Gotta keep on keepin' on.......

Cancer again...that's 3 times in 2 years. This time it’s not breast cancer, but a new one called squamous cell carcinoma. New cancer, same old fighting spirit! My blog is still named for one of many songs that kept me going the first time around. Driving home from an upsetting appointment, I turned on the radio just as this line from Steve Miller Band's Jet Airliner was playing: "I've got to keep on keepin' on" I did just that. And I'll do it again.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The day after treatment #7 (of 8): what a nice morning!

Emma went with me this morning to get my Neulasta shot. Neulasta is the brand name; I think the drug is called pegfilgrastim or something like that. It is administered the day after chemo, to help boost my white count earlier than my body naturally would, allowing me to go every other week for chemo instead of every 3 weeks.

Anyway, Emma went with me today. I hadn't brought her along before as I wasn't sure how she'd take it. Just seeing me get a shot would be no biggie for her, but seeing other patients hooked up to IVs getting their chemo? I saw no need for her to be exposed to that. She and Leah both know I get chemo (we call it "strong medicine"), and I've let them believe I just get a bunch of shots. They don't need the visual of their mommy hooked up to an IV. That might give them the willies. Sometimes it gives ME the willies, just thinking about it!

But the hospital I go to to get my Neulasta shot is not where I get my chemo. This hospital has a very small infusion center, maybe 6 chairs (there are over 20 at my cancer center). Sometimes when I go for my shot, I am the only one there. So this time, I decided that Emma could handle it. I casually mentioned that there might be more patients there, getting shots like me, but also patients with machines and tubes attached. Emma just nodded and said she still wanted to go. She's pretty brave for an almost 8-year-old! Plus she probably thought there would be special treats for her afterwards, that we'd turn the morning into a Mommy-Emma outing, something we hadn't done in a few weeks.

And it was a great Mommy-Emma outing! I got my shot, in and out in less than 10 minutes. There were 2 other patients, 1 getting a shot and 1 about to be hooked up for infusion. Emma didn't even notice. She was more interested in the orange juice and bag of chips that the nurse let her select from the breakroom snacks. (Yes, potato chips at 9AM! Would not have been my choice, but I was stuck in the chair getting my blood pressure taken, and it really was a special occasion.)

Afterwards, Emma and I went in search of a place to get a treat. My favorite coffee shop, the one I took my dad to (about 2 Neulasta shots ago), had closed. It was rather sudden. I'm still in a bit of a shock over it. It was so much better than Starbuck's. And my favorite bakery, just down the road from the now-closed coffee shop, was closed for the holidays. So it was off to Starbuck's, for coffee and a cranberry muffin (me), and hot cocoa and a donut (Emma). On the way, we chatted briefly about my shot, and the other patients there. Emma had noticed they were men. She was surprised that men could get cancer, too, and wanted to know what kinds of cancer they could get. She really does notice more than I give her credit for. She also noticed my sparse eyelashes, by the way, but wasn't that disgusted. She thought it looked different but not bad, even though I'm down to 12 on the top lids and 1 to 5 on the bottom. (I can't help but count them!) And she reminded me they'd grow back, just like my hair. How sweet.

It was a typical outing with my oldest girl. We drank our hot drinks and ate our treats, Emma tried wheeling/dealing for a stuffed animal (did not work), and we spilled hot cocoa on the floor and my shoe. Like I said, typical! But fun, as always. We took the long way home, chatted some more about her upcoming birthday party (she wants a sleepover). She wants me to make pizza, but she also wants to go out to eat, and she wants 4 friends to sleep over but also wants 10.....decisions, decisions.

When we arrived home, all was quiet. Leah and Frances were playing with their dolls in the family room, John was reading the paper, and Jesse was still asleep in his crib. Of course, Emma started playing with her sisters, and eventually there were tears from at least 1 of the bunch. But that's typical with our 3 girls. Any 2 of them can play together nicely, but add a 3rd and the peacefulness soon ends. They get over it quickly, though, and all will be quiet again until someone else's feelings are hurt or doll is stolen.

It was perfect, though, scuffles and tears and all. I've wanted life at our house to stay normal, and for the most part it has. Today was a Saturday like most others, made even better with a great morning with Emma. Maybe next time I'll bring Leah, too. But not all 3, that would be pushing it, I think!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Still doing fine, minus a few eyelashes

Well, I learned something last week: If you cry too many times over losing your eyelashes, they fall out faster.

It was a hard lesson. Fortunately, I wised up before they all came out. I'm down to about 18 on each upper lid, 3 on the lower left lid, and 6 on the lower right. (Yes, I really did count them, yesterday.)

I can't figure out if putting mascara on them enhances what's left or draws attention to the fact that there are just a few left. I don't know. Probably I should be grateful that they stayed with me all this time. They hung in there for me for almost 12 weeks!

I really don't mean to focus on the hair thing so much. I guess I have nothing else to do, since all is going well with my treatment. My checkup last Friday was good, both red and white counts were favorable. My oncologist said that the tumor was so small and soft that she couldn't get a good measurement on it. And she couldn't even find the lymph node in my armpit. Things are shrinking they way they should, always a good feeling!

I'm feeling good, too. No stomach issues, no aches, just a little fatigue this week. My family was here for Christmas, and they helped out in every area, so I could concentrate on wrapping presents, planning the menu, napping, and checking the status of my eyelashes.

I keep coming back to those eyelashes! So sorry! What is my problem? I was OK when the hair on my head went, and I've almost stopped complaining that I still have to shave my legs AND pluck the hairs on my chin (can someone please explain how this is fair?).....but the eyelashes really threw me. It just looks creepy. And I'm all about NOT looking creepy, especially for the girls. I don't want them running away screaming because their freaky, "take-me-to-your-leader" mommy wants to give them a hug.

All right, I'm exaggerating. They've all seen me without a wig or hat, and except for Leah they haven't run screaming from me yet (at least that cured her of walking into my room without knocking first). But you never know what their limit is. I just want them to keep on being "fine" with mommy's cancer, the way they've been all along. You know, telling everyone about their mommy's "booby cancer", complimenting me on my cool leopard print hat, begging me to put on their favorite wig (the girls love Audrey-Angelina), and not being afraid to ask me questions like "does it hurt?", "can we catch it?", and "can I see your funny hair?"

The girls haven't said a thing about the eyelashes yet. I've been careful not to bring it up when they're around, careful not to be upset about any of this in front of them. John and I are still determined to be as normal as possible with this cancer thing. The girls have been very accepting of my physical changes, so I'm sure they won't be as traumatized by the eyelashes as I am. I think they see only "me", not my individual features. I'm more like one big mommy blob, a blob they love no matter what.

So I suppose a few eyelashes is nothing to cry about.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The most fun I ever had at chemo!

Well, I made it through another round. Yesterday was my 6th treatment. Just 2 more to go, YAY!

I was all by myself at chemo, had a neighbor drop me off while John stayed home with the kids. I actually had a really great time. I guess I am really great company after all!

What I enjoyed most about yesterday was approximately 4 hours of quiet "just me" time....that is, aside from the infernal beep-beep-beep of the chemo machines. Those beeps are awful. Each time the drug packet gets low and needs replacing, the machine beeps. It doesn't stop beeping until the nurse comes by to either push a button or change packets, or both. Now imagine 20 patients, each with their own chemo machine, each with a different chemo cocktail that gets low at different times. Non-stop beeping! And all the beeps sound alike, no special ringtones, so it takes the nurses a minute to figure out who's beeping. I'm surprised they don't have nightmares. I asked one of them if they hear the beeps after hours and she laughed and said she does. Poor thing.

Oh, sorry....back to the fun part: the quiet time. I was able to ignore the beeps, even without my iPod to drown it out (unfortunately I had forgotten to recharge it). I addressed envelopes for my Christmas cards, wrote some long overdue thank-you notes, did some crossword puzzles (gotta keep my mind sharp), and had a few snacks.

I also napped for about an hour, all snuggly in a prayer blanket my mother-in-law made for me. When I woke up, I wished I had had someone there to nudge me awake, because I am SURE I was snoring. I woke myself up once with a (hopefully quiet) snort.

So it was a very productive session. Not only did I get further along in my treatment and tackle a few more cancer cells, but I also made a dent in my correspondence and Christmas cards.

I felt really good afterwards too, was happy to see John and the kids pull up in the minivan to bring me home. The only downside? I had a terrible stomachache! Not from chemo....from too much snacking! I guess with no one to talk to, I just pigged out! Oh well, no harm done. It was all healthy stuff, just too much at once!

Today I still feel good, got my white count "booster" shot this morning, attended Emma's and Leah's Christmas pageant dress rehearsal at church, then tried to rest/relax the rest of the afternoon. Still a little wired today. I'm preparing myself for tomorrow, when the aches will likely kick in. I've got the card table ready to go upstairs and plan to spend my time wrapping presents. I'm assuming I'll have enough strength for that! And hopefully I'll feel up to attending the Christmas pageant tomorrow night. If not, I'll throw on a hat and dark glasses and have John drag me in and cart me around, kinda like Weekend at Bernie's..... could make for an interesting future posting. Stay tuned!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Another great checkup!

I saw my oncologist on Friday, for my "off-chemo-week" checkup. She was very pleased that my white count was high, and my platelets and red blood count were good too.

I brought my films with me, since she hadn't seen the mammogram my surgeon took in November (to help him better estimate whether I would need a lumpectomy or partial mastectomy.... we're looking at a lumpectomy). She showed me the mammogram and pointed out the "areas of calcification" (cancer) and also the lymph nodes in my armpit. Everything was so much smaller and fainter than in August! It was amazing. I had read all my mammogram reports and knew from the numbers that everything was shrinking, but I never took the time to look at the films.

I asked my doctor about the Taxol, and whether my cancer would respond to it. Just because the AC worked so well, does that mean the Taxol will too? She said that whatever cancer cells the AC missed, the Taxol is likely to pick up. Based on the good response to the first drug, she's expecting a similar response with this one. And once again, she told me that there may be nothing to remove when I go in for surgery in February. (They'd remove from the general area anyway, just in case, which is fine with me. I would insist they take something. Just not too much! I don't have a lot to spare!)

I felt pretty good leaving the doctor's office on Friday. Still feeling good, enjoying the days until my next treatment. 5 down, 3 to go!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Day 3 on the new drug....blah!

Remember Huey Lewis and the News? Well, I WANT A NEW DRUG! One that won't make me ache all over.....

I was doing great on Saturday, the day after my first Taxol treatment. I was peppy, feeling good. My dad and I went out for coffee in the morning, after stopping at the hospital for my shot of Neulasta (the white count booster I get the day after treatment, to bring my count up faster so I can get chemo every other week instead of waiting 2 weeks for my body to bring up the white count on its own....make sense?) At the coffee shop, I ran into my friend Maya and her husband Michael and had a nice chat with them. I was so proud that I was up and about, feeling good and looking "not too shabby".

My mom and I shopped all of yesterday afternoon. It was great to be out and also to make progress on my Christmas shopping. Several times, she said "Let's get you home" but I insisted we keep going. I wasn't sure when or if the Taxol would hit me, and I wanted to take advantage of my energy. And, I thought if I tired myself out enough I would most likely be able to sleep in spite of the steroids. (I did sleep well, by the way.)

After dinner I started feeling a little achey, first in my neck and then my chest around my port. I thought it was the port but it kept spreading. The backs of my arms were next. I thought that was because of the Neulasta shot but then I realized it was in BOTH arms. The shot goes in one arm.

At that point, when I complained to John yet another time about the pains (I had been giving him a play-by-play all evening, I'm sure driving him crazy because he was trying to watch the Nebraska football game), he suggested I take some Advil or Tylenol before I went to bed. So I did and fell asleep pretty quickly.

When I woke up, around 10:30 this morning, I was achey all over. My body felt heavy. And my eyes were watering, like fountains. I wasn't crying, really, it was weird.

Everyone else was awake and I could hear them running around downstairs, getting the girls ready for Sunday School. Meanwhile, I needed help to get out of bed, and I was hungry, and no one checked in on me! Boo hoo hoo! That's what I get for making a big deal about being fine and wanting to do things myself!

Eventually, I dragged myself downstairs and heated up some spaghetti. It was wonderful. That, a cup of tea, and a shower really brought me back to life this morning.

So there you have it. That's how I'm doing. I'm achey and a big whiner-baby (the girls' new term for each other), but I am feeling better as the day goes on.

If this is the pattern for the next treatment, I'll be prepared. I'll do all the things I need to do on Saturday and expect to be a slug on Sunday. I don't like it, but at least I won't be surprised. And on the bright side, I don't have the queasy stomach like with the other drug. Here's to a more exciting menu from now on! No more living on crackers....

Friday, December 01, 2006

1 down, 3 to go

Well, I completed today's chemo with success. It was the first of 4 treatments of Taxol (paclitaxel). Really not much to report. I slept a little because of the Benadryl they gave me (in case I had an allergic reaction to the drug), then I woke up again because of the steroids they gave me (to make the antinausea medicine work better). So I was in between loopy and hyper, like Jekyl and Hyde!

I was plugged in from about 10:15 until almost 3:00. That was not fun. They dripped the Taxol verrrrrrrrry slowwwwwwwwwly this first time, but since I had no allergic reaction (YAY!) they can go a little faster next time (YAY YAY YAY!). That's good, because I was really bored.

Someone turned on the TV around lunchtime, really loud. It happened to be facing my chair. I did some crossword puzzles and wanted to write some letters but couldn't concentrate with the TV so loud. I finally gave in and watched parts of The Young and the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful, As the World Turns, and Guiding Light. It was painful. I think my IQ sunk a bit this afternoon. And I never noticed before, but male soap opera actors all have really bad haircuts! I know, I should talk, me with my bristly hedgehog hairdo!

I feel OK, a little tired from sitting in the chair all that time. I was anxious to get home to see the girls and Jesse. John took everyone outside to play (we call it Mandatory Outside Time when there is resistance) and Jesse is here at the PC with me. He's getting a little fidgety, and it's slow-going, typing with one hand. I will need to write again later.

But in case you haven't noticed, this chemo regimen is not my favorite. I'm all about speed, and this is not fast in the least. I'll have to plan my time better for the next one. And sit far far away from the television!