Are you still doing that?

The early thrill of a new habit wears off after about a month and according to Franklin Covey only 23% of people see their resolutions to completion. Any time someone says I’m never going to do “X” again, there is a part of me that wonders how long their forever will be.  When the doctor told me that my cancer treatment could be “forever,”  I wondered the same thing.  In college we studied Greek Mythology and Sisyphus (the man doomed for all eternity to push a boulder up a hill and then watch it roll back down again).  I wonder what his attitude was. How did he feel about it? Were some days better than others? Did he have coworkers with their own rocks to push up their own hills? Did they get together on weekends to commiserate over rock pushing? Did he try to get it done first thing in the morning or procrastinate till late afternoon? How do you handle those perpetual tasks that never go away?

Get this party started!

Today marks my 9th maintenance treatment of Avastin for recurrent Ovarian Cancer. I almost can’t imagine not seeing my doctor every 3rd Tuesday and my fabulous nurses Jacqui, Cindy, and Jodi every 3rd Friday. Jacqui is even in my “favorites” in my phone contacts. It’s like making the top ten of speed-dialed numbers!

I have my own little Ground Hog Day of doctor visits and treatments.

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Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell

 I have a favorite chair!

Save my spot! Heated recliner chemo chair

And my own little TV and blankie!

Watching Living 808! They have TV up in here!

I told a coworker that I would be out Friday for chemo and she said, “Are you still doing that?” The answer is yes, but I’m pushing my “rock” in style. I may not get to choose if I push my rock but I get to choose how I’ll push it! We all have some form of rocks we’re pushing, but the trick is enjoy the journey. Plus, I get to see some pretty awesome people.

I thought you would have something fascinating to say about Cancer.

“I thought you would have something fascinating to say about Cancer.” Someone said this exact phrase to me (in writing) and it took me aback. But it’s true, I have nothing more profound than anyone else to say on the subject…except… that I have been there and done it.  I don’t have the exact combination of cancer fighting drugs or herbal supplements, but I am a work in progress, learning as I go. I do have a lot of experience. If there were badges for surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, side effects, ongoing medications, neuropathy, vomiting (don’t forget vomiting) etc., I would have a complete sash. Getting sick doesn’t make you a “sage on the stage” or a life guru, but it does help to ease the path for others that are getting that cold shock of meeting an oncologist for the first time. I don’t have the cure for cancer, but I am there for those that are going through a similar events with themselves or a loved one. I can share my story and bring you along with me. I have first-hand experience with things that I never wanted to experience in the first place.

No one expects that they will get a life threatening disease. Would you handle thing similarly? Maybe, maybe not. I am simply the guinea pig that you can study and the friend you can support and pray for. You can use this article as a catalyst to ask yourself, what am I doing in my life that I want to be different. Lots of advice leans to “live in the moment” variety, but that moment-to moment living is harder to maintain than you might think. When planes are landing and taking off is when I am completely in the moment. Whether well or sick, the cat still needs to get fed and the oil still needs to get changed on the car, and someone needs to do those pesky taxes. I still get frustrated with traffic and people that take up the whole aisle at the commissary (why?). But above all that, I know the overwhelming support and love from friends (and strangers too) that has buoyed me when I have felt down. I have new networks of friends that evolves constantly including a wonderful Ovarian Cancer Support group. People I might never have met in my previous life have now become friends that I can count on for advice.

This weekend I found out that a former student had recently committed suicide. He struggled in middle school as an outcast and left the school I was teaching at under cloudy circumstances. Eventually, the family moved to a different state and I hadn’t heard anything about him until I saw the obituary. Many people tried to help him when he was a troubled 13 year old.  At 16 years old, he decided that life was too painful to keep on living. Today, I am contemplative. Did he continue to turn away from help? Were others trying to reach out and connect with him? I pray for his family as they try to go on with their lives. My goal as a teacher is to reach out to each student individually, wherever they are in their “journey.” With my blog, I try to reach out to those who are struggling with the entire baggage that is Cancer. Some are just here to support and be supported, and others for advice. Fascinating? Probably not, but hopefully, helpful.

No pictures today, just thoughts. We are all here together.

Side Effects

In 2013, my son and I went to see a Steven Sodergergh movie, Side Effects-a cautionary tale on the effects of an experimental drug that hit close to home for me (not the crazy wife part…but the using of new-to-market drugs and seeing what they do part). I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen it yet, but I would definitely recommend. I think I’ll add it back to the Netflix queue for a another look see.  Of course, anything with Jude Law in it can’t be half bad. In the continuing beat-down of cancer cells, my doctor and I are always in quest of the perfect medicines with minimal side effects.

Side Effects
Side Effects

In addition to being the Professional Vomit Queen, another issue I am  fighting is increasingly high blood pressure. My oncologist says that the numbers are pre-hypertensive (at 140/90) so not yet treatable with medication, but a bit concerning. He is “not worried yet.” I want to avoid yet another medication to treat the side effects of the medications I am taking… So, in the words of Tobias Funke…”Let the great experiment begin“…

I am making the decision to cut back on salt. If you know me at all, you know that I love salt! Have you watched any episodes of Chopped? One of the primary reasons chefs get “chopped” is chronically under-seasoned food. (The “spa” chefs invariably go home in the appetizer round.) The translation-more salt! I know Amanda Freitag would be disappointed to hear that I will be using less salt instead of more. I’m so sorry, Amanda. It’s probably not permanent, but it’s in my best interest.

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 8.27.23 PM
Food Network’s Chopped with host Ted Allen

Nothing tastes better than a boiled egg rolled in salt. I could actually eat this every single day. Well…there are things that taste a little better, but not a lot. (Buttered popcorn with salt…) We even have a container of table salt in the teacher workroom that often finds its way to my desk. (I really consider it my salt.)

Boiled egg and salt
Boiled egg and salt-Yum!

Salt intake is something I can control. In the oncology world, so much is out of my control. We’ll just assume that my starting blood pressure is mediocre at best and go from there. Next Wednesday, I’ll have my next check-up and Friday the 13th (that doesn’t even sound good), my next treatment of Avastin and a PET scan. Double whammy!

Starting now….I will try cut out table salt and soy sauce (How is that even possible in Hawaii?). This will be step one.

Sound off! Have you tried to cut back salt in your diet? Tips? Thoughts? How much of an effect will this really have? Let’s see.

Breakn’ a Sweat-Great Aloha Run 2015

One of my students showed up to summer school class every day with large over-the-ear headphones listening to this song by Skrillex and The Doors-Breakn’ a Sweat (a largely repetitive, but somehow catchy electro/dub step song-you probably will not like). But, this song was in my head as I trained for the Great Aloha Run of 2015.

Skrillex and The Doors-Breakn' a Sweat
Skrillex and The Doors-Breakn’ a Sweat

I wasn’t even sure I could do the 8.15 mile Great Aloha Run (and just to clarify, I am talking about walking it, not running). My friend said multiple times, “you can always back out if you are not up to it.”  My plan was to just get up and get out there and see what happened. Up until Monday (race day), the longest training “run” was a 1.5 mile walk. In keeping with my 2015 goal of becoming STRONG I felt like it was important to at least get myself out of bed and get down there and try. My January training was stymied by a mega migraine that put me back several days (See Professional Vomit Queen). We woke up extra early to make our way to the Starting Line. IMG_3060 I stood on the corner watching the sun come up with my little team of two (Debbie and Ross). We stationed ourselves at the back of the pack along with the wheelchair participants and stroller moms and watched the sunrise reflected over Aloha Tower.

Great Aloha Run-sun rising
Great Aloha Run-sun rising above the starting line.

Twenty thousand people had the same idea I did and were out there for the  Great Aloha Run! Interesting side note is that many more were registered and just didn’t show up. I am sure they had many good reasons, but come “game day” it didn’t happen. This is what the front of the line looked like (or so the newspaper told me). 

Great Aloha Run 2015
Great Aloha Run 2015

Despite a bad knee (Debbie), a bad calf (Ross) and sore hips (me), we finished! At one point, I jokingly said, we should do the Honolulu Marathon in December. This idea was introduced around mile 7, so the enthusiasm for it wasn’t as high as I had hoped.

Finish Line
Finish Line-Ross in green

We completed the race in 2 hours and 25 minutes. Plus, when you add the time and distance to get to and from the start and finish line…we totaled 9.73 miles!

Runkeeper tally!
Runkeeper tally! 9.73 miles!
Dynamic Duo in our fancy new "finisher" T-shirts!
Dynamic Duo in our fancy new “finisher” T-shirts!

When my own children used to agonize over writing essays for English class, I used to tell them…It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be done. Words on paper are better than no words at all. That is how I felt about this race. We could have been a lot faster and trained a lot more, but we still got out there and did it. Plus, we were together, which made it all the more fun! What’s my current situation? Still plugging away at maintenance chemo every three weeks. I had treatment yesterday and slept 12 hours straight in recovery last night. Still teaching! Still doing!

Professional vomit queen-navigating the migraines

Warning: Not for the squeamish. Step away if you have a weak constitution. Migraine sufferers will agree that migraines are no ordinary headaches. Unlike a broken arm, there is no visible indication that your pain level is through the roof. Taking regular pain relief for migraines (for me) is like putting a dropper full of gas in the car and thinking it will take you somewhere . Migraine relief is a much more complicated dance than that. A careful combination of prevention and treatment is my only solution. I should have known the stress of this week was going to trigger a headache, but I always naively believe that this time it will be different. (Remember the movie 50 First Dates? I am like the Drew Barrymore short term memory loss character.) I shouldn’t be surprised when they happen and the route they will take, but it always catches me off guard.  I choose to not think that it is stupidity, but rather optimism. Every migraine trail I take leads to the porcelain dumping ground. (I was going to add a vomit image, but that would just be cruel to all of us, so instead, I’ll add the movie poster) When the headache ends,  it is like a long journey completed.

50 First Dates
50 First Dates

I should be happy that I’ve only thrown up three times in January. One of the side effects I appear to be having from the Avastin treatment is sporadic migraine headaches. The first sign of the headache is a piercing high pitched frequency pain in the back of my head. (It feels like the frequency only dogs can hear that drives them crazy) Then the pain shuffles from back to front and back again.  I sit with an ice pack on my head and I speculate how long it will take till the vomit train begins. Today, I made it 45 minutes. Something about vomiting is cathartic (haha! Really! At least I made myself laugh) It’s like my body realigns and resets itself after that. The trick of getting the pain to go away lies in a careful distribution of Migraine meds, anti-nausea meds, and vomit.

Last time, it was after a fantastic meal of Baked Ziti (which I used to love…I’ve attached a recipe in case you still love it.) That time was the first time that I threw up through my nose. I had a noodle come out my nose. I guess there is a first for everything.

Baked Ziti
Baked Ziti

My sister was visiting us that time, and the next morning she asked if I had been coughing during the night. Yes, I “coughed” a lot that night. It really was good ziti, more so going in than going out. Sadly, I don’t see myself eating anymore Baked Ziti in my near future.

I have recently swapped out Imitrex for Maxalt in the quest to find more effective pain relief. I think the Imitrex works for me, but when it gets thrown up so soon, not as much. Maxalt can dissolve under your tongue and sneak up on the migraine before the vomiting begins (but dissolving pills under my tongue is slightly nausea inducing too). I always wonder at what point does the pain medication count. In other words…If you take a pill and throw it up 15 minutes later, has that pill been ingested into your system enough to work? Or, do you assume it hasn’t and does again.

Today’s headache infused my dreams and woke me with a jolt this morning. 

"Last night I dreamt somebody love me." Smiths lyrics
“Last night I dreamt somebody love me.” Smiths lyrics

The only direction this day can go is up.  

The Musical Chairs of Cancer

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 7.41.38 PM
Set-up for musical chairs

Do you remember the childhood party game Musical Chairs? I used to love going to birthday parties and playing that. When the music started, you would walk around the circle casually, sometimes touching the chairs, just listening to the music playing a happy tune until some unseen hand took the needle off the record (Yes, we played that game with vinyl albums!) As the music suddenly halted,  you lunged into the nearest available chair-hoping not to be the extra child without a seat. If you were unfortunate enough to be the last one standing, you were out of the game.

I compare my current situation to that childhood game. I go along living my life, teaching classes, walking, going to church, watching movies, listening to music, and then suddenly, it’s time for a PET scan.  There is a breath holding few days where we wait for the results…Will I still be doing the daily drive to work (#hitraffic), watching Chopped on the Food Network, hiking the Aiea Loop trail, and generally being “normal” OR will I be thrown back into the grind of surgery, weekly chemotherapy, blood testing, and hospital visits. Each scan, I wait for the music to stop, and then determine if I am with or without a chair.

Last year on Valentine’s Day (incredibly bad timing), I received that call that my cancer had returned. Since March 14th, I have earned frequent flyer points at Tripler Army Medical Center. The current status is a monthly (which really means every three weeks) maintenance plan of Avastin and careful monitoring of my CA 125 levels to continue indefinitely (like in forever).  Side effects of all of this include some pretty unkind migraine headaches and fatigue, but this is small “kine” stuff compared to the radiation and frontline chemotherapy.

View from the Oceanside of Tripler Army Medical Center
View from the Oceanside of Tripler Army Medical Center

In the meantime, I am listening to the music and focusing on my One Word for 2015! That word is Strength.  Rather than making a series of New Year’s Resolutions about working out, eating less, and reading more, I am choosing to focus on a single word-focusing all my efforts towards building strength…in my body, in my mind, in my faith, and in my relationships. My plan for 2015 is not a single day event, but hopefully a series of activities that will make me stronger. Physically, I feel better now than I have felt since January of last year. I plan to run (haha-just kidding) walk in the Great Aloha Run in February. Am I ready? Absolutely not. But, the training process has begun.

Great Aloha Run Hawaii
Great Aloha Run Hawaii

I believe I’ll still have a chair in the game come next week! You are not behind. Start now. What is your One Word for 2015?

Where are they now?

One of my favorite magazine (and now internet) features has always been the “Where are they now? segment. Something about being in the dark with zero information regarding a person, and then “BAM” right back into all the nitty gritty of their lives-some interesting, some bizarre, some tragic…….is so compelling. I thought I’d take you on a little Where are they now? trip.

1. David Cassidy-former star of 70’s show The Partridge Family and frustrated hard rock musician (I learned that in VH1 Behind the Music) in a pop music world has plummeted to the world of drunk driving in NY, garnering what appears to be a second DWI (the first from Florida).

David Cassidy Then and Now
David Cassidy Then and Now

The rookie cop evidently didn’t recognize the former teen heartthrob. (I think I would have.) Let’s hope he’s back on track now!

2. Mary-Kate Olsen My kids were fan of the twin powerhouses (to include Ashley Olsen) from the television show Full House. The favorite movie of our family was I am the Cute One. You can find this gem on http://www.youtube.com

I am the Cute One video from www.youtube.com
I am the Cute One video from http://www.youtube.com

Now, she has a jewelry line that makes a BILLION dollars in sales a year.

3. Haley Joel Osment Evidently I was not the only one who wondered whatever happened to the Sixth Sense boy. ABC news had a recent feature on him with this photo (and article)…What?!?  That’s Haley Joel Osment? He is still making movies and currently is filming a movie in which he pays a Nazi.

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 3.24.38 PM
Haley Joel Osment filming a new movie in September of 2014

4.  Walter Cronkite-As a child I used to watch the CBS Nightly News with my parents and listen to Walter Cronkite say, “And that’s the way it is.” Sadly, he passed away in 2009.

Walter Cronkite-CBS News Anchor
Walter Cronkite-CBS News Anchor

I could spend hours searching the internet and dropping down a rabbit hole of information, but I wanted to share with you one that recently stuck with me.

5. Diem BrownYou may or may not know of this reality TV star who made her mark in the show MTV Real World/Road Rules Challenge. What impresses me so much about this woman is that even though she diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer at age 23, she fought relentlessly and optimistically against this cruel disease until she passed away at 34. If you follow Twitter, you may know that her last tweet (posted days before her death) showed her resilient spirit.

Diem Brown Tweet
Diem Brown Tweet

Her fight (chronicled in People Magazine) focused attention on this silent and slippery disease. Here is a reminder of the symptoms:

Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

Common myth: Your annual PAP smear does NOT detect Ovarian Cancer!

Where am I now? Doing well! After a total of two surgeries, 25 radiation treatments, and 28 frontline chemotherapy infusions, I am undergoing maintenance Avastin infusions every 3 weeks to keep this disease at bay. In the meantime, I can be found teaching Physics to some pretty darn amazing students on most days!

 

Trying to get up that great big hill!

Koko Head Crater

At one time, not too long ago, I was actually able to walk up Koko Head Crater-it was challenging, yet not impossible. The popular Oahu hike was approximately 1 mile…straight up…1048 stairs/railroad ties up the side of a enormous cinder cone.  The view from the top was spectacularly breathtaking. These days, I think I could only walk from the parking lot to the trail head. However, even when I was able to successfully complete the hike, there were a few other folks that passed me like I was standing still.  On the way down, still others were barely making it up.  My challenge was a cake-walk for some and an impossible dream for others. Food for thought as I refocus my efforts toward getting healthy.

Now, I’m trying to get up the hill of recovery! What’s the plan? It’s a work in progress, a multi-pronged work in progress. Exercise-check. Ableit, in a much smaller fashion than BC (before cancer). My immediate goal is to walk up the hill in the neighborhood (all the way to the top). Healthy eating-check. Thanksgiving is right around the corner, but for now, it’s plenty of veggies/protein and bags of spinach (they say it’s washed, but I am suspicious, therefore  doing that hard salad spinning myself). I am re-acquainting myself with plain Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of Grape Nuts and fruit on top. It’s not as terrible as it sounds…really. Reading-check. On order from Amazon:

Small Victories-Spotting Improbably Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott
Small Victories-Spotting Improbably Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott

This Thursday marks my second maintenance treatment along with a Doc appointment on Monday. I haven’t been to Tripler Army Medical Center in three whole weeks (3.3 weeks).  I am focused on getting myself sussed each day and up by 5:17 am and back into bed by 9:36 pm (this has something vaguely to do with sleep cycles and a sleep calculator).  Still a long way to go, but the view on the way back up again is pretty rewarding. Plus, I am enjoying the lack of vomitting more than you can possibly imagine.

In a reflective mood? Maybe a little, but I’m looking backward and forward simultaneously. Musically, maybe some 4 Non Blondes will help you start your day with What’s Up?

Don’t forget to check out the sunsets on the way!

Sunset on the North Shore of Oahu
Sunset on the North Shore of Oahu

Maintaining (Cancer Free)!

end-of-dieting
Maintaining the diet!

You go on a diet…you lose that elusive 10 to 15 pounds 20 pounds,more? You counted “points” ate Gluten free, ate low carb, ate Paleo and now you are a newly transformed person with ultimate will-power, making excellent choices in all your eating and  exercising 3-5 days a week at 70 percent of your heart capacity.  (That’s the dream of all dieters, right?) Then what? The hard work of maintenance dieting begins. The process of keeping all the work you’ve done, frozen in time, is the goal of both maintaining your weight and maintaining the results of  cancer treatments.  The rush of eliminating the unwanted pounds is gone, compliments on your dedication tapers, and friends just expect that you’ll keep that weight off and continue your journey successfully. You hope that you won’t backslide like so many dieters do and become just another statistic.

Happy Valentine's Day
Happy Valentine’s Day

On Valentine’s Day, 2014, my doctor called to say those dreaded words, “I’m worried” about your CA (the cancer marker found in blood) levels. Shortly thereafter followed surgery, radiation, and 5 months of chemotherapy. Now, we maintain the results with an  every-three-week it was “sold” to me as “monthly” treatment of Avastin. Avastin is a fancy expensive drug that has been part of my regimen since May 22nd. Essentially it is an infusion that keeps the cancer cells starved of blood so that they don’t develop into tumors. Side effects for me are primarily headaches, which I am learning how to fend off more effectively. Why didn’t I get the ‘loss-of-appetite” side effect?

Avastin
Avastin

How long do you have to keep your maintenance diet going?  Weight loss professionals say that maintenance should really become a lifestyle change and it should go on indefinitely What, no more sugar forever? I don’t think so.  My doctor called last week and started talking about how my maintenance treatments will continue for a year….wait for it….or forever. Forever? Seriously, Forever. Evidently doctors aren’t unanimous  in exactly how long this treatment should be continued or how long it will stay effective.

So that’s where we are. In the dreaded “maintaining” portion of our cancer diet Time to focus on the basics of good nutrition except for cupcakes,  getting the energy to walk up the hills in my neighborhood, and sleeping for more than 5 hours uninterrupted (maybe that part won’t ever happen). I’m actually happy to have the opportunity to normalize my life and not think about life and death on a daily basis. Time to kick back and enjoy the maintaining!

How do you maintain the positive changes in your life-whether diet or exercise or something else? Is a struggle or a piece of cake? I’m Curious.

 

The Waiting Game

I am scheduled for another PET scan today. I have the routine down fairly well. Cut back on carbohydrates two days before the scan, and go carb “free” on the day before the scan.  I am not a huge carb fan, but the moment you tell me that I can’t have carbs, that is all I want.  This photo is the “good” carbs, but I am thinking any carbs would be good about now.

good-carbs-picture1
Carbs

The PET scan uses a radioactive tracer with glucose (sugar). Once you starve your body of sugar, and then re-introduce it in the form of glucose, it happily travels to all areas of your body….particularly areas of high metabolic activity.  High metabolic activity is not good.  My recent scan (Sept. 5) was good, so that bodes well for today.  My number one goal is to focus on getting my body back to eating well, feeling well, and exercising well. So, what’s the hitch? My latest CA levels (the markers that they use to check Cancer) have notched up a bit. Could be nothing, could be something.

So, I am waiting. No food since last night at 6 pm. I am allowed to drink watery water (not my favorite) and I’ll be to Tripler Army Medical Center in a bit. First order of business is accessing my port, and then they’ll start the radioactive tracer. One hour of complete solitude in a dark room will follow. No music, no TV, no books, no company, nothing. (I guess they don’t want my high-intellect from listening to Morrissey or watching The Walking Dead to light up the scan.) After that, the tube. I am fairly good with the claustrophobic aspect of the tube, but my hands usually fall asleep during the scan. They used to tape down my forehead and hands, but evidently, I have graduated from this (or someone complained). Now, I just have to hold them above my head.

Results? Probably in a day or two. So much of this disease is waiting and watching. I know October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but I thought I’d put in a plug for Ovarian Cancer Awareness. Simply put, if you have had unexplained digestive issues for more than several weeks, it would be a good idea to get it check out. I urge you to go and check out the symptoms.

OvarianCancerAwarenessRibbon
Ovarian Cancer Awareness

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