First Chemo Day

Well, Friday was my first chemo day.  Here’s how it went:

Arrived at 8:45am and got hooked up – through a vein in the side of my forearm, so weird.  First, a little saline, then some Pepcid, then Benadryl – all to counteract possible reactions. Finally, Taxol, to kill those m/f-ing cancer cells!  I get a double-dose today, slowly at first to make sure I don’t have a reaction (which I don’t), then full-on.  Though I don’t have any adverse reaction to the chemo, the Benadryl has given me the wiggles to the moon and back.  I cannot stay still.  I take laps around the chemo lab with my drip, I go to the bathroom at least 12 times.  I cross and uncross my legs nonstop.  I’m sure everyone there thought I was coming off heroin cold turkey. Nothing hurts; it’s not painful; I just wish they had a treadmill there!

When the Taxol is done, then they start the Herceptin – a double dose again. Time is dragging.  They said to allow 4 hours, but it’s going on 5…ugh. We have snacks – almonds, fruit, animal crackers, yogurt raisins…that helps. It’s finally done, and we go home, still antsy.  I take a half of an Ativan to calm down and then take a nap.

The weekend has been okay – mild flu-like symptoms – achiness, headache, chills, etc. but thankfully nothing too serious. I missed a BBQ, but made it to church. No hair fell out and no puking…living one moment at a time.

One down, eleven to go.

God is at the Ocean

Oh, I know, God is everywhere, but the time I feel him the most is when I’m at the ocean. The beach is my big, messy prayer closet.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in a coastal town, but the ocean is probably where most of my deepest emotions were felt.  I had some of my best times at the beach; I cried over losses at the beach; I contemplated important decisions at the beach; heck, I even got pregnant at the beach!

So now, visiting the ocean is an absolute must every few weeks – it’s like a breath of air when I feel suffocated by life, or a drink of water at my thirstiest.  And, without a doubt, it’s where I feel God’s presence at its strongest.  God’s character seems embedded in the power, the depth, the provision, and beauty.

This visit, as I waded into the water and felt the familiar chill on my toes and ankles, I asked God why cancer had to happen to me, but didn’t get an answer…yet.  I asked God to let the chemo kill all the cancer so it doesn’t come back. And I asked God if I could live long enough to be a great-grandmother (or Grand-Tutu, as I’ll probably prefer to be called), and I guess we’ll see.  Though I don’t always get clear, unambiguous answers, just being at the ocean tells me God loves me and cares so deeply for me.  And most of the time, that’s what I need to know.

The ocean covers over half the world, and really, it doesn’t seem that necessary for survival.  We need fresh springs and rivers for drinking, watering crops, and as a bonus, fish. But truly, why did God create the ocean except for our enjoyment?  The magnificence of the crashing waves, the wonder of enormous whales, the joy of snorkeling and surfing, the relaxing sounds of the surf – all of it simply for our pleasure.

Yes, I know, there are many more purposes for the ocean if you get all scientific about it, but when I visit the ocean, it feels like God made it just for me. And I’m simply in awe.

This weekend’s trip gave me my deepest breaths and sweetest tears since this fight with cancer began, for which I’m so thankful.

Thank You #2

I continue to be awed by the outpouring of love from everyone – from dozens of cards all over the house, to containers full of food in the refrigerator, to the plants that still survive!

-Tina (I can’t mention this enough) for taking such good care of me, even when I’m a bad patient. Thanks for making me all my favorite foods and keeping my body & spirit safe.
-Carol Davydova, Mama Ladd, & Robin Taylor for the delicious homemade food
-Carley Castellanos, Billie Kaye Tygart, Lezlie Duncan & Butch & Corky Morrow for the delicious “take-out” from all my favorite places
-Hallie & Lillie for getting me out for cocktails
-Natalie for all the delicious coffee drinks and the Friday morning walks
-Carrie and the rest of my cancer survivor group – Traci, Tina M, Lynley – for all your helpful advice and encouragement
-Mom, Dad, and Stace for attending the wonderfully entertaining “chemo class” with Tina and me
-My Kitchen Table group and The Table UMC for your support & care – see you tonight!
-My Goodwill family for the constant check-ins at work, and for a full paycheck even with my surgery time off and only working part-time for several days – what a blessing
-All the hugs, prayers, cards, email and messages that are still coming my way – I’m simply overwhelmed by the goodness that is out there!

plant

Chemo 101

I am a researcher.  I will dig and explore and study as much as I can about something I don’t understand in order to learn what I can. When I knew the choices for chemo, I spent hours on the internet researching what they were, how they worked, and what the side effects are, fully expecting the oncologist to ask me which I wanted to choose.

Needless to say, I was overwhelmed. Some studies seemed to show better results with Taxol/Herceptin, and others with TCH.  The side effects were clearly less egregious with T/H, but how could I make a choice based on that, when the goal was to kill the cancer?  I couldn’t be a wuss about it; this is life or death! And I’d still look pretty cute bald, right?

I had no idea which was better, suffice it to say, so I just prayed that God would help me make the decision.  No, better yet, God, can you help Dr. Hui to make the decision? Just let her tell me which one I have to do and I’ll do it.  That would be so much easier, and would prevent me from second-guessing myself for years to come!

But that wasn’t going to happen – she told me she’d call me in a few days to discuss the options and find out which I wanted to do.  Sigh.

Then…I got an email from her with the results from 2 clinical studies showing Taxol/Herceptin with a 99% success rate for stage 1 breast cancer.  She has talked to her peer in the oncology department and in a regional breast cancer focus group she belongs to, and they agree – Taxol/Herceptin is the best choice for me.  She’ll have the scheduler call to set it up.

Such a huge relief – thank you God!

I will start my 12-week treatment (once/week) on April 22 (I tried coming up with a funny tie-in to earth day, but just couldn’t, sorry), and I attend my chemo class tomorrow.  Where the pace of this journey had seemed to drop to a stand-still while I deliberated my poison of choice, now it’s rolling again at lightning speed.  But that’s good.

This is a season.  A dadburn, consarn it, racka-frackin’ dirty, son-of-a-battle strommy season, but a season, nonetheless.

F@%k Cancer!

Sorry for my language, but this is a journal, and that’s how I feel right now.

On Monday, we got word that my lymph node tested during surgery was negative, which (we thought) meant no chemo or radiation. But we met with the oncologist on Wednesday, who is recommending chemotherapy because I tested positive for HER2 (explained below for those who don’t speak Breast Cancer).  It was like a sucker punch KO to us – completely unexpected and devastating.

About 1 of 5 breast cancers have too much of a growth-promoting protein called HER2 (yep, I’m just that lucky).  Cancers that are HER2-positive tend to grow and spread more aggressively than other breast cancers. My original test came back equivocal, but the second test they ran came back positive.

I was officially diagnosed with stage 1 cancer, my tumor being 1.5 cm with no lymph node cancer cells present, normally not requiring radiation or chemo.  But because of my HER2+ status, chemo is indicated.

The oncologist explained the case for chemo this way: The mastectomy and negative lymph node results lowered my chances of getting cancer again by 80%, the remaining 20% being the possibility of rogue cancer cells having escaped and are currently traversing my body.  The presence of estrogen and HER2 both encourage these cells’ growth and proliferation, so Estrogen and HER2 blockers will bring the risk down to about 12%, and chemotherapy will further reduce it down to about 5%.  It’s inexact, obviously, but those are the estimates.

Dr. Hui, my oncologist, gave us a choice of 2 different chemo regimens, one (Taxol/Herceptin) more tolerable but less effective for aggressive cancers, and the other (TCH) the full chemo package with all side effects included.  Tough choice! Being my naturally curious self, I have asked her a bunch of questions about both, so we are awaiting her answers as she researches my particular case in relation to recent clinical trials and in conference with the other oncologists in her office.

Probably not the last sucker punch we’re in for…I had no idea how much emotional weight was carried in my bra!

Here we go…

Spring

Nothing is quite so remarkable as the change that takes place with the seasons passing. Where not so long ago we were surrounded by bare and brittle trees or jumbled hues of orange and gold and rust, we are now living in a world of branches resplendent in their spring whites, pinks, and purples.

Time never stops. season passes into season, change inevitably comes. As I gaze out my window, beyond the porch, into the trees in the backyard that each day put on new springtime clothes, I feel a sense of urgency. What have I accomplished today? The days continue to tick by; what am I doing that will yield eternal results? The person I pass on the street in town today will tomorrow be older — or dead. What have I done today so that his tomorrow will be something more than just his being one day older?

Granted, I’m house-bound currently, but in the past year, have I been kind to those around me, or have I been impatient and rude? Do I expect everyone to be perfect like me (or like I think I am), or do I allow for the imperfections everyone else permits me?  Will the world be better tomorrow, because of something I’ve done today? Have I filled up each day using the gifts God has graciously entrusted to me? Have I used them or have I squandered them?

So much of life is process; so much of it is just paying attention. What good is our stumbling if we never look back to understand why we tripped? What good is a victory if it doesn’t leave us more humble? What good is life itself if tomorrow doesn’t find us better than we were the day before?  In the magnificent untidiness of our life-walk, it is necessary to pause beneath the budding, blooming leaves of spring and examine the grace just spent. I want to learn to pay better attention: to listen, to observe, to learn.

Maybe that’s what this time is for.

Fighting Cancer in Style

Tina decided to take a little outing while I was napping yesterday and went to the mall.

Here’s what she came back with:

silver shoes
I think it is because I’m such a good patient.

In any case, I definitely believe I should fight cancer in style.  Which means new shoes.

I was wearing them around the house with my sweats hiked up to my knees when Marisa dropped by.  We had a good laugh.

I think I can give cancer a good butt-kicking in these, don’t you?