Great news!! (definitely worth two exclamation points) Another clean PET scan! Diagnosed in 2012 Stage 3C…Three and a half years later…2 surgeries, countless chemotherapy infusions, 25 radiation treatments and a year of maintenance. Finals are graded and it’s time to enjoy the family and a much needed relaxation time.
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?
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.
I have a favorite chair!
And my own little TV and blankie!
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.
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.
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.
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?
Do the words “on the edge” connote something good or bad? I am hopeful as I take my first steps into unknown territory that is the start of something amazing. Today will mark (assuming all my blood work is in order) the last of the frontline chemo. If anyone was counting (me), there have been 28 treatments in total (16 in 2012 and 12 in 2014). Twenty eight infusions of chemicals into my bloodstream and 28 mini-battles to get myself back together again. But now… NO MORE Carboplatin and Gemzar….only Avastin. As Ross says, “I’m no mathematician,” (he is) but that is a 66.7% reduction in drugs. That is definitely worth a celebration!
The good news is that the weekly grind of treatments will disappear, but in its stead, is an extended regimen (while not as physically debilitating) which will extend for a full year. Done, but not done. The last time I did this, done was done, until it came back. This time, we are hoping that the Avastin will keep any new tumors from developing and growing. This monthly every three week therapy is one of the hot new cancer treatments that they are using on me. The word on the street The nurses are telling me that it will be much easier to bounce back from these infusions.
Even though 2015 is around the corner, this is my own personal New Year’s Celebration! The “journey” isn’t over by any means, but hopefully, it won’t be as rigorous. I am excited to begin exercising without catching my breath, drinking a glass of wine without getting a headache or vomitting, and spending more time with friends/family instead of crashed on the couch.
The next hold-your-breath moment will be at the end of this month. Doctor has ordered a PET scan to make sure that done means done.
Wet, muddy, and humid. Not-so-perfect conditions for the weekly cross country meet, and yet the parking lot was packed and the runners were enthusiastically warming up. I spent a good 10 minutes motivating myself to leave the climate controlled car to find the Mid-Pacific tent of runners and fans. One of my students, after asking why I was wearing white shorts, thanked me for coming out to see the meet. (I have no excuse for white shorts in rain and mud-none.)
Before 8 am, most of the runners were soaked and muddy and the races hadn’t even started yet. I was surprised how cheerful and full of laughter they were. I told my son afterwards that I always love talking to Student X because she laughs at all my jokes. His response: “Yeah, she laughs at a lot of things that aren’t funny.”
The meet today comes on the muddy heels of a really junk week. I realized that I have thrown up more in the last 4 months than I have in my entire life. On Tuesday, I spent most of the day in the hospital getting IV fluids, Potassium, and Phenergen, trying to get my system back in balance from the previous chemo. I rallied for Wednesday and was back in the classroom again. I wasn’t actively vomiting, so I figured I should be at work. It is not just a duty concept that brings me back to school every day. Today’s events really captured it for me. Despite their own “Struggle Bus” of conditions, kids just get out of the car and get going. No one complained, they just did. That is what energizes me!
Even though I see them in the classroom every day, it was fun to see them overcoming the elements and enjoying each other’s company.
A long, long, long, long time ago…I went through military boot camp (Basic Cadet Training-fondly known as “Beast”) at the United States Air Force Academy. It was the summer of 81, and while Princess Diana and Prince Charles were getting married, I was in the foothills of Colorado Springs enduring the most rigorous training program of my life. Whilst (I love that word!) Anglophiles were glued to their television’s watching the “wedding of the century,” I was doing push-ups, pull-ups, and running through the Obstacle Course and Confidence Course in Jack’s Valley, Colorado.
Every day, we woke at the crack of dawn and we pressed through the day until taps at 9 pm. It was the most intensive time of my life-forcing my body to do things that were not in my wheelhouse. (I was an Erudite in a Dauntless world= for fans of the book Divergent! #Divergent #Veronica Roth) I spent my high school days in ballet, drill team, and AP classes, but then I was thrown into a world where walking across a 4×4 beam, one story above the ground, was the only measure of success.
Why did I not die?
How do you get through Boot Camp? How do you get through Cancer and its treatments? How does anyone get through the monumental challenges of their life?
1. Find good friends to share the ride on the Struggle Bus with you. Life is more fun when you’re singing The Wheels on the Bus songs together. My Academy classmates are still my friends 100 33 years later. Today, my friends and family help me laugh and forget the hard reality of what I’m going through.
2. Every day-get up, get dressed, get going. Get through. Day 1 may just be getting one foot to go in front of the other. By Day 20, you can chuckle at how little you could do on Day 1 . Your muscles learn what you expect of them. If you expect nothing, they give you nothing.
3. Give it your best…your best will get better. In the 1997 movie Gattaca, the character Vincent is asked how he accomplished such a remarkable feat, and his answer was…”I never saved anything for the swim back.” Give it all! You can’t be thinking about the next lap or the next obstacle. Give everything to each moment!
4. Believe in God’s plan(s)-Plans to give you a hope and a future! Jeremiah 29:11 There is a plan for you. You just have to trust that there is a plan.
5. Get past the bad days by reminding yourself that “Everything will be okay in the end: If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” -John Lennon There are days you wish you could just forget, where nothing goes right, but that is not the end of the story.
Finally….. My memories of that time (and now this battle with cancer) have crystallized, and while they include the struggles and disappointments, ultimately, the successful finishing of difficult obstacles is what sticks with me.
The words that every cancer patient wants to hear-No Evidence of Disease! I was sitting on the exam room table when the nurse came in with the report and flopped it open for me to see. At first, I had no idea what I was seeing, but then, the words jumped off the page-NED!
A special girl, Morgan, brightened my day with a bouquet of Star Lillies. And yes, I want to keep “filing batter” for a long time.
What’s next for me? Three more chemos to knock out any remaining or developing cancer cells. Then, monthly (and by “monthly” they actually mean every three weeks) chemo for a year. I still have a long haul ahead of me. Blood pressure is too high (from chemo, of course) and platelets keep dipping (from chemo, of course), WBC (White Blood Count) is all over the place, and RBC (Red Blood Count) is dipping into transfusion land.
BUT, I am blessed! I feel lucky every day I get into work and am able to do my job and see those students. I’ve been through the ringer-surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, but because of friends like you, my battery is recharged. I can officially say I am a two time cancer survivor!
No, not that kind…this kind…a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan.
Tomorrow is my six month scan. We are hoping not to see any areas light up this time! Today (Thursday) is the prep day. Starving the body of sugar and focusing on low carb eating.
A day of eating this…
Tomorrow (Friday) is just watery water…Nothing else!
Then, they inject the radioactive tracer…and allow it to circulate in the bloodstream.
One hour of sitting “Quietly”…no music, books, talking, moving, etc. They really mean it when they say sit quietly. After 1 hour, the dye has had a chance to circulate through the whole body (organs and tissue) and you’re ready for the scan to begin. Any areas of hypermetabolic hungry cancer cells, will be activated and light up during the scan.
Then, the tube. It like a crystal ball to look at your innards.
And then waiting…for results…till Monday-an exercise in patience impatience. What makes you impatient? How do you cope?
Admit it…there are some days that you start the day off on the Struggle Bus to Struggle City. Wednesday was that day for me. I woke up nauseated, but it was too late in the morning to call in sick and I had a full day of teaching ahead. I asked my husband if he thought it was something I ate. His response: “Kym, you just had chemo, so no, I think it’s the chemo.” I always try to ascribe the bad days to something else…virus, fatigue, food poisoning, etc. but it just keeps coming back to the fact that I am putting poison in my body in order to fight the cancer. Then, I spend most of the next week fighting the poison that is fighting the cancer. Like the shampoo bottle says: Lather, rinse, repeat.
It just doesn’t seem right.
In English classes, we teach that there is no story unless there is a conflict. Something has to happen to the main character in order to make the story interesting, and unfortunately, as the protagonist for our own individual story we mostly don’t get to choose the conflict. Every time I check social media, I see so many battles that my friends are fighting…injury, injustice, illness, heartache, senseless crime, etc. My battle is unique to me, but I know we’ve all felt that feeling-How will I get through this day?
Start with the Cancer PlayList
Dig Deep. Going through something life changing requires all your personal resources. Reach to your faith, your friends, your family. Wednesday, I reached out to my friend, and she was there. She is going through her own battle with debilitating back pain, but she searched all over the office just to find me some ginger! I had one hour before class was to start to get control of the situation. I was calculating distances to the closest bathroom in case of emergency vomitting or worse-as one teacher-contract I had so succinctly put it-“explosive diarrhea.”
Whenever I start to feel sorry for myself, I think of the sad young man I see weekly in the chemo room. He speaks to no one and he appears to be young, mid-20’s. His answers to the nurses are monosyllabic. His agony is evident on his face each time he comes in. His mom comes in with him and does what she can do to ease the suffering. It just brings to mind how unfair and indiscriminate cancer actually is.
We all have conflict-some big and some small-but all achingly real. Our lives have so many pitfalls along the way that the only real solution is to reach out to each other to create a resolution to our own story. I couldn’t do this without you!
This week marked two weeks of school and crossing over the halfway point in chemo. It reminded me of building straw towers in physics class. Students started out the week with 50 straws and 2 meters of tape and were tasked with building a tower that could support a golf ball on the top. The best towers had a strong base and a lot of support. Some towers never made it off the ground: they were flimsy and poorly thought out. The winning towers were the ones in which the builders created alternate plans when encountering disappointment.
I want to model my school year on those successful towers and teams. Each week my actions need to mimic the successful characteristics of the soaring towers! It needs to be carefully planned with lots of support, and a fallback plan if things don’t go the way I intend. Last weekend, I think my tower went too high. I pushed myself a little too hard and paid the price over the weekend with a brutal headache and record breaking vomitting. I was reminded of Buster’s quote from Arrested Development, “Yes, I was flying. But a little too close to sun.”
This week I had Back-to-School night on Thursday followed by chemo on Friday. Week two has been better because I know the students now and everyone is getting back into the mechanism that is school. My son’s Cross Country coach says it takes two weeks of training before the initial pain subsides. Well, I have completed two weeks of training, and I am optimistic that Monday will be my best day yet! My lesson plans are ready and alternate routes are planned as well.
The test of my chemo/work schedule will be this weekend as I deal with the side effects of Carboplatin/Gemzar/Avastin. Fortunately, we had a great meal delivered by some friends at church and I had a delicious nap this afternoon. So that helped mitigate the lengthy chemo process.
One of my favorite books growing up as a child was Fortunatelyby Remy Charlip. For every bad thing that happened to Ned (the main character), there was an equal and opposite good thing (Newton’s 3rd Law!). “Fortunately, Ned was invited to a surprise party. Unfortunately, the party was a thousand miles away. Fortunately, a friend loaned Ned an airplane. Unfortunately, the motor exploded….etc.”
Fortunately for me, I have some wonderful family and friends and coworkers, so I am expecting great results from this year! What’s your favorite childhood book that still speaks to you and motivates you?