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.

Chemo Round 3

I have been sort of waiting to feel better before I write about it this time, but the truth is that it’s getting harder.

After the first round, when I realized that I wouldn’t be barfing my face off or have horrid bone pain, there was a moment of relief. But as it came time to do it again, dread set in anyway.

This third time has been the worst so far.

I have some major chemotherapy depression.  (Don’t worry, I have an appointment this week with my therapist and an appointment with a specialized oncology therapist coming soon too)

As my chemotherapy approaches, I get a horrible sense of dread. I cry. I get tired. I don’t want to put myself in that chair of poison.

This time as I sat there, I wanted to barf or sleep. It made me nauseated to think about this shit being pumped into my veins.

I hate my bald head.

Thursday I barely made it until the boys were picked up before falling asleep. I used to love naps. Now I lose DAYS to naps and don’t feel better after.

Friday didn’t exist because I slept through it.

Saturday was more of the same, but more depression set in because it starts to feel like I will never feel better. Ever.

And I hate my bald head. I hate it.

I know that is shallow and it will grow back and it’s a sign of being a warrior or whatever, but I hate it. I want a ponytail. I want to be able to at least LOOK like nothing is wrong even though it is.

I’ve completely lost interest in fun because I just assume I won’t have any. I’ll be thinking about my stupid head. I’ll be worrying that I am tired or nauseated. I’ll be thinking about getting enough rest to deal with the children the next day.

Just typing that makes me cry.

I’m just so tired all the time. Part of it is chemo, part of it is depression.

I only have one of the dose dense chemo rounds left. The next drug they give me (up to 12 rounds) is not supposed to be this difficult, but it’s hard for me to believe that. It’s hard for me to believe I will want to go back to work because right now it feels like there would be no way. I feel unable to do my life at all.

And I hate it.

My positive attitude is waning.

3/16 done.

Chemo Round 2

Wednesday was my second round of chemotherapy. It took a couple hours extra because my port was blocked. Apparently my body was trying to heal it by putting a scab over it. It took a couple hours and some different meds to dissolve the scab. Gross, but necessary.

The bonus to having to sit in the chemo chair an extra two hours was that I was there when my friend the RN (with a bunch of other important letters after her name plus she’s getting her doctorate next for even more letters because she is a crazy school nerd like me. Boom.) came in to the clinic. I like the RN because she is sassy, knows my family well, and loves Pearl Jam. I love the RN because she is like best friends with my brother and still likes me.

Anyway, when you’re going through something like chemo, it’s one of the biggest blessings in the world to have someone like the RN on your friend list and in your contacts. She “gets” to answer all of my fun questions like, “is this (fill in the blank with something weird) normal?” and “can I take a bath?” and “should I keep my lip wax appointments during chemo?” The answer, by the way, to all of them is “yes”.

The last picture taken of me with hair.

The rest of chemo went pretty much the same as last time: Fluids and anti-nausea meds followed by the Red Devil chemo drug and then the bag of other chemo drugs. My hair had started thinning out the day before, so we talked about shaving it and head wraps and wigs.

Thursday the boys were home with me for the morning and early afternoon, then they were picked up for a sleepover and pool fun with some of their best friends since birth. They lived their very best life Thursday to Friday.

Thursday afternoon I started getting super tired, and I bottomed out on Friday. Just like last time I had trouble being awake for more than 20 minutes. It was good the boys were gone and Alice was at daycare because I barely woke up to even eat or pee.

Saturday was still pretty drowsy, but I started to come around a bit by evening. I had more nausea this time, but I think that is because I didn’t do as well drinking lots of water as I did last time. It’s hard to drink when you’re sleeping. And I only woke up enough to take another pill and fall back to sleep, so I am sure my body had a harder time bouncing back. I haven’t had a ton to eat either, so I’m sure that is not helping. Nothing sounds good.

I also had Cortney shave my head on Saturday.

My hair started falling out in clumps and it was getting unmanageable and sort of traumatic for me. I’ll write more about the process I’m sure, but there was crying and hugging and Cortney will say he did a terrible job, but it was quick and painless. I don’t love my buzzed head, but it is what it is for now. Charlie loves to touch it because it’s soft.

Today I’m still dragging a bit, but I haven’t taken a nap yet (although my yawns are getting long). Tomorrow Charlie will be home with me and we have one appointment in the afternoon we have to make, but other than that we can lay low. Which is good because the heat index is well over 100 and my body is NOT a fan of that (as if anyone’s is).

While this all sucks and I hate feeling so run down and depleted, I will say tears of gratitude sprang up numerous times during this round. From having a friend on the inside, to having friends love our boys so unconditionally, to having a place where Alice feels love and routine, to having so much food we actually skipped getting groceries this weekend–we are very blessed even in this time of trial.

2/16 done.

Peace in the Storm

I know this may come as a shock, but I would rather be the helper, then be helped. I’m not good at asking for assistance with anything.

In my marriage, I have had to learn to ask for things because, surprise! Cortney can’t read my mind. I’m still not always good at asking because many times I don’t like to admit I can’t just do things myself. Since having kids and going through depression and anxiety, I have learned strategies for knowing when I am getting overwhelmed and need to reach out. I still battle with feeling shame and apologizing when I ask for help.

Even in my career I have a tendency to take everything on. I love planning and scheming up awesome things to do, but when it comes to doling out responsibilities for making it happen, I will usually do it all (or most of it) myself. I know this is not just bad for me, but bad for my relationships with my colleagues too because we need to have a trust that we can rely on each other to make the awesome happen. I’m working to be better in this area, and honestly I have some of the best teammates in the world, which has made it easier.

When life turns crazy, and we journey through a storm, I get even worse. When other people are going through hard times, you can count on me to send cards, gift cards, and meals. I want to help. I want to make the storm less stormy in some way.

I am learning to accept–and even ask for–help during our storm.

Because as positive of a spin we are trying to put on it, chemotherapy is definitely a storm. I’ve only had one treatment, but having it wipe me out of commission for at least 48 hours is no joke. I lose energy quicker than usual, but can suddenly find myself dealing with insomnia. I can get sunburned while it’s cloudy and raining (ok, maybe that’s hyperbole), and my immune system is not as hearty as it used to be.

This affects my whole family, not just me, as you can probably guess. I would say other than me, Cortney is probably affected the most. He has to navigate how to pilot our family through the storm on his own for those days when I am pretty much just sleeping. Those waters can be rough, friends.

It means feeding the children, getting them to childcare so he can work, making sure my needs are met, and managing all his other normal obligations to our team. It’s a lot emotionally.

The kids are also affected. Mom looks normal (for now), but can’t stop sleeping. She seems normal, but needs to be careful of public places and germs and being outside too long.

I can’t speak for Cortney or the kids, but I have found peace in this storm in a way I didn’t think I would: the help of others.

Cancer takes a ton of control away. It feels like it should be life stopping, but the thing is, life does not actually stop. It keeps moving even when you want to push pause to be able to work through what cancer and treatment all mean. Life laughs at stopping.

So a storm brews.

And the only way to weather it is to reach out and know there are people there who will love you right through it.

My close friend, The Pastor (not to be confused with the Pastor’s Wife who is not the wife of this particular pastor. Follow?), said to me, “Create a meal sign up. Ask for help. If you take charge it will be empowering for you.” She was right. Naming the things that would help, helped me to feel at peace.

But it didn’t stop there. People saw those requests and went beyond.

We have received meals, yes, but we have also been blessed with

  • a prayer shawl from the knitting ministry
  • books and devotionals
  • coloring books
  • treats for the kids
  • treats for the adults
  • head scarves
  • gift certificates to food the kids like
  • gift certificates to get frozen yogurt
  • bluetooth earbuds for chemo treatments
  • notebooks
  • and other care package items you are all so creative to think of

I have been daily learning the power of reaching out and the power of letting grace and love surround you. They bring peace.

While our life is anything but calm, leaning on others and letting their prayers and good thoughts wash over us has brought soothing waves of peace.

Thank you.

We feel you standing, sitting, and walking with us.

 

 

Support my classroom or my classroom library

Lucky 13

Nothing about our story has gone as expected.

Nothing.

Admittedly, many of those unexpected turns have been unwanted.

We have had our fill of sadness, loss, disappointment, rage, and grief.

We have gotten more than our share of bad news.

For some reason, “lucky 13” can’t be any different.

I know you want me to stop staying “I’m sorry.”

But I can’t help myself because I am so very sorry it is happening this way.

I know it’s not my fault,

but damn.

Our anniversary is always wrapped in a weird cancer ribbon anyway,

white for lung cancer,

celebrating the birth of our marriage in June,

the death of your dad in August.

We sat in the pew where he sat to witness our vows,

to witness his memorial.

And now a pink ribbon is being woven into the fabric of our life

and I hate that it’s my ribbon.

I hate that my trauma is yours.

But I am thankful that you stay.

That you stand.

That you take my hand and walk.

That your words are, “you will never be alone.”

Some of the unexpected turns have been beautiful:

Edward

Charles

Alice

Our friendship that has grown deeper.

Finding a church family

and friends who are happy to be family too.

Throughout all of it,

we have woven our own threads of

trust, friendship, love, humility, generosity.

And finding it every single day for 13 years

is nothing short of a beautiful miracle.

But I think that is what good marriages are: beautiful miracles.

Ours is still so young,

but I promise to keep holding your hand,

seeking your friendship,

laughing with (and at) you,

and appreciating all you give and do for us,

for our team.

Happy Lucky 13, my love.

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.

Preparations

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.

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