Sunday, August 29, 2010

Attitude is Everything: Lessons from a Dumb Dog

We have two dogs, a Border Collie named Cleo and a Pomeranian named Harry.  I have always loved and owned dogs.  When I say always, I'm not exaggerating.  From cradle to grave, I expect to live with a dog or two. 

When we decided to purchase our small dog, Harry, it was a turning point in my dog-owning life.  I never thought of myself as a small dog person. I grew up with larger dogs, typically of the hunting variety, but always a part of our family. 

Cleo was my first non-hunter, and I adore her.  She is the daughter I never had and a sister in this house full of men.  She is the one who is thrilled to "go get the paper!" and has even been known to pick up after herself when she has her occasional midnight Kleenex shredding party. If told to "get it...pick it up" she does just that.  When she is outside and ready to come in, she knocks.  When scolded for licking dishes in the dishwasher, she never went near them again.  Of the two, Cleo is the one who would easily be a candidate for GT.

And then there is Harry.  Harry would, very likely, ride the short bus.  We dare not let him in the front yard unattended, as his brain shifts to go-mode and he does just that.  He is the dog who cannot remember that he is NOT supposed to lick the dirty dishes in the dishwasher.  When asked to sit, he tries, really tries, but it is oh so hard to hold that sit.  His entire body shakes.  But Harry has qualities I admire and sometimes envy. 

Last week the entire family unit, dogs included, enjoyed a photo session with a talented local photographer.  In preparation for this, my son, Sean, treated Harry to a bath with gentle doggie oatmeal shampoo, made for sensitive skin.  Apparently it was not gentle enough for Harry.  Several days after this, we noticed he was acting strange, rubbing along the side of the sofa like a cat, and spending a lot of time gnawing on his backside.  This was the weekend of my chemo induced nausea, so I wasn't noticing much of anything, but knew something wasn't right with Harry. 

When we got up Monday morning, a large patch of skin on his hip was bald and raw.  It looked like he'd fallen off his bike and had some serious road rash, only, of course, that could never happen.  David thought he'd been attacked by something in our backyard.  Thankfully, the vet had an opening and Sean hauled him to their office that morning.

Harry returned with two prescription bottles full of pills and wearing an Elizabethan collar.  Now, most of you know that this is really a plastic cone shaped torture device for dogs.  It looks like Harry's head is in a big white funnel...all the time.  He now has zero peripheral vision and needs about three times the space to get through doors.  And he has to wear this thing for two weeks.  When I heard that, I thought there was NO WAY he could go two weeks with this thing. 

This is where Harry is special.

He has worn it like a trooper.  If Cleo had this device on her neck, she would drive herself and everyone else crazy trying to figure out how to remove it...asap.  Harry acts like he was born with this thing.   Though maybe that's not accurate, because if he'd been born with it, he wouldn't run into the wall, the door, the sofa, table legs, chair legs, and our legs almost constantly.  But, special guy that he is, he does these things, literally (and I do mean literally) bounces back, and keeps on going.  A game of fetch the ball is much more challenging than it used to be (and can be pretty hilarious, from our perspective).  He has smiled (yes, he can smile) through the whole ordeal and has continued to enjoy his happy life.  If he could pray, I know he would always be giving thanks for his blessings and letting the negative things fade to the background.

Harry, the tailless pom.

So, I've watched Harry this past week and grown to admire him all the more.  He has shown me that, no matter our circumstance, attitude is everything.  If he chose to spend all day trying to escape his new appendage, he would be miserable.  He has adapted, in some ways.  He now leaps higher when coming up the step into the back door, and he waits until we have that door open plenty wide before even attempting that leap.  He has figured out how to get the food out of his bowl comfortably and how to sleep in equal comfort.  I know he will do a happy dance when we take the collar off in another week, but, until then, no worries.  What good would that do, anyway?

David with a bowl of Harry.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Telling the 800

Many of you may be wondering how I dealt with telling my students about my "condition", or if I even did this. Of course I told them.  You think I could keep news like this to myself?  I'm not that good.

I teach well over 800 different students each week in 31 different classes.  I have these students from 1st grade through 5th grade, so we get to know each other pretty well.  I chose not to discuss my news with my youngest and newest students, the 1st graders. They don't know me yet, and I thought it a bit much to lay this on them their first day in the art room. However, 2nd through 5th grade needed to know. I'm all about honesty and communication in my class, plus, I knew when my hair started to fall out they would catch on that something was up.  I teach very observant children.

This was an interesting experience for me. I actually found myself tearing up in the first class, but got control and the more I did it the easier it got. I will say, if you want to make sure your class is listening and focused, telling them you have cancer will certainly do it. There were times I actually became conscious of the utter silence in the room. The chattiest students were listening and quiet, and if they weren't, someone shushed them.

Now, in case you haven't noticed, I am not a maudlin person, so the last thing I wanted to do was upset or scare my students. I presented my situation the exact way I see it, in a positive light. I let them know that, yes, cancer is very bad, very serious, and I certainly wouldn't choose to have it, but I do. When bad things happen to a person, that person has a choice. Do I wallow in the bad or make the most of it and look for the good? I choose the good.

I think the most frightening thought to most of them was that I will be going bald in a few days. To the upper grades I explained a bit about cells, cell growth, and how cancer cells are cells that go nuts and do things they're not supposed to do. This helped me explain what chemotherapy was...chemicals that go into my body that kill those bad cells. Unfortunately, while those bad cells are being killed, so are a few of the good ones, including those that grow my hair. Sooo, guess what's going to happen to my hair? (This is when the room typically erupted in excited exclamations of "what!?", "oh, no!", and "ewww!".)

They were greatly relieved to hear me say I do have a wig or two ready for this, plus I'll be wearing hats and/or scarves.  I will NOT be teaching school looking like a hard boiled egg.  I would, after all, like to be able to teach them some art this year. One young man did point out how easy it will be for me when it's time to do self-portraits. "You won't have to draw your hair!" I'm considering letting them leave off their hair, too. Everyone always gets a kick out of that first part of self-portaiture, where they draw the head, eyes, mouth and nose, then add the hair last, so why not go with it?  (I hope you get when I'm joking.)

I explained my bald plan this way...
Once I realize my hair is going, my oldest son, JC, who is handy with hair clippers (as he's shaved a few heads in his day) is going to get the honor of shaving his mother's head. They thought this was pretty awesome! So, you moms with my students, be warned, since, when asked, most of them were thrilled with the idea of shaving their mother's head!

We discussed how easy it will be for me to get ready in the mornings, how much more time I'll have, and how much money I will save on shampoo. Kids are nothing if not pragmatic. Before this is over, I wouldn't be surprised if a few of them join me in my baldness. Or maybe not.

I made sure they knew that losing my hair will not be because of the cancer, but because of the cure.  When they see me, they are not to feel sad, but to feel happy, knowing those chemicals are killing the cancer cells.  Living is much more important than growing hair.

As usual, I learned many things in this discussion with my students.  As adults we often forget that kids don't know certain things.  One of these things is that cancer is NOT contagious.  This was asked more than once by very concerned students and, coming from a kid's mind, is a legitimate concern.  I made certain to add this information into my discussion with all of my classes, once this question was aired.

My students know they will be learning much more than art in the art room this year (as one chimed in..."yeah, like science!"). They know I will not be as strong, sometimes may be absent, and will look different, but they are in it with me and I couldn't ask for more positive attitudes.

I appreciated and enjoyed this very unusual art room conversation, but, to tell you the truth, I cannot wait to have a week when the C word is not mentioned.  That may be a while, but I know my students will do all they can to distract me from it.  Like I said in a previous post, they are the best medicine.

Back to Reality...a Good Thing

Following a rather fitful night's sleep, I awoke a bit after 4:00 Tuesday morning and tossed around until, finally, my 5:20 alarm went off.  NPR and Steve Inskeep at that hour = back to reality...back to work.  Hallelujah!  I rolled out of bed feeling like an 80 year old woman...a vast improvement from the 90 and 100 year old I'd been imitating the past 3 days.

That was how my week began and, in fact, was the one paragraph I managed to get written following my first day back to school after that nightmarish chemo weekend.  Yes, Tuesday came and I was back in the art teacher saddle again.

Let me say right up front, it would have been much more difficult if not for the great people I work with.  Not that they had to do much for me...I did manage to teach my 6 classes that day, but just knowing they were next door, across the hall or an intercom call away, made me feel safe and secure and cared for, which makes such a difference.  I am so blessed to have such caring co-workers, several of whom stuck their head in my class now and then to make sure I was okay and still upright.  So, this 80 year old woman managed to teach 6 classes that day, and, oddly, by the end of the day, felt more like a 70 year old woman.  Things were looking good!

The week continued in the same manner.  Of course, I was totally exhausted by 3:00 and nodding off early each evening, but so was every other teacher in Springdale.  That first full week is a killer, no matter your physical condition.

Interestingly, by the end of the day yesterday (Friday) that 70 year old woman had actually knocked quite a few more years off and was almost feeling back to normal.  I think it was a combination of time away from chemo, great support from friends, and soaking up the energy that comes from my wonderful students.  They may be the best medicine of all.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Couldn't Hide from the Side Effects

In my mind, I was going to escape.  I am a believer in prayer, mind-over-matter, the power of positive thinking and anything else that affects ones inner ability to overcome adversity.  Going into chemo I was so covered up in prayer and good feeling that I was certain I would escape the possible side effects promised. 

Sadly, that was not to be.  The day following chemo was not so bad.  I had taken that day off of work, unsure what to expect.  Other than a mild feeling of exhaustion, I was okay.  I used that day to visit the local Cancer Support Home (accompanied by my sweet son, Sean) and sign up for a class, learn about support groups, check out a couple of books (Sean was drawn to the one called Boobs), and select a couple of wigs (yes, one is red(ish)).  I also made a few phone calls concerning cancer support services...things I have a difficult time doing from school.  As you teachers know too well, once school starts, normal life, as we know it, stops.

Several days ago I made arrangements with a fellow teacher and sweet friend of mine who also happens to be a very talented photographer.  Yes, I played the cancer card and managed to get my guys to agree to a photo shoot.  So Saturday we planned to meet Blaire (B.Perry Photography) at 10:30.  The way my weekend went, we got in just under the wire, as I could feel my gills turning greener as the morning passed.  She was amazing and I fear her subjects could have been better.  Let's hope a little Photoshop can hide that green tinge I'm sure I had.  Not to mention two confused and goofy dogs.  For some reason, I wanted my family as it is NOW...dogs and all.  They are not Lassie, however, so are not camera friendly beasts.  Blaire was awesome, no matter the challenge.  If you live in NWA and want a beyond professional and highly creative photography experience, give Blaire a call.

As you may have guessed, it was downhill from there (or maybe uphill - downhill seems too easy).  I spent the rest of the weekend nauseated and exhausted.  I've read about others who were exhausted on chemo and I refused to relate.  I thought this could not happen to me, as I would just get up and move, shake that exhaustion, walk it off.  Ha!  Those rose colored glasses are not always helpful.  I felt as though I doubled my age in a matter of hours.

I literally moved from uncomfortable sofa, to uncomfortable bed and back again.  There was no comfortable position.  Sitting = yuck.  Lying = yuck.  Reclining = yuck.  Yes, I was taking 2 different nausea meds, Zofran and Compazine, which, I assumed, helped me rest, though fitfully.  Thank God, I didn't reach the point of throwing up.  That is not something I do well.  Just complete nausea, no desire for food of any kind.  I think I drank a gallon of iced water each day, though, which is a good thing.  My exercise came from multiple trips to the bathroom.

I did call the chemo nurse yesterday and was encouraged to continue taking the Zofran and told they will give me different nausea meds during the next round of chemo.  I will be praying they help.

This is day 3 of fighting nausea and another day of missed work (Monday), but I actually am able to sit up without misery, and even ate a small bowl of cereal and fruit.  I'm avoiding the meds and hoping tomorrow I will be back in the art teacher saddle again. 

Thanks to so many of you for your concern, fb messages, emails, and phone calls.  Just because I don't reply, does not mean your concern is not felt.  And, as pointed out by both my husband and a dear friend, (who did this herself, not so long ago), the fact that I am feeling these side effects only shows it is working.  If the cancer feels as badly as I do, wonderful.  It's just hard watching everyone around me feeling great and knowing all that I should be accomplishing right now. 

But maybe I am accomplishing more than I think.

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.
II Corinthians 12:9

Bring on the power.

Chemo: Round One

Last Thursday...another day of firsts. 

It was the first day of school for students and teachers.  After five days of professional development, classroom organizing, and preparation, our quiet buildings are suddenly surging with immeasurable kid-energy.  Teachers always joke that our jobs would be such a breeze, if it were not for those kids who keep showing up everyday.  Well, five days of in-service, sans kiddos, is enough already.  We NEED those kids!  I need those kids.  There is nothing that can take your mind off of yourself like an elementary school full of kids, raring to go.  The phrase "ready or not, here they come" must have been coined by a teacher. 

My first day of school this year was fabulous, albeit somewhat abbreviated.  This was at my second school, Shaw, so was a bit different, considering I have never been there for the first day.  Upon arrival, I found a gold starfish pin on my desk (if you are a teacher, you know the starfish symbolism) impaling a beautiful pink (breast cancer) ribbon on my desk.  As I went through my morning and noticed everyone wearing this, I was touched by the message.  It's one thing for a person to have one workplace where they feel completely supported and encouraged, but to have two is a blessing beyond words.  Sadly, I had to leave this first day happiness to meet my husband at noon and head for my first chemotherapy session.

That was a real first.  Felt like the first day of school, first day on the job, and first date, all rolled into one.  Yep, I was the newbie on the block.  Thankfully, the nurses know how to handle the new kids, no problem.  The chemo room, on the second floor at Highlands Oncology Group, is a rather large, brightly lit room with the nurses' station in the middle and a variety of comfy recliners surrounding the room.  One end has several big screen televisions.  They were silenced and on varying channels.  I think they supplied headphones if one wished to partake...I did not.  I was struck by how very large this room was and how many chairs it contained.  Cancer is truly a horrible, undescriminating, and unexpected evil in so many lives.
One side of the chemo room.

I pulled a Goldilocks and tryed one was toooo big.  So I moved to the was just right.  David got to use the too big chair, since no one else wanted it. 

My new Powerport finally got put to use, and I was so glad to have it...mainly because, due to where it's placed (below my collarbone), I could not even see what the nurse was doing.  I'm not one that likes to watch needles being poked into me.  I had used a nifty cream that deadened the skin, so I felt nary a thing.  And presto, I was hooked up and ready to receive what they had to give me, beginning with the ever present bag of saline, followed by a smaller bag of Benadryl (kinda like happy hour at the chemo ward).  Benadryl is used due to the possibility of an allergic reaction during the infusion of one of the chemicals I was to receive.  Once the Benadryl was gone, the cancer killers began.  TAC - Taxotere, Adriamycin, and Cytoxan - serious stuff.  (As I complete the writing of this blog, 2 days later, I am feeling the effects of it...weakness and nausea. I'm suddenly 100 years old.  I hate feeling like such a wimp.)

Thumbs up.  So far, so good...naive person that I am.

The actual time spent in receiving the treatment was not unpleasant.  David brought lunch from McAlister's Deli and, once I recovered from the initial onset of severe chills due to the room temp fluids entering my body (by bundling up in jacket and blankets), I enjoyed a baked potato and iced tea, dozed a bit (thanks to the Benadryl), surfed the web and did some blogging. 

If only it could stay so easy.

We headed home around 5:00 and continued life as usual, for now.

So that was my day of firsts.  First day of school, first day of chemo.  I wish my head had been more into the first one and less into the second and I look forward to the day when my life doesn't seem consumed with this disease.  How quickly priorities can change in ones life.  I thank you all for your kind words and prayers during this time.  You have made such a difference in my life.  I am so thankful that I do not have to go through this alone.  That would be beyond bearable.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Cramming for Chemo

Maybe it's a case of denial.  Maybe I thought if I ignored it, it wouldn't come.  But last night, the night before a truly monumental event in my life, I decided it was time to prepare for my first chemo day.  That's right...I said the night before and time to prepare in the same sentence. 

It's been a bit like preparing for a wedding, only without the cake, and punch.  This event has involved, and will continue to involve, countless appointments with a wide variety of experts and planners, lots of internet research, plenty of sleepless nights, and free advice and encouragement from everyone (I am NOT complaining about this...that's my favorite part).  Oh, and plenty of bills to pay. (See? Just like a wedding.)  So, now that this most important day is finally here, I decided I'm not quite ready. 

I know this will come as a shock to many, but I pulled similar procrastinative (is that even a word?) stunts as an ignorant college freshman.  I frequently crammed the night before my exams.  Last night = flashback to the past.

I blame this all on my first roommate, Suzetta.  I adored Suzetta (and still do).  However, unlike me, Suzetta was a speed reader and, well...just plain brilliant.  She always waited until the night before to study, did I.  Monkey see, monkey do.  She got straight A's.  I did not.  I was too busy having fun and NOT studying to try the responsible study-a-little-every-night technique.

Thanks to this tendency to procrastinate in preparation for something I don't want to do, last night, at about 10:00, I decided I needed to accomplish two things: de-germ the bathroom and read the tome of information they gave me concerning cancer, chemo, and the works.  I cleaned toilet, sink, tub, and even washed the shower curtain liner.  I meant to buy a new one, since reading that this is recommended for chemo patients due to the bacteria they harbour, but somehow that didn't get purchased.  I guess I was doing other things.  So, into the washing machine it went, with a little soap and bleach.  Bye bye, bacteria.  Easy peasy.  I did purchase a toothbrush sanitizer from Amazon several days ago; I guess I should have also ordered the liner from them.  See, I didn't forget everything.

Once things were clean to my liking, I settled in to read through the notebook given to me by my oncologist, Dr. Beck.  Thankfully, that was a quick read since I discovered I already knew most of it, thanks to Dr. Google.

I really was ready for the big day, but just didn't feel that way last night.  Suddenly I was out of time and I still had a few more undone items on my sanitize my entire house.  That one had to be let go.  Not gonna happen.

So, yes, last night I crammed for my chemo event and I think I did pretty well.  (The real test comes in the next few days.)  I'll fill you in on the fun time we had in tomorrow's posting.  You'll be so jealous.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Two Meetings, Two Schools, Two Doctors, One Day

Welcome to Patti's Pity Party. 

I'm glad every day isn't like today.  It wasn't necessarily a bad day, but the day just didn't want to end.  Why can't my days lounging around on vacation last as long? 

This was day 4 of our 5 days of teacher in-service, which means professional development out the wazoo.  For those of us who want to sound like we know what we're talking about, it's called PD.  The two meetings I attended today were great, especially the morning meeting with my elementary art cohorts.  This meeting is always coordinated and facilitated by yours truly, which is my pleasure, because, no matter the agenda, these gals (and now one guy) make it a pleasure to be together.  I love my fellow art teachers.  After working through the first few agenda items, we enjoyed a hands-on PD activity using Artists Trading Cards, presented by our very talented Cheryl.  Art teacher PD is the envy of all...or at least we think it is.

From there I grabbed a sandwich from the lounge, did a few odd jobs in my room, and checked email, before heading to SHS for our afternoon district-wide gathering.  I had to drive alone to this meeting, since I was to leave in the midst of it for a 2:45 doctor's appointment.  I usually enjoy the carpool there and back, but had to sacrifice that pleasure this year. 

What made this gathering so special was not the great speakers or wonderful entertainment from some amazing students, but the sea of pink in which I found myself.  Every Walker teacher wore pink, as a show of solidarity for Hope.  They even hung a big pink banner from our balcony seating with the word "HOPE" boldly printed.

Sadly, with a doctor's appointment looming, I had to depart this sea of pink and head for my car, parked further away than is my normal preference.  (Parking is an issue when we have a gathering of every teacher and administrator in the district.)  So I hiked that half mile (more like hauled butt) as the sky dripped (yes, dripped) rain on me the whole way, threatening to soak me, but never following through.  Just one of those rains that makes your car look like it has the measles.

I headed south to Fayetteville to visit with Dr. Bell, let him check my Powerport, and remove those steri-strips, of which I've become so fond.  This appointment should be a breeze, right?  Well it was...took about 5 minutes...after spending 1 hour and 15 minutes sitting in the waiting room.  When I asked what was taking so long, I was told I was next on the docket (of course), only to discover, following profuse apologies, that my virtual paperwork had been lost in the new computer system they were trying to get used to (and hating, apparently).  I was in there, only not where I should have been...or something like that. 

So, what should have been a 15 minute appointment, turned out to be 1.5 hours.  Don't they know I'm a teacher??  Don't they know those kids are coming on Thursday?!  Every minute counts this week!  And I do mean minute.

I left frustrated and grumbling.  Seriously.

From there, back to Walker to make an appearance at our back to school social and then head to Shaw (my 2nd school).  I ended up staying for the entire social and didn't get to Shaw until after 6:00, feeling some serious anxiety concerning not being nearly as prepared for the start of this school year as I usually am.  Not to mention being overwhelmed with the knowledge that my heart is just not as into it as it usually is.  Can you sense my stress level rising? 

I called my dad between schools.  (Please, no lectures about driving and using a cell - at least I wasn't texting.  This was my dad, after all.)  Have I mentioned that he is elderly and ailing and needs me quite often?  This cancer has really lousy timing.  I knew I wasn't going to get over there today, so gave him a call to visit and make sure he was doing well and eating. (He has a wonderful lady who cares for him weekdays, but I check anyway...weekends are the hardest.)  He was fine and very sweet with concern about me doing too much.  He's special like that.

As I arrived at Shaw, their back to school social was just ending and I felt some bit of guilt for missing it.  If only someone could clone me.  I spent a couple of hours tending to some last minute jobs in that art room, including running to the ladies room multiple times.  Recognizing some familiar symptoms, it was during this time that I came to the conclusion that I might just have a urinary tract infection.  Perfect.

I left around 8:00 and contemplated what the heck to do if I do have a u.t.i.  I have chemo in two days!  Something tells me this is not an ideal situation.

As I drove home, trying to remember if there were over-the-counter meds for this, I remembered that our family doctor's office has long hours.  Would they still be open this late?  Luckily their office is on my way home, so that's where I went.  Yes...hours were until 8:30.  God bless them!

Here's where this cancer thing comes in handy.  I asked if I could possibly see a doctor, nurse practitioner, or anyone who could write a prescription and was told that most were gone and they weren't taking any more appointments (I don't blame was after 8:00 at NIGHT, after all.  I wanted to go home, too.).  So, of course, I leaned over the counter and pulled out the cancer card.  "Here's my problem...I think I might have a bladder infection and I will be starting chemotherapy on Thursday."  Boy, did that ever get results.  I think I know how the president feels.  I'm sure those sitting in the waiting room wondered who that important lady was who was ushered to the back and didn't get to partake of bad television and germy magazines. 

They handed me some papers and sent me straight to the lab, I handed those to Cute Lab Girl, was handed a plastic cup, headed to the bathroom where I did my thing, returned plastic cup, parked myself in a nearby chair, Cute Lab Girl came out with results and hunted down a nurse, nurse shuffled me to a room to wait for the doc...and 10 minutes later (balancing out the long wait this afternoon)  I was out the door and headed for Walmart with a script for antibiotic.  Infection.  Yep, I knew it. 

I camped at Walmart until it was ready...9:00.  I closed down the pharmacy.  Sweet.

Home by 9:15 and it never looked so good. 

Exhausted, but thanking God for a job I love, good medical care, antibiotics...but most importantly, a home that allows me to forget why I wanted to have that pity party.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Unexpected Kindness

Lately I seem to be constantly surprised and amazed at the kindness of friends.  These are the things that bring me to tears. 

This afternoon I treated myself to one final haircut with Amanda (best stylist in town) at Enve Salon in Fayetteville.  Amanda is the kind of stylist that one needs to plan ahead for, as she's in high demand.  I usually have several appointments set months in advance, to make sure I get in.  She has become not just my stylist, but my friend, over the last few years. 

I let her know ahead of time about this whole cancer thing, mainly because I was unsure about how much I wanted cut (do I go short short yet, or not?), and wanted her expert advice and opinion.  She actually called me at home and discussed what she knew about chemo and hair loss (quite a bit, come to find out, having gone through this last year with her own sister-in-law).  She's given me great advice on wigs, eye brows, lashes, and what to expect with hair loss and regrowth.

So today it was great to get pampered by Amanda for the last least for a while.  She worked her magic and in about an hour I was a new, improved woman.  Pathetic ponytail, goodbye. 

As I watched her work and enjoyed the feel of her expert fingers and scissors on my head, I became a bit melancholy.  All that hard work, and in three weeks this great cut will be heading for the dumpster.  We laughed about it and I said it was like temporary art.  Not so much a happening or an installation, just temporary art.  Only an art teacher, right?  (I guess in about 3 weeks we'll have the happening.)

Then it came time to pay for this pampering and Amanda was having nothing to do with it.  She would NOT let me pay. 

She was NOT supposed to pull something like that.

It touched me immediately.  Right away the joking screeched to a halt and those dang emotions started bobbing to the surface.  Then seeing her stand there with tears in her eyes sent me over the edge.  How can a free haircut make a person feel so loved?  Well, let me tell you, it just can.  

I love ya, Amanda!  You made my day and every time I tell anyone about this, those dang emotions bob up again.  Where'd I put that box of Kleenex??

Friday, August 13, 2010

Warped? Or Just Irony...

My summer began with a reality altering trip of a lifetime. I found myself, amazingly, being allowed to spend three weeks touring China as a member of the Bringing China to Arkansas Program, hosted by UALR and the Freeman Foundation. During that time we stayed in six different cities, some very urban, and some more rural and isolated, but all equally fabulous.

One of those urban cities was Chengdu, a city in southwestern China, and the capital of Sichuan Province. In the evenings we enjoyed exploring the streets, shops, and restaurants near our hotel. One of these places was a rather crowded and nappy bazaar where there were row after row of small shops selling any and every sort of cheap, Made in China, items. From watches, to shoes, to clothing, to luggage…you name it, they had it. It made Walmart look like Saks Fifth Avenue. I’ve come to think of it as the bizarre bazaar.
It was within this fine establishment that I found a great assortment of t-shirts with rather odd Chinglish phrases. (Chinglish was what the Chinese labeled their own odd, and often erroneous, English translations.) I picked out a couple of cute shirts and headed on my merry way. Shirt #1 is still one of my favorite Chinese purchases. It proclaims me a “su per-star” and goes on to explain how “all people koow my name.”   So, on those days when I have the need to feel important, I know what to wear.

Shirt #2 is another story. This is a shirt that, after trying it on and having a good laugh with my friends, I quickly decided would never see the outside of my closet. (I bought it because I liked what it said, but didn’t give a thought to the graphics.) However, due to this newest reality altering trip of a lifetime in which I find myself, shirt #2 suddenly has a new meaning. Irony at its best, or maybe I’m just warped.

Below, you will see this shirt and you can come to your own conclusion. I can think of all sorts of ways to now interpret this shirt and those goofy (and groping) white gloved hands (yes, they ARE Mickey’s).
Of course, warped (and frugal) person that I am, I had to wear this thing at least once, so yesterday, being the first day back to work, seemed the perfect opportunity. I hope no one thought less of me for it, but hey, it IS good for my girls to be with you, if only for a few more months. And even more importantly, it's good for ME to be with you, and that will be for many years to come, warped sense of humor and all.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

First Days

Today was back to school for teachers in our district. We gathered for day one of our five days of in-service. Kiddos will arrive in a week. It was great to get back together with my cohorts and see everyone fit and tanned, rested and relaxed. We’ll see how long that lasts.

Of course, everyone already knew about my cancer and was happy to see me in person and share their love in other ways than email and facebook.  It’s a true blessing to work with people like that. How many people, in my situation, are called in to the principal's office the week before in-service and are asked, “What do you need? What can we do for YOU? How can we help make your job easier, so you can concentrate on fighting this?”   Well, that was me last Friday. I have the best bosses around.

So, today was back to school, back to setting that alarm, and back to reality for a bunch of really hard working, kid-loving, and downright wonderful people. What a relief to finally be thinking about something other than breast cancer.

That did not last for long, however, since the first visit with my oncologist was smack dab in the middle of my day. I had to leave for a couple of hours to go and find out what kind of poison I will be served, and when. The first when is next Thursday, August 19, and the what is a regimen of three poisons medications which are known together as TAC. For those of you who are into this sort of information, TAC stands for Taxotere, Adriamycin, and Cytoxan, three mighty powerful poisons medications. I will receive six of these treatments, which will be spaced three weeks apart.  If all goes well, by Thanksgiving I'll be giving thanks for the end of chemo.

Of course, once I had the basics of what and when, I wanted to know another in “what are the side effects.” Not pulling any punches, I was told to expect every possible side effect that one imagines when they think of chemotherapy. Awesome.  One of the few times I get "the works" and this is what it is.  Couldn't be at a spa or something.

What is the first chemo side effect you think of?...Yep, me too...14 days from the first chemo and I’ll be pulling a GI Jane. They have meds they can give me to alleviate the nausea, increase immunity, and decrease rash issues. I will chomp on ice during treatment to help with mouth sores, but there isn’t a thing they can do to allow me to hang on to my hair.

Looks like I’ll be rockin’ the hat and scarf look soon...may even have to dabble in wig-land.
I’m thinking red.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Remember that plug thing in the back of Neo's neck in The Matrix?  That always creeped me out.  Well, when my oldest son heard I was getting a port placed under my collarbone to help with administering my upcoming chemo treatments, that was the image that came to his mind.  He shared that with me yesterday.

This same son was my driver, encourager, and helper this morning (he was wonderful, by the way) as I went for the placement of my shiny new PowerPort.  Okay, so it's not shiny, it's actually purple with a long, white tail, but that doesn't really matter since it's completely hidden under my skin.  So, unlike Neo's port (or plug...whatever) it's hidden from view...sort of.  It does show up as a weird bump right under my collarbone, with the catheter line running up my jugular vein, in plain view.  Apparently, if I weren't so thin, it wouldn't be so evident.  Great. 

 I hope I don't scare my students.  I expect I will be teaching more than art in the art room this year.

So, I'm counting on the word "power" in PowerPort, and surely, before all is said and done, this will be the new and more powerful me...

Just call me Trinity.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Serendipity? I Think Not.

Some people might call it serendipitous, but I am not one of them.  Nor am I a believer in luck.  The past couple of weeks have had numerous "weird" instances of people showing up at the exact right time to encourage me along this unchosen and frightening path on which I find myself.

The first of these instances occurred the moment I stepped out of the Breast Clinic, following my initial MRI, and ran into a friend, Kelley, whom I had not seen in years.  Kelley became an immediate comforter, encourager, and prayer warrior for me, right there in the parking lot (as mentioned in a previous post).  Thanks, Kelley! 

A couple of days after my diagnosis, I was contacted via Facebook by Joy, (a friend with whom I really hit it off during my '08 visit to Japan).  I hadn't heard from her in over a year and assumed she'd just gone dormant on Facebook, and, while adding one to my friends list, would possibly never surface again.  (Joy is a gifted and busy teacher from New York, with many irons in the fire, and is better than I am about ignoring things like social networking and other such time-eaters.)  But Joy suddenly appeared, just checking in to see how I'd been.  I let her know about this whole BC thing, and the next thing I hear from her is that she had the same type of cancer many years ago (she was very young), went through much of what I'll be experiencing, and is doing just great.  She's very knowledgeable about this type of cancer and has been a great source of advice, comfort, and encouragement, plus, she's just fine and dandy...many years after the fact!  Thanks, Joy!

I had to visit a general surgeon this past Friday to arrange to have a chemo port placed (I say installed) near my collarbone (tomorrow!).  As I stepped in the office and was signing in, one of my wonderful art teacher cohorts, Linda, appeared behind me with a friendly "hello!".  Needless to say, I was thrilled to see her.  We art teachers tend to be a pretty tight bunch.  She was just leaving after an appointment and said she'd sit and visit with me while I waited.  As I filled out that obnoxious thousand question paperwork, I caught her up on all the fun stuff I'd been doing lately (she already knew about the, of course).  It was great to see her and she kept my mind in a good place.  The wait was a bit long, but she insisted she didn't have anything better to do (lucky me).  When they finally called me in, I was happy and calm.  Thanks, Linda!

I sat next to a stranger in church yesterday (we attend what would technically be called a mega-church, so that's not hard to do).  During the usually awkward (at least for me) meet & greet time, we shook hands, exchanged names (she was Debbie), and compared city of residence (like I said, mega-church).  Both being from Springdale (not such a coincidence, considering this was our monthly community worship...all Springdale), she started asking questions.  Our exchange went something like this: "Are you a teacher?"  "Yes!"  "Are you an ART teacher?"  "Why, yes!"  "Did you visit Japan and China recently?"  "YES!! How did you know?"  She immediately hugged me and said she'd been praying for me!  Wow!  Who are you!?  Turns out she's also a teacher in one of the junior high schools in my district and has followed my travel adventures as they've been published on the school website (she's been to Japan, so had an interest).  She's a friend of our community group leader and he had shared with her what I was going through.  She has also battled cancer, as has her son, so she totally could relate to where I am now (and where I'm going).  Following the worship service, we sat and visited and tried not to cry (good tears, of course), both feeling like I sat next to her for a reason.  Thanks, Debbie!

I have NEVER felt alone in this, but I love how these tangible, human, and,...all right, serendipitous interactions only prove that fact to me all the more.  I guess I do believe in serendipity, especially the kind that is divinely guided.  Thanks, God!

Email to Coworker Family: Updates and Attitude

Wednesday, August 4
Dear Walker and Shaw families and my fellow art teachers,

I saw Dr. Cross yesterday and felt it was a good meeting. What I have is very serious...a fast growing and aggressive type of cancer, but also the most common type of breast cancer - invasive ductal carcinoma. So, yes, that sounds (and is) very bad. But here is the good: The MRI and any other sort of test they've done on the surrounding lymph nodes (all visual tests - so not conclusive) have shown they are clear. Also, the type of tumor I have is hormone receptive (ER+/PR+), which, according to Cross is very unusual with this type of fast growing tumor. But ER/PR positive cancers are the easiest to treat! They have chemo drugs that should kill those cells. As you may have guessed from this, these cells love guess who will never be able to take them again...ever. Hello hot flashes and lots and lots of face cream.

They want me to do what is called preadjuvant chemotherapy, which means I will undergo several months of chemo treatments first, and then follow with surgery, rather than the other way around. This way they can shrink the tumor first before the mastectomy (which will be bilateral). I haven't seen the oncologist, Dr. Beck, yet. They are to call me today with an appt. I see Dr. Bell on Friday to discuss getting a port placed under my collarbone for the chemo treatments (and any other needle related procedure).

Thank you ALL for your email and facebook messages, calls, concern, love and prayers. I keep saying this, but I really do feel the love. I can testify to the difference your prayers have made in my spirit and peacefulness. I could not do this without you least not as well.I am feeling so much better. It's wonderful to feel like I may get to meet my future grandchildren after all! I'm not looking forward to a year of feeling weak, missing school, and losing my hair, but I AM looking forward to LIVING, which easily trumps all! In a weird way, I think I am reaching a point where I am actually looking forward to the journey, because I know this journey is going to change me for the better.

This was on the cover of our church bulletin on Sunday:
"If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But, pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!" Eccl. 4:10

Love to you all,

Email to Family and Friends: Information from a Clueless Patient (Me)

Tuesday, August 3
(Much of this information may not be 100% accurate, since I am, after all, still clueless.)
Hello my friends,

Met with Dr. Cross today. I think it was a good meeting...the first of many such appts. I learned that my tumor, while fast growing, is also ER+/PR+ (Google it, if you must), which is the easiest type to treat, as far as chemotherapy. They have drugs that can kill it. Yay! He said my case was very unusual, in that this is such a fast growing tumor, yet I am ER/PR positive (it's usually triple negative with my type of cancer - a bad thing). So I'm happy and giving thanks for the ER/PR thing.

Also found out I will need to get genetic testing done to see if this comes from some sort of defective (mutant!) gene that could be passed on, since that is very typical in this type of cancer. If I have the BRCA mutated gene, then that's a problem for my descendants. If that is the case, he recommended that my sons (and nieces, I assume) should also be tested (it can also increase the risk of other types of cancer). I guess we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Also, if I do have this gene, they will recommend I get my ovaries removed.

They are setting up an appt with Dr. Beck, the oncologist, and will call me tomorrow with that info. I see Dr. Bell (general surgeon) on Friday to discuss the port they will be placing under my collarbone for chemo, etc. Don't yet know when that will begin. I guess when I see Dr. Beck, I will find out. I should have chemo on some sort of regular schedule for several months, then will have 4-6 weeks off, then they'll take out a lymph node (out-patient surgery) to check and make sure no cancer. If it shows clear, I'll have a bilateral mastectomy about a week later. That won't happen for a while, though. Not looking forward to that.

This is going to be one heck of a journey and I am ready. So thankful that I am going to live and also beginning to feel thankful for this trial in general. It was time for me to do some serious growing. I'm sure God must be frustrated with someone like me who needs a cattle prod to get moving sometimes. But He knows me too well, so here is God's big ol' cattle prod, getting me off my spiritual butt and moving towards Him again...and I praise Him for it!

Thank you all for your continued support, encouragement, wonderful advice, and mostly, your prayers. What a difference you have made!

Love to you all,

Email #3 to the Nons: The MRI and a Friend in the Parking Lot

Wednesday, July 28
Hello my sweet friends,

Today's MRI went well. That is not something I'd care to do regularly. Kinda creepy. And Brenda, I listened for "anger hunger" but couldn't hear it. Just sounded like weird scary techno music that needed more high notes. The best part was when I had been there for what seemed like an hour (but was more like 15 minutes) laying face down with my head in a hole, the nurse came in and said it was time for her to give me the injection in my IV, but she couldn't since there was evidence of movement in the images and they needed to do it again. I swore I hadn't moved, but she said I was so small that maybe my breathing was messing it up. Well, then I went from relaxed and dozing off to trying to not breathe too hard and feeling like I was smothering...heart started pounding (more movement?) and everything. But, thank goodness, she came in next time and all was fine. I got the injection and they continued. A weird experience, for sure.

The MRI doctor (Harms...not the best name for a doctor, but a very nice man) showed me the tumor and even where they could see another small "lesion" in the same breast...something that was out of range of the mammogram. He said this was not a big deal and would be taken care of with surgery. Good news is that the surrounding lymph nodes look "beautiful", as he put it. The only cancer that showed was in that one breast. That doesn't mean that it hasn't ventured elsewhere, but the #1 place for that would be the nearby nodes, so I am praising God that they are clear. He said, due to it being this type of tumor (specifically- "infiltrating ductal carcinoma"), they would be treating this as aggressively as possible.

He asked what I was willing to do and I said "whatever it takes to keep me alive." DUH! I know they have women who don't want to lose their breast, but I say take the thing. I will know the definite plan once I meet with Dr. Cross on Tuesday and then an oncologist, but he did say he was pretty certain they would want to start out with chemo first, then removal of the breast when I complete the chemo treatments. I am ready to get this show on the road.

As I told someone yesterday, I began my summer with the trip of a lifetime and am now ending it with another trip of a lifetime, only this is a trip NO ONE wants to go on. Maybe I told you guys that already...I don't even know anymore.

I was blessed when I left the clinic by running into Kelley D. (edited for privacy), who was arriving for her mammogram. Mark and Kelley were our first community group leaders years ago and I have not seen her in ages. I actually brought our two dogs in to see Mark (he's our vet) on Monday morning before going for my biopsy, thought about telling him what was going on with me, and just couldn't bring myself to do it. We talked about family and I was thinking how long it had been since I'd seen Kelly. Anyway, it was truly a God thing running into her. Kelley has the sweetest spirit and she blessed and encouraged me so much right there in the parking lot. Isn't it great how God works? Amazing.

Thank you ALL for your prayers and the wonderful and encouraging emails. They truly do make a difference, physically, mentally, and emotionally. When people ask if I have a good support network, you girls are the first to come to mind (oh yeah...and my family), so I usually tear up and say "oh yes, I surely do!" I'm feeling much better tonight than I was last night (haven't cried in several hours), so hopefully I'll actually get a little sleep.

I love ya'll so much.


Email #2 to the Nons: It's Official

Tuesday, July 27 -
I'm trying not to freak out, but here's where it stands now. Doctor called this afternoon and said it was, indeed, cancer. It is a "high grade" tumor, which means it's fast growing and aggressive. They are not wasting any time on this, thank God. I go for a breast MRI tomorrow morning and then will see Dr. Cross next Tuesday. Dr. Grear (who called today) said with this type of tumor they may choose to wait on surgery and go ahead with chemo, in order to shrink the tumor and hopefully kill any other cancer that is loose in my body. Now we need to be praying that it has NOT SPREAD, which is what this kind of tumor does, apparently. I am trying to stay calm and keep positive. I still cannot really believe this is happening and keep waiting for someone to wake me up.

Love to you all,

Email to Community Group: A Prayer Request

(This was in reply to an email listing of prayer requests for our church community group...initially getting the ball rolling on what would, indeed, bring amazing comfort during the early days of this trial -- prayer.)

Saturday, June 24
I have something to add to this list. After having some tests run this week, the lump on my left breast has been determined worthy of biopsy. As the radiologist said, he's worried...therefore, so am I.

I go in on Monday morning for this procedure and will find out the results on Tuesday. They are rushing the whole thing through, which is not comforting to me, but I'm going to be glad for info one way or the other. Doctor talked like he was pretty sure it was cancer, though he did say he'd been wrong "at times". I believe in the healing power of prayer, so am asking you pray that the biopsy will show something benign. I guess I also need prayer to stay calm no matter the outcome. I tend to think of myself as an optimist, but maybe I'm wrong there. My mind has gone to every bad corner of possibility, which tends to lend itself to nausea and mild panic. Tuesday is also the day I go to NWACC orientation with JC, so I'd rather not be in a complete state of hysteria when I'm there.

Anyway, I knew I could count on ya'll for prayers. I will let you know when I find out something more.

Thanks so much,

Email to the Nons

Email to a special group of friends, the Nons (don't ask)...

Friday, July 23

Hey Ladies,
Hated that I missed the gathering this afternoon. I was NOT having a good time at the Breast Clinic. I found a rather large and tender lump on my breast while in China. I've had several false alarms before, so wasn't really worried about it. I finally got in to see my ob/gyn, Dr. Clouatre, earlier this week and he then sent me to the clinic today. He said he wasn't worried. The lump is somewhat movable, which he said was a good thing. I also thought it came up pretty fast, but couldn't say for sure, since I'd been a bit distracted by the whole China thing. Plus, I'm ashamed to say, I don't check for lumps regularly.

Anyway, had a rather painful mammogram (yes, this thing is tender) and then ultrasound while at the clinic. I could tell by the way the technician got really quiet and was taking tons of images, then took lots more of my lymph nodes, that it might be trouble. Finally the doctor came in and let me know he was not happy with what he saw. It's a solid lump (that's bad) and pretty big...there are "calcifications" in the area - whatever that means. He said he was worried about it and we need to do a biopsy asap, so I go back on Monday for a needle biopsy. I will know results on Tuesday. My mistake was coming home and reading about breast cancer and scaring the hooey out of myself. I'm trying not to freak out about the whole thing. Told my dad and he started to cry. Bless his heart...that's a whole 'nother story. He's become extremely needy this summer and I don't know how I'm going to deal with him once school starts. Like I said...another story.

So, if you are so inclined, I would appreciate being lifted before our Lord in prayer this weekend. I'm praying the doctor is mistaken and it's really just another false alarm. My left breast has been nothing but trouble for some time now, so I'm hoping this is just another bad prank. I'm praying for a good report on cancer!

I will let you all know what I find out. Whatever it is, I'm planning on rolling with the punches and dealing with it a day at a time. You know, I've gone all day (maybe the past couple of days) feeling like I needed a really good cry, but just couldn't bring it. Ever do that? So I guess this has solved that dilemma. Yep, I'm counting my blessings.

Love to you all,


In the Beginning: Correspondence

If you are reading this, and either know me or are the least bit observant, you know I have breast cancer.  I am finding that I have countless friends and family who care about me and want to know of my progress, so I've decided to join the gazillions of blogs out there and journal my to speak.  I admit it, I've been a failed blogger in the past, so this one may also bite the dust once I get in the midst of things.  In other words, no promises.  I don't know if I'm disciplined enough to keep this up or not.  We shall see.

To start my story, I am publishing a few emails that were sent to friends and family...the ol' copy/paste method.  I don't think they'll mind.  Of course, I'll not be including their replies...just one way correspondence.  Yes, I'm cutting a few corners here.  This way you can see where this whole thing began.  I'm still very much at the front of this fact, at this date the physical battle hasn't even begun.  The spiritual, mental, and emotional battle is going strong, though, and we (yes, WE) are kicking butt in that realm.  I have wonderful prayer warriors, both known and unknown, who are making sure of that.

But with the following letters, the very, very beginning of my battle is recorded.  Hope you get the gist...