I Can See The Finish Line And It Feels Good

A week and a half ago I met with my oncologist and was told that I would be having my last chemo session that day. He could have spread it out over three weeks, but he didn’t. I was shocked and nervous, and a little bit relieved. I will miss seeing my doctor’s smiling face, and the hugs, but I am ready to get on with my life and get busy working on the projects I mentioned in my last post. Even though I’ve weathered chemotherapy like a champ, I’m tired of being tired. I’m tired of only being able to eat a few foods and of the nausea. I’m ready to get back to being able to eat more vegetables and other healthy things that my body just hasn’t found appetizing for a while. It’s surreal to say it – I am officially done with chemo. Whew!

My last session was a long one, but Sam was there with me and she presented me with a giraffe she handmade for me. It was a lovely gift and companion to cuddle with during those last hours of chemo. Also, everyone at the clinic was excited for me and made sure to visit with me while I was there. Janelle and Kody, two of the receptionists I enjoy visiting with each week, brought in roses for me, to celebrate my last session. Such sweet ladies! I will definitely miss seeing the smiling faces of everyone who works at the oncology clinic, but I will be going back for a check-up at the end of December. I also have to go in every four weeks to have my port flushed out. It sounds like after I have my three month check-up I will be able to get my port removed, yay!

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My last bags of Taxol and Carboplatin

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Cuddling with the giraffe Sam made for me.

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Janelle and Kody gave me roses!

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Sam and I. Bell ringing time!

I was surprised and thrilled to see my pal Katherine at the clinic, also having her last chemo session. She and I kind of forged an immediate bond and had been in chemo a few times at the same time. She told me about a camp for cancer folks like us that she went to in Montana. I’m going to look into it and it sounds really fun. Here are some photos of Katherine at the end of her treatment, before ringing the bell. Ringing the bell is a right of passage for all chemo patients when they finish. There are currently four bells to choose from. I chose to ring all four at the same time, of course.

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Katherine and her dad pose before her ringing the bell. Love her fancy flamingo helmet.

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Gotta love her shirt too. ❤

Four bells to choose from.

Four bells to choose from.

The next step for me is radiation therapy. There are two types of radiation therapy for endometrial cancer. One is to radiate the entire area, but this can cause quite a few serious side effects, such as bowel issues. The second is an extremely focused, direct radiation treatment of the top 1/3 of the vagina via a wand-like device. This has minimal side effects, if any, and is meant to keep any rogue cancer cells from settling where the cervix used to be. This is what I’m having done over the next couple of weeks, with a completely new doctor I just met with today.

Now, my new doctor isn’t as fun as my oncologist/surgeon, but I will only be seeing him for 4 visits. Yep, that’s it. They space the appointments out, so you have two a week, with 2-3 days between treatments. It should be a walk in the park and it sounds like the most challenging thing will be to lie still for about 45 minutes while they insert a tube and then radiate the area at the top of my “tube sock”. Today I had a quick pelvic exam to make sure everything has healed completely from my hysterectomy, and it has. When the doctor said there was no need for a rectal exam, his awesome nurse told me I should go and buy a lottery ticket because it was my lucky day. Man, I love people with a sense of humor about these things. Good stuff.

My doctor went over some of the facts about my cancer today. My tumor was 12cm and was 1/4″ through the wall of my uterus. The cancer had spread to my ovaries, but not my cervix. Fortunately, the muscled wall of the uterus tends to contain the cancer, making it easier to remove. It also had spread to three lymph nodes in the pelvic area, which were also removed, but was not found to be anywhere near my major arteries. I also have a more aggressive cancer than the usual and was very fortunate we found it when we did, before it could spread any further. He also told me that if they hadn’t been able to surgically remove the cancer, I would be in a completely different situation right now. I knew most of these facts by reading the dreaded post-op report, but when you go over all of it again, it’s scary. Most importantly, he said the words I hadn’t heard before, that what I have tends to not re-occur and that the radiation treatment will cut the odds down to a very minimal percentage. I know nothing is guaranteed, but it was really good to hear those words.

With so much on my mind right now, I haven’t posted anything new. I apologize for that and actually have a backlog of things I want to write about. I will get on that now that I am settled in and know where things stand. Most importantly, I neglected to share that I now have a new kitten. A friend of a friend shared that someone was looking for people to adopt a litter of kittens. I decided to share it with my friends and was delighted that my friends Tom & Rachel were looking to add a tabby to their fur family. We went out to meet the owner and possibly pick one out and I was intrigued by a little grey and white baby that seemed to be more into hanging out by us than playing with the other kittens. Someone had already claimed her, so I didn’t get too attached. I later heard that the person backed out and it peaked my interest.

My friend Amanda, who runs Panda Paws Rescue, offered to take the rest of the kittens in and to spay the mama cat to prevent more kittens in the future. My wife and I drove out to pick up the kittens and I knew I wanted to give the little grey and white one a chance to win my heart. Sure enough, she did, and that was that. I named her Dandelion and she is the right mix of cuddly and playful. She has calico/orange tabby markings, which make her very unusual. She is already running my house and has made friends with my dog Gertrude. My other cat, Mr. Fuzzles, thinks she is the devil. They will eventually work it out. Just another example of the things you didn’t even know you needed coming into your life out of the blue. I am grateful, for all of it. ❤

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Dandelion

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Orange tabby/calico markings.

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Me and my baby.

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Saying Yes To The Roller Coaster

Life is a roller coaster. We hear that reference all of the time and I have to agree. I suppose if we choose to never leave the house or engage in activities and invest nothing in relationships with others it becomes more like riding the non-moving horse on the carousel, but generally life will find a way to knock us off of that horse and force us to interact whether we want to or not. I signed up for the roller coaster and as much as I’ve not enjoyed some of the scary moments or low points, I like the variety and have embraced the idea that the only control I have over the ups and downs is my reaction to them. Every bad patch has lead me to a new and better path that I feel I was supposed to be on. I believe in the saying, “When one door closes, another one opens”.

I choose to react to bad/negative things as if I’m supposed to learn a lesson that I can apply to other situations. I try to ask questions and usually the answers help to make me a better person. Why did that happen? Did I do something to bring it about and how can I prevent it from happening again? What helped to make it better and can I apply that to other things I see around me? There are always more things to learn and I find that usually negative situations teach me valuable lessons. It just requires me taking a step backward and trying my best to be objective.

How does cancer fit into this scenario? Well, you won’t hear me saying that cancer is a gift. Cancer is a jerk. It did force me off of the track I was on and made me slow down and take a good, hard look around. I find that when I have a lot of time to be alone with my thoughts it can either turn into a spiral down into depression or a time to find inspiration and ideas that will move me further down the path I want to be on. As I get closer to starting my last round of chemo, I’m finding myself focused on what is important to me and I have a number of new projects to work on once I am feeling better. I’m only looking at positives and am taking the first steps towards getting two of those projects off of the ground. I have to believe I’m on the right path because doors have been opening, people have been getting excited to help/participate, and there has been little or no struggle so far. It feels pretty good.

During treatment I’ve been allowed the opportunity to experience things I never would have otherwise. I have been privileged enough to hear others stories about life, loss, and triumph. The people in my life have shown me great kindness, love, and have helped me in ways I never imagined. There have been encounters with people I’ve never met that have touched my heart and I’ve been able to take the time to reflect on all of this and then give back what I can to hopefully help others. It really is about stopping and taking the time to look around and appreciate things we overlook every day. We are conditioned to keep moving and working in order to meet our day to day needs. That is what we have to do to survive and I am no different.

People say life is short, to stop and smell the roses and I can’t disagree. Looking at things through a filter of possibly having my lifespan shortened has made me want to laugh, create, and love more. I find myself wanting to listen and act from my heart, from that place where I feel like I’m fulfilling my purpose for being alive. What would the world look like if we were all able to stop and listen to that little voice inside of us? The voice that says “I want to do _____, but have never been able to” or “Doing _____ would really make me happy”? I wish I could give that gift to everyone, the opportunity and means to try new things in order to find personal happiness. I’m barely able to do that for myself right now, but a lot of that has to do with having cancer and also having a pretty simple existence from a financial perspective.

Like I said, enduring chemo has given me a lot of time to think and to listen to my heart and the little voice in there that drives me forward. I’m not quite ready to announce the new project I’ll be launching with the help of a few friends. As soon as I am, I will announce it here. I’ve come to the conclusion that I want to use my experience with cancer to try to make others happy. I feel like it’s something I’m ready to do and everything has been falling into place with little effort. One door closed and now another one has opened. I sincerely wish that for all of you, to have that experience, without the serious illness part. I hope you are happy and able to follow your dreams. Even if you aren’t right now, never stop dreaming and listening to your heart. For me it has taken trial and error, learning to accept my failures, and many life lessons to get to the point where I am now. I am a work in progress. We all are. I certainly don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I know I will never stop listening and learning and being in awe of what life has to offer.

p.s. – Humor is also a reoccurring theme in my life, in case it wasn’t already obvious. Exhibit A – turning hanging out with one of our dogs into this ridiculousness.

Gumdrop and I

A Perfect Day

I know I’ve been writing about some of the ups and downs I’ve had lately. This blog entry is a response to that and to the wonderful adventures I had during a trip to the beach yesterday. A couple of weeks ago, when I was bummed about my original drop in white bloods cells, I asked my friend Anna if she wanted to make a day trip to the coast. We made a basic plan and then headed to the Oregon coast with the intention of taking some photos and seeing where the day took us.

We hit the road, windows down and sun shining, talking about many things along the way. It was that ideal day for feeling the wind blowing through your hair, or across my bald head. We first stopped off in Tillamook to enjoy some food and ice cream at the Tillamook Cheese Factory. A large bus full of high school football players pulled up right before us and a mass of young fellas lined up for food. We decided to head back up the road to eat at a little taco stand I had eaten at once before. No waiting and we sat and enjoyed our lunch in peace. We then headed back to the cheese factory for ice cream a couple of photographs together. If you don’t document your food consumption, it didn’t happen, right?

Anna and I

 It had been decided that we would head to Manzanita, north of Tillamook, for our beach adventure. We hit the road again and enjoyed the winding path of Highway 101 and the minimal traffic we encountered. Once to Manzanita, we parked and got out and headed down to the water. I brought my camera and we had both agreed that we would take photos of each other, topless, facing the water. This has kind of become the signature of many photographs I’ve been in lately and I thought it would be fun to continue documenting me like that, bald head and tattoos and all.

We made it

Photo by Anna
My feet

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Anna

 There were people on the beach, but not so many that I felt like we were going to cause a scene. Honestly, I’m kind of over thinking like that, now that I have cancer and am learning to not care what others think of me. I took off my bra and shirt and faced the water. Click, click, click and I was done. Anna followed suit. It felt amazing, to be free like that, with the sun shining down and the ocean breeze blowing. It really isn’t fair that guys get to experience that whenever and wherever they want to. I recommend trying it, just be aware of your surroundings and crazy people. After we finished and had spent some time with our feet in the chilly water, we decided to lay on the sand in the sun for a bit. I took more photos and tried to absorb how good it felt to be there, in that moment.

There’s nothing like the Oregon coast ❤

We were here
Fools enjoying the sun
My sandy arm
My sandy tattoo
Anna
Anna

We made our way back to the car and headed north again with the intention of driving through Astoria on our way home to avoid traffic in Portland. While we were chatting and enjoying the ride we saw a vintage black convertible ahead of us that said “back in black” on the back of it. The only thing we could tell about the driver was that he had a bald head and no shirt on. I said something about how I wanted to sit in the passenger seat with my shirt off for a photograph. Wouldn’t that be cool? Well, we then ended up following him through traffic, trying to keep an eye on him and where he was heading. He made a right turn and we though we had lost him when we were cut off by another car. The only thing we could see was a Costco and sure enough, he was in line to get gas.

When we were following Jan I took a quick photo

We pulled up and I jumped out and approached him. I told him what I had in mind and he immediately introduced himself as Jan and shook my hand. We were a go! We pulled into the parking lot and when he was finished he drove over and was kind enough to move his surfboard from the passenger side so I could sit next to him. I took off my shirt and Anna took photographs. I wouldn’t recommend doing this kind of thing with a stranger, but I immediately knew Jan was not a creeper. I felt completely comfortable and then we were done and ready to hit the road again. Jan gave us his email to send the photos to and as he re-secured his surfboard, he told us he was on his way to go surfing. He hugged me and said, “You now have a friend at the beach”. It made our day.

Me, shirt on
Jan and I, shirts off
Just having a friendly conversation

Our last stop was in Astoria for Thai food and coffee and then we made the beautiful drive back home. It was a day for adventure and overcoming fear for both of us. Mission accomplished. Every day I’m challenging myself to think outside of the box. My life in a way has become my art and documenting moments with photographs and this blog are my outlet. As I said yesterday, “You don’t know how things will turn out unless you ask.” There was a 50/50 chance that Jan would have thought I was crazy, but he didn’t. It was an adventure for all three of us and I’m so happy that it went the way it did. Nothing can take that away from me – not cancer, not everyday life and its ups and downs. Once again, I am grateful for life and all of its experiences.

A breathtaking stop before arriving in Astoria
Perfection, sigh
 


White Blood Cells And Life Lessons

Last Friday I had my chemo treatment. I was there for 5 hours and received three weeks of drugs in one shot. As I spoke about previously, I normally have chemo every week, so I was a bit concerned about how I would feel after having three weeks at once and then the white cell booster shot the next day. The answer is that I’ve done okay, no more nausea than usual, and I now know what they were talking about when they said most people experience bone pain when they have the Neulasta shot.

Receiving the shot was painless. I had the option of my belly or my arm, so I went with my belly because I know it tends to hurt less. I noticed by the next day I was having some bone pain. I mostly feel like I have low back and hip pain, much like I used to when I was pre-menstrual. It’s more intense though and is accompanied by sharp/dull pains at random times in my leg bones. I also experienced pressure and some pain in my sternum and was informed that it is an area that produces white blood cells and that it is common to have sternum pain.

It’s now 6 days since the shot and I’m doing okay. I still have some of the pains and symptoms, but it’s tolerable. I keep telling myself that the pain means it’s working, so I’m okay with it. I’ve had some hot flashes and headaches and it’s hard to know which thing to blame that on. It’s all lead me to spend most of the week hanging out at home, drinking plenty of water, and taking it easy. I’ve also spent the week experimenting with the various forms of marijuana, i.e. tincture, hash oil, edibles, in order to find out which ones help with my appetite and nausea. That is a conversation for another day, but it’s been good to be home and taking it easy.

While I was in chemo last week an older woman came in and sat down right next to me. Usually if the room isn’t full, people tend to sit further away from each other, so this was surprising to me. I was deciding what to watch on Netflix when she struck up a conversation with me. She immediately told me that she believes in God and is a Christian and her faith is helping her through. Next she told me she has stage 4 breast cancer that is all through out her body and that she comes in for maintenance treatment. In other words, she has a terminal diagnosis, but radiation and other things are keeping her cancer from growing. These are the moments when I feel like I’ve had the wind knocked out of me.

We talked about so many things including art, treatment, our outlook on life, and our prognosis. She told me that her mammograms had been clean and that there was no reason to suspect she had breast cancer. She began having pressure and pains in her sternum and when she spoke to her doctor she was told it was probably arthritis. As time went on and the symptoms didn’t lessen, she insisted that something was going on. They performed a pet scan and discovered that she had two tumors growing behind her sternum. By then it had spread to her brain and then continued to spread through out her body.

Stories like this punch me in the face a bit, but then after I take a moment I realize how privileged I am to be there, hearing other people’s stories so I can share them. She left for radiation treatment and I immediately put on Bob’s Burgers, a show that always makes me giggle. I made it through an episode and then she returned. We continued our conversation and then when she was finished and ready to leave she said, “Take care. You’re a beautiful lady”. I smiled and said, “You too”. And now I’ve shared some of her story with the world. If I can encourage women to be their own health advocates through things like this, I will feel like I’ve accomplished something.

We women tend to put others first and put off our own care and well-being. If you feel like you are having symptoms that don’t add up, talk to your doctor. If your doctor doesn’t listen to you, find one that does.  I chose my doctor because I’d had a lifetime of doctors who were obsessed with my weight. Even my pediatrician put me on a diet. I will not accept care from any doctor who doesn’t see me as a person and that is what helped to save my life. Find your voice. Have a friend go with you for encouragement. Just remember that if you don’t look out for yourself, who will? Early detection is the key to saving lives. Listen to your body and trust your instincts. I’m not saying show up at the ER every weekend, unless you have to, just take control and speak up for yourself. Let our stories push you to ask questions and insist on answers. xoxo