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.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Things Cancer Has Taught Me!

Having cancer teaches you things. It teaches you lots of medical stuff that you wished you never had to know. It also teaches you about yourself, as you go through the process. Remember, not everyone will go through the “enlightenments” that I have, but each of us has his/her own story.

First of all, I am vain. I never thought I was, until I was faced with the prospect of losing my hair. It wasn't actually the hair on my head that bothered me so much, I could get a wig. It was the idea of losing eyebrows, eyelashes and hair that frames my face and makes me ME, such as I am. Oh, I knew that I had to do whatever I had to do, but at the deepest part of me, I surely did NOT want to go there. I know that I have readers who have had to go there, and maybe they felt this way and maybe not. I was smacked in the face with how vain I really am.

On the other hand, cancer forces me to set priorities. I like to look nice, but it takes time to look nice. Sometimes it takes LOTS of time to look nice. Now I know that all you men think it just “happens,” but we ladies know better. I had to decide how and where to spend my time. I had balls in the air and I had to decide how many of them I was going to juggle. I still get my hair done; but I've let the nails go. In the big scheme of things, it just doesn't matter. I like to look “put together,” and getting one’s nails done is kind of like the highlight or exclamation point of a sentence. Frankly, I did not have time for these appointments.

I find it frustrating that I am gaining weight, after losing so much. I need to remember that I AM eating healthier, attempting to go to the gym three times a week, and doing what I need to do. What I do not know yet is how the estrogen-blocking medication will affect me long-term. When this all shakes out, I may have to accept some things that I previously didn't accept.

Secondly, I am a planner. Cancer puts you in a place where plans are made FOR you; doctor’s schedules and treatment must take place in a certain time frame. During much of this time, I have been unable to plan things that I want to do. I have to let it go. I just enjoy the plans as they fall into place for me.

Thirdly, I look at life differently. I have never taken life for granted, but now I look at each season as though, “What if this were the last time I was seeing this?” It probably won’t be, or I could be in an accident at any time, and it will be. Somehow, as we drive through the country, I appreciate the bean fields, the corn fields and the green trees in a new way. My time is in a bottle.

The PG-rated picture of
my treatment.
There are a couple of other things that I have learned to look at differently. The first is that I do NOT feel like I am in some kind of battle. Everywhere you read, someone is “battling” cancer. I am being treated for cancer, and the most annoying thing is that it’s EVERY DAY (except weekends) and it’s a twenty-minute drive to and from. Other than that, there is no pain at all. The techs are delightful, everyone at the cancer center is delightful. We have running jokes now. We laugh. This coming week I am going to a make-up party. I figure that I can learn a new thing. Cancer or not, my skin is changing as I age and I could probably use some advice. My biggest issue MAY be fatigue, which I have not really experienced yet. I still have four weeks to go and it could happen.

Now, if the cancer returns in the future, and I have to start over and do chemo and get sick and stuff like that, I would consider that a battle. But for me now, I’m in treatment. Treatment, so the cancer will NOT return.

Another issue that annoys me a little is “finding a cure for cancer!” Folks, that is ridiculous. We may cure breast cancer or prostate cancer, but not cure lung cancer. Cancers cannot be lumped into one word. They are different diseases. It’s as ridiculous as lumping Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s together. Of COURSE, we want to find treatment and maybe cure these diseases, but they are DIFFERENT DISEASES! Breast cancer and lung cancer are different diseases. Treatments are similar, but when it comes to CURE, they will be different cures.

Much of what cancer is seems to be PR, bandwagon-jumping and that sort of thing. PLEASE support the American Cancer Society, or Susan B. Komen, or anyone else you feel led to. Monies for research are being used in my treatment. We hope there is more to work with in ten years, or twenty. And perhaps we WILL find a cure for breast cancer! However, remember there is no ONE cure for ALL cancers. It just doesn't work that way, but we still give, and pray.

I am still a “gee-whizzer” and I stand in amazement of the machinery that I have been surrounded by, zapped with and imaged in every way imaginable. None of this would be possible without donations to research.

In concluding this, I have four more weeks of treatment. I hope that it’s uneventful enough that I have no need to continue a blog, until I say “IT’S OVER!!!”

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Learning to Eat Differently!

“Good, better, best. Never let it rest. ‘Til the good is better and the better is best.” St. Jerome, father of the Latin Church. 340-420 AD or thereabouts. Google it.

I am using this thought as I discuss the changes that the Household is making as a result of my having cancer. None of this is new and special knowledge; I am not even footnoting it because you can find this information on the web, in books, magazine articles, anyplace!

There are foods that would be considered in the “best” category as we think of fighting cancer; others in lesser roles. Then there are foods that are “good” for us and we SHOULD eat, but they are NOT cancer-fighting. The idea is to lose some of those foods that we KNOW are not good for us, replacing them with foods that fight cancer to the best degree.

I like to think of it as a “depth chart” since I am the Football Coach’s mom. At the top of the depth chart are those foods that we should be eating as much as possible. Does this mean that I will never have another piece of cake? NO! It just will be seldom.

First I will share the information that you can get anywhere and then I will discuss how I am implementing it in my life. At least, I am attempting to implement it in my Household, but I can’t make the other person eat! That said, here we go:

Cruciferous vegetables: Or rather, how much of these can you stand? BEST is fresh of course, steamed so that you don’t lose the properties with which you wish to benefit your body. Frozen is BETTER during the times of the years that fresh is not available and canned is GOOD. (I’m going to step out on a limb and say it’s ‘”OK.”)
MORE Brussels sprouts!

The BEST is Brussels sprouts. Down from there is collard greens, kale, watercress, turnip, white or red cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower. We like broccoli and cauliflower, but I want to get more Brussels sprouts into our diet.

Garlic and Onions: Along with those are leeks, shallots and chives.These are almost always going to be fresh, but the same rules apply. I need to get more of these into my recipes. Less kissing going on, I would imagine.

Soy: Ugh. Well, I like chick peas, but they are at the lower end of the scale. Soy flour, dry roasted soybeans, boiled green soybeans, miso, tofu (someone shoot me now!), soy milk, soy sauce, and chick peas. I fear I must look into other categories, if I want to keep my marriage intact. However, the field across the street is in beans this year……

Turmeric: It’s an Indian spice. I have no idea what to do with it, but I bought some. I will be experimenting with it. Few people have cancer in India.

Green tea: Did you know you can buy it in bottles at Dollar General? I really don’t like hot tea, but I am writing this in the summer. I am going to have to deal with this in the winter. Green tea is better than black tea; but the reality is that I am drinking unsweetened (black) iced tea and losing the soda. This, of course, is the best thing I could be doing!

Berries: Yahoo! What time of year is it? Blueberries are at the top of the list and in my Household, I don’t have to share this food! Down from there is cranberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, apples, cherries, and on down the list. You can look this all up. Right now I am in hog heaven; but later on I will have dried berries.

For vegetables on this same list: Starts with the red bean and artichoke heart, some of the aforementioned cruciferous vegetables, on down to the iceberg lettuce and cucumber, which are virtually useless. We need to eat spinach and romaine lettuce! Make changes on your Subway sandwich now!

Tomatoes: Prostate cancer’s best friend. OK, I like them too and I like this time of year. The same rules apply, fresh is best, and I NEVER let a tomato go to waste. I cut them up and put them in my “soup bag” in the freezer. You never know what is going to be in my vegetable soup. I also cut up stems of broccoli and cauliflower and cabbage to use in soups. I might even try turmeric. Beware, if you visit my home this winter!

Citrus fruits: oranges, grapefruits, lemons, mandarins. Fresh is best, but do the best you can. Mandarins can be added to salads.

Wine: Now, we’re having fun! Yes, 1-2 glasses of RED wine a day can help a lot. However, if you are a tea-totaler, red grapes are right up there. But red wine is way better than white. Wouldn’t you know? I love my white Zin. And of course, nothing in excess! Enough said.
Chocolate: Oh wow, are you kidding? But it’s DARK chocolate, not Hershey’s© milk chocolate bars. Not Betty Crocker© milk chocolate icing.
Nuts: I don’t have a definitive list for nuts, but walnuts are good and almonds are good. All of these in moderation.
Now, what to lose:
Calorie intake in general.
Reduce red meat consumption.
Processed meats of any kind, smoked (unless you smoke it), deli meats and so forth.
Soda, sugars and processed white flour.
What to add:
Variety in foods.
Eat fruits and vegetables EVERY DAY!

Now, what changes have I made personally? I have not arrived and Rome wasn't built in a day. But here’s what I have done already.
  • Bought lots and lots of fruits and vegetables.
  •  Look at salads at restaurants differently. I rarely do salad bars, but I get my spinach in there with the chick peas and regular peas, along with tomatoes and peppers.
  •  My Subway turkey sandwich is constructed completely differently. Wheat bread, spinach, tomatoes, peppers, and sweet onion sauce.
  • Buy Raisin Bran with flax seed already in it. Flax seed is supposed to be really good for you but it’s not a food I am going to just buy and put on everything.
  •  Buy only whole grain bread, rice, and pasta. I will never completely get rid of white flour but I can do the best I can do. We don’t do any funny grains like couscous around here.
  •  Manage the larger picture. If I have something one day that is NOT cancer-fighting, I place an emphasis on those fruits and vegetables the following day.
  • It’s important to remember that I still need non cancer-fighting foods too, proteins, Omega 3 foods. If I ate ALL cancer-fighting foods, it would be boring shortly.

This is what I am doing as of August 2013. I will make future changes. I will learn new things, new recipes, and so forth. It is definitely a process. I read, probably too much. But I am bound and determined to fight this disease with nutrition as much as I possibly can.

Please feel free to comment. Add recipes, whatever! We can all learn from each other!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Treatment Begins

Once we decided that we were going to do radiation, you would think the next steps would be easy. Like, let's just get on it!

Well it doesn't work quite that fast. We made our decision on Wednesday, July 24th and made an appointment to see the radiation oncologist the following Monday, July 29th. I was planning on this being a consultation, but we ended up spending another two hours at the cancer center. After my husband and I discussed the plan with the doctor, one of the techs took me into another treatment room where I was to lie underneath a CT machine and they took all these measurements to get ready for the actual treatments.

I had my arm over my head in a position that pulled against the incision a little and I asked how long I would be in this position. Twenty minutes. Whew. OK, I can do that. (Grit teeth)

How about forty-five minutes? I thought I was gonna die. It was cold, and I was shaking. I guess we were waiting on the doctor to come in and do something, I really don't know. A person feels so alone in this condition, while the professional people are doing their thing behind other walls. I just lay there and lay there. I began to pray. I prayed for the people that do breast cancer research. I prayed for the support staff. I prayed for the men and women who design and build these fabulous machines that do these fabulous things. Of course, I pray for those who are in direct care of me; but I let my mind go to ALL the people who play a part in bringing me to the place that I am that moment. It really is awesome to think about.

It kept my mind off the discomfort, to some degree. It also made me realize that I can do more than I thought I could. I am ready to get back to the gym and lift some weights.

I wish I had a phone picture of my husband when I finally come out to the waiting room. By now it's 4:30 and pretty much empty. He's asleep, with his leg thrown over another chair. I just have to laugh, considering what I have been through. I did get a meal at El Toro out of it.

I came back the following Friday for a "dry run." In other words, do everything I am going to do except get zapped. That appointment was easy-peasy and I was at work a half hour sooner than planned. This is not going to be tough. I am scheduled to begin Monday, August 5th. I will have 33 treatments. The first 25 will radiate the entire breast, and the last 8 will focus in on where the tumor was. I think a party is in order when this is all finished!

On Monday, August 5th, I went in for treatment #1. It went fine, I have more markings on me, and some of them are made permanent by "tattoos." These are simply little dots to line up the machines correctly and they are in places that polite company will not see them anyway. With the tattoos, I can now take a good bath, and wash off all the temporary markings.

As I got the tattoos, I had one of those moments that I had when I was twenty years old and I took one puff of a cigarette. Both of my parents smoked, and I wondered, "WHY does ANYONE do this?" I had the same feeling with the tattoos. These were just dots and they hurt a little. Now to us women who have had babies, this was nothing; but I had the thought, "WHY does ANYONE PAY someone to draw pictures on them?" Sorry, I just don't get it. I'll do what I have to do to treat disease, but for ART and EXPRESSION? No, thanks!

After the tattoo session, I met with the oncologist, and it appears that I will be meeting with her every Monday. We will discuss anything that comes up. Today we had little to say, but it's good to keep in touch, and this is what we want to do as treatment progresses. I will have a treatment Monday through Friday for six and one half weeks. Barring any unforeseen power outages, I will finish on Thursday, September 19th.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

My Return to the Gym

It is time to return to the gym. I am seven weeks post-surgery and it’s the beginning of a billing cycle. The fitness club has graciously frozen my prepaid account during this time. I will need to start slow. But it is time.

I popped in the other night and “audited” the Zumba class. I knew that I needed a sense of humor about this as I didn't even have shoes. I don’t do well with ball changes and bare feet and carpet. Maybe some people can do this, but not me. It was ugly. I also felt the need for shoes with some ankle support. This is just a personal thing for me.

I surprised myself in that I was able to last twenty minutes but I knew when to quit and watch. I liked it; there was a day that I liked to dance. I know that being heavier, it isn't graceful, but I do have a “few” moves. I can do this in time, and I look forward to adding to that time next week.

So, today, a Thursday, I went back in “for real.” There weren't very many people there, and that’s just the way I wanted it. I went to the circuit room to try out some of the stuff. I wasn't worried about my legs. Although I did not pick up where I left off, I was pretty close. Using the upper body machines was going to be more difficult for my left side, but I was surprised at how much weight I was able to lift and for how many repetitions. I don’t think this will be as difficult as I expected.

Then I went to ride the recumbent bike. I rode for the length I always did, but NOT at the “level” of resistance. It was about half. I will add resistance, not time.

I plan to go to the gym three times a week at first. I have almost 7 weeks of radiation treatment ahead of me and I will experience fatigue. How much remains to be seen, so I am not setting goals that will frustrate me. Boot camp is still in the future because of the up and down activities involved. I can dance. We stay on our feet. We work different parts of the body, the abdomen being the least worked part of the body.

And for me, the most noticed. I haven’t used the scales, but I am eating differently, and judging my weight by the fit of my clothes. I have a ways to go, but I will get there.

The worst part of my first visit to the gym? The mirrors! I have work to do!

P.S. Life is back to normal. I left my cell phone there and had to go back and get it.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Fitness During Recuperation From Surgery

I have not addressed the Fitness Journey for some time. It’s obvious that I cannot exercise while I am recuperating from surgery, and the first week takes care of itself in terms of lack of appetite. I refuse to even get on the scales and I am still in my clothes. I use my clothes as my measurement. But I admit I have gained weight.

Five weeks out, it’s time to think about some things. Not ready to return to the gym until I am released, and this week is the hottest week of the year, what can I do?

I am starting to lift weights with my arms. I have five pound weights at home. I am doing leg lifts. But in terms of stamina, just doing everything that I need to do during any given day is pretty much stamina building.

I face treatment, and that will drive the train. I don’t know how it will go. You hear all kinds of stories and while I recognize that each patient is unique, I have no idea how I will respond.

Something like cancer and surgery strips you of everything. Then you add things back. Number one is daily living. In my practice we call this ADLs, activities of daily living. Number two is getting back to work. Number three is treatment, whatever that means. Number four is exercise. Now, number four can precede number three as we wait to set up the treatment schedule. Walking, mild weight lifting, even riding a recumbent bike would be OK. But once treatment begins, that moves up the ladder and becomes number one. Everything else is of lesser importance.

It’s depressing to read about what all my fitness buddies are doing, knowing I can’t even attempt those things. I have been in regular contact with the management of the gym, and they are cooperating fully by freezing my membership. I never thought I would miss it so much.

On the other hand, I know I will return. I am not afraid of starting over, or starting slow. I want to be smart about it, so that there are no setbacks.

I have been doing a lot of reading about “cancer fighting” foods. You can google this. These are foods that I need to get into my diet. Berries such as blueberries, cranberries and red grapes; whole wheat products, “head” vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and I am sorry I am not doing Brussels sprouts; as well as spinach as opposed to head lettuce (no kale, please). Legumes will be a challenge, I am just not a bean lady. These are the foods that are going to make their way into the household, like it or not. I will deal with new eating habits in a future blog.

The site of the surgery has been like any other in terms of healing. It just takes time. Developing stamina takes time. The difference in this surgery is what it has done to my psyche, facing mortality, fears, and just dealing with the fact that I AM one of those “one in eight” women who developed breast cancer. Eventually though, I must get on with life.