Monday, February 27, 2012

The Moment of Truth

I recall an incident during my high school years when one of my older sisters agreed to "trim" my hair. I should mention that in the '70s, it was thick, straight and hung down to the middle of my back. By the time I realized her idea of a trim was different from mine it was several inches too late.

I cried for days, but eventually got over it when the layered look came into style. :)

Little did I know at sweet 16 that 41 years later I would face a challenge worth a few tears. However, to prove that I'm tougher than the affliction, I want to share a series of photos taken of me since last Friday, February 24.

Let's begin with one taken of me on February 2, days after my last hair cut.  According to my daughter, I had a nice salt and pepper thing going there. One friend even called is a sassy cut.  :) The point, however, behind getting the pixie cut was that I knew it would soon begin to fall out and thought it would be a less drastic change if it were short to begin with.

The information I received from the Cancer Center indicated that I could expect the hair loss between three and six weeks after the first treatment. Last Friday, February 24, was exactly three week and the first day I noticed the clumps of hair on the shower floor. I won't lie, I said something like, "Oh crap." I don't know, I might have used a few stronger words. At any rate by Saturday morning the situation got worse.  I showered again, lost more hair, and when I blew it dry, I had to vacuum every surface in the bathroom; sink, floor, window sills, tub.  It was truly hideous.

This is what I looked like by Saturday evening (24 hours later).

Impressive, huh? Oh, it gets better. This is when I started to get a bit desperate. I knew two agencies in town provided services to cancer patients, but I had no idea how much red tape would be involved in getting a wig and/or how quickly I could get one. That's when my thoughts wandered off to Monday morning, going to work, and how I'd deal with it. 

Sunday I decided to wear a scarf around the house for no other reason than it was really getting disgusting. One sweep of a comb produced a handful of hair. My shoulders were constantly cover with it, and the prospect of going out on that windy day made me feel like a dandelion seed head fearing the slightest breeze.

This morning I showered as usual, blew dry my hair, then proceeded to vacuum the bathroom. By this time, I had some patches of beautiful scalp starting to show. Naturally, I didn't dare comb it. Instead, I gave my new do and extra bit of hair spray and went to work.

I decided to lay low at work and stay in my office as much as possible. If any of my co-workers noticed my bald spots the few times I ventured into the copy room or down the hall for something, they didn't mention it. Thanks guys! :)

I took the afternoon off to see about getting a wig  so after lunch, Jessica and I went to the Little Red Door.  This organization has been in town for as long as I can remember and depends on donations.  To my relief, I was only asked to fill out a short form after which a very nice lady led us into a room full of wigs that were nicely displayed.  Okay, I have to say, it was a blast trying them on.  I'm a sucker for trying on hats too. LOL  Anyway, I was thrilled to find two that seemed as if they would work. In fact, Jessica and I were both impressed at how great they looked.

When we got home, I was more than ready for the next step.  Jessica hadn't seen me in about a week so imagine her shock when I started to comb it out one clump at a time. This next photograph was taken late this afternoon. Lovely, huh?  Only one thing to do...

Keep scrolling ....

Keep scrolling ....

So is bald really beautiful?  It is when you feel this good inside. To be honest, it felt great to get what little was left  buzzed off.  Jessica was the designated beautician who kept saying, "On mom, I'm so sorry." but never stopped cutting. Tracy, on the other hand, chuckled in the background while he took some of these photographs.  Did I mention laughter is the best medicine?  Believe me, there is always a bright side no matter how horrible the situation may appear to be and today was certainly one of the brightest!

So much has happened since mid November when I first learned of the stage 2 breast cancer. Decisions had to be made quickly and no matter how right I knew those choices were, they didn't come without the fear of the unknown.  The next chemo treatment is this Friday, March 2, with two more to follow and although I know I'll have some rough days, I'm thankful the worst is behind me. No fear, no pain, no doubt.

But wait, that's not the end of my story. After all I did mention I walked out of The Little Red Doors with two wigs, right?   So...what do you think?

By the way, I was warned that my lashes and eyebrows might be next to go and if they do, so be it.  Hmmm, never wore false lashes before. ;)  2012 is certainly a year of firsts!

My deepest gratitude to the great team of doctors on my side and the wonderful folks at The Little Red Door!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

More Water, Please!

Yesterday I learned a valuable lesson in hydration.

While in the hospital the week before last, my oncologist told me he wanted me to drink a liter of water a day. Yeah, like I can do that, right? Unless I'm really thirsty, water tends to upset my stomach so although I do drink it, I can't drink as much of it as the experts say we should.

So after having a fairly good last week, I came home Friday after work and grew increasingly tired. By Saturday morning, it was all I could do to drag myself around the house. I naturally still blamed this cold that's hung on since February 8, and continued to take my medicine but still felt increasingly lethargic. 

My first thought was that I needed to build up my strength through proper nutrition which I'm usually pretty good at anyway.  I'm supposed to be on a high-protein diet to increase my red blood cells, so I thought perhaps I needed to up the protein. For breakfast I had cereal with a sprinkling of nuts, V8, coffee, toast with peanut butter, and my collection of vitamins which I've never stopped taking! Lunch was a spinach omelet and half of a baked sweet potato. For a snack I had pears and cheddar cheese.  I started feeling a bit better but not totally.

That's when I decided to go back and read through the stack of reading materials I received from the doctor. There in black and white it said to drink 2-3 quarts of water withing 24-hour. 

That's 2 cups to a pint, 2 pints to a quart = 8-12 cups of water per day.

Fortunately I have a small pitcher that holds just about one quart so the math wasn't too challenge for my poor little grey cells--drink 2-3 pitchers of water and I'll be on the mend. 

I took a 2-1/2 hour nap in the afternoon and noticed I felt pretty good when I woke up. I finally finished the third pitcher of water before going to bed.  It's amazing how much better I feel today.

Note to self, idiot--keep the water coming!

Friday, February 24, 2012

The First Fourteen Days

It's two weeks today that I began chemo treatment. I'm actually feeling okay. Although I do feel a little more tired in the evening, I've had a very productive week at work.

I noticed the first big change this morning when I washed my hair ... a significant clump of hair (a good handful) in the drain.

I was hoping that I'd be one of the many people I'd heard of who didn't lose their hair. Evidently it's not to be. Fortunately I have a thick head of hair so maybe it won't be too obvious right away.

So ... I'm thinking it's time to shop for wigs--have a little fun with it. Will also have to invest in several bottles of drain cleaner.

In the whole scheme of things, this is just one more hurdle to deal with. A small price to pay though for the peace of mind that all will be well. June can't come fast enough.

The next treatment is March 2, 2012.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Good Day

Life is full of ups and downs, but every day is a blessing. 
A good day is icing on the cake.
I'm looking forward to another sweet day.

When I checked my e-mail this morning, I had a note from our dear next door neighbor that he had read my post and was shocked to learn that I'd been in the hospital.  To be honest, things happened so quickly that we never thought to call anyone.  However, it proved the worth in updating my blog!

My return to work yesterday felt pretty good and it was a very productive day.  The cold will take a few more days, but is getting better, the voice is coming back, and so is my sense of taste.

Tracy popped in a small pork roast in the oven yesterday after he got home from classes so dinner was basically done by the time I got home at five. It was the first meal in over a week that I could taste and enjoy. After dinner, Rick and I just kicked back and watch a movie then off to bed. That's as normal as life has been lately, but it does move on. In fact, as I write this, I'm distracted by the huge folder on my desk with all our tax information that I need to sort through. I'll probably try to tackle that tonight.  I always feel a huge load taken off my mind once I have that done so there's no point in putting it off any longer.

PS:  Neil, for future reference, if you don't see my office light on in the early morning hours, you'll know something is up. LOL

Sunday, February 19, 2012

An Interesting Week

I meant to posted several days ago but have been a guest at our local hospital until yesterday afternoon. Ugh.

At least it was a very nice private room.
I had progressively felt worse as last weekend drew to a close, but on Monday I had an appointment to see the doctor to get an injection that would boost my white cells and thought all would be well. By the time I arrived at his office I was literally dragging myself around. Those who know me, understand this is not the norm for me. I'm generally pretty high energy and ready to jump from one project or task to the next. Words can't express how frustrating it was to feel like that.

I'd been warned that the side affects to the injection would give me flu-like symptoms. How bad could that be, right?  Always think positively, I say...but the truth is, it produced sharp shooting pains in all the major joints and across my torso. Not fun.

The doctor put me on an antibiotic on Monday for the chest cold and I thought okay, that's that. The following day (Tuesday), things got worse and by four in the afternoon, my fever reached 102.5.  My chemo instructions indicated that I needed to call the doctor if I ever had a fever over 100.5.

By 9:00 PM, I was admitted into the Oncology ward at Ball Memorial Hospital and there I stayed until yesterday Saturday, February 18.  All the blood work, chest x-rays, and whatever other lab work they did all came back negative for any type of infection, but the fever didn't break until late Thursday.

I know the other patients on the floor were in far worse shape than I was. One family was considering placing their loved on in Hospice and here I was, being treated for the chest cold.  I felt like crap about it, but I'm told the game changes once you begin chemo treatments and the slightest cold or sign of infection could lead to something much worse.

The hot shower I took last night did me wonders--those sponge baths just don't quite do it for me. And this morning I slept until 9 AM.  Still have bit of the cold hanging on and plan to take it easy today, but over all, I'm feeling pretty well.

Once again, Jessica and Tracy stepped up to the plate to take care of mom and dad. God I love them!

Guys, I promise, one of these days we'll get our lives back. Besides, we have a wedding to plan!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

And so it begins ...

Let's just say it's been an interesting two days here at home. I had my first chemo treatment this past Friday afternoon.  Thank goodness our daughter Jessica came with me. We are never at a loss for things to talk about and that's good because what was supposed to have been a three-four hour procedure turned out to be a solid five.

We start with the standard blood work and vitals check. Then came the IV bag and a half of saline, a small bag of anti-nausea medication, and another of one of steroids. Once those were administered I was given two types of chemo medication one IV bag at a time. I finally floated out of the Cancer Center a litter after 6 PM. Literally--it took me 18 months to lose 30 pounds and gain five pounds of fluids in a single sitting.

I was planning a quiet evening at home, but based on how chaotic life has been these past nine months, I should have known better.  We weren't yet out of the building when I received a
panicked call from our son Tracy that his dad wasn't feeling well. We've all had a cold this week, but Rick seemed to have survived the bug or at least hadn't yet shown signs of it.  It only took me about ten minutes to get home from the center, but to my horror, when I arrived, Rick had a temperature of 103, his hands shook, and he'd lost the strength to even get up from a sitting position.  Turned out he has a sinus infection, a relatively "simple" thing to treat unless you've had a stroke, can't swallow, and are a diabetic. Our doctor got him started on a liquid Z-pack. He's been on it since Friday along with Tylenol around the clock.  He has gotten some of his strength back, but is back in the wheel chair for now. His temperature continues to fluctuate--I'm hoping it'll break today. At least it's down to 99.1 for now. 

Oh but we make a pair these days.

As for me, I didn't immediately feel anything different after the treatment yesterday other than feeling quite bloated and tired. The huge change came the following day. The steroids I've been taking for three days (no more now until the next treatment on 3/2/12) leave a horrible sensation in my mouth. I felt terribly tired and to be honest, a bit disoriented. It's so frustrating. I'm the list person around here--usually well-organized and yet I couldn't even think straight enough to write out my grocery list.  Jessica to the rescue again. God bless her. She's going to do my shopping today. :)

Feeling a bit better this morning, but in spite of having slept well, I find that I can do one task (laundry, make the bed, fix a meal--little things) and, have to sit down and rest.

It's been an overwhelming four-month experience to say the least.  The long list of information thrown at me about the many side affect to the treatments, things I must do to over come them, and the endless list of things to avoid just make my head spin.

I can't say what tomorrow will bring except that it will be one day closer to getting well.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

I reached a milestone of sorts yesterday.  It was my first day at work after a three-week leave since my surgery. Believe it or not, it felt good to get back into the rhythm of a work day.  Crazy, I know, but it's hard to give up a 40-year routine. And ... okay, I'll admit it. I was starting to miss everyone.

The weather certainly didn't hurt my recovery time. Can't believe how unseasonably balmy it's been in Indiana these past few weeks.  We're about an hour north of Indianapolis so if you were visiting our Hoosier state during Super Bowl weekend, you know what I'm talking about. Daffodils and crocuses have popped up out of the ground throughout the yard. I'm so ready to get to work on our flower beds. Alas, it is Indiana. Today the temperature dipped into the 30's and tonight we're in for about an inch of snow.

Now that the stress and worry of the past few months have been put to rest, I started to make a list of the things I want to do--things I hadn't done in years like sewing. My mother was an amazing seamstress so from the time I was little, I've sewn. Of course back then (30-40 years ago), making our own clothes was cost-effective.  I nearly fainted when I saw the price of a pattern these days minimum $16!!  Holy cow!  Oh well, I bought a pattern and a couple of different fabrics and enjoyed the experience all the same.  I've also been thinking of getting my oil paints out. Can't remember the last time I painted. It seems all my "hobbies" got pushed aside 10-12 years ago when I started to write fiction. Sadly the stress of the past several months sucked the life out of my creativity ... I'm pretty sure my oils are dried up too.
Note to self: Go to art supply store.

On the bright side, working on this blog lit a spark. I'm embarrassed to say how long I've been working on the third Harper novel. Suffice to say much too long. I rewrote it twice, typed myself into a corner, and can't seem to get out of the edit mode. However, I did manage to write a few new chapters last week. All I need now is the momentum to stay with it. Maybe, if all goes as planned, this is the year it'll happen and Harper can finally solve that case once and for all.