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.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

On my own today

John went back to work today. Well, back to the office. He's been working from home since January 3rd, so he could be available should I need help with the kids or the house or whatever. I wanted him to return to the office this week because I wanted to try being on my own. I'm 2 weeks out from my last chemo treatment, and I have just 1 week until surgery. I really wanted to see if I could handle it.

This was my day: Up early to make lunches and make sure Emma ate a decent breakfast and brushed her teeth before leaving for the bus stop. Move slowpoke Leah along (she takes after her father!) so John can take her to preschool on the way to the office. Grab a shower before baby and Frances wake up. Feed and entertain the kids. Run the dishwasher. Load up Frances and Jesse in the van and pick up Leah at preschool. Get Frances down for nap. Get baby down for nap. Play tea party with Leah until the bus comes, and run to meet Emma at the bus stop. Collapse on the sofa for maybe 5 minutes. Go get baby, who's up from his nap. Call John and leave a frantic message, reminding him he's supposed to come home before Emma's piano lesson at 4. Realize that I haven't eaten lunch, so grab a salad and have a snack with Emma while she does her homework.

A typical day. But I made it. The house may not have been as picked up as I'd have liked, but I didn't mind that much. I was glad that I saved my energy for the kids, so when Leah so excitedly said that she had a tea party ready for me, I could say, "OK sweetie, let's play" instead of "After I pick up all these clothes and clear the counter and do some laundry and clean up this messy house!"

I will admit, I needed a nap before dinner. Fortunately, I have a husband who can handle the kids and dinner. I even grabbed another shower after my nap. It was great. Showers these days only take me about 10 minutes. Sometimes I really love having no hair.

I can't believe I was afraid I'd forget how to run the house! I've been doing all these things throughout chemo, but some tasks here and there, not all in one day. It was like riding a bike, uphill.

Of course, I need to learn that getting to bed at a decent hour will help me in the energy department the next day. So I will say good night for now. I'm looking forward to tomorrow's adventure, on my own again with the kids!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Back to normal pretty soon!

Well, it's Thursday and I'm finally feeling a little bit energetic. This last treatment was tough! I'm glad it was my last. I can't believe people actually work through treatment. My doctor says it's possible.....

I did have a wonderful weekend, at least, before the pain kicked in. On Saturday, still feeling peppy, I took my friend Janet, and Emma and Leah, to get their nails done. I just watched, but that was fun too. I'm supposed to avoid manicures/pedicures because of the risk of infection, really a bummer because I had grown accustomed to my quarterly pedicure, something I started when I was pregnant with Jesse.

The girls chose their colors (Emma a bright orange/gold, Leah a vibrant fuschia, Janet a dark red called "Mrs O'Leary's BBQ"). Everyone's nails looked fabulous. We stopped at the Dairy Queen for a treat, then headed home. Emma and Leah were just about asleep by the time we pulled in, tired girls after their spa treatment!

Janet and I took a walk later that afternoon, taking turns pulling Frances in the wagon. I wanted to keep moving and enjoy my overabundance of energy while I had it! Of course I forgot that I'm not supposed to be out in the sun (because of chemo) and I ended up with two bright red cheeks that night. Oh well. I do that every time. Must be the chemo, making me so forgetful!

Saturday night some friends brought us dinner, a nice treat. It was a pot roast, absolutely delicious! Mine always come out tough, so I rarely make them. I need to hit people up for their recipes, I think.

By later Sunday morning I was really starting to feel it. Everything hurt. Wah wah wah, I know! How many postings can I dedicate to whining about the pain, I wonder? This should be the last one, I hope. It just surprised me because the achiness lasted longer than usual, and I took Percocet at least 4 times in a 2-day span, and in the daytime too! I hadn't taken it but twice (total) in the previous 3 treatments, and only at night.

Here's what my pain was like. Humor me, and I promise I'll stop complaining about it. It really helps me to get this all out!: It was like a roulette game of aches. For example, I'd be sitting on the sofa with my feet propped up on the coffee table. My knees would start to hurt, so I'd get up to shake them out. They'd stop hurting, but then my lower back would hurt. I'd walk around a little to get some relief and my back would eventually feel better but then my arms would ache! So I'd crawl upstairs crying (or just sit there and cry for John to fetch it for me), take a painkiller and lie down. It went on like this until yesterday afternoon. It was almost funny, never knowing what part of me would hurt when, like someone (who didn't like me much) had a little Katie VooDoo Doll.

Today I'm tons better, still a little slow, but I can feel a big difference. That's good, because I have my dance class tonight. I look forward to it every Thursday, in fact I chose Friday as my chemo day so I would have a chance to be stronger for Thursday's class. Now, please don't have high hopes for my dance career! This is not my calling! This is an adult jazz class I'm taking at my daughters' ballet studio. Because their mom is taking a class, they get to dance in the recital with me (and the other mother/daughter combos) in a special mother/daughter dance. That's in addition to their own dances with their class, and I have to dance with my class too. Emma and Leah are excited because it means an extra costume for them. I signed up for this class before I learned about my cancer, and I decided to stick with it because it is good exercise....even though I am not a good dancer. Not graceful at all. But the teacher is very sweet, the other women in class are a lot of fun. (They all promised to catch my wig should it fly off in the middle of our routine!) Plus I haven't tripped yet, or at least not fallen down from it, AND....I'm in the back row for our recital number!

Be grateful for the small things, right? I'm grateful to have made it through this far. Three weeks from now I get this cancer, what's left of it, taken out. That is so cool.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

I'm a graduate of Chemo University! YAY!

I am either still hopped up on the chemo steroids, or maybe it was that 2nd cup of tea I had around dinnertime, or possibly I am just itching to write in my blog.....but here I am, at 1:30 in the morning, unable to sleep.

I ache a little bit, but nothing bad. Actually, I feel a lot better than in previous chemo weekends. Maybe it's because I AM FINISHED WITH CHEMO!!!!! My doctor promised me this is it, no more chemo, assuming the cancer doesn't come back, but I'm not thinking that way right now. The main thing: I am finished with chemo and have three weeks to relax and prepare for surgery.

My last treatment was one big celebration. I was so excited about the big day that I baked cookies (snickerdoodles), and left a dozen or two at each station: reception, blood-drawing, lab, my doctor's office staff, and the nurses' station in the infusion room. As I passed through each station, everyone gave me hugs and congratulations. I'll see them again next week when I go for my checkup, and 3 to 4 times a year for the next 5 years, so it's not like we'll never cross paths again....but you know, it was an emotional day and we all got caught up in it.

My friend Janet flew in on Wednesday to help me celebrate, too. We've known each other since 1st grade. She can always make me laugh, always a good thing, especially now. For Friday, we planned to have John drop me off for chemo while Janet watched the kids, then she would drive out later (after I slept off the Benadryl) to sit with me to the last drop of Taxol....after that, we weren't sure what we'd do but we figured it would at least involve coffee and shopping!

My infusion was fairly uneventful. One of my favorite nurses, Renee, hooked me up. She and Ashley, my nurse from my first treatment....before my port, when I passed out after being stuck too many times....we all joked about my being the entertainment that day, and how shook up Ashley was, and how we're glad she didn't change professions after having me as her patient.

Several nurses, and the nurse practictioner I often see when my doctor is at the hospital, heard it was my last treatment and they stopped by to offer congratulations. But other than all that attention, my infusion went as usual. Janet arrived not long after I woke up from my nap. John had packed her a nice lunch, and I hadn't finished mine, so we ate lunch together and chatted and just had a great time. (This was probably the first time since she arrived that my friend and I had had an uninterrupted conversation. The girls adored "Miss Janet" right away so it was tough to have a chat until they went to bed!)

Once my infusion was over, my nurse Renee presented me with a "Certificate of Completion", signed by the nursing staff. It really was a wonderful moment. I plan to get it framed and hang it with my diplomas. Janet brought me flowers, too, purple flowers (my favorite color) and yellow roses for friendship. I love presents!

Janet and I had the rest of the afternoon to celebrate. And how else would a girl celebrate anything but to go shoe shopping! And we BOTH bought shoes. I convinced Janet that her buying shoes would help with my heeling....I mean, healing! But first we stopped for coffee. I made mine a half-caf/half-decaf latte since I knew those steroids from chemo would soon be kicking in.

Coffee, new shoes, a side trip to the craft store to buy a birthday present for a party Leah's going to on Sunday, and then one last stop at the market to pick up dinner for the family.....what a great finish to a major milestone in my treatment. I was so glad to have a good friend along to help me celebrate!

I am still pretty wide awake but will sign off for now. I can fill you in on my weekend later. The short version: I had lots of energy, we went on a few outings, and I still don't feel quite as achey as in past treatment weekends. Of course, I'm not complaining. I am just so pleased that I made it through this far!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The surgeon said WOW

John and I met with my surgeon this morning, a pre-surgery appointment. The dr wanted to see how things were progressing, so he could plan for the lumpectomy and get a feel for how big a chunk he'll be removing from my left breast. When he examined me, his first word was "WOW!" I am pretty sure he followed it with a "This is better than I had expected!"

My doctor had trouble locating the tumor, so he did an ultrasound. Even then, he couldn't get a good reading to determine the size. It was smaller than he had expected it to be, he said. Because he doesn't want to go in "blind", he is scheduling me for a "localization" the morning of my surgery. I still have to look it up for more details, but my understanding is this: the radiation doctor/technician will do an ultrasound or mammogram before surgery, and insert wires (or some kind of marker) at the "top" and "bottom" of the cancerous region. These markers will help guide the surgeon when he performs the lumpectomy, so he won't have to go in blind.

It didn't all sink in until John and I were leaving the office: This is the best news! There really is very little to remove! I thought my oncologist was just trying to be upbeat when she said that sometimes chemo shrinks the cancer so much there's nothing left.

I wonder if this is normal, or if maybe I'm just a freak of nature? Medical miracle? Something like that. My doctors (oncologist and surgeon) always seemed to be amazed with my progress. In addition to the tumor shrinking so rapidly and the once-swollen lymph node nowhere to be found, they've been amazed that my hair stayed with me longer than everyone had expected, I still haven't lost my eyebrows (knock on wood), my eyelashes only recently started falling out (much later than most), I escaped anemia (though I was borderline that one week), my white count dipped only once, I didn't have any horrible side effects from the first chemo drug, and I haven't had any horrible side effects (yet) with the second chemo drug. (The stomach issues and the achy issues are normal; I avoided the mouth sores and the loss of feeling in my hands and feet, so far....)

I realize I've been very lucky through this whole ordeal. Things could have been a lot worse, and could have gone a lot worse. I'm very close to the end of this great adventure, too, so I don't want to brag too much and jinx it all. I've done that before, bragging that the baby has been sleeping through the night only to have him keep us up for a week afterwards! So enough for now. I'm off to enjoy a cup of tea and think about how great it was to hear my surgeon say "WOW!"

Monday, January 01, 2007

a better year?

I was a little p.o.'d at my husband yesterday, over something he said when we were preparing for our New Year's Eve celebration with the kids. John and I haven't gone out to celebrate the New Year in years, even before we had kids. I don't like being out on the road that particular night, and we kind of fell into a stay-at-home-and-party-by-ourselves-and-review-our-year routine. Sometimes we had friends join us, sometimes it was just the two of us.

This is how we celebrate the New Year now, with kids: We set the mantle clock ahead so that it chimes in at midnight when it's actually about 8pm. We serve the girls sparkling apple juice in fancy cups, make a racket with noisemakers and musical instruments when the clock chimes, then whisk them off to bed so that we can lounge on the sofa and watch old movies until just before midnight, when we tune into Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year show, set my camera on timer, sit in front of the TV with whatever we're drinking, and get our picture at midnight with the ball falling in the background. Last year, we had some technical difficulties with my then-new camera, so we taped the ball falling and recreated/captured the moment around 12:15am, once we figured out the timer thing.

Anyway, back to why I was annoyed last night with my otherwise perfect hubby: He said something about hoping 2007 was tons better than 2006, since 2006 really stunk (not his exact words, but pretty close). "2006 STUNK?," I said. "Don't say that in front of baby Jesse! He was born in 2006!" Of course 2006 was great because of Jesse, John said, but the rest of the year......THAT stunk.

Well, I don't agree. 2006 wasn't horrible. It was a great year. In addition to welcoming Jesse to the world, we continued watching our 3 beautiful girls grow. We cheered them on at their many many soccer and softball games, teared up (just me) over their ballet recitals. Emma started piano lessons, something I've been looking forward to since before any of our children were born. Leah thoroughly enjoyed her visit to the emergency room (really, she had fun even though no one would give her a ride in a wheelchair....besides, her toe was fine in spite of the paint can she had dropped on it). Frances discovered the pure joy of toddling up to her sister and kicking her in the shin.

We all did lots of great things in 2006, too many to list here. But the best thing, next to any of the kids' accomplishments, was discovering my breast cancer. I'm not kidding. Imagine if we hadn't discovered it until 2007! I don't like to think about that. We are very lucky we found it when we did.

2006 was a pretty good year. Only the last 3 months of it, just 1 quarter of the year, were spent with me in chemo. That's not a whole lot of year, if you think about it. And chemo wasn't as bad as I had expected (though I admit, it did have some cruel moments). Plus, chemo is doing its job on my cancer. So how can any of us complain about 2006? It didn't stink. It may have been a little trying, but in it we found a curable problem.

Naturally, I've forgiven John for his "2006 stinks" comment. It wasn't a biggie anyway. He made me think, which is always good. And he more than made up for it by letting me watch whatever I wanted on TV last night, bringing me snacks and drugs (Tylenol after dinner, Percocet just before bed.....the achey-ness hit me pretty hard last night), and humoring me when I said I wanted to stay up until midnight even though I could hardly move. He taped Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year show, since I was sleeping on the couch through it all. Sometime today we'll set up the camera and sit in front of the TV, recreating our midnight/Happy New Year photo opp. It will be a funny story for my scrapbook, and a great way to remember a good year.