The last 2 months has been a bit of a roller coaster from "nothing is going right!" to "Wow! It's all falling into place!"
Like the fact that we called around for 2 months trying to find a mason would could fix the brick on the front of our house and NO ONE would call me back (seriously, drove me crazy). But then suddenly, a realtor gave us a name, I called him, and he not only called me back, BUT he had a free week due to some delays on another job and he could fit me in right away!
It went from "why can't I get this to work!" to "Hallelujah!"
Or like the fact that little things kept just not quite going right around the house... such as a pipe that sprang a leak 2 days before we were going to list our house. But THEN, our house was on the market for 2 days and we had 2 offers (from just 3 showings)!
And suddenly you think "all that work was SO worth it!"
Or, last example, the fact that you and your husband go on your first house hunting trip... and while you've narrowed it down to 3-4 homes, you are also somewhat fiercely divided on which house you want. But during the 2nd househunting trip, the clouds part and you both agree that THIS house is the one!
And you ask the contractor "how much would it cost to finish the basement?" and he gives you a number far below your expectations. So you decide to add the extra expense to the mortgage and move into a FULLY FINISHED HOUSE. Which means NO MORE RENOVATIONS!!!!!!! (insert sigh of relief here)
And again, its like things are just kind of sort of working out.
And then, as soon as all the renovations, house hunting, and other stressful things are completed... I come down with allergies/cold. UGH! Why does that always seem to happen? So I'm hoping that my luck continues and this is the shortest cold ever.
Anywho, things are going (mostly) right. And it's exciting and amazing and wonderful. So fingers crossed that things keep up. And in just about 6 weeks, we are in the process of (or already done) moving to Iowa.
My blog is my "safe place" to vent. At times, particularly since treatment is over, I feel like I probably vent too much, instead of filling people in on the good things in life.
So I just want to take a moment to say "life is good."
It's been a whole month (or so) since my last "scare". Which was dumb. Again. God bless my husband putting up with me and my "discovery" of ailments that I am soon convinced are cancer. This time it was a lump in the roof of my mouth. Good news: it wasn't cancer. Bad news: I feel like a dummy b/c my dentist said "I don't feel anything strange, it feels like it's just the end of your palatte."
I even have an x-ray to prove it.
First an MRI to diagnose a sinus infection. And now an X-ray to diagnose... a bone.
I swear I'm usually totally logical and pretty smart (seriously, I AM!). But some days I mystify myself.
Good news: the recurrance fears are becoming fewer and further in between. I'm not sure Chris would agree with me... but I swear they are.
Bad news: I still worry. I wish I could stop worrying. I wish I could snap my fingers and forget that there is even any risk. But that's not my reality. I just hope that the fears will continue to decline. And that as I continue to feel AMAZING, life will feel more and more "normal".
So life right now is really good. I am feeling amazing. My energy is high. I am happy about life in general. I'm exercising like a crazy person, which I think helps with the "feeling amazing" part. I just generally feel relaxed and happy and good.
We have a trip to california planned at the end of this month to visit some very good friends. I am so excited. SO EXCITED! I can't wait to get that sense of freedom that comes with seeing old friends who know you better than you know yourself (and love you none-the-less). Napa Valley, HERE WE COME!
I'm still investigating getting my tattoos. Maybe I'll convince the hubby to go on a trip to a tattoo parlor sometime soon :) And I'm toying with the idea of getting an actual tattoo (of something other than nipples). I know I've said this here before, but my "words to live by" are Faith, Hope and Joy. I find that when I get lost in the day to day stresses, I need to remind myself of those words.
Like lately, life has been hectic. Very hectic. And I lost that joyful part of me to all the scheduling and planning and everything else. So I took a second, stepped back and reminded myself to seek out that joy. So this week, I've been having a blast with my son. I've been enjoying work. I've felt less stressed (even though I'm still very busy). Life just feels like an adventure, instead of a to-do list.
So who knows, maybe I'll come away with more than one tattoo... although to be honest, I have NO idea if I can commit to anything other than nipples for the long haul :)
Well, I just wanted to say hi. To let you know that life after cancer can be wonderful. And scary. And normal. And crazy. But mostly, it's just good. And that is definitely something to celebrate.
Photo by Alex Stoddard
Do you ever see a photo and think "WOW!" but otherwise are left with a lack of words?
When I saw the above image, I was floored.
It was like this artist saw into my soul and created this photograph just for me.
Now, I'm sure many people can look at this photo and in some way relate it to their own life, but for me, this photo captures my battle with cancer in a way my words never will.
My life is that cliff. Cancer is the awaiting abyss below. And my goal was to pull myself out of that abyss with the same amount of serenity that I see on that man's face. I see no terror there. No fear that his grip will falter and he will fall onto the rocks below. Instead I see a quiet certainty that he will get himself out of that perilous place, stand up with a quirky grin on his face and say "Phew! That was close!"
Right now, I'm beginning to feel that deep sense of hope and relief. My port will be removed tomorrow, which is truly the end of treatment for me. I've conquered every step of this battle. I've pulled myself out of that abyss.
There is still fear. Fear that I will lose my footing and find myself hanging off that exact same cliff (I'm kinda clumsy sometimes), but I'm truly hopeful that in just 3.5 years, I can declare myself offically cured! Oh what a wondrous day that will be! Who wants to come to THAT party?!?!
Anywho, I just wanted to share this striking photo with you that inspired me today. To give credit where it is due, the man in this photo is Alex Stoddard. He is an 18 year old photographer that recently completed a project he called "Project 365", where he produced a photo every day for a year. The above photo is one of them. You can see more of his work here.
Tomorrow is my last Herceptin.
It is my sincerest hope that tomorrow will be the last time I:
- ever visit an infusion room. For any reason.
- have my port accessed
- see a nurse in a special gown that is supposed to protect her from the poison she is going to pump into me
- have to wait (and wait... and wait) for the lab to release my meds. Seriously. Takes forever sometimes.
- spend my Friday afternoon in an infusion room (instead of at a happy hour).
Bottom line is that I hope tomorrow is the end of my cancer journey. I will still need to go back to get my port removed. And I'm thinking about maybe getting one more surgery to really complete my reconstruction... but that'll be a few months away yet.
But even with those future procedures, tomorrow FEELS like the end of all of this craziness. It feels like the chains are coming off and I'll finally be free! Free from the appointments and the waiting rooms. Free from the physical annoyances that are "side effects". Free from the constant scheduling that all the appointments require. Free from the emails from my insurance telling me "my claim has been processed" (for every infusion). Free from ALL of that.
Did you know it's been EIGHTEEN months since I've gone more than 3 weeks without a doctors appointment of some kind? For the last year and a half, I have seen a medical professional at least once every 3 weeks. Prior to cancer, I saw a doctor exactly once a year (except for when I was pregnant). I am so unbelievably excited for that to be over. After I get my port out, I won't have to go see my oncologist for FOUR MONTHS.
Now, I know I will never be truly free from cancer... any survivor will tell you that cancer will forever be a part of your life, even when you're "cured". But to be free from the responsibility of the constant appointments and treatments will be divine. I can't possibly tell you how exciting that is for me.
So here's to celebrating the end of treatment and ALL the freedom that comes with it :)
This holiday will always hold a special place in my heart. I think I love Easter for so many reasons. It's the first holiday in the spring. It signals the end of winter with all the spring blooms that I love so dearly. It celebrates the rising of Jesus Christ. And (as any Wilks will tell you) the EASTER EGG HUNTS are awesome. I love me a good easter egg hunt!
Whatever the reason, I LOVE Easter. Every year, it just makes me totally happy.
And last year, it was especially happy because my husband had just returned from his (hopefully) last big deployment. Even though I was still in the midst of chemo, just having him around was a relief. And last Easter was a nice break from the normal stress of life. We dyed eggs. We played. We hunted for eggs. It was awesome.
In addition to all that fun... we took a family photo.
My beautiful head scarf and almost no eyebrows...
Then, to comemorate the (hopefully) only time that my husband and I will be bald at the same time, we took a photo of just the two of us, shiny heads and all.
This year, we took another family photo. And boy do we all look different. I have hair. And eyebrows. And bigger boobs. Caleb is bigger and even more handsome. And Chris has hair again too :)
When I look at the differences between these photos... it speaks volumes. It speaks about the happiness in our family. About how much healthier and happier I feel. It speaks of another year with my beautiful son. A year mostly full of memories and laughter. There are dark moments too, but it is the bright, shiny moments like these that makes the battles worth every little effort.
Happy easter everyone. I hope the Easter Bunny brought you some delightful treats! And that you had some wonderful, bright, happy moments in your life as well.
What I'm about to tell you is both sad and funny at the same time. Which kind of sums up cancer and all the other craziness that goes with treatment.
Yesterday, I got a brain MRI. And I discovered I DO have a brain :) Ba-dum-ching!
Why a brain scan? Well, twice in the last 2 weeks, I randomly vomited. Right around lunch time both times, I'd eat a little something, suddenly feel intensely full and end up vomiting.
Fun right? Well the first time, I wrote it off as a random flu bug. But the second time, I got concerned. So I consulted Dr. Google. Note to any readers, especially cancer survivors, Dr. Google is no one's friend. Seriously, Dr. Google always results in cancer. I wish I was kidding, but I'm not. Seriously, type in "sore throat". The first result from medicinenet.com lists cancer as a possibility.
Note to self: avoid Dr. Google. He's a quack!
So if you google "unexplained vomiting" or "random vomiting", within the first 5 search results is "brain cancer". Right there! On the page! It says "brain cancer".
And this is when I threw up again (not really, but I kinda felt like it).
So I immediately emailed my oncologist with an email that went something like this. "I've randomly puked twice in the last 2 weeks. AND I GOOGLED IT AND IT'S BRAIN CANCER!"
OK, I was a little more reserved than that, but that was the gist of the email.
Now, my oncologist is a reserved kind of guy. He doesn't like to order scans. I don't get annual scans or anything else. He believes (and I agree) that it's unnecessary exposure to additional radiation. And sometimes these scans come back with false positives, which can lead to unnecessary stress and biopsies.
Anywho, my reserved, anti-scan oncologist ordered a brain MRI.
And I freaked out. I sent a text to my cancer buddy who has the same doctor saying something like "Dr. Yee thinks I have brain cancer, I'm going to die!"
And she responded with "Tomorrow you're going to find out you got an MRI to diagnose a flu bug and you're gonna feel like an idiot." (or something like that)
So yesterday, I got my MRI. I prayed the whole time "please let this be nothing".
I went to see my doctor. She immediately told me that the prelim looks really great and there is no cancer.
"BUT," she continued, "it does show you have a really bad case of sinusiitis."
Both Chris and I stopped, looked at her and I said "whats that?"
A SINUS INFECTION
Holy cow. I just had an MRI to diagnose a sinus infection. A SINUS INFECTION!
I did have a cold, but I felt like I was coming out of it. Apparently I was wrong. And no, I didn't really have symptoms that would signal a sinus infection. No sinus headache. My nose wasn't runny anymore. My ears had cleared out. I was honestly starting to feel like my "cold" was over.
My doc told me I'm "one tough cookie."
So now I'm on antibiotics and sudafed and feeling even better.
Granted, this still doesn't tell me why I'm vomiting. But we're going to wait and see if it happens again before we do any additional testing. But at least I know it's not brain cancer!
And yes, I really do find this all funny now. I wasn't laughing yesterday morning, but this morning is bright and shiny and amazing and wonderful. And I feel blessed and relieved and giddy. And only a teensy bit embarassed :)
So, I'm kind of famous. And by "kind of", I really mean "in my own mind".
Because like 100 people read this blog (sometimes)... nevermind that they're mostly family and friends :)
But sometimes I get a note from a reader that inspires me. And keeps me here, blogging and sharing my experiences.
Did you know that? That I am actually inspired by you?
Seriously. For every person that says "I'm so in awe of your positive attitude", it lifts me up and helps to keep me positive. Because somedays it just ain't easy. So thank you all for your continued support and sweet, thoughtful words.
Recently, someone I don't actually know in real life sent me a note. He included some quotes that I want to share one that I loved. A quote that inspires me. Thank you, Graham, for sharing this with me.
"Sometimes good things fall apart so that better things can fall together." - Marilyn Monroe
I love this quote. This quote is so full of promise and hope that it makes me smile. Here's to better things falling together in my life!
Thanksgiving this year is very emotional for me. In fact, I'm fairly certain that Thanksgiving every year going forward will be very emotional for me and bring back many memories.
You see, last year the week before the Thanksgiving holiday, I found out I was pregnant. And I, like most, was excited but a little nervous.
The week after the Thanksgiving holiday, I found a lump in my breast. And I was scared.
About a week and a half later, I heard the words, "I'm sorry, you have cancer."
And my life changed.
I think back on the past year and all that has gone on. A good part of me is relieved that 2011 is coming to a close. This is not a year in my life that I will ever remember fondly.
However, this past year has made me so incredibly thankful.
I am thankful for my health. Today, I am healthy and alive and that alone is enough to bring me to tears. Before cancer, I took my health for granted. Today I am incredibly thankful for it.
I am thankful for my huge network of friends and family that supported me so much throughout the last year. I've made new friends. I've renewed old friendships. I've never, ever felt so loved or cared for in my life. If there is one good thing to come from cancer, it is to know how blessed I am in terms of family and friends.
I am thankful for my son. Having a miscarriage has made me even more thankful for how easy my first pregnancy was and for the blessing of my child. Every day I reminded how lucky I am to have such an amazing gift from God in that little boy.
In general, I am simply more thankful for my many, many, many blessings. I think so often, we get lost in our day to day troubles and stress. Stress about money. Stress about family. Stress about work. And we forget that a job is a blessing. Family is a gift. And the material things are not forever. We forget to be thankful.
Today, I give thanks for every moment. I give thanks for each day. I give thanks for every moment I get to see my son grow and learn. I give thanks for every moment spend with my husband, even when we're not agreeing with one another. I give thanks because no matter if the day was ideal or terrible, it is another day that I am here.
So I rejoice that 2011 is coming to a close. I rejoice that in just 2 weeks, I will have a majority of my treatment and reconstruction behind me. I rejoice that I am healthy and happy and lucky enough to be surrounded by amazing friends and family.
And I pray that I will remember to be thankful for every day, for each day is a gift.
So, it's been like a month since the trip to San Fran.
And I got busy. So I forgot to blog. DARN YOU WORK! If work didn't take up so much time, I swear I'd do WAY more blogging (for reals).
Anywho, let the Girl-a-palooza recapping begin. I have no idea how many blogs about this there will be... but I have a feeling it'll be at least 3. Maybe more.
So where to begin. The obvious place is at the very beginning. And for a girl, that means SHOPPING!
What? You thought it would be the plane ride or something? Every trip for any girl usually means shopping. Shopping for clothes, or a book, or snacks.
Or is that just me? It's like my ritual before embarking on a long trip... I must go buy something.
I did buy a cute outfit or two. But the thing I needed more than anything was a....
wait for it...
it's REALLY EXCITING...
A COMPRESSION SLEEVE!
What? That's not what you were expecting? You were thinking I was going to say something frivilous didn't you? Like a puzzle book for the plane or something... which I might've gotten too.
But this is very serious business.
For the uninitiated, when you have your lymph nodes removed, you are at risk of developing lymphedema. I could get into a long explanation of what lymphedema is... but that would make this post a novel. So to put it simply, lymphedema is generalized swelling in an area of your body that does not naturally go away because you have few to no lymph nodes to drain the fluid.
One of the things that can trigger lymphedema is flying. You know when you fly and your hands feel kind of swollen or you just generally feel bloated? I always assumed I was imagining that... or maybe that it was the salt on the peanuts they give you that just caused my hands to feel fat. The "good news"? It's wasn't my imagination, it's actually part of your body's reaction to the changing levels of pressure.
So, being at risk for lymphedema, I have to wear a compression sleeve on the affected area (my right arm). The fear being that the arm will swell and with no lymph nodes, my body would not be able to naturally drain the swelling. And then I'd have a chronic case of lymphedema... which is NOT on my Christmas list.
Thus, one of my first purchases was a compression sleeve. This is kind of like a nylon that you put on your arm that gives constant pressure to your arm and does not allow it to swell.
Sounds sexy, eh? Pantyhose on your arm... what could be sexier than that?
If you can't picture this in your head, here is a photo:
I know, HOT! But seriously... what does one wear with a compression sleeve? Do you flaunt it? Or do you try to hide it?
I know... right now you're thinking "Well it doesn't look bad with HER outfit." But I'm SO not wearing a sports bra and spandex to the airport. Granted, it might make security easier...
And yes, I know the nude isn't that bad. And I'm sure you're asking, why not just wear a long sleeved shirt over it?
Well the answer to that question is twofold.
1. Bending your arm in a compression sleeve is not terribly comfortable. If you have it bent for long periods of time (as I learned on the flight) it can get very uncomfortable. It kind of cuts off bloodflow a little bit at your elbow. So the last thing I want to do is add more fabric to the crook of my elbow to magnify that effect.
2. In addition to the compression sleeve, I have to wear a gauntlet. Which a sleeve wouldn't cover.
What's a gauntlet? I'm glad you asked!
These are the things that cancer survivors have to think about. What outfit can I wear that will coordinate with my compression sleeve and gauntlet? Jealous? I thought so.
Well... in typical Cynthia fashion, I decided I did NOT want to go the route of blah and bland. If I'm gonna have to wear a compression sleeve, I'm going to be LOUD AND PROUD about it... or at least do something where I feel like any stares are well deserved.
So I got myself a sleeve that looked like tattoos. Actually I got THREE sleeves that look like tattoos. Because they were having a sale of buy two get one free on patterned sleeves. And because I'm supposed to wear a sleeve when lifting weights... so I figured I'd need more than one.
Behold the beauty of the compression sleeves:
All pictures are from Lymphedivas.com
OK... so that's not me modelling them...
But when I wear them, they actually look quite a bit like tattoos. Which is kind of entertaining.
On the way to San Fran, I wore the very first one (that is all dragons and lotus flowers and is really meant to look like a tat) and got several compliments on my awesome tattoos. I also got some old ladies looking at me like I was cah-razy! Which I kind of am, but I'm OK with that.
So moral of the story, if you have any lymph nodes removed (even just 1 or 2) go get yourself a compression sleeve before flying. I have a good friend that had only 2 nodes removed and she ended up with lymphedema after a flight. It doesn't happen often, but better to be safe than sorry!
Plus... it can really complete your outfit!
Someone (aka Mom) wanted to know where the photos and additional blogs from Girlapalooza are.
I've done some work on the blogs. And I have photos, but I haven't taken time to download them. All the awesome details are "in the works" but not yet ready for publishing. Why? I mean this is "on the edge of the seat exciting" kind of stuff right? Why would I delay it?
Because I've been busy sewing.
I recently found out that someone I love dearly is pregnant and due pretty soon. And I love to sew baby stuff. All baby stuff is small, and does not require fantastic tailoring skills... so I love making it. Thus, I have been sewing up a storm for the baby gift! My few hours of quiet time each night are now spent bent over a sewing machine whipping up burp cloths and swaddling blankets and pacifier leashes... and so maybe even a diaper bag? (still not sure if I'm going to tackle this one) And I'm really enjoying it.
What does this have to do with cancer? Well nothing obvious. But... this is something I would've never had the energy for during treatment. I used to LOVE to sew. I LOVE working on little projects. But for the last year or so, my sewing machines have been pretty dormant (unless my mom was visiting and then she used them). Being able to do this stuff again and really ENJOY and LOVE it... well it kinda makes me feel like I'm reclaiming my life a little. Rediscovering some of my "lost" passions that I just didn't have the time or energy for during treatment.
It's just one more little thing that makes me feel alot more like myself. More "normal". Which is pretty awesome.
So when will you get to see photos of the race and stuff? Soon. Very soon. Probably early next week... if not a little sooner. But for now, I have to go be my crafty self.