Tuesday, July 29, 2008

In Good Times and Bad

Tomorrow I go in for chemo round 2. I am not looking forward to it, but again am prepared as possible. I have spoken to my oncologist, a dietician and have an appointment for acupuncture to try to prevent some of the pain. I have written down all of the drugs that I need to take and bought some of the foods that have been recommended to me. I don't know what else I can do.
The most important thing that I have though is support. My family is ready too. They are prepared to play the next week and a half by ear and let me feel bad or good or whatever happens. They are a gift and I love them.

I am including pictures here from head shaving day because I think they tell the story of the support that I have from my family. When I am feeling miserable and nothing that anyone says can make me feel better, I will remember these pictures and know that they are with me no matter what. And I will remember that in the midst of a time that has been very difficult, nothing can change the fact that I am blessed and that they are the reason why I will do whatever I have to do.

In the beginning....
Emotional for all....
Strong Girls.....
Tough Day.......
Family Acceptance.....

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Kindness of Strangers

Larry ran in the Torchlight Run on Saturday. The girls and I went to cheer him on and to watch the parade. We haven't been to this parade for a couple of years and I had forgotten how many people come out to participate and watch this great Seattle event. We were proud of Larry and the girls were excited to be able to cheer for him as he ran by.

Because Larry was a runner, the girls and I ended up sitting by ourselves amongst the crowd for a couple of hours. We had chairs, food blankets etc to get us through the evening. We found a nice open corner and camped out for the duration.

This was really my first time in a very public place since I have shaved my head. I wear scarves every day when I am out and about and go bare headed when I am at home so sometimes forget that I am bald.

I was shocked and surprised therefore when I was approached by several people. First, in our little corner on the street we were quickly joined by other people. A very nice woman sat next to me with her husband and two teenage daughters. She asked me if I enjoyed being bald in the summer. When I told her I had only been bald for a week, she told me that she was bald 4 years ago when she was going through treatment for breast cancer. She was very gracious and friendly and asked me several questions about my doctors, treatment etc. Her girls were slightly older than mine when she was diagnosed, but it was still helpful to talk to someone who has gone through what I am going through with daughters involved. The best part though was just talking to her about the parade, the weather etc. She was the reminder that I needed that breast cancer patients survive and thrive with very normal, happy lives.

At the beginning of the parade, there were 3 people walking through the crowds taking donations for the Susan G. Komen 3 Day Walk. They walked past me and just like normal, they looked and looked again. The difference though is that one of them, a man, turned around and came back. He handed me a pink Strength bracelet, smiled, waved and walked away.

As the parade progressed, we started to get crowded in. I soon found a young mom standing over my shoulder with her two young children, trying to see through the crowd. She eventually put her hand on my shoulder and asked if she could intrude by asking about my bald head. When I told her it was breast cancer, she teared up immediately. She said that her younger sister was diagnosed with Non Hodgkins Lymphoma almost 5 years ago and was now 28 and doing great. She talked to me about the horror and pain their family went through watching her sister go through treatment and fight her own battle. She told me that she would keep me in her prayers and was confident that I would beat my cancer, just like her sister has. She kissed me on the cheek and squeezed my shoulders and wiped away tears.

I have been very blessed to be the recipient of the kindness of my family and friends, but this is the first time since my diagnosis that I have been witness to the true kindness of strangers.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Yesterday I went back to work. I wore a pretty scarf that I bought and with just a few nerves, rode the bus and walked into my office. As it happens, I work on a floor that doesn't have a lot of people on it, so this wasn't nearly as hard as it could have been. I found that the people who know me acknowledged the loss of my hair and then moved on just like everything was back to normal. I felt normal too. Just like my normal self on the inside-just slightly different on the outside.

Strangers though do not see me as normal. It is interesting to observe the behaviors of people who do not know me but see me in a public place. Almost everyone looks, looks again and then quickly looks away. I can think of a few reasons why this might be so. First thought-a bald woman. Second thought-a woman with cancer. Third thought-don't stare, it's impolite. Or, Third thought-don't stare, poor girl. Or Third thought-don't stare, Thank God it's not me. Or Third thought-don't stare, she's not normal. Or Third thought-don't stare, I could "catch" it. Whatever their thoughts, they don't see me as normal, I can see it in their eyes, just before they look away.

Here is normal for me these days. I get up, feeling pretty good, take a walk in the morning and then a quick shower (and I do mean quick now!) I do some laundry, pay some bills, put away some clothes and eat breakfast. I worry about my kids and what their plans are for the day, kiss my husband goodbye, fight traffic to the bus stop, get on the bus with all the other commuters and go to work. All very normal. Oh, I also happen to be bald. Oh, and diagnosed with breast cancer.

Normal for me is that cancer is a part of my life. In some ways a very large part, but in some ways a very small part. It is not the only thing in my life. It is just one of the many varied parts, just like someone else might have a mole on their leg or an accent or arthritis. It isn't me, but it is part of me.

Who wants to be normal anyway? I'm better than normal. I am turning into a survivor.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Head Shaving Day

I knew that chemo was going to take my hair from me and decided to shave it off before it started falling out. I made an appointment and invited friends to come with me so I wouldn't back out. I had a plan of how to do it and thought that I could make it through without any trauma.

Things are never easy with cancer and this was no different. I spent all day trying to come up with something that I could put in my head that would make it ok for me to shave a perfectly healthy head of hair, some mantra or inspiration. I found nothing that brought me comfort or peace. Michael, the person who was going to be shaving my head had told me that this would be difficult for him as his father also has cancer. In the end, I decided the only thing that was going to get me through was that if Michael could have the strength to shave it for me, I must have the strength to have it done. We were in it together.

He is the right person for me to have chosen for this job. He handled the whole thing with grace and compassion and strength. He allowed me to handle it in a calmer way. He sat me down, my family and friends around me and calmly told me what he was going to do. My husband and my children put their hands in mine, Michael tipped my head forward, asked me if I was ready and began.

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and cried as he shaved my hair for me. I was aware of only a couple of things throughout the entire process. I was aware of my family's hands in mine. I was aware of the noise of the clippers and Michael's hand on my head and tears falling down and landing on my hand. It was a much longer process than I had anticipated. Finally, he moved my head backward, shaved off the last of my hair and turned off the clippers. I opened my eyes and cried.

But in that instant, a funny thing happened. I opened my eyes and expected to see a stranger but I didn't. I saw me. It was me looking back from the mirror. I started to relax.

There was a couple of small snafu's with my wig. Michael explained that when it was thinned out, too much was taken out. We also found when he put it on my head without hair, it was way too big for my head. He blow dried and styled my hair but opted not to cut it since it appears I need to take it back and resolve the problems with it.

Though the wig looked beautiful, I realized the longer I had it on, the more I didn't feel like myself. When he was done styling, I removed the wig and put it back in the box. I was more comfortable with my bald head. I took a breath, let my friends and family rub my head and accepted it as it is-beautiful.

I thanked Michael and all of the fabulous friends and family who were kind enough to accompany me on this part of my journey and walked out the door-very bald but comfortable in my skin and ok. Not just ok, but really, truly OK.

I hope you like our new family portrait.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Yesterday I felt like just a shell and today I turned back into a real person! Today was the first time that I got out of bed willingly without having to judge if I had the energy to make it into the next room. I took a shower and didn't have to lay down afterwards. I ate 3 full meals today. These are my new measurements for a good day.

I had two appointments today. The first one was to have my white blood cell counts checked. I was concerned because yesterday I had two unexplained nosebleeds. I am happy to report that my counts came back spectacular. My doctor was very pleased and said that I must have good bone marrow :). I'm not sure what that means, but I was happy that something in my body was finally working correctly as it seems that it had turned on me over the last week.

The second appointment was to pick up my wig. This is the human hair wig that I bought with the very generous donations from my very generous friends and family. I am really happy with it. The texture is good, the cap is great, the color is close to perfect and I am having it styled by the same person who provided me with the cut I have now. I have asked him to give it a slightly edgier style than I have currently. He is the person who will be shaving my head on Saturday so I am excited to see the finished product.

I came home and picked up my kids, visited with my sister, saw my beautiful nieces and had a very normal evening without having to lay down to make it through. I am transformed, not into a butterfly, but just into me-regular, normal me. Thank God.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Day 8 after my first chemo treatment. Still feeling like a wet noodle and can't be upright for more than a few minutes at a time but at least feel like there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I thought I had an idea of what chemo would be like but I was wrong.

I really thought I was a strong person and I thought that I could power through anything that I put my mind to, but now I know that strength really has nothing to do with it. It is an oversimplification to say that you can just decide you are going to beat cancer. It is hard-really hard. Harder than anything I have ever done and harder than anything that I ever plan to do again. I have to redefine my definition of strength because the one that I had is not enough.

I am grateful for my husband and children who have taken care of me non-stop. I haven't been able to do more than get up and go to the bathroom so they have been everything to me. I can't imagine going through this alone and my thoughts go out to those that have to do so. I am also grateful that every day I get a phone call, email or card from someone or a comment on my breast cancer blog. Even if I am not in a position to respond, please know that your love, thoughts and prayers mean a lot to me and help me get through the bad days.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Chemo sucks!

The thing with chemo is that it just messes with me enough to make everything difficult. I am not queasy exactly, but kind of shaky, like I am hungry all the time. I am also achy, like I have the flu. Just enough that advil doesn't quite handle it, but not quite enough to go for anything stronger. I am willing to eat, but unfortunately everything tastes like rubber or cardboard. I am trying hard to be strong, but have spent most of the last two days on the couch, achy, shaky and weepy. I don't know if that is part of the chemo or just part of the whole experience catching up with me, but I seem to be crying a lot.

I hate cancer.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Chemo Day 2

So far not so bad. I woke up a little shaky this morning but other than that, no real problems. The girls and I ran errands, took Darci into the doctor to see if her toe was broken, got some shots for Cailey and just hung out.

I know that the next few days could be worse, but that's OK. I will take advantage of the days that I feel good and be happy that I can spend them with my family. I will go in next Thursday to have my white blood cell counts checked. Besides having side effects that can be just plain annoying, this is actually the most dangerous one. My counts should go down significantly between day 7 and 10. I will be using lots of Purell and will be asking anyone who comes to see me or wants to hug me to do the same. I will also ask that if you have a sniffle or sore throat or anything else that you wait a few days to come and see me.

Thank you for all the phone calls and messages. I'm going to make it...I know it.

Now I can say that I a 25% done with chemo. You gotta like some accomplishment!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Chemo Day 1

Today was my first day of chemo. Just like everyone told me the worst part of it is that it is a long day with lots of waiting. We were there from 10:00am to 4:20pm. It makes for a very long day.

I am happy to report that I had no problems at all. There were no problems accessing my port and I did not have any type of reactions to any of the drugs. The only significant event was that they gave me benadryl in case I were to have an allergic reaction and it made me very sleepy. I stayed awake most of the time except for about the last half an hour. My nurse was someone I know from Darci's soccer team and she was fabulous. It was really nice to have someone familiar there with me.

My husband and two friends came with me. They were fabulous and brought me lots of goodies and kept me entertained the whole time so that I didn't have to concentrate on what was going in my body. My friend Kristina also dropped by to visit which is pretty significant given the last time she was there, she was going through her own treatment. She is a very brave and thoughtful girl and I am glad to have her in my corner.

I came home and ate dinner like normal and even went for a walk around the neighborhood. So far so good. I have loads of drugs to take to keep ahead of any potential nausea, constipation, acid reflux problems or pain. I generally take a multi-vitamin and a calcium supplement so taking 6 or 10 pills twice a day is very new to me.

I am off work for the next week and a half to see what happens. I am told to expect achiness and fatigue to set in by the weekend, so it is likely I will not be as comfortable as I am today, but I will get through it all. I plan to spend the next two days with my beautiful girls doing something fun if I feel up to it and if not, they are prepared to lay in bed with me and watch movies.

I am surprised and touched that so many people called or emailed today. With all of your busy lives, I am stunned that you would all keep my dates straight as well. Thank you for that. It really does make a difference in my attitude when I hear from people. It is a little pick me up everytime I get a phone call, email or card. I now have 3 weeks off and my next treatment will be July 30. I am hoping that it is a very uneventful 3 weeks!

Much love to all.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Chemo Eve

This week has been a roller coaster of emotions. I spent the weekend thinking about recurrences and couldn't stop thinking about it. I also felt a bit isolated. Not because I don't have people who care about me, but because as much support as I have, I am still the one that actually has cancer. The consequences are much different. If all that I am going through doesn't work, I lose my life. The sun doesn't come up the next day for me like it would for everyone else.

On the other hand, my emotions can turn on a dime. I had several good things happen yesterday and today that made my attitude complete turn around. My friend Michelle came by with some more donations to the wig fund. It isn't the money that turned my attitude around, it is the very real evidence that people I care about really are with me in a tangible way. They have some skin in the game now-just like I do.

I also had the chance to meet with someone who works at WaMu who is fundraising for the Susan G. Komen 3 day in a big way. Her team has a fundraising goal of 500,000 dollars. She has never had cancer so this isn't something she does for her personal gain. She does it because she wants breast cancer to go away. Not only is she willing to support me in a personal way, she is making a difference. It was very uplifting to realize that not only are breast cancer patients and survivors involved in the fight against breast cancer but many people who realize that someday they may be affected, or someone they love will be. They want it gone as much as I do.

The other thing that happened is I started taking steroids in preparation for chemo. I thought this would be a negative thing for me to do, but actually it was positive. I am taking action. I am doing my part to fight this cancer and not just waiting around for something to happen.

Larry and I had a long, long discussion with the girls tonight about chemo and what that means. They were very positive and understanding and said the right things. Then they went to bed. Somehow once they were in a safe place, the tears came for both of them. They are scared. They can't even articulate really why they are scared. The best they could come up with is what if the chemo doesn't work? What if I don't make it?

So I had to tell them all the reasons why I believe it will work. Because breast cancer is the most common type of cancer, the most researched and well funded. Because the survival rate for breast cancer is higher than almost any other cancer. Because I am going to one of the best hospitals in the country. Because I have early stage cancer that is by far the most common type of breast cancer. Because I am doing whatever I possibly can to fight this cancer no matter how unpleasant. Because I plan to see my children's grandchildren. Because I plan to fight like hell to make sure that I don't give my body the chance to have a recurrence. Because I refuse to let cancer be the thing that takes me down.

I realized that I wasn't telling my kids these things because it would make them feel better. I told them because I believe it. Bring on the chemo-I can do it.