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 now everyone going through the treatment that I am 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 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

Chemo Round 6

This week was round 6 of chemo, round 2 of the new drug. As you can see, my attitude has improved. Also my regular nurse, Aimee, was back after a couple weeks away for various reasons and I was super happy to harass chat with her again.

The entire thing went a little quicker this time since I tolerated it so well last time. I only had half the Bendaryl (It still made me sleepy enough that I napped through most of my infusion), and the chemo could drip a little quicker–one hour. So I was in and out in under 3 hours this time.

And just like last time, I napped in the afternoon at home, and was ready to rock today!

The boys had their last day of swim lessons for this year this morning, and then I took Eddie to school with me to get some things done in my classroom (the little two went to daycare).

It was pretty fun to spend time with him. He’s at an age where he is so helpful and fun to hang out with. Although he talked NON-STOP while he worked, so I had to busy myself with things that weren’t thinking-intensive so I could listen and chat back with him. The teachers who were around all commented, “well, he’s basically you, isn’t he?” Yes, yes he is. And I love it.

I am back to work on Monday, so it was important I get some stuff done today, and he helped with that. I have teacher time to work some more Monday and then meetings all day Tuesday. Wednesday I will be out for chemo, but kids will be walking through that door!

It’s hard to believe summer is pretty much over for me. I feel like I really only got two weeks, but I am grateful to have gone through the really hard, comatose days during the summer and not during the school year.

I’m grateful to my co-workers who have helped me move desks and work around some scheduling things for my students while I’m out to give them some routine. I appreciate how supportive the administration has been to find someone who can be a regular presence for my students and for me.

I’m excited to start the school year, but get some anxiety looking at the calendar since I know I have to work in time to do my PhD class and help bring kids to sports practice and scouts. Plus we want family time and fun time too.

I know some of you like specific things to pray for, so here you go: my anxiety, my body continuing to do well with this drug, and the kids as they transition to back to school in the coming weeks (we find out teachers tomorrow! Woot!)–especially Charlie who has some anxiety with change.

6/16 Done

Chemo Round 5

Holy moly what a difference a new chemo drug makes!

This round was the first of the “second leg” of my cancer treatment tour, if you remember. The first “leg” was an A/C drug (don’t ask me to spell them right now). There were four dense dose treatments (in other words: super potent, crippling doses). The reason for this new drug (and up to 12 rounds of it) is because while the A/C treatment is super powerful, we want to make sure all the cancer cells get blasted.

You can think of cancer treatment as a sort of war on cancer. Each treatment type is a different branch of my cancer-fighting military. Surgery was the first surge. It wiped out what we hope to be all of the enemy. We wanted to be sure, so we sent in the second branch: A/C treatment. While chances are, those drugs got anything remaining, research shows that coupled with my new drug, Taxol, the eradication of cancer cells is even more successful. So Taxol is the newest branch of the cancer-fighting military we are sending in. The last will be radiation.

I got my back to school hair cut the day before treatment (it’s not actually growing, but it was looking patchy. It’s even shorter now)

The difference in side effects is almost inexplicable. A/C treatment made me feel like I was dying about 24 hours after treatment. It felt like I would never feel better again.

Before infusing the Taxol, they loaded me up with antihistamine and Benadryl (because pretty much everyone is allergic to Taxol–it’s an irritant. I got quite loopy from that, naturally. Then they pumped in the drugs. I had zero reactions, so I may be able to go lighter on the Benadryl next time.

The side effects are still hair loss (see that picture above), and sometimes nausea (I didn’t have any), low blood counts (because it’s attacking fast-growing blood cells), and mouth sores (none of those yet either). It can also affect my nails and give me joint and muscle pain. The only irreversible side effect is peripheral neuropathy, which means loss of feeling in my fingers and toes. That one they monitor super closely because they can adjust the med or skip one altogether to reduce that happening if I start to notice tingling. That is really my biggest fear.

Anyway, I got home Wednesday and took a nap while the rest of my crew headed up north to spend a long weekend with my parents at a cottage they rent with us each year. When I woke up, I felt great! So different then A/C treatment! I was refreshed and actually worked on school stuff Wednesday evening!

Thursday I woke up and packed myself up and headed to the cottage!

Grandpa and Grandma play some cards with the boys.

Saturday I even went to the beach! This is the first (and probably only) time I have been able to sit on the beach all summer due to my treatment. Chemo makes my skin SUPER sensitive to the sun. Cortney bought two SPF 50 beach umbrellas, I had my SPF 50 hat, plus I slathered in SPF 50 (twice because I reapplied) for the two hours we were at the beach, and I still walked away with a little coloring.

But it was worth it!

The kids could have stayed here all day! (Also isn’t my mom the cutest?)

She would not go near the water without her daddy.

She has mastered the art of relaxing on the beach…just like her mom!

See? Proof I made it to the beach this year!

Even though we couldn’t hit the beach for the entire time we were there, the cottage happens to be on a small, inland lake and the boys had almost as much fun swimming at the end of the dock.

Charlie and his popsicle “floaty” tricks

Eddie and his clowning!

I would say I spent most of the time in the shade near the cottage with my book or watching everyone play, but it made me feel like a real person doing real summer things to be able to even go. With the A/C treatment this weekend would have been impossible right after a round of chemo. I would have been comatose all weekend.

Yes, I still got tired quickly and sat down a lot, but I was there to watch my goofy kids have all the fun and live their best lives.

I don’t even know. These two were nut jobs the entire weekend.

And of course, to round out the weekend, my dad took us all out for huge ice cream cones for lunch on Saturday. Because is it really vacation if you don’t have ice cream for at least one meal?

I am so so so SO thankful for this new drug. I hate that I have to go through any of it, but since I do, feeling more like myself is the way to go.

I will be getting Taxol infusions weekly on Wednesdays until October 24 (we are hoping to get in 12 rounds total).  Please pray that my body keeps handling the meds well (my doctor told me that after all the A/C treatments, my blood counts were so good, you couldn’t even tell I had been on chemo! Keep doing that, body!)

This is my final week of summer before I go back to school (Eddie and Charlie still have three more weeks until their district goes back), so please pray for my anxiety and for my students as they get ready to have an English teacher who is out ever Wednesday and dealing with, well, cancer treatments.

5/16 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.

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.

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