Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dancing Inside & Out

Angie and me
"Sister Survivors"
Survivor's Luncheon 2009

Hello everyone!

Guess what? I had no doctor's appointments this week. None! No temperature or blood pressure checks. No weigh ins. No baggy, drafty hospital gowns. I've had my first week cancer treatment free! It feels so wonderful!

It feels as though I am dancing inside.

I am still a little sunburned from the radiation but it is getting better. I am currently sporting lots of shrugs. It is a great fashion accessory for breast cancer patients I must say. Whenever someone comments on my new spiky hair look I am quite proud to credit it to my "Short and Sexy Hair Gel." It gets me lots of laughs. Yes that really is the brand name. Being that I am a short person as well I like to think the whole look goes beyond the hair gel. Now all I need to do is wear my diva sunglasses and hair gel at the same time. I just don't know if the world out there is ready for all that "divaness" yet.

I guess the only thing that has surprised me this week is that I've felt a little overwhelmed getting back to the routine. You'd think it would be easy and it is for the most part. It's just the things that I've put off for a while I feel like I now have to pick back up as though nothing has happened. Suddenly I expect myself to be back 100%. It is silly I know and I am getting back into the old "normal" life happily now one day at a time.

Last Friday Randy and I went to a survivor's luncheon. The speaker was Dr. Farris Jordan, a psychologist. He was hilarious. He talked about how the best way to battle bad news is to have a great attitude.

He said whenever people deliver him bad news in his office now they do it with a funny dance and everyone automatically handles it so much better. For example, the secretary might say "The computer is broken" while doing the hokie pokie. We have started doing the dance at our house too. Randy was taking the trash out last week and commented on how yucky it was while "getting down." You should have seen my kids' faces when I said "Lucky you, you have a math test today" while doing a "staying alive" dance move. (Unfortunately the joke was lost on them!)

At the survivor's luncheon I had the privilege of sitting with two friends and former coworkers, Whitney and Amy. I also got to see Angie (my Cancer Vixen reading buddy), give her a shirt and get our picture made together.

For 5 months now I have been corresponding with a survivor I met through a relative via Facebook. She got diagnosed about four months after I did. I watched her go through the same treatments I did right after me rooting her on the whole way. Friday I got to meet her face to face for the first time and give her a box with items to help her through her upcoming surgery. All of this gave me such joy.

This week I heard the song "I Hope you Dance" on the radio. I remember first hearing that song when I was pregnant with Laura. At that time I remember having such hopes for that first child, such dreams and wishes. I will always associate that song with her. It is interesting to hear it now after battling cancer. It truly captures how every moment is precious and how life (good and bad) is best faced with, as that speaker put it, a happy dance. Hope you are dancing too. Lots of love,


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Radiation Graduation!! GOD is SO Good Ya'll!!

Hello dear friends and family!

Today I had my LAST radiation treatment. Yeah!! I am now officially done with all of my treatments! Whoo-hooo!!

It was a very special day for me. I have to be honest though and say that I did the oddest thing on the way to the hospital. I found myself crying the whole way. Not from joy but from sorrow.

One reason for this was because I started thinking about the future. What would my life be like now AFTER cancer? I had already had my last weekly visit with the Radiation Oncologist on Tuesday. I asked him at the time how I needed to proactively monitor myself from this time forward. Should I have regular scans? Should I pay close attentioin to the tumor marker blood tests? What should I do?

His answer to me was more complicated than I expected. He said tumor markers don't work with all people. He also said some insurance companies won't pay for scans unless you have an outright symptom. His best advice was to know what was normal for my body and to know my Medical Oncologist. Fortuately he told me I have a top-notch Medical Oncologist (which I already knew).

He told me that one of his patients right now probably has about 3-4 weeks to live because of her metastacized cancer. She did not have breast cancer and initially went somewhere out of state. Her doctor there put her through all these tests which were not necessary in her case (like a mammogram) because he owned the equipment (and could make lots of $$). That doctor emphasized that her mammogram was clear without leveling with her about what she was up against. She had not been told the whole truth. And the truth in my case was he didn't know how my cancer would be monitored. He said sometimes as a doctor that is the hardest thing to tell a patient that "You don't know." He did say though that my Oncologist was a good doctor and would do everything she could to keep a close eye on me. This was both very comforting and very sobering to me.

Laura and Leslie heard every word of this and as we left that day Laura suggested we pray for this woman with a few weeks left to live, whoever she was. I was proud of Laura for thinking of it. We prayed for the woman in our car that morning. It prompted lots of questions about life, about death, about heaven and we talked about it all the whole way home.

That was on Tuesday. Today was Thursday. All of this was on my mind as I drove myself to the hospital for my last treatment.

Also on my mind was the fact that I would have to say goodbye to all the special people I saw every day at the treatment center...everyone from the techs, to the fellow patients to the parking attendent.

I was especially sad because I was told by a tech on Monday that Herbert had to take a break from his treatments and would not be in the rest of the week. I thought I might never see him and Virginia again.

What a pleasant surprise it was when I walked into the hospital and saw them both!

After my treatment I talked with Virginia in the waiting room more about Herbert. She told me that he was diagnosed in March. The cancer had started at his ear and progressed to his throat and lung. He has a circular button on his neck he always has to push whenever he speaks. Virginia told me he'd lost lots of weight and was having trouble eating. They were giving him 7 Ensures a day. She also told me that her daughter who lived several hours away has a lung disease and she is worried about her. She said as long as she "had breath in her body and gas in her car," she'd keep bringing Herbert for his treatments. I thought that was a beautiful statment. Many times when I've seen her Virginia would say, "Isn't God good?" with a big smile on her face. I always cheerfully agreed but today it made me stop and think about it further. I was always saying how good He was in the midst of good news. Ever since my diagnosis my news got better and better. Here she is able to say it even in the hardest of times. I admire her greatly. Now THAT is faith!

I was able to give Herbert and Connie each a GOD IS BIGGER THAN CANCER shirt. That meant so much to me. There were lots of hugs. The techs gave me a radiation graduation certificate. In the waiting room I collected my last cookie on my last cookie day. Boy did that ever taste SWEET!

I came to my last day of radiation with tears of sorrow and left with such joy. As I pulled off in my car I was touched that the parking attendent (who waved at us every morning) remembered it was my last day. I proudly showed him my radiation graduation certificate and he was quite impressed. (Yes, Evie I too made friends with the parking attendent).

And so ends my cancer treatments. I will still have at least 3 (maybe 4) surgeries but the battle waged against the cancer is now over. I hope it will be my last. It doesn't mean that cancer is out of my life for good now. No matter what happens in the future, cancer will always be a part of my life.

Please pray for Connie, for Virginia and her daughter, for Herbert and for that woman the doctor spoke about who is dying of cancer.

Please remember most that "God is so good." I have been a witness that it is true in the best and in the worst of times. Lots of love,


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tolerable and Temporary

Hello friends and family!

I am now 6 treatments away from completing my radiation therapy! Yeah!! The skin under my arm is black with blisters and I am very red all over my left chest. I am uncomfortable but as I told my doctor today it is all "tolerable and temporary."

When I go to radiation I see the same people. There is Virginia and Herbert who told me about "cookie day" and another breast cancer patient named Connie. We always chat and I enjoy seeing them and the same technicians every day.

Laura has taken to carrying a blanket with her into the hospital. Coats in her view are overrated. Today she and Leslie walked around with it over their heads. Leslie paraded behind Laura her body totally covered except for her feet. It looked like they were part of a huge animal costume. They turned a lot of heads but the onlookers always smiled. Anytime I go to my treatment and they aren't with me strangers come up and ask me where they are at and how they are doing. Guess we must turn a lot of heads (and make a lot of smiles I hope).

Today I met someone new. His name was Will and he has lung cancer. He looked to be in his 80's. He had just finished his radiation treatment and was lying on a stretcher waiting for someone to take him up to his hospital room. He said he'd been married 60 years to the same woman. He joked about how he'd put up with her for all that time (and how his lucky wife hadn't put up with anything). I thought it was very sweet when he said he didn't know what he'd do without his wife or she without him. He asked my name and I told him. He said he'd known another Kerry when he was young in World War II. He said that other Kerry had died on a Pacific island fighting the Japanese all those years ago. That was sobering to me. It made me wonder what all he'd seen in his life. He also told me he was about to start chemo. I told him he would love the nurses in the chemo hut. I said you get to eat ice cream, hang out in a recliner, take a nap and watch TV. He said he couldn't wait to get started.

Just like Virginia, Connie & Herbert he never once lost his humor or his smile. I really admire the spirit of the people I see at radiation every day. They don't complain even when you can tell they are hurting. They just smile and keep going.

Today I also saw a Physical Therapist. I went for an educational session about how to avoid getting lymphadema which is a backing up of the lymphatic fluid in the arm (and therefore a swelling of the arm itself). Because I have had my lymph nodes removed I am at higher risk for it, although the risk is about 25%. The therapist showed me pictures of people who'd had it, some in their legs as well as arms. (It all depends on where your lymph nodes have been removed). I was shocked by the severity of the swelling. Apparently all sorts of things can set it off: heat, mosquito bites, injury to my left arm, a cut, a change in pressure. I have been told now to avoid saunas and shaving with a regular razor under my arm among other things. I cannot have my blood pressure or skin pricked on my left side. I was told to buy a special sleeve if I ever go flying in an airplane or in case the lymphadema ever starts.

One of the things the other radiation patients, the technicians and I often joke about are the floppy hospital gowns we have to wear. Those immodest little things have become a part of my radiation routine. It has fondly brought to my mind a poem called "The Hospital Gown" written by my grandmother Mamma B. It was found after her death in a niche by her easy chair. She passed away from breast cancer in 1989 when I was 18. I think it captures the indignity but necessity (the tolerable and the temporary) of that aspect of the journey. And when you think about it, if Jesus is in your heart and you're going to heaven, it helps everything seems a little more tolerable and temporary.

The Hospital Gown
By Bertha Hutchison Booth

Provided with a smile, I wore it with a frown.
Tied in back like a bib, split all the way down;
So skinny and short,it won't go around
That horrible, hazardous hospital gown.

No buttons to button- no zippers to zip-
Tall, short, fat, thin- all it must fit.
Not even a pocket for hankie or pen,
I hereby declare it a crime against men.
That horrible, humiliating hospital gown.

Now Doc says I'm better- I walk down the hall.
Wearing pajamas and robe- pants, pockets and all.
I'll soon be dismissed and, when out on the town,
I'll praise those who provided with expert renown,
That horrible humanizing hospital gown.

Hope whatever you are putting up with is tolerable and temporary too. Lots of love,

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Vanity...The First Thing to Go


I am now half way through with my 5th week of radiation. All is still going well although I can really feel it now. I am totally red on the left side of my chest. It feels like a sunburn and is most uncomfortable under my arm. Sometimes I catch myself walking with my left arm sticking out funny to prevent the friction of skin on skin in my armpit. The doctor said I had 5 more treatments in that area but they are going to postpone them a few days to give that area some time to recover. They have been treating the clavical area of lymph nodes below my neck as well. Starting tomorrow they will also be concentrating the radiation on my masectomy scar. I have 10 more treatments to go. I can no longer wear a bra because of the discomfort.

I remain in a state of menopause. The doctor said I may not know for 6 months whether this will be permanent or not. The past month I have noticed lots of fuzzy hair all over my face. It is even all over my nose. A couple people have commented on it. Randy and I joke that I'm so hairy "the moon must be full" like I'm a werewolf or something. We just laugh about it. I suppose this is due to the drop in hormones. After months of no hair it seems a little bizarre.

Yesterday I saw an interview with Michael J. Fox on Oprah. He was talking about Parkinson's Disease and how it makes him constantly shake. He said after his diagnosis that "Vanity was the first thing to go" and that now he doesn't care so much about what he looks like or how people perceive his physical appearance. I find myself now trotting daily through UT hospital with my very short hair, an uneven chest, fuzzy face and false eyelashes (that have been known to pop off unexpectedly from time to time) without much thought about my appearance. I have laid on the radiation table so many times now with my chest scars exposed that I don't flinch at all when three technicians stand over me lining up the crosshairs for my daily radiation treatment. It has all become a strange sort of routine. It is a bit freeing really.

That's not to say though that it doesn't bother me at all. I see people look at me differently sometimes. I've had several women just come up to me recently and start talking about how they are survivors too. They don't even ask if I have breast cancer. I guess they just know it on sight. One time I even had one woman start showing me her masectomy scar in the middle of a retail store. It guess those scars can be a strange source of pride, really. Like a soldier showing his battle wounds it means you are a survivor in the truest sense of the word. I am fortunate that the scars from my breast cancer are temporary. The shakiness from Parkinsons is not. The lesson learned however is the same. I knew I was not defined by my physical appearance, but sometimes (with so much of my life revolving around my treatments) cancer starts seeming like that is my life. You're poked, prodded, stuck with needles and people stare at your scars all the time. Cancer is very humbling and none of it (except your attitude) can you control. We are not defined by our adversity though. We are so much more.

Last week I saw my Internist. He said in 35 years of family practice he had never seen a cancer like mine. At first I was left to wonder if this was a compliment (reminiscent of the remark of how I was "perfect" for chemo). According to the pathology report my sentinel lymph node was the only one with any sign of cancer and singlehandely soaked it all up by itself. (Way to go Sponge Bob!)He said if it hadn't been for my dislocated shoulder and the size of that gygantor lymph node that we may not have discovered the cancer. I had always thought of the shoulder accident as a "red herring" that kept me from diagnosing the cancer sooner.

So I guess it's just all in how you look at things. Vanity is indeed the first thing to go. And what's left is a new sort of self assurance, a new sort of self worth that confirms that who you are is so much more than what people perceive you are or any hardship you are going through. Michael J. Fox put it this way. He is much more than Parkinsons but Parkinson disease has helped define him. It has brought new people into his life and caused him to make new choices that he otherwise never would have made.

I Corinthians 2:7 says "...we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: 'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.'"

No matter what stumbling blocks we may be facing big or small, God sees the big picture. He sees the true essence of who we are and where we all fall in His master plan. Doesn't it do your heart good to know that? Lots of love,