Katie & Briscoe

Katie & Briscoe

Monday, December 27, 2010

Merry CHRISTmas!

The title is a copy of a message from an online Christian friend who wisely wants us all to remember the true meaning of the season. Yes, I (and most every other Christian I imagine) know that Christ was not actually born on December 25th. And I also know that early church leaders appropriated the date from a pagan holiday. And I very much hate to see just how commercialized and self-centered the holiday has become. But ultimately, none of that changes the fact that the core meaning of Christmas - for Christians - is a celebration of the birth of the One who came to save us all. It's the time that we choose to honor that amazing event and it doesn't matter that it most likely happened sometime in the fall, not the winter. Perhaps there's a very good reason that God chose not to reveal an exact time and date for the birth of His Son. Just look at what we've done to the date we have chosen to use as a substitute! What began long ago as a time for reverence and reflection and thankfulness has become a time for ridiculous spending and selfish indulgence. We have so commercialized the holiday and turned our backs on the original intent that it has now become de rigueur to eliminate Christ from the title altogether.

I'm not trying to rant, here. I just find it increasingly sad to see just how far from Christ Christmas is drifting. I have no problem with giving gifts. I love to give gifts. And I love the best things of the holiday. I love the lights and the music. I love baking and making candy. I love decorating (including a tree) and wrapping gifts. I love the idea of the meaning behind the holiday and the notion that for a little while at least people do tend to try to be a bit more considerate and generous. Christmas is a time of year that holds very special memories for me and I will always love it. This year, however, has been harder than usual.  Here's my Christmas tree from last year:
As you can see, it's a sizable tree and covered with a lot of ornaments, most of which date back to my childhood. I love to turn all the lights off at night and just look at the lights on the tree. I just love the bright colors, the shadows cast on the walls and ceiling from the lights shining through the branches. I feel the same way about lights on houses. Christmas is a season I look forward to all year long. This year things weren't quite normal, though.

My decorating this year consisted of me putting a wreath on my front door. Well, I always have a wreath there, but I changed it for my Christmas wreath. And that's ALL I did. My Christmas tree is stored out in our shed and there was no way in the world that I could go out there and drag it into the house. Even if Mark had brought it in for me, I never would have been able to get it assembled and decorated. It would have taken me days to accomplish. Mark has been working far too much to find the time to do it himself. So no Christmas tree for us this year. I'd like to say it didn't bother me, but that would be a lie. I missed it. I missed the pretty lights and the nostalgia of hanging all those ornaments. I have a LOT of miscellaneous Christmas decorations. Like I said earlier, I love the holiday. Dragging all that stuff out and placing it throughout the house just brings a smile to my face. It simply wasn't possible this year.

I did my best to keep it from getting me down. I certainly have plenty to be thankful for and no excuse at all to complain. But I really did miss my tree. I missed getting to go shopping and wrapping presents. I missed making tons of candy and cookies and cakes and pies. And no matter how much I tried to let go of those traditions, it did kinda get me down. So Mark and I went out to do some last minute errands on Christmas eve and knowing how much I missed my pretty lights, he made sure I would have some. This is what we ended up with.
I don't know what these trees are called. I described them to someone once as a cross between a pine tree and a palm tree. LOL. My mother actually had one when I was a kid and we would hang tiny little Christmas balls on it. (Like the ones on this one.) These days small decorative trees are apparently pretty popular because I've noticed for a few years now that you can get everything from the little balls to tiny ornaments and even little garland. I had another one of these a few years back and had already bought the balls and some itty bitty ornaments. Mark and I picked up the plant itself and one of those nifty little strings of LED lights that runs off a battery. We came home and I found my little decorations in one of my Christmas boxes that I store here in the house. I put the lights and decorations on it, then sat it on one of my end tables. (Those little presents are toys for our dogs. Couldn't let Christmas go by with nothing for them! LOL)

Honestly, I love my little tree. It's just so cute. And it helped satisfy my craving for Christmas lights. I'm seriously thinking of just leaving the lights in it permanently. They make me smile.

So, I got my Christmas tree after all. And more importantly, I got to spend the day with my husband. He was actually not feeling very well, so I did all the cooking. God was gracious enough to give me the energy I needed to accomplish that task. I even took the ham bone after I'd cut most of the meat off and put it in a crock pot with a pound of dried beans. They were done when we got up this morning. Pretty tasty, too. So I have a fridge full of ham, a bunch of leftover beans, and almost a whole turkey breast that I put up after Thanksgiving and got out for Christmas. (Mark's a turkey nut!)

I think I'll take some of that ham and make ham salad for Mark. I've got all I need for it, and a big ol' food processor to make the job easy. I even found the energy tonight to load the dishwasher! All in all, I'm feeling especially blessed. Mark's going to have a few days off this week and I'm almost half-way through my second dense dose chemo. I'll be getting treatment #3 this week and then there'll only be one more left.

I wish I'd felt more like keeping my Christmas traditions this year, but maybe there's a good reason that I couldn't. Maybe I needed to take a step back from all the lights and tinsel to remember the simple truth behind it all. A little more than 2000 years ago God Himself became a flesh and blood man. He set aside His crown and His glory and came here to live among us, to share our toils, trials, and temptations. He was born to poor parents and raised without any fanfare or luxury. He would eventually die a terrible death, all so we could know full forgiveness and reconciliation with our Creator. As much as I love my Christmas lights and music and traditions, I am even more grateful to BE LOVED by the One who sacrificed His all for me.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Extreme Yucky!

I can't believe it's been so long since I made myself sit down and write a post. Sorry about that. I assign part of the blame to me being pretty tired all the time. Well, not so much tired as just plain fried. I mentioned "chemo brain" a few times I think. Well, after 6 chemo treatments so far it's really kicking in on an epic scale. Here's a cute little example:

I think I mentioned several posts ago about hurting my foot by jamming a small tree branch into the top of it. It wasn't a major injury, just a deep scrape. It left quite a persistent scab, though. I don't know when it finally healed for good, but it's been a while now. It's right on top of my left foot. Anyway, the other day Mark and I were at Wal-Mart returning a heater that was part of a recall. We were standing in line at the service desk for I don't know how long. Too long as far as I was concerned, since by the time we finally got through the process of returning the heater I was already worn out and didn't really care if I got my groceries or not. LOL So while we were standing there, I got this odd little twinge on the top of my foot. I slipped my shoe off and glanced down and spotted this small red spot on top of my foot. I was thinking, "What in the world is that? Did something bite me?" I turned to Mark and said, "Look at my foot. What is that?" He glanced down, gave me a look like he wasn't sure I was serious, then said, "That's where you jabbed your foot with that stick." I had been telling him just how messed up my brain was. When he reminded me that the red spot was actually a scar, I had to laugh. I was like, "See, I told you my brain is fried! I really didn't know where the spot had come from."

If I'd been at home by myself, I probably would have sat down to look at it and realized it wasn't fresh. I'd have probably remembered what it was and where it had come from. But my brain is moving at roughly one half to one quarter of its normal capability. I cannot remember anything. I keep telling Mark not to expect me to remind him of things because I can't keep anything in my head. I have to write EVERYTHING down if I don't want to forget it. I told Mark that I sure hope the brain fog clears up quickly after the chemo is over. I've heard some say it took them months, even a year to get back to something resembling normal. Some say they never fully recovered. It's all just part of the "New Normal" we all have to learn to live with. Still, I'm not going to complain. It could always be worse.

So, on to my chief complaint these days.

I've had 2 Taxotere treatments so far. I get them every 3 weeks and I didn't think the first one was all that bad. I got the treatment on a Wednesday, then woke up the following Friday with thrush. That was the first time I can remember having it. Anyway, it was gross, but cleared up with the help of a rinse from the Dr. During the thrush I had a bad taste in my mouth as well as a truly weird "full" sorta feel in my stomach. My abdomen was actually hard. It was uncomfortable, but not horrific. I attributed both the taste and the stomach thing to the thrush. Then I got my second Taxotere treatment.

When I went in a week later for my Herceptin, I thought I must be coming down with thrush again. I'd noticed an off taste starting a couple of days before. It was worse that Wednesday, though. I tried chewing gum, but that just made it even more awful. So, on the off chance that I was getting thrush again, my nurse got me a script for more of the rinse. (Did I mention that it is nasty? No? Well it is.) I came home and used it that evening and nearly barfed it right back up. (You rinse, then swallow.) I told Mark I didn't think I was going to be able to use it. The thing is, I didn't have the white film on my tongue that I had the first time around. So I decided to do some research and low and behold, when I Googled "Taxotere" and "bad taste" I got all kinds of results. Turns out it's an issue with this chemo. And so is the stomach thing. I actually wound up calling the Dr.'s office the next afternoon, just to let them know about my symptoms because (confusingly) the side effect list I read listed the stomach swelling as both a "common" side effect and one that was "rare" and should be reported to the Dr. immediately. How's that for helpful patient info? The nurse didn't seem concerned, though, and confirmed that the nasty taste was likely due to the chemo. Yippee.

So, I've been trying all kinds of things to get this taste out of my mouth. For the most part, it isn't that food tastes bad or wrong. My mouth just tastes really awful. Well, it's actually better now, almost gone, thank heaven. For a week or so there, though, it was pretty rough. Mark had bought some candy (cinnamon and butterscotch) for work. I don't like cinnamon, so I decided to try the butterscotch and it actually did a good job of masking the taste. Of course, the instant the candy was gone the taste came back. Mint was really bad. I like Doublemint gum, but I cannot describe how horrible it tasted. And no amount of tooth and/or tongue brushing helped. It is just a really unpleasant side effect that I didn't have with the first rounds of chemo. Unfortunately, it will probably get worse before it gets better as each chemo compounds on the ones that came before. Double yippee.

Other than the nasty taste, the only other issue I have with the Taxotere is pain. The weekend after the first treatment saw me barely getting out of bed. It was very rough. When I told my oncologist about it, he decided to try skipping the Neulasta shot that I usually get the day after chemo. It causes pain as well, but also spurs my body to produce more white blood cells. Anyway, we skipped it after the second treatment and that weekend was a little better, but not a lot. It remains to be seen what my blood counts will be when I go in for the third treatment the week after Christmas. It's possible that he may reduce the dosage on the chemo. Or he may not. We'll just have to see.

The good news is that many of the side effects of the Adriamycin/Cytoxin are fading. My hair has started growing back. For a while there, Mark said I looked like I had a "5 o'clock shadow" on my head. Now he says I'm moving into the "Chia Pet" stage of hair regrowth. It's pretty fuzzy, about 1/4 to 1/2 an inch long. I've got a LONG way to go before I really have hair again, but at least it's starting. Although I did just notice in the last week or so that I lost most of my eyebrows. Don't know when, but they're mostly gone. I never had much in the way of eyelashes to begin with, but they're fairly thin as well.

So, along with the hair on my head coming back, some of the symptoms of the medically induced menopause are starting to ease, too. I still get the hot flashes, but not as often. On the side of less than welcome side effects, the return of my hormones also means the return of my migraines. I have had nothing more than a mild headache since the chemo started. Now that's starting to change. I took birth control since my late teens, mostly because it kept my cycles under control. (I do my best not to think about how horrendous they were when I was young.) The pills also helped even out my hormones so that at least the migraines were usually limited to a 1 to 2 week time frame each month, centered around my menstrual cycle. I can't take birth control any longer, though. And no hormones when menopause kicks in for real, either. I don't mind saying that I'm a little concerned about what that's going to mean for both the migraines and my menstrual cycle. We'll just have to see.

Like I said, I've got 2 more Taxotere treatments to go. I'll finish up the third week in January. Then, sometime after that, I'll get just over a month's worth of radiation treatments. I'll also do the Herceptin every 3 weeks until sometime in November of 2011. The Herceptin isn't nearly as horrible as the rest of them. Well, other than the risk that it'll do permanent damage to my heart. LOL At least it doesn't come with a side of hair loss, nausea, pain, and/or indescribably nasty taste. Like I keep saying, it could always, ALWAYS, be worse.

Chia Pet Hair
NOT my actual head. LOL

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Life and Death and Memories of Both...

I'm generally an even keeled person when it comes to emotional stability. Well, I am these days. I endured a nightmare of very deep, out of control depression immediately after my mother's death. It lasted 2 years and if asked, I cannot give much info about those 2 years because I have no memory of them. I can offer a few anecdotes about that time, like I remember graduating from high school and returning to my home town for my prom, and a handful of other such "highlights" but the day to day living of that time is lost in a fog of desperate grief. Eventually the depression lifted, though I would fight it for years before finally admitting to a doctor that it was a problem. I've done therapy - still do, just to make sure I don't lose myself during this cancer battle. I also take a medication every single day and it has helped quite a bit. The depression isn't gone. I don't know if it ever will be. Perhaps some day God will choose to remove it from my life for good. Until that happens, it is something I live with, though I have enough experience now to see and feel it coming and to take measures to head it off before it can swallow me whole like it did before. That's what I'm going to do here.

I developed my depression coping skills over the course of a couple of decades. Once I rejoined the land of the living after that first major collapse, I wanted desperately to keep it from happening again. I've had some pretty rough patches, but I eventually learned to recognized the initial signs of impending trouble. I won't bore you with the details of it all, but suffice it to say that part of my way of dealing with it is to distract myself. This is a valid tactic, and works quite well until I take it too far and it slips into avoidance and denial. I tend to get to a point where I refuse to even allow myself to grieve. It's a lot of internal issues that I have, but basically I avoid the pain so much and for so long that it eventually becomes unavoidable. The solution is to let myself feel it. Seems simple, but no one wants to feel grief. No one wants to relieve the worst moments of their life. I know it sounds melodramatic, but for someone with major clinical depression, opening those windows to the past feels more like opening the floodgates at Hoover Dam while you're standing below them.

I wish I knew how to explain what clinical depression is like. The medical explanation is a chemical imbalance. But that doesn't even come close to touching on the reality of it. My brain just works differently than a normal person's. It isn't selfishness or a pity party, it is an intrinsic part of how my mind works. Kinda like being a pessimist and seeing the glass as always half empty. (Except, I'm not really a pessimist. If anything, I tend to be a little too optimistic.) Honestly, I've sometimes wondered if it might be more like possession. It's like there's this little voice in my head that does its best to turn every situation, every word or action by other people, into something dark and hurtful. It wants me to see the worst, to imagine the worst, to feel pain and sorrow and fear in every moment. The times it has overtaken me are the absolute worst times in my life. The medication does make a difference, which is a big indication to me that they might just be right about that whole chemical imbalance thing. I'm far less inclined to even hear that annoying little voice with the medication. It still rears it's ugly head occasionally, though, and the past few days have been harder than usual. The biggest reason for this is that yesterday, December 6, was my mother's birthday. She would have been 72 if she were still alive. Happy Birthday, Mama.

Wow, just saying it makes my throat close up and tears come to my eyes. I adored my mother. I never had any urge to rebel against her. I loved being with her. I loved talking to her. I was 17 when she got sick and died from pneumonia. She collapsed on Saturday morning and died on Tuesday night. My husband was there at the time, thank God, because I don't know how I would have gotten through it if he hadn't been. (This was in Mississippi, where I'm from. Hubby - before he was Hubby - had come down for a visit that weekend.) My sisters both lived far away, Debi here in Indiana and Connie in Texas. Without going into the ugly details, they both arrived before she died and I pretty much shut down the moment my uncle got to the hospital and took over making all the decisions. Mark had to tell me that the hospital was paging me when my sister called me back because I couldn't hear it. The shock had already started to take over. I remember her getting there, but oddly, I can't remember our sister Connie arriving. I just realized that. Anyway, it was a nightmare and it still haunts me to this day.

So I've been fighting the grief for the past few days. Feeling it pull at me and drag me down so that I'm quite to the point of not even wanting to speak. (gasp! to those of you who know me. LOL) And I feel antsy and anxious, plus have trouble sleeping irregardless of how tired I am. I've been avoiding it and that hasn't worked, so I'm going to embrace it. At least I'm going to try. And I'm going to do it by taking a trip down memory lane. Starting with some pics of my mom.
Taken at Shiloh National Park, just over a year before she died. 

Mark took this picture of her during one of his first trips down to visit us. We took him to Shiloh National Park, site of the major Civil War battle. (In our corner of the world, this was one of just a few things to do. So few, in fact, that as a kid I took MULTIPLE field trips there with my school. So many trips that I and no doubt many of my classmates had much of the video that they offer memorized. LOL) But is was Mark's first time and we had a blast.
The entire time we were climbing up there, Mark kept yelling at us that we were gonna fall and break something. We didn't!
Mama and Mark, taken on that same trip. They were sitting in front of our fireplace. For those of you who know him now, look how black his hair and beard were!
I had no hair but Mama was determined to get it to curl and check out that beehive!
I don't know were we were going. Looks like a Christmas thing, but I can't remember.

Mark took this after a Music Mania performance. It was a big production our music department put on every year in the town's theater, known as the Colosseum. We were in the park, I think.

One of my favorite pics. Mark took this on that same trip that we went to Shiloh. Wasn't my mama beautiful!
I absolutely adore this pic of my mom. She looks so sassy!
My sister Connie and Mom.
Another shot of Connie and Mom. I don't know what's so funny, but there was always a lot of laughter when we all got together.

 I took this one of mom while my sister, Debi, was frosting her hair. That's my nephew, Dale, keeping mom from covering up her face.
And finally, a shot taken at a family reunion. That's Mama in the middle, looking backwards because our Aunt Geneva had done something to her right as the shot was taken. We come by our lunacy honestly. LOL

Man, do I miss Mama, especially now. I wish she could be here to do all the things a mama does, but I know she's in a better place. Doesn't make me miss her any less, though.
 Another family reunion, from L to R: My grandmother, Wyonia, Daddy (David), Mama (Carolyn), Me, my brother-in-law, Dale, nephew Dale, Jr., my sister, Debi, my sister Connie, my brother-in-law, Henry. (Just as an aside, those pants my daddy has on crack me up! LOL)

There are countless other pictures I could post. Vacations and Christmases, everyday shots of us just being a family. And Mama is the core of all of them. On a handful of occasions, she was the one behind the camera, but she was ALWAYS there, always the heart of our family.

I miss you, Mama, so very, very much.