Archive | August, 2010

Light at the end of the tunnel

22 Aug

The light at the end of the tunnel is becoming brighter and brighter. So far I’ve had 27 radiation treatments, 7 intravenous chemo appointments and 94 oral chemo pills (and a whole slew of other medications including pain killers, stool softners, laxatives, anti-diarrhea and anti-nausea meds and fever reducers) and tomorrow is finally my LAST radiation appointment and day of oral chemo pills.  Although the whole process has not been easy, looking back it has gone by rather quickly.  And now looking ahead, I am excited to begin the healing and recovery process.  Since finishing my final intravenous chemo appointment this past Monday, I’ve already begun to notice my energy level and endurance increase.

* * *

I was getting my haircut the other day, and one of the stylists at the salon had an embroidered pillow sitting on top her styling station that said something to the effect of “I don’t have hot flashes, I’m just spontaneously and uncontrollably whisked away to a hot sunny day at the beach.”  Well kudos to the person that can actually brainwash themselves to believe that. I, however, appear to be lacking an imagination when it comes to episodes of hot flashes and they feel all too real.

Benjamin Button

Hot flashes are the one side effect that will likely not be dissipating with the conclusion of treatment.  When the doctor first explained this to me, I got a warm and fuzzy feeling inside, but not in the good sense…in fact it was just another hot flash – ugh.  As I was complaining about the ‘hot flashes as a side effect of treatment’ my oncologist corrected me, explaining they are not a side effect of chemo or radiation, rather a side effect of menopause.  What??!!  Although I was made aware that this was a possibility (along with 742 other potential side effects of cancer treatment) I surely wasn’t prepared for it.  Ready to jump into combat mode, I inquired what we do to fix this.  First, my doctor explained that we won’t really know if I’ve hit early menopause for a few months.  They could run tests now, however a positive or negative result wasn’t guaranteed to remain as such down the road, whereas in a few months they’d have a better idea.  Then, like any good western doctor is trained to do, he began rattling off a slew of hormone replacement drugs I could consider.  These medications would stop the hot flashes, along with other symptoms of menopause, such as a decrease in skin elasticity.  I immediately envisioned myself as a 29-year old with the skin of a 90-year old…perhaps I could pitch myself as the lead in a sequel to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button!  Not quite ready to make a decision (or ready to accept this was actually happening), I inquired about a more natural approach.  Soy was the answer I got.  While it wouldn’t stop all the symptoms of menopause, it was known for eliminating hot flashes.  I typically don’t eat soy, however I’m at the point where I’ll try anything to calm these flashes down. While Nick was out and about, I texted him with my new found grocery list containing nothing but soy products – and he delivered!

So much soy!

Fingers crossed this will do the trick and I will be able to get through summer in the desert at a cool 110 degrees instead of the 160 degrees I feel when ‘I am whisked away to the beach’.  After surgery we’ll start to look at some longer-term treatment options – if, in fact, it’s determined I’ve actually hit menopause.  In the mean time, I recommend you purchase stock in soy!

Honeymoon, meet Mini-moon

21 Aug

Like any soon-to-be couple, we began the discussion of where to take our honeymoon months ago.  We debated an adventure-based vacation as well as a beach bum-style escape, and weighed various exotic locations from Indonesia to Croatia to Peru but finally settled on the Maldives.  That is until this whole cancer thing decided to stop in and pay us a visit.  As we learned what the entire battle would entail and how tightly everything would fit in with the wedding planning process, a long, uninterrupted getaway began to seem further and further away.  While I am managing to fit all the chemo and radiation treatments in prior to the wedding, there is still the surgery that needs to take place, and this has been scheduled for Monday, September 20th.  This leaves just two weeks from the time I walk down the aisle until I walk into the operating room.  Attempting to gallivant around the world – and actually relax and enjoy it – was not realistic; however, we weren’t going to give up that easily.

Instead, we booked a mini-moon, a short brief honeymoon.  One week after the wedding, we’ll be heading down to Cabo San Lucas.  While always beautiful, Cabo wasn’t quite the exciting getaway we had always dreamed about, plus we had already been there, however it will let us at least keep the honeymoon tradition and hopefully help de-stress before gong under the knife…which will take place a mere 72 hours after we return!  Then, we hope to keep our plans of an exotic honeymoon down the road, perhaps sometime next year.

There was another reason we were so determined to make some type of honeymoon work.   In our 8 1/2 years together Nick and I have never taken a vacation alone.  I can’t even believe it as I type it, in fact I’m ashamed!  Sure we’ve traveled together and experienced some great trips, but it has always been with family, friends or work-related.  If you ask Nick, he may tell you that spending everyday with me is a vacation itself (insert: sarcasm)! Needless to say, this trip is loooong overdue and hopefully will be the first of many many more to come…

Girls just wanna have fun

18 Aug

Eight no-hassle, drama-free women from all across the country come together for the weekend. The result?  One amazing bachelorette party!

Months ago, my sister and maid of honor, Jane, approached me and asked me what I wanted to do for my bachelorette party.  The first thing I told her was that there would be no mani/pedis.  That’s right.  Although some may consider an activity like this a bachelorette ritual, I was aiming for a different approach: adventure!  While my first idea of dune-buggy racing across the desert didn’t pan out, the next idea did.  We kicked off the weekend Saturday morning with a zip line tour across the canyons on the outskirts of Las Vegas, near the Hoover Dam.  Allison, Jaime, Jane and I signed up for the Bootleg Canyon Flightline Tour – a zip line course consisting of four zip lines each ranging from 1/4 to 1/2 mile in length, allowing you to reach speeds over 60mph.  It was an exhilarating time, to say the least!

Jaime, Jane and Em prepare for the zip line tours

Jaime, Allison, Jane and Em prepare for landing!

After we finished the zip line course and our adrenaline was rushing, we decided to check into our suite at Mandalay Bay and head out to the pool where we had a cabana and were joined by some more ladies.

Sun bathing beauties - Allison, Jane, Em, Carrie, Jaime and Brynn

After perfecting our tan lines, we headed in from the pool and got and ready for the evenings festivities: dinner, a concert, and a club!  I had a couple of rules that I needed to lay down for the evening before we went out though.  As one can imagine, Vegas is inundated with bachelorettes and their entourages every weekend – and they are not difficult to spot.  The bachelorettes often are sporting tiaras, pageant-style sashes, boas, or all of the above.  I was not going to tolerate any of this, as I was determined to keep this evening a classy affair!

Dinner at China Grill - Brynn, Gale, Jaime, Emily, Jane, Fabiana and Allison

Following dinner and a brief cameo at an 80s concert that was playing out at the pool, we headed to Blush, a nightclub at the Wynn hotel where someone must have given them a heads up that this was a special day because we were treated like royalty!  This club experience was extra special because it was Jane’s first time at a Las Vegas nightclub and we had an absolute blast!

A champagne toast with Brynn, Fabiana, Gale, Jane, Em, Jaime and Allison

After a fabulous night out, we topped off the weekend with brunch at the Verandah at the Four Seasons.

Brynn, Em, Jane and Allison enjoy a scrumptous brunch at the Four Seasons

The weekend had come to an end.  We had gotten our dose of adventure, sun, music, nightlife, great food and most importantly, great friends!  My sister proved herself as an incredible bachelorette party planner and I can’t even begin to thank her enough.  She managed to put together a weekend of festivities that allowed me to entirely forget everything I’ve been dealing with these past few months.  Thank you also to Jaime and Matt Chilton who allowed us to walk around Vegas like VIPs.  And lastly, thank you to all the ladies who were able to be a part of this weekend!

Truth be told, I was a little nervous going into the weekend, as I didn’t know how my energy and stamina would endure.  I was so encouraged by the fact that not once did I feel tired or weak.  Nonetheless, I was definitely ready for some rest and relaxation after the festivities concluded…

A family afair

12 Aug

If I haven’t mentioned it before, I feel incredibly blessed by the support network of family and friends I am surrounded by.  While I am lucky enough to see certain members of this network on a daily basis, there are others that I only get to see a few times each year or sometimes less – yet this doesn’t mean their thoughts and prayers aren’t heard and felt.  Case in point: The Ihrkes gathered together over this past Fourth of July weekend at Jellystone Park in Wisconsin for a joint baby shower (congrats Jessi & Mike), bridal shower (congrats Sam & Olan) and high school graduation (congrats Adam).  While I was bummed Nick and I couldn’t be a part of this weekend, I enjoyed seeing everyone’s photos and hearing stories recounted of trying to place the cousins in order from oldest to youngest – no easy feat.

Fast-forward to yesterday.  I received a FedEx at the house from my Uncle Joe.  Enclosed was a powerful piece of artwork along with a photo that brought me to tears.  The Ihrke clan had taken the time to create a banner that said ‘Emily, we’re thinking of you’ and then gathered around it for a photo (to get a better look at it, click on the picture to enlarge it).  As you can see from the photo, I have power in numbers on my side (and that’s not even all of them)!  Thank you to all that participated in this – you don’t know how much it means…

The Ihrke Support Network

Now, if only I could figure out who took the picture!

Wedding shenanigans and other preocupations

9 Aug

Once again the blog posts have been a little slow lately; thank you to all who have called/emailed/texted to make sure I was alright because of this!  Truth be told, I have been keeping very busy with wedding planning.  I think the average bride-to-be would freak out upon learning of a cancer diagnosis less than three months before the wedding date, and I did allow myself a moment to cave – but only for a moment.  From the very beginning of the wedding planning process, I vowed I would not get wrapped up and consumed in the unnecessary details that some people do.  And since the word cancer entered our hourly vocabulary, I’ve made the decision to view the diagnosis as a blessing in disguise.  There is a bigger picture at stake here – a lifetime of love, life and happiness (cue cheesy music), and if Aunt Susie’s dinner napkin is folded to the right and Uncle Homer’s is folded to the left, I will have no problem letting this slide!  And now with the whole beat-cancer game added to the mix, it has been even easier to let things like this slide.  I find it so fascinating how battling cancer can really help align one’s priorities.  And while I always thought my priorities were in a rational, grounded order, I’ve probably made a few minor rearrangements!

As for an overall health update, I resumed radiation last week after taking the week prior off.  Chemotherapy has continued on a weekly basis and I had my sixth and what was supposed to be final chemo appointment today.  My oncologist, however, made the decision to extend one of the chemotherapy drugs an additional week to coincide with the extended radiation time line.  Since I have been keeping with the chemo therapy as planned, I am experiencing the height of the side effects.  New ones to enter the game include increased neuropathy in the hands and hot flashes.  When I first learned that hot flashes were a potential side effect, I couldn’t even fathom what this sensation would feel like.  I am the type of person that is always cold – I wear cashmere sweaters throughout a Las Vegas summer, sit in front of a space heater year-round, and have an average body temperature of 97 degrees.  The flashes began late last week and they are not very fun, especially considering it is summer in the desert!  I’ve learned to combat them by using cold wash cloths and eating bowls of ice cream (which triggers another side effect).  Needless to say, I feel well-prepared for menopause and can finally sympathize with those that are also experiencing this side effect.  Additionally, the fatigue has been steadily increasing, especially the day immediately following chemo treatments.  For the past three weeks, I have worked from home the day following chemo treatment due to the fact that my white blood cell counts take a beating with each round of chemo.  Then, as the week continues to progress, I can feel myself getting stronger and stronger…until the following Monday when we start the process all over again.

Lastly, in order to balance the hectic wedding planning schedule and increasing side effects, I’ve managed to keep the entertainment level high.  This past weekend, my dear friend from college Mollie visited me along with her dad, Larry.  Hands down, Mollie wins the award for the person that has visited the most over our time living in Vegas.  While she and her family happen to be very fond of the town, they are always beyond generous when they come visit and this time is no different.  On Friday evening, Nick and I were treated to a delectable dinner with Mollie and Larry followed by amazing seats at the Garth Brooks concert!  I was by no means the biggest country fan in the small, intimate theater that night, but his genuine talent, humility and undeniable entertainment value far exceeded our expectations. For two and a half straight hours I managed to forget I had cancer, and that was a priceless feeling…not to mention some of the best medicine one could ask for at this stage of the game.  Thank you Mollie and Larry for wonderful time!!

Em and Mollie enjoy a much-needed night out and catching up!