April 2012 archive

Three New Tattoos

Today was a day I had been increasingly nervous for. My anxieties were running rampant up until the moment my Radiologist began speaking. The purpose of my appointment today was to make sure my Radiologist and I were on the same page as far as the next step in my treatment journey: radiation. In addition, I was to get a “simulation scan” for the doctor and team to better aim their laser beams. For those who need a quick recap of where I am in my treatment, I will gladly update you. I had my radical hysterectomy on February 8th, which I am healing wonderfully from. I am still pretty sore in my stomach, and have been experiencing pretty common side effects. You know, the usual numb right thigh, and numb section of my stomach. Ha. However, my Oncologist says that my scar looks like that of a woman who is a year out of surgery… I’m not even three months out of surgery! Looks like I’ve got some gnarly recovery soldiers in my body. I officially completed my first three rounds of chemotherapy on the 4th of this month. This feat was a huge one! The next step in my treatment will be six weeks of radiation with weekly doses of chemo. Once that phase is complete, I will then finish three more rounds of chemotherapy. By then, it should be August, and I will be done! So looking forward to that!

Now, back to today. Holy crap, was I nervous. I’ve heard of cancer survivors forever being anxious for every scan. Scans to determine if the monster has returned or remains stomped out. That’s a big deal. I didn’t quite understand their perspective until this day came closer and closer. I was scared, nervous, anxious, and stressed. My faith and trust in God remains unwavering, that’s not the issue. The issue is I’m human (believe it or not). I have human emotions, regardless of how hard I try to ignore, avoid, or pray away these feelings. Unfortunately I fall prey to the devil. I fall prey to what he wants me to believe. That’s what causes these fearful emotions. Yet in my fear, God remains. He’s holding my hand, encouraging me to take another step into the unknown. It’s as if I’m blind, and He is my seeing eye dog friend, guide, and leader. Although I can’t see the next step, He can. I am learning more and more to rely on His eyes, not my own. He’s got all the pieces to the puzzle in His hands, and He gives them to me one by one. Today He gave me another piece.

My husband and I arrived at the Radiation Oncology office and soon met with my doctor. This is the doctor that I have mentioned in previous posts whom has an affinity for being blunt. Remember the doctor who looked me straight in the eye and without any pause told me that I would most definitely die if treatment didn’t work? Yes, that one. Well, truth is, I love my doctors, each and every one of them. I have a fabulous team. They are the smartest in their fields and truly are a team who works together for the betterment of my well-being. This specific doctor, my Radiologist, has spoken facts into my life. I’ve learned that sometimes it’s good to have the cold hard facts. Sometimes it’s okay to be rid of the fluff that often envelopes the hard news. However, today I was not only nervous because every sit down meeting with my doctors have increasingly been full of negative updates, and because it was yet another new step in the journey, but also because my doctor is blunt. If there were hard facts to share, he would lay it on me. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for it. In my heart I believed I would receive good news. I have shared with a few of you that I believe my body is rid of cancer. I still believe this. Yet, where hope is, Satan isn’t far behind. He will constantly try to change your mind. He will constantly try to poison your hopeful thoughts. He doesn’t want us to have faith or believe in miracles. And he surely wants me to believe that cancer has creeped into another crevice of my insides. It is more important than ever for me to guard my heart from this toxic evil.

The first words out of my doctor’s mouth were that I looked great. He doesn’t seem like the guy to add flattery to the conversation, so I knew he was being genuine. So far, the meeting was going well! He continued on to tell us more good news. He confirmed that I indeed will receive six weeks of external radiation with weekly chemo doses. Great, we’re still on the same page! In addition, I don’t have to worry about ever receiving Brachytherapy, as I don’t have a cervix anymore. Brachytherapy is internal radiation and often destroys sexual function. (Hello!? My husband and I haven’t been married 2 years yet. We need many more years of that function!) I also was pleased to hear that each radiation treatment will take less than 30 minutes. I will be going to the office every day, five days a week, same time every day to receive this treatment, so not having to be there for hours on end is a blessing. After hearing much information about the side effects of radiation, I was gladly surprised to hear that my “knowledge” wasn’t necessarily the case. I shouldn’t experience skin irritation or burns. In fact, the main side effect that I will notice will be fatigue. Seriously? I’m a pro at being tired now…I’m pretty sure I can handle fatigue. I then asked him about the following scan I would get. Would it be able to reveal if there is cancer anywhere else? The specific name of the scan I received is called a “simulation scan”. He informed me that it would be concentrated on my pelvic region, and its purpose was to show my anatomy. “Ok, doc, if it’s a scan, will you be able to see if there is cancer there?” He assured me, that in his honest and expert opinion, he highly doubts there is any cancer there. He strongly believes that it was completely removed in surgery. Hallelujah! That’s what I have been feeling and believing! I went on to ask when I would receive another full body PET scan. He explained that it probably wouldn’t happen until the very end of treatment, meaning around August. As I explained that to my parents after the appointment, they both became alarmed. Shouldn’t they be making sure it’s nowhere else? Luckily, my Radiologist informed me, that again, he was very confident that if there was a tiny chance that the cancer has spread elsewhere and my earlier PET scan didn’t detect it, by now (after plenty chemo cocktails) it would be annihilated. Essentially, my Radiologist is extremely confident that my treatment (surgery, chemo, and radiation) is doing it’s job. More wonderful news: radiation is very effective with my type of cancer. Neuroendocrine cells are very sensitive to radiation. Hell yes they are! Frankly, if there were/are any miniscule amounts of cancer cells in my body, they are going to be murdered. End of story. Oh, and let me throw this in… As we were leaving his office to head to my scan, he shook our hands and with a smile said, “You look very good, and I am confident that with this treatment, you are going to do great.” Hooray!

On to the scan. Much like my PET scan, I was given contrast. Contrast is a dye that is used to illuminate any cancerous cells. After informing my nurses that I have a power port, they called a special nurse to come access it. Side note, most general nurses can not access ports because they require a different needle and application process. Today I had forgotten to apply Lidocaine cream to the top of my port. Soon you will find out why this was not good. This “special” nurse came in and accessed my port, AKA: shoved the giant “special” needle into my chest. Typically, I apply the above mentioned Lidocaine cream to numb it. Today, no cream. Today, no numbness. Today, pain. I will never again (fingers crossed) forget to apply the numbing cream. It is too important to forget. I learned the hard way. Access needles are much thicker than regular needles. After all, they need to get through the silicone at the top of the port. Ugh. Horrible pain. It feels exactly the way it sounds. A giant needle being shoved into your chest. Wonderful. And typically, with Lidocaine cream, the removal process is easy-peasy. Totally different today. When my lovely nurse removed the access needle, I swear she nearly pulled the port out of my skin. It was even more painful than insertion. If accessing my port wasn’t enough description for you, let me tell you about my new cancer treatment souvenirs…

Three new tattoos. Yes, you read correctly. Tattoo: “A permanent mark or design made on the skin by a process of pricking and ingraining an indelible pigment”. Yes, that’s what I got. Three of them, in fact. One on each hip area and one right above my pubic bone. The reason for these tattoos is so the radiation therapist can precisely pinpoint the area needing treatment. It allows the tech to line up the treatment fields quicker each session. A road map of sorts. Here me out, I’m not new to tattoos; I actually have eight already. And from my experience, tattoos hurt. Very worth it, but painful. So, here I am receiving a simulation scan, and soon told I will get tattooed. What? I asked the nurse if it feels like a real tattoo, and she too quickly said yes. Luckily these tattoos are extremely small. Folks, I’m talking the size of a freckle small. Had you freaked out a little, didn’t I? Nevertheless, they are real tattoos, and therefore hurt like a real tattoo. Let’s just add them to my visual reminders that God performs miracles!

Mark 11:22-25 (NIV)

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Family, Fundraiser, and Feelings

So much has happened! I can happily report, that lately it’s been several days of GOOD! Of course, as I’ve been thinking about writing an entry these past few days, on the day that I planned to update, my good days slowly turned south. Today was a not-so-good one. But first, let me share the great moments I’ve had. God is creating miracles in my life. Every good day is a miraculous gift from Him. Keep in mind, I have been told to expect the worst (vomiting, exhaustion, neuropathy, etc). And although I am fairly tired every day, the other symptoms have not shown themselves. Praise God! In the time that I have not updated y’all, many things have happened. Let me begin:

1. My incredibly hilarious, kind-hearted, and funtastic aunt came to visit. Our time together was a blast, filled with much laughter and conversation. She’s truly someone I can spill my guts to. Thank God for cool aunts! In addition, she helped immensely with our fundraiser, and was there making sure I was drinking enough water and constantly had sunscreen on my baldalicous dome.

2. We had our Baldalicious Bandwagon fundraiser, and the turn out was jaw-dropping! I still can not believe how many of you came to be a part of that fun day with us. And not only how many people came to support us, but how many guys shaved (and I mean with shaving cream) their heads. Seriously, it was over 20 guys from ages 4 to 57. Amazing. For those who chose to support me by rocking the same invisible hairstyle, my deepest and most heartfelt thanks. Without going into a long rant, I will try to explain how it touched my heart. Before I lost all my hair, I didn’t expect to feel alone once my hair was gone. However, it was indeed the case once the locks disappeared. Fact is, you don’t see many bald people in public. As a stylist, I do notice wigs, but women rarely rock the shiny dome. I quickly felt like the only one. Luckily, my husband went bald before me, which made my transition a lot easier. And now to see the amount of other people willing to shave their hair off, to stand next to me in this battle, was a huge visual reminder that I am not alone. I’m not the only bald person walking around. If you ever get the opportunity to show support to someone going through cancer, shaving your head is an enormous gift to give.

Not only was there immense support via head-shaving, but so many of you made generous donations. And when I say “generous”, I mean, “gargantuan generosity”. Generosity that I had no concept of, prior to this event. Generosity that continues to bring tears to my eyes. Generosity that has filled our lives with hope and has taken away some of the fears we had financially. With your help, we raised a great amount of money. Let me assure you, we have put aside this money and all of your future donations, into a special account. Your donations will help us pay our never-ending large medical bills. Yesterday, we received a huge medical bill in the mail, and initially the number brought immediate stress. However, now, because of so many of you, my stress has dissipated. Because of you, we can more easily pay these medical bills. A humongous “thank you” to all who so graciously and generously donated. You have touched us dramatically.

Overall, our Baldalicious Bandwagon fundraiser was a huge hit! I enjoyed it so much. Thankfully, I had energy, was feeling really good that day and was able to participate. I was able to meet so many new people, spend time with old friends whom I hadn’t seen in years, and see the amount of love you all have for me. The love and support were visual and apparent. I can’t express my gratitude in words.

3. We officially moved into my mom and step-dad’s basement. Although we both prided ourselves on and promised each other we would never move in with our parents after marriage…things change. We have to continually remind ourselves that it’s not because we were financially irresponsible or moochers. Yes, we do pay rent. Let’s just consider them, “room mates”. Cancer became a part of our lives. And with cancer, all of our plans have changed. This transition will allow us to save some money, and when Matt is at work, my mom will be able to help me when need be.

4. One of my awesome sisters came to visit! She was here this past Monday through yesterday, and we had a great time. Like I mentioned before, I have been having really good days, and because of this, her and I were able to spend quality time together. We had time to catch up and share about the current events in our lives. In addition, we enjoyed a day of shopping, and another day at the zoo. Both typically great activities, but with your sister, they are even better. Having out-of-town family here, makes this journey a lot easier.

5. I celebrated the completion of my 3rd round of chemotherapy! Hallelujah! I am now officially about 1/3 of the way through my treatment plan. Although a seemingly small step, if I view it correctly, it’s a big deal. Any progress is good progress! And progress, this is indeed. Until today, my days during this cycle have been really great. My days were full of energy, no nausea, and a strong body. I continue to pray that God releases his miracles upon me, and that I continue to experience his supernatural healing powers. Feel free to pray with me on that!

Now, I’ll update you to the current day. Like I mentioned in the above statements, I have felt really good in this cycle until now. Well, that’s a partial truth. Really, I’ve experienced a headache for the last 4 days non-stop, but, hey… that’s not too bad. This morning I woke up with extreme body aches and soreness, and symptoms of a bad head cold. However, I don’t believe these words fully encompass the way my body is reacting. I’ll try my best at making it a little more realistic and understandable for you. My muscles and bones ache as though someone has beaten my entire body with an aluminum bat. OR- You know when you whack your knee into something very hard, and it leaves a gigantic sore bruise for days? Imagine that sore bruise (minus the color) covering every inch of your being. Even the muscles behind my eyes hurt. Yes, that makes even looking around painful. My bones feel brittle, and my ankles actually feel as though they may break when I walk up and down the stairs. That’s what I’m experiencing today. So much so, that my husband had to literally help me out of bed this morning. Helped me out of bed to the couch, to lay right back down. And until 6:30pm, there I lay. The Rockies are playing tonight, so my husband and I came upstairs to watch the game with my step-dad, one of our “roomies”. Fingers crossed they’ll pull it out and win one. (I am so looking forward to making it to a game this season!)

Physically bad days aren’t just a physical battle… my emotions love to join in on the fun. Those two go hand in hand and, as I’m learning more and more, are very dependent on the other. For example, if I’m having a great day physically and my emotions are a wreck, so is my day. And, likewise, if I’m physically hurting, but in a good mood, my days aren’t very cheery either. So when I say I had a “good day”, you can almost guarantee my physical body and emotional spirit are hypothetically holding hands and frolicking through a field of wildflowers. Oh, how I enjoy those days. Today, not only did my body hurt, but my emotions took a dive. Not in the deep end of the pool, but deeper than I like. I found myself crying. Crying because I hate feeling like this. Crying because I have such an immense love/hate relationship for chemo. Crying because I sometimes feel like a burden on those I love, specifically my husband. Crying because I hate not being able to control my body. Crying because, dammit, this whole thing sucks. It’s okay for me to cry, though. In fact, it’s good for me to cry. Because I don’t do it very often, when I do it’s a good release. I feel cleansed after a good cry. And, God gave us tear ducts for a reason, right? Might as well put them to good use.

Some of you may think that when I have bummer days like today, that I may lose faith. But it’s actually in fact the opposite. I trust my God so much, that I know these “bad days” are just another part of His story. Yes, they suck. Yes, I wish I didn’t have to experience pain behind my eyeballs and in every inch of my body. But you know what? God is still the same God. He is still good, and always will be. He wants the best for me, and knows that I must endure this in order to learn what He is teaching me. His hands are on me. He is fighting this fight with me. Battles are hard, gritty, difficult, and engulfing. And, you know what? He didn’t place this cancer in my life, He allowed it. I fully believe that the devil went to Jesus and asked Him if he could place this speed bump in our lives. My savior said, “Yes, because I know she can do this. You can’t take her down.” God’s bets are on me. And that’s awesome to think about. God is for me. Not against me. And, when I get down, that’s all I need to think about. Although my body and emotions may fail me, my heart, spirit, and faith remain strong.

Psalm 112: 6-8 (ESV)

“For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever.  He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.  His heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.”