The Wind Beneath my Wings

I finish radiation tomorrow (Monday) morning, so this is my final blog post. Compared to chemotherapy, radiation was a piece of cake. It was also far better than recovering from my lumpectomy and axillary node dissection; three weeks of wearing a drain was no picnic. The radiation caused mild swelling, but very little  fatigue. The bony areas of my chest which have been exposed to UV rays reacted with an itchy, scabby rash. However, I experienced no skin irritation under my arm, nor anywhere else that the sun has never touched. I’ve been told that the unpleasant side effects will most likely peak a week after treatment ends, then improve. I can do a week! When all this started last July, it seemed such a long, arduous journey…but here I am at the end!

April 19th, six weeks after my last chemo treatment, I glimpsed the beginnings of eyelashes! Visible only with a 10x magnifying mirror, mind you. Lots and lots of fine, super-short, colorless hairs madly sprouting from my eyelids. My eyebrows too, are returning. Oh happy day! The hair on my scalp is nearly an inch long. At a half an inch a month, I have a ways to go. Still, a little hair makes a big difference. I never got used to the reflection of my alien head in the bathroom mirror and progress is progress! After losing my locks, the few dreams I had about growing hair, centered on my legs. Bizarre, as I have not missed shaving at all! This past week or two I graduated to dreams of brunette bangs and long, dark eyelashes….both appearing overnight. That is more like it! Dreams should not be about mundane tasks; they should be extravagant and fanciful, right?

Just scratching the surface, I know that cancer has altered my perspective in many ways. I experienced a battle. Not so much against cancer as that war was fought by my medical team. My fight was in sustaining myself while the weapons deployed to destroy the cancer wrecked havoc on my health, appearance, and psyche. As the side-effects of chemotherapy and radiation diminish daily, my struggle is winding down. I am not bitter from the experience, nor am I terribly frightened by my odds of reoccurrence. I am very, very thankful to have caught it before it progressed further and grateful beyond measure that it was not detected until my kids were grown and launched. I am also much more aware of the gift of health and feeling good. It is huge!

What I have gleaned during this detour, is that though we are often powerless over events or other people, we always have control over how we react. Fear, anger, and bitterness are Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 3.25.03 PMsuch draining forces. Joy and optimism can best be secured through prayer and faith in a higher power. Handing it all over to God was key, and in my situation, pretty easy to do. Let’s face it, one has no control over cancer. You either treat it or eventually die from it. Though it defies logic, thanksgiving in all things, both the good and the bad, does change one’s perspective. Scripture (1 Thesalonians 5:16-18) seems to understand the human soul better than I. Giving thanks for my situation when I felt miserable was odd, but I did it anyway. At the very least I could trust that He had a purpose beyond my comprehension. Counting your blessings is a stellar way to boost positive energy. Living in a first world country, we have much for which to be thankful!

I look back with a grateful heart for all the precious, generous friends and family that eased my way through treatment. Imagining a single woman doing this alone sounds dreadful. Thanks to a network of caring people and a loving God, I never felt alone. I am blessed beyond measure and will do my best to pay it forward. I’m uncertain whether I can ever properly show thanks for the many kindnesses I received. Please know that every card, gesture, bouquet, word of affirmation, balloon, gift, ride, meal, phone call, text, email, prayer, visit, lunch out, invitation, comment here….all encouraged me and made my flight less turbulent. For the rest of my days, I will carry the memory of just how completely I was embraced when my health betrayed me. Truly, you have all been the wind beneath my wings! Thank you.

IMG_4055

 

 

 

Advertisements

A bump or two in the road

IMG_5453First, a quick lesson on what radiation therapy looks like. Apparently it has changed over the last decade. Whereas conventional radiation machines deliver a wide beam at only a few angles, TomoTherapy uses CT imaging and then delivers radiation from all angles. Instead of a single beam of radiation, it divides one beam into many smaller, narrow “beamlets” which can deliver different doses of radiation. In short, it minimizes radiation exposure and thus damage to healthy tissue while targeting specific areas. The CT scan means that my treatment is customized on a daily basis. All in all, it is a miraculous apparatus!

One complaint I harbor against the TomoTherapy machine is that in order to not overheat, it periodically flips on a fan, much like a laptop. That fan chills the heck out of me. I’m only laying there for about fifteen minutes, but when I’m chilled, it feels like so much longer! The rests for my arms (perhaps racks is a more descriptive noun) are not pre-heated nor are they restful!  It took me a week of being miserably chilled to come up with a solution. I cut the arms off of an old polartec pullover and wear those in the machine.

A blood test last month shows that I must be one of the oldest women ever to have not reached menopause. Embarrassing, but true. Chemo, however, forced me into a kind of false menopause. I finally understand what so many of my friends complained about in the past. Hot flashes. Now, I can empathize! Unlike many friends, I cannot find relief in hormones. Estrogen and progesterone fed my cancer. I’ve read that acupuncture is a help for some women. I may pursue that route if the daily hormone blocking medication intensifies my symptoms.

This post wouldn’t be complete without an update on my hair! I was pleased as punch to have held on to some brows and lashes when I finished chemotherapy on March 7. You know what they say about counting chickens before they hatch? March 6th I started snapping a monthly head shot to chronicle the return of my hair. In that photo, I still have eyelashes. A month later, I believe I was down to about fourteen. Today, I may have three. Who knows? Without mascara they hardly show and that particular cosmetic is not currently part of my beauty routine.

This week, I was down to my last eyebrow hair. It was one of those wild, unruly hairs that normally I would have plucked. But no! It was all I had; I didn’t have the heart. Over the course of my chemo, my brows thinned and I was left with no option but to fill in with eyeshadow and a pencil or look brow-less. Even with no stray hairs to guide me, I believe I’ve gotten pretty adept at creating believable brows. By the end of the day they are a bit faded, but often, so am I!

The hair on my scalp, continues to grow and thicken and I celebrate it every morning when I step out of the shower looking less and less like an alien. At the gym last week, a hot flash hit. I looked around, realized that outside of the girlfriend I was with, I didn’t know a soul…and never do. Off came my cap. I had the shortest hair there…including the men! It’s color is a far cry from what it was when it fell out last November. I’ve been told I am lucky to have a good-shaped head and ears that don’t wing out. What else can you say to a bald woman? More recently I was told that it’s silver-gray hue makes the blue of my eyes pop and that with big earrings, I can pull this look off. I’m still wrapping my head around the change. Neither my father nor his mother had much gray. I was prepared for a lifetime of mousy brown; it highlights well. Coloring is not in the cards for awhile as my current do has already been chemically treated from within! Anyway, I cannot imagine the hassle it would be to deal with roots. Wonder if it will be a permanent thing. God only knows….and I mean that literally! Though still not long enough for public display, I’m hoping that sometime this summer I can shed Harriet and hats and sport an edgy, short style, albeit a gray one.

The other nasty surprise was that after keeping my nails covered with copious applications of tea tree oil-multiple times a day, they went south. Again, after I had completed chemotherapy. Two toenails began to pull away from their nail beds and two have turned a lovely shade of purple. Nail polish will not be on the docket this summer! Looks like I’m stuck with tea tree oil for the duration. When wearing sandals, I will have to explain to curious bystanders that no, I did not slam my big toe with a hammer. My fingernails are faring better, but they too are doing some strange things that point to pulling away from their foundations a wee bit as well.

If I look at the established risk factors for getting hormone receptor positive breast cancer, it really isn’t a surprise that I fell victim.  I am a woman. I am beyond 55 years old. My sister had it. I didn’t hit menopause before my 55th birthday. I am a social drinker…zero to three drinks in a weeks time. Did you know that just three drinks a week increases your chance of breast cancer by 15%?! I have dense breast tissue which made me six times more likely to develop cancer while also making it difficult to detect on mammograms. I am somewhere between mystified and incensed that in spite of regular self-exams, mammograms and breast MRI’s, my cancer wasn’t detected until it had compromised five lymph nodes…making it stage three. Sheesh, they tell me it started up to ten years ago! (For more information on risk factors go to: http://www.breastcancer.org/risk/factors).

I did a few things right…I maintained a healthy weight, had my first child before I was thirty, breastfed both kids a little over a year, never used hormone replacement therapy, exercise regularly, and I don’t smoke. It appears that the only thing I can change is to become a tee-totaler. As for my diet, I strive to eat more rabbit food…but I am a foodie. I will never give up the adventure of eating and cooking/baking wonderful, delectable bites!

Nineteen radiations down. Only eleven more to go. My skin is hanging in, though I am developing an itchy rash on the bony part of my chest. My esophagus only gets zapped six more times. The last five treatments will be on the tumor site only. From there, I meet back with my oncologist and prepare to start ten years of a daily medication that will block estrogen and starve any lingering cancer cells. Though the end is in sight, it seems the repercussions of treatment will be with me for quite some time. Something only fellow cancer survivors truly grasp. That and the shadow of a possible recurrence.

‘Tis wonderful to be on the upswing, feeling better every day. I am humbled at the incredible support provided by God, friends, and family. Humbled and blessed.

 

 

Time and Patience

Even with cancer treatments I am often reminded that I really do live a charmed life.  I was able to fill the two weeks between chemotherapy and radiation with some travel IMG_5119diversions. With my oncologist’s blessing, I spent five days in Puerto Vallarta with a girlfriend in her lovely new condo. Perched on a hill above the center of town, we had a spectacular view of the ocean just beyond quaint terracotta rooftops. How relaxing to be hosted by someone that knows their way around! I loved the vibe of Puerto Vallarta. Girl-time, the feel of the waves from the sunny deck of a boat, the cobblestone streets, the sounds of the city, laughter, the food…all left me feeling blessed and indulged.

IMG_5058My last day in Mexico, I wakened early to pack and prepare to head to the airport and my flight to Denver. As the morning progressed, a gnawing fatigue set in and my appetite vanished. At the airport my flight was delayed while my malaise increased. A glass of water and a can of ginger-ale on the plane helped a bit. Back in Denver I slogged home, drew a bath, soaked, and crawled into bed with a low grade fever. I spent a restless night, checking my temperature every time I wakened, which was often! By early morning it was normal. By mid-morning, my energy returned as well. Good thing as I had but two days to recover, do laundry, and repack before heading to Sedona, AZ with my guy!

IMG_5311

Hiking in Sedona was medicine for my soul…and body. Beautiful vistas in the distance and sweet wildflowers and cacti up close. Leonard was a gem, encouraging me to push myself a bit on the hiking while passing no judgement at my numerous stops to enjoy the views while catching my breath. With chemo behind me, the desire to regain strength, stamina, and muscle is mounting. I’ll need time, effort, and patience in abundance to return to where I was when I was hit by my diagnosis in late July.

The specialists cannot tell me exactly when all the toxins from chemo will be gone. All signs point to it’s diminishing presence in my body.  My taste buds are improving, my hair is starting to come back, I dropped eight to ten pounds of steroid-induced water weight (I gained nearly fifteen!), and I am noticing less pain and tingling in my fingers and toes. On the downside, as my lashes and brows gradually fall out, they are not being replaced. Horrors!  Those too will return, in time. My left eye has held on to twelve to fifteen lashes while my right eye has only five! Eyeliner hides much; mascara is hardly worth the trouble! I’ve gotten fairly adept at filling in my brows, though those too are getting awfully sparse. Super short hair, I think, looks better with big earrings and well defined eyes. I can supply the earrings. Patience, Lattise, and time required for the brows and lashes!

My locks are growing, but as expected, they don’t look like they did before they all fell out. After my highlights were shorn off in November, I had a light brown buzz. That masculine cut is looking pretty dang good to me now! The half inch that has grown is predominantly salt on top with salt and pepper on the sides. I would be frenzied, but this is normal. Chemo hair is often colorless. I’ve been warned that it’s next ruse will likely be to grow in super curly. Oh joy! Gray and kinky. Can I embrace that? The good news is that eventually it will straighten itself out. It may take up to two years for the color and texture to return to what is normal for me. Length will take longer. Time and patience required…again. In the meantime, hats, scarves, or Harriet cover a multitude of sins. It is still cool enough that going bare-headed is too chilly. It would be a gift to have enough hair come summer and warmer temperatures to feel confident in uncovering my scull in public. Fingers crossed!

My first of thirty radiation treatments took place last week. Every weekday morning I go in at 9:40. The whole thing takes about twenty-five minutes. I don a beguiling hospital gown and climb onto a narrow, cold plank of a bed, raise my arms above my head, tilt my chin up and turn my head to the left. Not exactly relaxing, but do-able. Laser beams are used to line up the tattoos and get me positioned just right. My first trip into the tube is for a set-up scan, a mini CT. It takes three or four minutes.  Out I come before going back in for the real thing. I’m “radiated” for just over six minutes. The sound inside the tube is like raindrops on a tin roof, accompanied by the country music I request. I’ve learned to bring my own blankets as I chill easily and their blankets do not cut it; a down-throw over my body and a prayer shawl over my arms.  Word is that over time, I am likely to experience increased fatigue and have some skin discomfort. I’ve also been told that compared to chemo, radiation is easy. In my quest to remain proactive, I have invested in vitamin E oil and an 87% aloe moisture cream to keep my skin calm and happy. So far, so good.

IMG_5345

Portia (my port) became history last Thursday. Though not as vexing as a pebble in your shoe, she was annoying!  I was thankful to have that stone in my chest during my three months of infusions. It meant only one needle poke and no searching for a good vein. Portia returned home with me in what appears to be a urine sample jar. I’m not sure what I’ll do with her. Probably pitch her, unless I can figure out how to make her into a Christmas ornament!  Most power ports are purple; IMG_5342mine was white. In the Fall, when Portia was implanted, I remember a nurse being sent to fetch a smaller model. I’m not the meatiest gal on earth, especially up top, and required something with a lower profile. She sure didn’t feel low-profile to me! In a swimsuit, I felt like I was sporting a third nipple.

I’ve completed six radiation treatments. That puts me at one fifth of the way done with this phase of treatment. May 2 should be my last day. I drove through Denver’s blizzard and hazardous roads Wednesday last week, so as not to miss a treatment. It was gnarly and I thanked God when both my car and I arrived back home none the worse for the wear.

The end is in sight! Soon, I’ll have to rejoin the female population in shaving unwanted hair from my legs and pits. That is one of the few perks of chemo; you lose all your hair. I cannot say that I have missed that feminine ritual! Still, I will celebrate it’s return in ways women that have not undergone chemotherapy cannot possibly understand!

 

 

 

 

Courage not required

Several years ago I ran into this coaster while having dinner. It has been taped to my bathroom mirror ever since! I believe I picked it up sometime after jumping into the abyss of experiencing, what at the time, seemed a surprising divorce. After thirty years of marriage I wasIMG_4943 in unknown and for me, frightening territory! As I made my way, I realized that it was much like learning to ski.

I was introduced to downhill skiing in my early forties when our family still lived in Sugar Land, a suburb of Houston. My first run down a blue (intermediate) run with an instructor at Park City was terrifying. Standing at the top, looking down, I felt as though I was being asked to jump out of a plane. I was that  person…whom is not well loved on the slopes by the locals…a beginner and  from Texas! Many lessons and years later at age 51, I felt just the same, as I looked over the cornice of Whale’s Tale, a double black run in Breckenridge. We had ridden up the Imperial chair lift, which holds the honor of being the highest in North America, reaching an elevation of 12,840 feet. From there we hiked up a short hill to traverse a sometimes narrow and rocky path to Whale’s Tail.

One of the gals in my regular Thursday lesson group saw my fear as I peered over the cornice to the steep precipice beyond it. “Sue, follow me,”she encouraged.  She easily dropped in by traversing the cornice. Still as a statue, my mind was screaming, “I don’t want to! Bad things are sure to happen!” The next gal suggested we make happy noises as we entered the run. Before long, each of us dropped in whooping and hollering “Woo Hoo!” I was over the cornice! I’d done it.

Next on the agenda was to make that first turn. The powder was deeper than I’d expected and that hill is a double black for a reason! It is steep, deep, and un-groomed. You can’t traverse for too long or you run into rocks. But making a turn means at some point your skis will be pointed straight down that steep incline and you will gather speed before you turn them far enough to traverse and slow down. It is very hard to get your body to do something when your brain is shrieking “NO! This is not a wise decision!” At least it is above tree-line, so I didn’t have to deal with those! Our fearless leader warned us before entering Whale’s Tale to look for white and ski there. Just as in life, you tend to go where you look; so don’t look at the rocks. Before getting to the rocks, I made my first turn, and then another and another. Whale’s Tail is a l-o-o-ong run. When we all gathered at the bottom, I looked up and was amazed at what I had accomplished.

whales-tail-2

Scary ventures don’t require fearlessness. You just have to saddle up…traverse the cornice, keep making turns, look where you want to go…and when you falter and fall; get up, dust yourself off, gather your wits (and equipment, if you lost some)….and start making turns again. Happy noises, smiling, and searching for silver linings in dark situations can and usually does help. Practice it enough and you can fool, even re-train your brain!

Looking at where you want to be rather than where you don’t really helps. Before you know it, you are at the bottom looking back at what you accomplished.  Who knew that I would acquire such practical life skills while learning to ski?! Truly all those lessons have empowered me to take more risks, embrace new things and new friends, and live with far less fear. Who would of thunk!  The journey of cancer is just another gnarly, double black run. I’ve been making turns, making happy sounds as best I can. I’m not to the bottom yet, but I’m nearly done with Phase II of treatment. Next Monday is my last chemotherapy infusion. Phase III is radiation and it starts March 21, 2016.

 

 

 

Tattoos!

Today, the day after my tenth Taxol infusion I went in for a CT simulation in preparation for radiation. I now sport, not three or four, but five tattoos! Nothing whimsical like a seahorse, a unicorn, or a butterfly…no tramp stamps, just pin points to help the radiologist set things up properly before they zap me. The goal is to target 1) the medial supraclavicular lymph nodes (located near the center of the body, above the collar bone), 2) the area where the axillary nodes were removed (in the armpit) and 3) the tumor site (at 10 o’clock near my ribs). The tattoos were not painful and are each smaller than a pin head. I really have to hunt to see them. Still, I’m feeling quite the edgy woman…all tatted up! I don’t start radiation for another month. I’ll be going in five days a week for five weeks to radiate all three locations. The sixth and final week, they will only radiate the tumor site.

Radiation increases my risk of lymphodema to 20%. The ribs on my right side may become fragile over time; so I need to start being really diligent in setting a habit of getting plenty of calcium in my daily diet. Finally, there is an increased chance of hypothyroidism as well as lung damage. Oh the joys of hearing possible side effects! I just have to remind myself that they are statistics. The odds are in my favor that I won’t experience any of these complications. So far, I’ve had a pretty easy ride. Hope springs eternal that it will continue in that vein. In the end, I don’t really have a choice; I want to take every measure to insure that this cancer never returns. On the bright side, since all this radiation takes place on my right side, my heart will be safe and sound.

Interestingly and happily, radiation is the exact opposite of sunburn in that fair complected skin reacts with less vengeance than dark complected. Still, anywhere that skin rubs against skin tends to become more irritated. I am celebrating my small breasts….no skin on skin at six o’clock. (Yes, that is how they describe locations…like a clock.) The biggest concern will be the area under my arm. So, don’t think I’m all sassy and/or bossy if I have my right hand on my hip a lot this Spring.

When I was first diagnosed in late-July, I had a frozen shoulder on the side where the cancer was growing. I incurred the original injury to my rotator cuff on a double black run named “Inferno” a year ago. I re-injured it when I slipped and crashed on a slippery boardwalk in Michigan in mid-July. Note to self: don’t power walk on wood surfaces after precipitation has fallen. I could barely raise my right arm to parallel with the ground. The ultra-sound, biopsies, MRI, and surgeries were difficult due to my arm’s lack of mobility. Between therapy and regular doses of an intravenous steroid administered before chemo, my range of motion is nearly normal! A good thing as I must have both my arms raised and out of the way during radiation. Another silver lining, another prayer answered.

Now I’m off to the shower to scrub the Sharpie markings from my skin. Quite an interesting morning all the way round!

 

 

Nearing the Finish Line

Tuesday marked my thirteenth infusion. Only three more to go! Not sure whether it is divine intervention, attitude, decent genes, proactive care, exercise, or just the pre-chemo steroids; but I am filled with energy. Each day I awaken and thank God that I feel pretty darn close to normal. I believe it is a combination of all of the above. With energy comes freedom to do things. Being busy in normal day-to-day activities, with a sprinkling of fun is a godsend.

The weekend of Super Bowl Sunday, my guy and I drove up to Breckenridge Friday afternoon. My very gracious and generous U of I friend let us use her lock-off for a couple of nights. The same one I rent for two months each ski season. It was like coming home! The views of the Breckenridge ski resort are spectacular. I simply had to sleep with the shades up so that I could watch the lights of the groomers on all five peaks as I fell to sleep. Leonard hit the black diamond slopes at Beaver Creek Saturday, while I went snowshoeing with two downhill ski buddies. I wish I could better describe the peaceful beauty we witnessed, the friendliness of the few hikers we ran into, and the diamond sparkles the sun made in the snow. It was heavenly. After our hike we headed for a leisurely lunch at The Warming Hut restaurant on Main Street. These gals showed such support and warmth; my soul was nourished. The following morning a quick get-away back to Denver, before I-70 filled to capacity, was deemed the best idea. Back home, our week-end was crowned with a Super Bowl win by our own Denver Broncos shared with a few close friends and one precious daughter (his, not mine).

IMG_4811

The following weekend, I was off to Illinois to visit my sister’s family to celebrate two big events. In May, I shall become a great aunt! My niece flew in from Seattle for a baby shower and I was so pleased to be able to attend. Valentine’s Day, we drove down for an early 96th birthday celebration for my Mom. I was gone four days and though my sister and brother-in-law pampered me, I didn’t feel as though I was too much of a burden. Moreover, I felt empowered. Chemo is no longer shackling me to my couch! Knock on wood, I no longer have “bad days” to work around. I can make plansAll things considered, I seem to be living a charmed life; albeit one that includes the menacing disease and treatment of cancer.

IMG_4856

In my quest for comfort and maintenance, I had my teeth cleaned after just three months. Probably unnecessary, but good to hear that in spite of dry mouth, my gums are healthy. An ultrasonic humidifier has reduced my Taxol-induced cough significantly. A Sinus Rinse bottle, though not exactly a pleasant experience, produces results that are well worth the momentary discomfort. Call me nuts, but using a tongue cleaner/scraper seems to reduce the “off” taste that is a distinctive feature produced by Taxol. That isn’t to say that it makes my food taste any better. I throw salt and then more salt on most savory dishes these days.

It seems no blog entry of mine would be complete without a mention of my wig, Jenn. My niece came to this blog after the official naming of my cranial prosthesis.  Initially, the wig was named after Jennifer Aniston, the girl who does not know the meaning of a bad hair day. I had hoped Jenn would become a cherished friend. That has not happened. “Coworker” my brother-in-law suggested. Bingo! Though I am pleased to work with her, I don’t want to hang out with her after hours. My niece came up with the perfect name: Harriet. It fits her to a tee!  If my port is named Portia then a wig called Harriet just makes sense! So Harriet it is from now on! I am anxious to have my own hair back, though I’ve been told by a chemo PA to anticipate it taking two years. I was encouraged recently when lunching with a girlfriend that, in June of 2014, had extremely aggressive chemo in preparation for a bone marrow transplant. Her darling pixie cut gave me hope.

I don’t know whether it is changing hormones, for which it is about time, or whether it is Harriet, but my mean temperature has risen. Whereas I used to be chilled nearly all the time, I am warmer now. A wig is like a winter hat; there just isn’t the ventilation of real hair! Bundling up in heavy sweaters and blankets is my norm. At home, when I have put on too many layers, removing Harriet is the fastest way to let off steam, as it were. If only I could do that in public!

There is light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve been assured by breast cancer sisters and medical professionals alike that after chemo, radiation is usually a breeze. I’ve been warned that the initial hair growth on my head will be odd and not likely to resemble the end result. So Harriet will continue to be a coworker for longer than I had hoped.

On a brighter note, I am still hanging on to some eyebrows and eyelashes. They are sparse, but there. I do hope they will last another three weeks. My sweet noggin looks a bit whacky in that I never lost all my hair. Apparently the few white ones have stronger roots than the rest. So, though I look quite bald, I have this sparse little crewcut of white that is easier to feel than to see. In my bleaker moments, I worry…could it mean the chemo isn’t destroying all the cancer cells within? In better moments, I know that I have fared well. Memories of the rough days of the “big guns” are dimming as they are added to the history file. Soon the Taxol will be but a memory as well. The finish line is in sight!

 

Gaining Strength

I had my fifth of twelve Taxol infusions yesterday, January 19. I usually go in on Mondays, but the clinic took MLK day off, so this week it was Tuesday. I am happy to report that as the adriamycin and cytoxan departed my body last month, my energy level improved while the headaches and nausea disappeared.

I’m on a cardio routine that one of my oncology rehab therapists created after putting me through a stress test. Adriamycin does quite a number on the heart; when implemented properly, cardio exercise improves energy during treatment. It is challenging to keep my heart rate at a mere 109 to 120 bpm for thirty minutes. I feel like I am exercising in slow motion. I look and feel like a total weenie on the elliptical at the gym. Three days a week and not on consecutive days is the rule. Pretty easy stuff! At least now….not so much six weeks ago. Chemo is humbling at so many levels!

Between my fatigue and the holidays I fought the blues more often than I like to admit.  December into early January were tough. Though it was a piece of heaven having both kids and Sarah’s guy, Chris, here over the holidays…it was also frustrating to be limited in how much I could do with and for them! Timing is everything and though they did not see me at my worst, I wasn’t at my best either!

DSC_0224

Having Sarah to take me to and from infusions was lovely. That first Tuesday, in spite of her jet lag, we took advantage of my energy boost and spent the entire day shopping. It is such a treat to shop with this girl. She spots things I don’t! We spent so much time at the CAbi outlet that they found an excuse to increase our savings from 40 to 50%. We made out like bandits!

Periodically, a saleslady would knock on the door with a new size for Sarah or myself.  Often I was bald as a cue ball and did my best to shrink into the corner of the dressing room behind the door. We think the woman must have spied me through the mirror because Sarah noticed that she and the other clerk were really checking out my hair at the register. Ahh, the joys of wearing Jenn. You try pulling a sweater over synthetic hair…it either comes off….or gains so much static that you look like you just put your finger in a socket. Though Jenn is less of an enemy now…I fear she is not likely to upgrade beyond the term “frienemy.” She may look perfect, but she has a penchant for making me uncomfortable all the way round.

Sarah helped me discover that strangers often don’t process that there is no hair tucked up under my cap. So now I embrace going out in comfortable headgear more and more often. I’m actually getting compliments on my millinery from total strangers! A touch of make-up doesn’t hurt and so far my eyelashes and eyebrows are holding. Apparently my father was right, if you put a smile on your face, people don’t notice the flaws. I’ve learned that my self-consciousness is truly mine to own. Sometimes we just have to get over ourselves! Focusing on others is far more appreciated and usually more productive too.

I have figured out the Taxol routine and find that I am only limited on  infusion day, and that night. The premed infusions of Benadryl, Prilosec, and Dexamethasone mean at least a two hour nap when I return home (Benadryl related) followed by a nearly sleepless night (due to the Dexamethasone). That steroid packs a punch! The following day, I’m like the energizer bunny. No appetite, a bounce to my step and a sparkle to my eye that belies poisons coursing through my veins coupled with nearly no sleep the previous night!

Fatigue is still present, but not with the same intensity. In truth, the only really annoying symptoms I am currently experiencing are dry mouth and the interrupted sleep it causes, taste buds that are off, a persistent dry cough, and very slight neuropothy in my finger tips. A trip to Benihana’s with the kids and their father proved that I still have the dexterity to manipulate chopsticks just fine, thank you!

After the second Taxol infusion, my fingertips were red, shiny, and puffy. So much so that my iPhone could not read my fingerprint! Honestly, I was a bit panicked. I now have an arsenal of products and a routine for their use that borders on fanatical. Cracked nail beds are a possible side effect of Taxol…not nails….nail beds! That does not sound like a pleasant experience, so I am on it like glue. Keeping my mouth, nails, and skin moisturized is now a part-time job for me and a source of revenue for Walgreens! Hands and nails look good so far.

IMG_4780

A concern during my third Taxol infusion arose. My red count was getting too low. The nurse informed me that if it registered below nine, they might schedule me for a blood transfusion. A day spent getting a couple of bags of new blood sounds simple enough, but really, how invigorating does five hours in a barca-lounger sound? Yes, the blood would be revitalizing; but feeling like a patient is getting really old! Sarah cooked up Cream of Wheat for me each morning. Leonard and I went out for mussels (I draw the line at liver.) We prepared steaks several different ways. I discovered that Frosted Mini Wheats have 90% of your daily requirement for iron. The end result? I raised my diminishing red count from 9.3 to 9.9 in just one week! This week I was up to 10.

Friends continue to be the wind beneath my wings. A month ago, a thoughtful Breckenridge buddy called to offer me a ride to and from the mountains to attend book group and an annual ornament exchange party. My energy was quite low; I never would have attempted the trip on my own. I gratefully accepted and enjoyed two evenings out with girlfriends. Granted, I spent the day in between wrapped up in a blanket doing computer work by her fireplace; but what a boost it was to my spirit to get out and connect with some of my Breck peeps! On the home front, two bighearted girlfriends set up a schedule to get me to and from infusions without me having to ask. Brought tears to my eyes. I would rather do it myself than ask for help. I hate being a burden. Other friends delivered delicious meals that were much appreciated when all the kids were here. What a gift to be that person that anticipates the need of another and then  fulfills it without being asked. How I long to develop that talent!

Leonard has been a beacon of hope and support. His no-nonsense yet caring attitude helps me keep my head up. When he is able, he takes me to my infusions at 7:00 AM. When I was too weak to do much of anything, he brought groceries over and cooked for me. He quietly keeps an eye on my energy level, not so quietly encourages me to eat-even though I have gained, not lost a few pounds. Several weeks ago, he commented that my eyes looked better. Not understanding what he meant, I looked at him quizzically, wondering if they had taken on a yellow tinge or something. No, they look brighter…like they used to. It cannot be fun hanging out with a chemo patient. Some would find it too scary or boring or ugly. Another might react with anger stemming from fear. Not this guy. He is a rock. And I am blessed. God is good.

Last week I accomplished a solo trip to Breckenridge to join a large gathering of ski buddies and instructors for cocktails at the Nordic Center. Upon returning to Denver, I packed and joined Leonard on a three-day family trip to one of his sisters in Bakersfield, CA. I returned home feeling empowered that energy and stamina are words I can use in describing myself.  Hallelujah!

I hope I don’t sound trite, but I must give God the credit….and all the people that have been lifting me up in prayer. Thank you! Though this journey is not one I would have specifically asked for, I am finding pearls of wisdom along the way. The key is to notice them and pick them up…not trample them in the haste of “getting things done.”

Peace be with you. Love and Light. Namaste. Aloha. Ciao. Sawadee Ka. xoxo.