In the Air!

In the Air!
400 feet above the ground in Orlando.

Florida

Florida
Taking my first step towards a new life.

Virginia

Virginia
Spending an afternoon at Marymount during my internship!

My rocks!

My rocks!
Wouldn't be where I am without my parents!

Graduation

Graduation
Walking for my Masters. An interesting book end as this all started when I graduated from undergrad!

Awesome Nurses!

Awesome Nurses!
After my port removal and saying goodbye to my chemo nurses before moving away from Michigan. Wouldn't be doing that without them!

Hair again!

Hair again!
Growing longer each day

Last Chemo

Last Chemo

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Silliness

Silliness
Something to remember and return to. A good day!

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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Support


At the beginning of the summer my brother Jim did something that meant a great deal to me.  When I found out I was going to loose my hair from my chemo, he went out and shaved his head!  While this brought a great many comments his way, he laughed and shrugged them all off:).  He has kept his head shaved ever since and will keep his bald head as long as I am bald.  This kind of support from him isn't the first time he has been there for me.  

The day I found out I had cancer was a rough day in many ways.  I was still very anemic and doing anything took so much out of me still.  As I was walking out of the doctors office my parents told Jim (who was there with me) to take me to the hallway / foyer of the building while they finished up something.  All I remember is sitting on a bench and Jim sitting next to me, holding me in his arms and letting me cry, which was all I could do for a long time that day.  But I could draw some strength from Jim by him just being there and letting me cry and hold on to him.

This kind of support, especially from family, is so very important!  Without this kind of support I honestly am not sure how I would be doing!  I read somewhere that getting and giving hugs while going through chemo is important.  And I see why.  A hug is such a physical way of giving support and makes you feel that support.  So I suggest, if you know someone in or outside of your family who is going through a rough time in any way, give them your support and give them a hug.  It means and does so much!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Music Therapy

I don't know about anyone else, but I love music!!  Music is what inspires me in so many ways!  I can't write without music on in the background!  Whether it is a friend's CD of soothing harp music or the joys of the Celtic Women station on Pandora!

Listening to music helps calm me down, it opens my imagination and even though working on my book is pretty much not happening, it makes me think about it, where I want to go with it and so when my brain is not quite so scrambled from chemo I'll hopefully take off and get it finished!!!  You will all like it...guarenteed!  I just have to get it out of my head and written:)  And music helps with that.

It's like there is a power in music that can take you out of the saddest moment and put a smile on your face.  It can take you back to a moment in time in a second and hold you there for the duration of the piece.  I think I need to listen to music more often.  Let it take me out of the world of needles, chemo, fatigue and upset stomachs and put me in that beautiful world of the imagination!

Motivation & Staying Positive

I was texting with a friend this morning and the topic of motivation came up.  I was encouraging him to go for a promotion and it was all about being motivated to.  Then I realized that I really didn't have a leg to stand on concerning this topic.  My own motivation for things is so low that I felt like a hypocrite!  Take this blog for instance.  I had every intention of making it an almost daily thing and yet, I have a hard time motivating myself to write on it most days.  I always have an excuse.  I'm tired, it makes my eyes tired looking at the screen, when I finish writing I'm worn out, I don't know what to write.  So many excuses.  And some days, they are legitimate excuses!  Especially for that first week after chemo.  But really, the rest of the time...I'm making excuses.

I would like to say that from now on I am going to strive to write daily on my blog...but I know the reality is that there will be days when looking at a computer is the last thing I want to do!  However, I will say that I am going to try my hardest to blog more often!  In all honesty, I think it will help.  I'm hoping it will at least:).  See, on top of struggling with motivation, I also struggle with staying positive.

I'm told that 50% of fighting cancer is to stay positive.  And I would say in general, I am a positive person.  But there are those moments that staying positive is as hard as running a marathon when you have never trained for one!  I am determined that I am going to win the fight I am in now...but once in a while I feel my strength slipping.  I feel those fears and doubts creeping up.  I wonder if this will ever really be over.  If I'll ever drive my car again, visit friends, be able to do more than sit in a chair to watch movies...walk around the yard occasionally and lay down and read.  I have found that writing does help, even if it is exhausting most often, and also remembering all the things I want to do again.  Like sew without feeling my brain slide sideways thinking about what it takes to sew!  I miss creating little bags and blankets.  But I keep telling myself that this is going to change.  That my strength will come back!  It has been over four months of struggling and surely I can handle another two months.  After which I should see only improvement.  Slow, yes, but improvement.

Staying motivated and positive are two very important things I think...and I'm finding also two difficult things as well!  But, I am determined.  Chemo 4 is around the corner and I start the down hill slide to recovery:)  Looking forward to being me again! 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Coffee (Dedicated to my brother Jim!)

House blend; cherries blend;  morning buzz; flavored and black...coffee is a wonderful thing!!!

This morning, as I thought about what to write about, I asked my brother Jim what he thought I should write about and his answer was one word...coffee!!  Perhaps behind it was the fact he wanted some, or was looking for someone to sit and have coffee with!  Something he and I use to do quite often when we both lived in Virginia and occasionally in Kalamazoo!  Sadly, I am no longer in Kalamazoo with him and therefore we could not renew this relaxing and enjoyable outing:).

This made me realize just how great coffee is!  While I had to stop drinking coffee years ago (caffeine gives me amazing migraines!) it has played a rather important role in my life for a long time!  I have countless memories of sitting at The Daily Grind in Front Royal (and sometimes in Winchester) with my brothers and friends.  Everyone sipping on coffee, or cocoa or other drinks.  The occasional sandwich or wrap depending on if it was a meal time or not.  But what was best about these times was sitting and talking together, sometimes for hours on end!  Whether it was with one or two of my brothers or one or two of my friends (or a mix of both) I can only remember being happy!

Sometimes I would go to The Grind by myself with a book or laptop and loose myself in a story I was reading or writing.  And inevitably, a friend would walk by and a conversation would be struck up for a short while.

Some of my happiest memories have revolved around coffee.  The sometimes sweet and sometimes pungent aroma wafting through the air created a pleasant and homey atmosphere that made life feel good for the time you sat there, alone or with someone.  So every time I smell coffee I can't help but smile!  And look forward to many more memories to come, all revolving around a cup full of the dark, strong, dare I say nectar of the gods...COFFEE!!

Changes To Expect In The World Of Chemo

I don't think there is ever anything that can prepare a person for all the changes that happen during chemo.  You can verbalize them, make a list, sky write or use semaphore flags...it doesn't work!  While I haven't been able to drive since mid April because of the surgeries, I was hoping to be able to drive the further from surgery I got however, chemo reared it's ugly head and apparently, it affects my eyes.  Well, the fatigue does anyway!

At any rate, there are some odd changes that take place that, while I know writing them won't totally prepare me, perhaps knowing them will help some with the anxiety!

Anxiety...it is there!  The crazy thing is, there isn't too much you can do about that one because it creeps up on you.  However, that doesn't mean you have to give in to it!  Easier said then done, I know:)  I try to ignore it by doing things like watching TV shows or getting lost in a book.  That actually does help.  And should your anxiety make your stomach churn...keep a bag or box of mints nearby and suck on them.  I can't explain it but mints really do help!!

Your brain will get scrambled!  Words are hard to remember and even harder to say sometimes!  This can cause pauses in conversation and perhaps embarrassment.  I say, embrace it!  Your brain is being pickled from the chemicals...play it up!  Laugh about it!  Make a joke about it!  Tell people that a chemical pickling is taking place just now and you will have to get back to them about the words you can't get out ...but you're sure they get the point!  Be happy when you CAN remember the words and get them out all within a few seconds instead of within a few minutes!

Fatigue will enfold you!  Taking a walk can wipe you out for the day.  Cleaning a room can lay you out for hours.  Getting into a car and going somewhere is a huge decision!  Walking through a store will make you want to curl up.  THAT'S OK!!!  I think the biggest change is the fatigue.  Because of that it cuts down on what you can do.  I've found that talking on the phone for about a week and a half after chemo is very difficult!  Not only can't I focus on the phone...I get so tired trying!  Getting frustrated is very normal...but then you have to find ways to help get that frustration to go away.  I try by reading off my tablet (thank goodness you can enlarge the print on ebooks!!) or watching some TV shows.  More often then not I need to lay down to rest but don't often fall asleep (although that does happen some too).  Laying down just rests your body so keep your mind occupied!  Recently if I haven't been reading I've been watching Cake Boss on Netflix!  Hence my persistent craving for chocolate covered strawberries!!!  But most importantly, it makes me laugh!

Interacting with people outside your house will go down!  That is to be expected.  You have to stay healthy and wearing a face mask for you or a guest is, well, uncomfortable.  All my friends know a visit with me means they have to be totally healthy and not around people who are sick or not feeling well.  It can be difficult to set up visits like that.  And then the day comes and your dear, healthy friend comes over and you are too tired to do much other then sit in a chair and talk.  And then you realize talking is too tiring and so you listen.    Hint to all friends of chemo patients...being able to just listen really is a blessing!  It is the closeness of the friend.  The fact that they are willing to pick up the slack and do all the talking means a great deal!  It is so easy to loose touch with the outside world during chemo.  If visits aren't working, try to stay in touch over Facebook or texting.  However, real letters are wonderful!!!  They are a physical connection between friends.  Something to be held and read over and over again.  I know for me, I have one friend who texts me every day.  We talk about random things or sometimes I just listen.  He is like a touchstone for me.  He keeps me connected to that world outside chemo.  Where all my friends are.  The place I am working so hard to get back to.

So yes, there are many changes to deal with while going through chemo but there are changes that are good too!

I can never say enough about my infusion nurses.  Whenever I see them I always feel better!  They are able to help ease my anxiety, answer my questions and make me feel good about myself and everything going on.  They are a positive force in my life along with my family and friends but in a special way.  They deal with this every day and they are the calm in the storm for so many people.  They are an inspiration to their patients!  I would never have known them if I hadn't gotten cancer and I am daily thankful that I know them!

Another good that comes from chemo is a renewed appreciation for life as well as the beginning of understanding that this life isn't the end.  While I have no desire to leave this world just yet, I also am shown through my faith and through the many, many prayers that this life is a preparation for what is to come!!  Such an amazing future lies before you but you need to see your present.  What is around you right now!  Because what is around you is the creation of the One you will spend eternity with!  God's creation is this world and we so often don't see it because we are so busy with what we call life.  While I will be the first to admit that there are practical things in life that need to be met...there is also so much that we should see!  The sun shining on a green field or sparkling water!  The mountains that range from the stately, aged Blue Ridge to the younger, alpine peaks of the Rockies!  The prairie that captured the hearts of the the people who broke new ground and explored our country!  The wind through the grasses!  The cool breeze as you stand on top of a mountain!  The taste of good food!  The grand, old and entrancing cities and landscapes of Europe!  So much in this world that is such a reflection of God's love for us!  He gave us all of this and more often then not, we take it for granted!  That is something you don't do anymore when you go through all of this.

I never thought much of a Bucket List until now.  But I assure you, I have one now!  And it grows daily!  So while there are so many changes in life from chemo, not all of them are anxiety provoking.  Some of them urge you to become a better person, to turn towards God with open arms and run strait into His!  To appreciate the gifts He has given you in your family and friends and in His creation!  Embrace Him and His creation for as long as you can!  This is a good change you can look forward to!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

3rd Chemo, 50% Done!!!

As my day of chemo comes to a close, and the steroids are making me climb the walls, I settle back and think happily about the fact that I AM HALF WAY DONE WITH MY CHEMO TREATMENTS!!!!!!!!!!  I'm not excited or counting or anything!!  Lol!!!! 

I had a meeting with one of my dozen doctors today and he seemed satisfied with how I am doing:-).  That helps me feel good:-).

I had to take a picture with a sign...the sign will be bigger when I'm completely done:-). 

Today is dads last treatment with me.  He is going back to teaching before my next chemo.  Sad but I'm sure he will be happier working then sitting with me and making sure I don't have a reaction.  But I love the fact he does sit in that chair with me:-).  I honestly could not be doing this without mom and dad!  It would just be impossible!!!  Their support, love and ability to put up with my crazy behavior is more than I can ever repay.  Family is important to have around you when going through this.  Phone calls, txt messages and Facebook posts from siblings make me smile and keep going each day:-).  Without my parents, brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews, my attitude would not be what it is!!!  Love you all so very much!!!!

Painting on the Ceiling

As I lay here in my chemo chair, I have spent some time staring at the ceiling.  They anticipated this of all patients and have painted pictures on some the ceiling tiles!  The picture is of one of them in the cube I've been using.

These are simple pictures that use primary colors mostly.  I like this one because of the sunshine in it.  In fact, sunshine is evoked all through the infusion room.  The walls are a soft yellow color with a hint of tan.  The floors are light colored pergo  and the curtains on the cubes pale yellow.  To add to the theme, one whole wall, all the way down the length of the infusion room, is all window.  Letting the sun in to pour down on whoever is sitting in the visitor chairs next to mine.  In my case, it pours its warm sunniness on dad...and encourages him to take naps as he sits with me:-).

Probably the best contribution to the sunshine theme though are the nurses themselves!  Jan, Kim, Michelle and Lindsey all have happy and bright personalities.  They make you feel calm and safe with a word and a smile and help make this place that could easily be so sad and depressing a positive and hilarious place.  I write this as Lindsey and Kim sing and laugh!  How can one feel sad and scared with all of this around?!

I noticed this all because of the painting on my ceiling:-).

Monday, August 12, 2013

My Brain Worked!!!

This is an exciting moment for me!!  Tonight, for a short moment, my brain triumphed over the fog chemo has placed all around it!!!  While watching Jeopardy a clue came up that as soon as I saw the map that gave the clue, I knew the answer was Kiev!  But even better, not only did I know the answer, I was able to think it in my head and incredibly say it out loud!!!!!  I in fact shouted it out loudly as I clapped my hands and made parents jump!!!

This may not sound like something too amazing but for the past two months, my brain has not been working properly!  I easily forget simple words.  I know that  I know an answer to a question but not only am I unable to say the answer, I can't get the words to come to my head!  Or I can get them into my head but can't get them to come out of my mouth!  This is a very frustrating thing and doesn't just happen around questions but in the middle of a conversation!  (As just about anyone who has talked to me on the phone or in person can attest to!). 

But, for one moment tonight, the stars aligned and stimulated my brain to work from my eyes to my brain and out of my mouth...loud enough to make the sheep baa thinking someone was outside and perhaps coming their way with some hay:)  So thank you Jeopardy and my awesome Russian Lit teacher Dasha!!!  Fingers crossed I get a few more moments of clarity in the second half of chemo!!!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Friends, Hold Them Close

There are so many things that I think we take for granted when life is moving along, normal, uninterrupted.  One of those things are our friends.  In the almost six weeks I have been going through chemo, I have had two wonderful visits from old friends. 

Before my second chemo was my long time friend, and "sister" Renee.  We have been friends for so long that really, words aren't always necessary to tell each other we we are thinking about them.  But she also knew that sometimes, you need to say or hear the words.  Sitting and talking as I fought fatigue helped me more than one would guess.  Having a close and dear friend sitting on the couch across from me...a place where she has set hundreds of time before during high school, and on visits home from VA and IL.  I actually didn't have the energy to talk much that day but sitting and listening, hearing a friends voice and a feeling a hug from someone close to you, it is a relief and almost a balm that works far better than any medication.

Yesterday, as I close in on my 3rd treatment, I was so happy and excited to have a visit from one of my oldest friends, Angela.  Friends since 8th grade, about twenty years now, so many wonderful memories came flooding back!  And being able to make new memories made me even happier.  A visit to the county fair and a chance to sit and talk about what is going on in our lives was just what I needed!!  To have a chance to be able to look a friend in a face, admit that despite the positive outlook I have adopted, this whole thing is so unbelievably difficult!  And to hear a friend say that it is ok to unload a bit, felt like a small weight off my shoulders!

I don't want to constantly be talking about the difficulties and the fears I have.  But to have a chance to get some of that off my chest face to face with a friend who understands, doesn't offer platitudes and just listens is very cathartic!  And then to be able to drop it all, and go have some fun.  Whether it is just sitting in a chair talking about all different kinds of things, or going to a fair and talking about the great and wonderful world of The Little Green People!!!  I don't care how old we get, those memories made in childhood and young adulthood will always remain precious and always be something that can pull one out of sadness and fear.  But to remember those things and create new memories, you need to see your friends!!

I know I am counting the days not only for this chemo to be over and behind me but also the days until I can make it back to VA and see so many of my friends!  Counting the days until I can go to IN and IL and see close friends there as well.  To know that I can travel without the fear of getting sick!  To be able to walk in public with my friends without wearing a mask!  To continue to make new memories with friends so that years down the road, old and white haired and sitting on a porch, the kids walking by think we are going a little batty as we laugh old lady laughs at the ridiculous and wonderful memories we shared together!  And thanking God that all those years later, we are able to laugh about and share those memories with one another.

While I don't exactly know what the future holds for me, I trust in God that it will include many more visits with friends and many more new memories!  In the mean time, each visit is going to something I cherish and hold on to on difficult days in the next ten to twelve weeks.