Friday, October 12, 2012

The Next Phase

A week ago, on October 5, I completed my 17th chemotherapy dose and my doctor decided that was enough. I'm glad he decided that because I had just about reached the end of my stamina. Now, a week later, I'm feeling pretty good...all things considered.

With chemo finished, it's time for the next phase of treatment. I met this past Wednesday with a radiation therapy doctor at Missouri Cancer Associates. He felt that because my cancer is an aggressive strain that we should treat it aggressively so I'll have to have radiation therapy. My first treatment will be October 24, then October 31 and finally November 7. It's only three treatments and I was told that there would be little or no side effects. Certainly not the nausea and tiredness that I experienced with chemo. I figure I lived through four months of chemo and now can do just about anything. The down side is now I will have another doctor to add into the mix. Three of my doctors will follow me every three months for the next couple of years. Guess I'll be spending a lot of time at the doctor's office for a while.

I had four blood transfusions throughout chemo. Without them, I can't imagine how I would feel! My blood counts are still kind of low which means I am susceptible to infection so I've been staying home as much as I can. And I'm dealing with peripheral neuropathy which means that I have numbness in my fingers and my feet. The doctor tells me that the neuropathy will go away with time. Sure hope he's right!

To make this crafty, I finished the last installment of pattern testing that I had been doing for The Quilt Pattern Magazine. I still need to layer and quilt the project for the final installment and hope to get that done this coming week. And I finally feel like knitting again. I count stitches when I knit and during chemo I couldn't concentrate well enough to count. (I called the problem "chemo brain.") But that has changed. I finished a pair of socks that I started back in the early spring and have started another pair. I don't know what it is about socks, but I really enjoy knitting them. I'm feeling confident enough with sock knitting that I'm going to try some of the patterned directions. As always happens, I can hardly wait to finish this pair so I can start on a new pattern. I guess that's what all creative people go through.

Sorry no photos this time. I'll try to take some photos and post them in the next few days. Now that the directions for a couple of the projects I tested for the quilt magazine have been published, I can show photos of what I did. I think you'll like them.

So now you're  up to date. I'm feeling very positive about the future and am excited to get on to the next needlework project. And of course I'll tell you all about them.

Thanks for reading. Until next time...

Friday, August 24, 2012

Friday the 13th

Oh, I know that by the calendar, today was not Friday the 13th. However, for me it really was Friday the the best possible way. Today was my 13th chemotherapy treatment with only five more to go. Certainly nothing to be superstitious about.

One of the things I have found over the past 13 weeks is that  lot of people are there at the same time I am on Friday morning and are pretty much doing the same thing as I am doing. Today was no exception. For several weeks now I have had conversations with a woman who lives north of Columbia. I would say we have visited probably 6-8 times and today we finally got around to introducing ourselves. See, when you are sitting in a recliner having poison infused into your system, names just aren't important. Anyway this lady and I have a lot of fun with our conversation. She is a typical farm woman. A real sweetheart! We talk about anything and everything and spent over an hour doing that exact thing. She was only getting one drug today and it would take about an hour and a half. She was just getting hooked up to the IV when I got there. This was a two-drug day for me and that takes three and a half to four hours so I was going to be there for quite a while after Peggy was finished.

As I think I've mentioned before, I always take my Kindle along so I can read while being infused. Today I think I managed to read a total of two pages! Yes, Peggy and I talked non-stop while she was being infused. She was finished before my first drug was gone so I expected to return to my Kindle and spend the next hour or so reading. Wrong! There was a gentleman sitting across from me who struck up a conversation. Usually one of the first questions asked when meeting someone new is how many treatments do you have left. I told him that I have five and he told me he has four. The conversation went on from there. Once again, like the early weeks with Peggy, I have no idea what his name is, but even though his wife was there with him, we talked non-stop for the next hour or so until I was finished for the day. And another woman who was catty-corner from me started talking to me for the first time. I've seen her several times, but she always seemed so withdrawn that I didn't want to disturb her by talking to her. And another woman and her friend/driver were catty-corner the other direction and entered into the conversation, too. The gentleman is an engineer here in town who owns his own company. When he found out that I had served as advisor, he talked on and on about how he hires interns for the summer and then when they graduate most likely will hire them full time. Of course, that was only one of the subjects we talked about.

When I got home shortly after noon, I had lunch and then sat back and reviewed what had taken place that morning. I was really surprised at how fast I fell back into the advisor role when I was talking to the engineer and even the reserved woman. I've always know that I like to talk, but really what I was doing was what I did on the job...ask a question or make a comment and then sit back and let the other person talk. I don't know if there any big plan for how today unfolded, but I can't help but believe that there was. Even the staff commented on how we were all talking among ourselves. And they didn't tell us to hold it down because we were making too much noise. ha!

Even if there was no bigger plan for today, I must say I enjoyed this treatment more than I have any other. It reaffirmed for me that no matter who we are, we are all there for the same purpose and that common thread makes us friends. Am I looking forward to the end of this ordeal? Well, of course I am. I can think of a lot of things I would enjoy doing on Friday morning more than having a needle stuck into my chest so that I can have poison infused into my system. But it's not my choice...and the end is almost here. I can make it now because I've realized I have a lot of friends who I haven't met yet or if we've met, I don't know their name.

I am extremely blessed to have so many family and friends praying for me and sending me words of encouragement. They all mean so much to me. But I have other friends who I haven't met who mean just as much to me. How lucky can you get???

Once again, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

It's a learning experience

Cancer and the related treatment is teaching me more than I would ever have expected. Things I have learned so far:

1) A cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence. When the doctor called me in for the results of my latest D&C in early April, I suspected that the diagnosis would be cancer. She told me the kind of cancer and the particular strain of that cancer that I have. I told all about it in my last post so I won't go through that again. At home after that appointment I did a lot of Internet searching and found as much as I could about my cancer. With what the doctor told me and what I found online, I realized that I had almost a 100% chance of beating this. Pretty good odds, I'd say.

2) The cancer center folks and their literature will tell you a lot about what to expect with chemotherapy, but they don't tell everything. I suspect the reason they don't go into a lot of detail is that everybody reacts differently. In my case, I tried to prepare myself for a significant amount of nausea and even some vomiting. So far, I have been very fortunate to have had almost no nausea or vomiting. Another thing they tell you is that you will probably experience "tummy trouble" from the drugs. What they don't tell you is that you most likely will need to take stool softeners or even laxatives to keep things moving. OK, I know.... TMI!

3) Chemotherapy will make you lose your hair, but it won't come out all at once. My hair started coming out over the past weekend after the third chemo treatment. At first, it was just a lot of hair in my brush. Then when I washed it, there was hair stuck all over my hands. And that was all in the first day or two! It's now been four days since I noticed the extra hair loss and how all I have to do is run my hands over my head to come away with a handful of hair. Well, maybe not a handFUL, but lots of hair. My driver's license expires in August and I was concerned about my new photo be of me wearing a scarf. Fortunately, I got notice in the mail last Friday that I needed to renew my license. Guess where I'm going tomorrow morning! I asked my hairdresser to shave my head once I started losing my hair so I have an appointment next Tuesday to get it all cut off. Wonder if there will be any left for her to shave?

4) Chemotherapy not only makes you susceptible to sunburn, it also makes you sick to get into a hot car that has been sitting in the sun for a couple of hours. Ask me how I know! I thought I never would get home from lunch on Monday. This has been a really hot week so once I got home on Monday, I have stayed inside and will do so on any hot day that I can. It's supposed to be a bit cooler tomorrow so I'll run errands early and then get back inside as quickly as I can. Fortunately, I think it's supposed to be a bit cooler on Friday, too, so when my treatment is finished around noontime, it shouldn't be quite as blistering in my car. Unfortunately, the cancer center does not have shade trees or I would park under one.

5) Listening to good music and reading a book helps the treatment time go by fast. I am on a three-week cycle. The first Friday of the cycle, I get two drugs and on the other two Fridays of the cycle I get only one drug. The two drug Friday takes approximately four and a half hours from start to finish. The one drug Fridays take only about two and a half hours. No matter how many hours it takes, good music and a good book help pass the time.

6) "That which does not kill us makes us stronger." (Friedrich Nietzsche) I have determined that this cancer is not going to kill me, but it definitely is making me stronger. I have always looked on others who had dramatic illnesses with admiration, thinking to myself that I could never do what they're doing. Well, turns out I CAN do what they're doing! I never expected to have major surgery, but I did and came through it just fine. And honestly I never would have expected to need chemotherapy. But here I am and I'm finding it's really easy to keep a positive outlook. I am determined to always smile, laugh or whatever it takes to keep my positivity going. I have found that it's much easier to laugh with family and friends than it would be to hang my head and ask "why me." My family and friends make it so easy to laugh...that's why I love them so much. And my SWAN stitch group friends have already come to my service by providing food. Sure was nice to have home-cooked food that I didn't fix.

7) And last, I have found that I heal quickly and have a high tolerance to pain. All of my surgeries have healed much quicker than the doctors expected. That pleases me. And of all the surgeries and treatments I have had this year, I have only taken one dose of the strong stuff (narcotics) and that was in the hospital. In hindsight, ibuprofen would have done just as well because the pain really wasn't all that bad. I hope I don't have to put either of these to the test, but it is good to know that I most likely will have similar experiences in the future.

So there you have it. I've learned a lot in the last couple of months and I'm sure there will be lots more to learn in the future. Maybe I'm weird (OK, no comments from you guys!), but I like learning new things even if it comes from less than desirable circumstances. I find out more things about myself and my character with each new experience and that's a good thing.

Sorry no photos this time, but I promise there will be at least one photo with the next post.

Thanks for reading my ramblings.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Change of Plans

The year 2012 started off well. I found a project that I had started 10 years ago and never finished. My goal was to complete the project by the time the 10-year mark rolled around in mid-February. The project is Dresden plate blocks and here is a photo of the first two blocks I completed -- 10 years ago.

Here are the same two blocks as they are finished.
As you can see, I'm using my preferred method of "pot holder quilting" to complete the blocks. At this point, I have about eight blocks left to finish then they can all be stitched together. The finished quilt won't be the bed-sized quilt that I originally envisioned. However, there are 35 blocks and they are finishing out to 10" square. Those 35 blocks will make a nice twin-bed size quilt. Even though I don't have a twin bed, I think I'm going to keep the quilt, anyway.

Unfortunately, I don't know when I will finish the quilt. It may be early next year before that happens. My life has taken a very unexpected turn. If someone had asked me two months ago what I would be doing for the next two months, my answer would NOT have been having three surgeries and starting chemotherapy. In early April, I had a surgery to make sure the progesterone I had been taking was doing its job. What I found out is that yes, the progesterone was doing its job, but there was something else going on. Pathology results showed that I had developed uterine papilloma serous carcinoma. This particular cancer is very rare, occurring in only 5-10% of newly-diagnosed uterine cancers and the strain I have is typically found in slender Black women. Definitely not me!! A total hysterectomy was scheduled as soon as possible. The surgery went well and the doctor felt that all tumor-related cells had been excised. The doctor also removed lymph nodes in my groin. Fortunately, the lymph nodes were clear of disease and fortunately the disease was Stage 1 so very treatable.

Apparently, this form of cancer can show up in any part of the body so I am undergoing chemotherapy to kill any cancer critters that may have broken free and are roaming around in my body. So far, I have had only one treatment. From my perspective, it went well. I'll have treatment every Friday for 17 more weeks. The first treatment was not all that bad. Friday and Saturday were pretty good days thanks to the steroids I took. Yesterday (Sunday) was a bit rockier although still not too bad. I felt OK; just had no energy and wasn't in the mood to eat. Of course, I know I need to eat to keep going and to keep my blood sugars in control so I managed to chew on a few things. Today is getting off to a good start. And most importantly, I haven't had to struggle with nausea.

I want to share an experience I had during last Friday's first chemo treatment. I have a lot of people praying on my behalf, most of whom I don't know and have never met. But they are helping lift up my troubles. While the first drugs were being infused, I turned on my iPod and listened to some bluegrass music, one of my favorite genres. After an hour or so, I decided I wanted something else to listen to so I switched over to a couple of old-time gospel albums. As I listed to those songs, like Old Rugged Cross and Precious Memories, the lyrics were more clear to me than they ever had been. After a while of listening to those gospel songs, I felt a peace come over me and I knew that everything would be OK. It was the first time in my life that I actually felt the love of Jesus Christ. I've seen the results many times, but this time I felt it. What a wondrous feeling!

The coming weeks will be challenging many times, I am sure. But the peacefulness that I experienced on Friday reassured me that God is watching over me and helping me through this ordeal. We can never climb the mountain without the help of our Lord and I know with his help, I will reach the top of the mountain and conquer this cancer. Am I looking forward to the continuing treatments? Of course not, but I know that I have to do this to keep living so this is what I do. I have gotten advice from trusted people and am trying to heed that advice. I know it will be difficult, but with the love and prayers of family and friends and even people who don't know me, we as a group will see me through.

All of us have had quite a lot of laughs about the slender Black woman twist and that is what I am trying to focus on. I want to see the humor in as many things as I can and you have to admit the Black woman angle is funny! I will lose my hair, of course. On Friday, I had to go through a training session and one of the things we talked about is hair regrowth. Apparently there is no way to know what the hair may look like when it grows back in. The trainer said sometimes the regrowth is a different color and sometimes it's kinky. Well, of course, I zeroed in on the kinky part and I suspect that might be when I see manifestation of the "inner slender Black woman" I carry around with me. Again, anything for a laugh!

I have blathered on long enough. I hope you haven't been too bored. There was a lot that I had to get out of my system. As always, thanks for reading my ramblings.

Amy, the cancer warrior of Central Missouri

Saturday, January 7, 2012

New Year, New Project

Welcome to 2012. The title of this post is a little misleading, but I'll get into that more shortly. For the first time, in 2011, I took photographs of all the projects I completed throughout the year. Turns out I actually do do something! ha! Here is a quick rundown of my accomplishments. I'll include photos of the projects that were not spotlighted at some point last year.

2011 started off with me knitting socks...lots of sock! I think it's a total of 8 pair, if I'm not mistaken. Here is a photo of most of them as well as a photo of the last pair I finished right before Christmas.

I also tested four patterns for The Quilt Pattern Magazine. Three of the patterns have been published; the fourth pattern has not yet been published. Here are photos of the three that have been published:

Then there was the witch wall hanging that I made for fellow SWAN, Teresa. That was shown in an earlier post, too. And the knitted scarves, also mentioned earlier. The bigger project was the baby quilt that I finally finished in October. As with all of my quilted projects, it was done by hand and took most of the summer. Of course, along with the quilt, I was testing patterns and working on socks. I always have at least 3 projects going at once.

The year ended with a wonderful SWAN Christmas party and ornament exchange. This was my first experience with the ornament exchange so I wasn't sure what to expect. What I found out is that my ornament is really simple compared to what the other ladies did. Teresa and I unknowingly exchanged ornaments. The one I made is on the left below, the one Teresa made and I got is on the right. See what I mean???

The last completed project that I want to mention is a snowman wall hanging I made for SWAN Sarah. She gifted me with the cross stitch "quilting" piece this summer and I wanted to do something to thank her for her generosity. I felt pretty sure she likes snowmen so I decided to make this wall hanging for her.

Now on to 2012. Just before Christmas, I finished appliqueing Dresden plate quilt squares that I started a few years ago. My "new" project for 2012 is to make a quilt from those blocks. My initial plan was to alternate plain and plate blocks to make a full-size quilt. After doing a couple of full-size bed quilts, I decided not to do that again! So my plan now is to make them using the pot holder method that I've used in the past. It will make a quilt that is better sized for a twin bed than a full bed, but that's OK. I still plan to keep it and use it on my bed. I was taken a bit by surprise when I pulled out a photo of the first two blocks I appliqued. The photo was dated 2/3/2002...10 years ago! This is one UFO that WILL be finished this year. I will take a photo of those same two blocks when they are finished so you can see how they will turn out.

This is my big project of the far. That may change as the year goes on. I'm also working on another pair of socks and have lots of sock yarn that will be transformed into wearables later on. Who knows what other projects will come my way throughout the year. I'll probably do more pattern testing for TPQM although I have no definite plans at this time.

Thanks for following along with me and my ramblings. Onward and upward to a fantastic 2012!