Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Caregiver Guide - Thank you, Cellmates!

I am so very thankful for all the love and support that has come our way since I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Everything, and I do mean every single gesture of kindness has meant the world to me and Steve (and the kids, even though, they don't quite understand why).  

When I've had the opportunity to spend time with people, whether it be in person or on the phone, Skype, gchat, etc. I was often asked what can they do to help during my chemo and radiation.  And some also ask, what shouldn't I do, what wouldn't be helpful?

So, I thought I'd offer you, from my experience, what you might consider doing (and not doing) if you ever are faced with supporting someone through cancer.

Let's start with the "think before you speak" stuff first.  Remember, every single person and the cancer that is in his or her body is different.  Diagnoses and treatments are truly all over the place these days.  Often times when people ask me about my cancer, it's natural for them to want to talk about a friend, family member, etc. that "had what you had."  I completely understand the need to do this, it's that urge to feel helpful that drives the telling of someone else's story, but by doing so, the conversation shifts away from the person standing in front of you...the person living with cancer in that moment.

When it comes to the desire to feed your friend, check first, the fridge and freezer can only hold so many lasagnas and really, who needs their children hyped up on the 6th dozen of cookies.  Also, be mindful of sending flowers.  I love them, but volunteering at the hospital has shown me that allergies or unexpected sensitivities can happen when your whole immune system is compromised. 

Now onto what I found beneficial to my journey.  I am so very thankful for getting gifts of all shapes and sizes and I know that many of these gifts also helped Steve tremendously.

1)  Mail:  I love getting texts, e-mails, Facebook posts, but snail mail offers a little something extra.  Greeting cards are just such an awesome pick-me-up.  This is a recent favorite of mine...

Inside it reads, "A friend like me would be in the next cell."  I have cards posted throughout the house and some have traveled with me to chemo.  Receiving mail has helped me to not only feel loved, but remembered.  

2)  Time:  The amount of time I have spent driving to, waiting in and receiving treatments in medical facilities equates to a job.  I was fortunate to have my mother join me for many of those hours and I know it helped - she can keep me laughing in just about any situation.  When a friend of ours offered some specific ideas and time frames for when she could come and take the kids off our hands, that was really helpful.  She took the pressure off of us trying to decide how to figure all that out.  That was such a great gift, being offered something specific and feeling empowered to accept that help.

3) Convenience:  Being provided meals was definitely helpful (again, offer something specific to see if it's needed).  Grocery gift cards and restaurant gift cards (ones with good carry-out/delivery service are nice) gave us flexibility as I became stronger and my appetite started to return to normal.  Also, it helped to feel "normal" to take the restaurant gift cards and have some family time out too.

4)  Comfort:  Something I have found to be rather common with cancer patients is that we take lots of baths during chemo.  I have received all kinds of wonderful bath salts, bombs, and moisturizing bubble baths.; lotions, lip balms, really anything that will help keep the skin moisturized is welcome.  As I was losing my hair, my head was quite sensitive.  I was fortunate that there were various free knit hats available to me at my doctor's office - they helped soothe my balding head at night.

My journey began on April 24, 2014 and as of January 21, 2015, I have completed the major milestones of surgeries, multiple scans and biopsies, chemo, and radiation.  July 9th is my next target date as that will be my last Herceptin infusion date.  I couldn't have managed this full-time job without the love and support of family and friends (old and new).

Thank you so much and know that I continue to fight each day knowing you are in that cell next to me.

Love, Gin

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Daily Gin is 1 year old

I've been having trouble today - or maybe it's today's date.  I felt pretty hopeful and content on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, but now that it's January 2nd, the reality of the new year and all the expectations I have for it are overwhelming me.

I had my infusion treatment today and sitting for a couple of hours, attached to an IV snaps you right back into your current existence; kind of ruined the YMCA-Uptown Funk-New Year's vibe I had going.  So, I'm not the best person to be around today.  Jack came into the bedroom saying, "Mom, we haven't seen you in awhile" and although I simply said to him, "yeah, I'm not feeling so great", I thought to myself, "mom is not in today."

I started this blog one year ago - January 1, 2014.

I said on that first post, "I write this blog with the hopes that a new year will inspire me to write about the important moments and catalysts that helped me get to my 40th year and share the new stories that hopefully get me 40 more years."

As I read this sentence, I just shook my head and laughed out loud; that sentence makes life and what you write about it sound so simple. Of course, it isn't.  Life is full of all kinds of messy unexpected complications and interruptions.

As my health was getting worse, I was really nervous about writing the blog.  I felt conflicted about what to write.  The Gin one year ago had an entirely different plan and now, this Gin, is living in an alternate universe with a uncharted course ahead of her.

Reflecting on this past year, I can (usually) recognize how much I (and Steve, Jack and Anna) have been through and accomplished.  It's a weird feeling to accomplish something you never wanted to do - no one really plans on having a cancer to-do list.

It's every accomplishment, no matter how big or small, that I know I need to be proud and thankful for.

So, I'm glad I kept writing and I thank you for reading.

I am also thankful for the Fredericksburg Parent & Family magazine for adding me as a blogger this year. Please check it out at http://www.fredericksburgparent.net/blogs/pink-ribbon-journey

Here goes year #2 - the toddler years.  Happy 2015.  Be kind to one another.