9.25.2013

If Sarah Can Do It

I've had plenty of what I call "come to Jesus" moments over the last 2 years. Those moments in life where you have to assess what's before you and make life changing decisions on how you are going to proceed down the yellow brick road. It's in those moments, where the ruby slippers meet the road, that we find out what we are made of and we choose the path we are going to take. They are the moments where we have serious reality checks.

I've had my share of "why me" moments and "so glad that's not me" moments. And plenty of moments that make me look at my life and be grateful. I've touched on being grateful before, but it's a subject that has been stirring in my heart for weeks as I've seen and heard first hand how my life and this blog are reminding people to be grateful in their own lives; despite the struggles they face.

I saw no irony when multiple people I encountered over a single week began to share some of their personal struggles, and then rounded out the conversation by telling me that I was a reminder to them that they could get through what was being thrown at them. That if I could get out of bed every most mornings despite the physical drawbacks and plug through the day filled with things like parenthood, surely they could get through their own struggles in good health.

But who am I to complain?

I think we all have the right to complain, but listening to NPR on the way to school every morning gives me daily reminders from around the world that keep my reality in check and remind me of how blessed I am.

I've admitted to my weakness, frailty and struggles already. I've told you that I felt defeated on more days that not over the last few months. I struggled to get through those last few treatments, often parenting from the bed or couch; battling the often painful side effects that impact my quality of life and robbing life moments from my kids. I've stood on my front porch, in my pajamas, bald head exposed, while crying on my 87 year old neighbor's shoulder at 2 in the afternoon. Merrick has heard me say "Mommy's too sick," "Mommy doesn't feel good," and "Mommy can't," more in the last 2 months than he has in the last 5 years. He has stood there on a Monday morning when I was too weak to even stand, and watched as I completely broke down.  "I didn't know you ever cried mommy."

But even I have my reality checks and my reminders that I have plenty to be grateful for. I think it's important to have those those things in our life. Maybe you read this blog just to me reminded of what you have.

I am grateful that I have a very curable form of cancer. When I walk into the oncology building or read articles and blogs I find on the Internet, I'm reminded that not all cancers were created equal. Some spread quickly. Some are found too late. Some do not have "cures," but merely means of buying time. On my very first appointment, I can remember my doctor saying that there haven't really been that many new drugs introduced to treatment colon cancer over the last decade, because what they have works. And clearly, it's working for me. Though I still have cancer, I am grateful that it is so tiny and manageable. It is cancer that I can live with.

I am grateful that I don't have any genetic mutations linked to colon cancer. Sure, I have that whole "family history" thing going for me, which is vital to know for early detection. But I don't have any of the mutations that are known risk factors. I will not pass on an even greater risk to my children, and I am even more receptive to the chemo drugs because of it.

I am grateful that my doctors had a heads up to my potential metastatic state before it was even confirmed to be cancer. For so many, metastatic cancer is a death sentence. By the time it is discovered, tumors have taken over, invaded and are large. The tumors in my lungs were on the radar before they were even confirmed as tumors. Over and over again I heard: "But they are so tiny." So tiny that I even came home one day and took out a ruler so that I could visualize exactly what tiny meant. The cancer in my lungs was being watched before it even had a chance to really grow, which in turn gave me the early advantage of fighting it.

I am grateful that I am young and strong and have the health to fight this with all my might. Because of age or general health, so many people in the cancer fight can't take a full punch or the highest dose or the strongest medicine. I sat in the infusion room one day and listened as a patient told her nurse she didn't think she could do any more treatments. Just 1 round had left her so weak from the nausea and the diarrhea, that she didn't think she could do it again. Granted, she was much older than I was, but I understood her angst. Chemo can be brutal. But I am young and I am strong and I can take it, even if it leaves me weak and in tears. I know that no matter how miserable I am one day, there is a light at the end of the tunnel; even if I only get to leave that tunnel for a few days before having to enter another.

I am grateful for all the drugs that counteract the drugs. While listening to the lady mentioned above talk to the infusion nurse, I was touched at the sensitivity, calm and patience that nurse had, despite the patients she had waiting. She talked about all the drugs available now to help counteract the nausea, the diarrhea, the mouth sores and all the other things that make chemo so miserable. She even pointed to me and said "See Sarah over there? Her counts are so low, that 30 years ago we would have admitted her to the hospital immediately and put her on antibiotics as a precaution. But instead, I'm going to give her a nice, painful shot in the butt to boost her white blood counts and send her home to take care of her dirty children. 30 years ago, people were sent home and spent weeks throwing up from chemo. Now we can give pre-meds before treatment and have pills and patches to keep nausea and vomiting at bay." And I think we all know how much I love my nausea meds and how dependent I am on them to make me a functioning member of society.

I am grateful for my perfectly healthy children. One way that I keep my own life in check is to keep up with the intimate lives of others. I'm sure that's how many of you view my own blog. For several years now, I've been following the very personal blog of two mothers with a very special son. I have read about their struggles, fears and minute-by-minute battles to just keep it together at times. It reminds me to be grateful for the son who drives me absolutely nuts with his constant talking, questioning and challenging. It reminds me to be grateful that I can put this exhausting child to bed every night and walk away, knowing he will sleep peacefully through the night and wake up in the morning just has healthy and happy as I left him. I appreciate their honesty and vulnerability, and it gives me a glimpse into what my own blog does. It is voyeurism to a degree, but healthy voyeurism.

I am grateful that I have Batman. All I have to do is turn on the Bat Signal and he appears. In a more practical explanation, all I have to do is go on Facebook and say I need help and it's there. Not only does Batman show up, but so does Wonder Woman, Spider-man and the Fantastic Four. At times, it seems every citizen of Gothom is at my door step ready to provide some type of support to get me through.

No matter how petty your struggle in life, you have to find something to be grateful for. We all have it; big or small. And the beauty of blogging is that we can get a very personal glimpse into the lives of others. We can enter the homes of complete strangers and feel an amazing intimacy with them we might not know face-to-face.

9.22.2013

Look for the Sign

At the end of last week, a friend shared a link to this story on Facebook. I'll confess that I don't click on everything people share via social media, but I did click on this. It quickly had me in tears, because I knew the message hit home for me; partly because it is an emotionally charged story, but mainly because it summed up my own week.

I encourage you to read it, take it heart and carry the message on as you venture out the door each morning. It is easy for us to get caught up in our own agenda, priorities and stresses and forget that we share this world with people that might be putting on a brave face just to walk out the door.

Our personal time crunch, things not going according to plan or someone cutting us off in traffic is our problem and ours alone. It's not something we should take out on others. On the flip side, we should always walk out the door with a side of grace in our pocket to hand out as we see fit. Not everyone will be nice, helpful or courteous, but we have to pull out that grace and offer it to them in case we can't see the sign around their neck.

After finishing my 12th round of treatment over 2 weeks ago, I knew it would take even longer to recover. As the weeks and treatments stacked on top of each other, my side effects compounded and I lost my spunk. I was having to put on that brave face to appear awesome, when all I really wanted to do was cry.

Let's all remember that on top of dealing with cancer and the sickness chemo brings, I still have to attempt motherhood. After a rough start to the week that left me sending up smoke signals to my family, crying uncontrollably in front of Merrick out of sheer physical weakness and having to say one too many times that mommy was too sick to do something, I finally ventured out of the house. There was no wig. There was no make-up. There was just me, trying to keeping my pre-teen short shorts from falling off and a rocking a beanie in 90 degree weather.

I had run several errands with Lachlan, who is currently doing more than his part to make up for the angelic 2 and 3 year old that Merrick was. I had made it out of Target with no fewer than 5 meltdowns and a lost phone. The icing on the cake included plenty of dragging, kicking, screaming, stares, screaming, stares, shrieking, dragging and a phone that was found hiding 30 minutes later in the crack of the restroom diaper changing station.

My next stop would be quick, but I thought I'd make it easier by grabbing one those obnoxious car carts. I was already reaching the end of my rope physically and emotionally, so it made my day when Lachlan spotted something in the wine department that he wanted and he flipped out. I can't say that I blame him. On the inside, I was having a meltdown over something in the wine department, too.

I pulled my beast of a cart into the line with him half hanging out of the car screaming. I watched to make sure I didn't bang his head too hard into the checkout, and tried to patiently tune him out. I knew there was no solution to his problem, so I didn't bother to placate him. And frankly, I didn't care. As I waited my turn, I heard the cashier ask the lady in front of me if she had a "valued customer" card for this store.

"I don't have time to look for it with THAT going on!" And she swiftly and blatantly pointed at Lachlan.

She never once looked at me, for certainly she would have noticed the bald girl who made no attempt to hide her lack of eyelashes that day. I looked like a sickly chemo patient. Had she even bothered to put Lachlan's screaming aside and look at me, perhaps she would have thought twice about letting the cashier know how much we were bothering her. I'd like to think that she would have seen my sign.

I'm sure my shock and disappointment was easy to read. As I pulled up to the cashier, I didn't have to say anything. She simply said, "Honey, don't you worry about what she just said. She clearly doesn't have kids, so she doesn't know what it's like." And with that, I let out a sigh of relief and let Lachlan continue screaming while I checked out.

It was one sentence and one attitude that completely altered my already hard day. I wish I had a sign to wear so that she and everyone else I encountered last week would know to just be nice to me. Or do something to make my life a tiny bit easier. I assumed that my appearance was my sign, but apparently not everyone could bother to read it.

Now read what's on the other side of this link. I promise it will make an impact.


As a side note, if you don't have children, let me assure you that we despise meltdowns in public just as much as you do. Please give us grace instead of dirty looks.


9.18.2013

Leg Three of the Relay

Today I'm commemorating 2 weeks since I started my final FOLFURI + Avastin treatment. For those that are too lazy to go back to the beginning of the year, that's the abreviation for the drug combination I've been on this time, plus a little extra on the side. Another 12 rounds of chemo is in the books and on my resume.

This morning I start what is referred to as "maintenence chemo," and that's simply me maintaining my tumors at their current size. How long does one maintain? As my Physian's Assistant told me 2 weeks ago, you do it until it stops working. "Awesome!" I said sarcastically to my bald self.

That right there is enough to bring a girl down.

So technically, I could be doing this for the rest of my life?

I'm trying not to think about that part.

I will also get the results of my most recent CT scan, which occurred on Monday. Once again, I'm trying not to assuming anything. Because what have we all learned in the (almost) last 2 years kids? Never assume anything when it comes to cancer.

I could assume that the tiny little tumors are continuing to get even tinier. I could assume that the rest of my bits and parts will continue to be spotless and cancer-free. I could assume that it will all be positive, but I can't and I won't. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best, I say. In the mean time, I'll take some of my beloved anxiety pills to get through that appointment.

My drugs of choice this time will be the same I have been on for the last 5 months, minus my little bathroom-inducing friend, Mr. Irinotecan (The I in FOLFURI). That friend happened to be a nasty little bugger, so we're all happy that he didn't get invited to the birthday party.

I've been assured by my infusion nurse that I won't have any major side effects, but I'll believe it when I see it feel it. There will be some minor ones, but nothing that will send me into my dark room to pop nausea pills. I should be able to resume life as usual, aside from having my port accessed and the little European man purse strapped over my shoulder with my pump for the next 2 days; a treat since I am normally hiding in my room with that set up.

Thanks to the arrival of Fall, I will be able to hide ports and tubes with some perfectly placed scarves and accessories. Explaining to Merrick's Kindergarten pals why a tube is coming out of my chest is not on my list of things to do this week. A trip to Target, however, is.



9.03.2013

Goodbye Little Bottle

And here I sit, on the eve of my last treatment for now. I've somehow managed to make it through another 12 rounds while staying on schedule, much to the thanks of this little bottle.

I know it's not over, since maintenance chemo is still on the playbill. But for now, I'm just looking forward to the break and what comes with it. My body is screaming for it.

I went in for my labs this afternoon, and as expected a shot was needed. One more shot.

The nurse handed me the vial so I could warm it up in my palm while she gathered her supplies. A little warm burns far less than fresh-out-of-the-fridge cold. In the end it didn't matter to me, as the burn of the injection is painful regardless. I still appreciated her gesture. Knowing the maintenance chemo won't drop my blood counts, I had to wonder if it might be the last one I get. Ever. Ever ever.

So I held that little baby tight, knowing it might just be the last time we cross paths in Wonderland. Just maybe.