Sunday, December 1, 2013

Chemo and Doing Good…In So Many Ways

I had my first chemo appointment on Thursday, November 21st.  Because I tend to be sensitive to Benadryl, which they administer before every treatment, they only gave me half a dose but even that knocked me out.  I could feel that sensation of drifting off.  I remember hearing voices off and on and heard everyone laughing about me.  I heard my nurse say, "Boy she really is out for a loop," and my family saying, "See, we told you."  Needless to say, I came home and slept most of the first day only waking to do the things they asked me to do faithfully to help my body handle the chemo better and keep myself as healthy as possible.  I went in for my shot, the one that helps my bones make more white blood cells, the next day but was still very sleepy and pretty much out of it.  I wasn't too hungry but forced myself to eat protein and drink lots of fluids to flush the chemo out of my body.  Later in the evening, I was feeling better so I went to Zumba®, came home with a great appetite, and ate a good dinner.  Jim was happy.  On the third day, I woke up very tired and not feeling too good.  My temperature was 99.6 (at 100, I'm supposed to call the doctor).  I took a long nap and felt much better when I woke up.  Late in the afternoon, I felt very nauseated and threw up, or tried to, but my stomach was pretty empty.  I took a nausea pill and felt better in the evening.  My daughter, Nani, arrived from North Dakota, to spend Thanksgiving with us at 1:30 the next morning and I felt pretty good when I woke up.  I was having hot and cold flashes but was eating well.  Unfortunately, I tweaked my back in the shower before church and wasn't able to go.  On Wednesday (six days post chemo), I went into the doctor's office for my follow-up and my white blood cell count was too low so I had to follow the precautions for that.  I was expecting to feel good by now but my energy was low.  Thursday was Thanksgiving and I felt good in the morning but my energy was drained by the afternoon, which they said is normal, but I still enjoyed Thanksgiving with my family.  Friday night I started getting a cough and sniffles and, by Saturday morning, it was worse.  A family member told me to call the nurse as I was told to call as soon as I felt ANYTHING coming on.  I really didn't want to call but, when I did, the nurse told me to go to the ER.  What?!  That was the LAST thing I wanted to hear.  She said if my white blood cell count was low, they would keep me there.  I was kind of mad at this family member that made me call the nurse.  Hahaha.  They determined my white blood cell count was good, but a chest x-ray showed a touch of pneumonia.  BAM!  The ER doctor called my oncologist.  He said I could go home with meds if I would follow ALL the directions, and if anything else happened, I had to go right back.  The ER nurse told me I owed that certain family member a BIG thank you, because pneumonia is a serious illness anyways but in my situation, it's magnified.  They also gave me a lot of fluids and meds intravenously while I was there, and my energy level was way better by the time I got home.  I have another week and a half before I go for my second round of chemo.  The doctor said the week before my chemo is the week I feel the best, so it's time to party!  Party anyone?  ;)  Overall, I feel like I handled the chemo pretty well.  It was probably the pneumonia that caused the energy loss.  They said my worst day would be five days after chemo, but my worst day was three days after so I feel like I bounced back quicker than normal.  That is how I'm doing good.

Now, doing good in so many other ways…it seems like I've heard so many stories lately that help me realize I AM doing good and also stories of people doing good for others.  These stories touch my heart and help me take my eyes off myself.  I'd like to share some of them with you:

My friend who, along with many others, has been very supportive and thoughtful during this moment, has been sending me care packages, mail, and texts that are upbeat and encouraging.  After receiving one of those cute, upbeat packages earlier this week, I called her, at her suggestion, to find out exactly what some of the gifts in the package meant after several family members placed their guesses.  She sent me super glue, mounting putty, and double sided tape.  If any of you can guess what these gifts are for, you get extra credit.  Clue:  She has been keeping up with my blogs and had just read my latest blog.  We'd love to see your guesses in the comments under this blog.  :)  During that conversation, I found out she was here in Yakima, at the hospital, waiting for her son to come out of surgery.  He had a brain tumor, which we found out was benign, and he doesn't have to go through chemo or radiation.  Such wonderful news!  I asked her why she didn't tell me about her son, and she explained she didn't want to burden me with her difficulties because I was going through my own.  All this time, she's been positive, supportive, and completely unselfish in thinking of me.  I was very emotional when I realized what was happening and it made me think of this:  "We should have before us a strong desire to do good to others... Good will come to us...if we keep our minds outside of ourselves...and try to make others happier… When you find yourselves a little gloomy, look around you and find somebody that is in a worse plight than yourself...go to him and find out what the trouble is, then try to remove it...and the first thing you know, your gloom is gone, you feel light...and everything seems illuminated."  (Pres. Lorenzo Snow)  I want to say thank you my friend.

I don't even know the person in this next story I heard from one of my daughters, but I was so touched by her unselfish service and love that I wanted to share it.  She was recently diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma and had surgery to remove it but decided not to go through chemo, against the doctor's recommendations, so that she can stay healthy enough to continue taking care of her husband who has six months left in his cancer treatment which he has been fighting for a few years.  My heart is touched by her compassion, love, and care.

While I was in Seattle going through tests, we heard from a friend that her mom was just diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer and was having a difficult time getting into the oncologist.  She had a transfusion and may possibly need a stem cell transplant later, but she and her family are in positive spirits and, last we heard, she was planning on having a bunch of people over for Thanksgiving dinner.

There are many people going through difficult times, trials, and challenges.  When I hear these stories, it makes me so thankful for my own challenges and for my friends, family, and others who help me get through this moment one day at a time.

One more story…it seems that, at least for me, when I go through trials and difficulties, I become more humbled and sensitive to those acts of kindness and touching stories I see and hear.  The other night, I saw on the news a story of a 17 year old girl who, for her senior project, raised money for someone in need by collecting pledges for a marathon ride in a go-kart around the state fair oval park over a 1,000 times.  It just touched my heart, because here's this 17 year old girl, a youth, who performed this unselfish act to help someone else.  Today, with all that we hear (all the negative news) here is a story of something good.  This one really struck me because it was a 17 year old.  

I am thankful for these uplifting stories and how they make me feel.  I am thankful for those who have done good to me.  In closing, I share words from a song, Have I Done Any Good?: "Doing good is a pleasure, a joy beyond measure, a blessing of duty and love."  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Keeping Abreast (Pun Intended)

Lots of good news!  Friday's meeting with SCCA was amazing.  The surgeon was awesome.  She spelled everything out mentioning (and celebrating) that my case was not as serious as they originally thought when my oncologist from Yakima called them.  The lump they found by my collar bone has disappeared and the other lumps were considered normal on the ultrasound, and I believe it's through the miracles of blessings, fasting, and prayers.  The surgeon specializes in breast cancer surgery and we feel very confident in her abilities.  She feels a lumpectomy after chemo will be more than sufficient.  Statistics show that a mastectomy does not decrease the chances of cancer returning, at least in my situation.  The chemo will shrink the tumor so she won't have to take as much tissue leaving my breast looking fairly normal.  During the surgery, they will be doing a sentinel node biopsy which will determine if there is cancer in the nodes.  If there is, she will take out the infected nodes then.  There is another check they do, but the results don't come back from pathology until after the surgery.  If the cancer cells are too close to the edge of the tissue she removed, she will have to go in and remove more just to be safe.  The oncologist assured us that chemo treatment would be the same whether I received it in Seattle or at home and talked about the treatment plan she administers to her patients as well as the anti-nausea drugs available.  She said, "If you're at home throwing up, then I'm not doing my job."  That gives me a lot of hope!  The radiologist explained the procedures they have available in Seattle, from the calypso which tracks your breathing so they can keep as much of your vital organs from being exposed to radiology as possible, to the team of physicists that work on each patient's case, to the dummy they use to try your radiology plan on before they try it on you.  We decided I will have chemo in Yakima, surgery in Seattle, and radiology is still up in the air.  It feels good to finally have a plan, and I have an appointment for my chemo consult tomorrow and first chemo treatment the day after.

They did tell me I would lose my hair during chemo treatment.  We've heard shaving your head makes losing your hair a little easier emotionally.  My daughter has a friend who went through all of this a couple years ago and she had a hair party.  She, some friends, and her sisters all shaved their heads.  For those who didn't want to shave their heads, they had pink extensions available.  My daughters thought it would be fun to do the same thing for me, so Nini and Becky, along with some other friends, helped plan this event and it was a blast!!  We had three hairdressers, snacks, lots of people, and lots of smiles and laughs.  One of our Zumba® students, Monnie, decided to go out and collect pledges for shaving her head.  She ended up raising $350 and donated this to my medical expenses.  Not only did she shave her head, but her hair was long enough to donate so someone is going to get a nice wig out of her hair.  When she came down and told me, I was astounded.  I had no words.  Another one of our Zumba® students, Holly, has a six year old daughter, Abby, who donated her hair as well.  She now has a cute little bob cut.  There were so many people who supported me by having pink extensions put in their hair.  We had 60 pink hair extensions, and they were gone by the end of the night.  There were many people who showed up to support with their hugs and love.  I know there are many of you who couldn't be there but still sent your love and support.  I am thankful for each and every one of you, for the love, prayers, thoughts, support, hats, donations, scarfs, bracelets, necklaces...everything.  I feel very blessed.  We are attaching a little slideshow of the hair party AND my husband, Jim, wrote this letter to all of you:

To Our Valued Family and Friends,

This night, November 15, 2013, will forever be with me.  The love by so many for my wife's support is huge.  I have told our kids that our family pays it forward.  I stress to our family that it is a priority to add value to others every minute, every hour, and every day.  By the outpouring of affection shown tonight, I know if everyone there has friends like you, this world would be much better off.

Friends reach for our hands and touch our hearts.

On behalf of my family, we thank each and every one there and those who could not be there.

Thank you,

Dad Statler

Friday, November 15, 2013

Quick Update and Humor Along the Way

Yikes!  It's been two weeks since the last blog…time goes by when you're having fun (or going to appointment after appointment).  Since my last blog, I've had an MRI, bone scan, PET scan, and ultrasound.  Awesome news first - bone scan was normal!!  Thank you for the prayers and fasting.  It works.  The MRI showed a couple of questionable spots, but we were told MRI's are highly sensitive and tend to show areas that may not be of concern.  The PET scan showed nothing new.  We met with the nurse practitioner, Heidi, at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.  She was very informative AND adorable.  She's British with a heavy accent, and we loved it.  After the test results came back, the doctors at SCCA wanted me to have a biopsy on the questionable spots revealed in the MRI.  They did an ultrasound first and determined, due to the shape and coloring of the nodes, they were normal or clinically benign and didn't need to do the biopsy.  Yay!!  I think I reverted to an excited child when the doctor told me I may not have to have the biopsy.  We are meeting with the specialists at SCCA today where they will give their findings and recommendations.  Today is the day we hope to choose a definite treatment plan, understanding that things may change a little along the way.  Oh, I also met with the radiologist in Yakima last week and he went into more detail and gave me an 80-85% cure rate with neoadjuvant chemo, lumpectomy, and radiation.  Not that statistics matter.  I have Faith, I Believe in miracles, and I Believe that God will heal me.  I have no doubts.  And Jim says I still have more Candy Crush to play.  LOL!

Speaking of Jim, he's going to lead off the humor part of this blog.  For those of you who don't know him, he's a warm-loving person but when he is worried or stressed about a situation, especially with those he loves, he tends to verbally snap.  He's the kind of person that focuses on the solution, believes wholeheartedly in miracles, and could care less about the details in between.  I think the details make him worry, so he'd rather not know.  When I discovered the third lump, I came downstairs and Jim was sitting in his chair.  I said, "Honey, I found another lump."  And with frustration, he said, "Well, then QUIT looking for them!"  We still laugh today when we talk about it.  He couldn't remember saying it, and when we told him, he started laughing uncontrollably.

For this next story, we're going to leave the doctor's name out so as not to embarrass anyone.  This story is entitled, "What Not To Say When Doing A Breast Examination."  Needless to say, I've had numerous breast examinations over the last month.  This one is definitely the funniest.  The doctor examined my right breast first and, while he was covering that side and getting ready to look at the left side, he said, "Well, nothing lights me up over here."  My husband better NEVER say that.  As we're typing this up, Jim says, "I've never thought it and never said it."  Good answer.

So when we were meeting with Heidi, we were talking about staying positive and upbeat.  We told her about the "What Not To Say When Doing A Breast Examination" story and she thought it was hilarious, or unbelievable.  She couldn't believe the doctor said that.  We thought about not sharing it, but she said in her strong British accent, "Oh, you absolutely MUST share that one!"  She then proceeded to tell her own funny story and gave permission to share it.  She herself is a breast cancer survivor.  After she found out, she grabbed a beer and sat on the couch sobbing and drinking her beer.  Her husband felt bad and wanted to make her feel better, so he said (not being in the medical industry), "Don't be upset.  Wait 'til we get the autopsy."  She stopped crying, looked at him, and said, "Autopsy?!  That's too bloody late!  I'll be dead by then!"  And then she started laughing hysterically, just as we were.

You have to keep laughing, smiling, and enjoy life to the fullest.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

New Findings

A friend told us about another oncologist in town so we asked for a referral to see him which the insurance company approved along with a visit to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA).  I went to have my second opinion with the local oncologist yesterday.  We didn't bring the army this time.  When we went to see the first oncologist, there were so many of us, the nurse looked at us like we were crazy and was worried we wouldn't fit in the room but we managed.  When we first arrived, we ran into Katie, one of our Zumba® students and friends.  She is a chemo nurse at this particular office.  It's comforting to know people who may be taking care of and helping me through this process.  Back to the oncologist - he found a couple more lumps, one kind of by my collar bone.  He could not say if they were lymph nodes because of the location but felt they needed to be ultrasounded and maybe even biopsied.  He said my case is complicated and wanted me to go to the UW Breast Clinic (SCCA).  We told him my insurance approved a visit to SCCA, and that I would like to go.  He got the ball rolling for several things that needed to be done: appointment with SCCA, muga scan, port, blood work and PET scan.  Today, I had my pre-op for the port, which will be put in tomorrow, and a muga scan.  I've had about 50 tubes of blood drawn - not really but it feels like it.  Monday, I meet with the nurse practitioner at SCCA who will determine if they need additional tests before I meet with the team of specialists scheduled for the following week, but I am hoping (and hear from others) I may get in sooner.  My PET scan is scheduled for Tuesday, so things are moving along.  I also got a flu shot on Monday.  I should note we really liked him.  I forgot to mention in my first blog that, when we asked the first oncologist about a second opinion, she said my case was pretty straight forward and any doctor I saw would recommend the same treatment plan she did except for maybe the way chemo is distributed but she was flexible on that.  We persisted on the second opinion...thankfully.  We're grateful for everyone who encouraged us to get second and third opinions because we may not have discovered how complicated things were and time is of the essence.

How I'm feeling: It's been stressful and draining making phone call after phone call, waiting for calls back, waiting for approvals, trying to get appointments scheduled, getting poked and prodded on top of dealing with daily life issues like getting my car repaired from an accident a month ago (yes, it's taken that long), dealing with the car rental company, covering the office at the studio (thanks to Jim for stepping in with this), finding subs to cover me while I'm recovering from my port surgery, etc. etc.  As we're preparing this blog, I'm laying on the couch, physically drained from the events over the last few days, realizing that I can't stay on the same schedule I've been operating on.  If I'm tired now, I can't imagine how it's going to be when I'm going through treatment.  I better get things lined up now.  I feel positive that things will smooth out and calm down as we progress with the doctors, decision making, and treatment plan.  I feel strong.  A note to my daughters - you are going to have your ups and downs, but that's what will pull us together.

Jamie's point of view:  Mom and I decided, since I'm helping her with this blog, I get to put my two cents in.  My Mom is a ROCK!!!  As the doctor was examining her, he confirmed the finding of a couple more lumps.  He stood up, took a deep breath, and then sighed heavily shoulders dropping and everything.  If there was a thought bubble by my head, it would have said, "Ohhhh crap."  Then my body started shaking involuntarily, and I wanted to cry but I was trying to be strong, because I am, darn it!  I had my laptop on my lap and it was hard to type because my knees were shaking.  I didn't want Mom to see so I was trying really hard to tighten my muscles to stop them from shaking.  Mom came over to me after the doctor left and hugged me and said, "It's going to be ok.  I'm going to be ok."  Epic fail on my part.  Ugh.  She is SO strong.  When the doctor came back in, he gave us a run down on everything that needed to be done.  Once I had the list and knew he was "on it," I felt so much better.  Later that night, Mom and I laughed as we discussed the events at the doctor's office.  She told me she saw my eyes watering, and I was like, "Dang it!"  And then I asked, "Did you see my knees shaking?" and she was like, "Yes (giggle giggle)."  She is my hero!               Jamie

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Life's Refining Moments

Doctrine & Covenants 121:7 "My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;"

Life is but a fleeting moment in the realm of eternity.  Small moments, my term for adversity and affliction in this blog, in life can give us proper perspective and a sense of priority which, for me is family, friends, and relationships, as we journey through life.

On October 9th, after several tests, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  The surgeon and oncologist determined I have infiltrating ductal carcinoma, grade 3, stage 2, triple negative.  Infiltrating ductal carcinoma is the most common breast cancer type and is invasive, which means it can spread.  Grade 3 means the cells are most abnormal and more aggressive out of a scale of 1-3.  Stage 2 is still considered early.  Triple negative does not respond to hormone therapies which means I will be going through chemotherapy.  Once I have finished chemo, I will have surgery and, after surgery, radiation.  

When I was first diagnosed, I was in denial.  About a year and a half ago, I was attacked by a dog in the chest area and still have scar tissue from that incident. Even after I left the doctor's office, I was thinking, "It can't be.  It has to be from the dog bite."  

My appointment with the surgeon was eight days after the diagnosis.  My daughter, Jamie, came over to go to the appointment with us and, before we left, we researched breast cancer diagnoses so we would be familiar with some of the terms the surgeon would be using.  That's when I started thinking it might be real, because some of the facts we were reading related to me and my situation.  When the surgeon explained the test results, I knew I really had breast cancer.  At this point, my thoughts were, "I can get through this.  I have been through rougher times and I was able to get through it and become the person I am today."

The surgeon offered his suggestions for the best treatment plan, which he felt would include chemo due to the findings.  The nurse who gave me the diagnosis told me she didn't think I would need chemo but wasn't positive as some of the test results had not been received, and I was relieved because of the horror stories (and movies) I had seen and heard.  So hearing I would probably need to go through chemo scared me.  

After meeting with the oncologist today, I feel more at ease and in control.  They have more options today than the movies I watched back in the 1990's.  I felt comfortable with my oncologist.  She was very thorough in explaining my diagnosis and treatment plan and she said my prognosis was excellent.  I know I can get through this, even though I might be weak from chemo.

The plan:  I had blood drawn today.  We are waiting for insurance approval on a second opinion referral and PET scan.  The surgeon will put the port in for chemo and I will be learning more about chemo from the nurses.  Chemo should be completed by April or May and then we will determine my options for surgery.

Another small moment has begun...I will win this battle because I have the support of my family and many wonderful friends who have already eased my burdens with their hugs, prayers, kind and uplifting words, and offers to help.  My children and grandchildren are a huge comfort and strength to me.