A Mother and her Two Daughters

30 May 2010

Celebrating Anna-Lee and a Restful Memorial Day Weekend

May has certainly been a very busy month at our home, and Friday night we celebrated Anna-Lee’s high school graduation - which in our family means a multiple day celebration.  What a wonderful young woman she is and how proud we all are for her.  Anna-Lee graduated with a 3.96 GPA and is more than prepared and ready to hit the Razorback Hill Country come August.  She has been accepted into the U of A’s Fulbright College and plans to major in International Relations with a minor in Spanish.  Goodness knows she is already very well traveled, and has probably been to almost half of the South American countries on various mission trips and projects.  I’m looking very forward to watching this beautiful woman save the world sometime soon. 

While Anna-Lee's high school resume is impressive, her volunteer accomplishments are true testaments to her leadership abilities and compassion for others.  College admission officers surely gave her high points for leadership positions such as President of the Little Rock Mayor's Youth Council, graduate of the Sister Cities Youth Leadership program and Representative to the United Methodist Conference District Council on Youth Ministries.  But what sets Anna-Lee apart from so many others are the works she has done that are not included on a resume or college application.  Since 9th grade, she has been a voracious volunteer in our community with all projects that that support the homeless - working the breakfast trailer behind City Hall each Tuesday, serving meals at the Compassion Center, volunteering at Watershed Human & Community Development Center, and heading up a blanket drive for the homeless, which she delivered to those on the streets Christmas Day.  She will complete her summer with her fifth mission trip to South America volunteering in an orphanage, photos that have captured my heart for many years now.  Whether is Boo at the Zoo, Komen Race for the Cure or the Pulaski County Young Democrats, if there is a need you can find Anna-Lee there ready to assist.  It doesn't surprise me in the least that she's already focused on possible volunteer work in her new community of Fayetteville.  While celebrating my Anna-Lee this weekend, I'm reminded of how good life can be when you share your heart with someone else.  It has been my pleasure and honor to watch this darling girl grow-up the past 18 years.  While I will miss her terribly come August, I'm confident that life will be good to Anna-Lee as she continues to give back to God's world.  

I hope your Memorial Day weekend has been as happy and restful as mine.  Last night Tim and I enjoyed dinner with friends, Richard and Sheila, Jim and Elise.  Today Mom and I will enjoy taking a cooking class together at Williams-Sonoma, and later a Memorial Day party at Cissy and Steve's home.  Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but I've made a new commitment to do at least one thing fun each day - no more focusing exclusively on the many things on my TO DO list.  

One thing that will be enjoyable this coming week - Wednesday will be chemo treatment #7, meaning ONLY ONE MORE CHEMO TREATMENT left before surgery in July.  We continue to make progress eradicating The Beast we call Cancer.  

26 May 2010

The Reality of Fear

I can remember the two years when I worked to pass The Breast Cancer Act.  One of the many things shared with me by the client was the fact that many women are so fearful of being diagnosed with breast cancer that they avoid going to the doctor, or are unwilling to have a mammogram.  At the time, I couldn’t understand why anyone would let fear keep them from making good choices when it comes to your personal healthcare. 

Since February 17th, following my own diagnosis, I have yet to feel overcome by a sense of fear.  I’ve encountered many emotions and have certainly been on a voracious search for facts.  However, with my magical medical team, and with such incredible support from my community of family and friends, why in the world would I be burdened with fear?  It has simply not been an emotion on my agenda – until last night. 

The reason for the fear is not important.  But Monday night at 1:15 am, I sent an email to a friend and admitted my fear.  Here was her reply:

The fact that you haven't been scared, or showed that side to anybody, has amazed many of us.  Other feelings you are more than entitled to right now are anger, bitterness, depression, and resentment toward anybody who complains about their hair, or the entire beauty industry for what they try to confirm as the eye of the beholder. 

She went on to tell me about her own perception of my particular fear – a much different outlook than my own.  A few minutes later she sent to me a follow-up message: 

And I forgot to add: you kick ass too.  

Well, maybe I’ve been kicking ass so hard for the past three and one-half months that I forgot to be human and grapple with the reality that this beast called Cancer not only attacks the body, but it has all the potential to attack the mind and the spirit too.  I’ve been so preoccupied with healing my body from cancer that I’ve forgotten to pay attention to the healing of my center – my soul. 

The facts about cancer are humbling - approximately 1 in 3 people will develop cancer in their lifetime.  And while you can go online or to any cancer resource center and find a multitude of information about each specific cancer and the many possible treatments, I have run across very little about what to do when you encounter plain old-fashioned fear.  But maybe I haven’t been looking for it. 

While fears are normal, they are uncomfortable to live with, especially if you have survived other crushing blows in life, survived them, and created this persona of yourself as one tough cookie.  Right now I’m not feeling so tough. 

So, I’m moving in a new direction, one that will help me figure out how to manage fear so that I can get back to focusing on beating cancer and living a happy and healthy life. 

Tonight I read some of Lance Armstrong’s book, LIVESTRONG.  In his introduction, Armstrong talks about his own battle over cancer to later be challenged by the fear of recurrence.  To read about his own fears made me realize that this is a true challenge to the experience of cancer.  It will be good for me to find ways to confront this fear and learn how to manage it before it takes over my mind and possibly destroys my game plan for success.

Battling cancer is more than just fighting the disease.  It’s a plethora of battles, both physical and emotional.  I’m not sure that there can ever be certainty or freedom from fear.  But I will search for it. 

In the meantime, I am afraid.  

23 May 2010

Those Who Inspire and Give Hope

I’ve spent the last couple of days focusing on INSPIRATION and those that inspire.  Let me explain. 

“Inspiration” is a word that no one is shy of using.  While we hear it used often, the very definition of “inspiration” is like a fingerprint – unique and different for every person.  Some define it as divine guidance, a kind of spiritual magic that some seek to believe in.  Others believe it to be an observation that arouses a particular emotion or action.  Most of us agree that inspiration is an exciting feeling we get when our mind is opened, our soul is moved and we discover purpose for our destiny.

Is inspiration something we do, or see, or hear, taste or smell?  Again, it ‘s different for all of us.  The musical works of Chopin inspired Franz Liszt.  And it was Bo Diddley who inspired Elvis, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.  Claude Monet was less inspired by other artists, his masterful works more inspired by the lilies in his own garden along with the color of the light changing throughout the day.  It was Booker T. Washington and Mahatma Gandhi that inspired Martin Luther King Jr. to approach protest with non-violent resistance.  And for most Christians, the inspiration of prayer establishes a deep loving relationship with God.  

As for me, my own journey of inspiration has been one of observing and marveling at the purposeful energy of others.  My first hero as a young child was Helen Keller.  When I was a girl, I am certain that I read every book written about her life before age 8, inspired by her overcoming the frustration of losing both sight and hearing to advocate on behalf of the deaf and blind.  Later on, it would be Rosa Parks whose one courageous act led to some of America’s most significant civil right legislation.  In years past, I’ve found inspiration from education advocates like Kati Haycock of Education Trust and former Governor Roy Romer of Colorado.    

It was President Abraham Lincoln who said, “Your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing.”  He was right.  The difference between the impossible and the possible oftentimes lies in a person’s determination to make something happen. 

Thursday night I took a short inspiration journey to Helena, AR, to witness the first graduating class of KIPP Delta College Preparatory School. 

The Mississippi Delta is considered by many to be the nation's poorest region, trailing even parts of Appalachia in its standard of living. Phillips County lost a third of its population from 1970 to 2000; of the 24,000 people who remain, 35% live in poverty.  Established in 2002, fifth grade students entered KIPP Delta charter school with an average proficiency of 22% in Language and 20% in Mathematics.  Four years later, the same students performed at the 76th percentile in Language and 82nd percentile in Mathematics.  On Thursday night, 23 high school seniors walked the stage to become the first KIPP high school graduating class – the class of 2010.  And their hard work and determination is inspiring – 100% have been accepted to and will attend college in the fall, with two attending Vanderbilt University and two with appointments to the US Naval Academy. In an Arkansas Delta county where only 12% of adults graduate from college, who would have imagined that this level of achievement was possible?  This is what I personally call inspiring. 

While last night was not a good evening for my chemo-ridden legs, I was in spirit with two wonderful women who were honored in our Little Rock community. 

Arkansas Hospice honored philanthropist Sue Frueauff, a champion for many worthwhile causes including healthcare and education. Her generosity through the Freuauff Foundation has resulted in construction of the AR Hospice River Valley Home, an inpatient freestanding facility. The evening celebrated Sue's accomplishments, as well as recognized her forever empathy for and generosity towards those who find themselves struggling to make things better in their lives. I've had the privilege of working with Sue with the Single Parent Scholarship Fund and her energy is contagious.  Congratulations to my dear friend Sue, and her children David and Anna Kay who work by her side each day. 

And across town, City Year Little Rock honored another dear friend, Judy Tenenbaum, at the 5th Annual Red Jacket Ball with their Lifetime of Service Award. Judy is also a champion of numerous local philanthropic causes, including City Year and UAMS' Cancer Institute. In fact, Dr. Suzanne Klimberg, my surgical oncologist, became the inaugural recipient of the Muriel Balsam Kohn Chair in Breast Surgical Oncology at UAMS because of the generosity of Judy, who wakes up each day and asks, “What can I do to better the world today?” . 

Where can one find inspiration?  There’s an easy answer to that question. If you want or need inspiration, open your eyes and ears and look around you!  Inspiring lives can be found everywhere you go!  And if you're open and accepting, their inspiring works can be a gift.  

Many thanks to 23 KIPP students, and my dear friends Sue and Judy.  Their commitment and compassion and drive inspires others like me to know more, dream more and become more.  It is accomplishments like theirs that create hope – and once you choose hope, anything is possible. 

I’m finding the present to be a little bit challenging, thus my admiration for those with a can-do spirit.  My current chemo drug (Taxol) continues to take its toll on my muscles, most especially my legs.  And the mouth sores have returned to be create another challenge in this battle.  All in all, it’s going to be fine, and I continue to remind myself that I only have two more treatments remaining before surgery July 19th.  If two KIPPsters can move from the 22nd percentile in reading on to attend Vanderbilt University seven years later, I believe that my doctors and me can beat this cancer.  I'm hoping . . . 

19 May 2010

Learning More about Cancer and Nutrition

Yesterday was my 6th chemo treatment day, which always begins with blood tests by the oncology lab and then a visit with Dr. Makhoul.  I was loaded for bear yesterday for the doctor visit with loads of questions about nutrition. 

One of the great things about this modern time is the Internet.  When I was first diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer, I had never even heard of this particular type.  Since then, I’ve found that most women don’t.  (But I’m working on that in a big way for another day – more on that later).  So naturally the Internet served as a great resource to find more information, even though the facts I discovered weren’t always uplifting.  But at least I know what I’m facing. 

As I have moved into the treatment phase, lovely friends have been great to come by with all kinds of food items that they swear to be cancer curing – many of the food items pushed by guys like Dr. Oz and other Super Food experts.  I have also learned through the Internet that the National Cancer Institute estimates that at least 35% of all cancers have a nutritional connection.  This is an interesting fact for all of us to ponder. 

So, after reading countless articles on cancer and nutrition, I am now eating all things purple and red (grapes, berries, mangosteen and 100% pomegranate juice), all things green and leafy (kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts), fiber for bulk, protein rich foods along with fish rich in Omega 3 fatty acids.  While all of these good foods help build a strong immune system, very important as you fight cancer, none of them have really been proven to be a cure for this ugly disease.  Quite honestly, chemotherapy and radiation are what actually cure cancer. 

But here has been my dilemma:
·      The Internet is flooded with web sites, blogs and articles about what one should eat to help fight cancer.
·      After getting into these various sites, I have found contradictory information . . . milk is good for you, milk is NOT good for you. 
·      I’ve discovered some of the most unusual foods and immune fighting methods such as barramundi fish, mistletoe extract and turmeric tea.  (Note:  the fish is good and can be found at Kroger, mistletoe extract is hard to find in Little Rock, and turmeric tea tastes terrible, but I’ve never been a fan of Indian food either). 

So, after presenting all of this to Dr. Makhoul and inquiring about the need to meet with an oncology nutritionist, here is his advice:
·      Eat a well-balanced diet that includes fruit and vegetables and protein and fiber. 
·      Milk is good for you if it does not include hormones or antibiotics.  In other words, organic milk is good for you. 
·      Cocktails and chemo don’t mix.  That makes sense and not a problem for me.  
·      Remember that a cancer prevention diet is different than a cancer treatment diet, which is different than a post-cancer diet.  When you’re on an aggressive cancer treatment plan, eat what tastes good and doesn’t upset your stomach.  That makes sense too.  

The most important thing to remember is this - when conducting any kind of cancer research on the Internet, stick to reliable web sites like the American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute, American Institute for Cancer Research, WebMD and other well established sites with proven medical expertise.  You may want to stay away from homemade sites like mind or those like "AskCathyAboutCancer.com."  

Again, more sage and common sense advice from my UAMS medical team.  

Yesterday was chemo treatment #6, which means I have two more to go between now and mid-June.  Dr. Makhoul continues to believe that I’m progressing very well.  We’ll know more in a month when I have another round of diagnostic images before surgery July 19th.  I’m anxious to know.  In the meantime, I’m going to take Dr. Makhoul’s advice to eat what tastes good.  That means a bowl of chicken and dumplings for lunch, homemade by my dear friends Steve & Cissy.  I’ll top it off with a banana Popsicle.  Yummy!!  

17 May 2010

Wig Wearing with a Large Dose of Humor

Ask any parent who has put their child through college to describe the overwhelming and mixed feelings that take over when you witness your child receiving their college degree.  It’s simply a wonderful moment in time filled with memories of the past, pride for the here and now, and a sense of great anticipation for the future.

Our weekend was almost a miniature family reunion complete with friends and family who have played an important role in Allyson’s 22-year life.  Nanny and BobBob, Uncle Mike and Cousin Emily, Aunt Becky and Uncle Doyne, Rebecca and Sweet Pea Annie – and of course, Lee, Anna-Lee and me.  In addition, Allyson’s Jeffrey was with us the entire time and we had the pleasure of his parents Don and Darla joining us Saturday for our special dinner and graduation, along with Allyson’s Fairy Step-Father Scott, my longtime friend who lives and works in Columbia. 

We spent a wonderful two days at The Taylor House in Columbia, MO.  It’s a beautiful old home perfectly preserved and on the National Register of Historic Homes.  It was the superb setting for a family gathering like ours.  Other than Thursday night dinner at The Heidelberg and Friday lunch at the legendary billiard hall and hamburger joint Booches, all meals were enjoyed at the B&B, which made our time together much more intimate.

Because we rented the entire home, we decorated with photos of Allyson from the time she was born until just last week.  In addition, everyone had the chance to look through her college portfolio, capstone project and other scholarly accomplishments during her time at Mizzou.  The culmination of the weekend ended with the Saturday evening Journalism School graduation ceremony at Mizzou Arena. Two-time Emmy Award winner Bill Geist of CBS News Sunday Morning (and 1971 Mizzou graduate) was the speaker – and it was certainly the very best graduation speech I’ve ever been forced to listen to.  Following the ceremony, Allyson and her gang of girlfriends hosted a private soiree at Quentin’s, a downtown hangout popular among the students, for the girls and their families. 

It was the perfect weekend to celebrate the many accomplishments of a wonderful young woman who has worked very hard to successfully complete her degree at one of the top Journalism programs in the country.  It was especially meaningful for my father, Bob Sells, a 1957 graduate of the University of Missouri Journalism School.  Daddy chose not to walk on his graduation day.  Instead, almost 53 years ago, he married my mother on that Saturday.  

Now, to tell you about my wig incident . . .

Allyson and my mother have been more than upfront in their pursuit to get me to wear a wig.  As for me, I’m quite content wearing one of my many hats that fit quite comfortably on my head and don’t scratch.  But everyone who knows my family well knows that my mother and daughter consider themselves to be quite the fashionistas.  So this past week I was persuaded to finally pick-up the wig I ordered from St. Vincent’s New Outlook.  After picking it up Wednesday, I tossed it in my bag without much thought – okay, maybe with the exception of thinking, “Am I really going to wear this wig out in public?” 

Give me a hand because I actually wore the wig all night Saturday, for the graduation and pre- and post-festivities.  And it was okay - other than feeling scratchy on my head, itchy on my face and having this overwhelming sensation that I was wearing a badly executed disguise or trying to live some kind of fantasy.  But it worked fine (on a scale of 1 to 10, it was a 5) with one exception.  As the night drew on, the scratchy feeling on my bald head dominated this wig madness, which required a big old scratch of the wig from time to time. 

Fast-forward to Quintin’s, the party following graduation.  I’m standing there with my niece Emily in pleasant conversation with Allyson’s many girlfriends and their parents.  At some point I turned my back to scratch my head with the wig.  As I turned back around, Emily is still by my side and begins to move into action to correct the damage I’ve done - but not quickly enough.  At that very moment, I’m immediately introduced to Lauren’s mother whom I’ve never met before.  I’m sure she is a lovely woman but it was difficult to get past the look of bewilderment on her face as we engaged in small talk for a minute, where I did most of the small talking.  Throughout a brief encounter, a more  accurate description of her reaction to me was a stunned and paralyzed look with her mouth wide open. I felt a bit uncomfortable, wondering does she know something about Allyson that I don’t know?  Has she never heard a southern accent before?  Is their paint on my face?  What’s up with the look? 

As we ended our pleasantries and she moves on to visit with others, Emily bursts into complete and total laughter.  For you see, the crown of my wig was down around my right ear leaving me with a terribly awkward and crooked hairstyle – the length my hairdo on the left side was resting on my ear while my right side had hair draping over my shoulder.  Emily said it was her own memory in time, one she will never forget.  She quickly repaired my out-of-whack hairdo and we went on to explain to Allyson what I had done to embarrass her, in the event she heard about it from her friends.  Fortunately for me, my daughter has been blessed with a large dose of humor too, especially when it comes to anything involving Emily.  We must have all laughed for five minutes, and throughout the rest of the weekend. 

So I will conclude this blog by saying . . .

To Lauren’s Mom – I apologize for my shocking hairdo.  Hopefully if we meet again I will either be wearing my own hair or I will have mastered the art of wig wearing.

To Emily – thank you for standing by as my hairstyle repair technician throughout the weekend.  I couldn’t have done it without you – and your great sense of humor! 

To Allyson – Congratulations honey for a well-earned diploma.  You have made your mom proud.  And I’m also thankful that you have the gift of appreciating laughter and comic relief, even when it applies to your Mom.  Thank you baby.  I love you very much!   

12 May 2010

Getting ready for Real World Plans

So much to do and so excited about our plans for this weekend.  Yes, this is the big graduation weekend for Allyson at the University of Missouri.  (Photo at left is Allyson and her two-year roommate Natalie).  

Last August I received some good advice from Allyson’s sorority sister and dear friend Maggie – “Make your hotel arrangements now!”  Columbia is a great college town but it’s not crawling with lots of hotels properties like larger urban communities.  So, I immediately reserved an entire bed and breakfast inn called The Taylor House.  Take a look by clicking here.  Yes, we have rented out the entire B&B for family and friends to stay together.  Among the guests:  Mom and Dad, Anna-Lee and her friend Mary Elizabeth, Uncle Mike Sells and cousin Emily, Aunt Becky and Uncle Doyne Brewer, and Rebecca and Anna Tennille.  Allyson, her boyfriend Jeff, and roommate Natalie will join us too, along with Natalie’s family from Plano, TX.  And Jeff’s family will join us Saturday night for graduation and dinner.  It’s going to be a real celebration. 

To recap Allyson’s four years at Mizzou . . . she was among an elite group of students who were pre-accepted in the Journalism School her freshman year.  It’s a very intense program that for most students requires two years of demonstrating your ability for completion, with acceptance into the program usually not occurring until second semester of sophomore year.  I’m sure that her writing samples and her tenure as News Editor of the Central High School newspaper helped her make the grade for early acceptance. 

Allyson has proven herself to be a natural fit in the world of communications.  While she began this pursuit in broadcast journalism, she quickly moved her emphasis to Strategic Communications (i.e. Public Relations).  Naturally Dad and I are both very proud.  He’s especially proud, as he’s also a Mizzou J-School graduate. 

Allyson's work and academic record the past four years have been very impressive.  With modern technology I have been fortunate to have the ability to follow her work online and observe her academic and professional pursuits on video.  Mizzou has a world-renowned program, America’s first collegiate program dedicated to the study of Journalism, and Allyson continued to rise to the challenge.  She has tackled every course with great gusto completely emerging herself into the classroom challenges presented by the faculty.  Her most recent accomplishment is that her senior capstone project was selected by the Journalism faculty to be used in next year’s J-School recruitment video (photo is Ally preparing for her capstone presentation before the faculty and her client, the Boone County Department of Health).  That's huge!!  And this weekend we'll have the chance to review it.  

But what makes me especially proud of Allyson is her heart and her penchant for service to others.  During her time at Mizzou, Allyson has served as Philanthropy Chair for her Chi Omega chapter, was the student intern for Special Olympics-Missouri, raised tons of money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, served as Chair of Chi Omega recruitment, and organized a benefit concert for Haiti Relief in February.  This weekend she will not only receive her Bachelors of Journalism, she will also make our family quite proud of her many philanthropic accomplishments. 

You won’t be hearing much from me the next several days, with the exception of a few photographs and stories of our weekend celebration.  Wish us safe travels and many great memories.  I’m looking forward to some time away from cancer and just being a very proud Mom. 

Congratulations Allyson for your many outstanding accomplishments, for a proud career at the University of Missouri!  You have a promising future ahead of you - and we're all feeling pretty special to be your family!!  

09 May 2010

I have chemo brain. What’s your excuse?

Chemotherapy indeed saves lives, but new studies reveal that the agents used to kill cancer cells may also impair normal brain function. Called “chemo brain” or “chemo fog”, oncologists often discounted or trivialized the mental effects of chemotherapy – until recently.  Now there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.

If you’ve undergone chemotherapy, you might be among those who’ve had trouble following the thread of a conversation or feel less cerebral than you once were.  The side effects include:
  • Loss of short-term memory
  • Struggling with word retrieval
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Inability to multi-task

In simple terms, it’s when the chemotherapy drugs cause the brain to become forgetful, confused . . . what was I thinking or writing about? 

As for me, it feels very real, kind of like an interruption of the thought processes, but in slow motion.  For someone who spends her days writing, painstakingly trying to select the perfect descriptive word, some of the side effect can be terribly frustrating.  One day I can be incredibly productive with my work; and then the next day I would swear that someone had stolen my brain and replaced it with those wet things that you put pasta sauce on top of.  NOODLES!  That’s it! 

My first encounter with chemo brain was in late March, when Little Rock is at its most beautiful with blooming pear trees and dogwoods, and those beautiful yellow flowers that are found all over town.  What’s the name of those flowers?  Mom helped me out – “they’re called jonquils,” she kindly said. 

A few weeks ago I was trying to tell Anna-Lee about a car that my friend recently purchased.  I told her it was black, it was a Volkswagon, but for the life of me I could not remember what you call a car that doesn’t have a top.  “Its a convertible Mom,” she patiently reminded me. 

Just this past week, chemo brain must have really set in.  I did all the right things to make myself a cup of coffee using my Keurig coffeemaker that lets you brew one cup at a time; well, all the right things except remembering to get out a coffee mug . So, the entire cup of coffee went into the drip tray.  A wasted coffee pod, for sure. 

And on Thursday, Jessica and Leslie came by the house to visit following chemo treatment #5.  As I lay on the sofa telling them about the new treatment, I told them about the Benadryl shot my chemo nurse injected before the infusion procedure.  Jessica stopped me to ask why Benadryl.  What I meant to tell her was it was a precaution to prevent an “allergic reaction.”  But instead, I told her it was to prevent a “religious accident.”  A religious accident??  You can imagine her confusion, and our laughter, after I realized what silly chatter came from my mouth. 

Am I worried about this?  Maybe I should be, but I’m not.  Instead, I find it much easier to laugh about with friends and family.  Besides, cutting edge scientific research now confirms that following chemo treatments, patients can get back their groove with new strategies to improve memory and focus, and help keep your brain sharp.  In addition, I have assured myself that I’m obviously not alone. If there are truly ten million cancer survivors in this world, that means there are millions of chemo-brain victims – all of them muddling through words, tripping over sentences, trying to remember the name of their dog or their daughter, and struggling with the steps to make a simple cup of coffee. 

Hey anyone, can you tell me how to get to the kitchen? 

The biggest challenge for me?  Keeping my daughter quiet.  Anna-Lee recently said, “Mom, you’ve always had chemo brain.  Now you just have an excuse.” 

Here’s to chemo brain, alive and well and very welcome if the treatment means my cure!  And Happy Father’s Day to you all! 

Update:  I awoke this morning for the first time in days not feeling the need for a pain pill.  While my legs are tired and a bit sore, they are no longer in pain.  Again, we’re making progress.  Now if I could just remember my name and what day this is . . . .

08 May 2010

Memories of Mothering During a Curve Ball Weekend

What a weekend!  Originally it had been planned for the entire Sells Clan to be in Fort Worth to celebrate my niece’s graduation from Texas Christian University.  Emily will graduate Saturday with a degree in Education.  However, she will stay one more year to complete her Master’s program as a Teaching Assistant.  Emily has all that it takes to become one of America’s finest classroom teachers.  We are all so very proud of her.

But as I am well aware of, life throws us curve balls and plans change.  From our clan, only Allyson was able to get to Fort Worth, a direct SWA flight from St. Louis to Love Field in Dallas.  Anna-Lee has been in Fayetteville since late Thursday with her high school soccer team (LR Christian Academy), on Friday winning the 5A state soccer championship – second championship year in a row!  Yes, we are all proud of her too (see page 6C of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s sport section). Anna-Lee is still in Fayetteville with her dad for his nephew’s graduation.  I’m hopeful that she returns to Little Rock sometime Saturday.

As for me, I’m neither in Fort Worth or Fayetteville.  Oh the evils of this Taxol chemotherapy drug.  Because I escaped the nausea perils of Adriamycin, I felt certain I would also conquer the side effects of Taxol.  Not so!  Since Wednesday night, I have experienced terrible muscle soreness and pain throughout most of my body – from head to toe.  The toughest part has been the pain in my legs as it’s made it quite tough to walk with a few “almost accidents.”  It seems it’s easier to just stay inside and home, even though Tim did take me out to a somewhat kitschy restaurant last night, I think to make me smile.  As usual, he was successful. 

So, life is pretty much been in bed (or on the couch) on pain medication.  I didn’t know that cancer could hurt like this – but it does.  I’ve spent time in meditation, also experienced my first oncology massage.  Both have provided some relief during the experience.  However, when the session is over, the pain just simply returns.  My oncology nurse assures me that this is probably a five-day side effect following each treatment.  Let’s hope so since next weekend we’re headed to Columbia, MO for Allyson’s graduation from Mizzou. 

As for me, and my Mother’s Day weekend, at least until Anna-Lee returns  – I’ve decided to enjoy this annual ritual here at home, relishing in all the memories of motherhood.  I wish you could see me right now, surrounded by photographs and albums of my girls from their first days of life through photos from only a few weeks ago – classic photos of girls in ballet costumes, first days of school, magical birthday parties, vacations at the beach, softball and soccer games, homecoming dances and senior proms.  All of these memories seem as if they only happened a few days ago. 

I love photographs and photo albums filled with memories of my family, especially my daughters.  Each photo is a special memento of days together recorded in perpetuity, a moment frozen on film to remind us of another day.  They are truly a way of holding on to the people that we love, to the things you never want to lose.   

Here’s to my special mother (I adore her!), and to the two girls who qualified me for “mother status.”  I love you all, very much!  Happy Mother's Day everyone!  

05 May 2010

Perseverance - One Day At A Time

My employer, Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods, sends an employee email bulletin each day with agency announcements, who’s in and out of the office for the day, etc.  At the end of the daily bulletin, the receptionist always includes a Quote For The Day.  Today’s quote was this:

“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another.”
- Walter Elliott

Many family members and friends, especially friends who have fought the cancer battle, ask me some very good questions about the details of my diagnosis, my surgery, what kind of radiation and chemo schedule will follow, etc.  I have to admit that I usually don’t have exact answers for them.  And there is one reason – I simply haven’t asked.  In fact, yesterday, I told Dr. Makhoul and Dr. Klimberg that my plan of action is to ask questions only about my current treatment plan.  I guess you could say that I’m living in the moment, focusing only on the present battle.  In my opinion, it keeps me focused on the NOW, not worrying about next month or what lies ahead. 

It reminds me of some sage advice I read in a magazine many years ago that has worked well for me.  It was about organizing your home – drawer-by-drawer, closet-by-closet, etc.  When you are a working single parent, the task of home organization can appear to be an impossible task if you think about the entire house, so daunting that I’ve often just resigned myself that I didn’t have the time nor the energy to get it done.  Until I read this article.  The organization expert said, don’t think about the job in its entirety.  Instead, break down the task into one drawer and one closet at a time.  It was the perfect advice for someone like me, who can find the time and energy for that. 

It is with that same spirit that I’m tackling breast cancer.  One day and one treatment plan at a time. 

Today I’ve felt rather good, until about 5 pm.  Now I know why they sent me home yesterday with a large bottle of pain pills (a friend just informed me that it's the same pills that created Rush Limbaugh's addiction.  Oh no!) .  From my chest cavity up to the tip of my ears, my entire upper body is so terribly sore, including my jawbone, neck, and shoulders – all of it.  What I would give for a good upper body massage right now!  Hopefully this is temporary and will go away very soon.  In the meantime, I’ve opened the pill bottle and will probably end up in dreamland very soon.  

04 May 2010

All The Good News That’s Fit To Print

The news continues to be good.  My blood counts were at normal levels.  And the report from Dr. Makhoul was again very positive – a physical exam ONLY but showing much improvement since February.  We then moved on to the Infusion Center for my 5th chemo treatment. 

The regime for taking Taxol is somewhat different than that for Adriamycin.  Last night I took two steroid tablets, two more steroid tablets early this morning before leaving for UAMS.  Then six more tablets of anti-nausea and more steroids from the chemo nurse this afternoon.  That was followed by an injection of an antihistamine – much more potent than your typical Benadryl and will knock you off your feet!!!  I immediately went into Slumber Land.  Evidently all of this is because patients have a tendency to have an allergic reaction to Taxol.  This is the reason it is VERY SLOWLY administered, THREE HOURS from start to finish.  

When the chemo treatment was complete, Tim and I moved over to the Women’s Oncology Center to meet with Dr. Suzanne Klimberg, my surgeon.  Mom joined us, as she was anxious to meet my nationally acclaimed physician.  While sitting in the waiting room, we met a lovely woman from Texarkana who is in the final stages of her treatment, surgery complete.  She told Mom that she granted permission for a physician from M.D. Anderson to observe her breast surgery, to try to learn some of her talented surgical skills that make her one of the best in the US.  M.D. Anderson coming to learn from UAMS?  Need I say more?   

In a nutshell:
  • I haven’t met with Dr. Klimberg as a patient since the day of my diagnosis, February 17th.  She was marveled at the good work of Dr. Makhoul and could not believe the difference in my breast tissue. 
  • My final chemo day (8th treatment) will be June 15th.  Dr. Klimberg said that she needs me to be off of chemo for a month as it has a tendency to break down the healing process.  Therefore, my surgery is tentatively scheduled for July 19th.  I was hopeful that it would be sooner but goodness knows that this is major surgery and I will need everything to go my way. 
  • We decided on a double bilateral mastectomy versus the right breast only.  Some studies show that this might decrease my chances of IBC recurrence from 50% to about 25%.  I’m all for that!!  Of course, this will also include the lymph nodes under my right arm. 
  • Reconstructive surgery will have to wait.  Because post-surgery will require more chemotherapy along with radiation treatment, Dr. Klimberg said that the radiation is much more effective without any obstacles, direct hit to the affected tissue area.  

 Of course, all of this means that I’m going to be completely focused on getting Anna-Lee ready for college BEFORE surgery.  She will leave for the University of Arkansas the first of August.  I’m going to have to get my to-do list going very soon. 

A nice surprise today between appointments included coffee and a nice visit with our longtime friend Mark Hagemeier.  Mark used to work with Tim and for Governor Beebe at the Attorney General’s Office.  He now works as an attorney at UAMS.  Mark is another one of my prayer warriors, and I get the most uplifting notes from him regularly, including an entire series of postcards from his family Spring Break trip to Texas.  It was great to see Mark and to share with him all the great things going on at UAMS from a patient perspective.  He’s quite lucky to be working for such a magical healthcare institution. 

I feel very good about what lies ahead.  By meeting with both of my wise doctors today, I feel doubly empowered.  We make a great team, I can just feel it, and I look forward to moving ahead with my their treatment plan.  

We spent the entire day at UAMS,  from 8:30 am - 6:30 pm.  It was a very long day, I'm tired, and I will turn in soon for what I hope will be a good night's sleep.

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