Tag Archives: Conditions and Diseases

T-365 days-Head Shaving Party-November 17, 2012

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A quick aside before I begin writing my blog.  I am quite behind in real time and intend on catching up.  Regardless, my goal is to capture the moment in time whether past or present with the raw emotions and details of those events.

I woke up after my first chemo infusion expecting to feel different, look different…..but nothing; it was oddly disappointing.  I jumped into the shower to wash my hair for the last time.  I am not one to feel an unhealthy attachment to my hair but as my fingers were going through my locks tears began to drip down my face.  How many months or years would it be till my hair would be this long again?  I reveled in the sensation of the water dripping through my hair strands, my hair getting stuck to my face….all of these minute seemingly irrelevant motions that I would otherwise rush through in my daily life.  I lifted my head high and reminded myself yet once again that I was making the right decision.  will decide when my hair is going to fall out NOT my cancer.  That sense of control during a time when everything else in my life was toppling over out of control was what I needed.

Many friends and family were attending my head shaving party.  Holly was hosting at her house, Michelle had sent out the invites and made other arrangements.  Everything was set.

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There was champagne and wine flowing, snacks to munch on, many hugs and kisses.  I counted my blessings many times to have such support from so many.  Rather then this being a somber and sad moment it was a time to celebrate!

Me and my boys.

Me and my boys.

So there we all were, with the buzz of conversation flowing through the rooms, laughter ebbing in the hallways.. I knew the time was drawing near, where the buzz would be of clippers against my head.  With my friends and family standing and sitting around me I took the honorary place at the clipping throne.  I did not have a mirror but only the reactions and sounds of everyone to guide me into my transformation.

the head is being shaved

the head is being shaved

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buzz time

buzz time

As I sat there I heard comments of how great I looked and how the “buzzed cut becomes me”.  All around I had smiling faces looking back at me with tears in their eyes.

all done

all done

In solidarity my dear loved ones also shaved their heads; Travis, my dad, Michael and Spencer.  Every one of them sat down and shaved the hair off their head in love for me.

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travis

michael

michael

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My Mr. Handsome getting his head shaved for his mama with breast cancer.

I am not certain if I was more emotional getting my head shaved or watching

Michael shave for me.

me and my girls

me and my girls

With my new Pat Benatar look I was ready for a night out on the town.  With my first chemo under my belt, my hair shaved away we headed out to eat, open presents and celebrate a momentous weekend!

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Our new shaven heads

Our new shaven heads

T-366 days-1st Chemotherapy Infusion–November 16, 2012

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IMG_2631                                                                                          My mom and Me during my infusion

I tossed and turned in my sleep.  I cried….dreading what was going to happen to me.  I took the prescribed steroids and I felt like I was on speed, everything was racing.  Feeling like a baby who wet the bed,  I sweated through my pajamas and the sheets.  Is this what steroids are supposed to do?….no one talks about this when they talk about cancer treatment.  I change out of my wet pj’s and try to sleep thinking of the imminent poison that is about to be put into my veins.   Laying there in the dead of night I start praying to God and ask him to calm me, soothe me, comfort me….and finally my eyes shut.  It seems as if an hour had passed and the alarms begin ringing,  the house is bustling with everyone getting ready to go to school.  I say goodbye to my babies and reassure them that I am going to be ok and will see them very soon.  Once everyone leaves, I embark on the task of getting dressed for my infusion. What does one wear to a chemotherapy?  I grapple with my wardrobe for a moment and turn on fun party music.  As I am singing along to Lady Gaga I decide to go with the fashionable yet practical ” loose and comfortable look  with a splash of pink”. On my wrists hung my breast cancer bracelet and my bracelet with my kids names on them, from my ears my 80’s pink earrings.   I was determined to walk in to the hospital with my head held high and a fearless attitude.  When Travis came home I told him “Let’s get this party started”.  Thus, the party began, we left the house armed with our bags filled with endless hours of entertainment; computers, cards, magazines, books, snacks, beverages.  We were prepared for anything and everything.

I am not certain if I was more anxious about how the chemotherapy was going to feel when it flowed into me OR what everyone else in the infusion clinic would look like.  I continued to want to live in my fantasy world of cancer.  I didn’t want to face the reality of seeing cancer patients who looked as if they were knocking on death’s door.  My anxieties were lessened when I was greeted by my chemotherapy nurse Char.   She shared with us that we would have a private room since it was my first infusion.  Yes!  I could continue to live in my fantasy world of cancer a little longer!  What is even better is I know Char, I have known her for years.  My fears diminished tremendously.  Char begins to tell us how the day is going to run and what we should expect.  She explains that she does not want us to be alarmed when she is wearing a plastic mask and gloves when handling the chemotherapy bags.  She says that she must do this to protect her from the drugs toxicity, since she is exposed to them everyday.  Ok, wait a second!?!  My nurse is going to wear a Hazmat suit to touch the BAG my chemotherapy drugs are in…..the same drugs they are going to intravenously pour into my body……..should this comfort me or make me think that I have lost my mind agreeing to this?  Thanks to the steroids and the tazmanian devil levels of energy it gives me, my mind quickly shifts to another thought……Squirrel!

 

Travis and I at my 1st Chemo Infusion

Travis and I at my 1st Chemo Infusion

As you can see in the above picture we had a pretty cozy set up.  My own bed, complete privacy, a nice little lamp….it was like the Taj Mahal of chemo infusions.  It was time to begin.  They needed to put the needle (which looked more like a fishing 

hook) into my port.  My port is on the inside of my right arm.  Char asked if I had put the numbing cream on my skin, I bravely told her that I didn’t think I would need it.  Shots, and pricks in the arm are not a big deal to me….well let me tell you when Char drove the “fish hook” into my port I thought I was going to scream….no wait I did scream.  It was the most torturous part of the entire day.  For some reason I had this illusion that the port was supposed to me my safety tunnel into my veins, the safe passage way, like the gumdrop pass in Candy Land.  NO!  It was like the Go To Jail card.  After the initial shock and pain of the insertion, they began a saline drip on me, followed by a anti-nausea drug, followed by another anti-nausea drug (I think they don’t want me to have nausea).  Then the party was truly about to start.  They first began with the chemotherapy drug Taxol.  With her hazmat suit on Char hung the Taxol bag on the hook.  I waited to feel something, anything..but I didn’t.

As the Taxol was coursing through my body along with the other drugs that were put in me I had many visitors in my room; my mom, my dear friend Kevin, my nurse angel Karen, the hospital deacon, my dad.  I may have picked up a tinge of annoyance from Char of the constant party like atmosphere in my room.  All we needed was a strobe light and some bass.

Chemotherapy Infusion Party

Chemotherapy Infusion Party

The next drug invited to the party was Carboplatin.  Char hung the bag of Carboplatin up on the hook.  Drip, drip went the drug and again I waited to feel something…..nothing yet.  Continuous monitoring took place.  Everything was on course.  The party was really going to start with the liquid benadryl they were going to give me.  The purpose of that was to combat any potential allergic reaction that I could have to Herceptin which would be the final drug of the TCH cocktail.   As I was biting into my salad lunch I was hit with a tsunami wave of exhaustion.  I couldn’t end the party by sleeping so I continued to attempt conversation while sounding like a sloppy drunk.  Travis and my mom broke out in laughter as they tried to piece together the garbly gook that was dripping out of my mouth.  Char entered the room with the final cocktail mix; Herceptin.  She reminded me that they would keep a close eye on me to ensure that I didn’t have an allergic reaction and if I were to have one it would be immediate.  She hung the bag and I waited in breathless anticipation to breakout in a rash of purple dots but alas I sailed smoothly through the choppy waters of the Herceptin test.  As the time continued to tick away I realized we had spent over 6 hours in the infusion lab and not once dove into our bag of party goods.  We had been kept so busy with teachings, monitoring and visitors that the party bag collected dust.  My first chemotherapy infusion was drawing to a close.  Other then being drunk on benadryl, I felt no different. As we walked to the car I felt the wind rustle through my hair and I became melancholy knowing that in hours it would be gone.  One major step today and another big one tomorrow.  One step at a time…

T-367 days–My Cancer Leave Begins-November 15, 2012

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I walk into work with a strange feeling.  I know it will be my last day for quite some time.   I notice one to many people wearing pink and then I realize they are all wearing pink for me.  My eyes tear up at the thoughtfulness of my fellow staff members.  I grab my coffee and head to my class to prepare for the day.  My stomach is in a knot as I know this will be the last time I see the kids for awhile.  For lunch I go to my favorite Mexican restaurant Mi Pueblo; it will be quite some time till I eat Mexican food like that again. The kids start to come in and one after the other they are dressed in pink as well, even the little boys.  I swallow back my tears and thank them.  I feel robotic as I go through the day, going through the motions, thinking of my cancer at every turn, emotional for the displays of affection.  Teachers and parents come in with presents for me.   The entire day was spent with a constant puddle around my eyes.  I drive away thinking of them and thinking of tomorrow and my first chemo treatment.  I am so fortunate and blessed to have so many people in my life who give me such support, solidarity and love.  My medical leave has officially begun….

T-370 days-Chemotherapy 101 day-November 12, 2012

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Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer (Photo credit: bloomingdalelibrary)

I am sitting in a tiny room surrounded by books, pamphlets and magazines about Cancer.  A Cancer Library.  Since my surgery, I have often almost forgotten that I have cancer.  I look the same, feel the same…..but now it’s time to buckle up and get ready for the Chemotherapy ride.  The nurse sits with me and goes over every chemotherapy drug they are going to give me.  My chemotheraphy cocktail is TCH.  Taxol, Carboplatin and Herceptin.  She gives me thick paper copies of each drug and goes over the side effects of each one.  Exhaustion, nausea, hair-loss, neurapathy, mouth-sores, cardio-toxicity,  menopause…..the list was endless.  With a smile she asks me if I have any questions.  Do I have any questions?  In my mind, I wanted to ask her am I nuts? I feel great and I am going to sign a paper to make me feel like that?  But we weren’t done.  She then tells me about Neulasta.  Neulasta is a shot that is given a couple days after the chemotherapy infusion to increase white blood cell production.  This ALSO has some side effects; bone pain, joint pain, mouth sores, GI sensitivities etc…   I signed my signature on papers to agree to all of these fabulous ways I was going to feel.   Now it was time to get my blood drawn.  There is a special lab devoted just to cancer patients.  I received a special stamp card that basically signified I would be a frequent visitor.  Like, a frequent flyer card but not nearly as fun.  I took my place in the chair.  The techs knew I was a new girl.  I still had my hair……, my skin wasn’t yellow…..  They asked me questions, took my blood and told me how much they looked forward to seeing me again.  Again?  Right, again.  With my green stamp card I would be visiting my new friends in the lab quite often.

Chemo 101 day was not yet over.  Now it was time to get an ECHO.  The echo cardiogram was necessary so that they could have a baseline for my heart function.  Since there are so many cardiac side effects with the chemotherapy it is required.  There again I sat in another waiting room, 30 years younger then the average age of my fellow patient.  It was a painless procedure really.  A little gel, ultrasound and pictures,  done.  If there was a competition for who had the healthiest heart out of all of the people in the waiting room I am certain I would have won.

 

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The day would not be complete until I went and had lunch with my dear friend Michelle followed by some more wig shopping. This time we went to Fantasy Attic, a treasured Halloween store.  These wigs were not nearly as nice as “la fancy” wig but they were also only $30.  After trying on many I decided to splurge on another wig.  A long, red haired wig, otherwise known as “Ginger”.  Now Ginger wasn’t nearly as well made as la fancy wig but I still thought it would be fun to wear.  My wig buying addiction was just beginning.  I decided then, while I have no hair I am going to make the best of it.  It will be Halloween until my hair grows back.

T-374 days-November 8, 2012- Kids visit to the Cancer Center

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Some say it’s a weakness, some say it’s a strength…..my ability to be concerned about everyone else before myself; particularly my kids.  I have been hyper-focused on their adjustment to my new “condition”.  Condition?  I don’t like using the word disease, too scary; cancer, too final.  This condition that would change me, my life, their lives….at least for a time being, maybe forever. So far I have emailed their teachers, their coaches, their dad and anyone that is a part of their circle and can support them.  Trying to think of every way possible to put their minds at ease.

FEAR-comes from not knowing.  Not knowing what to expect, not knowing what is coming next.  I decided to take away as many of the unknowns as possible for my kids.  My first chemotherapy infusion was pending and I wanted them to know everything so the fear was gone.  My amazing Nurse Angel Karen set everything up for us.

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We arrived at the Cancer Center, the smiling face of Karen greeted us at the door.  We entered the room that I sat in for hours on my Cancer 101 day.  It was surreal to be there again, this time with my kids.  Remembering that room where I sat with doctor after doctor filing in and tears streaming down my face.  In contrast, my kids were now giggling practicing with the stethoscope and thermometers.  We continued our tour of the cancer center which led us to the Infusion Room.  I’m not sure what I expected,  I was surprised to see an oval room filled with recliners and tables.  A recliner that I would be sitting in while chemotherapy drugs dripped through my veins.  My kids looked all around with their big wide eyes wondering and looking at everything.  Gabriella had many questions; she wanted to know what the bags looked like, she wanted to know what color the fluid would be in the bag, how they would be put it in. As each question was answered I could see their anxieties lessen, their fears wither away. They walked away with smiles and laughs  Whoever thought a cancer center tour could rival a night at the movies?

T-401 days–10/12/12–Wig Shopping & Surprises

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Modern wigs on display.

Modern wigs on display. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hairbangers Ball 6

Hairbangers Ball 6 (Photo credit: alansheaven)

On this day I met with my surgeon to find out the facts and lay the groundwork before my surgery.  I love my surgeon.  She is pretty and petite and looks smart.  The looking smart being the most important.  I told her that I didn’t want to have to battle breast cancer every few years for the rest of my life and if to prevent that meant I should get a masectomy then that is what I would do.  She reassured me that with my stage 1 cancer that the survival rate for lumpectomy was just as good as the masectomy.

Now it was time to make a decision on how to proceed; at this meeting we were supposed to have the genetic results in hand but we didn’t.   So do we proceed on with the surgery or wait for the results?  I asked her what she thought; she said that she believed we needed to treat what we knew which was the cancer.  I was very frustrated that there might be a small possibility that I would potentially to have surgery twice; once is enough, but I knew she was right so that is what we did.  I felt very reassured after meeting with her and knew that she would use her skillful and pretty hands on me Wednesday.

Travis and I had some time before we were going to stop by and say hello to my Nurse Angel Karen.  So what does a cancer patient do when they have time to kill?  They go wig shopping of course.  There I sat in this nice room with mannequins all over the place with wigs on their head, as if they were all staring at me and saying “pick me! pick me!”  So there I was with every color and length imaginable to choose from; should I be a blonde, or a redhead now?  The first wig was placed on my head and I looked in the mirror and………..it was terrible,  I looked like I had just stepped out of a hair band rocker video.  The next one I resembled a lion, the next a tranny on a bad hair day and then finally we came upon one that had hope.  I thought that I actually looked pretty and loved how long it was; perfect for the wedding.  I walked away with a cute hat instead of a wig, wasn’t ready to say “I do” to the wig quite yet.

Off we then went to see my Nurse Angel Karen; every time I see her I get excited and calm simultaneously.  As she opened the door another lady was standing next to her, Nurse Angel Sharon!  The very first person I spoke to after my diagnosis!  We hugged and hugged, I couldn’t believe I was meeting her, what an awesome surprise!  The geneticist Kristin decided she wanted to come and sit with us in a room as well.  Travis asked if we were having an intervention; funny.  So there we all were; my 2 nurse angels, my geneticist and Travis and I around this big table.  They were all looking at me with eager eyes and smiling faces so I began to tell them about the day with my surgeon and the wigs and they all said that I looked great.  Nurse Karen in particular noted how I looked so much more relaxed and at ease since the first time she met me….amazing what time can do.  After I was done catching everyone up on my cancer antics; the geneticist says she has the results…………….my heart dropped, I wasn’t expecting this, I thought they weren’t ready, then my heart dropped again when I thought “this is why they are doing an intervention, because they are going to tell me I’m positive!”.  My racing thoughts were broken when I heard in a calm voice “your negative”.  I’m not sure what I did next; yelled, jumped, hugged, definitely smiled.  I felt on top of the world.  It was the best I had felt since the day I received that call on September 18th.  Time to Celebrate!

T-410 days 10/3/12–Time for everyone at work to know

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I knew everyone at work was wondering what was happening with me.  I had missed many days–of course people talk.  A few people at work knew about my cancer but only a few.  In some ways it was more difficult that way; I was mopey and few people knew why.  Until today.

I was going to have to take a FMLA based on recommendations from my Oncologist.  18 weeks.  FMLA is only for 12 weeks.  If I didn’t have enough sick days to carry me through those 12 weeks then my insurance would be cut off.  So, let’s think about this.  I run the risk of losing my insurance coverage in the midst of my cancer treatment.  BUT, there was a solution–that I could borrow days from staff members; up to 100.  Ann helped me figure out all of the logistics, went down to the Union, made phone calls, just made it happen, that’s what Ann does.

There I stood in front of the staff with Ann and I told them about my breast cancer.  I thought maybe I could hold it together and not cry but I couldn’t.  Then Ann took over and explained the donating of days.  When she was finished there was an immediate outpouring of generosity and love.  It is almost impossible to put into words the emotions in the room.  In those moments I think of how we as humans can truly rise to the occasion and give of oneself regardless of anything.  It was one of the most touching moments I have had since my diagnosis.  Ann wisely told me to take that moment and put it away in my pocket, and on those rough days I have, pull it out of my pocket and remember.

I received over 100 days donated.  Love in action.