Hope and faith

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On my last day of work before surgery, one of my office mates handed me a cross. Her husband hand made it and thought I would like it. This brought tears to my eyes for many reasons. One of those reasons is my recent visits to church. Another reason is that I do not own a cross. Our house was robbed a few years ago and most of my jewelry was taken. I had yet to replace my cross. This kind, thoughtful gift meant a lot for a lot of reasons.

I mentioned the other day that my anxiety is kicking in with my upcoming surgery. I was feeling really good about it until about a week and a half ago, when the pain in my lymph nodes and tumor started to intensify. There has been pain on and off for months, mostly around chemo days. The oncologist has assured me that, while it doesn’t always happen, it typically means the tumor is dieing.

Despite knowing this, the recent pain has unnerved me. I can feel it in my arm when I reach for something or pick up Jacob. It has created a fear in me, a fear that I have fought hard to keep at bay throughout this journey. What if the cancer is fighting harder than me? What if, despite all I have been through since August, it is spreading? What if I am losing this battle?

I have been hesitant to share this fear because I don’t want it to be true. I am hoping and praying that when my surgeon opens me up, she will find nothing but dead tissue and dead cells. I have been praying hard for this, yet the fear has remained.

At church today, there was a lot of discussion about revelation and the coming of days. It wasn’t quite the sermon I was hoping to hear, but God likes to throw a curveball sometimes. At the end of the sermon, the pastor mentioned that we need to pass our sins, our worries and our fears up to the Lord. Have I heard this dozens of times before? Yes. Is this new information?  No.  Is it what I needed to hear today? Absolutely.

So, today, I am letting go of this fear. There is, quite literally, nothing more that I can do prior to surgery.  I am letting go of my fear and my anxiety and handing it off. I feel better already.

Oh, and I am once again reminded that I truly am too blessed to complain.

Happy Sunday, folks. May your day be filled with sunshine and happiness, just like mine.

The coming days

As my surgery quickly approaches, the reality of what is about to happen is sinking in.  I am confident in my decision and feel that it is the right thing to do for me and my body.  I am as ready as I am going to be.  My house is clean, the laundry is almost done, the insurance calls are mostly done…now it’s time to wait.

Waiting is hard. Every snuggle, every hug, every time I pick up my sweet boy, a small part of me hurts for all of the weeks that I won’t be able to do just that. Each time I wash a dish or toss clothes in the washer, I feel bad that I won’t be able to help around the house while recovering.  It’s hard to think about just resting during recovery and not being able to contribute to the every day activities in our home.

I worry about the emotional impact surgery will have on me. It’s hard to know exactly how I will feel when I wake up.

Then I remind myself that I am doing this so that I can continue to live a long, healthy and cancer free life.  It will be a long few days but my life after will be longer. And that’s what’s important.

The next few days will be filled with family time. Snuggles, hugs, maybe a few belly laughs and beach…a little time together to soothe the soul before this next phase. Here’s to a great weekend, everyone!

Too blessed to complain

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Yesterday, Joe & I were invited to a meet and greet at work with senior leadership. We had the opportunity to chat with some of the people that we interact with regularly but are located in different states.  It was a nice evening and we had a lot of laughs.

Towards the end, we were chatting with one particular leader and he shared something personal that he does. Every morning, as soon as he wakes up, he writes down 3 things that he is grateful for from the day before. He uses the first 3 things that pop in his head and they are typically everyday things like being blessed with the ability to heat his home or putting his child to bed at night.  The purpose for him was to start his day with a reminder of how blessed he is and not start his day with a negative thought, or complaint, about the day ahead. He called this his “Too blessed to complain” journal. He showed us his phone and scrolled through the dozens of journal entries he has.

This reminded me of the 5 year journal that I was gifted recently, that I use to track one thing each day that made me smile.  I shared this with the leader and also indicated that his habit fits perfectly into my life currently.

When we arrived home after dark last night, our entire yard was lit up with trucks and power company workers…yet our house was completely dark. Our road has been closed for construction since before Thanksgiving and yesterday afternoon, a truck moving dirt backed into a telephone pole. The pole snapped, pulling the wires tight. Those wires then snapped the two poles in our back yard. The power company was working hard to replace those poles and restore power to our house and two others.

Frustrating? Yes. But thankfully we had enjoyed an evening at work that brought us home late, just in time for little man to go to bed, and we had snacked already.  We scavenged the house for candles and flashlights, snuggled up in our bed and had a slumber party. I read my book to Jacob until he fell alseep.  The hard working power company outside didn’t leave until after 1030pm last night, our power restored.

If that happened a year ago, I may have been angry and reacted differently. Instead, I chose to embrace the moment and enjoy it the best I could. This statement from my leadership summarizes my thoughts.  Not just last night, but throughout this journey since diagnosis.  I am too blessed to complain.

The 100th

When diagnosed with cancer, it’s hard to ignore the thought in the back of your mind that continuously asks Am I going to die?

In the middle of the night and when I feel the worst is usually when that dreaded thought creeps in and tries to wrap its tentacles around my happiness. I fight hard to keep those tentacles subdued but the reality is that I think about cancer for the majority of the day. Whether I’m dealing with appointments or phone calls or that forever painful lump or the medicine I take in the morning or before bed…cancer is always in my mind in some way.

I’ve mentioned before that I have dreamed of being a writer for as long as I can remember. I have always had an excuse as to why I didn’t have time to make that dream become a reality. My decision to start a blog came easily. I knew it was the right thing at the right time for me. It just made sense. Cancer put everything into perspective. It was the push that I needed to follow my dream.

Today, this very post, is my 100th blog post. If you had told me a year ago that I would have 100 blog posts, I probably would have laughed and been silently hopeful that it were true.

Cancer is scary. It is a reminder that life is short and that life is precious. It forces me to embrace each day and be grateful for it – for a fresh start and another chance to accomplish my dreams.

Tomorrow is not guaranteed. This is what I remind myself in the moments of darkness. We do not know what the future holds for us. Cancer is a reminder of that. But it is also the push that I needed in my life to pursue my passions. It is also a reminder that some things can wait until tomorrow (dishes, anyone?). What’s important is that today we enjoy the moment, embrace the day and love the people that make our life whole.

Here’s to 100 posts so far…and hundreds more to come!

Bald…again?

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Finishing my first 6 treatments was exciting for many reasons. One of those reasons is that my hair will start to grow back!

Since shaving my head in September  (ironically my busiest blog visitor day!), my hair has slowly been growing in. It’s not the typical hair growth though. It’s been patchy, with a few completely bald spots right next to patches where hair was growing at a pretty good pace.  My head has had a mixture of baldness, peach fuzz and 1 inch strands for a while now. The day of my last treatment I could even feel pieces of hair blowing in the wind when I moved my head around.

While the hair growth I’ve had has been welcomed, I have learned that it is best to shave your head again about a month after the last (aggressive) treatment. This is mainly because the hair that’s been growing is contaminated with the treatment drugs and can grow in a little crazy and a bit wirey.

So, it was time for a fresh start! Joe shaved my head again today.  There was actually more to shave than I realized.  The red strands clumped together on the floor created a bigger pile than I anticipated. I’ve heard post-treatment hair can grow in differently than the hair that came before it, so I’m curious to see what the weeks will bring in.

It was a good feeling to see my freshly shaved head today.  I’ve seen the patchy strands for so long that I just assumed my head would look like that for a while. Imagine my surprise when the shave revealed that my hair has filled in almost every where and is actually quite even across my head now!  My dream of rocking a pixie cut at my baby sister’s wedding this summer may become a reality after all.

Happy Saturday, friends! Enjoy this beautiful day.

The lonely Herceptin

It was odd going to treatment today. I didn’t need to bring a bag of fun with me to occupy my time, just a book to read. My appointment was a little later in the day, unlike the usual 745am that we need to be there. I was able to check a few things off my pre-surgery to-do list while trying to drink enough water to hydrate myself in preparation for treatment.

The infusion center was running a little behind today, which I didn’t mind much. One of my fellow warriors, a woman I look up to for her strength, courage and kind heart, was also at the treatment center today for an infusion. It was great to see her and give her a nice big hug while waiting to be called.

Joe was with me today, as he always is. My biggest supporter and the man who gives me strength daily throughout this journey. I don’t know how I ever got so lucky to have him by my side for life.

My blood work looked great, which was good to hear. Thankfully, I was lucky that my blood work remained in the good “low” range throughout the first 6 treatments. I received a little hydration while waiting for the blood work results and then for the pharmacy to fill the Herceptin request. Herceptin is the drug that is blocking the HER2 receptors in my body, therefore prohibiting the cancer from growing.  I will continue to receive it every 3 weeks through September.

I was excited that my Herceptin was given in just 30 minutes today!! The first treatment it was given over 90 minutes and the subsequent 5 treatments it was given over 60 minutes, so I was anticipating the 60 minutes again. The gradual decrease in time is done to ensure my body doesn’t react negatively to the Herceptin. What a difference that 30 minutes made, the time flew by once the Herceptin was started.

I feel pretty good so far. It’s a nice feeling to not be dreading the next few days and how I would feel if it were a full round of treatment. I’m quite tired and took a nap as soon as I arrived at home. I felt a little nauseous but took medicine to help. I’m curious to see if I have any noticeable side effects over the next few days but either way I know it will be easier compared to what I’ve been through so far.

Since today was my first Herceptin only treatment, I thought I’d share a few photos from my last treatment – when I was able to ring the bell. I was blessed to have my husband, my baby sister and my friend by my side that day – not to mention all of the incredible nurses at the infusion center. These pictures are a nice reminder of how far I’ve come on this journey.

Oh sweet pedicure…

How I’ve missed this!  One recommendation while undergoing treatment is to avoid pedicures.  Since my immune system is down, there is a greater risk of infection.  I can’t recall the last pedicure I had, so it must have been a while.  With this chilly weather and the dry skin I have from treatment, my feet have seen better days.  After my last round of treatment, I asked when I could get a pedicure again.  Just a few weeks after treatment – yay!

I met my friend Cara years ago when she was my peer at work. We became fast friends and one of our favorite girl days has always been heading to the nail spa to enjoy a pedicure (and typically a little shopping too)!  Cara and her family have been huge supporters throughout this journey.  Her kind heart and listening ear have been priceless during this time.

So when my sweet friend asked if I wanted to join her for a little foot spa treatment, I jumped at the chance!  Our tootsies enjoyed a long soak and scrub while we chatted away, catching up on life, work and everything in between.  It was a great way to enjoy a Thursday before treatment day (thankfully not an aggressive one anymore!).

Cara and I always tend to lean towards the bolder nail colors, with me choosing a beachy blue (to remind me of my happy place while recovering) and her choosing a bright green (Team Red Phoenix!).  What’s your favorite nail color?

The new countdown

Two weeks from today I will have surgery. I have been thinking about how this countdown to surgery feels similar to the prior countdown, and yet different. The first phase of this journey is complete and though there are still more phases before this journey ends, I still feel an odd sense of calm.

I was starting to feel the pressure of the looming surgery and all of the things that I want to get done ahead of time. It started to make me feel a little frantic and a bit nervous. My mind wandered a little and the fear crept in…but I reminded myself it’ll be ok. I can’t solve for everything but I can prepare. For me, that means that I’ve made my lists of things to get done prior to February (and started tackling those to-dos!), began the necessary paperwork for surgery and ordered a few books to catch up on reading.

I know recovery is going to be tough and I am dreading the pain/discomfort, the inability to lift and not sleeping in my own bed…but this is one surgery. (I will have reconstruction later in the year but it shouldn’t be as intense as this.) It isn’t 6 treatments that knock me on my butt for a week or more at a time, just to do it all over again once I start feeling better. It isn’t 1 day with 5 more looming behind it.

Yes, it is major surgery. Yes, it will be emotional. Yes, it will take time to heal. BUT I will heal – in so many ways.

Every day I will heal.

Every day I will get stronger.

Every day it will hurt a little less.

Every day I will be one step close to picking up my little man.

Every day will be one closer to my husband hugging me as tight as he can.

And every day I am one step closer to being completely done with this phase.

So I am ready for this countdown to begin, for the clock to start. Because at the end of it, I will be cancer free.

To friendships

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On the street I grew up on lived a girl my age named Liz. We lived just a few houses down from each other and grew up the best of friends. We played outside together until the street lights came on, walked to the bus stop together and car pooled to school together. Even after high school, we continued to hang out regularly. When I decided to move to Florida, she offered to take the road trip with me and help move me down.

So the day after Christmas 2004, we loaded up her gold cavalier with as much of my stuff as we could fit in it. We even managed a little room for her suitcase! We drove straight through, only stopping for bathroom breaks and snacks – each hour of the drive the temperature rose a little more. The following day, we arrived in the beautiful sunshine of Florida. We unloaded the car, took a nap and then headed out to explore the new city that I would call home. It is a great memory of mine that I will always hold in my heart.

Over the years, Liz & I stayed in touch but not as frequently as we had in the past…until a few years ago when she moved to Florida. Though she moved to the Gulf side opposite of me, we have traveled to see each other and even met halfway in between over the years.

This past weekend, Liz and her fiancé traveled to our side of the state. We spent the weekend catching up, laughing about old times and dreaming about what our futures hold. It was a wonderful weekend that mixed a bit of my childhood in New York with a lot of my life in Florida with an old friend.

We spent time at the beach (where else?!) and while the boys fished, Liz & I watched Jacob stare in awe at the dolphins swimming about. Jacob even had some fun with his own fishing pole while the sun set in the distance. Such a fun weekend!

Life continues to inspire me. Moments like this, spent with an old friend reminds me of how much I have been blessed to experience in my life – and how many incredible people I have had by my side through it all. To friendships – old and new – may your life be forever blessed with them. Have a wonderful Monday everyone!

Radiation

Today was another day filled with learning new things. Joe & I met with the radiologist oncologist to discuss the ins and outs of radiation. The appointment was lengthy, which we appreciated. The doctor took her time discussing everything related to radiation, helping to answer our questions and we were even able to look into the radiation treatment room. I’m feeling a bit like information-overload from this week but I’m grateful to be at the step where I can learn the details of what’s next. A few things we learned today:

  • Usually when I meet a new doctor, I am asked to share my journey to diagnosis (how the lump was found, what happened when/next, when I was diagnosed, chemo dates, etc). I have all of this pretty much memorized at this point but today the doctor came in and (from memory) told me the story. It was an exact recap of my experience last summer, all the way up to finishing chemo and my future surgery date. She even asked about my son. It was an interesting change of pace to me, having my story shared with me versus me being the person sharing it.
  • I have a follow up visit 6 weeks after surgery. This will be used to chat with the doctor again, have scans done to determine where the radiation beams need to be placed and to have me fitted for my…pillow? I’m not sure what the medical term was but basically I will need to lay still while my head and arms (above my head) lay on a “pillow” that is then vacuum sealed around me. It is used so that I stay in place while I receive the radiation treatment. I could see all of these molds hanging on a rack in the back of the room. Interesting to think that my name will be hanging amongst them in a few weeks.
  • We discussed the side effects of radiation, both immediate and future.
    • Immediate side effects include rash and skin irritation, similar to a sunburn but from photons instead of UVs; a sore throat because the lymph nodes in my clavicle will be treated, which is next to my throat; and fatigue, though it shouldn’t be as severe as it was during the 6 chemo treatments.
    • Short term side effects include a raised breast (this has a decent chance of occurring at 30%). There is also the chance of scar tissue becoming worse over time, resulting in the need for an additional surgery to potential remove the damaged tissue. This would be after reconstruction.
    • Long term side effects include a risk of heart attack, since I will treated on my left (I think the percentage was 1 – 3% chance); future localized cancer in the area treated (this percentage was minimal, around .5% but would occur in 10+ years, if at all).
    • Lymphedema is a side effect of removing my lymph nodes and the chance increases with radiation. Basically, if I injure or cut my left arm/hand, lymphedema may occur. This is basically swelling in the affected area but the risk of lymphedema will never go away. Your lymphatic system is used to move fluid around your body, such as fluid to help heal a wound. The analogy shared today, is that when your lymph nodes are removed, it’s like removing a part of the highway. The fluid needs to find a way out and so it starts using different routes, which may not work as well. When radiation is mixed in, that highway – that already has pieces missing – is completely congested, making it even more difficult to move the fluid out. Manual massage is used to help remove the fluid, if swelling occurs.
  • At the planning session 6 weeks after surgery, I will be tattooed three times. These tattoos are basically tiny dots, one on each side of my body and one in the middle of my chest, which will be used as a starting point for each radiation session to guide the beams (and me) to the right position.
  • I have a list of lotions to use that will help with the skin irritation, all of which are bought over-the-counter. As the irritation worsens, the doctor will provide additional moisturizers.
  • Radiation will be Monday through Friday for 6 weeks. The radiation itself will only be a few minutes long. The prep and post radiation activities take longer than the actual radiation, making my total appointment each day anywhere from 15 – 30 minutes long. I will see the radiologist oncologist once a week as well, which will probably be an additional 15 – 30 minutes that day.
  • During the treatment, I will need to lay completely still. In addition to the standard use of the beams, my treatment will include deep inspiration breath-hold, where I will need to hold my breath for 25 seconds at a time with 20 seconds in between. This will be done a few times as well and will help ensures that my heart is protected from the beams. Guess I better practice my breathing techniques!
  • Oh, and I won’t be radioactive, baby!!

That’s all I can think of for now. I’m off to enjoy a glass of red to celebrate this week being over. Hope you all have a happy, safe and fun weekend!!