Chemo Round 1

Yesterday was the first round of chemo out of 16 total, but 4 total of this booty-kicking dense dose. So 25% of the way done with the worst, and 6% done with all of it.

This first round was, dare I say it, pretty easy. So far.

Getting the chemo was anticlimactic. I had blood drawn and my temperature taken, then I chose a seat. They accessed my port, and as much as having it in me drives me nuts, it was amazingly painless to get hooked up using it.

They gave me a bag of anti-nausea medication and a bag of fluids. Cort sat next to me and was fairly bored.

Then I got two syringes of what my friend, Mindy who stopped by, and another patient just getting comfy called “the red devil.” It made my pee pink. And it’s the one that is supposedly the one that make my life awful for the next two months.

Then I got a bag of another chemo med.

All in all I was there for about 3.5 hours.

When I got done, I was hungry, so we had Zoup. Then I was tired. I’m not sure if it was the chemo or the fact that I didn’t sleep well the night before and had to be up by 7am. Either way, I let Cortney know he could go into work and I would be fine, and I promptly fell asleep.

I had some hot flashes. Again, I have no idea if those were side effects of the drugs or if it’s because our house gets weirdly hot during the day because of the south-facing ginormous window we have.

Then I took my first anti nausea pill and felt dizzy and weird, so I took another little snooze.

I also ate dinner even though I wasn’t super hungry. It was good. I have to brush my teeth often and swish a mix of salt and baking soda after to avoid mouth sores, so that is fun. Or not, but it will be worth it.

I have Ativan to take a night. Again, it helped.

Today I am home with Eddie. He let me sleep until after 9am, and he’s doing an excellent job of letting me rest. I’ve noticed that all my anti-nausea meds make me dizzy and foggy, but I don’t have any pain yet, and much to Charlie’s disappointment, my hair has not blown itself from my head in a mass exodus (that will take a least a week).

So I am taking it one day at a time. One step. Just waiting on side effects and trying to maintain them as well as possible.

I’m good, for now.

Thank you for all the love pouring over us. We feel it. I feel it.

1/16 done.

Wigs and Ports and Another School Year Over

The past week was a blur of preparations and endings.

It all started with me not having to go to work, but the boys still having school for the week. Monday Alice had her first dentist appointment ever. She was brave, but hated the water squirter thing because it was “too cold, mamacita.” And it turns out she has 3 cavities. Her brothers have had zero, so I guess she’s making up for it? Ugg. Cortney gets to take her for her filings next week.

Cortney and I also had our “education meeting” for my chemotherapy treatment this week. We got the down low on all the drugs they will be pumping into my body, prescriptions for all the things to make me feel better after they pump me with those drugs, and a tour of the facility where I will be receiving said drugs.

For my Big Four rounds of chemo, they will be pushing Adriamycin (which will turn my pee red–fun!) and Cytoxan. This will take me about four hours every other week. And they can do it that frequently because I also get a fun body injector thingy of Neulasta to help stimulate the growth of healthy white blood cells in my bone marrow. All this stuff is going to make me very fatigued and nauseated, so I have scripts for Compazine and Zofran AND Ativan to fight anxiety and help me sleep. Basically I’m going to be Drugs Walking for the next eight weeks.

Oh, they also gave me a script for a fun little numbing lotion to put over my port an hour before I go in so I don’t have to feel needle poked every time.

So then in August, when I start my weekly rounds of chemo, that will be just one drug: Taxol which takes only an hour to push in. So weekly and shorter starting in August.

Of course because they are going to pump me full of all the drugs there ever were, they want to make sure they don’t kill me with those drugs. Since, you know, keeping me not dead is the point of the drugs. Therefore they need a baseline heart echo, and then other ones as we go along with lab work.

The weeks I don’t have chemo, then, they will be poking me and looking at my blood and hear to make sure they aren’t doing more harm than good.

I also had an hour-long baseline heart echo this week.

OH! Also, my doc gave me a prescription for a wig! So I took one of my best friends and picked out a wig this week. This is what it looks like on the foam head we named Felicia:

This is what it looks like on me (yes, I am wearing a wig in this photo):

I’m super happy with it! Plus it was way more fun to pick out than I thought it would be. We laughed and laughed and talked about keeping the wig out of the range of extreme heat because it would frizzle up.

I also made sure to spend an hour and a half getting pampered and not talking about cancer or chemo or radiation at all. I had a gift certificate for a mani/pedi to cash in from Christmas, and since I can’t get them during treatment, I thought I should enjoy it now.

Friday was the boys’ last day of school. It was also the day my port went in. I really struggled with how their last day of school didn’t end up very special because mom felt tired and sore after having a port sewn under her collarbone.

Both brought how glowing report cards though. Eddie also brought home the LOL Award (voted on by his classmates; basically Class Clown) and no one was surprised. He loved it and was so proud. He was also sad to leave 3rd grade because he loved his teacher this year, and he has two friends who won’t be back next year. One has been in his class every year since Kindergarten and the other is his comic book making buddy. Fourth grade will definitely be different without those pals.

Charlie brought home a GIANT marble that he earned with his better behavior and ability to talk with the before/after school program coordinator whom he really bonded with this year. He was so proud to show it to me, and told me he was sad to see Kindergarten go, but he knew he would still be in the same hallway next year when he’s in first grade.

I didn’t take any last day of school photos. I wasn’t there to take them out to lunch. I didn’t pick them up. I was on the couch sleeping when they got home, and I fell right back to sleep once they had their lunch.

And you know what, life moved on. They were over it by dinner.

Tonight at dinner we reviewed what is coming up this week (last baseball games and chemo) and decided that tomorrow we would go to the library, get Charlie his own library card, and then get donuts.

I’m anxious about everything starting this week. Today has been rough. I expect this week to swing from feeling like a fricking cancer kicking warrior to feeling like a ball of “I can’t do it” mush.

3 days until treatment starts.


We are one week away from chemotherapy starting.

We are two months out from my biopsy day when I knew (even before the results came back), that I had breast cancer.

Parts of this still seem so unreal. But the endless phone calls (and endless time on hold) and appointments tell me that this is very real.

Cortney bought us a big calendar to have up in the house that we could color-code and the boys could look at and know what is happening and coming up. It actually starts in July, so drew June.

I’ve been working overdrive this week making phone calls (which you know I hate), making appointments and crossing as many t’s and dotting as many i’s (and lower case j’s) that I can find.  I’ve been asking people for help (which you know I hate) to make sure the summer is great for our kids–for our family.

I’m setting up a birthday/retirement dinner for my mom. I’m trying to make sure Cortney gets something from the kids for Father’s Day. I want Eddie’s 9th birthday party–Harry Potter themed, naturally–to be wonderful.

I have an appointment to try on wigs tomorrow because the kids want me to have “hair” to put on and because I know it will make me feel more confident in certain situations.

I have a heart echo tomorrow as well to get a baseline so my oncologist can make sure chemo doesn’t give me heart failure.

Cortney and I had a meeting today to learn all about the drugs they will be putting in me, the side effects, and the procedures for treatment days and lab days.

I filled prescriptions.

I confirmed my surgical procedure for Friday to have my port put in.

I changed around dental work (can’t do it during chemo), hair appointments (won’t have any during chemo), and childcare.

I had a manicure and pedicure today since I can’t have those during chemo either and it was a good way to get some self-care in. I chose pink, by the way, because it felt like the right thing to do. It’s Alice’s favorite color, for one. But it’s also the breast cancer ribbon color. Although I picked a sassy bright pink, not a passive light pink.

I know some of this is my anxiety and OCD working in overdrive to compensate for my fears about how my kids will do with all of this. Not to mention my own fears. I keep telling myself everything will be fine (regardless of the cancer stories other people seem to have the need to tell me that do not end well. If you have a cancer story that is not uplifting, please know that my family and I don’t want to hear it right now. I get that it might feel good for you to tell, but I am not the person you should tell that to), and I do believe everything will be fine.

Every single question I have been able to come up with either gets answered before I can ask it, or is something totally normal to ask. I have been provided with resources and options and an abundance of professional medical advice. Every nurse, technician, and doctor has been able to anticipate my questions and my fears and assuage them as much as possible. I have full confidence in my team.

As I mentioned, today is exactly two months since I found out. Besides the prayers and cards and kindness you have shown my family, please PLEASE make sure the people in your life who you love who also have boobs go get them screened. Early detection can save lives.

I am proof. I will continue to be proof. And I want those boob-wearing people in your lives to be proof too.

One week to go.

Being Brave

Cortney and I often tell the kids, “being brave doesn’t mean that you aren’t scared; it means you do the thing you have to do anyway.”

I often tell my students, “being brave doesn’t mean doing stupid stuff for glory; it means doing the right thing even if you are afraid.”

Doing what you have to do. Doing the right thing. Even if you are scared or don’t want to.

Everyone lately seems to be telling me that I am brave. I keep denying it. No, no. Not me. I’m just doing a scary thing because I have to. It’s the right thing to do. I want to be around for my kids for a very, very long time. I don’t really have a choice.

I’m just doing the best I can with what I’ve been dealt: cancerous crap in my breast and lymph nodes–all gone now, of course, but I don’t want that junk back.

I’m just doing what I have to do because the doctors told me to, you see.

Nothing brave to see here.

But then I heard myself, again, telling one of the boys that they are braver than they think. That just doing the necessary thing is brave. Being afraid, but doing it anyway.

Chemotherapy is necessary. I am definitely afraid. But I am going to do it anyway.

So I guess I am being brave.

Although just like my kids tell me, this is not what I thought bravery would feel like.

10 days until chemo starts.

The End & The Beginning

I hit “post” on all my grades by noon today, thus closing the book on the 2017-18 school year. My 15th year of teaching is in the history books–all in the same district. I taught 11 years of high school and now 4 years of middle school.

And in case you can’t tell by that photo, it was over 90 degrees in my classroom this morning. So sweaty.

Usually I work like crazy so I can get out with the kids and go have lunch/drinks with colleagues. This year I didn’t do that. I did finish up my grades really quickly, but I decided to use my afternoon to organize and straighten my classroom library–something I usually come in and do the week…or a couple months…after school gets out.

This summer is going to be different. I don’t know that I will ever really feel like coming in to do all that lifting and work, so I did it today.

Usually I’m all, “WOO OOO OOO SUMMER!”

Not today. I walked out of my classroom today with a heavy sigh. Yes, I was ready for the school year to be over. I mean, we have been in school since August 20! But closing my classroom door for the last time means it’s time to turn and face the next adventure: chemotherapy.

Honestly? I’m finding today rather tough. I don’t want to move past today, but I don’t want the school year going any longer either.

I feel like I could crawl into bed and sleep for days, but I also don’t want to because when I wake up, I’ll have to face the music.

Some days are tougher than others in this waiting game for it all to start. I worry a lot about the pain, the sickness, and the inability to function. And I think about my hair a lot.

I told a few teachers yesterday that 90% of the time I feel pretty good about everything. Well, not “good,” but at peace. Today is part of the 10%. I’m not in fully meltdown and cry mode, but I feel crabby and lacking in the joy department.

I’m thankful that the school year is over though, because it means I can slow down a bit.

The Good Stuff

It would be easy to fall into a pit of despair with the anxiety of the impending chemo treatments and the pain/challenges they will bring. However, that is not how Sluiters like to live, so we are trying to find the good stuff and dwell on that.

And there is a LOT of good stuff.

From fun at home to chilly minor league baseball games (Go White Caps!), we have been trying to make fun memories during this time…I mean, it’s the time of year for fun memories anyway, right? But Cortney and I absolutely do NOT want our kids to look back and see only darkness surrounding my diagnosis and treatment.

The boys are both playing baseball this spring. Eddie is doing Little League for the first time. He doesn’t love it as much as coach pitch ball (lots more games and more pressure), but I know he does have some fun.

Charlie is doing coach pitch for the first time and doing great! He is loving being part of a team and learning the sport. Plus he’s fast…when he doesn’t have his hands in his pockets!

We have been able to hang out with family and see parades and just play.

We have tried to work treats–like the ever-elusive McDonald’s meal–into our weeks as well. Our kids tend to find the funny in even that!

The kids can actually play nicely together when they really want to. Charlie has taught (I’m using that word loosely) Alice how to play games, and they spent almost two hours this past weekend playing with the sprinkler and the sandbox.

The boys had swimming lessons and Alice helped me make Eddie’s birthday brownies for school (he has a summer birthday, but still likes to take a treat).

We have been blessed to spend a ton of time with friends too. Over the holiday weekend the kids jumped on their friends’ new trampoline for almost four hours! And on Memorial Day we were able to have a family fun date to our local splash pad and share a meal with friends as well.

Eddie has been creating a million comics and Charlie has started making me books–it’s his way of working through what is going on with my impending treatment.

Things aren’t always all roses and rainbows, but they aren’t all gloom and doom either. We are doing our best to keep things as normal as we can around here which means a certain level of ridiculous needs to be maintained.

There are times it feels like a struggle, but I think we are doing okay. Better than okay even.


On May  15 I got my pathology report back.

My cancer is in remission because they believe they got it all out. However, one of the three lymph nodes they took out to biopsy had a bit of cancer in it. This means I will need chemotherapy in addition to radiation to make sure the cancer does not come back.

As I said in my last post, we have been processing this news and it’s been causing some anxiety for me. This past week  Cortney and I met with my surgeon and oncologist to discuss what my treatment will look like.  The recommended plan is 16 rounds of chemo followed by radiation. Because my oncologist is extremely thorough, she told me about all the testing I could do to predict if the cancer would come back, but ultimately it is her recommendation (and that of the tumor board they took my case to), that no matter what the testing said, because I was so young, they all thought chemo and radiation were my best bets for it not relapsing.

I trust my doctors.

This means I am looking at getting a port surgically put into my chest on June 8. The first four rounds of chemotherapy will be a dense dose and be the “worst” as far as making me feel like garbage. They will start on June 13 and be every other week through the end of July.

Starting August 8 I will have weekly chemo sessions of a non-dense dose that are supposed to ravage me much less than the first four.

I’ve had lots of questions about losing my hair. working, continuing my PhD program, and what people can do to help. I’m going to try to answer some of those here.

Hairy Stuff

I’m going to lose my hair.

I’ve had a TON of people suggest something called cold capping that basically freezes your scalp during treatments and can save up to 80% of your hair. After consulting with various docs and nurses who have witnessed it, people who have tried it, and trusted cancer websites, we have decided that it won’t be worth the cost or extra trouble for absolutely no guarantee.

Serendipitously, after Cortney and I decided this, two separate people affirmed my decision in powerful ways. One was a very close friend whose mother had gone through the process when he was a teenager, and the other was the wife of one of Cortney’s business partners who just went through it all.

Both mentioned it being a ton of work that I wouldn’t want to deal with plus extra time at the treatment center, but they also–without knowing each other–said to me that my bald head is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. That this is part of my journey and it is my badge of survival. It is powerful.

That struck a deep chord with me, and basically affirmed our decision.

My hair is something I love. My salon visits have become my steady form of self-care since I began therapy 8 years ago for depression and anxiety. My daughter loves my hair. My sons are afraid of me looking different.

But in the end, it really is just hair. It will grow back.

Teaching and Treatment

I am absolutely going to be back to school for the 2018-19 school year. However because I will need weekly chemo treatments, I will be taking every Wednesday off for the first marking period (at least). This means I will miss the first day of school which happens to fall on Wednesday, August 22. My principal could not have been more supportive. He told me we would try to get the same sub every Wednesday so the students had some consistency. He even came up with the brilliant idea for me to create a video to show my students the first day of school explaining everything and then having them write to me.

I work with the best staff in the world as well. Because my co-teacher and I are the best team in the world, she has been invaluable this year as I was out for surgery. My fellow 8th grade teachers have all been supportive and kind and helpful. The staff sent me an awesome basket after my surgery for Mother’s Day that included snacks for the whole family. I am eternally grateful for the love I am surrounded by at work, and I am so thankful I can stay a part of the team.

PhD Program

After consulting with Cortney, my doctors, a friend who went through cancer treatment while getting her PhD, my grad school director, a trusted professor who is like a mentor to me, and a friend in the program, I have decided to go ahead and still take a class this fall. There is an elective available that is a hybrid class (online and meeting only 4 times) which seems like it was dropped in my lap for just this reason. All of the required courses are on campus (which is an hour commute one-way), so the fact that this one is not only a hybrid, but meets closer to where I live is almost too perfect to pass up.

I was also reminded of how lucky I am to have such a compassionate and understanding grad program. They want me to be successful in my program. And honestly, I can’t not at least try. I don’t want to put it off and look back and think, “I could have done it.”

I have to at least try.

Part of doing my PhD is that I want to have the option to change my career to university-level teaching. But another part is to show my own children that we can do hard things, and it doesn’t matter when we do them in life. We can look at a challenge–even an ENORMOUS one–and tackle it.

Ways to Help

This one is hard for me to answer. For one, I have a hard time accepting help for myself. Secondly, I really don’t know yet. I can go on what people (docs and other survivors) have told me, but my journey will be individual and I honestly don’t know yet what we will need.

Cortney is going to try to be at as many of my chemo treatments as possible. June and July will be rough from what is predicted. We are going to try to get a little more organized with food that people want to bring. For one, my kids are picky and weird. Secondly, I like to prepare meals for my family and will be able to do so sometimes, but not always. When we have a better idea of when the meals would be most needed, we will put something together.

I have more books than I can possibly read, I have Netflix and Amazon Prime, I have someone who cleans for us every other week. Cortney enjoys getting groceries. We have grandparents and daycare and (hopefully) playdates for the kids for when I am feeling unwell and can’t parent so well.

There is just so much “wait and see” about how I feel and what we need. It’s stressful for me because I really want to plan everything out and have things set, but that is not possible with this.

So the most you can do right now is continue praying for us–all of us. It’s affecting all of us in different ways depending on the day. Sometimes Cortney and I feel like we are in a good place with all of it, but the boys are falling apart. Other times the boys almost forget about it, but I am having a meltdown about how this can’t be my life.

As it approaches, we just want to feel strong and ready. We want to feel like we are making the right choices for our kids and each other.

Chemo starts on June 13 and will be done in October.

Four months.


Cortney and I have gotten TONS of messages of love and support over the past 48 hours and we are so grateful. I had therapy yesterday as well, and when asked how we are doing with all this, I just nod slowly and say, “Ok. We are processing it all yet.”

The culmination of a day of ALL THE PROCESSING resulted in a major ugly cry meltdown on my part at bedtime. Cortney held my hand the whole time. He let me fall apart, so (as he says) we can start building it back up again.

I’ve been having problems sleeping, which if you know me means this is something that is really giving me anxiety. I love my sleep and can usually fall asleep any time, any place. Charlie’s answer to what his mom loves on his Mother’s Day sheet from school was, “books and naps.” The boy is not wrong. So when I lose sleep due to a racing mind, well, it’s serious.

I had cancer. It’s gone now, but I need treatment to make sure it doesn’t come back.

Cortney and I have an appointment next week with my surgeon and oncologist to map out what that treatment will be and what the schedule will look like, but simply it’s going to be chemo and radiation.

Chemotherapy is exactly what I was hoping to avoid.

When they went into surgery we thought the only tumor was in my breast, but because there was a speck of a tumor in my first lymph node (they took three, two were clean), it changes the treatment from just radiation, to chemo and then radiation.

In the spirit of being open and honest: I am having a hard time with this news. Like seriously struggling.

People are saying all the right things (and a few of the wrong things, but that is Ok too. They’re trying), but I am grieving a lot of things right now.

I know the list of “At least you’s…” Trust me, those are what keep me getting out of bed.

I have the best possible partner in this life. The best.

My kids are great. I worry about them, but they are magical beautiful little weirdos that I am in love with.

I work with the best staff in the world who are so supportive and loving.

I have an ENORMOUS community of support and love.

I have women who have walked this arduous journey before me who are holding me in their hearts and literally holding my  hand.

My family–gosh my family. I have siblings and sibling-in-laws and parents and parent-in-laws who give and give selflessly out of love and support and concern.

I am one of the luckiest women in the world and that does NOT escape me.

But I am still struggling. I’m still processing.

One minute I feel like a warrior who is ready to pump those chemicals in and give myself that NO MORE CANCER “insurance”.

The next I am a weeping ball of snot because I feel like it’s all not real, and this can’t happen to me, and that I can’t do it.

I love my hair and all the time and product that goes into it. It’s not the most fabulous hairstyle, but it’s mine and I love it. I love my salon visits–they have become my self-care that is scheduled and part of my mental health management. It’s the thing we splurge on to make me feel good.

I’m going to lose my hair.

But I know I can do it.

But I’m struggling too.

It’s all part of the process.

I hate this process.


I have cancer.

Correction: I had cancer.

On March 22, I had my first mammogram. They called me back because there was some dense, weird-looking tissue in my left breast they wanted a second look at.

“Don’t freak out,” I was told. “About 1 in 5 women get called back after their first mammogram because we don’t have anything to compare it to.”

I showed up completely not freaked out on the morning of Friday, April 6. They redid the mammogram.  Then they took another couple pictures.

Then they wanted an ultrasound.

Then they were ultasounding my armpit and that is when I knew–they found something they didn’t like. Why else would they now be looking in my armpit–where my lymph nodes are? I started to mildly freak out.

Eventually the radiologist (to this date the only person who had any part in my care that I have not liked), came in and told me that they found concerning tissue and that it needed to be biopsied. I started to sweat.

When the radiologist left the room, a nurse stepped forward and hugged me and I began to cry. She held my hand and said, “do NOT worry. We will take good care of you. We will get this all taken care of. YOU. WILL. BE. FINE.”

I am so grateful for her.

For those of you who don’t know, we live in a part of Michigan that has some of the top medical professionals in the country concentrated in something called the Medical Mile about a thirty-minute drive from my house. The cancer center was able to get me in that same day for a biopsy.

The doctor who did my biopsy did a good job of preparing me for the fact that it looked a whole lot like cancer. However, she also told me that it was so very small–that it was incredibly lucky that I had my mammogram and found it this tiny. I could have hugged her, but she had needles in my bewb, so that seemed inappropriate and a little dangerous.

The results came back the following Tuesday during my planning hour as cancer. I was expecting it. I think Cortney and my mom took the news a bit harder. My first question to the nurse who called with my results was, “now what? What do we do to get it out of me?” She gave me a few options and I told her I would talk to my husband and call her right back.

I called her back 8 minutes later. I don’t think she understood that I mean I wanted to get the ball rolling NOW.

By the time I had taught my two afternoon classes, a call came back from the surgeon I requested to be referred to: they had assembled an entire team for me and could I meet everyone in one big appointment in a week and a half?

Hell yes, I could.

So we met the team on April 18. I met my surgeon, my oncologist, my physical therapist, a nutritionist, and some nurses. All badass women ready to get this cancer out of me.

Because my grandma and my aunt on my dad’s side both had the same thing (only they were about 25 years older than I am when they were diagnosed), I qualified for genetic testing. On April 30, I did that. I chose the largest panel of genes to be tested because A) it used the same amount of blood as the smaller panels and B) it all cost the same. Why not get as much information as possible, right?

While we waited for the results, my surgery was set for May 10.

Genetic results show absolutely no genetic mutations that would increase my risk of breast cancer or breast cancer-related cancers. This means there is no increase risk of reappearance or spreading. This meant lumpectomy was still the best choice and there was no need to remove my breasts at this time.

And so May 10 arrived, and I had my own correction: a tumor and three lymph nodes removed. Cancer Corrected. Hopefully.

Next week Wednesday we have an appointment to discuss treatment options to make sure this cancer does not come back. Those treatments are scarier to me than the surgery was. But it is what it is, right?

I’m fine.

I will continue to be fine.

I’m just an emotional patient right now who wants to get back to her life as quickly as possible and put all this behind me and my family.

Because through all of this, it is Cortney and my kids who I worry most about.

We Move Along

When everything is wrong, we move along

Since turning 40, a lot of wonderful things have happened. But one big ugly not wonderful thing happened too. I am not yet comfortable bringing all to the public, but our close friends and family know.

What I am comfortable saying is that we are moving along. Our family is getting through it. We are strong.

And that is all because of the kindness and love that has been flowing over us this past month as we bring more and more friends and family into the know about this dumb thing that is happening.

It has felt, at times, that absolutely everything was wrong.

But we didn’t let that feeling last because it wasn’t true. One ugly thing was wrong, but everything else was wonderful. We have a wonderful life and wonderful people in it.

And we will keep moving along with the help and prayers of those people.

We move along one step and one answer at a time. And hopefully, soon, we will move beyond this.

We will stay strong.

When all you got to keep is strong
Move along, move along like I know you do
And even when your hope is gone
Move along, move along
Just to make it through

Thank you to everyone who has offered thoughts, prayers, and other acts of kindness to our family over the past month. We love you and feel you walking with us.

We Move Along lyrics by All American Rejects

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