Saturday, April 18, 2015

Silence of the Blog

It's been a while since I've posted, but not because I haven't thought about it. Mainly I'm a gifted procrastinator, and not posting is a manifestation of that gift.

Speed. That's what I've been thinking about lately. Pouring molasses in January. Swimming through a vat of Jell-O. Wading knee-deep in applesauce. Striding through a puddle of ketchup. All of that is how I feel when I wake up in the middle of the night and can't go back to sleep, even when I want to. I visit the bathroom first, automatically, sitting and staring, thinking I ought to get up and be finished now, ought to make myself move, ought not to sit there until my legs go to sleep. I think about the things I ought to be doing. But it's so easy just to keep sitting there. Eventually I talk myself into standing, pulling my pants up, washing my hands, and going on with my life. Sometimes it takes a lot of convincing because speed is highly overrated.

How do you pass the time at 2 a.m. when you'd rather be asleep? I have developed a few strategies for wearing myself out so I can go back to sleep. I go online and catch up on the news. I write emails. I index--New York marriage records are my current favorites. (Found a great name this morning--Fairybelle Hooker. Who names their kid that?) I work on a manuscript if my brain is functioning well enough. I try to clean off my desk, an impossible task since I'm creatively sloppy by nature.

This week I didn't have a chemotherapy treatment, but I did consult with the doctor. He's very personable and isn't afraid to get off topic for a few minutes because life events influence health events. We're undergoing a transition in the family with Utah Boy and his Sweet Nurse wife moving to Utah Valley, and she works in a hospital where my doctor might interact with her sometimes.

So far the treatment seems to be working. My left leg is pain free, and I walked into the doctor's office with the assistance of a cane. That's the first time since November I haven't used a walker to get around. Our plan right now is to reassess progress after the next set of three treatments. That means the second week of May I'll have another test--either PET scan or MRI probably--and be free of chemo side effects while Colorado Girl is visiting again for a few days. We'll have a birthday party for Utah Boy that week as well.

Sweet Nurse performed an act of mercy by trimming my toenails this week, and then she buzzed what's left of my hair. Doctor is surprised I haven't lost it all by now. Without a hat, I now look like the denizen of a concentration camp. Maybe I'm not going to be bald. That sometimes happens.

We started doing a TV exercise program called Sit and Be Fit, which is designed for seniors. I actually feel energized by it, but Hubby pulled a hamstring the second time out. Activity is good. It keeps the juices flowing. I've been having mini-massages, too, and that also helps. I can sit in a chair and the therapist can still do her thing.

Antibiotics are slowing down somewhat the cellulitis on my legs. It wasn't as bad this time when I went to get the wraps removed and replaced. We'll see how long that lasts. Those wraps are tight enough to act as the needed compression for the swelling and water retention that I'm now experiencing. In other news, my dermatologist and his assistant, who have been treating the cellulitis since January, both bought copies of both my books to give to their wives for Mothers Day.

And the second book, What Took You So Long, is being advertised in the Deseret Book spring catalog. So get it, read it, and put a review on Amazon, GoodReads, or Deseret Book.

Bottom line: six treatments down, six to go, feeling as well as can be expected. Life is good.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Halfway Point

Little markers along the way help me assess where I am with my cancer treatment, and every day is a new adventure.

Now that I've had six of the twelve chemotherapy treatments, it's becoming a familiar routine. Check in at the cancer clinic at the hospital, preliminaries with the nurse, get the tube inserted into the port implanted next to my collarbone, have blood drawn, visit with the doctor. We talk about how my week has gone, he looks at the blood test results, determines this week's "cocktail recipe," and infusions begin. It takes 20 or 30 minutes for the benedryl and other fluids to drip, and then the chemo itself takes about an hour.

This week I noticed a lot less pain in my groin area where a spot of cancer had been located. I'm even able to go short distances on my own without the walker that has kept me mobile since last November. I have a lot less arthritis pain in my joints, too.

Unfortunately, the cellulitis on my legs isn't responding to the antibiotics as quickly as I'd like, but my resistance is low. It's slow progress because I'm also experiencing swelling and water retention. This week I'm having issues with cancer-related neuropathy in my feet. That means my feet tingle and hurt and I can't get comfortable for very long when I'm sitting. So I learn to deal with it and tolerate it and feel grateful it's not one of the worse side effects I might be having.

We have started doing a TV exercise program for seniors, "Sit and Be Fit." It's exercises you can do sitting in a chair, or standing behind it while holding on, and it's surprising how many ways you can move your muscles while you're sitting down. It's half an hour that we do on days when we're at home and not otherwise active. Hubby pulled a hamstring muscle (!!!) but I've done well with it.

For my birthday, my kids gave me gift certificates for massages so for the past three weeks I've been taking advantage of that. It's a mini-massage--sitting up since it's so hard for me to move and turn otherwise--but I can actually feel movement in my left breast when my back is massaged, like it's opening pathways for the chemo. And I've noticed that the tightness in my breast is loosening, and the affected glands are softening. It's amazing to feel that difference.

Summary: six treatments down, six to go, and side effects still at a minimum. My hair is almost gone, and I sleep when I'm tired. I keep up with the rest of my normal activities and throw in the daily allowances for cancer. That's my life. It's all about coping.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Measuring Progress

Good platelet levels, good blood pressure reading, less pain and more mobility, tolerating chemo with few side effects--evaluating the status quo shows us what we have to cheer about. Of course, we're still dealing with spring allergies, hair loss, gradually increasing fatigue, creeping cellulitis resulting from diminished resistance to infection, swelling in legs and feet, and secondary dry cough due to blood pressure medication. Now we are liking more and more the word "manageable."

It was great to have Colorado Girl and Utah Boy with me at my treatment last week. They helped me in and out of the car, asked the doctor intelligent questions, talked me through the "benedryl buzz," kept me warm with heated blankets, escorted me to the rest room, and anticipated with me our week at the Oregon coast this summer. We are a busy family, we love each other, and we know how to have a good time together, despite disappointments and setbacks, of which we have had a few.

Also during that week, our daughter-in-law Sweet Nurse got a new job at a big hospital in the Metro area, starting April 13, in the--drum roll please--oncology unit. However, it means they have to put their house up for sale and move to Utah Valley right away. Not that we mind having them closer! It's what we've all hoped for, but this is happening suddenly. I'm hoping I'll feel well enough to help them pack, or at least be a cheerleader while other people do it.

Fifth treatment today--seven to go. It went well. Doctor approved dextromethorphan to control my cough, and will consult with dermatologist to determine what antibiotic dosage will best control the spread of cellulitis on my lower legs.

One of my friends at our book club discussion on Saturday told me she had read my new book, What Took You So Long, and she wondered how I could write so convincingly about having breast cancer when I hadn't been through the experience myself. I told her I had done a lot of research, interviewed survivors, and I put myself inside the character, to imagine her experience as she went through it. Most of all, I wanted that character to be a winner. Now I identify with her. I will be a winner, too.

I had a new nurse in the unit today hooking me up to the drip, and it was a chance to tell somebody else about my book, and the irony of real life echoing fictional life. It turns out this nurse is a member of a book club and would like to read my book.

You see? A grandson goes from glasses to contacts, another grandson gets his first paying job, a missionary granddaughter gets a transfer and soon marks the halfway point of her service, we remember the birthday of another grandson who passed away three years ago, we anticipate his parents and sister moving closer to us for new job opportunities, husband tutors, daughter gets a new church calling, book promotions continue, two beautiful eighth-grade granddaughters growing into women anticipate ninth grade next year--Life. Goes. On. That's how we measure progress.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Hair Today, Hat Tomorrow

Cancer is characterized by fast growth, and cancer-killing drugs are designed to attack cells that grow quickly. Unfortunately, those drugs cannot differentiate between the Good Guys and the Bad Guys. Therefore, fast-growing cells such as hair follicles are victims of side effects. It took a lot of years to make peace with my fine, limp, brown, straight hair, and this is what I get for it--another monkey wrench.

In the last 20 years, I've managed by having frequent perms and weekly attention from a hairdresser. Now that I've had three chemotherapy treatments, I'll soon be back to Square One in developing a hairstyle that works for me.

My hair history is a tale of defiance and rebellion. It laughs demonically at curling irons and readily succumbs to the affects of damp weather. Having been born and raised with the naturally soft water of Western Oregon, I'd never heard of creme rinse. When I went off to school in Utah, my first self-actualized hairdo after washing in hard water was breathtaking, a fact immortalized by my cartoonish finger-in-the-light-socket student ID picture, which landed in that immortal history known as the yearbook. THEN someone told me about conditioner! Ten years later, when we lived on tropical Guam, I surrendered to the only alternative, keeping it very short in what was known then as a pixie cut.

At home I had used natural elements to dry my hair, but at college the Saturday morning ritual of sitting in the sun or in front of the roaring fireplace became impossible. I had to get one of those portable hair dryers with the pliable plastic cap that fit over the curlers so I didn't have to go out in the cold with wet hair.

By the time I had my last child in my mid-30s, gray started creeping in, and over the next 20 years as it developed a mink effect--gray ends with dark roots--my goals became A) not to look like George Washington, and B) not to frighten small children. Fortunately I've found hairdressers who understood how to do that.

My thoughtful daughter, Colorado Girl, found a chemo hat website and had several sent to me. They are delightful and I'm very pleased, especially with the nightcap. Good idea. My friend Bette is handy with the crochet hook and stopped by the other day to have me try on the hat she is making for me.

Not a minute too soon. Hair loss is making itself more obvious. People are used to seeing me nicely coiffed, and I'm used to not worrying much about how my hair looks. Things change with three chemo treatments. A couple of Sundays ago, when I was having an old-fashioned Bad Hair Day, I wore a hat to church, and this week one of my friends said I "really rocked the hat" that day.

This week was my last hair appointment for a while. Quite a lot of hair bailed out while the hairdresser was fixing it so there's no point in curling it anymore. In fact, while I was cooking the other day, I wore a hat to keep hair out of the food.

Thus it begins. Or ends. Some people tell me that when hair grows back after chemo, it sometimes changes in texture and volume from what it was before. Frankly, a year from now I wouldn't mind looking like Little Orphan Annie.

This has been an "off" week, with no chemo so my platelets can build up again, but my two out-of-town children, Colorado Girl and Utah Boy, will act as minions for the Tuesday therapy. They wanted to give Hubby and Provo Girl a break, and I'll be glad to have them here.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Chemo Brain

When you have chemotherapy, the chemistry can have a definite detrimental affect on your brain, and trying to think clearly is sometimes a lost cause. I've tried to describe it unsuccessfully. It's hard to capture in words. But this picture probably says it all:

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tuesdays With Stupid*

Coming home with a benedryl buzz after a chemo session is like having a lost weekend where you didn't know what you did or why and aren't sure what to regret. We go in at 10 a.m., have a blood draw to learn what the platelet count is, consult with the oncologist, then do the infusion. It starts with benedryl and some sterioids to cut down on the possible allergic reactions to the chemo cocktail. If the platelet count had been under 1.0 I wouldn't have the next chemo. But it was high enough, and so I got plugged in, and then slept through most of it. Fortunately I have minions there to feed me and pile on the heated blankets.

My brain, after I finished the session and went home at 1:30, felt shaken, not stirred. I slept until after 4 and still feel groggy. Tomorrow morning I'll wake up feeling slightly headachy but still functional. Things will get better as the week goes on. It's certainly understandable why the medical professionals tell you not to make important life decisions while you're undergoing chemo. It's a kind of brain fog that lends itself to silliness more than seriousness. But whatever kills the cancer is fine with me.

Next week we have a break to let the platelets build up again, and the week after that, my two out-of-town kids are coming to take their turns as minions for one session. They're bringing other interesting people with them (grandkids, etc.), so we'll have a three-day party while they're here. I'll be in the mood.

*with apologies to "Tuesdays With Morrie" by Mitch Albom, a book everybody should read

Sunday, March 8, 2015


To be more precise, the book signing event is Saturday, March 21 at Pioneer Book, 450 West Center, Provo, from 3 to 5 p.m. It's a great place to meet interesting people. Drop in and say hi. We'll sign your books and send you away with a taste of some amazing goodies, the recipes for which you'll find in the back of What Took You So Long.