Monthly Archives: October 2011

My Last Chemo!

Sooooo… today is my last chemo treatment! Since it’s Halloween on Monday and I figured I would be in no mood to dress up, I came to my last chemo session as Mrs. Voorhees: the Cancer Slayer. Complete with my lucky, bloody, cancer-slaying machete (thanks Chris!). Too bad I’m the only one who came dressed BUT it did raise spirits and laughter! Mission accomplished.

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Chemo Week – Part II

(cont. from Chemo Week – Part I)

As I’m writing this, its the Thursday right before Halloween and I just had my pre-chemo treatment today.  Tomorrow is Friday, the big day.  Its the ‘big day’ because its my last round of chemotherapy.  There’s an ominous feeling of nervousness in the pit of my stomach being that this weekend is All Hollow’s Eve and the last round of chemo was really hard on me; physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  BUT, although there’s butterflies in stomach, there’s also a beautiful, bright light at the end of the tunnel that I can finally see.

I lift my hands to believe again,

You are my refuge, You are my strength.

As I pour out my heart, these things I remember,

You are faithful, God, forever.

Let faith arise.

This song has been in my heart, its been my anthem and my inspiration throughout this whole ordeal.  I even made it my ringtone!  I was lucky enough to be able to see its songwriter, Chris Tomlin, sing this live in concert last night, the night before my last round of chemotherapy.  No coincidence, I know.  God has a beautiful and grand way of letting us know that He loves us by arranging things perfectly, just in time.  I’d been struggling mostly emotionally and spiritually over the last couple of weeks and this concert was like I’d been thrown a lifesaver at a critical moment while trying to keep my head out of water in the roughest sea.

I was liberated of the heaviest weight on my shoulders I’d ever felt in my entire life.  The night’s speaker, Louie Giglio, spoke of a time in his life where a dark cloud plagued him, resulting in many sleepless nights.  I knew it in my heart when he said it:  I’d been dealing with my own dark cloud.  Like I said, just in time.

Friday is chemo day and I get my big, purple Zumba bag ready:  Kindle (check), tabloid magazines (check, because I HAVE to keep up with my Kardashian news), headphones (check), I-pod (check, complete with the latest Zumba tunes), and my new lime green blanket (check, courtesy of my thoughtful friend Mariann).  Its gonna be a LONG five hours at the cancer center.  I’ll give you the short version.

Since the needle is already in place from the day before from pre-treatment, I don’t have to worry about another needle-stick.  Whoop uh dee doo.  The nurse flushes it out again with the skunky stuff and hooks me up to my first of about 5 different IV bags of chemotherapy.  I joke with the nurse that they’re giving me rat poison, just enough NOT to kill me.  They start me with anti-nausea medication because who wants to see THAT on the floor?  Or anywhere for that matter.  The whole process is really not that bad until we get to the fourth bag about 2-3 hours into the treatment.  My favorite!  Its set at a very fast drip and its the only one that affects me the moment it gets going.  You know that awful feeling you get when you snort too much water accidentally up your nose?  The one where it hurts your nasal cavity and travels up your forehead and over the back of your head?  Yeah, that’s the lovely effect I get EVERY time from this particular IV bag and it lasts for about a week thereafter.  I wish my pee would just turn pink like it does when I get the Kool-Aid red bag…I could live with that.

The mood of the chemotherapy room depends on the day and who’s there.  Sometimes its quiet, sometimes its full of laughs, but it’s always full of hope.  We smile at each other even though we don’t feel like smiling.  We encourage each other because its like we’re encouraging ourselves.  My buddy Albert always comes by my recliner to say hello and tell me everything is gonna be alright and I know he’s right.  Everything is pretty ho-hum throughout the whole process and I’m ready for it to be over when the nurse comes over with the blood pressure gauge.  YES!  Time to go home and EEEEEAT!  Instead of losing weight, I’ve unfortunately gained it due to the insane amount of prednisone steroids I have to take after each chemotherapy session.  Oh well, I would much rather gain weight than have my life cut short.  I can always lose the weight, but I can’t come back from the dead.  I’ll leave those miracles to the Son of God…I’m not that talented.

The nurse flushes out my chestport again (skunk)  and takes the dressing off my chest.  SWEET RELIEF!!  The itchiness can finally be scratched and my skin can breeeeeef!  The nurse gives me an order for lab work that I need to have done before my next treatment along with an appointment card for my follow-up with my doctor.  I high-tail it out of there with my posse (my one visitor I’m allowed) and head for the nearest exit!  Being that tomorrow is my LAST treatment, I have no idea how tomorrow’s session is gonna end so my curiousity has been peaked.

I go to my parents’ house usually as the effects of the day are too much for me to be alone at home.  I try to keep ahead of the nausea with medication but it sneaks up on me.  That snorted-water feeling remains for the entire week along with the nausea.  My fifth round of treatment resulted in the most instense case of chemo brain or brain fog since I started the first treatment.  I walked around in a complete zombie-like daze for an entire week with my husband and friends constantly having to repeat themselves.  And even then, all they got in return at times was a blank stare.  God bless their patient hearts!  Try as I might, I could not make my way through the fog that clouded my mind.  I have two words for you to describe chemo brain:  Patrick Star.  If you’ve ever watched Spongebob Squarepants or have a child under the age of 10, you know exactly who I’m referring to.

Patrick Star

This is your brain on chemo drugs.

I think I’m gonna start a campaign to make Patrick Star the official spokestar for chemo brain sufferers everywhere.  Believe me, I can relate to that guy.  After about eight days of nausea, snorted-water head, and chemo brain, I finally start to feel like myself.  The nausea eases, the snorted-water feeling goes away, and the fog begins to lift.  But my head is still bald.

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Listen to the little voice in your head. It knows more than you.

Intuition.  You know that little voice that tells you you shouldn’t do that?  Or the one that tells you something might be wrong?  Sometimes its just a weird inkling in the pit of your stomach, that ‘gut’ feeling.  I call it Godspeak.  Yeah, I had all of that literally SCREAMING at me as if in all caps for months but, did I listen?  Of course not.  I decided  (as many of us do) to remain completely oblivious or completely ignorant really as I look back on it now.

I didn’t know it at the time, but one of the main symptoms for non-Hodgkins lymphoma are night sweats; I’d been having them for months already.  By January 2011, it had been at least six months with at least 3 nights out of the week resulting in me having to change my clothes in the middle of the night because I was sweating so profusely.  I was about to celebrate my 30th birthday in February, so I attributed it to “getting old and my hormones going out of wack.”  No one thought it could be anything more sinister and least of all, me.  These things just don’t happen to me.  Or so I thought.

By the end of January, I started to experience some pain in my left hip.  It wasn’t very painful, just an annoying type of pain like when you pull a muscle trying to prove how flexible you are when you’re really not.  As usual, I made up an excuse and thought it was because of the 10+ Zumba Fitness classes I was leading every week.  “Just an overworked muscle.  It’ll work itself out.  Just gotta walk it off.  Take a couple of Advils.”  I thought of them ALL.  When I started to have to lift my leg with my hands to enter and exit the car, I went to see a chiropractor.  Why didn’t I go to the doctor and get an x-ray you ask?  Do YOU know why you don’t visit the doctor and take over-the-counter medicine instead?  Denial is human nature.  I thought I was unstoppable and no doctor was gonna tell me any different.  I could take care of myself.

Following my chiropractor’s orders, I stopped teaching for a few weeks.  That second week of January would be the last time I got to do what I love best in the world for God knows how long and I didn’t even know it.  By February, literally the week after my 30th birthday, the pain had yet to subside and only felt like it was getting worse.  The Monday after my 80s-tastic birthday weekend bash, I finally went to see my family doctor.  He immediately sent me for an x-ray and it came back, drum roll please……..completely NORMAL??  These guys are supposed to know more than us and it came back normal?!  I was sent on my merry way with instructions to refrain from exercising only to come back to him a week later.  “There’s no way there’s nothing wrong with my hip,” I told him.  The pain was only getting worse with each passing day and I hadn’t done a thing to aggravate it.  I was following my doctor’s orders.  The urgency of the little voice in my head was growing and becoming frantic.  The difference was I was finally listening but doctors weren’t.

 

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Why is it bothering me so much?

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I heard about Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ passing while I was on my iPhone. How ironic. His life was claimed by pancreatic cancer and that hit me like a freight train. True, there have been other celebrity types that have passed away from cancer since I was diagnosed, but none have affected me like this one in particular.

I think it’s affected me because I looked up to Steve Jobs and his genius. A college dropout, he started a company from scratch, built it up, and got fired only to be re-hired when it started to flounder. He gave Apple a much needed face-lift. Steve Jobs knew what we wanted before WE even knew what we wanted. And don’t even get me started with his little project, Pixar.

He fought pancreatic cancer for eight long years and it showed on his face and body. All the while though, his innovative mind never took a break. Since 2003, the year he was diagnosed, Apple has continued to produce new and innovative gadgets and kept consumers on the edge of their seats for what’s next.

I saw a video last night of a college commencement speech he gave in 2004 that really humanized him. He was not just Steve Jobs, Apple bigshot. He was Steve Jobs, a dreamer, a loving husband and father, a true family man. He spoke of the intense love he had for his wife and how he truly loved his job. He urged the graduates to find something they love to do and not to live their lives in regret. He told them how he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the year before but that doctors told him he would be ok since he’d had surgery to remove the tumor. That hit me like a ton of bricks. He was supposed to be ok.

I loved what he said to the grads with this quote. Truly the way to live your life:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Well said.

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Chemo Week – Part I

WARNING:  TMI (aka too much information) and occasional hints of sarcasm to follow.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you!!

Chemo week.  I call it septimana horribilis.  I am not making that up either!  Its Latin for seven-day period of horror, of shakiness, of the inability to act because of physical or emotional unsteadiness (Shout out to Pastor Mike with the Latin and/or Greek references!).  Don’t get it twisted; I am NOT that smart.  I googled ‘horrible week’ and have now christened this recurring week with the perfect Latin term.  Its really perfect in its definition because ‘horrible week’ simply does not convey the horribilis-ness of chemo.

Septimana horribilis begins every 3rd week with Wednesday, the day before PRE-chemo.  Chyeah!  There’s stuff in preparation for it!  I can’t just show up to chemo all willy-nilly.  I must first visit the lab so they can get samples of my poisoned blood to make sure I’m healthy (I use that term loosely) enough to get chemo in two days.  If I’m lucky, I get a phlebotomist that has done this to more than a few people so it doesn’t burn and turn to a nice shade of maroon or a beautiful green hue later.

Thursday marks pre-chemo day!  YAY!  I’m trying to tone down the notes of sarcasm but its a bit difficult in my delicate state.  I did it again.  (Refer to warning above.)  My day starts pretty early in the morning since I usually have to be checked in at the cancer center by 8:00am.  I get up and do the usual as any other person except after I brush my teeth, I must tend to my PowerPort or mediport.  What’s a mediport you ask?  Its basically a little plastic button with a wire attached that is surgically implanted in the chest right under the skin and a second incision by the jugular vein in the neck is used to fish the wire into the jugular.  The port has a squishy center through which drugs can be administered with a special power injection needle poked into the skin and into the squishy center (septum).  This way I don’t have to get an IV in my arm every time I go to treatment.  That’s right!  I have POWER INJECTION!  I’m bionic.  Jealous?

Mediport or Chestport

Tending to my PowerPort is actually kinda interesting.  I have a special lidocaine cream that I must ‘apply generously’ to the skin where the needle goes.  Now, don’t get lidocaine convinced with novocaine.  Novocaine is the awesome stuff that songs are written about that you can only get at the dentist.  I get the boring stuff.  I then get me some saran wrap and gift-wrapping tape, cover it up, and voila!  This home-made dressing always gets a chuckle out of my attending nurse.  Simple yet effective.  She then proceeds to ask me the same question every time before she hooks me up:  “Do you want to leave the needle in or take it out?”   I usually opt to leave it in as I come back the next day for chemo and prefer not to be poked twice.  Except that one time I wanted to wear that cute top to an event…but I digress.  The downfall to leaving it in is the dressing or more specifically, THE TAPE.  I’m not allergic but its still so itchy!  It makes me feel like Hulk Hogan and I want to rip off my shirt like him along with the tape.  Plus this dressing does nothing for my look and draws more than a few stares from strangers when they see it.  Kinda hard to miss and I don’t blame them.  I did it too.

Pre-chemo day is the day I get my lovely dose of Rituxan.  I’m given a hefty dose of Benadryl beforehand that instantly makes me feel like I’ve been hitting the bar at happy hour for a few too many hours.  I then proceed to take a groggy nap with my zebra print Snuggie for 2-3 hours (I really should send a letter to the Snuggie people, they are GENIUSES.  Maybe they’ll send me a green one for lymphoma!  But again, I digress.).  Rituxan is the “R” in R-CHOP, my specified chemo cocktail.  CHOP stands for four different big-word chemo types I’m given the next day on Friday.  I don’t even know how to spell them so I suggest you Google it if you really need to know.  The whole slow drip (drip. drip.. drip…) process takes about 4-5 hours while I sit in a recliner in a huge, cold room lined with more recliners, all full of fellow cancer fighters attached to their drips.

TMI alert:  I visit the restroom at least 3-4 times because of all the liquid being sent into my body, but then again I’m not the only one.  Its typical to see a line of people pushing their portable IV poles to the only restroom we have.  I hate when I get one with rusty wheels that squeak because then everybody looks up to see who it is and they know exactly where I’m going.  There’s always a sad game show or soap opera playing on the tiny, too-far TVs that nobody’s paying attention to anyway.  There’s people of all ages, sizes, and stages of cancer.  I tend to see some of the same usual suspects, but unfortunately there’s always a newbie.  There’s a young woman about my age I always see but have yet to work up the courage to sit next to her, I don’t know why.  We always smile at each other with the same sheepish smile that says, “I know.”  Maybe this is all we both need?  Words have a way of getting in the way, a look can convey it all.  Sometimes I’m lucky and I get to sit next to an interesting/funny/inspiring fighter.  Most people keep to themselves and sometimes that’s just how I like it…I’m guessing they do too.

I know pre-chemo is over when my attending nurse comes over with the blood pressure gauge and thermometer.  She then proceeds to flush my PowerPort with a liquid that (I swear) tastes the way a skunk smells for about 3 seconds.  My ‘educated’ guess is that I can taste it is because the wire is in my jugular, close to my head where my nose and taste buds are located.  She leaves the needle in as requested beforehand and sends me on my merry way with a reminder card for tomorrow’s chemo appointment.  Thursday’s pre-chemo is officially over although the effects of Benadryl still linger.  At home, my dogs benefit from this effect as they get to take a nap with me in bed, a rare treat for them.  I fall asleep to Coby making piggy noises while he ruffles the bed to find his perfect spot and Flower already asleep smashed up against my side…this part, not so horribilis.

To be continued…

 

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Completely Oblivious.

Completely Oblivious – Jan. 2011

Yup.  That’s me.  Completely oblivious to what’s lurking in my body, coming to get me.  I’ve always been a relatively healthy person.  My sister and I have had an ongoing joke for as long as I can remember about how she got the short end of the stick in the health department.  She’s had to get braces, a Dark Ages-looking metal contraption to fix her overbite, asthma, a cancer scare, and the list goes on.  Not me.  I’ve enjoyed a lifetime of straight teeth and no chronic health issues.  I think I can even count on one hand how many times I’ve been sick with the flu.

And so, at the time this picture was taken, life was peachy keen and couldn’t have been more perfect.  My husband and I had just jumped into our first adventure in starting our own business, a Zumba Fitness studio in October of 2010.  If you’ve been living under a rock or in a cave, in short, Zumba Fitness is a Latin-inspired dance workout.  Fun and effective.  I’d lost 50 lbs. at this point with the program and was thoroughly enjoying teaching 10+ classes a week.  Not to mention the wonderful man I get to call my husband who made this dream of mine come true.  This was my full-time job and I loved it.  Lucky girl.
Lymphoma was about to rear its ugly head and turn our perfect life together upside-down.  I’ve always liked those crazy rides at the carnival or theme parks that turn you upside-down, the loop-de-loop.  The ones where people look at you like you’ve lost it when you say you wanna do that again.  This is THE ride of a lifetime but I don’t think I want a second go-around.  Call me crazy.
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Its lymphoma…with an ‘L’.

Wow. So this getting to know myself thing is really interesting; not to mention scary. At least to me it is. And this whole blogging thing is REALLY new to me but, I have to admit, painfully necessary.

I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma this year on June 28. Yeah, the big “C” as they call it. Or the “aww, that sucks for him/her” as I used to call it. I told an English-challenged friend of mine what was wrong and he asked, “Isn’t that when you’re like addicted to sex?” How I wished it was just that. “It’s lymphoma with an ‘L’, not an ‘N’,” I replied. Hence, lymphomaniac.

I started this blog for a few reasons:

  1. It’s cathartic.
  2. I have chemo brain and I need to write this all down before I forget.
  3. I facebook WAY too much. Is ‘facebook’ or ‘to facebook’ a verb?
  4. You (meaning my adoring blog readers) oughtta know. Yeah, I know… I heard Alanis too.

So, here goes nothin’. Stupid cancer. That’s “Stupid.” With a capital ‘S.’

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