Fox and Broom

A mom's adventures in keeping healthy, keeping her sanity, and making stuff.

Archive for the category “Cancer”

The Day

I have been working on blogs about my Paris adventure, but I wanted to put up a quick post for today.

A year ago today, I found out that my pain was definitely not caused by a pulled muscle. A year ago today, my life turned upside-down. A year ago today, Dr. C told me that I had metastatic breast cancer that had spread to my bones. Stage IV. No cure. A death sentence.

It isn’t an anniversary that I want to remember. I was in agony and losing weight. I had gotten to the point where I was having trouble walking. I was exhausted. I was angry.

My first thoughts were for my kids. I couldn’t leave them. Not yet. I very much want to see them grow up. I very much want to see what kind of humans they become. I also, maybe selfishly, very much want them all to remember me. Really remember me. Not just hear about me from other family members or friends.

After my diagnosis, I went downhill fast. I honestly thought I wasn’t going to make it to my birthday in October. I believe my children and my anger brought me through that time. The radiation treatments helped with my pain and my hormone treatments helped to get my cancer somewhat under control, but it was my children who got me through the other things. I thought of them as I forced food down my throat. I thought of them as I forced myself to reclaim my muscles and start walking again. I thought of them as the worst of my symptoms started to fade and now, a year later, I am not the skeletal, sickly, creature that cancer wants to make me.

Now, I enjoy eating again. I have been working on taming my garden that went out of control. I walked miles and miles in Paris. I took my oldest son to Disney World and Universal Studios. I walked a 5K, which I didn’t think I would be able to do again. I have hope that I now have years instead of months. I have met a lot of the goals that I set for myself last year at this time. Every time I cross one off, I get a feeling of vindication. Fuck you cancer.

Living with cancer means fighting everyday. I am a warrior.

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What Kind Of Cold Is This?

From April 6 up until the morning of April 10, I have felt like shit. It has been hard to eat. Hard to walk. Hard to move. On Saturday, my temperature spiked to 100.4. I am supposed to go to the ER if my temperature goes above 100.2.

So, to the ER we went. I had a lot of blood drawn and tests done. I was given some sort of heavy-duty pain medication that made me loopy and tired. They did not find anything that antibiotics would help, so I was eventually sent home with orders to take Tylenol. I was told that I had some sort of virus working its way through my system.

Holy shit. If this is what it feels like for me to get a cold now, I am tempted to just wear a medical mask everywhere I go. That was some crazy, awful, painful nonsense. But, now I understand why it is soooo important for normal people to keep their viruses away from folks who have a compromised immune system. Colds do not affect me in the same way. They completely knock me out. I don’t just get sniffles and a headache, I now get a full body ache, lose my ability to lift or move anything, and lose my appetite completely.

I am feeling better this morning and my appetite has returned, but that episode brought back flashbacks from my troubles just after I was first diagnosed. I seriously thought I was backsliding. It was scary. I am seeing my doctor today for a checkup and for my monthly bone treatment. I am hoping that this virus does not set back my treatments. It would seriously mess up some future plans if I have to delay getting my injection.

So, PLEASE be cautious of your friends (and newborns – newborns need a few weeks to buildup their immunity) who have compromised immune systems. “Just a cold” or “only a sniffle” becomes so much more for someone with no defenses.

Goals

I have two slightly different sets of goals. “Local goals” and “worldly goals.” The local goals are things that I need to either do to myself or can do in my area. The worldly goals are bigger or more expensive to achieve. In the past three weeks, I hit two local goals and one worldly goal.

I was able to finally walk around my block now that the weather has gotten friendlier. My block is pretty big. It is about the size of three blocks all together. In October, I was barely able to walk to the corner and back. This small feat was a big deal for me. April 2, I walked to the top of Garfield Hill. Garfield Hill is a part of the road that goes from 19th (at the base) to 27th (at the top), so it is a decent few blocks to walk. Especially if you are walking up a 17% grade.

Garfield Hill

The view from the top is really nice. I always forget how pretty it is up here. On a really nice day, you can see mountains in that direction.

The view from the top of Garfield Hill.

I had a lot of trouble trying to get a good picture of just what this hill looks like. It is daunting no matter if you are at the top of it or at the bottom. My kids always do the roller coaster “wheeeeeee” when we drive down it. I didn’t drive up or down it at all while we had snow and ice.

Garfield Hill from the top.

Garfield Hill from the bottom.

My walk ended with me looking goofy while admiring this willow tree’s flowers. They were so lovely.


The Worldly Goal that I hit was seeing the Pacific. I hiked so much that I could probably say that I hiked Badger Mountain, but I want to actually do that before I cross it out. It was a pretty amazing trip and I will be forever thankful to Abigail for setting it up. We saw a ton of sea lions, a mama gray whale and her calf, weird tentacles on the beach, sunset over the ocean, and a few really neat geological formations.

My first view of the Pacific. We were still driving to our cabin.

It was misty like this for almost our entire drive to the Oregon coast.

The Shelley Cabin. Our little home for a few days. It has a path down to the beach.

We had an amazing, sunny day. We took the Hobbit Trail to the beach.

There were a few of the tentacle-like things on the beach. I suspect they are actually some form of sea weed.

Picture from a viewpoint. This is the same viewpoint from which we saw hundreds of sea lions and a gray whale with her baby.

Hundreds of sea lions.

A couple of sunset pictures. That day was so beautiful and perfect.

These are pictures taken from our private beach access.

Sunset.

Sea lions inside of the Sea Lion Caves.

A view from inside of the Sea Lion Caves.

My final picture of the Pacific before we drove away from the cabin.

We stayed in a lovely little cabin between Yachats, OR and Florence, OR. If you ever need to rent a cabin in this area, I highly recommend searching for The Shelley Cabin. The Pacific was everything I thought it would be and more. It is definitely more powerful than the gentler (sort of) Atlantic where I grew up in Florida. It was very chilly out, so I did not even try to dip a toe into the water. I just can’t handle cold the way that I used to. All in all, a wonderful trip.

Oh – on our one sunny day, Abigail made me dress up and we had a photo shoot:

A Last Unicorn theme

Unfortunately, the horn broke.

Six Months

Well, here I am. I am still around. Six months ago, on August 25, 2016, my life completely changed. I had a really rough patch after that and have been working on getting my body back. Cancer takes a lot from a person. Strength, health, daily routines. My family has been amazing in supporting me while I was really down for the count. I honestly can not imagine surviving as long as I have without them. It makes me want to find the people with no support system and show them the same love.

I have now been able to tentatively plan trips. I have two upcoming trips that I am very excited about. I will be going to the Oregon coast with my sister and my other trip is a secret. I am seriously looking forward to posting all about it once we are back. Both of these vacations are something that I have been trying to plan and save for for at least 15 years.

My hair is starting to grow again. I have to laugh at it. It started with about six little hairs poking out of my head. Just six. It took weeks for more hair to start showing up. Now it is coming in with patches of blonde and patches of light brown. I guess I am a calico.

I am still having some issues with food. I really miss enjoying food. I eat because I need to, but there is no pleasure in it. I used to love the taste of a good rare steak, sushi, falafel gyro… Now it is just mundane. I choke on the weirdest things. I can’t eat lasagna anymore. Well, I can’t eat most pastas. I just start to gag. What is really strange with all of this, is that I have started to crave fish. I don’t even like fish. I have been cooking or buying fish 1 – 3 times per week. I don’t know what to make of this. Broccoli is another food that I can’t seem to get enough of. I guess it is good that I am craving healthy things, but I still don’t enjoy eating them.

In all, I am keeping mostly steady. My hemoglobin has been low, but above the danger zone since December. My white blood cells are still dangerously low, which means I try to stay away from large groups of people. With my immune system so compromised, a common cold could do a lot of damage to me. My tumor markers had dropped drastically, but are trying to climb again. I am not sure what that means, but if it keeps going up, there will be more scans done to see if I need to change or add to my current treatment.

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Mom and Max

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day 26

Ok. I got behind on these and I really want to finish them. I only have 5 days left. I had gotten sick and I am still recovering, but I am finally feeling well enough to sit at my computer.

Fox & Broom|30 Days of Thankfulness

Day 26: Charity

I will need to mention two. And yes, they are both cancer related. You will have to forgive me if that is pretty much constantly on my mind.

The first is The Warrior Sisterhood. These women are amazing and have helped to give support and even some normalcy with activities such as going to the pumpkin patch, painting, and family roller skating. I really can’t express to them how much their support has meant.

The second is the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network. These folks are fighting for more research and understanding about Stage IV breast cancer. There is surprising little research about MBC. The number of people living with MBC is even unknown. We just kind of get pushed to the wayside.

So, if you have a sudden need to support a charity, think of one of these. The Metastatic Breast Cancer Network is one of the Amazon Smile charities, so you can donate and shop.

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day 21

Fox & Broom|30 Days of Thankfulness

Day 21: Disappointment/Fear

This is something strange to be thankful for. I guess I would have to say that I am most thankful for my fears about my children. When I was at my lowest in my early cancer treatment, it was the thought of my children that got me to choke down food when I just kept gagging. I thought of them as I lost my hair to radiation. I am afraid of leaving my kids. I am afraid of the idea of Max never having any memories of me. I fight the hardest for my own life because of my children.

A Sober Post About Drugs

So a little break in between my gratitude posts. I have always been someone who never really imbibed in drugs or alcohol very much. I like an occasional glass of something, but it is occasional. On the subject of drugs, I barely took Tylenol. Until I got my cancer diagnosis.

I know this seems like a totally random post. I just started to think about this today. Today was the first day I went totally pain-med free. Since September. I was on some pretty hefty stuff. As in I was actually afraid to drive myself around for about a month. My body became dependent on it, so once I was ready to stop taking it, I had to slowly lower my dosages. Then I looked at all the other meds I am taking:

Fox & Broom|A Sober Post On Drugs

This is not including the D3 I have to take to go along with the calcium, the mouthwash I need to use so I can taste food, or the four other medications that I have stopped taking in the past month. I have to use a list to remember where to put each medication. It also took me forever to remember what each pill was. I will also be stopping a few other medicines within the next month. Which will be nice. Mostly because I hate taking so many pills, but I also miss the occasional beer or glass of wine and there are a few pills in there that will not react well with alcohol. I can wait. I am getting down there.

My Obligatory “Pinktober” Post

I’ve mostly been ignoring the swashes of pink that are everywhere in October. I’m still feeling enough anger that I am kind of hating the constant barrage of reminders that my life has been taken over by my cancer.

I figured I would use my obligatory “Pinktober” post to remind people to check for cancer and check oftenAND be your own advocate if you think something is wrong. I found a lump in my breast around May of 2015. I had just stopped breastfeeding my third boy in March and I thought it was a build-up of leftover milk. I had also just found out around that time that I was pregnant with baby #4. It seemed like a lot of things could have added to the lump. So I ignored it.

I saw my midwife at 12 weeks pregnant and I mentioned it to her. The lump had also grown by this time. She had me come in for a thermography test. This test measures your body’s temperature in certain areas. It is pretty fascinating, though not super thorough. I also decided at that time to set an appointment with an Ob Gyn.

My Ob gave me a referral to have an ultrasound done on my breast. Because I was pregnant, I was not able to have a mammogram or any sort of scan that contained radiation or harmful rays. The results came back as a “fluid filled cyst.” I was told by the Ob to have it rechecked after my pregnancy, but she was sending me to the surgeon to have him look at it. She was pretty sure it would just go away on its own.

The surgeon took a look at my ultrasound and the actual lump. He said he didn’t think a biopsy was necessary. “The lump is a fluid filled cyst and will go away on its own.” His wife got them and they always went away.

My midwife was not so sure it was a fluid filled cyst, but she didn’t push the issue.

My pregnancy continued and the lump stayed put. My pregnancy became increasingly difficult and resulted in a pretty traumatic birth.  I completely forgot to get that “fluid filled cyst” checked out with my recovery. It DID seem to shrink after I started breastfeeding Max. At least it became softer. I put thoughts of it on the back burner. During March and April I was feeling great and even jogging 2 miles once or twice a week. I had hired a trainer and was feeling pretty healthy.

Then May came. And everything started falling apart. I thought it was a pulled muscle in my back. Except it didn’t get better. And it kept hurting for three months. I started losing weight.

 

I actually freaking documented how my cancer started with my own blog.

 

In any case. Get checked. If you think something is not quite right, ASK for a biopsy. At worst, your suspicions will be right. At best, it will be negative. And you can sigh a breath of relief. If you don’t want to do it for yourself, do it for me.

Don't be me. Get a mammogram before you are 40.

Don’t be me. Get a mammogram before you are 40.

Even if you do not have a lump, ask about getting a mammogram before you are 40. Yeah, they suck (well, they squish). However, I have gotten to know more and more women under the age of 40 who are being diagnosed with breast cancer. A lot of them have been blown off by their doctors who can’t believe they have cancer. “You are too young and healthy.” Even after my diagnosis, the doctor who did my breast biopsy* told me that everything looked really good and he was sure that I did not have cancer. I looked at him and told him that I had been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer that had spread to my bones. He gave me what I have started to think of as the “doctor grief” look. Every doctor who has worked with me has given me that look at some point. It turns out that my case had been presented to a local cancer meeting and he had read about me that morning. He just didn’t realize that case and me were connected.

*I had a breast biopsy done after my diagnosis to determine if I had the HER2 cancer marker. I do not have the HER2 marker.

So, now I am on a shitload of medications all in an attempt to keep my cancer in check and my pain at a minimum. I even have some medications that help me to want to eat (I include marijuana edibles in this category). My goals in life have become more important than ever to me. I have them separated into two groups. “Local goals” that I can easily work toward and “Longer Goals” that I either have to save up for or work on keeping my cancer under control to see those goals happen. I have already met one of my local goals and can change it slightly: I gained weight to a goal weight. Now my goal is to maintain that weight.

A little about my picture: I had radiation therapy on my skull. The dose finally affected portions of my hair and it started to come out in clumps. Rather than dealing with hair shedding all over the house, I shaved it off. This picture was taken on October 7, the day after I shaved it all off. Due to the amount of radiation dose I received, my head still looks like this. 20 days later. My husband (who is a physicist) has told me that it could take a few months for my hair to start growing again. In the meantime, I do get to wear some fun hats and fun earrings.

Cat hat!

Cat hat!

For the moment, I am still doing good with my current treatment plan. I am working on getting off of a few of my meds, which would be very nice. Some of the side effects are doozies. My blood also seems to be holding its own for a bit longer. I did have a transfusion yesterday, but it had been a few weeks since my last one. It is an improvement over getting blood every other week. I had my bone-strengthening treatment on Monday and did not have the extreme reaction that I had the first time. I was a little achy, but was able to walk on my own.

I am going to the gym once a week to work on my legs and core with the cycles and my arms with the arm pedals. I am starting slow with the exercise. If my appointments allow for it, I hope to start going to the gym twice a week. It is nice to feel like I can live an almost normal life.

My New Life

Cancer. This is my new life. Metastatic Breast Cancer to be more specific and to even narrow it down more, metastatic breast cancer of the bone. I was officially diagnosed August 25, 2016. It has taken me over a month to not only get up the energy to think of a way to write about my new life, but the courage to write.

Something had not been right since at least May. I had been running about 2 miles once per week, then suddenly I started falling apart. In May, I thought I had pulled a back muscle… except pulled muscles do not usually take over two months to heal. I just knew that I was in a great deal of pain and had no idea why. My doctor had me go in for more blood work in July and I had some pretty strange results. Due to the results, he had me get a CT Scan which showed a mass in front of my sacrum (seeing the image, it looks like it is between my pelvic bone and intestines). We thought it was lymphoma.

I was sent to a hematologist. He had a bone biopsy done which showed that I do not have lymphoma. I had breast cancer. Which had spread into my skeleton. Which had made my skeleton very fragile. I am no longer allowed to have massage, chiropractic care, jog, or ride roller coasters. That last one actually upset me the most for a while.

I am now receiving a bone-strengthening treatment every 4 weeks. The first treatment was a doozy. I was unable to walk the next day. I felt as if all of my bones were crushing into each other. The pain was so bad that I had trouble talking. It was just as bad as un-medicated childbirth. I started my first radiation therapy the day after the bone therapy and I actually felt almost an instant relief. They targeted the mass in my gut which had been dancing around in my nerves, causing huge amounts of pain in my legs.

These early weeks were really dark for me. And I mean that on a lot of levels. When I look back to just two weeks ago, my whole world was just dark. I felt like I could not see the sun. My appetite was way down. I lost more weight than is healthy is for anyone, and which was dangerous for someone trying to survive with cancer. I was in constant pain.

A week ago, on September 20, I was admitted into the hospital due to a blood culture showing positive for either staph or some sort of infection. It was the best thing that could have happened to me at this point in my life. While I was staying in my super expensive hospital-hotel waiting for more blood culture results, I met with a team of doctors who helped me to get my pain managed. They also helped me to start eating again. Turns out I needed an anti-nausea pill. I now have a palliative team. I met with an amazing Chaplin, Rainy. And I felt like a totally new person by the time I was discharged.

I also had some good news while in the hospital. I already knew that I had two of the three breast cancer markers: progesterone and estrogen driven. The third, Her2Nu, took a few more tests to figure out. Her2 is extremely virulent and would have only given me a life span of months. Especially with my really advanced cancer status. I do NOT have the Her2Nu marker. I am now able to look ahead at years with my cancer. As long as we are able to keep my cancer under control.

And it is that last sentence that is hard for a lot of people to understand. My cancer will  not go away. It will not go into remission. I can not have surgery to remove it. I essentially have Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer. It is not something that my doctors will even say. And maybe the thought of it should put me into a puddle of hopelessness, but it hasn’t. Once I was able to get my pain and anorexia under control, I actually started to feel stronger. And angrier. How dare this disease invade my life? How dare it interrupt my family? It might cause my death in the future, but I will be fighting it.

My cancer has brought out some pretty awful things, but it has also brought out the best in my friends. The kindness and generosity of my support system has just blown me away. As has the newer support systems that I have been introduced to. The Warrior Sisterhood in particular. My local chapter has monthly meetings and I was given a lot of information and resources. I actually burst into tears with the booklet they gave to me. It contained a gift card which I will be using for new clothes. With all the weight that I have lost, none of my pants and most of my shirts do not fit me anymore. It seems like a silly thing to cry over, but it is nice to be able to have a little extra money to get a few shirts and jeans.

The worst part of this whole thing, for me, has been my kids. In fact, I still find myself struggling just to write about this. So, I am not even going to try.

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