Some Days

Today is a pure exhaustion day.  It’s 9:17, I’ve been up and down since 2am (hip pain makes it hard to stay level, so I’m up, then down, then up, etc.  You get it…)

I just walked to the dining room, moved a very small watermelon to the kitchen, cut it open, chopped 1/4 of it into a bowl, and I feel as though I’ve worked a full day on the factory floor.

Jobs I thought I’d be able to do are slipping from my hands, and the gratitude I feel toward Kathleen and Layla for picking up the slack is larger than I can explain or ever return!

Today is the first time I’ll be able to get in to see the Cancer Psychiatrist, and this is a visit that is LONG overdue.  We were supposed to see her last week, but that visit was cancelled (it makes me sad because I wanted Max to have a chance to at least MEET the doc before he returned to school)

But I’m VERY grateful that it’s happening, and I’m going to try to
have the energy I need to make the visit really matter.

Couldn’t Come Too Soon
I’ve been so—stressed—over the past few days that I feel as though I’m coming out of my skin.  Small things, totally microscopic and inconsequential things, drive me up the friggin’ wall, and I’ve screamed more in the past few weeks than I have in the past 45 years.

I leave my first 11 years out of that because heaven KNOWS
how much I screamed during THAT period of my life…

So I’m hoping that there will be some strategies that will allow me to be a nicer, better person around my family (who are going through hell right with me…)

AND I’m wondering if there might be some kind of drug that would help me relax…

The Ol’ MJ
Of course, that drug COULD be the Medical Marijuana for which I’ve been approved, but I’m STILL waiting for my Pharmacist interview I have to go though to actually get PRESCRIBED anything.  Dang.

Mouth Of Sore
Aside from the mental wilderness into which my brain has wandered, physically the week of Chemo is catching up on me.

My mouth is one huge sore.  All along the edges of the mouth, in the palette and tongue and along the sides it feels as though there’s a constant fire going on all the time.

Ice, jello, ice pops and cold drinks are my friends.  Unfortunately, the more ice I take in, the more I have to make my way up to the bathroom for more good times, and the more exhausted I get.  A vicious ice circle.

Swallowing is becoming very difficult.  I think I need to start using straws, because even a small mouthful of ice water (or any beverage) makes it SO difficult for me to swallow.  I fear choking, or at the least a coughing fit because THAT really hurts my chest so badly.

The only foods that really go down smoothly are ice cream type of foods, ice pops, mochi, kulfi, all kinds of iced dairy treats!

On a side note, due to the kindness of my neighbor, Kristen, I’ve been able to make a bunch of YoNaNa frozen banana dessert, which helps me get potassium to fight the leg cramps (another side effect haunting me all night) and allows me a creamy treat without a great deal of dairy, which can play havoc with my digestion these days…

My hair is starting to fall out (not a ton, but it’s very obvious in the shower) I KNEW that would happen, I was told by my doc, and it’s not something that troubles me too much.  I’m cool being bald for a bit, and if my hair never grows back I think I’d be fine, too. I think…

The exhaustion has reached a whole new level.  Just getting OUT of a chair takes me as much mental preparation as getting ready for the first leg of American Ninja Warrior*

Sitting up takes more effort than I can muster some days, and THAT is a very frustrating and frightening aspect of this recovery.  I was prepared in part for the exhaustion, but I was NOT prepared for the weakness I feel in every aspect of my physical being.  I can’t sit with my legs up and cross them without help.

This is — hard.  That is the best word for it. Hard as a rock.

Audio hallucinations seem to haunt me before bed and when I first wake.  Sometimes visual oddities pop up, too; feeling that I’m seeing — someone — out of the corner of my eye.  It’s weird, but it’s also comforting in a way, as if I KNOW the voices I’m hearing and they’re just in the other room, laughing and having fun.  This is weird, I know, but Gerry used to get the same sensation (and I think he still does sometimes) so I know I’m not alone in this.

SO here I am, whining and bitching, sitting and inviting all of you into my stream-of-consciousness moan about my health.  Today is a rough day, let’s hope tomorrow is a better one!

*No, I haven’t actually PARTICIPATED in ANW, I’m just going by how impressively the contestants psyche themselves up before that first round… 

Beasts & Dragons & Maps

It’s the end of Chemo Week 1, and it’s been surprisingly good!

I love a good map. Right now my online friends are drawing one up for me each and every day.

Here Be Dragons
Not having gone through chemo before, I don’t have a point of reference for how this would have felt without the amazing anti-nausea meds that are available now.

Someone described their chemo experience on my Facebook page as “flu-like” symptoms, and for me that’s definitely been the case.

These “Cyber Sherpas” help me much more than they’ll know.  And I take their advice with gratitude, with love, and with a grain of salt.

I look things up, I ask my doctor about some of the suggestions, and one or two things my doc has pooh-pooohed.  However, for the most part the assistance of folks who’ve walked this walk before me is golden, and my doc & the chemo nurses let me know how lucky I am to have a wide and world-encompassing body of Volunteer Guides.

The Best Laid Plans
Right now I’m supposed to have a tiny little pump filled with a drug called Neulasta chugging away on my stomach, but unfortunately it fell off in the midsts of 100% humidity and so much internal (from my hot, hot, body) heat.

Neulasta Pump

So instead of the pump I’ll be returning to St. John’s Cancer Center tomorrow for a Neulasta shot.  I mentioned this on Facebook and immediately received several suggestions to help deal with the bone pain the drug may cause prophylactically, and that kind of back and forth between me and folks who’ve walked this walk are priceless to me.  To be honest, I didn’t even KNOW there might be bone pain involved in this phase of the treatment, I am SO grateful to my online friends for pointing this out!

Claritin & Tylenol, at the ready, Barb!

Help From My Friends
I’m not looking for a “real life” support group right now, I don’t have the energy to get someplace on a regular basis, to meet so many folks, and—most important—I’m desperately trying to avoid other humans as I move into the phase of my recover where it’s quite easy to get an infection.

My white blood cells have been reduced because of the strong drugs I’ve been taking into my system 24/7 for the past 4 days, and a low WBC count = an opening for some galloping infection.  Time to call the cavalry.

Our family has been living with a higher likelihood of infection for years.  We take this into consideration with Gerry’s heath and also because of my Fibromyalgia.  When the kids were in high school, it felt as though every day brought a new cold or flu to our household.

I learned then that to venture out into the world Gerry and I would both need to use a battalion of helper soldiers (Emergen-C, Airborne, hand sanitizer, etc.) and that has been helpful in allowing me to keep teaching around the country from fiber show to fiber show without picking up something bad and bringing it home to grow.

But now, with the Lymphoma, getting an infection is more serious.  The Neulasta is designed to help with that, and according to my impromptu online support group the Neulasta can cause some pretty incredible bone pain.

Fear has it’s uses, but cowardice has none. — Ghandi

This is a bit of a rambly post, I think that has a lot to do with a week of very little sleep and a LOT of chemo drug therapy.  In the coming week(s) I may need a transfusion or two to help with my strength.

But what I DO want to convey in this post is my gratitude to all of you who have traveled on this road, and have reached out to me, showing off signposts and short cuts along the way.

Thank you.  You make me feel braver than I am, and I am grateful!

The Pain Drain

One thing about this whole cancer adventure is that I can’t really know what to expect on any given day.

It’s a huge mystery, and it seems that there are as ways a cancer journey can unfold as there are folks who’ve had cancer.

I had THOUGHT that once we got my pain settled with the 3x Oxycontin + as needed OxyCodone, I would be good to go.  And that worked for a few weeks.

But apparently because the tumor in my spine had metastasized again into my hips and tailbone, and it brings a whole NEW tenderness and sensitivity.  I wouldn’t have chalked it down as actual “pain” until today, when the sensation definitely grew into a pain situation.

My morning adventure was getting X-rays at St. Joseph’s hospital, then seeing my neurologist to discuss the X-rays, and then a drive over to St. John’s Cancer Center for a refill of my chemo pump medications and home for resting.

Unfortunately, St. Joseph’s is one of those old-type hospitals in a downtown area that is actually a series of buildings that have been cobbled together into one unit.  This means that there are very few DIRECT ways to get from one department to the next, so my walk from the entrance to Radiology, and then another walk to the Neurology dept were BOTH extremely long (involving several elevator rides and lots of walking)

And this caused me extreme pain.  It wasn’t the walk as much as it was the big brace I had to wear, which pushes down on my hips in a MOST uncomfortable way, and causes me to sweat like a Swede in a sauna.

Seriously, you could have WRUNG OUT the T-shirt I was wearing under the brace,
and heat causes my skin to bleed (I’m a redheaded weirdo)
and THAT causes a great deal of pain.

It was so bad that I got a special dispensation to only wear the brace for comfort reasons. I’ve been pretty good about wearing it whenever I travel in a car, or when I’m walking around outside, but with the advent of the hip pain I must admit I’ve been leaving it off as much as I’ve been wearing it.

I feel very fortunate that my neurologist is taking the fact that the brace is CAUSING me pain seriously.

But it’s been hard to climb out of the hole of pain in my hips that I slunk into this morning.  I know that after I’m able to get a decent night’s sleep the pain will begin to resolve itself, but right now it’s a cold, hollow pain that fills both hips, it’s probably time for a lidocaine patch, to be honest.

Pain is such a game changer.  It feels good to discuss it, but I also know how boring it must be to open my blog and read, “Pain, blah, blah, blah, PAIN!” But that’s my reality today.  Which is so weird after a few weeks of very decent pain control.

It also makes me wonder if the chemo pump drugs I’m on are having
some kind of effect on my pain meds, perhaps undercutting them in some way..?

Tomorrow I meet again with my Radiational Oncologist to discuss returning for MORE radiation treatments to deal with this pain, and to deal with the metastasis of the spine tumor.  This whole thing sounds so danged scary, but each and every nurse and doc and health professional I deal with has been NOTHING but hopeful that all of this is just part of my own, personal cancer journey.

I appreciate their hope, it gives me a lift, and makes my days a bit easier.  My nights, however, continue to be honeycombed with pools of pain and fear.

On a personal/work level, I am feeling terrible that I’ve not been able to swim above this pain to get more done on the website.  It’s like I can’t 100% focus on anything but — well — pain.  That’s what pain is, I guess, a big, fat element of life that steals all the focus from everything else.

And, by comparison, the pain I’m feeling is actually much LESS than the pain I was feeling for most of the Spring/Early Summer.  It’s just that now that it’s attached to the word “Cancer” it’s as if the pain has a deeper color, a scarier hue, and it can be alarming.

Chemo Day 1, Done & Dusted!

I’ve been pretty nervous about this chemo thing, nervous for many reasons.

70’s Movie Fest
First of all, I grew up in the 60’s & 70’s, I watched Brian’s Song and Death Be Not Proud and Love Story.  I watched Terms Of Endearment and Garbo Laughs and a plethora of other movies.  Oh, and the TV ad parodies…

Gee you’re swell!
Guess what? No one fucking lives in those movies.  NO ONE. It sets a kid’s head on a bit crooked to only ever see folks die in ‘cancer flicks,’ but that was the 70’s.

Even after experiencing the magic that is a “partial recovery” in my husband (well, recovery until his cancer reemerges every 3-5 years…) I find myself terrified that chemo = end of life.  But it doesn’t.  And I have to keep telling myself that.  It’s something I KNOW, but I still have to repeat it to myself.

Thank you, every made for TV movie I ever saw in the 70’s, for NOTHING.

Plus, in all those movies folks just get sicker and sicker.  They get sick ALL OVER THE PLACE, then they have a lot of pain, then they get sick again.  Then they die.  That is the script.  “Blech, ouch, bye.”

Not MY script.

Any Exhaust Port…
I was also fearful today about the port they had “installed” into my chest cavity a few weeks ago.

The first time they tried to use it, apparently there was swelling, but today after a bit of working around it was able to go just fun.  Huzzah!  Now I’m attached to a pump so I’ll be receiving the chemo meds all night long (Yo, check this Bitchie, Lionel Ritchie!)

I need to take a moment to talk about my Chemo nurse, Jennifer, who was SO damned amazing and wonderful and made my day good and special and positive.  THANK YOU SO MUCH, JENNIFER!   You did an amazing job today, and you settled the hearts and minds of myself, my husband and “Kid Caregiver” (Andy’s new moniker)

Tomorrow I’ll go back to the pump room to get more drugg-age to be pumped into my body and into my soul.  All night long.

Where Are We, Exactly?
Tomorrow I’m ALSO going for some kind of special big-time Xray at St. Paul Radiology so they can get a very good look of how my Spine tumor has dealt with the death ray we like to call “Radiation Therapy”

We just keep looking for the exhaust port in this Tumor so my tiny little Luke Skywalker can send some radiation torpedoes down it.  Tomorrow we see how successful those X-wings have been.

I’m nervous about what we’ll find in the Xray, but it’s a vital part of the recovery. Assessing how the therapies are working.

Lumbar Madness
On Wed I have yet ANOTHER Lumbar Puncture, with one each and every Wed after that for a month. And I have Jennifer, my amazing chemo nurse, chasing down anesthsia for each and every one of those punctures. THANK YOU, JENNIFER!

Why all the lumbar punctures? Assessment. We need to see what’s going on in what has become a pretty fast moving cancer ride.

The BIG Q is, “Is the cancer actually IN my spinal cord.”
Let’s just keep hoping the answer to that question will remain, “Nope!”
I told you the news last week wasn’t terrific. But I WOOL SURVIVE.

So every Tuesday evening will be a Dance party with Gloria Gaynor & Lionel Ritchie.  Let’s throw some 80’s Joan Armatrading in there for the Carrib beat.

“I’m lucky, I’m lucky, I’m lucky
I can walk under ladders…”

So that’s my upcoming week, and I am READY to go.

Breathe, Damnit!
Today during my chemo I had a bad reaction.  Not terrible, but not great.  When they sped up the infusion, my body responded by trying to shut down my breathing.  Gerry rushed to the chemo ward with my breathing meds, I was given a nebulizer treatment, and they slowed the chemo down to 50 again and all was well.

So I’ll be getting my Rituxan rather slowly, and that’s okay.  And I just realized I forgot to take my long-lasting Oxycontin OR my breakthrough pain Roxicodone.  It never ends, does it…