Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Being Noticed

Double Chocolate Chip
Frappuccino - YUM
Today it happened - finally.  The moment I've been anxiously awaiting  since I shaved my head.  The moment when a stranger came up to me and asked me about it.

At Starbucks this morning (I told you I spend a lot of time there...) a woman pointed to my head (wrapped in a scarf) and asked, "How are you DOING?"

I told her I was fine, I had finished chemo and was just waiting for the hair to grow back.  She told me she had ovarian cancer 4 years ago and also lost her hair during chemo but she's fine now.  I gave her a big hug.  She was such a nice lady.  We didn't talk long, my drinks were ready and I had my 10 year old daughter with me on the way to school...

I didn't mind at all that she was nosy/curious about it.  I don't mind telling my story and, maybe, I secretly like the attention.  I thought more people would be asking me about "my" cancer - but she's the first and it's been nearly 3 months of being hairless.  3 months since someone would be able to TELL that I have cancer (or HAD cancer).

I get a lot of sympathetic looks and big smiles and strangers saying HELLO and obviously looking as though they want to say more but don't.  I don't think I'm scary to talk to, I don't think I'm giving off a "Don't talk to me" vibe - but I suspect that most people don't know WHAT to say.  And that's okay.

I didn't think I would feel comfortable with so obviously looking like I HAVE cancer.  But, I really haven't minded it too much and I would venture to say that it's made people be a little kinder to me.  I don't think a clerk or anyone has been rude to me since.  People seem to be a lot friendlier and maybe when they see me, they are reminded that maybe their bad mood isn't really all that important.

Or maybe I just spread joy everywhere I go - that's possible too.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


A List of Things I'm Thankful For:

1. Imodium A.D.
2. On the other hand, stool softeners
3. Cute hats
4. Friends who are good cooks
5. Pain medication
6. Nausea medication
7. Hair
8. Keebler Graham Crackers
9. Puppy kisses
10. Sleep
11. Black-out curtains
12. Starbucks Double Chocolate Chip Frappacino
13. Cozy slippers
14. Boobs (sigh)
15. Everyone who loves me and has taken care of me the last few months and longer...

Boob Count = 125

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

One Month Later

It's been nearly one month since I finished chemo.  I saw my oncologist today for a follow-up appointment.

The appointment started, as always, with a blood draw.  No big deal with my friend, the port.  After that, I had to wait in the lobby for about 40 minutes while they checked the blood before my appointment.  I sat and read a book.  When the nurse came to call me, I was really stiff and had trouble getting up and walking.  My muscles and joints are still on strike and I have a lot of pain, especially when I get up from sitting down after an extended period.  When I first get up, I walk like I'm 90 years old.  But once I get going, I do much better - I walk like I'm only 80 then!

I'll take the Ferrari people mover - thanks!
My not so smooth moves didn't escape notice of the nurse. The nurse suggested that I might want to look into getting a cane.  A CANE!  I was horrified!  Trying to make her understand that a cane wouldn't help anyway, I told her, "Well, that won't work because it's BOTH of my hips that hurt..."  Ha!  So there!  Instead of making things better, she then said, "Oh well, you could get TWO canes...or a WALKER!"  Oh my gosh, I almost passed out from the thought.  A walker!  For me!  42 years old!  I've hit bottom.  Still trying to be helpful, she then suggested that I could start using those little motorized carts in the stores I go into.  This whole thing was going downhill fast.  We did finally agree that it'd be nice to have one of those personal motorized people movers.  Just for fun...and to run over people.

The doctor came in soon after and the appointment began with the whining session.  The whining session is something I've gotten pretty good at.  I like to include a whining session whenever I go to see my physical therapist as well.  Unfortunately, Maggie (my physical therapist) isn't as amused by the whining session as my oncologist is.  The oncologist tends to humor my whining.  I like that.

Anyway, I spent a good 5 minutes talking about all my aches and pains and the general feeling of blech that I'm experiencing.  I'm sleeping all the time and my joints and muscles are revolting against me, especially my hips, back and shoulders.  Dr. Coughenhour (my new oncologist since my other one left to go find a cure for cancer and stuff) looked at my blood work from that day and said that my blood counts are going up.  They aren't back to normal but they are moving in the right direction.  I'm still anemic, but the iron counts are also moving up.  Hopefully it will continue to move in the right direction and I won't need another iron infusion.  I'm concerned that I'm still having to take pain medication to sleep - I'm in too much pain to get comfortable in bed without them.  Dr. Coughenhour took all my whining in stride and told me to not rush things.  It's only been a month.  "Rest, take it easy and be good to yourself," was his advice.  I like him.

We talked about "maintaining" after cancer.  I'll need a chest x-ray every 6 months to check my lungs.  This is already covered under the tests that I get every 6 months to monitor the renal cancer.  However, if anything is found on my lungs, I'll have to have a lung biopsy to see which cancer it is - renal or breast.  That was kind of a terrifying realization. A lung biopsy is not on my bucket list of things I want to try.  The odds of this happening are low - I did everything right.  I didn't everything I was supposed to.  But, we'll be watching and waiting.

I'll be starting on a daily cancer drug soon.  It was something I expected to start now but since I'm still struggling with the side effects of the chemo, the oncologist thought it best that I wait.  There are some side-effects with the cancer drugs like muscle aches and joint pain so we need to be sure that I'm over the chemo side-effects before we pile anything else on top.

I have an appointment again in a month to see where I am and probably start on a cancer drug.  Dr. Coughenhour says he expects I'll be feeling much better by then.  I hope he's right!!  If this goes on for much longer, I might be looking for a nice walker.  I guess I could make it my own.  Put some diamonds and Snoopy stickers on it or something.  That would look super cool, I'm sure.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Advice to the Baldies

Now that I've been bald for 2 whole months, I have a lot of advice to give other baldies out there.

First of all, and most importantly, you actually have to wash your bald little head.  I guess this didn't really occur to me.  I remember washing my hair for the last time before shaving it off and being thrilled ( "thrilled" as you can be when you know you are going to lose your hair) that I could skip the whole hair washing routine for a while.

About a week after the head shaving, my bald head started to itch.  This is when it dawned on me that you might actually have to wash your bald head!  HUH!  Go figure!  It is skin after all.  I consulted the expert baldy that I know (my husband) and asked him what he uses on his head.  Well, he uses the bar of soap in the shower.  This explains why any hair he has feels like a Brillo pad.  Not that I had any hair at all at that point, but using the bar of soap that I use to clean "other" parts of my body, on my head....dripping into my eyes...that just seemed...well...WRONG!

I decided to look at all of the shampoos that I have and I was able to pretty much eliminate anything that said for "fuller hair" or "more lustrous hair" or "more manageable hair."  Not really the product I was needing at that time.  I settled on a dandruff shampoo that claims it soothes the scalp.

A soothed scalp is exactly what I needed.  Mmmm.

Which brings me to my next piece of advice:  You need DRASTICALLY less shampoo when you don't have any hair to soak it up.  Suffice it to say that this did not occur to me until I had put way too much on my head and I had shampoo EVERYWHERE!  Bright blue shampoo.  All over the place.  And since you have no hair to stop anything, it just runs down without abandon.  My feet were blue, the shower was blue, everything was blue.  It took me a good 5 minutes to find all of the blue and rinse it off.

Melissa Etheridge rocking the
bald head!
Something else that came as a complete surprise to me was your hair actually starts to grow back between each chemo treatment.  I didn't expect this!  I guess I just thought it would all fall out and that would be it and I'd be one of those cool bald chicks like you see in cancer awareness pictures - with a smooth head.  I never got the smooth head anyway because of my 5 o'clock shadow - but also my hair kept just growing back and then falling out again.  I found that quite irritating - just make up your mind already hair!

It was a cycle.  Chemo treatment, hair growing, hair falls out, chemo treatment, hair get it.  The nice thing about having shaved my head was that then the hairs that fell out were pretty teeny and not a big deal.  I wasn't finding hair everywhere - it was just all over the towel when I dried my head after washing it.

Unfortunately, one of the downsides to having your hair keep growing back is that hair that is growing back is really prickly!  All those little hairs feel like they are stabbing you.  Especially when you are doing your favorite during chemo activity - sleeping.  Poke Poke Poke.  I did find that wearing a open knit hat seemed to really help with the poking sensation.  However, open knit hats tend to have a mind of their own and I woke up with aforementioned open knit hat over my face a couple of times - I thought I was suffocating.  I'm okay now.

Another interesting thing about chemo hair, or my hair specifically, is that once I had shaved my head, some of my hair did start to grow and never fall out.  I had really expected that it would all be gone, but it didn't work that way.  Some of it started growing and now I have about 10% of my hair that is an inch long or so.  Sadly, those all seem to be the gray hairs.  Those damn gray hairs are really stubborn!  About a month into chemo, my husband saw my hair growing back and exclaimed, "It's growing in blonde!!"  (He was thrilled!)  Sadly, I had to inform him that those hairs weren't blonde - but gray.  "Oh...Oops" he said sadly.  Yes, dude, I feel your frustration, I wanted to be blonde too.

Cute dog but not a good look for me!
Now, 3 weeks after finishing chemo, I expect that the hair will start growing back and staying!  I can't wait to see what I end up with.  They say chemo can change your hair drastically.  I've heard stories of straight hair growing back curly or dark hair growing back blonde (there's still a chance for me!).  Who knows what I might end up with!!

However, with my luck, it'll be gray and super curly so that I end up looking like a geriatric poodle.

I'd rather be bald.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Is That It?

I'm really struggling with mixed feelings since finishing my chemo.

I should be elated that I'm finished!  I should throw a party!  Actually, I did throw a party with my friends and it was fun!  But, I feel like I should be happy!

And I AM happy!  I really am.


That happiness comes with a lot of other feelings that I can't quite explain.  I keep asking myself if I'm depressed but I don't think that depression really sums it up.  I'm angry and confused and sad.  And probably about 100 other emotions that I can't even quite identify.  Every emotion that I didn't have time for the last 6 months has now crept to the surface.

When I found out that I had breast cancer back in May, I was devastated.  I cried a lot through the process of being diagnosed, hearing about my options and finally choosing a double mastectomy.  The whole thing completely challenged everything I have in me.  I had the mastectomy in July, healing took 7 weeks during which time I found out that I had to start chemo right away.  I started chemo, lost my hair, lost my energy, lost a lot.  During those 6 months of my life (from diagnosis through chemo), my life was all about the next step - about fighting cancer.  About winning.  About doing anything it took to make sure I could get my life back.

And now, I have my life back, don't I?

Or maybe not.

I feel lost.

First of all, I'm frustrated by the lingering fatigue and pain.  I'm absolutely exhausted everyday and managing even the smallest task is tiring and painful.  Everything in my body aches and I have to still take pain pills to sleep at night.  It's been 3 weeks since my last chemo - I know that's not a long time - but, in my mind, I thought I'd be starting to LIVE again.  Starting to clean my house and make gourmet dinners and manage going to the mall and the gym.  All the stuff I used to do and loved.

Instead, my family has eaten fast food for 3 of the last 5 days for dinner, all I do is drive by the gym, the house is close to being featured on Hoarders and shopping doesn't even sound fun!  <gasp>  I have meals planned and I shopped for food but I'm so exhausted (after a full day of napping!) that I can't even gather enough energy to cook the food.  Plus my legs hurt, my back hurts, my arms hurt.  Everything hurts and moving makes it worse.  I feel like I've worked out all day, everyday.  I can manage to clean the kitchen almost everyday but this burst of energy is followed by a nap.  I've taken to window shopping online.  The closest I've gotten to the gym is to buy cupcakes at the bakery next door.

My physical therapist suggested that going back to the gym might help alleviate some of the pain. I don't see how riding the stationary bike (which is painful) or walking the treadmill (painful!) is going to create less pain.  I really like my physical therapist but I think she might secretly be trying to kill me.

Not only am I struggling physically but I'm struggling emotionally as well.

I AM happy chemo is over.  I AM happy that I'm not putting poison in my body every 3 weeks anymore.  I'm THRILLED in fact.

But - I can't shake the feeling of "Is that it?"  After 6 months of constant conversations and thoughts about my care - everything focused on me having breast cancer and planning the next step - it just ends.  You go to your last chemo and that's it.  You make your next appointment to see the oncologist for a month later and that's it.   And then you are left with...nothing.  Nothing to do.  Nothing to do but wait.  Wait for what?  Wait for the cancer to come back?  Wait for check-ups every 12 weeks?  I don't know.  I've been so busy just surviving the past 6 months that to have my whole life spread out before me now seems so overwhelming.

Cancer changes a person.  Anyone can understand that.  I know it's changed me.  Though, I've had cancer twice now and am done "changing" thankyouverymuch.  Maybe I just don't know who I really am anymore.  In a way I want my old life back, but then, I know I'll never be the same.  So where do I go from here?  How do I transition from "having breast cancer" to "breast cancer survivor?"  Maybe it's not as easy as just finishing chemo. Maybe there's more to the process and I'm missing something?

But I don't know yet what it is.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chemo Side Effects

Before I started chemo, I was given a big three ring binder at the Cancer Center with special tabs for all kind of things I would need to know about like important numbers to call, radiation, etc.  I was also given a large 61 page book titled "Chemotherapy and You."

I like how it uses a feel-good title like "Chemotherapy and You" like chemo and I are of one.  Like we are dating.  Like it's a beautiful relationship.  The cover even has a lovely landscape picture that has nothing to do with chemotherapy except that you wish you were THERE instead of at the Cancer Center having chemo maybe.

The majority of the book, from pages 14-51 are all about the side effects you may experience during chemotherapy.  I remember I read the book bravely before I started chemo and I hoped that most wouldn't happen to me.  They always write about the worst case scenarios, right?

That may be, but now that I'm finished with chemo,  I went back to review some of the listed side effects and try to calculate how many I'd suffered - it wasn't pretty.

Here is a list, in alphabetical order like the book, of the side effects listed:

I've been struggling with anemia for a while now, so it's not a surprise really that this would affect me.  I did have a good iron infusion right before the double mastectomy to boost my system and I'm sure it helped.  But, now, after surgery and four rounds of chemo, I'm anemic again.  My oncologist says it's not too bad yet, we'll wait and see what happens as I get further out.

I was one of the lucky ones in that my appetite didn't change drastically.  I've heard stories of people that really can't eat much at all during chemo and I didn't really have that experience.  Each time after a dose, I wouldn't have much appetite for a week or so (mostly due to nausea) but it didn't last.  After that, I was back to normal and gleefully stuffing my face with anything I could find.  I had really hoped I might lose some weight (and I did every time after chemo but I gained it back each time).  I mean, if you are going to have cancer, something good should come of it!  Sadly, whenever "weight loss" is listed as a side effect - it never seems to happen for me.  Damn.

This section talks mostly about bleeding gums and excessive bleeding from cuts which are not issues I had.  However, it does also talk about nose bleeds and excessive monthly bleeding for women, both which have been problems for me.  I really don't think you want any more details so I'll just leave it at that.

I didn't have issues with constipation until the third round of chemo but then it hit with a vengeance.  It was so bad that I, once, considered calling 911 in the middle of the night.  But, what do you tell 911?  "Um, Hi, I have a non-pooping emergency..."  This is a small town, I don't want to be known for that.

If I didn't have constipation, I had diarrhea.  It was lots of fun each day guessing which I would get.  Made life interesting.

Zzzzzzzzzzzz....oh, what were you saying?
Yes, the fatigue has been overwhelming to say the least.  I still sleep much more than a normal person should need to - sometimes 12 hours a day or more.  I'm sure this sounds heavenly to some people, but it also means I don't get much accomplished in a day.  If I can manage to keep everyone alive and fed in a day, I'm doing well.

No surprise here really except that I lost much more hair over my entire body than I thought I would!  I've even lost hair from my nose.  I know this because now anything in my nose just comes running right out without abandon!  Ugh!

Though I did run a fever (a main sign of infection) and was hospitalized, it was determined that it was a side effect to the chemo and not an infection.  *Whew*

And I have no plans to try to get pregnant to find out.  Sorry.

But, really, I didn't have much - a few mouth sores here and there.  I was "lucky."

I "only" threw up twice.  That's not too bad.  But the nausea was really debilitating at times.  I had THREE medications to control nausea though, and they worked well.  Laying in bed concentrating on not moving a muscle worked well too.

This is an issue I've only been dealing with since my last treatment.  My hands fall asleep!  It only happens in the middle of the night.  I wake up and my hand is asleep.  I think it's usually my right hand but I'm too interested in making the tingling sensation stop and getting back to sleep to really keep track.  It's really annoying.

One of the main side effects that I've had to deal with this whole treatment has been the aches and pains in my body.  And now that I've been through all four, it's gotten much worse.  I'm in quite a bit of pain.  My legs are the worst.  They just ACHE!  This makes walking a chore but also quite humorous, I'm sure.  I feel like I'm 80 years old.  I feel like I need a cane.  I feel like I've worked out all day long.  I've heard this can last for months - that's scary.

Another aspect of this is the lightning bolt sensation.  I will be sitting around, minding my own business, when suddenly I get a shock of pain.  It's like lightning shocks.  It is incredibly painful and not at all fun.  I think I'd rather get struck by lightning.  Well, maybe not - but I do think I know what it feels like now.  Luckily, the lightning bolt sensation was worst after the first treatment and has seemed to calm down now a bit - but I'm always waiting for another one...

Also one of the main problems that I've had manage during my chemotherapy has been the horrible headaches.  I'm prone to headaches anyway and I've had migraines in the past so this shouldn't be a huge surprise.  But, I started having to take pain medication to manage the headaches.  Now, nearly 3 weeks after my last treatment, the headaches are subsiding.

As much as I know all my readers like to read about the details of my sex life, I think I've covered this already so I'll spare my mother and brother the pain of having to reread it.

Finally!  One that I missed!  Ha!

I was lucky to have only had one urinary tract infection.  I caught it early.

So, for those of you keeping track, I had 13 of 16 listed side effects.  That's 81%!  I get a B for Chemo!  Woot!

Too bad it doesn't work that way!  Unfortunately, when they gave me this handy chemo guide, I never imagined I would have 81% of the side effects listed!  In fact the book even says, "You may have a lot of side effects, some, or none at all." (Chemotherapy and You, page 14)  NONE AT ALL?!  I wanted THAT to be ME!  But, of course, everyone that knows me knows that I don't do things half-way, including chemo.  Lucky me!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


At almost exactly 24 hours after my last chemo, I started running a fever.  I always know when I have a fever.  I get chills and I just shiver uncontrollably.  I called my nurse/husband in to take my fever and sure enough it was 99.4.  Not officially a fever, but definitely creeping up.

I know that a fever is one of the main things to look for after chemo - it's a huge risk and can be potentially very dangerous.  I called the Cancer Center right away.  They told me to keep an eye on it and take Tylenol if it got over 100.5.  I instructed the nurse to take my temperature every 30 minutes.

We watched the fever creep higher and higher and the chills got worse and my headache increased.  The fever hit 100.8 at 4:55 p.m.  I called the Cancer Center again, knowing they were about to close for the weekend (though there is always a doctor on call, of course) and they said take the Tylenol and if it didn't come down in 45 minutes, go to the ER.

I had already taken the Tylenol so now all we could do was wait.  We took my temperature every 10-15 minutes and watched the fever get higher.  At an hour later, it hit 102.  It was the Friday night before Halloween and the kids both had activities planned with both friends and were waiting to be picked up.  Greg quickly made arrangements for the kids to stay over at our friend's house and I tried to manage costumes and packing overnight bags from my feverish bed.

Once the kids were picked up by 6:25, Greg helped me get dressed and we headed to the Emergency Room.  I don't remember the drive there at all - there are a lot of things I don't remember from the next 24 hours or so.  We made it to the ER and walked in to be checked in.  Things moved really fast from there.  Telling them you have cancer and are running a fever of 102 gets you a lot of immediate attention.  We barely gave any information before they came to get me in a wheelchair...I think they had asked if I could walk but I couldn't make it anymore so they brought a wheelchair fast.

I don't remember a lot of details from the emergency room, there were a lot of nurses and doctors in and out and a lot of questions.  A lot of the same questions over and over.  They quickly started an IV in my port and there was a lot of taking of blood and giving of drugs.  They were monitoring my blood pressure closely and it was very low.  So low, in fact, that it kept setting off the alarms on the machine.  I remember one reading was 59/33 - that's the lowest I remember seeing.  I remember looking at my husband and thinking he looked worried.  I remember a lot of people walking by and walking in and I remember how thankful I was when they finally gave me a thin sheet (I was freezing because of the fever). At one point, I scarfed down a turkey sandwich I was given - I hadn't eaten all day due to nausea but I was finally starving.

I'm not sure how long exactly we were there, 4-5 hours I think, but they pretty quickly determined that I wasn't going home.  A guy appeared to take me to my room.  I don't know how we ended up there (on the 7th floor - the oncology floor) but we took approximately 13 elevators and went down 35 brightly lit hallways.  My numbers may be a little off, but I'm close.  If there had been a fire at any time during my stay, I would have been in big trouble because I had absolutely no idea where I was or how I got there.  This hospital has recently been remodeled and I was told that I was in the "old tower."  This meant nothing to me.

I made it to my new bed and settled in.  I met my nurse for the night, his name was Ben.

And happened.

My bed MOVED.

I mean, really, it MOVED.  I was sure I was imagining things.  They had put a lot of drugs in my IV, I had a high fever, my blood pressure was low...I was really out of it and now I thought the bed was moving.  Three days before Halloween - a haunted bed.

And then it happened again.  The bed moved.  I was a little more alert that time and waited to see if it would do it again.  And it did!

That's when I said to my husband, "This bed is MOVING!"

He looked at me like he often does - that look that says he thinks I'm a crazy person.  I insisted that the bed was moving and we both waited and watched until it did it again.  This was not okay!  It was really annoying.  About every two minutes (so right when you got comfortable), the bed would shift quite drastically into a different position.  We called the nurse in and he confirmed that the bed moves.  It's for people who can't move on their own so they don't get bed sores or blood clots.

What a great invention!  Now, turn it off!  It was obnoxious.

A hospital bed
Well, it doesn't TURN OFF.  The only way to stop it is to unplug the bed which means you can't adjust it at all.  What good is that?  The only cool thing about a hospital bed is that you can do whatever you want to it - put your head practically on the ground and your feet in the air if that's what floats your boat.  What is the point if it doesn't do that?!

They brought me a new bed.  Well, new to me - but older style.  I didn't care, I was just thankful it didn't MOVE unless I pushed the button.

Sometime soon after, my husband left for the night and I settled in.  I really don't remember anything - I slept on and off, they woke me up constantly to check vitals and give medications.  When morning came, I still felt really sick and out of it.  I was still running a fever but it was much lower.  My blood pressure was coming up but still low.

A couple of different doctors came to see me.  My blood work was looking good but they were still testing.  They were keeping me for another day at least.

One of the movies I watched - Possessing Piper.
It was dumb yet I watched the whole thing.
I settled in for a long day ahead.  I didn't feel like doing much, mostly I slept.  I did manage to find two really bad movies on the Lifetime channel.  Two days before Halloween, they were horror movies of course.  Thankfully neither of them were about haunted hospitals.

My husband brought our daughter to see me (our son was at a sleepover).  When it was time to leave, she cried.  I almost cried too.

I slept most of the night and woke up the next morning feeling....GROSS!  A sure sign you are feeling better is when you start to realize that you really need a shower!  Blech!  Luckily, my room had a shower!  I asked for some towels and hopped in.  It felt so good.

My nurse told me she heard a rumor that I was going home.  The doctor eventually, finally, made it in and all of my blood work looked good.  The diagnosis was that I'd had a severe reaction to the chemo.  Thankfully, it happened on the last dose so we didn't have to worry about next time.  It was over.

While I was waiting to be released, the hospital nutritionist came to see me.  I had been referred by the nurses for not eating.  I don't eat much in the days after chemo because I'm pretty sick to my stomach.  She obviously took one look at me and decided this was a waste of her time and left.  Anyone that knows me knows that I'm not starving by any means.

It took forever to get me released.  Greg and the kids came to pick me up and we waited a long time for the paperwork.  But, finally, it was time to go and I was wheeled down to the exit.  So thankful to go home and so thankful that I was okay.

And most of all thankful that it really is over.

People Outside of my Family Who've Seen my "Boobs": 43

The Stalkers

I'm getting a lot more recognition for my blog - and now strangers are actually coming up to me in random places to "meet" me.  Thankfully, they've all been so nice and normal and I never had the urge to scream "STRANGER DANGER" like they teach you in elementary school.

The first encounter was earlier this week when a lady came up to me in the local Bartells and asked, "Are you Laura?"  I said, "Yes" but instantly regretted it because, what do I know?. She could be a psycho ax murderer! Alas, she's not - she's Rebecca* and we have many mutual friends and I've heard a lot of nice things about her already (and no one mentioned that she even owns an ax).  I've been hoping to meet her and I'm so glad she stalked me through the drugstore (she admitted it) by peeking over the aisles and following me before getting up the nerve to come up to me.  She said she follows my blog and LOVES it and that she thinks of me as like a famous rock star!  I'm just glad she didn't ask me to sing...that would have frightened her away for sure.  She said she almost felt like asking for my autograph - well, HA, little does she know I don't give that out for FREE!  Okay, who am I kidding - it's free.  Anyway, Rebecca and I had such a great time chatting and she is just as nice as everyone says she is - and I'm totally not saying that because she'll read this!  And it wasn't at ALL weird that she was holding a massive can of hair spray that she claimed was for a kid art project.  Regardless, it was super fun having my first stalker!

The next day, I went to Starbucks and the girl there behind the counter said, "Hold On!" and ran in the back.  I didn't think much of it, maybe she had to pee?  I don't question these things.  But, she came out with an awesome card for me!  I was SHOCKED!  It was signed by a bunch of the ladies that work there and it was for ME!  I had told one of the ladies that works there a couple of weeks ago that I have cancer and she told me they do the Relay every year.  She must have told others and someone got a card and a bunch of people signed it.  It was really so nice and so touching.  And then the new store manager came out and introduced herself to me and said she'd heard about me.  This proves that #1. The people there are so nice and generous and #2. I spend way too much time there!  I mean, really, how often do you have to go to Starbucks before they start giving you cards?!

The next day was chemo day and I had TWO stalkers in one day!

First of all, the lady that I sat by last time at my 3rd chemo treatment sought me out to say hello.  She found me in my private room.  This was my 4th treatment and her 2nd.  She had cut her hair short and it was falling out but she was wearing a hat and looked darling in it.  She said she was doing well and not too tired.  She had a bad reaction to the initial chemo but they had brought her back the next week (the time when I met her) and changed the drugs and she had no bad reactions to those.  I was so happy to see her because the first time she was feeling pretty ambivalent about the chemo, I think, and I was just so happy to see her there again getting treatment and not giving up.  I made sure to find her (she had a private room too!!) and say goodbye before I left.  It didn't feel like a permanent goodbye - I think I'll see her again soon.

And then, right as I was finishing up, another lady stopped by.  Her name is Jennifer* and we have some mutual friends as well.  She heard that I was there and came to find me.  She said she loves this blog and she laughs so hard AND that it has really helped her!!  Today was Chemo #3 for her so she's just behind me and she loves the blog because she kind of knows what to expect next.  I love love love that I'm actually HELPING someone!  I really only started this blog to help ME and I didn't even know if I'd stick with it - I'm kind of flaky that way.  But, in part because of all the positive feedback I've gotten, I did stick with it and NOW people are telling me that it helps them!  I'm speechless...well, not really, but I'm really excited!  I liked Jennifer instantly, and not just because she was very complimentary.  Haha.  She told me that from reading my blog, she actually had a shaving party on Day 14 after her first chemo because she knew that it was going to fall out.  She invited friends over and shaved her head!!  I was amazed, I just thought that was so brave.  It's pretty incredible how brave we become sometimes when we have to - when there's no other choice but to be brave.  I forgot to tell my new friend, Jennifer, how cute I thought her hat is but maybe she'll read it here.

I've decided that it's kind of nice to have stalkers.  Nice stalkers that is.  I feel like I'm doing something worthwhile.  Something important.

Autographs are still free...for now.

* - Names have NOT been changed to protect the innocent, sorry.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Chemo #4 - The Finish Line!

My Hubby!
Today was Chemo #4!!  That last one!  Woot!  It was all very exciting.  Today's sidekick was my cutie-pie husband, Greg.  I eschewed my usual Starbucks run on chemo morning (I just had Starbucks yesterday) for a hash brown, mcgriddle thing and orange juice from McDonalds.  I feel a bit guilty saying that it was really delicious.

Upon arrival, I was given a new form to fill out to let them know, on a scale of 1-10 how distressed I'm feeling.  I was really tempted to circle 10 just to freak them out but, instead, I circled a respectable 3.  I do have cancer after all, I'm here for chemo - I'm a little distressed!  Then I made sure the check the box that said I didn't need anyone to contact me about my "issues."  Thanks - I'm good.  Just let me wallow in peace, thank you very much.

When it was time to be led back, we were led a different way...down the hallway...TO...A PRIVATE ROOM!  WOOT!  I don't know what I did to deserve a private room but I was very excited!  Room to spread out - our very own room!  Had this been under different circumstance, it might have been "tax time" with my husband - but, alas, that wasn't feasible.

There are certainly advantages to having your own private room - more privacy, more space, a little calmer, etc.  However there are some drawbacks as well.  First of all it was actually much louder - since it was off a hallway, there were a lot of people coming and going and the hallway was a major sound tunnel and you could hear everything.  Secondly, it was a little lonely - no chatting with the person next to you which I enjoy. Thirdly, no people watching which I very much enjoy.  Lastly, when your IV machine beeps, they have trouble finding you quickly and the machine beeps louder and LOUDER the longer it is ignored!  It. Will. Not. Be. Ignored!

FREE Cookie!
However, I was so exhausted today that a private room was probably a good thing because, once I had my TWO hot blankets (I was cold!), I fell right asleep.  Despite the loudness.  I'm not sure I would have fallen asleep out in the main room.  I have been told I snore (impossible!) and probably I drool since I already have a drooling issue when I'm awake.  But, nap I did in my cozy private room.  I was awakened several times by loud conversations and people walking by but, all in all, it was peaceful enough.  The most jarring noise was the lady from the American Red Cross yelling HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!!  But, I forgave her because they gave us FREE Junior Mints and Halloween cookies.  I forgive most people when given free candy and cookies.  I munched down my junior mints and then fell back to sleep for a bit.

Mostly, I napped, ate my snacks, played a bit on my new Ipad (that my hubby bought me when chemo started - of course, I now have to wrestle it away from him to use it...).  And waited.  Waited for it to be over with.

I was excited that it's my last time.  But also apprehensive.  It's kind of bittersweet.  Because, even though chemo SUCKS, I felt like I was DOING something active.  I was fighting cancer!  I was doing everything I could.  And now that it's going to be over, it's a bit of a letdown.  A bit of an unknown.  Did I do enough?  Are they sure this is really enough?  Oh sure, I'll be on a cancer pill for, maybe the rest of my life, and that's an active tangible thing - but chemo, losing my hair, SUFFERING was proof that I was fighting with everything I have!  And, in a weird sicko way, it's hard to give that up. But, it's not really up to me - it's up to my body, I guess.  And fate maybe?  I've done what I can and I have to move on now.

I suffered through that last bag of chemo drugs that makes me hot (2 blankets GONE now!) and gives me a splitting headache.  They gave me both Motrin and Tylenol and it did seem to help a little.  After being unhooked, I was given a certificate signed by the nurse and some of the staff!  I was actually really excited!  The nurse hugged me and other people congratulated me.  It really did feel like a huge accomplishment!

I left knowing that I won't be back - I hope not anyway.  There are no guarantees, of course.  But I did what I could and now we wait and see and hope that going through all of that torture really did work and really was worth it.  I know I'll think about cancer every day for a long long time to come.  And I have at least 3 more surgeries before this journey is truly over.  But finishing chemo is a huge milestone and one that I'm, mostly, glad to put behind me.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Lady Parts

Thanks Dr. Walker!
See You on the News!
Today I saw my new oncologist. My other doctor, you may remember, took a job in Seattle to work on research leading to a cancer vaccine. So cool! I miss him already, he was so caring and wonderful. But I told him that I'll probably see his face on the news one day soon for curing cancer. He seemed to like that. I told him to make sure to mention my name since I was his favorite patient and everything. He humored me by saying, " Of course! " I like when people humor me.

Anyway, he's gone and I was assigned to a new doctor. His nurse is a lot of fun even if she did call me onery. I can't imagine what I did to deserve that. The new doctor seems really nice and funny. He was very patient and explained things really well. We spent a long time talking about the benefits (or not) of having a hysterectomy. It's a tough choice to make regardless.

One of the benefits, however, that he explained is that if I were for sure in menopause, I would be given a different more effective cancer drug after chemo is over. Currently, I would be put on a drug called Tamoxifen which is used for pre-menopausal women. This is something I would take for 5 years to prevent the spread of the cancer. The percentages are good with this medication but the medication I would be on were I in menopause is BETTER. That's certainly something to consider.

There are more reasons that I should seriously consider a hysterectomy.  Since I have breast cancer, I'm now at a higher risk for ovarian cancer.  Ovarian cancer is very hard to detect before Stage III so that's scary.  Also, with the syndrome they suspect I have (Cowden's), I'm at a higher risk for uterine cancer.  For as long as I do have my "lady parts," I would need to have something called a "uterine scrape" each year to check for uterine cancer.  Well, let me tell you, I don't want anything to do with anything called a "SCRAPE!!"

I'm finished having children (sadly) so it's not like I'm really USING those parts anymore.  There are, of course, birth control benefits to having a hysterectomy, that's for sure.  (Woot!)  But, it's still, regardless, a hard thing to face.  It means FOR SURE that there are no more babies in my future and that's sad.

It's not that I WANT anymore babies (and I was told that, for my health, I should NOT get pregnant again), I don't really.  I'm old now and I value sleep more than cute babies.  But, it's just so final. going back!  No more cute kids that look like me and are geniuses like me (I may have embellished that part a bit).

I'm not Mormon, but I remember reading once that Mormons often have large families because they believe there is a "pre-existence."  They believe that there are souls waiting to be born, waiting in heaven to join their family.  In a weird way, I get that.  I'm eternally grateful for the two children that I have, I love them to the ends of the earth.  But...sometimes, I feel like something is missing.  Like there should be one more carseat in the back of my car - like someone got left behind.  It's a really hard feeling to shake.  I think I should have had one more.  I wish I could have.

Besides that, having a hysterectomy puts me into instant menopause.  Well, that doesn't sound fun at all.  The chemo was supposed to throw me into menopause (and still may) but it hasn't happened that way - my body has other ideas and, apparently, likes to keep me guessing.  It's super "fun."  I'm not sure, though, if I'm ready to be menopausal.  That just seems so OLD - so grandmotherly.

I think, though, that it would be in my best interest to have it done.  Sometimes peace of mind is worth it.  Plus, I'll do anything to avoid something called a "uterine scrape!" Eek!!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hair Report

I was told, by pretty much everyone I know, that when I started chemo, my hair would fall out.  Mostly people were talking about the hair on my head - but I've come to realize that the hair on the rest of my body is doing interesting things too.  Some of my hair, in fact, seems to be quite confused as to what it is supposed to be doing.  Let's start at my head and analyze this situation, shall we:

My Not So Bald Head
HEAD: The hair on my head did start falling out as you may remember.  It got so bad that there was hair everywhere!  It was gross. I did what had to be done and had my husband shave it all off.  I was hoping for that cool Mr. Clean look that you see in all the pictures of cancer patients, but, alas, that did not happen.  I was left with a 5 o'clock shadow.  I was intrigued by this.  However, I was more intrigued when my hair started actually GROWING BACK!  I expected that once it fell out, that was it.  I wouldn't see it until chemo was just a memory.  But, for some reason, my hair seems to be really confused.  It started growing back almost immediately.  And now, a few weeks later, I actually have stubble - quite a bit of it.  This is really ridiculous if you ask me.  Even more disconcerting is that the gray hair seems to be growing at a faster rate than the dark hair so I have longer gray hairs and shorter dark hairs.  Not Cool!  I want my Mr. Clean look Dammit!

Brows and Lashes
(notice how bloodshot my
eyes are :( )
EYEBROWS: My eyebrows are falling out but luckily I do have pretty thick eyebrows, so, while they look a bit thinner, I don't think it's actually noticeable to anyone but me.

EYELASHES: I do find eyelashes in my eyes much more frequently than ever before but, since I have double rows of eyelashes, this isn't really noticeable either.  *whew*

NOSE: I remember a lady at the Cancer Center telling me that she lost her nose hair during chemo.  I was horrified!  Thankfully, my nose hair seems to be intact.  I'd take a picture for you, but no one wants to see that.

FACIAL HAIR: Yes, women have facial hair too!  I have some stray hairs that pop up from time to time that have to be taken care of.  Now, that I'm on chemo though, they are ALL GONE!!  My face is as smooth as a baby's bottom.  (Wow - that sounded really wrong as soon as I typed it)

HAIRY Arm!  (Very
freckly too - hmm)

ARMS:  The hair on my arms does not seem to be affected by all this.  Since I have much less hair on other parts of my body, this is a bit abnormal looking to me.  In relation to the rest of my body, I now look like I have really hairy arms.  It's a super cool look as you can imagine.  Another reason that my bikini modeling career has been ruined by all of this.

UNDERARMS: Like my arms, my underarms do not seem to really be affected which I find strange (and annoying).

THE NETHER REGIONS:  Oh, come on, you know you want to know but are too polite to ask (though a couple of my more perverted friends HAVE asked!).  And if I'm going to do a whole post meticulously outlining the hair on my body, I can't really leave this part out - I have to let it all hang out (sorry for that visual).  The hair in the nether regions is down to about 50% coverage.  Nothing happened down there for a long time and I just figured that nothing would.  But, then, I looked the other day and was shocked.  There are things down there that I haven't seen there for YEARS!  No pictures of this either - sorry.

LEG! (No need to comment on the pasty
white color - thank you very much)
LEGS: Once you come out of shock from reading the previous paragraph, you'll be interested to know (or not) that I've lost about 80% of the hair on my legs.  I had shaved a few days before my port surgery, in mid-August.  I had the surgery and my first chemo the following day - so probably about 5 days after I'd shaved my legs.  My leg hair grows fast and thick.  It continued to grow for a few weeks before it apparently gave up.  Then, I guess it has mostly fallen out.  I have just patches of long hair on my legs - just hair here and there and then massive bald leg spots.  My legs are mostly smooth.  It pretty much looks like I did a really bad job shaving.  It's AWESOME!

After reading this comprehensive hair report, you are probably wondering, as am I, where all this HAIR is going to?  I don't want to know honestly.  There must be hair falling off my body everywhere I go!!  I guess, if you think about it, there is hair falling off everyone's body all the time - I know that the average person loses 100 hairs a day just from their head.  Where do those end up?  Blech!

Doesn't make me want to visit a salad bar anytime soon...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Top 10 GOOD Things About Chemo!

1. You make new friends at the pharmacy since you are there so often.
2. The pharmacist knows you by name and stops asking if you need the medications explained to you.
3. Much less body hair to deal with.
4. Sleeping at all hours of the day becomes completely acceptable behavior.
5. Extra time spent in bathroom (due to constipation and/or diarrhea) can be used to read or as quiet introspection time.
6. You learn to open pill bottles in your sleep or during deep chemo fog.
8. Selective memory can now be attributed to "chemo fog."
9. People believe you when you tell them that ice cream is good for you during chemo.
10. No one expects much from you so procrastination and downright laziness become commonplace and even applauded.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Chemo #3

Here I am. Chemo #3. I made it.

Today's sidekick is my Mother. We first made our stop at Starbucks and got my favorite drink and a bagel. Then we were on our way. When we got out of the elevator at the Cancer Center, my Mom called me a "cutie-pie." I was thrilled! How nice of her to notice my innate cuteness! Finally!  I've been waiting years for this kind of love from her...  Sadly, she quickly corrected me and said she was talking about the hot doctor in the elevator with us. Well! Humph! I was highly insulted.

But it's okay, I got her back.  When she said she would slip him her number had she been 20 years younger.  I said, "Um, Mom, you'd better rethink your math - you'd need to be about 40 years younger!" HA!  Try calling me a "cutie-pie" and then take it back again and see what happens!  HA!

After getting over my insult, I checked in and availed myself of the good-smelling hand sanitizer. We were taken back quickly and I was given my complimentary Keebler graham crackers and hooked up. Thankfully, I put the numbing cream on my port area early enough so it's all numb and no pain this time. I made the mistake of putting it on too late earlier this week before my blood test and it was a serious ouch! I learned my lesson.

I'm sitting in chair #12 this time.  There is a man across from me that looks very thin and ill and is in obvious pain. He's really the first obviously sick person I've seen. Most of us, minus our hair, look pretty healthy. I don't know exactly why this man is here but it's a reminder of what cancer can do and it's terrifying.  The woman sitting next to me has breast cancer as well.  It was her first chemo.  She said she was going to bypass chemo because her insurance wasn't going to pay for it but they came through and decided to cover it.  How sad that she would have had to make that choice...

Later, an elderly woman came in for IV fluids.  She was with her daughter and her daughter was very upset and cried several times.  A woman from the Cancer Center came and talked to them for quite a long time.  The daughter had hoped that her mother could look into some clinical trials to help her but was told that she was just too weak and there was nothing else they could do for her.  She was going to be put on hospice care...which means she will die within the next few months.  The daughter was quite obviously devastated.  I don't know exactly what was wrong with the mother or what kind of cancer she had.  But, I did take comfort in the fact that she was older and I hoped she has lived a full life.

Because Cancer Kills.  It's never easy to lose a loved one, but I feel sort of better when it's an elderly person.  I just hope they don't suffer - but at least they've lived their life, they had a chance to make it great.  It's when cancer takes someone too soon that it's particularly tragic.  Someone "younger" like me that still has a lot of life to live.  Or, God forbid, a child.  That's when I hate cancer the most.  Cancer isn't fair and it doesn't only pick on old people.  It doesn't care how old you are of how much life you still have to live.

There are no guarantees, of course, but that's why I'm sitting here in this chair today having poison put in my body.  To get MY chance of living a long life - to get MY chance at making it great!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Chemo #3 Tomorrow

The third of four chemo treatments is tomorrow.  I'm ready...sort of.  Now that we've been through this three times, we kind of know what needs to be done to prepare.  Since I lose a few days after, there are a lot of duties that my husband has to take over in the household including homework, making sure everyone gets fed and taking the kids to school, etc.  Once your husband really has to be YOU for a few days, I think that's when they finally appreciate all that you really do to keep things running smoothly.  Maybe.

We are getting better at planning for my "absence" and things are running more smoothly.  After the first chemo, in spite of leaving menu plans, my husband took the kids out to fast food 3 times in 5 days.  Eek!  Though, the kids thought they had died and gone to processed food heaven, this was not ideal to say the least.  I don't even remember what I ate.  I don't have too much interest in food for the first few days but I do eat a little.  The second chemo was much better.  My husband cooked delicacies like spaghetti and chili dogs with macaroni cheese.  See, my husband doesn't know HOW to cook - but he can manage simple items.  This third time, I have the menus ready and we have frozen food from people who have brought us meals - we should be all set to have some healthy dinners.

As for homework, I leave a pretty detailed list of what needs to be done and then just hope that it is all completed.  See, I'm the teacher in the house (my husband is the IT guy) so I've always dealt with all things school related.  My husband only has to step in when I've been really sick or after surgeries.  His methods are questionable but he usually gets the job done.

Even though it's not MOM doing all the normal routines, everyone survives during the few days after chemo when I feel too sick to care what they are eating or whether they flunk their math tests.

Unfortunately, It seems as though the side effects started today (the day before chemo).  I know my friend, Beth, says this happens to her.  The day before chemo she starts to feel sick.  It's anticipatory.  Your brain knows it's coming.  I didn't think this would happen to me!  I already knew about it!  I'm not going to give into something silly like that.  But, I don't know if it's really my brain giving me a hard time today or the medications I have to take the day before chemo that messed with me.  I was feeling pretty tired before taking the medicine (a powerful steroid), but I was wiped out after taking it.  And sick to my stomach.  Blech.  Brain Anticipation + Steroids = Not Good

Today, I've felt just lousy.  I've been sick off and on and I've taken two naps totaling about 4 hours, after sleeping 7 hours last night.  And I've had a headache since yesterday.  No fair!  It's been a long haul of a day because I've had to much to do - the day before chemo is always filled with last minute errands and planning.

I've had a string of good days now so I can't complain too much.  The second chemo was worse than the first and I expect #3 to be worse than #2.  I hear it works that way.  Not something to look forward to.

But, overall, I really am doing okay.  I expect the first week to be pretty bad with the nausea, headaches, fatigue and diarrhea (TMI - you're welcome).  But then things slowly improve from there.

The side effect that seems to be lasting the longest is the fatigue.  I notice that I can only make it to one or two places of errands before I've had it.  I need a nap.  No more marathon shopping for me.  I would say that my husband would be thrilled at saving money but, unfortunately for him, I've found more things to order online!  Woot!

For now, it's time for bed.  Even though it's late, I know I'll make up sleeping in the next few days so going bed late tonight doesn't really matter.  If I felt better, I know I'd be thrilled at the fact that this is #3 out of 4.  I'd say, "Bring it on!!"  Maybe I'll have the energy in the morning...but I doubt it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Doing the Taxes

My 10 year old daughter reads everything I write.  She also listens to every single thing me or my husband say.  She's nosey and curious.  Because of that, sometimes it's necessary to talk in "code" and, now, write in code.  So, for the purposes of this topic, we are going to refer to that thing that men and women (or men and men or women and women - whatever) do together in private (hopefully) in the "bedroom" (usually) as "Doing the Taxes."

My husband and I haven't done our taxes for quite a while now.  In fact, if this were really about "taxes," we'd be up for an audit and one of us would be headed to prison!  Thankfully, you can't be sent to prison for neglecting these "taxes."

First there was the shock of having breast cancer.  And then the fact that you could feel the lump in my breast - that was just creepy and I didn't really feel like having anyone touch me in a "doing the taxes" type of way.  Sure, I offered the opportunity to feel the lump to several people (people I know well, not any strangers on the street or anything); but that was more of an educational thing.  "Feel this, so YOU know what to look for..."  No one took me up on the offer of feeling me up - except my husband, but I MADE him feel it so he doesn't count.  I'm pretty sure my friends that I offered this experience of "feeling the lump" to thought I'd lost my marbles.  I really was trying to be helpful not just get felt up!  Really!  Why do you look suspicious?

Anyway, having the lump THERE didn't make me feel in a doing the taxes kind of mood.  I was so distraught and upset and nervous that taxes were the last thing on my mind.  We meant to "do the taxes" one more time before the mastectomy.  You know, just for fun - one last goodbye.  We talked about it.  But, we didn't seem to get around to it.  (The fact that our 7 year old is camped out in his sleeping bag on our bedroom floor most nights doesn't help!)

And then I had the mastectomy.  I had to recover from that.  And then, I didn't have breasts anymore.  And there was the maintenance of having to deal with the open wound daily which my husband took care of.  Certainly not something that could be considered foreplay.

And now, the chemo.  I don't feel well many days.  I certainly am not thinking about doing taxes, that's for sure.  I have no breasts, no hair and I'm sick to my stomach a lot.  I couldn't care less about taxes!  And I definitely do not FEEL sexy.  I feel like a mutant when it comes to talking about taxes.  I don't think much about my body these days because I feel pretty normal when I'm dressed.  But undressed is a different issue.  My husband has seen my body nearly everyday, he knows what I look like now.  But, I just feel so "wrong."  Also, there's nothing to DO up top now.  How boring.  Definitely not an ideal tax environment.

Plus, I'm terrified of getting pregnant.  TERRIFIED!  I'm no longer allowed to take anything that would prevent us from creating a "deduction" and I'm allergic to latex.  I don't have many options.

So, when you add this all up, it hasn't been a good tax year for us.  We are way overdue.  It's a good thing we aren't talking about actual taxes here or we would have to mortgage the house to pay the fees.  I'd probably have to start selling my tax skills on the street corners to pay for it!

I know that someday again, I'll be actually WANTING to do the taxes.  I'll be thrilled at the thought of it. But, for now, we definitely need to file an extension to get us through these few rough months.  Thankfully, my husband is very understanding and patient and there's no chance of him hiring a professional to help him with the taxes in the meantime.  *whew*

Choose One

I really think that if you have cancer and you have to have chemo, you should get to choose your side effects.  This only seems fair to me.

I say this because I was fully expecting that the chemo would throw me into menopause.  That was the promise. I was prepared for the hot flashes and mood swings - I was ready.  Unfortunately, last week I found out that I am NOT in menopause.  And, in fact, I'm in the exact OPPOSITE of menopause.  I'm in hell.  Without going into too many TMI details, let's just say that I'm experiencing something 10X worse than ever before.

I was so concerned about the "output" coming from my body that I considered going to the emergency room a couple of times.  Finally, I consulted the internet and found out that, especially with the type of breast cancer I have, sometimes things go a little haywire BEFORE your body goes into menopause.  No one warned me about THIS!  THIS is torture!

Which is why I think you should get to choose your side effects.  I mean, I already have cancer - I think it's only fair!  It'd be nice to have no side effects at all, but I realize that's not possible - cancer is supposed to suck.

I've pondered which ones I might choose.  Let's see,  I'll take the overwhelming fatigue, the sleeping 12 hours a day, the menopause (PLEASE!), the hair falling out....and....let's see....

"Would you like constipation or diarrhea?" the doctor would ask.

"Hmm, I'll take constipation to start.  Can I switch later?" I'd say.

"Sure!" he'd reply, "Just let me know..."

But, no.  I get no choices.  The chemo just has its' way with me and does whatever it wants.  I find that very rude.

Bring on the menopause dammit!

Thursday, September 29, 2011


There is a new post that is back-dated - scroll down.  It's entitled "Chemo Round 2" and dated September 15.  Took me a while to finish this one.  :)

Monday, September 26, 2011


It's hard for me to write these days.  I have several items that I've started on, only to either trash or just "shelve." I'm having trouble writing.  For some reason, the words don't seem to come as easily.  Sometimes I'm worried that I've just said everything there is to say about cancer...but I know that can't be true.

I think it's the chemo.  I think it's the phenomenon known as chemo brain!  I can't think straight sometimes.  And writing seems to be the most difficult.  I struggle for words at times.  And then when I do finish writing something, I'm not happy with it so I don't publish it.  I have so many items part completed.

I still have a lot to say but I feel like I can't say it.  Even now...  In the past, I could have gone on for paragraphs about not having anything to say.  But, I'm out of ideas already.

This is bad.  How will I ever become rich and famous as a reluctant writer if I can't WRITE?!!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Chemo Round 2

Today was round 2 of chemo. It's so hard to make yourself go and have poison put it you, even harder when you now know how it's going to make you feel. Last time side effects were no piece of cake and I knew this time wouldn't be fun either. It's hard to submit yourself to that torture knowing full well what the next few days will bring. You have to remember that it's all for the greater good. Because even though chemo kills good cells; it kills bad ones too and that's exactly what we want.

I took a different sidekick to chemo today. Today's companion was my best friend, Shereen. It's more fun to change it up and take different people. Shereen agreed to take a day off of work and go. Secretly, I think she just likes the thought of seeing me be tortured. Just a little.

My Adorable Puppy!
After dressing my puppy in her new dress...which has nothing to do with chemo, I just think she's cute...we departed.  Our first stop was Starbucks which has become my pre-chemo treat.  Not that I don't get Starbucks on other days, I do...all the time...I'm addicted....but I just make sure to get it on chemo day.  I also get a snack and my favorite bagel.  However, they just discontinued my favorite bagel (the Chonga bagel for those of you in the know) and so I'm not very happy with them right now.  I'm completely traumatized by this.  I don't drink coffee but I'm addicted to a non-coffee Starbucks drink called a Double Chocolate Chip Frappuccino.  Yes, I live in Seattle.  No, I don't drink coffee.  Stop staring.  But, since I don't drink coffee, the Chonga bagel was the highlight of my days and now it's gone.  I think it's mean to change things on a cancer patient.  I take it personally.

So, anyway, Shereen and I stopped at Starbucks for a drink and snacks.  I got a croissant instead of my bagel.  Still a nice treat but not my bagel.  <sniffle>  Then we were headed to the Cancer Center.

Upon arriving and checking in, I discovered something fascinating at the Cancer Center.  The hand sanitizer smells like talcum powder!  Well, first it smells like regular hand sanitizer but then when you rub it in, it smells like talcum powder!  I want to stop by there everyday now to use the sanitizer.  Do they frown on this sort of behavior?  And really, what person in their right mind WANTS to just "stop by" the Cancer Center?  (Don't answer that.)

After marveling at how my hands smelled like baby powder, we were called back.  I sat in a different area this time, in Chair #8.  Much luckier, I thought, than Chair #13 like last time.  I was also by the window, but unfortunately only had a view of the construction site near the center.  I was hooked up quickly this time and things started easily.  I'm a pro now.

We spent the next three hours chatting and waiting.  At one point, my supposed best friend, Shereen, purposely drank a carton of coconut milk right in front of me.  If you know me, then you know I HATE anything coconut so this was especially rude.  I tried to have her thrown out of the Cancer Center but it seems that they don't frown on coconut flavored items like I do...weird.

I think this is a good time to tell you that I love the graham crackers they have at hospitals.  They are by Keebler and they come in a little package with two little squares.  I love them.  They are most delicious and I have considered checking myself into the hospital for elective procedures just to score some.  I realize that I could probably just buy a box at the local grocery store, but it's just not the same as ripping open that little two pack and savoring them right there in the hospital setting.  There's something about them.  But it goes without saying that I quickly discovered that the Cancer Center has them.  Another reason to stop by daily.

So, as I delighted in my graham crackers and the person who is supposed to be my best friend, drank coconut milk in front of me, we waited.  First there was the IV of steroids and anti-nausea medications and then the first chemo drug, Taxotere and then, lastly, the second chemo drug, Cytoxan.  I find that I have no problems with the first IV or the first chemo drug, but the second chemo drug has some pretty uncomfortable side effects for me that start immediately.  I first get flushed and my face feels hot and then I get a raging headache.  It has happened both times now.  They have learned to turn it down as slow as it goes but I still get the side effects - it just delays them.

Finally, things were finished.  Shereen had downed all of her coconut concoction and I'd eaten 4 packages of graham crackers.  There was nothing more to see or do.  EXCEPT...

Where's Waldo Hat
Go look at hats!  Of course, always have to look at hats to see if I can add to my current hoard.  So, we ventured down to the first floor.  I was so excited to show Shereen all the free hats!  There were a lot of cute ones and she forced me to try on some of the silly ones so she could embarrass me by taking my picture and posting it on the internet.  What a good friend.  I did, of course, find one more hat - a red one.  Hey!  I don't have any red ones!  I might need it!

My Favorite Hat!
After the hat parade, Shereen talked me into trying on wigs.  I was skeptical since this did not go well last time.  But, I decided to humor her.  I tried on a few interesting specimens, including a totally gray one which was truly frightening.  I did find two though that were workable.  Really similar to my actual hair.  I could have taken both but that seemed kind of silly considering I don't even know if I'll ever wear it at all.  I took the one that seemed most like MY own hair and could be cut to look like ME.  I'd have to take it to a professional to have it cut correctly.  I don't know if I'll actually wear it.  It seems kind of uncomfortable and itchy, and I only had it on for about 5 minutes.  Plus, I'm just not sure it's really ME to wear a wig.  It's just so fake.  And with my luck, I'll end up with it crooked on my head without me knowing and people will be staring at me.  I'll think they are staring at my awesome hair until I look in the mirror later and realize they are staring at me because I look like a dork.  That would happen to me.  But, I have it...sitting in the bag.

I was getting tired pretty quickly and I was craving a hot dog (weird) so we stopped by 7-11 on the way home for hot dogs and Slurpees.  For some reason, despite the graham crackers, I was starving.  The hot dog was delicious.

I'm glad to be "half-way" finished with chemo even though I don't really consider it half-way until I've survived all of the nasty side-effects over the next few days.  It's not the chemo day that is so hard even though I come right home and go to bed, it's the days that follow when I totally lose track of time because I'm so sick to my stomach and tired.  When I survive THAT, I'm half-way!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The BALD and the Beautiful?

On Monday, I decided that I couldn't take the hair falling out anymore.  It was time.  It was time to "woman-up" and do something permanent about it.  But when the time came that night, I wasn't ready.  I couldn't do it.  I sat with my head in my hands and knew I wasn't ready.  My hair looked too good, I could last a few more days with hair!  It was okay!  I'd be more careful!  I would stop gleefully pulling it out just for fun!  I didn't even have any bald spots yet - sure it looked a lot thinner but I could live with that.  Maybe I could even wash it one more time.

Essentially, I chickened out.  And that's okay, because that's what I needed to do in that moment in time.

Hair Thinning, Me Looking
Bald Spots
Tuesday, however, things got much worse.  When I woke up there was hair everywhere in bed and my part had grown to about a half inch wide.  And I had bald spots.  Whenever I took hair to try to cover a bald spot, it just fell out in my hands.  I ended up wearing a hat that day.  But I had hair everywhere.  All down my shirt - I could put my hand down the front or back of my shirt and pull out clumps of hair.  It was in my food and in my mouth - it was all over the house.  I made the kids TV dinners that night and reheated leftovers for my husband and I because I knew that if I attempted to actually cook anything, there would be hair all over the place. Not so appetizing.

I knew it was time and I knew we had to do it.  It was one of the hardest and most traumatic things I've ever had to do.  No amount of mental preparation made me fully prepared.  Not really.

The Razor!  Eek!
I sat in the designated chair in the living room (hard wood floors seemed best for clean-up) and told my husband to get the razor.  He was excited that the opportunity to shave his wife's head was finally upon us.  I, on the other hand, saw the razor and burst into tears.  Which, of course, prompted my sensitive ten year old daughter to burst into tears.  As she hugged my leg, we both sobbed inconsolably.  And she said, "Mom, I'm going to go talk to the school counselor tomorrow at school..."  Knife through the heart moment right there.  Mother of the Year Award Gone!

And this is when my husband had his own mini-nervous breakdown and said he wasn't going to do it.  He didn't want to be the bad guy!  "You two are being unreasonable!" he shouted!  And stomped out of the room.  I was quick to label him as a jerk!  He emerged about 30 seconds later apologetic as my daughter and I continued to sob.  I don't think he was prepared to handle our outburst of emotion.  I said, "Just DO it!" and the razor powered up and my hair began to fall.

The Hair
And I sobbed even harder.  It felt like it was the last "feminine" part that cancer could take from me.  I have always loved my hair.  Even though I sometimes did crazy things with it (much to my Mother's dismay), I loved it.  It was always thick, always soft, always wavy and always there for me.  And now it was gone, along with my breasts.  And now everyone WOULD know.  Immediately.  They would know that I'm sick.  And I was going to have some explaining to do.

I cried for the first 15 minutes or so, softly, as I watched my hair fall to the floor.  There really wasn't that much left of it, considering the amount of hair I usually have.  It was the amount of a good haircut.  This is when anarchy ensued and the puppy took off with some of the hair and my daughter grabbed some hair to keep in a baggie.

The Buzz Cut.
The barber (my husband) had to go over it three times.  He cut it short with a razor attachment and it was a buzz cut.  We didn't know what to do at this point.  Do we leave it like that?  We had no idea what the usual protocol is for this sort of thing.  But when I reached up, I could still pull out clumps of hair so that seemed bad.  Little hairs would be EVERYWHERE!  Eek!  We continued on and the barber shaved it down closer to my head with just the electric razor.  Since we'd gone this far, we got a real razor and shaving cream and shaved it as close as we could.  In fact, the barber went over it twice with the razor and cream.

I was really hoping for a Mr. Clean look but, alas, it did not happen that way.  I have a five-o-clock shadow thing going on!  My hair is so dark and so thick, we could never get it all the way "gone."  Not that it matters, I supposed.  But, my hopes of making money on the side as a Mr. Clean look-a-like are now dashed.

The actual shaving was hard, emotionally and physically.  My head was so sore in places that it hurt - A LOT!  But, once it was DONE, my head felt so much better.  Not so sore anymore, not itching.  Relief!  I even looked in the mirror right away which is something I didn't think I could do. was okay.  Not great.  But okay.

I had to shower immediately after because I had HAIR everywhere!  In fact, I was still finding hair all over the house the next day.

I'm glad it's done, I guess.  It was a huge milestone, but very traumatic and one of the worst things I've ever had to do.  I know it'll grow a few months.  And, hopefully, cancer will be kinder to me now.  Because I don't have much more to give.

The barber got a little too intimate after the shaving.  Good
thing I know him!