Saturday, December 1, 2012

Visions of Radiation Machines Dance in My Head

This week I completed my 13th of 33 radiation treatments.  I began this most recent part of my journey on November 12th.  Compared to chemo, this is a walk in the park.  But do not be fooled, it isn't really a picnic either.  My skin is already having issues and my arm is showing signs of lymphedema.  Fortunately, we were able to find a physical therapist who specializes in lymphedema therapy and I will begin that treatment in a couple of weeks.  Lymphedema has been one of my bigger fears/concerns since having the surgery and now with radiation, so I am hoping that maybe it is just temporary.

Aside from that I am just T.I.R.E.D.  I wake up tired.  I go to bed tired.  And I'm tired every moment in between.  Radiation offers up more fatigue (in addition to the fatigue still haunting me from chemo) because the body is working hard to repair the damaged cells and using up so much energy to do so.  I reminded myself of how tired I was when I was pregnant with my triplets.  I remember thinking the first trimester should be easy. They are just little teeny tiny beans (or smaller).  How much energy does that require?  And then I realized that my body was busy making cells, organs, bones, etc.  Right now, I'm in a similar situation as my body is trying to generate new cells to replace the ones damaged beyond recognition (hopefully) as a result of the toxic sludge, AKA chemotherapy, and the radiation.

My daily trek to radiation takes about 7 minutes one way (assuming mostly green lights) as it is very close to our house.  The appointment itself generally lasts about 20 minutes, though only 3-5 minutes really involves me getting radiated.  The rest of the time is just the process of undressing, getting situated,  getting me "lined-up", doing a preliminary scan and also getting dressed again.  It is generally painless though I'm starting to feel really anxious trying to stay still for those 15 minutes.  It is hard to sit completely still knowing that you cannot scratch that itch and you need to keep your foot still though it feels like it is falling asleep.  And it begins to feel like your body aches just trying to keep still.  But it really is better than chemo.

I'm also happy to report that my hair is coming in rather quickly.  I discovered today that I will have to shave my legs more than once per week again.  Dern.  There were definitely some perks to chemo. **wink-wink**  My fuzzy head is almost completely covered with what I would call a "fluffy down" kind of hair.  It seems like it is darker than it was before, but it is hard to know at this point what color it really is.  There have been a few times when I have thrown caution to the wind and have taken my hat off in public because I'm just TOO hot to leave it on right then.   Lately we have had cold weather and the heat inside buildings is just awful when combined with the chemo-pause (AKA menopause) induced hot flashes.  Ugh!  I did some grocery shopping sans hat and was a little self-conscious at first but then just plain didn't care what anyone thought.  OK, I did care, but I tried to ignore those feelings and was just thankful that I could shed a layer to find some relief from the hot flashes.

I realized that I hadn't posted anything about radiation and thought an update was in order.  My body tells me it is time to shut it all down for the night.  I'll try to be back soon with more info.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Utah on My Mind Thanks to Image Reborn!

Last weekend I was blessed to be a part of an incredible weekend retreat in Park City, Utah. Image Reborn Foundation offers retreats to breast cancer THRIVERS and I attended a one that was specifically for "young survivors".  While I was one of the oldest participants (I'm 43 in case you were wondering), I felt like it was where I needed to be and the women who were there were amazing.

Never mind that Park City had something like 2 feet of snowfall while we were there and it was a mere 9 degrees on Sunday morning before I had to board the plane to return to sunny, WARM Tennessee.  The snow was absolutely gorgeous and I couldn't believe views - the mountain terrain, ski slopes and unbelievable homes in the area.  We were fortunate to stay in a "cabin" that had a fireplace in just about every room.  It was about 10,000 square feet and was fabulous!

Our hostess, Shelia, made us feel pampered and loved.  She is truly a generous and precious soul and I feel grateful that I was able to meet her and her sweet daughter.  There were rules that we were required to follow: 1.) don't carry your own bags...anywhere and 2.) don't do anything (like clearing the table, cleaning up the dishes, etc).  This is a woman who works full-time elsewhere and manages to pull together about 11-13 retreats each year.  Shelia is an angel here on earth!

Image Reborn (with the help of Sheila) provided us with time to rest, time to connect and also time to be restored.  One way was by offering us each a chair massage and facial.  We were also thrilled to have almost two hours working with someone who shared the benefits of restorative yoga with us.  She generously allowed us to take video of her so that we could practice some of the poses that she taught us.  Now we can go to our  (private) Facebook group and view the video whenever we need a refresher.

During lunch on Saturday we had the opportunity to talk to a doctor who discussed some of the unique issues young breast cancer survivors (AKA thrivers)  have to face, such as chemo-pause (chemo-induced menopause) and all of the side effects it offers, as well as fertility issues, the risks of facing other gynecological cancers, etc.  He patiently answered our questions and used the word "vagina" more than I think I've ever used in my entire life.  I think he helped us find some ways to manage the unpleasant side effects many of us are experiencing as well as how to potentially reduce some of our risk factors, if at all possible, or just face them head on.  He even told us that we are free to call his office if we have questions later.

We had a chef who helped us prepare our Saturday evening meal and most of us, I think, were surprised to enjoy the chopped kale salad (I even prepared it tonight for my family).  She joined us for dinner and shared information from her website.  I was part of the prep for the Irish soda bread with caraway seeds and raisins and it was a hit.  I didn't expect to like the raisins in a baked bread (for me raisins belong in oatmeal cookies or cereal),  but it was a really good bread.

One other visitor to the cabin allowed us to discuss more private issues related to self-esteem and intimacy.  She was amazing and, again, patiently answered our (many) questions and offered as much practical advice as she could.  We were thrilled that she stayed to have dinner with us and chatted more and provided examples of simple ways to improve our lives.  It was serious and fun all at the same time and I was so thankful for the time she spent with us.

I don't know what else to say about what Image Reborn gave to all of us last weekend.  They gave me women who understood what I am dealing with right now.  They gave us incredible accommodations in a beautiful part of the country.  We learned a lot about how to live our lives despite being diagnosed with this stupid breast cancer.  Friendships were formed and I feel so fortunate to have spent just a couple of days with such strong, loving, compassionate women.

Thank you Image Reborn Foundation.  Please check out the link if you would like more information about their retreats or how to support what the foundation.


Monday, November 5, 2012

It's a Boob, Not a Bomb!

I am preparing myself to take a little trip this weekend.  I'll be flying out early Friday morning and returning Sunday evening.  The Image Reborn Foundation is graciously allowing me to participate in a retreat for young breast cancer survivors.  And yes, I did confirm that I fit into the "young" category, because there is some debate.  There is a little trepidation on my part as this is the first time I have traveled (flown on an airplane) since my surgeries and treatment.  

Today I discussed my concerns with my sister and we laughed as I tried to figure out how to handle my prosthesis situation.  You know?  The one boob that is fake and that I store in a box at night.  I don't really know what it is made of, but I would prefer to not have some sort of intense search done by TSA when I'm trying to make it to my gate for a 7a flight.  I am still not familiar with the rules and regulations that came about after 9/11/01 as I have only flown a handful of times since that time.  I always have to read up again just to be sure that I have items packed correctly.  

So, you see, is this prosthesis filled with fluid that would require some sort of disclosure?  Do I mention it before I walk through the scanner?  Will they just "know" because breast cancer seems to be running rampant around here these days and surely they have seen more than one of these things in their time working for the TSA?  Was I supposed to ask my surgeon about some sort of letter to carry with me?  Who knows.  But people, it's a boob, not bomb, so surely they can figure it out, right?  I mean, I'm basically bald so it should be pretty obvious what is going on in my world.  

And just to make things a tad more complicated, I also have a port.  This is the little contraption that was placed during my first surgery and is used to get blood samples and also for infusions (chemotherapy and now Herceptin).  Again, I'm assuming they have seen more than one of these things and I also have a little card that I carry in my wallet, so I can at least explain this one easily.  I have no idea what it is made of either, but I'm sure that the card will tell them what they need to know to allow me to board the plane.

I just don't know what to expect and that makes me uncomfortable and nervous.  How will things go at the airport?  How will I feel all day without hair and stuck wearing a hat even when I like to take it off at times when I'm home?  I'm so self-conscious out in public sometimes that I don't know how I will be feeling while I travel, but I'm going to pray for people around me to appear understanding as it is certainly helpful.  

I'm headed to Park City, Utah and have never been there.  According to The Weather Channel app, it appears that the high while I am out there is in the low 30s (actually only 28 degrees on Saturday).  I'm NOT a good packer to begin with and really hope to have as little as possible since it is such a short trip.  Plus, I'm still such a weenie that I don't want to have to lug around too many bags.  It will be cold, so that means warm clothing (sweaters, jackets, boots, etc) which always takes up lots of room.  And I am lousy at making wardrobe decisions ahead of time.  I'm a person who is usually in the "mood" to wear something in particular and if I don't have that particular item I end up feeling uncomfortable or out-of-place.  

That's it folks.  I'm BLESSED to have the opportunity to take this trip but stressed about the logistics.  And hoping that no one thinks I've tucked a bomb into my super-unflattering bra.  Good times people. :)  I had hoped to be funnier, wittier and just plain make myself laugh, but once I started typing it wasn't happening.  I hope you had a little chuckle at least.  I've had some messages that I've left the blog inactive for too long, so I thought this was my time to post.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Chemo #6: D.O.N.E.!!!

OK, so my LAST BIG CHEMO treatment was Monday, October 8th.  It's been almost 3 weeks and I still haven't bothered to post.  I apologize.  It would seem that it was T.H.E. most important thing in my world and, at the time it was, but I just wasn't feeling "it".

I want to be celebrating.  It is a big deal to get the big stuff over with but I was dreading the aftermath.  They warn you that some of the side effects are cumulative, especially the fatigue, but I really couldn't have imagined how tired I would feel.  And the issues with my mouth - potential mouth sores and the way that my taste buds were being ruined - were only getting worse for me.  I couldn't find drinks that I enjoyed and that would satisfy my thirst.  Food has tasted terrible for so long and I try to find what seems most enjoyable at the time, but it seems to change each time.

Thankfully I have also celebrated my last Neulasta injection and the last of the steroids that I take before, during and after big chemo.  Both of these medications are an important part of the process, but they both certainly don't do much for me and my ability to push through each treatment.  The Neulasta did it's job during each round of chemo.  My white blood cell counts stayed at a level which allowed me to continue treatments and I also managed to avoid any major illnesses despite a non-existent immune system. And the steroids, well, I don't know exactly what they did for me, aside from contribute to assisting me pack on almost 20 lbs during the last 18 weeks.  I believe they help reduce some of the potential side effects, so I guess they too did their job, because all and all, I think it went OK.  Not great.  But OK.

Chemo #5 really kept me down for a while.  And it was just a hard time for me.  I lost my friend, Wendy, to breast cancer on Sept. 22 and I just wasn't handling that very well.  I spent a lot of time being alone.  Some might think that is a terrible idea.  And as someone who knows the "before-cancer-Kim", I would agree that staying home most days and not being particularly social sounds like a bad plan.  But I realized that I needed some time to myself.

I also realized that I was heading down a slippery slope and was glad to get out the weekend just before my last chemo.  I enjoyed some time with friends on October 7th to walk in the American Cancer Society's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event here in Knoxville.  I had some friends join me and it wasn't too bad.  I wasn't breaking any records, but the sun was shining and I walked a 5K, which was probably more than I had walked during the previous 30 days.  It was a great event and I really enjoyed talking with other breast cancer survivors as well as a man and his daughter who were walking in memory of his wife (her mother) who had passed away 3 years ago from a brain tumor (glioblastoma just like my mom).  He was so kind and his daughter was just too sweet though my heart broke for her because you could still feel the loss she was working through even 3 years later.  I enjoyed the conversations with other people who "get it" although I felt like the only bald female in attendance that day, but was encouraged by so many to stay strong.  Here's my "team" The Breast Cancer Booty Kickers:

And, for the BIG news...[drum roll please]... I found out last week that I WILL be receiving radiation therapy (RT).  There is much to say about this, but I'm going to have to save it for another post.  The short version is that I was told having the second surgery (the axillary dissection) meant avoiding radiation.  I was NOT given the information related to the statistics of having the radiation vs not having it, especially when one is pre-menopausal.  There is a lot of GREAT information about radiation on the  My doctor explained that RT will greatly reduce the chance of recurrence for me, especially in about 10-14 years from now.  This is really a no-brainer for me as I am still "young" at 43 and, more importantly, have three children who are not even 5 years old yet, so there are still many more memories to be shared with them.

So yes, I start radiation soon.  Next week is my "planning appointment" where they make the mold for my arm which will allow me to stay VERY still during the process each day.  Oh, did I mention that I will have RT Monday through Friday for a total of 33 treatments.  I expect that I should complete the treatments just before Christmas.  Each one is supposed to last about 15 minutes or so.  During the planning appointment, they will also determine exactly where they will direct the "beam" in order kill any remaining cancer cells, or at least that's how I like to think of it.  The location of my tumor was some cause for concern as it was so close to the chest wall (though, according to the pathology report, there was a clean margin albeit ever so slight) and very close to the internal mammary nodes.  The RT will deliver these damaging rays of energy (hopefully) to the exact locations that might pose a threat.

I wasn't even aware of the internal mammary nodes nor did I realize that my tumor was so close to them.  Apparently there are varying opinions as to whether RT is effective when targeted at these internal mammary nodes and there are risks.  The main one for me is related to the radiation therapy in general as it puts me at an even greater risk for lymphedema.  Blah!  There can be minimal lung or rib damage as well.  There should not be any risk for heart damage as it shouldn't be in the way.  The other issues are related to the skin - burns, rashes, darkening of the skin.  I can only hope that I am able to remember and keep up with the skin care regimen that they recommend in order to avoid any skin problems.  [My chemo-brain and I are at odds as I have trouble remembering many things these days.]

Anyway, I apologize for my delayed post and for being MIA, but I just can't seem to find the words to write.  I struggle to stay positive, upbeat  and focused.  My mind plays tricks on me.  My body is weary after all of the toxic chemicals have been delivered.  I AM thankful.  VERY thankful for those drugs as I see them as a way to be sure that this breast cancer has truly had it's booty kicked.  But I am more tired than I have been and than I expected.  And I really have trouble just finding anything to hold my interest.  My stick-to-it-iveness has blown out the window.  I can't seem to get things done.  My social contacts are limited.  During the last couple of rounds of chemo, I often didn't bother answering the phone because I didn't have the energy or desire to talk.

Right now, I'm also struggling when I go out in public (not chemo or dr appts, but school meetings, the store, etc) because I feel like an outsider.  I am sick of not having hair.  I'm tired of hats, scarves, etc.  I'm over just having one boob.  I actually went for a fitting and got a prosthesis.  Yes folks, it's a fake boob. And not the surgically implanted kind, but rather one that gets stuffed into a bra.  A bra that I don't love because it is big and strappy and I feel completely unattractive and unfeminine in it.  Did I mention that I'm sick of not having hair?  I find myself staring at hair when I'm in public.  Sometimes I forget that I don't have it and then realize that people are looking at me "like that" because I don't have hair and they are trying to process it.  I catch myself staring at their hair and thinking they should be in a Pantene commercial.  I don't know that I'll ever let it grow out to be long again.  I just want enough to make me feel like a woman and also enough so that I don't HAVE to wear a hat or scarf (because sometimes it is just too hot or they just get in the way and it's a pain to find one to match an outfit).

The hair is growing though.  Lots of fuzz on my head and we are still trying to determine if it is a lighter color than it was prior to chemo.  I've been told it could come in curly but that does not seem to be the case as it stands straight up but is still not long or heavy enough to be smoothed over to one side.  There is still lots of bare scalp, mind you, but progress is being made and I am truly thankful.

I apologize for being less than perky with my post.  This is the reason for my delay.  I've been taking some time "off" to just avoid writing and admitting to people how I really feel.  Usually I hear people tell me how strong, brave and/or positive I am through all of this.  But I don't feel that way.  I just feel like a person trying to get to the end of this.  I want to feel like it is behind me and I'm safe.  But I wonder if I will ever really feel "safe" again?  

When I am in the chemo room surrounded by people who really do know what I am going through (and often they are going through MUCH worse), I am at my best.  I like to chat and visit and be me.  It's about the closest to "pre-cancer-me" but I have realized that I am not who I was pre-cancer.  I'm very different.  Hopefully I will eventually become stronger, happier, more thankful, more generous, more productive, more loving, kinder and gentler.  I feel like I am completely the opposite of all of those things today, but it comes-and-goes.  My body is tired.  My brain is tired.  My spirit is tired.  I know that I'm still waiting to find out how God can use this for His purpose.  He can.  I just have to let Him.  But I need a little time to be weepy and deal with the big things that have happened so far.  I'm going to turn this around....just give me a little more time and send up a few more prayers, if you don't mind.

Thanks and peace.

P.S.  I have another team of Breast Cancer Booty Kickers joining me this Saturday, October 27th, in Knoxville for the Race for the Cure.  It is another 5K raising money to help find a cure for this stupid breast cancer thing.  Feel free to join the team or donate to the cause.  Here are some links:

Link to my personal page with Komen Knoxville Race for the Cure

Link to my team page, The Breast Cancer Booty Kickers, for the Komen Knoxville Race for the Cure

Monday, September 17, 2012

Chemo #5 Done! Take THAT Breast Cancer!

I am kicking this breast cancer booty!  I can just feel it happening.  Today was round #5 and I have just one more big round scheduled for October 8th.  If you have been around me much in the last few months, you know that October 8th is pretty high on my radar.  I simply cannot wait to get this part of my little booty-kicking journey behind me.  Although I do wonder how I will feel when I don't have "big" doses of chemo running through my system as my weapons of mass destruction.

I will continue to receive Herceptin treatments every three weeks until I have completed one year of infusions (somewhere around June 25 of 2013).  This targeted drug works on the HER2 positive part of my tumor (or that is how I understand it).  Though the tumor is no longer present, the Herceptin will locate any of the cells that have HER2 receptors (if they still exist).  You can read more detailed information on their website here.

Today I was thrilled for the rain in Knoxville because my brother-in-law and my nephew were able to be my chemo buddies for part of my treatment.  [Actually, I had my sister for part of the time too before she had to pick up Clark from school and later get the girls from their preschool.]  My brother-in-law stuck it out for the entire treatment, which went much longer than usual.  And, as usual, there were plenty of sweet people to chat with in the chemo room.  I really love checking in with many of the patients and just catching up on what they are doing, but I can hardly remember what we talk about because my brain is chemo-mush.  I'm sure I ask them the same questions every time I see them, but hopefully they have similar chemo-mush-brains and don't remember.

They were waiting on results of my MUGA scan (basically a test of my heart function to monitor the effects of the chemotherapy drugs and Herceptin).  I had the test last Friday and it turns out that my numbers were better than when I began the treatments (surprising since I feel like my heart is coming out of my chest at times when I exert myself at all--like climbing stairs, carrying laundry, loading the dishwasher, unloading groceries).  Once we had the news that my heart is doing just fine, they were able to get started.

I am trying to find out what else in next.  I know that Tamoxifen is coming and I am not thrilled.  It has lots of unpleasant side effects.  My surgeon has scheduled a follow-up appointment (at Vanderbilt) and also an appointment with a plastic surgeon on December 26th.  Who works on December 26th?!?  I don't expect to get any surgeries scheduled anytime soon.  As I understand it, I will have to wait for at least six months post "big chemo" and my chemo doctor has also indicated that it would be best to wait until my Herceptin treatments are complete (did I mention that isn't until June 2013???) because otherwise they would have to be interrupted when I have any additional surgeries.  Ugh.  That could mean having just one boob until next summer!  This is NOT what I was expecting to hear and I definitely had my proverbial bubble burst when I received the news.  But I will do what needs to be done in order to come out of this with NO EVIDENCE OF DISEASE and to be sure that this stupid cancer NEVER ANY WAY, SHAPE OR FORM!  No breast cancer.  No lung cancer (my dad).  No glioblastoma (brain cancer - it's what killed my mother).  No ovarian or uterine cancer (as a result of any of the breast cancer treatments, fertility treatments or any other environmental damage I have inflicted upon myself).  No cancer at all.  Ever.  I'm done.

Thankful for a productive day in the breast cancer booty kicking arena.  And thankful for my chemo buddies, Karen, Tom and Tommy.  And thankful for a wonderful dinner at home with Karen, Tom and the kiddos.  And VERY thankful that all three fell asleep pretty easily this evening.    And even more thankful that God is bigger than all of this cancer.  He really is.

All in all a good day.

I also want to mention to very important events coming up in Knoxville:

I'm participating in the American Cancer Society's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Event in Knoxville on October 7, 2012.  My team is, of course, the Breast Cancer Booty Kickers.  Here is the link to my personal page:  Kim Louis - Breast Cancer Booty Kickers (ACS Making Strides Against Breast Cancer)  Feel free to join  my team or donate to support the work of the American Cancer Society.  Every contribution counts, whether it is $1, $5, $10 or $50, so please consider supporting my efforts in any way you are able to at this time.

Also, on October 27th, I'll also be leading a team (again, the Breast Cancer Booty Kickers) in the Komen Knoxville Race for the Cure.  Here is the link to my personal page for this event:  Kim Louis - Breast Cancer Booty Kickers (Race for the Cure). Again, I can use more team members or contributions to help me reach my fundraising goal.

Both events are 5Ks and I am hopeful that I will be able to complete the entire course, though I expect to be walking .  I would love to have any family, friends, co-workers, Knoxville residents who I have never met, fellow breast cancer (or ANY cancer) survivors and anyone else join me at either or both events.  There is no pressure to run or walk.  Cheerleaders also play an important role. :)

Thanks so much for joining me in this journey.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Happy Birthday!

You know, it's one of those days where I just felt like I needed to pause and post something.  Today is my birthday.  That might sound sort of arrogant to share it here, but quite frankly, I'm pretty thrilled to have another birthday.  And I hope to have many more.  This year has freaked me out just a bit and so my birthday is something to celebrate, but I've felt a little "off" all day.

It seems that I needed to write on this particular day because of what I am going through now.  One day, I hope that cancer won't be the first thing on my mind everyday.  Maybe I'll forget that 2012 was the year I had cancer?  I might not even remember that I was in the midst of cancer treatment when I had my forty-third birthday.  It is what I do right now.  I kick cancer booty.  I'm not working as an accountant, but instead I'm trying to kick some breast cancer booty while still being a mom, a wife, a sister, a friend, etc.  Cancer does not define me, but I can't imagine not thinking about it all of the time like I do now.  It has changed me - my perspective, my priorities, my faith, my relationships.  My life, as it was pre-cancer, is not the same.

Is that good?  Probably.  I think I needed a swift kick in the pants.  But did I think that cancer would be the life-altering event in my life?  Nope.  I definitely didn't see this one coming.  And it has definitely been a blessing in its own unique way.

This year, I didn't plan a big dinner out with friends and hubby.  I wasn't expecting a party or a vacation.  In fact, I was ready to be in bed by 8p after a big day of celebrating as the current booty-kicking-me who wears out quickly.  But not the celebrating that one might think.  Troy brought home my favorite breakfast treat from Dunkin Donuts (Bavarian Cream!) this morning after he dropped Clark at school.  I read books (and snuggled under a freshly laundered quilt) with the girls in the sunroom while he got ready for work.  I had a nice lunch with friends.  I had some special time with Clark after I picked him up from school with a trip to Einstein Bagels and then a quick trip to the park.  I took a thirty minute nap.  Dinner was at home with the kids (they didn't eat much which meant no special birthday dessert for any of them - boo!) and Nanny Barb and Mr. Jerry.  I made my favorite pork tenderloin.  (Troy is working a strange schedule right now as he is involved in training a new group of employees, so he wasn't home yet.)  And then I spent some time reading with Emma, playing space ship with Clark and Kendall before snuggling for bedtime with them.  And I am pooped.  Stupid chemo.

But I was able to celebrate my birthday today and that's all that matters.  So I'm thanking God for my birthday and the chance to celebrate it, despite the fact that I don't feel like "me" and I'm so tired, I'm truly grateful for another year.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

God Is In It

There are days when I feel like this whole thing really stinks.  I get tired of telling people I'm just fine and trying to push through whatever it is that is really bothering me.  Often I am very honest about how I am physically feeling (stomach issues, fatigue, body aches) but I don't like to admit that emotionally I am sometimes crumbling.
Last week was rough for me.  A friend and neighbor who has been courageously battling inflammatory breast cancer is not doing well and they have called hospice to her home.  My heart has been broken thinking about what this family has gone through already and what they are going through right now.  But the fact is, God can heal her.  It might not be the healing that we all would most likely mention in our prayers, but it is His healing and He will comfort them as well.  Or He can heal her here on Earth.  I can only continue to pray for BIG MIRACLES to happen to our precious friend.
At the same time, I heard the news that a young woman battling colon cancer passed away last week.  I've been keeping up with the writings of this amazing Christian woman by the name of Sara Walker.  She initially had a blog where she wrote about her family and then tragedy struck in December of 2010 when it was determined that her unborn daughter had died for unknown reasons just a few weeks before her due date.  A month later, her world was rocked again by the news that she had stage IV colon cancer.  I won't go into every little detail here but you can read her story in the following places:

YouTube video of her "Grateful for cancer" story

I won't lie.  I was scared.  Terrified.  I do NOT have stage IV breast cancer.  It is just a mere stage IIb.  But I won't deny that I have read stories about people who initially had stage II breast cancer and it returned one day and ultimately killed them.  This is a reality that I avoid considering most days.  When I am faced with stories of mothers who have cancer and who do not survive I ask God the obvious questions...."Why her?  What about her children? Don't they need their mother?"  I can't begin to tell you how many times I have cried and begged God to heal children with cancer.  It remains one of my biggest struggles when it comes to my belief in God and maintaining my faith..."Why do these children have to suffer with cancer, terminal illnesses, lack of food and water, abuse, etc?"  I can't begin to understand why these things happen.  I can only trust that God can use these situations to His glory.
In the case of Sara Walker, she used her struggles, her illness, her suffering to tell others about her incredible Father.  She shared how she wasn't afraid.  She showed joy, courage, faith, compassion, strength...the list could go on and on.  Sara was the "real deal" from what I can gather.  I listened to the audio of her memorial service held last week and I just couldn't help but think "Why not me?"
Why can't I be that woman who shows strength and courage in the face of adversity?  Why can't I profess my love of God and my faith that He will see me through this battle to a victory, whether that is here or in Heaven.  Why can't I be the woman who gave and gave and gave of herself even when she was probably feeling at her worst?  Why can't I be the woman who shared her faith with the people she worked with, the patients she served, the people she met daily, the people she whom she worshiped with?  Well, I can be...if I just try harder.  But would it mean that I would die too?  Well yes, it WILL happen.  Eventually.  No one knows when or how.  But after reading her posts and listening to her "Grateful for Cancer" video, I WANT to be her in so many ways.  I was feeling lost.

Tuesday was a mini-chemo day for me.  This means just Herceptin and about an hour at the chemo treatment center.  God was in it with me on Tuesday.  He knew that I was a hot mess.  I was having stomach issues all night and ended up with about 4 hours of sleep.  This after just returning from a trip to Nashville with the kids and the hubby to visit his sister and her family.  Lots of activity and not as much sleep as I probably needed immediately following chemo.  My plan was to get in and out of mini-chemo and enjoy the sleep offered to me as a result of the Benedryl they give me to help with side effects.  [This is the same Benedryl that typically doesn't do much good because it is coupled with a nice dose of steroids for the "big" chemo treatments.]  I was exhausted going into the building and left the house without a drink and didn't have snack plans.

I was lucky to get one of my favorite chemo nurses.  OK, they are all pretty great, but she and I had been texting the day before and she was encouraging me as I struggled with the news about my friend/neighbor.  So, here she comes and I can tell God is in it.  We talk some and I am feeling a little better already.  I read my Jesus Calling devotion and scripture for the day (which related to being close to Him and that He is the light of the world and can help me out of the darkness).  Then this nice woman in a chair across from me is about to leave and offers to grab a snack for me.  She also proceeds to discuss the amazing programs and services offered by my favorite local support center, The Cancer Support Community - East Tennessee.  It was really pleasant and I just needed the distraction.

My visit is short and sweet and I leave without any incident (access to my port happened on the first try, I got to drink a real Coke and I wasn't feeling any bad effects from the treatment).  As I walked off the elevator, the mailman was coming through the doors to make a delivery to the office downstairs.  He said a very friendly "Have a great day!" and I responded with something equally cheery.  I was stuck outside for a minute trying to get my keys out of my bag.  He reappeared then and approached me asking if he could talk to me.  He gave me some sort of explanation that he hoped would make this seem "normal" to me by telling me that his mother had been through breast cancer and had a mastectomy and he just felt like he needed to pray for me.  I agreed and he placed his hand on my shoulder and prayed a confident, uplifting, positive, genuine prayer about my journey and asking for God to bless me.  I thanked him as best I could.  I mean, how do you thank someone you've never met for belting out a powerful prayer on your behalf?  It was just amazing.

I got into my car and began to cry.  It wasn't uncontrollable and it wasn't bad.  I was seriously wondering if I was about to be in a terrible accident, or I was going to get horrific news.  But instead, I just looked up at the sky and thanked God for these moments where He made it ABUNDANTLY clear that He is in IT...ALL OF IT.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

What Intimidates Me....Today

Today I am pondering over the things that have made me feel just a little (or more) intimidated lately.
Image from Google search.  Not my own.

1.) This being the eve of another round of chemo (#4!!!) is just one of those intimidating things.  Chemo is good.  Funny I say that since it is also bad.  Like toxic bad.  Like makes your hair fall out bad.  BUT it is also good.  It is an amazing medical wonder that has happened that helps people kick all types of cancer booty.  Seriously a medical wonder.  Who thought this stuff up?  Who was willing to be the first to get a chemo infusion?  Now that would have been intimidating.  The first person trying out chemo was a brave soul.
And so, here I am, anticipating the next round.  For those that don't know, chemo infusions go pretty smoothly and aren't really that bad.  The chemo room where I go is upbeat and the people are so friendly and hey, free snacks!!!  Who doesn't love some free snacks, right?
But I dread the Neulasta shot the following day because I know that I will wake up the next morning barely able to chew (the bone pain that they mention seems to start out in my jaw every time).  And for about two days I feel like I've got the flu times about 100 (maybe more).
It means that I'm sort of useless with the kids and the house for a few days, but I try.  I'm definitely willing to be all sorts of affectionate with my little munchkins/cheerleaders and even able to read stories.  But when they ask me to play in the backyard or push them in the swing or play catch, I feel like a bad mommy.  This too shall pass.  In a week or two, I can participate more.  In fact, by the weekend, I should be feeling like playing a little more and more each day.  So I'm saying "Hello chemo!  Buh-bye cancer!"

Image from Google search. Not my own.

2.)  Victoria's Secret was intimidating yesterday.  I had coupons for freebies.  Free underwear and $10 off $10 (a little birthday coupon that I got the other day).  How's that saying go?  "If it's free, it's for me!"  Yes.  I planned on grabbing my freebies and walking out without spending a dime.   It was sort of fun.  Except when I realized I was surrounded by bras.  And gigantic images of women with huge boobs.  Or boobs that were at least pushed up to look huge and voluptuous and womanly.  And suddenly I was intimidated and I felt broken and not feminine or womanly at all.  I don't often worry about how my chest appears to others.  I don't wear a prosthesis (yet, if ever) and I don't stuff a regular bra because the one time I did I felt like the padding was coming out of the top and I just couldn't get the padding to match the real side.  Oh, and did I mention that it's summer and the heat has been crazy and the idea of having anything else to make me feel too warm is very unappealing since I'm already uncomfortably sweating under my hats/scarves most days?  Yes, all of that stuff feels too hot for me, but it might be good in the Fall/Winter.
I checked out with my free underwear and told her that I still have another coupon and may or may not shop.  She was friendly.  I perused the little shelves of lotion, body spray, lip gloss and makeup and found something interesting and returned to the same cashier.  At this point, I decided to use my humor and admit my insecurities (and address the elephant in the room - or the missing boob) and she and another clerk were VERY kind to me.  We joked about whether I should get DD cups or just stick to a more "athletic-looking" B cup.  I told them that when I get my new perkier boobs (sometime next year), I will be sure to come back to buy at least one pretty bra that makes me feel girlie and they were both very encouraging.  They didn't have to be encouraging.  It was sort of awkward.  And they were both pretty young.  But they were friendly and sweet and helped me feel a little less weird and freakish and I have to give them a shout-out for being so kind.

Image from Aldi Press Center. Not my own.

3.) A trip to Aldi's turned out to be more intimidating than my visit to Victoria's Secret.  I had a short list of some things to grab and Aldi is so inexpensive compared to many items in typical grocery stores that I decided to run there to grab the basics for lunches this week.  After a less-than-ideal experience shopping (due to a VERY unhappy toddler who was crying the entire time though she was accompanied by two parents and one could have easily gone to the car with her), I had my produce, cheese, veggies, some frozen items and other lunch things and headed to the checkout lane.  If you have ever been to Aldi's, you know that customer service is not high on their priority list because they are working to keep costs down.  I am OK with that theory in general and went there aware of this concept, though this was only my third time in this particular store and about my fifth visit to an Aldi store ever (in about two years).  The cashier rang out my items and I went to pay for my groceries with a credit card (the one with points that is paid off monthly but used for groceries, gas, etc).  It asked for my PIN and I don't have one.  She reminded me that they don't take credit cards, only debit cards.  I offered to write a check and she said that they only take cash or debit cards or EBT.  At this point I am embarrassed because I also remembered that I lost my ATM card and have not re-activated my new one.  I had no options.  I called the husband but he was elbow-deep in baths and couldn't help me.  I had to leave the groceries.  She summoned a manager who voided the transaction and pushed (with force) the cart over towards another abandoned cart with no word to me.  I then realized that my quarter cannot be retrieved since I no longer had a cart to return (Aldi has a cart system where you get your cart for a quarter and when you return it, you get your quarter back).  Yes, it was just a quarter, but I didn't feel the need to leave it behind.  I awkwardly asked the manager who didn't seem to understand my request and then she got it.  After a huge **sigh**, she pulled a quarter out of her pocket and smacked it into my palm.  Again, intimidated and mortified.  I even drove to an ATM to see if I could activate my card and was unsuccessful.  I was stressed and have chemo-brain and I'm not even sure that I had my PIN number correct.  I intended on running back for my groceries but couldn't get cash so I was unable to do so.  And, quite frankly, I was so frustrated with that manager I don't even want to bother shopping there again.  It was a bad visit to Aldi.  Intimidation 1: Kim 2
Images from Google searches.  Not my own.

4.) A family-friendly trip to Lowe's Build and Grow workshop yesterday with Auntie Karen and myself and the three kiddos turned out to be VERY intimidating at first.  We went there expecting that this was a workshop and there would be some sort of teaching involved.  You know, like where they instruct the little ones on the appropriate use of safety goggles, hammers, etc?  But that was not the case.  And I don't fault Lowe's at all, we just didn't know what was involved.  And we didn't come with enough helpers, let alone any men to participate.  Yes, women can build things also, but the two of us aren't really known for our construction abilities, so we were both very intimidated.  We could hear all of the banging and see projects coming together quickly at the tables with older children or the ones with parents (mostly men, but some women) who were helping out and quickly hammering the pieces together.  In the end, the kids did great (and so did the auntie and the mommy).  The girls were more interested at first and we worked with them and Clark was happy making his own masterpiece.  Then I was able to spend time with him getting his wagon (actually a Shrek Onion Carriage) assembled and he did a great job getting nails into the holes and hammering them as instructed.  He even placed the stickers without any instruction just by watching other kids (and his sisters).  They all three came away with wagons that roll and we could proudly show them off to daddy when he got home from work.  Intimidation be gone!

There are more things, but I'll stop there.  I just wanted to write about feeling intimidated but remember how it felt to overcome it (in most cases).

Peace and Happy Sunday.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Chemo #3: AKA The Yawn that Never Ends...and HALFWAY DONE!!!!

I should clarify that by yawn I do not mean that I am bored with chemo or anything else.  What I intend to share is that I cannot get enough sleep this round.  It's ridiculous actually.  While I have not slept 18 hours per day or anything, I just feel like I am tired even when I wake up.  And every ounce of energy expended seems to require a "refill" of about 3 hours of sleep, which is not even possible.  I've napped more in the last 10 days or so than I have in a long time.  This morning, I was up getting the kids ready for preschool and crawled back into bed as they were pulling out of the driveway with Daddy....and woke up about 2 hours later.

Aside from the fatigue, this chemo has been pretty uneventful.  Well, not entirely.  I had a round of sickness that didn't really involve warning me with nausea, at least not for long.  And I've had some stomach issues.  Stupid chemo vs. gut competition trying to see who is tougher.  Word on the street (in the chemo room) is that often the side effects from chemo are cumulative and that the fatigue does seem to worsen with each new dose.  I would have to agree.  And I am definitely going to be a happy camper when I can one day taste food as it is intended to taste.  Steak and potato are on the menu sometime in October when I feel like I can again stomach meat and actually taste steak and not some weird metallic, flavorless piece of nothing.

We were blown away by the support of our community this past weekend during a one-day fundraiser at the Knoxville and Alcoa Menchie's locations.  They donated a portion of their proceeds on Sunday (August 12th) to our family to help cover medical and other general expenses.  We met some friends and family at one location and had a great time visiting and eating yummy frozen yogurt.  A local TV reporter, Allie Spillyards with WVLT, interviewed me and some friends and we had a spot on the 11p news.  You can check it out here.  She was so sweet and we were thankful that they took an interest.

Earlier in the month, I met with another local news anchor, Robin Wilhoit of WBIR, who presents a Buddy Check 10 segment each month to remind women to do their breast self-exam.  The segment aired last Friday (August 10th) and we made it a family event by gathering at my sister's house for pizza with the kids and my nephew and his wife to get a first look at the story.  The kids and I (along with our super-sitter) met Ms. Wilhoit at a nearby park for the interview and we loved that the cameraman (another Mr. Jerry) was able to get some nice footage of the kids playing.  You can take a look at the story here.

Once again, I cannot put into words how much it has meant to me (and our family) to have such a great network of friends and family who have supported us through this breast cancer journey.  Even people we have never met personally have contacted us via PayPal, Facebook, emails or even snail mail to send us words of encouragement, offer up prayers and sometimes help us financially.  It is humbling to say the least.  We are forever grateful and I plan to find a way to pay-it-forward once I'm a little further down the road.  My mind is constantly trying to process it all and I've been thinking of so many ways to be able to do something for others as a result of what I have been through.  Once I come up with a plan, I will certainly share it here first.

So, chemo #3?  It was OK.  Maybe a little rougher than #2 but not as bad as #1.  I think I felt like it was "working" more this time since I felt worse.  Head games, I know.  But humor me.  If I can convince myself that this stupid chemo is in there causing mass destruction against any little teeny tiny cancer cells that might be lingering, then I can totally put up with the fatigue and any other side effects that come my way.  And no, that is NOT a dare to the chemo, God or anything else to try to MAKE me feel any worse, thank-you-very-much.  I get it.  Chemo is BAD stuff.  But it is also GOOD stuff as it is going to kick some breast cancer booty so that I can be out there helping others very soon.  Did I mention that I'm now HALFWAY THERE?!?!?!?  Woo hoo!  Three down and three to go!


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Calming My Storm

Every night (for months and months) I have gone to bed and listened first (and maybe last) to the YouTube video of Carrie Underwood and Vince Gill performing "How Great Thou Art".  Often I fall asleep before it is even over.  Other times, I cannot get to sleep and I move on to a version of "It Is Well"  sung by Daniel Martin Moore.  I also have an app with white noise, ocean waves, rain drops, etc.  But I find myself waking up pleased when I can tell that the last thing my mind was hearing as it shut down for the day was a reminder that He is my Savior and that because of this I can rest knowing it is all going to be OK.  Sometimes you just have to trust in Him and have faith that He has a bigger plan than we can ever imagine.

I write that knowing that I feel like I know what the best outcome would be, but obviously He already knows how this will end....and when.

And whenever that may be, I have to feel blessed because of all that has come from my cancer diagnosis.  The new relationships I have formed.  The old relationships that have been strengthened.  The people who might find their breast cancer early because of hearing my story.  The fact that I have a chance to adjust my priorities.  The ways we have been blessed by so many family members, friends, co-workers and even strangers who have wanted to do something to help our family as we go through this cancer journey.  And the ways I hope to serve others going through their journey.  All of these things have happened, are happening or will happen one day soon because of my breast cancer diagnosis.  How cool is that?!?!

So yes, sometimes the storm is raging.  Whether it's in my head, or in some form of a side effect from the treatment, there is a storm-a-brewing.  Maybe it is in the realization that another breast cancer friend is suffering and my heart is breaking and asking the "why" questions.  Which also always leads to the "what will happen to me?" question and "what about my kids?" question.  And then I think "How great thou art!" and "it is will with my soul" because God is there in all of these storms.  He knows the outcome.  He will work this out for His good.  [Rom 8:28 NIV And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.]

You can check out the Carrie Underwood/Vince Gill "How Great Thou Art" YouTube video here.

And you can check out Daniel Martin Moore performing "It Is Well" here.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Top 11 GOOD Things About Having Breast Cancer and Chemo

It sounds like a weird post, right?  But it's true that there are GOOD things about this breast cancer and, as I approach ROUND 3 of chemo, I wanted to spend a little time focusing on these good things:

11. I can run errands in the rain because I'm not worried about getting my hair wet.  The hats are definitely helpful, but it just doesn't seem to matter much at this point.  Glass half-full people!

10. I can shower at night now.  My hair has always been fine and it seemed that morning showers were better and helped me think I looked fresh for the day.  With little to no hair, this is not a concern.

9. I can dry my head/hair with a washcloth (rather than using two towels every day).

8.  I have a pretty good collection of washcloths.

7. I only have to shave my legs about every 4-5 days (or less), instead of daily.  Hey, I'm a South FL girl and I have ALWAYS shaved my legs every day.  We won't get into the bikini-prep, but let's just say that it is another silver lining of chemo. ;)  Not that I will be wearing a bikini.  Ever.

6. My hair care budget is almost non-existent.  No need to get haircuts and highlights for a while.  I use VERY little shampoo on my little baby-bird head and I just use the kids shampoo since it is mild and safe (no parabens, chemicals, etc).

5. My sister made my favorite version of potato salad for me during my last chemo week.  It's my mom's recipe and the only one I love.

4. I get to eat rice pudding, ice cream and yogurt for a week without feeling guilty.  They are the foods that don't bother my mouth and the change in my taste buds doesn't seem to have destroyed those pleasures for me.

3. We save money on meat because it just doesn't really taste very good to me these days.  Every so often I feel like a burger or a steak, but generally it's not on my menu.

2. I get to spend additional time with some amazing people because of chemo appointments or recovery time at home.  I've enjoyed the time with my sister and friends who are able to visit with me during the day.

1. Realizing that I am one of The. Most. Blessed. Women. In. The. World.

Seriously blessed people.  I mean it.  I can't thank my friends and family enough for supporting me and our family through this journey.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Moving Right Along...Thankfully

Chemo #2 was definitely a success.  Well, I think it was from my perspective.  I admit to actually letting the thought "If I don't feel as bad as last time, maybe it wasn't the right dose or it isn't working" cross my mind at least once or twice.  But I've tried to just enjoy the fact that it has been less difficult though very exhausting.  The fatigue side of it has been so hard to describe.  I get bursts of energy and then suddenly I feel like I can't stay awake a minute longer and have to go rest.  I am learning to pay attention and actually listen to what my body is telling me.

I have just begun to have trouble with the acne on my almost-bare scalp.  This is just plain gross.  The doctor called in a prescription for a topical lotion (antibiotic, I think) and I'm really hoping this alleviates some of this issue.  I've read a blog and a Caring Bridge page for two other women experiencing acne while undergoing chemotherapy and there is another woman close to my age locally who is having the same trouble.  Unfortunately, at the doctor's office, it seems like our reaction is a little unusual.  I'm just not sure if it is a reaction to chemo, my body trying to process the toxins from chemo, a result of the hormonal changes from chemo (as my body slips into menopause as a result) or maybe even heat/fabric- issues as my poor, sensitive scalp adjusts to life without hair to provide a buffer.  But there are certainly better things to discuss.

Lately, this great team of "chemo angels" started sending me cards and small gifts in the mail.  These are people who have survived cancer and are now giving back.  One woman is my "card angel" and she has sent me some beautiful notes already.  The other woman lives in TX and her first gift was a package of all sorts of TX travel information (maps, brochures, etc) as well as a cowboy bandana that the kids love.  Later she sent something with an umbrella, drink cup (again confiscated by the small people in the house) and a book.  And another package (Troy's favorite so far) had all sorts of TX "heat" (hot tamales candy, two bottles of hot sauce, Big Red gum).  These people are so sweet and I love that they have been through this journey before and are now connecting with people currently in treatment.  I am already considering participating in this once I am out of treatment because it is such an amazing ministry.

Recently, I've gone back to a church I attended in the 90s (though I've still remained as an inactive member despite attending other churches).  My parents originally went there and I eventually followed (somewhat reluctantly because I wanted to find my "own" church).  I spent a number of years at this church and was pretty involved so lately, it feels like "home" to me in some strange way.  I feel connected to my parents again.  And I've also run into some people who were important to me so I feel like it is where I need to be for now.

I've had friends bring me smoothies and milkshakes.  My sister made me my favorite egg salad and potato salad (our mom's recipe) and sought out tuna fish that I loved (the kind from Jason's Deli is the best, in my opinion).  My sis-in-law sent a super cool Cookie Bouquet this week of all pink cookies which have been delish!  And a friend from college sent me a box of all sorts of "pink" things and an iTunes gift card so that I can make my own "mix tape."  This week I also got a call from someone offering to let me join her at the gym a few days a week (free pass for guest) which sounds like a great way to burn off some of those shakes and smoothies!  We've also been blessed with so many wonderful meals during the last few months, but it has been nice to start getting back into the kitchen and actually looking up recipes again.  Generous co-workers even donated some of their hard-earned PTO (paid time off) hours in order to help ease some financial burden and the stress of leaving my job to get well.

I still haven't been focused and diligent enough to get thank you notes completed.  Please know that I do intend to try to personally thank everyone who has supported us during this time.  We've been overwhelmed by the kindness of so many friends and family members as well as people we have never met.  I know that people tend to see me and probably think that they don't want cancer.  I didn't want cancer.  But I also feel like I have been blessed in so many ways because of my diagnosis and treatment that I am thankful for it too.  I have met some amazing people, many of them are women who have already traveled down this road and others who are navigating it just ahead of me.  Without breast cancer, I wouldn't have met these people and I feel an amazing connection to them already.  Sure.  I wish it hadn't happened to me.  But at the same time, I do feel thankful that it happened to me.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Chemo Round #2: Because Triplet-Mommy Brain Just Wasn't Enough

I'm thinking that chemo-brain is already making it's debut.  Tonight I was getting ready to take my meds before bed.  I've started this little diary app where I write up my chemo meds, other meds, side effects, treatments and how things went.  It's just the best way for me to be able to keep track for future reference and to help me get through subsequent chemotherapy treatments.

So, here I was typing away about Day 2 in my Chemo #2 and when I clicked "done" I could NOT remember whether I had already taken the medicine or whether I still needed to get it all out and take it.  Ugh.  Two of the medicines are just once per 24-hour period, so I'm wary of assuming I had not ingested said drugs and taking them.  Now I sit and try to recreate the moments but...nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  Can't remember.  And here, I thought that triplet-mommy brain was going to take away all of the brain cells I had, but now I can thank the chemo for making this even more dramatic.  I stumble through words and thoughts and try to be sure to write anything down (like something to buy or to do or to research) in case I can't pull it out of those cobwebs up there.

Moving along, I must say that Chemo #2 went VERY smoothly yesterday.  I enjoyed some time with my sister, Karen, and Lisa C who was kind enough to bring me Chick-Fil-A for lunch (and then had to watch me inhale it).  She stayed and suffered through the bad television choices made by another patient (CBS soap operas, Fox News and then Cartoon Network).  Obviously that particular patient was enjoying the TV time, but none were high on my list to watch and it was a little distracting.  But we all have our own preferences and she seemed content with her choices.  And my sister brought a new John Grisham book to read but never even cracked it open.  There is just too much socializing to do in the chemo room. :)

Today was my friendly Neulasta shot.  The last one lead to quite a bit of discomfort, but I'm hoping for an easier run this time.  We shall see.  I feel confident that I'm going into this round armed with more knowledge and experience that I pray will make it easier to manage the possible side effects that might drop by for a visit.  And I also know that by this time next week, I should be feeling much better (per my first round) and that is also a source of comfort.  Plus, I have felt pretty darn good for the last four days, so I know that all of this will be a distant memory at this time next year.  I was even discussing how my last treatment is scheduled for October 8th which means that I should be feeling up to enjoying the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and feeling all of the joy that comes with such a special time of year.

I continue to appreciate the strong women I have met through my support group at the Cancer Support Community of East TN.  I cannot say enough good things about their organization and I encourage my readers to keep them in mind if you know anyone else going through a cancer  journey.  They are such an amazing resource and offer so many wonderful FREE programs, groups and activities for cancer survivors and their caregivers and families (yoga, wellness exercise, art, nutrition and cooking classes as well as so many other informational sessions).

I've managed to get quite a bit done in the last four days as I prepared for this round of breast cancer booty kicking.  I've tended to lots of laundry, ran errands, made a trip to SAM'S Club for some of the essentials (that will last a little longer) and I was even able to get my ballot cast for early voting here in K'town.  Whew.  Now I'm hoping to get to take a few days to rest and let the chemo do it's job.

One more silver lining of this cancer thing?  Tomorrow I have two people coming from Two Maids and a Mop (as part of the Cleaning for a Reason program that helps people who are in active cancer treatment) for two hours of CLEANING!  Woo hoo.  I am excited about what they might be able to accomplish in just two hours.  How lucky am I????

That's all I can muster up for the evening.  I continue to feel so thankful and blessed by all of the love, support and, of course, the prayers from so many wonderful people.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Prayers and Help Needed for the Shelby Family in LA

I do not know this family personally, but heard of them via another blogger and felt that I needed to post something about their situation.  The father in this family, Pastor Rob Shelby, was injured after diving into the pool on 7/3/12.  He is paralyzed from the chest down (at this point).  They have nine children and his wife is pregnant with their tenth child.  I can't even BEGIN TO IMAGINE what they are going through right now and I just wanted to share the link to their blog and also a site where people can donate to help them.

Their blog can be found HERE.

And the site where you can get information if you are able to help them is HERE.

There was also a wonderful post written by a close friend of theirs HERE that reminds me AGAIN, how God is in control of all of the trials we face and that He can use these trials for good.

There can never be too many people praying for this man, Pastor Rob Shelby.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Whole New World (cue Ariel to sing please)

Today is a new day.  Monday was a BAD day.  My chemo nurse sent me a message later that evening reminding me not to let cancer take away my joy.  I heard what she was saying, but I was zapped.  I hit what felt like rock bottom Monday night and prayed that the new medicines and a night of rest would make a difference.
When I woke up Tuesday, I was still unsure about how I was feeling but I wanted to find the joy in the day.  I still felt like someone had pulled the "positive rug" right out from under me and I wasn't sure how to get it back.  But, miraculously, by Tuesday afternoon, I was beginning to feel like things were improving.  My sweet friend brought me a smoothie and visited with me.  And I was able to get in some rest before the kids and our amazing sitter and her awesome hubby came over to eat dinner at our house.  We had lasagna and spaghetti (two of my favorite comfort foods) and my medicine allowed me to be able to tolerate it and actually enjoy it.
Troy had a later work day, but once he was home, we all hung out together in the front yard, visited with neighbors who were out walking and it just felt normal again.  I wasn't ready to run a marathon, but I was outside and communicating with people and not in misery.  My body was finally giving me a break.
So today, I wanted to publish my not-so-happy post from Monday and then immediately follow it up with this one to tell you that I'm on the other side of that chemo #1 and beginning to get my "groove" back.

Today I found my joy again.  Nanny Barb and I took the kids to see a parade this morning and it was their first, so it was a memory that I was able to participate in despite cancer.  Pfffffttttttthhhh.  I refuse to let cancer win.  I am going to kick some cancer booty.  Just remind me of this little post next time I get to losing my umph.

Happy Fourth of July!  God bless America.  We are so lucky to live in this country and I'm thankful to all those who have served in the armed forces.


Monday, July 2, 2012

My Life as a Weenie-Chemo-Participant

I am a big weenie when it comes to medicines.  It almost always takes the "smaller" dose (except in the case of Benedryl causing sleep).  And if there is a side effect, I hate even contemplating it because I don't want to get it.  But throw in a cancer diagnosis and a bunch of toxic sludge, aka chemotherapy, and I am a big hot mess!  There was actually a little workshop just prior to the start of my chemo that was intended to help people manage the chemo side effects.  While I did want to be aware of what MIGHT happen, I was also very confident that everyone has a different response/reaction and I prayed that I just might be a lucky one.

Yeah, well, not so lucky.  I hate whining about it because I know that there are people enduring much worse treatments right now.  There are children going through cancer treatment and they don't even understand why.  But I guess I am thinking that I need to get this out there in order to be up-front, honest and also to just document my journey for myself (because some day I might want to remember how crappy I am feeling?!?!?).

Anyway, after big chemo on Monday, I went back for a Neulasta shot on Tuesday.  This shot helps me fight infections while undergoing chemotherapy.  My link (see above) will give you more information just in case you like to learn about such things.  I was also told to take Claritin for a week beginning on Tuesday in an effort to reduce the negative side effects from the shot, specifically bone pain.  Bone pain?  What the heck?!?!  Yes.  B.O.N.E. P.A.I.N.  This was a completely unique experience and boy am I dreading another one of those little babies.  Whew.  That pain kicked in on Wednesday and continued through Thursday (maybe Friday?). It's all a blur.

Just when I thought it was "safe to go back in the water" because the bone pain had finally subsided, a whole new round of side effects became part of my own experience.  I was dealing with a pretty big headache early on (which continued with little relief through the entire week) and the dr did suggest that I discontinue taking Zofran.  I had only taken two doses in order to "stay ahead" of the nausea.  Nausea hadn't really felt like a big problem.  But now something was happening that caused me stomach distress.  Additionally, muscle pain kicked in.  And mouth sores began to make their presence known.  Heartburn like nothing I had known (I've only had heartburn when pregnant and never have any trouble with it otherwise). Food and drinks tasted terrible and also caused more pain because of the sores in my mouth and throat.  And fatigue.  Did I mention FATIGUE????  Seriously, you cannot rest enough at this point in the journey.  In fact, I didn't WANT to rest anymore.  I wanted to sit up and participate in life and the rest of the world.  But my body was saying "no way".

I took the advice of a fellow cancer survivor and got a prescription for phenergan (a generic actually) tablets and decided that the best way to attack these side effects was to just sleep it off.  So I did that on Friday night and most of Saturday, with additional naps in between.  Normally the phenergan is an anti-nausea, but I have had it after surgery before and I slept like a rock for 2 solid days.  I decided that anti-nausea was a plus but the sleep aspect was just what I needed.

I also texted a new cancer-survivor (and oncology nurse) friend about how I was feeling and she was very helpful.  She even called me on Saturday morning to discuss what was going on.  She had explained via text that at first I had been dealing with the effects from the Neulasta injection, but now the Taxotere (chemo drug) was kicking in and causing it's own issues.  This made sense, but sucked.  A lot.  And then she prayed for me.  With me.  While I was on the phone with her, she asked my God/Daddy/Father to wrap me up and comfort me.  It was precious and helpful and I can't begin to tell you how much that meant when I was starting to reach the end of my rope.

Today I have returned from a mini-chemo session of just Herceptin (with a Benedryl and Tylenol appetizer) and came home with 3 more prescriptions.  I've got something for reflux-type issues because the sores are all down the esophagus.  Plus an antibiotic for a bacterial thing causing a rash on my back, chest, upper arms and my scalp (yes, the balding scalp isn't going to be pretty at this point).  And a "magic mouthwash" to help with the mouth and throat sores as well.  I'm doing my best to keep a chart of medicine I have to take or might need to take depending on a side effect, so keeping track of that is quite interesting.  I've even searched for Apps that help cancer patients track side effects and medications, but the ones out there don't seem to have what I am looking for at the moment.

Again, I know that my family hears me whine (as did the nurse) and I really want to be positive and upbeat when I can, but today, I'm feeling pretty defeated.  I just want to get through this and still try to find some time when I feel good and able to participate in fun things with the kids.  I want to share moments with them and I miss them.  But when I feel like this, I just want to crawl into bed and wait for it to all pass.  The box of prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines is overflowing which makes me feel older than my 42 years.  The combination of different problems is confusing and overwhelming since there are so many things going on all at once.  I can't tell what is brought on by chemo, extra drugs or maybe even because I'm not eating the right foods or getting any physical activity.

So, I selfishly needed to post in order to ask for prayers to get me through this.

*That the side effects would be manageable by the means I have been given.
*That the sores in my mouth and throat would heal quickly so that I could find relief. Again, I know that others suffer more than I am suffering right now and so it feels terrible to even ask for the prayers, but I need to be honest, I am a mess.  Emotionally I feel like I'm slipping.  Physically I am worn down.  I need to stay strong.  I need to be positive for my friends and family and for my own well-being.  But right now?  I'm thinking a big cry and a giant tub of ice cream would be nice.

Praying for peace.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Big Chemo #1 is DONE!

Today was big chemo #1 (out of six). I will have weekly abbreviated infusions of Herceptin for the initial 18 weeks as well, so that will be Baby Chemo. The RN had some trouble accessing my port which was not a surprise to me. When they flushed it on 6/25 and then tried to get blood, it was challenging to say the least. Today was troublesome, but it wasn't a big deal to me. They just have to be sure tht the drugs will get to where they need to be prior to starting the infusion. The morning started out with the pre-meds and all went well. I was told I would sleep because of the Benedryl dose. I learned it was just 25mg which never works for me. Add to that the Sunday steroid doses and I was not going to settle down. Once we got started with the Taxotere there was just a slight problem with my blood pressure running a little high, so the RN sat with me for about 20 minutes to continue watching it. There was some improvement, so they felt I was tolerating it well. Next came Carboplatin and a nice feeling of heavy pressure on my chest and tingling in my toes. It did not cause trouble breathing, but the RN did stop the drip and ran some saline (I think) for about 5 minutes and then resumed with no other issues. The final drug of the day was Herceptin which would take about 90 minutes. It weren't well, though I did have that heavy chest feeling again around 20 minutes into the infusion, but again, no cause for alarm since they were all on HIGH ALERT (I like to call it Def Con 4) since it was my first chemo session. All in all, I was relived to know they were right there keeping a close watch on me. And it was a pretty good day, despite the circumstances. The other patients and their caregivers were friendly and would offer words of encouragement or tips they fund helpful since it was my first time. I enjoyed showing off the super-sweet pictures of Team Mini-Pink to all who were interested. And I loved sharing information about the Cancer Support Community of East TN. It is an amazing resource for cancer patients and their families in our area. I have got to get some rest after sleeping from 4-7:30am this morning prior to chemo #1. Those stupid steroids! I feel blessed that I had such a good experience today. The nurses at TN Cancer Specialists are amazing! My Facebook post just before heading out: Tap. Tap. Tap. "Hey breast cancer. Yeah,you. I am about to open up that can of whoop a**! The doctors are coming armed with weapons of mass destruction. My friends and family are armed with prayers. My kids are cheering me on. And God is going to be there too. YOU ARE GOING DOWN BREAST CANCER! Today is just the first day of a very miserable road for you evil cancer. The end of that road is not far away" I am seriously going to kick this breast cancer booty! Peace.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Chemo Countdown!

Chemo begins in less than 36 hours.  I have moments where I am strong, confident and excited to for it to get to work killing any cancer cells that might remain somewhere in my body.  But then I have the other moments were I am really scared.  I know I can do this.  I have to do this.  I will defeat cancer.

There are so many children fighting much harder than I am at this very moment.  Their parents are begging God for a miracle.  Please pray for those families right now.  My fight is easy.  Their war is so much more difficult and they need our prayers.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Shaking in my booty-kicking boots

I met with another oncologist (chemo dr) last Friday. I'll post more details, but for now I wanted to mention that I will be receiving my chemotherapy in Knoxville rather than Nashville. My first chemo-breast-cancer-booty-kicking event will occur on Monday, June 25th. I am anxiously awaiting this next step. There is so much more to say, but I have to find a way to shut it down for the night. I cannot begin to express how much I would appreciate prayers during the next week leading to the big #1. I have numerous appointments to prepare for this next phase, including a return trip to Nashville on Wednesday for a follow-up with my surgeon. My drain HAS to be gone for about 24-48 hours prior to the start of chemo, so it is important that things continue to move in that direction. And I am just very scared about the entire process of chemotherapy, the short-term effects and also the long-term side-effects. I dread losing my hair. I dread the moment when my kids realize there is more going on with mommy's boo-boo. I am petrified that this cancer will return one day completely pissed-off at me for my efforts to terminate it. Petrified. Peace?...

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Relay for Life - Metro Knoxville

Somehow I am just hearing about the Relay for Life event that is happening in our area this weekend.  It begins at 7pm tomorrow, June 15th.

Check out the schedule and other details here:

2012 Relay for Life of Metro Knoxville

All of these events are so amazing.  I hope many of you will consider being a part of it and supporting the American Cancer Society.


Ironic, Don't YOU Think?!?

I can hear the song in my head.  You know the one.  Ironic, by Alanis Morissette.  It has some expletives, I believe.
I mean, this could really be worse, but I just found it ironic that I got THIS (see below) in the mail yesterday:

 I'm not sure how clear it will appear, but basically, AAA (I've been a member for 21 years) has just offered me a deal to get family insurance protection in the event that any of us are diagnosed with cancer.  It would be a great deal, except that you are excluded from coverage if you have been diagnosed or treated for cancer during the last 5 years.  But I'm still seriously thinking about it for the rest of the family.  How frustrating that we didn't get this offer sooner!  Surely I would have taken them up on it and purchased the policy for the family, right?  I mean, with odds like this who wouldn't, right?  But it came too late for us.
Just thought it was ironic and I had to mention it today.  It isn't the end of the world.  Things could get MUCH worse and they have not (just note that I'm crossing fingers, toes, knocking on wood and will be on my knees praying in a few short minutes to keep it that way).

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Speak Up!

CONFIRMED! The pathology results I mentioned the other day have been confirmed by my surgeon's nurse. All of the nodes removed on 5/31 were cancer-free! This means that I stick to my stage 2b and will not be having radiation.
Chemo has now been scheduled to begin on June 27th. It will be an 8 hour process. I don't know all of the details (yet, because you KNOW I'll ask for the details in advance), but it involves blood work, infusion of one drug, then waiting and being monitored, then another infusion, more waiting and a final infusion related to the clinical trial and a little more waiting. For now, the plan is to return to Vanderbilt for all of the 6 primary chemo treatments. This means a number of trips back-and-forth and some long days spent in the chemo room. But I'm hopeful that I will actually get the real drug (and not the placebo) and that the combination of these drugs will do their job and kick breast cancer booty.

I have a couple of prayer requests. Lucy is too young to have cancer and based on her mother's most recent blog post here, I can only ask for my friends and family to PRAY for her and for a miracle that only God can provide at this point. Please speak up (to God) on behalf of their family. Lucy has an older sister and a younger brother and a mommy and a daddy who are going through something unimaginable.

I also want to ask for prayers for our friend and neighbor, Wendy. She is at Cancer Treatment Center of America in Tulsa for more testing, but again, I have to ask God for a miracle. Wendy is a mom of two young boys and a wife to a wonderful man, Russell. They are an amazing family who love the Lord and have shared their faith with so many. I just have to ask for more prayers for them. Please speak up (to God) on her behalf.

But I also have a request....I watched this YouTube video not long ago. It is funny and serious at the same time. I beg of you to PLEASE do your self-exam monthly. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions or suspicions. And get a mammogram annually. Don't put it off because you think it is uncomfortable. It's not that bad. Really. My kids have inflicted more pain than that stupid booby-squishing machine. And if there are any doubts, SPEAK UP. Do not let the doctors ignore something that you think it not right or not normal. Ask for another opinion. Get a copy of your reports. Demand further testing if you just have that sense that something still isn't right. I FOUND the lump last summer and they didn't seem to be concerned. Later, when I actually read the report, it appears that they never really saw anything on the ultrasound, but the radiologist never even came in to see me personally or feel it. When I went back 6 months later the radiologist (a different one and a woman) came in and wanted to feel it and agreed it should not be there. And here I am dealing with stage 2b breast cancer.

So check out the video and hopefully you might get a little chuckle out of it. But you might feel compelled to go get that mammogram that you have been putting off. It is important to those who love you. Yes. People love you and want you to be here with them for a very long time. I posted on Facebook that it does SUCK to find out that you have breast cancer. And I can't say that the surgeries or treatments are a picnic either. But it certainly makes sense to be able to catch it early and do something about it rather than stick your head in the sand and just wish it away. My kids need me here. I'm going to do the stupid chemo treatments and have the surgeries and take the medicines and even participate in the clinical trial because I HAVE to kick breast cancer booty. And I DO NOT want breast cancer to be around long enough to have any other impact on my kids than the fact that their mommy kicked it's a**! I do NOT want my kids to have to go through cancer testing and treatment. I want breast cancer and ALL CANCERS to be wiped-out. Exterminated. NO MORE CANCERS ANYWHERE!

So here's the video:

Monday, June 4, 2012

Preliminary Optimism

Lab results, we are told, will not be available for about five business days. In the meantime, we wait. Worry. Wonder. But I had a little glimmer of information today and am really praying that it is truly about MY pathology results and not someone else, by mistake.
I contacted my chemo doctor's office in order to see when we need to schedule the next appointment. Since they are in Nashville, we have tried to get appointments with more than one doctor at a time if needed. In this case, I wasn't even sure we would need to see her until the first chemo appointment.
I've agreed to participate in a clinical trial and there is some paperwork and other preliminary testing that they are going to schedule next week when we are scheduled to follow-up with the surgeon. The trial means that I may receive an additional drug in combination with the other chemo drugs that will be used to treat my particular situation. This additional drug has something to do specifically with the fact that my original tumor was HER2 positive. I will receive Herceptin (a drug that targets the HER2 receptors) for a year and I might receive an additional drug when I get the Herceptin. Of course, since it is a trial, we won't know that I actually get the real drug or a placebo.
Due to the conversations with the RN handling my clinical trial paperwork and then a message with the chemo doctor, it sounds like there was no other cancer detected in the other nodes. Woo hoo! I would really be jumping around if this news came from my surgeon, so I'm being cautiously optimistic.
And as a result of talking with the chemo dr and the RN, it looks like my chemo will begin on June 26 or 27. They were working to schedule the appointment and will confirm with me (hopefully tomorrow).
So there it is.....June 26th or June 27th......the first day of chemo. My brain says "He** yes! Let's start kicking some cancer booty!" But my body says "Ugh. Can we just rest for a little while longer?" And I think my heart is just terrified of chemo altogether. I know that once I start the chemo, I will begin to "look" sick. It will be much more obvious. And that is a hard pill to swallow. I love to shower every day and put on makeup (even if I suck at it), get dressed, dry my hair and just feel like I'm ready to get going for the day. I dread looking in the mirror as more things change. I absolutely fear the image I will see looking back at me once my hair is gone. It is doubtful that there is anything that will really prepare me emotionally for that particular event, except to keep telling myself that the drugs are doing their job on the cancer when I look worse. These drugs are ultimately going to make the difference for me and I have got to recognize that I need to feel good about looking like crap. Chemo is going to attack everything, good and bad, so it won't be pretty (although I have heard that you sometimes end up with beautiful skin during the process) but I'm determined that it is going to be effective.
And right now, I need to rejoice that it appears the cancer had not spread beyond that one little lymph node! Happy Monday!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

What to do after #2???

Second surgery is done and I am at my sis-in-law's house recovering. It went well, from what I understand. All of the people who were involved with my care at Vanderbilt today were very kind, helpful and friendly. And since I hadn't taken two Xanex, I was much more aware of what was going on around me.

In fact, I told Troy that I was concerned about another patient who was awaiting some sort of surgery. She was just across from me (the holding rooms were full so I was in the recovery room both prior to and after my surgery). She was crying and I overheard her saying she was really nervous. I wish I could have gone over there to give her a big hug. All I could do was pray.
I took some time while I was still coherent and listed to a version of "It Is Well With My Soul" on the iPod and prayed for her. I prayed for my surgeon and other personnel who would be in the OR also, but I really felt like I needed to pray for her. I have been thinking of her all afternoon and pray she is feeling peaceful and recovering well. God knows who it is and I know He hears my prayers.

Thanks to all of you who prayed for me during my surgery and also anyone who has prayed for my family, especially my little ones as they handle all of this. We don't expect pathology results until next week (about 5 business days). I will update with the information as soon as it is available.
Please also pray for my new friend, Stephanie (also a Knoxville girl), and someone (Susan) I knew many years ago at the church I attended. Both of these women are also in Knoxville and fighting a similar battle. I just can't believe how many women are being diagnosed with breast cancer.

When I am up to it, I intend to do something to make a difference. It might be a year or two before I can put too much energy into this other fight, but I feel like God put this challenge before me for a reason. Now I just have to figure out why.