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: 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: (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 ( 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!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

I'm Gonna Love You Through It

My friend Meredith just passed along one of the most moving videos I've ever seen. It's a Martina McBride song called "I'm Gonna Love You Through It," about not only surviving cancer, but how it affects all of the family and friends around the person fighting for her life. It totally made me bawl, but in a good way - I needed that. I never realized how many friends I had until I went through this, and suddenly everyone is coming out of the woodwork to show their support and help Ben and me through this journey. I will never be able to convey to you all - my family, friends, and supporters, how much you have helped me down this road, but I will be eternally grateful. Please take a minute and watch this if you have time (scroll down a little and just hit play on the video - it may not work on your phone so try it on an actual computer).

Besides the obvious thing that I want to come out of this - creating awareness so that no one else has to go through this awful, scary experience, I also want to help anyone who does have to go through it to catch it early - it can make all the difference in the world in your prognosis. Last but definitely not least, I am looking forward to being able to pay it forward, whether it's taking meals, caring for children, supporting the spouses, or bringing special pillows and blankets - whatever it is they need - to anyone who does have to fight breast cancer too.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Drains out! Great news for Mimi and Ryan! And wig shopping!

I'm now 9 days out of surgery, and have been home since Saturday. I've had my ups and downs, as to be expected, but as long as I stay on top of my pain meds, I don't feel like I've completely been run over by a truck. I am slowly able to start weaning myself off of them though because they do make me very tired. Well, that, and I'm probably also tired because of the fact that I had major surgery and will barely slow down to rest. But let's get to the good part.....I am a free woman! I had my follow-up appointment at the plastic surgeon today and he took my drains out! After 9 days of having vials of blood hanging off me everywhere I go, I feel like a new woman - all I have now is antibiotic ointment, small bandages, and some surgical tape. He also said I am allowed to lift 10 pounds now instead of 5! Wow, that is great - except my precious baby girl is 26 pounds. So, I will still be needing help for a while....I definitely do NOT want to backtrack or go back into the hospital.

In other wonderful news - my mom had a scare with a questionable mammogram this week - but she was brave and had a biopsy, which just came back today, and it's all clear! Nothing could have ended our week with better news than that! She is in great hands with Dr. J. in Fort Worth now and we are also extremely grateful that she does not carry the BRCA2 gene that I have. Yippee! AND - we had my brother Ryan tested, and he does not carry the gene either. He had a 50/50 chance, and because this gene is also linked to cancers like melanoma and prostate cancer, he does not have the extra high risk for those now. Double yippee!

I have spent a few days this week wig and scarf shopping with my sister and my mom, and we had narrowed it down to our four favorite shops. We now officially have 3 wigs on order from our favorite shop, and we are going to choose one once they come in next week, in my specific hair color. They don't make you commit until they come in and you can try them on in your exact style and color. So - I'm not going to tell you which one - but a variation of one of these styles is the one that's going to be my wig for the next year or so. And I think you'll be able to tell which ones I was trying on just to be silly. But note: NONE of these exact styles/colors are going to be the real one. We have to wait for next week for it to come in. For now it's anyone's guess. :) I also went a little nuts and got 14 different scarfs, hats, wraps, etc for the days I don't feel like wearing a wig. (And I have 2 sleep caps, thank you to my Wednesday playgroup mommy friends!) Also, thank you very much to Ben and several of my girl friends (Blaire, Ashley, & Leigh) for offering to shave your heads along with me when I start losing my hair - but it is NOT necessary. Love y'all though!!! And thanks to Uncle Ryan for helping watch Stella while we shopped - she loved that! I have heard that you start losing your hair about 14 days into chemo, which will be in about 3 weeks for me. I think I'm all ready for this fight though - bring it on!

Needless to say, it's been a long day. I'm off to bed now - night night! :)