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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!