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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Comes Early To The Smith House

It is the greatest gift I have ever received.

We have been sitting by the phone waiting for news from the Kelowna Oncologist on when my imminent #3 chemo treatment will be. I am stressed to the max because timing is everything at the moment. It has to be soon because they can't let the chemo wain too much since the last dosage and it is now going on an extra week due to the shortness of breath problem I experienced. I also have a radiation appointment January 19th and changing the chemo date might change that date, which would mean having to get a hold of a lot of people to change plans already set in motion. But all of that pales in comparison to the dread and worry of having the kids arriving for Christmas tomorrow and Mom still having to get in that chemo chair. If I take the chemo on Tuesday or Wednesday, I will be sick December 23, 24 and 25th. If I can hold off until Friday the 24th, I will only be sick and tired on December 26 to the 28th of their visit, but I am into another week without chemo in my system.

Then the call comes and it is the furthest thing from what we expect. It doesn't come with wrapping or a bow, but it is a Christmas gift unlike any other I have ever received. It seems they think I have had enough? Because it was debatable how much chemo I even needed in the first place with such a micrometastasis, the oncologists figure I have wreaked enough damage on my body and anything further would be detrimental. I get out of jail free and am to proceed directly to radiation in January. Have a nice Christmas!

We are floored. At first scared, but then reassured by the local doctor and nurses. It's true. I have had more chemo than many for the same amount of cancer. I should be okay. I will be on anti-cancer drugs as soon as the radiation is completed.

No sitting in the chair with an IV of chemical waste being pumped into me a day or two before Christmas. No feeling like I've been run down by Santa and all 12 reindeer. No mouth sores, numbness or metallic turkey taste. No heartburn and aches and night sweats and terrors. I am done with stage 2 out of 4 of this horror story. Now all I have to do is concentrate on my family, Christmas and getting better. I think I can handle that!

We are speechless for about thirty minutes but then the realization and joy start to spread. We are going to have a great Christmas! Let's get this party started!

I have never felt so blessed, so entirely spoiled rotten in my entire life. Who else in the world gets a pass on chemo at Christmas? This beats the hair growth I originally asked for from Santa!

I only hope that when YOU need a break at some crucial moment in your life that you receive a gift as amazing as the one we got today.

Merry Christmas 2010 everyone. And here's to many happy returns!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

It's a sunny Saturday...strange not to be on the ski hill now that the chair has opened and there's more snow to push around. I managed to be "one lucky girl" according to the Smithers hospital x-ray unit and get squeezed in for the echo cardiogram yesterday. The tech, Val and I are now on first name terms and spend some of our time laughing and catching up. She was so surprised to see me back in her hands after being the one helping to monitor the left breast lump these past two years. "And they found cancer in the right one?" I assured her it was so small that it took an MRI to detect it, but still, the news hung in the air like a bad smell. She hadn't been the one to find it. Had she missed something?
The good news is that my heart, like my lungs, has passed all the tests. There has been no damage done to any vitals. No infections settled in and so I get the green light for more chemo. We are waiting to hear from the Kelowna oncologist on what they will be giving me next. All the tests seem to point to the conclusion it was the Docetaxel that caused the shortness of breath. I'll either get a smaller dose or get switched to something less harmful on my system. Ha! Drano Light!
Today I went for a 30 minute walk- that was enough and notice I am no longer wheezing from walking up the stairs. I am breathing hard, but not sounding like an Olympic finish line. I see some light at the end of this tunnel- enough to think maybe some swimming on Monday? Ever, ever hopeful.
I opened a Christmas gift this morning from the in-laws. A small rebounder mini-trampoline to help with the lymph node drainage. It has been building pressure under my arm since the swimming stopped a week ago. Ten minutes of light bouncing supposedly drains the area and I don't have to do the manual stroking which tires my good arm out. B's Mom,Kathy, after an arduous search, found the mini-trampoline at Canadian Tire. I have to use it in the freezer room as every other room has a ceiling too low for bouncing a 5'7" woman around. Ha. Kerchief's are flying.
I feel bad that the timing for the chemo is what it will be. It's rotten the kids will be seeing me at my worst. There's only so much fake smiling one can do on this stuff. Maybe if I can convince the cancer unit to wait and give me the chemo on December 24th, nine days late, I will be good enough for our annual seafood fondue on the 24th, for opening gifts Christmas morning and for the turkey dinner. I usually get very sick, tired and suffer the worst on Days 3-5. Dec. 26-30. Hmmm. This is sounding better all the time.
Oh Santa, I have another wish. Santa? Hey, don't run away from me! Santa, wait up, we have to talk!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Chemo Postponed-Echo Cardiogram on Friday

December 15, 2010. I was supposed to have Chemo #3 today but spent the morning getting another blood test and an ECG, electro cardigram over the shortness of breath I have been experiencing when I move too fast or exert myself. Monday I raced to Terrace amidst a snow storm for a CT scan which came back showing clear lungs. Yeah!
Now, we're trying to rule out any heart damage and I am still in need of an echo cardiogram with an ultrasound and a radiologist to oversee the test results. I normally would have to travel to P.G. or Terrace for this but the stars have once again aligned and a radiologist will be coming to Smithers this Friday and although way overbooked due to the Holidays, he has agreed to come in extra early and do this for us. I am already getting the recipe books out to bake something extra special for him and all the X-Ray staff. I'm thinking white chocolate cranberry muffins with some fresh oranges and bananas in a basket.
I was also given an inhaler with a steroid in it today to try and get rid of the problem. Hopefully I am declared fit to get back to the chemo at the latest Monday or Tuesday of next week. The sad news is that this will delay how good I was hoping to be by the time the kids arrive on December 22nd and 23rd. They're going to get me right through the worst days when I am at my all time lowest, which will happen on Christmas Day. Pooh and double pooh. But, I still consider myself lucky. Funny, that word has a whole new meaning these days. I was told once the chemo process starts, they don't want it to go too many days in between next treatments as the impact wanes, so short of having to switch protocols, which we don't want to do, this is the New Plan.
So that's the latest. I am feeling okay, just not able to run or swim and my big exercise for the day is lifting the fork to my mouth. In a house loaded with Christmas treats. Oh my.
Oh well, I am sure the flurry of wrapping paper in the air will get me feeling better in no time on Christmas Day. And I just know my gang will do a fine job cooking the bird. I think I should be able to run the camera throughout the entire episode. I'll keep you posted!

Once we rule out any of the or

Velcro Head

I'm having another typical steroid induced bout of insomnia. I took the pre-chemo anti-nauseate last night just in case something gets better overnight and I am declared miraculously healthy enough to withstand the chemo by 9:30 in the morning. We can proceed like none of the wheezing and shortness of breath ever happened. I know, its another rug-pulling reflection totally unbacked by anyone but myself, but if you can't believe in a few miracles now and again. I mean, hey, it's Christmas! It's not like I'm asking for two front teeth or anything hard like that.
And while lying in bed wide awake I started thinking a bald head deserved its own blog. I need to tell everyone about all the baldness because the burning question my friends want to ask but only a few manage to come out with is "exactly what hairs do you lose?"
Okay. Chemo baldness 101. Speaking only about the two meds I am taking which are docetaxel and cyclophosphomede, within two weeks, the hair on my head could be tugged out in clumps and needed to be shaved off. Either that or face looking at the trail of it piling up like dust particles behind Schultz's Pig Pen's character. The hair under my arms and on my legs seems to have disappeared without much event and yes, the hair that declares I'm about as blonde as burnt toast has thinned to almost non-existence (will it grow back white like the hair on my head might? Egad! As if there isn't already enough mental and physical scarring to deal with. White pubic hair. Hmmm. Well, I guess it would go with everything?)
And last, but by far the least burning question from everyone is about the facial hair. It seems to be growing along the chin line, which my husband chose to point out in front of friends the other night. The resounding instinctive slap he got along his own fair chin line sounded harsher than it was, but it took the attention away from something I should maybe wax but that I hope will just fall out like everything else.
My eyebrows and lashes are still there but they tell me they are the last to go, and luckily, the first things to grow back. I don't ever dare give them the "tug test" as I did my cranium curls.
It's strange that the majority of the body hair just went away while on my head there are still spots of fuzz that are trying to grow and I still need to buzz with an electric razor every two weeks. Little tufts. And these patches are like velcro. They stick to your pillow case, pick at your softer scarves and keep your hairpiece from spinning across your skull like it's greased. So, some good, some bad. I have a permanent five o'clock shadow on the pinnacle of my forehead and a patch on either side burn area that is usually visible beneath my wig when I don't check it's position in a mirror every so often. It makes me feel strangely like a phony sometimes. "Look, she's not bald. She's shaving her head voluntarily." But who will ever say that out loud?" (besides Barry in front of friends)
The answer is if I didn't shave it I would look like a nuclear fall-out victim with insane tufts sticking out helter-skelter between vast patches of smoothness. It might beat the blue-tinsel look I sported during Halloween but honestly, with this pasty white face and the growing furrows, I look scary enough even to myself who has to face the image daily. You'd think I'd quit screaming by now. I'm joking!
But I did warn our kids coming home for the holidays that I don't look quite the same. Yes, they've heard from friends here in town that I look "great": upbeat, made-up, walking with my chin held high. But, I told them, they would be privy to the private person whose wig ends up trampled on the floor mat of the car after the itchiness gets to me or a hot flash makes it impossible to leave on. They will see me so tired that I slump better than discarded tissue with a weariness that pulls my possibly unmasked facial features into all new lows. Face-lift? I need a tractor-pull all in one direction. Bet Santa would never leave a certificate for that under the tree (that was a challenge Santa). I call it my Chemo Countenance (noun: an expression of the face). It belies a lot of things. Maybe even the fact that I have to pee but it's so far to go at that moment. Hopefully these images my kids will suffer through will soon be replaced by the vibrant smiling face I like to portray because even with all of this going on, my life is pretty damned wonderful. Even if only compared to Pig Pen's.
Hopefully that is everything you always wanted to know about chemo and hair loss. If you have anything else you want to ask but are afraid to, you can leave comments at the end of these blogs. You can even do it anonymously and I won't take the time to see if I can tell who sent it. Life is a lot more precious these days then spending time with digging at things like that. Any spare computer time goes into trying to reduce the pixel size of my external camera so I can Skype with people, particularly my sister who bought me the camera! Hey, maybe I can do that right now. What else can a bald girl do at four in the morning? that the ice cream in the freezer calling my name?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Day 20 After the Second Chemo- Postponing the Third

Today is Day 20 after the second chemo. I was scheduled for the third chemo tomorrow, which means I was in to see Dr. B regarding symptoms and blood tests results on Monday. What an adventure the day turned into! The counts were all great which surprised everyone with the shortness of breath I have been experiencing for over a week now. Walking from downstairs to the upper level floor in the house winds me. I sounded like a chain saw coming down Chapman's Challenge on the ski hill on Sunday. I felt amazing for the first few runs- like I was back, strong and powerful again, flying over the barely snow-disguised tree tops. By the time I hit the bottom of the t-bar runs though, I was shaky and breathless riding back up. The chair side opened at 2 pm and I had to stop 4 times on the journey down, although the snow was thick and you had to push it around. And push I did. It felt great, but I couldn't seem to get the oxygen in. Barry figured it meant low red blood cells which carry oxygen through your system. Sounded reasonable? But everything was fine.
So, Dr. B had to rule out some things which meant pulling strings to get me an immediate CT scan in TERRACE! Can you get there? While a snowstorm is raging on? Another hurdle standing between me and getting this ordeal over with. Stand back everyone. Someone might get hurt but I'm going to try it anyway. Thank goodness for the TANK/ suburban and the fact that I hadn't eaten any lunch yet as you have to fast for 4 hours prior to the test. I had 2 1/2 hours to get there and so shakily swayed and fishtailed my way past many logging and highway trucks, with blinding snow coming down on us and a complaining stomach that wanted some food.
I arrived in Terrace: wig-less and white-knuckled with ten minutes to spare.
Terrace was a massive slush puddle and I had a soaker in my ankle leather boots within minutes trying to walk from the parking lot to admittance at the hospital.
The CT scan was done immediately and the tests were all good. They injected dye which is a rush when it goes through your veins so fast. You always feel like you have to pee and it gets so warm between your legs you worry that maybe you did. Good news- I didn't soil myself and No embolism.
Now its getting dark so I call Terry, a great friend who opened her home at the last minute and took me in for the night. Back to Smithers on better roads in the morning, my dry feet encased in some new tall, shiny black rubber boots with buckles on them. Mrs. Claus boots that were not only 50% off but saved my health. This is not the time to be getting wet feet on top of everything else.
Smithers has contacted the oncologist in Kelowna who wants a few more tests, like an ECG and something else more complicated that involves a radiologist present to read as the test is performed. That will be tricky to line up when the necessary specialist is visiting Smithers. More waiting. And no chemo until we get this resolved. I figure (ha!) it's a touch of a flu bug and I need drugs to clear it up, but they're being careful and I am grateful for it. Proceeding could affect vital organs for the rest of my life and we need me to get this fixed first. On a good note, I hold hopes (here we go AGAIN!)...not too high of a hope, but its there...that maybe they will postpone the chemo until after Christmas, so the kids can have me feeling fine, with some colour back in my cheeks. Will that mean I will have to cook Christmas dinner and not just bark our orders for the kids after all???
Things happen for a reason. I truly believe that. Take those rubber boots. How could that possibly be a fluke? If they had been full price I would not have been able to justify buying them at the time. I wouldn't have bought them at 20 or 30 or even 40...but 50 % off. That was my song. Wait until you see them. It's late already and I have to be up early so I'll take a picture later this week and post it on this very blog. It's nice that I can edit things at anytime so the posts do occasionally change.
I'll keep trying to get the news out this way to everyone.
Thanks for being interested. Now I am overdue for some horizontal time!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Another Year Older...But Am I Any Wiser?

This is the first and hopefully last birthday where I had to watch my hair didn't set on fire from candles. I also have to watch the dishwasher on steam cycle and have been warned not to pull a turkey or any baked things from a hot oven. The bangs on my wig will shrivel irreparably and I'll be down to wearing these beautiful, glorified rags on my head for the rest of this process. I wonder if my neighbors think I have changed religions?
It's five in the morning and I've been up a few hours just lying in bed doing my usual morning "diagnostic test." I quickly sort through all my body parts, moving to the inside and checking vital signs for any changes I feel. There's an ache in both knees, a slight fever I need to check with the thermometer, but the metallic taste is waning again. Is that a third arm I can feel growing? The headaches of the past 4 days have subsided but a new slight burn in my lungs has me wondering if I am coming down with something. I wasn't the best of patients during my low-immune week this round. I hosted a make-up party here at the ranch and had nine women in to pore over a line of product that promotes safe ingredients for your body. Who knew that even your skin care products can be harmful and as we were told can filter through your skin into vital organs within seconds. No wonder there are so many types of cancer around. Fear mongering? My husband thinks so to a certain degree. I'm surprised he hasn't pulled my credit card through all of this. Maybe in the New Year when this tiresome feeling really starts kicking my butt and I start seriously looking at machines that exercise your body for you.
I am sad to report it has finally happened. Jane and I tried to run half of our normal route and I had to stop three times to catch my breath. Maybe its that lung thing? A deep breath makes me cough. SLOW DOWN they say. I am off to the ski hill I say. Fresh powder weekend. And yes, we do have a couch up there with a blanket and pillow waiting if I need it. And its far enough from the fireplace I won't need to worry about burning my hair!
One of my birthday cards had a picture of a mouse about to attempt stealing the cheese from a loaded mouse trap. It is wearing a miniature helmet.
Officially fifty-one. Older, but am I any wiser?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

What You Mean To Me

It is everything. Each card I find waiting for me on my walk to the post box a good twenty minute hoof from my front door. Some days I march to that box, some I drag a rusted hundred pound ache behind me, but I get there. It is every friend that comes over just to see how I am doing, staying for a nice distracting talk over a steaming cup of tea, most likely dropping off fresh flowers, a casserole, soup, muffins, a bag of fruit. My sister's flood of gifts to help improve my circumstance- the one handed book holder to use during the surgeries, the stream of mood enhancing chocolate, the computer camera so we can Skype, lending me Homer, our Mother's last furry friend to accompany me through all the scary things. The constant phone calls even from New Zealand, New Brunswick, Ontario. Now one of my BFFs is here from Nakusp. Jane is keeping up when I whirlwind through the mornings, then is there to catch me as my motor falters and goes into hibernation mode. I get foot rubs with soothing music playing in the background. A scented candle, my faux fur throw pulled to my chin, lights are dimmed. I lay there and for the first time since this has all happened, I can relax and just absorb the energies that are floating around me. I feel so loved, so surrounded by well wishes. And I want to tell you all thank you. It's as if everything has been choreographed to come in dribbles. It's your turn to do or say something nice for Debi on September 3rd. It's Sharon's turn September 12th, Kelly's September 15th and on it goes. No-one has dropped the ball and I have been buoyed by love for what is starting to feel like a never-ending road. Going on 5 months now and although my faith wavers like a flag going from sun to shadow, none of yours ever has.
If I could say anything about what I have done right with my life, it is that I have somehow managed to surround myself with an amazing cast of caring people.
You can bet I'll be there for you if you ever need the favour returned.
Thank you.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Second Chemo Under My Belt- Burp

I must apologize for taking so long to blog again. Today is Day 8 of the 2nd Chemo treatment. Although I'm more tired, this one seems easier because I know what to do. My mouth is forever dry so I am drinking Gatorade and juices which seems to work for everything but my waistline.But I'm trying not to think about that. I know what foods to avoid, which ones help and to always keep a popsicle or gum within arms reach. I am still swimming 2 days a week and did the circuit training class this morning and then ran with Sandi for another 20 minutes in that early morning -6C weather. Slow but sure. I talked incessantly so that my mind wouldn't know what I was putting my body through.
I managed to find a wig shop in Prince George and the woman was very helpful in how to handle a wig- wash and style and all that. The biggest thing she did for me was stick an under-wig stocking on my head. Such a change! I can wear the thing for more than an hour now. I picked up a brunette, messy-styled do, so now I have 3 wigs, 4 head wraps and a dozen or so scarves that match certain outfits. And a thin stocking cap for night-time. I'm all set! Being a brunette again is strange and I might have to do some clothes shopping for things that match better. The self-pampering never stops! Speaking of- I have been extremely good at limiting any sugar and been strict about no alcohol. The slippage had to happen so last night I let 7 Ferrero Rocher chocolate balls slide down my gullet. I was an automaton forcing them in, one right after another. Doing it quick so that my brain wouldn't catch up to what was going on. It's called Chemo Brain and things can be a little slow to filter in these days (Only these days, Deb?) Seven hip-bulgers later. Wow. I was probably frothing at the mouth as they went in. Mad as a whipped dog.
On a good note-my dear friend Jane arrives tonight and I get weepy at the thought. Actually, a lot of things are making me weep these days: thoughts about the kids coming home for the Holidays, Santa with all those kids getting pictures at the mall, the new water cooler. Not to undermine what it means for Jane coming to help for a week. It was actually supposed to be a week of relaxation for me (finally!) but it has turned into a full schedule of things to do. The ball keeps rolling whether we like it to or not. There are presents still to wrap- the last half dozen, desserts to concoct for the make-up party we're hosting on Monday, the house to decorate for Christmas, a dinner party to attend and a few more Christmas cookies to bake. It will be fun no matter what we do.
Other than the cold head, internal issues I have pills for and the tiredness, I am doing okay. Morale wavers at times, especially after looking in a full-length mirror after a shower but I just chastise myself for looking in the first place. I just feel so beaten up, so dragged through the mud by my ankle. It passes.
I do wonder how slow I'm going to be moving by the fourth session January 5th. I'll be like a turtle. Do turtles swim?
I got a radiation appointment January 15th in Kelowna so we can start making some plans around that. We will be there for at least 6 weeks and possibly 8. We won't know until the consult on the 15th. I am resigned to waiting once again.
Now I must get back to readying the house because the day has finally arrived and Jane is coming! Jane is coming!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Facing That Bald Girl In The Mirror

You know you're a redneck have to vacuum the hair off your sheets in the morning.

Today is the morning after the Ducks Unlimited dinner banquet and auction and I must say between the new stark hair do and the eye-popping two inch false eyelashes, I felt rather like the belle of the ball. With almost one hundred draws between ninety people, I guess my not winning anything meant my luck was already being used up. This morning, surrounded by balls of fur on my pillow, I decided my good fortune had been just having hair intact for the evening!
The itchiness of my head has been telling me for four days that my hair is dead at the roots. My tresses are merely illusional plumage, held in place by the thinnest layer of magnetism to my body. My cartoon character would resemble the Peanut Gang's Pig Pen, where every turn of my head results in a cloud of hay-coloured strands.
No-one at the cancer clinic expanded past the fact that I would lose my hair between 2-3 weeks. But I can tell the next person to go through this that it seemed to come after two days of headaches and then a new itchiness to my scalp. At first the hair came out in my brush, heavier than normal. By day two, a soft tug resulted in 20-30 long strands coming out. So for the next 2 days I did not pull or tug at it, merely patted conditioner into it while showering then patting it dry. Finger comb- no blow drying. Thankfully, that helped it last enough for the banquet.
My friend Kerri that died from brain cancer was wearing a scarf a few weeks into her chemo and I recall laughing at her. You can't have lost it already, I said, so she showed me the moon scape of her head. A definite clear cut! Having my real hair at the banquet meant giving my friends and acquaintances a time to adjust to the fact that I have cancer. Between the extreme shortness of my hair and the promise that it was with me on borrowed time lets them prepare for seeing me next in a head wrap, a wig or bald.
As usual, that is what I say. But as I look at the hair shrouded towel from my head after my morning shower, I can tell you nothing ever prepares you for seeing your own bald scalp on the top of your head. It's a nightmare worthy of a few more alligator tears, a horror worse than anything on Scare T.V.
Okay Deb, time to readjust here. My husband finds some shears and with my head in the garbage can, we laugh and cry and take it all off. I watch the locks pile up beneath me. They're golden with black ends. I stuff some into a bag to save. Then I look in the mirror again. Well, it's not as scary as having a Pixie cut with huge bald patches in it. I don't recognize myself though. I look more like a man. Square face, all face with black peach fuzz dotting the surface like patches of desperate seaweed clinging to a rock.
Stop it! What this baldness is, I tell myself, is a badge of honour. A statement of the difficulties I have been going through and continue to face. It is an elite pass card into a world of amazing people who are facing their own existence square in the eye. These people's lives are changing as is mine. Like butterflies-to-be we are metamorphosing into something beyond the busy, self and time absorbed people we were. We have had to prepare for the worst as there's no denying any of us only have so long to be here. When you have cancer, that fact stares you in the face. You re-evaluate your life and question what you want to get done so that one day you can leave without regret. This makes you more patient about things. Your goals are higher than trying to change the small things that irritate you.
Life has slowed down for a change, to a pace I can handle. I like this pace much better. Today's entire agenda is going to be learning to look in the mirror and seeing past the physical. What I want to see is the brave person I know is looking back for acceptance from myself.
After I succeed at that, I might just crawl back into bed for a nap.
At least this time I won't be needing to vacuum my sheets in the morning.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Day Sixteen and The Sun Is Shining!

Today is a new day. It's -20C and there's 5 inches of hard snow on the ground and I don't care. The sun is brilliant, the sky blue and there's a wide grin on my face! I can't recall feeling this alive, this charged with energy in years. Everything smells better, tastes better (except for raspberries and water still) IS better. I did the Circuit Training class this morning and nudged the treadmill up to 8 a few times. My feet were on fire they moved so fast. Everyone was very obliging to the supercharged cancer girl and moved aside as I ran to each weight station, my stubby hair poking out at every angle. I feel like roaring! I am alive and strong and healthy...well, sort of. As I said to my husband Barry, "keep any one in a dark hole long enough..." It's like I finally caught a break for the first time in ages. I'm able to (almost) feel like me again. I'm back. I'm whole- scarred, lighter with less hair and breast tissue but I'm up and running, swimming, walking, eating. The mouth sores are almost gone and I can actually feel the waning of the chemo's toxicity. It's fading into the background. Round One is almost over. It's like I'm on a reverse sick-leave. I'm on leave from feeling so sick for awhile.
I am determined to use this energy in preparation for the next round of chemo, coming up in 6 days. More baking, bed changing, cleaning and smelling the roses. Hell, jumping over the roses and back again! Back flips, sommersaults, tumbling, tumbling, tumbling.

Thought I would share what a "good day" felt like with everyone to make up for the ugliness of Day 3 and Day 4.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Hair Is Falling...The Hair Is Falling...

It finally happened, possibly because I was tugging at it all the time. But I pulled and my hair came out in a clump in my hand. I just stared at it. As usual, I knew but never truly believed it was going to happen. Because I am so LUCKY. That rare 1 % who only suffered hair thinning? That would be me. Guess I'm in the wrong lottery and need to save my prayers for other things more important. Like no recurrence and never, never having to go through all this again.
So, yes, a bit of a shocker. But it made for a great party joke. Get a load of this, I told anyone I ran into. Then I tugged at a spot and out came a wad. Yep, big eyes right away. Made me laugh everytime.
My shower this morning was a disaster as I couldn't seem to get the gossamer of hair strands off my wet hands. So I dressed and shuffled off to Shear Delight where my dear friend Caroline (big eyes after I showed her the trick) cut the bulk of layers off. We decided not to razor it yet as we're hoping enough stays for the Ducks Unlimited banquet on Saturday. If I get any bald spots between now and then, we'll deal with it. I'm going to get my make-up done and a last minute hair-do on Saturday, so we'll have to see how it all goes. Another unknown. I handle these so well. But, for now, I still have my own hair! Pixie short, but tug-tug, it's still...oops! Gotta quit that if I want any left for Saturday. Of course we do have two wigs on stand-by, and that's going to be a whole other ball of hair! Wish me luck!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Day Ten On Chemo

Thank goodness for make-up. I am sure the scales will tip with the poundage of cover-up I am pasting on whenever I head to town. My face , chest and back have broken out in acne. Nothing too bad about that- just quit looking in the mirror I tell myself. Tug, tug...the hair is still there, although my skull is tingling and I scratch it frequently. Sigh. It's still all good. I lick my numb lips. Well, mostly all good. The only thing that stands between Chemo Me and the Old Me today resides mostly in my mouth. I keep biting and nibbling at the insides of it and there's an ache that goes up into my ears so I feel right on the verge of an infection all the time. Nothing tastes right and I'm thinking that issue is going to last the entire three months. Suddenly I love Gatorade and tea with milk and honey!
They say Days 7-10 are the bottom. So here we are and it's not bad at all. My energy is climbing back up, possibly from all the sweets I've been allowing myself for the first time in years. The Naturopath advised strongly against refined sugar during the chemo as it feeds cancer cells. So I am trying to go with the Nutrasweet, Sucralose, honey, Stivia thing. But I am dehydrated constantly so much so that I dropped 5 pounds- all liquid. You can see it on me. Even my breasts have shrunk two sizes. The sports drinks are helping me retain some of the fluid, so they're going to have to stay, 42 gms of sugar per bottle and all! I'll have to remember to ask the nutritionist about that when I see her again, but somehow I know that dehydration has to be stopped anyway possible. Regular water tastes horrible- like drinking aluminum from a tap, so I'm sticking with the milk, juices and sports drinks.
Lately I've had fewer times out on the couch during the day. Thanks to my girlfriend Sharon, I managed to get Skype downloaded onto my laptop and running, something that even the thought of doing last week was draining. I'm feeling so good that in one breath I say I am ready to do this all again. Give me another round. In the next breath I realize there are still lingering symptoms. If I was to take an honest stock account, I'm like an engine running on three of four cylinders. Not all there, but the car still runs.
Eleven days to Chemo Two. But as far as I'm concerned, we can do this! Burp...Honey...where's the antacids?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Day Five and Stablizing

Well, once I got to sleep after taking a Tylenol for the sore joints, a heartburn tablet and an anti-nauseant I slept right through until eight this morning, time change and all! Not too much hot flashing last night. Maybe this wanes after the first few days? My helpful pharmacist poured me a tall glass of Gatorade and popped another anti-nauseant into me and I felt not too bad for the first time in 48 hours. Good enough to get up and make French toast and go for a walk in that amazing sunshine! Tromping through the two inches of fresh snow was fun, although my knees still ache and I can't believe I was jogging only 3 days ago. I feel like an old woman with "ginny joints".
As you can tell, the attitude has changed today. I have found a few more things that help settle my stomach like Jello and popsicles, ice cream and hummous. Then there are the things I should definitely avoid- spices, aspartame, metals. And raspberries? Maybe it's all in how you manage this? Whatever works is my new Motto, so I'm almost excited about dinner tonight. I'm planning on more cheese sauce, mashed potatoes and soft vegis with chicken. Comfort food.
Two more days to hit "bottom" on the road to the lowest point in the Immune system during the three week cycle. Then I have to be careful of infection, avoiding large groups of people, anyone with a cold and of course, any more raspberries! I'm not sure I'm ever going to be able to look at a raspberry the same way ever again.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Chemo Day Four

Today is Day Four with the Docetaxel and Cyclophosphemide floating around inside of me. I used to think food poisoning and alcohol poisoning the worst torments I could inflict on my body, but compared to this, having them both at the same time would seem easy.

I seem to be getting every symptom going. There is a thick coated feeling, almost a numbness inside of my mouth, which is labelled dry mouth. It makes me want to nibble and chew on the inside walls, which is probably why people get mouth sores. It's a metallic, salt taste, like I licked rust off someone's car. I have heartburn and achy knee joints, headaches and hot flashes so intense my hair gets soaked. Nothing tastes the way it should so you wander around trying to rid your mouth of that awful taste with things that just make it worse. My usual frozen raspberries were spit out along with the orange juice, the water, even chocolate! Go figure? There is a constant burn in the back of my throat and on top of it all, I feel like real crap. Like a big flu is coming down on top of my head. My stomach is in constant turmoil. I can't read, sit for a movie, write too long of a letter. I'm going to stop talking to people soon as I can't seem to say one single positive thing at the moment. And they say I have yet to hit bottom- that comes at day 7-10. OMG.
I managed to swim for 40 minutes yesterday but my resolve to exercise every single day flew right out the window this morning. I think I'm going to have to play this game by ear. Same for doing this the low-cal way. I had stocked the fridge with low fat, no fat, sugar free and within 4 days I have been to the grocery store twice to stock up on mashed potatoes, buttered toast, mushroom soup , cheese sauce, cheese ravioli and a gallon of milk. All in the name of trying to put the fire out. I was going to abstain from cow's milk and sugar for the three months. What do I know?! Why do I always figure I know what I am doing?
This is almost like an intervention. How else could the world prove to me that my head is so far up my ass. That maybe I need to change how I always look at things. I plan on it being one way and when its not, I am crushed and left floundering. Sort of like I'm feeling right now. Bewildered, worried about how much worse this can get and wondering how the hell people get through this? See, this is not the day to be blogging, but if you want to know the truth, the real truth, there it is. Everyone KNOWS chemo is crap but no-one ever tells you just how crappy chemo really is. And the worst of it is, I am going to get through this and then get stronger, all to just have to do it again and again and again.
It's at moments like this I have to make myself think of the multitude of children that have to go through this. Which makes me feel even worse.
And that's as long as I can sit for to write today. Thank goodness for everyone.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Chemo Is In- Day One and Two

Another hurdle has been passed and I amazingly did not fall flat on my face like the nightmares predicted. Yesterday began with my girlfriend Sharon, who is also a nurse, getting us to the hospital and up to the new cancer clinic unit on the second floor. We trundle in with bags of food, spare clothes, the stack of information sheets and books and pills, Homer (Mom and Kim's bear) in his carry satchel, purses and coats and even a rose in a vase in tow. (All carried with my one good arm to avoid lymphedema, of course! And Sharon had all but one swinging from her teeth! Look out, we're moving in!) My mad dash to the washroom produced only a nervous dribble- the last time that would be an issue once starting the two litres of recommended water a day. You need that much just to wash down the fistful of vitamins and supplements pills I'm on.
The Chemo Chair (duh, duh, de, duh) pulls back Easy Boy style and a beautiful heated quilt was placed around me. Two Ativan popped under my tongue...calm...calm...WHAT, the Chemo drugs have arrived from down the hall? Already?...calm...calm that Mozart playing in the background. Look, I can see the ski hill from here and there's fresh snow on the runs!
Getting the needle placed properly into a vein finally had the skillful rock, Alice, flustered. Alice is such a dear, always thinking of everything before you do, of really understanding what you must be feeling. Always getting it right and if not doing everything she can to get it that way. Her hand had a noticeable tremor after the first ten minutes before calling the other nurse over. I guess I shouldn't have told a friend's story about an improper placement causing scarring and pain while this was going on. Loretta must have been listening because it took her a few tries as well. NO worries I assure everyone. Dr. B in Terrace had already won the Grimace Award for that pre-surgical wire placement. For that much pain, you should receive a baby or better, a (quiet) golden egg for the effort. Aw, Buckle up Deb. Old Age Ain't No Place For Sissies! And I bet I'll have to say it again. And again before life is over.
My dear friend Dr. Sandi arrives fresh from an overnight shift downstairs at Emerg. She' s propped up on coffee and admits she managed a few winks between calls, so she stays and we're all laughing and Sharon is fussing with my blankets and the drip is started. The moment comes, a tear looms large and then I look away and it is all fine. I do not feel anything. I imagined a big surge of Drano-like stinging or burning or instant metal drip down my throat. But there is nothing so we return to laughing and chatting. I am doing this. The ninety minutes pass so fast I am amazed and Alice returns to flush the vein with saline before connecting the next drug. For this one I wear frozen mitts to help stop the flow of the drug into my hands. There is a chance of it affecting the nails to the point where they thicken, blacken and possibly fall off. The mitts, I am assured, work well. What about my feet, I worry- trying to keep them pointed up in the air and quickly ditching my warm shoes? Sandi explains why it's not as big a concern, but I'm still thinking of ice packs for them next visit. There is a trip to somewhere warm after all of this, I hope! It would be nice to have the nails intact if possible. I'm a big believer in practising prevention (well, at least after having two babies in as many years I try to be more proactive about it. Thank goodness that turned out to be SUCH a good thing! Okay, so maybe I'll start a blackened toenail craze?)
The other two chemo chairs are now filled with an elderly pair with cancers that make breast issues sound trivial. My four treatments barely make me feel legitimate stacked against their 20+. I am an impostor. A surface girl. Surrounded by friends, a rose, a stuffed bear. What planet am I even from? Good thing I left my tiara home with a last minute change of mind!
Before we know it, it's over. Three hours and I was even fed a hospital meal of soup, hamburger noodle entree and peaches in water. No time to run the movie with all the questions and talking and eating and drinking. Which meant no time to get nervous- even another friend Jen dropped by- thank you Ladies! Total distraction. They know me so well! I made it through. The next three are going to be a breeze. Maybe I'll let Barry come after all.
Sandi went home to sleep and Sharon and I went shopping. What? We were in Smithers with the Christmas season looming. Top picks move fast in the few stores that we have so if you need selection, a post chemo visit will have to work. I did bump into quite a few displays and counters, but luckily didn't have to buy anything I didn't need. I made it for another hour before being whisked home, snoring all the way. Sharon and I hugged and parted ways. I made it to the couch where I slept until 9:50 pm when I awoke wondering which end was up. Is it morning, night, do I need to take a pill for anything? A little heartburn, headache, a dryness at the back of my throat so I downed a half T-3 and all was good. The Chemo is in and its staying in, as in not coming out rather quickly from one orifice or another as again the nightmares predicted. Mind you, today is only the start of Day Two. "Give it a chance to start working" I'm told. (As I write this I am enveloped in about the seventh hot flash I forgot to mention has been happening since taking the pre-chemo steroidal anti-inflammatory) At least the hair roots are holding. I check them on the hour!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Prepping For C Day

And eye-opening it was! Other than my head not spinning a full 360 degrees Linda Blair style, I can expect some pretty dastardly side effects from the chemo I will be taking. By the time the nurse got to the part about my nails possibly starting to thicken, blacken and fall off I was in stitches laughing. "Where do you people get this stuff?" I asked. I mean, what else could there possibly be left out that WON'T be a side effect to all of this?

Well, to HELL with the old mantra of acceptance and welcoming. My new one will be THIS IS ALL TEMPORARY. Someday it will be a distant bad memory that I can turn off at the whim of my short attention span. "Look- a dead bird flying!" Really? Where? As easy as that.

Talking with the Naturopath was interesting as I was bogged down with pages of puzzling notes from books and the Internet on what to buy and what would or would not interact with different drugs. I was so confused. Knowing my drug protocol, DR. N (after getting my Visa number) worked out a schedule of natural remedies that will help protect some vital organs, reduce the long-term ill effects and aid the chemo to do it's search and destruction of the cancer. Sounds good to me! Those remedies include natural fish oils (anchovy and sardine), Vitamin B complex, L-Glutamine, CoQ10 and astragulus (I have NO idea). Then there's the 5000UI of Vitamin D, the multi-vites three times a day, the multiple anti-nauseants and the 8 large glasses of water. I'll need that much to wash down all of these capsules. I agreed with the need for a low glycemic diet. Sugar IS the enemy. But the Dr. meant ALL sugar, excepting Stivia, sugar alcohols and Sucralose. But I have a DQ gift certificate still? Okay, okay, I get it, sugar feeds the cancer cells. But wait. The chemo is going to wipe out any new cancer cells and so until Wednesday comes, I am on a new Debi Prescribed diet. Someone pass me a corkscrew and the sugar bowl!
No complaints. It's all part of the regime. My nurse tells me I will be given a calming little pill called Adivan (yes, we're old friends. The dentist makes me take one before any drilling so that I won't bite anymore) upon arrival. I think I might need to take it before I sit in THAT chair. For some reason I have parallelled it to an Electric Chair, which, if the chemo skips or blows out a vein, it might very well become.
BUT, never mind all THAT! WHAT the heck am I going to wear? Too casual is just not me especially for such an important occasion. I was thinking my 50th birthday tiara to celebrate the fact I still have hair to wear it on, together with an evening gown, but that might be overkill. Not polyester in case I get a chill, but then wait. I might get hot flashes they said, so poly would be nice. NOTE: wear the good bra in case I get WAY too hot, too fast. And Big Girl panties of course. Don't forget them!
Maybe the chance to try topless table dancing, that I have been kidding about since acquiring all these long pink surgical lines, is NOT over. I'll have to ask the nurse if they have a sturdy enough table.
Countdown to C Day...Three. Really, I mean it. Where is the corkscrew?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Chemo Me Tickled

October 22: I had some pretty impressive support. My husband Barry, my regular Dr. V as well as Dr. B from the Smithers Cancer Unit sat with me in front of a television set listening to what the Kelowna Oncologist had to say. She began by recounting the events up to date before asking me multiple health history questions, including cancer in the family, childbirth info and how much DID I smoke way back when? She then said because breast cancer does not run in my family, because it was a micro metastasis as in below the standard size to be listed as an N2 (a cancerous lymph node and an automatic sentence to chemo) that it would be up to me to choose whether or not to go forward with the chemo, or head straight to Kelowna for the radiation therapy.
It was "the Pass" I had prayed for. The sliver of hope of not having to subject my body to such vile toxins- of getting sick almost to death, possibly destroying bone marrow, of losing my hair (ALL my body hair...OMG!), getting infections.
So...why wasn't I dancing the touchdown Rhomba? It's because even after I said, no, I don't want to hear them, my team asked to hear the numbers. The percentages we were dealing with. And the Chemo upped my survival rate and my chance of avoiding a recurrence. It would also give me more piece of mind knowing I had done everything possible to stomp out any lingering wisp of cancer cells even toying with the idea of starting any more trouble.
When I still hesitated, Dr. B asked Barry. Was I the type to to live easily with taking chances or would I forever worry I had made the right choice to skip out of the harder path. He didn't even pause. Worry wart! Yes, I had to agree for a change. I would be an absolute rubber room candidate if I didn't allow my brain to talk me into doing this to myself.
Before the conference ended, I made the decision. A winter without hair it would be. All I want now for Christmas are some bangs. And a Porsche. And a grandchild ( a quiet one-ha!). (Might as well have a few pipe dreams if you're going to bother with any!)

My next appointment is Wednesday for blood work and an eye-opening discussion with the Oncology nurse of exactly what will be happening, right down to what to and not to eat on the Day of a treatment. That's four treatments spread three weeks apart. Twelve weeks, three months. I can do this! Easy. I've gone without chocolate that long. Probably tougher, but I did it.

I have the name of a Naturalist in Victoria who will advise me on the right vitamins and concoctions to fortify my body with. The armour to protect my good things while aiding the chemicals to stomp out and destroy the bad things. The helmet and army boots to kick some serious cancer butt! It's going to be a massacre, but I'm going to come out of this on top. Of that, I am pretty certain. Mostly.Some.

Let's DO IT!

I do know it's important to be mentally prepared as well. I need to convince myself to overcome the fear of all the horrible things I have seen in movies and read in books about what chemo used to be like. Today, I remind myself, there are amazing anti-nauseants and things to control other things like diarrhea and mouth sores. I have to be okay with whatever comes my way, to welcome them because they are necessary for the outcome to be what we want. So I have been working on a new mantra.

I asked for these drugs because I believe in them.

Okay, so I am not quite there yet. Repeating this still makes my eyes get all blurry. Maybe if I eat chocolate while I say it. Now we're talking. This is going to a piece of cake, chocolate cake to be precise!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Next Treatment Please!

Some days it's like being inside a slowly digesting boa constrictor- this cancer adventure I'm starring in. First the delay of the MRI results, then the long wait to get in for a biopsy, then the Big C verdict, surgery, then a second surgery and all the healing in between. But today we finally got a gift back. A possible Karmatic reward for our patience? The Kelowna Oncology dept has given the thumbs up for a video consult (after saying it could not be done) which saves us a 22 hour return drive to talk with a cancer specialist! If I'm sentenced to chemo, I can have it here in Smithers before making our way to Kelowna for the radiation. If there's no chemo, I have an appointment already booked on November 3rd in Kelowna with the radiologist, so there won't be much of a wait to get that going either. What a relief!
But by far, the best news is that somewhere in the shuffle, the Oncology consult date changed from Nov. 2 to October 22!Someone managed to save me eleven days of restless anxiety and downright childish moping. We are soon going to know what comes next, how long I will be doing it for and what will happen when I'm doing it. I will be able to map and plan some things for a change. Sort of like normal people do, once again.
The only thing better than this is winning money-I swear. It's that good.
My life has SO changed!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Four Weeks Post Surgery

Yes, it's been 4 weeks today, October 12, 2010 since going under the knife for the second time. My arm is working fairly well but I still suffer occasional sharp pains through the right breast and sleeping is one giant toss-and-turn affair trying to find something comfortable. The liquid, squishing sound has ended and it feels more solid although I still find it uncomfortable to bounce, skip or run, even if clinching it vice-wise in a hand grip
It's getting harder to use the couch excuse. Today, after a day up and running, I was flattened and wincing by four o'clock. Still need to use my good arm for the bulk of what I do. At this stage I consider myself ambidextrous for everything except writing. Still no weight lifting on the right side. It tires and begins to hurt quickly. I do my physio exercises that were listed in the book given to me before the first surgery. But I have resumed a lot of the household chores. I can fold the towels again, wash dishes, make a meal, I even washed the floor using my new Norwex one-handed mop. Pretty easy and I'm assured it leaves the floors 99.9% germ free just using water.
I did get dates to "see" the oncologist Nov. 2 and the radiologist Nov 3. Both these people are in Kelowna and so we are hoping the appointments are for video conferencing through the Smithers hospital. No sense travelling 1200 kms twice as I'll eventually have to get there to take the radiation. It's frustrating as my 6 week post surgery date ends October 26, so again, an extra week of sitting and waiting. Then a consult, then another week to wait for it all to be set up. I should have taken up knitting. I could have opened a store by now to sell everything I had time to make the past 5 months.
I guess I am going to have to try forcing myself back into the writing saddle. This being in limbo is taking far too long and I wanted to have these books into the hands of an agent or publisher while I was still 50. That only gives me two and a half months left. Although I'm now getting out of the house much more often which means less time to work on anything. But hey, let's heap the pressure on. That's what I need at the moment. More stress. Which means more chocolate, of course.
It's not all bad!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Today is Tuesday, October 5 2010. Exactly three weeks since surgery and the biggest news in my life this week was being able to get a shirt up and over my head! There was a little "owwww" involved, more like a mouse squeak than an actual yelp. The best part is I can now wear everything in my closet again. It was getting pretty monotonous there for awhile having to stick to button and zipper fronts.
The underarm is still very numb although I can feel it better now. I still use the electric razor because , like a fat lip at the dentist's, I can't feel where the skin begins and ends.
The scars are healing nicely, two are still not completely scab free yet. I cover them all with a 3M paper tape to keep them from stretching, which I have read is a problem with the weight of the breast constantly pulling at the scar tissue. The tape holds both sides securely together while it's repairing. I also read not to use vitamin E which will perpetuate the stretching. There is just so much confusing info out there that you have to sort through and decide for yourself what's best for you.
A friend sent more info on cancer and dietary issues. Sugar ranked number one as a bad guy. I am still on the sweet street, with the non-alcoholic wine, the daily overdose of "cheer up chocolate," the baking for visitors, for us, and the chai tea latte's I've fallen for. I'm going to have to tighten that up a lot more.
Our Internet continues to be up and down more than a toilet seat, so I have to end this . My husband is breathing over my shoulder wanting to get to his own computer issues for the day.
I'm well, feeling stronger every day, but I still have to spend a few hours a day resting on the couch with the arm elevated. Or at least that's what I tell everyone. Ha

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Part 7 Another Week of Cancer 101 (older blog)

Today it has been 12 days since the second surgery: the widening of the first lumpectomy and the axillary lymph node removal. I have parked myself on the couch as the leather feels nice and cool on my recovering skin and I am able to elevate my right arm while I watch yet another episode of the LOST series I rented. There's a ridiculous stack of DVD's three feet high on the floor and I have a feeling I am going to get though them all. The mobility of my right arm does improve steadily every day. I can now lift that elbow as high as my chin, use it to brush my teeth, spread mayo on sandwiches...that kind of thing. But it tires quickly and I'm back to the movies. I wake up every morning with aching breasts. I can barely touch them, they are so sore, so tender and I know I have to get up to eat something before I can take the Torodol anti-inflammatory which will take the discomfort away. I saw Dr. E on Thursday. After admiring his handi-work, which he says he usually does not do and I believe him, he replaces the bandages with fresh ones and cleared the tubing in my drain. It can come out next week. That means another few days of catching it on the kitchen cupboard knobs and doorknobs. It doesn't really hurt in any way, just is a bother more than anything and is disgusting to have to empty, especially at first with the blood clots in it. The only part that really ruins things is the amount of liquid now sloshing around inside my breast. With half of it hollowed out, it's like a water bed inside and every step gets it rocking. I grip it with one hand and squeeze to stop this but it doesn't help. It's too far inside,'s back to the couch. I made it to the gym on Friday and tried pedalling on an out- front stationary bike. That worked well. Thirty minutes on that plus some weights with my legs and I was back to the couch. It's all good. My morale lifts with my new momentum, yet I still feel anxious about the next pathology reports that hopefully come on Tuesday, the 2 week mark since the nodes were sent. If there's any more cancer it may mean more surgery plus radiation in that arm, and they say I do NOT want to go there. Okay. I'm convinced. I do NOT want to go there. I think, actually, that I might just want to go back to that couch. There's still three more LOST seasons to watch.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Part 6 Deja Vu Surgery Cancer 101

August 13, 2010 was a beautiful sunny Fall day. It was because of this fact that I ragged my husband's butt most of the way between Houston and Smithers. We were leaving late and it was so important to me to get in a four hour hike straight up ANY mountain before succumbing to more surgery the next day. I couldn't go backwards before going as far forward as I could push myself first. Just a taste of a major hike. WHAT! We have to stop for gas? How will I make it to Dr. E's office by 3 PM?
Long story short. I didn't. I did make it back down to the vehicle from Terrace's butt burning Sleeping Beauty by 3 PM to phone Dr. E's office. I am on my way. No one minded and indeed I think it was Fate because once in his office waiting room, in walks a good friend. She's here to see about a lumpectomy, which ends up being scheduled for the following week. She will need the dye and the wire and her lump was also 9mm. Wasn't she lucky? I had to hold my tongue and wish it to be so for her.I mean that with all of my heart. BUT, what fun to run into her and her husband. Dr. E has a student shadowing him and when I asked if while in surgery he could biopsy the instigating left breast and have that sample analyzed properly, he insisted on an examination. The student got to practise feeling for a lump, which even I had to say he was doing it all wrong. Ha!
The second surgery required no invasive, painful wire or nuclear medicine. A perkier, well rested anesthetist was at my side and before I knew it, the room was spinning barely after transferring me to the surgery table. I don't remember waking up in post-op but I did wake up to my own morphine pump this time, which I used right off the bat.
With the pain under control, I was fed a liquid dinner. Friends showed up with Chai tea, a chocolate sundae, flowers and fresh fruit. Perfect. A sleeping pill put me down for the night even though, yes, more babies.
The tube jutting out of my side is so revolting I almost threw up the first time I have to look at it. It looks like a rubber hand grenade and it collects clots and fluid that leave my insides and travel down a skinny tube to the collecting bulb below. It will end up flushed down the toilet.
I have special surgical band aids on both breasts that stretch the skin tightly together, sealing the incisions firmly before protecting them against any outside bacteria. My right nipple now points severly right and I look oddly disfigured. I wonder where that student was when that band-aid was applied?
Am I starting to finally see some humour in all of this?
Today is Day 6 of Post-op and I still have 10 movies I rented left to watch. The best place in my world is flat out on our couch. The straight back gives me an arm rest so that my operated arm can sit away from my body. The drain hangs down by my side. I try to get up and walk every day, do some chores, but rest in between. I have to do something to wear off the indulgences I imbibe in everyday now.
Thank goodness I thought to get my long hair whacked off last week. I didn't want to cut it but I can now wash it myself using the one arm. My sister sent me a one handed book holder that I am greatly enjoying (as well as a web cam so we can Skype, a book I wanted to read, cards and our family Treasure...a soft cuddly bear named Homer, who sat by our Mother's side as she passed away).
Morale improves daily. Thanks everyone for the constant support.

Part 5 Getting The Next News Cancer 101

And yet another surgeon I have never met before enters the room. Dr. F will deliver the news which is all good because I don't know him. It will be easier to hold a firm dislike and grudge against the person that can so easily kick the wind out of your sails. The lump was removed with a clear margin, but only a 500 macron margin on one side, which is not the best. Also, a tiny bit of cancer was found in one of the 7 lymph nodes removed. He also mentioned the "C" word (Chemo) which Barry said, "he means future drugs." Barry was thinking Tomoxifin. Dr. F was thinking Chemo. Okay, so at this point I am unsure of what this all means. So I spend the next few hours making up cute scenarios. Just a wee bit of cancer probably means radiation of that node area. Right? Maybe they'll take more out, right? Or maybe , probably I can skip more surgery because it's such a wee bit, a small tumor and I'm so lucky. You said that, or someone said that, who said that? Someone said that. I'm lucky. None of this should be happening anyway.
Then I meet with my friend Dr. V. It was right to the point. Possible full mastectomy. The surgeon will probably recommend going for that clear margin. And Chemo. Once in the lymph nodes, you go for Chemo.
I started to cry at this, but kept on talking as I pulled Kleenex from the box. "But it was only a bit..." and the usual arguments only I could come up with. Arguing with cancer specialists. Does that make sense to anyone else? Is this how I was supposed to learn this lesson in life, the hard way again? Make it so that my arguments would eventually sound ridiculous, even to me?
I left smiling and telling my friend I would see her on the weekend for a jog. I had to hold the breast firmly with my arm or hand as I ran, but I could still run.
It wasn't until I got to the vehicle that the reality hit home and thankfully I have a BF up the road from the clinic. I fell apart in her driveway, great racking sobs mostly from the fear of it all. I had skipped over every Chemo section in all the literature. That wouldn't apply to me. I just had a BIT of cancer. It was just the positively worst news. Or so I thought at the time.
The hardest part through most of this has been the waiting in between. Now we had to wait for an Oncologist to tell us the next plan of action. We picked having a Kelowna oncologist, which means doing Radiation out of that centre.
That plan came through the first of September. More surgery. Dr. E phoned and wanted me back to Terrace for more breast tissue and more lymph nodes. This time I would have a drain attached to my side for 2 weeks to remove the fluid from my lymphatic system. The good news? The breast could still be saved.
Forgive me if I no longer jump for joy at anything a Dr. tells me anymore. To tell the truth I was all psyched to head straight to Chemo and blast any cancer cells still in my body the heck out of there. In fact, take both breasts off and reconstruct a higher, firmer set, then send me to Chemo where I will find the most amazing, life-altering wig and become the most exquisite cancer-free creature, indeed. What do you mean more surgery? I am finally healing. I am just starting back to jogging twice a week, and I did laps this week at the pool. How can I possibly go backwards again? Especially when it is all too fresh in my head. It hurt. Remember??

Part 4 Post Op #1

My eyes are closed but I am talking. It doesn't REALLY surprise anyone. I am coming out of the anesthetic and mumbling on about my mother and the left versus right breast dilemma. Funny, after the scope procedure last month, I came to talking about picking Morel mushrooms.
I'm rolled into a room with 4 beds, which I will fortunately (I think) have all to myself overnight. I'm now on Demerol but it isn't cutting through the pain and I squirm the 25 minutes for it to kick in, but it's not enough. The nurse calls Dr. E and gets me a prescrip for Torodol, an anti-inflammatory and together the meds manage to sooth me. Barry arrives with a Chai Tea latte, such a treat to go with my first meal of soup, salad and sherbet. It's after dinner already. What a long day. My throat is raw, they say from a tube that was in it. My left arm is hooked up to an IV bag and my right arm is too sore to move very far. That is from the sentinel lymph node removal. The wire is no longer sticking out of my breast. I had been so scared someone would accidentally rip it out. I can't see any incisions as everything is neatly covered in clear bandages with small white gauze strips in the middle of them.
MP Nathan Cullen's newborn twin boys keep myself and the nurses up most the night. Add that my IV stand beeping when its battery runs low and the bed across the room sounding off because...what? It was lonely? Not a lot of sleep, so am anxious to go home. I am cleared by Dr. E by 11 am and so homeward bound we go.
The hardest, sorest part is the underneath of my right arm rubbing anywhere close to the trunk of my body. The nerves beneath are positively on fire. I have to keep my arm away from my body at all times.
Fast forward another week to my first inspection with Dr. E. Everything is healing nicely. We leave for our train/ferry trip to the Queen Charlotte Islands a few days later. Some hiking, walking, fine noshing at little eclectic eateries for five days. It helps take my mind off what might lie ahead.
We return to messages on the machine from the hospital. The pathology report is in and a surgeon will see me tomorrow in Smithers to give me the results. They are not at ALL what we'd hoped for.

Part 3 Discovering Cancer 101

I can't convey the weight of attending your mother's ash spreading after being freshly diagnosed with breast cancer. Determined to keep this news from my children until after the occassion was over and everyone was safely back at their homes and into their own routines, I nevertheless spilled the beans to my sister who after one look at me said, "What?" There must have been that "deer caught in the head light " look on my face. My brother and his wife caught on as well.
Breaking news of this magnitude is never easy. You can't tell how the reciprocant will react. My daughter took it the worst, which is to be expected. I know she didn't think of it at the time, but this will now affect her life as well, how she is handled by the medical profession with maternal cancer looming behind her. My step daughter put on a brave face- she lost her mother to lung cancer in 2000. My son and step son are men. Keep them posted. Cheer up. You'll be fine. That's what I thought too. This would be over as soon as you can say "heal from surgery." Right? My son's girlfriend's mother went through this. Diagnosed, surgery, radiation, living day-to-day until hopefully the golden prize of the five year "clear" mark. We would have a scar party when we finally got the chance to meet.
On August 9, 2010 my husband and myself travelled to Terrace and booked into a hotel. We were to see Dr. E this day before surgery to sign the consent form and to go over any last details. I had a page of questions. How many nights in hospital? Can I prearrange no fat meals? Are there private rooms (yes, at $160 extra). How big will the scars be? Does the hospital have hair dryers? "You won't need to wash your hair," he tells me. He may know a lot about surgery, but really, what could this man know about a woman's hair? (In the end, I never had a shower. It was the furthest thing from my mind after surgery. I know, it's a recurring lesson I need to learn!)
At 6:20 am without usual adornment of make-up and jewellery, I walked into the Emergency area of the Terrace hospital. Upstairs in the Nuclear Medicine dept my right breast was injected at 4 quadrants with blue dye. I was taken to surgery where I was braceletted, weighed (149 pounds)and asked about false teeth (prove it) and diseases. Back to Nuclear Science for x-rays of the right breast to see where the dye went to. I carry the hard copy of the images by hand back to the surgery holding area.
Next I'm off to ultrasound to have a wire inserted with the use of ultrasound. This is so the surgeon can find the exact spot where the tumor lies to extricate it. Oh, oh. Dr. Pain again. I tell her this is her chance to atone for that painful biopsy. With my permission, a student was allowed to attend. With breast tissue as dense as mine, Dr. Pain, after three attempts, had the tech hold the breast in two hands while she again attempted to drive the wire deep into the breast to the tumor site. With alligator tears rolling, toes clenched and curled and all breathing stopped, the student was told to leave the room. This was getting ugly. "I suppose failure is not an option," grumbled Dr. Pain under her breath. With surgery pending within the hour, I guessed not as well. Again, then again she tried until searing pain pierced something inside of me, was drawn backward, then pushed through again. It was in place. I had to ask them to leave me for a minute to get myself back in place. But all that did was unleash everything I had kept pent up for the past month. The Why Me, the WTF,had my mother been in this much pain, what was ahead of me, more of this torture or not. It all came out in torrents. The tech helped me to mop up and personally rolled me down the hall toward surgery, where two nurses came looking for me.
Once behind the surgical area doors, I was questioned again by nurses (Alice) and a grumpy anesthetist who had been on call and up all night. He wondered about the strokes in 2002 and I told him they now figure they were a result of taking ritalin for my ADD. And who diagnosed the ADD? I couldn't remember,I have ADD remember? This made the nurse laugh and I was out a split second after. I went to sleep feeling like a silly old woman. (How can these morons be trusted with their own bodies!)My husband later reminded me it was not one but two separate diagnosis from psychiatrists that recommended the Ritalin.
We'll wake up together in the next Blog sequence!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Part 2 Discovering Breast Cancer 101

After my mother passed of pancreatic cancer April 4, 2009, I decided it was time to make sure my own health was in line. I was 49 and it was suggested a colonoscopy be performed when one turns 50, especially when colon cancer runs in my paternal lineage as it does. So I saw my regular GP for a referral to a surgeon. (That's a whole other story in itself because it turns out my regular GP had started sharing his practise with his brother-in-law, someone who made my jaw drop and my BP rise the first time I saw him. We're talking underwear model, Ladies. Although a short-lived joy as he is always away, I consider it my the best perk in this entire bizarre saga to date) That scope was performed on May 25, by the same surgeon,that had sent me for a breast MRI in Vancouver. He had the results and the mass on the left breast was normal looking BUT there was something suspicious looking in the right breast that they felt should be pursued.
I remember the conversation quite clearly because I was so frustrated. I had gone all the way to Vanc and back to finally get answers on the left breast and the surgeon wanted to discuss nothing but the right breast.
It was then that I was referred to another surgeon, for what reason is not exactly clear ( my argumentativeness??). I was to call the new fellow's office and make an appointment.
On June 2, I waited in this next surgeon's temporary office in Smithers. He is from Terrace and had spent his Wednesday morning in surgery in Terrace before hopping in his vehicle, backpack in hand and travelling to Smithers to see more patients.
A bit behind, Dr. E barrelled into the examining room where I sat draped in a gown. I remember wondering why yet another person had to inspect my breasts? Wasn't the MRI a "Be All to End All?" And another man at that. Little did I know that at the hands of Dr. E I would end up flashing another eight people in the next few months whenever he examined me. All quite innocently as the Dr. faced me the entire time, oblivious of the open door or open curtain behind him. It got to be a running joke. Before meeting Dr. E I had been somewhat shy about baring the breast even with my girlfriend,, Dr. V. I'm writing this 16 weeks later and I tell you I could flash a pair of Saints and not care anymore. Besides, they're little traitors, the pair of them. (the breasts not the Saints)
I think the Torodol has finally kicked in. I seem to be spinning my wheels here.
Back on track. Dr. E wants me to travel to Terrace, 3 hrs from Houston, to get yet another opinion using an ultrasound with the new radiologist Dr. B. I call her Dr. Pain. Although it was never scheduled, Dr. B and the ultra sound tech decided they could also biopsy the growth seeing as I was there. Barry and I were floored that there was even a question of not biopsying that day? Isn't this what we had travelled so far for, not just a consult?
The biopsy is done with a big, thick, evil "needle-gun." It looks like a knitting needle with a very sharp end- one of those long sweater needles, not the smaller sock type. This is stuffed into a gun apparatus. The breast is supposedly frozen, mine repeatedly to no avail, and the knitting needle inserted repeatedly into the tumor and surrounding tissue, taking a "bite" out of the tissue before being withdrawn and then re-inserted. The samples are collected into a pill bottle filled with liquid. They resemble tiny polywogs, only white ones with red streaks on them. They took 4 easy samples, but it is the fifth one I will never forget. Mid sentence of saying, "I'm fine. I hardly feel a thing..." I clenched my teeth, the breath left my body and my knees tried to draw into my chest. It felt like my heart had been bitten by a shark and if I could have I am sure I would have screamed. I'm thinking THAT was the one sample that probably was the cancerous one?
It's a good thing a biopsy was done right away because two days later, as Barry and I left for Invermere to spread my Mother's ashes, we heard that the biopsy returned positive for cancer. Blow me down and knock me over with a feather. I got the news while visiting wonderful, dear friends of ours in Kamloops. It was with a large glass of premium wine in hand and a BBQ'd lamb meal before us that I called my girlfriend, who said, "I'm so sorry." Not able to take the seriousness, I was cracking jokes within seconds and my laughter had everyone in the house sure the news was good. It took awhile to sink in. I'm still not sure it has completely although I can tell you there have been a few days I take this all far too morbidly. I think the biggest realization came when a BF sent me flowers. What? Am I sick? This must be pretty bad. I better take this a little more seriously, I thought.
We all know how healthy I am. There's the shocker.I have never been in better shape. I eat so many vegis, fruit and organic meats.I pump iron and vitamins. Why is this happening to me? And why can't I reach my mother on the phone to tell her all about it?
When the "why me" voice subsided a bit, the WTF voice began. This was all because of an insistent non-cancerous growth in my left breast. A tiny 9mm growth (the size of your baby fingernail) which was never seen on any of the mammo's or ultrasounds in Smithers was only detected out of Dr. V's and my own persistence to get to the bottom of something else entirely. What if I had never gone for that MRI?
And that's not the least of the trouble this little cancerous mass would cause!

Part One Discovering Breast Cancer 101

It was a dark and stormy night. Sometimes it feels as if it should have started this way, this whole nightmarish roller coaster ride I am on, but it didn't. Rather it was a two year long journey of my Dr/friend Sandi and myself monitoring a suspicious formation in my left breast, a "lump" I discovered using self examination over two years ago, so around February 2008. Yearly mammograms usually resulted in further testing using ultrasound, but because of the density of my breasts nothing has ever been found. The lump feels like a hard pea with a long tail. It worsens in size as my menses approach and hurts to the touch the nearer my period comes. This is a good sign, I am told by a surgeon who examined the lump and said, "I hope you haven't been losing sleep over this?" Meaning it neither felt irregular or suspicious or cancerous in any way to him. Not satisfied with that answer, my Dr/friend suggests we have two choices. Either have it removed or fly to Vancouver to have a breast MRI. This cannot be done in PG or anywhere else up North, yet. So, the surgeon agreed to requisition me for the procedure and sent the necessary forms to the Lions Gate Hospital. On May 2, I flew to Van by myself,getting a special HawkAir medical rate which gave me an open ticket. I was under the impression from my surgeon that the "people" at this hospital would get to the bottom of this. That they were very good at what they did and if they felt there was an issue to deal with, that they would deal with it there and then. Looking back, I think the surgeon meant if there was a big cancerous mass or other reason to say OMG, that yes, they would then admit me and do what they must to save my life.
But that's not what happened. After overnighting in North Van, I walked, dragging my suitcase, up and down hills for 50 minutes to get to the hospital. It was sunny but chilly, especially with the perspiration rolling down my back. The exercise felt wonderful, especially before sitting in a waiting room with a surgical gown on for 30 minutes, before being subjected to what could only be labelled a mild form of torture. For a breast MRI, a patient lies on their abdomen, arms stretched overhead on a table that has two holes cut out into which you place your breasts. Headphones cover your ears so you can listen to a station not quite on the country or rock station but in some hideous nether land in between. An "escape ball" is placed into one palm. It's in case you can't take it and need to come out, you squeeze and they bring you out, ruining whatever test they are in the middle of. You are now pushed backward into the MRI machine, back in, very deep into the bowels of the machine. It's like a giant cigar tube and you're rolled to the very bottom of it. PLEASE do not put the lid on while I'm in here!! The entire time of all the tests will take 45 minutes. MINUTES that make you wonder if the clock ran out of batteries somewhere along the arduous way?
Claustrophobia is a strange sensation. I never felt it for the brain MRI I had in 2002. Little mirrors were attached so that I could see out very well from inside the long cigar tube and my abdomen was free to catch full breaths so that I could regulate my breathing. Not so with the breast MRI. You cannot breathe. And trying to do so would fetch a sharp, "Don't Move!" from the techs, even in between the nerve wracking loud Boops, Bangs and Bings that the machine makes.It's like a stick and tin can band straight from hell.
I reminded myself fervently that Barry had paid lots of money for me to endure this privilege, that if I could only lie still, then we would have the answers to what we have sought for two long years. My mother had recently succumbed to a very painful wrestling match with pancreatic cancer, passing away April 4, 2009. It was at the forefront of every thought still. If this was cancer, I wanted it dealt with now.
After the test was finished, I was told to wait while they checked the results were legible. When I was told I was free to go, I questioned the tech about when I would see the results and was disheartened to hear it would take two weeks more. She felt bad I had been under the impression something might have been done that day. As I said, this would have only happened had the techs seen something alarmingly wrong.
So, I boarded to plane to fly home more than a little crushed, with another waiting sentence. But what the heck. It had already been two years. What was another few weeks?
And like myself, you will have to wait for the results. This blog is long enough.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Travelling A New Road

I've been getting the gears from all sides for failing to blog. Sorry about that, but things in my life have taken an abrupt side road, which may take a serious chunk out of the year for me. On May 2, 2010 I flew to Vancouver for a breast MRI, recommended by Dr. G (first by my friend and "specialty female doctor" Dr. Sandi V.). A suspicious mass was biopsied in Terrace and on July 22 we got the news that it was cancerous. A lumpectomy and lymph node surgery on August 10 removed the small growth but found a slight infiltration of cancerous cells in one of the nodes.
Also, although a clear margin around the cancerous mass was achieved, the width of the margin was not to the oncologist's satisfaction. Think of a fried egg- there wasn't enough egg white taken from around the yolk, I am on my way back to Terrace for a second surgery on September 14. My surgeon, Dr. E feels he can still save my right breast even though taking more from it. (It's worrisome because another friend went through this and her breast collapsed after the follow-up surgery. She now faces breast re-construction. I can't begin to imagine how she feels about this!) Dr. E will also be removing more lymph nodes, this time to check for any more cancer. The samples will be sent to a pathologist and then the results to the surgeon and an oncologist in Kelowna. The oncologist will then tell us the next plan of attack on this surprising twist of fate.
That's the facts. Now for the rest of it.
I do believe everything happens to us for a reason, which I am churning over in my mind as an idea for the next line of books. A series of fictional Chicken Soup For The Soul re-incarnation or "lesson learned and how" books. To help people believe in their purpose, whether they know what it is or not. I believe you make out of life what you put into it but some people stagnate and don't seem motivated to do anything other than survive. Maybe that is all their trip on earth was meant to accomplish this time? If nothing else, this line of thinking sure takes the stress out of worrying that you might not have time left to do what it is you hadn't figured out yet. It also helps your mind set if indeed you are not destined to carry on any further.
I believe I still have a long future ahead of me. But I am not going to bet the farm anymore. Maybe this was a wake-up call for me to get on with what I was supposed to be writing about all along. The past two books were very therapeutic in another way. Now I think it is time to get serious. AFTER I get down this new path. I still have a very long way to go. I have been told I will be getting chemo next followed by radiation treatments. Just something else to write about.
If I have the energy, I will try to keep posting about what having breast cancer is like. I knew absolutely NOTHING about it. So, stay tuned if you want to know more.