Friday, December 27, 2013

Hot Flashes and Teenage Boys

On Fridays, after my 10:00 radiation treatment, I head back to the hills of Appalachia to spend the weekend with my guys.  Both are always happy to see me and one licks my bald head.  I won’t tell you which one.

On the drive home, I called Liz to find out how her son (my Godson) Grant was enjoying his new car he got for Christmas.  We had been on the phone for at least fifteen minutes when I noticed a Morgan county school bus in front of me.  I said to Liz, “Isn’t school out everywhere?  Why would there be a busload of high school aged kids on Dec. 27th?  A field trip?” 
Liz said, “It’s probably a group of basketball players headed to a tournament.” 

“Ahhhh.  I didn’t think about that.”  Of course not.  I lucked out.  Lauren’s extracurricular activities were guitar and piano. Jordan played guitar and ran cross-country on the track team.  None of those involved traveling during Christmas break, thank God. 

Liz and I continued to chat while I drove down the Mountain Parkway headed towards Prestonsburg.  As I stopped at a stoplight in Salyersville, I noticed the teenage boys sitting in the back of the bus.  They casually looked out the bus’s back window at me as I held my cell phone to my ear.

Then it hit me.  A hot flash.  Not in a good way.  It felt more like I might spontaneously combust.  For those of you who don't know (like me before D-day), chemotherapy launches peri-menopausal women (women usually in their 40’s and sometimes in their thirties) into early menopause. 
I was wearing my longest, hottest, thickest wig which is comfortable when it’s below 65 degrees or when I’m NOT having a hot flash.
 
I cranked the A/C to MAX and adjusted the vents so they would blow on my face. My head felt ready for egg-frying, while my brain was ready to boil out my ears.  The wig was going.  Maybe out the window.  Nope, I thought. I better not do that. I promised my friend Carol that once my hair grew back, I’d offer up my highlighted wig in trade for her KY Derby miniskirt.  It’s a white skirt with appliqu├ęs of horses with jockeys on board wearing colorful silks.  The best part---the front of the skirt shows the horses running toward you.  The back shows the horses’ back ends.  I’ve wanted that skirt since I laid eyes on it almost 25 years ago, when I could confidently wear a mini skirt.  Now that I’m nearing fifty, what would Stacy London of What Not to Wear say?  Eh. I don’t care.   If I can squeeze myself into that skirt, this menopausal lady will walk her pasty white legs through Churchhill Downs donning the biggest hat I can find.

Then I did it.  I grabbed my wig at the forehead and yanked it off.  We were still at the stoplight.  The four boys in the back seats looked like they’d seen a ghost.  Then…laughter and pointing…and later, as I drove away, one of the boys gave me a thumbs up.   

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Radiation and Other Fun Stuff

I know. These days I seem to wait longer between each blog post.  There’s a reason.  I am deliriously tired.  Many ask, “Why? Aren’t you finished with chemo?”  Yes. My last chemo infusion was Nov. 14 and I was expecting to have some energy afterwards. 
“Radiation is a cake walk compared to chemotherapy!”  Huh? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that comment from fellow cancer fighters.  On the misery spectrum, it’s hard to top days 2-5 after a chemo infusion, but after that it’s not so bad...at least for the regimen Dr. Moss gave me.  I was no longer sick to my stomach, felt tired, but could perform normal tasks, as long as it didn’t tax my chemo brain. 
Radiation has been much more difficult for me.  It might be because of the fact that I’m two hours from home and miss my guys (although I'm ever-so-grateful for the hospitality of Lauren & Jesse and Liz & Barry!).  Also, the pain in my shoulder seems to get worse with each treatment. I’ll explain the shoulder pain a little later.

Let me first explain a few facts about radiation found in my booklet named “Radiation and You”, another piece of reading material given to me recently. 
“…More than half (about 60%) of people with cancer get radiation therapy…Given in high doses, radiation kills or slows the growth of cancer cells….Radiation therapy does not kill the cancer cells right away.  It takes days or weeks of treatment before cancer cells start to die.  Then, cancer cells keep dying for weeks or months after radiation therapy ends….radiation not only kills or slows the growth of cancer cells, it can also affect nearby healthy cells.  The healthy cells almost always recover after treatment is over.  But sometimes people may have side effects that do not get better or are severe.”
Let’s rewind back to December 2.  That was the day I had my “radiation simulation”.   After changing into a purple-ish colored gown (from the waist up), the sweet-voiced radiation technician removed the gown and had me lie flat on my back.  I was told to grasp the handle bar over my head (OW! Intense shoulder pain!).   She placed a moldable pillow under my head and asked me to turn my head to the right.  She then removed the pillow, told me to relax my arms (whew!), sprayed the pillow with something and wrote my name on it.  “This will keep you from moving your head during treatment.  Now it’s time to get you set up in the computer.  “Put your arms over your head again and grasp the bar.”  If you’re an avid Keeping You Abreast “fan”, you’ve read the blog post titled “The Incident” posted in August.  It’s the story of our 25th anniversary weekend gone awry.  A would-be romantic candlelit bubble bath in a Jacuzzi turned into a fiasco when I slipped on the tiled tub and landed on my elbow.  Two years later, a chiropractor held up my x-ray to the light showing a partially dislocated shoulder.   Yes. That’s how I roll.  I wait until I can no longer function before opening Pandora’s box of scary diagnoses. 

Back to the radiation simulation….Holding my left arm over my head for five minutes is excruciating.   On that day, I had to do it for over an hour.  I was distracted from the pain when the technician drew little dots and lines all over my left breast, cleavage, and upper chest.  I made a joke about my bikini exposing the marks at the beach that weekend.  She laughed like she didn’t hear that every day.  How kind. 
Then the sweet radiation technician with the baby voice said,
“Now I need to put wire tape over your incisions.  She quickly saw the one in my armpit from my lymph node dissection and guided the tape over it.  She searched all over looking for the scar from the tumor removal.  She turned the lights brighter in the room and looked closer for it, her face only inches from my breast.  After I watched her search for a couple of minutes (I get my entertainment wherever I can these days), I pointed to my areola.  That’s the 2nd time I’ve ever typed that word.
She gasped.  “OMG!!  Who’s your surgeon?”  I was happy to know that I had the most invisible scar she’d ever seen but perplexed by the fact that she didn’t seem to notice the purple golf ball a few inches below it.   “Dr. A.J.,” I said.
“He’s a great surgeon…and easy on the eyes,” she said. We both laughed.  “That, he is.”
Finally it was time for my tats.  I was a little worried about the pain but then remembered that horrible drain in my armpit and the swelling eggplant I had a couple of months ago.  I’ve got this.  She said, “First the ink…then the needle…”  She repeated that procedure four times.  I barely felt one of them.  The other four…nothing!  Whew.  Yes, I now have five tattoos.  They are small blue dots-all five of them-and they’re the size of a freckle.  I have lots of freckles on my chest so, although my tattoos are blue, they blend in with the rest of them.   So that every radiation treatment isn’t a Where’s Waldo game, they covered the tattoos with clear tape and drew a big black dot over the freckle with a Sharpie pen.  I contemplated the logic in that procedure, but I kept quiet.  The answer might have meant one more minute of shoulder torture.  I’m not supposed to remove the tape until radiation treatment is over the end of January.  All I can say is…I’m…. too sexy for my shirrrrrt.

She spent over an hour aligning me (the dots on my chest) with the laser that would soon be pointed at various locations on my chest and armpit. It’s very important to lie completely still during every treatment.   A cough could mean accidental radiation of my heart or lungs.

My first of 33 daily (Mon-Fri) visits was a week later.   I was ready to get this ball rolling and get back to normal. Ok. A new normal.  My shoulder was still throbbing and burning from the simulation and I was dreading one more minute of the bar above my head.  I talked to Dr. Matar, my radiation oncologist, about my shoulder and she recommended physical therapy.  I had already left a message for a PT at Baptist Health, but no response.  I’m beginning to see unreturned calls and bad vibes as a sign from above that it simply wasn’t meant to be.  What used to be frustration now makes me smile.  Dr. Matar called Stephanie, a P.T. with St. Joseph and scheduled an appointment for that week. 
I’ve heard people talk about physical therapy and how rigorous and painful it can be.   My PT Stephanie calmed my fears immediately.  “You’re considered to be a STAR patient,” she said.  I don’t recall if that’s an acronym for something like Shoulder Torture for Ann Ritchey. (Ritchey is my maiden name.  It would have been funnier had I been considered a STAD patient).  Well, it turns out that I get an “easy pass”, all because I checked yes to the cancer box.
After Stephanie’s long list of questions and balance tests, she tested my mobility of my right arm.  She asked me to bend my right arm and touch my elbow to my ear. No problem.  180 degree mobility. “Try doing the same with your left arm and stop when you feel pain.”  90 degree mobility. 
“How long has it been like this?” she asked.  The shock on her face when I told her two years confirmed what I already knew:  I had put myself last on the list. Actually, I thought it would get better.  I knew my trips to the chiropractor helped but I always used work as my excuse for not going regularly.  As for physical therapy, I was just afraid of the pain.
Stephanie gave me a series of easy exercises to do while at home.  I’ve done them, although not faithfully this past week.
I’ve had a persistent cough and was told in the beginning that it’s a common symptom of radiation to the chest area.  Lauren played nurse last night bringing me various medicines in bed because I was too weak to get out of bed. 

My cough has become so deep and painful this past week that I nearly threw up several times after a coughing fit.  After listening to my chest, Dr. Matar gave me a prescription for an antibiotic and worried about me driving myself home.  I could hardly catch my breath from a 40 pace walk.  After I assured her I was fine, she wished me a Merry Christmas.   I know it will be because I get two days of reprieve during my treatment: Christmas Day and New Years Day.    Lauren, Jesse, Jordan, Oriana, Gail, Shane, Jeff and I celebrated Christmas on Sunday.   I get to be home for 43 hours total and spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with Jeff and Buddy.   

On my way out of town, I saw a runner on Man-O-War and cried.  I've never wished for good health for myself as a Christmas gift.  In the past, I envied those who took weeks off and traveled the world at a whim, had their children's tuition saved or paid before they started school, and all those lucky souls who live in San Francisco.  Now all I want is to be healthy.   

As I look at the clock, I realize that I’m down to 35 hours.  It’s time to close my laptop and make it count.  Merry Christmas to all of you! I’ll try not to wait so long before my next post.


God bless all of the caring and friendly staff at St Joseph Radiation Oncology, who also only get a two day reprieve!

 



Monday, December 9, 2013

My Army

I’m so lucky.  Sure, I have a purple golf ball on my boob, black fingernails from chemo, and a big shiny bald head, but I know I am so blessed.  Friday was our office Christmas party and I was looking forward to seeing my second family-my Kentucky Lottery co-workers at Prestonsburg’s newest restaurant McGuire’s Brick House.  My isolation has made me stir crazy and I couldn’t wait to experience, albeit temporary, a sense of normalcy in my day. 
It was pouring the soon-to-be-freezing rain and I was worried the party would be postponed.  I kept checking my e-mail half expecting it to be canceled.  I arrived at the hostess desk and told her I was with the Kentucky Lottery party.  She directed me to the party room in the back.
 
When I walked in, I first noticed that everyone was dressed alike and thought I missed an e-mail or memo about the party attire.   “Ann!!!!!!!!” they all cheered in unison.  Their big smiles and warm hugs assured me that they missed me too. I was so happy to see Jo Ann, a retired KLC Sales Rep (and breast cancer survivor!) and Bob, our V.P. of Sales, who drove from Louisville for the occasion.

When I looked at their pink and grey camouflage shirts, I noticed they all said “Ann’s Army”.   I was speechless.  My boss had the shirts made for everyone and they (especially the guys) looked adorable in their pink camo.  I couldn’t help but cry…and laugh.  What a site for sore eyes!


After lunch, we had our annual Chinese gift exchange (the draw numbers and steal each other’s gifts game), which is always a blast.  Then…they presented me with a big beautiful basket filled with a thoughtful gift from each of my co-workers.  Wow.  How lucky am I? 




 As if that wasn’t enough, I was given a gigantic card signed by all of my retailers!  This one really got to me.   Sandy and Dwayne, two sales reps in our region, have been covering my territory while I’ve been on medical leave.  God bless them.  I imagined Dwayne and Sandy carrying that 3 ft. card into every store and updating everyone on my condition.   There were so many sweet messages, some with little “inside jokes” meant for only me.  I was blubbering now. 

I was instantly reminded of one of my favorite books Be the Miracle by Regina Brett.  The book is a handbook filled with 50 important lessons in making the impossible possible.  Call me an eternal optimist but I believe that most people are inherently good and want to make a positive impact on the world.  We all become so overwhelmed with our schedules, finances, families, and our need to please everyone that we don’t realize that it’s sometimes enough to make one person happy (Lesson 14 of 50 in Brett’s book).   

Rest assured co-workers.  Mission accomplished.  

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Last Chemo!

What a week.  With four chemo sessions under my belt...and now finished, I thought I had all the symptoms and their duration figured almost to the hour.   Usually on Tuesday, I’m feeling much better, but I suppose after four infusions, the toxic load has taken its toll on me.  After Monday, I no longer have “the spins”, only a slow burning churning toxic feeling in my stomach that seems to be slowly seeping out my pores.  (I hope you’re not eating while reading this!).   Whether I want it or not, I’m choking down spinach, kale, broccoli sprouts, blueberries, strawberries, and drinking Chlorophyll.  I drink it with a big glass of water with lemon essential oils and I always feel better afterward.    Except for birthday parties, sweet goody gifts, and restaurant visits (which isn’t that often), I’ve eaten remarkably healthy during chemo. I now make fruit and veggie smoothies with almond milk, flax and chia seeds, and have eliminated all alcohol and coffee.  Under normal circumstances, I might have lost a few pounds, but thanks to the steroids, that’s almost impossible for me.  Honestly, I’m not worried about a few pounds. I just want to be back to my fat, happy, sassy self again.  Actually, scratch the “fat” part of the last sentence.  Breast cancer is more likely to reoccur when you’re overweight. 

Now that the queasiness has subsided, I’m dealing with crazy hot flashes. On the inside, my bald head feels like you could fry an egg on it.  When I touch it, it’s just a cold, sweaty, stubbly orb.  I’m not sure if the hot flashes are a symptom of chemo or the fact that I had to quit taking my progesterone (which was feeding the tumors).  I venture to guess that it’s probably a combination of both.   I’m either walking around with a bag of frozen corn on the top of my head or I’m teeth-chattering cold.   If I’m walking around bald, my head sometimes feels like I rubbed Vicks Vapo-Rub on it.  It’s freezing!  I put a hat on and end up throwing it across the room within minutes.  I assure you, if I’m in public when one of those hot flashes hits me, the wig will be coming off right then and there.  I just hope the sight won’t make small children (or adults) cry.

My last chemo infusion was on November 14 and I had planned a birthday celebration for the night before.  In the blog entry named Serendipity, I described our trip to Stuartos, a Lexington store which sells cooking oils, vinegars, salts and sugars.  The manager had mentioned monthly cooking classes so I decided to schedule one as a birthday gift for Liz.   Grant, Liz's son (and my Godson) who had just recently, turned 16, has always been quite a foodie, claiming creme brulee' as his favorite dessert when he was in kindergarten.  I think he was the only one at the table ready to take notes on the chef's instructions!  The classes are held at Spindletop on Iron Works Pike and participants eat a four course gourmet meal while the chef explains to 60 participants what he’s doing.  There are a couple of TV screens, for those serious about learning how to duplicate his efforts.  The chef uses Stuartos products, of course, for the dishes and tries to sell you on becoming a Spindletop member, which I found really annoying.   Our birthday party began once the chef had gone home and we brought in our own cake.  Liz and I are both big fans of the Wizard of Oz so I decided to hire Juliana Jenson (Cakes by Julie) to create a birthday cake for her.  Julie never disappoints.

I love those ruby slippers and  the rolled up stockings under the house! By the way, it was ALL edible!

Happy Birthday, Liz!!
Lauren laughing at my version of "The Lollipop Guild" song

For my last infusion, my new breast cancer survivor buddy Lesa, came to visit toting, of course, Gigi’s mini cupcakes!   What a doll!  We got some time alone to discuss hot flashes, new boobs, procedures to acquire the aforementioned, and her upcoming move to a new home.   A voice in my head always tells me I can do this after a few minutes with Lesa. 
                                               Lesa and her gorgeous family

  
Liz showed up with a bouquet of happy sunflowers and my favorite Panera salad.  Kim, my infusion nurse, pumped my veins with so many anti-nausea drugs and steroids, I was talking even more than usual and eating anything that was thrown my way.  I was all but giddy that this chapter of my treatment was almost over.  
Soon thereafter, my sister Gail came, carrying a big bag of family photo albums.   We poured through each one laughing at our big hair, my ridiculous 80’s make-up, and how we wish we were as thin as we were when we thought we were fat.  I always like to reminisce, but Gail has a memory like an elephant.   She remembers everything.  Normally I say, “Wow! I had completely forgotten about that until you mentioned it!”  Now, with my chemo brain that day, I think she was just messing with my mind.

Gail and me


I made amends and apologized to the nurses for causing an uproar about the guest policy issue.  I recognized that I had, in fact, been a drama queen and came to the realization that it’s not all about me.  Although there are plenty of patients who like to talk, some are in pretty bad shape, just hoping for some solitude while being pumped with poison. 
Kim, my sweet nurse, presented me with a certificate for completing my chemo.   At the time, I felt I’ve never suffered more for any diploma.  I began to wonder why Dr. A.J. didn’t give me one for my surgery, the drains, and the emergency surgery.  Hell, I deserve a trophy for that eggplant/honeydew fiasco! 



The day ended with a celebration at Chili’s.  I get a few weeks to breathe before radiation.  More on that soon….

Gail, Lauren, and me
Oriana, Jordan, and Jeff




Wednesday, November 13, 2013

No Coincidences

On the day before my last chemo infusion, I feel the need to envelope myself in comforting thoughts. Sure, I’m relieved that it’s my last one, however, try telling someone that tomorrow is their last root canal without Novocaine…or the last time they have to be tied to a whipping post.  It’s little comfort to me now.  Beginning with infusion #1 on Sept. 12, I was still recovering from emergency surgery two weeks prior, so I began treatment at about 80%.  Subtract about 10-20% of my physical and mental capacity with each subsequent infusion and I start the day tomorrow somewhere around 30%.  I have no idea if that percentage is accurate.  My brain is way too foggy for math.

So…. on to comforting and happy thoughts….. I used to have dreams about my mom and dad all the time after they died.  Now, unless I write them down or tell someone about them, I tend to forget most of my dreams immediately.  Lately,  I’ve had several dreams about both of them cheering for me from beyond. Each one I still remember vividly.

I believe that in life there are no coincidences.  Albert Einstein said, “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”

Not too long before D-day, I posted a story on Facebook.  To this day, it gives me chills…and makes me smile, which I really need to do today.

Jordan was two years old when my dad (his Papaw) died. He remembers him only by the color photos of the two of them grinning ear to ear.   With his high forehead, sparse head of hair, and thick eyebrows, I thought he looked like a clone of my dad.   I would show Jordan photos and share stories about how excited his Papaw was to play with remote control cars, buy him a Big Wheel, and finally design the model railroad layout he dreamed about for years.  I have no brothers and Jordan was his first grandson.

Jordan, like his dad, is a gifted photographer and enjoys taking excursions to unlikely destinations in search of the perfect photo opp.  Last year, he rode his bike into Lexington’s old distillery district.  He posted some impressive photos on Facebook.  I “liked” them and commented on his eye for subjects. 




Every day, it seemed that he posted a new photo from the same location.  He said he was drawn to this place- a distillery, abandoned for decades.    I said, “What was the name of the distillery?”
“James E. Pepper.”  I said, “Oh my God. You won’t believe this!”  I found my parents’ photo album from when they first started dating, got married, and had me.  There they were-photos of my dad in 1966, working at James E. Pepper Distillery!  Jordan studied the photos and was so excited when he recognized a sign or a piece of equipment in the photos.  I scanned and printed the photos for him and his new project began.  He returned to the exact locations for a re-enactment. Here they are:
  
 This post is dedicated to my dad’s best friend Ron Chasteen, who I coincidentally found on Facebook.  But then there ARE no coincidents, are there?    

Friday, November 8, 2013

Barbells for Boobs

It’s funny how two friends can live several years without any contact, yet still remain in each other’s hearts for decades.

I’m speaking of my friend Randy, who Sylvia and I met in Mrs. Moutz 7th grade English class at Beaumont Jr. High.  The three of us (mostly me) were always in trouble for talking and laughing in class.  During that school year, and several more after, the three of us were inseparable.  

Randy and I competed in a statewide drama duet competition for Jessie Clark Jr. High.  He never broke character in our comedy routine.  I was like Harvey Korman trying to keep a straight face while Tim Conway ad-libbed through a skit on the Carol Burnett show.  For all of you young folks who don’t get the last statement, imagine I’m Jimmy Fallon and Randy was Christopher Walken demanding more cowbell.
Randy has always been very animated, musically gifted, and…well…hilarious.

After high school, Randy went to Cincinnati Bible College and we didn’t see each other very often.  However, when Jeff and I got engaged, I knew that there was only one person I wanted to sing at our wedding: Randy Marple.  He could sing Prince’s falsetto in the song Kiss and give everyone goose bumps with his deep bass in How Great Thou Art. 
Among other songs, I asked him to sing Ave Maria at our wedding.  If I live to be 100, I will never forget that moment:
It was June 14, 1986 and it was hotter than Hades in Central Christian Church.  Jeff and I had just exchanged rings and it was time to stare at each other blissfully while Randy sang Ave Maria.  Halfway through the hymn, I hear a loud thud behind me and a collective gasp from the congregation.  I didn’t want to turn around so I whispered to Jeff, “Was that the candelabra?”  In a very subtle move, he looked over my shoulder and whispered back to me, “No. It was your sister.”  I turned around to see my dad carrying Gail, my 18 year-old sister down the aisle. 
Meanwhile, Randy kept singing.  As I remember it, it was close to the end of the song and I heard another thud. This time I turned around to see my niece Emily, the junior bridesmaid, collapsed on the floor.  Her uncle Steve scooped her up and carried her out while we all wondered who was next.  With a long-sleeved-lacey- beaded- to- the-neck 80’s style gown, I was sweating bullets.  It was June! What was I thinking wearing a dress like that?  I tried to keep my eyes on Randy, willing him the strength to make it through what seemed like the longest song in history.
Wow. What a professional!  He never missed a note.  To this day, I can’t believe that we don’t have the moment recorded on video tape.  We paid for the wedding ourselves and the cost of a $200 videographer at the time wasn’t an option.  I still hear people say, “I will NEVER forget your wedding.”  Since Emily and Gail didn’t break any bones or suffer concussions, I can now laugh at that comment.

Randy and me, June 14, 1986

Not long after the wedding singer incident, Randy became a high school history teacher, married, and had two gorgeous children.  He told me stories about his class and how he would entertain and educate his students with music.  Maybe I would have liked history if I had a teacher like Randy. 
Still, Randy hadn’t found his bliss….until a few years ago.  He opened a fitness center named Temple Fitness in Morganfield, Ky and became a personal trainer.   Just recently, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, he began a fundraiser for women who can’t afford mammograms.  I can’t help but think that my diagnosis might have helped plant the seed in Randy’s big heart.  The fundraiser is named Barbells for Boobs. J
This is from Randy’s Facebook page.  I pray that many lives and boobs will be saved! 

One in Eight Women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer. For every $80.00 that we raise on Nov. 16, one woman who cannot afford to get screened for breast cancer will be able to get screened. PLEASE HELP US save a pair of boobs! If you cannot participate in the workout, please support one of the participants. 

This event will take place at Temple Fitness on November 16, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. Everyone will pick a partner or will be paired with a partner. Each participant will be performing the Bear Complex, as many circuits as possible in 12 minutes. (Men-85 lbs., Women—55 lbs.) For each circuit your partner completes, please donate $1.00. You do NOT have to be a Temple Fitness member to participate.

To donate, just copy/paste the following link to your browser:


or

1. Go to barbellsforboobs.org
2. Click on "Join a Team Here"
3. Click on "All Results"
4. Type Randy Marple in the search box
5. Click on Donate



Randy and his son Reed


               

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Leoma

God, please don’t let me be like Leoma (pronounced Lee-O-muh).  Leoma was a relative whom I don’t remember ever meeting, but my mom mentioned her name whenever anyone complained about their aches and pains.   “Lord, she sounds like Leoma,” said Mom, when a neighbor would come over and whine about her back pain.   I don’t know if Leoma was from my mother or father’s side of the family.  Heck, for all I know she was a character in a book or a figment of my mom’s imagination.  Apparently Leoma had every illness and ailment known to man and she loved to tell everyone all the details.  As I type the next few paragraphs, I can hear my mom say, “Alright, Leoma….”

Chemo brain is not a myth.  I’ve started this post six times, deleted, and re-typed the same sentences because they made no sense to me.  The nausea, fatigue, and hair loss (yes, I’m serious) don’t compare to the frightening aspect of losing my mind.  It seems that all of the side effects of chemo are cumulative. It takes longer for me to recover (physically and mentally) from each treatment.  Six days after chemo round three, Jeff comes out of the bathroom and says, “Uh, honey….look what I found in the toothbrush cup.”  He’s holding my toothbrush with a neat little blob of Arm & Hammer Extra Whitening toothpaste.  I actually loaded the toothbrush, thought I brushed my teeth, and stuck it back in the cup.  Now, that’s funny. 

I just can’t seem to focus on anything.   I’ll start a task, i.e. throw a load of laundry in the washer, and think…I forgot to take my medicine!  I leave the laundry basket on the utility room floor and go to the kitchen.  I pick up the empty pill bottle and realize that I forgot to call in my refill.  I search the house for my cell phone to call the pharmacy and see that I have several text messages and voice mails.  I reply to those, which leads to an hour on Facebook.  Meanwhile, I’m asking myself , “Did I give Buddy his insulin shot this morning?”   I keep saying ,”FOCUS, ANN!”  That seems to work as well as telling someone who is irate to calm down.

It’s common knowledge that many people get very queasy on chemo….for weeks! I’m blessed with only three days of wretched nausea (days 3, 4, and 5 following infusion), but the fatigue gets worse each time. Normally, this is my “good week”, but the fatigue is still bone deep.  I ran some short errands Monday (post office, pharmacy, and the grocery store).  Afterward, I went outside to cut down some of the annual flowers and plants that have frozen and withered.  After ten minutes, I literally collapsed to my knees.  I had hit the wall.  It literally took me an hour or more to catch my breath.

Although I’m complaining, I’m grateful I’m not having some of the issues that are common among chemo patients (heart problems, dehydration, and extremely low white blood cell counts).  As a result of chemo, the brave woman I met last round (with the boxing gloves) had to make a trip to the hospital due to heart problems.  Dear Lord, she’s younger than me!


Ok, let’s talk about the eggplant.  Since my emergency surgery on August 29th, when they addressed the hematoma (swelling and bruising from the blood clots), my left breast seems to be about the same size (and color!) as my right one.  However, there’s just one problem.   Right at 4:00, where my tumor used to be, is a huge eggplant-colored lump.   Ok. Let me define “HUGE”.   Imagine you have a golf ball, and it’s purple. Cut it right down the middle and glue it to the underside of my boob. Yep. It’s attractive…and painful. Dr. Moss said that it’s normal for any cut, bruise, burn, or injury to become inflamed during chemo.  After round one, the “lump” almost returned to normal.  During round two, it was inflamed the week following chemo.  After this last infusion, I haven’t caught a break.  Who knows what will happen after my fourth and final round?  Will it explode?

Enough about that!

Lauren and Jordan came home Saturday to celebrate Jordan’s 22nd birthday.  Lauren had a sore throat and wore a mask so she wouldn’t spread the joy.  Between the two of us, I think we used a whole bottle of hand sanitizer!   Jordan requested Yoder’s butterscotch pie AND one of my homemade apple pies instead of a birthday cake.  We watched some home movies from 1994-96, laughed hysterically and realized that this is most fun when significant others are absent.  Watching other family’s home videos is intolerable!  We played a game of Settlers of Catan and Balderdash and I won at Catan.  I considered this a major feat since there is some strategy involved in the game.  Take that, chemo brain! 

Jordan is 22
My homemade apple pie. Eat your heart out, Martha Stewart!


Yesterday I had an appointment with Hope Cottrill, an oncology gynecologist.  I honestly had no idea such a profession existed.  (Thank you, Ramona, for the recommendation).  Since breast cancer can be fed by estrogen and progesterone (mine is), it’s important to have a physician who is trained in the treatment of breast cancer and regulating female hormones.

While waiting in the exam room, I got a text message and photo from my boss Jeff.  He was at my top-selling store who recently sold a $1,000,000 winning Powerball ticket.  J.R., the manager, and Rachel, the assistant manager, were on the local news.  I was so happy for them yet sad because I wanted to be there for the party.  I’m constantly grateful for my compassionate co-workers and a supportive and understanding boss and company.  Man, I'm lucky.
 
Dr. Cottrill spent quite a bit of time with me discussing past history and whether or not I would be a candidate for ablation.  Because I know that many men read my blog, I’ll refrain from any details about my desire for this procedure.   She recommended an ultrasound and an endometrial biopsy.  The latter was similar to the beginning stage of labor pains.  I couldn’t help but cry.  Not because of the pain.  I’m just tired of it all. Tired of being poked, prodded, groped, snipped, sewn, taped, and told, “Here are your options…..”  These days, my life often depends on making the right decision and I’m too overwhelmed to decide where to go for lunch.

The bottom line?  A 4 cm fibroid (benign) tumor in my uterus.  A hysterectomy is an option.  I’m thinking my body has been through enough trauma for now.  Radiation starts next month and I’m anxious to start de-toxing and healing.  Ablation would be less invasive but there’s a possibility it wouldn’t help my situation.  The biopsy results should be in next week and I will know more at that time.


Now….I’m saving the best for last.  Yesterday, Jeff and I went to Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Lexington’s biggest and finest bookstore.  On the Best of the Bluegrass table…. sat Jeff’s book Road of Regret.  I almost screamed!  I took some photos of him beside his third born child and I was beaming with pride.  We wandered over to the “Staff Picks” table and saw more copies on the wall behind it, right under Tim Conway’s autobiography. The look on Jeff’s face was priceless.  The moment…surreal. 

Jeff and his book at Joseph-Beth Booksellers

Sunday, October 27, 2013

75% finished with chemo!

Second only to planting flowers in the spring, this is definitely one of my favorite times of the year.  The changing of the leaves, bales of hay, scarecrows....
Jordan :)

Corny, I know.

Oriana

I have a passion for pumpkin anything and everything.  I love the way they look, taste, and smell.  I have a weakness for  pumpkin latte', carving pumpkins, eating pumpkin rolls and pumpkin pie…you name it! Every year, we have a family tradition where we all select a pattern to carve jack-o-lanterns and spend hours cleaning out pumpkin innards, poking dots, sawing, and finally placing the candle inside to watch the magic!  Jeff, however, doesn’t share the joy of post carving finger cramps, so his job is usually limited to photographing the masterpieces.   This year, we weren't going to let this chemo treatment get in the way of our annual pumpkin carving fun!  Since we’re all fans of The Walking Dead, Lauren and I decided to carve the zombie bicycle girl and one of the show’s heroes named Daryl.  Jesse drew his own pattern and carved a traditional jack-o-lantern, and Oriana carved “Scraps” from Corpse Bride.  Jordan had an upcoming calculus exam, so he spent most of the festivities studying.  While carving, Lauren played the 75th anniversary edition DVD of the Wizard of Oz while we sang along. We finished the last pumpkin well past midnight and, thanks to those steroids, I was the last one asleep and the first one awake the next morning.

Jesse and Lauren's carvings

Oriana's "Scraps" carving

My "Daryl" from "Walking Dead"

During Thursday’s chemo infusion, Sylvia and Carol came to visit, followed by a short visit by Sylvia’s sister Sandy, Liz, and Lauren.  Only one third of the infusion chairs were in use and I selected one on the far end away from the restroom and the refrigerator.  I’m totally aware of the two person per patient policy, but I’m not asking anyone to leave, especially when they drive five hours and and/or take off work to see me!   Between the chocolate truffles, the cupcakes, and the time we spent pouring through old photo albums, the five hour treatment seemed like a song and a dance.


Carol and me


                                             Sylvia and me


Lauren and me

Well…the next day, I get a call from Dr. Moss saying that there were complaints from other patients wondering why there were so many “non- patients in the room”.  Dr. Moss explained to me that many of them were immune suppressed and trying to sleep.  I told her that I was mislead during the infusion lab tour.  We were assured that my “entourage” was welcome.  Dr. Moss said that they ARE welcome but only two at a time and added that it simply CAN”T happen again.  Sigh.  I certainly don't want to disturb anyone trying to rest, but I seriously doubt that was the case.  Thank goodness there’s only one more infusion…I’m trying really hard not to cry these days.  Every time I do, two or three eyelashes join the tears on the tissue.

My entourage/posse’ and I met a fantastic fighter at my last infusion. She posed while wearing boxing gloves at her treatment and had the nurse take photos for her friends.  I’m in awe of her beauty, strength, and courage.  She and I compare our war stories, as most of us women seem to do, and build each other up for the next round of the battle.  I have no doubt she’ll win.

I’m officially 75% finished with my chemo treatments, and for that, I am so happy!  As a result of my chemo treatments, my fingernails are turning black and could possibly fall off. The idea of that possibility has me, to say the least, completely freaked out.  Days 3, 4, and 5 are usually my miserable days following chemo treatments, so I’m hoping and praying that the nausea and migraines only lasts that long this time.   I'm finding that the nausea seems to be a little worse after each treatment, however, I'll do whatever it takes to distract myself from barfing.  

Lauren happened to mention that she’ll be in town interpreting for the deaf during Jamie and Bobby Deen’s cooking segment at the food show at Lexington Center on Saturday (typically one of my worst days after chemo).     I was...and am...so mad that I couldn’t be there to watch her (and taste the samples).  Damn chemo!


Lauren interpreting for Bobby and Jamie Deen at the Food Show at Lexington Center.  She had her teammate Rose take a photo for me. :)


Jeff is a saint.  Now that he knows what I can tolerate eating and drinking while on chemo, he now makes the trip to the grocery for all the ingredients for organic chicken noodle soup and spends hours cleaning, chopping and preparing food for me. The rest of my diet during days 3-5 include rice, saltine crackers, Ginger Ale, Sprite, and Greek yogurt. That’s about all I can handle for a few days.  Somehow, however, I’ve managed to gain four pounds since I started my chemo treatment!  “Who does that?” I asked the nurse at Dr. Moss's office.  She said, “Thanks to the steroids, almost everyone, Ann.”  Well…great.


Happy Anniversary to my sister Gail and brother-in-law Shane!
(@ O'Neill's with Lauren and Jesse).




Thursday, October 17, 2013

Old Friends

It’s no secret that on most days I really love my job.  I’m aware that many people can’t say the same, so I know I’m very lucky.  I can live without the extra hours of paperwork or preparation for my next day, but I REALLY miss my retailers and my co-workers.  I long for my life before D-day.  Although I’ve been off ten weeks since my surgery, it seems like an eternity. 

On most days, I get my energy from interaction with people. For those of us with this personality type, isolation can be intolerable.   According to the oncologist, chemo patients' white blood cell count begins to plummet day 10 after an infusion.    I'm no longer on Neulasta (which stimulates white blood cell count) and am on Cipro (an antibiotic) instead.  Of course, antibiotics are great at killing infections, but won't help you if you get a virus like the flu. It's important that I stay away from public places. I've been to the grocery on a few occasions and use hand sanitizer every few minutes.  I'm constantly amazed at the people who cough and sneeze and don't cover their mouths. I've always despised grocery shopping, but now..I'm just relieved to get out among the living.  

I know that there are probably many of you who would welcome some time off from the daily grind.  I've been there.  Before D-day there have been days when I just needed a "mental health day" and wanted nothing more than to stay in bed in my pajamas with a good book and the TV remote control.

Be careful what you wish for.

I can hardly stand to watch TV, especially the week following chemo.  I read sometimes, but find that it’s hard to concentrate (chemo brain).  Besides, most of the books I like to read (about homeopathy, natural living, and health) make me feel like a failure.  Of course, there’s always the internet, where the kind words and overwhelming support help me make it through the day.   I'm now more careful with my Google searches as the information can either empower or debilitate me.   So often, however, I'm blindsided by information in links sent to me by well intended friends. 


I have gotten dozens of messages from friends of friends on Facebook.  Each of them has an experience with breast cancer and so many want to share their stories.  I used to click on them immediately and read every word. Now, I have Jeff screen them first and delete if necessary.  I’m amazed at the people who want to tell you all the gory details about what chemo and radiation did to them (fingernails and toenails falling off, blistering burns in their mouth, esophagus, and colon….I could write a whole page of these comments…).  However, one thoughtful woman named Pat sent me a link to a very inspiring blog by a woman with breast cancer.  Due to my unforeseen fragility, I’m limiting my internet stories/blogs/messages to this one for now. 

For my next chemo infusion, Sylvia will be driving from Indiana and Carol is taking the day off to sit with me.  I'm so lucky to have friends who for 21 years (Liz), 25 years (Carol), and 40 years (Sylvia), have been there for all the good, bad, and ugly times in my life.   Sylvia is my childhood friend whom I met in 3rd grade.  We were quite the trouble makers in school (pretty harmless but incredibly annoying to all adults, especially teachers).  From 3rd grade through college, it was an ongoing, unspoken contest to make each other laugh.  The biggest reward was when we made the other one burst out laughing in class or in church.  It happened every day. 



Senior prom 1982-Left to right-Pam and Sam, Walter and me, Missy and Joe,  
Sylvia and Randy

Sylvia (left), Pam, and me
1983?

Maid of  Honor in my wedding, 1986

Lauren's wedding 2012, a reunion of sorts. :)
Me, Pam, Sylvia, and Missy


  Look what Sylvia just sent me!  This will come in handy to carry books and files to doctors        appointments!


Carol used to be my neighbor in Lexington.  I'll never forget the day we met. I was 24 and Jeff and I had recently bought a house in Wyndham Hills subdivision.  Lauren was two.  I was working thirty hours a week, taking two classes at UK, and well...had a toddler.  I was overwhelmed to say the least. Despite the fact that we had been settled in our new home for a few months, I hadn't met any of our neighbors....until Carol rang the doorbell.  I had left the door ajar so I knew whoever was there knew I was home.   Wearing my pajamas and robe, I was changing Lauren's diaper on the living room floor. 

My house looked like Toys R Us exploded.  I thought...Oh Lord, I can't answer the door. Look at this house and I, no doubt, looked like I'd been hit by a train.  "Hellooooo!!!!" She peeked her head in the door.  "Hi! I'm Carol. I live across the street and just wanted to come by and introduce myself."  She had her daughter Shelley with her, who was just six months older than Lauren. Lauren was two. Shelley was 2 1/2.  Embarrassed at the time, I picked up some of the toys, ran a brush through my hair, and tried to be a cordial neighbor. Carol introduced her daughter Shelley to Lauren.   I said, "Hi Shelley.  This is Lauren."  Shelley said, in the most perfectly, clear voice..."Hi Lauren.  I'm going to Cincinnati this weekend. What are you doing?"  Lauren, looked up and pointed to the ceiling fan and grunted. Now, when you're 24, and this is your first child, you constantly worry that they're keeping up with the norm when it comes to physical and developmental growth.  At that age, Lauren just didn't have much to say. She waited until she was three and surprised us all by singing every last lyric to "We Didn't Start the Fire" by Billy Joel.  

Jeff and I lived in that home for 10 years. During that time, I think Carol and I talked almost every day.  After we moved to eastern Kentucky, she comes every summer to float with me in my hillbilly pool.  

It will be so good to see them both next week.  I'm guessing there will be lots of laughter. 
Look at the picture that Carol sent me.  It says, "Dear You. May you give yourself permission to trust your voice, step into your power and know that what you're doing matters."  Perfect!
Carol and Shelley (left), about a year before we met and at Shelley's graduation

Carol and Lauren (almost three)

Lauren's first friend