Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Whirlwind Days

What a busy week this has been. Finished up my last chemo treatment on Thursday and wasn't feeling too awfully bad. Came home to pack my bags and then made the drive to Detroit for a very early morning flight on Friday. Scheduled the same flight as my sister and her husband and the nephew. So we had a nice night in a hotel across from the airport, and the baby was a perfect alarm clock at 4 a.m. when we needed to get up and ready. The flights were uneventful, and the nephew handled them beautifully. We all wore sweatshirts or coats for the traveling, and dumped them quickly after arriving in Louisiana. It was nice and warm and sunny, the kind of weather I've been waiting for.

Checked into the hotel and so started the family visiting. There were lots of us staying at the same place, so we kept taking over the front porch area. The day was going pretty well until my sister started feeling sick late in the afternoon. Nausea and diarrhea kicked in and stayed with her for a couple of hours. Her husband took her to the hospital and they loaded her up with some anti-nausea medication and a couple of bags of fluids. They couldn't find anything wrong with her really, likely a cause of stress, plus the heat and a fried lunch. But by Saturday morning she was feeling much better. The viewing was Friday evening and was full of family and family friends. Late Saturday morning was the memorial and burial. I was tapped to do the eulogy at the memorial. I hadn't written anything but a couple of thoughts, so it was extemporaneous. I managed to keep it together pretty well, with only a slight bit of keening at the beginning. Don't remember half of what I said, but got plenty of good words from everyone about it. It was quite an honor to speak for the family and I hope that I did my MaMa proud.

The flights back home on Saturday evening were all running late. Still made it with time for my connection in Dallas, but even that one waited for another half hour on the tarmac. It was pretty darn late getting back to Detroit. But I had been able to sleep through most of the two flights and was rather awake for the drive home. Another early morning on Sunday for an event near Chicago. Busy, busy.

I was surprised and pleased with how relatively well I felt through most of the weekend. Was a bit tired by Sunday, but held up rather well mostly. The days caught up with me yesterday however. Literally slept away most of the day and was feeling pretty "off" and a bit of dizziness through the afternoon and evening (when I wasn't sleeping). Could not seem to get warm all day either. We brought up the space heater and I settled in to my own personal sauna under a blanket over the heater. Took a while, but eventually I warmed up and stayed close to the heater all evening. Had a bout of diarrhea and throwing up in the middle of the night which was pretty rough. But it must have cleared my system because I was feeling mildly better this morning.

Today was PET scan day (radioactive = 4, superpowers = 0). Unfortunately I won't see my doctor again until June 18, so that's three weeks to wait for results. I'm sure the radiologists will read it and have the report done soon. So I'll likely call the cancer center and try to get a copy of the PET report by the end of next week. That's such a long time to wait for what I hope are really good results. If it is clear of anything cancer, then that means we are finally done with all the treatments and I get to take back my life.

Still feeling tired today, which really isn't surprising when I consider the whirlwind I just went through; but seems weird after around 18 hours of sleep yesterday/night. Started feeling a bit better after a late lunch, and even better after some dinner. Clearly food was needed. Not much else on the schedule for this week, so plenty of time to rest and recuperate. Going to just follow my body these next couple of days.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

This is the end of everything...

It's been a momentous week. Left for my mother's a day early due to news that my grandmother was declining quickly. Was able to spend several hours there with her Thursday, and all of Friday. She wasn't looking very well when I arrived. But rallied and had rather a good day on Friday. Lots of lucidity and awake quite a bit, even asked to eat a couple of times. We all ended the day feeling pretty good about things. Unfortunately she had a bad evening and passed in the early afternoon on Saturday. She did pass without any pain and surrounded by all her daughters. I take comfort in her lack of suffering and knowing that she was ready to join her beloved husband in the afterlife. She has always been one of the most beautiful people I know. It was an inner beauty and warmth that pervaded every home she lived in, and was shared with those she loved. I feel lucky to have shared in that warm light for much of my life.

My grandparents (on my mother's side) were a huge part of my childhood, and I spent an accumulation of many years being raised by them. Every summer of my youth was months of time with them, and I have an extensive cache of wonderful memories. My PaPa (pronounced paw paw in the southern way) was the best father figure I had. And MaMa (maw maw) was a solid rock of peace, kindness and love. They are the best people I've ever known.

I have been tremendously lucky not to have had a lot of death close to me throughout my life. I didn't even know about the death of my first pet (Cocoa the Lhasa Apsa puppy) until twenty years after the fact when my mother finally revealed that they found him dead in the street and decided Dad would tump him into a dumpster rather than deal with an 8-year old's heartbreak. They still dealt with heartache though, and a couple of months of tear filled prayers to God every night to keep Cocoa safe. A close family friend died when I was thirteen. And I wasn't taken to the funeral, but was brought to a family gathering at their house. I was so overwhelmed with the emotions of the people around me that I went outside, sat on a hay bale and tried to sort it all out. I tried to empathize with what they may be feeling by imagining if it was my grandmother that died. And I had a really big sob sitting with those thoughts. But then it wasn't until I was much older that I had to deal with death again. That was four summers ago when my PaPa passed from cancer.

So early Friday morning I'll make the journey down to Louisiana again. I will see lots of family that I haven't seen in four years or longer. There will be hugs, tears, smiles, memories shared, good food, warm weather. But I will remain painfully aware that two pillars of my life have fallen.I truly believe that all the goodness I carry within was given to me through my MaMa and PaPa. I thank them for that, and when I look to the stars at night I will always send up a wish and my eternal love.

I don't know how to transition from that. So... on to the medical news. Which is better news. I'm currently on my VERY LAST chemo treatment! My blood counts were actually better this week than before my last treatment. Which surprised my doctor. But then I told him that I used the trick he had mentioned in our last visit. Apparently your body keeps a small cache of white blood cells in reserve. And when you exercise and adrenaline starts moving through your body, that cache is released and can temporarily boost your numbers. They've used this trick before when medical insurance won't cover certain chemo treatments unless a patient's WBC count is in the four thousands or better. Having a patient do a couple trips up and down stairs to raise their heart rate enough can up to double the WBC count. So I made sure to get to the center five minutes early and went down to the fitness room and put in those five minutes on the elliptical machine right before having my blood drawn. Must have worked because my counts have always gone down from one treatment to the next. And they were almost double from two weeks ago. My doctor laughed and said I was a quick study.

But the result is that I was cleared for chemo and am currently carrying around a very obstinate pump. Of course I would run in to issues the last time around. Last night one of the connections to the catheter came off and I awoke with a small puddle of chemo drug and blood on me and the sheets. We quickly cleaned up and got it reconnected. Threw the sheets and mattress liner in the wash (nothing on the mattress luckily) and changed the bed. Kind of freaky. Then was awakened early this morning by the pump beeping with a "high pressure" error. No kinks or other issues to be found. So called the cancer center, got dressed and went in to have it fixed. A couple of quick saline flushes cleared the extra blood that was in the line and slowing things up. They got it started back up and I was out of there within fifteen minutes. Did follow up with a lovely breakfast at my favorite restaurant though. So that was a bonus of an early morning. And napped pretty immediately after getting home.

Feeling tired of course, but not as out of sorts as after the last time. Pump comes off tomorrow and hopefully I won't have to ever have chemo again. Or at least not for many years down the line. Already have my next PET scan scheduled so we can see where things are. My hope is that it is nice and clear and we can finally be done with all of this. Of course there will be regular scans every few months for a while to make sure that I stay clear. And a five year wait of no evidence of disease before they actually call me in remission. But I'm almost that one step closer and am happy for it.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Upswing-ing

First off, the kitty is doing oh so much better. Turns out she got out of the house Sunday evening and ended up chewing on a bad plant outside. Took her to our vet yesterday morning, where they gave her an antibiotic and steroid shot plus some fluids. Since she hadn't eaten or drank for a couple of days we were all worried about dehydration. Vet said to look for 20% improvement per day and that we could pretty much stop worrying once she was interested in eating again. She improved *far* more than 20% yesterday: less lethargic, had at least one pee in the box, vocalizing more like she typically does, moving about more normally, even ate a little bit of food. Needless to say, we are very pleased and no longer so worried. Confident that she in on her way to a full recovery.

As for me, I'm doing pretty good. Back up in the 90th percentile area today. Some slight dizziness yesterday, but likely mostly due to not enough sleep the night before. Slept in a bit today and so far am feeling well. Which is good, because I now have travel plans for the weekend that I didn't have before. My grandmother has been having a variety of health issues that have increased over the last six months. She's had another downturn and I'm joining more of my family for a visit. Two of my aunts have journeyed far to the north from their home states of Texas and Mississippi. Sounds to me like the Mother's Day phone calls spurred them into making the trips. So it is off to Mom's house tomorrow morning and staying on the overnights at my sister's place. Will be nice to see some family that I haven't visited with in about four years.

I'm hoping that some of my traveling adventures start later in the summer with some road trips to see family. Was planning on heading south, since that's where the majority of them live. But also over to Vermont to see another grandmother. Likely head east first, since heading down Texas way in August is a sweaty proposition. Will likely hold off on that one until October when it has had a chance to cool off a bit. If it all shapes up right, a busy summer will turn into a busy fall. And I'll find some time to relax at home for a little while just in time for the holiday craziness of winter.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Scaredy Cat

It continues to be a slow recovery this time around. Still feeling tired and out of sorts physically. Typically by a full week out from treatment I am feeling pretty good. Apparently the accumulation has finally built up and caught up to me. Ah well. Ideally only a couple more weeks to go and then I will have all the time in the world to truly recover back to a hundred percent.

It's been a pretty boring couple of days around here since I've not felt up for much of anything. Did have quite a bit of unhappy excitement last night. Our youngest kitty had some sort of episode and we had to rush her to the emergency vet. The doctor didn't really find anything wrong with her, other than she was clearly very stressed. Her vitals all checked out, and the x-ray showed everything looked normal. They sent us home with an antibiotic and said just to keep an eye on her. She's been very reserved since then, but hasn't shown any signs of being in more pain. She is typically the feisty kitty around the house; running about causing mayhem, being noisy, and eating like a pig. But she hasn't really eaten in more than a day now and is quietly just curling up in various spaces. It was a very scary evening for a little while, and I continue to be pretty worried about her. Hoping that she peps up soon as well. But she's content to lie in my lap, and I'm content to laze about; so it's a mutually useful place for us both to be in for now.

Lethargy is definitely the word of the day. Even my mind is lazy today. The weather has warmed up again, and as much as I'd like to, I just don't have the energy to get out there and do anything in the sunshine. But the windows are up, and a nice warm breeze is blowing through the house. So I'm reveling in the spring in a simpler way. I accept that; I find some joy in it. Nothing wrong with a simple, lazy day. And so I am off. Going to throw a super quick and easy Italian casserole in the oven and go sit some more with my kitten.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Pep is Pooped

Recovery is a little slower each round. Spent a lot of these last few days feeling tired and out of sorts. Been relying on the prescription meds to keep things under control. Not my favorite option, but a far more comfortable one. My appetite has finally succumbed to the treatment. I'm still eating, but the shadow of nausea is keeping me down to smaller more infrequent meals. I've not really lost any weight yet, so I'm not concerned about dropping a little at this point. And I haven't actually thrown up which is awfully nice. I'm grateful that it didn't start to really kick my butt until this point. I made it through two-thirds of this round before it started to cause annoying issues. And I can deal with a tough slog through the last of it. It will be worth it in the end.

Despite feeling out of sorts, it's been a nice weekend. Rode out with friends to an event on Saturday. Took it pretty easy and mostly just socialized with good people. It was a relatively casual day and it felt good to mostly just be along for the ride. Had some back pain issues first thing this morning, but kicked it with meds and some extra sleeping in. Out for brunch and then joined a great group of gals for some crafting in the early afternoon. We got our project done in quick time and enjoyed tea and snacks before going our separate ways. The evening has been a simple, tasty dinner, a movie, some relaxing. Just taking it easy.

Hopefully will be feeling a bit better this week and can get some more spring culling happening through the house. Attacked the attic a bit a couple of days ago. Still more to go through up there. We did a good attic culling about three years ago, and somehow there's as much stuff as before. Still trying to decide where all the stuff will end up. I suspect some of you will be offered items as I think they'll be utilized or appreciated. I'm kind of using the criteria that if I haven't used/read/thought about something in two years or more, there might not be much reason to keep it around cluttering up space. Simplification.

A late Happy Mother's Day for all the mom's out there. Even those with just furry kids. Truly, where would we all be without our moms.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Post Chemo Update

Home and feeling pretty wiped out after chemo treatment number five. This means there is only ONE MORE TO GO! And, yeah, I'm a little excited about that.

My blood counts were pretty poor today. They were poor last treatment, but they've tanked a bit more since then. We went from marked L for low, to marked LL for "holy double low Batman." They're looking very similar to the numbers during last summer's chemo. This is how it works... breaking me down to build back up again. "We have the technology." But my doctor told me that studies of breast cancer patients in adjuvant therapy shows that continuing treatment, rather than adding in delays for counts to rise, has a better success rate in the long run. I don't have breast cancer, and they haven't done equivalent studies for rectal cancer. But he believes that there would be parallels and was inclined to continue with treatment today. Of course I want to stay on schedule and get this over with, and I was happy to agree with him. We just have to be aware that I am VERY highly susceptible to infections right now. So we continue the rest and relax regimen and avoid all sick or potentially sick people. Should be easier now that the warmer weather is here and flu and cold season is abating.

Was not a very exciting chemo session at all. I was a bit tired to start out with. The massage therapist was right there when I sat down and gave me a lovely hand massage while we talked about world travels. Soon as they accessed me and started fluids, I ordered up some shawarma for lunch. It arrived not long after the Ativan shot, which really started to make me feel tired. Soon as I was done eating I pulled on some headphones and pretty promptly fell asleep for nearly an hour. Could have slept more but the nurse needed to wake me. Was able to barely keep awake for the last half hour and the final push and pump hook up. My ride arrived perfectly (thanks John!) and was able to carry my bag out for me.

Set myself up on the couch and put on the television. Made it about half an hour before falling out for a two-hour nap. Could have slept longer for that one too. But the cats were insistent that it was dinner time, and the incessant meowing and pawing at my head was a little difficult to ignore. Tried to lay back down again, and although my body is tired, my mind was not ready for more sleep. So you get this lovely update instead.

I hope everyone out there in internet land is doing well and strong in their own daily battles. I am getting so very close to the end of this big one. It makes staying positive that much easier. And I'm growing in gratefulness for all the good things in my life. That I am able to be "retired" and take all the time needed to recoup after these treatment sessions. That I have terrifically amazing people around me to support and lift me up. That the spring is here and bringing warmer days to keep my neuropathy at an acceptable level. That I have a pantry full of various tasty teas while I can only drink warm things. That the farmer's market has opened and I'll be able to visit it this weekend and start a summer full of yummy local fruit and veg. That I have family that loves me so intently, and I right back at them. And so much more...

This is a pretty good life I've got going. Cancer is just an alley full of speed humps along my path. But I'm making my way through it nice and slow and easy. Maybe a few more faded scars in the end. Mostly only I'll notice them anyway. And the road is clear ahead.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Looking Forward

Had the wonderful opportunity to watch two of my closest friends become royalty in our weekend hobby yesterday. Went in to Chicago for the event and had a great weekend overall. Avoided most of the traffic on the way in Friday. Arrived with plenty of time to go check out the new Iron Man movie and found an absolutely terrific sushi place just around the corner from our rather nice hotel. Everything went off well on Saturday and it was a beautiful day to be out and about. Lots of time to spend with many friends throughout the day and evening hours. An uneventful drive home today and a good nap to top it all off.

I am adoring the warmer weather and the rapidly increasing signs of spring. Looking forward to a nice bike ride tomorrow in the sunshine. Taking advantage of the good weather and my last good day for this week. It's chemo Tuesday again. As long as my blood counts are good and treatment is a go, then we're finally in the homestretch for this last round. Only two more to go folks. And I can't wait for this to all be over and done with. I've got quite a busy summer planned, and I'm looking forward to the celebratory sensibility that will be with me through the months ahead.

I was reminded today that I should probably start working on my upcoming world travel plans. Especially if I want to be abroad in the late fall as I've pictured. So it's time to start researching where the nice weather is for October and November. Greece is still my top pick for first trip. But there are really so many places I'd like to visit that it doesn't really matter where I start. I have talked about my travel plans often, but have thus far been disinclined to start making them. I've been waiting for it to all be over before I started spending money and making reservations. There is a lot of uncertainty that comes with still being in treatment and I don't want to end up stuck with an unrefundable plane ticket. But my confidence in the outcome of all this is increasing. And now that the end is near I think I can afford to start getting excited about the next steps forward in my life.