Friday, April 24, 2009

Napping. Required.

Yesterday was chemo #9 of 12 (13 of 16). An uneventful day...except I was, in retrospect, quite crabby.

The "infusion suite" was very quiet when we arrived. Hardly any patients in the suite. Cold, cold. Choosing my recliner (back against the wall so I have a good view of the surrounding area). Making the trip to the bathroom (I don't want to have to get up and walk around pushing an I.V. pole in front of me, so I go to the bathroom early in an attempt to prevent that necessity). Then, because of the apparent presence of air conditioning, I need two, yes TWO, hot blankets. But I chose bad blankets. Because as I sat in my recliner and tucked myself in, the blankets were only warm! not hot. drats. Don to the rescue -- he brought me a third hot blanket, and that one was perfect. Put the hot blanket directly on me, and then tuck it in with the other two blankets on top.

So this is where my upset starts to come in. The first drugs that are "infused" are anti-histamines. They make me drowsy. I am dozing off, and things are good. However, business is starting to pick up in the suite, and more patients are coming in. LOUD patients. Patients who, I think, have never been instructed in the use of their "inside voice".

And why is it that the old men who come in feel it their duty to flirt with the nurses? Loudly? And what are their wives thinking as they sit and have to observe such behavior? And the one nurse who is loud as well -- and so often replies to the flirting inappropriately. I mean, really. No one attempting to kill cancer cells needs to hear sexual innuendo. Please, guys, I am trying to rest here. Even Don crunching ice cubes is loud in my ears.

But, no resting. Because the guffaws and chortling seem to go on and on. Oh my goodness. Irritation.

Obvious irritation, I am afraid.

Then, with no napping in sight, I start to listen.

I hear one older gentleman talking to Bubba (remember Bubba? He's the son bringing his Momma to treatment who I surmise lives at home and doesn't/can't work). I hear the older man tell Bubba that the doctor said that he had 10 weeks to live. "And that was in January. Those doctors don't know a damn thing."

10 weeks to live? And I'm irritated because I can't nap?

I had written yesterday, in response to my sister Sally asking how chemo went: "uneventful...except I should have taken ear plugs with me. One nurse is very loud and crass, and add to her a few patients who do not know the meaning of "inside voice". Makes napping a tad bit difficult. And one needs to nap while getting chemo drugs. It's in the breast cancer manual. Required."

And, in my last post, "Touched", I had written that I want my first responses to be compassion, understanding, love, laughter.

There is no "breast cancer manual" -- except the one I have written in my head. But I know better. Because my head is not always right.

Because the manual I have written on my heart makes it clear that napping is not required.

Compassion, understanding, love, and laughter are.

I flunk.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


"Eventually, cancer touches everyone."

That is the t.v. ad line to sell the Providence Cancer Center.

Obviously, I am "touched".

As is my immediate family.

And my extended family.

And my friends.

My co-workers.

But does my "touching" affect others? People I may never know? The woman in the parking lot?

I wonder about the effect of the affect on all these people, known and unknown?

What is the effect of the affect in me?

In some real ways, I want the "touching" to be merely a "brush"...just a fleeting encounter with sickness, terror, and inconvenience.

But if that is all it is, if the only effect is a fleeting brush, wouldn't touching be wasted? Shouldn't I be different for all I have experienced? Shouldn't there be lessons I learn really well?

I want to be a better person for the cancer. I want to be a better wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend. A better staff assistant. A better landlord. A better Drenda. I want my first responses to be compassion, understanding, love, laughter.

And, if those things happen, I will be able to say that the effect is a strong and lasting change. I will never forget having cancer. And I hope I never forget my lessons learned from going through the sickness, terror, and inconvenience. Especially the terror.

I would love to hear the effect of the affect my cancer has had on you. Good, bad, or ugly! If you are unwilling to make a public comment on this note, please send me a private message.

Because hearing from you will encourage me.

Because hearing from you will "touch" me.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Another note from my daughter Rachel. This is her response (posted on her facebook) to my note Endowed Ear-Rings. I am loved!! Rachel will work through her anger, I am sure, and the incident I experienced today with the woman in the parking lot will serve to be a reminder to all of us to use our words/actions/lives to be encouragers...even to strangers.

"Here's my mom's latest note. After reading it, I am pissed! Livid. Angry. Unsettled. So annoyed. Who does this woman, and anyone like her, think she is? That is so rude and I am so disgusted. I would like to see her go through what my mom is going through and still praise Jesus everyday, still go to work (and do her job well), still take care of her family, still keep up with her responsibilities, still look gorgeous!, and still have a smile on her face! So rude."


Endowed Ear-Rings

Today was treatment day. I have now finished 8 of the 12 Taxol/Herceptin treatments. Yeah!

Before we went to see Jerry and have the poison, Don took me to Kohl's so I could do a little shopping. One unwelcome side effect of chemo (aren't they all unwelcome? Yes.) is weight gain. I do not have many casual clothes that fit me right now. The problem comes with planning a trip to Southern California to celebrate Anna's graduation from Azusa Pacific University. A Mom needs decent clothes to go on vacation.

So shopping.

A successful trip!

I managed to find capris that fit and were actually comfortable. And two cute tops. All in less than an hour. I was feeling good. And looking good -- make-up on, ear-rings in, hair growing, ready to face cancer killing. I was on a roll.


Until I went out to the car to wait for Don.

It was a beautiful morning. Sunny, warm, gorgeous. I was standing there holding my shopping bag. I watched as a woman that I had seen shopping near me through-out the women's department came out of the store. She walked in my direction, and as she neared, I smiled.

Too soon.

Because, as she approached me, her words were shocking.

"Good thing you're wearing ear-rings."

I apparently didn't comprehend her words initially. I chuckled.



Now, I do realize that I am bald.

And I do realize that I am not "overly-endowed" -- but there is endowment.

I have never rested my understanding of my femininity on my hair. And the rest of my body is the same.

Well, not exactly the same.

But pretty close.

Just a bit lop-sided...

But ear-rings?


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Getting Punched Hurts

I have had a busy day today.

Up early to work on rental payments -- Don had a recording session scheduled for the office, so I had to be in and out before 9 a.m.


Then inspiration!

A bit of yard work -- really just cleaning up the weeds and moss growing up alongside and in the middle of our front sidewalk. While I was outside working, Richard came by. Richard is one of our tenant-neighbors. He asked me how I was doing. I told him that I was doing ok, still in the middle of chemotherapy, with more and different treatments ahead.

As I answered him, I heard my voice and listened to my words, and thought "who is she talking about?"

It was one of those surreal moments. Like when you analyze a word you use all the time. You see a word like "semblance" and it all of a sudden looks weird. You think "isn't that an odd spelling?"

So, who was I talking about?

Who is battling breast cancer?


Other treatments?

It COULDN"T be me!

Ohh. It IS me.

Another "punched in the stomach by cancer" moment.

I hate being punched.

Because it hurts.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Perspective: Contrast and Comparison are Great Helps

I am told that I look "so good!"

And that I look like "all is going well".

And that I am "doing great!".

I do.

And it is.

And I am.

But only because it is in contrast to how I looked and how I was doing in December, January, and February. No contest about which chemo drugs are harder to "tolerate" (as Jerry would say). There are reasons that one can receive those first drugs only once in one's lifetime...and I happen to think one of those reasons should be the nasty side effects.

It is true, my life goes on. I still get up in the morning and switch out the laundry, fix lunches, get something underway for dinner (ok -- usually I have only to pull something out of the freezer and put it in the oven and set the timer, but still...), make sure Miss Ellie is ready to go, and then it's out the door by 7:10. Drop off Ellie at school, and then head to work in Oregon City. Leaving Oregon City in time to pick up Ellie from track practice, and back in through our kitchen door by 5:15 if we're lucky. Dinner, bath, bed.

But, there are side effects from the current chemo that threaten to sideline me.

Fatigue. Fatigue sometimes so severe that I truly think I will melt into the floor if I don't hold on to something. Fatigue that comes so fast and is so overwhelming that staying awake for afternoon meetings is a gamble.

Aches. I now know, I think, where EVERY bone is in my body. Trust me. This is not a good discovery. I know because EVERY bone aches. Finger joints. Elbows. Tailbone. Toes. Hips. Heels. Feet. Ankles. Wrists. Neck. Shoulders. Not every bone all the time. Some bones some of the time. But I never know when. Or what. Usually at least one severe ache going on always. Jerry gave me vicodon for the pain, but I haven't used it. Scared of those darn narcotics.

Skin loss. The skin on the bottom of my feet is peeling away. Large amounts. Down to bleeding in a number of places. All damage from the taxol. So much skin loss that it is painful to walk. Good thing my white blood count has remained fairly stable. Bad place to get an infection. Jerry is checking my feet every time I see him. Wants to keep "an eye" on them. Some skin loss on my finger tips and the palms of my hands, but nothing severe there. Sores on my gums and roof of my mouth -- as if I have had burns. Skin loss there, too.

I am not complaining. No siree. Because I'd rather these side effects over the nausea any day. I can power through fatigue and pain. Or I can sit down and rest for a minute. I can deal. I can "tolerate".


It's all in the perspective.

This is tolerable because the previous treatment was not.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Rachel's Perspective

The following note was written by my daughter, Rachel:

"Philippians 1:27

New quarter! I am excited for Spring Quarter.

Lots of things have changed.

Cancer update -
Spring break at home was refreshing, but, as I have come to expect, going home is hard. Sometimes I am completely prepared to walk into my kitchen and see my baldy-mommy and other times I need to do a double take. Wait? What? Oh yeah... she has breast cancer. You know, I have to tell you that I feel stupid sometimes making a big deal out of my mom being bald. But picture your mom bald... yeah, it's pretty different, now isn't it?

Life is the same, and life is so so different. Schedules are just as demanding, probably even more demanding than they were before. Mom still goes to work, Dad commutes too. Ellie has school. As if life isn't busy enough without chemo, dr. appointments, etc. etc.

Over break I went to the cancer center with my mom, dad, and Ellie for chemo. I had a bad attitude about going. I had already gone there before, over Christmas break. I was a brat about going, and made it pretty clear I didn't want to have to do it again. My mom said "do you think I want to have to come here again, Rachel?"

I can handle my mom being bald, I can handle the emotional turmoil (with help), I can handle the sick and twisted effects breast cancer has on my family, but for some reason... I can't handle being in the building where the cancer is treated. I hate it. I just cannot stand it. But, it was good for me to go again, and good for Ellie to go and understand what happens when mom goes in for treatment. Ellie needed to see it, I think. It's bad and scary and twists your stomach into knots, but it's good because it teaches you.

When people ask me how my mom is doing I am flattered and touched that they care. But, honestly, when most people ask me how my mom is doing I usually just use the cop-out and say: "fine." That is mostly because I don't like going into the detail of how much breast cancer disgusts me. It is evil, it is sick, it is bad. I say fine because part of me doesn't want to overwhelm someone, part of me doesn't want to be pitied, and part of me just doesn't want to talk about it. Also, in the back of my head I always wonder if the person will think I'm just being dramatic and wish I would just get over it. But, I do talk about it with some people, which is good. As a general rule I keep it to myself. I don't bring it up unless someone asks me about it, which is true of the people I do and don't share with. This isn't to discourage anyone to ask me how my mom is doing, it is really encouraging actually. Just don't expect me to always gush about it. Gushing is hard sometimes, even for me. There are just some days that I don't want to think about breast cancer, and I think I am entitled to that. I don't know if that's right or wrong. After all, my mom can't ignore it. She can't choose to be healthy one day and then go back to fighting cancer the next. But I do know that when I try not to think about my mom being a cancer patient it's not me living in a dream world, it's not depriving myself of the truth... it's giving myself a break. Letting loose. Let me have that.

Another thing that I've noticed is that now, like a turkey is drawn to shiny things, I am drawn to the pink ribbon. Out of compulsion, I look at merchandise - no matter what it is - if it is flaunting Susan G. Komen or Breast Cancer Awareness. Support the Cure reusable grocery bag? Absolutely. Pink highlighters with the pink ribbon on it? Yes, please. Post-its. Give them to me. Buttons. How can I resist? Jewelry. Wrap it up. It's actually not that bad. I don't usually buy it, but if I had the money on me... I would. I usually just look at the packaging like it is the coolest thing in the world. Did you know that I have even been crocheting pink ribbons for people to put on their back packs? It's true. I have a condition.

This is a long battle. After my mom's first surgery, when they removed the lump from her breast, it annoyed me when people gave me books or breast cancer information. I was like... hello? She's done with surgery. It's over. Wrong! Not over, it won't be over for a long time.

BUT this is amazing. This is great. I am EXCITED. My mom is strong and courageous and a fighter. She is shining Christ's light through this situation. I remember that when I was getting ready to go home for her first surgery I was PUMPED! I was so excited because I believed God was going to kick this situation in the butt because I knew there would be people we loved surrounding us who don't know Jesus. If one person, just one, can see Jesus in this situation it will be more than worth it. I want to see lives changed for Christ and my mom is living her life for Him and I know that people are seeing that. She would have no hope, I would have no hope, my family would have NO HOPE if it wasn't for Jesus Christ. Because we know He has a plan for us and that we have placed our faith in the one who knows us better than we know ourselves."

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Fuzzy Semblance

I got to see Jerry today.

What a guy.

He is back to his usual self. I am doing "outstanding". Blood counts are good -- still abit of anemia, but nothing bad enough to treat.

I was in a quandary. Because there are a number of people, objective ones among the group, who tell me my hair is starting to grow. So here's the quandary: If I AM receiving Taxol (chemo), and a side effect of Taxol is total hair loss, how is it that my hair is GROWING? Am I really receiving Taxol? And if I am, can it be working against the cancer cells correctly if it is allowing my hair to begin to grow? I am sure you can understand my confusion.

I asked Jerry. "How is it that my hair can be growing while I am on Taxol?" His answer? As he peers over his glasses and looks closely at my scalp, he responds "well, it is not uncommon for a semblance of hair to appear while on Taxol. What you really have there is fuzz".



Perhaps Jerry should now be known as a "joy robber". I will add that Don joined right in with Jerry and agreed. "That's what we have at our house...'semblance of hair'".

Not that I was exactly joyous over the possible beginnings of hair growth, but it would be an encouraging sign, don't you think? A sign that I am, indeed, nearing the end of chemotherapy and preparing for the next phase of my cancer treatment.

The sad part is that I had to text my sisters Linda and Janette and relay to them that my "fuzz" is but a "semblance" of hair. And that they'll need to keep buzzing their heads. And that we've got a long way to go.

I am not sure they had a clear understanding of the words "we'll shave our heads and stay bald until your hair grows back".

I think they're starting to get it now.

I was wrong to let them get their hopes up that my hair was coming back already.

Because it is just a semblance.