Saturday, July 26, 2014

Making Lemonade

A close family friend sent me a card that read, "Sometimes, when life hands you lemons, you don't feel like making lemonade."  This card is now sitting prominently among other cards that have, shall we say, more inspiring, positive messages because I need to be reminded that it's o.k. to not be o.k. with this whole cancer thing. I don't have to be positive all the time and sometimes, the lemons come when you least expect them.

As we continue to figure out our new normal, my mom comes to help on the days I have doctor's appointments. My main appointment this week was focused on blood work to make sure my system was handling the chemo and Herceptin so that we could move forward with an every 3 week chemo schedule. This was to be a quick appointment at 10:45am, so I decided it would be a good time to introduce Jack to the oncology center (Anna has dropped me off with Steve before).  The office was beyond busy and I didn't get called in until 11:45am.  My anxiety was high as I was just waiting for my kids to start running laps in the center.  But, my mother, God Bless Her, had Jack and Anna entertained, fed, and content during the visit. She has that Mary Poppins' bag where things just keep coming out of it that are simply magical to children.

So, feeling good about passing my blood work test (next chemo is August 7) and that the kids were comfortable during the office visit, I say let's go to lunch (yummy Strawberry Lemonade was consumed) and do a little shopping.  The kids' good behavior continues and my mom and I set our sights on some back-to-school shopping.  We found a Famous Footwear with a Kohl's next door.  Just as I walked into the shoe store, I clumsily bumped into a display, within minutes, I was pretty dizzy sitting on the floor telling my mom to grab the Hello Kitty shoes in a "there's no time, save yourself" kind of fashion.  My body went into complete fight or flight mode and I grabbed Jack, ran out and headed to the Kohl's flip-flops...with a 6-year-old boy asking me if I'm going to make it.

The movie Bridesmaids has an epic scene where the entire bridal party gets food poisoning while at the bridal gown salon; in that moment at Kohl's, I'm Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, and Melissa McCarthy all rolled into one.  What had been a fun, calm 3 hours turned into a panic-filled literal crap-fest.  Of course, Jack didn't really understand what was happening to me and of course, he wanted his Granny because she could get him out of that bathroom!  All I could say to Jack was, "I'm sorry and it will be o.k." while all I could think was, "WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME!?!" along with my sailor-special expletives.

My mother occupied the kids in the toy section while I collected myself so that hopefully we could make our way home.  Walking to the car, it was like an immediate flash, Jack started to misbehave and not listen to instructions.  It doesn't take too long for Anna to follow suit.  Lemons everywhere.

We didn't make it home.  I got to check out the nice, clean bathrooms in the new Sheetz Convenience Gas Mart. Great. This leads my mom to suggest that perhaps I should map out all the clean restrooms in Fredericksburg.

Lemonade everywhere.

Friday, July 11, 2014

"Five Hundred, Twenty Five Thousand, Six Hundred Minutes"

Ever since meeting my oncologist in Fredericksburg yesterday and receiving my 52 week chemotherapy plan, I can't get that iconic Rent song, "Seasons of Love" out of my head.  "How do you measure, measure a year?"  It's quite an odd feeling to know that I have a group of people, a great team of caring doctors and nurses, looking for me every Thursday for the next 52 weeks.  And then, after one year, they will continue to treat me with radiation and anti-hormonal therapy.  I knew that my treatment plan would be a long road, but seeing it with actual dates was just another step of embracing my identity as a cancer patient.  I feel like I owe myself a new luggage set - is there a registry for this type of thing?

I really love my doctor because he knows his stuff, but he dropped Harry Connick, Jr.'s name to discuss my type of cancer with me.  Any doctor that will put the mental picture of a handsome man like that in my anxious-filled mind gets an A in my book.

I have Stage IIB Adjuvant Invasive Ductive Carcinoma, HER2-positive breast cancer.  Clinicians describe HER2-positive breast cancer "as a breast cancer that tests positive for a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), which promotes the growth of cancer cells."  Not that long ago, women like me were given much lower odds in chances that the cancer wouldn't come back and thus lower chances of survival.  Thanks to a UCLA researcher, Dr. Dennis Slamon (played by Harry Connick, Jr. in the movie, Living Proof), the ground-breaking drug Herceptin was developed to reduce the aggressive nature of this cancer-producing protein.  I was amazed and grateful to learn that because of funding from the cosmetic giant Revlon and the famous "Fire and Ice" ball started by Lilly Tartikoff, wife of NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff, who died of cancer in 1997, Herceptin was made possible.

So, how do you measure a year?  I guess I'll take it a week at a time and see how it goes.  I think a trip to LA, with my new luggage set, sounds good to me ;-)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Granny, LuLu, Anna, and Me

I think it's safe to say that organizing our move from Massachusetts to Virginia was stressful enough and then, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, we were faced with the emotional toll that brought, but the reality of how all my appointments and procedures would impact our ability to move as scheduled.

Steve and I went to our house closing at 9am on Friday, June 27th and at 11:30am that same morning, I was informed by my oncologist that the team felt I was good to go and that my team of doctors down south were ready to take over my treatment.  I really can't thank my Boston doctors enough for their swift and smart decision-making.  Yes, I'm still scared as hell as to what lies ahead, but when I think about the professionals I have fighting this shitty thing called cancer with me, I re-focus on the good stuff that life has to offer.  Or, the funny things in life that you can't make up like traveling roughly 500 miles with your mom, your 3-year-old daughter, and your 16-year-old, crazy cat, LuLu.

We had LuLu checked out and boarded during the time that we had to deal with the movers, house closing, etc.  I was shocked, as many who know her were, that she got a complete clean bill of health from her vet.  I know it sounds horrible, but because LuLu has been less than kind to us with her bathroom habits, we thought maybe the time had come for us to part ways due to renal/kidney issues.  My mother, who is beyond sainthood at this point for all that she has done for me and my family, has agreed to have LuLu live with her. It was quite sweet to hear how my mom was thinking about giving her one of the bedrooms with a bathroom so that LuLu would feel safe (she liked being under beds and in bathtubs).  Then, my mom spent time with her...

We began our adventure towards Virginia and LuLu's meows only got worse over time, the chick is pretty strong for only 9 pounds - that cage was rocking!  Anna thought she was hungry, angry, or missed her daddy.  Eventually, Anna decided to join in and you couldn't decipher who was groaning more.  O.K. time to get out of the car.  We stopped in Bethel, CT and was unlucky at our first 2 stops to find a vacancy/accept pets place.  Then, we found what I'm sure is the smallest HoJo's ever - it had quite the hostel feel, we were meeting people from Germany, Portugal.  It was our own little World Cup village!

As soon as we got into the room, I knew to check under the bed with the hopes they had those blockers to prevent you losing small items, which they did.  So, I got LuLu set-up and let her explore the room and she did well with her litter box and eating her food.  We all got a good night's sleep and woke up wondering, where's LuLu?

Wouldn't you know there was a small 4x4 hole at the headboard that she stuffed herself into?  My mom had to move two dressers (one had a safe in it) and I had to borrow a broom to poke her out, which worked, but then she got away from us, so the second time, I just had to go for it and pull her out like a mama cat would do.  The amount of adrenalin running between my mom and I was unbelievable - we've never needed iced coffee more.  Thank goodness for that well placed Dunkin Donuts drive-thru next door.

My mother, enjoying her iced coffee, calmly said, "basement it is LuLu".  A quiet meow was uttered from the back seat; she was pretty docile for the rest of the morning drive.  We had a lunch picnic at a rest area and brought her carrier outside with us.  Upon seeing what was out there in the real world (people, trucks, dogs, and lots of noise), she seemed perfectly content to be in her carrier; we didn't hear from her for the rest of the trip.

I got all of LuLu's essentials set-up in the basement, knowing she would have all kinds of places to hide, I just kept checking the litter box and food/water bowls to make sure she was o.k.  Of course, she was fine, she was finally living where no one would ever bother her.  On Tuesday, the third day, she showed herself to me, talked to me as if to say, "you are never doing that to me again" and went right back to her hiding place. That's o.k., I know I'll get to pet her at some point - she's still got a little kitty cat in her. ;-)