Monday, August 18, 2014

Playing Farmgirl

As everyone knows, one of the things I love to do is garden.  This year, the only way we've been able to have as large of a garden as we have is due to my push to adopt no-till gardening several years ago, and my husband's willingness to adopt the "mulch it all!" method this year.  Other than a couple of hours doing a big weeding at the beginning of the summer, it's only taken about 10 - 15 minutes to weed the garden each weekend.

This past weekend, we finally started getting  something back for all this watering/weeding/mulching.  We picked a large bowl of cucumbers, pulled some onions, and about half a large bowl of green pintos.  Woohoo!

Before my diagnosis, I could pick all of that by myself, take in the house and have a batch of pickles and a batch of green pintos canned by bedtime.  I've had to learn to make adjustments since my diagnosis - and since the chemo started hammering on my bone marrow so hard.  So now it takes both myself and my husband to pick that bowl of cucumbers, pull a few onions and that half bowl of green beans.  Then I spend the rest of the afternoon cleaning and snapping green beans, and slicing cucumbers.  Instead of adding onions and salt and draining and canning 3 hours later, those cucumbers had to sit overnight.  Instead of me washing 12 pint jars and 5 quart jars, my husband had to do it so I could rest.

And the pickles got finished Sunday, and I've finally got the green beans in the canner now.

It's frustrating - remembering how doing both pickles and green beans all in one day used to be so easy.  Now if I didn't have my husband to help with washing jars and lids, filling canners with water, and making sure all I have to do is fill the jars (and make a little brine) and put the lids on, there is no way I could do this.  I can no longer gleefully proclaim that I canned it all by myself.  Tonight when I got home, the quart jars were in hot water, the lids were simmering, and after I rested for half an hour or so, I was able to go fill 'em up and start 'em canning.

I'm so very tired of not being able to do the things I took for granted two years ago.

But despite the whining, we did manage to get the pickles done (12 pints of bread and butter!).  I'm learning to utilize teamwork a bit more often, and I'm trying to not be bitter about what I can no longer do on my own.  I will make more pickles - kosher and regular dill, more bread and butter - and I will can more green pinto beans.  We pulled most of our onions, and we won't have to buy those for a couple of months.  This coming weekend, if I feel up to it, we'll dig up our taters and start curing them.  This winter we will enjoy the fruits of our labor.

Even if I contribute less and less labor to it.



Friday, August 15, 2014

In One Moment

From one moment to the next, your entire world can change.

In early October of 2012, I spent my lunch one day laughing and talking with friends and co-workers, with nothing more than the every day cares of a wife and mother on my mind.  As I came back from that lunch, I became short of breath - and my whole life changed.

That was the beginning of my diagnosis - that moment when I realized how short of breath I was, and knowing that I shouldn't be.  It led to me googling ovarian cancer symptoms, then making an appointment with an ob/gyn that was able to start the diagnosis process.  Just like that - I stopped being just a normal, slightly overweight forty-something, and became an ovarian cancer patient. 

A Survivor. 

It's been a crazy couple of years.  I mentioned last time I wrote that my new oncologist was switching chemo drugs since the taxol had quit working.  I had two rounds of topotecan, and my CA-125 kept rising.  So last week, she switched me to gemzar with avastin and we once again started knocking on wood and desperately pleading with God to just let this one work.  Please.  (Ok - that was just me desperately pleading)

This morning, I was told that my white blood count was way too low to do chemo.  The plan was 3 weeks on with gemzar, then one week off.  Being told this morning that I couldn't even do a second dose devastated me.  I felt like my body had decided to take cancer's side - like it wouldn't even help me to save my own life.  It's silly, I know, but it's weird how after a certain amount of time you start to think of your cancer as a cognizant entity, separate from yourself.  You give it its own identity - evil of course.  Because only something evil could put you through so much pain and fear.

The truth is, cancer is just mutating cells, with no mind of their own.  They divide and multiply because that is what they do.  They aren't actively trying to kill you specifically - they just multiply over and over again because...well...they don't know how to do anything else.  Our job is to find some way to stop the cells from replicating, and to kill them out. 

Simple, right?

It's scary to realize that you may not be able to tolerate the drugs that can save you - the drugs that might get your cancer under control, or eliminate it completely.  I had a major melt down this morning, completely unable to control my tears, sobbing to my husband asking why?  Why is this happening?  I try so hard to be a good person - to say my prayers, to be kind, to not cause anyone pain, to be fair, to be an example of how a woman of faith handles this type of diagnosis - with grace, and dignity and without bitterness.  I'm not perfect.  But I try - I really do try.  I have a good heart.  So why is drug after drug put beyond my reach?  Why is my body betraying me?  Doesn't it want to LIVE?

I do.  I want to live.  I *want* to be a warrior.  A warrior queen, fighting off the evil cancer from my body.  I may no longer be able to pull off a Xena outfit.  And I can't do that if my own body won't tolerate the treatment.  In a moment this morning, my whole world view changed, and I felt like I was facing my own mortality for real.

Scary shit, my friends.  Scary shit.

Once I was settled down, and we were able to get my fluid drained off (had a minor blockage when trying to do it last night, so we had to do it at the cancer center), the hubs and I left the cancer center, and after running a couple of errands (ok - he ran them.  Due to my low numbers, I was forbidden from leaving the car), we  headed home.  While he was running errands, I posted a plea on Facebook - asking for prayers from the prayer warriors, and positive energy from everyone else that my white cells would rebound so I could have treatment.  My awesome friends responded.  And I started trying to think of how we would keep fighting - would it be a new chemo?  Should we start looking ahead to going back to MD Anderson?  I got myself back into fighter mode. 

I have never been much of a victim.

Thirty minutes later, on our way home, the cancer center called and told us to come back.  My oncologist had decided that I was to have shots to boost my blood marrow into making more white cells today, and for the following four days.  So I can have treatment next Friday.

Another answered prayer.  Another moment where my world changed in an instant.  From the depths of despair (or at least on the second flight of steps down) to the return of hope.  Hope that I will be able to have this chemo drug - maybe not 3 weeks in a row.  Maybe every other week.  Maybe with the shots I can have it two weeks on, two weeks off.  Hope that I can still fight this horrible disease. 

A return of faith.

(The last two times I've drained, the amount has gone down.  That would point to the gemzar working.  I won't have my CA-125 run again until September, but I'm hopeful that it might go down at last.  It's nice to have hope.  It's nice to have good news again.)







Tuesday, July 01, 2014

When a Chemo Quits Working

So.

Here it is July, and I haven't written anything since April.  I thought it might be time to explain why.

You see, back in April when I was worrying about whether the Taxol was working - it wasn't.  After 2 months of being just under the normal limit number for my CA-125, it went up.  And the next month it went up again, so it was decided that the Taxol was no longer effective on my cancer cells.  Needless to say, I had a minor freakout about it - and I just didn't know how to write about it. First I was waiting for my youngest to graduate high school, then until we told the boys and my folks what was going on.  Then I was waiting until my new oncologist and I made a decision on what to try next.  But it's been too long since I wrote, and I'm feeling the effects.  So here it is.

My new oncologist is a gynecologic oncologist, and she is VERY up on the latest methods/chemos/etc for my type of cancer.  So she decided - even before we realized the Taxol wasn't really working anymore - to take some of the fluid that I'm draining from around my lung and send it off for testing - first to see whether or not there are cancer cells in the fluid, second to see what chemos it responds to.  By the time it was obvious that Taxol wasn't working anymore, she knew that yes - there were still cancer cells in that fluid, and more importantly, she knew which chemotherapies that those cancer cells were responsive to.

The good news is that I have several options.  There are other taxil chemo agents that I can use later, as well as several other drugs.  She started me off with Topotecan three weeks on, one week off, and Avastin on weeks one and three.  Unfortunately, after two weeks, the Topotecan kicked my blood counts into the dirt, so no chemo last week!  I see her next week and we'll decide if we're going to change to two weeks on, two weeks off or lower the dosage and stay on the three week schedule, or whatever else she thinks might work.

It's unsettling.  Coming at the end of a week that included the Oncology Advisory division of the FDA voting against fast-tracking Olaparib for ovarian cancer treatment (hmph) and a delay of an event I had been hoping to get done next month, it was not what I wanted to hear.  It did explain why I was so tired at the end of the day last week.  Anyhoo - that's where I'm at.  I am happy to say that the fluid around my lungs that had been increasing since the end of Taxol seems to be decreasing just a bit lately - so I'm hopeful the Topotecan is making some headway against the cancer.  My scans in June were still clear, so whatever is going on in there is still pretty small.  I'm not getting my chemo free summer, but having a week off every month will be heaven.

In other news - as I said, the youngest graduated high school.  My garden is growing, my flowers are so pretty and just make me smile every day:



We've had plenty of rain this summer so far, and this morning, our new cow dropped her calf!  So we officially have a herd!


(Click to see cows!  And babies!)
 
The hubs and I took a long weekend trip to Cloudcroft for our anniversary last month, and we're just taking things day by day.  I'm going to try and write more often, but to be honest - when I get home from work I'd much rather work in the garden or yard for a bit before I sit down to catch up on Facebook - or reading, much less writing.  We'll see.  

So here I am - doing my best not to just survive - but to thrive.  So far - so good.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

My Season of Discontent

The wind is blowing again - as it has been for the last several weeks.  Living in the West Texas Panhandle, I'm used to wind - but it sure is getting on my last nerve lately.

It may be because things are stressful at work.  One of my staff left at the end of March, and I'm having to do part of her job as well as mine.  Part of me loves it - I'm getting to advise students, and I love working with them.  That part of me is having a ball.  But the other part of me - the part that remembers that I'm fighting a sneaky type of cancer - knows that I'm putting in too many hours at work, and worrying too much about whether the students are getting the attention they deserve in a timely manner.  That side is also pretty concerned with how in the world am I going to keep up with my regular job at the same time.

So there is that.

There is also my ever-present worry about my health - when we got my blood test results back at my last treatment, I only had one result that wasn't normal.  Somehow, all of my blood work has improved over the last few weeks.  You would think this would make me happy.  As a worrywart, instead all it does is make me wonder - if it's not kicking my blood counts down, and not making my hair fall out, is it killing the cancer cells like it's supposed to?

Yeah yeah - quit looking a gift horse in the mouth, and just be grateful.  Easier said than done.

Of course, it might be that my finger tips are starting to hurt more and more the longer I receive treatment.  My nails are shot - full of ridges and blotches, and I'm pretty sure a couple of them intend to fall off in a matter of weeks.  It's really not a side effect I'm in the mood for, but it is a possibility with the Taxol.

Or maybe it's because the Dallas Stars are getting their butts kicked by those damn Ducks tonight.

I'm struggling with envy right now.  More and more I am hearing of ovarian cancer patients that were Stage IV at diagnosis as I was - that went into full remission - and there are more and more of them that stay in remission for years at a time.  And I envy them - oh how I envy them.  Remission!  That glorious state of being where you can believe that you have beaten the beast.  That you will not die in a year.  Or two.  Or three.  Instead you will be the miracle...the statistic breaker...the one who lives 10 years and beyond. 

I so wanted to go into a full remission.  When I read those stories I feel cheated.  Why didn't *I* get a full remission?  Why didn't *I* get a year - or two or ten - of remission?  Of life without chemo and constipation and nausea and steroid weight gain and no eye lashes and tubes?  Why why why???

I don't know why.  And I certainly don't know why NOW I'm fighting the green monster.  I didn't spend that first year wondering why I got ovarian cancer.  It was the luck of the draw - and bad genetics.  It is what it is.  It did no good wasting time on wondering why.  I'm not sure why I'm struggling with it now.

I wonder if it's just not my mind's way of avoiding the real issue - what comes next?  I'll be switching to a new doctor and treatment center this summer, and taking a chemo break.  Instead of looking forward to it, I'm kind of dreading it.  For two months this summer, I won't be getting treatment.  The plan is to get my last tube removed, and to get some dental work done, and to give my body a break.  It should be something to look forward to, but all I can do is think about what will happen without the chemo - the last time I had a chemo break, my numbers started going up immediately.  Is it going to happen that way again?  Is switching doctors a mistake?  Will I be as happy with the new treatment center as I was with the one I use now?  Are the chairs as comfortable?  Will they bring me drinks like they do now?  Will they pay as close attention as the nurses do at my current center?

Is all I have to look forward to is a lifetime of chemo and bloody noses in the morning and painful finger tips?

I don't want to be envious of those who celebrate their years of remission.  I want to be happy for them, and look at them as reason to hope.  But somehow these ugly envious thoughts creep into my head instead, and I don't know how to stop them.  I try to be grateful I'm still here - 18 months since my diagnosis.  I've already beaten some odds.  It's my intent to beat even more.  To be one of those that declares I'm Still Here - 5 years from diagnosis!  10 years from diagnosis!  15! 20! 

*sigh*  I hope I'm not fooling myself.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Debbie

Sara. Debbie.  Becky.  Allison.  Amy.  Dr. S.  Dr. L. Dr. G.  Nancy.  Lynn's mom.  Megan's mom.  L.  M.  The sweet lady who likes my scarves.  The man who likes to gamble.  The sweet man who reminds me of Angie's dad from hockey.  The man Monty knew from his old job. The professor from BA who's name I've forgotten.  The man who has had all the chemo.  The sweet lady with the trees.  The lady from WalMart. And myself.

When I was diagnosed, I didn't really know anyone who had ovarian cancer.  There was one lady who was a friend of a friend that I talked to on the phone once, but once I switch doctor's to a regular oncologist, I was just one of many cancer patients with a wide range of types of cancer.  While Sara had some similar symptoms to mine, there are some symptoms that are specific to ovarian cancer - and I had no idea if it was really normal or not.  It took me a long time to find any support groups online, and until I found the message board on Inspire.com, I couldn't find any groups on Facebook either.

It was a lonely time.

I got through it, but when I had my first reaction to carbo this year, I finally met another ovarian cancer patient who was also in her first recurrence.  We both had reactions to carbo on the same day, had second reactions when our doctor tried to de-sensitize us 3 weeks later, and are now currently on the same weekly Taxol/every other week Avastin schedule.  We have treatment on the same day, and odd as it may seem, it's nice to have someone to visit with every week - to compare our lack of side effects, our energy levels, who's hair is growing back quicker (woohoo - I win on that one so far). 

Debbie's experience is different from mine.  Her cancer was a surprise found during a hysterectomy.  It wasn't as advanced stage as mine.  We had the same front line treatment, but she had a little over a year before she recurred. And her recurrence is in her liver and viewable on CT scans - unlike mine that was found via a rising CA-125 and the return of ascites.  They've never been able to see anything on the CT scans.  She's also responding well to our Taxol/Avastin combo - her tumor is shrinking, and she will likely have surgery to remove it in a month or so.  But she's my chemo buddy - and I'm going to miss her when I switch treatment centers this summer.

We share a love of gardening, and living in the country.  We share a craptastic diagnosis.  She's tough as nails though - while I rely quite a bit on my husband and sons to get some of the more strenuous gardening work done right now, Debbie does it all herself.  I don't know how she does it - maybe since she's not working, it gives her more energy to do it.  And while I have gone scarfless for weeks now, she still wears a wig - a great looking one to be sure, but a wig none the less.  She always has all of her makeup on, and actually drives herself home after treatment each week. 

I'm asking that you all add Debbie to your prayer list for a few weeks.  I'd love to hear from her in a month or two that your prayers have led to her tumor shrinking enough that she *doesn't* have to have surgery.  Wouldn't that be awesome?



Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Where's A Holy Hand Grenade When You Need One?

When I looked out my back door this evening, I had no intention on barrelling out of it a scant two minutes later.  All I wanted to do was to watch Buster amble across the field.  But when I looked out of the back door, I saw him.

The Bunny.

Those who have read my blog for a while know of my deep loathing for those little grass and garden nibbling bastards.  They eat my grass.  They eat my garden.  They nibble on my bushes and garlic and trees.  They dig little holes in my yard.  They are a MENACE and I hate them.

Currently, we have a gap in our back yard fence as the Tree Man is supposed to come and dig up the trees we paid too much money for last year that died in the last freeze of the spring.  He assures us that he coming soon to replace those trees, but until then my back yard is wide open to all sort of predators.

Including bunnies.

So when I saw this latest invader sitting in the middle of my back yard, I did what I do most times I see his marauding compadres - I stepped out onto the porch and told him to beat it post haste in a loud and annoyed tone.  He wiggled his nose at me.  I then grabbed a piece of bark that was on my porch and lobbed it in his general direction.  He hopped to the right - just one hop mind you - and continued wiggling his nose at me.

Obviously, this bunny was not intimidated by a woman with short gray hair and poor bark-tossing aim.

So I turned around, slipped on the nearest pair of shoes I could find, and muttered something about "taunting little bastard - we'll just see about THAT."  I vaguely recall hearing my husband asking if I wanted to scare it off or let him shoot it - but I just grabbed the old mop on the porch and charged out after him.

I would love to tell you how he fled from me in obvious fear - recognizing that I was without a doubt the top of the food chain and that his days were numbered.  But that little SOB leisurely hopped into my asparagus bed and I'm pretty sure stopped to have a snack as I came after him.  He had no fear, this bunny.  And he was right to have no fear, because as I tried to chase him through the asparagus bed I realized that the pair of shoes I slipped on were E's house shoes and were about 4 sizes too big.

Go ahead.  Laugh.  Since you are not in the throes of bunny-homicidal thoughts, you can see what's coming.  You have all the time in the world to realize that annoyed and tired woman + too-big house shoes + cocky bunny leads to only one thing.

Yup - as I tried to chase said bunny out of the asparagus bed, I stepped out of one of the house shoes, tripped over border to the asparagus bed, and landed on my knees.  The bunny made his escape and I - well I sat there in the dead grass, hoped I didn't break anything, and realized that shortly my husband was going to come out and find me on my butt.  *sigh*

Never fear - nothing was broken.  Although my pride has taken a beating, and I'm sitting here with ice packs on my knees and very glad that the Tylenol has kicked in, I'm ok. 

As for The Bunny?  The one who was obviously related to that bunny in The Holy Grail?  The next time when my husband asks if I want to chase it out of the yard or let him shoot it?

That little dude is going DOWN.

(For the record, no bunnies were hurt this evening.  UNFORTUNATELY!!!  But next time he won't be so lucky!)


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Tired

I mentioned the other day that I was having a hard time finding something to blog about.  The fact is, I'm just avoiding blogging because I don't have super happy stuff to blog about.  I've been doing chemo since last October, and frankly, I'm tired.

I'm tired of spending every Friday at the cancer center.  I'm tired of being constipated for 5 days out of every 7.  I'm tired of constantly having to wipe or blow my nose due to the Avastin.  I'm tired of the taste of blood in my mouth from all that drainage.  I'm tired of constantly worrying if the chemo is working, if I'm going to go into remission, if that weird pain in my chest another blood clot or a tumor or just a weird twinge.  I'm tired of the cellulite that has taken residence on my thighs because I don't have the energy to work out every day.  I'm tired of having to draw on eyebrows so I don't like a boy. I'm tired of having short gray hair. I'm tired of not being able to sleep more than 4 or 5 hours at a stretch.  I'm tired of having circles under my eyes so dark that it truly looks like my husband tuned me up.  I'm tired of gaining weight, of hot flashes, of food tasting too salty or too spicy, of the constant craving for chocolate.  I'm tired of trying to brave, inspirational, and chipper.

I am so very tired of having cancer.

I know I could have it so much worse than I do.  I have family and friends that love me and support me.  I have a job that provides me with insurance that has made all this treatment possible.  Sometimes I feel like such a whiner for feeling this way.  But even if you're not at death's door, after a while - having cancer wears on you. 

Those who haven't had cancer - or haven't had dealings with someone with late stage cancer - look at me and see that I'm feeling pretty good compared to a year ago and think that my battle is over.  But my battle may never be over.  I may never go into a full remission.  I might - but the odds are against me.  Sometimes I think people don't know how to deal with someone like me - the cancer patient who can't claim they are cured.

I'm not sure I'd want to hang out with someone who just can't do the things she used to.  But I wish I knew of some way to tell the people I don't hear from much anymore that they are missed.  That I'm sorry that I can't just go back to who I used to be.  My life has changed forever.  I will never again be the chick who can party until the wee hours, or that can spend Sunday morning loading a pickup truck with load after load of hay. 

I wish I knew how to tell them that I miss that chick too.

I've said before it's not all moonlight and roses.  I'm not helping anyone if I only post when I'm all happy and chipper.   I would hate for someone to come across this blog and see nothing but unicorns and rainbows and get down on themselves because they are having more blue days than they know what to do with and feel like they're doing this wrong.  There is no wrong - we all have to deal with it in our own way.  And I bet I'm not the only one who gets so damn tired of having cancer.  It helps me to write it out - it's a way for me to figure out why I feel the way I do, and a way to express those feelings and get them out of my system.  If it helps someone else someday, even better.

It's unrelenting, this having cancer thing.  It never goes away.  Not for me, and not for my family.  I wonder if it would be easier if there was any real hope that I could actually be cured.  I'll never really know - I'm to look at ovarian cancer as a chronic disease that I can treat but not cure.  Like diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis.  I'm doing my best to find a way to accept that gracefully.

But damn.  I'm just....tired.