Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wow, has it really been all these months since my last post?

Just a very quick update. I am doing well, just fine, growing some hair, even. What a novel turn of eventsQ

Will TRY to publish some old and some current photos. Seems like there is never enough time for that.

I added a new blog to my list along the right side of this page. It's called MY LIFE, DISTILLED. Written by a married woman with young kids, undergoing breast cancer treatment: surgery, chemo and all the attendant side effects that can go with those processes. Frankly written, and told with some humor (yes, it's true, we can and NEED a sense of humor to go through this shit).

Check her out, even if you are NOT going through this stuff.

Later, friends.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Not even a month has gone by....

Well, guess I should at - at a minimum - let you know what happened on my last visit/checkup in Minneapolis. That was June 27th. Prior to that visit, I had to have another CT scan, which I had in Duluth. That was a Tuesday, and my checkup was Friday. The gist of that summary is that nothing really suspicious has shown up - BUT - in good, tightly-monitored cases as mine (stage 3C), they don't go too long between checkups. So they want another CT scan preceding my next checkup, late in October.

So I have my life back, sorta. I do NOT dwell on what might be going on inside my body. I just hope for the best and keep busy. That helps.

I am on a couple of Facebook sites for cancer patients/families. One is called It Ain't Chemo, and another is technically NOT for me (my age group, that is), called Stupid Cancer. A third one is Choose Hope. If you are on Facebook, you can view (or even "like" them, if you want to see their posts). Stupid Cancer is mainly aimed at the 20 - to - 40-yr-old group, one that they felt was UNDERserved (a lot of attention is focused on pediatric cancer), so they formed their own group. I may order a t-shirt or two from Stupid Cancer. I particularly like the one that states, "STUPID CANCER - get busy LIVING" (the caps are MY choice), because that says it all to me. They also have web sites: and and All of these sell merchandise on their sites (goes to cancer research and/or support of patients and their families), and some of them accept outright donations.

Injured my back pretty badly, about 6 weeks ago. I first strained it on the lower right side while we were moving three (yes, you read that correctly) SETS of box springs/mattresses. The oldest one was given to his son, the next oldest moved into the spare bedroom, and the newest into the master. I pulled it while we were toting the first set, and at that point, I still had to "play injured" (football term) and do the other two sets. Then it was getting a bit better, and I re-strained it (same side) by moving furniture. And this went on and on for weeks, until my LEFT side was so bad that I could barely move. My guy INSISTED that I go to his chiropractor, who, after 3 visits, has actually got me moving again. Who knew that the human back could be so painful? This is, by the way, my first go-round with back problems and my first experience with a chiropractor. The doc really knew his stuff, so I am a convert to using a chiro in these circumstances. I am also grateful that I have gone over 60 years with no trouble like this before.

I have some photos that I need to post and will probably put them in a single post - me with/without hair, on the table for radiation, in the U for infusion (chemo drugs), etc. BTW, my hair is (once again) s-l-o-o-w-w-ly starting its regrowth. Half an inch a month... will be a long process and I will be wearing this wig for what will see forever. I do NOT look good in short hair, so the wig will be my camouflage for a year or better, I am thinking.

So, that's pretty much what has been happening in my life, folks. Gotta end this and make the drive to see my mom for a few hours. That's about a half-hour drive from "work" (L's shop), and an hour from the house. So tootaloo...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Another year older and ....

So, even tho' it's nearly two weeks past the Fourth, here I am, writing about it.

It was a truly fun several days. Starting on the Fourth, when L's "kids" came to spend some time with him and I at the lake. Six adults (three kids + three significant others), three grandkids, three step-grandkids, a few add-ons (other adults and kids), and two grand-dogs. Plenty of food, enough to drink, a sunny day and cooperative weather. Made for some good times, and so nice to see that many of his family all together!

The following evening - the 5th - my Duluth-area cousins gathered at a West Duluth watering hole, to meet the new guy in my cousin's life. She abides in Texas - previously in the Dallas area, and more recently in the Houston area - and a big part of my heart still lives there. Anyway, so good to see so many cousins at one time. And this was a karoke night at that bar (I can hear your groans, you know!), and the "new guy" has a very good voice... as does the (female) significant other of another cousin. If only I had the courage to face even a handful of folks, and sing publicly...

On Friday, as is our frequent habit, we went to the local Elks Club. And were surprised by his youngest son and his significant other, plus two of her kids. They brought me (surprise again!) a birthday cake plus a balloon. The element of surprise was SO nice and I felt quite special. Plus I had some added attention from others who were dining/drinking at the club. Truly, my birthday was the following day... but the celebration was just so unexpected and wonderful!

The following day (Saturday) we were invited to a private party being given by two Elks members, celebrating the fella's 65 birthday, and the couple's 40 wedding anniversary. More fun, more food, another great evening.

And the topper of it all was on Sunday, when we took our maiden 'cycle ride of 2012. I am very self-conscious on a bike now. I don't want to remove my helmet in public, being so damned-ably bald (hmm, got a spelling error on that word, but I'm leavin' it anyway). On the way back to L's place, we stopped at Porky's, near Island Lake, for an ice cream treat. And ran into his son and his honey plus the two kids (again). Of course, I am sitting there, eating the ice cream WITH my helmet on... Maybe someday I will have hair again.

Another woman who works in the same building where L leases space for his business, has been very supportive. She herself went thru uterine cancer plus the attendent chemo treatment, over 20 years ago. And then was TWICE "blessed" with bouts of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, as if the original cancer diagnosis and so on was not enough. Then she recently was diagnosed with another round of non-Hodgkins and began a combination this week of lower-dosed chemo (oral) and a once-a-week IV infusion. I knew that she had had biopsies for diagnosis last week. Dammit... again, can't the good Lord find someone else to bother? Why do those who have already faced down these damn diseases, have to be RE-visited with it over and over?

Okay... ranting doesn't help anything. And those of you who have not faced this "challenges" think that I am just being bitter. Can you REALLY blame me? What you should REALLY be astonished with, is that I have retained ANY sense of humor. Plus the fact that I can and DO sleep at night. I do not toss and turn and wonder if I will be around tomorrow. And I guess that says something about me, about my strength and character. Sigh...

Monday, June 18, 2012

Too long between posts!

Sorry, readers. Sometimes Real Life gets in the way...

Had a very VERY good weekend. My sister's "kids" (now I know how my parents' generation always thought of us, no matter our actual chronological ages) were all together this weekend. One son drove cross-country with his significant other and their two dogs (whippets), from the West Coast. Another drove up from the Twin Cities with his wife, two sons, and a dog (lab). And her daughter and son-in-law live only about 20 minutes away and were there, too. All were housed in either my sister's residence or the camper that they have on their property. Talk about a full house!

It was so great to see them all. The "kids" have not been all together for 2 years, when the daughter got married. Which was another fun day, with an off-beat reception at the Duluth Aquarium, complete with a carnival theme. Lots of finger food, including popcorn, wings, cotton candy, cupcakes (in lieu of wedding cake)... just a clever concept, so perfect for my niece and her artsy ways. But back to this past weekend...

On Saturday, three of my sis's family members - both sons and the daughter-in-law - were scheduled to do tandem skydives in Superior, in celebration of the oldest son's 40th birthday, which was in early April. The weather on late Saturday morning, was rather iffy and a front was moving thru as they performed their jumps. Very exciting to witness the jump! I am trying to screw up enough courage to do a later jump when sis's daughter jumps, probably in September. Since I want to limit my odds of an early expiration, I did not choose to jump while I am still undergoing chemo. Somehow, the idea of exposing my naked head in front of a large group of strangers, does NOT hold much attraction for me. So, if I have completed this current round of treatments by then, and IF I have some hair regrowth in September, I will jump. All three of the family jumpers did NOT think they would EVER do this more than one time -- and each one of them said that they would do it again! And one of the sons has quite a fear of heights, and the other has a lesser feeling along those same lines. So... something I can check off my bucket list!

On Sunday (Father's Day) we were invited to L's son and daughter-in-law's place for tacos and socializing. L met his son at one of the local country clubs for 18 holes of golf, along with his son's father-in-law and another guy. Weather was wonderful. At the son's house, it was again a dog-filled day: two more labs, and a small toy dachsund. Fun day of chatting with that part of the family - and the guys were planted in front of tv, watching a golf tournament.

I was able to have chemo #5 on June 4th. That was originally supposed to be my last (#6) date, but I had to wait 3 additional weeks until my platelet counts were in the proper range, before proceeding. My hair QUIT falling out, during the additional non-treatment weeks. So I have an even sparser smattering of hair, and since it is now two weeks after #5, it is fixin' to bail out, again. My hair follicles actually HURT during this process and the scalp becomes tender.

And I have another side effect to add: neuropathy. That's nerve damage, which manifests itself (in my situation) as a deep burning sensation, plus a loss to the gripping capability of that same hand - my left one. Since I am right-handed, this is NOT as limiting as it could have been. Still, the unexpected burning pain catches me unawares. And I am extremely careful when picking things up with my left hand, particularly wet plates, cups and glassware while washing dishes. This may or may not resolve itself, following the end of treatments. And it can linger for months or years, I am told.

Have been reading about newscaster Robin Roberts and her newest "cancer" diagnosis, myelodysplastic syndrome. This is actually a medical condition - not truly classified as a cancer - which means the bone marrow is not producing effective blood cells, leaving the patient with lowered blood cell counts and/or poorly-formed blood cells. There are several versions of MDS. My sister's husband died of MDS in 2002, while being prepared for a bone marrow transplant. So this obviously is holding my attention. Maybe a little-known fact is that cancer treatments - both chemo and radiation - can actually be the cause(s) of secondary cancers. Yup. Might cure you, might kill you. Huh. Not a lot of options.

Well, that's kind of the catch-up for me. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A setback

Well, today WAS supposed to be my next-to-last chemo. I have been anticipating these last two rounds, so that my life will (sorta) belong to me again. No medical folks micro-managing my life, no tests or treatments. Just me and whatever the day deals me (or that I deal myself). You know: a "normal" life.

[I don't think I have led a normal life since Greg died. And, ironically, that was 4 years ago TODAY. The weeks and months after that seemed to drag, at times appearing to go into reverse. Widows and widowers will know just what I mean by that. The rest of you are fortunate enough to not have faced that.]

Continuing on that aborted chemo: we have a routine now. We drive to my nephew and his wife's home in the Twin Cities area (Minneapolis/St. Paul and its suburbs, for those of you who don't know where that is), where they graciously allow us to stay overnight, free of charge. Then we arise the following morning, grab a cup of coffee at their home, and drive to the University of Minnesota campus area. We have a small breakfast at a local cafe' - okay, it's the Purple Onion - then motor over to the parking ramp which serves many, MANY patients and their families/friends on a daily basis. We must, by nature of the process, first see a nurse/practitioner (or sometimes an M.D.) who goes over previous data. In my case, there's not too much to review, as I have been MOST fortunate to have little-to-no side effects. Then we trudge over the Masonic Clinic, where I must have a blood test at their lab, and then onward to the 5- or 6-hour infusion process of chemo. But. Not. Today. I did have my lab work done, and then we sat, as usual, waiting for our "buzzer" to alert us to proceed to the chemo area. The buzzer is like those devices they hand you in restaurants, so you are summoned when your table is ready. We had been waiting about 40 or 45 minutes, when a young woman appeared in the waiting room and called out, "Jessica?" Of course, I wasn't sure that she was looking for ME. But unfortunately, that was the case. It seems that my platelet count was low, so low that they would not allow the chemo to be administered. I was pissed - just pissed. I had so, SO wanted to have these last two sessions out of the way, to be on my way to having HAIR again. If you have your hair, and have never lost it, you just CANNOT relate to what hair means to a bald woman (or possibly a bald man, either). It makes a woman feminine, gives us a way of presenting ourselves the way WE want to appear. NOT the way that fate has dictated that we appear.

So... of COURSE they could not reschedule me on Tuesday of next week. OF COURSE NOT. Now, instead of May 15th, my next scheduled chemo is May 24th. That's OVER a month after the previous one. And that pushes my next (last?) chemo date to possibly June 14th. Just three weeks before my birthday. Happy friggin' birthday to me...

BTW, they now tell me that they can have my blood test done up here in the Duluth area, so we will NOT have to waste another trip to the Cities with the same damned results. Whooppee... not much consolation for me today.

Sorry, readers. I am just so down and the only way to get this out of my system is to blog about it. Deep down, I know this is just a little setback. But why now, why me? I think these are questions I have been asking ever since May 15, 2008. I am ready for a little "normal".

Monday, April 9, 2012

Finished cookin'!

Sorry - this was started some time ago, and I need to publish SOMETHING. So I will post this stuff, and then try to catch up. Thanks for continuing to check on my posts!

Gees, I have been WAY behind in posting. I completed session #25 of 25 radiation treatments on March 29th. I am really, REALLY happy to have those treatments behind me, to have my days BACK to myself. Almost like you healthy folks...

I encountered another warrior (my cousin paid me a nice compliment and titled me a Cancer Warrior), around session #14 or so. This was a woman who had accompanied her sister to the radiation clinic. We got to chatting over the jigsaw puzzle that is always in a state of assembly/disassembly in the waiting area. She told me some of their family history, including the fact that they carry an inherited mutated breast cancer gene (BRCA1 / BRCA2). These genes, when not mutated, are tumor suppressors. She herself had had a preventative double mastectomy years before this, after she discovered the mutated gene. And her sister DID experience breast cancer (after my new acquaintance had her own surgery). This disease - cancer - is relentless, folks. I have already heard too many people having multiple bouts, metastasizing to other parts of your body, etc. So I am feeling, more and more, that I am taking the best possible route to (hopefully) eradicate this wild bunch of cells. But it ain't easy, even though I am having fewer side effects than many experience.

The day after I was blessed with the daffodils, I toted my now-open floral bunch in to work with me. L wanted me to show them to a worker in another part of this building (office/warehouse space) - a female who "mans" the office for another lessee. She asked if I had raised them (the blooms), and I told her the origin of the bouquet. So she shared with me that she is also a cancer survivor, undergoing surgery for uterine cancer then radiation and chemo, BUT 20 years ago, when she was only 26. AND - another person who was double-attacked: she eventually developed non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. And has, since that diagnosis, had it go into remission, then recur 6 years after the initial bout. So she is someone that I can relate to - same cancer, and also double-blasted with other health issues. Plus the poor woman has lost her hair THREE times, having chemo with each occurrence of cancer. Yikes!

I had some bouts with diarrhea (always such a pleasant thing to have, or to discuss), but the Saturday and Sunday (31st and April 1st) after my last treatments were the WORST. This is because radiation has a cumulative effect (I am told). But I seem to be on the end of that stuff, so my body is slowly healing. So far, no noticeable skin burns at all. So I'm thinking that I will escape those. And the sex has not become painful, either. They tell me this "burn" (which is what radiation does) will continue to aggravate for weeks after the last treatment. Hoping that I can tolerate any further side effects as well as I did the first 3 chemo sessions.

I have my #4 chemo treatment scheduled for April 23rd. I was hoping for the week before that, but these treatments @ the U of Mn are SO much in demand (how sad is THAT comment?), that the best that could be scheduled was the date I just mentioned.

The hair continues to re-grow. Looks like the stuff on my head is coming back white-ish. But as long as there is Lady Clairol (or whatever brand...), I can handle any color that grows back! Hair on my face continues its return, and eyebrows are filling in again. Eyelashes seem to be ever-so-slowly re-populating, also. I expect the hair in these areas to do a disappearing act once again, when chemo resumes in April. In advance of that treatment, I will celebrate by having that fuzz professionally colored. Yes, I know that this hair will ALSO fall out within 3 weeks or so of beginning my next round of chemo, but dammit -- I want to feel feminine for a little bit. Besides, I have saved a LOT of money in these months where I had NO hair to color. BTW: it takes a very tiny bit of shampoo to lather up my head. I think I could go for MONTHS on a travel-sized bottle of that. Just sayin'.

There were so many loons swimming off the front of L's shore area on Island Lake a week or so ago. At first, we counted 10. And then this grew, as we spotted another bunch to the right of the original batch that we spied. Yup -- 18 of the water birds that are Minnesota's state bird. Love to hear their calls in the spring and summer! A few days after that, we counted (off in the distance a bit) over 40 loons, before we lost count!! Now a pair of them appear to be kinda hangin' around in front of his place. Also spotted a pair of mallards (the mallard with that very beautiful green colored head) in the same general area. And a northern flicker (woodpecker) has been attracted to his yard (on the lake side), seeming to greatly enjoy the plethora of insects it is finding! Interesting to observe that woodpecker "drilling" action, applied to a lawn.

New (additional) kitchen cabinets over the range and refrigerator! L sawed out a horizontal piece of sheetrock, nailed in some cut-to-size two-by-fours between the studs (so the cabinets will have a rock-solid base to be nailed to), and then re-inserted the sheetrock pieces and put an initial coating of tape and "mud" to hold it in place. After several fine-tuning sessions (more mud, painting, and eventual hanging of the new cabinets, the cabinets are awaiting stuffing! Yaaayyyy....

Cold day in Frostbite Falls - temps in the low-30's and wind chills about 10°. Supposed to be in the upper 40's today, but I don't see a chance of THAT happenin'.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A pleasant surprise!

Not too much to update. Had session #13 yesterday, so I am starting on the last HALF of the radiation treatments. I still do NOT like undressing in front of them. And I finally shared this tacky procedure with the doc (saw him following my Monday treatment). I mentioned that the alternative - using a dressing room - meant walking down a long couple of corridors in one of THOSE gowns - something that NO patient wants to do. So HE came up with an alternative - how about a folding screen in the actual treatment room where you could at least shuck off your pants and use a gown? There is plenty of room for a screen, since they already have a coatstand, chair and small table where you can place your belongings and garments.

Thanks, Doc! Hope this can help future radiation "victims" be a bit more comfortable when approaching these treatments.

At the conclusion of Tuesday's treatment, and while I was donning my jeans, one of the radiation techs walked in, carrying a vase. It had ten daffodils and some ferns in it, with a plum-full bunch of water. I had seen the posters around the facility, advertising the sale of these as a fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society. What I did NOT realize was that those who purchased them, could choose to have a bunch of the flowers donated to a cancer patient. So... and the nicest, preprinted card was included, which began, "Dear cancer survivor". And I had not even allowed myself to think in those terms, "survivor". It was the encouragement angle of it all that was so nice.

I had to pour out half of the water, in order to carry the vase to the car and put it in one of the cupholders. The buds were closed when I went to bed, and 8 of them had begun opening by this morning. The others are now opening, also (yes, I brought them into the shop with me - didn't want to miss the process!). I'll try to take a photo and post that with this installation of "Life with Grouchy".

The warmer temps and blue skies are VERY encouraging, contributing to my upbeat mood. My energy level continues to be "normal", and that makes me feel good. I had thought that I would be pretty lethargic, by this point in the treatment schedule. Happy to see that I am NOT.

I let some friends know about my (previous) latest post. One of these friends is a gal in Texas who went thru chemo for breast cancer about 4 years ago or so. She shared a photo of HERself, just as bald as I was. And NO - I will not violate her privacy by sharing that photo. But - since she is an attractive woman - I felt better when I saw that, at her baldest, she and I BOTH resembled scrawny, middle-aged men. Forgive me if you read this, sweetie! You are certainly a beautiful woman, but no one can tell you OR me that "it's only hair"! As they say, been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

That's all for now.

Friday, March 9, 2012

A humbling meeting

Yesterday was a BAD day for me.

When I checked in at the radiation oncology dept, I thought I would just bide my time, as usual, until someone came and retrieved me, escorting me to one of the two radiation rooms. Well, someone DID come out, but that was to inform me that the radiation equipment was currently dismantled, as they addressed a faulty part that needed replacement. They had the replacement part on site, but still had to re-assemble the machine. And then they were proceeding with those who were already waiting. One person was in mid-treatment when the machine failed, so of course, that patient would finish as soon as possible. And then was another patient to go before me, and then me. My appt. was at 2 pm, and the best guess was that they MIGHT get to me around 3:30.

So, in my wisdom and spare time, I called my bank, since they had left me both a voice mail AND sent me a text, expressing concern that fraudulent transactions were being attempted with my debit card. Which, by the way, has ALWAYS remained in my possession. Not even Mr. L has authorization to use that card. I rarely, RARELY use it for on-line shopping, but it is my life's blood, in a manner of speaking, for almost every other transaction: restaurants, grocery shopping, pumping gas, etc. Well, they quizzed me about all kinds of transactions, only two of which I owned up to. Apparently the number was stolen, but from the refusals made when other attempts were made to use this card, the users/thieves had no other info from the card. Not the expiration date, nor my mailing address, nor the "plus three" numbers on the reverse side of the card. Thank God. Now came the bad news: based on my responses, they were cancelling my card! Arrrrggghhhh!!! However, I DID tell them that I was NOT at the mailing address that the bank has for me, that I am living (temporarily) elsewhere during the duration of my treatment. They conceded to put a "rush" on the replacement card, which means that it MAY arrive here by Monday. My own guess for ETA is Tuesday.

Thus, I am now wearing out my charge card (also issued by this same bank). When I do get the debit card replaced AND registered, I'll quit using the charge card and pay it off from my bank account. Too much crap to deal with in one day.

And yet, and yet... after I returned from the walkway area where I had this not-so-fun telephone conversation, I met a woman who was also waiting for her radiation appt. at this same clinic. We started talking - how long have you been having treatments, what kind of cancer, etc. And it put my situation in perspective immediately. And I am humbled by what she and her husband are dealing with.

She was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor. I didn't ask questions about what the exact type of tumor (or tumors) she has. She was diagnosed at Mayo Clinic, down in Rochester, MN, where a lot of big-time diagnosis of cancer and other diseases is done, and it is kind of a mecca for that sort of thing. She said they were there for about a week, while all kinds of tests were done. And the docs (apparently two gave her the results) basically said she had 3 - 6 months. Actually, one of the docs was pretty firm on this diagnosis, and more or less told her that nothing could be done for her. But the other doc - obviously someone more compassionate and humane - said that the decision to pursue treatment options was hers. She is in her early 50's and has 3 small grandchildren. Her eyes welled up with tears when she mentioned these kids. So she has decided to try whatever they can do for her. She is on oral chemo doses daily, and this past week was her first round of radiation treatments to her brain.

In looking for info on brain tumors, this fact appeared: there are over 120 types of brain tumors. And thus, the diversity of these tumors probably contributes to the difficulty in treating them.

In the therapy room, I have seen head/face masks, and I asked if she was fitted with one to use during her treatment. They are meant to immobilize the head during this sort of radiation. She said that, yes, she wore one during her treatments.

During the course of our conversation, her husband came in. Seems like a very nice guy, and naturally, the stress and strain from dealing with this situation, has got to weigh heavily on him, also. Damn cancer all to hell... disrupting and taking way too many lives.

Sometimes I wonder if I will be around for my next high school reunion, which will be our 50-year reunion. Or will I be a statistic, just a photo on the "in memoriam" table? But trust me, folks, I do NOT dwell on dying. I sleep just fine at night, and these morbid thoughts are usually NOT part of my average day at all. To use a trite phrase, it is what it is. I can't do anything to change the situation, but I can pursue treatments available to me. And I am thankful that I have health insurance to pay (most of) the bills. Good thing, too - just received a statement from the organization providing the actual, hands-on treatments: the cost of the CT scans was just about $10,000! Wow. The charges have been submitted to my insurer, so I do not yet know what portion I am expected to pay. But YIKES!

If any of my classmates read this, and if I am NOT at that reunion, I want you to put at least ONE photo of me with my poor ol' bald head, on that table. I want someone to know what I looked like, during these treatments. And another photo of me smiling... because life is too somber to have to face, if laughter isn't a part of it.

Hair update - the fuzz is increasing on my head and a few hairs have re-appeared in my nose (I know - TMI, right?). But my eyebrows, even six weeks after my 3rd chemo, are still bailin' on me. Damn. The hair on my arms? Still there. The body is a complex organization, and apparently not all hair is created equal. I realize that the re-growth on my head and other parts will probably head for the hills, once I resume chemo. But I am curious to see how much more hair will grow, in the interim.

Because I have railed and ranted about God dumping more stuff on me than is fair, I think that some of you believe that I do NOT believe. Au contraire - how can you go through this and be an atheist? Anyway, I have not ever asked for prayers for myself (although a friend of mine said he encouraged his family to pray NOT for him, but for his doctors!). But if you would drop a plea to the Big Guy for this lady that I just met, as well as for her family, I would be grateful.

As ever, Old Grouchy herself, signing off.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Radiation and snow

Had my 8th radiation treatment today. In actuality, it should have been #9, but Leap Year Day (Feb. 29th) was a "snow day", and so I cancelled my appointment, along with most all other radiation patients. I was told that only two showed up that day. So that day would have been #5, which pushed my schedule back one day. Only completed radiation treatments #3 - 6 the past week.

L had to get the backhoe charged up, before he could run it to remove the snow from the driveway, which is about 600 ft. long. And it was heavy, HEAVY snow, big and fluffy and extremely "wet" and sticky. The kind of snow that is perfect for making snow men. But the kind of snow that causes grown men to have heart attacks when they have a shovelful of it to toss to the side, and then another shovelful and another and ... L's area received about 8 - 10" in that snowfall, and maybe 2 - 4" in two subsequent snowfalls.

The radiation treatments have had no noticeable side effects thus far. I am told that those will appear around week #3 or so, and will continue for some time AFTER treatment #25 ends (my last one, but who's counting?).

Guess I should explain the "procedure" this treatment follows: you are led into a room which is dominated by a hard-surfaced table, with large, imposing machinery surrounding it. You are told to slip off your footwear and drop your pants. Yes, folks, they did not even mention that a changing room, complete with the expected gown, IS available if you so choose. Now, my first visit included two women and one man in the room, besides myself. I am NOT used to removing my clothes in front of strangers, and DEFINITELY not in front of a man whom I had never even seen before. Even before a gynecological exam, you are left alone in a room, to change into one of those one-size-fits-all "gowns". I am 5' 3", and weigh about 110 - 112 pounds, so those are some pretty generous cover-ups.

As you can imagine, this was pretty intimidating. Then you clamber aboard this table, and they carefully align your tattoos with some laser beams, so they have you in the expected position before they begin zapping you. Did I mention that, as part of my initial visit, when they did the CT scans, that they also stuck needles into my abdomen and hips - 3 places in all - to permanently tattoo me? You are allowed to keep your skivvies on UNTIL you are on this table, then they drape something about the size of a cloth dinner napkin over your "privates" (just barely covered, believe me), and tell you to lower your drawers towards your knees. Yup, any vestiges of modesty, gone. In front of three strangers, or sometimes only TWO strangers. I am told that there are six radiation techs, plus one trainee/student/whatever. In the first three visits, I could swear that I saw MORE than that number. Two have been male.

By treatment number #4, I was ready to do some serious "dumping" on the staff, telling them I could NOT possibly be the only person with serious misgivings about undressing in front of the staff. And THEN, and ONLY then, was I told that, yes, Virginia, there IS a changing room, if I so desired to use one. Yeah, after everybody AND his brother has seen me semi-nude. Big, BIG help. Uh-huh.

So now this is something that I steel myself for, undressing in front of a roomful of strangers. Still unpleasant. Not liking it.

Some "fun" developments: I am having some hair re-growth on my head. Little bit of peach fuzz, which will soon disappear when I resume chemo in April. So, in reality, this is a "tease", but still nice to see that I might re-grow my hair someday. My last chemo was between 5 and 6 weeks ago, so that might give me a target date to look forward to, following my 6th chemo, which will be about the end of May or so. At the rate of hair growth quoted me - 1/2" a month - I will have a whopping 3" of hair by year's end. Another winter to freeze thru...

Have I mentioned that the hair in my nose is also gone? Trust me when I say, I must carry around a kleenex, because once I feel that my nose is running - from eating spicy foods, or triggered by the cold weather up here in Frostbite Falls - I must catch the drips immediately, or risk looking like a toddler with a bad cold.

My eyelashes have thinned considerably, and also my eyebrows, but they are hangin' in there. Also, the hair on my forearms remains. The "peach fuzz" on my face is falling out, but has been slow to do so.

I am so tired of looking so ugly. So, so, tired, so demoralizing. I hate myself, I hate having to deal with a wig. I hope that someone, somewhere, gets something positive out of these posts. I try to stay upbeat, but it ain't easy.

Thanks for reading, once again.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Just a lazy blogger...

Not much to update, healthwise.

Had CT scans last week on the 15th. This is in preparation for the radiation treatments. The good news is that NOTHING unusual or unexpected showed up in those. So now what DO they target? Apparently this is a preventative round, zapping those areas where cancer WAS found - the now-missing uterus and its small relative, the now-removed lymph node which was positive. According to the doc and to the literature, I will pay a pretty big price for this preventative therapy - at least temporary bladder and bowel problems, and some PERMANENT damage to my vagina. Which I must admit, works VERY well now. I am sure that you will suffer thru my rants when these side effects become obvious and (I am told) painful.

I messaged back-and-forth on FB with a friend who went thru radiation a few years ago, after surgery to remove cancer from his oral cavity and jaw (and no, he NEVER smoked nor chewed tobacco). I mentioned the good results of the CT scans and mused whether I should/would go forward with the radiation. His response was basically that this was a tough call. After his surgery, his docs as well as this same radiation oncologist, advised him that his chances of going WITHOUT radiation and being cancer-free were in the 80 - 90% range. And then, 4 weeks after his surgery, he was diagnosed with a recurrence of that cancer. At which point, he said, radiation was no longer an option.

So I am going forward with the "plan" which will probably, from what I am told, bring my sex life to a screeching halt around the 3-week mark of treatments. Something to look forward to, eh? I hope to recover from the scarring (apparently this is a given) enough to resume some decent lovin'. Will be a painful process to get there.

On a positive note: made it to Florida, to the RV park, for about two weeks. Headed out on the road the day after chemo #3, which was on Jan. 25th. Took our time getting to that RV park, arriving on the afternoon of the 28th. And so, SO enjoyed the warm weather, mostly days in the 70's and 80's. Ahhh... sunshine SO improves the attitude. It was nice to see so many of the Florida bunch, and we enjoyed socializing with many. Then, we reluctantly headed back Feb.11th, arriving the 13th.

Had a nice, extended lunch/chatfest with 3 high school galpals on Valentine's Day. That's ONE way to assure that we get a meal out, on that sweethearts day! Was fun to reconnect with that bunch.

Northern MN, which had pretty much been snow-free and BROWN, decided to emulate winter weather, dumping a few inches of snow on us. Temps are still not TOO bad, hanging in the mid-30's today. Long-range forecast is for a FEW chilly days in the low 20's and teens for highs, but I am thankful that it has NOT been any worse. Hope I can suffer thru the last dregs of winter weather ok. I will have to be driving in the next several weeks (5 weeks of radiation), so I hope to dodge the weather bullet.

Update complete! Catch up with you later.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The good news just keeps on comin'

So... met with the radiation oncologist this morning. And I am so, SO looking forward to that process wreaking additional damage on my body.

Here's what will happen: I will have an initial CT scan, so they can identify anything that they think will need radiation. Now this is NOT an ordinary CT scan, since it will also involve a vaginal CT scan. Having experienced a vaginal ultrasound recently, I can tell you that I am NOT looking forward to having another "vaginal" anything done. All dignity, all privacy gone, gone, GONE. They hand you a lubed-up deal and tell you where to place it (3 guesses).

Once the CT stuff is done, then a "plan" will be developed. Basically, I will have 5 weeks of doses (daily, each week, for 25 treatments) of radiation. I am told that they will MARK my body with little dots, to show where the radiation should be directed. I was also told that each session will take about 20 - 30 minutes, most of that to be sure that my body is positioned EXACTLY as needed. This is all while I am naked from the waist down, which I am sure will be EXTREMELY comfortable, right? On a cold, flat, hard surface, in a cold room. Boy, I can hardly wait on this one.

After a couple of weeks, I will apparently have side effects from radiation, which include lack of energy plus internal damage to various parts of my body. Some of those areas include burnt skin or internal tissue, plus damage to my bladder and my bowels. Oh, and to my vagina, too. So: goodbye to what had been a good sex life, I guess. This causes scarring on the upper end of the vagina, and in order to regain full use of this, it has been suggested that I use a vaginal dilator. Oh, more joy and happiness. Not to mention having to buy something that I currently have NO use for, and never wanted to. The bladder damage will cause me to pee more frequently, and the bowel damage will possibly/probably cause diarrhea. The fun, the anticipated laughs, eh? I am only sorry that I have to wait until mid-February to start this round of treatment.

Now, in case you think that all I am doing is feeling sorry for myself, I thought I would share something that I found - written by a woman who also had a cancer diagnosis and did NOT have to have chemo nor radiation. She writes:

I would describe myself as a woman of strong faith with a positive outlook on life. However, with the cancer diagnosis came a deluge of "what-ifs," and cancer began to dominate my thoughts. Fear, anxiety, depression, anger, and sadness were common emotions that plagued me all hours of the day and night. In my quest for information, I discovered the Cancer Concerns Forum on the HysterSister's website. I learned that my "what-ifs" had a name - cancerhead. Time and again this term came up as women described their fears regarding cancer. I found that I was not alone. Psychologists and other experts agree that women diagnosed with cancer respond in similar ways.

1) Denial – There must be some mistake.
2) Anger – Why are you telling me this?
3) Why me? – What did I do, or not do, to deserve this?
4) Resignation – I can’t help myself; it’s beyond my control.
5) Acceptance – I will fight this with everything I’ve got in me.
As I struggled through these various stages, I felt like I was on an emotional roller coaster. I did not want to take this journey or deal with the uncertainty of my future.
End of quoted excerpt.

What some of you may not know, is that I have gone through these pissy stages before, when my husband died unexpectedly at age 56, in May of 2008. I found support via some blogs and web sites. Now I am reading some of the SAME "support" statements from cancer sites. Just TOO MUCH to re-visit, you know? Even from the "welcome to this group that you never wanted to join" greetings. TOO MUCH.

The radiation oncologist (who I did like, btw) also said that the healthy reaction I have been experiencing thus far, following 2 rounds of chemo, will NOT last. So I guess I have deteriorating health to look forward to, also. Goodbye, energy, decent appetite, and so on. At least the hair is just about gone, so I won't have to keep sweeping and vacuuming THAT up in a little bit. Good thing, too, since I apparently won't have the energy for that little household chore.

Funny thing is, before this morning's appointment, I was about at step (5), listed above. Now I feel like I am back at step (1). Don't tell me to cheer up, to have a positive attitude. I just don't want to hear it now - if, indeed, ever.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Going forward

Just a few minutes here to update.

Had chemo # 2 on the 4th (Wed.) and the actual process went much, much better. The staff had the info on the problems from my 1st session and took care to introduce the problem-causing drug at a slow rate, initially, then sped it up gradually.

The biggest problem encountered at this second session was actually BEFORE this session. It seems that, since I have now entered the chemo process, I now need to be cleared (okayed) to go forward with the chemo. A nurse-practitioner does this. No problem with any of that. My "clearing" appt was scheduled for 9:30, which was about the time that I was ushered into a room and my "vitals" were done. And then we sat, and waited, and WAITED, and WAITED. I finally went out of the room, looking for someone to tell that we were STILL waiting - and furthermore, the chemo session was scheduled for 11 am, which was fast approaching. Finally, the nurse-practitioner graced us with her presence. She asked some very non-essential questions and I mentioned my chemo appt. And SHE informed ME that SHE had to "clear" me for this scheduled chemo. I disliked her STRONGLY. That's as nasty as I will get, in print. L and I both agreed that she had that "I am in charge" attitude. A wonderful way to endear her to patients - and guess what? We have to deal with her for each and every chemo appt from now on.

Oh, and the reason that she showed up late? She went to the WRONG patient's room, so someone else was in and out quickly, while I sat and sat, becoming later and later. "I'm in charge" never admitted that to us, btw. Someone else on the staff coughed up that info.

Hair (on my head) is still falling out. Fewer and fewer strands. Sickening. The hair on my legs? Still growing. Still have hair on my arms, as well as eyebrows and eyelashes. Pubic hair, still leaving. And my "privates", without the protective buffering, are now subject to rubbing and chafing against underwear and jeans. No one ever mentions THIS "delicate" subject. So, folks, I am telling this fact NOW. I consider this blog and its current subject, a public service.

Have been enjoying the record-breaking temps (in the 40's), but that will be over in another day or two. So then I have a choice: an appearance-saving wig (NOT warm) or an ugly hat with no hair under it, and said hat will have to worn ALL the time when I am out in public. Yes, it is ONLY hair...

Okay, trying to be upbeat - and truly, I am feeling pretty good, as far as energy and my appetite is sorta ok.

Well, gotta run. Housecleaning calls (yuck) and I need to pop in the shower before I head into town for a blood test. All the fun you can squeeze into one morning!


Sunday, January 1, 2012

A New Year and...??

(A coupla pix of me when I looked more like the "normal" people do. It's all I have to hold on to, so you gotta indulge me...)

Well, here it is, 2012. And I actually DID make it to midnight (unlike someone else who shall remain nameless), although I watched the ball drop @ Times Square an hour earlier than that.

Had a low-key day (New Year's Eve): Saturday night church, dinner @ a good local restaurant, and then a drink at a local establishment closer to this place. Was probably back here by 10:30.

The hair is just about gone now. But amazing, how much you can still shed, given that so much of your scalp is showing. Now have two wigs, and the first one (which I bought via the American Cancer Society because the color was similar to mine and the style was, also) will need some further trimming. I knew, based on the description, that it would be too long, but as my stylist said, she prefers to under-trim the length and let me wear it, before I decide I need more length removed. I'll try to post some photos.

I cried in the shower again yesterday. The loss, the loss... Ironically, my health appears to be just fine: good energy level, decent appetite, and so on. But it is just so hard to accept the hair loss. Wigs are truly a pain in the ass (if this offends you, you should never read my blog again), because when you are mostly hairless, it is difficult to keep that damned "dead cat" on your head. Think of it: it SLIDES, folks. And truly, I do NOT like the hats and turbans - I don't want something to scream "cancer" the minute I walk into the room, truly I do not. I want to live my life as normally as possible, although being under the medical micro-management that this requires, IS irritating, at best, and at its worst, really pisses me off when I am very down or feeling unjustly "blessed" with another thing that SOME believe is a situation that "God doesn't give you anything you can't handle". Yeah, early widowhood isn't enough, is it? So for all of you blissfully leading happy, carefree lives, you can thank me for handling something that apparently YOU cannot handle? You see how ridiculous that statement is?

Other statements: don't drown in the "pity pot" (said by someone who has NOT talked to me in person and does not read this blog and had not gone thru this, either); and countless folks who say that I am strong and I can handle it. Trust me, I would have to a friggin' brick wall to be THAT strong. Especially when the chemo gave me the heart attack symptoms. I am only 5'3" and weigh under 115. (Maybe less without hair??) How strong should I be, at this size - and at this age, too?

Oh, and I would appreciate it if you do not mention any of your family members who have died from cancer. I already am facing my own mortality in a way that I never, ever thought about before. If you can't say something positive, then don't say anything at all. People told me (following my husband's death) that they could relate, because their father, brother, in-laws died. Not. The. Same. At. All.

Anyway, I am trying to be positive as I face chemo #2 on Wednesday. We will head to the Cities Tuesday afternoon and stay at my nephew and his wife's place for the short drive to the Mpls. campus for a medical check-in plus the chemo scheduled after that. I don't know if they will try to start #2 at a slower rate or not. From what I have been told, each round of chemo can be different from the other one(s). I hope the assigned nurse noted my symptoms from round #1. Plus they do NOT know about the bleeding and lowered hemoglobin which occurred a few days after that, either.

Sorry to keep returning to the hair thing. But. Don't. Tell. Me. It. Is. Only. Hair. So far from being true that I cannot even relate to someone who says that. Just please shut up, if that's the only "supportive" thing you can say.

So (for other cancer sufferers who are also wading thru some of these same statements) what CAN you say? How about a hug, or a comment that you can appreciate what a struggle this is for you. Truly, those same movements and comments also apply to widows and widowers.

Getting off my soapbox. Hope to post some photos with this blog later tonight. I want to be as open as possible (don't worry, none of 'em will be nudes), and I am shedding my desire to hide away, so that others can see just what some of the treatment entails. Not trying to shock, but instead to share.

First photo: all the hair products and accessories that I will not be able to use for probably over a year (if I am that fortunate).

Second photo: hair loss for about a day-and-a-half, before I had most of it cut off. There's a up-ended shot glass behind the pile, just for perspective.

Third photo: hair on its way out, me with my face covered. This openness is not as easy as I had hoped.

Fourth photo: face uncovered. Again, not so easy to do.

Fifth photo: the hat (or something similar to it) that I will be wearing for months (or maybe a year -- who knows), in order to not freeze my naked head and to not look so ugly to anyone who might pop in, or to my significant other. You have no idea what a hassle it is, to wear a wig. Maybe I'll post some wig pix tomorrow.

Anyway, this has been a tough post to publish. So I'm outta here for tonight.