Thursday, February 24, 2011

Are There Worse Things Than No Hair?

When I first learned I was going to have chemo I thought losing my hair WAS going to be the worst thing that could happen. This was a card I got from Ann Main.  Nothing like getting sympathy from someone who has walked in my shoes. 
Tomorrow (Friday) is my chemo halfway point.  And to tell you the truth, I've honestly considered what it would be like to just stop this whole crazy chemo nightmare thing.  I mean, how does the doctor determine how many treatments are enough in the first place?  The past few days I have felt almost like a regular person.  I'm not ready for that feeling to end.  

My body did not respond so good after chemo number two and I'm terrified of what mysteries this next one holds in store.  The only thing that will hold my feet to the fire, so to speak, is what my physician's assistant told me when I was in her office about a week ago.  She, too, has had cancer and been through chemo.  She, too, was given "only" a ten percent chance of the cancer returning.  Guess what?  It did return -- returned with a vengeance.  She had to have chemo for a week at a time every 21 days -- basically had to knock her out.  Let me tell you what, this doctor knows all about chemo and all the little afflictions associated with it.  She told me that chemo gave her nausea, a constant runny nose and a cough -- chemo nose and chemo cough, she called it.  She said, "just go ahead and blame everything on the chemo because it probably did cause your pink eye and sore throat, pleurisy and that never-ending cough.  It causes lots of problems.  It's like there is a mad medicine man that runs a little chemo village in your body, you never know what he will do next."   

No kidding!

That ten percent story that she told me was enough to scare me into finishing my chemo, and here I thought I was in such a low percentage.  What were the chances my cancer would return?  I guess that's why there is a ten percent -- someone fit that category, and I don't want that someone to be me.   

During the past three weeks I have received a number of blessings in the form of cards, phone calls, visits, prays and sweet thoughtful gifts.  I'll let the pictures tell the story.  

My daughter Shaynan insisted that I needed this warming mattress pad because she knew how cold I tended to get.  If she only knew how much this mattress pad saved me these past two weeks, warming my chest (and lungs) so that I did not cough when I slept.  God Bless you, sweetie!

Carolyn (Dwain's sister) surprised me with all of these Chicken Soup for the Soul books because she knew that I was completely out of good reading material.  She also spent two days cleaning our house and cooking meals.  I could not talk her out of it.  As I said before, Carolyn's husband also has cancer -- lung cancer.  Carolyn has a huge, huge heart and lots of energy.

Twelve more books?  What can I say?  I'm overwhelmed!
I am holding or wearing three treasures.  The pink shawl is a prayer shawl delivered to Dwain's office by Molly McCorkindale.  It was knitted by one of the ladies of St. John's Episcopal Church as part of their ministry.  Molly said the knitters pray as they knit and then the shawl is blessed.  I can't even begin to express how it made me feel to receive such a lovely, lovely shawl.  I feel wrapped up in blessings and prayers.  The cup in my hand was sent to me by my cousin Vickye and her husband Harry Posey (who live in Galveston).  It says:  The Chemo Made Me Do It!  No doubt!  Thanks to Vickye and Harry, I no longer have to explain myself to anyone.  Then there is Layne Ragsdale who knows how very attached I am to my precious cats. The framed picture she gave me says:  I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.  Lane we will send you a picture when we get this hung with pictures of all of our cats surrounding it. Thank you!
I just wanted to show a close up of how incredibly soft this prayer shawl looks.  What a lovely ministry, too.
My knitting friend and one of the newsroom writers at the Harrison Daily Times, Ceila DeWoody, knitted this adorable little chemo hat/beanie for me.  I absolutely love the weight and the feel of it on my head.  Celia, I want to learn how to knit these!  They are wonderful. 
This is just another angle of the cap on my head.  I can let it rest above my ears or let it fall over the tops of my ears. Either way, it's perfect.

Chemo tomorrow. You may not hear from me for a few days.  Pray the mad medicine man in the chemo village is in a good mood this time.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

I've Been (cough cough cough) Sick

I still love Bug Bunny and other Looney Tunes cartoons, and Tex Avery who created the many colorful characters.  One little guy popped up every so often, out of the blue.  Close your eyes and visualize the usual chase scene; someone would open a random door and there would be this pathetic little "thing" shivering inside.  The door opener's face would blanch.  In a wiggly, strained voice, the "thing" would offer this explanation as to his appearance, "I've been sick." 

I can't remember what the little "thing" looked like exactly, but this cartoon character is close. 

For the past two weeks I have taken on various forms of this character's features -- mostly, I looked  unrecognizable even to my own self.  It started as a sore throat, which became swollen tonsils.  Viral pink eye eventually glombed both of my eyes shut.  My nose ran, with non-stop cough running a close second.  My tongue got blisters and the skin of the roof of my mouth was peeling.  My chest hurt.  Dwain rubbed Vicks on my neck, back and chest.  The rubbing motion hurt terribly.  It was then that I realized every ounce of skin on my body hurt, like it was sunburned.  When I developed a fever, the doctor that I had seen three times in two weeks, finally prescribed a Zpack to knock the infection in my chest out quick.  Dwain said he felt left out since he'd never been prescribed a Zpack.   Poor Dwain!

Let's see.  How many pills was I taking anyway?  Before he went to work each day, Dwain pulled out a piece of paper and made a list of all my medications along with instructions of what time I was to take each pill. Then he would phone home to make sure that I'd actually taken each pill when I was supposed to AND that I had not overdosed.  That's how groggy and out of it I was.  The funny thing is, no doctor ever told me what exactly was wrong with me.  My family doctor told me (and she should know, she's had cancer and endured chemo) that chemo has a way of creating its on unique illnesses.  Evidently, drippy nose and chemo cough are two of the more common problems.  Basically, it's very hard to know how to treat them.  Standard medications do not always work because, like she said, these drippy noses and coughs and the sore throats and infected eyes are unique to each individual.  The theme I heard over and over and over was, if you develop a fever, call  or go immediately to the emergency room.  How high a fever?  Mine got to 100.2.   I'd hate to know what it would have felt like to have a fever of 101.  Thankfully I never had to resort to the emergency room.

Bless his heart, Dwain has worked his little heart out trying to make me well again.  He's cooked so much chicken soup that I'm not sure he'd ever eat it again, unless forced. He makes a mean pot of chicken soup though.  He's basically done all the cooking  and done all the grocery shopping.   My appetite has been on the sluggish side.   Never say die Dwain brought home more bottles of V8 Fusion because he knew that with every glass I drank I was getting a full serving of fruit and vegetables.  I drank a lot of Fusion.  Then he decided that my neck needed to be covered more.  Cold neck = sore throat and cough.  And since I could not reasonably go around wearing one of his socks safety pinned around my neck all the time, he brought home turtleneck sweaters and turtleneck shirts;  ~so many, in several colors.  I like  them all, but I love my Dwain.  Everyone should have a Dwain. 

This is Sunday, the 20th of February and this is the first good day I've had in two weeks.  Something has finally clicked inside my body.  Or let's just pray that it has because I don't believe I could take another week of this.  Hand's down, the coughing has been the absolute worst part.  There have been nights that I only slept between coughing fits.   

Here are helpful hints to those of you who may endure a similar coughing horror;  Benadryl, Lifesavers candy, a heating pad, your very own bed and two pillows. You need to sleep in a bed by yourself so that your coughing doesn't disturb your spouse all night long.  Take one or two Benadryl to help dry up the drip.  Once you turn in, pop a Lifesaver into your mouth (I know you will not like this idea Lynn -- it's the dentist in you).  The hard candy will make you swallow, swallow, swallow.  Place the heating pad against your upper back and your head on top of two pillows.  I don't know why, but the heating pad controlled my cough better if I placed it again my back rather than against my chest.  I tried it both ways.   Something about the warmth of the heating pad stops that out-of-control cough; your body will relax. 

It took Dwain and me two weeks to discover what worked and what did not work, for me anyway.   I return to work on Tuesday.  Coughing and court reporting do not good partners make so let's hope that between tonight and Tuesday morning, that cough dries up totally. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

You Don't Know What You've Got Til It's Gone

Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got til it's gone...  
Joni Mitchell   

When I was approximately 12 to 13 years old I could never have imagined losing anything.  The fact was I was gaining something new, it seemed, nearly every day.  And dumb me, I wasn't ready for these changes.  I'm almost embarrassed to admit that now, but it's true.  Twiggy was just so IN back then.  All the IN clothes were designed to fit a skinny boyish girl with huge eyes, pouty lips, and a pixie haircut.  She was British.  She was perfect.  I can't even begin to tell you how desperately I wanted to be Twiggy.  The only people who knew this fact about me were my sister Susan, and my three best friends Anne, Jane and Frances.  My Susan and Anne didn't have to work real hard to look perfect in Twiggy clothes.  Jane was comfortable just as she was.  My friend Frances was blossoming about as quickly as I was.  She and I commiserated in secret and plotted how to stop this unwanted growth.  We tried Ace Bandages wrapped tightly around our chests before we went to sleep at night.  That worked about as good as putting a brick on the head of a toddler to stop him from growing taller (A stupid people trick -- do not try this at home).   

My good friend Frances is no longer here on this earth for me to laugh about this with.  But I'll bet she'd have a few interesting and comical things to say to me now, if she could.  As I look at the long purple scar that runs across my sunk-in and flat chest, I'd give anything to hear your voice now, Fran.  Bet I'd laugh and I'd really love to laugh right now because I really miss what used to be.  How could I have known I would eventually get my Twiggy wish -- only now it's 44 years later and Twiggy is not the IN British model anymore.

Dwain lost his good childhood friend Tom about 7 years ago.  He was Dwain's commiserating friend.  I was shocked about how they would hee-haw on the phone all the time about the most serious things.  And it was usually Tom who would see these things with such a dark sense of humor.  He did not hesitate to share his observations.  His wife, Susan, e-mailed us recently.  

Megan, I knew you were tough, now I know how tough. Do you remember when Johnny Nichols cut off his finger and what Tom suggested he do with it? I remember the total silence on the other end of the phone when Tom told him he should make it into a key chain!! There's no telling what he would come up with for you. All my good thoughts and prayers are with you. I've always been told that suffering brings character. Your will be HUGE after this! Hang in there and all will be well.

Love,  Susan 

See what I mean about Tom's sense of humor?  Well, Tom and Frances knew each other very well, so I'm guessing they are having the time of their lives right now in Heaven playing practical jokes on us. Tom was never the type to let anyone feel sorry for themselves.  But Tom, I have my days.  Okay?  So  do your stuff.  Cheer me up.  What would you come up with for me right now?

I've come to realize that although I've lost my hair, it will come back.  But I want it back right now.  I want my life back.  I just want to go on and be ME.  I want to run and play and sing and dance and cook and clean and go to work and walk my dog and be creative every day.  When you're on chemo, you never know how you're going to feel.  Sure you can plan things, but don't depend on them real hard because you may be sick and nauseated.  Your resistance may be lower than low.  You may be exhausted beyond explanation.  You might look like utter hell no matter what you do to improve the situation.

Last fall  before... I guess our lives will always be before breast cancer or after breast cancer... Dwain secured tickets for us to see a musical group that we simply adore; The Chieftains.  They are from Ireland, but not a rock and roll band, although they've shared their stage with more famous rock and roll performers than I can name.  If you've never seen them, you can look them up on You Tube. If you click here, you can see them perform Raglan Rose with Van Morrison.  I wouldn't know how to begin to describe them.  They are going to be in Fayetteville at the Walton Art's Center on Sunday, February 27.  I have my third chemo on February 25.  It would be ridiculous to even try to go, given the past history of how I react to chemo and how unbelievably exhausted I'd be before the concert even started.  This just breaks my heart so much that I could cry.  This is but one example of how we joyfully planned ahead...  

I don't want to have cancer.  I don't like to admit that I feel sorry for myself.   But it's a fact, I do. 

I know that I was just a silly teenager back then, but why did I wished for something that I was never meant to be?   Now I miss those cumbersome things that used to stick out of my chest.  I miss my previous life that I soooo took for granted.  

Like Joni Mitchell said in her song Big Yellow Taxi:  A big yellow taxi came and took away my innocence [except in her song she said, A big yellow taxi came and took away my old man].  Don't it always seem to go, you don't know how much you've got til it's gone?

*Note:  For anyone reading this, please know that I'm not sinking into some sort of unhealthy depression.  I just want anyone who is going through this to know that it's bound to happen, this grieving over the unexpected trauma you've been through.  It's a lot to take in. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

This is what one might call putting on a positive face and your happy bright colors before you face The Red Devil -- that's chemo talk.

I promised in my last post that I would talk about chemo number two,  And so I shall, even though it makes my stomach clinch.  Chemoland is not a fun game to play.  But I shall say that Dwain's sister Carolyn was a trooper to brave the weather and bring me to town.  Even her husband Chuck came along.  You guys, keep Chuck in your prayers, too.  His lung cancer was diagnosed about the same time as my breast cancer -- November.  He and Carolyn spent the most miserable Thanksgiving of their lives in the hospital.  After several chemotherapy sessions, Chuck's tumor began to shrink and he is now able to breath again with so much more ease.  

Carolyn asked the nurse how long my "session" would take (3 1/2 hrs) because she and Chuck were wanting to do some shopping in Branson, Missouri (about 30 miles away).  
Basically I was the only chemo patient because Dr. A. doesn't regularly do chemo on Friday.  He made an exception for me because of my work schedule.  He really is such a compassionate doctor!  And I would have been there all alone if it had not been for my sweet friend, Margie Keener, who insisted on sitting with me the whole time.  She brought an Igloo cooler stuffed full of goodies that she somehow knew I'd love:  grapes, almonds, kiwi, cheese and get this, a whole avocado that she proceeded to cut up like a pro.  She brought plates and silverware and napkins and water and a thermos.  This is the best part, she admitted to me that she went to Walmart and bought us two brand new identical ceramic tea cups.  So pretty, white with white flowers.  She calls them our chemo mugs.  And the range of tea bags!  You can't even imagine.  This woman knows me.  I'll tell you what, a truer friend could not exist.  Somehow we found all kinds of things to talk about for 3+ hours.  She absolutely took my mind off of what was actually happening to me.  

Someone pointed to the window,  look outside,  it's really snowing.  Heavenly days, it certainly was.  The nurse was worried about finishing my treatment -- wondered how I would get home.  I told her that one way or the other, I would get home.  Margie had a Suburban.  If she could drive me to the Harrison Daily Times office (where Dwain works) he could drive me home in the Subaru.  Reassured, she continued my treatment.  In the back of my mind, I wondered, you mean stop this only half way through?  And finish when?

Harrison on Friday, Feb. 4, 2011
Just as the last red drip of the last bag made its way into my port, Carolyn walked into the office all smiles.  None of us could not believe her timing and wasted no time gathering up our belongings.  Out the door we went, Margie got in her Suburban and Carolyn and I in her Prius.  Carolyn kept asking if I wanted to stop for something to eat.  Are you kidding?  I'd just had a feast at the doctor's office.  No way was I hungry.  Besides, all you had to do was take one look at the roads and her non-four-wheel-drive Prius before saying -- Let's GET HOME QUICK. 

It didn't take long for the effects of the chemo to turn my legs into rubber bands and my stomach into mush.  Good thing Margie fed me so well before, because after that...  Think a ship on the ocean, big stormy waves constantly rocking it for days and days and days.  

Sleep.  Blessed relief. 
See the gray thing around my neck?  Well, here's another story.  I developed an intense sore throat that eventually turned into a chesty cough.  My chemo friend, Janell, called me before my sore throat turned into such a cough that I could not talk on the phone.  She suggested grandma's old saw of Vicks on the neck.  Then Dwain remembered that his mother used to do that for him when he was a child.  He said she also used to put a warm cloth around his neck.  He seemed to remember that it worked.  Hey, I'd try anything.  Oh, and let's not forget about gargling with warm salt water.  As I said in my last post, Dwain found a wonderful Internet site called where they suggested 8 oz of warm water with 1/4 tea. baking soda and 1/4 tea. salt mixed and dissolved.  This also helps ease the pain of mouth sores.  

Pink Eye or what?

Okay, now, on top of a cough, a drippy nose and a sore throat, I've got these red, weird, watery, gloopy eyes that stick together if I don't watch out.  My eyelashes were totally glued together this morning.  And guess what?  My regular doctor's office has been closed for two days due to the horrible snow storm.  But hey, according to their message machine, if it's an emergency I can always call 911 or go to the emergency room.  Not sure this qualifies as an emergency.  Just worrisome.  So then I try Dr. A's office (my oncologist).  Guess what?  They were there.  Up and running like always.  I asked nurse Priscilla (not sure if she's even 30, but she been married for 6 years) what I should do.  She consulted Dr. A who told her that I should just wash my eyes every two hours with a saline eye wash.  If it gets worse, call him back.  Now see?  That's all I needed to know.  It's going to get better, it's just going to take time.  And I didn't even have to leave the house to find that out.

Just look at that pink ribbon -- I love it!
My friend Margie surprised me (and I use the word surprise loosely) with this Down-Alternative Comforter.  She remembered how cold I got after my last chemo treatment -- the one where I absolutely froze and could not get warm.  She said that her daughter-in-law gave her one of these as a Christmas present several years ago.  A few months after that, Margie had a very, very, very bad car accident that very nearly took her life.  It took her the better part of a year to recover.  Anyway, she said that she took that comforter with her everywhere and just wrapped up in it.  She wanted me to feel that same type of warmth and comfort that she felt during such a traumatic time in her life. 

AND LET'S NOT FORGET... my daughter Shaynan, who lives in Tacoma, WA,  phoned me with a surprise of her own when I was on my way to chemo #2.  She was sending me an electric mattress pad.  Mom, I'm not going to argue with you about this.  I'm doing it. 

Folks, I'm going to be warm.  I'll be warm from the underside up and from the upperside down.  I can not wait to get his mattress pad so I can take a picture of how it looks.  I've already got the down comforter nestled between two quilts (so the cats won't get hair on it).  

I'm very blessed!

Our laugh for the day

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Dwain Has a Sixth Sense When It Comes To Chemo Care

I just have to brag on Dwain (my husband).  How do people get by without a Dwain?  Case in point, I read a book recently called, The Empty Cup Runneth Over; Answers about Breast Cancer from the Experts.  And let me just say, if you have questions, this book has answers -- answers that are elementary, easy to read and understand.  

Anyway, there is a chapter called, The Love of My Life is in Danger; written by a husband whose wife has breast cancer.  He makes a valid point when he said:  "I had no idea what she wanted.  It was not easy to watch her in so much pain, and I realized that I could not give her the support she needed because I had no idea what she wanted.  I became frustrated and didn't know who to talk to. There was no information available about how to help your wife deal with breast cancer, no other men I could talk to." 

I told Dwain, after this second round of chemo that I had last Friday, he should give suggestions about how men could best take care of their wives.  He's honestly good at it.  It's like he has a sixth sense.  He knows where to look for answers,  That's where he found a simple mouth rinse that helped not only my sore throat but a tender spot that is developing on the roof of my mouth -- 8 oz of warm water, 1/4 tea. soda, 1/4 tea. salt.  That's it. Mix it up and swish it around or gargle or both.  

By the way, this second round of chemo hit me hard in the nausea department.  I won't dwell on it right now in this post.  But let me just say HOOO WEEE!

Chemo patients are supposed to drink a couple of liters of liquid (no caffeine) every day to wash away the toxins.  Everything tastes like the smell of a chemical of one sort of the other, especially water.  Oh, and water is urged.  Drink lots and lots of water.  Yeah.  Right.  And I'll follow that up with some bleach and ammonia.  Sometimes water tastes like it might have come straight out of the goldfish bowl, you know?  Kind of slimy.  But good ol' Dwain found something that not only tastes delicious but is 100% good for you.  It's called V8 Fusion.  It's 100% fruit and vegetable juice.  No corn syrup or dyes or anything bad like that.  I could drink it all day long.  If I can't eat real food, so what?  I'm getting my daily supply of vegetables and fruits in every 8 oz. glass.  Yesterday I drank an entire liter bottle of Peach Mango.  Today I'm working on Pomegranate Blueberry.  Dwain's also been cooking up a wide variety of brothy soups made of chicken stock -- heavy on the broth part.  That tastes real good right now, too.  And here's the real kicker, no one believes this, but Dwain bought a head of cauliflower, came home and cooked it until it was tender.  He put a little butter and salt on it, stuck a fork into a piece, came into the room where I was resting, waved the fork under my nose and said, "sniff this and see what you think."  At first I didn't think my stomach would tolerate it, but you know what?  I did.  It was really, really good.  That night I actually ate something solid -- cauliflower and halibut, a mild white fish, that Dwain microwaved with a little butter and salt.  It was just perfect. I ate the same thing again the next day for lunch. 

We called this a monochromatic all-white meal with just a splash of V8 Mango Fusion for color.
Men, you want to know what you can do to help your wife when she is on chemo or had a devastating surgery, like a double mastectomy?  Do the laundry.  And hey, there is nothing sexier than a man pushing a vacuum cleaner.  Experiment when you cook.  Take a chance at the grocery store.  Think of the mildest, blandest food and cook it that way. And as Paula Dean says, "use some butta."   Have her lay next to you on the couch with her feet propped up on a pillow.  Cover her up with a blanket.  Read to her whatever it is that you are reading (like the newspaper or the weather report or Facebook) because she won't feel like reading.  Just let her hear the sound of your voice.  It's very comforting.  Let her know that come what may, everything will turn out all right.

And for heaven's sake, buy her a brand new turtle-neck sweater so that she doesn't develop a sore throat.   But only if it's February and you live where it's cold like we do. 

Maybe tomorrow or the next day I'll feel like going back in time and talking about chemo number two. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Monty Haircut Unearthed A 40-Year-Old Scar (and didn't even give me a nickle)

Outside our windowpane I am watching a winter storm -- supposedly the storm to beat all storms.  The ice/sleet/snow/wind and now sun ebbs and flows like an ocean before a hurricane; a hurricane that is a lot of hype and bluster, but in the end kind of fuzzles.  Hurray for hype and bluster! Around here, we love fuzzle.  Speaking of fuzzle...

This was how much hair I had post-shower Monday morning.  See the wad in my hand?
This is how much hair I had post-shower Tuesday morning
 I'm not even going to show the amount of hair that I plopped over to one corner of the shower as I attempted to wash my hair this morning.  This is an action I repeated over and over and over again.  By the time I finished, I felt like I needed to take another shower to wash off all the hair that had accumulated all over my skin.  I absolutely could NOT believe that I actually still had even one hair left on my head when I removed the towel from my head.  But Heaven help me, I did; I could not believe all the bald patches! My head looked like a patchwork quilt.

Dwain grabbed his electric hair clippers and said, "Find a clean sheet and a safety pin.  Let's see what we can do what this mess." 

When Dwain was 5 years old, he used to call his barber Monty Haircut -- he always got a buzz in the summertime.  So I trusted him to play the part of Monty Haircut for me today.  Hey, you didn't give me a nickel!

I think I know how Elvis felt when the Army cut off his famous dark pompadour.  If I had not already given my Elvis sunglasses glasses to my cousin Brett, I could have used them as a prop for this picture.  HA!

Just call me G. I. Jane -- just wish I looked as famously fit as Demi Moore when she played that role.  

When I was about 16 years old, my friends Anne, Frances and I rode on the hood of another friend's car in the parking lot of our high school.   It was when the driver started doing donuts that I lost my grip on his radio antenna and fell head-first onto the pavement (I do not remember hitting the pavement or any pain associated with the accident).  Occasionally I became conscious of this and that; a teen-age tennis player picked me up and carried me to a car;  someone mentioned that we were going to the emergency room and I protested, worried that my parents would find out that I had been riding on the hood of a car and that I would get in trouble; then I vaguely remember seeing the concerned face of our family doctor with lots of blood on his hands; my parents were there, but they didn't look mad.   I ended up with a concussion, had to rest a lot.  Everyone got grounded.  But no one was seriously injured, thank goodness.  Stupid teenagers!  And I can say that, because it was ME. 

Dwain said, "Wow, that scar on the crown of your head is huge.  It's a wonder it didn't do more damage than it did."  

Heavens, never in a million years did I think I'd ever actually see that scar without caked-on blood or hair to cover it up.  

Bet my sister remembers this accident.  Bet Anne remembers it even better, since she was right there beside me when it happened.  Bet Frances remembers it too, God Bless her precious, precious soul.  Bet she saw the scar today, too, 'bout the same time Dwain did, didn't you Frannie?