Chemo Round 15

That’s the look of someone who only has one more chemo treatment left. WOO!

This week we had to reduce my dose. I had been having some numbness in my toes over the weekend, and because no one wants nephropathy to set in, my doc decided it wasn’t worth the risk blasting me with a full dose and possibly losing all feeling in my toes for the rest of my life. So that was the only change to anything this week. If my toes are still having numbness next week, we may decide not to do the final dose. But if they are feeling better we will probably do the final does as a reduced one and be done!

I did meet with my radiologist this week too. Got the low down on all the possible fun side effects of that. I also got my “simulation” appointment set for the first week of November to get me all set up for when treatment starts on November 20. Then I will be getting radiation 5 days a week for 6 weeks. Thirty treatments in all. That puts me finishing during winter break around the first of the year.

After that I have a meeting at the oncologist again to talk about the future and check ups. I’ll also probably be put on Tamoxifen, and estrogen blocker, at that time.  Since my breast cancer was positive for estrogen, that is what fed it, so blocking estrogen would be the next thing in making sure it doesn’t come back. There are a WHOLE bunch of stuff that happen with that, but I am not thinking about that now. Right now I am concentrating on being excited about being done with chemo next week, taking a break before radiation, and then facing radiation for 6 weeks.

If you are into prayer requests this is what I have for you: Please pray that the numbness in my toes goes away and I don’t get permanent nephropathy. Please also pray for Charlie. I don’t want to go into details because he may not want his business spread all over the internet, but he is struggling with some things and could use some prayers. And of course pray for Cortney’s continued strength as my rock, Eddie’s patience with his younger brother (and sister), and Alice’s continued positive attitude in all of this.

Thank you for being my community in all this.

Round 15 of 16 DONE

Chemo Round 14

Good grief, I have crazy eyes in this picture! It’s like I was excited to get out of there or something (I was).

I’m having a harder time with this countdown than I thought I was going to have. I thought I would be SO EXCITED to be close to the end. I mean, chemotherapy sucks. It sucks a lot. It basically steals a whole day from my life each week, not even counting what it stole over the summer. Plus I am starting to feel it a bit in my feet which could mean permanent nerve damage once this is over.

So why am I not more excited?

Well, when you’re getting chemo, cancer can’t grow, so it’s sort of like, “yes everything about this sucks, but at least I know I don’t have cancer right now.” My brain is already starting to loop the possible worst case scenarios about cancer growing once chemo is done.

There is zero reason I should be thinking this way.

They took the cancer out of me in May. The chemo is just an insurance policy. I am starting radiation in a couple weeks. My grandma and my aunt–who also had my type of breast cancer–never had it come back in any form.

There is zero reason I should be worried.

And yet here we are.

Hello, anxiety.

I am positive the insane busy that is going on in our household does not help matters. If I could figure out how to ask for help, I would, but no one can do our jobs for us…if that makes sense. Missing every Wednesday is starting to take a toll on both Cortney’s and my work stress. Our jobs keep going without us there–which is great–but it means more for us to do upon return. I’m trying to give myself grace, but grace doesn’t mean you can just not do certain parts of your job.

Theoretically when chemo is done, I will get Wednesdays back. However because radiation is an every day standing appointment, I might lose after school work time I used to have in place.

I just need it to all be over.

And I need to feel sure–REALLY sure–that I am cancer-free.

Those aren’t too big to ask for, right?

Besides Chemo Round 14 this week, we had weirdly hot weather, so Charlie had soccer practice on Tuesday in 84 degrees and then today his game was in 39 degrees. Michigan is weird.

Today I most certainly did NOT wear flip-flops and shorts. I wore all the layers and a hat with a giant puff ball on top. Charlie’s team did a great job and I know he loved playing this season which is all we could ask for!

Eddie was met with some reality with two big tests this week. Fourth grade is a bit stressful, but I think Eddie is dealing with it better than his mom is. Don’t tell him I freak out for him. He thinks I’m all cucumber cool about it. Even though I get nervous about things, he is thriving. He made his reading goal and was able to attend the reading pizza party this week, AND he met the class goals of having his homework done on time, so he got to attend the after school reward party too.  So even though there is more responsibility this year, he is getting some bigger rewards as well.

And Miss Alice was treated to a Princess Lunch with her Granny last week Sunday.

Cortney’s mom, aka Granny, found out about an event with a bunch of Disney princesses and lunch and all the fun, so she invited Alice. I am pretty sure Sunday was the highlight of Alice’s short life so far. She dressed up like Elsa and went with her Granny to meet princesses, eat lunch, get autographs, and even dance. So much fun! Such great memories!

So even though I continue to journey through this treatment, the family is doing pretty well. We have a few hiccups and bumps, but a few of us are in therapy to get some strategies for dealing with those.

As usual, thank you for the cards, thoughts, and shout-outs this week. We feel those prayers even if you feel like it’s the least you can do. They surround us and sustain us, so thank you.

Tuesday I meet with the radiologist.

Cortney has already been planning party hats for the last chemo treatment, by the way.

14/16 Done

Chemo Round 13

Today was my 13th chemo treatment! My aunt Sandy stopped by to catch up and visit while I sat in the chair. I love her so much, and I’m glad she could stop by. She is one of my mom’s three sisters, and when we kids were growing up, we were super close to our aunts, uncles, and cousins. Sandy and my Grandma Jo used to take my brothers and I camping at the beach during their week there in August each year. Sandy also used to babysit us when we were little kids because my mom worked part-time. She is sort of the social bug of that side of the family, so it was good to hear how everyone is doing. Plus she is an HILARIOUS story-teller.

I met with my oncologist today. I only have three more treatments! Soon I will meet with the radiologist who will be in charge of the next leg of this treatment tour: Radiation. All I know so far is that it’s every day (5 days a week) for six weeks. Appointments are only about 15-minutes, so I am hoping to set them all up for after school. I have a bunch of questions about this, but I am saving them for the radiologist who will probably be the best person to answer them.

Lots of people have noticed the fuzz growing on my head.

It’s not re-growth, but it is the hair that did not fall out growing. It’s pretty patchy and thin on top and in the front since so much fell out. That won’t grow back until chemo is done. And because my fuzz is getting so long, I’m planning to shave it down one more time as the end of chemo approaches so that it can all grow back at the same time and not be all patchy and weird.

The back is pretty thick though…and very soft. Like baby hair.

It’s very exciting to only have three treatments left. Cortney and I keep talking about what we should do for the last treatment. Party hats will definitely be a part of.

My anxiety about radiation is starting, though. I’m not really nervous about the actual treatment, but I get anxiety about how it will affect our schedule. We are ridiculously busy, and trying to figure out how to fit it in each day makes my stomach turn. Plus I have a conference in Houston in the middle of that 6 weeks and will be gone for a long weekend (A Friday to a Monday), and wondering how that will all work. I have lots of questions, which for me means a brain that is now cycling through worst-case scenarios.

I also worry about celebrating the end of chemo too much.

What if it comes back? What if this is not truly The End? What if I am back in that chair with a worse prognosis?

When people ask me how I am doing all this, it is truly showing up one day at a time and dealing with what is in front of me as best as I can. And I am not doing “it all” as it may seem. I miss staff meetings, department meetings, Leading Educator meetings. I am not getting my grading done as quickly as I would like, and I have a huge amount of reading to do for my grad class. “As best as I can” is truly my best, but it’s not what it would be if I wasn’t doing all this cancer treatment.

And I tell myself that is Ok, even though I know it lets people down. They understand, but I know it’s still a disappointment when I can’t produce or show up at the rate I did before The Big C. It’s a disappointment to myself.

I am really really trying to give myself grace. I’m really trying to believe others when the say “it’s Ok.” I’m really trying not to let my brain fixate on every thought that goes through it about radiation timing or getting cancer again.

Right now I am a survivor, and I’m doing what I have to do to stay surviving.

I show up to each day, and do what I can the best that I can.

Round 13/16 DONE!

Chemo Round 12

This was my face when my stupid port was clogged again this week. Luckily, my amazing nurse, Aimee, got it unclogged much quicker this time around and I was off and running with Round 12. Both Cortney and my mom were there with me again. We sent Cortney to work because he seemed to be a bit bored with our chit chat.

I have to say, though, I appreciate that he has been to every single one of my treatments and appointments. He refuses to let me ever be alone in this. And even though my mom shows up too, he is there–he is my person. He is my rock even when he doesn’t feel very solid himself. I honestly couldn’t be getting through this the way I am without him. Cortney has made rest and recovery after each treatment possible even though often it means increasing his own workload and managing the kids and schedule stuff on his own.

I am very, VERY lucky.

Speaking of lucky…

My school district had their breast cancer awareness football game last night, and they asked if I would come and be recognized as a survivor. I was honored that they wanted to include me.

I had my reservations. I said yes because I was told it could bring the community together and give them hope. I want to do that for people. I want them to see hope and not despair when they see me going through my journey.

But I was nervous too. I don’t want to be The Cancer Teacher. I struggle with having the spotlight on me for something I feel is not my own hard work, but luck. I was lucky to have it caught so early. I am lucky to have the support I do. I am lucky that my body is responding so well. And truth be told, we won’t know until I am done and off the chemo and done with radiation whether or not it “worked.” The cancer could come back. We all know there are no guarantees with cancer. It is a brutally and infamously unfair disease.

We packed up the family anyway, and headed out to the stadium. It was cold and drizzling out. Eddie, Charlie, and Alice were heavy on the whine and light on the “proud of our mom” attitudes. I was struggling with my self-confidence and whether or not I was really deserving of all this.

Hanging out before the game and during the first quarter; however, many students came and said hello. Former students (who are all high schoolers now! OMG, my 8th graders have grown up!) gave hugs and told me they were glad I was there.

And after the first quarter of the game, they invited me out with our superintendent to be recognized.

Did I mention it was quite chilly? I have on three layers! I don’t know how Mr. Hoekstra doesn’t have a stocking hat on because my bald head was COLD.

Anyway, it felt good to hear the announcer talk about my years of service in Wyoming Public Schools (this is my 16th year, but I did my student teaching and two years of long-term subbing, so I’ve been around since 2001) and how many students I’ve impacted.

And then I looked up into the stands (which were sparsely populated due to the weather) and heard, “MRS. SLUITER!!!” and saw some frantic waving from my current students. I waved back and they cheered.

Well.

That was pretty awesome.

I still feel weird about being recognized while I go through my journey, but I am a survivor right now. I am in remission even if I am still getting treatment.

And I only have four more chemo rounds to go before the next leg of this tour gets underway.

Round 12/16 DONE!

Chemo Round 11

This week didn’t go as well as other weeks, but we got through it.

My stupid port tried to “heal” itself again which means a little scab formed on the inside over my port thingy so my nurse couldn’t flush my port. This means they have to try to dissolve the scab, but they have to try a bunch of other stuff before they do the stuff they know will work because procedures and regulations and stuff. So by the time they did all that and then did the thing that always work, it added an extra 90 minutes to my time in the chair.

So that stunk, but luckily my mom was there again, so Cortney could take off for work (he is SUPER busy lately…which is good!), and she could take me home once it was all over.

I almost forgot to take my weekly photo, but I quick grabbed one on the way out the door.

I am dealing with some annoying side effects though. The worst being whatever the heck is happening to my legs.

At first I thought it was bug bites…but I quickly decided that no, it was more of a weird rash. So I showed my doctor and she thought maybe it was the start of shingles (which many people on chemo get because yay low immune system!), so she prescribed some meds.

But then one of the spots on my foot looked like it had impetigo, so I started rubbing this bactum something something cream on it, and figured it couldn’t hurt the other stuff. Then it started to look better and itch less, so we are going with that.

Honestly, I think whatever is going on is that my immune system is so low that this ish just keeps infecting itself over and over with new gross stuff.

What I’m saying is that it sucks and I hate it, but it’s not the worst thing that could happen.

I have started to notice a little tingling/pins and needles feelings in my toes. That is sort of scary. Because if it’s nephropathy, it can’t be reversed.  At least my legs will heal. You know, eventually. So I am supposed to “watch that” and report back if it gets worse.

I am scheduled to have 5 more treatments. I just want to get through them all. I want to do the most I possibly can to prevent cancer from coming back in my body.

People have started to ask about the next step after chemo. That would be radiation, but honestly, I haven’t asked too many questions about that because I am just trying to deal with what I have in front of me each day, and 5 weeks still feels like a long time to keep going through this, even though I’ve already come so far.

I’m honestly exhausted all the time. Even when I tell you I am Ok, I would probably rather be napping. Everything takes way more energy than I am used to. But I am also glad to be able to do all that I can do: work, take my kids to practices, games, and activities, homework and class, cook for my family, help with homework, read to my kids. I know not everyone going through chemotherapy is this lucky.

Round 11/16 Done!

*************

My 8th graders and I worked on 100-word memoirs last week. This is the one I wrote with my students:

“Going Bald: A Cancer Story”

“Are you ready?” he asked. “No,” I said in a small voice, “but do it anyway. It has to be done.” My long hair had started falling out in clumps due to the chemotherapy. It was time. I felt my husband’s gentle hands smooth my hair as I sat hunched over on the edge of the bathtub in my pajamas, a towel wrapped around my shoulders. A click and buzz of the clippers sounded. Tears silently dropped as he tenderly let the clippers glide across my scalp. I clung to him as he finished up. “You look beautiful,” he said.

Chemo Round 10

People thank me for being so open about the journeys in my life: miscarriage, depression, anxiety, faith struggles, and now cancer treatment. I know sharing is not for everyone, but for me it’s a coping mechanism.

Last week I came here and dumped out some of my depression. I put it out there in this space because it was like a garbage pile in my head. I wasn’t looking for sympathy or anything of the sort. I just needed to honestly throw some of that garbage out into the universe to get it out of my head.

And what happens when I do that is magic.

People pick up the garbage and turn it into something beautiful.

Some are tangible like cards and notes and messages. Others are no less real, but cannot be held in my hands like prayers. Some of you take that trash, that burden, and put it in your own backpack for awhile to lighten my load.

And it comes back to me as light.

The light of positive messages, of prayers and thoughts felt, of a student telling me I am gorgeous, of my daughter telling me I am the prettiest mommy. Of a student sliding this on my desk after he heard me admit that being bald is not the best for my self-esteem.

Chemo round 10 was like all the others except that my friend, G, came to visit and she was someone I needed to come visit me. I didn’t even know it until her beautiful smile was there, but I needed her. She is my sister friend and her presence next to my chemo chair made me so very happy.

And you can see my mom came. I love being able to spend so much time with my mom. Retirement for her, chemo for me means we get to have a couple hours of chat time in the middle of the week.

Love and light come each week.

Even when I feel gross and sad and overwhelmed. Somehow, sharing it–putting it out there–means it will come back to me as hope.

And I am thankful for that this week.

Round 10/16 DONE!

Chemo Round 9

Passed the halfway mark and took Round 9 of chemotherapy this past week.

It went fine. Not much to report. Doc said my blood counts look good. I have a weird rash she was concerned might be shingles, so she gave me a prescription for that. Then I was plugged in and got my poison and went on home. My mom visited with Cortney and I while I sat there again this week which was nice.

I’m also three weeks into the school year at this point. My PhD class started this week. The boys started school this week, and today Charlie had his first soccer game.

I am not doing well.

I was. I was fine. Well, I am fine. Physically fine.

But I am emotional and tired and not sure how to ask for help because I am not sure what to ask for.

The hair on my head that didn’t fall out (there is some up there) is growing, but it looks fuzzy and weird. My eyebrows have almost completely fallen out. I’m never fully comfortable about how I look, despite the kind words that continue to show up (although finding out from a parent at my school that two of my 8th grade girls think I look beautiful was definitely a pick-me-up!)

Did I mention I am tired?

Tired is hard for me. It makes me crabby and inpatient and, well…I guess most people get that way too.

I don’t know how to rest more. If I go to bed early or nap during the weekend, I’m not getting something done. But guess what? I’m usually too tired to get stuff done anyway, so I just lie there in the evenings watching TV. And if I do get a nap, my mind will work overtime at night and I won’t sleep then. It’s a pretty un-fun spiral.

Even reading isn’t fun to me right now.

I think that means I have a bit of the depression going on. I went from a TON of anxiety and being overwhelmed, to feeling like I could handle everything (maybe even well), to feeling tired and like it’s all too much.

And that makes me sad.

People keep asking me how I’m feeling, and I’ve started answering, “fine!” because I don’t know how to put into words what I’m feeling without it being a big therapy session that nobody asked for.

So. I am fine.

But also not.

But I don’t know what you can do about that because I have a great support system, words of encouragement constantly coming in, and random pies showing up (thanks, Gram!). It feels like something is wrong with me that despite all that, I still feel….off. I still want to cry and sleep.

So that is where I am right now.

Round 9/16 Done.

Chemo Round 8

Yesterday was Round 8…HALFWAY!

Because I am surrounded by the BEST people in the world, my friend Nurse Ashley brought me (and Cort and my mom) donuts. Cortney bought me my weekly frappicino and I told everyone who was within earshot that I was HALF done!

It went well again. As I said, my mom was there again this week. Cortney had to leave because Eddie had his yearly well-child appointment, so my mom made sure I had company and a ride home.

I felt very good leaving my students with their weekly substitute. They know her from last year and she was there with them on their first day. I was right, everything went very well. Many students asked, “how did it go yesterday, Mrs. Sluiter?” which warmed my heart that they thought to ask.

They boys had Open House last night at school, so Cortney took them so I could lay low with Alice. Both boys are excited about their teachers and getting back to school next week.

And, just because he couldn’t let summer slide away without meeting a major milestone, Charlie decided yesterday was the day the training wheels would come off and he would join his big brother as a two-wheel rider.

I now have two weeks of school done even before my own kids have started school! But summer is slipping between our fingers! This weekend is it! Then we will be fully on our fall schedule.

Prayer requests this week are for continued energy and “pep” as my PhD class starts. Peace and courage for the kids as they start a new school year with new teachers and new challenges and adventures. And of course strength for Cortney as he navigates caring for me with the balance of his own fall schedule and running the kids around.

Round 8 DONE!

Chemo Round 7, Pearl Jam, and Back to School

One of the first things I asked when I found out I had to go through chemotherapy was, “Will I still be able to go to the Pearl Jam show in August?” The answer was a definite YES, and I had been looking forward to it as a sort of a goal all summer.

They played Wrigley (for those who have been reading this blog for awhile, you know this is the third time we have traveled to Wrigley. The first time we had a rather harrowing experience. The second time was more low key. By now we feel like we have the routine down pretty well).

I suppose I could devote an entire blog post to this concert, but really the main story is that the guy sitting next to me–Will who wore a green shirt and green glasses frames to match–was at his first PJ concert ever and he smoked and drank a ton and had no sense of personal space. Other than that it was GREAT!

We got back on Sunday afternoon and I had to immediately get my brain into back to school mode because Monday and Tuesday my district’s staff was back! Tuesday I had the opportunity to present a Professional Development session with one of my first mentors. It was pretty great.

Wednesday was the first day of students, but also chemo day for me. Since I couldn’t be there, I made my students a welcome video and had them write a letter of introduction to me.

I sad in my chemo chair while they did all that and got Round 7. My mom came to visit during this one and I found that if I have someone to chat with, I won’t fall asleep. Everything went very well, and when I got home I took a fat, two-hour nap. I went to bed on time that night too, trying to prepare for Thursday and Friday–my first days with students.

I’ll be honest: this week kicked my butt.

Yesterday (Friday): I came home around 4:15 and fell asleep on the couch with everything hurting from my piggy toes up to my fuzzy little head hairs.  Part of it is totally normal first week of school exhaustion that all teachers get (blown out voice, anyone?), but some of it I know is because my body is not operating at 100%. It’s not used to be so physically active for such long periods of time. It’s not used to not being able to take a break and rest.

This week was wonderful, but hard.

I’m glad to be back at doing what I love, but I have found I have a lot of anxiety surrounding my limitations–and even knowing what my limitations are until I am faced with them.

I’m struggling with not over-doing it. I’m struggling to know before I over-do it that it will happen, if that makes sense.

This coming week will be the halfway point of my chemo treatments. It will also be the week my class at WMU starts and the week before my kids start school. Charlie has started soccer. Eddie will start up with scouts again soon. Cortney has a lot going on with work and consistory for church, plus bowling starts this week.

I know routine and patterns will help, but prayers while we adjust to all this are greatly appreciated!

7/16 Done

Looking Forward

As my mom and Charlie would say, “Mom’s pep is back.”

Round 3 was hell. Monday I totally hit rock bottom. It was the perfect storm of fatigue, not leaving the house for 4 days, not eating properly, and a big dose of depression. I sobbed in the shower.

Then Cortney sat by me, affirmed my feelings were valid and just, and then told me to get ready because we were going to a minor league ball game with friends.

The laughter and adult conversation and fresh air did it. My smile came back.

Along with my smile, my ability to look forward to things came back with a rush. I realized that I only have a month before students will be walking through my classroom door ready (or not) for their 8th grade year of school.

Between now and then I will have my last dense dose chemo treatment, and two of the Taxol chemo treatments. In fact, because school starts on a Wednesday, I will be having a chemo treatment rather than meeting my students. I will be leaving a video of myself for the sub to play. I hate it, but I’m hoping to teach my students flexibility from Day 1.

This is the first summer I have not done an full inventory on my classroom library. I just haven’t been able to get into my classroom due to my health. I did go through my Book Check Outs and mark what was not returned and added those back to my classroom library wish list on Amazon. I also added some new titles that are either soon-to-be published or popped up on my radar as excellent.

When I don’t have chemo brain, I’ve also been reading a lot to try to make my own teaching better. Some of my main goals this school year are: better student engagement, more student-teacher conferencing, and more student-to-student talk. A classroom library goal is to make book check out smoother/student led, make my library even more inviting, and offer more options (audio books, magazines, etc.). I created a separate teacher wish list on Amazon for those things along with some other school supplies that we tend to go through super quickly.

I’ve saved up and ordered my favorite lesson plan book (it should be here on Monday!), and have already started planning the first few days in a notebook. I getting super excited about a new crew of 8th graders, trying new routines and strategies, and just being back to work.

So many people have asked how they can help me through my journey and I honestly don’t know other than prayers and positive thoughts. So rather than me, you could bless my students if you want to check out my wish lists. I will be out every Wednesday for treatment through October, so they will be affected by all this too. I’m looking at it as a lesson in empathy and flexibility for them this year. It can be a super positive experience for them if I can manage to put that spin on it.

Thank you all for having hope and strength and faith when I hit the pit. Thank you for always supporting my family, and the extension of that, my students. Because to me, they become little families each school year.

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