Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Spoonful of Sugar

  Almost a week of this chemo thing under my belt, and still feeling like quite the rookie!  They say a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, right?  We can feel that in a few ways this week.  The chemo itself didn't hit me very hard, but the "sugar" they use to build your immune system back up, was a whopper!
  Monday got off to a tough start...not for chemo, but for my family.  While I slept Sunday night, my husband, Kent, ended up taking our son to the hospital, because he'd been throwing up all night and his muscles were convulsing, like a seizure.  They hooked him up to an IV for a while because he was so dehydrated.  My frazzled sweetie woke me up around 1 am, so I could keep an eye on Zach, while he ran to the pharmacy to get an anti-nausea prescription.  (I have three anti-nausea drugs for chemo in the medicine cabinet!)  I put my game face on and went to work, feeling a little sleep-deprived, but pretty normal, and knowing that people would be looking for chemo effects.
  I think, if anything, I was over-analyzing little things to see if they might be chemo symptoms.  My taste buds were still a little numb, and I felt a little fuzzy, but that can be normal at 5:00 on a Monday morning!  The morning and noon newscasts went well, and I felt like I was going to be okay.  I was more worried that both kids had stayed home from school- son with the whole flu thing, and daughter with a nasty cough and head cold.
  On the way home, Kent met me at the Cancer Center for the quick, little "Neulasta" shot.  It is a $6,000 injection (kept in a refrigerated safe) that makes your bone marrow work overtime to boost your white blood cells.  White blood cells are the foundation of your immune system, and after chemo knocks the crap out of you, this shot is prescribed to make you strong again.  The shot itself was like a flu big deal.  The doctor said taking Claritin for a few days would counter some of the bone pain expected, so I took one when we got home...and waited.

   My knees started to ache a bit around 8:00, which would be a good early bed-time that I don't usually get.  I took some Tylenol, headed upstairs, and my sick family tucked me in for the night.  Holy #@&%!!!  I don't think I slept more than five minutes all night.  It felt like someone had a screwdriver up inside my shin bones, trying to pry them open.  My ankles and knees felt, not aching, but s~t~a~b~b~i~n~g pain!  I've broken my arm, blown my knee, and gave birth to twins with both a C-section and vaginal deliveries in a half hour...and this was all that pain combined.  I kept trying to sleep, but threw in the towel around 1 am.  By that time, my tongue was swollen from the taste bud thing, and I was the closest to being in tears of pain ever.  (I don't remember ever crying from pain...I swear instead.)  I called in sick, hearing the pity in our cute producer's voice.  Crap!  Thought I could do it!
  My husband got Kenzie to school, and took care of Zach and I the rest of the day.  Alternating Tylenol and Ibuprofen for me...and Immodium, Pepto, and Ibuprofen for Zach.  The pain started easing by about 9 am, when I limped down the stairs to curl up on the couch.  We drank a lot of powerade and watched a hundred episodes of SVU and Big Bang Theory between naps.  Later, my big burly husband got to take my daughter to the mall, and the froofiest stores possible to get a dress for the upcoming Winter's dance.  (Wish I had a picture of him at the Deb store to post!)  We each had a favorite Lean Cuisine for dinner (except Zach, who had coffee ice cream) and slithered off to bed, hoping for a more restful night.
  Wednesday felt pretty dang normal for a full day of work, and today is going well also.  My feet and ankles ache a little bit sometimes, and I can tell my scalp is losing some sensitivity, like my taste buds.  Luckily, food is still tasting good, I'm getting little naps and keeping my energy, and my brain isn't as fuzzy as I thought it would be.  Both kids were back in school yesterday and today, which is a they can help me take care of Kent....who has 102 degree fever and the full-blown flu.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Chemo Treatment #1

  It's Sunday afternoon, and I'm feeling pretty good!  Chemo started Friday at about noon.  We were done by about 3pm, and went straight from the hospital to pick up our daughter, then up to Heber to watch our son's basketball game.  Felt totally normal.  Slept great, then woke up Saturday with my taste buds a little numb, but feeling better than I expected.  We had an early volleyball scrimmage to watch, and the normal sports shuttling Saturday events...and just as we were trying to decide what to make for lunch, cute little Debbie Worthen showed up with her daughter, delivering hot homemade potato soup, with fresh made bread, brownies, and even a jar with fresh honey from their bees!  Perfect timing, and a wonderful treat for the whole family!  A nap, then quiet evening at home...still waiting for bad stuff to happen.
  I'm keeping hydrated and eating small meals, and so far, no nausea or big pain.  My taste buds are still a little numb, and I have a little heartburn, but I know the first treatment is just building up for combined effects as we go along.  I love hearing stories from survivors who managed to keep up their normal lives through their treatments!  It doesn't sound easy, but it gives me more hope that I might be able to do it too!
  I was pretty nervous all day Friday before my appointment, so it helped to be at work with friends, and to treat it like a normal day.  Other than my husband driving me to work at 4 in the morning (so we wouldn't have two cars at the hospital after the treatment) the day was mostly normal.  Not everyone on their way to chemo gets to ride in the news truck with friends- Thanks Carla and Tom!  They are part of our great team helping document my progress, and so far, I think it's a good distraction for me.  Thinking about which shots to take, and if the microphones are on, keeps my mind a little distracted from what's really happening to me.  We were even greeted in the parking lot by a Brazilian spitfire of a gal, who pulled up in her car to show me her great wig, awesome make-up, and gave me one of the best pep-talks I've ever had!  Times like that make me see benefits that outweigh any negative aspects of sometimes being considered a celebrity. (That's a whole 'nother blog subject!)
  Like the lumpectomy surgery, that didn't really technically sink in until I watched the surgery video in the edit bay, the impact of chemo might sink in more when I watch what they shot Friday.  My husband and I were so impressed with the people at the chemo center.  The nurses, managers, volunteers, and the other patients were all so nice and, I want to say "comfortable."  Throat cancer, pancreatic cancer, and one breast cancer patient who we'll see every time we're in, because she's a half hour ahead of me on the same appointment schedule!  We all know what we're going through sucks, but that it's what we need to do.  I got a card from a friend that said, "Chemo sucks...but if it's sucking the cancer out of you, then, YAY, CHEMO!"
  We go back tomorrow for the big Neulasta shot, that will rebuild my white blood cells to help repair the chemo damage so we can go back for more.  I understand that shot comes with another batch of fun side effects that should hit me this week.  Just the beginning, really...
  Thanks for the warm thoughts and prayers... I have so much support, that I'm sharing it with many others who need help right now.  Keep your friends and relatives close and in your thoughts...I'll be okay!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Approaching Chemo with Support

  There is too much to learn about chemotherapy!  Simply explaining it to my kids becomes a science lesson, that I think I understand...but in all honesty, the realist in me thinks it's pretty much a crap-shoot!  Two long appointments with the oncologist helped us decide which path to take, and that journey begins this Friday morning!  The poison will drip into my IV and flow through my bloodstream in hopes of killing any stray cancer cells.  In the process it also kills a lot of healthy stuff too (collateral damage.)  The chemicals specifically target growing-oriented cells, like hair, skin, fingernails, and soft tissue.  Maybe my kids can follow me around with a vacuum cleaner?
   We got to see the chemo room and meet some of the people who will be guiding us through, which takes away some of the mystery, but we know there are more surprises along the way.  I wonder if anyone would mind Skrillex cranked on my Ipod?  (Okay- only a couple of the songs!)  And... will I be able to nap in those comfortable reclining chairs?  (Sleep deprived shift workers think of sleep first!)  All along, the waiting and not knowing what to expect has been the hard part, so it's almost over.
  Did you know you should get dental work done before having chemo?  Our doctor advised that, and while getting a crown re-glued last week, the dental assistants gave me a home fluoride kit, because chemo can damage your teeth!  Didn't know that until the visit to the dentist.  Now I will do fluoride treatments every day to prevent it.  Like wearing sunscreen on a long walk on the beach, right?
  That makes me realize how lucky I am to have a lot of new friends who've been down this path before.  Dozens of people on this unique team are willing to offer advice to this rookie!  One shared a trick to chew on ice chips while getting chemo to cut down on mouth blisters.  Another advised to take the anti-nausea medicine BEFORE I feel nauseous. My sister-in-law said walking every day is what helped her get through chemo.  Thank you all for those tips and many more!  I will try many of them, and be a little more prepared for some of the more startling symptoms. (Like "flame-throwing diarrhea" described by one survivor!)
  I still plan to be my normal, stubborn, smart-aleck, upbeat self through all of this (or at least in public.)  And I know my support team is immensely strong!  We leave straight from the hospital to head up to Heber for a few basketball games that evening.  I'll let you know how it goes!


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Chemo Plan

My husband and I met with our Oncologist Monday, and I was surprised how much I was looking forward to the appointment!  I don't like not knowing what's next, and now we do...we will start Chemotherapy on Friday, January 20th.  I will continue to use "we," because it really is a team situation.  My husband and kids, my huge immediate family, my work family, and my wonderful network of friends are all going through this with me!  While I don't want any of them to suffer, I know they're there beside me in spirit, and I feel the strength.
        Now for the nasty news: because my tumor was "triple negative" for hormone receptors, it puts me in a more rare category for therapy (less than 15% of breast cancers are triple negative.)  They can't use tamoxifen or any of the hormone blocking chemos, so they are recommending two chemo cocktail options including Taxotere, Cytoxan, and possibly Adriamycin.  Adriamycin comes with elevated risks for a couple of scary long term things, so we are trying to decide if the risks outweigh the cancer killing benefits.  This is the same regimen recommended by the oncologist who met with us in the multidisciplinary clinic before the surgery.
For the record, my tumor was 1.3 centimeters (Stage one), two lymph nodes were clear, but grade 3 in invasiveness.  Add the triple negative fun factor, and they're going to use some "Badass" chemo to get it, no matter what.  Dr. Whisenant says I will lose my hair, and likely my eyebrows and eyelashes, but he says many women have been able to work through the fatigue, neuropathy and other side effects.
      My sister, Toni, went through chemo for a different kind of breast cancer three years ago, and she GAVE me her two wigs while we were home for Christmas.  (I say "gave" because I do not want it to be a "loan."  I don't want her to ever need them back!)  I am already working to find someone who can help me with natural looking eyelashes that I won't have to re-apply every day, and I'll have to practice my eyebrow artwork for a while.
The plan so far is four doses of chemo, one every three weeks.  We will meet with the doctor again next Monday, after picking the brains of many others, to make sure we're doing the right thing.  We also plan to shoot the first chemo treatment for a news story...gotta do it before my hair is gone!  I also think sharing the process helps me feel less helpless, if that makes sense.  I don't like waiting or not being able to do maybe talking about it publicly helps me feel like I'm doing something constructive.  Cancer survivors are "talking" with me, and maybe it's a bond that helps both of us get through it all.  I'm finding I have more friends than I ever imagined!

Friday, January 6, 2012


  I honestly think I stressed more about revealing my cancer news than I have about having cancer!  Great people stepped up to help edit, produce, fix, blog, laugh, shoot, and call, so things would go the way I wanted them to.  I hated the shots of me tearing up, and I hate being the center of attention, but other than that, things went well, and I'm glad it's over! I'm visiting oncologists today and Monday, so hope to know more about my treatment soon.  
  The best news is that my doctor told me their screening center had tons of calls for women scheduling mammograms!  That's what we were all hoping for.  I don't want anyone to play favorites though... Everyone needs some kind of screening, not just for breast cancer.  Men, don't put off your blood pressure, cholesterol, and prostate screenings.  Men and women, don't put off your colonoscopies and annual exams.  One doctor told me that people take better care of their car check-ups than they do for their bodies, and he's right!  You don't want your body to break down on the side of the road, do you? (Okay- off my soapbox now!)
  While I mentioned that I haven't cried much, I really did sit at my computer at home last night, and cried while reading so many heartfelt emails, facebook posts, and blog comments.  The kids were busy doing homework and didn't notice, but the outpouring of support touched me, and gave me what felt like more power.  I know the fight is mine, but it boosted my spirits and confidence to find out I have a lot of friends in my corner with guidance, advice, and moral support.  I apologize if I don't respond directly to everyone, because I did read every one of them!  And I have no way to express the good feelings I have about old friends and new friends sending sincere thoughts and prayers- Thanks so much!!!
  The death of the Ogden Police Officer was so much more horrible than anything in my life, and it reminds us all to hug a little tighter, and keep our loved ones closer.  Enjoy your weekend!  

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A New Beginning

It's New Year...when the optimist in me says, "Let's make it the best year ever!  This is the year things will go great for all of us!"  But this year, that optimist is sharing the front seat with someone who's scared of what's to come in 2012.  Cancer will do that.  Even though my cancer was caught early, and I'm healthy to face chemo and radiation, cancer is scary.

I don't want to feel weak. I don't want to lose my hair. I don't want my family to have to take care of me. I especially don't want to share all of this with a lot of people I don't even know...but it's all going to happen that way, because it has to.

As a news reporter and anchor in Utah for more than 20 years now, I have to see sharing this as an opportunity to tell a story that might save someone's life.  Funny...doing an awareness story saved my life!  I did a mammogram story late in October thinking that by seeing how easy it is for me to do, others will follow through on their screenings. 

The mammogram I had that day is what detected a small tumor in my left breast.

Things happened quickly as we went through more testing. Words kept getting scarier:  "Small, caught early, curable."  "Ultrasound, biopsy, CANCER."  "MRI, surgery, CHEMO."  "Lumpectomy, possible mastectomy, RADIATION."

Like covering a news story, I had to look further into every word, and every possible angle. I am becoming a regular on Cancer Information websites to find answers, but not always really wanting to know.  Hope for the best, and plan for the worst.  It seemed like every step of the way, the worst case scenario was the answer for my case. Yes, it's malignant. Yes, it's invasive. No, it can't be treated with hormone attacking therapy.

I will be a bit relieved once this is all public and I don't have to explain everything to everyone I tell.  I do fine when I keep it to the positive and the clinical explanations, but a few times, when first telling some friends, emotions came out.  Not really breaking down, but sad at having to give someone bad news.  I haven't cried as much as I thought I would.  I feel like I have to stay strong to keep everyone else positive.  I am really determined to keep my life and activities as normal as possible through everything that's to come.

Our twins will turn 15 in February, and I'll likely be going through chemotherapy for their birthday.  I will not missmy son's basketball games, and will cheer (with unsolicited coaching) at my daughter's volleyball tournaments!  I will drag my butt out of bed at 2:30 in the morning to get to work on time. Maybe I can sleep an extra half hour, if I have to wear a wig!  I will cook my favorite meals for my family, and not let my awesome husband become a full time nurse for me (even though he's pretty dang good at it!)
The doctors through all of this have been incredible.  Dr. Brett Parkinson is overseeing my care and is the one who diagnosed my cancer. Dr. Clark Rasmussen is the surgeon who removed the tumor and two lymph nodes with expert precision and care.  (The lymph nodes were cancer-free, btw!)  I had the surgery right before going home to Seattle for Christmas, and my huge, supportive
family helped me heal and keep the positive attitude!  I can't really write about all the friends and co-workers who are great through this, because I'd have to start another paragraph, and they'd say this is too long already!
I'll try to do updates every week or so.  In the meantime- get your screenings, and spread the word!!!