Saturday, September 15, 2012

Crossing the Half-Way Mark.

Moments before: "Captain, isn't this a lovely quiet night?"
Nurses tend to be a superstitious bunch.  Don't believe me?  Just waltz onto any unit and happily announce how quiet it is on the floor.  I can almost guarantee a well directed glare if not all-out protest from the staff.   Why the hostility you may ask?  A statement such as the dreaded "q" word can bring about unbridled mayhem faster than a bus full of drunken fraternity brothers.

In fact, there may be a direct correlation between history's worst disasters and some well-meaning sap describing the utter calm of the current situation:  Titanic, Hindenburg, World War II - all brought to you by the letter "q".  Now of course I'm still working on tying all this together, but until then I'm not taking any chances.  

Thus, there's a reason I haven't talked much about
Always lookin' up - The view from my chemo chair.
 my third round of chemo (which has now come and gone) and it can be summed up in a brief synopsis:  I didn't want to jinx it. 

Because of the severity of symptoms during my first two chemo rounds, my oncologist decided to make a few mid-game change-ups.  Most notably, he added a fantastic drug called Emend to assist with nausea. I was also given a Neulasta shot the day after my chemo treatment to ensure my white blood cells didn't end up in the toilet this go-around and I was prescribed Claritin for its antihistamine effects which counteracts the bone pain associated with Neulasta.  In addition, I was prescribed prophylactic antibiotics, began taking glutamine and also studied nausea specific trigger point therapy.  In short, my med cup is overflowing these days- but I got the break I so desperately needed.

Don't get me wrong - chemo (at least my experience with it) is not a walk in the park.  But with these changes, round three felt more like a bad case of the flu rather than a bout with the plague - and I'll take those improvements any day!

Which leads us to Round 4 - or as I like to call it OFFICIALLY MORE THAN HALF WAY DONE!!

Duck face is a little known side-effect of chemotherapy.
My fourth chemo treatment was Thursday and as much as I would like to report a glowing experience - I can't.  Although I changed nothing (right down to wearing the same shirt to chemo - superstitious Nurse remember?) so far I'm back to feeling achy, nauseous and fatigued.  But hopefully once the Emend kicks in things will ease up a bit.

The maddening part about all of this is the sheer lack of predictability.  Just when you think you've got it all figured out, along comes a giant wrench in the well-laid plans.

But as Winston Churchill once said "If you're going through hell - keep going."  And I couldn't agree more. Because the best part about being at round four is I'm finally feeling like I'm making progress.  Four down - two to go. We've got this in the bag.  It may not be the most pleasant of experiences, but day by day I'm getting through.  And if that's not something to celebrate, I don't know what is.

But don't go around uttering the "q" word.  Just in case. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

We Get By With a Little Help From Our Friends.

Fliers that were distributed around town.
If I were to write a cancer survival guide it would include these little nuggets of advice:

1.  Get yourself a cheering squad pronto fast.

2.  Swallow your pride and let others help you through this.

This sounds easier on paper than it is to practice.  It's incredibly difficult to be so vulnerable - physically, emotionally, and financially.  It's even more difficult to admit that help is needed. But cancer is one of those "it takes a village" situations and there's no one I know who could manage it alone.

Luckily we haven't had to.  From the beginning, our family has been surrounded and kept afloat by our incredible friends and family.  Between impromptu get-togethers, funny gifts and just checking in - we've never felt alone in this battle.  There's always been a hand to hold close by.

But what surprised me most has been the outpouring of support from the larger community - often by complete strangers.   It seems everyone has been touched by cancer in some way or another and are happy to show support.  But we have been shown generosity beyond reason - and for that we are so grateful.  My faith in humanity has been restored - and then some.

Case in point:  some of the lovely ladies of the ICU where I used to work *sob* recently put together an extraordinarily beautiful benefit dinner for us.   They did such an amazing job - it was like attending a "this is your life" wedding but with a silent auction instead of a gift registry (which is actually not such a bad idea - everyone goes home happy!).  As an added bonus I had absolutely nothing to do with the planning process so I was free to enjoy the night sans stress.

The event was held at Settlers Creek - just outside of Coeur d' Alene (  I'd never been there before and was pleasantly surprised by the venue.  Grounds were casual but elegant with both indoor and outdoor facilities.

The evening began with cocktails and appetizers then a buffet style dinner of cherry wood smoked pork shoulder, sea-salt crusted baby red potatoes, fresh fruit, house Cesar and pasta salads was served inside.  Yeah - it was as tasty as it sounds. 
There was also live music courtesy Rag Horn - a really fabulous local rock-n-roll cover band who donated their entire night to us.

We dined on the terraced grounds overlooking the silent auction which went on throughout the night.  The sheer number of items that were donated was astounding - we have such a generous community.
Pictures don't do these terraces justice.  They are so lovely.
Tablescapes captured the theme perfectly.
We were welcomed by Shirley (one of the lovelies who organized the night) and crew.
So many people!  Tickets were completely sold out.
Those giant incinerator things in the background are bar-b-ques!  These people mean business.  You could lead a small cow into one of those suckers and still have room to spare.
Some of the baskets donated to the silent auction.

There was some serious shopping going on.
Traci and Tinka - organizers extraordinaire. 
The all important drink ticket sales ladies - Taylor and Kristen!
A few of my favorite people. 
 All Business.
Nicki and Jon - we've been friends since nursing school.  Love them!
Adam and Tami - The ICU crew was out in full force - hope the patients were being taken care of!  : )
Kyle and his lovely wife-y.
Julie and her daughter
Even Joe (from SOARING) came out to show his support!
This is the only picture I have of hunky hubby - he was a complete social butterfly that night.
Well, we all were.  Lotta love in that place.  Oh yeah - and I debuted my new "oncology chic" hairstyle.
Mellon and me.  It really was an amazing night.  We all had so much fun.
Thanks so much to Traci, Kim O, Kim A, Shirley, Trish, Tinka and everyone who helped to make the night a success.  You could not know what it means to us.  We love you all so much!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Pink, Pink...You Stink.

I have a love/hate relationship with the color pink.  In particular - those wretched little pink ribbons that are plastered to everything from nail polish to football uniforms these days.

Screw can-suh!
Of course, before my diagnosis I didn't think twice.  In fact, I even donned the occasional pink ribbon - participating in and volunteering for various benefit races.  But that was before my name was permanently attached to the diagnosis.  Because as much as I was happy to support others - I never saw it for myself.  I didn't want to identify with the smiling bald women wearing pink hats, I just wanted to be part of their cheering squad.  But of course I didn't have a choice in the matter - nobody does.

Now every time I see a pink ribbon it's a reminder that my life has changed forever.  And if I'm honest, sometimes that really pisses me off.

Blissfully unaware of what I was getting into...
Cancer is such a powerful disease.  There are many, many potentially fatal ailments - diabetes, cardiac disease, COPD - but in my experience none brings about the same reflection, internal drive and determination of its victims.  Cancer is also a great equalizer - striking both rich and poor, young and old.  And those who are touched by it are often in for the fight of their lives.

Somewhat ironically, I began my career as an oncology nurse back when we lived in Bend and it's always been an area of nursing that I've found particularly intriguing.  The everyday battles faced by so many on that oncology floor were inspiring to witness. And though often stories did not have happy endings, I felt I made a difference in many lives - which is ultimately why I am a nurse. There is no greater privilege than to be allowed to care for someone when they are most vulnerable, and being that close to humanity can be a humbling experience.

Which brings me to another reason why I sometimes resent those ribbons: Cancer is not cute. It's a hideous disease.  It can bring terrible suffering, mutilate bodies and take lives.

To symbolize such a thing with a pretty pink ribbon is laughable at best - at worst, grotesque.

But they're also entirely necessary.

As frustrating as it can be to see the symbol of the disease I'm struggling with so neatly commercialized into something fashionable and "bite-sized", it also keeps cancer - and more importantly cancer research - front and center.      

Like 'em or lump 'em - those pretty little pink ribbons and everything they stand for - will eventually save my life.  So I guess as far as bandwagons are concerned, this isn't such a bad one to jump on.

Saturday, September 1, 2012


Cancer brings a multitude of tough choices.  From treatment options to how to adorn your dome, battling cancer can sometimes feel like one of those Choose Your Own Adventure books.  And just like those books, you never really know until the end of the story if the decisions you made were "the right" ones - or if you'll get eaten by a dragon.  But you make your best informed decisions and cross your fingers.  One decision I never hesitated about was to get our kids into counseling early to help them navigate the challenges our family is going through.

Soon after I was diagnosed, I was given the name of Joe McCarron who developed and runs Special Opportunities Affirm Recognition in Noteworthy Goals or S.O.A.R.I.N.G in Coeur d' Alene (  McCarron is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and former Air Force flight crew member who started the non-profit volunteer organization 15 years ago as a way to help youth dealing with specific life challenges.  He also happens to be a cancer survivor himself.

The program teaches kids - through individual counseling sessions - about aviation and how to overcome life obstacles.  At the end of the program, the kids have the opportunity to fly a real plane.  There are several divisions, but our kids belong to the SOARING Phoenix group whose parents are dealing with cancer or other severe illness. 

On August 3rd, the SOARING program was being recognized by BUS 52 ( - a group of young people who are traveling around the country for a year (in a bus), searching out positive stories that may not hit main stream media.  At any rate, the timing just happened to coincide with our kids "graduating" from the program - thus earning seats as co-pilots on their very first flights.

Here's a look at the day and the video from the Bus 52 crew.  It was the day after my chemo treatment so I missed out on the celebration, but the kids were nominated as SOARING youth of the month which means they will earn an additional flight in the future so hopefully I can go on that one.  

De Plane, Boss.  From Joe's work to the pilots to the airplanes themselves, all of the resources for SOARING are volunteered.
Butterflies in their stomachs, the kids wait in the hangar with Dad and Grandma.

You would think Suri Cruz was flying today with all the paparazzi.
Both kids earned certificates for their work in the counseling program.
And then the deal was sealed with the all important "secret handshake".
They would teach it to you - but then they'd have to kill you.
So proud of them!!

Looking a little nervous - heading out to the plane.

"I got this, Dad!"

The kids help perform all the "checks" with the pilot, Mike.

Teague adds his seal of approval.
Grandma and Maddie watch Teague's flight as Joe looks on.
Your turn, Maddie!
She looks good as a pilot!
Teague and Chris watch and wave.
Good job, guys!  We are so proud of you.

All photos courtesy Woody Wright