need to find a better balance. This will be very hard for me. Many times when I need to go out of my way for work, I never even think of what I want, I just skip lunch or put in extra hours, or make the trip, or whatever I think is necessary to get the job done. I'm still going to get the job done, but I'm going to bother to think about what I want before I decide how to do it. I'll still make sacrifices, sure, but I think in the past, I made many unnecessary sacrifices, and that I was too willing to just jump in there and work harder. Many times, I don't even know what my needs are - I don't take the time to consider them at all. I'm going to change that!

One last change is making fun more of a priorty. I can't tell you how many trips and fun activities I have passed up on so I could be at work, or be home doing chores! No more! I'll make time for chores still, but if there is something fun going on, well, we aren't going to miss it. For instance, this weekend we went to a local Oktoberfest. Normally, I would have talked us into skipping it because Sunday is my day to pay bills and do laundry. But instead we went and had a great time. I'll get the bills and laundry caught up some other time! I'm going to make family time and fun time a much higher priority which will be better for all of us, not just me. And maybe I will be able to teach my kids how to balance fun with responsibilty much better than I ever did! I hope so.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

A Day at Work

I drove in to work yesterday. It takes me an hour to get there.

And it felt so normal! I felt good enough to blast the music (my husband bought me a direct iPod connection for my car for my birthday this year), and sing along at the top of my lungs. I have not done that in months! I was listening to playlist called "Rising Sun". I made it on the fly when my son was driving us to Rising Sun, IN to get some driving practice hours in. It was a gorgeous day that Saturday, and we ate right on the water at a restaurant called Apple Wood. Even though I was still in the middle of chemotherapy treatments, that day was a perfect day. The songs are a mix of 80's stuff (The Police, Pet Shop Boys, Big Audio Dynamite, Echo and the Bunnymen, David Bowie, Talking Heads, Power Station, The Verve) a little Sinatra (Luck Be a Lady), and some more current stuff like the Dandy Warhols, Kaiser Chiefs and Five for Fighting. I'm addicted to the Five for Fighting song, "Policeman's Xmas Party".

So anyway, I had a great commute that pretty much flew by because there was an 80's party going on in my car. I got to work and lugged a huge heavy bag full of chocolate to re-fill the candy bowl on my desk, CD's that friends had given me to try, and a stack of InStyle magazines. Two of my friends that I work with are addicted to fashion just like I am, and I bring the magazines in when I'm done with them so they can drool over the clothes and shoes too. I dragged that big bag and my huge purse and my laptop bag in all by myself and I didn't get tired or short of breath.

So, I went into work and proceeded to have a great day. I re-bonded with my sea monkey, trimmed my blooming African Violets, turned my fountain on, then sat at my computer and finished two projects that I had been working on. It felt so good! Friends dropped by through out the day to see how I was, and I went out for a great Japanese lunch with my whole department. My boss has been completely supportive through this whole process, and we both hugged the moment that I saw her.

When I went out to the parking lot to leave for the day, I noticed some drops on the passenger window. Huh. It hadn't rained. Weeeelllllll, those drops were on the INSIDE. I had left a spare can of Sprite on the passenger seat. It got so hot yesterday, the the can blew out at the weld on the top! It must have flash dried too. So there are sticky little drops all over the inside of my car! I was getting tired and it was very hot, so I just drove home that way. I'll get it cleaned up this morning.

Yesterday was also my husband's birthday. My niece had been helping me all week to choose recipes (my husband is vegan) and to make a cake. The night that we made the cake I was so tired that my niece did the whole thing while I just sat in the kitchen to keep her company. This meal also caused me to go to Kroger's three times because I kept forgetting things, to borrow stuff from my next door neighbor, and to just plain substitute on a couple things because I still didn't have everything we needed! I think my powers of organization are not fully back with me yet. OK, not nearly back with me yet.

When I got home, my husband was making his own dinner. We were supposed to make the enchiladas for him, but he found the recipe on the counter and got a jump on it. We had a great little party. I gave him the DVD set for "To the Manor Born". We rented that a lot from Netflix when I was going through my surgeries. We both found it comforting to watch, and it puts my husband to sleep better than a Xanax. I also got him a waterproof rig for his iPod so he can swim with it.

My niece got him the Extras season two DVD's and a Jeff Dunham DVD. If you have not seen Extras, it is by Ricky Gervais, the man who did the original British version of the office. And in my opinion, Extras is even better and much funnier than the Office. Jeff Dunham is a comedian and ventriloquist that my niece saw at our local comedy club last month. I'm sure I would have enjoyed the show anyway, but what was by far the most fun was watching it with her. She laughed hysterically through the whole thing. I spent more time laughing at her laughing than I did laughing at the jokes. We all laughed so hard that our stomachs hurt. I cannot imagine a better way to celebrate a birthday.

And today I'm still feeling good. So far I have not had to pay for the energy that I expended yesterday.

Can it be this easy? Can I recover this quickly and keep having better and better days? Are there setbacks in my future?

I don't know. But I do know that the bad days make the good days all the sweeter.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Veni, Vidi, Vici

For those of you who did not take Latin from Sister Helen Rose in high school, here is a modern translation:

I came, I saw, I KICKED ASS!

Now that I am done with my last chemotherapy treatment and starting to feel much better, I realize just how much I was afraid of the treatments, worried about myself, and dreading the next one. I hid these feelings even from myself because I was trying to stay cheerful and optimistic and just get through it.

But now I feel like a veil has lifted. Chemo is a harsh mistress. I withstood everything she could give out, using the good to help my body fight off this illness, and discarding what I did not need. I endured hardship like anyone on a journey, I stared monsters in the eye, and I emerged victorious and stonger for having done it. And like any person on a quest, I kept wondering if this adventure was going to kill me.

Now that I am on the other side, I also realize how much energy I put into worry and dread. I think one of the things that I need to learn from this whole illness it to worry much much less! Easier said than done perhaps, but I think I'll take that on as my next adventure - learning to roll with the punches with ease and grace instead of worry and resistance.

And, of course, I'm going to say it because it needs to be said now that I have climbed to the top of this particular mountain (mountain, journey, quest - I am on a metaphoric roll today) -

Chemotherapy, you are my BITCH!

LOLOLOLOL

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Working On My Tan

I just met my radiologist for the first time.

I am going to get six weeks of treatment. I will go every day, five days a week, with weekends off for good behavior.

She would like to give me a little more time to recover from chemotherapy, so I won't start radiation for another two or three weeks yet.

I won't need tattoos! I am so glad to hear that! Back when my mother had radiation, they tattooed permanent marks on her chest. They don't do that any more. They will make marks with a permanent marker, like a sharpie, and put tape over them so they last while I'm being treated, when I'm done they get to wash off! Now I don't have to worry about trying to make permanent marks pretty. I was going to see if I could turn them into flowers or a constellation or something if I had to go the tattoo route - but I don't! Yeah!!

The next step is a cat scan so they can see where all my stuff is. They need to see how much my lung and heart will be effected. It turns out that my esophagus won't get caught in the radiation path, but a corner of my lung and possibly a small area of my heart will. They won't know how much until they do the cat scan and see where those organs are positioned.

I also asked her about vitamins. I have been avoiding my usual berry antioxidant drink, multi vitamin powder and the vitamin C that I like to take during chemotherapy ever since I read that they can counteract with treatment. Turns out that it is the same thing for radiation. So I need to stay off the vitamins until my full treatment is over.

She also said that the most noticable side effect, if any will be fatigue and it is cumulative. I probably won't notice anything the first week. But if it does start to make me tired, once I get that way, I won't bounce back until treatment is over. Some folks are able to continue all of their activities throughout their treatment, others can't. We will just have to see.

I appreciate her giving me a couple more weeks to recover from the effects of chemotherapy so I can feel stronger before I start radiation.

So I returned my X-rays to the hospital since she is the last doctor that needs to see them, and I have an appointment for the cat scan next Monday. Other than those things, I have nothing to do but work on getting better. Cool!

Oh yeah, while I in the elevator at the hospital, a family asked about my hat. I'm wearing the pom pom one that my friend Karen crocheted for me. They loved it. I explained that she sends me new ones every couple of weeks since I've had chemo and I don't have any hair. They were shocked. They kept saying how great I look, and asking how I am doing and when I will be done with treatment. Since my hats and prominent portacath make me feel like a walking advertisement for cancer treament, it was great to have these folks tell me that they never would have guessed. They just thought I like hats!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Doing the Cha Cha

Oh yes, that would be the famous two steps forward, one step back dance that chemo makes you do.

I had a fabulous day yesterday. Tons of energy (comparitively, of course), lots of focus, I felt the best I have since I started treatment. I even felt up to going to my first meeting of a knitting and crocheting group that I have joined. We sat around, a group of 10 or more folks, male and female, in a circle at a Starbucks, each working on a project while chatting and sipping. They donate their projects to the needy including an orphanage in Russia. I was out until past nine! Late for me. They were so warm and welcoming, and I really enjoyed it.

But when I got home, I could not sleep. I was back to being antsy and unsettled. Did I overdo it because I felt so good? Huh. Maybe. Or maybe that's just how this goes, one day good, one day bad until eventually the good days outnumber the bad? I don't know.

I do know that I don't appreciate getting smacked down again after a one day taste of the good life!

My muscles are sore from my one pathetic work out. My lower back is on fire, and my stomach and legs hurt. I'm not too upset about that though, it means I worked some muscles, and I am used to being sore from that, so it is no big deal.

But I am also tired, I have a headache that won't quit, and of course perennial dry mouth and yucky taste from rinsing with Miles Solution. Which does not seem to be working any way, so I gotta wonder why I keep using it. Bleh! That stuff is making me grumpy!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Neulasta is the Masta?

I feel so much better today.

Better than I did at any time after treatment #3. The only thing we did different was the Neulasta shot that I got the next day after treatment #4.

I don't know what the doctor has to consider before recommending this shot for people, but if some time during your treatment you have to take it, then I have encouraging news for you - it seems to help you feel tons better faster.

I started the day with an intermediate Pilates workout video, it kicked my butt, of course, but I was able to hang in there - and it felt so good to move around, stretch and use my muscles for a change! This is the first time since May that I even felt up to trying it. So that is a very big difference.

And my brain feels more engaged too. I have been working all day today, and it just seems easier. Usually after a chemo treatment, I have to expend effort just to think, and I cannot multi-task at all. One thing at a time and with deliberation is usually the best I can do. Well, not today - mentally, I feel back to normal. No problems focusing, no problems multi-tasking. That is refreshing. I was worried that "chemo brain" was a fog that would take a long time to lift. The way I feel today gives me hope that I will be able to bounce back from that effect fairly quickly.

One other thing that is different is that a friend dropped by and gave me a reflexology foot rub yesterday. I highly recommend this! It just felt so good, and so relaxing. I asked her how she learned to do it, and she said that she just got a book and started practicing on herself. So I went out and got a book on it last night. This is something that I can do for myself that is comforting, relaxing, and just may help me deal with specific side effects. On my left foot, she found a tender area near my heel and that caused her to ask if I was having lower back problems. I have had problems with my lower back ever since I started treatment. I think it is due to lack of activity. It impressed me that maybe reflexology could help me to recover. At the very least, it is relaxing, it feels good, and it give me another positive thing that I can do for myself.

And of course, it was another example of the kindness of strangers. I know her from a group of folks that I dance with on Monday nights. When she found out that I was ill, she offered to come to my house to give me a foot rub, and she is organizing a "girl night" for me and my friends. What a thoughtful, wonderful thing! It was also great because I don't usually have much time to talk to her when we are dancing, so I really know so little about her. Well, she ended up staying a couple of hours and I really enjoyed getting to know her better and learning about her life and her travels. She has lived in Hong Kong, France, Seattle and Philadelphia. It was wonderful to hear all about what living in those places is like.

I also got a spontaneous hug from a stranger in Home Depot's parking lot this week. I was walking in with my brother (yes, walking - last time he was here, we also made a quick trip there, but I had to use their motorized wheel chair to get around), when a man saw me and asked if I was going through cancer treatment. When I said yes, he gave me a hug and said that his wife went through it 12 years ago and she is doing great.

For me, that outpouring of support has been wonderful. When I am done with treatment, I plan to approach people to give them a kind word too. I'm not sure that everyone I approach will be comfortable with it, but it is worth doing for those that are.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

FUSSY!

Well, I have an update on Neulasta. It ended up making me feel like I have been tumbled in a dryer. I have all these little sore patches. I don't know that the area is sore until I move around or touch it. I find tons of sore spots when I take my shower.

My brother left to go back to California today. We went to an Indian buffet to have lunch before we dropped him off at the airport. I started to feel worse and worse as we were sitting there. I don't think it is anything special, it's just the general shaky crappy way that chemo can make you feel. It is getting harder for me to take though.

I have now spent months dealing with this. I have felt bad due to surgery, I have felt bad due to chemicals, the one constant is that I have felt bad. I am so tired of it. I'm tired of resting and trying to recuperate, I'm tired of having how I feel pretty much define my day. Other than work, pretty much everything I do is determined by how I feel. How boring! How limiting! I am so very very sick of being sick!

Oh yeah, and did I mention that I am sick of having thrush? I am! Sick of it.

I think this last treatment is hard because I know that soon I will feel better, soon I will start to crawl out of this, soon I can start to rebuild my normal life, but not right now. Mentally I am so ready to move on, but physically, I am still very much stuck in the tar pit of treatment and recovery.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Starting to Crawl Out From Under Number Four

Today is Friday. I had my very last chemotherapy treatment on Monday. My brother came with me for it, and I was so relieved that it was the last one, that I was cavalier about it. I almost forgot to take me pre-meds on time!

I had to go back in the next day for a Neulasta shot on Tuesday to keep my white blood cell count up.

If you have not had one, here is the drill: they give it around 24 hours after your last chemotherapy treatment. It is a shot that needs to go into fatty tissue. The nurse assured me that there was plenty of fat on my upper arm, no need to use my stomach or behind for the shot. I flexed my tiny little muscle at her in an attempt to convince here that my upper arm is all muscle. She did not buy that at all. After they give you the shot, you need to hang around for 15 minutes to make sure that you don't have an allergic reaction to it. She told me that they only need to do that for the first time that you get the shot.

The nurse told me that I could have no side effects or some rather nasty bone pain. So far, I have had a little bit of soreness in the bones of my thighs, but nothing to complain about. It feels a little bit like soreness from a good workout, which I miss. So, if you need to get the shot, and you are worried about it, I hope it is as easy for you as it has been for me.

Otherwise, this chemo has gone right on schedule. Tuesday was Companzine day, but not too tough, Wednesday was the worst. Trouble sleeping, hot flashes, shakyness, antsy-ness, lack of concentration... the stuff that I have come to expect.

But, when you know this is your last treatment, it is all so much easier to take!

I think the Neulasta shot it helping a great deal too. I feel better at this stage than I did after all of chemo number 3.

I am too tired yet to sound elated, but I know that in a couple of weeks I'll start feeling better and maybe even growing some hair back! I can't wait for that. I will also be moving on to the radiation phase of my treatment. As usual, I have lots of concerns about how that will go, but it feels very good to be on to the next step in my treatment.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Evenings are the Worst

I had a very busy day yesterday, and I was in and out of the heat which was brutal. I felt like my flowers looked - wilted.

So, toward the end of the day, it is no surprise that I was tired. But I was more than tired, I was miserable. I had a horrible headache (refused to take Tylenol for it, of course), and I was so tired that everything hurt.

So my niece ordered pizza for dinner, and I went to bed by 8. I watched Smallville DVD's with the kids for a while.

I'm sure that resting helps, but it does not make you feel better right away. You don't sink into bed with a satisfied "Ahhhhhhhhhh", then snuggle up and let your bones turn to jelly. Instead you get into bed with more of a groan and you continue to feel about the same. I've also had chills the last couple of nights, so the kids heat warmies up in the microwave, and I take those to bed with me.

But the miraculous thing is that you can sleep, and you do feel loads better in the morning. Chemotherapy is such a study in contrasts. So many times I go from feeling awful to feeling fine with no perceptible transition period where I am feeling just a little bit better. The only other thing that has made me feel that way is the flu. You know how you go from abject misery to suddenly feeling back to normal and searching the freezer for ice cream? Well, recovering from a chemotherapy treatment is a lot like that. Except you have the potential to go through it daily.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

It Could Be Worse...It Could Be Raining

I went to see the doctor today.

The thrush that I got a pill for about a week ago is still here, and the nurse said that it should be gone by now, so they wanted to take a look at it.

So, I am back on the nasty Miles mixture again. The good news is that I don't have to swallow it. I told them how hard it was to make myself swallow that stuff, and that it was bothering my stomach, so they said if my throat doesn't hurt, just swish with it. The pill was giving me headaches and dry mouth, so I'm willing to go back to the rinse. Dang.

As long as I was there, I asked them to check my blood counts. All of my blood counts are already back in the normal range with the exception of my white blood cells. Those are still very low. I wanted to check on them just to see if that could be part of the reason why I am as tired and weak as I am. And low blood cell count is a good reason for that, so now I know.

The doctor also said that many people "run out of gas" (I thought that was a perfect way to put it) between their third and fourth treatment. I was glad to hear that because I was feeling like the biggest wuss of the century. There are people who undergo way more surgeries and chemotherapy for over a year and here I am only getting four doses and really struggling.

I also got a referral to my radiation oncologist, I will see her two weeks after my last chemotherapy.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

I had a really rough day yesterday.

I went in to work. I use vacation and sick time during chemo week, and just keep up on e-mails during that week. The on weeks two and three I mostly work from home, but tend to go in one day each of those weeks to attend meetings. That schedule has been a little hard on me, but not too bad. And I get so much out of being back at work, seeing everyone, feeling more "normal".

But I'm not bouncing back as fast this time. I headed out to work which was a little harder than usual because the air conditioner in my car just decided not to work. I think I have a freon leak. But I had no time to do anything about that since I had a morning meeting. So I drove my hour in and it wasn't too bad since the heat had not had time to get brutal and traffic was light.

I went to my meeting. Two friends had left little treats on my desk!! I LOVE that. One had left peppermint body wash and peppermint gum. She knew that I've been using peppermint gum to fight nausea, so she thought she would give me a full body peppermint fiesta! That was also great because I read in a coping with chemo book that it is a good idea to use a wash instead of a bar of soap while your immune system is compromised. I guess there is potential for you to catch something from someone in your family if you share a bar of soap. Never thought of that.

The other friend gave me a jar of stress relief hand cream that he found on vacation in Minnesota. What a perfect gift! It smells great, very soothing, and it has a really nice texture.

Then the friend who gave me the peppermint wonders gave me another gift bag since I won't see her for a couple of weeks, this one had pink grapefruit bath stuff!! Marvelous. I had read in a lot of books that chemo might make me sensitive to smells and I might have to get all unscented products. It has made me sensitive to bad smells. I have trouble passing by our trash can in the garage for instance. I never noticed an odor before, but now it makes my stomach turn just to walk by. But I have not had any problem with yummy smells, so I am having a great time using scented lotions, creams, and bath stuff.

I had lunch with some friends, then handled some other work stuff until 3. I was getting very tired by then, and I noticed that it was an effort for me just to stand in the hall and talk to someone. So, I headed for home. I also wanted to get on the road before rush hour. If I get in stop and go traffic now, I get agitated and I feel trapped somehow. Plus, I did not want to be in traffic without A/C during the hottest part of the day.

By the time I got home, I was exhausted and had a headache. I could not think about cooking and did not want to eat even though I knew that I needed to. So back in the car with the kids to drive through and get something. That was hard.

I came home, forced myself to eat, and went straight to bed. I felt awful! Headachy, shaky, exhausted. So, just for fun, I started hot flashing. I was so miserable!

The kids wanted to support me, so they hung out and we listened to a Harry Potter book on CD. I have read the first four out loud to my kids (daunting because the books are so long and there are a ton of characters. I had been coming up with a different accent for each one, but by the fifth book, I started to fall behind). I don't have the energy to read out loud for long periods now, so we got the fifth book on CD.

Then my youngest son got sick to his stomach. I checked to see if he had a fever and he didn't, so I felt safe cuddling him up and taking care of him.

Both sons ended up sleeping in my room, one because he didn't feel well, the other to keep a watch over the two sickies and be here if we needed help.

The headache and total misery are gone this morning, but I still feel more tired than I did at this point after my other treatments. The doctor did tell me that the effects are cumulative, but I didn't want to believe that ahead of time. Just in case it didn't have to be true!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Led Robster

I've been dealing with cravings again.

I don't mind these at all. They make me laugh. And they draw a parallel that I find comforting. Early on during my chemotherapy treatments, I told my husband that it felt a little bit like being pregnant. You are up late at night, you are facing all kinds of changes to your body, you have the sense of anticipation for when it will all be over, and you feel like you are going to barf. So I started to see this process as similar to something that I have done before, and instead of getting to hold a new baby at the end of all this, what I'm getting is a whole new healthy body.

That really helped me to cope with all the changes and discomforts.

Anyway, back to the cravings. All weekend I craved the cheese biscuits and lobster pasta at Red Lobster. This is almost as funny as the steak cravings that I had during round one. I have not been to a Red Lobster in at least five years. At least. And now, well, I'm obsessed with it.

I wasn't up to going there, or enjoying a meal out over the weekend, but I felt much better yesterday. So my husband quit teasing me, and said, "That's it, get your bib on, we're going to Red Lobster for dinner tonight." It is both sad and embarrassing to admit how excited I was to go there!

And so we did. I wanted to put on some expandable slacks, order at least three things and eat until I could eat no more! In the end, I got the pasta, ate what I wanted, and got the rest boxed to come home so Lobsterpalooza can continue for a few more days. Yum.

The kids have loved these cravings too. It gives us something positive and funny to focus on, and they both love to eat out and try new things. They both got shrimp and lobster combo plates and they are starting to make requests to see if they can get me to crave other things that sound good to them. It is so sweet how enthusiastic and supportive my whole family has been. When I get a craving, we all laugh about it, then go right out to get whatever it is.

We joke around that the funniest thing would be if I got a craving for something I've never had before, and I can't figure out what it is since I've never had it.