Saturday, August 31, 2019

Crazy School Year

This school year is crazy.  (But it's really nice to have the craziness be about the kids' schedules, and not about my health and appointments!)

Jamie and I keep a shared, color-coded calendar (Google Sheets); we have an "all" section at the top, a section for meals, and a section for each person in the family.  If something is an appointment/time-sensitive, it's in bold.  This year, with Gisèle involved in cheer and Production Theatre, and Miles in taekwondo, every day has something on it, and everything is in bold.

G has cheer until 5:00 after school Mondays and Wednesdays, and cheers at games at least once a week.  She also has theatre rehearsals Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays until 6:00.  (Yes, there are some conflicts there.)  M has TKD from 4:10 until 5:00 Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  They each have a sports bag full of gear taking up space in their room, and we are doing a lot of laundry.  Oh, and school - all pre-AP classes for G, and GT for M.  I'm spending my days doing school drop-offs, running errands or going to my own appointments, then doing school pick-ups and activity chauffeuring.

We are guarding our weekends as best we can.  Any evening time we have as a family - dinner together! - and weekend time we can spend together is precious.  But it is so worth it to see these two thriving, doing what they love!



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Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Gisèle, Age 12







1. What is your favorite color?  "Well, I like purples, I like blues, and I like dark greens."


2. What is your favorite toy?  "Toy?  Like, toy - not electronic or something?  I don't know, I don't really do toys..."


3. What is your favorite fruit?  "I'd say mango, still.  Though I really like good strawberries, as well."


4. What is your favorite tv show?  "Ooh, that's hard.  What do I watch?  MC Squared.  I don't know."


5. What is your favorite thing to eat for lunch?  "A chicken salad sandwich."


6. What is your favorite outfit?  "I'd say my Inspiration Stage shirt with overalls."


7. What is your favorite game?  "One Night Ultimate Werewolf, or Mafia."


8. What is your favorite snack?  "Dad's homemade granola bars."


9. What is your favorite animal?  "Elephants."


10. What is your favorite song?  "Can I say anything Broadway?"


11. What is your favorite book?  "A Tangle of Knots."


12. Who is your best friend?  "I'd say Melanie Garcia."


13. What is your favorite breakfast?  "Quiche."


14. What is your favorite thing to do outside?  "Ride my bike."


15. What is your favorite drink?  "I guess water."


16. What is your favorite holiday?  "Christmas."


17. What do you like to take to bed with you at night?  "Um... I don't know.  I don't really bring anything to bed."


18. What is your favorite thing to eat for dessert?  "Ooh... I think that strawberry cake."


19. What is your favorite dinner?  "Mussels and fries."


20. What do you want to be when you grow up?  "I think you already know the answer to that.  Broadway actress."




Happy 12th birthday, Gisèle! You are incredible.  You grow more amazing with every year, and I adore you!











Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Our Summer

Last summer was consumed by breast cancer treatment, so we're making up for that this summer.

We were finally able to have our family reunion this year, after postponing it last year due to my treatment.  My parents and their kids, with spouses and children, all gathered in a large house at Lake Texoma for a week to catch up.  We played a lot of cornhole and a lot of board games, drank some beer and cider, and ate a lot of good foods.  We had 12 adults and 12 kids in the house and had a fantastic time!  We'll do it again in a couple years, maybe in the New Braunfels area this time.



The kids have had a busy summer.  Gisele has been in a couple of theatre camps; she was the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz, and then in the ensemble for Camp Rock.  She and Miles also both went to Camp Overflow with Crossbridge (our church), and to Camp Kesem, which is an incredible (free!) sleepaway camp for kids with parents who have been through cancer treatment.  And then last week, she had Cheer Camp, since she'll be a cheerleader at the Junior High this year.





While the kids were away at Camp Kesem, Jamie and I took the opportunity to take a trip of our own!  We went to Las Vegas for the first time and had a blast.  It had been a long time since we'd had a vacation without kids, and it was nice getting to spend some one-on-one time.  We didn't see any shows; we walked around visiting a bunch of casinos, playing some video poker and eating a lot of good food.  We've decided we'll try to save enough Southwest miles to take a trip together each year while the kids are at Camp Kesem. 



Now we have about 3 weeks until school starts, and school supplies are already purchased, so we have a little time to relax!



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Sunday, August 4, 2019

Helping Someone Through Cancer Treatment

If someone close to you has been diagnosed with cancer, there are a lot of things you can do to be a good friend to them.  (And lots of things that do not help at all, but those can be covered in another post.)

  • Be supportive.  Don't offer advice - cures, things you heard someone else did that helped, ways to improve their lifestyle to improve their chances.  All this does is imply that they did something wrong, and that's why they got cancer.  Or that they haven't done their research, or that their doctor has no idea what they're talking about.  Be supportive - tell them that you're there for them any time they may need you.  Ask if they'd like you to come along on appointments to be another ear, or to take notes so that they don't have to worry about that.
  • Offer to come along when they have chemo.  I preferred to put in earbuds and watch something on my Kindle Fire during chemo, but I still wanted someone there with me.  (If for nothing else, I needed someone else to drive.) When Jamie couldn't be there, I had a friend who immediately volunteered to take the time off of work to come along.  And she said that she could talk, or bring along something to do so that I could ignore her if I'd prefer.  It meant a lot to know I'd have company, but that I wouldn't feel like I had to entertain or socialize.  Offering to keep them company is also a way to support the caregiver (my husband, in my case), who needs support more than they realize.
  • Send cards/gifts/texts regularly.  I had friends and family that texted me on a regular basis, especially if they knew I had chemo or an appointment.  And texts are much, much better than calls when your energy is low or you're feeling terrible.  Receiving cards or small (or large!) gifts in the mail meant so much to me, also.  Anything that brought my spirits up when I was feeling low was a big help.  During treatment, every day can feel endless/hopeless/terrible, so those bright spots made me feel like things would be better someday.  Gift ideas are listed at the bottom!
  • Offer to visit.  And when you offer, give a specific date and time, and then text again right before coming in case he/she isn't up for the visit after all.  (And don't visit if you or anyone in your house is at all sick!)  Cancer is very isolating.  You're suddenly immersed in a whole new world that you never wanted to know anything about, and removed from your regular old life.  Your good friends will stick by you, but more of your friends, you discover, were really acquaintances and they fall away.  When you do go visit, don't be afraid to ask how things are going, and then share what's happening in your own life.  I didn't want visits to be all about me and cancer.  I wanted to know what was going on with my friends, and didn't want them apologizing for telling me about the lows in their lives.
  • Support the caregiver.  My husband took time off of work, took care of the kids, did all of the cooking/cleaning/shopping/ all of the driving, went to just about every appointment, and had to watch me go through chemo, a double mastectomy, and radiation.  Anything you can do to support the caregiver - gifts, cards, offering to take his/her place at appointments, sending over a cleaning service, offering to bring dinner/breakfast/lunch, taking the kids for an afternoon, or coming to visit the patient so the caregiver can simply get away for some along time - anything is helpful.  Gifts for the kids - movie gift cards, or things that could brighten their day in any way, made my treatment easier, as well.

Gifts ideas for someone going through treatment:

  • Unscented, creamy lotion for dry skin (a major problem during treatment)*
  • A luxurious skin cream (face) for dry chemo skin*
  • A good lip balm (not scented/flavored)*
  • A cozy, soft cardigan or hoodie
  • A good neck pillow for use during chemo or at home after surgery
  • Gift cards to Amazon, or other places for online shopping
  • Pretty scarves or soft beanies (or gift cards to somewhere online to buy them)
  • Soft, cute button-up shirts or pjs
  • A Sephora or Ulta gift card (I had to replace my makeup with natural brands)
  • A big, cute cup with a handle and straw (to make drinking lots of water easier)
  • A cute tote bag to take their stuff to/from treatment
  • A thin, soft robe for use during radiation so they don't have to wear a hospital gown
  • Things to do during chemo - books if they like to read, gift cards for streaming services if they prefer to watch movies/shows
  • A gift card for a mani/pedi for when they're able to get out again

*For hormone-positive breast cancers, products have to be paraben-free. For most (if not all) cancers, patients are encouraged to switch to more natural products. I love using items from Josie Maran, Fresh, Acure, and Burt's Bees.  There are many great natural brands out there!

Most importantly,

  • PRAY.  God can do amazing things.  Let them know you're praying for them, and tell them specifically what you're praying for.

The "Thank you!" picture I sent to my cousin when I received a gift card from her in the mail.  It was such a surprise, and such a bright spot in an otherwise terrible day!  Knowing she was thinking of me warmed my heart,
 and the distraction of online shopping helped, too.


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Friday, August 2, 2019

Spoken Freely Interview

I was interviewed for a podcast!  Spoken Freely is an amazing podcast telling stories that will encourage and inspire you.  My interview came out today, and you can listen here.



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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Long Time No Talk

It has been a long time since I've posted, but that's because life has been... normal.  (My new normal.)

In good news - better late than never, right? - my scans came back clear!  Except for a small kidney stone and osteopenia, I have nothing to worry about right now!  Though cording has started in my arm again over the last few days, but that's another story altogether.

Jamie is doing great at work, and has been traveling quite a bit.  New York, Chicago, Florida, and Washington DC.  It's nice for him to get away, and he is really enjoying his job.

Gisele finished 6th grade (middle school) on a high, scoring the Principal's Award among many others.  She will be in Production (advanced) Theatre next year at the Junior High, and also made the cheer squad, so she has a busy year ahead.  She's also busy this summer; she has completed 2 weeks of camp (church & STEAM camp), and has 2 weeks of theatre camp, a week of cheer camp, and Camp Kesem still ahead.

Miles is completely in love with taekwondo and recently achieved green belt, the first of the intermediate belts, at Fort Bend Martial Arts.  He has started sparring, and we'll be ordering his personal sparring gear and bag soon.  Master Daniel wants him to join the competition team, and he is really excited about it.  He had a great year at school, but is happy to have a break before 4th grade. He loved church camp - his first year going - and is looking forward to Camp Kesem later this summer.  It's a (free!) week-long sleepaway camp for kids with parents who have gone through cancer treatment.

We're preparing for our family reunion and all really excited to see everyone!  The reunion would have been last summer, but everyone agreed to postpone a year since I was going through treatment.  We'll have 12 adults and 12 kids in a house together for a week and it should be a blast!  We'll be meeting at Lake Texoma this weekend!

So that's my current normal.  Busy, achy, and learning to deal with my chemo curls.  I love it all.  I'm grateful for it.  God is good.



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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Scanxiety

Today was a hectic day.

Jamie is in Chicago for work, so I'm single parenting it for a couple of days.  (Single parents who do this all the time, I salute you!)  Yesterday was a late night for both kids due to homework and cheer tryout prep.  Today included an emotional breakdown by my son (friend drama) followed by taekwondo, a play audition and cheer tryouts for my daughter, and overlapping pick-up and drop-off times for activities.  We ended by picking up Sonic for their dinner since I'm out of energy.

In health news, I'm continuing to feel more energetic, but joint issues and insomnia are still pretty killer.  And more concerning, I have a sore spot on my ribs on my back right side.

I sent a message in to my care team at MD Anderson about the sore spot.  I let them know it had been here for about 2 weeks, feels like a bone bruise, and isn't the result of any kind of injury.  About 15 minutes after my cancer PCP sent the message to my MedOnc, he called me to let me know he was scheduling a CT and a Bone Scan.

It's not a good feeling when your MedOnc calls you to say he's ordering scans.

On the one hand, I'm glad he's looking into it and getting it checked out quickly; on the other hand, the immediate response makes me feel like he's worried about this, which... has me worried.

I see him on Thursday - in 2 days - for my regular check-up with some bloodwork, and then will have the scans done next Thursday.  If you pray, please be in prayer for me.  Pray that this is nothing, and pray for my emotional well-being while I wait to have the scans done and then wait for the results.

If this is something... it's not good.



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Sunday, March 24, 2019

Hair Update



Hair growth!  Pictured - at the end of chemo, then 3 months, 6 months, and now 9 months after.  Any tips on taking care of curls, especially at this length?

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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Flat and Fabulous

I've been asked a few times whether or not I'll have reconstruction done, so I thought I'd address that here.

The majority of reconstructive surgery for breast cancer patients undergoing a mastectomy/lumpectomy is done at the time of the initial surgery. Because of the location of my affected lymph nodes (including one in my sternum), my RadOnc wanted me completely flat for radiation, which meant delayed reconstruction, if any. The failure rate for implants after radiation is very, very high, so my best option for reconstructive surgery is/was DIEP flap.

DIEP flap surgery, which could happen after my skin was completely healed from radiation (minimum of 9 months), is very, very invasive. Feel free to google it, but it basically involves a hip-to-hip incision, the removal of skin & tissue from your abdomen to form new breast shapes, and then the reconnection of all of the blood vessels in that tissue to the vessels in your chest to keep that tissue alive. It's a minimum of 2 surgeries, and the 1st surgery has a 6 week recovery time.

I could change my mind at any point in my life and decide to undergo that surgery, but right now I'm as happy as I can be flat. Here are my reasons:

1) I don't want to put my body through another surgery & recovery. It's a long surgery and a long recovery, and my body has been through a lot already.

2) My kids (ages 9 & 11) have seen me go through enough. I don't want to add an elective surgery on top of that. Right now I'm starting to get my energy back and they're enjoying me looking/feeling/acting more like my "old" self. I don't want to take that away from them.

3) If I went through a surgery, it would just be for aesthetic reasons. It's a lot to go through for lumps of tissue. No matter what, I'll never have my former body back. The new "breasts" might look great, but they won't be the same and I won't have feeling in them. Would that really be worth it? My husband is happy with me just as I am.

4) If I end up with mets at some point, will I have wanted to have wasted all that time in surgery & recovery? Will the new "breasts" be in the way/make any new scans more difficult? Will it be easier to notice a possible recurrence if I just stay flat?

5) I'm actually enjoying being flat, in a lot of ways. I still have to get used to how I look when I see myself in a mirror, and shopping is trickier - things fit differently than they did on my 32DDs - but being flat has advantages. No boob sweat! No adjusting bra straps all the time. No extra layer in the hot Houston weather. Button-ups don't gape over my breasts anymore. And I have an excuse to buy cute new shirts.

So I'm 99% sure I won't want to ever do reconstruction.

The decision is personal for everyone, but I've been happy flat so far. (My bilateral mastectomy was 7/20/18.) If you are going through this process yourself and have questions, feel free to comment or email me and I'll get in touch.


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Thursday, January 31, 2019

Recovery Update

I have a new normal, now.  Cancer sucks in many, many ways, and I'm introduced to more of them each day.  Living with cancer, going through treatment, and recovering from treatment all come with their own challenges, and it's really an entire world that a lot of people will, God willing, never have to learn anything about.

Emotionally, life after cancer treatment is difficult.  I've never been a hypochondriac, but am almost encouraged to be one now.  My white blood cells are still low (possibly as a result of the medication I'm on, though my MedOnc isn't quite sure of the cause), so I need to stay away from anyone sick, and call my team immediately if I develop a fever.  If I have any swelling in my right arm or trunk, I need to contact my team right away (signs of lymphedema).  If I have any acute bone aches, headaches, lumps, nausea, breathing issues, fatigue... basically, I should contact my medical team if I feel anything out of the "ordinary."  The problem is, my "ordinary" now is not what it used to be.

One good thing has come out of treatment - I have a higher tolerance for pain than I ever had before.  My monthly Lupron shots (to put me into/keep me in menopause) are supposedly painful, but I take them without flinching.  I'm living with daily pain, so what's a little bit more?  The medication I'm on - exemestane/Aromasin - has given me arthritis and incredibly achy joints all over my body, so my MedOnc is switching me to a different AI (aromatase inhibitor) to see if that will be more tolerable.  We'll see if it helps.  In the meantime, I'm trying to take no more than 1 Aleve a day, and I hobble like an 80 year old woman every time I get up.   But I'll live with it because I'll LIVE.  I'll take it over the alternative.

I burned the fingers of my right (cancer side) hand on the stove - just mildly - the other day, and the very next morning felt the beginnings of cording in my arm.  It's been 5 days now, and no amount of stretching or massage on my part has made it any better, so I've sent a message to my physical therapy team, and they're getting an order so I can get an appointment set up.  I love them, but I'm not looking forward to having the cording worked out.  My pain tolerance may be higher, but that will push it to the limit.

My 12 week LiveStrong program at the Y ends at the end of next week, and I highly recommend it to anyone recovering from cancer treatment.  I have 60-70% of my energy back, and I feel so much stronger than I did before I started the program.  It's free, and really has helped me to feel "normal" again.  

My hair is coming back in nicely, though with more grey than before.  It's curly, though still short enough that it looks wavy instead.  It's nice to have hair again!



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