Category Archives: Chemo

How Did I Make Sense Of Everything?

Laura's Journey Notebook

How did I make sense of everything?  I didn’t.  There is no sense to cancer or any other illness.  However, I did organize all information and take charge of my journey.  If I had to be on this journey, I was going to be informed.

Chemo Education

Before you start chemo, you have to attend Chemo Education.  I had never heard of Chemo Education.  Chemo Education is scheduled with a nurse.  My nurse was the sweet nurse from Dr. Wonderful’s office.  I am going to refer to the Hematologist-Oncologist/Chemo Doctor as Dr. Wonderful. Doug, my husband, went with me to Chemo Education.  The clinic suggests that you bring at least one of your caregivers.  I had my calendar with note paper in the back and I was ready to take notes.

The nurse went on to explain…

1. 4 weeks of AC chemo every other week… with this chemo you may experience the following side effects… sores in your mouth, loss of nails, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, body aches and pain and you will lose your hair.  This chemo was known as the red devil.  After each cycle of this chemo, you will need Neupogen shots. (Neupogen shots stimulate the production of white blood cells. The shots will be needed between 5-7 days after each treatment.  It depends on results from lab work.)

2. 4 cycles of Taxol and Herceptin  (No extra shots with this chemo. YAY!)  With this chemo, you will experience the same side effects as the AC chemo.   Your hair will not begin to grow back until this chemo is out of your system.

****Everyone responds differently to chemo. The nurse did say to eat protein and foods that contain potassium.  Also, the acrylic nails must come off immediately.  (I loved my nails.  As an Assistant Principal, I would attend meetings at school and at the district level and I liked for my nails to look nice.)

Information Overload and How to Organize It All

As I returned home with handfuls of information, I realized that I needed to organize all of this information so I could find it as needed.  I had a couple of small piles already…. chemo info, notes from two doctors and my mammogram and CT report. I decided to organize the information in a 3 ring binder.

I set up the notebook according to the following categories:

1. Meds

2. Doctor’s visits – I took notes at every conversation with each doctor, filed it by date in the notebook and put a copy of the notes and the lab reports in a plastic sleeve.

3. Copies of all Test…CT Scans, PET Scans, MUGA Scan, Pathology Reports, Echocardiogram, etc…

4. Miscellaneous Information

I took my notebook and calendar to every visit.  I had questions written ahead of time so that I didn’t forget anything.  As I sat in the chemo chair receiving the infusion of chemo, I organized my notebook.  When I got my very first chemo, my nurse, Jerry, asked me what my notebook was for and I told him that I take notes at every doctor’s visit and ask for a copy of my chemo orders and all lab results. He replied with something like, that’s a good idea because we aren’t Jesus Christ.  We aren’t perfect.

One more tip about the organization of the notebook. In the front of the notebook, I had a 3 ring pencil pouch so that I would always have my writing tools and a 3 ring business card holder.  I kept a business card from every doctor and everyone affiliated with my treatment.

Most Importantly

The most important thing that I want you to remember is that you are in charge of your health care decisions.  You can research your doctors, be an advocate for yourself or designate an advocate.  You are more than a statistic.  You are so important to God that even the hairs on your head are all numbered. (Matthew 10:30 NIV)

Nothing about cancer makes sense.

I invite you to follow me on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/laurasjourneyofhope.

Be Blessed.

Laura

Art From The Heart

FullSizeRender (2)

I was at the clinic earlier this week and I dropped by the chemo lab to say “Hi” to the nurses. I recognized at least 5 of the nurses. They are truly caring individuals. The nurse who gave me the best advice during chemo has moved and no longer works there. That advice was “Don’t be a hero.”

I noticed that some new ceiling tiles were painted. I found out that cancer patients and their families painted all of the ceiling tiles. When I was getting my chemo treatments, I sat in a recliner with my feet up and listened to my praise and worship music.  When I opened my eyes I was staring at the ceiling, a ceiling of ‘art from the heart’. What an inspiration!

FullSizeRender (3)

IMG_0280

FullSizeRender (6)

IMG_0279

Ring The Bell

During my visit, a patient completed her last chemo and got to ring the bell.

RINGING OUT Ring this bell Three times well A toll to clearly say My treatment is done This course is run And I am on my way
RINGING OUT
Ring this bell
Three times well
A toll to clearly say
My treatment is done
This course is run
And I am on my way

I had tears in my eyes as her husband took pictures of her ringing the bell and pictures of her with the nurses.

I remember that chapter in my life…that feeling of relief.  As I moved to the next chapter in my life, I became more grateful and thankful.

Now I am going to add a ceiling tile to the collection of ‘Art From The Heart’.

Be Blessed.

Laura

Where Did My Eyelashes Go?

Not My Eyelashes...
Not My Eyelashes…

“Where did my eyelashes go?” I literally said this out loud just last week.  I was getting ready to meet one of my Origami Owl Jewelry Bars (party) hostesses and set up her party.  I was putting on my mascara and when I got to my right eye, I had a clump of eyelashes missing.  Obviously, the picture is not of me.

With all of the help for breast cancer survivors, why isn’t anyone concerned about eyelashes? As I have noticed over the 5 years since chemo, my eyebrows have thinned out, too. I see all of these tips in magazines for making your eyebrows and eyelashes fuller but what if you don’t have much to work with?

I remember being so self-conscious when my eyelashes fell out during chemo. After my 4th round of Red Devil Chemo, (Adriamycin), my eyelashes were gone and I did my best to compensate with eyeliner. I wore glasses so it wasn’t incredibly noticeable but I knew it.  I am 5 years out from that beast of a chemo (Red Devil) and thankful to be here.

Okay…my view/opinion about breast cancer… the very hormone, estrogen, that defines you as a woman ends up globbing together with other estrogen cells to become breast cancer. So the very hormone that makes you a woman, trys to kill you, and the treatment robs you of your hair, eyelashes, eyebrows and so much more. I hope you can infer that I find this entire concept, hideous, outrageous and unacceptable. However, I can’t change that so I will only give it this small paragraph.

Just wondering…we have the option to cover our scares with tattoos and some tattoo artist provide that service for free.  We’ve come a long way.

Just what about eyelashes and eyebrows. Can’t somebody help? Would a company step up and donate services to breast cancer survivors to donate eyelashes and free makeovers at least once a month?

Maybe, we will find a solution before someone else asks, ‘Where did my eyelashes go?”

I invite you to follow me on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/laurasjourneyofhope.

Be Blessed.

Laura

What Does ‘Be Still’ Mean?

There are at least two verses where the Psalmist is telling us to ‘be still before the Lord.’

  • Psalm 46:10 …Be still and know that I am God…
  • and Psalm 37:7 … Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him;…
Powerful verse that continues to encourage me.
Powerful verse that continues to encourage me.

My Thinking

This tells me to ‘hush, hush, hush…Laura’. Hush your mind. Hush the negative voices in your head and stop trying to figure it all out. It’s up to me (God) to figure it out for you.

What God is trying to tell me

‘I am the Lord your God…I’m the one who made you. I’m the one who knows the number hairs on your head, before and after chemo. I’m (God) the one who’s here for you. I’m the one who has hope for you. I am here to give you good. I am here to see you through the hard times…so just be stillJust be still, Laura.

Just be still and let me (God) do my work. You don’t have to figure it all out on your own. You are not on your own. You have me (God) to rely on. You don’t have to plan 5 steps ahead.’

Me the ‘A’ Type Person

You see …I am an ‘A’ type personality and I like to set goals, especially career goals.  I’m going to get my Masters by 2002, become an Assistant Principal within 3 years and then a Principal within 4-5 years. But these verses always brings me back to my center. It’s all about God’s plan not mine.

I have learned through various life experiences, parenting teenagers and through cancer that God never gives us more than we can handle, even though it doesn’t feel that way to us when we are going through the hard times.

Be still and know that HE is God.  He has it all under control.

I invite you to follow me on FB @ http://www.facebook.com/laurasjourneyofhope.

Be Blessed.

Life After Treatment

starner12 (2)

Life after treatment is all about being a survivor.  Just recently I was able to embrace being a survivor.  I guess it was easier to pretend things didn’t happen but I’m reminded every day when I look in the mirror.  I have 11 physical scars that I have learned to embrace.  My scars do not define me but I have used them to refine me.  Almost every day I am asked, ” How did you do it?”  The honest answer to that is…I have a strong faith in God and I refused to become a victim.  Does that mean I was never sad or never had a bad day? Oh no! I had my moments but then I focused my attention on the fact that I was still standing. My girls were at pivotal transitions in their lives and I was at an important place in my career.  I had goals to attain and I certainly wasn’t going to let cancer keep me from achieving my goals.

Even today, there are difficult moments.  One is during the week before my mammogram and even while I’m sitting in the Woman’s Center. I’m fidgety like a race horse about to be put in the starting gate.  There are so many memories associated with the Women’s Center, surgical center, hospital and chemo lab.

Since my initial treatment, I’ve had a couple of biopsies that thankfully have been benign. I had a tricky lymph node in the left axilla, which was not the original area, that kept lighting up on the PET Scan.  So, I had a partial lymph node dissection on the left axilla as a precaution.

The most important message I want to tell you is that life is a gift.  Am I breathing? Yes! Then, I have a purpose and responsibility to go on.  Life goes on!  I have a responsibility to live every day with a smile on my face because I am a survivor.  Generations before me went through clinical trials so that I could benefit from Red Devil Chemo, Taxol, Herceptin, Arimidex and Femara.

Life goes on and I choose to be happy and …LIVE!

I invite you to follow me @ http://www.facebook.com/laurasjourneyofhope.

Be Blessed.

Laura

 

Radiation Is Over…So What Now

(All of my blogs are exclusively my experience.  I am not a medical professional. This is my interpretation of my journey.)

1460010_265035113645463_1222960017_n

By the time I was scheduled to see Dr. Wonderful (Hematologist-Oncologist), radiation was over and I came through it with minimal side effects.

What’s next…

Dr. Wonderful immediately started me on a chemo pill, Arimidex.  The initial plan was to take it for 5 years as long as my bones, bone density and joints would allow.

Arimidex is a type of hormone therapy known as an Aromatase Inhibitor. How does Anastrozole work? Breast cancer is stimulated to grow by female hormones: estrogen and progesterone. Anastrozole (Arimidex) works to block the effects of the female hormones.

Okay…my view… the very hormone, estrogen, that defines you as a woman ends up globbing together with other estrogen cells to become breast cancer. So the very hormone that makes you a woman, trys to kill you. I hope you can infer that I find this entire concept, hideous, outrageous and unacceptable. However, I can’t change that so I will only give it this small paragraph.

I started Arimidex in October of 2009 and I was a trooper. I kept taking it even though it took a toll on my body:

  • By the end of the 12 hour workday, I could barely walk.
  • By Friday or Saturday, I hurt so bad that I could literally feel pain from every cell in my skin and it hurt.
  • It felt like someone was peeling my skin off.

With that said, I would take to the couch with my pain meds and heating pad.

Actually, compared to others, my symptoms were minimal. Four years into the medication, I spoke to Dr. Wonderful and she switched me to Femara in October of 2013. Femara is in the same category of medicine. It’s purpose is to block estrogen.  Even though October 2014 was my 5 year point, I still take Femara.  As long as it doesn’t effect my bone density, joints and ability to function, I will take it.

I am blessed because I was diagnosed with ER+ breast cancer so I have an additional chemo pill to block that estrogen.  I am too blessed to be stressed!  I’m alive so it’s a good day!

I invite you to follow me @ http://www.facebook.com/laurasjourneyofhope.

Be Blessed!

Laura

 

Caregivers Need Care

Me with my wonderful husband at Paige's wedding, January2010
Me with my wonderful husband at Paige’s wedding, January2010

My definition of the caregiver…

A caregiver is the person who…

  • changes his/her work schedule to drive you to chemo (my mom)
  • ensures you take your anti-nausea medicine when you are so sick from chemo/surgery that you just don’t care
  • ensures you eat a little protein when you can’t taste a thing because protein rebuilds cells
  • sits hours upon hours at doctor’s appointments, chemo labs, hospitals and pharmacies
  • prepares menus for your family when you can’t
  • stands by when you got to the bathroom to make sure you don’t pass out or start heaving your guts up
  • gives you Neupogen shots at home (in my case, my daughter became a nurse a few days before my diagnosis.)
  • greets guest with a smile while you put your wig on
  • thanks visitors for the food and explains that you just can’t see them today
  • moves from out-of-state to stay with you as long as possible (mother-in-law)
  • pretends to never see your bald head because you would just cry if you knew the truth (my wonderful husband)
  • gives up softball because of the need at home, even though a scholarship is possible (my youngest daughter in her senior year)
  • buys groceries because you are not allowed to go to the store, per Dr’s orders
  • assumes the coordination of all school functions
  • cleans the house, folds laundry, does dishes…when you can’t
  • watches you go through ‘hell’ and tells you that you look great
  • sprays Lysol in your office every day when you leave (Monica, Principal’s’ Secretary)
  • makes pink curtains for your office (Monica, Principal’s’ Secretary)
  • hold’s a Pink Celebration (RBW Staff)

Caregivers need to have someone to talk to when they feel overwhelmed. They need plenty of rest, a break now and then, to have an outlet or to join a support group, if possible. For example:

  • if a husband is caring for his wife, his buddies need to take him out for a guys night, football game or just get away for a few hours
  • if a wife is caring for her husband, her friends need to plan a girls night out
  • the same if a parent is caring for a child…aunts, uncles, friends need to come over and take turns so that the primary caregiver can have a break

Cancer has the ability to interrupt so many lives.  Don’t let it.   Don’t give away your power! Cancer does not have to control your life. The power in living comes when you keep your schedule and routine.

I invite you to follow me @ http://www.facebook.com/laurasjourneyofhope.

Be Blessed!

Laura

We Danced In The Rain

The day Paige found 'the dress'.
The day Paige found ‘the dress’.

In the middle of my chemo treatments, my eldest daughter, Paige got engaged to be married.  It was a very exciting distraction in the middle of the chaos.

Wedding Plans Begin

Before we knew it, we found ourselves in the middle of June and I was recovering from two surgeries.  I was not working due to the surgeries and Paige had a few days off from work.  We were determined to plan the wedding.

Paige found a dress in the spring and that detail was already taken care of.  All she needed to do now was to arrange for alterations.  She was getting married in January 2010 and her wedding colors were navy and white.  We added a splash of silver to the invitations and the wedding favors.

The challenge was to find a venue large enough for 300 guests.  The maximum capacity of the wedding chapel was 300.  The guest lists needed to be adjusted to meet that number.  We made several phone calls and talked to many friends for recommendations for flowers, photographers and invitations.  After we narrowed down our list, we began to schedule appointments.

In 3 days, we visited and secured the chapel, reception venue, florist, linens, invitations, photographer and the cake.  Deposits were made and all we had left to do was to work on the other details: favors, music, programs and menu cards.

Road Trip

The most memorable trip was when Paige drove me 67 miles to the company that would supply and set up the linens.  With surgical drains in place and the special wrap that resembled a tight tube top to hold the drains in place, I gingerly got in and out of her car.  I put on my make up and favorite wig and we set out to find the linens distributor.  We put the address in the GPS and off we went.  It began to rain so hard that we could barely see the road and it felt like she hit every pothole on the road.  With each bump, I had pain in each side where the surgical drains were held by a couple of stitches.  We got lost, we laughed and had the best time.  Eventually, we found the linen vendor and we were able to make all of the arrangements in one trip.  We literally were ‘dancing in the rain’.

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s learning to dance in the rain.”

I invite you to follow me on Facebook @ http://www.facebook.com/laurasjourneyofhope

Be Blessed!

An Unbelievable Report

It was unbelievable news!
It was unbelievable news!

A few days before my surgery, the breast surgeon ordered an ultrasound of my right breast and right axilla, under arm, so she could know the progress I had made with chemotherapy. I went to the Women’s Center and sat down until it was my turn.  When I was called, I changed into the robe and sat in the next waiting room. All of the ladies sat there awkwardly and tried not to stare at each other.  Then my name was called and I walked down the hall to the another waiting room.  One thing I have learned through all of these medical appointments is that you hurry up to get there and wait.

Finally, I was called to the room where the ultrasound would take place.  I recognized the technician.  She was the one who was guiding the ultrasound machine during my biopsy.  I laid down on the table and she began the ultrasound of the right breast, snapping pictures rapidly and then on to the right axilla (under arm) where she took even more pictures rapidly.

The Ultrasound

Our conversation went like this:

Tech – You must have had some good chemo.

Me – Chemo and prayer

Tech – Yeah, that positive thinking, meditation and prayer stuff works to help people remain positive through this.

….and she walked out of the room to talk to the doctor

Doctor – Do you remember us?  We did your biopsy.

Me – Yes, I remember you.

Doctor – You have made good progress.  Your tumors were very large and they have significantly changed.

Me – I believe in prayer and miracles.

The doctor just looked at me and finished writing her notes.  They both left the room and I got dressed.

My Response

When I got to my car, I just sat there and cried tears of joy.  Just a few weeks ago I was fussing at God for having to go through this and now I was overwhelmed with thankfulness.  I was not deserving of His grace.  I called Doug and told him the good news and explained that I was crying tears of joy.  I sat there at least 10 minutes to regain my composure.

I knew that I would have good results from the surgery and this was just the confirmation that I needed.  God is so good!

I invite you to follow me on Facebook @ http://www.facebook.com/laurasjourneyofhope

Be Blessed.

Graduation Celebration Week

My last Taxol/Herceptin chemo was May 5, 2009.  I was going to the chemo lab for weekly Herceptin infusions but at least I could drive myself and schedule those after work. I had three weeks to regain my strength before Kelsey’s graduation week.

The week of May 25th was very busy:

  • Tuesday, May 26th  – Baccalaureate Service
  • Wednesday, May 27th – Cheri, sister-in-law, arrived from New Mexico
  • Thursday, May 28th – Senior Awards
  • Friday, May 29th – Graduation
  • Sunday, May 31st – Kelsey’s Graduation Party

At the Senior Awards, Kelsey received multiple honors:

  • Polk  Education Foundation Scholarship
  • National Honor Society Achievement Award
  • Certificate of Academic Excellence from the Science Department
  • The American Legion Award

WOW! We were all very surprised.  The Science Award was a unanimous vote by all of the teachers in the Science department which was a major accomplishment. Also, she was chosen for the American Legion Award because she possessed high qualities of courage, honor, leadership, patriotism, scholarship and service.  She was having a great culmination to her senior year.  She was on her way to the college of her dreams: The University of Florida. We were so very proud of her and happy for her.

Graduation L to R Me, Paige, Kelsey, Doug
Graduation
L to R
Me, Paige, Kelsey, Doug
Graduation Kelsey with Meme
Graduation
Kelsey with Meme
Graduation Kelsey with Aunt Cheryll
Graduation
Kelsey with Aunt Cheryll
Graduation L to R Nanny, Kelsey, Aunt Cheri
Graduation
L to R
Nanny, Kelsey, Aunt Cheri

On Sunday afternoon, friends and family gathered at our house to celebrate Kelsey.  Friends, former teachers and family cam from near and far.  She was overwhelmed by the show of support.  the house was full of friends, family, laughter and support.  It had been a long time since we had anyone over.  the party would not have been a success without help from my sister-in-law, Cheri.  She is the ultimate party planner and she worked her magic to make it a special day for all of us.

Kelsey From a Brave to a Gator cake decorated in high school colors and college colors
Kelsey
From a Brave to a Gator
cake decorated in high school colors and college colors

Now the focus would turn to my surgery, which was scheduled for Wednesday, June 3, 2009.

I invite you to follow me on Facebook @ http://www.facebook.com/laurasjourneyofhope

Be Blessed.