Monday, October 29, 2012

Some Simple Things That Bring Me Joy

I must say, I have always been someone who is pretty easy to please.  By that, I mean I find much joy in very simple things.  And God has given me much to be happy about.

Modeling her Halloween Costume

Abbey is so happy!
Abbey is learning new things at a fairly rapid pace now.  Our little girl is growing up too quickly!  Today, as she sat there on the floor playing with various toys in her 18 month top and 24 month pants (I know, she is only 9 months old), she looked so much older than she did a week ago.  She examined her baby doll, looking closely at how her eyes opened and closed and checked out her doll's little fingers.  She grabbed a book and started jabbering as if she were reading it.  She played some songs on her little piano, and clapped her little hands together and bounced to the beat.  I just sat amazed (at how fast this time is flying by) and smiled the entire time.  Abbey, simply by just being, brings me so much joy.  Here is a video of her showing some of her recent cute skills..waving and clapping..and also....just being her happy self. 

And then there's Luke.  He now sometimes acts as if he is not 3, but 13.  I went upstairs to get him this morning after I heard on the monitor he awoke.  When I opened the door, I noticed the light was already on (he normally stays in the bed until we come up to get him).  He was just sitting in his bed, smiling sweetly.  So, I went to his drawer to get an outfit.  He quickly saw what I was doing and said, "Mommy, I already got something."  I said, "Ok, well, I will grab some underwear for you."  He responded, "I already picked out a top, pants, underwear and socks."  Well, OK.  :-)   It was all sitting there in front of him on the bed as he sat up, "criss-cross applesauce" style.  He makes me smile.  We played together outside this morning for a long time during Abbey's morning nap.  That kid is so much fun.  He showed me all sorts of games that he and daddy had created.   For example, he showed me the "stick the baseball up in the tree and use another ball to try to dislodge it" game and the "balance the bat on the baseball tee and use another ball to try to knock the bat off" game, to name a couple.  It was so simple and SO MUCH FUN!  I got to be a kid again and it felt great!

Our "knock the bat over with a ball" game

Our "dislodge the ball from the tree by throwing another ball" game.

This is what happens each time we pull Luke's old toys (that he has outgrown) from the attic so that Abbey can use them:  they get reclaimed by Big Brother.
Today....was just joyous!  Thank you Lord for the joy you have given me and for allowing me to find it in all things.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Chemo Round 2--a Much Better Experience!

As I mentioned in my last post, my one-week post chemo appointment was scheduled for this morning.  The plan for the appointment was as follows:

1.  Labs drawn.
2.  Based on lab results, receive Neupogen injection to help boost my immune system.  Likely, I would receive the injection for 3 consecutive days.  This is in lieu of receiving the Neulasta injection the day following chemotherapy.  We needed to change things up due to the allergic reaction I had towards Neulasta.

I was excited to receive my lab results this morning.  I must say, I had a very positive feeling we would like what we saw.  The Nurse Practitioner came into the exam room with the following results:

Today's lab results.

Now, this may not mean much to some of you.  So, let me provide some explanation.  At this point in my round 1 chemo treatment, my WBC was at 1.2 (critical low) and my neutrophils (NEU#-ANC) were at 0.1.  Today however, my white blood count was barely low at 3.6 and my neutrophils were actually within NORMAL range at 3.1!!!!  And this is without the $10,000 Neulasta shot. (Yes folks, I found out today when I received a bill from the doctor's office that the one Neulasta shot I received was $10,000!!!  Cancer is expensive!)  Take that, Neulasta!! With those lab results, I didn't even need to receive the Neupogen injection.  Praise be to God!   Today's results were yet another answer to prayer.

Lately, I have been feeling more thankful and blessed than at any other point in my life.  Which is kind of crazy to me, considering I am going through chemotherapy for an aggressive, stage 3 cancer.  I think I am just experiencing the biblical truth that is stated in 2 Corinthians 12:9:   But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  I am weak.  Christ's power is made perfect in our weakness.  This truth I have now truly experienced myself.   Here are some of the many things I am feeling thankful and blessed about lately:

  • I am so thankful for the outpouring of love from our friends and family.  We continue to receive meals from our friends (and even a kind stranger offered to bring one next week).  Meals are a HUGE blessing to us.  I also received a very generous care package from friends at ARA (thank you SO MUCH).  The care package had so many thoughtful items in it from some of my friends there and I truly cherish each one.  Abbey and Luke even received some fun things in the package.  Drew's parents stayed with us last week, and were a HUGE help.  We are so thankful!  Experiencing the outpouring of love from friends and family just makes me feel SO BLESSED and, again, makes me truly understand why one of Christ's Greatest Commandments is to "Love One Another"!
  • I am SO THANKFUL that so many people continue to pray for me.  This is not going to be a short battle, and to continually receive messages from friends, family members, and strangers that tell me they are praying for us means so much!  Let me tell you something I know for a fact:  prayers are making a difference!
  • I am so thankful for my kiddos, who God continually uses to send me messages of love from Him daily.  I know I have written about this before, but Luke says things that are just WAY too mature and at specific points in time, for them NOT to be messages directly from God.  A couple of days ago, I was taking Luke potty.  He was just sitting there on the potty looking at me and I wasn't feeling very well.  I was wearing a scarf around my head.  He delicately placed his hands below my jaw and pulled my head up to look at him and said, "Mommy, I love you.  I really like your hat.  I also like your new haircut."  Then, he proceeded to ask me, "Mommy, are your boo-boos getting all better?  Let me give you a kiss."  My heart just melts.  And then there's precious Abbey.  She just lights up a room.  Her cuddles, hugs and kisses are so therapeutic.  I remember being told by more than one physician (due to test results) that I would never have my own biological child (due to an issue with my egg quality/low ovarian reserve). That it was not medically possible.  Nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).  God has reminded me of these promises lately through the gift of my children.
  • I am EXTREMELY thankful for Drew.  He is the best husband ever!  He is constantly looking out for me.  Lately, he has even been my nutritional coach, helping me stay on track with our nutritional goals during chemotherapy!
  • I am so thankful for Drew's job.  His management team and co-workers are so supportive of him.  He loves his job and is thankful that they are flexible in allowing him to work remotely when needed.
Those are just a few of the many reasons I am feeling so blessed and thankful lately.

Feeling Blessed!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Do Not Be Afraid...Just Believe

Mark 5:36 has been our life verse lately:  "Do not be afraid...just believe!"

  • As I watched my hair for the past couple of weeks fall out in chunks...."Do not be afraid...just believe."
  • As I periodically feel my cancerous breast to determine whether the cancer is being demolished..."Do not be afraid...just believe."
  • As I look at my beautiful children, excited to parent them and help them grow and develop, wondering how much time I may be given on earth to do that..."Do not be afraid....just believe."
Yes, it has become the theme in our household.

Chemo Round 2 Status:

I can't believe we are already into the second round of chemo, day 6!  As I said in the last post, the oncologist really dialed down the dosage of the chemo and she didn't administer the immunity shot, Neulasta.  So, this is sort of a new round of chemotherapy.  I feel differently, mostly in good ways.  However, last time, I was also on three additional drugs (which also happened to have negative interactions with one another) that I am not currently taking.  That has to make one feel better!  I feel like I am also eating a lot better this time around.  Not that I wasn't eating well last round, but this round I am using specific foods as good fuel for my body.  As far as negative side effects this round, I feel mainly like I have no energy with sporadic nausea.  But, again, compared to last round, it doesn't seem that bad.  I know this is partly because it is becoming my new normal.  Something else that has helped tremendously is having help with the kids and chores--we are so thankful for Drew's parents being able to spend this first week of chemo round 2 with us.  On Thursday, my labs will be run, so I will see the results of how my immune system took this round of chemo (minus the Neulasta shot).  They will also likely be giving me Neupogen to help boost my immunity.

Insert Random Photo from past week:  Abbey and I reading a book before bedtime.

The Last Hair Update...I promise!:

I finally said goodbye to my hair on Saturday.  It was looking very unkempt, so it really had to go.  Actually, Drew played barber this weekend as he cut my hair, Luke's hair and his own.  There was hair everywhere!  Luke helped buzz my hair and thought that it was pretty cool that he was able to assist.  However, because my hair was cut first (and cut very short), when I asked him if he was ready for his hair to be cut next, he replied, "Mommy, I don't want it to be short like yours."  Poor little guy.  Luke has been so kind though since my hair was cut.  He compliments me daily, whether it be, "I like your new hat mommy", or "I like your new haircut" or even, "Your new hair [wig] looks nice, mommy."  We have such a sweet little boy!

We made an event out of my haircut.  I really don't know why we captured the moment on video, except that that is what a lot of other cancer patients recommended.  I have heard that you are supposed to make a big deal out of each milestone--not sure why.  It is a pretty embarrassing video moment really--I really dislike the myriad of faces I apparently made during the haircut.  Haha!  But, I guess some may consider it entertaining.   Still yet, perhaps it will be encouraging to others who are going through chemo--it acts as something to show them that losing one's hair is not a big deal when you look at the big picture.   So, here is the video for those who are interested.  

P.S.  I plan on posting an "answered prayer requests post" soon, because the answered prayers keep rolling in!  Thanks again for your continued prayers!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Let's Do This Again! Chemo Round 1 Update and Starting Chemo Round 2

I am writing this post from the chemo chair as I receive my round 2 of chemotherapy.  I love the free wifi here at Oncology office!

In my assigned chemo chair, right before they accessed my port.  My hair looks awful now, and I hate to say this, but I think it's gotta go!

What did we learn from Chemo Round 1?  Hooray!  My first round of chemo is complete. We met with the oncologist earlier this morning and reviewed how the first round of chemo went.  My body pretty much yelled at me during the first round of chemotherapy.   So, we are changing some things up a bit for round 2.   We aren't going to administer the Neulasta shot, which is normally administered to patients 24 hours following chemo treatment to help increase white blood counts (aka, boost my immune system) .  Last round, I had an allergic reaction to the drug an hour following injection and had to receive steroids through my port to get it under control.  So, we are going to go without it this time around, and check my white blood count (WBC) a week following treatment.  My WBC was low one week following the chemo round 1 injection, regardless of receiving the Neulasta shot.  This time next week, if my WBC and Neutrophil count (ANC) is low as it was last time, I will likely be given Neupogen,   Neupogen is offered to decrease the chance of infection in folks who are receiving chemotherapy medications that may decrease the number of neutrophils (a type of white blood cell needed to fight infections.)  In about a week, I will probably be given Neupogen for three days to kick start my immune system into high gear.

The oncologist also reduced the dosage for the chemotherapy drug.  We are just going to take a "less is more" approach and also administer all of my injections slowly, to allow my body to handle it better.

Is the treatment effective?  Well, the oncologist checked out the area of cancer on my left breast, and palpated the many lymph nodes that were involved.  She said that really, it will be this 2nd round that will tell us more, now that my breasts feel like they are fairly back to normal from breastfeeding.  When I started last round, I was still pretty engorged, as I was in the weaning process.  (Of course, Abbey didn't drink any of the expressed milk--I had to pump and dump due to all of the drugs).  So, it was so difficult to tell the size and feeling of the cancer last time.   Still yet, it feels as if there is change since last time--and I think it is good change.  To me and the oncologist the cancerous area feels more mobile and slightly smaller.  Also, I have been feeling pain in my left breast.   She said this can also be a good sign.  A lot of patients report the same type of pain I am having as their cancerous regions decrease in size.   Perhaps it is the cancer, as it is getting smaller, pulling at some of the areas of body to which it is attached.  After she performed the exam and we asked her all of our listed questions, we were ready to attack Chemo Round 2.

So, the first thing they do when you sit in the chemo chair is draw two vials of blood from your port.  They run those to the lab and verify that your white blood counts are high enough to actually have the treatment administered.  Today, my WBC was 3.8 (low, it should be 4.8-10.8), and my absolute neutrophil count was a normal 2.6 (this was .1 at the end of week 1 of Chemo 1, so there has been significant improvement here.).  The neutrophil count is the one they are most concerned with.  The nurse told me that if it is below 1.5, they won't do chemo treatment.  I would probably be given neupogen to help increase that number and then try later.   But, we didn't have to go there this time, and for that I am thankful!

I am praying that we can keep my immunity up!  We are going to use a lot of natural intervention here, with daily healthy-packed smoothies, freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices, added vitamins and some good ole' flax seed.  This is going to be a fun experiment to see what interventions work and what do not.  The scientist in me is probably having a little too much fun with this.  I save every one of my lab reports and compare week to week and review differences in what I did (what I ate, how active I was, etc.).  Then, I speculate reasons for the differences in each of the labs.  Last round, week one, I wasn't juicing or eating a smoothie each day.  So, at least I will have these two weeks to compare and that will be the experiment.  Of course, there are already many flaws in the study, because I will not be having the Neulasta shot this round.  I'm using the scientific method here, and my prediction is that my neutrophil count (ANC) will be better than the .1 result of round 1 chemo at week 1, due to the dedicated juicing and making smoothies of fruits and vegetables that are packed full of antioxidants that I will be ingesting.  Stay tuned for the results, which will be posted approximately one week from now.

The scientific method, which I will use for my experiment this round.

For the 9 months since Abbey was born, I have made my needs my lowest priority in our immediate family.  I just didn't take care of my body as well as I have in the past.   I always felt that taking the best possible care of the kids meant dropping everything and meeting all their needs.  Looking back, I realize that forgoing some of my important needs could possibly cause long term health issues.  I am now focused on taking better care of myself.   One has to have this balance in their family.  If you aren't taking good care of yourself, you may not be able to take care of your family as well.   Drew is helping me with this, constantly reminding me, "Have you eaten recently?," "Do you need more water?"

We are very thankful to have Drew's parents helping us out this week with the kids.  During the last round of chemo the first week was SO tough.  I have heard that the treatments actually even build--meaning this one will be tougher than the first and the next will be tougher than this one.  So, having them here is very helpful.  Plus, it looks like 3 of us will be using the hair clippers in the near future.   Looks like we will need to line Luke up, then me and then Drew for barber Drew's haircutting studio.  My locks are no longer lovely and will probably just need to be shaved off.   I was thinking about letting Luke try a little since I don't care how it looks.  He will get a big kick out of it and me being bald won't bother him as much since he had something to do with it. :-)

I am excited to see the results of this second round of treatment that God is using to HEAL ME COMPLETELY!   :-)

To our prayer warriors--we are SO thankful for you!  Here are our current prayer requests:

  • That my cancer shrinks away to where it is no longer detected.
  • Pray that my immune system stays up, works effectively, and keeps me from getting ill.  
  • Please pray for God's direction in any other natural treatment we should pursue to keep my immune system up and attack this cancer.  
  • That my body doesn't experience any adverse reactions from the drugs that are administered to me this round.
Thank you prayer warriors!  I will do a post dedicated to you at the end of round 2.  I want everyone to see ALL of the MANY answered prayers so far!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Beware, Heather's Hair is Everywhere!

I realize this is the third post where I have mentioned hair, but this losing your hair thing is very interesting.  It is a totally new experience for me, and that is why I am blogging about it.  I know that if I were a reader who had not been through it, I would be very interested in knowing what the experience of losing one's hair was like.  Also, perhaps someone who is newly diagnosed with cancer will find this post and then know what to expect if they begin chemotherapy that has hair loss as a side effect.  So, here I go.

My hair began falling out on Friday, day 16 of my first chemotherapy treatment (AC).  My oncologist told me it would start falling out around two weeks following my first injection, so she was correct.  Initially, I just noticed several hairs laying around in places where I had just sat.  But, it has now progressed to where tons of hair easily falls out if I just touch my head.  Since Saturday, when the hair began falling out extremely easily, I have been so gentle and protective of my hair.  I don't touch it, because when I do, the hair collects onto my hand as if my hand is a magnet for the hair.  When I lean over, hair just falls onto whatever is below me.  Poor Abbey gets a little hair shower when I change her diaper.  Thank goodness my hair is extremely thick, or I would probably already by in one of my new head coverings.

It just falls out in chunks, like this.
I am really liking my new haircut, so I am trying to enjoy it as long as I can.  At the rate it is falling out though, I am guessing I will have two more days before I decide to just shave it all off.  We shall see though.   Right now, I am making it a fun game--I am trying to see how long I can keep my hair on my head before I have to shave it.  I wish there was some documented record of the longest duration of time from when the hair began falling out from chemo to when it was either completely gone or the person ended up shaving it.  The competitor in me wants to beat that record!  Today, Luke lovingly rubbed my head with his hands when I was putting his shoes on.  I scared him as I began making near-screaming sounds like a teenage girl going through a haunted house.  I immediately told him he didn't do anything wrong--I am just a little extra protective of my hair these days.  Silly mommy!

A week ago, prior to my hair falling out, I picked up a wig that I had ordered.  The hair was a long hair wig, as that is what I was used to at the time and thought I would want.  I ordered it prior to cutting my long hair.  So, when I picked it up and tried it on over my new short haircut, it looked funny to me.  I am already used to seeing myself in short hair.  I left the shop a little disappointed, but knew I could always get the wig cut and styled differently.  The following day, I had an appointment at the American Cancer Society (ACS) for a fitting for a free wig--yes, you read that correctly, I said a free wig.  In case you are unfamiliar with the cost of wigs, they run anywhere from $250-350 for a nice synthetic one, and $800 and up for a nice human hair wig.  So, this is a HUGE benefit.  Plus, with the disappointment from the wig I picked up the previous day, I was really excited to have another option. I knew I wanted to get something shorter.  I had a lot of fun at my appointment, and selected a wig surprisingly quickly.

Here is Abbey modeling my free wig.  I needs to be cut and styled a bit once I start wearing it.
I was hesitant to share a photo of me trying the free wig on, but here is a self-photo I snapped to send to Drew as I was trying them on at the ACS.  It is really blurry, but you can tell a little how it might look.  Honest opinions?

Since I am not a teenager and I am inexperienced at taking self-portraits, it is a terrible photo.   But, you get the idea at least.

That picture was taken on Thursday.  I haven't put either wig on since last week, because, again, I am very protective of what hair I have left on my head.  I am in hair preservation mode.   The wigs will not be placed onto my head until after the hair is gone.

I still can't believe the wig was free.  For those of you who are going through chemotherapy, or if you know someone who is, there are SO MANY wonderful organizations who offer free products or services for cancer patients.  These organizarions are a God-send.

  • While I was at the ACS trying on the wig, the representative there also signed me up for a $50 gas card (provided for traveling back and forth for treatments), she gave me a beautiful scarf for the head, a cotton turban for wearing around the house or at night, a port pillow that was handmade by a senior citizen volunteer (for use on a seatbelt, which rubs against the port in my chest).  After surgery, they also provide breast prostheses and special bras, free of charge.  
  • I also found an organization, "Good Wishes", which will provide cancer patients with a beautiful, free silk wrap.  
  • A friend ordered some hats and scarves for me through an organization called, "Heavenly Hats".  They also send beautiful headwear to patients going through cancer treatment.   
  • One of my good friends sent me a link yesterday for some organizations that offer free house cleaning services ("cleaning for cancer" and "cleaning for a reason") for patients going through chemotherapy.  There is an approval process and not all applicants are accepted, but I thought this was AWESOME!   
  • Yesterday, I attended a workshop that was offered through the organization, "Look Good Feel Better."   Look Good Feel Better holds group workshops that teach beauty techniques to female cancer patients to help them combat the appearance-related side effects of cancer treatment.  Everyone who knows me knows I love "free" anything.  Plus, the changes that are happening to my body from chemotherapy are, of course, new to me, so I know I have a lot to learn.  There were only two of us at the workshop yesterday, so I was able to meet and ask questions of another breast cancer patient who just finished her third round of the same chemo treatment that I am currently undergoing.  It was great to share experiences with each other.  And, look at all of the awesome free makeup I received:

Isn't this awesome!
See, going through cancer isn't ALL that bad!  I am having a lot of new experiences and getting some freebies along the way! 

Our Happy, Healthy 9-month Old!

Our family supported the Sooners on Saturday!  Abbey was so happy in one of Luke's old jerseys.

Abbey is 9 months old!  She has to be one of the happiest, most-content babies ever!  God knew exactly what we needed at this stage in our life and blessed us with this precious baby girl.  Here is what Miss Abbey has been up to lately.

Mobility:  In my "Abbey is 8-months old" post, I mentioned that Abbey really had no desire to be mobile and that was just fine with us.  Actually, we were happy that it appeared her energy level was not near the level Luke's was at her age.  At her age, he was EVERYWHERE!  Well, as we have been able to spend less time with her (and bring her everything that she could possible want or need), I guess she decided it was time to get moving.  Two to three weeks ago, she began rolling everywhere.  Actually, Abbey figured out how to roll both ways at three months of age, so she mastered that skill a LONG time ago.  But then, she decided, "well, that was fun, now I am going to move onto other things" and she never ever really used that skill to get places.  She would roll onto her tummy and then just stay in that one spot and play.  Then, when she was able to sit up unsupported around 6 months, she decided that was pretty cool and didn't desire to move from that one spot (except to her tummy, where she would stay for long period of time).  Now, this baby is rolling and scooting everywhere to get what she wants and explore.  She loves electronics and Luke's toys.  Perhaps she finally thought, "these people are bringing me all of these cute baby toys, but I really want this other exciting stuff....guess I better start moving."  She will find the tiniest, nearly microscopic, crumb in the ground (like from Luke's granola bar) and travel to it to eventually put it in her mouth.  Baby-proofing our house has begun!

Size/Growth:  Abbey is still big.  At her recent doctor's appointment (9-month well visit), the little sheet of paper they use to document her physical size percentile pretty much said ">95%" for everything (weight, height and head circumference).  Baby girl is 30 inches tall.  Luke was 28.2 inches at her age.  Luke was about 15 months old when he was Abbey's size, and Luke has always been around the 50th percentile.  Currently, she cannot wear any clothes smaller than 18 months size.  Yeah, our 9 month old wears 18 months-sized clothing.   She really doesn't seem that big to us, but I guess we are just used to her size.  Honestly, I was surprised at her percentile, because she really hasn't gained any weight this past month.  I thought this was due to a week or two of eating way less than when I was able to breastfeed her.  But, I guess that didn't hurt her too much.  :-)  Abbey is teething!  She already has her bottom front two teeth, and has four more that the doctor says are about to poke through:  the upper front two teeth and two more bottom teeth.

Personality:  Abbey is hilarious!  She jabbers non-stop, like she thinks she is having very intelligent conversations with you.  She is extremely expressive as she speaks, and she even changes the tone of certain words as she speaks.  She really tries to mimic our speech patterns and it is very entertaining.  When my parents visited a few weeks ago, my mom whistled a lot when playing with Abbey.   Ever since then, Abbey's most common facial expression is the "whistle" expression.  She even blows air through her mouth when she gets in "whistle formation" and sometimes even actually whistles!  She talks to all her toys and makes the funniest faces all day long.  She flaps her arms when she gets really excited.  When she does this, it looks as if she is trying to fly.  As I said at the beginning of this post, Abbey is very content.  She rarely gets upset and cries.  Everyone that sees her comments about how happy she is.  Even upon seeing her for just a few minutes, strangers can tell just how happy and content she is!

Eating:  Abbey is a great eater!  We are still thankful for the donated breast milk, as we continue to mix that with formula.  I hate that I had no choice but to wean her, as I intended on never giving her formula and breastfeeding her for at least a year.  But, the donated breast milk has helped me with the transition.  Abbey honestly doesn't seem too bothered by the formula/breastmilk combination and is happily drinking it out of a bottle now.  We have come so far this past month!  Abbey is now also eating table foods and loves being able to feed herself.  You can tell that she is so proud of herself.   Fruits and baby mum-mums are her favorite, and meat is her least favorite food group. 

Abbey tried on a free wig I received from the American Cancer Society.  She had been "talking" to it for a few days in our bedroom, so we thought we'd let her try it on.  She is already doing the "look" most people give themselves when they look in the mirror. 

Getting ready to cheer on the Sooners on Saturday! 

precious baby girl!
Here is a video I captured of Abbey a few weekends ago.  You can see what a happy baby she is in this video.  Her favorite show she has seen on television so far is "Little Einsteins".  On this show, the kids pat their laps to get rocket to "take off".  She has learned how to do this and loves it.  So, she is doing this in the video also.  We love you, Abbey!

Friday, October 12, 2012

On Becoming A Germaphobe...

I think I am officially a germaphobe now--in other words, I now have a strong fear of contamination and germs.  But, I think that the fear is fairly reasonable when you are undergoing chemotherapy treatment.  The fear really set in when I saw my one-week post chemo lab results:

Ok, so maybe I am not a pathological germaphobe, but I am EXTREMELY aware of all possibilities of germs around me since I saw my lab results.  The tests that are check-marked on the paper above are the labs to which the doctor pays the most attention.  They need my white blood cell count to be at least 4.8 (it was 1.2--critically low) and my absolute neutrophil count (ANC or Neu#) to be at least 1.5 (it was .1).  Neutrophils are the white blood cells that help to fight bacterial infections.  When the Nurse Practitioner showed me the lab results, I was shocked at how low they were.  However, she said they expect my counts to be low a week following chemotherapy.  She said that the Neulasta shot should kick in soon after that day to begin building back up my white blood cell count.  Neulasta helps encourage bone marrow to build more white blood cells.  That is why Neulasta causes a lot of severe bone pain.  I told the Nurse practitioner on that day (Day 8 of Chemo Round 1) that I hadn't yet experienced "too difficult to handle" bone pain.  I had the worst headache of my life the day following the neulasta injection, but that was all I had experienced up to that point.  Another patient that I had spoke with that day in the office said her pain from Neulasta was unbearable.  She actually had to take hydrocodone for the pain and that just "took the edge off".  I was thankful that I didn't have that type of pain, but I commented to her that I wish I had some pain so I knew it was working.  I actually even prayed that night that the Neulasta shot would begin working in me so I had a fighting chance against bacteria infections and viruses.  Well, Day 9 brought for me the WORST pain I have experienced in my life.  It was worse than childbirth labor pains.  The pain was primarily located in my hips and pelvis.  Bone pain is completely different than muscle pain, because muscle pain can be relieved naturally with cold or heat, or even massage.  I found that nothing really relieved the bone pain.  And, when I walked around that day, I walked like an elderly woman.  But, I got what I prayed for--an obvious sign the Neulasta shot was kicking in.  Hopefully my CBC will look fabulous on 10/18 (this coming Thursday) so that I can begin my second round of chemo that day.

After my visit to the doctor last Thursday, they told me I could stop the Levaquin antibiotic after taking just two days due to some scary reactions I was having to it.  Then over last weekend, I developed bronchitis again, so the on-call physician prescribed me a Z-pac antibiotic.  Now, I feel the infection is gone and I just need to rid my body of the congestion that is hanging around.   I could tell that my white blood count was extremely low during the second week of chemo.  I had zero energy.  If I stood up for 15 minutes, I felt like I was going to collapse.  (Ok--enough about how I have been doing with the lingering illnesses and back to my discussion on becoming a germaphobe.)

When your immune system is at such a low level that ANY exposure to a virus or bacteria can make you REALLY sick, I think becoming a germophobe is somewhat inevitable.  I notice EVERY potential opportunity to acquire germs now.  For example, a trip to the local grocery store, HEB, opens up hundreds of opportunities to come into contact with germs.  From touching the cart (which we wipe down with antibacterial wipes) to selecting produce and weighing it, to selecting groceries, and especially signing with the credit card pen, one is exposed to countless opportunities to become ill.  I never really thought about grabbing that credit card pen and signing before chemo.  Now, honestly, I even avoid the grocery store--it is probably one of the worst places for me to go when my immune system is down.  When I am out and about, I spot every bottle of hand sanitizer that is provided for customer use.  I really wish there was hand sanitizer available next to every credit card machine.  

I'm probably WAY too excited about our lifetime supply of hand sanitizer Drew purchased from Sam's Club!

My hands and Drew's hands are becoming so dry from constantly washing and sanitizing them.  Poor Drew is probably so tired of me questioning him about washing his hands.  I think even he is surprised sometimes how OCD over germs I have become, but I am so focused on staying healthy. For example, we were looking in our refrigerator a couple of days ago checking out some ham we were considering putting on a homemade pizza.  Drew began touching the ham, trying to determine if it was still good (we had just bought it but it looked a little funny).  I immediately stopped him and asked him if he washed his hands before touching it.  He replied, "Yes, just a few minutes ago."  Then, I began telling him all of the activities I saw him do in the last few minutes since washing his hands. ( Only a germaphobe would be watching others like a hawk to determine whether they were remaining germ-free.)  I felt these activities exposed him to germs and then he touched the meat.  We eventually decided to discard the meat.  Before chemo, the thought wouldn't have even came into my head about questioning him like I did then.  Actually, previously the things he had done since washing his hands I wouldn't even consider as potentially making one sick.  But, when your immune system is super-low and your body is like a wide-open door inviting in viruses and bacteria, you think of EVERY possible line of exposure.  Drew really does a great job of thinking of all of the potential ways of germ exposure and he also is great about questioning me about washing my hands after touching certain things.  We are helping each other here, but I am extremely sensitive at recognizing potential exposure to germs.  Our biggest exposure to viruses and bacteria now is probably Luke's school.  We are just praying that no parents send their children to school ill and expose Luke.  We are also hoping that Luke is washing his hands regularly while there.  When Drew picks Luke up from his school on Tuesdays and Thursdays, he takes him to the restroom and washes him down even before loading him into the car.  Then, when Luke gets home, Drew changes his clothes and immediately puts Luke's school clothes in the washer.  Hey, maybe we should just buy some Hazmat suits for when we go out in public!  :-) 

God is SO good!  He has answered so many prayers, both big and small.  So, here are our current prayer requests related to all of these germs.  We are entering flu season, so this is probably one of the worst times to be undergoing 6 months of chemotherapy.  We appreciate your prayers more than words can show!

1.  Please pray my immune system will function at its best during treatment.  In fact, I am praying for a SUPER-immune system--one that is so well-functioning that it even rids the body completely of this cancer!  We bought a juicer and are trying to either juice fruits and vegetables or make a fruit and veggie smoothie in our blender daily.  I want my body to function optimally.  I am hoping my immune system will be up this weekend so we can make a trip to Whole Foods to buy some super-foods to eat regularly.

2.  Please pray that our entire family will remain well so that I do not get sick.  If Drew, Luke or Abbey get sick, it is going to be tough for me not to also get sick. 

3.  Of course, last and certainly not least (as always), we ask for prayers of complete healing.  I am beating this cancer, thanks to your prayers!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Happy Birthday to our 3-Year Old, Luke!

Happy 3rd Birthday to our precious son, Luke.  This post is written directly to you, Luke, from your mommy.

Showing us how old he is!

These past three years have just flown by!  I can't believe how big you are, Luke!  You have to be one of the sweetest little kids ever!  You give the very best hugs and kisses.  Lately, your warm hugs and kisses and endearing words have been absolutely therapeutic to me.  Not only that, but your laughter is one of the best sounds to my ears, and also serves as wonderful medicine.  Laughter is always heard in our household, because you are simply hilarious.  The things you say and actions you do would make anyone laugh!  Here is one tiny recent example.  Yesterday morning when you awoke, you exerted your independence and decided to wear your "comfy pants" that you had found in a stack of clothes you had outgrown (18 months size, which is the size Abbey wears right now).  The pants were way too short, yet you were way too determined for any of us to convince you otherwise.   Grandpa was going to take you outside to play later that cold day, so I thought I would try to encourage you once again to wear some longer, warmer pants.  I gave you the choice of the "cold pants" (18-month pants) or the "warmer pants" (3T size).  You chose the "warm pants."  You had a blast outside with grandpa, and after quite a while playing, decided to come back inside to play.  I looked over as you entered the back door just in time to see you standing there in your underwear.  You said, "I need to put my cool comfy pants back on." Since you were back inside, you decided you no longer needed the correct-sized "warm pants". Little Independent Luke--you are so strong willed, but also so funny.   You make us smile!

As I did for your first and second year of life, I made a book for you for this 3rd year.  You have grown up so much this year, and I want you to have this book someday so you know what our life was like with you this 3rd year.
I started with your birthday last year and included pictures and memories from all of the special times we shared this past year (from October 2011 to September 2012).  I plan on doing this for you for your first 18 years of life.    
the last page of the book

So far, you have had three fun celebrations for your big day.  We bought you a fun Elmo cookie cake to share with your friends at school on your birthday.  Your sweet teacher, Ms. Krista, snapped some photos and shared them with us.  It looks like you had so much fun!

The birthday boy at school.

Sharing his cake with school friends...notice he is always sitting by the girls?

We were not sure what type of cake to get for you, because you are not really a kid that is "into" any particular thing or character.  You are such an easy-going kid when it comes to toys or playing/pretending.  We could give you a box to play with and you would be absolutely thrilled and play with it for hours.  You have an excellent imagination and can come up with some very elaborate stories with any character, car or set of blocks.  Your favorite things to play with right now are Lego-duplo blocks, cars, action figures and the iPad.  Last week, some sweet friends that brought dinner over also brought some special birthday balloons for you.  You were thrilled!  Elmo was on one of the balloons and you seemed so excited about that.  So, that is why we decided on the Elmo theme for your cake last week.

On your birthday night, mommy and daddy had a birthday party for you with just our little immediate family.

Happy Birthday, Dear Luke

Happy Birthday to you!
And then, we had a birthday party on Saturday for you with your Oklahoma family.  Grandma and Grandpa visited this past weekend and shared some special birthday memories with you.  We even had a "virtual party" with your Oklahoma aunts, uncles and cousins as they attended your party via video conferencing (Google Hangout).  You were so excited and felt so special!

Blowing out your candle!
Abbey was excited about your birthday too!

Oh My Goodness!  Looking at one of your gifts.
We love you SO MUCH Luke and hope you had a wonderful birthday!  Here are a couple of short videos of our little intimate celebration at home.  You can tell from this first video how sweet out little guy is and how excited he gets over simple things.

Please ignore our embarassing singing voices in the video below and focus on Luke's sweet face!

Saying Goodbye to Long Locks

For most women, one of the most devastating parts of chemotherapy is losing their hair.  Actually, for many women, their hair is what makes them feel feminine.  For most of my life, my hair has been long.  I have always defined myself as a tomboy, and it is my long hair that has helped me to feel feminine.  But honestly, since I was first diagnosed with cancer, losing my hair has really been the least of my concerns.  Right now, my focus is on surviving.  I don't need hair to survive.  Still yet, I know that when the day comes where my hair is actually falling out, it is not going to be easy.  For me, the reason having no hair will be difficult is not due to feeling less feminine.  The reason being bald will be difficult is just because it will be a daily reminder of the cancer inside my body.  On days when I do not feel that ill, it is sometimes currently easy to forget that a terrible, aggressive advanced cancer is in my body.  But, the visual effects of chemotherapy will be a constant reminder of this.  I am preparing myself mentally for this.  I am ready.

I always knew that if I EVER decided to get a drastic short cut, I would donate my hair to locks of love.  It is a wonderful organization that creates hair (cranial) prostheses for kids in need.  Losing one's hair is extremely difficult for a young girl.  Thus, it was really not a difficult decision at all to chop my hair off while I still have it so that some young girl can benefit from it.  So, that is what I did on Friday! 

Before the cut...long hair.

Donated three ponytails of 12 inches of hair!
After photos...front.

I will admit that I actually like the haircut. It is fun, easy, and actually works pretty well with my wavy hair.  It is a wash-and-go type of style.  I will definitely enjoy it over the next few days before it begins falling out! 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Chemotherapy Day 7--This is supposed to be the day I feel at my worst

Today is day 7 of my first round of chemotherapy and I am feeling pretty good considering.  As I said in my title, according to both oncologists I have seen, most patients feel at their worst on Day 7.   If I continue to feel as I do today, I guess Day 5 was my worst day. I hope it is all uphill from here!

One of my biggest fears so far has been some of the long term effects of these drugs I am taking.  Ever since chemotherapy began, my heart has been racing.  It feels like it is beating out of my chest.  Also, I have never taken as many drugs in total throughout my life as I have this past week.  I am concerned about my liver's ability to handle this many toxins.  In addition to the chemotherapy drugs, I am taking so many other drugs to fight the side effects of the chemotherapy drugs.  I have been to the pharmacy almost daily since chemo started.  It is so scary when the pharmacist questions whether you should be taking a drug due to a known interaction with the drug you were prescribed the previous day.   Plus, as I read the pamphlets that are provided to me by the pharmacy with the medications I am prescribed, I am overwhelmed with all of the potential side effects of those drugs.  It is especially alarming to see things like, "Please check with your physician before taking this drug if you have a weakened immune system (like from cancer)" and "You should not take this drug if you are taking prednisone" (oops, that is me).  Then, I was prescribed a drug (Levaquin) yesterday for the beginning of an upper respiratory infection and I became terrified as I read the enclosed pamphlet with that drug.  For one, it has a known drug interaction with the medication I was prescribed the previous day.  The interaction can cause heart issues.   With my already racing heart, that was a little scary.  Then, I googled "Levaquin and Chemotherapy" and turned up a ton of results.  After perusing message boards filled with other cancer patients prescribed the drug who were fearful also, I found that although the side effects are very serious, the benefits of taking the drug far outweigh them.  My white blood count will be plummeted by tomorrow and having a respiratory infection could actually be deadly.  I need to get over this little bug and fast!   The oncologist knows what she is doing and I am sure prescribing these drugs is fairly routine.  

But, after I took the drug last night for the first time (I take one 500mg pill per day for 5 days), I started feeling really weird.  I knew I would not be sleeping anytime soon, so Drew stayed up with me for a few hours and we prayed.  We prayed that God would provide wisdom to the physicians treating me so that I could be healed.  We prayed He would help me get over this respiratory infection super quickly.  We prayed the medication I was prescribed would be effective and not cause me any long term harm.  Then, knowing I was too wired to sleep, we decided to watch a little TV and watch a few good Worship videos on Youtube.   Below is one that I watched that made me feel so much better. I have sung the song many times in church, but it has so much more meaning to me now:

After our little time of worship and a little more mindless TV to help calm me, I was able to sleep for 5 hours.        Today I actually feel great, other than the rapid heart rate.  I am so thankful, because I remember just how terrible I felt two days ago.  Please pray that these medications do not give me any harmful long term side effects.

The past couple of days, my head has been tingling.  I am wondering if this is what it begins to feel like when your hair starts to fall out.  So, I am trying to make some quick decisions on what to do about the whole head covering thing.  I have VERY long hair, so I know this will be tough when it starts to fall out.  To me though, it is such a small thing when I think about the long term.   Even going through the hair loss experience will make me a better person in the end, so bring it on!  I know there are a lot of people who are very judgmental on the basis of looks, but I should not care what they think of the way I will look with no hair.  So, I plan on cutting off my long locks while I still have them so that I can donate them to "Locks of Love".  Locks of Love is a wonderful organization that uses donated hair to make the highest quality hair prosthetics for children in need.   Anyway, that is the most recent update of what is going on here today.  As always, thanks for your prayers!

BRCA1 and BRCA2 Results

You may remember in a previous post that I discussed submitting genetic testing for two specific gene mutations: BRCA1 and BRCA2.  BRCA1 and BRCA2 are human genes that are part of a class of tumor suppressors.  Mutation of these genes is linked to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.  A woman's risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer is greatly increased if she inherits either harmful gene mutation.  Also, men with these mutations have an increased risk of breast cancer.  In fact, men and women who have the mutations may be at increased risk of other cancers as well.

Today, it is common practice when one is diagnosed with breast cancer to undergo genetic testing to determine whether the mutation exists.  I was told that if the genetic mutation existed in me, it would be recommended that I have both breasts and ovaries removed to prevent recurrence.  Also, if I had the genetic mutation, there was a 50% chance I passed it on to my children, there was a 50% chance that my siblings inherited the gene mutation, and there was a 50% chance either of my parents have the mutation.  Honestly, because of my age, I assumed I had the mutation.  I just don't understand why I acquired the cancer otherwise.

Yesterday, I received an email with an attachment of my BRACAnalysis results.  As soon as I received it, I quickly opened the message and attachment.  I could not believe my eyes.  I saw the words: "NO MUTATION DETECTED".  WOW!  Another answer to prayer.  I guess I get to keep my ovaries.  :-)  AND, I am so thankful that I didn't pass this harmful mutation on to either of my children.  Thank you Lord!

So, now I feel like I have a really good understanding of my cancer.  I have stage 3C invasive mammary carcninoma, ductal type.  I am ER+ and PR+ and Her2- (these three markers are all good, as far as preventing recurrence is concerned).

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Days 2-6 of My First Round of Chemotherapy

I despise negativity.  So, I really delayed writing a post about my chemotherapy experience until I could document some positive news.  Chemotherapy has been tough.  My body is just not used to toxins of any kind (except my daily morning dose of 12-20 ounces of Dr. Pepper, which I haven't drank in a couple of weeks).   So, injecting my 100 lb body with tons of toxins has been quite a difficult experience.  As days progressed since chemotherapy day 1, new ailments would pop up.  Unfortunately, the remedy has always been another pill/medication.   I hate the idea of taking medicine to treat the side effects of other medications.  Prior to this cancer diagnosis, I even avoided Tylenol, not wanting to put anything unnatural in my body.  After the lip and mouth swelling episode on Friday from the Neulasta injection, I received the steroid injection.  Then, over the weekend, I developed thrush in my mouth.   I am not sure if thrush normally feels like this, but my mouth has just felt as if I burned it with piping hot chocolate.  So, the doctor prescribed a pill to take care of that.  Apparently, it is pretty common to develop thrush around day 3 of chemotherapy due to the plummeting of the white blood cell count.  Then, combining that with the steroid injection on Friday probably just made its occurrence inevitable.  Now, I think I might be developing an upper respiratory infection, so I will probably need to take more medication for that.   On Day 5 (yesterday), I decided I have never felt as ill as I had on that day.  It is really difficult to describe the feeling:  imagine a terrible flu with body aches, a mouth that feels burnt, nausea that comes and goes irregularly, and absolutely no energy.  I couldn't imagine feeling any worse and I remembered the doctor said that patients usually feel progressively worse until day 7, and then things start picking up from there.   In addition to feeling ill, this chemotherapy has been giving me some scary dreams.  I awaken several times throughout the night from the dreams, each time feeling terrible pain and nausea.

Last night before going to bed, I confessed to Drew that I was scared.  I was scared of feeling worse.  I was afraid of the amount of time I would need to endure this pain.  I was fearful of what pains and dreams the night may bring.  We prayed.  Then, we went to bed and I fell asleep.  I did not awake until early this morning, and when I did awake, I felt somewhat like my old self.  For me, this was HUGE!   I was so excited, that I began going through a list of to-dos and things I wanted to accomplish today.  This is me.  I haven't felt like me since chemo started.  Now, once I started trying to tackle all of these tasks I realized that chemo is still affecting me.  My energy level is still very limited.  But, I have a sense of renewal.  Perhaps Day 5 is my low point instead of day 7?   I hope so!  I believe God answered our cries for help last night.   

We are thankful for prayers, and as I have said before, I believe in the power of prayer.  Given that, here are our current prayer requests:
  • Please pray that as my white blood count remains low, that I do not pick up any illnesses or viruses.  My WBC needs to be at a certain level in order to continue to receive chemotherapy.  
  • Please pray that I have the strength to endure the chemotherapy for 6 months.  Also, please pray that the chemotherapy side effects are minimal.
  • Please pray that this chemotherapy is extremely effective.  We are praying for complete healing!
This past week, I started feeling so badly for Luke, because we are not able to have the birthday party that I planned on having for him this year.  He turns three on 10/4.  Because we are in flu season and I am going through chemotherapy, having a party with lots of friends at our home or at a bouncy house is out of the question.  As we have attended birthday parties for family members and friends this past year, he has been looking forward to his party.  He knows which family members' birthday parties have to happen first before his birthday and his has been next in line for a few weeks.   Although we aren't able to have the type of party I had originally planned for, we are still going to have a fun celebration.  My parents are coming down for the weekend, we ordered a birthday cake, and we are going to have a little "Skype" party for him so some other family members can attend.  I am sure he will love his little party!  We also just ordered a cookie cake for his birthday celebration at preschool.  We are so excited to celebrate our little boy turning 3!  I am not going to let this cancer take over my life.  Although it does consume so much of our lives currently, life must go on.  I don't want to miss any special moments.  That means we have to be intentional on creating these special moments and savoring all of the special experiences as they happen.