The first slap

The first slap
This photo was taken the day after I was diagnosed, and it is my first bitch slap at cancer. I'm the one with the icepack symbolically placed on my boob. My teammates changed our team's uniform to pink at the last minute, and I came off the soccer field that night with one goal and a whole lot of love. Several of these women are my close friends, but they are all warriors, and they all helped me set the tone for this fight.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Hats off!

Well, actually, it's hats on for me these days, as I don't have loads of hair left. However, I wanted to show off the needle art prowess of friends and family who have made me hats. The first one I don't even know how to introduce except to say that this hat is simply awesome! My cousin, Didi Pancake, crocheted it, and wearing it makes me feel as formidable as the legendary Brunhilda herself.
My badass Brunhilda hat, courtesy of Didi
I'm tempted to wear this hat as I play soccer. I would look pretty darn badass out there on the soccer pitch with an armor plate covering my chemo port and this horned helmet with thick golden braids!

My 24/7 hat, courtesy of Tamra

The second hat is equally awesome, and (no offense, Didi) perhaps a bit more versatile stylistically. Tamra Stallings knitted it for me, and it is hands-down the most comfortable hat I have. Not only that, it goes with practically every piece of clothing I own. My only worry is that I will wear it out before I'm done with my treatment.

So while it's hats on for me, it's hats off to Didi and Tamra. Thank you much! I now find myself inspired to knit again!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Ultrasound Results

Here is my promised update after my ultrasound this morning to measure the extent of tumor shrinkage: Both of the breast tumors are still there, but they are VERY small. Dr. Sussman (one of the awesome breast radiologists here at Mills Breast Cancer Institute) said that he could not detect anything in the lymph nodes, three of which were shown to have cancer in the PET CT I had in late November; however, the lymph nodes are more difficult to see on ultrasound. The doc did say that the reduction in tumor size is SIGNIFICANT. I asked him for exact measurements, but he wouldn't give them, as ultrasounds are just too fuzzy to really nail down a precise measurement. However, he did say that they are now measuring the tumors in millimeters rather than centimeters.

Apparently, the doctors look at two things when they're looking at the images: Size and conspicuousness. Conspicuousness refers to how well defined the tumors are, or how much, regardless of the size, the tumors pop out on imaging. Importantly, my tumors are not only significantly smaller, but also significantly less conspicuous. They are just plain harder to see. This is very good news, as I am only seven treatments into the first twelve week course of chemotherapy. Hoping for continued shrinkage to the point of disappearance come March 5th!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

More good news, being thorough, and some bitch slappin' fun

Okay, here's a general update on various events of the week:

Treatment and more good news
I am now just over half way through my first 12 week course of chemo. I had my 7th treatment yesterday, and it is going quite well. In fact, when meeting with my oncologist prior to yesterday's chemo, she went to measure my tumors (as she does every two weeks or so). Two weeks ago, the smaller tumor was undetectable, and the larger one had shrunk in diameter from 2cm to 1cm. Well, yesterday the largest one was no longer detectable! [SLAP!] My doctor ordered a sonogram for Monday morning to see "IF" it's still there. 

Those of you who know me well know that I have a thing for thoroughness. In my work, this means that I pore over data many many times, analyzing and re-analyzing to be as confident as I can in my findings. As a writer, I spend extra time revising as I go, revisiting drafts again and again until I am satisfied. At home, I don't clean often, but when I do, I do it thoroughly--not a crumb left on the counter. And I like my pancakes thoroughly smothered in maple syrup. In short, I like a job well done, and I'm not comfortable with unfinished business. While I can't control how thoroughly the chemo will work, about 45% of people on my course of chemo experience a full remission after the 12 weeks, and I feel as if I'm well on the way to this highly desired state of thoroughness. So I am hoping!

Side effects
I still have hair. The hair loss process has been much much slower than I thought, and it's possible I won't really lose all of it in this course of chemo. We shall see. I've lost enough of it to wear hats out in public, but not enough to need to shave it all off yet. While the thoroughness-lover in me sometimes wants to just shave it all off, it's just too damn cold in East Central Illinois for unnecessary baldness. The most frustrating side effect is lower digestive cramping, which does not always arrive at the most predictable times. But in time, that too shall pass. (Bahahahahaha!)

Bitch slappin' fun
Last night, a group of women from my over 30 women's soccer league threw a bitch slapping breast cancer get together at a local bar. This included taking a bunch of hits at a piñata representing cancer, a bitch slapping brest cancer cake (and no, that's not really a typo), and a hell of a lot of fun! It was one of those events that just makes one feel loved and strong, and I'm very appreciative to Jill and the other women who helped make it happen. (Several photos below).

I'll try to post another update after my ultrasound on Monday. While I don't expect the tumors to have gone away entirely yet, let's all do something in the coming days in the spirit of thoroughness. Take something on and finish the job! It could be just a little something--an extra mile on your run, an extra pass over something you're writing. Scrub that stain on your carpet just a little harder. Finish the crossword puzzle—it doesn’t have to look pretty. Or maybe there's something bigger. Do you have a project that you've set aside or a job you need to complete? Are you a writer with a blank screen staring at you? Then start pounding out those words, no mercy for the page. Teaching? Then teach like you damn well mean it and inspire to your students to take on whatever scares or worries them. Whatever it is that you’re doing today, do it with initiative, thoroughness, and confidence. Me? I'm going to keep on rockin' this chemo thing.

"Brest Cancer" doesn't deserve to be spelled properly.
A mix of Femme Strikers and Hot Mamas!

This one was for Elizabeth
Well, what would YOU do with left over piñata parts that look like Madonna boob cones?
Thank you Jill! You are awesome! (BTW, you may all notice that Grace and Patience N. Hope were also in attendance.)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

In and out of normal

Some of you have mentioned to me that I haven't been posting quite as often on my blog. True. The thing is, I'm just too damn busy! But I'm busy in a good way. In a NORMAL sort of way.

Last week and this week I started commuting again to Normal (IL), as a new semester at Illinois State University has started up. I have the great fortune of co-teaching this semester, and yesterday we taught our first classes. Seeing so many of my students from last semester in my class this spring, as well as many new faces, was like teaching-candy. This is is an undergraduate course in which I get to work along side and supervise prospective teachers in one of their first substantial clinical experiences: tutoring elementary school students in literacy. On top of that, we get to do this at a bilingual school with youngsters whose linguistic repertoires are wide and deep. Other than for a few class sessions, this class meets at the elementary school, so the prospective teachers are further immersed into the school/professional setting. This is a new thing for many of them--a new beginning that probably seems a bit disconcerting, if not downright scary, to them at first. But soon, that too will seem normal, and on days when school is out for teachers' professional development or spring break, and we meet back on the ISU campus, we will all feel odd and out of place. Teaching this class (and taking this class) is WAY better than cancer. But there are similar aspects of fear of the unknown, and a human desire to come out unscathed and better for the experience.

I did another normal thing this evening: I went to Soccer Planet and played soccer with my women's over-30 team (Femme Strikers). I can't say I played a whole lot, and I was feeling a wee bit icky having just had chemo this morning. But what fun! What an inspiration to run around the soccer pitch with a bunch of other athletic women, smart women, strong women, and women who are willing to take risks. It is just pure awesomeness, and felt very, very normal.

Finally, and I think oddly, another normal thing today was my blood work. My ANC (which stands for something nebulous--maybe my white cells or it's an indicator of how my immune system is doing?) was back up to normal. Maybe it's the large quantities of green smoothies I've been drinking since the families on Nate's soccer team gave me a brand new blender and green smoothie cookbook! AND, I still have hair (although there's much less of it than there was a few weeks ago). On top of all that, I now have a fairly regular chemo schedule and I know what to expect, so even that sometimes seems normal. Other times I sit in the "chemo suite" at Mills Breast Cancer Institute thinking, "WTF?! Why I am I sitting here hooked up to an IV with toxic materials flowing into my veins in a room with a bunch of sick people?!" Then I realize they're probably looking at me and thinking the very same thing.

I guess what I'm saying is that I am very much aware--sometimes painfully, sometimes cautiously, and sometimes eagerly--of a back and forth, a toggling in and out of normal. Things seem to shift underneath me at times, and yet at other times I am able to do things to shift them in ways that I want; to shift things back into normal, even if just for a while. [Slap! Slap slap!].

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

"Houston, we have shrinkage!"

*SLAP!* Did you hear that? *Slap, slap!* I am proud to report that there is a hell of a lot of bitch slapping going on around here, and I'm guessing that if you tilt your head just right, even those of you on the west coast, in South America, or in Europe might hear a blow or two.

Today I saw my oncologist for the first time since before Christmas (she was out of the country for the holidays), and I had my fifth infusion. I am now two infusions into the second of four three-week cycles. Upon measuring my largest tumor she noted that it has shrunk significantly: Down from 2cm at diagnosis to 1cm. On top of that, when she went to measure my second (and smaller) tumor, which is more centrally located, she couldn't find it. I told her I'd felt it just a week or two ago, and so I tried, and I couldn't feel it either! It has probably not completely dissolved away (yet), but for purposes of physically measuring it, it has all but disappeared.

Now, keep in mind that my oncologist's weekly measurements are not super precise--she basically just uses a ruler, as my tumors are/were palpable. I will get an MRI at the end of this first 12 week course of chemotherapy, which will provide more accuracy. Nevertheless, the shrinkage is significant. I had noted myself that the largest tumor was shrinking after only three infusions, but it was nice to hear it from my doctor today as well. I am also managing the side effects of chemo fairly well, exercising a about four days a week, and taking meds that keep the nausea at bay. And I still have hair! (It's thinning quite rapidly these days, though. Not sure I'll still have much after another week.)

So I can safely say that with the start of the new year, I am seriously kicking cancer's ass. And for those of you looking for a metaphorical visual of the destructive effects of a bitchslap, see the video below.

Okay, technically I don't consider this a bitchslap (see Urban 
Dictionary definition in the sidebar on the front page of my blog). 
But seeing the destructive slap-effects in slow motion is satisfying 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Big little things

I don't have anything really profound to say today. Instead, I just want to give a shout out to Craig, who I simply could not go down this road without. I'm no special fan of the musician Phillip Phillips, but his song "Home" has really hit home with me lately. This song always reminds me of traveling in Chile a year ago, listening to Nate's iPod as we road-tripped down to northern Patagonia. But it is also a reminder of everything that Craig is doing for me and with me. This includes things like taking the kids for an afternoon to let me catch up on my work, running to the store at 9:00pm to get me some ice cream because dammit we're out and I'm actually hungry, cooking dinner more than he used to, and just holding me when I need to be held. Some of these things may seem little, but they don't feel little when he does them. They feel huge. And I am grateful.