Daisypath Anniversary tickers

Daisypath Anniversary tickers

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Well, No WONDER I'm Tired!

I had a lot of blood work done recently and picked up the results this week.  I haven't had a consult with my oncologist or any other doctor about any of it yet but (if you know me well you already know) I will.

In the meantime, my ongoing fatigue makes more sense (not that it didn't already -- nine months of pounding does take it out of your body!).

My hemoglobin and red blood cell counts are both low, which is not unusual post-chemo.  These low counts cause fatigue, and, interestingly, a low RBC count can also cause a higher heart rate, which I still have, in spite of being on two heart meds. Bone marrow cells, which produce RBC's, get zapped by chemo the same as every other cell in your body, and they need time to recover.  I think on that score I mainly need to be patient.  I'm not overly anxious to get on any of the meds that can help this, and it's something that I think will heal on its own.

My TSH is high and my T4 is normal.  Translation:  mild hypothyroidism, which, as you probably know, causes fatigue as well.   It can also contribute to high cholesterol, which has nothing to do with fatigue, but I have a "borderline high" LDL (not good) and a very high HDL (very good), which push my total numbers up to borderline high.  I'm not worried about it since my HDL is so high but I'm thinking now if I can get my TSH under control, that might help with the cholesterol and keep my cardiologist happy.  The cholesterol is something I know I can control without meds but if the thyroid issues are contributing, and I get that under control, so much the better.

The thyroid issues may be age related but are most likely caused by chemo damage. Meds for this are simple and relatively benign and I will be more than happy to take them to help get some of this fatigue under control.  Three hour naps just take too much out of the day!

I also am now in a search for a primary care physician.  The doctor I saw when I lived in the area previously has retired so I have to find someone new.  I have someone I know of who I listed as my PCP and who has been getting all my reports (for a year now!) but I haven't yet been in to see him -- but with all the various parts and pieces of things going on, I think it's time to have a PCP to help with oversight of everything.  And now I have the time and energy to deal with breaking in another doctor :)

In spite of these fairly minor issues, and ongoing fatigue, I do feel better than I did even a month ago. My spirits are great, I've had lots more emotional energy, and my one week post-heart cath restrictions are over, so I'm released to get out there and do whatever my body will let me (although the lymphedema restrictions are life-long so I have to be careful about those!).  But all in all, I'm one happy camper!! So, since yesterday was my last day on exercise and other restrictions, if you want to find me, you'll have to look for the crazy lady in the woods, happy-dancin' with the wildflowers!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Happy birthday, mom!


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Happy Dance in a Quote

A friend shared this quote and I love it so much I'm passing it on...

Today a new sun rises for me;
everything lives;
everything is animated;
everything seems to speak to me of my passion;
everything invites me to cherish it.
Anne De Lenclos 

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sound the All Clear!

Results from my heart cath showed only the minor impairment I knew about going into the procedure.  No blockages, pressure in all areas is normal, no other damage.  I have pretty significant physical restrictions for one week but then I'm cleared to shovel snow, dance a jig, or start jogging!  Whatever I feel like!

Happy dance!

Thank you to everyone who did some hand-holding and reassuring as I went into things.  It was much appreciated!

It was really cool to be able to see live video of my heart as they did the procedure.

I'm glad I did it, glad it's over, and glad of the good results!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Heart Cath

My heart cath is coming up, I'm dreading it for no good reason except that it sounds so creepy.  I appreciate the support of those of you who have held my hand and offered reassurances!  Please keep me in your thoughts.

Other tests coming up in May for other stuff but right now, one test at a time!

In other news, I just found out I don't have to pay a medical bill I thought I might have to pay.  Happy dance!!  Funny the little things that make me want to celebrate! :)

Happy spring, happy dance, everyone!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

One Year Canciversary

One year ago today I received the official diagnosis of my breast cancer, and a mad whirlwind of treatment began. It was chaotic, frightening, sometimes confusing, often stunning, and almost always overwhelming.

Everything happened rapidly so I could begin treatment as soon as possible, and then, of course, once treatment began, so did the side effects of treatment (in my case, Adriamycin and Cytoxin), and pretty soon I was too darned tired to do anything except try to get through each day as best I could.

I barely was able to register that I had cancer; I certainly didn't have energy to process what was happening to me, how it would impact my life, and what it meant to me.

Now I'm a year out from the initial diagnosis and a couple of months past my last treatment. I'm still dealing with some of the side effects, most notably fatigue, and will be for some time, but I'm slowly getting better, and for that I'm deeply grateful.

And now I have time for the cancer diagnosis to really register with me.

My initial response and attitude throughout treatment, apart from all the emotions, was that this was simply something that I had to get through, and I would. 

And I did.

Of course, it's been so much more than that.

Although I learned several years ago when I was a caregiver for a friend with terminal cancer to not sweat the small stuff, my own cancer was a reminder not only to not sweat the small stuff -- but also to not sweat the big stuff. And to not take on what isn't mine, including what people may try to make mine.  People often project their own fears and feelings onto others -- we all do that -- but with a cancer diagnosis, it seems to stir up things people may not want to face.  Instead of looking at those unpleasant thoughts and feelings as theirs, they tried to give them to me.  Fortunately, I know when something is mine, and when it isn't.

Early on in my treatment, my own cancer was a reminder of how important it is to process whatever feeling I was having – to respect that feeling for what it was telling me, let it be there, and then let it go. This is especially important with feelings that, let's face it, we'd all rather avoid or never even have, like fear.  Ignoring it, or saying it doesn't exist, or telling myself I "shouldn't" feel it, only denies it and stuffs it down to reemerge later and often with more of a vengeance. My body and my soul send me these emotions for a reason, and I only hurt myself if I don't allow them the same space that I allow other, more pleasant emotions. So sometimes I sit with pain, or hurt, or fear, or whatever is nagging at me at that particular time. It doesn't stop me from living my life, or even from enjoying my life. These feelings are part of my life. Beneath them, they often have a deeper message that I'm open to receiving once I allow the feelings in.  And once I allow them to exist, and look at them and what they mean, they dissolve and leave room for other emotions. Like joy, happiness, wonder. Gratitude. Love.

Cancer has been a reminder to live the lifestyle I want to live, now. Don't wait for better weather, or to lose 10 pounds, or any other future event that may or may not happen.  Do it.  Now.

How does that play out for me?  Since I'm still dealing with a fair amount of fatigue, I'm not going to run any marathons any time soon; but if I get out for walks several days a week, I feel good. I'm eating lots of fruit and veggies, whole grains, and cutting out or at least down on things that aren't good for anyone, but especially people who have had cancer. Eating well also makes me feel good: physically, yes; and on a deeper level, because I’m following a path that’s right for me.

I spend time doing things that are meaningful to me, that bring me joy. I spend time in meditation.  I practice self-discipline in large and small ways. And I spend time doing things that are fun!

I don’t do any of these things because I think they’ll make me invincible; I know there's no magic bullet that will prevent my cancer from coming back, just as I know that doing one good thing won’t counteract doing something that isn't good for me.   But the whole package, doing all these things, gives me an edge. 

And most of all, I do it because I feel better here and now: better physically, because I'm getting regular exercise and eating well; better mentally, because as I feel better physically, I have energy and clarity to let my brain do what it needs to do; better emotionally, because I'm taking care of me, in all the many ways that help me most; and better spiritually, because many of the things I do nourish my soul and deepen my spirituality.

My cancer was a reminder of my values, and how I can live my values. It's easier said than done and will always be a work in progress, but I try to hold certain questions in front of me: will this nourish me? will this nourish someone else? That doesn't mean everything that I do or say is positive or that I won't conflict with others; sometimes it means standing up for what I know is right for me (or, just what is right as I see it), and that can be in disagreement with what others think. But I learn more and more about how important it is for me to listen to my gut and trust it.  And act on it accordingly.

And that's another thing my cancer was a reminder of: how much I can trust myself to know what's right for me. Other people tell me what they think is right for me, give suggestions, offer advice; and I usually listen and take in what they say, but in the end, I know best what works for me, regardless of what anyone else thinks. When I follow my gut, my instincts, whatever you chose to call it, I not only have no regrets, but I end up knowing I've done what is best for me, and I'm at peace with myself.

My cancer diagnosis was, ultimately, a reminder of my mortality. A reminder that (watch out, here come the cliches!) life is short, and whatever I want to do with it, I'd best be doing now. The future is promised to no one. As the bumper sticker says, “Don't postpone joy!”  It's difficult to feel joy in the middle of cancer treatment, but now I'm moving beyond that.  Now it's time to dance with the wildflowers!

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do
than by the ones you did do.
So throw off the bowlines.
Sail away from the safe harbor.
Catch the trade winds in your sails.

Mark Twain

Thursday, April 1, 2010

In Another's Words

Two articles, both well worth reading, especially for those who haven't had cancer.  The first is a link to a good post about mood and cancer.  In short, it reminds us that owning our feelings (good and bad) is far better than pretending to be cheerful all the time, and that our mood does not and did not cause our cancer.

The second is an eloquent essay on how inadequate words are, posted in its entirety here.

Well said, Mr. Jennings!  (The italics near the end are mine, not Dana Jennings').

With Cancer ... Let's Face it:  Words are Inadequate
Dana Jennings, New York Times, March 15, 2010

We're all familiar with sentences like this one: Mr. Smith died yesterday after a long battle with cancer. We think we know what it means, but we read it and hear it so often that it carries little weight, bears no meaning. It's one of the clichés of cancer.

It is easy shorthand. But it says more about the writer or speaker than it does about the deceased. We like to say that people "fight" cancer because we wrestle fearfully with the notion of ever having the disease. We have turned cancer into one of our modern devils.

But after staggering through prostate cancer and its treatment - surgery, radiation and hormone therapy - the words "fight" and "battle" make me cringe and bristle.

I sometimes think of cancer as a long and difficult journey, a quest out of Tolkien, or a dark waltz - but never a battle. How can it be a battle when we patients are the actual battleground? We are caught in the middle, between our doctors and their potential tools of healing and the cell-devouring horde.

We become a wasteland, at once infested by the black dust of cancer and damaged by the "friendly fire" of treatment. And ordinary language falls far short of explaining that keen sense of oblivion.

As a patient, it's hard to articulate how being seriously ill feels. In a profound way, we are boiled down to our essential animal selves. We crave survival. We long for pain to end, for ice chips on parched lips, for the brush of a soft hand.

It pays to have a positive outlook, I think, but that in no way translates to "fighting" cancer. Cancer simply is. You can deny its presence in your body, cower at the thought or boldly state that you're going to whup it. But the cancer does not care. You're here, the cancer has arrived, and the disease is going to feed until your doctors destroy it or, at least, discourage it.

Then there's the matter of bravery. We call cancer patients "brave," perhaps, because the very word cancer makes most of us tremble in fear. But there is nothing brave about showing up for surgery or radiation sessions. Is a tree brave for still standing after its leaves shrivel and fall? Bravery entails choice, and most patients have very little choice but to undergo treatment.

Which brings me to "victim." I didn't feel like a victim when I learned that I had cancer. Sure, I felt unlucky and sad and angry, but not like a victim. And I have no patience for the modern cult of victimology.

Victim implies an assailant, and there is no malice or intent with cancer. Some cells in my body mutinied, and I became a host organism - all of it completely organic and natural.

And what are we once treatment ends? Are we survivors? I don't feel much like a survivor in the traditional (or even reality TV) sense. I didn't crawl from a burning building or come home whole from a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

I'm just trying to lead a positive postcancer life, grateful that my surging Stage 3 cancer has been turned aside, pleased that I can realistically think about the future. I'm trying to complete the metamorphosis from brittle husk to being just me again.

The phrase "salvage radiation" is not used much anymore, but when one doctor said it in reference to my treatment, it made me feel less human and more like a "case." It meant I needed radiation after surgery, because the cancer was more aggressive than expected - I needed to be "salvaged."

I felt as if I had been plopped into some screwy sequel to "Raise the Titanic!" - time to raise the U.S.S. Jennings, lads. Or maybe I was going to get picked up by a scrap-metal truck and then get zapped at Frank's Junkyard, laid out in the back seat of a 1960 Ford Fairlane.

And I'm still troubled by this sentence, which I've heard many times: "Well, at least it's a good cancer." It's usually applied to cancers that are considered highly treatable, like those of the prostate and thyroid.

Most people mean well, but the idea of a good cancer makes no sense. At best, the words break meaninglessly over the patient. There are no good cancers, just as there are no good wars, no good earthquakes.

Words can just be inadequate. And as we stumble and trip toward trying to say the right and true thing, we often reach for the nearest rotted-out cliché for support. Better to say nothing, and offer the gift of your presence, than to utter bankrupt bromides.

Silences make us squirm. But when I was sickest, most numbed by my treatment, it was more than healing to bask in a friend's compassionate silence, to receive and give a hug, to be sustained by a genuine smile.

Strangely enough, although cancer threatened my life it also exalted it, brought with it a bright and terrible clarity.

So, no, cancer isn't a battle, a fight. It's simply life - life raised to a higher power.