About this blog

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 11, 2010. As a result of my treatment, I have lymphedema in my left arm. I draw my strength from the Lord, as well as my family's Scots-Irish heritage. Our Graham's were a tough and scrappy bunch of fighters on the Scottish/English border. They came to America and continued to fight when necessary: in the American Revolution; the Civil War; and my brother is a Captain in the U.S. Army. My ancestors settled this country against all odds. My great-grandmothers on both sides of the family were pioneer women who settled the West. Along with that heritage, and the full armor of God, I am walking the walk and fighting the good fight.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Physical Therapy....Finally!

I had my long awaited appointment with a physical therapist today-nearly 6 weeks post op. I was interested in finding out from the therapist about my recovery from surgery and to see what activities I am "allowed" to do now. I also wanted to learn about how to avoid lymphedema.

The therapist was actually a lymphedema specialist. Lymphedema is an accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the interstitial tissue that causes swelling. It can develop when lymphatic vessels are missing or impaired (primary), or when lymph vessels are damaged or lymph nodes removed (secondary). In my case, it is secondary since all of the lymph nodes under my left arm were removed.

This condition, or the threat of it, is going to be something that I am on alert for throughout the rest of my life. A swelling of my left arm and hand can develop at any time.

She asked to see my scars, and offered to step out of the room so I could put on a gown. Don't bother! I'm not shy about my chest in front of medical types any more. I just stripped off my tank top and pulled my camisole down around my waist. Whatever. She said it looked "really good." Seriously? THAT is good? I told her it reminded me of Frankenstein. She suggested that I massage the scars to loosen up the tissue. That'll be easy since I'm rubbing Vitamin E oil on them twice a day anyway. She said that the looser the scars are, the better. Especially down the road when I am having radiation treatment.

The first thing she did was to measure my hands and arms at various places to find a baseline. No big deal, although it left little black sharpie marks on my arms. I had been concerned about a strange fibrous "band" under my left arm and showed her. No problem, she said. She had me lie down on my back and she pressed hard on each end of the band. It was a little uncomfortable. Then she had me move my arm up and down, like I was making a one-armed snow angel. She heard it go "pop, pop, pop" and then it was gone. I didn't hear the popping, but my head was on a pillow with a paper protective cover, so all I heard was the sound of the paper rustling. She said it was scar tissue in the lymph area, referred to as axillary "webbing." I found this interesting website about it. I think I'll bookmark it just in case it comes back. (It has pictures if you want to see what it looked like-I just don't have permission to repost them).

Because I have no lymph nodes under my arm, my lymph system is compromised. The lymph
system gets rid of "junk" in the body as well as filters out disease causing things. If you want a more scientific explanation, you can go here. The lymph fluid travels around the system in a particular order. You have lymph nodes in your neck, under arms and groin. The good news is that I can do some simple exercises every day to help move the fluid around. I also am going to go back and learn something called "lymphatic massage" that will also help the system work and thus avoid lymphedema.

I'm all about prevention, so I'll be faithful about the exercises and massage techniques.

We also talked about risk factors for lymphedema. Anything that would make me swell. It could be: hot weather; travel; changes in altitudes; cuts/scrapes or injuries on my left arm or hand; tight clothing; overheating; extreme temperature changes; my future radiation treatment; and more.
She suggested I get my doctor to prescribe a compression band and glove to wear. At first, she told me to wear it during my waking hours for 2 weeks. After that, just wear it during those high risk times, unless I actually do experience some swelling.

It's all about knowing my body and being aware of slight changes in it. That is where exercise comes in as well.

There is no "program" or list of exercises I can do. When I asked her that, she told me to stop thinking in that way. That is going to be tough. I'm used to printing out Jillian's workout and going down the list without exception. Give me a program, and I'll follow it to a "T" like a good girl.

There were some hand weights on the wall, so I asked her when I could start lifting weights again. She said I could now! Hallelujah! However, moderation is the key. Hmm. I've never been real good at that one. She said I could increase cardio workouts by 5 minutes every 3 workouts, and add 2 new upper body exercises every 3 workouts. Well, I told her I was already doing 60 minutes of cardio. Did I mess up? Nope! She said I just had that as a baseline. My baseline is going to be different from anyone else's, which is why there isn't a "program" out there. She said, (and I quote), "You are fit, Tonya." The key is going to be starting new things slowly, not overdoing it, and keeping an eagle eye on my left arm. If it starts to swell, I need to back off.

The other piece of good news is that she said I can pick up Jean-Marc. I'm a mom, she said, and you need to be able to pick up your child. But like the exercise, I need to keep an eye on my arm and make sure I don't swell. That is going to have to be a habit I develop for the rest of my life.

I made two of three follow up appointments so I can come back and learn the lymphatic massage technique. Fortunately, I'll be able to do those in San Marcos. (Today, I had to drive down to Kearny Mesa in rush hour traffic on the 15.)

My prayer requests:
  • That I don't develop lymphedema!
  • That I be able to ease back into some upper body exercises. Exercise is a sort of therapy for me, mentally as much as anything else. It has been hard to be restrained and unable to do as much. I still need to take it easy, and that is not easy for me.
  • That I do not catch the cold that Olivier came down with. I've had a sore throat for a day or so. That is usually the first sign of a cold for me. I took my last Cipro this morning for this round. I'm hoping that, as well as a lot of fluids and frenetic hand washing will keep me from coming down with his cold.
  • That the cancer cells are being disrupted and dying horrible little deaths inside my body. :-)
Thank you all for your continued support and prayers. I feel like Moses in Exodus 17 when he went up on the mountaintop to oversee the battle. As long as his arms were outstretched towards heaven the battle went well. But his arms got heavy, and it took Aaron and Hur to come alongside of him to help him hold up his arms so the battle could continue. Your prayers are like the aid of Aaron and Hur to me as I go through this. I thank God daily for all of my support system....YOU.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Good Wishes




















I got a wonderful surprise in the mail today. A few weeks ago I mentioned that the website FranceLuxe has a "Good Wishes" program where they offer a free silk headwrap for women in chemotherapy treatment. I'm all for the silver lining in all of this, freebies included.

My wrap came today! Almost as meaningful as the headwrap was the wonderful card that was enclosed, signed by people that I don't even know. How awesome is that?


The designer, Laurie Erickson, asked me to list three of my favorite patterns. The one I got was the silk paisley print in a camel color. Incidentally, that was the first one I had chosen for my top three!

Here is a picture of Isabelle posing with it in or kitchen. I'm a little shy at the moment to model it. I'll need it soon enough when my hair starts falling out. I expect that to happen within the next week.

By the way...isn't Isabelle stunning in her "pink & plaid" skirt?

Lighbulb moment

It wasn't actually "a" moment, but rather one that has been slowly burning brighter and brighter. I'm going to climb onto my soap box for this one.

It all started about a year ago when I wanted to lose weight. I read Jillian Michael's book, "Master Your Metabolism" cover to cover. In it, she talks about how the processed, non-organic food we eat, as well as environmental toxins in our homes has disrupted our endocrine system and messed up our metabolisms. I started following Jillian's recipes and along with her killer workouts, lost most of the weight I wanted to. (Technically, I could lose another 10-15, but I'll put that on the back burner for now).

I've learned a lot in the past year about clean eating. Organic produce. Avoiding processed foods. If it is processed, I try to get it organic and with as few ingredients as possible. (Think cereal here). Whole grains, limiting sugar, etc. But it all was to lose weight. I knew to keep it off, it wasn't going to be a "diet" but a new way of eating for me.

I'm starting to see how it is SO MUCH BIGGER than simple weight control. In fact, keeping weight down is simply a by-product. Here's the thing. GOD KNEW WHAT HE WAS DOING! When He created the plants (fruits & veggies) for us to eat as food, He gave us much of what we need to be healthy and prevent, and maybe even treat, disease.

Check out this video. It's 20 minutes long, but worth it:

Okay. So I'm not a doctor, and won't pretend to understand all of the niceties of the medical research. But food is medicine. Foods have chemicals in them that effect the body-natural chemotherapy that I can do at each meal. For instance, I've learned through Jennifer Griffin's blog that "cancer hates cabbage." I've ordered a book called "The Cancer Fighting Kitchen" by Rebecca Katz and can't wait to learn more.

This is going to be a lifestyle change for my family. They don't know it yet. They saw a glimpse of it over the past year with my Jillian menus. I prepared good organic meals. But I tolerated the refined grains and sugars. Now how much bigger it is. I want to feed my kids food that will not only fill their bellies, but help prevent cancers in their bodies. Not being hungry is almost a side effect. Its not going to be easy, especially for the older two. They are hooked on their white bread and pasta. I can only imagine how they will receive a heaping platter of kale! But as Grandma Osgood used to say, "If you're hungry, you'll eat it." Wish me luck!

I'm very convinced that the rise in disease in this country has a lot to do with our food supply. The hormone laced meats, the chemicals sprayed on the produce. The chemicals put into processed foods. The refined grains and sugars. Our fast food mentality. I knew it was bad from a diet/weight control point of view. But its bigger than that. Little girls are starting their periods in elementary school. Why is that? That exposes them to more estrogen and increases their chances of breast cancer. If they are obese (which many kids are), then their risk increases even more. I'm also starting to learn about the toxins that are in our shampoos, soaps and cosmetics. Oy! That is a whole other subject to wrap one's head around.

True confession time now. There is another aspect to this that I need to change, and that is wine. Being married to a French person, wine is a natural part of a meal. But wine and breast cancer don't mix well. Alcohol increases estrogen in the body, which feeds the cancer. There may be some health benefits to a little red wine on occasion. But not a glass with every meal. It's a bummer, because it can taste good. In our house, its almost a ritual. However, it is a ritual that I need to eliminate for my own health. Make no provision for the flesh, Tonya! (Romans 13:14)

I spent nearly 40 years not really paying attention to what went into my body. I allowed myself to spend my adult life overweight. (Fat cells also release estrogen into the system). I enjoyed alcohol. Did I contribute to my cancer unknowingly? I'm not going to dwell on that question. But I am going to change it for my kids, as well as to treat my own cancer with this weapon that was right in front of me the whole time. Duh!

As this lighbulb grows brighter, I'm seeing how this all comes together. I don't know everything there is to know, but I am learning. I'm hungry to learn all I can about this subject. I marvel at how simple it can be, though. I also marvel at how God gave us what we need to be healthy. Good, wholesome food. I'm not saying that is all there is to it. There is disease and definitely a place for doctors and medicine. God gave us those too.

If you are interested in learning more about the food supply in this country, I'd highly recommend the movie, "Food, Inc." If you have Netflix, it is one of the instant watch movies available.

My prayer requests:
  • That my kids accept the changes that are coming their way on the dinner table. That they be open to try new things.
  • That I be able to give up wine. I've done it before when I was pregnant. I know I can do it, and its not really that big of a deal. It's just a habit for me that I need to break.
  • That I continue to feel good as my body processes the first round of chemo. That the chemo drugs do their job and kill any marauding cancer cells that escaped through my lymphatic system.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Hair play

Oh the things one does while they are waiting for their hair to fall out. I've been getting creative.

When I went to the "Look Good, Feel Better" session, there was a lady who made custom hair pieces. I've also noticed in the American Cancer Society's catalog, "TLC" that they sell things called "halos" which are little pieces of hair that attach to the sides or bang of a hat or scarf to make it look like the hat or scarf is covering hair. They also are called "hairline accents." This is what they look like.

If you've been following my blog from the beginning, you'll remember I got a free wig from the ACS. I wasn't to thrilled with the style, but the color was not too bad. Lighter than I've been for awhile, but passable. Well, I decided to sacrifice it to try and make some of my own "hairline accents." I've cut several pieces from it to make detachable bangs, as well as hair that can stick out from under the sides and back of hats and scarves. The idea is to sew velcro to the hat or scarf (the soft side) and then velcro to the hair piece. Then if I want or need to have the look of hair peeking out, I can just stick it on. I've sewn the velcro to the hair, but only to one hat. I'm thinking of maybe trying sticky velcro rather than sew on velcro so I don't have to put seams in the hats. We'll see. It's a work in progress.

We are kidless this weekend. All three of them are down at their cousin's house for a "cousin weekend." How amazing is that? We really are blessed by my sister in law and mom for doing this. She's even bringing Isabelle up to San Marcos for her riding lesson in the middle of it. The older two were really excited to spend their last weekend of summer vacation this way. Jean-Marc has no clue, but my mom is going down too so he'll do okay with her. He has gotten very used to having "gamma" around every day. It's a far cry from when he was smaller and he would cry at the sight of her. (And most everybody else!)

Eric and I are taking advantage of our status this weekend to go out. Last night we went for a walk on the beach at Cardiff and had dinner at the Charthouse. I even wore the "fluffies" in my camisole. It felt wierd and lumpy. But having something "on top" helps to define my waistline a bit more. Otherwise, I just look thick. Tonight I think we are going to go see "Eat, Drink, Pray, Love" and have dinner at Canapes in San Marcos. My sister in law and mom will bring the kids up for church on Sunday and I'll get them back then.

It has been 8 days since chemo. I realized late yesterday that I need to just get on my knees and thank God for allowing me to come through this round as well as I have. It was almost like I wanted to get sick for some reason. Then it would feel real. Like I really do have breast cancer. (Maybe I don't anymore. The surgery may have gotten every single bit. But I digress...) I was browsing other blogs yesterday and read a blog of someone whose first round really knocked her for a loop. She was out of it most of the week, and her counts were so low she was in the hospital in a near quarantine status. What the heck am I complaining about?

It helps to read other blogs. In Jennifer Griffin's blog that I mentioned last time, she exercised every day while on chemo. Our cases are a bit different, though. She did chemo before her surgery. The chemo pretty much did away with her huge tumors. I'm almost jealous reading it. On the other hand, it is encouraging to see other women survive Stage 3. I also can be thankful that my cancer is not triple negative. At least there are more treatment options.

I realized today that one way I can combat this waiting agony is to think of ways I can fight this cancer each and every day. I can do that by eating well and exercising. I'm learning more and more about cancer fighting foods. Food is medicine! It can do you a world of good, and it can also make you sick if you eat junk. I'm trying to do to exercise every day, but I am a bit hamstrung (no pun intended) by my surgical recovery. It has been 5 weeks and I don't want to overdo it by bouncing too much. I try to mix it up so I don't get bored. I'm a little wary of the gym and the germs there, but I did make it there twice this week. I also can do some exercise videos at home, or power walks. Anything to keep my metabolism going, get those endorphins flowing, and blood circulating so the chemo drugs can get to every cell in my body. BAM!

The sunburn feeling on my chest is pretty much gone. Now it feels kind of tight on the incisions. You know the feeling when a cut is healing? It's the same thing. I've been massaging Vitamin E oil onto the scars twice a day. The scabs are starting to flake off too. It's kind of gross, but it makes it look not quite so jagged and Frankenstein-like.

So that's where I am. Enjoying a relaxed weekend. Missing the kids a little bit. Looking forward to their starting school next week when we can get into a routine with new challenges and excitement.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

What day is this?

I'm losing track of days as the summer vacation wanes. I am so ready for the kids to go back to school. With this heat, and my sensitivity to the sun (thanks to chemo), it has been a pretty boring week for us. The kids are cooped up and by the end of the day, I'm about ready to flip out and have a Calgon moment. Gee-I wonder if I'm okay to soak in a tub now that I am 5 weeks post-op?

It was so hum-drum yesterday that I didn't even have anything to say for my blog.

Although I did kind of mess up my meds. My bad. I started my 7 day Cipro regimen on Tuesday with a pill at noon. That was EXACTLY 96 hours post chemo. On Wednesday I happened to check the pill bottle and it said to take one pill two times a day. Oops. I only took one pill on my first day. So I figure I'll just extend it by a 1/2 day on the back side. They only filled the prescription for 1 week at a time. So I'll have to get it refilled for the next round. If I time it right, I can do my lab work, my oncologist visit, and pick up the refill all in one fell swoop the day before round two.

Speaking of round two. I find myself in another waiting game. I'm 6 days out of round one and feeling pretty good. I wish I could just go in and get it going. I still have 2 weeks to wait. That seems to be the theme of this treatment so far. Wait for biopsy results. Wait for PET scan results. Wait for doctors appointments. Wait for surgery (that was a killer). Wait for chemo. Wait more for chemo. Wait, wait, wait. Maybe God is trying to teach me something. Ya think?
I suppose I will appreciate this breather in between rounds later on.

I was a little concerned yesterday that I may have overdone it lifting Jean-Marc on Tuesday. We were running some errands and I just did not have the patience in the heat to let him get in and out of his car seat on his own. He's two years old. So he kind of lollygags around as he gets in, distracted by every little crumb on his seat. I'll confess, there are a lot of crumbs there! A few times, I just lifted him in and out, up and down to move the process along. In our family, we call it the "Graham Ram." Anyway, Tuesday night as I was getting ready for bed, I had some shooting pain in my incision areas, especially on the left underarm side. Through the night, it just felt tender and hurt. I'm still swollen under the arms, so I don't know if the swelling had gotten worse. But the pain came and went all day yesterday. I was careful not to lift the little man at all. Mom came over and was a second pair of eyes for me. It is so easy to forget and lift him sometimes. Its just second nature. So far today, it seems to be better. It's a tricky time right now. I'm physically feeling better, and it is so easy to over do it. It helps to have mom be a police officer over me.

I found another cancer survivor's blog that I've been reading. Jennifer Griffin is a correspondent with Fox News who returned to work yesterday after taking several months off to fight triple negative breast cancer. She was diagnosed shortly after her son was born in 2009. Her original tumor was 9 centimeters! She had 17 rounds of chemo, a bilateral mastectomy, and radiation. Her blog is pretty interesting. She had the guts to put a video of her hairdresser shaving her head on it. I don't think I could do that. I'll be lucky to post a bald picture.

Eric comes home tonight from his business trip. It will be nice to have him home. He used to travel a lot more with other jobs. I'm fortunate that there isn't that much travel right now. I've been able to deal with stuff on my own before. Even a couple weeks post-cesarean I was able to deal with better. This time, it has taken a lot of concentration to get stuff done. Maybe its my older age. The old nerves are a bit more raw!

My prayer requests today:
  • That we don't go stir crazy today. The kids have a piano lesson, which will add some spice to the day. We also are going to meet a potential school car pool neighbor.
  • That I continue to heal from surgery. That I didn't hurt myself the other day lifting the baby.
  • Travel mercies for Eric as he flies home from Boston and then drives back to San Marcos from the airport.
  • That I be content in waiting for the next round of chemo, confident that God is working in my body and my spirit towards His purposes.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

96 hours and counting

At noon today, it was 96 hours post-first round chemo. That is notable because it means I start taking Cipro for a week to ward off any infection.

So far, so good. I was able to sleep all night without the use of any medication, thank God. I was having some heartburn in the night, but as long as I slept on an incline pillow, I was okay. I noticed some tenderness on my head, but that could be paranoia about the hair loss that is to come. I've also noticed a change in my taste buds. It is kind of metallic, but not too bad. It's not hurting my appetite!

This morning, the kids and I kept busy. I made Jillian's French toast for Jean-Marc and myself. I'll admit, its one of my favorite Jillian breakfast recipes, so I'm going against the advice of some who say to avoid your favorite foods while on chemo. Afterwards, I went up to my room for some exercise. I'm a little worried about germs, so I decided to try to work out at home with Exercise TV rather than going to the gym. Besides, Jean-Marc hasn't been enjoying the Kid's Club lately, and keeping him at home would save 2 bucks! I did a modified version of Jillian's "Banish Fat, Boost Metabolism" that they have on the Exercise TV channel. I have to watch the bouncing, so I modified some of that. (Although I will admit I did do a little bit of high impact.) I also couldn't do any of the plank exercises like mountain climbers or traveling planks. I just would substitute some cardio kick box moves at that time. The workout was only about 25 minutes, so I got out my step and did my own version of low impact step aerobics for another 20 minutes or so. The great thing was that I got really sweaty and loved every second of it!

We ran some errands before lunch, going to the library, and trying to find Olivier some new shoes for school. It got us out of the house and it was good to be doing something normal. I think we are pretty much set for school now. I also scored a pair of shoes for myself. They are some of those toning shoes that supposedly give you exercise just by walking around in them. They aren't tennis style, though. More like sandals. Heck, it was buy one pair, get the second 1/2 off. How could I resist? Besides, my black sandals were pretty ragged.

Tonight I'm going to go with Olivier to his scout meeting. They are having a parent meeting about the annual popcorn fundraiser sales. I haven't been to a scout meeting for a couple months! I've been so blessed to have friends who have been willing to shuttle my son to the meetings! My mom is going to come over and hang out with Jean-Marc and Isabelle while I'm gone. Another blessing!

My prayer requests:
  • That the Cipro do its job and I don't get any infections. Also, that I don't suffer any common infections as a result of taking the heavy duty antibiotic. You ladies know what I mean. :-)
  • That I be able to rest tonight.
  • That the kids and I be able to enjoy the last days of their summer vacation.
  • That the chemo drugs be effective against any cancer cells in my body.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Trying to live

I'm in such a bizarre place right now.

First of all, a status report. I'm okay. A little tired. I got a good night of sleep, although I did take the Ativan to do it. I'm hoping to avoid that tonight. I think I may be getting a slight metallic taste in my mouth, especially when I drink water. And I've been drinking a ton of water. I know I'm supposed to, but I'm thirsty too. The metallic taste is particularly noticeable when I have carbonated water. I went to the gym for awhile this afternoon. I took it easy, keeping my heart rate below 140. I did about 35 minutes on the elliptical and 20 on the recumbent bike. I figure I can take it easy this first week after a round, and hopefully be able to increase the intensity later on. Even if I can't, I just want to keep my body moving so my metabolism doesn't completely shut down.

Other than some fatigue, I feel pretty normal. But my mind is so wrapped up in cancer. I need to find a way to LIVE each day. Not just be consumed with every little twinge. In the shower today, my scalp felt a little sensitive. Now I've read that your scalp tingles before the hair falls out, so I was thinking, "Wow! Is this it?" I don't think so, its still kind of early. But its the next thing to "look forward" to, so I'm anticipating it. Paranoia, anyone?

This is the kids' last week of summer vacation. If I continue to feel okay, I should do some fun things with them. But a part of me just wants to be able to not do anything else but just take care of myself and myself alone. I feel kind of selfish. I just feel like focusing on MY day: getting exercise; getting rest. Reading a book. Watching a movie. Eating what I want. Not having to worry about everyone else around me. But I can't. I still have mommy duties. Especially since Eric is on a business trip this week. I can't check out, I need to do even more. I feel bad even voicing this selfish stuff. Its ugly. I love my kids, I just don't want to have to deal with them right now. How terrible is that? If I was knocked out sick, it would almost be easier. At least I wouldn't feel guilty because I would just not be physically capable of doing things.

Don't get me wrong--I don't want to be sick! I'm very thankful that I seem to be handling this as well as I am. I am not taking any of it for granted. It is a gift from God, and a direct answer to prayers. I thank you all for your continued prayers and support for my family and I.

My prayer requests:
  • That the kids and I enjoy each other's company tomorrow. That we do something fun and lively. That I can snap out of this selfish funk. I don't like it. I want to be a fun mom, not a selfish one.
  • That my family be resistant to infections. Tomorrow, I start a week of prophylactic antibiotic Cipro because my white blood cell counts are probably lower. It's more than just me-everyone around me needs to stay well so they don't make me sick.
  • That this chemo work on any remaining cancer in my body.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Doing okay

Depending on how you count it, it is either Day 3 or Day 2. I'm still not sure whether to count the chemo day as day 1 or wait until the next day to be day 1.

Anyway, this morning I was off the steroid, and I decided not to take the anti-nausea meds. I want to see how I am reacting to the chemo drugs.

I felt pretty good this morning. I did a little 30 minute low-impact cardio workout. I want to be able to move a little every day. The workout itself wasn't intense, but I'm hoping that being able to keep it up every day, even a little, will help me get through this better. Afterwards, I took the kids to church just as I had hoped to. I wore my new T-shirt that says GOD is so much bigger than cancer. It was a wonderful time of worship and fellowship this morning and I am SO glad that I was able to go.

We went to lunch at Applebees with my parents. At lunch, I started to notice a little "thing" in my throat. Kind of like a sore throat in waiting. A little heartburn too. I mentioned it to my mom, and she said she was having the same kind of feeling. Either it is the weather, or she is having sympathy pains and I am having throat issues. We'll see.

When I came home, Eric had left for his business trip for Boston. Olivier helped me get Jean-Marc into bed for his nap and then I went into my room to rest for the afternoon. I didn't really feel tired, but it was nice to spend a few hours relaxing. I read my book, and actually did get about 90 minutes of good sleep. When I got up at 4, Olivier, Jean-Marc and I walked Lucie around the neighborhood. It was okay, but I'm a little paranoid about the sun, even though I wore a hat and long sleeved shirt.

I don't really feel any differently than I did before. This could just be a day where I was a little tired. I know the effects of chemo are cumulative, and this day on the successive times will probably be more severe. I should count my blessings. It is kind of a schizoprenic thing, though. On the one hand, I'm on heavy duty chemo drugs undergoing cancer treatment. But I feel okay, and life goes on. But I'm going through life sort of through the motions. On the outside I am doing things that "normal" people do. But on the inside, I'm thinking about cancer, chemo and everything else that goes along with it.

Before now, when people would ask "How are you feeling?" it seemed a little strange. I felt FINE. In fact, it was hard to believe I had cancer. Even after surgery, I felt okay, other than surgical healing issues. But that could have been any surgery. Now I'm in chemo, and each day is a new thing. It still feels strange to be asked, but it makes more sense now. It will even more so when I have the outward signs of cancer treatment. You know, the bald head. Now that is something to look forward to. I understand that I should be expecting that to happen before my next round of chemo. So we'll see.

My prayer requests:
  • That my side effects this round continue to be mild. Especially since Eric is on a business trip this week.
  • That I be able to "live" with the kids in the present. It is their last week of summer before school starts. I hope it can be a good one for them.
  • That these chemo drugs in my system are doing their job, disrupting the growth of any cancer that may be in there.
  • That I be able to rest tonight. I don't want to take the Ativan tonight, since I am not on the steroid. I pray that I be able to sleep anyway. Ativan is habit-forming. I've never been much of a medicine taker. I hate taking one drug to counteract another, and then another to counteract that one.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Waiting...

I am about 30 hours post-chemo round now. I still feel pretty good. This may be because I am still taking the steroid, which gives me energy, as well as helping any allergic reactions to the chemo drugs. My last dose of that for this round is tonight. The nurse said it would be likely for my energy to go down afterwards. I've also kept on the anti-nausea drugs, which have been working. I'm not sure I need them, but I'd rather not be queasy. So I'm following her advice for the next day or so.

Sleep came last night, despite the fact I had to get up at least 3 times for the bathroom. The Ativan did its job, I guess. I'm planning on taking it again tonight since I'll still be on the steroid. After that, I may try a night without it.

I was told going into this that I would need to drink a lot of water. I've always been a water drinker, but I'm amazed at how much I can drink! I have a thirst that just is not quenched. I've had at least 80 ounces today, and could easily down 20 more right now. I'm also being pro-active about moisturizing my skin. Not only my surgical areas, but my hands and feet at night. I wear 24/7 contact lenses, but I'm taking them out at night so my eyes don't dry out too much. Sun is also now something I need to be more wary of, so I'm making sure to wear sunscreen and I have a couple long sleeved shirts I can wear as a light protective layer.

I went to the baby shower today and felt good enough to drive myself over to Escondido. It was really nice to be around such nice ladies, especially friends from church. It is so wonderful to be able to fellowship and share with each other how God has worked in our lives in the past. It gives such encouragement for trials in the present to remember how faithful He is, how He does not change, and how He loves us so.

I got home around 4 p.m. and was tired. It don't know if it was chemo related, but I laid down and took a light nap. It felt so good! Eric took the boys to the park and for some ice cream so I could have some quiet. Isabelle is spending the weekend at a friend's house.

That is pretty much my update for today. I really, really want to get to church tomorrow morning. Even if I'm tired, church is one of those things I just hate to miss. I love the worship, the teaching, and the fellowship.

Thank you all for your prayers and support. For caring about what is going on with my family and I. We are blessed.

Also, if you aren't yet an official "follower" of my blog, would you mind becoming one? All you have to do is click the "follow" button on the right hand side. You won't get any spam or e-mail about it, I promise. It will just help my blog raise in the Google rankings a bit s more people can find it. I appreciate your help!

May God bless you this weekend!

Friday, August 20, 2010

One down, five to go

I'm home from round #1 of chemo. All in all, it wasn't bad. In fact, it was kind of a break! No kids to entertain, no diapers to change, no sibling squabbles to mediate. I had 3+ hours to relax, read, snooze, or watch TV.

I had a good breakfast. I wanted to make sure I had some vegetables in me. I made eggs with spinach and a tomato in it. A slice of Ezekiel low sodium bread, and a bowl of organic berries. Bring on the chemo!

Eric came with me to get me settled in. They took me to my station in the chemotherapy suite and I sat down. The nurse who would be taking care of me looked at me and said, "I think we have a connection!" Really? As it turns out, we have a mutual friend. A lady who was in my bible study group last semester is a mutual friend. She and her kids were swimming at their house just the other day. She told her nurse friend that she knew someone who was going to be starting chemotherapy and to look out for someone named "Tonya." Our mutual friend didn't know if I was a Kaiser member or not, so the nurse didn't think much about it. When she looked at the schedule yesterday, she didn't notice my name. But this morning when I came in, she saw it. Isn't that neat? I told her that it was such a GOD thing! She goes to Calvary Chapel Oceanside. She said that we would be spending eternity together, its nice to take care of each other before that. Cool!

She put a warm towel around my right arm for a few minutes before the poke. When she took the towel off, my veins were FANTASTIC!! It was like the Nile river! So easy to see...standing up almost saying, "Right here, lady!" The poke did sting a bit, but what do you expect? That was the worst of it, and it was over quick. They started with a saline drip for awhile, I guess to flush things out. She also gave me a mega dose of Zofran, an anti-nausea medication.

She asked me about various health issues I may be having. When she asked about my sleep, I admitted it hadn't been going too well the last few nights. She mentioned that the steroid that I'm supposed to take the day before, day of, and day after chemo would contribute to sleeplessness. On the other side, it gives me energy during the day. She called Dr. P and he prescribed Ativan to help me sleep. I'm not supposed to use it every day because it is habit forming. And I'm not big on taking drugs. It's a slippery slope-you have to take one drug to counteract the effects of another drug and it just snowballs. But I do want to get some sleep, so I think I'm going to take one tonight. Just while I'm on the steroid. The nurse said my energy will drop fast when I stop taking the steroid (which will be on Sunday, Day #2) So I most likely won't be needing any sleep aids!

We also talked about nutrition. The nurse said raw fruits and veggies were okay, as long as they were very clean. She said she wouldn't advise a restaurant salad bar, but if I'm doing it at home and washing them well, its fine. Good! I go out of my way to buy organic produce, and I recently have gotten into the habit of using a vegetable wash to make sure any bad things are washed off.

They started with the Cytoxan. It wasn't a big deal at all. They started me out with the drug going in slower, at "50." I figured that was 1/2 speed, but as it progressed, they got me up to 200. I didn't feel any effects of it at all.

While I was there, I just read my book. The lady next to me was on her last round, but her rounds went with one long day (today) and then a short day next week. I was surprised not to see any bald people, or women in scarves. This is the chemotherapy suite, after all! One lady I could tell was in a wig. Maybe other people just had better wigs? I'd better lose my hair after all the hats I've been getting! Either that or turn into a hat person.

Jean-Marc had his 2 year old well baby checkup in the middle of all this upstairs in the pediatric office. Eric went home and took him to that. Afterwards, they came to visit me. He was so cute coming into the room. He wanted to get up on my lap, but that wasn't going to happen. It was lunch time for him, so Eric took him home. But he cried on the way out. He's going through another separation anxiety phase right now. Not fun.

The two nurses who were there are planning to do the Susan G. Komen 3 Day walk in November. Their team name is "These nurses stick it to breast cancer." I told her that I was planning on doing it next year!

After the Cytoxan was the Taxotere. Again, no big deal. I didn't feel like anything was going on. During the course of the morning, I unplugged my mobile unit and went to the bathroom, refilled my water bottle. I had 40 ounces while there. Before I went in, I had 10 ounces of water with 2 ounces of Xango juice in it. I also finished off my night time water, so that was probably another 10 ounces. This afternoon, I've had another 20. I don't think drinking water is going to be difficult for me! I'm even thirsty now, after 80+ ounces, and its not even 4 p.m.!

Mom came after Eric got home to pick me up. The timing was perfect. We dropped the prescription off at the pharmacy and went to lunch. I wanted to stay close, so we went to the Stir Fresh Mongolian Grill. I wanted some more veggies and just made my sauce mild. It was good. Afterwards, we had a frappucino at Starbucks. On the way home, we picked up the prescription and it was done.

So how do I feel? I feel fine right now. It's strange waiting to be hit with the unknown. The nurse advised that I take the anti-nausea med tonight, and then once in the morning and evening for the next 3 days. Better than getting sick. Hopefully that will ward that off. Eric feels worse than I do, actually! He didn't sleep well, either. He's been complaining of a headache all day. I'm sure its all stress related.

I'm hoping to feel well enough tomorrow morning to go to my sister in laws baby shower. But like everything these days, I'm playing it all by ear. Stay tuned!

My prayer requests:
  • That the drugs in my body right now are killing off those cancer cells. Digging their way into their DNA and disrupting the replication process. Die suckas!!
  • That the side effects I experience be manageable.
  • That Eric start to feel better. He has a business trip on Sunday and needs to be able to function. (Don't worry---mom has already offered to come and stay here with us if I need it!)
  • That the kids have some peace and not be afraid. Mom told me that after we left this morning that the 3 of them had some prayer time and talk about their fears. They both were crying. They don't share this with me, or at least they haven't so far. But mom said it was a very good time and they were able to express their worries and give them up to the Lord.

The battle

I was hoping to get a full night of sleep last night, but alas, it was not to be. I woke up at 11:30 a.m. to go to the bathroom and was awake until 2:30 when I made another trip. It was probably around 3 a.m. when I got back to sleep and was awake by 6 a.m.

I had a lot of time to think in the wee hours, and God definitely spoke to me during that time.

I realized how much my body, my flesh, is trying to work against me. First of all, by the cancer itself. But as I fight it, the flesh resists. I have sleep issues. Yesterday at the gym, my heart rate was above normal. My flesh is anxious.

But my mind, my spirit, is not. I truly am calm and have peace about this whole journey. It isn't easy. But I'm not freaking out. Sometimes the flesh gets the upper hand, I'll admit. But for the most part, I'm okay. In fact, sometimes the reactions I get from others are much more severe than my own.

A recent example. I've been a girl scout co-leader for Isabelle's girl scout troop since they were Daisies in kindergarden. This year is their first year of Juniors. We have a few new girls joining our troop. On Wednesday, we met to fill out some paperwork for an upcoming camp out. The leader mentioned that she would be trying to work the schedule out around my schedule, which brought a few looks. One mom there didn't know, so it came out. No big deal. I'm not secretive about it. Everyone was supportive, but at the same time the one mom who just learned was freaked out. I guess she is scared of cancer in general. But she marveled at how upbeat I was. I am kicking myself now for not saying something like, "It is by God's grace that I am even here right now. He is getting me through this." I mean, that is what I want to reflect on this whole journey. God's goodness, His faithfulness, His sustaining hand. I want to bring HIM glory. Instead, I said, "Well, its something I've got to do either way. I might as well do it with a smile on my face."

I've also had others look at me with sadness and pity. Like I have a foot in the grave. Even some people at church. I certainly don't share those emotions.

Some might refer to this as the "mind-body" connection. In a way it, is. But it goes much deeper than that. But my flesh wants to drag me down and freak me out. This is most definitely as much of a spiritual battle as it is a fleshly one.

This is how I see it in my life. The spirit and flesh are at war. It is a microcosm of the war between God and Satan, good and evil. I am a born again Christian, so I am blessed to have the indwelling of Christ in me. (To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Colossians 1:27) Satan sees that and attacks it. He uses my own flesh sometimes to do it. Right now, it is sleeplessness. It was the same right before my surgery as well.

But God is so good to me. Because despite the fact I am getting less sleep, I am not tired during the day. I'm able to function. He is lifting me up on wings like eagles. I am running (figuratively) and not growing weary, walking and not growing faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

God is stronger than the enemy. I know that He who is within me (Christ) is stronger than he who is attacking me. (I can't find the scripture reference quickly, but I know it is biblical.) Ultimately, I will win because Christ is my defender. But the enemy does not give up quickly. He is persistent.

I'm off to my first round of chemotherapy this morning. I pray that I am able to continue to resist the enemy (so he will flee). I pray that God refills my Holy Spirit tank each day as I feel the effects of this new phase of treatment. In any event, no matter how severe it may get, I know that I am not on my own. That God is with me, within me and will uphold me with His mighty hand. If I look like I am handling this well, it is not out of my own strength, but His. All glory to God!


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Twas the day before chemo

The day has nearly arrived. I spent the morning helping the kids get organized in their rooms. I'm color coding hangers, and putting fancy velvet ones in my own closet. Olivier will be all white, and Isabelle will have all pink hangers. I'm trying to get them excited about the Flylady system. I need for them to be able to pick up after themselves and keep their stuff organized. I'm going to be too tired to do it for them. And really, they are old enough to handle these simple routines and tasks. Moods are lifted and life is better when things are organized, don't you think?

After lunch, I went and had my blood drawn, everything came back right in the 'normal' range. I love how you can see your test results about 30 minutes later on Kaiser's website. As I was walking out of the facility at about 1:15 p.m., an elderly lady with a chemo hat was being helped out from the direction of the chemo suite by a middle aged woman. Maybe her daughter? I could tell they had been there all morning. They had bags and lunch boxes. The sight of someone coming out of chemo kind of stopped me in my tracks. That will be me tomorrow. I am thankful to be young. Chemo is going to be hard, it would be hard to be elderly and frail going into it.

After going to the blood draw, I went to they gym. It was strange, my heart rate was about 10 beats higher than normal, even while resting. On the stair climber, I got to 80-80% of my range on 2 levels lower than usual. The end result was that in 1 hour, I burned 500 calories. This is really wild, because I usually can only burn 400 calories if I am really exerting myself hard. The heart rate monitor is great to help me know exactly where I am. So what would explain the elevated rate? Perhaps I am anxious about tomorrow?

I listened to a great podcast while at the gym. A friend from church pointed me toward this church from the Santa Barbara area called Reality. The pastor's daughter, Daisy, is suffering from a recurrence of cancer. She gave me the link to listen to one of his sermons when he addressed his walk while dealing with his little girl's illness. So I've been subscribed to the podcast since. Today they started a line by line study in Psalm 23. Perfect timing! It was all about how God is MY shepherd. How we are weak sheep who need him all the time just to get by without screwing up. How fragile and frail we are in His absence. It was great. I am going to download more of the sermons and listen to them in the coming days. By the way, if you are so inclined to pray for the pastor's daughter, they have a website with information called Pray for Daisy.

This cancer experience has really hit that point home with me. The personal relationship aspect of God. I am so thankful to know the Lord and cannot begin to imagine going through this without Him. And without the fellowship of the body of Christ who are praying for me daily. There is such love there, and it is overwhelming at times. I am humbled and grateful.

So....getting ready for chemo. I've been drinking a ton of water today so my veins will pop. I need to pack a "chemo bag" to take with me. I'll have my updated iPhone, my book "The Ezekiel Option," a small bible, a sweater, a water bottle, some comfy socks. I'm not sure about a snack. Maybe some of those organic ritz peanut butter type crackers?

I've been getting ready for the hair loss thing. I've got hats and stuff for when its gone. I bought a lint roller, which I've read helps remove the stubble that can itch and be uncomfortable. Target had some hats on sale and I got a couple. I didn't have one in black before. The only thing I don't have yet is a wig. There's time for that. Right now, it is really hot here in San Diego. A wig doesn't sound too appealing to me.

My prayer requests:
  • That we enjoy a nice evening tonight together. That everyone get along without picking on each other.
  • That I be able to sleep tonight.
  • That I not be fearful. I don't think I am, but it was weird to have my heart rate elevated. Is my body giving away that I really am anxious deep down?
  • That the chemo session go smoothly. That I react well to it and don't get sick while there. That I don't suffer debilitating side effects afterwards. If I do have side effects, that they are treatable.
  • That my chemo drug cocktail be effective against any cancer cells that may be floating around in my body.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

An itch that I can't scratch

I suppose this is a sign of healing and I should be glad.

But my incision areas ITCH LIKE CRAZY! It is driving me nuts. I can't scratch it because it is still tender. Besides, that would probably be really bad anyway. The sunburn feeling is still there, but now it is an itchy sunburn. I sure hope it goes away soon. This will seriously drive me insane if it goes on for too long.

On a lighter note, there is a wonderful scarf designer named Laurie Erickson who has a webstore with really upscale hair accessories called France Luxe. She has a program called the "Good Wishes Program" where she will send you a free scarf or head wrap. They are gorgeous. How nice is that? They retail for about $72. A lot of her scarves are silk. I've read that silk can slip off your head. But I think the silk wraps have a band sewn into the inside so it won't slip. I've ordered a scarf/hat band from another company that I'll try with some of my own silk scarves.

We had a great opportunity today to pick the brains of some of this country's smartest oncologists. I mentioned before in my blog that through his work with Prestwick Chemical, he has made contact with a researcher at MD Anderson Cancer Center. MD Anderson, located in Texas, is ranked #1 in cancer care in the country. He specializes in combination therapies for cancer. Anyway, Eric asked him today his opinion on the issue of whether or not I should take the Adriamycin. His associate passed the question onto a senior colleague who specializes in breast cancer oncology. This was his answer:

"...the standard regimen in place in California excludes Adriamycin. There is a preference for the inclusion of Adriamycin here but this is not widely accepted and moreover has not been demonstrated to be beneficial in a controlled study. In short, it is fully reasonable to exclude Adriamycin from his point of view and indeed, many leaders in medical breast medical oncology would argue strongly against using Adriamycin."

So there it is! Confirmation by some of the smartest and cutting edge cancer gurus in America. It makes me feel more settled about it to get this news. I already trusted Dr. P, but this confirmation only makes my esteem grow. So that is the decision. No adriamycin for me.

This is such a God thing! The fact that Eric just "happens to know" people at MD Anderson who work in this field is divine. It's not an accident. I had been praying and asking people to pray that I would get confirmation. Here it is!

My prayer requests:
  • That this itching would go away. It is seriously uncomfortable.
  • That we would have a nice day tomorrow (Thursday) before chemo begins. We are going to organize Isabelle's room in the morning. I'm trying to get her hooked into the Flylady system. Hopefully if we can work together to get her room into a good state, she can "Fly" from there. The state of her room has been a source of conflict between her and her dad.
  • That I be able to sleep. I've been having trouble waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to get back to sleep. A full night of uninterrupted sleep would be nice.
  • Of course, healing is always a prayer request. That the cancer already be gone. If it isn't, that this chemo regimen would be effective against it.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A little loop that turned to a blessing

I was all set for my physical therapy appointment today. I have a lot of questions about my physical recovery that I was needing answered. When can I pick up Jean-Marc? What is this strange cording under my left arm & armpit? When can I bear weight on my arms? Will I ever be able to do weight training again? Why does my bicep hurt? Are there massages I can do on my arm to help the lymph fluid drain without causing swelling? Am I recovering adequately from the mastectomy?

About an hour before I was set to go, Kaiser called to tell me that the therapist was "out of the office" today. What?! Didn't they know that when they made the appointment 3 weeks ago? They have one physical therapist in San Diego that specializes in lymphedma. Actually there are two, but the one who works here in San Marcos is out on maternity leave until next month. I was very upset. They said I could come in next Tuesday. I told her that I may not be up to it since I will be STARTING CHEMOTHERAPY on Friday. So I now have an appointment on August 31st. So irritating. It's one thing if she was sick or had an emergency. But they didn't say that.

So I was left with an open morning. It is hard for me to have open time like that. For one thing, its hard with the kids, especially Jean-Marc. They need to do something. I was all set to have my mom deal with that this morning. :-) But also, the physical therapy was something that I was going to be able to do to move my recovery along. And POOF it was gone.

It was a hot day here. Summer finally seems to have arrived now that school is around the corner. What was I going to do with the kids? I certainly didn't want to go inland, where it is hotter. I pulled out a book I have called, "Walking San Diego." I opened it up at random and saw
a listing for Torrey Pines State Reserve. I asked Olivier if that was a neat place to visit, since he visited the park in the 4th grade. He got excited and said that it was. So I called up mom and invited her to go with us. (I was going to need help pushing the stroller).

It was my first time visiting this park. I just love San Diego! I've lived here since 1996, and here is yet another gorgeous place within a short distance. We visited
the main lodge first to get maps and get oriented. They had dozens of taxidermied animals and birds. Jean-Marc has this thing about owls. He knows them by their French name, "hibou." They had at least 3 of them in there. So for the rest of the morning, he was on the lookout! Bummer for him that he didn't know what "nocturnal" meant! But he kept looking up into the trees! See that picture above? He's pointing up, saying "hibou! hibou!" (It sounds like E-boo, E-boo)

We went on a couple small walks-one up a series of stairs to the
highest peak, and another one was a 2/3 mile loop. Jean Marc did them both! It was a good thing, since the trails had steps, shallow roots, and a lot of sand. There were several gorgeous vistas overlooking Del Mar. We watched surfers waiting to catch a wave, fish eating birds swooping down to find their meal, and military aircraft on their way to MCAS Miramar. Olivier enjoyed telling us about the plants and things he learned about when there a couple years ago. As mom said, "This is a walk that is good for the soul." And it was. I am so thankful and in awe of the gorgeous beauty of this world that God made for us.

There is a reason for everything, and it was not in God's plan for me to go to physical therapy today. Instead, he wanted to show me part of His creation. We had a fun time with the kids, and they got out and got some exercise too. It was a blessed time. Something that I will remember fondly forever. Of course, cancer was never far from my mind. I have a physical reminder of that fact-I have this itchy sunburn pain that is chronic. I can't lift my own baby. But I also got to hear the roar of the waves, the sound of the seagulls, and watch Jean-Marc discover pine needles! Not a bad mix.

My prayer requests:
  • That I don't need the Adriamycin. The more I read, the more confused I get. I've prayed for guidance and wisdom. I just don't know if not taking it will decrease my chances of survival. I just don't know. Right now, my chemo drugs will be cytoxan and taxotere.
  • That I not be fearful of chemo. Right now I'm not. But that could change. I want to stay strong mentally.
  • That the chemo be effective against any remaining cancer cells in my body.


Monday, August 16, 2010

The final countdown

5 more days till round ONE of chemotherapy.

Thankfully, it is a pretty busy week. Today, mom and I went to the gym. Unfortunately, Jean-Marc seems to be going through a separation anxiety thing. As soon as we turned into the parking lot, his little lip started to quiver. By the time we walked into the Kids Club, he was crying. He only lasted 30 minutes. I think I may have to do my gym workouts in the afternoon while he is napping. (Eric works from home, so I can do this).

Mom, Isabelle and I went and got pedicures this afternoon. It was a hoot. Isabelle was loving the whole nail salon experience. It was really fun. I got a really bright pink on my toes and a lighter pink on my nails. I haven't had polish on my nails for a very long time.

After reading lots of chemo tips, I'm starting to gather things that might be helpful. I'm stocking up on hand sanitizers and distributing them all over the place: my purse; the car; diaper bag; each kids backpack, etc. I also got some soups at Trader Joes. I'm not going to prepare too much in the food department. I think I'll wait to see what sounds good. But I think its a good idea to have some stuff ready. I've heard not to eat your favorite foods while on chemo because of the negative association, plus your taste buds change. It's likely that you won't like that food ever again. We'll see.

I made myself a chemo symptom log. I found a weekly appointment calendar template on Word and customized it. For each day, I have about 10 lines to write symptoms and the time of day I'm having them. Each day is numbered with which post-chemo day it is, as well as the date. I can take notes as I experience stuff, then bring it with me to the oncologist when I meet with him. People who know me from ICAN and Scouts could probably see me making some kind of document like this up. I'm a planner/organizer, so this was fun for me to do. It felt like I was actually doing something useful to get ready.

I'm also ordering some more head covering stuff. I ordered a couple of sleep caps from the American Cancer Society that will catch my hair as it falls out. I also am browsing some online scarf vendors. Always on the lookout for pink and plaid! Although my mom is going to make me some stuff, so its not really that urgent for me to get on my own. It's just something to do while I wait for Friday.

The rest of the week is pretty full too. Tomorrow (Tuesday), I have the physical therapy appointment. Wednesday morning we are going to VIP Day at San Elijo Middle School where Olivier will be starting at the end of the month. He'll get his schedule, his pictures taken, his school ID, and be able to walk around the campus and find his classrooms. On Wednesday afternoon, Isabelle's girl scout troop is meeting at FroYo Love to get organized for the fall beach encampment. It will be fun to see everyone again, and we just love FroYo! Thursday I go into the lab for my pre-chemo blood draw. Then bright and early Friday morning is the chemo appointment.

My prayer requests are basically the same as yesterday. Continued healing, less pain. Peace and happiness in the home.

God is good, all the time. Even in the midst of cancer, He is GOOD!

The final countdown

5 more days till round ONE of chemotherapy.

Thankfully, it is a pretty busy week. Today, mom and I went to the gym. Unfortunately, Jean-Marc seems to be going through a separation anxiety thing. As soon as we turned into the parking lot, his little lip started to quiver. By the time we walked into the Kids Club, he was crying. He only lasted 30 minutes. I think I may have to do my gym workouts in the afternoon while he is napping. (Eric works from home, so I can do this).

Mom, Isabelle and I went and got pedicures this afternoon. It was a hoot. Isabelle was loving the whole nail salon experience. It was really fun. I got a really bright pink on my toes and a lighter pink on my nails. I haven't had polish on my nails for a very long time.

After reading lots of chemo tips, I'm starting to gather things that might be helpful. I'm stocking up on hand sanitizers and distributing them all over the place: my purse; the car; diaper bag; each kids backpack, etc. I also got some soups at Trader Joes. I'm not going to prepare too much in the food department. I think I'll wait to see what sounds good. But I think its a good idea to have some stuff ready. I've heard not to eat your favorite foods while on chemo because of the negative association, plus your taste buds change. It's likely that you won't like that food ever again. We'll see.

I made myself a chemo symptom log. I found a weekly appointment calendar template on Word and customized it. For each day, I have about 10 lines to write symptoms and the time of day I'm having them. Each day is numbered with which post-chemo day it is, as well as the date. I can take notes as I experience stuff, then bring it with me to the oncologist when I meet with him. People who know me from ICAN and Scouts could probably see me making some kind of document like this up. I'm a planner/organizer, so this was fun for me to do. It felt like I was actually doing something useful to get ready.

I'm also ordering some more head covering stuff. I ordered a couple of sleep caps from the American Cancer Society that will catch my hair as it falls out. I also am browsing some online scarf vendors. Always on the lookout for pink and plaid! Although my mom is going to make me some stuff, so its not really that urgent for me to get on my own. It's just something to do while I wait for Friday.

The rest of the week is pretty full too. Tomorrow (Tuesday), I have the physical therapy appointment. Wednesday morning we are going to VIP Day at San Elijo Middle School where Olivier will be starting at the end of the month. He'll get his schedule, his pictures taken, his school ID, and be able to walk around the campus and find his classrooms. Thursday I go into the lab for my pre-chemo blood draw. Then bright and early Friday morning is the chemo appointment.

My prayer requests are basically the same as yesterday. Continued healing, less pain. Peace and happiness in the home.

God is good, all the time. Even in the midst of cancer, He is GOOD!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Chemo tips...

As you know, I got my hair cut really short last Friday. On my way home, I stopped by Sprouts to pick up a few things. (Did I mention that I'm driving myself now? It's been since last Thursday.)

Anyway, I'm in Sprouts and my phone rings. It's a really funny ring tone...a baby laughing hysterically. The number was a 619 area, which is San Diego. This summer, a 619 number has usually been a call from Kaiser, so I answered the call. (Um...not to say I screen calls!) It was the volunteer from the American Cancer Society, Pam. The ACS has this mentor program where survivors are paired up with women in cancer treatment and they provide support and tips. She and I talked about a week before my surgery and she was calling again to give me some tips on chemo.

She told me a lot of stuff, some of which I knew already. Some was new. Some I don't think I really agree with (more on that later). I've decided I'll pick and choose and leave the rest.

Here are some of the tips that stand out for me:
  • The day before, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. The more water in my system, the more my veins will pop out and they will be able to get the IV line in easily. I've got pretty good veins, but I'll do whatever I can do help the process move along.
  • During chemo, it should not burn. If it does, let the nurse know ASAP.
  • Get in the habit of carrying around kleenex and ritz peanut butter cracker sandwich cookies. The kleenex for a runny nose-I'll likely lose the hair in my nose and it will cause a drippy nose. (Ew...I hadn't thought of losing hair there). The crackers in case of nausea. She said they were better than saltines since they will bring up my blood sugar. I already have an organic version of these in my pantry in little individual snack baggies. I'm ready.
  • It's likely my pee will turn color. She was given Adriamycin (which I'm not taking). The drug itself is bright red and her pee turned red.
  • There will be changes in my nails. Dark lines and deep ridges. In rare cases, some people lose their nails--usually their toe nails. Gosh, I hope I'm not one of those.
  • She had her last chemo treatment on December 5th. My last will be December 3rd. By Valentines Day, she had a 1/4 inch of hair.
  • There may be changes in my voice. Hers dropped an octave.
  • Have plastic bags and paper towels in my car in case I need to clean up after myself getting sick.
  • Don't be around sick kids. This might be hard. I've got 3 kids. We usually are pretty healthy, but with the older two being in school, you never know. Then there is the nursery at church. My pastor's toddler caught a bug there a couple weeks ago and got his mom and dad sick. That's not good. I'm going to get in the habit of having the older ones wash their hands a LOT, and routinely using a hand sanitizer on Jean-Marc.
  • Inspect my mouth daily. Mouth sores are common, and hard to treat. I need to be aware of any developing so they can be treated as soon as possible. Switch to a soft toothbrush and be diligent about oral hygiene. But be careful flossing-use dental tape rather than the thinner floss.
  • She had a lot to say about food. This is where I am going to do my own thing. She said that mow isn't the time to diet. If something sounds good, eat it. She said that everyone likes Taco Bell while on chemo. What?? Fast/junk food? She said to avoid raw food--like fresh fruits and vegetables, unless they are in their own "skin" like a banana. Now I understand with a low white blood cell count I need to be careful. But I do only buy organic produce, and also have started using an organic produce wash. I am definitely going to run this one by my oncologist. She went on to say that "white" foods are good. White bread, white pasta, white pudding, white breakfast drink mixes. White stuff. If its white, its okay. Hmmm. I've just spent the last year getting nutritionally void refined flour and sugar OUT of my diet. She lost 40 pounds while on chemo. From our conversation, it seems that nausea was a big problem for her, so whatever she could keep down was what she ate. I don't know. Maybe it will be the same for me. I don't want to lose 40 pounds, but I could stand another 10-20. (Not that I'm dieting--I am NOT!) But I really am worried that the slowdown in my metabolism will make me gain weight back. I got rid of my "fat" clothes. I don't want to go out and have to shop, bald, for clothes in bigger sizes. Above that, if there is one thing I've learned over the past year, is that food is medicine. My body is going to need solid nutrients, not junk food. I think junk food will just make me feel worse. We'll see. I am going to eat as well as I can-solid, healthy nutritional food.
I had this conversation in public as I browsed Sprouts. It kind of typified my life. Here I am, grocery shopping, but talking about this stuff like its the most perfectly normal thing in the world.

Pam didn't go through radiation, so she is going to round up another volunteer to call me in a few months as I start to get mentally prepared for that phase of treatment. I really appreciate this program by the American Cancer Society. It's one thing to read about this stuff in a book. But to talk to someone who has gone through it adds an extra element. If she can do it, I can.

My prayer requests:
  • That my body continue to heal from surgery. I do feel like I've made progress. I haven't had any Advil for 2 days. The sunburn pain is manageable. I'm having more shooting, stabbing pains in my incision. I've heard that is a sign of healing? The swelling is also slowly going down on my sides too.
  • That I not be afraid of chemo as the date approaches. Right now, I'm not fearful. I'm actually kind of anxious to get going on it. Pray that I stand strong against the enemy that wants to knock me off of this place of peace.
  • That there not be any renegade cancer cells in my body. That the surgery took them away 3 1/2 weeks ago. But if there are, that the chemo will be effective against them.
  • Eric's health. He's been having some sores in the back of his throat. I'm convinced this is stress related. He's under a lot of pressure as we move into this phase of my treatment. We are kind of hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst-that is, me being laid up for several days at a time throughout the fall. He's got some business trips coming up that he can't miss out on. Thank God for my mom, who is able to come and stay with us and help us get through. For that matter, pray for her health as well!
  • Overall peace in our home. With the stress that goes along with mom having cancer, the kids and Eric sometimes get into arguments. Everyone needs to take a few steps back, give each other an extra dose of grace and chill out. I'm sure the enemy is doing a tap dance at times when he sees the conflict.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Stand up to Cancer



Man, those are some odds! I am stunned to learn how invasive cancer is in our society. 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. But when you factor in all of the other cancers out there....it is mind boggling.

I don't know much about this organization. If they are standing up to cancer, that is awesome and I wish them well. I do know that the American Cancer Society has a lot of programs involving research and support for people whose lives are touched by cancer. They already have given me a lot of support and information. That is why I am walking in the "Making Strides for Breast Cancer" walk in San Diego on October 17th. My goal right now is $1,000. I am already over half way there! If I get there soon, I may just double it and try to become a "pacesetter." Right now, there are only 3 people in all of San Diego who have achieved this status. I don't want to beat a dead horse, but if you want to help me out, you can click here and make a small donation.

Stand up to cancer!!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Transitions









Before. Isabelle and I on her birthday.


I am blessed to have a wonderful friend in my hairdresser, Sheila. She graciously offered to help me with my hair, whatever I wanted to do. She even came in today on her day off to cut it for me. I appreciate it so much!

I decided that it would be easier (and less of a mess) to just get a short cut. It would also get me used to the feeling of having my neck bare. It will also be a transition for everyone else who is used to seeing me. Less of a shock. I'm thinking of it as something of a transitional hairdo.

I made the decision this morning, and thankfully, Sheila made herself available to me this afternoon. I was nervous, but there was no backing out. On the way to the salon, I was listening to KLove , a contemporary Christian radio station. I can't even remember what song was on as I was on my way, but I got that weepy Holy Spirit feeling again. I did NOT want to cry over my hair. Especially because I put on mascara! I'll admit, a few tears did flow. Like I've said, I'm not that fond of my hair as it is. But still. Losing it is going to be tough. Being bald is going to be a flag to the world that I'm "sick." A tell tale sign. I can try to hide it with wigs, I guess. But like I've said before, everyone knows I'm in this fight. Why hide it now? (Tough talk from someone with hair still on her head).

Other than the surgery healing, I don't FEEL sick. I'm sure that will change as I start chemo. But accepting the hair loss is kind of like accepting that I am sick, I guess.

When I got there, Sheila had a styling book open and suggested a style. It was short, for sure. But what the heck? In a few weeks, I'm going to be totally bald. So why not? Besides, I usually go in for a cut and tell Sheila to do whatever she thinks would look good. I've been a client of hers since I was pregnant with Olivier over 11 years ago. She knows my hair, head, and me.

So she went for it. It was fun to be doing something "normal" again, even though I was doing it for a cancer related reason. She took these pictures of me, and of the pile of hair that I left behind. Better left on the salon floor than in my shower drain!

Sheila also offered to come wig shopping with me. I do want to get a wig. I may feel differently once the hair is actually gone. I like to have options. Sheila can also thin the wig out and help make it more manageable for me too. I'm so thankful to her for all of her help in this journey. Thanks to you all who have given me positive feedback on my facebook page as well. You guys really gave me a boost!

Getting physical

One week until chemo!

I noticed a strange thing under my left arm the other day while blow drying my hair. (No, its not a lump!) It is like a tight cord under my skin. I don't have it on my right side. It must have something to do with the lymph nodes having been taken out.

I have my first physical therapy appointment on Tuesday. I'm looking forward to talking with this person and finding out more about what my body can (and cannot) do. When I stretch my arms up to the ceiling, it feels like the left side is shorter, and that cord under my arm really pops out. I'm also looking forward to learning about self-massages that I can do to aid my body in lymph draining so I do not develop lymphedema.

I love getting massages. I always have. Really deep and hard ones. So much so that it sometimes hurts, you know? I don't know when I'll be able to have another one. At this point, it would just hurt on my arms and upper chest. But I don't know if the deep tissue massages are good for me now that my lymph system is compromised. I stumbled onto the concept of "oncology massage." I think I read about it in a comment to someone's blog yesterday. Anyway, there is a Society for Oncologic Massage. I browsed their lists of therapists and found one that nearby in Carlsbad. Of course, I'll ask my doctor first. But it would be nice to get a massage at some point. My friend who went through chemo not too long ago said her massage therapist would not do a massage while she was in chemo. Maybe there are special techniques that are okay?

This is a pre-op picture of me being silly. I had just worked out and was high on endorphins. That's my excuse for it. I kept it to remind myself of what I could do "before." If my body totally gets out of shape, I'll look at it to know I can get back again.

Mom and I continued our workout regimen this week. Monday, Wednesday and Friday we go to the gym and do a solid hour of cardio. I have a heart rate monitor that I like to wear to make sure I'm not slacking off. I try to get to a 400 calorie burn in an hour. For me, that is one intense hour at about 80-85% of my target heart rate. Then we stretch. The last two times, I've been able to do some lower ab work as well. As long as it doesn't pull on my chest, its okay. I have to be really careful
about form, which means...no cheating! On Tuesdays and Thursdays we walk. This week with my mother in law gone, we've taken all 3 kids to Discovery Lake and get them moving as well. They have the option of biking or walking. Jean-Marc has no choice-he's stroller bound! Walking alone gets kind of boring, and my heart rate doesn't get up much past 100. So yesterday we stopped at benches that are situated around the lake and did some intervals by stepping up onto them. I would do a minute on each leg, per bench. Nice!

I am pretty determined to keep exercising during chemo. Its one of those "things" that I'm focusing on to help get me through this. I've read that the effects are cumulative. For those who have gone before me in this...is that your experience? I know during week 2, my white blood cell counts will dip and I will have to be careful about exposure to germs and stuff. I'm wondering if that means no gym? Maybe I'll have to start to browse the Exercise TV listings to see if there are programs I can do at home. I wish I could use handweights. That will be one of the questions for the physical therapist next week. I'm doing the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 5k on October 17th. That will be right before round #3. Of course, I know there is always walking. I live in a pretty hilly area and could probably get a good burn on with a power walk. I don't usually do those since the trails are unpaved and I usually have to push Jean-Marc in the stroller. Although by the end of this, there will probably be some days that walking down the street to the mailbox will be a triumph.

All of these ramblings aside, I know it will work out. (No pun intended!) I just have time to think right now and try to strategize my approach. Maybe I have too much time on my hands!

My prayer requests today:
  • That any floating cancer cells in my body are responsive to chemotherapy. This isn't a given. One advantage of doing chemo before surgery (which I opted not to do), would have been to know that the cancer was or wasn't responsive to chemo. Now I'm in the dark and have to just trust that it will work. I started thinking about this over the past couple of days.
  • That my body continue to heal from surgery.
  • That the sunburn pain feeling goes away. I'm pretty sure that I'm off the hydrocodone for good. I've only taken Advil over the past 3 days, and I'm not always on that.
  • That I sleep tonight. The last 2 nights, I've not been able to get back to sleep after waking up in the night. I guess that is the downside of not being on a narcotic!
  • That I accept my changing hairstyle(s). And lack of hair. I really don't like my hair right now anyway. But the thought of being bald is on my mind still.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

It's all in (or on) my head

Today I am 3 weeks out of surgery and 9 days before chemotherapy starts. I realized yesterday that chemo is NEXT WEEK. Gulp. It's okay. I really am looking forward to it in a bizarre kind of way. Right now I'm swimming in a sea of unknowns. How am I going to react? What side effects will I have? Will I gain weight? Will I lose it? Will I be able to get the kids to school and put food on the table, or just want to stay in bed? I've read such a huge range of stories and every single one is different. Mine will be too. I just can't predict it. I'm going to make a "chemo calendar" for my growing breast cancer 3 ring binder. I can write down side effects and when they happen so I can report it to the oncologist. It's something I can "do" to help.

I've begun collecting hats and a few head wrap things. I found this site that sells head scarves called "beau beaus." I got a couple of them, they are kind of pricey, but very nice. They come with a matching scrunchie so you can knot the tail of the wrap into a bun and have different looks. Having to accessorize my headwear is going to be a pain. I'm not that good at accessorizing in general, so to have to consider what to put on my head is going to really throw me for a loop! I've got dozens of gorgeous silk scarves that Eric has gotten me over the years, but I've read that silk slips off your head. I've got a few hats as well.

There is always the wig option. I do want to get one, just in case. But I kind of feel a bit about the wig like I do about the fake breasts. Everyone knows I have cancer. I may feel like everyone is staring at the fake hair. I don't know. Maybe there will be times when I'm going out in public and people don't know me and I'll want to look like someone who is "healthy." On the other hand, going out with a head scarf may also get me some sympathy. Maybe not. Who knows?

I've also been pondering what to do about the hair I still have for the next few weeks. It has been falling out since Jean-Marc was born. Every time I wash, I lose a lot. We chalked it up to hormonal changes, but it now looks like it was a warning sign for me. Anyway, I will be glad to get post-chemo hair. I've read that it grows back thicker and even wavy. The "chemo curl." But in the meantime, how do I get rid of the hair I have? Do I do a short cut and then let it fall out little by little? Do I just shave it off? That could be shocking--almost as shocking as seeing myself scarred and breastless for the first time. If I do shave it off, when? Dr. P said my hair would start to fall out about 10 days after the first chemo round. Or, do I do nothing and then let it fall out little by little? That might be a little traumatic, not to mention messy. My bathroom counter has already got hair all over the place from the hair loss I've been experiencing. I don't know what to do. I have a fantastic hairdresser and friend who has offered to do whatever I want. I just don't know what that is.

I'm still off the pain meds, praise God. It will be 2 days today. I think I'll be able to stay off of them. I just pray that this sunburn feeling goes away. Last night, I slept without a camisole on underneath my pajamas for the first time. It felt good while sleeping, and was definitely not as hot. This morning it feels weird to have my silk pajamas brushing up against my incisions. Kind of tickly. I guess that is better than the chafing sunburn. I'm still swollen on my left side.

My prayer requests today:
  • Healing, healing, healing. My incisions really are looking pretty good. The swelling is going down, little by little. I'm even able to 'kind of' roll onto my left side in bed (with the support of little pillows). This sunburn feeling is the biggest thorn in my flesh right now. I would like it to go away. If that is not His will, that God would give me the strength and grace to handle the pain.
  • That I would find something "fun" to do with the kids this afternoon. They've been housebound and are bored. While a nap or just reading would top my list of things to do this afternoon, I would like to do something fun with them.
  • For God's grace and comfort to all of those people out there in cancer treatment. It's not an easy road. I am definitely not alone in this.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

So its NOT in the genes

I had my follow up appointment today with the genetic counselor to find out the results of my genetic testing.

It was good news for my family and I. I do not have either the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene. At least not with the methodologies available at this time. They don't want to say 100% that I don't have it, but it is about 95% that my cancer is not genetically inherited.

This is good news for me in that I don't have to worry about inheriting ovarian cancer, and it also cuts my risk of reoccurence of breast cancer. On the other hand, because I'm "young" for cancer, my risk of reoccurence goes up simply because I statistically have more years left for cancer to come back.

I'm particularly pleased that this also means that my sister and daughter most likely do not have the gene, either. However, they do have a first degree relative with breast cancer (me), so their chances are higher than the average woman. If you don't know already, those chances are a whopping 1 in 8. So my sister and daughter should be getting a baseline mammogram 10 years before my diagnosis (age 30), and keep a sharp eye on it for life.

On another note, I have made it 27 hours now with NO narcotic pain meds. I still have that sunburn pain in my upper chest. But I realized the pain meds weren't making it totally go away. Were the downsides of being on the meds still worth it? I decided to see if I could go cold turkey make it 24 hours, and with God's help, I did. Eric has looked up the particular medication and said with its half-life, it is out of my system by now. So as long as I don't need to go back on it, I think I may be okay to drive. My range of motion is pretty good. I definitely wanted to be off those meds before chemo next week.

I also signed up to do a 5k walk in October to benefit the American Cancer Society. It's called "Making Strides Against Breast Cancer." I will be in my 3rd week of chemo, with 2 rounds under my belt. I hope I'm up to it physically. Just knowing that its on the calendar will give me a goal to reach.

As part of the walk, I've made the personal goal to raise $1,000 for the American Cancer Society. If you would like to support me in this cause, you can click here to make a donation in any amount. I figured that if everyone I knew or read my blog just donated $5, I would sail over my goal. Of course, you can donate in amounts higher. ;-) I want not only to help raise awareness and funds to help fight breast cancer, but also to give back to an organization that already has given me much.

My prayer requests:
  • I need to make a final decision about whether or not to add the adriamycin to my chemo regimen. So wisdom and God's leading in this area would be helpful.
  • That this sunburn pain in my upper chest and left arm would decrease and go away. It is worse in the late afternoon and evening.
  • That I continue to regain mobility in my surgical areas.