Sunday, October 3, 2010

This Blog Made Possible By

It's been rewarding and even therapeutic to post entries in this blog. I deeply appreciate those who have taken the time to read the entries and to comment on them either on the blog itself or directly to me. I am grateful to have an effective and fun way to keep you all posted on my progress. This is why I must honor the person who made it all possible: Vlad, the ebullient, life-loving, broad-minded Romanian we all love and cherish. Vlad has been the dedicated Tech Support for our blog, often making suggestions and always posting comments. The entries would have been far less interesting without Vlad's technical expertise. When I asked to post pictures, Vlad patiently took the pictures, cataloged them and then transferred them to a thumb drive so I could upload them. When I asked to post a music video, he found a way to post it. When I asked him to streamline a set of pictures to look like movie, he researched it and found a way to make it happen. When I asked him to print the blog out, he found a way to get it done. Always standing by ready and willing, without rancor, to be my Tech Support. Like me, most of you have also experienced the benefits of Vlad's savvy, hi tech skills and knowledge. I recall many a night Vlad has spent diagnosing technical problems, or adding memory to his friends' often outdated, virus ridden equipment. He has installed countless laptops, desktops, routers and wireless adapters for many of us, including yours truly. And I have never seen him ask for anything in return, except for us to install our Microsoft updates on a regular basis and to be more careful about what we download.

Vlad has enriched my life in so many ways, including bringing many of you into my life. This blog, and the optimism and fun I hope it exudes, was made possible by him. Thank you, Vlad, for finding a way to comfort me and to make this journey a lot easier to endure.

The attached pictures are just a few examples from Vlad's amazing cacti collection. Many of you know of Vlad's legendary plant collection, particularly, his cacti. His passion for plants showcases that his interests and talents reach well beyond computers, networks, routers, wires and firmware. I chose to focus on the blooms not only because they are so amazing, but because they symbolize Vlad's nurturing impact on my life, and the optimism I feel that I will beat this cancer and will emerge a more hopeful, more grateful person because of it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bye Bye Cancer Cells

At last! I completed my final Chemotherapy Treatment on September 16th. No one wants to wish their days away, but this is one date that couldn't have come fast enough. And what a jubilant day it was! It started out with a comfortable workout at the gym followed by a half day's work with excel spreadsheets and cantankerous accountants. Mom picked me up, prompt as usual, and delivered me to the Chemo clinic.

Sandy, my vigilant infusion nurse, met me at the front desk and walked me back to the delivery drip room where I expected to settle into my self assigned chemo recliner with blanket, magazines and water bottle in tow (I chugged a diet coke before going in --no need to fuel Sandy's disapproval of my beverage of choice).

To my surprise my unassuming recliner was laden with pink bulbous balloons and a giant cake decked out with an enormous bald happy face. What a surprise!
And guess who orchestrated this event?

My mom drove all the way from her house to the Chemo clinic, dropped off said surprise, and then drove all the way back to the other side of town to pick me up! Never said a word. My mom has enriched my life and my brother and sister's lives in countless ways over our lifetimes. She has a curious, young spirit and an enormous ability to bring beauty into the lives of those fortunate to let her in.

It was a great way to commemorate the last Treatment.
Funny thing is I remember being as happy at Treatment #1 as I was at Treatment #6---it's all the ones in between 1 and 6 that were less than exuberant. We cut the cake and shared it with other patients and their friends and families who were there to support them. But wait!

Just as the second drip got underway, in walks my second surprise: Vlad! He never said a word either...just showed up with a chilled bottle of champagne. It was a wonderful surprise. Vlad was there on the first day and there on the last day....and everyday in between. He continues to take my breath away. I am so grateful he is part of my life.

Little did Mom or Vlad know that I was scheduled to see Dr. Graham after the drip session. Now I admire Dr. Graham (thank God for him), but when you have a date with Dr. Graham you better be prepared to wait. Why? Because he gives every single patient 100% of his full attention and will not walk away from them until all their questions have been answered and he has documented his review of their case in complete detail. Dr.Graham's notes are thorough and detailed, and I would imagine, legendary in the cancer community. I have often referred back to these notes to remind myself what's going on with me. In other words, I'll wait as long as I need to for Dr. Graham.

The three of us finally walked out of the clinic just after 530pm: Vlad with the yet to be opened bottle of champagne, Mom with her camera and library books, and me with a big boatload of perfect pink balloons. The cloudless, piercing blue sky was still bright with sunshine. It was a beautiful day. After depositing two more balloons with two crying children in the parking lot, I let go of the whole bunch as the three of us watched them float away and chanted "Bye Bye Cancer Cells". It was a great ending.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ode to the Crummy Chemo Cycle by Jerry Ruffner

Treatment One wasn't fun
Treatment Two was crummy, too

Treatment Three lowered the bar more, in training for Number Four

Then came Number Five to roast a thousand more C-cells alive.

Now to get ready for clean sweeping Number Six
Enjoy these edible pretty fruit sticks.

And when you are done with this miserable test,
take back your full life.
You deserve all the best.


Thanks, Dad, for putting a little fun into this weird and terrible process. Making fun it of it, takes the misery out of it. Vlad and I loved the edible fruit you and Susan sent to us. We washed down the melon, strawberries, grapes and pineapple pieces with a bottle of bubbly as a pre-celebration of the end of the Crummy Chemo Cycle. It was a wonderful treat.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The End is Coming!......


Last Chemo Treatment is on September 16th....Just one more Wasa Week to get through! Hallelujah!!!!!!!

Ironically, this will coincide with our viewing of the last episode of LOST.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Wa Wa Wa Wasa Week

Recovery week from Treatment #5 has been a tough one. I suppose one could call it the Cumulative Chemotherapy Crush. The neupogene shots, while keeping my white blood cell count up, make my bones ache...back, legs and head. As soon as I go off these shots I will feel better. The doctor has also put me on a magnesium supplement. I didn't realize magnesium was such a critical nutrient, but apparently my low magnesium level is contributing to the muscle cramps and aches I have been experiencing. The most significant side effect I'm facing is my red blood cell count is at its lowest. This is making me weak and at times a bit dizzy. I will receive a blood transfusion if I don't recover in another couple of days. The fatigue is frustrating to endure because the weather is so fine...and there is so much I would like to do..These conditions, on top of a loss of appetite, have made it a difficult week to get through.

However! The weekend is drawing closer and the neupogene shots will stop on Thursday. By Saturday I should be feeling better. I am looking forward to the day that food tastes good again and I can eat and drink with pure joy and abandon!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Marching Orders

With my last Chemo Treatment approaching soon (September 16th), it is time to start planning the future phases of my treatment plan. This is something I admit I have put in the "Do Not Think About" closet, not really wanting to face the difficulty choices surgery, radiation and reconstruction would present. However, it's time to get my marching orders.

Armed with a new conviction Mom and I headed off to Duke to meet with three new doctors: the guy whose going to cut me, the gal that's going to burn me, and the god that's going to put me back together again (hopefully). All were extremely competent and they each put me at ease in their own way. The cutter is soft spoken, gentle, and the most attentive to my reactions. The burner is calm, well-spoken, direct, but sympathetic. The re-builder is the strongest and firmest. Perhaps the one with the most visible ego. I suppose that's because he is the only PS in this area that will rebuild breasts with a woman's own body tissue. Too bad I don't have enough tissue! He is not a cosmetic surgeon either. His speciality and focus is on reconstruction only. While the meeting with the PS went smoothly and easily, we had to wait 3 hours for the other doctors. It was a long day waiting, but when the doctors finally came in, they gave us exceptional service. I never felt rushed or that my questions were not applicable. Right away the surgeon wrote me an order for physical therapy to help un-tighten my left arm which needs to be loosened up prior to surgery, as well as to receive evaluation for lymphedema. This condition, which I now carry a 25% lifetime risk to develop (this will increase to 5% after radiation) is something I have been worried about. With a compromised lymph node system (26 lymph nodes were removed), I run the risk of lymph fluid building in my arm causing it to swell out of proportion. There is no immediate cure for this condition once swelling begins. The only tools in the box are to use compression and massage to move the liquid out of the affected limb. My doctor at Rex did not encourage physical therapy for the arm or counseling for lymphedema...I had to call to request an order..and even then the order did not include therapy for my left arm. I was relieved that Duke validated my concerns and quickly acted to get me into physical therapy.

So what are my marching orders? Surgery has been scheduled for Oct. 15th. I'll stay overnight and will emerge with one less body part, but gain a plastic external drain, which I'll have to carry around for about 3 weeks. Once the drain is removed I'll be able to exercise again. They say I'll be out of work for 3 to 4 weeks. Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha. Not me. I plan to take Friday and Monday off..maybe Tuesday. The mastectomy was recommended due to many factors, including my age, the size and location of my original tumor relative to the size of my breast, the aggressive nature of the cancer cells, and the difficult fact that 3 lymph nodes were positive. I suspected from the very beginning that this would be the surgical outcome, but I wasn't quite prepared to hear it. My doctor at Rex told me he would do what I wanted, my oncologist suggested that the chemo might be able to shrink the tumor enough to save the breast, but my new doctor at Duke was very clear about his recommendation. My choice would be either a disfigured breast or a new breast. The answer was clear to me.

Around the second week of November I'll begin 6 weeks of radiation to the left chest and upper lymph nodes. The whole chorus of doctors at Duke echoed previous doctors' calls for radiation following surgery. This is something I did NOT want to do. I'm told that without the radiation I would have a 15% chance of re-occurrence, most likely in another part of my body. Radiation would reduce that risk by 60%--or 6% total risk. Not close enough to zero to me. In exchange for 6% risk of re-occurrence, my risk for lymphedema increases by 5%, I'll have poor blood circulation in this area, and my skin may become "temporarily" darker and the remaining tissue will hardened as it scars. I'll have to drive 2 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 6 weeks to receive 15 minutes from a "life-saving" beam of burning light. The hardest part to accept is that I cannot have immediate reconstruction and my chances for a successful reconstruction will be decreased. radiate or not to radiate. Unfortunately, the cutter is "VERY" uncomfortable proceeding forward without radiation and the re-builder stands behind what the cutter and the burner recommend. looks like my marching orders are to lose my little breast on Oct. 15th, burn the hell out of the tissue that remains between November and December, and then celebrate. I think I'll buy a bottle of Dom Perignon to treat myself. I'll wait 6 months before my visits with the re-builder will begin. That's another season.... Until then Mom suggests I wear a jazzed up eye patch where my breast used to be. I think a well-stocked liquor cabinet will help, too.

For now I'm focused on getting through Chemo Treatment #5, which I had yesterday. I've been going into each treatment a little weaker than before. My white blood cell count is 2.5, a normal low being 4 and a normal high being 10. I'll start the neupogene shots earlier to compensate. I'm also anemic, so they are watching that stat more closely. I felt great prior to Thursday, but today I'm up at 3am balancing my checkbook, filing medical bills and writing in my blog. The other meds I take tend to disrupt my sleep. I'm feeling more nauseous this time so I have also taken some additional nausea medication. Next week will be a Wasa Week coupled with a monthend close. So in other words: Miserable. I hope to come out of it by the end of the week so that Vlad and I can enjoy the long Labor Day Weekend.

Now that I have my marching orders we hope to plan some fun weekend trips. We would love to go to New York to see the city sights and to the mountains to chase waterfalls. I miss our adventures... We are also planning two big parties: One to celebrate the end of the chemo crisis and the other to recognize Vlad's upcoming big 40 birthday. Then...starting January 1 we will have a wide open window for 6 months to plan a tropical getaway from all of this crap. Now that's something to look forward to.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Chemo Treatment #4

Just when I thought I was getting used to this...Treatment #4 hit me like a ton of bricks on a Sunday afternoon in Fletcher Park. Sipping on a shandy when I should have been woofing down water, I ended up couch side instead of poolside. By the time we made it back to Vlad's house I was overwhelmed with nausea and oppressive fatigue. Instead of ending our weekend with some bruschetta and sparkling wine, we spent the rest of our evening on the couch watching Episode 1 of the Last Season (#6) of Lost--well, Vlad did anyway. I just kinda of laid there and held on. I don't recall much other than Vlad going crazy because the rest of Season 6 is not online until August 25th.

Unfortunately Monday did not bring any relief. I had a jam packed schedule I felt I could not ignore so I wrapped a scarf around my head and suffered through the day as best I could. I must have looked close to death because people stayed away...only a few brave souls came in with wide open stares to ask if they could get me anything. I kept telling myself to go home, but the thought of moving too much made my stomach swirl as if I was on roller coaster. Somehow I found myself back on the couch shortly after 5pm and I didn't get up again until 8pm. I forced myself to take a short walk just around the block. I remember each step feeling heavy and the pavement pulsing as if I would fall into it.

Now I know what my dog felt like when we had to give it arsenic to kill the heart worms that had invaded his heart. It's a mixed up world when you have to feed a body poison to get better. These drugs I'm taking feel like fire coursing through my veins and the only thing that banks this under your skin burn is water.

It's Tuesday night and I just returned from a longer walk..I made it out of Vlad's neighborhood this time. I actually feel better having walked for an hour and I want to eat something. Vlad bought a sampling of frozen yogurt to try....that sounds pretty good. I think I'll dig in.