Hey Anna

Hey Anna,

I know you’ll never read this, but I have a lot of feelings and I need to get them out so you (and everyone else) are going to have to bear with me, k? Okay.

You and I had a pretty typical 21st century 30-something friendship… meaning we met at work and communicated mostly through text, email, chat programs…with daily/weekly phone calls and monthly actual face to face human interaction…usually accompanied by margaritas at Venga Venga or beers at the Down Valley Tavern. (Did you know DVT closed? WTF, dude?)

I started working at the mountain hotels on May 9, 2016… about 10 days before you were diagnosed with Stage III, Triple Negative, BRCA positive (read: super aggressive) breast cancer on your 30th birthday. Being a remote employee I had access to a computer at the hotel through an account with GoToMyPC…which you quickly learned about and asked to borrow as you managed through your treatment while working from hospitals, 3+ hour car rides to Denver, hotel rooms, in your kitchen on steroids, and everything in between. The text “you in goto?” became a daily staple between the two of us as we learned not to kick the other out. From there the conversation bloomed into shared experiences and differences of treatment and surgeries, mutual hate of chemo ports and love of spreadsheets, a joint passion for crafting and of course, The Walking Dead. (Don’t worry you’re not missing much, I’ve heard the new season sucks and now Rick is leaving the show so whatever they are dead to me. See what I did there?)

We were a badass female breast cancer fighting Revenue and Finance team to be reckoned with…with the forecast accuracy and boob scars to prove it. We equated our roles of me making the money and you keeping everyone from spending it to a huge bus where I’m at the front with the pedal to the medal, with you at the back just trying to catch everything flying out the windows. Our reciprocated admiration would claim each was the other’s hero. For you never failing to believe that this next treatment would be the one to turn it all around; for me going through treatment and surgery with young girls at home, all while working full time.

By the winter of 2017 you were officially my work wife, and the tortuous reign of the boss-who-shall-not-be-named began, placing us between the rock and hard place of integrity and insubordination. During this time I remember you screaming “I HOPE HE CHOKES ON A DICK” over the phone on a RFTA bus on your way home from work…for me a welcomed sign that you were still as fierce as ever, not quitting the fight any time soon. On one particular harrowing day in which we uncovered a costly mistake at our stepchild hotel, you told me about a project for which you were saving wine corks with memories written on them. You told me that day’s said “Just burn the Wildwood down”… your work life and true love of crafts intersecting.

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I made Anna a rice bag to help with her Neulasta pain. Nick kept stealing it so I made him one too, with tacos on it.

Through this you received a well-deserved, unbelievable promotion to Director of Finance (a job that you had been doing anyway for close to 2 years but who’s counting) at the same time receiving close to daily radiation treatment…all while answering every problem anyone encountered with a resounding “how can I help?” Battle after battle fought over emails and in the arena of infusion chair or radiation table ensued until a quiet halt last summer when Voldemort was taken down due to a glaring negligence we uncovered together, and you resigned to a second leave of absence to treat your growing radiation recall wounds. (“Don’t google it” you said, “but if you do, mine is worse than the worst picture out there.”)

Sometime this past winter after I had moved on to a new job and we had fallen out of touch, you shared that you had been diagnosed Stage IV with mets to your brain and lungs. Although this was devastating news, enthusiastic as ever you told me how this was “really a good thing” as your cancer had mutated, no longer Triple Negative and therefore more treatable. “And… I’m finally planning my wedding!” you said, your unstoppable optimism the driving force in you never backing down. You had cancer, but cancer never had you.

You died on a Friday just over a week before the breathtaking wedding you planned. You and your darling Nick got married at the hospital 20 days earlier. After I read the news, Nate and I took the girls to the creek in Golden where we went on your birthday last year, to remember that day when we ate at the Table Mountain Inn and then let the girls play in the water. The sun was bright, the water was cold, and somehow I stopped crying.

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Nate, the girls, and I spent the next weekend at our old hotel so that we could attend your memorial reception. The memories of you were everywhere I turned. Your party was beautiful and there on the centerpieces were the wine corks. I had told Ally the story and there with memories like “Italian night” and “Glenwood Wine Fest – Classy Drunks” Zach found it. “Just burn the Wildwood down 6/29/17” Tears came to my eyes when I realized it was the same day you texted that picture with the pirate cake pop…our world had been crashing down at that moment last year and you were laughing your ass off, like the badass you were.

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Today Timehop told me a year ago tonight was the night I drove the girls out to Aurora to have dinner with you. We laughed when the waiter came over and Lucy yelled “Mac and Cheese!!” before he even had a chance to say hello and you gave Sydney tall girl advice, and tips for her upcoming birthday sleepover. We talked for hours. Past the girls bedtime I loaded them up in the car and watched you walk back over to your room at the Marriott where you would stay up all night roid raging before your chemo the next day, sending feisty emails and eating chocolate cake. It was the last time I saw you.

Really though, you’re still with me…

…when I’m blasting Die Antwoord, the South African Rap music that no one else has heard of, and shit is getting weird as I spend 2 hours on a spreadsheet that will save me 10 minutes every morning

…when I see pictures of hairless cats or memes about cheese on the internet

…when I have to go up against a mansplainer at work and carefully and calmly prove him wrong with numbers, because facts and figures don’t lie…BOOM

…when my girls and your cousin’s girls played giant Jenga at your reception – young women that are smart and have strong intuition and know how to problem solve, just like you. (BTW, Lucy says she’s so good at Jenga because she “just makes it not fall down” and also she’s so good at it she “blows her own mind”)

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The things I learned from you are simple yet powerful. Be humble, be kind, but don’t take any shit. Ask people how you can help them. Be optimistic, plan for the future no matter what lies ahead. And if anyone ever tries to make you sacrifice your integrity, tell them to choke on a dick. (Ok maybe not to their face or on a bus full of people but you know this.)

Most importantly the quote your brother shared at your memorial from the letter you wrote to him really says it all:

“Take time to laugh every day, in the end it’s the only thing that matters.”

Crap, I’ve been rambling on with all this shit I never got to tell you and I’m crying and I could go on forever, just like all of our conversations. Thanks for letting me share my feelings with you and everyone else. I love you and I miss you and I can’t believe you’re gone.

Sisters in spreadsheets,

Meg

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Posted in Breast Cancer | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Promises

I can’t believe it’s been a year since I wrote a post on here.

I guess it’s a good thing that I haven’t needed my cancer journal, but when a friend reached out this week for advice on websites to share with her boss for her newly diagnosed 34 year old sister, I came back to see that yet another year has flown by since my last day of treatment.

2 years since I gave cancer the big ol’ FUCK YOU and tried not to look back.

One of my besties lost her dad just weeks ago, not even from the cancer anymore 5 short years later, but as my Aunt Dori says, “If the cancer doesn’t kill ya, the cure will.”  To watch her and her family go through learning to live without the man they watched slowly slip away breaks my heart.  The hugs and the tears can’t take the pain away.

It occurs to me that cancer breaks promises.

The promise that your kids will live their childhood without knowing that disease can take someone they love.

The promise that you will be there to see them grow.

The promise that a young, healthy woman will even have kids of her own someday.

And don’t get me started on the hundreds of tiny promises I broke to my girls while going through treatment.  In the long run they don’t remember the cancelled play dates, missed school parties, not being able to sign up for any extra activities that year, but at the time it stung each instance of their tiny 5 or 2 year old heart being broken.

Even once in remission, and you walk away with your scars, in my case 50 extra pounds, and a promise to never have to do that again.  And yet more and more my Insta friends, real life friends, friends of friends are getting diagnosed with recurrences which is the biggest broken promise of all.

There are days when I can’t stop crying.  Days when I wonder why the burden of this disease is placed on some of us but not all.  Why it seems to be the ones with the pure hearts, best senses of humor, and most talented. Why those surrounded by love are chosen to fight, and the darkest and evil of humanity seems untouched.

But in these dark times what lifts me up is the memory of those who have passed.  The stories of better times that get shared once they are gone.  When I get down I think of them and the fact that their only wish would be to still be here to comfort their loved ones and make them smile. It’s in their honor that I choose to continue being a beacon of positivity. I continue to be an advocate for those battling cancer. I continue to stand up for what’s right.

And most of all I keep my promises.  To my coworkers, my friends, and most of all my family.  Because the delight of a fulfilled promise burns so much brighter than the sting of all those broken ones.

So about promising my girls for years that we would get a dog someday?

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Meet Donut, a husky/shepherd rescue and the newest member of our family

 

Check that one off the list.

Posted in Life after breast cancer | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Pause

Today is my survivor anniversary.  Somehow a year has gone by since i finished treatment.  2014 turned out to be the longest year of my life and in comparison 2015 flew by in the blink of an eye.

I’ve reached the time that all my survivor friends and family told me about.  I can go days without thinking about cancer.  My hair is getting longer and will be back in my signature ponytail by springtime.  I am now survivor inspiration for friends and coworkers who are unlucky like me to receive a cancer diagnosis.  I can live without questioning my future, without wondering if I’ll see my babies graduate.  I have gone back to “normal”.

But this normal is different, and yet just the same.  The crazy stressful pressure of WORKING MOM is swallowing me up again.  Even now I’m only at the computer because I’m answering emails after the rest of my family is in bed, something that I’ve needed to do more often than I’d like to admit to keep from drowning in emails.  The six-year old’s activities are building up as she progresses in school, Taekwon-Do and Girl Scouts, the three-year old is back in full-time daycare, and Nate is jumping between different jobs to keep us afloat.

I realize today, as my sister-in-law Kit shared my picture of flipping cancer the bird a year ago, that I need to hit pause for a second, to let all my lovelies know about an aspect of my treatment that I have not yet shared.

In about a month I will be going back in for surgery for a full hysterectomy.

This was a decision made by me with the help of my supportive medical team.  My Breast Surgeon Dr. B,  my Medical Oncologist Dr. K, my PCP Dr. L, and my Gyno Dr. S.  All 4 are in agreement that with an aggressive Stage II cancer at 35 that was estrogen driven, my best bet for a long healthy life is to yank out the babymaker.

It will be a laparoscopic procedure, and recovery is expected to be quick, less than 2 weeks.  Of course the Grammie will be coming out to stay with us and help Nate with the girls! And as for the sudden thrust into menopause, I’ve been living in extended chemopause due to my daily dose of Tamoxifen and every 3rd month Zoladex shot, so the hot flashes and weight gain have already made their appearance.

Hot flash/menopause humor - Bing Images:

So here we go, another leap of faith to keep STUPID FUCKING CANCER at bay.  Not something I imagined I’d be doing 6 weeks before my 37th birthday, but hey those 2 little girls asleep upstairs are worth it.

And don’t get me started about how I feel like somehow my body knew I had to have my babies in my early 30s.  Did a part of me know that I wouldn’t be able to have kids after 35? That shit gives me goosebumps.

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Here I am at this year’s holiday party with my gorgeous coworker Linda, who recently finished her treatment for Stage III Lymphoma.  She’s beautiful and badass and I make sure she knows it.  Survivor is now a part of who we are

 

As always, thank you to my incredible friends, family, and coworkers for all of your support! Those emails are a-calling.

 

Posted in Life after breast cancer, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cancerversary

Today marks one year since the phone call that changed it all.

I have so many moments that I’d rather forget, and just as many that I hope I never do.

Between surgeries, chemo treatments, first days of school, hubby landing his dream job, and buying our first home this was a year of ups, downs, tears, and laughter.

But of all of it the thing I’m most thankful for is the love, support, and kindness everyone in my life has shown me since I came out of my cancer closet. To all of you that lifted me up emotionally and financially this past year – THANK YOU.

We are rounding out this rollercoaster of a year right where we should be, in our own home surrounded by sunshine, smiles, and rainbows.

Thanks, universe.

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Posted in Life after breast cancer | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Fate, faith, and moving (on)

This family has had quite a month.  I have to admit that maybe I put it out there by telling y’all that I’m not afraid of rollercoasters anymore, because we have just been on quite the emotional rollercoaster.

I know some of you have been watching our househunting drama on Facebook and are probably wondering what kind of a crazy person would try to buy a house less than 3 months after finishing cancer treatment.  (This guy!)

I had done such a good job of compartmentalizing my life for the past year that I didn’t know what to expect come April.  Last year I had told myself: you just need to get that lump looked at, just need to get through this mammogram, just need to get through this biopsy, lumpectomy, chemo, radiation, Nate being gone, work trip to Seattle, family vacation to Orlando…I was so emotionally exhausted that the thought of not having any plans was exactly what I wanted.  While Nate and I were out in Boulder for beers prior to seeing Ani Di Franco, we discussed how we were in such a good place and didn’t want to leave.  “Let’s just keep renting this house for a while!” I said.  “I’m not ready for our life to change.”  HA HA HA.

So I don’t know why I was shocked when our landlord called Nate on the last day of March and said he was thinking of selling the house we are living in.

It's unsettling to have this in your yard when it's not your choice...

It’s unsettling to have this in your yard when it’s not your choice…

Here it was, fate giving us the swift kick in the ass we needed to finally buy our own home.  It all started casually at first – thinking: Hey we’ve got some money in the bank from the job Nate just did, let’s see if we can get pre-approved for a mortgage!  Good friends that had just bought their first home hooked us up with their Loan Officer and before we knew it we were approved and our home for the last two and a half years had been sold, giving us until the end of June to find a new place to live.  I came around and realized that this would be a really good way to move on, to not have to live in the house I went through chemo in, even if the timing wasn’t our choice.

Now I know my friends here in Denver know how crazy the market is right now for buyers but for the rest of you let me paint you a picture of how the sale of the house we are renting went down:

Listed on Friday 4/10
Showings one day only Sunday 4/12
Multiple offers Monday 4/13
Under contract Tuesday 4/14

Not even kidding.

This put me into a panic.  Let me tell you, panic and house hunting in this market do not mix.  We were lucky enough that the agent that was listing our current house popped in one day and we got to chatting about our options, and he let us know he would be interested in interviewing to be our agent.  He started talking about how he tries to get to the emotions behind why people are selling their homes and something compelled him to tell a story of a recent transaction where a gentleman was selling his home that he had bought for his daughter who has recently passed away from cancer.  Here he is standing in our doorway, and something made him bring up cancer.  Having faith in the signs that life gives me, we had found our buying agent.

Things were rough out there.  We were lucky enough to only bid on 4 homes before we got an offer accepted. The first one was good practice because we had no idea what we were doing and we (ok maybe just me) didn’t really love the house anyway.  The 2nd one was too good to be true and we let ourselves fall in love only to be crushed. The 3rd one had a basement rug that smelled like cat pee that we had convinced ourselves was ok.  We were seriously in a bidding war over a house that smelled like cat pee.  And we were really upset when we didn’t get it.  This market sucks.  Luckily through this process I had a mammogram and follow-up with Dr. S, who told me I am officially in remission!

Through the whole thing Josh was awesome.  He kept us in check from getting overzealous or desperate, stopped us from making decisions that were rash or plain old dumb.  The routine was physically and emotionally exhausting.  Look at 3 houses, bid on the only one worth it, lose.  Look at 4 houses, bid on one, lose.

On last Tuesday night I was across the street at our neighbors’ hanging out with their 2 year old and 3 week old and giving Mama Lauren some support when a new home for sale popped up on my phone.  I had trouble finding it at first because the house was so close to us!  We walked by it as a family and saw that it was in good shape so I texted Josh who said the showings started the next day.  Nate would be able to meet him there, but since I was at work I would have to trust them to look at it.  In a sick twist of fate my work laptop crapped out the next day, just in time for me to join them on the tour.  We put together our offer, and even threw in some tricks to make it as strong as possible. I barely slept that night so when my alarm went off at 5:45am I got up and went for a walk. The cool Colorado morning with the red-winged blackbirds playing on the reeds in the gulch where I take my walks put a huge smile on my face.  Upon reflecting on the past few years, I found myself taking faith in the universe. Trusting that fate wouldn’t put us in this position unless it was all going to work out.  That the timing of having the down payment money was too perfect.

It all worked out just as it was supposed to.  And I’m not sure who was more excited about it… us, or our agent.

Yup, that was us.

Yup, that was us.

I know that there is a lot that could still go wrong.  That the inspection could turn up some stuff that makes the deal fall apart.  But you know what?

I have faith that fate wouldn’t do that to us.  It’s time to move on.

Posted in Life after breast cancer | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rollercoasters don’t scare me anymore

This post goes out to the mamas.

The working, constant-puzzle-solving, chaos-wrangling mamas.

The stay at home, patience-weary, never-get-a-break mamas.

The newborn, why-isn’t-(s)he-sleeping, how-can-you-still-be-hungry mamas.

I have a question for you.

What is the last thing you did for you?

Seriously.

When was the last time that you put everyone else’s needs aside and focused on you for even a moment?

Now I know some of you out there are better at this than I am, but I’m sure there are those of you that are just like I was.  Prior to June of 2014 my answer would have been foggy, and maybe I could have scraped together the last time I went to the gym and halfheartedly chugged along on a treadmill.  I’m ashamed to admit that it took a cancer diagnosis to point out this glaringly obvious fact: I was pretty good at taking care of everyone else in my life, but damn shitty at taking care of myself.

Cancer treatment forces you to put yourself first.  It’s hard to care for your family when you can barely pick your head up off of your pillow.  But as I head back to “normal” life I’m forcing myself to have new routines that put my own well-being at the forefront.

These past few weeks have been cathartic in exactly that sense.

I had the opportunity to visit Seattle for the first time, spending my days working, collaborating with familiar and new faces, and spending my evenings exploring with Nate.  Having not known when he would be wrapped from the movie, Grammie had booked to come out and watch the girls for the week so he was able to tag along.  Other than the occasional night away, we had never left the girls… and not even that since the little one was born.  The freedom of having a break from the kids coupled with finally visiting the city that birthed the music that carved out so much of our teenage selves was exhilarating…a much needed adventure and post-cancer experience.

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The pic in the bottom middle is toothface, the icon of Newbury Comics, a Boston-based record store where both Nate and I did our retail time. The sticker was immediately to my right when I sat down at Five Points Cafe.  I love that shit.

3 days after returning, we packed up the girls and flew to Orlando, for what my mom named the “We Beat Cancer 2015 Disney Trip”.  To see their faces as they saw their favorite characters and to hear their giggles as we flew through the air on rides made my heart swell.  This is what my soul needed.  New memories after cancer.  The knowledge that body can still walk 9 miles in a single day.  Laughter, love, family.

My advice, even if you are staying off-resort, get the MagicBands.  I couldn't have imagined trying to deal with 6 different FastPass cards.  Plus we never even had to pick up our tickets.

My advice, even if you are staying off-resort, get the MagicBands. I couldn’t have imagined trying to deal with 6 different FastPass cards. Plus we never even had to pick up our tickets.

On the 9-mile day, Nate and I along with my brother Jon & his ladyfriend Aimee went back to the park to ride some attractions without any princesses or singing animals/children.  As we were climbing for the first drop on Big Thunder Mountain I was excited, but as the ride sped up something was missing.  The butterflies and thrills that I had always experienced were gone…sure I had a blast, but it didn’t seem to viscerally affect me anymore.  I contemplated what that meant while watching the Wishes Nighttime Spectactular, and realized that once you have come face to face with your own mortality, very little can shake you.

So here’s where I tell you that I am back and I’m better than ever.  Ready to put my own mask on before helping others.  Ready to hit that couch to 5k with renewed focus, and less pressure.

I can only hope that you can do the same.

Go ahead, lace up those sneakers.  Go get that pedicure.  Get some real viatmin D.  Tap out that blog post.  Sneak in a few yoga poses.  Meditate.

Or even just throw your hands up and turn the last few minutes of your Sunday walk into a boogie when Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock come on your Pandora.

You got one shot at this mama, make sure you take care of you.

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HIt it!

Posted in Breast Cancer | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

I feel like I’m taking crazy pills

Hey there friends, remember me?  It’s been six weeks since I posted and not for a lack of news, but more because life is fracking chaos right now.

I had wanted to blog through radiation, but with the holidays and Nate being gone, things were so busy that the treatment was over before I knew it.  My treatment plan consisted of 35 treatments.  28 were whole breast treatments where I would get treated from 3 different angles including the area of my removed lymph nodes.  The other 7 treatments were boost treatments which were aimed directly on the lumpectomy site.  My skin held up really well, mostly due to the amazing skin creme that my radiation oncologist Dr. S created himself, but I did start to get a fair amount of irritation in the armpit area so he switched me to the boost early.  This allowed me some time to heal in the lymph node area while continuing treatment and then went back to the whole breast treatments for the last 3.  (Do yourself a favor, don’t google image search for breast radiation. That shit is scary and I did not look like that.)

My radiation therapists were a great group of ladies that made each morning a pleasure.  Chatting about our weekends, the weather, and deflated footballs, they got me through my 35 treatments before I even knew what was happening.

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My radiation therapists Tammy, Nikki, Shannon and Amber. I always wondered how they managed to coordinate their scrubs. Do you think there’s a calendar or something?

So really between chemo and radiation this was the better deal.  I did start to feel tired towards the end but not even close to how I’d get knocked on my ass with chemo.  After I finished radiation I went back to see my Oncologist Dr. K’s for what I thought was just going to be a high five and a prescription for Tamoxifen, and essentially it was.  But after expressing my concern about a recurrence, Dr. K said that thought the Tamoxifen will block the estrogen in my body from growing any new tumors, a sure fire way to gain even more protection would be to have my ovaries surgically removed.  He even went as far as to say he recommends this for me.  This may sound shocking, but I’m kinda past that point where anything sounds over the top.  I’m not sure how I am going to proceed, but my current plan is to discuss it with my primary care doc & gyno for their opinion and go from there.

I started taking Tamoxifen about 2 weeks ago.  Dr. K’s and his team had warned me about the hot flashes, but not the laundry list of possible side effects that came with the prescription I picked up.  I did start experiencing more hot flashes, but since I got them with chemo I’m pretty used to them.  What I didn’t see coming was a really emotional/panicky feeling in which I couldn’t stop crying and was feeling tightness in my chest and pressure in my head.  Upon calling Dr. K’s office I got to chat with Tracey, one of my fave chemo nurses, in which we went over how I’m feeling and I may have said “AM I SUPPOSED TO FEEL CRAZY, TRACEY???”.  She calmed me down and suggested yoga and meditation, and also gave me a prescription for Ativan.  I’m happy to say that after half a pill and some yoga, I was feeling much better. This morning I did some guided meditation on the Headspace app on my phone and today was a much better day.  I am going into their office on Friday to meet with one of the PAs to discuss these side effects, but from what Tracey explained this drug is blocking the estrogen in my body, and of course any hormonal change like that would make one feel nuts.

Tomorrow is my fitness test for the CancerFit program that starts on March 2nd.  I am really looking forward to getting fitness back in my life, and with the personalization this program offers I think I will find exactly what I need.

Other than that, life has been good with fun Skype sessions, chocolate covered strawberries and early morning snuggles.

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Oh and lest I forget to mention it, my hair is currently pretty awesome.

I call it the George Clooney.

I call it the George Clooney.

Posted in Breast Cancer | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Radiation Round-Up Week 1/Side-Effect City

Week 1 of radiation is done!  I’m still not sure exactly how it works, but so far it has been easy. Everyone told me that this would be a walk in the park after chemo, and they were not kidding.  My daily trip to the radiation room lasts 10 minutes at best.  After my 8:30 appointment I am back in my car by 8:44.  My surgeon Dr. B had told me that it would take longer to park my car and get undressed that it would for the actual treatment and she was not wrong.

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My new daily routine

I haven’t felt any side effects from the treatment yet, but I’m lucky that my Radiation Oncologist Dr. S has his own line of skin creme that I use on my skin three times a day to prevent burns and irritation.  The nurses warned me that the main side effects would be skin burns and fatigue, which would really start to hit around week 4-5.

On the home front, Nate left for Telluride yesterday but not before we got this year’s Christmas tree and decorated it.  Munchie can’t seem to grasp the idea that the decorations are supposed to stay on the tree, but Bayrae had a lot of fun decorating it this year.

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Proud of her tree, pink ribbon left over from last chemo day

It’s a shock to all of us to have Nate gone, but we are lucky to have my Dad in from California to help out.  The extra set of hands around the house is a huge help, as is having Dad to drive Bayrae to and from school so I can make it to radiation.  The girls miss their dad, but thankfully technology helps us keep in touch.

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Goofballs

The rest of this post I’m dedicating to wrapping up my thoughts on chemo.  It’s my hope that this blog might someday be helpful to someone newly diagnosed and facing treatment so I want to capture all of the side effects that I experienced.  Be warned, this is not for the faint of heart.

My chemotherapy treatment consisted of two different chemo drugs (Taxotere and Cytoxan) followed by a Neulasta shot to boost my white blood cells 24 hours later.  I also took a steroid on the days prior and following treatment. Below I detail out all of the side effects I had.

Nausea

This is probably the most commonly known side effect of chemo other than hair loss.  I was lucky that my nausea was more of a morning sickness/heartburn than a pukey feeling, but it would definitely be uncomfortable if I didn’t have something to munch on.  I had treatment on Thursday and Saturday was the worst day.  Soup, more specifically Chicken Pho was the best thing for me to eat.  Protein was essential, crackers alone would not do the job here.  I kept peanut butter filled pretzels in my nightstand so I would always have something to munch on. Side note – though I’m not saying I did, I would recommend that anyone that is about to go through chemo that has access to medical marijuana – do it.  My normal appetite would be back by Monday/Tuesday.

Hair Loss

This started about two weeks after treatment 1 for me.  It’s hard to say if ALL of my hair would have fallen out because as soon as it got thin on top I had Nate buzz it off. I was lucky to keep most of my eyebrows, but places that I had shaved didn’t grow back.  So if you’re looking for a bonus, here’s one – I haven’t shaved my legs since August.

Hot Flashes

I’m in a chemical induced menopause which has me without a menstrual cycle. My oncology staff thinks that I will get this back, but warned me that I may not be able to get pregnant ever again, so they did offer to freeze some eggs prior to treatment. Luckily we were always done at two, so this wasn’t necessary.  I’m also experiencing hot flashes.  Luckily mine only last about a minute each time, and I dress in layers to be able to cool down quickly.  I have a fan in my office that helps me stay cool, but unfortunately wearing head coverings in public isn’t always conducive to avoiding hot flashes.  I’ve also noticed that spicy foods and stressful situations seem to bring them on.  The hot flashes ease up the further out from a treatment I get, and the steroid I took would also leave me flush for about a day.  Hot flashes are also a side effect of Tamoxifen, the hormone therapy I will be on for 10 years so I’m getting used to this once sticking around.

Digestive Issues

I’m not sure if it was the chemo or one of the other drugs but I would get constipated after treatment. This would last a few days but usually around Monday or Tuesday the constipation would do a 180 and I would be running for the bathroom.  This is a day you want to stick close to home and have some Immodium on hand.  Things would usually be back to normal within a week.  Also the days immediately following treatment my pee would be pink-tinged.

Bone Pain

This is from the Neulasta shot.  It stimulates the white blood cells to grow in your bone marrow which causes bone pain.  There were times I could feel every bone in my rib cage radiating.  I would even venture to say that this was worse than the chemo.  A combination of Claritin and Aleve would help with this, but it would still hit Saturday night into Sunday.  My bones would snap crackle and pop when I moved, and Nate would tease me that I looked like a robot while on my feet.  While standing it was almost as if I couldn’t keep still and had to move to get comfortable.

Mouth Sores

I was lucky not to get any actual sores, and my chemo nurses were sure to have me suck on ice to help prevent them.  What started happening around cycle 4 was a feeling like I had burned the entire inside of my mouth.  This would hit about 5-6 days after treatment. It would affect how some food tasted too.  The docs tried prescribing a mouth wash, but there wasn’t one that Cigna would cover and the out of pocket was over $200 so on this one that I just sucked it up.

Immune System

I was lucky enough to avoid getting sick during my treatment.  I drank an Emergen-C every day and practiced good handwashing and seemed to avoid whatever came home and hit the office.  What I did experience was a recurrence of Hidradenitis Suppurativa in my armpits. This was worst in between cycles 4 and 5 where I had 4 different abscesses lanced and drained. After meeting a Dr in the Urgent Care that suggested I start a probiotic with my daily supplements, I added that and it really seemed to help my immune system.  I did have one trip to the ER when I was experiencing chills after hours and the on-call doc suggested I be seen, but all was normal with that visit.

Insomnia

I’m not sure if it was the steroid or chemo or nerves but right around treatment days I would not be able to sleep.  My PCP Dr L prescribed me some Temazepam to help but doesn’t seem to work on those particular nights.  Luckily the steroid would keep me going through Friday and then Saturday and Sunday I was able to crash and nap.

Other weird stuff

  • Swollen Ankle – this happened yesterday and when I called they sent me straight for an ultrasound to rule out a blood clot.  Luckily there was nothing and I got to see my favorite Ultrasound Tech Lisa
  • Sore throat/Cough – neither of these were consistent enough to warrant a call to the doc, but just enough to make me wonder
  • White Rings on my fingernails – so weird
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They say you can see each treatment. I’m a tree!

Well, there you have it.  All the down and dirty before I move on and forget about all of it.  Thanks for reading this far and if you or someone you are close to has questions I’m happy to discuss my experience.  Happy Friday!

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From the chemo chair – THE FINAL CHAPTER

Here I am, folks. This is it! About 1.5 hours from now I will be done with all 6 of my chemo treatments. It’s been a long 15 weeks but from where I sit today it feels like it’s flown by. Grammie is here again so Nate is keeping me company today.

This past weekend we were very lucky to be invited by my fabulous coworker Kristin to attend Susan G Komen Colorado’s annual benefit, A Pink Tie Affair. My lovely friend Hanna offered to babysit the girls so Nate and I could attend.

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We got all gussied up and honestly had a lot of fun. I was tired by the end of the evening but was honored to be introduced by my hotel’s PR guru Susan to Radio DJ Murphy Houston who not only is a longtime supporter of his Breast Cancer survivor wife, but is also a Breast Cancer survivor in his own right. His positive message was in support of all survivors but also to men to be aware as BC is not only a women’s disease.

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They also gave pink roses to all the survivors, and I was delighted to be included with all of those strong women. I was also inspired to see women on the other side of chemo with their hair growing back in.

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I had a gift delivered to my office this week from my coworker Asuvini that had me pretty psyched…It’s a StupidCancer sweatshirt!! StupidCancer is an organization for adults under 40 diagnosed with cancer, and they just happen to be having their 2015 conference in April at my hotel. I’m hooked into all their social media, and look forward to attending some of their meetups and perhaps some of the conference breakouts. Thanks Asuvini for hooking me up!!

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Yesterday at 3pm on my way back from a meeting that got out early I was so distracted I didn’t even realized that I had been stalled by my boss Renata and coworker Emily. I walked back into the office and saw this and immediately burst into tears.

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The ladies on my team had gotten with Mark & Kristin from Catering & Event Management and Chef Scott (also a Cancer Survivor!) to arrange for cupcakes & mocktails to celebrate my final chemo. Thank you all for this, because I couldn’t have gotten through this time without you. Chef had me blow out some candles, and then wrapped them in a napkin to keep in a special place because now I’ve blown all this away. LOVE.

Although I have a tough week ahead of me with my final chemo recovery, today is a happy day. My family helped me make my poster and I’m happy to finally introduce you to my amazing oncology team.

This is my intake nurse Alisha. She takes my vitals and blood samples for each visit and is a firecracker who reminds me of my old boss Janette. And even though she is a Broncos fan, she has become a reason to look forward to visits.

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Next is Dr K himself. Because it’s my last visit I met with him, but usually I would see either of his amazing PAs Liz or Cheri. These ladies have been super patient with me, answering all of my questions, going over my laundry list of side effects and giving me pep talks. On a personal note I bonded with them as Liz’s son is prone to croup attacks as is my oldest, and Cheri is a hometown girl from Westford, MA which is a town over from where I grew up.

Today Nate and I got to talk to Dr K about next steps. In about 3 weeks I will get my port out. (PARTY!!) I will also start radiation around the same time. Radiation with be 5 days a week for 7 weeks. We when then follow with 10 years of hormone therapy. I will have mammograms after radiation is complete and then every 6 months for the next 2 years. Dr K did offer to do 6 more rounds of chemo for half price, and when I declined said no one ever takes him up on that offer. Hmmm I wonder why?!?

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Now come these ladies. These are the ones really running the show. My chemo nurses Tracy & Kathy have been incredibly supportive and are just some of the nicest people you will ever meet. Kathy was the first one I met on the day I found out was having chemo and was sensitive and reassuring and had me come back for my “teach” the next week where she explained the drugs I would be getting and all of the possible side effects. She is so down to earth and explains everything simply so you don’t feel too overwhelmed. Tracy I didn’t really get to know until one day when the fire alarm was going off in the building and she sat with me in the “Serenity Garden” while I was hooked up to my chemo. She is incredibly knowledgeable and realistic and for better or worse makes you feel like this is the most normal thing in the world. They both get me hooked up, bring me ice to prevent mouth sores, and in general make this whole experience pleasant. Even though they have to wear gowns to protect themselves from the drugs they are pumping into my veins (gulp) they do it all with the best smiles.

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A huge shout out to the entire staff of National Jewish Western Oncology-Hematology for being so awesome and getting me through chemo!

My other huge thanks today goes out to everyone that has supported me with donations, gifts, texts, calls, words with friends games, food, babysitting, cards, you name it. You are all incredible people and this Dave Matthews Band quote (ironically from a song titled Rapunzel) sums up how I feel about chemo, cuz I have done this for me, but really for all of you.

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And so this chapter comes to a close, but not before sharing this meme that my friend Laura found for me.

Because yeah, it did.

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Are we there yet?

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I’m tired.  Bone-crushing, soul-sucking, can’t-get-out-of-bed tired.  My family is tired.  My  rock of a husband is tired.  My girls are tired.  Tired of mama being sick.  Tired of mama being bald.  Tired of giving up every third weekend to mama laying in bed.

Somewhere in the haze of fatigue and hot flashes and digestion issues I’m still trucking, and I even made it to the office today.   I couldn’t stand up for too long without having to sit, but it felt good to be at work.  It was nice to see coworkers, and to be there to help my team troubleshoot some issues in person instead of over IM.

And I know that the reason I’m even still pushing to make it in is because I’m so close.  So close that 2 weeks from this moment I will be done.  DONE WITH CHEMO.  It’s been a hard road since receiving my diagnosis 5 months ago and this is the fight, so I can do it.

The days after chemo are still predictable, but are compounding to feel worse each time.  After my treatment on Thursday I’m riding the steroids through Friday but by the time I hit Saturday the chemo and Neulasta shot leave me weak, nauseous, and shaky.  The nausea is more of a morning sickness that gets worse if my stomach is empty, therefore a stash of peanut butter filled pretzels in my nightstand is essential for a 2am snack attack. Nate then hits the Vietnamese restaurant Saturday morning. (As soon as they open at 10am, they must think he is nuts by now.)

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This is the cure.

Something about the chicken and the broth and the rice noodles is just perfect.  Nate serves it up in a mixing bowl and I eat it all day.  At some point in the evening between the exhaustion and the meds to ease the pain my head starts to fade and I’m in and out and confused.  Luckily these two keep me grounded with snuggles, and the notes help too.

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Saturday night is the worst.  Sleep comes and goes and the pain and the delerium and the nausea and where am I and who am I and oh right I have cancer.

But even in that low point I have my family.  A husband that has let me be the driving force of our life for the last 16 years, and now is right here to catch me when I fall.  A 2 year old who doesn’t know what chemo or cancer is and doesn’t care that mama is bald; who snuggles with me and touches my cheek and says “You so bootifull, mama! You pincess!” while kissing me full on the lips.  A 5 year old who challenges me to be a human dictionary daily with her constant “What does ____ mean, mama?” and who recently told me while pretending to be Queen Elsa, that Anna and Kristoff were off on a “date”.  All reminders of the fact that time marches on through cancer treatment, and my girls are growing up in front of my eyes despite all of it.

So from them I summon the stamina I need to get through this last treatment while I try to quiet the voices that instill doubt.

You still have 7 weeks of radiation.  You still have 10 years of hormone therapy.  You could get cancer again someday.

Because right now I’m almost there.  And the night is always darkest just before the dawn.

Fatigue? I got another F word for you.

Fatigue? I got another F word for you.

 

 

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