Sunday, October 6, 2013

One year out of treatment and feeling fine!

Well, HELLO there!

     I keep saying that I haven't written in "a while."  A while ended up being more than a year!  I finished chemo in May 2012, radiation the following July, and my body and mind have been gradually healing ever since.  I'm not sure if I'm 100% yet, but I really feel like my brain and personality are as close to human as I've been in a long time.  I'm surprised how long it took for the chemical and physical damage to diminish.  One or two months after chemo, I thought I was feeling better.  I WAS better compared to a few weeks before! But, a year out, I'm still learning about how bad it was. I compare it to the inversion that we're so familiar with in the Salt Lake Valley.  When you're in the thick of it, downtown, you can't tell that there are particulates in the air because you can see the buildings across the street just fine.  But the farther you get away from the cloud of nasty air, the higher you get up the mountains, the more you can see how thick that dirty fog is, and realize how nasty it was even though you could see across the street.

    While I credited getting back to volleyball right after radiation last year for helping me push to accomplish more, at mid-season this year, I am realizing that I don't remember a lot of last volleyball season! I discovered that the chemo inversion prevented me from seeing that I was not all there. I thought my brain had to be clear to coach sophomore girls at the high school level.  I was wrong, and the girls, coaches, and parents were VERY patient and tolerant of my chemo-brain recovery.  We are doing drills this year that I honestly don't remember running last year...and we did.  Just like work, there are some things I just plain don't remember!  I look at videos of how puffy my face was under the uncomfortable wigs and fake eyelashes...and that was the crappy stuff you could see.  My brain and body were even more uncomfortable, but I tried hard to not let that show.  I know my co-workers had to pick up the slack, energy-wise, and for the work load...and I hope I let them know how much I appreciated it!  (Yes, I only missed four days through all of it, but some of the days I was "there" I was probably not "all there.")

    I think writing while I was going through the treatments was a bit of therapy for me.  While I had my husband/confidante to talk to every ugly day...putting it down in visible words helped me come up with better ways to explain things, not only to others, but to myself. The spider analogy when I saw the CANCER sign...totally cathartic for me!  Just Keep Swimming...Dori's motto, and what I thought every morning when I woke at 3am.  The photo and feelings about the soaked wig and eyelash glue running down my face at Universal Studios in horrible, miserable...and FUN! Unforgettable fun that I'm so glad I didn't miss out on because I had silly radiation treatments!

     I haven't even written about my sisters surprising me for my birthday last year!!!  I know it was out of pity for what I had been through the past year, (I HATE pity) but when all five of my sisters showed up on my front porch the night before my Friday BIRTHDAY, I had kittens- right there! We spent the whole weekend my house, with my awesome husband and kids...and it was THE MOST SPECIAL gift anyone has planned for me ever!!!  I still tear up that they all came and spoiled me, knowing we were coming to Seattle for our family Christmas visit a week later.  Susie, Toni, Jean, Betsy, and my little sister Sally are seriously the best sisters in the whole world!!!  They even sat through the sophomore, JV, and varsity basketball games...just in case Zach had a point. They embraced bleacher-butt for the nephew they don't usually get to see play!  When our car needed a ton of work to fix the brakes that weekend, they pitched in the money they planned to spend on a fancy birthday dinner for pay toward our car...and we stayed home and had home-made tacos, watched movies, and sang The Sound of Music instead.  PERFECT.

    Really, everything I'm learning about the world and about myself this past year is that I am SO LUCKY!  Lucky to come from the big, amazing, smart, funny, strong family I am from.  Lucky to get the education I got on a volleyball scholarship. Lucky to find the job I wanted in a small market (Yakima.)  Lucky to meet the man who is the yin to my yang and my best friend for life.  Lucky to get a job in a big market like Salt Lake City, and have a connection with the people here.  Lucky to have boy and girl twins that are the perfect combination of love, fun, beauty, talent, and challenge.  And lucky to have found the aggressive cancerous tumor because of my job...and to turn that horrible discovery into a message that might help other women discover health challenges early enough to beat!  Just so many ways...and still finding new ones.


  I'll try to write more in the coming months.  In the meantime, share your survivor story right here on this blog.  My hairdressers are donating a make-over for a Breast cancer survivor this month.  Share your story here within the next couple of weeks, and we will choose someone to get a new do! Casey Scott will feature the makeover with Jef Williams and Michael Peterson at "Sequel" in Salt Lake City.

Follow me on Twitter at Marynickleskutv  and Instagram at mcnickles

Monday, September 3, 2012

Just keep swimming...

   I couldn't decide what to title this entry.  I feel like I'm "Making a Comeback," but I don't think I was ever gone.  I thought of "Still Recovering," but in many ways I'm already recovered.  My hair is coming back, but I didn't want to focus on that, AGAIN!  I guess, as with other obstacles, you just deal with it and keep going, like Dori in "Finding Nemo."  Just keep swimming!  Just keep swimming!  What's cool now is, the swimming is getting easier.  If anything, I feel like I should be totally over all the chemo stuff, because my last treatment was four months ago!  I know it takes a few weeks for that last treatment to work in your body, then many more weeks, and months for all of the toxic effects to work their way out.
  The month after chemo, my muscles felt the lactic acid rush from doing a bunch of weight lifting reps, even though I just stretched or barely moved.  Without the numbness of chemo, I'm getting more aware of little things like that.  I worry that the strange stuff will never go away, or that it moves or changes, and I'll never be normal again.  Just a couple weeks ago, I had an overwhelming chemo feeling.  I felt like "day two" of treatment, down to the foggy head, achy muscles, and non-vomiting nausea.  Luckily, it only lasted about one minute!  What a slap in the face!
   The farther away from the chemo fog I get, the more I realize how thick the fog was.  Just like real fog, when you're in the middle of it, you see the things you need to see, but everything around you is not quite clear.  Things gradually started clearing up, and the sunshine is burning the fog away.  I feel more and more like me, but every once in a while the mist swings through, reminding me that I was poisoned, and it will be a while before I'm 100%.
   This weekend, the back of my hand was all puffy and swollen.  It's not on the side where they took two lymph nodes, but on the side where they administered chemo.  Is it a circulation thing, or a neuropathy thing?  I'll call my oncologist tomorrow.  If it hurt, I would be more worried, but at this point it's just puffy.  I might have bumped a nerve or something at our volleyball tournament this weekend.  I am coaching the sophomore team at our high school, and having a blast.  I was hoping I would be working out and in shape to do more with the girls, but I still move like an old lady.  Apparently, waiting for the muscle to come back isn't doing the trick.  I have to actually work out!
   Working with the volleyball girls a few hours a day is a pretty big time commitment, but it's also time with my daughter (even though I don't coach her team.)  I also see it as time that I'm up, busy, and interacting with other passionate people!  The hair is still a bit of a shock to some people, and a shock to me when I see myself in windows or a mirror.  I haven't been wearing the wig to practice for more than a month, and since going home (to the Pacific Northwest) for more than a week, I had been leaving the wig propped on my desk at work.  I only put it on for the newscasts, because I didn't want to scare the viewers!

  I am comfortable with my hair, because I know I can't change it.  It's still weird to get the double takes, and every once in a while, honest questions about it.  I overheard a man telling his wife that I must not be doing the news anymore because, "look at that haircut."  Another gal asked me what inspired me to cut it so short?  I don't have a problem with explaining, and I don't get upset.  Being in the public eye desensitizes you a little to the blunt honesty of others.  Yes, sometimes it hurts, but they are allowed their opinions.  I was hoping to wear the wigs until my hair looked like a cute super-short cut, and I think I jumped the gun.  It still looks like chemo grow-out, and I get a lot of compliments laced with pity.  My hair used to grow pretty fast, but, even on vitamins, it's taking forever to grow even a quarter of an inch!  I chose to color the white new hair blonde, so the grow-out line wouldn't be as obvious.  Never thought I'd be a blonde, but you do what you gotta do!
  The rest of my life is coming along smoothly.  It was great to visit with family in the Seattle and Yakima areas.  A lot of them hadn't seen me since Christmas- before my first chemo treatment.  We just got to hang out and visit, relax on the beach, and enjoy family time.  Then school started for my sophomore twins, who now have their driving permits!  My awesome husband and I will celebrate our 22nd wedding anniversary next week!  And I'm pretty lucky to work at a place like KUTV where the attitude is always upbeat and fun.  It was with their help and support that I decided to ditch the wig and go on air with the new do.  Started last week, and I hope to never wear a wig again! 

Thursday, July 5, 2012


  Seven months ago, this week, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and today I will undergo the LAST treatment to make sure it is out of my body!  The 30th of 30 radiation treatments follows the four months of chemo-hell and the lumpectomy that got the tumor out!  I saw a quote from Winston Churchill on Facebook last week that I think sums up any battle against cancer:  "When you're going through Hell...Keep going!"
  As the chemo fog clears, and I begin to feel more like myself, the hellish part is more real.  In a way, while you're in the middle of that fog, and under the emotions of battle, you don't realize how dense and thick it is.  I can now admit that I was tired and sick almost every day, but ignored it.  The tough mom can't let anyone see a chink in her armor, and subconsciously, didn't want the opponent to see it either.
  I felt odd yesterday, when South Salt Lake City honored me as the Grand Marshall of their parade, because the theme was "Courage."  They said I displayed courage in going public with this personal battle... in how I've used this evil disease to encourage others to get screened... and in how staying public with it inspires others to push through life's battles.  I think real courage is what our troops, firefighters, police, and other heroes have when they choose to do the amazing things they do.  I didn't choose cancer.  No one does.  And to me, it wasn't a choice of whether to battle or not... it was a choice to just be stubborn and get through it!  I'd love to see a parade theme of "Stubbornness!"
  Keep going!  That's what we did when we were in Orlando last month.  We paid for a full day in Universal Studios theme park, and we were going to get our money's worth of fun, even though tropical storm Debby dumped sheets of rain on us...non-stop.  No exaggeration!  It poured all day!  A couple trips on the Harry Potter Dragon coaster melted my eyelash glue 'til it was dripping down my face. (Eventually forming a transparent crust down the sides of my face!)  I sat on a bench and pulled out my little tube of glue to do repairs...not caring that other sopping wet revelers could see.  And for the record- we got our money's worth and had a total soaking wet blast!
 Wet day at Universal Orlando!

  The hair, eyelash, and eyebrow dilemmas are the lingering daily pains-in-the-butt from chemo, and even with them, there are signs of recovery!  I noticed twisty little eyebrow hairs just this morning, and felt microscopic stubbles of eyelash too.  Most of my hair is a little over a half inch long, and it's an odd texture.  Some is strong and straight, and other hairs are thin and whispy, like baby hair.  It came in about 95% white, and I plan to color it tonight, so I can go wig-less when we celebrate with a family getaway weekend!
  It does keep getting better if you keep going.  I still come back to that quote and love the dual meaning of the words.  If you are going through Hell...don't stop in the middle of it, or you'll be there forever!  KEEP GOING, and you'll get through it.  I'm sure it's one of many battles in my life, and we'll keep going...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Stomp on it!

  The huge "CANCER CENTER" sign I walk under every day isn't as huge any more.  Really.  Just this week, I did a double-take and actually thought they replaced the ominously large letters with smaller ones!  I think that means something.  It means something to me.  I'm not as scared anymore.
  I haven't written in a whole month...since a week after my last chemo treatment.  I want to say there's not much to write about, but that's not true.  It's just that the changes and the effects are much more gradual, so they're not as alarming or terrifying.  Kinda like when the big hairy spider is in a locked-tight glass case.  While staring into it's beady little eyes, you plot it's horrific, blood-spattered death, and the bottle-cap sized monster doesn't seem so scary anymore.  Cancer is the scariest spider I've ever seen, but the "medicine" is making sure that little bugger doesn't lay any eggs to haunt me after it's gone!
  I marked my six months from diagnosis with my third week of radiation.  Radiation, BTW, is a pain in the butt.  It's not even close to the literal pain of chemo, but it still sucks.  It's like having to go to the grocery store- every day.  The actual treatment takes a few minutes, and it's just zapping an 8" by 8" square of my chest, but I have to drive there, park, check in, change into a robe, wait for my turn, get in position, time the radiation buzz, change back, and then drive home.  Don't get me wrong...I love visiting with the other "radiant" people, and I love the crew that makes me feel like I'm not just another five minute victim on the bug-zapper.  But I just finished #17 out of 30, and it's beginning to seem like that fancy new dishwasher that was fun to load the first ten times.
  I don't know if radiation is affecting me, because I still blame every little weird thing on chemo.  My muscles...every muscle...feels like I had a tough weight lifting workout three days ago.  My back aches, and even stretching makes me feel the fatigue in the muscle.  It's not so bad!  I get the feeling of working out, without actually doing it!  Really, I just figure the poison is working it's way out of my system, including the steroidal anti-nausea medications that affected my muscles.  The actual radiation has caused a big square sunburned heat rash that itches like crazy.  It doesn't hurt, but it itches, and is pretty dang ugly.  I can't hide it with makeup, because the makeup might contain aluminum or other metals, that act like foil in a microwave.  I can't wear anti-perspirant either (and trust me, the organic stuff doesn't work as well!)

Getting Radiated!

  I also feel a little more like me every day.  My head is clearer, and I feel like I'm a bit more "Mary the smart-aleck" each morning.  Ron and Casey had better look out!  I'm still tired of gluing on my eyelashes every day, and of wearing a wig, but I know that won't be forever!  Some good news is, I get to skip two radiation sessions to go on a family vacation to Orlando (for my daughter's volleyball team to compete in a national tournament) but I have to leave after they do, and come home before they do to make my appointments.  Hey, the sooner this is over, the better!
  The kids are out of school for the summer, volleyball camps are already starting, basketball and baseball games await this cheering mom, we need to get our 15-year olds their driving permits, we get to go to Harry Potter World, and I will follow the protocol recommended by my smart doctors.  And all of this will happen as I watch the "Cancer Center" letters get smaller and smaller.  It does mean something.  It means we're winning.