Monday, October 31, 2011

I Am Glow-In-The-Dark Radiant

Almost exactly to the minute two weeks ago I heard the results of the Onco-type pathology which tests the genetic make-up of the tumor. I didn't know tumors had their own genetic make-up, but apparently they do.
The results of that test determined that I will not need chemotherapy. I won't even try to describe to you how relieved I was to hear that.
I started radiation treatments the next day. As of this morning, I have now completed 10 treatments, with 25 more to go. Mike says that I glow in the dark.
Now let me back up a little.
3 weeks ago my children did the most wonderful thing possible. They all came home. All as in our son, both daughters and our son-in-law. They did yard work, and house work. They even cleaned their rooms.
I would have been thrilled with just a visit.
Every time I went out and picked up a tool, my son-in-law scolded me to put it down. My daughters made me sit and sort through things. Then they hauled loads to the dump, and to Goodwill. And it was great having all 4 of them with us at the dinner table. That has never happened since the wedding or before, and who knows when it will happen again, so I enjoyed every moment.
Mike had to go on a quick business trip, so I asked the kids to go with me to the radiation mapping session. That is when you lie down on a skinny metal slab while they take all kinds of x-rays and measure the exact area that will get radiation. Then they tattoo several dots on you so they will always be able to line you up for each treatment. Even though the kids couldn't be in the room for that, I wanted them to see the place where I was being treated, and all the ways the building and the people work to promote healing.
The girls were able to come in with me for the exam, meet my doctor and ask questions. He took all the time they needed to answer concerns, give advice, and tell them about my case. I appreciate his efforts to point us all in a positive direction. During the 40 minute mapping session, after he and the nurse got me set up on the slab, he said, "Okay, close your eyes and go to your happy place while we do the work."
Uh huh, sure.
It was a nice thought, but even with the nice pictures of trees and sky on the ceiling, it was hard to forget that I was having to lie still on a metal slab while a radiation machine moved around me.
After that, I showed the kids the beautiful waiting room for radiation patients, and the connecting enclosed serenity garden, and they met some of the people there who want to do all that can be done to make this turn out the best way possible.
I think it was good for them to see this place, and helpful to have a better idea as to how things will go, and where it will happen. But I remember how I felt when I would help care for Dad when he was being treated, so I can only imagine what was going through their minds. I guess they were probably thinking that no matter how nice it looks, and how great the people are, this is where my mother is coming because she has cancer, and cancer means that things might never be the same.
It was great to have them here. I needed at least one more week, but I'll take what I can get. Anna said she had to pull the C card to be able to come. One of her professors wanted her working on a project during her Fall break, but she told him she was going to help her mom who had cancer. I told her she could pull the C card any time she wanted, as long as it would make it so she could come and see me.
Now I go to radiation treatment every morning, Monday through Friday. Here is an extremely over simplified version of how radiation works. The waves are directed to the area surrounding the tumor location. They cause all of the cells to lose the ability to regenerate. Normal cells recover from that fairly quickly, but cancer cells explode. Then the dead cells are carried out by white blood cells. That explains the exhaustion. My good cells are working overtime to regenerate, or to carry away the dead cancer cell garbage.
I apply special cream 4 times a day to prevent burns. I deal with being tired all the time, and go on long walks to get my heart going for physical reasons and not just for emotional ones. I don't panic when I can't retrieve thoughts (Mike calls it "radiation brain"). I let so many people around me bear me up.
When I am on that slab I think about the waves going through me zapping the cancer cells. I think about how insidious this cancer is. It is not as straight forward as having surgery that cuts it out, and pathology that shows the margins and lymph nodes are clean. There could be cells out there beyond that, and who knows where they are. Because even with all that can be done, there is still the possibility of recurrence. I am shooting for zero with that.
I am grateful for the example of my friend (see the last blog entry below). I have learned from her to do all that can be done, learn all that can be learned, surround myself with people who do the same, then hope, pray and have faith for the rest.
And through it all, enjoy the miracle of being surrounded by love.

Friday, October 28, 2011

This Amazing Not Fair Life

You know when you have a friend that makes you feel like you won the lottery every time you are around her? And even if you are only able to see her for a few hours, a few times a year, and even if you have only known her for 3 years, you feel joy each time you think of her.
And you are so amazed at the joy and courage that radiates from her, even as she battles ovarian cancer. And you love the idea that she is a part of your life so much, that her name is in every personal prayer you offer, and you write it every time you go to the temple.
And when you find out you have cancer, she and her wonderful husband send you messages of hope, sharing their experiences of the miracles they have experienced, and the love that has grown as she battled this cancer over the last 4 years, without letting you know that her cancer has returned and invaded her whole body.
Yes, I have a friend like that. It would not surprise me if thousands of people could say the same thing about her.
She died this morning.
Life is not fair.
I only became aware yesterday that her children and grandchildren were there with her and her husband to have every moment with her before she had to let go of them and move on.
It was 10 years ago when I was there with my siblings and Mom in the last months, then days, then moments of Dad's life.
Nothing can make it fair when a wonderful parent and partner is gone from family far too soon.
Life really is not fair.
10 years ago, after Dad died, I lived that thought for a while. About 6 months. I didn't sleep. I felt crummy. I was quick to get upset at anyone around.
Yeah, life with me was a real joy.
Then, in what I consider a moment of divine grace, I was able to see how blessed I was to have had such a person as my dad.
Life is really amazing.
Not a day goes by where I do not miss Dad, often so much that it hurts. And when I think of the amazing life I have because he was my dad, then all that is great about him comes to me.
So I am grateful for this life where I get to have such a father as my dad, and I get to have such a friend as Robyn.
So my thoughts and prayers are with her family. I hope and believe they also embrace the blessing of their wife and mother.
In that gratitude, love is stronger than death.
And cancer will never win.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

I'm Blue...And Tickled Pink

There are phrases I do not want to hear used in the same sentence, especially when said by certain people. For instance... I would never want to hear a police officer use the phrases "Your child" and "missing for a week" in the same sentence.
So when one of my doctors used the phrases "nuclear lab", "radioactive fluid" and "injected to trace your lymph nodes" all in one sentence, that went to the top of my Do Not Want To Hear list. But I'm sure something else will come along to knock it off the #1 spot.
Just to let you know, the next paragraph or two might be too much information. Feel free to skip it. Wish I could.
So, a couple of days ago, a few hours before surgery they wheeled me from pre-op to the nuclear lab. For some silly reason they did not let Mike come in there with me. They explained the whole procedure again. The fluid would be injected and given time to flow from the tumor to the related lymph nodes. My surgeon would use a type of geiger counter to track those nodes and remove them, then remove the tumor.
Okay, got that. I will just work on my cleansing breaths until you're done.
And the radiologist was amazing. She was so careful, she was done quicker and with less pain than I expected.
Then the nurse went over the logistics with me. She gave me a certificate explaining the procedure and said I would need it if I had to go through any metal detector or screening process in the next three days, since I would set them off. She said, "You're hot. I know your husband already thinks you're hot. Now you really are, as in radioactive."
The fluid is blue, and I could see it showing up just below the skin. Mike calls it Spidey juice, and said it should give me super powers. Is it a super power if I can set off a metal detector alarm? I would rather be able to fly. But for a few days, I got to be a blue blood.
By the way, when you are going through all this, you can get as many heated blankets as you want. That and the early pathology results saying the nodes and the tumor margins are clear were the best things about that day.
Did you know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month? Not that I need any reminders, but I do appreciate more than ever all the events and promotions. Who would have thought I might personally benefit from the research I had supported?
So Pink has become the color of my armor.
An anonymous friend gave me a bracelet with a pink awareness ribbon charm on it. My surgeon gave me a pink water bottle. The hospital gave me a very soft pink robe.
Then the best came yesterday. Two little angels who live in my neighborhood came over with a pink wrist band, a pink cake with very pink frosting decorated with an awareness ribbon and hearts (they made it themselves, with some help from Mom), and........A BRIGHT PINK FEATHER BOA!
It tickles my neck.
I know I can handle anything when I wear it.