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!