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.