33 and Cancer-Free Photos - Part II: Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Where have I been for the past week, you ask? Uh, I really can't tell you. I've been here...and there...and everywhere. For the most part, I've felt okay, although I am a bit more fatigued these days (that cumulative effect is finally catching up with me!), not sleeping particularly well, and until yesterday, had the same nasty metallic taste in my mouth that many of my friends have experienced/are experiencing during their first trimester of pregnancy. As for my anti-cancer diet, it's been non-existent. While I'm still not eating animal protein (except for seafood), drinking caffeine or alcohol, the rest of it has temorarily gone out the window as I basically eat carbs non-stop right now. I blame it on all of the steroids that I'm taking. I'm not stressing about it, if I want to eat something, I do. It will all normalize again once I finish treatment in 22 days!!! Yes, just 22 days until this crap is DONE!

Okay, where were we?!? Oh, yes, so since I recapped Thursday's pre-birthday activities, it's time to move onto Friday's festivities! I picked my beloved Aunt Kay up at the airport midday on Friday and afterward hosted a pre-birthday party for my friend's little ones -- you know, the two-year old set, who wouldn't be able to make it to Saturday night's bash. It happened to be Amelie's actual 2nd birthday so there were ice cream treats for the children (and adults!) and cocktails for their parents. Fortunately, we had much better weather for their pool party than we did for the adult's party on Saturday night. Here are some shots of the fun! Thanks to everyone for joining! Wouldn't it be fun to do this every Friday afternoon?

Everyone in the pool!

Some of the fifty+ set (grandparents and "play" grandparents) enjoyed catching up sans bathing suits...

Even baby Harper got her feet wet!

Gunter and Annika (a.k.a. the big kids) helped build a raft that others enjoyed...

We all scream for ice cream!

Annika, the best big sister in the world!

The birthday girl, Amelie

Our new friend, Genevieve

Our regular visitor, Thomas

Kindra and her boys, Henry and Jack

LEW and Amelie hugging good-bye. Is there anything cuter?


After the pool party concluded (Henry and Jack were the last to leave...funny, so was their mom and dad at the adult party?!), my family (Mom, Dad, Bobby, Aunt Kay, and me) hit our favorite spot, Carlyle, for a delicious dinner. Then we came home and figured out all that needed to be done on Saturday for the big bash! At the rate I'm going who knows when I'll post all of the pictures from the party and other birthday celebrations but I promise to try and be in touch before the end of the week. Right now, I'm going to turn my attention to another project I'm working on while killing time before I'm called in for today's Day 8 treatment, which it looks like I'll be able to receive based on where my blood levels were on Monday. Fingers crossed! Oh, and here's a hint about the project I'm working on, check it out: http://www.tealtoes.org/

33 and Cancer- Free Photos - Part I: Saturday, August 29, 2009

Well, it's been a week since my big birthday bash and since I'm not experiencing the same kind of ass-kicking I did from my last cylce of IP (...far from it, thanks to 25 miligrams less of Cisplatin AND remembering to take my post-infusion steroids!), I thought I'd motivate to share some of the shots from all of the celebrations that took place between Thursday, August 20th and Monday, August 24th -- my actual birthday.

First, here's a few fun shots of River's play date with McKinley, which occurred in the middle of a thunderstorm in my parent's backyard on Thursday afternoon. We all threw caution to the wind and let the dogs swim with thunder and (some) lightning in the background.
Follow the leader into the pool! McKinley didn't have much pool experience before this date with River... ...but quickly caught on! Synchronized swimming anyone?

After the dog's play date and the storm passed, I headed into the city for my friend Amelie's 2nd birthday party with her family. The chicken picatta dinner that her daddy, Chef Tom, made looked so good that I even broke down and had a piece of chicken along with a delicious summer succotash and sliced tomatoes. Oh, and we enjoyed killer peach cobbler for dessert!

Take 1: LEW and Amelie in their 2-year old ballerina outfits compliments of moi.

Take 2!

Take 3!

Well, I guess this is as good as it gets with two tired 2-year olds!

I ran from Amelie's birthday party to pick up my brother from the airport as he flew in from Gainesville, FL (where he's attending grad school) for the weekend's festivities. When we got home, I took a shot of the gorgeous roses my dad sent me for my birthday earlier in the day. Good job, Dad!

Slacker: Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sorry that I've been M.I.A. since Monday...I guess I'm being a bit of a slacker this week. Oh, and I've been a bit busy, too. As you'll recall, Monday was my birthday so I had a celebratory lunch with my mom, Aunt Kay, and a few best friends at Restaurant Eve in Old Town, which was followed by a chemo planning appointment with Dr. E (remember I've referred to it as a fee generator before?) that my friend Jori, who attended it with me, felt was much more of a therapy session for both Dr. E and me rather than a real medical appointment. Later that evening, I had a nice quiet birthday dinner with my parents and Aunt Kay. My mom made one of my favorite dishes -- shrimp and scallop kabobs with cherry tomatoes, green and yellow zucchini, and mushrooms over brown rice. Delicious! It was a great way to end a wonderful birthday weekend.

On Tuesday, my mom and I drove Aunt Kay up to Gettysburg so that her sister could pick her up to host her for the rest of her visit. After dropping off Kay, we stopped in the GAP outlet in Gettysburg for a littel retail therapy and I finally got some new pants that fit me! Yay!

Yesterday I had a three-hour infusion of Taxol at Dr. E's office. After Monday's appointment, Dr. E decided that I should go back to having a short infusion of Taxol instead of the 24-hour slow drip infusion I had during last cycle in the hopes that the shorter infusion will do less harm to my white count. I slept during most of the treatment thanks to the Benadryl pre-meds (gets me everytime!) and then felt great the rest of the afternoon and evening. In fact, I had to return a table to Food Matters and ended up joining Christy, her daughters, and her sister Brooke, and her new daughter, Sadie, for an al fresco vegetarian dinner.

I'm waiting for the call from Fairfax this morning to go to the hosptial to get my three-hour infusion of Cisplatin today. I'm getting about 25 miligrams less Cisplatin during this cycle also in the hopes of it wreaking less havoc on my white count so that I'm able to get my Day 8 treatment this time. I'm optimistic that I'll feel better following this treatment for two reasons: 1. I'm getting about 10% less Cisplatin and 2. I'm going to remember to take my Decadron, which is a steroid, with my Emend, my anti-nausea med, this time. The Decadron should give me enough of a boost for the next three days that I won't end up hybernating all weekend long. We'll see!

Anyway, I know that I owe all of you pictures from the party and other birthday festivities but you'll just have to be patient as I probably won't get a chance to post them until I've recovered from today's fun.

33 and Cancer-Free!: Monday, August 24, 2009

It's my birthday today. And while I still have two more cycles of chemo to endure, I am 33 and (detectable) cancer-free! It feels great to celebrate a new year...and boy, there has been A LOT of celebrating going on around here! I don't know about you but I like celebrating birthdays in a big way -- not just on the actual birthday but throughout the birthday week. I started celebrating this birthday on Friday and will continue until my next treatment on Wednesday. I'm happily exhausted from a weekend of dinners out, parties for the very young and the young at heart, crab feasts, barbecue by the pool, etc. There are photos to share of all of the festivities but since there are two more celebrations today, I'm going to wait to post everything tomorrow when it's all winding down.

Thank you to all of my great friends and family who helped me celebrate over the weekend and again today! You all mean the world to me and I so appreciate everything you've done for me -- not just this past weekend but throughout my life and especially over the last six months.

Party Prep: Friday, August 21, 2009

I'm in full "33 and Cancer-Free" birthday party prep mode today so this is going to be short and sweet. I've already received some fun and beautiful early birthday surprises that I will share with all of you tomorrow morning. Off to do a million things! Keep your fingers crossed that I've got somewhat decent weather for tomorrow night's shin dig!!!

Julie & Julia: Thursday, August 20, 2009

Well, it happened again last night. It hasn't happened recently so I thought maybe, just maybe, I'd stopped doing this. But I haven't. I passed out about half-way through "Julie & Julia" last night -- probably around 8:30 or 9 p.m. I'm very disappointed in myself...and to be honest, I was really disappointed in what I saw of "Julie & Julia" before I fell asleep. I'd heard wonderful things about the movie from a couple people who'd seen it and despite the fact that I related to both of the characters, it was just, well, average? The rest of my girlfriends agreed it was mediocre, too. So, I don't think it gets a thumbs up.

Anyway, I've got to run and get labs done and do a design errand before trying to fit a visit to the pool for River before our next thunderstorm hits. It's a sauna outside!

Happy Hump Day!: Wednesday, August 19, 2009

No, I'm not referring to River's humping problem. Nothing much to say today so I thought I'd take a minute to wish everyone a happy Wednesday. I got many to-do items accomplished yesterday morning and my trip to evil Maryland (or, Mur-lin, as it is pronounced by many of the people who live there) was actually pretty painless. The lovely folks at Amy's washed and styled my wig within 20 minutes of our arrival (Brenda is looking very spiffy!) and then my mom and I enjoyed a very fun and delicious lunch with the ever-entertaining, Aunt Kathy (remember: she's Samantha Jones meets Kathie Lee Gifford?) Anyway, I had a low-key evening and started tackling my messy, dirty house in preparation for this weekend's houseguests -- first my brother and then Christina and Ali. Should be nice and cozy in my 930 sq. foot abode with a 90 lb. loaner dog and all of the extra adults. Oh well, the more the merrier, right?

Off to my oil change in Springfield! Then more errands, calls, and emails. Then pool with loaner dog. Then dinner & a movie with several girlfriends. Busy, busy, busy!

As If!: Tuesday, August 18, 2009

As if I needed anymore medical bills, I got slammed with a $189 bill yesterday afternoon. And guess who it was for? Loaner dog! Being the responsible d'aunt that I am (d'aunt = dog + aunt), when I noticed that River had a bloody cut/scab thing on his head AND that he some pussy stuff on his you-know-what (plus, he peed like 3,000 times Sunday afternoon) AND that his nails were way too long, I (well, my mom and I) decided to take him into the vet yesterday afternoon (by the way, I know my brother will roll his eyes as he reads this...) to get it all checked out.

Anyway, the vet's office is great and runs far more efficiently than any of the human doctors I see but man, do they charge a lot of money! I guess they can since their charges are largely unregulated and all of their patients are uninsured (or 90% anyway), so why not?!? Dr. Bartl saw River and she gave us powder for the dermatitis on his head; an antiobiotic for his potential UTI, which she thinks is just confined to the prepuce; and sent him back with a vet tech for his pedicure. So...one appointment, two drugs, and one pedicure later, I was out $189. Ugh! Actually, I would have been out more but my mom ponied up for the appointment so I really just covered the drugs and pedicure, which I think was more expensive than what I pay for my own pedicures based on the bill breakdown. Double ugh!

So, that was yesterday's pain and today's will be driving to the aforementioned evil Maryland to get my wig washed and styled. "Brenda" needs to look good on Saturday night and since I haven't washed her yet, I think it's about time!

Manic Monday: Monday, August 17, 2009

It's actually not too manic, really. I'm just back from my morning walk with loaner dog and I have about a dozen or so items on my pre-party to-do list to get going on and I'm going to try to catch up on all of my email and Facebook messages (I get so behind when I'm knocked out for a week). Oh, I was brave enough to check the weather for next weekend this morning: There is a pretty good chance of rain so PLEASE keep your fingers crossed that we don't get rain this Saturday evening. The party will happen rain or shine but it will be much more fun to have it poolside than in the darn house.

I had a great weekend; it was so fun to be social again after my hybernation and the low-key week that followed. Friday night I treated Michelle to a celebratory drink at Clyde's following our wedding dress shopping outing (so far, the dress I posted is in the lead!) and then we headed to her place where we grilled veggie kabobs with Jim and Lucy. As you'll see we dined alfresco on their back deck -- it was a beautiful evening. Following dinner, I met my good friends Kindra and Karl for a drink (and sinful dessert!) at Capital City Brewing Company (again, on the patio) and it was great to catch up with them for a bit.

Me and Michelle, a.k.a the bride-to-be.

Following our morning walk, River and I spent the day at the pool on Saturday afternoon and Kristin and LEW joined us after naptime, which was fun. Saturday night I attended the Riddy's housewarming party, which was such a great time. Their house looked FANTASTIC -- particularly, all of the design projects we had worked on and their new back staircase.

We pooled it again yesterday and Jill came over to join us. We spent several glorious hours floating in the pool catching up on life. And last night, I shared a couple of Pacificos and my favorite Guapos salad with my friend Chris, whom many of you gals only know as the "Hot Marine."

Okay, gotta get going. I've promised myself that I won't get sucked into the internet for hours this morning! MUST. BE. PRODUCTIVE.

Another One Bites the Dust: Saturday, August 15, 2009

Well, it happened again last night. Another friend announced her pregnancy to me. (By the way, she did so in the most sensitive, loving way. I've posted an excerpt of her email below.) So far, since I was diagnosed on March 10, two friends have gotten engaged and six friends have either given birth, or are about to soon, or have just announced their pregnancy. And I know more announcements are coming...soon. We are in our early thirties afterall. We are supposed to be dating, or getting married, or trying to have babies. We are not supposed to be fighting cancer, particularly an estrogen-based reproductive cancer.

So, how am I handling all of these announcements, births, etc. in the midst of losing my fertility and being sidelined from dating and many other normal 32-year old activities? I'm not going to lie: It's hard. Very hard. But I'm handling it. Just like I've handled the other more minor set backs I've been dealt in life. I am fortunate not to have been born with a jealous bone in my body (okay, so I am a little jealous of gals with zero cellulite but that's it!) and virtually no fear or anxiety issues so that makes it all much easier. And I also inherited fantastic coping skills (or so I was told by the shrink I saw for a little while). Oh, and then there's the 10 mg of Lexapro I now take daily (but that I only plan to take through the end of the year...). It all helps.

I debated as to whether to do this post or not because I'm tired of making people feel guilty for their good health and fortune but at the same time I think I need to lay it all out once and for all...for myself and for all of you (all of you being my girlfriends and fellow cancer patients who follow my blog). So, here's what the whole thing looks like to me:

Am I happy for you when you announce your big news, whatever it may be? ABSOLUTELY.

Do I think to myself, "Why am I not worthy of this experience and joy?" ABSOLUTELY.

Do I have faith that someday I will know a different, yet equally wonderful, joy? ABSOLUTELY.

Do I feel sorry for myself for a little while (maybe a half a day or a little more) after each piece of news is shared? ABSOLUTELY.

Does it get easier for me each day I move farther away from having had the BIG H and closer to finishing my treatment? ABSOLUTELY.

Should you share your news with me as naturally and sincerely as possible because I am your good friend afterall? ABSOLUTELY.

Do I know that all of you will be happier for me than probably all others when it's my turn to announce great news, whatever it might be? ABSOLUTELY.

Do I accept that life just sucks sometimes and that we're all dealt heavy burdens and that other than this unfortunate year, I am a lucky girl with a charmed life? ABSOLUTELY.

And, do I know that many of you probably wish everyday that somehow, some way you could give me the joy you have or are about to have? ABSOLUTELY.

So, that's how it looks. Is it complicated and tricky to navigate for us all? ABSOLUTELY. Will it all be "okay" several months from now when I'm done with treatment and have celebrated the start of a new year on a 46 foot Catamaran with a great group of friends somewhere in the BVIs (more details later...), am dating again (I guess I will but I've kind of enjoyed the break from the few pretty broken men I've encountered in my early thirties), and am in the midst of training for the sprint triatholon I'm going to do with Jori and a maybe a couple others out in San Diego in October 2010 to celebrate my one year wellness anniversary? ABSOLUTELY!!!

I'm off to run a design errand before heading to the pool for the rest of this gorgeous, hot day, but before I go, here's some of my friend's email...

Subject: News

Hi Jen,

So, I have news (as suggested by the subject line.) I'm pregnant. 13 weeks today - due Feb. 19. We just started telling people after the second ultrasound last Friday. I decided I would tell you in writing because that way you don't have to pretend to be elated on the phone when I know it's way more complicated than that. Don't get me wrong, I know you are an awesome friend and will be happy for me and Briley, but all the really tough stuff you are going through right now cannot be made easier by the fact that you are dealing with it right when so many friends are getting pregnant and having babies. It's just more reminders, as if you needed any on a daily basis!

I just read your latest update and like knowing exactly what goes on with the IP treatment and what it is supposed to accomplish! The ports are pretty inconspicuous, and I hope they aren't too bothersome. Briley and I can't wait for your party, and Mom and Dad are planning on coming with us for a little while, too, if that is still all right!

Can't wait to see you soon. Thinking of you.

xoxo E

Congratulations, Elena and Briley!

Rotisserie Chicken Anyone?: Friday, August 14, 2009

Well, it's the end of another week, which means it's another week closer to the end of the treatment phase of my wellness campaign. Hooray! I just returned from my morning walk with loaner dog and don't have too much on the agenda today before 3 p.m. -- just a bunch of birthday party calls/errands and a little house cleaning. At 3 p.m., I'm meeting one of the co-captains of my wellness campaign, Michelle, at the J. Crew store in Georgetown (I am willing to face the horror of Georgetown driving/parking for good friends!) to help her try on their collection of...drumroll please...wedding dresses! Michelle and her fiance, Jim, got engaged one week ago today and are already busy planning an early December wedding (no time like the present, right?). I couldn't be happier for the two of them and am thrilled to add another non-cancer-related festive event (events, actually, since every wedding comes with other fun pre-wedding events) to my social calendar. And I'm really honored that Michelle has asked me to play some yet-to-be-determined role in her wedding ceremony. Oh, and in case you're wondering, after a quick search of the J. Crew web site, here's my early pick for a great dress candidate for Michelle's petite frame and the smart, sophisticated look she wants to achieve:

So, that's today but before I go, as promised, here are some of the photo highlights of my first IP treatment. Unfortunately, though, I don't have any pictures of the aforementioned rotisserie chicken action that happens at the very end of each IP treatment. What the heck am I talking about, you ask? Well, it's like this: The point of IP chemo is to literally coat a woman's intraperitoneal (IP) cavity with poisonous anti-cancer drugs (in my case, Taxol and Cisplatin) so that every microscopic floating cancer cell is, uh, roasted? fried? You get the picture. Another way to think of the process is that it's like pouring maple syrup into a glass jar and trying to make sure that the top, bottom, and all of the sides are thoroughly coated after the pour. How do you achieve this for the IP cavity? You make the lady spend 15-20 minutes laying on each side of her body, including the left, right, back and stomach, to make sure the drugs make it everywhere. So, you feel like a big old oven stuffer roaster while you spend an hour doing this activity -- hence, the rotisserie chicken label. Yummy, huh?

Okay, chest port numbed so here we go! Needle in!

A close-up of my nurse, Anh, shooting pre-meds into my chest port.

Anh suiting up for next steps...

Here we go! Round one of Taxol via chest port...

Later that afternoon, Edith helped insert the needle and get the Cisplatin going into my abdominal port, which sits on my rib cage, as you'll see.

Sterilizing my numb skin for the abdominal needle insertion...
In it goes!

Beautiful, isn't it?

All sealed up and ready for action!
As you can see, I'm having trouble loading veritcal shots again. Anyway, here's a crooked view of ALL of the fluids that went into my abdomen during cycle 1. Work your magic, baby!

Back at home post-treatment with River dog...

FYI - this is how we "share" the couch.

Day 8 or Bust: Thursday, August 13, 2009

WARNING: Yesterday was a long day and so this is a long entry. Enjoy, I think?!?

Writing feverishly to try to meet MPR's 9 a.m. coffee/blog-reading deadline but I think I'm going to fail. Miserably. Here goes:

So, Day 8 was a bust. A total bust. For those of you who don't know yet, I didn't end up having my Day 8 treatment yesterday. I'm not kidding. Trust me, I wouldn't joke about this. I don't and fortunately never will know what it's like to experience false labor, although I've heard the dreadful stories from my mother and close friend, but I think what I experienced yesterday is the ovarian cancer patient's equivalent. Can you imagine pumping yourself full of a bunch of steroids, which make it nearly impossible to sleep, the night before a planned treatment while wrapping your mind around subjecting yourself to another course of dreadful drugs that leave you bloated, nauseous, and experiencing shooting pains throughout the following week, only to be told that your goddamn white count is non-existent and that you simply cannot receive treatment? This, after about four or five hours of lying around in an uncomfortable hospital bed watching the Food Network (amen for Giada, Ina, Michael, and Bobby...)? False labor of sorts, no?

When I last left you I was going to pop into the shower and then pack up to go to the hospital. What I didn't share is that my mom and I had a small errand to do before going to the hospital. I had to stop by INOVA's Blood Donor Service office, which is about a half mile from the hospital in the same medical building as Dr. E's office, in order to have MORE blood work drawn for further genetic testing (at press time we're still waiting for a final conclusion on my bad genes...more later). Unfortunately, my veins weren't in a good mood yesterday morning so it took two needles and three med techs to get some blood out of them. And since traffic to Gallows Rd. was a bitch (will the roadwork by the exit ramp ever end?!?) and since my mother insists on driving in the far right lane so that she doesn't have to "stress out" to switch lanes close to the exit, we were cutting things very close to get to the hospital by my 9:45 a.m. deadline. (Note: I'm convinced if I videotaped my mother's and my treatment car trips/conversations and posted them on YouTube that we'd be come overnight internet sensations. Seriously. The bickering. The bitching. The sarcasm. The stories. It would sell in a big way.) You see, I have a two-hour window to get to my oncology unit bed from the time I'm called in. You'd think that would be easy since the hospital is only 20-30 minutes away depending on traffic but it generally proves challenging when factoring in time for a last-minute shower, packing up a loaner dog, picking up a mother, fitting in some last minute blood work or other errands, etc. etc.

So, I rolled up to the hospital entrance at about 9:43 a.m. I hit registration at just about 9:45 a.m. and once again, asked my clerk to call up to the oncology unit so that they knew Elvis, that would be me, was in the building and to hold my bed while I took care of the b.s. paperwork I have to do everytime I'm admitted. Registration went quickly and soon a high school volunteer (always brings back memories of my candy-striping days at INOVA Alexandria...Christina, how many darn baby caps did we make during all of those hours at the hospital?) appeared to escort my mother and me up to the oncology unit.

Upon entering the unit, I was greeted by another excellent nursing team, Sue and Amanda. Amanda is Sue's nurse extern for the summer. They were both FABULOUS and FUN and further proof that oncology nurses are the smartest, hardest working nurses of them all. (Hmmm...interior design or oncology nursing? What should my next career be? I'll ponder that one later I guess.) Anyway, we went through the usual drill: reviewed current medications, timeline for the day, etc. etc. Sue left shortly to finish my paperwork and promised to be back soon to numb my port access sites. She was back shortly but she had a surprise:

It seems that the hospital's pharmacists wanted to get new blood work from me (again, people?!?) in case my WBC and RBC levels had crashed since it was done on Monday afternoon. I was completely annoyed by this extra step, which would hold up the treatment process, and said aloud, "Are you kidding me? Who crashes that much in 36 hours? Okay, whatever."

Guess who crashes that much in 36 hours? Moi. Poor Sue. She was so afraid to come in to tell me that I wouldn't be receiving treatment afterall that she made Amanda accompany her to break the news a couple hours after the blood was drawn. Am I really that scary? I suppose that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned...or a cancer patient denied. Anyway, Sue had just gotten off the phone with Dr. E's office when she came in to show me the results (ummm...yeah, so a normal WBC level is AT LEAST over 2,000 but ideally they like it to be around 3,500 or above for treatment; mine was/is 460) and the verdict was in from Dr. E: No Day 8 treatment for the Jenster.

I didn't remember this when I was flipping out about being denied treatment yesterday because I was in the "treatment zone" but I had been warned at the outset about the possibility of my counts dropping too low to receive the Day 8 treatment. Jan, in Dr. E's office, had explained that if this were to happen that I would just skip the Day 8 treatment, remain on the same schedule, and that they would make the appropriate adjustments to the next cycle's Day 1 and 2 drug levels (in my case, a 10% reduction of each drug) so that I might have better luck in receiving my Day 8 treatment during the next round.

So, after my meltdown with Sue, Amanda, Jan (via phone), and Edith (she is the oncology clinical specialist at INOVA and seems to take particular interest in her "IP girls," as she likes to refer to us), I wrapped my brain around a new thought: That it is okay that I didn't receive my Day 8 treatment. And that not having this treatment doesn't mean that I'm weakening my changes of beating this once and for all. Fortunately, Edith did a little fact-checking yesterday and told me late in the afternoon when I was waiting for my Neupogen shot (to boost that damn WBC) and my ride home from my parents, that NONE of her IP ladies have had a recurrence since they started doing this in 2006 -- even those who had missed some of their Day 8 treatments. Thank you, Edith. You are a gem of a clinician and a human being and I appreciate your reassuring tales from the oncology world.

My parents collected me just after 4 p.m. I went back to their house with them to see my loaner dog. We (that would be River and me) went on a walk together, which felt so good after lying around in a useless hospital bed for nearly six or seven hours. We returned after about 20 minutes or so and then it was time to load up in the car again to join my parents for one of their weekly rituals.

What do you do when your Day 8 treatment is a total bust? You bust on out in your militant lesbian/concentration camp victim/Eastern European marathoner/cancer patient hairstyle and hit Lobster Night at Shooter McGee's with your parents. I wish you all could see the scene in this West End restaurant at about 5:45 p.m. on Wednesday nights. If you're ever bored, looking for some good people watching, and have a hankering for a yummy lobster, please go check it out. I'll try to describe it as best I can but I will not do it justice: First of all, the interior is reminiscent of the Regal Beagle (come on, you remember it from Three's Company, don't you?) but darker and busier. The bar is filled with every washed up, single 50-something, who has a slight drinking problem (as is evidenced by the bloodshot eyes and rosacia that many of them sport) and is looking to feel just a little less pain after another long day in their dead-end Alexandria office job. As for the restaurant, it is filled with every blue-haired person this side of the River and inside the Beltway who is looking for a good deal on a good lobster. Again, I'm not doing it justice but I hope you now have some sense of the sad yet somehow wildly entertaining scene that surrounds me when I join my parents for this almost-weekly ritual of theirs.

My 1 1/2 pound lobster totally hit the spot! Truth be told, between the veggie pizza and pasta my mom delivered to me for lunch, the fruit smoothie she got me for dessert following the garlicy pizza and pasta, and the lobster I ate for dinner, I ate more food yesterday than I had eaten in the past seven. And it felt good. (And I know many of you are cheering in your chairs right now!) The highlight of my parent's and my dinner conversation was a discussion about River's humping problem (the problem being that he does it to anyone or anything constantly!) during which my mother lamented, "I mean we really need to work on this because I'm worried he's going to lose friends!" Huh? I mean, I love the dog too, Mom, but friends? Really? When did dogs get friends? I mean, sure they have playmates at the dog park whose private parts they like to smell and lick repeatedly but the social bonds of friendship? I think not. What she was referring to is that she isn't willing to have family friends' dogs over to play with him because she gets so annoyed with the constant humping. We all got a good laugh out of her deep concern for River's social life and I told them I was going to check into a dog training session to deal with the humping and the fact that he insists on sleeping in my bed with me. On the one hand, I love it but I think it's affecting my sleep, which just won't do.

River and I went on ANOTHER walk when we got home from dinner. I walked past a fellow T.C. alumni's condo while we were out. He, who happens to be a longtime paraplegic with a highly-stylized condo, was entertaining on his patio and looked so happy with his guests. I smiled, observing the scene. It reminded me of this simple statement, which I try to remind myself when things get crazy like they were earlier in the day: Just. Be. Happy. For. Today.

So, that sums up yesterday for you. Just another chapter in the book, right? I have nothing concrete on my agenda for today, which feels great. And the good news of no Day 8 treatment is that I will continue to feel good until my next cycle of treatment, which isn't until August 26. AND I WILL BE READY TO PARTY ON THE 22nd!

Power Smoothie!: Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I only got about three chunks of two-three hours of sleep last night because I had to wake-up at both midnight and 6 a.m. to take...you guessed it...more steroids! I know that's as much or more sleep than many Americans get on an average night but it's not how I like to roll. I like a good six-eight hour stretch, at a minimum.

Well, I was just going to write about what I've done so far today (a great 30-minute morning constitutional with my loaner dog AND a fantastic homemade smoothie with the Hemp Protein supplement that my friend Jim gave me last night) but I just got "the call" from INOVA Fairfax. Time to roll! I have two hours to get to the hospital to claim my bed and get Day 8's treatment underway, which is a three-four hour infusion of Taxol that will probably take a total of eight - 10 hours. That's how it goes: Every hour of actual infusion time equals about two hours of hospital time after you account for pharmacy delays, pre-med infusions, post-infusion rotisserie chicken action (more on that later...), etc.

Okay, gotta go. Time to shower (never know when your next one is gonna be, right?), collect my things, and my mother!

A Good, Old Fashioned Ass Kickin': Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Due in large part to the steroids that were still in my system on Thursday night, I was a little cocky about how I would handle the first round of IP chemo when I wrote. Simply put: the first half of my first round of IP chemo kicked my ass. I've been pretty down and out since going out for a 30-minute walk last Friday morning (must have still had some leftover steroids in my system...) but I'm fighting my way back slowly but surely.

I really can't tell you what I did on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday other than sleep. Really. Sleep is about it as I barely ate or drank anything the whole weekend. Yesterday, I showered in the morning for the first time since before I headed in for treatment on Wednesday morning. Yes, you read correctly, I had not showered since Wednesday. Totally gross, I know. Of course, the whole process was so exhausting that I had to get back into bed and rest for about 15 minutes afterwards.

Today I've had my most productive day since my treatment. I've showered, changed the sheets on my and my mother's beds, vacuumed my room, made a few phone calls related to my upcoming "33 and Cancer-Free" birthday party (much more on that later...), ate both breakfast and lunch (a big accomplishment for sure!), and am now FINALLY posting an entry after a several day sleep-induced hiatus.

I don't know when I'll get around to posting the pictures from my last treatment but I'll get them up sometime soon. Tomorrow it's back to the hospital for another treatment (Day 8, you know...) so no telling when I'll be back with another update. Hopefully, this one won't knock me down quite as hard as my last!

Alive and Kicking: Thursday, August 6, 2009

Just a brief update to let everyone know that I survived my first IP treatment. So far, thanks to the drug industry, I don't have any pain or nausea. Tomorrow will be the big test for how bad it will get as all of my steroids will have worn off by then. Fingers crossed!

I was released at 7:30 p.m. -- just about 33 hours after I was admitted. While I had FANTASTIC nursing care (love my oncology nurses!!!) and a very entertaining conversation with Dr. A, who is the fellow with Dr. E's practice, I am still very happy to be home with my loaner dog...and my mom, who has decided that she needs to spend the night with me despite my protests. I just had "dinner" -- raspberries over Ezekiel cereal and coconut milk. Nothing seemed very appealing to me after having approximately 2,000 milileters of various fluids and poison injected into me today. Well, nothing except for that old comforting standby, cereal. I think I'm starting to develop a serious addiction to the Ezekiel cereal. It's amazing how much I can love something with no sugar in it!

I have about a half dozen pills to take before going to bed. Tomorrow morning I'm off to Dr. E's office for hydration therapy (more fluids...awesome!), a Neupogen shot, and a lesson in how to self-administer Neupogen. I took lots of photos of the infusion process while in the hospital so I'll write at some point tomorrow to give everyone the blow-by-blow (or, needle-by-needle) of what went down over the last two days. Thanks to all of my visitors -- Krista, Michelle, Kristin, Melissa S., and Terri, oh and of course, Mom -- for making my stay go by much quicker.


And So It Begins...Again: Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Well, it's that time. I just got the call from Sally with INOVA Fairfax. They have a bed available for me in the oncology unit of the hospital. I need to be there by 10:30 a.m., which means I should be done with both my 24-hour Taxol infusion and my several hour (maybe 4-6?) Cisplatin infusion by tomorrow at 5 p.m.

If you know me at all by now, you know that I'm not really dreading this (I mean, of course I am to a degree) but rather I'm just looking forward to being that much closer to this long nightmare being over -- one that has been filled with more diagnostic tests than I can count, pains both big and small, weekly blood work, night sweats, nausea and vomiting, fainting, LOTS of bleeding (although, that is ALL done now), some "I really am God" doctors and some nice doctors, some might-accidentally-kill-you kind of nurses and some FABULOUS nurses, accupuncturists, nutritionists, my breakdowns (and breakthroughs...), parental breakdowns, friends' breakdowns, etc. etc.

So, now that I've taken my steroids (at midnight and 6 a.m.), drank 16 oz. of lemon water (my new morning ritual to make my body lining more alkaline), had breakfast (mixed berries and a half cup of Ezekial cereal with coconut milk), walked the dog, then retraced the walk route to find my cell phone, which I thought went into a neighbor's trash can along with the poop bag but fortunately did not, I am now ready to shower, pack an overnight bag and the dog, head over to my parent's to drop off the dog and pick up my mother, and get this party started. Wish me luck! I'll be back with tales from oncology world on Thursday.

Oh, but before I go, a BIG thank you to Kristin, Shawn, LEW, and Bella for hosting a very fun and delicious dinner (salmon over a mint pea mash -- one of Giada's recipes) last night. River had a great time with Bella and it was so fun for me to have time with so many friends (Christy, Tom, Gunter, Annika, Amelie, and Harper; Melissa and Dave; Krista and Michael; and Melissa S.) before I start the last 63 days of treatment, which sort of feels as though I'm entering a 12-step program for some sort of addiction since it's going to be so intense. Thank you all for joining and being such wonderful, generous friends!

The Show Must Go On: Tuesday, August 4, 2009

As you know, I went up to NYC this past weekend to co-host Ali's shower and bacherlorette festivities, this despite having had chest and abdominal port insertions earlier in the week. The show must go on, right? I took the train up Friday morning and Christina met me in Penn Station to cab out to her place in Brooklyn together since she knows just how much I enjoy navigating the city's public transportation system on my own, particularly with fresh surgical wounds.

When we got to Brooklyn, we grabbed lunch and then headed out to the grocery store to buy all of the ingredients for the white wine sangria and tea sandwiches for Ali's shower. We had planned to start making things that evening but after an exhausting day of travel for me, tons of errands for both of us AND my increasingly spastic abdominal/lower back pain, we just decided to enjoy a glass of Rose (just one, Granny!) and grab dinner with Christina's husband, Andy, at a great restaurant called Ici, which is in their neighborhood.

My pain grew worse during dinner so I took another vicodin when we got home, got tucked in by Christina (she's a very nurturing physican assistant), and fell asleep watching Revolutionary Road. Fortunately, my pain was gone by the time I got up on Saturday morning and so it was time to get busy putting Ali's high tea shower together! Christina needed to de-stress so we took her dog, Molly, out for a little walk, then it was more errands (to the grocery store AGAIN in search of the perfect tea sandwich bread, then cupcake pick up, then ice cream sandwich pick up...), and finally home to make over 100 tea sandwiches! Here's the menu we used, which everyone seemed to love, in case you're ever throwing a high tea in the heat of summer:
Assorted tea sandwiches:
Curried egg salad on white
Roasted red pepper, basil, red onion, and goat cheese on wheat
Cucumber, dill, and cream cheese on a variety of breads
Smoked salmon, dill, and cream cheese on rye
Prosciutto, fig jam and whipped butter on wheat

Mixed greens with mustard vinaigrette

Vanilla and chocolate cupcakes from Baked

Chocolate chip, chocolate, and dulce de leche ice cream sandwiches from Bierkraft
Iced tea with lemon or mint
White wine sangria with Triple Sec, apricots, peaches, strawberries, and raspberries
Pinot Grigio
Water with cucumber and mint
As you'll see below, Ali's shower went off without a hitch (thanks to Andy Craven for being the best sous chef in the world!) and a good time was had by all. After the shower, Christina and I recuperated for about 15 minutes on the couch before getting ready to head into the city for dinner and karaoke with the bride-to-be and several other of her good friends. Fortunately, my pain didn't make a return appearence the rest of the weekend (although, it was around yesterday afternoon) and I managed to stay AWAKE (I know this will shock many loyal readers) and out until 1 a.m. on Saturday night. The rest of the girls were out until 5:30 a.m. dancing the night away. Needless to say, many were craving a nice, greasy spoon kind of a breakfast on Sunday morning! Here are some highlights from the weekend. Enjoy!

Ali's wedding colors are pewter gray, orange and fuschia so we used orange and fuschia flowers for the centerpieces, which Christina's florist friend Towanna (spelling?) made.

Crowd-pleasing cupcakes!

Cheers to the bride-to-be! Ali with her sangria.
Ali received the obligatory "Bride" baseball cap.

Me, Julie, and Kim at dinner.

Kara, Christina, Ali, and Melissa at dinner.
The dynamic duo at again in the private karaoke room. We haven't performed together like this since our all night high school graduation party back in '94.

I was fast asleep when this photo was taken early in the morning. In case you're wondering, no one knows who the chick on the far right is. Total random. Good times!

Woman's Best Friend: Monday, August 3, 2009

So, I got back from Ali's shower and bachelorette weekend last night at about 8 p.m. Other than some excruciating abdominal/lower back pain on Friday night that forced me to take two vicodin and call it a night (thanks for putting up with my groaning, Christina and Andy...and Molly!), I felt pretty good during the trip and even managed to stay out -- and more importantly, awake -- until about 1 a.m. on Saturday night. I'll post a few highlights from the weekend tomorrow but in the meantime, here are a few shots of the summer house guest I mentioned last week.

Many people have done extraordinarily generous things for me over the past several months. However, one of the most generous gifts I've received is from my brother; it arrived last week and it didn't cost a cent. My brother has loaned me his best friend, River, who is his four-year old yellow Lab. Bobby knows that I adore his dog and so, despite the fact that he misses him terribly, he has loaned him to me so I have River's company during the last half of my wellness campaign. Our days will consist of visits to the dog park (where he will invariably try to hump anything that moves), long walks in my neighborhood, and many afternoon swims in my parent's pool. He's a sweetheart and will make great company for me, especially during those yucky, painful days. Here he is. He's beautiful, isn't he?