Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! I was thinking about the things I did during the holiday season this year, and also thinking about the things I did not do. To be quite honest, I did not do a lot of baking this year or party attending, traveling, card writing, gift buying, or mall shopping. I did just a little bit. Enough that I didn't stress myself out, and more importantly that I wouldn't be worn out and in pain. I am still learning where to put pressure on my right leg and hip. It is still going to be a long road ahead until I am walking normally and able to bend and move without pain, a little bit of assistance, and perhaps without even thinking.

Looking back, I really enjoyed having this more simplified holiday time of year. Maybe I will try to incorporate that concept every year. I became more aware of things around me, and people around me. I felt very grateful for the things that I have been blessed with and wanted to somehow share a little in some way. One of my new personal ministries is going to be to make a difference in at least one person's life each Christmastime. The goal is to do this year-round, but don't worry I've only just begun! If I live for 5 more Christmases or 35 more Christmases, I really want to make an impact somehow and in someway. People matter more than things. And my new personal quest is to try my best to simplify my time and energy during the holidays so that I can focus on doing those things... those things that matter and are most important.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christ is Christmas

Christmas is really next week? Where has the year gone? I'm not terribly sad to see 2010 come to an end, but looking back over the year I can see the things I have learned and the miracles which have occurred. I will always remember 2010 for those experiences.

I really don't want anything for myself for Christmas this year except continued improving health. Onward and forward! However if I could have one Christmas wish it would be to find treatments and cures for cancer in 2011. There are so many bright and truly gifted people in this world. I've thought about the many scientists, medical professionals, researchers, advocates who have given so much of their time and lives, biologists, and more... I would like to take all of their knowledge, manpower, time that has been spent on projects and research, studies, trials, drugs and information about them, and all of the reports and findings of the last century or more on what has worked and what hasn't. Then I would like to have a central location for everything, so that anyone can have access to it for the sole purpose of ridding our world of this awful plague. No more pride, or greed, or long and arduous red tape to be required to go through. Everyone would have one common goal, and the clock would just be ticking to get it done.

I can only dream about that. Or maybe I should be saying that I can only keep praying for that.

I really don't want anything for Christmas though. However I had a nice memory remembering back when I was a child and I would start making my Christmas list in about June. It was always a very creative time for me, and the piece of paper had to look perfect once it was ready to hang on the closet door in my parents kitchen. I spent a great deal of energy looking through the Sunday ads and putting things on my list that I probably didn't even want that badly. Making the list was the fun part for me. I am glad that somewhere along the way, I learned what the true meaning of Christmas was all about. It is about family, about traditions, it's about laughter and love, it is about giving and receiving, children and grandparents, it is about peace and all of the things that Christ our Savior made possible for us because He lived, and died and He will come again.

Christ is Christmas.

Gabbitas Thanksgiving

As we were assembled together last month as a family, I asked everyone what they were thankful for. So in honor of our Gabbitas Thanksgiving, here is what people said.

Dad: Pie
Mom: Jesus Christ
Natalie: Good music
Alen: Good paying job
Jared: His kids
Sharolyn: Family
Jordan: Turkey
Spencer: Killer deals on black Friday
Jocelyn: Sunshine
Amberly: Nice teachers
Karsen: Life
Mitchel: His house
Brynleigh: Santa
James: Earth
Gentry: Pets

I can only assume that Sterling, Stephanie and TJ would say they were thankful for good weather. They get winters in Arizona! We can all be jealous of the warmth on bitter cold days here in Utah. But they were missed at Thanksgiving this year.

I have so much to be grateful for that I plan to make more days into days of Thanksgiving. I want to show gratitude for the things that I have and show love and kindness to as many people as I can reach. It all starts with one. Just open up and try it. I promise that it doesn't hurt. Give someone a sincere compliment, a hug, a wink, a smile, words of encouragement, a lift that will take their spirits up to a better place where they can take their life into a new direction. You could be the changing force in their life. You could mean the difference.

And you can start now.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Happy 89th birthday!

I just got off the phone with my Grandmother who just turned 89 years old today. When she picked up the phone to say hello, the voice on the other end sounded very sleepy. I was tempted to just hang up for fear that she was just about to find out who the inconsiderate culprit was who was calling her up at 9 pm on a Wednesday night. It turns out that she had just gotten in bed, but had not fallen asleep yet. We had a nice talk about family, our health, and reaching milestones. There was no hiding the joy and excitement in her voice about reaching her 89th birthday. She even said that she never thought she would live to be so old!

As I think about the new year ahead of me and the upcoming scans, surgery, and many follow-ups with doctors, I think about the kind of people that cancer affects. Cancer can strike at any age, person, gender, and race. It is not an old person's disease. Young beautiful children get cancer. Smart intelligent young college students get cancer. Youthful looking mothers and fathers get cancer. Those getting on in years get cancer. And yes, the elderly get cancer too. Cancer does not discriminate.

Do I let everything paralyze me with fear, so that I can't live a full life? That would be easy to do since I have developed a number of anxieties over the years, and have faced cancer twice in my life. But the answer is no. We mustn't allow anything to stand in our way of a good life. But I am fairly certain that we should all give ourselves a big huge break! Nobody got to 89 years old without taking it a day at a time.

I am so grateful for my flaws, things that scare me at times, trials I have faced, trials I am facing, and trials I have yet to face, as well as all of the joys, laughter, and happiness this life has given to me. Want to know why? Because it means I'm still alive! I may not live to be as old as my Grandmother, but I'll live as long as God is willing. Meanwhile, I think I may still call people at 9 pm if the thought crosses my mind and it is their birthday, no matter how old they are! We shouldn't ever let kind deeds go undone, or withhold generous thoughts.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cancer sucks

Another article written by my amazing friend Heidi. Yes, she is just that cool. She hates cancer. A lot. Loathes it. In fact, I think she hates it more than I do. And I am okay with that. She has a way of hating it in a very touching, spiritual and beautiful way. It is full of thought, maybe some rage, but definitely thought. She's been given a gift; the ability to write, to connect, to reflect upon real-life struggles, and to share these things.

Read. Hate-on. But keep it in perspective.

And to Heidi, I am certain your dad is tremendously proud of the woman you are and the things you do for others. I am so grateful to call you my friend.

Cancer sucks
by Heidi Toth on Friday, November 5, 2010 at 10:08pm

I have two photos on my desk at work. One is a picture of my two adorable nephews. One is a picture of my dad and me the day I graduated from college.
My dad died of cancer a year after that photo was taken. The two adorable boys will not know this amazing man in this life.
Two hours ago, I was in the home of three adorable children, all 5 and under. Their father has been diagnosed with stage IV melanoma. He will probably not baptize any of them. He will not teach his sons to throw a football or interrogate his daughter's dates. He may not be at his baby's first birthday party or his 9-year wedding anniversary.
I hate cancer. I hate what it does to people's lives, their pasts, presents and futures. Their hopes and goals and bodies. Their optimism. I hate that it has taken from me a relationship that has defined who I am for my entire life. I hate that I don't get to dance with my dad on the day I get married and that I'll never get to introduce Husband-When-He-Comes to the other most important man in my life. I hate that when my children call a man Grandpa, they won't be talking to my dad. I hate how my dad suffered for so long and felt like he was useless. I hated seeing him in pain and not being able to do anything about it. I hate how it has torn up my family, how my brother runs from everything associated with my dad and my sisters never got the last words that they needed. I hate the void that will always, always be there. I hate that life is always too short.
I hate that loving others scares me.
I hate that my mom is alone.
I hate that it has been six years since he's told me he loved me. Or told me he was proud of me. I hate that I wonder sometimes if he would be proud of me. I hate that as a missionary, I never got a letter from him, and that I couldn't call him on Mother's Day and Christmas.
I hate that, with all of our technological strides, we can't seem to beat this disease. One in three people gets cancer. Those are terrible odds. That means one other person in my immediate family is going to get cancer. And it may not be when we're all old. My friend Sharolyn is fighting her second bout of cancer right now. She's 33. (I think. My bad if I just aged you, SG.) Dad was 55 when he died. Leo Teemant just turned 38. Cancer should not be striking these people. It should not be so prevalent.
Our society shouldn't have allowed this to happen. I don't have the answers. I never will, and if I had them, I don't know if I'd like them. Sometimes I just have to have faith in God without knowing why things happen.
Or maybe, a small part of cancer is because of what it does to other people. Maybe I wouldn't have faith in God if my dad's mortality had not caused me to question the existence of life after death. Maybe, had he not been ill for so long, I never would have learned how to truly love and serve another human being.
Maybe my mom and my sister wouldn't be fighting cancer and my nephew would be named after somebody besides his grandfather.
Maybe my life would have less meaning.
And maybe, just maybe, with enough prayers and enough faith, Leo Teemant will get his miracle. Maybe his family doesn't need the same life lessons I do. Maybe what they need to learn is that hundreds of people around them care deeply for them and are going to fight, that they are not in this alone. Maybe we all need to learn that sometimes God really does reach down His hand, touch a frail body, a fragile love or a tenuous life and command it to be whole.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Provo man fighting cancer

My friend Heidi Toth is a news reporter for the Daily Herald. She recently did a story on a Provo man who has been diagnosed with stage IV melanoma. (below) Apparently there is a Facebook fundraising page setup on behalf of Leo Teemant and his family; just do a search for his name. There is a 5k run to benefit his family starting at Kiwanis Park in Provo on Saturday November 13th. So if you love to run or just want to help, you will need to register quickly!

Running for his life: Provo man fighting cancer
Heidi Toth - Daily Herald | Posted: Sunday, November 7, 2010 12:30 am

Healing. Survival. More time.

Things 38-year-old Leo Teemant wants. Things cancer is trying to take from him.

Things nobody should be taking for granted.

Leo and Amy Teemant seem like a typical couple. They met in a BYU singles ward, the same start as hundreds of other local love stories. She was in school; he worked at Novell. He found out she was a figure skater and got tickets for them to see Michelle Kwan skate during the 2002 Olympics. They were engaged in July of that year.

He was first diagnosed with melanoma a month later, underwent immunotherapy and recovered. He knew there was a chance the melanoma could return, but the odds were in his favor. Leo and Amy got married.

Eight years later, they have three children; the oldest is 5 years, the youngest is 5 months. They saved money through the early years of their marriage so that two years ago Leo could quit his job and go back to school. He graduated in August with a bachelor's degree in math and economics, filling the time between homework assignments with baseball and soccer with his children.

A week after graduation, he went to the doctor to get some eye pain checked out. The doctor came back with the news: He had stage IV melanoma, a cancer that is fairly resistant to treatment and already advanced. He has more than 30 tumors throughout his body.

Now he spends most of his time either getting chemotherapy or recovering from it. The fatigue never goes away. Doctor appointments in Salt Lake suck up entire days. His next treatment is two days before Thanksgiving; Amy doesn't want to go to the family party without him, but he knows he won't be feeling well enough to participate.

Their lives revolve around cancer and treatment. The only books they read are about cancer. The flowers in the front yard died because they are so consumed with cancer that they forgot to water them, day after day.

The odds are no longer in his favor. His doctor gave him nine months to live. Surviving beyond that will be a victory.

Maya and Tyler, the two oldest children, know Dad has cancer and he's getting treatment.

"But we don't talk about ..." Amy trailed off.

"The death part of it," Leo finished.

For them, it's always there. Amy wonders if her husband will be at baby Levi's first birthday party and what else he will miss.

"Is he going to be around for Father's Day?" she asked, tears in her eyes. "Are our kids going to be up in church having to sing without their dad there?"

Leo, while tickling Levi and laughing at the smile on his son's face, wonders how hard it will be for his children to lose their father. The two of them don't mention life without the other.

For now, they focus mostly on the present. The family was on BYU insurance while Leo was in school, and they've extended that, but it's not exactly a Cadillac plan. They're paying quite a bit out of pocket, and since neither is working right now, the financial impact is real.

That was before about 100 friends and neighbors got together and set up a charity 5K and crafts fair, a yard sale and two accounts into which people can donate. The 5K is on Saturday, and the yard sale was a success. The goal is $50,000.

Annalee Clawson, one of the organizers of the 5K and crafts fair, said the ideas to help started small but have ballooned as others volunteered to help. More than 100 people have registered to run and many people have donated through Pledgie and Wells Fargo accounts that friends have set up.

"It was just so shocking, so sudden," she said of Leo's diagnosis. "He had no signs of it. It was just all of a sudden, boom! It hit him."

The Teemants are grateful, both said, for the financial help their friends have coordinated. But the outpouring of support has helped in a different way as well. They don't feel as if their lives are Leo and Amy vs. the cancer anymore. They have friends who can baby-sit, clean their house, mow their yard and make sure their children are fed. They're not alone, and knowing that means more than the dollar signs clicking up on the fundraising website. Their friends have come to their rescue, Leo said. It's humbling.

"We don't feel like there's any way we could repay everybody who's helped us," he said.

To participate in the run or to donate through the Pledgie account, go to Organizers for Utah County's 2011 Relay for Life also will be at the 5K; Relay for Life is the American Cancer Society's largest fundraiser throughout the year. For more information, go to

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Help fight cancer

My very cool friend Eliza Nevin just ran a marathon in Dublin to support the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). Below is a link to her fundraising page with more information about how you can help fight cancer. Although the race is over, they are still accepting tax deductible donations through this site for about the next week. (17th)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Here come the side effects

Extremely difficult to wake up today. Had to call Dr Litton’s office to see if I could come in late for the Neulasta shot. This would be my last shot to help protect against infection because of the chemotherapy I’m receiving. Sometime closer to noon I finally ate a bowl of oatmeal with blueberries and a glass of milk. Then I went straight back to bed. I found it hard to even take my morning medicines, which includes anti-nausea drugs for the next several days while the chemo exits my body. It took all my strength to get motivated, up, dressed, and in the car heading toward Murray, Utah. Arriving shortly after 4 pm, as I signed in at the front desk I saw a group of people dressed up as the Wizard of Oz cast there to entertain the cancer patients who were in the infusion center that day. Apparently they were making their rounds to other hospitals. They looked really good. I waited just a few minutes then got called back by a staff member who was also dressed up for the Halloween weekend. She gave me the quick and painless Neulasta shot in the back of the arm and then it was back to the car. Craving red meat (which is rare for me - no pun intended - I like my meat burnt!) Leslie Kay, Autumn Barker and myself went to the OutBack Steakhouse for dinner. Throughout the day I could feel the side effects of the chemo beginning. The chills, the mouth sores, and general weary fatigue. I can’t believe that they are beginning on day 3, but then these things do compound with every treatment. I came home and settled straight into bed, taking my nightly medicines, and hoping to sleep the entire night away. This usually does not happen though. Waking up a few times throughout the night has become common for me. Chris and Norene Jensen stopped by to say hello right before a Halloween party. It is always good to see faces from good old Payson, Utah. Fed the dogs, and got back into bed. I’m thinking another 10-20 days and things will be looking much better. Looking forward to better energy levels with no side effects. Tomorrow I will be dressing up the dogs and will stay in bed and let them bark at the people who pass on the street from their favorite window spot in the living room. If the doorbell rings I will emerge from bed and we will give the ghouls or goblins a treat. The dogs love it, and the kids love seeing the dogs. I will be resting and thinking of many better days ahead. I’m so ready for it!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Last 2 days of chemo - Part 2

Struggled to awake from lack of sleep; too anxious. Breakfast was oatmeal with blueberries. Attended to lost dogs who were eating the neighbors walnuts. Leslie Kay went to buy Shirley’s Bakery sweet rolls for me to take to my last treatment. Got cleaned up. Put on more makeup than I had been doing in many months. Most days it is none. Felt pretty good. Found a hat with a scarf that ties around it and loops into a bow out of the side that I had never worn after purchasing it. I guess I couldn’t find anything to wear it with or couldn’t decide if I even liked it. I put it on along with my clothes and jewelry for it was another special day. A day to look my very best, no matter how I felt, and a day of celebration. My father and mother showed up. My friend Leslie was already at the house. And we were to meet my sister Natalie at Dr Litton’s office. These people unarguably have given me a lot of support during this year and I wanted to have them with me on this momentous and important occasion. We rode together up to Murray, Utah for the start of my final chemo treatment! A nurse took my vital signs, then took us into the infusion room and told us to look for a seat if we could find one. They were indeed busy. We found a great spot off in the corner though. I took the sweet rolls over to the kitchen area so people could help themselves. Little by little throughout the day one person here and there would stop me and tell me what a cute hat I was wearing. I had to thank them, and then laugh because I was so unsure of it in the beginning. Last count got to somewhere around 10 people who complimented me on the hat. It’s always a good day when you get compliments right? We should never hold in a nice thought, kind word, or good deed, because we may never remember it again but it may mean the world to the receiver. While wandering a bit we ran right into a few of my favorite people, Bruce Bolonesi, Shirley Bleak, and Mike Gaffney who work directly with Dr Litton as PA's and NP's. We chatted a bit and took our picture together. I told them to go eat a sweet roll. We took more pictures of things I’d want to remember. My sister then arrived and a nurse brought her a mask at her request. She looked awesome! She had just gotten over a cough and did not want to risk breathing on any cancer patients. After returning to my seat it was time to be hooked up to the anti nausea drugs, fluids, and finally the adriamycin. The very last adriamycin! It is interesting because I cannot usually sit and watch the chemo go up the very small tube and then into my veins. But today I felt very confident, very empowered. And ready to move on. “Deuce” was my nurse today. I have had her before. She’s real nice. I asked if someone would bring me the usual cup of ice to chew on during the administration of the chemo. I am not certain it has helped prevent mouth sores for me. I still get them. But I am always will to try anything, even if it only means decreasing side effects. Suddenly we were done and my port was taken out of my chest for the last time (for chemo anyway). We gathered up the bags, my crutch, our purses and headed down the hallway for the grand finale’. All the way down the nurses station each one said, “You are going to ring the bell right?” Of course I would! So we gathered around the bell up on the wall and I rang it several times. It felt good. Everyone in the room, including patients clapped for me. We snapped a few pictures with the bell and headed out for a celebration lunch. We ended up eating at Ruby River Steakhouse, where I ordered a halibut encrusted in something (parmesan?) while most others got a steak. We left feeling very full. I gave Natalie a big hug goodbye and we started our journey back to Provo. I invited everyone in because Oprah had the entire von Trapp family from the original filming of The Sound Of Music on her show and I am a big fan. We only watched the last half but it was very good. People started leaving and I noticed notes and hearts on my bedroom door. I believe the culprit of the heart attacking was my roommate Sara Stauffer. It was very thoughtful and cute. It was only five or six pm when I started feeling tired for my bed for the rest of the evening. One of my prescriptions, an important one for the next couple of days too, needed to be picked up. Leslie saved the day. I sure have a hard time grasping that 2010 has even started let alone it is at the tail end. If things were on the original schedule I’d be getting admitted to the hospital sometime this weekend for a round of chemo. I would still be going until the end of the year or early into 2011. But with some mixed emotions. I am here. And I am done. Now follow up, and much more. But elated to be done with the hardest part.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Last 2 days of chemo - Part 1

Awoke. Breakfast. Eggs. Bagel and cream cheese. Attend to dogs. Get dressed. Put on hat; the one Jenn at the hospital made for me. Lip gloss and jewelry because today is a special day. Put on scarf my roommate Ann Hicken brought me back from Jordan. Gathered items. Mom came. She drove. Actually had a sense of relief on the car ride home that this was over. Finally over. Arrived at IMC and the Cancer Center. Checked in. A nurse took my vital signs and asked if this would be my last day. I let her know that tomorrow would be my official last day of chemo. I was taken into the infusion room and found a seat. A nurse came to access my port and get me started. She drew blood for the tests they would need to run prior to administering anything. I couldn't help but think how glad I was that this could possibly be the last time my port would be accessed for any kind of chemotherapy ever again. Crossing fingers. Crossing toes. Hoping and praying. My mom and I waited. Today was a rather busy day in the infusion room. It seemed alive. Often times in the past, people were sad, asleep, or just kept to themselves in a very quiet and somber way. But today I felt laughter. It made me happy. Happy to be alive. Happy to have such pleasant people and nursing staff to be around. I see an older couple bidding farewell to a younger man on their way out; wishing him well. Their faces were genuine, happy, alive, they were laughing, sincere about one another. These things all have healing powers. We met with Dr Litton in the middle of all of this, who said that I would indeed have this last cycle of adriamycin. I have had all clean chest x-rays this far, but would continue to be monitored for recurrence in bone and any metastasis in the lungs. X-rays, and MRI's every few months and watching for any side effects that seem unusual. Most of our meeting was kind of "chatty." But then, I've enjoyed getting to know him. All of my practitioners have helped save me this year. Literally. We walked back to the infusion room where I heard him whisper to one of the nurses that this was my last cycle. I sat back in my seat after making some hot cocoa with peppermint. The fluids, and anti-nausea were started into my port. And last but not least came the adriamycin. Ann Calder, who is my Sister in Law Stephanie's aunt, was my nurse today. There are some very nice nurses who I've had the privilege of getting to know there. After chewing on some ice chips during the adriamycin push (to supposedly prevent mouth sores) we were all through! We decided on a hamburger since it was close to 5 pm and I had not eaten since breakfast. We packed up the car and left the hospital for I-15 southbound to Provo only stopping once for a hamburger and fry at JCW's. When I returned, I actually felt a little excited for the next day. The last day. The final day. Wow. I really can't even begin to believe it. I am now extremely exhausted. These days wipe me out and I can sleep many hours. With warm peach cobbler in my stomach that Leslie Kay made, hopefully I can wind down now. Tomorrow is a very important day for me. I need my rest. Just took my nightly meds, including anti-nausea. Good night.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Chemotherapy Eve

Nervous, excited, sick, anxious, scared, and yet happy. Oh so extremely happy. In 2010, my life has been all about hospitals, operations, blood tests, needles, transfusions, overnight hospital stays, chemotherapy, MRI's and other scans, x-rays, pills, and a whole lot of worrying. I've developed anxiety attacks, and felt depression. Chemotherapy is really dreadful but I have gotten myself through it somehow. Believe it or not I have felt an outpouring of love, support and encouragement from so many. This is how I have been able to get through this; constant reminders that I am not alone, that I am loved, and to keep going strong. It is easy...when you know the kind of people I do.

Monday, October 25, 2010

To be done, or not to be... that is the question

It has been a long month. Over the past 30 days or a little more, I have received good news and bad news. The good news is that I am nearly done with chemo. The bad news is that I am nearly done with chemo. I have mixed feelings about this new set of information. It is a hard thing to understand, unless you have been through this.

During the middle of September I entered the hospital in Murray to complete a cycle of high dose methotrexate. This kind of chemotherapy is given in the hospital, and requires a stay of about 4-6 days each time. The cycle consists of two back-to-back treatments, which meant that once I was released from one treatment there would be a break of just a few days at home before I would return for the second one. It was during the second treatment of this past cycle that my liver tests started coming back elevated. Liver function tests are something that are monitored very closely throughout treatment. During the year my body has been put through some intensive chemotherapy and there have been side effects and tests needed, which have been as a result of the treatments. My white blood count as well as liver functions have been able to regenerate nicely during the cycles. The problem now was the results being elevated and not coming down soon enough. Long-term liver damage is not something my practitioners wish for me to have. When I returned to the hospital for the second treatment, it was then that I started finding out the seriousness of this. I arrived on a Friday night for check-in to prepare for chemo the next morning. I have followed this same pattern the entire year. It is what works for me. Saturday morning, then afternoon, and finally late afternoon came and went. The liver function tests were delaying the chemo. The treatment from the previous week had apparently not gotten things back down to normal levels yet. And this was a problem. I couldn’t do anything except wait. Sunday morning the pharmacy brought the prepared chemo to my room on the 9th floor and the nurses connected me. My liver had regenerated enough overnight. By Monday however, I had a nice visit from Bruce Bolonesi, PA-C, who showed me the blood work from that day. It had dramatically jumped and I was told that my oncologist may want to omit the last two cycles of methotrexate altogether. Many thoughts crossed my mind. Will the cycles I had done so far be enough if I stop? Is that the right decision to stop? In the years to come will I regret not having done all of the cycles? Did I do them for nothing? Did just a few cycles help or contribute? What about the side effects; will there be any permanent damage? What if the doctor gives me the option to make the choice, what should I do? What if this is my last stay in the hospital and I do not return to the place I have known during this whole year; the people I have grown to trust with my life, and who I’ve bonded with? There were many questions and emotions once I found out it could be the end of the high dose methotrexate. Don’t get me wrong. I also thought it was some of the best news I had received in a long time. Within just a couple of weeks things were confirmed that I would not be doing the last two cycles and would instead focus on the last two treatments of adriamycin. That was that. It was still a decision met with mixed feelings, however I could see the logic of looking at the harm being caused versus the benefits. This pushed everything forward on the schedule. Dr Litton said that without the other chemo drug, the last two cycles would be only 21 days apart and not 36. With the cancellation of the methotrexate, and having less days between the last 2 cycles I would be done before Christmas! In fact, I would be done before Thanksgiving! My last treatments of adriamycin would be October 5th, 6th, and 7th. Then the last and final treatment would be on October 27th, 28th, and 29th. This felt exciting to get it over with sooner than expected, yet it felt rushed and I felt afraid of having one of the very strongest chemo drugs so close together. Adriamycin is commonly referred to as the “red devil of death” among some people and practitioners.

Several days into the month of October, after the adriamycin, I developed a numbness and tingling in my feet that got a little bit worse by the day. It eventually went to my hands, but only just slightly. This is a condition called peripheral neuropathy and is a nerve damage that can be caused by some chemo drugs. It can be short term, long term or permanent. The recovery can be long term and there are things that can be done to treat it such as massage, acupuncture, physical therapy, over the counter vitamins and amino acids, as well as prescription medication. The neuropathy can become a very serious condition where a person cannot feel their hands and feet, and start having trouble with the simplest of tasks such as buttoning a shirt. So far, my neuropathy has been mostly in my feet, and was only bad for about a week. The platin chemo drugs have been known to cause this neuropathy, and one of the drugs I had during the first 4 cycles was called cisplatin. I have not had any of this kind for about 2 months though. During my 10-day follow up appointment with Shirley Bleak, D.N.P., F.N.P., we discussed the possibility that because of the neuropathy I may not have my final chemo treatment at all. Mostly we talked about shoes and exchanged our favorite websites, places to shop and brands to buy. But we talked about the real possibility that Dr Litton may meet with me on October 27th and say that I am done. Period. I will likely have the final treatment, because I do not believe that the adriamycin causes any neuropathy. So there is a chance that I will have my very final treatment in just a few days from now. If so, hopefully this will be the last treatment ever for the rest of my life. There is also a chance that I am already done and just do not know it yet. Both of them frighten me just a little for some of the same reasons quitting the methotrexate was hard. Most of it is just not knowing; the unknown.

I should mention that my hair started growing back just in time for it to start falling out again; eyelashes, brows, and a whole set of tiny head hairs. I am not sure how they were able to grow because I did not stop any treatments throughout the past months. The little bit of new growth will fall out and I will start the process all over again during the holidays; slowly but surely. I am looking forward to Thanksgiving; eating, being finished with chemo, feeling better and better each day, feeling the holiday spirit around me, and being able to give thanks and continue to watch the amazing blessings unfolding before me… about my life.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Monday, September 13, 2010

The show must go on

I’ve set my channel to survivor; my inner station. At least I’ve tried hard to always be tuned in to that channel. Every day is a different day, with new challenges, and more hills to climb. As the days are getting longer, they are also getting harder. The side effects of chemotherapy have really compounded getting more difficult with each time. But the show must go on!

Most everyone has experienced a major motion picture, a tv drama, documentary, or even book that really touched them. You know the kind? The ones that bring tears to your eyes. The kind that will leave you wanting to better yourself, or change the world. The type of production that simply moves you. I too have been touched watching films about people who triumph through their personal struggles; overcoming obstacles at great lengths. I enjoy hearing about those who paved the way for justice. There are so many examples of ordinary people who have lead remarkable and extraordinary lives no matter their trial. Many are still with us today. But great majorities are gone. Nobody is exempt from mortality.

None of us have a soundtrack to our daily living, wardrobe allowances, or producers who will make sure we get everything near flawless and look perfect. We don’t get unlimited retakes on what we say or do. We live in the now. We do our best. And most of us will never have a movie portrayed on the big-screen about our lives. We will share our triumphs with our loved ones and with those very same individuals we will look for encouragement during our dark, lonely, or hard times. We'll have friends not fans.

A motion picture might take a few years to complete full production. In life, it will take most parents and caregiver’s years to help teach, guide, and love their children. At least that is the hope for every child and for every home. There are also others who play a big role in the life of one person: school teachers, neighbors, friends, church leaders, coaches, employers, and mentors. We should always be building and never squashing a person or their dreams and ideas. We must believe in those people that have been led to us; carefully instilling confidence, love, trust, and those things that will help them...for we all will face trials and need to have learned some survivor skills.

I have recently asked myself, “What do I believe in, and who do I look up to?” I think when we are going through the very hardest times in our lives we start pondering deeper thoughts about ourselves and the strong beliefs that we have held. I know that I have had moments of great strength through this. I have also had many weak moments when I felt I could not go on.

So how much have I changed? Cancer has found me twice in my life now. I didn’t go looking for it, but I know that I can’t hide from it either. I am the lone member of my immediate family (including Grandparents) to have had cancer. I was not told or shown how to live my life this year. Ultimately, I still have to make my own choices, and decide how I will react. If I have changed it would be my perspective and outlook on life, compassion, and patience for others. These are the things you would hope a person with cancer would learn to understand. These are also things those of us without cancer should be striving to learn and to understand. But as far as changing goes, I do think I am still...just me.

Some of these are ongoing questions and we think about them every now and then. But for some of us currently facing what could be the toughest trial we will ever face, those thoughts and questions become almost sacred.

Who do I look up to? My list might seem simple and may not come straight from Hollywood or Nashville. I look up to my parents and my family. They each have unique strengths. It is important to always find value in the positive things in life. I have the most supportive parents a person could find. My brothers are fun and loving and I have a sister that I just couldn't do without. I look up to several friends. I won’t name any specifically, but I have truly been blessed beyond measure in my life to encounter some of the greatest individuals I know. I fully expect to see great things out of them. There are also many friends who are more reserved and quietly stay behind the scenes getting the job done. The thing they don’t realize is that there are people watching. I have watched with great respect over the years some very kind things. I am humbled and grateful for those wishing to serve me at this time in my life. My Grandparents are currently 88 and 90 years old. They are still some of the kindest, hospitable, and good-natured people I know. I’ve learned a great deal from them. I could go on and on about church leaders, teachers, and neighbors, but I will just stop with God. Looking to God in uncertain times, and asking God through prayer for sustenance, will give comfort and peace to your soul. I know because it has mine. It has helped me over the many years of my life to believe in the one person that we need to the most; ourselves.

Now go! Do. Mentor. Be. Help. Lift. Give. Work. Comfort... Meditate on what you believe. In the time it takes to watch a film you should have a good idea, or at least a good start. The dishes will not miss you when you have succumbed to mortality. However, a great many others will. Think on it. Here are a few to get you started. What things do you believe in, and who do you look up to? What things have changed you?

Knowing who you are should be a personal quest. After finding out who you really are, then you can set some meaningful goals. There are things I’ve been working on lately because I know well enough that I could be around another 10 years, or perhaps 30 or more years. Nobody knows. But the show must go on. Make it a good one. (I didn’t say flawless, I just meant meaningful)

Keep the survivor station powered on, and those that believe in YOU...keep them close by. We are here for one another. We are not alone. And isn't that great?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The amusing, entertaining, and interesting list

After writing about the things I dislike in my July 25th blog post, I decided I would write about the things that somewhat mildly amuse or entertain me. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing good about cancer. As my friend Heidi Toth has put it before, “It’s not as if there are people who are pro-cancer and anti-cancer out there.” We’d all like to see the end to this disease. I of course have my “Cancer Sucks” pin, which a nurse at the ER in Provo gave to me. I have not gone around wearing it yet, but I think it sums up what the world thinks of this epidemic.

Here are the things I have come up with that have been interesting, amusing, or entertaining. Maybe I’m just weird!

* Getting my blood drawn in the complete dark. To see if the chemo has exited my body enough to be released from the hospital, for one particular blood test, they take a blood sample and it must be very dark when they do it. The last phlebotomists went to great lengths in doing this; pulling the blinds, shielding any extra light with one of my pillows, and finally it gets drawn directly into a dark bag and stays there until getting to the lab.
* Some of the things I’ve said or done. Ok. I guess I’ve had a few hallucinations. The nurse bringing me the kitty cat (bag of sodium bicarbonate), and the spiders in my hat crawling all around. Then there was the time I awoke to the arrival of my friend Leslie who I gave my regrets to about the boyfriend “from the east” who apparently I thought had just broken up with her, and that I hoped she was going to be okay. I was dead serious as I patted her arm, and very sympathetic toward her. It took me several minutes to realize where I was, who I was talking to, and that she did not have a boyfriend, nor one “from the east.” There are more stories, but I may incriminate myself…
* Doctors, Nurses, and staff mildly amuse me all the time! I have met some great people! Jenn, at IMC in Murray made me a couple of hats. They are awesome. She is awesome. My surgeon, Dr Scott said he rides his bike to work in the morning wearing an orange jacket and thinks he oftentimes gets confused for a UDOT employee. The kitchen and housekeeping help at IMC; we’ve become friends. The CNA’s and RN’s are all really fantastic. I have liked them all. I think I am a familiar face around there now.
* Stonehenge. It was awful in the beginning. I went from the hospital straight to a skilled nursing facility and I was not happy to be moving in my fragile state. But it ended up being the best place I could have spent recovering for 30 days. It is a very nice facility. Everyone was family there. My physical trainers and OTC were great, kitchen, housekeeping, administrative, and ALL of the nurses were fantastic. When I left, it felt as if I was leaving home, leaving family. They really do care. One of the mildly amusing days at Stonehenge in my memory was when I got help in shaving the rest of my hair off. One of the nurses, Elizabeth, was there and Amy Petty who works as a beautician there. This was an emergency that several of the nurses and staff took seriously. They made things fun, we took pictures, tried on scarves, and they made sure it was a positive day I would not forget. Mostly I will not ever forget the kindness and love shown toward me. Hair grows back, that is a temporary loss. But memories last a lifetime.
* The new “equipment” in my body. That may not sound amusing or even funny at all. But to me it is just so very interesting to think about it. Now when I see my x-rays, I know exactly what is inside of me and how ultra cool it is that we’ve come so far in technology and medicine to be able to slice a person open and make something bad…good once again. I can’t wait to go through the airport scanners.
* Having my leg drilled into for a biopsy of my bone. The biopsy traveled through Utah as well as Massachusetts because an official cancer title could not be determined. It was thought to have been a fibrosarcoma, a synovial cell sarcoma, or a melanoma. Fibrosarcoma was determined to be the official cancer of my femur bone, but not until after my surgery and they got more to look at.
* The most pain I’ve ever experienced in my life was breaking my femur bone. The mildly amusing part to me was that I did it while trying to turn off my alarm clock in bed that morning. Most people who break bones are jumping off things, playing sports, or otherwise being quite active. But all I had to do was turn over in bed ever so slightly. The bone was paper thin, wearing down, and I knew this…so I was somewhat prepared.
* The surgery. My doctor originally wanted to do the surgery on Wednesday March 31st, but after looking further at the x-rays and MRI’s, decided I should do some chemotherapy cycles beforehand to try to shrink the tumors. I ended up only having one day of chemo, March 29th. I broke the femur on March 30th. Then, on March 31st I had what ended up being emergency surgery. I was so glad just to get the bone out of me! It hurt and I knew that it needed to go. How grateful I was that my surgeon could still perform the procedure, and on the original day we had planned for in the very beginning.
* Calling 911 on myself. I have called 911 a couple of times in my life, but for other people or happenings. Looking back on it all, I see that everything and everyone was prepared for that morning. The call went smoothly, my neighbor (Derek Arnot) was awake and ready to go for the day and just in the nick of time to let the paramedics into my house for me, the paramedics arrived within minutes, I had one ambulance ride to UVRMC in Provo where they called my doctor and did things to prepare me for transport, my family and a friend showed up there, then I had another ambulance ride to IMC in Murray where I would stay. What a day! Much of it is blotted out of my memory.

Whew! Long list. Guess I'm easily amused. But then...I knew this would be a long road ahead of me from the beginning...I may as well take note of as many things as I can that are not negative (because there are a lot, like feeling sick) so that I can keep going. Just keep going. Almost there.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Food glorious food

In honor of all the wonderful years of eating and good cooks in my life, including restaurants, I dedicate this blog post to food! I never knew what I was missing until I had no appetite for food, no taste buds for certain foods, and couldn’t eat for many days due to nausea and vomiting. Food really can be comforting, as I have heard and felt. It can be healthy, as well as bad for you (in super-size quantity). And it is the thing that we must have in order to keep our bodies going. So without further ado, here is a list of FOOD I LIKE!

Zupa’s: pina colada chicken salad, Wisconsin cauliflower soup.
Fat Jack’s Pizza: cheese sticks.
Cracker Barrel: hash brown casserole.
Winger’s: sticky fingers.
The Outback Steakhouse: bloomin’ onion and blue cheese pecan chopped salad.
Burger King: bacon, egg and cheese croissan’wich.
Daley Freeze: French fries. (the best fries anywhere)
JCW’s: bacon blue cheese burger, fries, ultimate fry sauce!
Café Rio: chicken or sweet pork salad.
Saigon Café: everything!
Papa John’s: Hawaiian BBQ chicken pizza.
Macaroni Grill: grilled chicken portobello. (which has been taken off the menu)
Gandolfo's: urban cowboy sandwich.
The Pizza Factory: raspberry vinaigrette salad and breadtwists.
PF Changs: lettuce wraps.
Mi Ranchito: chile relleno, beef tamale, enchiladas.

My Grandma: homemade whole wheat bread, everything she touches is a masterpiece.
My Mom: cinnamon rolls, breadsticks, rolls, pizza, stews and soups. (takes after her mother; master chef!)
My Dad: homemade mac n cheese, breakfasts, French bread pizza, and bawl baby soup. (noodles, tomato sauce, hamburger)
My Sister Natalie: all pies, all salads, rice dishes, bottled salsa and grape juice, banana bread and muffins of all kinds. (she can make anything taste good and be more healthy by switching out ingredients)
My Sis in Law Stephanie: chicken rolls with rice, candied salmon, and desserts.
Melinda Wells: homemade ice cream of many flavors.
Lynne Watanabe: coconut cream pie.
Melissa Wilson Martin: fruit bars, Hawaiian haystacks and other rice dishes, pizza creations out of jiffy mix or freezer dough. (don’t forget the ugly cake)
Amber Morris: black forest cake.
Eliza Nevin: zucchini stroganoff and Mexican haystacks.
Rachel and Annie Snow: pies…well anything really.
Leslie Kay: white chili and a mean BBQ.
Ben Rector: curry.
Bryan Hutchison (my neighbor): banana bread, zucchini bread.
The Arnot’s (my other neighbors): amazing potato salad, egg rolls, pretty much everything is good that Coree makes, granola from scratch…I guess that’s what it is…I just know I get it at Christmas.
Caprice Bailey: cinnamon pull aparts.
Ann Hicken: all creative food attempts.
Sara Stauffer: if only I liked Kimchi…but those truffles were sure good.
Gail Fletcher: all kinds of desserts.
Serina Jankovich: muddy buddies.
Heather Poulson Bingham: dips, entire Thanksgiving meals including but not limited to sweet potato casserole.
Jessie and Dave Jones: pumpkin bread.
Ryan and Johanna Webb: the coveted Orozco’s salsa! (I got the recipe from my sister who lives in their neighborhood) & Johanna’s pumpkin roll.
Roda Solis Camposano (and her mom): all Filipino food I tried. (pancit and lumpia!)
Sina Matthes: chicken and broccoli bake.
Ray Oyler: fajitas and all the fixings.
Heidi Toth: cookies, crock pot meals, and other creations.
Samantha Roach: lasagna.
Emily Fuller Sutherland: party pleasers, Harry Potter theme food!

I’m sure I’ve left out some really fantastic food dishes and I hope I haven’t offended any friends or family members by not mentioning their name. If you are reading this now, and you are not on “the list” it simply means that I’ve forgotten how well you cook and I need a reminder, or that I have not yet been introduced to your cooking. I can make arrangements to accept all homemade food for taste testing at your convenience. I like mostly everything. I don’t discriminate when it comes to food. So please bring your food by. A good food motto to live by is, “I’ll try anything once!”

Here’s to another week. Next week has GOT to be better. There is more to life than just eating Gatorade and pudding snacks.

Monday, August 9, 2010


Last week I had chemo. Adriamycin and cisplatin; the bad kind. This week I go into hibernation. It seems that the side effects get worse with each round of this. It also seems that they start sooner and last longer now. I'm not going to lie, this is pretty miserable. The pits. A drag. It is every headache, stomach ache, canker sore, feeling of nausea, fatigue, body ache, and flu like symptom you have ever felt. If I didn't have two doctor's appointments this week, I would just stay in bed and not get out until Friday!

At the last appointment I had with Dr Litton, my oncologist, we were discussing things that were done 10, 20, 30, and 50 years ago in medicine. It is amazing the things they used to do, and no longer are doing. It is also equally amazing the things we are capable of doing now; how far we have come in medicine. I posed the question of what things would be like in another 30 years from now. There was some hesitation until I gave him the reassurance to go ahead with what I thought he would say. He said that everyone, including those who will work in medicine, will wonder why we poisoned cancer patients? He said, "Cut, burn, and poison," are the methods we use now. It's what we know now. I wondered aloud to him if he thought there would be a cure for cancer in 30 years from now, even if it was only for a select few types. But he said that perhaps it would be more like a chronic illness in the future. We would still have it, cancer would still exist, but we would probably be treating it differently and people would be living longer.

So if I am thinking long and hard about this, I am pioneering the way in medicine. I am making possible, through the successes and failures, a future of cancer patients to not have to go through what I am going through. The whole discussion started over some things my mother said they used to do back in her day, and then the doctor chiming in, and then me stepping in with a huge, "I'm grateful to have my leg!" If this would have happened to me 10 or 20 years ago, the possibility of amputation would be very high. The way I look at it, is that people for decades have been paving the way for me. I am the beneficiary of all the collective data, successes, failures, tests and trials, and now am receiving the very best care at the present moment that modern medicine knows how to give me.

Have I mentioned lately how grateful I am? For everything...

I will emerge out of hibernation sometime soon; maybe when I don't feel so achy, maybe when I don't feel like throwing up, or maybe when my appetite comes back. I will think about the next good meal and just put it on hold. Right now, feeling better and stronger over the next week or two is my first priority.

It's times like these I have to keep telling myself that I can do this!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Halfway mark!

My oncologist gave me some unexpected news on Monday. I went into Dr Gregory Litton’s office and we were discussing the outline of the rest of my treatments. He said I was on cycle 4 (out of 6), and I kept thinking to myself that I was on cycle 3 and he must be mistaken. I finally got my pad of paper out so I could have him clarify what he meant. The very first day of chemo was done on March 29th. On March 30th I broke my femur and ended up taking a couple of ambulance rides; finally arriving to IMC in Murray to await surgery the next day. Then, there was the surgery on March 31st. So there wasn’t any possible way to complete the cycle I had just started on the 29th because I was recovering in the hospital and then put into rehab for 30 days. To make up the items I missed on the very tail end of my treatments may not be that beneficial either, I was told. So in actuality, since the first day of the first cycle was counted as complete, and because I have completed two other full cycles, I am at the halfway mark; Cycle 4!! I started today. Can I get a "wahoo!?!" Also, I found out that my cancer is in remission; which I didn’t realize even knowing what the pathology report said. I am being treated with chemotherapy for the potential of microscopic cancer; or what might be there. Sarcomas are high grade and fast growing. If there was even one small cancer cell left that the naked eye could not see, it could grow very quickly and be twice as hard to deal with the second time around. Or even metastasize. There were negative signs on my chest x-ray (lungs) of any tumor growth. This x-ray was done quite a few weeks ago and I guess I had figured no news was good news. The lungs would be the first place it would metastasize, so that was indeed good news. All in all, a very positive day ending with a trip to JCW’s for a hamburger and french fry with my mom.

This is how my chemo road map should have been. However, on the first cycle I only completed day 1, and will not be making up the rest on the tail end of treatment.

Cycle 1:
Day 1: adriamycin and cisplatin
Day 2: adriamycin and cisplatin
Day 3: neulasta shot
Day 21: high dose methotrexate (with leucovorin)
Day 28: high dose methotrexate (with leucovorin)

Cycle 2:
Day 1: adriamycin and cisplatin
Day 2: adriamycin and cisplatin
Day 3: neulasta shot
Day 21: high dose methotrexate (with leucovorin)
Day 28: high dose methotrexate (with leucovorin)

Cycle 3:
Day 1: adriamycin and cisplatin
Day 2: adriamycin and cisplatin
Day 3: neulasta shot
Day 21: high dose methotrexate (with leucovorin)
Day 28: high dose methotrexate (with leucovorin)

Cycle 4:
Day 1: adriamycin and cisplatin
Day 2: adriamycin and cisplatin
Day 3: neulasta shot
Day 21: high dose methotrexate (with leucovorin)
Day 28: high dose methotrexate (with leucovorin)

Cycle 5:
Day 1: adriamycin
Day 2: adriamycin
Day 3: neulasta shot
Day 14: high dose methotrexate (with leucovorin)
Day 21: high dose methotrexate (with leucovorin)

Cycle 6:
Day 1: adriamycin
Day 2: adriamycin
Day 3: neulasta shot
Day 14: high dose methotrexate (with leucovorin)
Day 21: high dose methotrexate (with leucovorin)

* cycle length is 36 days approx. (unless hospitalization, other illnesses due to cancer, low blood/kidney/liver counts, holidays, scheduling, etc…)
** adriamycin and cisplatin are done as outpatient.
*** high dose methotrexate (with leucovorin) is done as inpatient, and usually requires about 4-6 days each time in the hospital.

I will likely be done with the chemotherapy treatments in December instead of sometime in the Spring of 2011, which is what I had thought. It is important to keep looking forward... forward to the end of treatment, forward to life next year, forward to the years to come... Keep looking forward.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

I believe in Christ

I laughed a lot today. I ate well. I watched a storm roll in as the evening approached. I sat on a chair in the backyard while my feet waded in cold water in a kiddie pool. I thought about my day and how I really enjoy going to church on Sundays. I like having the social connections and friendships that can form at church and because of church. But more importantly I need the connection to Christ. Sundays usually bring new perspective, and today was no different. It was the inability to attend church that I thought about. It is hard for me to stay away, to not be near my friends and congregation regularly, and to not hear of the talks and lessons about Christ. I am able to make it there when I am not in the hospital having chemo, not sick from the side effects of chemo, and not counseled to be absent because of my immune system. Thank goodness I have been able to make it some of the time. The sabbath is always a better day when I can partake of the Lord's sacrament, sing hymns, listen to people who testify of the Savior, and be surrounded by those who also believe in Christ. It is kind of like taking a spiritual vitamin; it gets me through the rest of the week and provides nourishment. How empty my life would be without the Savior in it. How grateful I am for Sundays, new perspective, my family and friends, life and the wonders I have beheld... and for Christ, who I know has given everything to me. I believe in Christ.

We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost. (First Article of Faith. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Things I dislike

I really couldn’t eat any of the meals that were delivered to my room today. Didn’t feel well. Just walking and talking exerted too much energy. I am not one to usually dwell on the negative things regarding my treatment. I don’t particularly care to. No not me. I am always the eternal optimist. I try. I don’t have to try too hard though, because it is in my nature.

To understand what I'm going through, my daily struggles, it would be helpful to know a few of them. Here is a list, a small sampling, of some serious side effects and struggles and others not so serious but bothersome nonetheless. I suppose I could call it:

“Things I dislike”

My portacath being accessed or poked in the chest. The color of the chemo. Urinating the color of the chemo. Getting PH levels tested of my urine. Peeing in a cap placed on the toilet at the hospital. Constantly peeing and hoping to make the toilet! The walker, now the crutches, soon the cane. Getting winded after the simplest of tasks. Leaving my dogs with other people; I miss them. Needing more rest than before and having lots to do. “Chemo Brain;” what were those things I needed to do anyway? My poor memory. Throwing up. Mouth sores. Taste buds constantly changing. High body temperatures, which could mean a simple antibiotic or hospitalization. Blood clots. Learning to self inject; not the knowing how part, but the long term need to do so. Headaches. Body aches. Eyelashes falling out into my eyes. New anxieties over things I didn’t have before. Too many meds to keep track of. Blood transfusions. Body flexibility (or the lack of); it’s getting better though. Loss of all my independence...

The list could go on but I feel that my eyes are red and worn down.

Night comes quickly. Nurses are in and out taking vital signs. Halls are quiet now. I have a beautiful view of the entire Salt Lake City Valley. The city lights are winking at me (their congratulations). I had forgotten. This treatment marks the end of cycle two! Each milestone takes great physical effort, faith, and courage. Think I will put my cares aside and try to drift off to sleep. Positive results await me this week. I can feel it. I will soon be feeling better. Just takes time...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The walk

I came into the hospital in Murray for another round of chemo on Thursday night, July 15th. I was hoping to see some familiar faces. Sure enough right when we turned the corner off the elevator of the 9th floor, my dad and I started catching smiles and hellos from nurses who had worked with me before. I got settled in my room and started putting things away how I liked them. Some of the comforts of home I’ve been bringing are pillows and 3-5 gallons of Payson or Provo water. Hey, it’s just what I like!

Something I enjoy doing to pass the time is taking walks. Typically it is my crutches and I, and Leslie with the IV tower, around the patient’s floor. On Sunday we made some new friends, albeit not in the best of circumstances. We met Fia and her family who are from American Samoa. The love they seemed to have for one another was deep. She shared some things about their extended family and why they were there that day. Her cousin had just been taken off of life support, battling stomach cancer, and they were all there to support one another, show their love, and say their final goodbyes.

Fia’s family filled up the hallways and all day long children could be heard. If I had to make a logical guess, I would say that there were about four or five generations of family members in attendance; maybe 40-50 people.

The hallways and bedroom of this woman were brimming over with her loved ones. Much to my surprise, there was not a lot of chaos. I did pass people who were showing teary eyes and looks of contemplation. But I saw more around who were laughing, smiling and seemed to be telling stories. Fia was the one who initially stopped us in the hallway to say hello. She asked about my condition and wanted to know my story. We talked about how their family members came over to the states after joining the LDS church. She also humorously told us about her niece going against their culture by playing water polo instead of joining the rugby team. She said their entire family was very supportive of her anyway, taking up half the bleachers at every single game.

In looking back today, the walk provided me with two things; exercise and reflection. I walked right into an opportunity to meet someone new and find out a little more about their history and how much they value their family. It was great to see those values and feel how united they were.

It is unfortunate that not all walks in life will end the way we want them too, such as for Fia’s cousin. But it would appear their family took important strides to remain together and be together for one another, so that this woman would not have to make her final walk alone. I thought it was touching and it gave me a lot to think about as I took my walk back to my room on the 9th floor. Things can suddenly take on a whole new meaning. My fluffy pillows from home, which I brought to the hospital, became less significant. The love I have for my family and my appreciation for them and their sacrifices grew stronger and more important. Life is a journey. Many people have been involved in my journey. I have much to be grateful for. I have more walking to do. Many more walks to take…

I love my family.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

This too shall pass

It is already mid July of 2010 and about half a year from where I started; getting tested, diagnosed, having meetings with doctors, surgery, recovery in rehab, and treatments. I have done so much in so very little time. And yet the road still seems so long ahead of me.

Independence Day just came and went. People in my neighborhood got together for the 4th of July weekend with family and friends to celebrate with backyard barbecues, fireworks, watermelon, and games like water balloon tosses. We had a barbecue in my backyard as well. Ann, my roommate, spearheaded this event. I was only glad that I had an appetite for food!

My thoughts pertaining to Independence Day were more centered on what kind of independence I would have next year in 2011 right around the 4th of July. Would I have freedom from chemo, freedom from hospitals, freedom from crutches or a cane? I gave very little thought to the real reason, and the history behind this holiday. I felt a little bit selfish, but it did not make me feel unpatriotic by the least bit. I love my country and my freedom and everyone who ever came before me that helped make it possible.

I was recently thinking about breaking my femur, having an incredible surgery to replace it, learning how to walk on it, and day by day making more progress. With time and healing I should be able to walk just as normal as I once did. And then the thought crossed my mind that there are others who didn’t get the same outcome as I did. I feel so blessed all the time to have my leg. It was the very first question I asked my doctor upon learning the news; would I lose my leg? This is the kind of cancer that in years past (and not too long ago actually) they would simply amputate the area that was cancerous. They only do this in very rare cases nowadays. There are others who have lost limbs, but not due to illness or disease, but in the line of duty. Soldiers... American soldiers now and in years past have had the possibility of coming home without an arm or a leg, if they even come home at all.

When I contemplate about the things that others have done for my country, or me I realize that what I’m going through is not that hard in comparison. Many people have trials that I cannot even fathom. I’m strong, and will make it through this. I have help from family, friends, neighbors, church members, and loved ones.

Every time I think about my right leg and the new equipment therein, I am amazed. How grateful I am for miracles. Modern medicine has made it possible for someone to be literally cut open from their hip to their knee for an 8-hour surgery. I am grateful for the education of my doctors and nurses who administer to me. I am thankful I still have 2 legs. I am looking forward to my independence from these temporary side effects that I have currently. Life is precious! So I will set out to enjoy all backyard barbecues, parties, and holidays. I will treasure my time spent with family and friends, and even remember this experience and other trials I know will come...and be grateful for my life and life's events. For I know that this too shall pass.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

My theories of relativity (no not physics)

I could have guessed at the seriousness of this when I could not sleep through the night without ibuprofen every 4-6 hours. I could have predicted the outcome when doctors were telling their staff to call them the minute the results were in. The magnitude of this became more real to me when I started speaking directly with doctors on the phone; on their personal cell phones. Doctors don’t typically do that. Not really. But they do with me.

Pain is a very relative thing. I can start recalling my first signs of pain within the past 1-2 years. My very first memory of pain was waking up in the morning and taking my two dogs outside. This would require me to go down a steep staircase, through a hallway, kitchen, and then to the back porch. I remember the dogs ran down the stairs while I limped in pain, shedding many tears and wondering if I should scoot on my bottom side the rest of the way down. I was in agony on the back porch waiting for the dogs to come back inside. I wondered what kind of muscle I pulled, what kind of arthritis I was developing, and other practical or logical ideas for what I was feeling. I was definitely in pain. But in more pain than what? And in less pain than what? This is why pain is relative. I guess you have to base your pain upon the experiences you’ve already had in your life. For each person it is very different. There is emotional pain and physical pain experiences that we can draw upon. This pain I was feeling in my right knee at the time however, didn’t really compare to anything I had ever felt. It was just a nagging, deep, piercing pain. It wasn’t always in my knee and it didn’t always feel piercing as the days and months went by. This is when I grew more and more suspicious. Ibuprofen, soaking in hot baths, and an occasional kindhearted listening ear were the only things that seemed to help. I thought if I just gave it some time it would surely go away as some things do. By the time I was in about as much pain as I could handle, I decided to see a doctor. Why I endured that kind of suffering for so long I am really not sure. I think I endured the pain because it was so irregular and because it was never the same kind of pain and never in the same place. Maybe I thought I was going crazy.

Eventually I discovered the truth. Eventually the pain got better (after surgery). The pain got worse before it got better. But the pain got better. I now look around me as I go through my treatments, enter hospitals, read about people’s experiences and meet new people in all kinds of different situations and I think about how things really are relative. How could I possibly judge other people and their conditions based upon my own experiences? The simple answer is that I cannot. What may be right for one person may be the completely wrong answer for another. And what one person can tolerate physically and emotionally, another person may not be able to withstand. I haven’t been able to keep track of my “grateful lessons” I’ve learned because they are so numerous to mention. Things that I am grateful for happen on a daily basis. Some are big and some are very small. But I learn from all of them. One of the strongest lessons I’ve learned this year is that I am unique and so is everyone else. My experiences are special and so is everyone else’s. If I don’t know exactly how someone feels, it is still okay to reach out to him or her in understanding ways. I never ever want to discount anyone’s feelings. Afterall, things may get worse for them before they get better… and I know how that is.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Life and living

This week I turned another year older. I am 33 now. This year I learned that a rare cancer had developed in my femur bone called fibrosarcoma. Upon turning another year older and having the experiences of this year so far, I have decided a few things. Life is important. Cancer matters for me right now. But life is important. One of the biggest challenges that cancer patients face is their fear. Wouldn’t it be extraordinary if there were more thought given to life and living, and not to the diagnosis? I realize what the definition of diagnosis means, but once the condition or disease is identified, that person still needs to live. I hear a lot of people refer to “life after cancer” and it makes me wonder what they were doing when they weren’t living. Cancer, surgery, and treatment (depending upon the type of cancer) can take months and sometimes years to complete. To create a world of survivors, we need to have the courage to live, and the power to take on those big challenges that will be handed to us. If we live during the whole ordeal, we will be more equipped to handle situations that if we otherwise had no life in us at all would not be able to. Though the days may be hard, tiring, frustrating or painful I choose to live my life. Why would I want to stop living? After all, it is only a word. It is only a disease. It is only bigger than you choose to believe it is. It can only stop you from doing that which you love, if you let it. It can do many things. But you can do anything. I can do anything. And I choose to help create a world of survivors. That is the goal. Life... is important.