How to Love on Someone Through Treatment

Since my cancer diagnosis and treatment, I’ve had a bunch of people message me that someone they love is about to go through or is currently going through a cancer diagnosis and needs treatment. They all want to know what was the most helpful thing that was done for me and/or my family while we were deep in the trenches. In fact, I have been asked so many times, I decided to write it all down in my notebook and turn it in to a blog post.

The day of my lumpectomy: May 10, 2018

Meals: This is the one we think of first, right? Especially if we live close or are in a community with the person (church, work, neighborhood, etc). Meals can be GREAT and we loved the ones we got, but ask first. And then don’t be discouraged if the person says they don’t need one. Cooking or baking might be your love language, but in our case, we have picky eaters and honestly, visitors stressed me out. We had a schedule people could sign up on if they wanted to provide a meal, and we weren’t afraid to be specific about what our family would actually eat.

Snacks: Even though meals were sort of overwhelming, snacks were not! We got some awesome deliveries of snacks for the kids (both healthy and fun), an edible arrangement (I ate most of that because FRUIT!), and other treats in care packages. These are great because they can be dropped on a porch or sent in the mail and no one feels like they have to entertain you (or put on pants to answer the door), AND they can be consumed gradually.

Also beer and wine on my doorstep were never a sad thing. Because yes, you can still drink when you’re going through chemotherapy (or at least I could. Just not on the day of treatment–not that I wanted to. Ugg.)

The Mother’s Day Basket my school sent after my surgery.

Cards and notes: If you live far away or you aren’t super close with someone, cards and notes are the way to go. I think sometimes people think, “who cares about a card?” But I am here to tell you that every card or note sent to me (snail mail is really the best) or even every email or private message I received, I kept. They are all tucked in a bag under my bed. When things got really shitty, I would re-read them. Or just hold the weight of them because it reminded me that I went through all those minds and hearts enough for them to specifically take time to send it.

This was all of them as of my last chemo treatment. I have added more to this pile!

Gift Cards: If you want to go beyond the card, but meals are not your thing or an option, gift cards are the way to go. People want to feed you and your family when you are out of commission, and that is a GREAT thing! We got TONS of gift cards to local restaurants that have take out or eat in, that way we could choose when and how we wanted our meals. Another reason this was great was because some days that we thought would be fine, were very not fine and the gift cards were there for those unplanned inability to prepare food. Plus everyone could get what they like. And the ones to ice cream or dessert places? Well those were just fun treats!

We were also sent gift cards for non-food stuff–especially for our kids (Target, the local toy store, activities, etc.) These were true gifts for our kids in the middle of a pretty scary, uncertain summer. All three dealt with my chemotherapy differently, and the kindness of both friends and strangers sustained them and gave them things to look forward to outside of seeing mom comatose.

Shipt or some other service: I swear I am not getting compensated for this, and actually we turned down the offer twice before one friend finally said, “too bad, this is what we want to gift you.” Shipt was so helpful for grocery shopping/delivery, that we renewed it for a full year after our gifted subscription ran out.

Cozy, fun things: I would be remiss not to mention the thoughtful gifts people sent. Earbuds for chemo (there are quite a few loud-talking elderly people there), blankets (chemo patients get COLD fast), hats, fuzzy socks, notebooks and pens, books (even though I couldn’t read during chemo, books are always a comfort to me), music to listen to at chemo, Bible verses, coffee mugs, tea, the list goes on! None of them were needs…or even wants I knew I had! But when they showed up, they comforted me.

Stuff that made me feel pretty: When you go through cancer treatment, you do not feel glamorous, let alone pretty. You feel like you are crawling through life. So when cute hats (that had SPF or were warm), lotions, make-up stuff, nail polish (no manicures or pedicures when you are doing chemo, so you have to do them yourself…or have a husband who will do it), even flavored lip balm or lip glosses showed up, it may have seemed frivolous, but to me it gave me back a little of my femininity. It made me feel pretty again.

Take The Kids: This is a tricky one. One of the best things people did for us was arrange fun childcare for our kids while I was at my worst. The tricky part is we had many offers, but only took up a handful of people on this because we wanted our kids to feel comfortable and natural and not like they were being sent away to someone they don’t know. Our kids were not just well-cared for, they had FUN while I felt like garbage. Some of their best memories of the summer were from the times they spent with friends and family while I was at my lowest. This helped me get the rest I needed because I knew my kids were having a ball.

Flowers: Who doesn’t love flowers? Again, this one seems like something everyone would do, but it’s not. I received some beautiful arrangements sent from professional places, but people also brought vases filled from their gardens or the farmer’s market. Since I couldn’t go outside much, it felt good to smell the fresh flowers in the house.

Ask them out: Ask them to do things when they are feeling good. Get fun stuff on their calendar. This was HUGE for me. I needed things to look forward to so I could remember that it wouldn’t always suck. We went to a minor league baseball game with friends (that I thought was going to back out of, but didn’t and I am glad about it), a Pearl Jam concert, and I got my make-up done with a friend. We also went to a cottage with my parents for a long weekend. Doing stuff when I wasn’t “sick” was necessary to my recovery. I took it slow and I made sure to rest, but I did things. This was crucial for my mental health too!

And lastly, just be there. Make sure they know they can tell you that they feel like shit and that you won’t try to talk them out of that (because you can’t. They just have to go through it). Be there when they are feeling good and help them celebrate that too.

Just a Handful

I only have five radiation treatments left, and the last five are quicker and less broad than the previous 25. Up until today, my treatments were broadly applied to four “zones” so that the radiation hit all my lymph nodes and my left breast in the area that the cancer had been.

It’s been manageable, but not at all fun.

It looks like sunburn, but it’s not really sunburn. It’s not a burn from heat since radiation is not hot. Our skin normally sloughs off and regrows. With radiation, my skin is sloughing off, but not regenerating. So it’s raw. It’s itchy. In the places where my skin rubs on itself (my armpit), it’s tender.

I have some products that were gifted to me by friends that has been working to relieve most of the itching and to give my skin some moisture back, but it’s still very uncomfortable.

The last five treatments won’t contribute to anymore of this since they will be targeted only at my scar from the lumpectomy. But it will take some time for my skin to heal. It will get a bit worse before it gets better even without the radiation. And my scar spot will obviously still be raw from 5 more treatments.

Now that the holidays are over, I’m noticing the fatigue that comes with radiation as well. I am very tired even though I am trying to get a bunch of rest, and I can sleep for very, very long periods of time. I’m thankful that I haven’t had homework or schoolwork to do over break because I have been pretty tired.

That said, I just have five left! By this time next week I will be DONE. I know there will be a transition period where my skin will need to heal and where I will have to slowly get my energy back, but the whole family is looking forward to no more appointments for treatment on the calendar.

Looking forward, I have a follow up appointment with my oncologist later this month and I will have my port removed as well. My next treatments step will be Tamoxifen which will block estrogen from attaching to the receptors in my breasts (my cancer was estrogen receptor positive) and reduce the recurrence of breast cancer. It will, however, push me into menopause. FUN. I will take this for 5-10 years.

But let’s focus on the GOOD, right?

My hair is growing back quickly! Yay! I have an actual salon appointment in a couple weeks! I hope to get it shaped/cleaned up into some semblance of a style. I also hope to find out it’s long enough to color because I miss my warm, brown that I had before I had to shave it. I LOVED my hair color and I am eager to have it back.

I also get to have my eyebrows waxed! Yay! I can’t wait to feel feminine again. That is something cancer has stolen from me–feeling like a pretty girl. It also took away my control over what I look like, and I am excited to get some of that back again.

So, just a handful of treatments left.

There is Hope

I started radiation this past week.

I don’t like it.

My family does not like it.

NO ONE likes it.

Oh, it’s “easier” than chemotherapy. I don’t get sick or comatose and my hair is growing in rather than falling out. It doesn’t take hours to get the treatment with hours more of side effects. I don’t have to miss work.

But it’s every week day at 4pm.

It’s non-negotiable. I have to go.

Regardless of what the schedule looks like.

Regardless of who else has appointments.

Regardless of weather.

Regardless of how much work I have.

I have to leave by 3:15pm everyday, get to the radiation oncology center, change into a gown (just from the waist up), lie on a cold “cradle” (which is a dumb name because it implies comfort. This thing is not comfortable…or even soft), have a snorkel thing put in my mouth, have my nose plugged, have my chest out, wear glasses that slide off my face so that I can’t see the screen inside them that helps me know when to take a deep breath and hold.

I have to hold my breath for 20 seconds. Five times. If I don’t mess up.

I have to be exposed to heavy radiation in hopes that it means cancer won’t re-develop in those areas (my lymph nodes and left breast).

It only takes 20 minutes in and out the door. I shouldn’t complain. It’s “easy” and “quick.”

But I hate it.

It means I get less time at work to work. Less time at home to get dinner ready, homework started for the boys, or just stop at the store for a quick something less I want dinner to take over homework time…which then takes over bath time…which then takes over bedtime.

It’s an inconvenience only.

But I hate it like I hated chemotherapy because it sucks and who knows if it will work? Who knows if I will stay cancer-free?

I hate it because it makes everyone crabby because nothing is “normal.”  Everyone’s schedules are thrown off because of a 20-minute appointment I have to go to everyday.

What I’m saying is, this first week was rough.

But I don’t want to end with that. Because this weekend was also the start of Advent, which is one of my most favorite times of the year. With the anticipation of Christmas and the hope for newness, I find myself wanting to believe that it will all be ok. All of it. This cancer crap, the treatment, the stress, the anxiety, the trauma on me and my kids and Cortney, all the garbage we have had to individually work through surrounding a pea-sized tumor that was taken out in May. All of it might actually be Ok.

Saturday I took Eddie Christmas shopping.

He brought up Santa and my heart stopped because, well, he IS in 4th grade. I feel like we are on borrowed time for true belief.

Eddie: Yeah, Liam and I were discussing Santa. We figured he is going to die really soon because how long can that guy live?

Me: Um. You were talking about Santa dying?

Eddie: Yeah, but then Liam brought up the magic. So pretty much that was that. Magic means Santa is immortal.

Me: That seems about right.

Eddie: Last year, on Christmas Eve, when I was in bed…I thought I heard footsteps and I almost went upstairs. But then I wasn’t sure because what if it was Santa? I don’t think you’re supposed to actually SEE Santa. Have you seen Santa?

Me: Not the REAL Santa.

Eddie. Oh, just those guys who dress up like him for little kids to sit on their laps?

Me: Yeah, those Santas.

Eddie: Wouldn’t it be cool if Santa had a blog? Then we could know what he was up to all year…and those elves.

I love the way his mind works.

Later, we were in Target in the Christmas wrapping paper section. He looked over at the stocking display and said, “Mom. Look. A bad word. It says, S – H – I- T over there.”

I looked and realized he was talking about the stockings. They have a display of stocking each with a letter. Someone had arranged them to spell the swear word. I responded, “Someone probably thought they were being funny. That isn’t a very nice word, is it?”

I look back at the wrapping paper, and all of a sudden he is gone. Just when I was about to call for him, he jogs back. “I fixed it. I moved some of the stockings. I didn’t want a little kid to see it.”

I love the way his heart works.

This weekend Alice and I read the Christmas story. She insists Mary had a baby named Olivia. She also insists Joseph is Jesus and he lives in our hearts, not in a barn.

Charlie has a new plan at school and some new routines. He loves them, and we are cautiously optimistic.

Radiation sucks. It’s taking a toll on us because none of us like it.

But there is hope.

There is always hope.

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

The holidays are a time for giving, and who doesn’t love to give kids the gift of books? If you are one of those people, and you would like to gift a book to my classroom library, please checkout our wish list here. Thank you.

Halloween 2018

Halloween was my first Wednesday with no chemo treatments. It. Was. Exhausting.

First of all, if you have ever been within a 2-mile radius of any school on Halloween you know being in there with the kids is not for the weak. My body’s muscle memory has memorized Wednesdays as a “nothing day” and this past Wednesday was an “everything” day. By the time school let out, I thought I was going to fall over. I may have cried a little.

But as parents we put one foot in front of the other and keep it going.

So I picked up all the kids, and headed to my parents’ house so they could trick or treat there. Then we met Cortney back at home to head to his mom’s house for more Halloween fun.

Then after that, it was time for trick-or-treating. I decided that if the boys were old enough to ride their bikes around our subdivision, they were old enough to trick or treat it on their own, so I dropped them off once we got inside the sub, and told them to just trick-or-treat their way home. It took them an hour, but they loved it.

Cortney took Alice. She went to one house and felt done. My kind of girl.

I went to bed by 9pm.

The rest of the week was still a struggle.

Here is the thing no one told me: chemo might be done, but my body is still exhausted, my immune system is still weak, and nothing magically “goes back to normal.” They probably actually did tell me this, but I lived it this past week.

Halloween was joyful for my kids. They loved it.

It’s not my favorite day of the year anyway, and this year the entire week was just hard.

My favorite 6-year old had a rough week too. We cried a lot together this week. We could use your prayers.

We ended the week on a high note: I got my make up done with one of my favorite friends, and then we all enjoyed food and fun with her family. I laughed so hard I snorted. We all did.

So we are still on the struggle bus searching for some answers and ways to help our guy, and I am coming down with a cold, and Alice needs dental surgery on Monday for some really bad cavities (she’s a diva and won’t sit for the dentist), and the list goes on.

BUT, we have friends and family who love us and let us cry and treat us so well. It’s amazing what love can do. We are going to lean hard on love for awhile.

And may we all be as proud of our accomplishments as Charlie was of his Halloween costume and pumpkin carving abilities (it’s a wolf howling at the moon, in case you could tell from the obvious design).

Chemo Round 16

I did it. I finished chemotherapy this week.

Friends, 20 weeks ago this day seemed like it would never come. October 24 seemed like it may as well be years away. Especially after I had that first treatment in June. I remember feeling like there was absolutely no way I could possibly do this for 20 weeks. No way. But here I am. DONE!

This is my fabulous nurse, Aimee. I am 100% certain, I could not have shown up to each treatment without her there. She is sassy and deals out just the right amount of grief to me to keep me on my toes and laughing. Plus she is good at her job. Like really good at her job. She puts up with my dang port clogging (yes, even on the last day). I’m going to miss her the most, but really, the entire staff at the infusion center is wonderful. The minute I walk in each week, everyone knows me and is awesome.

I was actually kind of emotional about being done, to be honest. I love that staff. I do not love chemotherapy, but I am telling you if you have to go through something shitty, they are the people to do it with. Kali, Ashley, Mary, and Aimee, I will miss you all the most. But really high fives to all of you who laughed at my stupid jokes and put up with my loud voice.

I don’t know if everyone gets one of these, or if I get one because I am a teacher, or what, but man…this was a fun way to walk out of there. With my “certificate” of completion.

Honestly, I never want to be back there as a patient, but I would gladly go back just to say hello and bring those hard working nurses and staff treats. They deserve it all.

And of course giant shout outs to this dude. He was there for every single treatment. He took every Wednesday morning off work to drive me, carry my “chemo bag” (my bag with my blanket and all my other “necessities” for hanging out of hours of poison), and sit with me during my treatments…even if other people came to visit, he stuck around. He always did a Starbucks run, getting me a latte and lemon loaf, and sometimes getting the nurses or my mom or my visitor of the week coffee.

He said in the beginning this was a team effort and he would be there for everything, and he has kept his word. When chemo depressed me, he listened and told me I was absolutely ok to feel my feelings. He asked what he could do to help. He drove kids around and fed the family when I just couldn’t. He’s a superstar that will refuse to take any credit, but he deserves all of it.

I am through the first two hurdles: surgery and chemotherapy. Up next is radiation: 30 rounds. Every day for about six weeks starting November 20.

I can do this because I have already done so much. But I would be lying if I didn’t say I have some anxiety. It’s a new step, after all. A new treatment with new side effects.

But what I know is this: There are people in my corner who are praying and cheering me on. Cortney will be there–maybe not for each treatment, but he will be there when I get home. He will be there to hold my hand and walk through this next journey.

And radiation doesn’t make my hair fall out, so within the next four weeks we should see some “buds” growing in my bald spots! I am SO ready for hair…and eyebrows…and eye lashes again! Although I have gotten used to not having to shave my pits or my legs so often. Ha!

Here we go…next adventure!

Round 16 of 16 DONE!

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.



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