Live Blogging from the Chemo Chair: Cycle 5.3, Blessings

8-20-15 CHEMO COUNTDOWN 4-3Blessings. The patio screen door open to a refreshing, bracing early morning coolness — along with the birds’ songs. Listening to the cicadas chatter. Seeing the sunshine streaming through the window. Hearing my mom out in the kitchen making us a pot of tea. The smell of toast. Seeing the pinks and blues rippling through the sky as the sun comes up. Snoozing in my recliner with just the right amount of extra pillows under my legs and a comfy quilt warm against the early morning coolness. Puppy snoozing on my lap adding to the cozy. Realizing that in 28 days this 6-month chemo combat will be complete.

Sun through the stain glass in our windows.

Sun through the stain glass in our windows.

Lap pup.

Lap pup.

Early Thursday morning, I was counting some of my blessings.

Actually, counting my blessings has become a daily habit. One I’m going to do my best to keep.

Chemo Thursday was beautiful. Like a fresh fall day. Sunny, yet chilly enough to restrain perspiration. Crisp. I love days like this.

Cindy and Bev selfie.

Cindy and Bev selfie.

8-20-15 Lovelys CindyMy Chemo Date was the marvelous Cindy. We had a charming lunch at Lovely’s (SUCH an appropriate name!) Farm Market. I had a fried bologna sandwich–which was the totally wrong choice for someone with high blood pressure. But it was such a beautiful day, and (I confess) 8-20-15 Lovelys bolognaI LOVE fried bologna! I made up for my bad decision by having tomatoes on my sandwich–which may have been the wrong decision for someone with acid reflux. But it was a serving of veggies — which is a good thing, right? And it was on whole wheat bread — that’s a winner, right? Add in a side of confetti corn, which was lightly dressed sweet corn stripped from the cob mere hours ago and mixed with more fresh ruby-red tomatoes (ah! the sweetness!) and some green peppers. Oh! It was total heaven!

Before we left, we took a look around the “market” part of Lovely’s — right now, heavy on baked goods, tomatoes, corn, and green beans. I purchased a dozen fabulous molasses cookies (all gone in two days!)

(Sidebar: My fascination with molasses cookies originated during my undergrad years at UW-Wisconsin. When in a baked goods situation, I am forever on the lookout for molasses cookies like the ones I used to get from a little pushcart that occupied a corner of Library Mall. Omigosh they were good! The only bakery I’ve ever found that made better molasses cookies was in Brattleboro, Vermont–they tasted like the cookies of my memory, but they were better because they were the size of dinner plates!)

After our foray into the farm market, we were off to the Chemo Cafe.

My red blood cells and hemoglobin numbers continue to live in the basement, but not so low as to deny me my Chemo Cocktail. And it was Chemo Nurse Janna’s birthday! Luckily, Lovely’s also sells fudge–and Janna loves fudge!

8-20-15 Chemo Cafe bloggingI didn’t get much writing done this week while sitting in the chemo chair–so I guess calling this “live blogging from the chemo chair” is a bit of a misnomer. Real life continues to intrude on the plans/goals I set for myself. Like the goal of publishing my chemo chair post immediately as it happens.

The thing is, another blessing I’ve discovered (and am starting to cherish) is the simple act of talking with the person who brought me to chemo. Having a real discussion about things that interest us that are not part of a job we’re doing for our employer. Is this what retirement is like? Cindy and I had the best time just talking about goofy stuff — like the recent customer service rep hacker/troll on the Target Facebook page (did you see this? It’s both hysterically funny and horribly frightening all at once.)

Three mums now sit on my patio patiently waiting for their new home.

Three mums now sit on my patio patiently waiting for their new home.

We talked about gardening, and how I want to put in a few mums for fall color (“We can stop and pick up some on the way home!” said my pal Cindy with obvious delight.) We talked about a baby shower she’s hosting for a relative and what she did for decoration. And so many other mundane topics.

Over the past few years, I’ve been so busy being busy with work that I’ve gotten out of the habit of talking about things that have nothing to do with my job. Until Siggy slapped me in the face. I refuse to call this cancer a blessing, but the joy I’m rediscovering because I’ve been forced to slow down and reassess what’s important certainly is.

All these months (since February!) I’ve been spending in the slow lane have underlined a concept I’ve forgotten: Living in the moment is a priceless blessing.

I am wallowing in the pleasures of my blessings.

Live Blogging from the Chemo Chair: Cycle 5.2, Art for Relaxing

8-13-15 CHEMO COUNTDOWN 5-4Frankly, it’s been a wonderful week. The Red Rash has been minimal. My energy level has been decent. My usual Third Day Blahs (the third day after chemo treatment is usually the worst one for side-effects) amounted to me being overly tired (instead of feeling like an infected refugee from a flu pandemic). And in the last few days, I’ve been able to do another round of weeding and dead-heading on my flower beds and I’ve started downsizing one of my closets. I feel almost normal!

Except for the high blood pressure.

My Chemo Nurse told me today that the steroids I’m taking can elevate blood pressure, and you may recall that my Oncologist increased my steroids after the Ham Feet Issue. So that may be an explanation to the upswing in my BP. I’m going to continue to monitor my numbers and report them to my family doctor, who will be my adviser on this.

My good pal, Sharon, is my chemo date today. Before lunch we decided to explore an “antiques mall.”

8-13-15 Antique Sharon

It was pretty much what you might expect an “antiques mall” to be, except for the “Canned Annies.”

8-13-15 Canned Annie28-13-15 Canned AnnieThere’s just something wrong about “canning” Raggedy Anne and Raggedy Andy. It’s the stuff that horror movies are made from. Imagine those dolls coming to life and “canning” the misanthropic person who had the termerity to put the dolls into bottles. I cannot deal with the possibilities. Yes, I found this freakish beyond belief!

We left soon after being creeped-out by these Chucky-wannabes.

Lunch was at a new place next to Whole Paycheck Foods, called Zoup!

8-13-15 Zoup Sign

We both had mac and cheese soup and half of a turkey club sandwich. For once, I remembered to take a photo of our meal!

8-13-15 Zoup LunchThe soup was good comfort food, maybe a little salty — though I’ve been over-conscious of salt lately. The sandwich was excellent — I think the french bread it was served on was a major player in the excellent part. The sourdough roll that came with the soup was a total loss. Still, I would consider this a fast-food restaurant, and in that category it was very good.

Sharon and I had a little fun spoofing the staff. Every time someone replenishes the soup, they yell “Hot soup!” which is echoed by the rest of the serving staff. And when bread comes out of the oven, it’s “Hot bread!” which again, is echoed by the staff. It didn’t take long for Sharon and I to join in, but it took them a few echoes to figure out the extra “Hot soup!” was coming from the peanut gallery. We can have jobs there, if we want.

8-13-15 Selfie with Sharon

At the Chemo Cafe, imagine my surprise to find that at the cocktail table next to mine were a mother-daughter team — and they were coloring!

You may know that coloring for adults has become a much publicized stress-reducer for adults. I like to think that I was slightly ahead of the curve and started coloring before the news media picked up on it, turning it into a mainstream fad. I find it to be a wonderful way to relax (cause it’s not like I’ve got any stress in my life, right?)

8-13-15 coloring 1

One of my early efforts at coloring, done with pencils.

I use colored pencils, gel pens, colored markers, and I’ve even used highlighters. I recently purchased a set of drawing pencils with the idea I would try to color in gray tone shades, but I haven’t yet been brave enough to set pencil to paper. But after seeing what my chemo neighbors were working on, I think I will be inspired to give the pencils a try.

8-13-15 Coloring 3

I colored this mandala using gel pens.

They were doing something called Zentangles, which is a specific art form that involves making deliberate pencil strokes to form patterns on a small square of paper. In addition to what’s on the website, the Zentangles folks also have a YouTube channel to help teach the method. There’s more to it than simply drawing lines. It’s the contemplation of the line, the meditation of the line, and that’s what draws me (pardon the pun) to this art form. This is more complicated then coloring in an adult coloring book. And I’m looking forward to giving it a try! If you’re looking for a way to meditate that really accesses your creativity, this may be the right therapy for you.

8-13-15 Zentangle

(Thank you to Zentangle.com for this view of their site. Click the photo to learn more about Zentangle.)

So, with today’s treatment I’ve completed 14 of 18 chemo cocktails. Counting one more chemo vacation — and providing all goes well with my remaining cocktails — I’m left with five more weeks of chemotherapy. If all goes well, my last chemo date should be September 17. Just in time to do fall prep on my flower beds. Just in time to get back to walking again before bad weather drives me indoors to the tread mills. Just in time to regain my strength before the holidays. Today is a good day!

No matter what, Tyler always finds the sunbeam!

No matter what, Tyler always finds the sunbeam!

Live Blogging from the Chemo Chair: Cycle 5.1, Better Late Than Never

When I started my visits to the Chemo Cafe, I made a commitment to myself to blog each visit while it was happening. As the Scottish poet, Robert Burns, says (and to slightly paraphrase) “The best laid plans of mice and (wo)men, often go awry.” Real life has gotten in the way, making this post late. Ah! Tragedy! (Not.)

Chemo Vacation Recap

Half-way through my Chemo Vacation last week, a new issue popped up (remember the part about “best laid plans?”) My blood pressure is up. In fact, it’s up enough that my weekly Visiting Nurse called the Oncology Hotline to arrange for me to see the doctor (something I could have done myself, but she insisted). I ended up going to the “after hours” clinic, seeing the doctor on duty — who is not my usual Oncologist. He did not seem to be as concerned as Visiting Nurse with this upswing in my BP — which was both reassuring and scary.

Who do I believe? Visiting Nurse, who I see every week, who knows about all the side-effect issues I’ve had, and who seems very concerned over my rise in BP?

Or the one-time-visit-Oncologist, who is not totally familiar with my history/prescriptions/tribulations? But who is a doctor.

This is not the first time I’ve faced the conundrum of who is giving me the best advice.

Nurses often spend more time with the patient, and often have more patient facts top-of-mind than the doctor does simply because of the way our medical system works.

But the doctor has a larger overview of the entire disease. This is why I think it’s the responsibility of the patient to ask questions, lots of questions. You need a strong understanding of the issue and what needs to be done to clear it. And if you’re not comfortable with what you’re hearing, seek another opinion.

You may remember that back in January, during our first surgery attempt, (another “best laid plans”I had a blip on my EKG and the Cardiologist on duty at the hospital put me on a beta blocker, which helps with blood pressure. The one-time-visit-Oncologist recommended that I increase the beta blocker if my BP continued to be high. When I saw my usual Oncologist on Chemo Day, he confirmed this course of action. I also connected with my family doctor, who also agreed.

Have your best laid plans gone awry? Ask questions until you understand the course of action.

Chemo Day Thursday

We started with a fabulous lunch at an old favorite of mine, Meadowlark Restaurant. The wonderful Shelley was my driver today, and our pal (and former boss), Marti met us there. Good friends + good food = Heaven!

As per the usual, I forgot to take photos! (When will the best laid plans going awry thing end?)  I’m going to blame this on the excitement of lunch with two of my best pals.

Marti, Bev, and Shelley at a different restaurant on another occasion, but just as happy to be together.

Marti, Bev, and Shelley at a different restaurant on another occasion, but just as happy to be together.

One of my favorite things about the Meadowlark is that they make their own ketchup. Now, that may seem like a very small thing on a restaurant’s menu, but it’s an incredible compliment to their Garlic Frites (French fries with garlic) and a good example of their dedication to yummy food. I had a beautiful grilled cheese and bacon sandwich — because everything is better with bacon!

After lunch, Shelley and I headed over to the Chemo Cafe for dessert.

8-7-15 Bev-Shelley

My last visit to the Chemo Cafe was July 21, which gave me 16 days between treatments. And remember that I had an extra week off in early July due to the “Ham Feet Incident.” So even though my red blood cell and hemoglobin counts are still low, and I had a moment of doubt on Wednesday night, I am back in battle mode and feeling good!

Improved protocol: my Chemo Nurse is now double-gloved, masked, and wearing protective glasses. Is this so I can't identify the person pumping me full of poison?

Improved protocol: my Chemo Nurse is now double-gloved, masked, and wearing protective glasses. Is this so I can’t identify the person pumping me full of poison? (I’m loving the photo-bomber!)

Seriously, it's disconcerting to see my gentle Chemo Nurse dressed up in this unrecognizable fashion!

Seriously, it’s disconcerting to see my gentle Chemo Nurse dressed up in this unrecognizable fashion!

Before chemo, I saw my doctor and discovered that there had been a mis-communication regarding my future chemo dates. The scheduled dates were Thursday for 5.1, with 5.2 (next week) on Wednesday, and 5.3 (the following week) on Tuesday. This was to ease me back to my usual Tuesday dates for Cycle 6. Turns out, the doctor wants all my chemo dates to be Thursday (instead of Tuesday) because that’s the day he’s at the clinic and if I have any more issues he’s there to see me instead of relying on the Doctor-on-Duty.

Best laid plans: my wonderful friends have committed to taking me to chemo several weeks in advance. When the dates changed to Thursday/Wednesday/Tuesday with an extra week off (due to ham feet), we had to reschedule. Now, with the dates changed to Thursday/Thursday/Thursday, we had to do another reschedule.

Plus, my little man Tyler was scheduled for a teeth-cleaning which I had to reschedule. For the second time.

Tyler is not sure what a "dental" is, but he's certain he won't like it.

Tyler is not sure what a “dental” is, but he’s certain he won’t like it.

Luckily, I have incredible friends and Tyler goes to an amazing veterinary clinic. It took just a few text messages and a phone call to adjust things. And I snapped my fingers in the face of the Best Laid Plans Curse!

Steroid Friday/Saturday

I’ve been busy. Between the steroids mixed in with my chemo cocktail, and the steroid pills I take for the two days after my treatment, I had amazing energy on Friday and Saturday. What I accomplished on Friday:

  • Called my former employer’s benefits line to straighten out an issue.
  • Called a very dear friend I haven’t had a chance to talk to in months.
  • Picked up more drugs from the pharmacy.
  • Took my mom to her manicure appointment.
  • Cleaned out our refrigerator.
  • Updated my chemo book (where I keep track of diet, health issues, prescriptions, questions).
  • Washed out 8 pairs of support stockings, by hand.
  • And, most importantly, I spent the majority of the day outside weeding and dead-heading my flower beds. (Those of you who are sick of reading my Facebook complaints about not being able to care for my flower beds can breath a sigh of relief. At least for now. Until the weeds come back.)

8-7-15 flowers

 

8-7-15 flowers2

I’ve slowed down a little for Saturday.

  • Did our weekly grocery shopping.
  • Ordered some necessaries from Amazon.
  • Watered the potted plants on the front porch and patio.
  • Did maintenance work on my big jade plant and the pieces of it that I’ve repotted this summer.
  • And realized that I had not published my “Live Blogging from the Chemo Chair” this week, and it was only partially written.
Robert Burns painted by Alexander Naysmith in 1787 and located in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (Thanks Wikipedia!)

Robert Burns painted by Alexander Naysmith in 1787 and located in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (Thanks Wikipedia!)

Robbie Burns had it mostly right — except for the gender exclusion “The best laid plans of mice and men AND women, often go awry.” High BP? Rescheduling my life? Forgetting to take photos? These are minor things, easily fixed. And though I made the commitment to myself to publish my chemo report on the same day as my treatment, there is no tragedy in being late. Just a really long blog post!

I can live with that.

The Night Before Chemo

I shall be brief. It’s been fifteen days since my last chemo treatment. My next treatment is scheduled for tomorrow. I don’t want to go. The anticipation of what I’m about to experience for the next three weeks is tying my tummy into knots, giving me indigestion. I just don’t want to do it.

Is there a choice? I’m not sure there is.

 

Live Blogging from the Chemo Chair: Cycle 4.3, Onward!

I looked at my feet this morning and realized that they look like they did pre-chemo. Which makes sense because in the past two weeks — since the ham feet crisis — I’ve lost 19 pounds of water from my legs. Between the extra vacation (the week my chemo was cancelled), the extra steroids, and the extra peeing that I’ve been doing, I’m feeling pretty good! Even the dreaded scrounge of the red rash seems to be diminished.

Yesterday, the Oncologist decided I would continue on and complete the last two cycles of Gemma. This is fine with me, because even though Gemma is a heartless bitch who kills indiscriminately, she is still the accepted best choice for my particular cancer battle. And I have my new tools and knowledge to use to try to mitigate her savagery.

7-21-15 1We’re having a beautiful day today with lots of sun and no rain for a change. Partying at the Chemo Cafe with me today is my good pal, Sharon. Lunch was at my favorite tavern, Doubleday’s (as per my normal chemo brain, I forgot to take photos of the food). Best burgers in town!

7-21-15 2

Sharon is a farmer. She comes from a family of farmers. We’ve been talking about hay. While she does duty here with me, someone mowing hay for her. And we’re sending out lots of positive energy that the rain holds off until the weekend, because it takes four days to cut, dry, turn, and bail hay successfully. The things you can learn while getting poison pumped into your body at the Chemo Cafe!

7-21-15 3And she knows about gardening — her family had a successful greenhouse business. So imagine my pride when she told me how beautiful my hibiscus was looking!

Im not only hoping for happy hay results. I’m hoping that the week of the ham feet was my last absolute low point. I’m hoping that my side effect symptoms will be milder this week because of the help I’ll get from the steroids and lasix. I’m hoping that next week — chemo vacation week — I’ll be feeling well enough to work out in my garden pulling weeds (never gonna take that simple pleasure for granted ever again). And I’m hoping that these last two cycles of treatment — the next eight weeks — goes quickly and relatively fuss-free. No whining. No ham feet.

I’ve got lots of hopes.

Live Blogging from the Chemo Chair: Cycle 4.2 (part deux), Back in my Shoes!

Here I sit, once again ready to have toxic poison pumped into my body. Ah! The joys of Chemo Day! Today, my worthy partner is my pal Cindy. We had a wonderful lunch at a local ‘Burg sports bar, C.J. Chumps, where the patio is shaded and the food is fabulous! We’ve been discussing hitting the local Dairy Queen on the way home for mini-sized Blizzards. Ummmm! Ice Cream!

Actually, my chemo treatments are also under discussion. You may remember that last week my chemo was cancelled because the edema in my legs had caused my feet to swell to the size of small hams. american horror storyCoupled with the very bright red rash covering my legs, my gams were a sight right out of American Horror Story which properly freaked out anyone who saw them including my favorite Chemo Nurse Jenna who notified my oncologist who cancelled my chemo for the day. (And isn’t that a lovely run-on sentence.)

Last Tuesday I left the Chemo Cafe with two new prescriptions. I now have a prescription for lasix to help with my water retention. I also have a prescription fora corticosteroid (Dexamethasone) — which should help with both the water retention and the red rash. I’ve also got a steroid cream (Clobetasol) for the red rash. And lastly, I’ve got better knowledge on what to expect over the next few days and how to mitigate the issues.

My feet are in the air like I just don't care (actually, I seem to care a lot about my ham feet...)

My feet are in the air like I just don’t care (actually, I seem to care a lot about my ham feet…)

I’ve spent the past week taking my new meds, wearing my compression stockings from the time I get out of bed until the time I crawl back into bed, smearing the steroid cream on the red rash when I’m not wearing the compression stockings, taking every opportunity to recline with my feet over my head (OK, I really mean higher than my heart), and cutting back a little on my water intake (yes, I may have been drinking too much water — but only because some of the instructions I’ve received encouraged me to try and drink more than 64-ounces daily). The result? I’ve done a lot (seriously, A LOT) of peeing, which has made for a 6-day weight loss of 12 pounds.

Ham Foot (before)

Ham Foot (before)

Not a pretty picture

Not a pretty picture

I appear to be at a cross-roads of sorts. I’m receiving treatment today (technically, the second of three treatments for Cycle 4). Then on Monday, my Oncologist will take a look at how bad my side-effect symptoms are (water retention, bright red rash, hemoglobin count, shortness of breath), and we’ll decide whether I can continue on Gemzar (7 treatments / 2 cycles left), move to a pill form of a different chemo, or quit chemo all together.

I have mixed emotions. I’m really ready — I mean REALLY READY — for the whole chemo battle to be finished. Each Chemo Day, I am more and more resistant to the idea of Gemma as my alley in this fight. She’s a wicked bitch who doesn’t care which cells she kills. And she’s really messing up my life. Sucking down this toxic cocktail has become one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do. But the hope of Gemma giving me a few extra years of life is like a designer drug of bliss — sweet and addicting. I want the best possible chance to beat this stupid monster that’s tried to take over my life. I want to absolutely crush this stupid cancer and eject it from my body.

This morning, I had a “foot moment.” There is approximately an hour in the morning — from around 8:30 to 9:30 — when the trees around our yard block the sun from shining full on our patio. It’s one of my favorite times of the day. I am enchanted with the way the light is shady and yet dappled with splashy spots of bright sunny pools of light. And I can sit on the patio, enjoy the birds’ songs, and not worry about putting on sun screen.

A more  normal sized foot (after)

A more normal sized foot (after)

Today, my enchantment was multiplied ten-fold when I noticed that the veins in my feet were actually standing out, ribboned above the level of my skin. I haven’t seen the veins in my feet standing at attention like this for probably 10 weeks, because of the swelling. The meds, the stockings, the feet elevation, the cream, and limiting myself to 64-ounces of water instead of trying to do 90 — this system seems to work.

I can’t help but feel that I have a better chance at dealing with my side effects this week because I have better tools and more knowledge. I don’t want ham feet. Watching my hair get thinner was nothing compared to seeing my feet swell up to the point that I couldn’t get my shoes on. This morning, seeing my feet closer to their normal size and shape was like a benediction. Do I continue the battle with my chemo War General, Gemma? Or do we adjust to a new plan? I’ll find out on Monday…

A big THANK YOU to my friend Karen for sending me a box of Killer Brownies to cheer me up. She was successful in her endeavor. They were delicious!

A big THANK YOU to my friend Karen for sending me a box of Killer Brownies to cheer me up. She was successful in her endeavor. They were delicious! Click my photo to check out Karen’s brilliant Cat Scouts web site.

Live Blogging from the Chemo Chair: Cycle 4.2 (part 1), Ham Feet

A funny thing happened yesterday. I was getting ready to meet my friend Pat for lunch, and I couldn’t get my shoes on.

I haven’t been anywhere since last Tuesday, so I’ve been padding around the house in soft slippers or stocking-footed. Surprise! My feet — especially my left foot — have swollen to the point that my shoes will not comfortably go on.

This made for not just a frustrating moment, but also a wet moment because (I’ll admit it here) I cried. My feet looked like giant hams. They still do.

And the Scrounge of the Red Rash is still rearing its ugly head. From my knees down I look like I’ve been selectively parboiled. Between the rash and the swelling, my poor feet are very tender to the touch. I cannot put on my compression stockings because it hurts so much.

With the Red Rash so active today, I decided to try out the steroid cream that my Dermatologist prescribed. I think it’s reducing the burning feeling. After having it on for an hour, there seemed to be a positive difference. It’s reassuring that it works because this stuff is EX. PEN. SIVE. I did the math. It comes in a 60 gram tube. I paid $50. My insurance picked up the rest…$397.99. It costs $447.99 a tube!! Sixty grams is 2.112 ounces making this cream $212.12 an ounce! My head is spinning!! Thank goodness the guidelines say to put it on in a thin layer. Per application(twice a day), it’s probably costing $10 per leg.

The Chemo Cafe is busy today — only a couple of empty seats. With me is my pal Shelley. We didn’t do lunch today. Instead we hit a couple of stores for some quick shopping. Chemo Nurse Jenna took note of my swollen, red-rashed legs. She was so impressed that she contacted my Oncologist, who decided that we would forego chemo today and try to get some of the swelling down.

So instead of chemo, I’m getting Furosemide — which is a diuretic also known as Lasix used to treat fluid retention (AKA edema). I’ll take the first pill as soon as I get home so I’ll probably be up peeing most of the night. Actually, if it reduces the size of my ham-feet it will be worth some lost sleep.

I’m also going to get some compression bandages and wrap my legs.

I’ll see the doctor on Thursday to learn how my chemo treatments will be adjusted.

I’m not sorry to have the chemo delayed. Walking has become uncomfortable. It would be good to clear some of this up before adding on more. So I’ll spend tonight and the next couple days on the sofa with my feet higher than my heart trying to help my water-logged legs to empty.

What am I doing for shoes? I have a pair of sandals that I got at the Ohio Renaissance Festival years ago that lace up allowing me to adjust their width. Usually I can wrap the straps twice around my ankles. Not now. Now it’s just a simple knot.

My feet are hams.

Live Blogging from the Chemo Chair: Cycle 4.1, Back From Vacation and I got Attitude

It’s been a long day and I’m late posting this because my day ended with dinner with my old team mates from Consumer Care. I am again amazed and humbled by the friendship and strength these women offer me.

6-30-15 team dinner

Last week, Gemma opened a big old can of whoop ass on me. I guess I should have been expecting it, because the previous week (my week of whining) was, to say the least, difficult. I’m not going to go into great detail about this, because I’m trying to remain positive. But I will say that I’m a little pissed off at that bitch Gemma for cutting into my vacation time.

Because I was two days late getting my last treatment (Thursday instead of Tuesday), the after effects were two days late (Sunday instead of Friday). And I think this was the worst case of treatment side effects I’ve yet experienced. My muscles ached like I had extreme flu. My appetite was totally AWOL. And I was so tired! I slept for most of the day on Sunday and Monday — and was tired enough to sleep all night, too. It was Thursday before I felt human again. Instead of having a week of Chemo Vacation, Gemma allowed me only four days.

Between Gemma and the extra rain we’ve had all week, I STILL have 2 flats of marigolds and 4 pots of zinnias to put in to the front flower beds (but first they need to be weeded). The one thing I managed to accomplish was to weed whack the grass around our patio — I think the grass had actually grown taller than Tyler’s legs, and he was really giving me some dirty looks when I urged him to “Go potty!”

But now, the good news!

Today is my 10th chemo treatment. That means only 8 more left to do! Ten and a half weeks left until I’m done! I think I’m going to put some kind of count-down widget on the side of the blog.

Results of last week’s CT scan confirm that I’m tumor-free!

Also, according to the American Cancer Society, “CA 19-9 is a substance often released into the blood by exocrine pancreatic cancer cells…” Though not conclusive, knowing CA 19-9 levels can indicate whether treatment is working as expected. Normal levels are <38. I had a pre-surgery level of 88. After surgery it went to 12. It’s now down to 9. Gemma may be a bitch, but she’s working her mojo!

(Moving forward, these will be our measuring sticks regarding Siggy. CT scans every 6 months, CA 19-9 tests every 3 to 4 months.)

My Dermatologist has confirmed that the Scrounge of the Red Rash is actually a side effect of Gemma, and I now have a cream to use against it. Which is  a good thing because the rash has expanded from my left shin to include my inside knee, calf, and duplicated spots on my right leg. It’s like I’m sunburned on selected areas of my legs.

My left foot and ankle are really swollen — so much so that I can no longer wear my favorite shoes (I guess I could wear one of them on my right foot, but that might look funny with my Viking helmet). But my Oncologist is not worried that I’m retaining water. So I’m not going to worry either. I’ll just pull on my compression stockings and pretend that they don’t make me feel like an old woman.

Today, my Chemo Cafe partner is my most wonderful cousin, Annie Lee. We went to Flavors for lunch (see also previous post) — I’m really liking this little hole-in-the-wall restaurant!

6-30-15 Annie and Bev

We had a great time at the Chemo Cafe! I always take my iPad with me so I can at least start my “Live Blogging from the Chemo Chair” post, but today all we did was talk and laugh! We had a great conversation about attitude with one of the volunteers, Sandy. She told us her cancer story — and it’s worth a brief repeat here.

Sandy had just reached her Weight Watchers goal weight, when she discovered she could eat anything without gaining any weight. Imagine that! She was stuffing herself and not gaining an ounce (first red flag)! Then she noticed a lump under her arm (second red flag). Her doctor took a look and thought it might be her lymph nodes working overtime because it was allergy season. But the lump didn’t go away (third red flag), so the doctor arranged for a biopsy. She was in Stage IV Lymphoma.

At first, Sandy was in denial. Her denial turned into anger — at the cancer, at the Oncologist, at anyone who questioned whether she could walk down the hallway to her bedroom without help because her red blood cell count was so low that her strength was sapped. As she found her way through her anger, it morphed into an attitude that she used to fight her way kicking and screaming to remission. She still has two years to go before she can be considered cancer-free, but she’s coming back from cancer that had spread throughout her body! This is amazing!

My take-away from Sandy’s story? When dealing with cancer, whether patient or care-giver, one of our most productive tools in the cancer-fighting toolbox is attitude. Whether it’s anger or humor, faith or enlightenment — anything except giving up and giving in. Find your attitude knowing that for most of us, cancer today is more like a chronic condition than the end of the line.

That being said, there are people out there facing cancer with no hope of remission. Attitude is still important. It gives you the strength to do what must be done.

Six years ago, my Uncle Oliver was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. Radiation and chemo treatments would have marginally increased his life span, but at an extreme sacrifice of his quality of his life. I was his care giver. He told me, “What I want, is to be clean and comfortable.” This became his litany. He made the decision to enter hospice care. This was not giving up. It was making his wishes known. And that became my mission for the short time he had left with us. His wish, shared with me, gave us both the attitude and direction which led to the strength to make it through his departure from this world.

Whether it’s cancer or some other big thing in your life, it’s all about the attitude. Don’t give up and surrender. Find your attitude, find your path.

And when you need an attitude power boost, don’t hesitate to plug in to your friends (and family).  Continue reading