Thursday, July 07, 2011

3 Down, 5 to Go

Once again I am taking the easy way out and re-posting the update I sent family and friends. Hoping to have more energy to blog during this cycle as I picked up yet another ridiculous pamphlet at the hospital to add to the crazy one I think will be appreciated as a blog post. Thanks for all of your encouraging comments, they help keep me positive.

Yesterday I felt like a pro at chemo. I knew what to expect and even had the opportunity in the waiting room to talk to a woman waiting for her first treatment and swap stories about running through chemo with an inspiring woman who is back for her second round of chemo with a recurrence of breast cancer (this time Stage IV but she had an amazing attitude and didn't start running until her second diagnosis!). I still feel like the youngest, healthiest person there as I have yet to meet or even see anyone who is under 40 and it can be a harsh reality to see how sick so many other patients are.

I continue to rebound well so that by the end of the second week post-chemo I feel pretty much normal. It definitely helps when friends continue to spoil me and my work colleagues continue to bolster me up when I make it into the office. I have learned that I still need more sleep than I usually allow myself and that naps and downtime are the best way to get me through the tasks and outings I prioritize. This return to normalcy makes chemo go more smoothly but causes me some anxiety leading up to treatment as I start to dread the return of queasiness, excessive fatigue, a lack of attitude and possibly migraines. It is hard to start over every two weeks but it is encouraging to know that I can work back to normal.

I was definitely carried through my last treatment with the support of my sister so I appreciate everyone who has volunteered to step up this cycle. I had a really difficult time after my sister left but managed to meet friends for brunch on the Saturday she left and the following Sunday. I also had another friend in town for most of the week who insisted on straightening up my apartment, taking me for short walks and reminding me when to eat. Some may say having a whole slew of lawyers as friends isn't ideal but when you need people to swoop in and wrest control from an overly independent type A personality, nothing is better than a lawyer, especially one with a lot of mom experience (oh, except for an actual mom and sister :)).

I didn't start running quite as early with the second round which I think worked out well. My first run after my second treatment I felt much stronger and wasn't as worn out so I managed to go further (farther? I can never tell which is appropriate). I've also continued some semblance of my normal workout routine with one or two days in the gym doing strength training and pilates and last Sunday I got very brave (with the help of a couple of friends) and went to my first yoga class in at least three years. I used to practice yoga at least once a week but once I fell out of the habit I let too many excuses get in the way to the point that I stopped entirely. I did much better than I expected and only fell on my head once (um, on my third attempt at crow pose, a very difficult arm balance which I have never successfully pulled off for more than 30 seconds at a time and I don't think that actually counts). I will definitely be prioritizing yoga classes from now on because it has always been healing and I think it is a practice I can ease into earlier than running post-treatment.

Last week was also a good work week. My primary work responsibility has been working with the summer associates by serving on our assignment committee. This is my fifth summer in this role and I have appreciated the support and encouragement I have received from not only the firm but also the summers and my other colleagues for being so comfortable with my bald head and even complimenting me on it! I usually manage to keep a scarf on for a few hours before it gets hot or itchy and then I just take it off and walk around freely and am returned with smiles and hugs. The hugs are the best. New York City isn't exactly known for its warmth and law firms even less so but I have really enjoyed the support and love and hugs I receive from so many of my colleagues - both those with whom I was previously close and those who have stepped up to a more supportive role now. It speaks to the basic good in people. Of course, all of the check-ins and support can make it difficult to actually get anything done when I'm in the office as the time just flies right by. But last week I managed to work on finalizing an objection with a junior associate and it felt really good to finish something concrete. Up until yesterday I still had myself convinced that I could fly to San Diego next week to argue the objection at the hearing. While I still believe I am capable of it, I am trying to remind myself of the best ways to expend my energy. Even if I detour home through Salt Lake (one of the enticements for making the cross-country trip), the flying alone will likely suck most of my energy, energy I would rather put into other endeavors. Plus, I think I want to save my cross-country flight energy for a trip to Salt Lake in August. I haven't booked yet and will keep those of you in Utah posted on when that happens (if it happens) because I will want to see those of you I can - a good use of energy.

This past weekend was one of my best. It started on Friday when I saw a FREE fan performance of the Tony award winning and top selling, most difficult to obtain ticket on Broadway - The Book of Mormon! A few weeks ago I tried to get lottery tickets with a friend and although neither of us won then, I received a call about a week later saying I was a winner for the fan performance! My brother had been trying to track down tickets for me and I chalk the good karmic win up to him for helping the universe grant my Make a Wish. I will preface my feelings on the show with this - it isn't for everyone. It was crude, irreverent and the language was extreme and shocking, not just for Mormons. But I was warned by many friends who had seen it previously about all of that and a few things they deemed may be most offensive. But I loved it. It was funny and at times sweet and with a few exceptions, they nailed some missionary stereotypes and I felt the overarching message was even if the baffling conception story isn't true, it gives hope and happiness to many people and makes them better people. At least that was my interpretation. Of course, I couldn't help but nitpick the flaws - placing the Missionary Training Center in Salt Lake, giving out mission callings and two year companions at the MTC. But the biggest gap was the "scary Mormon hell dream" theme. I think the writers missed what motivates Mormons - it is a carrot, not a stick. Mormons don't overachieve due to a fear of hell, they overachieve with the incentive of a better heaven. But that concept doesn't translate as easily into a funny song and dance number so I get why they resorted to fire and brimstone. Other concepts they did get right - some of the varied stereotypes of missionaries (some of whom I am pretty sure I have met!) and the cultural (but not religious) phenomenon of suppressing bad thoughts, feelings and doubts by just "turn[ing] it off", a great parody of surface level emotions commonly displayed in more casual relationships. The whole show had the feel of a dirtier rendition of a Mormon pageant (summer musicals put on at various church historical sites with no relation to beauty pageants), road shows (which I have first hand knowledge of from my lead role at 14-years old playing Suzy who falls down the food storage pantry alongside "Peter Pantry" with parodies of classic Mormon children's primary songs such as "Choose the Rice" (as opposed to "Choose the Right") which won me best actress) and finally the Young Ambassadors at BYU of whom I have no personal knowledge but my friend saw parallels. In the end, I wouldn't recommend it to everyone - no Mom, you would not enjoy it at all - but it was a really great way to kick off the long 4th of July weekend.

After the show I rushed home to grab my bag and rush back out to the bus station but was happily caught by my friend before leaving the house who encouraged me to wait for a later bus since traffic heading upstate was terrible. Recognizing that I would rather hang out at home for a couple more hours rather than spend that time sitting in traffic, I deferred my 6 pm bus ride to 8 pm which was a great decision. I made it to Rosendale, New York around 10 pm and was collected by my weekend hosts Ryan and Michelle who are determined to turn me into a bad house guest and who may regret their hospitality when I start showing up at their place every weekend. Saturday morning Michelle made some amazing pancakes and then I enjoyed an extremely hilly 2.3 mile mountain run in the neighborhood which left me panting more than usual and walking more than planned but I believe I still ran more than walked so I called it a win. I cooled down on their porch watching the chipmunks scurry about and listening to the breeze blow through the tall trees surrounding me. So relaxing. We later donned our swimming suits for an afternoon at a pool belonging to friends of my hosts' friends. I kept myself lathered in strong sunscreen and built my own shade under a giant sun hat as I'm supposed to be extra cautious under the sun's rays these days. I didn't actually swim but sitting on the steps of the pool was refreshing, as was the bucolic surroundings and the conversation. Back to the house for a nap while my gracious hosts once again let me be lazy and cooked dinner when we were joined by more friends of theirs whom I have met enough times I am now claiming them as my own friends as well. Sunday Michelle, the neighbor and I went to yoga where no one blinked at me as the bald girl since upstate has enough hippy vibe that I could just as well could be sporting the bald look for my own weirdness and not due to chemo. Some torrential rain foiled our hiking plans so we instead ventured off to Poughkeepsie for a movie and then late lunch/dinner in New Paltz where the waitress complimented me on my baldness (something I am not going to get tired of because I am too often caught off guard by it myself to be quite comfortable yet). More relaxing and too much ice cream and Monday mid-day Michelle and I set off to visit another friend's new house in the Jersey suburbs where we enjoyed snacks around the kitchen table and I tried to lure her Brooklyn raised, nature-adverse toddler onto the lawn to kick the soccer ball with me. He kept insisting on returning the ball to the familiar concrete. I wonder how long it will take before he appreciates suburban life.

I finished my 4th of July weekend with one more ice cream sundae indulgence sitting at my living room window watching the Macy's fireworks and catching up with my mom. Yes, I had corn on the cob, watermelon, pool time and country time, all enjoyed with good friends, I couldn't ask for a better weekend. Oh, sure I keep getting hung up on not being able to go on my annual river trip this summer but I compensated for that while at the mall in Poughkeepsie by purchasing new water-ready hiking shoes so I'll be ready next time I'm able to hit the white rapids.

As for yesterday's chemo session, the highlights are that it went by much faster than the last 5-hour session. Plus I learned Wednesday is a much livelier day in the infusion suite with the music therapists. I agreed to participate in a research study that involved a questionnaire which revealed to the good doctor conducting it that I feel strongly about most everything she asked and left my chemo buddy laughing much of the time - after all, who knows my strong willed personality more than the partner for whom I have worked almost exclusively for the last six years? She was great company and, as usual, kept me laughing enough that the nurse told us we were having too much fun in our little corner. As part of my music questionnaire I was asked my music background which always brings me a twinge of regret for not keeping any of it up. I revealed my dabblings in various instruments and to my complete shock I was later presented with a violin to play. Ummm, in case you aren't aware (most of you have no idea!), I "played" the violin briefly in 6th and 7th grade. I loved it and really wish I could still claim to be able to play but my skills were limited to holding it correctly (I was complimented on that) and managing to bow a nice long A on open string. I also managed to squeak out twinkle twinkle with some effort and helping with fingering. After that I strummed a guitar for a bit and found my place with some bongos while Lorraine played the wave drum as the therapist played along with us. It wasn't the greatest of music but it was a welcome distraction and I didn't get a headache with the cytoxin until there was only about 30 minutes left. A massive improvement from the last two treatments.

I spoke with my doctor about the migraines and feel a lot more empowered to address them if they come back but am hopeful I can avoid them this time around now that I have permission to caffeinate and I know what to watch for. I still anticipate I'll be sleeping a lot and appreciate the volunteers who have agreed to check up on me over the next few days.

Some more good news from the doctor is that the drug I will be on for my last four treatments will be more mild than those I've been taking which means I only have one more round with the adriomycin and cytoxin (the cytoxin is the one I blame for the headaches)!! I also have a fun long weekend planned in Maine and New Hampshire on the good weekend between treatments number 4 and 5 which will be a great way to celebrate the half-way mark. Please keep your fingers crossed for good weather and no thunderstorms the weekend of July 29th because I really want to get in a kayak and do some hiking. I don't think that is asking too much. My oncologist also reassured me that there is no way she will be adding extra treatments so I can continue to fixate on the countdown of 8 treatments spaced 2 weeks apart so I will finish up mid-September as planned. I will also be scheduled to meet with my breast surgeon sometime in August when I have only two treatments left so I can get my surgery on calendar. It will be approximately three weeks after my last treatment so my mom and sister can start scheduling their next visit for that time.

Which reminds me, if we have discussed you coming to visit for one of my treatments or any time, please let me know when you have definite dates so I can set them aside on the calendar and coordinate. The first weekend in August is reserved for my brother (possibly brothers) and I'm aiming for a SLC visit the second week in August between treatments but not booking that until I get a little closer. I also have the weekend after my last treatment in September tentatively booked so email or give me a call to sign up. I really do love having someone here during my down time even if I have to fight my hosting instinct.

Once again, thank you everyone for stepping up to help in so many ways. The cards and pictures and texts and emails are all so bolstering whether they come from far away or close. While it feels like April 28th was so far away, the time is really passing quickly and I owe so much of that to those of you who are willing to adjust your own schedules to reach out to me so often to - as my uncle repeats to me - shake your pom poms in this fight.

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