Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Inspiring Words

Hi, everyone! I'm back to feeling my normal self and don't have to go to my next chemo until one week from today and so have some time to enjoy feeling well.

It's been a bit of a rough day emotionally for me. I met Liesl, a teacher friend from school, at Starbucks. We talked for almost an hour and a half. It was a wonderful time, but when we left I was headed home and she was headed up to school to get ready for next week. I was so jealous. Then, when I came home, I exchanged emails with the teacher who is going to take over my class for the second half of the year. She is so sweet and caring and enthusiastic. I know she is going to do a wonderful job and that the kids will love her. But, again, it just left me feeling sad.

I've joined a listserve that is made up of women and families who have or are battling Inflammatory Breast Cancer and through this list I've learned that it is possible to be a long-term survivor of this disease. They don't really talk of curing it, but there are members of the list who have been without evidence of disease for over ten years. This gives me so much hope. Many members have also talked about how the chemotherapy part of the treatment plan is the worst and that the surgery and radiation afterwards aren't nearly so bad in comparison. This is also very encouraging. If everything continues to go smoothly for me and according to plan, I should be finishing up radiation this summer. If that is so, I am thinking I will be able and ready to return to the classroom next year. Focusing on that helps me deal with missing it so much right now. When I first started researching IBC and the prognosis, I didn't think I was ever going to be able to return. Now, I know that there is a good chance I will be able to.

I'm always amazed at how, just when I'm feeling low, something happens to pick me up again. That happened again today. My friend and neighbor, Mary Lopez, sent over a Christmas present and with the card she enclosed something called The Optimist's Creed. It is written by C.D. Larson. The words were just what I needed to hear. I asked Mary and she said it was fine to share them on the blog. I think you all will find them as inspiring as I have.

The Optimist's Creed

Promise yourself:
To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
To talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person you meet.
To make all your friends feel that there is something worthwhile in them.
To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.
To think only of the best, to work only for the best, and to expect only the best.
To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.
To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
To give so much time to improving yourself that you have no time to criticize others.
To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.
To think well of yourself and to proclaim this fact to the world, not in loud words, but in great deeds.
To live in the faith that the world is on your side, so long as you are true to the best that is in you.

Love you all tons!
Until next time,

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas Everyone!

We just wanted to let everyone know I'm feeling 100% better and to wish you all a very wonderful holiday!

With all our love!
Joe, Martha, Janaya, Joey, and Michael

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Update From the Doctor

Well, at least there's a reason why I'm still feeling poorly (that's the only nice word I could think of to describe how I'm feeling right now). The doctor's office just called and yesterday's blood test shows my white blood count at 0.9 when the normal is 4-11. This means no pedicure. :>( No fresh fruits or vegetables. No fresh cut flowers. Limited visitors. Lots of hand washing. Monitoring my temperature. And an antibiotic. Please, please don't let it create any more havoc on my stomach!

I do get a shot after each chemo treatment called Neulastin which stimulates my bone marrow to produce more white blood cells and it should be kicking in any time now, so hopefully this is short lived and I'll be feeling better in no time.

Till next time!
Tons of love!

Slowly Turning the Corner

Good morning, everyone. I was going to wait until this evening to write, but got worried I'd tire out and not get it done. It's been a long, slow week recovering from the chemo this time. Yesterday and so far today have been better, but I'm usually pretty much back to my normal self by now, but am still feeling the effects. I guess it's a result of adding the third chemo drug. It's been pretty much like the first two times. A crampy belly was added to a nauseous stomach, the bad taste in my mouth is taking forever to go away, and I'm getting terrible hot flashes. I've been told the chemo will make me go through menopause, so I'm assuming that's what the hot flashes are. They're awful! It's like someone takes my internal thermostat and cranks it up ten degrees! One good thing about being bald; I just tear off my hat or wig and that provides some instant relief. :>)

The only other new thing is being unusually teary. About nothing really in particular except for feeling sorry for myself. This isn't my normal personality and I think it may be a result of my blood counts being low and my energy being sapped.

This is where I stop complaining and get to what I really wanted to write. I can't even begin to describe to everyone how much your notes on the blog or emails or cards in the mail or just knowing people are thinking of me helps. People tell me I'm strong and brave, but I'm really not. It's all of you and my family that give me strength and help me to feel brave when the worries and doubts and self pity start creeping in. Your words of support and love and encouragement mean more than I could ever express. I reread things all the time when I need a pick me up. I still haven't made my way through my blessing jar. I save it for when I'm really feeling down and it always picks me up. Every time I read each of your notes, I want to respond personally to you and tell you how much your words mean. I'm sorry I can't do that and hope that in some small way this blog lets you know how much I appreciate and thrive on your words and the sentiments behind them.

The meals people have been bringing over have been awesome! The Francom's dropped dinner over two nights ago and Joey was leaping around the kitchen. "I love getting all this food!" he yelled. My family has never made much secret of what they think of my cooking abilities and think at least one benefit from this whole ordeal has been the culinary windfall for them! :>) "And, Mom, do you notice, not one person has brought over meatloaf?" Now, I personally think I make a pretty mean meatloaf. Really, Texas Roadhouse where Janaya works just recently started serving meatloaf and I think it's my recipe! It's one of my favorite meals. But, everytime I cook it I have to make all their favorite side dishes in order to get them to stop moaning and groaning. So, thank you to everyone who has brought over food. It is very greatly appreciated!

I'm pretty sure the Francom's read my blog and I wanted to take a minute and write a personal message to Desiree. Desiree was in my class this year. Her dad teaches at Gilbert El. and her mom and I went to school together. They brought dinner over this week. I was still feeling pretty under the weather and the dog was very interested in what they had brought (almost as interested as Joey!) so I was a bit distracted. Desiree hand made me a beautiful blanket and pillow and I just took them from her and put them down without really looking at them until after she left. Desiree - I love them! The love and care you put into them is so evident. I will use them often and think of you and know you're thinking of me every time I do. Thank you!

I'm off today to get a pedicure. Everything else about me screams cancer patient right now, so I thought it might help if I can look down and see pretty toenails. Then, this afternoon I plan on finishing up wrapping presents. My principal, Sheila, is bringing Christmas Eve dinner over from the school. I can't wait to see her. I've been up to school twice since I officially left, but didn't have the opportunity to see her either time.

I want to end with something that conveys my feelings for all of you, but I've never been very good at sentimental things. Please know I love all of you and hold you all close in my heart. May your day tomorrow be filled with love and joy and many happy family memories.

Till next time,
Love you all tons!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Change in Treatment Plan

Well, we went for my chemo treatment yesterday and as usual saw Dr. Polowy first. I told him I wasn't seeing any change in my breast and that the underside of my upper left arm had become very sore to touch or if I reached for anything with that arm. I had had a similar discomfort before I started treatment, but it had gotten better after the first chemo. My constant fear is that the chemo isn't working as well as it should and the cancer will spread, as IBC is prone to do, before we've done surgery. The negative PET scan and bone scan were true gifts. Many, many people aren't diagnosed until the cancer cells have spread. I am a procrastinator at heart, especially when it comes to scheduling doctors appointments and the initial symptoms of IBC are easy to ignore. I don't know why I was more aggressive about this, but am so thankful I was.

Anyway, Dr. Polowy said the discomfort under my arm wasn't a typical symptom and wasn't really sure what was causing it. I thought doctors were supposed to have all the answers. :>( I do appreciate his honesty. To be safe, he's decided to add a third chemo drug to my present regimen. I also totally appreciate his wanting to be very aggressive in my treatment. This is the drug that I would have started after finishing up the four cycles of the present drugs, he's just adding it now. My schedule now changes to every three weeks. I think this is because it may take my blood counts a bit longer to come back up after. I tried to talk him into continuing the two week plan, but he said no. I've told people this, but once the first week is over and I'm feeling mostly over the effects of the chemo, I start to worry about feeling good. It feels like the chemo isn't working anymore and I'm giving the cancer cells a respite. Dr. Polowy says this isn't true, but it's hard not to worry about it.

Well, that's it. I had to take premeds to prevent an allergic reaction to the new drug, so we had to delay the treatment until this morning. I'll let everyone know how it went when I'm feeling better.

Love you all tons!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Hugs and Laughter, the Best Medicine!

Well, I was right, this past week has been a busy one, but at the same time, a very wonderful one, too.

Last Thursday was my book group's annual holiday party. It was a wonderful time! We started out sentimental with toasting and "clinking" and a few tears and a few laughs, then had a wonderful dinner provided by Kelly, and then got down to the fun. We played Christmas Carol Pictionary. And, laughed and laughed and laughed! It was so much fun. Everyone teased me about being so competitive. My family teases me about the same thing. It's not that I feel like I have to win . . . but winning is more fun than losing, right? I just feel like if you're going to play, you might as well play to win. If I lose, that's ok, I just don't very often. :>) It was a wonderful time and I love the girls in my book club!

Friday night was Joe's work party. It was one of those murder mystery dinners. I had never been to one before. Basically, you watch an Agatha Christie type murder mystery play as you have dinner. There are short intermissions as each course is served. During the dessert course and before the final act of the play you are given a form to fill out guessing who the murderer was, what their motive was, and whether or not they had an accomplice and if they did, who. Then, you watch the final act and find out who did it. It was very entertaining. But, here's the thing. This may be my competitive side coming out, but at the end, they told us they have different endings for the play and the ending they perform is based on who the majority of the audience thought had committed the murder. Well, of course, being the original thinker that I am, my choice wasn't the same as the masses and I was wrong. I lost. :>( Good thing my self-esteem had been built up the night before at book club! Really, it was a very fun night. Joe works with really wonderful people and they care about each other like family. So many people that only have the opportunity to see me a couple of times a year came up to me and shared words of care and support. I'm constantly amazed at the number of people who are keeping me in their daily thoughts and prayers.

This is a picture of Janaya and her boyfriend, Andrew, and Joe and I at the Christmas party.

I got to visit with my class twice in the last few days. I went up Thursday to see the 5th and 6th grade musical that many of my students were in. This was the first I've gotten to see them since I had to leave so abruptly. I was really afraid I would be emotional and cry. I miss them so much! But, they were so happy, I couldn't help but just be happy, too. They were so cute. They'd heard that my hair had fallen out and some of them had seen my picture on the blog. They weren't very good at hiding their curiosity and finally one asked if my hair was a wig. They were amazed when I told them yes. They truly felt like it looked like my real hair which made me feel good. One of the boys was sitting on the bench next to me during the play intermission and was quizzing me about how it stayed on and why it didn't come off and how was it attached. I said, "Shhh. Watch." And took the sides of the wig and wiggled it side to side. His eyes about popped out of his head! I really miss spending my days with them. They are so fun!

Today, I went up for their holiday party. They knew I was going for my chemo tomorrow and so planned it early so I could come. It was a very fun time. I had a chance to move around as they ate and visit and talk with all of them. Read aloud is always one my favorite parts of the day and I got to read them a Christmas story. Then, they gave me a gift from the class. Several different things, but the best part was a blanket that one of my moms made. There are ribbons tied all around the border with each of my student's names on them. I know I will treasure it always. I told them I would take it with me to chemo tomorrow and it would be like they were there with me. They really liked that idea. They are an awesome group of kids. Have I said how much I miss them?

This is a picture of me with my class we took at the party.

As you can see, this past week was filled with lots of laughter and hugs; the very best medicine! My spirits are high going into this next chemo treatment.

Talk to you all soon!
Love you tons!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Feeling Better!

Well, it's one week to the day from my second chemo treatment and I'm almost back to my normal self. My stomach has finally settled down and mostly I'm just a little more tired than usual. I told Joe's parents on the phone the other day, the best way to describe the effect of the chemo is that it makes you feel like you've got the flu really bad - restless, achy, and nauseous. It went about the same as last time, lasting about a full week, but at least it wasn't worse. I think it will help emotionally if I can count on one good week in between each treatment. Six more to go before I'm ready for surgery. UGH!

I was able to get out of the house for a couple of hours on Sunday. Joe took me to the Tempe Arts Festival. We had a great time walking around looking at all the beautiful things people make. I think the fresh air did me good.

I spent today catching up on housework. Janaya says I need to get a new hobby, but I can't begin to tell you how good it feels to just be able to do normal things like running the vacum.

This coming week will be a busy one, trying to fit things in before the next chemo treatment - meeting with my book group for our annual holiday celebration, going to watch the 5th/6th grade musical at school (this will be the first I've seen my kids since I had to leave so abruptly), Christmas shopping, going to Joe's work Christmas party, and I've been invited to my class's holiday party. It will be busy, but I'm really looking forward to each of the activities. It also helps keep my mind off of missing being with my class each day.

Oh! An update that doesn't have to do with me! I know many of you are aware of the difficult time Joey had in high school. He has just about completed his first semester at Mesa Community College and is accepted and will be attending NAU starting in January! We are so excited for him! Joe took him up this weekend for orientation (I was so sad to not be feeling well enough to go!) and he is very excited about starting there. He's still not sure what he wants to major in, but will be taking liberal arts courses that he will need no matter what he decides. He loves to snowboard and is excited about being so close to Snowbowl. NAU also offers one credit weekend outdoor classes. He is going to sign up for Intro. to Mountain Biking. I think this campus is going to be a perfect fit for him!

Well, that's it for now. I miss everyone!

Till next time,
Love you all tons!

Monday, December 1, 2008

I'm Bald!

Well, it finally happened, right on day 13 and 14, just like the nurse said it would. I noticed yesterday in the shower that there were a lot of loose hairs in my hand when I ran my fingers through my hair. I had a little crying jag, not so much about the idea of losing my hair, but not wanting to look sickly, like a cancer patient. A few hairs continued to fall out throughout the day, but nothing extreme. Then, this morning, when I ran my fingers through my hair, clumps were coming out.

I was in a much better frame of mind today and decided we'd shave it right after Michael got off to school. My sister was up already. I woke up Janaya so she wouldn't sleep through the fun and we got out the clippers. Janaya was trying hard to be appropriately sober until I told her we had to laugh and have fun with it. I could tell she was relieved. She had been worried she would laugh and make me upset. I'm finding throughout this whole ordeal, the more I can find humor in things the easier they are to deal with.

I decided to do most of the shaving myself. It took hardly any time at all. Janaya took pictures and Pam kept exclaiming how beautiful I looked without any hair! My head is still covered in short stubble. I was amazed at how gray it is! I prematurely grayed in my young twenties and have colored my hair ever since. This is the first time I've really seen how completely gray it is.

I've been wearing my wig all day and am getting comfortable with it. It is somewhat longer than my regular hair (well, a lot longer now!), but the girl who cuts my hair said to leave it this length for now. We could always cut it, but once it is cut it stays that way. Wigs don't grow! I got a terrible headache earlier because it was too tight. We called the wig shop and they told us how to loosen it up and it feels much more comfortable now.

I'm going to try and post two pictures. One is a funny one Janaya and I took after we were done shaving my head. I hope you all appreciate how brave I am in posting it! The second one is of me in my wig.

Chemo tomorrow, so I probably won't write for a while.

Till next time,

Love you all tons!