Saturday, July 30, 2011

Live a Life Inspired

I woke up writing my blog this morning. Different phrases and titles were floating through my head invading my psyche and  waiting to be translated into something legible and interesting to read. As I type this, I cannot say that I have completely decided how the flow of this post will come to life. There is so much I want to say and my thoughts are pretty much all over the place, but here it goes.

Last weekend, I received a beautiful email from a high school friend. Her heartfelt email described how my story had inspired her to live a better life, be a better mother and make better use of her time. As always, when someone describes how I inspire them (not to make it sound like it happens everyday), I read in both disbelief and deep appreciation. To me, my outlook on my battle with breast cancer seems like the typical outlook/response of any responsible, loving parent. I know I have stated this time and again. However, I am beginning to understand that what seems ordinary to me is extraordinary to others.

Sunday night, the email on my mind, I was lying in bed really not thinking about much, yet thinking about everything. It was there that it hit me: Maybe I was put here on this earth to inspire others. And assuming that is the case, how blessed am I? How many people can say that they have inspired people and have documentation, like the lovely email I received. What a wonderful legacy I have been granted.

As much as I am struggling with my disease and recognizing the long road I have ahead of me, the sense of having a greater purpose brings me great comfort. And I hope it does to Steve, my children and my family. The fact that someone might take extra time with their kids, help a neighbor and/or enjoy their life a little bit more because of knowing my story is a gift that makes me tremendously happy.

I had a fantastic talk with a neighbor yesterday, whose family has had a heck of a journey as of late. In the midst of our conversation, I spoke of my Sunday-night epiphany. Suddenly, she jumped up and ran downstairs (we were at her house), returning with a bracelet that says these words: "Live a Life Inspired". As she put the bracelet on my wrist, she said that the bracelet had been given to her but she thought that I should have it.

"Wow and thank you" was all I could say. Did I mention that I was blessed?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Chemo, A Picc Line and A Mother's Love

A tear rolled down my cheek as the nurse, Margie, tied the tight tourniquet around my upper left arm in preparation for the picc line procedure on Saturday, July 22. I had been bubbly all morning, getting to know my nurse and engaging she and Steve in light conversation. The tying of the tourniquet stopped my enthusiasm dead in its tracks.

I had had my first chemo session last Monday, when I learned that I would need a picc line moving forward. My fragile veins have weathered too much as of late. The fact that I would be subjecting them to further chemotherapy medications through IV ensured their final degradation. I was not at all surprised when my chemo nurse recommended the picc line.

Chemo nurses are masters at what they do. I have never encountered one that I did not like. In fact, they had no problem at all finding a vein for chemo last week. My nurse was warm, friendly and efficient. He had nothing to do with the tears that graced my cheeks as I faced settling into the chemo chair once again. My mom was with me. We both cried. When the chemo nurse told me that I would probably loose my hair, we both cried some more.

Sitting in that chair, in that room was difficult. Writing this now, I liken it to the common feeling that most have with regards to schooling. The longer you are out of school, the less you want to go back. Though, it seems rather obvious to say that I did not want to have more chemo. Since my last session in March 2010, the adverse emotional block towards chemo has been gradual. Someone once told me not to bring anything you like to chemo because you will never want to use/see it again after. Right after finishing chemo last time, I did not understand this concept. However, over time I noticed that some of the clothes I wore while receiving chemo, I had not worn since. The purse I carried to chemo has not been used since. In fact, I finally discarded a t-shirt that I knew that I would never wear again ..... because I had worn it to chemo on several occasions. The culmination of these feelings was earlier this year, when during a routine check up at Oncology (which shares a waiting room with the chemotherapy suite), I thought to myself, "I do not think I can ever sit in that room again. I do not know if I would have the strength."

These feelings did not bode well for my newly scheduled chemotherapy treatments. I found the strength, as I always do. I got over it. My mom held my hand. I think that she is the only person I would have wanted with me. I needed to feel the feelings I was experiencing, without shame and without worry. I knew we could cry together and that everything would be ok. With my mom there, I did not have to be the strong one, the caretaker.

Beyond the tears, my nausea started straight away. It was all nerves, as my current chemo drug does not cause nausea. But the rest of the treatment went well and I felt fairly decent the entire week that followed.

Fast forward to Saturday, when I got my picc line. Beyond the fact that it out and out sucks that I have to have it, it is a fascinating procedure. There is now a tube that runs through my vein from my upper left arm to the area right above my heart. I saw the x-ray, after the procedure was complete. It hurt a bit. But that is the last time that I will have to deal with a needle for a long time. All blood draws can be taken from the picc line. I have to admit, because of everything I have been through in the past three weeks, I am afraid of needles for the first time in my life. The bruising on my left wrist are some of the ugliest bruises that I have ever endured. All from the IV's necessary for the numerous procedures and tests ordered to diagnose and track my disease.

The only bruise I do not have is one from my chemo last week. The last one that would be given to me via IV, my chemo nurse was the shining star. And today I go back for more. And I will continue to go back and back until the cancer gets the clue that it is not welcome. My gracious mother in tow.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Biggest Secret I Ever Kept: Cancer Rears its Ugly Head

The pain in my side started two months ago. Still hurting a bit from my surgery on my right side, the pain started to radiate down to my hip. My plastic surgeon recommended I stopped doing everything: no twisting, lifting, pulling, pushing, etc. Happy to comply, after about two weeks, my muscle on my side stopped hurting enough that I could tell that the pain was not radiating down...but was starting on my side and radiating up.

The doctor's appointments started then. One and then two, in the same week. Both doctor's ordered ultrasounds, each a different type. One doctor was convinced that I had colon cancer, the next a gallstone. I got an appointment fairly quickly and had an ultrasound two weeks ago Friday. My primary care doctor called me while I was on vacation with my family in Tahoe. He had seen something on my liver in the ultra sound and I needed a CT scan. At this point, I was in quite a bit of pain. However, the excitement of vacation was a great distraction and the pain was bearable. We drove home from Tahoe on Friday and took Harrison to a soccer tournament Saturday. By Sunday morning, I was in so much pain that I could not fathom getting through the day. I took myself to the ER, where they did my CT scan, gave me something for pain and referred me to oncology.

I called in sick to work on Monday. Steve and I met with my oncologist, Dr. Sweet who confirmed with the ER doctor had told me, I had cancer in my liver. Dr. Sweet showed us five-six spots on my liver, one was as big as a golf ball, but flat. He ordered a liver biopsy for Wednesday to confirm his assumption and determine which the tumors type. He assumed it was triple negative, like my breast cancer. He assumed it was metastatic cancer. Not good news.

I conferenced with my supervisors at work throughout the week, working only on Tuesday and Thursday. We agreed that I would not disclose my cancer's return until I knew my course of treatment. I was happy not to talk about it at work. To keep this secret. I knew I had to leave my job for a while and wanted to preserve my last days of normalcy.

On Friday, I saw Dr. Sweet again. At that point, all Dr. Sweet knew was that the tumors were cancer, as confirmed by the biopsy. So, we talked about a plan for treatment on the assumption that it is the metastatic breast cancer and triple negative. The reality of the situation is that this cancer is not curable. The goal of treatment will be to slow the pace of the cancer's growth by any means possible. That being said, after discussing several options, I opted to start chemotherapy on Monday. I am starting Taxol, every week, three weeks on, one week off.

Since this has all happened so fast, I thought I would start with this option, while allowing myself time to research clinical trials, other drugs and alternative therapies. I have changed my diet considerably, cutting out refined sugars and animal fats, adding flax, lots of Vitamin C and E and increasing my intake of fruits and vegetables.

How are we doing? We are completely overwhelmed. The kids are each handling this in their own way. Maddie talks about it; Harrison does not. Steve is hanging in there. He starts teaching again tomorrow, as he is on a year-round schedule. That combined with my new battle is a lot for him to handle. However, I know that he will be the rock star that he always has been once we get into our new routine.

I am sure I am leaving out a lot of things in this entry. I am tired but now that my colleagues know what is going on, I wanted to post the gist the recent happenings. I am trying to stay positive. Trying to be normal, enjoying special moments. I will work a couple more days this week at best and then will be home to focus my energies on this fight. And I know I will need all of the energy that I can muster.