Thursday, December 30, 2010

Small Hole!

Back to see the surgeon this morning. The incision (one of three) which showed the most "ugliness" in being allergic to the "human glue" needs to be looked at again. Right now there is about a one inch hole that is maybe a half an inch wide. Twice a day I have been cleaning it -- and now I hope the surgeon has some ideas on how to make it better. The only bad thing is that I usually wait about an hour to see Dr D minimum (I have waited up to two hours). Not fun.

I hope she is close to being on time today as I am meeting a bunch of work colleagues for lunch at this cute place called "Josephines," a tea house on the Illinois side of the river. Click here for more information! I've been there tons of times with these same folks and we always have a good time. And right now I could use a good time.

We leave on Saturday for Dauphin Island, AL -- the vacation beach house we rented right on the water. This west cooast native is so looking forward to hanging out by the beach for an entire week!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

OK, the whole recovering from surgery thing is not easy. Today is probably the first day I feel close to normal though I still get pretty winded doing the simplest things (i.e. folding laundry). I saw Dr D, the surgeon, yesterday and she said that of the three incisions, one is healing perfectly, one so-so, and one was showing an allergic reaction to the human "glue" used in the incision. She cleaned all three of them and "dug out" the junk in the problem incision (which hurt like I can't describe!). So I am officially off the Percocet (yeah!) and now just taking the prescription-strength Ibuprofen.

But ... something bad happened on Christmas eve.

My very good friend Mary called me just after I had gone to bed to tell me that our friend Les had just died. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. You see, Les is more than just a friend. Like Mary, he helped me become the person I am today. When I entered St Martin's College, I was young (17 years old) and so unsure of who or what I wanted in my life. Eventually, after taking one of his poetry classes, Les became my advisor and it was partly because of him that I ended up spending almost four years living in Japan after graduating with a BA. After encouraging me as a student for four years, he didn't stop there. His letters to me after I moved to Japan were so important to me. And then when I discovered email after coming back to the states and entering grad school, he was the first person I emailed. I was stunned when moments later, he emailed me back!

Les got me through an MA program and I realized that I wanted to be him. I wanted to be a great teacher. He helped me make the hard decision to move to Mississippi (all the way across the country by myself!) to pursue a PhD and I can't tell you how many times I called him from my sad, little apartment. When I left that program to accept a tenure-track job at SWIC, he was right there supporting me. And, as you can see from the picture above, he was right there when Jim and I got married (the night before our wedding, he apparently threatened my husband with bodily harm if he ever hurt me).

For the six months I have had breast cancer, Les and I have talked more than ever since he has been going through his own struggle with cancer. But not once did I ever think he wouldn't make it. You see, if you knew Les you know that strong voice he has, that determination and kindness that simply come across in any conversation you have with him.

And now he is gone. The timing is rotten but I guess it always is. I just think it's so unfair that he had to die now. There is so much more that I would have told him if I knew that the last call was going to be it.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Well, I may have overdone it a little yesterday. Though I wasn't feeling all that great when I first got up and started moving around yesterday (can anyone say "pain"?!?!), by the afternoon I was feeling a lot better. My good pal Peggy and I had hair appointments that we had made together a few weeks ago and so I decided to go even though earlier in the day I had told Peggy and the stylist that I wasn't going to be able to make it (mostly because I couldn't walk straight without holding my stomach in). Since Braxton, the amazing stylist, still had the space open, I went ahead and left the house for the first time since I came back from the hospital (Peggy picked me up since I can't drive right now).

I was actually OK for the first two hours (I have to think the Percocet I took was helping a lot) but then all of a sudden, wham! I felt like crap and I thought I was going to die (OK, maybe I am a little over dramatic sometimes!). Peggy's super cool daughter had also come along and unfortunately her hair was taking the longest so I just sat in a chair waiting for Braxton to finish her up. By the time, I made it home I was convinced that I had maybe screwed something up since my stomach hurt so much. I watched a little television with Jim but then pretty much passed out in bed (the percocet generally makes me sleepy).

This morning -- still a fair amount of pain but I promised Jim I would chill for the whole day though it's killing me that the house needs cleaning and we need to run to the grocery store (thankfully, next door) since the snow just started falling and the forecasters are saying something like 2-4 inches (this might cause us to stay home tomorrow instead of spending the day with Jim's family).

So what is the new lesson I have learned? I apparently have no freaking idea how to relax!

I did talk with my doc's assistant yesterday and she also seems to think I am just struggling with the gas in the tummy (I just had no idea that this could cause so much pain. I have a whole new respect for farting now!). Anyway, she suggested I add a new drug to my little regiment I have going, something called simethicone (main ingredient in Gas-X).

Thursday, December 23, 2010

"Pain" is My New Middle Name!

Again, just a quick update. I really had no idea that I was going to feel the way I am feeling now. The worse thing for me to do right now is to cough, laugh, or hiccup -- all make my tummy feel truly painful. But, so does moving around at all. As long as I am perfectly still, it's all good. However, staying still is not something I am good at. Sitting on the sofa makes me see that I need to clean up the kitchen, wash some dishes, vacuum -- well, you get the idea.

I'm not sure that the doc can do anything about the pain but I tried to make an appt online so I can just make sure everything is OK. They called, of course, when I finally was able to get in the shower and I returned the call immediately but I had to leave a message. I love my GYN (Dr D) but waiting is pretty usual.

I haven't had an appetite at all so I figure this experience might lead to losing a few of those chemo pounds I picked up. My stomach is a bit less swollen but it's still bigger than usual and it's that pressure that hurts the most I think. I have three incision marks on my tummy which all hurt if I touch them (the belly button one hurts the most). I still have lots of dried blood but I can't get it to come off very easily (and the thought of scrubbing there makes me feel a little faint!).

I finished reading the Marie Antoinette book I was working on (The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette by Carolly Erickson) and am now starting A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Writers on why we read Jane Austen (edited by Susannah Carson). Neither are difficult reads but I think that is what my brain needs right now.

And that's about it. Jim is the best nurse ever, by the way! He doles out my scary pile of drugs (and they all have different schedules). And he has been a great couch pillow!

Thanks again to everyone for your support (Laurie -- I am walking around wearing your hat today! Rachel -- Hope the new puppy is letting you sleep! And thanks for all the get well cards from everyone!)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Back Home!

Left the hospital about 6pm last night. I never saw my surgeon who was the person we were waiting on so I could be released. Dr D did talk to me by phone -- there was some concern about the gas still in my stomach, which is what we think is causing the most pain. Dr D had the nurse give me something stronger and then they released me about 2 hours later. I was a little disappointed that I didn't see the surgeon before I left BUT at least I got to go home. So now I'm hanging out in bed -- though I have passed some gas, my stomach is still pretty bloated and painful. I'm hoping that gets better as the day goes on. I don't particularly like just hanging out in bed! I do have a few books I've been dying to read so I guess it's not all bad ...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Hospital Girl!

I will have to make this quick since I'm typing on my phone. But I wanted to let folks know that the surgery went well. My abdominal area is killing me and I'm pretty tired since the nurse kept waking me up to take my vitals every three hours or so. I can get up and go the bathroom now though getting up and down seriously hurts! The pain medication helps but still seems to be a small amount of pain and discomfort that is lingering. If I am lucky, I'll get released this afternoon from Barnes-Jewish so I can rest at home .... My stomach is still bloated from the gas they pumped into me in order to do the surgery so I feel like I have a pregnant lump (there is no way that my jeans will fit me so I'm glad I brought my Old Navy pajama bottoms!). I am supposed to be going through menopause in the next day or two (Doc said it would hit fast and furious now that the ovaries are gone). So I am a little nervous about that. :(

Thanks to everyone! I was so nervous yesterday (I Broke out in tears in front of everyone before surgery!).

Monday, December 20, 2010

On the Way to the Hospital!

A quick post as we are about to leave for the hospital! Well, I survived the colonoscopy-like prep but it sure wasn't pretty! That whole process is so NOT fun! I think the worse thing this morning is that I am just plain scared -- and hungry! I am also tired (it's not quite 5 AM yet) but I suppose that I will be "out" for much of the day so maybe I will catch up on sleep then!

OK -- so just this on more "thing" to accomplish before finishing my treatment. This has been a long six months -- I keep telling myself that I just have to get through this last hurdle and then I am good to go. I just wish I weren't so nervous. I hate doctors and I hate hospitals (nothing personal but ....).

So here I go. It is weird to think that when I come back to this blog I will be finished with my treatment for breast cancer. And I will be missing my ovaries and uterus. And maybe then I can start getting my life back, though. I miss everything being "normal" .... thanks to everyone for your encouragement and support. I can't express how much I appreciate it all!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bad Blogger Girl

Sorry for the delay in posting ... a big part of it had to do with the end-of-the-semester mess that always happens -- papers, essays, projects. But as of Friday, I am now done until the next semester starts (I have to be back at SWIC on Jan 10).

Friday was also an important day because of something else -- the last day or radiation! I had to do a double rad on Friday (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) but at least it's all DONE! We had to push things a little toward the end because it was important that I be done with radiation before the big surgery -- which is on Monday, Dec 20 (tomorrow!).

Because this is the day before the surgery, I have already started the prep which is sort of like getting a colonoscopy (not that I have ever had one). So today I can only have clear liquids and starting at 3 PM, I take the stuff that is going to make me hang out in the bathroom for the rest of day ... I guess I have to go through this because the surgery is so close to my uteral "parts" and the surgeon wants to make sure everything is nice and clean in case anything bad happens. It doesn't help that one of my closest friends is having a huge party at her house today and I won't be able to eat anything! Big bummer! But I want to go so she is making me some broth to sip during the party (but we will definitely be leaving by 3!).

So here is the official surgery name -- brace yourself because it's a long one! Total Laparescopic Hysterectomy, Bilateral Salping Oopherectomy, Colpopexy, Cystescopy with Placement of Lighted Ureteral Stents. Whew. That's a lot of stuff -- much of which I don't really understand. But what I do get is that by doing this, I cut down estrogen production and completely lower my odds of breast cancer happening again (since my test results showed this to be a big possibility).

So there you go. Chemo -- done. Radiation -- done. And now just this. I will have to stay at Barnes-Jewish Hospital for at least one night but it could be more if my body doesn't bounce back fast. As you can imagine, I am going to do my best to make this a one night stay. I am terrified of the whole surgery thing but I guess I just have to think positive and get through this one last ordeal.

I tried to get all the Christmas stuff done (i.e. Christmas cards and sending out a few gifts) but I didn't quite finish and the house is a little messy.

Anyway -- I guess what doesn't get done, doesn't get done!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Wow .. it's Friday!

So this has been a long, difficult week! I think, looking back, that it was just the last of the chemo drugs working their way through my body, making me feel sick(and sluggish). And it didn't help that those darn intestinal issues flared up again (again, chemo drugs?) and that always makes me feel pretty tired. But, I am hopeful that the worst is behind me!

Two more big things made this a bad week. First, the radiation (the picture above is NOT me -- but it shows you the cradle and the position I have to stay in throughout the procedure). I will not be exposing my breast in this blog by providing pictures but let's just say that my right breast and upper chest are bright red and my nipple is turning black around the edges. Itch, itch, itch. Not fun. I see the radiology oncologist again later today (I saw her Wed, too) and it "can" happen -- especially since I am already allergic to the sun to start with in my normal life (I break out in weird rashes when I get too much sun).

And the other bad thing was meeting with the surgeon this past Tuesday. I don't know why I didn't realize that I am about to have major surgery -- I guess I thought it would be like the two lumpectomies -- surgery but not that big of a deal. So officially I am having a Total Laproscoptic Hysterectomy and Bilateral Salping Oophrectomy with a Cystescopy with Placement of Lighted Urethral Stents. Not really sure what most of that means except for the hysterectomy and oophrectomy parts. But Dr D, the surgeon, said this will take about 5-6 hours of surgery and the prep for the surgery is sooooo complicated! Just like with the lumpectomies (my only other surgeries ever), I have to do some appts related to making sure I can get through the surgery (i.e. lung scans). The day before the surgery I can't eat at all -- instead, I will have to do the same course that you do for a colonoposky -- the yechy stuff that makes your bowels move through you. I am so disappointed that my one of my dear friends is having a house warming party that day for her gorgeous new house -- I was so looking forward to enjoying her party and now I will just get to watch people eat while I start taking laxatives (and then leaving quickly for home!). Not fun.

My summer break was taken up with breast cancer and now my winter break will be recovering from the surgery on December 20 (I am not looking forward to having to stay in the hospital). So I am feeling a little bitter, I guess. I've worked hard at scheduling things around my teaching schedule as much as possible but I guess that effort has left me feeling exhausted, esp. as we near the end of the semester.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Jim and I just completed a photoshoot last week with our friend/ photographer/ artist Connie -- she did a fabulous job with the photos though it is probably no suprise that I am not happy with the way I look -- damn chemo drugs, radiation weariness and the poundage I am gaining from not running or exercising much. Boo. But on a positive note -- these are great photos of both my wonderful husband and best friend, Jim, and our fabulous pooch, Stella!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Post-Thanksgiving Fun

OK, I didn't get up at like 3 AM to go shopping this morning but I did have to get my butt out of bed a little early because my radiation appointment was at 7:45 AM this morning since (1) they had an early opening and (2) I don't have to work today. So I left an hour early because I wasn't sure how the roads would look (some freezing rain yesterday) and those Black Friday shoppers would be out (the hospital I go to is near a mall). But leaving an hour early was not needed -- clear roads on all accounts. On the way home, I wanted to stop by this cool art store called "Art Mart" but it didn't open until 9 AM so I had some time to kill (By the way, today is free paper Friday at Art Mart and if you say the secret password -- spork! -- you get free paper and pencils!).

So I decided to stop at Plaza Frontenac (a ritzy mall over near Clayton) thinking that I might browse (and drool) at Williams Sonoma while waiting for Art Mart to open. But they weren't open! However ... Ann Taylor was. And I did look. And buy. Get this -- a gorgeous dress and a tutleneck sweater -- both of which fit me perfectly! -- for $25.87. I'd call that a great buy! (hopefully, so will my husband!). (FYI: Everything in the store, including clearance, is 40% off)

I still stopped at Art Mart on the way home -- picked up my free paper and pencils along with the set of markers I had stopped for (at 20%, thank you very much!) -- and now I am at home for the rest of the day cleaning and organizing. I feel OK health-wise but I have a slightly wicked headache that won't go away and my appetite is pretty much non-existent. And I have some grading to do but I might wait until tomorrow to tackle those! :D

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Quick Update!

Well, yesterday was a historical day for me -- my last chemo ever (hopefully!). After chemo, Jim and I had to drive across town to get to radiation and yesterday was #15! That means I am almost halfway down with that part of the journey! (only 18 more to go!). Dr L, the fabulous oncologist, also gave me a heads-up for the surgery on December 20. My GYN, Dr D, had expressed some concern about doing the surgery because of concerns about my lowered immune system BUT Dr L said that she had thought I would be fine so hopefully that will satisfy Dr D. Even though I am NOT excited about another surgery, I just want to get this done so I can start 2011 without any cancer stuff hanging over my head!

Today is the start of Thanksgiving Break so I can try and relax! This past week has been better as far as not feeling too sick but now with a new (though last!) round of chemo drugs in my body, I suspect the next two weeks might be a little rocky since each round seems to get a little worse. Today, though, I have two doctor's appointments (therapist and radiation) and then I need to do some food shopping and then finally back home! Tomorrow we are going to Jim's sister's house and I need to prepare some vegetarian-friendly food to bring so I can eat something yummy, too!

Happy Thanksgiving! :D
PS: Laurie -- already using the sunglass case! Many thanks! :D
PPS: Dr L -- I have played my cool musical card like a million times! :D
PPPS: Rachel -- I love hearing about your wedding plans! And the new puppy! Has he come yet?! :D

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I am so lucky to have such good friends -- seriously! I can't even begin to articulate this overwhelming sense of gratitude I am feeling. I wonder if it is when you are struggling with something like breast cancer (or some other major illness)that you really begin to understand the fabulous people and energy that you have around you. So thank you to all of you! This past weekend was definitely a tough one ... and I am looking at the calendar all the time now, counting down to when this whole little "mess" should be nearing its completion. After the surgery on December 20, that should be it, other than recovering from the surgery and the radiation. The last chemo is November 23, so all of those chemicals should be out of my body by the time we hit the surgery date. I am a little nervous about not being done with the radiation before the surgery date but I guess the doctors will figure all that out.

I'm feeling this new, refreshed sense of "After this is over, I'm going to take on the world!" I have been organizing and reading for my dissertation the last few days and I am anxious to get back to running and maybe even getting better with my personal records (esp, with triathloning). Better yet, I have a feeling that both of these goals will be possible (i.e. finishing the dissertation and throwing myself back into fitness).

On the job front, it's a bit of a struggle but I just have to get through a few more weeks. For the most part, I have fantastic, understanding students this semester who I feel a little sorry for because I am definitely not at 100% in the classroom. I have no doubt that things will go back to normal once the new semester starts in January -- so I just have to hang on until the end of this semester.

Friday, November 12, 2010

I Raise My White Flag

I wish I could more accurately describe this feeling I have felt come on me the last few days. I think I have tried in previous posts but it's sort of like a combination of physical tired and emotional tired (with a bunch of toxic chemicals in he mix!). I've been struggling identifying it (because that would mean confronting it, I think) but last night in my cancer support group, I pretty much fell apart. Now you have to understand that I sometimes struggle with my own situation when I am with this group, mostly because my cancer experience has not been as challenging as some of the other people in the group. So when I whine or complain, I feel like I have no right to do this because I have "only a slight case of breast cancer." And maybe it's that kind of thinking that has gotten me in trouble. Up until about a week ago, I think I was at the gym about 70% of my usual time -- and, as you all might remember, I even managed to squeak out a marathon (at my slowest time ever). I have only used one sick day this semester and have worked through feeling crappy with almost a sense of pride.

However, as of today I haven't been to the gym in a week. Even thinking about it makes my stomach hurt. I'm struggling to keep our house clean and organized. The intestinal issues are making eating not fun. In general, I have this feeling of being drained and fatigued that feels worse than what I was feeling before (and I thought that was bad).

So somehow in group last night, I got frustrated because the thought of going to work today and being "on" 100% when I teach just seemed so overwhelming. Where was I going to get the energy? Amanda, one of the other group members, talked about her own frustrations (she has two small children and a FT job) and how she has recognized that you have to be your own best advocate for your health; no one else is going to do this like you can -- and should. Many of the group members gave me permission to be less than perfect and "sick" even when I can't seem to give myself that permission. And Robyn, another group member, got a little angry with me when I said "slight case of breast cancer." She said you have cancer, you are undergoing chemo, and you are experiencing radiation. You have cancer. I think there is still a big part of me that has been in denial about all of this, as strange as that must sound. But my body is now forcing me to recognize this fact.

So here is what I know: I am a bit of a perfectionist. I want to do the best at everything I do. I'm even ambitious, I think, because I want to be a teacher-scholar (like one of my personal heroes, Howard Tinberg) and work hard at being an advocate for two-year college students. I want to write a good dissertation, not just an adequate one. I like a clean house, one that is organized and comfortable. I want to break four hours for a marathon time someday. I don't want to gain back all the weight I have worked so hard to lose. I want to be a fun wife who offers an oasis for her husband. I want to be a good friend to everyone in my life.

But maybe what I am beginning to understand is that I AM tired and at least through the end of this year, I need to slow down. Major slow down. I don't want to delay feeling better by trying to pretend that I am a trooper and can get through anything. So I took a sick day today and am trying to ignore the dishes in the sick and the papers that need grading. I have two doctor's appointments today but that't it. Maybe I should do some online searching to figure out how to relax ....

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Why I Found October Annoying!

I know I just left a post, but I am trying to catch up on my blog reading this evening and I just HAVE to post this link to a blog I read called "Breast Cancer? But Doctor ... I Hate Pink!" Ann, the fabulous woman behind the blog, posted the most hilarious entry about the "Pinkwashing" of October. You have to check out the specific examples she brings up of endorsements of groups supposedly supporting breast cancer research. The "pooping giraffe" is worth the read alone!

CLICK HERE to get to Ann's blog!

A Better Day!

So one more radiation down (#6); that leaves 27 more!

Let me just start by saying how lucky I am this semester to have a pretty great group of students, a bunch of fabulous colleagues and friends (old and new), and the best husband in the world. I don't know how I could have survived the last few months without all three of these "forces." So yesterday I felt like shit mentally. Today I feel stronger in that regard but now I am having problems with those damn intestinal issues (the pun seems too easy here!). Wait, let me check my calendar. Yep. Just over a week since chemo and that is about the time that this crap (literally!) is due. So today bad things have been happening in the bathroom. But at least this just leaves me feeling physically drained, not emotionally drained. And -- thank you to the spirits that be! -- tomorrow is a school holiday. Which I plan to spend in bed as long as possible.

I am embarrassed to admit that I just finished Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. It usually doesn't take me a couple of weeks to read a novel but this was a "heavy" read (and it doesn't help that I am usually reading more than one book at a time anyway; additionally, I think I have a bit of chemo brain going on too!). So what do I think? You might think it presumptuous to compare Franzen's novel to Tolstoy. As it happens, I needn't bother, since Franzen has done it for me. Patty, one of the protagonists in the novel, directly brings in Tolstoy and I found this slightly unsettling (maybe because I read the book with the whole "this is the book of the century" mantra going on in my head). I think I heard someone on NPR say that Tolstoy turns up in the pages of Freedom as a comment on the power of fiction to give shape to a reader's life, and as a reminder of Franzen's own ambitions. Oh yeah. Like The Corrections (his previous novel; this is the one that got him in "trouble" with Oprah), the story translates into a family saga, an analysis I guess you could say of "the" Mid-Western family. At its heart are Patty and Walter Berglund, a baby-boomer couple. Financially comfortable, secure in their left-leaning political beliefs, and parents of an outwardly super son and daughter, the Berglunds are nonetheless afflicted by dissatisfaction and disappointment.

Well ... I won't go on too much further. I do think this novel is worth the read (even at almost 600 pages) and I think it's "warmer" (if that's the right word) than The Corrections. At the very least, I wasn't left unsatisfied like I was with this previous novel; in fact, I was even surprised at the way the novel ended -- and I like being surprised! But ... it is obviously about 90 years too early to determine if this is "the" greatest novel of the century.

So what's next on my reading list? My Non-Western Literature class is about to start Maryse Conde's I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem (one of my favorite Caribbean writers!) and my Honors literature class is about to pick up Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar. But for my pleasure reading, I just started The Wilding by Benjamin Percy -- I just received it as part of the "Indiespensable" Program at my favorite bookstore, This is a cool program where you get a new (often independent) special edition book (and some free gifts) every 6 weeks or so. Click here if you are interested! I am a huge fan!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Not a Good Day

I guess the heading above says it all. I am really too tired to type much. But I think I have come to the realization that I need to take a sick day soon. I'm exhausted and I can't seem to catch up on ... well, everything. I think I have only taken one sick day this semester which probably isn't bad for a person going through all this cancer crap (keep in mind I hardly ever take a sick day when everything is normal). It sort of feels like when you are coming down with a cold or the flu and you start to get that "haze" of flu-iness. But I haven't been able to shake it off for weeks. I can still "perform" but everything take so much more energy.

One of my co-workers at school, Mary, was diagnosed with breast cancer (stage 2) a few weeks ago and had her masectomy on Monday. I just got an email from one of her friends saying she won't be back to teaching for the entire school year (not just this semester). Something must have went wrong but I don't know any details yet. I feel like crap because not only is she a friend (someone I have worked with for 10 years) but ... I was sort of jealous of her on Monday because everyone in her department (she's not in the English department) was so concerned and focused on her surgery. I don't mean to come off sounding like a little kid who is pouting but I went through two surgeries this summer and, other than few pals at work, mine went by without notice. I know this confession puts me at risk of sounding like a little baby but I have been busting my butt to come across as healthy and normal and I sort of miss the support that Mary so deservingly, of course, got. Yes, I sound like a three year old. And then to find out that she is sicker than originally thought, well, that just makes me feel angry at myself for acting like a big, old baby. Mary is one of the kindest, sweetest people I know at SWIC, and it's not far that she has to go through this. So now I feel sad and a bit pissed at my own selfishness.

I just finished radiation #5 this afternoon. 28 more to go. I think I will feel better when those numbers are reversed.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Three Radiations Down!

Sorry for the delay in posting -- I can't believe how much busier my schedule seems to be when you add an afternoon trip to the hospital everyday! And with me hitting the sack at like 8 pm every night, well, that doesn't leave a lot of free time during the day.

So it turned out that what I thought was Day 1 of radiation on Tuesday was really Day 0. The first day, the radiologist just wanted some films done so the folks behind the radiation can accurately pinpoint exactly where the radiation needs to hit. So day 1 was actually Wednesday which now means I have three of them under my belt, with another 30 to go. Thankfully, the technician told me that they will take more X-Rays every five days but from now on, they can also do the radiation treatment so I will only be one day behind the schedule I had already imagined.

So how does the radiation work? Well, when I come in the office, I sign a clip board letting folks know that I am here and then I immediately go back to the dressing room to take off my top and bra and put on a hospital dressing gown. Once I have done that, I take a seat in the radiation waiting room and wait to be called. The first day I was there by myself but ever since then, I have bumped into the 2:00 PM and 2:30 patients (I am the 2:15 girl). It's been nice to talk to other folks about this experience -- but both of these women are almost finished so it's tough being the newbie.

After I am called, I go back to the radiation room and I am placed in my "cradle" (the thingie those folks made last week) -- then the technicians make adjustements to the machine and I am moved around a bit. Then the docs leave the room and zap -- one side of my right breast gets the treatment; the technicians come back in and make some readjustments, leave the room again, and then zap -- the second side is done. The moments when I am on the table I have to lie perfectly still -- and wouldn't you know it! I keep getting a nose itch every single time! But the whole process on each side is just a few minutes. When I am done, I hop off and change and that's it. The drive to get there (Chesterfield) is definitely the suckiest part -- I seriously need to download some books onto my iPod. It's about 45 minutes from work and then the drive home (back to downtown) varies by the darn traffic.

I was told that one side effect is feeling tired but with the chemo I am already getting, I haven't noticed a difference yet. But my breast is already swollen and sore to the touch. Not happpy that this has already happened three treatments in but I am hopeful that this will be as worse as it gets.

Today Jim and are off with friends to see "High" at the St Louis Repatory Theater and then we are meeting other friends at the St Louis Poetry Center Trivia Night. And somewhere along the way I need to finish reading some essays!

PS: As a note any of my ENG 102 students who have a research scavenger hunt due tomorrow (the Dianna Seach Assignment), one of the answers is that I taught at Canterbury Christ Church University in Caterbury, England, in 2007!) That is the toughest one to find since the original web page is no longer available. Who will be smart enough to check this blog?!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Part II of Today's Adventures!

So after class at about noon, I sped into the city to pick up Jim and then we were off to the St Louis Cancer and Breast Institute on Chippewa where I see Dr. L, the oncologist, and get my chemo treatments (this was #5, just one more to go). First, we talked to the doc (she did a quick check-up) and then on to the chemo. I was hoping that we might be out of there earlier because Dr L said she was taking one of three drugs away that I get (two are "pushed" through my veins by the nurse and the third is a drip that takes about an hour). Apparently, one of the drugs that I take does not "play nice" with radiation so she is simply taking that one out of the rotation for the last two chemos. The good news is that the drug she is taking away is the one that probably gives me the intestinal issues so, hopefully, I won't be experiencing anymore of that (fingers crossed!). But it was one of the drugs manually pushed through my system so we were still there for awhile since I had to wait for the drip (and the steroid the nurses run before hand seemed to take forever today!).

As soon as my treatment was done, we jumped in the car and drove to the St Louis Cancer and Breast Institute over in Chesterfield (about 30-40 minutes away?) where I will be getting my radiation. I have to admit that I have been a little nervous about starting this new chapter ... as soon as I walked in, the nurse had me change and we walked back to that scary radiation machine. The two nurses were doing a lot of talking (mostly stuff I didn't understand) and eventually got me situated in the "cradle" we made at the simulation last week. Here's the bad news: I thought that we were starting radiation today but I was wrong. First, Dr B (my radiation oncologist) wants to do a series of "films" (X-rays) that I will need to re-do every five radiation treatments. So today I was back there for about 20-25 minutes getting all kinds of films done and I was waiting for the big "radiation" moment. Which didn't happen. At all. But I did walk away with even more writing all over my chest, breasts, and right side! (I am trying to resist the urge to pull out my own marker and connect the dots!)

I will be back there tomorrow at 2 PM (my daily schedule for the next 6 1/2 weeks) and here is the big question that I need to ask: Did today's "treatment" count as one of the 33 radiations? Or does that countdown start tomorrow? And what about the films done every five treatments? Do those count? If not, this might be pushing back the whole process another week or so and that simply sucks. I wanted to countdown to start today, not tomorrow.

PS: Thanks for the fabulous comments and support from everyone! I definitely needed the good vibes today.

Yuck November 2 Already?

Sorry for the delay in posting anything. This past weekend was crazy (lots of paper grading, personal errands, and napping). And now here it is -- November 2 -- the day I have NOT been looking forward to!

I promise to update later today after the chemo and the radiation, but so far this day has not started in the right direction. First, I had to get up early to go and vote (which is an important act, I think, for we Americans). But my head was swimming a bit when I read through the ballot and for some reason that started a headache that hasn't gone away yet. Then, I got to my office and had to deal with a million messages and problems with students (OK, maybe not a million) and am discovering that my patience is pretty much non-existent today. In prepping for a research assignment a few minutes ago that I have my ENG 102 students do every semester (the "Dianna Search" assignment -- it tests their abilities to use more than Google when looking for specific information!), I had to double-check some web sites to see if answers have changed ... and I stumbled on my rating from -- which had some dismal comments posted in relation to me (to be fair, there were some positive ones but the negative comments are all I am "hearing" today). I know that this web site doesn't mean much but it still "stings" to think that someone thinks I am unfair as an instructor.

I have to teach all morning and then run back to St Louis, pick up Jim, and get to the doctor's office by 12:45. And then the minute chemo is over, we have to rush to West County so I can get day #1 of radiation (and then only 32 more sessions to go! And yes, that is sarcasm in my voice!).

I seriously want to go back to bed.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Gearing Up for Radiation

So here is a textbook definition of the grand adventure that I am about to start: "Radiation therapy involves using a large machine called a linear accelerator to deliver precise amounts of high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. The radiation stops the reproduction of cancer cells while minimizing damage to healthy tissues. Radiation therapy has been shown to improve survival in women with breast cancer."

Yesterday was my first radiation appointment with Dr B -- yet, another doctor for me! She, of course, is my radiology oncologist! So here is a run-down of what happened yesterday (the was the planning session -- also called simulation):

The drive to radiation therapy is not going to be an easy one. It's over on the west side of 270 which means about 45 minutes to an hour from work and from home. Boo. When we got there yesterday it was sort of a weird feeling because this was supposed to be where I started my treatment post-lumpectomy back in June. Back then, I assumed that I would get the radiation out of the way before the Fall semester even started. But little did I know that I would get a rare infection from the surgery followed by a second lumpectomy and then chemotherapy. So now -- the end of October -- I am finally starting what I should have been finished with by now!

Do you sense a little anger and frustration on my part?? (you should!) I met with Sheri (the nurse I have been working with over the phone) and Dr B -- they explained how the whole radiation treatment will work. I will have 33 sessions (6 1/2 weeks) of coming there everyday. Yep -- you read that right. Everyday Monday - Friday.

During the planning session, Dr B mapped out the right breast area that needs the treatment. She used a special X-ray machine called a simulator (apparently, the process is called simulation because the treatment is being "simulated," or not really given). She told me that it is so important to position the angles of radiation accurately; at one point there were about 10 people in the room (including two male "interns"!) who were all staring at me as I was horizontal on the table looking up. I had to sit very still for about 20 minutes while a "cradle" was made of my upper body and the technicians made temporary marks or "tattoos" on my chest. The cradle part was weird! It was some sort of blue foam spray that was warm -- which was sort of nice since the room was cold and I wasn't wearing a shirt! After the cradle was made, I had to get some sort of CAT scan and then the technician (Dr B was gone by the point) walked me through what will happen once I start coming in everyday (starting next Tuesday, Nov 2).

At one point (before the cradle was made), Sheri, the nurse, walked us (Jim was with me!) back to the actual radiation machine so I could "meet" it. It was way bigger than I expected and I could feel tears welling up immediately. To counter-act that, I joked with the nurse and pretended everything was OK. I think it was just that I expected something "smaller" -- like a hand-held device that someone waved over my breast, not a huge machine that looks like an MRI (the picture at the top is a stock photo of what my radiation machine looks like -- it's not me! Not yet, at least!).

Anyway -- November will be a challenge -- radiation and chemo at the same time (I have two more chemos left).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Grumpy Week

Though I am feeling a wee bit better this evening, I have been experiencing my fair share of grumpiness as of late. A lot of it boils down to the fact that I have to start radiation next week and (1) this happens everyday so my schedule is about to get crazy with coming and going to the hospital everyday at 3 PM and (2) I am nervous about how this will affect my overall tiredness (which is already lagging). And then to complicate matters, my skin (esp. my face) is just having so many problems with breakouts (right now my neck and upper back). My hair looks better since it got cut to almost nothing but it's thin and doing nothing for me. I can't color my hair right now so I have more gray than I feel comfortable with. Boo.

And it's not just about cancer. We also have grumpiness in terms of this thing I call "work"! I am not sure how this happened, but all of a sudden I find myself mired in deep stacks of student papers. During the conference in Kansas City this past weekend and the first two days of this week, I have worked as diligently as I can to respond and comment on papers (which, for me, takes about 20-30 minutes per essay). Late this afternoon, I finished the last one so I think -- saying this in a whisper -- that I might be FINALLY caught up until Friday (when my ENG 101-ers turn in a stack). Most of the time, I love my job but sometimes I realize how much extra work a person has when one works as an English teacher. Do people realize how much time that teachers (who care) spend commenting and trying to elicit better revisions?! Do my students?!

And then there is the Honors Program that I coordinate at the Sam Wolf Granite City Campus. The conference I went to was all about this program but I walked away from the conference realizing that we need to make some big changes to make our struggling, little program really work. I have a meeting with my dean on Thursday afternoon and I don't think this meeting is going to go well. I need to be able to offer students something that will entice them to join and stay in the program (i.e. tuition break). I know this is like asking for a pie in the sky but I am tired of trying to coordinate a "dying" program. So ... we will see what happens.

See! Told you all that I was grumpy! :D

Friday, October 22, 2010

NCHC Conference

Sorry for the delay in posting -- Since Wednesday night, I have been in Kansas City, MO, for the National Collegiate Honors Council Conference (NCHC). I gave a presentation on the honors program I coordinate for SWIC earlier today -- and I think it went really well! (I titled it "A Van Down By the River: Reviving a Community College Honors Program"). The best thing about these academic conferences is that you walk away with all these great ideas that you want to implement as soon as possible! Personally, I would say that our honors program is struggling, mostly because I just don't have the time to properly make sure that our program is vital and strong. To make it work, I know that I will have to approach my Dean (again) and try to argue for more release time (again). Honors is such a great program that helps to recruit and retain students -- but to do it right there are so many things that I just can't get to on the limited release time that I have (and this has gotten even more difficult with the tiredness from the breast cancer treatments). And I suspect that the whole asking for more release time is a political issue and I won't get very far. But, if SWIC wants to truly be behind this program, we need to make some BIG changes to how we organize and run the program.

And so for the last few days my head has been wrapped around the honors program. Also -- I feel a little lucky that I have had a few days away from SWIC because I am spending my evenings (and the gaps between conference sessions) catching up on essay grading. And there is a lot to be done! Somehow I accidentally set up conferences for my ENG 102 (research writing) students to conference with me this Monday and Wednesday ... which means I need to make sure that I have 50 odd research papers graded by the end of the weekend (I just got them on Wed).

Back to St Louis tomorrow. I really miss Jim.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thanks Laurie and Rachel! :D

I only have just a minute -- crazy day! We got back into St Louis late last night and then I was here at my office at SWIC by 6:30 AM, drowning in student papers and assorted paperwork. Most importantly, I need to get my presentation done for the NCHC Honors Conference on Friday (I'm presenting so it would probably be a good idea to get something together NOW!). Since I am leaving for the conference tomorrow afternoon (it's in Kansas City), I have about a million things to do before I leave. So I am literally packing my suitcase again tonight!

BUT note the picture above -- I came home from a stressful day traveling back from San Francisco to find two gifts from the wonderful people who are my "chemo angels"! Laurie, the most talented artist I know, painted a fantastically cool watercolor study of a Bird of Paradise from her garden. Isn't the picture amazing? I will need to go frame shopping once again but this time her print will stay in my office here at work! Two students have already asked me about it!

And the mug is from wonderful Rachel who found this quotable mug with the most inspiring words on it: "May the sun bring you new energy by day, May the moon softly restore you by night, May the rain wash away your worries, May the breeze blow new strength into your being, May you walk gently through the world and know its beauty all the days of your life" (Apache Blessing). Nice thoughts to consider as I sip through the many cups of tea I have even before even 10 AM!

I can't articulate in words how much these gifts mean to me! Thanks to you both soooooooo much! Every kind word makes me think that we are all kicking chemo (and cancer!)to the curb!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Nike Women's Marathon

Well, the picture to your left should prove that I am alive and well! The Nike Women's Marathon 2010 is officially over!

I'm not going to say that it wasn't tough. By mile 12 or so my quads were sore and not having fun. That happens in every marathon I have run but it usually happens sometime around mile 20. So along with the quad issues, the first part was crowded and hard to run but once the half marathoners left the course (and, yes, I was very temped to stop at that point!) things on the course got easier though both my quads and my lower back kept reminding me that they were finished with this whole marathon project! It was also around the halfway point that the rain started to get harder. Fun times.

But the very best part (besides the cool necklace I collected at the end from Tiffany's!) was the beach. Miles of beautiful beach that I absolutely loved! (I even took of my headphones for those parts!). My time ended up being something like 5 hours and 30 minutes, a far cry from my personal best of close to 4 hours. But given what my body has been through the last 5 months and the fact that I am a chemo patient, I think that time was pretty darn good (I was actually aiming for 6 hours).

And the picture above shows the fabulous crab dinner that my wonderful husband made happen! (I'm pretty sore!). A glass of wine would have made the meal better but that will have to wait until post-chemo!

Thanks to everyone for sending me words of encouragement! I thought about all my blessing while I ran that 26.2 miles! :D

PS: No intenstinal issues at all! Yipeee!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Running in San Francisco!

So Jim and I arrived in San Francisco last night and spent the day doing the following: eating fresh crab and clam chowder, attending the expo at the Nike Women's Marathon, eating yummy Irish food, shopping at Nike Town and Eddie Bauer, eating fresh sushi, and doing a little sight seeing! (we did a lot of eating -- I love fresh fish more than anything on this planet!) Though I started the day with a little bit of that stomach issue I have been having, I think I am ending it on a more positive note (the sushi we had a little while ago has had no affect on my tummy, expect for the feeling that I ate way too much!). I was afraid that this intestinal issue (a chemo outcome for the last two treatments) would seriously affect my ability to run 26.2 miles. However, I am thinking that this might not get in the way too much (cross your fingers!). I am not saying that my stomach is 100% but it definitely feels better that the last two days. I still have a slight headache that has been in the background for the last few days but it's manageable at this point.

The race starts tomorrow morning at 7 AM (our fabulous cute boutique hotel is just one block away!). The course remains open for 6 and a half hours. I usually run a marathon in just over 4 hours but I have never done anything like this, obviously, while on chemo. I think if I just start slow and stay slow, I should be OK. I will try and just relax and enjoy the fabulous scenery that I know this city offers (I completed the actual San Francisco Marathon in 2006). I really, really, really, really want to see that near-naked firefighter with that Tiffany's necklace in his hand. Wish me luck!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Wow ... it's Thursday already?

I am writing this (quick!) post after coming back from one of my literature classes in which I had to leave in the middle of a class discussion because .... lower-end-of-the-body issues! This has happened twice in the past two days and it absolutely sucks (chemo-related? Not sure). This is what happens: I will be teaching class and then I feel what I think is a hot flash which just comes up (seemingly out of nowhere) and demands immediate attention. As in now. Not gonna wait. Need bathroom fast. Yesterday's event was definitely just the lower end but the one today was both ends at the same time. And as I started typing this a few minutes ago, another lower end excursion to the bathroom was needed. Even as typing this, my stomach is growling (rumbling!) but I am afraid to eat anything other than some saltine crackers!

So this makes me so nervous about this weekend -- we leave for San Francisco tomorrow afternoon and I run the marathon on Sunday morning. I am determined to complete this race but it's going to be a lot harder with darn intestinal-like issues.

Yesterday I talked with my new oncologist, Dr B, who will be in charge of my radiation treatments (I still see Dr L for my chemo, though). Starting with my next chemo on Nov 2 (#5 out of the total of 6!), I will be getting radiation at 3 PM everyday for 6 weeks. Boo. Six weeks seems like a long time! And then I have one more surgery on Dec 20 -- by then I should be finished with both chemo and radiation.

And what then?!?! Jim and I just rented a beach cottage down by Mobile, AL, for the first week of January -- to celebrate the end of breast cancer and the end of seeing doctors so much! Click here to see our cottage!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Chemo Lesson #432: Energy spent = no energy later!

I finished the triathlon yesterday morning feeling pretty "spent." The entire race was 500 yards swimming, 9 miles on a spin bike, and 3.1 miles on a treadmill. As usual, the swimming was the hardest for me but I did better than the fifteen minutes I was hoping for. I actually finished in 12:08. I then ran to the spin bike -- which I ended up hating! The bike was nothing like the spin bikes I am used to using and it sorta made my a** hurt! So I went as fast as I could just so I could get off -- 17:07. I was looking forward to the run the most but the first mile or so was painful. I managed to finish in 28:36, about 3-4 minutes behind my usual pace. Luckily, my ultra-cool cousin-in-law Sarah hang out after she finished and cheered me on. I had to sit for a few minutes after finishing, though, because I was truly 100% tired. (Click here for the link to the official standings! I ended up 14 out of 36 people or so!).

And the afternoon showed me exactly how tired I was. Mid-afternoon, I tagged along with Jim when he went to the zoo but I felt like an old lady. He had rented this new lens that he wanted to "play" with and I vegged on any sitting surface I could find. I really struggled to stay conscious (and I was trying hard not to let Jim see how much I was struggling). It didn't help that it was a warm October afternoon and the sun was just making me feel even worse. But I did manage to suck on a cherry snow cone which made me happy (but for some reason instigated 2-3 mouth sores).

Anyway -- I don't think I have still quite managed to bounce back 100% (really making me nervous about this weekend's marathon). It didn't help that I had one of those HARD teaching days today where nothing seems to quite work out (I was even a bit short with a student). I have about a million things to do but no energy at all. So back to the couch I go! :D

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Busy Weekend!

So far I am doing OK with the side effects of chemo #4. I have tried to be more pro-active this time by taking the anti-nausea pills BEFORE I start feeling sick ... and I think that has, in fact, helped. My stomach is "jumpy" just like last time -- not sure what is going on there but I am starting to get annoyed! Yesterday was a pretty busy day (i.e. volunteering at the clinic, worked in my office, trivia night at the college) but I only have one thing to do today -- a mini-triathlon!

This shouldn't be a big deal at all because it's only like 30% of the bigger triathlon I did a few weeks back BUT my stomach is killing me right now (and I have to be there in an hour or so from now!). The one good aspect is that this takes place inside (all three events) and so I can stop pretty easily if I decide that I can't do this. But I want to at least try since I had already signed up for it.

But this will be the last physical "test" before we leave for San Francisco on Friday afternoon. The Nike Women's Marathon is next Sunday. I hope that I will be able to hobble across the finish line under the course deadline of six and a half hours! :D

But today -- a mini triathlon!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Today was a difficult day. I have been running behind on so many things this week (paper grading, projects, dissertation stuff, housekeeking tasks, etc) that today I woke up a bit crabby, mostly because I knew I had a busy day ahead of me and no time to go to the gym. I dropped Stella off at Doggie Day Care before leaving downtown at 7 AM, followed by a speedy journey to SWIC and then I tried to get as much done as I could before my 9:30 literature class.

And it turned out to be one of those days that I can't make ANY students happy. The folks in this class are reading Adiga's The White Tiger -- a fabulous Indian novel -- and I can't believe how much they hate it! (the students last semester loved it!). I won't go into all the details but I have to use so much of my limited energy reserves to get them to pay any attention and it just sucks. Seriously, students. Give me a break! Give the book a chance and you might like it!

I had chemo at 2:30 PM which was not fun (not that it's supposed to be). I was grumpy because this was #4 and I wanted it to be #5 or #6 (I have to do 6 all together). I also have this weird "lump" above my breast and my oncologist couldn't look at it because she is out of town. I am sure it's nothing but it's just one more thing for me to worry about.

After chemo, I am now grading a huge stack of papers that I just have to get back to students by tomorrow so they can start working on the next part of their research projects (they need this assignment back to complete the next part of the puzzle). So I have to sit here at the kitchen table and just drink a ton of tea to keep my energy reserves up when I would much rather crawl in bed.

But you know what made my day! I posted two pictures on today's blog -- my good friend Jean sent me the BEST calendar EVER since 2011 is going to be MY year! (and this calendar is going to give me all sorts of new ideas of things to read! Thanks, Jean! I love it!). And check out the fabulous painting by my new friend Laurie! I can finally say that I own a real piece of art! I can't wait to find a frame for it! I am going to put it just above my desk so it will relax me everytime I look at it! (Thanks, Laurie, you seriously are the MOST talented person ever!)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Top 10 Things I Have Learned Since Being Diagnosed with Breast Cancer!

**** I am stealing a big part of this list from Ann, the wonderful writer behind the breast cancer blog, "Breast Cancer? But Doctor I Hate Pink." Click here to go directly to her fabulous blog!

1. You will no longer by shy about exposing your chest. If a doctor asks you to undress, you will, right in front of him/ her, no gown necessary.

2. Chemo-brain is real. You will start boiling water for dinner, go to the pantry to get a package of pasta, forget what you wanted to get, think of something to look up and only when water boils over the pot will you remember what you were originally doing. This behavior is not confined to the home. My office is a mess, with handwritten notes everywhere, saying things like "office hours on Wed" and "pizza on Friday" and "call doctor." If I don't write something down immediately, it's gone forever.

3. Your body loses all its ability to control temperature. You learn to dress in layers and are chronically taking off sweaters and putting them back on. You'll have a heater and a fan on your desk and alternate using them all day long (esp. when you work in my building which has fluctuating AC and heat to start with).

4. You will think everybody who is bald or has very short hair just finished chemo.

5. At some point, you'll get a headache, or sleep wrong and get a stiff neck, or feel a strange ache. You no longer will ignore it, thinking it's one of those things. Your first thought will be "has cancer spread to my brain? is it in my bones?" This will even happen if you skin your shin or stub your toe or get the flu. All pains lead to cancer.

6. You will understand the concept of "tired" in a way you never thought possible. I never thought that going to bed at 8 PM would feel so normal.

7. You will think about your health (i.e. cancer) a lot. And I mean a lot. Combine every thought I ever had about my life pre-diagnosis and it's still not even close.

8. You will no longer worry about getting old.

9. Even though you might be against taking drugs, you will learn to appreciate the power behind an anti-nausea pill. And you will even start carrying them with you all the time.

10. You will take the month of October personally.

Of course, this list doesn't stay the one big thing I have learned -- I have fabulous friends and co-workers and a breast cancer diagnosis is a sucky way of really, truly understanding that. :D

It's Official!

I finally received my signed copy of Jonathan Franzen's new book, Freedom, in the mail today. As many of you might know, he is a local lad (from Webster Groves, I think) and is most well-known for his "argument" with Oprah Winfrey over the use of his previous novel The Corrections as one of her book club picks a few years back. I read The Corrections -- it was okay but I hated the last 50 pages or so. I think Franzen is a little full of himself (based on interviews I have seen with him) but I just had to read this new novel since it has been touted as "The Best Book of the Century." Pretty amazing when you think we are only 10 years in on this century (read a bit of sarcasm in my response here). Anyhoo -- I read about 20 pages last night before I fell asleep (at something like 8:45 PM!). So far, it's sorta interesting. This book obviously has nothing to do with either school or dissertation but I feel an overwhelming need to read it. More later! :D

Monday, October 4, 2010

Tired Girl

So what has Dianna learned in the last week?

Full exertions for a few days in a row = one tired Dissertation Girl.

I had a busy weekend -- Jim and I spent a few hours at Grants Farm on Saturday and I ran a half-marathon with friends on Sunday. But sandwiched between these two events were grading papers, cleaning up the house, running errands, etc. So for me, the usual. But I am finding "the usual" just makes me so tired. I definitely had some problems this morning while teaching class. I teach three classes back to back and I was exhausted by the time I go to class #3. I then had a meeting (which seemed so long!) and finally crawled home where I fell asleep for about an hour. I think I would have slept longer but when I woke for a moment, my mind was racing with all the things I needed to do for tomorrow (i.e. grade a few more papers, catch up on the reading for my two lit classes, respond to student email, etc).

So the word of the day is "tired."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Shout Out to Laurie!

So how cool is the wine bag that you see sitting on our shelves above our kitchen sink?! Even though Laurie gave this to me to use as a wine bottle gift bag, I am giving it to myself! I am astounded that someone can make something so beautiful out of her own two hands! And is there no better word to use with a great bottle of wine than "YUM"?!?! Recently, any drinking has made me feel sick so I am going to lay off on any wine drinking until the end of chemo (3 more treatments to go!) and Laurie's kind gift to me today will sit there, in the middle of our kitchen, reminding me that there will be life when this whole ordeal is finished! (Thanks, Laurie! You are so talented!)

One other event to report from today -- I had my hair cut pretty short which is weird for me (though I have been going shorter and shorter ever since the cancer diagnosis). But the damage from the chemo drugs (and the thinning) was wreaking havoc on my hair and Braxton (hair goddess!) was able to find a style that would make the most of what I have (left). I don't think I am going to lose any more hair (wishful thinking on my part?) but I can't wait to get back at least my shoulder-length hair!

So there are my two future goals -- a glass of wine and longer hair! :D

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A few pictures from the triathlon on Sunday taken by the Fleet Feet Racing folks (I'm a team member; hence, the shirt you see me wearing!). I aways hate pictures of myself so I am not super excited about posting these ... my hair is a mess nowadays (and, yes, I know I was doing a sporting event at the time so messed up hair is par for the course!), my skin is going crazy with these darn chemo pimples, and I feel overall bloated and unhappy in my skin. But with that said -- enjoy the pictures!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I Tri-ed My Best! (OK, that was pretty lame, I know!)

I still feel almost "giddy" that I successfully completed my first "real" triathlon this morning! I was hoping to finish before 3 hours -- and I did. Click here for the official results page (I am in the 40-44 year old woman group and my last name is listed as "Rockwell-Shank") I did the 500 meter swim in 18:02, the 20 mile bike ride in 1:28:48, and the 4.4 mile run in 47:48. My combined time was 2:34:41. So I made the under three hour mark with some change to spare! Here is a basic run-down of what happened! (PS: No rain during the race but it rained on my drive out and my drive back! Crazy!)

THE SWIM: I just about s*** when I saw the pool. It was Olympic-size (from what I was told) which means it was 50 meters across each way. The other pools I used for the indoor "mini" triathons were a lot smaller and they had a shallow end so at some point I could put my feet down on firm ground. Not the pool today -- there was no shallow end and did I mention it was 50 meters long?? I can swim but (1) I wouldn't call myself a strong swimmer, (2) I never get to practice swimming since I have no access to a pool and (3) I'm a little bit afraid of swimming in the deep end. I got to the Rex-Plex early (or at least what I thought was early) and after finding a spot for my bike and equipment outside (not easy to do because the bike corral was already pretty crowded), I went into the pool area and watched the action for about 30 minutes. For the other two triathlons, I was assigned a swimming lane and went back and forth for however many laps I was supposed to complete. For today's race, folks would get in on one corner of the pool every 15 seconds and then start swimming. Once you got to the end of the first 50 meters, you would duck under the floating rope and swim in the next lane. And this happened 10 times. At one point, I looked down in the pool and saw how deep it was and freaked out a little so I swam mostly with my head above water (or doing some uncoordinated version of a back stroke). Each time I made it the end of the lane, I had to take at least a 30 second break while I hung on to the edge of the pool. So plenty of people passed me. If you look at my official time, you will even see that I was the last person in my age group out of the pool. But I made it. I can't begin to tell you how happy I was during that last 50 meters. Pure bliss!

THE BIKE: I left the water as fast as I could and ran outside in the chilly wind (about 50 degrees or so) and made for my bike. I tried to pull on my biking skirt and jersey as fast as I could but it's almost comical when you are soaking wet. I got my shoes on pretty fast but almost left the area without my helmet. I grabbed that at the last moment and then jogged my bike over to the departure area for bikes. Luckily, the guy in charge was someone I knew and we chatted for a minute about the swim and I remember telling him the worst was over. Well ... that wasn't exactly how it turned out but more about that later! The bike ride was actually the easiest for me -- it was about 20 miles out on country roads around St. Peter's but the strong wind made one direction of the course a tad bit difficult. Considering the fact that I was riding a mountain bike (it's all I have right now), I think I did pretty darn well. I passed three women and one man and rode as hard as I could. For most of the course, I was by myself; I think the bikers were pretty spread out by the time I hit the course. So, like I said, no problems. Sure, there was wind and there were hills but nothing I couldn't manage.

THE RUN: And this is about the time went things went bad. Real bad. I hopped off my bike in the transition area and traded my helmet for a running hat and I also grabbed one of my water bottles but decided not to take my MP3 player. I wasn't sure about the running course and I don't like using music when I am on city streets. Well, the course turned out to be gorgeous -- a wooded path that meandered through some quiet subdivisions (glad I didn't bring the tunes!). But the problem is that once I started the running portion of the triathlon, moments after ditching my bike, I couldn't feel my feet 100%. And my legs would not cooperate with me. I usually run with a pace -- a steady repetition that feels good. Not today. The first two miles or so were awful. I kept stopping and starting because I couldn't get my feet and legs to cooperate with what I wanted to do. At one point, I could feel the tears welling up. So I decided, F*** it. I'll just walk/ crawl the 4.4 miles. What the hell. But after two miles or so, things started to go better. I could feel my feet and I started running at a comfortable pace (I even passed 5 people). Sure, it wasn't as fast as I usually go, but I don't usually run after doing a 500 meter swim and a 20 mile bike ride.

The finish line was a bit anti-climatic. I went around a corner and boom! There it was. I knew I had finished toward the back because folks were already breaking down the finish area and most of the bikes in the corral were gone. But I was beaming -- even if there weren't that many people around to see it.

I feel lucky that I wasn't having a bad chemo day today -- I think I am generally more winded than what is normal for Dianna but the fact that I could do this given all the cancer crap is something to be proud of, I think. I so look forward to doing this next year when I am 100% healthy. And if I can manage to do a few more of these, maybe I can get a new bike that will help me go a bit faster (biking seems to my strongest card right now; Even Jim says that he thinks I am good at this -- must be those strong leg muscles from running!).

PS: Jim took the picture above when I walked in the door -- I came home to a fabulously clean house (thanks, Jim!) and an excited pup!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Keep Your Fingers Crossed!

So the forecast here in St Louis tomorrow is not as nice as I would like it to be! For the last few days we have had some cooler temps (with lower humidity!) but now the forecast is showing some light showers on and off tomorrow.

Why am I obsessed with checking the weather every few minutes? Tomorrow ... [drum roll to be inserted here] ... I am going to do my first "real" triathlon. I completed two indoor triathlons earlier this year (pre-Breast Cancer) and I had a blast (I even placed in one of them!) but both were completely inside -- a pool, an exercise bike, and a treadmill. The one tomorrow is at the St Peter's Rex Plex (over in St Charles County for you local folks) and is mostly outside. The swimming portion (5oo meters) is in the pool but the 21 mile biking and the 5 mile running are outside. I know I need to be extra-careful about getting sick when on chemo but I really, really, really want to do this event even though I am really, really, really nervous! I don't even care if I am the last person on the course. I just want to finish! (and I am still a little sore from the 13 miles of running I did yesterday; I am not usually that sore but I was exhausted when I finished the run).

So, please, keep your fingers crossed for me! :D
PS: That's not me in the above picture but I am seriously thinking about adding a tatt sort of like this someday!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Yes, I am Alive!

Just a quick note -- this has been an insane week. This last post-chemo was probably the toughest so far (which I guess makes sense). I was fine on Thursday night and even Friday but we went out to dinner with a group of friends on Friday night .. and some bad stuff happened. We went to Mango (the best Peruvian food here in downtown St Louis) and I was loving dinner as I ate it but somewhere along the line I could feel cramps and then, boom. I needed a bathroom and I needed it fast! I felt better afterwards but the same thing happened on both Saturday and Sunday almost everytime I tried to eat something. And my appetite is defintely just not there (seems like my hair is shedding more now, too; seriously thinking about cutting my hair super short).

Yesterday (Tues) was the closest I felt to feeling normal. Appetite is still lacking a little but I am back at the gym. I wasn't able to do the biathlon I had signed up for this past Sunday (Jim thought it was a bad idea for me to run in the rain storm we were experiencing) but I am hoping to FINISH the triathlon I will be doing this Sunday. This will be my first outside triathlon (swimming is in a pool but the biking and the running are both outside). The goal is just to finish and maybe have some fun along the way (and hopefully, no cramping!).

Today -- lots of teaching, conferencing with students, and cleaning up the Honors classroom (if you have seen our trailer, you will understand why this took me hours and felt like a hard gym workout). I also had my weekly Japanese language class, followed by a Tempura cooking class (long story). And now I am exhausted. So I have to stumble off to bed -- night!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Chemo #3

So the title of this entry says it all -- today I experienced my third CMF chemo treatment. I am getting experienced with this enough now to know that the steroids are making me feel OK right now -- but that will probably change by tomorrow or Saturday. But I am hoping that things continue to go as well as they have in the past. Before the treatment today, Jim and I met with Dr L, the oncologist, and she said that I am, indeed, experiencing hot flashes (whoopee!) and the tiredness is pretty much par for the course. She noticed that my hair is a bit "limper" which makes me feel good and that I am not just being paranoid. I also got copies of my pathology reports and Onctotype DX testing so I can keep this stuff for my records (seems sort of odd that I didn't get a copy of this important paperwork in the first place, I think).

I also went to my group therapy session for cancer patients which is two hours every Thursday night (on the other side of 270!). This was my third week and I think, if I am honest with myself, that it's a useful thing to be doing. Yes, I hate the time out of my schedule (and I am so tired!) but I feel like right now I am heading in a direction that is not healthy and I want to head that off before things get any worse than they are. Someone in the group once said that for every physical thing that happens to you (i.e. diagnosis, surgery, radiation, chemo, etc), there is an emotional parallel that is equally important to acknowledge and work through. This is the "stuff" that I think I need to wrap my head around. I guess it's just that I am afraid of "letting loose" too much -- I can barely talk wihout crying so I know there is a bunch of crap pent up behind some walls that if they break might be harder to reconstruct. I probably need to do something even more intensive but this is at least a start.

The two cats above are Bailey (11 years old; part Maine Coon) and Zora (13 years old; calico). I've had these two long before I even met Jim. Well, Zora has been acting funny lately (cries endlessly and drinks tons of water -- pretty much obsessed with the water bowl) so we took her to our new vet downtown (a block or so away) but neither of us were happy with the care 100% (i.e. smelly office). Anyway -- we took Zora to the Humane Society on Monday and paid -- again! -- for blood work and finally we have an answer to the obsessive water drinking and the almost endless crying during the night (which is getting hard for me to deal with). She apparently has a hyper thyroid. They think. The other possibility, if the thyroid medicine doesn't work, is that she might have some sort of brain illness. As you can imagine, I am hoping that the thyroid medicaiton kicks in and she goes back to normal.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tired, Tired, Tired

So what's my "new normal"? Tired. It's hard to describe exactly how I feel but it sorta resembles the "I have been at an all-night party and haven't had a chance to take a shower" kind of feeling. Or at least that is as close as I can get. And the weird thing is that I can't exactly say WHEN this feeling started. When I first started chemo, everyone kept saying you will feel tired. But at first I didn't. Everything felt pretty normal except the two days or so after chemo. But then things changed. And I think I am noticing it the most now, the last week or so.

I have figured out that mornings are the best. I can get up at 5 AM and work out at the gym downstairs even though I am definitely noticing a change in my stanima. That winded feeling comes just a little quicker than it used to. I am OK most of the morning teaching but by about 11 AM, I can feel the tired "creeping" over my body (for you literary types, I haven't been able to get the filmed version of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" out of my mind!). And the strange thing is that is hits me so suddenly. I will be chatting with a student and then "wham"! There it is. And it doesn't go away. I manage to get through the afternoons but I feel like I am on battery power and I am trying to make it to my bed before those batteries die.

This whole physical feeling is hard for me to talk about. I've always been such a physical person that I am amazed (in a bad way) that my body is doing this to me. To top it off, the chemo I am on is "lighter" than the chemo a lot of other folks get. Am I just a complete and total whimp?? Does my body not get the word "cooperation"?

So in a nutshell, I just feel sad right now. Sad that my body is not working with me a bit more and sad that this whole process won't be finished until the end of the year. And what do I have to look forward to?? A damn hysterectomy. I am honestly so done with doctors and hospitals. And why is it that you start noticing more pregnant people when you know that this is an option no longer available to you? What is up with that? OK .... whine fest finished for the night. But I reserve the right to start anew tomorrow!

In dissertation news, a pal from grad school (Brandi) and I decided to push each other to write. I sent her some pages of something I wrote last weekend and she sent me the most thoughtful comments (and I now need to do the same for her!). I need to get this dissertation DONE. I think that what I am doing is important but for some reason I feel stalled and uninspired. I'd like to blame it on the breast cancer, but I was feeling this way before the diagnosis. But Brandi's comments have jump started me a little! (and thanks to Dr M for giving me the idea to write in small bursts -- more fun to do with Brandi by my side!).

Sunday, September 12, 2010

One of my most favorite music "moments" on film -- if you haven't seen the Laya Project, it is an amazing documentary about the lives and music culture of coastal and surrounding communities in the 2004 tsunami-affected regions of Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar and India. I first saw the film while staying at an organic farm in Northern India in 2008. As soon as I came back to the States, I bought the soundtrack -- and the film. The music is simply beautiful.

Some Thoughts Inspired by Weekend Reading

More than a century and a half ago, Walt Whitman predicted the coming of a race of "fierce and athletic girls" who ...

"are not one jot less than I am,
They are tann'd in the face by shining suns and blowing winds,
Their flesh has the old divine suppleness and strength,
They know how to swim, row, ride, wrestle, shoot, run, strike, advance, resist, defend themselves,
They are ultimate in their own right -- they are calm, clear, well-possess'd of themselves."

Pretty much everyone thought he was crazy.

PS: If you haven't read Walt Whitman, you really gotta check him out! Click here!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Why are these always "quick" posts?!

So here it is -- another Friday! And I am pretty darn tired. One of my new "hobbies" seems to be overanalyzing my health -- Am I feeling/ experiencing "X" because of chemo? Or is whatever I am feeling just from getting old? Is it just something I would be feeling/ experiencing even without the chemo? Well, all I can say is that I am tired. In some ways, more tired than I have ever felt in my entire life.

Even though we didn't have classes this past Monday (Labor Day), it felt like a l-o-n-g week. I am trying to put 110% of my energy into teaching so by the end of the day, I am feeling pretty "spent." I was also stupid enough to take on some other activities this semester -- a Japanese language class, a Japanese cooking class, a technology certification course related to my teaching, and a bunch of other little "things." (and, yes, I recognize that I not only have a problem saying "no" but that I think of myself as some sort of wanna-be over-achiever).

And the support group is also eating chunks of time ... but it is something I need to do (it's on Thursday nights for two hours). It's a lot harder than I anticipated. No majic wand here. Just tough discussion -- for example, I am learning that crap that I thought I had taken care of in the past is not as taken care of as I thought. Cancer sort of pulled the rug from under me and I need to get my bearings again ... (one of the women in the group was a Stage I like me 7 years ago and now she has a reoccurence that is Stage 4. Sort of freaked me out a little).

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Chemo Angels

A few weeks ago someone told me about this great online organization -- Chemo Angel -- that connects you up with a volunteer who "adds a ray of sunshine" to your life while you are undergoing chemotherapy. I went ahead and signed up ... and was notified that I was "adopted" by two people!

Let me start by saying that I can't wait until I am 100% cancer-free and can do this for other people! And that kind of statement says a lot about the program because I have been hooked up with two of the kindest people ever: Rachel and Laurie. Both of them have sent such kind notes to someone -- me! -- who is pretty much a stranger. In this day of email and virtual conversations, it is so nice to come home and see a letter (you know, those pieces of paper that people write on!). As I am nearing the middle of chemo, my strong attitude is waning a bit. These letters help brighten the mood. I just wish I were a better writer and could articulate how cool this program is. I feel like I have made two new friends even though I am living through the worst year of my life.

And to make matters even BETTER, I have re-hooked up with two old friends -- Bonnie (who helped me survive a Master's degree) and Jennifer (a former student who became a close friend). I have been so fortunate in my life (and travels) to have met the most interesting and fabulous people -- and one of my biggest regrets is that sometimes you lose the connection simply because stuff like that happens even if you don't mean it to happen.

So now I am sitting here, thinking that cancer looks a little "smaller" when I compare it the well-wishes coming from new friends and those coming from old friends.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Running Trivia Question of the Day!

Did you know that the first running bra made for such hard impact was actually constructed out of two jock straps? That happened, my friends, in 1977. Note the picture above! FYI: Recent research indicates that the perfectly designed sports bra still does not exist -- but it is the one piece of runinng "equipment" that I spend tons of money on! (I go through them pretty fast!)

Monday, August 30, 2010

So what is the latest?

Last week was the first full week of the new academic semester so I was pretty busy -- and exhausted -- by the time I got to Friday. But here is a quick run-down on how dissertation girl is doing:

* Jim showed three of his prints in an art show held in our building this past Saturday evening! I know I (sort of) forced him to do it but I think he handled the whole thing quite well. His photographs were fabulous -- and everyone told him so! I had really hoped that at least one of them would sell. Damn economy!

* I have officially had some hair loss -- not a lot, though! I have been pretty fanatic about checking the drain after each shower and I was thinking that there seemed to be more hair the last day or so. But then when I went to get a massage yesterday (Sunday), Becky (the woman with the fabulous hands) noted that she was pulling a lot of loose hair out with the scalp massage. Afterwards, I also was able to pull out quite a few strands. But then by the afternoon, no more seemed to be coming out. So maybe just a spurt of hair loss? I need to figure out where I stashed all those scarves I bought!

* I finally connected up with a place that offers free counseling and support groups for folks with cancer (The Wellness Commnunity near Manchester and 270). I seriously need to talk in a professional setting. Sometimes I feel like I am going to explode. And I am starting to REALLY think that I can't write a dissertation.

* I love my classes this semester. Lots of great students (including former students). So far everyone comes across as being serious and "here" -- and I even have quite a few talkers in both literature classes. Yipeee!

* I have had about three of these weird moments that I am not sure if they are officially "hot flashes." One of them happened at the art show -- I was talking to someone when all of a sudden I felt hot all over, I could feel sweat popping out everyday, I felt a little dizzy, and then I felt this overwhelming desire to sit down. I got a little shakey but as soon as I sat down for a few minutes I felt perfectly fine. Not sure what the deal is there. Chemo side effect? Or menapuase?

And that's about it! I am currently re-reading Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own for my honors women's lit class and I am reminded of how much I loved this book when I was an undergraduate. In fact, I can't get this image out of my mind of me when I was 20 or 21 years old, reading this book in an empty classroom late in the evening (a lot of us qeeks who lived in the dorms at St Martin's College would go to the main building at night to study since most of the classroom doors were unlocked). That book "wowed" me! And it still does -- the best writing ever. And maybe that is the sort of thing I need right now to ispire me to tackle the dissertation. I even picked up some articles yesterday afternoon and started to figure out how they fit into my grand organizational plan.