First Post of 2017

You read that right. It’s May and I’m putting out my first post of 2017. There hasn’t been much to talk about. Or at least, I haven’t felt like talking about it.

My hair is growing out. It’s kind of fun! If you don’t get too caught up in the growing mullet around the back, that is. Here I am 5 months post-chemo:

I took this while sitting in the infusion center. Yep, still getting treatments. My last one will be in August. I don’t mind the treatments this year, though. They don’t make me sick.

My nails are starting to look better, too. I think the ends that came off the nail bed have almost grown completely out. They never bothered me; they just looked rough.

From time to time I still experience things that remind me I’ve had chemo: memory lapses, mental fog (can’t find words), low appetite, and other minor things. Surgery and radiation have restricted my range of movement in my right arm slightly, but it’s not really noticeable unless I have a itch I can’t scratch.

I got my first saline expansion this week. 50 cc’s. I am now almost an A cup. Hello to being 12 again! I will get 50 cc’s per week until I reach the size I am happy with. It will take a couple months, but by the end of summer I should actually have a chest again.

Some days I do miss my real breasts. I didn’t think I would, but like most things in life, you don’t miss something until it’s gone. I will say, though, that I don’t have to wear a bra with most things, and I don’t have to hold my chest anymore while running down the stairs. So there are perks! No pun intended.

Every day I actively try not to think about recurrence. I stay away from breast cancer forums, skip over articles that mention it, and fill my mind with everything in life that I love. It’s what works for me. If I didn’t do this I would go crazy. It’s how I fight depression and major anxiety. It’s how I get back to my life, and live to the fullest. So I don’t apologize for it.

This summer’s going to be busy, but I hope with all my heart that it will be good-busy.

God’s leading me down this path of learning who He really is, learning how real He is, and learning how to really believe Him. It’s taken me almost 3 years to get here; He started this with me just after Luke was born. I went through almost 2 years of questioning everything about my faith, about God, and about life in general. Not sure why, maybe it’s an existential crisis of my 30s. Maybe it’s because I was a new mom and Satan knew when to attack. Maybe it’s because God knew I’d need a major spiritual overhaul before -and during- being diagnosed with cancer. All I know is that it was scary for a while, as I didn’t know where I would end up – but I can see now that God used it (IS using it) to develop authenticity in me. I am developing a perspective of God that I was hungry for, and I didn’t even know it.

I want to be careful to point out that this didn’t happen right after diagnosis or during treatment. It started when Luke was an infant. And my faith didn’t automatically get stronger when I was faced with a life or death diagnosis. I didn’t necessarily draw close to God during treatment. I just held on tight and asked Him to get me through it. Not the most spiritual of journeys, I know, but I’m being honest. I was either sick or tired most of the time, and He wasn’t a priority. But I trusted Him to get me through it. And it’s part of a bigger picture of what He’s been developing in me over the past few years.

There’s no escaping how scary this cancer stuff is, even if you’re declared “cancer free.” I don’t know if I’ll be one of those people whose cancer returns. And there’s nothing I can do to ensure I stay cancer free. It’s truly an unknown.

The only thing I can do is cling to the God who says that even if that happens to me, that He is still very real, that He is astonishingly powerful, that He is more than what I can see or contemplate, and that I don’t know what He has in store for me and my family – and that’s not necessarily a scary thing.

From my Bible study this week:

He persevered because he saw Him who is invisible.” -Hebrews 11:27

Scattered Thoughts

I’m not sure if anyone reads this blog. I want people to talk to, but I don’t want to burden them. Everyone has some big battle they are fighting. Something breaking their heart. It’s not just me. Cancer is tough, but… so is life. Mine just has a treatment plan.

Nevertheless, having cancer is very isolating, regardless of how many people you have around you and how supportive they are. Even though I’m not alone, I feel alone a lot. It sucks. I want to write, but when I consider sitting down to write I feel like I’m looking for attention. I don’t like that feeling. But at the same time I can’t help but want to get my thoughts out. This diagnosis is a big deal. It’s something I haven’t owned up to yet, that I have cancer.

I’m 33. Married 6 years. I have a 2 year old. And I have cancer.

I haven’t been functioning as though it’s real; I go through the motions with doctors appointments and stuff, but my head and my heart haven’t accepted it, and don’t want to. And I think that’s okay to some extent – it’s HUGE, and it’s how I keep myself from falling apart under the magnitude of it. It’s not like I’m not going to my appointments, or not putting up the fight of my life. I am.

At some point though I need to keep writing. If I don’t, I am going to crumble under the weight of this. It’s heavy. I need people to help me carry this emotional load, just as they’ve been helping us carry this load in practical ways.

My friends and family have been incredibly wonderful. So many people have stepped up; the things they do and say and bring – I didn’t know people could be so compassionate, so giving of themselves. I have never felt such overwhelming love in my life. It’s really the only time I weep, when I realize or reflect upon what the people in my life are doing to help us through this. I mean, Jeff’s mom is here an entire week (if not longer) after each chemo session to help with everything we need (laundry, dishes, groceries, errands, Luke…oh I can’t even tell you what it means to have her help with Luke). She is the definition of a God-send. We’ve had multiple friends bring us not just one, but two or three meals. And these are friends that have their own little ones, their own busy lives, their own burdens. I’m left speechless, and I honestly feel silly just saying “thank you.” Thank you is for someone who picks up a pen you drop and hands it back to you. This…what these friends and family are doing for us…this is so much more. They are the hands and feet of Jesus.

People ask how I’m doing; they truly want to know, and I want to tell them. I just can’t seem to focus my writing here so that it makes sense to everyone around me. I can barely articulate it to Jeff most days. It’s been 4 months since I was diagnosed…thousands of thoughts are always swirling around in my head. I want to write about each of them individually. They all matter to me. They all tug at me.

Fear of recurrence. Not being able to be the wife and mother I want to be. Not being able to be the friend, daughter, or sister I want to be. Stepping up to the role God’s calling me to, and knowing what that role entails. Worrying about what chemo is doing to my body (even though I know I had to do it). Fear of recurrence. Wondering if Jeff and I will ever have more biological children, and if it’s even safe to. Worrying about how Luke at his young age is absorbing and processing all of this. Worrying about Luke’s future. Worrying about what I eat. Having major surgery soon. Fear of recurrence. Wondering what radiation will do to my body. Wanting “normal” life back. Wondering if my new normal will be filled with anxiety after all the treatments are complete. Did I mention fear of recurrence?

There is a weird comfort in being in ACTIVE treatment, because you know doctors are watching you like a hawk and something is being done to save your life. There is something entirely different and unsettling about getting past treatment, and knowing you have to live every day wondering if it’s going to come back. Or even worse, come back as Stage 4, which seems to be common based on the stories I read. I subconsciously worry about Stage 4 recurrence 24/7. That fear never goes away, and I don’t think it ever will. “Past treatment” will be next September for me, as I finish my final Herceptin infusion then. But mentally, I don’t know if I’ll ever be cancer free.

When people ask how I’m doing, I tell them I’m fine, and honestly I am in a lot of ways. But it’s mostly what you say to get by. It’s not like you can respond with, “I often think about cancer recurrence down the road” or “I bawled like a baby the other night when I was too scared to hug my son after preschool, for fear of catching germs that would send me to the hospital.”

This is my new normal. It’s hard. It’s nothing I can’t handle, but not without support. I just have to learn to open up more. The Valium they gave me isn’t strong enough to calm all my fears.

Wig Shopping

Went shopping for wigs yesterday with one of my BFFs, Elizabeth. There’s a place called Loving Arms Cancer Outreach in our area that gives cancer patients 2 free wigs – so I took ’em up on it! They were wonderful. Incredibly warm and friendly, and bless her heart, the girl that helped me try on wigs had some serious patience!

I had so much fun. I must have tried on 10-15 wigs, and it came down to 3. Had to choose. That was the part that took about half an hour…yikes! Like I said, the girl’s got patience…as did Elizabeth who had no place to sit, and hung in there while I made my oh-so-difficult choice. (Have I mentioned you rock, girl?!)

Here are the final two I brought home –

The Winner:

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and The Fun One:
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As a natural blonde I definitely needed a blonde wig. Something to make me feel like ME. Plus there is something about my skin tone that just isn’t right with most of the dark wigs…except auburn red.

Sigh.

I went in looking for a dark red color as my #2 wig, but unfortunately they didn’t have a good looking red one. The one to the left is a dark brown, which I love, and that’s close enough. It has a bit of red to it when it catches the light, too. I just need to be sure to color in my eyebrows, wear some solid eye makeup, and use a little bronzer when I wear it, so I don’t look silly. Oh and lipstick. The right shade of lipstick, whatever that may be (any brunettes have any tips?). The picture to the left was taken after my makeup had faded a bit. (The blonde pics above are after I spruced up, and took my head scarf and moved it down to where it belongs!)

So below is wig #3 that I was debating on for a long time. I couldn’t decide if I should bring home the 2 blonde ones, or pick one of the blonde ones and keep the dark one. I ultimately decided that I wanted to live a little and try some dark hair for the first time in my life (when else am I going to get to do this? I so don’t have the guts to ever color my real hair dark!). So it was down to deciding which of the 2 blonde ones to keep.

I think I made the right choice. The one below was cute and full, and it looked somewhat natural on me since I typically have very full hair. But those bangs…I just could not get them to lay right or feel natural to me. Because of that, it kinda had a dorky vibe going on. I am just not a thick, cut-straight-across bangs kind of girl. I rarely have had bangs before, and when I have them, they are longer, much less thick, and tend to fall to the side–where I like them.

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See…it’s cute. But something’s not quite there. I’m glad I chose what I did – here’s a comparison of the 2 blondes from further away:

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See the difference? The top one looks like mom hair to me. I might as well wear a sign that says “I gotta pick up the kids at soccer practice later, so let’s get a move on.” (Ironically, I am a mom, lol.) The bottom one makes me feel pretty. Like date night pretty, or night out with the girls pretty. I need that right now. It was no contest …at least, it wasn’t after half an hour of decision-making. 😉

Oh! Have to share… here are the ones I tried on just for laughs. I had Elizabeth get a picture of each one. (She’s the best!)

Oh, Bother! I Should Write.

I have SO much to write, so much to catch up on. I could think of about 8 posts I want to write right now. I’ve been MIA mainly because I’m doing relatively well, and just out enjoying it for once. Well, that, or I’m just too tired to write at any given time. Probably because I’m finally doing stuff!

Maybe tonight I’ll write some. It is Election Day, after all. Normally I’d have some wine with that, but since I haven’t felt up to drinking alcohol on chemo, a girl’s gotta get her Election Day therapy somehow. I mean, our candidates… sheesh.

A quick recap of the past few weeks:

  • This past week was absolutely perfect. It was week 2 after a chemo treatment, and the *entire* time I felt well. We got to do all kinds of fun stuff with Luke: Trick-or-treating, his BFFs race car-themed birthday party (and for those of you that know Luke, a car-themed party is pretty much as good as it gets), and his preschool’s fall festival where he sang with his schoolmates in front of a crowd, rode a tractor hayride, jumped in a toddlers-only bouncy house, and chased pet some farm animals. Then today I took him to vote with me, it was his first time and he did great. I mean, it’s been a GREAT week. Best I’ve had in a long time. Probably the best Jeff and Luke have had in a while, too.
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He wanted to be Scooby Doo. I wanted an excuse to have colorful hair, or just hair in general. Apparently Jeff wants to be on MASH. Everybody wins!
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Look at that boldness. He doesn’t get that from me! He held the mic the ENTIRE time, all 4 songs. Love that kid.
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“Hello ducks.” That’s what he kept saying, as he’d chase them.
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While waiting in line to vote: “Let’s keep moving mommy”… “Where are we mommy?”… “What’s going on?”  LOL. Notice the haircut I finally gave him yesterday.
  • After my second round of chemo, my breast care specialist took an ultrasound of my tumors to see if the chemo is doing it’s job. Great news – it is. I was originally diagnosed with several very small tumors in my right breast, not sure how many, but I’m guessing around 4-6, as well as a tumor in one lymph node. Most had shrunk, and the others she couldn’t even see anymore, including the one in my lymph node. The largest one, which started at 1.5cm, is now 0.5cm. That’s shrinkage by two-thirds after only 2 rounds of chemo! Crazy, right?!
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  • After the second round, my oncologist reduced the dose on a couple of my chemo drugs, and it has made every bit of difference in how well I’m feeling in weeks 2-3. My first two rounds were so hard on my body that she really felt we should reduce it, and I wasn’t going to argue with her (A week straight of diarrhea? Severe dehydration? Drastic weight loss? Hospitalization? Yes, reduced dose please!!) When I started this chemo nightmare, they told me that I’d have about a week of feeling sick/fatigued/like I got hit by a bus, whatever you want to call it. And that every day as I got closer to the end of that one week, I’d gradually feel better. That was not at all the case in the first couple of rounds, but I will say that with the reduced dose, it is now. I felt like myself almost exactly a week after my chemo this round. I feel like I can actually live my life (within reason!) for the remainder of chemo now, instead of being chained to the bed or the couch – or the toilet, let’s be honest. In weeks 2-3, I am hungry enough to eat often, have gained a few pounds back, and (gasp!) I can even taste my food! So, so grateful. I just hope that I still have a great pathological response to chemo and that the reduced dose doesn’t affect the outcome.food
  • Right when I went in for this 3rd round, my menopause hit its peak. Poor, poor Jeff. I’d had some hot flashes for a couple months, but during this peak of about 4-5 days they were much more frequent, and way more intense. And you have the mood swings. Oh, dear. One night, when I was on steroids (you take them for 3 days around each chemo treatment, to ward off severe reactions to the drugs…but they give you horrible insomnia)…anyway, one night when I was on them I knew I wasn’t going to get any sleep, and this also happened to be during my menopause peak. Poor Jeff sweetly and innocently told me to “sleep well” right as we turned the lights out. I don’t remember what I said to him, I just remember that it wasn’t pretty. I may have even growled at him. I knew I wasn’t going to sleep well, I was jealous that he was, and I was very menopausal. Looking back, it’s kind of hilarious, but Jeff probably doesn’t think so.

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For what it’s worth, it really was just a peak, and I’m much better now. It didn’t even last a week. Jeff even agrees with me on that!

There’s so much more to catch up on, but I’ll stop there for now. This was meant to be a quick “I need to write, I will write tonight” post, but chatty Cathy over here can’t seem to shut up! You spend so much time alone in your thoughts with this diagnosis, that when you blog, it really does all come out. Good luck to my readers out there!

Leftovers

Umm…I just found this online:

…another food myth: Leftovers are safe to eat until they look bad or taste bad….

Our recommendation is to use leftovers or cooked food from the restaurant within three to four days. A lot of people think food can stay in there until it looks bad, that if there’s no mold growing on it, it’s safe to eat. The kinds of bacteria that cause food poisoning don’t affect the look, smell or taste of food.

The concern is people with compromised immune systems or weakened immune systems, especially if they’re older or have diabetes, that makes them more susceptible to contracting a food-borne illness, Hanes says.

….Another food myth has to do with people leaving food out overnight, Hanes says.

They may have made a big pot of soup, chili or lasagna, and they fell asleep or forgot to put it away. The following morning they have this large amount of food that they don’t want to throw away. They know there’s a risk that bacteria grew, but they think by cooking it again or reheating, it’s going to destroy the bacteria.

“We tell people all the time you should cook the food to destroy the bacteria. However, when food is left out like that for more than two hours or overnight, some bacteria release toxins in the food and you can’t kill that,” Hanes says. “There’s no way for you to know which bacteria could be present. We say anytime a perishable food item has been left out at room temperature for more than two hours, you should throw it away. You can’t reheat it to make it safe.”

So…we’re known for leaving out a casserole overnight and eating it the next day. One day won’t hurt you, and that’s typically been true for us.

But I guess I just discovered something for ME right now… I have a compromised immune system. I ate those leftovers that were sitting out overnight. And I know it’s not the first time I’ve done that since starting chemo, and I remember getting sick the last time, too.

Guess I won’t be doing that anymore.

HEY! I figured something out that might help me!! WOO HOO!!!

Things Aren’t So Funny Today

*Disclaimer: If you are weirded out by me talking about diarrhea or other gross tummy troubles, you may not want to read this. Heck, you probably shouldn’t be following this blog! I guess it goes without saying that I’m going to talk about diarrhea in this post. Okay, carry on.

So like the title says, things aren’t so funny today. It’s one thing to just have fatigue, it’s a whole ‘nother to see my horrifying tummy troubles come back…IN WEEK 3.

You see, week 3 is that golden week where it’s been 2 weeks since my last chemo treatment, and I’m only a few days away from my next one. In week 3, the effects of the drugs on my body are starting to wear off, save for the fact that I still have limited energy. Can’t do much without crashing, or taking frequent breaks. Not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. In other words…week 3 is (mostly) glorious. Or at least I thought so.

Last night right before dinner I felt my stomach rumble. Pain. I thought back to what I had for lunch…leftovers from the night before. It didn’t give me any trouble earlier that day.

I kinda had a feeling something not fun was coming, I just didn’t care…I wanted to eat my dinner anyway. Enter: anger. It was almost done cooking, it was one of my favorite meals (chicken divan), and I was NOT going to have soup tonight. I have noticed that nothing gets me more angry or more depressed in this journey faster than when I have to eat jello and soup when all I really want is a real meal. For heaven’s sake I’m hungry!!!

Now, when I feel like soup and jello, that’s a different story. That’s totally fine. It’s just insanely frustrating to know dinner is right there, you’re hungry, you want it so much, but your stomach is screaming at you to not eat it…or else. And the anger and depressing thoughts get worse if you let it simmer in your head that this is your life for the next few months. Doesn’t sound like too long of a time probably, but try telling yourself that over and over again, week after week, when you’re hungry. I believe they call it “hangry” — but in this case, it goes on for a long, long time.

Long story short, I woke up at 1am and was up for an hour with painful diarrhea. And it wasn’t the dinner, since I know the pain started before dinner…but I know the dinner didn’t help it. Part of me just ate it and said I don’t care, it will be worth it.

You see, I can’t taste my food anymore. Like, 90% of things – can’t taste ’em. I even tried Doritos the other day, thinking, surely these will show themselves. Nope.

And dinner last night…I could taste it!! I’ve very recently noticed that I can taste curry-based things. What’s great is that I LOVE curry. What’s probably not so great is that by the end of this year, Jeff probably won’t ever want it again. You know, since I’ll be requesting it a lot more now.

But yeah, it was worth it.

I’m still angry and feeling a little down this morning…I mean, this is WEEK 3. And when your life becomes a stomach battle 24/7, it can get pretty depressing.

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But…getting to taste my dinner and enjoying meal time for once, that felt good.

Until I woke up this morning, earlier than usual, tired, and feeling like my body was depleted and weak, and still feeling some rumbles. Anyone can tell you diarrhea dehydrates you, but it also depletes a lot of the basic electrolytes and enzymes in your body that it needs. (Which is why I’m always in the cancer center getting IV fluids.) So I made some white bread toast to put something in my stomach (again, ugh, I want something else), and filled a large cup with a water and Gatorade mix. And I’m hoping for the best. I have a work call at 2:00, and I need to get out of my funk and at least try to act like I have it all together.

The first round, week 3 was not bad. I wonder if I just pushed myself too much this round, going on a few outings and draining my energy. Can that mess with your stomach?

2 more days ’til we get to start this all over again. Dreading it, but trying to hold onto hope that this upcoming round will be a little less crazy, and that we’ve learned some things from the first 2 rounds that will help.

Not laughing today, but that’s what this blog is for. Writing it out. Therapy. It already does make me feel a little bit better.

I just can’t believe people are reading about my diarrhea. I almost made this blog private. But people keep asking how I’m doing, and well, this is how I’m doing.

In other news…Luke just came up to give me a kiss. That’s all he wanted. To kiss mommy. I think my day will get better…

Cancer To-Do’s

Okay so Jeff and I are trying to work better as a team to make sure things that we need or want to get done don’t slip through the cracks. (Jeff is the hubby, for those of you who may be reading this blog and don’t know me.) Generally, I’m not great at this, but right now with chemo brain, I’m ridiculously horrible at it. Honestly, I’m a sucky communicator in general and I know it drives him nuts that most of my thoughts just swirl around in my head and I don’t actually tell him what’s in there a lot of the time. I’ve just always been a super independent person, not to mention introverted, and a “I can get this done no need to bother you” kind of person.

And then I got married.

And then I got sick. And then I got chemo brain. Etc. Etc.

So yeah, it’s a bit of a struggle, especially right now, but nothing thousands of married couples don’t deal with on a daily basis. Communication is super important..all that good stuff.

Anyway, we are now linked up together on a website that allows us to sync our to do lists/needs. He sends me an email to sign up, so I open up the email that invites me to join our private little communication platform…and the first thing I see is this:

“Cancer to do’s.”

I. crack. up. Not really sure why…but that is just funny to me. That’s the name he gave it.

“Oh you know, these are just my to-do’s. For cancer. If you need me I’ll be organizing a chemo room pot luck.”
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Don’t ask me why that name is so funny. I have no idea. This is just my new normal…finding the humor in things where I can. Because how else do you get through cancer?

I love my hubby desperately. Totally not making fun of him. I just felt a laugh spring up and I had to go with it.

On that note, I think I’ll end with this. It is scary movie season, after all (at least for Jeff…he can’t get me to watch them with him, bless his heart!)….Happy October!

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