Things Change SO Quickly

I’ve been pretty vocal during my recovery from cancer/chemo about different instances that arise and thwart me, or spur me on, toward a full recovery.

Recently I’ve had a nice amount of positive steps forward, but I always hold in the back of my mind that recovery isn’t a straight line, but there are a lot of peaks and valleys in my [generally] upward journey.  That’s why I blog and facebook about this so much, so I, myself, can go back and read my posts and SEE how far I’ve come.  Sometimes being able to quantify a positive change is so hard, having a record of the changes is helpful in keeping a positive outlook!

Today is a low day.

I live in Minnesota, so I’m ready for a blizzard on any given day*, and it’s not a surprise to wake up after a few days of upper 60’s temperatures to a day that’s wet and cold and blustery.  Today it feels like the cold’s crept right into my bones (especially my knees and back) and is laughing at me.  Ha, ha, cold, I hear you, and I laugh back!

Facsimile of the Chocolate Cake

I had big plans to make a chocolate cake today.

It doesn’t sound like a huge deal, but it is.  Getting downstairs isn’t the marathon it was just a month ago, but it’s an effort.  STANDING is harder than anything, and baking is more about standing than anything else.  Silly things like lifting up the mixer to move it over by the electrical outlet, carrying eggs, sifting flour, etc., are very difficult when the back is so painful.

So once I got downstairs, ready to make the cake (whose recipe I’ve long memorized!) I found that I could barely stand.  There were also several ‘gifties’ from the pup to be cleaned up, and THAT had a painful effect on my back, too!

So no cake for me.  Or for the family.  I was really looking forward to it (it’s the chocolate bundt cake I make, this time I was going to add white chocolate chips and some walnuts) and I’m probably healthier and happier NOT making and eating it.  But I wanted to make it.

More than making the cake, I wanted to have another day with low pain.  But that’s not going to be the case today, so I need to find a way to be at peace with that, deal with the pain, do what I’m able to do and not feel bad that I can’t do more.

Today my expectations outpace my limitations.  But tomorrow may be a cake day!  Stay tuned!

In other news, Max and his girlfriend Sophie have finished their semester in Vienna and are visiting London before they come home.  Right now they’ve traveled up to Scotland and are staying with our friends, Di & Colm, for a few days.  I can’t explain how wonderful and amazing it is to have friends who are SO kind as to host the kids for a few days, and show them so much of the beauty of Scotland in just a few days.  THANK YOU DI & COLM!

*Not really, it doesn’t generally snow in May here…

Chronic Pain Revisited

About nine years ago I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, which was a kick in the pants.  But I discovered that regular exercise (bike riding for me), vitamin D3 AND cutting wheat out of my diet seemed to help me quite a bit.

Just last year I discovered that ALL wheat wasn’t the problem, just – maybe – wheat that had been processed with Round Up during harvesting. So I decided to stick with only organic wheat and that worked well.  So when I wanted a treat, I’d bake it myself, and we found a really nice organic pasta that seemed to ‘play well’ with my pain.

Now I’m facing a new kind of chronic pain, and this one won’t be made better with diet (although exercise is always good at strengthening the muscles, which help support my body and can ease pain…)

My new chronic pain comes from the damaged vertebrae (crushed? split?) T9 and T10 mostly, along with one lower down in the lumbar area.  These are areas where I had tumors growing during my lymphoma.

My back pain was what alerted me that there was something more serious going on in my body.  Apparently by the time I had my MRI last July and they found the tumors (spine ones, AND tumors in my chest area and back of my skull) the spine tumor had grown SO large that it had grown through T9 & T10 and had split the verts, or done some kind of major damage.

Through the miracle of radiation treatments and chemo, the tumors are gone, and I am in remission, and I am glad and thankful.

But the damage caused to the spine is still there.  It will remain, and it will cause me pain.

Spinal Cord Injury Levels

I have a special knowledge of this pain because, ironically, Gerry suffered with his T9 & T10 when they were crushed (possibly during physical therapy he shouldn’t have been doing) and he had extreme pain.

He had a procedure called kyphoplasty (he was supposed to have vertebroplasty but as they were wheeling him into the operating room they told him that his insurance would only cover the first procedure, not the one his doctor had recommended…)

But I saw how he suffered every day after his diagnosis with the pain.  Gerry was NOT a complainer – not like me, I could win a gold medal if complaining were ever an olympic event – so when he would mention his back pain it was notable.

He took Oxycontin twice a day, every day, and when he ran out of his drug it was dreadful.  Of course he’d usually run out at 5:05 on Friday, just as his pharmacy had closed and wouldn’t open for the weekend.  I started hiding four of his pills so when he’d run out I’d have enough to get him through the weekend.

Different Flavors of Oxy

I take Oxy three times a day, every day, every eight hours.  By the time I get to hour seven, my back is complaining pretty badly, but I pride myself on seldom dipping into my ‘breakthrough pain’ supply of lower dose Oxycodone.

But I ran out yesterday.  So today I was running on fumes, trying to make do with the breakthrough pain med, which is NOT slow-release so it just doesn’t work as well as my Oxycontin (contin=continuous pain relief)

And Andy just got home, at 6:30, from picking up my refill from my own pharmacy, which is across the street from Gerry’s old cancer center & pharmacy, and which stays open later.  Thank heaven.

Standing here and looking forward, to a life where I will need to take pain pills every eight hours to have the strength to just EXIST is hard.  I know there are other ways to ease pain, and I’m a huge believer in acupuncture and water therapy and exercise.  But, and this I know from my 12 years caring for Gerry, there are some levels of pain that have to be dealt with using the strong stuff.

Being from West Virginia, and knowing the effect drugs like Oxy and Hydrocodone have had on so many poor folks who fall into the pit of prescription drug abuse, my Oxy is a bitter pill to swallow (in more ways than one!)

What this guy calls the “Hillbilly mating call.”

I’m grateful that I have insurance (through the ACA, please mention me as someone whose life was saved by Obamacare when you find yourself in an argument with anyone) and I’m grateful that I live in Minnesota, where the coverage is very good.  Gerry’s coverage, ironically, wasn’t quite as good as mine is, so his co-pay was pretty dreadful.  Mine is notable, but I know how high it MIGHT be, and I’m grateful I can afford it.

Today I had Xrays of both knees because the pain has become so severe when I try to walk that it just feels WORSE than my arthritis used to feel.  I don’t know if the pain increase is in any way caused by the cancer, but the pain is so strong that I’m awakened by it several times a night, when I shift my legs and knees, because that movement is enough to send shrieks of pain up and down my legs.

After the past 9 months I’d be happy never to see the inside of a hospital again, but part of me is also wondering if a knee replacement is in my future.  I see an orthopedic doc in a few weeks, the same doc I saw 2 years ago who gave me a shot in my knee that helped quite a bit, and I’m curious to find out if this knee pain can be surgically remedied.

Adult Training Wheels

To that end, I’m actively seeking someone who cycles who has had “adult training wheels” attached to their bike.  I was pondering getting a tricycle, but in honesty I’d rather keep my Trek and use training wheels if that would work.

If you’ve had these training wheels attached to you bike, or know someone who has, and have an opinion about them, I would LOVE to hear it!  I really need to be able to get back on my bike.  I need a non-weight bearing exercise* to build up my muscles and help relieve my pain.  I need to be back on my bike!

The next step will be acquiring them, and having them attached to the bike, but one step at a time!!

*I know you’re going to mention Swimming.  I love swimming, and have no problem with it, but the pool is far from my house and, once there, getting into the pool is a bit of drama with my limited mobility.  If I could get my bike working for my damaged body, it would be available to me 24/7 and would be easier than getting into and out of a pool.

It’s SNOWING!

I love snow, which is one of the reason I love Minnesota so much!  Of course, as soon as we moved out here from New Jersey the weather went nuts and now they get as much snow as Minnesota does.  Oh, well…  Live and learn!

I am at what I consider the HARDEST part of recovery.  I’m just well enough to be a little bit active (walking around the house, staying awake for stretches of 4 hours at a time, getting my appetite back) but I’m NOT well enough to act on those impulses!  My long, long walk through a downtown corporate maze yesterday made me acutely aware of how big my dreams are, and how weak my legs are.  Damn you, weak, weak legs.

I see my doctor next week, so I’ll get a reality check from him on where exactly I should be.  He told me when I was in the hospital that I was progressing nicely, but I worry.  It just seems like I’m in a holding pattern, and I have to FORCE myself to look back on where I was a month ago to truly appreciate how special it is to be able to walk WITHOUT A CANE to the bathroom.  Yippee!

I’m learning to use my medical marijuana to best effect, so I get the optimum pain relief.  Two days ago I forgot to take my 6am pain pills and I cannot believe how terrible I felt by the time my next pain pill appointment came around.  THAT is a mistake that I won’t make again, lordy how I need those pain pills simply to be able to LAY in bed, forget about getting up and walking, going to the bathroom, etc…  I hate to be reliant on them, but I’m VERY glad that I have them.

Andy and I have started a new evening ritual. She just finished the last Golden Compass Trilogy book and I have the newest Philip Pullman book on audio file (la Belle Sauvage)  So we listened to a nice chunk of it last night in my room at bed time, it was like being read to by some uber-dad who pronounces EVERYTHING beautifully.  I fell asleep, but I’ve already read (listened to) the book, so I’m cool if I miss a bit.

Andy’s been working on her leaf art, which is getting more and more compelling.  When the light is better I’ll take some nice photographs of her pieces and post them, they’re abstracts made of leafs and leaf parts, the colors are very lovely.  I worry that Andy will become so bored caring for me that she’ll be sad; I’m NOT the most fascinating patient in the world.  I also worry that she may feel she’s falling behind her friends from college who are getting apartments and jobs.  She’s got neither, she just takes care of me, and I am very grateful for that.

I don’t think I can actually go out into the snow, I slip and fall SO easily, but maybe Andy will bring me in a bowl of it and I can play around with that?  I hope as it gets warmer my legs will grow stronger and I’ll be walking outside without a cane in the Springtime!

“Once more unto the breach…”

In many states once you get outside of the city areas the highways have poetic names like “Highway M” or, “Highway Z” or, “Highway PP.”

Every time Kathleen and I drive through Wisconsin we pass a sign that reads, “Hwy V”  I have yet to be on top of my passenger duties enough to snap a photo of the sign, but it always makes me smile and imagine that it’s pronounced, “Highway The Fifth” and can almost hear, “Once more under the bridge, dear friends…” in my head.

So yesterday I reentered the world of Chemo, this time for the third time, and the day was rough.  The chemo itself wasn’t TOO rough, it’s never terrible while I’m getting it.  It takes about a week for the effects to kick in.  But the start of this round are a few out-patient treatments, which I like better than staying in the hospital.

The main reason I like to be out of the hospital is that it’s always a crap shoot what kind of nurse one will get, and so far my odds are running 5-1 “excellent nurse, very helpful” vs “nurse who can’t be bothered, not great.”  The type of nurse that’s assigned directly affects the quality of care, kindness means SO MUCH and when it’s missing from the nursing equation, it can be a bit hellish.

Of course I’d rather have an efficient nurse than a sweet-but-clueless nurse (I’ve SELDOM had the latter, for what it’s worth) but overall I’d prefer an efficient and KIND nurse.

So yesterday, my day started with a Lumbar Puncture (and we know how I love those…)

I checked the online portal and was surprised to see my in-time had been changed to 9:15 from 9:30, so I rushed Andy along and we made it, but just a bit late.

Upon check in, though, we were told that the appt had been cancelled.  I’ve become used to Health East cancelling my appts on a dime, usually after an extended fasting period (this happened TWICE last week) but I was pretty frustrated.  The admin who checked us in was also flummoxed, she knows me and remembered my name and was surprised to see my appt had disappeared.

She asked us to wait to the side while she got a nurse to explain the situation, so we sat for about 20-30 minutes.  Finally a nurse came out and did the nurse-walk think I really hate (where they walk really fast but I can’t keep up because I’m on walker and in pain…)  As we entered the dressing area he turned to us and said, rather curtly, “You should have been here an hour ago, you know…”

And and I were NOT having it.  We kid of tag-teamed him, “No, we weren’t – until an hour ago the online portal said we should be here at 9:30!”  He was not having it, he insisted that it was folks like us who were late who held up everyone for the rest of the day.  We asked for a different nurse.

The new nurse was lovely, but she couldn’t access my port for love or money.  My port has been a problem since it was put in, and I always prepare myself for a decent amount of pain as they try to get the needle to work into the diaphragm of the port.  Even with the cream it’s very painful.

So as time ticked away, and they had to take person after person ahead of me, it became clear that this wasn’t working.  They sent me up to the chemo beds and the nurse in the chemo area had been able to access the port, although it took a bit of fiddling with a type of blood thinner to actually get my ‘blood draw’ to come through correctly.  I received my several hours of different chemo drugs.  By this point I was starving, but no food was allowed as the lumbar puncture’d been rescheduled for 3:30.

Back down to Interventional Radiology, this time I was the only patient in the area and was taken in pretty quickly.  I explained about the pain the last time I had the procedure and several of the nurses had been at previous non-painful punctures with me, so that was a help.  We made sure that a decent amount of time had passed between starting the pain meds and the actual puncture, which was enough to make it practically pain free.

Such a long, intense and confusing day is almost harder for Andy than it is for me.

Andy hates to wait in the hospital for hours, so generally after I’m settled in someplace they’ll bug out and run home to check on Gerry, take the dog for a walk, and come back in time to see me settled into my next appointment.  Sometimes this works great, but sometimes this can lead to a bit of a traffic nightmare with Andy finding themselves between locations when I need them near me for some information stuff, or with it just taking longer to get from point A to B than Andy expected.

So as frustrated and exhausted (and hungry) as I was at the end of my day, Andy was almost MORE frustrated.  Thankfully they had brought me some food, so when the only think I really felt like I could eat from the menu (red jello) wasn’t available, Andy had an alternative for me and it was DELICIOUS.  But we had a rough ride home.

These long, long, hungry and painful days are not fun for ANYONE.  Maybe we should’ve taken “Highway The Fifth.”

I’m HONGRY, Mama…

When my brother, Jimmy, and I were little we’d devil our mom by mewling, plaintively, “I’m HONGRY!” and she’d flap her dish towel at us and chase us out of the kitchen.

She new we were making fun of her, in a loving way, of her accent and her family.  After all, Jimmy and I were born in the big city of TOLEDO, and she was from Reedy, WV (which, at that point, barely existed any more…)

What Can I Eat?
Having cancer, for me, means that I’m FRIGGIN’ STARVING almost all the time, but very few things sound good, and fewer things taste edible.  Once I light on something that I can actually EAT, I spend days hoping that my tastes won’t change again.  What I love on Monday can sometimes taste like doggy-do on Tuesday, and there’s no rhyme or reason to it.  It’s not about spice, or temperature of food, or sugar content, or really anything.

One constant has been tea.  I love a good cup of tea, and for better or for worse THAT is a delicious thing to cling to.  I’m also good with bananas and peanut butter is generally a positive.  There were a few days when the smell of it made me nauseas, but since then I’ve returned to the land of Smucker’s peanut butter, and in small amounts it’s good food.

One would think that friend foods are a no-no, but for whatever reason the fish sandwich from Culvers is exactly what I crave most days.  Fish & Chips in general (hold the chips) are tops on my list every day.  At least, this week.

Standing up long enough to actually MAKE that cup of tea, or butter that toast, or peel that banana is another story.  My back hurts SO badly, I think the pain is from the original tumor (in my T9 and T10 vertebrae) and also from the cancer metastasizing into other parts of my spine and hips.  Finding a comfortable position to sleep, or sit, or stand — it’s hard.  I am SO fortunate to have a nice recliner that seems to suit me very well.

I bought it (ostensibly) for Gerry for Father’s Day several years ago, but it never seemed to suit him.  Funny how many things I’ve bought for Gerry have become mine by default!

Picking My Battles
I had to give up a project today because I realized that with the deadline looming, and with two more chemo sessions lined up, there was NO WAY that I would be able to complete this project.  The weight of expectations was so heavy, and now that I’ve given up I feel a bit of guilt, but even more relief.  My brain needs to be sending as many positive thoughts to my body for healing, not fretting over getting a sweater knit — something that dozens of other folks could do just as well, if not better than I!

Back To Mom
Days like today, though, I swear I could go for some of my mom’s classic Soup Beans & Corn Bread, or her Fried Chicken.  Even some of her baked beans.

We ate like poor hillbillies, but damn that was some tasty food!

I miss my mom for so many reasons, but friend chicken is one of the big ones.

Hello Again, My Friends!

I’m up.  It’s 5am and by default I have Morning Joe on (I NEVER watched that show until I had cancer, now it’s something I automatically turn on when I’m up with my early morning cancer wakings.)

I feel like crap, but I honestly feel like much BETTER crap than I did a few days ago.

This has been true every day that I’ve queried myself for the past two weeks.

I feel like doggy-doo, but it’s better looking doggy-doo than yesterday.

HUGE on my mind right now is the start of my next (third) round of chemo, set to start on Monday 10/15.  I will be hospitalized for 5 days for this adventure.

I’m smack in the middle of the four full rounds of chemo that are required to treat this fast moving cancer, two are finished, two are yet to go.

My Chemo Pump Is My Constant Companion

Of the two that are finished, one was an ‘easy’ one (I was able to do the chemo at home with a pump attached to my port.)

The other chemo round was a very hard one (in the hospital for the full time, lots of sickness, lots of pain and exhaustion, released when the chemo was finally finished.) 

The recovery from chemo rounds 1 & 2 were exactly as you’d imagine; Round 1 went pretty smoothly, Round 2 was hell.  Rounds 3 & 4 will be MUCH more like Round 2, no more Mr.-Nice-Pump for me, it’s all going to be chemo in a hospital bed, clinging to the railing, puking and trying not to make too much of a mess as I get up to use the toilet.  Actually, I guess I AM glad that it’s not happening in my home.

I’m terrified that Round 3 will be even MORE hellish, and I fear that I’m going to cry like a little girl.

Which I KNOW is “okay” – but it’s still not fun.

I keep racking my brain for ANY food that is remotely appealing, but everything I try (even stuff that “sounds good”) ends up being a vehicle for nausea.  Even my old stand by, ice cream.  Oy.

Yep, I def only can stomach the pricier ‘real ingredients’ stuff!

So, I’m still here.  A little shaky, a little pale, and apparently I’m right in the “eye” of the chemo, but I’ll get through it.  Thank you for being here with me.

Physically I feel rather lonely.  I can’t really see many folks, I’m SO susceptible to any kind of infection, so the fewer people I see, the better my chances for getting through this without a serious complication.  I miss human interaction, though.  Gerry loves me, Andy is amazing, and every week or so I see Kathleen.  But aside from that I’m kind of on my own, and I never realized how much I get from just BEING with other folks.

Thank god for the kitties and Jasper, they love me so much, and I love them.

What Doesn’t Kill You…

…makes you STRONGER?

Day 1 of CODEX=M/IVAC chemo, and my body is handling it pretty well.

Todays Chemo Specials!

Of course, the chemo drugs haven’t really been IN my body long enough to cause the brutal side effects they keep telling me I’ll be seeing.  AND the nurses are doing an amazing job of both explaining the prophylactic measures they’re taking to prevent bladder problems, nausea, headaches, dizziness, unexpected bleeding—if it is an undesirable side effect, the chances are it’s part of my chemo journey!

I can be relaxed about this so far because it’s only day one.  We’ll see how happy I am on day 7, when the side effects begin to come into their own.  For now, I’ll enjoy what I can enjoy, not that getting liters and liters of fluids pumped into me all day is terribly ENJOYABLE, but it’s not horrible.

Amusingly, one of the drugs can have neurological side effects that show up when the patient tries to write a sentence, so the nurses had me pick a sentence that I can write over and over through the day to make sure that my brain is working as we all want it to work.

There’s ALWAYS money in the Banana Stand!!

The sentence I chose?  “There’s always money in the banana stand!”  Neither of my nurses had heard of it.  There’s nothing quite like explaining an obscure cable TV joke, entirely out of context.  I probably should have chosen, “NO TOUCHING!” as my sentence.

Today Gerry was down at Mayo meeting with his new cardiologist.  I’m so excited about this, because we’ve put his heart health on the back burner since my own diagnosis, and it’s high time that he got a little attention paid to his health issues.  One of my dear knitter friends volunteered her husband to drive Gerry down, and he seemed happy to do it, so we are VERY excited and VERY grateful to Wilson for ‘volunteering’ to be Gerry’s driver, that was a gift!

Andy was taking care of getting me settled in my 5-day hospital room, so they weren’t available for the drive down.  I ended up needing some stuff from home that I forgot, so it was very good that Andy was nearby.

It feels a little surreal to be back on the same ward that I was in when I was diagnosed, now I have no hair, but still the nurses seem to remember me.  It’s a really lovely group of folks here, I feel like I’m visiting family a little bit!

Respite

What a lovely weekend!

My first day at Denison I met Ellyn Shannon.  She was having the WORST allergic reaction to the Ohio Valley humidity and fall allergy triggers, she was sneezing and stuffy and could barely open her eyes.  I think for the first few days of college, she was prone on her bed, face down, suffering the torments of the damned.

Ohio valley has that effect on first time visitors from the east coast,
the weather + allergens + humidity can be BRUTAL.

Ellyn and I became very good friends.  The first time I ever visited New York City it was to stay with her family.  Her dad took us to my first Broadway show (Ain’t Misbehavin’) and I had my very first cannoli en route to her home in Rye, NY.

We traveled to London together after college, and had a BLAST!  As I’ve said before, if you can travel with a friend, then you can be FRIENDS FOR LIFE! 

Ellen Ponders The London Tube, 1983

She didn’t stay at Denison for her entire college career, eventually getting her bachelors & then masters degrees from NYU.  For whatever reason, Ellyn never entirely seemed to understand exactly how brilliant she is, which is true for so many women, but perhaps that is changing?  I hope so.

As friendships do, ours went in and out of various phases; sometimes we were so close, then there were periods when we were out of each other’s lives for long stretches.

But the mutual respect and love we have for each other hasn’t dimmed since that first weekend when I tried to relieve her allergy suffering, but didn’t do much more than hand her tissues.

Early Morning Chatter

Ellyn, Annie & a Yeomen Warder in London, 1983

For the past few weeks, since my Lymphoma diagnosis, Ellyn’s been up each morning early and we’ve been messaging each other.  Sleeping has been hard for me, but knowing that I have a friend in NYC who has to get up at 6am (5am central time) and who is happy to chat with me for a few minutes, has made my sleepless mornings easier.

So imagine my joy when, on Friday, Ellyn confessed to me that she’d booked a flight out to St. Paul and would be staying the weekend!!  She also booked into an Air BnB, but – luckily – her host contacted her on Sat morning to tell her that she’d have to cancel the reservation, so Ellyn was free to stay here, in Max’s room!

It’s been SUCH a lovely weekend.  A lovely, silly, boring, wonderful weekend!  I’m not able to do much, and this weekend my exhaustion and nausea levels were pretty high, but Ellyn was cool with just SITTING on the sofa and watching cooking shows while we giggled and ate ice cream with Baileys.

Bulb Life
Living in NYC, Ellyn doesn’t have a yard, so she happily did some weeding around our house, and also planted a bunch of bulbs, sort of as a gift for me, although she claimed that she was doing it for fun.  My intention wasn’t to use her for free yard labor, but as long as she was volunteering…  Now, THAT is a good friend!

Gerry and Andy and Ellyn have gone off to Lake Phalen to visit Kwan Yin and take the dog for a walk.  I’m sitting here on the sofa, too tired to go with them, but SO happy that my family seems to love Ellyn as much as I do!

Traveling out here from NYC was such a gift, such a kind and wonderful thing for Ellyn to do for me.  I am so grateful, and I’m also just a bit exhausted, but in the BEST possible way!  Thank you, Ellyn!

Fan Mail From Some Flounder?

Flowers From ???
Andy received a GORGEOUS gift of begonias and cyclamen from Bachman’s greenhouse, and they are SO lovely!  The only problem is, we have NO idea who sent them!  If you sent them, and you don’t mind telling us, we would LOVE to thank you!

Andy’s been growing several different varieties of cyclamen this Summer, she seems to have inherited a love of plants from Gerry’s parents, which is absolutely stellar.

I have NO ability to grow anything, but I can appreciate a nice plant!

Spinal Taps
After a bit of a hiatus, I’ll be jumping back into the chemo pool this year.  On Monday, and then again on Thursday I’ll be getting Spinal Taps (testing to determine exactly WHAT kind and how strong the next round of Chemo should be)

My doc from Mayo, who is no longer my doc, but is still a wonderful person, has been on the phone with my doc from St. John’s up here in Maplewood, and it sounds as though there may be some kind of meeting of the minds on the direction that my chemo might take.  I’m just anxious to have a chat with Dr. N, and get a feeling for exactly how much my cancer’s metastasized since my last chemo week.  Not knowing is hard, it leads me to imagine all sorts of unpleasant scenarios.  I just want to have a good idea of WHERE my body is in this whole cancer journey right now.

I know I have pain, and I know I’m experiencing incredible exhaustion, but I don’t know where I stand right now with the actual cancer and tumors that are growing in various places in my body.

NOW It’s Real

I have kept wondering, over the past 7 weeks or so, WHEN will this cancer thing seem real?  I mean, not that I’m NOT sick or anything, but sometimes when something is so life changing, it just doesn’t seem to sink in, doesn’t seem 100% real.

My cane matches my pedicure!

I figured I’d keep wandering around in a semi-fog, achieving moments of clarity as pieces of the lymphoma puzzle came together, until at last there’d be some kind of crystal clear reckoning when things fitted together and made perfect sense.

THAT hasn’t happened.  Some things are just as foggy as they have been, some things seem clearer, but suddenly the whole mess feels REAL.

The pain so far’s been real; the pain my body shoots at me through the tumors (large and small) and the other internal indignities that present themselves as recurring pricks of pain or deep seated aches.

I’m learning to deal with the pain, to figure out how to avoid it, or to meet it head on, or perhaps to sidle along beside it, dealing with it quietly, so it doesn’t even know I’m there.  Shhhhhh.

There’s also pain that comes from outside my body, the needle pokes, the sticks, the punctures. AND THEN there are the shakes, hunger pains & mental anguish which are hallmarks of  Dex.

Every human body deals with Dexamethasone (a powerful steroid) in it’s own way, but it’s been one of my hardest battles; Dex entirely changes my personality, turning me into a raging, raving, hungry, incomprehensible ball of pure emotion.  At the start of this trip, I was on a double dose of Dex and I thought I’d end up in federal prison instead of a hospital.

Heaven help my family, they’ve been amazing
in dealing with me and the Dex, I wish I were as gracious.

The fear has certainly been real.  Like anyone facing a serious cancer (is there a cancer that is NOT serious? What a silly phrase that was…) I have had my middle-of-the-night sitting-up-straight-in-bed PURE FEAR sessions.

Death is a fear every human has to face, no one gets out of this life alive.
But when you feel your time is shorter than you had anticipated, it brings up a great deal of unfinished business. There can be lots of baggage, and cancer has a way of leaving those bags in the foyer of your brain where you can trip over them at 3am.

But what makes the cancer seem suddenly VERY REAL is that I have a date that my chemo is supposed to begin at the Mayo, and it’s this coming Tuesday.  We got the call today from Dr. T, I’ll drive down with Andy on Tues morning (not too early, thank heaven!) and start the pre-chemo labs.

Then I’ll be admitted to Methodist hospital where I’ll receive the cocktail of drugs that will be VERY rough.  The way Dr. T described it, the chemo will really kick my butt, and I’ll be in such bad shape that they won’t be able to release me from the hospital until they’re certain that I WILL RECOVER from the chemo infusion.

Thats ME! Side view [long and thin] and front view [gingerbread cookie]

She drew me a picture.  Two in fact.  And I did NOT promise not to show them here.

I actually found them charming and helpful, and I don’t know that any doctor’s ever drawn me a picture before. 

The first image is me, a side view, showing my spine and explaining why it’s necessary for me to continue to receive chemo directly into my spine.  Hint: It’s where the CANCER IS.

The second image is also me, looking rather like a gingerbread woman, showing how the Methotrexate will kill the cancer, but will also try to kill ANYTHING ELSE in it’s path.

Because my tumors seem to REALLY like my spine and brain, Big-M (which is what I’m calling Methotrexate) is the best medicine to treat them. But it’s a dangerous med, and needs to be controlled.

This image demonstrates how Dr. T. will fight off the bad side effects of Big-M and until that is under control, I’ll be monitored at Methodist.

An extra bonus is that during my time at Methodist I’ll probably be overseen, at least a little bit, by Gerry’s hematologist, Dr. H, who has become a good family friend.  I almost feel as though I’ll be with family, and that feels amazing.

Andy has been stellar through this adventure. Thank you, Andy!

So I’m scared.  I remember how hard this was for Gerry when he had the high dose chemo, and I’m wondering if it will be as bad for me as it was for him.

But I’m also cool with being scared, it’s part of this whole trip, and I’m feeling strong enough to get through this.  Hopefully in one piece.

The chemo I had two weeks ago here at St. John’s in Maplewood was called  R-EPOCH (not R-CHOP, as I previously mistakenly said) 

It was a 5-day infusion that I carried around with me in a bag type mechanism that pumped the chemo into my chest for four full days, Tues through Friday.  I didn’t really get very ill, the anti nausea meds were great, and it wasn’t until the following week that I suffered the exhaustion and mouth sores that came with R-EPOCH.

This chemo that I’ll be getting at Mayo is called CODOX=M/IVAC, and although it has similarities to R-EPOCH, it’s an entirely different beast.  I wish I knew what that alphabet soup of a name actually meant, but what I DO know is the M=”Big M”=Methotrexate and the IVAC means I get more needles inserted into my spine.  Huzzah.

3am; Nitro, the softest kitty in the world, and me.

But, it’s an important step in getting this cancer OUT of my spine, so I’ll not complain!

Okay, maybe I will complain just a bit.  Andy can give you all the gory details of my complaining when this adventure is finished.

Tumors?
Folks have been asking, “If you have Lymphoma, why do you have all these tumors in your spine and back and neck? Isn’t Lymphoma a blood cancer?”

Yes, that’s true, I have a blood cancer.  I’ve been told by my docs that lymphoma is a cancer that can produce some amazing tumors, and I’m one of the lucky folks who seems to have a very fertile ground within my nervous system to grow these tumors.  Why that is, I don’t know.  But getting rid of the tumors is a large part of my treatment.

I’m not an oncologist, and I’m not reading as much about this cancer as I probably should.  I know many folks facing an illness like this prepare themselves with education, that was Gerry’s way of dealing with Multiple Myeloma.  But I am lazier than that, and I know that my comprehension of the disease will probably have no material impact on what my doctors choose to do.  I’d rather spend that time reading a novel, knitting or watching some cooking show. Or baking.

Any chance I have to show off my cookie, I will SHOW OFF MY COOKIE!

Location Details
So this weekend I’ll get myself square away, packed up, ready to head down to Mayo. Andy’s booked into Days Inn (next to Methodist) and then later in the week she’ll move to the Staybridge Suites (a better choice for us when I’m released from Methodist, but need to stay down in Rochester.) 

I honestly believe that if there had not been the AMAZING response to the GoFundMe to raise money for our accommodation in Rochester, this chemo would NOT be happening. 

Thank you to everyone who helped out along the way, I am VERY grateful to each of you!  You have made a huge difference in my recovery.

And now I will go nap. My exhaustion has taken over my days and my nights, I slip into sleep so easily I barely even know whether I’m awake at any given time.  I’m certain it’s because I’ve been keeping a pretty rough schedule the past few days. Who knows?

Maybe my days at Methodist on CODOX=M/IVAC will be just the rest cure I need..?

Or maybe I’ll just bake something at 3am.

Calm Before Thursday

Here’s a partial list of what the past seven days have entailed;

  • A trip to the Mayo Clinic
  • A meeting with Dr. Gita Thanarajasingam
  • A high fever & heart rate led to an admission to St. Mary’s
  • A hard ride home (car rides have become difficult…)
  • Hair loss = Head Shaving
  • Increase of pain due to metastasis of back tumor
  • Decrease of pain due to increase of pain meds
  • Mouth sores = Thrush = new meds = healing mouth!
  • A fall in the rain = twisted ankle = no big deal!
  • A decision on where to get my chemo treatment = Mayo!
  • Realization of true auxiliary costs to be in Rochester for treatment
  • GoFundMe to raise funds for accommodation during treatment
  • GOAL ACHIEVED of GoFundMe (Thank you, everyone!)

As you can see, it’s been one of the busiest weeks I’ve had since my initial diagnosis on July 23, 2018.

Six Weeks
Which was six weeks ago.  Which blows my mind.

I know it’s an old saying that life can change in an instant, and a diagnosis is NOT a life change.  The change had been happening slowly over the past months/year as the tumor in my spine had been growing, as the Lymphoma had been blooming like a forsythia branch across both sides of my chest.  And the past six weeks has been more than an “instant,” it’s been — well, six weeks.

Six weeks have never felt both as long, and as short, a span of time as I’ve experienced.  This week feels like a change in my recovery, though.  It feels like a point where I realize that I MUST take the reins, that I must be the captain of my own ship, and this makes me a bit scared, but also very strong.

Who knew that fear and strength could live so comfortably together.

New Direction
So today, with my early morning appointment to double check whether I will require a transfusion THIS week at St. John’s Cancer Center, will be a kind of ‘rest’ day.  It will be a chance to see the Chemo nurses who have been SO amazingly wonderful, to thank them, to discuss with them that I may be getting my Chemo down in Rochester.

I know that no one is invested in my staying at St. John’s, I know that the most important thing is that I get the absolute BEST treatment for my own body.  Avoiding a future relapse is my #2 priority. (#1 is beating this Lymphoma and going into remission)

I think Mayo will give me the best option to reach outcomes #1 & #2.

Break Up?
Yesterday I discussed this with my Radiational Oncologist at St. John’s, and she assuaged a bit of my — guilt? — at my ‘breakup’ with St. Johns.  I know this is the wrong way to consider this decision, but it does feel as though I’ve spent six weeks with one team, who has worked hard to get me to a plateau stage where I can even consider beginning chemo, only to move on to a different care team.

No, I definitely don’t feel GUILT, but I DO want St. John’s to know how grateful I am, although at times it was a rough gratitude, for their care and hard work for me.

Worry
I try hard NOT to be a worrier. I try to deal with worries in an intelligent manner, working through what it’s possible for me to affect, and what is beyond my power, and just deal with what can be dealt with.  It’s the same way I try to deal with guilt and shame, my mother used to say, “If you feel guilty, fix it. If you feel ashamed, apologize.”

It sounds simple — and I guess on one level it is — but it’s not EASY
Nothing about this has been easy.

I have worry about Gerry and his heart.  Right now his OWN cancer treatment is kind of on hold while we deal with his two heart attacks in March, and it seems the way that we’re ‘dealing’ with the heart condition is to — just sit and watch it?  He stopped his cardio rehab after another heart pain incident this Summer, and it hasn’t been started again, but it’s something that really WAS doing him a great deal of good.

So on Thursday when we return to the Mayo we’ll be there for TWO reasons.  As discussed above, I’ll be meeting Dr. T to discuss chemo treatment for my own cancer, and we’ll be visiting Dr. H (Gerry’s Hematologist) to talk about his OWN Multiple Myeloma, where he is with his numbers, how HE’S looking and what the next step is in HIS recovery.

I will always be Gerry’s caregiver.  Gerry WANTS to be mine, but his health isn’t allowing that.  Every day I’m so grateful that we have Andy to step in and fill in the gaps Gerry and I are leaving in each other’s lives, but that is NOT a fair place to put Andy in for a long haul.  And I’m hoping this is NOT for the long haul.  Thursday will be a big day for all three of us.

Thank heaven for Andy.

Resting
Aside from my appointment today, and some yarn wringing out that I’m going to wrangle Andy into doing for me, today is a REST day.  No walking, no trips, nothing but sitting on my butt, knitting, watching some TV and RESTING.

Yesterday I attended a support group meeting, a very lovely group of women who all have Stage 4 Cancer diagnosis.  However, I don’t feel the group is right for me at this time — I’m a bit ‘group shy’ right now and want to avoid the chance of infection
(several of the group members were coughing and sneezing yesterday.)

With two doctor visits and the support group, I was absolutely SHATTERED with exhaustion yesterday, today is Resting Wednesday.

I need this.