Progress, my friends! A visit to the oncologist today for my weekly checkup showed more progress being made. The tumor itself is significantly smaller. Significantly, as in (my guess), about a third of the size that it was originally. I want to cry as I type those words. A third of the size. Amazing. The lymph nodes in my left armpit are still quite swollen but they are moveable now, which is a huge change from the beginning. The cancer is dying!
It’s incredible. As my oncologist reminded me, my body is taking a beating right now. But that beating is killing this cancer. It is killing the disease that is trying to kill me. After just two aggressive treatments, major progress is being made. The hope – and intent – is that after the 4 remaining treatments, the cancer will be completely gone. This will help determine the best surgery for me and make my prognosis that much better long term. Keep those prayers coming, folks. Because they are working!
Oh, and to shed a little light on the incredible team of people that I have in my corner, I have a story from today’s visit. When discussing some of the medication that is available to ease the side effects of treatment, I was explaining that there is one in particular I try not to take unless absolutely necessary. She looked at me straight faced and said, “Wow, you are stubborn aren’t you?” My husband looked at me and immediately started cracking up, as did I.
Why yes, actually. Yes, I am.
She then reminded me that the medication is there to make the side effects more tolerable and that I don’t need to consider it as a last resort only. That helped ease my mind a bit, as I often wonder about the amount of medication that I am taking regularly. I was also reminded about the importance of resting, especially as the treatments compound.
Oh and after the very long ride home with my husband, where I heard him repeat “You are stubborn, aren’t you?” over and over again, I am now debating on whether or not to banish him from all future oncologist appointments. We don’t need him to have confirmation from a doctor on all of my quirks.
Labor with my son was a long, hard, tiring experience. I was in labor for over 18 hours and actively pushing for more than two. I experienced painful back labor and 2 epidurals because the first one fell out. Little man was head down but facing the wrong way and the nurse was trying her hardest to get him to turn. At one point, my contractions slowed and went 15 – 20 minutes in between so I was given medicine to induce labor again. Towards the end of labor, the doctor came in and told my husband and me that if the baby wasn’t out within the hour then she would have to do an emergency cesarean. I was exhausted but kept pushing.
Thanks to the help of my amazing nurse, he finally turned. It was time! As the second epidural began to wear off, the nurse approached me and my husband. She explained that there was concern about little man’s shoulders fitting through and that there would be extra nurses coming in to assist with labor. I needed to remain calm no matter what and keep pushing as hard as I could. Despite all of the unexpected drama that labor brought, Jacob was born at 9:08pm. Turns out that the cord was wrapped around his leg slightly, which was the reason he had a struggle turning. He had a mild temperature because of the amount of time that I was in labor. But he was perfect. Completely and utterly perfect.
The next day, the medicine had worn off and the pain began to set in. I began to feel the effects of the long and strenuous labor. My head began to pound constantly and I could barely move my neck from side to side. The pain was horrible and nothing seemed to relieve it. My back would spasm so bad at times that I would fall to my knees, which created challenges with carrying around a newborn. This went on for days after birth and I didn’t know what to do. My friend suggested a chiropractor and recommended hers. I was willing to try anything.
It worked wonders. Dr. Ben was incredibly helpful, funny and offered tips to help alleviate the pain at home as well. Within a few hours of the first visit, I had relief. I distinctly remember laughing at the relief because it was the best that I had felt since birth. I continued to visit for adjustments and chiropractic massage, which fixed me up completely. I don’t know how I would have made it through those first few weeks without the help of the chiropractor.
I started having back pain a few weeks ago and made an appointment to see the chiropractor again. Dr. Ben was awesome, as usual. Aside from my adjustment, he offered some great tips on ways that I can better myself holistically to aid in the treatment and healing process with cancer. I truly value his opinion and the insight that he provides. He recommended chiropractic massage throughout my treatments as a way to eliminate toxins from my body.
So I experienced my first lymphatic massage today. While it is much less intense than the chiropractic massages that I have received in the past, it was just as relaxing. The masseuse did a light massage over my entire body, in calculated brush strokes that encourages the fluids to move towards the lymph nodes within the body. I think knowing that I am helping to heal my body, even while it continues to battle this disease, helps make the entire experience that much better.
When my son’s first birthday approached, I began to hunt for the perfect onesie. I wanted something personalized that fit his theme and had “Birthday Boy” written on his little tooshie. I went to Etsy and began my search. I found a seller, Pickles and Rain Designs, whose work I really liked and who had excellent reviews. Reaching out, I described what I was looking for and asked if it was possible to create it. The seller, Kim, was super helpful in offering her expertise and suggestions to make it perfect. Kim’s designs are custom made embroideries. They are absolutely incredible! When the onesie arrived, it was everything that I wanted for little man. It was perfect for his special day.
After my first treatment, I started thinking about wanting to wear something each time that gave me strength. I also wanted something that my family could wear as well, in support of me and to give them strength through the day. Immediately, I thought of Kim and the work she did for little man’s birthday.
Once again, Kim was wonderful to work with to help me design a shirt. I knew that I wanted to use the Red Phoenix symbol but I wasn’t sure of the color or exactly what it should say. Kim offered her thoughts based on her experience and once we decided on the design, she started making the shirts.
They arrived yesterday and I am beyond happy. They are PERFECT! For my next treatment, knowing that my family will be rocking these awesome shirts alongside of me will give me extra strength.
Every morning, my husband gets up early and readies himself for the work day. He makes lunch for little man when needed, puts together all of the supplies little man needs for the day and then wakes up our sweet boy and dresses him for the day. My husband makes sure there is nothing that I need to start my day and then heads off to drive little man out to daycare before beginning his work day. He keeps our family going and works so hard to provide normalcy to us.
This morning, our sweet boy woke up hungry at 545am – much earlier than the 7am wakeup he typically has. My husband brought him some milk and I snuggled him in bed for a bit while my husband dressed for work. When Jacob was all done snuggling and ready to play, I got up with him. We tottered off to his room where he helped me pick out his clothes for the day and took a break from getting dressed to play with a few stuffed animals. My husband joined us and made elephant noises while holding a stuffed elephant. Little man tried to copy him and we all giggled at the silly noises and my inability to even remotely sound like an elephant.
This may not sound like a lot but it was an incredible morning. While I am not entirely myself yet, I feel so much better than I have in over a week. I was able to get up with our family and help them prepare for the day – and even had a few minutes to play in between. I am so grateful for a new day, for feeling better and for my incredible husband and son, who make the days brighter. Happy Friday everyone!
A few weeks ago, I received a notification about a new follower of my blog. The notification mentioned their blog name as well so I ventured over there to check it out. I was floored from the start. I couldn’t stop reading. Holly, this young woman – wife, mother, sister! – was diagnosed with breast cancer the day before I was. She is also HER2+, had her port placement the day before me, started treatment the day before me – even shaved her head a few days before me! Craziness! We connected and stay up to date through a Facebook page that she created for 30-something women diagnosed with breast cancer.
Fast-forward. It has been a rough few days. I prepared myself for this round of treatment based on how I felt the first round. Unfortunately, it hit quite a bit harder and has lasted longer. I have been struggling to keep my eyes open, eat and basically function. Despite my best efforts to stay positive, I have been struggling with how crappy I feel and the reality of the future treatments that I need to face. Today, Holly wrote about just that and it hit hard for me. I cried reading it. If you have a few minutes, head on over and see what she has to say…because it helped me today. Hot Pink Tutu
There will never be a convenient time to get cancer. But I have an amazing husband, a little man who is too young to worry about what his momma is experiencing and the love & support of so many incredible people throughout this. I am young and I am strong and for all of these reasons – and for many more – I know I will get through this. I know I will beat this. One day at a time.
In June 2005, I was involved in a horrific car accident. I was the back seat passenger in a vehicle that flipped and despite wearing a seat belt, I was ejected out the back window. I cracked my head open and had slight bleeding in the brain but I survived. The driver of the vehicle, my husband’s brother Michael, did not survive. Shortly after the accident, I fell into a depression and began to suffer significantly with anxiety. I struggled with the fact that I had survived this accident and Michael did not. I suffered from migraines for a long time and, frankly, I didn’t feel worthy of survival. I spent a long time asking, Why me?
Looking back, one of the challenges that I created for myself was not opening up and talking about how I felt. I spoke openly about the accident but not about how it affected me inside. I internalized my feelings, which created a downward spiral. This was one of the most challenging, and darkest, times of my life.
One day, I woke up and decided that I wasn’t going to live that way anymore. I wasn’t going to feel sorry for myself. I wasn’t going to waste my life away. I was going to create a life that was worthy of survival. It is not perfect. It certainly has its ups and downs. I make mistakes – regularly. But it is my life. I am here, able to live it. And for that, I am grateful.
I am often asked how I am remaining positive throughout this journey. Because I have seen the other side. I have seen what negativity and sadness and anger can do to a person – because I did it to myself. Could I spend the next year asking myself – why me? Absolutely. Would anyone fault me for doing just that? Probably not. But I’m not wasting my time on that. I refuse to let cancer own me. I refuse to let cancer bring me down that spiral.
It’s mind over matter for me – the power of positivity!
When I was a teenager, my father worked overnights. He frequently worked double shifts as well and would come home exhausted. Somehow he even managed to fit in coaching softball for all of us. One weekend in particular, I wanted to do something nice for my dad as a way of saying thank you for all of the hard work he put in. When talking to my mom about it, she offered up the idea of making his favorite soup. Growing up, my grandmother would make Portuguese Green Soup – or Caldo Verde – for my dad and his siblings. I recall my father telling me about how lovely the house would smell as it simmered on the stove and how delicious it was paired with a nice crusty piece of bread to dunk in it. It was the perfect way to say thanks.
My mom took me to the grocery store and showed me how to pick out the freshest ingredients, helped me chop everything and sat with me while I watched it simmer. When my father came home from work, his eyes were tired. He smelled the soup as soon as he walked in and smiled wide. I remember feeling so proud that I could bring that smile to his face after a long day.
Since then, Caldo Verde has been a feel good meal for me. It is my go-to when I need something to warm me up from the inside out or if I want a reminder of home. This weekend, my sweet baby sister and her fiancé traveled down from Georgia to visit. They spend the weekend playing with little man, cooking meals for our family and taking care of me. Despite the side effects of treatment, the weekend was filled with smiles and belly laughs. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
Tonight, thanks to my sister and her fiancé, I enjoyed a bowl of Caldo Verde for dinner. As the soup heated, the smell filled my house and I am once again reminded of the joy of family.
What meal reminds you of family?
When I was pregnant with my son, I had major food aversions during the first trimester. The thought of many foods made me sick, even foods that were my favorites. I read that it is best not to eat any favorite foods during treatment because they may make me sick or they may not taste the same. This seems to be true for most foods right now. The thought of food in general is not very appealing. I’ve been sticking mostly to plain cereal, bananas and popsicles this weekend. And lots of water, despite the metallic taste.
The fatigue hit faster this time than the first round of treatment. I spent the entire weekend glued to the couch and my bed. I’ve been up for a little while this morning and as soon as I’m done typing this, I’m heading back to bed. The heartburn wasn’t as bad this time around, thankfully. I had it a little on Saturday but it didn’t last.
The overall “hungover” feeling was worse this time around. This feeling is hard to describe. Generally speaking, I just felt bad. My stomach was in knots, I had slight headaches, was incredibly thirsty and completely exhausted. I envision the treatment drugs attacking my cancer cells and fighting hard to kill them off. Battling for my life. That helps explain the way my body feels.
My cousin shared an idea to help track the treatments. When she battled brain cancer a few years ago, she hung ribbons from the wall and took one down after each treatment. I love this idea! It helps to put into perspective how many treatments remain – and how many are done. Last week, I printed out the Red Phoenix symbol and hung them up on the wall in my command center, where I keep my life organized. As I hung them, I realized something. I have now completed 2 rounds of the aggressive treatment. 2 ROUNDS ARE DONE! That means I have just 4 more to go. That means that after the next round, I will be halfway done! Isn’t that exciting?!
I will beat this!
Start of the day:
End of the day:
Today went well. It was about an hour and a half shorter than the first treatment round, though still a long day. I was prepared for the liquid Benadryl this time and was able to take a few short naps. I didn’t sleep quite as long as the first time. It was a little hard to shut my mind off.
The first step after arriving is to attach my port to the needle that they’ll use for the day. Before leaving the house for the day, I cover the skin of my port area with lidocaine cream to numb it for the needle placement. The nurse and I both wear masks while she cleans the entire area. Then she locates the port hole, I take a deep breath, and the needle goes in. It didn’t hurt at all today, thanks to the swelling going down and the lidocaine cream.
Next, they flush my port and then draw my blood to check my counts. Although my platelets, white and red blood cell and hemoglobin counts are declining, they seem to be declining at a slow rate and are still in a good (normal) range. This is great!
Then I received a hydration, a steroid, liquid Benadryl and anti-nausea medicine before beginning the chemotherapy. I am still doing the 4 separate chemotherapy drugs but was able to do the Herceptin in 60 minutes instead of 90 because I didn’t have any adverse reactions to the initial treatment. All of these things are done one at a time. Once all of the medicines are done, I received a little more hydration, my port is flushed out and the needle is removed for the day. I do have the option to keep the needle in until tomorrow but I opt not to because it worries me with little man (even being wrapped up) and I wouldn’t be able to shower until after tomorrow’s follow up appointment.
My lymph nodes are rather painful since I left treatment. They have hurt a little here and there over the last few weeks but not consistently like tonight. I take that as a sign that the treatment is working hard already – KILL THAT CANCER!!!
Aside from that, I am tired. I felt pretty good the last week or so and forgot how exhausting the treatment is for me. I’m going to lay down, put my feet up and snuggle my husband and little man. Thank you all for your kind words today!
Setting aside the 1 drug I’ll continue to get for a year, we are 2 down – 4 to go! Yay!
I officially moved from my home state of New York to Florida when I was 20. I found a college that I loved, transferred down and started a new life with my now-husband. The majority of my rather large family (some of my husband’s included) is spread across the northeast, along with a few other states (and countries!). My friends span states as well, as people I have met throughout life relocate to follow their dreams. I am blessed to have made many new friends here in Florida, along with my husband’s wonderful family as well.
While I don’t speak to everyone daily, they all fill my thoughts and prayers regularly as we move through life. As I head to my treatment this morning, I continue to be humbled. Every day, I check my mail and smile. There is always a card or a letter from one of these wonderful people in my life. I can’t help but smile knowing that they have taken the time to think of me and my family and the journey that we are on. Knowing that there are so many people in my corner, cheering me on, makes my heart swell.
I am so grateful for each and every one of you. Your sweet cards, meals, wearing green, thoughtful gifts, kind words, thoughts, prayers…everything that you have done (and continue to do) to support us…is incredibly heartwarming. I continue to be amazed. I don’t think I can ever thank you all enough for the love that you have shown my family.
Thank you. I love you all!