A Chemo Diary

Dear Diary,

Why does everyone want to know what chemo is like? Isn’t it enough that I post about the intense waves of nausea, the debilitating fatigue and the seemingly endless amounts of medication? Are these people nuts or do are they just have a morbid curiosity about the suffering of others? In an effort to satisfy this strange curiosity of my readers (and begging the forgiveness of those who know the drill all ready), here is a typical day of chemotherapy.

6:00 AM: Wake up to NPR. Slap alarm clock hard because I’ve only just fallen asleep two hours before because of the steroids I have to take the night before chemo. Throw off blankets when Hubby comes in to remind me it’s chemo day (like you can forget that. “Oh my gosh Honey, thanks for reminding me today is the day I get poisoned. I totally forgot!”). Stumble into the bathroom and again think about creating a mirror that doesn’t show your face first thing in the morning.

6:05 AM: Give myself my Lovenox shot to prevent blood clots. At this point, I think this is funny since my platelets were so low last week I was warned if I hit my head, Hubby needed to take me straight to the ER since I was at risk for cranial bleeding. After shot, I do a dance since the shot burns like crazy. I consider this my morning aerobics. After aerobics, I brush my teeth and get dressed. My outfit on chemo day is always the same; pajama pants and an comfy v-neck shirt. I also put my Emla cream over my port. Emla is a topical anesthetic cream that keeps you from feeling the stick of the needle when they access your port. Considering the needle is over an inch long, I’m entitled to be a wuss about this.

6:15 (or so) AM: I make my cup of tea and start on breakfast. I used to be a coffee drinker. I still love the smell of coffee and I can’t wait until I can drink it again. My stomach no longer appreciates the health benefits of coffee, thanks to chemo. I like tea, but it’s just not the same. I drink my tea as I make Cream of Wheat on top of the stove to take with me. Steroids make your blood sugar surge so I don’t eat before the Angel in Blue draws my labs. My blood sugar is always high, but it’s a psychological thing for me. That and I don’t get lunch until noon so I’m starving by 10 if I eat too early.

6:25 AM: Mamma Renie arrives, coffee in hand (I am SO jealous) to wrangle the boys. Actually, the boys are in bed so she gets to enjoy a few hours of quiet before the onslaught. We joke about the day ahead as Hubby loads up the car with my stuff. I take a backpack loaded with my Kindle Fire, my Dammit Doll, quart water bottle, Laughing Snoopy (more on him later), slippers, comics (which has the crossword on the back), book for Hubby and other assorted items including anything that will be used to decorate Ivy Poleski (my IV pole). Snowflakes seem appropriate given the weather so there will be some in the pack. This weighs about 12 pounds and I lug it myself (weight training). I hug Momma and she gives me my biweekly pep talk about how the cancer is dying and this is all good. I cry. She cries. Hubby leaves.

6:40 AM: Finally on the road. Hubby doesn’t listen to any stations with traffic since they’re always wrong. We start the 30 mile drive to the hospital quiet, but then we generally start mocking other drivers or talk about how we really need a new car. Or a new couch. Or a new mattress. He usually reminds me at this point that I need to e-mail the Bengal Fan’s youth leader about a ride home since Hubby needs to stay with me. We talk about the traffic and which exit to get off. We drive through the not so nice parts of town, but always past Graeter’s production facility. I tell him what kind of ice cream I’ll want that afternoon (coconut chip). I never vary the flavor, but it’s our routine. We watch the kids walk to school and he asks of the kids are caught up at home. Yes, they are. If we are lucky enough to be running early, we stop at Dunkin Donuts for a bagel with cream cheese. I save it for my lunch since I hate the one they give me at the infusion center. Otherwise, it’s straight to the hospital.

7:53 (or so) AM: John drops me off at the outside door to the infusion center. I lug my backpack for more weight training. It’s not a long walk, unless your hemoglobin is low. Then it’s still not long, just breathtaking. I see Nancy, one of three PCA’s who I would venture to guess are the sweetest and kindest in the world (my PCA is nicer than your PCA). We chat while she checks me in. Then she calls Karen, another of the sweetest PCAs ever, to take me back.

8:00 AM: The drill begins. I lug my stuff to the scale and get weighed. I hate this. Chemo patients should not have to be weighed. Oh, I know we need to so pharmacy can calculate the dosages for all the meds, but a little known fact is that the majority of chemo patients GAIN weight. Thank you steroids and carbs. Then I am escorted to my throne for the day, a recliner, which sits across from Karen and the Angel’s desk where she takes my BP and temperature. As if on cue when she’s done, the Angel appears and we get started.

8:05 AM: After hugs (yes, hugging your nurse is mandatory) and unpacking, we get started. Angel draws the labs quickly so we can get the results quickly. I have an 8 hour day at the center and the sooner we get started, the sooner I get to go home. Once the labs are drawn, I heat up my Cream of Wheat and fill my quart water bottle. I also decorate Ivy for the day. I am the only patient who does this and some of the other nurses come back to see Ivy’s attire for the session. Karen brings me my pillow and warm blankie. Snoopy and the Doll cuddle with me while I am set up on my first saline infusion. Because of the cisplatin, I have to have a half liter of saline before chemo and a half liter after. While I eat and soak up my fluids, we review my medical chart. I love it when we get to the allergies. It’s a joke. My list of allergies is longer than the list of meds I’m on. For some reason, Angel and I always find this amusing.

8:55 AM: Labs are back and are good. Premeds are started. Angel always assumes my labs will be good and orders the premeds. This is also the time I get my first dose of IV Ativan. Ativan is usually an anti-anxiety drug, but some chemo patients find it eliminates nausea as well. I get my Ativan, my Emend (anti-nausea), Prevacid (anti-nausea), Decadron (steroid) and Benadryl (anti-allergy). Benadryl doesn’t make me sleepy. I’ve taken so much of it over the years for my allergies, it has little effect at 25 mg. Mixed with Ativan, however, you get a nice mellow feeling.

9:50 AM: Time to pee; a first of many trips. This is usually when Karen asks about lunch. I always order a ham sandwich with this dinky cracker slice of cheddar cheese. The lunch is rounded out with unsweetened apple sauce and Snackwell cookies. You get your choice of chips (I take Cheetos) and a drink. Usually, Hubby brings me lunch so I eat the Cheetos, drink the drink and save the lunch for B-Man. He likes it.

10:30 AM: Premeds are done. Angel dons her nuclear fallout gear to set up my first chemo treatment. After checking with another nurse that I am getting exactly what is prescribed, she hangs the Gemzar. Gemzar doesn’t really bother me until Saturday after chemo. Then I start rocking with chills and fever. These drugs have such lovely side effects. Usually, I’m watching Netflix on my Kindle and don’t realize that it’s time for the Gemzar. Sometimes my mom comes to sit with me and we get to chatting. To say I’m clueless is correct. I’ve probably finished my first quart of water am off to the bathroom – again.

11:20 AM: Gemzar is done and I go to the bathroom and fill up the water bottle. It’s time for the first of 3 cisplatin infusions. They are done in increasingly stronger doses, with the first being 1%. I am tied to my recliner because my BP will need to be taken every 15 minutes. This is annoying because I have to undo myself from the BP cuff every time I have to pee. And because of the amount of fluid I’m consuming, I have to pee – a lot. This is also where Snoopy comes in. Snoopy likes to laugh in the face of chemo, especially one that is light sensitive. I take 2 Tylenol to offset the hot flashes that sometimes accompany the cisplatin. It’s not an allergic reaction, just another crappy side effect.

11:50 AM: Hubby arrives! Actually, he needs to be there. Since I had such a bad reaction to the carboplatin and was “by myself” (Angel was with a patient and Hubby was out walking) and was unable to press my call button, I am no longer allowed to be “alone” during cisplatin infusions. He brings my lunch and we eat while I’m still upright. The BP cuff continues its annoying pump up every 15 minutes.

12:05 PM: Bathroom break. Hubby and I look for someone to reattach me to my BP cuff before it pumps up again.

12:20 PM: Cisplatin #1 is done and it’s on to bag #2. This one is 11% and lasts for a little over an hour. The infusions go slower, just to be on the safe side. Snoopy laughs.

1:00 PM: Bathroom break. I get a second dose of Ativan by IV since I’m starting to get nauseated. The Dammit Doll gets smacked. Snoopy laughs again. I’m not amused. BP cuff gets reattached. Hubby starts looking for an escape.

1:20 PM: The Chaplain for Oncology, Dave, visits. Hubby and I see him for regular “counseling” every infusion. He helps us work things out. Dave always reminds Hubby he “can’t fix me.” Dave is spot on with his observations and I always feel better talking to him, but given the amount of medication in my system, I generally fall asleep and Dave and Hubby get some much needed quality time. Angel hangs bag number 3 of cisplatin, which will run for 2 hours.

2:15 PM: Bathroom break, with help. Legs are starting to get wobbly. Where is Hubby? Angel watches to make sure I make it to my destination okay. Fortunately, it’s about 10 feet. At this point, I consider the walk more aerobics for the day. Thank goodness for Ivy. She keeps me upright. I notice I’m on bag 3 of cisplatin and wonder when that happened. When I get back, Snoopy laughs. I smack him with the Dammit Doll.

2:30 PM: Time for Netflix. I’m starting to get agitated. I want to go home. Actually I want my coconut chip ice cream. Hubby comes through. I watch Netflix while savoring my ice cream. I laugh at Snoopy. Angel brings an ice pack. We keep one in reserve in case I get warm. It goes on the back of my neck. It works.

3:30 PM: Cisplatin is done. Snoopy and I both laugh. The last half liter of saline starts. This runs for an hour. Now that the BP cuff is off, I go the bathroom. Legs are still wobbly. I want to go home.

4:30 PM: Last infusion is done. Hubby has filled my water bottle for the ride home. Angel has my appointments for follow up fluids and labs. She also has the schedule for after chemo meds which she reviews with Hubby since I am now a a babbling idiot. I start crying because I feel so lousy. Hubby packs up my backpack and carries it so he can get his weight lifting. Angel makes sure Hubby is holding onto me because I wobble when I walk. I hear Snoopy laugh and try to punch my backpack. I miss. I think I’m losing it. Hubby puts me in the car and we head home.

5:45 – 6:15 PM (depending on the traffic): We arrive home. I hug my babies and collapse on Momma Renie. She knows how I feel. She sends me to bed and finds out how she can help Hubby before she leaves.

8:00 PM: Hubby wakes me up for meds. I hate this. I know I need them, but I was sleeping. I feel like crap and know that the next several days will be a struggle. Yet, without the chemo, the Beast will surely kill me. When this is over, I ought to be able to bench press a Mack Truck, since, as they say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Now I will be the first to admit not every person experiences chemo in this way. I certainly chose the dramatic route, but I also know that I’m on extremely harsh drugs. As for Snoopy, I think he knows that a little humor goes a long way in making chemo bearable. So do paper snowflakes, Graeter’s and a big hug from God.

Metamorphosis?

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost

Today is the first day of Lent. In the days leading up to today, the Ultimate Bengal Fan and the B-Man have been trying to figure out what they wanted to give up for Lent. The Bengal Fan ultimately chose chocolate, which is tough for my chocoholic son, while my youngest one had yet to settle on something. It’s run the gamut from refraining from throwing soccer balls at his brother, to broccoli (which he doesn’t eat anyway) to changing his underwear daily (I really do NOT want to know). He eventually decided on Lego.com. This is HUGE! I am really proud of him. He spends his entire computer time on Lego.com. I chose a different route this year.

The choice came upon me slowly. I have known for nearly two years that something needs to change in my life, but it’s a nebulous idea. There’s nothing solid to grab onto. Yet, I know God is nudging me. I took a huge step when I signed up for a Women’s study at church called “The Life Ready Woman.” The title intrigued me. Seriously, how much more ready for life can you be than to face ovarian cancer head on while homeschooling two young kids, make it to remission and carry on? Apparently not as ready as I’d like to believe.

In the interim, I’ve let myself go. My weight has ballooned to an all time high (and as open as I am with my readers, I’m NOT sharing that number) and I move less than I did before cancer. Now I could play the cancer card and say, “Well, I have neuropathy and my joints hurt, blah, blah, blah.” And it would be true. However, I’ve lost my love for most things. Oh sure, I love my boys beyond measure, I love my husband more than ever, and I’m surrounded by an incredibly supportive group of family and friends. But why do I feel so empty?

I know why. I’ve allowed myself to fall into a sort of complacency about things in my life. After all, I’m in remission from one of the most deadly forms of cancer. Woo Hoo! I have the right to kick back and rest on my laurels. Well, the world would say that, but I think God is calling me to so much more. And as I’ve said before, He generally needs to use a 2×4 or other heavy object to get my attention. This time, however, it was my feet and a scale.

I had lost some weight this summer and I did it mostly by exercise, which was painful. As summer turned to fall, my back and feet would hurt as soon as I got up the street to the corner. Walking wasn’t fun. Nothing was fun. I shut down and opened the bag of M&M’s. Fall turned to winter and I closed in on myself. It was just me and my coffee and chocolate. The treats I had right before a chemo treatment – because in a cruel twist of fate, chocolate gave me heartburn during chemo – were my secret allies. They made me feel good, or at least I thought they did.

Earlier this month, I made the decision to finally find out why my back and feet hurt. I found a great PT office that looks at the whole body, not just what hurts. Not only do my feet hurt less, but my back feels better. I still have an incredibly long way to go, but at least I can go up and down the steps the right way (alternating feet) and not like a two year old. It’s the little things. Walking “funny” because of neuropathy screws up your entire lower body mechanics. I’m working on muscle memory to get a new normal (there’s that phrase again!). My goal – the 5K OCAGC walk in September without pain.

So for Lent, rather than giving up something, I’ve decided to DO something. I am spending less time ruminating on the aftermath of cancer and more time on what the next chapter holds. It’s too easy to focus on where I’ve been. It was hell, plain and simple and I know that the Beast can come knocking at any time. I already hear its footsteps since I have my 3-month check-up and labs early next month. I’m not a betting person, so I try to ignore the odds, even if they are in my favor for the time being. Learning from the past is one thing, dwelling in it is another.

So with the courage I have been given, my Lenten journey is to begin a transformation; a metamorphosis of sorts. My goal is to muster up my courage daily and dive into this new life God is calling me to. Like a tadpole or caterpillar, it takes time. It won’t happen overnight. My goal for each day is to just find a way to not fold in on myself, but to do something that takes courage. For me, eating less takes courage, since food is my comfort. Cleaning my house takes courage (my beloved calls me a pack rat and he’s right). Writing takes courage. Spending time with God and listening takes an incredible amount of courage. Think about it – you ask God what He wants you to do and when He answers you should do it. I think I’m guilty of asking, but not really wanting to know what He thinks. It’s like if I ask, I’m good. So not only will I ask, but I will seek to act after the 2×4 smacks me in the head. I’m hoping after this period of reflection is over, that I may find myself being changed into a woman that God is proud to call daughter.

While cancer may have caused me to take the “road less traveled,” I need to let it make a difference. I’m getting ready for the next adventure. Who’s with me?

Watching and Waiting

Standing on a road I didn’t plan, wondering how I got to where I am.  I want to believe in that still small voice.  I want to hear beyond the noise. – Plum, Need You Now

I am in that lovely place that no wants to be in  – watching and waiting.  You know the place.  It’s somewhere between “blown off” and “definitive.”  You may or may not have an illness or some other disease.  So the doctors call for “watchful waiting.” They test you at regular intervals with the expectation that at the end of a specific period you will have an answer – or not.

I’ve been in the “desert of the unknown” since September 5th.  That’s the day I found out that the unreliable CA125 decided to shoot up from a relatively low 8 to 21.4 in 11 short weeks.  I say unreliable since it’s affected by inflammation and isn’t the best indicator for some women for recurrence. In case you didn’t realize, EVERYTHING causes inflammation; allergies, stress, sprains, strains, foods.  The list goes on and on and on.

When I got my result, the nurse was reassuring.  Dr. Downer wasn’t too concerned since my recent CT showed NED (no evidence of disease).  He attributed the rise to inflammation.  His advice:  come in for my regular appointment, retest in 4 weeks and DON’T WORRY. Right.

I saw Dr. Downer this week.  If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know I LOVE Dr. Downer.  He is, in my opinion, the best gynecological oncologist ever.  He handles my sarcasm for what it is; a warped sense of humor couched with fear.  He gets it.  He knows my brain goes into overdrive and races to the bad places that only The Beast can take you.  He takes the extra time to answer every question I have, even the stupid ones.  He lets me cry, rant, scream, question and run through every other emotion.  He also give great hugs.  His nickname is sarcastic.  When I was in chemo, it seemed that he only gave me bad news, while his PA, who I affectionately refer to here as The Lovely Liz, had good news.  It also keeps me out of trouble for mentioning him by name.  But I digress.

At my visit, I mentioned that while I knew I might need to bond with Dr. Downer again one day, I just wasn’t quite ready yet.  He told me that it would probably happen one day.  Ouch!  This was after he explained my watch and wait plan.  Get labs on 10/1, labs again in November.  Any jumps of 3 points or more for 2 consecutive tests mean a PET scan is in order.  A huge jump above normal (over 34) gets a PET scan. Otherwise it’s just pesky inflammation causing a blip in the testing.

I have spent a lot of time thinking and worrying.  I have a chemo plan set up – in my head anyway.  It will be on Wednesdays with my Angel in Blue so I can keep up with co-ops.  I have been blessed with an amazing support posse – Coach Cathy, Sista Sue, Other Mom Kelley, Miss Renie, Aunt Denise and Prayer Warrior Linda.  These women have been my constant source of encouragement and I love them with an unfailing love. My DH is straddling the line between fantasy and reality.  He has to.  Balance has to be maintained in our relationship.  I have shared the news with Mr. B and the Ultimate Bengal Fan.  I hate that they might get sucked back into my private hell.  Moms are supposed to keep their kids safe from monsters.  How can I protect them from The Beast?

I am withdrawing.  My Coach has called me out twice on this.  She’s figured out when I put on the happy face. Mom Kelley has wiped away tears when they just won’t stop.  There is no oasis in this no man’s land.  My tree is no where to be found.  I’m like the nomad the Ultimate Bengal Fan is learning about.  Nightmares haunt my sleep.  Every ache and pain is accompanied by irrational thoughts.  Thus my house is less than sparkling.

I wish I was one of those people who forgot about food and cleaned incessantly when stressed.  Instead I eat anything that might remotely look like it could be dipped, enhanced or mistaken for chocolate. I spend time playing games on my Kindle.  I struggle to write a coherent sentence.  I’m scared, but afraid to acknowledge it.  If I acknowledge it, it might be real.  Let’s face it, reality tends to be overrated.

If you need me, I’ll be chasing my friend NED around no man’s land.  I’m the one  with a large mocha in one hand and Russian dark chocolate in the other.  A girl needs to keep her energy up while jumping to conclusions.

Like the Leaves

While at co-op today, I had this sudden urge to get outside.  I’m not sure why. I just needed to get some air and enjoy fall before fades to winter.  I love to hear the crunch of the leaves under my feet and see the colors.  There is a beautiful half mile meditation trail on the church’s campus that winds through part of the woods on the property.  As soon as I got to the woods I felt a sense of peace.

About halfway through my walk, I was struck by two different trees.  One tree was still in a blaze of yellow, orange and red.  It was spectacular.  The tree next to it was covered with dried up brown leaves which were desperately clinging to the branches.  It was then I began to wonder what kind of leaf am I?

I am by no means in the winter of my life, but neither am I in spring.  I’m guessing I’m in that early September, still hot but the nights are beginning to cool off.  I am wondering, though, if I am like the first tree ablaze with glory or if I am like the second, just clinging onto what I can until I inevitably fall back into the throes of cancer.

I still feel fragile, like those leaves desperately clinging to the tree in hopes I won’t fall off to be crunched underfoot and swallowed by the inevitable snow.  Every ache and pain scare the crap out of me.  I hesitate to make any plans beyond a month or so.  What if I’m in chemo?  What if I have to have more surgery?  What if all my tests have been wrong and I’m not here?  The Beast has a tendency to worm its nefarious fingers into your psyche and won’t let go.  You almost have to physically go toe to toe with it and pry its clammy claws out of your heart and soul.  It’s a constant battle and some days you’re more ready for it than others.

I’ve spent the last year marking time.  Counting days until my hysterectomy. Counting days until I could go home from the hospital. Counting days between doctors’ appointments and procedures.  Counting days until chemo started,  then the days between treatments.  Then you count down the chemo treatments until you finally finish.  Everything revolves around a date.  When you’re done, you start marking time in ways that sound something like this.  “One year ago today, they found my tumor.”  Or, “One year ago today, I started chemo,” which was, in fact, this past Saturday.  Like obsessing about tumor marker numbers, you begin to obsess about dates and time.  It moves and stands still all at the same time.

In a way, I’m jealous of those brown leaves.  At some point, they will realize it’s okay to let go.  They will float gently in the wind and return back to the earth that gave them life.  I need to give myself permission to let go of the dates and the numbers.  I need to accept that ovarian cancer isn’t who I am, but it is a part of me.  I will always be a patient of my oncologist.  I will always have to be vigilant since no one does that for you.  And I will always be forced to try to beat back the Beast.  It makes itself known to me every day in numb fingers and feet, achy joints, and, on days like today, achy areas from the surgery. I hate all the drama that seems to come with being a survivor, yet it’s part of surviving.

So, I will choose to be dazzling –  as dazzling as a 49 year old woman with salt and pepper hair can be.  While I can, I will be a brilliant leaf showing my splendor. I still have work to do.  I have two children who need a Mom and a husband who needs a wife.  My mom still wants her daughter and I have a dear friend who was there for me during my chemo.  Now it’s my turn to be there for her.

I think God gives us fall to remind us that even when things are about to go down the toilet, which is how some people see winter (I fail to see why, it has it’s own special charm), there’s good and bad.  Spring’s arrival brings new birth and gives way to the mosquitoes and humidity of summer (you can see I am a heat wave hater), which turns to the colors of fall and the crystal blankets of winter.  Life isn’t a rotation through one set of seasons, it’s a continual cycle.  We all go through multiple springs, summers, autumns and winters.  It just depends on where we are.  Sometimes we spend more time in one season than another, but we do get to experience all of them.

I’m thinking it’s okay to be like the leaves, even the brown ones.  It’s time to let go of what happened last year and move on to what lies ahead.  The leaves are changing and so am I.

What is Strength?

I have wondered what consistutes a “strong person.”  What characteristics do they have? Do they have some sort of intestinal fortitude that others don’t?  Just sitting here, I can think of at least 7 people right off the top of my head that I consider or have considered strong that have made a significant impact on my life.

My dad was, and still is, my hero.  Anyone who knows me will say I was the ultimate Daddy’s Girl.  My dad worked two jobs when I was young so my mom could stay home.  He went to school at night on the GI Bill.  He worked is way into upper management without a Bachelor’s Degree.  He was funny, smart, charismatic, selfless and the most loving man I’ve ever known.  He always put my mom and me first.  He even introduced me to my husband (after he tried to sell me to him, but that’s an entirely different story for another blog post).  He was devoted to my oldest son and my youngest son grieves over the Paw-paw he never got to meet.  My dad fought diabetes and congestive heart failure with a sense of strength and humor I find myself desperately trying to emulate.  He fought the battles on his terms, not the diseases.  I’ve often asked myself if my dad would approve of how I’m handling cancer and my mom always tells me yes.  Daddy always told me that while we need to pick out battles, sometimes they pick us.  When they do, you need to face them with all the ferocity you can muster.  Actually that’s a paraphrase.  Anyone who knew my dad knows he would never, ever use the word ferocity.  He’d just say “Kick in the ass.”

My mom and great-grandma are like twins from separate generations.  My great-grandma ruled the roost even from her room in a nursing home until shortly before she died.  When she said jump, we’d just do it.  She was a single mom, after the death of her first husband.  She worked as a baker for Lunkenheimer in their employee cafeteria.  Decades later, I was able to benefit from her gifts as a baker.  She was never afraid of hard work.  Well into her 70’s and possibly 80’s, she would sit on a window sill and wash windows – 2 or 3 stories off the ground.  She was tenacious, stubborn, and fiercely devoted to her family.  I know that’s where my mom learned it.

Mom is stubborn too, but in a good way.  No matter how old I am, she’s still my mom and that was never more clear to me than when I underwent my hysterectomy in October. As many of you know, my mom spent every night with me in the hospital being a second set of ears, a sounding board and momma tiger when 2 stupid residents came in and made pronouncements about my health status without reading my chart first. This is where I’ve learned that there is nothing deeper than the strength of a mother protecting her child. I have had my fair share of advocating for my children and I am willing to do whatever it takes to keep them happy, healthy and safe. I  make sacrifices in my own life to homeschool them. My mom is an incredible example of the strength of a mom.

My friends Cathy and Lisa are two of the strongest women I know for a single reason – they beat the Beast. Cathy is a 5 year survivor of breast cancer and Lisa is a 2 year survivor of stage 3 ovarian cancer. Both women refuse to allow me to wallow in self-pity. They give me a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen and arms to hold me, but they refuse to allow me to believe that I will do anything but beat cancer and be a survivor. Even when I get news that’s not what I want to hear (like needing a 7th chemo treatment, just to be sure), they dig in their heels and send fighting strength my way. Cathy texts me after every doctor’s appointment, nearly every lab and never misses sending me positive thoughts the day before chemo and during my chemo treatment. Lisa always e-mails me after chemo to check in on me and does so periodically in the intervening time. She also posts the best things on my Facebook wall. We IM when we can. She is the only person I know who really gets ovarian cancer since she’s had it, along with the multitude of side effects. Both of these incredible women have taught me that I have to have a single minded focus “Kick Cancer’s butt and don’t look back!”

I have a profound respect for my mother-in-law, Elsa Giess. I embrace her as my “second mom” and am blessed to have her. Her family spent much of World War II staying ahead of the Nazi’s and then worked as tentant farmers after the war. She came to the US with her two older sisters and left everything she knew behind. She married my father-in-law, who was also an immigrant, and became and Army wife for several years. When they settled in Mansfield, she raised my sister-in-law and husband while doing the books for my father-in-law’s construction business. She returned to school and worked for years at School Specialty Products. In fact, she worked until she was 70! She lost her sister, Erika, to breast cancer in the 80’s. While I know she worries, she keeps on living life to the fullest. When I had my hysterectomy, she had scheduled a trip to New York with my sister-in-law and her nephews who were visiting from Germany. The day after she returned, she came to Cincinnati to welcome me home and help John take care of me. She has lived through so much and still faces life with an optimism and faith I wish I could match. While God knew what I needed in a husband, he also gave me another wonderful woman to call “Mom.”

I rarely mention my dad’s mom and she certainly wasn’t what I’d call strong, but my Grandma Streckfuss had a profound impact on my life. Married to an abusive spouse, she endured a great deal of physical, psychological and emotional pain as did my dad. My grandma and dad handled it in two different ways. My dad turned into a strong man who didn’t need to use violence, a fist, or evil words to make his point. My grandma was a loving woman who would do anything for me. Her only daughter died when my dad was young and since I was the first grandchild and a girl we shared a special bond. No matter how she felt, she would play with me. I loved her and knew she loved me. When she was diagnosed with colon cancer, I was 7. I didn’t get it. She died right after I turned 9. There is still a empty place in my heart for her. However, I do know that she is that small voice that keeps me fighting. She chose not to fight since it got her away from her abusive husband. I will always remember one of the last things she said to me on the phone, “Don’t let anyone keep you from being you.” Cancer, while it will always be a part of me know, will never define my identity.

Strength is many things. It is courage, emotional fortitude, a caring spirit, tenderness, a hug and an enduring legacy. When I think of strength, I think of these people who have modeled it for me. I only hope I can model it as well for others.

The Fog Descends

I love the images fog invokes. It can be romantic, like the fog that lightly swirls around the Golden Gate Bridge. It can be mysterious, like the fog that descends upon the ocean. Fog is dangerous when you can’t see two feet in front of your headlights, like on the stretch of I-71 between Louisville and Carrollton. But my favorite kind is morning fog. The kind that envelopes my house like a blanket and lulls me into feeling that the world is my very own cocoon, with two noisy boys, but my own, nonetheless.

There is definitely a fog that surrounds chemo and it’s appropriately named “chemo fog.” It descends without warning and never at an appropriate time. As a writer, this is disconcerting. Often, while writing articles, I need to find a synonym to a word. Despite having a thesaurus at my disposal in Word, it helps to realize that you actually need one. It’s also helpful to know the meaning of the word. Or to be able to actually come up with a word in the first place. It happens in conversation all the time. A few weeks ago, John and I were on our way to chemotherapy. He said the roads were better than he thought and we might even be early. I told him not to . Then I went blank. Absolutely blank, just like a new painter’s canvas. And I stayed that way. The longer I stayed that way, the more frustrated I became. The more frustrated I became, the more the fog descended. Eventually, I let it go. Not surprisingly, about two in the afternoon, I yelled “jinx it!” After the obvious strange stare, I told my hubby that those were the words I couldn’t think of in the morning. He smiled and nodded. This was not his first encounter with my chemo fog, but for right now it’s the only one I can remember.

I realized earlier this week that I would LOVE to be stuck in an actual fog. In a way, I am. I can’t really travel anywhere. My big adventures this week were to get my taxes done (thanks for the refund Mom), driving Kyle to guitar (in which I stayed in the car after driving Braeden through Dunkin’ Donuts for a treat since he has a cold), and, my personal favorite, having labs drawn at Good Sam (you know what they say, a week without driving to Good Sam is like a day without sunshine). Next week looks even more exciting. I get to drop the boys off at co-op and make two trips to Good Sam: one to the oncologist and one for chemo. It just doesn’t get better than that!

Seriously, I would love to be stuck with my computer, my Bible and a fridge full of food for about a week in a cabin alone surrounded by fog. It would keep me from seeing what I’m missing. Being stuck inside while everyone else is playing outside stinks. Missing co-op every week stinks. Having to keep my kids home because Mom can’t leave the house stinks. Now, if my house was actually clean it might be better, but I’m too tired to clean most of the time. Well, too tired to do a decent job at it. My house has a perpetual cyclone (actually two) that doesn’t understand what “pick up your toys” means (yes, cyclones play with toys). If I was in a cabin, it would be clean. No cyclones, no mess. And I would probably get one that had housekeeping service a couple of times during my stay. With my luck, housekeeping wouldn’t be able to find the cabin because of the fog. But that’s okay, I wouldn’t need to be pleasant. I could live blissfully in my fog.

That’s what I really want – to be alone. Alone with my thoughts and to work out my feelings. I have found that I really have a lot to work through and I don’t have a great deal of time to actually do it. Being with people is exhausting. I am also trying to figure out exactly how I am going to incorporate dietary and lifestyle changes that will need to be made within the next several weeks. The thing I reflect most on is the one that will no doubt make the least amount of sense to anyone who hasn’t experienced cancer. What am I going to do when treatment is over and I go into maintenance mode?

My life has been dictated to me since August 22nd, the day my tumor was found. I have been scanned, operated on, infused, stuck, probed, medicated and a whole host of other things that politeness prevents me from mentioning here. Doctors and nurses have told me where to go, what to eat, how to dress, when to sleep and kept me medicated throughout the whole thing. It’s actually like being enveloped by a fog of medicine. Eventually, like fog, this too will dissipate and my life will be mine again – or so I hear. And when I can decide what I will or won’t do, what I will eat or not eat, and toss the support hose and blood thinner shots, it will be a shock. I know my life will never be totally mine again. The Beast will always be there lurking in the background and I will have a few days each year dictated by my oncologist for scans, labs and check-ups, but for the most part, it will, once again, be my life.

Now once you’ve been limited, having freedom can be intoxicating. For me it’s just scary. I will scrutinize every move I make because the Beast lives in the fog. You see the fog, but not what lies beyond. While the fog will lift, I cannot afford to be complacent and let the Beast take control physically or mentally. While the chemo may eradicate the cancer, my emotional and mental wellbeing is forever altered. Every doctor’s appointment will have me on pins and needles wondering if the Beast has returned. And if it doesn’t return physically, it will have invaded my psyche and I will have to work to push it back into the fog so it’s not a constant figure in my life.

So while the fog envelopes me now, I need to realize it won’t be around forever. The sun will eventually return and burn it off. And while it’s gone, I need to embrace the warmth and allow the fear and doubt to disappear with it.