Another blessing…

Although we went to the same hospital for my scan, my bone scan was in a different room. There was a weird beeping noise in the corner of the room. When asked, the technician explained that it was a Geiger Counter. It started going off because I walked in the room. Sure enough, as I walked up to it, it started beeping faster and louder. I sure was radioactive! I think back to my first PET scan, where I truly was radioactive. I can’t help but smile at feeling like a superhero. So much has happened since then and so much has changed. Superheroes may only exist in books and movies but I like to consider myself among them. I may not have their total courage, abilities and strength but I have their determination and fight. And that’s what I continue to need. I’m glad these scans are a reminder of that for me.

I had a brief text with my oncologist tonight. My chest CT is not yet in but the rest of my scans are. They show very little change! My bone scan picked up cancer in my left pelvis (bone scan was clear last time despite cancer showing on the CT) that it identified as new, however that same spot was reported on my last CT so it’s not actually new. Encouraging news!

I don’t know all of the details yet since all the results aren’t in but I’m breathing a sigh of relief at the news I’ve received so far. It means another scan is stable, another cycle of treatment can be given and another 6 weeks until I hold my breath once again. I’ll take it.

Thank you all for your love, hugs, thoughts and prayers. I promise you that they do not go unnoticed. I love you all.

Keep spreading…

During my appointment last week, my blood was drawn and my tumor markers were taken.  They typically take a few days and I looked online for the results this past Saturday.  They are elevated, above the normal range.  For me, this has been an indicator of progression.  When they were up previously, it took a few cycles of Xeloda for them to go back down to the normal range.  I watched them decline a bit each time until they were normal.  I recently took a break from Xeloda of almost a month from mid-October to early November.  My hope is that my tumor markers are actually on the decline again, assuming they rose during the break, and that restarting Xeloda is helping to bring them back down.  This is my second week of my second cycle since restarting.

Is this update concerning?  Yes.  Is it scary?  Of course.  Do I wonder what this means?  Absolutely.

But…

There is nothing I can do for now.  I had obviously hoped that I would have a break, which I may still, but I also may not.  I have planned scans next week and blood work, including my tumor markers, the following week.  So there is quite literally nothing that I can do right now.  I am still looking into alternative options (essential oils, detoxing and looking into a doctor that specializes in alternative treatments), while I also know that there are clinical trials and standard treatment options available to me.

So, what does all this mean?  Well for now…nothing.  I saw the results, I feel the same physically and I already have a path forward to find out whether or not there is progression.

Well actually, I can tell you what this means for me.  It means that I keep living my life.  I keep working, I keep decorating for the holidays, I keep shopping and planning out gifts, I keep making plans, I keep loving on my family and friends, I keep snuggling my sweet boys and above all…I keep spreading the love.

Yes, life is stressful.  Yes, there is always fear of the future.  But I am continuously shown love from my family and friends.  I am so incredibly blessed.

And that, my friends, is what matters.  Spreading that love, accepting that joy and embracing all that each and every day has to offer.  That is what makes this life so magical, so wonderful.

Keep on spreading that love, my friends.  Every bit of it matters…promise.

Thanksgiving…

I have been thinking about traditions and blessings today. I read my post from last year and couldn’t help but smile at the traditions we share and Joe’s first Thanksgiving with my family. I remember many Thanksgivings, though many meld together in one happy memory.

I remember my dad making popovers every year and if they didn’t come out just right, he would try again…and again…and again. We would often have a few dozen popovers half risen before dinner. I recall the first time that I made popovers for Joe and, though he thought me crazy at first since he had never heard of them, he enjoyed them so much that we ate them for dinner with gravy all by themselves for about a week straight.

My mom’s mom would always make fresh made biscuits from scratch and would let us grandkids cut out the circles. I remember being propped up on the counter or standing high on a stool while she rolled out the dough and showed me the best places to fit a circle.

I remember the first year that I sat at the “adult” table at my dad’s sister’s house and felt a little sad that I wasn’t at the kid’s table. The next time I sat at the kid’s table.

I made green bean casserole for Joe’s family one year and somehow managed to mess that up despite it being the canned kind. I have since learned to make it from scratch and that seems to come out alright.

I know how proud I was of Joe when he cooked our first turkey in our home. We hosted his parents and were determined to make it perfect. It was perfect because we were blessed with family by our side.

Opening the windows and letting in the beautiful fall breeze wasn’t an option in New York. But it’s something that I have grown quite fond of in Florida. The year that we served appetizers on the back porch while watching the birds play in the yard is one of those times that I was so grateful for Florida weather.

Pecan pie was always a staple in our house growing up. I would typically stay up late the night before with my dad making two pies for the next day. We made two this morning too.

One year at my aunt’s house, my cousins and I were jumping on the bed (a no-no) and I heard my older cousin come in from work and say “I need caffeine!”. I had no idea what caffeine was but I was parched from all that jumping and needed some. I expressed that to my parents, aunts and uncles upon walking downstairs and they looked at each other and laughed, knowing I had no clue what it was. I drank my water and smiled, oblivious to how big of a role caffeine would eventually have in my life!
When my baby sister ventured to Florida for her first Thanksgiving a few years ago, the Brown-Hall-Rivers-Thanksgiving-Extravaganza began. We have celebrated together each year since, taking turns between our states. Though this year was Florida’s turn, we were anxious for fall weather and with all of our recent travel, Georgia made sense. I imagine this is a tradition that will not ever end.

When Jacob was born he sat at the head of the table and we made hand turkeys on a table runner with him each year. It’s a new tradition that I love so much.

This year, we were surprised with wrapped gifts on our plates. Our brother-in-law has a family tradition of receiving a new Christmas ornament from his mom every Thanksgiving. This year, the three of us were blessed with this wonderful treat of a tradition – one that I may have to begin myself!

As I write out these few memories that make me smile and warm my heart, I cannot help but think about how blessed I am. This time last year, I was mid-IV chemo and completely bald. It seems like a lifetime ago and yet just the other day. This year, I have my family by my side as we celebrate this holiday and create new traditions.

As I see all of the smiling faces and delicious meals on social media, I smile at all of the wonderful traditions that surround us. We are so blessed to have the most amazing people in our lives, incredibly lucky to be here to celebrate this day and so loved as we acknowledge the lives that we have lived so far.  There have been many memories created and there are still so many to be made.

I hope you all enjoyed this holiday with your loved ones and snuggle them hard tonight. Happy Thanksgiving, my friends! 🦃❤

Peaceful…

She sipped her coffee slowly, aware that it is a luxury she does not indulge in very often now. The air was cool, which was a pleasant change from the overwhelming heat a week ago. A light breeze blew in through the open windows. She had lit just about every candle that she could find in the house. Despite the competing scents, there was just something about the cool air and windows open that required candles to be lit.

Staring out the window, she couldn’t help but reflect on this very moment. Multiple notebooks were in front of her and she had set out to make a list of the things that needed to be done. There’s the cancer list that includes records she hasn’t obtained, phone calls she hasn’t made and people she needs to follow up with. There’s the list of everyday tasks, including groceries and air filter changes. There’s a list of things that need to be decluttered in preparation for a potential home sale. There’s a list of items that might sell and a list for items to donate.

Then there’s a list of occasions that she wants to write to her son, in case she isn’t here to tell him how proud she is. There’s a list of things that she cares for in the home that she will need to share with her husband, so that he knows the passwords, the days that she pays certain bills and the regular appointments that need scheduling. There’s a list of things that she wants to accomplish before she doesn’t feel up to doing them anymore.

But in this moment, right now, the lists don’t matter. All is quiet. No one is home and a light breeze is coming through the open windows. As she sips her coffee and stares at the notebooks, she clicks her pen over and over again. The smell of cinnamon and pine fills her nose as the candle flickering in front of her steals her attention. She watches the light from the flame as it dances about, unaware of the woman mesmerized by it. The puddle of wax under the flame was clear, a stark contrast to the orange-red flame just above it. It moved about despite the silence, dancing to its own beat.

So that’s what she did. Leaving behind her notebooks and lists and pens, she walked away from them all to sit in front of the open window and watch the world. Even if just for a moment, all was calm around her as she stared out the window. The wind blew the trees with astonishing strength, the cat prowled across the grass chasing the lizards that hid amongst the blades and the cars seemed to move in slow motion as they passed her house without a second glance.

She leaned back in her chair and breathed in deeply to smell the sweet, fall aroma of the candles and the cool air. For just this moment, all was tranquil, still…peaceful.

A little straight…

When I was pregnant, I traveled to NY for my NY baby shower and it happened to be my birthday weekend. My sisters gifted me money for a new hair straightener that I had been eyeing. I was super excited and purchased it immediately (gotta love 2 day shipping on amazon!). It worked amazing and I used it constantly. 

After I shaved my head last year, I offered it to my sisters since I had no use of it for a while. They all responded with a “No way! You’ll need it soon enough!” It’s been sitting patiently in a drawer awaiting the day my hair would be long enough. 

Today, I braved the straightener. My hair went a little crazy in the process (rightfully, it wasn’t really sure what was happening) and I thought for sure a headband would be needed with all its craziness. To my surprise it all calmed down and although short, it’s settled in nicely! I’m excited for a bit more versatility in my hair styles now. I don’t know how long it’ll last (eventually IV chemo will be needed) but I’m totally enjoying it in the meantime.

My feet are sore today after all the walking this weekend (totally worth it!). I think the sand at the beach dried them out a bit and made them a little more sore too. I’m rocking my Sanuk’s today though so the extra cushion helps. I’ve always purchased my Sanuk’s at Ross, the discount store. Thanks to an incredibly generous gift card, I’ll be purchasing my very first pair of Sanuk’s on their website today. I am SO excited for that!!! ❤

It’s the little (big) things in life, friends. The moments like these that make me smile, well they make the day a little easier. Happy Monday! I am definitely too blessed to complain.💚

Fall fun…

When I was little, my mom always bought window clings for the holidays. Easter, St Patty’s Day, Christmas, you name it. If they made window clings, she bought them for us! I always looked forward to climbing up on the couch and decorating our big front window with them. I would come home from school and rearrange them just because. It never got old for me.

When we bought our home years ago, one of the things I was excited about was the bay window out front. I’ve always decorated it with window clings. Though I’ve missed a few holidays, I always look forward to putting them up on the window. I especially love when I find them on clearance and can stock up for the following year!

Jacob has watched me put up the clings each year but hasn’t shown a lot of interest. For some reason though, I knew this fall would be different. I forgot about the clings during our travel and when I decided to (finally) start decorating for fall today, I wanted Jacob to enjoy it. I remembered the clings and sat down by the front window with him. He was instantly hooked! He put up each one by one, making sure to describe them to me. He put some “up high!” and some “over here!” and I can’t help but smile at all the fun he is having.

The clings are “falling down” (aka he pulls them off and has to put them somewhere else) and he is loving the rearranging. He hasn’t left the window for at least half an hour and keeps showing me the different clings that he is putting up. He is moving them all around and playing with a random lizard (come here lizard!) that stumbled across the outside of our window.

At every age I say it’s the best. But something about this age and his sweet discoveries leaves me so speechless. He loves to learn, enjoys these traditions and will try mostly anything. I am blessed with such a wonderful little man!

All done! …sort of

Whenever Jacob finishes something – dinner, a puzzle, a book – he says “all done!” emphatically and waves his little hands in the air. It’s incredibly adorable and I find myself mirroring this habit of his back to him.

At radiation each morning when the whirl of the machine shuts off and the “Beam Off” light flickers dark, I can’t help but smile and think “all done!” Even if just for that moment or that day, my treatment is over.

Today, Joe & I ventured out to see the radiation oncologist and discuss my CT scan yesterday. My scans showed that my cancer has “essentially vanished”. Say, what?! We are stopping the standard radiation treatment going forward, especially with my upcoming travel – yay! It is undecided whether or not to do the boost treatments to my lymph nodes and chest but we have time to figure that out. Even the areas outside of the radiation field are disappearing.

I cannot tell you how much I needed that news today. My chest is certainly worse for wear and this week has been hard. I basically have no top layers of skin in the radiated areas, which is why showering and lotioning is so ridiculously painful. This week is supposed to be the worst and I will begin to heal hopefully as soon as this weekend. I am praying for that healing!!

I am not considered NED currently, as I haven’t had full body scans to confirm anything and my CT was of my neck and chest only. And I will never truly be cancer-free. The radiation oncologist agreed entirely, and stressed the importance of, visiting the different centers that we have been going to and that we have planned. At some point, the Xeloda will stop working and I will need to consider next steps. One of the things that I am learning at the different centers is that I do have options – including and excluding clinical trials. There are things that I can do as “standard treatments” before a trial or I can consider the trials that are available. Each center has been giving me the trial names to research in anticipation of the day that they are needed. And research is exploring more options every day.

So yes, I am a stage 4 metastatic breast cancer patient. And yes, this has been one of the hardest weeks of my life. But hearing that my cancer is not appearing on scans and that this pain has a purpose makes everything worthwhile.