Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Chemo Round 13. 

I'm 3 hours in. Nestled in my chair, warm blankets tucked in all around me, my hands holding frozen gel packs (attempting to close the capillaries in my hands so I don't get neuropathy), eyes closed, a few tears sneaking down my cheek. The sound of the infusion machine drip drip dripping chemicals into my body keeps me awake. The effects of Taxol start to wear on me right about now. 
Jack is sitting right next to me. We just finished another game of rummy and we are at the point where it takes too long for me to make a play (chemo brain, it's a real thing) so we take a break. I close my eyes, rest my head to the side and try to get through the next hour relaxed. 
He plays a game of solitaire on the table attached to my chair, occupying himself with anything other than taking in his surroundings. This place opens your eyes. It makes you appreciate what you have. What you're going through. That others are going through the same suffering and emotions you are. The physical demands, the weariness, the psychological whirlwind. Some days are easier than others, but today is hard. 
I'm done. I'm so done. We are 5 months into this battle and I'm weary. 2 months left. 2 more months and I get a fresh start. People keep saying "you'll be back to your old self soon!" I hold onto that and I appreciate the positive encouragement, but I can't help but see things a little differently. 
I will never be my old self again. 
There are parts of me that are gone. Parts that needed to go. Parts that didn't contribute to a better me. Parts that hurt people without being aware. Parts that broadcast too loudly. Parts that are unproductive and selfish. 
Suffering changes ones soul. Ones perspective. Although the depth of this battle has been brutal at times,  I wouldn't have it taken away for anything in the world. Because that would mean that I would have lived the rest of my life the same way I lived the first 44. It would mean some of my blinders were still on. It would mean the relationships that have rooted themselves even deeper than before may not have been given that chance. It means balance and peace, forgiveness and grace. It means everything. 
I wipe the tears from my cheek and I'm happy. Truly. Only God can give joy and hope amidst pain and suffering. 
As I open my eyes I see my sweet infusion nurse..."Ok girl, all done for today. See you next Tuesday"
Okay. I can do that. With a smile and a greater understanding of what it means to be present and loved. This phase of the journey is almost over and I am looking forward to that fresh start. To seeing sunshine everywhere again, to being a light and to being love. To feeling whole again, to having the energy to take care of my body the way I want to. To feel like my brain is back on track and not fuzzy all the time. To take care of my family again. To be there to help someone who needs to hear words of hope. 
So, thank you friends. For loving the old me and the new me. And cheers to being almost done with this battle!! And remember to be grateful for the goodness in your life, those you love and who love you. Hold onto God's promise that He leads those who call out to them and holds them in his hands. 

"Rejoice in your sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." Romans 5:3-5

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


It's been a few weeks since my last post.  Many of you have asked why.  You want to keep up with how things are going with me and treatment but realize my emoji answered text messages mean I probably don't want to talk a lot.  Please know that I appreciate all the love and support, calls and messages, food, flowers....continue to be overwhelmed with gratitude for you all.  I'm just tired.

Here's the deal.  When I write, it feels like (because it is) all about me.  ME, ME, ME.  A blog about my personal journey through breast cancer and recovery.  It was meant to be a form of communication with family and friends, a way to speak up and share what it's like so that others who are going through the same trial or may have to face it in the future might be encouraged.  And as a personal record.

Gonna be really honest here.  I'm going through a very timely getting-to-know-myself period.  I made a statement during my diagnosis stage that I have no fear about getting through this cancer stuff.  We caught it early, had it removed and now just need to do what the doctors tell us to do.  And yes, it sucks.  I hate how I feel.  But, it's just time.  A small amount of time in this 44 year old girls life. And there is the rub.  I'm 44.  I've got a lot of self reflection and soul searching to do.  I felt at the beginning and feel even stronger now about one thing.  There is something else I'm meant to learn through all of this. Something life changing.  I read something the other day that lined up with that thought.  "People of depth are enlarged by suffering.  Suffering introduces you to yourself."  That opened a door for me.

So I don't know what to write about right now.

I go to chemo once a week for the next three months starting December 2nd.  I am so grateful for all of you who reach out and encourage me, sending me words of strength and love.  We are holding it together here, and I feel deeply loved.  Can't ask for more than that.

I'd like to leave you with something.  For some of you, this will hit home. These words come from a book I'm enjoying:

"The first big thing suffering does is it drags you deeper into yourself.  People who endure suffering are taken beneath the routine busyness of life and find they are not who they believed themselves to be.  It, oddly, teaches gratitude.  It becomes a fearful gift, very different from the other gift, happiness, conventionally defined.  The latter brings pleasure, but the former cultivates character. "

Friends, there is goodness in each one of us.  God created us to enjoy His peace, live in harmony and show His grace.  To delight in the beautiful world He created for us to live in.  To live humbly, not boast, radiate His love and love those around us.  Thank you for walking with me as I keep fighting this fight and digging deep to be a better person.  The woman He intended me to be.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Identity Crisis

Hair. It can mold one's personality.  Big beautiful curly hair, short crew cut hair, glossy stick straight hair, wavy messy hair.  Mine has somehow evolved into part of who I am.  Or at least it identifies me in a crowd.  Or in this town.  "That girl with the short blonde hair!"  So, losing this coif of blonde madness is a bit emotional for me.

Jack thinks I should write a book once this is all behind me.  I just might.  Because who I am has not changed.  Cancer can't take that away from me.  I hope that someday my story can help someone going through this same sucky situation and realize that it's okay.  It's okay to be mad.  It's okay to be confused.  It's okay to not understand why. HOW you travel through it is what makes it life changing. That's the reason for this blog, the little square pictures on Instagram and countless journal pages.  I want to be a real example of someone who least expected cancer, but tackled it head on, with a smile...and no hair.

During round 2,  (Tuesday, October 20th), my oncologist told me that my hair would start to come out that week.  I wasn't quite ready for that.  So grateful my sweet friend C was there to encourage me and convince me I could rock the bald look. Thursday rolled around and my scalp hurt.  That was the sign that it was coming out soon.  The support crew was ready. We planned for a Saturday morning head shaving gathering. 

Saturday morning came and my hairstylist, mother-in-law, sweet friends and family were all here to support me.  I'm blessed to have been surrounded by people who love me and can see me weep without feeling uncomfortable.  People to hold me and comfort me.  

And Kristina.  I will say her name because I want you to share in the pleasure I have had in her and her gift of capturing life through her lens.  She offered to help me document this journey and has become a very sweet friend.  I am loving getting to know her better.  (See her contact info below.) 

I smiled and laughed through most of it.  The cotton candy mohawk was AWESOME!  I may have to try that again next summer.  But as soon as it was ALL off, it set in.  That stupid little tumor that had somehow grown in my healthy body, had caused pain, deep emotion and now a loss of a part of my identity...my hair. I love my hair.  Until about 8 years ago, I had long, wavy hair.  I always thought it would be fun to cut it all off but never had the mojo.  I think as I've grown up, I gained that confidence, and maybe a little more sass, to live up to it.  And it's become a part of me:)   

Now it's gone...  

But it will grow back... 

As a woman, being bald feels weird. My head gets cold and I feel a bit like an alien (the drugs might add to that)  But I'm okay.  I'll own it.  Because when God created me, he knew I would go through this and that I could handle it. And because maybe I can let someone else feel okay with what they may have to go through someday as well.  

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made." Psalm 139:14


Photo Credit to the lovely & talented Kristina Wunsch 
Insta acct: Poppiphotography

Julia Ward (hair stylist extraordinaire @ Moda Capelli Hair in Olympia

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Chemo Sobby...wasn't really ready for this rollercoaster

Chemo.  Chemo brain.  Chemo sobby... a.k.a. can't think straight and am a bit of an emotional rollercoaster.  Not my idea of awesome.

Chemotherapy.  Some people have asked "why do you have to go through all that if they already removed the tumor?" Because I have, or had, a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer.  Not the run-of-the-mill kind.  It looks different, it acted different, so it needs to be treated aggressively. Cancer cells are so small that 10% of them can't be seen under imaging, so there could possibly be more yucky cells running around in my bod having a great time, making a plan for a new attack, or some such nonsense.  The specialists at both Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and Western Washington Oncology determined that the "Chemo Cocktail" I should be on would give me the highest survival rate and have the best chance at ridding my body of any lurking cells ready to do more damage.  The plan is this: Four treatments (once every other week) of A/C (Adriamycin & Cytoxan).  These two are the hard core infusions. The drugs that are most toxic and hardest on the body.  Then comes Taxol infusions every week for 12 weeks.  Five months total.  Radiation Therapy after that.  Then a daily pill I will take for probably the rest of my life.

At the inception of this diagnosis, we thought I might be able to just do Radiation Therapy.  I could handle that, no problem.  Every day, for one hour, for 8 weeks, radiation directed at my right lady lump, zapping it of all nastiness.  With that will come fatigue, sunburn like damage, dryness of skin. Radiation Therapy works by using high energy beams to kill cancer cells and destroy their ability to reproduce.  It changes their DNA.  The cancer cells die when they can no longer multiply and the body eliminates them.  It also kills all the healthy cells around the area, therefore the burning side effects.  That is suppose to heal over time though, so praise the Lord for an amazing body that wants to heal itself! So after I'm done with chemo, I'll move onto radiation therapy, and then I'm done.

So, Chemo.  It really is as dumb as you think it is.  It's exhausting, it feels weird.  I feel slightly nauseous 90% of the time, I'm weak, my bones ache, I'm not hungry, I'm emotional, my body looks different, my brain doesn't work right and the pharmacist at Target knows my name and my medications better than I do.  BUT, the skin on my face is glowing, so that's a perk!  Apparently, all the poison that is getting pumped into my body makes my skin radiant.  So weird, but I'll take it.  And my nails are really strong and growing so fast I get to have a manicure every week!

Going into my first infusion was slightly terrifying, not sure what to expect, how it was going to feel. I'm pretty tough, but I'm not crazy about needles and I don't like to be in pain. I woke up early, applied this awesome numbing cream to my port (access device that is implanted under my skin on my left chest wall.  More about how that works later), managed to eat a fried egg and piece of toast with homemade jam (I LOVE homemade jam from friends, just in case you want to surprise me) and headed toward the treatment center.

Every time I walk in there, I feel out of place.  It's not like I'm the only "not-old" person coming to treatment, but I'm rare.  Kind of a perk?  Everyone knows my name.  I don't have to check in.  So, I guess I'm kinda famous.  I like that. (insert big smile here) And they like me too.

Step one: access my port.  The cream I put on earlier in the morning numbs the skin just enough so that when they poke the needle in, I just have to bear down and hold my breath long enough for it to go through and be stabilized.  Once that is in, everything is secured down and tubes are attached for the length of my infusion time...3-4 hours.

Step two: draw blood.  In order to proceed with infusion, my white blood cell count has to be at a certain level.  Low white blood cells can leave the body more open to infection, and if my count is too low, I can't have my chemo infusion that day. which will in turn throw off my treatment plan.  If my red blood cell count is down, I focus on preventing anemia.  This makes me fatigued and short of breath.  I've experienced both of these so far and am doing my best to keep those numbers where they should be.  That means limited exposure to large crowds of people who may be carrying germs, enclosed environments, eating right, staying hydrated and getting a lot of sleep.  Chemotherapy drugs damage your bone marrow, which in turn damages or kills your blood cells.  So keeping the immune system strong is crucial to getting through this process.

Step three: quick visit with Dr. L, my oncologist.  He looks me in the eyes and asks "how ya doin?"
It's our check in point.  What's working, what's not working, what feels weird (everything), what I should expect next, etc..

Step four: check into the treatment room.  It's nice.  Sweet nurses, kind volunteers who refill my water bottle, coffee and snacks (FREE!), beautiful old growth trees outside the big windows, warm blankets.  Then they hook you up and the drugs start to flow.  That part sucks.  First drug, Adriamycin, aka, "red devil."  It's nasty.  The echo cardiogram I had a few weeks ago to stage my heart, was done just because this particular drug can cause heart damage. The nurses have to wear gowns, masks and gloves just to attach the bag to my infusion pump and get the fluid flowing into my body.  It's toxic.  My pee is red the first few times after infusion, which is really freaky and I am told to flush twice to be sure all the chemicals go down the drain.  That's just wrong.  Sometimes this is what gets me.   All of the work I've done over the years at being diligent to eat right, take care of my body, staying away from processed, toxic and unhealthy things that break down my body instead of making me stronger... all that effort, seems wasted.  I know it's not, but I hate that all the good so easily is being taken over by the bad, in an effort to heal me.
Saline flushes in between drugs.  I can taste it.  I can taste any and all metal compounds in everything now.  Even the purest water.

Second drug, Cytoxan.  As soon the infusion starts with this one, I can feel it.  My nose gets tingly and stuffy and congested.  I've never snorted cocaine before, but I think it might feel like this.  (I'm going to catch crap from my kids for saying that)  Cytoxan makes you dizzy, short of breath and just plain bad.  BUT, when I'm this far, I'm almost done, so that's the perk.
Last, saline flush. And I'm out.

The whole process takes about 4 hours.  I am allowed to have two friends at a time sit with me.   Sometimes I have the entire pod (unit servicing four infusion pumps/people) to myself so I can congregate as many peeps as I want and talk loud and be obnoxious without disturbing anyone....I like that.

Then I go home and sleep.  and wait.  and pray.
Heavenly Father, get me through this.  With grace, with dignity, with as little pain as possible.  Hold my hand as I cry out in what at times feels like a plea for mercy.  I know I will be stronger at the end of this crazy game.  I know I will be a different person when this is all over.  There is so much breakdown that the rebuilding process not only restores, but creates new.  I'll need that.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Lumpectomy...aka "breast preservation!"

One week after preliminary diagnosis, I had my surgery date.  We are all scared about what this means.  For me, for us as a family, for my kids, for what we imagined our life looking like in the next 10 years.  Never before contemplating the words "survival rate." Meeting upon meeting with doctors, genetic counselor, naturopathic physician, surgeon, pathologists...I thought I had a pretty good handle on the big picture.  "This is cancer, this is scary, but I've got it."  I kept repeating that to myself as I would look into my husband's eyes, full of all the knowledge he had whirling around in his brain, so desperately trying to be calm for me, making sure I wasn't scared or afraid.
I was ready for surgery.  We wanted the cancer out as soon as possible and team we had chosen made it happen.  I am constantly impressed and so thankful for all those involved with my care here in Oly. So YAY for that!

September 4th, 6:30am, Providence St. Peter's Hospital.
Step one: nuclear medicine injection to track lymph nodes to see if the cancer cells had reached my lymphatic system.  4 needle pokes later and some imaging and I was back in the waiting room.  So far so good.  During the course of time between now and surgery  (10am), the radioactive material is suppose to track up to the first few sentinel nodes so that the surgeon can remove them for pathology. Pretty amazing. 
We were setup in the OR waiting room, prepped with warm blankets, peek a boo visits from fellow physician friends who were on call and making sure I was being well taken care of.  IV insertion for anesthesia didn't go well at first but in the end I was knocked out, so that was about the most drama pre-surgery brought.
An hour or so later I was back in the OR waiting room, surgery done, coming out of anesthesia with the good news that Dr. K removed the cancerous tumor in full and removed two of my sentinel nodes.  Basically, surgery went as planned with no surprises and everyone involved was pleased.  Hallelujah!!
Groggy and chewing on ice chips, my family peeked in through the curtain with smiles and flowers and tears of the first good news.  My mom and dad, mother in law Polly, Jack, Keegan and Hannah and S&C gave me the first glimpse of light on this long day.  So very thankful to feel their presence. 
Homeward bound and feeling sore from surgery, meds kicking in, I felt relief. The yucky stuff was gone.  Although we would wait a few days for the pathology report from surgery to give us a more thorough answer on the cancer cells and lymph node status, we felt confident that my body was moving a step in the right direction.
So pleased with how smoothly surgery went, I came home and kind of overdid it. Opps. My mom and dad were staying for a dinner beautifully prepared by my daughter and a sweet friend (local chef extraordinaire and famous 2nd grade teacher!). We sat out on the patio, basking in the early September sunshine, munching on goat cheese and crackers, playing with grandpa's puppies....not realizing that the pain meds were keeping me pretty much pain free and euphoric.

I cried a lot that night.  I didn't sleep well that night.  I was so happy that the C-word was out of my body.  But I was scarred.  marked.  wounded.  I know that I'm suppose to believe that "I'm going to be just fine," but every now and again I honestly question that.  My relationship with my Heavenly Father confirms that I am in His hands, but human nature whispers "maybe it will come back..
Even though the tumor was removed, there is the possibility that other cancer cells spread pre-surgery or that they can't be seen on imaging.  Hence the long road ahead of Chemotherapy and Radiation treatment.

And then I meditated on the verse my dad gave me as he walked out the door earlier that evening.  "And I am confidant that He who began a good work in you will continue to perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6)  I AM in His hands and no matter where this journey takes us, I know that He loves me.  Even if I am scarred.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Good Karma? No, incredibly awesome karma!!

Okay, so I'm a Christian, not a Buddhist, so karma really isn't in my vocab, but in this case, it works.  I like to call it love, support, community, friends, connection.  The week following my diagnosis reveal, we called family and friends for support and prayer.  I wasn't ready for social media.  That makes me "news" and this wasn't news.  It's my life.  And I was scared.  I needed time to let it soak in, to feel God's hand on my shoulder, to feel comfortable talking about what was happening without crying.  I knew that I would receive nothing but positive vibes, love, more prayer and support when I decided to "let the world know" as I call it now, which I knew I would need.  I'll be honest.  I am that girl.  I have grown to love, then dislike, then love again, what social media creates.  Sometimes it's showy, braggy, too revealing.  But sometimes it's the opposite.  It's reality.  It's pain, it's asking for help, it's sharing what's going on in our lives so that we have an extended hand of community.  And for that I am grateful.  Two days ago I posted my blog on Facebook.  Today I am in awe at the encouragement and support that I feel.  It's actually a little overwhelming.  That can't be bad.  Jack put it this way "Babe, you give out an incredible amount of love to the world.  You now need a little back.  It all comes back around."  The constant stream of text messages and phone calls, the flowers, the cards, the meals, the caramel macchiato's, the late night convos, the hand holding, the wiping of tears and the tender "I love you's."  Thank you, friends.  I love you too.  And I do need you.  We all need each other through this crazy lovely journey around the sun.

Onto the update: During that week a lot of people were praying for me as I stepped into a new doctors office or lab almost every day, sometimes two in one day.  Consulted with Dr. K to have surgery on Friday, September 4th.  Had my first appointment with Dr. L, my oncologist (that was brutal...walking into Western Washington Oncology through a waiting room full of old people.  I'm rare at an office like this).  Spent time with good friends (S&C) who dig deep, know me well and are making sure that I'm taken care of and emotionally stable.  Jack and I are eternally grateful for them and feel like we'd be missing out without them in our lives.  Our kids are amazing.  Keegan and Hannah rise and fall with grit and grace.  They are strong and supportive, taking care of themselves and serving me in any way possible.  They are also weak.  Sobbing in confusion and frustration.  Is their mom going to be okay?  They can't imagine me sick...down for 6 months.  "You're our rock, mom.  This isn't fair!!"  We love on each other every day.  We take care of each other.

So, cheers to an incredible support system, friends whose hearts are bigger than the sun, a family who gives endless love and adoration to their mama/wifey, and believe it or not, to social media.  Because I can't possibly reach all of you individually to ask for prayer.  And flowers.  And maybe food.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Its hard to tell your mom and dad "I have cancer"

August 28th, 2015 - Preliminary Diagnosis

First shout out to my husband.  No stone will ever be left unturned with this one.  Being a physician, he feels the responsibility of making sure that he knows everything about everything about breast cancer.  And that he contacted all appropriate colleagues in town to be sure I am getting the best care possible.  So, needless to say, I am surrounded by an amazing care team made up of some very wonderful people who are making sure I'm receiving an overabundance of support and guidance through this process.

After the biopsy was removed (thursday), we would have normally waited until the following Tuesday to hear back with results from the lab (Swedish in Seattle).  But Dr. Fields can't wait.  He called first thing Friday morning, while I was sharing the news with my dear friend C, over an early lunch.  I was trying to take it all in, what this meant for me.  I had peace.  I know that I am in His hands.  AND, I'm a fighter.  A good one.  Ask Jack:)

Jack calls me on my cell.  "Hey, baby, where are you? Can I meet you downtown and just see you?"
Okay, first of all, my husband does NOT leave his office during the day.  He works.  Secondly, we don't talk alot during the day.  He's super busy.  Evenings are "our" time.  So, I thought, how sweet of him! It was beautiful outside, still feeling like summertime, hand in hand walking downtown Oly.

What happened next will permanently be posted in my memory.  Jack stopped and held both of my hands on the corner of Legion and Washington. "Baby, I don't know how to say this.  It's cancer."

The rest of the day was a big box of kleenex.  I went back to Jack's office for a breast MRI to see if they could see any cancer cells anywhere else.  The pathology on my biopsy showed that the form of breast cancer I have is high grade and aggressive, therefore, we wanted to see if anything else "popped up" on MRI.  And it was clear, thank you Lord!

Next came the phone calls to my parents and Jack's mom.  At this point I'm not only realizing the gravity of what's happening, but now need to tell my parents that their baby girl has cancer.  That's just stupid.  And unfair.  Once again, like He tells us over and over again, "I will protect you and cover you with my healing love."  The faith that runs this family ABSOLUTELY holds us together.