Friday, December 30, 2011

A New Year And A New Resolution

I have never looked forward to the turning of a new year as much as I am now. I realize there is no magic at the stroke of midnight between December 31st and January 1st… but for some reason it seems like in that moment, when we go from 2011 to 2012 a fresh start will be laid in my lap. I know that 2012 already has a long list of trails and tests to get through… but I am so looking forward to saying good-bye to 2011!

As the New Year approaches, so do resolutions… I think they are fun. For the past 3 years, my resolution has been to eat onion dip and Ruffles chips at least once a month for the full year. Sadly, another year has passed where I only ate it a handful of months… I feel like such a failure. Therefore, once again I resolve that I will enjoy this delicious snack at least once a month for the year. Fourth times a charm… right? (I went to Sam's Club and bought the 12 pack of onion dip mix... no excuses!)

My serious resolution comes from something that has been stirring in me for the past several weeks. We received a Christmas card and family letter from our friends who walked with us through Madison’s death and were in the support group with us. This year their family experienced another heartbreaking loss of a mother/grandma. In the letter they wrote, “We try to remind ourselves to instill in our children that each day is a gift and it shouldn’t be wasted fighting, being angry, being lazy or being bored.” Understanding in agreement that each day truly is a gift, I have recently found myself becoming aware of the daily/hourly/momentary choice to be either positive or negative in my thoughts and actions. It is from this line of thinking that I resolve to choose to eliminate negativity whenever possible.

As I have thought about this resolution, I realize that this will actually require a significant life change. I will need to be conscious of my mental state as I fight this nasty disease and battle thru chemo by choosing joy. It means being aware and turning off negativity on television and movies. Being aware of negative relationships and taking action to change them or remove myself. I need to be aware of my tone of voice and words that I speak and take intentional action to speak in kindness and to be uplifting. And of course there is the need to be aware of my parenting, disciplining, and the example I set for my children.

I was reading Parenting magazine last week and saw that “the average preschooler argues with his parents 20 to 25 times per hour.” (Dec/Jan 2012 issue, pg. 44) Being a parent of a preschool aged child, I admit that arguing is an issue that we deal with daily. While once every two minutes is more extreme than what we are experiencing, it does seem like we are constantly pointing out to Nathan that he is arguing and that we will not be tolerating that kind of attitude. The past two weeks (since I have felt better having this 2 week break from chemo and have been able to be with the kids all day) we have had to have a few ‘smack down days’ regarding this topic. In parenting and guiding Nathan to be aware of when he is arguing or being negative minded, it has also made me realize when I too am of an argumentative spirit and exhibiting negativity.

This has been quite a revelation into my inner self and my outside interactions with others. How much more pleasant and enjoyable being a parent, friend, wife and human in general could be if I were to choose to focus on the positive in all situations rather than being drawn into the negative realm.

The scripture Philippians 4:8 reads, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

I have realized that this is not some new age, touchy feely way of thinking. This is a mindset desired by God. In tuning my mind to be aware of what is positive, true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy… I hope that I will not only be more at peace in this earthly life, but that I will also be closer to God and have a better understanding of His plan for my life.

Hopefully I am more successful this year with the resolution of eliminating negativity than I have been in the past with my goal of enjoying onion dip and chips. But then again, enjoying one of the worlds most perfect snacks is a pretty great resolution to have to try over and over again!

Recently saw this story and thought it was perfect to share:


One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, "My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. 

"One is Evil - It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. 

"The other is Good - It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.” 

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?” 

The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas To All, And To All A Good Night

"Look up on a starry night,
and you will see
the majesty and power
of an infinite Creator."
- Billy Graham

The magic of Christmas is in the air... just looking in the eyes of my 4 year old brings the excitement of Christmas to life. I love the above quote. As you look into the sky tonight, in search of Santa and his sleigh,  allow yourself to be distracted by the majesty and power of our Creator.

May you celebrate Christmas in high style; toasting one another throughout the day in full celebration of love, family, health and goodness... and a little baby that changed history.

Merry Christmas from our home to yours,
Kelly, Eric, Nathan and Leah

Elf Code of Conduct:
Rule #1 = Treat Everyday like it's Christmas!

My new ornament for 2011.
Pink boxing gloves - fight on!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Too Much Going On At Once

Last night I watched an Italian movie on Netflix called ‘Bread and Tulips’ (2000). In the story, a housewife is forgotten in a highway cafĂ© (Autogrill) during a bus trip, and she decides to start a new life on her own in Venice. The movie was fine, but oh, how I loved seeing the streets of Venice, hearing the sounds of Italy and honestly, I could smell the food they ate. This little film took me away to a far away land.

Of course, it reminded me of my year abroad, which is now approaching 12 years ago. How can that even be possible? What an amazing year of discovering about the world, cultures, and the innermost parts of myself. It was a year of freedom and floating. I had earned all my money waiting tables the previous year, so the only real responsibilities I had were to go to school and make sure I did not overspend my budget. Otherwise, the year was about discovery and breathing in life.

I was studying Art History and in Florence, Italy. I still needed to graduate and those classes counted toward my GPA, so yes, school was a priority. We had Italian language classes, which I barely survived, and then I carried a full additional 15 units of art history and culture related classes. Truthfully, my Italian professors were much harder than the teachers I had at Sac State so school actually took quit a bit of dedication. Listening to lectures through the profssors thick accents was an additional challenge which I had to tackle. The courses were amazing as everything we studied we got to go see. Field trips were included with the tuition… it was incredible.

But something happens when you are living in a coffered ceiling 11th century apartment, in the heart of one of the most beautiful cities on the planet, which is deemed the “Birthplace of the Renaissance” and is home to some of the finest art museums in the world. I know it sounds snotty, but by month 6 of 10 I began to take it for granted. I was smacked with the reality of my own spoiledness while looking up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I remember craning my neck at Michelangelo’s masterpiece and thinking “uh… it’s okay I suppose.” Somehow after you see 100 original pieces of Michelangelo’s work you feel like you have seen then all. (I know my friends who traveled with me are nodding their head in agreement – the rest of you think I’m a brat.)
 Slave, St. Matthew
Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence

In Florence, at the Accademia Gallery you will find Michelangelo’s 17-foot marble statue of a naked David holding a slingshot. I’m sure your familiar with the image, which I will resist posting to avoid being blamed for causing anyone’s eyes from being corrupted. David, additionally lifted about 10 feet into the air upon a marble pedestal, towers over all others works of art in the gallery and dwarfs tourist to the size of ants. What I found most interesting about the Accademia Gallery was that when you enter the hall leading to David, you walk past what have been argued as Michelangelo’s most fascinating of works, the four famous "unfinished" Slaves, or Prisoners. The Slaves are basically huge blocks of marble that Michelangelo started carving but never finished. The characters are trapped for eternity in the cold marble… alive but frozen in time. These pieces show the skillful technique of sculpture and how Michelangelo was able to bring a cold block of rock to life. Art historians’ debate whether he intended the statues to look the way they do now (unfinished) or if in fact he just did not get the chance to complete them. They are stunning. You can contrast the jagged texture of the raw marble against the sculpted and polished finished parts of the work – just beautiful.

So, what’s the point? My point is, that the towering David steals the show, and unless you know what to look for you will walk right past the Slaves and miss the opportunity of a lifetime to see sculpture in its rawest form created by the hands of one of the greatest artist of all time.

Relating this to cancer…

This past weekend I had to go to the hospital emergency again. That is twice in a month. I had a temperature of 103 and anytime I have a temp of 101 (or more)  I have to go immediately to the ER. They broke my fever and discovered that I have pneumonia. This week is being spent in bed trying to fight this beast, otherwise they will switch me to an I-V drip of antibiotics that we will have to administer at home. That would mean having an I-V in my arm for 10 days… no thank you. So here I sit getting fatter and lazier by the day.

Additionally, I had not shared this yet, but earlier this month, as an effect of the first chemotherapy mix I was taking I have started medical induced menopause. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t be sharing this part of my life, but many people have found it interesting… so there you go, another side effect. Due to the particular chemo I was on there was an 80% chance this would happen, and I am lucky to have won yet another lame jackpot. Occasionally, chemotherapy-induced menopause is only temporary… so I guess I just get to wait and see what happens. Anyways, hot flashes have become a part of my day/night and I’m gonna take this chance to blame any irritability or moodiness on this “life change.”

Currently I wish I could just yell out to God, “Hey, knock it off! Could we focus on one thing at a time? Let me enjoy all the glory of cancer now, maybe next winter I could experience a spat with pneumonia and why don’t we visit the exciting world of menopause in 10 to 15 years.”

Just like that year in Italy there are just too many “Michelangelo” sized trials going on at one time. When there is too much going on at once, you don’t even know what you are looking at and you miss the chance to appreciate things for what they are… let it be classic works of art or a less than thrilling sickness.

Here's to wishing I could space all this excitement out. (Insert sound of crystal wine glasses clinking here.) A girl can wish right?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Emotional Side of Staying Strong

I have a cousin who drove from Chico TWICE to bring us a total of 7 meals. That is a nearly 2 hour drive each way… wow.

One of the students from Auburn had her orthodontist put “Kelly Green” and “Breast Cancer Awareness Pink” power bands on her braces… for me.

A student that we worked with about 8 years ago has blessed us generously and has been sending me notes packed with the most encouraging of quotes. Humbling.

There is a pile of cards 4 inches thick in our “blessings” box. Each note is full of encouragement and promises of prayers and good wishes.

Meals have been brought several times a week allowing our family to have healthy dinners and relieving the stress of grocery shopping and having to cook.

I have a basket full of knitted beanies and scarfs… gifts made and given with love and compassion for my bald head.

A gang of women from our old church walked with my name on their shirts in the “Making Strides” walk in September and a friend from high school walked for me in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk For A Cure. That’s a lot of walking.

Our family has been blessed by the generous kindness of so many friends and the worry of how to pay these medical bills has been lifted.

An army of people prayed my lump in half. Seriously, I went into surgery thinking it was Stage 3 and came out Stage 1. I believe that is the power of prayer.

These are the things I must hold onto.

Because right now, I am tired.
I love this pic of Leah at 1 week old.
This is how tired I feel!

The new chemotherapy drug, Taxol, is different from the evil junk I was taking before. I have now gone through 3 of the 12 weekly treatments of Taxol. In only 9 more weeks I’ll be done with treatment – yahoo! Unlike the first mix, nausea (and feeling crazy sick) is not one of the side effects of Taxol. The side effects of this poison are: fatigue, numbness in the fingers and toes, aching muscles and hair loss (no problem there). So far, I am mostly experiencing fatigue… which I am finding is very different than being tired. I feel groggy, foggy, slow and delayed. I have read and heard of “chemo brain” and I think I am now a victim of this impairment. (Here’s more on chemo brain if you are interested:

Besides being fatigued, I feel emotionally tired and drained. I subscribe to a blog for mothers with cancer and have enjoyed reading the posts from other women with cancer who have children. There has been hope in reading how they have coped, fought and beat this disease. Last week it was shared that one of the main contributors had lost her 7 year battle with breast cancer leaving behind a 10 year old son. This story has really hit me. She was on the winning team, my team. My mind has been determined that I can’t loose and that remission equaled victory. But the truth is, my mind willing/thinking health and victory does not necessarily mean I will win. This may seem like a simple truth that shouldn’t be hard to accept, however until reading this woman’s story I have resisted entertaining the idea that my story could end with cancer being the villain.

I try not to think about the 60% 5-year survival rate associated with the “triple-negative” element of the DNA of my cells. I try to focus on being here for Nathan’s 10th birthday and to take Leah to kindergarten. I try real hard not to think negative, but in being so tired (physically and emotionally and spiritually) it can be difficult to see the sun everyday.

I really don’t want to write a negative blog post. But this is it, where I am today. This fight is exhausting and to exclude you from the mental/emotional side of this fight would be to pretend that just thinking good thoughts and warm fuzzies is all it takes to make it through the day.

So, as I said in the intro, there is a long list of incredible positives that I find myself holding onto. And I thank you all, friends and family, for being the strength and love I need to fight and stay strong.

*** By the way, if you are wondering if Spunky from the chemo lab gets to go to Hawaii I am happy to share that we saw her last Monday and YES she will be making the trip. She said she will take her oxygen on the plane to avoid recycled air and then plans on having a great time!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Field Trip To The Chemotherapy Treatment Room

Well, it has been a while since I wrote. I have been trying to think of something positive to share or some new exciting adventure in the Joppa house, but truth is the past week has been pretty lame. I feel like I am becoming boring. Nothing new to talk about except perhaps how Khloe Kardashian may be the only “K” sister with an actual heartbeat/pulse/brain. Oy vey!

The day after Thanksgiving this headache that I had been fighting returned and it kept me down for the day… and the following 2 days. Last Monday I had my first treatment of Taxol. I had been rather anxious about that treatment because they told me to plan to be there about 4 hours to be observed and that I would be laying on “the bed.” Well, I have seen people lying on “the bed” and they tend to look like they are dying (or at least wish they were dying). Anyways, the treatment actually went well and as an added bonus there was Benadryl in the drip so I actually got myself a pretty nice nap and it kicked the headache. Monday night my headache was back and it continued to get worse. I hid out for two days lying under the covers hiding from the world, as the narcotics were not working. On Thursday night, I spiked a fever, so off to the hospital we went. In case you are wondering, chemo patients get 1st class treatment in the ER! We were ushered into a quarantine office and given a room within minutes. Totally got bumped in front of a Sheriff and guy in handcuffs… that felt cool. They ran a CT scan that revealed a completely clogged sinus cavity. The doctor admitted me to the hospital and given private quarantined room. They hooked me up to a drip of antibiotics for the infection, an assortment of other drugs and saline to help get me hydrated. Apparently, a common sinus infection can send my entire body into a septic state that could result in serious issues with organ shut down, etc. My oncologist wanted me out of the germy hospital as soon as I was feeling better so we got home Friday night. I had a couple days to recover and to start feeling better and now,  (like right now… I’m blogging in real time) I’m back in the chemo infusion room getting treatment 6 of 16.

So… join me as I take you on a field trip in the chemotherapy treatment room as I try to sum up what it’s like in here.

When you walk into the chemotherapy room there are 8 comfy recliners, accompanied by 8 not so comfy straight back chairs for support people, circled up in a sort of beauty shop round. Every station has a drip system by the chair, there are various other medical supplies, and machines scattered throughout the room.

Without question I am close to 40 years younger than any of the other patients in here today. I am wearing a knit cap that was given to me by a friend and covered with a beautiful pink flowery quilt that was donated to the Bunko fundraiser and my friend who won it gave it to me as a special treatment blanket. I came earlier this morning to get my blood drawn (all blood cells looking great) and line placed in the port and the nurse started my saline drip just a few minutes ago. Eric is sitting here next to me doing some work on the computer while I write.

Across from me is a friendly old gal (at least 70 yrs old) that I have seen every time I have been here. She is wearing a fabulous snowman Christmas sweater that I am sure she has worn proudly since 1985. She just made a joke about needing to see a nurse because the medicine they gave her tasted like she is eating a balloon. A few weeks ago, Eric sat with her and taught her how to use the iPad that her daughter had bought her. She was excited to see Eric and greeted us when we walked in… clearly she was happy to see her personal tech geek. It has been interesting to see her transformation over the past months from spunky to tired and putting on a happy face. She is now on oxygen.

Next to her, a woman (I guess abut 70) is sleeping while getting her chemo while her daughter is eating soup. She is wearing one fabulous faux fur hat.

Round the circle is an older gentleman (maybe 80) who is watching something on his iPad while his daughter plays on her iPhone. They just finished eating KFC. He is actually getting a blood transfusion… which makes me want to gag when I see the jam-like thick redness so I won’t be looking at him today.

There is 1 last man in the room that is also sleeping and looks like he is trying to escape life. He was here earlier when I did the blood draw so he’s going on over 4 hours.

The rest of the chairs are empty but they will all fill up at 1pm once the lunch break is over. The comfy chairs are being prepped for their new visitors.

It’s pretty quiet in here today, just the sound of the clicking drip machines. I think all of us have been getting treatments for a while so the novelty has worn off. There is usually at least 1 naive happy patient spreading cheer unaware of the approaching effects of their treatment. I like those people; they give a good vibe… maybe next week. The nurse just started my Taxol (and Benadryl) drip and I am already getting drowsy.

My nails are starting to turn grey/black. I noticed the grey color in my toenails the other day and as I type, I see that both of my thumbs are changing color too. It’s strange to know ahead of time what an expected side effects will be and then to actually see the expected effect appear.

The lady with the snowman sweater is now on the phone with her daughter talking about a trip that apparently they have planned for spending Christmas in Hawaii. She is telling her daughter that this is her last treatment and she will have 3 weeks to get strong enough to go. Clearly, her daughter does not think she should make the trip. Now they are talking about cancellation fees. Sweater lady says she will rest at the condo and nobody will need to worry… that she will be fine. Can I vote on this? Let grandma go to Hawaii – this trip is her motivation and hope. Or maybe they could ALL cancel the trip and stay home with grandma for Christmas. I have never seen Spunky here with a daughter or any children. I wonder if this woman was here watching her mom get injected with poison and gag down her meds if she would be a little more apt to play the wishful thinking game and give her hope and something to live for. Worst-case scenario would it be that bad if she died watching a Hawaiian sunset… she’s an old gal with a Christmas wish.  I do not think I would like her daughter.

Sorry took a little rest. Three new patients have entered the room. My drip is nearly finished. Once the machine starts beeping, we will be out of here. All they have to do is remove the line from my port and I’ll be free.
Got home and at took a short nap. The kids were making playful sounds downstairs so I went down to hang out. Eric took Nathan out on a daddy/son date to get my Christmas gift and I was able to spend the night with my sweet Leah. She just oozes with joy and gentleness. So far, I am feeling fine and ate a decent dinner. The boys got home and after he wound down, I tucked Nathan into bed. All is quiet and my tea taste great.

And that my friends is what today looked like.