Monday, October 21, 2013

Divine Miscalculation

Last week I celebrated another victory!  Radiation is done!  Woohoo!  That morning as I drove Ella to school, we prayed for the day and I thanked God that this was my last day of radiation.  Ella gave me a half-hearted cheer and then asked: "Does this mean we have to go out to eat at a restaurant tonight?" She knew we would be celebrating, but I let her decide how we were going to celebrate this milestone.  That explains how I found myself eating Chinese food and watching a Barbie movie.  I got a certificate and a Rocky Mountain Chocolate bar from the Radiation Therapy staff for completing radiation!  The staff there was great, but I will not miss the thirty minute drive there every day!


Radiation is actually finishing a little earlier than planned due to a slight miscalculation.  The first 31 treatments were a little hotter than they wanted.  So they started the boost (a superficial treatment around the scar) early and I finished sooner than anticipated.  This was another perfect example of the roller coaster of emotions that a cancer diagnosis and treatment brings.  When the radiation oncologist told me what had happened, I didn't feel a whole lot of anything. It didn't seem like a big deal.  I thanked him for telling me, but also said that he could have not said anything and I wouldn't have known the difference.  He said that was never an option and as much as he hated to have to tell someone a mistake had been made, honesty was important to him.  He went on to say that he could remember the last night this happened.  Six years ago. They do not like it when things do not go perfectly as planned. Then I started to get a little anxious.  This doesn't happen all the time.  So I asked all the questions that I could think of.  No, I wouldn't get radiation poison.  No, I wasn't given an unsafe dose.  No, there shouldn't be any long-term complications.  No, that's not why I've been scratching my skin off. No, I don't get a discount on radiation.  He compared it to making change for a $20 bill.  You can get the change in many different ways, but it will still be $20.  I got the radiation that I needed, just a little quicker!  

I called Rick to fill him in and did not expect the reaction I got!  He RARELY gets upset.  I can think of three times in the almost fourteen years I've known him.  This was number four.  That got me thinking maybe I should be more upset.  So I tried that emotion out. Why did this happen to me out of how many thousands of patients they see each year? Then I got over it and convinced Rick that my life was not in jeopardy. It took a day or two to calm him down and convince him we were not suing the hospital.  It's a week later and I can't be sure, but can't help but wonder what if it was a divine miscalculation so I would get exactly what I needed beyond what the computers or doctors thought I needed?  I'll never know, but choose to live knowing that nothing that happens to me is beyond what is in my best interest.  God does know a thing or two about healing!

I met with my plastic surgeon today.  After looking at the radiation site, she said my skin looked amazing, to keep doing whatever I was doing.  She called another doctor in to look at it.  Then a nurse.   They didn't believe me that I had been through six weeks of radiation.  Since my skin fared so well, we can stick pretty close to the six month mark to do the reconstructive surgery.  Or when she gets backs from her maternity leave. Whichever happens first.  We talked for a while and I couldn't help but burst with thanksgiving for the amazing physicians that God led me to. 

 I called Dr. Burroughs to make an appointment for a yearly physical and he answered the phone (since he sent his office staff out for a spa day to celebrate the one year anniversary of his new practice) and scheduled my appointment as well as some extra time to catch up.  He has called throughout the process to find out how I've been doing and to let me know he and his staff were praying for me.  As far as I'm concerned, compassionate care and customer service doesn't get any better than that!

The end of radiation also marks the end of meals.  They have been coming steadily since surgery.  I lost track, but I do know that at least 140 meals were so lovingly and generously prepared and delivered.  That. Is. CRAZY!  I can't even begin to put words together to express our deep appreciation and gratitude for all of you who loved us with food!  I also got some great recipes to use as I try to remember how to cook again! 

Pam Hawley is hard at work again coordinating people and things to help make sure that our financial needs are met.  Thanks, Pam!  She's started another fund drive, or whatever it is called, at  I burst into tears as I read what she wrote and quickly relived everything we've been through since February.  It's been hard.  But it's also been full of joy.  I've never been alone through any of it.  We're trusting God to see us through to the end.  He is so good to us!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Tattoos, Sunburn and Hot Flashes

So…it’s been a while.  Life marches on regardless of my treatment schedule so I’m just doing my best to keep up and pretend my life is normal!
My sisters, Jamie and Ali, came up at the beginning of September to celebrate our birthdays.  We went to Buca Di Beppo for dinner.  A tiny part of me died when the chicken marsala didn't taste like it used to and I found out they're playing around with new recipes. Don't do that.  The next morning we got up early to head to the Great Minnesota Get-Together.  Ella's treat.  She won 8 tickets from the library for their summer reading program. It was a beautiful day in the middle of a heat wave but by late afternoon the crowds were so thick. We ate our milk and Sweet Martha's cookies and left.  I love when our family is all together.  That’s my happy place.
Ella started first grade this year.  It was a huge adjustment to have her in school five days a week.  She did fine with it.  I missed her like crazy the first couple weeks and even thought about keeping her home from school so I could play with her.  But then I looked at my to do list and was thankful to have days to myself to get everything done!  She absolutely loves school and is doing great.  Her slightly over protective mother even lets her ride the bus home in the afternoon.
I started radiation the week after school started.  Radiation is weird.  After the mapping simulator CT scan, my radiation oncologist, Dr. McBride, and a team of physicists worked up the radiation treatment plan and we got started. The radiation machine is called a linear accelerator and is HUGE. I have to be in the exact same position on the table for every treatment.  So they made a pillow that they molded to my arms and head and I have to lay very still.  There are laser lines and rulers that help the techs get me in perfect position.  They use my new tattoos to help get things lined up.  The tattoos look like little black freckles, but they are tattoos and I will always them!  Once that’s done, they leave the room and close the door behind them.  The door is also HUGE.  I keep meaning to measure it, but I bet it’s close to a foot thick.  There are a series of lead plates in the gantry that shift to allow the radiation beam to get exactly where it needs to go.  It’s very precise. The gantry starts slightly to my right side and moves toward the left.  It stops eight times and each blast of radiation is about 90 seconds.  And that’s that. I don't see anything and don't feel anything. The whole process takes about 10 minutes.  It takes me longer to drive to St Johns!  I do this five days a week.  Monday through Friday.  The weekends off give my healthy cells a chance to recharge.  In the beginning the treatment wasn’t bad, just very inconvenient.  Now as I finish my fourth week of treatment I’ve got a mild sunburn and rash and feel the need to walk around with mittens on so I don’t scratch my skin off.  It itches so bad.   Fourteen treatments left!!
I also started taking Tamoxifen.  My cancer is positive for estrogen receptors (ER+), which means estrogen promotes growth of cancer cells and the Tamoxifen blocks the effects of estrogen on these cells.  I almost wish I could do weekly chemo instead of this. Just a few of the side effects: hot flashes, constant hotness, facial flushing, moodiness and irritably, weight gain, blood clots, anxiety, dizziness, fatigue, and possible cancer and on and on.  Yuck. 
I still have Herceptin therapy (a type of chemo) once  month, too.  After the last treatment of Herceptin only, I did get a little nauseous and everything I ate tasted funny.  That was all for side effects though.  I’m okay with that.  Herceptin targets the protein on the cells that makes my cancer HER2+, and more aggressive than a non HER2+ cancer.  I will continue once a month Herceptin treatments until June of next year. 
Mondays are usually my chemo days, but Dr. Shanks was completely booked, so treatment had to pushed to Tuesday.  Which also happened to be my birthday.  I decided that it was the chemo that was helping to keep me alive to celebrate many more birthdays, so spending my birthday in chemo wasn’t all that bad.  After a delicious crepe breakfast with a sweet friend I headed to chemo.  My mom and grandma, who now goes by GG (short for Great Grandma) joined me for treatment.  After sharing some of the racing that my heart has been doing, I got a birthday EKG! It wasn't normal, but wasn't abnormal enough to need to take any action. Just had a few lazy waves.  When chemo was finished and I got unhooked, the nurses and staff all came to my chair and sang Happy Birthday to me and gave me a cupcake! It was so sweet and made my day!  They sure do go above and beyond for their patients.  I will miss them when June rolls around and I don’t need to go visit them anymore.  I left chemo for radiation and was celebrated there as well!  The day ended with dinner at Pier 500 in Hudson.  With all the phone calls, e-mails, texts and Facebook messages that came through that day, I felt so loved!  So thank you all for making me feel so special! I got to cash in my birthday present from my mom and the two of us went to see Wicked at the Orpheum on Wednesday. Oh.  My.  I loved it. 
Back in the spring I took on the volunteer role of Director of Women’s Ministry at Five Oaks.  I fought this for several months.  The timing was horrible and really didn’t make sense to take something like this on when I already had so much going on.  But I finally surrendered and waved my white flag of obedience.  Summer was pretty easy.  We built our team and had a few planning meetings here and there.  Our team is incredible.  Working with these women is a huge blessing.  And we have fun together.  We had a worship night to kick off the year and then started studies in the middle of September.  I am still in awe of this team and how much they did in those two weeks!!  I’ve got front row seats for a great year!
I’m tired of treatment.  Just being honest here.  I’m ready to be done.  Eight months of dealing with all the emotions and appointments and treatments and insurance and bills and side effects and fatigue gets to be a bit much!  I’m feeling a little weary. Planning for Ella’s birthday party and a little birthday surprise/Radiation-is-over present planning is occupying my time and helping to keep my distracted. And then there's always someone waiting just around the corner to encourage me.  A dear friend gave me a mug that said: "You are a fighter, a survivor, a woman of faith and strength.  You are a tough opponent for any challenge.  Even the big "C" is no match for you because you belong to an even bigger "C"."  That was just what I needed.  Right when I needed it.  The next day I got this:
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month in case you haven’t figured that out yet.  So if you are of mammogramming age, make sure you’re getting your annual mammogram.  If you’re not there yet, don’t forget your monthly self-check.  A friend/co-worker was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and I can’t tell you how sick that made me feel. As much as I love helping others, I don't want to have to share my wig lady or books that help break the news to little ones.  Trust me on this one, a couple moments of squishing and squeezing is far easier to deal with than cancer! I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I’ve been through! (stepping off my soapbox.)