Friday, February 27, 2009

Meet Ida

So when I walked into the co-op class I teach on Monday, this is what I found sitting on the table in front of my chair. My very own little spud growing grass for hair experiment. How much fun is that? It is convenient to have this little spud, affectionately known around here as Ida, just so you can get an idea what the top of my head looks like, since my new hair is a bit shy for the camera. My sprouts are not growing at quite the same speed. Nor are they coming in green. (Although if I have enough by St. Paddy's Day, I might just go green for the day.) Mine seems to be coming in very blond. Almost white. You have to catch it in just the right light, or you might miss it. If you happen to have a fuzzy peach on hand, that would be pretty close.

My only complaint about Ida is, that I think she's a little cocky with the batting of her eyelashes, considering I only had three left when Amanda counted them the other day. I just don't think she is being very sensitive, and I'm trying not to take it personally.

On other fronts, I had a Muga Scan last week to see how my heart is taking the Herceptin. (Sometimes the Herceptin can mess with the way it pumps.) But, so far so good! Four Herceptin cocktails in, and the Muga Scan came back normal, thank God.

Also, for three days last week I was radioactive and had superpowers again. Just another day in the life.

(Dave here. I added a picture and a video from the Muga scan. Here she is on the table getting the scan. Those big arms rotated all around her and took pictures. There's a preview on the screen above her head. The heart rate monitor only shows 53 beats per minute, but it was really beating faster than that. The technician said the monitor doesn't detect the beats as well on really skinny people. The video below is the end result, which shows her heart from three different viewpoints.)

As for the neuropathy I have been experiencing from the Tax-ALL chemo, I have noticed that it seems to be lessening a bit. I have the feeling back in both my pinkies, and my ring finger, and can feel that the other fingers are jealous and will eventually succomb to the peer pressure. My feet don't feel nearly as fat, and the intensity of the tingling and numbness is beginning to let up. My toes are pretty much still precariously perched digits, but I am beginning to feel the pads of my feet more, and my feet are a bit flexible now. Yay, a light at the end of that tunnel! And all I can say, is that it is good I live with my very own manicurist during all this, and she has been very good to keep my nails at bay from doing unneccessary damage to myself or others. Also, it's not like you could trust me not to cut off a finger or toe, since neither the hand that would clip, nor the hand that would be clipped, have any feeling to know when to stop. Thank you, Amanda! ;)

As for tennis, I have had to take a bit of a step back, momentarily from all the excitement of getting back out there and hitting the ball. Which is very hard to admit and say out loud right now. But I am probably going to have to get my rotater cuff issues worked on and worked out before I can hit again. I have a pretty inflamed pinched nerve that has been radiating pain down my right arm for quite a while. I was playing with it before, with advil, but I'm not in the same place I was before, and am definitely not as strong as I was, to be able to suck it up and play. I was hoping with the inactivity of the past six months it would have healed, but I think the chemo had other things in mind. So right now, my right arm is pretty much at a painful standstill, and standing in the way of my tennis.

I am hoping to start physical therapy next week, after my next Herceptin cocktail on Monday. My poor racket had its hopes up so much, that's really the hardest part. And I haven't even told my new shoes yet. They aren't even really broken in yet. So hopefully, this physical therapy thing will be my ticket to play.

Meanwhile, I have decided that I am done with winter. I can not believe how under the influence I was the other day when we had sunshine and temps in the 50's. It was like happy juice. I took a 2-mile walk with my tennis bud, Heidi. I am ready for more of that. Ready for spring to spring like my hair, and especially Ida, has sprung.

Monday, February 16, 2009

In Loving Memory of My Gramcracker

This was my sweet Gramcracker, Gloria Eileen DeVore Jeffries, May 11, 1922 - February 12, 2009. I don't remember exactly when I started calling her Gramcracker. Somewhere along the road I got taller, relatively speaking, as in, than her; I guess I just felt like my cute little grandma needed a special pet name. Gramcracker just rolled off my tongue like it was destiny. I wish there was s'more to it, but there's not.;)

Her given name was Gloria, which means glory. It doesn't surprise me that she didn't go by it, though. I don't know all her reasons, but I like to imagine that she gave her given name to her God, just like she lived, for His own glory. She went by Eileen, which means light, and makes total sense if you knew her. When she was a little girl and shortly after she started speaking, she called herself, "I-E". At 21 months, she was saying her prayers. Begging her mum to read the Bible to her about Jesus. Begging her mum to sing hymns to her. (I use the word "begging" in the loosest sense of the word, if you think her mum actually had any choice, and only because that is the euphemism her mum wrote in her baby book. If you knew my Gramcracker, you read that word more like an antonym.) At two-years-old, two of her favorite songs were, Jesus Bids Us Shine and He Wants Me for a Sunbeam. Once when she was sick, she "begged" her mom and grandma to sing those, and two other hymns, to her, over and over again and again, until they were almost sick but literally tired of them. And probably hoarse, if I know my Gramcracker. Now that I come to think of it, maybe Gram-cracker, was more of a divine tip, than a mere slip of my tongue. Grandma + firecracker = Gramcracker?! By the time she was four, she put childish things and prayers aside, preferring to say The Lord's Prayer before bedtime, rather than the "little" one her little brother, Neal, said. From a very young age, I-E seemed to embody her name. Almost as if the children's song, This Little Light of Mine, I'm Gonna Let it Shine was written just for her.

She graced my life with her godly presence and prayers from the moment I was born until last Thursday night when she went home to be with God, and my Grandpa. That is 15,845 days that she was my example and 15,845 days that she prayed for me. One of the most significant and beautiful things anybody has ever done/will ever do for me. It humbles me and lifts me up all at the same time. And makes me feel very, very blessed. And, yes, Josh Groban is singing You Raise Me Up in the background of my mind right now when I think about it.

I count it a blessing that I was able to visit her in the hospital before she went to be with God. I hadn't been able to see her since before I was diagnosed with breast cancer in August, neither of us being in condition to travel. She had a fall near the end of January and ended up in the hospital; the nasty fall ended up being a nastier domino. A slight fracture in her pelvis, terrible bruising on her arms, edema in her legs and feet, congestive heart failure, low blood pressure, digestive issues, a series of mini-strokes, delirium. Complicated by a heart murmur and the fact that she was quite hard of hearing. I had just had my final chemo cocktail; and thankfully, when I turned the corner from it Amanda and I were able to able to go see her.

When I walked in the room, she started crying and said that she didn't think she'd ever be able to see me again. Then she proceeded to worry about me getting sick by coming to the hospital. She said she didn't want her sufferings to add to my own. Which was very much like her, but the last thing on my mind. We had a lovely visit. She was in good spirits. We chatted back and forth with the help of a little white board that I wrote on. I was never good at yelling things to my Gramcracker like my mum and aunts were. ;) I never could even bring myself to try it. I was very glad for the white board, and think I got to say everything I wanted to. And I hope I brought her some comfort and cheer. Before we left, with Dave and the boys on speaker phone, Amanda and I laid hands on her, and we all prayed over her. We laid the phone next to her "good" ear, and I'm pretty sure she somehow heard all the prayers because she seemed to be leaning into them, and to be soothed by them. I keep playing that day over and over again in my head, and it was perfect. My sister and cousins, all had similar moments with her on the phone, where, looking back, we all know she was saying her goodbyes. I felt that from the first words she said to me when I walked in the door, to the last ones before I left, where she was telling me that I could have anything of hers that I wanted.

She suffered so much those last couple weeks in the hospital that it broke our hearts. I think she knew she was dying; and I think she was ready. And, characteristically, she did it like a faithful servant of God, and on her own terms that she had with Him. It makes me think of some passages from I Peter.

  • Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we've been given a brand new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven - and the future starts now!
  • This is the kind of life you've been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived. He suffered everything that came his way so you would know that it could be done, and also how to do it, step by step.
  • He suffered in silence, content to let God set things right.
  • I know how this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it's your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory. You never saw him, yet you love him. You still don't see him, yet you trust him - with laughter and singing. Because you keep on believing, you'll get what you're looking forward to: total salvation.
  • So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won't last forever.
  • So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that is coming when Jesus arrives.

To me, this describes her last days here with us. She said her goodbyes, making sure she left everyone feeling like they were her favorite. Tried to give all her stuff away. One day she told my Aunt Cheryl to give her clothes and canned food to the mission my husband's family runs. Cheryl asked her what in the world she thought she was going to wear when she got out of the hospital. Without missing a beat, my Gramcracker said they could just put a towel around her. This was my Gramcracker, and not terribly unlike my Grandpa, who, when he went before Gramcracker, a few years ago, had requested that we bury him in his bathrobe. I am pretty sure they are having a very interesting reunion right now.

Having said her goodbyes, she rolled up her sleeves, fixed her eyes on Jesus, suffered everything that came her way, until He wrapped things up and then her in His arms.

Gramcracker is not suffering any more. She "fought the good fight...finished the race...[and] kept the faith" (2 Tim. 4:7). She has found her rest and her reward. She is happy with God, and probably bickering with Grandpa, in Heaven. And as she is now part of the "great cloud of witnesses" that surround us (Heb. 12:1) I have no doubt she is cheering us on just like she did while she was here with us, to follow her example as she followed Christ (1 Cor. 11:1).

As a sidenote, now that Gramcracker is with the angels, I feel quite certain that she has settled an eternal debate that exists in our family, and would like us all to know that angel cake is meant to be without the icing. "Stop all your fussing," she used to say. Or at least that's what we thought she was saying. What I think she was really saying, was, "Stop all your icing". It's just that some of my family is quite stubborn and a bit silly.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

From Chemo Patient to Chia Pet to Waiting on a Phone Call From Nike

Today was my first post chemo/Herceptin only cocktail. No more chemo days followed by a week of recovery for me! From here on out it will be, simply, treatment day. I'm really liking the sound of that. From what I understand, I won't have to have anti-nausea meds in the cocktail either, even though they gave me a couple today, just for good measure. And I won't have to take them every 6 hours for three days after, either. Or have to get a white blood cell shot the day after. And I can put the Miralax in a medicine cabinet somewhere, but I really don't feel like going into all the dirty details about that. ;)

This is going to be a huge and happy change in my cancer treatment/life.

My body didn't quite trust me going in today. It has been so used to the trauma of chemo weeks that by the time the oncologist's office calls on Friday to confirm my Monday appointment, it begins stressing out basically with every ring of the phone, just waiting for the reminder it already knows is coming. And even though I knew this week was going to be different than all the rest, it's not like my body would even listen. I think it has lost its trust in me to be quite honest. And you know how hard it is to win someBODY's trust back. I guess I can't really blame it. These things just take time. I hope today was at least a step in the right direction.

Because, wow, I'm still a bit stunned myself that it is 9 p.m. and I am not in a chemo stupor, nor sitting with a bucket nearby, AWAKE, Alert even, wondering why House wasn't on tonight, not drinking hot tea with a shot of Miralax to combat certain chemo issues, not waiting for Dave's alarm to go off at midnight to remind me to take my meds, not going to be rudely awakened by Dave's alarm at 6 a.m. and handed a cup of coffee I KNOW is laced with another shot of Miralax to chase another handfull of anti-nausea meds. I think I can get used to this. And I trust my body will give me another chance.

So yeah...big changes. Another big one, is that it seems as if I have come full circle in my life, with hair days. I officially have a wee bit of peach fuzz on my head. I have to say it's good my mum lives in Indy, because she used to love to tape bows to my head so people would know I was a girl since I had NOTHING BUT PEACH FUZZ on my head until I was 2 or so. I totally wouldn't put it past her to try. (I am 43 now, and bows are just not me, mum. Never were.) Anyway, the chia pet experiment has begun.

Which I suppose, means I will have to think about shaving again. Someday. I know there are a ton of girls out there who have been everything from lime to emerald to kiwi to olive--if there's a shade of green, you name it. And by green I mean jealous that I have not had to shave my legs since August when I found out about the chemo cocktail. I don't like to brag and stuff, was just giving pertinent update-ish details. Just the facts and such.

Also, we can all quit worrying about the triple digits now. That's all I'm saying. And that's all everybody oughta say on the matter. Been there, done that. Looks like I bought the tee shirt.

In other news, now that the tear down time of the chemo has ended (and I pray, God, that it did its jobwell, like a good and faithful servant of Yours!) it's now the time for rebuilding this bionic woman. Or maybe putting Humpty Dumpty together again would be more appropriate. Regardless, I have begun working out toward working on regaining my fitness. I don't think I had much of a chance to recover from the surgeries with the chemo piggybacking, so basically my arms feel as left out as my razor. My left arm has issues from the removal of lymph nodes and my right arm has its tennis issues to deal with. There is also the Port Rapha issue, which is sitting smack dab on my muscle, which is not the most comfortable thing I've ever felt. Restricts my range of motion. Plus I think about it all the time, just sitting there hooked into my heart, which I don't really like to think about. So I think I'll change subjects. Or maybe just stop digressing. That seems less work; although I do love a good rabbit trail, and I am trying to get back in shape. Speaking of, and to continue the original drift of my used to be toned tennis legs, with very sexy sock tans I might add, well...the toner is out and it's going to take a LOT to bring sexy back to these wet noodles I'm walking on. Not to mention my numb and fat feeling feet. And my lower back muscles have atrophied to a pretty sorry state. Ok, sorry for the complaining, but that's just what I'm working with, where I'm starting from. And the snow is melting on the tennis courts behind my house, so there's no time to lose!

Last week's training schedule: I swam laps twice, hit tennis balls once, and took a 2 mile walk, and worked out with some small hand weights once. Not bad for a first week back? I'm a little surprised that Nike still hasn't called me yet to sponsor my comeback.

Cheers and love, and thanks for praying,