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."