Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Last Dance

The reason I haven’t written about radiation is pretty simple. It’s just too real and has been too hard to write about. Radiation has blindsided me with emotions and forced me to look at mortality more than any other part of this journey. Why you ask? I have repeatedly sat next to and talked with women that are basically watching the time on their clocks run out… to be short, they are walking dead. And it freaks the crap out of me.

The Radiation Macine
This thing is pretty amazing. It takes x-rays,
zaps, zips and does a host of other sciency things.
The process of going to radiation really is not too involved. I walk into the clinic and change in to a hospital robe. Usually within 5 minutes they call me into the radiation room and then I lay on my personalized pillow (a bean bag sort of mold where the air has been sucked out to shape to my body). I remove one arm from the gown to expose my breast; they line up the two tiny tattoos and sticker markers on my chest with the guidance laser beams. The techs leave the room and the machine works its magic. The huge arm of the machine slowly moves around my body, sizzling and reminding me of the sound of my dad’s welding argon tank. Within two minutes, the procedure is over. The techs re-enter the room and lower the table that I was laying on and we smile at each other and say “see you tomorrow.” In all, this entire process takes about 15 minutes. It takes me twice as long to drop my kids off at friends to watch them and drive to the cancer center… making the entire daily process about an hour and a half of my day.

I have 7 more (of the 30) treatments to go. They have done 23 on the effected cancerous area of my breast and the next 7 will focus on my lumpectomy scar and the tissue leading to where the tumor was removed. Side effects have kicked in on cue. My chest is burnt (like a bad sunburn), as expected. It itches like crazy. The doctor prescribed me a special cream and steroid cream that should help with the burning. Also, I am incredibly tired – kinda like chemo tired, without the sickness part. Thankfully, Leah still naps so when she goes down so do I. Nathan, as the manly 5 year old he is, watches TV and knows to wake me if he needs anything. I am so glad he knows how to work the remote and is easily entertained by unending episodes of Dino Dan.

The kindest women seem to sit with me in the waiting room. This has been a blessing… and a hard part of the process. We share the stories of our journeys and talk about side effects with each other. Two of the women have left a deep impact on me. The first is a gal perhaps 50 years of age. Kind, classy and her outfits look like she stepped out of a fashion magazine. She had gone through breast cancer twice about 10 years ago. With each occurrence, she went through chemo, but I believe only the second time she had radiation treatment. Now she has brain cancer. She said the radiation wasn’t too bad, but the medicine they give her to relieve the stress of the tumor on her brain makes her sick and feel awful. She finished her radiation last week, however will continue chemo indefinitely.

The second woman is also in her early 50’s. She has two sons that both just finished college and when she was re-diagnosed they both moved home to help. She said that she had breast cancer last year and actually finished her 6 months of chemo and 30-treatment radiation last June. She and her husband went on a trip to celebrate “finishing” last November and when she got home, she felt pain in her back. She saw the doctor, he said it was nothing and two weeks later, she went back because the pain had not gone away. A PET scan showed that she had full-blown bone cancer. She asked me the question that those of us deep in the fight use to judge each other, “What KIND of breast cancer do you have?” I answered “Triple Negative.” Her head spun toward me as she replied, “me too.” We looked at each other differently than ten seconds before. My eyes watered up and we had a quick and honest conversation. Of the three women with TNBC that I have met, two of them had re-occurrences with a year of finishing treatment. I had read that TNBC could come back in other body parts but when I asked my oncologist about it, he just said not to worry about that. She shared that the radiation treatments were to ease the awful pain in her bones and that she would go to chemo as long as her blood cells would let her. Her cancer is incurable.

Both women shared that their faith was their strength, which brings a comfort in their eternal security, and both appeared to be covered with peace. I have heard from friends who are nurses that oncology patients are their favorites. That we tend to complain less, laugh more and encourage them in their work. I hope I left that kind of impression on the angel nurses that have crossed my path, I am certain that both of these women have.

Please pray for the two otherwise strangers who are gracefully dancing their last dances. I admit that when I think of them I turn to instant tears… it just doesn’t seem right. 

Eric calls this the depressing post. I think it's just honest... and unfortunately sometimes honesty is depressing. So here's some hope to chew on...

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, 

so that you may overflow with hope 

by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 15:13

Monday, May 21, 2012

Gifts Of Love

Last week we celebrated Mother's day. As a young mother I suppose I should have been quick to post a blog about how sweet my day was and I should have bragged to the universe that I have two of the worlds best kids. But I have learned over time that Mother's Day (and Father's Day) are actually two days during the year that bring up painful emotions for so many people. When we lost Madison I remember how it was just an awful day of feeling like a failure. We did not yet have the autopsy results back, so I was still in a place of "what did I do to kill my baby". I remember going to church and there was a bouquet of flowers given to the "newest" mom. That should have been me. I sat in silence but I wanted to scream. My sister gave me a sweet Mother's Day card that day that mentioned Madison and missing her, it meant the world to me.

I have friends who struggle with infertility, friends who also have lost children, friends who's mothers have passed away, friends who's moms walked out when they were little, friends who's moms are losers/addicts, moms who's kids have gone astray, friends with broken relationships and I know for them Mother's Day is a bittersweet (if not just bitter) day. Two all of you... love you.

So I'm a little late, but I thought I ought to share not just about Mother's Day, but about some of the sweet gifts of love that the little people in my life had blessed me with along this journey.

My Mother's Day started at about 5:15am with Nathan poking me in the face with the present he made for me. He had wrapped it earlier that week, tried to give it to me about 6 times and had even told me what it was. Check it out, he drew on the 'wrapping paper' and taped up one of his favorite cars "Trans-Berry Juice". He said he knew I liked purple so he knew I would love it.

"For My Mom - Love Nathan"

Eric scored a home-run with the gift he had the kids make me. They made cement handprint stepping stones for my garden. I love them!!!!

But if we go back in time I want to share several of the precious pieces of art, cards and gifts that the little children in my life blessed me with throughout my sickness.

The night before my surgery in September we attended a cancer research fundraiser that my uncle and several of his friends put on in honor of their wives who have lost battles with cancer. My Aunt Sandy died of ovarian cancer over 10 years ago... it seems like cancer has a way of taking the best of em. Anyways, my cousin Chad and his wife were explaining to their daughter that they were going to an event to honor her Nana and that she would hear the would cancer. They talked about what that meant and then told her that I have cancer too. They said that Paige went into her room and about an hour later came out with the following piece of art for me.

Paige was just 5 1/2 when she created this...
 isn't it perfect. 

After my surgery, when we were staying at my aunts, my cousins family came to visit. My nephew Will made me this sweet little book. Inside there were drawings of several things he said were "the happy times me had together." There were pictures of us camping, our old house in the woods, bouncing in a bounce house, playing Star Wars and this is a picture of when we went bowling the week before the surgery. The last page is covered with superhero stickers and the message "Get Well Soon."

I love stick figures... look how skinny I look!
(Will was almost 6 when he made this.)

The below card was made by our friend's 5 year old son Cameron. I just thought it was the sweetest card. He really took time and used care with his writing and when he gave it to me he was super proud of himself.  Just too kind.

On the front of the card he wrote
my name in bubble letters.
Great work for a kindergardener!

This is one of the funniest things ever. One day I heard the doorbell ring. Nathan yelled up to me that it was the little boy that lives next door.  I told him he could answer the door and listened while the boys talked. A minute later the door closed and Nathan brought me this flower that Ayden had wanted to give me. This pic was taken right after he gave it to me...  a wilted, totally dead dandelion. Bless his little heart.

Given with love. Ayden was 4 years old.

A bookmark from my (at the time) 3 year old nephew Parker.

This is a crazy detailed pictures drawn by my niece Kaylee. She was 6 when she drew this masterpiece.

And finally, probably my most favorite gift of all...

When I got home from my last chemotherapy treatment and we tore down the chain Nathan was pretty excited. I clearly remember, the next day I was laying in bed feeling miserable and trying to rest. Nathan snuck into my room and told me that he had something very special to give me. I sat up and he then gave me this car. He said "This is your reward for being so brave."This car hasn't left my bed stand since that day. Leah tried to play with it the other day and Nathan ran over, gently took it from her hand and told her "No baby, this is mommy's special car. No touch." I suppose it's kind of like a trophy.

Anyways, thought you all might enjoy a look into the sweet, loving, generous hearts of the kids that I have been blessed to know.

I love the hearts behind these gifts... pure... compassionate... true.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Walk To Remember

My sweet family wearing pink
and showing me love & support.
Photo by Nicolette Jean Photography
I have received several sweet “how you doing” & “are you okay” messages in the past few days as I have been pretty quiet lately. So sorry to be in hiding… I am just ridiculously tired. I’ve had so many people that have not had cancer, go through chemo or do radiation treatments assure me that radiation would be a breeze, but contrary to popular belief, it has kinda been like a daily beating. I’ve heard from a few people who have gone through radiation (without chemo) that the symptoms usually associated with radiation start to appear during week three – which is what my doctor told me to expect. Yet, I have spoken to three other women who went through chemo and radiation (like me) and they have confirmed what I am feeling… that the fatigue hits in the first few days. I am so tired it is bizarre.

Additionally, for me radiation has been a very emotional and mental fight. I have actually been surprised by this reality. Even though I am usually in and out of the radiation center in less than 15 minutes, almost every day there has been some sort of emotional exchange while in the facility. On my 1st day of treatment, I laid on the table for about 45 minutes as they re-aligned my ink marks with the laser beam. My ears were full of tears that had dripped down my face as I oozed emotion through my tear ducts. Because I could not move, the tears just pooled up. You feel so vulnerable lying there naked as this enormous machine encircles you working its magic. A Survivor Sister shared the following verse with me, which she said she would meditate on during radiation as she prayed for protection from burning, pain, and radiation going anywhere besides where it is supposed to be. Psalm 121:5 “The LORD himself watches over you! The LORD stands beside you as your protective shade.” I have found great comfort in these words… but still, some days are hard.

10 treatments down... 23 to go!

But enough about that… I need to share about how awesome the Relay For Life was! First off… thank you to so many of you for your donation to the American Cancer Society. Together we raised $2, 956!!! I am proud to share that I won the award for ”Most Money Raised By An Individual” – but really the winner is American Cancer Society and the cancer patients, future patients, families and research that will be done as a result of your amazing generosity. All I can say is that being completely obnoxious about fundraising totally paid off! I know many of you made donations in memory of loved ones – it was my honor to walk for them and you.

The Survivor Walk
The day was great. I got there at 7:30am for the Survivors Breakfast - they really did treat us like royalty. Then after the opening ceremony I walked arm in arm with two Survivor Sisters that I have come to love as we strutted our stuff around the field in the Survivors Lap. My husband and kids came out to cheer me on and as I got up to join the other survivors on the track, my little Nathan hollered, “Have fun Mommy!” It was fun. When we got back to the start he wanted to know if I won. With tears, my answer was “Yes.”

I had made a challenge to
take a lap in high heels.
Well... I did my best. 
There were booths set up around the track with raffles and stuff to buy to help make money for ACS. I was able to personally decorate the luminary bags that had been donated by my friends/family in memory of a loved one. Some friends came to visit and walk with me, there was a special Survivors lunch, special music and all sorts of activities throughout the day. Oh… and I walked 6 of the half hour blocks around the field as part of our relay team. Was I tired? Yes. Was it a good day? One of the best.

As the sun began to set, they lit all of the luminary bags that lined the field. There was a special Luminary Ceremony and then everyone in attendance walked a lap in silence in memory of those lost to cancer, which was followed by a lap where bagpipes played Amazing Grace. It was a somber, humbling experience. Seeing all of the hundreds of bags, each representing a life stole by this nasty disease. I think I experienced every possible emotion while walking those laps. As Eric held my hand tightly, I cried tears of sadness and joy. I felt angry and saved. So many thoughts crossed my mind… what an experience.

The morning belonged to survivors. The day to the fight. And the night belonged to those lost. It really was a beautiful event.

Look at my fancy paper certificate.!
Woot - Woot
I camped out over night with my team and hung out until and 9:00am for the closing ceremony and to participate in the final lap. I’m so glad I stuck it out. After winning the award, I was able to get into a conversation with the coordinator of our local ACS events. I ask her how I could volunteer for the ‘Making Strides Against Breast Cancer’ walk that is held in October at the capitol. She looked at me and asked, “Do you want to volunteer that day… or serve on the committee?” Well… since she put it that way, I chose to join the committee. Our first meeting is in a few weeks so I don’t yet know what I got myself into, but I do know that I have been asking God what the heck he wants me to do with this experience, so maybe this is the beginning of something exciting.

I know I can say it a million times, but I do not know that you can all truly comprehend how much I appreciate your support in this. Being part of Relay For Life was bigger than me or my story… which was cool. It was a way to give back to an organization that helped me personally and helps so many others on a daily basis. This was an important mark in my journey and a huge step toward hope and healing… thank you!

 ***As a community, the Elk Grove Relay For Life raised a tad over $85,000! 

I want to recognize so many of you that added to the success of this event. 
Thanks a million!

Challenge To Donate - Businesses
Whiteley Photography  (Donated 3 Portrait Sessions)
Cupcake Cuties Bakery (Donated 6 Dozen Gourmet Cupcaked)
Ammin Nut Company   (Donated an Almond Butter Gift Basket)

Luminaries Donated In Memory Of:

Joanne Clark
Jan Irey
Dan Angeloni “Big Papa”
Julio Torres
Luann Larson

Thank you for your donation to the 
America Cancer Society. (In no particular order…)

In Memory of Joann Clark
Andria & Rob St. Evans
Rosa & David Magana
Lynell Cuthberson
Ed & Donna Monroe
Deanna & Mike Lockhart
Ken & Stacey Hisey
Barbara & Tom Sisson
Rhonna Dra
Al & Carroll Amator
David Key
Holly Cybuski
Joel Archer
Sally & Bob Finkbeiner
Ryan & Megan Marcroft
In Memory of Jan Irey
Anna Schwiesenger
Pam Robertson
Emily Brown
Pat & Bob Montgomery
Gaye & Tom Bone
Heather & Chris Bendinelli
Nancy & Bruce Lofgren
Camryn Thomas
Bobbie Lewis
Louisa Bwers
Lori & Scott Bergenstock
Susan & Tim Jones
Jennifer Buwella
Liz & Tim Driessen
In Memory of Dan Angeloni
Joni & Glen Kelley
Bradi Lomack
Candice Morton
Gregg & Candice Stetzer
Kim Key
Stu & Christal Kapicka
Gary Perkowitz
Phillip & Emily Ramey
Frank & Shirley DeLange
Kelly & Rodrigo Rodriguez
Faith Conley
Jennifer Brooks
Rebecca Hainz-bBxter
Melissa & Toby Van Horn
In Memory of Julio Torres
Kyle & Rebecca Bruns
Heather & Aren Bazzocco
Shannon Anderson
Gayle Calderone
Shandela & Dane Brooks
Signe Weeks
Glen & Debbie Brasel
Amy & Michael Erwin
Elisabeth & Joel Walsh
Clay & Francine Whiteley
Nancy Fiole
Julianne Christ
Danielle & Jay Joost
Kristen & Jason Fullmore
In Memory of Luann Larson
Eather & Ron Marcroft
Tom & Debbie Ramsay
Leslie & Bill Randall
Rebecca Erickson
Michael & Brooke McClimans
Sommer & Eric Horn
Gary & Kris Randall

*** If I forgot anyone I am so sorry. It would not mean that your donation didn’t go through… it would have been my error in tracking emails. 

My Survivor Sister Jackie & I flashing our medals!
The "Hope Wall"
Yes... Eric and Leah are sword fighting.
Nathan signed the "Hope Wall"
Little Missy and Mommy
Self Portrait
"Time To Get Some Rest"