October 26, 2009

live each day

since the first day of this journey with cancer, everyone has said to 'take it one day at a time'. i remember, at first, thinking that was impossible...feeling that there was no way i could not think about the future, what my long term survival would be, and focusing on all the 'what if's' of the crazy world of cancer i was about to enter. i realize it's not unusual to focus on all this - cancer is scary and there's such a wealth of information out there about it. i spent days reading everything i could about it. everything i read pointed to only one truth...there is no way to determine the future. if you're thinking this is common sense, you're right, however, once you go through a cancer diagnosis (i, of course, never would wish that for anyone), then we can discuss the usefulness of common sense.

now, three months and three days after that initial discovery of cancer, i think i've finally learned to focus on each day. i, of course, have a lot of work left to do...it's a journey, not a destination.

the future is as uncertain as life with cancer. it's hard to say what will happen tomorrow, or the next day, or five years from now. just as with cancer, there are thousands of statistics that can tell us, with some certainty, the chances for the future.... however, they are just that - chances. we're all individuals. no one can accurately account for individuality. the odds weren't in favor of a healthy, twenty-something getting diagnosed with cancer. and, here i am. so, i say throw chance out the window, and enjoy life.

every day is an opportunity. an opportunity to learn, to appreciate the world, to make a difference, and to live fully. each day will turn into the next, and the future is a reflection of the way we choose to live each one. if we don't take each day and live it fully, our future lacks a critical feature - a life full of lessons, experiences and appreciation. today is wonderful, live it and enjoy it.

October 25, 2009

low counts...

so, friday was supposed to be treatment three, but my body wasn't having it, and my blood counts were too low to proceed with treatment. the way it works is: blood is drawn prior to each treatment and your oncologist decides, based on white blood counts, if it's safe to go ahead - if your counts are too low, treatment doesn't happen. ABVD (the chemotherapy i get) is given in cycles...each cycle is two treatments, given on day one and fifteen (two weeks between each one). my oncologist doesn't hold a day fifteen treatment, but will hold a cycle (or a day one).... since this is the start of a new cycle, he's holding it for a week to give my bone marrow time to recover and my white blood cells time to get their act together.

what does this all mean? well, one thing is for sure - my body does not like ABVD. some people, apparently, cruise right through it.... i, on the other hand, require ridiculously expensive meds for nausea and a little jolt to get my bone marrow to produce enough white blood cells in the two week window. add that to the list of things to get me through treatment (current count: four chemotherapy drugs, one anti-nausea IV drip, one steroid IV drip, two types of anti-nausea meds, and numbing cream for the port)...and, this one comes in shots that i have to self administer. fantastic. you'd think after everything i've had done that i'd easily tough this one out, too. no way, i think this may be right up there with bone marrow biopsy on the 'things i do not like' list. but, i'll do what i have to do, and one day i'll stop whining about it.

of course i was quite frustrated that i didn't stack up to the expectations to hold on to my counts for a little longer, and that treatment would, without a hitch, happen every other friday for not a day over six months. i don't take failure of any sort very well. i will, someday, find a way to accept that all this cancer is not something i have any control over. and i'll trust that if everything happens the way it's supposed to, this, too, will work itself out. i'll hold onto the thought (thank you forum friends) that low counts, hair falling out and nausea are a sign that this ABVD stuff is doing what it's supposed to...all out destruction of fast growing cells...and so long as cancer is included in that destruction, i'll hold on to the 'can do' attitude. at least that's one thing i can control.

October 21, 2009

to: everyone

dear friends,

i just sat down, coffee in hand, ready to write an eloquent 'thank you' to everyone who's reached out and offered their support. it seems, however, that words are hard to find. i have been incredibly humbled to find myself in this web of support you've all woven so delicately, careful not to leave even a little hole through which i could fall - even at the times i feel most vulnerable. it is, admittedly, a new and unusual position for me to be in as the object of so much support, and i'm still learning to to accept it. dealing with the cancer is easy in comparison to adequately expressing enough thanks for each of you.

there are some things i'll never do well...accepting support easily is one of them. i've spent lots of time in my young adult life as a volunteer or employee in organizations that assist others facing adversity in one way or another. i don't do well on the other side of it - as an indiviual facing adversity. one day i'll figure it all out.

there are few words, none more meaningful or adequate than 'thank you'. thank you for your selflessness, your support, your energy and your thoughts. thank you for showing me how far an act of kindness can go. thank you for the will push forward. thank you for not letting me fall. thank you for your smiles. thank you for understanding that words are not enough. each day that i wake up with a stronger will to live, i will thank each of you.

with adoration, strength and a very sincere 'thank you',
your cancer fighting friend

October 18, 2009

attitude is everything

the pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. the optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
-winston churchill

disclaimer: you won't appreciate this rant if you're a pessimist.

i understand that everyone's perspective on problems is relative to their own experiences. i also don't expect everyone to have or understand optimism during tough times, especially cancer (i totally understand that cancer sucks), and i will never act as though i have a better way of dealing with things...it's just the way i do it.

what i don't understand is why some individuals consistently choose to focus on the struggles instead of the opportunities...and why these individuals choose to always share their frustration with everyone else. i certainly have days when i feel like everything sucks...i feel sick, i focus on cancer a little more than i'd like to, and i just wish this was not really a reality...but, i never feel like it will last forever, i never feel sorry for myself, like the world's out to get me, or that anyone else should drop everything they're doing to focus on it. why? because i know that everyone has their own struggles. at this point in my life, mine is cancer, and i know the seriousness of it, i just choose not to live life around that. i feel like it's just the hand i've been dealt and i do what i have to do to get through it. just like everyone else.

this is why i think attitude is everything. it's not the size of your struggle, but the way in which you choose to face it. before cancer, i had the typical fear of the "c word" and all that was associated with it. now, while i certainley appreciate the fear, i realize it's not very different than the struggles i faced before...it just requires a little extra will to get through it, but it's the same approach as always...see the opportunity, make the most of it, and move on.

that said, i think everyone should identify their struggles, the emotions that come with it, and embrace it. life throws stuff at us every day that we don't always think we can handle. we can, if we choose to think that way. i wish everyone would realize that...we can face anything that's thrown at us. it's not always easy, but it's not supposed to be. easy things don't challenge us, scare us, and force us to really shake everything up and let it settle again in a new and different way. it's a process. and if you choose the right attitude, it's really quite a wonderful experience.

October 14, 2009

i never thought paying bills would be exciting...

the new checks i ordered arrived this week, and i spent all morning paying bills. and i enjoyed every second of it. crazy, isn't it? it just seems so normal, like what every other twenty-something should be doing. i really revel in the times when i can forget about cancer and really just live my life the way everyone else does. i have so much living to do, and it's quite annoying that cancer has thrown such a fork in the road.

that said, i am also very aware that cancer is part of this journey i'm on. the experience is part of who i am, and i have every intention of learning everything i can from it, and then moving on. i am aware that this experience with cancer has already given me a stronger will to live each day. people say that young adults should never have to experience cancer. no, no one should ever have to go through cancer...treatment sucks, and it's scary. but, i feel very fortunate to have this experience as a young adult, as i will have the rest of my life to live with an incredible appreciation for everything. not everyone is so lucky.

October 9, 2009

one cycle = DONE

another good day! cancer is really taking a beating here...i continue adding to the tally of good days, and cancer gets fewer and fewer bad days on its tally. cancer chose the wrong opponent, i don't like losing. for the good days, i credit many things...here's the run down on this fantastic day...

first off, my dad came with me (thanks dad) and we went for a bagel and coffee before doing anything else. there are few better ways to start a day. then it was off to the hospital for a pulmonary function test. you all know how i enjoy the funny situations in all this. this was one of those. if you've ever seen office space, picture the guy with the stapler (if you haven't seen it, i suggest you do). he did the tests. it was relatively easy, you sit in a chair, and breathe as hard as you can while they test your lung capacity a few different ways. for one of these tests, you breathe all the way in and hold it...it felt funny, so i asked if i breathed anything in. yes, yes i did. carbon monoxide. seriously? radioactive tracers, toxic gas and radiation...do they really wonder why we have an increased risk of secondary cancers? my lungs were fine going into it, and if i have lung toxicity at some point in this process, i'm blaming that man...and then stealing his stapler.

then off to treatment number two! first awesome thing of the day...i got to use my port! you couldn't possibly be excited about this unless you've been there...i had one little pinch from the needle, then was totally hands free through treatment - it's like the bluetooth device of cancer treatment. also, the best nurse ever (tied with my oncologist's nurse, who i also adore) took care of me. she's seriously amazing...she makes going to treatment sort of exciting, if it wasn't for the fact that it's cancer treatment, it would really be very exciting...i do look forward to seeing those two. the treatment itself was uneventful, and here's to hoping this excessively expensive nausea prescription does what it's supposed to.

that sounds like a good day, huh? it gets better. my oncologist comes in today and the first thing he said was "so do you want some good news?". first of all, i can't even really express enough gratitude for his approach to all this. we all realize cancer is serious, but why focus on that? it's a reality, but i have no reason to think about it every day...thank you to each one of you who also don't focus on any of that. so, the news? well, i had a chest xray after the port was put in to make sure it was in place. my oncologist put the original chest xray next to the one from wednesday...in just one treatment, i've had an excellent response and the mass has decreased in size very quickly! there are no words, really, just hope. lots of it.

one entire cycle is done...only five left!

October 8, 2009

it's the little things in life...

in the last few days, i've felt an incredible awareness of the little things each day that i didn't have the same appreciation for prior to having cancer. i like to have the ability to 'thank' cancer for things, and i know that each time i thank cancer for something, i've already beaten it. also, as someone on the forum said every day that we wake up aware that we're alive, we've won. so, wake up every day and be aware of something you're thankful for. some of the little things i am thankful for...

`the transformation of trees in fall
`enjoying a cup of coffee without having anything else to do
`the way dogs seem so happy when they're on a walk
`when my students tell me they like my hair...having no idea i cut it off to make it less noticeable for them when it starts to fall out
`hearing a song on the radio that you've forgotten about
`the innocence with which the students i work for face the world

...the world is full of amazement and little things, look for it.

October 7, 2009

welcome to the cancer club!

today was my 'welcome to the cancer club' initiation...i had my port put in...this little plastic thing in my chest will be a daily reminder of cancer. it's alright though, i could use a reminder, i think i forgot a few times this week that i had cancer. for that i thank my students...they're college students, employees, friends, and they have developmental disabilities...but they won't remind you of that last one, they just focus on life. they're such a constant source of inspiration for me...i aspire every day to focus on life instead of it's obstacles, just like they do. they're wonderful.

anyways, the surgery...super easy. for that, i credit the wonderful team that i had today. seriously, a year ago i hated doctors...today, they were wonderful and fun? crazy. thank you for that, cancer. i can never express enough appreciation for doctors that can laugh at the situation. it's the little things.

today's 'cancer is funny' event...i was excited for the end of the usual old IV story (tie a band super tight on your arm, and then just hope the person putting the needle in can find your vein the first time...it gets old) which the port will be the end of. so i cheered a little when the last IV was put in by the pre-op nurse. that would be too dull to be the end of it, though. and, since no one likes a dull end to a story, we wrote a different ending...i get into the operating room, and my IV stops working. seriously? i wasn't sure they could even 'stop working'. the anesthesiologist tells me we'll have to do another IV. no worries, that's easy enough, right? not quite. it took several needle sticks, a few attempts and two doctors to successfully get an IV going. if i had any hesitation left about if a port was the right way to do this cancer business, it's gone. i've got four bruises from IV attempts to remind me of that while the soreness from the surgery wears off. all the while, the most wonderful collection of doctors and nurses enjoying the irony of the situation with me. it's the little things, like their willingness to laugh, that may seem insignificant, but makes all the difference in each little experience with cancer. there was a choice to focus on the little inconvenience, or laugh about it...we chose laughter, and i wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

and, finally, my medical update. i feel excellent! on day five after treatment, i was at work, and on day seven i felt 'normal' again. it's nice to have the first one out of the way, and this time i'll know that the nausea won't last forever (i wasn't so sure last time). i went in to have labs yesterday to check my counts (white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets) before having surgery, and i found out my counts were 'excellent'...yay! that's great news, especially since they still have a few days to come up before treatment two. also exciting, my bone marrow biopsy showed 'no evidence of lymphoma'! that's what we expected, but it's the first 'clean' test i've had done in the last three months, so it's exciting! so, everything is fantastic...off to treatment two on friday, then i'll have an entire cycle out of the way! each day is one day closer to putting this behind me, and every day feels like an accomplishment. it makes me appreciate every day, yet another thing i have to thank cancer for.

October 3, 2009

the definition of life

life is a very difficult word to define. in fact, it's so difficult, the dictionary has over thirty definitions. it's a word that has essentially transcended language, and is only defined through our own experiences.

our unique definition of life is the most honest reflection of how we live. one thing i've learned so far is that life is not an amount of time, and we are powerless in determining how long we live. while it's a scary feeling to be out of control, i've learned to focus on the one thing we can control...the way we live.

a cancer diagnosis changes everything. it quickly shifts life into a series of events that determine your future. someone in the cancer community said 'don't let a clean scan stand between you and your life'. it's true. i need to focus on life, and not let test results determine it's quality. there is life outside of cancer.

cancer can take years from life...it cannot take life from years, unless you let it. in the face of something out of my control, i will discover the definition of life.