Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Poor Little Lucky Me

Oak Creek Canyon before the recent Slide Fire. It has nothing to do with this post, but I like it.

I didn't fall off the planet, but it has been awhile since my last post. I completed the last of my four sessions of chemotherapy in April and had a follow-up PET scan last week. I got the results yesterday and the scan showed no sign of cancer anywhere in my body. Yippee!

This proves again how lucky I am. The much-dreaded chemo wasn't that bad; I was rarely nauseated and did not lose one hair of my head.

I was anemic for awhile, but a transfusion and a series of shots took care of that. 

That's the lucky me part.

Am I back to normal? Not exactly. Let me tell you a sad story about poor little me:

A year ago my income increased to the point where I decided I could afford my own apartment. I chose one close to my grandkids and started packing and making plans. I was going to volunteer at a nearby hospital, and maybe the library. I was going to help at school and have lunch with the munchkins once in awhile.

Well, you know what happens when you make plans. 

One day I noticed that my leg didn't want to bend as I was walking. A little while later I turned to do something and felt a sharp pain in my knee. I was hoping it would go away, but Tylenol and ice didn't help.

I went ahead with the move as I had already signed the lease and was still hoping that the knee pain was temporary. Instead it has become increasingly worse. I'm able to do a (very) little housework and I can drive myself to doctor appointments, but son Toby buys all my groceries and does my other shopping. I walk with a cane or a walker (which is too heavy for me to put in my car) and every step is painful. There is no pain when I'm off my feet.

As a result, I do as little as possible and am horribly out of shape. I am scheduled for knee replacement surgery in August, if my primary doctor and cardiologist give their blessings. I'm looking forward to the end result but the surgery and long, torturous recovery, not so much.

I'm losing weight and doing strengthening exercises to aid my recovery. I just hope it's enough.

OK, enough whining. I'm going to concentrate on all the great things in my life.

See you next time.


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Hair today, gone tomorrow?

Before and after haircut with two of my favorite people in the world, my 15- and 21-year-old granddaughters.

I'm having my second chemo treatment today and I hear that the bad side affects begin about this point. To stave off freaking out if/when I lose my hair, I decided on the preemptive strike of having it cut much shorter. My daughter-in-law Luisa did the honors. thanks, Luisa! 

If/when it does fall out, I'll go to a barber and have my head shaved. Yikes! I'm not going to buy a wig, but I will probably invest in a "chemo hat" or two. The world isn't ready to see my bald noggin. I haven't decided what, if anything, to do about my eyebrows.

Speaking of my eyebrows, back in my newspaper days I was doing a story about a new beauty salon that focused on skin care. I was interviewing the owner-esthetician when she suddenly asked if she could pluck my eyebrows! It seems hers were practically nonexistent so trimming them wasn't necessary. I agreed and in addition to the story, I left with beautiful brows and a happy advertiser.

Meanwhile, back in chemo land, I've made all the preparations I can think of to deal with the "what-ifs" that may come with this round of treatment. 

If I had my 'druthers, I would be like the man who complained that chemo wasn't working because he didn't have any side effects. Stay tuned!

* I created this post with the Blogger app on my ipad, which doesn't have all the bells and whistles (like spell check) that the full program does. Apologies for any typos. I also can't size photos or enable the "reply" feature for comments, but I'll take care of that as soon as I can. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

I'm taking you to chemo with me

If you've never had chemotherapy, and I sincerely hope you never have and never will, come with me to my first treatment and see what goes on.

The first thing is to sign in at the appointment desk, where a lovely paper bracelet is placed on my wrist. Then I am ushered into the Chemo Room by Bre, who will be my chemo nurse today. She lets me choose my seat and I select a recliner in the far corner. This gives me a view of the long room, which is almost full.

I can see but not hear John Goodman talking to a talk show host on the TV set at the farthest end of the room. I take note of my fellow patients, mostly female, mostly middle-aged or older. My son James accompanies me today and points out that they all seem to have their own hair, which I found surprising. The thing I'm least looking forward to is losing mine.

Nurse Bre checks my veins in my forearm to make sure they can handle the IV. When she finds one that she likes, she wraps my arm in a warm towel to help prepare the vein for the injection, which doesn't hurt at all.

She then gives me a B-12 shot and an injection of an anti-nausea drug, and starts the IV session with a 30-minute drip of more anti-nausea meds. Bre puts my feet up and puts a pillow behind my back. Now that I'm all comfy, all that's left to do is wait.

I brought my trusty iPad, so I start taking notes about my experience while watching the comings and goings of a very busy day in the chemo clinic. (Note to self: try to have the IV in my left arm next time. I have to hold my right arm still and type much slower with my free left hand.)

One woman appears to be getting a blood transfusion, but it's just a different color of chemo drug. Some people have been there for hours while others seem to be in and out in a jiffy, depending on the treatment they're getting that day. Some have a friend along and chat quietly (during their fast-food lunch!). Others read or doze alone.

Thirty minutes have passed, so it's time for the first chemo drip, which will only take 10 minutes. I
tense up when the drug starts to enter my body, but it feels no different. I relax and return to my notes. The last chemo drip takes about an hour, during which time three gentlemen join me in my empty corner and start talking. I listen to their military histories with interest and the time flies by.

My treatment started at 1:30 and I'm on my way home at 4:00 - with no side effects except that I will sleep poorly that night and that my blood sugar will rise sharply the next morning and drop sharply the morning after that.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Chemo class was a real education

I can't tell you how glad I am that I attended chemo class today. I am in a much better frame of mind now.

The "class" began with blood work, then the lovely Jessica, my oncologist's assistant, told me what my particular treatment will entail. The nurse will insert an IV and give me anti-nausea medicine before two chemo drugs are administered. The first takes about 10 minutes and the second takes about an hour. The whole thing takes about two-and-a-half hours, rather than the much longer time I was expecting.

I will be able to make the half-hour drive to and from the treatments myself. Since they don't know how I'll respond to the drug, they want someone to be with me for the first visit in case they have to give me something that may make me drowsy.

Chemo can't distinguish between good cells and cancer cells and has a nasty habit of killing them both. White blood cells are particularly vulnerable, so I have to go back the following day for a shot that will boost my white cell count.

Jessica said I will definitely lose my hair (sob), my nails may become brittle and I may get mouth sores. Any nausea I may experience can be controlled with a prescription she has already sent to my pharmacy. She said I will be probably be a little more tired than usual for a day or two.

I am to call right away if I have a fever above 101.4, if nausea is worse than expected or if I get dehydrated. I must increase my water intake, and I am not a water drinker. I mean, I wasn't a water drinker.

After Jessica talked to me I got a B-12 shot and then met with Sara, who gave me the bad news about the cost. I'm amazed that I survived that part of the class! Each of my four treatments will cost about $10,000! Ten grand! My insurance will cover a big part of it, however, and Sara told me about some options to help with the rest so I could breathe again.

The class ended with a trip down the hall to the Chemo Room, where there is a row of recliners and their accompanying IV stands. It looked pretty boring, but hey, they have free wifi.

I'll begin treatment next Friday, Feb. 7, and have three more three weeks apart. I don't expect it to go quite as smoothly as I was told today, but it sounds like it will be much easier than the nightmare I was dreading so. I'll let you know how it goes.

Thanks to everyone who sent prayers and good wishes my way. They are much appreciated!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Cancer pulls a fast one

On Dec. 18 I had surgery for lung cancer. The surgeon said I had a small cancerous tumor that was confined to the upper lobe of my left lung. Take out the lobe, remove the cancer. That's what I thought for over a month.

I was discharged from the hospital on Christmas (best gift ever!) and my recovery has been good. I can't even tell I'm missing half of a lung. The sugeon said the operation was a success and that I should should follow up with my oncologist.

I did so on Friday, expecting a brief visit just to arrange for future follow-up scans to check for the possble reoccurrence of cancer.

Imagine my surprise (shock, dismay, fear and anger) when he advised me to have chemotherapy! He said microscopic cancer cells were found around the tumor and on lymph nodes that had been removed during the surgery. I had been mistaken in thinking that the surgery was a "cut and cure"
procedure. I had all I could do not to break down right then and there, but I made it to my car before shedding a tear or two.

So many questions ran through my mind. Why was I finding this out now instead of right after the surgery, or at least before I left the hospital? Will chemo be as horrible as I have heard? How will I get to and from the treatments? How will I cope, living on my own? How will I be able to care for my grandchildren? What will it cost?

I will attend a class on Tuesday that will address some of my concerns, including the financial bit, but  there are so many variables with chemo that I will have to experience it for myself to answer the rest.

I've even questioned whether I should have chemo at all, but the oncologist says it will increase my chance of a total cure by as much as 20 percent, so I'm going for it.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Could it be ... Rain?

The sky is gray today and there is some kind of wet stuff falling from the clouds. It makes the road shiny and has a musical sound that makes me want to curl up with a good book. I believe, if memory serves, that this mysterious substance is called rain. 

According to Wikipedia (and they ought to know), rain is " liquid water in the form of droplets that have condensed from atmospheric water vapor and then precipitated - that is, become heavy enough to fall under gravity." I knew you wanted to know that.

Rain is a rarity in the Phoenix area; we average about 8 inches a year. Not quite in the same league as New Orleans, for example, which drowns in more than 60 inches of rain annually! 

It's cold outside, too, only 55 degrees, dropping to 48 tonight. That's downright chilly in this neck of the woods. If I had some beef shank, I would make a pot of soup. It's hard to find, though, especially now that grocery stores no longer cut their own meat. When I do find some, I'll share the recipe with you. It's awfully good!

I'm off to brew a cup of tea and find a book.

Till next time,


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

It Could Be Worse

Landscaping around the lake at Cesar Chavez Park in Laveen, Arizona

After a CT scan of my chest, a PET scan of my whole body and an MRI of my so-called brain, I finally have some definitive answers about my lung cancer.

The best news is that the cancer has not spread. Whew! Unfortunately, I will have to say goodbye to the upper lobe of my left lung to ensure that the cancer is removed completely. (Did you know that there are three lobes in your right lung and two in the left? Strange.) But at least I'll have a lung and-a-half to breathe with.

Surgery will take place the week after Thanksgiving, and I should be almost back to normal by Christmas. I was worried that I would miss out on the holidays, so that's a relief. I will be hosting a family dinner the day after Thanksgiving due to scheduling conflicts of one kind and another, but as long as we all sit down to turkey and all the trimmings the date doesn't matter. 

Till next time,