Midlife necessities

Midlife necessities
Midlife necessities

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Resolution Time

Hope everyone had a beautiful Christmas. Mine was different and fantastic, filled with family, a few easy errands, baking, some of our traditional movies (Little Women, The Holiday, White Christmas), great gifts, yummy food and fun games. I felt better last week, not as tired and more energy, of course because of the excitement of the holiday and having one of my kids home.

Chemo #10 December 29

Sylvia, my sweet friend from church, actually took the day off work to take me to my morning appointment, breakfast, and chemo! On her day off, she spent the whole day with me, and I'm sure grateful. She brought me a necklace that a friend of hers made and a blingy travel cup, both perfect for my "situation". I love them both.

I can fight like a girl because the Lord is my strength!

The pharmacist was worried about my low blood pressure. The staff is always worried about my low blood pressure! I guess it's my normal, and better than high blood pressure. I gained a few Christmas cookie pounds. My nurse, Berta, was happy with my blood flow through the Broviac. Apparently not everyone takes good care of their catheter or port. Of course I follow directions, and have never missed a flushing. She tried to give me Benadryl again, saying it would prevent a bad reaction from the Paclitaxel but I told her I didn't have a reaction without it last week so I didn't need it, so I just got Zyrtec, Pepcid and Dexamethasone for premeds. Learned something new again. In the infusion room where I get my treatments there are many different types of patients, not just chemo patients. There's a blood disorder that causes a person's body to make too much blood, so they have to remove some of the person's blood because it will become the consistency of sludge. What? Our bodies do some weird things sometimes.

Chemo went quickly with no issues, only felt a bit lightheaded at the beginning and then fine. The older woman next to me was having her last treatment. Her daughter had brought her two little kids and since they don't allow children under 12, the daughter had to leave. It didn't seem like it was the woman's last day, no happy signs or balloons or anything special. But I'm sure the fact that it was her last treatment was special to her!

This is the only moment Sylvia and I stopped talking!

I felt good when I got home. The dogs seemed to have a lot of energy so I thought I'd play a game of hide and seek with them. I tried to covertly go up the stairs to hide but they kept following me. The third time I tried I made it up without them seeing me, and hid behind the bathroom door. However, I was breathing so hard that I couldn't wait for them to find me, and had to come out while they were still looking. I had a hard time catching my breath just from that short burst of activity - that's what chemo does to you.

I was tired early and probably should have gone to bed before I did. I woke up thinking it was later than it was - the darn clock said 1:48am. I stayed in bed and read "I am Malala" until around 4am, and then I think I was able to take a few cat naps until around 6, when I read some more until coming downstairs at 7 to light the fire and a candle and get my first cup of coffee. Corona is having a cold snap and it's supposed to rain today. So nice.

At some point during my night of insomnia I started thinking about new year's resolutions. I seem to always have the same ones, and this year is no different, except this year getting healthy takes on a whole new meaning. So often in our daily lives we focus too much on what we can't do. It's too hard, I don't have time, I don't have enough money, I'm too (name it), I'm not (name it), other people continue to hurt me/stifle me/prevent me from/cause me to, etc. When you have the kind of wake up calls that I had this year, you better heed the call to change. I am determined to do what I can do right now. And friends, why wait until you have these kinds of wake-up calls? You don't need to lose your job, get divorced, or have a cancer diagnosis to make a change. Have that hard conversation with yourself, have it with the loved one in the important relationship you are struggling with.  Life is short, and you seriously NEVER know what's going to happen to mess up your carefully laid plans. Don't wait. Take steps, whether baby steps or a giant leap, to create your happiness NOW. Not when you retire or when your spouse retires, not when your kids are older or when your parents are no longer around. We fool ourselves into thinking it will be easier sometime down the road. We avoid confrontation, both with others and with ourselves. We avoid going to the doctor when we know we should because we are afraid of what we might hear. But you know what, it doesn't get easier, no matter how long we wait. And maybe we end up wasting a lot of time when we could have been happy, and helped others to be happy, too.

I'm a big advocate of counseling, and would recommend it to anyone. If you are having marriage issues and your spouse won't go, go by yourself. If there are any challenges, questions, decisions you are hung up on, working through them with a counselor is a great option. There's absolutely nothing wrong with having a professional help you to move forward to create the life you deserve. And when you feel good about yourself, and have hope for the future, you can experience joy in your present circumstances regardless of what they are and you'll be enough and have enough to give and receive the love God wants for you.

As 2015 quickly approaches, I resolve to put my health, relationships, and the creation of a new and fulfilling future as my priorities. And I will do this by putting God first. "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may OVERFLOW with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:13

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ok, If We're Being Honest...

I was told there would be good days and bad days, and last week I met the bad days in person.

The fatigue hit me like never before. I had no energy, no motivation, and no desire to part ways with the couch. Luckily, I had a lot I could do from the couch. Paying bills, calling companies, researching options for my new health insurance situation, completing an online survey for the American Cancer Society. I got a movie I'd been wanting to see out of the bag of movies
Christie lent me and the best I could do was place it on the coffee table. I had no desire to even put it in the DVD player and watch it!

One day I slept in, got up and did my flushing, had coffee and a bowl of Cap'n Crunch, and went back to bed. Fortunately sweet Debra offered to buy me a few things at Stater's, and milk and the Cap'n Crunch were two of them. I got a new book on my Kindle, I Am Malala, and tried to read it, then got sidetracked and had to do some research on Sunni Islam, the history of Pakistan and the new report on Dr. Oz. I did run a few short errands - post office to mail Allie's box, shopping with Gus for my Rescue Mission child, a nice lunch with Theresa - but my mood was about as low as my energy (I'll go so far as to say I felt depressed) and I just couldn't shake it.

Besides all that, along with the side effects I've previously mentioned, some new ones have made themselves known. It appears that menopause wants me to join the ranks of women who flash. Day and night, with no warning, the heat comes on and my hat, scarf and sweatshirt come off. If I'm wearing all those clothes it's because I am seriously nearly completely bald now, and my head and neck get chilly. The downstairs of my house gets chilly, too, so I layer. I have several friends who have told me about their experiences with hot flashes - now I know firsthand what it's like and it's intense. I've had allergies since November 16, when we went to Ontario Mills in the big Santa Ana winds. I haven't had allergies like this for years, and have been taking the Walgreens brand of Zyrtec D every day since. AND my nurse may be wrong when she said if I hadn't already lost my brows and lashes then I wouldn't. One morning when I looked in the mirror I noticed those little hairs were a lot more sparse than the day before, and now it seems like I'm losing a few more each day. There's some other body things happening that I don't need to mention here, which makes a lot of body drama going on.

Add to all this some anger, sadness, bitterness and disappointment about some life issues and throw in a little bit of concern about the future and there you have it. The bad week I was warned about. Now I'm not writing this for sympathy or because I'm in any way inspirational. I'm including it in my blog because I am documenting my personal journey through breast cancer. I still know I'm very fortunate that my low days have been few and far between, and so many other patients have struggles far exceeding mine. I just want to be honest and transparent that I'm not always as strong as I appear.

By the weekend I felt a bit better, and was able to get dressed up with Gabby and attend Gus's lovely work party in Costa Mesa. There were Victorian carolers, fancy appetizers (no tuna tartare for me) and wine (did I have one glass???). The dinner was fantastic, and our table mates, Brenden & Sarah and Steve & Theresa, were a fun bunch. Gus and I also tried Seven Seas in Corona for Thai food, and that was delicious. It was also a nice surprise to run into Erika's friends Josh and Kaitlyn. 

Chemo #9 December 22

Blood draw and dressing change, as usual. Rafi does the best job with my dressing change. It was already a warm, spring-like day at 11am, so my hat came off and I rocked the bald look in my car, at Kaiser, Office Depot and McDonald's. I had another double cheeseburger craving, and this time ate two. Oops. Came back home to meet my parents who came out from Banning to be my chemo companions. They did a few chores for me while I ate and then we battled traffic to get to Kaiser.

Sharing the experience with Dad and Mom.

I had Doni, a nurse I've never had before. She was so sweet and caring, and did something wonderful for me. She changed my pre-meds from Benedryl to Zyrtec, and my quality of chemo life improved immensely! I continued to speak normally and stayed awake the entire time! I started treatment at 1:15, and after reading some magazines, talking with my mom, and playing a high-spirited game of War with her, I was finished by 3:30. As I always learn something new at each session, I thought I'd ask about my end-of-chemo party. As I suspected, I will need to wait a week (hopefully that's all but I'll have to follow up with my oncologist) before having the end-of-chemo party that I'm dreaming about. The one with adult beverages & a big salad bar, sushi & sashimi, eggs over-medium, fresh berries of all kinds, and brie with fresh pears and raw honey! There goes my birthday party, too! Oh well, if anything I'm practicing patience and restraint, and I can always have cupcakes! 

"For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 
2 Corinthians 4:17-18

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Let There Be Light

All in all last week was a good one. My generous parents had my carpet cleaned for me - it's been so long I can't even remember the last time it was professionally done. Clean house, clean dogs and clean carpet for Christmas! It's so nice! I was able to do some shopping, a few dinners and breakfasts out, and even some yard work. Gus helped me with my Christmas tree and hung the house lights.  Since I have to rest and focus on my health, I'll enjoy my home while I'm doing it!

Chemo #8 December 15

Fourth treatment of Taxol out of 12 total. Gus was my chemo driver and partner, and I was really looking forward to introducing him to all my Filipino nurses! He got to see how the blood is drawn and the dressing is changed. We had a big lunch at the usual chemo day place, and were ready to start at 1:30.

The calm before the Benedryl storm!

I had my choice of chairs because it wasn't very busy so I sat at the end of the room by the window. Ben was my nurse, and we had a good time with him. The chemo experience is different than I thought it would be. Partly because of the room layout; most of the chairs, except for the the four at the end of the room, are next to each other with lots of space and machines in between making it difficult to talk to your neighbors. Plus, I never recognize any other patients there. I have treatments every week and it seems like that isn't very common, I guess most people go every three weeks. And it's so quiet! Many people seem to want to sleep or read while they are getting their treatments, and I want to laugh! I made Gus play Heads Up with me, and not only were we laughing, but so were Ben and the woman across from me. We were playing that game when my oncologist came out to talk with me.

He asked me how I was doing with treatments and I told him "great". He asked about the peripheral neuropathy, and he was surprised when I told him I haven't had any. Apparently as treatments progress I could develop this side effect but we shall have to wait and see. He reminded me that when chemo is finished I will start radiation and also begin taking Tamoxifen. I will take this drug because the type of breast cancer I had (past tense now, yay!) was hormone-receptor positive. Hormone-receptor positive breast cancers need estrogen and/or progesterone to grow, and tamoxifen blocks estrogen from attaching to the receptor. I will take Tamoxifen for at least five years and possibly up to ten, which will probably be a daily reminder that I've had breast cancer (and am beating it, too!)

The doctor then patiently answered all my questions from my list... Me: Can I play tennis? Dr: (surprised) Do you FEEL like playing tennis? I haven't played tennis in awhile because of tendonitis. Let's wait until you are finished with chemo. Me: Can I go to the dentist? Volunteer? Drink wine? (not surprised, he said he knew I'd ask him that one haha) Dr: Let's wait. Me: What about this pain in my arm, like it's pulling? It seems to be getting worse. I'm trying to stretch it out and do arm weights. Dr: That is common after lymph nodes are removed. Keep stretching and lifting, it will help prevent lymphodema. Me: When am I DONE? Dr: Your last cycle is on January 26 (Gus and I were surprised and excited until we clarified that the four Taxol cycles are three weeks' long, which makes my last chemo on February 9, which is still a few weeks' earlier than I thought and my birthday week! I'm half way through my total ACT chemo!) One last question, something that has been bothering me as I've been doing more research. Was I really Stage III? The doctor said according to him, I was Stage IIB (none of us could remember why the previous oncologist said I was Stage III). He also said it doesn't matter because it doesn't affect my treatment. But to me it DOES matter, and you can bet I'll take Stage IIB over Stage III! 

The Benedryl kicked in while I was talking with my oncologist and made it difficult to think and speak. I'm glad Gus could translate for me because 50 mgs of Benedryl directly into my bloodstream just isn't pretty! After the doctor visit, we played a few more rounds of Heads Up before I just had to close my eyes. I seriously could not stay awake! We were finished at 4:00, an hour and a half for premeds and only an hour for the Taxol. I crashed as soon as I got home, took a three hour nap, got up for dinner and The Voice, and went to bed around 11. I was very fortunate to get more sleep this Monday night, although I woke up often I was able to fall back asleep and didn't wake up for good until 5:30 this morning. 

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and in between is Christmas and New Years. Lots of light, both literally and figuratively! "My heart is confident in you, O God; my heart is confident. No wonder I can sing your praises!" Psalm 57:7

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Early Morning Thoughts from a Chemo Insomniac

Yesterday was Chemo #7, and if I've slept an hour I'd be surprised.

The Tuesday after Chemo #5 (November 25), the first Taxol treatment, I had enough energy for seven people. I didn't sleep much that Monday night so thought I'd be exhausted on Tuesday and take a nap. Nope. I had so many projects going, and stuff to do to get ready for my trip. Thanksgiving was fantastic! Being with my entire family is the joy of my life, and it was everything I had hoped it would be! I was still fighting the allergies, and even took cold meds for my symptoms. I rested more than I wanted, but I needed to. I wore my mask once, and drank "fine" (fake wine, and there's no point, it doesn't taste anything like wine unlike non-alcoholic beer, which tastes pretty good and closer to the real thing) with Thanksgiving dinner. Anyway, the long detour to Phoenix and the mega traffic back through Palm Springs was entirely worth the wonderful time I had with all my loves.

Chemo #6 went well on December 1, again with me taking myself to my blood draw and dressing change, and Sandy dropping me off at chemo and Mary bringing me a Miguel's burrito before taking me home. The Benedryl nearly put me out, and I thought maybe it was because I hadn't eaten, so I won't make that mistake again. First time I've ever eaten an entire bean, cheese and shredded beef burrito in one sitting! Came home and took a long nap, then couldn't sleep much that night.

Mary took the picture and wouldn't get in it.

On Tuesday and Wednesday we had rain in Southern California for the first time in forever. People here get crazy when it rains, the excitement is all over facebook haha. I turned my fireplace on, lit my pumpkin candle and fixed hot mochas (and later grilled cheese and tomato soup!) for my friend Estelle and I. She brought me homemade quiche, apple pie, and a beautiful hand-knitted hat and gloves made with soft yarn she bought in Europe.

I was very tired all week and didn't do a whole lot. On Thursday, Holly sent her housecleaner over to clean my house! Oh my, Maricela was a gem! My kitchen, bathrooms (including tubs/showers), and floors were spotless. She cleaned my blinds, changed my bed, and did my laundry. The house became dust-free and dog-hair free; even if just for a little while it looked and felt fantastic! I am so incredibly blessed by the generosity of the people God has placed in my life. Thank you so much Holly!

Friday I had both dogs groomed so they wouldn't stink up the nice, clean house. I normally bathe Kianne myself but haven't been up to it lately, she's big! I was blessed again when my parents came over, did my grocery shopping and we got my Christmas decorations down from the garage. We had Chinese take-out for dinner, and I remembered that I'm not supposed to have soy sauce (no soy of any kind) which changes everything about Chinese food! Saturday I decorated, and we had a lovely outing for really good mediterranean food and a trip to a couple of stores, thinking (correctly) that the late evening would be less crowded and I wouldn't need to wear a mask. Sunday I had a major allergy attack, and basically spent the day sneezing and blowing my nose, and yelling at the Chargers for letting the Patriots win.

And now the sun is coming up on a quiet Tuesday morning.

Yesterday, Chemo #7, I went to Kaiser for my usual pre-work, and then got the McDonald's double cheeseburger I'd been craving. I never eat McD's, but at least their cheeseburgers come without lettuce or tomato so I didn't feel like I was missing out. My friend and neighbor Debra took me to chemo and it was just like our coffee dates at Starbucks, except without the coffee and hipster tunes. I just love sharing the chemo experience with my friends and family! Again, I learned something new. When my nurse, Rowena, asked me how I felt the last two times after my new chemo, I told her about all my energy on the first Tuesday. She said it's the steroid in my infusion (dexamethasone) that causes it, as well as insomnia, for the first couple of days after treatment. Ah, I remember someone writing in a recent blog post about how important it is to understand one's disease and TREATMENT. During yesterday's chemo, the Benedryl got to me again, and while I was talking nonstop, I slurred my words in between yawns. Good thing I had a ride home!

Debra was impressed by the nurses who all seem to like their jobs!

I could have easily fallen asleep on the couch as soon as I walked in the door but I kept myself awake in the mistaken belief that maybe not taking a nap would help me to sleep through the night. HA! I couldn't go to sleep, maybe I took a cat nap, and turned my light on at 12:45 am so I could read. At 2:00 I finally just got up. I made some hot mocha, washed dishes, cleaned out some drawers and cupboards downstairs, shredded some stuff upstairs, and went up and down the stairs taking different things to different rooms to put away. The dogs followed me around the house for awhile, confused, and finally gave up and went back to bed where they currently remain. 

Along with the double edged sword of energy and insomnia, I've got more bald spots but still have some nubs on my head. The main spot of dark-haired nubs on the back of my head has started hurting, maybe that means they are going to fall out soon? My fingernail beds are grossly discolored and definitely need to be covered with nail polish. The tips of my fingers are dry and peeling a bit. Sometimes I have no appetite, neither feeling hungry nor full, or I have a metal taste when eating, or maybe I don't really taste the food at all. I've started lifting three pound hand weights and am being careful as I feel a slight "pull" in my left arm that must be from the surgery. If I don't have an abundance of energy, I'm fatigued. But you know what? I'm taking advantage of my feel good time to get stuff done around the house that was left for me to do! I am enjoying my decorations and getting into the holiday spirit! I am spending time with family and good friends! I am focusing on my health and healing! So in the words of Solomon, "When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other." (Ecclesiastes 7:14) Plus, I know that since this is only temporary, "Better is the end of a thing than the beginning of it, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit." (Ecclesiastes 7:8)

You know what else? I can choose to be happy while I am patient! Life is good!