Wednesday, December 23, 2009

An Overdue Update

Hi, everyone! Sorry I have been so slow in posting an update. I was so exhausted the couple of weeks before the holiday break that I just didn't have the energy and then Joe, Michael, and I were visiting family in New Jersey over most of the break.

I know the last time I posted I said I would put up pictures of Michael and his now girl friend, Brittany, from winter formal. Here they are:

We are only just getting to know Brittany, but she is very friendly and funny and she and Michael get along great. Plus, she is planning on going to NAU next year, too.

We had a wonderful Christmas. Joey came down from Flagstaff Thursday morning and then had to go back up on Saturday because of work. It was a short visit with him, but so great to get to spend time with him. I know I say this all the time, but I miss him terribly. He loves his job as a cook at Black Bart's Steakhouse and really enjoys the people he works with. We got him a new longboard for Christmas and he is very anxious for the weather up there to warm up so he can use it. Janaya and Andrew spent Christmas Eve with us. We had dinner and then played games. We are slowly getting to know Andrew more and more and are glad he is becoming a part of our family. Michael got a new mountain bike. He plans on using it a lot when he goes up to Flagstaff next year for school. He spent Christmas afternoon out riding it on South Mountain. We somehow forgot to take a whole family picture this year, but here are a couple of pictures from Christmas Day.

The day after Christmas, it was off to New Jersey! We had a wonderful visit! We got to spend time with Pam and her family, as well as Joe's parents and his brother, Sim's, and sister, Sue's families. Joe's family considers Pam and her family part of their family (she and I are kind of a package deal!). On Tuesday, Pam and Jim had arranged for us to go into New York City and see the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall. It was fabulous! Then, on New Year's Eve, Pam's family and ours went up to Joe's parents. Again, it was a great time. All of the kids get along wonderfully, though it does get pretty loud at times. We ate and played games all night. The next day, Sue and Sim brought their families down to Pam's house. It was a wonderful visit and I was sure sad to say goodbye. Here are some pics from the visit.

Not much news on the cancer front, except that when I went back for my chemo on the 23rd, I asked Dr. Wendt to not draw any more tumor markers until I've finished this current course of chemo and have had a chance for my body to recover some. I had been back to see my radiation oncologist, Dr. Tannehill, and he wasn't as convinced as Dr. Wendt that the rise in my tumor markers definitely meant cancer. There are a few other obscure things that can make them rise. So, I decided to get off the emotional roller coaster for a little bit and just enjoy the holidays. I will be done with this course of chemo at the end of this month and then I just want a chance to feel good for a little bit. Then, we can see where I stand and make a plan.

Ending on kind of a serious note today. Just a couple of days before Christmas, a mom of two students at our school passed away after battling cancer for over six years. Her family had moved here for her husband's work just a year ago and they had no local family support at all. The staff at our school adopted this family and did everything they could to help them through this difficult year. Last spring, I learned about this family through our school nurse. Since I was feeling somewhat better from my chemo and was home full time, I offered to help. I could cook, clean, do laundry, babysit, run errands. Instead, I was simply asked to be a friend to this woman; to visit and talk and be an emotional support. It took me a couple of weeks to get up my nerve and contact her; I'm pretty shy around new people. We arranged to meet and I spent about two hours visiting at her home. She shared her story of all she had been through over the previous years battling cancer. When I left, I gave her my phone number and my email address and told her to please contact me if I could do anything at all to help. However, I never contacted her again. Hearing her story at that time was just too scary for me. It is hard sometimes to not let your mind go down the road of what ifs and listening to her story made those what ifs seem all too possible. I felt bad for not being there for her like so many others at my school were. I tried telling myself that she wasn't calling me either, trying to make myself feel better. But, in reality, I had closed off a big part of myself to her. It is the same reason I haven't joined a support group or participated in the many online communities for breast cancer patients. There is still a big part of me that wants to deny that this has really happened to me. The reason I'm telling all of you this is because I want to say thank you to all of you who love me and support me and aren't afraid to make a place in your heart for me. You are all what makes life so beautiful and worth fighting for.

With much love,

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Not Sure What This New News Means

Hi, everyone. I've gone back and fortrh with myself over whether or not to post this new news or not. Maybe if I wait something will come up that makes it not seem as bad as it is, I keep thinking to myself. In the end, I've decided to post because I not only use this blog to keep everyone updated, but because it has also become a therapeutic journal of my experiences, too.

Dr. Wendt drew lab work this past Wendnesday before giving me my chemo; just like he does every time. When I went back the following day for my Neulasta shot, he had gotten the results back. My alkaline phosphatase has gone back up to 287 and my tumor markers almost doubled, going from 34 to 60 - no longer in the normal range.

There is really no explanation for it except that there is cancer somewhere. We will repeat the lab work when I go back in two weeks and if the markers are still elevated, more tests will be ordered, an MRI or bone scan.

So, as always, this journey continues to be an emotional roller coaster. Honestly, each day for me right now is an emotional roller coaster. Sometimes, I'm fine and tell myself I've still got a fighting chance. I'm being monitored so closely and treated so aggressively that even if there is cancer somewhere, we're getting at it early. Other times, I freak out and panic. Tumor markers going up while I'm in the middle of chemotherapy can't be good. I worry that this cancer is so aggressive that nothing is going to work. I worry that every little ache and pain (and I've got a lot of little aches and pains as a result of all I've been through this past year!) is cancer. I know it is not good for my health to worry like that, but it is hard to control where your thoughts go sometimes.

One thing that helps tremendously is all the love and support I get from my friends at school. Being back at work this year has been one of the hardest things I've done, and yet also one of the best.

I had no idea when I returned to teaching in August how difficult this journey was going to be. Maybe I was naive, but I thought I'd finish up my radiation, do the next course of chemo, and be done and well by the end of November. I've never really been sick before and so I don't have a lot to compare to, but when I had our kids or my jaw surgery a couple of years ago, I bounced back quickly and easily. That's not happerning this time, probably because I just can't seem to get a break from all the treatment. Instead of feeling like a ball that bounces back up every time you drop it, I feel like an egg that just keeps smashing into the concrete over and over.

But, while school is so very difficult for me physically, right now, it is also the very best thing emotionally. My kids are awesome! They are the sweetest, nicest, kindest, most hard working class I've had, and that's saying a lot because I've always had wonderful classes. They made me cry a week or so ago. I was out for the day to have my thoracentesis and when I came back the next morning, I found a note they had written and all signed, asking me to please get better because they didn't want me to have to leave teaching again. That note is my inspiration to get my feet on the ground each morning even when I am feeling terrible! Plus, my day is filled with hugs and words of encouragement from all of my teacher friends. Hardly a morning goes by that someone doesn't stop by my room to see how I am and give me a hug. Too often, I end up crying when that happens, my emotions are stretched pretty thin right now, but I always feel stronger and more ready to face the day afterwards.

My family continues to be my rock. Pam calls or writes every day and sends me cute Hallmark cards that make me smile. She will be here for a few days this week again. I can't wait. Joe amazes me with his tireless efforts to do everythng in his power to help me. He works long days, comes home and makes sure I have a good dinner, works on the bills, takes care of the house, tells me I'm beautiful when right now it is the farthest thing from the truth, goes to every single doctor appointment and test with me. I honestly don't know how he does all he does and love him so very much. My kids are amazing and don't let a day go by without showing me with their words and actions how much they love me. I love them and am so proud of them!

A story on the news this week reminded me again of how fragile life is. A 27 year old fire fighter was killed in northern Arizona by a falling tree when he was out camping during the storm that came through this week. A father and husband and so very young. It reminded me to hold tight to and treasure all the memories that I have from all the days I've been given and to make the most of each of the ones I have in the future.

So, I'm off to do that now! Christmas shopping this weekend, going to As You Wish with Janaya, and Michael is going to winter formal! Check back in the next couple of days for pictures - he is sooooooo handsome!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Good News!

Hi, everyone. I am so very sorry it has taken me so long to get this post up. My test results are back and there is no sign of cancer anywhere! I'm sure you can all imagine how relieved I am! I was so scared that the trouble with my breathing, the back pain, and the fluid on my lungs meant the cancer had spread to my lungs. Then, with the alkaline phosphatase being elevated, I started to worry that it was in my bones, too. The doctors aren't sure why it is elevated, but the PET scan didn't show any signs of bone cancer. The fluid around my lungs is most likely a side effect of the radiation.

So, I"m not feeling real good right now, but it is much easier to deal with the idea that everything I'm going through is a result of all the treatment I've had and that it should all eventually get better than the thought that the cancer had spread throughout my body!

Tomorrow, I will be halfway through what is hopefully my last course of chemo. I should be finished completely with it by the end of January. So far, it hasn't been too bad, mostly struggling with nausea and fatigue. The CAT scan last Monday showed that the fluid is reaccumulating around my lungs. I already knew it by how I'm feeling. I'm still pretty short of breath and my back hurts a lot. I'm guessing I'll have to have it drained again at some point.

More good news! Pam is coming out for a few days starting on the 15th and then Joe, Michael, and I are going back to visit New Jersey the day after Christmas. I can't wait!

Well, it's taken me so long to get this posted because I'm just so tired and sore by the time I get home from school, so I'm off to bed!

Thank you, everyone, for all of your positive thoughts and prayers. They have sustained me through another difficult part of this journey.

Lots of love to everyone!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Feeling Better/Still Waiting for Test Results

Hi, everyone! It has just been a week since I last wrote and I am feeling much better. I went on Tuesday and had a thoracentesis done. Basically, they stuck a needle into the space where the fluid had accumulated around my right lung and drained it out. They removed a half liter of fluid and within a few hours I was able to breath much better. They tell me that a half liter of fluid is a relatively small amount compared to what they sometimes remove from patients, but it has made a huge difference in how I feel. They sent the fluid off for testing and I should know the results of that tomorrow.

I went for my second dose of Navelbine on Wednesday and Dr. Wendt drew more labs. My alkaline phosphatase went down a little bit, from 283 to 255 and my tumor markers went from 32.5 to 33.4, up a tiny bit, but still in the normal range. They did a test on the alkaline phosphatase they drew last week to tell if the elevation was coming from the liver or the bone and it turned out that it is the bone causing the elevation. All of my doctors tell me they don't think the cancer has spread to my bones. They don't have any real reason to think this, but say it just doesn't "feel" like bone metastasis to them. They qualify this by saying that this doesn't mean it's not bone metastasis, they just don't think so right now. I am scheduled for a PET/CT scan tomorrow and hopefully this will give us more information. We are all hoping that all of the things going on symptom-wise and lab work-wise are side effects of all the treatment I've already had. Fingers and toes all crossed!

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Joey was able to come down from Flagstaff for a couple of days. It is always great to see him; I miss him terribly. We had a quiet day at home, watching football and playing games and cooking. No funny turkey story this year because we skipped the turkey altogether! The boys don't like turkey and Joe has just gotten a new grill, so we did steaks! I did make stuffing and apple pie, so we weren't completely nontraditional. Janaya and Andrew did lunch with his family and then were here in time to do dinner with us. Then, we played a domino game called Mexican Train. It was a great day.

Yesterday, I took Janaya and Michael to the ASU/U of A game. We had a great time! Last weekend, I couldn't come up the stairs from the basement in our house without almost passing out and having to lie on the couch for twenty minutes to catch my breath. Yesterday, I climbed up to row 23, twice, and was just a little bit short of breath! It is amazing the difference a week can make. ASU lost, but it was a great game and we all came home a little bit hoarse from all the yelling and cheering we did.

This is a picture taken in our driveway before we left for the game. We dropped Joey off in Scottsdale because he was getting a ride back up to Flagstaff from a friend. Joe stayed home and worked on his car.

This is Janaya, Michael, and me at the game. We were in the nosebleeds!

I can't help but think about where we were at this time last year. I had just been diagnosed less than two weeks before Thanksgiving and had been given a pretty poor prognosis. It was a very scary and overwhelming time for us. I am very thankful for every day I've been given this past year. I'm thankful for all of my doctors. Joe, Pam, and I are constantly amazed and in awe of how knowledgeable and caring each of them are. I'm thankful for the experiences over the last year that have opened my eyes and heart in new ways to the beauty of the world, my friends, and my family.

I hope each of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. You were all in my heart and thoughts.

Lots of love!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Scary Turn of Events

Hi, everyone. This past week or so has been a pretty scary one for me and my family. I have hesitated to write about it. First, I didn't want to in any way overshadow the amazing accomplishment of Pam, Joe, and Janaya. I posted the slide show of the pictures of their walk without any comment because I just couldn't come up with words that were capable of expressing my love and admiration for them. Second, I think in some subconscious way, I felt that if I didn't type the words maybe they wouldn't be true.

I have been having some difficulty with my breathing ever since the surgery to repair the damage from the radiation. It started out pretty mild and at first I thought it was just a side effect of having received general anesthesia. But, it has gradually gotten worse over the following weeks. I had a chest x-ray done about two weeks ago which was negative. Then, last weekend, the shortness of breath seemed to get worse and I developed pain in my back. We went to see my radiation oncologist and he sent me the next morning for a chest CAT scan which shows I've got fluid around my lungs. He is not sure what is causing it. It could be an infection, some kind of virus or fungus, or it could be cancer. He said looking at the films that it doesn't present like cancer usually would, but to someone whose cancer didn't show up on any of her mammograms, ultrasounds, or MRI's this is little solace. I go Tuesday morning for a needle aspiration of the fluid and we will know more when we get the results of that.

In the meantime, I started my new chemo, Navelbine and Xeloda. Dr. Wendt ordered routine bloodwork to be done before giving me the chemo. My tumor markers were 30 which is in the normal range, but up from the last ones which were 26. Everything else was normal except for my alkaline phosphatase. The normal range for this test is 39-145 and mine was 265. I didn't think much of it at first. The nurse who gave me my results didn't even mention it. Then, when we got home and looked it up on the Internet, we found out that an elevated level is an indication of problems with the liver or bone, two of the places breast cancer likes the most. Dr. Tannehill, my radiation oncologist, ordered a bunch of lab work when I saw him last week and the alkaline phosphatase level had gone up to 283. He ordered additional lab work that will tell us if it is coming from the liver or the bone.

So, it is a pretty nerve-wracking time around here right now. I'm tired from being sore and short of breath all the time. I am trying very hard to not let my mind jump ahead to conclusions until we have all the test results in, but it is hard not to do. I'm really, really scared.

One of the highlights of my week was going out to happy hour with my friends, Carol, Norma, Ruthie, and Janaya. Carol said something to me about my being brave in sharing my journey with all of you. I told her it is not a matter of being brave at all. It is a matter of survival. The love and support I receive from each of you, the words of encouragement, the hugs, the prayers and good thoughts, are what enable me to face each day and not let the fear overwhelm me. Unfortunately, I am not the first person to have to make this journey and I know I won't be the last. It doesn't do any good to ask, "Why me?" It is what it is. But, the one thing I can count on, the bright spot in all of this, is knowing how many people are here for me, walking beside me each step of the way, giving me the courage, hope, and strength to face whatever lies ahead.

Thank you.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Friday, November 6, 2009

Drains Out!

Well, this Tuesday was three weeks from my surgery and I've healed up great. I had an appointment Wednesday to follow up with the plastic surgeon and have my drains removed. They were absolutely the most uncomfortable part of the whole thing. Every time I moved, I could feel them pulling at the stitches in my side or causing irritation under the skin. It is amazing how something like those drains can wear on your energy and emotions. I had thought several times of snipping the stitches myself and pulling them out, but was afraid I'd chicken out.

My appointment was for 3:45. Joe and I walked into the surgery clinic at 3:35 and within just a couple of minutes were taken to an examining room. Dr. Hurst came in withing a couple of minutes, looked at my incisions, asked how I was doing, and said everything looked great. We'd get the drains out and I'd be on my way. I undressed and sat waiting, ready, on the examing table. Dr. Hurst told me to take a deep breath and hold it. I did, squeezed my eyes shut and whammo, he yanked the first drain out. Oh my gosh, oh my gosh! That really hurt! It felt like someone stabbed me with a knife. Egads! Two more to go. Ok. Deep breath and hold. OH MY GOSH! OH MY GOSH! THAT HURT! THAT REALLY HURT! I started to panic. How in the world was I going to get through a third drain being yanked? It was excruciating. I squeezed my eyes tighter, and gripped the table harder and waited for his instructions to take a breath and . . . nothing. I slowly peeked out and looked down. He had pulled the last two together! Oh, thank goodness!!!! This experience truly gave meaning to the saying that ignorance is bliss. If I had had any idea of how badly pulling those drains out was going to hurt, I know they'd have had to sedate me! Luckily, the relief from the discomfort the drains were causing was almost immediate. It felt so good to be able to move about and turn over in bed that night and each day since has been better. We were out of the clinic and back in our car by 3:45!

Everything else continues to go well. I'm scheduled to start my new chemo regimen this coming Wednesday and it should last twelve weeks. I'm starting to feel more energetic and am finally staying up past 7:oo in the evening. I have developed a bit of a cough and I have a lymph node in my left groin that is swollen right now, but it seems the consensus is to just watch for right now. I've learned that living with worry and fear are part of this disease. I'm working very hard at not letting them overwhelm me and detract from the joy of living each day.

School and life have been very busy and I haven't gotten together with my friends in a while. I miss you guys!

The three day walk is next weekend and Pam, Janaya, and Joe are getting geared up to participate. As a team, they raised over $10,000! I'm so proud of them and wish I could participate with them. Thank you very much to all of you who donated. You are all my everyday superheroes!

The walk starts at the park right here in Gilbert and the walkers will go right past my elementary school. I will be out there with my students cheering them all on. The kids in my class wrote letters that will be given out to the walkers next weekend and reading some of their sentiments brought me to tears. It is sad to know how many families have been effected by this disease.

Well, that is all.
Lots of love and hugs to each of you!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Another Surgery Done

Hi, everyone! I think I mentioned in one of my previous posts that the radiation had been pretty hard on my skin by the end and especially my mastectomy incision. When I went for my one month follow up appointment with my radiation oncologist, he said that if we tried to let it heal on its own, it could take up to a year. In the meantime, my medical oncologist did not want me to start my next chemo until I was healed. So, the decision was made to see an oncology plastic surgeon to repair the damage.

It is definitely a ride to and from Tucson each time, but the doctors taking care of me there have been absolutely wonderful, and Dr. Hurst, the plastic surgeon, was no different. I told Joe he looked like someone who would play a plastic surgeon on TV; classic good looks and a great smile. And yet, he was so kind and patient in explaining everything to Joe and I. He is also being wonderful about working around my school schedule so I don't have to take days off from teaching.

I am on fall break this week, so we scheduled surgery for this past Tuesday. My time was To Be Announced, so we waited at home Tuesday morning for a call from the hospital. They called around 8:30 saying I was scheduled for 11:30, so we headed out the door for Tucson. By the time we got there, Dr. Hurst had been called in to help out in another difficult case, backing up his scedule. I ended up not going into surgery until after 4. It was a long day of anxious waiting.

The surgery went great. Don't read the rest of this paragraph if you don't want details! It was much more involved than the mastectomy surgery. He cleaned out the wound on my chest and then moved the lattisimus muscle around from my back to my front to fill in the space. He then took a flap of skin from my back and used that in the front to cover over the wound. I have an incision on my back that is about twelve inches long and a patch in the front that looks like a giant cat's eye. I told my girlfriends I'm beginning to look like a patchwork quilt and Liesl said my new nickname should be patches. :>) I have three drains that will stay in for about three weeks. Overall, the discomfort hasn't been too bad. I'm finding all of these procedures are giving me a new perspective on just what pain is. I'm alternating Advil and Percocet about every three hours and am pretty comfortable most of the time.

So, hopefully, everything is back on track now. The plan is to heal for the next three or four weeks and then get the chemo restarted. I'm doing really well; just really, really tired of all of the medical procedures.

Thanks for everyone's thoughts and prayers over the last couple of days. Love you all!

Oh! I almost forgot. I said on facebook I would post pictures of my hair after I colored it, but am backing out. It took the coloring really weird and is a strange color and the texture is like that of a teddy bear - comforting on a teddy bear, not so much so on your head. I'll try again in a couple of weeks and hopefully have a better outcome.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

25th Wedding Anniversary!

Hi,everyone. It's been a busy week and so I didn't get to post sooner, but this past Tuesday, October 6th was Joe and my 25th wedding anniversary. It hardly seems possible that so much time has gone by. I've been typing and erasing and typing and erasing, trying to put into words my feelings about this occasion and find I can't really capture with words the emotions in my heart.

When I look at our wedding pictures, I remember how young, and optimistic, and full of dreams we were. And, I think about how very, very lucky we have been. So many of the dreams we had for our life together have come true in ways beyond our wildest imaginings. We are just as much in love today as we were on that day twenty-five years ago. Our children are our three most favorite people in the world. They are just at the ages where they are starting to take their first steps out into the world and we are so proud of the young adults they have become and love them so very much. They are our most important accomplishment and bring us so much joy.

This past year has definitely been a trying one and the future right now is still uncertain, but amidst all this upheaval and uncertainty, Joe's love and support have been a constant. There are a lot of men out there who can't handle the things he's had to and they walk away. I guess I should say we are more in love today than we were on that day twenty-five years ago because living the vows we made that day, day in and day out, through all the different experiences life has held for us, has deepened our understanding of what it means to truly love another person. I am one of the luckiest people in the world.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Susan G. Komen 3 Day Walk and My Everyday Superheroes

Hi, everyone. In just a little over a month from now, the Susan G. Komen 3 Day Walk for the Cure will be held in Phoenix. It is sometimes hard to believe an entire year has gone by since I was first diagnosed. The Phoenix walk started last November on the very same day that I recieved the official word that I did indeed have breast cancer. At the same time I was sitting in my doctor's office trying to absorb the news, hundreds of men and women were walking past my elementary school in Gilbert, Arizona. My students were out cheering the walkers on and I felt in my heart cheering me on, too.

Earlier this year, my sister, Pam, my daughter, Janaya, my husband, Joe, and I decided that we were going to participate in the walk this year. We have experienced first-hand the benefits of the continuing research into better treatments and hope one day a possible cure for breast cancer will be discovered. We knew we wanted to do something to contribute to the effort of making breast cancer a thing of the past; something our children wouldn't have to deal with. For me, it would also be an emotional celebration, a chance to show that the cancer hadn't beaten me.

Unfortunately, although all indications are that I'm cancer free at the moment, I'm not physically ready to actually walk myself. I found out this past week that I am going to need to have plastic surgery, some type of skin graft, to repair damage done to my incision by the radiation. I also have another course of chemo ahead of me when I heal from that procedure. I am so disappointed. However, I will be out there with my students, cheering on this year's walkers. Among them will be Pam, Janaya, and Joe - my everyday superheroes. On those three days in November, they will walk a total of 60 miles, but they have already walked a million steps with me on this journey over the past year. Without their love and support and their being there for me every step of the way, I know I wouldn't have had the strength to face the physical and emotional battles I've had to.

I am not alone in facing these challenges. One in every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Every time I'm with a large group of women, at the gym, at the grocery store, at school, I think of what that means, of the lives that will be impacted.

I've posted two videos from the 3-Day website below. I think they are powerful. They are recruiting walkers, but I think they also give you an idea of the type of people who walk and why they walk. If you'd like to help support my superheroes and all of the other men and women that fight this battle or know someone who is or has fought, please visit their website. It is Click on make a donation and search for Pam Regan, Janaya Hitzel, or Joseph Hitzel. Together, their goal is to raise $6,900.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Short Update and Michael News

Hi, everyone. I am, again, in a holding pattern. My doctors all agree that I need to give myself time to heal from the radiation before starting my new chemo. Part of me is relieved to have a break and another part of me is just very anxious to get going on it so I can get it behind me. As always, it is very nerve-wracking to just wait and not be doing anything proactive against the cancer returning. I know I can't be in treatment forever(at least I hope not!) and I will have to get used to living with the fear at some level, but it is not easy. My skin has finally almost completely healed from the radiation. It honestly looked so bad a couple of weeks ago that I would never have believed it if I was told it would heal this well,this quickly. The problem is that the radiation eroded part of my incision and so it has to heal from the inside out and that is going to just take time. I still am battling fatigue, especially by the end of the day, but I'm told that can take months to get better. Being in the classroom each day continues to be a source of energy and happiness for me. I have the most amazing kids!

Michael News
Two fun things to let you know about Michael. He decided this year to go out for the swim team. He is a senior this year and hadn't been on the team before, but it is a no cut sport and so he has been able to become a part of the team. It is a really nice group of kids that swim and besides occupying a lot of his time with practice and meets, he has a nice group of kids from the team he hangs out with. He came home at the end of the first week of practice with a Swimmer of the Week t-shirt. We are so proud of him. I got to go see him compete this past Thursday. Here is a short video of him participating in the 50 meter freestyle.

The other news is kind of funny. The senior class was having elections this past week for the yearbook;things like the most likely to succeed, etc. Well, one of the categories was best hair. Michael wanted to win one of the categories and worked at convincing his friends that they should vote for him for best hair. Well, I'm his mom and he is a very good looking young man, but his hair is pretty ordinary even in my eyes. I guess it was in the eyes of his friends,too, because they only agreed to vote for him if he would cut his hair in a "cul-de-sac." If you are like me, you've never heard of this style before. I think the pictures below will clear up any confusion you might have.

This last picture is one of the ones they took for the yearbook with the girl who won best hair.

So, that is all the news fit to print for now!
Love you all!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Fantastic Labor Day Weekend!

Hi, everyone. No news on the cancer front except that my skin is very slowly turning the corner and starting to heal. Finally! For me, radiation was definitely worse than the surgery was. But, it's in the past, another thing I've survived through and hopefully am stronger for.

Joe and I had a wonderful weekend up north at our cabin with Joey. Janaya had to work and Michael had a football tailgate and swimming practice he didn't want to miss, so it was just the three of us. I'll post pictures below, but the absolute, very best part of the weekend was just getting to spend so much time with Joey. And, he was thrilled to bespending the time with us! I told Joe on our way home -"He actually likes us!"

Playing Risk.

Joe had just taken over the Middle East, so we made him wear a towel on his head.

Cuddling up under a blanket at the beginning of September in Arizona?!!

Even Brewski got into the laid back feeling of the weekend.

Hanging out by the campfire.

And my kids tell me I'm not funny!

Playing washers.

Riding the dirt bike and quad.

They say a picture tells the story and these certainly do. It was a great weekend and I miss Joey already!

Love and hugs!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Tumor Marker Results

Hi, everyone. I just wanted to share a piece of good news. Last Monday, while I was up in Tucson, I had tumor markers drawn. This is some kind of protein that shows up in the blood when there are cancer cells. It has something to do with dividing cells and that's all I know about it. It is normal to have some of this protein in the bloodstream. The normal range is 1-40 and today mine was 26! This is the lowest it has ever been. The last time I had them drawn they were 32. They may still be elevated more than they would normally be due to the effects of the radiation, which let me say are horrible! My skin is so sore! I'm miserable. :>( Luckily, I get to spend my days with my students and even though it hurts, it is not at the front of my thoughts all the time. By the time I get home, though, I am tired and really sore. Hopefully, it will start healing any day now. :>)

That's it for now! Just wanted to share the good news.

Love you all!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Done With Radiation!

Yesterday was my last radiation treatment! Hooray! I really tolerated the treatments very well up until this last week. I told my friend, Nancy, it was like my skin finally held up the white flag and said enough is enough. I'm really sore, especially all along my incision area. The muscles underneath are very tight and sore, too. Dr. Kuske explained to me that the sun's radiation only effects the skin on the surface resulting in a sunburn. The radiation they used for my treatments penetrates all the way in to my muscle. He said my muscle probably looks like a medium rare steak right now. It sure feels like it. But, the treatments are done and healing can begin!

Joe got home from work early so he could go with me to the last treatment. Then, when we arrived home, Janaya had prepared a special dinner in celebration; lemon-herb chicken and watermelon and arugula salad. It was yummy! When we were done eating, she presented me with a peace bracelet from Brighton's. It is beautiful and I love it. She is such an amazing young woman!

Joe and I went up to Tucson on Monday to meet with Dr. Livingston. We didn't really recieve any new news. He just went over the plan he had discussed with us after my surgery. In about three weeks, I will start on a new chemo called Navelbine. It will be given once a week through my port for a total of twelve treatments. I will continue on the oral chemo, Xeloda, that I've been taking since my surgery, just at a higher dose. Dr. Livingston is also going to try and get my insurance to approve a drug called Zometa which in a study done in Europe has been shown to reduce the occurance of bone metastasis - one of breast cancer's favorite places to reemerge.

Dr. Livingston will continue to plan and coordinate my care, but I will be seeing a new oncologist, Dr. Wendt, here in Phoenix. This will allow me to get my weekly chemo and still continue to work without having to take a day off every week. I have an appointment to meet Dr. Wendt in two weeks. We've heard really wonderful things about him and he did some of his training with Dr. Livingston.

Going up to the cancer center this week hit me hard emotionally. I have been trying really hard to get on with living my life in a positive way and minimize the role cancer plays. It is very easy each day when I am at school with my students and friends. Each night, however, when I get home and am feeling exhausted, and the wig comes off and the prosthetic bra comes off and it's just me and the mirror, it is hard to escape. It is really hard to not let thoughts of recurrence consume me. When we arrived at the cancer center the fact that I am a cancer patient hit me full force. Seeing all the patients in various stages of disease is scary. It may be my imagination, but Dr. Livingston has seemed to be more serious to me since my surgery. He didn't say anything this time about being optimistic. I know this doesn't really mean anything: he probably didn't even realize it meant so much to me each time he's said it in the past. One good piece of news. I asked him when they talked about survival rates, when they started counting and he said from time of diagnosis. This means that I am already a nine month survivor! I was afraid it was from time of surgery which hasn't been that long.

So, that's it for now. Not much new; just continuing with the treatment plan and continually hoping for the best. School is going wonderfully and I absolutely love my students.

Till next time,
Love you all!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Fabulous First Week of School!

Hi, everyone! This week was my first week back to school with kids. It was awesome! I have 29 4th graders and each is sweeter and nicer than the next. I feel like a whole person again. I can't post a picture of them yet, because I'm not sure if I have photo releases for everyone, but here are some pictures of their mini-me's they made.

Aren't they cute?

Here is one member of our class I didn't need a photo release form for. He is our class pet, a rat named Oreo. This isn't a very good picture. Janaya took it with her phone camera. I'll try to get a better one for my next post.

It is great being back with all my friends at school, too. Everyone has been absolutely wonderful. I have gotten so many hugs and heard "welcome back, we missed you" from so many people. People are so nice and are always offering to help. I know I work at the best place and with the best people ever.

I am doing really good! I only have eight treatments left to go in my radiation. The therapist that does them each evening has warned me that these last two weeks will be the most difficult, but so far I continue to do just fine. My skin is getting red, but it isn't really sore. I'm exhausted when I leave school each day, but so is everyone else. I will be glad when I don't have to make the trek to Scottsdale every evening though!

I know this post is going to end up long, but I want to share this story. I think it shows what amazing doctors I have caring for me. Once a week, I meet with the radiation oncologist so he can check on me and see how I'm doing. This week, he came into the radiation room while I was on the table because he had to make markings on my chest to get ready to do the booster treatments to my incision that are done the last five days of treatments. I always feel a little self conscious, but it was worse in this setting. I'm laying there on the table with nothing on from the waist up, my chest scarred and red, he's drawing all over me with magic marker, and then he looks up and starts to say something to me and then stops and says, "Do you know you are beautiful? You are. I hope your husband tells you that every night." Now, this might sound creepy to some, but it wasn't. He was just being so nice to me. My therapist was in the room and everything. I thought I was going to cry, but instead just grinned from ear to ear. Joe does tell me all the time that I'm beautiful, but even though I know he truly means it, I still don't feel very beautiful some days. I went home that night with an extra bounce in my step. I have the nicest, kindest, most caring doctors any person could hope to have.

Guess what? I have a full set of eyelashes now and my hair has continued to grow in with the chemo I'm on right now. I'm so hoping the next chemo doesn't make it fall out! It grows very, very slowly and having to start from scratch again would be so discouraging. Here is a picture of my hair right now.

I left my camera at school so this is taken with Janaya's phone again.

I have an appointment with Dr. Livingston on the 24th, two days before I'm done with radiation. My understanding is that at that point he will decide what chemo he wants me to do. He will be sending his treatment plan to an oncologist in Phoenix so I can get the chemo without making the trip to Tuscon and still continue to work. I am doing so well right now, it is scary to think about starting something new. But, it will only be for twelve weeks. I keep telling myself it can't be any worse than anything else I've gone through so far.

My family is doing fine. Pam returned to NJ after being an absolutely amazing help in getting my room set up. I am kind of a slow pokey worker. She's a no messing around, let's get down to business type of worker. She got done in one day what would have taken me a week to do! My niece, Mary, came with her. Here is a picture I took of her enjoying the pool.

Isn't she beautiful?!
Janaya and Joey are enjoying their last few days before NAU and ASU start up again. Michael started his senior year. He decided to do swim team this year and is enjoying it so far, but is exhausted in the evenings. Probably a good thing for a teenager to be, don't you think? He is really struggling with what he wants to do next year. He has talked about wanting to be an engineer and work in the automotive industry for as long as I can remember. But, last year, he had the most amazing social studies teacher. Michael was so inspired by him, he is seriously considering getting his degree in secondary education so he can teach history. A teacher who can inspire a young person that way is one to be valued. Unfortunately, the last we knew, he had lost his teaching position in the district due to the budget cuts. It makes me sad to know we lost a truly gifted teacher at a time when our kids need role models like him more than ever.

Well, this has gotten really long! I just have so much good going on in my life right now and wanted to share it with everyone.

Hoping your lives are as happy and wonderful as mine is right now!
Love you all tons!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Today was day 17 out of 33, so I am halfway through my radiation treatments. Hooray! Each day I go now, I have more behind me than ahead of me. My skin is starting to look a little sunburned, but I keep putting on the aloe vera. So far, not too bad. I don't know if it's because I am so excited to be returning to teaching or what, but I'm not experiencing the overwhelming fatigue I was warned about. I have been busy all day every day and am handling it very well. I am pretty tired by the evening though.

Tomorrow is my first official day back at school and the kids start on Monday. I'm jumping out of my skin, I'm so excited! Pam has been helping me get the classroom ready and it looks great if I do say so myself. This is one of my favorite times of the school year. I love imagining what each of my students will be like and what experiences we will have together over the coming school year. Thursday is Meet the Teacher night and I can't wait.

Yesterday was my official birthday, but because we traveled up to Flagstaff over the weekend to visit Joey and watch the Cardinals practice, it feels like we celebrated for three days. Joe got me a Larry Fitzgerald jersey. Then, he was at some kind of business group meeting and was talking to Tim Bidwell. He told him I was going to take the jersey to Flagstaff with us and try to get Larry to sign it. Well, Tim, who I've never met, told Joe he would make sure it got signed. He came and found us on Saturday and took my jersey into the locker room and got it signed. I was so excited. Tim was very nice and I really appreciated his going out of his way to do something nice for someone he didn't even know.

This is a picture of me in my jersey.

Watching practice was a lot of fun. It was awesome having players that I've only seen on TV just a few feet away. Curt Warner was the most awesome. He came over to the sideline and got the whole crowd to do the wave. Then, after practice he spent a long time signing autographs and focused almost exclusively on signing for the kids.

It was great to see Joey. He was working so much he just had time to have dinner on Saturday and breakfast on Sunday with us. He works at the NAU dome and was part of the Cardinal crew. He was given two t-shirts that say Cardinal's Crew with the team logo on the front and Cardinal's security on the back. Pretty cool! He is working really long days with the training camp going on and with only his final exam to go has a high B in his statistics class. Have I mentioned lately how proud we are of him?

Janaya is also finishing up a summer school class and is looking forward to going to Las Vegas. She gave me an awesome present for my birthday. We both love to watch So You Think You Can Dance. Last year, I bought tickets for the two of us to go to the concert. This year, when they went on sale, I told her I would look into getting the tickets again. But then, when I went to order them, I was hesitant about spending the money. Between the medical expenses and money I've spent on my classroom it just didn't seem like a good idea. She was completely understanding. Guess what she got me?! Tickets to the show. I'm really excited about getting to see the show, but am mostly thrilled about going with Janaya. It is so fun that she is at the age where we can do things together like this.

Michael is back from a great trip to NJ and is trying to make the most of the few days he has left before school starts. He's not quite as excited as I am. :>) He is a senior this year!

Well, that is it for now from the Hitzel household.

Lots of love to everyone!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Two Down!

Well, today is Friday, so I'm finished with two weeks of radiation. Four and a half to go. Things continue to go very smoothly. So far, the two big side effects I've been warned about, skin irritation and fatigue, have not manifested themselves. I figure the longer I go without side effects, the better.

My nausea is much, much better! I found out that some of the beams they give me are stronger the first week as kind of a jump start to the treatment. I think it must have been the radiation making me feel so sick and not the new chemo. It's a big relief to me because I will be on the chemo a lot longer than on radiation. Now, the issue of the pills and getting the insurance to cover them isn't any longer an issue. Phew!

I did want to tell people about a conversation I had with my radiation therapist this week. They called and moved my time up, earlier in the evening. When I talked to her about it, she said it was because they were slower right now and didn't have as many patients. She said they have felt the effects of the poor economy. I expressed surprise that something like radiation would be effected by the economy and she explained to me that when people are out of work and have lost their insurance or can't afford to continue their insurance, they have to make decisions about what they can and cannot afford. She said many times patients will decide to forgo radiation. Wow. Can you imagine having to make a decision like that?

Also, this week, I got a phone call from a breast cancer organization based in Mesa that helps cancer patients who are having trouble paying for their treatment asking for a donation. I have to be honest. In the past, I may have said I'm sorry, but not right now. It seems like we get so many of these phone calls or people at the door asking for money for this or that. I often say, I'm sorry, but we make our charitable contributions through our church. Not always, but more often than not.

Cancer treatment is expensive. I was talking to my friend, Carol, and she said she saw a program that said the average cost for a breast cancer patient was between $200and $250 thousand dollars. I'm sure that is pretty acurate. Even with insurance, there are a ton of expenses. Hardly a day goes by that one medical statement or another doesn't come in the mail. However, Joe and I have been very fortunate and although the expense is definitely an added burden, there has never been a question of whether or not we would be able to find a way to pay for my treatment.

I made a small donation to the organization that called this week. Next time I get one of those calls or someone is at my door, I won't be so automatic in my response. I'll try to imagine the real human beings behind the call and try to imagine what it would be like to be faced with maybe dying because I couldn't afford to pay for my treatment.

It's kind of weird. I don't know if there is some grand plan for each of us or if I got cancer for a reason, but I do think, I fervently hope, I am becoming a better person because of it. I'll always hate that I got this horrible disease, yet at the same time, I'll always be thankful for the lessons I learn daily from this experience.

Pam and my niece, Mary, arrive tomorrow for a two week visit. They are going to help me get my classroom ready for the new school year. I'm really excited.

Joe comes home from NJ on Monday after being gone for a little over a week. I can't wait to see him! Michael is staying in NJ for another week to visit his Uncle Jim and cousins, Connor and Brian. I miss him a lot.

Joey got a 94% on his first statistics test! He's doing so well and we are so proud of him.

I hope everyone else's summer is going as wonderfully as mine is.

Love you all tons!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Quote I Like

You gain strength, confidence, and courage through every experience in which you actually really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Friday, July 17, 2009

One Week Down

Hi, everyone. I thought I'd just update and let you know how radiation is going. The actual treatments are much easier and faster than the dry run was. From start to finish, the whole thing takes about twenty minutes. I just go in and lie down on the table. The technician then uses all the numbers they wrote down during the trial run to position the table and the machine in just the right position and then leaves the room while the radiation is delivered. The only way I know I am recieving the radiation is by a buzzing noise that lasts about twenty to thirty seconds. This is done four times and then I'm done. I will be recieving a total of thirty three treatments, Mondays through Fridays, so one week down, five and a half to go.

So far, I am not experiencing any ill effects from the radiation. I've been putting aloe vera on my skin three to four times a day. The technician said that was the best thing. I also started on my oral chemo on Monday and as the week wore on I became increasingly nauseous. I called Dr. Livingston's office today and they called in a prescription for a stronger anti-nausea medicine which seems to be working because I'm feeling better. The only problem is my insurance will only cover nine pills a month! I had to pay a copay of $15 today for the nine pills or else they would have cost $185! For nine pills. I'm supposed to take one every twelve hours. Walgreen's said sometimes the doctor can call the insurance company and get an override. So, I will take them this weekend and see if they continue to work and go from there. Someimes, things just don't make sense, though.

Michael and Joe left yesterday to go to NJ and then up to Canada with Joe's family. This is a trip we've done almost every summer since the kids were little and one Joe has done since he was fourteen. His family inherited a little island in the middle of a lake in Canada. It is very rustic; no bathrooms - outhouses, no electricity, water is pumped up from the lake, baths are taken in the lake (Brrrr. . . cold!), but it is definitely a little piece of heaven. The week is spent swimming, boating, skiing, playing cards and other games, lots of reading, and of course margaritas and peanuts every afternoon at five. I will definitely miss being there this summer.
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This last picture sums up the experience beautifully!

Love you all tons!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Some Beach, Somewhere

Hi, everyone! Well, today was my dry run at radiation and everything went fine as far as I can tell and I'm officially ready to start my treatments and chemo on Monday. My appointments are at 7pm each day. I was kind of surprised they were so late, but that time will actually work really well once I am back teaching. I'll have time to go home and change into comfy clothes, rest, and let the traffic clear some.

I heard this song on the radio on my way today and thought to myself that picturing myself on some beach, somewhere, during the radiation treatments was a good idea. Then, when I got there and they put me on the table, I had one of those panic attacks like I did the day I had my port put in. Tears just started streaming from my eyes and I had to grit my teeth hard to try and keep under control. I think it was just all the anxiety that has built up over this past month of waiting for this day to get here. The worst part was I had to hold absolutely still, so I ended up laying in a pool of tears because I couldn't wipe them away. It was kind of embarrassing! The radiology therapist told me to just close my eyes and picture myself in a happy place - just like the song!

It took forever! About an hour on a hard, narrow table with my arm over my head and not able to move. They took a zillion x-rays, wrote down a bunch of numbers, drew all over my chest with magic marker, took polaroids (which they assured me didn't include my face and wouldn't show up on the Internet!), and then did three tiny tatoos. Finally, I was finished. They assured me that today was the longest day and that the actual treatments would go much faster. I sure hope so; my back was killing me by the time they finished.

Afterwards, I went out to my car and let all the tears I had been trying to hold back go and then I felt much better. I feel completely ready for Monday. I just so want to get all of this behind me and be healthy again!

I tried hard to picture being on the beach in California today, but it just wouldn't happen. Then, I pictured sitting at my desk, with all the things people have given me to encourage me and to let me know how much they care about me. It didn't stop the tears, but I think at that point they turned into happier tears because I just get overwhelmed by all the love and support I have. I felt like you were all there with me.

Here are some photos of all the things I pictured in my mind.

A flower my friend, Meagan, gave to me, back in the fall before I knew what was actually wrong with me.

The Believe plaque is from my neighbors, Mary and Archie and their family. Hanging on the B is a Saints bracelet Mary brought over to me the day before my surgery. Hanging from the I are meditation beads that my friend, Carol made for me. Each individual bead or group of beads stands for something important in my life.

A stuffed tiger my school sent me right after I was diagnosed and had to leave for the school year. Our mascot is the tiger.

Pam found this the last time she was at the airport waiting for her plane. She thought it would be a good thing for me to visualize during radiation. I want to be as happy and carefree as this girl!

This breast cancer bear is from one of my students, Samantha. Pam got me the plaque.

Lots of things in this picture. The teacup is from my friend, Norma. Norma treasures her grandmother's teacup collection and she gave me this one before my surgery. The lifesavers are from my niece, Mary. The pot of gold and horseshoe are from my nephew, Brian. The Obama pin and car were mine already. Now that I think of it, picturing Carl Edwards during radiation might not be a bad idea!

Joe hung the chain of cranes above my desk for me.

So, you see, I don't have to imagine some far away, exotic place as my happy place. There is no place I'm happier than right here at home, surrounded by my wonderful family and friends.

Love you all tons!