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!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Still Waiting to Start Radiation

Hi, everyone! I had thought my next update would be to let you know how my radiation is going, but it is taking a while to get it going. I'm very frustrated that it is taking so long, but I've been on the phone complaining to anyone who will listen and I guess there is just no way to speed things up.

I went last Monday for what they call my planning/mapping session. Dr. Kuske (one of the radiologists that works with Dr. Tannehill) drew all over my chest with black magic marker. Then, the technician taped down thin wires over the markings. Next, they did a CAT scan. I guess the wires will show up on the surface of my skin and they will use those in relation to my internal organs to make an individualized radiation plan for me. The goal is to avoid radiating your heart, lung, and esophagus as much as possible. Dr. Tannehill explained to me that one of the long-term side effects was possible heart problems ten to fifteen years down the road. I told him if they could keep me around that long, I'd deal with those problems if and when they occurred. Still, it's a weird feeling, taking what has always been a perfectly healthy body and doing all these things to make it unhealthy in order to get at the cancer cells. :>(

Next, came waiting. And waiting. And phone calls. "You do know I had six out of six lymph nodes positive, right?" "You do know my cancer is triple negative, right? That it likes to spread?" "You do know I haven't had any chemo since May 18th, right?" This isn't my normal personality at all! But I can't help worrying that any rogue cancer cells are having a free for all in my body right now. More waiting. I finally found out yesterday that I will go for a trial run on Thursday and begin actual radiation treatments on Monday. The technician explained to me that I was number seven of nine new patients she'd just gotten and that was the soonest appointment available. Grrrrr! :>(

However, except for the anxiety related to all the waiting and worrying, life has been wonderful! Last week I went to happy hour with friends and got to meet a woman named Susie that I've gotten to know through her blog. Her husband is from Saudi Arabia and her family moved there a couple of years ago. She has kept a blog to document her experiences. Susie originally grew up in Douglas, Arizona with my principal, Sheila. That is how I came to know of her. It was so fun getting to meet her in person!

The next night, Sheila had a party at her house for Susie and I went to that, too. I got to see a lot of people from school that I hadn't seen in quite a while and that felt good. I also sang karaoke for the first time!

Joe and I went to California for the 4th of July weekend and had a great time. It did feel weird not having any of the kids with us, but they were all working. The weather was gorgeous! We spent all day Friday bicycling around Coronado Island. The houses were so pretty to look at. We went back the next day for the parade. It felt like we were in small town America. The only thing missing was marching bands. There was very little music. I remember marching in parades all through high school in the marching band and there's nothing I like better in a parade. Sunday morning we thought we'd just head home, but then decided to spend the day and drive home in the evening. I'm so glad we did. We went to Old Town for breakfast and then walked through the shops and historical buildings. Then in the late morning drove to La Jolla. Neither of us had ever been there and it was beautiful. We spent a couple of hours walking along the beach and then had lunch on a patio of a restuarant along the main street. Chili dog and tator tots! YUMMM! I said to heck with my healthy diet for one meal! It was really a great time.

This morning, I went to yoga class. My first since my surgery. I could do all the movements, but kept getting dizzy from all the position changes. I spent about half the class in child's pose, but figure it will get better from here. It was also the first time I got up my nerve to just go bald in class. I wore one of my caps and then just took it off once the lights were turned down. No one really seems to care or notice.

My hair is coming in. Not very quickly, but my head is covered with peach fuzz. I love to rub it and actually feel hair instead of bald skin. Have I said how much I am hating that it will all fall out again? And, I have almost a full set of eyelashes. They are short still; too short to wear mascara - I know I tried - but they're there. I keep hoping maybe they won't fall out again with the new chemo. It really makes a difference in how healthy a person looks. Janaya took me to the cosmetics counter at Dillards and we learned how to put on false eyelashes. I've only worn them a few times, but they really make a difference. They are horrendous to try and get on right, though! I will have to keep practicing so I can wear them when I return to school in August.

Today, I went for a massage and it was heavenly! Nikki is the wife of a friend that Joe used to work with. She has special training to work with cancer patients. Today's massage was a gift from them to me. Words can't even describe! The only bad part was having to get up off the table afterwards. I could have just rolled onto my side and gone to sleep. And, afterwards, Nikki complimented me on how toned my body is! Sorry to brag here, but it sure was nice to get a compliment that had nothing to do with how well my incisions are healing! :>)

Only four weeks until school starts and I'm starting to get in that mode. Reading and working on my beginning of the year lesson plans. I can't wait!

Well, that's it for now. I'll let you all know how radiation is going once it actually starts.

Love you all tons!

Bike riding on Coronado Island

Enjoying the cool weather at the beach

Breakfast in Old Town

Enjoying the beautiful scenery of La Jolla