Thursday, December 30, 2010

The End!

Today, I am no longer a patient. Today, I became a survivor!! As quietly as it all began, it ended that way too. I arrived for my 10:45 appointment just after 10:15 a.m. I chatted ever so briefly with Momma Liz before the nursing staff came and got me around 10:30. By 10:40, I was walking out of the Oncology Radiology Department at Liberty Hospital with my mask in hand.

I have not exactly decided what to do with the mask. I am still taking suggestions. So far I have heard the following:
1. Turn it into art and put it on the wall.
2. Turn it into a bird feeder
3. Some sort of Halloween decoration.
4. A plant container.
5. Strain Spaghetti with it. (although we had to reconsider this one, because hot water will melt the plastic)
6. Hang it from the ceiling so it looks like a face is coming down at ya!

If you have other suggestions, by all means, send them to me. I would love to hear what you think!

I elected to spend my afternoon after treatment doing something I love to do. I went to see a movie. I fully expect The Black Swan to be nominated for some Academy Award, so I hit a morning movie. I always feel like a woman of leisure when I can watch a movie in the middle of the day in the middle of the work week.  One hour and fifty minutes of pure guilty pleasure!

Many of you know that I begged and begged the Doctor to get my treatments finished in 2010 due to outrageous changes in health insurance that take effect January 1, 2011. I am elated that we were able to do this. I male have to financially worry about the follow up care (doctor appointments every 3 months for the next two years) but I was able get the cancer treatments covered at 100%.

I have some peace of mind tonight. I was diagnosed with a treatable form of Cancer. It has a high success rate. It also has a low return rate.  I am going to bed tonight feeling like I kicked this one in the ass and won. I will pray later that I am not in some minuet percentage of recurrence. Tonight I am a survivor!

And....I feel like I should properly warn all of you....tomorrow I shall gather with some friends and raise a glass (or two) to celebrate The End. I will also celebrate that 2010 and has come and gone and that from here I shall be counting the years as they pass from the time I was diagnosed with Cancer.  For I never want to be defined as a person who has Cancer but rather as the person who survived Cancer.

Happy New Years dear Friends!! May it be a joyous one for all of us!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The End is Near

I resumed treatments the Monday after Christmas. Let me update you:

1.) I was able to eat some solid foods over the holiday. No ham or turkey. Mostly soft side dishes but it was still solid food that was not a shake.
2.) I am still eating a lot of soup, it is just easier.
3.) On Monday, my throat stopped hurting. Since then it has gotten stronger every day.

As I have said before, I have to see the doctor every Monday. This week we had a visiting doctor and boy did she examine me! She poked really hard on my lymph-nodes and concluded that she did not feel a single one of them. YEAH ME!! She also told me that anything higher than 2000 units of radiation is known to do permanent damage to the saliva glands. I am receiving over 3000 units.

The right side of my mouth continues to be super sore. But, I will say, it has also improved every day this week. I can only guess that the boost is not hitting it and it has started to heal.

I am sunburned. The first sign always that I have had too much sun is when I start to itch.  I can see the sunburn on the front of my body but I could not figure out why the back was itching so much.  Silly me, forgot they radiate the front and back of my neck! So I am sunburned on the front of my body as well as the back.

I had a super great Christmas, as I hope all of you did! My husband might have wrapped it up, but my hair dresser, Julie, gave Wayne a new hair treatment for people who have lost their hair to chemo and are trying to grow it back. It is called BioJen. I started using it Christmas night. We shall see. I can say my hair is growing back but it is still way too thin. I still cover my head when I go out in public.  Through the holidays I was able to see both of my nieces and I think both of them, 9 month old Alaska and 3 month old Zoe, have more hair than I do!! OK, I just checked out photos of Zoe, I think we might be even!

I am including one photo from the holidays. Wayne got me this wonderful necklace and I wanted to share it all with you. It is from Silver Maple, you can find them online.  My necklace says Wife, Mother, Survivor.

If you would like your very own necklace...you can find them online. www.thesilvermaple.com . You can totally personalize a necklace of your fancy. This one was found in my stocking on Christmas Day. When I unwrapped it, I could not even talk, I was so chocked up. Let it to Wayne to leave me speechless.

Friday, December 24, 2010

I AM Blessed

An old high school classmate of mine posted on my Facebook this morning, "we are blessed." Since she posted that I have been sitting here thinking how truly blessed I am. A very good friend of mine would scoff at the idea that a person with Cancer is blessed or lucky, but I am going to have to disagree with her on this one.

I have spent more than half of this year being sick. I have done things to my body that under normal circumstances I would never do. I have had more reactions to the treatments than I ever would have guessed. I have increased the scars on my body 400%. And yet, I can still sit here and type to you all that I am Blessed.

I am blessed to have a job. I am blessed that the job provides me with health insurance. I am blessed that the health insurance allowed me access to reputable Doctors and Nurses who cared for me. I am blessed that I got all of my doses of chemotherapy when this country is in a prescription drug shortage. I am blessed that I have a home that I could rest in while I was recovering from all of the procedures. I am blessed that I own a car and could drive myself to my treatments and not have to rely upon public transportation.

I am so blessed that I have a wonderful family who cared for me and held my hand this year. I have not only had my immediate family here with me (my husband and two children) but I have also had my Mother, my Brother. I am also blessed to have this amazing In-Law family that I am so happy have become my family. I have even had the love and support of my extended family (Aunts, Uncles, Cousins).

I am also blessed to have amazing friends. They have checked on me, some weeks on a daily basis. They have showered me and the family with food for nourishment, concern, love, and hope. I have had friends who validate my fears. Others that feed my soul.

I sad before, and it is worthy of repeating, when fighting this fight, it is so important to have a network. I wish every patient had the network I have had.

So tonight, as we honor the birth of our Savior, I am saying an extra prayer of thanks. Thanks for all of you and for the number of blessings I have in my life.

I will end with one small story. My daughter was recently sitting on Santa's lap. That in and of itself was a blessing because she was adamant a month ago, she would not go see Santa as she was so deathly afraid of him a year ago. BUT, she did agree to "see" him. So off to the mall we went. When we got to the mall, she agreed to "talk" to him but she was NOT going to sit on his lap. When it was our turn, Santa reached down and grabbed her and put her on his lap, just as I was trying to say, she only wants to "talk."

She did not scream. She did not cry. She did sit there frozen, deer in headlights, for a few moments. Then she just started chatting with Santa.  She told Santa she wanted the Ocean for Christmas. The Ocean! It took my Momma Liz to explain to me that Olivia might not literally want the Ocean and maybe in her two year old way, she just verbalized the biggest thing she knew.

So, for Christmas, I want the Ocean too.  My Ocean is a Cure. And if a cure is not possible, then I want the best damn screening we can get for every Cancer so that every patient has a fighting chance. A fighting chance to win their battle, a fighting chance to stay with their family and a fighting chance to enjoy their blessings.

God Bless You and Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Another Milestone: DONE

I finished the 12 radiation session on the entire neck yesterday. It could not have come at a better time. I am tired of drinking my meals. Did Oprah really lose all that weight drinking shakes? Of course she did. I am just not sure how she could do it day in/day out for months!  My mouth has so many sores inside it that I could scream (well if my throat did not hurt so badly)! The Doctor says the boost sessions, those to just my right side, will provide relief to my throat. He also explained that he is coming up higher on the right side of my throat than the left, hence the sores on my right jaw line. He has given me two days off treatment this week. The office is closed Friday for Christmas Eve and he has suspended my treatment on Thursday also. This will allow my throat and mouth a four day weekend to heal.

For those keeping track, I will finish radiation next Thursday, December 30, 2010.

The Doctor has prescribed me a mouthwash commonly called Magic Mouthwash. The theory...it is stronger than Chloraseptic but it numbs the mouth and throat like Chloraeseptic. My problem with the Magic Mouthwash is it is a thick pink drink. It gags me something fierce  to swish and swallow! BLEECK! So my new strategy is to eat a small meal of soft foods and take very tiny bites. 

My prayer, please let my throat be better by Christmas. I would really enjoy eating.

So, I will close with a Wayne story. I am sure he hates these! But, he gives me good stuff to write about. Since I have been drinking my meals, I have not been too concerned with fixing dinner. Wayne came home last night belly growling hungry. I am sure he was upset I had given absolutely NO thought to dinner. So, he suggest going out to eat. I agree. We pack up and head out. On the way out he suggest Chinese food. Well, already a bad idea in my book because I am limited to soup there.  But, soup is better than another shake so I agree. He passes up my first favorite Chinese restaurant. Then he turns to quickly for the second favorite Chinese restaurant. So I ask him, "Where are we going?" and he tells me to a buffet! Really??? I can only eat soup at the entire place and he chooses to take us to a buffet because he is so hungry he does not want to wait for food to be prepared. Well, I will tell you all, I ate 3 bowls of soup and the nice people at the restaurant only charged me a kids meal price. Wayne got lucky on that one.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Day 11 of Radiation

It is so hard to believe Christmas is only five days away!  I will have both of my kids at home with me on Christmas morning and I am so excited! I also have family coming in from out of town to celebrate the holiday. My only hope right now, is that I will be able to eat this Christmas.

I am down to only being able to drink. I have sustained myself on shakes. Sometimes those are protein shakes but other times, I will confess, to living off of Eggnog milkshakes from McDonald's.

I meet with the doctor today after my treatment. I was down two pounds from last week. My throat is sore! My jaw and gums are also sore! These are side effects the Doctor expected and warned me about. My only concern is that the side effects are permanent and he assured me today that they are not. He believes within two weeks of ending treatment I will feel better.

The Doctor gave me some "magic mouthwash" that will numb my throat so hopefully I can eat. He told me to take it within a half-hour of eating. Funny, the pharmacist told me not to eat within an hour of taking the medication for risk of choking.

My other big news; I do believe my hair is starting to grow back. It feels very fuzzy up there. By NO MEANS am I ready to show anyone my head. But, maybe by my birthday....

Friday, December 17, 2010

Soft Foods Only...Please

The throat is super sore now. It is a different pain than when I have a sore throat due to strep. The sides of my throat are not sore, instead I have a "lump" in the middle of my throat, where if I were a man, would be an Adams apple.

When I swallow solid food, it feels like the food gets stuck against the sore spot. I have experimented with different foods. Meats are out right now. Soft foods are somewhat doable. Protein shakes work. I do not believe I have come close to consuming 1000 calories today.

I am hungry. More than just being hungry...I am craving food.

The doctor said my throat would heal when they stop radiating the entire throat and move to just treating my right side. I am off for the weekend, so I am hoping it heals a bit over the weekend. Then I honestly have 2 days left on the entire neck.

While I will appreciate this all being over before 2011, it kinda sticks to be going through this at Christmas time. The Taylor family is having a Christmas gathering tomorrow with all kinds of yummy Mexican food. I really hope I am not limited to a protein shake!!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Radiation and Macrobiotics

Today is Day 8 of radiation. So far, I have had few side effects. Food still taste like food and I am enjoying eating. The Doctor said since my taste has lasted this long, I might not lose it. That was the second best news he has given me.

I have noticed my neck becoming more red. It does not hurt like a sunburn but I would say the radiation burn has started. I am tired, still. I nap almost everyday.  And, today, like a light switch, my throat started hurting. I noticed it as I ate lunch. It felt like I had swallowed too large of a bite of food without chewing. But then I noticed every swallow was like that.

I realize this road is nearing stage 2 completion but I keep having this nagging thought; how in the world can I prevent this from happening to me again? This question has lead me to studying macrobiotics. One of the books I have started reading poses this question to the readers, "how free are you within your own body?".

This one question has summed up how I have been feeling. Cancer takes away your freedom. It forces you to play by a different set of rules. It can ultimately end your life. Change may be necessary. I have known that for a while. Sure giving up Diet Coke was easy when it tasted badly, but every day I make a decision not to drink it. I am not sure what road  this macrobiotics will lead me on, but other changes are coming. I can feel it.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Early Menopause

I will say in advance....sorry male readers. Probably not a topic you appreciate or want to read about. But if I am going to document this Cancer experience I would be amiss in talking about the early menopause the chemo has created.

Now, I have not been to a doctor and I am at this point diagnosing myself. But, I truly believe the chemo has kicked me into early menopause. Among other symptoms, I am having hot flashes like nobodies business these days. I will wake up in the middle of the night sweating I am so hot. The other day, Wayne came home and found me cooking in next to nothing because I got so hot I thought I was going to self combust! Off came the clothing.

Whether this is a temporary condition and my pre-Cancer self will resurface again, I have no idea. The websites I have read say a lot depends on the age of the person with Cancer. I guess it is a good thing Wayne and I had previously decided our family was complete. I have also decided if I go though these hot flashes and then return to my "normal" self and then have to go back through this again in a few years when it is "age-appropriate" I am gonna be a bit angry!

So, if you see me and I am fanny myself like mad, please bear with me.

Sadness and Joy

Friday was  a tough day. I am not the only person at my work who has been battling Cancer. Two of the others touched my heart and soul on Friday. 

One of the coworkers and I happened to bump into each other on Friday. She was handed a horrible diagnosis and originally told there was nothing anyone could do for her. But, being the fighter and believer she is, she did not take no for an answer and kept hunting till someone could and did help her. I am happy to say she had her first check up and is now in remission as well.

My other coworker sadly passed away on Friday. In her honor, I ask each of you, please talk to your doctors and follow up on any and all early screening test your doctors might recommend. I believe so many advances have been made in the cancer world, but most of them involve early detection. My prayers are going out to my lost coworker and to her family.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

3 down...14 more to go

So far, as predicted by the Doctor, I have not had many side effects from the radiation. The right side of my throat, up high by my right ear, has been swollen and sore to the touch. However, that has subsided and offers me no discomfort. I am tired.

I tend to not sleep when I am stressed, so maybe that is part of the sleepiness during the day. Or, the radiation is making me sleepy. I have probably napped every day this week.

I also continue to lose weight. I am down 19 pounds from when I was diagnosed. I ate a banana for breakfast on my way to treatment today...I normally would have been starving by 11:30 but I never felt hungry. I went ahead and forced myself to eat.

The radiation machine appears to be temperamental. Today it took an extra five minutes just for it to decide to work. That is an extra five minutes in that darned mask. I have to tell you, all I need is some green paint and a forked tongue and I would just like a scaly lizard after my treatment.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sadness....

Obviously, I did not personally know Elizabeth Edwards. I have however, gotten to know her through the media. I said extra prayers for her yesterday when news hit that she was back in the hospital. Today, I have cried at her passing.

As I watch interviews with her tonight...I admire her strength and her wisdom.

As I waited for my radiation appointment today, I chatted with woman who was sitting alone in the waiting room. She appeared to be inpatient and was waiting for someone to take her back to her room. I attempted to make small talk with her but this dear woman had just found out her Cancer has returned. All she could say, over and over, was that she thought things were going so much better, she thought she had made it through the storm.

My heart went out to her. I do not even know her name.

It is my biggest fear. Elizabeth Edwards' Cancer returned. The lady in the waiting room's Cancer returned.  Tonight, I am going to say extra prayers. Provide peace. Miracles do happen. And it is time to find a cure.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Zap Zap Zap

Radiation started today. I arrived there just before my scheduled time, 8:15 a.m.. The first thought I had was not about the mask I have to wear but to the size of that machine! It is incredibly huge!! Then before I can even get over that, it is off with the glasses and the head scarf and right into the mask. I am not sure if it possible, but is it tighter than it was last week? 

I think I actually expected to feel the radiation. But it is painless. I could hear the clicks of the machine. Other than that, you just focus on how much longer will that mask be on my face. It was over quickly, I would say less than 15 minutes. The future dates will be faster, they won't have to x-ray me every day.

Every Monday we meet with Dr. Cozad after the treatment. He informed me that I will have 12 units of radiation on my entire neck. Then I will have 5 additional units on just the right side of my neck. So for you math guru's that is 17 units. (I was expecting to get 20 days of radiation but that has changed to 17!) Even with the unexpecting examination by the Doctor, I was home by 9:10.

Of course the Doctor also gives me his standard warning: 1/10 patients experience swelling of the saliva gland after treatment starts.  I say HELLLLOOOO! Did you not hear all the complications I had during chemo, you know that 1 is going to be me.

Olivia and I met Momma Liz and David for lunch afterwards. David also started radiation on his neck today.As  David and I were talking about the potential loss of our saliva glands, I realize my right gland is extremely sore to the touch. I knew it would be me!

After our lunch, which was leisurely and wonderful to catch up, I came straight home and sleep for 2 1/2 hours!