The “Thanks” List Battle

In my last post, I talked about the Thanks List I was working on.  How there is positive in all that is going on, and how I want to strive to find those things. 

It feels as if the last 6 days has accepted the challenge of trying to prove me wrong.  From every angle, there were challenges and battles to fight through.  In a matter of days, there was such a range of frustrating things, the Thanks were almost impossible to find.  The challenges ranged from my laptop suddenly failing on me and becoming unusable, to fighting with my short term disability insurance, to dealing with other personal matters which are not part of this blog. 

Tuesday and Wednesday, I was completely dejected.  The silver lining seemed to have tarnished and deteriorated away.  The waterworks seemed to have the ability to show when least expected or least desired.  Since I am one of those unlucky persons that starts crying when angry, I had the opportunity to display this trait during those days.  It is like the body is trying to wash the frustration and anger out with the tears, but typically just causes me to become more frustrated and embarrassed as well.  So at one point I was hiding in a corner at Barnes and Nobles trying to pull myself together. 

But there were two items that really pulled me out of the tear inducing, foot stomping grumbling.  First was talking to my Knight.  As always, his quiet calm way helped me to calm down from what was definitely an overreaction. He let me see that someone understood why I was grumbling but also let me just vent in a flurry of words and emotions.  And with the venting, my brain could process what was going on, where previously was just a ball of confusion in my brain.  The reality verses the over reaction became much more visible.  Reality is definitely a lot easier to handle then the emotional overreaction!

The second was the gift I had given my little girl for her birthday.  I (semi-selfishly) had provided her with Mother-Daughter horseback riding lessons.  We go to lessons on my off-chemo weeks, every other week.  So on Wednesday, I got to curry and tack the horse, Tristan, the stable provides me.  I lovingly call him “The grumpy old man-horse” as he can be cantankerous. I spent my half hour prepping him while Kiddo prepped hers, and then we got to ride for 30 minutes.  Since we are learning English style riding, we are learning how to post on and off lead.  It takes all your concentration to learn something like this.  But there is something therapeutic about being on the back of a horse.  To feel the graceful movements of such a magnificent creature washed away the frustrations from the previous two days.  The world is you and the horse, and that is all that matters for that time. 

After my talk with my Knight and after the horseback riding lesson, the world seemed more aligned with where it should be.  The black clouds were there, but they were the size they should be, rather then my amplified and distorted version.  The path forward through these difficulties seemed feasible and possible to walk. 

My laptop, which had locked up so tightly that a hard restart wouldn’t work, started working once the battery had finally drained itself.  This was after 6 grueling hours of talking to the warranty company and the Microsoft store I purchased it from.  They had claimed it was a lost cause and I would be without it for over 2 weeks while it was repaired!  But when I plugged it back after an hour of dead battery status, it was suddenly working.  To have it suddenly operational again was like the Light of Heaven was shining all around and the world was looking up. 

The insurance issue will probably be an ongoing battle for the next two weeks, but it suddenly started moving.  Between my HR person and my hospital’s disability group, I know the insurance company will start moving as well.  Yes it was scary and is still scary that it isn’t 100% resolved, but it is moving.  The Light of Heaven might not be shining yet, but it isn’t this dark cloud of despair any more. 

Is my Thanks List as complete as I was hoping at this point of the week?  Nope.  But do I have more things to add to it due to the frustrations over the past few days?  Yep, and maybe that is what matters most.  

My buddy Tristan

 

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Finding the “Thanks”

Through everything I have been trying to keep up a list of thankfulness. Especially on non-chemo weeks, the “thanks” is easy to find.  On chemo weeks, well it is a struggle to say the least.  But there are so many things I am thankful for.  So many blessings that have occurred through this torrent.

This morning I was lucky enough to get to experience one I did not expect to find.  Today is my daughter’s first day of 3rd grade.  Normally, I would be working and my morning would have consisted of my rushing through all the morning ritual, while having to use every method under the sun to get her ready on time.  This typically would progress from encouragement, to irritation, to threats, to me wondering how others do this without losing their minds.  However this morning, I could concentrate 100% on her.  I could pack her backpack for her and pull her lunch together with an encouraging note for her to find.  I could do something a little more elaborate with her hair.  Encouragement was the name of the morning.  It was a happy and enjoyable experience, one which I had never gotten before.  And then, the icing on the cake, was to be able to put her on the bus.  Normally her daycare provider or my grandparents get the privilege.  But today, it was all mine. Today I got to pray with her before she hopped out of the car.  Pray for a good year, pray for a wonderful teacher experience, pray for her to make more friends and have fun. Again things that, if they happened, were rushed and hectic.  Normally I wouldn’t be able to see the joy and privilege in the experience.  And let me tell you, I am grateful for it.

And this one hour in the day led me on a path to ponder the rest of my “Thanks” List.  To what depths am I taking the list?  And am I really letting it affect me as it should.  That list should encourage me to want to be better, to do better.  It should make me strive to make the best of the torrent for myself, my child, and all those around me.  The privilege I have of seeing the rays of love from God should encourage me to express it in ways others can see and experience as well. It should be the predominant feeling, not the grumbles for how my life is currently on a rocky path.

I remember a few years back when I was on another rocky path, a wonderful friend of my in Georgia told me to write a list of things I am thankful for.  Then it was so difficult to find things. He gave me the random number of 30 things and it took me a few days to find those 30.  But during those few days it really required me to dig deep and really process some of the joys I had continued to overlook.

So maybe that is the problem with society, with the world, with myself.  We continue to overlook the multitude of joys that God has granted us on a day to day basis.  We refuse to see the rays of sunlight that is lovingly given to us.  All we see is the pain, the difficult nature of our current path.  All we see is where we would rather be, instead of enjoying this one moment.  We long for what we don’t have, instead of seeing the awesomeness of where we currently are.

So I am giving myself the goal of finding those 30 and hopefully beyond.  I also encourage you to find your 30 and beyond.  The list should grow more each day, it should be an evergreen process (one that never stops changing and growing). I hope and pray this will encourage the joy in my life and those that I touch.  For when you possess the joy of God and the appreciation of what He does for you, it shows.  Those around you take notice and want to be in it.

Does that mean that I will enjoy the day before chemo?  Probably not.  Does it mean that I won’t get frustrated at the side-effects and limitations due to the treatments?  I doubt it. However, I will try to find the joys that those days provide.  The path through the “Refiner’s Fire” is not meant to be easy or painless.  It is meant to change a person into something better, and with that comes difficulties and stresses.  With that growth, comes the growing pains.  But now I can see that with the pains comes joys.  God provides those rays of sunshine, He provides that encouragement when it is least expected.  It is our job to try and look for them.  It is our task to appreciate them and savor them.  And now to working on that list.

 

Refiner's Fire

 

 

 

The Grand Question of “Why?”

When I think back to April when the news hit my ears that I had a mass in my large intestine, my mind remembers all the feelings of shock, mortality, fear, and why.  During the past 4 months I have had to deal with all of those feelings. 

At the age of 34 (now 35), the question of how this happened is a constant reoccurrence in my mind as well as from people that hear of my plight.  “Does it run in the family?” “What were the symptoms?”  “How did you catch the problem?”  These questions seem to be the first that all ask.  No, it does not run in my family.  Actually my family has managed to be “lucky” where the word cancer is.  The symptoms were only one small one, some blood where it shouldn’t be.  And yes I ignored it for much longer then I should have.  But to my defense, I am young.  The odds were not in favor of it turning out like this. 

The “typical” age for this type of cancer is over the age of 50, thus the recommendation for colonoscopies when someone turns 50.  Typically this is something that runs in the family.  So far, the odds were not in favor for “having cancer”.  So when I got the news of the mass, and then the confirming news two days later that it was cancer, I was in complete shock.  Shock might not have even been the right term, it is not strong enough.  For the next 5 days, I sat on pins and needles as test after test was done.  The odds were already not in my favor to be in this position, so Stage 4 seemed completely possible and terrifying.  What would happen to my darling child?  How would I be able to provide for her if I am not here?  These are horrible things to have to ponder and are completely devastating. Then I got the great news that I wasn’t Stage 4 cancer. (Now Stage 4 does have chances for curing, but as a single mom, the number “4” was terrifying to say the least.)

This is when the word “Why?” kept coursing through my brain.  Why would God allow this to happen?  Why do I have to go through this trial?  Why does my child have to watch me go through this?  Why do I have to see the fear in the eyes of my Knight?  Why do I have to put my family and friends through the stress and fear?  But I kept coming back to “Why God, Why?”

So many nights and days were filled with that question running through my brain.  Tears of course came with the questions.  I even yelled at God, asking what I had done to deserve this path.  And for a while, I could not hear anything.  All I could hear was my pain. 

But why does that question have to be a bad thing?  Why does it have to be that being mad at God means a loss in faith?  Personally I think, God respects the honesty.  To bottle it up and not acknowledge your lack of happiness at the current situation, is basically to lie to yourself and God.  So the release of the pain, the offering of it to God is probably the most honest conversation with Him that you can have. 

Is it an easy conversation?  Heck no!  Did I get a clear answer as to why?  No, not yet.  But I am starting to get hints.  One of these is the reason for this blog.  Perhaps I can help others going through similar things.  Perhaps I can give hope to those struggling with similar issues.  Perhaps I can provide hints of ways to “deal” with it.  But also I have heard of many others getting tested when before they were putting it off.  So perhaps I am going through this so others do not. 

Do I still ask why?  Of course I do.  Am I happy with the course I am on, not necessarily.  But at some point I hope to have peace with this whole circumstance. And with that peace will come acceptance.  For now though, I will be happy with where I stand.  Some days are good, some days are not so good.  But there is always hope.  Hope for something grander than the current suffering.  Hope that this will all be worth it on the other side.  Hope that God will use this for good beyond what I can comprehend.  And that, that is something I can hold on to. 

Sometimes 20% Really Matters

These are representation of platelets, but they look like they are doing a happy dance to me!
These are representation of platelets, but they look like they are doing a happy dance to me!

My recent Oncology appointment discovered a slight problem.  My platelets were low, almost too low for treatment this week.  What a startling thing to hear that yet another thing is not going well.  So here is the run down my RN explained (because the dr who was covering for my normal dr didn’t help that much, grumble grumble):

Chemo attacks rapidly growing cells and this can include the bone marrow.  And the bone marrow produces the platelets in the blood.  The platelets allow for clotting, and thus are important. In addition to testing my platelet numbers before every treatment, they also test for white blood cells and plasma. The problem with the low platelets is that I can not get a transfusion for it, as would be possible for the other two items. 

In addition to that, she indicated, that sometimes the lab can’t do an accurate count because of how the platelets can hide behind one-another.  Consequently she was skeptical of the results since my platelets dropped in half between last treatment and Monday.  That seems odd to everyone.

So the next question from me is: “What can I do to get them back up?  Is there anything special I can eat, anything special I can do?”  Her response initially is that there really isn’t any proven method to get the body to make more platelets.  That being said, more iron wouldn’t hurt, it won’t necessarily make the platelet number increase, but iron is needed to create platelets.  So more iron being available isn’t a bad thing right now. Also I have to be careful to not cut myself, as my blood is already thinner then normal, so clotting could be an issue. Also no alcohol for me as it also thins the blodd. (pouty face) The other thing was to rest and take it easy.  However “taking it easy” seems to be all that I have done since surgery in May.  I think I have that one mastered, even if I still grumble now and then about it. 

So this week, I got to have a reduced dose of chemo by 20%.  And know what?  I am LOVING it!  The side-effects are almost non-existent.  I do not have severe cold sensitivity like during past treatments! Metal utensils are not pain inducing objects.  Metal door nobs don’t make me cringe.  My saliva isn’t too cold to swallow with out the sensitivity triggering and causing pain.  Walking barefoot in my bathroom and kitchen doesn’t make me look like a chicken on a hot tin roof.  My energy level is so much better.  I can sleep better.  Just overall I am feeling more “Human” than I was expecting.

So low platelets, for this week are a wonderful blessing. Plus the fact that my AWESOME boyfriend brought me down a huge amount of steak and lamb for me to consume this week.  Woohoo!

Let’s just pray that my platelet numbers do jump back up so I do not need to push my next treament a week or two, which would be a bad thing on many personal levels. 

But for today…. and tomorrow… and yesterday… I am rejoicing at the easy treatment week!  HAPPY DANCE!

Vanity, oh vanity

Vanity.  It is defined as the following:

noun,

1. excessive pride in one’s appearance, qualities, abilities, achievements, etc.; character or quality of being vain; conceit
2. an instance or display of this quality or feeling.
3. something about which one is vain.
4. lack of real value; hollowness; worthlessness
5. something worthless, trivial, or pointless.
 
Pride in appearance seems like the last thing possible during chemotherapy.  My hair is thinning, even if only people taller then my 5’9″ height can observe it.  My eye lashes are lessening.  My complexion is different and yellowish, if only to me.  There are many constant statements from my support team that tell me they can’t notice it.  That I look great and maybe even a little thinner. 
 
But…….
 
Every day I can see a change.  Every time I shower, more hair falls out, and my pride in myself fails a little bit more.  Self-confidence has never been a strong suit that I owned.  However, with all the changes going on in my body, the self-confidence creeps lower each day.  Noticing these changes, I am trying to do what is possible to pull the self-confidence back out.  THERE IS HOPE!
 
One suggestion I hear frequently from the support staff at the treatment center is: Do your hair and makeup every day.  In other words put the effort in, even if you are only going to be at home.  And know what? It helps!!  It helps every time you look into the mirror!  There is that image in your head, rather then the blotchy skin and sleepy looking eyes.  There is beautiful skin tone and blush, that are a step towards what I used to be. 
 
One of my best steps towards vanity and self-confidence has been to dye my hair.  Having hair that is crazy colors has always been something that I thought would be out of reach. My job is a position that requires being professional, etc.  However, if there is one time in the life where it might work out, now would be it.   So get thee to the salon.  The first salon was a delightful friend who did a beautiful ombre.  So fun and happy.  She is one that is daring enough to go and put her hair in all forms of color, and I am jealous. 
 
It is amazing the amount of people that do triple looks when you have unusual colors.  Also the service people at hip stores comment in awe, which was very shocking for me at first.  But compliments from strangers are so wonderful!  10 points to self-confidence!!!  So here are two different photos of my with my colors, only 2 days apart. 
 
Ombre Fun!Ombre view 2
With magenta and purple hair dye, it fades quickly, especially with me washing my hair.  Due to time restraints and busy schedules, I went to another salon for the next dose of color into my hair.  It was a reward for getting through an specifically difficult treatment session.  But it reintroduced the color back into my hair.  It gave me something to smile about.  It was something fun to play with and style with for quite a few weeks. 
Ombre Time 2
Now, the thinning of my hair is starting to get to me.  I know, I am getting off lucky with chemo.  This is where my guilt comes in. So many lose all of their hair and either have to embrace the bald head look, or fight with wigs and/or scarfs.  However my vanity is wearing out and with it my self-confidence.  Naturally, my hair is fine and not overly dense to begin with.  So losing a good bit of hair every time I shower, adds up, if only in my eyes. 
 
So wig shopping I go.  It was a scary prospect at first.  The guilt didn’t help.  But the people at this salon showed me some options and I decided to go with what I call the “Female Toupe”.  It is a toupee that will match my hair and only cover a small section at the top of my scalp, where the thinning is most obvious.  It is kind of embarrassing to think about, but when it went on my scalp, my self-confidence jumped. It hides what is embarrassing.  However the stylist kindly hinted that my hair color should be something more traditional for matching purposes. 
 
As of Friday, I am in the brown/black shade range to cover the purple and magentas.  The Snow White look is making me very, very happy!  Soon I will have an appointment to go order my fake hair, and will wear it with pride.  Pride that there is something that I can do to improve my self-image on the low days.  Pride that I am admitting, in a massive way, how vain I am about my hair, and how I am striving to keep my vanity to high levels.
 
There is a time when vanity is bad. There is a time when it is detrimental to one’s happiness and those around you.  However, at this point in my life and the hard knocks over the past few months, I am going to embrace my vanity. I am going to dance around the maypole in my head and sing songs to it. 
 
So, let’s send up a cheer to vanity!
 

Give me Food Energy!!

Energy.  It come from what you eat and what you do.  And while recovering from a treatment, every ounce of energy is required.  Fueling the body properly is one of the best activities that can be done. 

Pinterest has been helping me to accumulate some new recipes to try that 1) has protein, 2) calories, and 3) limits how many cold things need to be used.  And at least once a week, I want to try something new, and something that works with my current circumstances. 

Raw Ingredients

Avocado Tuna Melt.  It is a wonderful, easy meal.  The recipe came from MyFridgeFood, and I credit them with the research involved.  The ingredients are a can of tuna, tomato, avocados, peppers and cheese.  The tomatoes and Hungarian wax pepper came from my own garden.  There is something special about fresh tomatoes, just off the vine.  The flavor is addictive!  So addictive I had to include extra slices on my plate. 

DSC_0033

It took me under 10 minutes from gathering to plate (granted I didn’t cook it long enough to brown the cheese as I was too eager to eat it).  Only one item was in the fridge (cheese), which is a huge plus!  The combination was delightful to eat and very satisfying.  The avocado was so nice and creamy with the mixture.  It provided a sweet richness to each bite.  The tomatoes gave that nice taste of acid and robust flavor.  And the peppers I added had a bit of spice to them, so a little went a long way, but was definitely the final key to the flavors.  The Melt  is so light and happy of a meal, it is going to be frequently repeated while my vines keep holding tomatoes and peppers. 

 

 

 

The Dreaded Day Before

The day before chemo treatment has to be the worst day in my two week cycle.  Chemo day, there is something going on.  And each of the following days.  But on the day before chemo, I can’t stop myself from looking ahead to at least 5 days of feeling horrible.  5 days of listlessness, 5 days of hating the idea of eating and drinking, 5 days of serious cold-sensitivity, etc. 

I try to keep myself busy during the day before.  I try to find things to distract me from what is pending, but no matter what I do, it is still sitting there like a black hole over my head waiting to suck me into the next dose of torture. 

Typically, my form of medical methods are more homeopathic.  When I have a cold, I take peppermint tea, when my stomach is upset, I use ginger.  Inducing myself with toxins to kill of any potential cancerous cells, is extremely against my nature.  Such a medical concept is its own form of torture for me. 

For me at least, the day before is similar to a scene in Harry Potter has to give Dumbledore the “Drink of Despair”.  However I feel like both Harry and Dumbledore.  I have to force myself each Monday to go and have my 49 hours of treatment.  I have to encourage myself to go.  And yet, I am the one that has to suffer from the poison.  No one can take my place.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nVQPwH2m4s

But this is when I try the most to find hope.  Some days, it is a hard fight.  Some days it takes constantly fighting for 1 second of thankfulness.  Those are they days when my support team is most important.  They are the crutches that help me take one step, then the next step, and then the next.  Without them, I do not know where I would be. 

My team is a great one.  A group of people that I love dearly.   My darling boyfriend who is my constant source of strength and love, even on days when all I can do is cry (especially those days).  My family who are constantly there helping me with the day to days, and specifically on the days when making my own meals is just beyond me.  And friends who are willing to do whatever they can to make my path easier.  And I love all of them for all they do.  They are why I can continue to take my medicine.  Thank you my wonderful support team!  Thank you very, very much!!

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