Friday, December 7, 2012

Last One!

Pre-surgery
Wednesday was my FINAL (6th out of 6) surgery of the year. I cannot even describe how glad I am to have it behind me. I’ve had enough IVs, anesthesia, and procedures to last me a lifetime! This one was particularly tough, as it involved two surgeons and three procedures. I feel completely run over by a bus! I had a full hysterectomy – ovaries and all – to prevent ovarian, uterine, and fallopian tube cancer, which are all linked to the BRCA2 gene that I have, that caused my breast cancer. My surgeon said that despite the risks, she’s only had 6 or 7 patients who were BRCA positive at my age do this procedure in the last 10 years, as most believe that even after having breast cancer, they think having other cancers can’t happen to them. The risk is up to a 40% for these cancers, which is something I just didn’t want to take. I want to be around a long time for our 2 year old daughter and my wonderful husband! And if the cancer should come back, I want to know that I’ve done everything in my power to prevent it. I’m very grateful that it is a laparoscopic surgery now, which means a two-week recovery instead of six weeks, but it is still a pretty difficult one.

A lot of people have asked how I felt about having a hysterectomy, at my age and with one child.  This was much more painful (emotionally) than the bilateral mastectomy. I felt so blessed to have gotten to experience pregnancy and feel little Stella kicking and growing inside of me. Babies are such true miracles! But the only thing worse than NOT getting to experience that again would be to not be around for the one we are lucky enough to have. So this decision, however difficult, was a no brainer. We do have three frozen embryos, so that if we are lucky enough to find a gestational carrier, we do have a chance at having another child of our own. Or we may look into adoption in the future. But for now, and possibly forever, Ben and I are completely fulfilled with our family of three. There are many people out there who don't get to find their soul mate, or experience pregnancy and motherhood! We are forever grateful for what we have. 
So, that being said.....normally I bounce back pretty quickly from surgery, but this one was particularly tough. It’s two days later, and I got to come home last night from the hospital, but I’m still walking around hunched over like an old lady, due to the piercing pain in my abdomen. Ugh!! I also had the final phase of reconstruction done: nipple creation and tattooing – a body part that you kind of take for granted until it’s gone! I feel like I look a lot more normal now. The plastic surgeon also took a little fat from my thighs and moved it to the top of my chest, to help make it look more natural, since it was just skin and implants. All in all, everything went very smoothly and I’m happy with the results – but I feel pretty banged up (in multiple places) in the meantime. The hardest part is trying to not let Stella climb all over me – it was so fun seeing her after being in the hospital for two days, but she just isn’t quite old enough to understand how gentle she needs to be. We told her that Mommy has some owies, and showed her the bandages over my new scars. She said “hello kitty band-aid for Stella too?” so we gave her one for her tummy, and Mommy’s tummy too. She thinks it’s pretty cute that we now have matching hello kitty band-aids.
So for now, I’m super grateful for all the help from Ben, my mom, my dad and Nancy, and Stella’s favorite babysitters as I get through recovery. And I’m SO appreciative of all the texts, calls, and e-mails – the love and support I feel has been amazing! And so fun to have my surprise visits from Blaire, Ashley (from Virginia!), and Kim at the hospital! Even if I was pretty out of it.
I’m going to sign off for now and try to get some more rest. I’ve gotten a little food down today and taken my meds – so now it will just take time to get me through this. Thank you in advance to my most incredible friends who have offered to bring dinners – I sure don’t feel like walking down the hall, much less making dinner, and I’m more grateful than you know. I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend, and is doing something more fun than recovering in bed!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Cancer: 0, Alli: 1

I’m sitting at my LAST chemo treatment – hopefully forever! Because my port was so uncooperative last week, I had to get the IV in my arm again today – but that was ok with me! I can’t believe that after 5 months and 16 chemo treatments, this chapter is going to finally be OVER! To celebrate, I used real shampoo and conditioner on my hair this morning (instead of baby shampoo) – pretty exciting to have a half inch now! It will still take a while for my hair to get back to normal, so in the meantime please enjoy my exciting array of scarves and artificial hair. Ha! Extra special thanks to Ben for taking off work to be here with me today – getting confetti from the nurses, ringing the bell, and saying farewell to the oncology staff would not be the same without you!

This blog has been so therapeutic for me – I hope you all have learned a little more about what happens when someone goes through treatment for breast cancer, but more importantly, thank you for helping me create awareness for this terrible disease. No one should have to go through this, but if you do, the earlier you can catch it, the better. So, one more time – ladies, do those self exams, and go to the doctor immediately if you find anything suspicious! I so appreciate all of the love and support from each and every one of you – I truly could not have gotten through this process without you.

I will post updates when I have my next surgeries – I have two more to finish up reconstruction this year, and also to remove the port from my chest. I may even have my hysterectomy later this year, which is what the doctors want to do to reduce my risk of ovarian, uterine, and fallopian tube cancer, which I am at higher risk for because of my BRCA2 gene. I am in a place that whatever I have to do to fight and beat this, let’s do it in 2012 so we can move on to the next chapter of our lives. We do have 3 frozen embryos that are a chance for a sibling for Stella, but they would have to be carried by a gestational carrier. We will cross that bridge and make that decision at a later date. And for now, I will be on Tamoxifen for 5 years (1 pill daily), and come back for check-ups every 3 months for a while, then every 6 months, then every year. I’m so grateful for every minute and every day with my daughter, husband, family and friends – and I’m looking forward to getting back to our normal life without being at the hospital all the time!

Last but not least, on a patient’s last day of chemo here at Presby, the tradition is that the nurses all gather around and throw confetti, then you ring the bell on the counter while you read the poem. I will leave you with this:
Ring out
Ring this bell
Three times well
The toll to clearly say
My treatments are done
Its course has run
And I am on my way.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Nearly at the Finish Line

Ugghh…..so I’m sitting at my next-to-last chemo session, and just when I thought I could coast on through to the finish line, it’s another hurdle. The nurse accessed my port (meaning she stuck the metal hook needle through the rubber valve that’s implanted under the skin on my chest), and it hurt more than it ever had in the past. She said it was probably just scar tissue from accessing it 15 times in the same exact place. But the pain got so bad that it was going down my arm to my elbow. I started getting light headed, sweating, the color all drained out of my face, and I almost passed out. Good thing I was in a big comfy chair in the infusion room! So, the nurse talked to my oncologist and she said to start an IV to my arm, because something could have bumped my port and put it up against a nerve, or it might just be in the wrong position now, so we shouldn’t use it to give the harsh chemo drugs if it’s hurting so badly. Then of course my arm was not cooperating for the IV there, so she had to find another place for the IV in the inside of my elbow and stick me again, but having it there means I have to keep my arm straight the whole time I’m here today. Whatever it takes! The pain is starting to go away now, and of course I’ve found away to type on my laptop with my arms straight out and the computer sitting far away on my lap. But at least I’m now receiving my meds, and I can check one more chemo treatment off the list. YAY. I will also have to get another IV in my arm next week – but I do NOT care at this point – let’s do it, because that will be my LAST treatment!!! (It’s actually been quite dramatic in the infusion room today, with the lady next to me puking into a bag and not able to even sit up without moaning – they are sending her to be checked into the hospital. I guess there is always someone worse off than you, and always someone better.)

Speaking of that, it’s also a little scary to me that after next week, I will no longer be actively "fighting" anymore (i.e. receiving treatment). I’ve tried to stay positive and remember how much chemo has helped my chances that the cancer will not return. If there is one little breast cancer cell left anywhere in my body, hopefully the chemo is zapping it! But nothing is 100%. My oncologist (Dr. McIntyre) said that when this is over, I will have a 15-20% chance of recurrence. That’s almost as low as any women on the street (1 in 8). And the farther out I get from this – after 1 year, then 2 years, then 5 years especially, my chances are lower and lower that it will return – the bad cells will have most likely died. I will be put on Tamoxifin for 5 years (an estrogen blocker), which will help. I am still waiting to find out whether I’m a candidate for the vaccine trial. I am definitely a worrier and a planner, and I know that it will always be in the back of my mind, and that every little ache and pain will be a concern – is the cancer back? Has it spread to other organs? But I am going to do my best to remember that I have done everything in my power to prevent that, and I need to go forward, appreciating each and every day that I am given, and live life to the fullest. I am so grateful for my husband, daughter, family, and friends who have supported me so much during this process, I feel like I will never be able to repay you all. It is almost my turn to go back to the other side – the side where I get to feel better and help others going through difficult times, which is so much more fulfilling than being on the receiving end. I’m excited to see the finish line coming so soon, even though I know it’s just the beginning of a whole new race. Having this chapter behind me will be such a relief though!
Charlize Theron: before and after
she copied my hairdo
One last thought before I leave you: I heard through the grapevine that Charlize Theron saw my hair that's growing in, and cut hers so that she has my same hairdo! Isn't that so sweet of her? I searched online and it's true - she has copied me! Check it out.






And now for the quote of the day:
You won't realize the distance you've walked until you take a look around and realize how far you've been.
Have a good weekend everybody!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

If Opportunity Doesn’t Knock, Build A Door

Hello from chemo! Yes, I’m wearing a wig for the second time ever. (The first time was at a lunch with a friend also going through BC treatment - we both wore our wigs to try them out!) My hair is actually starting to grow back now – there’s about a half of an inch of peach fuzz on my head! I wear a scarf to cover it up, but now it’s kind of weird b/c it’s embarrassing when the new hair peeks out on the sides. So which is it? Am I embarrassed to be bald, or to have hair? Argh! Today I couldn’t even find a scarf to match my outfit, so I decided to try looking “normal” (i.e. not like a cancer patient) and have hair. If a 20-month-old’s opinion counts, it’s a winner – she looked at me funny, then said “Mama! Hair!” and petted me on the head. So sweet!

Today is #12 (out of 16) – only 4 treatments left! I feel so close to the finish line! It’s so crowded here at the hospital today – every single chair is taken in both the big room and the small room. I found one last chair back in the tiny private room. There are only 2 chairs in here and the other lady is asleep with a big breast cancer blanket over her. I kind of like it back here though – I feel like a cancer VIP, ha! It’s been a crazy week, but I’m finally getting caught up so it’s kind of nice to just sit here in the quiet. Our A/C went out at the house on Tuesday, and it got up to 85! It was so hot, we were all melting. Thank you SO much to the Hoods for letting us bring the Parkey circus over to stay the night – dogs and all! Sometimes you don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone (and I don’t mean health this time) – I sure am glad the A/C is fixed now and we can get back to normal. And Stella is so happy to be in the cool air at home with her Mimi right now!  
Yesterday Ben and I went to see Dr. Nemunaitis at the Mary Crowley Cancer Research Center. I feel so lucky to have him at my side throughout this process (that's Ben, not Dr. Nemunaitis!). At Mary Crowley, they do clinical trials for new drugs and vaccines, working hand in hand with Texas Oncology, which is the group my oncologist is part of at Presby. I don’t want to say too much yet, until we know whether I’m qualified, but there’s a chance I might be able to be part of a clinical trial for a new vaccine. Pretty exciting!! But we have to wait about another week to find out what my HLA type is. The study is only for people who have the two most common HLA (Human Leukocyte Antigen) types – which covers about 55% of the population. What’s an HLA? Yeah I had no idea either. The main function of HLAs is to recognize the cells of the body and to detect foreign cells that don’t belong. Matching HLA types is important for people who need transplants, and they also play a role in certain inherited diseases. If I qualify (by having the right HLA type), I will get a series of vaccines after I finish chemo. If I’ve lost you in my rambling, the main point is this: It could help prevent the cancer from coming back for me, as well as further the research for other breast cancer patients! They are still trying to determine the right dosage for this vaccine before they release it, so with each group of participants, they increase the dose, until people complain of too many side effects. I will take whatever I can get though to fight this, for me and for everyone else going through this journey. When it comes to gambling with your life, I really feel like there is no other choice than to give it 100% effort. And hopefully a clinical trial can be added to my regular treatment plan, we’ll see!
I will try to update more often, I promise! It always amazes me that people notice when I haven’t updated in a while. I’ll leave you with my quote of the day:
Only 4 more chemos left!
Haha just kidding. Can you tell what’s on my mind? Ok, seriously:
Anything worth having is worth fighting for.
Hope you all are having a great week!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

It's the little things: Halfway there!


Today was chemo treatment number 8 out of 16 – half of them are now behind me! And to celebrate, one of my oldest (we’ve been friends for almost 25 years!) and dearest friends in the world was in town from Houston and went with me. Thank you Ting! I know it took effort to arrange for your mom and hubby to watch the boys – so thank you to them too. I now have 4 A/C (red devil) treatments behind me, as well as 4 Taxol treatments. Taxol seems to be an easier drug to tolerate, although the side effects are different. I’m losing eyelashes and eyebrows, and the ice is not much fun during treatment (which helps prevent neuropathy and my fingernails/toenails from lifting). Eight more of these to go! I’m so glad medical science has the anti-nausea meds and steroids figured out, which I receive along with the chemo, that help prevent side effects and keep me feeling ok for a couple of days. And I am back to my routine of getting a shot to boost my white blood cell count the day after each treatment, so that hopefully I won’t have to delay treatment again. Fingers crossed!

That’s about all I have today. I’m wiped out and going to try to get to bed early! I still can’t believe how generous everyone has been, bringing us so many delicious dinners. I can’t wait to pay it forward when I get through this and have friends and family that I can help out. Thank you to each and every one of you who has made our lives easier with these thoughtful gifts!
I am going to try to remember to end each entry now with a quote. Today’s is from my brother’s sweet friend Kelly (thank you so much for the package!): “Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”  It’s so true. I think about this all the time when Stella is learning another new word for the day, when I see the smile on her face as she goes down a big slide for the first time, or when Ben comes home from work telling me what a great day he had. We never know how much time we’ll have on this earth….but I want to savor every moment.  

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Race for the Cure - and a Delayed Race to my Cure


In my chemo chair, laptop out,
brother there ready to support,
before we knew it wasn't
happening today
Argh! Today I went to Presby with my two favorite guys (Ben and Ryan, my brother), all ready for round 2 of Taxol – which would be round 6 overall, with 10 more to go. The nurse poked her big hook needle through my port and drew my blood as usual, then took it to the lab so we could make sure my counts were good and we could get the meds started. However – today my labs didn’t come back as expected. I could tell by the nurse’s face that she was going to have bad news before she even said anything. A normal white blood cell count is between 4.8 and 10.8. Last week mine was 5 (already on the low end)….but today it was 1. (Yes, one!) So, the doctor denied me my weekly round of fun. Boo!!! To me, this just means that instead of finishing chemo at the end of June, it will be at least July, and if I had known this, I could have found something much more fun to do during Stella’s Mother’s Day Out day today! Just being honest! It was kind of like putting on your workout clothes, finding a babysitter, driving to the gym, getting geared up to work out, only to find out that all the machines are taken and you have to go home without accomplishing anything. Getting there is more than half the battle!

Ben at chemo today
Not to mention that with my white blood cell count this low, I’m at risk for getting infection – so I’m supposed to avoid crowds, germs, and sick people. They put me on antibiotics as a preventative, gave me a Neupogen shot to boost my WBC count (which I will get every week now), and sent me on my way. So, I’ll go back next week (Thursday or Friday, I’m still waiting to hear from the scheduler) to continue my fight. I guess the silver lining is that I won’t have my chemo hangover on my birthday tomorrow – but I still would have rather had one more treatment under my belt!

Parkeys before the race
In other news (much more fun!) – last Saturday was Race for the Cure! I can’t even begin to say how much fun we had and how supportive everyone was. Thank you to EVERYONE who participated in the race, helped organize our team and team shirts, and donated to Susan G. Komen. We had 25 people on Team Alli, and raised $6,760.00 for Susan G. Komen!!! Yes, that deserves three exclamation points – probably more!!! I know it was a big effort for everyone involved – getting up early, driving to Fort Worth, and contributing financially. A bunch of us went to lunch at Uncle Julio’s afterwards and it was the perfect end to a great day. Thanks again to each one of you – it means more to me than you know!


 

Some of my oldest (as in longest) and favorite friends!
Tiffany, Blaire, Marlo, Sarah,
Meredith, Kim, Alli, Anna, Ashley

Ben and Stella waiting to start the race
(nice shirts!)






















Team Alli










Action shot during the race:
Anna, Meredith, Tiffany, Blaire, Alli, Ben, & Stella

 
Action shot during the race: Martin, Mom, Ben, & Stella
Ben, Stella, Luke, Angele, and Ryan at the finish line

Stella and Marlo at the finish line
Finish line: Ryan, Meredith, Kim, Sarah, Marlo, Tiffany, Blaire,
Anna, Stella, Ashley, and Alli

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

N-Ice to Meet You, Taxol

Today I went back for more chemo fun. I normally go on Thursdays but I moved this one to Wednesday so that I could have an extra day to recover before Race for the Cure this Saturday – yay! Thank you Andrea for taking me today – it was great catching up and having several hours of quality girl time, even though we were stuck in the Infusion Room! (And thanks for thinking of the creative title for this post - I told you I wanted to give you credit!) I am so glad to have the red devil and all its side effects behind me. Ugh! It literally makes me nauseous to think about it. I know I am in for a whole new round of side effects, but from what I’m told, they should be easier to tolerate. This new drug, Taxol, that I’ll be getting for the next 12 weeks, has some fun side effects: your fingernails and toenails can turn dark, lift, or come off. It’s not likely – but can happen. Or you can get neuropathy – pain, tingling, and numbness in the hands and feet – so they have you do cryotherapy to prevent it. That’s just a fancy way of saying I have to sit with my fingers and toes in ice! It’s supposed to prevent these side effects – but not totally proven. I’m always cold, but I thought it was worth it to keep my nails! A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do – especially when she’s already lost her hair! Last and definitely least exciting, this drug can cause me to lose my eyebrows and eyelashes. Boo! I’m just trying to remind myself that if I lose anything else, it means the chemo is working and it’s killing the bad cells too! Bam! So, this means I have 5 chemo sessions down, 11 to go. They will start going by faster now since they are weekly – no more free Thursdays for me!

I’ve had two nice women come up to me this past week and introduce themselves, and ask if I was a survivor too. The camaraderie in breast cancer survivors is amazing! One woman came up to a group of us at our monthly girls dinner at Nicola’s, and another one at Breadwinner’s when Ben and I were having breakfast. I thought it was so nice – I want to remember how sweet they were so I can pay it forward when I am down the road a bit and see other survivors! I’m also really looking forward to the Susan G. Komen race on Saturday – thank you all for your support! My goal is seriously to try not to cry all day. We’ll see if I can do it!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Want To Borrow My Mom?

(No that red devil is not my mom! It's the chemo! Keep reading...) Yesterday was round #4 out of my 4 hardest chemo treatments! Yay! I am now finished with Adriamycin (known as the Red Devil, since it’s a bright red liquid) and Cytoxan. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to drink Kool Aid again after seeing that stuff come through my IV and make me so sick. The steroids and anti-nausea meds from my IV are just about to wear off now, so the side effects of the last round of these 2 drugs will really start hitting me tomorrow. Then I’ll have 12 treatments left of a third drug, Taxol – they will be weekly, starting in 2 weeks, and should be somewhat easier to tolerate. The side effects will be different – neuropathy (tingling in your hands/feet), possible darkening/lifting of fingernails and toenails (meaning I’ll have to sit with them in ice during chemo, boo!), and I will probably lose eyebrows and eyelashes. For some reason this last one really got me – without hair, I feel like all I have left is my face – and now they’re going to take that?! Argh! Anyway, thank you Ben and Mom for coming with me to chemo yesterday! We’re starting to know the nurses now, and see familiar faces in the patient chairs each time we go. I don’t even really bring much with me for entertainment because we end up talking to the people around us. Yesterday I noticed that the young woman (yes, an anomaly in that room!) next to me didn’t have a visitor with her, so I told her I was happy to share my mom with her if she wanted. I have to say, it did get her attention! But not as much as when my mom handed me her Neiman’s card to buy some towels online with. (Because the ones she got us at Christmas were backordered then cancelled – don’t get too excited.) Then I told her that even though I'd share my mom, I wasn’t quite willing to share my husband. Hey, enough is enough, even when we’re stuck in the infusion room for so long.

Today I went back (as always) for my follow-up shot of Neulasta. It’s supposed to help boost my white blood cell count after chemo lowers it so much. It also makes my bones and muscles ache really badly, like when you’re getting the flu, times 100. I recently found out this teeny little shot they give me in my stomach costs $8,000! How crazy is that! And I’ve had 4 of them already. We could buy a car for that! And that doesn't even count my surgeries or the chemo itself. Good thing for health insurance.


Last but definitely not least, I want to mention that our little girl turned 18 months this week – 1 ½ years old! She is a constant reminder to me of how fast life goes by. Ben and I took her to a field of bluebonnets for a photo op, just like we did last year, when she could barely sit up. I can’t believe what a difference a year makes. I can’t wait until this time next year, when all of this is behind us!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Cure

I cannot wait until there is a cure for breast cancer. I hope that in Stella’s lifetime, we will all be able to look back on this time the same way we look back on the days when the flu did not have a cure. If you get the flu now, no one thinks twice about it – you are just out for a few days, then you get well. My wish is that someday, when women get diagnosed with breast cancer, they will be able to go through the treatment – hopefully much easier than the surgery/chemo/radiation options now – then go back to their lives, without worrying about it coming back. Until then, I will do everything I can to support research and funding to get us there! I am so grateful to my wonderful friends who have just organized a team for the Susan G Komen race in Fort Worth. It’s coming up on April 14 and they have formed an official "Team Alli." I have never felt so honored. It’s already made me cry – I just hope I can keep it together on race day! If you want to join – anyone is welcome – just click here. An extra special thanks to Meredith, Anna, and Tiffany for going the extra mile putting this together, and to everyone who has already signed up. I can’t wait to see the shirt design! If you sign up on our team and would like a shirt, let me know and we’ll get one ordered for you.

Chemo update: I’ve been recovering from round 3, which was a little better than the first two. Maybe it’s because I knew what to expect, I’m not sure. It was nice having Ben take me again – I don’t know what I’d do without him! The side effects are definitely adding up – chemo wreaks havoc on the entire digestive system, but I’m doing my best to live life to the fullest between treatments. I got down to 99 pounds yesterday. Thank you to Ben for taking me for a big meal at Benihana! It’s weird to purposely order food with more calories (fried rice instead of steamed, etc) – but I am trying! I'm glad I only have one more round of chemo that includes the red devil. Then I will go for 12 weekly treatments of Taxol, which supposedly has different side effects, but may be a little easier to handle. I guess we'll see!
I got an e-mail today from my brother saying that because of my blog, a friend of his (L) and her friend (C) both went for mammograms. L’s came back clean, but her friend C’s did not. I want her to know my thoughts and prayers are going out to her right now – I am so sorry to hear of the diagnosis, but hopeful, because they caught it early, when she may not have gone in otherwise because of how young she is. And that is exactly why I am sharing my story, even when it’s difficult. My hope is that each of us who goes through this journey can touch a life and possibly save someone, until we find the cure.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Top 10 Benefits of Not Having Hair

10. I don’t have to waste 5 seconds pulling my hair back with a clip to wash my face anymore!

9. I save time getting ready in the morning by not having to fix my hair.

8. It’s not shedding everywhere anymore.

7. It will not blow in my face if I roll down the windows in the car!

6. I have lots of pretty scarves now. And 3 different wigs to choose from! Who do I want to be today?

5. I’ll save money on shampoo, hairspray, and electricity (hair dryer)!

4. Stella learned a new word: hat!

3. The lady who cut it all off at the salon said I look like GI Jane (1997 Demi Moore movie). (I’m sure she tells everyone that!)

2. Stella won’t remember this – and still recognizes and loves me.

1. Ben says I am beautiful no matter what! (and I’m doing my best to believe him!)

I’m just grateful this is only temporary. As my uncle says – my hair will grow back – his won’t! It should start coming back when I finish chemo, which should be the end of June. The countdown’s on!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Hair Now, Gone Tomorrow

You know that feeling you get when your ponytail’s too tight? And it’s been pulled too tight all day long, for about three days straight? That’s what it feels like right before your hair falls out. For the past few days, I’ve nearly filled up the entire bathroom trashcan every day with clumps of my hair. So, Ben stepped in just when I needed him and added hair stylist to his resume – on Sunday, he cut 6 inches off my hair! But honestly I only have a day or two left, even with this short haircut, before I become scarf/wig girl. It’s getting pretty thin. I really think the process of losing my hair strand by strand is much worse than it being already gone, so I just made an appointment for this Thursday to get my hair cut at the salon where we got my wig. They might be able to do a pixie cut if there’s any left - we'll see! And they will also fit my wig exactly to my head. Then I will officially be scarf/wig girl. But if I see you before then, ask my to do my party trick and I’ll pull my hair out for you!

Other than that, I’ve been recovering from Thursday’s chemo. It hit me on Saturday HARD. I was in bed, blinds closed, in my cave until nearly 5:00. It was different this time – instead of nausea and fatigue, it was a splitting headache, bone pains, body aches (like you have the flu, but times ten), nausea, and fatigue. But by Sunday I was moving around, and Monday feeling even better. It comes and goes in waves. Yesterday it was fun to have Stella’s cousin Ella come over for a playdate, with my aunt and my mom. You can see in the picture how much fun they were having, putting gummy bunnies on the window while I read a card from my aunt. (You can also see how short my hair is now! There is much less today though, since I took another shower – apparently the worst thing you can do when you are losing your hair.) And thank you Sarah, Lindsey, and Trammell for helping me feel normal last night! I’m looking forward to the next nine days of feeling even better, before I go back for more chemo fun, a week from Thursday. Trying to get some work done and rest when I can. As long as Stella and Ben still recognize (and love) me through all this, I’ll be ok – and I couldn’t ask for two more supportive people in the whole world.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Round Two, And Realizing My New Fear

Today was my second chemo treatment (14 more to go!). My sweet friend Ashley gave up her day to pick me up, drive me to the hospital, and sit in the official visitor chair next to my chemo lounge chair (sorry it’s not as comfy)! She even helped me pick up Stella from mother’s day out afterwards – good thing we have babies the same age and she had a car seat – we got there just in time. Today was almost exactly like the first time. I met with Dr. M., and she asked how I’ve felt the last two weeks. I told her my symptoms and she said I’m doing very well compared to a lot of patients! But then again – we looked around and noticed there were a LOT of older patients there – I mean oooooolder, with wheelchairs and canes. It really makes me realize how surreal this is that I’m going through cancer treatment at my age. But again, I feel lucky to be stage 1 and will do whatever it takes (however many rounds of poison!) to get me back to my healthy self again. I got my steroids, anti-nausea meds, Red Devil (Adriamycin), and Cytoxan (the second actual chemo drug)….made my appointment to get a shot tomorrow, then come back in 2 weeks, and we were outta there by 2:15! 

Most patients start losing their hair between days 10 and 14. So on days 10, 11, 12, and 13, I just pulled my hair and laughed – nothing! All there! Until yesterday (day 14)…..I started losing a few strands. They are now officially coming out when I run my fingers through my hair, 2 or 3 strands at a time – or I will look down on my shirt and see that 1 or 2 more fell out. Thank you very much Adriamycin and Cytoxan! It hasn't been a lot – but definitely enough to let me know what’s coming. I will be careful showering and blowdrying my hair, just to have a few more days of “normal,” but in the next 2-3 weeks, that will probably be it. I will call the salon where I got my wig and scarves to make my official shave-the-head appointment – or pixie cut? Who knows? But you know I will keep you updated!

Last but not least, I realized today I have a new fear. Not a fear of heights, or spiders, or anything normal. It’s a fear of not being able to repay all of the wonderful things friends and family have done for us lately. It honestly keeps me up at night now! (which defeats the purpose, I know, I promise I will try to go back to sleep) And my thank-you note list is only growing – which makes me feel guilty! But I know you all understand and will tell me not to write notes, even though you know I will – so just please know they will come one day. Today alone, I had my husband, mom, and brother e-mailing/texting/calling me all day to make sure chemo was going ok, Ashley there with me, 2 cards in the mail, cookies on my doorstep (thank you Joy!), a package in the mail this afternoon (thank you MB!), and countless friends checking on me. This weekend we have friends bringing us dinners – on the exact days I know I will feel the worst and not feel like cooking. So, as my first entry in the Journal of Gratitude I received today (thank you MB!), I want to say one more time that I am eternally grateful for all of your support – it’s what gives me the strength to fight through all of this – and I honestly look forward to recovery, just so I can put my soon-to-be-bald head to work when YOU all need something next!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Showering Counts As An Accomplishment

I’m taking a short break from working on the bridal magazine to post an update – so many of you have been so nice to reach out and ask how I’ve been doing – and how Ben's been doing – since my first chemo treatment. I have to admit, it was rougher than I expected. The actual treatment wasn’t that bad, or even the day after when I had to go back to get a shot to boost my white blood cells (which get depleted by the chemo). It was the third day that it really hit me (Saturday). The nausea and fatigue literally kept me in bed until 3:00 – and that is so not me, I hated it. If it weren’t for my wonderful husband taking care of our daughter, I don’t know how I could have gotten through that day. Or Sunday for that matter. My biggest accomplishment that day was a shower! It’s not that I was actually throwing up, just so nauseated that nothing sounded good to eat, except maybe a bite of apple to take my meds with, or a baby carrot. Pretty pathetic. And all I wanted to do was sleep, and then sleep some more. The following whole week was actually pretty bad. I’ve never found it difficult to eat, but it sure has been lately. I know what you’re thinking – what a fun problem to have – but it’s honestly stressful. To see the numbers on the scale drop nearly into the double digits makes me see how serious this disease is. Actually it’s not the disease itself, but the side effects of the treatment. Regardless, it’s scary. I’m sure a lot of people would love to lose a few pounds – but definitely not this way.

But on magical day 9 (yesterday), things finally started to look up, and I was able to function like myself again for a full day. Well, not everything is back to normal – even a glass of wine sounds terrible. (Our wine fridge is getting lonely – no one has come to visit it lately. Anyone want some pinot?!) I tried a glass last week and I thought it would help but, not really. At least I’m able to eat again – and even found that one tiny little perk of going through this nightmare is that now I get to try and actually gain weight for once! I had a great Mexican food lunch yesterday with my new friend Nicole. She is a friend of a friend of mine from TCU, and on the tail end of her battle with breast cancer. She has had so much helpful advice for me along this journey so far – and even thought to bring me her old wig and some fun scarves – so look out world, I’ll have not one, but two new hairdo’s this coming year! This week I have also met a friend of my neighbor’s, and reconnected with a sorority sister from college, who have both beaten cancer, and it has done wonders for me in terms of knowing what to expect, and knowing that my life can and will go on like normal after this is all over.

Today I felt so good that my mom (Stella’s Mimi) came over from Fort Worth, and on her way she stopped by Sabrina Gebhardt’s because our photo CD was ready! You can see a few of the photos here in this post, and also in my previous post here. I’m so grateful for her doing this photo session for us – what an honor to be chosen by such a talented photographer.




Once Mimi arrived, we all went out to lunch (Mexican food again, of course!) and then to the Arboretum. It was beautiful weather and Stella was having so much fun running across the huge fields and pointing out all the flowers – that’s a lot of flowers by the way! Then we came home for her record-long, two-hour nap. (Apparently we need to do that more often!) 

I have officially cancelled my haircut for this coming week, by the way. I decided I’m going to start scaring everyone by pulling clumps of my hair out while I talk to you – haha, that made me laugh just typing that. Actually, I’ve been told by several people who’ve been through breast cancer that sometimes you get to keep your hair much longer than day 10 or 12 (after starting chemo) – sometimes until day 14 or even 17! So – why go and cut perfectly good hair off when I can have a few more days of feeling normal? That’s right, I’m keeping it until the last minute. Take that, cancer!

That’s about all I have as far as updates. Today there are no photos from my hospital bed, images of syringes full of the Red Devil, or illustrations of how cancer spreads to lymph nodes. Just happy photos to remind us all of what life is all about. We are still eternally grateful to our friends and family who continually send cards, bring food, help with Stella, and ask how we are doing as we fight this battle. And I’m grateful that I have a few more days to feel like myself (and get some work done!) before my next round of chemo this coming Thursday. Just to be healed enough from surgery to change my baby girl’s diaper, to feel energetic enough to unload the dishes, and to be able to stay up late enough past Stella’s bedtime (that’s 7:30 pm) to work on my graphic design business are things I never would have appreciated before. But now it’s the small things that are really big things. We will get through this and come out stronger on the other side. Our perspectives have forever changed – on what’s important in life, and what’s not.

And as Hoda Kotb said (yes I love the Today Show!), “Still, the most surprising side effects of [breast] cancer is that it has given me more courage than I ever thought possible. My life after cancer is more courageous and more honest and fuller than my life before. So to the woman with cancer who is in her bed right now and feeling so sick she doesn’t want to even think about getting out of bed, I know how you’re feeling. And take it from me, I know going forward it’s going to bet getter. God gave me a second chance, and yours is about to start. Welcome to the sisterhood of breast cancer survivors. There’s not a stronger, prouder or more determined group of women out there.” Thank you Hoda!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

1 Down, 15 To Go!

Today was my very first chemo treatment (out of 16 total). I had no idea what to expect - which was the worst part for me, being a planner and someone who likes to know what's coming next. But the doctor and all the nurses were so incredibly nice and helpful, and explained everything as we went. Hopefully none of you ever have to go through this, but maybe you are just curious or being a super wonderful friend/family member and checking on me. So here’s the scoop! 
My rock (that's Ben of course!) helped me get Peanut ready this morning, then we dropped her off at Mother’s Day Out at 9:30 – she goes to Wilshire Baptist Church and her 3 teachers (Ms Rosemary, Ms Elizabeth, and Ms Anahi)  are so amazing. They know what we are going through and take such good care of our baby girl there. They sent extra prayers our way today – and thank you to everyone else for the texts and e-mails this morning too – they mean the world to us.

So about 30 minutes before my treatment, I put my numbing cream on my port. The port was surgically implanted under the skin in my chest a few weeks ago, and is a permanent place to connect an IV – they hook up my IV line to it each time for chemo. We arrived at 10:00 at Presby – the whole 7th floor of one of the professional buildings next to the hospital is Texas Oncology. I had blood drawn to make sure my levels were good to get started, then we met with Dr. M. first – she answered all our questions about what to expect today, and then her nurse accessed my port with a Huber needle. Basically that means she put a hook-shaped needle through my skin and into the port, which will take the medicine straight to the veins by my heart, to be distributed around my body.

Then we went to the infusion room – which is a big room full of lounge chairs for the patients, and uncomfy chairs for the visitors. (Sorry Ben! Husband of the year!) Let’s just say I was definitely the youngest patient by far – as in, it seemed like everyone around me was in a wheelchair. Our favorite nurse, Nikki, came by to say hi – she taught our chemo class (private class with just Ben, my mom, and me) and is so sweet. She is married and expecting her first, so it is fun to talk about things other than cancer/chemo with her too – I’m so happy for her!
The nurse started saline in my IV to flush it out, followed by two different anti-nausea meds that will help me through the next 3-5 days (the worst days for nausea, apparently) and I also have 3 different prescription pills already filled that I can take in the following weeks when this wears off. Then they put a steroid (decadron) into my IV, which helps counteract the other side effects. After all these pre-meds had gone in, the real chemo meds started. First she put Cytoxan in. This whole process is a little anti-climactic because I felt just fine during the actual chemo – it’s not until later that the side effects will hit me. It dripped through the IV, while Ben and I munched on some snacks, chatted with each other, worked on our laptops, and played on our iPhones.

Then the nurse pushed the second chemo drug, Adriamycin, in (the red devil!) through a syringe, into the port. She said they like to tell patients it’s the “red badge of courage” – but I still like to call it the red devil because it’s going in my body to destroy whatever cancer cells might be lurking and it should have a mean name – ha! So as of now, so far, so good! The side effects won’t kick in until the next few days. Lastly, they flushed my port with saline and then heparin, which keeps a clot from forming in the catheter of my port. At the end of about 4 hours, we were free to go – and pick up Stella – yay! The future treatments shouldn't take quite as long, but again – whatever it takes to knock this thing out is what we're up for!
 
My friend Marlo forwarded me an e-mail today from Anthropologie – apparently scarves are going to be in this year – sweet! Thank you Marlo for that e-mail. Anthropologie is featuring them in their ads, and although normally I’m not a scarf girl, I guess in a couple weeks, I'm about to be! So thanks for that scoop – and to the fashion world for making them a little trendier this year. Anyone who wants to join me – feel free! ;)







The cutest older man came around to all the patients today and gave each of us roses. He said God works miracles here at Presby, and gave me a rose. I feel like I’m on the Bachelor! I said I will definitely accept this rose – thank you so much. He has been a patient here for a while and is getting better every day. He thinks everyone is so nice and gave not only the patients but the nurses roses too. Just such a nice touch to have positive people around!
The countdown now begins – only 15 more treatments to go! And I promise I will not update this blog every time. Just giving y'all the lowdown on the process and how the first day went. I will be doing this same treatment every 2 weeks for four treatments. Then I start my weekly treatments of Taxol (a third chemo drug). But we’ll get to that later. Hope everyone is having a great week!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Thank You Sabrina

In case you have not already seen on Facebook, Sabrina Gebhardt (no relation to Tiffany Gebhardt, but to whom I am also so grateful to for nominating us!) chooses one family a month to give a photography session to. It’s called her “Give Love” program, and she does a full photo session – and CD of all the pictures! – to a family going through a tough time. This month, she chose us – and I will eternally be grateful. This first one is one of my favorites - I don't know why, but ever since our baby girl learned to walk, I always wanted a pic of her with Ben and me on each side, in a way representing us guiding her through life. She can completely walk on her own now (and wore herself out running all over the fields there at the Arboretum!), but for some reason this picture is just so fun and special to me. (If you click on it, you can see it a little bigger.)

It turned out to be a gorgeous day yesterday at the Arboretum – and Sabrina is so awesome that she already has a few sneak preview photos posted on her blog! I cannot help but share a couple of them already – and if you ever need a photo session of your family (couples, children, or the whole fam), I highly recommend her because she is SO very talented, and SO fun and easy to work with. I am eternally grateful to her for making this happen before I lose all my hair (chemo starts tomorrow – which means 10-14 days til I lose all my hair) and I’m sure I’ll be posting more pics once I get the CD. Here is a link to her blog if you would like more information on her: www.sabrinagphoto.blogspot.com She is amazing!



Last but not least – tomorrow is the big day! Thank you all for your well wishes, thoughts, and prayers – l’m as ready as I can be for continuing my fight against breast cancer. I have my big monogrammed bag – thank you Tiffany Kriete! (which every girl going through chemo needs, of course!), my blanket, laptop, anit-nausea meds, books, juicy suit, cozy socks, and snacks all packed. Stella will have a fun day at Mother's Day Out doing crafts, music class, playtime, lunch, and nap, then will be ready to play with Marlana - one of our amazing sitters who has been helping us take wonderful care of her and keep her life as normal as possible.
So, even though my pathology report from my bilateral mastectomy came back completely clean, any random malignant cells that MIGHT be floating around in my bloodstream somewhere are about to be annihilated – look out! My wonderful husband Ben is now going to be the one to take me. I’m so grateful that his work has been so accommodating – they have helped our family tremendously. They even gave him the whole day off tomorrow so that he could be with me on my first day of chemo (10:00 – 1:00), and afterwards  to take care of me too. I’m also so appreciative of Kim for offering to take me – but as she and I discussed, she is happy to let Ben be the one to take me now that he can, and she will still take me to a session soon. We have plenty of days to choose from (16), that’s for sure!
More tomorrow! Hope everyone is having a great week!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

“Lucky” - But Only Five Days Til The Red Devil

I may not post every day, but when I do, let's just say I'm very thorough. :) Or as Ben likes to say, as a girl, I have lots of words to get out - which I fully admit! So today I’m going to start with some happy news! This week Ben and I celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary! We’ve actually been together for 6 years – we dated a year and were engaged almost a year, but it is amazing to look back on everything we’ve been through. That day we got married (the happiest day of my life, in addition to the day our daughter was born) – we had no idea what was to come. However, I wouldn't have changed a thing, and I think it is a testament to our vows – in sickness and in health, for better and for worse, that we have not only stuck it out, and love each other more every single day, but everything that has happened has not only brought us closer together, but made us appreciate life in general more because of it. You just never know what can happen next! 

Starting out, the struggles of infertility and going through IVF only made us realize how much we really wanted a child together, whom we adore and love so much now. Then spending almost a month in the NICU with her when she was born early made us realize how precious and fragile life is. And once again, we are learning that life is precious and fragile for us too. Ben reminds me every day that this is not just my fight, but “our” fight, and knowing that I have him on my team makes going through this a million times better. Lately we have been to more follow-up doctor appointments, a chemo class (to learn all the side effects of what can happen to me during my treatments), and had more visits and dinners from friends than ever in our lives. I am trying my best to consider myself "lucky" – as hard as that is to say when I have been diagnosed with cancer – because of the fact that it was stage 1, I am under the care of such wonderful doctors, and have the best support system I could ever ask for.

Many of you have been asking when I start chemo. I am officially set to start my first treatment session at 10 am this Thursday, February 16. I’m looking forward to my friend Kim going with me – she is definitely an expert after being there for her mom through her treatments for so long. I will have 16 treatments over the course of the next 5 months. Each treatment, they will take my blood beforehand to make sure my white blood cells, red blood cells, platelet count, hemoglobin, and about 15 other markers look ok to proceed – so there is always a chance I would have to postpone a chemo session. But not if I can help it! So far, my counts look good and we’re ready to start. Each treatment, they will start by giving me some fluids in my IV such as antibiotics, steroids, and anti-nausea medicine. Hopefully these will help me fight my fight and stay as well as possible. The first 4 treatments (every other Thursday), I’ll get two drugs: Adriamycin (known as the red devil!), a really strong red drug pushed through a syringe into the port in my chest (which has already been surgically implanted), followed by Cytoxan, which will be dripped over several hours through an IV that is connected to the same port in my chest. Then I will get 12 weekly treatments of Taxol, which is also given through an IV connected to my port. I’ve been told that I will feel worst on the several days following the actual chemo day, then just as I start to feel better again, I will go through it again. But that’s ok – whatever I have to do to kill any random little breast cancer cells that might even think about floating around in my body, I will do. And they will be sorry they ever messed with me!
I am very grateful that the worst of the 6-7 surgeries (the bilateral mastectomy) is behind me – although I have to admit I had no idea how hard the healing would be. It has been so much worse than a c-section to recover from! I am working hard to be strong and wean myself from the pain pills, although I know they are prescribed to me for a reason. I am doing my best to eat all the delicious food our wonderful friends have brought over – although I have lost so much weight that I am starting to eat anything that sounds good, even if it’s just some carrots. (Thanks Marlo!) A buck-o-five is fun in high school but not healthy for me right now. Speaking of eating, thank you Leah for once again updating our care calendar! If anyone wants to sign up, you can access it here: www.carecalendar.org (calendar ID is 99731, security code is 9737). I cannot even begin to explain how grateful Ben and I have been for the amazing meals you all have been bringing throughout my surgeries so far, and how appreciative we are of the ones to come throughout the chemo process. I’ve been told that chemo makes you feel cumulatively worse, so even though week 1 I might not feel so bad, by the end of the five-month process, I will be pretty fatigued, nauseous, and who knows what else. There are so many medicines now that can counteract the side effects these days and I plan to use them – right along with the support of my friends and family – you all give me as much of a boost as anything else. Love you all!
In other news (related of course!) – my wig came in today! It is a little closer to my natural hair color than my highlighted color – but from far away with squinted eyes, maybe it will pass as my real hair?! hehe.
But seriously, a huge, huge, thanks to my mom for providing me with my hair for the upcoming months/year! And for helping watching Stella while we were at the wig store – and to Ben for being so patient with all of us ladies during the whole process. :) The photos here are of my real wig – although it is going to be trimmed up and thinned out a little, and fit exactly to my head once I lose my hair. I also got a wig called a “halo” – I like to call it my rodeo clown wig! It’s basically a band that goes around your head, with hair that hangs down all around. You wear it under hats or scarves – and it looks like you just have normal hair, except it doesn’t look all big and poofy from having a wig underneath. It’s actually pretty cool! You can see a picture of it under my pink scarf on the left. I also got a couple of scarves to wear without anything underneath – I know I won’t always want to be in a wig, especially in the hot summer.

I also made my official appointment to get my hair completely cut off – down to a pixie cut or shaved to ¼ of an inch, on Feb. 27. Ugh, I’m not looking forward to that! I learned your hair starts coming out in clumps between 10 and 14 days after you start chemo, so they recommend you just go ahead and get it cut off, rather than suffer through losing it all clump by clump. When I go in for that appointment, they will also trim down my wig however I would like it – maybe thin it out a bit since they come really thick, and doesn’t look quite like my real hair (which is not really thick, to say the least)!
So basically, my three looks will be the wig, the partial "rodeo clown" wig with a hat or scarf over it, or just a scarf or hat by itself. I'm doing my best to accept that this will just be the new me - but it's only temporary, and my hair will grow back, I am reminding myself. And if losing my hair is the worst thing that happens, and I get to live a long life for my daughter and husband, then that will be just fine!

Last but not least – thank you to Sabrina Gebhardt (www.sabrinagebhardtphotography.com) for the complimentary photo session you are giving our family before I start chemo (and lose my hair) next week! I am looking forward to having some nice family photos of the three of us at the Arboretum, since we probably won’t be taking many family photos once I’m bald! ;) I think you take amazing photos, and a big thank you to Tiffany Gebhardt (no relation to Sabrina!) for nominating us for her “Give Love” program. You can see a photo of Stella that Sabrina took here (hope that is ok Sabrina!), in the wagon at Michael’s birthday party.

I hope everyone is having a great weekend – thank you again for all the love and support – you all mean the world to us!