Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas celebrations--Part 1

We were so excited to get to travel to Oklahoma for our first Christmas celebration of the season with my side of the family.    We were a little nervous to be around a lot of people at one time, since we had not done that really since my diagnosis.  My white blood count has been low since starting chemo; thus, being around a lot of people in an small space has been off limits.  I have actually learned how to be extremely careful so that I do not get ill.   Did you know a recent study found that people touched their faces an average of 3.6 times per hour, and common objects an average of 3.3 times per hour?  This rate of self-touching means that people likely get germs on their hands much more frequently than they wash germs off their hands.   So, I constantly wash my hands and am extremely aware of everything I touch. The concern we have with getting around crowds of folks though is due to the exposure of our children.  If our children become ill, it will be pretty easy for me to get sick since I am responsible for taking care of them.  Children carry lots of germs and tend to put their hands (which are huge germ carriers) in their mouths.  So, while we were visiting we used Lysol a TON, trying to be cognizant of everything that other children playing with or touched before allowing Luke or Abbey to touch them.  Also, with Abbey crawling everywhere, we even regularly used Lysol on the carpet and made sure no one wore shoes in the house.  We were so thankful that everyone we visited was not sick.  Here are some photo memories from our visit.

We arrived to the Bass Pro shop to visit Santa early so our kids wouldn't be exposed to as many germs.   Abbey is checking him out here in this photo.  She didn't actually ever cry, but towards the end of their visit with Santa I am sure she was getting ready to do so.
Abbey in her Christmas pjs.

Cousins in their Christmas pjs (poor little Kaylee wasn't happy about the photo session at this point in time) 
Lilly is thinking about which of her gifts she would like to play with first
Kaylee was excited to try on her Cinderella wedding dress.  Doesn't she look so pretty?
It was a cinderella Christmas for the little girls!  Linnea is here playing with her new "my first cinderella" doll.
Little Natalie tries out her new chair
Dr. Linnea, the veterinarian
The beautiful weather meant outside play was a must for the kiddos!
Kaylee, Traber and Luke were pretending to see animals all over the yard.
We were so glad got to visit with some of our aunts and uncles and cousins while we were there.  It was so much fun hanging out with them and visiting, even if for a short while.  I miss my family so much!  Here is a photo of Abbey opening a gift of new books from my cousin Kristin (and her husband, Michael):

We even managed to get my family together for a silly group photo:

And, we made sure we visited our favorite Christmas lights display--at Rhema Bible Church.  They have millions of lights, including a huge light display that is choreographed to music.  Luke absolutely loved this and didn't want to leave.

We drove back home on Monday, the morning of Christmas eve. We were concerned there would be many others also traveling, causing some bad traffic.  However, traffic was actually lighter than usual.  We had a great drive home.  Most importantly, we had a wonderful time in Oklahoma and no one got sick!

We were excited to be able to spend Christmas day at our house. There is just something about watching your kids experience Christmas morning in your own house that is so special.

Coming down the stairs..he spots his new bike.
Checking out his new bike.
We left santa one of these "Ninjabread" cookies.  
Santa left the head of one of the ninjabread men on the plate, so Luke decided his first order of business of the morning was to finish eating Santa's cookie.

Luke and Abbey were checking out one of Abbey's gifts (Luke has played with this toy even more than Abbey--go figure!)
One of our favorite parts of Christmas morning was that we were able to have brunch at our house with some good friends, Adam and Jessi.  We had so much fun hanging out with them and are so thankful for their friendship.  After they left, I realized that all of these social interactions we have had recently really rejuvenate me.  They energize me.  They uplift my spirits.  I have been craving some social interaction for so long.  I am looking forward to having cancer completely behind me, so that we can get back to our normal, social lifestyle.  It is yet another reminder about the importance of living in missional community.  When I refer to missional community I am referring to this: (from desiringgod.orgFirst of all, a missional community is a group of believers who live and experience life together like a family. They see God as their Father because of their faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ and the new regeneration brought about by the Holy Spirit. This means they have and know of a divine love that leads them to love one another as brothers and sisters. They treat one another as children of God deeply loved by the Father in everything — sharing their money, time, resources, needs, hurts, successes, etc. They know each other well. This knowledge includes knowing each other’s stories and having familiarity with one another’s strengths and struggles in regards to belief in the gospel and it’s application to all of life.   I highly recommend to anyone to first find a local church.  Then, seek out a missional community. It will make a huge difference in your life! 

We have one more celebration of Jesus' birth with Drew's side of the family this weekend.  I am so thankful I was able to get my chemo today so that we can celebrate with them soon!  More uplifting of spirits to come!   :-)

Taxol Round 7/12 - here we go!

I just received my cbc results.  The results are good, so we can continue on with Taxol.  I haven't actually seen a copy of the report yet, but I know it was in the 2's (I think 2.7).    Thanks for praying for me--now we can make our travel plans for our final Christmas celebration!  Hooray!

I am actually feeling really well this week.  I attribute it to having a lot of great pick-me-ups over the past week.  I was able to spend time with my family and some friends recently.  Drew and I have found that since we have been so reclusive lately due to my illness and low counts, time spent with family and friends is something that we greatly crave (even more than usual).   In my next post, I will share some of our experiences from the past week that have brought so much happiness.

Thanks again for praying for us!  I know for a fact it makes a huge difference.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Taxol Week 7/12

Going to my weekly oncology appointments is getting pretty exciting for several reasons.

1.  My oncologist and I get to "ooooh" and "ahhhh" over how the cancerous area is shrinking.  That is very exciting.

2.  As each week passes, I am closer to being done with chemo.  My last Taxol treatment is scheduled for 1/30. 

3.  I never know when I am actually going to get my chemo.  It is always exciting to find out how low (or high) my ANC will be.  This determines whether I get chemo that day, or if I need to receive a neupogen shot and try again the following day.   Control freak here is learning to bask in the excitement of the lack of ability to plan.

We were scheduled for my oncologist visit, labs and chemo treatment today.  Today was exactly a week after my last treatment, so my hope was that my white blood count and ANC were high enough for chemo.  We have more travel plans tomorrow so we can celebrate Christmas with Drew's side of the family. 

What does this face tell you?
Unfortunately, my ANC was .7 today.  This means I am neutropenic and can't receive treatment.  I received my benadryl, steroids and neupogen shot today in hopes of getting my counts up tomorrow for a 2nd attempt at chemo.  The control freak in me has attempted to put formulas on the effects of neupogen and good nutrition in raising my counts for planning purposes.   For example, a couple of weeks ago I attempted chemo on Monday; but my ANC was too low at .3.  I figured it would be up to 1.5 the following day based on calculations using the % increase in past ANC counts after receiving the neupogen injection.  However, the following day, my ANC was .7.  So, I received another injection the following day--resulting in an increase to 1.  Finally, that Thursday, my ANC raised to 18.  So, the following week when my ANC was again too low at .7 a day prior to my scheduled chemo, I figured it may still be too low the following day as it was the previous week.   However, it shot up to 12 and I was able to receive treatment on schedule.   So, I have given up trying to predict what will happen and just enjoy the excitement of reviewing my labs each week.  This control freak is continuing learning to give up certain things out of control to God, who is already orchestrating things anyway.  There is a reason for all of this and I am just going with the flow, enjoying the ride and my "me time" in the infusion room.    Hopefully tomorrow's post will include a happy face photo!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Abbey's got the shimmy shimmy shakes!

OK.  Enough about cancer.  I wanted to share something really fun that Abbey has been doing lately.   Many times in my cancer blog posts I speak about the therapeutic properties of our children.  Don't get me wrong--it is tough to take care of an almost one year old and a three year old while battling cancer in the midst of chemo.  But, while it can be a difficult job, it is also a blessing.  Our kids are so sweet, funny, loving, joyful and so much more.

Lately, Abbey has been surprising us with funny little quirks in her personality.  About a month ago, she started doing this shimmy thing.  She now does it on command.  So, it is one of her "tricks" that we like to show people. It gets a laugh every time.  It never gets old.  It is too difficult to explain her "shimmy', so I thought it would be fun to share a video of something that brings a smile to my face often during the day.  Here is our little girl, Abbey, and her "shimmy shimmy shakes."

Almost halfway there!

We just met with my oncologist and I am getting my 6th drip of Taxol this afternoon.  6 out of 12 total.   That means I am halfway there with this chemo drug.  Also, remember how my initial treatment plan included 4 rounds of AC (adriamycin cytoxan, once every three weeks), followed by the 12 weekly infusions of Taxol? Well, we had to stop the AC after two rounds, because it was just way too tough on my immune system. Our plan was to come back to pick up the final two rounds following my Taxol treatment. But, we are going to have to revisit that at the end of the Taxol treatment.   The Taxol is so effective and my cancerous area is shrinking dramatically.  Dr. H. can't even feel the swollen lymph nodes any longer.  It is so exciting!  She said we may either skip the last two rounds of AC altogether or try them again after surgery.  My body is going to need to recoup before I go into surgery.  My body pretty much does the opposite of recouping while on AC.  

So, here is the new and improved, especially-designed-for-Heather treatment plan:

  1. Continue with the weekly Taxol infusions.  Only 6 more weekly doses to go after today.
  2. On 1/8/13, I have an appointment with my surgeon.  She has an ultrasound machine in her office and will take a look at the cancerous breast and nearby lymph nodes to see the progress.  I am excited to see her reaction! 
  3. After I complete the 12 rounds of Taxol, I will have additional imaging studies. Likely, I will have a PET exam and maybe even a breast MRI.  This will hopefully show more clearly what is remaining in the left breast--whether it is simply scar tissue or cancer. 
  4. Then, I will probably have surgery after my blood counts have some time to get back up into normal range and I am physically well.  The surgery will include removal of my left breast and any cancerous lymph nodes.
  5. The pathology from surgery will show us what is truly remaining in the area. We are praying for miraculous results and NO CANCER!  :-)  
  6. If there is cancer remaining, we may come back to more chemo (AC).   Either way, I will be receiving radiation therapy as well.
  7. After Chemo, Surgery and Radiation, I will be taking the anti-estrogen drug, Tamoxifen, for "at least ten years".  Recent studies have shown that there is a lower chance of recurrence for pre-menopausal women if they take the drug for at least ten years.
  8. After Radiation, I will have reconstruction surgery for the left breast and a mastectomy of the right breast, along with reconstruction of it.  Hopefully, all in one surgery.
So, that is that!   I really hope I don't have to have any more of that AC.  I don't like that stuff.  The Taxol isn't too bad; that is, considering it is chemotherapy, it is not too bad.  I am noticing though that the side effects continue to build from week to week.  

I was at the chemo infusion room every day last week except for Friday, in hopes of receiving chemo.  I received neupogen injections on Monday through Wednesday and my wbc finally shot up on Thursday so I could receive chemo.  On Thursday, they reduced my dosage of Taxol, so it wouldn't be so hard on my immune system.  I came in yesterday for labs, assuming my wbc would be low.   My ANC was at .8 yesterday (needed to be 1.5 to get chemo), so I received a neupogen injection. Today, it was 12.7!!!  Normal range is 1.5-6.5, so we jumped to the other side of the scale today.   We are beginning to figure me out.  Hopefully this reduced dosage of Taxol, along with coming in a day early for labs and neupogen, will continue to help keep me on schedule.   So much to be thankful for!   Thank you Lord!

Now, we are excited that we can begin to make our Christmas travel plans.  It is hard to plan around weekly chemo, especially not knowing when I will get to receive my treatment from week to week.    This whole cancer thing has been tough on my personality type.   It has required a lot of sitting around, not getting out of the house, and has not allowed me to plan things like a typically do.  I like to be on the go.  I like to get out every day and do something new.  I am a planner.  Cancer has helped me grow in ares that needed some balancing out.   After all is said and done with this cancer, I feel that God will have taught me SO MUCH!  Cancer has actually been a blessing for me.  I will be a better human being having gone through it. Now, it is not such a blessing that I want it to hang around much longer. I am ready for it to be gone forever.  But, the experience has taught me so much this far.  When you are in the middle of bad situations in life, it is often difficult to understand how God could intend for it to be part of his big plan.  Initially, it was difficult being hit with an aggressive cancer diagnosis--especially at my age, where I was in my life, and with kids so young.  But, as I reflect back on the things God has taught me through the experience, I understand how he is using this bad thing, cancer, for good.   (Romans 8:28-And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  So, in the midst of the storm, I can rest assured that He is in control.  He is sovereign.  He is Lord of my life.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Words of Encouragement from The Word

I love technology!  I have actually written a lot about how much I love technology in several of my pre-cancer blog posts.  Technology really has made our lives so much easier.  Well, it has certainly allowed us to accomplish more during the day than we could accomplish, say...20 years ago.   Think about it--I can create a blog post here and the many prayer warriors who care about me can know exactly for what to pray.  How could we have accomplished this 20 years ago?  It would mean a lot of phone calls--a phone prayer chain.  And, the message could get misconstrued a bit by the time it made it to the 20th person.  And this is just one example.

Prior to the advances of technology, if I wanted to participate in a daily devotional, I would probably go to the local Christian book store and browse my options, purchase the book and then bring it home and begin reading it daily.  Today, I participate in several daily devotional plans via my handy dandy free Bible phone app by youversion.

My dashboard for today's devotionals on my Bible app.
They have hundreds of free plans to participate in, as well as the entire Bible in whatever translation you would prefer.  You can browse sample days from the various devotions before deciding to begin them.  You can also set up reminders or even get the widget for your phone's homescreen so you can be reminded daily of whether or not you have read you assigned reading.  I have completed several of these plans over the past few years and I get something out of each day's reading.  It is amazing to me that, although I am reading several different plans, I receive from the Lord EXACTLY the words I need to read daily.  The daily reading encourages me immensely, convicts me when needed, and continues to provide me spiritual growth and development.   I am loving this current "The Essential Jesus" plan that I am reading.  From the description of the plan on my app:  "In 100 carefully selected passages from the Bible you will discover who Jesus is and why he is so significant--even life transforming.  Through both Old and New Testament readings you will discover why God sent Jesus, what Jesus taught, how he treated people, why he did miracles, and the meaning of his death, the significance of his resurrection, and what the Bible says about his second coming."  Lately, the daily readings have been all about the miraculous healings.  These have been very appropriate for me to read during this time of my life.  I usually read my daily devotions at night just before I go to sleep.  I follow the devotions with prayer, specifically praying about what God wants me to learn from the passages and how I need to apply what I learned to my life.  Two nights ago, I actually began praying before I read my devotions.  I had been having new pains/symptoms and fear had began to creep in.  So, I was praying for miraculous healing and palpating the cancer area.  I was noticing how greatly the area has diminished in size and thanking the Lord for his continued miraculous healing.  Then I realized I had not yet read that day's devotions.  So I began reading.   My "Essential Jesus" reading for the day was the following:

Mark 5: 21-43:  21When Jesus had crossed over again in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around Him; and so He stayed by the seashore. 22One of the synagogue officials named Jairus came up, and on seeing Him, fell at His feet 23and implored Him earnestly, saying, "My little daughter is at the point of death; please come and lay Your hands on her, so that she will get well and live." 24And He went off with him; and a large crowd was following Him and pressing in on Him. 25A woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years, 26and had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse- 27after hearing about Jesus, she came up in the crowd behind Him and touched His cloak. 28For she thought, "If I just touch His garments, I will get well."29Immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. 30Immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the power proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, "Who touched My garments?" 31And His disciples said to Him, "You see the crowd pressing in on You, and You say, 'Who touched Me?'" 32And He looked around to see the woman who had done this. 33But the woman fearing and trembling, aware of what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. 34And He said to her,"Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction."35While He was still speaking, they came from the house of the synagogue official, saying, "Your daughter has died; why trouble the Teacher anymore?" 36But Jesus, overhearing what was being spoken, said to the synagogue official, "Do not be afraid any longer, only believe." 37And He allowed no one to accompany Him, except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38They came to the house of the synagogue official; and He saw a commotion, and people loudly weeping and wailing. 39And entering in, He said to them, "Why make a commotion and weep? The child has not died, but is asleep." 40They began laughing at Him. But putting them all out, He took along the child's father and mother and His own companions, and entered the room where the child was. 41Taking the child by the hand, He said to her, "Talitha kum!" (which translated means, "Little girl, I say to you, get up!"). 42Immediately the girl got up and began to walk, for she was twelve years old. And immediately they were completely astounded. 43And He gave them strict orders that no one should know about this, and He said that something should be given her to eat.

Although I knew the story and had read it in the past, it was the exact passage that I needed to read at that point in time.  God's timing is perfect in every way.  He continues to provide me with clear examples of how he is orchestrating my life for His Glory.

Today was my 4th attempt this week at receiving chemotherapy treatment.  I attempted on Monday (ANC too low at .3), on Tuesday (ANC too low at .7) and on Wednesday (ANC too low at 1).  I received a Neupogen shot on each day to give my immune system a boost.   Today, I was expecting to see my ANC (neutrophil count) to be in normal range (1.5-8).  Mine was not in normal range today.  But, surprising, it was off the charts in the opposite direction it has been.  My ANC was 18!!!!  I had to ask the nurse several times what she said---she said 18!!!  Well, I guess the neupogen kicked in.  It would be great if these neutrophils could hang around for a little while and help protect me from all of the illnesses going around.  I know God has a perfect plan for delaying my treatment by a few days, moving me to this new day of Thursday and for allowing my ANC to be so high today.  I don't know yet why, but I know he is Sovereign, and is the author of my life.

ANC of 18--what?  :-)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Day 3 of chemo attempt this week. Results are in....

I was really hoping to post this photo:

I actually took this photo before finding out my CBC results.  I just knew my ANC would be high enough.  But, unfortunately, it is not.  It went up from .7 to 1.0, which is not the 1.5 I needed.  My total white blood count came up considerably from 1 to in the 3's.  So, the neupogen is working.  My neutrophil (a type of white blood cell) production just hasn't been high enough yet I guess.

So, I am going to be getting another neupogen shot today and I will check my counts here tomorrow.  They will likely be fine tomorrow, so Thursday will be my new weekly chemo day for Taxol.  And, they will reduce my Taxol dose so that hopefully this doesn't happen again.  It probably didn't help my ANC that I only got a few hours sleep last night due to the intense pain.  One needs at least 6-8 hours of sleep daily in order to for your immune system to be able to work properly.  Therefore, I will be taking more Ibuprofen so I can get some sleep tonight.    Thanks for your continued prayers.  My ANC should be skyrocketed by tomorrow based on this bone pain.  :-)

Will today be a chemo day?

So, to catch you up, I attempted to get chemo on Monday, but my ANC was too low (.3).  I received a Neupogen shot and then came back on Tuesday.  I had no side effects from the neupogen shot, but I seemed to feel a lot better on Tuesday.  Unfortunately though on Tuesday, I had to forego chemo treatment as my ANC crept up just a little bit (to .7).  Remember, it needs to be at least 1.5 for me to receive treatment.  I received another Neupogen shot yesterday and I am back today to find out whether I will be able to receive treatment.  I am guessing my numbers will be just fine today.  Actually, they may be off the charts based on how I am feeling.!   Around 8pm last night, I began having some hip pain.  It progressed until I was writhing in pain by 10pm last night.  When the bone barrow is kicked into high production mode from the Neupogen shot, it can cause some pretty severe pain.  And, I mean SEVERE pain!  Around 2:30am last night, after trying heating pads, hundreds of different sleep positions and even massage, I decided perhaps a hot bath would work.  Well, I felt so much better while in the tub.  I totally understand why women labor in the bathtub now!  But, as soon as I got out of the tub, the pain came right on back like a freight train.  So, I finally decided to take an Ibuprofen.  The only risk of taking Ibuprofen is that if your platelet count is too low, you can bleed out.  But, a low platelet count really hasn't been an issue for me.  Although, the other reason you don't want to take tylenol or ibuprofen regularly is because it can mask a fever.  Fever while on chemo is something that must be dealt with immediately, so I always need to know whether I have fever.   I think I am supposed to take my temperature daily.  But, I didn't worry about having a fever last night, since I was feeling ok from that perspective. So, based on my severe pain, I would say my bone marrow was in extremely HIGH gear trying to produce those white blood cells.  Based on how I feel, my ANC should be 4 at least!  :-)

While I was not sleeping last night though, I prayed a lot.  It was some good one on one time with my Lord.  I also palpated the cancer area.  I cannot believe how much the cancer mass has diminished!   I was shocked since it has been a while since I felt the area.  I was so excited that I had Drew feel and he even had trouble finding it at first. This is so awesome.  Ya'll--the area was HUGE and could easily be found before.  14 cm x 9cm x 7cm approximately!  Plus, I could feel numerous lymph nodes in the past which are now continually diminishing in size.  I am just so excited about this.  God is healing me.  Now, I just need to be able to finish up these treatments.   This is week 5 of Taxol.  After week 6, I will be halfway through all of my treatments with 6 weekly rounds of Taxol remaining and 6 weeks of AC remainining (two rounds, one every three weeks).

So, I am waiting here in my chair to figure out whether I will be able to receive treatment.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

And the results are in...

bummed that I have to go home with no chemo today.
No chemo for me today.   My ANC (absolute neutrophil count) went up to .7 from .3 (yesterday) thanks to the neupogen shot.  But, that is not the 1.5 that my ANC needs to be to proceed with receiving treatment.  I received another Neupogen shot today and then will be back again tomorrow at 9am to try this again.  Please pray that my ANC goes up to at least the needed 1.5 so that I can receive treatment tomorrow.

Faithful Prayer Warriors:  Thank you for your daily prayers for me and my family.  I have a couple of other new prayer requests.  I have been having some new pains that have caused a little fear.  When I have the fear, I pray to God because I know that Satan is trying to produce negativity and strip me of my faith.   My faith in God's healing of my body is very strong right now, and I know that is when Satan fights harder.  Anyway, I have been having some pains in my back as well as some pains in my head.  Last night, anytime I attempted to sleep on my side, I would get an immediate headache on the top of my head.  I am a back sleeper anyway, but I usually toss a few times before going to sleep.  So, I slept on my back last night and avoided the headaches.  The pains really don't bother me physically.  I have a pretty high pain tolerance and will avoid medication to alleviate the pain whenever possible.  These pains only bother me mentally. They cause worry to creep into my mind.  The cause of the pains is what I question and what brings fear into mind.  When you are going through chemo, the drugs have so many side effects.  So, when new symptoms like weird pains pop up, I wonder whether the cause is chemo, my weakened immune system, a strained muscle from lifting my children, or new cancer elsewhere.  Of course, it is the latter that causes my mind to worry.   I know that breast cancer most commonly metastasizes to the brain and bones.  However, when my mind begins to worry, I go instantly to converse with God about my concerns and pray that he gives peace to my mind, direction on what to do about the pains, and I ask for complete healing of whatever is causing them. Thank you for praying along with me.  Honestly, the constant conversations that I am having with Him are making our relationship stronger.  So, it is not all bad that new symptoms pop up.  :-)  I will update my prayer page after posting this blog post.

Thank you, Lord, for your complete and total healing that is occurring as I type this!

Monday, December 10, 2012

The worst part about chemotherapy for me...

Nausea stinks.  Feeling completely weak and tired with no energy is tough.  Experiencing random pains throughout the day isn't pleasant.  But, for me, these aren't the worst parts of undergoing therapy.

You see, chemotherapy kills bad cells, but it also kills the good cells.  The hope with chemotherapy is that it kills those bad, rogue cancer cells before killing too many of your healthy cells.  This means that your good blood cells often suffer in the ongoing battle.  Those that are involved in keeping you protected from bacteria, viruses and other illnesses are also harmed.  My white blood cells have been taking a beating during chemo.   If I were to acquire an illness, even the common cold, while my immune system is suffering, it would be difficult for me to fight it.  This would mean hospitalization, a delay in treatment and even worse things, which I will not mention right now.  Because of this, our family has to be extra careful in being exposed to germs (bacteria, viruses, etc.), so that none of us carry these things or become ill.  If someone in our immediate family becomes ill, it is likely that I will also.  The act of trying to protect ourselves from these illnesses during flu/cold season is difficult.   It is the thing I dislike most about undergoing chemotherapy.

What does this mean?  

  • It means we cannot attend church.  There are too many people in a confined space there.  Plus, if we put Abbey and Luke in the kids' church and nursery, that would mean exposure to other children who could potentially be sick.  At least at Luke's school there are rules regarding when you need to keep your children home due to illness.  But, we have decided many times not to even send him to school due to potential exposure.   I miss attending church SO MUCH!  I am really looking forward to getting through chemotherapy so that we can attend as a family once again.  
  • Having a severely weakened immune system means that we cannot go shopping at the indoor mall.  It's Christmas time.  Honestly, I don't usually do my shopping at the mall anyway, but it is nice to walk around the mall during Christmas time.  Also, the mall gives parents a great escape from the house in the winter months.  When it is too cold to play outside or weather prevents it, at least you can take the kids to the mall to run around.  They have a great indoor play area for little ones at our nearby mall.
  • It means no more Chick-fil-a or other fast food restaurant indoor play area.  Again--these places were my go-to when I needed to let Luke run around and it was cold outside.  But, these indoor play areas are probably the worst place I could take him as far as germs are concerned.  Since they are indoors and are played on by many children (who may or may not be sick), they are germ havens.  My doctor wasn't very specific on places to avoid when she first gave me instructions on restrictions during chemo.  But, this is one place my doctor told me to never go or take my kids. 
  • We have to be very careful who we hang around in close quarters.   If someone is sick or lives with someone who is sick, we can't hang out.   During this flu and cold season, this severely limits who you can have over.   Also, this may make Christmas celebrations with our extended family a little different this year.
  • It is Christmas time and there are so many fun Holiday things to do.  These great, fun things are usually popular, therefore, they draw large crowds.   This means we cannot attend. :-(
  • No trips to the grocery store for me.  This was my weekly get-away prior to chemo.   
  • No Holiday Parties for us.  We had to miss our church Community Group Christmas party that was held last night.  We actually have hosted this party since 2008, when it first began for our community group.   It is a wonderful time of gathering for all of us and we have an annual white elephant gift exchange (this is always hilarious).  Not only could we not host the party this year, but we also could not even attend. There would just be too many people in a confined space and our kids were bound to touch everything and everyone there.  This was so hard for us since we consider this wonderful group of people our local Family.  Well, our community group surprised us last night!  They all came to our door after the party and caroled.   Not only that, but they also brought over a couple of white elephant gifts for us and just hung out a while to chat.  These folks are amazing people!  We love and miss them so much and are so thankful to have them in our lives.   They warmed our hearts so much last night!   Thank you all! 
I am someone who likes to constantly be on the move, giving my children lots of fun experiences.  So, this is so tough for me.  I feel a lot like a hermit and I feel badly that my family has to feel this way also due to my treatment.  Having a weakened immune system really affects your life in many ways, but the above list are just some of the ways it is affecting us this Christmas season.    I am writing this from my chemo chair right now.  Although I had my weekly Taxol treatment last Tuesday, due to it being delayed by a day (from a low ANC and WBC), I am here on a Monday trying to get back on schedule.   I felt awful last week.  I experienced new bone/muscle pains, had some cold symptoms and had absolutely no energy on Wednesday-Friday.  On Saturday, I started to feel slightly better.  On Sunday, I felt like I had slightly more energy than Saturday. But Wednesday-Friday I pretty much just wanted to sleep all day and do nothing.  I didn't get to rest because my responsibility is to take care of our children, but I really wanted to.  Don't get me wrong, my children are such a joy to be around and are actually in many ways therapeutic.  But, I could barely move.   So, I knew trying to get back on schedule would be very tough.  My CBC numbers just came back.   My ANC is only .3 (needs to be 1.5 in order for me to be able to get my treatment) and my WBC is critically low as well.  So, I will receive a Neupogen shot, which will hopefully boost my immune system.   I will pray for a rise in my immune system counts so that I can get my weekly Taxol treatment tomorrow. Thank you for your prayers!

And...the weekly cheesy chemo chair photo.  

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

All About Chemotherapy

I have received many questions about what the actual process of receiving the chemotherapy treatment is like.  So, I decided to do a quick blog post about it as I receive my treatment.

The Chemo Room

Above is a photo of the infusion room.  I counted 40 chairs in the room.  No matter when I have received treatment, they are almost always completely occupied.  This is sad to me that this many folks have cancer.  Most of the folks are a lot older than me.  The demographic distribution of patients in the room at one time appear to be a majority female, with a few men, and maybe one other younger woman (usually in her late 30's/ early 40s).  It seems I am always the youngest one in the room though.  I have received chemo on a Thursday, Monday, and Tuesday and it appears there is never a "slow day."  You will notice a lot of pillows and blankets.  They keep this room frigid!  I noticed today the thermostat was set at 55 degrees.  Brrrrr.  I do like the warm blankets they give you though.  I would bring my own, except I wouldn't want it to get dirty.  Also, the ones they provide have been warmed in a blanket warmer.  You will notice televisions.  You can watch TV, and they provide you with headphones as well.  But, I usually just bring a lap-top, because they provide free wi-fi.

The medical staff station.

This place is hopping with a large team of medical staff that attends to your every need.  The medical staff sits behind a large area as pictured below.  They can see all of the patients from there.  There is also a little snack area that you cannot see at the bottom left of the photo.  Here, they stock coffee and hot tea, water, and a few snacks (peanut butter crackers and chex mix--which I can never eat again thanks to eating them during my first chemotherapy treatment).

The first thing they do when I arrive is get me situated (with blankets and pillow(s)) and then access my port.  This port is so weird.  They flush it first and then draw blood.  So, I watch them push fluid in with the syringe and then, using the same syringe while still poked into my port, they draw blood on the way out.  They then flush the port again and begin fluid via iv while we wait for my cbc results.  I can taste everything they push into the port, which is the strangest feeling.   I usually try to place hard candy or dark chocolate into my mouth before they do this, in order to mask the terrible taste.   My power port is implanted on my right side.  (See the photo below). You can see the catheter going up into my jugular vein.  The catheter terminates in my superior vena cava, just upstream of the right atrium.

My port, which is being accessed for chemotherapy.   You can still see the incision area above the port, from the originally surgery when it was implanted.  It is having trouble completely healing because I started the chemo treatments the morning following the port implantation surgery. I don't think my white blood counts have been high enough for long enough to completely heal the scar.  

Just in case you are interested in reading more about the port, here is some information from wikipedia (or you can just skip the italicized area and continue reading my post below):

A port consists of a reservoir compartment (the portal) that has a silicone bubble for needle insertion (the septum), with an attached plastic tube (the catheter). The device is surgically inserted under the skin in the upper chest or in the arm and appears as a bump under the skin. It requires no special maintenance and is completely internal so swimming and bathing are not a problem. The catheter runs from the portal and is surgically inserted into a vein (usually the jugular veinsubclavian vein, or superior vena cava). Ideally, the catheter terminates in the superior vena cava, just upstream of the right atrium. This position allows infused agents to be spread throughout the body quickly and efficiently.
The septum is made of a special self-sealing silicone rubber; it can be punctured hundreds of times before it weakens significantly. To administer treatment or to withdraw blood, a health professional will first locate the port and disinfect the area. Then he or she will access the port by puncturing the overlying skin with a 90° Huber point needle although a winged needle may also be used. (Due to its design, there is a very low infection risk, as the breach of skin integrity is never larger than the caliber of the needle. This gives it an advantage over indwelling lines such as the Hickman line.) Negative pressure is created to withdraw blood into the vacuumized needle, to check for blood return and see if the port is functioning normally. Next, the port will be flushed with a saline solution. Then, treatment will begin. After each use, a heparin lock is made by injecting a small amount of heparinized saline (an anticoagulant) into the device. This prevents development of clots within the port or catheter.  The port is covered in a dressing to protect the site from infection and to secure the needle in position.

It usually takes about 15 minutes for me to find out the results of my labs, which determine whether I will get to receive my chemo treatment for the day.  The number they always watch is the ANC (absolute neutrophil count).   Yesterday, my ANC was .6--lower than the needed 1.5  So, I received my first neupogen injection.  Neupogen's purpose is to stimulate the bone marrow to produce more white blood cells.  This morning, my ANC was 2.5, so I was able to receive treatment.  I guess it worked!   My lips began to swell last night, about 5 hours after the Neupogen injection, but I took a benadryl and the swelling subsided.

In my chemo chair, happy that I get to receive treatment.
Before you receive the actual chemo drug, they pump you full of other medications.  With the Taxol treatment, I receive a number of anti-nausea drugs (including Pepsid), as well as Benadryl and steroids prior to receiving Taxol.   After these have been given (this takes about an hour), I begin the slow drop of Taxol.  The Taxol drip takes about two hours to complete.

The actual chemo infusion process is something I really enjoy.   I am sure a lot of folks think that is weird.  Actually, a lot of people have asked me, "what do you do during that time?"  or "isn't it terrible having to sit there for 4 hours?"   Actually, no.   I am sure that any mother of small children can really understand this.  This is my "me time."  I never really get me time except during my chemo infusion.   It is a time for me to catch up on my to-do list, blog, do some online Christmas shopping, pray, read, etc.  

During the evening that I receive chemo, I feel really strange.   The "chemo brain" thing really kicks in during this time.  I say some things that really make no sense and I have a little difficulty with short-term memory.  But, that seems to subside after day 1.  The massive amounts of drugs that are in my body keep me awake at night.  I usually sleep for about 3 hours that night--and the sleep is broken up into 20 minutes here, 20 minutes there, etc.   It is never a continuous 3 hours of sleep.   That makes the following day pretty tough.  But, I usually sleep pretty well that next night and begin feeling like myself during the mornings.  By afternoon, I am wiped out.  I feel like I have the flu, with aches all over my body and extreme weakness.  But, I have not experienced any nausea with this chemotherapy.   And, my weight is holding steady--not losing or gaining.   I did get down to 98 lbs a couple of weeks ago, even though I was eating plenty.   This scared me a bit, but I soon gained the few pounds lost back and now am back to normal and holding steady.  So, overall, I feel great considering I am going through chemo.

I have 2 rounds of AC and 3 rounds of Taxol behind me already!  Time has really flown by quickly.  Now, I have 9 more weekly Taxol treatments (including today's) and then we may pick up the last two round of AC (infused every three weeks).  Then, we'll have surgery and radiation and then reconstructive surgery remaining.  So, I am hoping and praying that this cancer will be beaten and a thing of the past by this time next year.   I appreciate you continuing to lift us up in prayer!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Taxol Round 4? Maybe tomorrow.

Today, my white blood count (and neutrophil count--ANC) was too low for me to receive my 4th round of Taxol.  My ANC was .6, and it needs to be at least 1.5 in order to receive the treatment. So, I received an injection of Neupogen, an immunity booster, in order to attempt to get my ANC above 1.5 before tomorrow at 9:15a.  Hopefully, tomorrow morning when they draw labs, my counts will be higher and I can receive round 4 of Taxol.  Please pray that my ANC jumps up to a healthy range so that I can receive treatment tomorrow.   We don't want to deviate too much from my weekly schedule. 

The positive news is that, by feel, it seems the cancer is shrinking in size.  I am praying that what we feel is true and that it is, in fact, diminishing.  I also pray that it is being completely eradicated from my body and I will have no evidence of disease even before they begin surgery.

I will end this post with a couple of random, fun pictures of our happy little boy enjoying raking the leaves.  Thank you again for your prayers!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

our Christmas Tree
Just as the song lyrics's the most wonderful time of the year.  And, this is my FAVORITE time of the year.  It always has been.  I love absolutely everything the Christmas season brings: cooler weather (except for today, which was 80 degrees), hot chocolate, extra time with family and friends, giving to others, Christmas carols and hymns, cheesy Christmas movies, Christmas Classic cartoons (the Grinch, Rudolph, Frosty, etc.), delicious food, beautiful decorations, and so much more.  I could go on forever!  Again, I JUST LOVE this time of year.

I have so many pleasant memories of Christmas as a child.  Until I was in the 8th grade, we actually always lived away from our extended family.  So, Christmas also meant fun road trips to visit a lot of family.  During these trips we were re-united with cousins and got to spend special times with our grandparents, aunts and uncles.  Once we moved to Oklahoma and were near all of our family, Christmas meant that we got to spend even more extra special time with family than usual.

Christmas morning surprises with my brothers....we were always so excited to run into the living room and see what was left for us by Santa under the tree.

a Santa photo with my siblings

A "family pyramid" with my sis,  some of my girl cousins, aunt Karen and mom.

Another Christmas family pyramid with family.  I don't know why we liked to do this, but we did and it was pretty fun.

Now that we have children of our own, it is fun to experience the magic of Christmas all over again.  I aim to give Luke and Abbey all of the special experiences that I was able to enjoy as a child.  I want it to be a magical time of year for them as well.  I want them to understand why we are so excited for this time of year.  We are celebrating the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ--the GREATEST GIFT OF ALL.  He is our hope!  So, it MUST be the biggest celebration of the entire year.

This weekend, we visited nearby Georgetown, TX to attend their Christmas Stroll.  We attended this event last year for the first time and absolutely loved it. We decided to make it an annual Christmas tradition.   Our favorite part of the event is the Bethlehem village. 

(From the Georgetown Square website) With the desire to share the gift of the true meaning of Christmas with the community, the idea for a live re-creation of that tiny village on that first Christmas night was born. The streets of Bethlehem are cared for and nourished by the loving hands of Church of the Nazarene. What makes Bethlehem special is the way it comes alive when hundreds of volunteers don period costumes and go back in time to "become" those village citizens once again.

We were able to experience the sights and sounds of the City of Bethlehem on the night Jesus was born! The shops, the townspeople, the census takers, the Roman Soldiers, all were going about their business while an unnoticed miracle takes place in a small corner of the city.  The live nativity is awesome. They have live animals, and the actors put on a beautiful musical.   The kids love the village, because it is very "hands-on".  Here they can experience what it was like to live in Bethlehem in Jesus' time.  

Luke and Grandma walked up to the Bethlehem bakery to make some bread.

The nice villager asked Luke if he wanted cinnamon and sugar on his bread.  Yes, that is a large handful of cinnamon/sugar mixture that he is about to dump on his tiny dough ball. 

This is my favorite part of the village--the toy shop.  Here, the villager is talking to Luke about how baby Jesus was just born in the village.  Everyone is so excited about Jesus' birth.  She showed him how Mary wrapped him in swaddling clothes and then she gave Luke the "doll" of baby Jesus.  Luke watched in wonder and treasured his "baby Jesus."  I remember that last year Luke held on to his doll from the village until beyond Christmas.
Then, we grabbed some space on the curb of the main street and watched the parade.
Even though it was beyond Abbey's nap time, she absolutely loved the parade, clapping to all the music.

precious Abbey

Here, Luke was showing Santa his cars tattoos on his arms.  He said Santa would want to see them.  He was literally yelling, "Santa, LOOK AT MY TATTOOS!"
And here are some photos of us beginning our month of Christmas celebrations back at our house. We love Christmas decorations!
In front of our tree.
It is often difficult to take a photo of Luke without food in his mouth.  I love this little guy so much and I am so excited about experiencing Christmas again with him this year.
the stockings were hung by the chimney with care...

Abbey loves ornaments

Abbey is also loving the Christmas tree
This weekend, Grandma and Grandpa brought a special Christmas surprise for Luke and Abbey to enjoy this season.

Grandpa is showing Luke the Christmas train they brought to our house.
Abbey and grandpa watch Luke operate the train.

Luke literally spent hours watching this train.  He calls it the "Polar Express" train.
Drew took this photo with his phone, so it is a little grainy. But, I love it!  You can see that Luke decided his "guys" needed to hop aboard the train.

We had so much fun with the train, that we decided to watch "The Polar Express" together as a family tonight. Of course, we also had to drink delicious hot chocolate as we watched the movie, even though it was not cold at all outside. 

Our little lights display....nothing compared to our neighbors just a couple of miles down the road (see video below:)

This house's display is the one that has been featured recently on CNN, the Today Show and other national TV outlets for its "Gangnam Style" orchestrated light display which has over a million views on youtube and can be viewed here. When we were watching their lights display one night, a news crew was filming.  I just noticed that Luke was shown at the beginning of their little segment about the lights--see here.