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:


1. Go to
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


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