Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Look Good, Feel Better

The American Cancer Society has partnered with an organization called Look Good, Feel Better to help women dealing with cancer to feel better about themselves.  I cannot say enough good things about this organization.

I was lucky to participate in one of their workshops last evening.  It was at the Westlake location of University Hospitals but they have programs all across Northeast Ohio as well as across the county.

The two hours were spent discussing how chemotherapy changes skin tone and appearance.  We were given a "makeup kit" that contained everything a woman would need - and it was ours to keep - and it was all full size products:
  • Biore Cleanser
  • Oil of Olay Moisturizer
  • Avon Concealer
  • Clinique Foundation
  • Elizabeth Arden Pressed Powder
  • Lancome Eye Shadow
  • Lancome Eye Pencil
  • Lancome Eyebrow Pencil and Brush
  • L'Oreal Mineral Blush
  • Clinique Lip Pencil
  • Clinique Lipstick
IT WAS AMAZING.  And, as you can see, the products are fantastic.  But that wasn't the end of the evening.  They then spent time showing you different ways to wrap scarves for after you lose your hair - and gave me two brand-new scarves to take home.

And I'm still not done - they have wigs, too.  But they play a game of sorts.  The other participants pick out the wig(s) they think would look good on you and I brought TWO home.

This program is truly amazing.  All it took was a phone call to sign up - that's it.  If you know anyone who is either currently in treatment for cancer or just finished, this program is a must.  

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

WOW, I Feel Great

Cameron and I just took a walk to Giant Eagle.  Now, it is less than a football field away from my front door to their front door, but I was still a bit worried as it is a slight hill.

Dummy me.... planned his favorite dinner of Tacos and didn't have meat :)

Well, we got there and I felt like I was pushing it.  I really thought, "will I make it home?"  But we did.  Coming home downwards on that slight hill was not bad.

I walked in the door and immediately sat down.  Miraculously, I wasn't out of breath but I was POOPED.  I sat for about 5 minutes and when I got up...


There will be a short walk everyday in my future.  I also realize this is week 3 since my Chemotherapy and I feel better this week than the first two.  Friday is my next treatment so next week will be the test to see if I can stay awake long enough to take a walk as that first week after treatment really has a bad effect on me.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Thoughts For You (You'll Know Who You Are)

Having any type of illness makes it difficult to think about anything else - but there are times when I am alone and the strangest memories and thoughts pop into my head.  Here it is after midnight, I am exhausted and can't sleep (my typical evening) so I decided to write down some though provoking memories..... Can you fill in the blanks with the details I left out?

* When Bradford decided to try a bike trick at SVDP and slammed into a brick wall. Our neighbor went with me to the emergency room. Through his pain, when the nurses came in for a parental signature, Bradford decided to tell the nurse we were his "lesbian mothers."
*When Sr. Caroline had to read Andrew's mad-lib to me over the phone because he was so scared when he read it to me that I couldn't understand a word he said when he read it.
*The only sport I enjoy is horse racing (thanks to my Uncle Mario).  The race several years ago, Maria (Doodles) says, "have any horses died after these races.?"  Damn, 60 seconds after the winning horse crossed the finish line, another horse slowing down to a gallop, dropped dead on the track.
*Maria (Doodles) having her bath as a baby and the whole block listening to her scream.
*Over 90 degrees outside, took the kids to baseball game.  Left money so I could call and have pizza's delivered and Chris could pay for it before we got home.  We walked in the house and it was like an inferno.  We thought, "OMG, the central air broke."  - Well, not quite, Chris piped up and said, "NO mom, I turned it off so the pizza would stay warm."  I won't tell you how old he was but he was way over the age that he could stay home alone.
*Cousin Tammy telling me she wanted short hair - well, you said you wanted it short :)
*Caitlyn's trip to New Jersey.
*Asking Pootie, "where did you get that bruise on your butt - OMG, it's huge."
*My brother Albert sprinting down Interstate 95 at age 3.
*My brother Nicky cutting his own hair the night before school pictures.
*Trips to Va. Beach, The Chamberlain - oh, those were the days.
*My mothers' attempt at cooking on Hegeman Ave.
So many memories - so many laughs.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

So Far So Good

Yesterday I had my second week of bloodwork which followed my first chemotherapy.  My levels are all still within normal ranges.
Some cancer treatments, especially chemotherapy, may cause a decrease in your body's WBCs. Cancers  can cause a decrease in the WBC count.  treatments may cause a condition called neutropenia, an abnormally low level of neutrophils.
When I first started chemotherapy, most of my blood levels - white blood count, red blood count, etc - were above normal.  So, realistically, they all dropped but are now at the lower range of normal - WOOOHOOO....

I also noticed that this week I had a bit more energy.  I cooked a bit more and last night even took a drive to visit my daughter and some old friends.  I was tired when I got home but not as exhausted as I was the week before.  I hope the trend continues that the fatigue is only present the first week after a treatment.

My next treatment is Friday, August 1, 2014 and I am hoping all will continue to go well.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Weekly Update

Thankfully, it has been a quiet and calm week.  No significant side-effects to report.  I am relentless in taking my anti-nausea medications twice a day to make sure that doesn't become an issue.  But, in exchange, all the medications and chemotherapy drugs make me very, very tired.

I am sleeping about 12 hours a night and then 1-2 naps per day - sleep is overrated when you sleep this much :)  Last weekend, we had Cameron for one night and that wiped me out - but it was soooo worth it - who can't resist this face

What does concern me is 2 nights ago, my sister told me I got up at about 11:30 pm, opened the front door, walked out, and came right back in.  I DO NOT REMEMBER that at all.  I was asleep that night by 11:00 pm.  Certainly a question for the doctor tomorrow when I go to get my weekly bloodwork.  I have never had a sleep walking issue in my life - but I suppose from all the therapy and drugs it could be an issue.

The one confession I have is - I quit smoking 9 weeks ago and was doing GREAT... but approx a week ago, I have been having one cigarette each night.  By evening, I really, really, want one and it seems after having one, I get a nasty taste in my mouth and don't want another - until the next night.  I know I should not even have that one, but if one "nasty" cigarette keeps me from smoking regularly, then I'm okay with that.

And finally, this week was a week for connecting with relatives.  My aunt's 90th birthday was this week and when I called, I was pleasantly surprised to find my cousin and her daughter were there.  Talking to Aunt Diana, Annette and Diana Marie brought back so many memories and filled my heart with love.  Aunt Diana - HAPPY 90th Birthday - she is a true example of living life and enjoying every minute of it - something we all need to do <3

WRITTEN BY: My 8th child - Maisey Cachat
"Just breathe. Take in all the air your lungs will let you and hold it. Let your lungs taste the oxygen filling you with life. Because despite your illness, you are filled with life. And when the treatment takes your hair, feel the warmth on your skin. Know it comes from the blood pumping through your veins. Accept your situation with patience and peace, but never stop fighting it without discretion or hesitance. You own your body, it does not own you. It merely houses your soul."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

So Blessed For My Chemo Angel

This week has been progressing along slowly.  While I started out the weekend, feeling quite good, just a bit tired.  Mid week has been a bit different.  I'm sleeping much more, and sick to my stomach throughout the day.  Anti-nausea medications and Ginger Ale help - so that keeps me going.  No hair loss yet - but I know that is coming.  

There is a bright moment to my days - Right after I received my diagnosis, I started receiving emails, phone calls and snail-mail from people I never heard of - amazing, right?  Well, I have a few women that call themselves my "Chemo Angels."  I do not know them, have never spoken to them, and they send me cards and gifts several times a week from across the country.  

What amazes me the most is they don't even put their return address on anything so I can't even thank them.  Here is a look at today's delivery....

(2) Satin Pillow Cases and a Cap to help with baldness

(2) Types of tea to help with nausea

Words of Help by a nurse

Mouth products to help with mouth sores that are common when getting chemotherapy

And, a special journal
I really cannot get over how communities across the nation support people they've never met.  If we all did one thing like that for someone close to us each day, imagine how many happy smiling faces these would be :)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Day After Chemo Update, Realizations and Feeling Loved

I am truly ecstatic to say that the last 36 hours have not been bad.  In my mind I had such horrible thoughts about how I would feel.  

Yesterday, I actually felt perfectly normal until around evening when I did get an upset stomach.  But, I took the anti-nausea medications and felt fine afterwards.  I fell asleep about 11:00 p.m. (which is early for me these days) and I didn't wake up until about 9:15 a.m. - another amazing thing.  The funny thing was, I poured a cup of coffee and had an extremely hard time keeping my eyes open so by 9:30 a.m. I laid back down to watch television.  I think I was awake about 30 seconds and the next thing I knew, it was 1:00 p.m. WOW!!!!

The entire day I was just extremely tired - I felt like it was midnight all day long and should be laying down to go to bed for another 12 hours.  I am still awake now - it has been a struggle - so hopefully I will go to sleep soon and feel rested tomorrow.

My appetite hasn't been that great today, but, I think that is a result of drinking soooo much water.  The days following a chemo treatment I have to drink 60 ounces of water to help flush the medications out. Luckily, I love water <3

I find that going through this journey I am thinking a bit more realistic about things.  Things are starting to sink in and become my new reality.  Tonight while walking in the condo up the 8 steps to the door, my mother in law called - I found that I cannot walk up 8 steps and talk at the same time - by the time I got into the door I was breathing as if I had run around the block - such is my life now without 1-1/2 lung lobes.  A small blip in the road these days - just something to get used to and remember.

With these little changes that I have to think about each day, every minute, I am letting go of a lot of things that I used to worry about or do.  My support system has been wonderful - I am blessed to have such wonder family and friends.  I still have my daily moment (sometimes moments) where I feel sorry for myself and say why me, but those are dwindling.  I am kept busy by tracking my symptoms, tracking my feelings, emotions and physical well-being in my medical books from the doctor(s).

This tracking method has helped me come to realizations that I think I found difficult before.  One example is, I am now finding that the people that call me and says, "why haven't you called?" or "I can't believe you didn't call me and let me know how you are" are the ones that I cannot have time for.  I know that sounds terrible.  I hope it doesn't make me a horrible person.

When I first found out about my illness, I made all the calls I needed to make - and even more.  I have come to the realization that it is their turn now - mine duty is to fight my fight, keep myself strong and remember, this is my fight for my life.  

These two pictures is a GREAT example of what I am saying - these brought tears to my eyes and made me feel soooooooo much better - just to know that someone, somewhere was thinking about me - 

These days that's all it takes for me to know I am loved.

Sometimes life is grand - sometimes life just sucks - but either way - the only way to handle the sucky time is to bring positivity to your mind - 
  1. Express your feelings in a way that won’t cause bodily damage to yourself or another person.  Try yelling or crying into a pillow, dancing round the room to loud music or punching a pillow. (done this)
  2. Feeling shitty may be your body telling you it needs to take time out, and pushing yourself physically might just make things worse. Take time out to spoil yourself by doing something that you usually enjoy. Even though you might not feel like it, exercising and eating well can help. Getting plenty of sleep is important, too. (working on this one)
  3. Writing down your feelings or keeping a journal can be a great way of understanding your current emotions in a particular situation. It can also help you come up with alternative solutions to problems. (done this)
  4. Talking to someone you feel comfortable with can be a great way of expressing your feelings. These people might also be able to help you identify why you are feeling shitty and work out strategies for dealing with it. (working on this one)
So know you know where my head is at these days - pretty much all over the place, right?  But that's okay - I'm okay with that.... They say when you start chemotherapy a think called "Chemo Brain" takes effect - disturbances in cognitive thinking - trouble remembering things, remembering words, less patience, trouble multi-tasking - and I already feel that happening. Just what I needed to go along with everything else :)

There are a million things that a person battling cancer can ask for in terms of help - there are a million things that someone can offer a person battling cancer to do - but in the grand scheme of things - knowing you are loved and thought about is the BEST medicine to keep fighting the fight.

Friday, July 11, 2014

First Day of Chemo

After months on this journey and months anticipating my first Chemo Treatment - it is over.  So much in one day.  It really is mindblowing what is involved in this treatment - it is a new way of life - a new normal - a sad way to know what is important in life - and an unusual way to find out who cares the most.

The day started with my sister, Maria and I, arriving at the Moll Cancer Pavillion.  So much happens before I even get taken to the back Treatment Room.  First, the nurse must connect the IV tubing to my chest PortACath.  They take blood to check my White Blood Count, Red Blood Count and Platelet levels - being my first day, this wasn't an issued, but in the future this is a HUGE problem as Chemotherapy Meds kill off the good cells and if these bloodwork levels drop too much it may postpone my necessary Chemo.

Then after the results are in I met with my Oncologist.  The good news was my bloodwork showed my kidney function is fantastic.  Usually, they base the dosage of my Chemotherapy Drug on this number but if they had done that the dose would have been sooooo high it would have made me violently nauseaus so he decided to lower it to a normalized dosage.

I then entered the Treatment Room - We chose a chair right next to the restroom (remember my kidneys work great, lol) and this was my view for the next 5 hours -

Treatment Room

A recliner, a television and tons of drinks and snacks, if needed.  My supporter was there with me making herself comfy...We were prepared - Kindle, Laptop, Phones and Music.

My sister, Maria

The most amazing part to me was even though we were there almost 5 hours - the actual Chemo Drugs only took less than one hour.  Everything was else was preparation - bloodwork, meet with doctor - IV's with antinausea drugs and steriods - and more monitoring - then finally the two Chemo Drugs were started.

The nurses were wonderful.  The Social Worker came and talked to me to make sure I had all the support I needed and gave me gifts - 

A Quilt Made for Chemo Patients By Wonderful Volunteers at Fairview Moll Cancer Pavillion
And the gifts didn't end there.  There is an organization called "Chemo Angels" that got my name and address.  There are two women who send me several cards a week to "cheer me up" and today I received a box in the mail - this was a gift from one of my Angels.

My Chemo Angel said this week should be a Pampering Week from Bath & Body Works :)
So finally, Chemotherapy was over.  They told me my hair will fall out next week or the week after.  I decided I don't want to wait until huge clumps are coming out so we went to Best Cuts for me to get a Buzz Cut.  I wanted it short enough so when it starts coming out it won't be too bad - so here is the final "look" - 

And surprisingly enough, Maria was inspired to get her hair cut the exact same way as me so I wouldn't feel alone - we both got a true Buzz Cut = attachments 4 on the top and 2 on the sides -

And finally, let's not forget my baby brother and cousin too -

My Baby Brother, Nick Miceli

My Wonderful Cousin, Billy Shahinian

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Twas The Night Before Chemo

Twas the night before my first chemo treatment, and there’s a part of me that’s happy.  Happy for a fighting chance.  And thankful.  

Thankful for going to the doctor in February.  Thankful for a persistent Dr. Persaud, my Infectious Disease Doctor AND Dr. Ricaurte, my Pulmonary Doctor, both of whom questioned why my lymph nodes were still getting larger while on massive IV antiobics.  Thankful that they sent me to the best surgeon who made the best choices with my diagnosis and for my surgery.

But the news after the surgery was not as great as we wanted.  There’s the elephant in the room and the other foot is just waiting to drop.  So I held on to anything that would take me back to when what I had could be cured. But, that is not to be.  Two tumors, one in each lobe, and 2 lymph nodes - there's the elephant again - with lymph node involvement there is no cure.

There is always hope that treatment won't allow any remaining cells to grow - hope that treatment will not make me violently ill - hope that I can enjoy the blessings that surround me - that there will be an end to this disease - that you won't take life for granted.

I hold onto every prayer that is sent my way.   And  I don’t let yourself think about what may be ahead.  One day at a time.  For tomorrow…it’s chemo day 1. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Port In - Ready To Go

Yesterday was the day of my surgery to place the Port in my chest.  The last thing I needed to do to prepare for Chemotherapy to start this Friday.

As per my track record, I got there at 10:00 a.m. for an 11:30 a.m. surgery and they didn't take me in until 1:30 - LOL !!  Something about the operating room was running behind.....

I know have another incision in my chest - I'm beginning to think my upper torso can become a game of connect the dots/incisions.  This surgery has a 1-1/2 inch incision on my chest where the port is actually placed and a 3/4 inch incision in my neck (not exactly sure why that was needed).  I noticed today significant bruising is beginning.  I shouldn't be surprised because it is quite sore on my chest and the neck area is actually painful.  Probably alot of poking and prodding during surgery.

This week was not all bad - my baby brother Nick was in town for his job so Maria and I were able to see him and have dinner with him on Monday.  And next week, Albert will be back in town for his job so we will get to see him.  Now, if we could just get all 4 of us in the same town at the same time.

So the next two days will be recuperating from yesterday - hopefully the pain/soreness will lessen before they have to use the port on Friday to hook me up.  From what the tell me, Friday will be a 4-6 hour day so I may post while there - or at least afterwards.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Surgery Brings Changes

It is hard for me to believe it has been 5 weeks since my surgery, but according to the calendar - it has.  I think part of this disbelief is because I had the chest tube for so long.

So many changes have taken place since the surgery - some expected and some with no reason.  As expected, having so much left lung removed, I am out of breath extremely easily.  If I walk more than 30 to 40 feet, I am breathing heavy.  Carrying a laundry basked 30 feet to the washer, I am out of breath.  And the list goes on but it is my new normal - so I am getting used to it.  The incision from the chest tube is healing slowly as well but at least that constant pain is gone - YAHOO!!  Thank goodness our grocery stores have the little motorized scooters - that has been my outings a few times a week - racing my sister around Giant Eagle brings a smile to my face :)

Some things that perplex me are my taste changes, sleep changes and stomach issues.  I have never had sleep issues but I have a very hard time sleeping now - this I am assuming is just nerves.  My tastes for food have totally changed and so has my appetite.  I thought once I was off the meds this would change back to normal but it hasn't.  Things do not taste good - overall - I have to use ALOT of seasoning.  My surgeon had recommended lemon drops to help with this and I go through those like there is no tomorrow - it helps - but things still taste funny.  My stomach is always upset as well - again, I am thinking this is nerves as well because although better - it hasn't gone away since the meds stopped.  The most confusing to me is sleep - I used to be able to sleep anytime, anywhere.  Now, it is the norm for me to be awake until 3 or 4 am and then awake by 8 or 9 am - 

And next week is my big week - With all these changes since surgery, I am a bit more nervous about Tuesdays surgery - that is when I will have the MediPort put in my chest.  It is a quick (less than one hour) surgery, but the idea of going back into surgery is just driving me crazy.  And, once the MediPort is in place, well then, Friday, July 11th - Chemo begins.

And the final change - and possibly the hardest - is the acceptance that I have cancer, I am officially on disability retirement and will never work again, and that at some point this cancer will show its ugly face again ... I think these thoughts are what keep me up at night - but the bottom line is - I am awake, I am breathing, and I am fighting!!!