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Visited my oncologist – the fabulous Dr. Shroff – SmileyFace on Friday for a regular office visit and to have my port flushed.  I was left in the examining room for about an hour waiting for my doctor but I do not get impatient as I know sometimes the prescribed 15 minute appointments run long, particularly if she has to deliver bad news.  And Friday, as I would find out later, was a bad news day for lots of her patients but fortunately for me, I was not among them.

I feel pretty good, have a good head of returning hair, and all systems are “go” for now. If anything I am too fat.  I emerged from chemo in March with incredible aches and pains in my bones and joints so each time I worked out at the gym I couldn’t sleep for the next two days because of the pain in my lower extremities.  As a matter of fact, right before my cancer diagnosis last fall I was investigating alternatives to knee replacement surgery.

My right knee was replaced in 2009 and way back then the ortho doc told me my left knee was not far behind.  That knee surgery in 2009 was big and bad and recovery was difficult so I was actually looking at stem cell therapies that might help me avoid surgery when cancer interrupted my research.

Anyway, despite having put on weight in the past 2 months, my fabulous oncologist could not have been more supportive and encouraging.  She didn’t scold for the added weight.  In fact, she said it was great to see me so hale and hearty (or something like that).  I told her I was going to pursue left knee replacement and she gave it her blessing, encouraging me to do whatever I needed to do to feel good and get back to all my regular routines.   Those routines include regular exercise that requires fully functional knees.

After my visit with my fabulous doctor I was ushered into the chemo room so they could do my blood work and flush the port.  The oncology nurses are just so remarkable they deserve a mention here.  Throughout my four-month chemo journey,  they  delivered that toxic cocktail with great skill, cheerful support, and friendly efficiency.  They have to blend accurate nursing skills with the most elegant customer service skills, and do it with warmth and humor all day every day to folks who are at some of the lowest points of their lives.  They watch some recover, and watch others fade, and still maintain that relentless warmth.  I thank them all each time I visit, but also wanted to make it known here as I suspect many of my fellow cancer patients have had similar experiences.  If you are reading this and had a similar experience, feel free to comment.

Provided cancer stays in my rearview mirror, I will move forward with knee replacement sometime before February 28.  That is when my medical year ends so I would like to get it done this year since I have already met deductible and out-of-pocket.

For now, back to the gym I go.  I need to lose weight and build up strength in both legs which is key to quick recovery from surgery.  To that end, I am headed to the kitchen to whip up a HUGE batch of gazpacho: a crispy, cold summer soup with lots of vegetables and not many calories.

Gazpacho

https://www.yahoo.com/health/things-you-should-never-say-to-someone-who-has-cancer-93414490137.html

Crap

My life is crap and revolves around crap, My last chemo is next Friday 3/21. this chemo journey has been more than i bargained for and so much more difficult than i naively imagined.

Chemo began on Dec 13 and has continued EOW since. My treatments are on Friday but the misery begins 48 hours later and takes various forms but nearly always includes the inability to crap or, alternatively, crapping too much. Surely my stomach feels permanently distended. i have considered stabbing myself with a juice box straw just to get some relief but decided against that since that would just be another thing for BCBS to NOT cover.

My troubles with BCBS are too lenghy for a blog post so I am thinking about chronicling that in a white paper followed by a screenplay that would be turned into an Erin Go Brockovich (Happy St Pat’s Day) type film.

Back to crap, etc. I know I didn’t corner the market on chemotherapy trauma. i just share here because it is a safe haven for bitching among others who read without judgment and who may feel the same.

In addition to crap issues I have experienced twitchy legs. sleeplessness, insomnia, redundancy (wait-did i already say that?), forgetfulness,  itchy breakouts on my chest and arms, skin cracks/peels on hands and feet, neuropathy, sore throat, and of course I am bald.  But it all comes back to crap.  Nothing throughout this journey has caused me as much misery as the inability to crap or the inability to stop crapping.

At this point I am looking forward to my colonoscopy just so my GI tract can start over at zero.

oh cancer, how I loathe you.  Oh chemotherapy, how I hate you despite all the good you do. Oh former life – life before cancer – how I miss you.

As i was showering today i noticed my scalp felt like it was sunburned. It was kind of sore in spots. As i began to investigate  i realized my hair was indeed falling out. I knew it was inevitable and had been wairting for it much like you wait for the audit team or a colonoscopy. So anyway the balding is underway.
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I am still debating the wig.  I may just stick with ballcaps. I have a great selection and i love ballcaps. Today i am wearing a cap i bought at US OPEN tennis 2009. It was one of the greteast trips i have ever taken. A friend and i flew to New York and caught a Mets game,  a couple US OPEN matches and then got to see Derek Jeter’s hit to pass Gehrig. It was heavenly! We also killed time over wine and cannoli in Little Italy. Just a really good time. Travel is such a great educator as well as an excellent recreational activity.
This time last year i was in the final stages of preparing for trip to Iceland. What a difference a year makes.  But i will get well and i will make plans and i will travel again.  I need to visit Yellowstone in winter and New Mexico for balloon festival. I want to stroll Savannah and catch the ferry to Cumberland island. I want to witness the incredible tidal action in the Bay of Fundy. I’d like to visit North Captiva Island in summer and stay in a glorious mountain cabin in the Smokies maybe for Christmas. I have lots left to see and do – just might have to be patient until i am no longer a patient.
I keep telling myself that delayed is not denied.

I will prevail.

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Tomorrow is my first chemo.  Chose Friday afternoon so I can consider it my Happy Hour.  Sister is taking me and I will be wearing Depends just in case I crap my pants (dohhhh). Also placing puppy pee pads on the car seat. Semper paratis and down the hatch!

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Remember when Joey on FRIENDS said “this is a moo point – a cow’s opinion”.  Priceless.

When would I have gotten “sick” and what would that have been?  I keep going back to that question.  Obviously I had a big ole tumor that had spread a bit so when was I going to feel sick?  And what would my symptoms have been?  In the long run it truly doesn’t matter and is more of a curiosity now.  But still I wonder.

And I wonder what the genesis was and how long the cancer was parked in there.  I am a regular visitor to my docs and keep a faithful schedule of exams and checkups for all my body parts – boobs, teeth, eyes, uterus, colon, etc., so…so…so…this sneaky little bastard hid from view for some period of time that is now and will be forever unknown.  I don’t like not knowing.  Makes me feel powerless.

So cancer will be my constant companion even if I make it to remission.  Because I have read enough to know that once it identifies a host, it is most reluctant to vacate the premises permanently.   Like an extra layer of belly fat or crow’s feet or skin tags, it is just a part of my life from this point forward.  But unlike those items, it more likely an aggressive participant in my death.

I am not depressed.  I am just thinking this through at least partly because I got the lab report today from second surgery.  3 of 16 axilary Imagenodes removed were positive for cancer.  That means 13 were not (paging: Glass Half Full).  Lucky 13.

I hope those lucky 13 are not a moot point.

So my second surgery went well.  I a home and working remotely so less time to post on the blog.  Also, my mom is now at a rehab center and showing a will to get better and get home.  We are all encouraged.

Just a quick acknowledgement that my sisters are champions.  They have diligently taken great care of both me and my mother.  Not sure how they managed but they did.  I used to tease my mother asking why she didn’t stop having babies when she had me?  Why try to improve on perfection, you know?  But since it has been my younger sisters taking care of me I am finally grateful she had more children.  

This second surgery is a little more uncomfortable than first surgery.  Kind of feels like a shark took a huge bite out of my left side (as if I know what a shark bite feels like) but not taking pain pills and managing to sleep just fine.  I sleep quite a bit but I reckon that is what I am supposed to be doing right now.

Looking forward to the day I can jump on my bike and pedal away.  Soon, I hope.

Visit to breast surgeon today and I have to have more surgery.  I probably don’t have a good command of the terminology but the cancer had spread to 2 of 4 axillary nodes so I go back under the knife on November 19.

Chemo will begin about 3-4 weeks after that 2nd surgery and radiation will follow chemo.

I hope that I do not have to hear “everything happens for a reason” anytime soon.  Additionally, I hope not to hear, “you are only given what you can handle” because both of those cliches stink.

Shit happens – often without reason – and right now shit is happening to me.

And again, I am afraid.

Sherri and I first met in 1986.  We were both short-term contract employees working seasonally at Grand Canyon, AZ.  Sherri was from Minnesota while I was a Kentuckian.  We met just hours after I arrived simply because we sat beside each other at dinner and she introduced herself to me and we didn’t stop chatting for hours.

So we ended up doing a lot of hiking that summer and made plans to do a cross-canyon hike at the end of our contracts.  It was a nearly 50 mile hike from the South Rim, to the bottom of the canyon, up to the North Rim, back to the bottom and back to the South Rim.  This was an inordinately ambitious undertaking given that neither of us were seasoned hikers and didn’t really have proper equipment.  But we trained all summer, and ultimately did the 50 miles in  3 nights/4 days.    I guess that is when we proved to each other that we could travel well together.

I was her maid of honor when she got married, which was just days before i left for England to work with horses.  Time passed, lives changed, I moved a couple of times, Sherri had a couple of kids and we eventually lost track of each other.

In the summer of 2007 an interstate bridge collapsed in Minnesota.  It was a heavily traveled bridge and it collapsed during evening rush hour.  Around that same time, a sightseeing helicopter crashed while touring Grand Canyon.  Both events made me wonder about my long lost Minnesota friend so I began searching the internet.

Sherri had an unusual last name before she got married and I had a vague memory of her being a teacher.  So it didn’t take very long to find someone by her name teaching at a Catholic university in St. Paul.  I emailed.

It was indeed my old friend Sherri.  After a few cursory emails we made arrangements to chat via telephone on a sunday afternoon.  We talked for what seemed like forever, exchanging info and filling in all the missing details that accompany 20 years apart.  It was on that day that Sherri told me she had recently been diagnosed with cancer.

I held the phone so close to my ear it hurt.  And I listened to her describe the onset of symptoms, the diagnosis, the treatment, and the expected outcome.  “I know this isn’t going to kill me,” she concluded.  I accepted that.

We stayed in touch over the past few years and in early 2012 I hatched a plan to see the northern lights.  It was a bucket list item for me and I have been checking those off consistently since turning 50.  I discovered that Iceland offered excellent opportunities to witness the lights and then realized that Icelandaire offered direct flights from a regional airport about 20 minutes from my house.  I had already decided that I would probably have to make this trip on my own since it was a winter trip to one of the coldest places on the planet.   I casually mentioned it to Sherri and she immediately  interrupted me to ask if she could go with me.   DING DING DING DING DING DING!  Of course, I would welcome a good friend who loves cold weather and lives in cold weather and has mastered cold weather.  I’m a Floridian who has already forgotten everything I ever knew about snow and ice.

So, Sherri and I began making our plans.  We emailed and skyped and exchanged packing lists and all along Sherri would keep me up to date with current cancer  treatments and how she was feeling.  Always concluding with “I know this isn’t going to kill me”.  And I believed her because I had no reason not to.Image

So we planned our trip.

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