A Mother and her Two Daughters

30 June 2010

The Best News in the World!!

WOOHOO!  According to Dr. Makhoul, I made an A+ on my scans/MRI today.  He says it's rather unbelievable but the radiologist says there are no signs of cancer - breasts, lymph system, ANYWHERE!  Because MRIs are not perfect, I will still have to have surgery with follow-up tests on tissue specimens.  But the news is fabulous!  As my doctor said, it is nothing short of a miracle.  More details later.  Thank you Dr. Makhoul, UAMS Rockefeller Cancer Institute, my family and friends, my dear cancer warriors and God!  Thank you, thank you!!  This is a good day.  I think I will celebrate by making popcorn and lemonade!  

29 June 2010

Mental Management & Sheila Rae, The Brave

Living with cancer is a test in mental management.  Tonight I came home in search of an old storybook I often read to my girls – a book that seemed quite appropriate for my mind on this particular day. 

In 1987, the year Allyson was born, children’s author Kevin Henkes published the book Sheila Rae, The Brave.  Both of my girls loved this story, and so many mothers pull it out for a good read when their children have an encounter with fear or uncertainty.  

In the story, Sheila is a very brave mouse, not afraid of anything.  She walks backwards with her eyes closed, steps on every crack on the sidewalk, and even rides her bike with her eyes closed and without hands.  She growls at stray dogs, bares her teeth at stray cats, and even ties up her classmate Wendell on the playground when he steals her jump rope.  “I am very brave,” said Sheila Rae, patting herself on the back. 

Until the day she wanders off into a neighborhood she is very unfamiliar with.  Sheila is very frightened in this strange place, not sure where to go, hears scary noises that sound like thunder and finally sits on a rock and cries for help. Louise, her little sister who Sheila has always called a scaredy-cat, helps her find the way home.

When they reached their own yard and the gate was closed behind them, Sheila Rae said, “Louise, you are brave.  You are fearless.”  

We both are,” said Louise. And they walked backwards into the house with their eyes closed.

In the end, it was Sheila’s younger sister who taught her about bravery, and Sheila learns that it’s okay to be brave sometimes and less brave other times, especially when you find yourself in a place you’ve never been before. 


It has been four and one-half months since my cancer diagnosis.  During this time, I’ve had a battery of scans and imaging, a port surgically implanted into a vein in my chest, finished four chemotherapy treatments of Adriamycin, four treatments of Taxol, consumed an unknown number of steroids and antibiotics, taken 8 Neulesta injections in my stomach, and spent three days in the hospital fighting a fungus that took over my body.  All of this has resulted in lost hair, unbearable leg pains, neuropathy in my hands and feet, unfamiliar fatigue, mouth sores, battles with white blood cell counts and more. 

Without a doubt, all of this has been unfamiliar territory for me - a place that has been a bit scary at times.  Some days I even sat on my rock and cried for help.  But Sheila Rae, Dr. Sherman and others have taught me that it’s okay to admit the presence of fear and learn how to confront and wrestle it. 

I’ve also have been incredibly fortunate to have a long line of Louises by my side to lead me back home safely – family and friend who have wrapped me in love, a brilliant medical team who has cared for my body and soul, courageous survivors who have shared their journey, and my God who has given me the strength to accept whatever comes my way. 

Tomorrow is a big day with new scans and imaging to determine how well the chemotherapy has worked.  In my opinion, there is every reason to believe that the report will be good. But no matter what I find out, I feel brave.  I’m ready to growl at stray dogs, step on all the sidewalk cracks and tie up anyone who dares to steal my jump rope.  And when I come home, I’ll walk backwards into my house with my eyes closed.  And hopefully there will be a reason to also have a big smile on my face. 

“Do not fear, for I am with you.  Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. 
I will strengthen you.  Surely I will help you.  Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”
            Isaiah 45:10

26 June 2010

Weekend Ramblings About Life & the Positive Attitude

 A friend sends me this message: 

Life is not the way it's supposed to be. It is the way it is.
The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.

Many years ago - more than 25 - my late husband, an attorney, was contacted by a friend regarding a car accident that involved his teenage daughter.  The accident was a neighborhood fender-bender involving two cars.  There was very little damage to either car and nobody was carried away by ambulance.  Instead, insurance contact information was shared and both drivers drove away in their vehicles.  However, a few weeks later, Tim’s friend would be notified that the driver of the other car was suing for medical expenses and “pain and suffering.”  Tim’s response, which I will never forget:  “Who in the world honestly believes that God intended our time on this earth to be free from pain and suffering.” 

Life is a shipwreck but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.  

This week I read a story in tribute to Farrah Fawcett, who died a year ago of anal cancer.  The feature was an interview with Alana Stewart, Fawcett’s longtime friend and the woman who captured her on film for the documentary Farrah’s Story.  In the interview Stewart remembers Farrah’s attitude in her cancer battle. “Se was a fighter, and she usually won her battles.  Until the day before her death, Farrah always believed she would beat the cancer.”   

Attitudes are contagious.  Are yours worth catching? 

The annual No Worries Now prom is the brainchild of 20-year-old Fred Scarf, a Cornell University junior.  This one-of-a-kind senior prom event is hosted for teens who are facing life-threatening illnesses, an opportunity to celebrate their life and their youth in an environment of acceptance and camaraderie.  Scarf started the No Worries Now Foundation in 2006 to honor his best friend, Shiri Gumbiner.  Gumbiner passed away at the age of 16 from osteosarcoma. Scarf initially conceived an organization to raise funds for osteosarcoma research. But he quickly changed course, realizing he could better capture Gumbiner's spirit by providing teens with a much-needed break from their illness.  In his own words:  "Our proms don't give patients the opportunity to be normal; they give patients the opportunity to be themselves.  Our proms celebrate life and broadcast the message that we should celebrate who we are because life is precious."  

It's not what they take away from you that counts.  
It's what you do with what you have left.

Many years ago I was so fortunate to have Erica as a CJRW colleague.  And her contagious heart and spirit never went unnoticed, not to mention her fabulous PR instincts.  While her time at CJRW was not as long as I would have liked, Erica and I have remained friends all these years.  Now she is married, the mother of a precious daughter, and living in Searcy.  Several weeks ago she sent me some wonderful hats for my shocking skinhead, which I’ve had to guard from my youngest daughter Anna-Lee who really thinks they are cool.  And this last week she sends me this – a photograph of a sign she saw hanging on the wall at the local hospital’s oncology clinic.  How true this message is about the limitations of cancer, and one that all cancer patients can understand.  

This weekend I’m going to stay inside, out of the heat.  It’s a rather slow weekend, so I think I’ll spend it doing paint-by-numbers.  With many thanks to Brother Mike, Bonnie Nickol, Sarah Tennille and Ginger Beebe, I’ll spend my summer enjoying this long-lost craft for art idiots like me.  I’ve almost finished one with a few more to go.  Maybe I'll frame them and give them to Tim and family for Christmas gifts.  

Bishop Hicks will be preaching in the morning so I’ll make certain I get to church.  And one other thing . . .

Wednesday is my big day back at UAMS for scans and MRI imaging to find out if the chemotherapy treatments have worked.  I have every reason to believe that the news will be good.  All I need for the weekend are your good thoughts and prayers for Wednesday.  I’ll keep my attitude in the right place and hope you will send good thoughts my way. 

Thank you friends for helping me keep my spirits high.  

22 June 2010

Trying to Look Good & Feel Better

Several of my Cancer Sisters have urged me to attend a workshop sponsored by the American Cancer Society called “Look Good . . . Feel Better.”  This two-hour workshop is held in hospitals and health clinics all over the country with one goal in mind – to help women with cancer look good, improve their self-esteem and manage their treatment and recovery with greater confidence. 

After completing sixteen weeks of eight very tough chemotherapy treatments, the truth is I look more like a very sick rat than a woman.  No hair on my head, a few sparse eyebrows, and about five to ten eyelashes holding on for dear life!  When you look like that, it’s very easy to find little reason to put on makeup, pamper yourself with a mani/pedicure and wearing dangly earrings seem to be an exercise in futility.  And anybody who has read this blog knows that wearing a wig has been one of my greatest challenges – and certainly not one that I’ve mastered.  After many weeks of little pampering, I was told that this class was the magic bullet in terms of makeup, wigs, scarves and most anything else having to do with physical vanity.  Decision made – this sick looking rat needed a little pampering. 

So, I scheduled myself to attend this glamour class yesterday at a healthcare facility here in Little Rock. 

Thanks to my chemo-brain, the minute I walked into the facility lobby, my mind would not allow me to recall the name of the class.  Nothing.  Nada.  I had no clue.  The nice lady working at the lobby desk greets me:

“Good morning.  Can I help you,” she said in a very friendly manner.

“Yes, I’m looking for . . . . “  and I stopped there.  I could not recall, I had no idea what to ask for.

This is a HUGE hospital, certainly prepared to offer me about a thousand different services.  I could have been there for who knows what.  And I knew what I was there to do.  But for the life of me, I could not think of the name. 

As I stood there speechless, looking much like a moron, the nice lady says to me, “Honey, are you trying to find the Look Good/Feel Better class?” 

OH MY GOSH!  HOW COULD SHE TELL?  OBVIOUSLY SHE THINKS THAT I COULD STAND A BETTER LOOK THAN WHAT I HAVE RIGHT NOW!  No doubt, But why not offer me a heart test or some lab work, an examination of my varicose veins, or directions to the room of a sick friend?  But NO – here I stood totally exposed in front of everyone for what it was I was in need of – a lotta bit of glamour. 

Eager to exit this crowded lobby, I simply said, “Yes, that’s what I’m looking for.” In her very friendly way, she directed me down the hall to where the class members had begun to gather.  Never before have I been so eager to exit a hospital lobby as quickly as I did yesterday. 

As I entered the classroom, I joined about twenty beautiful and courageous women, all of them with their own cancer journey – breast cancer, colon and lung cancer, a brain tumor and a few with lymphoma and leukemia.  Most of us were hairless; but without saying a word, only an exchange of glances, we all knew we were safe and accepted inside these four walls. 

After some brief introductions and an informative video, each of us received a nice tote bag filled with high-end glamour products donated by the cosmetic and fragrance industries – Estee Lauder, CHANEL, L’Oreal, Revlon, Elizabeth Arden, Bobbi Brown, Mary Kay, Avon and much more.  It was an unbelievable pile of glam-girl products – from foundation, concealer, powder, and blush, to eye shadows, eyebrow pencils, lip liners and lipsticks. 

The title of this program speaks for itself.  We spent the next two hours engaged in skin care, painting our faces and finding new ways to wear our different and temporary headdresses.  Twenty women, all strangers, who for two hours enjoyed spontaneous girl-fun.  And in the end, we definitely looked better, and we definitely felt better too.  Even my neighbor said to me yesterday afternoon, “I do believe you’re looking better and better every day.”  IT WORKED! 

What a wonderful service for women with cancer.  A longtime family friend (male) recently sent me a nice card.  Inside he simply signed, “Your hair will come back.  Mine never will.”  And that’s true.  Hopefully 100% of these chemotherapy effects are only temporary.  But to be a woman with no hair and no eyelashes is tough.  There is very little that feels pretty about having cancer. 

But with much thanks to the American Cancer Society, life is a bit better today.  In the event that you see a woman around town wearing a magic hat and looking rather glamorous . . . Well, it just might be me.  If you think about it, stop and say hello.  

19 June 2010

Post-Chemo Update

It’s the craziest thing.  While the past two days have been absolute hell in terms of my muscle pains, my spirits are very high, certainly because I know that this is the last round of Taxol-induced pain I will ever have (I hope).  For that reason, Taxol Torture, especially in my legs, seems to be more bearable.   And I’m quite cognizant that this will go away soon, never to return.  Recently I have visited with several cancer survivors to discover that getting through Taxol treatment is quite a badge of honor, a real accomplishment.  Two of my friends have even told me that they were unable to complete the treatment.  So, I’ll wear my Taxol badge proudly and know that I was able to get through all four treatments, even though it was never easy. 

With the chemo treatments completed, I have begun a new regime to replenish the desired hair back on my body.  Dr. Makhoul is letting me take prenatal vitamins, loaded with folic acid, to help jump-start the hair on my head.  And “Aunt Shirley”, Mom’s lifelong high school friend and San Francisco roommate before they both married, sent me a product called Nue Lash for my eyes.  Between Nue Lash and Latisse, I’m hopeful to see my dark thick eyelashes return soon. 

We had big plans for this weekend, most especially dinner plans last night with my dear friend Jan, who celebrated another life birthday.  Unfortunately, the plan to cook a big Italian feast for she and her husband were postponed due to my pesky legs.  I’m thankful to friends who understand my situation and know that these days my plans are always very tentative. 

With the weather so hot, staying inside is a good thing.  College friend Sue sent me a gift card for Red Mango, a new frozen yogurt shop in the Heights.  This has meant a self-reward with a Red Mango treat each afternoon.  If you haven’t been, GO!  I’m especially fond of the Pomegranate yogurt with fresh blueberries.  But there is so much more on the menu including smoothies and parfaits.  Lucky for me it is only about 5 blocks from my house.  I think Red Mango and me are going to be close friends during this very hot summer.    Now all I need is to find a paint-by-numbers kit and life will be good.  Anybody seen any of those lately or did they finally quite making them?  Not sure why I’ve been struck by this bug but it sounds like fun and something to occupy my time.  I’ll be most happy when these steroids leave my body and I can read again. 

Here’s hoping that you and yours have a wonderful weekend!  I plan to do the same. 

15 June 2010

Celebrating the Final Leg of Journey #1, and my Village of Supporters

For every journey there is the end of the road.  While my journey still has a few more roads to take, today I will finish one major leg.  For today marks my eighth and final chemotherapy treatment.  With my cancer diagnosis on February 17th, and my inaugural chemo treatment on March 5th, I will forever remember June 15th as the day that marks 14 weeks of a challenging test of endurance.  Has it been the biggest test?  Probably not – but it’s certainly been intense.  But I’ve done it and I’m ready to move on to the next chapter – surgery on July 19th

My improved prognosis would not be possible without Dr. Makhoul and Dr. Klimberg, and all the top-notch professionals at UAMS.  They have become my rock.  The happy smiles at each reception desk, the gentle hands of those in the infusion room, the brilliance (and hugs) of Dr. Makhoul, Nurse B’s motherly approach and support, Michelle’s forever smile (and cool shoes), and Dr. Klimberg’s mastery of her skill and constant monitoring of my progress.  I am one of the fortunate ones that have an insurance policy that allows me to seek treatment anywhere in the country.  But why would I leave my own hometown when we have one of the most skilled and successful cancer programs in the world.  Need I say more?  I trust my medical team with every bone in my body.

Family and friends, nearby and faraway, have successfully managed to keep my spirits intact, and oftentimes high, with prayers, home visits, cards, e-notes and touching letters, bird feeder fillings, books, hats and scarves, flowers and gardening support, treats and meals,Race for the Cure champs in Fayetteville and St. Louis, funny wigs and boxing gloves, cancer tips like Barramundi fish, Obama toys, cookbooks, candles and lotions, spiritual gifts, movies and music and much more.  It’s no big secret that I have long received my energy from working with people in challenging situations.  This beast called Cancer has delivered both - including my new dear friend Ellen, a nine-year IBC survivor who has been my inspiration all along the way.  I have loved every contact made and feel the love and support of so many.  What an incredible circle of friends I have.  How could you experience sadness or depression with so much love?

A special thanks to my family – Tim, Mom, Dad, Anna-Lee, Allyson, Aunt Alice and brother Mike.  It’s no great surprise, but they have been a remarkably supportive family.  Also my family of colleagues at CJRW has given me a sense of ease during this time.  The people you work with sure make a difference during times of crisis, and I will always feel fortunate to have been at CJRW during this ordeal. 

And along the way, God has been by my side, wrapping me in love and courage when I’ve needed it most.  When my white count plummeted, when the pain in my legs felt too much to handle, when reading became difficult, and the times when fear took over – God, and my medical team, have always been near.  

And although this may sound odd, I have to give credit to the powerful process of chemotherapy treatment.  While it provides some mighty tough side effects, it’s the magic elixir, the healer, the potion that gives hope for the cancer patient’s future.  Thank you Red Devil and Taxol for doing your job! 

Today is a good day.  While I won’t know the real verdict of the chemo treatments for several weeks, I have every reason to believe that great improvement has taken place.  As my friend and sister-in-breast-cancer Amy said this morning, I can now see light at the end of a long tunnel, and it feels good.  So, today I will celebrate the end of chapter one and my my good fortune to have such an incredible village of medical and spiritual supporters.  With many thanks . . . 

10 June 2010

Celebrating Life, Love & Hope, St. Louis-style

When you become a mother, it’s a fact of life that you commit yourself to raising this child through all the many milestones ahead, and the days in between.  As mothers, we take pride in our lifelong job to care for our children when they are sick, comfort them when they are afraid, and wipe away their tears when life yanks their spirit. 

Most mothers are quite comfortable in this role, and don’t anticipate the roles being reversed, as we never want to be a burden to our children.  However, a cancer diagnosis can sometimes change the mother-child journey on many different levels.  For me, I have watched my own health crisis become a time for everyone to come together united in the fight. 

For the past two days, Anna-Lee has taken such good care of me during our orientation stay at the University of Arkansas.  Her empathy for my neuropathy and muscle pain translated into holding onto my harm or embracing my hand during our challenged walks from building to building – never embarrassed of her physically frail and baldheaded mother.  How fortunate I felt to have her in my life, by my side – constantly.  What a beautiful daughter she is. 

And this weekend will be spent with Allyson and Jeff and friends to celebrate life, love and hope St. Louis-style. 

Everyone knows about the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure series, the largest series of 5K runs in the world.  In over 100 US cities, Race for the Cure raises significant funds and awareness for the fight against breast cancer, celebrates breast cancer survivorship, and honors those who have lost their battle with the disease.

With my daughter and her constant companion Jeff living and working in St. Louis, they decided to celebrate my survivorship by organizing their own race team – “Team Stacy.”  Using his tedious approach to life, Jeff the CPA has played a huge role in serving as the consummate team leader and organizer for this effort.  We have new friends from Missouri and old friends from Little Rock, all coming together for the weekend to celebrate life. 

Anna-Lee and I will leave today to spend the evening with Allyson, Jeff and his family.  I think I can look forward to an Italian dinner on The Hill.  Oh how I love The Hill and all of its Italian charm – including my all-time favorite market Viviano & Sons.  Tomorrow we will tour Allyson’s new work digs and meet her colleagues at HEC-TV.  Friday night Jeff is hosting a lasagna feast at his apartment for Missouri and Arkansas team members.  And on Saturday, we will get up very early to be in downtown St. Louis for one of the largest Komen events in the country. 

Last year, the St. Louis event organized over 1,000 teams, included over 66,000 participants and raised more than $3 million.  This year, Team Stacy will contribute to the effort thanks to contributions from the team, and from family and dear friends here at home.  Click here on the team page if you want to see Jeff & Allyson's team (all members not listed for some reason), see a list of contributors to date, or make your own contribution.

I’m looking forward to posting a few St. Louis photos when we return.  But most of all, I’m looking forward to spending a few days with Allyson and Jeff, celebrating their own beautiful spirits for putting together such a fitting celebration.  Having my daughters and their friends by my side throughout my treatment is something I will remember and cherish forever. 

Wish us luck as we race for the cure, as we imagine a world without cancer.  

08 June 2010

Chemotherapy Taking Its Toll

I’m not complaining – really.  But my current reality is that the cumulative effects of chemotherapy are wearing me down. 
  • This drug called Taxol is giving me so real pain in my muscles and bones, especially in my jaw, neck and legs. 
  • I’m experiencing some pretty severe neuropathy in my feet and hands, especially my feet, which is why I have experienced a few falls. 
  • While the steroids I’m taking have helped me pack on a few extra pounds, the worst side effect of long-term steroid use is that I am challenged with vision problems, particularly double vision.  I can adjust to temporarily not being able to drive, but for a writer and news junky like me, struggling with reading is the biggest frustration of all. 

I’m like my friend Angela.  For so long I assumed that cancer meant chemotherapy, losing your hair and some kind of surgery.  Because chemo is the usual treatment, it is so much more than that.   

But I try to stay focused on the good news:  My blood counts remain good and I’ve had little or no nausea throughout the duration.  But the best news of all is that the bad side effects will soon go away once the final chemo treatments are complete.  With just one more treatment scheduled for next week, I’m looking forward to moving on to Chapter Two . . . Surgery. 

In the meantime, I stay focused on the girls and my work and enjoy special time with friends.   My Williams-Sonoma cooking party Sunday night was terrific.  Even though Tim and Morril did most of the cooking, I still won the new pots and pans and enjoyed having friends over for dinner.  Many thanks to Tim, Morril and Susan who made sure it was an extra special night. 

I continue to count down the days until next Tuesday . . . 

05 June 2010

Saturday Ramblings . . .

 I should have known that the sore muscles would return.  My friend the governor and his First Lady came over Memorial Day evening.  And he has long referred to me as his Pollyanna.  I admit that I have those tendencies. But when Friday came and went without much pain, I assumed that I had bypassed the painful side effects of the Taxol chemo treatment this time.  Oh well, as I continue to say – this is only temporary, especially since I only have one more chemo treatment left to go.  

Other than the muscle pains, all else is well.  I’ve enjoyed some delicious food from lovely friends and colleagues this week  – Shepherd’s Pie and cantaloupe fruit cups from Paige and Haley, and homemade vegetable soup from Theresa.  How very thoughtful and delicious!  Another big surprise – a longtime high school friend, MaryKay, ships to me a huge box of summer hats from Beijing.  THEY ARE FABULOUS!!!  I’m so excited about wearing them out and about – and such beautiful summer colors!!  MaryKay – you’ve more than doubled my headgear ensemble.  Thank you friend. 

Hats and scarves have certainly become my trademark during this cancer journey.  Janis, another dear friend from high school, brought me a beautiful collection of silk scarves from Asia.  I wear these lovely scarves almost daily as they give me color and make me feel bold!  The scarves and hats will mix nicely together. 

Before I caught cancer, I entered an online contest with Williams-Sonoma, several short essays about your cooking style, how you usually entertain friends, etc.   Winners would receive a new line of Calphalon Cookware, with the caveat that if you win, you have to entertain friends with a pre-set dinner menu provided by Iron Chef Michael Symon.  Well, I was one of the lucky winners and this is the weekend for the dinner party.  I’m so thankful that Tim loves to cook as much as me, and we’ll have it all under control by tomorrow night.  I’m looking very forward to spending time in the kitchen with Tim, and an evening with friends in MY home with food prepared from MY own kitchen by MY own hands.  This will be better than Christmas! 

Enjoy your weekend.  I plan to do the same!  

03 June 2010

More Happenings and Observations in the Chemo Room

 Have I told you about my port, or what is actually called a portacath?  Almost immediately after being diagnosed with cancer, my friend Melanie took me to UAMS so that I could have this portacath surgically placed beneath the skin in my upper chest, just below the collarbone.  Ports are used to take regular blood samples and to administer chemotherapy, sparing the hands and arms from frequent needle sticks. 

It works like this – the port is metal appliance that has a silicone bubble for needle insertion with an attached plastic tube/the catheter.  The catheter runs from the port and is surgically inserted into the superior vevena cava allowing the chemotherapy drug to spread throughout the body quickly and efficiently. 

Yesterday this testy little port decided not to work.  Not sure why but that’s the way it went down.  After almost 90 minutes of countless attempts and an injection of some kind of “human Drano” it still didn’t work.  The last effort involved almost standing me on my head – and that worked!!  I wondered what the other patients were thinking as I surely looked like a human pretzel.  The RN asked me if I was interested in having the port surgically re-inserted.  Nice offer, but are you kidding?  With only one more chemo treatment in my future (I hope), I’ll take the human pretzel routine any day over another surgical procedure.

As I said, I wondered what the others might be thinking about my 90-minute port ordeal until I returned to my upright position in the chemo chair to find a young man across from me sporting bright lime green hair.  Many cancer survivors have shared that when your hair returns after chemo treatment, you can likely count on it to have a different texture, maybe even curls, possibly a different color.  OH MY GOSH – but nobody told me the color could possibly be LIME GREEN!!!   After realizing that this young man had a wicked sense of humor, I couldn’t help myself – I had to ask him if this was the color of his new post-chemo hair.  He laughed and shared that he is a newly diagnosed cancer patient, has always wanted to have a wild hair color, and decided to go for it knowing it will be gone in only a few short weeks.  Thank goodness for me and everybody else with chemo baldness. 

My last observation – I spent some time with a beautiful strong woman in the Infusion waiting room, someone who I share many connections with.  Her two sisters were friends at Hendrix, and Melinda and I attend the same church, Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church.  Melinda was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer almost one year previous to me, had the same chemo regime as me, the same oncologist and surgeon, and had her surgery in July 09.  But a few weeks before her breast surgery, she began to experience some real problems on the left side of her body, almost like paralysis.  Her sister, a physician, suggested that she have a brain MRI, which she did, only to discover that she now had brain cancer.  During the past year, this beautiful woman has had her breast surgery and three brain surgeries.  And there she sat in her wheelchair with a smile on her face, her heart full of laughter, and making plans for the two of us to have lunch together sometime soon.  What a tragic story you might think, and probably yes.  But to be with Melinda is to spend time with a woman with great optimism.  She’s amazing!  So, along with my new friend Ellen, Melinda will go down as another IBC role model for me.  She’s fighting the good fight and doing it with incredible spirit. 

Yesterday was a big day for me -- chemo #7.  Only one more scheduled for June 15th.  All of this is good!  Thank you to my family and friends for helping me keep my spirits high and together during the past 3+ months.  Your love and support has meant the world to me, and to my healing.  

02 June 2010

Chemo Treatment Day #7

My standard chemo day is every other Tuesday.  The routine is always the same.  I arrive to UAMS somewhere between 8 and 9 am, and spend about 30 to 45 minutes having lab work done, primarily blood samples for their review.  The lab work includes a vital sign check, temperature, and several blood samples taken from my port.  The process is always the same . . . to look for reduced blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and a variety of other indicators that I can neither spell or pronounce.  Here’s one – “polymorphonuclear as percent of blood leukocytes.”  Because I intend to remain a public relations consultant and not grow up to be a doctor, I have decided that it is the job of my oncologist to understand all of this – NOT ME!! 

Anyway, I then move from the lab into about a one-hour waiting period – waiting for the lab results to be completed and forwarded on to Dr. Makhoul.  This usually means a cup of coffee, sometimes breakfast, at the UAMS café.  The great thing for busy patients like me is that UAMS has a free, fast and easy to access Wi-Fi.  So I usually spend this hour working. 

I then move on to the Oncology Clinic and wait for my appointment with Dr. Makhoul.  Most of the time the wait is not long.  But when you are a patient of Dr. Makhoul’s it’s golden.  He never is rushed, takes his time to review your lab work, always an examination, and tells you everything you need to know about your progress.  But more importantly, he listens.  What you have to remember about the doctors at UAMS is that they are “teaching doctors.”  No question is trivial or unimportant and they spend all the time you need to tell you all that you want to know.  Dr. Makhoul keeps all of his notes on a computer (I would imagine the others do too) so as I’m telling him about symptoms for the past two weeks he’s entering it into my patient record.  It’s normal to have 30 minutes of face time with him.  I LOVE MY DOCTOR!!  I never leave not understanding where we are or where he’s going with my treatment.  We’re a team and I always feel as though I’m leaving a strategic planning meeting clearly understanding my marching orders for my part of the treatment plan. 

From the oncology clinic, we normally make a mad dash for the café to pick up a quick sandwich, then on to the Infusion Center.  This is where they administer chemotherapy.  The first four chemo treatments were Adriamycin (also called “red devil”), which only takes about one hour to administer.  However, the final four treatments are a chemo drug called Taxol.  This down side of this drug is that some patients experience various allergic reactions.  So, they always administer a Benadryl injection (which makes me very sleepy) and the drug is administered very slowly, taking approximately three hours to complete.  After a quick nap, I usually pull out my laptop and check emails and work on whatever writing project I have at the time. 

As you can see, this is an all day adventure. 

Up until this week, I’ve been able to manage quite well the chemo treatments around my responsibilities at the office  - like I said, until this week.  Yesterday was my standard chemo day, but yesterday afternoon I needed to be a part of an agency presentation.  So, for the first time I split up the day.  Yesterday I did my labs and had my appointment with Dr. Makhoul.  Then I went to work.  This morning I will report to the Infusion Center at 8 am for my chemo treatment.  It worked out nicely. 

So, I must close.  On to the great and wonderful UAMS, the enchanted place for people like me searching for a cure.  I like chemo treatment days.  This is when my body receives the magic juju that will kill The Beast we call Cancer.   
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