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On the up and up

1 Jul

Aloha! Since my post two weeks ago, I’m happy to report that I’ve returned to work full time and even managed to make it to Hawaii for the State Bar of Nevada’s Annual meeting.  With my husband – a.k.a. male nurse, bell boy, and official island tour guide – in tow, we left a week ago Sunday for Kaua’i.  I’m an infamous over-packer, but I managed to reach new heights on this trip, as I had packed enough medical supplies to set up a remote triage center.  Thankfully everything went incredibly well and I only needed a fraction of what I brought.

The Hawaiian culture has a rich history filled with stories legends. I’m typically not the kind that gets caught up in any type of mythology; however I must say, there is definitely something magical about the islands.  Immediately upon arriving, any aches and pains I was experiencing from my wound (which is still approximately an inch wide and an inch deep) immediately vanished for the entire week I was there.  I was blown away by the amount of energy I had, and the physical tasks I was able to perform.  Even a week prior to the trip, I wouldn’t have even fathomed being able to accomplish half of what I did.  Interestingly enough, on our way back home, we had a layover in Los Angeles and the moment we landed I began having a dull pain in the wound area.  I got to thinking…might it be best if I went on disability and moved to Hawaii?!

Our week in Kaua’i was very busy, filled with meetings, seminars and work-related social activities, but we managed to find a few moments to escape the hustle and bustle and enjoy the island as tourists.  One afternoon we went kayaking on the Wailua River and after an ill-described ‘amateur’ hike, we arrived at a secret waterfall.  I’m sharing this photo in hopes that everyone can enjoy it, because it literally took blood, sweat and tears to reach this location! (Okay well maybe not tears, but you get the point).

The 'secret waterfalls' of the Wailua River

The next day we were in need of a more relaxing excursion and opted for a catamaran boat tour along the Napali Coast.  You may be familiar with this scenery if you’ve ever seen Jurassic Park – much of the movie, including the scenes from the helicopter were shot from here. (Please ignore the distended stomach and matronly bathing suit…I’m hoping they both are temporary!)

Em & Nick along the Napali Coast of Kauai

All in all, it was a successful trip – personally and professionally. I am so fortunate to have such supportive colleagues that aided and encouraged me the entire time. Being able to return to work is so therapeutic for me, as it represents a sense of progress and accomplishment.  Now that it has been a month since my surgery and I’ve had a few weeks to heal, next week I’ll begin the first in a series of IV treatments to help prevent any continuous metastatic disease.  Then, at the end of summer I’ll have another PET scan to asses the current situation…fingers crossed the scans are clear and there is nothing to be seen.  I’ve had enough of this cancer thing.

A quick update

19 May

It’s been well over a month since I’ve posted any kind of news, so I figured it’s time for an update.  In the weeks since my last blog entry; I had my final chemo appointment (yay!), celebrated Easter with visiting family, enjoyed hiking through the snow before another Vegas summer sets in, concluded my spring semester teaching eager students on the intricacies of International Business Law, and of course – endured more and medical tests.

Over Easter weekend, we were so lucky to have my cousin Jill, her husband Patrick and their gregarious son Hank visit us.  It was a great weekend and Jill captured the details of it on their blog better than I could (click on the ‘photos’ and ‘blog’ tabs at the top for all the coverage)!  I don’t know of anyone more qualified to teach his refined skills and tactics on the art of picking up women than five-year old Hank – he had all the women at the pool swarming over him…it’s going to be fun to watch him grow up.

Most people don’t associate Las Vegas with an active outdoors lifestyle, but this is something that has always been important to us.  Several weekends ago, Jane and D.J. accompanied us and the dogs hiking up at Mt. Charleston – which is about a 35 miles northwest of the city.  Finding ways to stay active despite certain physical and physiological handicaps has been a priority of mine, and an uphill trek for several hours at elevations in excess of 10,000 feet was as much of an accomplishment as finishing the Fool’s Five Race.  We captured the hike with a bunch of photos – as usual – and upon reviewing them, I couldn’t help but think of the same hike we had taken four years prior.  It’s amazing to think what can happen in just four years time and everything we’ve experienced.  While it feels like we’ve weathered through the battle of the century, I’m proud that we’ve been able to maintain the same strength and composure as a time in our lives with much less stress and burden.

Family Hike - 2011

Family Hike - 2007

Most recently, Nick and I spent some time with presidential candidate Ron Paul.  While I have no intent on turning this into a politically-driven blog, it was a compelling experience that surpassed any economics lecture I ever had throughout college or grad school.

Campaigning with Congressman Ron Paul

This weekend we’re looking forward to another house call from our favorite doctors – my cousin Jessie and her boyfriend Dante.  We had a blast when they visited last summer, and I couldn’t think of a better way to de-stress on my last weekend before surgery than with them…stay tuned!

An evening to remember

19 Nov

It often feels like we live in a world where one has to dig deep to be reminded that there are still kindhearted, generous and caring people.  When you turn on the television or open a newspaper, we are quickly reminded of the ongoing housing crisis, are witness to political smear campaigns, or learn that Brett Favre is once again dealing with another injury.  Through my battle, however, I haven’t had to look far at all, as the amount of love and support that has been pouring in has been incredible.  The cards, flowers and emails I receive from friends, family members, and even people I don’t know is overwhelming – in a good way.  Another example, is the benefit dinner that my amazing friend Allison Luse is putting on for me tomorrow night, Saturday, November 20th at the Fireside Lounge at Camerata Park in St. Louis Park.

Always a go-getter, Al can’t just sit back and watch when someone is struggling…and my case was no different.  Allison held nothing back when she was organizing the festivities for tomorrow night.  The evening will be catered with a great dinner, feature Ruth Bachman as a keynote speaker, a silent auction, and best of all, a Zoolander-inspired dance off competition.  I can’t even begin to explain how much this means to me that she did this.

An Evening in Support of Emily Ihrke Akerberg

Thank you Al, and to everyone else who is coming together to make this an incredible evening.  While I am bummed I will not be able to physically be there, I’m hoping to be able to join in via Skype to say hello!  It is always neat to see people join forces on someone’s behalf…never in a million years did I imagine that it would be on my behalf.

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…


13 Jul

It may sounds weird, however despite a diagnosis like this, I cannot help to feel blessed.  Let me count the ways…

I am blessed to be surrounded by such amazing family and friends.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I cannot believe the overwhelming support that has come from people that I am surrounded by on a daily basis, as well as those whom I have not been in contact with for ages.  It is an incredible feeling to be in so many people’s thoughts and prayers, and for that I am forever grateful.  I can’t help but imagine going through something like this under different circumstances, for example with no family or support, or as a single parent working several jobs to support a family, or without health insurance.  The fact that I do not fall into any of these categories while attempting this fight let’s me know I am extremely blessed.

This past weekend was the first weekend after starting chemo and radiation so I took it easy and enjoyed the absence of radiation beams aimed at my rear end!  On Saturday, Jane and I spent the afternoon shopping (something I often refer to as self-medicating).  On Sunday I met up with Carrie and Chase for a morning walk and we even got rained on a bit, which was a rare occurrence!  On Sunday evening, Nick and I enjoyed dinner at Ryan and Fabiana’s.  But this was no ordinary dinner…Ryan prepared a dish specifically in accordance to my prescribed low-residue diet.  Being it was a hot summer evening, he whipped up a pot of Williams-Sonoma Chilled Cucumber Soup.  How’s that for amazing friends?!

Chef Ryan

And lastly, I could not recap the weekend without sharing a photo of the kids.  It’s fascinating how intuitive dogs can be, and I can surely tell that they know something is going on – they have been so attentive and compassionate lately.  You may have heard of dogs being used for healing and/or companion purposes.  The cancer center I go to for my treatments believes in the power of this type of therapy and every Tuesday brings in a dog to visit all the patients receiving chemo – love it!  Denali and Naya are actually registered service animals (long story, and if you have to ask, get my version, not Nick’s!) and it is my goal to have them accompany me to one of my appointments before I am done…stay tuned!

Just what the doctor ordered

5 Jul

This past Fourth of July weekend marked the last weekend before my chemo and radiation treatment begins on Wednesday.  Originally Nick and I had plans to attend my college friend’s wedding in Santa Barbara (Congrats Brynn & Dan!), however this trip was canceled when the C-bomb was dropped and treatment was initially slated to start last week.  Anyways, I was super excited when I received news that my cousin Jessie and her boyfriend Dante were coming to visit for the weekend!

For those who don’t know Jessie, we were born just two days apart and grew up spending a few weeks each summer together when she would visit from California with her parents, Carol and Norb. Our nicknames were Rough and Ready!  We share countless childhood memories together and I managed to rustle up an old photo that depicts this quite well.

Jessie and Emily discover the joy of shaving cream!

Jess and I have remained very close throughout the years and she is now an anesthesiologist in Chicago. With the abundance of doctors visits I’ve had lately, she has been an incredible resource to confide in an get a layman’s explanation when things get a bit technical.

The weekend flew by and we had a blast shopping, dining, spending time poolside and taking in some fireworks out at Lake Las Vegas.  Overall, it was the perfect prescription to conclude a stressful week; not to mention I felt uber safe being in the constant company of not one but two doctors (Dante is also an anesthesiologist).  Thanks Jess and Dante for an amazing weekend – we enjoyed having you!

Jane, D.J., Em, Nick, Dante and Jessie

On a final note, I just wanted to wish my mom a happy birthday.  She, like others around me, has been an amazing pillar of strength throughout this entire process and I am incredibly thankful for that!  Love you Mom…

Thank you, thank you, thank you

2 Jul

Words cannot even begin to describe the incredible support I have received these first few weeks since the word cancer entered our daily vocabulary…simply unbelievable.  From phone calls to letters to prayer chains and beyond, it has been nothing short of overwhelming.There was one very special gift I received that I wanted to share…my own personal music video!  That’s right, my cousin Hank is a budding musical genius and as you can tell from this video we will soon be seeing him as a regular on Glee – check it out (may need to let buffer so video can fully load)!

The power of information

24 Jun

Learning I had cancer was a very difficult piece of information to internalize, but I kept reminding myself that nothing had really changed…it’s just that I actually knew the diagnosis now.  My symptoms hadn’t increased or worsened upon learning I had cancer; I don’t all of a sudden look frail, weak and balding. In actuality it’s something that I’ve probably had for a while and now just found out about it.  I continue to remind myself of this and not let the new found information control me.  I’m no sicker today than the day before receiving the phone call – it’s just that I am now armed with a diagnosis…as well as a game plan!

To continue reinforcing and ingraining this point in my head, I am insisting on leading as normal of a life as possible.  So last weekend when Nick suggested we go golfing, I was the first to volunteer to be his caddy!  What most of you probably don’t know is that caddying was my very first foray into the workplace.  My friend Anna and I were hired as caddies at the Golden Valley Country Club when we were just 13 years old.  My first (and only) client was the former CEO of Dayton-Hudson’s department stores.  An older man in his late 70s, he did nothing but compliment the job I was doing and reminisce about his favorite poet with whose name I shared – Emily Dickinson.  I didn’t remain a caddy long simply because I never developed the passion for the game like others did.  In my mind, it required too much patience, too much etiquette, wasn’t fast-moving, and wasn’t a contact sport.  Others have a different opinion.  If you ask Nick, he’ll tell you it’s the perfect thing to do while drinking and smoking and walking around on expensive real estate!

(Sidenote: Yes, it was 112 degrees on this day however Nick insists that golfers with true respect for the game will always wear pants – never shorts.  I, on the other hand, saw this as a multi-tasking opportunity to work on my tan and managed to get away with a miniskirt and tube top!)