Awake

Well … it is 1:00 in the morning. I have to be at a school at 7 to do who knows what? And, I’m supposed to be there until 4 PM … I have a feeling that won’t happen – especially since I am still wide awake at 1 AM.

I think the place where the port was inserted is healing. I have tried to get a picture of it … it leaves a really ugly bump under my skin. It almost looks like I have grown a third breast. Just what I need! 🙂

It is really weird to have the port. It is hard. And, sometimes, I can feel the catheter in my vein too.

picture copied from https://bit.ly/2HkvHmn

This is what is under my skin and in my vein… I am not loving having it. It is alien. It is ugly. But, everyone tells me I am going to love it when I have treatments. I only have to get stuck once a visit. Blood for labs will be drawn through the port and the drug I am getting will be infused using the port. Since my veins are in pretty rotten shape after being stuck so much over the last 9 months, it will be a good thing to have it, I am sure. I just need to start accepting it better!!

Here is another good thing about it. Because it is inserted completely under the skin, there is no need to try to keep it clean and there are no tubes hanging out… I’m sure it will stop bothering me when the bruising improves and I don’t constantly feel it. I hope so!!!

 

Faces of Cancer

I started writing this article yesterday while I was in the waiting room at the Seay building at UT Southwestern. I guess I lost Internet before it was saved so I lost it all 🙁 I’m really sad about it because I felt “inspired” while writing it and think it was good (and no one can ever dispute that since it is gone, gone, gone!).

I am going to attempt to reconstruct what I wrote, what I was feeling when I wrote it. Wish my memory was not horrible! That’s a BAD sad effect of having chemo (or maybe of getting old or maybe both) – no memory. At all. Thoughts rush into my mind and leave before I can grab hold of them!!

Going to a cancer center is eye-opening. They are all full. When I go to Texas Oncology at Presbyterian Hospital, the waiting room, the infusion room, and the hallway where you wait for labs are all full of people. When I go to the Seay building of UT Southwestern, there are even more people everywhere you look. So many lives struck by cancer.

Full waiting room. Too much cancer!

Yesterday – Monday – we had a hard time finding a place to sit even though there are two different large waiting rooms to choose between. My picture doesn’t reflect how very crowded it was, but it is the only picture I tried to take of the waiting room … It’s a little blurry but I decided that’s okay because I am not trying to identify anybody who was sitting in there … just to record the crowd…

If you are not personally affected by having the disease yourself, you know someone – usually a friend or family member – who has battled some kind of cancer at some point in their lives. My dad died of cancer at age 49. My beloved stepfather, Bob Massie, was eaten up with cancer and passed away just five years after he and Mom married. My maternal aunt died from cancer and my paternal uncle did, too.

Over the last few years, Robert and I lost two great friends to cancer – Mike Schoolfield and Richard McCann died about a year apart. Another good friend, Steve Massengale, was given only weeks to live after cancer that had eaten him up was discovered. His is a success story!!! He has been a survivor for at least 10 years!! The more I think, the more friends and family I think of who have suffered from cancer. Some fall victim and some beat it … but they and their families have been touched by it.

And, for every person who receives that awful diagnosis themselves, there are family and friends who love them whose lives also change immediately and forever. It is an insidious disease for sure.

In the relatively small department where I work, Janice’s husband has had lymphoma. He is currently in remission, praise God!, but has developed multiple myeloma – the disease Robin Roberts from Good Morning America chronicled as she has battled it. The brother-in-law of my friend Cindy is battling leukemia. They had it under control for a few months, but it has returned now. The grandmother of another coworker has been fighting cancer for months, surprising the doctors who thought she would die within only weeks of diagnosis. My former boss was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer only months after I received my diagnosis. Cancer is just everywhere. Everywhere.

I just read recently that David Phelps’ sister passed away last year. David is the unbelievable tenor who often sings with the Bill Gaither Vocal Band. His sister frequently sang backup for David when he was on the road doing concerts. You would never have realized it by looking at her or watching her, but she was fighting liver and back cancer that ultimately took her life. She was only 49. She had so much life left to live, but cancer cut it short. For some reason, that broke my heart. She always had a big smile and seemed so full of life. Gone…………..

It doesn’t matter how much money you have. How old you are. What your name is or what your parentage is. What color you are. Cancer does not discriminate.

These melancholy thoughts were in my mind when I saw the following in one of the waiting rooms yesterday:

This young mom and her daughter were both messing with the doll the mom is holding. Mom was braiding the doll’s hair, using great care to do a good job of it. I wish I had had my good camera and the nerve to ask if I could take a picture or a series of pictures of the two of them. Mom, with her mask and bald head from chemo. Daughter with her smiles and happy countenance. For some reason, the two of them represent The Face of Cancer to me. There is a lot of sadness in this picture but also hope. Neither Mom nor daughter appears to be giving in to the disease.

On the other hand, I am struck by one more thing when I observe the people in these cancer centers. Nearly everyone has a very pleasant attitude. I hear polite, happy people speaking. I rarely see anyone who doesn’t smile – even when they look like cancer has really ravaged them. Very few appear to have given in to the disease. I do believe that you will see more happy and contented people in the cancer centers than you will at nearly anywhere else. I sometimes pat myself on the back for having a good attitude about being sick, but truthfully, it is more common than not for cancer patients to have a positive outlook on life.

At the same time as I saw the mom and young daughter above, there was another man and his family or friends sitting there. Lots of hospital staff came up to the man to speak and kid around with him. He is obviously a favorite. Based on his appearance, I have to wonder how much longer he has on this earth. His head was not bald like the mom’s is but you could tell that chemo had done its work on his hair. He was skinny … REAL skinny. Sick skinny. But, his smile was bright and cheerful. He also represents the Face of Cancer to me. I wish I had gotten a picture of him.

I decided that I would try to get more pictures of people in the waiting rooms when I go. So many stories. So many heartbreaks. And, at the same time, so much joy! The faces of cancer. They are you. They are me. Everyone is impacted by this insidious disease in one way or another – everyone.

Got the Chemo Port

Robert and I were at UT Southwestern for a long time yesterday. We had to arrive at their St. Paul Hospital by 7 AM so that I could get a port inserted. The chemo and constant pokes and pricks required from frequent blood tests, CT scans, and treatments finally wore my veins out, making the device necessary. Everyone says I will be really happy to have the port.

It was a frustrating morning. We rushed to get there by 7 … it is an hour away from home so we had to leave really early! We waited for 45 minutes to get registered at the hospital. Great! There was only one girl working registration for the entire hospital on a Monday morning. To her credit, she was ultra-patient. I just don’t understand why she didn’t have a whole lot more help. We were behind two people and when we left, there were two or three more waiting. Plus, people kept coming in from the “street” and asking questions, etc. that the girl also had to answer. Because I hate to be late to appointments, I was getting really anxious … and another “a” word … angry!

Once we finally got up to the floor where the little minor day surgery would occur, things started happening. I got an IV so they could give me some medicine to “relax” me during the procedure. Blood was drawn, vitals taken (my blood pressure was lower than it has been in a long, long time … go figure??!!!).

Next, the physician’s assistant came in and introduced herself. The surgeon didn’t insert the port. The PA did. Hmmmm. Hope my insurance wasn’t charged for a surgeon.

The clock was inching toward my 9:00 surgery time and I was anxious to get it over with. But, while things popped when we first arrived, they suddenly slowed to a turtle’s pace. We saw NO ONE from about 8:45 until not 9, not 9:30, not 10!!!!

I already told you how anxious/excited/angry I get when things don’t go like they are scheduled!! I was getting pretty upset because the surgery was going to take an hour and then I had to recuperate for an hour before being released. Well … I was supposed to be over at the Seay building by 1 for my labs, doctor appointment, and treatment. And, we planned to go eat breakfast before we went there since we are usually there for 7 or more hours and I wasn’t able to eat or drink anything from midnight the night before the surgery. I was seeing all of our plans going by the wayside and I was restless and unhappy about it!!!

Finally, at about 10:30, someone came to get me to take me to the operating room. Let me tell you, he was no driver!!! He bumped me into every possible wall from leaving my room until we got to our destination. He said he was going to knock the mean out of me!! (I’m afraid it didn’t work!)

Truly, while I was getting upset, I don’t think most knew it (Robert did). One of the technicians in the operating room – a really sweet English girl with a great accent – mentioned that she heard someone who was jolly was on their way in. Jolly … haven’t heard that word in a long while but appreciated having it used to describe me because I do try to be positive and yes, even jolly, most of the time!

Anyway, while things didn’t go along on the timetable I wanted, the port was inserted (I keep wanting to say “installed!”) with no problems. The medicine they gave me to relax apparently put me all the way to sleep – I was out of it during the actual procedure despite my intent to stay awake so I could write about it!

I got Robert to take some pictures of what it looked like after the surgery. You can see how bruised things already were around the incisions, etc. …

Today, I am sore from the incisions made to insert it. On the other hand, I am enjoying a day at home relaxing – no bath and no driving for 24-48 hours so no work for me!

I tried driving last night when Robert and I went to Subway to grab some dinner. Yeah … I found out why I wasn’t supposed to be driving. The port is installed on my right side. Turning my head to look left or behind me … ouch!!! Nearly impossible at this point!

I’ll post picture of what it all looks like when I can take the bandages off tomorrow. I can’t wait for that!!! The tape is driving me crazy … maybe more than the incisions!!! 🙂

Months Later…

Surprises

If you had told me in October 2012 that I would still be here and feeling pretty darn good in August 2013, I would have thought you were very optimistic. Facts back up my pessimism. Less than 50% of all Stage 4 lung cancer patients live for one year after diagnosis. I realize I haven’t actually made it a year yet … I have to make it to the end of October for that … but God willing, that is going to happen.

Entertaining myself during Chemo

This picture was taken at UT Southwestern where I was receiving a test drug as part of the research study I am in. It marks the last time I will have an infusion through a vein in my arm (or hand, as the case may be). Tomorrow, I go in for a port. No food or water after midnight. Arrive at St Paul Hospital by 7. St. Paul is an hour away! We’ll be getting up and getting with it early!!

As you can tell by the picture, I don’t look particularly sick except for the tubes coming out of my arm. It is because I am NOT very sick. My blood tests continue to be nearly perfect. My organs are holding up beautifully. I haven’t lost weight (not necessarily a good thing in my mind but most people find that a positive). Despite receiving chemo for six treatments of a 3-chemical cocktail and six more of one chemical, I didn’t lose my hair. It did get really ugly though so I had just had it all cut off not too long before the picture above was taken.

What’s It Been Like?

Once you receive a cancer diagnosis, I don’t think it can ever be forgotten or even pushed very far back from the forefront of thoughts. The fact that I have stage 4 lung cancer – the deadliest of all cancers – with only 15% of all those diagnosed, including those diagnosed at an early stage – living for five years – controls nearly everything I do. For instance, vegetables are not my favorite dish but I try hard to eat dark green vegetables every chance I get (realizing, of course, that we eat out most every meal). When we eat at a buffet, I will frequently choose to eat fish. I drink vegetable and/or tomato juice by the gallons. I try to stay away from carbonated drinks and, despite craving on occasion a mixed drink, I have refrained from imbibing. All in the interest of a healthier lifestyle.

Likewise, you will find me walking my dogs every morning. They are such a blessing. If I didn’t have them, I know I would not make myself get up and out. Not only do we walk, we also go to agility practice most Saturday mornings – even now in the hot August Texas summer heat. Last week, between the two dogs, I ran 6 or 8 complete courses. I have to sit down between runs and catch my breath, but I can still run! Thank you, Jesus!!! I am blessed.

For the first few months, I refused to buy anything for myself. I didn’t want to spend any money on someone who was short for this earth. I finally broke down and purchased several pairs of slacks and lots of little summer tops (admittedly, the tops have all come from Walmart or Sam’s, but still!). I’ve signed up for magazines that have subscriptions that run for a year. I’ve signed up for dog trials and photography classes.

On the other hand, I have thoroughly enjoyed listening for hours to the Gaither Vocal Band. Some of their videos make you happy; make you want to clap and sing along with them. I looked into going to a concert of theirs. There is a 3-day event in Tennessee over Memorial Day 2014 that sounds like a ton of fun. Tickets would amount to several hundred dollars. I have chosen not to invest despite the fact that really good seats are still available.

I’d really love to have a new car, too. But, I don’t want to purchase something long term that Robert might be stuck paying for without me here to help.

So, short term, there are not huge changes in my life. I can’t go to as many agility practices or trials because of stamina, desire not to spend excessive amounts of money, and a growing lack of interest. But, I have developed new interests that take a little less stamina (maybe), such as photography. Why can’t I ever find a cheap hobby??!!

I have more to say, but it is getting late and I have to get moving early in the morning. I’ll try to revisit here a whole lot sooner than I have been so far!

 

Cousins’ Weekend

Cousins’ Weekend

When my cousin Jeanette learned I had lung cancer, she called right away and asked when she could come to visit. She and her husband Richard live in San Marcos. I had seen Jeanette about three years ago when she came to Dallas to attend our cousin Judy’s wedding to John Clark. On the other hand, I hadn’t seen Richard in 25 years or more.

I looked at my calendar and we decided the weekend of January 12-13 would be the best because it was the weekend before another chemo treatment. Once we settled on a time, I contacted Judy and her sister Kathy to see if they wanted to have a cousins’ reunion. We all enjoyed one another when we were younger, but time and distance issues have prevented us from getting together much as adults.

Kathy wasn’t able to join us, but Judy and John came over on Saturday and we all had the best time! We laughed and laughed the whole day and most of the night. It was wonderful therapy – great for the soul!!! John, Richard, and Robert were very compatible and the three cousins couldn’t have been happier to be together. We vowed we won’t wait so long to get together again. I pray we hold to our promise to one another!

Walking the Trail

Jeanette had two goals when they came to Dallas. She wanted Richard to get to experience the Goldmine Restaurant in Garland and she wanted to take a walk on the nature trail behind our home.

Since the Goldmine is our home away from home, the first goal was accomplished early on Saturday morning and again on Sunday morning! Mom was able to join us for our Sunday breakfast. She and Jeanette had a wonderful time talking about Baylor girl’s basketball, among other things. I am so fortunate and thankful that Mom, at 82, is healthy and her mind is still sharp.

While it was rainy and cold on Saturday, Sunday was bright and sunny. So, when we returned home from a very long breakfast at Goldmine, Jeanette and I changed into our tennis shoes and headed out on a walk. Cotton and Barney were so excited to be out on the trail – they haven’t gotten nearly as many walks as they are accustomed to getting since I have been sick.

The path behind the house is not particularly long. I think it is a total of 1.5 miles from end to end. If you walked the entire thing both directions, you’d walk 3 miles. Under normal circumstances, walking it both directions is something that I can do with no problem. Since I have been sick and not as active as normal, I am able to walk only about half of it before I wear out.

We and the dogs had a great time! It was an absolutely beautiful day – just a little chilly when the wind could come through the trees. The trail was mostly dry so we didn’t even end up with muddy feet or dogs!

When we passed one of my most favorite trees on the path, Jeanette suggested that we take some pictures with the dogs. I think they turned out really well:

What a wonderful time we had! The weekend was over before we realized it. Rich and Jeanette headed back toward San Marcos and I came in and crashed for a few hours on the couch. I hope we have the opportunity to get together many more times over the years and that all of us are healthy enough to truly enjoy the time like we did this time!

Agility Fun!

Friends and Fun

I signed up for seven runs at the Run as One NADAC agility trial on Sunday, January 6, 2013. My dogs and I both love agility. So much! But, I was a little concerned about whether or not I was going to have it in me to make the drive to Terrell, TX (about an hour away), set up crates for Cotton and Barney, and then manage to run them throughout the day.

When I signed up for the trial, I carefully considered which runs to include on my entry. If Barney had a title on the line, he got the run. If it was something Cotton loves to do (like tunnelers), she got a run. I made sure that both dogs never ran in the same class at the same level. It was really hard to narrow my entry down to only seven runs. Only seven runs. Considering that I often ran 12 or more at a NADAC trial, “only seven” is accurate. But, for someone undergoing chemo and suffering from lung cancer and emphysema, “only seven” sounds like a lot!

My husband Robert and I hoped to make it out to Terrell to set up the crates, etc. on Saturday afternoon. But, I was extraordinarily tired and needed to rest first. By the time I was rested, it was too late to go out there. I was afraid we would drive for an hour and find no one at the arena. We would have wasted a trip.

Robert is not the agility aficionado that I am, but he planned to go with me to the trial on Sunday to ensure that I had someone there with me in the event that I had bitten off far more than I could chew! Imagine his delight when my friend Dori texted me and offered to go along with me to the trial! It let him off the hook and I was glad to have someone going with me that loves agility as much as I do! I can’t tell you how much I appreciated her offer. She had to get up at about 4 AM to be at my house in time for us to drive to Terrell and arrive by 7. That’s a good friend!

Agility Trial

Run As One trials are delightful. They are relatively small and very friendly. I know nearly everyone who comes out to compete and consider many of the competitors good friends. I think almost everyone knew of my condition and were extraordinarily supportive.

Since Dori was sweet enough to give up her Sunday to go with me to the trial, I decided that she should be the person that primarily ran my little Barney. He is a fun dog to run in agility – he loves it and, while he is not the fastest dog out there, he is a very accurate competitor. Cotton has a blast on the agility field, but she is as likely to make up her own course as not. The likelihood of earning a qualifying score is pretty slim when running Cotton! I love to run her but would certainly hesitate to ask anyone else to have the same pleasure!

Dori ran Barney for four of his five runs. I wasn’t sure if he would run with her or not, but run he did! They earned three qualifying scores. One of those “Q’s” earned his Open Regular title – he has now earned the right to run in Elite Standard. When I started NADAC agility, I never really imagined that any dog of mine would make it to elite!

I ran Barney for his second Open Regular event. I was gratified to also earn a qualifying score because I was afraid that my chemo-wracked body would not be able to run fast enough to make time. I was surprised and pleased to learn that we actually came in 10 seconds or more under time. (Since I have never been fast, I was afraid that if chemo slowed me at all, we would be too slow to earn a Q.)

I ran Cotton in Tunnelers and Chances. Her Tunnelers run was actually quite nice after she settled down a bit. Her Chances run was not so nice, but she had a really good time!

We had so much fun! I wasn’t sure if I would be able to continue training and trialing after I was diagnosed with lung cancer. I am absolutely gratified that we were able to go and even to compete some.

We do miss a lot of classes because I come home from work too worn out to make it to class at night. And, because of the chemo schedule and being too sick to get off of the couch, much less go run in a trial, there is a relatively small window available to me to trial. But, it can happen and we can be competitive. The Run as One trial proved that to me.

It also proved to me that I have some very delightful friends! It goes without saying that Dori earned a special place in my heart for her willingness to come with us and help me all day long. My lifelong friend Patti drove all the way from Irving to Terrell to spend several hours with me out in the cold arena! She doesn’t even run a dog! Bridget came to the NADAC trial only after seeing how supportive they were of me. Other friends were at the trial primarily because I had signed up for that day. How special is that??? SO special!!!!!

Last Day of Christmas Break

Boo! Today is the last weekday of Christmas break. Back to the old grind comes on Monday. I’m not ready. Or am I?

These two weeks have flown by and I’ve accomplished nearly nothing. I’ve let myself be lazy – sleeping in until 8 or later; taking nice long naps. I tell myself I have no energy but is that a self-fulfilling prophecy or do I truly lack energy because of the chemo? I’m not sure!

Time to Play

Tomorrow I will test my energy levels a bit if the weather holds out. Cotton, Barney and I will go to agility class at the DAWG field. Getting out and playing agility with my dogs and my friends will probably be invigorating and I may find that I actually have a whole lot more energy than I have given myself credit for having this last week. I hope so anyway!

On Sunday, Barney, Cotton and I are truly going to test the limits of my stamina. We will be going to the Run as One agility trial in Terrell. I am so excited to be at a trial again that I dreamed about it last night! I woke up raring to go. Barney is going to have 5 runs and Cotton has 2 – I hope I can actually make all of those runs! We likely won’t make time, but I’m going to have fun anyway. I hope!

Snot and more Snot

I mentioned to Dr. Wilfong that I had had some issues with my sinuses after the last chemo treatment. I assumed it was because of the time of the year. But, instead, I learned that one of the drugs I am getting has the side effect of messing with your sinuses.

Well, let me tell you. My sinuses have been terrible – and I do mean terrible – since I had Chemo #2. I can’t blow my poor nose often enough. My ears are clogged. My brain is clogged. With snot. Lots and lots of snot. Can I just say? I HATE SNOT.

I do think it is finally getting a little better. I can go a few hours without having to blow out my innards. I can sleep at night in the bed instead of sitting up. So, after more than a week, there is an improvement. Yes!

Catching Up

Surprise!

So … I am one of those people who do not go to the doctor. Ever. It just isn’t something I’m willing to do. For any reason.

But, one fateful day in October 2012, I decided it was time to go for a physical. Why? Because I kept getting bigger and bigger and I was just certain that I had thyroid issues. I am very active – I have two wonderful dogs (you’ll hear lots more about them!) that I do agility with. I was in class three nights a week and most weekends would find me at agility trials where I not only ran my dogs, but also worked in the rings throughout the day. Nevertheless, my stomach grew and grew and grew and I finally was fed up with it. So, I found a doctor that took my insurance and waited for a new patient appointment to become available.

I chose my doctor based on her name — Dr. Donna Casey — because she (1) had a good ranking with Blue Cross-Blue Shield, (2) took my ChampVA insurance, and (3) shared the same name as a friend with whom I worked.  Best decision I have made in a long, long time was making an appointment with Dr. Casey.

When I arrived at her office at the end of October, she asked some questions and then did an exam. I nearly forgot to mention a knot I had found on my collarbone … but she had discovered it already anyway. Since I was a former smoker, she had already asked me if I wanted to have lung x-rays. Since I had quit 4-5 years previously, I thought it might be a good idea to see how much damage I had done over the years. After she discovered several knots around my collarbone, she suggested a CT scan might be in order. Her office made an appointment for me to have the scans that same day.

The scans were not clear like I expected them to be. When Dr. Casey called, she said they showed that I have emphysema, which for some reason really didn’t bother me much, and that there was some other activity that we needed to look at further. Believe it or not, I was far more concerned with what my thyroid test said – I was still far more concerned about the weight gain than errant cell activity. That changed some when the doctor started talking about having biopsies or a PET scan. I had no earthly idea what a PET scan was, but a little research revealed that a positron emission tomography is a test that is primarily used to diagnose (1) heart disease, (2) dementia, (3) epilepsy, or (4) cancer.

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that Dr. Casey was worried that I had some form of cancer. If you can hope for a kind of cancer, I hoped it would be some sort of lymphoma. What I absolutely didn’t want it to be was lung cancer – especially since my dad died from lung cancer at only 49 years of age back in the mid-70’s. But, we don’t always get what we want.

After the PET scan was done and interpreted, Dr. Casey called with the the bad news. I had lung cancer. She had already made me an appointment with an oncologist for the next day.

It was Dr. Lalan Wilfong at Texas Oncology who got to tell me and my husband Robert that I had stage 4 lung cancer. There was a spot in the left lung, a great deal of involvement of lymph nodes in the lungs, and tumors in the lymph nodes at my collarbone on the right side. It is inoperable. And, there is too much involvement for radiation. Our only option: chemotherapy.

Chemo #1
Things moved quickly once the cancer was diagnosed. It is a fast-moving cancer so the quicker chemo could begin, the quicker we could try to halt its progress. The average lifespan for people with this lung cancer is only 1-1/2 years. I’m only 59 years old and I have a lot of living I still plan to do so I surely do hope to beat those terrible odds.

I pranced into chemo for the first time – ready to go! Let’s get “lit up” and start fighting back against this insidious, but oh-so-silent, disease. It took most of the day by the time we visited with the doctor, got insurance straight, and got the actual chemo. (It may mean something to some people to know which drugs I am getting: carboplatin, pemetrexed, and avastin. The chemo nurse told me they were the latest, the best, and very expensive. I have no idea!) We did a short video of me getting ready to start the chemo. I was going to do a documentary. Maybe I still can via this blog.




My 82-year-old mom and my husband Robert accompanied me to my treatment. Mom sat through the whole thing. Robert doesn’t sit well so he comes and goes throughout the experience. The infusion room was an interesting place – there were all ages of people sitting in the chairs getting chemo. Some people had hair; some didn’t. Some used ports and others, like me, got their treatments intravenously. Surprisingly, the vast majority of people receiving chemo were women. What’s up with that?

It was fairly unremarkable to receive chemo. I didn’t feel good or bad during the infusion. I felt just fine when it was over. There is really no need for me to have accompaniment – other than it makes those who sit with you feel better that you’re not alone. I’m such a loner that it honestly wouldn’t bother me to sit there and play on my tablet or phone or just rest, but that’s not how it is going to be.

Pregnant?

Not really, but you would think so based on my appetite since I have started chemo. I don’t want soup or bland foods. Oh no!! I want Mexican food or chicken fried steak or roast beef and mashed potatoes. And, whatever it is that my mind gleans on that day, I nearly obsess over it! My poor husband has been such a trouper as we go from one thing to the next, satisfying my latest cravings. Yeah, I’m not losing much weight as I undergo chemo. That belly is still at least as large as it was before. That makes me sad.

Well, the day of chemo and the first day thereafter, I felt just fine. I popped up out of bed on the day after, walked my dogs like I always do and got ready and went to work. I was full of pep and energy until around noon. At that time, fatigue set in. I left the office a little early and came home. I had really hoped to go to agility practice that night, but I was way too tired for that.

I missed the next couple of days at work (Thursday and Friday). I was in bed the entire time. No eating. No drinking. Just sleeping. With my Sheltie, my Barney boy, cuddled right up beside me the entire time. I loved having him lay right up against my body. It was like I could nearly feel the heat of his body pulling cancer out of me. Of course, there’s me… Worrying that if his body is pulling the cancer out of me, I sure hope it is not pulling it INTO him! That would never do.

Try as I might, I just couldn’t get to agility practice that first week after chemo. I had the desire, but I sure did not have the get-up-and-go needed. But, when I got up on Saturday morning, I was determined to go to class. I did not feel good enough to go, but I got dressed and off we went. Robert went too, in case I couldn’t drive home.

It took everything I had to run those courses that day, but Barney and Cotton each got a couple of runs around the agility field. It was as exhilarating as it was exhausting. If you haven’t had chemo, there is no way to understand the fatigue that sets in. I could literally barely drag myself and Cotton and Barney to the car after I threw in the towel on practice.

Robert drove us home. We nearly made it home before I got sick, but he had to pull over and let me throw up. We got home and I had diarrhea. But, after that, I felt good again.

The next couple of weeks went fine. Unless I overdid it at work. Which I was sometimes prone to do. One Friday I so overworked my tired body that I was nearly dead in my tracks. Robert and I went to eat in Rockwall and I could barely make myself eat. Still, I drove home. And fell asleep while waiting on a turn arrow. Thank goodness Robert was in the car with me and could wake me up! I was really only dozing, but it wouldn’t have taken much for me to go into a full-fledged sleep right there in the turn lane! That’s tired!

Since it was December, a lot of our agility classes were canceled due to the holidays. We managed to make a couple of Saturday DAWG classes and one Thursday class at Dallas Dog Sports. The dogs and I had a blast at all of the classes – I do love agility! And so do they! It is great exercise and such a fun way to play with my beloved dogs. And, the people – you just won’t meet finer.

My attitude has remained positive. I am not really afraid. I usually don’t feel like it isn’t fair that I have cancer. (Who smoked? Me! Not that I think I deserve to be sick, but I guess my attitude is more like, “Why not me?”) Sometimes when everyone starts talking about their trial results and I have been too ill or tired to go, I am sad that I didn’t get to go play with my dogs and friends, too. The competitive side of me hates to see us fall behind in earning those qualifying scores and titles. But really? If that’s all life is, I think I may need to be re-examining my values a bit.

Some Surprises

Being diagnosed with cancer brings some interesting insights into who your friends are. People who you thought were your good friends and that you would have done (and did) a lot for are not necessarily those that are there for you. And, then there are those that you liked but didn’t consider close friends who are more than there for you – who are willing to do anything and everything for you. Sort of makes you pause and say a little prayer of gratitude – for the insight and for the wonderful, wonderful friends who are there for you not just when you can do for them, but when you can’t. Those who remember you even if you are not physically where they are. Those who understand that it is hard NOT to be able to do the same things as they enjoy when you, too, enjoy it so much. Yep, I’m getting a bit maudlin so I believe we will move on from here!!! Wallowing in self-pity is ugly, no matter who is doing it. I have no patience for it – from myself or anyone else.

I have actually worked at maintaining a bright and cheerful attitude and I don’t dwell on being sick or require (or ask) that anyone else feels sorry for me. What I want to is to still be able to laugh and have a great time and for no one to feel uncomfortable around me because I have cancer and I may be dying.

Truthfully, we’re all dying with every breath we take. Some of us may have fewer breaths to take. If that’s me – well, I want the breaths I have to count!!!! I want to have fun and enjoy what life has to offer. Otherwise, why bother to go on living?

On the other hand, I do expect that people show a little respect for my weakened condition. The chemo makes me very susceptible to disease. If you are sick, please do not knowingly share my breathing space. You feel bad when you are fighting an infection or the flu; I could end up in the hospital or worse if I catch it. If you know you are going to be somewhere that I was planning to go, just let me know you are not feeling well, but are going to be wherever. I can and will stay home so that you can keep your plans.

Off of that soapbox and back to my surprising friends. Some of my friends have just been remarkable and deserve special recognition. It is scary to start recognizing people because inevitably, I will leave someone out and the very last thing I would ever want to do is hurt anyone’s feelings. Because I appreciate the friends who have offered to do things and been rebuffed by me and the friends who post little “I’m thinking about you” or “You are in my prayers” comments on Facebook. Those reminders that people care mean all of the world to me. So, so special.

Sally from work just can’t do enough. She brings us food, food, food and so much love and concern. Sally and another friend from work, Cindy, are my chemo angels. They bought me a wonderful bag, pjs that I wear every night, socks, lotions, lip creams, the list goes on and on and on.

My friend Ann too has been there for me. Getting up early to walk with me so I don’t have to walk by myself, bringing me good food to eat, willing to do anything and everything.

Charlene brought me a warm, cozy jacket, socks, a blanket – so many things – even goodies for the dogs – wow! Just so much thoughtfulness. I often wonder if I would be so generous and thoughtful if it was them instead of me. It causes me to really think and reflect on that because I now know personally just how much small gestures mean – even a relatively simple “how are you doing” post on Facebook.

Get Well from Run As One Agility

Last but far from least – I just have to recognize Ed and Run as One Agility. I was signed up to do an agility trial but had to cancel because I was just not in good enough shape to go after chemo. Ed took a picture of me and my dogs and had everyone at the trial sign it. Framed it and brought it all the way over to me. It hangs in an honored spot in my house. I hadn’t cried much over my diagnosis (then or since), but I certainly did cry when I opened the package. Wow. I’ll have to get a picture of it posted here.

 

And, then there are my agility friends who will be with me on Sunday, Jan 6, at the Run as One trial. Some of them signed up for the first time ever for a NADAC trial so that they could be there to support Run as One since they supported me and to be there with me. What can you say??? What can I say? It is overwhelming and so very special.

Chemo #2

The three weeks between chemo treatments dragged in some ways but sped by in others. In some ways, you want to keep those chemicals flowing in your body. The cancer is pretty rampant in my body and if the chemo can stop it in its tracks, then lets keep the chemicals there!!! On the other hand, it is just about the time that you start feeling pretty good for a good portion of the day that the time to “get lit up” returns.

I’d been told that every successive treatment is worse – the impact is cumulative. That makes sense. Each treatment takes you down more and more. Knowing how I felt during the worst times after Chemo #1 surely does not make me look forward to experiencing that again, but on a grander scale. I was upbeat, but not quite so bouncy when I returned to Texas Oncology on December 27 for my second treatment.

I had blood tests and a brief visit with Dr. Wilfong before going back to the infusion room. My blood tests came back great. It is so ironic that I am so extremely healthy except that I have this terrible disease that wants to kill me off sooner rather than later. My blood pressure is fine. My blood sugars are great. The only pills I take are folic acid (for some reason it is needed due to the chemo) and Vitamin D3 pills. I give myself a monthly B-12 shot. My first-ever mammogram came back completely clear; the first pap test in over 10 years was clear … I am very nearly the picture of health.

I had been monitoring the tumors on my neck and felt like they were smaller. Yeah, so small that I could no longer feel them! But, sometimes hope can play tricks on you so I wasn’t counting on the accuracy of my self-exams.

Great news! Dr. Wilfong couldn’t feel those tumors either! In fact, the first chemo treatment shrank them to the point that they cannot be felt. Maybe they are gone altogether. I sure do hope so! Even more, I hope that those masses of tumors in the lymph nodes in my lungs have responded in kind. Now THAT would be the absolute best news I have had in a long, long time.

So, knowing that the chemotherapy is working, I returned to the infusion room with Mom and Robert and lots of other women (and only a few men again). I had a great chemo nurse this time – I wasn’t fond of the first one. Neither of them have been all that forthcoming, but at least this one was friendlier and she definitely knew how to get an IV going without hurting you.

My chemo nurse commented on how soft my skin is. I have extremely dry skin and use lots of lotion. If you want some of the best skin cream around, you can make it yourself for a very low price. It works! Go to the local Family Dollar store and buy their brand of baby lotion, Vitamin E cream, and petroleum jelly. Mix it all together and slather it on after showers or whenever. Despite having the petroleum jelly in it, it is not greasy. (Here’s the recipe.)

After the chemo treatment was complete, Mom, Robert and I went to eat at El Fenix and then Robert and I came on home. As with the first treatment, I felt fine the remainder of the day and was okay on the next day as well. Even on the third day I managed to vacuum all of the downstairs and do a little bit of dusting (not nearly enough). I didn’t deep clean by any stretch of the imagination, but the fact that I could clean at all was remarkable to me (especially when you consider how much I hate to clean house).

But, the end arrived for feeling fine. The next couple of days were terrible.

Barney, the great comforter

I was so nauseated. The nausea pills didn’t work at all so I quit taking them. I didn’t want to eat or drink. I could drink ginger ale but nothing else. And it wouldn’t necessarily stay down. I stayed on the loveseat with my precious Barney right with me – usually on top of me.

 

I felt dehydrated but the thought of drinking anything made me queasy. I could eat on occasion… One friend posted on Facebook how she was going to have tomato soup and grilled cheese – comfort food – that’s what I fixed for myself too. Doesn’t necessarily sound like food for a queasy stomach, but it tasted good!

I kept a pot right beside me so that I didn’t have to try to make it to the bathroom or kitchen. I hate being sick. H-A-T-E it! I start wondering if this is really worth it. Being this sick is just no fun at all.

And then one day, not so many days later, you wake up and you’re back among the living! It feels so good to feel good again!!! You’re so glad that you feel good again that your first inclination is to overdo it. Which sets you back ever so slightly. It has been great having chemo during Christmas vacation – I haven’t had to worry about calling in sick or anything. On the other hand, I hate that my entire Christmas vacation has been nearly “wasted” with trying to feel better. Sometimes, I guess you just can’t make me happy!!! 🙂 I know I am dreading the holidays drawing to an end. But that is not something new. Even when I wasn’t sick, I dreaded giving up my free time and returning to work.

So, here it is, Thursday – one week since I had my last treatment. I feel pretty good, though I did take a long nap today and haven’t exerted myself much (at all). I was wishing we had agility class tonight but I don’t think we do. I sure do plan to be at class on Saturday. And, on Sunday, Cotton and Barney and I get to go to Terrell to play agility at the Run as One NADAC trial. I am so excited!! I signed up for 7 runs and I sincerely doubt that I’ll be up to that many runs. I imagine that I’ll be too slow to make time – NADAC times are very fast – but I bet I have a blast. It has been over a month since I have been to a trial. I hope I can do it!

This catches us up. I’m going to try to keep this updated on a fairly regular basis. Even if no one reads it, it will be a great journal for me! I’ll try to make it more interesting with more pictures and stuff when I start updating it regularly.