Tuesday, January 31, 2012
My sincerest apologies for not getting a current blog post out last week. It was a chemo week and I was SICK! Let me start this week’s blog with an update of what’s been going on. This past week I had my second round of chemotherapy. After weeks and weeks of waiting for my ANC (white blood cells) to increase, I finally was able to receive chemo last Monday. I arrived in the morning and began the unusual routine. I started with pre meds (Benadryl, a steroid and some other stuff that makes me sleep) and continued with my first chemo called Taxol. All was fine and I found myself settling into a peaceful rest, something I don’t usually do while I’m at chemo. A few hours later, I found my self being awoken by my chemo nurse, telling me it is time to start my last chemo.
She removed the bag of Taxol from my IV and exchanged it with a new bag of Carboplatin chemo. I have had Carboplatin and Taxol in the past and recently had it in December. I settled in and began going back to sleep when suddenly my entire body became extremely hot and I began sweating. My lips started to tingle and I had the sudden urge that I was going to pee my pants if I didn’t get up immediately to go to the restroom. I stood up, unplugged my IV, and went to the restroom. As I sat, the feelings I was experiencing became more intense. My heart started racing and I began feeling dizzy. I knew something wasn't right and I began to panic. I recently heard of a lady who stopped breathing while being administered carboplatin chemotherapy. I was terrified I was experiencing the same reaction. I immediately rushed out of the restroom and made eye contact with my chemo nurse. I think I said something, but the look I gave her said it all. I was having an allergic reaction to the drugs and I needed to stop receiving them immediately. I sat down back in my chemo chair and began throwing up uncontrollably. My chemo nurse unhooked my chemo and gave me some Benadryl and anti-nausea drugs to control the reaction. After a few minutes went by everything was back to normal and I was feeling fine. I was so relieved, but disappointed because I knew I would no longer be able to receive carboplatin and that could potentially be a risk of my CA125 beginning to rise.
The following afternoon I had an appointment with my oncologist to discuss my experience and to make a new plan for my future. Much to my surprise, it is common for some people to have a reaction to this drug after several treatments. I had heard this before, but did not consider it possible because I have always had a good outcome with this chemo. My oncologist thought it would be best for me to continue with a drug that is in the same family as Carboplatin called Cisplatin. It is very similar and should have the same outcome as the Carboplatin has. He immediately sent me back to the chemo room to receive a dose.
It took three hours for the new drug to be administered, but six days to recover from its side effects. I have been violently ill, vomiting uncontrollably, and super weak. However, after six days, and countless emails from Melissa I am finally feeling “normal.” I kept in close contact with Melissa, explaining my situation and experience. She was able to give me some suggestions to control my sickness by eating small amounts of food frequently throughout the day, eating foods that are room temperature and NOT to cold or HOT, drink water with a small amount of grated ginger and eat slow and try to be in a relaxed environment when you are eating. She expressed the importance of getting electrolytes back into my body and suggested I drink coconut water. Although I did not like the taste, I realized that coconut water mixed with my hot tea in the morning wasn’t so bad. I am so thankful for Melissa’s guidance during this time and find it hard to think about what I did before she came into my life.
Now to continue from my previous blog…
I had finished Cyber knife radiation and was patiently waiting to experience the side effects. Similar to chemo, the Cyber knife can cause nausea, fatigue, headaches and hair loss. The side effects generally would not be a big deal to me, (don’t get me wrong the side effects are horrible, however I know that they are something I have to go through to ultimately get better) however my husband and I throw an annual Christmas party benefiting Toys for Tots and I did not want Cyber knife to get in my way of throwing an awesome event. I had decided that what ever side effects I had would not be nearly as bad as if Ryan and I were unable to throw our party and collect tons of toys for kids around the Las Vegas Valley. I prayed each morning for strength to plan and organize. To be able to clearly put a plan into action and to do it with a joyful heart. Before I knew it, a week had went by and besides a little fatigue and hair loss I was feeling great. The party was coming together and I had nothing but God’s joy in my heart.
On a cold winter evening, our close family and friends dressed in their Christmas best and celebrated the magical holiday season. The incredible evening helped support Toys for Tots and included all things “s’mores”, including a fire pit to roast marshmallows and create your own s’more dessert. But the best thing of all was the generosity of our family and friends who selflessly purchased countless number of gifts to be able to bless a child this Christmas! It was perfect!
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Before I begin reflecting on my cancer journey post brain surgery, I have to share my recent news! This news is far too incredible to put it off until a future blog post. In mid December of 2011 my ca125 (the tumor marker for ovarian cancer) was 5,631. This was devastating news, as my ca125 had never been that high before. My husband found a great story of a woman who had a ca125 count much higher than mine and is still alive and well today. After reading her story I chose to stop worrying about the number and focus on Christ’s faithfulness and will for my life.
Fast forward to the beginning of January. I had recently finished my first round of chemo and was scheduled to have blood work done and my ca125 checked again to see the effectiveness of the new chemo I was on. Much to my surprise my number had dropped 1,846 points. Making my ca125 3,785. Although the ca125 was still pretty high, I was rejoicing that number was beginning to decrease. During this same blood draw it was discovered that my ANC (white blood cells) were low which would delay my chemo treatment one week.
One week later I went in to have new blood work drawn to see if my ANC increased. Sadly, it had not increased enough to have chemo, however, my ca125 dropped even further! I am now in the mid 2,000s. Together with prayer, chemotherapy and Melissa’s guidance my cancer has been able to make more than a 50% decrease in one month. That is the largest decrease I have ever had. Here is hope that my ca125 continues dropping and I will soon be cancer free!
Now on with my story…
It was now late November and I was adopting my nutritional and fitness goals with ease. Beginning this new life style was becoming more natural each day and I found myself getting excited about nutritious food! I decided to participate in a co-op that supplied me with two huge organic produce baskets for a great price. I had so much fun discovering ways to use the variety of produce I received in my everyday cooking.
The next baskets I received I decided I wanted to try juicing. With Melissa’s advice and guidance I began a week long juice fast. With the help of my sweet friend Teri, I created juicing recipes that consisted of a variety of fruits and vegetables. I even joined Ms. Teri for a juice lunch. We created one of my favorite juices called the “Garden Salad.” The juicing was going surprisingly well. I never thought I could go a day without food, but before I knew it I had gone four days without food, just juice, and I was loving it!
That was until the fifth day of juicing. I woke up that morning with a mild headache. As the day progressed I became irritable and short. Before I knew it I was snapping at my husband for no reason at all and found myself holding back tears over the silliest things. It was later that night I realized my body was telling me it needed solid food. I had a small snack that evening and suddenly felt so much better. I slowly began incorporating food into my daily routine and before I knew it I was back to eating small meals five times a day.
Although the brain surgery was a success, I was still required to have minimal amount of brain radiation to remove any cancer cells that could still be present at the surgery site. After meeting with my radiation oncologist, I learned I was a candidate for a procedure called cyber-knife radiation. This procedure would only target the tumor site, instead of my entire brain. This was such great news, as I was terrified to have whole brain radiation due to its possible side effects.
In early December I went in for my first of three cyber-knife treatments. The treatment lasted about 38 minutes, which was possibly the longest 38 minutes of my life. The radiation itself wasn’t too bad. It was the actual procedure that was rough! I had to lay on a table in the middle of a large procedure room with my arms and legs strapped to the table. Then a full-face mask was put over my head and buckled into the procedure table, placing my head in a sturdy position. I had to lay there, completely still, while a large machine moved about my head and gave off invisible beams to my tumor. This was an experience like no other. I had heard that radiation was easier than chemotherapy before having the treatment. Although the outcome of radiation was much easier that chemotherapy, there is something about chemo I felt better with. With chemo you can see the drugs physically going through an IV into your body. When I would get sick, I knew it was because the drugs I actually saw going into me. With radiation, I did not see anything actually going into my body, which made the side effects a little more difficult to grasp. I received my next two cyber-knife treatments the days following. In celebration of my last radiation, the sweet nurse gave me my full-face mask to remember my experience!
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Sometimes news that seems to be devastating actually ends up being not so bad after all. Although the tumor on my brain was malignant, my neurosurgeon was able to remove the entire tumor and could not find any visual disease near the tumor site. Because the tumor was in fact ovarian caner, many questions that were considered through out the past six months were now being answered. My headaches, confusion and rising ca 125 were all symptoms of the ovarian tumor. I was so relieved finding out this news and was feeling incredibly blessed that the surgery was a success.
As I became more alert after surgery, I found myself being assisted by the sweetest nurse. In my "just out of surgery fog" I couldn't help think that I knew her from somewhere. As my alertness came back to me, so did this sweet nurse.
She may have thought I was crazy, as maybe the first words out of my mouth after surgery were me asking if she was a mom of a former classmate I had in high school. And much to my surprise she was. It had been over 15 years since I saw her last, and I was truly surprised that I remembered this incredible lady immediately after surgery, brain surgery nonetheless! I was amazed at how God used this nurse that day. I was so scared for the outcome of my brain surgery. So silly of me, as I had NO idea God had this in store for me! A true treasure that is beyond words.
72 hours later I was walking out of Sunrise hospital with great anticipation to be home. It is typical for a patient to stay in the hospital for one week after the type of surgery I had. However, I was nothing but typical. Family, friends, nurses and doctors were filled with joy and shock as they witnessed my abilities the days following surgery. Just a few hours after surgery I was awake and speaking. The next day I was standing up and walking several flights of stairs. Because of the positive outcome I was having, the doctors moved me from the ICU floor to a recovery room. I woke up on the third morning of my hospital stay with a visit from my neurosurgeon. He was astonished with my outcome after surgery and saw no purpose of me staying in the hospital any longer. Reluctantly, he sent me home with a promise that I would take it easy. I was so excited and couldn’t help thanking God for the positive experience this had been.
I felt great and was ready to start my journey with a positive perspective. With the help of Melissa, I began incorporating well-balanced meals in to my daily routine. I began to eliminate dairy and meat products from my diet. I started to incorporate lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains and proteins such as tofu, eggs, legumes and fish. I also began incorporating a meal replacement shake once a day that was packed full of good vitamins and minerals.
I had always struggled with nutrition before being diagnosed with cancer. Not that I ate terribly, I just never really put much though into what was going into my mouth. I always maintained a healthy weight and had plenty of energy, so I felt as though what I was doing nutritionally must be working. I was notorious for skipping meals throughout the day and then having big dinners in the late evening after getting home from work. It was through time with Melissa that I was beginning to learn that my old routines were not beneficial to my body, and that incorporating this new way of looking at nutrition would not only help me get better after surgery, but ultimately save my life!
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
On an October morning I anxiously arrived at Starbucks to meet Melissa. I went with absolutely no focus of what I wanted or where I needed to begin. I was a complete mess and was praying Melissa could try to figure out what I needed. I walked in and immediately knew who she was. I remembered this sweet girl from school many years ago and suddenly was so excited to start talking with her and telling her my story.
I sat down and her kind demeanor welcomed me and immediately wanted to know all about me. She patiently listened, taking notes and asking questions, as I explained everything I had experienced through out the past year and a half of having cancer. She listened to my fears, concerns and hopes for future. She compassionately reassured me that all that I had discussed made sense and with my permission would love to share in my fight by guiding and providing me with the tools I would need for my new journey.
I left our meeting feeling completely full of hope. I had prayed for the perfect person to come into my life to share their expertise on nutrition. Melissa was just that person. She not only was willing to provide me with information about my diet, but in the short time we had together she touched on something I had never really put much emphasis on before, myself. Truly slowing down my life and focusing on my needs, wants and desires. It was not until that moment with her that I realized that my journey needed much more than just a nutritional plan, it needed a complete wellness plan, and Melissa was just that person to assist me with that.
With two weeks before brain surgery, Melissa and I met a couple more times to organize a plan for my pre and post surgery. I began incorporating her nutritional suggestions into my diet and began attending a couple yoga classes during the week. I was beginning to feel so encouraged and was completely overwhelmed with Melissa’s passion for true wellness and her support and guidance with my fight.
Prior to meeting Melissa I had taken a few bikram yoga classes with some girl friends. I would put on my best yoga outfit and spend an hour and a half sweating and secretly praying for the class to end. I spent so much of the time thinking of how to make the time go by faster than actually thinking about the poses that were being taught or the breathing techniques that were being shared.
This time I went into my first yoga class with a completely different perspective. I walked in with a deep desire to learn this practice and to be able to apply the teachings to my wellness. I felt confident to attend intermediate yoga as my first class, because I had taken yoga classes in the past. I walked in, laid out my mat and began a few breathing exercises that I remembered from my previous experience with yoga. A few minutes into the class the instructor began quickly introducing different poses that progressively got more difficult. I watched as the students in the class smoothly went through each pose with ease. I immediately knew that I was in the wrong class for my ability. The next class I attended was the beginning yoga class. It has been a true joy attending this class a few times a week. I have been able to learn yoga poses, perfect my breathing and relaxation and ask questions of the instructor.
In addition to incorporating smart eating and fitness, I began spending quality time each morning with Christ. I started reading my bible, journaling and following a devotion called “Praying Through Cancer.” I was encouraged by each woman’s story of their experience with cancer and how they were able to find true faith in God during their fight. As I continued reading each morning I discovered my faith being restored and strengthen daily.
After a couple weeks of incorporating my new wellness journey, it was time for my surgery. The neurological surgeon would remove a part of my skull in the posterior cranial fossa section of my brain which contained a 3 centimeter mass. The tumor appeared to be a benign tumor called a meningioma. I was feeling pretty good, but was still feeling a little uneasy about going under anesthesia and not making it out of surgery. Three and a half hours later I was being moved to ICU to be looked after. It was shortly after surgery and regaining consciousness I found out that the tumor in my brain was not a benign meningioma, but metastatic ovarian cancer. I was devastated!