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