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


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.