Thursday, May 31, 2012

We're back!

sorry its been such a long time between posts.  We tried hard to leave the electronics alone while we were in the Keys.  It was an amazing & wonderful trip - more about it soon.

I am about done with the 2nd day of this cycle of chemo.  Dr Keedy added back in the adriamycin (the Red Devil) drug this time and it has kicked my ass like it did the first cycle.  I've gotten a ton of phenergan so far which is helping keep the vomiting at bay most of the time but I still feel nauseous & like I was hit with a train.  Had to also get 2 more units of blood because my red counts were a bit low.  They were really at the threshold between needing blood & not so we decided better to be safe.  So i haven't done much of anything the last 2 days except sit here in the chemo suite.  But after today we are halfway thru - there is a light out there at the end of this tunnel.

Sadly, one of our kitties - Gus - has disappeared.  We last saw him the day I got out of the hospital.  Despite signs in the neighborhood & a plea to help locate him emailed to our neighborhood there has been no sign of him.  Emilia in particular is pretty torn up about this as she had really bonded with him.  I'm suspicious that he was taken by someone as there has been no report of his body being found either.  He had a collar & has a microchip but that wouldn't deter an ill-intentioned person.

Nice grouper Kendall caught!

Well, I'm going to keep this short as my energy level is exceptionally low today.  One picture to tease you into wanting to see more of our vacation shots when I get them organized & posted...

Sending hugs & kisses!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Clearance, Clarence!

Yep thats correct we have clearance to go on vacation, officially.  No more appointments before we leave except a routine check up with the surgeon tomorrow.

Had my labs done this morning; I was worried when I got to the Infusion Suite for my neulasta shot & the charge nurse asked me if I could wait a while to be sure I didn't need a transfusion.  Meanwhile I'm furiously checking for the results on my ipad (love technology & at Vanderbilt I see my labs the same time my doctor gets them).  Guess what - the red blood counts are actually better than they were when I was getting treatment last week.  Much better than they were on May 1st when I had to get the transfusions.  So, no blood products needed this week.  In my slowly growing medical knowledge, I have learned that there are really two numbers to look at for red blood cells.  One is PCV (which stands for packed cell volume, strange) or Hematocrit.  The other is platelet level.  My platelets are good (they have to be above 75 to have a treatment & Dr Keedy likes them above 85) - mine are 167.  PCV is harder for me to understand, but mine was 29 today (it was down to 24 when I got the transfusions).  They also I think sometimes look at an actual red blood cell count, but I'm not clear when that number is used & when its not.  Dr Keedy explains it to me every time I go but then by the time I get to write about it I've forgotten.  The red blood cells are the ones that transfer oxygen around your body.  The white blood cells fight infection.

Hooray.  This is a great sign, to me, because it means that my body handled the last week of treatments well.  My white counts were low but I got the Neulasta injection today & that will boost them back up during the next week or so.

So, I was a little nervous about today's blood tests.  I didn't feel so great this morning - not terrible just really tired so I was expecting them to be a little less good than they were. You know I didn't really want to go to the dentist either & I actually told the dentist not to clean my teeth today because of my low white counts.  So I was leaving the dentist parking lot to go over & get my labs done & guess what I came across.  A heads up penny.  We've all heard that old saying right -
heads up penny, pick it up, all the day you'll have good luck.
pennys tails, flip again, share the luck with your friend.

So I picked it up.  I never ever do that.  Here it is - kind of a junky looking penny & a really bad droid picture.  But evidently it was today's good luck sign.  Think about all the forces that had to align for me to come across that penny in the parking lot right before I went to the lab.  I had to go to the dentist, park in the right spot, leave at the right time, actually look down & see it, think to pick it up, etc.

So that started me thinking about signs.  I've always been a big believer in signs or coincidences or omens & things like that.  Weird for someone who is so fact-oriented.  The other day I was waiting in the car while Kendall went in the post office (thats the  way I torture him, making him go to that horrible awful place - its worse than Walmart).  There was a train track right next to the post office & a train barrelled down it the entire time I sat there.  And a song about trains (chemo brain means I have no clue actually which song) played on the radio the whole time.  Who the heck knows what that means, if anything, but it sure was a weird coincidence.

The first person I ever met who shared a birthday with me turned out to truly be my sister from another mother.  Thats a coincidence, right?  There are millions of strange little signs out there that some higher power is either seriously screwing with our minds or is trying to give us signals (or both most likely).  Anyway, I'm not making a lot of sense this afternoon am I?

I'm so excited about dinner tonight - an amazing looking lasagna, yummy bread, a great salad, & mini cupcakes.  Thank you guys so much.  I was also honored today that I get to go with my friend when she has a little procedure done in August.  Mean the world to me to be able to "help back" some of the people who have done so much for us these last few months.

The girls are getting into a frenzied state about being nearly done with school & going on vacation.  Love to see their excitement.  Oh wait, thats me, not them.  They are still whiny about getting up in the morning & mad that I'm telling them to clean up their rooms.

Thanks for the encouragement, support & thoughts - I probably won't post any pictures until I get back from vacation.  Here are some for you to be thinking about while we're gone.  Hope mine are even better!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

3 down, 4 to go

Yep that's right! Finished the 3rd round (or 6th cycle as they count it in oncology world). Woohoo. After the severe nausea & stuff mid-week things got better during the last round. I got my 5th infusion Saturday morning & was home by noon! Life moves at a different speed altogether in the hospital. Minutes are hours & hours are days. I'm sure for those working there saving lives that's not true. But for those sitting there getting chemo it is! I don't regret my decision to do this past week as an inpatient. I don't know if I will go the inpatient route aagin though. So if I was counting I have now had 21 total infusions. I have 28 to go. That sounds pretty damn manageable to me! Tomorrow I get to go to the dentist. Yuk. And get my blood checked. Yuk. And get my neulasta shot. Yuk. And go to work. Yay. But I'm expecting my blood work to be fine and will ensure that the nurse who draws it prays before she sends it in again. In fact I may ask for the same nurse who got me the great results last time! And as much as I don't like getting shots I'm coming to see the neulasta as enabling me to stay on schedule. Makes it easier to get the shot! And, ey, I have pain pills for the back pain it causes so it's all good. We had a low key weekend not really doing much of anything. That was perfect! We watched Free Willy, Eri & I got our nails done (thanks Mimi!), we ran a few errands, made chocolate chip cookies & homemade strawberry ice cream. I bought the girls nerf water guns at Target & thoroughly enjoyed watching them play with them. So tomorrows big task is to get packed for our trip! I have to pace myself (new concept for me) so I'm trying to knock out a couple things a day so we are ready to fly to Miami Wednesday night! I can barely even imagine 6 days at the beach with, God willing, no doctors or hospitals. To say we, all 4 of us, have earned it may be my biggest understatement yet!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Tough Sledding This Week

I won't lie - this week has been no fun.  Things move slow in a hospital & the chemo has been making me very sick this time, which is new for this routine.  Hasn't really made me sick before.  And along with the nausea comes a lot of anti-emitics that make me sleep.  So I should be well rested by the time  I get done on Saturday.  Been watching my blood counts take a little drop each day as a result of more chemicals being pumped in.

They do unhook me from the IV every morning so I can take a shower - thats nice.  I've learned the smell of chemo is disgusting.  It comes out thru your pores and its just not a good smell.  Showers help that a ton.

Its the highlight of my day when the girls & Kendall come visit each evening.  Last night EB brought me dinner that she had made - carribbean chicken.  Bless her heart there was no way I could eat.  I felt so bad about that.   Really haven't eaten anything since dinner on Monday.  I'm surprised they haven't lectured me about this but evidently they think I have enough "reserved" fat to make it thru.  No duh.

So please keep sending your encouragement, positive thoughts, and the like.  They are all appreciated!

Here's the photo therapy - Gus our cat torturing a chipmonk in our yard this weekend


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Waiting, waiting, waiting

So this is the first downside of inpatient chemo. Paperwork, bureaucracy & time to get admitted. Right now I'm sitting in the hospital admitting office waiting for a bed. Been here at the hospital since 8 this morning. Gosh, what was this like before wireless, laptops, iPads & droids? I guess everyone read books. I would've lost my mind!

Great news from my labs today. White & red blood cell counts are "great". Dr Keedy said she chose that word intentionally & was pleased with everything. The dosage of Ifosfamide & Etopocide this week will be the same as the last 2. And I will get labs drawn Monday afternoon so we Know where I stand before leaving for the beach. Did I mention we are going to the beach? My favorite place on earth is on a beach. When its together with Kendall & my baby girls it's even better!

Dr Keedy said she was a bit surprised how my blood work rebounded after the transfusion & how good my counts are. I reminded her we will not be adding any weeKs to this treatment & she seemed more optimistic about that possibility than last time. So whatever you all did to send positive blood count vibes, need you to remember that & I will call upon you to do that again on May 30 th so Round 4 can begin as planned. Yep after this week it's on to Round 4. And you know what Round 4 is? More than half way baby!

Last night I had the privilege of watching my oldest daughter perform a clarinet solo, her first ever. I was so proud sitting there watching her! So was Eriana. The video is on Facebook. She also ran a mile in 8 minutes & did 35 sit ups in a minute during fitness testing at school yesterday! She was the first girl to finish & she said she was the only girl who didn't walk. Clearly has her daddy's genes there!

It's hard to believe that they are finished with school next Wednesday. They both have exciting summers planned with camps, trips & swim team. I'm a little envious!

Well, still waiting. But not complaining I'm thrilled to still be on track to finish Round 3 this week!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Here we go again

Happy mother's day to all my mom friends.  Hope you have enjoyed a peaceful, fun day with your families.  Ours has been very nice - got to open my gifts in bed this morning & then Kendall made us all a delicious breakfast.  EB & I went to run some errands while Kendall & Eri picked up his mom from the airport.  Had a great lunch at Past Perfect downtown, now chilling out while I make a ribeye roast, roast potatoes, green beans, gravy & yorkshire pudding for dinner.  And homemade carrot cake for dessert.  yum.

Almost time for another 5 day round of chemo.  We're starting Tuesday this week so I don't miss EB's band concert tomorrow night.  And I'm getting admitted to the hospital for this round.  Kendall's mom will be here to take care of meals and stuff, so I am going to chill out in the hospital for a week with my laptop, my ipad, and a couple of books.  I don't know if it will be easier on my mentally than going in every single day but we've decided its worth a shot.  Oh, I'll be doing some knitting too if I can trap Angie into giving me a little help this week!  I really enjoy knitting, just not very good at it!

So, I will see Dr Keedy & have my labs done on Tuesday morning followed by admission & round 1 of the Ifosfamide-Etopocide.  I'll get it every day this week including Saturday then get out of the hospital on Saturday.  If you're bored & want to visit, come on by - email me first so I can tell you what room I'm in.

I read an article in the paper today about a lady my age who had a baby & at the same time discovered she had uterine, ovarian & who knows what other kinds of cancer.  She's in the midst of the chemo & has also created a blog.  Reading the excerpts from her blog in the paper (she is much more poetic & elegant than I am in terms of writing), I was struck by the similarities in not only our situations, but our approaches to dealing with it.  She's attacking it head on much like we are.  Although I will likely never meet her, I can't help but feel a deep connection to her & her family.  And I hope her outcome is wonderful!

Our garden isn't doing so well & we don't know why.  It has plenty of water and plenty of sunshine so we are suspicious of a lack of nutrition in our soil.  Our sweet neighbors took a sample to the extension office for us so we should know something this week.  It did rain quite a bit this weekend which seems to have helped out some.  Remember what Emilia said about cancer being my rain?  I was struck by that comment again when she & I were out in the garden today.  Why does the rain do the plants so much more good than our expensive & consistent drip irrigation?  Same reason why cancer has done our family so much more good than our carefully planned & executed daily lives I suppose.  Anyway here are some shots from the garden for your therapy this weekend!
Love this picture of the pansies with raindrops on them.

Emilia in the garden (no its not cold enough for that hat!)

Our sweet corn is coming up!

A beautiful orange lady bug & a lot of water droplets on our pea vines

What is that we see?  YES it is a pea pod.  I know its nuts to be so
excited about some dumb pea pods but we really are.

These are our potatoes.

And Eri planted her own row of sunflowers a couple weeks ago.
She loves to watch them grow!

We have watermelons & cantaloupes that are
looking good.  Honeydews in the same area are all
but dead.  Go figure.

Our second bluebird family this year!  This time there are 5 eggs.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Over 9000 Page Views!

Wow, astonishing that my blog has been read 9000 times since January.  Thank you all for your dedicated reading!  I hope you continue & also keep sharing it with your friends & family.

Well the cooking therapy has kicked back in recently & I'm having a lot of fun making new recipes & exploring new things I've never made before.

Last night we had fresh veggie soup - sauteed some onions, carrots, peppers then cooked some potatoes into it with chicken stock.  Added some fresh herbs & pureed before we ate it.  Also added some pesto into the bowl when I served it.  Delicious.  We had a salad too - with lettuce we bought at the Farmers Market on Tuesday night.  And rotisserie chicken.  All fresh & healthy.  And for dessert we had fresh strawberry shortcake with strawberries that were on the plant just earlier in the day yesterday.

Tonight Katie brought us some amazing moroccan chicken, wild rice & salad.  Delicious!  And I made a fresh fruit tart - there are some things I would do differently next time but for the first time, I'm pretty proud - check it out!

After dinner, Kendall & EB went to the Sounds baseball game.  Eri went to see the Aladdin play with her buddy Matt.  Kendall said we can have the tart for dessert tomorrow, but I told him I'm not waiting that long! 

So I'm here alone, enjoying a quiet night watching Grey's Anatomy reruns.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Good Counts!

Yep, white blood cells are back in the "normal" range for a healthy person (which is higher than the "normal" range for a cancer patient) and the neulasta hasn't really kicked in yet so they are expected to climb some more.  It was 3.4 last week (threshold for "normal" is 3.9) & it was 4.2 today!  Yes!

Red counts (they still confuse me, I've got to get some more education on the different numbers) are much better than last week too.  So no transfusion this time, but clearly the last one did a lot of good!  My platelet count, which must be above 75 to get treatment, was 86 last week.  Today it was 302, so back close to what it has historically been.  The other number they seem to be monitoring is hematocrit.  Mine last week before getting the 2 units of blood was down to 24.  This week its back up to 30, which is still a bit below the normal limit of 36ish, but much improved.  Since surgery mine has hovered around 28-34 so I'm right back in that range.

I haven't spoke with Dr Keedy, only with her nurse, but unless something changes dramatically in the next week it appears things will be good for my treatment to start Tuesday and therefore for our vacation to happen starting on the 23rd.

And the power of mind over matter combined with the miracles of modern medicine continue to work!!!!!  Here's a funny irony though - they evidently really don't have good modern medicine for this damn swelling.  Look at how they wrapped up my leg last week at physical therapy.  Seriously?  How is one supposed to carry on a normal existence like this?   I kept it that way for a few hours then had to unwrap it.  It did help the swelling but that is probably more because I couldn't hardly move than because of the wrap I'm thinking.  I go back to PT on Friday - my hope is to get them to approve the nighttime wrap that slips on & off & then move on.  I'm just going to have to live with lymphedema.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Yes, yes, yes, a million times YES

Celebrating one of the first milestones on the path to being a cancer survivor not a cancer patient.  Boy does it feel amazing.  A little weird frankly but amazing.  As of 8.10 this morning, I am finished with radiation therapy!!!  I have been to the hospital 27 of the last 30 days for either radiation or chemo.  No more daily trips, woo hoo!!!  Aside from recovering from surgery, this is really the first big survivor-path milestone we have hit. 

A few weeks ago my friend Ann baked us Alan Jackson's favorite Chocolate Sheet Cake.  Its delicious & pretty simple to make so I made it last night & took it to the radiation therapists today to say Thank you for taking such great care of me the last 6 weeks.  Margie, an older lady who has been my primary therapist, was so touched by the cake - it made me feel good. 

Poor Emilia is home sick today.  She's sleeping peacefully right now, hope she is better this evening so we can go out to celebrate.

We had a great weekend - Saturday the kids had a ball "helping" our neighbors with their garage sale.  Emilia sold out of all her jams except for the Mango Mint - I guess people have trouble wrapping their heads around that flavor combination.  She got savvy this time - had graham crackers so people could sample.  I think she was pretty willing to sacrifice on price but she was so proud of her accomplishment.  Great lessons in marketing, sales, & persistence.  She tried to give me $10 as my "25% for making all the product".  I told her to keep it & discovered the little tycoon has $100 cash in her wallet.  Hoarder.

Eri & Clara Beth - BFFs from birth, literally.
It was hard to get them to be still long enough
to take a picture & I forgot my good
Saturday evening EB & I took Eriana to her buddy Clara Beth's fifth birthday party up in Hendersonville.  Eri & CB were in daycare together from 6 weeks old until we moved Eri to Primrose when she was 4.  They have such an amazing bond - they don't see each other all that often now but when they do its like they have never spent a moment apart.  I'm really intrigued by their connection.  I absolutely adore CB & her family, especially her mom Sheri who is a kind, loving, fun, smart, amazing working mom.

Happy Birthday CB!  They are sweaty from
the jumpy house!  Good times!
Yesterday I took the girls to see Chimpanzee - amazing footage, frankly horrible narration.  Tim Allen should stick to comedy & let James Earl Jones do the narrating.  I thought they would be freaked out by the mom chimp dying & the orphan struggling but they really weren't.  Our girls are just like me - its the facts of life, deal with it!  We went & bought a new mattress yesterday too - very exciting since we were still sleeping on the one we bought when we got out of the Army in 1999.  They delivered it last night & its HUGE - our bed is so tall now.  Pretty cool. 

Right now I'm sitting on our screened porch - its a beautiful cool morning & I'm excited to take a day off today to spend with one of my best friends, Mindy, celebrating her birthday.  We are going to take a class at the Viking Cooking School - a farm to table class where we get to cook with fresh, local ingredients.  There are birds everywhere - a bluebird keeps landing near the porch & Gus, our adopted big cat who sometimes thinks he is a dog, is sitting out here with me.  He can't decide if he wants to chase the birds (he's a great hunter) or take a nap.  Gus is such a funny cat - we've had him almost a year now - he is only 3 but he's huge.  He goes for a walk every morning with Kendall & the dogs.  And he adores EB.  He is absolutely gorgeous & has been such a delightful addition to our family.

Tomorrow I am getting a blood count so we will see how much my white & red counts have improved from the transfusion & the Neulasta.  I need all my friends, readers, even my enemies, to send hugely positive blood count vibes please.  If the counts are good, I will be free from doctors until next Tuesday when I get admitted for the next round of ifosfamide & etopocide.  If the counts are good, we will more than likely stay on schedule for this round of chemo.  If the counts are good, our trip to the Keys on the 23rd will more than likely come off as scheduled.  So please, think positive thoughts for me tomorrow!  I will let you all know how they are once I know.

Life is perfectly good today - definitely something to celebrate.  I'm excited, no THRILLED, for a week with no treatments, for feeling wonderful, for being done with radiation, for the amazing family I have, for this life I get to lead.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Writing on my head!

JAM is kind of quiet this week - pretty tired for some reason.  But, hey the first half of round 3 is in the history books.  And only ONE MORE radiation treatment on Monday then we can close that chapter too.  Sweet.

The transfusion was fine - didn't really feel any different than getting IV fluids.  That is to say it didn't really feel like anything.  They gave me benadryl with the transfusion so I was pretty sleepy during it.  Unusual for me to doze, not work, in the chemo suite but it is what it is! 

Looking forward to a relaxing weekend.  Eri is going to her friend Clara Beth's birthday party on Saturday afternoon, we have some fence to finish putting up in the garden, a couple plants to get in the ground when that's finished.  And thats about it!

Eri's Work
I wanted to share these pictures - I let the girls use my now completely bald head as a white board the other day.  They loved that!  What other use is a bald head besides for a white board?  Makes sense to me & dry erase markers work really well on it too!!
EB's work

Have a great weekend!  I promise to try & write more interesting posts next week!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Good News, Bad News

I'll start with the good news.  Dr Keedy held the Adriamycin (red devil) again because I'm still doing radiation (even though I only FOUR - count them - FOUR! treatments remaining).  So chemo today was quick - cytoxan & vincristine & done.  That was an unexpected treat.

Not good news on my blood counts though.  Warning, this is your medical school lesson for the day as I attempt to explain all this -hope its not too confusing or boring.  They were okay to proceed with treatment this time, but they were significantly worse than 2 weeks ago. 

My white blood cell count (for my fellow cancer buddies who study this stuff!) was down to 3.4 (below 3.9 is considered low).  2 weeks ago it was 11 & a month ago it was like 15.  Amazing how fast these drugs can affect your blood counts, even with white blood cell boosters like the Neulasta shot I get after chemo.  So, we don't have to do anything about this right now, but it is pretty border line & I don't know what the threshold value is where treatment has to be delayed - I'm going to ask the nurses for another explanation tomorrow.  Low white blood cells are a problem because of risk of getting sick.  There are 2 numbers they look at for red blood cell counts.  One is platelet count; I can't remember what the other one is.  Both of mine are low, but not "emergency" low.  My platelet count is 86 (below 90 is considered anemic but I think I can continue to get chemo so long as its above 75). 2 weeks ago it was 315 - big drop huh.  So, that means a few things...

First, I have to get 2 units of blood tomorrow.  Takes an hour or so per unit to infuse & they can do it in the infusion suite right after (or before, not sure) I get my chemo.  They use the port to do it too so I don't even have to get stuck again.  So that will boost it back up pretty much immediately.  Dr Keedy explained that the chemo basically stops your body from regenerating blood so I actually have about 6 units less blood than I should right now.  I'm still not exactly clear on how all that works.  The side effects from having low red blood count are feeling very tired and being short of breath.  Luckily, I have neither of those!

The more concerning (for me - and yes I know this is weird & makes no sense) issue is that if my blood counts continue to lower - which is totally expected - we will have to add weeks in between treatments.  Now, this is very concerning to me because I have a deadline.  I want my last treatment to be on September 7th.  Period.  I do not do delays or slowing down or making it easier - its not in m DNA (evidently it may be in my blood tho!).  I told Dr Keedy to find a way to make this adding weeks thing not happen and she kind of laughed at me.  She also made the mistake of telling me that she has only ever had one patient make it thru the whole 7 cycles with no delays - and she was 18.  So of course that makes me want to finish on time even more.  However, she's the boss (I know it kills me) so we will obviously do as she recommends.

It will be a scarf - eventually!
 I found a new form of therapy! My neighbor, Angie, taught me how to knit today.  Well she taught me how to knit while she is there supervising - I tried to do some more on my own & I'm stuck already.  However, it was very relaxing and fun & I loved spending the time with her.  In fact, we sat there doing it for about half an hour after chemo - they finally had to kick us out because they needed the room.  I can see myself spending a lot of time doing this once I get it right.  The trick is when I screw up, I need poor Angie to tell me what to do & how to fix it.  I bet she will get tired of that very quickly(=  Here's your photo therapy - of the beginning of my knitting career.  Its certainly less fattening than baking!

Speaking of baking, I made a turkey breast in the crockpot today (using my favorite slow cooker liners).  Pretty easy recipe - we will see how it tastes.  Believe it or not, I'm actually a bit hungry!

So thats the long & short of the first day of Cycle 3.  The first half of Cycle 3 is in the history books tomorrow!!  And if anybody knows how to boost your red & white blood cell counts without drugs or blood transfusions, I'm all ears...