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.