Normal?

Life is beginning to get back to “normal.” Although, normal as we left it in September is not normal as we find it in February. I am getting back on my feet and I’m now up more than I’m sitting. This is wonderful and I’m enjoying being able to cook, clean, and think straight.

A daughter came and deep cleaned my kitchen and some of my living area, since we have fallen so behind over winter and we are trying to ready the house for realtors. I’m not going to gloss over the fact that even on my best day my housekeeping is not stellar so she had her work cut out for her. We’ve always been busy and mess-makers with one project or anther, so house cleaning has never been top priority. Now, it has to be. Welcome, New Challenge.

Now that I’m on my feet more I’m realizing just how weak my muscles are, particularly in my legs. Beside the fact that I have been so inactive, this is a chemo side effect that could last months to a year. On flat ground, it’s only a problem if I am very tired. Stairs, however, are another matter. I’m grateful that we live in a single story house with just a few steps up to the entrances.

Stacey and I have been comparing notes (read: whining) about the muscle weakness. So far, if she has fallen, she hasn’t admitted it to me. I did fall a few days ago, off a kitchen chair. Other than a sore behind, I’m no worse for the wear and it served to remind me that caution is important, no matter what I think I can tackle. My attitude is “I’m done with chemo, let’s get back to living!” My body, despite its valiant efforts, isn’t there yet. I suppose this is another opportunity for me to learn patience.

Dad and I were discussing this last night, tongue-in-cheek. Feeling like every little thing has to be a life lesson when we would really just love a break to live and breathe and take it easy. How nice it would be to press the pause button and take a little time to catch up.

We both know, though, that human nature doesn’t allow pauses. We are always moving one way or the other. Life is never static for anyone. Even if the events of life seem to halt, the mind and soul continue to work and move. If we are not challenged to move ahead, we will default to sliding backward–to laziness and eventually giving up.

Some people find this challenge in the workplace, and become workaholics. Some find it in their children and nearly smother them, only to find one day that the kids are gone and they no longer have a purpose. Hobbies drive other people. Every spare moment can be consumed in learning the next skill or the next step. We all invest in something, whether we realize it or not. There is something that keeps each of us going, even if it’s unhealthy like addiction or codependency.

Faith is what keeps me hanging on. I don’t mean the “faith” that is trendy in home decor right now. I mean honest-to-goodness, I-KNOW-who-holds-tomorrow faith. I have a relationship with the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ. I don’t know how I would survive life without Him. You see, when you put your faith in a career or people or charity work or hobbies, you are trusting in things that will one day be gone. All of those things are temporary and man-made. But when you put your faith in Jesus, all of those things take on new meaning and new life. They become tools rather than the goal itself. And when they pass away, as all things will, what remains is eternity in Heaven, where the real treasure lies. What we do during life becomes the short range plan on the way to the long range goal of eternity with our Creator, in a place where struggle and strife are no more. Tears cease, and suffering stops.

So while I struggle to learn patience, it’s just one little sapling in the big-picture forest. That fact gives me hope and perspective and keeps me willing to carry on, knowing that each day is gaining for me eternity. I can live with that.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Cor 4:16-18 ESV

The Next Leg

Chemo Day started out like all the others. I was exhausted before I left the house, and with the muscle weakness I’ve had, I’m sure many people I passed in the skyway figured my day had started out with a beverage stronger than coffee. I have a certain “swagger” lately.

I was scheduled to see my oncologist, due to fairly severe issues with my hands and feet. My feet have been feeling like I am walking on bunched up socks, and my toes and fingers have been severely itchy, burning, and painful. Several evenings this week I have sat holding ice packs, just to relieve my fingers. This is called “neuropathy,” and it is a side effect of the main chemo drug I’m on–Taxol.

We parked and hiked 2 blocks (literally) to the Cancer Center. After they accessed my port and drew labs, we waited semi-patiently for an hour to see the oncologist. I really, really appreciate this guy and his approach to medicine. He listens, he explains, he researches, he educates. I feel well cared for. And I could listen to him talk all day.

Anyway, after hearing my symptoms, he said that the Taxol had become toxic to my system and it needed to be stopped. Given that I’ve already had 10 weekly treatments, he determined that the best course of action was to stop the Taxol but continue the last two weeks of Herceptin. What does this mean? I AM DONE WITH CHEMO!!! I have had more than enough of the Taxol to achieve full efficacy, and the remaining Herceptin has no side effects. I cried right there in his office.

Yesterday I had no Benadryl, no Pepcid, no doxycycline, no Taxol. I took two Tylenol and had a 30 minute infusion of Herceptin. No heartburn. No restless legs. Piece of cake. Walk in the park. Last night, I wasn’t sleepless and manic. Today, my face isn’t red, rashy, and sore. It hardly feels like Wednesday.

My mind says “Hey, you’re done! Get up and be normal!” but my body says “Whoa, there. We have a long way to go.” Yesterday ended the tearing down and destroying of my cells. Today, we start the rebuilding. While the “hard” part is supposed to be done, somehow I feel like the actual hard part is just beginning.

It’s going to take time for my strength to return. Fatigue this deep doesn’t resolve overnight. Lord willing, the neuropathy will fade and disappear altogether, but there is a 25% chance at least some of it will be permanent. Over time, the weight will come off, my hair will grow back, and my complexion will clear.

I am not patient with myself, so this rebuilding process will be a challenge for me. I will overdo and expect too much. And so, a new leg of this journey is starting. Thankfully, the Lord will be patient when I am not. He will remind me to pace myself and to give myself grace. He will remind me that the road is long but there’s time. I’m sure my mother will, too.

I am over the moon excited to be done with chemo. I am so grateful for all the support I have had thus far, and for great medical care. Moment by moment, day by day, I’ll work my way back to health. And because my God does all things well, all of the prayer that has been offered up on my behalf will be answered. It already has been.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV

Slow Days

I’ve been out of bed for roughly 30 minutes and I can already tell this will be a very slow day. I was on my feet quite a bit Saturday, went to church yesterday, and was up and about quite a bit afterward. The fatigue this morning is deep and consuming. I am again so glad that I am able to stay home during this time–so many people I know worked full time through chemo. I don’t know how on earth they did it. They are clearly made of stronger stuff than I!

I would like to read today, and maybe after a cup of coffee and something to eat I’ll feel more able to do that. Right now, though, my eyes are droopy and I could doze off. Words are swimming on my screen as I type.

The elliptical seems like an impossibility today, but I’ll get on it if I can. Later. I also have a couple phone calls I want to make. I’ll have to push myself until adrenaline kicks in, do the minimum, and spend the remainder of the day resting and quiet. Chemo is tomorrow and I need to go into that day as rested as possible.

The Lord God has ordered all my days. He’s ordered this one. I’ll just have to see how it unfolds, moment by moment.

The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand. Psalm 37:23-24 NIV

Food

Eating has taken a surprise turn. I was warned that with chemo things might taste bad or taste metallic. I’m so grateful I’m not dealing with either of those. However, I was not prepared for food to just not taste.

I can taste things that are very salty or very, very sweet. I can taste bitter things, so it’s a blessing that I enjoy really dark chocolate. Everything else is dull to the point that I feel food more than I taste it. That’s a weird experience.

Waffles are a favorite food of mine, and yesterday my daughter made some that were very light and fluffy and everyone said how good they were. I looked forward to having one, but when I ate it, it had no flavor. When you take a food of that texture and remove all taste, wow. It’s like eating a sponge.

Crunchy Cheetos are another favorite. Eating them is precisely how I would imagine eating hard styrofoam would be, with less squeaking.

The dull taste buds are pretty new. Flavor has been diminishing over the last couple weeks, but really hit the skids with my last treatment. It’s the most bizarre thing to anticipate something tasty and then get it in my mouth and be almost overwhelmed by its texture, simply because there is no other sense to experience. Things still smell good, which honestly only increases the letdown when I actually eat them.

There aren’t a lot of things that I can do right now, activity-wise. I think eating has become a way to pass the time, which is directly related to some of the weight gain I’ve experienced since October. Add to that all of the Christmas treats and yummy stocking stuffers and, well. . . it’s a miracle I was down five pounds last week.

So, as frustrating as this side effect is, I’m counting it a blessing. The less food tastes, the less it appeals, and the less I want to eat. I’m praying for better eating habits to develop as I sit here. I still need to fuel my body–it is working hard even as I am unable to voluntarily work–but suddenly food is just about fuel rather than boredom and enjoying flavors.

I have been crying out to God about my struggle and frustration with weight. I am grateful that He has chosen to answer in this way. With all of the other challenges of this journey, learning and exercising self-control with food are not pressures I need to add. God has been gracious and kind, and removed for me a place of struggle.

Yes, I know the struggle will return when food is new again, but for the moment, I am removed from a battle and relieved not to fight. He has provided a place of rest, at least for this season.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven, Ecclesiastes 3:1

Good Medicine

It may seem odd to some, but I’m looking forward to chemo tomorrow. Life for me is all about people and relationships, and I am growing fond of the nurses I see each week. All of them are very kind and work hard to make infusion visits as pleasant as possible. My favorite, though, I’ll call Jeri. She totally gets me and we clicked the first time we met.

Jeri looks at life with a quirky sense of humor and is kind of a goofball. To someone who walks into oncology determined to be miserable, she is probably an irritation. For me, she’s just good medicine.

The first time I had chemo, Jeri immediately picked on my husband, Larry. She asked his name and gave him grief about something. He took it well and kept right up with her. Later, she asked me “Did he even give me his real name?” “Nope,” I said. “His name’s Bruce.” He and I found this way too funny and I think to this day she doesn’t know his real name. Last time, when my friend took me, Jeri just said “Hey, thanks for not bringing the big guy.”

Of course, I would rather not be in chemo. This isn’t what I chose for myself and my family. However, here we are, so we might as well make the best of it. In this, as in life in general, perspective is everything.

I see people each week who sit in the infusion rooms, looking like they have already given up. Granted, their situations may be far more dire than my own, and maybe they have reason to despair. Still, if they are still receiving treatment, there must be some hope. I don’t know their stories, but I can read their faces.

Each patient has his or her own small infusion room, with a curtain across the opening. Most leave curtains open and I try to make eye contact and smile. So far, most avoid eye contact altogether and never smile. I don’t have illusions of making friends with everyone there; I’d just like to be a bright spot in an otherwise dreary place.

We all know misery loves company, and I’d imagine the nurses see enough of that every day. From the little I’ve seen, cheerful patients are not the norm. But are things really that much different there than elsewhere in the world? It seems to me that if my eyes are open, I see miserable people everywhere. Our world is gripped in sin and darkness, with walking casualties everywhere we go. Zombies are real, in a sense–there are walking dead all around.

And so, in the course of my day tomorrow, I pray for the grace to look alive–to show others that Life does exist, and that it’s good. I ask God to allow me the chance to shine bright on even one person in darkness, and have the opportunity to share my story. I want to be good medicine.

Thursday

Since we already gathered for Thanksgiving, today just feels like Thursday. I am told my weeks will pretty much follow last week’s pattern, so even though I feel pretty good this morning, I anticipate going downhill throughout the day and feeling fairly lousy til about noon tomorrow. God is bigger than probabilities, and maybe I’ll have a good day. We will see.

Yesterday was a really good day. I had the “normal” painful red-purple face rash caused by steroids given with chemo (to prevent reactions to the chemo, ironically), but that was really all. I had some energy to do things around the house. I made banana bread, helped Linnea with some sewing, and even ran errands and had supper at Subway with a couple of my girls. We made a long overdue visit to Grandma Sylvia and had a good chat.

I’m aware that it’s Thanksgiving day, and I think I will observe it better this year than I usually do. Generally on this day, I’m up at dawn cooking, cleaning, and stewing. I absolutely love hosting Thanksgiving Dinner, but I get a little wound up the morning of, trying to finish all the last minute things and making sure everything hits the table simultaneously and hot. We say the requisite prayers and things we are thankful for, and that’s great. Today, though, In the relative quiet of my house, I have time to think. I will have the opportunity and occasion to look around, literally and figuratively, and really see all the blessings that surround me. I will take the time to greet each of my children and thank God for him or her. I’m grateful that God has carved this time out for me (see what I did there?).

To anyone reading, bless you. I pray for each of you a day filled with blessings and gratitude, whether it’s still Thanksgiving Day or not. I pray that you will find God in the little things every day, and that you will see His grace and mercy everywhere you look. He is all around us, if we will just take the time to look and listen.

. . . that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us. . . Acts 17:27 ESV

Chemo Day 2

This day last month, I had my double mastectomy. Just a month, but it feels like forever. This new reality has overtaken and it feels like life is just cancer treatment. It’s a bizarre feeling. A year from now, all of this will be a blur, and I will wonder where the last year of my life went.

Yesterday was a good day. I had a minor reaction from the steroid I was given–my face was extremely red-purple and sore. It only lasted a couple hours and will likely happen each week. Not so bad. This is my learning week–they say what happens this week will most likely be my pattern. It will be nice to have this week behind me. The unknowns should then be known, and I will be able to settle into my remaining 11 weeks of chemo with some ability to plan and schedule activity accordingly.

I was able to sleep a full night in my bed for the first time since surgery. That was nice. I woke up with a headache, but a couple Tylenol took care of that. Food is tasting pretty dull today and I have little appetite. So far, no nausea; thanks be to God!

I have settled into resting, for the most part. I’ve finally allowed myself to take the time I need and not feel guilty about it. This is the grace of God in my life. I will continue to trust Him on this third day. . . I’m told this day and the next could get pretty rough. One step at a time.

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in [me] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6”