Thursday, December 26, 2013

My Fitness Journey: End of Year Report 2013

Since I wrote an “End of Year Report” for My Fitness Journey last year, it only seems appropriate to write one for this year also. However, this year has been a completely NEW journey. If you had told me at the end of December 2012 that I would be dealing with breast cancer in 2013, I would not have believed it. But, such is life; filled with twists and turns we must face.

The first five months of the year I made very good progress. I didn't lose a great deal of weight, but I gained strength and toned in places I hadn't seen look like that in a LONG time. I worked hard and had pride in the gains I was making.

I had my routine mammogram the last week in April. I also tore my left meniscus the same week. I didn't stop exercising, but I changed the way I did things. Admittedly, it slowed me down a bit. I was called back for a repeat mammogram, but I have been called back so many times that I wanted to talk to the same doctor that I talked to last year. We couldn't find a time that we could both be there at the hospital at the same time (he does a lot of seminars and such), so I agreed to the repeat (ultrasound) with another doctor.

I did the repeat on May 25, was biopsied May 30, diagnosed June 3 and in surgery for a lumpectomy June 10. I froze my gym membership for a time, and concentrated on recovery from surgery. I returned to work July 1. I began radiation treatment August 5 and ended September 19. It was good to exercise at the gym during the month of August and September. However, by October, I was at a place of fatigue I had never known. I became ill with an upper respiratory infection that lasted six weeks. I literally had to take two more weeks off without pay, just to get well. I again froze my gym membership.

I gained some weight during radiation treatment, even while I was exercising; and then I had to be on two new medications, Arimidex—an estrogen blocker—which I will take for 3-5 years; and Prozac, which is helping me manage other aspects of my life. While I learned to eat differently, and made the best choices possible, eventually my weight leveled off, at about 10-12 lbs more than the day I was diagnosed.

I am not worried about it. Writing this in December, I AM finally feeling better and I will return to the fitness club in January. I may be starting over in many ways, and I will take it slow. The last thing I need is another injury now.

However, there is one thought I would like to leave with you at this time. If I had NOT been exercising and concentrating on fitness; where would I have been when it came to fighting cancer? It certainly has not been a typical year, but I am at a better place today because of the fitness habits that I adopted in 2012 and the first half of 2013. There’s no doubt about it!

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Day The Cloud Lifted

I knew this day was different. I didn't get a full eight hours sleep. I was awake during the middle of the night as the cheesecake that I had for dessert tried to figure out just where in my digestive system it wanted to rest for a while. It was cold in the late fall morning, and although awake, it was hard to get out of my nice warm bed.

However, once I did, I felt different. I felt like a cloud had lifted and quietly, I was me again.

It has been over fifteen years since I felt this way.

I have dealt with sleep disorders in this blog before. You can find the former entry here. However, I had it backwards. I can remember the time that my depression started. The sleep disorders followed in a relatively short time. I always said, “I’m not so depressed that a couple of good night’s sleep in a row won’t solve the problem.”

I went to three doctors for my sleep disorders. I was given an anti-anxiety medication, and sold a CPAP machine. I used the CPAP for almost a year, and it just didn't work. The anti-anxiety medication was handy. It allowed me to fall back to sleep after waking up, but I never felt rested. I should say, I rarely felt rested. The secondary effect of this medication is that I could watch my son pitch in baseball and not have my stomach in knots. No other sport made me that anxious.

So time marched on, and eventually thirteen years later, I knew that I needed to have a conversation with a clinician about this medication. It wasn't working anymore; what were my options? I never went back to the sleep doctors, which by practice are psychiatrists (or physician’s assistants within a practice). My general practitioner didn't want to take this on, correctly so. I made an appointment to see another psychiatrist.

That appointment was the day after I learned that I had breast cancer. I called the doctor's office and told them that this problem needed to be put on the back burner, and we all agreed.

Fast forward five months to the day. I had an appointment with this psychiatrist. She approached the whole situation differently. Because I am also a "professional," I wrote out “notes” for her; noting dates, treatments (sleep studies) and yes, I named doctors—one of which I am sure she knows, although we did not discuss it. My notes began at the time of my sleep problems.

She went further. She dug deeper. My father had been depressed before committing suicide. My brother was a schizophrenic and also depressed. I have cancer. She said (more or less), “I can’t believe three clinicians did not get into your history. We cannot ignore this!” and later, “Why WOULDN'T you be depressed?”

So, the first step is to prescribe an anti-depressant. By this time, I was ready to listen. As a professional, I understand what SSRIs do. SSRI stands for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. I was going to try and shorten this explanation, but I found it so informative, that I copied it verbatim.

In normal function of the brain, messages are carried back and forth between brain cells by specialized messengers known as neurotransmitters. These messengers consist of highly specialized chemicals and carry specific messages based on their chemical compositions. When the neurotransmitter has completed transmission of its message, it is absorbed back into a brain neuron in a process known as reuptake; this process allows the brain to transmit messages and reabsorb chemicals as a way of regulating its internal operations.

One of the highly specialized chemicals that serves as a neurotransmitter in the brain is known as serotonin. Although there are numerous chemicals in the brain that regulate numerous mental and physical functions, serotonin is specifically linked to mood, sleep regulation, emotions and feelings. If the serotonin neurotransmitter experiences the reuptake process too quickly, the brain's natural serotonin levels can become out of balance and disrupt the issues regulated by the chemical. A shortage of serotonin, commonly linked to an accelerated reuptake process, is a primary cause of depression.

Reuptake Inhibition
SSRIs, an abbreviation for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, help a patient control the issues regulated by the serotonin neurotransmitter. SSRI drugs work by slowing (or completely blocking) the reuptake process in brain neurons, effectively increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain. With more serotonin present, the brain can more efficiently transmit messages regarding sleep, mood, emotions and feelings; this efficient transfer of messages using the serotonin neurotransmitter helps control symptoms of depression.

Read more:

If you or your best friend or relative are taking Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Luvox, Celexa or Lexapro, you are taking a SSRI. This is how they work.

It takes time, usually from 4-6 weeks to fully get into your system.

I was prescribed 20 mg of Prozac a day for starters and scheduled to see her in four weeks.

Today was one day less than three weeks. This morning life looked differently.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Derges' Digest 2013

All of us on New Year's Eve.
We rang in the New Year 2013 on a high note with the wedding of our son, Joel and daughter-in-law, Lindsey on New Year’s Eve. The wedding was held in their church in New Carlisle, and the reception was held in the basement of the old Wren’s building in Springfield, which was marvelously transformed into a black and white elegant event.

The first part of the year included: redecorating our basement within 8 days of the wedding, and going to Greenon ladies basketball games, which our son was coaching. It was fun to watch them win the league championship for the second year in a row.

I went to the fitness club with a vengeance. I did three boot camps and one personal training session a week. Usually, I exercised 5-6 days every week. I was feeling strong, although I wished that I was losing more weight. One day in April, when I walked further on the treadmill than I had in many years, I realized that something had happened. I saw the orthopedic surgeon and after x-rays he said I had a “slight” torn meniscus. Nothing we needed to worry about at the time.

That same week I had my annual mammogram. Then, I needed a repeat. I repeated on May 25th, was biopsied May 30th, diagnosed June 3rd and in surgery June 10th. It was stage 0-1 breast cancer and I had an excellent prognosis. Radiation was the treatment recommended. Let’s do this and move on.

I went back to work the first of July, and radiation began August 5th and ended September 19th. I felt that I did well with it. That was until the sixth of seven weeks, when I hit the wall. I cut back hours at work, went on a postponed trip to the Smokies with an upper respiratory infection, then returned to work, only to realize that I needed a couple of weeks off just to get well! I look forward to 2014, so that I can focus on my better eating habits, get back to the gym (maybe not with such a vengeance) and generally concentrate on my health.

This is my "60th Birthday" picture.
Jerry has added a third day of volunteering at the Springfield Regional Medical Center and occasionally subs on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He was awesome through my surgery and recovery and has been with me during decision-making times with the oncologists. He has done very little that he wanted to do this year, other than taking care of me, and his volunteering.

The biggest news with our son is that he got a full-time job with Tipp City Exempted Village Schools. He is an Intervention Specialist, and Defensive Coordinator for their varsity football team, which went 10-0 during the regular season and was the regional runner-up in SW Ohio for Division III; further than the school had ever gone in playoffs. He and Lindsey are in the process of building a home closer to that area. They are using the same builder that we did, so we know it will be a fine product. They hope to move in April 2014. They also got a dog, Lily—our third “grand-animal.”

Yes, she has Grandpa wrapped!
Our daughter Jessica’s family is doing well as our son-in-law Brent moved from one insurance company to another company, in Columbus. Jess ran marathons and actually was a trainer for the October Columbus Marathon. She ran her personal best and a sub-four hour time in the (Fairborn) Air Force Marathon in September. Our granddaughter, Kyah, turned two in June and is as cute as a button. She takes little vacations with Grandma and Grandpa and we also FaceTime with her, a skill that we are all still learning.

We had the “big” Thanksgiving with Jerry’s entire family at our nephew’s church in Kenton. We do this every other year. This is the first in many years that I have not sung in a Christmas program, and I do miss it, but next year, I plan to be back! I am hosting my annual High School Class Christmas Party on December 10th and look forward to that.

It should be a much quieter Christmas Season since there is no son moving out and no wedding to plan, but that’s OK. It’s all part of the circle of life.

May God bless you and your loved ones during this season. Remember why we do this!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thoughts on the Speed of Life 1963-2013

We often complain about how rapidly things seem to take place now and how we long for the good “old” days, when—it didn't seem—we rushed around as much as we do now. Many times I have said to myself, “Oh we were just as busy, it was just different things.”

Last week, as I watched the newscasts of the assassination of JFK “within” the newscasts of the current day, it was very apparent to me how much we, as a society, have sped up. First of all, let me say that I did not watch everything. Secondly, this didn't happen in one day. But as I listened, it stood out to me that the reporters of 1963 spoke very slowly and wanted to get this story RIGHT. There was no hint of “being first—your breaking news here!” It was just the (horrible!) facts, pure and simple. (A short clip of Walter Cronkite is here.) The newscasters reported with the gravity and importance of the matter. Then, it transitioned to the news reporter of the day, polished, reading from a teleprompter, but getting as much information into the moment as possible.

I was struck by the juxtaposition. Let me be perfectly clear. I love Brian Williams. I don’t love every newscaster and will always have favorites, but my evening is complete with Brian Williams. But even he, reported his story at about twice the speed as the story within the story.

During the reporting of the Kennedy funeral, it was OK to have “dead air” time. It was OK just to watch, without commentary. That is rare now. We have to be told everything, when we are intelligent enough to just watch. Sometimes I want to “just watch.” (Don’t even get me started on sports commentators).

This got me to thinking about “why” everything is so fast today. Obviously, news reporting is but one issue.

Commercials today are but sound bites. They move at twice the speed of the 60’s. I actually saw some of them as I watched “As the World Turns,” where the announcement of the JFK shooting cut into programming. You actually learned something about the product, not just a few bullet points. When my children were younger, I would ask them what the commercial was actually selling. Many times it was difficult to figure out. Oh, I get the exposure and even competition, if you will, of the Super Bowl commercials. They pay dearly for that competition time. I am talking about the everyday commercials. Watch them sometime, when you haven’t DVRed the show and fast forward through them.

I digress, but just the ABILITY to fast forward—think about it. We have the ability to fast forward our lives. Watching TV with my husband and son drives me nuts. Flipping all over the place (hubby) or backing up to “show” me something (son); how I long to just WATCH a show!

It’s hardly worth mentioning fast foods. My son worked his college years flipping at the arches. I know they have timers and speed is important. Fast is not just fast; it’s expected to be FAST! Lord help the individual who can’t keep up; but as consumers, we’re just as bad. What is taking so long? Why isn't that employee properly trained?

Cooking at home: I am personally spending more time preparing and eating fresh foods. It may be as a result of getting cancer, but this is NEW to me! For decades I have been cooking FAST! There was a practice or a game to get to; maybe a church meeting, we had to be someplace! This didn't happen overnight either, it commenced when my daughter entered the world of OHSAA sports in the 7th grade. Add another athlete a few years later, and by 7th and 12th grades, we were out every night of the week.

I was talking to someone recently about communications. We all have something that makes it easier to “connect,” but then we have to stop and remember, “How does Aunt Sue communicate best?” Not everyone does Facebook, not everyone checks email daily, not everyone texts, not everyone has a smart phone. We have to stop and think with each individual what the best way to get a hold of them is. This hasn't made it easier! Back in the “good old days” we had snail mail and a family telephone. Of course, it took longer to do business on the job. Now, we’re “more efficient.” That is, if no one makes a mistake.

“Retirement” hasn't made it easier, or so I am told. People are busier than ever. I am all about volunteering; but we choose how busy we’re going to be. The only time we don’t choose it is when we have to see doctors, or we have some emergency in our inner circle. Otherwise, we allow our “former” lives to invade our retirement lives.

Frankly, people, I am going to SLOW DOWN. That doesn't mean I won’t exercise, that’s a given, and we ALL need that regularly. However, the rest of my life doesn't need to be filled with activities.

After all, I still have to watch the news each evening and watch commercials at warp speed.

Does anyone else have an example of the speed of life?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Where Were You When.....

It’s the question that everyone “of a certain age” asks each other. “Where were you when you learned that Kennedy was shot?” It’s something everyone knows the answer to, and it was a definitive time in all our lives. 

This is not a political blog so I am not going there. It’s not a discourse on the 60’s. It’s just about me, my family, the events themselves and some observations “looking back.”

I was in the fifth grade at Medway Elementary School in the New Carlisle-Bethel school system. Whether it was the choice of my teacher, or more likely the school principal, we were not told at school. I can't imagine what it must have been like for the teachers to finish the day without saying anything.

My mother told me when I arrived home. I kind of shrugged my shoulders and went to play. A ten-year-old mind in a sheltered rural area just didn't get the significance. I can only imagine the conversation my parents had during the evening—like many families, their votes in 1960 cancelled each other out.

What I did know is that the TV was turned on, and it didn't turn off for four days. That is probably what most of us did—watched TV for days. I had a two-month-old brother in the house, I remember him in his “punkin seat” sitting on the floor with my 8-year-old brother and me. My family went over to my aunt and uncle’s in Columbus on Saturday and it was more of the same, all of us sitting in the living room watching the TV. 

My husband was a senior in high school in another school system and he was told at school, so that was different. However, his family, like my own, was glued to the television as we watched history.

As I look back, a couple of things strike me as a 60-year-old. The most amazing thing to me is the ability of Jackie Kennedy, in her early thirties, to take hold of the most horrible of situations, and manage it for posterity, history and honor of her husband. To be sure, she had advisers, but she made decisions far above her age. I have been 34, my daughter is pushing it with a long stick; and I can’t imagine handling something of this magnitude. And, what many people forget, is that she had buried a baby only three months previously. The amount of grief this woman must have felt is incredible, but she had to go on for her two other children. In addition, she created a wonderful tribute to her husband, of which everyone of a certain age remembers.

I have also thought that perhaps JFK may not have been as big in life as he became in death. It was a time of great uncertainty in our country, and his place in history might not have been so remarkable. We were on the verge of the unpopular Vietnam War, and how he would have handled the matter would have affected his legacy; perhaps for the better and perhaps for the worse. We can only speculate.

Regardless of how history would have treated JFK, assassination was a horrible attack on the president, his family, the government, and our culture. Many have said that the age of innocence died with him. The Kennedy years were definitely viewed in a unique way.

A way that ended on November 22, 1963.

Images we will never forget

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Thank You

There are some subjects that I think, “It’s been covered completely somewhere else,” and that’s how I feel about Veteran’s Day. Who is NOT thankful for the sacrifices that our military members and their families have made over our history? My own family seems to look like that commercial on TV for insurance for the military—my Dad in the Korean War, his two brothers in WW II and their father, my grandfather, in WW I.

Grandfather in WW I
This morning we had a children’s sermon in church. The teacher was explaining to the children what we would be “celebrating” tomorrow. She got a variety of responses from the children and as we know, any children’s sermon can turn into the Art Linkletter Show within a few seconds. I don’t envy the people who teach the children.
Uncle Carl in WW II

As with most object lessons, the children’s sermon was for the adults, too. Teacher asked all active duty and retired or former veterans to stand. Quite a few stood. Then, she asked anyone who was an immediate family member of a veteran to stand. That includes quite a few more people, such as yours truly, who was born at Fort Knox, Kentucky during the Korean Conflict. THEN, she asked anyone who knew a veteran to stand, and as you would expect, everyone in the congregation stood. The idea was to show the children that we ALL know a veteran or their families, and we should tell them thank you for their service.

As I think of my own experience, most of the family history is just that, stuff that happened before I was born. My father was honorably discharged in January 1954 and went on to build his life and family. I saw pictures hanging at my grandmother and grandfather’s house, but that was the extent of it. No one talked about their experiences in the service. Maybe it was because I was “a child.”

Uncle Ray was blind in one
eye, so he was photographed
this way. WW II
Living in a military town, I was much more influenced by the military families that I grew up with, and later on in life, the military wives (mostly) and their husbands, who became my friends as adults. I observed my father and others help one wife (with three young teens) whose husband flew two tours in Vietnam. Much of my adult life was in peace-time, but I have been involved with military families for years. All but one of them are retired now. I have the utmost respect for the entire family, as well as the service-person. They move every couple of years and have to start over. I honestly don’t think I could have done this.
Who couldn't love this
guy? No "game face"
here. I LOVE this! I miss
you Daddy.

Those who are now being deployed are the next generation. I have friends now with children in the military, who are doing what they are assigned to do. My own grandniece is in the USMC.

We are all touched by those who serve. Just as the children saw everyone stand up in church, every one of us is affected. If you are a veteran reading this, thank you and God bless you.

The final resting place of all these men, as well as
 my brother of whom I don't have a military picture.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Time For a Real Break!

After four and one half months of dealing with a diagnosis, surgery, recovery from surgery, more tests, planning treatment, DOING treatment, and dealing with the side-effects of radiation; while working through all but the first three weeks after surgery, it was time to take a break and get well.

During this time I contracted an upper respiratory infection, and had two bouts of flu, and yes, I got my flu shot. I was just drop-dead exhausted.

First, I tried cutting back on hours. I had come back from surgery with the plan to work 25 hours a week, instead of my usual 30. Then, after radiation, I decided to work four five hour days a week, taking Wednesdays off. That would give me a day to rest up.

Finally, I decided that I needed two complete weeks off, just to get well. I made the decision quickly, as I wanted to return within a certain time-frame, to handle the seasonal needs of my job: helping with Medicare open enrollment (October 15-December 7), and helping with Thanksgiving assistance and the Christmas assistance. These three tasks, along with “drop-in” calls and situations, fill up my time throughout November and early December.

How many hours I will work when I return remains to be seen. I hope I can carry a full load until I feel that I am caught up, then I may cut back again.

So how does one handle all the “free time?” My “job” is to get better. The coughing didn’t stop and I made an appointment to see my primary care practitioner, and she ordered a chest x-ray. It is a comfort to know my chest is clear, but the only advice she gave me is to use a sinus spray and that the problem is post-nasal drip, after her examination. So I continued to wait this out and some days are better than others.

My “rest” part of the R & R definitely depends on how well I sleep on any given night. The difference between sleeping 8 or 9 hours and only sleeping 5 or 6 hours is remarkable. What I can do with the following day is quite different.

While my plan is to stay home, there are some things that just must be done. The doctor’s appointments, drug store and grocery runs, and taking my car in for an unplanned check-up. I CHOSE to attend an evening designed for breast cancer supporters, patients, survivors and cancer center employees, and this was a good choice. It was probably the situation most conducive to picking up a bug; but sometimes you need to do something for yourself anyway and take the chance.

We did go to two football games, on clear and cold evenings, which probably was good for my lungs. We didn’t sit close to anyone. But some things you just need to do.

I was never bored at home, and I rarely had the TV on. I usually did one “chore” a day and that was regular household maintenance. Then I read some books, did my Bible study, and called friends and relatives. I did rest. I could not talk for long periods of time, but I did have interaction with the outside world. I listened to music, so I had interaction to my inside world too.

By Sunday ending the first week, I thought I felt pretty good. I attended church (one hour) and my husband took me to lunch. Then we stayed home. By Monday, things were beginning to slip and by Tuesday I was a mess. I contacted my nurse practitioner and wanted to know if I could take the antibiotic script she wrote me but didn’t want me to take right away. It was time, I said. She said yes.

I didn’t sleep at all on Tuesday night, well, perhaps four hours of naps. I called my nurse practitioner and asked if I could return to the codeine cough syrup that I took during week two of the URI. She agreed to that and wrote me another script. Wednesday, I had an appointment set up with the orthopedic surgeon regarding the torn meniscus from April. We decided to try a cortisone shot. Although my immediate reaction was not good; because my appetite has been affected through all of this, I had a blood sugar drop, they found some pop for me and a bed to lay down. I called my husband to come get me and take me home.

On the other hand, the cortisone took away so much pain in my leg and along with cough syrup at night, I slept well and was much better the following day. Thursday, I had an appointment with the radiation oncologist to OK me to return to work the following day. Seems like a waste of time, but I saw the Social Worker also, and she was able to give me another gas card from the American Cancer Society, so it was time well spent!

I returned to work on Friday, November 1st, and hope to do as much as I am able. Getting rid of the URI will be key.

Am I “all better now?” Not totally, but we’ll face each week and month as it comes. I am a realist. I want to be able to do a good job at whatever I do, so we’ll do the best we can to make that happen.

As far as taking the break, I don’t regret a moment of it.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

One Day At A Time!

While written within the context of cancer, this blog has a much wider focus. I usually don’t get religious with my writing, although most everyone reading this already knows where I stand. I don’t feel led to write blogs about God, about what He has done for me, and how each day is lived for Him. These things go without saying, even if a person knows me casually.

I have been through a few “tragedies” in my life; that is, according to some people. Death of a loved one by suicide is not something we plan, neither is an automobile accident that leaves a loved one disabled for life. Other “bad stuff” is just the stuff of life, which at one place or another, we all go through. Frankly, even if I die from cancer, I place this illness and its results in that “bad stuff” basket. My family will learn from it, and they will go on. I will truly be in a better place.

Once upon a time, I remember someone talking about a “life verse,” in the Bible, which is THE most important book and influence in my life. I never thought about doing this—there are so many fine, memorable ones. This was supposed to be a verse that spoke to you personally, or became your guide (although they are all supposed to be our guide). Eventually, I landed on one, and it described my life to a T. It is First Corinthians Chapter Ten, Verse Thirteen.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. ESV (public domain)

There have been many days that I have been tempted. There have been many times that I have felt personal pain, and pain for others. However, there has never been a time that there was “too much at one time.”

I have dozens of testimonies that I could share, but I don’t have all the permissions and it would get long and bore you. The one that always stands out to me is the time period when my (older) younger brother had an illness, but no diagnosis; and he just went round and round and it affected us all. Doctors, employers, the US Army, and a sister who worries about everything.

However, on April 3rd 1991, at 2:00 PM he was released from the VA Hospital in Chillicothe, Ohio, with a diagnosis and HOPE of treatment for schizophrenia. He wasn't cured, or even out of the woods, but we had a road with a map.

Not 10 hours later, my (younger) younger brother was injured in an automobile accident which left him a quadriplegic. This was life changing for the entire family. It was heart breaking, it was the first time my daughter remembered her mother crying (and we are talking about bawling here!) and it did change the world my immediate family and my extended family lived in. My intent is not to write a blog about that process, but there was a process in rehabilitation, physical, psychological, and every “al” you can think of.

My point is that there was no overlap. God gave me enough worry for each day, and no more, and no less. (By the way, that was Wednesday-Thursday. My aunt died on Saturday. It was quite a week!)

Every example I could use has the same underlying theme.

So, as I think of my cancer situation, the first thing that comes to my mind is “I am so glad that this is 2013 and not 2012!” We had a BIG shindig scheduled for New Year’s Eve and although I have not lost my hair, maybe I have put on a couple of pounds; but my fatigue would not have boded well with birthdays, showers, holidays and finally the big shebang on NYE itself.

I am so grateful to God that I didn't have to deal with cancer too. But He knows…..

This year I had time to handle it. My husband had time to handle it. My employer has worked with me.

I can face the future confidently that in all things, I will not have to face more than I have to at one time; or if (it seems) I do, God in His infinite grace will give me the strength to bear up under the challenge.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Too Much Pink?

First and foremost, I much encourage anyone to donate to walk, run or just plain donate to breast (and other diseases) cancer research. I am very well aware that without it, I might not be here. Well, I might be here right NOW, but ignorantly unaware of what was growing inside my body, which would take my life within a couple of years. I am FOR breast cancer awareness. I am especially thankful for those who have walked in my name.

That said, it’s about the middle of the month, and I have mixed emotions. I am still struggling with regaining the life I knew, and working through the fatigue and compromised health that are side-effects of radiation treatment. All around me, I see pink. As someone who does not consider myself a “survivor” yet, it’s a constant reminder of what I am dealing with. I hesitate to use the word “fight.” I am not fighting cancer. I am fighting the effects of radiation treatment.

Right now I am watching a football game on TV between Missouri and Georgia, and I couldn't care less who wins this game. But there are “breast cancer ribbons” painted on the field, and the cheerleaders have something on their uniforms. The players might too, but I can’t see them. I just read a newspaper full of “advertisements” for every product in Springfield, Ohio and many of them are pink. Of course, my Facebook feed is full of pictures.

As a patient, it’s a CONSTANT reminder, and I wonder if other breast cancer patients feel as I do. I am not ready to do any walking, and I would if I were feeling up to normal. However, I still need to see the orthopedic surgeon about this torn meniscus thing. Cancer patients frequently have something else fun going on too; from carpel tunnel syndrome to arthritis, and just about anything else you can think of. After all, how many of us are actually dealing with ONLY ONE health issue, small as it may be? It’s the same with the cancer patient.

A diagnosis like cancer puts it on the front burner. I have some other calls to make this month and next, as I now am at the place where I need to have some conversation about some other issues. I actually called the colonoscopy doctor—how many people do you know who ask for a colonoscopy?—but I am not on that list for two more years. However, being in 100% insurance-pay, I might as well do everything!

Back to my subject though: the saturation of breast cancer awareness in October. The good news is that it does raise much needed money for research. We need this so badly. I am so grateful for it. I don’t know that I hope for a cure; but I hope we find the place where we have treatment and it NEVER RETURNS AGAIN! Ever.

The bad news is that it’s a constant reminder for those battling; and for those who are cancer-free, but (hear me, now!) the possibility of return is always in their minds. Always. Every October, the patient or survivor is faced with the prospect that “it might return.” 

It’s a dichotomy of feelings. I never want to be seen as dissuading breast cancer fund-raising and awareness—and while we’re at it, for every other disease out there! However, please be aware of the media assault and saturation that the cancer patient is feeling. Who was that cartoon character? “It’s everywhere, it’s everywhere!”

That’s how I feel at the moment. Tired. Overwhelmed; and I cannot get away from it! Will I feel this way every year?

If you are a cancer patient, or survivor, do you ever feel the same way? Or am I just incredibly selfish?

P.S. I ran this by three breast cancer patients before publication, and in one form or another (I am not going to details with each of them), they all pretty much agreed with me.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What Was I Thinking?

I've been in this place before. Ten years ago, when I had breast reduction surgery—which, by the way, I believe saved my life. This tumor was so close to the chest wall, that 2.5 more pounds of flesh, tissue, etc. might have kept it from being seen until it was larger.

Ten years ago, the doctor, a MAN, told me I could go back to work in three weeks and be back to full capacity in six. Try eleven weeks; mainly, because I only took three weeks off. Had I taken six weeks off, it might have been a different story. If you are considering breast reduction surgery, I want to talk to you. I'll give you the straight story. I'd still do it, I just wish I had known more of what to expect before I did it.

This time, I really had no choice. I was going to have surgery. That was clear to everyone. I recovered from surgery in 7-8 weeks and I was fine. I worked 5 of those weeks. I adjusted and I was OK.

I tolerated radiation well and thought I would be the poster child. Then, in the sixth week, I hit the wall. It was in the middle of the night, and this was different from tired. It was "How am I going to get to the bathroom?" tired. For the first time, I knew I had no business behind the wheel of a car, and had my husband drive me to the next morning’s treatment. Then I went to work for as long for as it took me to make phone calls to people I was to see that day, talk to my ED and then come home. At that time, it was day-to-day. However, I did improve.

The professionals told me that I would be good about three weeks after radiation was over. I kind of expected that. We planned a vacation, or replanned one, I should say. It was not the original plan due to the fatigue I KNEW that would come.

So radiation was over and I was back to full speed at work, but I was not well. I came home and dropped in the chair. Most of my weekends were in the chair. This didn't seem right.

Instead of calling the doctor, I called other women. One had radiation for breast cancer and one had another type of cancer. Although I don't know about the doses, the length of treatment was similar. One was my age at treatment and the other was younger. One worked (the younger) outside the home, and the other didn't. Both agreed that I wouldn't be even close to myself for three months, and both agreed--from their different age perspectives--that it would be more like six months.

Then, there was the issue of radiation killing white blood cells, which keep us from getting every germ that comes down the pike. I was NEVER told to make adjustments in my work and life to keep myself from going into compromising situations. I am a social worker. I go into places that are not clean and neat. There is not good ventilation and I am exposed to lots of things.

Well, I wish I had known this sooner! All of my expectations and plans would have been different. I would have made different choices.

So what am I going to do to keep up with life? What can I control?

1. I am going to talk to the gym about freezing my membership again.

2. I am going to talk to my employer about reducing my hours for the next three months and maybe, for the duration of my employment, if necessary.

3. I am going to talk to my husband about helping more. He's been great, truly, but once women get up and around, men seem to get the idea that they are 100%. And every female reader is shouting "Amen."

4. I am going to lower my expectations of myself.

I was able to get into my nurse practitioner at 7:30 AM of the morning we were to leave for our vacation. We were at the drug store as it opened with a script for an antibiotic. We went on our vacation, and certainly did not enjoy it as we would have; because I had no strength. I will say this, I slept well, EVERY night. I enjoyed the therapeutic effects of the hot tub to my respiratory system. It was good REST.

And when I returned home, I took care of numbers 1 and 2 above. I am working on 3.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Returning to "The Big Red Machine"

Sometimes, even when you are tired, you have to seize an opportunity that will never come around again. When my college girlfriend and eventual bridesmaid, Sharon, contacted me to ask me if I would like to go to a Reds game in which the Big Red Machine, that we watched during our college and marrying years, would be reunited to honor Joe Morgan, who was having a statue placed in the plaza of Great American Ball Park during the weekend, the answer was simple. Are you kidding me? YES!

When Sharon, her husband and many of our pals were in college between 1972-1976, we got together, bought cheap seats, walked a mile to Riverfront to save a nickel, ate quarter hot dogs and generally did anything we had to do to get to a game. Filling the car with people was a given, as many as we could get into the vehicle.

We loved the Big Red Machine. It’s always fun winning; but we loved the entire experience, and we loved ALL the players, not just the ones who were brought back for this weekend’s festivities. The business of baseball was different then and considering the culture of the sport today, this will never happen again. The Atlanta Braves of the 90’s came as close as those of us will remember.

I knew I would be tired, so I paced my entire week for this event. My work day was purposely “unscheduled,” although in my line of work, you NEVER KNOW! It went well and I ran a couple of errands on the way home. Sharon would have beat me to my house, but she got lost. It would have helped to put MY street name into the GPS. I digress.

Off we were to Cincinnati and in spite of traffic, we were in our seats at 6:00 having dinner. While I am trying to eat healthier overall, one simply MUST have a hot dog at the ball park. That’s all there is to it.

I have to admit, I had misgivings about them tearing down Riverfront and building the Great American Ball Park. I didn't see it as necessary, but I now get why GABP is more of an “experience” than just a baseball game, which may not be needed for a diehard baseball fan like myself, but would bring a broader audience to love the game. This would be the first time for all of these players to be at the GABP.

Mike Leake pitched a fine game, with one mistake in the first inning to Hanley Ramirez of the LA Dodgers. That shot was gone from contact! I don’t even think Ryan Ludwick did anything but watch it. The Reds won the game on Joey Votto’s two run homer. This game had everything: first and foremost, the win; but we got to see phenom rookie Billy Hamilton steal a base. He is so fast it is amazing. We also got to see crowd favorite Aroldis Chapman strike out the sides in the ninth inning. Talk about  crowd energy! I just watched the speed board. His 13 pitches ranged between 99 and 101.

Then, after the game, the Great Eight of the Big Red Machine was reunited as they took their positions on the field. First out was left-fielder George Foster, who just loves people and loves the world of baseball. He is such a happy man! Secondly was center-fielder Cesar Geronimo, a little less energetic, but looking great and just enjoying the moment. Then right-fielder Ken Griffey, Sr. came out. He has been around the Reds organization in the meantime and we've seen much of him, but it was great to see him again in this context.

Next was third-baseman Pete Rose. The crowd had a mixture of boos and cheers. The cheers won; but it’s obvious there is still disagreement about Pete Rose. Personally, I think it’s time to get over it. As long as A-Rod is still over there playing on the east coast, let’s get over this! Pete was touched. It was very obvious. Then they brought out short-stop Davey Concepcion, who just loves being in the ball park! What a delightful human being. After Davey was the finest catcher ever, Johnny Bench. No one would ever accuse Johnny of NOT hamming it up. He loves the crowd. Then, before Joe Morgan came out, the first-baseman Tony Perez came out. Everyone loves Tony! Tony loves everyone! He epitomizes the Big Red Machine.

And last, was the honoree Joe Morgan. He made a short speech as his big one would come the next day at the unveiling of his statue in the plaza. I will have to wait until next time to see that.

Seeing this team on the field all at the same time just took us back in time. Are we REALLY 59 and 60?? Really? We felt like we were kids again, cheering on the Big Red Machine at Riverfront Stadium. OK, that is until we climbed the steps to get back to the concourse, when our knees hurt.
And now.....

It was a great moment that probably will never happen again publicly. I was very happy to be a part of it.

Then we stayed for the Friday Fireworks and that was spectacular too! Music from the seventies was used for the playlist. There was only one song that was missing. “We are the Champions.”

Friday, September 13, 2013

SPAM--and Not the Kind We Eat!

One of the best blogs that I have written is entitled "The Last Class To Graduate From Fairborn High School." I have no idea why, but this blog has been targeted by spammers, and I decided to go back to moderating the comments. Since doing that, there have probably been five spams a day.

I am still moderating comments, but I took that blog and reverted it to draft mode. I did NOT delete it. It has good content for those interested in the subject. What I want to see now is whether the spammers pick another post or go away.

I can see where my bloggers come from and well over 90% come from Facebook, but there are some people who want to link to my blog and promote themselves. I am fine with that if I know you, and you know who you are, but I didn't start this with the idea of promoting those bloggers and products that I do not know.

This is sad, and I am sorry to have to make this announcement. I will continue to write and I continue to watch the figures, the sources and of course, your comments, which I appreciate. Keep the real comments coming! Thanks!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Cancer Center: Becoming Like "Home"

I remember the first time I went to the cancer center, I felt like it was “us” (meaning my husband and me) and “them.” I really didn't belong here, did I? I needed to come to terms with the fact that I did belong. The last few weeks have evolved to where I have become part of “them."

The first time I received my packet ABOUT the cancer center, I read their mission statement. “We strive to treat every patient with the compassion of Jesus Christ.” Yeah, I am in the right place.

Although my scheduled appointment is for 9:15, usually try to arrive at the center at 9:00. Two blocks east of the center is a church that I worked for in 2002-03 and during my tenure they procured a carillon and programmed it to play two songs at 9:00 AM and 6:00 PM. I have great memories of that church, and it fills me spiritually to hear the chimes and the songs playing in the morning before treatment. On the way to the center, I play songs from the iPod through my sound system in the car and I deliberately choose “inspiring” songs to listen to in the mornings. These are not all “Christian” or even “worship” songs. Right now I am into Celtic Thunder; Peter, Paul and Mary; and Smoky Mountain Hymns as I prepare for my Smokies “fix” soon.

Now that I am in daily treatment, I arrive alone. I notice things. I walk briskly into the building. Many patients are brought by family members and are dropped off by the door. I walk in, salute the receptionist, because by now, she knows who I am, and I head for the dressing rooms. I rarely have to wait long for the technicians, but I know where the blanket warmer is, and I grab a blanket. There are five technicians for two treatment rooms. I know them all. We have running jokes. They ask about stuff going on in my life. Start to finish, undressing to redressing, takes fifteen minutes.

(On a side note, the director of the center called me one day to check on me. I was telling her about the choir robes that I have “inherited” and are hanging in my basement. A few days later, the technicians had a bag with four garment bags to use to store the robes if I wanted. That’s the kind of place this is.)

I see the radiation oncologist once a week. There are two of them and I like them both. I have seen them both because my own doctor has been on a few vacations this summer. She is a mother of four. School is back in session and vacations are now over.

I see the social worker once a week. I usually see her on Thursday or Friday. She is administering a grant from the American Cancer Society for breast cancer patients. It is for help with transportation to treatment. For me, that means Speedway cards. I am very cool with that. We talk about our professions. We talk about Springfield, Ohio. She provides me with many literary resources. She signed me up for the make-up party.

The center has a central waiting area which reminds me of a lodge; high ceilings, with a big stone fireplace in the center of the room. One end of the building is the radiology department, the center is the doctors’ offices and examination rooms, with a nurse’s station. This is to the rear of the lodge. The other side of the building is that of the chemo department. I hope that I never have to see it.

As I walk through the main area, it has been filling up and many more people are waiting. As I have mentioned before, I am on the younger end of the average patient, age-wise. Most patients are with their spouse, partner or other family member. I am strong enough to be able to deal with this myself. On Tuesdays, there is a guitarist playing hymns. He is good. I wish I had time to just sit and listen or maybe even join in singing, but I am off to work.

I realize how much better off I am than many of the folks in treatment. It’s just apparent by their physical appearance and their demeanor. They appear weary. Some are there to see the doctors for the first time(s) before treatment, and they look just fine. It runs the gambit.

On one wall are names of people who donated money to build this cancer center. I know many of the names. Today I emailed someone that I knew, thanking him for his family’s involvement in getting this center going. He responded promptly, wishing me well.

As I write this, I have 10 more treatments. I will continue to see both oncologists. One is for my radiation treatment; and the other is for my ongoing medication. The cancer center is becoming like home.

I certainly never planned for this.

P.S. My next blog will NOT be about cancer, unless something remarkable happens. I do have other ideas!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Ups and Downs: Realities of Radiation

I have entered this “journey” with full transparency, as I want my reader to know the good and bad and REAL of a diagnosis like cancer.

I am four weeks into radiation and I am now officially fatigued. It is not the radiation, it’s the rest of life. The real heroines (and heroes) are those who do chemo, radiation and still work. I don’t know how they do it. I have cut back to twenty-five hours a week at work; go to radiation before work—what’s so hard about that?

Often I don’t get to work on time, because I see the radiology oncologist once a week, the social worker once a week and have ex-rays once a week. The radiation itself takes five minutes. I may have to wait for the other appointments.

I know that it’s important to do as much with exercise as I possibly can, without overdoing it. My goal is three days a week of “something” at the gym. Then there are the “other” appointments, that of my hairdresser, other doctors’ visits, the bank, the drug store, all of which are squeezed in around work and attempting to be home in the evening to rest. There’s church on Sunday, and visits from the kids. We don’t stop living, and we wouldn't want to.

My husband helps, but he has things to do also, so I have the majority of daily cleaning chores and grocery shopping (because he would come home with junk food, and I am concentrating on cancer-fighting foods). I break down the chores such as cleaning bathrooms one day, dusting another, sweeping yet another (and I have asked him to help with that). He is taking care of the yard, the finances—going over medical bills with a fine-toothed comb—and other errands that need done! He shampoos the carpet and other "large" household chores that I wouldn't even attempt. He painted our basement during this time.

But—then there are things I WANT TO DO!

  • I WANT to go to the Reds game and see the kid from Springfield play for the Diamondbacks.
  • I WANT to go out to dinner with my sorority sister from college.
  • I WANT to get my hair colored. (This is not a want, this is a need!)
  • I WANT to go to a graduation party.
  • I WANT to go to a baby shower.
  • I WANT to go out with friends.

And finally, I WANT to be at my son’s football games on Friday night! We won’t be at all of them, but out of 10 weeks, I want to be at 7. Unless it’s raining. I did my time in the rain. Besides, they tell me that radiation compromises my immune system. No sense in asking for it!

There are some givens in all of this. I take a medicine which is an estrogen-blocker. It has made me nauseous and the oncologist and I have to have a talk at our visit this week. (BTW, this is the second oncologist, I have two doctors to see this coming week!) I stopped taking it for a week to see what would happen and indeed, some of the nausea has gone away, but not all. What will we do? Stay tuned.

Now, with being nauseous, you would think that I would lose weight, but alas, I have gained back 12 pounds of the 30 that I lost. Since I dutifully threw away my “fat” clothes, I find myself in a quandary. I now have to buy “some” clothes to get by. This is truly depressing. I have gone through my closet and pulled out what does not fit and put it away. I pray that this is only temporary; but I can’t be looking in the closet every night and not knowing what I can wear the next day. I have purchased two pairs of slacks. I am able to move the buttons on my skirts.

On the other hand, I had the opportunity to go to a “Look Good, Feel Better” group last Tuesday. Now I have been to my share of “Mary Kay©” parties and I use Mary Kay© regularly, but I don’t mind being given free make-up at all! I was exhausted that evening, but $250 worth of product could turn my head. Yes, indeed. What I wasn't counting on was the joy of watching several older ladies literally transform themselves with make-up and wigs, and becoming so excited by the process. These were ladies who “didn't wear make-up” and have succumbed to the ravages of the natural course of disease. Maybe it’s the social worker in me, but for me it was as much about the process as the product. I am on the younger end of the patients that I have met, and that may have something to do with the time that I have chosen for radiation. We all know that women younger than I have breast cancer, I just haven’t run into them! They must do their treatment later in the day.

So, life in cancer treatment has its ups and downs. Yes, I am tired. If I sleep well, it makes all the difference. If one has sick time to use, I suggest using it. If I didn't have to worry about work, the rest would fall into place. However, I do not have the skin issues—sunburn—that many women have, at least not yet. I had hoped to lose weight, but that is not happening. I experience nausea and maybe we can do something about that. We must ask ourselves if that is radiation or medication. Medication is with me for the long haul. Radiation is over in 18 days.

Don’t think that when radiation ceases that I am done with the doctors’ appointments. There will be many more, and they will be with me for life. We will move into another phase, and all the other aspects of life will still be with me. I surely hope it slows down a little. But wait, we’ll be into the holiday season—birthdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Oy vey!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Letters To My Mom

Recently, my mother brought me two notebooks of letters that I wrote to her, and my first thought was “WHY did she keep all this stuff?” The early letters were from a summer in 1981 that she spent studying in Majorca, and my husband and brother (and I) put 10,000 miles on her new car. She was gone for six weeks and the letters are full of news about how the two of us and her 17-year-old son handled the day-to-day life of broken refrigerators (hers) and the activities of all of us. Hubby and Bro took the car out west on a vacation, and I worked. (That was a vacation of sorts for me too!) When they returned, my husband and I took ANOTHER trip to Dallas, Texas to visit a friend living there.

Mom lived in Fairborn, but moved to Columbus before my daughter was born in 1983. I continued to write because remember, in those days we had to PAY for long-distance phone calls! I wrote regularly and when she moved to Florida in 1991, I continued to write regularly and then in 1998 we got a computer.

The good news is that I began journaling also in 1987. So the holes that the letters leave can be researched through the journals. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story of life. Each letter on its own is fairly mundane, but when taken together, it weaves a story. Several things stood out to me.

The first thing that struck me was the news of the politics of the City Schools, my husband’s employer. I have one thing to say about this and it is found in Ecclesiastes 1:9—“There is nothing new under the sun.” However, it was interesting to read, and my response to what was going on at the time.

The second thing that struck me was how BUSY we were! I am sure that some of my readers have the impression that stay-at-home-moms are not busy.  My husband never worked a summer job with one exception; that of summer 1995 through November 1997, when he and I did a motor paper route to supplement our income during a three-year wage freeze. I worked part-time from 1986 until 1999, when I went into the full-time work force. We also were very careful about how many things we allowed our children to participate in; some of it economy-driven, but some of it time-driven, and some of it people-driven. We didn't think our kids needed to think they were the center of the universe. Looking back, they weren't, but we sure were busy. I don’t have any idea how people with more than two children do it!

The third thing that stuck me was how we always had our needs provided some way. Now, the numbers were interesting as things did cost less in those days, but there was always good planning on to get through whatever season it was. I mentioned prices a lot, perhaps more than I should have. I never felt that we lived “hand-to-mouth,” but there was always (1) car insurance due, (2) car repairs, (3) something in the house that needed fixed, and of course (4) kids’ needs, orthodontics (we had no dental with #1, but my job provided some help with #2), clothes, school supplies and sports and a variety of lessons over the years.

The fourth thing that stood out to me is that we were at church A LOT! The kids and I were very active in many organizations and much of our life centered at the church. I worked in three churches.

In the 39 years since I graduated from college, I have worked in thirteen organizations, only one for a period of ten years, and with changing jobs often and many times working part-time, our vacations had to be planned during those changes or during school breaks--the ten-year stint was in a school. We did take vacations, but they were sporadic, and while planned, most of the time we just went to the Smokies because we loved it there, and then we drove on to Georgia to my brother’s. We were able to take three family vacations to my mother’s in Florida during the 20 years she lived there. That is in addition to the kids going down there, Jerry taking the kids while I worked, and me going a couple of times on my own.

Now, the good news is that I have journals of my own. I began with a “day planner” type of calendar in 1987 and I just wrote the basics of daily life without much thought. When taken as a whole, it is a story of life in a certain time and place. After we moved to the country in 1993, I came upon the journals of my great-great-grandfather, which I have since donated to the Clark County Historical Society. Several family members have these saved to discs and they are on my computer with back-up to an external hard drive. They start in 1868 when he was 18 years old and end in 1933 when he died. My mother was born in 1931 and her birth is mentioned. It was quite the experience to read these all in succession and get a feel for the life in Springfield, Ohio during the late 1800’s and the early 1900’s.

These journals inspired me to write my own daily story. I don’t wax eloquent on many topics and rarely mention news and politics, it’s just the day-to-day life of me and my family. If you are a friend of mine, chances are you are mentioned someplace.

Now I do it on the computer, of course. I don’t think there is a paper journal beyond 2003. I continue to save them and back up and hopefully, these all are a story of my life in the late 1900’s until my death in this century.

Maybe, someday, someone is interested.