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.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Keeping Busy, Having Fun

On the off-week from chemotherapy, I'll be doing a book signing event at Pioneer Books, 450 West Center, in Provo, and the immediate world is invited. I'll be there with my new book, What Took You So Long, as well as the first in the series, Living It Down. AND I'll have a couple of writer friends with me--Janet Kay Jensen, author of Gabriel's Daughters, new from Jolly Fish Press, and Robin King, whose YA suspense thriller Remembrandt is out also from my publisher, Walnut Springs Press.

Basically a book signing event is a party. There will be food--some of Aunt Sophie's recipes from the book, don't you know--as well as drawings for some prizes. It's a great place to meet and greet a lot of interesting people, and while you're there take time to browse in that fabulous bookstore. It's a book lover's paradise.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


My father was a tolerant man--after all he raised six starkly diverse kids--but he used to caution us about striking a balance between tolerance and open-mindedness. Accepting people with their many differences is important, he said, "but don't be so open-minded that your brains fall out." I have depended on that wisdom many times in my life, and it has served me well.

That's been on my mind while I've been undergoing chemotherapy. My oncologist says I seem to be tolerating the treatment well. Tolerance is crucial when it comes to fighting disease, and right now--more than combating flu bugs or allergens or other foreign influences--my body is a major chemical battleground. I like to think that the aches and pains I experience are evidence that the Hero Paclitaxel (therapy drug) is doing battle with the Villain (mean cancer cells), and that my body is welcoming and accommodating the process of the fight.

One of the side effects of the cancer drug is that it tends to make my body retain water. In other words, I have little tolerance for foods that contain salt and sugar. Even some kinds of bread can be very salty, and it's a trick to balance out the intake of salt and sugar with foods that help pull excess water out of the cells. Ironically, drinking water helps, and I'm challenged to drink half a gallon every day. It keeps my kidneys busy, but that's a different story of toleration.

In other good news, the cellulitis on my legs is healing. When I went to the dermatologist this week, he pronounced the right leg healed enough to not need the zinc oxide wrap (Unna boot) anymore, although it does need a daily application of a topical medication. My left leg is still wrapped for another week or two. We cheer for every little step toward progress. That the cellulitis can heal while the cancer battle is going on is progress indeed.

Last night I heard what I thought was my husband puttering around in the garage, but it turned out to be somebody creating a "heart attack" on our front door. When the doorbell rang, we found several dozen hearts with encouraging words written on them, plastered all over the door. It's just the sort of thing that happens in our neighborhood, and I'm so grateful I live here among these good people.

Plans are also going forward for a summer vacation. Our kids are think it's time for another trip to a beach house on the Oregon coast--our favorite place in the world to be--and they are counting on my ability to tolerate the stresses for a week in July. Having goals and incentives helps me deal with the other limitations imposed on my life right now. I'm even planning a book launch signing event for my new novel, What Took You So Long. If all goes well, it'll be in three weeks at a bookstore in Provo. I'll keep you posted.

It takes a village of the right internal chemical environment to fight this battle, and all I can do is introduce elements of nutrition and positive endorphins to accommodate it. But I have had so many more intangibles that have helped as well--prayers, cards, that "heart attack" on our front door, words of encouragement, music, laughter. Yes, laughter helps. My son and his wife recently gave me a card that reminds me of my need to laugh:

May the light always find you on a dreary day;
when you need to be home, may you find your way.
May you always have courage to take a chance,
and may you never find frogs in your underpants.

Our family motto seems to be "Live well, love much, laugh often," and we certainly do.

Sunday, March 1, 2015


What a blessed Sabbath day! Everything seemed to zero in on peace and comfort, even the hymns. My wonderful bishop sat for a few minutes with his arm around me and listened to me vent my insecurities, and later our home teachers came with a message that seemed written just for me. So many tender mercies today! Rejoicing with gladness and a full heart!