This date last year was my first chemo treatment. I’m so grateful to be on this side of it and be able to say that it’s over. But, man, that was the beginning of something so much harder than I anticipated.
As usual, this morning started out busy getting the girls off to school. I had a meeting and then had a chance to work with a boy who makes me smile and laugh for a full hour. Then as I had my first moment of reflective downtime, I noticed the sweetest text on my phone from my friend- which totally reminded me of how lucky I am to have such great friends; to have a God who has carried me through this; and to be here today to be able to reminisce. The timing of the text was perfect. Just like the timing of a phone call from my sister while I was having a little meltdown in the middle of the gym earlier this week. (I’m ok now, but those moments of feeling upset and not like “myself” still happen.)
This afternoon I was able to volunteer in Olivia’s classroom for her Valentine’s party. Again- it left me feeling so grateful to be able to be there and participate this year. And as I sit here reflecting on how this week went, I realize that’s pretty much the emotional roller coaster that is my life now. Mostly grateful, very sentimental, sometimes sad- and constantly reminded that I have never, and will never, be alone in this life- even when no one is around.
Today, since I left work, I’ve been strangely hung up on the biological side of cancer and what my body just went through. And it really is crazy. So I thought I’d share a quick biology lesson on cancer (and Jessica Hartman may need to clarify if it’s wrong.)
Everyone has some cancer-ish cells in their body (there’s discrepancy about how to describe and label these cells). The cells need some kind of “trigger” to start dividing and become malignant. Many different factors can act as triggers- chemicals, environmental factors, dietary contributors, etc. And sometimes a person’s genetics dictates whether cells become malignant or not. Once “triggered”, the cancer cells no longer have normal checks and balances in place that control and limit cell division. So they grow out of control and rapidly divide. Chemo is treatment that kills all rapidly dividing cells in your body. So it kills those cancer cells, but also kills normal cells that are naturally rapidly dividing (blood cells; cells in the mouth, stomach, and bowel; and hair follicles). This is why chemo patients have low blood counts, mouth sores, nausea, diarrhea, and hair loss.
A little more info about my chemo drugs: Adriamycin is considered an “antitumor antibiotic”. It’s made from natural products produced by species of a soil fungus (I know… soil fungus?!?). Cytoxan is a drug that interferes with the duplication of DNA and the creation of RNA. And Taxol is a plant alkaloid- made from plants, specifically the bark of the Pacific Yew Tree. Then there are additional chemo drugs that other cancer patients use that are derived from the periwinkle plant, the May Apple plant, and the Asian “Happy Tree”.
So we have this unfair genetic predisposition (some of us), some cancer-potential cells already in our bodies, then an exposure to something that triggers them to multiply out of control. And the only way to stop it is to administer poison- made from plants with pleasant-sounding names like the Yew Tree and the “Happy tree” for goodness sake… can it be any more ironic?
I had something in my body that was growing out of control and could kill me- and I treated it with drugs that kill. It’s like a battle of which can be most deadly. And thankfully the one I was hoping for won out in my body. But the extent to which that needed to happen means that the rest of my body is still trying to recover- even 3 months after my last treatment. It’s a long process that I’m still trying to be patient with. It’s not easy; but after all that time of destruction on a cellular level, I’m thankful to be “building back up” again.
“Grow through what you go through.”
Thursday was a big day… my last chemo treatment! I still have surgery and radiation ahead of me, so there’s a lot more to go. But chemo is supposedly the hardest part, so marking the end of it feels good!! The nurses in these pictures are such special people. The one in the picture with the cupcake was there for my very first chemo, my first Taxol chemo, and my final treatment. She’s great… they all are.
The way this woman writes about experiencing cancer is spot on. I especially relate to the parts about bravery, fatigue, children, my spouse, and physical changes. I could not have written it better myself, so I’m copying the link here.
Dear every cancer patient I ever took care of, I’m sorry. I didn’t get it.
Another treatment in the books! We’re down to two left now after I can recover from this one. I was extremely tired when I got home from this one and went right to sleep for a couple of hours. My feet also hurt (soreness, not burning or swelling) so that’s a new symptom. Hoping they aren’t too bad in the morning. My friend Melanie Williams came with me today. She’s a very close friend and has posted many encouraging things on this page. I’m so glad to have her friendship in my life- work, family, running, health, now this… she’s been there through everything!
I forgot to post from last week’s treatment… so I’ll do it tonight before tomorrow’s treatment. My friend, Christina Dawson, came with me. She was so helpful at the beginning of this diagnosis- helping me navigate this foreign world and connecting me with resources I have used over the last few months. It was nice to spend time with her as we’re nearing the end of chemo. I have 3 more treatments left now. I can do this… I can do 3 more!
The most notable improvement has been with my mouth sores. They are getting better and I am able to enjoy eating some foods. Mostly bland foods, but at least I can eat. My stomach is still getting used to knowing what to do with solids, but this will all improve over time.
My body is still very weak because of my weight loss and fatigue. I look forward to feeling well enough to start working out again and building some muscle. I’m not used to feeling so weak and tired for so long. The other side effects- neuropathy and bone pain continue to be tolerable.
One other difference- if you look very closely in just the right light you can see hair growing back on my head. It’s so light blonde that you can barely tell it’s there. I will continue to wash with shampoo and conditioner… can’t let a few hairs get greasy. Go Cavs and Go Pens! This is an exciting time of year… for a lot of things.
Addendum: not 10 minutes after I wrote that, I was complaining to Rob about how sore my fingernails are and whining that I don’t want to go to treatment tomorrow. I fluctuate from positive to negative just like that. Or maybe I’m always feeling some of both. Hard to describe, but it is what it is.
Another Thursday… another chemo treatment. These are really getting old. And as much as I try to remind myself how far I’m getting, it still just feels never-ending to me. Thankfully I got to hang out with my friend, Hannah today. And Rob made it out for the end of the treatment. The best news- I gained a half of a pound!! This is the first time my weight has gone up since I started! I still have mouth sores, but they’re not as painful in the last couple of days so I can tolerate a little bit of “real” food. I’ve also loved drinking milk this past week- at least a thermos filled with it every day. The milk is so soothing to me. Never would’ve predicted that one. And I’ve been making fried bananas! I loved them years ago when I was introduced to them in Costa Rica. Wouldn’t have guessed I’d be making them again 20 years later to get through chemo!
My oncologist also lowered the dose of chemo this week. As she said, I’m “20% off now.” . She made this adjustment since my numbness in my fingers did not subside between treatments and it’s ok to do since my weight is lower than when I started the Taxol. I’m hoping this lower dosage might mean less mouth sores as well. I can hope… and I’ll keep you posted.
Amber Pierce Norman hung out with me for today’s treatment. I wish it was at a different place and for a different reason, but at least we had some quiet time to chat. Still pushing through these treatments. (I’m so tired of them!!)
Thanks to everyone who has helped us recently with dinners, cleaning, carpooling, having the girls over, etc. This is a busy time of year, and I can’t just pause everyone’s life until I feel better. Boy, wouldn’t that be nice? So I appreciate the amazing support from local people. And of course, the cards and messages from everyone. 5 more left!!
Six more left. This chemo thing is really getting old, so 6 seems so far away. So we’re just truckin along. My mouth sores are still my biggest complaint, so prayers for those to go away are appreciated. I haven’t gained weight like I was hoping, but my oncologist said my bloodwork shows my nutrition is good (I’ve lost weight but I’m not malnourished). Guess all that Ensure is doing its job. She also said she’s impressed with my progress; including my attitude. (She doesn’t see me at home or read all these posts ). The treatment itself was pretty typical again today… but with my friend, Michael Clay Donnell stayed to keep me company this time. Thanks for the messages and cards and help this week. I’ve really felt loved. Have a nice Friday, everyone. Eat some pizza or popcorn or a giant chef salad for me!!
This is what a chemo treatment looks like after the scales have tipped with more treatments behind me than in front of me. And sweet to share it with one of my closest friends, Cinnamon Leonard. Not much different to report today. The oncologist confirmed that I’m doing everything right for my mouth sores, but this stubborn one under my tongue is just a bad one that’s taking a while to heal. She advised me to be patient and “give it time”. Time is funny- it just keeps going. Sometimes it flies by (like how are my girls almost done with the school year already)? And sometimes it’s a snail’s pace (like the last 15 min of a long boring class that seem to take an eternity). Well, chemo is definitely in the “boring class” category. To me, it feels like this is taking forever and it’s depressing to think I’m barely past the halfway point. Julie Nawrocky Reis‘s wise words to “be patient with my body” have become another mantra of mine. I just want to feel better and move this along. But it’s out of my control and I have to be patient with my treatment plan. In my narrow-focused view, I get caught up in the thoughts that I haven’t well in 4 months and this mouth sore has been here for so long. But in the view of the big picture, I need to remember that my body is doing crazy stuff now- like cells being killed off then regenerating healthy ones; and hemoglobin counts recuperating within 6 days; and that thank goodness I’ve still fought off any kind of infection that could put me in the hospital. God really did make miraculous creations with our bodies. Though mine is still in the fight, it’s not losing, it’s just getting bruised up while I’m here and those will heal when I’m done. And it’s not just physically but spiritually as well. I’m paraphrasing here, but Rick Atchley said something like “doubts mean you’re wrestling and wrestling makes you stronger.” Isn’t that so true?! I guess I’m going to be stronger than ever after this! So I appreciate all the words of encouragement, positivity, and God’s goodness because I need those externally when they’re not coming easily from me internally. Thanks to Kara Ulmer and my mom for reminding me of that today. Love you all. Enjoy eating this week- it’s such an under appreciated gift!