Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The End...

Wow, I'm sorry I haven't updated lately... I didn't think anyone was still reading this but I've had a few people ask me why I haven't put the most recent info on here.  So, here's the scoop:

July 9 -  I went to the oncologist to get an injection in my abdomen that shuts down my ovaries since my cancer is fed by hormones.  It hurt a lot more than I expected it to.  I think my nurse nicked a muscle or something because I was in bed in pain for the rest of the night and all the sites on the internet said it normally doesn't hurt that much.  Boo.  The picture of the right is an annoying side effect post-chemo... lovely, thick, downy facial hair.  It supposedly falls out in 2-6 months after it first appears but I just shaved it off when it got uber noticeable because I couldn't wait that long.

July 13 -  Last Radiation Treatment:  My rads technicians Matt and Andy, and my nurse Nikki.  When I finished radiation they gave me this cute graduation certificate and also paid for my name to be placed on a Tibetan prayer flag.  One of the radiation oncologists climbs mountains as a hobby and he works with the "Radiating Hope" foundation to place these prayer flags on the mountains of Tibet.  The foundation provides radiation therapy to people that don't have access to the standards of medical treatment we're used to.  Super cool.
This picture shows my healthy tissue compared to my radiated skin.  I went through rads like a pro and only got one tiny blister that appeared a couple of days after I was done.  I (and the whole radiation staff) was super happy with how well my skin reacted to treatment.  I used organic, cold pressed aloe vera gel right after each treatment and applied an organic coconut oil & shea butter mix a couple of times a day.  I also tried to stay out of the sun and take care of my skin from the inside out by eating healthy... although the closer to the end of treatment I got the more unhealthily (and deliciously - ha ha) I ate. 
My adorable visiting teachers surprised me with cake and ice cream to celebrate the end of my treatments - yay!  They have taken such good care of me. :)

July 22 - Port Removal Surgery: Dr. Morrell removed my port.  I was super nervous for this surgery but it ended up not being bad at all.  The whole taking the tube out of my jugular vein freaked me out and I was awake for the procedure but as long as I kept making conversation with everyone, I was ok.  The picture below/right, is of the port.  Obviously, the white tube is what hooked into my vein and the purple heart shaped piece is what they poked into for infusions. *shiver*

August 8 - Matt and I had an overnight getaway for my early birthday present.  For part of our date we went up to see the brick that "I Heart Peanut Butter" (the cute gal, Summer, who sells workout pants) sponsored for me.  I was excited to see it and get a picture next to it, but I was completely unprepared for the flood of emotions to come.  While I was looking for my brick, I kept noticing so many of them were "in memory" of someone.  Seeing all those that have passed because of this disease was very humbling and kind of scary.  As soon as I saw my brick I completely broke down in tears.
I thought I had things under control, so I sat down to snap a pic but the bottom left picture is the beginning of breakdown  numero two.  Everything from the past 9 months just resurfaced and it was such a cathartic, healing experience to have a good "it's hopefully over" cry.  I completely cried off my fake eyelashes (ha ha) but the experience of closure was worth it.

August 14 - Now onto the fun stuff...  I've been dying my hair pink and purple for a while but it wasn't really showing.  I just tinted on top of my normal color because I was worried about using bleach on my precious hair before it was ready.  After a month or so of growth, it was time!  My cute sister Jackie bleached it and dyed it pink (for breast cancer!) and I have to admit I'm still kind of freaking out about how bright it is, but YOLO, right?!

Tomorrow (August 19th) I go into my oncologist to start my hormone blocking drugs and everything after that will just be more of the same... injections, blood tests and drugs for the next 10 years.  This will be my last post on here because everything is going to be just fine!!!  Thank you to every one reading this for all your prayers, kind words, positive thoughts, and service.  I'm so grateful for all of your kindness to me and my family throughout this journey. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Radiation Has Begun

Yesterday (June 2nd) was my first day of radiation... the next stage of treatment has officially begun!

I actually went in to meet with my radiation oncologist 2 weeks ago to set up a treatment plan so I guess it technically began then; all this stuff just blurs together.  During the meeting Dr. H answered my questions and then I went to the hospital for a scan and my tattoo application.  My chemo brain is kicking in and I have no clue what kind of scanner this is... CT, MRI???  I don't know, but here's what happened: I laid on my back and put my head on that blue pillow.  I held on to the white bars above the pillow and then they formed the pillow around my body and made it into a cast (so I'd be in the same position every time).  Then, they lined me up to some lasers and gave me a tattoo on my breast bone and on each side of my ribs (again, so I'd be in the exact same position).  After I was all lined up, the bed lifted up and went back into the scanner to take pictures of my body.  The techs in radiation use these pics to generate my treatment plan. (More details on that in a minute...)
Can I just say how thoroughly disappointed I am in my tats?!  It's not like I wanted anything funky, but even a different color of ink would've made a difference.  These look just like blackheads and I'm totally tempted to pick the one on my chest every time I look at it.  (Oh, the crazy things I complain about, lol.)
The week before radiation I drank a lot of veggie juices to get my cells nice and ready.  This wasn't suggested by my doctors, it's just something I wanted to do.  I am normally a pretty healthy eater, but I was surprised by how difficult these were to gag down.  The beet ones were especially nasty.  My kids reminded me to plug my nose and it helped!  
Monday afternoon (the day before radiation) I got a letter from my insurance saying that my radiation had been denied.  I am pretty proud of myself for how I held it together emotionally.  I called the insurance and they told me to contact my dr to ask details and see if we could appeal the decision.  By the time I got off the phone with the insurance, it was past 5:00 so I had to wait till the morning.  When I called Dr H's office, they were wonderful to let me know that my radiation IS covered and I should still come in, but that the letter was in reference to a more specialized type of therapy called IMRT and they would explain it to me in detail when I got there.  I met with the Dr. and he said they wanted to get approval to do the IMRT (Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy) because my case was intense (ha ha, just what you want to hear) but that insurance almost always denies IMRT unless the cancer is on your left breast (in which case radiation has a higher likelihood of hitting your heart).  He said that he would have appealed the decision of the insurance except that when they made my plan on the computer they were able to manipulate the treatment and curve it so that it was just as effective at hitting my target areas and avoiding as much of my heart and lungs as possible.  He walked me back to the room where they designed the treatments so I could see mine on the computer.  It was amazing... there were 3 guys in a room sitting in front of multiple computers with images of bodies they were designing treatment for.  I got to see exactly where my treatment was targeted to and speak with the guy who designed it.  He said it took a few days and was one of the hardest ones he's had to design (ha ha, just what you want to hear... again) but that he's so excited and proud of how great it turned out.  That made me feel really confident with my treatment and the team that is helping me.  I feel like they really want to make sure I'm getting the best possible results and to talk with them and see these super smart people working behind the scenes to help me and everyone else going through treatment was really humbling.

So, this is going to be the routine:  I check in and change into a top-half hospital gown.  I need to make sure I'm not wearing any lotion, deodorant, perfume, etc because that interferes with the radiation.  The techs come get me from the waiting room and take me to the room with tomotherapy machine.  I lay down with my arms above my head and they line up my tattoos with the laser then slide me into the machine.  They do a scan, pull me out to make sure I'm still lined up and then slide me back in for my treatment.  The actual treatment lasts about 8-10 minutes and I need to keep absolutely still.  I scratched my nose today after the initial scan and they had to start all over because I'd moved my arm - oops!  It is SOO hard to try and stay still... my arms fall asleep, I worry that I'm moving or breathing too much (that can move my lungs or heart into the line of radiation), but then I breathe too shallow and start to feel anxious.  It is a total mental exercise to stay calm - maybe I'll become a pro at meditation by the time I'm done!  My treatments are going to be every weekday at 11:20 AM and I'm there till about noon.  So far, this is a lot easier than chemo but it's going to be a pain to go in every day.  I don't have any side effects yet from the radiation but the biggest ones should be tiredness and skin damage.

Oh by the way, tomorrow marks exactly one month since I finished chemo!!  The last two treatments really knocked the wind out of my sails and I had a hard time recovering last month.  I am really struggling with energy and it has been a bit harder to keep my smile.  I'm forcing myself to eat right and exercise hard every day (you know, to keep my cells, heart and bones strong despite all the poison that's been hammering at them the past few months) but sometimes I feel like that's all I can muster and everything else falls by the wayside.  My toes are still tingly from the neuropathy (that may be permanent), I've got a few fingernails that are coming off, and ALL of my eyelashes and most of my eyebrows are now out.  It's funny how I still see side effects occurring even though treatment's over.  It's good though because that means the meds are still hard at work on my cancer cells, yay!  

Here's a picture of my head at 1 month out.  I've got some fuzzies going on but nothing you can see without squinting.  My oncologist said most people start to grow back hair between 6 weeks and 3 months out of chemo - we'll see where I fall on that spectrum...
So now that I'm done writing this rambling post (wow, looking back I realize that I really did spew it all out!), I realize what good therapy it is for me to write all this stuff down.  I was just going to have this be a quick update but it's turned into a brain and emotion dump.  Yay for journaling therapy!
Have a wonderful summer everyone!!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Finished With Chemo!!!

I just realized that I haven't posted my final entry about chemo!  Although I know I'll be glad to have a record of all this stuff in the future, I'm getting pretty tired of documenting it all.  It'll be nice to take a break from updating this blog!  However, before I do take that break (from treatment and from blogging), here are pics from my 8th and final chemo session:
We got home from the doctor's visit and found this fun poster that Biffy surprised me with; totally made me cry happy tears...
To really cement the celebration, we took the kids up to Park City for the weekend.  We also went to the very cold and soggy, "Race for the Cure" in Salt Lake City.  Despite the weather, the race was a perfect way to end this leg of my journey.
Feeling good!!!

Friday, April 24, 2015

#Fight Like A Mom & Inspiration

I got my "fighter pants" delivered!!!  The gal who organized the whole thing, Summer Hunt, came over on Sunday the 12th and the whole experience of meeting and talking with her made my day.  That weekend after chemo I'd really been struggling to find my smile - I was really down and couldn't figure out why although I'm sure the fact that my body was pumped full of chemicals had a little something to do with that!  Anyway, this dose of cheer was a perfect pick me up!!  She was SO generous and in addition to the pants, she gave me a gift box with lots of gift cards and the receipt for a "Brick of Hope" (which helps with funding for cancer research) in my name to be placed up at Huntsman Cancer Institute.  She also gave ME a thank you note which blew me away - I'm the one with all the thanks and gratitude!!!  This whole experience wasn't about all the "stuff" though... meeting Summer was wonderful!  She is such a happy, spunky, high energy person and that really rubbed off and inspired me.  The fact that she didn't even know me but served me, and two other gals battling cancer, in such a thoughtful & fun way was very overwhelming.  
I am also so grateful for all the people who supported her in the sale of the pants.  I got the cutest picture/text of my niece across the country wearing a pair of the exercise pants.  I also just saw a gal in the grocery store wearing them.  I went up and introduced myself and then like a total dork said, "those are the pants that were named after me"  Oh my gosh, as soon as I said that I realized how weird it was and wanted to be swallowed by a hole in the floor; I was so embarrassed by my crazy self!  At least it gave Matt and I something to laugh about all night --  haha!!!  Anyway, you've gotta love all the wonderful things that come your way during the midst of the yucky stuff in life.  People are good!

Yesterday was treatment #7 - I only have one left!!!!!!!!!!  The side effects are similar as the last 2 times... numbness in my extremities and tiredness, but both totally doable.  The treatment went well but my sweet nurse Lisa was on vacation which gave me a tiny bit of anxiety until I started to talk with the alternate nurse.  His name was David and he was really kind.  The thing that really endeared me to him though was his back-story.  He had a tattoo peeking out from under his scrubs so while making small talk I asked to see the whole thing.  It was a tattoo heart that said "Mom" on it and there were three different colored flowers around it.  I totally laughed because of the classic nature of the 'mom' tattoo but that quickly turned to tears as he told us he lost his mom to cancer and got the tattoo to remember her by.  Then, he told us that each of the flowers represented his first wife, his sister, and his father who ALL also died of cancer.  He was a nurse before all these diagnoses but switched to be an oncology nurse so he could help take care of these four relatives.  He said it was the biggest blessing to be able to administer their meds and help them live a better quality of life before they'd passed away.  This wonderful man loved his job because he connected with all the patients and their families in a deeper way.  I was floored and inspired by his story and wish I would've gotten a picture to remember him by but by the time I thought of it my drugs had started to conk me out.  Needless to say, I loved getting my meds administered by this amazing nurse.  People are SO good and I'm SO inspired by all of you!  To all of you who are reading - I love you all and I'm so grateful for your love, your interest in me and my family, and all your support.  Have a great week!!!!

Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.  -- Anne Frank

Be the change that you wish to see in the world.  -- Mahatma Ghandi

No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another -- Charles Dickens

The purpose of life is not to be happy.  It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.  -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

It's not enough to have lived.  We should be determined to live for something.  May I suggest that it be creating joy for others, sharing what we have for the betterment of person kind, bringing hope to the lost and love to the lonely. -- Leo Buscaglia

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Spring Break & #Six Done!

I forgot to take a picture last treatment but Matt snapped this one while I was sleeping.  The Taxol that I receive in these treatments is notorious for causing allergic reactions so they give you an infusion on Benadryl before the other meds... it knocks me out!  As I said before though, I'll take sleepiness over nausea any day!
One of the other side effects I mentioned in my last post was numbness in my extremities.  I got quite a few blisters on my feet from (I assume) going on a long walk while my feet still felt tingly.  I worried that it would affect how I did walking around during the vacay but a lot of moleskin and blister bandages saved the day!

Four days after my treatment we flew to California for Spring Break.  We were only there for 4 full days (we didn't want to push me too hard) but it was the greatest medication for my mood.  My cute home teacher/dentist brought by some masks for me to wear to filter out germs.  I wore them on the airplane along with my compression arm sleeve that helps alleviate/control lymphedema in the arm that my lymph nodes were removed from.
We spent day 1 at Legoland, a day 2 at the beach, the boys went to California Adventure on day 3 (I stayed home with poor Lauren who was throwing up) and we ended our trip with a day at the happiest place on earth.  I smothered on the hand sanitizer all day, every day during the trip and luckily I kept all the germs at bay - hooray!!  It was so wonderful to get away for some fun and feel normal for a while. 

Today was my 6th treatment... the end is in sight!!!  I slept the day away but otherwise I'm feeling fine.  Thank you all for your continued prayers, service and love.  I'm so grateful for such amazing support!!