Life Happens

It’s been a while since I posted, I know.  Life has this way of intruding on my plans.  Who knew that my mom would break a vertebrae and the B-man would need another scope.  So I’ve been doing the sandwich thing of caring for my momma and taking care of my bambinos, who constantly remind me they aren’t babies any longer.

As I’ve said, life is a journey and that journey is not a straight shot from point A to point B.  There are detours, dead ends, short cuts and rest stops along the way.  Sometimes we sail.  Others we fly.  Then there are the times we sit in traffic, stuck for hours because someone was texting and driving and thought they could avoid an accident, but didn’t.  Some are good, some are awful, but all are educational IF (and I know it’s a BIG if) you take the time to experience them.

Losing my dad was a huge detour; more like a derailment. My hubby and I always say 2006 had the potential to be the worst year ever.  We lost my dad, we bought a house right before the housing bubble burst (and it’s still under water), his dad became ill, we discovered the joys of an anxious child and our downward financial spiral took hold.  Now, we could have wallowed in the pit, but there was one light that outshone the darkness of it all.  In September, 2006 after all the awfulness of that year, our beloved B-Man joined our family.  Family additions are always joyous, but his was especially sweet after all the bitterness we’d experienced.  At that time, I felt so overwhelmed by the enormity of my life.  But I hung in there.  I learned that I’m a heck of a lot stronger than I thought.  I learned that God gave me a husband who is EXACTLY who I need based on my weaknesses and my strengths.  I learned that God is good and so much bigger than the box I’d put Him in.  I also learned that God does, indeed, have a sense of humor.  If you’ve met the B-man you know that’s true.

So if losing your dad is a derailment, having cancer like being on the Titanic.  You know you’re going down, and there may or may not be a life boat for you.  If you do make it to the life boat, your life is never the same.  People tell me they don’t know how I kept my sense of humor in tact during cancer.  Truth is, I didn’t.  There were many days I called Coach Cathy in tears saying I was ready to quit.  I wanted no part of the chemo and was done.  She reminded me that I had two boys and a husband who loved me, needed me and depended on me.  I didn’t care.  I was so miserable I wanted to die.  Yes, I truly would have embraced death.  Then, I pulled myself up out of the pit and decided that if I could just make it for the next hour or until my husband came home, or until my next Ativan, I would be fine.  And I was.  So I drew on my eyebrows, straightened my scarf and made another chicken casserole (we lived on those when I was in chemo.  Do you know how many chicken casseroles are on All Recipes? Tons!)

It was only by God’s grace and having walked through a dark valley before that I was able to keep my sanity and my sense of humor.  I realized that chemo was a detour, albeit a long one, on my journey.  Chances were good that I wouldn’t be hanging out there forever and that, while life would be different, it would still be my life.  God knew that I wouldn’t be able to stand alone, that I would need a posse to keep me in check.  Coach Cathy, Second Mom Kelley, Momma Renie, Sista Sue and my Angel in Blue were standing in the gap propping me up as the hands and feet of God when I couldn’t do it alone.  Everybody needs a posse.  They help keep the bad guys in life in check. Thank your posse today.

Life (and that other thing) happens.  It happens whether you want it to or not.  How you handle what happens is what’s important.  As for me, I’m taking the next road God put on my GPS (I finally have a smart phone so I’m embracing the tech).  I’m ready to ride.

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.

Helpful Hints

After my last post, my friend Caren asked me to post about what things are helpful to a cancer patient. After reading the feedback from the last post, I am doing so now. There are a number of things that cancer patients, especially those going through chemo and have children, find helpful and appreciate during our journey.

1. Be specific. Instead of saying “Let me know if there’s anything I can do,” make a specific inquiry. Asking “When would be a good day to bring you dinner?” is much better. So is “I would love to watch your children while you go to see your doctor. When is your next appointment?” I know I personally am so overwhelmed by what I’m not getting done, so if someone puts a general inquiry out there I’ll tell them I’ll get back to them simply because I’m too overwhelmed to decide what’s important. By giving me a specific request for help that requires more than a yes or no answer, I can provide a response that is specific to me and the person offering help. The best question I ever got came from a homeschool mom I know whose husband is a pastor. She offered to have the youth group come and help us for a Saturday by spring cleaning. I will NEVER turn down an opportunity for someone to clean my house. I can’t stand the smell of most cleaners right now (they make me extremely nauseous) so that will be a huge help. My friends Kelley, Sue and Karena are always looking for opportunities to watch my sons. My friend Cathy always asks if I need a friend to go to my lab appointments. Cancer patients need help and we don’t want to bother people. By making a specific offer, you allow the patient to tell you what they need.

2. Send a card or e-mail. My friend Denise B. knows how to make me smile. A couple of times a month she sends me a handmade card (she loves to make cards and one day I’m going to have her show me how). They always come when I’m feeling especially low and they always cheer me up. She also asks about bringing us dinner. My Facebook friend Lisa, who survived ovarian cancer, messages me a couple of times a week to check in. She knows I may not be up to responding, but she sends me a quote or picture or just a heart with the word HUG to let me know she’s thinking about me. My BFF Sue posts inspirational posts on my FB wall. These acts don’t take more than a minute to do, but they mean so much to someone who is stuck in the house because they feel lousy post chemo treatment or, as in my case, stuck because my neutrophils (white blood cells that fight infection) are so low I can’t leave the house because I could get very sick.

3. Pray for us. I’ll be honest, there are times when, as I’ve told my friend Cathy (another cancer survivor), that I feel like a piece of gum that God scraped off the bottom of his shoe and tossed aside. Now, I know that’s not true. I have a very vivid image in my head that I lean on based on the Footprints story. Jesus and I are walking on the beach and right now we’re just sitting watching the waves because, quite frankly, that’s about all I can handle. He reaches over and squeezes my hand or give me a hug, but we rarely speak. We don’t have to. He knows how I feel and that there are times when I just can’t pray. The prayers of others have lifted me out of the dumps more times than I can count. You don’t even have to let someone know. As Nike says, “Just do it!”

4. Pray for our husbands or wives and children. As my friend Cathy tells me, husbands get our tears and fears. I can put a happy face on when I go out or when people bring us a meal, but he sees me during and after chemo when my body aches so bad and I’m so nauseous that moving in bed is a monumental effort. At this point, he is definitely being supportive husband as well as taking on the duties of both parents. He cooks, cleans, shops and is a caretaker, which is not a normal role for men. In many ways, his role in treatment is so much more difficult than my own. My children are young, but they know that Mom needs to nap and has a tough time doing the things she used to do. And they are tired of it. As much as I need prayer, they need it just as much, if not more. Family is my number two reason for going through the hell of chemo (not wanting to die is number one). I need them to be tough right now. It’s especially difficult for one of my sons who’s a control freak. He can’t control cancer and it drives him nuts. As a result, he controls everything else in our house which drives the rest of us crazy. Praying for our families is as important as praying for the patient.

5. Ask how we’re feeling. Now I need to put a caveat on this one: if you don’t really want to know or expect a blanket, I’m fine, don’t ask. I will tell people I’m very tired, been nauseous or that I’m feeling pretty good. If I say I’m tired, it’s fine to say “I hope you get some much needed rest soon.” If I’m feeling good, you can say “You look like you’re feeling better today.” I have no clue how to respond to someone who’s nauseous. My husband has resorted to saying, “Is it time for an Ativan?” which is the only anti-nausea medicine that works for me. My mom asks if I have enough 7-Up.

I can’t begin to count the number of people who have offered specific things or gone out of their way to try to make this journey easier for us. And they have, without knowing it, done these exact things. The most difficult thing I’ve learned is to accept help from others. I love to cook and it’s hard for me to accept a meal. I’ve always taken care of my kids and it’s tough for me to let others drive them places without feeling like I’m imposing. My friend Kelley tells me that’s what the body of Christ is supposed to do, take care of each other. And the body that surrounds my family is a living, breathing example of Jesus’ ministry in action.

For those of you who’ve stepped out and helped John, Kyle, Braeden and I, we cannot begin to thank you enough. You have helped us through a journey that we never wanted to take, but has shown us the kindness of both friends and strangers that we can never repay. Thank you and God bless!

What Not to Say to a Cancer Patient

Let me preface this by saying, I am not pointing to a specific person or event. People have commented on how I put a face on this awful disease and I appreciate that. This post is not meant to keep anyone from making conversation. What I want it to do is make people think before they say something. I’ve said some things I wish I could take back now because I realize just how (okay, chemo brain is setting in and I can’t think of the right word now) they were what I thought I should say rather than what the person needed to hear. This is not an attack, more of a suggestion.

I have been doing a lot of research about cancer, mostly because I’m stuck in the house and if I bake anymore goodies I will probably be the first person in history to actually gain weight while undergoing chemotherapy. I’ve seen how to cope, how to be a good caregiver, how to care for yourself, what to eat, survivor stories and the list goes on. What I’ve not seen in any great detail is what NOT to say to someone with cancer. Yes, there are some things that cancer patients would rather not hear, at least in my opinion. I did run this list past my friends Cathy and Lisa who are both cancer survivors, and they are generally in agreement with me.

1. “You look good.” Okay, this is a compliment and, yes, it’s nice to hear. However, there are many times when we are just putting on our happy face so others don’t feel uncomfortable. And sometimes I feel like people are saying, “You look good – for someone with cancer.” I know I look very different. My eyebrows are very thin, my eyelashes look like they’ve been parted in preparation for braiding. My face is very pale, unless I’ve just completed chemo, then I look perpetually flushed. I bought my wig before the chemo really kicked in, so now the hair color is too dark for my pale face. Sorry folks, I don’t look good. I just don’t look as bad as you thought I would.

2. “You’re so brave.” No, I’m not. I’m scared to death. I have the cancer monster sitting on my shoulder all the time and he chants in my ear “What if it doesn’t work? Your numbers are too high. You won’t see your boys get married.” However, I have two young sons who can’t afford to have a Mom show fear because they are scared enough as it is. My husband is now our sole provider and is often doing the work for two around the house so being scared around him is rarely on option. I hide it from my mom (or at least I did, the cat’s out of the bag now). So while I may crack jokes, find the bright spots in chemo (no shaving my legs for the time being) and smile, inside I am terrified that I am not going to beat the monster. And the monster knows it.

3. “Only ___ treatments until you’re done. Isn’t that great!” Yeah, I have ___ number of times to experience nausea, body aches, headaches, light sensitivity and wonder just how much more neuropathy my hands and feet will have to endure. I don’t focus on how many treatments are left, despite what I say. I focus on how I’m going to get through the next day, or on a bad day, hour.

4. “Spring will be here soon and you’ll be done.” Yes, spring will come with all its new beginnings. Even the cancer monster can’t stop that. As I said previously, I can’t even think past tomorrow. John is trying to plan an anniversary get-away for us in May. He doesn’t understand I can’t think that far ahead. I can’t imagine a life without it revolving around lab tests, doctor visits and chemotherapy because that IS my life right now. I know I should look forward to the future, but I can’t. It’s too hard. What if I don’t get better, then what will spring bring? I go through the motions, but it’s just too hard to think that far ahead.

5. “You’ll beat this and be fine.” This is the one I really hate. Aside from my friends Cathy and Lisa, I immediately tune out anyone else who says it, even my mom and husband. I don’t care that your friend’s cousin, the cashier at the grocery or the person in the other cubicle at work beat ovarian cancer. Statistics don’t lie. Statistically speaking at some point this disease will kill me. Granted it could be 40 years from now, but it probably will. Even my oncologist, who is an excellent doctor and does some cutting edge research, says there are no guarantees. Yes, some of this is the cancer monster talking, but it’s also the reality I face. And I will never “be fine.” I will forever be dogged by ovarian cancer. I will put it on every medical questionnaire I ever answer. My labs will always be done in the Outpatient Cancer Center at the hospital. I will always bear the scar of my Port-a-Cath and hysterectomy. While I may forget for an hour, day or even longer, I will never actually beat it. To beat it means it won’t come back and that may or may not be the case. Cathy and Lisa have every right to tell me this. They face the same future I do. And I value those words coming from them. They get it. My niece Brittany, unfortunately, gets it too. She just completed radiation for thyroid cancer. Unless you’ve had cancer, you don’t get it.

None of this is meant to be mean. I know people mean well and just don’t know what to say so they say these things. And that’s okay. But please remember that is always okay to say, “I don’t know what to say,” because most of the time I don’t know what to say either.

That Wasn’t in the Brochure

I have decided that when I’m done with this mess called ovarian cancer, I’m writing a brochure for newly diagnosed patients.  This will not be the run of the mill brochure telling someone about the obvious.  This will be all the things that should have been in the brochure, but aren’t.  And the list is endless.

When you embark on any kind of cancer treatment journey, the oncologist sets up a treatment plan.  The plan generally includes the chemo drugs, office visits, supportive medications for the delightful side effects of the chemo, and assorted other details.  They tell you about the side effects of chemo, which could take up an entire blog entry and I won’t bore you with the details (check any reputable website for a comprehensive list).

What they don’t tell you is that most of the side effects don’t follow a predictable pattern.  My first chemo left me nauseated, fatigued, numb, achy and every other side effect on the list.  It also messes with your digestive process, meaning that whatever schedule your body was on before treatment, you can forget it.  I’m either downing laxative to compensate for the anti-nausea drugs and steroids to compensate for the chemo treatment or I’m eating a low fiber diet to compensate for the chemo treatment.  There is no happy medium.  Goes the same for fatigue.  The literature talks about fatigue, but doesn’t tell you that you can get nasty chills when you get too tired.  We’re not talking about the chills you get with the flu.  We’re talking bed shaking, knee banging, full-out chills.  I routinely wake up my sleeping husband with my shivering.  And there are not enough blankets in our house to keep me warm.  Then we have the hot flashes.  I can never be sure if those are Taxol related (a chemo drug) or menopause related (another delightful side effect of ovarian cancer).  Pull the socks off, pull the hat off, the sheets and anything else I can manage depending on where I’m at.  If that works, it’s Taxol related.  If an ice pack on the neck works, it’s menopausal.

When I had my treatment on Friday, I started getting hot. Was it a hot flash or a side effect?  My nurse wanted to slow my Taxol, which is a 3 hour infusion.  I opted for an ice pack, hoping it was a hot flash.  I guessed right.  The only thing that was good was that if I’d ripped off my scarf, no one would have blinked.  Most people at the Cancer Center are bald anyway.  You can’t do that in public. Well you could, but I’m not that brave.  Well, I guess I would be if I was REALLY hot.  No where in the literature was the possibility of hot flashes listed as a side effect.  My nurse said it was.  I texted my friend Cathy to complain.  She agreed that hot flashes are the worst and an awful side effect.  I told her that wasn’t in the brochure.

Neuropathy is another delightful side effect.  Many patients get tingling and numbness in their hands and feet.  It’s listed everywhere.  What’s not listed is that the neuropathy effect is cumulative.  And it needs to be watched carefully.  Guess who has neuropathy in her hands?  Now I wonder if it will get worse.  So far so good this time.  When you write, neuropathy in your hands is not a good thing.  My dad had neuropathy from his diabetes.  That’s cumulative too.  They do say it could go away after treatment, but maybe it won’t.  If it gets worse, I will need to change from Taxol.  The alternative is a cousin to Taxol and depletes your white blood cell count down to almost nothing, necessitating a painful shot of Neulasta to boost the cell count.  Not only does the shot hurt, but then your bones hurt since your bone marrow goes into overdrive to create more white blood cells.  That’s not in the brochure.

For me, the biggest omission from the brochure is what you’ll do after you go off your treatment plan.  For the foreseeable future (until March 8, 2013 to be exact), my life is dictated by doctor’s appointments, chemo therapy treatments, and lab work.  Then I will be off the hook for weekly labs and just have monthly monitoring and CT scans.  I will slowly get my life back.  Then I need to decide what to do.

I was fortunate to have a chaplain visit me Friday.  Everyone in the mosh pit (the large treatment room at the cancer center where you get to relax in uncomfortable recliners and be subjected to ABC daytime TV for the duration) was napping, but me.  John and I were chatting when she arrived.  She posed the question about what I would do when treatment was over.  I explained that I knew that God didn’t give me cancer, but I was sure He had a plan for me and my experience.  I had all ready decided that I wanted to volunteer with my local ovarian cancer support group.  But God planted something in my head when my dad was ill back in 2000, that I think I’ve ignored until now.

I was always amazed by the compassion and listening ability of chaplains.  They see such unspeakable suffering and life at what could be at its worst.  Yet, they are able to sometimes help people to find strength and courage in the darkest of times.  I have been blessed by the lay pastor at our church and the chaplains at Good Sam.  They are always willing to listen and ask the best questions to make me focus on the positive.  I’m thinking that might be what God has planned.  I plan to talk to our pastor and do some research, but I think working with cancer patients as a chaplain might be my calling.  And that definitely was not in the brochure, and I’m glad.


Learning as I Go!

There are few words in the English language that stir human emotion as much as the word “cancer” does.  Nearly everyone has been touched by this sneaky bully in some way.  There are no two words that scare women more than “ovarian cancer.”  It’s a silent killer.  How do I know?  I carried one of those insidious tumors inside my body for months.  On October 17, 2012 the big, bad bully was removed along with 34 lymph nodes, my uterus, cervix, right ovary and part of my peritoneum.  I will have a 12″ reminder of its invasion for the rest of my life.

Now the fun starts!  I am facing a port insertion for chemo on Tuesday and my first chemo treatment on November 9th (one day after my buddy, Coach Cathy, started 5 years ago).  Cancer sucks – no two ways about it.  However, it’s time to take the bad and turn it into good and see how I can find ways to glorify God in the process.

First, I am at stage 1.  Stage 1 is the most curable stage.  Given the size of the mass, it should have been much worse, but only the mass showed cancer.  Two, despite throwing a blood clot during surgery and spending 4 days in ICU, I am still here.  If you’re going to get a pulmonary embolism, having one in the recovery room is the best place to do it.  Three, my mom is an incredibly strong woman.  I knew this after watching her care for my dad for nearly 9 years with all his heart, diabetes and MRSA issues.  My mommy spent 7 nights with me in the hospital so I would always have a second set of ears for those  early morning resident visits and would have a shoulder to cry on during the darkest part of the night when the voices start to scare you.  Only a mom gets those voices.  I get my sons’ voices, and my mom gets mine.  Four, my husband has a job that provides excellent insurance.  All my care for the rest of the year is free since I’ve met my deductible and co-insurance (another ICU benefit).

People have commented on how amazed at how my humor has come back and how I’m up and moving.  I’m a mom.  I have to have humor – it’s a rule.  I also need to be able to move.  I have two boys – one of which does not know the meaning of sit still.  While napping is a necessity, I have learned that a 15 minute power nap is better than a 90 minute snooze.  Sleep is not overrated, just a precious commodity.

While these lessons are important, I’ve learned two things that are more valuable than gold.  I am blessed with a network of friends and prayer warriors that is second to none.  I am still not able to pray much, but am doing the best I can with little “God chats” at night.  So many people have lifted up our family in prayer, it amazes me.  The biggest lesson – despite feeling completely alone, God doesn’t abandon you.  You let go of Him, not the other way around.  May I be able to always hang on tightly.