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!