Archive | Cancer: An Education RSS feed for this section

Signing Off

3 Mar

I am sure many of you have gotten word that Heaven received a beautiful angel today.  Emily passed peacefully in her sleep at 7:30 this morning.  I have been in St. Louis for a week now, and consider myself so blessed to be with her for these past few days.  Even though this time was the roughest part of her journey, Em had a way of keeping her wits about her and making us all smile at the most unexpected times.

A few days ago, she shared with us that she wanted to do one last blog post to let all of her followers know that she was “signing off.”  Of course, in true Emily fashion, she began by thanking everyone for their unconditional love, support, and prayers, and was apologetic for not having posted anything since Christmas.  She said there wasn’t a day that passed without her praying and praying for a miracle, but that this time, it just wasn’t meant to be.  She said she’ll be waiting at the pearly white gates to give us all a tour. 

We are arranging to have a funeral service in Minneapolis, hopefully next weekend, with a great celebration to follow, per Em’s request.  Further details are yet to be determined.

From all of the family, thanks to each and every one of you.  We all know what a precious gem my sister was.

The best birthday present ever

28 Jul

It’s funny how things change as you go through life.  When I was younger, I eagerly awaited my birthday party each year.  I would plan it meticulously down to the theme, the cups, the napkins, and the friends I invited. As I grew older, it wasn’t the parties that mattered so much, rather the cultural milestones such as my 16th and 21st birthdays.

And now here I am turning 30 years old today.  Despite the lack of balloons and streamers hanging from the ceiling, I was elated when I learned my sister Jane would be getting a colonoscopy on my birthday.  It arguably runs a close second to the Pretty Pretty Princess showing up at my 8th birthday party, however, knowing my sister is getting screened for and could potentially prevent the hereditary onset of colorectal cancer is quite possibly the best birthday present imaginable.

The patient is all prepped and ready to go! Seriously, how many people can manage to look this good in a hosital gown?!

Fortunately the procedure was over just as quick as it started and the results were in…she had a clean colon, making it an even better birthday present!  Just having this piece of mind will let me sleep better at night.  And now there’s just one sibling left to go in for the screening process, my brother.  I’m sure he’ll surprise me with a really great Christmas present…right Bill?!

365 days and counting

16 Jun

I woke up this morning knowing that although today should seem like any other ordinary day, it wasn’t. Exactly one year ago today I was diagnosed with cancer.  I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a Tuesday and I was anxiously awaiting biopsy results from the mass the gastroenterologist had found during the colonoscopy I had the previous Friday.  It had already been four days and I had no more patience – Jesus managed to rise from the dead quicker than these results were coming in. Around 10:30 in the morning, I couldn’t wait any longer and finally called the doctor’s office to speed up the process.  Now, it is not customary to receive these type of results over the phone.  However I was not about to go through the process of setting up an appointment, paying an unnecessary co-pay and going in for an office visit just to obtain this tiny, yet oh so important piece of information.   When the nurse informed him I was on the phone, he obliged and took my call (in hindsight, probably the first indicator of the news that was to come – doctors are never available to take patients’ calls).  I was ready with a pen and paper in hand to take down notes throughout this highly anticipated conversation, however when all was said and done, I had only managed to write down one word: malignant.

After having been pacing around my office, I found myself frozen in my tracks.  I numbly dialed Nick’s cell phone and tried to relay the conversation but it was at that point that the information caught up with me and I was swallowed up by tears. Nick, on the other hand, was able to remain calm and reassuring (at least on the outside), and was at my work just a few minutes later with the most comforting embrace imaginable.  It was at that very point that the fight began.

Throughout these past 365 days, I’ve learned why the word ‘battle’ is often used when describing one’s dealings with cancer.  You don’t typically hear people say “She is working on cancer” or “He’s making his way through cancer”. It truly is a battle in every sense of the word, and I have no doubt that I have become stronger person as I’ve fought my way through this.  I am constantly reminded, though, that not everyone’s battle takes the course that mine has. Just yesterday, I stumbled across the blog of a young woman whose fight against cancer had too many striking similarities to mine it was scary. She grew up in Minnesota and was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in her 20s, just weeks before her wedding. She underwent the same course of chemotherapy (same drugs and all), and radiation treatment, followed by surgery and then had an ostomy bag. Like me, her cancer spread to her liver and her lungs, but her organs eventually failed and her battle ended less than two years after it started. I had chills as I finished reading her CaringBridge website.  (The foundation her family launched in her honor can be found here.) While I do my best to maintain a lighthearted approach and positive outlook throughout this process, I am also keenly aware that there is also a very real and nasty side to this beast, and I thank God everyday that I have been as fortunate as I have.

June 15th is a date I will never forget, yet I hope it will soon return to being just another day, and be replaced by other memorable dates, such as the date I am told I am free of cancer – the date I kicked ass cancer’s ass.

Battlefield Update #3: Minor Setbacks

6 Nov

Well, yesterday we were fairly excited because the doctor told Em that if she was feeling well enough she would be able to go home.  She was able to eat solid foods, was unhooked from her catheter, and detached from the pain meds that she was administering to herself when she felt she needed it.  Unfortunately later on she started to experience some painful cramping and decided she would stay the night with the hopes of heading home today.

As it stands now, however, she is still in pain and still cramping, so she’ll be spending tonight in the hospital, too.  Today my dad and Nick’s parents head home, but my mom gets into town tomorrow evening.  I’ll keep you posted about her return home; I’m sure she can’t wait to be in her own bed alongside her beloved dogs!

Only a mother…

29 Jul

Prior to this week, I had been in touch with Emily on a near-daily basis – and yes, sometimes hourly!  While phone calls, emails, and voice mails are great, there is nothing like actually being here.  I flew in from Minneapolis Sunday morning, and within two hours I was cooking for a crew of nine!  Never have I made three dozen scrambled eggs, three pounds of bacon, and four pounds of hash browns!

Aside from being the “chief cook and bottle washer” for a week, I have also gone with Emily to her numerous doctor appointments.  What amazed me the most was her chemo appointment on Monday.  With the continuous drip-drip of the IV it all seemed so uneventful, but in reality it was three hours of the poisonous chemo flowing through her veins.  The treat of the day was learning that she could skip her radiation treatments for a few days.    I can think of many treats, but I guess a person’s life and priorities change when you learn you have cancer.

The circle of treatments and side effects was an eye-opener for me as well.  While chemo can cause certain side effects, the treatment for those side effects can cause other side effects….and of course, there is a treatment for that side effect!

Emily has been such a trooper through all of this; I admire her courage, her attitude, and her stamina.  Only a mother can feel so helpless; I only wish I could take it all from her.  She knows though, never to underestimate the power of a mother’s prayer.

I love you so very much, Emily.   Love, Mom.

Radiation factoids

17 Jul

Yesterday was radiation appointment #7 – I am officially one quarter through with these beams!  My radiation technicians, Stacey, Jan and Ethan are great; each day they have to situate me in just the right position so the treatment hits all the right places and none of the wrong places.  Instead of just letting them do their jobs, I find myself asking them a ton of questions each day – almost as if to keep them on their toes.  Although they could find this annoying, they are great sports about it and in turn have given me quite the radiation education.

Me, pleading: “If I’m already feeling these radiation beams as of day #1, does that mean we can reduce the treatment time?”

Stacey, humored: “Oh no honey, you’re in this for the full dose”

Me: “What exactly is my full dose?”

Stacey: “5,400 centigray across all 28 of your treatments. Centigray (cGy) is the unit of measurement we use for radiation.”

Me, quickly: “What is the most amount of centigray someone can tolerate?

Stacey, even quicker: “7,000”

Me, curious: “How do you know what just the right dose is?”

Stacey, patiently: “It depends on what part of the body we are radiating.  Different parts can take different amounts of radiation. We know this based on the testing that has been done on millions of people.”

Me: “So millions of people potentially received the wrong dosage of radiation in order to find out the right amounts that are administered today?”

Stacey: “Well, much of the radiation testing that has been conducted was on the Japanese immediately following the drop of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  They monitored the bomb victims that survived and continued testing to see their response and tolerance levels.  The government even continued some radiation testing in the 1970s on patients without them even knowing.”

Me, perpexed: “Crazy…so I have President Truman to thank for receiving an accurate dosage of radiation levels I’m receiving today?”

Stacey, intrigued: “Hmmm, I guess you could say that.”

We said our goodbyes and my weekend had officially begun.  I wonder if Stacey is ready for another round of questions come Monday?!

Radiation: nothing radiant about it

8 Jul

After breezing through chemotherapy yesterday, I woke up with a ton of energy and took Denali and a brisk 3-mile run to start the day off.  It was my way of proving to myself that chemo treatment was no match for my will power.  The day was off to a great start.

It’s interesting.  Up until this point, everyone has had varying opinions on which part of treatment would be the most difficult. My oncologist and his nurse have told me that radiation treatment would be more difficult to tolerate than the chemotherapy they would be administering.  Conversely, my radiation oncologist and his team have downplayed the effects of their radiation treatments in comparison to chemo.  Well after having experienced both now, I will be the judge of this…radiation sucks.

Today was my very first radiation appointment and I had no idea what to expect.  I was escorted into the room where prior to beginning, the radiation technicians finished taking a few more measurements and scans, a continuation from yesterday.   Part of this process included using markers to draw guidelines all over my back side.  At one point I found myself wondering if this cancer clinic didn’t double as a plastic surgeon’s office that specialized in the newest  Brazilian butt-lift procedures.

Before I knew it, both the measurements and the first dosage of radiation were complete.  Similar to an x-ray, I didn’t feel a thing.  Minutes later we were standing in the front office waiting to schedule the rest of my upcoming appointments when I began to feel different tweaks and twinges.  This is when it becomes difficult deciphering between what is real, and what tricks your mind might be playing on you.  I chalked up these initial sensations to a wandering mind.  But, it only worsened from there.  An hour later, I had been reassured that my mind was not making things up.  I could actually feel the radiated area and it wasn’t pleasant.  It immediately became very sensitive – not on the outside skin, but from the inside out…in a way that is very difficult to describe.  It’s not a piercing pain, rather a persistent aching sensation.  I can’t decide what’s more uncomfortable – the way I feel right now, or the thought of having this done 27 more times.  I keep telling myself that if I can feel the effects of radiation as intensely as I am, that must mean it’s working, right?  Despite my self-brainwashing attempts, I’ve decided I would much rather have chemo every day and this radiation just once a week instead of the other way around.  Something tells me that my behind may not make it through all the beams of radiation that are on the horizon.  I just don’t get it, how can something be so painless when administered, and then create such an uncomfortable feeling afterward?  Ugh.

Em vs. Chemo: Day 1

7 Jul

Today I had my first of five weekly chemotherapy appointments.  After meeting with my oncologist one final time to review my upcoming regiment and go over any last minute questions, Nick and I were led into the chemo room.  This room had three bays each filled with approximately six La-Z-Boy style recliners.  Upon entering the room there was one thing that became very evident: If there was ever a time I did not want to fit in with a group of people…this was it.  The room was filled with ill-looking, emaciated patients with no zest or energy.  I felt extremely out of place, which in my opinion was a good thing.  I was then told my the nurse that my IV drip was going to last five hours…ugh!  I had four different IVs that needed to run their course:

Em’s Chemo Cocktail –

  • One part anti-nausea medication
  • One part vitamin/electrolyte supplement
  • Chemotherapy drug Oxaliplatin
  • Chemotherapy drug Avastin

(I’m also taking a third chemo drug orally, Xeloda.  Additionally, the Avastin wasn’t part of the original regiment but was added once it was discovered that there were cancerous lesions in the liver.)

Well despite the fact there were a lot of drugs that needed to run their course, five hours was a bit too long.  I explained to the nurse that I was a born multi-tasker and suggested we look at running some of these medications simultaneously.  Although she wouldn’t agree to that, I did convince them to speed up the flow of the IV drip and we were able to knock the process out in just three hours!  Once this was underway, I fired up the laptop so I could do some work, turned on the World Cup game (go Spain!), and ordered in some food.

Em's first chemo cocktail (first of five)

So, how did it feel? Well, I hope I’m not reporting too prematurely, however thus far I feel great!  In fact, it doesn’t even seem like I had chemo at all today.  The only side effect I experienced was a numb, tingling feeling in my hand half way through the process.  The doctors noted this may not even be an effect from the actual chemo drugs, rather a result of having an IV in my hand for an extended period of time.  Basically it feels like the tingling sensation you get when your arm or leg falls asleep, times ten.  Regardless, I’ll take this over some of the other potential effects one can experience.

After chemotherapy, I had an appointment with the radiation oncologist and they proceeded to run some CT scans in order to accurately map out my upcoming treatment plan.  I didn’t begin radiation treatments today, but will start tomorrow afternoon.  There was one part of this process I wasn’t prepared for.  Up until now, I’ve maintained a clean canvas of virgin skin – sans tattoos.  That changed today when I received four of them.  Albeit small (size of a ball-point pen head), they are now something I will have with me forever.  These tattoos will help serve as a guide for each of the 28 upcoming radiation appointments I will have.  One is located on my lower back, one in the middle of my back, and one on each side of my upper thigh.  They will make certain my body is accurately positioned every time so the radiation beams are targeting the appropriate area.  Once I begin radiation tomorrow, I will continue it daily, Monday-Friday, for 5.5 weeks.  It is estimated that each appointment should take no more than fifteen minutes.  More on this experience tomorrow.

As for the final conclusion of today’s bout with Chemo, the decision is unanimous – this round victoriously goes to me!  Fingers crossed I remain as triumphant over the course of the next four rounds…and now off to the sidelines for a break…

The teacher becomes the student

6 Jul

I was blessed with the opportunity of being offered two teaching jobs that I began as a part-time endeavor last Fall.  I started teaching Business 101 at the College of Southern Nevada and I teach courses within the Fashion and Retail Management program at the Art Institute of Las Vegas.  Although time consuming, the experience thus far has been more rewarding than I ever imagined.  Since last Fall I’ve taught five classes over two semesters with a total of over 150 students.  You hear it often said, but I can say for a fact that I have learned far more from my students than I could have possibly taught them.

Well now the tables have turned; it was time for me to head back to school. As part of the process for gearing up to start chemo, my cancer center required me to take Chemo Class – a seminar that is mandatory for new patients and also open to their friends and family members that will be enduring the process with them.  Nick and I attended the class where we learned and were forewarned about potential side effects of chemotherapy including but not limited to:

  • Nausea/vomiting – I will be receiving an anti-nausea medication in conjunction with the chemo meds to prevent this.
  • Diarrhea – a welcomed change from the lack of movements I’ve been experiencing!
  • Hand-foot symdrome (aka palmar-plantar erythrodysesthesia or PPE) – this is a tingling, burning, numbing sensation in the hands and feet that can result in red, flaking or peeling skin along with swelling and small blisters.  My doctor indicated actions such as reaching inside a refrigerator/freezer or handling cold beverages may be very irritating.  Nick, looks like you’re on cooking duty…
  • Mouth sores – eww.
  • Hair loss – my doctor insisted I would not experience this, as it occurs very very rarely with my dosage of chemo.  I made him swear on the lives of his five grandchildren that this would not happen because I have an aisle to walk down in September and I WILL have hair.
  • Nerve damage – this can result in loss of balance, problems walking, and clumsiness…Nick would tell you that I’ve been experiencing this particular side effect for a long time already!

In addition to the side effects, I was guided through the proper chemo diet: very little greens and roughage, no raw vegetables, limited fruits, no whole grains rather bland foods consisting of white flour-based starches.  Umm…this isn’t exactly the ‘Ultimate Wedding Dress Diet’ I read about in my Modern Bride magazine.  Substitute pasta for salads and buttery toast instead of the fruit plate? Fun, but not ideal…looks like we’re going to need to go grocery shopping.

Aside from being presented these side effects, no one has been able to tell me what my chemo and radiation appointments – which begin tomorrow – will actually feel like.  I take that back. When picking up my oral chemo pills, the Walgreen’s pharmacist made the comment ‘Wow, this one is no walk in the park.’ Asshole. Well for anyone wondering out there, I will be more than happy to candidly describe the experience and refute or confirm the myths out there.  Take it from me…not your local Walgreen’s intern. Stay tuned, details to follow tomorrow…

The one and only Pet I haven’t liked

1 Jul

I’ve always been a pet person – we’ve always had dogs for as long as I can remember.  Things are no different today.  Nick and I have two Siberian Huskies, Denali and Naya, that we treat as our own children.  Actually, we view them as practice children whereby we each can test out our different parenting styles and make sure we’re on the same page when the time comes when we’re ready to have children of our own!  Here’s a photo of Denali (black/white) and Naya (all white):

Well last week was the first time I encountered a pet I didn’t like – and that was the results of my PET scan.  I had a PET scan done in order to ascertain what other parts of the body, if any, were also infected with cancerous cells.  Up until this point, I had been told that the natural progression for colo-rectal cancer was first to the liver and then to the lungs.  I received the results of the PET scan the very next day.  Sure enough, there were also two small lesions on my liver…ugh.  When inquiring how long my liver had been affected before, we received varying opinions ranging from a few months to over a year.  The scary part is that I had a CT scan done of my abdomen area back when I initially started feeling cramps, and the images of my liver came up clean.  Many will tell you that CT scans and even PET scans will not always accurately depict what is going on in your body, and I can’t help but wonder if that was the case in the instance of my first scans.

In the months and years to come, I will likely be the recipient of many more PET scans to come and I can only hope and pray that this is the worst of them and that the results continuously improve.