31 December 2009

"God Bless Us, Everyone!"

I realized that I need to seize the moment to make my last entry for 2009. A new decade begins tomorrow that will undoubtedly bring with it its blessings and its challenges. I just wanted to leave with those that read the thoughts that have been swirling around in my head for the last week and a half.

Christmas was wonderful. Physically, it was the most challenging time of my entire life. Really. The side effects of this new drug were quite intense. They are much more severe than with the first round of chemo drugs. As for my spirit, I was happy and delighted to be surrounded by my sweet family. It was wonderful to speak to Eric, our full time missionary, on the telephone.

Starting on the Wednesday after my treatment, I had much worse nausea than I had yet experienced with chemotherapy. In addition to that, I experienced severe pain in all my bones and joints. Deep down to the bone marrow pain. This lasted for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (Christmas Day). The pain had lessened a bit for Saturday, and I was grateful, since I had to finish up the two wedding cakes for delivery later on Saturday.

On Sunday afternoon, I began to have severe chest pains with accelerated heart rate, pounding in my chest and shortness of breath. The best way to describe what I was experiencing is like labor contractions of my heart. I was always at a constant moderate pain level (5 on the 1 to 10 scale) with surges of increasing pain, lasting different lengths of time that brought the pain level to 8 or 9. By 9 o'clock that evening, my daughter, Elizabeth insisted I call the oncologist "on call" doctor. She just suggested I take Percocet to get through the night and to see my doctor the next day. The pain kept me up in waves throughout the night. The pain was often unbearable.

I called the cancer center and was only able to leave a message with the triage nurse. Three hours later, Nurse Jan called to say "come in RIGHT NOW".

When I arrived they checked my vitals and gave me orders to take to Cary Wake Hospital for a CT Scan to check for pulmonary embolism. They gave me a preventative shot of a blood thinner and a very small dose of Morphine for the pain.

I really don't want to take the time to do a play by play of the whole ordeal, but will say that after the CT scan came back negative for a blood clot, it was necessary to have an EKG done, which for some reason, could only be done through the emergency room. Daniel had driven me to the doctor, and was my constant companion through everything. We spent about 6 hours in waiting rooms in the ER in between two EKG's and blood work before I was in an ER room. I was admitted to the hospital overnight for observation to make sure that my blood enzymes did not show any heart damage. The pains had started to subside by the evening. Catherine switched places with Daniel and spent the night with me in my room.

In the morning, I had an echo-cardiogram (ultra sound of my heart) to check further for damage. It took 5 hours to get the results. No damage. (In other words, I did NOT have a heart attack). I left the hospital around 2:00 p.m.

Waiting in the E.R.

Dr. Singh said it is likely just a very severe and unusual side effect of the Taxol. Great. But, he had to rule out the other things to be sure.

I have been very weak and nauseous this whole week. It's just the way it is. But, my spirits are good.

So, back to my thoughts....

Every year, during this season, you can take your pick of any number of incarnations of the classic Dickens tale of "A Christmas Carol". I have seen portions of several versions this year. Just this afternoon I watched one I had never seen before, a more recent musical version starring Kelsey Grammer (Frasier) as Ebeneezer Scrooge.

As an aside, for many, many years, Doug has taken amusing offense to anyone remarking in a disparaging way to anyone who lacks Christmas cheer as a "Scrooge". He says that everyone should be a Scrooge, because he was great and generous man. You see, he choses to see Mr. Ebeneezer as he became in the end, rather than who he was during most of the tale. It's been a good spirited heated topic between he and I.

Today, while watching this new version, I was struck with the message of this tale. It is simply, do not let anything get in your way of living your life and loving one another. Whether it is too much emphasis on material things, whether you are in abundance or struggling; whether it is a grudge in your heart against family or friend; whether it is unexpected adversity or illness or any of another hundred things on the list. There is nothing more important than seizing the opportunity to love and serve others, and for that matter, to love and serve yourself, if you make sure that your service to yourself improves your ability to serve others. I think of it as developing Christ-like attributes.

I cannot tell you how many times, during this last week, with the severe bone and muscle aches and the intense chest pains in my heart, that I thought of our Savior and Redeemer. and knew that what I was experiencing was nothing compared to what he went through for all mankind. And, what's more, is that I see it as a gift to have been given an opportunity to think and feel more deeply upon his sacrifice as it relates specifically to me!

2009 was a fantastic year for me. There were so many great blessings offered to me and my family. We received guidance on the timing to purchase a new home, and where to buy it. I have been given the blessing of learning about how many people really care about me. It has been wonderfully overwhelming. The service that has been offered to me and my family in so many acts of service and kindness are innumerable.

So, if I can offer a bit of advice based on Doug's view of Ebeneezer Scrooge, let us try to see people not as they are now, but as they will become. Most people we encounter really are trying to become better people. Love each other a little more purer. It's kind of like the way our Heavenly Father can see our eternal potential. We'll all be better off if we can be more gentle on ourselves and each other.

So, in the words of the immortalized Tiny Tim, "God Bless Us, Everyone". For all of us deserve God's blessings in this coming year.

21 December 2009

Round Two - Treatment One


My friend Beth, who is my former roommate and dearest friend from my BYU days has been in town assisting in the wedding preparations for the wedding and just all around helping me. She an Doug took me to my treatment today. Doug left when the treatment part began. Beth and I were there for 7 hours. 7 VERY LONG hours. My chemo-treatment lasted for over 4 hours, the rest of the time was spent having lab work down, and seeing the doctor (actually the P.A.) and WAITING around to have the lab work, and see the the P.A. There was so much more waiting than usual. The treatment room was filled and they were short staffed.

Because this was a new drug for me, they gave me extra doses of steroids and anti-allergens to handle the potency of this Taxol. I slept almost the whole time. Oh, except, after all waiting for lab work and doctor visits I became terribly hungry....and a bit grouchy. Doug went to the very near Harris Teeter and got me the most awesome sub-sandwich. It was delicious. The pre-meds took effect and I was sound asleep for most of the time. That was really nice. Given the ridiculous pace I had been keeping in the weeks before, I deserved drug induced sleep.

Now I am groggy and read to go to bed. I hope I can sleep tonight.

Oh, and here are sneak peak at some wedding photos. Just click on the link for my Picasa album called The Wedding of Michael and Kristin Plautz. Enjoy!!!

Merry Christmas my dear friends. I had a mini breakdown tonight, because although I had convinced myself during the previous months that I would be happy enough to have the energy to enjoy Michael's wedding and that Christmas would take care of itself some how or another, I realized that I was quite sad to forgo the decades of family traditions established by the Douglas and Sally Plautz Family. It was too late to afford to purchase the 7 racks of baby back ribs to have for our traditional Christmas Day dinner. This is a task I spend the 2 1/2 months before Christmas stocking up on as they go on half price or other extraordinary specials that make it possible for me to buy enough for my ever growing family.

Also, I make homemade candy each year. I have done this for 30 year, never missing, sometimes late, but never missing. I usually make homemade vanilla caramels, a special family recipe, buckeye candies (peanut butter balls dipped in chocolate in the shape of the Ohio Buckeye nut), Almond Rocca, an almond toffee square completely dipped in milk chocolate lightly dusted in almond dust. Then, I end it with caramel/chocolate turtles. When I am feeling really ambitious, I made my own recipe of a "York Style" Peppermint Patty. It is my personal favorite.

Catherine has stepped up to make buckeyes, but I am pretty sure that is where it is ending.

It's more about completing family traditions than it is about the tradition itself.

I am trying to let go, knowing that one year missed will not be a tragedy. And, that while my kids may remember the year we ate something "less special" for dinner and we had candy from a bag. They will also remember why and I hope, like I do, remember that this time of my life and the healing and the surviving is far more important. I know that my children love me, and their love will help heal my heart for my saddness with my inability to make everything perfect this year.

And let's not forget, there WILL be other years to celebrate life. I will celebrate MY life in conjunction with our Saviour's life. And while I do not mean to add disrespect to the grand plan that includes the birth of Jesus Christ, as it pertains to all mankind, I also cannot minimize the value of my life as in pertains to my own personal posterity. One must taste the bitter in order to prize the sweet. No one really talks about how you can actually realize those two opposites all in the same event. Everyday I taste both. I turn from the one and draw towards and embrace the sweet. You are all part of that sweet. I need you so much.

Time to face the bitter, the trying to fall asleep, but I know sometime in the night, the bitter will surrender and the sweet will envelope me with love and the rest of the Lord.

15 December 2009

"off" week

I can't believe that it has been so long since I last posted anything. In between resting, there has been much to do in preparation for my son, Michael's wedding, which is this coming Saturday.

This is my bonus week. Dr. Singh allowed me to add an additional week before I begin round two of my chemo treatments. I would have normally had a treatment yesterday. But, to help me have an extra week of recovery so that I can be stronger for Michael and Kristin's wedding, I got to skip it. The trade off is that I have to have my treatment next Monday, which is the day before my birthday and the week of Christmas. I will be pretty sick for the Christmas, but I would much rather have the strength to enjoy my son's wedding day.

I am frustrated with my limitations during this season. I want to "do". I have five areas in which I have tasks that need to be accomplished:
1) the wedding cake for Michael and Kristin
2) the reception food
3) making the boutineers and corsages for the wedding party
4) Christmas Stockings for my in-law children (a joint effort with Catherine)
5) Christmas "shopping" (for me mostly online this year)

The wedding cake is coming along. It is a 5 tier design covered in white fondant and with fondant draping and white sugar roses that requires more time and attention than the average wedding cake. I saw a photograph of this cake when looking for ideas for another bride. I showed it to Kristin and she fell in love and had to have this cake design. And really, isn't that one of the perks of having a wedding cake designer/baker for your future mother-in-law.

I'll tell you all something about this cake..shh...don't divulge my little secret...the top four tiers are not really cake, rather decorated styro-foam cake forms.

Since we always have open house style receptions I always have had "kitchen" cakes made in all the different cake flavors that are ready to cut at the beginning of the reception for those who arrive early, long before the cake cutting. People shouldn't be penalized for arriving early. Everyone deserves cake.

When I made Mary and Christian's cake, her top three tiers were "fake cake" and the bottom two were real cake with another 150 servings of kitchen cake. There was SO much cake left over which we happily gave to people who helped. But, in the end, Mary has a reminder of her cake every time she comes over because I have the top part of her cake on display above the kitchen cabinets.

So, I decided to do the same thing for Kristin. She'll have a four tier replica of her wedding cake on display to remind her of her happy day every time she comes over. Some day, I hope to make replicas of Elizabeth and Catherine's cakes as well.

What this means is that I can work on all the fake tiers days in advance, because there is nothing perishable about these tiers. The actual cake for the enormous bottom 17" round bottom tier will be made on Thursday. But, I still have about three hours of work on the four fake tiers to go.

About a week ago, my dear friend Beth arrived from L.A. to attend the wedding and to help me with advance preparations. The week has flown by. She is most willing to help with whatever task I give her. Mostly it is going to the grocery store to get ingredients for the food we are making for the wedding reception and making the food to put in the freezer. We have made good progress and thanks to several kind friend who offered to make the other recipes, we didn't have as much to do. She will also be a big help with the flowers, as she has done this before.

The Christmas Stockings is my "I can rest while I do this project" and it has been fun. But now that it is the week of the wedding, I don't have time to work on them and that makes me sad. I made my children's Christmas stockings (felt stocking with felt appliqué and sequins to make them sparkle). I had always wanted to make a stocking for each of my new sons and daughters (I like that better than the word "in law). Catherine bought the supplies and together we searched coloring pages on line for items to use as patterns for the appliqué. She and I cut out the felt and then I started hand sewing the items on the stocking. I got those done in a day or two, but the sequins take forever and that is where I am at right now.

Christmas shopping is all done, except for one item Doug must pick up at Wal Mart. This is the first time in 20 years that I haven't had to complete shopping on Christmas Eve. Go me....well, go 'on-line shopping'.

Now, suddenly I am seeing that this is pretty ambitious for someone with my weaker than usual constitution. But, you see, my life still goes on. Cancer can't stop me. Or, should I say, chemotherapy can't stop me. I won't let it. It definitely slows me down. I had my first outing day yesterday going to two stores: Aldi's and WalMart. I was gone a total of 2.5 hours that seemed like 4. I was spent. It was just too much. Today I am paying for it. I am so fatigued and weak that I can barely function no less stay awake. I have a headache too.

This is the first time that I have had an "extra" week between chemo treatments. I really thought that I would feel different. "Better" different. But, not so much. Still tired and weary. I have got to rest and not wear myself out so that I can be strong for Saturday, which I know will be a VERY long day. It will all be worth it.

I refuse to let my spirits drop. This is my favorite time of the year and I want to be a part of the joy of the Christmas season in anyway that I still can. Daily I am filled with gratitude for family and friends and good doctors and nurses. Mostly, I am grateful to Heavenly Father for sustaining me the last two and half months. I am not alone. Not ever.

I wish you all the most peaceful and joyous Christmas with all the blessings of heaven poured down on you and your families.

02 December 2009

Gratitude

It seems entirely too predictable that I would be focusing on gratitude at this time of the year. And yet, I believe that given the challenging circumstances that I am facing right now that I would be feeling these same emotions regardless of the season. It just so happens that I am in the middle of chemotherapy during the holiday season.

What I am really trying to express is, I think that even if it were the summer time, and I had hit my halfway through chemotherapy mark, that I would become just as reflective upon the great blessings that have been bestowed so generously upon me.

I had my last of the AC Chemo treatments on Monday. Wow! First round of chemo is done! It was harder on my body this time than the last two. It was more like the first treatment. I could not believe how weak I was. I am not just describing tired, but a frail and weakness through my entire body that makes it difficult for me to walk, lift my arms, well, it is difficult to move my body.

Patti was sick this week, so my daughter Catherine took me to my appointment. I don't know if I have ever met anyone in my entire life who is more kind than my daughter Catherine. She just emits such positive light. I am so thankful for her.

The treatment room was filled with more patients than I had ever seen before. There are probably 20 - 24 recliner seats in the room, and maybe there were two empty chairs. The thing that I noticed is that I was the youngest patient in the room. The treatment area was quiet on Monday, more so than usual. Most of the patients slept or listened to music via i-pod style players. Some were alone, but most, like me had a companion with them who patiently sat beside them during the treatments. My treatment takes about 3 hours, but there are some patients whose treatment regime takes 5-6 hours or more.

I slept more than usual, but when I was alert I just kept thinking about what treatment rooms were like 20 years, even 10 years ago. They were not quiet places. Patients experienced the most violent nausea and were vomiting during the treatments. I just kept thinking of these heros who paved the way so that scientists would earnestly seek to develop medications to suppress the hideous side effects. The side effects that I experience are nothing compared to what they could have been. I am thankful, so very thankful to those who suffered so that I would not have to suffer as much.

Still, today I am feeling pretty nauseated, with the usual Neulasta induced headache. As I have mentioned before, I have terrible insomnia. Last month I had my family doctor write a prescription for Ambien, but insurance companies will not fill more than two weeks of medicine for these "controlled" substances. I had to resort to taking them every other night to make them last. They were too low of a dose, so I would get, at the most, 4-5 consecutive hours of sleep. But, that was way better than the alternative.

When I met with Dr. Singh on Monday he wrote a prescription for Ambien CR, the extended release version, hoping that this formula would help me get a full night of sleep. I took the medicine at 9:15 p.m. so that by 10:00 p.m. I could be fast asleep. I was still awake at 10:30 p.m., not feeling the least bit sleepy. At 11:00 p.m. I went to my bed thinking I at least needed to be in a sleeping position to get things started. I was still awake at 11:45 p.m.

As I laid there, strange things started to happen. I felt my heart rate start increasing. Racing. I couldn't get a deep breath. I was almost hyper-ventilating. Restless. Scared. I went downstairs, as Doug was still up working. I told him how I was feeling. I started crying uncontrollably and described myself as feeling like I was having a panic attack. No sooner than I had said those words, Doug had pulled up on the computer information of a rare side effect from Ambien CR that caused the exact symptoms that I was experiencing. He found a support thread that had individual after individual reporting similar symptoms in various degrees of intensity.

The worst of it lasted about an hour. I went back upstairs and laid down with a heating pad over my head and eyes, which was quite soothing. Doug came upstairs and just sat with me while continuing to work on his laptop, keeping a hand on my shoulder or arm so that I wouldn't feel alone. I felt calmer, but my heart was still beating quite fast. I don't remember when I finally fell asleep, but I remember waking up in the middle of the night, perhaps around 3 or 4 in the morning feeling like I had been run over. I woke up again at 6 a.m. again at 7:30 and then slept hard until 9:15.

Fortunately, I don't have to do anything but rest and sleep today after I post this. Kim is coming this afternoon to work on this weekend's wedding cakes. I am so thankful for Kim. She is always cheerful about working on the cakes. I know it is hard work and it is not convenient for her and there must be something she would rather be doing. But, I don't know what I would do without her. When her twin girls get married, I will make the biggest, baddest most awesome wedding cakes for each of them. I think that after I am well, I will also keep her girls for an entire week so that she can go do what ever she wants to do. I am open to any suggestions of what I possibly could do to repay the incredible service she has provided for me and my family.

One final thought: I appreciate so much every gesture of kindness, every message and note and thought and prayer that you have extended to me. I have not been able to respond to each of you individually, but please know that you mean so much to me. Thank you for your love. I love you too.

18 November 2009

Complaints 1.0

I have had a difficult time trying to come back here and write, because everything I could think to write about was sort of whiny. I have tried to be so positive, and really I still am. But, too bad, so sad, better go get some cheese to go with the "whine" that I am about to share.

1.0 - No one ever lists in possible side effects of chemotherapy that you can have the worst insomnia. It is making me crazy. I even take the medicines for nausea that are also supposed to make you sleepy. Most of the time, when I finally fall asleep, I am waking up every 1-2 hours all night long. I tried going to sleep without any medication, and I was awake all night long. Will I ever be able to sleep on my own again?

So, I think I figured out one of the reasons this is happening. As my husband can attest, I was the kind of person, that would be asleep within 30 seconds of my head hitting the pillow. I realized that since all this started 6 weeks ago, I have not been able to work like I used to. I worked long, hard days in the kitchen. Exhausting work. Now, I lay on the couch or bed like a slug, because I don't have any energy. My body isn't getting tired out, and chemically induced fatigue is just not the same thing.

Did I just really imply that I miss working?

1.1 - I get sores in my mouth and in my throat that make eating impossibly painful. I cannot even drink my favorite Caffeine Free Diet Dr. Pepper, because the carbonation causes too much pain going down. sad face.

1.2 - I have bruising at the nail beds of my finger nails. I thought I must have inadvertently smashed my thumb. Then, I noticed 5 other finger nails with the same thing. I looked up (I am sure doctors hate that patients Google symptoms) and sure enough...this is a potential side effect. Lovely!

1.3 - What short little whiskers of hairs that are left on my head are annoying. Your hair grows out of your head with a nap, like fabrics and carpets have a nap. When those little hairs are forced to bend the opposite direction than how they grow out of your head, it hurts. This happens when you lay down with little hats on, or even just with your head against your pillow as you move through the night. I wish that they would just all fall out already.

1.4 - Nausea. No, I am not tossing my cookies, but I live with a constant mild to moderate nausea. Yuk. It was more fun being pregnant, because at least in the end you'd get a cute little baby.

1.5 - Since I am nauseated all the time, I don't have much of an appetite, so I eat very little. And yet, have I lost even ONE pound? NO!!!!! Enough said.

1.6 - Stupid power port! This port that is in the upper inside of my left arm is annoying. It worked pretty well when they used it the first time for my 2nd treatment, but at my chemo treatment that was just two days ago, I had a different nurse. She stuck the needle in the port area. I was expecting a tiny little pinch like before. NOT SO MUCH! She must have missed the spot. I was in agony. She kept shifting it around trying to tap in and it took forever for her to get it right. I actually had tears come to my eyes it was so painful. It was like she was stabbing me over and over. It stung for about 10 minutes after the fact. And now, two days later, anytime it gets bumped it hurts like the dickens. Ugh. This was supposed to make it easier.

1.7 - Headaches!! no, not just headaches....HEADACHES!!!!I get my Neulasta injection on the day after the chemo treatments. One of the side effects can be a headache. It starts about 3-5 hours after I get the shot. That means I have a headache on Tuesday afternoon and go to bed with it that night and wake up with it Wednesday morning...and it lasts usually until Saturday or Sunday. This is really the most debilitating side effect that I have. They knock me out and I cannot function.

1.8 - Terrible Bone pain! This is a new one for this week. It is a side effect that is listed, but I haven't had it until this week. My joints in my arms, hips, lower back and knees make me look like I am 90 years old when I try to get up and walk. I am pathetic.

1.9 - I learned at my last treatment that when I start the second round of chemotherapy the week of Christmas, that my treatments will be every three weeks. The drug Taxol is just too toxic to administer every two weeks like I have had for this first round. I was not mentally prepared for this. I kept thinking that I only had to make it to February 1st, and now it adds another month onto the chemo process. It just delays the surgery and then the radiation. I got in my head that by May all the treatments would be complete. Now it likely will not be until the end of June.

OK....it's out of my system, and I am done now.

Most days I am completely optimistic. Uncomfortable, but optimistic. I just try to take everything one day at a time. Some of those days are very long, but every day that goes by puts me one day closer to the end of all the treatments.

Next week is Thanksgiving already. I have so much to be thankful for. Truly. The blessings in my life far outweigh any hardships.

I wanted to thank you all for your uplifting and encouraging comments. It really means so much to me. There isn't a day that goes by that at least one person reaches out to me and extends their love. I feel the power of all your prayers uttered on my behalf. Thank you so much.

05 November 2009

Oh yes, it was really difficult!

I had my second chemotherapy treatment on Monday. Patti took me to my appointment. My blood work looked excellent and Dr. Singh was delighted. He examined me, but I could have told you myself that the large tumor had shrunk considerably just with the first treatment. It's working! Good thing, because it would be really tough to go through all the yucky symptoms if it wasn't.

The treatment time was to be about 2 plus hours. There has to be something to kill the time, so Patti brought a book to read to me. She selected the delightful Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

I have to say, if you are a fan of the Jane Austen classic, and you have a good sense of humor and great imagination, this is a great read. I can't wait to hear the next chapters at my next treatment. Did I really say that I was looking forward to my next treatment?

The anti-nausea meds that they give make me kind of sleepy, so we had to stop after a while. I had a side effect with the Cytoxan that I didn't experience the first time. If delivered through the infusion pump too quickly, it can make your sinuses burn like crazy, and burn they did. It was like the worst sinus attack I have ever had.

Then, when Jan started pushing the Adriamycin, I started feeling really light headed. I have felt this way before, so I knew that my blood pressure was dropping. Jan, my nurse came to my rescue and took my BP and confirmed it. She stopped delivering the Adriamycin and stabilized me. The rest of the time went by fairly quickly.

I had the worst headache the rest of the day and I was exhausted.

On Tuesday morning, my hair started coming out in large handfuls. If I had stayed in the shower long enough, rinsing my hair, I am quite certain that I could have washed every hair off of my scalp. I grew weary of the process and just towel dried my hair. There was a lot of hair in that towel.

I decided to be proactive and called Claire, my stylist for over 12 years, and she had me come to her shop at 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday evening so she could take the clippers to my hair and just finish the job.

Doug and Benjamin and I drove up to Cary. Catherine met us there, as did Christian and Mary. This was my support group.

First she scissor cut my hair to about an inch or so. I dealt with that all right. She began shaving the back first, while I looked in the mirror. I was doing pretty well, until she made the first stroke across the front of my scalp. I put my teared up eyes in my hands. I saw an old man sitting in my chair. It didn't help when my daughter, Catherine said that I looked like my father.

This was hard. Much harder than I thought it would be.

After I wiped away my few tears, Doug planted a big kiss on the top of my head, and then I put on a scarf and a hat. It was pretty chilly that night. We all went to Dairy Queen and enjoyed ice cream to cap off the adventurous evening.

The deed was done, and there is no turning back now.

The shaving of the locks
(warning, it is 4 minutes long)
video

It is finished.....sigh

It was nice to have my family with me. They kept me laughing, and that is always good. Feel the love. It's all around.


30 October 2009

The only thing you can plan on is change

I am sick. Yesterday, I could start feeling the cold symptoms starting. By the late afternoon, I was down for the count. This morning, I can hardly breathe and my nose is runny too. Then there is the coughing and sneezing. I have a call into the oncologists office so they can tell me what meds I can take and what to do.

What I do know is that I will NOT be going down to Beaufort today for the weekend with Elizabeth and my grand-daughters. There is only a slight chance that we will go at all.

Three months!!! Three months is how long we have planned this trip. When we went down to Beaufort for our "stay-cation" the first week of August we knew our first opportunity to come back would be for Halloween weekend and Charlotte's first birthday. It was a perfect plan. No school on Friday, no cakes scheduled for the entire week. Just a leisurely drive to the coast of NC.

...not so much...

I am sorely disappointed.

What this also means is that I won't be with my daughter's for my hair falling out/head shaving party.

On Sunday, I noticed that my head was very itchy and it just felt weird. There was a fair amount of shedding as I washed and styled my hair for church. Every day, when I comb my hair, their is a light dusting of hair on the counter. Each day the amount increases. Yesterday there was significantly more shedding. Not in clumps, just single strands shedding from my scalp. It became necessary to pull my hair into a little bity pony tail and wear a hat so that it wouldn't fall all over.

My son Michael and his fiance Kristin came over for their cake tasting for their wedding cake. That really brightened up my evening. I pulled out what energy I could to help them through their tasting, and then crashed after they left. Here's a preview of what to expect from their wedding cake:
chocolate-chocolate chip cake with raspberry mousse and chocolate ganache
vanilla cake with strawberry mousse
spice cake with cream cheese filling
coconut-chocolate chip cake with white chocolate mousse

I knew I was feeling sick, because I didn't even share a single bite of cake with them.

This week I have called my "off week", meaning there was no chemo treatment. Somehow I had come up with the idea that I would feel normal this week, that every day after chemo would improve until I felt all right again. And, although I did improve when comparing days 3 through 6 to the days after, certain symptoms just don't go away.

Every day I wake up with mild nausea. This is made worse by having to take my medicines on an empty stomach. I have one medicine that MUST be taken on an empty stomach and then wait 1 hour before I can eat. I also always have a headache that can range from mildly annoying to darn-right pounding.

The fatigue is the most consuming thing. I am exhausted all the time, as if I have been working hard all day. And yet, I have not done much at all.

Yesterday morning, Doug and I had appointments for lab work associated with routine appointments with our family doctor that are next week. We left together at 8:15 a.m. I actually felt pretty good. By the time the appointment was over, I said to Doug "This is the absolute best I have felt since my first treatment". So, I decided to drive him to Wake Tech and keep the car so I could go to WalMart to pick up my prescriptions and look for a birthday present for Charlotte.

It was the first time that I had driven alone since October 2nd. It was great. I was feeling free and normal for a change. I arrived at WalMart and took care of my pharmacy items. I started walking around the store, just browsing. By the time I got to the back of the store where the toys were, I began to fade. I had to lean against the cart to help me walk through the rest of the store to pick up the few grocery items we needed.

I got home, unloaded the car and crashed on the couch. There was no more energy. It was just too much for me. When I woke up, I could feel the tingly-itch in the back of my throat that is my tell-tale sign that a cold is coming. About an hour after that, my nose was running.

Kim and her little girls came by to bring some cake stuff and visited with me for a while. After that, more sleeping until the fam got home from school and work.

I am so frail now. I don't LIKE that. It is frustrating to feel so weak.

Benjamin brought in the mail. There were more post cards for me to read. A sister from the Cary 2nd ward, wrote some scriptures that had touched her during her own difficult trials and wanted to share them with me. This one really applies right now:

"...for if they never should have bitter, they could not know the sweet..."
D&C 29:39

I had a little taste of the sweet when I got up yesterday morning and felt so well, after having been so sick. But, I have to realize that those moments for me, during the coming months, will be short lasting. Besides, these days the sweet comes in so many other ways.


24 October 2009

Chemical Warfare!

This last Monday I met with my medical oncologist, Dr. Singh. He had all the results of all the tests and scans that I had the week before. Thankfully, there were no surprises. The biopsy I had on Wednesday did show that the cancer had metastasized to the lymph nodes. That was expected, but now it was confirmed: Stage III Breast Cancer. The CT and bone scan showed no cancer anywhere else in my body. YEAH! But, I did learn that I have a small cyst on my ovary (unrelated) some gall stones, and arthritis in my lower back. I knew all too well about the arthritis.

My heart scan indicated a very healthy heart. You are given a percentage score as your result. Dr. Singh said that the heart of an athlete in training would be in the 70-75 percent range. Mine was 65. Not bad for a plus size 50 year old woman.

Now that all the tests were done, it was time to get down to the business of killing cancer cells. Because of the size and aggressiveness of my cancer, Dr. Singh was putting me on a "dose dense" chemotherapy regime of AC + T. This means that instead of the usual three week cycle of treatments (4 treatments evenly distributed over a 12 week period) I will have mine every other week (4 treatments over an 8 week period) Also, because I have "node positive" cancer, I will be given three different chemicals in my chemotherapy. The cycle of 8 weeks will be a chemo cocktail that consists of Adriamycin and Cytoxan. That will be followed by another 8 week cycle of four doses of Taxol or Taxotere (I don't know which yet).

THE SCIENCE
For those who want to know the science behind the treatment, here's how the chemotherapy drugs work. Pretend you are in your 11th grade science class.

Adriamycin fights cancer by slowing or stopping the growth of cancer cells. This drug gets inside the DNA of cancer cells and prevents cell replication by inhibiting protein synthesis. It also forms oxygen free radicals which can result in heart and circulatory damage. (which is why I needed the heart scan)

Cytoxan works on cancer cells by damaging their RNA or DNA when they are in their resting phase (not dividing). Because Cytoxan causes breaks in the DNA of cancer cells, they can't keep dividing and they die. This drug will also affect normal cells, but will have less affect on those cells, since they divide more slowly and are better able to fix DNA breaks than cancer cells. Some of the normal cells that will be affected include: blood, mouth tissue, digestive tract and hair follicles.

After the AC combination, the Taxol will be administered.

Taxol is called a mitotic inhibitor. Cells grow by a process called mitosis (cell division). Taxol targets rapidly growing cancer cells, sticks to them while they are trying to divide, and prevents them from completing the division process. Since the cancer cells cannot divide into new cells, it can't grow and metastasize.

Taxol is included in my chemo regime because my cancer grew so incredibly fast, and because it has already metastasized to the lymph nodes and that needs to stop to prevent the cancer from spreading further. The hope is to shrink the cancer tumors before surgery, to make the surgery safer and insure that they can remove all the cancer.

Science Class is now over.

PORT-A-CATH
I had a surgical procedure on Monday. They put a Power Port in my upper arm. This is so that they do not have to tap into a new vein for every chemo treatment and blood draw that will be coming in the next months. The chemo drugs are very powerful and can damage the smaller veins. The port is surgically implanted under the skin and then a catheter is fed through a blood vessel.
This was called a simple surgical procedure. For me, this was not simple. I was quite nervous. They give me several shots of a local anesthetic, but I was quite awake for the whole procedure. I could feel a lot of what they were doing, and it was really uncomfortable...and often painful. Some of the sensations, were very unusual and I didn't like it at all. I really wished I had been sedated.

Michelle was my surgical nurse. I could not have made it through this without her. She was so understanding of my fears. I have never had a surgery before. Not one, ever. She held my hand the whole time and helped encourage me. She even wiped away my tears when I started to cry a little during the most difficult part. Michelle was my angel in the operating room.

My arm was in such pain and the bruising was so large, that they couldn't even use the port for my first chemo treatment, which was on Tuesday. Today is Saturday, and my arm still hurts where the port is and where the incision was made. I know it is for my good, but I didn't like this part at all.

MY FIRST CHEMO TREATMENT
On Tuesday, Doug went with me for my first treatment. It took about 3 hours, but should only take about 2 hours for subsequent treatments. Once the IV was in, they administered anti-nausea medicine with benadryl since there can be allergic reactions to the chemo drugs. They also gave me Ativan, an anti anxiety drug that also has anti-nausea benefits. After about 30 minutes, they started working and then they administered the two Chemo drugs over the two hours. I was really drowsy, but did not fall fast asleep. I was groggy the rest of the day.

On the day after each treatment, I go back to the cancer center for a shot of Neulasta. You may have seen this advertised on TV. This is a medication that is supposed to help rebuild the red and white blood cells that have been compromised due to the cell damaging properties of the chemotherapy. Neulasta comes with some side effects of its own.

On each morning this week, I have woken up with mild to moderate nausea and a terrible headache. I have also been so incredibly tired. This fatigue is worse than what I experienced in 2000, when my thyroid function dropped to nothing at all. Today, the nausea is less and the headache is not as bad, but I am still quite tired. I just have to get through today's wedding cake deliveries. That is all I have to do.

I am looking forward to next week, since I only have one appointment to attend. It is also the "off" week and each day I should start to feel better and better until Monday, November 2nd when I have my 2nd chemo treatment.

THE HAIR AFFAIR
By all reports, my hair will have all fallen out by the end of next week. The nurse educator at the cancer center said that by day 7 the skin on my head will start to tingle and itch. During the few days after that, I will noticeably see hair coming out, while brushing or combing, or washing my hair, or just on my pillow case in the morning. By day 12 to 14, larger clumps of hair will come out and by day 15 it will be just a mess and so annoying, that you will just want to take a razor and finish the job.

Fortunately, I will be down in Beaufort for Halloween and to celebrate my grand-daughter Charlotte's first birthday. Catherine will be there too, and so I will have my daughters to help me through this event, and try to make it more fun. We'll go to a salon and have a hair shaving party (they both tell me they will shave their heads too, but I told them it wasn't necessary) get some cute hats and scarves and go out for dinner.

I've been thinking about this. The losing of my hair is a sign and symbol that I have started on the path of healing. It is something to celebrate. My hair will be gone because I have started the treatments that will kill this cancer and put me closer to being cancer free. It really is a small price to pay. And so is nausea, headaches and fatigue. If this were a few decades ago, the outcome would not be as optimistic.

Elizabeth drove up from Beaufort on Monday with my little grand-girls. It has been wonderful to have her here with Amelia and Charlotte. Catherine has also spent a lot of time here with me this week. I love my daughters. I love to see how much they love each other.

Elizabeth and Catherine have both helped me this week on my quest to find a lovely wig to wear. We went to several places and I was getting more and more depressed because nothing looked right. I just didn't look like ME. I don't have much hair to begin with, and everything was so thick and pouf-y. Then the nurse educator at the cancer center told us about Angel Hair.

We went yesterday afternoon. I have about 2 hours of energy in the afternoon between 2 and 4 p.m. Elizabeth drove me to North Raleigh, and Catherine met us there. Krista was my angel at this wig gallery. She was so knowledgeable, and kind and helpful. The choices there were outstanding. The quality was incredible. I can't believe the difference between the other places and here. In the end I found something that I really liked and that looked like how I might actually wear my hair. I was so relieved. And, to make things even better, just the day before they began a "Buy One - Get One" special and so I was able to pick two looks.

The first is the look the girls loved, something fresh and classic. It's a little shorter than I am used to now, but I like it a lot. The second is the most like how I wear my hair now.

"Regan" front
"Regan" side view

"Claire" side view
"Claire" front view
it just looks like "ME"


GOD'S ARMY OF ANGELS
I just cannot begin to express my gratitude to those who generously contributed to make this possible. Every day my life is blessed in some new way by my family and friends and others who I don't even know that well. I am so thankful for all the delicious meals and for the cards that come in the mail each day.

I cannot find enough words to thank Kim Bloomfield, who worked so hard this week on completing the three wedding cakes for this weekend. I baked some cake early Tuesday morning, and had a few hours that I could help on Thursday afternoon, but the side effects of my treatment left me pretty incapacitated to be much help otherwise. I pray that the Lord blesses her with all the desires of her heart.

For my birthday, many years ago, Patti gave me this little porcelain egg that says:

"True friends are God's angels here on earth".

I used to think that a true friend had to be someone that you had known for years and years. But now I know that isn't necessarily true. Many of you I don't know that well, and some of you, who have blessed my life, I do not know at all. But make no mistake, you are all true friends and my angels.

18 October 2009

Showered With Love

On Friday afternoon, my friends Patti and Amy organized a "Casserole Shower" for me. Over 20 of my friends came by my new house between 2 and 4 pm and brought casseroles to put in my freezer so that during the next weeks of chemotherapy, when I am just to sick or exhausted to make dinner for my family, I could just take something from my freezer and bake in the oven for dinner. My freezers are filled with love.

Additionally, they had a "Wig Money Tree" for people to attach donations for me to purchase a wig for when my hair falls out. My son Michael is getting married two months from tomorrow, and I will have no hair. This was so very thoughtful and kind and I am again overwhelmed with the love from my friends.

Here are some of the lovely people that came bearing gifts
video

Tomorrow I will find out the results of my CT and Bone Scans, as well as the Heart Scan. The CT and Bone scan will tell if the cancer had metastasized anywhere else in my body. The heart scan will tell me if my heart is healthy enough to withstand the chemo drugs. Perhaps the pathology report from the biopsy of the lymph nodes will be in as well. It was exhausting last week going to so many appointments.

At the shower on Friday, someone asked if I was scared. All I could say is "yes, but really, I am just scared of the unknown". Today, I have felt at peace. I feel the love of Heavenly Father's arms wrapped around me. I feel the love of my husband and my children and family members. I feel the love of my friends. And in some strange way, I felt the love of all the technicians and nurses and doctors. They understand this is hard. They are kind and helpful and never impatient.

Today in Sunday School I was reminded of a scripture that a dear friend introduced to me several years ago when Doug and I were struggling during a long period of unemployment.

2 Timothy 1:7
"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."

The Lord does not want me to be afraid; it is not His way. Once again I find myself with the mindset when I thought of the title of this Blog. The power to over come the world comes from love. And as you can see, I am surrounded by it.

13 October 2009

Radioactive

Yesterday I had a bone scan and a CT scan. I wasn't sure what to expect with either of them, so I went online and checked it out. Both require lying on my back on a sliding bed and being inserted in some sort of donut like contraption while the bed slid up and down so that the scanning device could check the entire length of my body. They also both had my face about 4 inches from the surface above me. Real donuts are much more fun!

But, these scans really can't see anything until you have something called "contrast" inside of you. This was actually the worst part of everything. And let me parenthetically add that I am no lightweight when it comes to pain.

First of all, I had 8 children, with some of the longest back labors on record (56 for my first...no kidding, 22 for my second, 17 for my 7th, really!) Additionally, I had the first 5 all natural, with epidurals administered for the last three, with the last of said epidurals not taking. That was the most painful, because I wasn't anticipating needing all the breathing techniques to survive the dreaded transition portion of the labor. So I didn't practice my breathing. I know, bad call.

Second, I have suffered with fibromyalgia since 1992. If you don't know what that is, click on the link. You'll see just how much fun it is.

Oh, did I mention the 8 kids....well, I am throwing that in just for the emotional pain that is!! (sorry kiddos, you know I love you)

This year it has been incredible pain in my right shoulder and upper arm as a result from overuse from the work of baking and cake decorating.

You get the idea.

Patti picks me up to take me to Rex Hospital for my 11:00 a.m. appointment where I am to receive a dye injected into me in preparation for my bone scan. This is a radioactive dye. I have the worst veins. They are tiny and they are deep and they like to roll. A very nice young man named Bryan is the radiology technician. He can't find a vein in the usual places, so he is forced to use the top of my right hand. OH MY GOSH!!!! It hurt so bad. Fortunately, it only took about 15 seconds for the dye to be injected in, which burned like crazy.

I am to return at 1:30 p.m. for the actual bone scan.

Monday was our original lunch date. So we went to lunch during the waiting period. (I have the good fortune of having received the birthday gift that keeps on giving. Since 1997, each month Patti has taken me to lunch, and sometimes a movie too in celebration of my birthday. It's a great story of how this came to be, so just ask me sometime and I will share it with you.)

After lunch, I had to start drinking the contrast solution (also radioactive) in preparation for the CT scan at 3:00 p.m. For those who have not had the pleasure, this is TWO 16 ounce bottles of a thick white liquid they dare to call a smoothie. It was allegedly flavored apple. Quite honestly, it was horrible.

I had the very clever idea that the colder this stuff would be, the easier it would be to get down. So, I put the bottles in a small cooler of ice and brought that with me. When 1:00 p.m. came and it was time to drink the first bottle, I found that the liquid had actually started to freeze and there were ice crystals in the beverage. It was way too thick and yes, crunchy. YUCK!! Patti coached me through the process, encouraging me on. It took 30 minutes to drink that bottle.

We then go back to Rex for the bone scan. Not terrible, but I kept my eyes closed. Very early in the process I opened my eyes just to find the nearest objects about 3 inches away. I closed my eyes immediately and just imagined that I was laying on a beach. The scan lasted 30 minutes. They bound me up like a papoose baby so that I could not move. It was quite uncomfortable.

Now it's 2:00 p.m. and time for part two of the contrast solution. By this time, it had come to a normal cold temperature, since I had learned from the first bottle to take it out of the cooler. My stomach was feeling pretty full, but I got that bottle down in about 12-15 minutes. I am sorry, but this was worse than when I had to hold my nose to get the baby june peas or squash down at dinner time when I was a little girl. Gag. Really. Geesh.

Patti takes me to the Cancer Center for the CT where Doug is meeting me. Oh, great, MORE radioactive contrast injected into me. She tries the left arm which was holy cow so painful. It was like she stuck in the needle and was just trying to stab at a vein in hopes to get one. And then, the vein blew and she HAD TO DO IT AGAIN ON THE OTHER ARM!!! Just as bad, but it worked, thankfully.

This time I ask for washcloth to cover my eyes, lest I accidentally open them. This sliding bed was not cushioned like the last scan, but it would only be 15 minutes for the CT to be completed. At a certain point, the technician injects the contrast solution into the vein. She had warned me that it would feel warm. No, more like my insides are on fire. I felt the liquid move through the veins in my body, first up my arm and all into my chest and then into my brain. I felt light headed. Then, it went all the way down my torso. I didn't last long, only two minutes or less. I just laid as still as possible, holding my breath when prompted by the voice in the machine.

Done!

We got home shortly after 4:00 p.m. and I rested for a while before piano students came. Lucky for me, it was Julie Housley's kids, and Julie brought dinner. That was a blessing.

With all the stuff ingested and injected, my stomach was feeling pretty weird. I was pretty spent and didn't get any more unpacking done last night.

Dr. Hamad, my surgeon, told me that by the end of this week I would be glowing. She wasn't just kidding. I am radioactive. The Geiger Counter is clicking off the charts.

I get the day off from appointments today. But, tomorrow the fun starts all over again.

On a serious note, I keep thinking how unreal this is. I feel like I am just an actor in a play. Is this really happening to ME? How? Why? It's just still unbelievable. I think that facing the unknown is the hardest part. The big trials for our family since 1997 were always unemployment. It was so difficult, but when it happened for the 3rd and 4th and 5th time, at least I knew what to expect. And I could do something! I found ways to bring in more money. That's how and why I turned a little hobby into a successful wedding cake business.

I can't really fix this. I have to have faith in Heavenly Father and trust in my doctors and do what they say to make this better. It is truly humbling. I don't have the power to make this go away. But, I do have the power to face each day with faith and hope and love. That's the stuff true miracles are made of.

08 October 2009

"Today you will cry. Tomorrow will be brighter"

MRI
On Monday, I faced one of my biggest fears. The dreaded MRI! One night several weeks ago, about a week before the biopsy, I had a panic attack just thinking about what it would be like to be in the MRI tube machine thingy. (I believe that is the technical name) I have some claustrophobic tendencies and just imagining the possibility of having that test done was frightening to me.

Gratefully, my doctor prescribed some Xanax for me to take the night before, so that I could sleep and then one hour before the test, I was to take another. Let me just say something about Xanax: it makes me stupid! To be more accurate, I imagine that if I were ever intoxicated, I would exhibit similar behavior. However, it is the only way I could have made it through the process.

I had my MRI done face down, which I was not expecting. They did a trial by putting me in position and sliding the tray with my body on it in the tube. I felt the tube pressing up against my back, tighter and tighter, and it started to hurt. I urgently said, "OK! I can't do this!" They pulled me out and made some adjustments. We tried it again and that time I felt it touch my back, but it was light pressure so I thought I would just imagine that it was a heavy blanket, or someone's hand on my back.

So, they put in the IV and I went in for real and I didn't feel it on my back at all. The brace that went up the middle of my chest was very hard, and it hurt, but I just did shallow rhythmical breathing and relaxed and 25 minutes later, it was over. Whew! By the way, it was crazy loud!! I could not even hear the beautiful Chopin Piano music I had selected to listed to through the headphones.

Plastic Surgeon
Dr. Hanna, from Cary Plastic Surgery is another member of my Breast Cancer team. I saw him on Wednesday morning. One of the great advances that have been made over the years is that insurance companies will now pay for reconstructive surgery in association with mastectomy. And FYI, he told us (Patti Maxwell came with me to this appointment) that they only wanted pay for the plastic surgery for the single breast involved. But, during the legislative process, it only took four hours of angry women protesting for them to get a clue. So, even if you only have breast cancer in one breast, they will still pay for lifting and matching the other breast to the newly created breast. That was comforting since my 8 pregnancies and breast feeding, along with weight changes that have gone up and down more than a see-saw have left my "girls" with some crazy sagging. (I know you may thing TMI, but heck, it's MY blog anyway)

Dr. Hanna is well recognized in the area for his fine work. Word on the street says that he is responsible for most of the implants in Preston. I am in good hands. :)

He instructed me as to how the reconstruction will be done and informed my of my options. He was a funny guy, and Patti and I were cracking up by the end of the appointment.

Also, I can now proudly say that I have had my nude shots taken. Just like you see on Discovery Health Channel. Oh, no face in the photo. Thank goodness!

Medical Oncologist
I knew that everything was leading to this second appointment on Wednesday. Doug and I met with Dr. Singh, who is the oncologist that treats cancers with chemotherapy. Dr. Singh is a very nice man, who is from India and looks like your stereotype Indian man from a Simpsons episode. Turban, beard tied in a rubber band and folded in on itself, and wearing long muslin khaftan. I felt great compassion from him.

He gave me my results from the MRI. It was as I had suspected, but hoped that it would not be. The area of the cancer is huge. It had taken over more than half of my right breast and has gone into my lymph nodes. He explained how cancer grows, and how it starts in the ducts and then sometimes, it "leaks" out and infiltrates the breast tissue. Breast cancer can also start in the Lobes. I have cancer in both the ducts and the lobes. With the addition of the cancer having spread to the lymph nodes, they are calling it Stage 3. I will have a full CT scan tomorrow to see if there is cancer anywhere else in my body.

In the next week I have to have the following procedures/tests done:
  1. CT scan
  2. Bone scan
  3. MUGA (this is a cool scan of my heart to make sure it is in good shape to receive one of the chemotherapy drugs which is known for damaging hearts. Great)
  4. Biopsy of the lymph nodes
  5. A Port will be put in my chest for the administering of the chemo drugs. (This is so that they do not have to tap into a vein in your arm every time. This is done with outpatient surgery.)

The treatment plan is as follows:
  1. Chemotherapy begins ASAP, probably in about 12 days and will last for approximately 18 weeks.
  2. Bilateral Mastectomy in the Spring following the Chemo (both of the "girls" are going away)
  3. Radiation Treatments for 6 weeks
The treatments should all be complete by June of next year.

At the end of the appointment, Dr. Singh looked Doug and I in the eyes and said "Today is a very bad day. Today, you will cry. Tomorrow will be brighter. And with the Lord's blessing you will be well."

Epilogue
It was all pretty heavy. Doug took me home and went back to Wake Tech. I had to teach my piano lessons and finish up some baking. I have been pretty together and upbeat, considering everything. I mentioned in a previous post that I had not had a good cry yet, but I could feel it coming on. That was last week.

I made fajitas for dinner. We were all at the dinner table eating dinner. I had had a few bites of my first fajita when, like a dam bursting, I began to sob. I couldn't stop. Doug got up and comforted me. In a about a minute, Doug said, "He said you would cry today. I thought that was just a cliche." I cried on and off all evening.

Yesterday, I cried. Today is brighter.

03 October 2009

Taking a drink with a Firehose

My brain has been flooded with information.

Yesterday Doug and I went to my follow up appointment with Dr. Hamad. She went over the results of the pathology report. Preliminary diagnosis: invasive ductal carcinoma. Well, we knew that I guess, but that is the medical name for the type of invasive breast cancer that I have. There isn't much more to say until after I have my MRI, early on Monday morning. This is where they can determine the size of the tumor and if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes around the breast, or anywhere else for that matter. It will also indicate if there are any beginnings of cancer in my left breast.

This is just part of the information that is needed in order to make a treatment plan. There are other factors, but I am not sure I could explain them yet. The facts are I will at the very least require surgery and chemotherapy. The unknown until all the information is in is whether the chemo starts first to shrink the tumor and then have surgery. Or, have surgery first followed by chemotherapy. Either way, by the time Michael gets married in mid-December, I will have no hair! Radiation is a strong possibility, but again, there is much more information needed to decide that.

After we spend a great deal of time together, we were taken by the nurse to a room to schedule all the appointments for the next week. Today I met with the Radiation Oncologist. Monday is the MRI. Wednesday is both the Medical Oncologist (chemo doctor) and the Plastic Surgeon (for reconstruction). I also did a test to determine if there is a genetic factor to my cancer, which tells them even more about how to treat it. This was probably the most pleasant test I will ever have. I swished with SCOPE mouthwash for 30 seconds, two separate times, and spit it into a cylinder. They use my saliva for the gene testing. I had minty fresh breath when that was done.

I spent a lot of the day on the telephone talking to different people. It was exhausting telling the tale again and again. But, people are concerned and they want to know what is going on. May I remind you also that we are in the process of moving and I have a giant wedding cake along with a groom's cake to complete for Saturday. Oh, and I had to go withdraw Alex from West Cary Middle School so I could enroll him at Holly Ridge Middle School. Exhausting day!

Today was also insane. I really felt the stress of the move and the diagnosis and came close to breaking down several times. My daughter Catherine was with me all of the day and she was a great support to me. It's almost 1:00 in the morning, and I just finished the artwork on the groom's cake. I am tired.

I still have not just had a good hard cry, but I could totally feel it coming on this afternoon.

I have been up and down like a roller coaster ride. Those who know me know that I am NOT a roller coaster person. I hate that feeling in your stomach. It is not fun. THIS is not fun.

At the Radiation Oncologist I learned the side effects of radiation. I was told so many things. But, I left feeling like I was going to need it eventually, probably in the spring, as it will likely be the last of the three types of treatments.

Blah, blah, blah....this is so boring....

Here's the best part of the day.....all the LOVE from so many people!!!

My daughter, Catherine...oh how I felt her love as she filled out all the forms for me at the middle school and at the oncologists office. Not to mention just going with me everywhere else today.

Wendy Holladay, my friend and visiting teacher...who drove the closing papers from our house in Morrisville to the new house in Fuquay because I had forgotten to take them with me so that I had proof of residence to enroll Alex in his new school.

The guidance counselor at Holly Ridge...who was so understanding about having to hurry through the process so that I could get to my doctor's appointment as "on time" as possible.

The receptionist and nurse at Wake Oncology Radiology... who helped me feel so relaxed when I was 7 minutes late to my appointment. They said "you're not late.....45 minutes...THAT's late".

The nice sales man at BIG LOTS...who made sure to mention that the table and chairs that I was purchasing was being discontinued. I was only going to get the table with 4 chairs and gradually add the other 4 chairs. If I had waited, when I went back they would have been gone and I would not have had a matching set.

The Pulsipher Family...for bringing dinner tonight. (and let's not fail to mention all the other dinners provided this week by Mary Ann Pillar, Jennifer Kennedy, Wendy Holladay and Beth Allred.)

My husband, Douglas, my children and spouses (Christian and Mary, Catherine and Bryan, Mark, Daniel and Alex)... who worked so hard today and before today moving items from one house to another.

My daughter Elizabeth...because although it is not possible for her to be here to help, she wishes she could be here.

My dear friend Leann...who just returned from Utah and called me right away when she heard, even though she has her own trial right now.

My sisters JoAnn and Fran...who I finally got to speak with. For their love and prayers.

My mom...who always calls to see how things went. And, while I am at it, for all the days she came and stood and washed dishes and cake pans for hours during the busiest cake weeks this summer.

Kim Bloomfield...who offered to help save me from the ton of cake work that MUST be done this month for all the brides who are expecting a wedding cake in October.

Amelia Bogess...for helping me finish packing the kitchen

There are probably others...but my brain is tired and I cannot think anymore.

I am overwhelmed by the love of my friends and family.

I wish there was a better word than "thank you"

I love you all.

30 September 2009

Really? Really? (really!)

Yesterday, September 29th, 2009 I found out that I have cancer. Breast cancer. Really? It's only been about 18 hours since the surgeon called to tell me the results of the biopsy. It really hasn't sunk in yet. Well, I have moments of the reality of it, but mostly, I still don't really know what is coming. I mean, I know what I read about what could possibly be the things that are coming, but it isn't real yet. I woke up this morning, and took out butter to soften to make the icing, like any other day. And wedding cakes have to be iced, like any other day. But in my head, like bad ringing in my ears I hear the words "they found cancer, they found cancer, they found cancer".

Maybe the reason why I couldn't sleep last night was so that I wouldn't wake up this morning and think "maybe it was just a bad dream". No chance for that. You have to fall asleep to wake up.

The Back Story

I make wedding cakes. I own a small licensed home based wedding cake bakery. I started Cake Dreams in the spring of 2005. The years of overuse of my right upper arm and shoulder have left me in a great deal of pain. A few months ago, in early June, I finally went to the doctor about this matter and was referred to an orthopaedic doctor who sent me to physical therapy. This was a good thing, but also a painful thing.

One Saturday morning, as I was massaging my neck and shoulder to prepare for the day's work, I noticed a little lump right above my right collar bone. It was about the size of a black bean. Since my mother has dealt with chronic lymphoma for more than 10 years, I made an appointment with my wonderful family doctor, Dr. Musselman, who referred me to a general surgeon. He also suggested that since it had been a while since my last mammogram, that I have that done too. The results came back normal.

My visit with this surgeon was not good. And since I do not want to waste my time giving any attention to this man who barely gave me the time of the day, and pretty much told me he didn't find anything there (even though the resident who accompanied him found it immediately, because she listened to me about how to find it) I will just tell you that I decided to return to my doctor who then referred me to Dr. Sabah Hamad who is a breast surgeon.

Dr. Hamad did an ultra sound to see what was there. She also did a complete breast exam as well as view my recent mammogram. The little lump seemed like maybe it was just fatty tissue, so we both decided to watch it and I would return in three months to see if there were any changes. That was August 17th.

Ten days later, after a long day in the kitchen, I laid down on my side in bed, and when my upper right arm rested against my right breast I was shocked when I felt this huge hardness, about the size of half of a baseball. This was NOT there the week before. And to be truthful, I would say it wasn't there when I had showered last. When I woke up the next morning, it was still there. I just kept tabs on it for about a week, thinking perhaps it was just fibrous tissue swelling from monthly cycle related issues. But, cycle came and went, and big hard lump in breast did not.

I decided to bypass going back to Dr. Musselman and call Dr. Hamad, since I had just seen her two weeks earlier. That was September 10th

She was stunned. She acknowledged that wasn't there before. She did an ultrasound and it looked suspect. She said that it was possible that it was an infection, so she prescribed 10 days of heavy duty antibiotics. She also sent me for a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound. The radiologist came in to speak with me and said that there was definitely a large dense mass there and that it was either infection or cancer. He admonished a biopsy. That was September 14th.

GULP

On September 24th, having completed the 10 days of antibiotic with no change in size of the affected area, I returned with my films and radiology report in hand to Dr. Hamad. She performed a biopsy in the office and said it would take until the next Tuesday for the results to come in. Now we wait.

My appointment was at 10:15 a.m. My daughter Catherine called to see if Doug was going with me and I said I thought that he was meeting me there, but she said she had just gotten off the phone with him and he said he wasn't coming. I called him, and because I had not specifically asked him to be there, he had not planned on coming too. I was hurt. The week before, when we knew this might be real, he had said he would be there with me all along the way. How could he not know how important it would be for me to have him there to support me if the results were cancer? I was unkind and told him not to come, that now I didn't want him there as a reminder of how little he cared about me.

Catherine called back and said she would come but I told her not to come and just let me do this by myself. Several minutes later, she arrived anyway. My daughter loves me.

When I was taken back to get blood pressure, etc, the nurse flipped through my chart and noted that the results had not yet come in. So, I left with the assurance that Dr. Hamad would call me when she received the pathology report.

And that brings us back to 1:00 yesterday afternoon. I was at a luncheon that was being held in my honor. We are moving this weekend, and so the ladies from church had an open house so that people could say good-bye. Several of my friends knew that I was waiting on the results. The call from Dr. Hamad came right in the middle of the party. When I came back into the room, I could see everyone's eyes reading my face. I tried so hard to smile and stay upbeat. But, there were so many sweet and caring eyes looking into mine that I could just nod my head "yes" and then the tears began to flow and the hugs came.

It was all wrong yet perfect. These sweet sisters knew even before my husband, my daughters and sons, my mother, and my best friend. But, I was grateful not to be alone. These women had gathered that afternoon for me thinking it was just to wish me well in my new home. But there was a greater purpose none of us could have ever predicted. I was strengthened by the power of the love in that room.

Love is power. I have felt it so many other times in my life.

At first, I thought I would name my BLOG The Power OF Love, like the song from Back to the Future. But, then I thought, no, love IS power. So that's where that came from.

It will be love's power that will help me through the next few days, months, years....how ever long it takes for this to resolve, what ever that will mean.

I will come here to write whatever is on my mind that day. I have no expectations, except to record my journey. I hope that I will have your company along the way. Together we'll experience what love's power can do to lift us all.